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Inside the Matchup
Week 17

By: Bill Andereson | Sal Marcoccio | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith




STL @ SEA | KC @ DEN | OAK @ SD | ARI @ SF
 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 41 18 69.5
2 Smith 41 19 68.3
3 Anderson 41 19 68.3
4 Marcoccio 34 24 58.6

Buccaneers @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: To say that Josh Freeman has struggled lately is an understatement. Despite the fact he threw for 372 yards last week against the Rams (his second-highest total of the year), Freeman also tossed four interceptions, and now has eight in his last two games. Those picks account for half of his total this year, but thankfully for fantasy owners it hasn’t affected Freeman’s receivers too much. Vincent Jackson is sixth among wideouts in fantasy scoring and has amassed 80 or more yards in six of his last eight contests. Meanwhile, Mike Williams went off against the Rams with 132 yards and one score, and has touchdowns in three of his last four contests. And though the two wideouts have difficult match-up this week, starting Jackson is a no-brainer, and we’d make Williams our WR3.

Though the Falcons are 23rd in the NFL in pass defense and 22nd in pass yards per attempt allowed, they have given up the fewest touchdown throws in the league. Due to that, they are tied for 10th-fewest fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and have yielded the seventh-fewest fantasy points to wideouts, but have struggled against tight ends and are tied for 10th-most fantasy points permitted to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Doug Martin has had an overall great rookie season, but his production has waned as the season draws to a close. He’s had less than 65 rushing yards in four of his last five contests and has just one rushing score in his last four outings. Yet Martin is a dual threat who can catch the ball and run it, and that only adds to his fantasy value, as does the fact he’s playing a Falcons team this week that he scored twice against in Week 12.

Atlanta is tied for 20th in the league in rush defense, tied for 25th in rushing scores ceded, and stand alone at 28th in YPC allowed. They’ve also given up the 12th-most receiving yards in the NFL to running backs and are tied for ninth-most fantasy points surrendered to backs.

Josh Freeman: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 80 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 35 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 20 rec yds
Doug Martin: 90 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan is fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, and has been terrific in his last three contests. He has nine touchdown throws in that time and at least 270 passing yards in each game. Ryan has the benefit of throwing to receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, who rank seventh and eighth, respectively, in fantasy scoring at wideout. They’ve been in lockstep with Ryan and have caught seven of those nine touchdown throws in that three-game period. Tony Gonzalez has one of the touchdowns as well, and he leads the position in fantasy scoring this season, though it’s been a down year for tight ends. Still, against the Buccaneers, each of the above players should start for their fantasy owners.

The Buccaneers are the proud owners of the worst pass defense in football, ranking last in that statistic for the season. Only one other team in the league has given up more touchdowns through the air, and just two teams give up more yards per play on passes. Those yards and touchdowns mean fantasy points, and Tampa has given up the second-most fantasy points to both quarterbacks and wideouts and are tied for fifth-most allowed to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has not exactly lit the world on fire in terms of yards recently, having run for no more than 52 during six of his last seven games. Yet he scored a touchdown in every game from Weeks 11-15, and has proven valuable to fantasy owners who thought they could squeeze one more productive season out of him. Yet we don’t think that production will carry over this week, not against a Buccaneers rush defense that is statistically outstanding.

Tampa Bay may possess the league’s worst pass defense, but they contrast it with the top rush defense. No team has permitted fewer yards on the ground than the Bucs, who are also the league leaders in YPC yielded. Though they are tied for 19th in touchdown runs surrendered, just eight squads have given up fewer fantasy points to running backs than Tampa.

Matt Ryan: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 85 rec yds, 2 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 25 rec yds
Michael Turner: 40 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 35 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: We suppose Chad Henne is a decent quarterback, and can certainly be a solid back-up in the NFL, but that’s about it. Though he threw for more than 330 yards last week against the Patriots, he also tossed a trio of interceptions and has five in his last three games. Henne will not be throwing to Cecil Shorts this week, who is Jacksonville’s only receiver of interest to fantasy owners, because Shorts was placed on IR due to a concussion. There really is little to talk about concerning the Jacksonville passing game, and we’d avoid all players representing it, despite the quality match-up.

Tennessee is tied for seventh-most fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, have given up the 13th-most points to wide receivers and the second-most fantasy points to tight ends. Just six teams have allowed more passing yards than the Titans this season, who are also tied for 29th in passing scores permitted.

Running Game Thoughts: Montell Owens had 42 rushing yards on the ground against New England last week, but a 53-yard reception helped him total 77 receiving yards for the game and make a decent contribution to fantasy owners who had the gumption to pick him up. Owens and Richard Murphy each had 10 runs in the game, but we’re betting Owens gets more carries this week, and we wouldn’t be shy about putting him in our fantasy lineups as a flex option against a Tennessee team that allows lots of fantasy points to running backs.

The Titans haven’t fared well against the pass this year, nor have they done well against the run. Though they’re 13th in YPC allowed, Tennessee is also 23rd in rush defense and 28th in touchdown runs given up. Not to mention this fact – just five teams have allowed more receiving yards to running backs and only one team in the league has surrendered more fantasy points to players at the position.

Chad Henne: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Justin Blackmon: 75 rec yds
Jordan Shipley: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Marcedes Lewis: 30 rec yds
Toney Clemons: 10 rec yds
Montell Owens: 75 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Richard Murphy: 30 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ti tans did nothing right last week in getting drubbed against the Packers, and that includes Jake Locker. He threw multiple interceptions for the fourth time in five games and for less than 150 yards for the second straight contest. Locker has a lot of weapons to throw to, and though none have been consistent, we do like the direction Kenny Britt is going, having scored three times over his last five games. Yet we would only start him as a WR3 against Jacksonville this week.

The Jaguars are 24th in the league against the pass, but are a respectable tied for 13th in passing scores yielded. Nonetheless, they’ve allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (including the second-most rushing scores to QBs), but are tied for 17th-most points ceded to wideouts and tied for 14th-most given up to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Johnson was injured last week against the Packers, and though he has not practiced this week, he should be good to go against the Jaguars. He is currently 13th in fantasy scoring among running backs and has slowed after an outstanding middle part of the year. Johnson ran for 80 yards against the Jags in Week 12, but if his leg injury proves to be nothing more than an irritant, we like him to get well past that this week.

Jacksonville is not the worst team in the NFL against the run, but they’re close – only Buffalo has allowed more rushing yards and rushing scores than the Jaguars. And as one might expect, that means fantasy points aplenty for running backs when taking on Jacksonville, who has yielded the third-most points in the league to backs.

Jake Locker: 235 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT / 25 rush yds
Kenny Britt: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 55 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 40 rec yds
Damian Williams: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Craig Stevens: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Titans 21, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Texans @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub is just 18th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks because he generally doesn’t throw for a lot of yards, and has tossed just one touchdown in his last three games. Granted, the Texans are a running-based team, but Schaub is capable of more, and the only player in the team’s passing game that hasn’t been hurt by it is Andre Johnson, who has just one game over his last six with fewer than 95 receiving yards. But tight end Owen Daniels has disappeared, and there is no other receiving option even worth mentioning for fantasy owners. Basically, it’s Johnson, and that’s it, especially this week against the Colts, whom he burned for 151 yards and a touchdown in Week 15.

Indianapolis has allowed the 14th-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and tied for 11th-fewest given up to tight ends, but just six teams have seen wideouts collect more fantasy points against them than Indy. The Colts are 19th in the league against the pass and 16th in passing scores ceded, but have been prone to allowing some big plays and rank 21st in average pass yards per attempt allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster is second among running backs in fantasy scoring this season, but had the worst game of the season at the worst possible time for fantasy owners, gaining just 15 yards on 10 carries against the Vikings. He was checked for an irregular heartbeat this week but is fine and will play, and that’s a good thing, because Foster constantly thrashes the Colts, including 165 yards against during the team’s Week 16 contest.

The Colts have given up the sixth-most fantasy points in the NFL to opposing running backs this season, due in no small part to the fact that just two teams have allowed more rushing yards than they have. Indy is tied for 21st in rushing scores yielded, but no team in the league gives up larger chunks of yards per carry than they do, ranking last in the NFL in YPC allowed.

Matt Schaub: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 120 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 55 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 30 rec yds
DeVier Posey: 15 rec yds
Arian Foster: 105 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds
Ben Tate: 30 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck has been heaped with praise this season, and though it’s certainly warranted, his numbers haven’t been as spectacular as some fantasy owners may think. His fantasy point total was buoyed early in the season with a number of rushing scores, and he has 21 touchdowns but 18 interceptions. Luck has thrown for 205 or fewer yards in each of his last three games, though he does have a pair of touchdown passes to Reggie Wayne over his last three outings, which account for 40 percent of the wideout’s total this season.

The Texans have struggled to contain the pass of late, and have fallen to 16th in pass defense and are in a tie for 26th in passing touchdowns surrendered. Houston has given up the 13th-most fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks this year, the ninth-most to wide receivers, and is tied for fifth-most fantasy points permitted to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Vick Ballard has been okay as the Colts’ main back, but certainly not a player fantasy owners should be getting excited about. He does have a game with 100 rushing yards this season, and that happened to come in Week 15 against Houston. Yet expecting a repeat performance with those types of numbers is ill-advised, because the Texans have as strong a run defense as there is in football.

Houston may have problems stopping the opposition’s passing attack, but they’ve more than held their own against running games. The Texans are seventh in the league in rush defense and 12th in YPC given up, but no team in the NFL has allowed fewer rushing scores or fantasy points to running backs than they have.

Andrew Luck: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Reggie Wayne: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 40 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 35 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 20 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 15 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 55 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 24, Colts 20 ^ Top

Panthers @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton is third among quarterbacks in fantasy points, but gets plenty of those points due to his running abilities. Yet he has thrown a touchdown in every game since Week 9, and has only three interceptions since then. Newton relies mostly on two players: wideout Steve Smith, who is 19th in fantasy scoring at wideout and has touchdown catches in three of his last four games, and tight end Greg Olsen, who has somewhat quietly moved to sixth in fantasy scoring at his position. Each should be starting for fantasy owners this week against New Orleans, whose defense is toilet paper soft.

The Saints have been horrid defensively all season, despite somehow shutting out the Buccaneers a couple weeks ago. Still, it’s hard to ignore the overall numbers – they’re second-to-last in the NFL in pass defense and passing yards per play allowed and are dead last in passing scores yielded. No team in the league has given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks or wide receivers than the Saints, and just seven teams have permitted more fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: DeAngelo Williams bombed out last week despite Jonathan Stewart not playing, and ran for all of 19 yards on 10 carries. Stewart could be in line to play this week, though we imagine it would be even more limited than usual. Newton and Mike Tolbert will also have opportunities to run the ball, which makes it difficult for us to recommend any of the team’s running backs, despite an outstanding match-up with the Saints.

We all know New Orleans is bad against the pass, and guess what? They’re lousy against the run as well. The Saints rank 29th in rush defense, 30th in YPC allowed and are tied for 21st in rushing scores ceded. Just four teams have given up more fantasy points to running backs this season than the Saints have.

Cam Newton: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT / 55 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 55 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Louis Murphy: 20 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 40 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 35 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees leads the league in touchdown passes and leads his position in fantasy points. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards in each of his last four games and has seven touchdown throws in his last two games. Brees finally got Marques Colston going last week against the Cowboys, finding the big wideout 10 times for 153 yards, marking the first time since Week 5 that he had more than 75 receiving yards. Unfortunately, Colston still hasn’t caught a touchdown pass since Week 12, and tight end Jimmy Graham hasn’t caught one since Week 11. Graham hasn’t had big yard totals either, with last week being the first time since Week 10 that he picked up at least 70 receiving yards. Graham did score a touchdown and gain 71 yards against the Panthers in Week 2 however, and we wouldn’t hesitate in the least starting him this week.

Carolina is eighth in the NFL against the pass, tied for eighth in passing touchdowns given up and tied for 10th in passing yards per play permitted. These numbers have allowed them to surrender the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, tie for the third-fewest points yielded to wideouts and a tie for 15th-fewest to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: The way it usually goes for the Saints is this: Mark Ingram gets the majority of the carries but few opportunities to make catches, Pierre Thomas gets some carries and some passes thrown his way out of the backfield, and Darren Sproles gets a few touches running the ball but the majority of targets. It works for the Saints, but dilutes the fantasy prowess of each player, with the exception this week of Sproles, who we expect to have a big game due to Carolina’s troubles covering running backs in the passing game.

The Panthers are 19th in YPC ceded this season, but are 15th in rush defense and tied for 14th in rushing scores allowed. Those are decent numbers, but Carolina has also allowed more receptions to running backs than any other team in the NFL, and the third-most receiving yards to players at the position, which helps explain why they have yielded the eighth-most fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Drew Brees: 345 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Marques Colston: 85 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 25 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 65 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 40 rush yds / 25 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 15 rush yds / 65 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 28, Panthers 27 ^ Top

Bears @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: You would probably imagine that, with a 9-6 record, the Bears passing game has been a big factor in their success; but with the obvious exception of Brandon Marshall, it's actually been holding the team back from real greatness. Although they won in semi-blowout fashion last week, Jay Cutler had what has become a pretty typical (i.e., poor) performance, going 12 of 26 for just 146 yards (1 TD, 0 INT). On the season now, Cutler has a TD:INT ratio of just 18:14 and ranks 24th in passing yards, barely ahead of such names as Mark Sanchez and Christian Ponder. Despite these poor numbers, Marshall continues to shine as one of fantasy’s top three WRs, and he added another touchdown last week, moving him into a tie for third in that category. Amazingly, Marshall has caught 48 percent of all of Cutler’s completions this season, easily the highest in that stat.

This week, Cutler and company head to Detroit in a must-win situation and have a juicy matchup against a defense that has been the sixth most generous to fantasy QBs over the past five weeks. Detroit may actually be even worse than they appear, as one of those games came against Arizona, perhaps the league’s worst passing offense. With a banged-up secondary that does not intercept many balls (ranked 21st) and a front seven that does not create a ton of pressure on the quarterback (19th in sacks), the Lions have a lot of holes that the Bears should be able to exploit. Of course, this is the 2012 Bears we are talking about, and they have not had much success through the air—including their previous matchup with the Lions, where Cutler threw for just 150 yards (1 TD, 0 INT). As usual, Marshall is a must-start who should get 100 yards or a touchdown, if not both. Cutler is still too inconsistent for me to recommend as a starter, even in a crucial game with a favorable matchup like this. He is well outside my top 12 QBs this week, so avoid him if at all possible. Currently there are no other fantasy options within the Bears passing offense, as Marshall hogs too many balls and they do not throw enough—nor are they efficient enough—to support more than one legit fantasy receiver.

Running Game Thoughts: In a blowout victory last week, Matt Forte was pulled from the game after aggravating his right ankle. Before being pulled, he had racked up 88 yards and a touchdown on the ground on his way to a great fantasy day. The troubling part of this was not only the fact that he was seen in a walking boot after the game, but that this is the same ankle he aggravated several other times this season. On the bright side, Forte insisted after the game that he would play against Detroit, in a must-win game. In Forte’s absence, the Bears backfield was pretty inept with Kahlil Bell and Armando Allen totaling just 56 yards on the round.

As a rushing defense, the Lions are about average, although they have not been very good as of late. For example, in their first eight games. they gave up only two rushing touchdowns; in their last seven games, they have given up nine. In their previous matchup with the Bears, the Lions gave up 132 yards on the ground, including 96 yards to Forte alone. Obviously, watch the health of Forte for this game, as no other Bears RB would be a legit fantasy option if Forte were to sit out. If Forte does play, as expected, he is still a bit of a risky start because of the ankle injury, but in a game with so much on the line, the chances are pretty good that Forte would gut it out. I would have rated Forte as a nice low-end RB1 at full health in this matchup, but the added risk of further injury drops him down to a high-end RB2.

Jay Cutler: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 40 rec yds
Matt Forte: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Much like the Bears, the Lions passing game is built mostly around one player, in this case Calvin Johnson. Unlike the Bears, however, the Lions also have a QB who is fantasy-relevant most weeks, at least in terms of the yardage numbers. Last week Johnson had another huge game, racking up 225 yards on route to breaking Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yardage mark. This week Johnson will attempt to be the first receiver to hit the 2000-yard receiving mark for a season. Johnson, however, is not the only one going for a record, as Matthew Stafford is very close to breaking the NFL record for passing attempts in a season. While the Lions do not have much else play for, I do have a strong feeling that they will want to tack on as much yardage to Johnson’s total as they can in order to put the new record out of reach for a long time. They'll also want to play spoiler in stopping their division rival from making the playoffs.

Speaking of that rival, the Bears pass defense has been among the best in the league, allowing the sixth lowest yardage total and sporting a nice 16:23 touchdown-to-interception ratio with 40 sacks (ranked 7th). As one would imagine, the Bears have thus been very tough to opposing fantasy QBs, ranking as the fourth toughest on the season in scoring average allowed. While the Bears have given up a few huge games, most recently to Aaron Rodgers and company a couple of weeks back, they have remained pretty consistent throughout the year in fantasy points allowed. I expect the Bears, with so much on the line, to pull out all the stops and put as much pressure on Stafford as possible, while focusing a ton of attention on Johnson, who totaled just 34 yards in their previous meeting. While I do not expect Johnson or even Stafford to be shut down, it is far from a good matchup for them, even in their season finale at home. Johnson is of course matchup proof, and while I think he will still be targeted a ton of times (he’s ranked first in targets), I also think he is more of a low-to-mid range WR1 this week, rather than his normal top 3 status at the position. As for Stafford, the yardage numbers will probably be low for his standards, but 250-plus yards and a touchdown is very possible. It’s just the turnovers that his owners need to worry most about. Stafford is a starter in my book, but more of a bottom-rung QB1 in a tough game against a desperate and hungry opponent. No other member of the Lions passing attack is startable at this point because of an extreme lack of consistency.

Running Game Thoughts: If one were to look at most of Mikel Leshoure’s stats to this point in the year, they would probably be pretty underwhelmed. Leshoure has just 741 rushing yards (22nd in the NFL), is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry (34th), and has exactly zero runs of 20-plus yards (his longest is 16 yards). Despite these below average stats, Leshoure has actually been a decent flex option in fantasy thanks to his nine rushing touchdowns (tied for 8th). Last week Leshoure had another typical performance, gaining just 46 yards on the ground (20 rec yds), but adding that all important touchdown, saving his day for his fantasy owners. As long as he continues to get the goal-line carries (which he should) and the Lions continue to get in the red zone multiple times per game (which they should), Leshoure remains a nice complimentary fantasy starter—with the bit of risk that he won't score a touchdown.

This week the risk part of the equation rises a little as he faces a Bears team that not only ranks in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed, but third in touchdowns allowed, which is obviously where most of Leshoure’s value lies. Since this is a game the Bears need to win, I expect them to play at their highest level, especially around the goal line and in the red zone. That is bad news for Leshoure, who does not do much outside of the 20-yard line. While the Bears did have a string of six games where their run defense struggled, each of those games was against a running back way more talented than Leshoure. In this matchup I see Leshoure as a very risky RB3/flex option simply because he will not get many yards (he rarely does anyway) and the chances of his getting a touchdown are much lower than normal (he did not get one in the previous meeting with the Bears). Simply put, I would not start Leshoure this week. As for Joique Bell, he had a great game last week receiving (9 rec, 73 yds), but remains way too inconsistent to start him in any but the deepest PPR leagues.

Matthew Stafford: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Mikel Leshoure: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Joique Bell: 15 rush yds, 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 27, Lions 24 ^ Top

Packers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Packers are already guaranteed a playoff spot, but this week they will still be playing for a crucial first-round bye, meaning they will be trying to win this game with as many of their starters as they can get out there. In a blowout victory last week, Aaron Rodgers lit up the Titans for 342 yards and three touchdowns while making no less than four receivers fantasy relevant on the day. Everyone knows that if Rodgers is playing (and he is this week), he is a must-start as a solid QB1. The real question here is the receiver situation, which has been unpredictable thanks to injuries and the way Rodgers spreads the ball around. Randall Cobb, the Packers' top wide receiver for much of the year, is questionable this week with both knee and ankle injuries, and while these injuries are not considered serious, the Packers cannot afford for their most dynamic player to miss the playoffs by aggravating the problems he is already having. Cobb will probably not play, and if he does he will likely be on some kind of snap count to keep him healthy, making him a risky WR3 play. Jordy Nelson has missed multiple weeks with a hamstring injury but practiced this week for the first time in weeks. While the Packers say he is very close, I would not expect him to play a full complement of snaps either. They'll want him fresh for the playoffs.

The two guys I see as having big games this week are Greg Jennings and James Jones. Jennings has yet to really break out since coming back from injury but should be fully healthy and rust-free by now, and I think this will be his week to put up low-end WR1 numbers. As for Jones, he somewhat surprisingly continues to produce nice numbers (100 yds, 1 TD last week) even with a full complement of receivers around him. So without Cobb and Jones competing for targets, he's a very nice WR2 option against a Vikings pass defense that has given up the eighth most fantasy points to WRs over the last five weeks. The only other guy on the Packers passing offense to consider is Jermichael Finley, who had a nice game last week (5 rec, 70 yds) but has been up and down over the course of the year. With a decent game against the Vikings last time they met (60 yds), Finley should at least duplicate those numbers, making him a nice TE2 option this week. The Vikings defense ranks in the lower half of the league in pass yards allowed, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, and interceptions, so the Packers passing offense should have no problem making a minimum of four players starter-worthy in all fantasy formats.

Running Game Thoughts: While there is a lot on the line this week and the Packers offense is pretty much on fire right now, their run game is a unit to avoid this week in fantasy. First of all, Alex Green is expected to return after failing to pass his concussion tests last week. In his absence, Ryan Grant had a pretty solid game, rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Green is expected to get the start, but Grant has surely earned a larger role in the rushing attack, and pesky DuJuan Harris is also still around and averaging six carries per game the past three weeks. Since none of these backs are exactly elite, it's impossible to predict how the carries will be divided up, making each a risky start.

Second, the Vikings (who also have a ton to play for) are actually an above-average run defense, ranking in the top 13 in rush yards allowed and yards per attempt. In addition, the Vikings are the sixth toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score against over the past three weeks, and 12th toughest on the year. While the Packers did manage 152 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings earlier this season, 66 of those yards (and the touchdown) came from James Starks, who is no longer in the picture. This is not a good matchup on paper, but even if it were, the lack of real talent, inconsistencies in effectiveness, and the questionable division of carries in the backfield makes this situation one to avoid in fantasy.

Aaron Rodgers: 300 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Greg Jennings: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 30 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 70 rec yds
Alex Green: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Ryan Grant: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder actually showed signs of life last week in a victory against the Texans, but he and the rest of the Vikings pass game is simply too inconsistent and usually too overmatched to provide any real fantasy value. With defenses zeroing in on Adrian Peterson, you would think Ponder would have it pretty easy with a ton of single coverage on the outside and not a lot of safety support to worry about deep. The problem is, Ponder has been inaccurate with his throws and has often thrown to the wrong receiver, resulting in an awful 5.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 34th in the NFL. Of course without Percy Harvin in the lineup (out for the year), Ponder does not have a lot to work with in the receiver category.

On top of the general ineptitude, the matchup that Ponder and Co. have this week is not exactly favorable, as the Packers excel at taking the ball away (18 INTs, ranked 6th) and getting to opposing quarterbacks (46 sacks, 3rd). In addition, the Packers are among the 12 toughest defenses in stopping opposing fantasy QBs and have even been better than that the past six weeks. If this all were not bad enough, the Packers pass defense played perhaps their best game of the season the last time these two teams met, holding Ponder to just 119 yards (1 TD, 2 INTs). The bottom line is that Ponder has shown us nothing this year to inspire any kind of confidence. Add to that an unimpressive receiving corps and a tough matchup and Ponder should be nowhere near anyone’s starting lineup this week. As for the wide receivers specifically, I would honestly not recommend any of them. But for a tight end in the 10-12 range, I suppose one could do worse than Kyle Rudolph, as he should at least see a few red-zone targets.

Running Game Thoughts: In a blowout victory over the Texans last week, Adrian Peterson looked almost human, as Houston (a great defensive team already) did all they could to stop Peterson, daring the passing game to beat them. Peterson still put up 86 yards on the ground—a decent game by most standards. But that was far from what we have been used to most of this season, as he failed to break 100 yards and get into the end zone. Furthermore, towards the end of the game, Peterson was pulled for what we later learned was a sore abdomen. This injury is thought to be minor, and Coach Leslie Frazier has already stated Peterson will play this week.

The Packers their run defense has been inconsistent this season, giving up as few as 45 yards on the ground and as much as 212. As you might guess, this has resulted in their being ranked right the middle in most defensive categories against the run. That inconsistency is what stands out most about this matchup. First, Peterson needs 208 yards to break the single-season rushing record, and this is his last chance to do it...this year, at least. Second, Peterson has run for over 200 yards twice this season, one of those times being against these very same Packers. And that was in Green Bay, no less. Third, and maybe most importantly, the Vikings control their own destiny for the playoffs, meaning if they win the game then they are in. Their best chance at winning the game lies in giving their best player the ball as many times as possible. The Packers know this, but they also knew it a few weeks ago when Peterson lit them up for 210 yards and a touchdown. So, being that Peterson wants the rushing record, he needs 208 yards to get it, his team needs him to carry the rock a ton in order to win, and he has already shown he can be ultra-productive against these Packers, I would say it is a very safe bet to start Peterson this week as a top 3 option at the position. Not worrying about resting their starters here, Minnesota is playing to win, and that starts and ends with Peterson’s performance.

Christian Ponder: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kyle Rudolph: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 35 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 185 rush yds, 2 TDs, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 24 ^ Top

Browns @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns quarterback situation (and thus their passing game) is a real mess this week, with normal starter Brandon Weeden doubtful with a shoulder sprain and backup Colt McCoy questionable with some shoulder soreness. If both players can’t go, practice squad call-up Thad Lewis would most likely get the start in what could be an epically ugly game for the Browns offense. From what I've read, I get the sense Weeden will be out but McCoy has a decent chance to play. The thing is, do we even care who starts? There is no way anyone is going to start any Browns quarterback at this point in the season, especially against such a tough opponent.

The Steelers, likely very angry after being knocked out of the playoffs last week and eager to give the hometown fans a final victory this season, rank first in passing yards allowed and yards allowed per attempt. In addition, they are the toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score against and the sixth toughest for fantasy WRs. Speaking of WRs, the quarterback situation will obviously effect the production of the Cleveland receiving corps, but nobody was worth a start this week anyway, even as a low-level flex option. The most talented and productive receiver, Josh Gordon, is in a slump right now, and the rest of the targets have been spread out so much lately that it is really hard to trust anyone on this squad. While the future may hold better things for the Browns passing game, this week is a total mess with an awful matchup, injuries at key positions, and inconsistencies at receiver. Avoid this unit at all costs.

Running Game Thoughts: Although Trent Richardson had a nice game in his first meeting against the Steelers this year (85 rush yds, 1 TD; 27 rec yds), he is shaping up to be a risky start this week. In last week’s game, Richardson was off to a great start (9 car, 53 yds) but then injured his ankle and was spelled by Montario Hardesty in a blowout loss to the Broncos. As of right now, Richardson is questionable for the game. And with nothing but pride to play for this week, the Browns would be smart to rest their young star. Regardless of Richardson’s status, the matchup is not a good one for the Browns rushing attack, as the Steelers are second in rush yards allowed and yards allowed per carry.

In addition, the Steelers are the second toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score against and are coming off a game where they gave up just 14 yards to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. If Richardson does not play, Hardesty should get the start this week and probably see 12 or more touches, but he should be nowhere near your starting lineup, regardless. The future of the Browns running game is looking good, but this week you will want to avoid the situation thanks to injuries, game implications, and a very tough matchup.

Colt McCoy: 200 pass yds, 1 TD; 10 rush yds
Trent Richardson: 60 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Montario Hardesty: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 60 rec yds
Greg Little: 60 rec yds
Ben Watson: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With nothing left to really play for this year, the state of the Steelers passing game may be a bit ugly this week. First off, Heath Miller tore his ACL last week and is obviously out this week, ending a fantastic year for the 30-year-old tight end. Second, Mike Wallace has been diagnosed with a strained hip and will most likely sit out, with the Steelers already out of playoff contention. With two of his main weapons out, Ben Roethlisberger’s upside is obviously limited, and while I fully expect him to start and do his very best, I would not be that surprised if he was yanked early in order to preserve his health for the offseason. While the Browns defense seemed to turn the corner for the better somewhere in the early to middle part of the season, they have recently reverted back to a sub-par passing defense, letting up 300-plus yards in four of their last six games.

In addition, the Browns have allowed the 11th most fantasy points to QBs the past three weeks and the 12th overall on the season, making this a favorable matchup on paper for Ben and company, especially in Pittsburgh. If this game had any meaning for either team, and Ben had his full complement of weapons to use, I would probably rate him as a top 10 option at QB this week. Unfortunately, neither of those things are true, and that worries me from a fantasy perspective. Since the Steelers should still lean on the pass game, Ben should end up with some decent stats, but I would honestly not expect more than mid-range QB2 numbers at this point. As for the receiving corps, I do like the prospects of Antonio Brown, who should be the go-to guy by default, thus making him an interesting and solid mid-range WR2 play. No other Pittsburgh receiver is an exciting play, however, as it is tough to envision how the rest of the targets will be divided.

Running Game Thoughts: The Steelers will probably be glad to get this game over with and start to erase the painful memories of just how ugly their run game has been this year. Going into this game, they rank 26th in rushing yards and do not have a single running back in the top 25 in rushing yards. Last week may have typified the Steelers run game on the whole, as they were led by Rashard Mendenhall (50 yards) who was previously a healthy scratch in two games and suspended by the team in one other. While the starting running back has seemingly changed from week to week between Mendenhall, Dwyer, and Redman, none of the three has managed to string together more than two good games in a row, and none have provided more than low-level flex appeal on a consistent basis.

It's a shame there isn't a clear-cut workhorse in the Pittsburgh backfield this week, as the Browns have given up the sixth most fantasy points to RBs over the past five weeks, and seventh most on the year. While the matchup is favorable, the lack of production from the Pittsburgh RBs leaves them in a black hole, as each could have a nice game or just as easily put up a big fat zero in the fantasy points column. If you are still playing for anything this week, do yourself a favor and avoid this situation entirely.

Ben Roethlisberger: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Antonio Brown: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 40 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds
Jonathan Dwyer: 35 rush yds

Prediction: Steelers 23, Browns 17 ^ Top

Ravens @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ravens do not have a lot to play for this week other than some possible playoff seed positioning, but they will want some nice momentum heading into the playoffs, especially since the passing game (finally) flourished last week. Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns (0 INT) while not taking a single sack against the Giants' aggressive defensive line. Coming off a pitiful performance the week before, Anquan Boldin also stepped up and caught seven balls for 93 yards and is now just 79 yards away from a 1000-yard season. Torrey Smith also did his part, catching five balls for 88 yards, and looked fully recovered from a concussion he suffered the week before. Finally, the re-emergence of tight end Dennis Pitta continued as he caught four balls for 56 yards.

This week, the Ravens go up against one of the hottest defense in the league in the Bengals. Since the first two weeks of the season, where they allowed 300-plus passing yards and two touchdowns in each game, the Bengals have since let up exactly zero 300-yard games and just two games with two or more passing touchdowns. Fantasy-wise, the Bengals have been the toughest team for QBs to score against the past seven weeks—and that includes playing a few pass-heavy offenses through that stretch. While the Ravens passing offense got the best of the Bengals defense in Week 1, the Ravens passing offense has been up and down since that game while the Bengals defense seems to have improved dramatically over the course of the season. Furthermore, this matchup is in Cincinnati. With the Bengals being a tough matchup to begin with, and the Ravens not having a whole lot to play for, I have a feeling Baltimore will employ a pretty conservative game plan. While Flacco has some decent weapons and is on a bit of a hot streak, I don't trust him as a top 10 QB this week. Consequently, I do not see Boldin or Smith as having particularly good games this week, though I suppose each has some value as a mid-range WR3. As for Pitta, I actually like him a bit more than normal, as the Bengals have been much more generous to fantasy TEs than WRs. Plus, Pitta had a nice 5/73/1 line in their previous meeting. No other Ravens passing team member is on the fantasy radar this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Most believed Ray Rice was being underutilized in the Ravens offense, but last week against the Giants, Rice touched the ball a combined 30 times (24 rushes, 6 catches), gaining 107 yards on the ground and 51 through the air (with a touchdown). It's not for certain whether this was a product of the Ravens being up big early or simply the original game plan, but it was clear that utilizing their best weapon paid off big for Baltimore’s offense. What was somewhat surprising was that backup Bernard Pierce outgained Rice on the ground 123 to 107 (on nine fewer carries), although 78 of those yards came on one long run. This week against the Bengals, I see another heavy dose of Rice, although the results may not be quite as good.

The Bengals, especially recently, have been about as good as any run defense in the NFL. On the season they rank eighth best, but over the past five games they have been even better, allowing opposing running backs just 63 yards per game. They have also been among the league’s best in the second half of the season, allowing just two rushing touchdowns over the past eight games, compared to eight rushing touchdowns through the first seven games. Consequently, the Bengals are among the five toughest teams for fantasy RBs to score against over the past five weeks. While Rice is a special talent and one of just a handful of RBs that are matchup-proof, I would not quite consider him a top option this week. He is still startable but is more of a high-end RB2 rather than his usual top 5 status at the position. As a side note, Rice had just 68 yards against these Bengals in Week 1, although he did score two touchdowns. Bernard Pierce had a great performance last week but is nowhere near consistent enough to be considered a starter in any format yet.

Joe Flacco: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 55 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 55 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Ray Rice: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With little to gain in this game, one would imagine that the Bengals would rest their starters in preparation for a long playoff run, but Marvin Lewis stated this week that he will play his starters and play to win. While this is good news for Bengals owners, Andy Dalton owners should take a step back before they get too excited. Versus the Steelers last week, Dalton threw for a nice 278 yards but had no touchdowns and was picked off twice, making his fantasy day a good notch below average. Dalton has now had four well-below-average fantasy days in a row, and it appears that he has regressed in the second half of the season (for the second season in a row). Add this to the fact that the Ravens pass defense is actually well above average (tied for second in touchdown passes allowed) in both reality and the fantasy world (9th toughest on the season, 5th toughest the last five weeks) and you have a formula for another dud of a game for Dalton. But that certainly doesn't mean A.J. Green shares the same fate, as he is one of just a handful of matchup-proof WRs. Even with Dalton’s sub-par game last week, Green managed 116 yards receiving, making him a nice WR1 option once again.

While the Ravens present a challenge for Green, he has risen to the occasion before against tough defenses. And based on the amount of targets he gets (tied for 4th) and what he does with them (7th in receptions, 3rd in TDs), Green should once again be a safe mid-range WR1, even with an upside limited by Dalton’s recent inefficiencies. The only other guy in this passing offense I would begin to consider this week is TE Jermaine Gresham, who has been pretty consistent in the second half of the season. Still, he is no more than a mid-range TE2 this week. The rest of the receiving corps is way too risky to get cute with right now, as the targets are sporadic between Marvin Jones and Andrew Hawkins. Neither of them are legit options until one can string together a few nice games. It's basically the same old story for this unit: A.J. Green remains a stud, the rest are to be used at your own risk.

Running Game Thoughts: Toying with the idea of starting BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week is an interesting proposition. On one hand, he has been one of the more consistent RBs and has actually improved as the season has gone on, with four 100-yard rushing games the past six weeks—compared to none the first nine games. On the other hand, he is coming off his worst game of the season (15 car, 14 yds), he continues to offer very little in the pass game (more than 15 yds in just one game), and backup Cedric Peerman is set to return this week.

The matchup is a pretty nice one, with the Ravens being the ninth most generous defense to fantasy RBs and having allowed five rushing touchdowns in their past four games. Because the Bengals defense has been very good of late, I would be surprised if the offense didn't use the run game through all four quarters, with Green-Ellis as the main beneficiary. Already having one nice game against a healthier Ravens defense this season (91 yds, 1 TD), Green-Ellis seems poised for a bounce-back game this week. And in the regular-season finale at home (where he averages .6 more yards per carry), I like him as a solid mid-range RB2. While he may not be the most dynamic back in the league, he seems to have the trust of the coaches (6th in attempts) and fits their game plan of playing good solid defense and running the ball.

Andy Dalton: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Andrew Hawkins: 40 rec yds
Marvin Jones: 50 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 85 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 27, Ravens 20 ^ Top

Jets @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Second-year quarterback Greg McElroy limited the mistakes generally associated with Jets’ signal callers this season (i.e., Mark Sanchez), but the Jets passing attack was far from high-powered in Week 16. McElroy is a smart quarterback that could have the intangibles to be a good backup who could keep a team afloat for a few games if need be, but he lacks the arm and athleticism to be a full-time starter on a playoff-caliber team. The concussion McElroy’s suffered last week will allow Sanchez one more start as the Jets quarterback, but his days are numbered in New York. The Jets’ receivers have been banged up all season, to the point that they are down to signing players off the street to play significant minutes. Keep your distance if you have a Week 17 championship or are in a total points league that plays all 17 weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets relied heavily on the running game last week, and Shonn Greene responded with one of his best efforts of the season, scoring twice. Greene is far from dynamic, but as a volume runner, one could do worse for their fantasy squad...especially against a Bills run defense that was starting to show signs of improvement a few weeks before falling back to its place as one of the league’s worst units.

Mark Sanchez: 185 pass yds 1 TD, 1 INT / 5 rush yds
Braylon Edwards: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Chaz Schilens: 20 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 35 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 40 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 35 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: From all indications, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a lame duck quarterback for the Bills. For the third straight season, the Bills passing attack has regressed from the start of the season to the end, this season arguably being the worst of the three. Steve Johnson is still a solid player, but he failed to build on his 2011 season and is no longer viewed as a No. 1 wide receiver by his team and is best looked at as a solid WR3 by his fantasy owners. A franchise quarterback could revive his production next season, but he’s a risky start for your championship game in a matchup against the second best defense in the league against the pass.

Running Game Thoughts: With Fred Jackson on IR, C.J. Spiller is getting the chance to prove himself as a workhorse back, and he’s made the most of that opportunity. He’s rushed for over 100 yards the last two weeks and has looked like one of the best backs in the league. Spiller is the only legitimate playmaker on the Bills offense, and his fantasy owners have to love seeing him turned loose for their playoff run. His speed and dynamic ability give him the potential for a monster day that can almost single handedly win you your fantasy championship. Spiller torched the Jets for over 150 rushing yards and a touchdown on opening day and will be looking to bookend his season with similarly impressive days.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 215 pass yds 1 TD, 2 INTs / 35 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 40 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 35 rec yds
Donald Lee: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Tashard Choice: 15 rush yds / 5 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 145 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 17, Bills 14 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Tannehill has had a successful rookie season and just may be the long-term quarterback that has been eluding the Dolphins franchise since Dan Marino hung ‘em up. That doesn’t mean that you want him starting for your fantasy team in the championship game, however. Tannehill has some nice tools—size, a strong arm, nice mobility—but right now he doesn’t have enough weapons to produce big numbers even if he were a little more polished. Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano are capable of productive outings, but neither is consistent enough to trust during this all-important week. If you are desperate, perhaps you could do worse, but hopefully those that have made it this far have better options.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has regained his role as the feature back after being in a timeshare with second-year back Daniel Thomas through November. Rookie Lamar Miller will replace Thomas as Bush’s backup, however, after Thomas suffered a knee injury that landed him on IR.

Ryan Tannehill: 245 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 15 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 40 rec yds
Rishard Matthews: 15 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds
Lamar Miller: 15 rush yds / 5 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady’s top weapon, Rob Gronkowski, is expected to miss the last regular season game but should be back for the playoffs. And the passing attack has not missed a beat anyway since Gronk has been out. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who was a major disappointment for most of the season, has been the main beneficiary of Gronk’s absence and has been the top weapon in the passing attack in recent weeks. The Dolphins will have issues trying to stop the diverse and talented weapons at Brady’s disposal.

Running Game Thoughts: Stevan Ridley owners were feeling a little nervous after his recent fumble issues, but last week he returned to his role as a bell-cow in the Patriots suddenly balanced offense. Ridley is a compact runner that excels on inside runs but also has the speed to get outside. With 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, Ridley is a must-start against any defense.

Tom Brady: 295 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 25 rec yds
Wes Welker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 90 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 45 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 38, Dolphins 24 ^ Top

Eagles @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick will get one final chance to showcase his skills for a new team as he gets the start in place of rookie Nick Foles, who broke his finger last week. It is all but a certainty that Vick will not be an Eagle next season, so he should be motivated to put up big numbers. Jeremy Maclin should be Vick’s main target, and veteran slot receiver Jason Avant has seen increased targets in recent weeks and could produce well against a porous Giants pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy returned from a concussion and to his starting role in Week 16. Bryce Brown, who gained over 300 yards and scored four times in his first two games before plummeting in production over his next two starts, had a minimum role in the offense with McCoy’s return. He is not a fantasy option this week, with McCoy likely the bell cow with fresh legs against a tired and defeated Giants’ defense.

Michael Vick: 265 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 45 rush yds
Damaris Johnson: 20 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 35 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Bryce Brown: 25 rush yds / 5 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Hakeem Nicks was held without a catch for the first time in his career as a starter. Eli Manning, usually not one to make excuses, blamed his lack of timing with Nicks on limited practice snaps together due to Nicks’ foot injury in the preseason and his being banged up all season. The Giants pass offense has been in disarray for much of the last few weeks and will be looking to right the ship prior to the offseason. The Eagles secondary is talented but has underachieved all season, and with a lame duck coaching staff in the midst of a nightmare season, they just may pack it in, giving the Giants the Christmas gift of confidence heading into next season.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back David Wilson took the spotlight a few weeks back, but the coaching staff still doesn’t fully trust him in a major role, even with Ahmad Bradshaw being held together by scotch tape. With Bradshaw out two weeks ago, journeyman and street free agent Kregg Lumpkin saw major playing time in catch-up mode because the staff lacked confidence in Wilson’s pass protection skills. With Bradshaw clearly struggling through injuries last week, Wilson still couldn’t muster a significant role. Perhaps next year.

Eli Manning: 295 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT / 5 rush yds
Domenik Hixon: 40 rec yds
Victor Cruz: 80 rec yds, 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 25 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Ahmad Bradshaw: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
David Wilson: 35 rush yds.

Prediction: Giants 30, Eagles 24 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Even a broken finger hasn’t been able to slow down one of the hottest wide receivers in the league, as Dez Bryant has been able to play and amass nearly 300 yards and two scores over the last two weeks. Jason Witten should set the record for receptions by a tight end this week and is having a great season at age 30. Miles Austin rounds out a dangerous trio of weapons for quarterback Tony Romo, who has rebounded from a mid-season slump and is a great option in you fantasy championship game while facing the one of worst pass defenses in the NFL.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray has scored in each week but last since returning from his foot injury. The physical Murray goes up against a tough Washington run defense, but with his fresh legs, the Cowboys would be wise to use Murray early and often to soften up the defense and keep Robert Griffin III on the sideline as long as possible.

Tony Romo: 280 yds passing 3 TDs, 1 INT / 10 rush yds
Miles Austin: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 2 TDs
Dwayne Harris: 35 rec yds
Jason Witten: 55 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 95 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Felix Jones: 20 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III is obviously a strong candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year but should also receive consideration for league MVP as well after bringing what was a bad Washington team to the brink of the playoffs. As it is, Griffin is the first rookie quarterback since Dan Marino to be named to the Pro Bowl as an original (non-alternate) pick. Pierre Garcon has performed at a top level since returning from a foot injury and, with his size and speed, should be able to handle the physical Brandon Carr.

Running Game Thoughts: Alfred Morris set the Redskins' rookie record for rushing yards two weeks ago and now has his sights on Clinton Portis’ team record of 1,516 yards. Morris has little wiggle, but his ability to plant and turn up field works well in the Shanahan zone blocking scheme. He’s also one of the more powerful backs in the league after contact.

Robert Griffin III: 225 pass yds 2 TDs / 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 20 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Logan Paulsen: 45 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 75 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 34, Redskins 31 ^ Top

Rams @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: We had high hopes for Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams offense going into Week 16 against one of the league’s worst defenses, but even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t make this passing game look great. Bradford did toss two touchdown passes, but failed to get to 200 yards and also threw a pick during his team’s victory. While no receiver on the team had a particularly great game, it was tight end Lance Kendricks who had a surprising breakout game as he caught four passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. The production mostly came because of an 80-yard touchdown reception, but the game did mark his second-straight game with a touchdown catch.

Without any player consistently producing numbers in the Rams offense, it will be tough to trust them in an important Week 17 game when they’re up against perhaps the league’s best defense. The Seahawks have the second-best fantasy defense against quarterbacks this season, having allowed only 13 touchdowns through the air while intercepting 17 passes. It appeared as if cornerback Richard Sherman might be out due to a suspension, but after he was able to prove a falsified drug test, the corner won his appeal and will play on Sunday. Sam Bradford was held without a touchdown pass the previous time these two teams played and we could very well be in for a repeat of that performance this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The second half of Steven Jackson’s season has been what fantasy owners hoped for when they drafted him to their rosters this summer. The Rams’ tailback has been in double-digits for fantasy points (standard scoring) in six out of his past seven games, including Week 16 when he rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown. The consistency of this back, even on a frustratingly bad offense, has been a breath of fresh air for fantasy owners who have suffered with Jackson over the past few seasons. Backup running back Daryl Richardson hasn’t topped eight carries since Week 6, so the likelihood of Jackson continuing to touch the ball 15+ times this week seems good.

Unfortunately this week he will be up against a team that held him to just 55 yards on the ground when they played in Week 4. Seattle has been very good against the run all season, having allowed only seven rushing touchdowns on the year. In fact, Seahawks have allowed only one rushing touchdown in their past four games. Those looking for some positives, can look back at the history of Jackson in his games against the Seahawks. Throughout his career, the Rams star has averaged over 100 total yards against Seattle. He’s been hot lately, so a matchup against the Seahawks alone shouldn’t scare fantasy owners from putting him in their lineup. Just don’t expect a monster from Jackson in this one.

Sam Bradford: 225 pass yds, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Danny Amendola: 40 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 35 rec yds
Chris Givens: 25 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 25 rec yds
Lance Kendricks: 60 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Week 16 may very well have been Russell Wilson’s coming out party as a NFL passer and it couldn’t have come at a better time than for those who were in their fantasy playoffs. Wilson achieved his first four touchdown performance against one of the NFL’s top defenses as he and the Seahawks blew out their division rivals, the San Francisco 49ers. Although Wilson only threw for 171 yards, a large part of that was because his team was up early in the game and they did not spend much time passing downfield. With Sidney Rice hobbled by a knee injury, it was Doug Baldwin who stepped up against San Francisco when he caught two touchdown passes. Baldwin shouldn’t be relied on going forward, however, as prior to Week 16 he had not topped 10 fantasy points (standard scoring) since Week 6.

Wilson could be in for a bit of a surprise as he goes up against a St. Louis Rams pass defense that has been very good over the second-half of the season. Since Week 10, the Rams have allowed only four passing touchdowns, holding every quarterback under two, including a dominant Week 16 game where they intercepted four Josh Freeman passes and allowed him only one touchdown. Freeman did throw for 376 yards, but much of that came because the Buccaneers were behind early and the Rams were running very soft coverages. Wilson had the worst game of his young career when he played the Rams earlier this year, throwing for only 160 yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions. This will be an interesting challenge to see just how far the rookie QB has come.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch’s monster season continues on as the Seattle running back rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown while also catching his first touchdown pass of the season during the Seahawks’ blowout win over the 49ers in Week 16. We don’t expect Lynch to remain much of a player in the passing game, but his rushing statistics have been more than enough to make him one of the top fantasy players in the league this season. The running back has achieved double-digit fantasy production in seven of his past eight games, including scoring a total of 10 touchdowns during that stretch. His backup, rookie Robert Turbin, has seen his numbers creep up in recent games, but much of that has happened because the Seahawks have been destroying their opponents as of late. Continue to expect Lynch to get the vast majority of the carries during close games.

The Rams haven’t been great against the run through the second half of 2012 as they have allowed nine touchdowns on the ground since Week 8. Even teams like the Cardinals and Jets ran for multiple scores against this struggling defense, so Marshawn Lynch should have no problem continuing on with his huge year. Lynch also had a big game against the Rams when these teams faced off earlier this year. He took 20 carries for 118 yards and a touchdown in that game, a number which should be at least duplicated in Week 17.

Russell Wilson: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 30 rush yds
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 70 rec yds
Doug Baldwin: 50 rec yds
Zach Miller: 25 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 135 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Robert Turbin: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Seahawks 27, Rams 13 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The disappointing 2012 season for the Kansas City Chiefs continued in Week 16 when Brady Quinn and the passing game failed to get to even 200 yards for the third straight week. Worse yet, those stats are coming in games that the team is losing, so they should theoretically be passing more often than usual. With Dwayne Bowe out, the Chiefs have been almost completely incapable of moving the ball through the air. Only tight end Tony Moeaki has been at all fantasy relevant in the passing game, but concussion symptoms held him out of Week 16 and it seems likely that he will also miss Week 17.

They’ll be up against a good pass defense this week when they head to Denver to challenge the Broncos in a game that many believe could be one of the biggest blowouts of the season. Brady Quinn threw for just 126 yards and no touchdowns with an interception when these teams met in Week 12. In that game, the Chiefs scored just 9 points and struggled to move the ball whatsoever. If they hope to keep this game close, they’ll need more than what they’ve been getting from their passing game, including second-year receiver Jon Baldwin who led the team in receiving in Week 16.

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal Charles’ second 200+ yard game of the season came this past week when he rushed for 226 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. This is particularly impressive considering the team lost the game, meaning that the Chiefs had no problem riding him even in a game that they could have realistically won. Not only was Charles productive, but his backup Peyton Hillis also got involved in the offense when he also went over the century mark on the ground. Hillis hadn’t been over 30 yards on the ground since Week 2.

The ridiculous game on the ground that the Chiefs achieved is a very rare feat and something that isn’t likely to happen again as they head to Denver. The Broncos have been great against the run all season, having allowed only four rushing touchdowns on the ground, including holding opposing rushers out of the end zone in seven straight contests. While the Chiefs were able to rush for nearly 150 yards against them in Week 12, it should be noted that Denver scored only 17 points that day and the Chiefs were able to keep the ball on the ground more than they would be able to if it was a blowout.

Brady Quinn: 160 pass yds, 1 INT
Jonathan Baldwin: 50 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 30 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Peyton Hillis: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Now in serious consideration as both the 2012 Comeback Player of the Year as well as the 2012 NFL League MVP, Peyton Manning has fully re-established himself as one of the premier quarterbacks in the league. Manning had struggled in recent weeks with only one touchdown pass in both Weeks 14 and 15, but got back in the swing of the big games when he threw for three touchdowns and 339 yards in Week 16 against the Browns. Both Demaryius Thomas (one) and Eric Decker (two) were recipients of touchdowns from Manning, which marked the first time that they had both scored since Week 11. Both players are now top-10 fantasy receivers (standard scoring) on the year and should be considered solid starts in all formats.

In their final game of the regular season, the Broncos will look to lock up a first round playoff bye as they go up against the Kansas City Chiefs, a team they defeated back in Week 12. During that game, Peyton Manning was not quite his usual self as he completed fewer than 60% of his passes. He was able to throw two touchdown passes, however, and threw for 285 yards before the day was over. Both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas caught four passes in that game but it was only Thomas who was able to get into the endzone. The Chiefs have struggled to slow down opposing passing games throughout the season, but have actually clamped down as of late. Over their past three games, Kansas City has allowed only one passing touchdown which came this past week to Andrew Luck. Peyton Manning is still a must-start, however, as he has been one of the league’s best passers all season.

Running Game Thoughts: The surprising resurgence of former first round bust Knowshon Moreno continued in Week 16 when the running back rushed for 78 yards while also adding 49 yards as a receiver in the Broncos’ victory over the Browns. It was the fourth time in five starts that Moreno has gone over 100 total yards since Willis McGahee’s injury and he has now solidified himself as the workhorse back for this high-powered offense as they head into the playoffs. It’s a bit of a shock to be saying this, but Moreno may be one of the safest plays in fantasy football at the moment.

Kansas City’s defense has actually been pretty good this year when you consider just how many times they’ve been put in bad field position due to the horrendous play of their offense. While they’ve allowed over 1700 yards on the ground to opposing running backs, the Chiefs have been stingy when it comes to keeping them out of the end zone, having allowed only seven rushing touchdowns on the year. Still, the Chiefs are allowing fantasy points to the position and Moreno himself had 111 yards of offense against them when these teams faced off in Week 12. At this point, the biggest worry might just be that if the Broncos get up too quickly in this game, they could end up resting Moreno for the playoffs. Still, fantasy owners should get him in their lineup as he could end up doing some serious damage even in limited playing time.

Peyton Manning: 285 pass yds, 3 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Eric Decker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacob Tamme: 40 rec yds
Knowshon Moreno: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 31, Chiefs 10 ^ Top

Raiders @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: With the Oakland Raiders’ 2012 season essentially over weeks ago, one could argue that they should have been looking toward the future in determining whether or not second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor has what it takes to compete in the NFL. But when their starter Carson Palmer went down with broken ribs in Week 16, the case became even stronger. Still, the team opted to turn to Matt Leinart over Pryor for the majority of the game, despite placing Pryor in the game for a few snaps. This unfortunate situation does affect the fantasy value of both Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey who have struggled in recent weeks even with Palmer behind center.

Matt Leinart has been a failed experiment himself throughout his career and did not look good last week, but it seems likely that he will be the starter for the Raiders in Week 17 as they go on the road to face the Chargers. If he’s going to have a breakout game, this seems like a good defense to do it against as they’ve allowed plenty of quarterbacks to tear them apart this season. San Diego has allowed 10 or more fantasy points to opposing QB’s in 12 of their 15 games this season, including all the way back in Week 1 when Carson Palmer threw for nearly 300 yards and a score against them. Those searching for a player in the Oakland passing game to make use of might turn to tight end Brandon Myers who has been good for most of the season, but fantasy owners should be weary as he has only had a total of 32 receiving yards over the past three weeks combined. With Oakland’s offense in shambles and the Chargers allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, even Myers is a risky play this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With the Raiders passing game in serious distress, it seems likely that running back Darren McFadden could be in line to get plenty of touches this week. McFadden has touched the ball a total of 67 times over a three game span since coming back from injury, including Week 16 when he got 20 touches in a loss to the Panthers. He wasn’t very productive fantasy-wise, but the commitment to getting him the ball is what fantasy owners should be interested in seeing. As long as he continues to see this many touches, he remains very fantasy relevant even in a bad offense.

McFadden is capable of a huge game at any time and that could be true again this week as he goes up against a Chargers defense that has allowed over 300 total yards and four touchdowns to opposing running backs over their past two contests (Jets & Panthers). McFadden actually had one of his better fantasy games of the season in Week 1 against the Chargers, when he rushed for just 32 yards but added 13 receptions for 86 more yards. It’s hard to expect him to repeat those kind of numbers as a pass-catcher, but with Leinart or Pryor behind center, we could see him used as a safety valve more often than he has been in recent weeks.

Matt Leinart: 140 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 40 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 30 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Darren McFadden: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The topsy-turvy season that Philip Rivers has been going through is one of the most frustrating fantasy situations in the league. When he’s been hot, he’s been really hot, including nine games with multiple touchdowns, but he has also been extremely inconsistent, throwing a total of 15 interceptions and having three games where he failed to score a touchdown. His favorite receiver has become Danario Alexander who caught his sixth touchdown in nine games as a Charger, while Antonio Gates surprised us with his second-straight game with a touchdown reception in Week 16.

In the final game of the season, Rivers will be up against the Oakland Raiders secondary that he has decimated in recent years. Over his past eight games against them, Rivers has thrown for an average of 280 yards along with tossing 14 touchdowns and only five interceptions. When these two teams met in Week 1, he threw for only 231 yards and one touchdown but was able to avoid throwing an interception. Oakland has been bad against the pass all season and that figures to continue this week. Look for Rivers and the San Diego passing game to have another nice day.

Running Game Thoughts: Few times in recent memory has a running back been more frustrating to own in fantasy football than Chargers back Ryan Mathews. With him now out of the picture, the backfield has opened up for the duo of Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown to get the bulk of the touches. Neither player was particularly productive in Week 16, but with Ronnie Brown nursing a hamstring, it appears as if Battle could be carrying a big load for the Chargers in the final game of the year. Battle took 19 carries for 49 yards against the Jets a week ago but does have a couple games of fantasy relevance from earlier this season when Mathews was out.

He isn’t necessarily a great start, but for those who have seen injuries on their roster, you could do worse than Battle in Week 17. The Raiders, who currently rank 28th in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, have been on the receiving end of some ridiculous beatdowns on the ground this year, including four games where they’ve allowed 150+ rushing yards. We can’t expect Jackie Battle to approach that number, but given the circumstances of the Chargers offense moving the ball fairly well last week through the air, it’s possible that he could be in line for a few goal line touches. If he’s able to plunge one or two of those in, his fantasy day will be made.

Philip Rivers: 210 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Danario Alexander: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 40 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Jackie Battle: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 10 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 24, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Cardinals @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s hard to describe the incompetence of the Arizona passing game. This is a team that has been so horrific passing the ball that Blaine Gabbert’s 2011 season is laughing at them. After their abysmal performance against the Bears a week ago, the Cardinals have now failed to throw a single touchdown pass in six straight games. They now turn to their fourth starting quarterback of the season, Brian Hoyer, who got limited work during the team’s Week 16 loss where he went 11-of-19 with a pick. On the bright side, there was a Larry Fitzgerald sighting against the Bears as the Cardinals’ superstar receiver went over 35 receiving yards for the first time since Week 9 when he caught 8 passes for 111 yards. It’s hard to trust him due to the quarterback play, but hey - for those who are desperate, it’s at least an encouraging sign that Fitz can still play.

In Week 17, the Cardinals will be up against one of the league’s most dominant defenses in the San Francisco 49ers. Some who are looking to be contrarian might point out that San Francisco has allowed nine passing touchdowns against them over their past five games including a four touchdown game to Russell Wilson only a week ago, but trusting the Cardinals to do anything other than sputter on offense seems unrealistic at this point, no matter who they send out there behind center. We all feel bad for Fitzgerald, but don’t let your man-love get in the way of making a good fantasy decision. Fitzgerald has scored only one receiving touchdown since Week 6 and should only be started as a WR3 or FLEX option in deep leagues at this point. Everyone else in this passing game can be completely disregarded.

Running Game Thoughts: Anytime a team is this bad at moving the ball on offense, it’s hard for a running back to produce much in the fantasy game. That has been the story of 2012 for the Arizona Cardinals and running back Beanie Wells. Wells, who came back from an injury in Week 12, does have five touchdowns since making his return. Unfortunately all five of those touchdowns came in two games, while he achieved just a single total fantasy point (standard scoring) in the other three games combined. The up-and-down success Wells has had makes him a very volatile fantasy player, while those who have paid close attention will tell you that it hasn’t so much been Wells running strong as it has been him taking advantage of unpredictable opportunities that have been granted to him by turnovers and passes that have moved the team near the goal line but not quite in the end zone.

With the mediocre ability Wells has shown combined with his generally grim attitude, it’s going to be extremely tough to trust him as he goes up against one of the league’s premier run defense this week. San Francisco has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. They were beaten up a bit this past week by Marshawn Lynch, but prior to that game they hadn’t allowed a team to rush for more than 100 yards against them since Week 10. Beanie Wells has gone on record stating that his “days are numbered” in Arizona, so he may be fired up to give the other 31 teams in the league something to salivate about, but given that the Cardinals rushed for only 8 yards as a team against the 49ers the previous time these teams met, don’t be too anxious to trust him with your fantasy season on the line.

Brian Hoyer: 140 pass yds, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 50 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 30 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick got his first dose of reality this past week when he and the 49ers were humiliated on the road in Seattle. Although his end-of-game stats weren’t too bad, Kaepernick’s fantasy production looked pretty bad throughout most of the game. At the end of the third quarter, the 49ers had scored just two field goals while allowing 35 points to the Seahawks. Only a garbage-time touchdown pass to Delanie Walker with 1:40 left in the fourth quarter saved what would have otherwise been a miserable game for the 49ers’ new QB. Michael Crabtree continued his production, however, as he has now hit six or more fantasy points (standard scoring) in seven of his past eight games, pushing him just inside the top-20 at his position on the year.

Often times when a young quarterback has a bad day, he bounces back with a nice performance the following week. Many are looking for Kaepernick to do that this week against the Cardinals. However it might not be as easy as it would appear. While the Cardinals have been abysmal this season overall, their pass defense has actually been very good. So good in fact, that after their nice day against Jay Cutler a week ago, they have now allowed the NFL’s fewest points to opposing fantasy quarterbacks on the season. Arizona has only allowed four games of two-or-more touchdowns to an opposing quarterback on the year, one of which did happen to come against Alex Smith and the 49ers in Week 8. With Kaepernick behind center, this is a very different offense which often time has meant Kaepernick running the ball himself. While he has been a good red zone runner, it should be noted that Arizona has not allowed a rushing touchdown to a quarterback in 26 straight games.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners who suffered with Frank Gore’s miserable 28-yard rushing day in Week 16 might not be too excited to go back to the well in Week 17. It’s hard to blame them, either. Who could have seen that kind of blowout coming? The 49ers certainly didn’t. But when your team falls behind multiple scores in the first quarter, it’s often hard to continue to run the ball. You simply don’t have the time to do it. That’s what happened to Gore against the Seahawks, as he took just six carries on the day. Don’t look for that to happen again this week as it appears that Vernon Davis may be out which could lead to even more running than usual from this offense.

The concussion that Davis suffered does hurt the 49ers’ offense as a whole even if he hasn’t been productive as a pass-catcher in recent weeks, but that could be offset by the team leaning a bit more on Gore in Week 17. If you’re going to attack the Arizona defense, that’s the place to do it, as they’ve fallen down to being ranked just 20th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. The Cardinals have allowed 11 of their 15 opponents to rush for 95+ yards against them, including the 49ers in Week 8. Gore was held in check that day, though, as he accounted for just 55 of those yards on the ground and was held out of the end zone. Arizona’s run defense has been particularly porous in recent weeks, having allowed at least 170 rushing yards or a touchdown on the ground in each of their past six games. Look for Gore and the 49ers to continue that streak as they look to lockup the NFC West with a win.

Colin Kaepernick: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 45 rush yds
Michael Crabtree: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Randy Moss: 40 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 40 rec yds
Frank Gore: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 9 ^ Top