Miami (-3) @ Buffalo, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson each averaged over 4.5 YPC in Sunday's victory over the Jaguars, but with the two backs eating into each other's workload, it leaves them as no more than flex options every week, regardless of matchup. A visit from Miami happens to be a pretty friendly one though, so this could be the week to make sure they're in lineups. Prior to a recent trend of opposing offenses giving up on the run against the Dolphins (it's a head scratcher that Pittsburgh and New England didn't run more), they'd allowed at least 100 total yards or a score to a back in nine straight games. As they've improved in slowing teams' ground attacks though, they've found themselves getting beaten more through the air. When Buffalo faced Miami in Week 7, it was Thaddeus Lewis at the helm and with EJ Manuel experiencing some swelling in the knee he injured earlier this season, Lewis will once again get the call. In their first meeting Lewis failed to find the end zone despite completing 65.6% of his passes. This time around he may not have the weapons to do serious damage, but a thinning Miami secondary does appear susceptible to getting burned, so Robert Woods could perform an encore to the best showing of his rookie year, especially with Steve Johnson out of action as he mourns the unexpected passing of his mother... Win and they're in. With the Bengals falling to the Steelers on Sunday night it no longer mattered as much to Miami that Justin Tucker's career game kept Baltimore ahead of them for the Wild Card spot. With the Ravens and Bengals facing off in Week 17 the Dolphins need only to beat the Bills and Jets to clinch the final AFC playoff spot. With Ryan Tannehill playing extremely sharp football in recent weeks, the Dolphins are in solid shape to do just that. Buffalo provides a nice opportunity for Tannehill to keep piling up the fantasy points, as they've allowed 27 passing scores thus far, good for 27th most in the league. Of course, the Bills are also third with 20 interceptions, so to stay hot in fantasy AND keep Miami winning, Tannehill will need to be careful with his throws. The second year quarterback has quietly had the second best season among the heralded 2012 QB class to only Russell Wilson. With three passing scores in consecutive games and over 300 yards in three of the last four he's putting up numbers and notching wins for a suddenly dangerous Dolphins team. As a result, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have emerged as useful fantasy options in all formats. In the Miami backfield the timeshare, like in Buffalo, has tainted the fantasy value of both Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. With the latter aggravating an ankle injury last week though it's possible Miller will dominate the touches this week and provide a moderate flex option.
Predictions: Lewis throws for 179 yard and a touchdown to T.J. Graham, while Spiller and Jackson combine for 144 total yards and a rushing score from the elder statesman. Miller leads the way with 78 total yards for Miami. Tannehill hooks up with Wallace and Charles Clay for TD's in a 281-yard performance. Dolphins 23-17.
Minnesota (+7) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Falling to the Steelers has put the Bengals in serious jeopardy of blowing their hold over the division and perhaps even any spot in the playoffs. If they falter against the Vikes they could leave the door wide open for the Ravens to steal the AFC North in the final week of the season, while potentially putting themselves behind Miami in the Wild Card race as well. Andy Dalton should have plenty to say about protecting homefield though against a Vikings defense that has allowed the most passing scores of any team in the league with 32 given up through 14 games. That matchup could have A.J. Green in line for one of his most productive games of the season, while Marvin Jones has played his way back into flex consideration with consecutive games finding the end zone. Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis also shouldn't encounter too much difficulty when Cinci hands off, as the Minnesota front seven is allowing 115.9 yards per game on the ground... Welcome back to the fantasy discussion, Greg Jennings! Obviously the talent with the former Pro Bowl wide receiver was there all along. Jennings just needed someone to get him the ball. After exploding for over 160 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles last week it's clear that guy is Matt Cassel. With Cassel under center the last three weeks Jennings has seen 32 targets, caught 23 passes and tallied 294 yards and two scores. Although Cincinnati presents a much stiffer pass defense than Philadelphia, with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart less than 100% and the Bengals more likely to grab a lead at home, Jennings should keep seeing the type of target volume to keep him at least a No. 2 receiver this week. After all, even with Peterson possibly back and Gerhart probable to return the Vikes figure to struggle running the ball on the fifth ranked Cinci run defense.
Predictions: Green-Ellis and Bernard garner 137 total yards with the plodding vet finding the end zone. Dalton pitches it for 268 yards and touchdowns to Green, Jones and Tyler Eifert. Cassel hits Jennings and Jarius Wright for scores in a 242-yard effort, while Gerhart rumbles for 74 yards and a TD. Bengals 34-21.
Indianapolis (+6.5) @ Kansas City, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Jamaal Charles has 650 total yards and 10 touchdowns in the last four games. If Peyton Manning weren't torching record books on his way to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, it would be awfully hard to not hand the league MVP to Charles. In Arrowhead the Colts' 27th-ranked run defense stands no chance. And any teams facing Charles in their fantasy Super Bowl/playoffs may not either. Alex Smith has utilized him phenomenally well in the passing game on top of Charles' electric running out of the backfield, and with him at his disposal Smith is a great option in two quarterback leagues. Of course, a limited receiving corps and an offense reliant on its tailback leaves the veteran signal caller a little risky for standard formats. Dwayne Bowe is really his only other weapon of consequence and it's been a highly disappointing year for the former Pro Bowler... The Colts offense has lacked any semblance of a consistent ground game since the arrival of Trent Richardson, but for the first time all year the young back stepped up in last week's thrashing of Houston. Well, he stepped up by the miserable standards that we've now come to expect for the former No. 3 overall draft pick. Richardson registered his first game over 100 total yards this season after Donald Brown left with a neck stinger, but it still came with him averaging a measly 3.4 YPC - an average he turned in despite also having his first run of the year over 20 yards. Brown, who averaged 7.6 YPC and contributed a 26-yard dash before leaving, is expected to be at full strength this week, so Richardson's reign as a feature back figures to end just as quickly as it came. Ultimately though, there's a strong chance that these backs will need to be productive as receivers to do much of anything in this contest. The Chiefs have been terrific offensively for a solid month and their defense is back to its big play ways, so count on Kansas City jumping out front early and forcing Andrew Luck to air it out for most of the game. T.Y. Hilton and Da'Rick Rogers stand to benefit the most if this scenario does occur, but given the up-and-down nature of the Colts passing game and offense as a whole, they remain at best risky flex options. Coby Fleener could bounce back though from last week's dud showing versus a defense that's allowed a tight end into the end zone in four of the last five games.
Predictions: Richardson and Brown combine for 129 total yards with the youngster making a goal line dive. Luck hooks up with Rogers for a touchdown in a 246-yard effort. Smith passes for 218 yards and scores to Bowe and Anthony Sherman, while Charles cruises to 138 total yards and a rushing TD. Chiefs 30-20.
Tampa Bay (+5.5) @ St. Louis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: For the Rams offense to put up enough points to win football games lately it's been Zac Stacy or bust. Kellen Clemens simply doesn't have the individual tools or consistent surrounding weapons to find much success in the passing game, so expect St. Louis to continue pounding Stacy to close out a rollercoaster 2013 season. The Bucs present a stiffer test for the Rams rookie bellcow than did the weak Saints front seven, but he's been so good at home (559 rushing yards at 5.2 YPC and four touchdowns in five games) that he's a must-start despite facing a Tampa D that's allowed just six rushing touchdowns all year... The Rams have pounded the Colts, Bears and Saints in three of their last five contests while only dropping games at San Francisco and Arizona. And they very nearly beat Seattle at home in Kellen Clemens' first start way back in Week 8. This is simply one of the grittier teams in the NFL, and with an especially athletic defense, St. Louis figures to give the Buccaneers offense plenty of trouble. Since getting torched by Chris Johnson in early November the Rams have stiffened greatly versus the run, having kept every back they've faced below 80 yards on the ground, with only Matt Forte even topping 50. Suffice it to say Bobby Rainey could continue his struggles in this one. Outside of an 80-yard scoring burst he's managed just 172 yards at 2.6 YPC in the last four weeks. Mike Glennon should have more success though facing a defense that's weakest in the secondary. The Rams have allowed nearly 260 yards passing per game on the season and have been particularly generous to opposing No. 1 wideouts, so Vincent Jackson remains a must-start despite a hammy issue.
Predictions: Glennon throws for 238 yards and two touchdowns to Jackson, while Rainey nets 53 total yards. Stacy rushes for 101 yards and a score. Clemens tosses it for 182 yards and finds Jared Cook and Stedman Bailey for TD's. Rams 21-14.
Cleveland (+2) @ New York Jets, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: Jets fans should be pleasantly surprised with the showing the offense gave in Carolina. They ran the ball with shocking effectiveness (157 yards at 5.6 YPC) on the top ranked run defense, and it seems that Chris Ivory could be a true No. 1 fantasy back if he had the passing game to support him and provide more scoring opportunities. He has averaged 79.2 yards per game at 5.7 YPC over the last six contests, including 6.0 YPC against the mighty Panthers run defense just last week. The Browns have generally been stiff versus the run themselves, but just let Matt Forte trample them to the tune of 127 yards on 24 carries. If Geno Smith can keep the turnovers down and complete better than 50% of his throws to Gang Green's no-name receiving corps, Ivory has a shot to produce a big day. Of course, anyone willing to risk his fantasy playoffs on a Jets skill player could be doing a lot of cursing by 4:00 p.m. EST on Sunday... Josh Gordon was held completely in check for 59 minutes last week but one 43-yard touchdown later and he still produced a good week. Not up to his recently absurd standards, but still a solid statline. With the Browns having almost no run game to speak of, it's fair to lower expectations for Gordon over the final two weeks of the season. He's the only intimidating aspect of Cleveland's offense and defenses will act accordingly to shut him down and make other players beat them. And the fact is those other guys can't get the job done, especially not with Jordan Cameron out with a concussion. Edwin Baker was a pleasant surprise versus the Bears, but that was facing the league's worst run defense. The Jets are on the opposite end of the spectrum, so although they've struggled some recently against the run, it would be foolish to think Baker will go anywhere against them. If Jason Campbell doesn't do everything in his power to force feed Gordon, the Browns have no chance to leave New York with a victory unless Smith hands them the game on a silver platter with turnovers. Of course, considering Smith's track record, that's entirely plausible.
Predictions: Ivory rumbles for 97 yards and a touchdown, while Smith hooks up with Santonio Holmes in a 181-yard outing. Campbell throws for 216 yards and a touchdown to Greg Little. Baker tallies 62 total yards in the losing effort. Jets 20-13.
Dallas (-3) @ Washington, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The battle of the imploding franchises will at its core pit Kirk Cousins against Tony Romo. In a game that ultimately means nothing to the Redskins' season other than getting to play spoiler to a division rival, it's difficult to discern which quarterback has more to prove. Cousins is trying to show the world he is the better of the young signal callers in Washington, and at the very least, audition for a number of other teams that could come calling for his services once the trade doors re-open in the spring. A 381-yard, 3-touchdown day in a near comeback win over Atlanta was a good start, especially considering Cousins made that happen without top tight end Jordan Reed, who's landed on IR with concussion symptoms. Facing off against a Dallas defense ranked dead last in passing yards allowed per game (297.4) and 31st in TD's given up through the air (30), it would be a disappointment if Cousins didn't come at least close to matching last week's gaudy production, perhaps even minus the turnovers. With a better passer at the helm and a matchup that couldn't be any better, Pierre Garcon is an absolute must-start, while Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson could each have deep league value. Of course, Alfred Morris is certainly going to be a factor against a Dallas D giving up 4.9 YPC (31st in the league) and minus Sean Lee (neck). If the Cowboys fail to slow Morris early, Cousins numbers could suffer a bit as result... The wheels, as they so often seem to do, are coming off the Dallas train in December. They've opened the month with consecutive losses in which they've allowed a combined 82 points, so although much of the blame fell on Romo's shoulders for the Green Bay debacle, the league's worst defense is equally, if not more so complicit. After all, the Cowboys banged up defense failed to hold the Packers out of the end zone on five straight second half drives. Fortunately for Romo, the Redskins don't boast the overall offensive talent to hammer them on the scoreboard. So while Washington by no means has a scary defense, particularly in their secondary, don't count on Romo slinging it a ton. Expect a ball-control, manage-the-clock style game out of a Dallas team in must-win mode. DeMarco Murray is averaging 103.6 yards at 6.2 YPC over the last five contests and is crushing the rest of the running back field with 5.5 YPC for the season (among backs with at least 100 attempts). After watching Romo toss two interceptions in the final three minutes of action against Green Bay to essentially hand them the game, count on Dallas riding the best player on their team to victory. That's right, as good as the ultra competitive Dez Bryant can be at times, the best player in this offense is Murray, and the Cowboys had better wise up and start treating him that way if they want to win.
Predictions: Morris rumbles for 120 yards and a touchdown. Cousins throws for 312 yards and hits Garcon and Logan Paulsen for TD's, while also rushing for a score. Romo tosses it for 290 yards and touchdowns to Bryant and Murray, while the latter adds 93 yards on the ground in an effort that comes up short. Redskins 31-27.
New Orleans (+3) @ Carolina, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: After the Saints stumble last week the door to redemption is open for the Panthers with a shot to claim a division title and bye week in the playoffs. And it just so happens the Saints are not nearly as good away from their comfy dome turf and home crowd. With a 3-4 record away from New Orleans, the NFL's second best defense should be able to atone for the four-touchdown torching Drew Brees and Co. put on them just two weeks ago. Still, to come away with the win they'll need better efficiency out of Cam Newton throwing the football. In meeting numero uno he averaged a paltry 4.7 YPA and anything below 6.5 YPA likely won't get it done this time either unless they're running it down the Saints' throat. The New Orleans front seven doesn't have much beef to it and St. Louis exploited that last week with Zac Stacy to the tune of 133 yards and a score. DeAngelo Williams looked awfully spry last week averaging 5.4 YPC on a Jets defense that's giving up just 3.2 on the season, so don't be surprised to see Carolina ride him between the 20's with Mike Tolbert, touchdown vulture extraordinaire, getting involved inside the red zone. Seeing as how the Saints are third against the pass and the Panthers are a bit lacking in the receiver department, this figures to be the best formula for offensive success... Somehow the hapless Jets offense blasted Carolina's second-ranked run defense for 157 yards on the ground last week. Given the way Brees can struggle on the road, it might be in New Orleans' best interest to make a concerted effort to establish Pierre Thomas and the ground game very early in a similar fashion to how New York got things going. Two weeks ago when Brees shredded them through the air Thomas was M.I.A., seeing just seven carries and never getting in the flow of the game. He is just the physical type of runner though to have success against this stout Carolina defense and getting him and the ground attack humming early will only serve to make Brees' life easier when he does drop back. Brees has yet to top two passing scores in any of his seven road games and has thrown just 11 of his 34 touchdowns away from home, while pitching seven of his 10 interceptions outside of Louisiana as well. So although he's certainly capable of having a monster day any given week, expectations should be dipped some for Brees and top targets Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston.
Predictions: Newton throws for 241 yards and touchdowns to Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell. Williams racks up 117 total yards while Tolbert steals yet another short TD. Thomas tallies 76 total yards and scores rushing. Brees connects with Graham and Lance Moore for touchdowns in a 289-yard outing. Panthers 27-21.
Tennessee (-5.5) @ Jacksonville, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Jags fell to Buffalo but played them toe-to-toe for more than 50 minutes of action despite being without top skill guys Cecil Shorts (groin) and Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring). In Shorts' stead Ace Sanders managed to find the end zone for his first career touchdown to push his streak to five straight games with at least six fantasy points. Meanwhile Jordan Todman was a star both on the ground and catching the ball out of the backfield. With another sweet matchup on tap against a Tennessee defense that's allowed an opposing tailback to either top 100 total yards or score in every game since Week 1, Todman looks like a No. 2 running back option for another week if MJD remains out (a likely scenario given that Jacksonville has nothing left to play for)... The Jaguars gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground to the Bills and let both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller average more than 4.5 YPC in the process. Chris Johnson could be this week's beneficiary. Though he has not run it particularly well this year at just 3.7 yards per tote, he's been stellar as a receiver and with four touchdown grabs out of the backfield he now has nine scores in the last 10 contests, including three straight games finding the end zone. A Jags defense that's allowed 17 rushing TD's doesn't seem too likely to deny him a fourth straight game. The good times should also continue for Ryan Fitzpatrick, though it's likely he'll come back down to Earth after his 402-yard, 4-score showing last week. Although Jacksonville had the Titans playing from behind in their last meeting - also the last time Fitzpatrick had more than two total TD's in a game - it's not likely Tennessee will fall that far behind and see Fitzpatrick approach 60 pass attempts like he did versus Arizona. So while you should be starting Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker in most cases, it's doubtful they'll once again top 200 yards between them. Given that Jacksonville has allowed 27 passing touchdowns though, it's entirely possible one or both could find paydirt.
Predictions: Johnson nets 106 total yards and rushes for a score, while Fitzpatrick hooks up with Walker and Nate Washington for touchdowns in a 261-yard effort. Chad Henne tosses it for 182 yards and a score to Marcedes Lewis. Todman rips off 123 total yards and cashes one in at the goal line. Titans 24-17.
Denver (-10.5) @ Houston, Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Comments: The Texans are playing for first place... in April's 2014 NFL Draft. Denver will gladly and easily help them hit the mark. Case Keenum will sit this one out with a thumb injury and give Matt Schaub a chance to be the Texans' starter for what will likely be the last time in Reliant Stadium. Schaub has had his share of prolific performances in the past, including a monstrous 527-yard effort in 2012, so although he'd be a risky option given his rocky season, he could be a sneaky start for anyone that somehow got this far with questionable quarterback play. After all, he still has Andre Johnson and will face a Denver team that is going to force him to air it out. With Ben Tate (ribs) out of commission and really just Dennis Johnson to handle the load, anything less than 35-40 pass attempts would be a bit shocking. That doesn't rule out Johnson as a flex option though, as the diminutive speedster could be used effectively in the screen game against a defense that's been awfully friendly to tailbacks in recent weeks... The story on the Broncos skill guys is very simple. Play them. Play them all. The Houston defense is a far cry from what it was last year and has no chance to limit Denver the way San Diego did last week. Peyton Manning is chasing records AND the top seed in the AFC and he won't be stopped in that pursuit. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas all have too much upside to bench, and with Wes Welker still out with concussion symptoms, even Andre Caldwell is a daring but completely justifiable flex. And considering that the Texans just allowed Trent Richardson to top 100 total yards and a touchdown for the first time all season, it's safe to continue using Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball despite the stinkers they turned in against the Chargers. Each back should see plenty of touches in a lopsided affair.
Predictions: Johnson totals 77 yards, while Schaub pitches it for 314 yards and touchdowns to Johnson and Garrett Graham. Manning passes for 328 yards and scores to both Thomas's and Caldwell. Moreno and Ball each find the end zone rushing as they rack up 158 combined yards. Broncos 41-20.
New York Giants (+9) @ Detroit, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: The Lions handed away control of the NFC North because of an offense that struggled to do exactly what they do best: throw the ball. Matthew Stafford now has nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions in the last five games, four of which turned into Detroit losses. His play in the fourth quarter during that same stretch has been inexcusably bad, as he's completed just 31.9% of his 47 pass attempts in the final stages of those contests. Putting all the onus on Stafford though would be unfair. Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush are truly his only reliable, dynamic targets in the passing game, and even Johnson dropped multiple passes in the heartbreaking loss to Baltimore. Moreover, a defense anchored by arguably the league's finest defensive line has failed to make crucial stops in each of their four recent losses when Detroit led at some point in the fourth quarter of all of them. Still, a loss by both the Bears and Packers (one of whom is guaranteed to lose when they face off in Week 17) could propel the Lions back into the division lead. The Giants present little resistance given the dreadful state of their offense, and with Eli Manning a safe bet to put Detroit in good scoring position with a turnover or two, Stafford and Co. should bounce back from a fantasy perspective despite a solid New York defense. Bush, in particular, has been a stud at home with no less than 94 total yards in a single game on the fast track of Ford Field... The 2013 season has two games left to go for the Giants, but that's a mere formality at this point. They are done. They've been done. The Chargers and Seahawks shellacked the G-Men by a combined 60-14 the last two weeks while limiting New York to just 514 yards of offense. Eli Mannng threw one touchdown to seven interceptions in those contests and Victor Cruz suffered a sprained knee and a concussion, the first of which required arthroscopic surgery to repair. Rueben Randle and Hakeem Nicks could stand to benefit with Cruz out, but trusting any Giants on the road against what's sure to be a feisty Lions defense is like throwing away your fantasy playoffs. Andre Brown cannot even be trusted as he prepares to face off with a beefy Lions front four that powers the fourth ranked run defense.
Predictions: Manning slings it for 204 yards and a score to Nicks, while Brown tallies 56 total yards. Bush racks up 121 yards but sees a rushing TD vultured by Joique Bell. Stafford guns it for 296 yards and touchdowns to Johnson and Nate Burleson. Lions 24-10.
Arizona (+10.5) @ Seattle, Sunday 4:05 p.m.
Comments: A Seattle win clinches the NFC West division crown and homefield throughout the playoffs. Fortunately for the Seahawks and their passionate fans, Russell Wilson has never lost with "the 12th Man" getting his back. Obviously an elite defense and Marshawn Lynch have also had a lot to say about it, but this team is simply better all around in their building. At home Wilson has completed 68.3% of his throws for a sterling 9.4 YPA, and has averaged two passing scores per contest in Seattle. The Cardinals may have one of the better pass rushes in the league, but they were just carved up by Ryan Fitzpatrick in Tennessee and with Wilson's mobility he should be able to find similar success. Moreover, the Seahawks may throw it more than usual given that Arizona boasts the top run defense. That doesn't mean you're benching Lynch of course, but it may mean he needs a score to post a successful fantasy day... Larry Fitzgerald may end up clearing the concussion testing that will get him on the field Sunday but that doesn't mean he'll be able to get himself clear of the shadow of Richard Sherman that will trail him all over the field in a must-win for Arizona should he be active. With Carson Palmer dealing with both elbow and ankle ailments, and Michael Floyd (ankle) also a bit slowed by injury, the Cardinals pass attack appears poised to tank against the league's top defense and in its toughest venue. If they can't get much going through the air, chances are slim Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington are going to find room to roam on the ground. Although there's plenty of talent in this Arizona offense, with many playoff games and championships on the line, it may be wiser to turn to a better matchup and bench all Cardinals this week.
Predictions: Mendenhall and Ellington combine for 93 total yards. Palmer throws for 218 yards and a touchdown to Floyd. Wilson scrambles for 62 yards and passes for another 288 with TD strikes to Doug Baldwin and Luke Willson. Lynch totals 74 yards and punches in a short touchdown run. Seahawks 27-13.
Pittsburgh (+4.5) @ Green Bay, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Can Matt Flynn really lead the Packers to an improbable playoff berth after Aaron Rodgers' collarbone injury seemingly left Green Bay for dead? With a tough Steelers team coming to town the answer is a coin flip, but the question will certainly be answered after Rodgers was ruled out for the seventh straight contest on Friday. This test will be the toughest hurdle yet for the Pack after Detroit laid a beat down on them in the Thanksgiving game. Flynn has been tremendously efficient the past two weeks in completing 70.4% of his throws and finding the end zone five times, but he did that damage against two absolutely horrible defenses and Green Bay still just barely squeaked out 1-point victories in each game. Unfortunately the exciting ride for Packers fans may come to a screeching halt as the Steelers pass defense ranks eighth in yards allowed (222.4) per game and is limiting opponents to less than a 60.0% completion rate. And while Green Bay could theoretically lean on Eddie Lacy against a group that's giving up 115.6 yards per game on the ground, it may be difficult to do so if they once again fall behind early. Since the Packers D has been one of the worst in the league in recent weeks, chances are Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Quarless will all be busy playing catch up through the air yet again... The only reason Ben Roethlisberger didn't get into the end zone more than once against Cincinnati last week is simply because he didn't have to throw it much. He still turned in an impressive showing as he completed 80.0% of his passes in the Steelers' easy win. Over the last seven contests Big Ben has been at the top of his game and that should continue against a Green Bay D that has been giving up yardage in chunks ever since Rodgers went down. Antonio Brown remains a must-start given his supreme steadiness, while Emmanuel Sanders could be a decent flex in deeper leagues. Le'Veon Bell is also an obvious start against a Packers unit that just lost Johnny Jolly (neck), arguably their best run stuffer, and was already allowing 4.6 YPC prior to his loss.
Predictions: Roethlisberger passes for 315 yards and touchdowns to Brown, Sanders and Heath Miller. Bell notches 92 total yards and finds paydirt rushing. Lacy rumbles for 89 yards and a TD, while Flynn throws for 233 yards and scores to Nelson and Boykin. Steelers 31-24.
Oakland (+10) @ San Diego, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: Jamaal Charles barely got dirty as he shredded the beaten and depleted Oakland defense in an epic performance. Given that Ryan Mathews is coming off back-to-back games being the only player to register a 100-yard rushing game this season against the Giants and Broncos respectively, it's hard not to consider him a top five option this weekend at running back. Mathews hit 30 touches en route to his big games, so it's possible he's a bit sore, but with a long week to rest from the Thursday night win over Denver, don't expect the Chargers to ease off the gas pedal with their feature back. Keenan Allen is less than 100% and is the central figure of a thin receiving corps, so if the Chargers can win on the ground, they should take advantage of that. Danny Woodhead could become a bit more involved to take some of the weight of Mathews' shoulders, and could well bounce back in PPR formats considering what Charles did to the Raiders as a receiver. With San Diego still alive for a playoff spot and the Oakland defense in such a bad way, Philip Rivers and his top weapons should all be rolled out in what could be a seriously lopsided contest... Considering the Chargers give up a league-worst 8.3 YPA and are 30th in YPC allowed at 4.7 per tote, it's astonishing the way they limited Denver on the road last week. Oakland does have some intriguing young pieces on offense with Matt McGloin spinning it well at times and Rod Streater and Andre Holmes presenting quality outside targets, but the only truly trustworthy fantasy option in Oakland remains Rashad Jennings. In all five of his starts and seven games total Jennings has topped double digits in fantasy points and he's racked up four touchdowns in his last two contests as he's been utilized heavily at the goal line. Darren McFadden is expected to return this week, but he's little more than a shadow trying to impede the sunshine that is Jennings' breakout season. McFadden figures to barely factor in, particularly after San Diego builds a lead and the Raiders turn to the air in catch-up mode.
Predictions: McGloin slings it for 271 yards and a score to Holmes, while Jennings tallies 105 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Mathews rumbles for 112 yards and hits paydirt as Woodhead chips in 81 total yards. Rivers finds Allen, Antonio Gates and Vincent Brown for TD's in a 246-yard performance. Chargers 31-17.
New England (+2.5) @ Baltimore, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Comments: With Justin Tucker having now nailed 35-of-37 field goal attempts, including an epic 61-yard season-saver in Detroit, it's hard to claim anyone else as the Ravens team MVP this season. Joe Flacco has been mediocre at best while Ray Rice has been a shell of the Pro Bowl back the league has grown accustomed to over the years because of an injured hip. Torrey Smith, for all his big plays, has even had his moments in the cellar this season and has managed to catch just 48.0% of his targets for a pedestrian four touchdowns. Still, the Ravens are in the driver's seat to win the AFC North if they can keep up their current win streak. To get there they've got to knock off New England and handle Cincinnati in the Ohio cold. These are no small tasks but with the Patriots banged up on both sides of the ball it's certainly a reasonable feat. The Ravens defense is playing well and Tom Brady is working with limited weapons, so there may not be a need for Flacco to air it out in this one too much. As a result Rice owners may get one of the disappointing vet's better performances of the season. The Patriots' are 31st against the run after all, as they've been unable to replace Vince Wilfork (Achilles) and Jerod Mayo (pectoral) in the middle of their defense. If Rice is unable to gouge them on the ground, Flacco has enough weapons now with Dennis Pitta back and Jacoby Jones playing well (he leads the team with 273 receiving yards in their 4-game win streak) to generate enough points for a victory... New England's defense cannot slow their opponents and their running backs cannot protect the ball. This has led to the Patriots playing from behind and showing a lack of trust in the ground game - hence Brady's 198 pass attempts over the last four contests. That whopping volume of throws has led to him averaging a ridiculous 374.3 yards per contest the past four weeks despite losing Rob Gronkowski (ACL) over the last game and change. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola have benefited greatly as a result of the Gronk loss and given their recent target increases it's impossible to bench them, particularly as they travel to face the seventh-best run defense. When the Ravens slow Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount the ball figures to be in the air plenty for New England to sustain drives. When they do turn to the throw, Shane Vereen should once again find himself quite busy, so although he tanked last week versus Miami, he's worth a roll of the dice in fantasy given his relationship with Brady.
Predictions: Flacco pitches it for 245 yards and touchdowns to Smith and Jones. Rice nets 93 total yards and punches in a short rushing score. Ridley leads on the ground with 61 yards but Vereen bests him with 98 from scrimmage and one of Brady's passing TD's. The other score goes to Amendola in a 322-yard effort by the future Hall-of-Famer. Ravens 24-20.
Chicago (+3) @ Philadelphia, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The Eagles still control their playoff destiny but after a sloppy loss at Minnesota they need at least one more win to clinch the NFC East. Nick Foles certainly did his part to try and save his embarrassingly bad defense by slinging it for 428 yards and three scores last week, but with the Bears coming to town he'll have to do something much more simple to earn the victory. Foles' primary focus should be turning around and handing off to league rushing leader LeSean McCoy. The super slippery tailback should find little difficulty absolutely shredding a Bears defense that entered the Cleveland game last week having given up over 200 rushing yards per game for seven straight contests. And though Chicago limited the Browns dreadful ground game last week, they still allowed Edwin Baker, who had just signed a few days earlier, to go for 84 total yards and a score while averaging 4.8 YPC. So while DeSean Jackson remains a must-start given his homerun ability and rapport with Foles, the remaining Eagles receivers can be safely benched in a contest that should be run heavy for Philly... A Lions collapse has the Bears in the driver's seat for the NFC North crown, and with Lance Briggs (shoulder) poised to provided a huge boost to the team's weakest link, the pieces are in place for Chicago to lock up a playoff berth in the next two weeks. Jay Cutler showed plenty of rust in his first action since Week 10, but a loaded offense helped him ease past the bumps. Drawing the league's 31st-ranked pass defense should make Cutler look like he never missed a snap as he figures to torch them with stud wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. And considering the elite level at which Matt Forte is playing lately - he's topped 100 yards rushing and 5.0 YPC in three straight weeks - the Bears offense could be poised to steamroll the Eagles D much like Minnesota did in rolling up nearly 50 points last week.
Predictions: Cutler guns it for 298 yards and touchdowns to Marshall, Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Forte piles up 141 total yards and finds the end zone rushing. McCoy counters with 166 yards of his own and two rushing scores, while Foles finds Jackson and Brent Celek for TD's in a 260-yard day. Bears 34-31 in OT.
Atlanta (+12) @ San Francisco, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Comments: The rematch of last year's NFC Championship game will in no way resemble the down-to-the-wire contest that pushed the Niners into Super Bowl XLVII. This rendition pits one of the best teams top to bottom against Matt Ryan, some has beens and some never was's (okay, that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the drift). The Atlanta defense will present little to no resistance to the throw or the run as San Francisco is poised to stomp their way into the final week of the regular season. Colin Kaepernick doesn't figure to have to throw it much in a likely lopsided matchup, but with Frank Gore still dealing with an ankle injury there's a good chance the Niners will pass their way into a healthy lead, leaving Kaepernick with a good but unspectacular fantasy day. Vernon Davis remains one of the few elite tight end options given his love affair with the end zone, while Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin could each do enough early damage to make them flex starts. And although it's possible that San Francisco could rest Gore, doing so against Atlanta's 29th-ranked run defense could be a highly regrettable move for his fantasy owners. He may see more limited action after registering 22 carries last week and with a win unlikely to be in doubt, but it also may not take him many to achieve a productive week. If garbage time does come early though, Kendall Hunter could be the back with more yardage... When Julio Jones (foot) went down for the season after Week 5 so too did the Atlanta offense. Matt Ryan simply hasn't been himself since. In the last eight games he's averaged 245.6 yards per game and thrown multiple scores only twice. His touchdown-to-interception ratio during that stretch is 9-to-11, and that's even with Roddy White getting back to himself over the last three weeks. Without Jones to stretch the field there's absolutely no explosiveness to this offense and a hard-hitting 49ers defense is going to take serious advantage of that weakness. Steven Jackson has been useful in recent weeks because he's been feasting at the goal line with four short touchdown runs in four games (five total TD's), but when the offense struggles as a whole to move the ball within scoring range his fantasy utility will likely take a nose dive against his former division rival. On the final road stop of his farewell tour, future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Tony Gonzalez looks like the surest fantasy option among all Falcons, if for no other reason than the tight end pool is now so shallow.
Predictions: Ryan hits Gonzalez and White for touchdowns in a 217-yard effort, while Jackson rushes for 52 yards. Gore and Hunter combine for 138 yards on the ground with both punching in scores. Kaepernick slings it for 238 yards and touchdowns to Davis and Crabtree. 49ers 34-14.