San Diego (+10.5) @ Denver, Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Comments: Three games, six touchdowns. In case you were counting down to see what Peyton Manning needs to set the passing scores record. Seems like a safe bet that he'll get there after tossing four of them against a Titans D that entered last week allowing the fewest passing touchdowns in the league. And despite the cold weather in Denver the future league MVP did not look the slightest bit phased. With a San Diego defense coming to town that's 31st in the league (tied) with an 8.4 YPA allowed to opposing QB's, all Broncos skill guys should remain lineup fixtures yet again - as if that wasn't already a no-brainer. With Wes Welker out with a concussion, Denver may actually run more in short distance situations, so it would be wise to get Montee Ball active as well if that wasn't apparent after seeing him tally over 200 total yards and a score in the last two weeks while averaging a very healthy 6.9 YPC... Philip Rivers hasn't given up yet, and he made that plenty apparent when he torched a Giants defense that had been terrific lately versus significantly less-talented passers. Duplicating that effort won't be easy against a Broncos defense that limited him to just 218 yards and one score in their first meeting, but chances are he'll notch more than 29 attempts this time around. The Chargers somehow dominated time of possession in their first tussle with Manning and Co. despite not generating many yards, but that's not a likely a repeatable feat against the league's best offense. With the way Knowshon Moreno and Ball are running, expect Denver to own a bigger chunk of the clock and force Rivers to hurry things up more when he does have the ball - in other words, expect plenty of slinging it. Ryan Mathews became the first back all year to top 100 yards on the ground versus the Giants after a slew of studs including LeSean McCoy (twice), Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray (twice), Eddie Lacy, Knowshon Moreno and Alfred Morris all failed to do so. Of course, it took Mathews a career high 29 carries to barely get there. Though he did score the last time he faced off against a Denver defense that has allowed an awful lot of rushing TD's this year (14 to be exact, tied for 25th in the league), it's highly unlikely he'll see 30-plus touches again to do much yardage damage, especially with little rest on the short week. Mathews remains a solid No. 2 rusher though given his stretch of at least 90 total yards or a score in seven of eight games, but expectations should be modest given the circumstances. The top skill player in San Diego though, rookie star Keenan Allen, has the look of a No. 1 at his position despite a shoulder injury that will cause him some discomfort. In his last nine outings Allen has five 100-yard games and five touchdowns. Can you say Rookie of the Year?
Prediction: Moreno and Ball combine for 189 total yards and each find the end zone rushing. Manning hooks up with both Thomases and Jacob Tamme for touchdowns in a 284-yard outing. Rivers passes for 271 yards and finds Allen and Antonio Gates for TD's, while Mathews and Danny Woodhead contribute 118 yards with the latter running one in for six. Broncos 38-21.
Washington (+7) @ Atlanta, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: In a matchup of bad offense versus bad defense for what amounts to little more than draft positioning for the Falcons and Redskins, fantasy owners will want to take advantage of the few talented skill players that should rise to the occasion in this contest. At the very least, after seeing so many games dramatically impacted last weekend by weather, owners can feel safe knowing the elements will not hinder Matt Ryan from throwing it regularly to Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas. In eight games since losing Julio Jones (foot) to IR, Ryan has tossed multiple scores just three times, but facing a Washington defense that's allowed at least 24 points in all but one contest this year and has recently made Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder look good throwing the football, chances are strong Ryan will have one of his more productive games. Of course, having an effective ground game with a finally healthy Steven Jackson makes it easier on Ryan to find the time to throw, and considering the Skins have allowed a league-worst 19 scores on the ground, it's an even safer bet that Jackson will be performing like the stud back he was drafted to be for one of the few times all year... While all the blame cannot be placed on Robert Griffin - after all he's got little after Pierre Garcon to throw to - it's still hard not to write off this season as a complete and utter failure for both he and the Redskins. Amid speculation and rumors swirling around Mike Shanahan's relationships with Griffin and ownership the Redskins have bottomed out as a team on the football field, seemingly playing with no passion or focus. Two players that it's hard to accuse of losing focus though are Garcon and Alfred Morris, and despite the promising matchup, they're the only two that appear useful for the fantasy playoffs. Although all the eyes will be on the arm of Kirk Cousins, who is arguably better in the pocket than the former Heisman winner he's replacing, the Skins would be wise to make the legs of Morris their bread and butter against the 30th-ranked Falcons run defense. That unit has given up at least 100 total yards or a touchdown to a running back in seven straight contests, with five guys hitting at least 130 total yards. Unfortunately for Morris' owners though, logic does not exist on the Washington sideline and in a lost season they're more likely to give Cousins plenty of chances to show off his skills than rely on the best gameplan for victory. So while that makes Morris a scary start, it should mean Garcon will remain heavily targeted against a pass defense with a miserable 25-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Predictions: Jackson totes it for 73 yards and a touchdown, while Ryan hits White and Gonzalez (2) for scoring strikes in a 306-yard performance. Cousins passes for 257 yards and a touchdown to Logan Paulsen. Morris churns out 84 yards and a score on the ground. Falcons 31-23.
Chicago (pick 'em) @ Cleveland, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Sooner or later, Josh Gordon will get you. For any owners that have faced him the last three weeks, my heart goes out to you. He is utterly dominant, and against a Bears defense with no Charles Tillman, it's hard to see a break coming for those tasked with beating him in the playoffs. Jason Campbell was nearly flawless against New England and the Chicago defense is even less threatening. The biggest hope that anyone having to go up against Gordon could have this week is that a blizzard buries his fantasy day, because much like we saw with Calvin Johnson last Sunday, that's the only thing slowing down these goliath receivers. Campbell, as a beneficiary, could actually be a quality emergency replacement for anyone still struggling to replace Aaron Rodgers. Campbell finally got Jordan Cameron considerably more involved last weekend for the first time as the team's starter and with his two athletic mismatches creating nightmares for coverage schemes, Campbell could turn in another huge day. Facing the Bears epically bad run defense though, don't be shocked to see Cleveland run effectively for pretty much the first time all year After all, Chicago has now allowed an absurd 1,429 yards on the ground in just the last seven weeks. Chris Ogbonnaya, who appears poised to fill in for a concussed Willis McGahee, may be a fantasy playoff hero given those disgusting defensive numbers... Despite completing 72.3% of his throws for 1,055 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three games, red-hot veteran backup Josh McCown will return to the bench in favor of the now-healthy Jay Cutler. Marc Trestman has made a decision that will define this season for Chicago. If Cutler struggles and stays in and it costs them a shot at the playoffs, it may also define Trestman's tenure in "The Windy City," as there will always be second-guessers. McCown is certainly the more favorable option for fantasy owners of one or both Bears QB's, and also for the wideouts whose numbers may suffers as result of the switch. Cutler was productive though in his six full games. He threw for at least 240 yards in five of those outings while notching multiple TD's in each of those five, so Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall aren't likely to drop off much, particularly for the veteran who has always been Cutler's favorite target. Versus a Browns defense that has allowed at least two passing scores in eight straight contests, Cutler is a solid option, albeit a bit risky considering some rust could be there. Matt Forte meanwhile must remain in all lineups despite the unsexy matchup for him against Cleveland's fourth ranked run defense. He is a superb receiver after all and Shane Vereen just lit up this same unit for over 150 yards catching balls out of the backfield.
Predictions: Forte tallies 107 total yards and finds the end zone rushing, while Cutler hooks up with Marshall and Martellus Bennett for touchdowns in a 236-yard effort. Campbell finds Gordon and Greg Little for scoring strikes in a 281-yard day. Ogbonnaya chips in 127 total yards to the losing cause. Bears 24-20.
Houston (+6) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: As it turns out, Andrew Luck doesn't need any of his top three receivers. Reggie Wayne is done for the year, T.Y. Hilton has been M.I.A. in the role of top playmaker and Darrius Heyward-Bey is apparently a bust after all (he fooled us with a semi-breakout in 2011). And yet, Luck went crazy playing in catch up mode against the Bengals. As it turns out, the last time he did that was when he faced off with Houston and the dreadful Colts defense buried him in a first-half hole. With Hilton and Heyward-Bey fading out of prominence, Da'Rick Rogers took a monster leap forward against Cinci and should see a significant role moving forward for a team that is going to have to pass it plenty. With his combination of size and athleticism, he's the perfect type of sneaky pickup that could be worth a bold championship week upside play. Facing a Texans D that's allowed the second-fewest passing yards per game in the league, Luck or Rogers or any Colt for that matter is a risky play, but it's worth noting there is upside in this matchup. Although the yards cannot be relied on, Houston has a miserable 23-to-5 touchdown to interception ratio and is giving up 26.9 points per game. They've also been friendly to opposing backs lately as well, but with Trent Richardson eating into Donald Brown's touches in the passing game, the newly-minted starting back in Indy is completely hit or miss right now. At this point, Coby Fleener appears to be the safest bet going for fantasy Colts... No quarterback, no coach. That's often how it goes in the NFL. And for Gary Kubiak the lack of a consistent presence under center this year - not to mention a highly disappointing defense - cost him his long tenure in Houston. Rookie Case Keenum has been in and out of the lineup over the last seven weeks but the Texans are calling him their starter to finish this season, which makes sense since they're at rock bottom and may as well see if he can develop further. Against Indianapolis the first time he was magnificent, but the Colts are likely to take away the deep ball to Andre Johnson, much like they did in the second half of that game, and force him into more of a dink-and-dunk approach. The Colts defense has been dreadful though in recent weeks against the run, having allowed 699 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in the last five contests, so Houston may not even have to worry about throwing too much if they can get Ben Tate going like they did a couple weeks back versus a similarly bad New England run defense.
Prediction: Brown and Richardson tally 98 combined yards, with Richardson punching in a short score. Luck hooks up with Rogers and T.Y. Hilton for TD's in a 268-yard effort. Keenum throws for 216 yards and touchdowns to Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins, while Tate adds 94 yards and a score on the ground. Colts 27-24 in OT.
New England (-2.5) @ Miami, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: They say it's a game of inches and a near miraculous final play that kept Miami on top of Pittsburgh certainly reminded Dolphins and Steelers fans of just that. With three divisional games left and Rob Gronkowski no longer at Tom Brady's disposal the Dolphins have put themselves in excellent position to make a playoff push. Unfortunately for Miami that game of inches also kept them from controlling their destiny, as Baltimore had an even more so miraculous victory when Marlon Brown's toes scraped the field on a last-second touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. Ryan Tannehill has now not only earned himself some clutch credit with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to put Miami on top of Pittsburgh for good, but he's also earned himself legitimate fantasy consideration with his third straight strong performance. Six passing scores, 841 yards through the air and 114 yards on the ground make owners have to consider Tannehill as an option if their quarterback situation is iffy, especially after Jason Campbell scorched the Pats for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Charles Clay is likewise looking like an excellent option at tight end in this matchup. Coming off 177 yards and two scores the last two weeks, he'll face a Pats D that's allowed a touchdown to a tight end in three of the last four games. Of course, New England is still the 31st-ranked run defense, so coming off his second career 100-yard game, Daniel Thomas has intriguing value this week should Lamar Miller not get full clearance from the concussion he suffered in Pittsburgh... Without Gronkowski, who suffered a torn ACL against Cleveland, the Patriots offense will need to readjust once again and will need to do so almost as quickly as they did in their thrilling comeback over the Browns. One slip up could cost them a bye in the playoffs, so expect the Patriots to lean on the run against a Dolphins team that has struggled all year to stop opposing backs. LeGarrette Blount could be a big benefactor if New England sticks to the ground game, as he's been their most effective runner the last two weeks, but Shane Vereen is the clear must-start among all Patriots skill players given his relationship with Brady in the pass game and versatility as a runner as well. Vereen did most of his damage against Cleveland after Gronk went down and he should remain a central figure in the offense as a complete mismatch for this aerial attack. With his monstrous 12-catch, 153-yard effort Sunday he's now racked up 33 grabs for 315 yards receiving in the four games since returning from a wrist injury and has exactly 400 total yards and two scores in that span. While Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are both solid flex options the rest of the way because of the targets they'll see, Brady and Vereen figure to be the only true studs left in New England - that is unless Stevan Ridley somehow returns to Bill Belichick's good graces.
Predictions: Blount rumbles for 64 yards and a touchdown, while Brady hooks up with Vereen and Amendola for scores in a 277-yard effort. Tannehill passes it for 252 yards and TD's to Clay and Mike Wallace. Thomas totals 95 yards and punches in a short rushing score. Dolphins 27-24.
Philadelphia (-5) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: In one of the wilder finishes in recent memory, and really ever in league history, the Vikings lost a lead three times in a little more than the final two minutes of game action. In all reality though they were very fortunate to be in position to win at all after Adrian Peterson left in the second quarter with what's being called a foot sprain. With Peterson likely out against the Eagles, owners smart enough to handcuff the superstar with the tackle-breaking Toby Gerhart figure to be okay given the ho-hum threat Philly poses to ball carriers. Or at least that would be the case if Gerhart didn't tweak a hamstring as he tore through the Baltimore defense for 89 yards and a touchdown scamper on just 15 carries. If he can display burst in practice with the hamstring bothering him, the underrated bruiser - who is averaging a whopping 7.9 YPC this year on his 36 totes - is a solid No. 2 back, albeit with some risk given the unpredictable nature of hammy injuries. After seeing how the Vikes got their last lead against Baltimore though, the more sneaky play this week might be rookie highlight reel Cordarrelle Patterson. The Eagles are still the 31st-ranked pass defense even after drawing the benefit of a blizzard last Sunday that severely limited Matthew Stafford, and Matt Cassel is sure to take advantage of it. After registering consecutive games with big play scores that demonstrated Patterson's remarkable elusiveness, he has monster upside start written all over him... The equation isn't too complicated for owners of Eagles skill guys this week. It won't be snowing inside the dome of the Mall of America Field. The Vikings are 31st in scoring defense for a reason. They cannot stop the throw or the run. Nick Foles is a must-start as he'll take major advantage of a young secondary that's given up the most passing touchdowns in the league (29) and is allowing a little over 280.0 yards per game through the air. DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper should likewise be started for this tasty affair, while LeSean McCoy remains the shiftiest back in the league. Nothing more needs to be said about the league leader in total yards.
Predictions: Foles torches his way to 331 yards and four touchdowns going to Cooper (2), Jackson and Zach Ertz. McCoy tallies 97 total yards and runs one in from close. Gerhart gets the nod and totes it for 76 yards and a score, while Cassel hooks up with Patterson and Greg Jennings for TD's in a 277-yard outing. Eagles 38-24.
Seattle (-7) @ New York Giants, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Eli Manning's two picks last week against a Chargers defense that had just seven entering the game increased his total to a league-leading 20 (tied with Geno Smith; go New York!). Now he gets the pleasure of facing a Seahawks defense coming in angry after just their second loss of the season. While "The Legion of Boom" has been broken up a bit by the suspension/injury of Brandon Browner, they're still an elite unit with an aggressive front seven that gets after the quarterback. The Seahawks are tied for the third-most interceptions with 17 thus far and chances are they can bait or rattle Manning into adding to that total. Hakeem Nicks turned in one of his few strong games of the season with 135 yards against the Chargers, but he's still yet to score and the chances seem slim given that Manning is barely averaging a touchdown pass per game (16 through 13 games) and the Seattle D has allowed just 14 through air. Since Andre Brown has not registered a game with less than 90 total yards or a touchdown in five contests since returning from a broken leg he's awfully tough to bench, but the G-Men have nowhere near as good a line to open up the holes Frank Gore ran through last week. With Brown being little more than a flex in this matchup, the best course of action may be to steer clear of Giant country this week... Prior to turning in an average day against an elite and angry Niners defense, Russell Wilson had tossed multiple scores in six straight games with 15 total TD's over that span. Considering how gifted the young signal caller is, and the focus and motivation he'll surely have coming off a loss, he may very well torch a Giants defense that failed to slow Philip Rivers and his similarly thin receiving corps. After all, Ryan Mathews became the first running back all year to top 100 rushing yards against New York and it took him 29 carries to barely get there, so the game circumstances could dictate more throwing if Marshawn Lynch fails to get going early.
Predictions: Brown notches 76 total yards and punches in a short scoring run. Manning slings it for 174 yards and a touchdown to Brandon Myers, but gets picked twice. Wilson hooks up with Golden Tate and Zach Miller for TD's in a 268-yard effort, while Lynch bulls his way to 91 yards and a touchdown. Seahawks 27-17.
San Francisco (-5.5) @ Tampa Bay, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: If a Buccaneer defense that leads the league in interceptions (21) and total takeaways (29) plays up to the level it has during their recent turnaround Tampa could keep this game close, but on the offensive side it is still a nightmarish matchup for the couple Bucs skill guys worthy of fantasy play - Vincent Jackson and Bobby Rainey. Given his upside there's almost no way to justify benching Jackson though. His combination of size and overall athleticism allows him to produce even against the stiffest defenses, so although a down game is a distinct possibility, he should remain in lineups. After all, Mike Glennon will likely have to throw it a fair amount when San Fran stuffs the run. Rainey has taken advantage of two weak run defenses in his four starts but in the two matchups with stout defenses he ran 35 times for just 98 yards (2.8 YPC). Moreover, after ripping off an 80-yard touchdown sprint against the Bills his next 21 carries managed a mere 46 yards. With a passing game that's not especially threatening, it's hard to see Rainey finding much daylight against that San Fran front seven... The 49ers offense will surely have their work cut out for them in what could be a bit of a trap game coming off the emotional last second victory over Seattle. The cross-country trip for an early start time is often tough for west coast teams and the Tampa defense is rounding into one of the better young groups in the league, led by rising star linebacker Lavonte David and the relentless interior presence of Gerald McCoy on the line. Fortunately for San Fran, Colin Kaepernick finally has the weapons to transform what's been a completely ground-reliant attack into an explosive offense. Vernon Davis was already uncoverable when he and Anquan Boldin were Kaepernick's only remotely capable targets. With Michael Crabtree back and looking like the receiver that stormed the league in the second half of 2012, and Mario Manningham also in the fold, this passing offense is poised to start doing big things. Boldin's value rises as well because of the lack of doubles he will now see. Since last week was the first time this quartet of targets was together this season and the matchup was so rough, it's difficult yet to project anyone other than Davis as a surefire fantasy starter. Sunday will be telling though and it wouldn't be surprising to see both Boldin and Crabtree locked into lineups for many fantasy championships the next two weekends. Of course, for owners of Frank Gore, if you were questioning his starter status prior to the Seattle win, you're likely done with that. Despite Tampa owning the ninth ranked run D, the Energizer Bunny of NFL tailbacks needs to remain in lineups until he officially hangs up the pads.
Predictions: Glennon tosses it for 192 yards and a touchdown to Tiquan Underwood, while Rainey tallies 70 total yards. Gore rumbles for 68 yards and a short score. Kaepernick connects with Davis and Crabtree in a 287-yard performance. 49ers 24-16.
Buffalo (-2) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Jacksonville Jaguars were the laughing stock of the NFL for the season's first half, even getting labeled one of the worst teams in history by some. Then their bye week came. And since they've been a different franchise, going 4-1 with three road victories. Their defense, while still 30th in points allowed, has made major strides, while Chad Henne and Maurice Jones-Drew have found ways to move the football despite the loss of Justin Blackmon to suspension. Henne has still amazingly connected for scoring throws just eight times in 382 attempts, but half of those have come the last two weeks as Jacksonville has averaged 29.5 points per contest. He doesn't figure to find a great deal of success versus a Bills D that's leading the league with 44 sacks and is second with 18 picks, however, so rushing to start Jaguars receivers isn't exactly advised. Cecil Shorts is the only member of this passing attack that can even be called a flex start, but his best game since Week 5 is just 64 yards and a score and he's dealing with a nagging groin injury that makes his status for action this weekend too iffy to be risking the fantasy playoffs on him. Jones-Drew on the other hand has produced like a No. 2 back consistently for six weeks. He's garnered 100 total yards or found the end zone in all those contests, and should a hamstring tweak not sideline him for this one (he looks like a game-time call), MJD should be poised to keep streaking against a Buffalo unit ranked 26th against the run. If he cannot overcome the ailment though, Jordan Todman could be a decent deep league flex for scrambling owners... The Bills offense had racked up 68 points in their previous two games before running into a buzz saw in Tampa last week. EJ Manuel turned in by far the sloppiest performance of his rookie year, tossing four picks and failing to reach 200 yards or find the end zone as Buffalo managed a measly six points. The defenses for the Falcons and Buccaneers though are about as night and day different as the showings Buffalo had against them. Jacksonville falls somewhere in between and despite their improved play is closer to Atlanta's tackle-averse unit. Although Manuel has little in terms of weapons to make the passing game take flight, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson should bounce back nicely against a group still ranked 27th and 29th in rushing yards (126.8) and touchdowns (16) allowed respectively.
Predictions: Todman leads the Jags backfield with 83 total yards and a rushing score. Henne slings it for 151 yards but gets picked twice. Manuel finds Scott Chandler for a touchdown, while also rushing one in himself. Spiller and Jackson combine for 162 total yards, with the latter finding the end zone. Bills 24-10.
Kansas City (-4.5) @ Oakland, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Jets had not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season until they met Marcel Reece, the Raiders fullback/emergency tailback. Oakland may want to rethink how they use Reece though given how ineffective/brittle Darren McFadden has been over his soon-to-be-ended Raiders career. Sure, Rashad Jennings has been fantastic at times this year, but he's also proven himself to lack durability since he set foot in the league. Meanwhile all Reece has done in four career opportunities to be the feature back is top 100 total yards all four times. And he did so twice (including against the Bucs last year) against defenses ranked first against the run. Whether it's Reece or Jennings against the revitalized Chiefs defense, the Raiders will need plenty of yards to make this much of a game. After all, Oakland's banged up defense allowed 30 points to a Geno Smith-led Jets offense, so there's no telling what Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles will do to them. Matt McGloin's arm may be busy if Oakland finds itself in an early hole, which makes both Rod Streater and Andre Holmes interesting options for deeper leagues. Streater has averaged 81.0 yards per game over the last four and found the end zone twice, so despite the Chiefs D looking good against Washington, he could be a useful flex option... The Kansas City defense appears to be back on track after they notched six sacks in the teams return to the win column last week. However, that was against the version of Robert Griffin with just enough pocket presence to scramble his way to the bench for the rest of the season, so it should be taken with a grain of salt. The Chiefs also happened to register a season-high nine sacks when they last faced Oakland, but that was versus a similarly confused-in-the-pocket Terrelle Pryor. With Matt McGloin under center now, he of just five sacks taken in four career starts, the Chiefs may have a more difficult time registering those defensive points. On the offensive side though, Charles is his usual must start while Smith and Dwayne Bowe have become useful in recent weeks. Smith has multiple TD tosses in four straight games and Bowe has scored in three of four.
Predictions: McGloin pitches it for 252 yards and connects with Holmes and Reece for scores, while Jennings leads the backfield with 92 total yards. Charles piles up 129 yards and punches one in on the ground. Smith throws for 241 yards and hooks up with Bowe and Junior Hemingway for touchdowns. Chiefs 27-20.
New York Jets (+11) @ Carolina, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Jets offense sprang to life last week and beat up on a depleted Oakland defense. They won't have anywhere near that success though in Carolina against the league's top ranked scoring defense (only 14.5 points allowed per game). With the Panthers likely cruising to victory, however, Cam Newton may not have his most productive outing. Carolina won't have to throw it much to maintain a lead in this one, so Newton's numbers could be down simply by sheer volume of attempts. That means none of the Panthers wide receivers are advisable for fantasy, though Greg Olsen should still be used given the lack of depth at the tight end position and his recent stretch of consistent production. As for their ground attack, DeAngelo Williams will be the headliner with Jonathan Stewart out due to a torn MCL in his right knee. Only desperate owners should be rolling the dice on Williams though considering the Jets rank second against the run... The Gang Green offense was a bit of a surprise last weekend, but with an underwhelming defense traveling across the country and top receiver Jeremy Kerley returning to the lineup, it shouldn't have been too shocking. And if Geno Smith hadn't turned it over at a ridiculous rate or made the occasional trip to the end zone over the last five plus weeks, perhaps it wouldn't have been. Finding the same offensive success against Carolina though appears next to impossible for this stumble drunk Jets offense. The Panthers lead the league against the run, allowing a paltry 79.4 yards per game, so considering Chris Ivory for even a flex spot in your lineup looks like it could be a fantasy playoff blunder for anyone daring enough to risk it.
Predictions: Smith tosses it for 154 yards and three interceptions, while Ivory scraps his way to 63 yards on the ground. Williams and Mike Tolbert combine for 86 total yards with the latter notching a short rushing score. Newton hooks up with Brandon LaFell for a touchdown in a 217-yard effort, while netting 41 rushing yards. Panthers 23-6.
Green Bay (+7) @ Dallas, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Tony Romo and the Dallas passing attack need to start pulling their weight if they want any shot of staying in the playoff discussion, since Nick Foles and the high-flying Philly act aren't going anywhere and the Cowboy D certainly isn't about to start winning them ball games. Romo has averaged a pitiful 172.7 yards per game over the last four contests, and while he's gotten into the end zone seven times, that type of yardage production won't allow Dallas to sustain enough scoring drives. DeMarco Murray is doing everything he can to pick up the slack with a league-best 5.3 YPC among running backs with at least 100 carries, but that will only get a team so far when the defense is allowing more first downs than any in the league and is equally bad against the run and pass. Facing a Packers team that's been blasted by opposing running backs in nearly every game since Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) went down, Murray will again look to shoulder the load while Dez Bryant continues to underachieve and grossly disappoint his fantasy owners... Not this week. For any Aaron Rodgers owners who somehow managed to sneak into the playoffs without him, they'll have to continue getting it done with an alternative option. After witnessing Josh McCown light the Dallas defense on fire with four touchdown passes it's devastating to Rodgers owners and Packers fans to not see how the former league MVP might fare against the 32nd-ranked pass defense. Matt Flynn will continue to get his shot to prove himself a starting-caliber quarterback. Green Bay's playoff hopes will be pinned to his arm for at least one more week. Although he's a bit risky for fantasy play given that's he's yet to get in the end zone more than once in three games of extended action, wideouts Jordy Nelson and James Jones could be poised for big days against the Cowboys dreadful coverage. Should Flynn struggle at all though, look for the Pack to lean heavily on the legs of Eddie Lacy and James Starks against an almost equally porous run defense giving up 4.8 YPC. Lacy is dealing with a mild ankle sprain but played through it in the second half of last week and should remain the teams battering ram unless he aggravates it.
Predictions: Romo throws for 219 yards and touchdowns to Bryant and Jason Witten, while Murray racks up 115 total yards. Lacy and Starks combine for 149 yards on the ground with the rookie finding paydirt. Flynn pitches it for 248 yards and connects with Nelson and Andrew Quarless for scores. Packers 27-23.
New Orleans (-5.5) @ St. Louis, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: The Rams forgot to take their offense to the desert last week, generating just 14 first downs, 257 total yards and 10 points in a lackluster effort. After sandwiching their bye week between two games that combined for 80 points, they've managed just 23 in back-to-back road games against beastly divisional defenses. A home meeting with the Saints should be a breather though to their one fantasy-relevant player. New Orleans has been excellent against the pass with their waves of blitzes creating confusion for opposing quarterbacks, but their undersized front seven is more speed than power. That, combined with their sometimes overaggressive nature, has caused them to struggle at times versus the run. Whether they find themselves out of position or blocked off the ball, their front seven is giving up a generous 4.7 YPC. That means Zac Stacy should take advantage of the Saints' softer group after being pummeled by the 49ers and Cardinals in the last two outings. With Kellen Clemons being inconsistent and Tavon Austin (ankle) banged up, expect heavy doses of Stacy in an effort to keep Drew Brees sidelined... The greatest show on turf has not resided in St. Louis for years now, but fans in "The Show Me" state will be treated to the present day version of it when Brees and Co. come to town. Of course, the New Orleans turf show is a different animal. Instead of the speedy receivers lighting the sidelines on fire, they've got Jimmy Graham utterly dominating every inch of the field. Marques Colston plays the possession role while Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas out of the backfield serve as mismatches for even the best linebackers and safeties. So at the end of the day it doesn't matter how athletic the Rams front seven is or how well they get to the quarterback. Their secondary is the Achilles heel of an otherwise very talented group, and considering they allow an average of 8.4 YPA to opposing QB's (31st in the league), it's a safe bet Brees will have this game out of hand early.
Predictions: Thomas and Sproles total 117 yards with the latter scoring on the ground. Brees passes for 335 yards and finds Graham, Colston and Lance Moore for touchdowns. Clemens connects with Stedman Bailey for a TD in a 231-yard effort, while Stacy chips in 108 total yards and a rushing score. Saints 31-17.
Arizona (-3) @ Tennessee, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Ryan Fitzpatrick has now turned in subpar performances in consecutive weeks against average-at-best pass defenses. Chances are a matchup against a fast and physical Cardinals unit is not going to get him back on track this weekend. Of course, at the very least Fitzpatrick figures to take to the air more than the 24 times he did against a Broncos team that dominated the time of possession. And with Delanie Walker returning after missing the better part of the last two contests with a concussion, the weapons are there to make some plays. Kendall Wright put forth his worst performance of the season in Denver but will likely right the ship provided Tennessee's defense can keep Arizona's offense sidelined a bit more. Chris Johnson, however, appears poised for a clunker of a game against a third-ranked Cardinals run D giving up just 84.5 rushing yards per contest... Despite playing a defense that can be beaten over the top last week, Carson Palmer did not take advantage by going long. Fact is, with an ailing elbow on his throwing arm, he couldn't. Still, he turned in easily one of his best performances of the year, dinking and dunking his way to a phenomenal 27-of-32 for nearly 270 yards and a score while not registering a single turnover. Larry Fitzgerald was the prime beneficiary of the short passing game as he used his big body on numerous quick slants to move the chains. Michael Floyd, however, suffered from this gameplan, as he's been the primary deep threat for Palmer. Facing a Tennessee defense that has been fantastic against the throw in every game in which they didn't have to deal with Peyton Manning and his smorgasbord of weapons, Palmer and his studly wideouts may struggle a bit on the road. The Titans are much friendlier to running backs though, having now allowed 100 total yards or a score to an opposing back in every game since Week 1, with 18 total rushing TD's (second most in the league). Considering that generosity, both Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington could produce flex-worthy numbers as they split touches.
Predictions: Fitzpatrick tosses it for 216 yards and scores to Walker and Justin Hunter, while Johnson contributes 62 total yards. Mendenhall and Ellington tally 134 combined yards with the veteran punching in a short TD. Palmer hooks up with Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts for touchdowns in a 207-yard effort. Cardinals 24-23.
Cincinnati (-3) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Back-to-back heartbreakers have the Steelers on the outside looking in at a final playoff spot that was theirs for the taking. Now their only hope for a lucky backdoor playoff berth would be to win out. Up first on the remaining docket is a Cincinnati team that just got lit up by Andrew Luck and a Colts pass attack that rose from the dead in the second half to make their game interesting. Ben Roethlisberger has been hot lately and figures to continue that strong play given the matchup with a weak Bengals secondary. Having the ultra-steady Antonio Brown at his disposal and an underrated group of compliments, Roethlisberger could carve up this defense. Big Ben has tossed 11 scores over the last four games, boosting the value of guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, each of whom could be an emergency flex this week. Sanders has scored in three straight while Cotchery is on pace for one of the quieter double-digit touchdown campaigns in recent memory. The elder statesman of this receiving corps has nine TD grabs on the year already and seven in his last six games. Although Pittsburgh is set up to pitch it all over the field in this matchup, that doesn't mean Le'Veon Bell isn't worth starting. The rookie back's ability as a smooth receiver out of the backfield has given him consistent No. 2 running back production and with 3.8 catches per game on the year, this week should be no different... The rookie back on the other sidelines, however, boasts a substantially larger upside in this contest. Giovani Bernard had his coming out party in Week 2 when these divisional foes first met with a two-score affair that made the difference in the game. Like Bell, this dynamic youngster has yet to reach 100 yards on the ground (tallied 99 though last week) but gets it done as a receiver to give him fairly consistent total yardage week in and week out. Facing a Steeler D that's allowing 120.2 yards per game on the ground, both Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis could be in line for strong flex production. The latter has gotten back on track in recent weeks as he's dominated goal-line duties and punched in three scores. Pittsburgh has been generous to backs near the end zone with 14 rushing TD's allowed, so "The Law Firm" could be holding court there for the third straight week. While the cold of Pittsburgh and defensive weak points of the matchup may dictate more rushing, that doesn't mean Andy Dalton won't find a way to score fantasy points himself. Despite not playing his best ball in recent weeks he's tallied 10 total touchdowns in the last four contests. A.J. Green gives Dalton a good chance for at least one score every week and with gifted secondary targets surrounding the stud wideout, Dalton has plenty of options to take advantage of a Pittsburgh pass defense that's slumped in the season's second half.
Predictions: Roethlisberger pitches it for 298 yards and hits Brown, Cotchery and Heath Miller for scoring strikes, while Bell contributes 92 total yards to the cause. Green-Ellis rumbles for 62 yards but doesn't get close enough to score, as Bernard breaks a long one in a 96-yard day. Dalton throws for 223 yards and touchdowns to Green and Tyler Eifert. Steelers 27-21.
Baltimore (+6) @ Detroit, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: Owners of any Lions skill player not named Joique Bell had to feel pretty robbed last week when the snow buried their fantasy days (Reggie Bush notwithstanding since his health cost him a day of frolicking in the powder). A Ravens D that was very generous to the Vikings though could make up for it when they step onto Detroit's turf in this primetime scuffle rife with playoff implications. Should the Bears or Packers win on Sunday the Lions will be in a must-win situation to keep their playoff destiny in their hands. The Ravens, likewise, will be in the same boat if Miami topples the Pats. While Baltimore's defense has been stingy at times this season, they still don't have the personnel defensively to slow down Johnson or Bush on this surface. And if Bush cannot go, Bell poses an almost equally stiff test given his versatility as a receiver. With the playoffs in their sights, Matthew Stafford and Johnson are certainly going to do everything in their power to keep their high-flying attack playing into January... For all his ups and downs, Joe Flacco truly is a prime time player when the pressure is at its most throat-clenching. The spectacular final drive and game-winning throw he lead against Minnesota may have saved Baltimore's season, but the test certainly isn't over. Detroit still has one of the best front fours in football even though it was lost in the snowstorm last week and they'll certainly make life difficult for the signal caller who's taken the second most sacks in the league. Working in Flacco's favor though is that for the first time all year he has his full complement of weapons in the passing game. With Dennis Pitta back to roam the middle of the field, big, speedy wideouts to burn corners on the sidelines and Ray Rice ever-ready for the dumpoff, Flacco could post a big day with the weather elements out of the picture and a weak secondary on tap. Pitta looks like a must-start given the 11 targets he saw last week in his return and the dearth of quality tight ends. His return though makes Torrey Smith a dangerous option because his targets could fluctuate significantly, as was seen last week. And of course, Rice, as he has all year, looks like an option to be left to PPR formats. Though he topped 100 total yards last week for just the third time this season and has been improving slowly, he's less likely to turn in a quality double-figure fantasy day in standard leagues going up against one of the stingiest run defenses.
Predictions: Stafford slings it for 273 yards and hits Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew for touchdowns. Bush and Bell combine for 117 total yards with the latter punching in a ground score. Rice nets 81 total yards, while Flacco hooks up with Pitta, Smith and Marlon Brown for TD's in a 290-yard effort. Ravens 24-21.