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NFL Skinny: Week 7 preview

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

By now, you've probably already bumped up against some of the lineup problems associated with the only six-team bye week of 2012. I'm not sure why two of this week's teams on hiatus couldn't have taken a break with Pittsburgh and Indy back in Week 4, but such is the hand we've been dealt. So deal with it, we shall. Let's dive into the skinniest Skinny of the season:

Total Week 7 green-light plays by position: 7 QB; 11 RB; 14 WR; 8 TE; 5 DST

Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring

QUARTERBACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (QB): BUF; CLE; NE; WAS; NO

Least FPPG allowed (QB): DAL; SEA; CHI; ARI; SF

Andrew Luck, who ranks 2nd in the NFL in pass attempts per game, is coming off a rough outing against the Jets, but the Browns are a cure for what ails a QB. Cleveland has allowed four QBs to throw for at least 300 yards, and the two QBs that didn't reach that mark against the Browns (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eli Manning) each threw for 3 TDs.

Of course, the Colts defense has plenty of issues, as well. Although it sits middle of the pack in FAN PPG allowed to the QB position, Indy has yielded the 4th-highest QB Rating (104.0). Game flow and the fact that the Colts run defense is so bad (see Shonn Greene, Week 6) means that teams haven't really loaded up on them in the passing game. But Brandon Weeden is averaging the 8th-most pass attempts per game, and RB Trent Richardson is iffy with sore ribs. So this feels like another game where Weeden could chuck it 40-50 times. He's a nice looking bye-week play.

Tony Romo only ranks No. 15 at QB in fantasy, but in terms of FAN PPG allowed to opposing QBs, no signal caller has faced a tougher slate of defenses, thus far. Against what has been a middle-of-the-pack Carolina pass defense, Romo makes an easy case for top 10 consideration at the QB position.

Ben Roethlisberger's recent history against Cincy leaves a lot to be desired — 203 passing ypg and a combined 4:3 TD-to-INT ratio in his past 5 meetings. But the set-up seems ripe for Big Ben stop the recent downward slide against his AFC North foe. The Bengals allow the 7th-highest yards per pass attempt (ypa) mark (7.9) and QB Rating (99.6), and that's despite facing Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden (twice). For his part, Roethlisberger ranks 4th in QB Rating (99.9) and, because the team has struggled to run the ball and the defense isn't a "steely" as usual, Roethlisberger is throwing a healthy amount (37-plus attempts in 4 of 5 games). I'd ignore the history card for Big Ben this week.

One history card I'm leery of is that of Jay Cutler, who has averaged 202 passing yards and has just 2 TD passes in his past three meetings with the Lions. Frankly, I'm probably just looking for an excuse to sit Cutler after two good games in Weeks 4-5. You have to go back to his first month in Chicago in '09 to find the last time Cutler produced 3 consecutive above average fantasy lines. Mr. Consistency, he is not.

According to ProFootballFocus.com's metrics, Pittsburgh ranks as the 2nd-worst pass rush in the league behind New Orleans. Of course, not having Troy Polamalu in the lineup doesn't help. That said, the point remains that this isn't a defense that needs to be feared as it has been in recent seasons, especially if you are the owner of Andy Dalton, the No. 6 fantasy QB, thus far, on a per game basis.

RUNNING BACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (RB): NO; JAX; IND; CAR; BUF

Least FPPG allowed (RB): CHI; SF; SEA; MIN; DET

Matt Forte faces a tough Lions defense on Monday night. Detroit allows just 3.7 ypc and the 5th-fewest FAN PPG to RBs. But Forte has owned the Lions in his career (121.9 yfs per game and a total of 7 TDs in 8 meetings). Coming off a bye week that allowed him to further heal the ankle he sprained in Week 2, I expect Forte's versatility to be used to the fullest against Detroit, and I have him down as a RB1 lock.

Forgive Stevan Ridley the mere 34 rushing yards against Seattle last week. The Seahawks are a staunch run defense to begin with, and head coach Pete Carroll admitted that stopping the run was their first priority against the Pats. The positive takeaway if you are a Ridley owner is that he handled 16 carries, which was 6 more than Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead combined. Bolden tweaked his knee during the game, which means that Ridley is likely to push 20 carries for the fourth time this season on Sunday against the Jets, a team allowing 4.7 ypc.

Alright, Chris Johnson, after rushing for 91 yards on 19 carries last Thursday against Pittsburgh (and 141 vs. Houston in Week 4), I'm giving you top 10 status this week against what is an awful Buffalo run defense — league-worst 5.8 ypc allowed. Blow it against the Bills and you can forget about rejoining the circle of trust this season. And with 4 meetings remaining with Indianapolis and Jacksonville, it would be nice to feel good about you now at least being able to take advantage of a soft matchup.

Doug Martin is averaging just 3.8 ypc and LeGarrette Blount, who is seeing increased snaps with each passing week, is a little bit of a concern. But you have to feel real good about Martin this week against a New Orleans defense allowing 5.0 ypc. The Saints also allow 56.2 receiving ypg to RBs, the 5th-most in the league. Given Martin's versatile skill set and the real possibility that this turns into a shootout, Martin has a very good chance to tally even more yards from scrimmage than the 131 he hung on KC last week.

I'd be inclined to give Vick Ballard another chance this week after his disappointing 8/25 rushing line filling in for Donald Brown against the Jets last week. To be fair to Ballard, the Jets were up 24-3 at halftime and Ballard saw one carry in the final 25 minutes of the game as the team went to a heavy no-huddle approach. This week's opponent, Cleveland, is one of only 3 teams that have allowed 1,000 yfs to opposing RBs. As the clear-cut Brown replacement, Ballard should see double the amount of touches he got last week.

After posting 166 rushing yards and 3 TDs against Indy, I can certainly see where Shonn Greene could have a huge return to earth performance against the brawny interior defensive line of the Pats (read: Vince Wilfork). New England is allowing just 3.4 ypc and is coming off a shutdown performance against Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (15/41/0). But Greene did average a respectable 83.5 yfs and scored a TD in his 2 meetings with the Pats last season. And, frankly, he's the last man standing in the Jets backfield right now with Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight expected to miss the game with injuries. If the Jets can somehow keep this game somewhat close, Greene should see a heavy workload. He's worth a RB2 dice roll, all things considered.

Given the questionable status of Trent Richardson's ribs, Montario Hardesty should be a sought after commodity on the waiver wire this week. The matchup for the Browns is fantastic, as Indy allows 5.0 ypc and the 3rd-most FAN PPG to RBs. And, in relief of T-Rich last week, he had a nice 15/56/1 line against Cincy. The 3.7 ypc may not look like much, but the visual evidence was impressive. Hardesty looked healthy and ran decisively. If Richardson can't go, bump Hardesty into Felix Jones, Fred Jackson, Greene territory.

WIDE RECEIVERS


Most FPPG allowed (WR): WAS; CLE; NO; BUF; SD

Least FPPG allowed (WR): STL; SF; DAL; NYJ; MIN

In this week's Scouting Notebook, Michael Salfino called Joe Haden overrated after returning from a four-week layoff to allow A.J. Green to go for 7/135/2 in Week 6. Pretty harsh, and rash, indictment of someone that allowed only one opposing "No. 1" receiver to top 100 yard against him last season — surprise, it was A.J. Green again. Haden has always passed the eye test with me, and according to ProFootballFocus.com's metrics, he was a top 5 rated corner in pass coverage last season and No. 3 in his rookie season of '10. This season, he sits at No. 13 after his two games of work. I'm guessing the QB Rating allowed metric that Salfino sources as his reason for him being overrated probably isn't the best stat by which to judge a corner (and, it's worth mentioning, Haden was 4th-best in QB Rating allowed as a rookie). The point here is that I think Haden is a damn good corner, one of the best, in fact. I'll cut him some slack for allowing a big day to A.J. Green. And I'll suggest to Reggie Wayne owners that they should feel damn lucky if Wayne reaches my No. 11 ranking for him this week given the matchup.

No doubt about it, Dez Bryant is a frustrating player to own, and an extremely annoying player to watch. Last week, Bryant let a 2-point conversion pass attempt slip right through his hands. Had he caught it, Dallas would have at least pushed Baltimore to overtime. Bryant cried that he was interfered with, but the replay showed that if there was any contact, it wasn't enough to excuse him of the drop. And while drops have come with the territory in recent weeks, you can't fault his 2 TDs and 100 receiving ypg over his past two games. This week, he faces a Carolina defense that has been better than average against the pass. But I see two monster games from "big" targets Roddy White (8/169/2) and Ramses Barden (9/138), and it makes me feel better about Bryant's prospects this week. But, if you're a Bryant owner, you should probably just do yourself a favor and not watch how Bryant derives his totals.

Percy Harvin not only leads WRs in receptions (49), but he also has 15 carries, which is 10 more than any other receiver save Nate Burleson, who has 8. And Harvin has returned 12 kickoffs, 1 that went for a TD. With his breakaway ability and super-sized workload, I see a tough matchup like Arizona and I could care less. If he's (mostly) healthy, Harvin will most likely be in my top 5 at WR.

Over the past 5 weeks, Denarius Moore ranks No. 23 among WRs in FAN PPG, better than Dez Bryant. Among those with at least 10 receptions, he ranks 10th with a yards per reception rate of 16.9. Moore has a great chance to build upon his early success this week against a Jacksonville defense that has allowed an average of more than 205 passing yards to opposing WRs over their past 3 games.

I moved Randall Cobb all the way up to No. 24 at WR before kickoff of last Sunday's games. With Greg Jennings and Cedric Benson out, I figured Cobb might see more time as a receiver and maybe get a little more work in backfield sets. Cobb didn't end up seeing a carry against Houston, but he rewarded my faith with a top 25 finish, thanks to his 7/102 receiving line. After averaging 22 snaps in his first three games of the season, Cobb is clearly getting a boost from Jennings' groin problem, as he's averaged 41 snaps the past three games. This week's opponent, St. Louis, allows the fewest FAN PPG to WRs, but I'm sticking by Cobb as a WR2 again with it looking likely that Jennings will again sit. Green Bay's offense is finally hitting on all cylinders and, when that happens, I'll bet on the Packers being able to impose their offensive will on anyone.

Brandon Gibson is getting a lot of attention this week as a waiver wire pickup after a healthy 7/91 line last week against Miami. I'm on board with the Gibson recommendation, as the Rams will likely have to throw often against the Packers, and the Green Bay secondary has allowed the 12th-most FAN PPG to WRs. But don't sleep on Gibson's running mate, Chris Givens. The rookie is averaging a ridiculous 28.1 yards on his 7 catches, and he's caught a pass of 50-plus yards in three straight games.

Be careful not to overrate Josh Gordon this week. Of his 36 fantasy points scored over the past 2 weeks, 70 percent of it came on 2 catches, both TD grabs of 62-plus yards. It's not easy to survive on a big-play diet, and he faces an Indy team that has allowed just 2 pass plays of 40-plus yards (Alshon Jeffery and Cecil Shorts). I see Gordon and Givens as fairly similar.

TIGHT ENDS

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Most FPPG allowed (TE): TEN; WAS; DEN; NE; DET

Least FPPG allowed (TE): IND; NO; NYG; JAX; ARI

Only Tony Gonzalez and Fred Davis have more receiving yards than Jermaine Gresham at the tight end position over the past month. Gresham is the No. 6 fantasy TE overall in that span. Gresham's on a roll, and a Troy Polamalu-less Steelers defense has been nothing to fear this season. Go Gresham this week, if you got him.

Kyle Rudolph is looking rather Gronkowski-ish this season. His TD in Week 6 looked like it was a back-of-the-end-zone throw away toss by QB Christian Ponder, but Rudolph went up and plucked it out of the air, no problem. Rudolph ranks 2nd behind Heath Miller in TE red zone targets. But he ranks just 17th in receiving yards at the position, relying on his TDs to land him among the top 10 at the position in FAN PPG. Against a fast, physical defense like Arizona, which ranks as the 5th-best in fantasy at limiting TEs in fantasy, I have a little hesitation when it comes to Rudolph this week.

Martellus Bennett is worth following closely this week to see how healthy he looks in practice. His production has suffered in recent weeks as he's dealt with a sore knee. But he's facing a Washington defense that has allowed the 2nd-most FAN PPG to TEs, allowing season-high yardage totals to Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham, while Jermaine Gresham and Kyle Rudolph finished just shy of their season highs against the 'Skins.

The Giants allow the 3rd-fewest FAN PPG to TEs, and are one of just 5 teams that has yet to allow a TE TD (Miami, Baltimore, Jacksonville and New Orleans are the others). Fred Davis is the only TE with at least 300 receiving yards without a TD, and Brandon Myers is the only other TE with at least 200 receiving yards sans a score. Davis' red zone concerns (ranked just 32nd among TE in RZ targets) are enough to bump him to the TE1/TE2 bubble this week.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

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Most FPPG allowed (DST): DET; KC; CIN; DAL; PHI

Least FPPG allowed (DST): NYG; NE; WAS; BAL; HOU

WEEK 7 GAME PREDICTIONS

San Francisco 19, Seattle 17
Green Bay 27, St. Louis 16
New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 27
Dallas 28, Carolina 20
Minnesota 23, Arizona 17
Buffalo 30, Tennessee 27
NY Giants 31, Washington 24
Indianapolis 27, Cleveland 22
Houston 29, Baltimore 24
Oakland 28, Jacksonville 18
New England 34, NY Jets 17
Cincinnati 26, Pittsburgh 24
Chicago 23, Detroit 20

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