Denver (-10.5) @ Oakland, Thursday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: After Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan combined for just three touchdowns while throwing seven picks last week it’s become increasingly clear that Peyton Manning has been the league’s most consistent quarterback in both real and fantasy football. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards or multiple TD’s in 10 straight and has to be the front-runner for the MVP at this rate. He shredded the Raiders defense in a 37-6 blowout in Week 4 and should have little trouble doing so again, as Oakland is bleeding yards and points right now (minus 93 point differential over 5-game losing skid). Demaryius Thomas has been a beast all year but now that he’s on a touchdown tear (four in three games), he could challenge Calvin Johnson for the top receiver honor down the stretch. While Thomas figures to terrorize the Oakland secondary, Eric Decker will look to get back on track with this tasty matchup. After ripping off seven scores in five games midseason, Decker has totaled a measly 109 yards and one TD over four games. On the ground, Knowshon Moreno is coming off back-to-back games with 24 touches and will face a demoralized run defense that has been hammered relentlessly for five straight weeks. He’s a must-start for what should be the best game he’s had in years… Darren McFadden is expected to return from his high ankle sprain, but will likely see a more limited role as Marcel Reece has excelled for five weeks in Run DMC’s absence. Unfortunately, with a bad matchup versus a top-5 Denver defense, and with each other stealing touches, neither looks like an advisable fantasy option this week. Carson Palmer also could be in line for a bench-worthy performance, as his worst game of the season came against this Denver defense before they were even playing their best. That was the only contest in which Palmer did not throw a touchdown. With one of the league’s top pass rushes and a strong secondary led by Champ Bailey coming to town, it’s possible history will repeat itself. It is worth noting that Darrius Heyward-Bey missed that first matchup with a concussion, but given his inconsistent play, his presence isn’t likely to pull up Palmer’s numbers too much. Coming off his best game as a pro (130 yards and a TD), Brandon Myers looks like the best fantasy option for Oakland, especially given that Denver has allowed a whopping nine touchdowns to tight ends this year.
Predictions: Moreno totals 98 yards and scores on the ground, while Manning hooks up with Thomas and Jacob Tamme for TD’s in a 296-yard performance. Denver’s D adds their final score on a fumble return, as they get after Palmer for five sacks. Despite the consistent pressure, Palmer throws for 251 yards and touchdowns to Myers and Heyward-Bey. McFadden and Reece combine for 94 total yards in the loss. Broncos 34-17.
St. Louis (+3) @ Buffalo, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: If only the Rams could play the 49ers every week they'd be undefeated. They may have several ties but they'd be undefeated. St. Louis will travel to face one of the league's worst defenses one week after coming up victorious against arguably the best. Granted, they managed to beat that San Fran defense without their offense scoring a touchdown. If Danny Amendola (foot) cannot go again this week the Rams may continue struggling offensively. That said, Steven Jackson could be in line for his best game of the season versus the Bills' 30th ranked run defense. He totaled 244 yards in two meetings with the Niners and has erased any thoughts of a timeshare with rookie Darryl Richardson. If Jackson can get Buffalo to crowd the box, Sam Bradford should beat a defense that's allowed 21 passing scores with play-action. Chris Givens, the team's versatile rookie wideout, figures to continue benefiting from Amendola's absence. In two weeks without the slot dynamo, Givens has racked up 207 yards and a score on 16 catches, making him a strong PPR option if Amendola remains out… The Bills outslugged Jacksonville last week in the rain and surprisingly rode Fred Jackson to do so. The veteran has been banged up this year but turned in his first 100-yard game on a whopping 25 carries. C.J. Spiller meanwhile saw just 14 despite continuing to be much more effective per touch. Though the two diminish each other's value, they both appear to once again be viable starts. Facing a Rams defense that's allowed the 4th most rushing scores in the league (15), they will both be licking their chops to get the ball. On the flip side, Ryan Fitzpatrick likely won't be pleased to face a unit that has sacked the QB 34 times and picked off one fewer pass than they've allowed score.
Predictions: Bradford throws for 176 yards and a touchdown to Austin Pettis, while Steven Jackson rumbles for 125 total yards and scores on the ground. Spiller nets 106 total yards with Fred Jackson going for 75 and a short TD plunge. Fitzpatrick connects with Steve Johnson and Spiller for touchdowns in a 183-yard day. Bills 24-20.
Dallas (+3) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: With a brutally tough four-game stretch left to go, and in the thick of an ultra-tight divisional race, the Cowboys cannot afford to let this week slip away from them. A hot Bengals team presents a very tough opponent, but not an unbeatable one. The key for Dallas will be moving the ball against a defense that's allowed about 10 points per week during a 4-game win streak. The Bengals are ranked 11th versus both the run and the pass, so they are clearly make their opponents earn every yard. Tony Romo's offensive line will be challenged greatly by the top sack team in the league (39 so far). If he can avoid the pressure enough, bet on him looking the way of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten often. The pair has combined for nearly 50 catches and almost 700 yards receiving in three weeks and Bryant, in particular, has been going bananas of late. DeMarco Murray is reportedly fine after handling 27 touches last week in his first game back from a foot injury, but could be in for a more limited day versus a stiffer run D and in a game that may force Dallas to throw it a bunch… Andy Dalton has been a surprise fantasy stud this season, and with his 27 total scores entering the week, he seems a fair bet to get at least two despite the relatively tough matchup with the 10th ranked Cowboys pass D. Though it's possible the season-ending loss of Mohamed Sanu (foot) will hurt his stock the rest of the way, The Red Rifle still has some guy named A.J. Green and a skilled tight end in Jermaine Gresham to keep him productive. Green has slowed down the past two weeks after a remarkable 9-game touchdown streak was snapped, but it's only a matter of time before he gets back into the end zone. A crucial matchup to watch will be how the Cowboys defense that's allowed at least 100 total yards to a tailback in four consecutive games handles BenJarvus Green-Ellis who's riding a 3-game 100-yard rushing streak into Sunday. If The Law Firm sees 25 carries for the third time in four games, he'll likely win that battle.
Predictions: Dalton connects with Green and Andrew Hawkins for touchdowns in a 260-yard performance. Green-Ellis totes it for 96 yards and a goal-line score. Romo throws for 258 and finds Bryant and Miles Austin for TD's. Murray chips in 84 total yards to the loss. Bengals 24-17.
Kansas City (+5.5) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Brady Quinn returns to the city where he began his pro career with the last team he faced while playing in Cleveland. That contest, like this one figures to be, was a battle of the backs. That time Jamaal Charles lost out to one of the greatest single-game rushing performances of all-time by then Browns scatback Jerome Harrison (286 yards, three TD's). While it's unimaginable that either back should have that in store this time around, Charles is on a small tear with over 400 yards in his last four contests. He's piled up 90 carries in that stretch, and figures to see another hefty workload versus an average Cleveland defense. While Quinn was efficient last week, the Chiefs seem content to limit his throws, so expecting much from KC receivers-particularly Dwayne Bowe who figures to draw Joe Haden's coverage-might be a mistake. Of course, the real questions surrounding Kansas City will be how they respond following an emotional win and a week to process the sad loss of teammate Jovan Belcher… With their victory in Oakland the Browns won consecutive games for the first time in over a year. And with a visit from the woeful Chiefs on tap they have a golden opportunity to take three straight for the first time since winning the final four games of the 2009 season. Versus a Raiders defense that is arguably the worst unit in football, Brandon Weeden took advantage to the tune of a career-high 364 yards. A Chiefs defense allowing an average of just 220 per game through the air will likely bring his yards back down to earth, but Kansas City has given up the most TD's in the league versus the throw (25), so Weeden may toss more scores than picks for just the fifth time all year. Top targets Josh Gordon, Greg Little and Ben Watson look like decent deep league options because of the increased scoring chance, but the only weekly option in Cleveland remains Trent Richardson. The stud rookie has notched at least 20 carries in five straight games while averaging four catches a week in that stretch. A big outing against one of the worst run defenses in football seems like a safe bet.
Predictions: Weeden throws for 204 yards and a score to Watson, while Richardson tallies 142 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Charles counters with 124 total yards of his own and takes in a screen pass for six. Quinn also finds Tony Moeaki for a score in a 218-yard performance. Chiefs 20-17.
Tennessee (+5.5) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Since falling one measly yard shy of 100 in a Week 8 loss to Indy, Chris Johnson has struggled with ball protection, having fumbled four times in four games (three lost). He's also dipped back under 4.0 yards per carry in the past two contests, albeit barely, and hasn't topped 80 yards on the ground since Week 10. The Colts have allowed 100 yards or a score rushing in three straight though, so Johnson should be poised for a bounce back performance. Jake Locker was not healthy enough to play in the first matchup, but he is likely pleased to see that the Colts have picked off just six passes all year (31st in the league). With five INT's in his last two games, Locker needs to start taking care of the ball to give Tennessee a chance at victory… Maybe Andrew Luck just likes the pressure. He certainly shines brightest when faced with it in crucial late-game situations. The rookie signal caller now has five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (including one versus Tennessee), but none were as thrilling or impressive as the two touchdown drives he led in the final four minutes to beat Detroit with a pass on the last play. While his touchdown-to-interception ratio leaves plenty of room for improvement, Luck certainly isn't hurting for fantasy production given the nearly 3,600 yards he's thrown for with still four games to play. Though Luck only notched one score in the first meeting with Tennessee, rookie targets T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen have made large strides since then, which could help Luck fare better against a pass defense that's allowed 24 scores in 12 games. On the ground Vick Ballard looks to have the backfield to himself again with Donald Brown (ankle) already ruled out. He may not display the same acrobatics he flashed on his first career TD the last time they played, but facing the Titans 27th ranked run D figures to equal another nice day for Ballard.
Predictions: Johnson totals 129 yards and runs in a score. Locker finds Nate Washington for a TD in a 255-yard effort. Ballard gains 105 yards of offense but cannot find the end zone this time, while Luck connects with Hilton and Reggie Wayne for touchdowns in a 310-yard passing day. Colts 23-17.
Chicago (-3) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Bears will certainly miss Brian Urlacher (hamstring) in the center of their defense when they are trying to take down Adrian Peterson coming at them like a train. Fortunately for them, Peterson is about all they will need to worry about from the Vikings offense, as Minnesota just placed Percy Harvin (ankle) on IR. Without their best playmaking receiver, Christian Ponder has very few options to rely on for crucial first downs. That's just as well for Chicago as their offense is having it's own woes. The Bears are 30th in total yards and that's due largely to a complete lack of weapons outside of Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Chicago has also struggled all year to block for Jay Cutler, which has led to very few explosive plays. They've dropped three of their last four while scoring just 30 combined points in those losses. Fortunately, the one win was over Minnesota in convincing fashion just two weeks ago. The Bears were able to take advantage of several turnovers and great field position to get their points though, as they had less than 300 yards of offense. With a super thin receiving corps, heavy doses of Marshall and Forte figure to be their only offense yet again versus a scrappy Vikings defense… The story in Minnesota is a simple one. Peterson is having a rushing season for the ages. And that's even without considering that it began a little less than nine months removed from ACL surgery. If the Vikings D could have kept Green Bay's O off the field more last week, AP may have broken his own single-game rushing record. With over 1,000 scrimmage yards in his last six contests, Peterson is easily the most reliable weapon in fantasy right now and a threat to carry the Vikes to a big upset this week. Without Harvin lined up all over, Ponder is likely to keep leaning on Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright in the pass game. The big tight end is a weekly starting option given his propensity to find the end zone, which he did for Minnesota's lone TD versus the Bears two weeks ago.
Predictions: Ponder throws for 190 yards and scores to Rudolph and Jerome Simpson. Peterson totals 152 yards and punches in a short touchdown. Forte provides 91 total yards and gets in with a receiving score. Cutler also finds Kellen Davis for six points while passing for 214 yards, 120 of which goes to Marshall. Vikings 21-17.
Philadelphia (+7.5) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Philadelphia found a gem when they drafted Bryce Brown in the seventh round at pick 229 overall. All the sensational rookie has done since taking the starting job due to a LeSean McCoy concussion is pile up a whopping 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two starts. That he's done this damage at an incredible 8.1 yards a clip is a testament to his big-play ability. His eight carries of at least 15 yards in two starts is another telling statistic, but what the box scores don't display is Brown's remarkable blend of speed, power and balance. He has the quickness and acceleration of a much smaller man (he's 6-0, 223 lbs.) while also boasting the tackle-breaking and finishing strength that comes with his size. With McCoy having yet to be cleared of his concussion symptoms, Brown remains a must-start despite the Bucs' top-ranked run defense. If Brown can cure his fumblitis, he'll be a major star in this league. In the air, rookie Nick Foles has been named the starter for the remainder of the season, and coming off his best performance he'll have a good opportunity to build on that versus Tampa's last-place pass defense. That could translate to Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek finally being fantasy relevant again… The Bucs are in must-win mode from here on out if they want to get their 6-6 team into a Wild Card slot amidst a tight NFC race. Fortunately the Eagles bring with them an 8-game losing streak and a terrible defense to the Sunshine State. Josh Freeman should have little trouble taking advantage of a secondary that recently let Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Tony Romo throw for nine touchdowns while incompleting just 17 passes. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams should be active in all leagues given the matchup. On the ground Doug Martin will look to snap out of a rushing funk (only 106 yards in two previous games) against a run defense that struggled to slow DeMarco Murray last week in his first game back from a foot injury.
Predictions: Martin totals 126 yards and punches in two short TD's. Freeman hooks up with Williams and Tiquan Underwood for scores in a 315-yard performance. Foles tosses a touchdown to Maclin in a 264-yard effort, while Brown contributes 130 total yards and a rushing score. Buccaneers 31-20.
Baltimore (+2) @ Washington, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Two weeks ago the Ravens won a game they should have lost in San Diego and last week they lost a game they should have won at home to a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger. Now they have to face a very hot Redskins team on the road and deal with Robert Griffin III, potentially without Terrell Suggs (torn biceps). Offensively the Ravens have been inconsistent all year, but need to bring it if they want to keep pace with RGIII's arm and legs. Against a Washington defense that has been quite stout versus the run (4th in the league) while giving up a boatload of yards (299 per week) and scores (24 on the season) through the air, don't be surprised if Baltimore abandons the run to let Joe Flacco get a healthy arm workout. That could make Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin strong starts, but it may hurt the productivity of Ray Rice… Griffin will need to use his legs plenty against a Ravens defense that has allowed a league-low 10 touchdown passes so far this year. So while it's safe to say Griffin will get his yards (Baltimore gives up nearly 250 a game and let Charlie Batch throw for 276), the scores may be hard to come by this week. Pierre Garcon, despite dealing with continual pain in his injured foot, has been tremendous the past two weeks with nearly 200 yards receiving and two scores. His chemistry with RGIII is undeniable and as the rookie passer's go-to guy he should be rolled out in all leagues. Running the ball Alfred Morris seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on as opposed to hitting a rookie wall. The late-season bye week may have rejuvenated him and versus a Baltimore team that's conceding 125 yards per game on the ground, Morris will look to keep the chains moving.
Predictions: Rice goes for 101 total yards with a rushing score despite limited touches. Flacco passes for 276 yards and hooks up with Boldin and Dennis Pitta for touchdowns. Morris rushes for 106 yards while Griffin adds 64 and a TD with his legs. In the air RGIII finds Aldrick Robinson and Darrel Young for touchdowns in a 224-yard effort. Redskins 27-24 in OT.
Atlanta (-3.5) @ Carolina, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Atlanta barely snuck away with a 30-28 victory when they faced Carolina at home in Week 4 and have since gone 5-1 in games decided by one score or less. The Panthers have gone the opposite direction since, losing five of seven decided by a single score. Atlanta may be one of the worst rushing offenses in the league, but they may want to get Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers plenty of carries this week after seeing Carolina get utterly gashed the past three weeks by three different runners who totaled 443 yards while all topping at least 125 rushing. Turner hasn't necessarily had the yards the past three weeks, but he's scored in each of those contests and turned back the clock the last time these teams met for his best game of the season (171 total yards and a TD). This may be the best game Turner has left in his aging wheels. Matt Ryan torched Carolina the first time out, but has struggled in recent weeks with only two scores and six picks in his past three contests. However, if Brady Quinn can complete over 80% of his passes and toss two touchdowns versus the Panthers defense, then Ryan should fair better than fine this week… Cam Newton has seven total touchdowns, 130 rushing yards and no turnovers the past two weeks. It is important to note, however, that he did that versus the Eagles and Chiefs hapless defenses. A Falcons unit that picked off Drew Brees a ridiculous five times and held him scoreless for the first time in over three years will present a much tougher challenge, particularly with two of his top three targets-Brandon LaFell (turf toe) and Greg Olsen (back)-banged up. Though Newton had one of his best games the last time he met Atlanta, expectations should be tempered with the Falcons defense stepping up lately. DeAngelo Williams on the other hand may be in line for one of his best games with Jonathan Stewart (ankle) likely out again and Atlanta's run defense still yielding an average of 4.8 yards per carry.
Predictions: Williams totals 65 yards and finds the end zone on the ground. Newton adds 60 rushing yards and 211 with his arm as he finds Steve Smith for a score. Ryan connects with Julio Jones and Roddy White for touchdowns in a 280-yard day, while Turner punches in the deciding score to cap a 89-yard effort. Falcons 24-17.
New York Jets (-2.5) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Greg McElroy or Mark Sanchez? Neither was impressive in a painfully ugly, basically unwatchable 7-6 win last week over Arizona, but the nearly 100 point disparity in their passer ratings (118.5 for McElroy to 21.4 for Sanchez) would suggest the game-managing McElroy get a shot to start. Nevertheless, the stubborn Rex Ryan has decided to stick with his guy in Sanchez despite the three picks he threw in the first half last week. Amazingly, the 5-7 Jets are not out of the playoff hunt and four games versus teams with losing records actually provides a glimmer of hope for an improbable run. To get there they'll first have to ride Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell to a win versus Jacksonville's 31st ranked run defense. Now that Dustin Keller is dealing with a sprained ankle that has him doubtful to play, the already woefully thin Jets receiving options are looking more and more like a practice squad. Don't expect much more than turnovers from Sanchez despite the generous Jags pass defense… Chad Henne has been impressive since taking over for an injured Blaine Gabbert in Week 11 and has even looked like a starting quarterback in fantasy. Only Robert Griffin III has more than Henne's eight total touchdowns over the past three weeks. This week, however, may be a bump in the road for Henne and the entire Jaguars offense. The Jets, for all their deficiencies, still boast the 4th ranked pass defense, and with top target Cecil Shorts out with a concussion, Henne could struggle to connect with his receivers. Shorts absence leaves Justin Blackmon likely to be blanketed by Antonio Cromartie and behind those two the Jags only really have Marcedes Lewis as a reliable pass catcher. Lewis could be the only Jacksonville skill player worth starting with Shorts out, especially when considering a ground attack led by Montell Owens (he of 21 career carries) doesn't figure to threaten the Jets. Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) and Rashad Jennings (concussion) being out will likely leave Henne throwing it a ton.
Predictions: Sanchez throws for 152 yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Kerley. Greene handles the bigger workload over Powell and rushes for 85 yards to the latter's 46. Owens totals 66 yards while Henne throws for 215 and finds Jordan Shipley for a touchdown in the loss. Jets 13-10.
San Diego (+9.5) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The AFC North has been extremely unfriendly to the San Diego offense so far this year. In three games-all losses-the Chargers O has scored one measly touchdown versus this division. The lack of points has not been due to a glut of turnovers though but a sheer inability to move the ball. In those three contests they did not once top 300 total yards, 20 first downs or 5.0 yards per play. So a near cross-country trip to the league's top-ranked defense isn't likely to solve their problems against the AFC North. Philip Rivers has only thrown for 300 yards twice this season. Considering the way Pittsburgh held Andy Dalton and Eli Manning-two of the best quarterbacks they've faced-to a combined 230 yards with one score and two picks in road games, it would actually be surprising for Rivers to hit the 200 yard mark in this one. That means Danario Alexander's streak of four straight games with at least 70 yards may well come to a crashing halt. It also likely means that the run game won't be open for business. The lack of a pass threat will let Steelers linebackers tee off on Ryan Mathews, who, with no 100-yard games this season, isn't really a reliable source of production anyway… The story for the Steelers offense and playoff hopes got much brighter with the news that Ben Roethlisberger (ribs/shoulder) will be able to start on Sunday. He immediately makes Mike Wallace (knee) and Antonio Brown (ankle) much more fantasy relevant than they would otherwise be with Charlie Batch under center. Both Wallace and Brown practiced fully on Thursday and have a nice matchup with a Chargers defense that's allowed 15 scores to wide receivers this year. Jonathan Dwyer, a week after scoring his first career touchdown, will draw another start and look for seconds against a run defense that's let every other starting tailback in his division go over at least 130 total yards.
Predictions: Mathews totals 62 yards and loses a fumble, while Rivers struggles his way to 176 yards and a touchdown to Antonio Gates. Roethlisberger passes for 217 yards and hooks up with Wallace and Heath Miller for scores. Dwyer bowls his way for 110 rushing yards and a TD in the win. Steelers 24-10.
Miami (+10) @ San Francisco, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: With 151 yards on 29 carries in his past two games, Reggie Bush is back to running the ball effectively. Unfortunately, next up on the docket is a 49ers defense that ranks 3rd against the run and allows only 3.6 yards per carry on average. Traveling across country to face the top-ranked scoring defense figures to be a tall task for rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and all the Dolphins skill players. With left tackle Jake Long going on IR this week with a torn triceps, another rookie, Jonathan Martin, will draw the unenviable task of protecting Tannehill's blind side from sack machine Aldon Smith. With the Niners likely to be playing angry after last week's embarrassing loss, count on it being long day for all Dolphins… The 49ers proved two things last week: 1.) they can't win games with just their defense and 2.) they can't overlook anybody. The Rams entered last week just 4-6-1 after already tying San Fran in the bay, and won despite not scoring an offensive touchdown. Though he struggled and accounted for zero scores and 8 points for the other team, Colin Kaepernick will get to keep his starting job for at least one more week. He'll have a nice opportunity to post good yardage against Miami's 27th ranked pass defense (giving up nearly 260 a game), but may struggle to find the end zone again considering the Dolphins have only given up 15 passing scores on the year and just held Tom Brady to one. If Kaepernick struggles that may translate to the offense putting the ball in Frank Gore's hands more often. That, however, may not be the answer either versus a top-10 run defense that recently held Marshawn Lynch to 46 yards on 19 carries. Ultimately, this slugfest may be determined by whichever team is on the plus side of the turnover battle.
Predictions: Bush totals 66 yards while Tannehill passes it for 174 yards and is sacked by Smith 2.5 times. Gore totes it for 86 hard yards and a touchdown. Kaepernick adds 64 yards on the ground and tosses it for 236 yards and a score to Michael Crabtree. 49ers 20-6.
Arizona (+10.5) @ Seattle, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Ryan Lindley Experiment in Arizona seems to finally be over after the rookie signal caller averaged 4.6 yards per attempt in two starts while throwing five interceptions and zero touchdowns. Facing a divisional foe in an extremely difficult stadium to play in, the Cardinals are electing to go with the lesser of two evils with John Skelton resuming the starting spot. Though Skelton certainly won't set the world on fire, what he will do is raise Larry Fitzgerald's value into the flex-worthy realm. Prior to getting benched, Skelton had thrown for over 850 yards in three starts. Andre Roberts posted nearly 100 yards more than Fitz in those three games, but with Roberts looking doubtful with an ankle injury, Fitzgerald could see a pile of targets and post nice yardage. On the ground Beanie Wells seems to be the back of choice for Arizona, though that choice is a head-scratcher given his 2.4 yards per carry on the year. Don't start Wells against a good Seattle defense unless you're trying to discretely throw the week (well sort of discretely)… Seattle's offense has been going in the opposite direction of Arizona's behind the increasingly sharp play of Russell Wilson, who's 19 touchdown passes lead all rookie QB's. With multiple TD's in five straight games and 14 in his last seven, Wilson has quietly produced QB1 numbers during the latter half of the season. With him mixing in nice rushing yardage in recent weeks, Wilson remains a strong fantasy option despite the Cardinals boasting the 3rd ranked pass defense. After all, Wilson threw for nearly 300 yards and two scores versus a Bears D that leads the league in picks, and he did that in Soldier Field. Part of why Wilson is hot has been the performance of playmaking wideouts Sidney Rice (five TD's in five games) and Golden Tate (four TD's in four games), both of whom look like good flex options regardless of the opponent. And then of course the Seahawks have that Beast Mode character, Mr. Marshawn Lynch, who will have a big game against a defense that just let Shonn Greene net his sixth 100-yard game in four seasons.
Predictions: Lynch breaks tackles for 121 yards and a score. Wilson hooks up with Tate and Zach Miller for touchdowns in a 186-yard passing effort, while adding 45 yards with his legs. Skelton throws for 244 yards and scores to Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Wells chips in the usual 38 yards on 16 carries in the loss. Seahawks 30-14.
New Orleans (+5) @ New York Giants, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Drew Brees is coming off the worst game of his career in which his NFL record 54-straight games with a TD pass came to a crashing halt in a whirlwind of interceptions. It's a guarantee he does not throw five picks in a game the rest of the season (and maybe his career), but the Giants could give him a difficult time with their ability to pressure the quarterback with just four guys. New York is tied for second with 18 interceptions because they have this luxury, and given the way they limited Aaron Rodgers and Robert Griffin III to a combined 382 yards and two touchdowns passing, it's possible Brees posts back-to-back duds. Still, he's Drew Brees and he could go nuts any given week. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Lance Moore provide plenty of talent for him to burn any defense with, and though Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas don't present much threat of a run game, the Saints are never out of a contest with Brees triggering the attack… The Giants are still in front in their division, but cannot afford to tie with Dallas or Washington, both of whom could pass them with a better divisional record. So expect the defending Super Bowl champs to ratchet it up a notch. New York has the type of defense that plays up to its opponent, so a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer should get the pass rushers humming and the Big Blue Machine hitting hard. Offensively, Eli Manning and Co. should rise to the occasion versus a pathetic Saints defense ranked 30th and 32nd respectively versus the pass and the run. While Hakeem Nicks may be set back a bit with a sore knee and is even a threat to sit, Manning has other weapons that are capable of stepping up. And if the passing game falters at all, they can always lean on Ahmad Bradshaw to grind out drives.
Predictions: Bradshaw totals 122 yards and puts in a rushing score. Manning finds Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle for TD's in a 298-yard performance. Brees pitches it for 343 yards and touchdowns to Graham, Colston and Darren Sproles. Ingram and Thomas combine for 62 yards on the ground in the close loss. Giants 27-24.
Detroit (+6.5) @ Green Bay, Sunday 8:20 p.m.
Comments: Calvin Johnson has been unstoppable of late, so how Green Bay plays him has huge implications on the outcome of this divisional rivalry. With both Ryan Broyles (ACL) and Titus Young (knee) going on IR this week the Packers will have much less to worry about in the passing game and could force Matthew Stafford to struggle even more greatly than he did in the team's first bout just three weeks ago. In that meeting Green Bay sacked Stafford five times, picked him twice and hurried him into bad throws all day, leading to a season-low 43.6% completion mark and only one touchdown. Johnson still posted 143 yards and the lone score, but if the superstar wideout sees double and triple coverage the whole game those numbers may come down this week. Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler and slot receiver Mike Thomas all figure to benefit from the combination of receiver losses and attention Megatron will draw. On the ground Mikel Leshoure will look to keep alive a 3-game touchdown streak versus a defense that was brutalized by Adrian Peterson last week and that Leshoure already found paydirt against once… Green Bay returned one star to the lineup last week when Greg Jennings played for the first time since Week 4, but in keeping with the trend of their season, they lost two more players. Jordy Nelson (hamstring) will be out while starting tailback James Starks (knee) may be an IR candidate. Green Bay brought back Ryan Grant to see if he can rekindle some of his past Packer glory down the stretch, though Alex Green will stay the starter and figures to see the bulk of carries versus an average Detroit run defense that's giving up 4.6 yards per attempt. At the end of the day, if Aaron Rodgers' line can keep him upright enough, the Packers have too much offensive firepower to lose to a Lions team that simply cannot close games.
Predictions: Rodgers passes for 295 yards and connects with Jennings, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley for scores. Green contributes 88 total yards. Leshoure counters with 104 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Stafford slings it for 281 yards and a TD to Thomas. Packers 27-17.
Houston (+3) @ New England, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: In a matchup with major AFC playoff implications, the Texans will try to put a death grip on the No. 1 seed against a Patriots team whose three losses are by a combined four points. Matt Schaub figures to be forced into an air-it-out game for Houston one way or another. New England could jump out to an early lead and force the Texans to play catch-up, or their top-10 run defense-which leads the league in forced fumbles by a wide margin-could slow down Arian Foster early. Either scenario plays into the hands of Schaub's owners and those who will start Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. For as tough as New England has been against the run at times, they've been quite generous to opposing pass attacks, ranking 29th in stopping the throw. So while Foster is certainly not to be benched, don't be surprised when this game sets up for others to play the fantasy hero… If Peyton Manning weren't putting up awesome statistics after a year layoff it would be awfully hard to not see Tom Brady hoisting the MVP trophy at the end of the season. His 25-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio is spectacular and easily leads the league. This pivotal matchup though will provide a major test for Brady, as the Houston defense is the most complete unit he's faced to this point. With Rob Gronkowski (forearm) already out, Julian Edelman landing on IR (foot) and Brandon Lloyd flat out ineffective, Brady struggled last week to get his usual numbers and is likely to do so again given the pressure Houston can put on opposing passers with J.J. Watt and crew. Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez, who split 31 targets last week out of Brady's 40 throws, figure to have excellent value going forward, particularly in PPR leagues, but for this week tailback Stevan Ridley could bottom out. At the very least, Ridley's 5-game scoring streak will be in serious jeopardy versus a run defense that's allowed a league-low two rushing TD's so far.
Predictions: Brady hooks up with Welker and Hernandez for touchdowns in a 274-yard performance. Ridley totes it for 85 yards rushing and finds paydirt on a goal-line plunge. Foster gallops for 112 total yards and a touchdown, while Schaub throws for 289 yards and a TD to Daniels in the thrilling loss. Patriots 24-23.