Houston (-3) @ Jacksonville, Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Comments: If Willis McGahee could drag himself out of his fantasy grave to tally 71 total yards and a score at 4.1 YPC against the Jags, Ben Tate should be licking his chops to turn in an encore to his 102-yard, three-TD explosion. When the teams met less than two full weeks ago, however, the Jags defense was up to the task and limited Tate to just one measly rushing yard on seven attempts. Still, Dennis Johnson found plenty of success in that meeting and if he and McGahee can run on Jacksonville, good money says so can Tate, a big, explosive back with a career average of 4.8 YPC. The Jaguars though are the team riding a winning streak while Houston continues it's dramatic slide in the other direction with a league-worst 10-game skid. Chad Henne is coming off his first game this season with two touchdowns and will look to continue his improved play against a Texans defense that's allowed 20 passing scores on the season while picking off just five balls. With Cecil Shorts getting healthier by the week and Ace Sanders emerging as a solid weapon out of the slot, the Jags offense is suddenly not so reliant on the legs of Maurice Jones-Drew. Of course, that doesn't mean MJD isn't a big part of this offense. He's tallied at least 18 touches in seven of the last eight games and is riding a five game streak in which he's either totaled over 100 yards or found the end zone - including a season-best 144 yards and a score against Houston. With Jacksonville involving him heavily in the pass game - and even utilizing a little MJD trickery with his first-career passing score last week - it's safe to say the bowling ball with legs has resumed his status as a must-start option... With Case Keenum struggling mightily in recent weeks, including the worst performance of his young career versus the Jags, it's hard to imagine the Texans coming out slinging it too much. After pitching it for seven scores and zero picks in his first three starts, Keenum has found the end zone just once while throwing three interceptions over his last three. With Tate coming off a career game and Johnson having run well on this defense last time, Houston figures to lean on the legs of their backs and try to work play-action to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Despite the inconsistent play of Keenum, Johnson has maintained his status as an elite receiver (he's currently third in yards behind only Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon), so even though his trips to the end zone have been few and far between aside from a two-game scoring binge when Keenum first took over, he needs to be started in all fantasy formats.
Prediction: Keenum slings it for 235 yards and a touchdown to Garrett Graham. Tate rumbles for 84 yards and a score, but is bested by Jones-Drew's 110 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. Henne adds a scoring strike to Sanders in a 203-yard outing. Jaguars 24-20.
Indianapolis (+6) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Colts are firmly in the driver's seat to win the AFC South but they simply don't have the juice offensively to go into Cincinnati and score enough points to beat a Bengals team with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Andy Dalton has proven himself to be one of the game's more inconsistent quarterbacks in an up and down season, but he's still surrounded by a loaded group of skill players, so Cinci shouldn't have much difficulty moving the ball on the Colts' 22nd-ranked defense. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis coming off his best rushing performance of the season and the dynamic Giovani Bernard a constant threat to break a big play, the Bengals can certainly lean on their ground game to shred a unit allowing 128.6 rushing yards per outing should Dalton continue to struggle. Of course, if all else fails, Dalton still has A.J. Green, who has been relatively unstoppable over the last seven games when he hasn't been lined up across from Joe Haden. In the other six games he's racked up 735 yards and four scores... Andrew Luck is barely a No. 2 fantasy quarterback without Reggie Wayne. Granted his last three games came against two of the better pass defenses in the league, with two of those on the road, it's still glaringly apparent that the receiving talent left in Indy is simply too weak to support much passing production. In the five games since losing Wayne, Luck has been sacked 14 times and hit another 37 as he's had to wait a split second longer for lesser wideouts to separate from coverage. His offensive line - a mediocre one at that - simply cannot handle the extra time they're forced to block, and facing a Bengals defense with 36 sacks, they're in for a long day. If any Colt will be worth a fantasy roll of the dice this week, it will likely be T.Y. Hilton or Donald Brown. Each is the number one at his position for Indy and both are usually pretty involved in the passing game. And if one thing is certain, it's that Luck will need to be throwing it plenty to stay in this game.
Predictions: Luck hooks up with Coby Fleener for a score in a 246-yard effort, while Brown nets 63 total yards. Green-Ellis and Bernard deliver 154 total yards between them with the latter rushing one in. Dalton throws for 217 yards and touchdowns to Green and Tyler Eifert. Bengals 26-13.
Atlanta (+6) @ Green Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Matt Flynn simply could not handle the pressure of a relentless Detroit front four that abused the Packers offensive line on Thanksgiving, but the Falcons tame pass rush should make Flynn look much more like the steady vet that lead an impressive fourth-quarter comeback the week before to tie Minnesota. With only 22 sacks Atlanta ranks 31st in the league. Time in the pocket should allow Flynn to take advantage of an inexperienced secondary that doesn't figure to match up well with Jordy Nelson or James Jones, both savvy, deceptively athletic receivers. And if the passing game does struggle to find a rhythm with Aaron Rodgers yet a week away from the field, Green Bay should be able to win this one simply by riding the bullish legs of Eddie Lacy. The Falcons have been gouged by running backs over the last four games, having given up 695 yards rushing in that stretch with each feature back reaching at least 130 total yards. They've also allowed seven total scores to backs during that span, so expect a complete bounce back for Lacy... With Steven Jackson and Roddy White finally healthy, the Falcons offense finally has some explosiveness back to it. Facing a Packers defense that's been beaten badly during Rodgers' absence by both the throw and the run, each looks like a strong starting option once again. They're both coming off their best games of the season, and if Atlanta's shaky offensive line can keep a Green Bay D that ranks third with 38 sacks from getting to Matt Ryan too frequently, encores can be expected from each. Ryan owners though may still be able to find a better option as the dome-weather QB may not be at his best in the cold of Lambeau.
Predictions: Jackson rushes for 81 yards and a score, while Ryan hooks up with Tony Gonzalez for a touchdown in a 240-yard day. Flynn pitches it for 261 yards and scoring strikes to Nelson and Jarrett Boykin. Lacy rumbles for 127 total yards and hits paydirt from in close. Packers 24-20.
Cleveland (+12.5) @ New England, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Patriots will produce fantasy points. That much is for sure. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are must-starts. That much is also clear. Everything else though is as unpredictable as a Bill Belichick blitz package. Stevan Ridley was red hot with five straight games with a score before an entirely different streak of fumblitis cost him his spot in the lineup entirely. And when Brandon Bolden looked poised to step in following a strong performance in a critical win over Denver, the touches went instead to LeGarrette Blount. Of the backs in New England only the sure-handed, shifty Shane Vereen can be trusted, as his involvement in the passing game ensures his touches will be there. Julian Edelman is another intriguing option, particularly in PPR leagues, after going back-to-back games with nine grabs and 100-plus yards while snatching two scores versus the Broncos. But he was a ghost for the previous six weeks as he totaled the same number of catches over that span for only 181 yards and no touchdowns. And with Danny Amendola's presence and Joe Haden likely taking turns locking him down, Edelman is risky at best. But there's still Brady and Gronk. Brady has 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns over the last four games. Gronk has 419 yards and a score in each during that span. Cleveland has the fifth-ranked pass D but it would be foolish to think this pair can't and won't tear them up... There was a highly unexpected Willis McGahee sighting in the end zone last week, but there's really nothing more worth discussing about the Browns offense than the phenom that is Josh Gordon. The first player in league history to top 200 yards receiving in consecutive games is a blend of size, strength and speed that only Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones and Demaryius Thomas can even rival. With him getting at least 15 targets a week it doesn't even matter who is throwing to him or who is trying helplessly to cover him. Regardless of who's lining up as QB Browns (that's right an old school Tecmo Super Bowl reference), Gordon is simply going to make big plays. This week is Jason Campbell's turn after trading concussion weeks off with Brandon Weeden, but it's no matter. Gordon has 809 yards and five TD's over his last five playing with both of them at various times and would be on pace for a 2,000-yard season had he not been suspended the first two weeks. In a game that Cleveland will obviously be throwing it plenty, expect Bill Belichick to roll a ton of coverage his way and try to make other Browns beat him. Jordan Cameron could benefit from less attention, but in the end Gordon is the only Brown you want in your lineup and still a must-start even facing this defensive genius.
Prediction: Campbell pitches it for 214 yards and a touchdown to Cameron, while Gordon contributes 122 yards and McGahee turns in 52 rushing. Vereen leads the Pats' backfield with 105 total yards and finds paydirt on the ground. Brady passes for 281 yards and hits Gronkowski and Amendola for scores. Patriots 30-10.
Oakland (+3) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: In the last two games the Jets have as many total turnovers as they do points. With just a field goal in each game an embarrassingly bad New York offense has made its defense look much worse than they actually are. Over the last five games the Jets have gone 1-4 while being outscored a combined 148-55. They've registered just four touchdowns during that stretch, two of which belong to Chris Ivory and none of which were thrown by Geno Smith. In fact, Smith has thrown just one score over the last seven games. During that span he's been picked off 11 times while averaging a paltry 138.1 passing yards per contest at 5.65 YPA with a 49.1% completion rate. He's also been benched in favor of Matt Simms to conclude each of the last two games. And yet Smith's season isn't over just yet, as he remains the starter, and somehow the Jets own victories over the Patriots and Saints with a shot of still sneaking into the playoffs if they can miraculously right the ship offensively and win three of the last four. Since good money - and overwhelming statistical support - say there's no chance of that occurring given their dreadful QB play and paper thin receiving corps, the sound advice would dictate benching all Jets with the possible exception of Ivory, who may produce borderline flex numbers going forward... In this ugly versus ugly matchup, the Raiders defense actually appears to be the best fantasy play. Rashad Jennings would be the next best if he's able to suit up after suffering a concussion last week, but going up against the top-ranked run defense he's less than safe. Though he found the end zone twice versus Dallas, he managed just 2.1 YPC against a defense that entered the game allowing a league-worst 5.1 YPC. Matt McGloin will be called upon plenty when Jennings and/or MR. Glass, a.k.a. Darren McFadden (ankle), fail to get much going on the ground. Considering Ryan Tannehill just slung it for a season-high 331 yards on the Jets, it's reasonable to think McGloin might find similar success. He has averaged over 8.0 YPA the past two weeks and both Rod Streater and Andre Holmes have played well recently with Denarius Moore (shoulder) out. Still, none of these names is a strong candidate for fantasy use at this point.
Predictions: Ivory totes it for 74 yards and a short touchdown, while early Smith turnovers lead to Simms pitching it for 148 yards and a score to Kellen Winslow. McGloin hooks up with Holmes and Marcel Reece for TD's in a 239-yard effort. Jennings contributes 67 total yards to the cause. Jets 17-14.
Detroit (+3) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: With a whopping 19 touchdown passes, zero picks and two scores on the ground in what amounts to just six games and change of action, Nick Foles has earned himself unequivocal must-start status in all fantasy leagues. He's got size to survive in the pocket and find throwing windows, a strong arm with a deft touch, underrated mobility and a quality assortment of weapons to get involved and produce big plays. There really is no reason to expect a drop off in his stellar play, even though he's bound to turn it over more at some point. That first interception could come against a Detroit defense that's snagged 12 of them on the year, but even if it does there should be enough scores to easily offset it. Prior to shellacking Matt Flynn and the banged up Packers offense, the Lions had allowed six straight teams to throw for multiple scores (16 total) and average 299.3 yards per game through the air, and that included the likes of Brandon Weeden, Andy Dalton and Mike Glennon. They've been particularly bad defending the deep ball, so Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson could both go off this week with Foles' ability to push it down field. On the flip side though, it could be a disappointing game for LeSean McCoy unless he's productive as a receiver. The Lions boast a beefy defensive line that's helped them limit opponents to a meager 82.7 yards per game on the ground (third fewest), and they've only been getting stronger of late having held the likes of Le'Veon Bell, Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy all to 2.0 YPC or less... Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, the league's worst passing defense. Yahtzee. The combination figures to translate to another monster game for Megatron, which usually means Stafford's owners are all smiles too. The gunslinger has been phenomenal since Week 5 with multiple scores in seven straight contests and 20 total TD's in that span. On the year Stafford's been the third best fantasy QB but with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees facing the only two teams that have yet to give up double-figure passing touchdowns this season, this may well be the week Stafford tops the list. The Eagles are solid versus the run, however, so unless Reggie Bush - who is typically worse on grass - can produce in the passing game, count on a down week for the dynamic back. In what could be a shootout though, goal-line back Joique Bell could be a decent flex. He's found the end zone in three of five games and has gone for over 95 total yards in two of them.
Predictions: Stafford slings it for 356 yards and touchdowns to Johnson (2) and Nate Burleson. Bush and Bell combine for 134 total yards. McCoy nets 96 total yards and finds the end zone rushing, while Foles hooks up with Cooper, Jackson and Brent Celek for TD's in a 310-yard performance. Eagles 28-24.
Miami (+3) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Steelers must pullout a victory against a very scrappy Dolphins team positioned to make their own Wild Card push if they want even a chance at pulling off a huge turnaround from their early season woes. Miami may be just a game ahead of Pittsburgh at 6-6 but they've lost by more than four points to only the Patriots and Saints this year, both on the road, so cashing a victory is no sure thing. With Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill having taken a combined 81 sacks, with Tannehill's 45 leading the league, the deciding factor may come down to which quarterback hits the ground the most. Ultimately Roethlisberger's better efficiency through the air and better overall weapons between Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller should give the Pittsburgh offense the edge, even though Miami's pass D is one of the more underrated in the league. And if Pittsburgh does struggle against Cameron Wake and an improving pass rush, Le'Veon Bell could tip the scales. Bell has been cleared from a concussion suffered at the end of arguably his best game as a pro and now gets the delight of facing a defense that allowed an opposing running back to register over 100 yards or a touchdown in every game from Week 2 through Week 11. He's a surefire must-start given that tasty matchup... The story for the Dolphins going into Pittsburgh will be the revenge factor of Mike Wallace going up against his old mates, but the focus should remain with Tannehill. The young signal caller has been making nice strides of late, and with the help of Wallace's improved play the last two weeks, he's been more productive. It is no coincidence that in the first back-to-back 300-yard games of Tannehill's career his most gifted receiver has finally played to his potential. Perhaps in anticipation of his return to Heinz Field, Wallace has tallied at least 80 yards and a score in consecutive weeks, the first time he's done either in two straight games all year. Brian Hartline may need to play the lead role though as Pittsburgh is sure to give plenty of attention to their old speedy friend. Speaking of speed, Lamar Miller will need to use all of his if he wants to keep the offense even semi-balanced against a Steeler D that's stepped up versus the run over the last four weeks.
Predictions: Tannehill throws for 221 yards and a score to Charles Clay. Miller totals 91 yards but is held scoreless. Bell bests that mark with 113 total yards and a rushing touchdown, while Roethlisberger connects with Brown and Miller for TD's in a 266-yard day. Steelers 24-13.
Buffalo (+2.5) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Mike Glennon's NFL record eight-game touchdown streak to begin a career came to a crashing halt versus the Panthers' ultra stingy defense. With the Bills D at home though Glennon should get back on track this week. While Buffalo does lead the league in sacks (43) and is tied for second in picks (16), they've also allowed 23 passing scores on the season - good for 14 more than Carolina. The Bills will take chances and they will get burned, and the huge, speedy mismatch that is Vincent Jackson is just the type of receiver that could burn them badly. Barring a setback with his sore hamstring, look for Jackson to bounce back after a couple of average weeks. The same could be said for Bobby Rainey, who after getting snuffed versus the second and third ranked run defenses the last two games, will get to flex his muscle against a Bills unit that just got hammered for 151 yards and three rushing TD's by a Falcons offense that had entered that game 31st in rushing yards... C.J. Spiller is back. Or at least he proved how bad the Atlanta run defense really is as he tore through them on a still-gimpy ankle. At the very least Spiller proved his burst is mostly back as he flew through holes to rack up 131 yards before contact last week. He'll need that explosiveness though if he wants to come close to 100 yards against a 12th-ranked Buccaneer rush defense that has only allowed LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch to top the century mark this season. With Fred Jackson still stealing plenty of touches per game, neither back looks like more than a flex option this week given the tough matchup. When Buffalo does throw it though they should find plenty of success as long as EJ Manuel is safe with the football. Tampa leads the league with 17 interceptions, but they've also allowed the second-most passing scores in the league (24).
Predictions: Rainey totals 86 yards and finds the end zone rushing, while Glennon tosses it for 242 yards and connects with Jackson for a TD. Manuel passes for 191 yards and hits T.J. Graham for a score. Spiller and Jackson combine for 149 total yards with the old man vulturing yet another short touchdown. Buccaneers 23-17.
Kansas City (-3) @ Washington, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Griffin started red hot last week before getting cooled off by a relentless Giants pass rush. From a fantasy standpoint the scrambling he was often forced into saved his night, as he racked up a season-high 88 yards on the ground, but his passing production continued to be weak. Fortunately for Griffin the Chiefs once-dominant pass rush has absolutely vanished over the last five games as they've notched just two sacks during that period. With Justin Houston (elbow) out and Tamba Hali hampered by an ankle injury they are simply a shell of the defense that went the first nine games without giving up more than 17 points. In fact, the 103 points they've allowed during their three-game skid is just eight fewer than they'd relented in their nine wins. And yet, if Jordan Reed cannot get cleared of concussion symptoms, it's still hard to see Griffin doing much damage with his arm having only Pierre Garcon as a threat to beat coverage. From sheer target volume Garcon remains a must-start, while Alfred Morris should break out of his recent slump against a KC group giving up 4.6 YPC... Just as Griffin's passing numbers are fading, Alex Smith's are spiking. With the Chiefs defense completely incapable of keeping their opponent off the scoreboard lately Smith has had to take to the air with more urgency and has thrived. His seven passing scores in the last three outings are equal to what RGIII has tallied over six games, while Smith has also averaged 272.3 yards in the same span. The Redskins 27th-ranked pass defense should keep the good times rolling for Smith, who is now a borderline No. 1 fantasy quarterback in leagues of 12 or more teams. Though none of Kansas City's wideouts has much upside with Smith spreading the ball around well, Dwayne Bowe is at least a serviceable - albeit risky - flex given his recent stretch. Bowe's topped 50 yards in four straight with two TD's (and one that was called back versus Denver), and the Skins' secondary could struggle with his physical presence in the red zone. Of course, the Chiefs offense isn't about to stop feeding Jamaal Charles, who's back to his superb ways with 277 total yards and three scores the last two weeks. He could feast on a Washington defense that's dead last with 17 rushing scores allowed.
Predictions: Smith passes for 247 yards and touchdowns to Bowe and Dexter McCluster. Charles piles up 138 total yards and scores twice on the ground. Morris totes it for 96 yards and a short TD, while Griffin adds 55 with his legs and 186 with his arm, finding Roy Helu for his lone passing score. Chiefs 28-23.
Minnesota (+6.5) @ Baltimore, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: With four games remaining, the defending champs are in control of their own destiny. Win and their in. Fortunately they should be able to get that business off on the right foot with the Vikings bringing the league's worst scoring defense to town (30.5 points allowed per game). With Minnesota's 30th-ranked pass defense having given up the most scores through the air (26) they are particularly susceptible to their thin and inexperienced secondary being carved up. Given how Alshon Jeffery absolutely killed them on deep balls, Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith have got to be drooling over this matchup. That pair could be in for a big day, while Ray Rice should be a solid option for total yardage considering his involvement in the pass attack and the generally weak play Minnesota has had against the run. Granted they are playing at a much higher level than Rice, both Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte reached 150 total yards versus the Vikes in the last two weeks. Since Rice's touches have been consistent, it could be his best game since he gashed Chicago... Matt Cassel will draw just his third start of the season with Christian Ponder still not cleared of concussion symptoms, and it may be to the benefit of the Vikings offense. In his three stints of extended action this season Cassel has topped 240 yards passing each time, something Ponder was unable to do once in eight games with at least 20 attempts. Cassel's handiwork is even more impressive when considering that two of those outings came against Pittsburgh and Carolina, both of which are among the league's better pass defenses. The Ravens are not far off from those units in terms of yards allowed per game through the air, but their 19-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio is welcoming. Still, any of the Vikings receivers would be at best a risky start given their run-first nature. If any were worth rolling the dice though, it would likely be Greg Jennings. In two of Cassel's three games leading the offense, Jennings racked up 170 yards and all three of the touchdowns he's caught this year. Of course, the real fantasy player in purple is coming off his best yardage day of the season and still figures to be the centerpiece of the offense. With the sixth ranked run defense on tap though, expectations for Adrian Peterson should be reigned in a bit. After all, Baltimore has allowed a league-low two touchdowns on the ground all year.
Predictions: Rice nets 82 total yards and makes a goal-line plunge, while Flacco airs it out for 257 yards and touchdowns to Smith and Marlon Brown. Cassel hooks up with Cordarrelle Patterson and John Carlson for TD's in a 208-yard effort. Peterson rumbles for 106 yards but is held out of the end zone. Ravens 27-14.
Tennessee (+12) @ Denver Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: Peyton Manning has four games left to make history. After his torching of the Chiefs he's now 10 passing touchdowns shy of breaking Tom Brady's mark of 50. Still in a tight race with Brady's very own Patriots for the top seed in the AFC, don't expect him to take his foot off the gas either, cold weather or no cold weather. While he's certainly capable though, Manning may need a strong finish in his other three contests to make the grade, as Tennessee has allowed the fewest passing scores this season with a mere eight relinquished in 12 games. Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty may present the best corner duo in the league, and it's fair to think they could slow Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but it's also important to note the complete and total lack of quality QB play the Titans have faced outside of Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson. Even Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick cannot be counted as difficult passers to slow through the air given the lack of weapons they faced Tennessee with. So Manning figures to be just fine in this one, especially if Julius Thomas can return from a knee injury to give him the extra matchup nightmare. Even if Manning does struggle, however, the Broncos offense isn't likely to hit a snag going against a poor-tackling Titans defense that has given up the second most rushing scores in the league (16) and has allowed a running back to register at least 100 total yards or find the end zone in every single game since Week 1. Yes, you read that right. And yes, that means starting Montee Ball in the flex feels like a no-brainer while Knowshon Moreno remains a No. 1 back even on his sore ankle... Even when Ryan Fitzpatrick stinks he's a solid fantasy performer. After three pristine games throwing the football he registered three interceptions and added a fumble for good measure, yet still somehow posted 15 points in standard scoring. A big part of his effectiveness this year has come by way of timely and fearless scrambling, as he registered his second game with at least 50 yards and a score on the ground to support one of his more modest passing performances. Versus a Denver team that will force him to throw it plenty once Manning and Co. get a double-digit lead, Fitzpatrick should be in line for yet another strong fantasy day. Of course, it could hurt him if Delanie Walker is not cleared of concussion symptoms to suit up, but with Kendall Wright playing at a high level and a sufficient supporting cast the overall production should still be there. If Walker does sit Chris Johnson stands to benefit the most. He's struggled on the ground (only one 100-yard game and four outings over 4.0 YPC), but without the security blanket tight end Johnson should factor into the passing game more to support his so-so ground production against Denver's seventh-ranked run defense.
Predictions: Manning throws for 286 yards and scores to D. Thomas and Wes Welker. Moreno and Ball rack up 181 combined yards with each finding paydirt rushing. Johnson tallies 97 total yards, while Fitzpatrick connects with Nate Washington and Justin Hunter for TD's in a 270-yard effort. Broncos 31-14.
St. Louis (+6.5) @ Arizona, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Carson Palmer threw multiple picks for the first time since Week 7 in the loss to Philadelphia, but it mattered little to his fantasy day as he connected for three scores for the first time all season while topping 300 yards for the third consecutive game. Although an elbow injury that occurred in the first half seemed to impact his arm strength and may have contributed to the picks, it still wasn't and isn't enough to slow him down. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are both playing at a very high level and as a tandem are too much for opposing secondaries to handle. Add in a big, fast tight end in Rob Housler and the Cardinals are able to create physical mismatches all over the field for Palmer to exploit. The Rams have struggled mightily all year versus No. 1 wide receivers, and since Arizona has two big, athletic studs, it seems that it could be a another high-flying week for the Cardinals aerial attack. With 13 scores allowed on the ground, the Rams have also had their moments struggling to stop the run as well, so while his upside is limited by the offensive system, Rashard Mendenhall is at least a decent flex with Andre Ellington (knee) banged up... While the Cardinals offense prefers air travel, St. Louis' attack is powered on the ground by the thick, shifty legs of Zac Stacy. Of course, that means the whole offense may get stopped in its tracks against a fast, physical defense giving up a mere 3.5 YPC and 83.3 rushing yards per game. Last week though Stacy ran hard against a Niners D playing as well as any in the league, so he should still be safe for in the neighborhood of 70-plus yards. It is worth noting, however, that the Rams may have him playing behind a makeshift line. Center Scott Wells will be out the rest of the year with a broken leg, while left tackle Jake Long could be out with a concussion. Kellen Clemens could be called upon to pick up the slack, but with a mediocre group of weapons no other Ram besides Stacy is worth the risk. That includes Jared Cook - who owned this defense in Week 1 - despite how generous Arizona has been to tight ends.
Predictions: Mendenhall totes it for 71 yards and a score. Palmer tosses it for 288 yards and touchdowns to Fitzgerald and Housler. Clemens finds Chris Givens behind the defense for a TD in a 206-yard effort, while Stacy tallies 101 total yards and punches in a short score on the ground. Cardinals 24-17.
New York Giants (+3) @ San Diego, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Chargers are a last-second touchdown pass away from a five-game losing streak and likely need to win out to have any shot at the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. Philip Rivers has thrown just a single touchdown pass in five of the last seven games, and while he's been a consistent source of double-figure fantasy points all season, his thin receiving corps has made him awfully tough to trust if you're in need of a big week. And considering that the Giants have allowed just three passing scores over their last six contests while registering 18 sacks, Rivers owners may want to consider alternatives. That doesn't mean though that Keenan Allen should be benched, as the rookie wideout is the clear favorite target of Rivers and his 17 grabs for 230 yards the last two weeks make him look awfully safe, particularly in PPR formats. Quickly emerging as the second best receiving option for the Bolts, Ladarius Green should also be rolled out. After all, those three passing touchdowns the G-Men did let up - all in the last two weeks - went to tight ends. As for Ryan Mathews, it's hard to see much upside for him this Sunday when New York has held Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy and Alfred Morris to a combined 129 yards on 53 carries during their 5-1 stretch. Danny Woodhead even looks like he could now be a risk in PPR leagues, as he's totaled only eight receptions over three games and he's not topped 36 yards rushing all year... Outside of Andre Brown there is not a single Giants skill player that can be trusted despite this being a tasty matchup. The Chargers may be 31st in YPC (4.9) and YPA (8.4) allowed, but only Brown figures to take advantage of the generous defense. Eli Manning has failed to produce all year even though the Giants have faced eight of the defenses currently in the bottom 12 in the league versus the pass, including the 31st-ranked Cowboys and 32nd-ranked Eagles twice each. That's translated to weak and inconsistent numbers for his talented receiving corps, so while Victor Cruz certainly is capable of posting huge numbers, he's a wildly risky option for what is a playoff week in many leagues. After all, even though he's over 900 yards on the year, Cruz has just one 100-yard outing and no scores since Week 4.
Predictions: Manning throws for 228 yards and a touchdown to Rueben Randle, while Brown nets 107 total yards and finds paydirt rushing. Mathews and Woodhead combine for 94 yards but are held scoreless. Rivers hooks up with Green for a touchdown in a 244-yard effort. Chargers 19-17.
Seattle (+3) @ San Francisco, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: With the ground game slowing down as Frank Gore endures an ailing ankle injury, it's perfect timing that Colin Kaepernick is finally starting to throw the ball like the quarterback who stormed the league over the second half of last season. Granted he did so against the 31st and 32nd-ranked pass defenses in terms of YPA, it's still refreshing that Kaepernick topped 200 yards passing in consecutive games for the first time all year. Getting Michael Crabtree back is enormous for both his production and this offense as it heads into the post season. Of course owners may want to wait a week before employing Kaepernick or his favorite receiver. The Seahawks top the league against the pass and just completely shut down Drew Brees. They may not be the same unit on the road, but it's still awfully risky to chance Kaepernick in this matchup and with fantasy playoffs likely on the line. Anquan Boldin or Crabtree could have a nice game depending on which draws Richard Sherman more often, but since that's a roll of the dice owners are better off pursuing safer starting options. Vernon Davis, with ten touchdowns in eleven games, is really the only advisable fantasy option for the Niners considering that Seattle has allowed just four rushing scores all year and Gore is less than 100%... Unlike Kaepernick, the general for the Seahawks is matchup proof. So although it's far from a sexy matchup for Russell Wilson, being on the road and all against a studly defense, the burgeoning MVP candidate should be in your starting lineup. Wilson has multiple touchdown passes in six straight games and has totaled 10 TD's over his last four contests while completing exactly 73.0% of his throws for an eye-popping 10.4 YPA. Wilson struggled with one of his worst performances of the season against San Fran in Week 2, but he and the offense in general have progressed considerably since then. And with the Niners stoning opposing running backs quite well of late, it's unlikely that Marshawn Lynch will dominate touches the way that he did in their first meeting. Since Wilson figures to air it out more than usual, his numbers should remain steady. And maybe, just maybe, a statement game might actually give the diminutive QB a puncher's chance in the MVP race that appears to be between just he and the otherworldly Peyton Manning at this point.
Predictions: Kaepernick throws for 206 yards and a score to Boldin, while adding 44 with his legs. Gore scraps his way to 51 yards on the ground. Lynch tallies 72 total yards and converts a goal-line dive. Wilson passes for 239 yards and a score to Jermaine Kearse and adds 45 yards and a touchdown rushing. Seahawks 24-16.
Carolina (+3) @ New Orleans, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: In Seattle the Seahawks have the best defense in the league. It's so loud and they play so physical that there's little disputing that. Everywhere else, however, that claim may belong to the Panthers, who are second against the run, have given up just nine passing scores all year and are first in points allowed at 13.1 per game. So for the second consecutive week it's likely owners will be receiving fantasy production that's not up to Drew Brees' usually awesome standards. Obviously Jimmy Graham, who snatched the lone touchdown against Seattle, is still an elite must-start option, but all other Saints receivers and rushers are risky plays this week in what could be a slugfest that ultimately decides the NFC South race. If gambling on any of those options, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles, look to be the safest considering New Orleans has little chance of success running against Carolina's elite front seven... While Brees owners should have tempered expectations, it's reasonable for Cam Newton owners to be hoping for the dual-threat QB's best performance of the season. With similar mobility and enough arm talent to make accurate touch throws, Newton should look to replicate the formula Russell Wilson laid out last week for burning a Saints defense that regularly brings pressure with more than their front four. Wilson was able to produce big passing plays and chain-moving runs when Rob Ryan dialed up the blitz and Newton could similarly exploit what has thus far been the strength of the Saints defense. Even if Newton struggles a bit more to connect with his receivers, he should still produce surefire No. 1 quarterback numbers. Over the last three games he's been awfully hot with averages of more than 215.0 yards through the air and 60.0 on the ground while totaling eight touchdowns. Similar to New Orleans though, outside of their quarterback and tight end, none of the other Panthers should be fixtures in fantasy lineups. Greg Olsen has turned in at least 85 yards or a score in five of his last six contests to produce steady production, but aside from him all other Carolina receivers have produced modest numbers at best, while also lacking consistency. The Carolina ground game, meanwhile, is simply too risky a situation with no clear feature back. To stake their claim for the division though and keep the league's longest win streak alive Carolina will likely need to find ways to produce first downs running the ball, so look for at least one member of the backfield to step up. With DeAngelo Williams (quadriceps) and Jonathan Stewart (ankle) both less than 100% healthy, that could be Mike Tolbert, but even the boldest fantasy owners aren't advised to chance one of these options.
Predictions: Pierre Thomas and Sproles combine for 96 total yards. Brees finds Graham and Lance Moore for touchdowns in a 295-yard effort, but gives away a crucial fumble. Newton scrambles for 72 yards and a score while adding 221 yards and TD's to Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell through the air. The trio of backs net 82 yards between them. Panthers 21-17.
Dallas (+1) @ Chicago, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Let the fantasy fireworks begin. In what is a playoff game for many leagues or the final chance to secure a spot for next week, the Bears and Cowboys skill players are in prime position to decide many a fantasy matchup. Dallas was giving up a league-worst 5.1 YPC before limiting Rashad Jennings (who still found the end zone twice) to just 2.1 YPC and they're 31st against the pass. For those keeping score, that means Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Josh McCown could all go crazy in a contest that could see an awful lot of scoring if the cold Chicago weather doesn't get in the way. After his second monstrous game of the year, it's safe to say that Jeffery - who quietly has 115 rushing yards and at least one carry in seven straight games by the way - has ascended to No. 1 receiver status. In fact, since Week 3 Jeffery has averaged 121.1 yards from scrimmage per game (buoyed obviously by two outings over 200), a total surpassed only by Josh Gordon among all wideouts... If DeMarco Murray owners are even remotely within striking distance of an opponent following Sundays games they should feel pretty confident of making a comeback. Murray turned in a monster against a Raiders defense among the top ten versus the rush and now gets to exploit a Bears unit that's dead last against the run and has allowed an average of 205.2 yards per game on the ground over the last six contests. And with Lance Dunbar (knee) now out for the year, Murray may even see more touches to go wild with. If this defense can let Brandon Jacobs, a ghost-of-his-former-self Ray Rice and Benny Cunningham (who did it in one half!) go for over 100 yards and a score, there's no telling what a back playing at Murray's level will do. After all, Murray is tops among all running backs with 4.9 YPC. Moreover, Tony Romo and the passing attack will only serve to help Murray, as Chicago has been blasted on the ground all while facing a slate of generally subpar-at-best quarterbacks. The Romo to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten connections figure to generate more running lanes since the Bears will need to pay more respect to the throw.
Predictions: Romo passes for 243 yards and touchdowns to Bryant and Terrance Williams. Murray piles up 181 total yards and runs one in. Forte totals 126 yards and scores twice on the ground, while McCown slings it for 291 yards and finds Marshall and Martellus Bennett for TD's. Bears 31-27.