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NFL Skinny: Week 13 preview

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

I was 11-5 in game predictions last week, which brings my yearly tally (starting from Week 3) to 101-41. Of course, this column is really about the fantasy advice, and my recommendations in that arena this week are more important than any of the previous weeks as we've reached the do-or-die point of the season for many leagues – this is the final reagular-season week for a majority of Yahoo! fantasy leagues.

I'm hoping, for your sake and mine, that the advice below is bulletproof, but I'd still suggest that you use it only as a guide and not ignore your strong gut feelings that run counter to the recommendations below. Win or lose, you'll have only yourself to look at in the mirror, while I'll be sleeping restfully. So make sure when you set your lineup this week, it's the one that you, more than anyone else, feels best about. And, good luck with that. Alright, let's get to it …

Week 13 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 13 matchup

NEW YORK JETS @ BUFFALO BILLS

Key Stats: JETS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 176 YPG passing allowed
BILLS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 198 YPG passing allowed

What to watch for: The NYJ own the No. 2 rushing offense and BUF stands alone as the worst rush defense in football. Consider RB Thomas Jones'(notes) green light this week to be rainforest-like in its richness and vibrancy. Also, coming off 10 carries last week, backup RB Shonn Greene(notes) is a nice sleeper play against a team that the Jets ran on 40 times in Week 6. QB Mark Sanchez(notes) has topped 30 pass attempts just once in the past 10 games and has only breached 200 passing yards twice in that span, so all passing game elements can be considered no better than cautionary tales.

RB Fred Jackson(notes) has looked like a better fit for the BUF offense all season and that fact seemed to get hammered home as Jackson retook the featured roll in Week 12 with RB Marshawn Lynch(notes) limited by a shoulder injury. Jackson compiled 116 YFS and a couple TDs against MIA on Sunday, but he's only moderately attractive against a NYJ defense that has slammed the door on the vaunted ground attacks of MIA and CAR in the past month and limited Jackson and Lynch to 3.3 YPC and 0 TDs on a combined 34 carries in the Week 6 matchup. Suddenly sizzling WR Terrell Owens(notes) probably gets the fantasy death sentence in NYJ CB Darrelle Revis(notes) – TO could muster 3 catches for 13 yards in this same scenario back in Week 6. But that works to WR Lee Evans'(notes) advantage, as he went 68 yards and a TD in the previous meeting. Evans, however, hasn't topped 50 yards in any of his past four games and you have to look for better options in the passing game than what the Bills have to offer this week.

Thomas Jones
Fred Jackson, Terrell Owens, Lee Evans, Jerricho Cotchery(notes), Dustin Keller(notes), New York defense, Buffalo defense
Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes), Mark Sanchez, Marshawn Lynch, Braylon Edwards(notes), Shawn Nelson(notes)
Sleeper: Shonn Greene
Injuries: NYJ QB Mark Sanchez (knee) could be questionable; NYJ CBs Dwight Lowery(notes) (ankle) and Donald Strickland(notes) (concussion) are likely to be out
Prediction: NY Jets 20, Buffalo 17
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ ATLANTA FALCONS

Key Stats: EAGLES – 3.9 YPC allowed | 203 YPG passing allowed
FALCONS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 253 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: There could be some serious star power sitting on the sidelines on Sunday for PHI in this one. In addition to the likelihood that RB Brian Westbrook(notes) remains under wraps, WR DeSean Jackson(notes) is iffy after also suffering a concussion last week. ATL is ripe for the pickin' in all aspects defensively, so you can feel good about whomever the Eagles trot out to start in the skill position spots. TE Brent Celek(notes) is dealing with a sprained thumb, but it sounds like he'll play. He and ATL TE Tony Gonzalez(notes) could be fantasy football's version of dueling banjos in this one. PHI and ATL rank No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of the most generous fantasy defenses in the league to TEs.

ATL should have kept RB Michael Turner(notes) (ankle) off the field last week against TB, and now it is paying the price of a Turner setback suffered on Sunday. Even if Turner does play this Sunday, you saw last week the downside of using him for fantasy purposes right now (12 carries, 33 yards, early exit). I'd steer clear of the ATL backfield situation in shallow leagues, but RB Jerious Norwood(notes) could be a nice flyer in PPR leagues as the attacking PHI defense gives up decent production to RBs in the passing game. QB Chris Redman(notes) has stood (stood out, at times) at the helm of the ATL offense before and WR Roddy White(notes) has worked well with Redman in the past and in the final moments of last week when he pulled in the game-winning toss from Redman against TB. White is matchup proof and QB proof, and only the weekly game plan holds him down. It's a tough matchup this week, admittedly, but I'd bank on Redman keeping it simple with the usual suspects – Gonzo and White with some dump offs to Norwood mixed in.

Donovan McNabb(notes), Jeremy Maclin(notes), Brent Celek, LeSean McCoy(notes), Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia defense
Chris Redman, Jason Snelling(notes)
Michael Turner, Michael Jenkins(notes), Atlanta defense
Sleeper: Jason Avant(notes), Jerious Norwood
Injuries: ATL QB Matt Ryan(notes) (turf toe) is out; ATL RB Michael Turner (ankle) could be out; PHI RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) could be out; PHI WR DeSean Jackson (concussion) could be out; PHI TE Brent Celek (thumb) could be questionable; PHI LBs Akeem Jordan(notes) (knee), Will Witherspoon(notes) (foot) and Tracy White(notes) (chest) could be questionable;
Prediction: Philadelphia 27, Atlanta 21
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS

Key Stats: BUCS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 211 YPG passing allowed
PANTHERS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 181 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The CAR pass defense is legit. NO QB Drew Brees(notes) is the only QB to top 255 passing yards against the Panthers, who rank 6th-best in fantasy against the QB position. QB Josh Freeman(notes) delivered a bounce-back performance last week (250 yards, 2 TDs), but he's likely to work RB Carnell Williams(notes) an awful lot this week against a CAR defense that has the 8th-most rushing attempts against – Freeman could make up for less passing with nice ground totals against a CAR defense that has allowed the most fantasy rushing production to QBs. The threat of an expanded role for RB Earnest Graham(notes) didn't materialize last week and RB Carnell Williams handled double-digit carries for the 8th consecutive game. He had 77 rushing yards and a TD in a Week 6 meeting with CAR and I'd be willing to ride the Cadillac in this one. In the passing game, TE Kellen Winslow(notes) is easily your safest bet, and the likely apple of Freeman's eyes this coming Sunday. WR Antonio Bryant(notes) is getting healthier and is coming off a big week, but he was shut down in the Week 6 meeting and CAR has allowed just 3 TDs to WRs and has yet to concede a 100-yard game to a wideout.

With RB DeAngelo Williams(notes) dealing with a sprained ankle, and backup QB Matt Moore(notes) expected to take over for an injured Jake Delhomme(notes) behind center, this could prove to be a big week for RB Jonathan Stewart(notes). CAR ran 40+ times in the Week 6 contest, with Williams handling 30 of those attempts. A hobbled Williams likely means at least an even split of the workload for Stewart – that said, if Williams plays, you're playing him. WR Steve Smith was shutdown by TB CB Aqib Talib(notes) in the previous meeting (1/4/0), but Talib is likely to be out in this one with a hamstring injury. I'd be willing to roll the dice on Smith getting a few ripe opportunities in the passing game this week and bouncing back from last week's Darrelle Revis experience. TE Dante Rosario(notes) has averaged 51 receiving yards in the past two games and he's a sleeper play for deeper leagues.

Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith, Kellen Winslow, Carnell Williams
Matt Moore, Derrick Ward(notes), Josh Freeman, Antonio Bryant, Carolina defense
Maurice Stovall(notes), Muhsin Muhammad(notes), Tampa Bay defense
Sleeper: Dante Rosario
Injuries: TB CB Aqib Talib (hamstring) could be out; TB WR Michael Clayton(notes) (knee) is out; TB DE Stylez White (hand) could be questionable; CAR QB Jake Delhomme (finger) is out; CAR RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Carolina 24, Tampa Bay 16
ST. LOUIS RAMS @ CHICAGO BEARS

Key Stats: RAMS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 226 YPG passing allowed
BEARS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: RB Steven Jackson was dealing with back spasms prior to last Sunday's game, but still managed 116 YFS and a TD against SEA. He's still solid gold (green, that is) for fantasy purposes, and would look even better if CHI LB Lance Briggs(notes) (knee) can't go in this one. In terms of fantasy QBs on the periphery of consideration, QB Kyle Boller(notes) has some upside because he can run and his team plays from behind most weeks. He's a desperation play, but there's at least 10 starting QBs I like less this week. WR Donnie Avery(notes) has 3 TDs in the past three weeks but he's topped 70 receiving yards just once this season. He remains what he is – a yellow light with a little upside. Give WR Brandon Gibson(notes) some credit. Yes, he's dropped several balls the past few weeks and he's had some mental lapses in terms of route running, but he's already as good as anyone in the league in terms of jumping up after an incomplete pass and crying for a pass interference penalty. I'm sorry, I'm getting off track here, but could a 6th-round rookie get any more annoying? The guy has potential if he can learn to funnel his energy into improving as a receiver instead of as a field lawyer. Until then expect more reliable WR Danny Amendola(notes) to continue to gain favor at Gibson's expense.

QB Jay Cutler(notes) is a box of chocolates from a fantasy standpoint, but he's been a much better bet at home this season, and a matchup with a STL defense that has compiled the 4th-fewest QB sacks in the league should keep Cutler from making too many rash decisions. Like Cutler, RB Matt Forte(notes) has been much better at home and all of his 3 TDs have come in home contests against run softies (CLE and DET). STL would qualify as a similar type of setup, and I'd be willing to go with Forte this week – his only usable fantasy situation from now until Week 17 at DET. WR Devin Hester(notes) has done very little of late, but the same goes for WRs Earl Bennett(notes) and Johnny Knox(notes). If I'm gambling on any of this lot, it'd still be Hester. But TE Greg Olsen(notes) is really Cutler's go-to guy now and this matchup shouldn't scare Olsen owners one bit.

Steven Jackson, Greg Olsen, Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Chicago defense
Devin Hester, Kyle Boller, Donnie Avery
Brandon Gibson, Daniel Fells(notes), Earl Bennett, Johnny Knox, St. Louis defense
Sleeper: Danny Amendola
Injuries: STL RB Steven Jackson (back) could be questionable; STL G Richie Incognito(notes) (foot) could be questionable; STL C Jason Brown(notes) (knee) could be questionable; STL OT Jason Smith(notes) (concussion) could be out; STL K Josh Brown(notes) (sprained knee) could be questionable; STL LB James Laurinaitis(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; CHI LT Orlando Pace(notes) (groin) could be out; CHI DE Alex Brown(notes) (leg) could be questionable; CHI LB Lance Briggs (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: Chicago 28, St. Louis 14
DETROIT LIONS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS

Key Stats: LIONS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 281 YPG passing allowed
BENGALS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 216 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: WR Calvin Johnson(notes) has a very tough draw against a CIN defense that has allowed the 5th-fewest fantasy points to WRs. But we all know he is a transcendent talent and you won't find me ranking him outside the top 20 WRs in any week in which he's considered healthy enough to play – although he's pushing the outer limits of that top 20 this week. RB Kevin Smith(notes) isn't a transcendent talent, and I'd flee from him this week – the Bengals haven't allowed a RB to reach 70 rushing yards since Week 4. Smith's only hope is as a receiver, as CIN has allowed the 3rd-most fantasy receiving points to RBs. In a PPR league, maybe Smith in a serious pinch. Otherwise, treat Smith like all the other non-MegaTron Lions – avoid.

CIN is due for an offensive explosion as it is averaging just 17 PPG in the past 4 games – it averaged 26 points in the six games before that. The return of RB Cedric Benson(notes) and a meeting with the most generous defense in the league – DET allows 30.5 PPG – should get the Bengals back on track. QB Carson Palmer(notes) and WR Chad Ochocinco(notes) are top 12 plays at their positions this week. And I'm giving Benson a green light, but he doesn't come with the usual upside given how backup RB Larry Johnson(notes) performed last week (22/107). It's easy to imagine Benson putting forth a solid first-half effort, only to be preserved on the sideline after halftime with CIN sitting on a comfortable lead.

Calvin Johnson, Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, Cincinnati defense
Laveranues Coles(notes)
Matthew Stafford(notes), Kevin Smith, Bryant Johnson(notes), Casey Fitzsimmons(notes), Detroit defense, J.P. Foschi(notes)
Sleeper: Larry Johnson, Andre Caldwell(notes)
Injuries: CIN LB Keith Rivers(notes) (calf) could be out; CIN RB Bernard Scott(notes) (toe) could be out; CIN WR Laveranues Coles (shoulder) could be questionable; DET TE Brandon Pettigrew(notes) (knee) is out; DET S Louis Delmas(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Cincinnati 30, Detroit 10
TENNESSEE TITANS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Key Stats: TITANS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 267 YPG passing allowed
COLTS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 223 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: RB Chris Johnson had just 9 carries for 34 yards against IND in a Week 5 meeting. And, yes, that statement constitutes the most useless piece of information you'll read in this column – Johnson has rushed for at least 128 yards in each of the six games since. The question is whether any other TEN players warrant a start at IND. QB Vince Young(notes) is 18th among QBs in fantasy PPG since returning to a starting role five weeks ago. IND has been dealing with injuries in the secondary of late and it shows, as it has allowed 256+ passing yards to each of the past four QBs it has faced. I don't have Young as a top 12 play this week, but top 15? Perhaps. TE Bo Scaife(notes) has been Young's most targeted receiver the past three weeks, but IND has allowed the fewest fantasy PPG to the TE position. Breakout rookie WR Kenny Britt(notes) is probably again the best bet among Young's targets this week.

TEN allows the 2nd-most fantasy PPG to QBs and is the most generous to the WR position. QB Peyton Manning(notes), WRs Reggie Wayne(notes) and Austin Collie(notes) and TE Dallas Clark(notes) all had a field day in Week 5 when these teams met. WR Pierre Garcon(notes) was the lone dud in the IND passing game in that game (1/9), but he's played well enough of late that you have to give him strong consideration this week. I'm putting both Collie and Garcon under the yellow flag, but they definitely both have a strong chartreuse tint. RB Joseph Addai(notes) didn't get much done on the ground in the previous meeting, but he did catch 10 passes and that is an area that TEN has struggled with defensively. So long as he gets his usual 15+ touches, you have to like Addai's chance of finding a way to contribute. I'm putting him down as a low-end green light.

Chris Johnson, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai
Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Kenny Britt, Vince Young, Bo Scaife, Donald Brown(notes), Indianapolis defense
Tennessee defense, Nate Washington(notes),
Sleeper:
Injuries: IND DE Dwight Freeney(notes) (abdomen) could be out; IND CB Kelvin Hayden(notes) (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 20
HOUSTON TEXANS @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Key Stats: TEXANS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
JAGS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 243 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: To put it simply, JAC has been terrible against the pass this season. It has given up meaningful production to QBs even of late – the past six teams it has faced have ranked among the 11 worst in the league in passing offense. QB Matt Schaub(notes) should be able to at least come close to duplicating his Week 3 effort against the Jags (300 passing yards, 3 TD passes). The HOU RB situation is muddled by the now-prominent presence of Chris Brown. He had 14 touches last week compared to 17 touches from Steve Slaton(notes). Both are likely once again split 20+ carries fairly evenly and, while Slaton remains the one with the better upside, his upside is certainly capped by Brown. That said, Slaton has a very nice history against JAC and he has 98+ YFS and/or a TD in seven of his past eight games. WR Andre Johnson(notes) is an obvious play, but WR Kevin Walter(notes) is back in the picture as well. His only meaningful fantasy performance of the season came in the Week 3 meeting with JAC (7/96/1). And he showed signs of life last week with 7 catches for 73 yards. He's listed as yellow below, but he's another that really should be viewed with chartreuse-colored glasses.

RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is an unquestioned weekly play and WR Mike Sims-Walker(notes) is averaging 111 receiving yards and has scored 5 TDs in five home games, and that's the kind of trend I'm not prepared to bet against this week. QB David Garrard(notes) has also been at his best in home contests and he delivered a reasonable return for fantasy owners in the first meeting with HOU (214 passing yards, 29 rushing yards, 1 TD rushing, no turnovers). I have Garrard just outside the top 12 at QB this week. Among TEs, Dallas Clark and Vernon Davis(notes) have done most all the damage against HOU this year, so take their liberal record against the position with a grain of salt. TE Marcedes Lewis(notes) is a cautionary play, at best.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton
Kevin Walter, David Garrard, Marcedes Lewis
Torry Holt(notes), Chris Brown, Joel Dreessen(notes), Jacksonville defense, Houston defense
Sleeper: Jacoby Jones(notes)
Injuries: JAC CB Rashean Mathis(notes) (groin) is likely to be out; HOU LT Duane Brown(notes) (knee) could be out
Prediction: Jacksonville 24, Houston 21
DENVER BRONCOS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Key Stats: BRONCOS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 185 YPG passing allowed
CHIEFS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 258 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: DEN prefers to run the ball and KC has seen the 5th-most rushing attempts against, allowing a healthy 4.3 YPC along the way. Last week against the NYG, RBs Knowshon Moreno(notes) and Correll Buckhalter(notes) combined for 39 carries. Moreno finished with 88 rushing yards (19 carries), his 3rd straight game with at least 80 rushing yards. Buckhalter managed just 51 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Giants. I've called Moreno out a bit throughout the year, but he's been delivering of late, while Buckhalter has been mostly a fantasy tease. In the past two seasons, WR Brandon Marshall(notes) hasn't met a KC matchup he hasn't liked. He should have a big day, but don't get too hyped up for his QB connection. Kyle Orton(notes) is likely to see his production muted by a heavy backfield load.

With an average of 110 YFS and 3 TDs, RB Jamaal Charles(notes) has been the No. 7 fantasy RB over the past three weeks. In the past four weeks, WR Chris Chambers(notes) has averaged 80 receiving yards and has scored 3 TDs. If you're going to gamble on which player will continue to deliver along the same recent lines, bet on Charles. DEN has been just below average the past five weeks against fantasy RBs, but it has been a rock against the pass all season long. In fact, Charles is the only Chiefs player I'd want any part of this week.

Knowshon Moreno, Brandon Marshall, Jamaal Charles
Correll Buckhalter, Kyle Orton, Chris Chambers, Eddie Royal(notes), Denver defense
Matt Cassel(notes), Mark Bradley(notes), Lance Long(notes), Leonard Pope(notes), Kansas City defense
Sleeper: Jabar Gaffney(notes)
Injuries: DEN WR Eddie Royal (thigh) could be questionable
Prediction: Denver 24, Kansas City 16
OAKLAND RAIDERS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Key Stats: RAIDERS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 216 YPG passing allowed
STEELERS – 3.6 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This is the graph in which I would normally talk about OAK. Let's just consider the NFL a 31-team league this week, shall we?

Losers of three straight, including a loss to KC, you can be certain that PIT won't take this game lightly. QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) is expected to return after a one-game layoff because of a concussion. But he won't be tested too much. No team has been run on more than OAK (385 rushing attempts) and it seems highly likely that RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes) gets something north of 20 carries against the 3rd-most generous rush defense in fantasy. No. 1 WRs have faired best against OAK as teams have rolled their go-to guy to the opposite side of where OAK CB Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) roams. PIT has interchangeable go-to WRS in Hines Ward(notes) and Santonio Holmes(notes), but I'm going to lean slightly in favor of Ward having the better game on Sunday. OAK has allowed 39 pass plays of 20+ yards (4th-most) so deep threat WR Mike Wallace(notes) also has some intrigue. If TE Heath Miller(notes) scores a TD this week, it'll be the first of the year against the Raiders. Tread lightly with him.

Rashard Mendenhall, Hines Ward, Pittsburgh defense
Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, Zach Miller
Bruce Gradkowski(notes), Louis Murphy(notes), Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), Darren McFadden(notes), Justin Fargas(notes), Michael Bush(notes), Oakland defense
Sleeper: Mike Wallace
Injuries: OAK RB Justin Fargas (stinger) is questionable; PIT SS Troy Polamalu(notes) (sprained PCL) is likely to be out; PIT QB Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) could be questionable
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Oakland 6
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Key Stats: SAINTS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 218 YPG passing allowed
SKINS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 170 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Alright, you're starting QB Dew Brees and WR Marques Colston(notes) this week, per usual. But I'm going to go on record as saying that WR Robert Meachem(notes) will not be scoring for the fifth consecutive week on Sunday. WAS is very strong in the secondary and typically doesn't give up big pass plays. Brees is going to have to wear down the Redskins with the short game, most likely. Yards have been plentiful for RBs against WAS of late even if TDs have not. RB Pierre Thomas(notes) has delivered 100+ YFS and/or a TD in four of his past five games and he seems the safest bet of the RB crew with Reggie Bush's(notes) health still in question and Mike Bell(notes) not all that healthy either, and typically only a big threat in blowouts (which I don't think this will be).

Only the Jets have allowed fewer than the 8 TD passes yielded by the NO defense. This is not the week to be barking up the tree of the WAS passing game, if such a week exists. QB Jason Campbell(notes) is capable of a pleasant surprise now and then (like last week), but banking on it is not wise. NO has been most susceptible on the ground of late, having allowed 22% more fantasy PPG to opposing backfields than the league average. RB Rock Cartwright(notes) was shutdown by PHI last week (15/38/0), but I wouldn't be surprised if he finds his way to 100+ YFS on Sunday. TE Fred Davis(notes) was able to step up last week and take advantage (4/43/1) of what had been a generous (to TEs) PHI defense. But NO is the 2nd-most stingy defense to TEs in fantasy and he is as much a cautionary tale this week as anyone else in the receiving corps.

Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, New Orleans defense
Robert Meachem, Reggie Bush, Rock Cartwright, Fred Davis
Deverey Henderson, Jeremy Shockey(notes), Mike Bell, Jason Campbell, Santana Moss(notes), Devin Thomas(notes), Washington defense
Sleeper:
Injuries: NO RB Reggie Bush (knee) could be questionable; NO CB Randall Gay(notes) (leg) could be questionable; NO CB Jabari Greer(notes) (groin) could be questionable; WAS QB Jason Campbell (head) could be questionable; WAS DT Albert Haynesworth(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; WAS CB Fred Smoot(notes) (head) could be questionable; WAS FB Mike Sellers(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; WAS DE Jeremy Jarmon(notes) (torn ACL) is out for the season;
Prediction: New Orleans 28, Washington 16
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ CLEVELAND BROWNS

Key Stats: BOLTS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 200 YPG passing allowed
BROWNS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 233 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: When the teams faced each other in recent weeks, the CLE defense wasn't nearly as lucrative for BAL and CIN players as most expected it to be – each team managed just 16 points against the Browns. But that's not enough reason to alarm owners of the Lightning Brigade (QB Philip Rivers(notes), RB LaDainian Tomlinson(notes), WR Vincent Jackson(notes) and TE Antonio Gates(notes)). This is still the 6th-worst defense (25.4 PPG allowed) that we are talking about and you're starting all the usual Bolts. And WR Malcom Floyd(notes) is also worthy of consideration. He caught his 4th pass of 40+ yards last week (he's 6th in the league in catches of at least that distance). And CLE is one of just four teams to have allowed at least 10 pass plays of 40+ yards.

CLE is not facing DET this week, which is to say there isn't a single Browns player I'd consider starting this week.

Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, San Diego defense
Malcom Floyd, Darren Sproles(notes)
Brady Quinn(notes), Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), Joshua Cribbs(notes), Jamal Lewis(notes), Chansi Stuckey(notes), Greg Estandia(notes), Cleveland defense
Sleeper:
Injuries: SD DE Luis Castillo(notes) (calf) could be questionable; SD OLB Shawne Merriman(notes) (foot) could be out; SD LB Kevin Burnett(notes) (concussion) could be questionable; SD FS Eric Weddle(notes) (knee) is out; CLE DE Kenyon Coleman(notes) (knee) could be questionable; CLE FS Brodney Pool(notes) (head) could be questionable;
Prediction: San Diego 31, Cleveland 10
DALLAS COWBOYS @ NEW YORK GIANTS

Key Stats: BOYS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 225 YPG passing allowed
GIANTS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 183 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: In the Week 2 matchup with these two teams, the NYG passing game never looked better (25-for-38, 330 passing yards, 2 TD passes), and same could be said for the DAL ground attack (29 carries, 251 rushing yards, 3 TDs). RB Marion Barber(notes) rushed for 124 yards in the contest and backup RB Felix Jones(notes) tacked on 96 rushing yards. No RB has reached the 90-yard plateau against the Giants since then. Based on YPC, DAL has the second-best ground attack in the league (5.3), but very little identity. It wouldn't be shocking if DAL decided to go with a liberal mix of Barber, Jones and RB Tashard Choice(notes) (in Wildcat sets), making all three of them no better than iffy fantasy propositions. QB Tony Romo(notes) had 3 INTs in the first meeting, but he's had just 4 INTS combined in the nine games since then. He re-discovered TE Jason Witten(notes) last week (5/107) and Witten's only score of the season came in the previous meeting with the Giants, who have conceded the 5th-most fantasy PPG to TEs. Witten looks like a solid play, more solid at least than WRs Miles Austin(notes) and WR Roy Williams. It's hard to bench Austin given his proven upside, but I'd at least steer clear of Williams against a defense that has allowed just one 100-yard receiving game to a WR.

The Giants' running game is back in the toilet as RB Brandon Jacobs(notes) has just 63 yards on a combined 23 carries in his past two games. And DAL has been mostly a dead-end for RBs as the Cowboys have not allowed a RB rushing TD in the past five weeks. RBs have had decent success against DAL through the air, but that's not Jacobs' forte. With RBs Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) and Danny Ware(notes) both likely to be injury casualties, the NYG ground game looks dire this week as DAL should be able to handle the straight-line stylings of Jacobs. I'd count on QB Eli Manning(notes) chucking close to 40 times on Sunday, but WR Steve Smith is the only NYG wideout I'd risk playing this week. DAL has excellent corners and only one WR has topped 50 yards against the Cowboys in the past six weeks.

Steve Smith, Miles Austin, Jason Witten
Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Hakeem Nicks(notes), Mario Manningham(notes), Brandon Jacobs, Kevin Boss(notes), Eli Manning, NY Giants defense, Dallas defense
Roy Williams
Sleeper: Tashard Choice
Injuries: NYG RB Ahmad Bradshaw (ankle) could be questionable; NYG RB Danny Ware (concussion) could be out; NYG LB Antonio Pierce(notes) (neck) is out for the season; DAL FS Ken Hamlin(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Dallas 24, NY Giants 20
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Key Stats: 49ERS – 3.6 YPC allowed | 257 YPG passing allowed
HAWKS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 238 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: SF dominated this matchup back in Week 2, rolling to a 23-10 victory thanks largely to two long runs by RB Frank Gore(notes) (16/207/2). Considering what he did in the previous matchup and the fact that he has scored in five straight games, he has to be in the lineup. But don't be surprised if Gore leaves you wanting. SEA has not allowed a receiving TD to a RB and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher since Gore's effort – it has been especially tough on RBs at home. SEA has allowed the 6th-most passing TDs, and QB Alex Smith has 11 TD passes in his past six games. In addition to TE Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree(notes) is also a solid choice as SF should have to go to the air a decent amount, and they should have some success. Consider both Smith and Crabtree as chartreuse options, if not outright green lights.

SEA head coach is inexplicably loyal to RB Julius Jones(notes) and has said that Jones is still the RB starter if he returns this week from a bruised lung. This despite the fact that backup RB Justin Forsett(notes) has 4 TDs and two 100-yard rushing efforts in the past three games. If you own Forsett, monitor the situation closely. If Jones doesn't go, it would be hard to sit Forsett given the roll that he's on. QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes) has just 2 TD passes in his past four games and was a huge disappointment last week (102 passing yards, 0 TD passes) against a STL defense that he riddled in Week 1. He's too unpredictable to gamble on right now. Same goes for WRs Nate Burleson(notes) and T. J. Housmandzadeh. That said, I might be willing to roll the dice with Burleson, who averages 79 receiving yards and has scored all three of his TDs in his five home games. Teams have targeted TEs agains t SF 97 times, the third-most in the league. TE John Carlson(notes) had eight targets in the first matchup and he might put up some decent yardage this week after mostly non-existent performances the past couple weeks.

Frank Gore, Vernon Davis
Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes), Justin Forsett, John Carlson, Seattle defense, San Francisco defense
Josh Morgan(notes), Julius Jones
Sleeper: x
Injuries: SEA DL Cory Redding(notes) (concussion) could be out; SEA RB Julius Jones (lung) could be questionable; SF LB Parys Haralson(notes) (thumb) could be questionable; SF CB Nate Clements(notes) (shoulder) is out; SF OT Joe Staley(notes) (knee) is out; SF DE Kentwan Balmer(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable
Prediction: Seattle 20, San Francisco 17
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ MIAMI DOLPHINS

Key Stats: PATS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 204 YPG passing allowed
FINS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 233 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: I thought RB Laurence Maroney(notes) might have a hard time on Monday night in NO, but he managed to find pay dirt twice against the Saints, given him a TD in six straight games. He went 20/82/1 against MIA back in Week 9, making it pretty hard to put together an argument for sitting him this week. Roll with Maroney in addition to starting the usual NE aerial contingent against a subpar MIA pass defense.

MIA is the second-most run heavy team in the league behind the NYJ and it averages just 162 passing yards per game, third-lowest in the league. Once RB Ronnie Brown(notes) was lost for the season, this team became all about RB Ricky Williams(notes), who has carried 20+ times for 100+ rushing yards in each of the past three games. He's as much of an automatic start as someone like, say, Steven Jackson. And, much like Jackson, he's the only show in town. WR Greg Camarillo(notes) has had moderate success against NE in the past, but there's nothing strong to hang your hat on in the MIA passing game. As usual, you're best avoiding the situation all together,

Ricky Williams, Tom Brady(notes), Randy Moss(notes), Wes Welker(notes), Laurence Maroney
Benjamin Watson(notes), New England defense
Chad Henne(notes), Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess(notes), Brian Hartline(notes), Ted Ginn Jr.(notes), Anthony Fasano(notes), Miami defense
Sleeper: Lex Hilliard(notes)
Injuries: MIA SS Yeremiah Bell(notes) (thumb) could be questionable
Prediction: New England 33, Miami 19
MINNESOTA VIKINGS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS

Key Stats: VIKES – 3.9 YPC allowed | 222 YPG passing allowed
CARDS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 258 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Only NO (37) averages more PPG than MIN (31). QB Brett Favre(notes) has the Vikings' offense hitting on all cylinders and the key components of this group (Favre, RB Adrian Peterson, WRs Sidney Rice(notes) and Percy Harvin(notes) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe(notes)) just keep delivering week in and week out. Obviously, you never sit Peterson, and ARI has been among the top 10 most generous fantasy defenses to the QB, WR and TE positions, so there's reason to like all the other Viking skill position stalwarts, as well – especially when you consider that ARI has allowed 25 PPG in five home contests.

There is a lot of fantasy value hanging in the balance for ARI this week. It hinges upon whether QB Kurt Warner(notes) will shake his post-concussion symptoms and be able to play on Sunday night. If so, he's capable of carving up the MIN secondary behind an OL that is very good at protecting him. If QB Matt Leinart(notes) is forced into action again, suddenly WRs Larry Fitzgerald(notes) and Anquan Boldin(notes) become iffy propositions, like last week. MIN allows just 3.9 YPC and it hasn't allowed a RB to rush for 90+ yards yet this season. It also has allowed just 3 rushing TDs to RBs. Backs have done decent work against MIN through the air, however, which is why RB Tim Hightower(notes) is getting the nod over RB Beanie Wells(notes) below.

Brett Favre, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, Adrian Peterson, Visanthe Shiancoe, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Minnesota defense
Bernard Berrian(notes), Matt Leinart, Tim Hightower, Steve Breaston(notes), Arizona defense
Beanie Wells, Ben Patrick(notes)
Sleeper: Chester Taylor(notes)
Injuries: MIN CB Antoine Winfield(notes) (foot) could be questionable; ARI QB Kurt Warner (concussion) could be questionable
Prediction: Minnesota 34, Arizona 23
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ GREEN BAY PACKERS

Key Stats: RAVENS – 3.5 YPC allowed | 211 YPG passing allowed
PACK – 3.6 YPC allowed | 193 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: GB allows the 3rd-fewest fantasy PPG to RBs, but you know by now that RB Ray Rice(notes) is not to be sat, regardless of the competition. The Packers have allowed a healthy amount of fantasy points to QBs (11th-most) but that's a product of the 21 TD passes allowed. It has held QBs to an average of just 193 passing yards per game and QBs have completed just 53.5% of their passes against the Packers. Considering QB Joe Flacco(notes) has just 2 TD passes in his past five games, I wouldn't jump on the Flacco bandwagon this week just because the matchup looks good on paper.

GB catches a break in that BAL LB Terrell Suggs(notes) is out. It's probably not a complete coincidence that BAL does not have a sack in the past two games while Suggs has been sidelined. For a GB team that has allowed a league-high 44 QB sacks, this is good news. I'd feel good about QB Aaron Rodgers(notes) being afforded time to pick on a BAL secondary that has been susceptible to big plays – 8th-most pass plays of 20+ yards allowed. BAL allows just 3.5 YPC, but it has given up uncommonly lucrative fantasy production to opposing backs of late – 28% more fantasy PPG to RBs in the past five weeks than the league average. This is not a good matchup for RB Ryan Grant(notes), but he keeps finding a way to deliver 10-12 fantasy points each week. There's no upside to him this week, but don't be surprised if he manages to be serviceable.

Ray Rice, Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver(notes), Greg Jennings(notes), Derrick Mason(notes), Baltimore defense
Jermichael Finley(notes), Ryan Grant, Green Bay defense, Joe Flacco, Mark Clayton(notes), Todd Heap(notes)
Willis McGahee(notes)
Sleeper: Kelley Washington(notes)
Injuries: BAL FB Le'Ron McClain(notes) (abdomen) could be questionable; QB Joe Flacco (ankle) could be questionable; BAL LB Terrell Suggs (knee) is out; GB LT Chad Clifton(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Green Bay 21

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