Green Bay (+6) @ Detroit, Thursday 12:30 p.m.
Comments: Matthew Stafford tried to do too much against a highly aggressive and athletic Buccaneers defense and it cost the Lions dearly in a game they could have badly used to give them some cushion in the NFC North race. Three things are working very much in his favor though as the Packers come to town for their classic Thanksgiving rivalry match that could tip the division scales heavily towards Detroit. Tops among those items is the return of Nate Burleson to a receiving corps that was dangerously thin after Calvin Johnson. Coming back from a broken arm, Burleson reprised his role as the No. 2 wideout without skipping a beat from his strong start to the season, and his presence makes this passing attack significantly more difficult to slow. Next on the advantages list for the Detroit aerial attack is the obvious home field factor. Not having to battle the elements in Green Bay figures to make Stafford's life much easier. And speaking of easier, a friendly Packer secondary that's tied for the fewest interceptions in the league and sports a dreadful 19-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio is likely to make Stafford grin like the Cheshire Cat. Big days for Johnson and Burleson should be expected, while Reggie Bush is sure to also exploit a unit that's allowed three of the last four runners they've faced to hit at least 125 yards on the ground... The last time Matt Flynn started a game for the Pack he outdueled Stafford en route to the single-game franchise records (both tied with Aaron Rodgers now) with a whopping 480 yards and six touchdowns, including the game winner. He had a few more weapons in that contest, but not many as Greg Jennings was out and Randall Cobb was still just a raw rookie. With Flynn under center though the Green Bay offense is a smoother unit than with Scott Tolzien, so facing a Lions D ranked 28th versus the pass expect Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Jarrett Boykin to all get involved for useful fantasy days. Still, without Rodgers this offense is far from the same and could be staring down the barrel of a one and a half game deficit for the division with only four left to play. Inspired performances will be needed on the short week by both the defense and Eddie Lacy if the Pack plan to come out on top in a must-win for both teams. For Lacy, that could be a tough request against the league's fourth-best run defense.
Predictions: Stafford slings it for 332 yards and touchdowns to Johnson, Burleson and Joseph Fauria. Bush racks up 122 total yards and hits paydirt on the ground. Lacy bulls his way to 81 rushing yards and takes a goal-line plunge, while Flynn hooks up with Nelson and Jones in a 284-yard effort. Lions 31-24.
Oakland (+10) @ Dallas, Thursday 4:30 p.m.
Comments: The Cowboys just barely survived a visit to MetLife Stadium to climb back in the driver's seat of the NFC East race. With an inconsistent offense and a defense that is a sieve against the run, Dallas is very fortunate to be in the position they find themselves: leading the division with a mediocre-at-best Oakland team coming to town on a short week led by an undrafted rookie quarterback. Their inability to slow the Giants ground attack cost them a two-touchdown lead and nearly the game. The Tony Romo to Dez Bryant connection saved them in the end and in this Turkey Day matchup it will again be needed badly to generate points for a Dallas offense that is lacking in complimentary weapons in the passing game outside of Jason Witten. Expect this trio to be quite busy versus a Raiders defense that allowed Tennessee to register two 100-yard receivers for the first time all season. Of course, for the Cowboys to be effective on offense they need to get DeMarco Murray involved to keep the attack balanced. That could be a tall order against Oakland's eighth ranked run defense, but with a 5.1 YPC average that's tied for second among all running backs, Murray is up to the task... Despite being without the team's top receiver in Denarius Moore, who rested a shoulder injury, Matt McGloin managed 260 yards and a score on one of the league's top passing defenses. The impressive showing was deemed good enough by coach Dennis Allen to warrant another start. With a dramatically more friendly matchup on tap, McGloin might actually be a sneaky start for owners in deeper leagues scrambling to fill in for an injury or dealing with an uninspiring matchup. Getting Moore back in the lineup would of course make the option more tantalizing, but with or without the speedy playmaker McGloin has proven in his two starts that he has enough arm talent to make things happen in the passing game. Whether Moore goes or not, Rod Streater looks like a nice plug and play receiver after posting over 90 yards with one touchdown in both of McGloin's starts thus far. Among the Raiders weapons though, Rashad Jennings is the head-and-shoulders best fantasy option. He has made Darren McFadden (hamstring) completely expendable in recent weeks with his four-game streak of topping 100 total yards (553 yards combined with two touchdowns). Facing a depleted Dallas defense giving up a league-worst 5.1 YPC makes Jennings a must-start in all formats even with McFadden expected to return and steal a bit from his workload.
Predictions: McGloin passes for 231 yards and scores to Streater and Jacoby Ford, while Jennings tallies 112 total yards and McFadden chips in 44. Murray notches 102 yards from scrimmage and a rushing score. Romo pitches it for 273 yards and hooks up with Bryant and Terrance Williams for touchdowns. Cowboys 24-17.
Pittsburgh (+2.5) @ Baltimore, Thursday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Big rivals, big stakes, big, beautiful primetime Thanksgiving showdown. The Ravens and Steelers are very much in the thick of the Wild Card hunt after struggling over the season's first half and this game will go a long way towards potentially propelling one in and knocking one out of the playoffs. Of all the remaining teams in the hunt for the last spot in the AFC, only these two are led by Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, which should naturally give them an edge. Joe Flacco has proven himself in big moments many times in the past and with a Pittsburgh defense that's played well versus the pass this year he'll need to step up and have one of those games if Baltimore wants to stay in the hunt. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce simply aren't getting it done on the ground and little figures to change this week. The pair was dreadful in the first meeting in Pittsburgh and aside from Rice's abuse of Chicago's embarrassing run defense neither has made any improvement. The Flacco to Torrey Smith connection needs to click and another receiver will need to step up for the Ravens to move the ball with any consistency against a veteran defense that's just rounding into form... Ben Roethlisberger is playing some of his best football at the exact right time of year and it could propel the Steelers into the final Wild Card spot. They've already got a W over Baltimore and one more would put them in the driver seat. To get it they'll definitely need Big Ben to keep making big throws. Over the last four he's gotten red hot with 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns to only three interceptions, and if he can avoid taking sacks against a Ravens squad that is tied for the league lead with 37 of them, the Pittsburgh offense will be in good shape. Antonio Brown made an emphatic statement that he is among the game's best wideouts with his 92-yard, one-score owning of Joe Haden. His ability to separate from coverage and run after the catch makes this offense tough to get off the field and plays right into the best formula for beating Baltimore. Controlling the clock and getting points forces the Ravens offense out of its comfort zone, as they're a methodical unit that typically struggles to score quickly. Le'Veon Bell was a key component of attempting that formula in the first go round with his best rushing performance of the season (19 carries for 93 yards), and it's a safe bet the Steelers try to grind him again. With at least 88 total yards or a touchdown in seven of his eight contests, the three-down rookie back is a must-start in fantasy, although his upside is limited by a lack of explosive plays.
Predictions: Rice posts 61 total yards and punches in a short touchdown, while Flacco finds Dallas Clark in the end zone in a 241-yard performance. Roethlisberger passes for 256 yards and scores to Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery. Bell chips in 84 yards from scrimmage. Ravens 23-20 in OT.
Jacksonville (+7) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Browns have yet to win a game this season that Brandon Weeden started, but with Jason Campbell having suffered a concussion last week, the 2012 first round draft pick will get his best shot yet to change that versus the 2-9 Jags. It’s disconcerting though that in five of the games this year in which Weeden has attempted at least 30 passes he’s completed less than 50.0% of those attempts (including last week). Prior to shutting down Case Keenum last week the Jags defense had been torched by Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick, so there’s still some hope for Weeden and the Browns offense. If anything, there’s little doubt that Jacksonville will be unable to slow down Josh Gordon. The physical freak is a nightmare cover and is coming off a monstrous 14-catch, 237-yard career day that came mostly from the arm of Weeden. Gordon also has two other games with at least 125 yards and a score in his last four outings and could be poised to duplicate the near 200-yard smackdown Michael Floyd put on the Jags just a couple weeks ago… Maurice Jones-Drew represents basically the only other noteworthy fantasy option in this matchup, but unlike Gordon, he is no longer matchup-proof. The man they call “Pocket Hercules” is coming off his best performance of the season however, and has scored in three straight contests. Still, it’s hard not to expect modest rushing numbers against a physical Cleveland D allowing the sixth fewest yards per game on the ground (97.7) and second fewest YPC (3.4). In PPR formats though MJD remains a must-start considering he’s racked up 20 catches and 152 receiving yards over the last four weeks. And with Joe Haden likely locking up Cecil Shorts and making Chad Henne look elsewhere, the dumpoffs figure to continue for Jones-Drew.
Predictions: Henne throws for 186 yards and two interceptions, while Jones-Drew bowls his way to 86 total yards and a short rushing touchdown. Chris Ogbonnaya tallies 73 total yards. Weeden finds Gordon and Jordan Cameron for scoring strikes in a 214-yard outing. Browns 14-10.
Tennessee (+4.5) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Colts offense is a disaster right now and it’s difficult to see much of a rosy future for this group. In two of the last three contests they’ve struggled to muster a single garbage time touchdown in drubbings from the bottom half of the NFC West. Of course, that third contest was a victory in Tennessee in which Donald Brown ran it with relative ease and Andrew Luck found Coby Fleener often enough to keep drives going. Given that the Titans boast the top defense in the league in terms of passing scores allowed (only eight through 11 games), count on Indy going back to what worked and feeding Brown. For as well as the Titans cover the field, particularly with their sticky corners, they do a terrible job bringing down ball carriers with the first guy. Brown took clear advantage of that the first time out and should be able to again, as he’s ranked fourth in the league per Pro Football Focus with 3.0 YPC after contact. Trent Richardson, however, is among the worst in this category with just 1.8 YPC after contact, so don’t expect him to finally produce a fantasy-worthy day. The same should be said for T.Y. Hilton who has fallen off significantly the past two weeks and figures to once again struggle versus the same coverage that limited him in their first meeting… Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for over 300 yards without an interception for the first time in his career and registered a game-winner to Kendall Wright with just seconds left to make this division suddenly back up for grabs. Fitzpatrick has been terrific since taking over for an injured Jake Locker for good three weeks ago, having posted at least 109.2 passer rating in all three contests with six total TD’s and no picks while completing 71.8% of his throws for 806 yards. With four friendly matchups left on the schedule including this weekend, Fitzpatrick is an underrated real life and fantasy passer right now. The emerging play of deep threat rookie Justin Hunter and the athletic mismatch that is Delanie Walker at tight end only serve to make this offense more dangerous if Fitzpatrick can keep his turnover-free play going. Of course, facing the 27th-ranked run defense that Chris Johnson already hammered for 5.1 YPC and two touchdowns, expect the passing totals to be modest this week.
Predictions: Luck passes for 220 yards and scores to Fleener and Brown, while the latter chips in 72 yards rushing. Richardson finds the end zone for the first time in seemingly forever to go with 45 total yards. Johnson busts a long scoring run in a 115-yard day. Fitzpatrick pitches it for 249 yards and a TD to Hunter. Titans 23-21.
Chicago (+1) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Vikings blew a 16-point fourth quarter lead versus the fourth Packers quarterback to play in as many weeks to cost themselves a victory versus a division rival. A defense that’s allowed the most passing scores in the league (24) and is almost equally bad against the run doesn’t figure to find much success stopping another divisional offense led by a savvy backup, so the Vikes could remain in the hunt for the first overall draft pick. Of course, a Bears defense that might not be able to hold a single running back in the NFL under 100 yards will have to deal with Adrian Peterson and a hard-charging, fresh-legged Toby Gerhart. It goes without saying that Peterson is fully capable of beating the Bears by himself, but it’s worth noting that Gerhart has bulldozed his way to 158 yards on just 15 carries over the last two weeks. Anything less than 200 yards and a couple scores on the ground out of this pair would be a disappointment. When they do pass it, Christian Ponder should be his usual solid but unspectacular self against a Bears defense missing Charles Tillman (triceps) in the secondary, and with 20 targets over the last two weeks, it’s only a matter of time before Cordarrelle Patterson has a breakout game… The usual suspects for Chicago are must starts going up against the Vikings’ dead last scoring defense (31.5 points allowed per game), but with Jay Cutler (ankle) out at least one more week it’s hard not to consider Josh McCown for an excellent spot start. In the three games he’s started and finished McCown has tossed it for 840 yards and five scores to only one pick. Minnesota is giving up an average of 281.7 yards per game through the air and as mentioned lead the league in passing scores allowed, so with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to throw to McCown has a great shot at an encore to last week’s 352-yard, two-TD effort. Moreover, with Matt Forte dealing with a hyperextended knee, Chicago may well lean more heavily than usual on the air attack. Of course, that doesn’t mean Forte owners should bench him. The Vikes haven’t been much better against the run and in a must-win game for the Bears their most versatile offensive weapon will surely be involved in the action, even if he’s a bit limited.
Predictions: Forte tallies 92 total yards and scores on the ground. McCown throws for 308 yards and touchdowns to Marshall, Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Ponder hooks up with Greg Jennings for a score in a 156-yard effort. Gerhart contributes 73 yards, while Peterson rushes for 148 and two touchdowns. Bears 27-24.
Miami (+1.5) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Jets broke their pattern by falling hard on their faces last week to register the first streak of their season with back-to-back losses. To get back on the winning track with a scrappy Dolphins team coming to town and keep themselves in the Wild Card discussion Gang Green will need Geno Smith to promptly turn around his horrifically bad play. Smith has one touchdown pass in the last six games, hasn’t topped 200 yards passing in the last four and hasn’t even registered double digit completions in the last three. His touchdown-to-interception ratio since a near flawless performance versus Atlanta in Week 5 is a despicable 1-to-10. He’s turned it over nine times in their last three losses and despite a quality rush attack and stingy defense they’ve been blown out as a result in each of those contests. Considering the Dolphins have allowed just 12 touchdowns to 14 picks so far this year, expect the Jets to lean heavily on their ground game to try to minimize the liability that is their QB play. Versus a Miami defense that has been much more friendly to opposing backs, having let a rusher top 100 yards or find the end zone in all but two games, the Jets should find plenty of success running it. Of course, that may not help fantasy owners, as Chris Ivory figures to be limited at best with an ankle injury, but his presence could prevent Bilal Powell from being a great spot start… The Dolphins inability to hold off the Panthers’ second half rally last week was a huge blow to their playoff hopes. With only five games to play they are in must-win mode this weekend, especially with the next two games facing Pittsburgh and New England. Expect the game plan to be Ryan Tannehill spreading the ball around with between 40-50 pass attempts while Cameron Wake does his best to force Smith into handing away the game for the Jets. What shouldn’t be expected out of this Miami offense is much of an effort to run it. Daniel Thomas had been getting a bigger chunk of the backfield work lately but he will be out with an ankle injury. Lamar Miller is realistically the more talented of the two though, and while it would seem to present a great opportunity for him and the Dolphins to improve the ground production, this isn’t the week for it. The Jets are tops in the league versus the run, giving up a measly 2.9 YPC. Miller did produce a season-best 39 yards receiving last week, so it’s possible his fantasy day won’t be completely lost if the Dolphins get him in space with some screens, but among Miami skill players, there are still none that are safe or even advisable fantasy options. That means until proven otherwise the 127 yards and a touchdown Mike Wallace registered last week should be considered a mirage.
Predictions: Powell takes the lead and tallies 114 total yards and a rushing score, while Smith slings it for 181 yards and two interceptions. Tannehill throws for 235 yards and hits Charles Clay and Brian Hartline for TD’s. Miller chips in 58 total yards. Dolphins 17-13.
Arizona (+3) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Eagles have a tall task coming their way after the bye week. Arizona is riding a four-game win streak and brings one of the tougher defenses in the league to town. LeSean McCoy figures to have a difficult time finding room to roam facing their second-ranked run defense, a unit giving up just 3.5 YPC. Of course, McCoy is one of those rare talents that can slice up even the best, and when adding in his receiving abilities and nose for the goal line, owners should have plenty of confidence in him as usual. Nick Foles though will face his stiffest test of the season and is far from as proven as his star tailback. Though he’s managed to produce 16 touchdowns without a single pick in his six games of significant action this year he will surely be more challenged to maintain that clean execution versus a Cardinals group that’s picked off 15 balls. At the same time it’s awfully difficult to sit him in fantasy when he’s completed 70.8% of his throws for 932 yards and 10 touchdowns at a ridiculous 12.9 YPA over the last three contests, while also adding 95 yards and a score rushing. Although Patrick Peterson could very well take away one of his favorite targets in DeSean Jackson or Riley Cooper, the weapons are still there for Foles to produce if he can keep spinning it this well… The Cardinals win streak has them back in the playoff hunt, but it’s a bit deceiving when trying to gauge the level of football they’re playing. Sure the defense has looked good while holding their opponents to 15.5 points per game during the streak and generating eight turnovers, but they’ve gotten those wins over four teams with a combined 13-27 record versus other opponents and played three of those contests at home. Keeping the momentum going won’t be easy going across the country for a 1:00 p.m. EST kickoff against an equally hot Eagles team. Carson Palmer’s efficient play will be the deciding factor for Arizona. If he can keep producing scoring drives without the interceptions that dragged down his play over the season’s first half the Cardinals will be in prime position to steal one on the road. With Larry Fitzgerald healthy and Michael Floyd playing at a high level (297 yards in the last two games), the tools are certainly there for Palmer to torch the league’s last ranked pass defense, meaning this trio should be started in all fantasy formats. Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall though are much riskier options. The Eagles present a solid matchup for running backs, but with the duo eating into each other’s workload neither can be trusted for more than 60-80 total yards in any given week.
Predictions: Palmer slings it for 322 yards and touchdowns to Fitzgerald, Floyd and Rob Housler. Ellington and Mendenhall combine for 113 total yards but are held scoreless. McCoy tallies 118 total yards himself and finds paydirt rushing, while Foles passes for 285 yards and hooks up with Cooper and Brent Celek for TD’s. Eagles 30-24.
Tampa Bay (+8.5) @ Carolina, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Cam Newton had a difficult time getting the offense going against an inspired Miami defense last week and yet he still registered a 20-point effort in standard scoring leagues because of his “Super Cam” legs. He started running the ball better five weeks ago versus this very Buccaneers defense and although Tampa is playing at a much higher level now, seemingly with an angry chip-on-their-shoulder mentality, Newton remains a must-start in fantasy. He’s played excellent football during Carolina’s league-best seven-game winning streak and Newton should benefit from Darrelle Revis being limited by a groin injury, if the star corner suits up at all. While the tools surrounding Newton remain average at best, he just keeps finding ways to get it done. If looking for another fantasy option among the Panthers skill player scraps, the only remotely safe option at this point is Greg Olsen, as the tight end has been trusted explicitly by Newton near the goal line with four touchdowns in the last five contests. Of course, with DeAngelo Williams (quadriceps) having missed practice all week and Mike Tolbert (knee) limited as well, Jonathan Stewart could be worth rolling out despite the stiff Tampa run defense… The Bucs have generated nine turnovers and tallied seven sacks with a physical, athletic defense that’s flown to the football during their three straight victories, and that unit may keep them in this contest by themselves. And with Carolina representing arguably the top defense in the league, a slugfest may be the only way Tampa has a chance. Over the last four games the Bucs have mostly leaned on their ground game to help Mike Glennon be a more efficient passer, but with Carolina limiting their opponents to 81.5 yards per game on the ground, don’t expect Bobby Rainey to be much help this week. The towering rookie signal caller hasn’t thrown more than 23 attempts in a game since pitching it 51 times against the Panthers in Week 8 when the team found itself playing from behind the whole contest. While he may not top 40 this time out with the team playing better as a whole, chances are he’ll have to sling it plenty to keep this competitive. That means Vincent Jackson is pretty much the only fantasy-worthy Buc to utilize.
Predictions: Glennon throws for 259 yards and touchdowns to Jackson and Timothy Wright, while Rainey totals 54 yards. Stewart takes the reigns for Carolina to the tune of 75 total yards and a goal line plunge. Newton chips in 60 with his legs and nets 244 yards passing with TD’s to Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Panthers 21-17.
New England (-7.5) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Case Keenum registered the worst performance of his young career versus a Jaguars defense that entered the game sporting a generous 20-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Now that he’ll get a chance to face a Patriots unit allowing the second worst completion percentage to opposing QB’s and that sits among the league leaders with 13 interceptions, it’s hard to be optimistic about his production and the Texans offense as a whole. Ben Tate is starting to show the wear of several nagging injuries (ribs/ankle/toe), but despite coming off a dreadful seven carries for one yard against Jacksonville’s 29th-ranked run defense he’ll remain the starter in another friendly matchup. Knowshon Moreno pounded New England’s 31st-ranked run defense, but he was up to the task of a huge workload. With Dennis Johnson displaying an impressive burst with his fresh legs, a relatively even split in carries between he and Tate would not be surprising. And given that Houston is allowing an average of 26.3 points per game, the ground attack likely won’t get too involved once Tom Brady puts the Texans offense in a hole. Andre Johnson could get plenty of opportunities for a bounce back game when they do go into catch-up mode, but assuming he draws coverage from Aqib Talib that might not result in his usual production… This is certainly a promising matchup for Patriots skill players, but outside of Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen, none are surefire fantasy starts. Stevan Ridley cannot be trusted after fumbling the ball away in three straight contests. There’s simply no telling if Bill Belichick will go back to him, possibly at all this week. At the same time though, that doesn’t necessarily mean Brandon Bolden can be immediately slotted into lineups. He played well in relief of Ridley and LeGarrette Blount (who also lost a fumble versus Denver) but remains in a crowded backfield. With the Texans having allowed Rashad Jennings and Maurice Jones-Drew to pile up 234 yards and two scores on only 36 carries the last two weeks, it’s likely it will be a good game at least overall for New England on the ground. It just remains to be seen who will do the most damage, with Vereen and Bolden being the likeliest candidates. When they throw it, Gronk is the only truly trustworthy option considering that Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman can disappear at any moment.
Predictions: Johnson leads the backfield again with 82 total yards, while Keenum pitches it for 218 yards and a touchdown to Johnson. Brady passes for 291 yards and TD’s to Gronkowski, Vereen and Kenbrell Thompkins. Bolden rushes for 85 yards and punches in a short score. Patriots 31-13.
Atlanta (+3.5) @ Buffalo (in Toronto), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: C.J. Spiller and old man Fred Jackson finally got a chance to catch a breather with their late-season bye week, and now rested and as close to 100% healthy as they’ve been since Week 1 they have a tantalizing opportunity in front of them. The last three feature backs the Falcons have faced have racked up 381 combined rushing yards and each averaged at least 5.4 YPC en route to doing so. In the Canada cold of Toronto the Bills may elect to take advantage of that dreadful run defense and feed Spiller and Jackson like the pair hadn’t eaten since their Thanksgiving dinners. When they do turn to the pass, EJ Manuel should have little trouble moving the ball against a weak Atlanta secondary, particularly with starters Steve Johnson (groin) and Robert Woods (ankle) back in action. After all, the Falcons have allowed the second most passing scores in the league (23) and Manuel shredded the Jets prior to the team’s bye week without his top receivers… This is a very uninviting matchup for all Falcons skill players as they prepare to face a Bills defense tied for first in the league in sacks and interceptions. Behind a shaky offensive line Matt Ryan has had little time to throw and little talent to throw it too. Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez have simply not been themselves this year as they’ve each battled injuries and Harry Douglas, while he’s been moderately productive, is far from a true No. 1 receiver in terms of ability. Steven Jackson played relatively well against the Saints, but a Buffalo unit that’s given up a measly four rushing scores all year is going to be a tougher test, so expecting much help from the run game would be a bit foolish. In fact, with the Falcons having scored more than 13 only once (mostly due to garbage time) over the last five games, the Bills defense looks like a better fantasy option than any of Atlanta’s skill players.
Predictions: Manuel connects with Johnson and Scott Chandler for touchdowns in a 203-yard effort. Spiller and Jackson combine for 196 total yards with each finding paydirt on the ground. The Falcons’ Jackson nets 74 yards from scrimmage, while Ryan throws for 217 and hits Douglas and Levine Toilolo for TD’s. Bills 28-17.
St. Louis (+8.5) @ San Francisco, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: Stop the presses! Colin Kaepernick threw for over 200 yards AND three touchdowns all in one game, a feat he had not accomplished since Week 1. Of course, he did this versus a Washington defense that let Christian Ponder complete 17-of-21 passes and generally look like a Pro Bowler just a few weeks ago. Still, the performance is promising given how miserably Kaepernick has struggled for most of the year throwing the ball. With Michael Crabtree set to return from the offseason Achilles injury that cost him the first 11 games, Kaepernick could be poised to put up serious numbers the rest of the way. The Rams have been great rushing the passer but they’ve been burned by big plays – as evidenced by the 8.2 YPA opposing QB’s have averaged against them (30th in the league). With a trio of Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Crabtree, and with teams having to respect the run game when either Frank Gore or Kendall Hunter is in the backfield, this offense could suddenly become explosive throwing the football. As that balance occurs though Gore’s production stands to suffer. His numbers have been steadily dropping off already since he’s been nursing an ankle injury for several weeks and with Hunter as a capable backup and more weapons in the aerial attack, expect Gore’s touches to be limited. That means a repeat performance of the 153 yards he blasted St. Louis for in Week 4 isn’t even in the ballpark of what he’ll do this Sunday… With a bye week sandwiched in the Rams have absolutely hammered two teams with winning records in their last two contests, drubbing them by a combined score of 80-29. What’s most impressive is the way they’ve done it in all facets of the game. They’ve produced big scoring plays on offense, defense and special teams, with Tavon Austin providing four highlight reel scores of at least 57 yards. While they’ve found some success throwing it with Kellen Clemons, their real bread and butter has been a steady ground attack led by Zac Stacy and an explosive Benny Cunningham. Of course, the damage that pair did came against the 27th and 32nd ranked run defenses. They’ll now face a 49ers unit that has been stoning opposing running backs for the most part. Fortunately for the Rams, Stacy has been cleared of concussion symptoms and is expected to suit up. Unfortunately for Stacy owners, Alfred Morris hadn’t been below 71 yards or 4.2 YPC in a single game since Week 1 before he faced off with Navarro Bowman, Patrick Willis and the Niners D and came away with 52 yards at 3.7 yards per clip. Taking into consideration that Morris is one of the best backs in the league, that does not bode especially well for the Rams backfield, regardless of how well Stacy may be playing since taking over as the starter.
Predictions: Clemons tosses it for 216 yards and a score to Brian Quick, while Stacy totals 76 yards. Gore rushes for 64 yards and a short touchdown. Kaepernick hooks up with Davis and Crabtree for TD’s in a 270-yard day. 49ers 24-13.
Denver (-5.5) @ Kansas City, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: In what was supposed to be a duel between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady the show was stolen – at least on the Broncos sideline – by Knowshon Moreno. In a Herculean effort the veteran back registered career highs in carries (37) and yards (224) while punching in his tenth score of the year. With the cold weather setting into many stadiums this might be where the Broncos are trending, especially considering Manning’s gimpy ankle injury. Of course, with Moreno having suffered an ankle injury of his own late in overtime, Montee Ball may return to the picture in a significant role despite losing his third fumble of the season versus the Pats. Ball found the end zone twice against Kansas City the last time they met, and with Moreno likely to at least see his touches limited this week it could be Ball again who posts the better fantasy day versus the Chiefs. If he’s active though, Moreno is awfully tough to bench given how much interim head coach Jack Del Rio has utilized him in recent weeks (64 carries in two games). Despite the cold weather and turn to the ground game though, Manning remains a must-start. The Chiefs will be down at least one stud pass rusher with Justin Houston (elbow) out, and with Tamba Hali (ankle) no better than limited, Manning should have all day to throw it. Should Julius Thomas (knee) be able to return it’s hard to imagine Manning not finding plenty of success against a defense that was just torched by Philip Rivers in Arrowhead… Alex Smith’s no longer among the fantasy deceased. With 524 passing yards, 49 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the last two games he suddenly looks like a strong option going forward, especially with the Chiefs defense banged up and unable to slow opposing offenses. It is, after all, a pass-friendly Andy Reid system. Now that Smith is getting to air it out the numbers should be there. He was far from efficient against Denver a couple weeks ago but that shouldn’t matter if he continues to get a high volume of attempts. Dwayne Bowe also figures to maintain his sudden value with Smith throwing it more, as the former Pro Bowl wideout has managed TD’s in back-to-back weeks and is easily the most gifted member of the Chiefs’ passing attack. Ultimately though, the KC offense goes as Jamaal Charles goes, so to manage an upset of the Broncos he’ll definitely need to produce better than the season-worst 72 total yards he gained in their first meeting with Denver.
Predictions: Charles tallies 113 total yards and finds the end zone rushing, while Smith hooks up with Bowe and Dexter McCluster for TD’s in a 256-yard effort. Manning passes for 328 yards and scores to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Moreno nets 64 total yards but sees Ball steal another goal line plunge. Broncos 34-24.
Cincinnati (+1.5) @ San Diego, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Philip Rivers carved up a lifeless Chiefs defense in a tremendous back and forth affair that left San Diego in the playoff hunt when Seyi Ajirotutu came down with the game-winner. Rivers was fortunate though that stud pass rushers Tamba Hali (ankle) and Justin Houston (elbow) left with injuries in the first half and he was able to keep his jersey mostly clean the entire game. The Bengals likewise are without their best pass rusher in Geno Atkins (ACL) but with a deep defense they’ve still managed to get to the quarterback for at least three sacks in every game since Week 2. Facing a Bengals unit that not only pressures but wraps up immediately could limit Rivers and his receiving corps after last week’s monster effort. Keenan Allen was fantastic in a nine-catch, 124-yard performance, but a Cinci D that lead’s the league with only 5.9 YPA in the passing game won’t leave him anywhere to go after the catch, so while you’re not benching him, you should temper expectations. Someone you’re definitely not benching though is Danny Woodhead. The replacement to Darren Sproles in San Diego has registered at least 8.0 fantasy points in seven of his last eight contests with seven TD’s in that span. With Ryan Mathews dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, Woodhead could be featured even more heavily in an offense he fits in perfectly… The Bengals are a different team on the road, as evidenced by their 2-4 record. Five of those six contests though were decided by a field goal or less, so although they’re not as tough they’re certainly not a road doormat either. Coming off their bye week a healthy offense led by Andy Dalton should have little trouble scoring points on a decidedly bad Chargers defense. San Diego is tied for dead last in YPC (4.9) and 31st in YPA (8.4) allowed, so A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard, in particular, could be poised for monster games. Dalton meanwhile should have little trouble getting back to posting big yardage numbers against a pass defense giving up an average of 276.0 per game. Ultimately one only needs to look at San Diego’s last contest to know to start their Bengals this week. The Chargers let a Chiefs team that had reached 31 points just once all year go for 38 while Alex Smith pitched it for nearly 300 yards and three scores. Nuff said.
Predictions: Mathews and Woodhead combine for 126 yards with the latter getting the bigger chunk and a rushing score. Rivers connects with Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green for touchdowns in a 253-yard effort. Dalton throws for 291 yards and TD’s to Green and Mohamed Sanu. Bernard nets 92 total yards and a rushing touchdown, while Green-Ellis chips in 52 rushing. Chargers 27-21.
New York Giants (-1.5) @ Washington, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The battle for last place in the NFC East should favor the Redskins given their inability to protect Robert Griffin lately in the pocket. With the Giants rushing the passer effectively in recent weeks and slowing down some pretty gifted running backs (Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy and Eddie Lacy stand out), the Washington offense could be in trouble even though tight end Jordan Reed is expected back from a concussion. If they do hope to help out their porous secondary and keep this contest within striking distance Mike Shanahan may want to feature Alfred Morris early and often to get the ground game in gear. When the Skins are able to string together first downs behind Morris’ downhill running, Griffin is a much more effective passer. With limited weapons besides Pierre Garcon and Reed the Skins need that play-action to shift the defense off balance enough to get big gains in the passing game. When they fail to do this and elect not to employ the read option Washington makes Griffin a pedestrian quarterback, one who is easy to rattle and not a threat to beat a defense with his arm… If Eli Manning is ever going to throw for 300 yards AND multiple touchdown passes in the same game again this would be the one to do it. He’s failed to achieve this since Week 5 and has only done so twice this year. The Skins have been generous to average quarterbacks though in recent weeks. Christian Ponder completed 17-of-21 attempts on them, then Nick Foles averaged 11.5 YPA and came just shy of 300 yards before the cherry on the sundae of bad pass defense saw them allow Colin Kaepernick into the end zone three times with very little resistance. Whether Hakeem Nicks fights through an abdominal injury or not this week, with Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle in the fold, Manning has more than enough talent at his disposal to post big numbers. When he falters though look for Andre Brown to pick up the offensive slack. In his three starts since returning from a broken leg he’s generated 350 total yards with two 100-yard outings, and he could be due for his best yet against a Redskins defense tied for the most rushing scores allowed (15) – that is of course if Brandon Jacobs doesn’t rob him again at the goal line.
Predictions: Morris rumbles for 114 yards and a score, while Griffin tosses it for 227 yards and a touchdown to Josh Morgan. Manning hooks up with Cruz for a score in a 243-yard effort but gets picked twice. Brown totals 96 yards and punches in a short TD run. Redskins 23-17.
New Orleans (+5.5) @ Seattle, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Seattle is rested coming off their bye week and has “The 12th Man” at their back in this battle for NFC supremacy. The matchup that could dictate the final in this one may well be the thinning Seahawks secondary versus the arm of Drew Brees. Brandon Browner was already dealing with a groin injury before being suspended by the league for a full year for violating the substance abuse policy, but losing his replacement Walter Thurmond to a four-game ban for the same transgression hurts badly. Thurmond was playing at a high level and now Brees will be able to take advantage of burning the Seattle secondary with whichever weapon Richard Sherman is not blanketing. If Seattle’s D can limit the passing of New Orleans, however, the game will come down to Marshawn Lynch hammering his way through a Saints front seven allowing a healthy 4.8 YPC. Lynch hasn’t faced New Orleans since a wild playoff game that saw him break one of the greatest runs in league history, so expect Rob Ryan’s defense to pay a bit more attention to wrapping up this week. The battle of the Seahawks power versus the Saints finesse has a twist though, an X-factor by the name of Russell Wilson, who some have compared to a more mobile Brees. With Percy Harvin now in the fold and the dynamic Golden Tate – who’s found the end zone four times in his last two appearances on MNF – providing big plays, the Seahawks pass attack could balance the offense enough to tip the scales decidedly in Seattle’s favor, especially with Russell Okung back to protect Wilson from one of the league’s best pass rushes… The Saints generally win with Brees lighting up opposing defenses, but as the Rams and Bucs proved when they both nearly defeated Seattle within the last month, establishing a physical ground game is the best method to beating this team. Pierre Thomas has run with great burst and power in recent weeks and getting him going early could be crucial to coming out on top. For fantasy purposes Thomas has not dipped below 80 total yards since Week 4, so despite the tough matchup he’s a must-start. Jimmy Graham is the only other sure start besides Brees, as he’s simply uncoverable and fully capable of dominating the game even if he draws regular attention from Sherman. If Graham does draw Sherman though, Marques Colston may be Brees’ favorite target on the day and the most productive skill player for New Orleans. Of course, the Saints’ X-factor may end up being Darren Sproles, as he presents possibly the toughest matchup for Seattle’s defense if he’s at full strength after missing last week with an ankle injury.
Predictions: Brees guns it for 284 yards and touchdowns to Graham and Robert Meachem. Thomas totals 94 yards but sees Sproles steal his rushing score. Lynch beasts his way to 131 yards and touchdown, while Wilson passes for 248 yards and scoring strikes to Tate, Harvin and Zach Miller. Seahawks 28-27.