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Game Capsules: Scouting the Season Finales

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for Rotowire.com since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

Carolina (-6.5) @ Atlanta, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments:
Right up until he threw two picks in the final two minutes of a furious rally Matt Ryan played a fantastic game last week on the road against arguably the league's top defense. The Niners may have gotten him in the end, but with Roddy White back to full strength and Tony Gonzalez still every bit of the stud red zone weapon he's been his entire career, Ryan has the tools and the talent to again post big numbers versus an equally elite Carolina D. White, in particular, has helped Ryan improve down the stretch, and he himself is back to being a must-start No. 1 receiver once again after seeing 47 targets and piling up over 400 yards the last four weeks. Steven Jackson, likewise, is back to being a useful fantasy starter after finding the end zone six times in the last five contests. Moreover, Carolina has softened against the run in recent weeks, having allowed Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram to each post at least 6.0 YPC in their last two games... Steve Smith is going to sit with a sprained PCL, but expect Cam Newton to remain extremely focused with a division title and a first round bye potentially on the line. Despite a limited receiving corps Newton has the skills to improvise and find a way, much like Colin Kaepernick did last week when he topped 50 yards and a score on the ground. With DeAngelo Williams also running the football well, the Panthers could elect to feed him and Mike Tolbert heavily against the Falcons 31st-ranked, punchless run defense.

Predictions: Jackson rumbles for 54 yards and a short score, while Ryan throws for 281 yards and hits White and Levine Toilolo for touchdowns. Newton passes for 184 yards and a TD to Brandon LaFell and churns out 72 yards and a score rushing. Williams contributes 96 total yards and a rushing touchdown. Panthers 24-21.

Baltimore (+6) @ Cincinnati, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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If the Bengals cannot fend off the Ravens they'll most likely be hosting the Chiefs in a Wild Card, while a win gives them an outside shot at a bye week. Suffice it to say they will be plenty motivated to potentially knock out their division rival and the defending Super Bowl champs. Andy Dalton has been in another one of his hot streaks lately with 871 yards and passing nine TD's (10 total scores) over the last three weeks. For all the criticism of Dalton he's quietly topped 4,000 yards while notching 31 passing scores, good for third most in the league. With the likes of A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham and Giovani Bernard at his disposal, among others, there's no reason to expect him to slow down entering the final week of action. The Ravens are no slouch defensively, but this could be a statement game for Dalton and Green, who've paired together to finally take over the AFC North from the big boy Ravens and Steelers that usually dominate it. With help from the always steady BenJarvus Green-Ellis to churn out first downs, don't be surprised if this meeting ends in more of a shootout than a November showdown that ended 20-17 in overtime... Joe Flacco may be dealing with a balky knee right now, a run game that moves like a glacier and an overall receiving corps as thin as he is tall, but he's a proven winner - a big game player who can seize the moment and come out on top. Or at least that's what we've seen from Flacco over his first five seasons, all of which included at least one playoff win. With Ray Rice likely to keep struggling against the Bengals' sixth ranked run defense, expect plenty of airing it out versus a thin secondary that can be exposed by a passer like Flacco who can make big throws to the outside and over the top. If Defensive MVP candidate Vontaze Burfict sits out with a concussion, count Dennis Pitta among the most excited, as the tight end stands to benefit greatly. He and Flacco could pick apart the middle of a defense that's seen its share of injuries this year, and any damage Baltimore can do underneath could set up the long ball to Torrey Smith or Jacoby Jones. If the Ravens find success moving the ball in this manner the final playoff spot should be theirs for the taking.

Predictions: Bernard and Green-Ellis register 122 total yards with the rookie scoring through the air. Dalton also hits Green and Gresham for TD's in a 294-yard statement performance. Flacco pitches it for 258 yards and scores to Pitta and Marlon Brown, but is picked twice. Rice contributes 68 total yards. Bengals 27-20.

Houston (+7) @ Tennessee, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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The Titans lost in disappointing fashion back in Week 2, but they had Jake Locker at the controls in that one, not Ryan Fitzpatrick, and were also missing Shonn Greene in the backfield to complement Chris Johnson. Fitzpatrick has thrown it with more efficiency and consistency than Locker while Greene has provided a spark recently to the Tennessee ground game. Facing a depleted and demoralized Texans defense should keep the core of the Titans offense useful in fantasy, particularly Johnson. Greene has the look of a decent flex for any running back needy teams playing for a title, especially since Tennessee could go run heavy against a defense that's actually limited opposing passers in most weeks (again, ones not named Manning). Given that Houston is ranked third in passing yards allowed per game, it might be best to sit down Kendall Wright. While there's plenty of talent with this second-year breakout receiver, his production has grown spotty over the last month and without steady yardage he's a major risk. After all, Wright has just two TD's on the season... One of the few games that has zero playoff implications, the only thing riding on this outcome is the result of the first overall draft pick in May. A Texans win and Redskins loss would give the Rams (via Washington) the first pick. The Titans are the last team Houston beat way back in Week 2, so this is a real possibility, especially considering how closely the Texans played Denver for three quarters last week and how much Tennessee has struggled to close games. Of course, Arian Foster did much of the damage for the Houston offense in the overtime win that should have been a Texans loss in mid September. Jonathan Grimes - he of seven career carries - is now at tailback. Despite the Titans having one of the most generous defenses in the league to opposing tailbacks, it's safe to say Grimes is an enormous downgrade from Foster. Still though, someone has to carry the ball, and given the friendly matchup Grimes could actually be flex worthy in most leagues. The Tennessee defense may be lenient on the ground, but they've been awfully stingy to quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning this year. Matt Schaub struggled in the last showdown, but may be getting his final game-action audition for a starting gig in 2014 if Case Keenum (thumb) is deemed too hurt to play. Whichever quarterback gets the nod, he'll be doing his best to showcase himself for next year, and with Andre Johnson at his disposal there's always the possibility of a productive game.

Predictions: Keenum gets the chance and throws for 216 yards and a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins. Grimes notches 93 total yards and finds the end zone on the ground. Johnson and Greene combine for 161 total yards with both running for scores. Fitzpatrick hits Delanie Walker for a TD in a 230-yard day. Titans 24-20.

Jacksonville (+11.5) @ Indianapolis, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Andrew Luck may not be putting up huge numbers, but he deserves an awful lot of credit for having the Colts in position to potentially earn a first round bye in the playoffs despite an offense that's been severely limited since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL in Week 7. It would take an unlikely scenario that includes the Patriots and Bengals both blowing home games, but should that occur, Luck and Co. could be just one win away from a visit to Peyton Manning with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Facing the Jaguars with plenty riding on their win (they could still land the third seed should either New England or Cinci lose), expect heavy doses of Donald Brown and Trent Richardson once Luck gets Indy to a decent lead. With Brown playing at a high level and the Jags' 30th-ranked run D still among the bottom dwellers in the league, the surprise Colts' starter is a legitimate No. 2 tailback option for any fantasy title matches... The Jaguars are playing with a good deal of grit and pride, and despite being without both Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, their pass attack has only improved in recent weeks. After throwing just four scores in his first eight starts, Chad Henne has managed to notch two TD's in four straight games. In tight games with the Bills and Titans the last two weeks he's managed exactly 237 yards and two scores despite missing both his top two wideouts. Marcedes Lewis has been a major beneficiary in the passing game as result of the missing receivers. With a TD grab in four straight he's a legitimate No. 1 tight end for the final week. On the ground though it's difficult to see much fantasy upside should Maurice Jones-Drew suit up and play through his hamstring injury again. A week after Jordon Todman exploded for 153 total yards in his absence, the career backup found the bench again as MJD tallied 17 touches. Still, Jones-Drew is less than 100% and Todman is going to get some work, so despite the matchup with a weak run defense being inviting, neither offers much reliability.
Predictions: Luck tosses it for 215 yards and touchdowns to Griff Whalen and T.Y. Hilton. Richardson and Brown combine for 147 total yards with the latter running in a short one. Jones-Drew leads the way with 74 total yards and a goal line plunge, while Henne throws for 172 yards and a score to Ace Sanders. Colts 24-17.

New York Jets (+6.5) @ Miami, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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Since the Dolphins blew control of their own destiny with the beating they took from the Bills, they'll have to rely on a win over the Jets and a little luck to slip through the cracks into the final AFC playoff spot. Ryan Tannehill will have to be a far cry better in this contest than he was in a horrible showing in Buffalo, but that could be a tall order facing a physical Jets defense that clearly respects and wants to keep playing for Rex Ryan. The most-sacked QB in the league (he's hit the ground 58 times), Tannehill must get rid of the ball faster and avoid killing drives by losing crucial yards. If he can turn in an effort resembling the four-game hot streak he was riding prior to Buffalo, both Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace have a chance to finish the year as 1,000-yard receivers. Considering that Miami has no ground game to speak of with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas both huge underachievers behind an admittedly bad line, Tannehill figures to have to do a good deal of airing it out against the New York's third ranked run defense... Geno Smith turned in arguably his best performance of the season against a Cleveland defense that has fallen apart in recent weeks, and an encore would give New York a real shot at finishing 0.500 on the year - not a bad mark for a rookie QB with perhaps the worst receiving corps in the league. To pull off the spoiler though the Jets will likely need plenty of Chris Ivory's help. The tackle-breaking machine has run with abandon since mid season and is easily the Jets' best offensive weapon. The Dolphins have been generous to opposing backs nearly all season and just gave up over 200 yards on the ground to the Bills, including 111 and a score to old man Fred Jackson. The Tasmanian Devil-like running of Ivory has led him to 5.7 YPC over the last seven games and figures to cause major headaches for a Dolphins defense that doesn't have the heavy hitters to slow him down.
Predictions: Miller and Thomas combine for 62 yards, while Tannehill passes for 271 yards and touchdowns to Wallace and Rishard Matthews. Smith hooks up with Kellen Winslow for a TD in a 187-yard effort. Ivory rumbles for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Jets 21-17.

Detroit (+3) @ Minnesota, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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The Vikings and Lions represent one of the few games this week with no impact on the playoffs. Neither team has anything left to play for except pride. Scratch that. Neither has much to be proud of after the seasons they've had. Even though Adrian Peterson was able to go last week, he's currently listed as doubtful, which is a wise move by Minnesota rather than have him risk doing further damage to his foot heading into an offseason with a lot of other issues to address. With Toby Gerhart (hamstring) also banged up and out, the Vikes will have to make do with Matt Asiata once again. Since they could be doing plenty of throwing anyways given that the Lions boast the fourth ranked run defense, Greg Jennings could be useful against a weak Detroit secondary. He did post a stinker last week as Minnesota was crushed on time of possession, in large part due to four Matt Cassel turnovers, but he's otherwise been Cassel's go-to guy If the Vikes protect the ball better both Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, who has scored in four straight games, are decent flex options... A total collapse over the second half of the season has cost the Lions what should have been a sure playoff appearance. Matthew Stafford is the biggest culprit in their demise, as his 14 turnovers in the last six games have proven the difference between wins and losses (they've gone 1-5 in that stretch). Stafford cannot take all the blame of course, as the Lions have led in the fourth quarter of all five contests. While his play in the final period of each was dreadful, Jim Schwartz and the coaching staff is equally responsible for finding ways to close out games with better decisions. Ultimately though this offense needs more than just one receiving option. Calvin Johnson has not been 100% healthy nearly all season and when he's especially limited the offense becomes one dimensional. Seeing as how the Vikings are dead last in passing yards and scores allowed, Stafford should bounce back to his usually productive self if Johnson suits up. If Megatron is out though, and with Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) recently placed on IR, all bets are off. If Johnson sits the final week - there's really no reason for Detroit to play him with a bothersome knee issue - expect Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to do the heavy lifting. Bush though may be a risky start given his recent ball security problems. Since Bell can get the job done equally well (as evidenced by his 30-touch, 154-yard explosion last week), Bush may be one fumble away from losing his job altogether.

Predictions: With Johnson sitting, Stafford throws for 191 yards and a score to Jeremy Ross. Bush and Bell rack up 142 total yards with the latter punching in a short rushing score. Asiata plows his way to 46 yards, while Cassel tosses it for 253 yards and TD's to Jennings and Jarius Wright. A Patterson kick return proves the difference. Vikings 24-20.

Washington (+3.5) @ New York Giants, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

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This one may have no playoff implications, but on the off chance Houston upsets Tennessee a Skins loss would vault the Rams into the top pick in the 2014 draft (via the deal that landed Robert Griffin in Washington), so the outcome isn't without intrigue. The Rams have a legitimate hope here, as the Giants showed signs off life last week even if they were only able to generate one offensive touchdown in their upset of Detroit. With Andre Brown having practiced in full after suffering a concussion last week, it appears the G-Men will have their top rusher to lean on against a Washington defense that has given up the most scores to opposing tailbacks. If Eli Manning can somehow get them close, Brown, with his 224-pound frame, has a good chance of finding the end zone for the first time since he punched in two runs against this very defense in Week 13. Of course, without Victor Cruz (knee/head), Jerrel Jernigan, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle are the primary weapons left to get the G-Men within sniffing distance of the end zone, so all bets are off on Brown cashing in... In 13 contests Griffin led the Skins to 23 or more points just five times. Kirk Cousins has done it in each of his two starts and without the services of top tight end Jordan Reed. Granted, Cousins did so versus two of the worst defenses in the league, it's still worth noting. Beyond simply generating more offense though, he's had them in position to win each game as they've fallen just a point shy in each. The Giants have been much stingier versus the pass than either Atlanta or Dallas, so this will be more of a test for the inexperienced signal caller. Pierre Garcon remains a must start with Cousins under center, as he's seen 29 targets the last two weeks and converted them to 129 and 144 yards respectively, with a score in both games. Alfred Morris has also seen more work with Cousins at the helm. Washington has been able to stay on the field for longer drives, which have resulted in more Morris carries. New York is somewhat stiff against the run, giving up just 3.8 YPC, but Morris has the talent to avenge the 26-yard showing he had in their first meeting.
Predictions: Brown powers his way to 76 yards and a short touchdown, while Manning slings it for 228 yards and a TD to Nicks. Cousins hooks up with Garcon and Santana Moss for touchdowns in a 239-yard effort. Morris rushes for 95 yards and hits paydirt in the win. Redskins 24-20.

Cleveland (+7) @ Pittsburgh, Sunday 1:00 p.m.

Comments:
The Browns don't have the offensive firepower to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh with a potential playoff spot riding on the line for Ben Roethlisberger and Co. With Big Ben playing some of the sharpest football of his career and Le'Veon Bell running with a decisive, physical mentality the Steelers are going to put up too many points for Jason Campbell and Cleveland to keep pace. Roethlisberger has tossed multiple TD's in six of his last eight contests, and the two in which he only found the end zone once his arm really wasn't needed to get the win. Since the division rival Browns figure to put up at least something of a fight, Roethlisberger should stay productive in this one. Antonio Brown had his way with Joe Haden in their last meeting, so he clearly remains a top receiving option, while Bell figures to stay an excellent source of total yards... Josh Gordon owned the Steelers D in their last meeting with 14 grabs for 237 yards and a score and given the state of Cleveland's offense and the age of Pittsburgh's secondary it wouldn't be surprising to see him tear them up again. Of course, Gordon will draw significantly more attention this time around, especially if Jordan Cameron is out again with concussion symptoms. It's hard to see Gordon being held below 100 yards though just due to the sheer number of targets he should see from Campbell (he's averaged 12.5 targets per game since Campbell took over in Week 8). Moreover, Gordon did all his damage against Pittsburgh the first time without any help from the backfield. Edwin Baker has been a productive weapon each of the last two weeks, and while the Steelers would much prefer he beat them for first downs than the high-flying Gordon torching them for long scores, he'll still warrant more attention than any back did when they first clashed. Given that he's topped 70 total yards and scored in each of the first two starts of his career, Baker looks like a solid flex option against the Steelers' 22nd-ranked run defense.

Predictions: Roethlisberger passes for 248 yards and touchdowns to Brown and Jerricho Cotchery. Bell piles up 118 total yards and finds the end zone rushing. Baker tallies 92 total yards and hits paydirt himself, while Campbell hooks up with Gordon for a TD in a 223-yard performance. Steelers 27-14.

Tampa Bay (+12.5) @ New Orleans, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

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The Saints could be the second, fifth or sixth seed in the playoffs, or they could find themselves on the couch in January if the shock of all shocks occurs and they choke at home for the first time all season. Of course, despite a quality Tampa Bay defense that ranks third in the league with 31 takeaways, Drew Brees is not about to let that possibility become reality. So although the Saints barely squeaked by the Bucs in Week 2 on a last second field goal, don't expect this outcome to even remotely resemble that 16-14 snoozer. In seven other home games Brees has thrown 23 of his 35 passing scores and only struggled at all versus a fearsome Niners defense. Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston figure to be prominent figures in an impending air raid, but outside of Brees himself they're the only fantasy worthy Saints in this contest. Mark Ingram stole the show from Pierre Thomas last week and with the latter not running well of late it's a risky proposition to trust any of the New Orleans backs, Darren Sproles included... The Saints can be run on, as evidenced by the 4.6 YPC they allow, but that doesn't mean Bobby Rainey will have the success that DeAngelo Williams and Zac Stacy have recently experienced versus New Orleans. He's seen plenty of carries over the last five weeks, but minus an 80-yard burst versus the Bills the diminutive back has averaged a pitiful 2.4 YPC on 87 totes. Moreover, his touches could be diminished in this one if the Saints jump out to an early lead and force Mike Glennon to pitch it more than usual. That scenario would benefit Vincent Jackson though, who looks like a must-start given the way Glennon leans on his one uncoverable target.

Predictions: Ingram and Thomas combine for 126 total yards with the younger back finding the end zone rushing. Brees pitches it for 348 yards and touchdowns to Graham (2) and Colston. Glennon finds Jackson and Tiquan Underwood for scores in a 218-yard effort, while Rainey notches 68 total yards in the loss. Saints 34-14.

Buffalo (+9.5) @ New England, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

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Tom Brady did next to nothing and yet the Patriots absolutely buried a Ravens team in major need of a win last week, and on the road no less. If the New England ground game can produce consistently entering the playoffs they will be an extremely tough out despite a susceptible defense that relies on turnovers to create stops. They are most likely going to land the No. 2 seed in the AFC race, but a slip up could drop the Patriots as low as fourth, so expect a razor sharp focus from Brady and Co. against a Bills team that came a last-second field goal away from upsetting them in Week 1. Shane Vereen is dealing with a groin issue that New England will no doubt want 100% for the playoff run, so expect Bill Belichick in typical fashion to roll with his more healthy alternatives. That figures to leave a heavy workload for LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley to split for the second straight week. Blount has run better on the season and taken over the goal line work because of Ridley's fumble fingers, so facing Buffalo's 23rd-ranked run defense he's at worst a No. 3 tailback option. Julian Edelman, of course, remains a must-start, especially in PPR formats, while Danny Amendola is the only other receiver name to consider in a contest that may not see much throwing from either team... Coach Doug Marrone and the Bills are being smart about their quarterback position. Unwilling to risk the health of EJ Manuel's knee, they are going to roll out Thaddeus Lewis for a second straight week. Neither quarterback figured to be a deciding factor in this game though, so the starter matters little. The Bills should play to their clear strength and feed Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller like hungry wolves versus a Patriots' run D giving up an average of 131.7 yards per game - the 29th-worst mark in the league.

Predictions: Lewis throws for 177 yards and a touchdown to Scott Chandler. Jackson and Spiller combine for 165 total yards with the latter breaking off a long score. Blount and Ridley each rumble for 64 yards with the bigger back punching one in. Brady hits Amendola and Michael Hoomanawanui for TD's in a 224-yard outing. Patriots 24-17.

St. Louis (+10.5) @ Seattle, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments:
Russell Wilson has been in a slump the last few weeks with just one touchdown in three straight games, two of which resulted in Seattle losses, including the first home loss of the Wilson Era versus Arizona last Sunday. Following a six-game stretch in which Wilson tossed multiple TD's and the Seahawks averaged 30.5 points per contest, all of which were victories, he and the offense have struggled to generate yards and points, going for just 16.7 points per over the last three. With an NFC West title and home field throughout the playoffs on the line though, it would be surprising if Wilson did not step up in a major way. A fierce Rams pass rush that ranks third in the league with 49 sacks and is among the top 10 in passing scores allowed certainly will not make that easy, but as Arizona proved in a drubbing of St. Louis the last time they went on the road, this defense is susceptible to quick-hitting throws (Carson Palmer completed a fantastic 27-of-32 attempts). With a weak secondary, if Wilson gets rid of the ball quickly before they can collapse the pocket he should find success going to Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate, the latter of which torched the Rams on a decisive 80-yard score that proved the difference in their first meeting. Of course, if Wilson struggles to get the most out of a thin receiving corps, Seattle can always pound Marshawn Lynch to soften the seventh ranked run defense... Zac Stacy led the way in a gutting of the Seahawks defense on the ground when the teams met in Week 8, gashing them for 134 of the 200 yards the Rams piled up rushing. The chances of him finding similar success, however, look awfully slim. Stacy has taken his share of licks over the seven games since then as he's amassed 154 touches, and while he hasn't shown many signs of slowing down, there has been a distinct difference between his play on the road and at home. In four home games since playing Seattle he's piled up 451 yards and five touchdowns at 4.5 YPC. His road games are a much different story from a yardage standpoint, as he's managed just 159 yards at 2.7 YPC in three trips outside of St. Louis. Still, Stacy is finding the end zone with seven scores in seven games and he's as safe a bet as there is for at least seven fantasy points simply because the Rams offense revolves around him. So even though the Seahawks defense will be highly motivated to avenge their first home loss and secure the top seed in the NFC, benching Stacy seems out of the question. As for Kellen Clemens and any other Rams skill players though, owning them at all is out of the question.

Predictions: Clemens flings it for 133 yards and two interceptions, while Stacy plows his way to 66 yards and a short touchdown. Lynch totes it for 118 yards and a score. Wilson passes for 192 yards and TD's to Baldwin and Luke Willson. Seahawks 24-10.

Denver (-12.5) @ Oakland, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments:
Coach Dennis Allen has decided to go back to Terrelle Pryor for one last test run before heading into an offseason full of uncertainty for the Raiders. Pryor has not started since a Week 10 visit to the Giants and hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since mid October. When Oakland went to Denver though in September he posted one of his best days throwing the ball, coming just 20 yards shy of 300 while averaging 10.0 YPA and staying turnover free. While it makes sense to kick the tires one more time on Pryor given his otherworldly athleticism, it's already become clear that Matt McGloin is the better passer between the two and likely the better long-term option, if either is even remotely close to being such. Ultimately the offense for Oakland should go through Rashad Jennings until the receiving corps adds some depth and the future of the franchise is under center. With over 1,000 total scrimmage yards in what amounts to a little more than nine games Jennings is clearly the better option than Darren McFadden and should enter 2014 as the starter even though he'll turn 29 in the offseason. Rod Streater and Andre Holmes had played their way into deep league flexes with McGloin pitching them the ball, but with Pryor back the only fantasy option in this offense will be Jennings for the final week... Manning could catch some second half rest if it's a blow out, but otherwise expect him to be putting up his usual video game numbers. The Broncos haven't wrapped up first place in the AFC until they get that final W or the Patriots lose at home to Buffalo, so they have plenty to play for. Only the Cowboys and Vikings have allowed more than the 29 passing scores the Raiders have given up, and considering the lack of depth they have defensively, it could be an ugly afternoon in "The Black Hole." All Denver receivers minus Wes Welker (concussion) should be rolled out as usual, while Knowshon Moreno should be poised for a big day against a unit that hasn't been able to cover or tackle tailbacks in recent weeks.

Predictions: Pryor scrambles for 48 yards and pitches it for 182 yards and a touchdown to Holmes. Jennings chips in 95 total yards and a short rushing score. Moreno racks up 139 total yards and hits paydirt rushing. Manning passes for 320 yards and TD's to Thomas 1, Thomas 2 and Decker (2 - touchdowns that is). Broncos 41-17.


Kansas City (+9.5) @ San Diego, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments:
The Chargers need help. The Chiefs will be the first to step up and offer some, as they plan to sit their key starters after at most a few series. Just handling their business though will not get San Diego into the final AFC Wild Card spot by itself. They need both Baltimore and Miami to lose. So while Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews and Co. should have no issue posting friendly fantasy stats for any owners still playing for something, fans of the Bolts must also adopt the Bengals and Jets this week. At least getting the W at home versus a bunch of Kansas City backups is something Charger fans won't have to sweat. The Chiefs have been giving up plenty of yards and points lately - more than 20 in five of their last six including a season worst 41 when San Diego stole one in Arrowhead - and without their top guys on both sides Rivers should have an easy time feeding Keenan Allen and his myriad of targets for a big day. Of course, with Ryan Mathews dealing with an ankle ailment, we could see a larger dose than usual of Danny Woodhead on the ground if the game gets one-sided... Chances are that many owners left playing for a title in the final week of the season were guided there on the superstar legs of Jamaal Charles. And now it looks like the top fantasy back won't be finishing the job for those unfortunate owners. If he's still available, Knile Davis is an investment worth making. The big rookie speedster has scored twice in the last three games and figures to see a significant workload once Charles hits the pine sometime in the first quarter. The Chargers allow 4.7 YPC, the fourth worst mark in the league, and Davis has a good chance to take advantage of that as at least a flex-worthy start. With the Chiefs locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC they have no incentive to stick with any starters, so Davis is the only name worth considering for fantasy play.

Predictions: Chase Daniel takes over for Alex Smith and throws for 134 yards, while Davis tallies 92 total yards and punches in a short score. Mathews and Woodhead combine for 153 yards with the latter hitting paydirt rushing. Rivers tosses it for 266 yards and TD strikes to Allen, Antonio Gates and Eddie Royal. Chargers 31-13.

San Francisco (-1.5) @ Arizona, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments:
Carson Palmer is on track to become the first player in league history to throw for over 4,000 yards with three different teams, but more importantly he's helped to make the Cardinals one of the hottest squads in football and given them an outside chance of stealing the final Wild Card spot. Arizona has rattled off seven wins in their last eight contests with the only loss coming by a field goal in Philadelphia in a game that Palmer carried the offense. As he's been dealing with elbow and ankle injuries, that loss was also the last time he tossed multiple touchdown passes. He made up for his limited numbers though - and for his four interceptions thrown in the game - by tossing the winning score in a surprising victory in Seattle last week. The 49ers present an equally difficult challenge, so don't expect his numbers to swell back to fantasy usefulness, but should Rashard Mendenhall and Andre Ellington have a tough time gaining traction against San Fran's fifth ranked run D, there will be plenty of balls coming out of Palmer's right hand. Larry Fitzgerald registered his only 100-yard outing of the season in the teams' last meeting on the strength of a 75-yard score, and although he was completely shut down last week, he should be counted on against a defense that was just torched by Roddy White, a similarly physical and savvy veteran target. Michael Floyd, meanwhile, will look to follow up his first career game-winning grab with a better effort from a yardage standpoint. He needs to produce just 50 of them to turn in his first 1,000-yard season... The Niners need this game every bit as much as Arizona, so don't expect any starters to be benched even though they clinched the playoffs last week. If Seattle were to somehow falter for a second straight week at home San Francisco could actually climb to the top seed in the conference or at least earn a bye (Carolina would also have to lose to get them to first). With the help of Vernon Davis' insane athleticism, Colin Kaepernick burned Arizona for one of his better games of the season in Week 6. Now that Michael Crabtree is back the Cardinals defense won't even be able to commit as much coverage to the blazing fast tight end. While the passing game should be able to find moderate success, Frank Gore isn't a safe bet to once again hit 100 yards on a defense that's stoned opposing runners over the season's second half. The Cards are tops against the run, allowing just 3.7 YPC and 84.5 yards per game. Gore has managed to produce on good defenses before, but if you're trying to cash in a fantasy championship there are other less risky options.

Predictions: Palmer connects with Fitzgerald and Jake Ballard for touchdowns in a 273-yard effort. Mendenhall and Ellington tally 91 combined yards with the veteran scoring on the ground. Gore rushes for 74 yards, while Kaepernick slings it for 248 and TD's to Crabtree, Davis and Anquan Boldin. 49ers 27-24 in OT.

Green Bay (-2.5) @ Chicago, Sunday 4:25 p.m.

Comments:
Let the fireworks begin. The NFC North title is on the line and Aaron Rodgers will be back under center in a contest that might feature very, very little defense from either side. While all the hype will be on Rodgers and the Packers offense, his counterpart, Jay Cutler, has a trio of elite weapons at his disposal and won't have to worry about Clay Matthews (thumb/out) flying off the edge on his blindside. Matt Forte ripped through this defense for 125 yards on the ground in their first meeting in Week 9 and since that time Green Bay has lost run-stuffer supreme Johnny Jolly (neck). Since Forte gashed them, five other backs have tore through the Packers Swiss cheese defense for at least 117 yards, so if Cutler does struggle at all with his decision making, coach Marc Trestman can make the wise call to have him hand off. When the Bears are throwing it, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may well have their way with a secondary that's given up multiple passing scores in four straight games (nine total)... With Rodgers back it's time to get all your Green Bay skill guys active with the lone possible exception of Randall Cobb, who may also be making a long-awaited return Sunday. After practicing in full pads this week it looks like the dynamic receiver is trending towards a timely return. Still, if Cobb is active 11 weeks after suffering a broken fibula there's a strong chance he'll see limited snaps. With Jarrett Boykin having stepped up nicely in his absence there are plenty of weapons for Rodgers to spread the ball around without overdoing it with Cobb. And of course when Green Bay isn't slinging it they'll have the joy of running against a horrendously bad Chicago unit giving up 161.5 yards per game on the ground at 5.4 YPC. Eddie Lacy may be nursing an ankle sprain that he aggravated in a gashing performance against the Steelers, but he should be good to go in this must-win rival showdown. And with Lacy likely to be at least somewhat limited, James Starks could very well be a solid flex start. Though Lacy led the way easily with 150 yards on the Bears in their first meeting - mostly after Rodgers went out - Starks still rattled off a 32-yard scoring jaunt to provide a respectable fantasy line. Although Rodgers figures to balance the attack, he'll also help provide wider running lanes due to the respect his arm commands. That means the rushing yards should come in chunks for both backs versus a defense that just gave up two 100-yard rushers and nearly 300 yards on the ground to Philly.

Predictions: Cutler slings it for 273 yards and touchdowns to Marshall and Jeffery, while Forte piles up 138 total yards and finds the end zone rushing. Lacy and Starks combine for 174 yards on the ground with the latter hitting paydirt. Rodgers throws for 259 yards and TD's to Jordy Nelson and Boykin. Bears 30-27.

Philadelphia (-6.5) @ Dallas, Sunday 8:30 p.m.

Comments:

To his credit, Tony Romo exhibited a tremendous amount of toughness by finishing the comeback win over Washington after herniating a disc in his back. Following Romo's surgery, Dallas will now have to carry on without him in a do or die contest with Philadelphia that may put to bed another disappointing December for the Cowboys. Kyle Orton is no slouch, however, so a fight should be expected. After all, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten comprise a seriously talented supporting cast for Orton. The veteran backup could do some damage against the Eagles' 30th-ranked pass defense if Dallas can establish Murray on the ground early and allow Orton to let the game come to him in a rhythm. With Murray playing at as high a level as any running back in the league, writing off the Cowboys offense would be foolhardy. Orton has 81 career touchdowns and multiple 400-yard games. He boasts a solid arm and nice overall game management skills. While Orton himself is not an advisable option for any fantasy titles on the line, rolling with Murray, Bryant and Witten is still a no-brainer... LeSean McCoy gets the pleasure of following up his cake matchup against the Bears dead last run defense with a visit to arguably the next worst at stopping opposing tailbacks. The Cowboys are giving up 127.8 yards per game at 4.8 YPC, good for ranks of 27th and 31st respectively. And when McCoy isn't carving them up with his legs, expect Nick Foles to shred the 31st-ranked pass defense with his big arm. Foles and the entire Eagles offense were inexplicably terrible when the two teams met way back in Week 7, but the Philly offense and Dallas defense are headed in totally opposite directions. With DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper on the outside and two highly athletic tight ends strolling through the middle of the field, expect a major bounce back from Foles with the playoffs on the line.

Predictions: Orton passes for 248 yards and touchdowns to Bryant and Terrance Williams. Murray racks up 142 total yards and punches in a rushing score. McCoy churns out 123 yards and a ground TD of his own, while Foles finds Jackson, Jason Avant and Brent Celek for touchdowns in a 294-yard performance. Eagles 31-27.

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