Monday Night Football
Dallas @ Chicago
DeMarco Murray has a fantasy playoffs schedule that positions him to put owners on his back. After visiting Chicago's last-ranked run defense Monday night, Murray will take on Green Bay's No. 25 group, and close out fantasy season against the No. 18 Redskins in Week 16. Since Week 6, Alfred Morris/Roy Helu, Brandon Jacobs, Eddie Lacy/James Starks, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, Zac Stacy/Benny Cunningham/Tavon Austin, and Adrian Peterson/Cordarrelle Patterson have combined to paste the Bears for 1,167 yards and 12 TDs on 182 runs (6.41 YPC). Coming off a long week to rest his legs and without Lance Dunbar (PCL surgery) around to steal any carries, Murray is a top-five RB1. ... Ninth in fantasy quarterback scoring on the season, Tony Romo is more of a low-end QB1 at Chicago, whose defensive strength is versus the pass. The Bears get torched by the run, but entered Week 14 a respectable 14th in pass defense and tied for sixth in interceptions (15). The front four is finally getting healthy with Jay Ratliff installed at three-technique tackle and RE Julius Peppers having racked up 5.5 sacks over his last five games. It's entirely possible OC Bill Callahan and coach Jason Garrett build their Week 14 game plan around featuring the run. Romo is still a quality fantasy start, but with potentially limited upside. Monday night's weather forecast at Soldier Field calls for temperatures in the teens and 16-18 MPH winds.
Romo's target distribution in Miles Austin's five starts this year: Dez Bryant 52; Jason Witten 33; Austin 29; Murray 27; Terrance Williams 15; Cole Beasley 8; James Hanna and Dwayne Harris 5; Dunbar 4. ... The Bears allow the third most receptions and yards to tight ends, setting up Witten for a high-volume Monday nighter. Witten is a mid-range TE1. ... Since returning from his latest hamstring injury two games ago, Austin has pathetically secured 2-of-8 targets for 35 yards. Austin's biggest impact right now is blocking Williams and Beasley, who were far more effective in his absence. If Dallas has serious designs on making the NFL playoffs, Callahan and Garrett ought to strongly consider demoting Austin into a fourth receiver role. He's got no juice. ... Bryant has 25 targets in two games since the Cowboys' bye, with a blowup on the horizon. In Dez's last meeting with the Bears -- October of 2012 -- he shredded Chicago for eight grabs and 105 yards.
Jay Cutler (ankle) has resumed practicing with an eye toward Week 15, but Josh McCown will get the nod once more Monday night versus Dallas. Through six relief appearances, McCown is 120-of-184 passing (65.2%) for 1,461 yards (7.94 YPA) and a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Facing Dallas' No. 31 pass defense, McCown is pushing for mid-range QB1 value in Quarterback Whisperer Marc Trestman's offense, which emphasizes high-percentage throws with timing and rhythm in order to mitigate opposing pass rush. It's certainly working, as the Bears rank No. 6 in the NFL in passing offense and field two top-five overall fantasy receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. ... McCown's target distribution on the season: Marshall 53; Jeffery 51; Matt Forte 28; Martellus Bennett 23; Earl Bennett 14; Michael Bush 3; Marquess Wilson 2. ... Jeffery has graduated to every-week WR1 status. He's eighth in the league in receptions (70), fourth in receiving yards (1,109), and ninth in 20-plus-yard catches (15). Jeffery should be locked into fantasy lineups without any hesitation against the Cowboys' leaky secondary. ... Marshall is coming off of a slower Week 13 box score than his bookend, but nothing has changed with regard to his fantasy outlook. With at least 75 yards and/or a touchdown in 9-of-12 games this season, Marshall is the No. 4 wideout scorer on the year, behind only Calvin Johnson, Josh Gordon, and Demaryius Thomas.
Martellus has been fairly far down the passing-game pecking order with McCown under center -- relative to Marshall and Jeffery, at least -- but has an attractive Monday night matchup versus a Cowboys defense allowing the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends. Bennett is the No. 10 overall fantasy tight end on the year, and a fine low-end TE1 start. ... Although the return of ILB Sean Lee (hamstring) will help, it's impossible to overlook Dallas' run-defense woes the past three weeks. DC Monte Kiffin's unit has hemorrhaged 494 yards and six TDs on 88 carries (5.61 YPC) to the Saints, Giants, and Raiders' tailback tandems. Forte entered Week 14 as a top-three RB1 play against the Cowboys. Forte is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards, tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns, and third among tailbacks in receptions.
Score Prediction: Bears 27, Cowboys 24
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