1:00PM ET Games
Chicago @ Washington
Quietly trending toward offensive juggernaut status, the Bears rank 11th in the league in total yards and third in points scored under first-year coach Marc Trestman, with red-hot Jay Cutler leading the way. Through six games, Cutler is the No. 6 overall fantasy quarterback on pace for a 32:16 TD-to-INT ratio with career highs in completion rate (65.9) and passer rating (95.2). It may seem unnatural, but Cutler is a reliable weekly fantasy starter and high-end QB1 play this week against Washington's burnable defense. The Redskins rank 25th against the pass, are yielding a 10:3 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy passers, and allow the second highest yards-per-pass-attempt average in football. Cutler has completed 64 of his last 89 throws (71.9%) for 759 yards (8.53 YPA) with a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio and two successful two-point conversions. ... Cutler's target distribution during that two-plus game hot stretch: Alshon Jeffery 23, Brandon Marshall 20, Martellus Bennett 18, Matt Forte 13, Earl Bennett 9. ... Jeffery is coming off a slow game (1-27) two Thursday nights ago against the G-Men, but was inches from a pair of deep connections and has played himself into every-week WR3 value. Even including the Week 6 hiccup, Jeffery leads all receivers in fantasy points over the past three weeks. ... Marshall's brief buy-low window slammed shut against the Giants (9-87-2). He's an obvious top-five wideout play against the Redskins.
The Bears have enough firepower and Cutler is playing well enough to support three every-week fantasy starters in their pass-catching corps. In Week 7, Martellus takes on a Redskins defense with perhaps the worst safety play in football. This game has sneaky shootout potential, which would give Martellus' outlook an assist. ... Washington is even more vulnerable on the ground than in the air, ranking 27th in the league in run defense with six rushing scores allowed through five games and a generous 4.38 yards-per-carry average against. After Chicago's Thursday night win over New York, Forte has had a long week to rest his heavily-utilized legs in preparation for a cakewalk matchup. Forte is on pace for career highs in total yards (1,830) and receptions (88) in Trestman's running back-friendly attack. He has at least 95 total yards and/or a touchdown in each of the Bears' first six games. ... Michael Bush is worth rostering in 12- and 14-team leagues as a stash, but isn't threatening Forte's workload whatsoever. Bush has played 11 or fewer snaps in four of the Bears' last five games. He totaled just 14 yards against the Giants.
Just as the Bears' offense peaks under Trestman, their aging and injury-ravaged defense breaks down. DTs Henry Melton and Nate Collins are lost for the year with ACL tears. MLB D.J. Williams joined them on the shelf this week with a ruptured pectoral. 33-year-old RE Julius Peppers has been a shell of his old self, ranking 31st of 47 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' 4-3 defensive end pass-rush grades. RCB Charles Tillman (knee) has been in and out of the lineup and ineffective when he's played. Chicago is exploitable both in pass and run defense. Fire up your Redskins. ... In Week 6, the Bears got steamrolled on the ground by washed-up 31-year-old street free agent Brandon Jacobs for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 runs. Per PFF, Jacobs averaged 2.6 yards per carry before contact, meaning the Bears' front was simply getting blown off the ball. Alfred Morris' fantasy numbers haven't yet caught up to his on-field performance, but they will soon. On his last 61 carries, Morris has scored three touchdowns and gained 337 yards, good for a 5.52 YPC average that is an improvement on Alf's 4.81 rookie-year mark. If there's still a buy-low window available on Morris, go get him. There isn't a running back in the NFL more likely to turn his stats around and put fantasy teams on his back. ... Albeit an effective one, Roy Helu is a change-of-pace and third-down back and nothing more. His ten Week 6 touches are not a sign of workloads to come. Helu simply played more than usual because the Redskins fell behind.
Robert Griffin III's accuracy is still a work in progress, but after their Week 5 bye the Redskins played RG3 more aggressively at Dallas than they had during the season's first month. The zone read was reintroduced, as Griffin set season highs in carries (9) and rushing yards (77), and was mere feet from a touchdown on a designed red-zone quarterback draw. Chicago's defense is generating very little pressure (30th in sacks) and ranks 23rd against the pass. For RG3, a hot stretch is coming and it's likely to start this weekend. ... Griffin's Week 6 target distribution, after the bye: Pierre Garcon 15; Jordan Reed, Leonard Hankerson, and Helu 6; Santana Moss 3; Josh Morgan and Morris 1; Fred Davis 0. ... Garcon dominates targets in Washington's passing attack and is an every-week WR1/2. ... Reed has formally passed Davis as the Skins' No. 1 tight end. The Hernandezian third-round rookie played a season-high 56-of-79 (70.9%) snaps against the Cowboys and warrants low-end TE1 consideration this week. The Bears are allowing the third most catches and fourth most yards to tight ends. ... Hankerson remained Washington's starting "Z" receiver coming out of the open date, but that position has rarely translated to big numbers in the Shanahans' offense. Hankerson hasn't cleared 50 receiving yards or scored since Week 1.
Score Prediction: Bears 28, Redskins 24
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Dallas @ Philadelphia
The Cowboys and Eagles are both playing top-four scoring offense. Philly's defense ranks last in yards allowed, while Dallas' defense is decimated by injury. So it's no surprise Boys-Birds has the second highest over-under of Week 7 at 55.5 points. Fantasy owners should be excited to start players in this game. ... Since a stout early-season showing, the Cowboys' run defense has sprung leaks. In Week 4, Chargers backs combined to tag Dallas for 112 yards on 27 runs. In Week 5, Knowshon Moreno touched up Monte Kiffin's crew for 93 yards and a TD on 19 carries (4.89 YPC). Last Sunday night, Shanahan & Son re-implemented the zone read and the Redskins lit up the Cowboys for a combined 216 yards and an Alfred Morris score on 33 runs (6.55 YPC). I'd rank LeSean McCoy as the No. 1 running back play in fantasy this week. ... It's also worth noting Eagles coach Chip Kelly has had Kiffin's number dating back to their college days. Kiffin coordinated USC's defense, while Kelly coached the Oregon Ducks. Kelly's offenses eviscerated Kiffin's defense for 1,204 total yards in their final two college meetings. ... Of particular concern for Kiffin this week is the absence of future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware (quadriceps), stripping Dallas' second starting defensive end after losing LE Anthony Spencer to microfracture surgery. Simply, there is every reason to believe the Eagles will have Week 7 offensive success.
And that's why we're taking Nick Foles seriously as a Week 7 QB1. Foles has appeared in three games this season, completing 41-of-61 throws (67.2%) for 542 yards (8.9 YPA) with a 6:0 TD-to-INT ratio and 127.9 rating. Foles has concrete feet, but Kelly still uses him on designed runs because it's a critical part of the scheme, and Foles scored a four-yard rushing touchdown on a draw in last week's win over Tampa. With Ware out of the picture, there is little or nothing imposing about the Dallas defense. There are only eight quarterbacks I'd use over Foles this week: Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, and Matthew Stafford. ... Foles' target distribution on the season: DeSean Jackson 14, Jason Avant 10, Zach Ertz and Riley Cooper 7, McCoy 6, Bryce Brown 5, Brent Celek 4, Jeff Maehl 3. ... It's probably time to take D-Jax seriously as a matchup-proof WR1 when he's on pace for 91 catches, 1,571 yards, and 14 touchdowns. There isn't a corner in Dallas' secondary who can run with him. ... Cooper's Week 6 stat line of 4-120-1 is hard to take seriously because he did a huge chunk of the damage against Bucs rookie CB Johnthan Banks, who's been battling a MRSA staph infection. Cooper's 47-yard TD came on a blatant push-off of Banks that was simply missed by the refs. Prior to Week 6, Cooper hadn't cleared 30 yards all season. ... Tight end-desperate owners should give Ertz a look this week. The second-round pick from Stanford played a season-high 42-of-68 snaps (62%) against Tampa and tied D-Jax with a team-most six targets. Only the Cardinals and Dolphins have given up more fantasy points to tight ends than the Cowboys.
The Eagles have played the run better than given credit for this year. They're 16th in run defense and permit 4.01 YPC, which aren't great numbers but certainly not the cupcake popular opinion makes them out to be. Philly is atrocious against the pass. Last in the NFC in Pro Football Focus' pass-rush metrics, the Eagles are 25th in sacks with a 13:6 TD-to-INT ratio against. They made Mike Glennon look like a future franchise quarterback last week. This is every bit a cupcake for Tony Romo, who's already producing like an elite QB1 with the fifth most fantasy points among quarterbacks through six weeks. ... Philly gets destroyed on a weekly basis by underneath and crossing routes. The latest beneficiary was Bucs undrafted rookie TE Tim Wright, who dropped seven catches for 91 yards on the Eagles last week. Philadelphia has permitted the eighth most receptions and seventh most yards to tight ends this season. Jason Witten is set up for a big game. ... Dez Bryant will play snaps versus both LCB Bradley Fletcher and RCB Cary Williams on Sunday. We already have a near-full game's worth of data on the Bryant-Williams matchup after Dez physically manhandled Williams snap after snap in last October's meeting with the Ravens. Bryant finished with a stat line of 13-95-2. I'd rank Dez as the No. 1 fantasy wideout in Week 7.
Romo's target distribution this season: Bryant 54, Witten 48, DeMarco Murray (injured) 27, Miles Austin 25, Terrance Williams 21, Cole Beasley 13, Dwayne Harris 9. ... Austin has regained his starting job, but played fewer snaps than Williams in Week 6 against Washington and failed to secure any of his four targets. Coach Jason Garrett conceded publicly this week that Austin was ineffective, suggesting the Cowboys may lean more on their fast-developing third-round rookie moving forward. Williams is a superior WR3 in this matchup. Debilitated by hamstring woes, Austin can't be trusted until he puts something in the box score. ... Joseph Randle will be Dallas' Week 7 lead back in place of Murray, with Phillip Tanner likely rotating in. The Cowboys still don't trust Randle in pass protection, where he also struggled at Oklahoma State. Lance Dunbar (hamstring) will not play. View Randle as an intriguing, if shaky flex play who figures to only pay dividends if he finds pay dirt. There is a decent enough chance of that because the Cowboys are a virtual lock to move the ball on offense and generate scoring opportunities. I still think Tanner will end up playing a lot more in this game than expected because he can protect Romo. Before Week 6, Randle had not played a snap on offense all season due to his blitz-pickup inadequacy.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 30, Eagles 27
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Matt Ryan has been a quarterback elevated by his teammates rather than the other way around through five-plus NFL seasons, so it's going to be interesting to see what kind of production he's capable of without Julio Jones (foot surgery) the rest of the way. Roddy White (hamstring, ankle) has been a non-factor beyond decoy routes this season, while Tony Gonzalez is a 37-year-old box-out power forward at this stage of his career. Atlanta's pass blocking has been abysmal. Ryan could still be buoyed into QB1 dividends based on sheer pass-attempts volume in certain weeks, but I think he will struggle for top-15 fantasy quarterback production going forward. He's a shaky standard-league start against Tampa Bay's No. 16 pass defense. Glass-half-full Ryan owners can point to Steven Jackson's (hamstring) continued absence, the Georgia Dome, and Nick Foles' Week 6 game (296 yards, 4 all-purpose TDs) against these same Bucs as reasons for Week 7 optimism. ... Atlanta's lone stable weekly fantasy play left is Gonzalez, who averaged 9.2 targets a game before the Julio injury, and could now push for 11-12 per week with Jones out of the picture. The Bucs have allowed the 12th most fantasy points to tight ends, so this is an above-average matchup for Gonzo as his volume inevitably rises. "Obviously there might be more things up with Tony featured as the No. 1 guy," playcaller Dirk Koetter stated on Tuesday. "That's a no-brainer."
LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, and Foles combined to soften the Bucs for 138 yards and a score on the ground last week, but otherwise Tampa has played stingy run defense. The Buccaneers still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown to a tailback, and only permit 3.81 YPC. Since Steven Jackson strained his hamstring in Week 2, Jacquizz Rodgers has handled 66 touches compared to Jason Snelling's 42. Rodgers has played 179 snaps to Snelling's 118. Both are mid-range to low-end flex plays in this matchup, with Quizz as the preferred fantasy start. ... Harry Douglas is worth a WR3 look based on the fact that he may see 8-11 targets with Julio on I.R., but veteran fantasy leaguers are understandably skeptical because he's so often disappointed in previous opportunities like this. Slot receiver Douglas has started six games over the past three seasons, registering statistical lines of 5-68, 5-48, 2-57, 4-62, 4-51, and 1-3 without a touchdown. Lacking playmaking ability, Douglas just isn't that good. He's to be viewed as a low-ceiling WR3/4 going forward. ... Rookie TE Levine Toilolo and reserve receivers Kevin Cone and Drew Davis can be monitored for potentially expanded roles going forward, but can't be trusted in fantasy lineups.
Friday Update: I received a bunch of Friday questions about whether Douglas will be "on Revis Island," and wanted to address them. The Revis factor would be the least of my concerns. Douglas primarily plays slot receiver, and Darrelle Revis has only been used at outside corner this year. Additionally, the Buccaneers are playing zone in the back end, so Revis is not manning up opposing No. 1 wideouts. The concern I have with Douglas is his own talent level. It's not Revis, and it's certainly not opportunity.
Facing a pass rush-bereft Eagles defense assuredly played a role, but Mike Glennon showed continued signs of improvement in last week's start, operating coolly in the pocket and surveying with plus vision. He kept the chains moving on the strength of an 84.7 QB rating, 273 passing yards, and 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio with the pick coming on a bad route by Tiquan Underwood. Like Philly, Atlanta's defense has struggled to scrounge up quarterback disruption, which explains why Geno Smith picked apart the Falcons in Week 5, prior to the Week 6 bye. Atlanta is 27th in the league in sacks. Glennon is on the low-end two-quarterback-league radar and his progression bodes well for Tampa's other skill-position players. He's already an upgrade on Josh Freeman. ... Glennon's target distribution through two appearances: Vincent Jackson 25, Tim Wright 13, Mike Williams 6, Underwood 4, Brian Leonard and Jeff Demps 3, Erik Lorig 2. ... The Bucs use V-Jax at split end and in the slot, where his Week 7 matchups are favorable versus rookie RCB Desmond Trufant and slot CB Robert McClain, who's been a weekly burn victim. Slot receivers versus Atlanta over the last four games: Tavon Austin 6-47-2; Brandon Gibson 6-49; Julian Edelman 7-118; Jeremy Kerley 5-68-1. V-Jax is more likely to produce rest-of-season WR2/3 stats, but I'd treat him as a borderline WR1 this week. Glennon is peppering him with footballs.
Martin is a recommended buy-low target. Current owners have anxiety because he hasn't hit pay dirt since Week 1, but his pass-game involvement has increased in three straight games, while Glennon's improvement bodes well for Tampa's run-game outlook. Martin has at least 20 touches in every game this year. The Falcons rank sixth in run defense, but are allowing the tenth highest YPC average (4.23) in football, so this matchup isn't as difficult as meets the eye. Martin owners should start him as a borderline RB1. Non-Martin owners should look to buy. ... Undrafted rookie TE Wright has added a new dimension to Tampa Bay's passing attack as a short to intermediate presence with a chain-moving skill set. He's secured 13 of the 17 balls thrown his way this year. Atlanta has allowed the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, giving Wright some desperation TE1 appeal in standard leagues. He's worth owning in 14- and 16-teamers as a TE2. ... Williams is coming off a hamstring injury and projects to square off with Falcons top CB Asante Samuel on most of Sunday's snaps. Samuel never moves off his left corner island, and Williams primarily runs pass routes at LCBs. Williams has mostly disappointed in recent matchups with Atlanta. His last four stat lines against the Falcons: 5-43, 1-31, 3-28, 6-65-1. I'd try to find a different WR3.
Score Prediction: Falcons 21, Bucs 20
New England @ NY Jets
Rex Ryan's Jets defense bottled up New England's sputtering offense in these teams' Week 2 meeting in Foxboro, as the Pats narrowly escaped with a 13-10 win. Now the Patriots travel to the Jets' building, where New York has yet to surrender more than 20 points in any game this season. Fantasy owners shouldn't anticipate much scoring from Pats-Jets because both clubs are playing potent defense, and each team's offense has been inconsistent at best. ... The Patriots are back to square one in their pass-catching corps, having lost Danny Amendola to a Week 6 concussion with Rob Gronkowski (arm surgeries) not yet back. Tom Brady's target distribution in the three games this season where Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson have been his primary pass options: Edelman 34, Thompkins 25, Dobson 23, Brandon Bolden 7, Josh Boyce 4, Michael Hoomanawanui and Stevan Ridley 3. ... Edelman's snaps were scaled back last week, but the Pats are going to need him to be a full-time player again. And he caught 13 balls against these same Jets in the Week 2 game. Edelman should be locked into PPR lineups. He's a WR3 in standard settings. ... The Patriots seem quite pleased with Dobson's improvement, playing him more than any of their wideouts in Week 6 (80-of-88 snaps). Dobson caught six passes for 63 yards against the Saints and is worth a look for WR3 desperados.
Friday Update: Gronkowski's agent announced Friday Dr. James Andrews has medically cleared his client, and ESPN's Ed Werder (very reliable) reported Gronk "is expected" to play against the Jets. I would consider Gronkowski a top-two tight end play immediately, alongside San Francisco's Vernon Davis. By all accounts, Gronkowski has been "dominant" in Patriots practices, even to the extent that teammates were frustrated he looked so good yet wasn't playing in games. And I'm not concerned about his Week 7 playing time. I think he will be full go right away.
Fallout of the Return of Gronk: This sounds simplistic, but I think the primary fallout is it upgrades the talent level of New England's offense. Not much changes; they just have a (much) better tight end now. The player who will lose the most playing time is Hoomanawanui. I expect the Patriots to continue to play 11 Personnel offense, with Dobson and Thompkins at outside receiver, Edelman as the primary slot man, and Gronkowski as the every-down tight end. Gronkowski commands double and triple teams in scoring position, which should help spark the Patriots' run game. And Brady now has back the most lethal red-zone presence in football.
Thompkins is likely to spend most of Sunday's game in Antonio Cromartie's coverage, and "Cro" is struggling. Opposing No. 1 receiver stats versus the Jets this year: Antonio Brown 9-86, Julio Jones 8-99, Vincent Jackson 7-154, Nate Washington 4-105-2, Stevie Johnson 6-86, Edelman 13-78. Loved by Brady on end-zone fades, Thompkins has four TDs over his last four games. ... Ridley's Week 6 return from a thigh contusion brought clarity to the Patriots' backfield, as their most talented runner racked up 21 touches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount (7-9) was totally ineffective, while passing back Bolden was utilized only as a change-of-pace runner (5-19) with three targets as a check-down option. The problem for Ridley in Week 7 is the matchup. Lead back stats versus the Jets' No. 2 run defense this year: Doug Martin 24-65-1; Ridley 16-40-0; C.J. Spiller 10-9-0; Chris Johnson 15-21-0; Jacquizz Rodgers 14-43-2; Le'Veon Bell 16-34-0. Those runners have combined for a 2.23 YPC average. Ridley is likely to see 15-plus touches again and is worth a look as a flex play, but he's going to need better matchups for confident usage as an RB2. ... Blount is a clearly inferior runner to Ridley and figures to fade out of the picture sooner rather than later. ... Bolden is just a role player and has yet to receive more than 11 touches in any game this year. He's not a Week 7 fantasy option.
The Jets have Week 7 offensive hope due to the banged-up state of New England's defense. NT Vince Wilfork is on I.R. with a torn Achilles'. WLB Jerod Mayo joined him in the season-ending-injury group this week with a torn pectoral. Shutdown CB Aqib Talib (hip) is not expected to play. So the Pats will be without their best player at each level of defense. ... New England is allowing 4.24 yards per carry, the ninth highest average in football. With Mike Goodson done for the year with an ACL tear, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory will handle the Jets' backfield duties going forward. Powell is a low-end flex option against a Patriots defense he stung for 70 total yards and a TD in Week 2. ... Although he lacks the versatility of Powell, Ivory is slated for increased usage, as well, as a violent between-the-tackles complementary runner who could take advantage of the Patriots' depleted front seven. Ivory isn't a realistic Week 7 fantasy option, but he's worth owning in 12- and 14- team leagues as a bench stash. Ivory is still the most talented runner the Jets have. To this point, his touches have been limited by a committee approach and his recurring hamstring woes.
Geno Smith's target distribution since Santonio Holmes suffered his multi-week hamstring injury: Jeremy Kerley 13; Stephen Hill 10; Jeff Cumberland 9; Powell 5; David Nelson 3. ... Accurately forecasting worthwhile fantasy numbers from any Jets pass catcher has been a difficult task this season. So let's focus on their skills. At 6-foot-4, 210 with legit 4.3 wheels, Hill is averaging 16.7 yards per reception and gives you your best shot at a big play. Talib's absence gives Hill a Week 7 assist. He's a boom-or-bust WR3 option. ... Kerley is a between-the-numbers, high-percentage receiver who plays Z and slot. He will get the start opposite Hill. If you're a PPR owner looking for a wideout capable of giving you five or so quiet receptions, Kerley is the way to go. ... The Pats have allowed the seventh most catches and 11th most yards in the league to tight ends. So on paper, this is a plus matchup for Cumberland, who is locked in as the Jets' top tight end with Kellen Winslow entering the second week of his month-long suspension. Cumberland is a bit of a lumbering player, though he's quite capable of scoring red-zone touchdowns and sneaking behind the defense. Cumberland is a fantasy TE2, ideally, but you could do worse for a Week 7 fill-in flier.
Score Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 17
Buffalo @ Miami
The Dolphins return from a Week 6 bye to square off with a Bills offense starting Thad Lewis at quarterback a week removed from a right foot sprain. Lewis more than held his own in last week's O.T. loss to Cincinnati, but sustained success against a defensive front as talented and rested as Miami's is unlikely. Look for another heavy dose of run plays from a Bills team committed to the run and leading the NFL in rushing attempts. Although Lewis is clearly a better quarterback than given credit for, he's going to be a low-volume passer in a difficult matchup. He's just a two-quarterback-league consideration. ... Lewis' Week 6 target distribution: Robert Woods and T.J. Graham 6; Fred Jackson 5; Scott Chandler 4; Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, and Tashard Choice 3; C.J. Spiller 2. ... Combine Lewis' tendency to spread his throws around instead of locking onto one particular pass catcher with Stevie Johnson's return from a back injury, and no Bills receiver or tight end is a trustworthy fantasy play. Johnson would be the best bet because he's playing so much slot receiver, where he can avoid stationary LCB Brent Grimes' coverage. ... Woods is more likely to match up with Grimes because the rookie runs most of his pass routes at opposing left cornerbacks. Pro Football Focus has graded Grimes as a top-nine corner through five games, and No. 10 overall in pass coverage. Woods is an undesirable WR3 this week.
The Dolphins are allowing the second most fantasy points to tight ends, which theoretically gives Chandler a plus matchup. Unfortunately, Chandler is a touchdown-dependent tight end who will burn a hole in your fantasy lineup if he doesn't hit pay dirt. He's cleared 50 yards in 1-of-6 games this year. ... Until Spiller shakes his ankle woes and resumes operating as an even committee back alongside Jackson, Spiller can only be treated as an RB2/flex. For his part, Spiller has been highly effective in his reduced role despite playing at significantly less than 100%. He's rushed 18 times for 121 yards (6.72 YPC) and a touchdown the past two weeks. And that explains why the Bills' coaching staff isn't resting him. Spiller is still a quality on-field performer, and he's historically given Miami's heavyweight defense fits. ... The Dolphins rank 15th versus the run and surrender 3.96 yards per carry, so this is an average to below-average matchup for Spiller and Jackson. F-Jax's last two games have produced just 88 yards on 27 runs (3.26 YPC), though his involvement in the pass game and chances at a goal-line score keep Jackson on the flex-play radar this week.
Before their Week 6 bye, the Dolphins showed signs of leaning on Lamar Miller as a true feature back and moving away from their early-season RBBC with Daniel Thomas. Miller has outplayed Thomas in virtually every area, so the switch would make sense. Only time can tell whether this will truly become a trend, but in Week 5 Miller played a season-high 45-of-59 snaps compared to Thomas' 11 downs. On the season, Miller is averaging 4.22 YPC to Thomas' 2.63. Pro Football Focus has also given Miller better grades than Thomas as a pass blocker. Miami's coaching staff had a week off to review the tape in preparation of attacking the Bills' No. 28 run defense. Miller is an intriguing Week 7 flex play, with RB2 rest-of-season potential if he can maintain the lead over Thomas in terms of snaps and touches. ... Although Ryan Tannehill has made year-two strides, the box scores have yet to cooperate. Tannehill is 21st in per-game fantasy quarterback scoring, behind the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Geno Smith, and just ahead of Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton. With top CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and FS Jairus Byrd (foot) back in action, Buffalo's pass defense won't be as leaky as it was over the first five-plus games. Tannehill is a fantasy QB2. He needs more help from his pass protection in order to take a serious statistical leap.
With a game under his belt in first-year Bills DC Mike Pettine's defense, look for Gilmore to get the Week 7 Mike Wallace assignment. Gilmore was eased into the Week 6 lineup, playing only 27-of-88 downs. This week, Gilmore was a full practice participant for the first time all season. Just 53rd in per-game fantasy wide receiver scoring, Wallace is a roll-of-the-dice WR3 play. ... Tannehill's target distribution over Miami's first five games: Wallace 44, Brian Hartline 39, Brandon Gibson 33, Charles Clay 31, Miller 9, Thomas 6. ... Clay is always an intriguing TE1 option because plays all over the formation and runs high-percentage pass routes that make it easy for Tannehill to connect. The Bills have allowed the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends, giving this the impression of a difficult matchup. Clay is not utilized like most tight ends, however. I wouldn't discourage anyone from playing him this week. ... On pace for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns, Hartline is a low-ceiling WR3. He hasn't hit the 70-yard mark since Week 1.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 24, Bills 20
San Diego @ Jacksonville
On the strength of 5-80, 6-115-1, and 9-107-1 statistical lines, Keenan Allen has solidified himself as an every-week WR3 with WR2 upside. The Bolts are using him at every wide receiver position on the field, and in last week's upset of Indianapolis Allen was treated as a legit No. 1 wideout by Philip Rivers, leading San Diego in targets (12, next closest was 8) while exhibiting slippery after-catch running skills in the open field, and outstanding change of direction. Allen has blossomed into an ideal fit for San Diego's quick-pass offense. Start him against Jacksonville's burnable secondary. ... Rivers' target distribution over the three-week stretch: Antonio Gates 28, Allen 27, Vincent Brown and Danny Woodhead 21, Eddie Royal 12, Ryan Mathews 5, Ronnie Brown 3, Ladarius Green 2. ... Target leader Gates has a plus matchup against a Jags team surrendering the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends. Gates and Allen project as San Diego's reception and yardage leaders moving forward. ... Jacksonville has allowed a league-high 14 touchdown passes and is tied for 29th in sacks. Simply talent deficient on defense, the Jaguars lack imposing pass rushers and allow enemy quarterbacks to operate in clean pockets. It's a recipe for success for Rivers, who I'd view as a top-five QB1 in Week 7 and a top-ten fantasy starter moving forward.
Royal missed a chunk of Week 6 snaps with a toe injury, finishing without a target. He'd clearly moved to the backburner even before then, and can be dropped in 12-team leagues. ... Although San Diego's pass-catching corps has been in constant motion this season, recent data suggests Brown is the No. 2 wideout behind Allen, and Rivers' No. 4 pass option behind Gates, Allen, and Woodhead. Brown is WR4/5 bench depth until something changes. ... The Jags rank last in the NFL in run defense, have permitted seven rushing touchdowns through six games, and cough up 4.77 yards per carry. While fantasy owners still can't anticipate significant goal-line or passing-game involvement, Mathews is a quality RB2/flex because the opponent is so weak. When he has lasted four quarters healthy this year, Mathews is averaging 18.6 touches per game. His weekly upside remains capped by the Chargers' distrust of Mathews in all critical situations, which he re-confirmed in Week 6 against the Colts by bone-headeadly running out of bounds with San Diego in crucial late-game clock-killing mode. ... Although Woodhead is a vanilla week-to-week flex play in standard leagues, he's on pace for 96 catches and can be leaned on as an every-week RB2/flex in PPR formats. The Chargers get Woodhead into space in the pass game, and utilize him as a change-of-pace runner on the ground. He's averaging 13 touches for 69 yards per game.
Appearing more physically fit and focused than he ever did as a rookie, Justin Blackmon is a burgeoning fantasy beast. Perhaps most critically, rookie OC Jedd Fisch is utilizing Blackmon to his strengths. Playing frequent slot snaps and running high-percentage patterns like slants and skinny posts, Blackmon is dominating defenses in the middle of the field, where his Boldinian physicality makes him a matchup nightmare. Chad Henne's strength as a passer is throwing inside the numbers and down the seams. Add in generous helpings of garbage time and Cecil Shorts' injury, and Blackmon is a candidate to lead the NFL in targets on a weekly basis. Already struggling, Chargers lightweight CBs Shareece Wright (5'11/182), Johnny Patrick (5'11/190), and Derek Cox (6'1/195) will have their hands full. Treat Blackmon as a WR1. ... Henne's targets since Blackmon came off suspension: Blackmon 29, Shorts 10, Clay Harbor 8, Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Brown 5, Ace Sanders 4, Justin Forsett 3. ... Shorts (sternum/clavicle) isn’t expected to play against the Chargers, thrusting Brown into the starting lineup with Sanders coming off a concussion. It's a fantasy situation to avoid behind target monster Blackmon. ... Marcedes Lewis is tentatively due back from a recurring calf injury that has cost him all but one game this season. The Jags could really use Lewis to help liability OTs Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor pass and run block.
Friday Update: Listed as questionable, Shorts told reporters Friday he will try to play against the Chargers despite an injury that is restrictive on his upper-body movement, and cost him sleep during the week. I wouldn't be convinced Shorts is capable of playing a full game. He should be on fantasy benches this week. Perhaps Shorts will be worth revisiting in Week 8 against the 49ers if he beats the odds and plays well versus San Diego.
I haven't had many opportunities to see Jones-Drew sprung into the open field this season due to a Jaguars offensive line that ranks dead last in Pro Football Focus' team run-blocking metrics. MJD got one of those chances in last week's loss to Denver, and his lack of high-end run skills was apparent. Jones-Drew no longer has a second gear and isn't moving well laterally. He's a weekly sell-high recommend in this space, and will remain so going forward, particularly if he strings together another productive outing versus San Diego's No. 17 run defense. The Bolts are giving up 4.82 yards per carry, which is the fourth highest average in the league. ... Forsett appears to have overtaken Jordan Todman as Jacksonville's No. 2 running back. While Todman played only nine snaps against the Broncos and failed to record an offensive touch, Forsett was active in comeback mode and secured 3-of-3 targets for 18 yards. The Jaguars would likely fall back on a timeshare if Jones-Drew was injured or traded, but Forsett would be the preferred fantasy target. The versatile scatback is worth stashing right now in 14- and 16-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Jaguars 17
St. Louis @ Carolina
Playcaller Mike Shula brought back the designed quarterback run in Week 6 at Minnesota, and Carolina rolled up another convincing win. In the two games Cam Newton has been an integral part of Carolina's run game, the Panthers are undefeated with scoring results of 38-0 and 35-10. When Shula has utilized Cam like a conventional pocket passer, Carolina is 0-3 with losses to Buffalo, Arizona, and Seattle. Hopefully, Shula is beginning to get the picture. In my Going Forward Rankings, I ranked Newton under the assumption that Shula will indeed continue to use his dual-threat quarterback like a dual threat. Back at home this week, Newton is capable of dominating St. Louis' No. 22 defense if Shula plays to his strengths. ... The Rams can bring heat off the edge, but struggle in the back half due to poor safeties and up-and-down corner coverage. Noteworthy opposing wideout stat lines against St. Louis' porous secondary: Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2; Andre Johnson 7-88. I'm well aware Steve Smith has been a box-score disappointment this season, but he's averaging nearly nine targets a game the past four weeks and has a plus Week 7 matchup. I like "89" as a high-ceiling WR3.
Newton's 2013 target distribution: Smith 43, Greg Olsen 36, Brandon LaFell 24, Ted Ginn 21, DeAngelo Williams 13, Mike Tolbert 8. ... Avoid chasing LaFell's Week 6 line (4-107-1); his 79-yard score came on a badly blown coverage by a depleted Vikings secondary. LaFell is a fantasy WR5/6. ... Olsen has blocked more than run routes in two of his last three games, which partially explains his sub-average stats. The Rams are playing better tight end coverage than expected because WLB Alec Ogletree has been an animal at the second and third levels. Olsen should still be viewed as a low-upside yet viable TE1 as Cam's No. 2 pass option in a game where Carolina projects to have passing success. ... Over its last four games, St. Louis has been gutted by Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray, Kendall Hunter, Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster, and Ben Tate for a combined 600 yards and four TDs on 104 carries (5.77 YPC). Jonathan Stewart admitted Monday he still needs "a couple weeks" to get his ankle right, and will stay on PUP. Although Williams loses all goal-line work to Cam and Tolbert, he'll be a strong bet for 20 touches in a favorable matchup with the Rams. Fantasy owners need to sell Williams after this week. The next four games on Carolina's schedule will be against Tampa, Atlanta, San Francisco, and New England. Simply not scoring touchdowns, Williams won't be winning anyone 2013 fantasy football leagues.
Slowly and quietly but surely, the Rams are transitioning from an early-season passing-based offense to a team that leans on a sustaining, workmanlike run game. The focal point of St. Louis' revised approach is Zac Stacy, who's racked up 157 yards on 32 runs (4.91 YPC) the past two games while seeing his snap percentage rise from 56% to 81%. The Rams played inefficient offense before committing to the run, both in the pass game and on the ground. They now have two straight wins as the ball-control mindset limits their scuffling defense's field time. Sunday's matchup with Carolina's No. 4 run defense is inarguably imposing, but Stacy's value has risen to the point he's an every-week flex play with a mid-range RB2 ceiling. ... The Rams' running-game emphasis is rendering Tavon Austin an offensive non-factor. Austin played three snaps in Week 6 and was targeted once. Not only has Austin been a part of the problem and not solution in St. Louis -- he has six drops among a team-high 41 targets -- Austin is not an effective blocker. You can keep him reserved as a WR5, but something will have to change for Austin to be start-able in fantasy leagues. ... Sam Bradford's target distribution the past two weeks: Chris Givens 11, Lance Kendricks 8, Austin 7, Austin Pettis 6, Jared Cook 5, Brian Quick 4, Stacy 3, Daryl Richardson 1.
Carolina's top-seven pass defense is limiting enemy quarterbacks to a 4:8 TD-to-INT ratio and 75.8 rating, the eighth stingiest clip in football. The Panthers are effectively masking back-end flaws with arguably the NFL's most disruptive front seven. Bradford struggles in muddy pockets and will experience them Sunday. Despite career-best pace stats in touchdowns (35) and yards (3,819), Bradford is a low-end QB2. ... St. Louis' spread-the-wealth pass game hasn't produced a single fantasy starter from the likes of Austin, Cook, Givens, Pettis, and Kendricks. Continuing to prove his Week 1 outburst was a mirage, Cook ranks a pathetic 30th in fantasy tight end scoring over the past five weeks. He's a last-ditch TE2. ... Over his last four games, Givens has secured an anemic 10-of-25 targets for 139 yards. He has zero touchdowns on the season. ... Pettis will pay dividends if and only if he scores a red-zone TD, and will hurt you if he doesn't. He's found pay dirt in 3-of-6 games this year, but has cleared 60 yards just once. I personally wouldn't even consider him. ... Quick scored a four-yard touchdown in last week's win over Houston, but is the Rams' fourth receiver and can't be trusted in fantasy leagues. He's playing 33.2% of the snaps.
Score Prediction: Panthers 23, Rams 17
Cincinnati @ Detroit
Calvin Johnson practiced on a Wednesday this week for the first time since September, indicating he's re-approaching 100% after a bothersome knee injury. Detroit's offense was lost without him in Week 5 against the Packers, managing nine points and 286 total yards. Even with Megatron in a decoy role last week, production multiplied to 31 points and 366 yards in a challenging road test at Cleveland. Johnson's mere presence is a mammoth difference maker. Now ready to produce again, look for Matthew Stafford & Co. to re-find their groove. ... No. 4 in fantasy QB scoring, Stafford's TD-to-INT ratio in games Johnson plays this year is 9:3 with a 289-yard average. The Bengals are playing top-nine pass defense as their up-front pass rush starts to catch fire, but Stafford has established himself as an every-week QB1. ... Megatron's presence also makes Reggie Bush more dangerous as an all-purpose weapon. Coming off a 22-touch, 135-yard, one-score effort versus Cleveland's No. 7 run defense, Bush remains a top-seven RB1 against Cincy's No. 10 unit. PPR leaguers realize Bush's value, but I hope standard-league owners don't undersell him. He is and will continue to be a touch, yardage, and scoring machine. ... Joique Bell is healthy after last week's rib scare, but remains more handcuff/stash than flex play. Since Bell's Week 3 spot start against Washington, he's only averaging ten touches for 42 scoreless yards per game.
Some fantasy leaguers seem to find it fun chasing previous-week touchdowns. What isn't fun is getting goose eggs in your fantasy lineup, and that'll be the risk plug-and-play Joseph Fauria owners take in Week 7. Fauria caught three balls in last week's win over the Browns. They all went for TDs, and they were his only targets of the game. He played 24-of-76 snaps (31.6%). In my opinion, you'd have to be pretty desperate to start Fauria until he becomes a stable part of Detroit's offense. ... No longer a featured pass catcher for the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew hasn't cleared 60 yards or scored through five games this season. The Bengals are 20th in receptions allowed to tight ends, and 21st in yards. ... Special teamer Kris Durham is playing nearly 90% of the Lions' offensive snaps, but has dropped a pass in four consecutive weeks and hit 60 yards once during that span. He's just not a very good receiver. Opportunity can overcome talent in any given game, of course, and Durham has that in an explosive offense. He's a dice-roll WR3 option. ... Ryan Broyles remains a hold in Dynasty leagues, but he simply hasn't been a factor in Detroit's passing offense to this point. He's a WR5 in 12- and 14-team settings. Broyles did play 50-of-76 downs (66%) at Cleveland, but Stafford isn't looking his way. Broyles hasn't seen more than three targets in any game this year. Durham, Fauria, and Pettigrew are all better bets.
The Bengals got their passing offense rolling by changing up the formula in Week 6 at Buffalo. Relying heavily on wide receiver and tailback screens, Andy Dalton registered season highs in passing yards (337), touchdown passes (3), and YPA (8.43) in Cincinnati's 27-24 victory. This is probably not a sustainable method of generating offense, but OC Jay Gruden is grasping at straws a bit with Dalton failing to improve as an intermediate to deep thrower. Dalton remains a mid-range QB2 against a Lions pass defense limiting enemy quarterbacks to a 7:10 TD-to-INT ratio and 75.4 QB rating, the seventh lowest mark in the league. ... A.J. Green entered Week 6 as the most obvious buy-low trade target in fantasy, and emerged with a 6-103-1 line on a game-high 11 targets. Green is the No. 9 overall fantasy wideout on the season and an obvious top-five WR1 play against a Lions defense that dished out 126 yards on seven grabs to Josh Gordon last week. ... Dalton's target distribution over the last month: Green 42, Giovani Bernard 21, Mohamed Sanu 19, Jermaine Gresham 18, Tyler Eifert 17, Marvin Jones 14, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2. ... Starting a non-running back in Cincinnati's offense behind Green is never a good idea. Sanu has been a major disappointment both in real life in fantasy, and the Bengals would probably be better off starting more-explosive Jones opposite A.J. I've noticed Sanu's snap percentages drop in each of the past three games, so perhaps the Bengals agree. Jones is still only the team's No. 3 receiver.
In order for a Cincinnati tight end to reach fantasy start-ability, one would need for the other to miss time. Gresham and Eifert continue to render each other non-factors. Eifert is 26th in fantasy tight end scoring, while Gresham is 28th. No tight end has found pay dirt on the Lions this season. ... Bernard has played more snaps and received more touches than Green-Ellis in three of Cincy's last four games. Over that span, Bernard has played 164 downs compared to Law Firm's 113, and Gio has handled the football on 66 occasions to BJGE's 53. Is Green-Ellis here to stay as an inside-the-tackles grinder and short-yardage back? Yes. Is Bernard going to continue to hover in the 14-21 touch-per-game range with big-play ability? Affirmative. Gio has settled in as strong weekly RB2, especially in PPR leagues, while Green-Ellis remains a touchdown-dependent flex play. The Lions are leaky against the run, where they rank 29th in the NFL and serve up a league-high 5.39 yards per carry. It's a great week to lean on Bernard. Because Green-Ellis is incapable of breaking long runs and isn't involved in the passing game, he'll only pay off as a flex start if he scores from a yard or two out. Those aren't the kinds of backs we like to roster in fantasy football.
Score Prediction: Lions 24, Bengals 21
4:05PM ET Game
San Francisco @ Tennessee
Predictably re-finding his rhythm with Vernon Davis' hamstring back to 100%, Colin Kaepernick has a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio over his last three games, and totaled 270 yards with two touchdowns versus a Cardinals defense in Week 6 that eliminated Cam Newton the week before. Kap needs more rushing volume to reach his high ceiling, but he's very much back in the low-end QB1 discussion. It's worth noting the blitz-heavy Titans served up 61 yards on 10 carries to Russell Wilson last week. A man-coverage team, Tennessee is vulnerable to quarterback runs. ... The Titans are playing top-ten pass defense but can be exploited on the ground, where they rank 19th versus the run and submit 4.39 yards per carry, the ninth highest average in football. They'll also be without MLB Moise Fokou (knee) against the 49ers. Coming off a 101-yard gutting of Arizona's top-five run defense, Frank Gore has rushed for 417 yards and two touchdowns on his last 73 carries (5.71 YPC). Gore is running angry and this is a plus matchup, so get him in your fantasy lineup. ... Kap's target distribution since Davis got healthy two weeks ago: Davis 17, Anquan Boldin 14, Jon Baldwin 4, Bruce Miller 3, Kyle Williams 2, Vance McDonald and Kendall Hunter 1.
Seeing most of his targets over the middle and down the right sideline, Boldin will do battle with Titans LCB Jason McCourty on the majority of Sunday's snaps. Enjoying the finest season of his career, McCourty has allowed one touchdown pass through six games and is a top-five corner in Pro Football Focus' ratings. View Boldin as a WR3 this week. He can still get production against liability slot corner Coty Sensabaugh. ... The Niners are now employing a fantasy value-killing rotation at X receiver, where Williams started in Week 6 but only played 43 downs, whereas Baldwin came off the bench for 20 snaps. It's a fantasy situation to avoid. ... The only other Niners skill player worth fantasy discussion is Hunter, who is Gore's change-of-pace complement. Hunter should be stashed in all leagues and is a must-handcuff for Gore owners. Hunter is not a standalone flex play, however. He's averaging six touches for 23 yards per game.
With Jake Locker (hip/knee) still hobbled, Ryan Fitzpatrick will make his third straight start in a nightmare matchup with San Francisco's top-six pass defense. The Niners are holding opposing quarterbacks to a 7:8 TD-to-INT ratio, 69.9 passer rating -- third lowest in the league -- and an NFC-low 54.9 completion rate. The Titans will have trouble moving the ball both in the air and on the ground. ... Fitz's targets through two-plus games: Kendall Wright 19, Nate Washington 16, Delanie Walker 11, Chris Johnson 9, Damian Williams 8, Kenny Britt 7, Justin Hunter 4, Jackie Battle 2. ... San Francisco's defensive approach isn't dissimilar from division-foe Seattle's. The 49ers play physical press-man coverage on the perimeter and force defenses to work in toward the middle of the field, where playmaking ILBs Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman wreak havoc. The Seahawks held Titans primary outside receiver Washington to 15 yards on four Week 6 targets. He's a poor WR3 option this week. ... Although he isn't ripping off big plays and has hit pay dirt in just 1-of-6 games, Wright is playing well enough to warrant serious WR3 consideration. Wright has five-plus receptions in five consecutive weeks, playing primarily in the slot. 49ers slot CB Carlos Rogers is 32 years old and susceptible to quick-twitch opponents like Wright.
Saturday Update: NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Saturday the Titans expect hobbled Jake Locker to start instead of Fitzpatrick after Locker returned to practice on Friday. Practice observers, however, noticed Locker limping through the workout, and he's clearly still not 100%. Regardless of Tennessee's quarterback identity, this is a concerning situation for the offense. You'd have to think the Titans would go extremely run heavy if Locker does get the nod, although I'm still skeptical they would have much rushing success in a difficult matchup.
Block-first TE Walker has been a predictable box-score dud this season, and on Sunday takes on a 49ers defense allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Look elsewhere. ... We had to change Johnson's nickname this past week from CJ3ypcK to CJ2ypcK because over his last three games the $56 million man is averaging 1.92 yards per carry. (So, generously, we're rounding up.) His only 2013 touchdown came on a bail-out shovel pass by Fitzpatrick under heavy pressure, and Johnson weaseled his way into the end zone from 49 yards out. The 49ers permit 3.85 YPC on the ground, so this isn't a plus matchup for CJwhateverK. With Shonn Greene finally returning from his scoped knee, it's fair to wonder if Johnson will really start losing carries. Greene is a superior between-the-tackles runner. Johnson only runs hard when he sees a clearly-blocked avenue, and sometimes doesn't even then. He is the NFL's least effective running back.
Score Prediction: 49ers 21, Titans 17
4:25PM ET Games
Houston @ Kansas City
Being a practice squad-type quarterback making your first start versus the NFL's sack leaders at Arrowhead isn't far off literally being thrown to wolves. Case Keenum will "star" in that role Sunday after failing to beat out T.J. Yates for the Texans' backup job in August. A macaroni-armed dunk and dinker with some scrambling chops, Keenum is a push-ball thrower with a low delivery. The Chiefs' fantasy defense will eat. ... Houston's only realistic method of ball movement will involve handoffs to Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Despite losing fumbles in back-to-back games, Tate surprisingly handled 13 touches in last week's loss to St. Louis, vulturing a one-yard touchdown in garbage time. In an ideal world, the Texans would probably give Foster about 25 touches and Tate ten. As Maurice Jones-Drew (15-45-0), DeMarco Murray (15-25-0), David Wilson (13-55-0), Chris Johnson (10-17-0), and Darren McFadden (16-52-0) can all attest, the Chiefs' run defense is much stouter than the current NFL rankings suggest. But Foster is a borderline RB1 and Tate is a low-end flex in this game simply because the volume should be there. Coach Gary Kubiak and OC Rick Dennison might need their heads checked if they let Keenum drop back to pass 25-plus times. The Arrowhead Stadium environment is fierce when the team is competitive, and the Chiefs don't just lead the NFL in sacks. They lead the NFL in sacks by eight.
I think Houston's likeliest means of Week 7 passing offense will come on Keenum checkdowns to Foster, and everything from a receiver/tight end standpoint is unpredictable guesswork. I know this sounds simplistic, but Andre Johnson is worth a WR3 start just because he's awesome and could get behind the defense on a play-action bomb. It isn't as if Kubiak and Dennison will stop calling plays for him. ... DeAndre Hopkins would be a far poorer bet. Just 42nd in receiver scoring through six games in the first place, it's secondary pass-game options like Hopkins who typically feel the brunt of quarterback downgrades. He could score a touchdown Sunday and still wouldn't have been the correct play in a majority of instances. ... Graham was a major disappointment in his first game as the Texans' primary tight end last week (2-25 on four targets), and the Chiefs have allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to his position. Because Graham just isn't a great talent and his quarterback is essentially practice squad-caliber, I'd want to see some serious production from him before leaning on Graham as a TE1, even when Matt Schaub (foot) returns.
This has been discussed in the Matchups column for weeks now, but bears repeating: Houston's "No. 1 ranking" in total defense is one of the phoniest stats you'll see. The Texans have allowed the fourth most points in football and are getting gashed on the ground. Opponents aren't racking up yards against the Texans because they don't need to to beat them, be it either due to turnovers or methodical run-game success. The bottom line is that the Texans' defense is not an imposing one for fantasy matchup purposes. ... Of course, the Chiefs' offense isn't a juggernaut, either. The Vegas prognosticators know it, installing Kansas City as a mere 6.5-point favorite at home against first-time NFL quarterback Keenum. Since a fluky-hot start, Alex Smith has fallen to 18th in the fantasy QB rankings and is a low-end, low-ceiling QB2 week in and week out. He generates no big-play potential in the passing game while being protected by an elite defense and elite running back in Jamaal Charles. ... Smith's target distribution on the year: Charles 53, Donnie Avery and Dwayne Bowe 34, Dexter McCluster 26, Sean McGrath 22, Anthony Sherman 9.
It's telling Charles leads Kansas City in targets, and by such a wide margin. There isn't a receiver or tight end on the Chiefs that warrants serious fantasy consideration anymore. Smith can't and doesn't throw outside the numbers or downfield, rendering Bowe and Avery all but worthless with little chance of improvement barring an unforeseen defensive breakdown that puts Kansas City into more pass-happy situations. The Chiefs don't play in shootouts, and they don't allow large deficits. Whenever Avery or Bowe has a big game, it's a differentiation from the norm. ... The most-likely outlook of this game plays directly into Charles' hands. The Texans are 25th in run defense and surrender a relatively generous 4.17 yards per carry. With Keenum at the controls, the score is likely to be manageable for all four quarters, allowing the Chiefs to play the kind of offense they want to play, which means ball-control football dominated by handoffs and dump-offs to their dynamic all-purpose running back. There aren't three better fantasy RB1 bets than Charles in Week 7.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 21, Texans 16
Baltimore @ Pittsburgh
Steelers-Ravens games are typically low-scoring slugfests with few outliers. The division rivals play twice a year, and these are their last six regular season results: 23-20, 13-10, 35-7, 23-20, 17-14, 13-10. The over-under on this game is 40.5 points, which is the third lowest of Week 7. I'd probably still bet the under. ... Ben Roethlisberger's pass protection is a major concern again with 6-foot-3, 303-pound utility lineman Kelvin Beachum installed at left tackle facing a Baltimore defense that ranks second in the NFL in sacks with a 3:4 TD-to-INT ratio permitted to enemy quarterbacks since Opening Day. Big Ben is a low-end two-QB-league play this week. ... Le'Veon Bell has an inarguably difficult matchup versus the Ravens' No. 7 run defense, which is permitting just 3.64 YPC with one rushing score allowed through six games. The fantasy points didn't cooperate in Week 6 against the Jets, but Bell has still settled in as an every-week RB2/flex in tough matchups, with high-end RB2 potential when the Steelers face weaker teams. Bell is averaging 19.5 touches since returning from his foot injury two games ago, and that volume is hard to find. If Bell's box-score stats continue to disappoint versus run-tough Baltimore, he will be a recommended buy-low target ahead of Week 8.
Big Ben's target distribution since Le'Veon joined the lineup: Antonio Brown 24, Heath Miller 15, Emmanuel Sanders 14, Bell 8, Jerricho Cotchery 6. ... Despite an early-season bye, Brown ranks tenth in the NFL in targets over the past five weeks and is approaching WR1 value as the clear focal point of Pittsburgh's passing game. Brown may never be a good bet for double-digit TDs in a season, but he could easily emerge from Week 7 with nine catches. The Ravens' secondary is their defensive weakness. ... Miller is an every-down player again and critical part of OC Todd Haley's passing attack. Baltimore is allowing the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, giving Miller a plus matchup this week. He's a low-end TE1. ... When I watched the Steelers' Week 6 game against the Jets, I came away feeling like Miller had clearly bypassed Sanders as the No. 2 option in Haley's passing game despite Sanders' 55-yard touchdown versus Antonio Cromartie. I expect Sanders to be a low-ceiling WR3/4 moving forward. ... Cotchery's playing time was cut way back against the Jets, as he played a season-low 19-of-67 downs and was not targeted. He's well off the fantasy radar even though Markus Wheaton remains out indefinitely with a broken finger.
Beyond Torrey Smith, the Ravens' passing game can only be considered dysfunctional. As a team, Baltimore is 24th in completion rate (57.9%) with a 7:8 TD-to-INT ratio and 19 sacks allowed, tied for seventh most in football. Taking on Pittsburgh's top-four pass defense at Heinz Field probably won't cure what's ailing Joe Flacco & Co. 17th in fantasy quarterback scoring on the season, Flacco is an especially low-end QB2 this week. ... Based on his game tape and performance, I think it's safe to say Ray Rice is no more than 80% of the back he was two years ago. Slipping O-Line play has only exacerbated the issue. Rice still has at least 16 touches in all but one game this year, keeping him on the RB2 radar against Pittsburgh's No. 22 run defense. Just don't be surprised if the Ravens start giving Bernard Pierce more runs. Rice seems already to be wearing down at age 26, and 23-year-old Pierce is noticeably more effective in terms of tackle breaking and swallowing up blocked yards. Pierce is a back to target in Dynasty leagues.
Under Dick LeBeau, the Steelers play primarily zone defense in the back end when they're not using RCB Ike Taylor in matchup coverage. (And they rarely do the latter.) So Torrey Smith won't see the same "cloud" coverage he experienced in last week's loss to Green Bay. Despite the Week 6 hiccup (1-12), Smith remains an every-week WR2 who ranks fourth in the league in receiving yards and first in yards per catch. ... Flacco's target distribution with Marlon Brown back from his hamstring injury against the Packers: Brown 7; Tandon Doss and Dallas Clark 6; Rice and Smith 4; Jacoby Jones, Pierce, and Vonta Leach 2. ... The way the Packers' defense guarded Smith had an obvious impact on those target numbers, and coach John Harbaugh's pledge this week to increase Jones' involvement makes the rest of Baltimore's pass catchers shots in the Week 7 dark. They're facing a stingy Steelers pass defense to begin with. Brown would be a poor WR3 investment. Jones is only worth consideration in return-yardage leagues. And Clark's Week 6 stat line of 4-81-1 can't be trusted as predictive against a Pittsburgh team giving up the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Doss is a fourth receiver behind Smith, Brown, and Jones, who also competes with Rice, Pierce, Clark, and Ed Dickson for weekly pass-game attention.
Score Prediction: Ravens 17, Steelers 14
Cleveland @ Green Bay
Matching up with Cleveland's top-seven defense is never an easy task, but fantasy owners can find solace in the fact that Green Bay's skill-position pecking order is defined. Randall Cobb is out eight weeks with a fractured fibula. James Jones will miss 1-2 games with a PCL sprain. Eddie Lacy has piled up 48 touches the past two weeks, while the rest of the Packers' backs have combined for eight. We know who's likely to get the football in this game. ... There is nothing easy about Lacy's Week 7 matchup. The Browns rank No. 7 in run defense and surrender 3.49 yards per carry, the fifth stingiest clip in football. Lacy owners can still hang their hat on heavy volume and the odds of a goal-line plunge, which are good in a home game where Aaron Rodgers is still very much capable of moving the offense. Lacy is the Packers' best bet for a Week 7 touchdown. He's a borderline RB1 going forward. ... Although the numbers appear fluky based on Cleveland's stifling Weeks 1-5 tight end coverage, the Browns coughed up seven grabs, 70 yards, and three touchdowns to Lions tight ends last week. Jermichael Finley is going to play a bigger role in Green Bay's passing attack this Sunday out of sheer necessity. He's a prime candidate for 8-12 targets.
Some fantasy leaguers asked me this week if benching Jordy Nelson is a good idea against Joe Haden. The answer? No. Haden deserves kudos for his to-date performance, but Nelson is a top-five fantasy wideout whose target potential is only enhanced by Cobb and Jones' absences. I also firmly believe Nelson is good enough to beat Haden if Browns DC Ray Horton lets them match up one on one. Treat Nelson as a locked-and-loaded WR1. ... Even without Jones and Cobb, in Nelson and Finley Rodgers still has enough firepower to pay Week 7 fantasy dividends. Perhaps he's more mid-range or even low-end QB1 than top-five option, but Rodgers can be counted on. It's worth noting Rodgers lit up Horton's Arizona defense in November of last year for four touchdown passes. The Cardinals were playing outstanding defense at the time. ... Green Bay's Week 7 three-receiver set figures to be comprised of Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, and Myles White. Boykin is worth a look for WR3 desperados in Cobb's old slot role, but beware of his ability limitations. Boykin ran a 4.62 forty at the 2012 Combine at 6-foot-2, 217. Boykin played 58-of-69 snaps in Week 6 against the Ravens, dropped two passes, and caught 1-of-6 targets for 43 yards. Unquestionably, opportunity is on Boykin's side. Boykin's on-field play to this point is troubling.
Cleveland's offense is always more likely than not to struggle when it's being quarterbacked by Brandon Weeden, but there is room for Week 7 optimism for Browns pass catchers. The Packers are without starting OLBs Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nick Perry (broken foot), in addition to ILB Brad Jones (hamstring). To call Green Bay's defense banged up would be an understatement. ... With at least 70 yards and/or a touchdown in four straight weeks since coming off suspension, Josh Gordon should be viewed by fantasy owners as an every-week WR2. Gordon is averaging 11 targets per game. ... Weeden's target distribution over the past two weeks: Gordon and Chris Ogbonnaya 14, Jordan Cameron 11, Greg Little 9, Davone Bess 6, Gary Barnidge 4, Willis McGahee and Travis Benjamin 3. ... Cameron's stats are naturally going to take a hit in the post-Brian Hoyer era simply because Cleveland doesn't have as much passing volume as a team, and their quarterback has downgraded. Still, here are Cameron's stat lines in Weeden's three starts this season: 9-108-1, 5-95, 5-64. At the very least, Cameron should be treated as a low-end fantasy TE1. If the Packers employ "cloud" coverage to slow Gordon as they did versus Torrey Smith last week, Cameron would project as the primary box-score beneficiary. Washed-up Ravens TE Dallas Clark dropped 81 yards and a touchdown on Green Bay's defense in Week 6.
Ogbonnaya is very much involved in the Browns' offense as a versatile lead blocker, change-of-pace runner, and passing-down specialist, but fantasy owners need to avoid chasing his Week 6 receiving stats (7-61-1). Ogbonnaya saw five of his 12 targets in the fourth quarter of Cleveland's 31-17 defeat. He's more of a drain on McGahee's value than a standalone flex option. ... Dead-legged 32-year-old McGahee laid a 39-yard egg in last week's plus matchup versus Detroit's leaky defense. On Sunday, he'll meet a Packers unit that ranks third against the run and allows just 3.37 yards per carry. Consider McGahee a low-ceiling, low-end flex option. He doesn't have much left. ... Little regained his starting job from Bess against the Lions and finished with two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown, seeing five targets. Just not a very good NFL receiver, Little doesn't warrant roster space on 10- and 12-team league fantasy rosters. ... Bess is a role-playing slot receiver without playmaking ability, and has scored one touchdown over his last 20 games. He's obviously without fantasy value. The Packers are expected to get an upgrade in slot receiver coverage this week with Casey Hayward finally returning from a six-week hamstring strain.
Score Prediction: Packers 23, Browns 14
Sunday Night Football
Denver @ Indianapolis
Trent Richardson's fantasy owners are understandably discouraged. So far, the Cleveland-to-Indy move hasn't helped his box-score stats. 20th in fantasy running back scoring since the trade five games ago, T-Rich's forthcoming groove has yet to reach high gear, though there are promising signs both on his tape and in his per-play efficiency. His weekly yards-per-carry average has risen each week since his acquisition, and Richardson ripped off numerous tackle-breaking runs in the rare instances the Colts had the ball in last Monday night's loss. (The Chargers won the time-of-possession battle 39:21.) There is risk on Sunday night of Indianapolis falling behind on the scoreboard and resorting to the pass versus Peyton Manning's Broncos, but it's also likely T-Rich will be the focal point of playcaller Pep Hamilton's game plan in an effort to limit Peyton's field time. Richardson owners should stay the course and treat him as an every-week starter, because he's on the verge of breaking loose. Non-Richardson owners' best approach is to buy low. This is a volume back in a highly effective, run-based offense. A hot stretch is nigh. ... The returns of sack master Von Miller (suspension) and CB Champ Bailey (foot) improve Denver's pass defense, but Andrew Luck deserves top-five QB1 consideration in this likely shootout. Broncos games this year average a combined point total of 70.2, and Sunday night's 56-point over-under is the largest of Week 7. In fantasy, you want to start quarterbacks in shootout games.
Luck's target distribution since the Richardson trade: Reggie Wayne 34, T.Y. Hilton 26, Darrius Heyward-Bey 19, Coby Fleener 18, T-Rich and Donald Brown 7. ... Playing ball-control offense, the Colts' No. 23 ranking in pass attempts has resulted in an inability to support more than one pass catcher as a consistent weekly fantasy starter. That one guy is Wayne, who ranks 16th among fantasy wideouts. His Week 7 outlook is particularly promising due to this game's high-scoring projection. ... 35-year-old Bailey is vulnerable deep, as evidenced in last January's postseason matchup with Torrey Smith. Although Hilton's weekly inconsistencies are frustrating, this is a good week to play him. ... Possession-blocking wideout Heyward-Bey is on pace for a 2013 stat line of 38/390/0. He isn't worth a roster spot in 12-team leagues. ... Although Fleener has underwhelmed both as a real-life player and fantasy tight end, he's worth a look as a Week 7 flier TE1 play due to the game's shootout potential. The Broncos have also allowed the fifth most receptions and third most yards in the league to tight ends. ... Brown is averaging six touches for 50 yards per game since Ahmad Bradshaw's year-ending neck injury three weeks ago. "Dammit Donald" deserves kudos for settling in as an effective NFL change-of-pace back, but has no re-draft fantasy value.
Colts owner Jim Irsay essentially ripped Peyton Manning for being a Stats QB in the media this week, complaining about Peyton's number of Super Bowl wins. Manning's likely reaction will be swift and harsh. It'll last 60 minutes, and Irsay will not enjoy it. Look for secondary weak link LCB Greg Toler to experience Peyton's wrath. Among Denver receivers, Eric Decker and Wes Welker run the most pass routes against opposing left corners. Welker is an every-week WR1; Decker is a high-end WR2. ... RCB Vontae Davis has been Indianapolis' top cover corner this year, but he's given up a touchdown in back-to-back games and will now deal with No. 5 overall fantasy wideout Demaryius Thomas. Davis was victimized by Seahawks fourth receiver Jermaine Kearse in Week 5, and upstart rookie Keenan Allen last Monday night. This is a plus matchup for Demaryius. ... Manning's target distribution on the season: Welker and Decker 50, Demaryius 49, Julius Thomas 43, Knowshon Moreno 24, Ronnie Hillman 12, Montee Ball 4. ... In fantasy football, there are only three tight ends I'd rather own going forward than Orange Julius: Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, and Rob Gronkowski. The Colts have been stingy in tight end coverage -- no TE has scored a touchdown on Indy and they're 23rd in fantasy points allowed to the position -- but Thomas is an elite play every week.
Many folks were still worrying about a three-headed backfield several weeks ago, while we were pointing out in the weekly Matchups columns that Moreno had clearly ascended atop the heap even if box-score stats hadn't yet cooperated due to blowout wins. They're cooperating in full now. Here is Denver's backfield touch distribution over the past two weeks: Knowshon 46, Hillman 17, Ball 12. The pecking order will stay this way barring a Moreno injury. Treat Moreno as an every-week RB2 who can score like an RB1 in any given game. His Week 7 matchup is especially enticing against a Colts defense that ranks 31st against the run and silver platters 4.60 yards per carry. Indianapolis' front seven was physically handled by a middling Chargers rushing attack last Monday night. ... I realize Hillman is getting more work at the moment, but I would prefer to use a "stash" fantasy roster spot on Ball over Denver's change-of-pace back if forced to decide between the two. The Broncos have repeatedly openly stated that they do not envision Hillman as a lead runner. Were Moreno to go down, Ball would likely get the nod as the primary early-down and goal-line back, with Hillman mixing in on passing downs. Ball is the superior Moreno handcuff in fantasy leagues.
Score Prediction: Broncos 34, Colts 28
Monday Night Football
Minnesota @ NY Giants
Coming off their most promising 2013 performance and an 11-day break to heal up, the Giants have another get-well matchup at home against the sieve-ish Vikings. Not only does Minnesota rank 31st in yards allowed, it'll be minus top defensive back Harrison Smith (turf toe). Desperate QB1 streamers ought to give Eli Manning a look. The Vikings get gashed in the air because they can't generate pressure, with 13 passing scores allowed in five games. They're 29th in sacks. It's a defense capable of making bad offensive lines look good. ... Speaking of that Giants O-Line, it's finally stringing together some continuity. For the first time all season in Week 6, New York started the same five linemen as the week before. The Giants bullied an admittedly depleted Bears front for year highs in yards per carry (4.7), rushing yards (123), and rushing scores (2) while allowing just one sack. Week 7 foe Minnesota ranks 18th in run defense and has allowed six rushing TDs through five games. The Giants project to move the ball on offense, setting up opportunities to score. 31-year-old street free agent Brandon Jacobs lacks staying power, but he's worth serious consideration as a flex play in prime time. He's a solid bet for a goal-line plunge, and maybe two. ... Jacobs' backups will be fellow in-season free agent signing Peyton Hillis, and promising seventh-round rookie Michael Cox. I watched all of Cox's preseason touches and came away impressed. He has quick feet, burst, and lateral agility. I would want him on my Dynasty roster.
Saturday Update: Listed on the injury report with a balky hamstring, Jacobs missed Saturday's practice after barely participating earlier in the week and is shaping up as a game-time decision against Minnesota. One Giants beat writer suggested Jacobs had encountered a "setback," while another openly considered Jacobs' availability a total unknown. Because this game won't be played until Monday night, fantasy owners with safer Sunday options should invest in those instead. Even if Jacobs were 100 percent, he's a still 31-year-old plodding running back and no lock for Week 7 statistical success.
If Jacobs doesn't play: I think we'd see Hillis and Cox in a rotation, with Cox handling the majority of early-down work and Hillis in the pass-protection and short-yardage role. I'd use Cox over Hillis if forced to decide between the two.
You could argue Victor Cruz has the best on-paper matchup of any wide receiver in football this week. Vikings slot corner Josh Robinson has been torched to the point that he was benched for special teamer Marcus Sherels in last week's loss to Carolina, although Robinson had to reenter due to LCB Xavier Rhodes' recurring ankle injury. This has the look of a slump-buster game for Cruz, who hasn't cleared 70 yards or reached pay dirt since Week 4. ... With Rhodes hobbled and the rest of Minnesota's secondary in shambles, Hakeem Nicks remains on the WR3 radar, though he'll likely spend most of Monday night in top CB Chris Cook's coverage. Cook has been up and down this year, but he is a long-armed, 6-foot-2, 212-pound press-man corner who can disrupt receivers’ routes at the line of scrimmage. Regardless of matchups, Nicks' inconsistency makes him an every-week roll of the dice. ... Third receiver Rueben Randle again has a plus matchup, and again is a boom-or-bust WR3/flex. Fantasy owners can't ignore the upside, but have to be aware of the risk. Randle has cleared 75 yards and/or scored a touchdown in 3-of-6 games this year. He's been held scoreless and/or to 40 or fewer yards in the other three. So he's a classic high-risk, high-reward fantasy option. I wouldn't be comfortable starting Randle without a Nicks injury or trade. ... Giants TE Brandon Myers has been injured and ineffective as a blocker, which may combine to explain his season-low 30 snaps in last Thursday's loss to the Bears. He could score a fluky red-zone touchdown on Monday night, and would still be fantasy waiver-wire fodder.
The Vikings have handed the keys to their
ferrari kit car to Josh Freeman just in time to face a Giants defense that ranks last in points allowed and 24th in yards. Similar to the Vikings, the G-Men can't generate enough up-front heat to mask their deficient secondary. They've given up a league-high 14 passing TDs and rank dead last in sacks. On paper, this is the kind of cake setup that could bait fantasy owners and perhaps even the Vikings into thinking erratic Freeman is a long-term solution. I'd give him serious consideration as a two-QB-league start. ... Freeman's strength as a passer is throwing the "big ball" -- deep shots downfield where he relies on receivers to make contested plays. The Vikings don't have a wideout that fits that mold, although Jerome Simpson is closest. Simpson, unfortunately, is one of the most inconsistent players in the league both in real life and weekly box scores. Start him as a WR3 at your own risk. ... Minnesota's best, most reliable pass catchers are slot/Z Greg Jennings, and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The bulk of Jennings' usage comes near the line of scrimmage; he's not been a deep threat in the Vikings' 2013 offense. Rudolph truly has poor man's Gronkian-type ability, but Freeman has never been an efficient or accurate short to intermediate thrower. I am intrigued by these players' fit with a new quarterback, but would chalk this up as a wait-and-see week in terms of fantasy start-ability.
When Freeman has experienced NFL success, he's been protected by a high-volume, foundation run game that keeps safeties honest and moves the chains so that his low-percentage passing doesn't result in continual three-and-outs. The Vikings obviously have that with Adrian Peterson, who on Monday night faces a Giants defense that ranks 26th against the run. Minnesota's formula will remain unchanged despite the quarterback switch. Peterson is going to get a ton of carries, and the Vikings will try to kickstart their play-action passing game with an emphasis on increased downfield shot plays. ... Cordarrelle Patterson's snaps have indeed risen the past three weeks, though he's still not a key figure in Minnesota's offense. He's been a 27% player during that span, and is coming off a two-catch, three-yard game. Patterson needs to start playing more downs to become a fantasy asset. Hopefully, OC Bill Musgrave will begin putting Patterson in position to make plays because he possesses video-game talent with the football in his hands.
Score Prediction: Giants 24, Vikings 20