New York Giants (+9.5) @ Chicago, Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Comments: The Giants have tallied just five sacks in five games and have yet to hold a team below 30 points. With the Bears finally keeping Jay Cutler relatively clean and finding a gifted complement opposite Brandon Marshall, it could be another ugly night for the Big Blue defense. Alshon Jeffery exploded for a franchise-record 218 yards receiving as Marshall was a bit limited by a foot injury, and with the short week to rest up, the emerging second-year wideout may well continue to be Cutler's favorite against a Giants defense that has allowed 12 scores through the air. The G-Men may fare better against Matt Forte, as they've managed to hold the electric pair of Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy to a combined 111 yards rushing on 38 carries (just 2.9 YPC) over the last two contests. Still, benching Forte is not about to happen. He's an equally adept pass-catcher as Charles and McCoy, both of whom added at least 45 yards receiving against New York while also finding the end zone once apiece... The Bears have forced 14 turnovers through five weeks to lead the NFC. Eli Manning has turned it over 14 times by himself through five weeks to lead the league, including 12 interceptions. These numbers do not bode well for a Giants offense that already had no threat of a run game before David Wilson injured his neck against Philadelphia, which has his status "week-to-week" at the moment. When New York is completely unable to move the ball on the ground with Brandon Jacobs and a re-signed Da'Rel Scott they will need to keep dropping Manning back to throw. Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle showed up for the first time since Week 1 with big fantasy days against the Eagles, and a heavy dose of passing could keep them productive, along with Victor Cruz, but it's likely going to play into Chicago's hands. Pressuring Manning and daring the Giants to run seems like a safe defensive gameplan against a New York team that has the worst turnover differential in football at minus 12.
Prediction: Manning pitches it for 271 yards and touchdowns to Cruz and Nicks, while also hitting a Bears defender for a score going the other way. Jacobs chips in 42 yards on the ground. Forte totals 108 yards and runs in a short one, while Cutler tosses it for 292 yards and touchdowns to Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Bears 31-17.
Cincinnati (-7.5) @ Buffalo, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Thaddeus Lewis owns one career start at quarterback, but that's still one more than EJ Manuel's backup through five weeks, Jeff Tuel. When Tuel, an undrafted rookie out of Washington State, struggled mightily to move the ball in relief of Manuel (knee) last week, Buffalo knew it had to look for alternatives and elected to promote Lewis from practice-squader to starter. With Manuel expected to miss anywhere from 4-to-8 weeks while he rehabs his sprained LCL, coach Doug Marrone is opting to give the inexperienced Lewis a shot at leading the offense, preferring for now at least to stick with a quarterback who knows his system rather than bring in a veteran. In his lone start, which came for Cleveland last year versus a tough Pittsburgh defense, Lewis was a respectable 22-of-32 passing for 204 yards, one score and one pick. Of course it must be noted that a loaded Cincy defense that may just be hitting its stride held Tom Brady without a touchdown pass for the first time in 52 games last week.
For Lewis that means generating much through the air figures to be a tall order, particularly with top wideout Steve Johnson dealing with hamstring and back woes that could limit him or keep him sidelined. Expect heavy doses of Fred Jackson (knee) and a sore-ankled C.J. Spiller to be about all the offense Buffalo has against the Bengals' 10th-ranked run defense. Buffalo's defense has been by no means a great unit this year, as their aggressive play has burned them at times for long touchdowns, but they are at least aggressive. Buffalo's 18 sacks tie for third-most in the league while their nine interceptions entering the week rank first. That may spell trouble for Andy Dalton. The third-year QB has struggled this year despite being surrounded by a versatile and deep group of weapons headlined by A.J. Green. Dalton's yet to post a 300-yard game and has been picked twice over the past two weeks without finding the end zone. Dalton's ineffectiveness has greatly limited the production of Green after the Pro Bowl wideout dominated in Week 1. Giovani Bernard has been a solid source of yardage, but the explosive dual threat has seen his upside capped by the presence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Don't be surprised to see both backs touch the ball more than 15 times.
Prediction: Jackson and Spiller combine for 132 total yards in a relatively even split while the elder back finds the end zone rushing. Lewis passes for 158 yards with Robert Woods netting half of those. Dalton finds Green for a score in a 218-yard effort. Green-Ellis nets a rushing TD to go with his 64 yards while Bernard chips in 81 total yards. Bengals 20-13.
Detroit (-3) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: After two impressive weeks, Brian Hoyer is on the shelf with a torn ACL, and Brandon Weeden will again be at the reins for the Browns. Without any real reps for three weeks, Weeden was underwhelming in relief against the Bills. With a big arm he can still keep Josh Gordon a productive deep threat, and Jordan Cameron already displayed nice chemistry with the former first-round pick in the first two weeks, but to have consistent success Weeden will either need to get better protection from his line or develop a faster release. Facing a Detroit defense that can pressure quarterbacks with just their fierce front four and boasts an impressive 5-to-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio figures to give Weeden headaches if he doesn't speed up his decision-making.
Willis McGahee proved his toughness with 26 hard carries last week, and while he wasn't efficient by any means, he showed that despite being just days shy of his 32nd birthday he is in excellent condition. Facing a Lions defense that is 31st in the league (tied) with 5.3 YPC allowed could be just what McGahee needs to find some running room... Detroit's offense does not function well without Calvin Johnson. If they are without their offensive centerpiece for a second-straight week the Lions skill players – save for Reggie Bush – can all be justifiably benched in fantasy given the stinginess of the fourth-ranked Browns defense. Swelling in his injured knee has limited Megatron this week in practice and will likely make him a game-time call on Sunday, so hold your breath and have a backup ready for Matthew Stafford if Johnson can't go. For those owners of Johnson, if he is active it's nearly impossible to bench him, but it's also important that expectations are tempered. There's no telling if he'll be able to finish the game or how effective he'll be at less than 100 percent, especially against shutdown corner Joe Haden.
Predictions: Johnson plays and scores in a 65-yard day as Stafford goes for 249 passing with one other TD to Brandon Pettigrew. Bush contributes 97 total yards to the cause, while McGahee outrushes him on the other side going for 85 yards and a touchdown. Weeden hits Cameron for a score in a 212-yard effort. Browns 20-17.
Oakland (+9) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Chiefs are off to a phenomenal and unexpected 5-0 start, but they've done so versus three NFC East teams, the Jaguars and a Titans team without Jake Locker. That said, a Raiders team with a limited offense is not likely to put up enough points on the league's best scoring defense (only 11.6 per game), while Alex Smith should have enough success managing the offense versus an Oakland unit allowing 105.8 passer rating to opposing QBs. Key of course for Smith will be putting the ball into Jamaal Charles' hands. On 120 touches Charles is second to only LeSean McCoy with 647 yards from scrimmage. T
The Raiders' no-name defense has played admirably, but limiting Charles in Arrowhead is asking an awful lot. Terrelle Pryor's 135.7 passer rating against San Diego was the highest mark by a Raiders quarterback since Rich Gannon went for 138.9 more than 11 years ago. That performance certainly suggests Pryor is more than just a great athlete playing quarterback, but the jury remains out given that it came against a Chargers defense that has given up a league-worst 112.4 passer rating to opposing signal callers. The Chargers' generous unit has allowed a 10-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio and is ceding a completion percentage of 69.8 percent. Conversely, the Chiefs are tops in the league in all of those categories and for good measure just so happen to be first with 21 sacks and a plus-10 turnover differential. Suffice it to say this will be the true test of Pryor's arm and poise. And though the Chiefs are giving up an eye-popping 5.3 YPC, much of that was due to Michael Vick's 99 yards on four carries against them, and they are actually tough on opposing running backs. Moreover, both Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings less than 100 percent with hamstring injuries.
Predictions: Smith throws for 243 yards and a touchdown to Dwayne Bowe, while Charles tallies 131 total yards and a rushing score. McFadden gimps his way to 66 total yards. Pryor garners TDs rushing (to go with 58 ground yards) and passing, hitting Jacoby Ford on a big play in a 198-yard throwing effort. Chiefs 20-14.
Carolina (+2.5) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Vikings offense could potentially get a major shot in the arm in the near future. Finding a former first-round pick with seasons under his belt of 25 touchdowns passes to just six interceptions and 4,000-plus yards and 27 scores doesn't happen every day. While Minnesota's newly minted quarterback isn't going to start immediately, it's hard to imagine Josh Freeman not overtaking Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder sooner rather than later. With Ponder's rib injury appearing to be serious, Cassel looks to draw the start versus a Carolina defense that's been awfully stingy to opposing quarterbacks. In four outings the Panthers have given up just three passing scores while picking it off six times and have held the opposition to only 209.3 yards per game through the air. An aggressive front seven may not only create headaches for Cassel, but a beefy, physical group that's allowing just 3.6 YPC could make the going tough for Adrian Peterson, too.
Still, this defense gave up double-digit fantasy points to Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and Rashard Mendenhall, and it's not like Peterson hasn't destroyed far greater defenses in the past. The Panthers were woeful inside the red zone versus Arizona, though Cam Newton topped 300 yards passing, and the team averaged 4.8 YPC. Taking seven sacks and throwing three interceptions made it impossible to keep up on the scoreboard, however. Fortunately for Carolina the Vikings have a fairly vanilla defense. In four games Minnesota generated just nine sacks, and while they've forced 12 turnovers, they've done so while allowing 30.8 points per game. In fact, their only victory came against a winless Pittsburgh team from which they stole the ball twice and sacked five times, yet still somehow allowed to score 27 points. The Vikings 30th ranked defense has been decimated through the air, having allowed three passers to top 325 yards with the low man they faced hitting 292. That will likely translate to Newton getting back on track, while DeAngelo Williams should fair well versus an average run defense that is naturally hurt by their inability to slow down the pass.
Predictions: Cassel throws for 231 yards and a scoring strike to Kyle Rudolph. Peterson hammers his way to 122 yards and a touchdown. Williams finally finds the end zone in an 85-yard effort, while Newton contributes 62 and a rushing score himself. In the air he goes for 242 yards and hits Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell for TDs. Panthers 28-23.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Jets offense bounced back from an embarrassing performance in Tennessee, and the Jekyll and Hyde act Geno Smith pulled was the key. He went from one score and four turnovers to an 80-percent completion rate, career-high three touchdown passes and zero giveaways. But Smith entered the Atlanta game having turned it over nine times in three weeks and was fortunate to draw an Atlanta defense that had notched only four turnovers on the year (low for the NFC). Of course, the Steelers are dead last in that category, having yet to force a single turnover. And while they are fifth in passing yards allowed per game, they've only tallied four sacks and have been gashed on the ground for 122.8 yards per game with six TD's relinquished in four outings. So while a committee approach appears likely to limit Bilal Powell's upside, the team as a whole should be able to move the ball on the no-longer-steel curtain.
Pittsburgh's disappointing 0-4 start has had very few bright spots as they've struggled mightily to protect Ben Roethlisberger, looked old and slow defensively and failed to run the ball effectively while not coming within a touchdown of a W. Roethlisberger's overall play has been admirable, and at times quite impressive when considering he's been sacked 15 times in four weeks and under constant pressure. He is averaging 308.0 yards per game through the air, so while the Jets boast one of the tougher pass defenses, top targets Antonio Brown and Heath Miller could be strong plays despite the matchup.
On the ground Le'Veon Bell's return to the lineup was an upgrade in his first regular season action. He displayed good quickness and a nose for the end zone versus Minnesota. Still, he averaged just 3.6 YPC against a mediocre run defense and now draws a vicious New York group that's relenting a measly 76.2 rush yards per game and giving up a league-low 3.0 YPC. Overall, the Jets are one of the stingiest units in the league as they rank second with just 299.0 yards allowed per contest.
Predictions: Smith passes for 210 yards and a touchdown to Stephen Hill, while the backfield trio that includes Mike Goodson and Chris Ivory tallies 118 on the ground, with the latter punching in a short TD. Roethlisberger connects with Brown and Emmanuel Sanders for scores in a 260-yard day. Bell chips in 64 total yards to help get Pittsburgh in the win column. Steelers 23-20.
Philadelphia (-1) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Mike Glennon could have a bumpy road for the remainder of his rookie season, but he won't have to look over his shoulder after a missed throw or turnover after the release of Josh Freeman. That said, Glennon's first start was not particularly encouraging. A paltry 4.9 yards-per-attempt and three turnovers were the lowlights of a dismal debut, but the aggressive Cardinals defense he faced is significantly tougher in all phases than the 31st-ranked Eagles unit coming to town this weekend. A limited pass rush and weak secondary have Philly allowing 326.0 yards per game through the air, so Glennon might have a chance to push the ball downfield more effectively to big-bodied wideouts Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Although both have been nicked up, each should start and see plenty of targets. More importantly for the Bucs offense though will be to establish some running room for Doug Martin, who trudged his way to an embarrassing 1.7 YPC when Arizona stacked the box and dared Glennon to throw. The Eagles are more porous however in the front seven, and even with Carl Nicks sadly suffering another bout with MRSA, Tampa should be able to run it.
When Nick Foles stepped in as a rookie last year for an injured Michael Vick his best performance and only victory came in Tampa Bay where he slung it for almost 400 yards and tossed the game winner as time expired. Of course, that Buccaneer defense placed dead last versus the pass. Massive upgrades to the Bucs' secondary in Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson have helped this group improve to a respectable 15th against the throw, so Foles will have his hands full while Vick likely rests a sore hammy. LeSean McCoy too could be poised for his worst output of the season, as the league's leader in yards from scrimmage (700 yards on 111 touches) will be the clear focal point of a defense that's relented just 3.7 YPC and is the only team left in the league that's yet to give up a rushing score.
Predictions: Foles throws it for 251 yards and a score to Jason Avant, while McCoy totals 88 yards and scores rushing to break Tampa's streak. Martin piles up 132 yards of his own and punches in a short TD. Glennon connects with Jackson and tight end Tim Wright for touchdowns in a 256-yard effort. Buccaneers 24-17.
Green Bay (-3) @ Baltimore, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: No Clay Matthews (broken thumb) should make life easier for Joe Flacco, who has not topped 15 fantasy points in standard scoring since Week 1 and has twice gone without a touchdown pass. Of course, returning Marlon Brown (hamstring) and Jacoby Jones (knee) to an extremely thin receiving corps would also be a huge boost. With both receivers practicing in limited capacity though, Flacco may not be that fortunate. Brown looks like the better chance to suit up, and if he can pair with the ever-steady Torrey Smith (at least 85 yards every week), the Ravens should be able to move it through the air against a Packers D giving up 288.8 passing yards per contest. Still, to put up enough points to hang with Aaron Rodgers and crew, Baltimore will need to continue featuring Ray Rice in the offense. The All-Pro back proved his hip is fine after piling up 33 touches last week. While he found the end zone twice, his efficiency continued to stink. He's averaging 2.9 YPC and 4.2 yards-per-catch, which would be by far career-lows if they stand for the year. With Green Bay's defense allowing just 3.7 YPC, it could be another ugly slugfest for Rice.
Rodgers has stalled after a blazing start. In the season's first two contests he averaged more than 400 yards passing per game with seven scores, but in the two outings since he's below 260 yards per with only two TDs and his first two-interception performance since October 24, 2010. And while Green Bay has been stingy versus the run, Baltimore has been slightly better, giving up just one score on the year and holding opponents to 3.4 YPC. So while Eddie Lacy looked strong in his return last week from a concussion, he faces a tougher test in Week 6. While Rodgers is certainly capable of carrying the load, it will be difficult against a Ravens defense that's currently second in the league with 19 sacks. Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari has been solid protecting the franchise, but Terrell Suggs, who already has seven sacks, poses a major test to the young man. Still, if you own one of them, it's pretty much unimaginable to bench Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb or James Jones.
Predictions: Lacy rumbles for 104 yards and a touchdown, while Rodgers hooks up with Nelson and Cobb for scoring strikes in a 290-yard day. Flacco nails Smith and Tandon Doss for TDs in a 263-yard effort. Rice contributes 115 total yards and a short rushing score. Ravens 27-24 in OT.
St. Louis (+7) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Texans have had their pride stomped on by the NFC West over the last six quarters (plus most of an overtime period), as they've been bullied on both sides of the ball and severely outplayed and outscored a whopping 54-3. After Matt Schaub tossed his fourth horribly bad pick-six just 90 seconds into the shellacking San Fran put on Houston he became the immediate and easy scapegoat for the plummeting Texans. And really the finger pointing is pretty fair. The ground game has held its own, rushing for 371 yards on 86 carries in the losses (4.3 YPC), and the defense has held three talented opposing QB's in Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick to a combined 407 yards and one touchdown. The difference really has been Schaub who's thrown more touchdowns to the opposing team (3) than he has to his own guys (2) over those games. He's got three other interceptions in those same contests and two performances under 200 yards to ice the cake. The veteran QB is fortunate he's got a tenured coach and subpar backup, or he might not be starting this week.
The Rams defense is tied for 27th versus the run and figures to get hammered by the duo of Foster and Tate, which should open things up for Schaub to settle down and make easier throws. Of course, with Andre Johnson (shin) still less than 100 percent and a possible game-time decision and security blanket Owen Daniels on short-term IR with a broken leg, another ugly performance is far from out of the question despite a St. Louis defense that's been generous to opposing QB's.
Led by Sam Bradford and the efficient running of new starting tailback Zac Stacy, the Rams were able to generate 27 points on offense last week against one of the worst teams in the league after two straight dreadful performances. A repeat in Houston seems out of the question. While Stacy displayed nice vision and strong leg drive, he came out of the game with his ribs banged up and still has to run behind a poor line that's struggled to open holes all year. And that's the least of the team's worries versus the league's No. 1 pass defense. None of Bradford's weapons has established himself as a legit go-to receiver, and it would be a surprise for him and this offense not to come crashing back down to Earth.
Predictions: Foster totals 146 yards and punches in two rushing scores, while Tate adds 54 on the ground. Schaub slings it for 228 yards and a touchdown to Garrett Graham. Bradford dinks and dunks his way to 207 yards and a score to Jared Cook. Stacy contributes 85 total yards in the loss. Texans 27-10.
Jacksonville (27.5) @ Denver, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: Yes, that's just how good Denver is and how bad Jacksonville is. The spread is the highest since 1966, but when considering that Wes Welker (7) and Julius Thomas (6) have both scored more touchdowns than the entire Jags team (5), one has to wonder if the spread really is high enough. Denver has outscored Jacksonville by nearly 36.0 points per game, and the Jaguars defense is so bad it allowed a Rams team that had only found the end zone twice in the two weeks to hammer them for 34 points. A league-worst rush defense allowing 160.6 yards per game on the ground figures to make the going pretty easy on Knowshon Moreno, whose averaging a healthy 5.1 YPC and has the benefit of Peyton Manning spreading defenses thin, but the top back in Denver could be resting by halftime, so don't expect a huge game. For those that are desperate though, that could mean some solid garbage numbers from Ronnie Hillman and possibly even Montee Ball. While you're certainly not going to bench any of Manning's targets, a guaranteed blowout likely limits their upside as a group, so someone will be a miss. Of course, Manning himself won't be a miss as he continues to chase records.
Maurice Jones-Drew has been a bust all year, and that's highly unlikely to change in the thin Mile High air when he tastes Denver's top-ranked run defense, which is holding opposing rushers to just 3.3 YPC. Factoring in the hole Jacksonville in which will almost surely find itself very early, and it's possible MJD won't even touch the ball more than 12-15 times. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts on the other hand both have the look of great fantasy plays. Without Champ Bailey the Broncos have allowed the most passing yards in the league, so the duo should carry over the strong production they registered last week when Blackmon exploded in his first game back from suspension and Shorts benefited from less defensive attention. And with Blaine Gabbert out with a hamstring injury, Chad Henne could even be a sneaky good option in two quarterback leagues.
Predictions: Manning throws for 301 yards and touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas. The trio of Moreno, Hillman and Ball totals 188 yards in a relatively even split with all three finding paydirt once. Jones-Drew notches 65 total yards, while Henne slings it for 329 yards and scores to Blackmon (2) and Shorts. Broncos 45-21.
Tennessee (+13.5) @ Seattle, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Seahawks are back in their comfort zone after going 1-1 on their tough road trips to AFC South opponents. An aggressive Titans defense may give the offense some initial trouble, but this opponent doesn't figure to fare as well as its division mates given the location of the game and the absence of starting QB Jake Locker (hip). Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the one fed to "The Legion of Boom" Seattle defense. Speaking of being fed to, Russell Wilson has been completely under siege the last two weeks without his left tackle Russell Okung (toe) in the lineup. It's led to nearly 180 yards on the ground, including his first 100-yard rushing game last week, but it's also severely limited his passing numbers as he's completed just 50 percent of his throws for 333 yards over that span. With the Titans bringing a defense that's sacked the QB 16 times (fifth in the league), expect that trend to continue.
That unit is much more pedestrian against the run, however, so a healthy dose of Marshawn Lynch should get Seattle back into winning mode. After being treated to a visit from the top scoring defense last week Fitzpatrick has the joy of heading west to play in a building that seems to make the Seahawks defense impenetrable. Seattle has won 10 straight home games since the start of the 2012 season and given up a grand total of 115 points in those contests. This year they've outscored their two opponents 74-20. Fitzpatrick salvaged a strong fantasy day last week despite the bad matchup due to 50 yards and a score on the ground, but that out-of-nowhere rushing production figures to disappear. As for Chris Johnson, the revival many anticipated for him in the preseason given the offensive line upgrades looks laughable now. Three solid weeks to open the season has turned into 25 carries for 38 yards over the last two. And while the Chiefs and Jets defenses he couldn't run on are quite strong, there's little doubt Seattle can contain him equally well. If Fitzpatrick again keeps him involved in the passing game Johnson could make a decent flex, but benching him is understandable on this road trip.
Predictions: Lynch bullies his way to 125 yards and two scores. Wilson hooks up with Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin for touchdowns in a 217-yard effort, while adding 49 with his legs. Fitzpatrick passes for 189 yards and hits Delanie Walker for a TD, but is picked three times. Johnson chips in 55 total yards. Seahawks 34-10.
Arizona (+11) @ San Francisco, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Colin Kaepernick has now thrown for fewer than 175 yards in four straight games and has completed under 50 percent of his attempts in three of those performances. Add in the fact he's run it only 27 times for 154 yards with no ground scores on the season, and you've got the recipe for a massive bust. He's simply unplayable right now in fantasy. Going up against a defense that was so fast and furious in a destruction of Carolina last weekend that it appeared it was playing with 12 men doesn't make things any better for Kaepernick.
After a four-game suspension Daryl Washington returned to Arizona's defense to ridiculous results as he netted two sacks and a pick in a contest in which Cam Newton could barely take a breath without getting swarmed. Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin are risky starts at best as a result. Frank Gore has really been the only steady factor for this offense for three weeks now as the ultra tough vet has continued to defy Father Time. On the year Arizona's third-ranked run D has allowed just 3.3 YPC, but Gore has averaged exactly twice that mark over the past three contests. Something's got to give and considering his history of producing on physical defenses, don't count on it being Gore.
While Kaepernick has struggled to produce anything, Carson Palmer has not had that problem. What he has had though is a major tendency to produce for the other team, as in seven interceptions in three weeks. Meanwhile, Palmer has found the end zone only twice. Larry Fitzgerald's achy hamstring could be partially to blame, but the All-Pro receiver hasn't missed a contest, and Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts still present talented targets. Palmer has yet to find a rhythm in Bruce Arians' system and behind a poor offensive line his struggles don't figure to come to a stop against a Niners defense that's been dominant the last two weeks. Given his health limitations, the bad play of his QB and the terrible matchup, benching Fitzgerald seems like the way to go this Sunday. That goes doubly for Rashard Mendenhall who's run for just 93 yards in the last three outings at 2.4 YPC. Although the Niners are giving up 113.6 yards per game on the ground, that's more a reflection of the fact they've had the third-most attempts against them. Arizona is not about to run it that much.
Predictions: Gore powers his way for 92 yards and a score rushing. Kaepernick finds Kyle Williams for a touchdown in a 161-yard effort. Palmer throws for 217 yards and a TD to Floyd but gets picked twice. Andre Ellington leads the backfield with 77 total yards and a rushing score. 49ers 23-14.
New Orleans (+2.5) @ New England, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Tom Brady would have had an opportunity to tie Drew Brees' record for 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass against Brees himself were it not for an super stingy Bengals defense that handed New England it's first loss and held them completely out of the end zone last week. Brady's response versus one of the hottest teams in the league will be crucial to the outcome of this duel of future Hall-of-Famers. The going could be tough though as New Orleans' pass defense has been stellar so far this year. Their 15 sacks are tied for the seventh most, while they've also limited yardage and scores through the air. The much-anticipated return of Rob Gronkowski (back/forearm) could finally give Brady the boost he's needed, but if it is to happen the decision will likely come close to kickoff. That means fantasy owners of Gronk will need an alternative option in either another late-afternoon game or the primetime games should the Patriots star remain out. While the passing game has question marks due to the health of Gronk and Danny Amendola, the rushing attack could bounce back versus a Saints front seven allowing a league-worst 5.4 YPC. Stevan Ridley (knee) looks poised to return to the mix though, so while the team figures to be effective on the ground, a committee of Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden leaves fantasy owners having to guess which, if any, should be played.
The formula for the Saints offense has been fairly simple: Jimmy Graham cannot be covered. The league-leader in receiving yards is averaging nearly 120 per game and has already found the end zone six times. He's arguably the most valuable player in fantasy outside of Peyton Manning. The Patriots won't stop him, and they'll struggle to slow Brees, who just so happens to be completing roughly 70 percent of his passes en route to another 5,000-yard season. After a role reversal for Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles last week, don't be surprised to see the latter once again be featured heavily. New England's linebackers are bigger than they are fast, and Sean Payton loves to tailor his gameplan to exploit such mismatches.
Predictions: With Gronk finally in the lineup, Brady takes advantage of a full cast throwing for 328 yards and touchdowns to the big guy, Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman. Blount leads the backfield with 61 rushing yards. Sproles counters with 112 total yards and catches one of Brees' three TDs. He finds Graham and Marques Colston for the others in a 345-yard day. Patriots 30-24.
Washington (+5.5) @ Dallas, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Tony Romo may have given away the game last week, but he's really the only reason Dallas was in it in the first place. Against a Washington defense that's allowing almost 300 yards per contest through the air and giving up a league-worst 9.2 yards-per-attempt Romo figures to continue his blazing hot ways. Also working in his favor is the likelihood that Miles Austin will return to the lineup after missing two games with a bad hamstring. Finally back to full practices this week, Austin gives Romo a well-stocked cupboard, and with the rising play of rookie speedster Terrance Williams this passing attack is going to be extremely hard to slow down. Of course all that danger on the perimeter just means DeMarco Murray will see less defensive attention from a Redskins group ranked 31st in rushing yards allowed at 142.3 per game. Check and mate for all the top Dallas skill players.
Alfred Morris loves playing the Cowboys so much that his sore ribs are probably feeling great this week. Morris gashed Dallas for 313 yards and four touchdowns in two meetings as a rookie, but that was not a Monte Kiffin-coached defense. In their new 4-3 scheme this group flies to the football, and the 3.8 YPC to which they've limited opposing running backs has been the impressive result. Given that Morris is averaging 5.3 YPC though, something will have to give, and if Washington commits to the run at all, that something likely will be Dallas. The problem though is that word "commits." When Washington's league-worst defense fails to keep Romo and Co. from marching up and down the field, it's a safe bet Robert Griffin will open up the passing game at the expense of a balanced offense. Seeing as how Dallas is 31st against the pass and last with 14 allowed TDs through the air, that likely will translate to a mediocre day for Morris, but a big performance from Griffin, Pierre Garcon and a surprise target that many fantasy owners – myself included – would love to know.
Predictions: Romo throws for 338 yards and touchdowns to Dez Bryant and Williams (2). Murray tallies 103 total yards and hits paydirt on the ground. Morris rushes for 75 yards and a short score, while Griffin hooks up with Garcon and Santana Moss for TD's in a 263-yard effort. He adds 45 with his legs in the loss. Cowboys 34-21.
Indianapolis (-1.5) @ San Diego, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Despite playing from behind in a hostile environment versus a pumped Raiders squad last week Rivers maintained a ridiculously efficient pace by completing 75 percent of his throws for over 400 yards, finally making proper use of talented young wideouts Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen. With an ultra hot Indy team rolling into town for a primetime showdown and with Ryan Mathews possibly out due to a concussion suffered at Oakland, it's a safe bet Rivers will need to do plenty of throwing again this week. Both Brown and Allen figure to keep playing significant roles, though Allen's big body in the red zone may give him a higher fantasy ceiling. Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead will also remain highly involved and are must-starts in PPR leagues.
No NFL team is allowing a higher passer rating (112.4) to opposing QB's than the Chargers, and with T.Y. Hilton finally stepping up for the Colts, Andrew Luck could be in line for his best game of the season. Also weak versus the run (4.9 YPC allowed), San Diego is one of the most fantasy-friendly defenses in the league, so it's possible Trent Richardson could finally go off for the big game so many expected him to be producing on a regular basis in his second year.
Despite all his impressive physical tools Richardson has been a massive disappointment through five weeks, even when taking into consideration the impact of being thrust unexpectedly into a new offense and environment. His 3.0 YPC average through three games as a Colt is embarrassing, especially when considering that the team is averaging 4.7 YPC despite him. If Richardson fails to ramp it up against this soft defense it's going to be hard not to label him an impostor, a bum masquerading as a stud. By sheer volume of touches alone he should warrant at least a flex, but when Donald Brown is crushing him from an efficiency standpoint and vulturing touchdowns it's a sign that something is seriously wrong.
Predictions: Woodhead totals 89 yards while Rivers pitches it for 318 and touchdowns to Gates, Allen and Ladarius Green. Luck hooks up with Hilton and Coby Fleener for scores in a 284-yard performance. Richardson rushes for 86 yards and a short TD, while Brown chips in 55 total yards. Chargers 26-24.