You’d think this would have been significantly easier during a week with no byes, and no concerns about unearthing sparkling diamonds to replace the gold that’s sitting on your bench.
It wasn’t, and that’s mostly because of the backlog of yummy matchups for the league’s premier quarterbacks and running backs as we steam ahead to the fantasy playoffs, which start in Week 14 for some leagues, and Week 15 for others.
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. MIN — With all the angst from fans in Green Bay and New England about their woeful secondaries, it’s easy to overlook the Vikings, a unit that isn’t quite as bad as those two, but it’s still pretty pathetic. Three weeks ago Rodgers roasted the Vikes for 335 passing yards and two touchdowns, but this time he’ll have to contend with Antoine Winfield, the veteran corner who will return after missing four weeks.
2. Michael Vick vs. ARI — If you need a barometer for what to expect when a strong-armed and mobile quarterback faces the Cards, please flip to Appendix D and consult Cam Newton’s Week 1 spectacle (422 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, one interception, 18 rushing yards, and one rushing touchdown).
3. Drew Brees @ ATL — There’s lots be giddy about with this matchup, but still a little to be leery of too. Last year Brees feasted on the Falcons secondary, throwing for 667 yards in two games. But Atlanta also picked him off four times.
4. Philip Rivers vs. OAK — Rivers averaged 355.5 yards per game against the Raiders last year, and that’s when this fellow named Nnamdi Asomugha was still in town.
5. Tom Brady @ NYJ — Brady’s already doubled his interception total from last year (10), and the Jets are only three picks shy of the league-leading Packers.
6. Eli Manning @ SF — The 49ers are the league’s best defense against the run, giving up only 70.8 yards per game. Good thing Eli is a quarterback, and his job is to pass the ball against a secondary with a far worse per game average (255.1, ranked 22nd).
7. Tony Romo vs. BUF –A secondary that can make Mark Sanchez look good after he had just three 200-yard games prior to Week 8 (one of which was 201 yards) is that kind of secondary that’s your friend on Sundays.
8. Ben Roethlisberger vs. CIN — Similar to Joe Flacco’s matchup with Seattle, Roethlisberger will be throwing against a secondary that’s hardly been tested, and with the Bengals’ efficiency against the run this could turn into an aerial show early.
9. Tim Tebow @ KC — Tebow was left out of the top 15 entirely last week, and admittedly that was foolish, although given how awful he had been over the previous two weeks I still slept like Lovie Smith on Nyquil.
10. Matt Schaub @ TB — Schaub will have a highly productive day against one of the nine secondaries allowing more than 260 yards per game.
11. Cam Newton vs. TEN — If Curtis friggin Painter can post a modest 10.5 fantasy points against the Titans, Newton should be fine with his 39 points over his last two games.
12. Matthew Stafford @ CHI — The splits on Detroit’s offensive line reflect the quality of the opposition’s pass rush. In the Lions’ first four games Stafford went down just five times, and in the next four he was sacked 11 times. The latter number very much favors Julius Peppers.
13. Matt Ryan vs. NO – Ryan’s had five career starts against New Orleans, and only two of them have ended with more than 250 passing yards beside his name in the boxscore.
14. Ryan Fitzpatrick @ DAL – Purely by the numbers Buffalo has the best offensive line in the league (only nine sacks). But against pass rushes in Washington and New York (Giants) that have particularly large and fast men, Fitzpatrick was hauled down five times and he fumbled twice. DeMarcus Ware is also a large and fast man, and Sean Lee could return this week.
15. Joe Flacco @ SEA — This feels lofty, but Flacco has a chance to grow his renewed confidence against a secondary that’s given up 997 passing yards and six touchdowns in its three games against top 10 passing offenses (Giants, Steelers, Cowboys).
1. Maurice Jones-Drew @ IND — Jones-Drew may not be scoring much, but his consistent weekly yardage remains remarkable considering the lack of support he’s received from Jacksonville’s passing game and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
2. Matt Forte vs. DET – Since his 205-yard explosion in Week 4 Forte’s had 137.5 yards per game.
3. Frank Gore vs. NYG — Only three teams have given up an 80-yard run, and I wouldn’t write that in this space if the Giants weren’t one of them.
4. Arian Foster @ TB — Don’t be worried about Ben Tate’s brilliance possibly leading to the second-year RB vulturing carries from Foster. He’s used as the bulk to complement Foster’s speed, and Foster still has 25.7 carries over Houston’s last three games to Tate’s 10.6.
5. Adrian Peterson @ GB — This one’s difficult to gauge, which is why Peterson is pushed down a little further than usual during a week filled with juicy running back matchups. Sure, Peterson posted 175 rushing yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Packers in Week 7. But when faced with a similarly rugged run defense he had only 39 yards against Chicago in Week 6.
6. Fred Jackson @ DAL — The possible and likely return of Sean Lee will help, but that won’t be nearly enough to instantly turn around a Cowboys run defense that’s given up 351 rushing yards over the last two weeks.
7. LeSean McCoy vs. ARI – Arizona’s defense is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns allowed (11), and McCoy is tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s an inference here somewhere.
8. Steven Jackson @ CLE — It feels like 2006 again for Jackson, which means that he’s listening to ’06 hits like Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” and Sean Paul’s “Temperature” while running for 298 yards in St. Louis’ last two games. Hey, whatever.
9. Michael Bush @ SD — Yes, an underrated backup running back is ahead of Turner, Rice, Mendenhall, and Murray. Why? He has 240 all-purpose yards since Darren McFadden went down in Week 7, and last year against San Diego he had 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
10. Michael Turner vs. NO — Turner has had three +50 yard runs, so the potential for a long scamper is very real against a Saints front seven that’s allowed 10 runs of 20 yards or more.
11. DeMarco Murray vs. BUF — In the fourth start of his career Eric Dickerson had 192 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and then added another 45 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Murray is the reincarnation of Dickerson, so at minimum we can expect equal production.
12. Ray Rice @ SEA — Like Peterson, Rice falls solely because of other delicious matchups elsewhere. More importantly, though, the Seahawks have only allowed one 80-yard rusher, with Rashard Mendenhall, Frank Gore, Michael Turner, and Ahmad Bradshaw all falling short.
13. Willis McGahee @ KC — Let’s acknowledge three things here: McGahee’s consistency with four 100-yard games, the running lanes opened by Denver’s option offense tailored to Tebow, and the Chiefs being among the teams allowing more than 120 rushing yards per game.
14. Ryan Mathews vs. OAK — He’s healthy now, and the matchup is appealing. But after his absence he could lose some goal-line touches to Mike Tolbert.
15. Rashard Mendenhall @ CIN — Mendenhall’s on pace for his lowest career yardage total (945), and that pace could take another punch to the gut against a defense allowing only 3.3 yards per carry.
16. Reggie Bush vs. WAS — Daniel Thomas’ lingering hamstring injury has pushed him into a secondary role, and Bush now faces another weak run defense after scoring 26.5 fantasy points over Miami’s last two games.
17. Chris Johnson @ CAR — In a normal, non-crappy season for Johnson he’d likely be a top five play against a 27th ranked run defense. And maybe he’ll finally make me eat it this week, but even though he showed some life in Week 9 Johnson only had nine second-half yards against the Bengals.
18. Darren Sproles vs. OAK — Mark Ingram returned to practice for the first time since suffering a heel injury in Week 7, but he was a limited participant. Sproles gets knocked down and possibly off this list entirely if he returns.
19. Jackie Battle vs. DEN — Let’s just pretend last week didn’t happen, mmkay? The Chiefs were down by 11 points at half time, primarily restricting Battle to pass blocking duties.
20. Shonn Greene vs. NE — Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount, and Greene fought for the final spot. Lynch’s 135 yards in Week 9 was an aberration, and Blount has a tough matchup against Houston. So Greene wins by default, and he had 83 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots in early October.
1. Greg Jennings vs. MIN — The same caution regarding the return of Winfield applies here, but Jennings always puts the team on his back.
2. Calvin Johnson @ CHI — Johnson has at lest 100 receiving yards in five of his last six games, and one of those games was his season-high 130 yards against the Bears in Week 5.
3. Mike Wallace @ CIN — Wallace is still scoring, but he’s had less than 80 yards in three of his last four games. That’s excusable against Baltimore and Jacksonville, but his disappearance against New England was odd.
4.Vincent Jackson vs. OAK — Roll with him while he’s hot and healthy. Jackson had 25 fantasy points last week.
5. Steve Smith vs. TEN — It’s still double take-inducing that Smith is behind only Wes Welker with his average of 114.8 yards per game after only averaging 39.6 last year.
6. Wes Welker @ NYJ — The standard public service announcement about lowered expectations due to Darrelle Revis applies, but Welker still had 124 yards in Week 5, and he burned Revis for 73 of those yards.
7. Jeremy Maclin vs. ARI — Like DeSean Jackson, Maclin has become either explosive or boring, and often nothing in between. This week I’ll favor Maclin between the two because Patrick Peterson is faster then a speeding bullet shot by Superman.
8. Julio Jones vs. NO — You’ll read about the blanket Roddy White wears when facing the Saints below. So maybe do that first, and then come back here and remember that Jones is quickly becoming a focal point for Matt Ryan. Jones has missed two-and-a-half games, and if we disregard his shortened Week 5 he’s had 373 receiving yards in his past three games.
9. Marques Colston @ ATL – This feels a little low for Colston, probably because it is. He only had three receptions and 50 yards last week against a poor Tampa secondary, and he may be gradually starting to fade behind Jimmy Graham.
10. Stevie Johnson @ DAL — Johnson snapped his string of mediocre games last week, and that was against Revis and Antonio Cromartie. So Terrence Newman and Michael Jenkins shouldn’t be a problem.
11. Santonio Holmes vs. NE — I get it, Holmes has faded to the periphery of the Jets’ offense, and has five games this year with less than 50 yards. But for wide receivers, playing the Patriots is like eating a bowl of chicken soup when you’re sick.
12. Larry Fitzgerald @ PHI — Sure, we’ve marveled at how bulletproof Fitzgerald is in the past, and how much more amazing his amazing numbers are since he’s been receiving passes from an assortment of Pop Warner quarterbacks over the last two seasons. But that should end this week against the Philly secondary.
13. Anquan Boldin vs. SEA — Those mean things I wrote earlier about Seattle’s secondary can be applied to Boldin too.
14. Victor Cruz @ SF — Cruz is only ranked this low due to the uncertainty still surrounding Hakeem Nicks’ status, and Nicks is eager to tell you that he feels terrific, but he still hasn’t participated in a full practice yet. If Nicks experiences a setback, bump Cruz up to the top 10 at the very least. Also, Nicks is excluded entirely for the same reason, but if reports indicate by Saturday that you can be fully confident in his health then he’s a top five play.
15. Roddy White vs. NO — Of the 98 averages mentioned in this space every week, White’s very pedestrian yardage in his last four games against New Orleans (65.3) is one of the most depressing.
16. DeSean Jackson vs. ARI — Right now owning Jackson is about as frustrating as trying to explain Joe Paterno’s baffling negligence to a Penn State student holding some stupid sign. Jackson had 171 yards in Week 5, but over his last three games he has only 93 yards.
17. Brandon Marshall vs. WAS — DeAngelo Hall is an above average cover corner, but so was Brandon Flowers last week, and Marshall finished with 106 receiving yards and a touchdown while Flowers stumbled.
18. Dwayne Bowe vs. DEN — The Champ Bailey treatment means Bowe is downgraded, but Bowe’s still averaging 80 yards per game in an offense that lost it’s identity early in the year when Jamaal Charles went down.
19. Brandon Lloyd @ CLE — Lloyd showed last week that at the very least he can post WR3 with a healthy Sam Bradford, and don’t be scared off by the No. 1 ranked Cleveland secondary. Joe Haden is great, but the only elite passing offense the Browns have had to contend with is Houston last week, and they’re still playing without Andre Johnson.
20. A.J. Green vs. PITT — A tough matchup, but Green is still worthy of a WR3 play because of his growing chemistry with Andy Dalton.
1. Jimmy Graham @ ATL — He’s on a ridiculous record-breaking pace, and has only three games with less than 70 receiving yards.
2. Brent Celek vs. ARI — Celek has rapidly emerged as a prime target for Michael Vick, with 196 yards over his past three games after having only 17 between weeks 3 and 5.
3. Antonio Gates vs. OAK — Philip Rivers’ wayward season hasn’t slowed Gates. He’s proving that he’s still an elite tight end when healthy, and after missing four games he now has two touchdowns and 74.3 yards per game since his return.
4. Jason Witten vs. BUF — Witten’s yardage has declined significantly. He had 91.5 yards per game over Dallas’ first four games, and has since averaged just 45.5. That number should rise again with Miles Austin out for at least the next two weeks.
5. Jermichael Finley vs. MIN — Finley has to stay in the top five because a matchup against the third worst pass defense is far too appealing, but he’s had less than 30 receiving yards in three of Green Bay’s last five games.
6. Fred Davis @ MIA — Davis was likely limited by an ankle injury last week, but he was a full participant in practice Wednesday.
7. Vernon Davis vs. NYG — The other Davis has been lost during Frank Gore’s renaissance period, but still has a highly favorable matchup. Davis has only one 100-yard game, and last week Rob Gronkowski had 101 yards against the Giants.
8. Rob Gronkowski @ NYJ — Speaking of the porn star and Kate Upton lover, here’s the Gronk. You’re probably tempted to downgrade Gronkowski because of the very mediocre 31 yards he posted against the Jets in Week 5. But I’ll count that as the end of a two-week anomaly, because he has only two games with less than 70 yards.
9. Dustin Keller vs. NE — Keller has regained his early-season connection with Mark Sanchez, and could benefit from a defense that knows its own weaknesses and will be focused on neutralizing Santonio Holmes.
10. Owen Daniels @ TB — Graham and Vernon Davis have recently burned Tampa Bay for a combined 241 yards and two touchdowns.
11. Tony Gonzalez vs. NO — He’s still on pace to easily eclipse his total touchdowns in 2010, but after a fast start Gonzo has seen the end zone only once since Week 4.
12. Greg Olsen vs. TEN — Two weeks ago prior to Carolina’s bye Jeremy Shockey had exactly one receiving yard, and the week prior to that Olsen had four. This is still a highly unpredictable duo, but Olsen should be favored since he’s seeing the end zone more often.
13. Jake Ballard @ SF – In Week 8 Cleveland’s Benjamin Watson matched his season high with 64 receiving yards against San Francisco. Ballard has 68.8 yards over New York’s last four games, so he should be fine.
14. Brandon Pettigrew @ CHI — The Bears defense has given up 88 yards to tight ends over their last two games, making Pettigrew a decent play and likely guaranteeing you standard production from the TE spot if your options are limited.
15. Aaron Hernandez @ NYJ — The yardage is lacking with the focus shifted slightly towards Gronk, but Hernandez still has a touchdown in three straight games.
1. Sebastian Janikowski @ SD
2. Olindo Mare vs. TEN
3. Shaun Suisham @ CIN
4. Dan Bailey vs. BUF
5. Alex Henery vs. ARI
6. Neil Rackers vs. TB
7. Billy Cundiff @ SEA
8. Robbie Gould vs. DET
9. David Akers vs. NYG
10. Mason Crosby vs. MIN
1. New York Giants @ SF
2. Baltimore Ravens @ SEA
3. Philadelphia Eagles vs. ARI
4. Jacksonville Jaguars @ IND
5. Pittsburgh Steelers @ CIN
6. Dallas Cowboys vs. BUF
7. Houston Texans @ TB
8. New York Jets vs. NE
9. Green Bay Packers vs. MIN
10. Atlanta Falcons vs. NO