We’re getting close to the mid-point of many fantasy leagues and that means that every win counts. The playoff picture is going to start to take shape here and you’ll be able to tell over these next couple weeks whether your team has what it takes or whether you should maybe think about another hobby this season. Lots of injuries and, of course, bye weeks to deal with, so let’s go game by game and see what’s what. Remember, I’m not here to give you the silly, no-brainer advice. If you need me to tell you to start Tom Brady or Arian Foster, then, again, this game is not for you. Let’s get to it…
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans
The Titans are a team in disarray here but still could have some decent fantasy help here. My biggest concern is whether or not Kendall Wright stays strong or if his targets will diminish with the emergence of Kenny Britt who practiced in full on Tuesday and is ready for action Thursday night. He and Matt Hasselbeck connected on some big-time touchdowns last year, so their on-field relationship could be rekindled here.
Because the Titans defense is so atrocious, you’ll want to get your Steelers in your lineup. Rashard Mendenhall had a solid game last week even while only playing 22 snaps. He should get in there a little more this week and should fare very well. If they do limit Mendenhall again, it could boost the value of Isaac Redman who should see some decent touches in this one.
Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens defense has given up some yardage here, both on the ground and in the air. Dallas has had two weeks to prepare for them so expect them to come out strong. If the offensive line holds up, then DeMarco Murray could have a strong day, just as Jamaal Charles did against Baltimore last week. That would certainly help open things up for the passing game which would make Tony Romo and his receivers better options overall.
With the Dallas pass defense looking strong, Joe Flacco is going to have to go back to what worked best in the beginning of the season and use tight end Dennis Pitta a lot more than he has over the last two games. Granted the game against New England was easy-peasey, but if he doesn’t look for more help than Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, he could be in trouble again.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
I refuse to give up on Andrew Hawkins. He’s just too damned good. I won’t say this is his last chance with me, but the Browns pass defense has allowed over 1,400 yards (281 YPG) and 12 touchdowns through the air this season. If Andy Dalton can have even just a decent game, then Hawkins can do some serious damage.
Brandon Weedon has been strong lately and his newfound on-field rapport with Jordan Norwood is a big part of it. While Trent Richardson is bulldozing his way through the Bengals 21st ranked run D, the passing game should open up a bit, allowing Norwood to step it up. Look for tight end Jordan Cameron to try and break through again here. It’s a decent match-up for him and he should definitely be on people’s radar.
St. Louis Rams at Miami Dolphins
With such a strong run defense for Miami, it’s going to be a long day for the Rams if Sam Bradford doesn’t turn either Brandon Gibson or Brian Givens into his next Danny Amendola. My money is on Gibson to be the go-to guy here, but Givens and tight end Lance Kendricks should see some decent targets as well.
The Fins defense looks like the best fantasy play of them all this week. Sure, Brian Hartline will get some decent targets and Davone Bess should get his regular work, but the Rams defense is highly underrated and could give Ryan Tannehill fits all day long.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets
It’s time to crack open that free agent wallet and put some bucks on Vick Ballard this week. With Donald Brown out for two to three weeks after knee surgery, Ballard will get the majority of touches against a weak Jets run D, so he’ll make for a great flex play here. Delone Carter should poach some carries, but Ballard is going to be the one to watch. Also consider Coby Fleener who might see a few extra targets this week.
The Colts pass defense ranks fifth in the league, so while Jeremy Kerley might be the top target for Mark Sanchez these days, it could be a tough afternoon for him. The Jets may try to lean on Shonn Greene a little more but he’s probably considered a flex play, at best.
Oakland Raiders at Atlanta Falcons
The Raiders have a chance to keep this one competitive if they lean on Darren McFadden early and often and don’t try to go toe to toe with the Falcons in a passing war. They may even try to mix Mike Goodsen in there as well to keep Run-DMC fresh. That should then open up the passing game and we could see Carson Palmer rekindle his on-field bromance with Denarius Moore.
Is there any reason for me to say anything about the Falcons’ offensive players? I hope not, but just in case you got hit in the head in the last few days, I say to start ‘em all.
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles
The Lions have had two weeks to prepare for this one, so hopefully the passing game clicks. While Titus Young is supposedly the number two guy behind Megatron, it’s Nate Burleson with the better target percentage. Be confident in starting Mikel Leshoure this week and stop sweating Jahvid Best. He may be back at practice, but whether he can handle an actual game is a different story. I don’t see him being more productive than Joique Bell.
It’s going to take at least one game of good, solid production before you can feel comfortable starting Jeremy Maclin. He was primed for a big season this year, but the hip flexor is doing some serious damage to his game right now. Only time will tell if Michael Vick has beaten his case of the fumbles. Right now, he’s on my ‘untrustworthy list.’
Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s do or die for Doug Martin here. The Chiefs are allowing an average of 121 yards per game on the ground and he really needs to get going. He tallied just eight carries two weeks ago and LeGarrette Blount poached some goal-line work. He had so much promise coming into this season that he either has to get it going now or step aside and stop wasting fantasy owners’ time. In the passing game, I like Mike Williams as a sneaky play if you use a WR3.
Don’t let the fact that the Bucs run D is ranked number one fool you. It’s not that it’s so good, it’s that the pass D is so bad that no one has a reason to run the ball. But given the fact that Brady Quinn is getting the start here, the Chiefs will probably lean on Jamaal Charles just to keep the pressure off their new starting QB. That should open things up for Quinn to find Dwayne Bowe and all will be right in K.C.
Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals
The running game in Arizona is in such shambles right now that even the Buffalo defense is excited to get back on the field. It looks like William Powell, who actually led the NFL in rushing yards during the preseason, will get the first opportunity with LaRod Stephens-Howling and Alfonso Smith filling in the gaps here and there. It’s definitely not an ideal situation, but if you’re desperate enough, Powell might be worth a look. If the ground game can even put up the tiniest of fights, that might be enough to open things up for Kevin Kolb and the receivers.
Arizona has allowed just one rushing touchdown this season, so it might be slow-going for the Fred Jackson-C.J. Spiller tandem, although Spiller could have some success if he can get the ball out of the flat and run in space for a bit. Look for big Scott Chandler to do a little damage when the Bills make it down inside the 10. He’s a big target and continues to get decent looks in the red zone.
New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle defense will get a big test this week as Tom Brady gets Aaron Hernandez back and has four legitimate targets that can take the ball into the endzone from anywhere on the field. Whether that threat is enough to help Stevan Ridley make it three straight 100-plus yard games is another story.
Russell Wilson is definitely on the hot seat and a bad game here could open the door for Matt Flynn. However, with the Pats D looking so bad again, Wilson just might have a stay of execution. If he can find Golden Tate and Sidney Rice a little more often, then the Seahawks could surprise the Pats much like they did the Packers…just without the officials’ help.
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
Alex Smith is hoping to lead the Niners past the G-Men in this rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game, but might have some trouble if his sprained finger isn’t better. If he’s ok, then you can expect the usual suspects, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree, to contribute, but also keep an eye on Mario Manningham who faces his old team for the first time and has a developing rapport with Smith. He caught his first TD pass of the year last week and is looking to keep that momentum going.
Eli Manning will continue to lean on Ahmad Bradshaw and Victor Cruz, but he, like every fantasy owner out there, is waiting to see if Hakeem Nicks is playing. If he is, then we know where the ball is going more often than not. If he isn’t, look for Domenik Hixon to reprise his role from last week. Ramses Barden and Reuben Randle should also find themselves in the mix if Nicks is out, but which one has the most value is still up in the air.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
Last week I called Percy Harvin’s coming out party, so this week I’ll call it for Christian Ponder as he takes on, not one of, but the worst passing defense in the NFL. He’s going to let Adrian Peterson establish the ground game early, but look for him to find Kyle Rudolph and Harvin all day long. Sleeper alert for Devin Aromashodu!
It could be a tough day for Alfred Morris this week against a stout Vikings run defense, but with two straight games with 100-plus yards, how can you sit him? Robert Griffin III was back at practice on Wednesday, so he looks good to go for now, but don’t think he won’t be a little gun shy about getting hit. He could end up dishing the ball off a little more quickly which could mean good things for tight end Fred Davis.
Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans
This is a tough week to lose your starting running back, but the Packers are well-covered with Alex Green and James Starks. They say that Starks’ who is better at pass blocking will get the early nod, but it’s Green who has the most upside. The two could split carries until one separates himself from the other.
Not much to say about the Texans, is there? Dominant rushing attack (BenTate should be back this week) and a strong passing game. This one could turn into a shootout, so get your Texans into your lineup.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
The scare is apparently over and Ryan Mathews is back to being a safe option to start. Robert Meachem, on the other hand, needs to show it to me one more time before I jump back onto his bandwagon. I was high on him in the preseason but he did nothing until he faced the Saints last week. Gimme one more productive game and I’ll be singing his praises again.
It could be a slow one for Willis McGahee as the Chargers run D ranks fifth in the league and has only allowed two rushing touchdowns this season. The pass D, on the other hand, is not as strong and has given up 11 touchdowns through the air. Think Peyton Manning is salivating? Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas should be nice, strong plays this week.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.