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Inside the Matchup
Week 9

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 21 9 70.0
2 Caron 20 11 64.5
3 Smith 16 13 55.2
4 Marcoccio 14 14 50.0

Chiefs @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: To say that this is a lost season for the Chiefs is an understatement. Kansas City has been a complete disaster on both sides of the ball but it has been the quarterback position that has received the most scrutiny. After an unsuccessful start to the season that saw Matt Cassel throw at least one interception in every game he started, the Chiefs handed the ball over to backup Brady Quinn who didn’t perform much better in the limited time he spent behind center. An injury to Quinn now puts Cassel back in the starting role, which doesn’t mean much to fantasy owners on the surface, but it does mean a ranking boost for wide receiver Dwayne Bowe who has made a season out of garbage time points with Cassel at quarterback. Bowe caught seven passes for 108 yards and a score in the Chiefs Week 4 matchup against the Chargers.

Coming off their best performance of the season, the San Diego Chargers secondary must be licking their chops to have the opportunity to go up against such a struggling passing game. The San Diego defense held Brandon Weeden and the Browns passing game to just 129 yards and zero touchdowns. Of course, that also came in a game that was run-heavy due to weather. The Chargers did have their best game of the year, in terms of intercepting passes, in Week 4 when they picked off Matt Cassel three times. They’ll look to increase that number on Thursday night.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy football as a whole can be extremely frustrating but when you’re the owner of a star running back who, while healthy, ran the ball just five times, sometimes you just have to throw your hands up in the air and admit that there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s what happened last week to fantasy owners who started Jamaal Charles against a mediocre Oakland run defense. Charles contributed a total of just 10 total yards including the yardage he accumulated on three pass catches. With only 17 total carries over his past two games, Charles may not be the every week must-start that we believed he was from Weeks 3-5 this season when he seemed to be well on his way to repeating his monster 2010 season.

San Diego has been decent at shutting down opposing rushers this season, with only three teams having rushed for more than 100 yards against their defense. Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that one of those 100 yard games came against Charles and the Chiefs in Week 4. Charles’ 111 yards and two total touchdowns would have normally given him a bigger fantasy day, but two fumbles (his only two on the season) led to the numbers being washed out a bit. With the season now in the tank, there is a legitimate concern that Charles might get less carries through the end of the year than he would if the team was in contention, but it’s not time to panic yet. If he gets fewer than 10 touches this week, it could be time to cut ties.

Matt Cassel: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 30 rec yds
Jonathan Baldwin: 25 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 25 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Peyton Hillis: 10 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners who decided to play Philip Rivers in Week 8 probably weren’t happy to see that the Chargers QB threw for just 154 yards in a loss to the Cleveland Browns while throwing up a goose egg in the touchdown column. What the boxscore won’t tell you, is that the game was played in monsoon-like conditions which led to a 7-6 final score. It can be hard to do as a fantasy owner, but Philip Rivers needs to be given a pass on this one. What we won’t give him a pass on, is that he’s still turning the ball over at an alarming rate, having already thrown nine interceptions in just seven games. If he doesn’t stop throwing the ball to the other team, it won’t matter how many yards he throws for because his fantasy value is going to be in the toilet.

This week Rivers has a chance to bounce back against a Kansas City defense that has been abused by nearly every QB they’ve played this season. The Chiefs have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in every game except one, including two touchdowns to Philip Rivers in Week 4. Kansas City ranks 27th in points allowed to opposing quarterbacks and as of right now there appears to be no real reason that the trend of multiple touchdown passes allowed won’t continue. Now it’s just up to Rivers to avoid throwing the rock to the Kansas City secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews was rather disappointing for fantasy owners in a game that saw him touch the ball 26 times. The Chargers running back did crack the 100 total yard mark, but his inability to get into the end zone has continued to hurt his fantasy value as he has now scored just one touchdown since Week 15 of last year. Some might say that he is on the verge of a breakout performance, but it just hasn’t happened this year. Jackie Battle is now a complete afterthought but Ronnie Brown seems to have come out of nowhere and is producing excellent numbers as a receiver out of the backfield which also hurts Mathews’ value. He’s slipping into mid-tier RB2 status without the touchdowns to back up his yardage.

On the bright side, Mathews has historically performed well against the Chiefs. In his past three games against, Mathews has averaged 114 total yards per game and scored two touchdowns. If he can get into the end zone and have over 100 yards, he will make fantasy owners happy at least for one week. Kansas City has allowed over 100 total yards on the ground to opposing running backs in every game this season, so it’s very possible Mathews could have the breakout game his owners are waiting for.

Philip Rivers: 210 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Malcom Floyd: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 40 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 10 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 27, Chiefs 17 ^ Top

Bears @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Chicago has the league’s 30th-ranked passing game, and because Jay Cutler is only 25th in passing yards and has a terrible ratio of nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, he’s 26th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. His poor showing hasn’t hampered Brandon Marshall’s productivity though, as he’s fifth among wideouts in fantasy scoring and fourth in receiving yards. Marshall has amassed at least 70 yards in all but one game this season, and has 98 or more yards in three of his last four contests. He should have another exceptional outing against the Titans this week.

Just one team has given up more touchdowns through the air than Tennessee, only three teams have allowed more passing yards per game than them, and no team has allowed a higher completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks. So as you might expect, they’ve allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, with six different gunslingers passing for multiple touchdowns and five throwing for at least 250 yards against them. The Titans have also allowed more FPPG, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns to tight ends than any other squad in the NFL

Running Game Thoughts: Due to an injury and bye week, Matt Forte is only 20th in fantasy scoring among running backs. But in the four games in which he’s had at least 15 carries, Forte has run for 70 or more yards in all of them. He only has two touchdowns this season, but that’s not a by-product of Michael Bush as you might think – Bush hasn’t scored since Week 3, and has just 13 carries in his last three games. So Forte is clearly the team’s top runner, and has an excellent chance to do damage this week against a bad Tennessee run defense.

The Titans can’t stop the run a whole lot better than they can the pass, and have allowed the third-most FPPG in the league to running backs. They’re 28th in rush defense, 23rd (tied) in rushing scores given up and 26th in yards per carry allowed. Though just two backs have reached 100 rushing yards against Tennessee, seven have run for at least 70 yards, and only one team has given up more receiving yards to running backs.

Jay Cutler: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Earl Bennett: 60 rec yds
Devin Hester: 20 rec yds
Kellen Davis: 15 rec yds
Matt Forte: 105 rush yds, 2 TD / 30 rec yds
Michael Bush: 20 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Hasselbeck will continue to lead the show for Tennessee with Jake Locker injured. He’s been a decent fill-in, but certainly not worthy of a starting job for fantasy owners. His receivers haven’t been great either. Nate Washington is the team’s top fantasy scorer among wideouts, and he’s just 28th (tied). They have a number of weapons, including Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Jared Cook, which makes in more difficult for any to excel and become much more than fantasy backups. That’s especially true this week against a stout Bears pass defense.

Though the Bears are 18th in the league against the pass, they are 10th in completion percentage allowed, third (tied) in sacks, are tied for fewest passing scores given up and are also tied for the lead in interceptions. That’s a recipe for fantasy disaster when it comes to opposing quarterbacks, and the Bears have held them to the fewest FPPG in the NFL.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson is 16th among running backs in fantasy scoring, which is a long ways up from where he was at the beginning of the season. He got off to a horrific start, but in his last three games has run for 91, 195 and 99 yards, respectively. Johnson has moved to 10th in rushing yards for the season, and is once again a player fantasy owners can start with confidence, though we can understand if owners have trepidation this week considering Johnson will go up against Chicago’s top-ranked rush defense.

No team has allowed fewer yards per game on the ground than Chicago this season, who are also eighth in YPC allowed and have given up just a single rushing score, which is the second-lowest total in the NFL (Houston). They’ve only allowed one runner to gain more than 65 rushing yards, with none gaining more than 81, and no team has given up fewer FPPG to backs than the Bears.

Matt Hasselbeck: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Nate Washington: 70 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Britt: 35 rec yds
Jared Cook: 20 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 55 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Titans 20 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Dolphins are just 23rd in the league in passing offense, and though many people have been impressed with rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, he’s been an inconsistent fantasy performer, as many rookie quarterbacks are. The Texas A&M product is 30th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, and though he’s officially questionable to return this week after suffering an injury in New York last week, many expect him to play. His top target is wideout Brian Hartline, who briefly held the NFL lead in receiving yards after a 253-yard game during Week 4, but he’s had just eight receptions for 100 yards in the three games since then, and is 26th (tied) in fantasy scoring among wideouts.

Indianapolis doesn’t allow a lot of yards through the air, ranking seventh in pass defense, but they’re 22nd (tied) in passing touchdowns allowed, 25th in opponents completion percentage allowed and have the fewest interceptions in all of football. This has allowed opposing quarterbacks to accumulate the 11th-most FPPG against them, and wide receivers to compile the seventh-most FPPG. Where the Colts have had success is against tight ends, with no team in the league allowing fewer FPPG to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush is 17th among running backs in fantasy scoring and 16th in rushing yards, but he’s also a disappointing 16th in receiving yards among backs with just 146. We’d like to see him pick up more fantasy points that way, because his rushing success has been limited since his Week 2 performance against the Raiders, when he had 171 yards and two scores. Since then, Bush has one touchdown and hasn’t gained more than 67 rushing yards, though he certainly has an opportunity to break that mark this week against Indianapolis.

For the most part, the Colts have lacked success against the run this year, and are allowing the seventh-most FPPG to opposing running backs. They are 27th in the league in rush defense, 23rd (tied) in rushing scores allowed and 29th in YPC given up. They held Cleveland running backs to just 42 yards in Week 7, but have also allowed some huge games, most noticeably Maurice Jones-Drew’s 177 yards in Week 3 and Shonn Green’s 161 yards and three scores in Week 6.

Ryan Tannehill: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 25 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 75 rec yds
Davone Bess: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Marlon Moore: 25 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 15 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 25 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck is 11th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring even though he has as many touchdowns (eight) as he does interceptions. He’s has success in terms of yards, however, with at least 280 passing yards in five of his seven games, and has also picked up fantasy points on the ground, where his three rushing scores are tied for second-most among quarterbacks. Luck has also revived Reggie Wayne, who is seventh (tied) among wideouts in fantasy points and first in the NFL in receiving yards, and should be in store for plenty of yards against Miami.

Only five teams have given up more yards per game through the air than the Dolphins, but they have kept them out of the end zone and are sixth in passing scores allowed. They’re also sixth in sacks and have allowed the fifth-lowest completion percentage in the league, so it’s a mystery as to why teams rack up the yards against them. Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford and Kevin Kolb have each had their highest passing totals of the season against Miami, and Mark Sanchez has thrown for at least 280 yards against them twice (though we can forgive them for allowing a bunch of yards to Sanchez considering they got out to such a big lead early and forced the Jets to throw).

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown isn’t at the top of anybody’s list of fantasy running backs, but he’s been a decent flex play when healthy, and has gotten better as the season has gone on. He has just one touchdown on the year, and only three receptions, but has run for 84 and 80 yards in his last two games. Unfortunately, we don’t have particularly high hopes for him this week as he squares off against a Dolphins team that has been good against the run this season.

Miami may have difficulty stopping the passing game, but the opposite is true for their run defense. Only two teams have allowed fewer yards per game on the ground than they have, only one has given up fewer YPC, and they’re sixth (tied) in rushing scores given up. No back has gained at least 80 yards when facing the Dolphins, and just five teams have given up fewer FPPG to running backs.

Andrew Luck: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Reggie Wayne: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 55 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 30 rec yds
Donald Brown: 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Vick Ballard: 15 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 24, Dolphins 20 ^ Top

Lions @ Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: It doesn’t necessarily feel like it to many observers, but the Lions have the league’s number-two passing offense. Matthew Stafford is eighth at his position in fantasy scoring, and sixth in passing yards, but last week was his first game with more than one touchdown throw. We didn’t think that was possible, not with Calvin Johnson at wideout. But despite being seventh in receiving yards among wideouts, Megatron is a startling 18th (tied) in fantasy points at his position because he’s caught just a single touchdown throw. Similarly, tight end Brandon Pettigrew is tied for seventh among tight ends in receiving yards and fourth in receptions but his lone touchdown means he’s tied for 15th in fantasy points among tight ends.

The Jaguars are 23rd in the NFL against the pass, and though they are tied for seventh in passing touchdowns given up, they’re also 25th (tied) in interceptions, and no team has sacked the quarterback fewer times than they have. Yet those numbers haven’t translated to a great deal of fantasy success for opposing players, because Jacksonville is 15th in FPPG allowed to quarterbacks, 13th in points allowed to wideouts and 31st in in points given up to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Mikel Leshoure has taken over as Detroit’s top running back, with mixed results. He ran for 100 yards and a touchdown in his first game this season, but in his subsequent four contests has gained 26, 70, 63 and 46 yards without a score. Yet he makes for a great play this week – in the very least as a flex – against a Jaguars team that gives up bundles of fantasy points to running backs.

Jacksonville has had their troubles against the run this season, with just three teams allowing more FPPG to running backs. They are 25th in rush defense, 23rd (tied) in rushing scores given up and 21st in YPC allowed. Every team the Jaguars have played has had a running back gain at least 50 rushing yards and five different backs have picked up 70 or more yards against them.

Matthew Stafford: 335 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 115 rec yds, 1 TD
Titus Young: 70 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Broyles: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Scheffler: 15 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jacksonville has the league’s worst passing offense in terms of yards per game, averaging just 164. That’s despite Blaine Gabbert’s (29th in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks) 303-yard performance last week against Green Bay, because it was just the third time this season he had more than 155 yards through the air. In his defense, he lacks weaponry on the outside, and all fantasy owners need to know is that their highest-scoring wideout is Cecil Shorts, who is 37th (tied).

Detroit is a solid ninth in the league in pass defense, 14th (tied) in passing scores given up, and 15th (tied) in sacks, but just 27th (tied) in interceptions. The lack of takeaways hasn’t hurt them though, because only two quarterbacks have thrown for at least 240 yards against the Lions and just three wideouts have managed at least 80 yards when playing them.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew will not play this week due to his foot injury, which clears the way for Rashad Jennings to once again be the feature back. He’s a solid pass-catcher out of the backfield, but has run the ball 38 times for just 103 yards (2.7 YPC) in his last two games. Detroit isn’t a beast in terms of run defense, but they have kept runners out of the end zone, and Jennings is not a good play this week.

The Lions are 18th in the NFL in rush defense, and 22nd in YPC allowed, but have found a way to keep running backs out of the end zone and are tied for third in rushing scores given up. That means fantasy points have been at a premium for opposing backs, and only six teams have given up fewer FPPG to players at the position despite the fact Detroit has played a number of premier runners.

Blaine Gabbert: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Justin Blackmon: 60 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 55 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 20 rec yds
Kevin Elliott: 15 rec yds
Rashad Jennings: 50 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 28, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Bills @ Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills are just 29th in the NFL in passing offense, which might lead one to conclude that their individual players have not put up many fantasy-friendly game. Those conclusions would be right, as Ryan Fitzpatrick is 18th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring and Steve Johnson is 26th (tied) among wideouts. Johnson does have four touchdowns in seven games, but hasn’t gained more than 82 yards in any contest, which is hurting his fantasy stock. And even though Fitzpatrick has thrown three or more touchdowns in four of his seven contests this year, he also has nine interceptions and just two games with 210 or more passing yards. Frankly, we don’t see much of an improvement in store this week against the Texans.

Only four teams have allowed fewer yards per game through the air than Houston, and though they’re 22nd (tied) in passing scores given up with 13, almost half of those were by Aaron Rodgers in Week 6. Even with Rodgers torching them, the Texans have allowed the eighth-fewest FPPG to quarterbacks, and are 18th in FPPG given up to receivers – they’ve allowed 100 yards or less to wideouts four times in their seven games this year.

Running Game Thoughts: Just three teams have run for more yards per game this season than the Bills. C.J. Spiller is 10th among running backs in fantasy scoring, but has seen his production wane with the return of Fred Jackson the past month. The two backs share the load, which cuts into the fantasy production of both, with Jackson getting more carries than Spiller in three of their last four games, but Spiller gaining more rushing yards in three of those four contests. Neither of them figure to have exceptional contests this week, not against a Houston squad which has been excellent against running backs this year.

Just three teams have allowed fewer yards on the ground per game than the Texans, who are also ninth in YPC allowed, but remain the only team that has yet to allow a rushing score this season. They’ve given up the fourth-fewest FPPG in the league to running backs, and Chris Johnson’s 141 yards against them in Week 4 represents the only time a running back has gained at least 70 yards when facing Houston.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Steve Johnson: 80 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 25 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 40 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 30 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s no secret that Houston relies on their running game to move their offense, but we thought that Matt Schaub would be more effective for fantasy owners. He is just 23rd (tied) among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, with 10 or fewer points in three of his seven games this year. Andre Johnson, despite relative health, is only 37th among wideouts in fantasy scoring, and though he has four games with at least 70 receiving yards, has just a pair of touchdowns this season, and none since Week 3. The player that fantasy owners should be excited about in Houston’s passing game is Owen Daniels. The tight end is fourth at his position in fantasy points and has scored four times in his last five games and faces a middling Buffalo pass defense this week.

The Bills have had their problems containing the pass this year, ranking 22nd in the league in pass defense, 25th (tied) in touchdowns allowed through the air, 15th in opponents completion percentage and 15th (tied) in sacks. Those numbers translate to plenty of fantasy points for the opposition, with Buffalo giving up the second-most FPPG in the league to quarterbacks and fourth-most FPPG to wide receivers. And with the exception of Tom Brady the Bills haven’t faced elite quarterbacks, having allowed Mark Sanchez to throw for 266 yards and three scores, Matt Cassel to compile 301 yards and two touchdowns, and Alex Smith to collect 303 yards and three touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster leads all backs in fantasy scoring this season, and has four more rushing touchdowns than any other running back. He’s amassed no fewer than 14 fantasy points in any game this year, with a trio of 20+ point games. Foster has a dream match-up against the Bills, and has every opportunity to lead all players in scoring this week.

Buffalo has had the single-worst rush defense in all of football, ranking dead last in all significant categories: rushing yards per game given up, rushing scores allowed and YPC allowed. No team has given up more FPPG to running backs than the Bills, with nine backs gaining at least 55 yards, six picking up at least 80 yards and four accumulating 100 or more yards.

Matt Schaub: 210 pass yds, 2 TD
Andre Johnson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 45 rec yds
Arian Foster: 125 rush yds, 2 TD / 20 rec yds
Justin Forsett: 30 rush yds

Prediction: Texans 31, Bills 17 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Dallas is third in the league in pass offense, but you wouldn’t know it by Tony Romo’s fantasy status. He is 23rd (tied) in fantasy scoring, and has tossed three more interceptions than any quarterback in the league. He’s also had just a single game with multiple touchdowns since throwing three during Week 1. His wideouts are plenty talented, and Miles Austin is 15th (tied) in fantasy scoring among wideouts and has failed to reach double-digits in scoring only once this year. Dez Bryant is 30th (tied) in fantasy scoring at his position, but has come on of late, with 95 or more yards in three of his last four games. Jason Witten has also stepped up recently, and even though he is just eighth among tight ends in fantasy scoring, he leads everyone at the position in receptions and targets, and is second in receiving yards.

Atlanta has allowed the 10th-fewest FPPG in the league to quarterbacks and only two teams have given up fewer FPPG to wide receivers. They are 10th in the NFL in pass defense, fourth (tied) in passing scores given up, 12th (tied) in sacks and third (tied) in interceptions. Just a single quarterback has thrown for at least 260 yards against the Falcons and only one wideout has amassed over 85 receiving yards, though they have allowed 50 or more yards to tight ends three times in their last four contests.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray is 27th among running backs in fantasy scoring, but has missed his last two games and is questionable this week due to his foot injury. The same can be said of Felix Jones, who has had his struggles filling in for Murray but who is also dealing with knee and shoulder issues. That’s a shame, because Atlanta has not been able to shut down many running backs this year.

The Falcons have been more apt to give up yards on the ground than through the air this season, ranking 26th in the league in rush defense, tied for 23rd in rushing scores allowed and next-to-last in YPC allowed. Fantasy success for opposing backs has followed, with Atlanta giving up the 10th-most FPPG in the league to running backs.

Tony Romo: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Jason Witten: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 75 rec yds
Miles Austin: 65 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 40 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Felix Jones: 25 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan is sixth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, and has had just one hiccup, which was Week 6 when he threw three interceptions and only one touchdown. Otherwise, he’s been brilliant, and can, in part, thank his pass-catchers for that. Roddy White is 10th (tied) and Julio Jones is 13th among wideouts in fantasy scoring, and those two, along with Tony Gonzalez (third among tight ends in fantasy scoring), make for an outstanding triumvirate of weapons that has benefited their fantasy owners all season, even this week against a good Dallas pass defense.

The Cowboys have the league’s number three pass defense, and are tied with their opponent this week, Atlanta, for fourth in touchdown throws allowed despite being 21st (tied) in sacks and 27th (tied) in interceptions. But the lack of touchdowns allowed has meant fantasy success has been fleeting for their opposition. Dallas is allowing the fourth-fewest FPPG to quarterbacks, the seventh-fewest FPPG to wideouts and the 10th-fewest FPPG to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner isn’t what he used to be (who is?) but he’s been plenty good enough to be a RB2 or flex play all season. He’s 18th among running backs in fantasy scoring, and though he’s struggled the last two weeks, does have three rushing scores in seven games, and has an opportunity to be a decent if unspectacular contributor to his fantasy owners this week against the Cowboys.

Dallas has been a middle-of-the-road team against the run this season, ranking 13th in rushing yards allowed per game, 19th (tied) in rushing scores given up and 12th in YPC allowed. Just three running backs have gained 75 or more yards against the Cowboys, and they’ve done an exceptional job of limiting backs in the passing game – only one team in the league has allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs.

Matt Ryan: 290 pass yds, 2 TD
Julio Jones: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 25 rec yds
Michael Turner: 65 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 20 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 24, Cowboys 20 ^ Top

Eagles @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Philadelphia passing game may be 15th in the league, but it hasn’t done a whole lot for fantasy owners. Michael Vick has had just two games with more than 15 fantasy points this year, and is 15th at his position in fantasy scoring despite running for 241 yards. He’s been a disappointment, but so have his wideouts. DeSean Jackson has only one touchdown and one 100-yard game this season and is 35th in fantasy scoring among receivers. Meanwhile, Jeremy Maclin has been great at times, but is 41st (tied) in fantasy scoring and only twice has broken 40 yards. If either was going to break out, this week against New Orleans would be a perfect time.

The Saints have been truly bad against the pass this season, ranking 30th in the league in pass defense, 27th (tied) in passing scores allowed, 28th in opponents completion percentage, 21st (tied) in sacks and 27th (tied) in interceptions. They’re a dream match-up for fantasy owners of opposing quarterbacks and receivers, because no team in the league has allowed more FPPG to players at those positions than New Orleans. Yet because wideouts are so busy against them, tight ends have been left out of the fun, with only six teams giving fewer FPPG to players at that position than New Orleans.

Running Game Thoughts: We spoke of the Eagles’ passing game being a disappointment, but LeSean McCoy qualifies as well. He is only 12th in fantasy scoring among running backs and hasn’t run for more than 53 yards in his last three games. McCoy is a great back who has no business trailing the likes of Shonn Greene in rushing yards, even if Greene has played one more game than McCoy. But we fully expect him to give fantasy owners an outstanding performance this week against the Saints, because they just stink against the run – there’s really no other word for it.

New Orleans is as bad against the run as they are the pass, ranking 31st in rush defense, 28th (tied) in rushing scores allowed and 30th in YPC. Only Buffalo has given up more FPPG to running backs than the Saints, who have played seven games and allowed seven different running backs to gain at least 80 rushing yards.

Michael Vick: 275 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 40 rush yds
DeSean Jackson: 90 rec yds
Jeremy Maclin: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 35 rec yds
Jason Avant: 30 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 115 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Saints once again lead the league in passing, with Drew Brees ranking fourth in fantasy points at his position. He’s thrown for at least 325 yards in five of his seven games this season, and has 20 touchdown passes, a quarter of which have gone to Marques Colston, who is sixth among wideouts in fantasy scoring. Jimmy Graham is also sixth at his position in fantasy scoring, but he had a bye week and also missed a game with an injury, so we are certain that by year’s end, he’ll be back among the leaders at the tight end position.

Despite being one of only two teams in the league without at least 10 sacks, the Eagles have fared okay against the pass this year. They are 14th in the NFL in pass defense, 14th (tied) in passing scores given up and have held opposing quarterbacks to the second-lowest completion percentage in the league. Philly has fared well against both quarterbacks and tight ends, but have had some trouble with opposing wideouts. Though they’re 15th in FPPG allowed to players at that position, the Eagles have given up 100 or more yards to a receiver five times in their past five games.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints don’t have much running game to speak of. No team has run for fewer yards per game than they have, and their running backs have little fantasy value outside of Darren Sproles, who is 21st in fantasy scoring, but that’s due almost entirely to his receiving prowess. And with the Eagles having a solid run defense, we don’t think the New Orleans running backs are going to suddenly become fantasy worthy this week.

Philadelphia is 17th in the league against the run, and 14th in YPC allowed, but have given up just a pair of rushing scores, which is tied for third in the NFL. Ray Rice gained 99 yards against them in Week 2, and he’s the only back to pick up at least 85 yards against the Eagles, who have given up the 10th-fewest FPPG in the league to running backs.

Drew Brees: 330 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 95 rec yds
Marques Colston: 80 rec yds
Lance Moore: 45 rec yds
Devery Henderson: 15 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 30 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 15 rush yds / 65 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 30, Eagles 27 ^ Top

Broncos @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Broncos passing game is going strong right now; not only do they rank fourth in the league in passing yards per game (293), but they are also fourth in completion percentage, first in yards per pass attempt (8.2), and tied for third in passing touchdowns (17). To say the least, Peyton Manning is looking like his old self lately (109 passer rating, best in NFL) and his receiving corps is doing their part, especially Demaryius Thomas, who is third in the league in receiving yardage (679). Manning absolutely picked apart the Saints’ porous defense last week, going 22 of 30 for 305 yards and three touchdowns with no picks. Truth be told, he probably could have had 500 yards, but Denver called off the dogs and ran the ball much of the fourth quarter.

This week, the Broncos’ opponent will not be as soft, but the Bengals are not exactly an elite defense either. Currently, they rank in the middle of most passing statistics, although they are worse in completion percentage allowed (67%, fourth worst) and better in sacking the quarterback (23, tied for third best). Fantasy-wise, the Bengals are actually pretty stingy to opposing WRs (sixth toughest), but a little more generous to opposing QBs (17th easiest) and even more to opposing TEs (sixth easiest). While he may not make a huge impact in this game, cornerback (and first-round pick) Dre Kirkpatrick will make his debut in this game and may eventually make the Bengals pass defense much better. For this game, however, the Broncos’ two main receivers (Decker and Thomas) should be safe starts, even though on paper the matchup is less than ideal. Manning is on fire right now, and while he certainly will not have his best game of the year this week, he is simply too good and too hot to sit. Manning should be a top 10 QB option this week, Decker a solid WR2, and Thomas a low-end WR1. It is very tempting to start TE Tamme in this matchup as well, but he has been too inconsistent for my liking; consider him outside the top 10 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With some pass-heavy teams around the league, you tend to see a real lack of a run game (Green Bay, New Orleans) because of a lack of attempts or a lack of talent at running back. This is not the case with the Broncos thus far, as their run game totals are very respectable, which is keeping their main running back, Willis McGahee, is very much relevant to the fantasy world. McGahee ranks 10th in rushing yards this season and leads the Broncos, who are putting up 112.6 rush yards per game (14th in the league). While these are not earth-shattering numbers, it certainly makes the Broncos a more balanced team, and it makes McGahee a fairly solid RB2 most weeks.

This week McGahee may even be a little better than that, as the Bengals defense ranks 22nd in rush yards allowed per game (124), and have let up a very generous nine rushing touchdowns (tied for second most in NFL). Fantasy-wise, the Bengals are giving up the fourth most points to opposing RBs and are just a bye week removed from allowing one of the worst rushing attacks in the league (the Steelers) to rack up a touchdown and 148 yards on the ground. While the Bengals do have home field advantage and the bye week to heal and plan against the Broncos, their trend of being a weak rushing defense will continue this week. I would start McGahee with confidence as a high-end RB2, as the Broncos should be able to run all game long and accumulate some nice stats. While the Broncos No. 2 running back, Ronnie Hillman, is not a recommended start here, he is worth mentioning quickly, after having his breakout game last week in putting up 86 yards on just 14 carries. While this was largely a product of a big Denver lead, he looked very explosive and comfortable, so Denver may use him more and more going forward. McGahee is in little danger of losing his job, but fantasy owners should keep a close eye on Hillman for the stretch run and roster him if they have the room. He may become much more relevant as the season goes on.

Peyton Manning: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Demaryius Thomas: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacob Tamme: 35 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: When you have a receiver like A.J. Green (90.9 rec ypg, 7 TDs) you can mask a lot of your passing game problems. In week 7, however, Green saw only six targets (he was averaging 11 before that), and the passing game suffered tremendously because of it, netting only 105 yards against the Steelers. Overall, the Bengals passing stats still look pretty good: they are top 12 in passing yards per game (257), passing touchdowns (14), passing yards per attempt (7.8), and completions percentage (64.3% ). The problem is that these numbers are trending down, their schedule gets tougher, and Andy Dalton has a history (albeit for only one year) of struggling in the second half of the season.

The Broncos are a tough pass defense, ranking in the top half of the league in yards allowed per game (213), completion percentage allowed (59.8), and yards allowed per attempt (6.4). They are also pretty stingy when it comes to fantasy points, as they are the eighth toughest team for opposing fantasy WRs and are tougher than half the league in allowing opposing fantasy QB scoring. Regardless of these numbers, Green is pretty much matchup-proof and should be started as a low-end WR1—and even though I expect he’ll get a heavy dose of Champ Bailey. No other Bengals WR is on the fantasy radar this week, as the inconsistency of targets is maddening, with different WRs stepping up each week and backing down the next. TE Jermaine Gresham is an interesting player this week because, even though he has not been much better than average so far, the Broncos do allow the third most fantasy points to opposing TEs. If you have Gronk or another top TE on a bye, you could do worse than taking a shot on Gresham this week. As for Dalton, I would try to find a better option, as he is outside the top 12 QB matchups this week. If you do have to start him, at least you can trust that Green should be targeted more than six times, and that should positively affect Dalton’s numbers. As a side note, I would look to trade Dalton while you can, as the schedule won’t get easier for him going forward.

Running Game Thoughts: In Week 7, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the Bengals running game were somewhat productive (80 total yards) but unspectacular (longest run of 14 yds, 3.8 ypc, no TDs). These should be considered typical Bengals rushing numbers for the remainder of the year, as no player in their backfield has dynamic playmaking ability, and the play calling has heavily favored the pass so far. Currently, the Bengals rank 23rd in the NFL in rush yards per game (96.6) and are about average in most other rushing statistics.

Their opponent this week is average in total rushing yards allowed (742) but is much stingier on a per-carry basis (3.7 ypc, 6th best). This is not great news for Green-Ellis, who is averaging a mere 3.4 yards per carry on the season. The Bengals would probably be smart to let their backup, Cedric Peerman (7 car, 83 yds, 1 TD on season), carry the rock a few more times, but thus far he has been used sparingly other than his kick return duties. If you have Green-Ellis, he should be no more than an RB3 anyway, so if that is where you have him slotted, I suppose he is a fairly safe start this week. While he should maintain his usual output, do not expect a breakout game this week against a defense that is running pretty hot.

Andy Dalton: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 70 rec yds
Andrew Hawkins: 45 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 70 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 30, Bengals 20 ^ Top

Ravens @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco started the season blazing hot, making many believe he was ready to take that next step up to “elite” status, but he has really struggled in his last three games, completing just over 50 percent of his passes and averaging under 200 yards and one touchdown per game. For the season, the Ravens rank in the middle of most passing categories, but if the last three weeks are an indication of things to come, they will end up near the bottom. Unfortunately for the Ravens receiving corps, Flacco’s struggles have made most of them very risky fantasy starts most weeks. Most obviously effected is tight end Dennis Pitta, who easily looked like a top 10 TE the first four weeks of the season but has not topped 33 yards in a game or recorded a touchdown since. Speedster Torrey Smith has been boom-or-bust most weeks, but much more bust over the last three games. Anquan Boldin has probably been the most consistent receiver on the team thus far, but his upside is very limited, as he has turned mostly into a possession receiver.

This week the Browns present an interesting matchup because their overall defensive stats should favor the Ravens passing attack. They have allowed the sixth most fantasy points to opposing QBs and the fifth most to WRs. A deeper look into the stats shows a different story, however. Since cornerback Joe Haden has returned from suspension, the Browns defense has been much improved, allowing the 17th most fantasy points to opposing QBs and the 29th most to WRs—a big difference from the total season stats. The Browns are also coming off their best defensive performance yet, as they held the Chargers to just six points and Phillip Rivers to a season-low 154 yards and no touchdowns. While I do not expect Flacco to be held to such low numbers, expectations should certainly be tempered for a road game against an underrated and emerging defense. Until Flacco puts up another great game or two, I would bench him unless you are in a very large or two QB league. As for the receiving group, Smith is the most exciting option, as he could always catch a long one for a touchdown, but this week I expect Haden to cover him a lot, so he is therefore no more than an average WR3. Boldin and Pitta should also be considered no more than a WR3 and TE2 until the passing game shows some real sign of life.

Running Game Thoughts: In their last game, the Ravens had to totally abandon the run after being down 29-3 at halftime against the Texans, and Ray Rice finished with just 42 rushing yards. It’s not going out on a limb to say, that scenario will not happen this week. Even after such a mediocre game from Rice, he still ranks 11th in rush yards per game (74.9), eighth among running backs in rush yards per attempt (4.9), and tied for third with five rushing touchdowns.

Facing Rice this week, the Browns rank 24th in the league in rush yards allowed per game (131.6) and 23rd in rush yards allowed per attempt (4.4). Even more importantly for Rice owners, Cleveland is currently giving up the 12th most fantasy points to opposing RBs. The thing to worry about for Rice is the amount (or lack) of rushes he gets based on the Ravens’ play-calling and weakened defense. While this may be a thing to worry about against high-scoring teams down the road, this matchup should call for a heavy dose of Rice rushing the ball for all four quarters. Coming off a bye with fresh legs, in a divisional rivalry game, Rice should feel good and have some extra motivation this week, and he should take his frustrations out on the Browns defense. While Rice is obviously startable every single game, this looks to be one of his better matchups. Start him with confidence as a top 5 option at RB this week.

Joe Flacco: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 45 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 55 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: First the bad news for the Browns passing game: their completion percentage is the fourth worst in the NFL (55.2), their yards per pass attempt is also fourth worst (6.4), their passing touchdowns (9) tie them for sixth worst, and their 10 interceptions tie them for third worst. In addition, they are coming off a game where Brandon Weeden went 11 for 27 for just 129 yards, and they have no major talent on offense save for running back Trent Richardson. With all this doom and gloom, you may think it hard to find a silver lining here, but you would be wrong, as there are some bright spots among the dark clouds. First off, while Weeden’s numbers do not look very good, he is still throwing a lot (299 attempts, tied for fifth) and is actually looking downfield for the big play quite a bit (11.1 yards per completion), especially to wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is averaging 22.3 yards per catch (first in the NFL).

The other good news is that a matchup against the once-dreaded Baltimore defense is actually quite favorable for the Browns, especially with the Ravens’ No. 1 cornerback, Lardarius Webb, out for the year. Baltimore is giving up 257 passing yards per game, ninth worst in the league, and has played only one game without Webb so far, so that number might actually get worse. The only major passing stat that Baltimore does not rank in the bottom half of the league in is passing touchdowns allowed (6), in which they are actually tied for first. Since the Browns do not get many passing touchdowns anyway, this stat can be ignored (I’m only half joking here). For the season, the Ravens actually are pretty stingy to opposing QBs fantasy-wise (mostly because of the lack of touchdowns), but these numbers are a bit skewed because of current injuries and a game against the Chiefs, where KC basically did not even try to pass the ball. While starting Weeden is still not a great choice, even in a decent matchup, the volume of passes should be there, and I suppose you could do worse most weeks. Still, he is once again not a top 10 option. The only Browns receiver remotely interesting from a fantasy perspective is Josh Gordon, who has a great per-catch average and four touchdowns, including a couple of long ones. The problem with starting him is that he has only 17 catches on the season, so he is very boom-or-bust. I would certainly feel comfortable starting him as a WR3 in a good matchup such as this one, but you are really gambling if you are penciling him in for a sure-fire good game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Browns are certainly not a very good team right now, but give them credit for at least one thing: they know who their best playmaker is and they do what they can to get him the ball. After two weeks of dealing with a painful rib injury, Trent Richardson looked healthy and energized as the Browns gave him 24 carries and he responded with 122 yards (5.1 ypc) and a touchdown. The rest of the Browns running backs got four total carries for seven yards combined, showing that when Richardson is healthy he is their run game. Even more encouraging for Richardson owners is that he performed this well against a tough matchup, the Chargers, who were among the top 3 rush defenses (in yards allowed per game) going into last week’s game.

Speaking of matchups, this week versus the Ravens is a decent one for Richardson and the Cleveland run game, as the Ravens defense is banged up and not near as dominant against the run as in years past. Not only is Baltimore among the bottom 5 teams in rush yards allowed per game (142.9), they are also near the bottom in rushing touchdowns allowed (9). Even more encouraging for Richardson owners is that the Ravens' last three opponents’ have rushed for 200 yards (Chiefs), 227 yards and a touchdown (Cowboys), and 177 yards and two touchdowns (Texans). In their first meeting this season against the Baltimore defense, Richardson ran for only 47 yards but did add a rushing touchdown and 57 yards receiving (his highest total so far). While these numbers are pretty nice already, this week’s matchup could be even better since the Browns are now at home, their defense is playing better (allowing them to stick with the run), and the Ravens defense is without two key players (Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb) who both played when these teams met in Week 4. Because it is a division rivalry game and the Ravens are coming off a bye, I expect Baltimore to be a tougher matchup then they look on paper, but I would still easily start Richardson as a high-end RB2 and expect numbers at least a little better than he posted the last time he faced the Ravens.

Brandon Weeden: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Little: 30 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens: 20, Browns 17 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Well, you can’t say the Cardinals aren't at least trying to throw the football, as they rank fourth in the league in pass attempts (309). The bad news, however, is that they rank just 24th in the NFL in pass yards per game (211), 31st in pass yards per attempt (6.2), and have thrown just nine touchdowns, tied for 20th in the league. The only two members of the passing game that are at all fantasy relevant are of course wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (511 rec yards, 3 TD) and, surprisingly, wide receiver Andre Roberts (454 rec yds, 5 TD). However, the inconsistencies at quarterback make both receivers risky plays each week. This week the Cardinals again roll out with John Skelton, but he is far from a fantasy starter, especially playing in Green Bay against a hot Packers defense.

For the season, the Packers have allowed the 16th most fantasy points to opposing fantasy QBs and the 11th most to WRs. While these numbers would seem to present an average matchup at best, it’s actually much worse for the Cardinals passing game, as the last three weeks the Packers defense has improved and are actually down to seventh hardest matchup for opposing QBs and the 12th toughest for WRs. Even if this were a much easier matchup on paper, it would be very tough to recommend starting any Cardinals player outside of Fitzgerald, but in a road game at Lambeau field against an improving defense, even Fitzgerald is a risky play. The saving grace for the Cardinals passing game, from a fantasy perspective, is that they will need to throw all game long (think 50 or more passes) to keep up with the white-hot Packers offense. Because of this sheer volume of pass attempts, and the likelihood of a bunch of garbage time yards, I suppose Fitzgerald should be considered a low-end WR2 this week. Skelton should be avoided at all costs, however, since I expect several turnovers (Packers lead the NFL in sacks) and few touchdowns. Andre Roberts would be a desperation play this week as a low-end WR3, but there should be better options out there somewhere.

Running Game Thoughts: On paper the Packers run defense is barely above average, as they are 12th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game (103.9) and 17th in points given up to opposing fantasy RBs. Against an average run game, the Packers might give up enough to make an opposing RB fantasy relevant, but the Arizona run game is no average rush offense. The Cardinals are second to last in rush yards per game (79), dead last in rush yards per attempt (3.5), and have just three rushing touchdowns. Two weeks ago, LaRod Stephens-Howling breathed a some life into the Cardinals rushing attack, running for 104 yards and a touchdown, but that memory quickly faded as he followed up with an eight-carry, six-yard effort against the Niners last week.

Sure, the Niners run defense is better than the Packers, and sure, the Cardinals were never in that game so they abandoned the run, but are you confident that will not happen again, this time against a Packers offense that has averaged over 30 points per game the past three weeks? The bulk of the carries will probably go to Stephens-Howling again, since William Powell was invisible (no touches) last week; however, this is merely a formality, as Stephens-Howling is at best a low-end RB3 this week. If you have to start Stephens-Howling you have to hope that the Cardinals' above-average defense keeps the game interesting enough to get him at least 15 touches, but I truly believe that’s a big leap of faith.

John Skelton: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 45 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 40 rec yds
LaRod Stephens-Howling: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Packers passing offense versus the Cardinals defense will probably be the most important matchup within this game, as Aaron Rodgers has been absolutely on fire the past three weeks (11 TDs, 866 pass yds) and the Cardinals pass defense ranks among the very best in the NFL. To be more specific, the Cardinals are letting up the second lowest fantasy points to opposing QBs thus far, the fourth fewest passing yards per game (193), the fourth lowest completion percentage (56.5%). Furthermore, they are tied for the lead league in sacks (26).

The Packers passing offense, on the other hand, is currently first in completion percentage (68.9%), first in passing touchdowns, and fourth in QB fantasy points for the season. While the stats suggest that this may be a stalemate of sorts, the Packers seem like the much hotter team right now. And in a home game, I expect Green Bay to win this battle, although not in a landslide. One thing to note for the Packers receiving corps is that Jordy Nelson is questionable again this week, after having missed last week with a hamstring issue, and he will probably miss this game since the bye week is next week and the Packers tend to take caution with injuries. Regardless of whether he plays, look at both Randall Cobb and James Jones as very solid but unspectacular WR2s in this matchup, and view Jermichael Finley as a high-end TE2. Aaron Rodgers is of course a must-start in all matchups, and while I think he will put up very respectable numbers, do not expect him to carry your fantasy team this week, as the Cardinals are a good defense and the Pack may be running the clock out late in the game.

Running Game Thoughts: As a team, the Packers rush offense is very ordinary, as they rank 20th in the league in rush yards per game (90.1), 27th in rush yards per attempt (3.7), and have scored just two rushing touchdowns thus far (tied for last). This, combined with the fact that Arizona’s defense is the 12th hardest team for opposing fantasy RBs to score against, makes starting any Green Bay RB a risky proposition. Alex Green gets the nod as the starter again this week, although it sounds like James Starks may finally mix in a little as well. Green has been very unimpressive since taking over the starting job three weeks ago from an injured Cedric Benson. He is averaging just under 3 yards per carry and has yet to find the end zone. For those of you who own Green, the bright side is that he is averaging 21 carries per start, a number that even some elite backs (Rice, McCoy, etc.) have not hit over the same three-week period. While the matchup is again a tough one for Green and the Packers run game, I expect a heavy dose of the run, especially late in the game, which alone makes starting Green as a low-end RB2 an interesting proposition. While the Cardinals run defense has been very strong overall, they have actually given up the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing RBs over the past three weeks. So, there is some upside here, even if it's capped by Green’s lack of talent. You could certainly do worse this week than starting Green in this matchup.

Aaron Rodgers: 240 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Randall Cobb: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordy Nelson (if he plays): 40 rec yds
James Jones: 70 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Alex Green: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 27, Cardinals 17 ^ Top

Vikings @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After starting the season off with four straight games having not thrown an interception, second-year Vikings starter Christian Ponder has since slipped into a four-game slump where he’s tossed seven interceptions and only six touchdowns. The struggles on offense have been evident, as only wide receiver Percy Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson have done much of anything on offense in recent weeks. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has had back-to-back awful games, accumulating just 17 yards receiving across those contests, and is now no more than a low-end starter after his hot start made him a potential top five TE. At this point, only Percy Harvin, who has remained hot even on down weeks for his team’s offense, is an every week fantasy starter in this passing game.

Things don’t get any easier in Week 9, either, as Ponder and the Vikings go up against one of the league’s best secondaries, the Seahawks and their “12th man” in Seattle. Seattle struggled to shut down a surprisingly red hot Matthew Stafford last week, but they had previously allowed only one quarterback—Tom Brady—to throw for more than 260 yards or multiple touchdowns. Seattle has intercepted at least one pass from opposing quarterbacks in six of their first eight contests, and given Ponder’s recent struggles, they could be in for more this week. If there is one glimpse of silver lining for owners of players in the Vikings passing game, it's that Seattle has struggled to shut down opposing tight ends in recent weeks. In their past three games, they’ve allowed 25 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns to opposing tight ends. This could mean a decent day for Kyle Rudolph if Ponder decides to throw the ball his way.

Running Game Thoughts: He came into the year off of an ACL tear that ended his 2011 season as one of the league’s biggest question marks, but Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has certainly re-established himself as a premier player at his position. Peterson, who hasn’t yet had his bye, is currently the second-ranked running back in fantasy football in standard scoring leagues and is coming off back-to-back 120-plus yard days against two fairly decent run defenses in Tampa Bay and Arizona. Peterson is an every-week must-start no matter who he is facing, as he is the kind of back who can break free and explode for huge fantasy production at any time.

His task will be a bit tougher this week, though, as Peterson goes up against a Seattle defense that currently ranks third best in the league in stopping opposing running backs. The Seahawks haven’t allowed an opposing back to score a touchdown against them since Week 3 and have only allowed two total on the year. The list of backs they’ve held out of the end zone includes DeMarco Murray, Stevan Ridley, and Frank Gore. Of course, none of them are as talented as Peterson, but this isn’t exactly the world’s best matchup for Adrian. Still, he needs to be in your lineup every week right now, as he might currently be the hottest back in all of football.

Christian Ponder: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Percy Harvin: 70 rec yds, 10 rush yds
Jerome Simpson: 30 rec yds
Michael Jenkins: 25 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Even though it came in a losing effort in Detroit, Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson had one of his best performances of the year when he threw for 236 yards and a pair of scores. Wilson, who has cracked the 200-yard mark only three times this season, remains a bye-week fill-in at best and still hasn’t focused in on any single receiver as his favorite. If we had to pick one, it would probably be Sidney Rice, who has caught multiple passes in five straight games, though his yardage total has maxed out at only 81 yards in those games.

Rice is a flex option and will have the chance to play against his former team this week as the Seahawks host the Vikings, who have been one of the league’s worst pass defenses this season. Although they have allowed only one 300-yard passer on the year, the Vikings have given up double-digit fantasy points to every quarterback they’ve faced, including the likes of Blaine Gabbert, Alex Smith, Matt Hasselbeck, and John Skelton. As the third rookie starter the Vikings defense has gone up against this season, Wilson will look to follow in the footsteps of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, who both beat up the Vikings for multiple touchdowns and significant fantasy production. Wilson hasn’t been given the keys to his offense in the same ways that Griffin and Luck have, but he’s not a completely terrible option this week against a bad Minnesota secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: His running style may not be quite as flashy as other running backs in the league, but Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch has been one of the league’s most consistent fantasy producers this season. Ranked as the sixth best back in the league coming into the week, Lynch has rushed for 100 or more yards in four games this season and has topped 85 yards on the ground in every game but one. What limits Lynch’s fantasy value is that he is among the league's least passed-to backs, as he has caught just 11 passes despite being on the field for almost every play.

Tough defenses haven’t been a problem for Lynch yet, and he’ll get another one this week as he goes up against a Vikings defense that has ranked near the top of the league at stopping opposing backs all season. It is worth considering that the Vikings have slipped up a bit in recent weeks, however, including allowing six total touchdowns to running backs in three straight games. This comes after allowing none in their first five games. It doesn’t appear that much has changed personnel-wise or scheme-wise for the Vikings, so the expectation should be somewhere between those two extremes, but it’s very possible that a back like Lynch gets into the end zone against them again this week.

Russell Wilson: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 30 rec yds
Zach Miller: 25 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 105 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It took him awhile to get things going, but there might not be a hotter fantasy quarterback in the NFC right now than the Buccaneers’ Josh Freeman. Freeman threw just five touchdowns in his first four games this season, along with four interceptions; but he has since gone on a tear, with nine touchdowns and only one interception in his past three games. Not only that, but he has averaged 337 yards during this recent run. His receivers, including Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, have benefited greatly from Freeman’s success but have been a bit inconsistent—but that has been the story of their careers as a whole thus far.

Even though Freeman has been hot the past three weeks, it’s easy to point to his schedule and suggest that this can’t continue. Having gone against the Chiefs, Saints, and Vikings in those contests, Freeman’s numbers are sure to fall a bit, right? Well, probably. But maybe not yet. This week he’ll get the Raiders and their 24th-ranked fantasy pass defense. Oakland has allowed at least one touchdown pass in every game this season and have gone five of their seven games without intercepting a single pass. Freeman may not be the best name for fantasy, but his numbers and recent success make him a great option this week against a bad Oakland secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Typically when a team is throwing the ball very effectively, the running game also begins to open up a bit. That’s what we saw last week when the Vikings began to focus too much on the Bucs passing game, which allowed rookie tailback Doug Martin to have the biggest game of his young career. Martin rushed the ball for an impressive 135 yards and a touchdown while adding 79 yards as a receiver—a 32-point day in standard-scoring formats. Better yet, after conceding numerous goal-line carries to LeGarrette Blount in previous weeks, it was Martin who line up in the red zone and scored the short-yardage touchdown at the end of the drive, perhaps putting to rest the worry that his fantasy value will be limited by another goal-line vulture.

Martin ran over and through one of the league’s best run defenses last week, so he should have no problem breaking loose a few times against a mediocre Raiders front that has given up numerous big games already. The Raiders have looked better in recent weeks, and they did shut down Jamaal Charles last week; still, that can easily be chalked up to bad coaching, given that the Chiefs gave Charles only five carries on the day. Martin has looked very good in recent weeks, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue his solid fantasy production as a low-end RB1 going forward, even if he is now without his elite guard, Carl Nicks, for the remainder of the season.

Josh Freeman: 260 pass yds, 2 TD
Vincent Jackson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 45 rec yds
Doug Martin: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore both finally healthy, the Oakland passing attack appears to finally be putting things together. Moore has scored in four of his past five games and will look to continue that streak against the Buccaneers. Also, Carson Palmer has had 14 or more fantasy points in six of his seven games this season and has, somewhat surprisingly, been one of the league’s most consistent quarterbacks. One of the biggest factors for Palmer's sudden step up in play has been that he has limited his turnovers, having not thrown more than one interception in any contest yet this season.

With the exception of two games where they were humiliated by Drew Brees and Eli Manning and allowed a total of seven touchdown passes, the Tampa Bay secondary has been excellent. They have held other opposing quarterbacks to just two passing touchdowns combined. And that includes allowing just one passing touchdown between the likes of Tony Romo, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III. They don’t get after the passer much, which could lead to a decent day for Palmer, but given that he’s not on the same elite level as Manning or Brees, Palmer’s upside is limited to what he has done in other games this season. He’s serviceable, but not great.

Running Game Thoughts: “He lives!” yelled Darren McFadden owners when the perceived-to-be-elite running back finally got things going on the ground this past week against the Chiefs, rushing for just his second 100-yard game of the season. It took him 29 carries, but McFadden’s 114 yards rushing were a breath of fresh air for those who took him as early as the first round. He’s still not producing much in the passing game after a big performance in Week 1, but McFadden could be in for some nice overall fantasy days if he can continue to play like he did last week and, perhaps more importantly, stay healthy.

“Run DMC” will be tested this week by the Buccaneers, who are coming off a game when they were humiliated at times by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who seemed to run right through them. McFadden is an elite runner when he’s in space, but he doesn’t have Peterson’s strength, so he’ll need his offensive line to get him to the second level by opening up holes against a Bucs defensive line that hasn’t played particularly well all season. This isn’t the greatest matchup for McFadden, but it’s not a particularly bad one either. In fact, it should be a barometer for what we can expect from the Raiders running game going forward. Is McFadden “back” or is it time for fantasy owners to cut and run? We’ll likely know a lot more after this game.

Carson Palmer: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 50 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Raiders 24 ^ Top

Panthers at Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Owners of Cam Newton were certainly expecting more from the Panthers signal caller in 2012. Newton currently sits 13th among fantasy Quarterbacks and the Carolina’s passing game as a whole ranks in the bottom third of the league. Adding salt to the wound, it appears Newton may be without one of his top-three weapons as wideout Brandon LaFell has missed practice this week with concussion symptoms. If he’s sidelined, expect more targets for Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen with Louis Murphy taking LaFell’s spot as the number three option in the passing game.

The Redskins defense is a positive matchup for opposing quarterbacks and receivers having allowed multiple passing TDs in six of their eight games. Roethlisberger, Dalton, Bradford, and Brees have all thrown for three touchdowns against Washington, a team on pace to allow 5,000 passing yards in a single season… yikes! Injuries have plagued the Redskins-D who will be without starters Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Meriweather. For those who have soured on Newton due to his first-half performance, you may get what you were expecting at draft time here in Week 9 against the defenseless Redskins.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week brought a new look to the Carolina running game as head coach Ron Rivera somewhat ditched the RBBC approach and gave Jonathan Stewart 17 carries in a loss to Chicago. DeAngelo Williams did receive 11 carries but with trade rumors circling his name all week, it’s clear that the Panthers will proceed with Stewart as their featured back moving forward. The two could only muster 2.7 yards per carry against a stout Bears defense but the 28 combined carries means the coaching is willing to stick with the running game which should provided dividends for Stewart down the road.

The Panthers running game is statistically middle of the road and will match wits with a middle of the road rushing defense in Week 9. The Redskins have allowed only one 100-yd rusher this season (Jonathan Dwyer last week) and only five rushing touchdowns on the year. I’m cautiously optimistic that the Panthers will stay close enough to continue running Stewart well into the fourth quarter, which should make for a good, but not great day, for the Panthers main threat at running back.

Cam Newton: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT; 40 rush yds
Jonathan Stewart: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Steve Smith: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 30 rec yds
Louis Murphy: 30 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III was taken as a borderline QB1 in most fantasy drafts this summer and if you were one of the lucky owners to nab the Washington QB, congratulations, you’ve hit the fantasy jackpot. RGIII ranks second only to Drew Brees among fantasy quarterbacks and is locked in as an every week starter regardless matchup thanks to his rushing ability. RGIII has already racked up 494 yards and 6 TDs on the ground, averaging 7.1 yards per carry. His passing numbers are mediocre at best as he travels through the season with his top two receivers (Pierre Garcon & Fred Davis) on the bench due to injury.

The Carolina-D has performed well the last two weeks, allowing only one touchdown pass to both Jay Cutler and Tony Romo but still represents a neutral matchup for RGIII and company. Those in a pinch can consider Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson who are doing what they can to fill the void left Garcon and Davis, but both represent marginal WR3 plays for desperate fantasy owners only. Logan Paulsen is a TE2 with little upside until the Redskins make their passing attack more of a focus in their week-to-week game plan.

Running Game Thoughts: The Redskins are second in the league in total rushing just behind the 49ers thanks in large part to the play of rookie Alfred Morris and of course, the legs of quarterback RGIII. Despite being a non-factor receiving the ball, Morris ranks fifth among RBs in fantasy points (105.2) and has a staggering 89% of the Washington’s rushing attempts that haven’t gone to the quarterback. He’s topped 20 carries in three games this season and should eclipses that mark again on Sunday.

The Carolina-D has allowed 100-yd rushing games to Michael Turner, Andre Brown and Pierre Thomas this season and 95 yards to Tampa rookie Doug Martin. The Panthers are generous to opposing running backs, giving up the tenth most fantasy points to RBs this season. This is a borderline plus matchup for Morris and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him top the century mark with an above average chance to crack the endzone as well.

Robert Griffin III: 210 pass yds, 1 TD; 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 60 rec yds
Josh Morgan: 30 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 40 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Evan Royster: 10 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Prediction: Redskins 27, Panthers 23 ^ Top

Steelers at Giants - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: With Rashard Mendenhall mending from a knee injury, it was a good bet that the Steelers would begin the season with an offensive focus geared toward the pass and through eight weeks of action the Steelers rank 7th in passing yards and 21st in rushing. As a result, Ben Roethlisberger is a top ten fantasy QB averaging 22.8 FPts/G with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and the resurging tight end Heath Miller, all every week fantasy starters. Roethlisberger is crusing along with 14 TDs to only 3 INTs and with only one negative matchup (@DAL) on the schedule, he’s shaping up to be a strong fantasy performer the second half of the season.

This week, he’ll face a Giants-D that has been easy on quarterbacks, allowing the 7th most fantasy points to quarterbacks through eight weeks. Tony Romo has torched the Giants in two games for over 700 yards and 4 TDs and with a similar arsenal at his disposal, Roethlisberger should be able to carve up the a suspect Giants secondary that’s given up 11 touchdowns on the season. On a side note, The Steelers will leave for New York on Sunday morning because of the lack of hotel rooms and power in the New York area due to Hurricane Sandy. Generally teams are required to travel the day before the game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Steelers have been battling injuries at the running back position from Week 1 and this week’s forecast at RB is cloudy. Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) has been limited in practice this week and its unclear at press time if he will even be active on Sunday. Jonathan Dwyer has impressed the last two weeks with back-to-back 100-yd rushing games but has been limited in practice due to a quad injury.

Whoever handles the running duties for the Steelers this week will face a Giants defense that’s been decent against the run, playing a bend but don’t break defense, allowing only three rushing touchdowns on the season. Their best effort came against the 49ers, giving up only 62 rushing yards to Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter. The Giants are also leading the league in takeaways (24) and have a fierce defensive line capable of getting after the quarterback. For now it appears that Dwyer and Isaac Redman (ankle) may share carries this week against the Giants making both unattractive fantasy options. Stay tuned this weekend and check the Inactives on Sunday for clarity on the situation.

Ben Roethlisberger: 270 pass yds, 2 TD
Mike Wallace: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 70 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 30 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Dwyer: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Isaac Redman: 30 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Giants currently rank second in passing yards (282 per game) and Eli Manning is performing at a top ten fantasy clip with three games over 300 yards passing. He’s been successful without the full use of one of his favorite weapons as Hakeem Nicks has battled injury for much of the first half of the season. Victor Cruz has remained steady and is must start regardless of matchup due to his big-play ability. Tight End Martellus Bennett has cooled off after a hot start - zero TDs in the last five weeks - but with nine catches in the last two games could be poised for a big fantasy day… any day now.

The Steelers-D has been stingy against the pass to nobody’s surprise but isn’t taking the ball away. This Steelers top ranked pass defense is giving up 182.6 yards per game. No quarterback has topped the 300-yd mark against them and they did a remarkable job holding RGIII to his worst fantasy day of the season (concussion game not included). Eli has faired better at home than on the road but this will be a tough task and a tough call for fantasy owners to keep him in lineups if similar value QBs are available.

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants are slightly above average on the ground this year with Ahmad Bradshaw shouldering the majority of the load with 126 out of 195 carries from the running back position. He’s been a solid RB2 averaging 13.1 FPts/G and ranking 14th among fantasy RBs through eight weeks. However, his chronic foot problems have reduced his practice time the last two weeks and although it appears he will suit up, fantasy owners should be cautious of his durability moving forward. Expect to see David Wilson and Andre Brown become more involved in the running game during the second half of the season.

For now, Bradshaw will butt heads with a Steelers run defense that’s given up very little to opposing running backs. Only Darren McFadden has cracked 100 yards on the ground against this unit and with only 4 rushing touchdowns allowed, it could be a long day for Giants running game. The silver lining is that Bradshaw has scored three touchdowns in his last four games so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and project him to find paydirt in a solid but not spectacular fantasy day for his owners.

Eli Manning: 260 pass yds, 2 TDs
Victor Cruz: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Domenik Hixon: 30 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 40 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 70 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Andre Brown: 20 rush yds

Prediction: Giants 27, Steelers 26 ^ Top