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Inside the Matchup
Week 13

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

NO @ ATL | HOU @ TEN | CAR @ KC | SF @ STL

TB @ DEN | CIN @ SD | CLE @ OAK | NE @ MIA


 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Anderson 33 11 75.0
2 Caron 31 12 72.1
3 Smith 31 15 67.4
4 Marcoccio 22 18 55.0

Saints @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees continues to be a fantasy stalwart, leading the quarterback position in fantasy points per game and touchdown throws, and ranking fourth in passing yards. Though he hasn’t thrown for 300 yards in any of his past five games, he’s tossed three touchdowns in each of his last three and has multiple scoring throws in all but one game this year, including Week 10 against the Falcons, when he threw for 298 yards and three scores. Two of those scores that week went to his top target, Jimmy Graham, who also had seven catches for 146 yards in that game, and is currently second in FPPG at his position. Brees’ other touchdown that game throw went to Marques Colston, who is 13th in FPPG at receiver and tied for third in touchdown receptions this year.

The Falcons have mostly been strong against the pass this season, ranking 13th in pass defense. Only three teams have allowed fewer passing scores than they have, with neither of their last two opponents having thrown for a touchdown. For the season, Atlanta has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, and the seventh-fewest to wide receivers, but tight ends have had success against them, with the Falcons allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints have the most diversified running attack in the NFL, employing four different backs, each of which does different things. That makes it tough on fantasy owners to choose one, and while Darren Sproles is averaging the most FPPG among the group, he didn’t even carry the ball last week against the 49ers, but did catch seven passes for 65 yards. Chris Ivory has arguably been the team’s most productive back when given the opportunity and ran for 72 yards and one touchdown in Week 10 against the Saints, while Mark Ingram picked up 67 yards of his own. Each has a chance for some success against a somewhat weak Falcons run defense.

While Atlanta has had relative success against the pass, they’ve struggled to contain opposing running games. They are 22nd in rush defense this season, tied for 27th in rushing scores given up and are 30th in YPC allowed. The Falcons have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs.

Drew Brees: 330 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Jimmy Graham: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 60 rec yds
Devery Henderson: 30 rec yds
Chris Ivory: 55 rush yds, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 45 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 15 rush yds / 55 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan killed his fantasy owners two weeks ago, throwing no touchdowns and five interceptions against the Cardinals, but rebounded last week and threw for 353 yards and one score against Tampa. He had his best game of the season in Week 10 against the Saints, when he threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns, a pair of which went to Tony Gonzalez. Gonzo has had some down weeks for his fantasy owners of late, but scorched the Saints for 122 yards and two scores on 11 receptions and is third in FPPG among tight ends. Roddy White and Julio Jones also had success against New Orleans that week, with White (tied for ninth in FPPG at receiver) catching seven passes for 114 yards, and Jones (seventh in FPPG at receiver) snaring four passes for 75 yards. They should be good for plenty of fantasy points this week against a bad New Orleans pass defense.

The Saints have been atrocious on defense this year, and against the pass are ranked 30th in the NFL. They’re also tied for 27th in passing scores allowed and dead last in opponents’ yards per pass attempt, meaning they give up lots of big plays. No team has given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks this season than New Orleans, only two teams have allowed more fantasy points to wide receivers, and just nine have allowed more fantasy points to tight ends. They’ve given up multiple touchdowns to nine of the 11 quarterbacks they’ve faced this year, and at least one wideout has gained 69 or more yards against them in every game they’ve played.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has scored three times in his last four games, but has otherwise struggled, having run for less than 50 yards in each of his last three contests and fewer than 20 yards in two of those games. He’s not a pass-catching threat whatsoever and has started to cede carries to Jacquizz Rodgers. Turner couldn’t even exploit a bad New Orleans run defense in Week 10, running for only 15 yards on 13 carries.

Even though they stopped the Falcons’ running attack in Week 10, the Saints have been generally terrible against the run this season. They are last in the league in rush defense and YPC allowed, and are tied for 22nd in rushing scores given up. New Orleans has allowed the most fantasy points in the league to opposing running backs, with 10 different runners gaining 80 or more yards against them in a game this year.

Matt Ryan: 350 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 100 rec yds, 2 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 85 rec yds
Julio Jones: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 40 rec yds
Michael Turner: 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 40 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 35, Saints 31 ^ Top

Texans @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub has climbed to 16th in FPTS/G among quarterbacks with his play the last two weeks. He’s thrown for 527 and 315 yards, respectively, with six touchdowns, though five of those did come in one game. Either way, those are his two highest passing totals of the season, and he’s now in the top-10 in passing yards and touchdowns. Schaub’s output means elevated numbers for his teammates, specifically Andre Johnson. The Miami product has totaled at least 75 receiving yards in five of his last six games, and no fewer than 115 yards in three of his last four. Johnson is finally paying off for the fantasy owners who took him with a high draft pick, as he’s risen to a tie for ninth in FPTS/G at wideout. The other player fantasy owners should be starting from the Texans’ passing attack is tight end Owen Daniels. Only three other players at his position are averaging more FPTS/G than him this season, and he had six catches for 72 yards and a touchdown when he faced Tennessee in Week 4.

The Titans sit at 27th in the NFL in pass defense, tied for 27th in touchdown passes against and dead last in opponents’ completion percentage allowed. They have also given up the sixth-most FPTS/G to quarterbacks and third-most FPTS/G to tight ends, but just 14th-most to wide receivers. Though Tennessee has allowed just one passer to throw for at least 300 yards against them, part of that is due to their lousy run defense and eight of the 11 quarterbacks they’ve faced have tossed multiple touchdowns. They can’t stop tight ends either, with seven different players at the position gaining at least 55 yards against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster is the best running back in fantasy football – period. He leads all backs in FPTS/G, has three more rushing scores than any other player and has only one game with less than 79 rushing yards this season. That includes Week 4, when Foster beat up Tennessee with 86 yards and a touchdown.

Just three teams are allowing more FPTS/G to running backs than the Titans, who are 27th in the league in run defense, tied for 22nd in rushing scores allowed and 20th in YPC given up. They’ve allowed three backs to gain 100 or more yards, but eight have picked up at least 70 yards when facing Tennessee.

Matt Schaub: 295 pass yds, 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 95 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 55 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 40 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 30 rec yds
James Casey: 25 rec yds
Arian Foster: 110 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds
Justin Forsett: 25 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker has played a pair of games since returning from a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 4 against the Texans. He’s been solid but certainly not a fantasy standout. In fact, he’s just 28th in FPTS/G at quarterback and has not lifted the play of his various receivers. The Titans have a load of options, from Kenny Britt to Nate Washington to Kendall Wright to Jared Cook and more, but none that truly stand out or are safe fantasy options, though Wright did catch four passes for 46 yards and a touchdown when Tennessee and Houston played in Week 4.

The Texans are tied for 17th in FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks and have given up the 13th-most FPTS/G to receivers and ninth-most to tight ends. They are 17th in the league in pass defense and tied for 22nd in touchdown throws given up, but are also fifth in sacks and have held opposing quarterbacks to the lowest completion percentage in the NFL. Houston has really struggled of late though, allowing three different quarterbacks to throw for 330 or more yards in their last six games and twice have allowed at least four touchdown throws in that time. Receivers have killed them in their last four games, with four different players at the position amassing 100+ yards when squaring off with the Texans’ secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson started the season so horrifically, fantasy owners who drafted couldn’t help but wonder if their season was going to be a bust. But in Week 4 against the Texans Johnson ran for 145 yards and in the seven games since then has had three games with 125 or more yards and six games with at least 80 yards. He’s finally started scoring as well, with four touchdowns in his last five games, but his late start has put him at just 13th among running backs in FPTS/G for the year.

Houston’s been strong against the run all year, ranking second in the NFL in rush defense, ninth in YPC allowed and has given up the fewest rushing scores in the league. Keeping runners out of the end zone is a formula for fantasy disaster for opposing runners, and as such they have allowed the fewest FPTS/G in the league to running backs.

Jake Locker: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Kendall Wright: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Britt: 50 rec yds
Nate Washington: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 30 rec yds
Damian Williams: 20 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 85 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 27, Titans 17

Panthers @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Although his fantasy owners would likely tell you about the disappointment of his sophomore campaign, the truth is that Cam Newton’s overall scoring hasn’t been so bad. After last week’s four-touchdown performance, Newton has risen to the No. 6 fantasy quarterback in standard scoring leagues. His up-and-down performance has left many owners scratching their heads, but those who have stuck by the Panthers QB really can’t be too disappointed with what he has done. Despite the success Newton has had, his receivers simply have not kept up. After another disappointing performance this past week, Steve Smith has now fallen to being just the 34th-highest scoring receiver in standard scoring leagues while teammate Brandon LaFell checks in with the exact same number of fantasy points on the year. Smith’s one touchdown has been a huge sore spot and he has fallen to WR3 or FLEX consideration at this point. For LaFell, back-to-back weeks with a touchdown might give fantasy owners a bit more confidence, but has averaged less than three catchers per game throughout the season, which makes him a very shaky play.

The good news is, the Carolina wideouts are up against a Kansas City Chiefs secondary that has simply been awful this season. They have allowed at least one touchdown to an opposing wide receiver in every game except one and have allowed a total of 22 receptions to opposing wide receivers in just the past two weeks alone. Cam Newton might not have the accuracy that some of the top fantasy quarterbacks do, but with the Chiefs secondary being as bad as it is, this could be a game where he shines both as a passer and as a runner. For those who might be still searching for a tight end to replace the likes of Rob Gronkowski or even a struggling Vernon Davis, Greg Olsen might be worthy of a look this week. Olsen has gone over 40 yards in four straight games and he has been targeted 40 times over the past six weeks alone.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite being billed as one of the most talented backfields in the league, it has been quite a while since either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart has been particularly relevant for fantasy purposes. With Newton in the backfield and the two running backs splitting what limited touches remain, neither player has been able to establish himself as the full time starter in Carolina. However, things may have cleared up this past week when Stewart suffered an ankle injury in the Monday night game against the Eagles. He has missed practice all week and is currently listed as questionable on the team’s injury report, leading many to believe that the team will sit him down and allow Williams to get the bulk of the carries. Even with Stewart out, there’s always a concern that the Panthers could promote another running back like Mike Tolbert to get additional touches.

Still, we do know that Williams has been a monster in the past when Stewart has been out, so it’s not impossible that this becomes a potentially intriguing play for those who are struggling for a running back in these ever-important final weeks before the playoffs. Williams will be running against a Kansas City defense that has allowed an average of over 115 rushing yards to opposing running backs this season. The only unfortunate thing about this matchup is that despite being beat up on the ground throughout the season, the Chiefs have been able to tighten up at the goal line, having only allowed five rushing touchdowns to opposing backs through their first 11 games. It’s hard to have a whole lot of confidence in Williams who will likely concede goal line carries to Cam Newton or even possibly Mike Tolbert, but if you’re in a serious pinch, you could do worse than DeAngelo who figures to touch the ball 15-20 times this week.

Cam Newton: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 60 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 60 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If you’re in a fantasy league that gives points for starting players who do the least amount of work on offense, you would probably be doing well if you had filled your roster with Kansas City Chiefs. This is an offense that has been humiliatingly bad throughout the year, having scored just 161 points; an average of less than 15 points game. It all starts with bad coaching, but the player performance hasn’t been much better. Credit to the Chiefs for creating a change of scenery by placing Brady Quinn in at quarterback for Matt Cassel, but the results simply haven’t been any better. This is a dreadful passing game that has even made one of the league’s most productive receivers, Dwayne Bowe, into a fantasy non-factor as he has now failed to top six fantasy points in seven straight outings. There is literally not one player in this passing game who is worth serious consideration as a fantasy starter other than in extremely deep leagues.

To make matters worse, the Chiefs are going up against a defense that has been quietly good against the pass, having allowed the 10th-fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks on the season. The Chiefs have broken out in a couple games this year, but there simply isn’t anything to make us believe that this is going to be one of those weeks for Quinn and the passing game. Try to avoid this situation as much as possible and unless heads roll during the off-season, there doesn’t appear to be much hope for any of these players in dynasty leagues either.

Running Game Thoughts: The passing game in Kansas City might be the absolute worst in the league, but that doesn’t mean that the running game can’t continue to find holes. Running back Jamaal Charles has defied the odds this season by being highly productive even in one of the worst offenses in the league on a team that has been typically been down numerous scores late in games which usually means less rushing attempts. With a 107-yard performance in Week 12 against the Broncos, Charles has now cracked the century mark in terms of total yards for the third straight week. Although he hasn’t been finding the end zone nearly as much as we had hoped going into the year, Charles’ workload has been enough to make him a viable starter in most formats.

Charles will have a great chance of increasing his streak to four straight games of 100+ total yards when he goes up against the Carolina Panthers’ No. 26-ranked fantasy defense in stopping running backs. The Panthers have been decimated on the ground in recent weeks, having allowed 342 yards on the ground over their past two games, including a humiliatingly bad performance against replacement rookie running back Bryce Brown in his first ever start this past Monday night. The Panthers have allowed at least 95 total yards to opposing running backs in every game this season and 12+ fantasy points (standard scoring) in five straight games. With both Peyton Hillis and Shaun Draughn essentially being non-factors at this point, this backfield belongs to Jamaal Charles. If the Chiefs can stay in games, he is the guy who will benefit the most.

Brady Quinn: 150 pass yds, 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 40 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 17, Chiefs 13

49ers @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Colin Kaepernick era has officially arrived in San Francisco. With Kaepernick having led the 49ers to back-to-back wins over the Bears and Saints, Alex Smith has officially been sat down for what will likely be the remainder of the 2012 season. The 49ers’ new toy at quarterback is a significantly more physically gifted player who brings a rushing attack in addition to a big arm that can truly stretch the field when given the opportunity. Kaepernick has thrown for a total of 474 yards and three touchdowns with just one interception in his two starts, but more importantly has been a contributor in the running game, particularly at the goal line where he already has four rushing touchdowns this season. Unfortunately, Kaepernick’s play at quarterback seems to be affecting wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the wrong way. After leading the team in receiving through most of the year, Crabtree has just six catches for 56 yards over the past two games. Meanwhile, his counterpart Mario Manningham, has seen his workload increase with the new quarterback situation as he has seven catches for 114 yards with Kaepernick in the starting role.

The St. Louis Rams will be the first team who has had the opportunity to get a second chance to play against Kaepernick. It is relatively common that athletic quarterbacks do well against opposing defenses in their first appearances, but once teams get tape on them and begin to find their weaknesses, the success sometimes does dwindle a bit. We have seen that this season with Cam Newton and it has happened many times in the past. Kaepernick has been on a roll since taking over, but with the Rams having allowed just two passing touchdowns over their past three games combined, there’s legitimate reason to believe that the second-year QB could have some struggles this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The beat goes on for 49ers running back Frank Gore who hit the 13+ fantasy point mark for the seventh time this season in his Week 12 matchup against the Saints. Although he hasn’t had a monster game, Gore has been entrenched as a workhorse back all season and has been a reliable, high-end No. 2 running back for many fantasy owners who have seen his career resurgence behind one of the league’s most powerful offensive lines. As it sits, biggest concern with Gore is actually that he might be losing some goal line touches to Kaepernick. The 49ers franchise has never been particularly excited about Gore’s ability to score touchdowns and with an athletic QB like Kaepernick behind center, the playbook really changes near the goal line. Monitor this situation closely in these final weeks before the playoffs.

For one week, though, we do have history that shows Frank Gore has been successful againt the St. Louis Rams defense. It was only three weeks ago when Gore snapped off for 115 yards and a touchdown against this very opponent, which ended in the only tie in the league this season. The Rams started off the season looking good against the run, but have been absolutely annihilated by opposing backs over the past four games, giving up a total of seven touchdowns and over 160 total yards per game during that span. Frank Gore touched the ball 24 times the last time these teams met and has averaged 20 touches over his past five games. With Kendall Hunter now on the IR, Gore should remain a solid fantasy starter in just about every scoring format.

Colin Kaepernick: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Michael Crabtree: 40 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 50 rec yds
Frank Gore: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Bradford truly is one of the most frustrating quarterbacks to own in fantasy football. Just when it looks like the Rams finally have things going on offense, he will come up with an ugly performance like the one he had against the Jets in Week 11. The inconsistent playcalling, up-and-down running game and various injuries to wide receivers have made Bradford unstartable most weeks as he has hovered around 10-12 fantasy points throughout the season. Week 12 only made things more confusing as receivers Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola caught just one combined pass while big play threat Chris Givens hauled in five passes for 115 yards and a score in the road division win over the Cardinals. Amendola is still not 100% and until he is, it’s hard to trust anyone in this passing game.

They’ve been inconsistent throughout the year, but one of the high points for the St. Louis passing game actually came three weeks ago when they went up against their current opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers’ elite-level defense simply didn’t have much of an answer as Bradford threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns while avoiding turning the ball over for only the third time all year. He finished with 19 points, his third highest point output this year but it was a returning Danny Amendola who really put on a show with his 11 catches for 102 yards. With the Rams offensive line finally getting healthy, Bradford and the passing game could find themselves having a split second longer to run routes, get open and make unrushed throws. In a league where every step counts, that could truly be the piece that finally gives this passing game some consistency.

Running Game Thoughts: Where has this Steven Jackson been over the past couple of seasons? After having not topped 80 yards in any of his first eight games this season, the ninth year pro has now topped that total in three straight games, including an impressive 139-yard performance in Week 12 on the road against the Cardinals. It looked like Jackson was ready to move into a full-on carry split with Daryl Richardson just a few weeks back, but he has now taken the job back, having carried the ball 66 times to Richardson’s 20 over the past three games. Unfortunately, Jackson is currently nursing a foot injury that has him listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. If he is unable to go, Richardson suddenly becomes a very intriguing fantasy option. At the current time, Jackson is expected to play, but it may be in a limited capacity.

Even if Jackson is able to play, this is not exactly the kind of matchup that fantasy owners dream about for their running backs in these decisive playoff-forming weeks. Advocates for Jackson would point to his 29 carry, 101-yard, one touchdown performance against this very San Francisco 49ers defense in Week 10 as well as his other recent success. Unfortunately, given Jackson’s history of playing through injuries with “limited” work, it’s hard to truly know whether or not he will be getting the bulk of the carries even if he is active on Sunday. The injured foot and a matchup against the league’s No. 1 run defense is concern enough to strongly consider benching Jackson if you have better options. The best-case scenario for fantasy purposes in this game might actually be if Jackson sits and Richardson is able to get the start. The rookie back has been impressive even in limited work this season, having averaged a full 6.0 yards per carry on the year. We don’t know how he’d do with a full workload, but those in a bind could do worse than Richardson if Jackson does not play.

Sam Bradford: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Danny Amendola: 60 rec yds
Chris Givens: 55 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 35 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 60 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 27, Rams 16

Buccaneers @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: We should have expected that the fantasy production from Josh Freeman would eventually slow down and it finally did this past week when his streak of six straight games with multiple touchdowns finally came to an end against the Atlanta Falcons. Freeman actually failed to throw a touchdown for the first time all season and although he also avoided turning the ball over, fantasy owners are likely feeling a bit discouraged by the performance. Still, it is worth noting that given Freeman’s lack of a touchdown last week, he was still able to get the ball to Vincent Jackson who reached the 90-yard mark for the second straight game - the first time he has done that all season. Unfortunately, Mike Williams hasn’t had the same level of production as he has now gone three straight games with three or fewer catches and no touchdowns. One thing to add in the Buccaneers passing game is that tight end Dallas Clark seems to be getting hot lately and has now had at least six fantasy points (standard scoring) in three straight games.

With a disappointing performance against the Falcons now in the rear-view mirror, the Buccaneers will be looking to focus on getting a win over the red hot Denver Broncos. Denver’s pass defense has been very good as of late as they completely shut down Brady Quinn and the Chiefs in Week 12, but had even been doing well before that. Denver has forced at least one interception in six straight games which, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the winning streak they are on. Second-year pro Von Miller has continued to emerge as one of the elite pass rushers in the game as he currently ranks third in the league in sacks with 14. With the Buccaneers’ offensive line still having trouble slowing down opposing pass rushers, they might have some serious trouble against a speedy player like Miller. This could lead to shorter routes on average for the receivers and perhaps more blocking for Dallas Clark than he has done in recent weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: While Josh Freeman’s numbers may have struggled for a week, rookie running back Doug Martin continued his torrid pace last week when he got into the endzone twice against Atlanta. His multiple touchdown day marked the third time he had done that this season and he has now settled in as the second-highest scoring running back (standard scoring) in all of fantasy football this season. Martin’s production can be directly associated with the fact that he is touching the ball 20+ times per week. In fact, he has now done so in five straight contests while former goal line back LeGarrette Blount has been completely left in the dust. Martin is the true definition of feature back, which is becoming a rarity in the NFL these days and he should be started in all formats no matter the competition.

For this week, Martin will be going up against a Denver Broncos defense has been the fairly good against the run this season. In fact, they’ve only allowed one rushing touchdown to an opposing running back in the past six weeks. They have also held opposing teams to under 100 yards rushing in five of their past six games, so this is not exactly the matchup that Doug Martin owners would dream for. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, as the Broncos did struggle against Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs in Week 12 - and that’s a team that is completely one-dimensional. With the Buccaneers being able to run and pass the ball effectively this year, Martin should find himself having an opportunity to score again in Week 13.

Josh Freeman: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Vincent Jackson: 60 rec yds
Mike Williams: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 30 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 40 rec yds
Doug Martin: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: And the beat goes on for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense. Even without running back Willis McGahee taking the pressure off, Manning continued his streak of nine straight games with 270+ yards passing. He has also thrown for multiple scores in eight of those nine contests while throwing only five interceptions. The Peyton Manning of old is certainly back and with talented young receivers like Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas to throw to, this passing game is firing on all cylinders. Thomas has now gone into double-digit fantasy point totals (standard scoring) in seven of his 11 games this year. He has either gone over 100 yards or scored a touchdown in seven of his past eight games. Slot receiver Brandon Stokley has even made himself a potential flex play in recent weeks, having caught four passes in each of his past three games. This passing game is as hot as any in the league and all three Broncos receivers could be considered starters for Week 13.

The Week 13 matchup against the Buccaneers defense should only serve to boost the season totals for this offense. The Buccaneers currently rank 26th in the NFL in points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. They have allowed at least one passing touchdown against them in six straight games and while they’ve also forced an impressive number of interceptions, it hasn’t been enough to keep opposing QB’s off the board as they lead the league in passing yards allowed. Only one player (Michael Bennett) on the Tampa Bay roster has more than three sacks on the season and the lack of a pass rush could allow Manning even more time than he usually has to dissect the defense. Look for him to look deeper down the field than he normally does, which could mean some great opportunities for the receivers, particularly Demaryius Thomas.

Running Game Thoughts: Willis McGahee missed his first game of the season this past week and after receiving 12 carries the week before, we all expected that the main beneficiary would be rookie running back Ronnie Hillman. SURPRISE - it wasn’t. Channeling his inner Mike Shanahan, head coach John Fox opted to go with former first round disappointment Knowshon Moreno just hours before the game started. Many frustrated fantasy owners found themselves getting just three carries for nine yards out of Hillman while they watched Moreno take a surprising 20 carries for 85 yards. Moreno also added four catches for 26 yards. This decision was particularly confusing as Moreno had been a healthy scratch for most of the season and had not suited up since Week 2. It is believed that the biggest reason for the Moreno-Hillman situation is that the Broncos simply trust Moreno to block in the passing game more than they do the rookie. This is a tough situation, but it appears for now as if Knowshon Moreno will continue to take the lion’s share of the carries going forward and should be added in all leagues.

This week could be a tough matchup for whoever is taking the carries for the Broncos as the Buccaneers run defense has actually been fairly good at slowing down opposing backs this season. While they have allowed a higher-than-usual amount of touchdowns, Tampa Bay has allowed only one team to rush for over 100 yards against them in their past eight games. Given Denver’s success in the passing game and Moreno’s less-than-stellar history as a goal line back, this could be a week when he is fairly quiet as a runner. Still, unlike Willis McGahee, Moreno’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield is actually pretty good and he could contribute enough there to make for a viable fantasy option, particularly in PPR leagues.

Peyton Manning: 330 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Demaryius Thomas: 115 rec yds, 2 TD
Eric Decker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Stokley: 50 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 30 rec yds
Joel Dreessen: 25 rec yds
Knowshon Moreno: 50 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Broncos 30, Buccaneers 24

Bengals @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The breakout season for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton continued in Week 12 when he tossed three more touchdown passes against a hapless Oakland Raiders secondary. Dalton has now scored three or more total touchdown passes in six of his 11 games on the year, including each of his past three games. In addition, he has not turned the ball over in any of those three games. Wide receiver A.J. Green saw his streak of nine straight games with a touchdown come to an end, but fantasy owners really can’t complain as he was still able to get to 111 yards receiving. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu has now established himself as the clear No. 2 receiver in this passing game and has caught four touchdown passes over his past three games. He’s not exactly putting out much yardage and has not yet gotten to the 50-yard mark, but for those in touchdown-heavy leagues, Sanu may have become an intriguing option in this high-powered passing game.

In Week 13, the Bengals do have a nice matchup against a struggling San Diego Chargers secondary that has now allowed 16+ fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing quarterbacks in three straight games. In fact, the only teams who have seen their quarterbacks held under 16 fantasy points against the Chargers this season are the Titans, Chiefs and Browns - not exactly the cream of the NFL crop. They were lit up for 355 yards by a struggling Joe Flacco just a week ago and with only one player on the roster (Shaun Phillips) with more than three sacks, they just haven’t been able to get after the opposing quarterbacks and disrupt the timing of passing routes. Look for Andy Dalton and the Bengals to continue their hot streak this week against a struggling defense.

Running Game Thoughts: After failing to reach 100 rushing yards in any of his first nine games as a Bengal, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has now gone over the century mark in two straight games against weak AFC West competition in the Chiefs and Raiders. He has also scored touchdowns in each of those games and is finally beginning to provide the kind of fantasy production that his owners had hoped for going into the year. It’s a little too late to save his season and make him a top 10 tailback, but there isn’t a much better time for him to finally come around than now when owners are looking to make a run at the playoffs. Surprisingly, while Green-Ellis has done better in recent weeks, backup running back Cedric Peerman has also seen his touches increase. Peerman had just seven carries through the first eight weeks of the season, but has now toted the rock 22 times in just the past three games. This is all a sign that the Bengals offensive line is getting healthy and pushing back opposing defensive lines.

The Law Firm will look to make it three straight games of over AFC West competition, but could find this matchup to be the toughest of them. The Bolts have allowed just 3.8 yards per carry against them on the year and with the Bengals passing game working so well, this could be a week that the running game takes a backseat. Still, the hope remains for a nice game at least from Green-Ellis as the Chargers have allowed an average of 116 rushing yards per game against them over their past five outings. San Diego is one of the least motivated teams in the league at the moment and if the Cincinnati offensive line continues to beat the opposing defensive lines to the punch, this could turn out to be another good day for Green-Ellis.

Andy Dalton: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 10 rush yds
A.J. Green: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Mohamed Sanu: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Cedric Peerman: 30 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The ugly season for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers continued this past week as the team scored just 13 in a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Rivers continues to be completely unworthy of being in most fantasy lineups and although he has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six of his past eight games, he just turns the ball over too much to warrant any serious fantasy consideration other than for those in very desperate situations. The receiver situation isn’t much better, either. Although Malcom Floyd has caught four or more passes in seven straight contests, he has only topped the 70-yard mark once during that span. Fellow receiver Danario Alexander has come on since joining the Chargers, having achieved at least 60 yards receiving in four straight games including three touchdowns, but with Philip Rivers being so sporadic in his production, it’s hard to trust anyone in this offense... And don’t even get me started on Antonio Gates, who could be considered one of the biggest busts in fantasy this season. Even while healthy, Gates has been held under six fantasy points in eight of 11 games this season and with only 18 targets coming his way over the past five games, things just don’t look like they’ll be getting better anytime soon.

As if they were inconsistent enough to begin with, the Chargers aerial attack will have a fairly tough matchup this week as they go up against a Cincinnati Bengals pass defense that has allowed just one touchdown against them over the past three games, including a beatdown on Eli Manning and the Giants in Week 10 where they held him to just two fantasy points (standard scoring) on the day. No opposing quarterback has hit 300 yards against the Cincinnati defense since Week 2 and considering the 12 sacks they’ve compiled over the past three weeks, this could be another ugly day for the Chargers offensive line that allowed six sacks on Rivers last week alone.

Running Game Thoughts: The disappointing season for Ryan Mathews continues as the running back has now gone six straight games without scoring a single touchdown. A preseason injury could be partially blamed for the early season struggles when he first came back in Week 3, but at this point it’s a lot more than that. Mathews hasn’t been quite the receiver in 2012 that he was in 2011, either. In fact, he has just 107 yards receiving in his past six games combined as Ronnie Brown has truly emerged as the team’s most productive receiver out of the backfield. Unfortunately, given the lack of success for the offense as a whole, neither Mathews or Brown has been particularly productive as of late, which has left most owners benching both players just about every week.

The chances of the Chargers’ running backs getting into the end zone this week don’t seem particularly strong either. Although Cincinnati has allowed some decent yardage on the ground in recent weeks, they’ve allowed only one total touchdown to an opposing running back over the past four weeks combined. Unless the Chargers are able to get things going in their passing game the opportunities for touchdowns in the running game are going to be limited and both Mathews and Brown are going to struggle to get into double-digit fantasy point totals. You could do worse than Mathews who has hit at least six fantasy points (standard scoring) in eight straight games, but the upside is limited for anyone in this offense at the moment.

Philip Rivers: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Malcom Floyd: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Danario Alexander: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 30 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 60 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 15 rush yds, 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 24, Chargers 20

Browns @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Brandon Weeden took a big shot this past Sunday during Cleveland’s exciting win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rookie was knocked out of the game with a concussion which led to former starter Colt McCoy getting a few snaps. The Browns are expecting to have Weeden back after he passed a concussion test on Wednesday, but even if he is ready to play, he remains a very low-end, low-upside fantasy quarterback. On a team that might only have one or two NFL caliber receivers on the roster, Weeden hasn’t yet thrown for more than two touchdowns in a game and has four games where he failed to throw for a single score. Receiver Josh Gordon is the only receiver in the offense who warrants any fantasy consideration, but even he hasn’t caught a touchdown since Week 7.

Of course, if there is going to be a week that the Browns offense wakes up and explodes, it could be in Week 13 when they head to Oakland to challenge the Raiders. Oakland hasn’t held an opposing quarterback to fewer than two passing touchdowns since Week 8 and have allowed at least one passing TD against them in every single game this season, leading to their NFL-worst 23 passing touchdowns allowed. Worse yet, Oakland has only forced six interceptions on the year. They are surprisingly somewhat middle-of-the-pack in terms of passing yards against, but that’s likely due to the fact that most teams get up quickly on them and turn to the running game to close out games versus continuing to run up the score with the pass. This defense is absolutely brutal and the eight touchdowns they’ve allowed to opposing receivers over the past four weeks of the season give us hope that Josh Gordon might once again find himself in the end zone in this contest.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Trent Richardson continues to impress, having accumulated an average of 131.5 total yards per game over the past four weeks. That’s not against easy defenses either - both Pittsburgh and Baltimore had trouble slowing down the former Alabama back. No defense has had an answer for Richardson since Week 1 and the only times he hasn’t been productive since have been when he was injured in Weeks 6 and 7. When he touches the ball 25+ times per week, it’s going to be tough for any defense to slow down this guy. He’s just so talented that even though the Browns have struggled to pass the ball all season, he’s still producing like an elite fantasy running back.

That should continue in Week 13 as Richardson will have the opportunity to go up against the Raiders and their 30th-ranked fantasy defense. This team has been absolutely humiliated by the run in recent weeks, having allowed an average of 200 total yards to opposing running backs over their past four games, including allowing seven scores to the position during that span. They were the defense that allowed the biggest fantasy game of the year to Doug Martin a few weeks ago and there’s no reason to believe that Trent Richardson couldn’t have his biggest day of the year as well.

Brandon Weeden: 190 pass yds, 1 TD
Josh Gordon: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Little: 30 rec yds
Ben Watson: 25 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: They say all good things must come to an end and apparently the end of the hot streak that Carson Palmer had been on came this past week when he ran into an underrated Cincinnati Bengals secondary. Although he had been turning the ball over at an alarming rate, Palmer had thrown for multiple touchdowns in four straight games heading into Week 12, which included a four-touchdown performance against the Bucs in Week 9. One of the biggest problems for this team all season has been their inability to protect Palmer, who has now taken 10 sacks over the past three games alone. He is a little banged up with a thumb injury, but is expected to play this week against the Browns. Meanwhile, wide receiver Denarius Moore has caused major concerns for fantasy owners, having caught just one pass in each of his past two games. He did score in Week 12, but the concern that he isn’t getting the ball as often was before is very legitimate. It is also worth noting that fellow top receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey was held without a catch in Week 12.

With a healthy Joe Haden across the line, the Raiders receivers could be in trouble again this week against the Browns. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Haden can really only cover one receiver at a time, so the question will be whether he’s lined up primarily against Heyward-Bey or Moore in Week 13. At this time, it is believed that Hayden will mostly shadow Moore throughout most of the contest, which could lead to some additional targets for Heyward-Bey who had caught 14 passes over his previous three games before being shut down by the Bengals. The Browns have surprisingly held four of their past five opponents to under 200 yards passing and have not allowed an opposing QB to throw for multiple touchdown passes against them since Week 6.

Running Game Thoughts: Having accumulated an average of 135 total yards per game over his past three contests, fantasy owners who have put their faith in Marcel Reece have to be hoping that running back Darren McFadden misses at least one more game. McFadden has been out since Week 9 and had struggled to get things going even when he was healthy. If he or even Mike Goodson is back in Week 13, expect Reece’s touches to drop, but given his ability to play multiple positions in the offense and to make plays in the passing game, it would be surprising to see him completely phased out of the Raiders offense.

Cleveland’s run defense had been very good throughout the first eight games of the season. During that span, they allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back in only two games. But things haven’t been quite so easy lately. The Browns have now allowed opposing running games to accumulate either 150+ total yards or score a touchdown in five straight games. They’ve really struggled against highly-skilled backs as they were torn up by LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw and Ray Rice (twice). If Darren McFadden is back this week, look for Oakland to run the ball quite a bit with him while also mixing in Reece. If he isn’t ready to play, Reece should once again get the start which could mean another 100+ total yard performance for this waiver wire hero.

Carson Palmer: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 50 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 40 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 50 rush yds, 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Browns 21, Raiders 17

Patriots @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady lost the biggest weapon in the New England passing game, tight end Rob Gronkowski, in Week 11 but that didn’t slow down the Patriots offense in Week 12. Brady didn’t need to do much in the blowout win on Thanksgiving night, since the Jets turned the ball over like they were passing the gravy at the dinner table. But when he did drop back to pass, the results were outstanding as usual. Gronkowski is expected to miss 4-8 weeks, and while the New England passing game will survive without the Gronk, the offense will suffer a bit at some point during that time. Slot receiver Julian Edelman excelled once again last week in an increased role in the offense but left the game with a head injury. He has been practicing this week and is expected to play. Brady will still have Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd at his disposal, however, if Edelman sits with Gronkowski, so it’s not like the Pats will be devoid of weapons in the passing game.

Those weapons should be more than enough against a below-average Dolphins secondary. Miami has allowed 261.7 ypg through the air and 14 touchdowns this season. The Phins secondary should have a difficult time matching up against the eclectic group of weapons featured in the New England passing attack, and Brady should continue his pace for another 35-plus passing touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Ridley has carried the rushing load for an offense that has been very balanced this season, but in recent weeks fellow second-year runner Shane Vereen has been worked into the rotation more and more. Vereen saw 10 carries last week and caught two passes, including an 86-yard, catch-and-run touchdown. Ridley was still the workhorse, however, seeing 21 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. Ridley should pass the 1000-yard mark this week and, with eight rushing touchdowns on the season, is looking at a potential top 10 finish at RB.

The seventh-ranked Miami run defense offers a tough matchup for opposing running backs and has allowed only 96.7 ypg on the ground and four rushing touchdowns on season. They have also held opposing runners to 3.7 ypc. Don’t expect the Patriots to abandon the run altogether, as they would have done last season, but do temper your expectations a bit.

Tom Brady: 295 pass yds 3 TDs
Brandon Lloyd: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Julian Edelman: 25 rec yds
Aaron Hernandez: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 75 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Shane Vereen: 35 rush yards

Passing Game Thoughts: At the risk of repeating myself from last week, with the bye weeks over, there really shouldn’t be much consideration given to any member of the Dolphins passing game for fantasy football purposes. Ryan Tannehill has had a nice rookie season and should be the future in Miami, but he isn’t consistent enough to be relied upon in redraft leagues at this important time of year. Brian Hartline has been living off of his dynamic game against Arizona earlier in the season, but Davone Bess has been the better fantasy option the past few weeks. Bess is a decent option as a WR3 in PPR leagues, but his lack of big-play ability limits his upside. Last week Charles Clay put up a nice game at home against Seattle but, once again, do you really want to put him in your lineup with your fantasy season on the line?

Following a 2011 season where the team was one of the worst in the league defending the pass, the Patriots are starting to show signs of improvement after a horrible start this year. The team brought in Aqib Talib in a trade with the Buccaneers, and the troubled cornerback has helped improve the pass defense a bit. The Patriot defense has been capitalizing on turnovers in recent weeks, and the Phins will need to be careful with the football if they hope to pull off an upset in South Beach.

Running Game Thoughts: The Miami running game got back on track last week with both members of the newly formed committee, Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas, running hard and producing on the ground. Miami will hope the duo continues to be effective as they look to control the ball on the ground and keep the New England offense on the sideline.

It will not be an easy task for Miami, however, as the Patriots run defense has allowed only 100.8 ypg on the ground and just seven rushing touchdowns on the season. With the Dolphins splitting carries, owners should look for a better option. However, you could get rewarded by a Bush or Thomas touchdown if no better options exist.

Ryan Tannehill: 225 pass yds 2 TDs / 15 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 35 rec yds
Davone Bess: 70 rec yds
Rishard Matthews: 35 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 40 rush yds / 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Daniel Thomas: 35 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 34, Dolphins 20

Cardinals @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you are a fan of turnovers, this is the game for you. Ryan Lindley makes his second NFL start, coming off a four-interception effort against the Rams last week. The most interesting aspect of this game, between two teams spiraling downward, could be which quarterback turns the ball over the most. Lindley relieved the struggling Jon Skelton in Week 11 and looked over-matched at times but impressed head coach Ken Whisenhunt enough that he'll stick with him as the starting quarterback until Kevin Kolb heals up. The Rams made a concerted effort to take wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald out of the game last week with bracket coverage and double teams, and one would expect the Jets to do the same. While youngsters Andre Roberts and tight end Robert Housler are nice players, they are not capable of taking over a game like the talented Fitzgerald. The horrific quarterback situation and O-line that Arizona has fielded this season has killed the value of the second best wide receiver in the league. Hopefully the team can get that straightened out next season so no more of Larry’s prime years are wasted. But for this season, benching Fitzgerald is understandable if one has other productive options.

Antonio Cromartie has played at an extremely high level after Darrelle Revis was lost for the season. The team is allowing only 211.3 passing yards per game, but they have given up 17 touchdowns on the season. With Cromartie receiving occasional help on Fitzgerald, the Jets should have a fairly easy time shutting down the Cardinals passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells returned from IR to score two touchdowns in his first game back, but he averaged only 2.8 yards on his 17 carries. He admitted to being a little out of shape, which is understandable, but behind a dreadful offensive line, Wells will likely struggle to put up big yardage for the rest if this season. LaRod Stephens-Howling was expected to split carries with Wells last week but he struggled with a rib injury and saw just one carry. If healthy, he should see work on passing downs at least and could cut into Beanie’s carries.

The Jets have struggled to stop opposing runners in 2012. They have allowed 142.8 ypg and 12 touchdowns on the season. David Harris and especially Bart Scott have showed signs of age and wear and tear on their bodies and can no longer cover enough ground to make up for the Jets’ lack of run stoppers up front.

Ryan Lindley: 260 pass yds / 2 INTs
Larry Fitzgerald: 35 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 60 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 45 rec yds
Robert Housler: 60 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds
LaRod Stephens-Howling: 15 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: At times Mark Sanchez has not looked completely terrible passing the ball this season, although his 55 percent completion rate is very poor for a fourth-year starter. He has been a turnover machine, however. He has thrown 10 interceptions and has fumbled the ball 10 times this season, killing many Jets drives that could have resulted in points. In his defense, his wide receiver corps has been depleted by injuries, but Sanchez just doesn’t look like he’ll ever be the franchise quarterback that his No. 5 overall draft pick status demands. With Santonio Holmes out for the season and Jeremy Kerley fighting through hamstring and foot issues, Chaz Schilens became the top option at receiver by default the last few weeks. But he is not expected to play this week, further decimating the unit. Tight end Dustin Keller shows flashes of talent at times, but he cannot be counted on by fantasy owners due to the highly inconsistent nature of the Jets passing offense.

Arizona has a top-rated passing defense, allowing only 203.7 ypg—but some of that is due to the short fields opponents are handed by the many Arizona turnovers. The 15 passing touchdowns allowed by the defense speaks to that point. With 30 sacks on the season, this defense can bring the heat and put Sanchez under pressure, likely forcing him to make mistakes. As I said, I hope anyone viewing this game likes turnovers.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets continue to show faith in the pedestrian Shonn Greene, despite the fact that second-year back Bilal Powell has appeared in recent weeks to be the far more explosive option. That’s not to say that Powell is an elite talent, it’s just easy to be more explosive than Greene. Powell could do some damage on fresh legs going forward, but he will likely receive fewer carries than Greene most weeks because of the stubborn Jets coaching staff.

The Arizona run defense has allowed only 124.2 ypg on the ground and just five rushing touchdowns on the season, so while the Jets should certainly be trying to establish a running game, it could be difficult for them to gain traction.

Mark Sanchez: 275 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs / 25 rush yds
Stephen Hill: 35 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 65 rec yds
Dustin Keller: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 65 rush yds / 15 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 55 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cardinals 17, Jets 14

Jaguars @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Since Chad Henne has taken over for the injured Blaine Gabbert, the Jacksonville passing game has not only shown signs of life, it has become a viable option for fantasy football owners. Henne, who showed promise at times as Miami's starting quarterback, has thrown for 615 yards with six touchdown passes over the last two games and has opened the door for a starting gig in 2013 with the Jaguars. Justin Blackmon, Cecil Shorts III and tight end Marcedes Lewis are now worthy of consideration for your lineup with Henne performing so well. In fairness, Shorts has excelled all season after breaking out on limited snaps earlier in the year, and the second-year player has been a true find for the team, compiling 747 receiving yards and scoring six touchdowns on the season. Shorts has very good speed and can get open deep, making big free agent signee Laurent Robinson obsolete, even before the latter was placed on IR. The 6’6” Lewis has once again become a dangerous red-zone threat—after being labeled a bust last season, following a double-digit touchdown campaign the season before.

The Bills have allowed 233.3 passing ypg while giving up 20 passing touchdowns. Offseason addition Mario Williams is finally starting to come around and provide a much-needed pass rush, and the team will look to apply pressure on Henne and hopefully turn the Cinderella back into the pumpkin Dolphins’ fans thought he was.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew has been out since Week 6, and his return date is still uncertain. Rashard Jennings started five games in his absence but has averaged a pathetic 2.8 ypc on the season. Jennings was replaced in Week 11 by former Raven Jalen Parmele but was forced back into action in Week 12 when Parmele strained his groin on his first carry of the game. With Parmele placed on IR, Jennings leads a backfield that is down to only fullback Montell Owens and newly signed Jordan Todman behind him. Jennings did score last week, but he is obviously a risky start against a Bills team that has shown some improvement in its run defense.

Chad Henne: 245 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT
Cecil Shorts: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Blackmon: 80 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Rashad Jennings: 65 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Montell Owens: 15 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick is likely heading into his final five games as the Bills “franchise” quarterback, as general manager Buddy Nix has made it clear that acquiring a true franchise quarterback will be a priority this offseason. Fitzpatrick will be auditioning for a job elsewhere during the next few games, and if he is smart (he did go to Harvard after all) he’d lean on Stevie Johnson a lot, hoping the receiver makes him look good. Johnson has the strength and speed to get open against most NFL cornerbacks but has not taken that next step after looking like he was on the verge of stardom in 2011. Outside of Johnson, however, the Bills have only mediocre options in the passing game, such as slot receiver Donald Jones and lumbering tight end Scott Chandler.

Fitzpatrick should have some opportunities to get some good tape out there this week, as the Jaguars have struggled against the pass this season. They allow 274.5 passing ypg and have given up 15 passing touchdowns on the season with only nine interceptions.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bills' ground game plan is to finally feature the dynamic C.J. Spiller as the lead back in the RBBC with veteran Fred Jackson. Coach Gailey has said the snaps will be in the 60 percent range in favor of Spiller while Jackson sees time in short-yardage and passing situations. Spiller has struggled picking up the blitz, so Jackson will generally be on the field on passing downs. Spiller has shown rare explosion and big play ability, so he needs to be a big part of an offense that lacks other playmakers. Jackson is more of a grinder at this stage of his career, so his owners can not be pleased during the weeks where he sees limited carries and does not find the end zone. The Bills O-line, which was once a disaster, has developed into a very solid unit, and Chan Gailey needs to know that, with such a porous defense and a mistake-prone quarterback, the running game is his only real chance of winning games.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 285 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 INT / 35 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 40 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 35 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Fred Jackson: 45 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds / 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bills 24, Jaguars 17

Eagles @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Nick Foles should get at least one more start this Sunday night as Michael Vick recovers from his concussion. Foles played a little better last week, but he was lucky to escape without an interception as he made a few really poor passes. I watched Foles play a lot this preseason, and I came away very impressed with his accuracy and decision making; but like any unheralded rookie, he’ll need time to learn the game at this level when the action is for real. DeSean Jackson broke some ribs on Monday night and was placed on IR, meaning yet another rookie, Damaris Johnson, could see significant playing for Philly under the national spotlight. Jeremy Maclin should benefit from an increase in targets but may still struggle as a result of Foles’ inability find his wide receivers under heavy pressure.

The Cowboys pass defense has been outstanding so far this season and is probably not what a struggling rookie needs. Dallas is the ninth-ranked pass defense, having given up only 219 ypg and 15 touchdown passes on the season. In Foles’ favor perhaps is the fact that the Boys have not been able to generate many turnovers in the passing game, picking off only five of passes so far this season.

Running Game Thoughts: Bryce Brown shined in his first career start in front of a national audience. The top high school running back in the nation during his college recruiting season totaled 189 yards and scored twice while hitting the hole decisively and showing off his rare combination of size and speed. Brown did lose two fumbles, but I’m sure the coaching staff is working with him on carrying the ball closer to his body in order to combat his carelessness. No timetable has been set for starter LeSean McCoy’s return, so Brown owners may be able to ride their new toy into and through the playoffs.

The Cowboys have played the run reasonably well, allowing 109.8 ypg and nine rushing touchdowns on the season. They have, however, struggled when facing bigger power runners like Marshawn Lynch, Michael Turner, Trent Richardson, and Alfred Morris, making Brown a strong RB1 this week.

Nick Foles: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damaris Johnson: 40 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 60 rec yds
Brent Celek: 30 rec yds
Bryce Brown: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo and the passing offense is starting to hit its stride, with Dez Bryant becoming an unstoppable force over the last two weeks. Romo went over 400 yards on Turkey Day in furious comeback mode, despite losing dependable target Miles Austin to a hip injury. Austin is expected to play this week, but he could be a risky start as he’s also suffering with a tight hamstring. If he sits, Dwayne Harris could be an interesting start for those thin at the position.

The Eagles secondary was performing reasonably well for most of the season but has seemed to lose interest in what has become a lost season. Opposing teams have thrown for 20 passing touchdowns against them this season, and Dallas should add to that total this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Unfortunately, as this piece gets written I’ll have very little idea whether veteran Felix Jones will get another start replacing DeMarco Murray, or whether Murray will finally make it back into the lineup. Indications have been that Murray was close to returning for last week’s game and that he’s practicing on a limited basis this week. Furthermore, Jones is also banged up with sore knees but played well through his injuries last week. You’ll need to stay on top of the latest news if you own either back and decide how much risk you’re willing to take in these important fantasy weeks.

Tony Romo: 305 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT / 10 rush yds
Miles Austin: 45 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Harris: 65 rec yds
Jason Witten: 65 rec yds, 2 TDs
DeMarco Murray: 55 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Felix Jones: 20 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Eagles 17

Giants @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning’s tired arm woke up after getting some much needed rest during the bye week, and the younger Manning threw for three touchdowns in a blowout win over the Packers on Sunday night. Eli was struggling before the bye week, but he looked sharp against Green Bay, and the Giant’s passing game looks healthy and ready to go on a roll. Hakeem Nicks looked to be back at full strength and was heavily targeted last week. Victor Cruz dropped an early pass but brought in one of Eli’s touchdown passes. Rookie Reuben Randle started to make his presence felt, as well, hauling in a touchdown and looking like he may have earned the trust of both Manning and the coaching staff and could see his role in the offense increase going forward.

Washington’s pass defense should keep the Giant passing game rolling right along. The team is giving up 301.4 passing ypg and has allowed a whopping 23 touchdown passes on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw also looked healthy last week, almost scoring on a long catch and run to start the game and later crossing the goal line from 5 yards out. Bradshaw allegedly underwent “a battery of tests” during the bye week but must have passed them with flying colors. His health is a good thing for the Giants now, as the team lost breakout backup running back Andre Brown to a broken leg in last week’s game, meaning Bradshaw will be counted on even more going forward. Brown’s injury also opens the door for rookie David Wilson to finally get out of the doghouse, after a fumble in Week 1 caused him to lose what was looking to be a big role in the offense. Wilson was very impressive in the preseason, showing big-play ability, and with fresh legs down the stretch he could be a real weapon for the World Champs.

Eli Manning: 305 pass yds 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Rueben Randle: 40 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 65 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
David Wilson: 60 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III is having an outstanding rookie campaign and is coming off a two-game stretch where he saw his touchdown passes double to 16 on the season. Griffin threw four touchdowns last week after throwing four the week before and is on fire heading into a national showcase game on Monday Night Football. Griffin is also a dangerous runner, and his dual-threat status makes him one of the more valuable players in fantasy football. Pierre Garcon has finally moved past the pain in his foot and showed last week that he’ll be Griffin’s go-to guy whenever he is healthy. No other Washington pass catcher can be started with confidence, as Griffin spreads the ball around among Aldrick Robinson, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Logan Paulsen when he’s not looking to Garcon.

The Giants secondary has looked terrible at times, but they held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in check last week. Of course it was more the fierce pass rush (five sacks and multiple hurries) that threw Rodgers off his game, but on the rare occasion that he did have time, the Giants covered well. On the season, the Giants have allowed 252.6 ypg and 18 passing touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Alfred Morris is averaging a more-than-respectable 4.7 ypc and has gained 982 yards while scoring six touchdowns on the ground. Morris and his one-cut-and-go running style makes him a good fit for the Shanahan zone blocking scheme, but he has also shown the ability to move the pile and break tackles when the hole isn’t there. In an NFL that has steered toward the RBBC approach, Morris has surprisingly remained on of the true feature backs left in the league—something fantasy owners did not anticipate under Mike Shanahan.

The Giants run defense has been solid, allowing 114 ypg and limiting opponents to only six rushing touchdowns on the ground. Morris presents a challenge with his hard-charging style that the Giants will need to be up for if they want to hold off the second-place Skins in the NFC East.

Robert Griffin III: 265 pass yds 2 TDs / 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 20 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Logan Paulsen: 35 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 85 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Prediction: Giants 34, Redskins 27

Seahawks @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Russell Wilson will not be mistaken for Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers by fantasy owners anytime soon, but lately he has actually been pretty good. Last week against the Dolphins, Wilson threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns (with no interceptions) to go along with his 38 yards rushing. While he still has not put up that monster passing game, he appears to be improving on a weekly basis and, thanks to the upside he has with his legs, he may actually be a fringe fantasy option some weeks, despite being a rookie on a run-first team. This week, however, is not one of those weeks.

The Chicago pass defense is not only one of the stingiest defenses in terms of passing yards (6th in the NFL) and passing touchdowns (tied for 3rd), they are brutal to opposing quarterbacks in terms of interceptions (1st) and sacks (tied for 5th). As you may guess, this severely limits opposing fantasy quarterbacks, as the Bears are the second toughest to score against on a per-game average. The only time an opposing quarterback did not turn the ball over against the Bears was two weeks ago, and that was in San Francisco where the Bears were caught off guard by quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his first NFL start. While it is possible that Wilson could break off a long run or scramble and throw a touchdown bomb, it is more likely that the Seahawks play very conservatively and Wilson acts more as game manager than fantasy superhero. While Wilson may be valuable down the stretch, this is not the week to get fancy and start him. As for the Seahawks receiving squad, the only two guys really worth mentioning are Golden Tate and Sidney Rice, but both have been inconsistent, and against an aggressive defense, Wilson may have to check down more than he will throw deep. Unless you are very desperate, the Seattle passing attack players all get “sit them” across my board this week.

Running Game Thoughts: While he didn’t really show it last week (19 carries, 46 yards), Marshawn Lynch has been a stud this year on the ground, ranking third in rushing yards (1,051) and among the top 15 running backs in both yards per attempt (4.6) and rushing touchdowns (5). As a team, the Seahawks are perhaps the most run-heavy attack in football, with 79 more rushing attempts than passing attempts, and they have run effectively, as they are currently eighth in rushing yards.

The bad news for Lynch and Seattle this week is he has to travel (the Seahawks are a bad road team) to Chicago and face a Bears run defense that ranks eighth in rushing yards allowed and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns allowed (3). Fantasy-wise, the Bears defense is among the three toughest for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. The somewhat good news for Lynch owners is that this game should be a close, defensive battle, meaning Lynch should be getting carries all game long and is still one of the league’s biggest workhorses (2nd in attempts). Also good for the Seahawks is that the Bears defense, while obviously elite, is in the midst of a four-game streak where each opponent has rushed for 100 yards, compared to the previous seven games where no opponent pulled off that feat. Either way you look at it, unless you are in a very tiny league or you traded your way into getting three other top 10 RBs, you are going to start Lynch this and every week because of the opportunities he gets and the yardage he racks up. Lynch may not be flashy or put up ridiculous numbers every week, but he is a safe fantasy RB and, despite the less-than-ideal matchup, should approach 100 yards on the ground, making him a safe low-end RB1 start once again.

Russell Wilson: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Golden Tate: 40 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 35 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 90 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite having a winning record, the Bears passing offense continues to be the team’s weak point, ranking dead last in passing yards (1,949) while getting sacked more than all but two other teams in the league. Jay Cutler has had a few good games so far this season but is usually under so much pressure that he is forced into some difficult throws and has not had a lot of help from his receivers, other than Brandon Marshall. Speaking of Marshall, it continues to amaze me that a team with such an awful passing offense can produce one of the very best fantasy receivers in the game. Marshall currently ranks in the top 5 receivers in receptions, targets, yards, and touchdowns and is of course a top 5 fantasy receiver because of it. The amazing part is that every team in the league knows Marshall is the first option on every pass play, but he still gets seven or more catches every game. For fantasy owners, Marshall has entered the matchup-proof category, as Cutler will seemingly force him the ball at least 10 times every game, regardless of matchup.

Speaking of matchup, Seattle presents one of the biggest challenges of the year for the Bears passing attack, as to this point they have given up the second least passing touchdowns (10), the third least passing yardage (2208), and have forced the third worst quarterback rating (75.4). In addition, they are the third toughest for fantasy QBs to score against and the second toughest for WRs. The matchup would be much easier if Seattle cornerbacks Sherman and Browner would miss the game due to suspension, but they are apparently appealing and will be active this week. Overall, the Bears passing attack will be a situation to totally avoid this week outside of Marshall, and even he may have to be considered a high-end WR2 rather than an elite WR1, as is usually the case. Look for a heavy dose of the run from the Bears in what will most likely be a defensive battle.

Running Game Thoughts: The big issue this week for fantasy owners is the status of Matt Forte, who has a bum ankle and is questionable. At the time of this writing, Forte did practice on Wednesday and looked “fine” according to coach Lovie Smith. This comes after reports that Forte would miss the game because of the injury. But if he indeed practiced Wednesday, I would venture that he at least suits up for the game and will contribute as much as possible. Regardless, expect to see a lot more action from Michael Bush this week, as the Bears will probably look to pound the rock more than throw it because Seattle’s pass defense is stronger than their run defense.

They are currently ranked 12th in rush yards given up (1,195) but actually have given up a very healthy 4.6 yards per carry, ranking them at 26th in that category. If Chicago sticks with the run as much as I think they will, this matchup could very well be where the Bears have an edge in the game, and where fantasy owners should place their mark if they own the Bears running backs. I would probably start Bush if I had to decide right now, but follow the injury reports closely up to game time. If Forte has had no setbacks and word gets out that he will get the bulk of the carries, he would obviously be the guy you want to start. If Forte is ruled out, however, Bush would jump to a high-end RB2.

Jay Cutler: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Brandon Marshall: 75 rec yds
Earl Bennett: 30 rec yds
Matt Forte: 45 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Michael Bush: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 23, Seahawks 17

Colts @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While some of Andrew Luck’s stats look rather pedestrian (56.8 completion percentage, 13:13 TD-to-INT ratio), the fact of the matter is that he is moving the ball well, looking downfield, and putting up some very nice yardage numbers (3,205, good for 7th in the NFL). The main beneficiary of Luck's success has been Reggie Wayne, who has had a rebirth of sorts, leading the league in receptions (84) and trailing only Calvin Johnson in yardage (1,105). While Luck may eventually be an elite, matchup-proof starter for fantasy owners, this year he is the classic matchup-type play, where he should be benched in tough matchups and started in easier ones.

So which is it this week? Well, it depends who your other options are because the Lions are not a great pass defending team, but they are far from an elite matchup. Against QBs this season, Detroit ranks 20th overall, meaning there are actually only 12 teams tougher to score against as a fantasy QB. At the same time, the Lions have given up a passing touchdown in all but one game this season, and they have given up two passing touchdowns in seven games so far. If you are looking for a huge 300-yard, three-touchdown game from Luck this week, you are not going to get it. On the other hand, if you are looking for safe and easy points, say 200-plus yards and one or more touchdowns guaranteed, Luck should be your man. As for Wayne, he has become an every-week starter regardless of matchup simply because he gets so many targets (144—1st in the NFL). Regardless of his lack of touchdowns (3), Wayne should rack up the yardage this week and be a solid low-end WR1. As for the rest of the Colts receiving corps, they are simply too inconsistent to be startable at this point. T.Y. Hilton is a very intriguing prospect, but he and Donnie Avery seem to go back and forth on having good and bad weeks. So until Luck shows for sure who his No. 2 option is, avoid them both. Both tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener (returning from injury) have shown promise this year, but they are in the same boat as the previously mentioned Hilton and Avery. Their production is too up-and-down to start either at this point.

Running Game Thoughts: For a team without a legitimate fantasy option at the RB and a mostly pass-based offense, the Colts running game as a whole isn’t actually all that bad. On the year, the Colts rank 17th in rushing yards, averaging 108 yards per game on the ground. Despite these stats, the Colts backfield, consisting of Vick Ballard and Donald Brown, has been far below average for most of the season. Both backs have different skills and styles, but both have been largely inconsistent and unremarkable to this point. If one of them would receive the lion’s share of carries, perhaps we would have reason to get excited. But to date, the carries have been split almost identically, with Ballard getting 118 on the year and Brown getting 102. In an ideal matchup against a poor run defense, I would say maybe one of the two would be worth a speculative start, but this week that matchup is not here.

The Lions, despite usually giving up a healthy amount of yards, are actually a decent run defending team. They have given up only six rushing touchdowns and consequently are among the 12 toughest defenses for fantasy RBs to score against. A closer look at the Lions previous matchups tell an even better story, as the only two games where they gave up a ton of fantasy points to opposing backs were when they played against Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson, two of the very best in the NFL. If the Colts were playing a team like the Raiders maybe I would take a chance on starting one of the Indy RBs. But in a below-average matchup, on the road, in a possible shootout-type game, it's not worth playing the guessing game.

Andrew Luck: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Reggie Wayne: 90 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 55 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 45 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 40 rush yds
Donald Brown: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite playing a tough opponent last week (the Texans), Matthew Stafford had one of his best games of the season, throwing for 441 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The yardage numbers are rarely in question, as Stafford is first in that category, but the touchdowns have been slow to come this season, as Stafford has just 14, with six of them having come in the past three weeks. Despite that, Stafford is an every-week fantasy starter and that will not change this week, as he should be a solid QB1 whose stock is rising. Speaking of must starts, Calvin Johnson is on a rampage as of late, with a touchdown in each of his last three games after only one through the first eight weeks of the season. Despite the lack of touchdowns from Megatron, his yardage and fantasy numbers are still on par with any WR in the league, as he ranks first in receiving yards (over 150 more than 2nd place), and first in catches of 20-plus yards (6 more than 2nd place). He is, of course, matchup-proof and is a very safe WR1 in this matchup.

The rest of the receiving corps is where the true debate comes in. The only fantasy-worthy guys worth mentioning are WR Ryan Broyles and TE Brandon Pettigrew, since WR Titus Young has entered the team doghouse and shouldn’t be much of a factor . With Young out last week, Broyles was targeted 12 times and racked up six catches for 126 yards. While the large number of targets was mostly a result of a shoot-out, it is very possible that this week’s game has the same feel to it, thus making a repeat performance very possible. I would start Broyles with confidence this week as a high-end WR3, especially with the Colts being one of the top 5 most generous defenses to fantasy WRs. As for Pettigrew, he remains a legit TE1 in PPR leagues, but his lack of big games really limits his upside in standard leagues. That also makes him no more than a mid-range TE2 this week, as the Colts have actually been solid (2nd toughest) against fantasy TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite being on a very pass-heavy team ranked in the bottom 10 in rushing yards and not having a run over 16 yards this season, Mikel Leshoure has actually turned into a nice flex option most weeks. While he does not get a ton of yards on the ground, he does get the bulk of the carries. And for some reason the Lions love to run near the goal line this season, giving Leshoure six touchdowns in just nine games and the Lions as a team 13 rushing touchdowns (4th in the NFL) on the season. The good news for Leshoure owners this week is that the matchup is a very favorable one, as the Colts are one of the 10 most generous defenses to opposing fantasy RBs on a per-game basis.

Even better for Leshoure, the Colts placed two of their defensive lineman on IR this week and will be scrambling for bodies on their banged-up defensive line. The defense has already given up 11 rushing touchdowns thus far (7th most in the NFL), so, even if the big yardage is not there for Leshoure, the chances of a touchdown are pretty good, making him a nice low-end RB2 in this matchup. While neither Kevin Smith nor Joique Bell is a safe fantasy option, Smith played more snaps than Bell for the second straight week, even though Bell produced better numbers. Both Smith and Bell are well off the fantasy starter radar, although Bell still has a little appeal in very deep PPR leagues.

Matthew Stafford: 320 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Broyles: 90 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 30, Colts 27

Vikings @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: It was another tough week for the Vikings pass offense, as the Bears held Christian Ponder to 159 yards (1 TD, 1 INT) while completing just 51 percent of his passes. To date, the Vikings rank 30th in passing yards (2,048) and 31st in passing yards per attempt (6.1). The one bright spot on the Vikings passing attack, Percy Harvin, missed last week’s game and is very questionable again this week. To make matters worse, tight end Kyle Rudolph may also miss this week’s game because of a possible concussion he suffered last week. Without two of its best playmakers, this week may actually be worse than last for the Vikings passing attack, despite a bit easier matchup.

The Packers passing defense is certainly not elite like the Bears, but they are no pushover either. While the Packers have given up the 12th most passing yards in the league, they are much tougher in other areas, including opponent’s completion percentage (55.6, 3rd best), interceptions (12, 9th), and sacks (34, 3rd). Linebacker Clay Matthews has missed two straight games but may come back this week, which would be an even bigger blow to Ponder, who is among the top 10 most sacked quarterbacks in the league thus far. In a division rivalry game, at Lambeau field, I expect the Packers defense to be fired up and Ponder and the crew to be over their head in this one. The Vikings know their best chance of winning goes through their best player (Adrian Peterson), and until the game is out of reach, I expect them to lean heavily on the run game. The bottom line for fantasy owners is that the Vikings passing game should be avoided. At the least, keep very low expectations for it until key players are healthy, the matchup is better, and some signs of life are shown. No way am I going near Ponder this week, even if he has his full complement of receivers. If Harvin does play, he is still probably a must-start because of the extreme amount of targets he gets, but right now he is just a low-end WR2 until he is healthier and Ponder is more productive. If Rudolph plays, also, avoid him if you can. However, if Rudolph plays and Harvin is out, Rudolph probably becomes a high-end TE2 because he should be the Vikings' first look in what should be some pass-heavy garbage time. No other member of the passing attack is even close to consideration.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite going against one of the league’s best defenses last week and being behind big for most of the game, Adrian Peterson managed to put up 108 yards on just 18 carries. This kind of performance is typical for Peterson this season, as he easily leads the NFL in rushing (1,236 yards) and is the only running back to average more than 100 yards per game (112.4). In addition, Peterson leads all running backs in runs of 20-plus yards (14), is second in yards per attempt (5.8), and is tied for fifth with seven rushing touchdowns.

For fantasy owners who have not been under a rock all year, the formula is simple: if you have Peterson, you are starting him every week, against any matchup, in any weather, no questions asked. If he can put up 100 yards against a top 5 run defense (as he did last week), he is certainly a no-brainer, high-end RB1 this week against a Packers defense that is giving up over four more fantasy points per game on average than the Bears and just gave up nearly 150 yards rushing to the Giants last week. While the matchup is not the best of the year for Peterson, he will put up RB1 numbers. Start him regardless of what anyone says, and enjoy owning an elite fantasy RB this week.

Christian Ponder: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Kyle Rudolph: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarius Wright: 50 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Packers are only 14th in passing yardage (2,664), Aaron Rodgers, as one of the more efficient passers in the NFL, continues to carry fantasy owners. Despite being behind 11 other quarterbacks in terms of passing yards, Rodgers is behind only Drew Brees in touchdown passes, with 28, and he has thrown only seven interceptions all year. But enough about Rodgers, as anyone who owns him knows he is already a must-start every week. The real story of the Packers passing offense is the receiving corps and how the targets are being split up. Through the course of the year, Rodgers has made no less than five receivers very fantasy relevant, and each of them (Jennings, Nelson, Cobb, Jones, Finley) has had big games, terrible games, and injuries to some extent. This week marks the return of Greg Jennings, who was at one time the Packers No. 1 option but has not played since Week 4. In his absence, various receivers have stepped up from game to game, but Randall Cobb has probably been the most consistent of the group. For this week, it's tough to speculate which receivers will get the most attention from Rodgers, but I’d bet it won't be Jennings, who will likely need time to get his conditioning right and his timing with Rodgers back on point. Jennings owners might want to wait at least a week just to make sure he is a big part of what the Packers plan to do through the air. The previously mentioned Cobb will, I believe, still be a focus of the passing game, and he should not lose many targets because of Jennings’ return. Start Cobb with confidence as a high upside WR2. As for James Jones, I believe he will be the guy most affected by Jennings return, and I would not count on him as anything more than a low-end WR3 this week, especially coming off a zero-target day when Jennings was not even playing. Jordy Nelson should get close to his normal stats, and while he has been a bit more up-and-down this year (compared to last), he still is a good bet for a healthy amount of yards (he leads Packers receivers in yardage). Finally, tight end Jermichael Finley continues to be boom or bust but has put together back-to-back games of 50-plus yards, so he is probably a safe, mid-range TE2 this week.

Fantasy-wise, the Vikings are among the top 12 most generous defenses to fantasy QBs, WRs, and TEs over the past three weeks, so start your Packers with confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers at least try to run the ball, but their effectiveness, especially from a fantasy perspective, has been pretty awful. Not only are they 23rd in rushing yards, but they are dead last in rushing touchdowns, with just two. Add this to the fact that the backfield is now pretty much a timeshare between Alex Green and James Starks, and you have a mess of a run game for fantasy owners.

If the matchup was against the worst run defense in the league, it might be enough to consider one of the Packers RBs, but this week’s matchup is not even a favorable one, as the Vikings are an above-average run defense, and they have been among the 12 toughest defenses for fantasy RBs to score against the past three weeks. Considering all this, neither RB is a recommended play this week. And unless something dramatically changes soon, this situation looks like one to avoid going into the fantasy playoffs as well.

Aaron Rodgers: 290 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Randall Cobb: 80 rec yds, 1 TD, 10 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 45 rec yds
James Jones: 30 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 55 rec yds
James Starks: 35 rush yds

Prediction: Packers 30, Vikings 20

Steelers @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The big story with this unit is obviously the health of Ben Roethlisberger, who missed last week’s game with shoulder and rib injuries. Various reports are speculating on Big Ben's chances of playing this week, but most are pessimistic because of the amount of pain, reduced arm strength, and chance for re-injury. If Ben plays, it obviously changes everything about the passing attack and the Steelers' whole offensive philosophy, but as most reporters are in agreement, set your lineup with the assumption that he will not play. With Charlie Batch at the helm instead, the Steelers passing attack isn’t just bad, it’s actually detrimental to the team. Last week Batch threw no touchdowns and three interceptions while throwing mostly short, conservative passes against a Cleveland pass defense that is much friendlier than this week’s matchup.

The Ravens defense may be somewhat vulnerable to the run, but their pass defense is pretty good, ranking first in passing touchdowns allowed (9) and fifth in overall quarterback rating (77.5). To opposing QBs, they are pretty stingy as well, being the eighth toughest defense to score against (12th toughest to WRs, 8th to TEs). But numbers and stats aside, let’s just be honest: there is no way Batch should be anywhere near your roster, let alone your starting lineup, so it is not worth diving into much deeper. As for the receiving corps, Antonio Brown is supposed to return this week from injury, and he does fit the mold of what Batch may be looking for—that is, short passes over the middle. But Brown was not much more than a low-end WR2 most weeks with Ben under center, so with Batch, he should be bumped down to a WR3. Mike Wallace has struggled a bit this year, and with most of his damage done on deep routes, he will probably get very few looks this week with noodle-armed Batch, making him a risky WR3 start. Tight end Heath Miller got the most targets from Batch last week, and while he may lose a couple of those to Brown, he probably will be Batch’s favorite target again this week, though not enough to recommend him as anything other than a low-end TE2 this week. Even though Emmanuel Sanders had the best game of any Pittsburgh receiver last week (75 yards), I would make him prove it again before I put him in my starting lineup. Bottom line, unless you are very desperate, just avoid the whole Steelers passing attack this week.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Steelers running game has gone from icy cold to boiling hot to lukewarm throughout the season, there is some hope for fantasy owners that the situation may be clearing up a bit, as long as you trust the words of head coach Mike Tomlin. After a carousel of running backs has left the Pittsburgh backfield in the dreaded RBBC for much of the season, Tomlin this week stated that they are going to try to stay with “a primary back for now—and that back will be Jonathan Dwyer. Whether or not we can take Tomlin at his word is another story, since coaches often change their mind or play games to keep opposing defensive coordinators on their toes, and the flow of the game can often change the way players are used. Either way, it appears that Dwyer easily has the most value this week, and the matchup is actually a decent one, especially if Batch is under center, where a run-heavy attack will certainly be the game plan.

While the Ravens are not a bad defense overall, their rush defense is certainly below average, giving up the seventh most rushing yards in the league and allowing 10 rushing touchdowns on the year, tied for the eighth most in the league. The Ravens also are the 14th most generous team to fantasy RBs and have given up a few huge games to opposing RBs this season, most notably Jamaal Charles (140 rushing yards) of the Chiefs. Since the Steelers defense should be able to keep this game close throughout, I expect to see them run the ball 35 or more times. That means that even if Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman steal a few carries, Dwyer should approach low-end RB1 status. The Steelers running back situation will probably be fluid from week to week the rest of the season, but for now, enjoy the ride this week if you are a Dwyer owner.

Charlie Batch: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Jonathan Dwyer: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 40 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 55 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The good news for the Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco is that there has been a sort of mini-resurgence in the passing game in two out of the past three weeks, with the two good games averaging 348 passing yards and two touchdowns. The bad news for the group is that the other game produced just 164 yards and no touchdowns, and yes, you guessed it, that was against the Steelers. There is no way around it: the Steelers are one of if not the very best pass defenses in the NFL this season. They are the best (by over 200 yards) in passing yards allowed, the best in passing yards per attempt allowed, fourth in completion percentage allowed, and tied for fifth in passing touchdowns allowed. Add this to the fact that they are the toughest defense for QBs to throw against, and you have one of those matchups where, if you are the owner of a Raven, you start looking hard at other options.

The Steelers defense is not perfect, of course. They let Peyton Manning throw for 253 yards and a touchdown against them in Week 1 (their worst defensive performance of the year), but no quarterback has had a truly big game against them, and Joe Flacco is no Peyton Manning. So, to be clear, if you have Flacco on your team, you should be looking for other options right now. Go ahead, then come back and read the rest of this article. Ok, now that you’re back, let’s talk quickly about the Ravens receivers. They been very up-and-down, with each of the key players (Dennis Pitta, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin) having both great and nearly invisible stretches of games. While Smith is having the best overall fantasy season of the group, even he has disappeared from the stat sheet this year, notably against this same Pittsburgh defense two weeks ago, where he caught just one ball for seven yards. Considering this, and the fact that he will most likely be covered again by stud cornerback Ike Taylor, I would bench Smith this week and wait for a better matchup. As for Boldin, he had the best day of the Ravens receivers last time these teams met (8 rec, 79 yds), but even as a WR3, I think he is a bit risky in this game, although he would be my choice if forced to choose a Ravens receiver this week. Tight end Dennis Pitta was even worse than Smith against Pittsburgh last time (1 rec, 5 yds) and should be replaced in all starting lineups this week.

Running Game Thoughts: When these teams met a few weeks ago, Ray Rice had one of his worst rushing games of the year, totaling just 40 yards on 20 carries. In that game, the battle between one of the better rushing offenses, and one of the best run defenses was won by the Steelers in a very hard-fought defensive battle. Very few things have changed since that game, but there are a couple of things that Rice owners can look for as signs of hope. First, the game will be in Baltimore this time around. Second, the Steelers are coming off a game where they gave up 85 yards and a touchdown—their fourth highest total of the year—to Browns running back Trent Richardson,. Finally, Steelers starting linebacker LaMarr Woodley is doubtful this week, and Rice has some nice momentum after he ran for 97 yards against the Chargers last week. While this game will probably be another low-scoring, defensive, grind-it-out type of game, Rice is about as safe as they come for fantasy RBs. And even against a top 5 rushing defense, he should get enough touches to produce high-end RB2 numbers. Start him with confidence this week.

Joe Flacco: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 50 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 70 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 20 rec yds
Ray Rice: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 20, Steelers 17