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NFL Skinny: Week 7 preview

After misfiring on just seven of the first 44 game predictions in the Skinny this season, I missed seven in Week 6 alone – I was a humbling 7-7 last week. Of course, I know from experience that there's no point in getting too cocky about what you think you know in the NFL, because it can all change course as quickly as a DeAngelo Williams(notes) cutback move. With that in mind, here's what I think I know about Week 7:

Week 7 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 7 matchup

CHICAGO BEARS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS

Key Stats: BEARS – 3.7 YPC allowed | 218 YPG passing allowed
BENGALS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 255 YPG passing allowed

What to watch for: CIN has allowed a league-high 25 pass plays of 20+ yards. Bracket coverage had been death for previous go-to WRs against CIN, but Andre Johnson(notes) bucked that trend last week and now CIN DE Antwan Odom(notes), a superb pass rusher, is out for the year and that blow to the pass rush threatens the CIN secondary even more. Likely CIN will play things more conservatively on defense this week. Since CHI doesn't have a true No. 1 wideout, it can roll safety help back into the overall defensive equation as opposed to worrying about shading a premiere target. That might close the door a bit on the pass to the RB, which has propelled Ray Rice(notes) and Steve Slaton(notes) to major production against CIN the past two weeks – combined 13 catches, 176 receiving yards and 2 TD catches. Still, you can expect CHI to explore that avenue with RB Matt Forte(notes). And If CIN DT Domata Peko(notes) joins Odom on the sidelines this week, CHI might be able to get back to running the ball with some success. QB Jay Cutler(notes) threw 43 times last week, but I think he'll be in the low 30 range on Sunday with more ground emphasis. And while he may not end up throwing the ball often, he should have a few opportunities to be lethal in the passing game – again, CIN gives up big pass plays and CHI has the speed in Johnny Knox(notes) and Devin Hester(notes) to make CIN pay when it gets too focused at stopping the run. As I said last week, it has really become anyone's guess as to which receiver for the Bears will step up. I like Hester and Knox this week because I think Cutler throws it a little less, which hurts a possession guy like Earl Bennett(notes), who needs the extra reps because he gets no love in the red zone (0 RZ targets). When it comes to red zone love, no TE in the league is showered with affection the way TE Greg Olsen(notes) has been. His 7 looks inside the five-yard line is more than twice as many as any other TE. You have to keep playing someone in that situation.

The CHI defense has held up well to bigger, high-rep backs, as both Michael Turner(notes) and Kevin Smith(notes) couldn't break the 30-yard barrier rushing against the Bears the past two weeks. But CIN RB Cedric Benson(notes) earned his must-start stripes a couple weeks ago with a 100-yard performance against BAL and that doesn't change just because he could muster only 44 yards against HOU last week – he did score a TD, and you can't grouse too much about a 10-point fantasy line from a RB. That said, another 10-12 point day might be in line for Benson, so if you have a stacked RB cupboard, there's likely to be some better upside plays. I was listening to the Dan Patrick Show today and I was impressed to hear NYJ CB Darrelle Revis(notes) name Chad Ocho Cinco(notes) as his toughest matchup among opposing WRs. This is from a guy who faces Randy Moss(notes) twice a year. Ocho Cinco, like Benson, is a must start, and his separation skills are likely to give the CHI secondary fits – CHI has allowed three 100-yard games to WRs. WR Andre Caldwell(notes) has been the CIN version of Johnny Knox, coming up with big play after big play out of the No. 3 spot. He's been pretty money in home games this season and remains firmly on this week's sleeper list. QB Carson Palmer(notes) is 17th among QBs in FAN PPG and he looks like the same borderline start this week that he has been for most of the season.

Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Greg Olsen, Cedric Benson, Chad Ocho Cinco
Carson Palmer, Chicago Defense, Cincinnati Defense
Earl Bennett, Laveranues Coles(notes), Chris Henry, Daniel Coats(notes)
Sleeper: Andre Caldwell
Injuries: CIN RB Brian Leonard(notes) (groin) could be out; CIN DE Antwan Odom (Achilles) is out for the year; CIN DT Domata Peko (knee) could be questionable; CHI LB Pisa Tinoisamoa(notes) (knee) could be out; CHI LB Hunter Hillenmeyer(notes) (ribs) could be questionable;
Prediction: Chicago 27, Cincinnati 21
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ CLEVELAND BROWNS

Key Stats: PACKERS – 3.6 YPC allowed | 193 YPG passing allowed | 10 INTs
BROWNS – 4.9 YPC allowed | 242 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Well, I thought GB would be able to protect QB Aaron Rodgers(notes) last week against DET, but even the Lions managed to put him on the carpet five times. Luckily, it didn't matter as Rodgers was able to torch DET with the passes he was able to get off – he completed 78 percent of his throws. CLE doesn't do a great job of getting to the QB, but you have to expect that Rodgers will still deal with some pressure. Again, though, it may not matter as CLE has allowed the 3rd-most passing yards in the NFL over the past five weeks, and only CIN has allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards. CLE is also tied for the 2nd-fewest INTs (3). Rodgers has the offense clicking at 26 PPG, 8th-best in the league and CLE allows the 7th-most PPG (24.7). Yes, this type of set up didn't pan out for PHI at OAK in Week 6, but as a fantasy owner, you have to play these odds every time. Green Bay stands for "Green Light" this week. Start 'em all.

CLE has the 3rd-worst offensive attack in the league (11.5 PPG). QB Derek Anderson(notes) has a big arm, but he's statuesque and inaccurate, which is not a good combo when you aren't afforded much time to throw the ball – he's 11-for-41 for 145 yards combined in his past two games. CLE WRs have dropped several of those passes, but that's what you get from inexperienced WRs dealing with an erratic passer. CLE will certainly try to keep the game close by using RB Jamal Lewis(notes) often early on. But he hasn't touched the ball more than 15 times in the three games he played in which CLE was blown out, and Lewis is one of those backs that get better and better with more carries. I don't trust that CLE can keep it tight, however. I'm willing to roll the dice on rookie WR Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), who topped 80 yards for the second time in three games this past Sunday. And hybrid QB/RB/WR Joshua Cribbs(notes) certainly carries a sleeper tag if only because he's the team's only game-breaking talent and it tried to get him heavily involved last week – 13 Wildcat plays. He's most likely getting some extra time this week in practice to work on his passing. But, to be honest, you're in pretty tough shape if you have to lean on any CLE player right now.

Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant(notes), Greg Jennings(notes), Donald Driver(notes), Jermichael Finley(notes), Green Bay Defense
Mohamed Massaquoi
Derek Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Brian Robiskie(notes), Robert Royal(notes), Steve Heiden(notes), Cleveland Defense
Sleeper: James Jones(notes), Joshua Cribbs
Injuries: GB WR Jordy Nelson(notes) (knee) is likely out; GB C Jason Spitz(notes) (back) could be questionable; GB OT Chad Clifton(notes) (ankle) is likely questionable; CLE LB D'Qwell Jackson(notes) (shoulder) is out for the year
Prediction: Green Bay 26, Cleveland 14
MINNESOTA VIKINGS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Key Stats: VIKES – 3.9 YPC allowed | 248 YPG passing allowed
STEELERS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 201 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: No schedule reprieve for MIN this week, as it travels to PIT after a physical shootout victory against BAL in Week 6. MIN has had a tendency of producing high-scoring affairs when the game has been at least somewhat competitive – four of MIN's six games have produced at least a combined 50 points. PIT is the toughest defensive run unit in fantasy, and it benefitted from the return of All-Pro FS Troy Polamalu(notes) from a knee injury in Week 6. No RB has reached the 100-yard rushing mark against PIT in the past 24 regular-season games. You don't ever consider benching Adrian Peterson, but starting him this week is a grin-and-bear-it exercise. QB Brett Favre(notes) has been outstanding in the passing game for MIN, not trying to do too much and utilizing what the defenses have given him. He's also figuring out that WR Sidney Rice(notes) is a special talent and a load for opposing CBs. After Rice posted 6 catches for 176 yards in Week 6, that is sure to have drawn the attention of PIT elite coverman CB Ike Taylor(notes). At 6-foot-2, Taylor is built to handle Rice's size – he's held Vincent Jackson(notes) and Chad Ocho Cinco, among others, in check this season. I'm putting Rice under the caution flag for fear of Taylor. And PIT has also been good at limiting deep passes, which makes WR Bernard Berrian(notes) an iffy play, if his combined 57 receiving yards in the past two weeks hasn't already scared you off. I actually like versatile rookie WR Percy Harvin(notes) to throw himself back into the fray this week. No. 3 WRs Johnny Knox and Andre Caldwell performed well against the Steelers, and I think MIN will look for creative ways (read: Harvin) to attack one of the top defenses in the league. TE Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) has scored in 4 of the past 5 games. If you've been rolling with him, it's hard to go away from that kind of production. But, if it's a PPR league, maybe you consider other options. Back to Favre, my gut tells me that some of his old gun-slinging bad habits will emerge this week. I won't be at all surprised if he commits more than a couple turnovers this week.

Ray Rice had a couple hot-knife-through-butter runs last week, including the first two TDs by a RB against MIN this season. That said, the PIT running game can't compare with BAL, and with RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes) giving away a likely 5-6 carries to RB Willie Parker(notes) in a matchup like this one, you have to be concerned if you are a Mendenhall fantasy owner – keep in mind, Mendenhall's past three opponents (CLE, DET, SDG) all rank among the nine most generous in the league to opposing RBs in fantasy. Mendenhall gets the caution flag in this one. This past Sunday, BAL QB Joe Flacco(notes) proved what I said last week, that the solid MIN pass defense numbers were more a product of its competition to that point than anything else. QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) could be in line to follow Aaron Rodgers and Flacco as the third QB this season to throw for 300+ yards against the Vikings – especially if MIN CB Antoine Winfield(notes) is out. Of course, the worry is pass protection, as MIN leads the league in sacks and PIT is among the worst at protecting its QB. Roethlisberger might be forced into coughing up the football or making an ill-advised throw or two, but the net result for the passing game should still be a positive for him and his receivers, including No. 3 Mike Wallace(notes) – who has caught a pass of 29+ yards in four straight games (MIN has allowed 24 pass plays of 20+ yards). MIN allows the most FAN PPG to TEs, so red-hot TE Heath Miller(notes) is a hard one to avoid this week. Finally, RB Mewelde Moore(notes) has some deep league sleeper appeal. He got some carries in the 4th quarter last week after Mendenhall and Parker lost fumbles. And his excellent receiving skills could be needed against the MIN pass rush. And, there is the angle of Moore facing off against his former team. Again, it's a shot in the dark, but one that can be rationalized.

Adrian Peterson, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward(notes), Santonio Holmes(notes), Pittsburgh Defense, Minnesota Defense
Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Brett Favre, Rashard Mendenhall
Bernard Berrian, Willie Parker
Sleeper: Percy Harvin, Chester Taylor(notes), Mike Wallace, Mewelde Moore
Injuries: MIN CB Antoine Winfield (foot) could be questionable
Prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Minnesota 17
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ HOUSTON TEXANS

Key Stats: 49ERS – 3.3 YPC allowed | 234 YPG passing allowed
TEXANS – 4.9 YPC allowed | 227 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Game on for WR Michael Crabtree(notes), who will apparently start against HOU this week, according to WR Josh Morgan(notes). Crabtree's presence alone won't likely detour SF much from its typical cram-it-down-your-throat ground philosophy. RB Frank Gore's(notes) ankle is apparently good to go this week, and you pretty much have to play him against a HOU defense allowing 4.9 YPC, despite holding down RB Cedric Benson last week. HOU hasn't allowed a TD to a TE this season, but it hasn't really faced that formidable of talent at the position. SF TE Vernon Davis(notes) has emerged as QB Shaun Hill's(notes) go-to guy (26 targets in the past three games) and I wouldn't let this matchup keep you from starting Davis. But, Westbrook or not, I'm still not going to mess with the remaining parts of this passing game – maybe after Hill finally tops 210 yards passing or a WR catches more than 4 passes.

HOU has major troubles in the running game and SF shuts the running game down. It could be that HOU won't even bother trying to run much this Sunday, opting for a complete Cardinals look on offense. Lack of rushing production and major fumbling issues have cast a cloud on RB Steve Slaton's fantasy value – he's lost his goal-line work because of his butter fingers. But Slaton leads in fantasy receiving production from the RB position (282 yards, 2 TDs), and SF has allowed monster receiving tallies by RBs Tim Hightower(notes) (12/121), Chester Taylor (7/70) and Justin Forsett(notes) (6/57). For that reason, Slaton's a justifiable play this week. Last we saw the SF secondary, it was getting torched by ATL WR Roddy White(notes) to the tune of 8 catches, 210 yards and 2 TDs, this after I warned owners about the peril of White going against SF CB Nate Clements(notes). My bad. I know better than to worry about the matchups with White. But, White's manhandling of the 49ers along with HOU WR Andre Johnson's big day against a CIN defense this past Sunday that had been so good against go-to WRs coming into that game, should give Johnson owners no fears about this matchup. TE Owen Daniels(notes) also stood out last week with 2 TDs against CIN, and he'll certainly be in the 49ers' crosshairs this week. SF has done a very good job holding quality TEs like Tony Gonzalez(notes) and John Carlson(notes) to modest production and I suspect Daniels could end up with a quiet line this week – something like his 4/44 line from Week 1. I have a feeling that WR Kevin Walter(notes) steps up the fill in for the void of Daniels this week. He's been quiet the past three weeks, and it's a good time to throw the 49ers an unsuspecting Walter change-up.

Matt Schaub(notes), Steve Slaton, Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Frank Gore
Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis, Shaun Hill
Chris Brown, San Francisco Defense, Houston Defense, Isaac Bruce(notes), Josh Morgan
Sleeper: Michael Crabtree
Injuries: SF RB Frank Gore (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Houston 21, San Francisco 17
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Key Stats: BOLTS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 217 YPG passing allowed
CHIEFS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 250 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: For owners of RB LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) owners, your moment may have finally arrived. LT looked healthy and somewhat youthful against DEN on MNF, accounting for 70 rushing yards and 30 receiving yards. During the game, he appeared miffed when he was pulled for backup RB Darren Sproles(notes) early in the 1st quarter on a 3rd-and-goal – Sproles got stuffed. I suspect head coach Norv Turner is going to look to appease LT this week while at the same time infusing some confidence back into the ground game against a KC defense that has allowed the 5th-most rushing yards to RBs. KC ranks among the bottom 6 in the league in fantasy points allowed to QBs and WRs, and I think QB Philip Rivers(notes) throws enough to keep the big dogs (WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates(notes)) happy, especially considering KC generates little pressure on the QB. But this isn't one of those games where I'd roll the dice on any of the X-factor WR contingent of Chris Chambers(notes), Legedu Naanee(notes) or Malcom Floyd(notes).

KC got its first victory of the season last week, but it remains a wasteland for fantasy production. RB Larry Johnson(notes) keeps getting 20+ carries despite a 2.7 YPC average, and on the expectations that he'll get another heavy workload on Sunday against a SDG defense allowing 4.3 YPC, it's likely I'll have LJ among my top 20 RBs for Week 7 – six bye teams makes it more likely than usual. SDG has allowed the 8th-fewest FAN PPG to WRs, but WR Dwayne Bowe(notes) has been mostly matchup proof this year, as he's 21st among WRs in FAN PPG despite his less-than-ideal surroundings. QB Matt Cassel(notes) has thrown for 186 yards or less in three of his past four games. I have a hunch he'll be better than that this week – SDG also has been poor in terms of sacking the QB – but my feelings are nothing more than lukewarm for him. It's been four straight games now since a WR other than Bowe reached the 50-yard mark. WR Bobby Wade(notes) is the best option of the bunch, which is like saying lethal injection is a better way to die than by hanging or firing squad.

Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Dwayne Bowe, Larry Johnson
Matt Cassel, San Diego Defense
Chris Chambers, Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Bobby wade, Mark Bradley(notes), Bobby Engram(notes), Sean Ryan(notes), Jamaal Charles(notes), Kansas City Defense
Sleeper: Darren Sproles
Injuries: SDG OG Louis Vasquez(notes) (knee) could be questionable; SDG LBs Kevin Burnett(notes) and Larry English(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: San Diego 23, Kansas City 20
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS @ ST. LOUIS RAMS

Key Stats: COLTS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 192 YPG passing allowed | 2 TD passes allowed
RAMS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 252 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Coming off a bye and facing the 3rd-worst defense in the league (total yards allowed), it's really whatever you want, Mr. Manning. QB Peyton Manning(notes) has been as good as he's ever been this season, and he's hung at least 300 yards passing on all five teams he's faced. The warm feelings for the passing game should extend from WR Reggie Wayne(notes) and TE Dallas Clark(notes) through WRs Pierre Garcon(notes) and Austin Collie(notes), who has seen nine more targets than Garcon over the past three games. RB Joseph Addai(notes) has gotten in on Manning's act in a big way the past two games, catching a combined 17 passes for more than 100 receiving yards. Addai's a solid play this week, and rookie RB Donald Brown(notes) is a solid sleeper. It's all green lights and Rip Van Winkles in the Colts' stable this week.

What can you say about a STL offense that has scored just five touchdowns in six games? Owners of RB Steven Jackson have to keep starting S-Jax in hopes of his first TD of the season. At least he's been a yardage machine (112 YFS per game). In the passing game, the flirtation of QB Marc Bulger(notes) and WR Donnie Avery(notes) the past couple weeks (combined 6 catches, 104 yards and 2 TDs) does little to excite me in this one. The Colts have allowed just 2 TD passes all season. I'll give Avery the benefit of a caution flag because STL will surely have to throw it 35+ times this week.

Peyton Manning, Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis Defense
Donnie Avery
St. Louis Defense, Marc Bulger, Keenan Burton(notes), Daniel Fells(notes), Randy McMichael(notes)
Sleeper: Austin Collie, Donald Brown
Injuries: STL CB Ron Bartell(notes) (concussion) could be questionable; STL OG Richie Incognito(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Indianapolis 34, St. Louis 13
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Key Stats: PATS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 181 YPG passing allowed
BUCS – 4.9 YPC allowed | 199 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Only ARI has attempted more passes per game than NE. TB has allowed the 3rd-most passing TDs to QBs (13). And it is among the worst in the league at getting its hands on the QB (10 sacks). That bodes well for QB Tom Brady(notes), who has struggled at times this year when the opposition has been in his face. This week, in London, will be the equivalent of a shopping spree at Harrods for Brady's bunch. And, what fantasy owners can appreciate about head coach Bill Bellichick is that his ego won't let him take his foot off the throttle &ndash' the 59-0 drubbing of TEN in Week 6 was just the latest example of that. On a worldwide stage, expect Brady and WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker(notes) to put on a show. RB Laurence Maroney(notes) had 16 carries for 123 yards as the lead back in place of an injured Sammy Morris(notes) last week. He's faced some skepticism from the fantasy pundit community, but I think he's at least a very solid play this week. I don't think backup RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) will kink Maroney too bad early Sunday. But if the game gets out of hand like it did in Week 6 against TEN, a repeat scenario where Green-Ellis mops up is very likely.

Only BUF and KC have allowed more rushing yards the past three weeks than NE. Count on TB trying to exploit that leak with RB Carnell Williams(notes), who has clearly established himself as the lead pirate in the Bucs backfield – 13+ touches in five of six contests. But if/when TB falls behind to the point that rush attempts become too costly to the clock, TB is likely to be in serious trouble. Uber-athletic QB Josh Johnson(notes) wears his inexperience on his sleeve – in the past three games, he's been sacked 10 times, has fumbled seven times (only 1 lost) and has been picked off five times. He's ill prepared for a game with this kind of scrutiny. And NE has been strong against the TE position, which means Johnson's top target, TE Kellen Winslow(notes), could be in trouble. Strong route runners like Derrick Mason(notes), Eddie Royal(notes) and Jerricho Cotchery(notes) have fared best against TB, but there isn't really a receiver for TB that fits that profile – some day Sammy Stroughter, perhaps. WR Antonio Bryant(notes) is getting healthier each week, but the numbers didn't follow suit in Week 6. He's the type of player who likes a spotlight, though, and I think he's at least caution flag worthy.

Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Laurence Maroney, Carnell Williams, New England Defense
Kellen Winslow, Antonio Bryant
Josh Johnson, Derrick Ward(notes), Michael Clayton(notes), Tampa Bay Defense
Sleeper: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Stroughter
Injuries: NE RB Sammy Morris (knee) could be out
Prediction: New England 35, Tampa Bay 14
BUFFALO BILLS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS

Key Stats: BILLS – 5.3 YPC allowed | 171 YPG passing allowed | 10 INTs
PANTHERS – 5.0 YPC allowed | 157 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This looks like one fantastically boring game on paper. You have two run-heavy teams, both poor at also stopping the run. And neither team can boast of much in the way of a passing game. If things go by the numbers, this will be a low-scoring, grind-it-out affair. For BUF, that favors RB Marshawn Lynch(notes), who has pretty much stomped out the early-season love fest for RB Fred Jackson(notes). The two backs are still splitting carries fairly evenly, but Lynch looks like the slightly better value, although neither has a TD or has seen much work close to the goal line this season – I'm assuming Lynch will get the goal-line carries, if they should finally become available. QB Trent Edwards(notes) is likely to sit this week out after suffering a concussion in Week 6. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) completed just 10-of-25 passes in relief of Edwards, but he showed more willingness to try to find WRs Terrell Owens(notes) and Lee Evans(notes). I don't care for Fitzpatrick or Evans at CAR, but Owens could end up working out.

Give BUF credit. Despite a myriad of injuries in the secondary and at linebacker this season, it is one of the top pass defense units in the league. Of course, don't give them too much credit. When teams allow 5.3 YPC, they tend to see more running plays than passing plays. And, sure enough, BUF has seen the second-most rush attempts against in the league this season. This sets up perfect for a CAR team that is having all kinds of problems with its passing game. Another heavy combination of RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart(notes) (combined 47 carries against TB last week) is in order. QB Jake Delhomme(notes) threw just 17 times last week and WR Steve Smith has been a victim of these hard passing times. Maybe, just maybe, now that CAR has announced its running game presence with authority once again, BUF will dare to not double-team Smith in an extra effort to shut down the running game. The matchup doesn't look good on paper, but I'm going to bet on a Smith TD this week, or at least a thing or two that shows us the specialness of his skills.

DeAngelo Williams, Marshawn Lynch, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith
Fred Jackson, Terrell Owens, Carolina Defense, Buffalo Defense
Derek Fine(notes), Jake Delhomme, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Lee Evans, Muhsin Muhammad(notes), Jeff King(notes), Dante Rosario(notes)
Sleeper:
Injuries: BUF QB Trent Edwards (concussion) is likely to be out; BUF CB Terrence McGee(notes) (chest) could be questionable; BUF S Donte Whitner(notes) (ankle) is likely to be questionable; BUF TE Shawn Nelson(notes) (concussion) could be questionable;
Prediction: Carolina 20, Buffalo 13
NEW YORK JETS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS

Key Stats: JETS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 188 YPG passing allowed | 5 QB sacks
RAIDERS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 220 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: PHI suffered at OAK last week for not running the football. That's just not the nature of PHI, but it is the Jets' nature – 3rd in the NFL at 33.5 rush attempts per game. The Jets suffered when they threw the ball last week, as BUF picked off QB Mark Sanchez(notes) 5 times. Sanchez has 8 INTs and just 1 TD pass in his past three games. You can count on the NYJ to get back to basics and play it as conservative as possible with Sanchez. Head coach Rex Ryan has already stated that he will simplify things as much as possible for the rookie going forward. The Jets have the 3rd-best YPC average in the NFL (4.9) and RBs Thomas Jones(notes) and Leon Washington(notes) are coming off a combined 372 YFS effort against BUF in Week 5. More of the same is on the way, but the NYJ will have to figure out how to manage Sanchez so that he doesn't give the game away against another very beatable opponent in OAK. Getting preferred WR Jerricho Cotchery back from injury would be a big boost. WR Braylon Edwards(notes) was the only wideout targeted by Sanchez against BUF, and he needs the reliable Cotchery, who sounds like he may have a chance of playing this week. TE Dustin Keller(notes) must be sat at this point. He caught just 2 of 10 targets last week and, while the attention was nice to see, clearly he and Sanchez aren't on the same page, and Keller admitted that work needs to be done. Keller has now failed two weeks in a row where I thought his matchup was juicy.

OAK got a big win last week against PHI, but I still can't muster much energy when it comes to talking about its fantasy prospects. There's still not a good reason to start QB JaMarcus Russell(notes) or any OAK WR. And the running game which has accounted for the 6th-fewest fantasy points among all backfields, is piece work divided amongst RBs Justin Fargas(notes) and Michael Bush(notes) &ndash' until RB Darren McFadden(notes) returns. Fargas, who handled the rock 23 times in Week 6, is the current majority shareholder in the backfield and is at least marginally intriguing this week with NYJ DT Kris Jenkins(notes) out for the year. The Jets have been solid against TEs this season and should be very alert for TE Zach Miller, who had an 86-yard TD score in Week 6 that you could have baked a cake in the amount of time it took for the play to reach its conclusion. Miller is looking yellow-ish to me in this one.

Thomas Jones, Leon Washington
Justin Fargas, Zach Miller, Oakland Defense, Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, NY Jets Defense
Michael Bush, JaMarcus Russell, Oakland WRs, Mark Sanchez, Dustin Keller
Sleeper:
Injuries: NYJ WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) is likely to be questionable; NYJ DT Kris Jenkins (ACL) is out for the year
Prediction: NY Jets 23, Oakland 14
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ MIAMI DOLPHINS

Key Stats: SAINTS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 218 YPG passing allowed | 11 INTs
FINS – 3.4 YPC allowed | 225 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: MIA eats up more clock with its Wildcat-infused offense than any other team in the league. But QB Peyton Manning demonstrated on MNF in Week 2 that an aerial surgeon doesn't need much time to dissect the MIA secondary, throwing for 303 yards and 2 TDs on just 23 attempts. QBs Matt Ryan(notes) and Philip Rivers also enjoyed great success when they faced the Dolphins earlier this season. So, while MIA has been one of the staunchest run defenses in the league, it will have serious issues with the pass defense to think about as QB Drew Brees(notes) comes to town. It should also be noted that NO has been able to run on anyone, including traditionally tough units like PHI and the NYG. The Saints have one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the league, ranking in the top 7 in both passing YPG and rushing YPG. But this is the week to lean on the passing game. As mentioned, MIA has been tough on RBs, and NO is now at a point where 3 backs (Pierre Thomas(notes), Reggie Bush(notes) and Mike Bell(notes)) have significant roles, and it's a gamble to think any one of them can deliver against the Dolphins with what might be no more than 10-12 touches. I'd buy WR Lance Moore's(notes) '09 breakout performance in Week 6 (6/78/TD). With the hamstring injury improving each week, it was just a matter of time. When healthy, he finds open spots across the middle and Brees, as we know, finds you if you're open. Start Moore along with go-to WR Marques Colston(notes). And TE Jeremy Shockey(notes) is a solid play as MIA has had its issues handling the position.

As mentioned above, MIA dominates the clock by running the ball (more than any other team in the league). But, while MIA has had success in the running game, it has yet to face a defense that allows less than 4.0 YPC – NO is giving up 3.8 YPC and has allowed the 3rd-fewest FAN PPG to RBs, shutting down the two New York run factories the past two weeks. I don't think MIA will be able to get 30-35 combined carries from RBs Ronnie Brown(notes) and Ricky Williams(notes), as it would prefer – NO has the 3rd-fewest rush attempts against, a by-product of an offense that is very tough to hang with. And if MIA can't run the ball, either by way of Wildcat or traditional formations, it just doesn't have the talent in the passing game to believe in.

Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Ronnie Brown, Jeremy Shockey
Ricky Williams, Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, New Orleans Defense
Chad Henne(notes), Ted Ginn Jr.(notes), Davone Bess(notes), Greg Camarillo(notes), Anthony Fasano(notes), Miami Defense
Sleeper: Mike Bell
Injuries: NO LB Scott Fujita(notes) (calf) could be questionable; MIA LB Joey Porter(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: New Orleans 30, Miami 16
ATLANTA FALCONS @ DALLAS COWBOYS

Key Stats: FALCONS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 241 YPG passing allowed
COWBOYS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 251 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Last season, ATL was 2nd in the league in YPC (4.4). This season, it ranks 24th in that department with a 3.4 YPC clip. This week, it tries to get the ground game going against a DAL defense that has allowed nearly 29 percent fewer fantasy points to RBs than the league average over the past five weeks. In that span, it has allowed just 1 TD to an RB, a scoring grab by DEN rookie Knowshon Moreno(notes). Of course you start RB Michael Turner, I'm just saying we could be looking at a modest 20/75 type of line. DAL has allowed solid production by the opposing QB every game this season, most of them coming against a B-list group of signal callers. A-list QB Matt Ryan has accounted for at least 2 TD passes in 4 of 5 games and he shouldn't have difficulties running that number to 5 out of 6. WR Roddy White is the top FAN PPG producer at the WR position for the past three weeks. He's unbenchable, as is future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez.

DAL is averaging a league-high 5.9 YPC and will boast the availability of RBs Marion Barber(notes), Felix Jones(notes) and Tashard Choice(notes) on Sunday. But Jones is coming back from a knee injury and Barber is playing through a knee injury, so Choice is the only fully healthy back of the group. He's looked very good the past three games and owner Jerry Jones said that he's in line for more work given the state of the backfield. Choice will probably get 15-20 touches in a subtle lead role (Barber will start) against an ATL defense allowing 4.7 YPC. ATL has also had its issues against the pass and lost starting CB Brian Williams(notes) for the season with a torn ACL suffered in Week 6. QB Tony Romo(notes) should be able to have some success against a defense that actually gave up 300 passing yards to CAR QB Jake Delhomme in Week 2. Romo gets WR Roy Williams back from a rib injury this week and welcomes Week 5 250-yard man Miles Austin(notes) into the starting lineup (see 'ya, Patrick Crayton(notes)). Austin was awesome in Week 6, but he picked up a ton of yards as a result of Kansas City's inability to wrap up and tackle. I have both DAL WRs as yellow cards because there's just not a lot to hang your hat on, other than a good matchup on paper. ATL gives up 42.5 percent more production to the TE than the league average. TE Jason Witten(notes) has been quiet of late, but you still have to keep him in the lineup. He'll come around, and I like the chances of it being this week.

Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Romo, Tashard Choice, Jason Witten
Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Roy Williams, Miles Austin, Dallas Defense,
Atlanta Defense, Michael Jenkins(notes), Patrick Crayton
Sleeper: Jerious Norwood(notes)
Injuries: DAL RB Felix Jones (knee) could be questionable; DAL RB Marion Barber (knee) could be questionable; DAL WR Roy Williams (ribs) could be questionable; ATL CB Brian Williams (ACL) is out for the year;
Prediction: Dallas 27, Atlanta 23
ARIZONA CARDINALS @ NEW YORK GIANTS

Key Stats: CARDS – 2.8 YPC allowed | 265 YPG passing allowed
GIANTS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 147 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: ARI made a concerted effort to run the ball last week in a blowout win at SEA. And it probably prevented ARI from beating the Seahawks even worse then they did. The Cardinals have no chance to run the ball at the Meadowlands and I doubt it'll even come close to the level of commitment it gave to the run last week (26 carries). Understand that the Giants have fared well against the run at home this season and most of the damage done to them on the ground was inflicted by two of the top four rushing teams in the NFL (Dallas and New Orleans). The big question for ARI is the health of WR Anquan Boldin(notes), who apparently plans to play with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 6. Boldin seems like an iffy proposition this week, even if you know he's going to give it a go. QB Kurt Warner(notes) will likely have to lean on WR Steve Breaston(notes) heavily once again – he's averaging 7.5 targets, 6 receptions and 80 receiving yards per game. In addition to WR Larry Fitzgerald(notes), I think Breaston deserves a green light this week.

After getting blown out in New Orleans in Week 6, count on the NYG returning home in a surly mood. The Giants are 5th in the league in rushing offense and 11th in passing. ARI has been lights out against the run (2.8 YPC) but, until it happened upon the Seahawks' tattered offensive line last week, it has been a mess against the pass. The Cardinals are unlikely to be able to put half the pressure on QB Eli Manning(notes) that they were able to impose on SEA QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes). Look for Manning to get back in touch with WR Steve Smith after an off week for the two of them last Sunday. And, with WR Mario Manningham(notes) less than 100 percent with a sore back and ribs, WR Hakeem Nicks(notes) should get an extra opportunity or two to score in his fourth consecutive game. I expect the Giants to be able to impose their will against the Cards both on the ground and through the air, and I'm banking on nice offensive performances from most of the skill position starters.

Eli Manning, Steve Smith, Brandon Jacobs(notes), Ahmad Bradshaw(notes), Hakeem Nicks, Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Breaston, NY Giants Defense
Tim Hightower, Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham
Beanie Wells(notes), Arizona Defense, Kevin Boss(notes)
Sleeper: Domenik Hixon(notes)
Injuries: NYG RT Kareem McKenzie(notes) (groin) could be questionable; NYG DT Chris Canty(notes) (calf) is out; NYG CB Aaron Ross(notes) (hamstring) is out; NYG WR Mario Manningham (ribs/back) could be questionable; ARI WR Anquan Boldin (ankle) is likely to be questionable
Prediction: NY Giants 34, Arizona 21
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Key Stats: EAGLES – 3.6 YPC allowed | 179 YPG passing allowed
SKINS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 169 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: PHI head coach Andy Reid admitted that the team should have run more often in its embarrassing loss to OAK last week. Expect RB Brian Westbrook(notes) to surpass his season-high touch mark (16). He looked the healthiest he's been all season in Week 6 en route to 141 YFS at OAK. QB Donovan McNabb(notes) has failed to throw a TD pass in three of the past four games against WAS, and WAS has been solid against the pass this season. That said, WAS hasn't exactly faced formidable passing offenses, and it's hard to bench a QB engineering the 5th-most pass-heavy offense in the league. McNabb will find a way to be worthwhile this week. I suspect it might involve a big day from TE Brent Celek(notes) rather than WR DeSean Jackson(notes), who combined for just 3 catches and 22 yards in two meetings against WAS a year ago.

WAS is averaging just 13.2 PPG and about the only thing trending well for this unit in fantasy is RB Clinton Portis(notes), who is a top 10 fantasy RB for the past three weeks. The veteran back has played PHI very well the past couple of years and, in this 6-team bye week, you could do a lot worse than a guy who currently ranks 8th in the league in carries. Outside of TE Chris Cooley(notes), I wouldn't trust anything about the WAS passing game. There's a new coach calling plays, there's a QB controversy, and there's a pretty good PHI pass defense to contend with.

Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, Brent Celek, Philadelphia Defense, Clinton Portis
Chris Cooley, DeSean Jackson, Washington Defense
LeSean McCoy(notes), Jason Campbell(notes), Santana Moss(notes), Antwan Randle El
Sleeper: Jeremy Maclin(notes)
Injuries: WAS OT Chris Samuels(notes) (neck) is out; PHI DE Victor Abiamiri(notes) (knee) could be questionable; PHI OT Jason Peters(notes) (sprained knee) is likely to be questionable; PHI LB Omar Gaither(notes) (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: Philadelphia 26, Washington 16
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