NFL Skinny: Week 16 preview

I'm back. After a week spent slogging through mounds of fantasy baseball content in an effort to get the 2010 Yahoo! Sports fantasy baseball magazine out the door, I can once again turn my attention to fantasy football. I apologize to those that typically look forward to the Skinny as part of their weekly fantasy football diet. Last week's hiatus, unfortunately, could not be avoided.

Alright, this week – championship week for many – I've taken a more conservative view towards start/sit decisions than usual. Now is not the time to be throwing darts. Simply put, fantasy owners need to roll with what they know. I wish you all the best of luck in your title tilts. And, of course, I wish you all a happy holidays! Peace on earth …

Note: Next week, the Skinny will feature the usual elements, but the "What to watch for" section will be very brief.

Week 16 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 16 matchup

Key Stats: BOLTS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 213 YPG passing allowed
TITANS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 265 YPG passing allowed

What to watch for: After flailing on the ground for the first several weeks of the season, SDG has turned things around dramatically in the running game, producing the most fantasy points among NFL backfields over the past six weeks. A big part of that is the versatility that RBs LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) and Darren Sproles(notes) bring to the table. The Chargers have produced the 3rd-most receiving FAN PPG from their RBs. This bodes well against a TEN defense that has allowed the 7th-most receiving yards to RBs and will be without LBs Keith Bulluck(notes) and David Thornton(notes). In addition to the usual passing game subjects (QB Philip Rivers(notes), WR Vincent Jackson(notes), TE Antonio Gates(notes)) being viable plays against a Titans defense that has conceded 300 passing yards to a QB seven times this season, Tomlinson (TDs in five of past six games) is a defensible lineup solution this Friday, as well. That said, my gut tells me San Diego's December win streak comes to an end this week, and I don't envision LT having a ton of upside – I consider him more of a chartreuse play as my expectations for him are something akin to what he produced last week (117 YFS, 0 TDs).

QB Vince Young(notes) is 10th among QBs in FAN PTS for the past five weeks – it certainly helps that he's been able to supplement his passing numbers with an average of 33 rushing yards in that span. If you are in a situation where you are considering Young this week, the matchup shouldn't be a deterrent. But I wouldn't mess around with the sticky WR situation now that WR Justin Gage(notes) is back in the mix. The Titans aren't a prolific passing offense, and there's been only one week (Week 4) the entire season in which two Titans WRs scored 10+ FAN PTS in the same game. Avoid the crapshoot at receiver if you can, but TE Bo Scaife(notes) is definitely worth considering. The Chargers have allowed 47+ yards to a TE eight times this season and Scaife is averaging 49 receiving yards in the past five weeks. Finally, I mention RB Chris Johnson only in passing because, well, he doesn't really need an explanation at this point.

Chris Johnson, Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson
LaDainian Tomlinson, Vince Young
Malcom Floyd(notes), Justin Gage, Nate Washington(notes), Kenny Britt(notes), San Diego defense, Tennessee defense
Sleeper: Bo Scaife, Darren Sproles
Injuries: TEN LBs Keith Bulluck (torn ACL) and David Thornton (shoulder) are out; SDG LB Kevin Burnett(notes) (neck) could be questionable; SDG C Scott Mruczkowski(notes) (ankle) is out; SDG DE Jacques Cesaire(notes) (elbow) could be questionable; SDG CB Quentin Jammer(notes) (knee) could be questionable;
Prediction: Tennessee 24, San Diego 21
Key Stats: BILLS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 184 YPG passing allowed
FALCONS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 255 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: This game pits the worst fantasy run defense (BUF) against the 10th-worst fantasy run defense (ATL). The Falcons have also been extremely generous to opposing passing games, having allowed a league-high 54 passes of 20+ yards. But the Bills' passing attack simply cannot be trusted in what is championship week for many leagues. BUF QB Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) has averaged just 121 passing yards in his past three games, and that includes an 86-yard effort against the lowly Chiefs in that span. Backup QB Brian Brohm(notes) is stepping into replace Fitzpatrick, who is out with an ankle injury, and there's now less reason to be optimistic about a turnaround in the passing game. BUF RB Fred Jackson(notes) is the only trustworthy fantasy play on the Bills' side, and he's a pretty good one at that. He's reached 112+ YFS in three of his past four games.

On the ATL side, we have to trust that the team has finally figured out that it should shut RB Michael Turner(notes) down for the remainder of the season. Assuming it comes to that conclusion, RB Jason Snelling(notes) becomes very intriguing given the likelihood of something in the neighborhood of 20 touches. I'm putting him down as a green light (below) with the assumption that Turner will sit. WR Roddy White(notes) has typically been matchup indifferent as the team's go-to guy, except when NYJ CB Darrelle Revis(notes) is facing him – we'll forgive any WR for coming up light in that faceoff. BUF has been the 2nd-most stingy pass defense in fantasy to opposing WRs and it hasn't allowed a 100-yard WR since Week 1. That said, I can't see White being held down for the 3rd consecutive week. Think 70 yards and a TD, like what Randy Moss(notes) did to BUF last week – if that works for you, start him. TE Tony Gonzalez(notes) has produced 50+ yards and/or a TD for eight consecutive games. You can't hope for much more than that from the position. Treat him as you normally would.

Fred Jackson, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Snelling
Matt Ryan(notes)
Brian Brohm, Terrell Owens(notes), Lee Evans(notes), Marshawn Lynch(notes), Shawn Nelson(notes), Michael Jenkins(notes), Buffalo defense, Atlanta defense
Sleeper: Jerious Norwood(notes)
Injuries: ATL RB Michael Turner (ankle) could be questionable; ATL FS Antoine Harris(notes) (torn PCL) is out; BUF OLB Bryan Scott(notes) (head) could be questionable; BUF QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (ankle) is out
Prediction: Atlanta 21, Buffalo 14
Key Stats: CHIEFS – 4.8 YPC allowed | 225 YPG passing allowed
BENGALS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 215 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: It's strange to say, but only TEN RB Chris Johnson has been a better fantasy back than Jamaal Charles(notes) over the past six weeks. Charles has scored in each game during that stretch and has rushed for at least 93 yards in four of those contests. This is a tough matchup against CIN, but he scored in arguably equally tough situations against PIT (Week 11) and DEN (Week 13) despite delivering less than 70 YFS. You have to assume that Charles will find a way to deliver 12+ FAN PTS. Before Week 15, KC WRs had combined for just 1 TD in the previous five weeks. The unit scored twice this past Sunday, but it faces the 4th-best defense in the league in terms of limiting FAN PTS by opposing WRs. I really wouldn't want to roll the dice with a Dwayne Bowe(notes) or Chris Chambers(notes) this week.

CIN is still fighting for a division title so you can expect it to hammer on the formula that has made it so successful to this point: the league's 3rd-most run heavy offense. Sure, WR Chad Ochocinco(notes) should get a healthy piece of what should be a fruitful pie, but don't be surprised if RB Cedric Benson(notes) runs it more than QB Carson Palmer(notes) throws it.

Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles, Chad Ochocinco, Cincinnati defense
Carson Palmer, Dwayne Bowe
Matt Cassel(notes), Chris Chambers, Mark Bradley(notes), Brad Cottam(notes), J.P Foschi, Laveranues Coles(notes), Andre Caldwell(notes), Kansas City defense
Sleeper: Larry Johnson(notes)
Injuries: KC DE Glenn Dorsey(notes) (knee) could be out; CIN RB Bernard Scott(notes) (turf toe) is doubtful;
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Kansas City 13
Key Stats: RAIDERS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 221 YPG passing allowed
BROWNS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 244 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Hey, what do you know … the Raiders are winners of three of their past five games. For fantasy purposes, the passing game can still be ignored – although, TE Zach Miller offers some street cred if he returns from his concussion injury this week. But the rushing attack has some bite to it – it's the 11th-most prolific fantasy backfield for the past three weeks and it faces a CLE defense that is the 3rd-most generous unit to opposing fantasy RBs in that span. Of course, the problem is that a different RB has led the team in fantasy points in each of those three contests. RB Michael Bush(notes) had the best game of the bunch, with 133 yards and a TD last week. But he followed up a 119-yard effort in Week 10 with a 4/27 line in Week 11 as head coach Tom Cable perfectly illustrated the "pulling-the-rug-out-from-under-you" technique that he has executed so masterfully with this backfield all year long. I'll put Bush and Justin Fargas(notes) down as sleepers this week. If there is some clarity by Sunday as to who will get the bulk of the carries, consider that RB a viable play this week. RB Darren McFadden(notes) seems settled into a 10-12 touch role, and he's still only teasing us with his talent – fly him under the caution flag.

Ok, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that CLE head coach Eric Mangini will let RB Jerome Harrison(notes) have his chance for an encore after posting the third-best single-game rushing total (286 yards) in NFL history in Week 15. If Mangini does limit him like he did in Week 5 (8 carries) after Harrison posted 121 rushing yards on 29 carries in Week 4, he deserves to be let go even before his expected dismissal at the end of the year. Same deal as OAK, gamble on the running game and forget about the passing game – especially with QB Derek Anderson(notes) back in the saddle behind center. Also, if your league includes special team points for the defense, CLE deserves consideration. Not only is OAK a generous offense for opposing defenses, but CLE now possesses the most prolific kick returner in NFL history after Josh Cribbs took two the distance in Week 15.

Jerome Harrison
Zach Miller, Darren McFadden, Cleveland defense
Derek Anderson, Chansi Stuckey(notes), Mohamed Massaquoi(notes), Evan Moore(notes), Oakland QB, Louis Murphy(notes), Chaz Scilens, Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes), Oakland defense
Sleeper: Michael Bush, Justin Fargas
Injuries: CLE QB Brady Quinn(notes) (foot) is out; Oak CB Chris Johnson (ankle) could be questionable; OAK RB Justin Fargas (knee) could be questionable; OAK QB Charlie Frye(notes) (concussion) could be questionable; OAK WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) could be questionable
Prediction: Cleveland 20, Oakland 18
Key Stats: HAWKS – 4.2 YPC allowed | 249 YPG passing allowed
PACK – 3.6 YPC allowed | 207 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: SEA is officially mailing it in at this point. The offense has been utterly lifeless in scoring a combined 14 points the past two weeks. And both the rushing and passing games have been completely unpredictable as to who will standout from a fantasy perspective, if anyone. The team has been bad enough on the road to begin with. With frustration and resignation now the prevailing sentiments surrounding this club, don't your let your fantasy hopes and dreams anywhere near this soul-sucking squad.

In the case of the Packers, it's the exact opposite of everything I just said about the Seahawks. You can feel good about starting all the key skill-position components of the GB offense. SEA is among the top 5 most generous defenses to fantasy QBs and WRs and it has allowed 40 percent more fantasy production to the TE position than the league average for the past five weeks – not that you need an excuse to start TE Jermichael Finley(notes), the No. 3 fantasy TE for the past three weeks. The Seahawks ground defense has remained a respectable unit despite the team's overall woes, but RB Ryan Grant(notes) always seems to find his way to 10-12 fantasy points regardless of the situation and he shouldn't have any issues reaching that benchmark given the likelihood that his team will be nursing a big lead.

Aaron Rodgers(notes), Donald Driver(notes), Greg Jennings(notes), Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Green Bay defense
John Carlson(notes)
Matt Hasselbeck(notes), Justin Forsett(notes), Julius Jones(notes), T.J. Houshmandzadeh(notes), Deion Branch(notes), Seattle defense
Sleeper: James Jones(notes)
Injuries: SEA WR Nate Burleson(notes) (ankle) is doubtful; SEA LB Aaron Curry(notes) (shoulder) is doubtful; SEA RB Julius Jones (ribs) could be questionable; GB NT Ryan Pickett(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable; GB LB Nick Barnett(notes) (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Seattle 17
Key Stats: TEXANS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 210 YPG passing allowed
FINS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 234 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: HOU proved once again last week that no matter what, its Steve Slaton(notes)-less backfield cannot be trusted. Head coach Gary Kubiak is as fickle as they come in terms of how he feels about his RBs from week to week, and we've seen him act hastily to negative in-game events from his RBs. This is the 2nd-worst rushing offense in the league so don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise by putting lipstick on this pig. Really, this is a QB Matt Schaub(notes)-to-WR Andre Johnson(notes) offense. Others have contributed noteworthy performances, but good luck trying to figure out the who-and-when pattern for anyone besides Schaub and Johnson. MIA represents a good matchup for both players. In fact, you could argue them both into the top 5 at their position this week.

On the MIA side of the ball, this is becoming a little less of a one-man (RB Ricky Williams(notes)) show, although Williams is still as valuable as ever (which is to say, he's an elite RB). QB Chad Henne(notes) is coming off his 2nd 300-yard passing performance in his past three games. Yes, he did throw 3 INTs last week, but clearly MIA, without much of a Wildcat threat to work with anymore, is looking to gain balance as it fights for a playoff spot. HOU is a middle-of-the-road pass defense and not the kind of slam-dunk opponent that you'd prefer if you're gambling on Henne. That said, he's no longer that top 20 outsider at the position, and there's certainly a case to be made for him this week if an owner is backed into a corner in deeper leagues. The same can't be said for the WR position. As I've said all year long, there's no way to predict who will step up in any given week among WRs Greg Camarillo(notes), Davone Bess(notes) and Brian Hartline(notes). Each has taken a turn in the spotlight in each of the past three weeks. If a 33 percent chance of success is something that appeals to you, by all means, pick one and start praying.

Ricky Williams, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson
Chad Henne, Anthony Fasano(notes), Miami defense
Ryan Moats(notes), Arian Foster(notes), Chris Brown, Kevin Walter(notes), Joel Dreessen(notes), Brian Hartline, Greg Camarillo, Davone Bess, Houston defense
Injuries: HOU TE Joel Dreessen (shoulder) could be questionable; HOU LT Duane Brown(notes) (knee) could be questionable
Prediction: Miami 24, Houston 21
Key Stats: PANTHERS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 193 YPG passing allowed
GIANTS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 207 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: CAR is the No. 3 rushing offense in the league and the NYG have been only decent at limiting opposing RBs in fantasy. But, RB DeAngelo Williams(notes) is dealing with an ankle injury that limited him to just 6 carries and 13 yards in Week 15. It's a huge letdown, but this may be where you have to get off the D-train. His status is unclear, but given that this is an ankle injury he's been dealing with for a while and the fact that he had to leave the first quarter of last week's game, it's not looking good. If Williams doesn't get at least one full practice in this week, complete with a positive review of his participation, I'd be inclined to steer clear. Obviously, it's a situation you'll need to watch closely. If Williams is sidelined, RB Jonathan Stewart(notes) becomes a top 20 play at the RB position. He stepped up mightily against a tough MIN defense with Williams out, rushing 25 times for 109 yards, while also scoring twice. QB Matt Moore(notes) was impressive while filling in for Jake Delhomme(notes) this past week (299 yards, 3 TDs) and the matchup makes pretty paper (NYG has allowed 3rd-most FAN PTS to QBs the past five weeks), but it's tough to hang championship hopes on one game. Consider him somewhere between 15-20 among QBs this week and use him only if you're forced to reach that deep. That said, WR Steve Smith has been no worse than solid in each of the past three weeks in which Moore has been at QB, so he's looking fairly safe.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) is the playmaker of the NYG backfield – he has twice as many plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards than Brandon Jacobs(notes) (8 to 4) despite 74 fewer touches. With Bradshaw averaging 15 touches, 95.5 YFS and scoring 3 TDS the past two weeks, he's the most desirable backfield play for NYG. But, that said, even Jacobs looks decent against a CAR defense allowing 4.6 YPC. I wonder if the Steve Smiths in this game will be motivated to outperform each other? The NYG version of Steve Smith has been better in fantasy this season, but he has the much tougher matchup this Sunday. CAR has allowed the 3rd-fewest FAN PTS to WRs and hasn't allowed a wideout to score a TD in the past six weeks. The Panthers have stunted several legit passing attacks this year and I'm running QB Eli Manning(notes), Smith and WR Hakeem Nicks(notes) all under the yellow flag this week. TE Kevin Boss(notes), though, makes some sense in this contest. I'm expecting him to post his third straight effort with at least 50 receiving yards.

Ahmad Bradshaw, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith (Car), Kevin Boss
Brandon Jacobs, DeAngelo Williams, Steve Smith (NYG), Hakeem Nicks, Eli Manning, Matt Moore, NY Giants defense
Mario Manningham(notes), Carolina TEs, Muhsin Muhammad(notes), Carolina defense
Injuries: CAR RB DeAngelo Williams (ankle) could be questionable; NYG G Rich Seubert(notes) (knee) could be questionable; NYG WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) could be questionable; NYG CB Corey Webster(notes) (knee) is out; NYG CB Aaron Ross(notes) (hamstring) is questionable
Prediction: Carolina 26, NY Giants 24
Key Stats: JAGS – 3.9 YPC allowed | 244 YPG passing allowed
PATS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 206 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: RB Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) holds a VIP pass to your starting lineup, which leaves QB David Garrard(notes), WR Mike Sims-Walker(notes) and TE Marcedes Lewis(notes) as the remaining JAC fantasy candidates that you can even consider. Garrard has exactly 1 TD pass in six road contests and the Patriots have allowed just 6 TD passes in seven home games – and only one visiting QB has topped 220 passing yards at Foxboro this season. I wouldn't touch Garrard with Brad Evans' lineup, and I think his struggles outside Jacksonville have to temper your enthusiasm for Sims-Walker. I'll have him ranked somewhere on the bubble of a WR2, so those with a stocked shelf at WR should think strongly about going a different direction. Lewis has been a steady stream of fair-to-middlin' yardage totals – between 30-70 yards for six straight weeks – but he hasn't scored since Week 4. You kind of have to be between a rock and a hard place to roll with him, although he's certainly not a last ditch option.

JAC is one of eight teams to allow under 4.0 YPC. But JAC has had a ton of issues in the secondary and you'd expect QB Tom Brady(notes) to be able to engineer the offense into the red zone often on Sunday. That should afford RB Laurence Maroney(notes) opportunities to find pay dirt for the eighth time in the past 10 games. Maroney is lower-end top 20 RB material this week, and you can expect even greener pastures for Brady and WRs Wes Welker(notes) and Randy Moss.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Laurence Maroney
Mike Sims-Walker, Marcedes Lewis, New England defense
David Garrard, Torry Holt(notes), Jacksonville defense
Injuries: NE RB Fred Taylor(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; NE T Nick Kaczur(notes) (shoulder) could be out; NE DT Vince Wilfork(notes) (foot) and DE Ty Warren(notes) (ankle) could be out; JAC LB Clint Ingram(notes) (shoulder) is out;
Prediction: New England 28, Jacksonville 20
Key Stats: BUCS – 4.7 YPC allowed | 204 YPG passing allowed
SAINTS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 240 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: These teams faced off in Week 11, and it went as expected – Saints were 38-7 victors. NO head coach Sean Payton is not currently planning to rest his guys despite having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That's good news for owners of those who typically march with Saints regulars every weekend. However, with the strong possibility that New Orleans will be able to coast in the second half, Brees could be handing off a lot (the Saints ran it 36 times in the last meeting) and Payton may substitute his receiving options liberally – it makes all aerial options beyond WR Marques Colston(notes) a bit slippery. The tenuous nature of RB Reggie Bush's(notes) health was on display last week as he left the game against Dallas just before halftime because of a tweaked hamstring. Besides the passing game, I think you can feel confident in RB Pierre Thomas(notes). But Bush and RB Mike Bell(notes) would scare me.

TE Kellen Winslow(notes) is the only Bucs player I'd lay any trust in this week. WR Antonio Bryant(notes) has piqued my interest because of the likelihood of TB having to throw it a lot. But that didn't much matter in the last meeting (3/40) and it's kind of hard to throw caution to the wind for a player that has recorded a combined 5 catches for 57 yards in the past two games. The TB backfield has become muddled again as RB Derrick Ward(notes) took 19 carries last week to Carnell Williams'(notes) 12. Playing from behind in the last meeting, no Buccaneers RB reached even 5 fantasy points against NO. Again, it's only Winslow for me.

Drew Brees(notes), Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, New Orleans defense, Kellen Winslow
Antonio Bryant, Robert Meachem(notes), David Thomas(notes), Devery Henderson(notes)
Mike Bell, Reggie Bush, Josh Freeman(notes), Carnell Williams, Derrick Ward, Maurice Stovall(notes), Tampa Bay defense
Sleeper: Lance Moore(notes)
Injuries: TB WR Michael Clayton(notes) (knee) is questionable; NO DT Sedrick Ellis(notes) (knee) could be out; NO CB Jabari Greer(notes) (sports hernia) is out; NO FS Usama Young(notes) (hip) could be questionable; NO RB Reggie Bush (hamstring) could be questionable; NO TE Jeremy Shockey(notes) (turf toe) could be out; NO CB Randall Gay(notes) could be questionable
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 13
Key Stats: BRONCOS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 178 YPG passing allowed
EAGLES – 3.9 YPC allowed | 214 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: PHI is a ball-hawking, attacking defense and you can't expect much more than the typical a dink-and-dunk approach from QB Kyle Orton(notes) in this contest. Of course, WR Brandon Marshall(notes) will still likely be able to make a fine living in that game plan. The other Bronco to consider in the passing game is TE Tony Scheffler(notes), who caught 2 passes for 48 yards last week. PHI is the 2nd-most generous defense to opposing TEs and it has allowed the most receptions to the position (94). RB Knowshon Moreno(notes) laid an egg last week against OAK (19 carries, 42 yards) and can't be embraced warmly this week against a much stouter run defense. If backfield partner RB Correll Buckhalter(notes) plays, I wouldn't be surprised if head coach Josh McDaniel gave him a good chunk of work against his former club.

It seems like I rank QB Donovan McNabb(notes) somewhere between 7-11 at QB every week. You get that 260-yard, 2 TD feeling from him most weeks. That said, there's been only one QB to surpass 260 yards in the air against DEN this season, and only three QBs have thrown for more than 1 TD against the Broncos. But there's just not enough QBs with anything close to the upside McNabb has with ultra-lethal WR DeSean Jackson(notes), the return of RB Brian Westbrook(notes) and a head coach in Andy Reid that can't get enough of the passing game. I'll have McNabb in my top 12 yet again. The running game is a tough spot to mine for gold this week with the likely return of RB Westbrook. FB Leonard Weaver(notes) was already stealing major carries from rookie RB LeSean McCoy(notes). Now all three backs could be vying for a piece of a very small pie – PHI has the 6th-fewest rush attempts in the league. This isn't likely to be a crazy offensive day for the Eagles, in general, and I'm kind of expecting a big defensive play or a big return from Jackson to help PHI get to the 26 points that I have them predicted for below.

Brandon Marshall, DeSean Jackson, Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia defense
Knowshon Moreno, Tony Scheffler, Brent Celek(notes)
Kyle Orton, Eddie Royal(notes), Jason Avant(notes), Jeremy Maclin(notes), LeSean McCoy, Brian Westbrook, Leonard Weaver, Denver defense
Sleeper: Correll Buckhalter
Injuries: PHI QB Michael Vick(notes) (quad) could be questionable; PHI WR Jeremy Maclin (foot) could be questionable; PHI SS Quintin Demps(notes) (ankle) and CB Sheldon Brown(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; PHI RB Brian Westbrook (concussion) is expected to play; DEN RB Correll Buckhalter (ankle) could be questionable; DEN FS Renaldo Hill(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; DEN WR Eddie Royal (neck) could be questionable;
Prediction: Philadelphia 26, Denver 17
Key Stats: RAVENS – 3.6 YPC allowed | 200 YPG passing allowed
STEELERS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 221 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: BAL beat PIT 20-17 a month ago when these teams last met. QB Joe Flacco(notes) had 289 passing yards and a TD in that contest, RB Ray Rice(notes) rushed 19 times for 88 yards and tacked on 67 receiving yards, and WRs Derrick Mason(notes) and Mark Clayton(notes) combined for 191 receiving yards and a TD. That was about a best-case scenario for Rice, as PIT has allowed the fewest FAN PTS to RBs. You obviously can't bench Rice the second time around, but Rice owners can't be pleased with the matchup – consider anything over 10-12 fantasy points gravy. Mason is the No. 8 fantasy WR over the past five weeks and given the questionable health of WRs Kelley Washington(notes) and Clayton, you have to figure he'll be heavily targeted on Sunday. TE Todd Heap(notes) scored twice last week, but it was his first time dancing on painted grass since Week 2. PIT has been strong against opposing TEs, as Heap owners know – he had just 1 catch for 6 yards in the last meeting. Play it cautious with Heap this week. I have a fairly good feeling about Flacco, but I've had that feeling before and been left wanting. The box-of-chocolates factor has me slotting him just on the outer edge of the QB1 bubble this week.

BAL is nearly as stingy as PIT is to RBs in fantasy, allowing the 4th-fewest FAN PTS. And like Rice, RB Rashard Mendenhall's(notes) 117 YFS in the last meeting is about as good as you could have hoped for. He's averaging under 3.5 YPC in his past two games and his best hope for success on Sunday is if he can supplement his rushing totals with a goal-line plunge or some healthy receiving yardage like he did last week (73 yards). Consider him a bubble RB2 in 12-team leagues. QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) didn't play in the last meeting, but he threw for more than 500 yards last week. If you own him, are you really going to sit him? BAL has some secondary issues with CB Ladarius Webb out for the year and FS Ed Reed(notes) questionable after missing the past three games. The Ravens have allowed a healthy 40 pass plays of 20+ yards and, especially if Reed is out again, WRs Santonio Holmes(notes) (74 yards, TD in last meeting) and Mike Wallace(notes) could have some nice deep opportunities in this one. WR Hines Ward(notes) is dealing with a troubling hamstring and I'd be very leery of putting my eggs in his basket this week. I'd have to see very encouraging late-week practice reports, otherwise I'd steer clear (and bump Wallace's value). TE Heath Miller(notes) is coming off a 100-yard game and, while I don't love him this week, I don't know of 12 TEs that I'd rank higher this week.

Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Santonio Holmes, Ben Roethlisberger
Rashard Mendenhall, Joe Flacco, Hines Ward, Pittsburgh defense, Baltimore defense, Todd Heap
Mark Clayton, Willis McGahee(notes)
Sleeper: Mike Wallace
Injuries: BAL WR Mark Clayton (knee) could be questionable; BAL LT Jared Gaither(notes) (foot, back) is questionable; BAL CB Lardarius Webb(notes) (torn ACL) is out; BAL FS Ed Reed (groin, foot) could be questionable; BAL WR Kelley Washington (ankle) could be questionable; PIT LB Greg Warren(notes) (knee) is out;
Prediction: Pittsburgh 21, Baltimore 17
Key Stats: RAMS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 233 YPG passing allowed
CARDS – 4.6 YPC allowed | 240 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: A QB hasn't scored more than 12 FAN PTS nor has a receiver topped the 6-point mark in the past three weeks. You know the drill here, it's RB Steven Jackson and "check, please."

ARI could have nothing to play for come kickoff on Sunday, but it sounds like they'll treat the game as business as usual. The main reason for that is the fact that the Cards have floundered on offense a bit in recent weeks, scoring just 9 points at San Francisco in Week 14 and needing two fourth quarter TDs to escape embarrassment in DET last week. Plan on being able to ride QB Kurt Warner(notes) and WRs Anquan Boldin(notes) and Larry Fitzgerald(notes) one final week, although it's possible they see some rest in the second half if the offense does kick into high gear early and leaves STL in the dust. At RB, Beanie Wells(notes) has become the man. He's looked really good these past two weeks, picking up a combined 189 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 32 carries. He's the clear lead back now, but RB Tim Hightower(notes) still gets goal-line looks and passing-down work and he just has a knack for finding the end zone, so consider him no worse than a cautionary tale in what is a very soft matchup.

Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells, Arizona defense, Steven Jackson
Tim Hightower
Ben Patrick(notes), St. Louis players (other than Steven Jackson) and defense
Sleeper: Steve Breaston(notes)
Injuries: STL CB Quincy Butler(notes) (knee, ankle) could be out; STL CB Ron Bartell(notes) (hip bruise) could be questionable; STL QB Kyle Boller(notes) (flu, thigh) could be out; STL RG John Greco(notes) (thumb) could be questionable; STL DE Leonard Little(notes) (knee) could be questionable; ARI LB Will Davis(notes) (knee) is out; ARI RT Mike Gandy(notes) (sports hernia) is out; ARI K Neil Rackers(notes) (groin) is out;
Prediction: Arizona 34, St. Louis 10
Key Stats: LIONS – 4.5 YPC allowed | 269 YPG passing allowed
49ERS – 3.7 YPC allowed | 248 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: WR Calvin Johnson's(notes) immense talent has not been able to rise above the loss of QB Matthew Stafford(notes) and RB Kevin Smith(notes). In his past two games, he's averaging 36 receiving yards. Stafford may end up being a game-time decision and, at this point, I might not want to hitch my wagon to MegaTron unless I know Stafford is playing. SF has been fairly strong against WRs in fantasy of late and I'd need the Stafford assurance to feel comfortable. RB Maurice Morris(notes) had 161 YFS and a TD filling for Smith last week against ARI. He broke a 64-yard TD run which was his first play from scrimmage of 20+ yards this season (76 total touches). In other words, don't expect Morris' effort last week to be a sign of things to come. On the road against a SF defense allowing just 3.7 YPC, I'd figure Morris for something in the neighborhood of 100 YFS and 0 TDs.

The matchup with DET is reason enough to start RB Frank Gore(notes) and TE Vernon Davis(notes), and at least moves QB Alex Smith and WRs Michael Crabtree(notes) and Josh Morgan(notes) into the starting conversation. Like Flacco (mentioned above), I have Smith on the QB1 cusp this week. If you own Crabtree in a 12-team league, you probably want to play him unless you're loaded at the position. And Morgan can make a strong case for top 36 consideration at the position this week, meaning he's a viable solution for 12-team leagues that start three wideouts.

Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Calvin Johnson, Michael Crabtree, San Francisco defense
Josh Morgan, Maurice Morris
Bryant Johnson(notes), Will Heller(notes), Detroit QB, Detroit defense,
Sleeper: x
Injuries: DET CB Phillip Buchanon(notes) (shoulder, knee) could be questionable; DET QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) could be questionable; SF K Joe Nedney(notes) (hamstring) could be questionable;
Prediction: San Francisco 27, Detroit 13
Key Stats: JETS – 3.8 YPC allowed | 160 YPG passing allowed
COLTS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 226 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Expect the NYJ to do what it does, which is pound away on the ground. The Jets are the most aggressive running team in the league and the only one with more than 500 attempts (506). For the first time since Week 3, RB Thomas Jones(notes) failed his fantasy owners last week, rushing for just 52 yards and 0 TDs on 19 carries against ATL. I wouldn't hold a grudge if you are a TJ owner. He's averaging 90 rushing yards and has scored 8 TDs in seven road games, and he's a good bet to hit on that average this week as the NYJ try to keep IND QB Peyton Manning(notes) off the field. The IND defense has coaxed the 2nd-most pass attempts in the league. It gives up a lot of short, underneath stuff while limiting deep balls – fewest pass plays of 20+ yards allowed (25). If I'm gambling on a Jets WR this week, I'd go with Jerricho Cotchery(notes), who is more suited to the short- and mid-range game, than Braylon Edwards(notes). And against a defense that has yielded just 2 TDs and the second-fewest yards (479) to TEs, I'm going to write off Dustin Keller(notes) as a bad idea.

IND is planning to stick with it's starters this week, but don't be surprised if it treats this game like it would the third game of the preseason – starters going hard for about 2-3 quarters. Clearly, the nothing-to-play-for cloud hangs over this unit and that's scary enough without considering that it'll be facing one of the top defenses in the league in the NYJ. If you own Peyton Manning, you probably don't also own another QB ranked among the top 10 in FAN PPG. In which case, I think you have to roll with Manning in hopes that he treats you to 2-3 TD passes in whatever amount of time he's afforded. I'm downgrading RB Joseph Addai(notes) to just outside the RB top 20 as I expect we'll start to see more of backup RB Mike Hart(notes) this week. WR Reggie Wayne(notes) draws CB Darrelle Revis this week and I'm so very glad I don't have a championship game on the line with a Wayne decision to make. If I did, I'd treat Wayne as having about 8-point upside and make my starter determinations from there. WR Austin Collie(notes) could turn out to be a nice play this week. His slot work could come in handy against the all-out blitzes of the Jets. And with WR Pierre Garcon(notes) banged up (hand), Collie may be asked to play it business-as-usual. For the record, Collie has scored in three straight games. With 5 TDs in his past two games, it would be tough to sit TE Dallas Clark(notes). The Jets are nearly as tough on TEs as Indy, but I throw a lot of what the defense has done previously out the window when it comes up against Peyton Manning. As long as it looks like Clark will play more than two quarters, I'll have him in my top 10 TEs for the week.

Peyton Manning, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, Thomas Jones, Jerricho Cotchery
Joseph Addai, Reggie Wayne, Braylon Edwards, Indianapolis defense, NY Jets defense
Dustin Keller, Shonn Greene(notes), Pierre Garcon
Sleeper: Mike Hart
Injuries: IND WR Pierre Garcon (hand); NYJ CB Dwight Lowery(notes) (ankle) could be questionable;
Prediction: Indianapolis 23, NY Jets 17
Key Stats: BOYS – 4.0 YPC allowed | 232 YPG passing allowed
SKINS – 4.1 YPC allowed | 188 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: QB Tony Romo(notes) is playing at an extremely high level right now. He's thrown for 300+ yards in three of his past four games and has 8 TD passes in that span. WAS has been tough against QBs for most of the year, but has been dissected by QBs Drew Brees and Eli Manning in recent weeks. I'd count Romo as a top 8-type play this week. WR Miles Austin(notes) has scored a TD in four straight and has 100+ yards in three of those games. His last dud performance, though, came against WAS in Week 11 (4/47/0). If you want to play the one-game history card over the fact that Austin is No. 3 fantasy WR despite not playing much the first month of the season, go ahead. But I'll side with the upside potential. RB Marion Barber(notes) scored twice last week and had his 2nd-best rushing effort of the season against WAS in the previous meeting (20/99). He's settled into a regular 15-20 touches, and I'm confidently slotting him as a RB2 this week. TE Jason Witten(notes) is going to get you at least 40 receiving yards, but he hasn't scored since Week 2. And Was has only allowed 2 TDs to TEs all season. Witten is a low-end TE1.

If I had Witten and WAS TE Fred Davis(notes), how could you not opt for Davis, who has 5 TDs in his past four games? He's been the 'Skins' biggest offensive weapon the past month. RB Quinton Ganther(notes) is a low-ceiling back who keeps salvaging his fantasy numbers with cheap touchdowns – three late-game one-yard plunges in the past two weeks. He's no better than yellow in my book this week. DAL has been middle-of-the-road against QBs in fantasy this season, and QB Jason Campbell(notes) was shut out of the end zone against the Cowboys in the previous meeting. Coming off a shaky performance in a loss to the NYG on Monday night, it's hard to think of Campbell as a top 15 QB play this week. Really, among WAS players, Davis is the only one I'd feel good about.

Tony Romo, Marion Barber, Miles Austin, Dallas defense
Jason Witten, Roy Williams, Jason Campbell, Santana Moss(notes), Quinton Ganther
Devin Thomas(notes), Washington defense
Sleeper: Felix Jones(notes)
Injuries: DAL RT Marc Columbo (leg) could be questionable; WAS WR Devin Thomas (ankle) could be questionable; WAS DT Albert Haynesworth(notes) (ankle) could be questionable; WAS DT Cornelius Griffin(notes) (shoulder) is questionable; WAS FB Mike Sellers(notes) (thigh) is questionable; WAS T Stephon Heyer(notes) (knee) could be questionable; WAS CB DeAngelo Hall(notes) (knee) is questionable
Prediction: Washington 20, Dallas 17
Key Stats: VIKES – 4.0 YPC allowed | 221 YPG passing allowed
BEARS – 4.4 YPC allowed | 202 YPG passing allowed
What to watch for: Anyone else sick of the Brett Favre(notes) benching attempt story yet? Well, there could more talk of benching Favre this week if NO wins and PHI loses prior to the Monday night contest, as that would solidify MIN as the No. 2 seed in the NFC. I expect PHI to win, however, so I'm going to rank Favre as if he'll need to play in full. Favre torched CHI for 393 passing yards and 3 TDs in the previous meeting with CHI in Week 12, a 36-10 route. Favre big-time receiving efforts from nearly his entire offensive support group in that game, but I'd probably stick with just WR Sidney Rice(notes) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) this time around. WR Percy Harvin(notes) is a medical mess right now (migraines, back). After missing the Week 14 contest, Harvin was limited to 1 catch for 10 yards last week. WR Bernard Berrian(notes) has been a combo plate of injury and inconsistency, but he's has three solid games in three attempts against his former squad so he's at least an inspiring cautionary tale this week.

Simply put, there's not one CHI offensive player I'd feel good about having in my championship lineup this week. This is a team that hasn't scored more than 21 points for seven straight weeks. If you have a Bears player in your lineup this week, you need to really ask yourself, "Why?"

Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Visanthe Shiancoe, Minnesota defense
Greg Olsen(notes), Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Devin Hester(notes)
Jay Cutler(notes), Matt Forte(notes), Earl Bennett(notes), Chicago defense
Sleeper: Chester Taylor(notes)
Injuries: MIN WR Percy Harvin (migraines, back) could be questionable; MIN DE Ray Edwards(notes) (back) could be questionable; MIN WR Bernard Berrian (hamstring) could be questionable; CHI DE Adewale Ogunleye(notes) (broken leg) is out;
Prediction: Minnesota 28, Chicago 20