Arizona (-1) @ St. Louis, Thursday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: The Rams pass defense received a major facelift during Jeff Fisher’s first offseason, adding two highly gifted and aggressive corners in Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins. So far this defense is tied for the fewest passing scores allowed (two) and has picked off eight passes, which is second to only Chicago. So while Kevin Kolb has Larry Fitzgerald and the rising Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd to throw to, he may have a very difficult time getting it through the Rams secondary. If that proves to be the case, look for Ryan Williams to turn in the best performance of his young career facing a front seven that is much softer versus the run (135 yards allowed per game)… The Cardinals defense has relinquished just four touchdowns total in four games (including just one combined between New England and Philadelphia) and is second in the league with 16 sacks. So to even give themselves a chance to win, the Rams need to figure out how to protect Sam Bradford. With more than half their original starting o-line already out with injuries, including both tackles, that will be a tall order. If they can manage to keep him clean though and mimic the way Ryan Tannehill and Miami attacked Arizona with a similarly nondescript corps of receiving weapons, Bradford, Danny Amendola and the Rams may find the end zone. Of course it would help greatly if Steven Jackson (who should play) could get over his groin injury enough to top 60 yards on the ground for the first time this season. And if St. Louis can also steal the Dolphins defensive gameplan and come anywhere near the eight sacks Miami registered, the Rams will keep it close enough for their MVP, kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein—whose range knows no bounds—to win it for them.
Predictions: In a sloppy affair, Kolb throws for 218 yards and scores to Fitz and Floyd. Williams has a career day with 106 yards and his first TD on the ground, outplaying Jackson who goes for just 68 yards. Bradford tosses his team’s only score to Austin Pettis in a 245-yard effort, and Zuerlein proves the difference for the second straight week with five field goals. Rams 22-21.
Miami (+4) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: It was evident through the first three weeks that the Dolphins had a defense. In fact, they have quite a good one, particularly against the run as they lead the league in rushing yards allowed per game and per attempt. What we didn’t know however is that they have an offense that can move the ball consistently. It’s possible that the Cardinals poor defensive performance last week was the result of a letdown from the two weeks prior in which they dominated very good Patriots and Eagles offenses. Nevertheless, Ryan Tannehill proved that they are not a one-dimensional offense as he threw for a Dolphins rookie record 431 yards and made both his starting wideouts, Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, very relevant in fantasy. Hartline too set a record with the most single-game receiving yards (253) in team history and could be hard to bench going forward just due to the targets he’ll see. With a Bengals defense that’s softer versus the run than the pass though, Miami’s best offensive weapon remains Reggie Bush… Amazingly, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had gone over 55 games and exactly 560 carries without ever putting the ball on the ground until he lost his first career fumble in the second half of Week 3. Even more amazingly, BJGE waited not even four more quarters to do it again, fumbling not once but twice at Jacksonville. It’s more likely a statistical oddity than something that will become a trend, and the coaching staff maintained their faith in their feature back by feeding him 26 carries in that game. Against the Dolphins, however, Green-Ellis figures to see significantly less attempts given the huge disparity between Miami’s top-ranked run D and 30th pass defense. Expect Andy Dalton to continue his super hot streak (at least three scores in three straight) as he benefits from fantasy’s top receiver in A.J. Green.
Predictions: Tannehill throws for 229 yards and a touchdown to Bess, while Bush totals 113 yards with a score and Hartline adds 108 receiving. The Law Firm gets just 52 yards on the ground but Dalton passes for 314 and touchdowns to Green, Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins to keep Cinci’s win streak going. Bengals 24-17.
Green Bay (-7) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Packers offense finally got on track last week and all it took was a visit from the league’s worst defense. Still, it was bound to happen with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. Despite the absence of Greg Jennings, who aggravated his groin injury last week, the offense should continue to hum versus a Colts defense that doesn’t have adequate personnel to be consistently competitive. Secondary targets like James Jones and Randall Cobb could be nice flex options with Jennings out, but the way Rodgers spreads the ball around, it’s impossible to predict who will lead them in receiving. One thing that is for sure though is that Cedric Benson will get all the work on the ground versus a vulnerable Indy front seven that’s allowed four rushing scores in just three games… The biggest challenge facing the Colts offense will be to keep Green Bay’s aggressive pass rush off their stud rookie quarterback. Given the tenacity of Clay Matthews and the ineptitude of the Indianapolis blockers, Andrew Luck figures to have to do a lot of the work himself to stay clean. Fortunately for him he has enough athleticism to escape pressure and his ability to read the field will help him get the ball out quickly. When the Packers offense builds a big lead, it will translate to nice garbage points for the top members of the Colts passing attack, though it will leave Donald Brown’s owners out in the cold.
Predictions: Brown totals 58 yards in a pass-heavy game that sees Luck throw for 286 yards and touchdowns to T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener. Benson registers 94 yards on the ground and a short score, while Rodgers tosses TD’s to Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb in a 326-yard effort. Packers 34-14.
Baltimore (-5) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Ravens are a much better team than they showed in Week 4 as they squeaked by Cleveland in a surprising one-score game. Joe Flacco is playing as well as nearly any quarterback in the league and his 317 yards-per-game through the air make it very difficult to bench him in fantasy right now. The emergence of Torrey Smith as one of the tougher covers in the league has done wonders for both players’ values and opened up the Baltimore offense as a whole. Those two should continue to take advantage of the respect Smith’s speed is getting when they face off with a Chiefs defense that’s allowing 8.5 yards per pass attempt and has given up 10 TD’s through the air already. If it gets ugly early—as all Chiefs games have thus far—Ray Rice will swoop in and clean up the mess as the second-half closer… The Chiefs followed up the highest point of their season—the second half/overtime comeback win in New Orleans—with the lowest point of their season. The first half versus the Chargers in Arrowhead was some of the sloppiest football played in 2012 league-wide. Matt Cassel threw three picks and Jamaal Charles fumbled it away twice. All in one half. Charles won’t see his time stripped though given how he performed after the fumbles (100+ total yards, two touchdowns), but the same cannot be said for Cassel. If the veteran struggles early versus Baltimore, coach Romeo Crennel has indicated that he may give backup Brady Quinn a shot. So that should make Cassel off limits for fantasy play this week and it could hurt the stock of Dwayne Bowe, who has an established connection with his starter.
Predictions: Rice totals 118 yards and snags a goal line score, while Flacco does his usual damage with 284 yards passing and TD’s to Smith and Dennis Pitta. Cassel gets replaced by Quinn who throws for 145 yards and a touchdown to Jon Baldwin. Charles chips in 89 total yards in the loss. Ravens 27-13.
Atlanta (-3) @ Washington, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Matt Ryan will lead the game’s most efficient passing offense into D.C. to square off with the most generous passing defense. The Redskins are 31st in yards allowed per game through the air and dead last with 11 TD passes against them—and that’s counting last week’s battle with a Buccaneers offense that resides near the bottom of the league in passing efficiency and production. So suffice it to say this is a week to get every Falcons pass catcher in your lineup, and that includes third-down back Jacquizz Rodgers who’s had 75 receiving yards and a score over the past two games. Julio Jones should be back to himself after struggling recently with a lacerated hand that is reportedly healed, and Michael Turner figures to get his when the air attack takes defenders out of the box. The past two weeks have clearly shown that the former “Burner” still has plenty of diesel left in his oversized tank… Robert Griffin III is a rare talent and this Skins team, particularly with its deficiencies on defense, will only go as far as he takes them. Since Week 1 though he has been hamstrung by a limited group of receiving targets. He’s managed to save his fantasy numbers by adding four rushing scores over that stretch, but his meager two touchdowns passing in the last three games is troubling and his willingness to take off running could put Griffin’s health in jeopardy. Getting a Falcons defense that allows just 207 yards a game passing won’t help matters and may only encourage more running. Having Pierre Garcon get back to 100% could keep Griffin throwing and producing better from the pocket, but it may be a few weeks before Garcon’s completely healed. So for this week, don’t be surprised if Mike Shanahan elects to pound the physical rookie Alfred Morris into Atlanta’s 29th-ranked run defense in order to keep Ryan off the field and Griffin from getting knocked off it.
Predictions: Ryan throws for 354 yards and connects with Jones (2), Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White for TD’s, while Turner rumbles for 68 yards. Morris plugs away for 102 and a touchdown on the ground and RGIII contributes 224 through the air with a score going to Leonard Hankerson. Falcons 31-20.
Cleveland (+9) @ New York Giants, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Cleveland, like the Giants, lost a close game to a division rival on the road last week. But unlike the G-Men, the Browns were not supposed to have a chance when they went to Baltimore. Brandon Weeden played at times more like it was his fourth season and not just his fourth game as a pro. Trent Richardson ran the ball with a great deal of power and burst and showed why he will likely grace many a fantasy magazine cover next summer. With four scores and exactly 300 total yards in the past three games, Richardson is proving to be every bit worth the 3rd overall draft pick Cleveland spent to get him. And his knee issue from August certainly appears to be behind him. With Weeden throwing the ball well and the run game providing balance, the Browns will look to also surprise a New York defense that’s last in the league (tied) with 9.0 yards allowed per pass attempt… The Giants will go without Hakeem Nicks for the third straight week as the talented but oft-injured wideout deals with a knee injury. With Ramses Barden also expected to miss the game due to a concussion, Domenik Hixon’s value goes way up against a Cleveland pass defense that’s been in disarray without Joe Haden. Given the way the Browns have played tight end so far (they blanked Dennis Pitta last week), Martellus Bennett may struggle for a second straight week and open the door for Rueben Randle to get involved. In the end though this week is shaping up to be about Eli Manning to Victor Cruz, with a solid dose of Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown sprinkled in to keep the Cleveland pass rush (5th in sacks) honest.
Predictions: Richardson totals 122 yards with a touchdown. Weeden finds Greg Little for 101 yards and his only score in a 272-yard day. Manning fares much better with scoring strikes going to Cruz (2) and Hixon as he finishes with 323 yards in the air. Bradshaw provides 86 total yards in the victory. Giants 27-17.
Philadelphia (+3) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Following a crucial, emotionally draining win over a bitter divisional rival the Eagles get to face a Steelers team coming off a bye week, desperate for a win and with former league Defensive MVP’s James Harrison and Troy Polamalu likely returning from injury. Cue the “wah, wah, wah” sound. Michael Vick has already been sacked 11 times (nearly half as many as all of last season) and he’s been hit many more times than that. With a porous offensive line Vick could get forced out of the pocket frequently by Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, which figures to have mixed results. On one hand that gives him chances for the coverage to break down and let him hit DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin for big gains. On the other though it opens him up to a roaming Polamalu putting a smack on him. The Eagles are remarkably 3-1 despite a minus 17 point differential, so to score enough points to win (and keep Vick upright) they’ll need a big day out of LeSean McCoy… The aforementioned return of two of the Steelers’ key defensive pieces should make a huge impact to a unit that couldn’t even slow down the Raiders without them. On the offensive side, Rashard Mendenhall looks poised to finally make his return from last year’s torn ACL and his timing couldn’t be better if he does suit up. The Steelers are dead last with a disgraceful 2.6 yards per carry and as a team have a long run of just 13 yards. If healthy enough to start, Mendenhall would be risky as a flex, but his presence should boost the values of Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown more, as he’d force Philadelphia to respect the run. Coming off the bye with just a win over a sloppy and inept Jets team and a bad blown lead against an undermanned Oakland team, this game could well shape Pittsburgh’s identity for the remainder of the season.
Predictions: McCoy totals 78 yards versus an inspired defense and Vick struggles under heavy pressure to throw for 224 yards and one touchdown to Maclin. Roethlisberger connects with Brown and Wallace for scores in a 262-yard effort. Mendenhall tacks on 64 yards rushing in the W. Steelers 23-10.
Seattle (+3) @ Carolina, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: It’s surprising that Pete Carroll is still not ready to give Matt Flynn the football. His offense is being dragged down by Russell Wilson and though the rookie quarterback may have tremendous leadership qualities, toughness and football smarts, the 5-foot-10 signal caller is simply in over his head right now—both literally and figuratively. Wilson’s inability to get the ball downfield (just two completions over 25 yards) is badly limiting an offense and ultimately an entire team with major potential. Essentially right now the Seahawks are a great ground game and a physical defense that wins by controlling the ball and keeping the score low. This week will be no different, so expect heavy doses of league-leading rusher Marshawn Lynch against a Panthers defense that actually made Michael Turner look downright nimble last week… Cam Newton cannot be given up on, because just when you do he turns in the type of efficiently productive performance he gave last week against a very good Atlanta pass defense. Against the league’s second best scoring defense (just 14.5 points per game) and a passing defense that held Aaron Rodgers out of the end zone, however, Newton will need to step up to even another level with his arm this week. If the Panthers can get DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to get anything going against the Seahawks’ No. 2 run defense that will certainly help, but counting on that, or any of the Panthers skill players for a big fantasy week is a risky proposition.
Predictions: Wilson throws for 152 yards and a touchdown to Sidney Rice as the Hawks continue to lean on Lynch, who goes for 153 rushing and a score. Stewart totals 78 yards to D-Will’s 45 but neither scores. Newton connects with Greg Olsen for a TD in 206-yard day and takes the win with a goal line plunge. Panthers 17-14.
Chicago (-5.5) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Bears defense made Tony Romo and the Dallas offense wish their bye had come a week earlier when they dominated them on Monday Night Football. The Chicago unit flies to the ball and plays passing lanes as well as any team in football and their league-leading 11 picks and second-most 15 sacks are evidence of that. So with all the weapons they have on offense, the best Bear fantasy play this week may be their defense against Blaine Gabbert. Offensively, Jay Cutler bounced back from two terrible performances to look extremely sharp against a supposedly upgraded Dallas secondary and rekindling his connection with Brandon Marshall was key in that. That pair should have success when Matt Forte and Michael Bush aren’t tearing through the 30th-ranked run defense… Jacksonville is in deep trouble. Gabbert is simply no match for the red-hot Chicago defense. Hampered by Gabbert’s anemic passing numbers, the Jags are dead last in total yards. And leaning on Maurice Jones-Drew’s legs doesn’t figure to go very well versus the Bears’ stingy run defense that’s giving up just 67.3 yards per game on the ground. Somehow Gabbert has thrown just one interception this season, but in what has the makings of an ugly affair, that figures to change.
Predictions: Cutler throws for 244 yards and hits Marshall and Alshon Jeffery for scores. Forte totals 109 yards but has two goal line scores robbed by Bush. MJD grinds his way to 73 yards as Gabbert throws for just 139 and the team’s lone score to Marcedes Lewis. Bears 31-7.
Tennessee (+5.5) @ Minnesota, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: It took four weeks, but Chris Johnson finally looked like one of the best backs in the league. It’s easy to look at a box score and presume it just took getting him more than 14 carries (he had 25), but in actuality, Johnson got those carries because he finally started fast. His first carry matched his season long of 13 yards and he went from there. That he did it against one of the league’s two best defenses, and in a blowout no less, is greatly inspiring for those fantasy owners that gave up on him. It might be the best chance to sell high, but he’s got enough ability that it’s probably worth waiting one more week to see what he does. While Johnson’s first big showing was a relief to the Titans, the loss of Jake Locker to a separation of his non-throwing shoulder put a damper on an already bad day for Tennessee. With Matt Hasselbeck in and Kenny Britt (ankle) looking very iffy to play, the Titans may want to lean on Johnson again, but versus a Vikings defense that’s given up just one rushing score, they’ll need the wily Hasselbeck to make plays with his arm… This looks like a game to start nearly all of the main Vikings skill players. The Titans are simply the worst defense in football. The 37.8 points per game they allow spells fantasy goldmine. Christian Ponder has played very well at times this year (last week notwithstanding) and has an added weapon in Jerome Simpson. If Adrian Peterson doesn’t run them to a huge lead early, Ponder should post nice numbers going to his favorite targets Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph.
Predictions: Hasselbeck throws for 228 yards and touchdowns to Kendall Wright and Jared Cook, while Johnson rushes for 92 yards and a score. Peterson rolls for 145 on the ground with two TD’s and Ponder hits Harvin for a touchdown in a 219-yard day and a narrow purple victory. Vikings 27-24.
Denver (+7) @ New England, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Don’t think for a second that Peyton Manning didn’t take note of exactly how Ryan Fitzpatrick got all four of his touchdowns versus the Patriots last week AND all four of his picks. The consummate film junkie, Manning will study every aspect of a New England defense that does not resemble the 2011 unit except for their recent difficulties versus the pass. The Patriots have given up 732 yards and seven touchdowns the past two weeks and have looked in the secondary to be every bit as incapable as they did for much of last season. That should have Manning owners and those fortunate enough to have Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker licking their chops over the possibility of a classic Peyton Manning-Tom Brady duel. But this game isn’t completely about the quarterbacks. If the Willis McGahee of last week shows up against a top-10 Pats run defense, the Broncos chances of leaving Foxboro with a W go way up… Tom Brady had an awfully slow start last week, but his ridiculous final quarter and half more than made up for it. Like the Broncos had last week, the Patriots got a huge boost from its running game, and in particular from a surprising source in Brandon Bolden. The undrafted rookie back went nuts with nearly 150 total yards and a score, while Stevan Ridley provided a steady dose of first downs and added two TD’s of his own. If those two keep the chains moving against Denver and keep Manning off the field, there will not only be no duel, there won’t be much of a chance for the Broncos. Brady is already good enough when you give him Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd. Add in a productive run game and it’s game over for the other team.
Predictions: McGahee nets 71 yards as Manning racks up the attempts and throws for 327 yards and touchdowns to Thomas, Decker and Brandon Stokley. Ridley scraps for 88 yards and a score, while Brady edges Manning with 344 passing yards and hits on scores to Gronkowski and Lloyd (2). Patriots 31-27.
Buffalo (+10) @ San Francisco, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The embarrassment of the Bills’ complete fourth-quarter collapse at home versus the Patriots in Week 4 will travel with them across the country to come face-to-face with a San Francisco team that has virtually no weakness. And aside from their mental state, the most pressing issues facing the Bills lie in the run game—both offensively and defensively. On the strength of C.J. Spiller’s first two weeks the Bills rushing offense looks statistically like one of the league’s best. But the injuries to Spiller (shoulder) and Fred Jackson (knee) are nagging both players and it was clear that neither was himself last week. On the other side of that coin, the Bills front seven decided to take a crucial divisional game off and let the Pats ram it down their throat for 247 yards. Ryan Fitzpatrick has played exceptional at times and leads the entire league with 12 passing scores, but his play won’t matter a lick when his two banged up backs have to deal with the Niners brutal run defense and the other side of the ball cannot even remotely slow Frank Gore and the San Fran physical run game… Coming off his worst two performances of the season, Alex Smith looks to catch a break with a Bills defense that may have lost some fight after the fourth-quarter beating New England put on them. That they’re allowing over two passing scores per game on average doesn’t exactly hurt either of course. And then there’s that powerful running game to set up play-action and wear down the pass rush. The only problem for Smith owners could come in opportunity, as he’s not likely to throw it much if a blowout ensues or Colin Kaepernick continues getting chances with his legs.
Predictions: Jackson and Spiller combine for 96 total yards in about an even split, and Fitzpatrick throws for 178 yards with a score going to Scott Chandler. Smith passes for 208 yards and touchdowns to Mario Manningham and Vernon Davis, while Gore and Hunter each grab a rushing score, with the elder statesman netting 107 yards. 49ers 31-13.
San Diego (+3.5) @ New Orleans, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: Norv Turner grounded Ryan Mathews last week. Like a parent trying to teach his kid a lesson, Turner let the younger brother—in this analogy Jackie Battle, who’s ironically both older and bigger than Mathews—go out and play while sending the unruly child to his room. Mathews broke the rules and gave the ball away on his first red zone carry of the season in Week 3 and for that Battle has taken his goal line work for the foreseeable future. Facing the league’s worst run defense on the road though, expect Turner to let Mathews out of his room more often. And with the run game presumably clicking versus a defense gifting nearly 190 yards-per-game on the ground, Philip Rivers should finally be able to get Antonio Gates going and find Malcom Floyd deep on play-action… Drew Brees has a ridiculous 191 pass attempts so far in four weeks. Apparently that’s what you get when you take a team that is pass-heavy to begin with and make them consistently play from behind or in close games. As a team the Saints have just 75 rushing attempts, split mostly between Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas. So as long as their defense continues to struggle miserably, expect Brees’ arm to keep getting about 48 chances per game to rack up fantasy points. That means Marques Colston, who finally looked healthy in a huge 153-yard performance last week, is back to being a must start and Darren Sproles remains by far their most valuable back.
Predictions: Rivers hooks up with Gates for a score in a 238-yard night. Mathews totals 128 yards to lead the team but loses a touchdown to Battle. Sproles totals 88 yards with a rushing TD, while Brees stays hot going for 364 yards and tossing touchdowns to Colston, Graham and Pierre Thomas. Saints 31-23.
Houston (-9) @ New York Jets, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The Texans have looked extremely dominant defensively through the first four games, and while that’s skewed a bit by a very weak schedule, this matchup doesn’t provide anything remotely resembling a tough test. The Jets faced a similar defense on their own field last week and got blanked in a beatdown. The Texans defense and offense resembles San Francisco’s in many ways except that they have an elite wide receiver in Andre Johnson and a better 1-2 punch at running back with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. With Tate nursing a sore toe and struggling a bit the past two weeks, look for Foster to demolish a Jets defense that’s allowing an average of over 170 rushing yards per game and has given up a league-worst seven scores on the ground. With the run game sure to be humming and the score far from close though, Matt Schaub and the pass game figures to get the week off… It’s Tebow Time? What else can really be said about the Jets offense at this point? The line cannot block anybody and with Santonio Holmes now down for the year with a Lisfranc injury any threat they had of a pass attack is out the window. Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller are both still dealing with hamstring issues and now the Jets will try to score on Houston with Chaz Schilens, Jeremy Kerley and off-the-street signee Jason Hill. Ouch. Shonn Greene won’t go anywhere either and the only place left for Mark Sanchez to go may be to the bench to see if Tim Tebow really can work miracles.
Predictions: Sanchez connects with the bench in the second half after just 68 first-half passing yards and two picks. Tebow leads the team with 46 rushing yards and adds 62 in the air. Schaub throws a score to Owen Daniels in a 188-yard yawner for the QB, while Foster rushes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Texans 33-6.