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Inside the Matchup
Week 8

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

TB @ MIN | IND @ TEN | NE @ STL | OAK @ KC



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 17 7 70.8
2 Caron 16 11 59.3
3 Smith 16 12 57.1
4 Marcoccio 13 12 52.0

Buccaneers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s amazing what a couple good matchups will do for a team and a player like Josh Freeman. Through the first 4 games of the season Freeman averaged just under 200 yards and just over a TD per game. The past 2 games Freeman has averaged an amazing 374 yards and 3 TD’s. Maybe Freeman and the passing offense has improved or maybe it is simply the result of playing soft defenses, either way the Bucs passing game is on fire as they travel to Minnesota this week. In most passing categories the Bucs sit right about in the middle, though their 55.6% completion percentage is well below the league average while their 8.2 yards per attempt average is 2nd best in the league. Receiver-wise it is pretty much a two-man show between Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Both have been up and down thus far, but following a 216-yard/1 TD performance in week 7, Jackson has firmly grasped the title of the best Tampa Bay wideout to own in fantasy.

The Vikings rank above average in most passing defense statistics, except for completion percentage allowed, where they are in the bottom 12 in the NFL. In this matchup, Freeman’s low completion percentage is fueled by the Vikings defense, while the thing that the Bucs do well (ypa and avoiding sacks) the Vikings defense excels in (tied for 7th best in the league in ypa and 3rd in the NFL in sacks). Someone will obviously have to win these matchups and I tend to think it will be Minnesota, especially in a short week at home coming off a win, as compared to the Bucs who must travel after losing a heartbreaker vs. the Saints at home. This is not to say the Vikings will dominate the Bucs passing attack, I just think they have the intangibles to take a slight advantage. While the Vikings are much better than the past two defenses the Bucs have played, it is tough not to ride the hot hands of Freeman, Jackson, and Williams. I’d definitely start Jackson as a low-end WR1 this week, Williams as a very solid WR3, and as a bye week fill-in or solid QB2 you could do much worse than Freeman.

Running Game Thoughts: In several games this year Doug Martin has looked like he is on the verge of breaking out, he just hasn’t done so yet. Last week against the Saints, Martin had his best fantasy game to date; rushing for 85 yards and a TD on 16 carries. The Bucs had been tinkering with the amount of carries both Martin and LeGarrette Blount were getting, but in Sunday’s game Martin may have put Blount firmly in the rearview mirror as Blount ran just 5 times for -2 yards. The matchup last week certainly helped but even against tougher foes Martin has looked good when given double digit carries. The problem has been simply that the carries were being split.

The Vikings are an interesting and tough to read matchup. On one hand, they have been one of the toughest teams for opposing fantasy RB’s to score against and currently rank in the top 12 in both rush yards per game allowed (100.3) and rush yards per attempt allowed (3.9). On the other hand, they just gave up 104 rush yards to LaRod Stephens-Howling at home. Could this have been a fluke? Sure, but with very little passing game to watch out for, the Vikings should have contained the run game better than they did. This week, the Vikings defense will have to deal with a pass attack that is on fire and worry about the run game… tough to do both. While I don’t expect huge numbers from the run game, I do think the Bucs are warming up to Martin getting a full workload and that means he should be a very good RB2 in this matchup.

Josh Freeman: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 55 rec yds
Doug Martin: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
LeGarrette Blount: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: When the Vikings played the Cardinals last week many people expected the Arizona pass defense to be a tough matchup but few expected the Vikings pass game to be shut down completely. Christian Ponder threw for just 58 yards on 17 attempts while throwing 1 TD and 2 INT’s… oh yes it was ugly. Despite a horrific passing day Percy Harvin continued his hot start and made the most it, catching 4 balls for 37 yards and a TD. On the season, the Vikings now rank in the bottom 10 in passing yards per game (203) and passing yards per attempt (6.6).

For the Vikings, this week’s matchup is a good one as the Bucs passing defense has allowed the 2nd most pass yards per game (323) and have also allowed a very generous 8.5 yards per attempt, putting them 29th in the NFL in that statistic. In fact, if you take away the game against the Chiefs (one of the league’s worst passing offenses), the Bucs are allowing closer to 360 passing yards per game. While I expect the Vikings will still rely mostly on their run game and short quick passes underneath, don’t be surprised if they take a few shots downfield as the Bucs are prone to giving up the big plays and Minnesota has the skill players to take advantage of coverage lapses. Because Christian Ponder has been so erratic he should not be considered a starter this week unless you are desperate - even in a good matchup at home. Percy Harvin on the other hand is a must start and becoming matchup-proof, especially in PPR leagues, as he continuously sees a high amount of targets. Kyle Rudolph had a rough Week 7 with 0 catches, but is a decet option this week as the Vikings should move the ball and have multiple chances near the end zone, which is Rudolph’s specialty. No other member of the Vikings passing attack should be considered until another receiver can become more consistent.

Running Game Thoughts: AWhat can you say about Adrian Peterson that hasn’t already been said? The guy is just a pure beast, coming back from injury early and continuing right where he left off before he got hurt. Last week against the Cardinals AP ran for 153 yards and a TD on just 23 carries (6.7ypc).

We know that AP will get the bulk of the carries and we know he will be used all game long and we know he will be at least above average in all matchups, but how does this week’s matchup vs. the Bucs look? Tampa Bay has been very good vs. the run so far; they rank 3rd in the league in rush yards allowed per game (76) and first overall in rush yards per attempt average (3.1). On paper this is one of the toughest matchups AP has had to date but the Bucs did allow over 100 yards to Alfred Morris in Week 4 and Morris is no AP to put it nicely. Knowing that there must be cracks in that defense, it is safe to say AP is again a must start and while he probably won’t come close to last week’s numbers, he is at the very least a low-end RB1 in this home matchup.

Christian Ponder: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Percy Harvin: 80 pass yds
Jerome Simpson: 50 pass yds
Kyle Rudolph: 35 pass yds, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Vikings 27, Buccaneers 23 ^ Top

Colts @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Andrew Luck only threw for 186 yards last week against the Browns, and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the second week in a row, but still had 18 fantasy points because he ran for two scores (he has three rushing scores this year). Those touchdown trots help put him at 11th place in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks despite having only seven passing touchdowns for the season. Of Luck’s 186 yards last week, 73 of them went to Reggie Wayne, who is second in the league in yards, and hasn’t had fewer than 71 yards in any game this year. Unfortunately, he’s only scored twice, which has left him in 10th place in fantasy scoring among wide receivers. Still, Wayne is a must-start this week against Tennessee’s poor pass defense.

The Titans have been one of the worst pass defenses in the league this season. They are 27th in passing yards per game allowed, tied for last in passing scores allowed and quarterbacks are completing 72.7 percent of their throws against them, which is 4.3 percent more than any other team in the NFL. Only one team has given up more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than Tennessee, and no team has allowed more FPPG to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: With Donald Brown out last week, Vick Ballard took over and ran for 84 yards on 20 carries, with Delone Carter adding 41 yards on 11 totes. Neither of them scored though, because as we mentioned, the team’s two rushing touchdowns were brought in by Luck. Brown might be out again this week, and even if he does play, could be limited. That likely means another heavy dose of Ballard, which makes him a viable flex play against the Titans, who have not contained running backs this season, to say the least.

Tennessee has been as bad against the run as they have the pass. They are 25th in the NFL in rush defense, tied for 24th in rushing scores allowed and 22nd in yards per carry given up. Six different backs have gained 70 or more yards on the ground against the Titans, and only four teams have allowed more FPPG to running backs than they have.

Andrew Luck: 305 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Reggie Wayne: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 60 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 35 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 25 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 70 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Delone Carter: 25 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With Jake Locker likely out again this week, Matt Hasselbeck gets another go as Tennessee’s starter under center. While he hasn’t been bad, he hasn’t put up the type of numbers that would make him fantasy-worthy, having not thrown for more than one touchdown pass in any of his three starts. Hasselbeck has a bevy of receivers to throw to, which muddies the water a bit as far as projections go. Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook are all likely on fantasy rosters in most leagues, but with Hasselbeck starting, none has gained more than 71 yards, with only Britt and Wright surpassing 60 yards.

The Colts are seventh in the league in passing yards per game allowed, but they are tied for 23rd in passing scores given up, and every QB they’ve faced with the exception of Blaine Gabbert has tossed multiple touchdowns against them. All but one of those touchdowns has been caught by wide receivers, and consequently, they have allowed the fifth-most FPPG in the league to wideouts, but the fewest FPts/G to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Welcome back to fantasy football, Chris Johnson. Through the first three weeks of the season he had a total of eight fantasy points, a number that he nearly doubled on one run last week against Buffalo. He’s averaged 113 rushing yards per game the last four weeks, (and that includes a 24-yard performance against the Vikings) and is now 10th in the NFL in rushing yards. Johnson scored his first two touchdowns of the season last week, and is suddenly among the top-20 running backs in fantasy scoring for the season. He should continue to have success this week against a below-average Colts run defense.

Indianapolis held Cleveland to just 42 yards on the ground last week, an improvement of 204 yards over Week 6 against the Jets. The Colts are still 26th in the league against the run, tied for 26th in rushing scores allowed and 28th in YPC given up. They’ve also allowed the fourth-most FPPG in the league to running backs, in no small part due to the 177 yards and one score they allowed to Maurice Jones-Drew and 161 yards and three scores they gave up to Shonn Greene.

Matt Hasselbeck: 205 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Nate Washington: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Britt: 55 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 25 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Titans 27, Colts 24 ^ Top

Patriots @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It has been another great start to the season for New England’s signal-caller Tom Brady who has thrown 12 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. While we’re still waiting for more “monster” games like Brady has delivered so many times in the past, his numbers have been as consistent as they come. Brady has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season and has two rushing TDs as a bonus. Tight end Rob Gronkowski got into the endzone twice in Week 7 against the Jets, bringing him back to being the top-scoring tight end in fantasy football. While his numbers are not quite on pace for what he did last season, Gronkowski’s five touchdowns put him on pace for another double-digit-score season.

Despite Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman all finding their way onto the injury report going into Week 8, the New England Patriots are expected to have all of those players suited up on Sunday when they head across the pond to battle the Rams in London. Despite sitting at the bottom of the shockingly competitive NFC West, the Rams have been surprisingly effective on defense. In fact, through the first seven weeks of the season, they’ve allowed only seven touchdown passes while intercepting eight balls on defense. Then again, it’s important to consider that they’ve been beaten up over the past two weeks when they allowed five touchdowns with zero interceptions to Ryan Tannehill and Aaron Rodgers. It’s hard to imagine St. Louis shutting down Brady and Co. even if the Rams’ defense is vastly improved.

Running Game Thoughts: If you didn’t see this coming you’re probably new to fantasy football. Have fun trying to work through the headaches that Bill Belichick gives fantasy owners every year. Running back Stevan Ridley has taken 20+ carries in three of the Patriots’ first seven contests. In each of those games, Ridley has amassed over 100 yards on the ground and scored at least one touchdown. In the other four contests where Ridley hasn’t taken 20 carries, the story has been exactly the opposite—no 100-yard games and no touchdowns. While Brandon Bolden is expected to miss another game, it has been Danny Woodhead who has taken a chunk out of Ridley’s carries over the past few weeks. While Woodhead hasn’t been fantasy relevant, his 19 touches over the past two games have made it tougher for Ridley to produce for his fantasy owners.

With the split in the backfield in full effect due to Woodhead’s abilities as a pass-catcher, this week’s matchup against the Rams defense doesn’t look particularly promising for Ridley. The Rams have tightened up in the running game, holding opposing running backs to just 108 yards on the ground over the past three weeks. Where they have struggled is against backs that catch the ball, which could make Danny Woodhead a sneaky start this week if you’re in need of a flex play. St. Louis has allowed five or more catches to opposing running backs in each of their past four games and with Ridley having caught just one pass during that same timeframe, it seems unlikely that he’s going to suddenly exploit the Rams where they’ve been weak.

Tom Brady: 290 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 50 rec yds
Brandon Lloyd: 30 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 60 rush yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds, 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: They’re still without top wide receiver and PPR monster Danny Amendola, but the St. Louis Rams passing game certainly looks better in 2012 than it did in 2011 when quarterback Sam Bradford threw for just six touchdowns in ten games before succumbing to injury. Bradford has stayed on the field this season and has already surpassed the six touchdowns he threw last year in only seven games. Sure, it hasn’t always been pretty and the numbers still aren’t great, but with emerging receivers such as Brandon Gibson and deep ball thread Chris Givens, who has caught a pass of 50 or more yards in each of his past four games, things are looking up.

If there’s ever been a week to take a chance on Bradford, this might be it. He and the Rams receivers will have a chance to put up some monster numbers this week against a Patriots defense, which has been absolutely decimated by opposing passing games in recent weeks. New England has allowed a startling 11 touchdown passes over the past four games and allowed an average of 327 yards through the air during that span. What’s even more surprising is who they’ve been beaten up by. Aside from Peyton Manning, the other three quarterbacks who they’ve faced during this run have been Ryan Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez. Sam Bradford won’t find himself at the top of many quarterback ranking lists, but this week might be the exception. If you’re in a bind at QB or if your usual starter has a particularly tough matchup, Bradford could be worth a look against the Patriots.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson finally appears to be fully healthy, but oddly enough that hasn’t exactly translated into fantasy success. While he did have his best fantasy week of the season in Week 7, it was only because he sneaked into the endzone for the first time this season, despite rushing for just 57 yards on the day. Jackson has failed to even sniff the 100-yard mark this year and has been a major disappointment for fantasy owners who took him as high as the second round. One of the reasons for Jackson’s stumble has been backup running back Daryl Richardson who has worked his way into the offense. With 29 carries over the past three weeks, Richardson has out-produced Jackson on a per-touch basis. Unfortunately, his ceiling appears to be around10 touches per week, which means that neither he nor Jackson is particularly appealing as anything other than a Flex play.

The New England run defense could lead to some serious struggles on the ground for the Rams in London. Anchored by veteran defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, the Patriots have held opposing running backs to an average of 71 yards on the ground with just two total touchdowns. Given how suspect their pass defense has been and with the assumption that the Patriots could get out to a decent-sized lead, the Rams are unlikely to be the team that suddenly breaks things open against this run defense.

Sam Bradford: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Brandon Gibson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 30, Rams 23 ^ Top

Raiders @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: When the Raiders traded for quarterback Carson Palmer in 2011, they likely envisioned that 2012 would begin with something better than a 2-4 record. They haven’t been great on either side of the ball, but the truth is that Carson Palmer just might be the best-performing player on the roster. He hasn’t had any huge games, but Palmer’s surprising consistency has been an asset to fantasy owners in a bind. Palmer has reached at least 14 fantasy points in five of his first six games. With receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey finally healthy and on the field together, the best may yet to come for this aerial attack.

If Palmer is going to finally light up the scoreboards and have his first big game of the season, it could very well be against Kansas City in Week 8. The Chiefs have allowed multiple touchdowns to quarterbacks in five of their first six games, with the only exception coming against Joe Flacco and the Ravens who seemed to barely touch the ball on offense due to the success that Kansas City had in the running game. Palmer did struggle mightily against the Chiefs in his two games against the Chiefs in 2011 when he threw just one touchdown pass to five interceptions, but 2012 seems to be a completely different story for both teams. Look for Palmer to continue his string of successful fantasy performances against this porous defense.

Running Game Thoughts: If I told you that Darren McFadden had made it through the first seven weeks of the season without an injury, you would have probably assumed that he was in the middle of a very productive fantasy season. Well, the first part of that sentence is true. The second part? Not so much. The Raiders running back has only one 100-yard rushing game so far with only two total touchdowns. What’s worse is that he has three games under 60 yards rushing and aside from a big Week 1, has not been effective as a receiver. Backup Mike Goodson remains on the roster, but with extremely limited touches is only a handcuff if McFadden does end up getting hurt.

If McFadden is going to get back on track after a disappointing performance against the Jaguars, this could be the week. The Chiefs have been dreadful at shutting down opposing backs this season and are allowing 113 rushing yards per game on the ground. They’ve also allowed six total touchdowns to the position. Kansas City’s defense might just be the worst in the league so it’s hard to know whether it’ll be the passing game, the running game, or a combination of both that succeeds. But rest assured, Oakland will put up points on the board in this one… McFadden owners just hope that their star finally shines.

Carson Palmer: 305 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 50 rec yds
Rod Streater: 30 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Cassel has been a monumental failure for the Chiefs this season and after missing the team’s Week 6 game against the Buccaneers, Cassel has finally been officially replaced. Brady Quinn is now the team’s starting quarterback for the foreseeable future as Kansas City hopes to salvage what is looking like a lost season. Quinn got his first start against the Bucs but failed to throw a touchdown pass while throwing two interceptions in the process. Quinn might end up being better than Cassel overall but the real concern is for Dwayne Bowe owners. Bowe has been very productive with Cassel behind center but has rarely been able to produce the same kind of results with any other quarterback throwing him the ball. It might be time to unload Bowe before others catch onto this fact.

As bad as Kansas City’s passing game has been, there may be a chance that they get things going this week against the Raiders who have been right up there with the Chiefs themselves as one of the worst pass defenses in the league. They’ve allowed at least one touchdown pass to every quarterback this season and have failed to nab an interception in every game but one. Certainly Brady Quinn would be a stretch as a fantasy option even against a bad Oakland secondary, but this could be a game that gives us an indication of whether the Chiefs passing game is completely dead or if it still has some fight left.

Running Game Thoughts: It looks like the Chiefs are going to be in line for a top five pick in the 2013 draft, but one thing’s for sure—they won’t be spending that pick on a new running back. After a season-ending ACL injury in 2010, Jamaal Charles has bounced back in impressive fashion. He’s been over 15 fantasy points in half of his games, including that gigantic performance against the Saints when he nearly cracked 300 yards of offense. He wasn’t quite as productive in Week 6 when he rushed for just 40 yards on 12 carries, but Charles has historically been very boom-or-bust, so this is nothing new.

In his last two games against the Raiders, Charles has amassed exactly 200 total yards of offense, so he could be in for another nice game this week against a very weak Oakland defense. The Raiders have already been gashed on the ground in two games this season, so there’s potential for one of the enormous breakout fantasy weeks that Charles owners have become accustomed to. One major concern is that backup running back Shaun Draughn has begun to get an increased workload and Peyton Hillis appears to be ready to return from his ankle injury, so there is always the potential that Charles’ numbers get clipped.

Brady Quinn: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 40 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Shaun Draughn: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Raiders 34, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Saints @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: 2012 has been a year with a startling number of first round picks who have ended up being complete busts. Thankfully, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has been anything but. Brees has been at or above 19 fantasy points in every game this season, having already thrown for 17 touchdowns on the year. He has thrown for three or more touchdowns in every game but one this season and he padded his numbers by running for a touchdown. It doesn’t seem to matter who Brees is facing because he’s as much of a lock to have a good game as any player in the league no matter the competition. With tight end Jimmy Graham still listed as questionable, Brees’ ceiling might be a bit limited this week.

The competition will be a Denver Broncos defense that is coming off an excellent performance where they intercepted Philip Rivers four times in Week 6. They have struggled at times - Texans in Week three when they allowed four touchdown passes - but the Broncos have generally been good against opposing quarterbacks. Champ Bailey remains one of the league’s best cornerbacks and Von Miller has blossomed into one of the league’s most effective pass rushers. They’ll need everything to be working well if they hope to shut down Brees.

Running Game Thoughts: As great as the Saints’ passing game has been, the truth is that their running game hasn’t been anywhere near as efficient. The team’s trio of backs including Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles have all had their moments, but none of them have been consistent as runners as they have combined for just two total rushing touchdowns. Darren Sproles has been a good overall fantasy producer due to his receiving ability out of the backfield, but that has been inconsistent as well. With Sproles only touching the ball about 10 times per game and the other backs even less, none of them are particularly reliable fantasy plays at the moment.

Perhaps the Saints will choose to follow in the footsteps of the last highly-productive passing game that played against the Broncos when New England surprised everyone by running the ball 50 times for 253 yards. Then again, would anyone really be surprised if they came out and threw the ball 50 or more times instead? Aside from the game when the Patriots ran all over them, the Broncos have been fairly effective at shutting down opposing running games, having held four of their six opponents to under 100 yards on the ground. The Saints do have the talent to move the ball on the ground but this game is expected to be a shootout, so don’t expect New Orleans to suddenly change up their offense and try to become a power running game in this one.

Drew Brees: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 40 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 30 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: We’re about halfway through the season and already one of the biggest questions has been answered—Peyton Manning is officially back. The former Colt and current Bronco is once again a top five fantasy quarterback despite playing with a new team. Manning has thrown for exactly three touchdowns and over 300 yards in four straight games. His favorite receiver has been Demaryius Thomas who has three 100-yard games as well as three touchdown receptions. Eric Decker started off slower, but has caught on as of late with a touchdown in each of his last three games. Those two have been the star receivers thus far, but Peyton Manning is so hot right now that even players like Brandon Stokley, Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen have been effective in recent weeks.

Given how bad New Orleans’ secondary has been, the best of Peyton may be coming this weekend. The Saints have been absolutely humiliated by opposing quarterbacks this season, having allowed 12 touchdowns through the air in just six games, including nine over their past three contests. Even Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman got things rolling against them when he threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns—it could’ve been worse, as a fourth touchdown was called back in the final seconds due to his receiver stepping out of bounds. This matchup has “monster game” written all over it for Peyton and the entire Broncos passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: While Peyton has been about as consistent as it comes as a quarterback, Broncos running back Willis McGahee hasn’t quite had the same level of consistency. He has been productive overall if you look at his numbers, but much of his fantasy point total was accumulated in two games when he ran through the Raiders and Falcons. Outside of those two games, McGahee has failed to get to double-digit fantasy points. Of course, that is to be expected out of an RB2 in fantasy football, which is what McGahee remains even if his total stats have show him as a borderline RB1.

Given how bad the Saints pass defense has been, one would have to presume that their run defense has been significantly better. But they’ve allowed 193 yards and over a touchdown per game to opposing team’ running backs, so it’s very apparent that this defense is historically bad. Every team they’ve gone against this season has gone over 100 rushing yards and all but one team has had a running back score at least one touchdown. The Broncos running game might not be as productive as its passing game, but everyone’s doing well against this defense. McGahee is a very high-end RB2 this week and could easily be one of the highest scorers at his position if he’s given the rock near the goaline.

Peyton Manning: 320 pass yds, 3 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Stokley: 40 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 50 rec yds
Joel Dreessen: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Willis McGahee: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 37, Saints 27 ^ Top

49ers @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The rollercoaster season, at least from a fantasy perspective, continued for Alex Smith last week when the 49ers quarterback threw just a single touchdown pass with 140 yards in a rough game against the Seahawks. They walked out with a win, which is all the team really cares about, but for fantasy owners who have been rotating Smith in and out of their lineups, they saw their quarterback fail to get multiple touchdowns for the fourth time this season. Worse yet, it wasn’t just Smith who struggled. Tight end Vernon Davis has seen his production fall off significantly in recent weeks as the former Pro Bowler failed to catch a single pass against Seattle after catching only three the week before against the Giants.

Smith and Davis will do their best to get things going again in the passing game, but it won’t be simple as they will be going up against an Arizona Cardinals secondary that has been extremely stingy, allowing an average of 9 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Arizona completely shut down the Vikings passing game in Week 7 when they allowed Christian Ponder to throw for just 58 yards. Only two opposing quarterbacks have thrown for over 220 yards against this secondary so far in 2012 and Alex Smith threw for just two touchdowns in the two games he played against the Cardinals in 2011.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s been a very up-and-down season for the 49ers offense but the career resurgence of running back Frank Gore has been a great story. Gore has achieved 13 or more fantasy points five times through seven games this season. He only did that seven times through the entire 2011 season. It hasn’t just been Gore that has been effective on the ground either. Backup running back Kendall Hunter has been effective as Gore’s backup and could be one of the league’s most valuable handcuffs in case Gore does go down with an injury. With the 49ers playing a lot of ball control offense, there’s no reason to believe that this running game won’t continue to be productive all season.

After holding opposing teams to under 100 yards rushing through their first four games, the Arizona defense has slipped in recent weeks, allowing the Rams, Bills and Vikings to run for over 100 in each of the past three weeks. They’ve also allowed three touchdowns on the ground during that span after allowing just one through the first four games. Arizona’s hot start appears to be coming to an end and the 49ers could very well be the team that puts the final nail in the coffin as a legitimate contender in the division. Frank Gore is hot enough that he should be in just about every lineup this week.

Alex Smith: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT 15 rush yds
Michael Crabtree: 50 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 40 rec yds
Randy Moss: 25 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Frank Gore: 100 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In the 2012 preseason, fantasy owners of Larry Fitzgerald were begging that John Skelton be given the starting job over Kevin Kolb. Fitzgerald didn’t seem to have the chemistry with Kolb that he did with Skelton. After a carousel at the position due to injuries, Skelton has once again been named the starter in Arizona, but suddenly Fitzgerald owners are biting their nails. In Skelton’s first start back, Larry caught just four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown while Andre Roberts continued his ascent up the fantasy rankings with seven catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. In fact, Roberts now has more fantasy points this season than Fitzgerald. Of course, a lot of that comes from the fact that opposing teams are keying in on the top receiver, leaving Roberts with less coverage on his side but the fact remains that Fitzgerald’s days as a top-level fantasy receiver may just be coming to an end given the terrible quarterback play in Arizona.

Things don’t get any easier for Skelton and Fitzgerald this week as they go up against one of the league’s toughest defenses, the 49ers. San Francisco hasn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to throw for 200 yards since Week 2 and have allowed only one passing touchdown against them in the past four weeks combined. Needless to say, the Cardinals passing game is not exactly expected to do much this week. If you’re looking for a silver lining, it is worth noting that Fitzgerald had great success against the 49ers in 2011 when he caught 10 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns in two divisional games.

Running Game Thoughts: The Cardinals passing game has struggled for a few weeks now, but that’s nothing compared to the completely unpredictable running back situation. First it was Beanie Wells that went down, then Ryan Mathews, then William Powell got his chance and didn’t succeed, so LaRod Stephens-Howling was finally given a chance in Week 7 against the Vikings. Stephens-Howling added some electricity in the backfield when he ran for 104 yards and a touchdown against a tough Vikings run defense. We have to assume that Stephens-Howling is now the guy going forward, but who knows? This is one of the most frustrating backfields in the league.

No matter who the starter is, this will likely be the toughest matchup that the Cardinals face on the ground all season. The 49ers are allowing just nine points per game on average to opposing running backs after being one of the most dominant run defenses in NFL history just a year ago. They’ve allowed just two touchdowns on the ground in the past 23 games combined. The Cardinals ran for just 101 total yards in their two games against the 49ers in 2011 and have not scored a rushing touchdown against them since the 2009 season. LaRod Stephens-Howling had a nice game last week against a tough defense, but it’s not likely that lightning will strike twice.

John Skelton: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Housler: 30 rec yds
LaRod Stephens-Howling: 50 rush yds, 25 rec yds
William Powell: 20 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 13 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill struggled the last time he faced the Jets, completing only 16 of 36 passes for 196 yards with an interception. That was only the third start of Tannehill’s NFL career though, and he followed that game up with a 431-yard effort. The rookie signal caller has been inconsistent, as expected, but has shown far more through his first six starts than anyone could have expected from a player that started his college career as a receiver. Tannehill has completed nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,454 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions this season. Brian Hartline was held to one catch the last time these two teams faced off, but has developed into a much more important part of the offense since that game—although he did go without being targeted in the Dolphin’s last game before their bye. Hartline is a good route runner, who doesn’t possess blazing speed but has found a way to get open for 514 yards this season. The Phins do not possess a lot of weapons in their passing game, so Hartline should get much of the focus of the Jets secondary—meaning he should be shadowed by Antonio Cromartie this Sunday.

After Darrelle Revis was lost for the season, the Jets secondary was expected to take a big fall from grace. However, Cromartie and Kyle Wilson have really stepped up their game and the Jets have stranded opponent’s passing games even without "The Island". The Jets have held opponents to 215.8 passing yards per game and have given up eight passing touchdowns through seven games. The team added a pair of veteran safeties in Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry, who have managed to stay healthy and have helped improve what was a major weakness last season.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush set a career high in rushing yards last season and has continued where he left off, playing well even when banged up after suffering a knee injury in the Week 3 meeting between these two teams. Bush claims it was a dirty hit that knocked him out of that game, so he should be looking to make a statement this week. He has added weight and muscle tone, which has allowed him to successfully become an adequate North-South runner, while still possessing the straight-line speed to break big plays. Like most other teams, Miami was able to successfully move the ball on the ground against the Jets in their last meeting, as Bush and Daniel Thomas combined for 130 yards on the ground, with Thomas finding the end zone. The hulking Jorvorskie Lane also ran in a score in that Week 3 game. Lane is a 260-pound giant that has two goal-line scores on the season. The Phins can throw speedy rookie Lamar Miller into the mix as well. Expect a heavy dose of running as a means of exploiting the slow linebackers of the Jets’ 30th-ranked run defense.

Ryan Tannehill: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs / 30 rush yds
Davone Bess: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Hartline: 40 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 35 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 50 rush yds
Reggie Bush: 95 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez nearly led the Jets to a comeback win against the heavily favored Patriots in Week 7, closing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, only to lose the game in overtime with a fumble. Sanchez looked really good on the drive that culminated in tight end Dustin Keller’s touchdown, which closed the gap to 3 points, but he also made some costly mistakes, including one of the worst-looking interceptions you’ll see this season, when he badly under-threw a wide-open Stephen Hill, who was alone in the end zone. Sanchez was pleased to have the one reliable target that he’s had throughout his career back to health, as he found Keller seven times for 96 yards and the aforementioned fourth-quarter touchdown. Jeremy Kerley was the Jets' top receiver however, however, with seven catches for 120 yards. Kerley is stepping up with the loss of Holmes and has become a decent WR3 for fantasy teams. Sanchez threw for 306 yards the last time the Jets faced the Dolphins, and he should be in line for another decent outing against a very soft secondary.

The Dolphins have allowed 284.8 yards through the air and more than a touchdown per game on the season. The Phins’ secondary should have a difficult time matching up against the weapons of the Jet passing attack, who are all of a sudden not so terrible.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets running game finally got jump-started in Week 6 behind Shonn Greene, after having struggled massively since a successful Week 1. Greene was effective in Week 7 against the Patriots, as well, before being forced to leave the game after taking a blow to the head. He was able to re-enter the game during overtime and should be fine for Week 8. Green has 215 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games and has looked quicker and stronger through the hole than he has all season. He did, however, struggle against the tough Dolphins run defense in Week 3, gaining only 40 yards on 19 carries. Expect the Jets to ride his hot hand in this game, but he may find the sledding much tougher than in recent weeks.

The Miami run defense has absolutely stymied some of the league’s most talented rushers, including Arian Foster and Darren McFadden, holding opponents to 3.3 ypc on the season. Opposing teams have averaged only 78.2 yards per game with three rushing touchdowns against the Dolphins so far. It’s unlikely that an average runner like Greene will have much success in Miami this week, despite his recent upswing.

Mark Sanchez: 285 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT / 15 rush yds
Chaz Schilens: 35 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 60 rec yds. 1 TD
Dustin Keller: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 55 rush yds / 5 rec yds
Joe McKnight: 30 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 24, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo lit the Giants up to kick off the NFL season, throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s been mediocre at best since that game. In his other five starts, he’s thrown for five touchdowns and eight interceptions and has averaged 266 yards per game. Romo is mobile in the pocket and has one of the quickest releases in the league, allowing him to function behind a less-than-stellar O-line, but he has just not been consistent in 2012. When all are healthy, he has one of the best group of pass catchers in the league, led by Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. However, only Austin has performed at a top level consistently. Witten got off to a slow start after recovering from a preseason spleen laceration, and Bryant continues to mysteriously disappear some weeks—like last week, where he managed only two receptions for 14 yards. Kevin Ogletree shocked the fantasy world in his Week 1 matchup, grabbing eight balls for 114 yards and two scores against a terribly depleted Giants secondary, but he has predictably fallen into fantasy obscurity every week since.

The Giants secondary looked terrible during the Week 1 contest between these two teams, but they settled in nicely once they started to get healthy. Second-year cornerback Prince Amukamara has been solid since missing that game, and the team has played much better pass defense overall. The Giants’ vaunted pass rush led by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul should make it difficult for Romo to get untracked behind his shaky O-line.

Running Game Thoughts: Second-year running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 130 yards against the Giants in Week 1, but he is expected to miss his second straight game with a foot injury. Veteran Felix Jones played well replacing Murray in Week 6, but he struggled as the starter in Week 7 against a very poor Carolina defense. Not surprisingly, Jones got nicked up in that game and ended up ceding snaps to third-string running back Phillip Tanner. The Cowboys' interior offensive line has struggled, making either Dallas backup a risky start this week.

The Giants run defense isn’t anything to write home about, having allowed 126.4 yards per game, but they have limited opponents to only three rushing touchdowns on the ground. Their front seven talent is more suited for getting to the quarterback than stopping the run, but veterans Michael Boley, Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips will keep the Giants run defense respectable in most games.

Tony Romo: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 INT / 20 yards rushing
Miles Austin: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 40 yds receiving
Kevin Ogletree: 35 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Phillip Tanner: 25 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Felix Jones: 40 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Before his late-fourth quarter, 77-yard catch-and-run touchdown that led the Giants to a victory over the Redskins on Sunday, Victor Cruz wasn’t making many big plays—a phenomenon that defined his 2011 season. However, his fantasy owners cannot be upset with a player that is third in league in receptions (40), fourth in receiving yards (627), and tied for the league lead with seven touchdown receptions. With the absence of Hakeem Nicks, opposing defenses were throwing double teams and bracket coverage at Cruz, causing Eli Manning to target him on shorter underneath routes, but on Sunday Nicks finally looked to be back at full strength. That’s a good thing for Nicks, Cruz, and Manning as well. Former Cowboy Martellus Bennett also looked to be back at full strength from a knee injury that slowed him down after his torrid start to the season, which saw him score a touchdown in three consecutive games. When the Giants are at full strength, the passing offense can be downright scary to opposing defenses.

The Cowboys pass defense was not very good last season, so the team signed unrestricted free agent Brandon Carr and drafted the talented Morris Claiborne with their first-round pick, and the results have been outstanding. Dallas is the third-ranked pass defense, having given up only 187.3 yards per game and seven touchdown passes. They haven’t been able to create turnovers, however, with only two interceptions on the season. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has 6.5 of the Cowboys' 12 sacks on the season—they need another player to step up and help take the pressure off of Ware, and put it on opposing quarterbacks.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw’s chronic foot issues became news once again, following one the greatest two-game stretches of his career; but a respectable 65 total yards with a score against a tough Redskins run defense probably helped quell some of his owners’ fears. Bradshaw is one of the best pass blockers in the league and is a successful goal-line rusher, making him one of the more complete backs in the league. Virginia Tech product David Wilson has been an explosive player in brief spurts, but it's journeyman Andre Brown who has won the trust of the coaching staff—and the trust of fantasy owners for the important role of Bradshaw handcuff.

The Cowboys have been a slightly above-average rushing defense so far, but they have now lost linebacker Sean Lee, who leads the team in tackles, to a turf toe injury after he was placed on IR this week. The loss of Lee could be a big factor in this game.

Eli Manning: 265 yds passing 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 75 yds receiving
Domenik Hixon: 30 yds receiving
Martellus Bennett: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ahmad Bradshaw: 95 yds rushing, 2 TDs / 20 yds receiving
Andre Brown: 40 yards rushing

Prediction: Giants 34, Cowboys 28 ^ Top

Falcons @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has arguably been the NFL and fantasy MVP through the first half of the 2012 season. He has masterfully run the no-huddle, downfield-attacking offense installed by new coordinator Dirk Koetter. It doesn’t hurt that he’s blessed with two All-Pro caliber wide receivers in Roddy White and Julio Jones and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez at tight end. Coming off the bye week, the team should be well-rested and well-prepared to face a difficult matchup against a strong Eagles pass defense. Generally the Falcons have had a tough time getting both Jones and White untracked in the same game, but in an offense that is so pass heavy, that’s an issue that should rectify itself over the course of the season. Jones hasn’t quite lived up to his preseason fantasy hype yet, but he has been very effective and had a strong run to finish up his rookie season, so his post-bye production could see a boost. It will be interesting to see if fantasy football’s No. 1 TE, the 37-year-old Gonzalez, has enough gas left in his tank to finish the season on the torrid pace he’s started with. This is a valid question because all of his seven touchdown receptions last season came during the first three months, while he was shutout in December.

For all the hype the Eagles high-priced secondary receives, the team sits in the middle of the pack of pass defenses in the NFL. Philadelphia has allowed 226.3 yards per game and seven passing touchdowns through six games. The Eagles no longer have the feared pass rush they were once well known for, only garnering seven sacks on the season thus far. Perhaps newly promoted defensive coordinator Todd Bowles changes that with a more aggressive plan than the wide-nine scheme favored by fired coordinator Juan Castillo—although it has been reported that the same scheme will carry over under Bowles.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has struggled in all but two weeks this season, with his biggest game of the year coming against a terrible Carolina run defense. His owners must hold out hope each week that Turner finds the end zone, or his numbers could get really ugly. He’s averaging 4.59 yards per carry, but that number is skewed by his 7.92 average in the aforementioned game against Carolina. In four of his six games, he’s averaged well under 4, including two weeks where he averaged less than 3.

The Eagles have allowed 104.5 rushing yards per game and only two rushing touchdowns through six games. Turner’s lack of explosion could make it difficult for him to gain many yards on DeMeco Ryans and the hard-hitting safeties the Eagles rotate into the game.

Matt Ryan: 305 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 85 rec yds, 2 TDs
Roddy White: 85 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 20 rec yds
Tony Gonzalez: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Turner: 45 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 5 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s been well covered that Michael Vick has had a major issue with turnovers in the early season, with eight interceptions and nine fumbles (five lost) through six games. Andy Reid has given only lukewarm endorsements of Vick as his starting quarterback, but with Reid’s job on the line, it's unlikely he'll turn to rookie Nick Foles or journeyman Trent Edwards unless the situation turns dire. On a positive note, Vick is averaging 272 passing yards per game and another 34.2 yards per game on the ground, with nine total touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin struggled with injuries early in the season but has had the bye week to get completely healthy, and he should become productive once again. DeSean Jackson continues to be one of the deadliest players in the game with the ball in his hands, but Vick’s struggles have limited his downfield opportunities. The Eagles' once-feared passing attack will need to turn things round quickly before 2012 becomes another season of underachieving.

Atlanta lost defensive back Brent Grimes for the season before it even started, but they have still managed to perform well against the pass, allowing only 223.3 yards and one passing touchdown per game. The opportunistic former Eagle, Asante Samuel, will be chomping at the bit to take one back against the mistake-prone Vick, especially after being traded to the Falcons this offseason among whispers that Andy Reid no longer thought he could play at a high level.

Running Game Thoughts: For the second consecutive week, LeSean McCoy found tough sledding on the ground but saved his fantasy owners by catching a touchdown pass. Against Detroit, McCoy rushed for only 22 yards, and after six games he has only 459 yards and one touchdown on the ground. McCoy is dangerous in the open field, and the coaching staff could help Vick by designing more screen plays and dump-offs to McCoy in order to keep the pass rush in check. However, McCoy has contributed only 25 catches for 122 yards (and 2 TDs). He is a weapon that the team needs to exploit more, with the passing game struggling. Bryce Brown continues to hold onto the No. 2 spot on the running back depth chart, but he doesn’t see enough touches to be on the fantasy radar. Should McCoy miss any time, however, Brown could be a valuable contributor.

Atlanta presents a bottom 5 run defense for the Eagles to take advantage of...but will they? Over the years, Andy Reid has been stubborn in his reluctance to run the ball, but given Vick’s penchant for turnovers, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to feed the ball to a dynamic running back against a defense allowing 143.8 yards per game on the ground.

Michael Vick: 245 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 65 rush yds, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 15 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 35 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 125 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Bryce Brown: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Eagles 28, Falcons 24 ^ Top

Panthers @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: What a difference a year makes, huh? Last year at this time the fantasy world was raving about Cam Newton as one of the very best fantasy QBs in the game, and now there are many owners looking to bench him weekly or find another option. The Panthers passing game has been below average this year to say the least, averaging just 222 yards per game (22nd in the NFL), 58.8 completion percentage (25th in the NFL) and, especially concerning for fantasy managers, a terrible 5:6 TD to INT ratio. It hasn’t been all Cam’s fault, as the play calling has been erratic and the schedule hasn’t been the easiest (Seattle and Dallas—two of the best pass defenses in the league), but it is obvious that Newton has regressed as a passer since his amazing rookie year. On the bright side, Carolina is actually third in the league in pass yards per attempt (8.1), meaning Newton isn’t afraid to look downfield when he gets the opportunity. Receiver-wise, the Panthers have made three guys fantasy-relevant (Smith, LaFell, and Olsen), but none of them are anywhere near the top options so far, and the lack of touchdowns has really limited each of their upsides drastically.

The bad news for the Panthers is their struggles are probably about to get worse before they get better, thanks to this week’s matchup with the Bears. For starters, the Bears give up, on average, the least amount of fantasy points to opposing QBs. Thanks to a lot of garbage-time yardage, the Bears are only average in pass yards per game allowed (228) but are elite in sacking the quarterback (21 sacks, ranked 5th), intercepting the ball (14, 1st), yards per passing attempt (6.1, 2nd), passing touchdowns allowed (6, tied for 1st), and quarterback rating allowed (62.7, 1st). Add this all to the fact that this is a Bears home game, and you have major headaches for the Panthers passing attack. Newton owners should look for better options or really hope he gets some goal-line carries because it may be a long day for him passing-wise. The only other Panthers passing attack member I would consider is Steve Smith, but even he should be viewed as a low-end WR3 this week, as his only hope may be racking up some garbage-time yardage or a cheap touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: It is amazing to me that a team with perhaps the league’s most talented trio of running backs is not only struggling as a unit, but also relying on their quarterback to be their most effective runner, all while having very little fantasy impact. In four of their six games, Newton has been the Panthers' leading rusher, and he was just one yard behind the leader in another game. This stat must be disheartening for Panthers fans, as there are many millions of dollars locked up in the backfield between Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert. What these millions of dollars has produced is wild inconsistency, little production, and disappointment. Whether it is the O-line, the play calling, or the effort, we may never know, but this unit has been tremendously underwhelming thus far. You would think with this talent level the Panthers would be near the league lead in rushing attempts, but it is actually the opposite: they are in the bottom 10 in that stat.

While the Panthers may eventually try to re-commit to the run game, it probably will not be this week, as the Bears have one of the best—if not the very best—run defenses in the NFL. Even if this were a good matchup, I would probably not recommend any Panthers RB as anything more than a flex play. In a terrible matchup away from home, I would totally avoid this running back situation. There may be better days ahead for this unit as they straighten the run game out, but this is not the week.

Cam Newton: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Steve Smith: 55 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 45 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 30 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 30 rush yds. 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bears passing game is certainly not short on talent, but statistically they are near the bottom of the league in many categories. They are eighth worst in the league in passing yards per game (206), sixth worst in completion percentage (56.9), and eighth worst in quarterback rating (78.3). The main issue for the Bears is that they really don't need to pass that much to begin with (fifth least pass attempts in the NFL), as their defense and run game is so strong, they can usually run out the clock in the second half of most games. For Bears fans this is a great luxury, but for fantasy owners it can make for a frustrating situation, as Cutler and company can almost shut it down by the time the fourth quarter starts in most contests.

In this week’s matchup I expect much of the same, although there is hope that Cutler and at least Brandon Marshall will be start-worthy, as Carolina has allowed the second highest completion percentage (68.4) to opposing quarterbacks. The rest of their defensive passing stats are about average, as they do not excel or underwhelm in most other categories. For Marshall owners, I would certainly start him as a low-end WR1 in this matchup, as the amount of targets he is getting (66, tied for 7th in the NFL) far outweighs the lack of big numbers from the Bears passing game in general. As for Cutler, I would see what other options are available, as his upside is limited in what should be a relatively easy win. On the other hand, if no better options are easily available, he should be a safe bet for double-digit fantasy points in a favorable matchup at home. No other Bears receiver is worth starting simply because of the lack of volume and consistency in the passing attack.

Running Game Thoughts: Because the Bears defense has been so good and because they have a stable of talented running backs, they are one of a very few teams who have almost the same amount of rushing as passing attempts (183-188, respectively). Currently, they rank in the top 12 in rush yards per game (131.5), rush yards per attempt (4.3), and overall rushing attempts (183). Despite this overall effectiveness, neither of the Bears two main running backs (Forte and Bush) are among fantasy’s top 15 RBs on a per-game scoring average. This does not mean they have not had their moments or are ineffective, but the division of carries (Forte, 80; Bush, 64) is certainly not helping either, and the relative lack of touchdowns (Forte, 1; Bush, 3) has also been a concern for fantasy owners.

The Bears should probably run the ball 30 or more times in this matchup, so there is certainly some upside against the Panthers. Currently, the Panthers are among the top 10 most generous teams to opposing fantasy RBs, but they have been much stingier their last two games (both at home). In a road game, where the Bears defense should put the Panthers in tough situations, I see Carolina’s run defense at a big disadvantage. While the matchup is not good enough to recommend starting both Chicago RBs,, Forte should be started with confidence, as he should put up at least solid RB2 numbers in a game that should see Chicago run in all four quarters.

Jay Cutler: 200 pass yds, 1 TD
Matt Forte: 85 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Michael Bush: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Earl Bennett: 50 rec yds
Devin Hester: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 24, Panthers 13 ^ Top

Chargers @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: It wasn’t that long ago that a lot of people were talking about Phillip Rivers as an elite quarterback, but that seems like a distant memory, as he and the Chargers passing offense is barely average these days. They currently rank just 19th in pass yards per game (229), 20th in pass yards per attempt (7.1), and have thrown nine interceptions, good for fifth most in the league. Until Week 6, future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates had been a below-average tight end, and between all of the Chargers wide receivers, there have been only two 100-yard games this year. Is it a lack of talent, poor play calling, or something else? We don’t know for sure, but the Chargers passing attack is nowhere near trustworthy right now— in the NFL or the fantasy realm.

If there is a silver lining on this dark cloud, it is that the Chargers have had their bye week to perhaps get things straight, and they now matchup against one the NFL’s most generous pass defenses. The Browns have given up 15 passing touchdowns (only one less than the league worst), and also are giving up the seventh most passing yards per game (277). While this is good news for the struggling Chargers, it is not a dream matchup by any means. First, four of the Browns games were played without super-talented cornerback Joe Haden, who was suspended but is now back in action. Second, the Browns have intercepted 10 passes so far, good for third in the league (tied), and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 18 times, ranking them in the top 10. Add this to the fact that the Chargers will be playing on the road, and the matchup becomes much more blurry. While I still think Rivers is startable in this game, simply because 200-plus yards and a touchdown seem like a lock, he will most likely turn the ball over a few times and probably rely more on the run game, as it is a better matchup for the Chargers. I would avoid all Chargers receivers with the possible exception of Gates, who broke out in Week 6 (81 rec yds, 2 TDs) and may finally be getting on track.

Running Game Thoughts: The Chargers run game struggled without Ryan Matthews early in the season but looked to have turned things around with him back at full strength. The past two games, Matthews has been given a much bigger workload and has responded nicely, totaling 154 yards and a touchdown (4.5 ypc). While Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown continue to steal a handful of carries, it is clear the Chargers are relying more and more on Matthews, thus making any other Charger RB irrelevant in fantasy football.

In this week’s matchup, the Chargers running attack should get a bit of a boost in going against a Cleveland run defense that has surrendered 133.7 yards per game on the ground (9th worst in the NFL) and a generous 4.5 rush yards per attempt (8th worst). I expect this to be a close game throughout, so both teams should be able to stick with their run games well into the fourth quarter, giving Matthews owners more confidence in starting him. Matthews has still not had that breakout game this year, and coming off a bye against a decent matchup could provide the spark he needs to finally top the 100-yard mark. While I would not rank him as a top 5 option this week, he is not far off that mark; start him with confidence as a solid RB1.

Philip Rivers: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ryan Mathews: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 45 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Say what you want about rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, but he is at least averaging more passing yardage than other more heralded quarterbacks. The problem is, he is very inefficient while doing so, with just a 56.6 percent completion rate (5th worst in the NFL), 6.6 yards per attempt (5th worst), and nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Some of this can certainly be blamed on lack of receiving talent and dropped passes, but Weeden must shoulder some of the blame as well. Besides Weeden’s cumulative passing yardage, the only other bright spot within the Browns passing game is the recent play of Josh Gordon, who now has four touchdowns and 240 yards over his last three games. In fantasy terms, Gordon represents a boom-or-bust type player right now, as he has only seven catches in those three games, despite his nice touchdown and yardage numbers. This means that if you start him, be prepared for anything from a goose egg (as in Week 2) to a top 10 WR performance (as in Week 5).

For this week, I would start Gordon as a decent WR2 option because San Diego has been very generous in both passing yardage (8th worst on a per-game average) and passing touchdowns given up (14 so far, tied for 3rd worst). No other Browns receiver is worth mentioning because of the wild inconsistencies they have displayed. With bye weeks still in play, one could do worse than starting Weeden this week, although he is certainly not a top option at the position. The good news for Weeden owners is that the Browns, as usual, will probably be playing catch-up most of the game, and Weeden should once again throw the ball 35 or more times. While his play on the field may not be pretty, garbage time stats still count in fantasy football, and for that, Weeden owners should be relatively happy.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Browns selected Trent Richardson in the first round of the draft this year, I’m sure they were hoping for at least a bit more production at this point in the season. Through seven contests, the team is 30th in rush yards per game (79.1) and is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry (tied for 23rd). Richardson has shown a ton of promise, and at times he has looked the part, but he has also had a couple of very poor games and is now hurting with a rib injury. He says he will play this week, but one has to wonder, if he does, how long will he stay in and how effective will he be? Last week, in an excellent matchup against the Colts, Richardson started the game but gave way to Montario Hardesty after just eight carries for eight yards. Richardson has now had another week to heal, but it is impossible to know how his body will respond after he takes a few hits.

Also, this week's matchup is not nearly as kind as last week's, as the Chargers are giving up a league-low 71.2 rushing yards per game and a very stingy 3.5 rush yards per attempt (fourth in the NFL). In addition, the Chargers have given up just two touchdowns on the ground, good for fourth best in the league (tied). This all adds up to what should be a tough day for whichever Browns running back gets the majority of the carries. While it is normally very difficult to bench a RB like Richardson who usually gets the bulk of a team’s carries, this is probably the week to do just that. Besides the unpromising matchup, Richardson’s rib injury is so hard to judge, so I would take caution. Of course some people do not have the option to bench Richardson (or Hardesty if Richardson is ruled out), so if you must start him this week, do not expect anything more than low-end RB3 numbers.

Brandon Weeden: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Trent Richardson: 45 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Montario Hardesty: 35 rush yds
Greg Little: 40 rec yds
Travis Benjamin: 45 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 27, Browns 24 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Some would argue that the Seahawks' Week 7 loss (to the 49ers) was due to a poor passing day by rookie Russell Wilson (9-23, 122 yds, 1 INT), but I would say it's simply part of a larger trend. If you take out Wilson’s performance against the Patriots, one of the league’s worst pass defenses, he is averaging just 128 passing yards per game with an average of less than one touchdown and more than one interception. In a word, the Seahawks passing game is bad. Seattle has won games by running the ball, playing very solid defense, and trying not to turn the ball over. This formula has been pretty successful so far, as Seattle is enjoying a 4-3 record despite its poor quarterback play. As fantasy owners, however, we care little about a NFL team’s record, and more about how specific players' performances will affect our roster. In this case, Seattle’s passing attack is certainly a unit to avoid at all costs. Not only does Seattle rank second to last in passing yards per game, but they are dead last in passing attempts.

As fantasy owners, we know that opportunity can mean as much, or more, than skill alone, and with the Seattle passing attack, there is very little of either. To make matters worse, Detroit’s pass defense is a bit above average now that they are getting healthier, and Wilson’s four worst fantasy point totals have all come on road games, and this matchup will be in Detroit. Like most Seattle games this year, expect a healthy dose of the run and below-average numbers from the passing game, making every member of the Seahawks passing unit an extremely risky start. To date, the only guy even remotely start-worthy is Sidney Rice, and even he is nothing more than a low-end WR3 until the passing game shows some signs of consistency and aggressiveness.

Running Game Thoughts: If you are looking for the main reason the Seahawks have a winning record (other than their defense), look no further than their run game, which is eighth in the NFL with 131.7 rush yards per game. This season the Seahawks have rushed the ball more than all but three teams and are averaging a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. The only real disappointment in their run game has been a lack of touchdowns—they have gotten into the end zone just twice so far. The run game is led by Beast Mode himself, Marshawn Lynch, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and has both of the Seahawks rushing touchdowns this season.

The Lions run defense has been up and down, holding the Eagles running backs to just 26 yards two weeks ago, but then letting the Bears run all over them for 132 yards last week. To be safe, I would project the Seahawks to be somewhere in the middle of those two numbers, but I suspect the final numbers will be closer to last week’s totals. With an outstanding defense and a run-first game-plan, I would certainly start Lynch and pretty safely expect low-end RB1 numbers from him in this game.

Russell Wilson: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 55 rec yds
Golden Tate: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For anyone who has watched a Lions game this year, you know they are certainly getting their passing yardage (307 per game, 2nd in the NFL), it just seems to mostly come in garbage time when the team is already down multiple scores. For fantasy owners, this of course is not an issue. Yardage is yardage, however it comes. What is a concern for owners is the extreme lack of passing touchdowns thus far (7, tied for 26th in the NFL). To recognize how strange this is, compare the Lions to a team like the Packers, who are averaging over 40 yards less per game, yet have almost three times as many passing touchdowns (20). Even more extreme, the Bills are averaging 100-plus passing yards less per game yet have more than twice the passing touchdowns (15) of the Lions. The good news for the Lions is that many people, including myself, see these numbers as very fluky and believe a return to a more normal pace of passing touchdowns is bound to happen, especially when they are throwing over 300 yards per game.

The bad news for the Lions is that this week they face one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, the Seahawks. Seattle is currently giving up just 212 passing yards per game (8th in the NFL), while also ranking in the top 10 in sacks (19), completion percentage allowed (57.8), and passing touchdowns allowed (6). What this all means for the Lions is that, while they are likely to break out big one of these weeks with the talent they have, it will not be this week. Because of the pure volume of attempts and yardage, Matthew Stafford is still probably worth a start this week, but he shouldn’t be counted on as a top 10 option. Calvin Johnson is of course matchup-proof, but he is also more of a very low-end WR1 in this tough matchup. An interesting note here is that Nate Burleson is out for the year, so rookie Ryan Broyles, who had a nice game last week (51 yds, 1 TD), will take his place. Broyles is someone to look at down the line in bigger leagues but is not a viable starter in this matchup. The only other member of the Lions passing game to consider is TE Brandon Pettigrew, but he is also a shaky option unless you are in a PPR league.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions were not going to be anywhere near a powerhouse running team this year, everybody knew that, but all things considered, they have not been all that bad. They are currently averaging just under 100 yards per game rushing and just over 4 yards per carry on the ground. These are certainly not earth-shaking numbers, but they are pretty respectable considering that Detroit is a pass-happy team and the level of talent in their backfield is nothing special. Speaking of their talent, this year started with a very muddied picture of how the running back carries were going to be divided: will Jahvid Best be back? Is Kevin Smith healthy and productive? Who is Joique Bell? Can Mikel Leshoure stay out of trouble and stay healthy? For the most part these questions have been answered, and Leshoure stands pretty much alone as the fantasy RB to own on the Lions. Through the four games that he’s played, Leshoure is averaging 65 rushing yards and 29 receiving yards per game. While these are not fantasy-stud numbers, they are not terrible for a flex guy, and the upside is certainly there considering he has had some tough matchups so far and is still probably adjusting to the pro game.

Speaking of tough matchups, this week’s is another uphill battle, as Seattle ranks among the league’s top 8 defenses in rush yards allowed per game (85), rush yards allowed per attempt (3.7), and rushing touchdowns given up (2). In addition, they are one of the four hardest defenses for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. While all this sounds depressing for the Lions, there is a bit of good news: this is a home game, and the Seattle offense does not score many points, meaning Detroit should not have to abandon the run. All things considered, Leshoure is not a good start this week. But as an RB3 or flex option, he certainly has some upside as a safe bet to get 15-plus touches, just don’t expect a breakout performance against Seattle.

Matthew Stafford: 245 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Mikel Leshoure: 55 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 rec yds
Ryan Broyles: 45 rec yds
Titus Young: 45 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 20, Seahawks 17 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Good news, Blaine Gabbert owners! Gabbert intends to play through his torn labrum (non-throwing shoulder) this week, so you can get him back in your lineup right away! Of course I'm being sarcastic here. If you are really a Gabbert owner worried about starting him, you are probably having a tough year. The Jaguars rank dead last in the league in passing yards per game (145), and in the bottom 3 in completion percentage (55), and passing yards per attempt (5.6). To sum up, the Jaguars passing offense is really, really bad. There are only two guys even remotely on the fantasy radar, Justin Blackmon and Mercedes Lewis, and they are deep league desperation starts only.

While the Jaguars will not have to deal with Charles Woodson (fractured collarbone) this week, the matchup is still a very tough one, as the Pack are leading the league in sacks (24) and are also above average in interceptions (9), and completion percentage allowed (58.8). In addition, the Pack defense will not have to worry quite as much about the run game with Maurice Jones-Drew out this week. All in all, this week could be really ugly for the Jaguars passing game, and unless you are trying to score the lowest points in your fantasy league, avoid the whole situation.

Running Game Thoughts: When Jones-Drew went down with an injury last week, Rashad Jennings became one of the hottest adds, and for good reason. First off, the Jags are by default a running team, and Jennings should easily get 20 touches this week, if not more. Second, while Jennings is not close to MJD talent-wise, he does have a few 100-yard rushing games on his resume, along with a nice career 4.8 yards per carry.

In addition, Jennings will be a part of the passing game, so he is certainly worth a look as a solid RB2 play against a Packers defense that is surrendering 110 rushing yards per game. The absence of Woodson (also a good run defender) adds a little boost to Jennings’ appeal in this matchup. No other member of the Jags run offense is worth even mentioning here.

Blaine Gabbert: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rashad Jennings: 75 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Justin Blackmon: 55 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 40 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Remember about three weeks ago, after losing to the Colts, when a lot of people were asking, “What’s wrong with Aaron Rodgers?” Well, he answered with a resounding “Nothing” after throwing for an amazing 680 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions over his last two games! As a team, the Packers are now first in completion percentage (70), eighth in pass yards per attempt (7.6), and first in touchdown passes (20), all while throwing just four picks on the year (tied for second best). A by-product of this passing success are three viable fantasy options in the Packers passing game right now (besides Aaron Rodgers), and that does not even include an injured Greg Jennings. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones have all had huge games in parts of, or all of, the last three games. While most teams only make one or two wide receivers fantasy relevant most weeks, the Packers have spread the ball around enough to make Nelson, Cobb, and Jones all start-worthy since Jennings went down with an injury several weeks ago. The only real disappointment in the Packers passing attack is the lack of production from tight end Jermichael Finley, who has just two games with more than 50 yards and just one touchdown on the year. He is apparently battling a painful shoulder injury, so he should not be given up on yet, but he is not start-worthy at this point.

The Packers matchup this week should keep the train running smoothly, because the Jaguars are certainly below average in most defensive passing statistics, especially sacks, where they are dead last with five—or, if you prefer, four less than Clay Matthews has by himself. In a home game against an offense that will not be on the field much, I look for the Packers passing game to explode again this week, with the only possible downside being that they may abandon the pass in the fourth quarter if they are up by a lot, which I expect. Rodgers is a clear QB1 and a top 3 choice at quarterback this week, while Nelson, Cobb, and Jones all make for high-end WR2s in this excellent matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Let’s be honest, the Packers don’t need much of a run game to win, and that’s probably a good thing because they are not getting a whole lot from it right now. After losing Cedric Benson (who was average himself) to injury, Alex Green has stepped up to take the bulk of the carries but has not blown anyone away with his performance thus far. Green is averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt and has yet to find the end zone.

While stats like these from a running back on a passing team would normally be a major deterrent for fantasy owners, this week I’m recommending Green as a decent flex option. First of all, the matchup itself is pretty juicy, as the Jaguars have allowed the fourth most rush yards per game (147.3), a healthy 4.4 yards per rush attempt, and eight rushing touchdowns on the year (tied for 3rd most). Second, with the Jags offense being so bad and the Packers defense being above average, the field position should be favorable for the Packers, possibly giving Green multiple attempts in the red zone. Finally, I expect the Packers will be up by a considerable amount come the fourth quarter (or earlier), and they should be in great position to just run the clock out with Green. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Green will be breaking records this week, but as a flex option, I think you could do much, much worse.

Aaron Rodgers: 305 pass yds, 2 TD, 15 rush yds
Alex Green: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Randall Cobb: 80 rec yds, 10 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 35 rec yds
James Jones: 55 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Packers 34, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Redskins @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you are Robert Griffin III owner, lately it seems the passing yards are just a bonus to what he does with his legs in the rushing game. But the numbers don’t lie; the Skins can throw the ball too. Through seven games, they are second in the NFL in completion percentage (69.7), first in passing yards per attempt (8.6), and third in quarterback rating (99.1). While the yardage numbers are not blowing anyone away (229 per game, 20th in the NFL), they are certainly efficient at what they are doing, currently sitting at fourth in the league in total scoring (201 points). While the Redskins receiving corps is still very shaky as far as fantasy units go, there is no doubt that RG3 has become a nearly matchup-proof fantasy QB this season.

This week that theory will certainly be tested as the Skins travel to Pittsburgh to face one of the stingiest pass defenses in the league. Currently the Steelers are giving up the second lowest pass yards per game (185), and are very solid in pass yards per attempt (6.2, 4th best in the NFL) and completion percentage allowed (59.3, 9th). On the bright side for Washington, the Steelers have picked off only three passes thus far (tied for 2nd worst) and have given up 10 passing touchdowns. With Troy Polamalu out again this week, the Steelers defense just seems to lack that intimidation factor, and even as a rookie, RG3 should be comfortable in this game, as he has looked all season. While I would certainly start him this week as a low-end, high-upside QB1, the rest of the Skins passing attack is avoidable. Multiple receivers have shown flashes of promise, but there is not that one guy that Griffin seems to really lock-in on (especially with Garcon out), and that makes starting any of them very risky. Perhaps now that tight end Fred Davis is out for the year, Griffin will give more targets to one particular guy. But until we know who that will be, bench all other Washington receivers in this fairly difficult matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: We all know that Mike Shanahan offenses usually put up nice rushing numbers, but what most people did not expect was the emergence of a single workhorse in the backfield this year. Currently, Alfred Morris is second in the league in rushing (658 yds) and tied for eighth among running backs in rush yards per attempt (4.8)—very impressive numbers for a guy who went undrafted in most fantasy leagues. Perhaps even more impressive, the Skins as a team are averaging 177.6 rush yards per game (1st in the NFL), and are tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11. The one-two punch of Morris and Griffin on the ground has given defenses fits, and even a veteran defenses like the Steelers should have a hard time containing both these talents.

Speaking of that Pitt run defense, they too have been very good thus far, giving up just 92.5 rush yards per game (9th in the NFL). Because the Skins offense should be able to keep pace with the Steelers, Morris should be counted on to get 20-plus carries again this week and therefore be a solid RB2 start despite a less-than-ideal matchup. No other Redskins running back is anywhere close to fantasy relevancy thus far this season (surprisingly).

Robert Griffin III: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 40 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Leonard Hankerson: 55 rec yds
Santana Moss: 50 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s not always pretty or well-planned, but the Steelers pass attack is still putting up very nice numbers this season, averaging 282 yards per game, good for sixth in the NFL. It is not just yardage numbers that the Steelers are excelling in either: they currently are tied for the least number of interceptions (3) and are in the top 10 in touchdowns (11), completion percentage (65.7), and pass yards per attempt (7.5). The beneficiaries of this productivity have been mostly Mike Wallace (397 yds, 4 TD), Antonio Brown (442 yds, 1 TD), and Heath Miller (290 yds, 5 TD). For the Steelers passing attack, this week’s matchup presents itself as one of the best all year, as the Skins are statistically the league’s worst pass defense. Thus far, the Redskins are giving up 328 pass yards per game (last in the NFL) and 16 passing touchdowns (tied for last). This might be all fantasy owners of Steelers players need to hear, but it actually gets better, as the Skins have allowed opposing fantasy WRs to score more points than any other defense in the league.

Roethlisberger is a no-brainer fantasy QB1 this week. Wallace is also a lock as a WR1, and Antonio Brown makes for a very safe WR2 in a game that should see Big Ben throw 35 times, minimum. Heath Miller has dropped off a bit from his early season touchdown barrage, but he is also a safe top 10 option at TE this week, as the Redskins are also giving up the second highest points to opposing TE’s in the league thus far.

Running Game Thoughts: Against the Bengals last week, the Steelers had by far their best game on the ground this season. With Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall both out, Jonathan Dwyer took the starting job and literally ran with it to the tune of 122 yards on just 17 carries (7.2 ypc). Dwyer’s performance included a nice 32-yard run, which to this point is the longest of the Steelers' season. Besides Dwyer, five other Steelers ran the ball last week, with Chris Rainey making the only other significant contribution with four carries for 17 yards and a touchdown. While it is encouraging for Pittsburgh to get a good game out of their run offense, we have to realize it was just one game. Their run game was the absolute worst in the NFL before that game, and the Bengals run defense was below average to start with.

The Steelers should face a tougher test on the ground this week, as the Redskins rush defense is among the top 10 in yards allowed per game. Because the Redskins pass defense is much weaker than their run defense, we may see a heavy dose of the passing attack, and the Pittsburgh rush offense may take a backseat this week, especially if the Skins keep the game close or turn it into a shootout. There is a chance that linebacker London Fletcher will miss this game—a boost for any Steelers runner—but this is still up in the air, much like the Pittsburgh backfield. For fantasy owners, this week is shaping up as a situation to totally avoid. With Redman or Mendenhall probably returning to action, Dwyer will at the very least lose some touches, and in all probability, no Pittsburgh running back will get enough carries to warrant a start. Instead of playing that guessing game, save yourself the headache and avoid them all this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 320 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Mike Wallace: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 85 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 45 rush yds
Jonathan Dwyer: 40 rush yds
Heath Miller: 55 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 28, Redskins 27 ^ Top