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NFL Skinny: Week 15 preview

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

Congratulations if you've made it this far. I still have three dogs in the hunt among my six leagues, including one team that advanced by 0.92 points thanks to a combined 32.8 point-effort from Doug Baldwin and the Seattle defense on Monday night. Both of those entities were well under 50 percent owned in Yahoo! leagues heading into Week 14 despite what was a tremendous matchup against the Rams and, in Baldwin's case, the promise of a sizeable role. At this point in the season, no player with a soft matchup and an expected healthy role in the offense can be ignored. Jake Locker, Felix Jones, Ben Tate, Devin Aromashodu, Jabar Gaffney … these are the guys that could propel you into Week 16 championships if you let them.

Alright, it's time to root around for some more potential Week 15 heroes. Let's jump into the matchups, Skinny-style (players in parentheses are chartreuse plays, stuck somewhere between a green and yellow light):

Total Week 15 green-light plays by position: 14 QBs; 21 RBs; 24 WRs; 9 TEs; 8 Defenses

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS @ ATLANTA FALCONS

Even in a 41-point surprise explosion in Week 14, Maurice Jones Drew (4 TDs) was still the only Jags player to write home about in fantasy. Marcedes Lewis did step up with 77 yards on two catches, so he might be worth your consideration this week as you figure Jacksonville will have to throw the ball – the Falcons are tough to run on and they have a high-powered offense that will make it hard for the Jags to keep pace in a conservative manner. … Matt Ryan is the No. 6 fantasy QB for the past six weeks. With Julio Jones healthy again, few teams surround their QB with as much fire power as Atlanta. The Falcons can likely control this game with a heavy ground attack (Michael Turner) and a defense that should dominate a Blaine Gabbert-led offense. But red zone opportunities should be there for Ryan and company, so I wouldn't shy away from the Falcons passing attack in this one. The Jaguars have been depleted in the secondary by injuries and this is a matchup that will put a lot of stress on that thinned-out depth.
Matt Ryan; Michael Turner; Maurice Jones-Drew; Roddy White; Julio Jones; Tony Gonzalez; Atlanta Defense
(Marcedes Lewis)
Blaine Gabbert; Jacksonville Receivers; Jacksonville Defense
Jacquizz Rodgers
Jaguars: WR Mike Thomas (head); WR Cecil Shorts (hamstring); PK Josh Scobee (groin)
Falcons: CB Brent Grimes (knee)
Headline: Falcons get complete effort in dominating win over Jaguars
Final score: Falcons 30, Jaguars 9
DALLAS COWBOYS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

The Bucs are the most generous defense in fantasy to opposing RBs. With DeMarco Murray out for the year with an ankle injury, the spoils of this matchup go to Felix Jones, who played well in relief of Murray last week against the Giants. Jones is easily a top 20 RB play this week. As for the Cowboys passing attack, the Bucs allow the second-highest yards per pass attempt rate (8.1) and Tony Romo is a top 5 fantasy QB for the past six weeks – what's not to love? Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant survived the return of Miles Austin last week, with all three receivers tallying at least 50 yards and a TD – in Bryant's case, it was one 50-yard scoring grab. But Robinson had to get by on half the numbers of snaps as the other two, so he's clearly back in the No. 3 role despite his 4/137/1 effort in Week 14. At least when Robinson is in the game, you can expect that the Cowboys are most likely going to pass, so keep giving Robinson WR3 attention. The matchup is also good for Jason Witten, but he can't be considered a sure-fire bet given that he's been targeted no more than five times in any of his past three games and is just the No. 12 fantasy TE for the past five weeks. … Josh Freeman's badly bruised shoulder has sapped him of his usual velocity, and that makes Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow iffy bets in this matchup against a decent Dallas pass defense. I'd expect the Bucs to really try to establish LeGarrette Blount, a plausible scenario considering that Dallas is allowing nearly 20 percent more fantasy production to RBs than the league average the past three weeks. I like Blount for something in the neighborhood of 20/90/1 in this contest.
Tony Romo; Felix Jones; LeGarrette Blount; Miles Austin; Dez Bryant; Jason Witten
Josh Freeman; (Laurent Robinson); (Mike Williams); (Kellen Winslow); Dallas Defense
Arrelious Benn (health ?); Tampa Bay Defense
Dezmon Briscoe
Cowboys: RB DeMarco Murray (ankle); C Phil Costa (concussion); CB Mike Jenkins (shoulder); S Barry Church (shoulder)
Bucs: WR Arrelious Benn (concussion); DT John McCargo (triceps); QB Josh Freeman (shoulder)
Headline: Romo stays hot as Cowboys hang on for big win at Tampa
Final score: Cowboys 29, Bucs 22
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears defense has allowed just 23 points combined in the past two games and pose a tough test for a Seattle offense that ranks just 25th in the league in scoring. Obviously Marshawn Lynch, with a TD in nine straight games and 100 yards rushing in five of his past six games, can't be benched. And Doug Baldwin, the glue guy in the receiving game with Sidney Rice out, should be good for his usual 60 yards or so. But I'd be leery about anyone else for the Seahawks. Golden Tate, in theory, is someone the Seahawks want to get into the mix much like Minnesota employs Percy Harvin. But that's still much a work in progress, so don't buy in on Tate as anything more than a Hail Mary option. … The Rams were able to run with some physicality against the Seahawks last week, so there's hope for Marion Barber, who is sure to have atonement on his mind after some brutal blunders in a loss to Denver last week. Also, Kahlil Bell had 14 touches last week, including five catches. He's got sleeper potential as the main receiving back in a Mike Martz offense against a defense that has allowed the fifth-most receiving yards to RBs. The Bears' passing game has been brutal under the direction of Caleb Hanie, but if anyone is likely to step up, it's Johnny Knox, who has easily been Hanie's favorite target.
Marshawn Lynch; Chicago Defense
(Marion Barber); (Doug Baldwin); Johnny Knox; Golden Tate; (Seattle Defense)
Caleb Hanie; Tarvaris Jackson; Earl Bennett; Mike Williams; Roy Williams; Zach Miller; Kellen Davis
Kahlil Bell
Hawks: OT Russell Okung (pectoral)
Bears: Matt Forte (knee); Jay Cutler (thumb)
Headline: Chicago stays in playoff hunt with hard-fought win over Seahawks
Final score: Bears 16, Seahawks 13
WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ NEW YORK GIANTS

Roy Helu has been a top 6 fantasy RB the past three weeks and the Giants have been about as bad as you can get in all facets of defense in that span, allowing an average of 40 points per game. I don't care if those games came against the Packers, Saints and Cowboys, that's still terrible. Helu is a rock solid play this week and WRs Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, getting extra attention with Fred Davis suspended the rest of the season, are strong options – the Giants allow the second-most fantasy points to WRs. Rex Grossman is always iffy, and he's a hard one to count on in a second-round fantasy playoff game. Consider him as one of the better plays of the QB middle class this week, but he's not to be viewed in QB1 light. … If you own Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz, you know better than to sit them, even against a fairly solid Redskins pass defense. Mario Manningham is back in the mix, too, though he's really Manning's third or fourth option (depending on how you view Jake Ballard and his near-3/50 line that he nets just about every week) and shouldn't be thought of as a top 30 WR play. The biggest question for the Giants is the running game, although maybe it's not that big of a question since Brandon Jacobs has scored 4 TDs in the past three games and more than doubled Ahmad Bradshaw's carry load last week (19 to 8) as Bradshaw was benched for the first half for missing a meeting. The carry load might be a bit more evenly split this week, but Jacobs is the better option because he's riding a hot hand and is more likely to splash pay dirt – all seven of his rushing TDs have come from 10 yards or less, and four from the one-yard line.
Eli Manning; Roy Helu; Victor Cruz; Hakeem Nicks; Santana Moss; (Jabar Gaffney)
Rex Grossman; (Brandon Jacobs); Ahmad Bradshaw; Marion Manningham; (Jake Ballard); (NY Giants Defense)
Logan Paulsen; Washington Defense
None of significance
Skins: FB Mike Sellers (elbow)
Giants: DE Justin Tuck (toe)
Headline: Eli nets TD pass hat trick as Giants avenge Week 1 loss to Skins
Final score: Giants 27, Redskins 20
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Packers will have to adjust to life without Greg Jennings, which means that Jermichael Finley (KC allows sixth-most fantasy PPG to TEs) and James Jones will likely see increased roles – just don't get carried away with Jones' upside potential, as the Chiefs have been excellent against WRs. I like Finley to really shine in this contest, though. Ryan Grant is also an intriguing option, assuming James Starks (ankle) remains sidelined. Grant is coming off his best week of the season (10/85/2), showing a bounce to his step that hadn't previously been apparent. But the Chiefs allow just 4.2 YPC to RBs and a few RBs in a class above Grant have come up short against the Chiefs. Use Grant in a flex spot if needed, but I'm guessing he finishes well short of his Week 14 fantasy tally this Sunday. … We don't care who the Chiefs QB will be this week, and we don't have a good idea about whether interim coach Romeo Crennel plans to change the three-pronged backfield approach. The only player that matters for fantasy owners is Dwayne Bowe. And, regardless of QBs, you'd have to expect him to see a heavy amount of targets this week given the likelihood of KC chasing the Packers on the scoreboard. We've seen him post serviceable numbers in similar situations against New England and the Jets in recent weeks, and the Packers are the third-most generous defense in fantasy to WRs. Give Bowe a green light.
Aaron Rodgers; Jordy Nelson; Dwayne Bowe; Jermichael Finley; Green Bay Defense
(Ryan Grant); (James Jones); Steve Breaston; Donald Driver
Kansas City QB; Kansas City Running Backs; Kansas City Tight Ends; Kansas City Defense
John Kuhn; Randall Cobb
Packers: Greg Jennings (knee); DE Ryan Pickett (head); RB James Starks (ankle); RB Brandon Saine (concussion)
Chiefs: S Jon McGraw (ankle); QB Kyle Orton (finger)
Headline: With Jennings out, Finley comes alive in Packers route of Chiefs
Final score: Packers 30, Chiefs 13
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Jimmy Graham's wonky back became a hot-button topic early in Week 14 as he had a hard time getting through warm-ups, but he managed to play and post a 5/55 line. And he vowed to get after it again this Sunday, so Graham owners should be good, but obviously you'll want to follow his situation closely. Minnesota has been decimated by injuries in the secondary and the numbers show it. Drew Brees, Marques Colston and the rest of the Saints WRs are looking much better than usual. And considering that the Vikings have allowed 12 pass plays of 40-plus yards (only the Saints have allowed more), this might be the week to reach for big-play specialist Robert Meachem if you are feeling the "go big, or go home" vibe. In the backfield, we found out that Mark Ingram's absence means little for Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. Both players continued to see just a handful of carries last week, while racking up big production in passing situations. Chris Ivory filled in for Ingram as the lunch-pail guy, handling the featured carry role and not factoring into the passing game. So, the gist here is that Ivory is now Ingram, and Thomas and Sproles remain what they've been. Minnesota has allowed a healthy amount of receiving production to RBs, so Thomas and Sproles have no worse than flex appeal. But I can't back Ivory too much on the road against a stout Vikings run defense (3.8 YPC allowed). … The Vikings believe they'll have both Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson back this week. Obviously, if AP goes, he's a fantasy green light, especially against a Saints defense allowing 4.9 YPC – if Peterson can't go, Toby Gerhart once again makes for a solid RB2. And Ponder also has some nice upside potential as the Saints offense forces opponents to the passing game – New Orleans has had the fourth-most pass attempts against. Percy Harvin has been a force in recent weeks and, given the matchup (Saints fifth-most fantasy PPG to WRs), he's a must-start. Also, Devin Aromashodu, who has been targeted 25 times combined in the past two games, offers some a lot of upside in a flex role – remember, Saints have allowed the pass plays of 40-plus yards.
Drew Brees; Adrian Peterson (health ?); (Darren Sproles); Marques Colston; Percy Harvin; Jimmy Graham
(Christian Ponder); (Pierre Thomas); Chris Ivory; (Devin Aromashodu); (Lance Moore); Visanthe Shiancoe; New Orleans Defense
Minnesota Defense
Robert Meachem
Saints: TE Jimmy Graham (back); LB Scott Shanle (shoulder)
Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson (ankle); QB Christian Ponder (hip)
Headline: Brees tops 400 passing yards as Saints stay in hunt for No. 2 playoff seed
Final score: Saints 28, Vikings 22
TENNESSEE TITANS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

The early indications are that Jake Locker will make his first NFL start on Sunday. He was the No. 4 fantasy QB in Week 14, filling in for an injured Matt Hasselbeck early in the loss to the Saints. As a native of the Pacific Northwest and a Washington Huskies fan, I've seen a lot of Locker over the years. He's a fantastic athlete and a fierce competitor. He'll frustrate by misfiring on seemingly easy opportunities sometimes, but he also has the arm and the legs that add a "Wow!" factor element to his game that Hasselbeck can't come close to matching. Like Cam Newton, big plays (and mistakes) are more apt to come with Locker under center, and his presence in a relief role has done wonders for Nate Washington. The matchup against the Colts is really ideal for all Titans – eat it up, Chris Johnson owners. I don't have Locker among my top 10 QBs this week but, considering the matchup, there aren't too many QBs (perhaps not any) I'd rather roll the dice on outside of the top 10. … It became very apparent in Week 14 that Joseph Addai (hamstring) is still not close to 100 percent. So Donald Brown, with an expected 10-15 carries, is someone I'd consider to have top 25-30 RB upside this week against a Titans defense that has struggled against RBs in fantasy – they've allowed at least 9.0 fantasy points to a RB 11 times. The other Colts players I'd consider, although not too highly, are Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark, who was targeted six times in his return to action last week, though he caught just one pass. The Titans have been very generous to the TE position. Consider Clark in the 13-20 range at TE this week. As for Garcon, Titans CBs have done a great job this season. But Garcon sees such a heavy target load (12 targets each of past two weeks), that he at least belongs in chartreuse territory.
(Jake Locker); Chris Johnson; (Nate Washington)
(Donald Brown); (Damian Williams); (Pierre Garcon); (Dallas Clark); Tennessee Defense
Dan Orlovsky; Joseph Addai; Reggie Wayne; Jared Cook; Indianapolis Defense
Lavelle Hawkins
Titans: QB Matt Hasselbeck (calf); WR Nate Washington (ankle, back); LB Gerald McRath (knee); LB Akeem Ayers (shoulder); CB Jason McCourty (concussion)
Colts: RB Joseph Addai (hamstring); LB Philip Wheeler (foot/ankle)
Headline: Johnson helps ease Locker's burden as Titans win in rookie QB's first start
Final score: Titans 23, Colts 17
MIAMI DOLPHINS @ BUFFALO BILLS

As I've cautioned before, Matt Moore is a hard QB to support unconditionally in any matchup as he's not asked to throw often – under 30 attempts in six of the past seven games – which means the yardage is sparse, and touchdowns are too fickle by nature to be reliable. But Moore is especially dicey this week as he was knocked out in Week 14 with a concussion and it's possible that J.P. Losman could get the start against Buffalo. The Bills make for a nice matchup, but Reggie Bush, Brandon Marshall and, perhaps, Anthony Fasano (Bills allow the most fantasy PPG to TEs) are the only Dolphins I'd feel comfortable using this week, especially if Losman starts. … Miami has become a formidable defense across the board in fantasy in the second-half of the season. It has been especially tough on RBs, allowing 34 percent fewer fantasy points to the position in the past five weeks than the league average. C.J. Spiller is heavily involved in the offense for the Bills with Fred Jackson out, but he's been underwhelming in two of his three games as a starter, and he had to rely on a fluky fumble-turned-TD play to salvage fantasy viability in the other contest. So I'm not too excited about Spiller this week. I figure the Bills best chance will be through the air. The Bills threw 39 times in a Week 11 loss at Miami where they scored just 8 points. Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't throw a TD pass in that contest and barely topped 200 passing yards. I think he'll do better at home this time around, but he's a limited upside option (244 passing yards or less eight times). Stevie Johnson was shut down by the Dolphins in Week 11, but he's scored at least 11 fantasy points in each of his three games since, and I'd be inclined to take my chances with him this week, especially with Scott Chandler, who had 71 receiving yards in the previous Dolphins matchup, expected to sit in Week 15. Johnson is the only Bills player I've got green feelings for
Reggie Bush; Brandon Marshall; Stevie Johnson; (Anthony Fasano)
Ryan Fitzpatrick; Matt Moore; C.J. Spiller; Miami Defense; Buffalo Defense
Daniel Thomas; David Nelson; Davone Bess; Buffalo Tight Ends;
None of significance
Fins: QB Matt Moore (concussion); G Vernon Carey (ankle); OT Jake Long (back); CB Vontae Davis (neck)
Bills: WR Stevie Johnson (hand); TE Scott Chandler (ankle)
Headline: Losman's turnovers prove fatal in Dolphins narrow loss to Bills
Final score: Bills 20, Dolphins 17
CAROLINA PANTHERS @ HOUSTON TEXANS

Benching Cam Newton would not be an easy decision, but for those that are armed with another upper-level QB in addition to Newton, that is probably the most prudent course of action. The Texans are fantastic on defense, easily holding opposing QBs to the lowest QB Rating (62.6). I still have Newton as a top 10 QB play, but he's clocking in at the bottom of that group. Of course, the matchup is problematic for Steve Smith, too. But he's scored double-digit fantasy points in eight of 13 contests, so I'd consider him for WR2 duty just because of his legit big-play potential. The Texans are the third-toughest fantasy defense against RBs, and I'd prefer to avoid the Panthers platoon backs altogether this week. But I like Jonathan Stewart a bit more than DeAngelo Williams in this contest as there seems a good chance that the Panthers will be faced with a lot of passing-down situations – Stewart has been excellent as a check-down option this season. … Houston loves to run and the Panthers are the second-most accommodating run defense in fantasy. Don't be surprised if Arian Foster and Ben Tate combine for 40-plus carries – something like a 25/15 split. Foster's a no-brainer play, and Tate has definite RB2 cred in this contest. I'm expecting the Texans to give Andre Johnson (hamstring) another week off. Even if they activate him, I'm guessing they'll try not to use him unless they have to. So Owen Daniels (7/100 last week) looks like the likely leading receiver bet for this week, with Kevin Walter (6/76/1 last week) also worth considering. Both fit with the conservative ball-control scheme that is ideal for rookie QB T.J. Yates. And, it's worth mentioning that, while the yardage has been meager, Joel Dreessen has scored in three straight games. That's something to consider if you are really hung out to dry at the tight end position.
Cam Newton; Arian Foster; (Ben Tate); (Steve Smith); Owen Daniels; Houston Defense
T.J. Yates; Jonathan Stewart; (Kevin Walter); Greg Olsen
DeAngelo Williams; Legedu Naanee; Jacoby Jones; Jeremy Shockey; Carolina Defense
Joel Dreessen
Panthers: OT Jordan Gross (ankle);
Texans: WR Andre Johnson (hamstring); RG Mike Brisiel (fibula)
Headline: Texans 1-2 backfield punch knocks out Panthers
Final score: Texans 28, Panthers 20
CINCINNATI BENGALS @ ST. LOUIS RAMS

Andy Dalton is the No. 15 fantasy QB for the past five weeks which is actually outstanding if you consider that he has faced the four toughest defenses in fantasy against opposing QBs in that span (Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston and Cleveland). So a matchup against the Rams is welcome news for Dalton, and you have to consider him as a QB1/QB2 tweener this week. Of course, A.J. Green is an automatic play this week, and Jerome Simpson has at least flex appeal. The Rams have been the toughest in fantasy against the tight end, typical of Steve Spagnuolo's defenses in his time in St. Louis. So Jermaine Gresham is a cautionary tale. As for Cedric Benson, coming off an impressive 21/91 performance against Houston last week, it's all good. … Steven Jackson and Brandon Lloyd are the only Rams that can be considered. Both are tainted by their surroundings, but as we saw on Monday night in Week 14, both are more than capable of rising above their situation, especially if Sam Bradford plays. S-Jax and Lloyd are dim green lights with Bradford, but if we start hearing that Kellen Clemens or Tom Brandstater is a real possibility come the end of the week, downgrade both players a bit.
(Andy Dalton); Cedric Benson; (Steven Jackson); A.J. Green; (Brandon Lloyd); Cincinnati Defense
(Jerome Simpson); Jermaine Gresham
Sam Bradford (health ?); Danario Alexander; St. Louis Tight Ends; St. Louis Defense
None of significance
Bengals: G Bobbie Williams (ankle)
Rams: QB Sam Bradford (ankle); A.J. Feeley (thumb); DE Chris Long (ankle); OT Mark LeVoir (pectoral)
Headline: Benson tops 100 rushing yards as Bengals handle Rams on the road
Final score: Bengals 24, Rams 16
CLEVELAND BROWNS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS

Arizona is a much-improved defense compared to where it was at to start the year, and they've played especially tough at home. And that's all I need to know when considering any Browns player. Thanks, but no thanks. … The Browns are toughest in fantasy against WRs, but I'm not benching Larry Fitzgerald ever unless I have a stable full of top 10-level talents. This could be another one of those games where Beanie Wells' knee suddenly looks healthy again. The Browns allow 4.7 YPC and have allowed 7 TDs to RBs in their past seven games. Give Wells top 20 consideration at RB this week.
Beanie Wells; Larry Fitzgerald; Arizona Defense
Early Doucet
Arizona Quarterbacks; Cleveland Offense/Defense; Arizona Tight Ends
None of significance
Browns: QB Colt McCoy (concussion); RB Peyton Hillis (hip); SS T.J. Ward (foot)
Cards: QB Kevin Kolb (concussion); OT Brandon Keith (ankle); LB Paris Lenon (knee)
Headline: Arizona defense stifles Browns as Cards win for sixth time in past seven games
Final score: Cardinals 24, Browns 10
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ DENVER BRONCOS

The Broncos have allowed the fourth-highest QB Rating (93.6), and rank among the eight most generous units in fantasy to the QB and WR positions. I expect Tom Brady and the Pats passing attack to generate its usual 30-something on the scoreboard. And, although Denver ranks as the fourth-best in fantasy against the TE position, that means little for the record-setting Rob Gronkowski. I won't touch the Patriots rush attack in this contest – BenJarvus Green-Ellis ranks 27th in carries since Week 8 and 40th in fantasy points at the RB position in that span. But I like the prospects of Brady having a very big day. … I think the Patriots matchup sets up for Tim Tebow as potentially epic from a fantasy standpoint. The Pats are the most generous pass defense in the league and their soft zone and ho-hum pass rush should allow for Tebow to post strong numbers in the passing game. And because I think the Pats will push the scoreboard count early, I think we'll see Tebow in his hurry-up mode much earlier than the fourth quarter for a change. I'm actually expecting Tebow to rush for 100-plus yards for the second time in his young career. Demaryius Thomas has been Tebow's main weapon in the passing game the past two weeks, but both he and Eric Decker offer some promise in this one. As for Willis McGahee, the Pats represent a reasonably tough challenge (4.2 YPC to RBs) and McGahee's knee clearly sapped his burst last week. But I envision the Pats spreading out wide on defense with a lead to protect, and I think McGahee will see enough opportunities and open lanes to be serviceable in a 20/80 kind of way.
Tom Brady; Tim Tebow; Wes Welker; (Demaryius Thomas); Rob Gronkowski
(Willis McGahee); (Eric Decker); Deion Branch; (Aaron Hernandez); New England Defense
BenJarvus Green-Ellis; Eddie Royal; Daniel Fells; Denver Defense
Matt Willis; Danny Woodhead
Patriots: WR Deion Branch (groin); RB Shane Vereen (hamstring)
Broncos: WR Eddie Royal (concussion); CB Andre Goodman (concussion); S Brian Dawkins (neck)
Headline: Valiant Tebow effort falls short as Brady, Pats too much for Broncos
Final score: Patriots 35, Broncos 26
DETROIT LIONS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS

Kevin Smith (ankle) should be good to go this week, and he couldn't ask for a much better matchup to return to as the Raiders have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to RBs. Smith is excellent as a receiver out of the backfield so he should find his way to 100-plus YFS unless his ankle fails him during the game. That's the only reason he's getting the parentheses (below). The Raiders allow big plays in the running and passing games (third-most rush/pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed), which bodes well for Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. MegaTron has been held out of the end zone the past two weeks, but it's unlikely that he'll be stymied in that regard once again. The Raiders have allowed the ninth-most TDs to WRs (14). It was good to see Brandon Pettigrew get back in the passing mix last week with a 6/57/1 line. This matchup isn't particularly daunting for him, and I see him having top 12 upside. But I wouldn't want to bank on the inconsistent natures of Nate Burleson and Titus Young in a fantasy playoff matchup. … Ndamukong Suh returns for the Lions this week, but the team was allowing big chunks of yardage to RBs even before Suh was suspended. Only the Raiders (5.2) allow more yards per carry than Detroit (5.1). So, with Darren McFadden (foot) still sidelined, Michael Bush is once again a fabulous play. Carson Palmer has struggled in recent weeks, producing a QB rating of 76.6 or less in each of his past three games and throwing just 4 TD passes combined in his past four games (compared to 6 INTs). That his receiving corps has been plagued by foot injuries (Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, Chaz Schilens) certainly hasn't helped his cause. If Palmer can get Moore and/or Ford back this week, it would make him a bit more attractive against a Lions defense that has been the third-most generous in fantasy to the QB position the past five weeks. Darrius Heyward-Bey, as the healthiest of the receiving corps, is a viable option regardless.
Matthews Stafford; Michael Bush; (Kevin Smith); Calvin Johnson; (Brandon Pettigrew)
(Carson Palmer); (Darrius Heyward-Bey); Nate Burleson; Kevin Boss; (Detroit Defense)
Chaz Schilens; Oakland Defense
Titus Young; Denarius Moore (health ?); Jacoby Ford (health ?);
Lions: LB Justin Durant (hamstring); CB Aaron Berry (shoulder); RB Maurice Morris (chest); RB Kevin Smith (ankle)
Raiders: RB Darren McFadden (foot); WR Denarius Moore (foot); WR Jacoby Ford (foot); WR Chaz Schilens (foot)
Headline: Bush carries Raiders to victory over Lions
Final score: Raiders 31, Lions 27
NEW YORK JETS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Shonn Greene has averaged 4.8 YPC as a pro in December and he's now at the point in his career where he is seeing the healthy number of attempts to make that YPC mark matter. The Eagles have allowed 4.7 YPC to RBs this year and six RBs have topped 100 rushing yards against them. Don't be surprised if the Jets go ultra-conservative this week and give Greene, who has 4 TDs in his past two games, 25-plus carries. As for the Jets passing game, the WRs are a wasteland when it comes to receiving yards. Santonio Holmes keeps finding the end zone, but he had just two catches for 12 yards last week, the fourth straight week he's been held to 58 yards or less. I don't feel particularly good about anyone in the Jets passing attack. Mark Sanchez is like Matt Moore, in that you have to hope for TD passes and runs because the passing yards are rarely ever there. It makes him an upside QB2 at best. … LeSean McCoy is the closest thing this league has to Barry Sanders and he's a must-start, even against the Jets. The same can't be said for Michael Vick, however. In his return from a rib injury last week, he ran just twice for 9 yards and finished as the No. 23 QB in fantasy. Vick has just 1 TD pass in his past three games and has finished with less than 215 passing yards in each of those contests. Owners of Vick, Jeremy Maclin (who can't seem to shake his hamstring injury) and DeSean Jackson have some tough calls this week. As a Maclin owner, I'm steering clear of Darrelle Revis, especially considering he's not close to 100 percent.
(Michael Vick); LeSean McCoy; Shonn Greene; (NY Jets Defense)
Mark Sanchez; Santonio Holmes; Jeremy Maclin; (DeSean Jackson); Dustin Keller; Brent Celek; Philadelphia Defense
Plaxico Burress
LaDainian Tomlinson
Jets: S Jim Leonhard (knee)
Eagles: WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring); RB Ronnie Brown (hamstring); WR Steven Smith (knee); DT Cullen Jenkins (groin); DE Darryl Tapp (rib)
Headline: Greene helps Jets grind out big road win in Philly
Final score: Jets 21, Eagles 20
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

Since completely ignoring the running game in a Week 10 loss at Seattle, Baltimore has afforded its RBs an average of 40.5 touches per game in the four games since. Against a Chargers defense allowing 5.6 yards per play, the ninth-highest mark in the league, count on the Ravens continuing with the backfield-heavy approach that has led to four straight victories. Not that you needed an excuse to start Ray Rice. But certainly a heavy emphasis on Rice means you have to curb your enthusiasm for the passing attack. A Ravens WR hasn't topped 63 yards in the past three games, and Anquan Boldin hasn't gone over that number in his past five games. I seriously doubt anyone in the Ravens passing game gets rich this week. Pursue other options. … The Ravens are the second-most formidable fantasy run defense behind San Francisco. That doesn't bode well for Ryan Mathews. But Mathews has looked great in reeling off 100-yard rushing efforts in each of his past three games. And he's very capable of making an impact as a check-down option for Philip Rivers. With Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates healthy, the Ravens have their hands full in pass defense which could allow Mathews to get some open looks. I'm down on Mathews because of the matchup, but I don't think he's entirely without hope. Baltimore looks good on paper against the pass, but it hasn't faced many vaunted passing attacks and has given up decent production to those teams that they have faced that are credible in the passing game. According to ProFootballFocus, Baltimore's Lardarius Webb has been a top 6 cover corner, and he could pose a problem for the rollercoaster ride that is Vincent Jackson – he's scored 6 fantasy points or less in eight games and 13 or more in the other five games. And with Ed Reed there to guard against the big play, that makes life even tougher for V-Jax. Start him at your own risk. But I think Rivers can have a good day mining production out of Floyd and Gates and on passes to his running backs.
Philip Rivers; Ray Rice; (Ryan Mathews); Antonio Gates
Joe Flacco; (Vincent Jackson); (Malcom Floyd); (Anquan Boldin); Torrey Smith; Ed Dickson; (Baltimore Defense)
Mike Tolbert; San Diego Defense
Dennis Pitta
Ravens: LB Ray Lewis (toe); CB Lardarius Webb (toe); PK Billy Cundiff (calf)
Chargers: DE Jacques Cesaire (ankle)
Headline: Rivers throws for over 300 yards against Ravens as Chargers chalk up another December win
Final score: Chargers 26, Ravens 23
PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

This is a matchup of the top two teams in the league in terms of scoring defense. Look at the 16-6 loss to the Ravens on Thanksgiving if you want a good gauge for what you can expect from your 49ers players (Read: next to nothing). I have a playoff team where I am forced to choose between Ben Tate and Frank Gore, and for me it's an easy choice to go with Tate. I'm not promoting any 49ers this week, and that includes Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. … I put Rashard Mendenhall in the same boat as Gore this week. The 49ers have yet to allow a rushing TD to a running back and they allow a miniscule 3.1 YPC to RBs. Ben Roethlisberger is questionable for this contest with an ankle injury, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him play, and play well. He's overcome this type of a situation many times in his career, and his ability to extend plays makes an attacking team like San Francisco vulnerable to big plays in the passing game. All bets are off in regards to Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown if Big Ben sits. But if he's in there, I like the chances of Wallace and Brown.
Ben Roethlisberger; Mike Wallace; Antonio Brown; Pittsburgh Defense
Vernon Davis; San Francisco Defense
Alex Smith; Rashard Mendenhall; Frank Gore; Michael Crabtree; Braylon Edwards; Hines Ward; Heath Miller
None of significance
Steelers: QB Ben Roethlisberger (ankle); C Maurkice Pouncey (ankle)
Niners: RB Frank Gore (knee); OT Joe Staley (head)
Headline: Banged up Big Ben survives, and thrives, in road win at San Francisco
Final score: Steelers 21, Niners 13
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