This week, the ranks are legitimately early – not by a few hours, but by two full days. That's how confident we are in their accuracy.
Thursday night games begin in Week 10 with Chicago traveling to San Francisco, so be sure to get Vernon Davis(notes) into your starting lineup. Alex Smith, too. And Michael Crabtree(notes). And probably Garrison Hearst, Earl Cooper, Renaldo Nehemiah, Ray Wersching and various other Niners, living and dead. The Bears are truly lost.
Week 10 also features a few extreme mismatches (NO at STL, DET at MIN, BAL at CLE) and a pair of Blockbuster!OMG!GameoftheCentury! matchups (NE at IND, CIN at PIT). The New York Giants, Houston Texans and Larry Johnson(notes) have byes.
Joe Flacco(notes) had thrown at least one touchdown pass (often two or three) in every game this season prior to the Week 9 dud at Cincinnati. He should be a relatively easy start/sit decision for the rest of the year, as his matchups are either spectacular (CLE in Week 10, then GB, DET and CHI in Weeks 13-15) or extremely treacherous (IND in Week 11, PIT in Weeks 12 and 16). ... As a Bears fan, I'd love to find reason to quarrel with Vernon Davis' assessment of the Chicago defense...
"The guys up front, I think we can destroy them. I don't see anything spectacular about their front line. Their linebackers, I think we can handle them pretty well." ... "They've given up a lot of points. There's an opportunity for us, especially there in their secondary, for us to make plays."
...but I really can't. He nails it. When the Bears' D is on the field, the deep middle is like a vast, open prairie. Chicago has recorded just two sacks over the past four weeks. It's an excellent setup for both Davis and his quarterback, Alex Smith. ... Mark Sanchez(notes) is coming off a bye, playing at home, and facing a Jacksonville defense that doesn't generate turnovers (5 INTs) and doesn't pressure the quarterback (8.0 sacks). This is the best setup he'll have all year. ... As impressive as Josh Freeman(notes) was in his first start (205 pass yards, two fourth quarter TDs), it's worth noting that he completed just 14 of 31 passes. Miami's pass rush has been much more effective than Green Bay's, too (21.0 sacks vs. 13.0). ... Right now, Vince Young(notes) is just a cast member in the Chris Johnson show. Young hasn't yet attempted 20 passes in any game. If he's going to put up a useful fantasy total, he'll need to inflict damage on the ground – and it could certainly happen against the Bills. Buffalo has the league's worst run defense (5.1 YPC, 12 TDs).
Shuffle those top four backs any way you like. They all have unusually friendly matchups. According to my rigorous simulations, Adrian Peterson has a 4.75 percent chance to top 300 yards against Detroit, so he gets the edge here. ... Ray Rice(notes) has 1,009 total yards and six TDs through eight games, and he's on a 90-reception pace. Willis McGahee(notes) has become an afterthought, approximately as valuable right now as Errict Rhett. McGahee didn't record a touch in Week 9 and he had just three in Week 8. Still, I've ranked him in the top 40 in Week 10, due to the garbage time touchdown possibilities. ... Yeah, that might seem like a strangely bullish early rank on Knowshon Moreno(notes), who found himself on the short end of a rotation with Correll Buckhalter(notes) in Week 9. That's just stubborn faith in a rookie who was excellent before the bye, and a lack of respect for the Washington defense. The 'Skins rank well defensively at the moment, but it's really a quality-of-opponent issue. Check their schedule in Weeks 2-6 for details. (Revised my original Buckhalter rank, nudging him up the board. My ranks, my rules).
This week, Ricky Williams(notes)' usual 8-12 touches should be enough. Tampa Bay has the NFC's worst run defense (4.8 YPC, 163.4 YPG). The option pitch from Pat White to Ricky last Sunday may have been the play-call of the day. ... We've learned that Brian Westbrook(notes) is still dealing with ankle issues in addition to concussion symptoms. That makes him a tricky player to rank, despite the less-than-intimidating matchup with San Diego. Follow the practice reports, wait for the Sunday green light. LeSean McCoy(notes) picked up 115 total yards on 18 touches against Dallas last week; if he could have just managed 116 yards, the Eagles would perhaps be 6-2. ... Darren McFadden(notes) (knee) is expected to return against the Chiefs in Week 10, though it seems unlikely he'll get anything close to a full workload.
Calvin Johnson(notes) seemed displeased last week, and it's tough to blame him. His quarterback was a mess after the first quarter. But Megatron was heavily targeted (9) and he suffered no known knee setbacks (not that the Lions would tell us). ... Anquan Boldin(notes) may not be happy, and he may not be a Cardinal next year, but he's tough to sit now, assuming the ankle has improved. Always start elite receivers in the week following a tantrum. ... Michael Crabtree was quiet in Week 9, but Alex Smith gave him plenty of opportunities (8 targets). Expect a useful line against the Bears, for reasons discussed above. ... Nope, MDS, I am not prepared to reverse my position on the Steve Smiths. ... Mike Sims-Walker(notes) has caught at least six passes (for at least 81 yards) in five of his last six games, but he should draw attention from elite corner Darrelle Revis(notes) this week. Revis has been disrupting fantasy plans all year. ... Austin Collie(notes) downplayed the seriousness of the neck injury he dealt with in Week 9, saying, "I'm perfectly fine." You never really know with Colts, but for ranking purposes, I'm assuming he's OK.
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