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Game Capsules: Week 8 Breakdowns

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for Rotowire.com since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) @ Minnesota, Thursday 8:20 p.m.

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After averaging just 256 yards and 19 points per game through four weeks, the Buccaneers' offense has gone bananas since their week five bye. In the past two games alone they've totaled nearly 1,000 yards and scored just 10 fewer points (66) than those first four contests. Facing the reeling Chiefs and the Swiss cheese defense of the Saints certainly aided matters, but it should be noted that Josh Freeman is finally adjusting comfortably to a new offensive system and doing an excellent job of utilizing his big, athletic wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson has been phenomenal as the team's go-to guy and his presence has allowed Williams to consistently see single coverage-something he's taken advantage of regularly. In the run game the line has also started opening holes for Doug Martin who has ripped off 253 total yards and a score in two games, while finally producing efficiently with 5.6 yards per carry in that stretch. The Vikings defense has been very stingy this season but just gave up a 100+ yards and a touchdown to a receiver (Andre Roberts) and a third-string running back (LaRod Stephens-Howling) versus a Cardinals offense that's 31st in yards per game... Outside of Percy Harvin who has been remarkably consistent with at least nine fantasy points in every game (in leagues that credit return TDs), the Vikings pass attack cannot be trusted for fantasy. Kyle Rudolph has been a great source of touchdowns in the young season (tied for first among TEs with five), but he's recorded just 225 yards and in the two games following his only double-digit outings he's registered just eight total yards. So although Tampa Bay has been very generous versus the pass with 323 yards allowed per game, starting Christian Ponder or Rudolph is a risky move. Adrian Peterson appears to be every bit the workhorse he was prior to his ACL injury though, and coming off his best game of the season it wouldn't be surprising if the Vikes rode him again despite Tampa's stingy run defense and the short week.

Predictions: Martin totals 108 yards but is held out of the end zone. Freeman tosses it for 281 yards and touchdowns to Jackson and Tiquan Underwood, while his counterpart, Ponder, hits Harvin for a score in a 244-yard outing. Peterson carries the load again with 118 rushing yards and a touchdown. Vikings 20-17.

Carolina (+9) @ Chicago, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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For as much as the Panthers have looked like a mess this season offensively, they're not as bad as their 1-5 record indicates. Four of their five losses have come by less than a touchdown and their once pathetic run defense has stepped up in a big way the past two games, allowing just 183 yards on 66 carries (2.8 YPC). They're taking steps towards winning football but the key will be to get Cam Newton on track as the second-year signal caller has been awful throwing the ball so far with just five scores in six games and an average of only 231 yards per outing. Getting a Chicago defense that's holding opposing QB's to a league worst 62.7 passer rating-on the road no less-doesn't figure to help Newton start building this Sunday. And Carolina's undynamic duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams consistently doing next to nothing out of the backfield certainly won't take the pressure off Newton's sculpted shoulders versus the Bears' 2nd ranked run defense… Although Chicago is just 22nd offensively in total yards, they're 8th in scoring at 27.0 points per game because of their highly opportunistic defense. They lead the league with 21 turnovers forced and a +13 differential has allowed their offense to manage games without having to make many explosive plays. That formula shouldn't change much against a Panthers offense that's among the worst in the league with 13 turnovers and a -6 differential. Still, with nothing more than a middling Carolina defense that doesn't pressure the quarterback well (just 14 sacks), expect usual suspects Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall to keep posting numbers while Jay Cutler and Michael Bush could even be solid options in deeper leagues. Forte, in particular, could be due for a huge game as he's ravaged Carolina for 416 total yards and three scores in the past two years.

Predictions: Cutler throws for 242 yards and touchdowns to Marshall and Earl Bennett, while Forte racks up 147 total yards and a score. Stewart carries it for 55 yards with Newton adding 44 on the ground and 174 through the air with a rushing score. Bears 27-10.

San Diego (-1.5) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Philip Rivers had a bye week to sort out how not to throw to the other team, so naturally he draws a Browns defense that leads the AFC with 10 interceptions. On the flip side, Cleveland is allowing an average of just over 275 yards per game and has relinquished the 2nd most touchdown passes with 15 in seven games. If Rivers can continue to re-establish his connection with Antonio Gates after the two hooked up quite well in the Monday nighter prior to the bye, he should post good totals despite a pick or two. If Joe Haden completely takes away Malcom Floyd however, all bets are off on Rivers, who has so few weapons that the team just signed the perpetually injured Danario Alexander. It's also possible that Rivers' numbers will be hurt if Norv Turner elects to lean on Ryan Mathews versus a defense that allowed Ahmad Bradshaw to gash them for 200 yards just a few short weeks ago… The keys for the Browns to get their second win of the year lie primarily with a defense that's allowing 411 yards and 25.7 points per game on average. If they can put Rivers on his back a few times and win the turnover battle, they'll give the surging Brandon Weeden a shot. With Trent Richardson (ribs) banged up and questionable after sitting out the second half of Week 7's loss to Indy, the offense will likely rely on the lively arm of Weeden. Montario Hardesty simply isn't talented enough to pick up the slack versus the Chargers' top-ranked run defense (just 71.2 rush yards allowed per game). So expect one of the league's leaders in pass attempts to get plenty of work in and continue his streak of three straight with at least 230 yards and two TD's. Josh "Flash" Gordon and his superior deep speed should continue to aid Weeden's cause.

Predictions: Rivers throws for 259 yards and touchdowns to Gates and Mathews, while the latter totals 152 yards with another score on the ground. Richardson toughs it out for most of the game but totals just 54 yards. Weeden hooks up with Gordon and Travis Benjamin for scores in a 294-yard effort. Browns 26-24.

Seattle (+1.5) @ Detroit, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Seattle is playing defense at as high a level as any team in the league. They're fifth in yardage allowed and third in points, giving up just 15.1 per contest. That should largely favor Seattle in a matchup against Matthew Stafford. Last year's fantasy darling has only five passing scores in six games, which is fewer than 27 other quarterbacks and is the same total as Matt Cassel and Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks defense meanwhile has given up just six passing scores in seven games. That smothering defense should set Russell Wilson up nicely to have to do little more than hand off to workhorse Marshawn Lynch and manage drives. Detroit's defense is competent in it's own right, so while Lynch remains a must-start (he topped 100 against SF and is truly elite), the wideouts for Seattle likewise remain must-sits… The over/under on Stafford for passing TD's in this one should be at 0.5. He's been that bad. Stafford has topped an 80 passer rating just once in six weeks, is averaging a paltry 6.6 yards per attempt and getting one out of every 53 throws in the end zone on average. Calvin Johnson owners may need to start a support group at that rate, as their top draft pick has just one touchdown on the year. Through the first six games of 2011 he had nine. Facing the physical, blanketing coverage Seattle will throw at him with one of their huge corners and athletic safeties doesn't figure to solve the woes of Megatron's owners this week. It should however open things up in the middle of the field for new slot weapon Ryan Broyles to thrive in place of the injured Nate Burleson (broken leg). In the running game, Detroit should take a cue from San Francisco and pound Mikel Leshoure up the gut to get the Seahawks D on its heels.

Predictions: Wilson tosses it for 182 yards and a score to Golden Tate, while Lynch hammers it for 110 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Leshoure totals 81 yards and Johnson nabs 74 receiving. Stafford connects with Broyles for a score in a 230-yard performance. Seahawks 17-13.

Jacksonville (+13) @ Green Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Losing Maurice Jones-Drew (sprained foot) and Blaine Gabbert (non-throwing shoulder) in the first half last week may have cost the Jaguars a road win, as they squandered a 20-6 lead while gaining just 57 yards between the second half and overtime. MJD's status is cloudy at best at this point, but it's for sure he'll miss at least a handful of games. Rashad Jennings should continue to take advantage and build off the 102 total yards and a score he registered in Pocket Hercules' absence last week. The Packers defense has been solid against the run however and their offense figures to force a lot of throwing out of Gabbert (practiced in full on Wednesday). With such a limited group of receivers, that makes Jennings particularly valuable in PPR leagues, as his seven grabs led the team versus Oakland… Aaron Rodgers is back to lights-out mode, so this has the makings of an early blowout. As if it even mattered, the Jags are 24th in passing yards allowed and are dead last with just five sacks in six games. Rodgers has tossed nine scores to zero picks in two weeks and should have little trouble finding Randall Cobb and James Jones to carve them up. With Greg Jennings having abdominal surgery to repair a tear and Jordy Nelson likely to be limited by a hamstring issue, expect Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley to get more involved. And once the game becomes a thumping, Alex Green should have little trouble adding solid garbage stats against the 29th ranked run defense. Against by far the league's worst offense the Packers defense gets a reprieve for their first matchup without their leader Charles Woodson as he begins at least a month off with a broken collarbone.

Predictions: Jennings totals 90 yards, Gabbert throws for 218 yards, but Josh Scobee scores all of Jacksonville's points. Green totals 106 yards and nets his first career score, while Rodgers throws for 312 yards and three touchdowns going to Cobb, Jones and Driver. Packers 34-9.

Indianapolis (+3.5) @ Tennessee, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Andrew Luck has not thrown a touchdown pass since he hit Reggie Wayne for the game-winner in a thrilling comeback over Green Bay in Week 5. He did rush two in last week to save an otherwise miserable fantasy day however. For once the Colts leaned on their ground game as they gave a running back 20 carries for just the first time all season. With Donald Brown (knee) out, rookie Vick Ballard was the beneficiary as he piled up 103 total yards. It was also a change for Indy that they didn't have to play from behind, which figured into Luck's throwing a season low 29 passes. As a result of the limited throws and the tight coverage of Joe Haden, top target Reggie Wayne turned in his quietest performance of the year. A soft Titans defense could be a nice remedy for all Indy's top guns however as Tennessee's 27th ranked pass defense is tied for a league-worst 16 touchdown tosses allowed. Luck should have little trouble getting back in the end zone and his arm should only open things up more for better running lanes against an almost equally bad rush defense. With Brown back to full practice though, it's unclear which back will be going through those holes… No defense in the last 10 years has allowed 5.5 yards per carry for a season against the run. The epically bad Bills defense currently averages 6.0 allowed per attempt. So while Chris Johnson looked spectacular last week and is a significant contributor to that awful mark, it's premature to say he's all the way back to CJ2K form. If he fails to shred a Colts defense that was manhandled by Shonn Greene just two weeks ago, it will be a telling sign. Matt Hasselbeck will stay under center in place of Jake Locker (shoulder) for at least one more week, and he too has a nice matchup with a Colts defense that's averaging two scores allowed per game through the air and has picked off just two passes all year.

Predictions: Hasselbeck throws for 240 yards and touchdowns to Kenny Britt and Damian Williams. Johnson totals 118 yards with a rushing score. Ballard registers 82 total yards as Brown keeps resting, while Luck goes for 336 yards and scores to Wayne and Donnie Avery in the close loss. Titans 24-20.

New England (-7) @ St. Louis (in London), Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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In the past two weeks the Patriots lost to the Seahawks and barely beat the Jets at home in OT. Things are not right in New England and it starts with a defense that's actually been worse against the pass in recent weeks than last year's historically bad unit. Over the past five weeks they're allowing more yards (338) and scores (2.8) through the air per game than last season and are on pace to register fewer sacks and interceptions. If it weren't for a stout run defense and a league-leading 11 fumble recoveries New England would be bleeding points to everyone. Offensively, Tom Brady has struggled to meet expectations with two elite targets in Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd. That has made Wes Welker owners happy, and should Lloyd draw the shadow coverage of Cortland Finnegan this week that won't be changing in London. In the backfield Bill Belichick's constant shuffling of backs is limiting Stevan Ridley's huge upside and perhaps even his own offense as it takes Ridley out of rhythm… With Steven Jackson struggling in the first half of the season, the Rams really don't have any special offensive weapons to brag about. Facing the Patriots miserable pass defense though may make a number of their skill players fake it for one week. After seeing Russell Wilson and Mark Sanchez combine for 621 yards and four scores through the air the past two weeks versus New England, this game could set up to be Sam Bradford's best of the season. That means Brandon Gibson and rookie Chris Givens, who have both stepped up nicely in the absence of Danny Amendola, are both candidates to hit 100 yards. And though the Pats' boast the 8th ranked run defense, Jackson and Darryl Richardson are worth using in fantasy as each is a solid contributor in the passing game and both players have averaged over 4.0 yards per carry for the past three weeks.

Predictions: Ridley and Shane Vereen combine for 102 yards on the ground with Ridley leading the way with 58. Brady connects with Welker, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez for scores in a 265-yard day. Bradford throws for 286 yards and touchdowns to Gibson and Richardson, while the young tailback totals 72 yards. Jackson adds 75 yards in the loss. Patriots 27-17.

Miami (+1.5) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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The Dolphins are coming to Jersey and apparently their bringing some of their nasty Florida weather with them. Forecasters are calling a massive storm expected to begin Sunday "Frankenstorm" as Hurricane Sandy is poised to come up the coast and collide with a winter storm from the West. High winds and rain are expected to start Sunday and if it arrives early enough, the results could be a highly sloppy football game. With a strong run game behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas-who combined for 130 on the ground when these teams met in Week 3-the Dolphins could thrive if the weather conditions force Miami to go run-heavy against a Jets defense that's ranked 30th in rush yards allowed. Ryan Tannehill, who struggled to complete just 44.4% of his passes against the tight New York coverage the last time, has been much more efficient since with 839 yards at a 66.7% completion rate in three games. The weather could affect him most, but without Darrelle Revis to shutdown Brian Hartline, he may still get some yards… The Jets have stepped up in a big way since getting demolished in Week 4 by San Francisco and losing Santonio Holmes in the process. Though they've gone just 1-2, they battled Houston and New England, arguably the top teams in the AFC, right down to the wire, including a near upset in Foxboro. And in the win they beat down an Indy team coming off its best game. The rushing attack has gotten going behind the aggressive, tackle-breaking of Shonn Greene, who has four scores the last two weeks, and Mark Sanchez has made the slippery Jeremy Kerley into a legit No. 3 fantasy wideout. Dustin Keller, finally healthy after missing four games with a bad hamstring, also figures to be a prominent part of the pass attack, though the storm could easily make this Greene and Tim Tebow versus the Dolphins elite run D.

Predictions: Tannehill throws for just 162 yards in a rain-soaked affair that leads to Bush rushing for 110 yards and a score and Thomas adding 48 with a TD. Sanchez passes for 190 and a touchdown to Keller, while Greene plows his way for 86 yards on the ground. Jets 16-14.

Atlanta (+1.5) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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The Falcons are coming off their bye at 6-0 but have struggled versus inferior competition in each of the past three games, needing fourth-quarter comebacks to squeak out wins by 2, 7 and 3 points. Going into Philadelphia to face an Eagles team that is 13-0 under Andy Reid when coming off their bye week does not bode well for Atlanta's undefeated record. Philadelphia's stingy pass defense could be a tough draw for Matt Ryan owners, and whichever receiver Nnamdi Asomugha takes on, whether it's Roddy White or Julio Jones, could likewise struggle. The best option for Ryan and fantasy owners may be Tony Gonzalez, who at 36 still cannot be covered by a linebacker or safety… The Eagles lost two straight games prior to their bye because they couldn't keep the Steelers and Lions out of field goal range on the final drive. The Lions felled them in OT to make the Eagles 3-2 in games decided by three points or less. Getting an Atlanta team that's been on the winning side of four games decided by a touchdown or less should make for a tight finish and a game in which turnovers could easily prove the difference. Considering Philly has given away 17 turnovers and the Falcons have forced the same number, the Eagles could be in for a bumpy finish. Expect them to lean heavily on LeSean McCoy against an Atlanta defense that's allowing 5.2 yards per carry, the league's second-worst mark. Michael Vick shouldn't have to make many spectacular throws and if he just focuses on taking what the defense gives him and moving the chains, Philadelphia has a strong shot to come out on top.

Predictions: Vick passes for 232 yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Maclin, while McCoy racks up 135 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. Michael Turner rumbles for 64 yards but can't find the end zone. Ryan tosses scores to Gonzalez and Jones in a 277-yard losing performance. Eagles 24-20.

Washington (+4.5) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are still great pass rushers-despite their early numbers-but neither backer has the speed to contain Robert Griffin III when he escapes the pocket. So while the Steelers allow the second-fewest pass yards per game at just 185, RGIII's fantasy numbers should remain safe in the Steel City. Although he'll continue to be without Pierre Garcon, who's status for the rest of the season is cloudy with a plantar plate tear in his right foot, Griffin should continue building a nice rapport with Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson. And against a Pitt defense with a mere 10-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio, getting just his third game with two passing scores is far from out of the question. To win though, the Redskins will need to continue seeing big production out of Alfred Morris. The rookie back enters the week just one yard behind Arian Foster for the league lead in rushing and has done his damage while averaging nearly a full yard more per carry (4.8 to 3.9) than the superstar back… The recipe for success this week for Pittsburgh is simple. Force Griffin to beat you with his arm instead of his legs and let Ben Roethlisberger carve up the league's worst pass defense with his speedy outside targets Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Unfortunately the execution for that first ingredient for victory isn't so simple, so a dogfight could be in the making. With Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (knee) still nursing injuries, don't be surprised if Mike Tomlin opts for the hot hand in Jonathan Dwyer against a stiff Skins run defense. If Dwyer can create explosive runs for another week, Washington may not have a chance.

Predictions: Morris totes it for 92 yards and a touchdown, while RGIII adds 70 more rushing. Griffin also hits Hankerson for a score in a 225-yard passing day. Roethlisberger throws for 338 yards and touchdowns to Wallace, Brown and Heath Miller. Dwyer chips in 66 yards on the ground. Steelers 27-20.

Oakland (+1) @ Kansas City, Sunday 4:05 p.m.

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Three of Oakland's last four games have been decided by just a field goal, so although they've struggled mightily at times on both sides of the ball, they remain a competitive team. They are 0-3 on the road though with two blowout losses, so getting a win in Arrowhead will be a major challenge despite the lowly Chiefs' poor play. It would aid their cause tremendously if they could learn how to execute a zone-blocking scheme and open up holes for Darren McFadden. The once-explosive homerun hitter has averaged less than 3.0 yards per carry in three straight games. Fortunately for him, Kansas City allows 4.7 yards a rush, so something's gotta give. In the passing game expect Carson Palmer to pick on a defense allowing a league worst 8.9 yards per throw by looking for big strikes to speedsters Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey… The Brady Quinn era officially begins Sunday. Though he started at the Bucs prior to the team's bye week, Quinn was expected to be a one-week fill-in for the concussed Matt Cassel. Instead coach Romeo Crennel has decided to shake things up in the hopes that a new signal caller will turn it over less than Cassel's league-leading 14 giveaways. So it's Quinn's job for the foreseeable future and with the team sitting in last place at 1-5, the former first-round pick can't really do much worse. Getting Peyton Hillis back from an ankle injury should help take the pressure off Quinn and keep Jamaal Charles fresh to continue gashing defenses late into the fourth quarter. Dwayne Bowe may suffer the most from Quinn's presence, at least initially, but since he'll still be targeted heavily the numbers will come.

Predictions: Charles totals 112 yards and a touchdown while Hillis adds 51 in a complementary role. Quinn throws for 207 yards and a score to Dexter McCluster. Palmer passes for 248 yards and scoring strikes to McFadden and Heyward-Bey, while Run DMC adds 104 total yards to his line. Chiefs 17-14.

New York Giants (-1) @ Dallas, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

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In a rematch of the season's first game, the Giants will look to get revenge for their only home loss to date. Judging from his phenomenal history in Cowboys Stadium, Eli Manning always seems to get up for this road rivalry game. He's 3-0 in the Arlington, TX stadium and has hung 1,036 yards and eight scores in three tight victories. However, in Week 1 he struggled to come up with even 200 yards and connected on only one scoring strike. The Cowboys defense has since regressed a bit while the Giants offense has surged. Victor Cruz is as consistent as they come at receiver and Hakeem Nicks appears to be very close to 100% after beginning the year with foot and knee problems, so Manning will come in loaded with weapons on the outside. If Ahmad Bradshaw can continue to rip through tacklers in his aggressive North-South style, and the revitalized Giants D-line can pressure Tony Romo, revenge will be served in Texas… Aside from their performance versus a Ravens defense that lost Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb and Haloti Ngata during the course of the game and their Week 1 win against a Giants team that appeared to be sleepwalking, the Cowboys offense has been downright horrible. In their four other games, Tony Romo led just four combined touchdown drives and threw three touchdowns to seven interceptions. With DeMarco Murray (foot) out again and Felix Jones (bruised knee) at least limited, the Cowboys may have to lean on Phillip Tanner in the run game. That means Romo will need to keep the chains moving and score points with his arm. Now that the Giants corners are healthy, that could be a problem, as Dez Bryant (groin) is clearly less than 100% and New York will see Kevin Ogletree coming this time. Expect heavy doses of Miles Austin and Jason Witten.

Predictions: Romo escapes constant pressure to find Austin and Witten for scores in a 255-yard performance, but gets little help from a ground game led by Jones' 46 yards. Bradshaw totals 84 yards and scores, while Manning does his thing with 315 passing yards and touchdowns to Cruz and Nicks. Giants 24-17.

New Orleans (+6) @ Denver, Sunday 8:20 p.m.

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Can you say "shootout"? Playing in the thin Mile High air with two of the league's hottest quarterbacks pitted against one another, there's almost no other possible result. The Broncos defense has been statistically tough against the pass as a whole, but they've still had their moments when they were picked apart. Matt Schaub torched them for four scores on their turf after all. Coming off the best first half of his career and three straight games with at least 370 yards and three scores, its difficult to imagine Drew Brees' videogame numbers slowing down. The Saints really don't run the ball and their dreadful defense forces them to have to match points to stay in games, so Brees will likely continue slinging it close to 45+ times per game. His current hot streak has come without the services of Jimmy Graham (ankle), so if the All-World tight end can give it a go after resting basically the entire month-he's a game-time decision-it could get even uglier for Denver's secondary… Peyton Manning is working on a little smoldering stretch of his own with four straight games over 300 yards and 11 total TD's in those contests. The Saints' 30th ranked pass defense doesn't figure to stand a chance at covering up Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker, and when Willis McGahee gouges their 31st ranked run defense, expect Manning to set up the play-action perfectly. With so much offense and so little New Orleans defense, the best Brees and Co. can hope for is to keep pace and not let Manning have the ball last.

Predictions: Pierre Thomas carries it for 41 yards, letting Brees' arm do the work as usual. The fantasy goldmine throws for 328 yards and touchdowns to Marques Colston (2), Lance Moore and Graham. Manning hooks up with Thomas (2), Decker and Joel Dreessen for scores in a 318-yard effort, while McGahee provides 84 yards and a score rushing. Broncos 38-34.

San Francisco (-7) @ Arizona, Monday 8:30 p.m.

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The 49ers defense is about to have itself a sack party. The Cardinals' sorry excuse for an offensive line has allowed their quarterback to get sacked a ridiculous 29 times in four weeks. And considering the Cardinals have homefield and a pretty tough defense of their own, there's a very real possibility that the highest scoring fantasy producer in this game will be that San Fran D. Frank Gore could be a close second if he's able to tough his way through some bruised ribs, as he's found the fountain of youth this year. The bruiser may lack for long speed but hasn't lost his acceleration or toughness and behind a nasty, powerful offensive line Gore has averaged a whopping 5.8 yards per carry. After running it down the Seahawks throat, logic dictates that he'll have little trouble with Arizona's 20th ranked run defense. Alex Smith meanwhile figures to do little damage through the air against the fourth best pass defense… San Fran's defense has relented versus the run recently, allowing back-to-back 100-yard rushers for the first time in years. Ahmad Bradshaw and Marshawn Lynch are two of the best tackle-breaking backs in the league however, so dealing with the miniature hummingbird of a runner in LaRod Stephens-Howling will be an entirely different test. LSH is coming off a career day in which he became the first rusher all season to go for over 100 yards versus the Vikings-a feat even Gore failed to achieve. So expect him to get his chances, but don't expect similar results. The Niners pursue ball carriers better than any team in the league. If John Skelton can manage to stay upright long enough, Larry Fitzgerald could bounce back from a disappointing 29-yard performance, as he did torch SF for 149 yards and a score at home last year.

Predictions: Stephens-Howling totals 67 yards. Skelton slings it for 236 yards and two touchdowns to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd despite taking six sacks. Smith passes for 199 yards and a score to Michael Crabtree, while Gore and Kendall Hunter combine for 158 yards and two scores on the ground. 49ers 21-14.