This week has a theme: byes and blowouts.
There isn’t a single game on the Week 7 schedule that has two teams with winning records. That’s a recipe for potentially bad football, and bad fantasy numbers for some key players. Sure, a lop-sided score can lead to a massive rushing day for the team on the winning end, but it won’t be as kind to every other offensive position. Elite quarterbacks could spend the second half handing off, while receivers and tight ends are neglected.
Then there are the byes, and this week a few championship teams could be assembled with the players watching from the comfort of their lavish living rooms. That group includes Fred Jackson, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vernon Davis, and LeSean McCoy.
So it’ll be an especially unpredictable week. But I’ll try to predict it anyway, and likely fail in doing so.
1. Aaron Rodgers @ MIN — You know what’s scary about the Minnesota defense? Jared Allen. You know what’s not scary about the Minnesota defense? Everything else. If Allen et al can muster only one sack against a sieve-like Bears offensive line, Rodgers should be just fine.
2. Drew Brees vs. IND –We like Brees’ chances if a rookie–albeit a very talented rookie named Andy Dalton–can complete 78.1 percent of his passes against Indy’s secondary.
3. Ben Roethlisberger @ ARI — No one’s touching the New England secondary in the distinguished race to become the defense that allows the most receptions of 20 yards or more. But Arizona is definitely putting up a strong bid, and is tied for third with 26.
4. Matthew Stafford vs. ATL — And the Falcons have the honor of sharing that third spot with Arizona. For the Cardinals the excuse is easy and reasonable with their talented but inexperienced cornerbacks. For the Falcons it’s a lack of discipline, and an apparently irresistible desire to take risks.
5. Tony Romo vs. STL — Even with Felix Jones out Romo should finally receive the support of a remotely decent running game against the worst rushing defense in the league.
6. Cam Newton vs. WAS — Newton has been impressive and effective during his first six games, but his passing numbers have been inconsistent. In three of those six starts he’s averaged just 206.3 passing yards, and in the other three he’s averaging 409.3. That’s a cavernous gap, but Newton more than makes up for his inconsistencies through the air with his legs. He has six rushing touchdowns, and he’ll be running against a defense that gave up 54 rushing yards to Michael Vick last week.
7. Philip Rivers @ NYJ — Resisting the temptation to rank Rivers lower was difficult since his primary receiver will be going on a wild adventure to Revis Island. But Rivers is likely getting Antonio Gates back this week, and he looks pretty, pretty good in practice.
8. Tim Tebow @ MIA – This is risky, but it’s not crazy, especially since a still raw Tebow hasn’t shaken the instinct to tuck and run at the slightest sign of trouble, and most leagues award more points for rushing yards. During his three starts last year Tebow averaged roughly 28 fantasy points and had 203 rushing yards.
9. Joe Flacco @ JAC — The 6.9 yards per reception being allowed by the Jaguars’ secondary is worrisome, but Flacco is facing a mid-tier run defense, so Ray Rice could loosen up the second level.
10. Matt Schaub @ TENN — There’s hesitancy here, because even with a healthy Andre Johnson last year Schaub was held to a meager 5.1 yards per attempt during one of Houston’s two games against Tennessee. But in a week heavy with quarterback byes (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Eli Manning) Schaub owners could do much worse.
Notable omission(s): With so many painful byes at quarterback it’s difficult to include an underwhelming fantasy arm like Flacco while leaving Matt Ryan out. But the Falcons QB likely won’t be able to throw to Julio Jones, who’s missed practice Wednesday and Thursday while still recovering from a hamstring injury. Playing without a key bailout option against Ndamukong Suh and his posse isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
1. Darren McFadden vs. OAK — Carson Palmer will likely get his first start of the year with only five days of prep time. The reports that have circulated about his physical condition will have you believe that during his down time Palmer was doing more than training, and he also played the lead role in Captain America this summer. That won’t stop Oakland from protecting him by giving McFadden plenty of work, a formula that will be multiplied if Hue Jackson decides to fool us and start Kyle Boller.
2. Ray Rice @ JAC — Overall Jacksonville’s run defense has been effective this year, but last week was only the second time the Jaguars faced an elite rusher. His name was Rashard Mendenhall, and he had 124 yards on 24 carries.
3. Matt Forte @ TB — Even if Gerald McCoy makes a surprise early return from an ankle injury to plug a hole up the middle for Tampa he’ll likely be limited.
4. Adrian Peterson vs. GB — With their ball-hawking linebackers the Packers are one of just six teams giving up less than 90 rushing yards per game. But that shouldn’t scare you away from Peterson too much. Against the same core defense Peterson had 203 rushing yards in the two meetings between Minnesota and Green Bay last year.
5. Rashard Mendenhall @ ARI — In a lopsided game last week Mendenhall received the heaviest workload of his season. In what will likely be another lopsided game against a defense that’s tied for the league-lead after allowing eight rushing touchdowns he’ll receive an even heavier workload.
6. Arian Foster @ TENN — The assumption was that Foster’s numbers on the ground would increase with Andre Johnson out, and that assumption has been wrong, so very wrong. Foster has just 117 yards in Houston’s two games without Johnson, a very pedestrian number that’s been balanced out by his 168 receiving yards during that time.
7. Michael Turner @ DET — The Lions’ defensive line may be menacing, but the addition of Stephen Tulloch hasn’t been enough to limit rushing yards. Over the last two weeks Detroit’s given up 325 yards on the ground.
8. Ryan Mathews @ NYJ — The swift and sudden decline of a run defense that was ranked third last year remains puzzling in reality, and inviting in fantasy. Eventually the Jets will correct their lengthy tailspin, but their temporary regression combined with Mathews’ hot hand after his highest career rushing yardage total last week could be quite delicious Sunday.
9. Chris Johnson vs. HOU — Brian Cushing has been scary in Wade Phillips’ newly-installed 3/4 defense, and last year Johnson had a career-low seven yards on five carries when the Titans played Houston without Kenny Britt .
10. Beanie Wells vs. PITT — The continued absence of Jerome Harrison will keep making Sundays fun because of your running back’s totals. Seeing Steelers fans confused even in victory is also great comedy.
Notable omission(s): Maurice Jones-Drew is the stud to be scared about this week. MJD’s situation is similar to the tough matchup facing Peterson. The difference is Peterson’s more recent history of success against Green Bay, whereas Jones-Drew hasn’t had the pleasure of being pummeled by Baltimore since 2008. When you’re unsure what to expect against a run defense that’s giving up only 3.3 yards per carry, expect horrible and awful.
Also, he wasn’t worthy of a top 10 pick this week and probably won’t be ever, but if you’re desperate for a bye week fill-in take a look at Kansas City’s Jackie Battle, the Chiefs RB who had 119 yards in Week 6 and will be running against a Raiders defense that’s giving up 4.9 yards per carry.
1. Mike Wallace @ ARI — Rookie Patrick Peterson will likely be lining up opposite Wallace often, and in the two times he’s faced a wideout who’s currently in the top 10 in receiving yardage it hasn’t ended well. Carolina’s Steve Smith had 178 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1, and Hakeem Nicks had 162 yards and a score in Week 4.
2. Calvin Johnson vs. ATL — It’s now a rare week when Johnson is knocked from his perch at No. 1. He still has an appealing matchup against a secondary that’s always hungry for the turnover, and their aggression often leaves gaps in coverage.
3. Greg Jennings @ MIN — Vikings cornerback Antonie Winfield practiced for the first time in two weeks yesterday, but only on a limited basis and his status for Sunday is still uncertain. It probably won’t matter though, because Jennings averaged 113 yards per game against the Vikings last year and scored four times.
4. Steve Smith vs. WAS — Smith is still one of just five receivers over the 100-yard mark in weekly yardage.
5. Larry Fitzgerald vs. PITT — If you’re breaking out in hives that’s completely understandable since the Steelers have the league’s top-rated secondary. But look at Pittsburgh’s schedule so far. Seriously, go look, I’ll wait. Similar to Arizona this year, Pittsburgh has played just two wide receivers who were in the top 10 in receiving yards in 2010, and both hardly count. Andre Johnson was hurt and played only the first half, and Reggie Wayne doesn’t play for a professional football team anymore.
6. Miles Austin vs. STL — The Rams have been torched on the scoreboard recently, losing by a combined score of 78-20. Those one-sided scores have led to a lot of clock-grinding, and a secondary that’s still giving up a very middle-of-the-packish 241.6 yards per game. The opportunity for an explosion is still clear–just ask Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had touchdowns on his first three career catches in Week 3 against St. Louis. But the opportunity for a disappointment, or at least a performance that falls far below what’s expected due to the blowout factor, is lurking too.
7. Vincent Jackson @ NYJ — Jackson has been restricted by a nagging hamstring injury that’s still limiting him in practice, but that shouldn’t be too concerning since the Chargers shut him down during their Week 6 bye. A likely trip to Revis Island is always troubling too, but Brandon Marshall–who has similar height and leaping ability–was able to haul in six receptions for 109 yards Monday with Revis shadowing him for most of the game.
8. Roddy White @ DET — He’ll see much more leather with Jones likely out, but Ryan can’t throw from his back.
9. Dwayne Bowe @ OAK — Bowe has at least 100 receiving yards in three of his five games, and 235 over his last two. That kind of hot hand will play well against a defense that’s tied for the most touchdown passes allowed (12).
10. Marques Colston vs. IND – There’s fear of a blowout here too and sub-par passing numbers for New Orleans. But that was also the assumption back in Week 3 when Indy hosted Pittsburgh, and the Steelers had to squeak out a three-point win. Only one of the Colts’ six losses has been by more than 10 points.
Notable omission(s): The likelihood of a blowout is partly why there was only room for one Dallas wide receiver, but a recent lack of trust shown by Tony Romo towards Dez Bryant was also a factor. The second half is usually when Romo is in the process of either leading a comeback and/or starting another career-damaging implosion, and Bryant has been healthy and playing in the second half three times this year.
We’re still waiting on his first second half reception.
1. Jimmy Graham vs. IND — Graham has four-straight 100-yard games, three of which ended with the second-year tight end having at least 120 yards. He’s quickly risen to become an elite player at his position, and now he’ll face a secondary that will struggle against his bulky frame with both Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt gone.
2. Jason Witten vs. STL — Again, color used concerned about Dallas dismantling St. Louis, especially if Sam Bradford doesn’t play.
3. Jermichael Finley @ MIN — Here’s a living, breathing, pass-catching example of what it looks like when one of your key players is on the winning side of a blowout. Last week Finley had just one catch for 20 yards during Green Bay’s 24-3 win over St. Louis.
4. Tony Gonzalez @ DET — Gonzo hasn’t scored in his last two games, but Atlanta is still the second best team in the red zone with a 70 percent conversion rate.
5. Brandon Pettigrew vs. ATL — Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen combined for 102 receiving yards last week against Atlanta.
6. Owen Daniels @ TENN — We’ll just pretend last week’s mess against Baltimore didn’t happen, because competing against that defense without a deep threat (Andre Johnson) is a pretty tall order. Prior to that Daniels had 89 yards and 12.7 yards per catch during the first game that Johnson missed with his hamstring injury.
7. Greg Olsen vs. WAS– The choice between Olsen and Shockey is still a difficult one, but I’ll stay with Olsen. He’s averaging nearly 50 yards a game, which is a reliable total for a second-tier tight end. Olsen also has three touchdowns over his last four games.
8. Fred Davis @ CAR — Chris Cooley will be meeting with Dr.
Kevorkian James Andrews instead of playing football on Sunday. Davis and his three games with over 85 receiving yards wish him well.
9. Kellen Winslow Jr. vs. CHI – A struggling Visanthe Shiancoe still managed to finish with 45 receiving yards on five receptions against Chicago last week, so Winslow should be fine, especially with Josh Freeman beginning to look like the Josh Freeman from last year.
10. Dallas Clark @ NO — Clark possibly gave us a glimpse of a season resurrection last week, even with Curtis Painter at the helm. He had 53 yards and a touchdown against the league’s second best defense.
Notable omission(s): In his last three games Mark Sanchez has thrown for more than 200 yards once, and last week barely counts (201 yards). You still have permission to play Santonio Holmes regularly because he’s a deep threat, but rolling with any other member of the Jets’ passing offense will contribute to losses and ridicule.
1. Mason Crosby @ MIN
2. Dan Bailey vs. STL
3. Robbie Gould @ TB
4. Matt Prater @ MIA
5. Jason Hansen vs. ATL
6. Nick Folk vs. NYJ
7. Sebastian Janikowski vs. KC
8. Shaun Suisham @ ARI
9. Neil Rackers @ TENN
10. Matt Bryant @ DET
1. Baltimore vs. JAC
2. Green Bay @ MIN
3. Dallas vs. STL
4. New Orleans vs. IND
5. Detroit vs. ATL
6. Chicago @ TB
7. Houston @ TENN
8. Pittsburgh @ ARI
9. New York Jets vs. SD
10. Tampa Bay vs. CHI