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Inside the Matchup
Week 17

By: Bill Andereson | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith

KC @ SD | SF @ ARI | DEN @ OAK | STL @ SEA



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 47 14 77.0
2 Caron 43 17 71.7
3 Thorne 35 25 58.3
4 Anderson 31 28 52.5

Chiefs at Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Just when we thought that there was some consistency beginning to develop in the Kansas City passing game, we are reminded that, well, it’s still Alex Smith behind center. In a blowout loss to the Colts at home, Smith had his worst fantasy day of the season as he threw for just 153 yards and no touchdowns with an interception and two fumbles. This embarrassing performance comes immediately following his best game of the season when he threw five touchdowns against the hapless Raiders. What this game really showed us is that while Smith was on a nice five-game streak where he threw multiple touchdowns, we cannot trust players in these short pass offenses to put up big numbers every week...and we certainly shouldn’t trust them when fantasy championships are on the line.

Smith and the Chiefs produced one of their better offensive days against the Chargers back in Week 12. On that day, Smith threw for a season-high 294 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Receivers Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe both scored touchdowns that afternoon while Dexter McCluster led the team with seven receptions. The San Diego defense has struggled against opposing passing games all year, but they have been significantly better in recent weeks. Since allowing Smith to throw for three scores in Week 12, the Chargers have allowed just four passing touchdowns in their past four games combined—and that includes a game against Peyton Manning. This unit isn’t vastly improved personnel wise but against a Kansas City offense that is coming off of their worst game of the season and in a game that the Chiefs don’t really need to win to improve their playoff positioning, this is the kind of game that could lead to a frustrating fantasy day. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see the Chiefs give their starters plenty of rest this Sunday, so now is not the time risk having them in your fantasy lineups unless you are desperate. Look for Chase Daniel to lead this offense through most of the afternoon.

Running Game Thoughts: After another great performance of 106 rushing yards and a touchdown even in a blowout loss to the Colts, Jamaal Charles has run away with the fantasy award for best running back of the 2013 season. Charles’ 1,287 rushing yards are second best in the league only behind Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy while his 12 rushing touchdowns are most in the league. Where he really stands out, though, is as a receiver. Charles’ 693 receiving yards are 119 more than any other running back and his seven touchdowns as a pass-catcher are also most among running backs. He has been the most consistent fantasy player outside of quarterbacks this season and has been unquestionably the best player who was selected in Round 1 of most fantasy drafts.

This last time these teams played, Charles had one of his best fantasy games of the year with 157 total yards and two touchdowns. The best part about Charles has been that he has produced even when his team has lost games, which is something that is very rare from the running back position. Normally Charles is an every week, no-brainer starter. But not this week. Reports are that Charles will receive a “limited workload” which makes sense with the Chiefs having clinched a wild card playoff berth without the opportunity to improve their positioning. With Charles only likely to be on the field for a few series, the team will likely turn to backup Knile Davis. Davis has not been anywhere near as productive as Charles this year, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, but given that he is a good candidate to take 20+ carries this week, he can be elevated to a solid RB2.

Alex Smith: 50 pass yds, 1 TD, 10 rush yds
Chase Daniel: 125 pass yds, 1 INT
Knile Davis: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Junior Hemingway: 35 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: A win kept the San Diego Chargers’ playoff prayers alive, but fantasy owners could not have been happy with quarterback Philip Rivers as he delivered his worst fantasy days of the season in the finals of most fantasy leagues. Against a horrible Oakland defense that had just given up five touchdown passes to Alex Smith the week before, Rivers threw for just 201 yards and one touchdown while throwing an interception and losing a fumble. Wide receiver Keenan Allen added to his potential NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year resume with a touchdown. Unfortunately it was also his second straight game with fewer than 30 yards receiving and his third straight with fewer than 60 yards.

The Chargers have an intriguing matchup this week as they host a Kansas City team that doesn’t have anything to play for and thus may rest a good number of their starters. The unit has been good on the year overall but they have been significantly worse in recent weeks. Over their past five games, the Chiefs have surrendered 12 passing touchdowns, including three when they played Rivers back in Week 12. Rivers threw for 392 yards that day, which was the second-worst day that the Kansas City defense has had this year. The Chargers are in a must-win situation to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, so expect to see them come out and do everything they can to walk away with a win. He was disappointing last week, but Rivers is still a firm QB1 in Week 17.

Running Game Thoughts: The bounce-back year for running back Ryan Mathews continued this past week as the running back had his third straight game with a touchdown. Although he fell one yard short of also making it three straight games with 100-plus rushing yards, he still came through in the clutch for his fantasy owners. It’s been a crazy ride for the back who was considered almost undraftable in many leagues, who then entered into a timeshare and is now one of the top-12 fantasy running backs in standard scoring leagues. Fellow running back Danny Woodhead has seen his value shrink significantly since his early-season PPR explosion but those looking for a bright spot can look at his season-high 52 rushing yards against the Raiders this past week. Unfortunately the thing that made Woodhead most value, his pass-catching, has taken a significant step back as of late. He has now not caught more than five passes in any game since Week 9 and is really only a low-level FLEX play when he and Mathews are both healthy.

The real question this week is whether Woodhead will take over as the lead back this week as the Chargers host the Chiefs. Mathews has not practiced this week as of Thursday and although the coaching staff has said that they expect him to play, it would not be all that surprising to see him take a lower percentage of snaps than he normally does. If Mathews does play, he and Woodhead do have a surprisingly juicy matchup against a Kansas City run defense that has been terrible as of late. They’ve allowed an average of 119 rushing yards over their past seven games, including allowing 130 yards and a touchdown to the mediocre Colts’ running backs in Week 16. When these teams played back in Week 12, Mathews ran for 55 yards and a touchdown while Woodhead added 25 rushing yards and a touchdown and 45 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Both players had excellent fantasy days and could be in line for more of the same this week. Pay attention on Sunday morning to see Mathews’ status, but this is an enticing matchup.

Philip Rivers: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Ryan Mathews: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 30 rush yds, 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 40 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 30, Chiefs 17 ^ Top

49ers at Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The improved play of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick continued this past week as he threw for an efficient 197 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 51 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Michael Crabtree continued to improve, catching five passes for a season-high 102 yards while fellow wideout Anquan Boldin caught six passes for 72 yards and his sixth score of the season. The real disappointment came in the form of tight end Vernon Davis who was held without a catch for the second time this season. Although Davis is still the No. 2 fantasy tight end on the year and a must-start again this week, his scoreless game in the fantasy championship round for most leagues illustrates just how inconsistent and frustrating the tight end position can be.

This week the 49ers have what could be a very tough match against an Arizona defense that that looked absolutely outstanding in an astonishing road win over the Seahawks in Week 16. The Cardinals held Russell Wilson to just 108 yards passing and one touchdown while also intercepting him once, his worst fantasy day of the season. Things were looking rough for this defense as they allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to torch them for 402 yards and four touchdowns in their first game without rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu but they quickly got back to business. Earlier this season, Kaepernick threw for 252 yards and two touchdowns against the Cardinals but also threw an interception and fumbled the ball once. In that game, it was tight end Vernon Davis who exploited a historically bad Arizona defense against opposing tight ends, when he caught eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Davis is perhaps the top tight end option in all of fantasy football this week and even though he is coming off of a week to forget, he has the kind of matchup that can nearly single-handedly win your fantasy matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: After three games in a row where he rushed for fewer than 50 yards in Weeks 11, 12 and 13, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore has now rushed for an average of 98 yards per game in each of his past three games. It hasn’t been fluky either, as Gore has been taking a good number of carries. His 60 carries over a three game span are a very good number and make him a likely candidate to continue production as we head into Week 17 and the playoffs. San Francisco can still improve their playoff positioning so fantasy owners won’t have to worry much about the team resting their starters and that should mean plenty of action and a good possibility for some decent fantasy production from Gore.

When these two teams matched up back in Week 6, Gore had a nice day of 101 rushing yards on 25 carries. On the day, the Cardinals allowed a total of 122 rushing yards to the 49ers’ backs. That sounds like a fairly average day for some teams, but for Arizona, it was their worst day of the year. In fact, Arizona’s defense has only allowed more than 100 rushing yards to opposing running backs in two total games this season. In their past eight games, the Cardinals are allowing fewer than 50 rushing yards per game and they’ve allowed just two rushing scores in that entire span. On the year, Arizona has the best run defense in the entire league and we can expect them to show up ready to play on Sunday as they hope to sneak into the playoffs. Although this is the best fantasy run defense in the league, Gore still should be in most fantasy lineups just because of his projected workload. Play Gore as a mid-to-low-end RB2 or as a solid FLEX option this week.

Colin Kaepernick: 220 pass yds, 2 TD, 30 rush yds
Frank Gore: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Michael Crabtree: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 40 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: If I told you that Carson Palmer would throw for 178 yards and only one touchdown while throwing four interceptions in Seattle, and that his team would somehow win, you would call me crazy. But that’s exactly what happened in Week 16 as the Arizona defense bailed out the veteran QB. His bad day was felt by the two top receivers on the team, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree, as they were held to a combined 49 yards receiving on the day. Although Floyd’s one catch did go for a touchdown which at least saved his fantasy day, Fitzgerald’s 18 yards on three catches were a huge disappointment for fantasy owners. After scoring five touchdowns in a four game span from Week 11 to Week 14, Fitzgerald has now been held out of the end zone in back-to-back weeks, which may lead some to not trust him in Week 17.

Although his fantasy owners won’t forgive him for what he did to them in their fantasy playoffs, Palmer’s horrific day can be somewhat overlooked as we go into Week 17 as he has actually been fairly good in the second half of the season. If we can look past his dreadful day an excellent Seattle secondary, Palmer had been in double-digit fantasy totals every week since he played San Francisco back in Week 6. Fitzgerald also had a nice day when these teams met as he caught six passes for a season-high 117 yards and a touchdown; one of his best overall fantasy days of the year. Michael Floyd also had a productive fantasy day against the 49ers as he also caught a touchdown, his first of the year. The San Francisco defense has been very good against opposing passing games through most of the year, though, as they have held opposing quarterbacks to 15 or fewer fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in all but three of their games this season. This isn’t a great matchup for the Cardinals passing game, but they’ve shown in their previous game that they are not incapable of producing against this defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Arizona running back Rashard Mendenhall matched his season high from two weeks ago with 21 carries against the Seahawks in Week 16. After taking just an average of 13 carries per game over his first 10 games of the season, Mendenhall has now averaged over 19 carries per game in his past four contests. Not surprisingly, his fantasy production has also increased over that span, and he has now moved up to being an RB2 given his significant workload. Meanwhile fellow running back Andre Ellington has also seen his value rise. Ellington tied a season-high with 15 carries in the Cardinals’ win over the Seahawks a week ago. The truth is that Ellington is by far the more effective back of the two and has out-produced Mendenhall on a per-carry basis in almost every week, but the team just doesn’t trust him to be their primary ball carrier at this point.

This true backfield timeshare has been irritating for fantasy owners who have struggled with trying to figure out who to place into their lineups and it doesn’t get much easier as they host a San Francisco 49ers defense that has allowed just two rushing touchdowns over their past five games. Not only that, but they have not allowed a team to reach 100 rushing yards against them since all the way back in Week 6. On the bright side, the team that did it was these very Arizona Cardinals when Mendenhall rushed for 40 yards and Ellington added 56 yards and a touchdown. Ellington also added 36 yards as a receiver in that contest, which has been one of his biggest attributes throughout the season. Although Ellington is the more dynamic talent and could see a good number of touches this week, Mendenhall is the better fantasy play this week as he is the more sure thing to see 15-plus touches. He might not do a lot with them, but if he can sneak into the end zone, he could make fantasy owners very happy.

Carson Palmer: 215 pass yds, 1 TD
Rashard Mendenhall: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 21, Cardinals 20 ^ Top

Broncos at Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you’re looking for your fantasy football MVP for the 2013 season, look no further Peyton Manning. From the very first week of the season when he threw seven touchdowns to this past week when he tossed four more, and all of the others between, Manning has been absolutely unbelievable all year. His 51 touchdowns are already an NFL record as he broke Tom Brady’s 50-score mark, and the Broncos QB still has another game to go. With Manning’s success has come monster seasons for numerous Denver receivers. Eric Decker is coming off of one of his best games of the season where he caught 10 passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns while Demaryius Thomas added eight receptions for 123 yards and a score of his own against the Texans in Week 16. Tight end Julius Thomas is also amidst an incredible breakout season and he continued it into the fantasy championship week where he caught six passes for 78 yards and his 12th touchdown reception of the season.

Wes Welker being out with a concussion has not seemed to affect this offense anywhere near as much as we expected and there’s really no reason to believe that it will in Week 17 when the Broncos head to Oakland. The Raiders have been awful against the pass this season and are the victims of two of the worst games allowed to opposing quarterbacks of any team this year, when they allowed Nick Foles to throw for seven touchdowns against them in Week 9 and then Alex Smith to throw for five in Week 15. When the Raiders went to Denver earlier this season, they allowed Peyton Manning to throw for 374 yards and three scores, which included touchdowns to Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Demaryius Thomas was held out of the end zone that day, but he wasn’t quiet. Thomas caught a season-high 10 passes for 94 yards against the Raiders and remains one of the very best fantasy WR1’s in the business as we head into Week 17. As usual, play your Broncos. There’s a chance that the team rests their starters in the second half of this game, but that would only be if they get up many scores, in which case your players have probably done plenty of damage anyway.

Running Game Thoughts: It looked like an excellent matchup for the Denver running backs Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball as they went into Houston to beat up on the humiliatingly bad Texans, but things didn’t exactly work out like that this past Sunday. Although the duo rushed for a combined 108 yards on the day, it was once again the Peyton Manning show on the scoreboard as the quarterback threw four touchdowns, which held Moreno and Ball out of the end zone for the second straight week. The back-to-back games of under 10 fantasy points (standard scoring) that Moreno has had were the first time he has done so this season and without an injury to speak of, that has to be a bit disappointing for fantasy owners who may have been relying on him for a big game in their championship week. Still, it’s hard to be too upset with Moreno who went undrafted in many leagues before the season and currently sits as a top five fantasy running back regardless of the scoring format as we head into the final week of the season.

Moreno should see an increase of touches this week with Peyton Manning having already eclipsed the NFL’s single season touchdown record. The Broncos will head to Oakland to face a team that they beat up on earlier this season. Denver ran the ball a total of 32 times with their three-headed-monster of Moreno, Ball and Hillman. With Hillman now only utilized in mop-up duty and Ball only getting around 30 percent of the carries, it looks fairly likely that we will see plenty of Moreno this week in what should be another big Denver win as they look to clinch the top seed in the AFC playoff picture. Moreno did only run for 39 yard on 12 carries when he played the Raiders earlier this year, which ended up being his worst fantasy game of the season, but there is plenty to like about this matchup. The Raiders have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season and have allowed a total of 11 touchdowns to the position over just their past four games. Moreno is a good bet for a nice day and Ball may even be worth a FLEX play this week given the likelihood of a blowout.

Peyton Manning: 325 pass yds, 3 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Montee Ball: 30 rush yds, 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Caldwell: 30 rec yds
Julius Thomas: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The back-and-forth situation that has been the Oakland Raiders quarterback situation will continue again this week as the team goes back to their original starter, Terrelle Pryor, to wrap up the season. Matt McGloin had thrown seven interceptions and only four touchdowns over his past four starts, so it’s not particularly surprising to see the team turn away from him, but it’s not as if Pryor had been much better from a real-life NFL standpoint. Still, fantasy owners who have made it this far but are staring at bad quarterback matchup may have to take a closer look at the dynamic Oakland signal-caller. Despite having played significant snaps in only eight games this season, Pryor is second among all quarterbacks in rushing yards and is only 13 yards behind the leader, Russell Wilson, in that category. He may not be much of a passer, but the fact that he averaged 63 rushing yards per start cannot be overlooked. If he had stayed on that pace and remained the starter throughout the season without getting hurt, Pryor would have had a real shot to become just the second quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (Mike Vick being the other). Those rushing numbers alone can make a player a viable fantasy option at running back, but when you consider that Pryor was also adding at least some stats in the passing categories, he was actually a fairly viable fantasy option most weeks.

He’ll need to be great this week, though, if the Raiders hope to have a chance against the AFC’s current top playoff seed, the Denver Broncos. Pryor had one of his best fantasy days of the season earlier this year when these teams played back in Week 3, as he threw for a season-high 281 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 36 yards. With the Broncos now missing top pass-rusher Von Miller, Pryor may have time to find players in the passing game, which could lead to another decent fantasy day. The Broncos haven’t been great against opposing quarterbacks this season, having allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to the position on the year and the weak schedule they’ve played against in recent weeks has helped them look better than they probably are from a defensive standpoint. Still, it’s going to be hard to trust Pryor for fantasy purposes because he is the kind of player who is absolutely capable of dropping a complete egg. With Pryor’s inconsistency, it’s also almost impossible to believe that any of the Oakland pass-catchers could be considered anything other than a low-end FLEX option.

Running Game Thoughts: It was a light workout for running back Darren McFadden in his first game back as the former first round NFL draft pick was held to just eight yards on four carries in a loss to the Chargers. Although he did get into the end zone, it wasn’t enough to make him a very good fantasy play and it unfortunately was enough to also make Rashad Jennings a weak fantasy play. Jennings had been one of the best fantasy backs in the league since McFadden’s injury, but was held to just 45 yards rushing on 10 carries, his lowest total in a game he started since Week 8. With McFadden expected to take at least a slightly bigger workload in Week 17 and Marcel Reece still a factor, there just isn’t a lot to love right now about this Oakland backfield from a fantasy standpoint.

The Denver run defense has been weak against the run through most of the season, having allowed at least one rushing touchdown in all but three of their games so far in 2013. Although they’ve only allowed one opposing team’s group of running backs to rush for more than one touchdown in a game, this is still the kind of matchup that has produced at least some sort of fantasy production in almost every game this year. Denver’s 17.8 points per game allowed (standard scoring) to the running back position is 22nd in the league. Still, there is some concern when it comes to this matchup as the Raiders did not do well on the ground when these teams played back in Week 3. During that game, the Oakland running backs were only able to rush for nine total yards on 12 carries and although McFadden scored a touchdown as a runner and Marcel Reece scored a touchdown as a receiver, that’s not the kind of historical production that you’d like to see if you’re planning on trusting one of these players for fantasy purposes. Given the unsure nature of the carry split in Oakland, fantasy owners would be wise to avoid this situation if at all possible. If you have to make a decision, it seems most likely that Jennings will take the most carries in this game, followed by McFadden and finally Reece. Still, none of these players is a particularly strong play. This could be an ugly game very early which could lead to the Raiders moving to a pass-heavy attack on offense as they look to evaluate Pryor for the 2014 season.

Terrelle Pryor: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 60 rush yds
Rashad Jennings: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Holmes: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 40 rec yds
Rod Streater: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 41, Raiders 23 ^ Top

Rams at Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: With the Rams having won back-to-back games over the Saints and Buccaneers, one would expect that they would be getting some serious production out of their quarterback position in order to put up enough points to compete. But that hasn’t really been the case. Kellen Clemens has thrown for exactly 158 yards in each of his past two games, and threw just two touchdowns against the Saints and none against the Bucs. Still, what he has done in those two contests is avoid turning the ball over. He didn’t throw an interception in either contest, which has helped the Rams control the ball and the clock. Unfortunately that hasn’t translated into much fantasy production for he or any of the St. Louis wide receivers. With rookie Tavon Austin missing Week 16 due to an ankle injury, it was fellow rookie Stedman Bailey who stepped up, catching three passes for 44 yards and adding a 27-yard run touchdown run on a double-reverse.

Neither Clemens, Bailey or any of the other players in the St. Louis passing game should be considered this week as the team heads to Seattle to face one of the very best defenses in the league. Seattle’s 8.5 points per game (standard scoring) allowed to the quarterback position are a full 2.2 points per game better than any other team in the league. They lead the league in essentially every possible statistic. Their 192 yards per game allowed is best in the NFL, their 14 passing touchdowns allowed are best in the NFL and their 26 interceptions forced are four more than any other team. Needless to say, with Clemens having only broken 220 passing yards once this season and no receiver breaking out, this is one of the worst possible fantasy matchups for any team. Don’t expect much of anything out of this passing game. Clemens isn’t even a QB2 option this week, so look elsewhere for a player who at least has some sort of upside.

Running Game Thoughts: With his second straight 100 yard rushing day coming a week ago in a win over the Buccaneers, rookie running back Zac Stacy is now making a case for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Stacy is just 42 yards away from a 1000-yard rushing season, and he trails only Eddie Lacy among rookies in rushing yardage despite having taken only one total carry in the first four games of the season combined. His consistent ability to move the ball on the ground has been a blessing for a St. Louis offense that has really struggled to pass the ball since Sam Bradford’s season-ending injury. If he can get into the end zone just one more time to make it nine total touchdowns on the year, Stacy will have more than any St. Louis running back has had since 2006. Not too bad for a rookie.

A lot of pressure will be put on Stacy this week as the St. Louis passing game is expected to be on lockdown from this incredible Seattle secondary. Stacy rushed for more yards (134) in Week 8 against the Seahawks than he has in any other game this season, which should give fantasy owners at least some shred of confidence as they head into Week 17. Still, it is worth considering that as good as Stacy looked against this defense when they played earlier, Seattle has only gotten better defensively. It has now been eight games since the Seattle defense has allowed an opposing running back to rush for a touchdown. This is a tough matchup and although it took him 26 carries to get there when they played before, the 134 rushing yards is something that can’t be overlooked. Stacy is a solid RB2 option this week, as he has been throughout most of the season.

Kellen Clemens: 130 pass yds, 2 INT
Zac Stacy: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Stedman Bailey: 40 rec yds
Jared Cook: 30 rec yds
Chris Givens: 25 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners who played their championship game in Week 16 have to be disappointed in the despicable performance that Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense put on the field this past Sunday. Wilson threw for just 108 yards and one touchdown with an interception, adding 32 yards as a runner. It was Wilson’s worst passing yardage performance since coming into the NFL in 2012 and it came at the worst possible time. As is to be expected with Wilson’s struggles in the passing game, no Seattle receiver was even fantasy relevant in Week 16. Most notably, Doug Baldwin, the team’s leading receiver on the season, was held to just one catch for eight yards; a big disappointment for those who took a chance on him. Baldwin had been somewhat hot as of late with four 12-plus point (standard scoring) games over his past six contests, but his goose-egg in Week 16 helps illustrate why it can be dangerous to trust players like Baldwin who have significantly over-produced their expectations.

Those who play in Week 17 and somehow scraped by to make it to their championship game despite Wilson’s egg could be happy this week, though, as the team plays host to a St. Louis defense that he threw two touchdowns against back in Week 8. Although he threw for only 139 yards in that contest, there is more to be excited about. Wilson had a beautiful fantasy day when these teams met back in Week 17 of the 2012 season as he threw for 250 yards and a touchdown while adding another 58 yards and a touchdown on the ground. This isn’t an excellent matchup, especially given the pass rush that Seattle allowed when these teams played before (seven sacks), but with Seattle needing a win to lockup their top seed in the NFC playoffs and secure themselves homefield advantage throughout, expect them to go all out in this one.

Running Game Thoughts: Even in a home loss where his team scored just 10 offensive points, Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch showed exactly why he is so valuable for fantasy purposes. Lynch’s 18 carries for 71 yards are nothing special, but the fact that he didn’t completely kill his fantasy owners in a loss against the No. 1 fantasy run defense in the league has to be a confidence boost for those who are looking at him in Week 17. Lynch has been one of the most consistent backs in all of fantasy football since coming to Seattle and his 13 total touchdowns are second only to Jamaal Charles. Lynch will likely finish again as a top five fantasy running back and has been the kind of rock solid play that will be on many championship fantasy rosters this season.

If you trusted Lynch this past week, you are likely about to be paid off in Week 17 as Lynch and the Seahawks go up against the NFL’s 27th-ranked fantasy run defense. St. Louis has been dreadful against opposing running backs this year, averaging 148 total yards per game allowed to the position. They’ve also been one of the very worst at keeping running backs out of the end zone, as they have allowed 17 touchdowns to the position on the year; which translates out to more than one per game. Those numbers alone would make Marshawn Lynch perhaps the top running back option for Week 17, but we do have to look at the previous meeting these teams had. When Seattle visited St. Louis back in Week 8, Lynch was held to just 23 yards on eight carries. The Seahawks ran just 33 total offensive plays in that game as they narrowly squeaked out a 14-9 victory on the road. St. Louis nearly doubled the time of possession that Seattle had in that contest, which is an incredible anomaly. That won’t happen again this week and Lynch will likely be relied on heavily, as he typically is, to get his team a win. Fantasy owners should trust in “Beast Mode” and ride him to a fantasy championship.

Russell Wilson: 210 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Doug Baldwin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Rams 13 ^ Top

Panthers at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton didn’t tear it up last week in his team’s win over the Saints, but his lone touchdown pass came when it mattered – the waning seconds to help his team overcome a deficit and pull out a win. He was without Steve Smith for much of the game, and Smith will be out again this week, but Newton is still a must-start and tight end Greg Olsen should also be considered as the Panthers travel to Atlanta.

The Falcons are ranked 25th against the pass and have allowed the third-most touchdown throws in the NFL. They have given up the fifth-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks, the seventh-most points to wideouts and the 12th-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart will not play this week, meaning the pigskin will once again be carried by the triumvirate of Newton, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert. Tolbert got only a single carry last week and has not been very productive lately, but Williams is certainly worth a flex play for fantasy owners versus the Falcons. Atlanta is 31st in the NFL in both run defense and YPC allowed, rank 20th in rushing scores surrendered, and have given up the seventh-most fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Cam Newton: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 55 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 35 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 35 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan’s season has mostly been a disappointment but at least fantasy owners got some big production out of one of his weapons, Roddy White, last week though it was likely too little too late for most of those owners considering White was probably a high pick. Ryan and White may not be the best fantasy options this week, though Tony Gonzalez should still be considered a starter against the Panthers.

Carolina is seventh in the NFL in pass defense, but tied with two other teams for fewest touchdown passes surrendered. They have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and the third-fewest to wide receivers, but the 13th-most fantasy points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season last week, and the two from the previous week give him three over his last two games. It’ll be tough sledding for him against Carolina but fantasy owners shouldn’t count out a score from the big bruiser. The Panthers are second in the NFL against the run, 11th in YPC allowed, tied for first in rushing scores allowed, and have given up the second-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Matt Ryan: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Tony Gonzalez: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 70 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 45 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 27, Falcons 17 ^ Top

Texans at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: As of this writing, it still wasn’t clear whether or not Houston would roll out Matt Schaub or Case Keenum as the starting quarterback against Tennessee. Really, however, it doesn’t matter, as neither player is fantasy-worthy. The only player in the Texans’ passing attack that is would be Andre Johnson, though he’s nursing an injury and his status should be checked before fantasy owners insert him into their lineups as Johnson prepares to take on the Titans.

Tennessee is one of the three teams in the league that is tied for fewest touchdown passes allowed while also ranking 10th in pass defense. They have given up the sixth-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks and second-fewest to wideouts, but the eighth-most fantasy points to players at the tight end position.

Running Game Thoughts: Dennis Johnson led Houston in carries last week in Denver and did very little with them, gaining 29 yards on 12 totes. Deji Karim and Jonathan Grimes also got some work, but none did much and despite the excellent match-up with Tennessee, fantasy owners should probably avoid all of these runners. The Titans rank 20th in the NFL in rush defense, 18th in YPC allowed, 30th in rushing scores surrendered and have allowed more fantasy points to running backs than all but three other teams.

Case Keenum: 205 pass yds, 2 TD, 3 INT
Andre Johnson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Griffin: 55 rec yds
DeAndre Hopkins: 40 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Grimes: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a serviceable back-up, though that should mean little to fantasy owners, who shouldn’t have used him except as a fill-in. What should be noticeable for fantasy owners is that Fitzpatrick continued to get the ball to Kendall Wright and most recently Nate Washington, who now has two games in a row with more than 90 receiving yards. Houston does not give up a lot of passing yards, but does allow scores and Wright and Washington should be prime candidates to get in the end zone.

The Texans may be third in the NFL in pass defense, but there are only two teams in football that have ceded more touchdown passes. Still, they have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the ninth-fewest to wideouts while ranking 15th in fantasy points given up to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Both Shonn Greene and Chris Johnson got at least 90 rushing yards last week against the soft Jacksonville run defense. Johnson, despite his ups and downs, should be a RB2 this week against another weak run defense. Houston is 24th in the NFL against the run, 23rd in YPC allowed, 12th in rushing scores given up, and have allowed the 14th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs this season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 225 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Kendall Wright: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Delanie Walker: 35 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 45 rush yds

Prediction: Tennessee 21, Texans 17 ^ Top

Jaguars at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Chad Henne is a back-up quarterback who happens to be starting, but one thing is for sure – he knows how to get the ball to Marcedes Lewis in the end zone. The big tight end found the end zone last week and now has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games. Though he has a tough match-up with the Colts, it would behoove fantasy owners to give Lewis a shot, though the same can’t be said for any other Jaguars receiving option.

Indianapolis has the league’s 12th-ranked pass defense, and just six teams have given up fewer touchdown throws than they have. The Colts are 17th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 14th in points allowed to wide receivers, but have allowed the fifth-fewest points to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew had a mediocre game last week against the Titans, with only 45 yards on 13 carries, which broke a streak of solid production. The mighty mite has had a mostly lousy season, and should be nothing more than a flex play for fantasy owners against Indy. The Colts are 28th in the league against the run, 26th in YPC allowed, 20th in rushing scores yielded, but have allowed the 14th-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs because so much of the damage done to them on the ground earlier this season was by quarterbacks.

Chad Henne: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Brown: 70 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Clay Harbor: 35 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 30 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck has been solid though unspectacular in his second season under center for the Colts. It would probably be unfair to label him a fantasy disappointment, but it is fair to say a bit more was expected. Unexpected in recent games has been the play of Griff Whalen, who scored a touchdown two weeks ago and had 80 receiving yards last week against the Chiefs. Whalen is a decent WR3 this week and T.Y. Hilton should have WR2 status against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville is 19th in the league in pass defense, 24th in touchdown passes surrendered, has allowed the third-most fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks, the 13th-most to receivers, and the third-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Another game, another sub-3.0 YPC average for Trent Richardson. He ran for 2.7 YPC (43 yards on 16 rushes) last week against the Chiefs and had a combined 58 yards on 19 touches. Meanwhile, Donald Brown had 12 touches and racked up 110 rushing and receiving yards with two touchdowns. That says all fantasy owners need to know about which back should slot nicely into their flex position against Jacksonville. The Jaguars own the NFL’s third-worst rush defense, rank 28th in rushing scores surrendered, 21st in YPC allowed, and have given up the 10th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Andrew Luck: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 20 rush yds
T.Y. Hilton: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Griff Whalen: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Da’Rick Rogers: 35 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 20 rec yds
Donald Brown: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 45 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 27, Jaguars 20 ^ Top

Buccaneers at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Mike Glennon hasn’t had a season to remember as a rookie quarterback for Tampa, but he has shown some promise. It would help if the Bucs acquired another receiver or two as they have only one who is remotely worthy fantasy consideration, and that is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is a legit WR1, and even though he has a difficult match-up with New Orleans, fantasy owners shouldn’t shy away from him.

The Saints are second in the NFL against the pass, and there are only five teams in the league who have ceded fewer touchdown passes than they have. New Orleans has given up the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, and the sixth-fewest points to both wideouts and tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Bobby Rainey found the end zone against the Rams last week, but was otherwise shut down, rushing 20 times and gaining a measly 37 yards. Rainey hasn’t reached 40 rushing yards in either of his last two games, but should hit that mark this week and is a nice flex candidate for fantasy owners against the Saints. New Orleans ranks 19th in the league in rush defense, are 28th in YPC ceded, and 13th in rushing scores allowed while giving up the 11th-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to running backs.

Mike Glennon: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Tim Wright: 45 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 30 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 15 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees has had a fantastic season, but he hurt his fantasy owners when it counted the most, with only two touchdowns and four interceptions in his last two games. Still, fantasy owners would be foolish to let those numbers scare them away from using Brees this week, who will continue to toss the rock all over the yard, and in particular to his two favorite targets, Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham, each of whom should be fantasy starters this week against the Bucs.

Tampa is 15th in the league in pass defense and 20th in touchdown throws given up. They have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks, are 16th in fantasy points ceded to wideouts, and 18th in points yielded to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram led the team with 83 rushing yards last week against Carolina, which is a lot more than the six yards he gathered in his previous two games. It’s impossible to tell just which of the Saints’ four running backs will get the biggest workload in terms of carries, though it’s obvious that Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles will continue to catch the ball against Tampa. The Bucs are 17th in the NFL against the run and in YPC allowed, but have given up the sixth-fewest rushing scores and have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Drew Brees: 330 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 100 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Stills: 45 rec yds
Lance Moore: 35 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 30 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 31, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Packers @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The big news here is the return of Aaron Rodgers as starting quarterback, and not a moment too soon, as the winner of this game goes to the playoffs and the loser goes home. While the return of Rodgers gets a lot of people excited, as well it should, there is reason to pause before thinking Rodgers will save the Packers or your fantasy team all by himself. First, there is the rust factor. As we have seen with guys like Jay Cutler this year, even great quarterbacks need a little time to knock off the rust and Rodgers has been out seven weeks, which is quite a long time. Secondly, there is the game plan to consider, as the Packers will surely not want Rodgers being hit too many times so will most likely go more run-heavy than they normally would. Finally, there is the opponent to consider. The Bears rushing defense is historically bad, and with two capable running backs in Lacy and Starks, chances are the Packers will look to take advantage of their opponent's weakness. The Bears pass defense is not exactly elite; however, they do rank 14th best in pass yards allowed (last in rush yards allowed) and have picked off the eighth most passes in the NFL. While Rodgers is obviously a big upgrade over Flynn, do not get carried away and think for a minute that he is going to come right back and throw 50-plus times for 400 yards and four touchdowns. With the Bears giving up the 12th fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs (but the most to RBs) I look for Rodgers to have a solid comeback game, but not an elite one. I see Rodgers as a low-end QB1 in this contest, somewhere in the 8-10 range for fantasy throwers, which of course is good, but not where he is used to being ranked.

For his receivers there are a few things to consider. First, as stated, I look for the Packers to go run heavy in this one to exploit the Bears' weakness. While this does not mean they will not throw at all, it does mean the upside of each of the receivers is capped a bit. The good news, however, is that the return of Rodgers should make the passing offense more efficient. For instance, maybe Flynn would throw 45 times but only about 25 of his throws make a real impact, whereas Rodgers may throw just 30 times but make nearly as many throws really count. In this way, the Packers receivers remain relatively safe options, especially Jordy Nelson, who is Rodgers' favorite target. I see Nelson as a solid and safe low-end WR1, also in that 8-10 range for WRs. As for the remaining receivers, watch the injury report closely, as Randall Cobb has a decent chance to play in this one. While I do not think Cobb will make a significant fantasy impact in this game, he would likely eat into James Jones' and Jarrett Boykin’s targets, limiting their upside even further. If Cobb plays, as I expect, I see both Jones and Boykin as solid WR3s who should be fairly safe fantasy plays. If Cobb sits out I would bump up Jones to a low-level WR2 and Boykin to a high-level WR3. In either case I would not risk using Cobb if he does indeed play. Finally, tight end Andrew Quarless has had some nice weeks lately, and with the Bears giving up the seventh most fantasy points to opposing TEs, he’s probably worth a look as a mid-range TE2 (14-16 range for TEs) regardless of whether Cobb plays.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers injury report is perhaps the most crucial of all teams to watch, not only for Rodgers' status, but also because the running back situation is huge in both NFL and fantasy terms. Currently Eddie Lacy, the Packers' starter, is questionable with an ankle injury, one that he re-aggravated last week and that forced him out of the game in the third quarter. Lacy has not been practicing all week, and while it is certainly possible he plays without practicing, he will most likely be limited if he does suit up. The reason this is such a huge deal is that the Bears run defense is awful. The Bears are currently allowing 5.4 yards per carry, which is the sixth worst in NFL history. The Bears have been gashed this year by studs like Adrian Peterson (211 yds), backup running backs like Benny Cunningham (109 yds, 1 TD), and just about everyone in between (Brandon Jacobs for example: 106 yds, 2 TDs).

With the seventh best rushing attack in the NFL, the Packers have an excellent chance to run all over the Bears, and will almost certainly lean heavily on the run regardless of who is under center and who is carrying the rock. With the Bears giving up the most fantasy points in the league to opposing RBs, this is an absolute dream matchup for the Packers, with the only real concern being that it is an away game against a division rival and the Bears offense has a chance to make the Packers play catch-up. Even with these things possibly going against them, just one half of football could be enough for one or more Green Bay backs to make a significant impact. With so much on the line (in this game and in fantasy), starting a Packers RB in this matchup is a smart move. If Lacy starts I like him as a moderate risk (because of injury) but a huge-upside RB1, in the top five for the position. Even if Lacy starts I still like backup James Starks as a solid flex/RB3 guy in a game where he could actually score points like an RB2, but his upside would be capped by Lacy’s presence. If Lacy sits this one out I like Starks as a solid RB1, certainly in the top 10 for the position. Overall, watch the injury report and plan accordingly, but chances are, if you have one of these guys on your roster, you should start him.

Aaron Rodgers: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Eddie Lacy: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
James Starks: 70 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 55 rec yds
Andrew Quarless: 55 rec yds
Randall Cobb: 30 rec yds
Jarrett Boykin: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In a winner-take-all scenario, the Bears passing game will be amped up at home and looking to be at least as successful as they were when they beat the Packers in Green Bay a month and a half ago. In that game Josh McCown threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns, while taking just one sack. This week the game will be at home and Jay Cutler will be the Bears' quarterback, but the strategy will likely be similar: get the ball outside to Marshall and Jeffery, who totaled 22 targets, 12 receptions, 167 yards, and two touchdowns in the previous game against the Packers. The Packers have given up the 11th most passing yards in the league thus far this season and have allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns. Despite only picking off 10 passes (27th in the NFL), the Packers rank eighth in sacks, although they will likely be without their best pass-rusher, Clay Matthews. In fantasy terms, the Packers defense is among the 11 most generous teams to opposing QBs, WRs, and TEs and have given up two or more passing touchdowns in four straight games and at least one passing touchdown in eight straight games. In addition, the Packers have given up five 300-plus yard passing games this season and four of those five games were on the road.

While Cutler still looks rusty, this will be his third straight week back and he should be nearly back to pre-injury form by now. With extremely talented weapons around him Cutler should be a solid source of fantasy points, especially if the game turns into a shootout, which is certainly possible given the two teams' defenses. With a capable backup behind him, starting Cutler does not have 100 percent security, but unless he totally flops in the first half, he is likely to play the entire game in this important matchup. I view Cutler as a solid QB1, somewhere in that 7-10 range for QBs, as a guy that comes with a slight risk but also vast amounts of upside thanks to his weapons, the matchup, and what is at stake. Speaking of his weapons, both Marshall and Jeffery should be viewed as WR1s, and basically equal in value, although Cutler seems to prefer Marshall slightly. Both guys will see a ton of balls thrown their way and it would be surprising if they both did not finish among the top 15 WRs in the fantasy world. Finally, the only other option in the passing game is tight end Martellus Bennett, and while he has been up and down, and mostly just above average all year, he had a great game last week (8 targets, 85 yards) and as far as TEs go, has to be considered among the top 12 in a must-win game against a defense that will have their hands full on the outside. Overall, this unit is in for a big day in their biggest and most important game of the regular season, so start them if you got them.

Running Game Thoughts: Playing from way behind early and asked to stay in to pass block more than usual, Matt Forte was mostly worthless last week as a fantasy option. But in a home game where the stakes are high, it is likely the Bears lean heavily on one of their most effective weapons. With all the press that the Bears run defense gets as being awful, the Packers are not exactly shutting down opposing running backs at will either. Currently they have given up the seventh most rush yards in the NFL and have allowed a healthy 4.6 yards per carry average, fourth highest in the league. Other than a home game against a weak Falcons run game a few weeks back, the Packers have allowed four huge fantasy days in a row to opposing backs, including last week where Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell gashed them for 124 yards and a touchdown on the ground in a home loss.

With Clay Mathews likely out, the Packers are a thin defense that lacks true playmakers and struggles with any team that can run the ball consistently. With the Packers safeties worried about two huge wide receivers (Marshall and Jeffery), it will be nearly impossible to bring extra guys down in to the box, giving Forte all the room he needs. With the Packers giving up the 10th most fantasy points to opposing RBs, Forte should be counted on as a near-elite RB1 in this game. With the playoffs on the line I fully expect Forte to play the whole game and total 20-plus touches easily. If you are still playing meaningful fantasy games at this point in the season, Forte should be on your short list of RBs to start and count on for big numbers. Michael Bush is still just a handcuff in fantasy and therefore worthless as a starter.

Jay Cutler: 300 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Matt Forte: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Alshon Jeffery: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Packers 28 ^ Top

Ravens @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: With both the Ravens and Bengals still having things to play for, expect this to be a no-holds-barred kind of game where each team should play their normal starters. What stands out about this matchup, from the Ravens perspective, is the ineffectiveness of Joe Flacco this year. Flacco is having a career-worst year and even in good matchups he has often struggled. Despite having some solid weapons and a pass-first attack, Flacco remains outside of the top 15 QBs in most fantasy leagues and his recent struggles have not helped his cause. While still recovering from knee soreness that seemed to hamper him last week, Flacco is even more hands-off than usual. What’s worse for Flacco is that playing in Cincinnati will surely not be the cure-all for what has been hurting this offense, as the Bengals are a strong defensive team. Currently they have given up the sixth fewest passing yards in the NFL and rank among the 10 best teams in completion percentage allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, and interceptions, while being tied for 11th in sacks. Overall this is a scary team for opposing quarterbacks to face, ranking as the seventh toughest in terms of fantasy points scored.

As Flacco is showing little all year, and almost nothing the past few games, needless to say, he should be avoided in fantasy circles, as he is not a top 15 option. As for the Ravens receivers, there is certainly some skill and of value, but all should be downgraded because of the matchup and Flacco’s poor play recently. Torrey Smith has had a great career year overall and looks like an up and coming star; however, he is not scoring a lot of touchdowns (just four on the year), and despite having fairly consistent targets and catches, has not had a 100-yard game since Week 5. Smith’s final numbers on the year will look pretty good, but he is a low-end WR2 at best on a struggling offense. Both Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown continue to be non-factors as far as fantasy goes, basically canceling each other out each week and neither being anywhere close to consistent enough to be considered more than shaky boom-or-bust WR4s. Thus, the only remaining Ravens receiver worth talking about is tight end Dennis Pitta, who has actually decreased his production since he returned from injury a few weeks ago. While Pitta is still getting a decent amount of looks, he is nothing more than a mid-level TE2 for this final week of the regular season. Overall, this team is hampered by a poor offensive line, shaky quarterback play, and a tough matchup, so fantasy points may be hard to come by.

Running Game Thoughts: With so much on the line in hostile territory and against a tough opponent, this is not a good week to get cute and think about relying on Ray Rice and the Ravens weak running attack. Rice was held to just 40 yards on the ground last week as the Ravens were forced to play catch-up against the Patriots for almost the whole game. For Rice, last week was the ninth time this year he has been held to 40 yards or less on the ground, and while he has actually looked better in recent weeks, the Ravens offense in general, the play-calling, and the blocking have all been so bad or inconsistent that it is virtually impossible to trust Rice at this point unless it was a dream matchup. The Bengals, as you may be aware, are nowhere near a dream matchup, especially with something still left to play for. Although they may be without their leading tackler, linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion), the Bengals have overcome numerous injuries on their defense yet remain a near-elite defense. They have allowed the sixth fewest rush yards in the NFL and are fourth best in the league in rushing touchdowns allowed, with six.

If that did not scare you enough from using Rice, try the fact that the Bengals have allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs on the year and have allowed just one running back to rush in a score in the past 11 games. While Rice does get involved in the pass game, and the Bengals are among the six teams to allow 85-plus catches to opposing running backs on the year, the Ravens offense is not explosive enough for Rice to truly take advantage of this, as he has yet to register a receiving touchdown and has topped 40 yards receiving just once this season. If you have gotten to this point in the fantasy season and are still playing meaningful games, chances are that Rice is not on your team or is firmly placed on your bench. Although Rice will be giving it his all in a must-win game, he is simply a mid-level RB3/flex option here. Bernard Pierce is off the radar again this week, as Rice is healthy and Pierce has shown little in the chances he has received.

Joe Flacco: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 70 rec yds
Ray Rice: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 50 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 45 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It was basically a dream matchup last week, but it was a good sign that Andy Dalton did not choke against the Vikings, putting up a monster 366 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. Dalton is having a nice year overall but his numbers are skewed, as he has had a few monster games (like last week) but also a handful of awful games where he almost single-handedly lost the game for the Bengals. Dalton has been up and down recently and has a reputation for folding in the season’s second half, but certainly has some momentum from last week, and in a home contest with something meaningful to play for, might be worth a closer look. The matchup is not a great one, as the Ravens have given up the 11th fewest passing yards, allowed the third lowest completion percentage, and registered the 13th most sacks in the league. The Ravens have a quality pass rush, a solid cover corner (Webb) and a young but improving defensive back corps capable of limiting even the top group of receivers in the league. In their previous meeting Dalton threw two touchdowns but also three interceptions, throwing the ball 51 times, the most any quarterback has thrown against the Ravens this year (Ravens won).

This time around I would expect fewer passes and a little bit more reliance on the run, as the Ravens offense is struggling and the Bengals should not have much trouble turning this into a grind-it-out game, which should favor them, especially being at home. The good news for Dalton, and other Bengals passing game player owners, is that the Bengals seem to be playing wide receiver Marvin Jones more and his increased production should help Dalton and the rest of the offense. While the matchup is not juicy enough to feel confident about Dalton, he should not totally be written off either. Because he is coming off a huge game, has great weapons, is playing for something, and at home, I can see playing Dalton as a solid QB2, somewhere in that 13-15 range for QBs. His ceiling is not very high but his floor is also fairly high given the current circumstances. As for Dalton’s receivers, there is a ton of talent, with A.J. Green, Jones, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, but other than Green standing out in most games, the other guys seem to cancel each other out most weeks, splitting the targets and production fairly evenly and often unpredictably. Green remains a fairly safe WR1 whose upside is somewhat capped because of the Ravens' solid secondary but still has the talent to be a top 10 performer at the position, where I like him in that 7-10 range. Neither Bengals tight end is a good option, as each is banged up but both should play and split the work, meaning neither is anything more than a low-end TE2. The only other notable guy is the aforementioned Jones, whose playing time and production have increased the past few weeks to a level where he is probably a solid high-end WR4 now. While Jones is an interesting option, chances are you have better ones if you are still alive at this point in the fantasy season.

Running Game Thoughts: While they were not really needed at all, both Bengals running backs (Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis) were ineffective last week, combining for 25 carries for just 44 yards. The workload continues to be split almost exactly 50-50 now, as both are averaging about 12 carries the past few weeks, with Bernard being the more productive fantasy back thanks to his work in the passing game. While neither has exploded as a rusher very often this year, the Bengals are a solid rushing team overall, thanks in large part to their tough defense that keeps them in most games, their play calling, and their talented receivers who force defenses to respect the pass.

The Ravens rush defense limits the upside of this unit, as they have let up the ninth fewest rush yards on the year and are the eighth toughest defense for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. Despite these numbers, the chances are pretty good that the Bengals rush 35-plus times in this contest, as they look to grind it out at home and avoid any turnovers through the air against a tough Ravens pass defense. With the Ravens offense struggling and the Bengals defense being so good, I can easily see this being a defensive game, and one in which both BJGE and Bernard see plenty of work. While the committee approach and the matchup limit both backs' upside, I like Bernard as a solid low- to mid-level RB2 and Green-Ellis as a solid RB3/flex option. Neither back is totally safe but should see a ton of work and therefore be a nice option for those still alive in their fantasy leagues, especially those of larger size.

Andy Dalton: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Giovani Bernard: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Marvin Jones: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 24, Ravens 20 ^ Top

Lions @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: After blowing their opportunity and losing to the Giants last week, the Lions have been eliminated from playoff contention. This is very significant because this game is totally meaningless for both teams, so neither may play their usual starters for much of the game, if at all. Most notably for the Lions passing unit is the absence of Calvin Johnson, who is expected to miss the game with knee and ankle issues. Johnson played last week but was mostly ineffective and sat out most of the second half. With Johnson out, the entire passing unit suffers, as Johnson is not only one of the NFL’s premier playmakers but also the guy who takes the most defensive pressure off the other Lions' offensive skill players. Without Johnson the key players are Matthew Stafford, Nate Burleson, and Kris Durham, all expected to play. The tight end position is still in question, with Brandon Pettigrew hurt, but chances are he will sit, making Joseph Fauria the tight end to watch on this unit. The matchup is a great one, as the Vikings have given up the most passing yards and passing touchdowns in the NFL. Against the Bengals last week they gave up 366 yards and four touchdowns through the air without picking off a single pass.

While the Lions do not have anything to play for, it is still likely they try to end the season with a win, especially against a division opponent. While it is possible the Lions bench their starters towards the end of the game, most should play enough to make some substantial fantasy impact against a weak opponent. Matthew Stafford has struggled now in three straight games, and without Megatron he is no longer elite. But the matchup is too juicy to ignore, so Stafford should still be viewed as a low-end QB1, somewhere in that 10-12 range for QBs. Who will benefit from the great matchup and the absence of Johnson is hard to say, but both Burleson and Durham should see enough targets to be possible options as lower-end WR3s against a Vikings defense that gives up the second most fantasy points to opposing WRs. If this is your championship week, both WRs are playable, but really, you should have better options at this point. Fauria remains a touchdown-dependent TE with seven scores on the year but just 15 catches overall. If you are looking for a boom-or-bust TE2, Fauria may fit the bill if Pettigrew is out. If Pettigrew plays I would simply avoid all Lions TEs despite the good matchup. Overall, there is some decent value in this unit in a good matchup, but with nothing to play for and likely no Megatron, they are all far from a sure thing.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Vikings run defense is better than their pass defense, that is not really saying a whole lot, as they are still giving up nearly 114 rush yards per game (18th in the NFL) and are the eighth most generous to opposing fantasy RBs. The tricky part for fantasy owners looking to start a Lions RB is which one to rely on. Reggie Bush was a fairly solid RB1 all year but has been benched a few times now for fumbling (again last week) and has also dealt with more injuries than backup Joique Bell. Bell was the lone bright spot for the Lions last week, with 91 yards rushing (1 TD) and 10 catches for 63 yards (10 targets).

Bell has shown feature-back qualities all season, and while he is a restricted free agent next year, the team is likely in evaluation mode right now to see what they want to do with their backfield. While both backs should play, and the matchup is juicy enough for both to make an impact, I would lean slightly towards Bell over Bush, as he has the hot hand and Bush may rest a little more rather than risk aggravating any of the injuries he has dealt with this year. With the workload split once again, neither back has tremendous upside, but I think both are solid high-end RB3/flex options, with Bell perhaps being a little more safe.

Matthew Stafford: 255 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Reggie Bush: 50 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Joique Bell: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Nate Burleson: 70 rec yds
Kris Durham: 70 rec yds
Joseph Fauria: 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The Vikings played a tough defense last week and thus got about the results one would expect, with Matt Cassel throwing for just 114 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. With this game being meaningless for both teams the Vikings are likely just playing to evaluate talent and to try and get one more win in front of their home crowd. Once again Cassel will start at quarterback and, despite a decent matchup, is firmly off the fantasy radar as a starter. The Lions have given up the sixth most passing yards thus far but are basically neutral against opposing fantasy QBs because they do not give up a ton of touchdowns (23 on the year) and have picked off a decent number of passes. While Cassel is off the fantasy radar, both Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson are fantasy relevant against a Detroit secondary that has given up the third most fantasy points to opposing WRs.

Jennings has been Cassel’s favorite target this year and has consistently received six-plus targets per game with Cassel under center. While Jennings' upside is not huge, he should see a healthy amount of targets and make for a fairly safe WR3, even if his upside is limited. Rookie Patterson is a different story, as his upside is huge but he is not as safe an option as Jennings, getting about two less targets per game than his counterpart the past six weeks. Patterson has been force-fed the ball the past few weeks, even in the run game, as the Vikings brass looks to evaluate their rookie wide receiver. He has the speed and ability to turn any play into a touchdown, and while he is still learning the finer points of the game, he only needs a few touches to make a nice impact. I look at Patterson as a high-end WR3 who could easily finish among the top 15 wide receivers if the Vikings feed him the ball like they have been lately. He is not a super safe option yet, but in the last week of the fantasy season, he is an intriguing pick for possible big points. No other Vikings passing game member is fantasy relevant, as the rest are too inconsistent or simply not talented enough to take a chance on.

Running Game Thoughts: As one of the very best units in the NFL, thanks to Adrian Peterson, the Vikings run game is usually a constant and reliable source of fantasy points. This week, however, it is shaping up to be one of the cloudiest and least attractive options around. While Peterson is normally considered a freak of nature, multiple injuries (groin, foot) seem to have caught up to him, and with nothing left to play for it may be time the Vikings shut him down for the year so the franchise player can start his offseason healing process early. What makes the situation even cloudier is that backup Toby Gerhart may very well miss this game with a hamstring injury, and third-string running back Matt Asiata, who had three touchdowns a few weeks back, will also probably be out with a hamstring issue. The only running back left on the roster, and the guy who will probably start, is Joe Banyard. But even if the matchup were a cakewalk, you do not want to be relying on a guy like that at this point in the season.

The matchup, in fact, is actually very tough, as the Lions are one of the best run stoppers in the game today. Currently they have let up the fourth fewest rush yards in the league and might very well be first if it was not for the fluke “snowstorm” game played in Philadelphia, where LeSean McCoy ran for over 200 yards on a snow covered field. With only nine rushing touchdowns allowed on the year and so few yards, it is no wonder the Lions are the seventh toughest unit for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. The only possible way anyone on this Vikings run unit is fantasy relevant is if Peterson miraculously makes the start, and even then I would rank him as more of a high-end RB2 than the usual top three option he is, simply because of his health and the tough matchup. If anybody else on this team is the starter, avoid them at all costs.

Matt Cassel: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Greg Jennings: 70 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 75 rec yds, 1 TD, 15 rush yds
Joe Banyard: 30rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 23 ^ Top

Browns @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns obviously have nothing to play for this season so they will likely be in full evaluation mode, along with playing spoiler for the Steelers who still have a remote chance of making the playoffs. Jason Campbell will start at quarterback once again, and while he has had a few surprisingly good games this year, he has gone ice cold his past two, throwing four interceptions against one touchdown and completing just 51 percent of his passes in those contests combined. Needless to say, Campbell is not a fantasy option, especially with the Steelers playing hard and being a tough matchup. The Steelers are currently eighth in the NFL in pass yards allowed and are top 10 in completion percentage allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, and touchdown passes allowed. Consequently, they are among the 10 toughest teams for opposing fantasy QBs and WRs to score against. Always being a tough place to play, Heinz Field will see the Pittsburgh fans extra wound up with some outside playoff hopes on the line, and chances are, the Browns are ready to start their offseason golf trips.

Working against the Browns and Campbell is the probable absence of tight end Jordan Cameron, who is still dealing with concussion symptoms and will likely be held out of this one in order to start the offseason more healthy. With Cameron out and Campbell so cold, this team really has only one guy that is on the fantasy radar, wide receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon has become one of the most reliable and explosive wide receivers in the game and regardless of his quarterback or the matchup, Gordon seems to rise to the occasion. While Pittsburgh is a tougher-than-average matchup for Gordon, he will almost certainly see 10-plus targets and has some good history against the Steelers. In Week 12 in Cleveland Gordon went for 14 catches, 237 yards and a touchdown on 17 targets. Obviously that is unlikely to happen again, but he obviously has that kind of upside. That game, by the way, was the second best fantasy day a WR has had against the Steelers this year, just narrowly behind Calvin Johnson, who had 179 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon remains a high-upside and relatively safe WR1 and should end up a top five performer at the position. No other Browns passing game player is on the fantasy radar, as this team is inconsistent, lacks talent, and is running cold right now.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Browns running game has been virtually non-existent most of the year, especially for fantasy purposes, last week provided a glimmer of hope for the future. Against a tough Jets run defense, Edwin Baker ran 17 times for 64 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 12 yards. Obviously those numbers are not earth-shattering, and chances are that almost nobody in the world started Baker on their fantasy team. But it goes down as one of the better performances by a Browns running back this year, especially considering the tough opponent. With Baker being only 22 years old and the Browns likely in evaluation mode for the future, Baker will likely get the start in a matchup that is not half bad.

While the Steelers excel in pass defense, their run defense is quite a bit weaker, ranking 22nd in the league in rush yards allowed and having allowed a healthy 4.3 yards per carry and 18 rushing touchdowns, fourth most in the NFL. Consequently, the Steelers are the 13th most generous team against opposing fantasy RBs. With the Browns defense being solid and Jason Campbell playing at a low level right now, it is not outside the realm of possibilities that Baker could get 20-plus total touches. With a solid matchup and not much legit competition behind him, Baker makes for an intriguing RB3/flex play for those of you still playing. With numerous other running backs hurt or perhaps resting, Baker makes for a desperation play, but one with some legitimate upside. No other Browns running back is worth considering.

Jason Campbell: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Little: 30 rec yds
Edwin Baker: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Chris Ogbonnaya: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With a small but possible chance at still making the playoffs, the Steelers will certainly be trying their best as they host the Browns, who have nothing on the line. While it was mostly the run game that got them the victory last week, the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger have been throwing the ball well most of the year and have had some relevant fantasy games in turn. This week the matchup is not ideal but there is certainly some value and chance to outperform the matchup on paper. The Browns are currently ninth in the league in passing yards allowed, and other than interceptions (just 12), they are fairly solid across the board in sacks (14th), completion percentage allowed (15th), yards per pass attempt allowed (3rd), and long pass play allowed (2nd). As far as fantasy points allowed, the Browns are about average to QBs, WRs, and TEs, as each position has had big games but the Browns have also come close to shutting out each as well. The possibly great news for the Steelers is that the Browns best defender, cornerback Joe Haden, is questionable with a hip injury and will most likely sit out in order to get healthy for the offseason. While Haden has given up a few big games to some of the game’s best wide receivers, he has also shut down a few and is one of the more reliable cover corners in the league. For the Steelers, the only guy worth noting on the injury report is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who is dealing with a knee issue but will probably try to play, although he will be limited if he suits up.

For those still alive in their fantasy leagues, this game is really all about two guys: Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. While Big Ben is not an elite fantasy QB this season, he has had a few elite games and has enough weapons and skill to be a top 10 QB in the right matchup. With Haden likely out, the matchup is not as bad as it may have been earlier in the year, especially playing in Pittsburgh with extra motivation to win. With various other quarterbacks in meaningless games or in tougher matchups I see Ben as a low-end QB1, in that 10-12 range, where he should be a safe bet for points with the potential for a very solid game. As for Brown, no way you are sitting him if you own him, as he has been one of, if not THE, most consistent fantasy WRs of all this year. With Haden likely out, or very limited if he plays, Brown should be able to eat up the coverage, draw eight or more targets and put up solid mid-level WR1 numbers. At this point no other Steeler is really fantasy relevant, as the remaining guys are no better than WR4 types at best and Heath Miller is a below-average option at TE2.

Running Game Thoughts: Le’Veon Bell continued his excellent rookie season with his best performance yet, his first 100-plus yard rushing game. Against the Packers, Bell ran for 124 yards and a touchdown and, unlike some rookies who hit the proverbial wall towards the end of their first year, Bell seems to be getting better as the season goes on. With some glimmer of hope at reaching the playoffs, the Steelers will certainly play their starters and try to get their rookie running back all the experience they can, especially since he is playing at a high level. The matchup itself is not ideal, but the Browns are a tougher team to pass against than run against and playing in Pittsburgh in a meaningless game (for the Browns) could mean the defense will not be playing their hardest.

To date, the Browns are a little tougher than average against opposing fantasy RBs (17th), but it is still basically a neutral matchup for Bell. With Bell having a decent game against the Browns the first time around (98 total yards) and this being a home game coming off his first 100-plus yard game, I like Bell’s chances to be a solid RB2, somewhere in that 12-15 range for RBs. With the chance that the Steelers get a decent lead going, Bell could easily see 20-plus touches and therefore remains a very safe play. Look for Bell to finish the regular season strong. No other Steelers running back is remotely relevant in fantasy or real life.

Ben Roethlisberger: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs
Le’Veon Bell: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Heath Miller: 40 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 45 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 27, Browns 20 ^ Top

Jets at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After rumors surfaced that Rex Ryan may be in his final season coaching with the team, the Jets put together arguably their most complete game of the season. Offensively they committed no turnovers, allowed no sacks, and quarterback Geno Smith threw for two touchdowns in addition to running for a third score. While Smith's completion percentage for the game was only 55.6 percent and he threw for just 214 yards, both of those marks are still slightly above his season averages, giving him the most statistically significant victory of his rookie season in the final 2013 New York home game. Even with the error-free performance, the Jets still rank as one of the worst passing offenses in the league, and the Week 16 results are much more the exception than the norm, though for fantasy owners who happened to play Smith, they certainly reaped the rewards of that bold move. On the season no one has thrown fewer touchdowns and only one team has committed more interceptions than the Jets, along with giving up the second most sacks and the worst completion percentage in the league. While even a blind pig can find an acorn every now and again, the likelihood of Smith being able to repeat his Week 16 performance is extremely low, and the numbers suggest he’s much more inclined to have a terrible game than one that is positive or even mediocre.

Whereas the Jets were better offensively in their latest game than they have been for the majority of the season, Miami put together one of its worst team performances last week against a team who is perennially near the bottom of the NFL totem pole. Even with a backup quarterback at the helm, the Bills were able to complete 60 percent of their passes and throw for more than double the yardage of Miami, and all of this was done without their star receiver even being at the stadium on game day. Assuming the most recent contest can be brushed off as a one-time anomaly, the Dolphins are still one of the better pass defenses in the league, with top five marks for touchdowns allowed and top ten in the areas of interceptions recorded and sacks forced. They’re also eleventh overall for completion percentage allowed and yards surrendered per attempt. The only deficiency on the team is from yards allowed per game, but even with 235 against, they’re right along the midline, so when considering all of their other strengths, the yardage surrendered isn’t a particularly large issue. Because both New York and Miami played far differently in Week 16 than they have for most of the season, there are a number of possibilities for their performances in the season finale, and with the Jets potentially playing for the future of their coach and the Dolphins playing for a playoff spot, neither will be short on motivation. The most reasonable outlook is for both teams to regress toward their means, suggesting that Smith will go back to playing like a rookie quarterback on a team lacking for offensive firepower and that the Miami pass defense will look to take advantage of the mistakes Smith’s likely to make while they force pressure rushed decisions on him.

Running Game Thoughts: With little exception, the Jets have been one of the most consistent rushing teams in the league; through 15 games they’ve broken 100 yards two-thirds of the time, have recorded fewer than 90 yards only once, and have never gained less than 80 rushing yards in any contest. The greatest variable in their ground game has been the contributions from their quarterback, who himself has half of the team’s rushing touchdowns. In fact, in the five games in which Smith has scored New York has won all of them, including two contests against teams who are vying for a first-round bye in the playoffs. As a team the Jets average 133.6 rushing yards per game, more than all but five teams, and have recorded the sixth most rushing attempts. Despite that yardage and their dedication to the rushing attack, they have only 10 touchdowns, the tenth worst work in the NFL. They run more than most and additionally have better success in doing so than most but still can’t consistently find their way into the end zone. In Smith they’ve found the ultimate x-factor, a gifted scrambler with good vision who has shown a willingness to run when opportunities present themselves. Even with the relatively poor passing game, only once has Smith rushed more than six times in a game, he has never gained more than 50 yards on the ground, and only once has he had a run of greater than 20 yards.

Because of this inconsistency, defenses rarely key on Smith as a runner, meaning than when he does take off he tends to see decent success. For the Dolphins in Week 17, the biggest rushing threat will continue to be running back Chris Ivory, the team’s leading rusher and clearly the most dynamic of their running backs. While his touches have been somewhat inconsistent throughout the season, his production as the primary ball carrier has been quite successful; in games where he has received between 11 and 33 touches (seven games), he has never averaged less than 4.2 yards per carry, and in those seven contests, he’s gained 601 yards on 106 carries for an average of 5.67 per attempt with three touchdowns. On the season Miami is the eighth worst rushing defense, with 122.9 yards surrendered per game, though their mark for touchdowns allowed (12) is right at the league average. Given that the strengths and weakness of New York and Miami align perfectly, their matchup in Week 17 will probably feature a fair number of yards gained on the ground but is also just as likely to not produce many, if any, Jets rushing touchdowns. Once again, the wildcard will be their young quarterback, who more than any other New York ball carrier has been able to scramble his way to a score when the Jets have found themselves in the red zone. Look for Ivory to do most of the heavy lifting, running back Bilal Powell to see a handful of touches, and Smith to contribute once or twice per quarter, given the opportunity to do so.

Geno Smith: 150 pass yds, 1 INT / 30 rush yds
Chris Ivory: 90 rush yds
Bilal Powell: 40 rush yards, 20 rec yards
Jeremy Kerley: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In Week 16 the Dolphins had the chance to give themselves a significant boost in playoff positioning, but they failed and now need a victory and help elsewhere to sneak into the sixth spot for the postseason. To put it mildly, nothing was working for Miami, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill put together what was statistically the worst game of his career. While acknowledging that the Bills are one of the better pass defenses in the league, two of their four victories have come against Miami, suggesting that the Dolphins matchup extremely poorly against a Buffalo team that most other NFL franchises are able to handle. Aside from not committing any turnovers, Tannehill couldn’t have played much worse, completing only 37.0 percent of his passes for 82 yards, averaging an abysmal 3.04 yards per attempt. He didn’t see any time in the fourth quarter as he was relieved by quarterback Matt Moore, who was even worse, throwing six passes for two incompletions, two catches (53 yards), and two interceptions. While there is little doubt Tannehill will be back under center, his team will need him to be back in the form he’s been for the majority of the season; despite a below-average ranking in the major passing categories, the Dolphins are above .500 and on the verge of their first playoff berth in six years. If the Dolphins' signal caller can go out and come close to their season averages of 224 yards, 1.53 touchdowns, and 1.07 interceptions per game, Miami should be able to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Of all the ways the Week 17 contest could fall apart for the Dolphins, the most likely suspect will be quarterback pressure, considering that no team has given up more sacks than Miami (58, next closest is 47) and that New York is better than average at getting to the quarterback. In their Week 13 matchup, Tannehill was only sacked once, giving reason for the team to remain optimistic about keeping him upright in the season finale. In the epic collapse last week he was sacked seven times and lost 46 yards, forfeiting more than half of the gains he was able to make through the air. Without that obvious disruption, the game may have gone differently, much like the earlier contest against the Jets. With the time he was given by his offensive line, Tannehill was able to throw for a season-high 331 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against a porous New York secondary that allows 250 yards per game, ninth worst in the league. Both wide receivers Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline recorded over 80 yards and a touchdown on at least seven receptions in Week 13, and there is little to suggest that they won’t each have similar success in the rematch. Only four teams have recorded fewer interceptions than the Jets, who barely escape the bottom third when it comes to touchdowns allowed, meaning Tannehill should feel free to spread the ball around to any of his receivers, whether it be the speedy Wallace, the reliable Hartline, or even the opportunistic tight end, Charles Clay. Assuming Miami can brush off the mess from last week, the Jets are likely to once again have their hands full with a team capable of moving the ball effectively, if not efficiently, through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: The most frustrating rushing situation in all of fantasy football may come out of Miami. With inconsistent touches going to ether of their running backs, even when healthy, the Dolphins backfield continues to be a mess. Even after Lamar Miller seemed to have taken control of the starting position over Daniel Thomas, neither of their rushing totals have been reliable enough for either Miami or their fantasy owners. Last week Miller earned only three touches despite being the unquestioned starter, though his eight yards did surpass the six from Thomas, despite the latter receiving nine carries. Much like their passing game, it is best to erase that game from memory and try again in the season finale, hoping that season averages are what comes forth from the Week 17 contest. But even at that, there won’t be much room for optimism with the Dolphins ground game. They are one of seven teams to average fewer than 90 rushing yards per game, and only five teams have scored fewer rushing touchdowns. In Week 13 against the Jets they were able to gain 125 yards on the ground, though it did require 36 touches, giving them a 3.5-yard average.

Even reaching their underwhelming season marks would be a feat this weekend against New York, who surrender only 88.0 yards against per game and have given up only nine rushing touchdowns this season; only seven teams have fewer touchdowns allowed. Since giving up 125 rushing yards to Miami in Week 13, the Jets have averaged 132 yards against per game and 4.8 per carry, a far cry from the stingy run defense they’ve put together for the majority of the season. The Dolphins have recorded 103 rushing yards and no touchdowns in the past two games, a trend which New York will certainly aim to continue as they try to break out of their own recent slump. The calling card for Miami all season has been inconsistency, both in game plan and in performance, so counting on their running game for the final game of the season is particularly inadvisable. In what figures to be a low scoring game, the Dolphins don’t pose enough of a threat on the ground to warrant starting Miller in any fantasy format, and he is far and away the best rushing option for Miami.

Ryan Tannehill: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Lamar Miller: 40 rush yds
Mike Wallace: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Hartline: 50 rec yards
Charles Clay: 40 rec yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Dolphins 17, Jets 13 ^ Top

Redskins at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: For the third game in a row Kirk Cousins will be the quarterback for Washington, giving him one last chance to challenge for the long-term starting role or at least add to his resume for potential trade suitors. Even with a change at signal caller the Redskins haven’t been able to shake their losing ways, riding a seven-game losing streak into the season finale that included a pair of loses with Cousins as the starter. Despite not changing their fortunes any, the biggest difference Cousins has brought to the team has been to make the team competitive, with his two losses coming by a combined three points, whereas under Robert Griffin III the team was always a touchdown or more behind in their other 10 losses. Aside from a per-game yardage average and a TD-INT ratio which are both slightly skewed because of Cousins replacing Griffin partway through two other games, the two quarterbacks have been statistically similar, with approximately equal numbers of touchdowns and interceptions, completion percentages near 60 percent, and a yards-per-attempt average right around seven. The only significant difference between the two has been their propensity for taking sacks, whereas Griffin took 38 in his 13 starts (nearly three per game) and Cousins has only been sacked once in his two starts. Whether the line has been better, the quarterback is making better decisions, or something else is at play, the primary beneficiary has been wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who leads the league in both targets (174) and catches (107). While Cousins has been the starter Garcon has caught seven balls or more while recording at least 129 yards and one touchdown in each game; Garcon is once again a fantasy star thanks largely to the quarterback change.

Five weeks ago when these teams played, defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Griffin four times and has added another 2.5 sacks in his two games since; 7.5 of his nine sacks this season have come in the past five weeks, suggesting that the once formidable pass rusher may finally be getting back to form and that the Redskins offensive line may be in for another busy day this weekend. Since losing six games to start the season New York has gone 6-3 and their defense has been the unit driving the resurgence. Last week they held All Star wide receiver Calvin Johnson to 43 yards on three catches from four targets, forced two interceptions, allowed no passing touchdowns, and gave up only 222 yards through the air on a 59.5 percent completion day from quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is third in yards and sixth in touchdowns, ranking in the top ten of fantasy QBs for the season. The Giants have forced two sacks or more in each of the last five games and will be looking to continue that streak against a Washington O-line that has averaged nearly three allowed per game prior to Cousins becoming the starter. If they’re unable to pressure the quarterback, their 22nd-ranked pass defense will likely have trouble containing Garcon and the Redskins receivers, who will challenge the 249-yards-against average and 28-14 TD-INT ratio that New York has amassed this season.

Running Game Thoughts: On the ground Washington is not only less dynamic without Griffin under center but they’re also less productive, averaging 101.5 yards per game compared to a season average of 138.2, which is fifth best in the league. After peaking in Weeks 7 through 10, running back Alfred Morris saw his production slip in the subsequent weeks until Cousins became the starting quarterback. In the past two weeks Morris has rebounded, averaging 93 yards per game and scoring only his second touchdown since Week 9. While Cousins certainly isn’t the runner that Griffin can be, he does bring better balance to the offense as a whole, which allows the running game to have better consistency. And since Morris is now the primary rushing threat, he and his fantasy owners have been able to benefit from Griffin’s absence. Despite losing two fumbles the week before, Morris saw his workload increase by 33 percent and he saw his touch percentage increase to 96 percent of the total carries (24 of 25) for all Redskins running backs; he responded by not putting the ball on the turf once and finding his way into the end zone, likely reaffirming Mike Shanahan’s faith in him as the workhorse for Washington.

Over the last four games, the Giants have allowed between 134-148 rushing yards per game and at least one touchdown per contest, with two being surrendered most recently. For the season, they’ve averaged only 110.1 yards against per game, only one spot above the league midline but still far better than how they’ve done lately. The simplest conclusion is that the defense has become more aggressive, getting to the quarterback more and disrupting the passing game that way but sacrificing their presence against the run in order to achieve that gain. Excluding the four-game winning streak against non-starting quarterbacks, the two wins they’ve earned in the last five games are the first two they’ve earned this year, meaning that the change in defensive strategy just may be paying off. This does however open to door for Morris to potentially run through all game, as the New York front seven focuses more on the quarterback rather than the man most likely to be carrying the ball. The increase in Morris’ production coupled with his continued dominance of carries should work to the benefit of his fantasy owners and may ultimately be the reason New York ends their season similarly to how they started it, with a close loss to a division rival.

Kirk Cousins: 210 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Alfred Morris: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: As his worst season in recent history, if not in his career, draws to a close, Eli Manning has shown signs of breaking out of the slump that has affected him for the majority of the season. Oddly enough, the most recent mediocre-or-better performance came without star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who will be forced to miss Week 17 as well. After a solid start to the season Cruz saw his production decline after a few weeks and in his place Ruben Randle has become the new, thought potentially temporary, leading receiver in New York. Throughout the season, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has been largely overlooked due to his not recording any receiving touchdowns, and without a score in the season finale he will turn in the only scoreless season of his career, after a career-worst year of 692 yards and three scores last season. While his per-catch averages are right in line with the better years of his career, Nicks simply isn’t seeing the volume of targets as he’s become accustomed, due in part to nagging injuries but also because of the emergence of Randle. In the season finale the pair will line up across from each other as the two primary receiving threats for Manning and the Giants, and although neither possesses the breakaway speed of Cruz, that could end up working to their advantage as the defense is forced to cover them equally, likely resulting in one or the other being open and their roles reversing as the defense is forced to adjust. Of course this all depends on the offensive line protecting their quarterback and Manning not adding to this career-worst and league-high interception total.

For all of their struggles this season, the Redskins have struggled to defend the pass, much like the rest of their division. They barely escape the bottom ten in yards allowed per game, surrender the most yards per attempt in the NFL, and give up the second greatest completion percentage against. Additionally, only five teams have allowed more touchdowns, their interceptions are perfectly mediocre, and they’ve recorded fewer sacks than most other teams in the league. Their pass defense does nothing particularly well and in more than one area they are exceptionally poor; if there ever were a game for Manning to use as a springboard for next season, this would be it. In their Week 13 meeting Manning threw one touchdown and one interception while completing 78.6 percent of his passes for 235 yards in addition to being sacked three times; though relatively pedestrian, those marks are all better than his season averages. Since that meeting (three games), the Redskins have allowed five touchdowns and forced three interceptions along with five sacks, all of which are worse than their season paces. With the Giants' passing offense slightly over-performing and the Redskins' passing defense slightly underperforming, Manning stands a chance of ending the season on a high note despite being without his top receiving threat.

Running Game Thoughts: The receiving corps may not be the only unit without a key component for Week 17, as running backs Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis are both listed as Questionable because of concussions, potentially leaving Michael Cox as the starting running back for this weekend. Aside from seeing time during the middle of the season when New York couldn’t field the same set of running backs for consecutive games, Cox has been a nonfactor on the field, recording 22 carries and three receptions for a total of 55 yards for the entire season. While unlikely, it is conceivable for the rookie to double his career touches and production in this one game alone. Earlier this season he averaged 2.1 yards per carry in back-to-back games, his only playing time before picking up a pair of carries in the closing frame last weekend. Though his personal numbers don’t provide a substantial sample, the Giants as a team have been abysmal on the ground all year, ranking next to last in yards per game with 80.7 and nearly bringing up the rear with a fourth worst 3.5 yards-per-carry average. Their best statistic is in touchdowns scored, with 10, but even that fails to escape the bottom third of the league. Down to their seventh-round rookie draft pick, who didn’t even start the season on the depth chart, New York can all but give up on the running game, if they haven’t done so already.

The run defense from Washington is wonderfully mediocre in every way except for one, in touchdowns allowed, where they are the league’s most permissive team; with 22 touchdowns surrendered in 15 games they’re averaging 1.47 scores on the ground per contest. When compared to their yardage numbers, the primary conclusion is that their red zone defense is particularly horrible though in other areas of the field they’re approximately average. For Sunday that means that the struggling Giants ground game will have a hard time moving the ball, but if by chance they do make it deep into Washington territory, they stand a better-than-average chance of turning that field position into points. New York should choose to view this as a silver lining, much like the Redskins should look at the inexperienced running back as the physical embodiment of their optimism. Considering how little is at stake in this game and that each club is coming off of a historically bad year (for different reasons), the best course of action for each would be to get the most they can out of their respective quarterbacks and use their running game as a means for keeping the defense in check. The Giants will lean on Manning more than ever to help him achieve a positive end to the season, and the primary use for whoever the running back may be will almost certainly come as a pass blocker, hopefully giving the quarterback enough time to mentally salvage his season and set the club up for success in 2014.

Eli Manning: 250 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Andre Brown: 50 rush yards, 10 rec yards
Michael Cox: 40 rush yds
Hakeem Nicks: 60 rec yds
Jerrel Jernigan: 50 rec yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Redskins 24, Giants 20 ^ Top

Bills at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: As if a daunting history against the Patriots wasn’t enough, Buffalo doesn’t even currently know who their quarterback will be come Sunday; EJ Manuel missed Week 16 with a sprained knee and has been limited in practice all week, splitting reps with Thad Lewis who led the team to his second victory in four games. Though Manuel is a bit more mobile and therefore a more consistent running threat, he and Lewis have remarkably similar statistics this season, each averaging around 200 passing yards per game (with 20 or more attempts), roughly 6.5 yards per attempt, with a completion percentage very near to 60 percent and an approximately equal TD-INT ratio. Those statistics have landed Buffalo very near the bottom of offensive passing rankings, finishing in the bottom five for yards per game, touchdowns scored, completion percentage, and yards per attempt. On top of that, the Bills have thrown more interceptions than most other teams and land in the bottom ten for sacks surrendered despite attempting fewer passes than nearly three-quarters of the league. Both Manuel and Lewis have started once in the past two games, each earning a victory for the Bills. During those wins Buffalo has scored a total of 46 points but both quarterbacks each threw for only 193 yards with one interception, though Manuel threw two touchdowns to Lewis’s zero. From those two games Manuel was sacked more times, though he had a better completion percentage. Since he is considered the future of the franchise, the team has an interest in protecting his health, so if there are any questions, he’s likely to be rested in favor of Lewis, though whoever earns the start will likely be without wide receiver Steve Johnson for the second week in a row as he attends to family matters following the death of his mother less than two weeks ago.

With Johnson and fellow wide receiver Marquis Goodwin (knee) both likely out, the Patriots will only have to deal with wide receiver Robert Woods and tight end Scott Chandler as the primary receiving targets in addition to the running backs, who are involved in the passing game with decent consistency. Considering how New England has averaged 304 passing yards against for the last three contests, every little bit helps, even against the doormat of the division. For the season, the Patriots are a touch below average when it comes to defending the pass, surrendering 240 yards per game and totaling 24 touchdowns against. Conversely, they’re better than most when it comes to forcing interceptions and recording sacks, so while they may give up more than most in other areas, their attacking style often compensates for it. The key for the Patriots has often been their offense, forcing their opponents to play from behind and creating turnover opportunities, so in essence their best defense is generally a good offense. Not known for their offensive firepower, Buffalo is likely to be put in an uncomfortable position if the Patriots are able to jump out to an early lead, and with two of their top six pass catchers unavailable, their task becomes all the more difficult.

Running Game Thoughts: If the Bills are to pull off the upset and potentially spoil the Patriots' first-round bye, it will almost certainly be done via their ground attack. As a team, they average 142.5 yards per game, second best in the league, and have recorded 195 rushing yards or more in three of the past four contests. Despite the fact that running back C.J. Spiller is the more explosive ball carrier and has a slightly better per-carry yardage average, Fred Jackson has been the more productive back for the majority of the season, totaling a few more rushing yards, twice as many receiving yards, and nine touchdowns to Spiller’s two, clearly making him the better fantasy RB. On the year, they’ve combined to average 114.4 rushing and 33.5 receiving yards per game, with occasional contributions from the quarterback on a scramble or a third running back working in relief. What the running game does for the Bills is give them a distinct advantage in time of possession; in five of their six wins they’ve won the battle for time possession, and only once have they won without possessing the ball for longer than their opponent. Running the ball and controlling the clock will undoubtedly be the primary areas of focus come Sunday afternoon.

Running the ball with authority is one thing that most teams have been able to do against New England this season, as they average a bottom five 131.7 yards against per game and a bottom ten 4.4 yards per attempt. Even with those gains and that yardage, they have allowed only 10 touchdowns on the ground, just outside of a top ten ranking. If Buffalo is able to run the ball well, they will not only be moving the ball down the field and hopefully scoring points but also keeping their opponent’s offense on the bench and likely limiting the points they can score. Additionally, with the personnel struggles and injury concerns the Patriots have had all season, they’ve needed more time and extra plays to fall into their rhythm offensively, so if the Bills can prolong their own drives, it will keep the Patriots on the sideline and delay their ability to get going offensively. It’s a big ask of the Buffalo running game, and that pressure is what may best work to the Patriots’ advantage, because other than that, there isn’t much they’re expected to be able to do to slow down Jackson, Spiller, and whoever else may be carrying the ball.

Thaddeus Lewis: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 10 rush yds
Fred Jackson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
C.J. Spiller: 60 rush yards, 20 rec yards
Robert Woods: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Even in what is considered an off year, Tom Brady has his team on the precipice of a first-round bye with an outside chance of earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The New England passing offense is inside the top ten for several categories, including yards per game and interceptions thrown, while landing in the top half in the areas of touchdowns scored, completion percentage, yards gained per attempt, and sacks surrendered. While being better than most has become routine for the Patriots, being barely better than most is relatively uncharted territory for Brady and his usually high-powered offense. Despite starting the season without tight end Rob Gronkowski and being forced to finish the season without him as well, New England will have an otherwise full complement of receiving options for Week 17, something which hasn’t happened many times this year. With wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins listed as Questionable for Sunday, the four top wide receivers would finally be available for Brady—though from a fantasy perspective, the more that play, the less certain any one of them will be a solid start. Partially just because he's been healthy, Julian Edelman has been the leading receiver for Brady in both yards and touchdowns, so regardless of who is or isn’t available, he’s the strongest wide receiver play for New England.

In Week 1 the Bills had one of their worst defensive performances of the year and still played the Patriots to within two points, losing only because of a late field goal despite being out-possessed by 15 minutes. They allowed Brady to throw for 288 yards and two touchdowns, though they did sack him three times and force an interception. The defensive game plan for Buffalo should be fairly similar in the season finale, as Gronkowski will similarly be unavailable and both Edelman and Danny Amendola and will be active and looking to wreak havoc on the secondary. Unlike in Week 1, safety Jairus Byrd will be active for Week 17 and looking to make up for the game he missed earlier, giving the Bills a noticeable boost to their back four. On the season, Buffalo has been one of the top passing defenses in the league, allowing only 210 yards per game (top five) and recording the most sacks (56) while also forcing 22 interceptions, second best in the NFL. In spite of the other spectacular marks, the Bills have allowed more touchdowns than most other teams, largely due to the unfavorable situations their sometimes stagnant offense leaves for them. If the Buffalo offense can run the ball with consistency, their defense may be able to pressure Brady enough to keep the game close, much like they did in the opening game.

Running Game Thoughts: The downside of having Brady under center is that the rushing attack is constantly overlooked, but that makes everything the Patriots are able to do on the ground even more impressive. They average 119.9 yards per game, coming in the top third of those rankings, and have scored the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the league. Since running back Shane Vereen was injured in the first game of the season, New England has used a combination of ball carriers to head the rushing attack, but with several of them having fumble troubles, LeGarrette Blount has become the primary back for the past handful of games. After returning, Vereen has been used primarily in a receiving capacity, scoring twice out of the backfield as well as once recording more than 150 yards. Added to the mix is Stevan Ridley, who after being in the doghouse for a few weeks because of fumbling issues has returned to ball-carrying duties, now firmly planted in a time share with Blount. Because of the carries that are split between the three backs, Vereen’s upside as a pass catcher separates him from the other two, though without another huge receiving game, none of the three have great upside beyond their ability to reach the end zone.

Where the Patriots are good at gaining yards on the ground and great at rushing for scores, Buffalo is reasonable at limiting rushing yards and one of the top six teams at preventing scores on the ground, pitting strength against strength this weekend as the Bills look to play spoiler and potentially knock their rival from a first-round bye all the way down to the fourth playoff spot. More than being a stumbling block for the Patriots, Buffalo will also be playing for a victory to earn their first three-game winning streak since the beginning of 2011. While their rush defense has been largely up and down all season, in their most recent game they allowed only 14 rushing yards on 12 carries, never giving up more than three yards at a time. While stuffing the Dolphins' ground game isn’t the same as shutting down the New England rushing attack, it does bode well for what is in store for the season finale. Because the Patriots have three or more capable running backs, Buffalo will constantly have to perform at their best, as they’ll likely be facing a ball carrier who is at full strength all game long. The interchangeable nature of their backs has allowed them to run from no huddle situations, giving them the ultimate advantage as Brady is able to dictate when to run and how best to manipulate the defense.

Tom Brady: 240 pass yds, 1 TD
Shane Vereen: 40 rush yds / 30 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Danny Amendola: 50 rec yards

Prediction: Patriots 21, Bills 17 ^ Top

Eagles at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: With nothing on the line in Week 16 Philadelphia put together one of the most dominant performances of the season, and now with everything on the line in the last game of the season they’ll once again be looking to put their best foot forward to earn the NFC East division title and a spot in the playoffs. Win and they’re in, lose and they’re out, it’s as simple as it gets. Putting their best foot forward starts with quarterback Nick Foles, who in less than a season’s worth of performances has established himself as one of the best fantasy players of the latter part of the year. His 25 passing touchdowns paired with only two interceptions gives him far and away the best ratio in the league, plus he adds appreciable yardage on the ground most games from scrambles along with another three touchdowns. Unsurprisingly, he has the best quarterback rating of the season, but despite starting only ten games he has the eighth most touchdown passes and ranks just outside of the top ten, ahead of a number of signal callers who have started every game of 2013. While the new coaching philosophy is responsible for some of the success he’s seen, there are a number of stellar athletes around him who make plays. The star receiver all year has been DeSean Jackson, who is averaging nearly 90 yards per game and more than 16 per catch with nine touchdown receptions. Behind him is wide receiver Riley Cooper, who has a slightly better receiving average and one fewer touchdown reception despite not being the deep threat that Jackson is. Because of the open nature of their offense, the Eagles are one of the most prolific and efficient passing attacks in the league and are the only team with 30 or more touchdowns with single-digit interceptions, respectively 25 and two of which came from their current quarterback.

Barring unforeseen circumstances or divine intervention, Philadelphia should have a veritable field day against a Dallas pass defense who gives up the second most yards and touchdowns in the league while also recording the second fewest sacks and only an average number of interceptions. After surrendering nine touchdowns to backup quarterbacks in the last three games while only forcing two interceptions and three sacks, there is little in recent history to suggest the Cowboys have what it takes to slow down, let alone stop, the Eagles' wide-open passing attack. Only four times all season, and not since Week 7, has Dallas held their opponent to fewer than 21 points. Instead, they have been forced to rely on outscoring opponents to earn a victory—something they will be looking to do one more time to sneak into the playoffs by virtue of their undefeated record in the division, despite going 2-7 outside of it.

Running Game Thoughts: The best ground game in the league once again belongs to the Eagles after a brief hiatus from dominance earlier in the season. At 161.9 yards per game, they are more than 19 yards clear of second place and only one other team has scored more rushing touchdowns. On a per-carry basis they’re also the top team, averaging 5.2 yards per touch, meaning they’re less than 14 carries away from breaking 2,500 rushing yards, almost certainly becoming the only team to do so this year. The ground game all starts with the offensive line paving the way for running back LeSean McCoy, who averages nearly 100 yards per game and has scored two touchdowns in every other contest going back five games, giving him a total of six during that time. After him come running backs Chris Polk and Bryce Brown, who each scored a touchdown last week, though Brown has seen touches more consistently as the season has drawn toward its close. While McCoy is the unquestioned starter in Philadelphia, his production on the ground does occasionally lend to his needing to catch a breath on the sideline, meaning that his touchdowns are sometimes poached by one of his backups. Even without those scores, he turns in solid fantasy stat lines nearly every weekend, and when he gets those touchdowns all to himself, he goes off for a monster game.

If only by one position, the Cowboys rush defense escapes the bottom five, and the 16 touchdowns they’ve allowed this season is one ranking less bad at seventh worst. They also have the third worst yards-per-carry against average. In every way that Dallas is exceptionally bad against the run, the Eagles are exceptionally stellar, setting the stage for their offense to wholly overwhelm the Cowboys defense. Were it not for home field advantage and whatever boost the crowd in Arlington can provide, there would be nothing from this matchup that would favor the Cowboys. In three of the past five games Dallas opponents have gained more than 149 yards on the ground, and a fourth rushed for triple digits against them. Considering that linebacker Sean Lee (neck) is going to miss the season finale and that Dallas will once again be without their vocal and physical leader in the middle of the defense, the Cowboys will be lucky to keep Philadelphia from literally running away with the game and thus the division title.

Nick Foles: 260 pass yds, 3 TDs / 20 rush yds
LeSean McCoy: 150 rush yds, 2 TD / 30 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Riley Cooper: 50 rec yards

Passing Game Thoughts: After being diagnosed with a herniated disk, Tony Romo has been all but ruled out for the remainder of the season, which may be only this weekend if backup Kyle Orton can’t pull off an unexpected home upset. The veteran will see his first start since being traded to Kansas City in the middle of the 2011 season, though the 31-year-old will find himself in the biggest game he’s played in a number of seasons. In the past two regular seasons the Cowboys have seen their year come to an unceremonious close as two NFC East opponents beat them for the division title and their only shot at a playoff spot in all-or-nothing games. Once again the Cowboys find themselves in a win-or-go-home situation, needing to beat Philadelphia to sweep the division and sneak into the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker. Even with Romo under center Dallas has been marginally above average as a passing attack, recording 240 yards per game and scoring a top-three 31 touchdowns combined with a sixth-fewest 10 interceptions. All of those numbers belong to the now sidelined quarterback, and the fate of the team lies with a veteran backup who has attempted only five passes all season. Orton's top receiving target will likely be star Dez Bryant, who has stated his intent to play despite officially being listed as Questionable because of his back. Other popular pass catchers will likely be Terrance Williams and tight end Jason Witten, who, combined with Bryant, account for 2,547 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns, 65.8 percent and 80.6 percent of team totals, respectively. While the assumption is that Orton won’t be able to replicate the success that Romo has achieved this season with the offensive weapons that are around him, the veteran has been given a prime opportunity to be the savior that Dallas needs for what could be the last game of their season.

In addition to all that the Cowboys passing offense has going for it, the Philadelphia pass defense will do their part to add to the advantage that Dallas ought to have. The Eagles give up the third most yards per game (285) and are at or below average in opponent’s completion percentage, touchdowns surrendered, and yards allowed per attempt. Aside from interceptions, where they’re in the top quarter of the league, the Eagles are at best mediocre against the pass. In winning six of the last seven games, Philadelphia has allowed more than their season average in four of those and held their opponent to less than 200 passing yards only once, so their success has been far more related to their offense than their defense. That means that even if Orton has a monster game, Dallas may still fall short of the playoffs. And while the ultimate goal of each team is making the postseason, fantasy coaches still active this weekend will definitely have their eyes on this Sunday night matchup. Orton isn’t likely to have a significant game from a fantasy perspective, but if desperate times call for desperate measures, he may be worth a flier if there are no other reasonable options.

Running Game Thoughts: After being unable to play in their first matchup, running back DeMarco Murray has to be chomping at the bit to play in this division rivalry. Considering how his starting quarterback will be unavailable, he’ll be all the more motivated to not only get into the game but to have a gigantic impact on it. On the season he’s top ten in rushing yards, sixth in touchdowns, and fourth in rushing yards per game; since Week 10 he’s been even better, ranking as the third best RB in most formats from that point forward. Dallas is one of the ten worst rushing teams, so while Murray has been great, the rest of the team has contributed very little, to the tune of 96.5 yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns, 82.5 and 9 of which come from the primary ball carrier. After running back Lance Dunbar (knee) was lost for the season, backup duties have fallen on Joseph Randle, though through the last six games he’s carried only nine times in one contest, recording zero touches in the other five. For fantasy owners, this is spectacular news, because any time the Cowboys rush the ball it is almost guaranteed to be in the hands of Murray, and since the passing attack has a number of question marks this weekend, the running game, and thus the star running back, will be all the more important.

A strong reliance on the rushing attack may actually play into the hands of the Eagles defense, who have been particularly stingy on the ground despite being particularly generous through the air. Since Week 10 they’ve allowed just one touchdown to a running back who isn’t the Vikings third-string man. On the season they’ve been better than most, allowing 107.5 yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns. On a per-carry basis Philadelphia is in the top three, surrendering only 3.8 per rush despite facing more attempts than the majority of the league. In the last five games opponents have surpassed 90 yards only once, so while Dallas may aim to run more than usual and Murray will earn the majority if not all of those carries, they will have their work cut out for them against the Eagles run defense. In a winner-take-all bout each team will look to lean on their most reliable strengths, and unfortunately for the Cowboys that is likely to ultimately result in the advantage residing with Philadelphia.

Kyle Orton: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray: 70 rush yds
Dez Bryant: 80 rec yds
Jason Witten: 40 rec yards

Prediction: Eagles 41, Cowboys 17 ^ Top