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NFL Skinny: Week 9 preview

I went 9-4 with my game predictions for Week 8, and I can live with that – especially missing on Carolina's victory at Arizona. I'll just mark that one down to the NFL yet again reminding us who's in charge. As it stands, I'm now 63-21 on predictions for the past six weeks.

It's "take out the garbage" week in the NFL as Oakland, Cleveland, St. Louis and Buffalo are on bye – Steven Jackson is arguably the only fantasy staple in that mix. Of course, we'll miss not having those defenses to smack around. But not to worry, Tampa Bay and Kansas City are back in action this week. Alright, let's start breaking down Week 9 …

Week 9 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 9 matchup

WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ ATLANTA FALCONS

Key Stats: SKINS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 165 YPG passing allowed
FALCONS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 256 YPG passing allowed

What to watch for: WAS is the 4th-worst offense in the league (13.7 PPG), although with Sherm Lewis calling plays in Week 7, the Skins managed 17 points against a stingy PHI defense, so maybe there is at least some hope still left for this anemic unit. Lewis dialed up QB Jason Campbell's(notes) number 43 times, his most pass attempts this season. ATL has allowed three consecutive 300-yard passing games, and four in the past six games, so the paper makes a case for Campbell this week. That said, Campbell did not look comfortable with the game plan in Week 7 and I'd expect that the team will reverse course a bit this week against an ATL defense that has allowed the 12th-most FAN PPG to RBs. RB Clinton Portis(notes) benefits greatly from a Week 8 bye given that he had a laundry list of minor leg injuries headed into the break. Don't be surprised if he sees 20-25 touches on Sunday, but we know with Portis that a heavy workload doesn't guarantee fantasy success. I'm putting him down as a green light, but there's some yellow light bleeding through. WR Santana Moss(notes) has caught a pass of 20+ yards in six straight games and ATL allows the 3rd-most pass plays of 20+ yards. Put those hands together and start Moss. It's a dartboard move if you are gambling on any other WAS wideout as none other than Moss has topped 40 yards since Week 1 – that said, the now-starting WR Devin Thomas(notes) did catch a TD in his last game and he's worth deep-league consideration. The replacement for TE Chris Cooley(notes), Fred Davis(notes), is at least a sleeper facing an ATL defense allowing the 4th-most FAN PPG to TEs. Davis went 8/78 in Week 7 filling in for Cooley.

ATL will typically try to run all over a team if it lets them. We saw it do just that to NO in Week 8, but the Saints were missing some key players in run support, which helped RB Michael Turner(notes) out. Don't expect another 150+ yards from Turner, but he has 20 TDs in his past 16 games in this offense, so who cares that WAS allows the 2nd-fewest FAN PPG to RBs – The Burner sits for no one. Same goes for WR Roddy White(notes) and TE Tony Gonzalez(notes), although I have a fantasy squad with both Gonzo and TE Vernon Davis(notes) that is making the lineup submission process very painful. The WAS pass defense is legit – 2nd-fewest passing yards allowed per game and 1 TD pass or less to each QB it has faced (including Eli Manning(notes) and Donovan McNabb(notes)). I wouldn't count on more than an average passing day from QB Matt Ryan(notes) (something like 225-240 passing yards, 1 TD pass). Until WR Michael Jenkins(notes) finds a map to the end zone (hasn't scored since Week 1 of '08) you can't consider him a sleeper. And steer clear of whatever player emerges as Turner's backup this week. WAS allows the fewest FAN PPG to RBs in the passing game.

Michael Turner, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis
Jason Campbell, Matt Ryan, Atlanta Defense
Washington Defense, Michael Jenkins
Sleeper: Fred Davis, Devin Thomas
Injuries: ATL RB Jerious Norwood(notes) (hip) could be questionable; ATL RB Jason Snelling(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: Atlanta 24, Washington 13
ARIZONA CARDINALS @ CHICAGO BEARS

Key Stats: CARDS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 233 YPG passing allowed
BEARS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 199 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: CHI looks a bit suspect on paper in defending the pass thanks to a 5-TD day from QB Carson Palmer(notes) a few weeks back. But, other than that game, CHI has performed respectably against some good QBs (Aaron Rodgers(notes), Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and Matt Ryan combined for 4 TD passes, 3 INTs and an average of 197 passing yards). But premiere wideouts have had their way with the CHI secondary and QB Kurt Warner(notes) may look to WR Larry Fitzgerald(notes) 15+ times on Sunday – he's very likely to be my No. 1 ranked WR play this week. WR Anquan Boldin(notes) just can't get his ankle healthy but, if he plays, he's a hard one to sit – consider him no better than a chartreuse (green/yellow mix) play because of the pitfalls that come with the shaky health. RB Beanie Wells(notes) continues to look strong with limited touches, but RB Tim Hightower(notes) is the goal-line guy and the most-targeted RB in the league. Hightower remains the better play and he's a borderline "must" start because of his TD production in this offense stretching back to last season. WR Steve Breaston's(notes) expectations are linked to Boldin, landing him back in familiar yellow-light territory.

ARI has shown some kinks in its armor against the run in recent weeks, especially against CAR in Week 8. Physical teams have had success on the ground against the Cards, but I'm not ready to endorse RB Matt Forte(notes) this week. Forte did score twice against CLE in Week 8, but could muster just 3.5 yards per carry. I'd shy away from doubling-down on Forte this week as major problems with the CHI running game still exist. QB Jay Cutler(notes) has thrown just 1 TD pass in his past two games, but I wouldn't be surprised if this game turns into a gun-slinging competition between Cutler and Warner. The ARI secondary, while showing signs of improvement, is susceptible to allowing the big play – 6th-most pass plays of 40+ yards allowed. That plays well for WR Devin Hester(notes), who is showing surprising consistency for a player that hasn't played wide receiver for very long. I like Hester a lot this week, and WR Johnny Know may also get to flex his speed, but the set-up doesn't seem to favor WR Earl Bennett(notes). TE Greg Olsen(notes) has settled into an ordinary world, as he has yet to surpass 57 yards, but has been better than 40 yards in four of his past six games. That he's always a threat around the goal line makes him a cautionary tale with upside this week against an ARI defense that handles TEs fairly well.

Larry Fitzgerald, Tim Hightower, Kurt Warner, Jay Cutler, Devin Hester
Matt Forte, Greg Olsen, Anquan Boldin, Steve Breaston, Beanie Wells, Arizona Defense, Chicago Defense
Ben Patrick(notes), Earl Bennett
Sleeper: Johnny Knox(notes)
Injuries: ARI WR Anquan Boldin (ankle) could be questionable; ARI DL Darnell Dockett(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Arizona 21, Chicago 17
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS

Key Stats: RAVENS – 3.5 YPC allowed | 226 YPG passing allowed
BENGALS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 253 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This AFC North rivalry played out in dramatic fashion at Baltimore a few weeks back. In that contest, CIN scored with 22 seconds left to pull out a 17-14 victory. Thanks to 27 productive carries from RB Cedric Benson(notes) (120 yards), BAL was the clear loser in the time of possession battle. Last week in handing DEN its first loss, BAL owned the clock by getting back to what it does best, attacking the Broncos on the ground 35 times. RB Ray Rice(notes) is a top 5 fantasy RB, and he should see plenty of work in this one as BAL stays committed to its ground force. Rice should also do some damage out of the backfield like he did in the last meeting – Rice is a gifted receiver and CIN has had issues with being burned by RBs in such a manner. WR Derrick Mason(notes) was shutout by bracket coverage in the last meeting, but the Bengals' loss of pass-rush specialist Antwan Odom(notes) has really strained the secondary's ability to hold coverage. Mason, who has caught a TD pass in four of his past five games, should be at least respectable this time around. And, although, they likely won't see many looks in what should be a game-managing effort for QB Joe Flacco(notes), WRs Mark Clayton(notes) and Kelley Washington(notes) are likely to get a few deep opportunities – CIN allows the 6th-most pass plays of 20+ yards. If I had to guess, I'd lean towards Clayton being the better play this week. TE Todd Heap(notes) had a season-high 7 catches against CIN in the previous meeting, but it amounted to little production (41 yards, 0 TDs). Heap has now gone five straight games sans a TD. CIN has not been overly kind to TEs, so don't have inflated expectations for Heap this week.

QB Carson Palmer went into his Week 8 bye on a roll. In the three games prior to the break, he averaged 254 passing yards and produced a 7:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Perhaps most encouraging was the pass protection in that span (2 sacks). Those numbers include the previous matchup with BAL, in which he threw for 271 yards and a TD pass. Palmer's re-emergence along with the steam train that is RB Cedric Benson should keep BAL honest and allow CIN to play with offensive balance. I wouldn't expect Palmer to throw it much more than 30 times, but let's not forget that he threw 5 TDs against CHI before the bye on just 24 passes. I see Palmer as a borderline top 12 QB play this week. Benson and WR Chad Ocho Cinco(notes) have proven themselves against practically all comers this year, including BAL, and you'd have to have a very good reason to sit either one of them. As this is likely to be another low-scoring scrum, I wouldn't spend too much time searching for Rip Van Winkles after the Bengals' big three. But if I had to pull one from the mix of WRs Laveranues Coles(notes), Andre Caldwell(notes) or Chris Henry, I'd go with the latter. Henry had over 90 yards in the last meeting with BAL and scored against CHI before the bye.

Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Cedric Benson, Chad Ocho Cinco
Carson Palmer, Joe Flacco, Todd Heap, Mark Clayton, Baltimore Defense
Laveranues Coles, Andre Caldwell, Daniel Coats(notes), Cincinnati Defense
Sleeper: Chris Henry, Kelley Washington
Injuries: BAL DT Haloti Ngata(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; CIN OT Andre Smith(notes) (foot) could be questionable;
Prediction: Baltimore 21, Cincinnati 17
HOUSTON TEXANS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Key Stats: TEXANS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 213 YPG passing allowed
COLTS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 180 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: With the season-ending injury to TE Owen Daniels(notes) and the benching of RB Steve Slaton(notes) in Week 8, the fantasy gods have gone and screwed up a good thing in HOU. RB Ryan Moats(notes) (151 YFS, 3 TDs in Week 8) filled in sensationally for Slaton last week and now we are looking at a convoluted mess in the HOU backfield. Either Slaton or Moats is likely to do something of value against IND (4.5 YPC allowed) but right now your guess is as good as mine as to who that will be – I'm hedging Slaton's way as I think he'll play a big role on passing downs. With Daniels out, QB Matt Schaub(notes) is going to have to bring back WR Kevin Walter(notes) as the complement to WR Andre Johnson(notes). Walter has been virtually non-existent since Week 3, but he is a very good middleman and can take on some of the kind of work that Daniels was getting. IND gives up the least amount of yards per catch in the league (9.2), but it has allowed the 6th-most receptions to WRs. Both Johnson and Walter are good possession weapons and they should be particularly useful in PPR leagues this week. I'll put Walter down under the caution flag, but there's reason to feel some optimism for him. TE Joel Dreessen(notes) takes over for Daniels and he is too unproven and IND too good at defending the TE to take that leap of faith.

You're obviously starting QB Peyton Manning(notes), WR Reggie Wayne(notes) and TE Dallas Clark(notes) – no explanation needed. But RB Joseph Addai(notes) also has a slam-dunk feel this week, as well. He's had an abusive relationship with HOU in the past, as in he has thoroughly beat down the Texans – has averaged 94 YFS and has scored 7 TDs in six meetings. With rookie RB Donald Brown(notes) unlikely to be back to 100 percent after sitting last week with a bum shoulder, Addai should be a shoe-in for another 20+ touches, and he should have a very good chance to score his sixth TD of the season. It doesn't look like WR Anthony Gonzalez(notes) is ready to return from a knee injury this week, so WR Austin Collie(notes) remains the most relevant secondary wideout behind Wayne. HOU looks good on paper against WRs this season, but it has faced several subpar passing offenses (NYJ, TEN, JAC, OAK, SF, BUF). Back to Collie, he's outproduced WR Pierre Garcon(notes) in each of the past four games.

Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Defense
Steve Slaton, Ryan Moats, Kevin Walter, Austin Collie
Joel Dreessen, Houston Defense, Pierre Garcon
Sleeper:
Injuries: HOU TE Owen Daniels (ACL) is out; IND LB Tyjuan Hagler(notes) (elbow) could be questionable; IND RB Donald Brown (shoulder) could be questionable; IND WR Anthony Gonzalez (knee) could be out; IND CB Kelvin Hayden(notes) (knee sprain) could be questionable
Prediction: Indianapolis 30, Houston 21
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

Key Stats: CHIEFS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 252 YPG passing allowed
JAGS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 242 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: With RB Larry Johnson(notes) suspended for two weeks by KC, the time has finally arrived for RB Jamaal Charles(notes). The second-year back has only handled the rock more than 10 times once in his short career and that was an 18/106 effort vs. TB in '08. Charles should get 15-20 touches with LJ out against JAC, and that is an enticing development considering Charles' breakaway talents. He was clearly the team's most talented backfield component in preseason and he's averaged 5.0 YPC in backup duty this regular season. He's also very dangerous in the passing game. I like the upside flavor of this matchup for Charles, and I wouldn't want to sit him for his first big opportunity in a long time. JAC has improved its pass defense in recent weeks, but that's the product of having faced STL and TEN. I wouldn't lose any sleep over this matchup if you are someone who regularly uses WR Dwayne Bowe(notes). And QB Matt Cassel(notes), while not in my top dozen QBs this week, is a justifiable play if you are looking to replace a bye-week Brett Favre(notes), or something like that – JAC has the least QB sacks in the NFL (2). As for the remainder of the KC receiving corps, I'll plan on discussing them in greater detail when they finally decide to force the issue.

JAC RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is on a major roll (310 rushing yards, 5 TDs in past two games) and he should retain his spot as the top fantasy RB after his matchup on Sunday – KC allows the 9th-most FAN PPG to RBs. I'd expect the Chiefs to be so focused on stopping MoJo that QB David Garrard(notes), who I like a little better than Cassel in this one, will be able to have the metaphorical equivalent of a backyard catch with WR Mike Sims-Walker(notes). KC has allowed some huge games to WRs this year – 4 receivers have scored 20+ fantasy points in the past five weeks and KC has allowed a league-high 10 pass plays of 40+ yards. Sims-Walker did almost nothing in Week 8, but get over that. The opportunity is too ripe for him this week. WR Torry Holt(notes) gets no red zone love and offers very little upside, even in a nice matchup like this. In fact, I'm not sure if WR Mike Thomas(notes) isn't a better play at this point than Holt. If you can, skip on both of them. KC has given up at least 40 receiving yards to a TE in all but one game this season. TE Marcedes Lewis(notes) has disappeared the past couple weeks but he's done his best work at home this season and I'm filing him under the sleeper category on a hunch.

Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker
David Garrard , Matt Cassel, Jacksonville Defense
Torry Holt, Bobby Wade(notes), Mark Bradley(notes), Sean Ryan(notes), Kansas City Defense, Jacksonville Defense
Sleeper: Kolby Smith(notes), Marcedes Lewis, Mike Thomas
Injuries: KC C Rudy Niswanger(notes) (knee) and LT Branden Albert(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; KC RB Larry Johnson (suspension) is out; KC FS Jarrad Page(notes) (calf) is out; JAC CB Rashean Mathis(notes) (broken finger) could be questionable
Prediction: Jacksonville 26, Kansas City 14
MIAMI DOLPHINS @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Key Stats: FINS – 3.6 YPC allowed | 236 YPG passing allowed
PATS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 176 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: MIA is the 2nd-heaviest run offense in the NFL and the fact it generates 4.6 YPC is very impressive considering it represents no threat in the passing game (152 passing YPG). NE has plenty of experience with the Wildcat formation since it has had that in its playbook for years. I wouldn't expect MIA to lean heavily on that formation. I'd just expect it to try to ram it down the Pats' throats in a conventional approach on the ground. The only Dolphins players I would mess with are RBs Ronnie Brown(notes) and Ricky Williams(notes), who could post some decent numbers in the passing game as NE has been burned a few times in that manner. WR Ted Ginn Jr.(notes) had two returns of 100 yards last week, but that's not the type of production you hang your hat on.

The question for NE comes down to whether you think RB Laurence Maroney(notes) or TE Benjamin Watson(notes) will be usable. QB Tom Brady(notes) and WRs Wes Welker(notes) and Randy Moss(notes) have backstage passes to your lineup and the matchup should be a good one for all of them this week. MIA has been very good against RBs this year, and it has faced some good ones. There's too much to fret about with Maroney, but Watson looks very tempting. MIA has been lit up by TEs and, considering this is one of those games that looks like Brady might end up chucking it 40+ times, Watson should have opportunities to pick at the Dolphins' weakness. I'll file Watson under "Sleeper," along with WR Sam Aiken(notes), who has made some big plays filling in for injured WR Julian Edelman(notes). Aiken has catches of 54 yards and 26 yards in his past four games and MIA has allowed a healthy 27 pass plays of 20+ yards.

Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Randy Moss
Laurence Maroney, New England Defense, Miami Defense
Chad Henne(notes), Ted Ginn Jr., Brian Hartline(notes), Davone Bess(notes), Greg Camarillo(notes), Anthony Fasano(notes)
Sleeper: Benjamin Watson, Sam Aiken
Injuries: MIA LB Channing Crowder(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; NE DL Jarvis Green(notes) (knee) is out; NE RB Sammy Morris(notes) (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: New England 28, Miami 17
GREEN BAY PACKERS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Key Stats: PACK – 3.5 YPC allowed | 184 YPG passing allowed
BUCS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Start your Packers with confidence. GB, smarting after a loss to MIN last week at home, faces a TB defense that is among the seven worst teams in the league in FAN PPG allowed to the QB, RB and WR position – and it allows the 11th-most FAN PPG to TEs. TB has also generated just 11 QB sacks in seven games, a fact that should be music to QB Aaron Rodgers' ears. You don't sit Rodgers, obviously, but expect him to play it very conservative this week after coming out of the game against the Vikings with a noticeable limp (sprained toe). TB is the 3rd-most run upon team in the league and allows the 4th-most YPC (4.7) RB Ryan Grant(notes), fresh after handling just 10 carries in a catch-up role last week, should be ready for something like the 27 carries he got at CLE the week before (27/148/1). And even backup RB Brandon Jackson(notes) may see 8-10 touches. This game sets up very similar to that Browns matchup, and Rodgers threw just 20 times against CLE but still managed 3 TD passes. Start Rodgers and WRs Donald Driver(notes) and Greg Jennings(notes), but there's a good chance that one of the wideouts underwhelms because of the game plan. TE Jermichael Finley(notes) probably won't return from a knee injury this week, but I wouldn't get too excited about TEs Donald Lee(notes) or two-week sensation Spencer Havner(notes) (3 TDs in past 2). I suspect they'll be pulled into pass protect more often than not when the Packers do go to the air.

Rookie QB Josh Freeman(notes) takes over the NFL's 5th-worst offensive attack this week. And he'll do it against a defense that is 4th in INTs (11) and allows the third-lowest Comp% (55.3) in the league – thanks, but not thanks. Given the situation, it's really wait-and-see for the TB passing game, with the exception of TE Kellen Winslow(notes). GB has allowed the 13th-most FAN PPG to TEs and Winslow makes a ton of sense as a safety valve for Freeman this week. On the ground, GB allows just 3.5 YPC and if these two teams play to their average, GB is about a 2-TD favorite. Given the scenario, TB isn't likely to get much opportunity to run the ball – a common occurrence this season as the Bucs average the 2nd-fewest rush attempts per game (23.3). I still like RB Carnell Williams(notes) more than RB Derrick Ward(notes), but I don't like either of them that much.

Kellen Winslow, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver, Greg Jennings, Green Bay Defense
Antonio Bryant(notes), Carnell Williams
Josh Freeman, Michael Clayton(notes), Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay Defense, James Jones(notes), Donald Lee
Sleeper: Sammie Stroughter(notes), Brandon Jackson
Injuries: GB FS Nick Collins(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; GB QB Aaron Rodgers (toe) could be questionable; GB TE Jermichael Finley (knee) is likely to be questionable; GB OT Chad Clifton(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; GB RT Mark Tauscher(notes) (knee) could be questionable; TB WR Michael Clayton (wrist) could be questionable;
Prediction: Green Bay 31, Tampa Bay 20
CAROLINA PANTHERS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Key Stats: PANTHERS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 161 YPG passing allowed
SAINTS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 224 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: We saw on Monday night that the losses of NO DT Sedrick Ellis(notes) and LB Scott Fujita(notes) opened up the running game for ATL – although ATL RB Michael Turner deserves major props for an outstanding, hard-nosed effort. CAR will likely try to keep the valve open on the ground after it was able to impose its will with its rushing attack at ARI in Week 8. The key will be CAR keeping it close early – something that was crucial to the ground success of ATL and MIA the past two weeks against NO. RBs DeAngelo Williams(notes) and RB Jonathan Stewart(notes) didn't have a bad fantasy effort between them in two meetings with NO last season and both are rolling right now – both are top 10 fantasy RBs for the past three weeks. Williams has weekly "must-start" status as it is, and Stewart is an excusable play given his recent hot spell and the fact that he gets sweet love around the goal line. I'd be leery of WR Steve Smith in this one as NO CB Jabari Greer(notes) has been ridiculously good this season, but there's a very good possibility that CAR won't be able to keep it close, so Smith may be forced into the action. I'm putting him down under the caution flag this week.

CAR allows the fewest passing YPG in the league (161), which means little for QB Drew Brees'(notes) fantasy owners – if Brees wants to throw the ball, he'll throw the ball. He's kinda like Chuck Norris that way. Typically, though, teams have leaned heavily on CAR via the ground game – Panthers allow the 11th-most rush attempts per game. I'd feel very good about RB Pierre Thomas(notes) this Sunday, and backup RBs Mike Bell(notes) (12+ carries in all five games played) and Reggie Bush(notes) (TD in 3 straight) are at least yellow-light options (I'd call both of them chartreuse, unofficially). At WR, I've only got a lovin' feelin' for go-to guy Marques Colston(notes). I wouldn't roll the dice on the WR contingent of Devery Henderson(notes), Robert Meachem(notes) or Lance Moore(notes) (suffered shin injury in Week 8). TE Jeremy Shockey(notes) has the 3rd-most fantasy points at his position for the past three weeks, so there's a very good reason to keep him active.

DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Drew Brees, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Defense
Mike Bell, Reggie Bush, Steve Smith
Carolina Defense, Jake Delhomme(notes), Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Muhsin Muhammad(notes), Jeff King(notes)
Sleeper:
Injuries: CAR WR Muhsin Muhammad (knee) could be questionable; CAR TE Dante Rosario(notes) (knee) could be questionable; CAR FB Brad Hoover(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; NO WR Lance Moore (shin) could be questionable; NO C Jonathan Goodwin(notes) (knee) could be questionable; NO DT Sedrick Ellis (sprained knee) is out; NO LB Scott Fujita (calf) could be questionable;
Prediction: New Orleans 34, Carolina 24
DETROIT LIONS @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Key Stats: LIONS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 252 YPG passing allowed
HAWKS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 224 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The guessing game continues this week for WR Calvin Johnson(notes). He's dealing with a sore knee that has basically wiped him out of the past three games. That he was scratched at the 11th hour before kickoff in Week 8 is at least encouraging that he was almost ready to go. Still, we likely won't know much about Johnson's availability until late this week. If he plays, you play him. Those are the rules when it comes to dealing with arguably the most talented wideout in the league – I'll put him down as a green-light special, but obviously you'll have to see how his injury updates play out. RB Kevin Smith(notes) had a sore shoulder rested a bit last week as backup RB Maurice Morris(notes) was awarded 14 carries to Smith's 16. Morris, who meets up with his former team, showed some pep (4.5 YPC) that has been missing from Smith – just 1 rush of 20+ yards among his 125 carries this season. SEA has allowed just 3 runs of 20+ yards this season and hasn't allowed a RB to top 67 rushing yards outside the Week 2 lapse at SF in which RB Frank Gore(notes) romped for 207 yards and 2 TDs. Take that effort out of the mix and RBs are clocking in at 3.3 YPC on 139 carries against SEA. That QB Matt Stafford couldn't throw a TD pass or top 200 yards against STL without Johnson doesn't paint an optimistic picture for him this week. For what it's worth, WR Bryant Johnson(notes) has a streak of scoring against SEA in each of the past four seasons. In fact, five of his past 11 receiving TDs have come against the Seahawks. He hasn't ever really gone off against the Seahawks, he just seems to find the end zone. SEA has seen several quality TEs and only one has scored a TD. TE Brandon Pettigrew(notes) is not worth considering this week.

DET ranks in the bottom six in the league in FAN PPG allowed to the QB, RB, WR, TE and K positions. And its offense also gives up the 10th-most FAN PPG to opposing defenses. No defense allows a higher QB rating than the Lions, who also rank just 21st in the league in QB sacks (15). That's an important fact for QB Matt Hasselbeck(notes), who can slice and dice the opposition with a quick, precision passing game when he has time to throw. You need only look at his home contests against STL and JAC this season (combined 7 TD passes and an average of 260 passing yards) to feel good about this matchup. WR Nate Burleson(notes) is a top 20 fantasy wideout and he's a fairly safe play. And I suspect that WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes), with a combined 8 catches for 58 yards the past two games, has let Hasselbeck know that he's feeling neglected. The release of RB Edgerrin James(notes) is not insignificant news for RBs Julius Jones(notes) and Justin Forsett(notes). James was averaging 7 touches per week. That work will be absorbed by the two remaining backs. Jones is now the clear-cut lead back, but Forsett should have a regular 8-10 touch role now as a change-of-pace and passing-down guy. Forsett is a sleeper in this one, although something is keeping me from anointing Jones as an outright green-light play – you could certainly do worse, though. TE John Carlson(notes) has an enticing matchup, just like everyone else. He's had to do more in pass protection this season, but I'd bet he's good for at least 50+ yards this week, if not a TD.

Matt Hasselbeck, Nate Burlseon, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, John Carlson, Seattle Defense, Calvin Johnson
Julius Jones, Kevin Smith
Bryant Johnson, Matthew Stafford(notes), Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Defense
Sleeper: Justin Forsett, Maurice Morris
Injuries: DET RB Kevin Smith (shoulder) could be questionable; DET WR Calvin Johnson (knee) is likely to be questionable; SEA CB Ken Lucas(notes) (shoulder) could be questionable; SEA OT Sean Locklear(notes) (ankle) could be questionable
Prediction: Seattle 27, Detroit 13
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ NEW YORK GIANTS

Key Stats: BOLTS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 178 YPG passing allowed
GIANTS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 165 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: The Giants are struggling mightily against the run of late, having allowed just shy of 50% more production to opposing backfields the past three weeks than the league average. That will be a point of emphasis, no doubt, for the G-Men this week. RB LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) has been a top 15 fantasy RB the past three weeks, but he's managed just 3.3 YPC in that span, and that includes contests against OAK and KC (two of the 10 most generous defenses to opposing RBs this season). LT's battery life, unfortunately, is fading fast and I actually like backup RB Darren Sproles(notes) better this week. THE NYG are tied with DET for most rushing plays of 20+ yards allowed. And it also has yielded a healthy 22 pass plays of 20+ yards. Sproles is averaging more than 10 yards on 14 touches combined the past two weeks and he should be more active this week given his recent productivity and the threat his speed poses to a NYG defense that gives up big plays. I maintain my stance that QB Philip Rivers(notes), WR Vincent Jackson(notes) and TE Antonio Gates(notes) remain "must" plays and now that WR Malcom Floyd(notes) has unseated WR Chris Chambers(notes) for a starting gig, of course I'm intrigued. The Giants have been terrible against WRs too these past three weeks and the 6-foot-5 Floyd has 3 catches of 40+ yards and a TD to count among his 11 catches this season. He's, at the very least, an extremely intriguing yellow-light option.

Take the Chargers' success against the pass with a grain of salt. They've had the good fortune of facing Oakland (twice), Kansas City and Miami among their seven games played. Those are three of the four worst passing offenses in the league. That said, the Giants would be foolish to attack SD heavily through the air. QB Eli Manning is in the middle of a three-game slump in which he has 6 INTs, 1 Fumble Lost and a Comp% below 50%. SD wilted under the barrage of power running games like BAL, PIT, and MIA this year, and (seems like I say this each week) it would behoove the NYG to turn to RB Brandon Jacobs(notes) heavily – he's averaging a solid 4.3 YPC the past five weeks. Backup RB Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) has been dealing with a crack in his foot, but I'd feel good about him with the expectations of a productive 12-15 touches as well. WR Steve Smith hasn't scored in four straight games, but he should be able to work the Chargers over the middle enough to make the yardage beneficial even if he's shut out of the end zone a 5th consecutive time. WR Mario Manningham(notes) didn't play because of a shoulder injury last week. If he can't go, I'd feel good about rookie WR Hakeem Nicks(notes). But if Manningham is back, I'd be a bit uncomfortable with both. Like I said, I expect the NYG to pull back on Manning a bit and if SD continues to blitz like crazy, as it has of late, Manning won't have many opportunities to shoot downfield. That's where I see Smith and Bradshaw stepping up to help out with quicker outlet options. TE Kevin Boss(notes), who had 70 yards and a TD at PHI in Week 8, may be asked to block often if NYG goes ground heavy and also wants to give extra protection in blitz pickup, but SD has long been inept at defending TEs and Boss is a defensible play this week.

Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith
Darren Sproles, Malcom Floyd, San Diego Defense, Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Kevin Boss, Mario Manningham, San Diego Defense, New York Defense
LaDainian Tomlinson
Sleeper:
Injuries: SDG C Nick Hardwick(notes) (ankle) is likely to be out; SDG LB Tim Dobbins(notes) (knee) is likely to be out; NYG DE Chris Canty(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable; NYG LB Michael Boley(notes) (knee) is likely to be out; NYG CB Aaron Ross(notes) (hamstring) is likely to be out; NYG WR Mario Manningham (shoulder) could be questionable; NYG TE Kevin Boss (ankle) could be questionable; NYG RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) could be questionable
Prediction: NY Giants 31, San Diego 23
TENNESSEE TITANS @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Key Stats: TITANS – 4.3 YPC allowed | 282 YPG passing allowed
49ERS – 3.2 YPC allowed | 252 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: QB Vince Young(notes) managed a good game in his return to the starting lineup, completing 15 of 18 mostly short passes against JAC in Week 8. Yet, while the matchup was ideal for Young, his fantasy production (125 passing yards, 30 rushing yards, 1 TD pass) was modest. SF has issues with the pass as well, but Young isn't the kind of true pocket passer that can take advantage like most others have this season. You still don't want a piece of the TEN passing game. In fact, right now, RB Chris Johnson is the only viable Titan fantasy player, but even he'll be tested this week by a SF defense allowing a league-low 3.2 YPC. But the 49ers have allowed the 2nd-most receptions to RBs, and Johnson could finally re-emerge as a factor in that aspect of the offense after compiling a total of just 39 receiving yards since a 9-catch, 87-yard, 1-TD performance in Week 2.

TEN appears to be losing its grip in run defense, surrendering back-to-back 100-yard rushing games to Laurence Maroney and Maurice Jones-Drew. It's already the most generous defense in fantasy for opposing QBs and WRs, and it's the 7th-kindest to TEs. The recent susceptibility to the run is good news for SF as it can feel good about the prospects of a balanced attack, liberally mixing RB Frank Gore into the offensive flow. This is important because SF is not the kind of team that feels comfortable relying heavily on its passing game. Pass protection is a major issue and will be even more of a concern with LT Joe Staley(notes) out with a sprained knee. QB Alex Smith has played very well the past two weeks, but the 49ers are unlikely to turn him loose. He can be productive enough moderately mixing and matching TE Vernon Davis and rookie WR Michael Crabtree(notes) along with Gore out of the backfield.

Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, San Francisco Defense
Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree, Isaac Bruce(notes)
Vince Young, Nate Washington(notes), Kenny Britt(notes), Justin Gage(notes), LenDale White(notes), Bo Scaife(notes), Tennessee Defense
Sleeper:
Injuries: SF LT Joe Staley (sprained knee) is out; SF CB Nate Clements(notes) (shoulder) is out
Prediction: San Francisco 20, Tennessee 17
DALLAS COWBOYS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Key Stats: COWBOYS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 237 YPG passing allowed
EAGLES – 3.7 YPC allowed | 194 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This sets up to be a great game. Both DAL and PHI average more than 28 PPG and allow less than 20 PPG. DAL has the second-best YPC clip on offense (5.4), while PHI allows a stingy 3.7 YPC on defense. PHI is even scarier in pass defense as its attacking unit has produced the 2nd-most QB sacks (23) and 2nd-most INTs (14). QB Tony Romo(notes) is going to have to be decisive and accurate, and those aren't really his best qualities. If he's using his noggin, he'll target TE Jason Witten(notes) heavily in this one. The TE has been the one big weakness for the blitz-heavy PHI defense this season as it has allowed the most FAN PPG to the position. Witten has averaged over 70 yards vs. PHI in his career, and I'd be willing to go back to the well with him once more. RB Marion Barber(notes) should be used heavily in this one because of his ability to pass protect and because his physical style could have some success (physical, straight-line backs like Brandon Jacobs, Mike Bell and Justin Fargas(notes) have had the best success against PHI this season). But I wouldn't mess with backup RB Felix Jones(notes).

DAL has yet to face a QB ranked in the top 14 in FAN PPG at the position, but it has been the 11th-most generous defense to QBs in fantasy, nonetheless. That's a situation for QB Donovan McNabb to be giddy about. The PHI offense feeds off the pass and only GB has matched the Eagles in the number of pass plays of 40+ yards produced this season (9). WR DeSean Jackson(notes) has delivered five of those scores, and you can expect superb DAL CBs Terence Newman(notes) and Mike Jenkins(notes) to be very attentive to Jackson's every move on Sunday. It's hard to keep a good (and ridiculously fast) man down for long and Jackson has been too good to bench, but it's worth mentioning that DAL brings some speed to the table to combat Jackson's (and Jeremy Maclin's,(notes) for that matter) blazing wheels. RB Brian Westbrook(notes) is expected to return from a concussion this week and he could be the big beneficiary in the passing game. He has a robust 31 catches against the Cowboys in his past four meetings. Sure, RB LeSean McCoy(notes) will get some love once again, but perhaps not more than 6-8 touches if Westbrook is truly back. TE Brent Celek(notes) is a top 5 fantasy producer and there's no glaring stop signs for him in this one.

Jason Witten, Marion Barber, Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson, Brian Westbrook, Brent Celek
Miles Austin(notes), Tony Romo, Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia Defense, Dallas Defense
Roy Williams, Felix Jones, LeSean McCoy
Sleeper: Martellus Bennett(notes)
Injuries: PHI RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) is likely to be questionable; PHI LB Chris Gocong(notes) (leg)could be questionable; DAL CB/KR Allen Rossum(notes) (hamstring) is expected to be out
Prediction: Philadelphia 27, Dallas 24
PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ DENVER BRONCOS

Key Stats: STEELERS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
BRONCOS – 3.4 YPC allowed | 181 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This is a strong Monday night offering, albeit one that might not be too appealing for fantasy owners. It has the makings of a classic, low-scoring defensive affair. Both teams are among the best in the league at shutting down the run. Den is also among the top 10 in the league against the pass (8th in YPG passing allowed). PIT has shown some weakness in aerial defense, but BAL demonstrated last week that you can shorten the field on QB Kyle Orton(notes) and dare him to be beat you with little consequence for that action. On offense, PIT has had trouble protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger and DEN has been very good (Elvis Dumervil(notes)) at hunting the QB down. Because of a strong secondary and a good push up front, DEN has done well to limit big pass plays. For that reason, I like WR Hines Ward(notes) more than the more vertically-inclined Santonio Holmes(notes) and Mike Wallace(notes) in this one. RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes) has played well in each of his four starts, but his upside is deflated this week. Backup RB Mewelde Moore(notes) could come into play as his ball security has been attractive in recent weeks and DEN also gives up a lot of receiving yardage to RBs.

Splitting carries, it would be hard for me to rely on either RB Knowshon Moreno(notes) or Correll Buckhalter(notes) this week in a brutal matchup like this. And QB Kyle Orton withdrew all his banked buzz at BAL last week. WR Brandon Marshall(notes) is certain to draw PIT CB Ike Taylor(notes) this week, but we saw MIN WR Sidney Rice(notes) prevail in that situation a couple weeks back. I like Taylor a lot, but ecause I expect DEN will throw more than usual due to ground-game malfunctions, Marshall is the one DEN player I still feel pretty good about.

Hines Ward, Brandon Marshall
Rashard Mendenhall, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller(notes), Ben Roethlisberger, Kyle Orton, Eddie Royal(notes),
Knowshon Moreno, Correll Buckhalter, Tony Scheffler(notes), Mike Wallace
Sleeper: Mewelde Moore, Jabar Gaffney(notes)
Injuries: PIT LB Lawrence Timmons(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; PIT DL Travis Kirschke(notes) (calf) could be questionable; DEN RT Ryan Harris(notes) (foot) is out;
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17, Denver 14
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