NFL Skinny: Week 9 preview

It's the mid-point of the fantasy season for leagues that use Week 16 as the championship game. It's always a fun exercise, for conversational purposes, to survey the fantasy landscape halfway through the year and see which players are sinking fantasy teams, and which breakout players are giving fantasy owners an unexpected boost. So, with that in mind, here's my mid-season All-Breakout (the worse the ADP, the better) and All-Bust squads (non-injured players). Feel free to offer up your picks in the comments:

All-Breakout Team (Y! ADP): QB Cam Newton(notes) (99.5 – only drafted in 17% of leagues); RB Fred Jackson(notes) (98.2); RB Darren Sproles(notes) (109.6); WR Victor Cruz(notes) (undrafted); WR Steve Smith (90.2); TE Fred Davis(notes) (undrafted); Buffalo defense (undrafted)

All-Bust Team (Y! ADP): QB Philip Rivers(notes) (21.1); RB Chris Johnson (5.3); RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes) (8.8); WR Reggie Wayne(notes) (29.6); WR Chad Ochocinco(notes) (63.7); TE Jermichael Finley(notes) (43.6) – given how many people play in Yahoo! leagues and where these guys were drafted on average, it seems possible that at least one owner out there made these players his first six picks. I don't know, maybe the odds are too long, but I'd love to know if someone actually did put this squad together.

Alright, let's jump into the Week 9 matchups, Skinny-style (players in parentheses are chartreuse plays, stuck somewhere between a green and yellow light):

Total Week 9 green-light plays by position: 8 QBs; 19 RBs; 19 WRs; 13 TEs; 10 Defenses

Tarvaris Jackson(notes) has been excelling in a no-huddle system, which really started in the second half of the Atlanta game. The Dallas defense poses a tough challenge, though, and the Seahawks' O-line (most sacks allowed) could have extreme difficulty with DeMarcus Ware(notes). If he can stay healthy (pectoral issue), Jackson should produce decent passing yardage numbers, but it'll likely come with an ample combo of sacks and turnovers. As for Marshawn Lynch(notes) and the running game, forget about it. … No tem allows fewer than Seattle's 3.2 YPC allowed. This will be DeMarco Murray's(notes) stiffest test, by far, and it lands him in the caution zone. The Seahawks also performed admirably against the pass last week given that it was without two of its top three corners. That said, Dallas is much deeper in the passing game than Cincy and Seattle's secondary depth is going to face the ultimate test this week. Afforded time in the pocket – Seattle has the fourth-fewest sacks – Romo should carry at least a couple of his receiving options in to green-land.
Tony Romo(notes); Miles Austin(notes); (Dez Bryant(notes)); Jason Witten(notes); Dallas Defense
(Tarvaris Jackson); (DeMarco Murray); (Sidney Rice(notes))
Felix Jones(notes) (health ?); Marshawn Lynch; Mike Williams; Zach Miller; Seattle Defense
Laurent Robinson(notes); Doug Baldwin(notes)
Seahawks: QB Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral); WR Michael Williams (hamstring)
Cowboys: CB Mike Jenkins(notes) (hamstring); RB Felix Jones (ankle); LB Sean Lee(notes) (wrist)
Headline: Romo lets loose as Cowboys gun down Seahawks
Final score: Cowboys 27, Seahawks 17
You have to love this matchup for Michael Turner(notes) as the Colts allow the second-most rushing yards per game (144) and third-most rushing TDs (10). And, on paper, it's an equally good matchup for Matt Ryan(notes) and the Falcons passing attack – the Colts' 111.2 QB Rating Allowed is easily the highest in the league. The Colts are the only team allowing more than 30 points per game (31.5), so this is "Game on!" for all Falcons – including Julio Jones(notes), returning from a hammy injury. … Atlanta's defense has been very generous to opposing passing attacks, although CB Brent Grimes(notes) is legit in coverage and has kept down the yardage totals of some worthy No. 1 WR types. On the opposite side of Grimes is Dunta Robinson(notes), one of the most flammable corners in the league. He's a big reason Atlanta has allowed 28 pass plays of 20-plus yards – that and an anemic pass rush. Count on Curtis Painter(notes) taking a few deep shots to Pierre Garcon(notes) when he's lined up opposite Robinson. Atlanta is allowing just 4.0 yards per carry and the likely return of Joseph Addai(notes) from a hammy injury this week could very well mean a three-way split of the touches in the Colts backfield with Addai, Delone Carter(notes) and Donald Brown(notes). If it sounds like Addai is having a great week of practice and the vibe feels like he'll be back in a full lead role, I'd roll the dice with him. But I don't expect that to be the case.
Matt Ryan; Michael Turner; Roddy White(notes); (Julio Jones); Pierre Garcon; Tony Gonzalez(notes)
Curtis Painter; Joseph Addai; (Reggie Wayne); (Dallas Clark(notes)); Atlanta Defense
Delone Carter; Indianapolis Defense
Austin Collie(notes); Donald Brown
Falcons: WR Julio Jones (hamstring)
Colts: RB Joseph Addai (hamstring); LT Anthony Castonzo(notes) (ankle)
Headline: Turner burns Colts for two scores in Falcons win
Final score: Falcons 31, Colts 20
In their past six games, only one WR has scored against the Jets. The Jets have also allowed a league-low 56 receptions to WR. This is obviously a very tough matchup for Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes), who will need to rely heavily on RBs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller(notes) as check-downs in this game, something Fitzpatrick failed to do against the Jets last season. Jackson is the key to the Bills' success as all three of the Jets' losses have come when they have allowed big days to opposing RBs (see Darren McFadden(notes), Ray Rice(notes) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes)). … Discount what Buffalo did against the run last week vs. Washington, as the Redskins were forced to abandon the run (yet again) as they trailed early. The Bills are giving up 4.6 yards per carry and this was a matchup Jets RBs relished last year – LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) went for 19/133/2 and Shonn Greene(notes) went for 22/117 in Week 4 and Joe McKnight(notes) in a rest-the-starters Week 17 went for 32/158 (to help me win my most important fantasy league). In the passing game, the Bills are particularly vulnerable to tight ends, as a TE has gone for 70-plus yards in four of the Bills' past five games – Dustin Keller(notes), who has 50-plus yards in each of his past two games, looks like a safe bet. I expect the Jets to play it a bit conservative, so I'm not hyping up Mark Sanchez(notes) and his receivers too much. Maybe Santonio Holmes(notes) finds his way to 70-80 yards and maybe Plaxico Burress(notes), fifth among WRs in red-zone targets, makes an appearance at the goal line and splashes pay dirt, but I wouldn't plan on getting rich from either wideout.
Fred Jackson; Shonn Greene; (Santonio Holmes); Dustin Keller; (Buffalo Defense)
(Ryan Fitzpatrick); (Mark Sanchez); Stevie Johnson(notes); Plaxico Burress; NY Jets Defense
David Nelson(notes); Scott Chandler(notes)
LaDainian Tomlinson
Jets: LB David Harris(notes) (ankle)
Bills: LT Demetrius Bell(notes) (shoulder); WR Donald Jones(notes) (ankle);
Headline: Fred Jackson fabulous, Fitzpatrick clutch as Bills hold on to AFC East lead
Final score: Bills 23, Jets 21
Colt McCoy(notes) is averaging more pass attempts per game than any QB in the league yet is only 19th among QBs in fantasy PPG. And Houston is excellent at defending tight ends, McCoy's preferred position to target. Greg Little(notes) is also seeing a lot of looks from McCoy since moving into the starting lineup, but the production has been modest and Little will likely see a lot of Johnathan Joseph(notes), one of the best cover corners in the league. I would steer clear of the Browns passing game altogether. As for the running game, that all depends on the injury status of Peyton Hillis(notes) (hammy). If Hillis sits again, third-stringer Chris Ogbonnaya(notes) would see a heavy workload – Montario Hardesty(notes) is out with a calf tear. There's nothing fancy about Ogbonnaya's game, but he has proven to be an adept receiver (5 receptions in each of the past two games) and that would serve him well in a likely scenario where the Browns are playing scoreboard catch-up. The same holds true for Hillis, if he plays. … Early reports are that Andre Johnson's(notes) availability for this game won't be known until late in the week. He's still working to gain acceleration on that mostly-healed hamstring, and he'll need it against Cleveland corner Joe Haden(notes). The combo of the injury and Haden make Johnson at least a cautionary tale for Week 9. Matt Schaub(notes) ranks outside the top 20 in pass attempts per game, limiting his fantasy upside to fringe starter range. The Browns have been the third-toughest against QBs in fantasy, so you can't really hope for top 10 QB production from Schaub this week, even with Johnson in tow. As usual, count on a lot of Arian Foster(notes) with a bit of Ben Tate(notes) sprinkled in.
Arian Foster; Owen Daniels(notes); Houston Defense
Matt Schaub; Colt McCoy; (Peyton Hillis); (Andre Johnson); Kevin Walter(notes); Benjamin Watson(notes)
Jacoby Jones(notes); Greg Little; Mohammed Massaquoi; Cleveland Defense
Chris Ogbonnaya; Ben Tate; Joel Dreessen(notes)
Browns: RB Peyton Hillis (hamstring); RB Montario Hardesty (calf); LB Chris Gocong(notes) (neck); CB Dimitri Patterson(notes) (knee)
Texans: WR Andre Johnson (hamstring); LB Darryl Sharpton(notes) (quad)
Headline: Foster too much for Browns as Texans wins third straight
Final score: Texans 24, Browns 13
The 49ers are all about Frank Gore(notes) and Vernon Davis(notes) on offense, but Michael Crabtree(notes) has shown some signs of life in the past two games – combined 24 targets, 14 receptions, 131 yards and a TD. The Redskins have solid against opposing WRs, but their secondary is pretty banged up, so Crabtree has a chance to keep his viability going. … Thankfully the matchup for the Redskins against the 49ers' top-ranked run defense begs fantasy owners to sit all Washington RBs. And I'm sure Ryan Torain(notes) owners, in particular, are happy to oblige. If the Redskins are to have success moving the ball, it's going to have to be through the air, which proved problematic against Buffalo last week without Santana Moss(notes) and with John Beck(notes) in place of Rex Grossman(notes) at QB. Beck took nine sacks last week and, if I'm Mike Shanahan, I would go back to Grossman, who is more decisive (even if the decisions aren't always good ones) and was 3-2 as a starter. But Beck is likely to start again and that puts all members of the 'Skins passing game in question, even breakout star Fred Davis, who is dealing with a sprained ankle. The Washington defense will have to step up in a big way for the Redskins to pull this one out.
Frank Gore; Vernon Davis; San Francisco Defense
Alex Smith; Ryan Torain; (Michael Crabtree); Braylon Edwards(notes); Jabar Gaffney(notes); (Fred Davis); Washington Defense
John Beck; Anthony Armstrong(notes)
None of significance
Niners: DE Ray McDonald(notes) (hamstring); TE Vernon Davis (arm)
Redskins: TE Fred Davis (ankle); RB Tashard Choice(notes) (hamstring)
Headline: 'Skins offense remains stuck in the mud as 49ers move to 7-1
Final score: Niners 22, Redskins 16
LeGarrette Blount(notes) hopes to return from his knee injury this week and, assuming he can, you have to love his matchup as the Saints have allowed 5.8 YPC to RBs. Three weeks back, Bucs RB Earnest Graham(notes) rushed for 109 yards on 17 carries in a 26-20 loss to the Saints. Keeping the score close will be crucial as the Saints have had the fourth-fewest carries against them as the Saints typically secure a lead and force teams to the pass. The Saints, despite some rough patches early in the season, are much better against the pass. This was the toughest unit for opposing WRs to score against last season and it has mostly the same personnel from last year, so I've been waiting for the Saints to start showing strong in that department, and they have – 11.5 percent less fantasy points allowed to QBs over the past five weeks than the league average. Josh Freeman(notes) threw for 303 yards and 2 TDs in this matchup in Week 6 as he spread the ball around Drew Brees(notes)-style. Going into New Orleans this week, I'd expect something less, like 250 yards and a TD pass. … After an embarrassing loss in St. Louis last week, you have to expect the Saints to be full-throttle in this contest. Drew Brees threw for 383 yards in the last meeting, and Darren Sproles, Marques Colston(notes) and Jimmy Graham(notes) combined for 22 receptions and 288 receiving yards. The Bucs, by the numbers, are generous to all the skill positions in fantasy. Those players remain your safest bets. If Mark Ingram(notes) misses another week with his bruised heel, Pierre Thomas(notes) would have intrigue in a game where the Saints wouldn't likely have to abandon the run as they did last week.
Drew Brees; LeGarrette Blount; Darren Sproles; Marques Colston; Jimmy Graham
Josh Freeman; (Pierre Thomas); (Mike Williams); Lance Moore(notes); Arrelious Benn(notes); (Kellen Winslow(notes)); New Orleans Defense
Devery Henderson(notes); Robert Meachem(notes); Tampa Bay Defense
Dezmon Briscoe(notes)
Bucs: RB LeGarrette Blount (knee); DL Gerald McCoy(notes) (ankle)
Saints: OT Charles Brown(notes) (knee)
Headline: Saints survive big return effort from Blount to get back in the win column
Final score: Saints 30, Bucs 23
In the past five weeks with Matt Moore(notes) behind center, Miami ranks 31st in fantasy in QB and WR point production. That's damning for Brandon Marshall(notes), as is the presence of Brandon Flowers(notes) in the Chiefs secondary – according to Pro Football Focus, Flowers is a top-4 cover corner. I'm probably Marshall's biggest fan, and I play in mostly PPR leagues, so I'm always willing to play him. But he hasn't scored since Week 2 and has topped 61 yards only once since then, so I can understand benching him this week in a default scoring format. Regardless of whether Daniel Thomas(notes) returns from a hammy injury this week, expect Reggie Bush(notes) to once again play a major role in the Dolphins' offense after he rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries last week against the Giants. Bush also caught four passes, his most receptions since he caught 10 balls in Week 1. The Chiefs have given up healthy production to RBs in the passing game, so that is something the Dolphins will likely look to exploit. … Jackie Battle(notes) carried 10 times combined in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Chargers in Week 8. You can see that he's the main man when the game is close or the team is holding a lead. Miami was able to jump out to an early lead against the Giants last week but that was a rarity for an offense that hasn't topped 17 points since Week 1. Battle should see a heavy workload with the Chiefs not likely to be in scoreboard scramble mode. And that could make Matt Cassel(notes) more of a game manager despite a nice looking matchup for the passing game – Miami is one of three teams allowing a QB Rating of more than 100 (103.1). Cassel is still a solid candidate to throw 2-3 scoring strikes as the Chiefs should be able to get into the red zone a few times. But it could be Battle and the Chiefs ability to thwart the Miami offense that are the biggest factors in the Chiefs' advantageous field position, not a pass-heavy approach. That said, I expect Cassel's WRs to be productive even if the opportunities are curbed – Miami has allowed the fifth-most pass plays of 20-plus yards.
(Matt Cassel); Jackie Battle; (Reggie Bush); Dwayne Bowe(notes); Kansas City Defense
Daniel Thomas (health ?); (Brandon Marshall); Steve Breaston(notes); Davone Bess(notes)
Matt Moore; Anthony Fasano(notes); Kansas City tight ends; Miami Defense
Jonathan Baldwin(notes); Dexter McCluster(notes)
Dolphins: C Mike Pouncey(notes) (neck)
Chiefs: SS Jon McGraw(notes) (shoulder)
Headline: Chiefs killer Bs – Battle, Bowe, Baldwin – score as KC wins fifth straight
Final score: Chiefs 24, Dolphins 13
Tim Tebow(notes) has a 97.5 QB Rating in the fourth quarter this season, but is no higher than 56.7 in any other period. He's been so bad through two games as a starter that my concern is that head coach John Fox isn't going to wait until the fourth quarter of Week 9 if he sees more of the same from Tebow – I could see Fox pulling Tebow if things get ugly early. Tebow did finish as a top 7 QB in Week 15 of '10 against the Raiders in what was his first NFL start, so I can understand taking a chance on him rebounding this week. But there are at least a dozen QBs I'd feel better about this week. The Denver running game, with a lot of Knowshon Moreno(notes) and a little Lance Ball(notes), ran well last week. The Raiders allow the fourth-most fantasy points per game to RBs, but they are strong up the middle with Richard Seymour(notes) and Tommy Kelly(notes). Backs that can work the edges and the passing game have exploited Oakland, which makes Moreno (in the passing game) more interesting than the "bowling" Ball, or Willis McGahee(notes), who has suggested he'll try to return this week from a hand injury. … Oakland hopes to have Darren McFadden, nursing a foot injury, this week. But he's definitely a question mark. He's absolutely abused Denver in his career, including 150 rushing yards against the Broncos in Week 1. Run-DMC owners will have to say their prayers this week for his health. Carson Palmer(notes) will make his first start for the Raiders and he should have benefitted from the bye week in regards to learning the offense – he worked out with the Raider receiver without coaches to circumvent the bye-week practice restrictions. Denver allows the second-most fantasy PPG to QBs, so Palmer is definitely a player of interest this week. Listen to reports about his practices this week to get a sense of how he's progressing before committing to him. But if things sound positive, he's a justifiable play. Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) has topped 80 yards in four straight games. Given the matchup, he's a rock-solid option this week. Finally, here's a Hail Mary to consider: Marcel Reese, who has scored in each of his three meetings with Denver and is returning this week from an ankle injury.
Darren McFadden (health ?); (Knowshon Moreno); Darrius Heyward-Bey; Oakland Defense
(Carson Palmer); (Tim Tebow); (Michael Bush(notes)); Eric Decker(notes); Jacoby Ford(notes); Daniel Fells(notes); Denver Defense
Demaryius Thomas(notes); Eddie Royal(notes); Kevin Boss(notes)
Marcel Reese
Broncos: RB Willis McGahee (hand); FS Quinton Carter(notes) (head)
Raiders: RB Darren McFadden (foot); TE Kevin Boss (concussion)
Headline: Tebow plays better, but not good enough as Broncos fall in Oakland
Final score: Raiders 23, Broncos 17
The Titans have been a sorry lot against the run in recent weeks, allowing 5.1 YPC to RBs in their past three games. Cedric Benson(notes) should get plenty of opportunities in his return from suspension. As for the passing game, the Titans have done a good job of limiting most of the opposing QBs they've faced – if not for a 5-TD performance by Ben Roethlisberger(notes), Tennessee would rank among the elite against opposing QBs. I wouldn't sit A.J. Green(notes) against anyone at this point, but no WR has topped 82 yards against Tennessee and only two receivers have scored more than seven fantasy points against the Titans (Mike Wallace(notes) and Hines Ward(notes)). So owners should know that even Green is a perilous play this week. Certainly Andy Dalton(notes) and Jerome Simpson(notes) are avoidable. As for Jermaine Gresham(notes), tight ends have been the biggest problem for the Titans in the passing game. In their past four games, six tight ends have either topped 70 receiving yards or scored a TD against the Titans. Gresham missed Week 8 with a hamstring injury, but he's expected to be all good this week. … We've reached the point where Chris Johnson absolutely has to be benched. In failing in a sweet opportunity last week against Indy, Johnson looked completely disconnected to the Titans offense. He is ill-suited an unwilling to fight for 2-3 yards when no daylight is offered, choosing instead to dance around looking for a big gainer. Javon Ringer(notes) might be the better play in this offense going forward, but neither back is viable this week against a tough Bengals run defense. The Bengals also limit the opposition to just 212 yards per game, so there's not a lot to get excited about for in the Titans' passing game either – maybe Jared Cook(notes), as the Bengals have been burned a few times by the TE position.
Cedric Benson; (A.J. Green); Jermaine Gresham; (Jared Cook)
Andy Dalton; Matt Hasselbeck(notes); Chris Johnson; Javon Ringer; Nate Washington(notes); Damian Williams(notes); Cincinnati Defense; Tennessee Defense
Jerome Simpson
Bernard Scott(notes)
Bengals: TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring); CB Adam Jones(notes) (hamstring)
Titans: None of significance
Headline: Benson, Bengals grind out fifth straight victory
Final score: Bengals 16, Titans 13
The Giants employ the fourth-most lucrative WR corps in fantasy and face the most generous fantasy pass defense in the Patriots. Hakeem Nicks(notes) avoided serious damage to his injured hamstring in Week 8 and it looks like he has a good shot to play on Sunday. Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham(notes) were each targeted nine times in last week's win over the Dolphins. Manningham is seeing steady looks, but Nicks and Cruz are the real playmakers of this trio and the two most bankable. Cruz is the No. 3 fantasy WR for the past six weeks and Nicks clocks in at No. 9. But in this matchup, all three are viable – and, of course, Eli Manning(notes), too. After returning from a knee injury last week, and complaining about his role in the process, Brandon Jacobs(notes) carried just four times against the Dolphins. The game situation (the Giants trailed most of the way) and Jacobs' three-week layoff likely contributed to his meager workload. He should see more opportunities this week, though Ahmad Bradshaw's(notes) versatility is more conducive to this matchup than a straight-liner like Jacobs. The Pats have allowed the most receiving yards to RBs, which is an area that Bradshaw excels in. Put Bradshaw down for at least 100 yards from scrimmage in this one. … Tom Brady(notes) seems to be wearing out his welcome in the pocket of late. He's held on to the ball way too long too often of late, and he's paying the price – 10 sacks in his past three games after just 4 sacks in his first four games. Brady as going to have to come up with a different approach as the Giants lead the league with 26 sacks. The history card favors Wes Welker(notes) in this matchup – he caught 11 passes in each of his two career meetings, although both were in '07 (one being the Super Bowl). I suspect, though, that this is a game where the tight ends are the real heroes of the passing game. The Giants have been middle-of-the-pack in fantasy against the position, but they haven't faced many true threats. In fact, Fred Davis is the only tight end that ranks in the top 20 at the position in receiving yards to face the Giants, and he went for 5/105 in that contest. As for the running game, Kevin Faulk(notes) muddled things up, returning last week and leading Patriots backs in rushes (6) and touches (11) – Perhaps BenJarvus Green-Ellis' toe injury was more bothersome than we were led to believe. BJGE and Faulk are the two best options in the Pats backfield, but Danny Woodhead(notes) or Stevan Ridley(notes) could rear their heads at any time. This is very unclear situation, one best avoided this week, if possible.
Eli Manning; Tom Brady; Ahmad Bradshaw; Hakeem Nicks (health ?); Victor Cruz; Wes Welker; Aaron Hernandez(notes); Rob Gronkowski(notes);
Brandon Jacobs; BenJarvus Green-Ellis; (Deion Branch(notes)); (Mario Manningham); Jake Ballard(notes); NY Giants Defense
New England Defense
Kevin Faulk
Giants: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot); WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring); CB Justin Tryon(notes) (arm)
Patriots: DE Shaun Ellis(notes) (ribs); RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe)
Headline: Brady leans on vaunted tight end duo in Pats narrow victory over Giants
Final score: Patriots 34, Giants 31
The Rams rank just ahead of the Jaguars at the bottom of the league in scoring offense and even in a surprise Week 8 31-point breakout effort, only two Rams – Steven Jackson and Brandon Lloyd(notes) – emerged with productive fantasy tallies. Because the opponent is Arizona, a team that allows the fourth-most fantasy points to WRs, you could make a case for slotman Greg Salas(notes), but he doesn't offer much intrigue in non-PPR formats. I'm expecting Sam Bradford(notes) to sit one more week and I remain committed to only S-Jax and Lloyd this week for the Rams. … The Rams are the most generous run defense in fantasy in action in Week 9 – only Carolina is worse. If Beanie Wells(notes) can grind out a 22/83/1 line against the second-toughest fantasy run defense (Baltimore) last week, you got to think he'll be equally as good this week even if his carries are limited because of a nagging knee issue that Wells expects to be an issue the rest of the season. It's no secret that the Rams also give up healthy production to WRs, and this easily is Larry Fitzgerald's(notes) best matchup to date, as he's faced the seventh-toughest schedule in fantasy for WRs, thus far (and is still managing a 86 yards per game, the fourth-best rate of his career). Fitzgerald should have a big game, and Early Doucet(notes) can make his mark as he usually does, taking advantage of the attention paid Fitzgerald to the tune of top 30 fantasy production at the WR position. Of course, as bad as Kevin Kolb(notes) has looked, all that Cardinal WR propaganda I just spewed looks a bit more dicey if Kolb can't play because of a turf toe injury. Backup John Skelton(notes) never topped 200 yards or threw for more than 1 TD in his four starts last season.
Steven Jackson; Beanie Wells; Larry Fitzgerald; Brandon Lloyd
(Kevin Kolb – health ?); A.J. Feeley(notes); (Early Doucet); (Greg Salas); St. Louis Defense; Arizona Defense
Brandon Gibson(notes); Todd Heap(notes); Lance Kendricks(notes)
LaRod Stephens-Howling(notes)
Rams: QB Sam Bradford (ankle); WR Danario Alexander(notes) (hamstring); WR Mark Clayton(notes) (Achilles)
Cards: QB Kevin Kolb (foot); RB Beanie Wells (knee)
Headline: Cardinals go to the Wells for first win since Week 1
Final score: Cardinals 20, Rams 17
Aaron Rodgers(notes), Greg Jennings(notes) and Jermichael Finley are ever-green plays for the Packers, and this could be the week we finally see the best of what Finley has to offer as the Chargers have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends despite having faced a top 10 fantasy tight end in only one of seven games – of course, that was the Patriots, who served up a Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez double whammy in that contest. This isn't a great matchup for the Packers RBs, but when there's an Aaron Rodgers to contend with, the defense tends to make him the focus. That certainly helps the running game and, James Starks(notes), who has at least a dozen touches in every game, is a back I'd bank on for at least 60-70 yards from scrimmage. Ryan Grant(notes) has just 25 carries for 72 yards combined in his past three games. I wouldn't be surprised if the Packers look to marginalize his role a bit more going forward. … Philip Rivers ranks just 20th among QBs in fantasy PPG from Week 3 to present. He doesn't look at all like the elite QB of past seasons. Bad decisions have become commonplace and, although Green Bay has given up a lot of production in fantasy to QBs, the Packers are an opportunistic defense that will take advantage of the miscues of opposing QBs. Rivers leads all QBs in turnovers (11 INTs, 3 fumbles lost) and the Packers are third in the league in turnovers forced (13 INTs, 3 fumbles recovered). Like Chris Johnson at RB, Rivers has become the cautionary tale at QB. If a Rivers owner has a viable backup, you have to think hard about sitting Rivers down. I expect Rivers to throw for 300-plus yards, but he could finish with a 1:3 TD-to-INT ratio. I've been one of Vincent Jackson's(notes) biggest naysayers this season, and I've been vindicated to this point. He's an incomplete receiver. He catches a lousy percentage of his targets (just 7 of his past 22) and he's not a good route runner. Inconsistency is the stamp on his career. Of course, by saying all that, I've just guaranteed his success in Week 9. You're welcome, V-Jax owners. This isn't a bad matchup for the Chargers ground game as the Packers allow 4.6 YPC and give up a lot of production to RBs in the passing game – and only the Saints have produced more fantasy points from their RBs in the passing game than the Chargers. Unfortunately, it's not known who the Chargers will have available at RB with Ryan Mathews(notes), Mike Tolbert(notes) and Curtis Brinkley(notes) all dealing with health issues. The early indications are that Tolbert may be the only one active on Sunday. Stay tuned.
Aaron Rodgers; (Mike Tolbert – health ?); Greg Jennings; Jermichael Finley; Antonio Gates(notes); Green Bay Defense
(Philip Rivers); (James Starks); (Vincent Jackson); (Malcom Floyd(notes)); Jordy Nelson(notes); James Jones(notes)
Ryan Grant; San Diego Defense
Jacob Hester(notes) (if none, or only one, of the other three injured backs play)
Packers: RB Alex Green(notes) (knee)
Chargers: RB Ryan Mathews (groin); RB Curtis Brinkley (concussion); RB Mike Tolbert (hamstring)
Headline: Behind two Finley TDs, Packers move to 5-1 following bye in McCarthy era
Final score: Packers 28, Chargers 24
Baltimore rolled to a 35-7 victory against Pittsburgh in Week 1, but that was highly unusual for this matchup as neither team had scored more than 23 points in the previous six meetings. Pittsburgh hasn't allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points since that contest, even holding the Patriots to 17 points last week. In a grudge match at Pittsburgh, I'd be surprised if this unimaginative Ravens offense was able to score more than two touchdowns. Count on Ray Rice, who typically finds yardage or pay dirt against the Steelers, to do his part. But I'd be leery of the Joe Flacco(notes)-led passing game, even with the Steelers missing several key players on defense. The Steelers have been dealing with injuries all year but still have allowed the fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards and have limited WRs to the fewest fantasy PPG. The Steelers have clamped down on Wes Welker and Larry Fitzgerald the past two weeks, and they can do the same to Anquan Boldin(notes). Owners of Ed Dickson(notes), who went 5/59/1 against the Steelers in Week 1 and posted a 6/46 line last week, can make a case for Dickson's viability. … Rashard Mendenhall had some nice runs against the Patriots last week, but his 70 rushing yards in that contest ranked as his second-best tally of the season, not exactly a ringing endorsement for someone about to face the second-best fantasy run defense, one that held him to 45 rushing yards in Week 1. Even in a bye week, I'd try hard to avoid having to play Mendenhall. I do think that Ben Roethlisberger will step up in a big way in this contest, though. Even under heavy pressure, he hasn't thrown more than one INT since the Week 1 3-INT performance against the Ravens. And Big Ben now has a high comfort level with Antonio Brown(notes), Emmanuel Sanders(notes) and Heath Miller(notes), in addition to Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. That's a lot for any defense to contend with, although Sanders will likely miss the game with a knee injury. The Steelers will have to come up with a way to mitigate Terrell Suggs(notes), who has 10.5 sacks in his past four meetings with the Steelers. But, as long as he doesn't knock Big Ben out of the game, I expect the Steelers to move the ball through the air.
Ben Roethlisberger; Ray Rice; Mike Wallace; Pittsburgh Defense; Baltimore Defense
Joe Flacco; Rashard Mendenhall; Antonio Brown; Emmanuel Sanders; Anquan Boldin; (Ed Dickson)
Torrey Smith(notes); Heath Miller
Dennis Pitta(notes)
Ravens: None of significance
Steelers: LB LaMarr Woodley(notes) (hamstring); LB James Harrison(notes) (eye); CB Ike Taylor(notes) (shoulder); WR Emmanuel Sanders (knee); WR Hines Ward (ankle)
Headline: Steelers avenge Week 1 loss to Ravens with big efforts from Big Ben and injury-riddled defense
Final score: Steelers 21, Ravens 20
Philly is finally starting to click in pass defense, and that should be problematic for Jay Cutler(notes) in the national spotlight. Cutler's receivers are sorely overmatched against the talent the Philly secondary brings to the table. If ever there was a game where Matt Forte’s(notes) talents needed to be heavily leaned upon, this is it. I'm sure Philly knows that, too, but Forte is still the only Bears player I'd chance in this one. The Eagles have had at least three sacks in each home game this season and on Monday night against one of the worst pass-protecting lines in the league, they could get 6-7 sacks and force a few turnovers. … Chicago can't be described as a shut-down defense against any of the skill positions, which means you forge ahead with the usual suspects in the Philly offense. The Bears have given up plenty of big plays to big-play types like Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson(notes) and Devery Henderson, so don't be surprised if we finally see a deep connection with DeSean Jackson(notes) in this one – D-Jax has a catch of 57-plus yards in three of his four career games on Monday night. And given that Brent Celek(notes) has averaged 68 yards and has scored a TD in each of his past two games, owners should feel welcome to throw him into the starting mix against the most generous defense to tight ends in fantasy.
Michael Vick(notes); Matt Forte; LeSean McCoy(notes); DeSean Jackson; (Jeremy Maclin(notes)); Brent Celek; Philadelphia Defense
Jay Cutler; Roy Williams; Chicago Defense
Devin Hester(notes); Johnny Knox(notes); Chicago tight ends
Marion Barber(notes); Jason Avant(notes); Earl Bennett(notes)
Bears: RT Gabe Carimi(notes) (knee); WR Earl Bennett (chest)
Eagles: LB Akeem Jordan(notes) (concussion)
Headline: Vick, D-Jax put on show in Monday night romp over the Bears
Final score: Eagles 34, Bears 20