One quarter of the season is over for all but two teams, and though we have an idea of who is in the race, this is where the race really starts. Could this be the first time since 1992 an 0-4 makes the playoffs? When you consider that one of the NFL's 0-4 teams is the Saints, well why yes it could be. Are the Jets on the brink of the collapse I predicted? If Houston has their way with them on Monday night taking dropping their record to 2-3, well yes it may be. The Bye Weeks have come to Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay. All of those teams are 1-3, except the Cowboys, who are playing like they're 1-3, but are actually 2-2.
THE 1PM DOCKET
MIAMI @ CINCINNATI
The Dolphins have to be happy about the way things are going with the Ryan Tannehill experiment. No, they're not yet winning a lot of games. No, Tannehill isn't lighting up the scoreboard with a lot of touchdowns. However, when you consider the weapons he has, and then look at how he's played, particularly last weekend, you can't help but think there could be a future there. This week, Tannehill's job won't get any easier, as the Bengals have a tenacious pass rush which has sacked opposing QBs on 11 percent of their drop backs. However, it is important to note that eight of the Bengals 16 sacks came last week against Jacksonville, so the question remains whether the Bengals have hit a groove or just had a great matchup. A healthier Reggie Bush will certainly assist in keeping that pass rush at bay, as may rookie runner Lamar Miller, who has overtaken RB Daniel Thomas in rushing yardage by more than 40 while doing so in three less carries. Thomas may hold goal-line duties for Miami, but Miller's and Bush's 5.5 yards per carry (YPC) is likely to keep Thomas and his 3.2 YPC on the bench. Bush should have a strong outing in Cincinnati, as the Bengals' 24th ranked rushing defense is yielding 4.3 YPC and 133.5 yards per game. The Dolphins only win this year came when Bush carried over 20 times, and if you go back to last year, the Dolphins lost only one game where Bush cracked the 20-carry mark. Expect Mike Sherman to feed the team of Bush/Miller/Thomas the ball for least 35 carries. Bush could easily see 100 yards, as well as be the difference in the game. For Cincinnati, their tenth ranked offense and eighth ranked passing attack is going to give the Dolphins pass defense trouble. The Dolphins traded CB Vontae Davis prior to the season, believing they could compete with Sean Smith and Richard Marshall in their starting ranks. So far, they've struggled, giving up 298 yards per game and six touchdowns, despite allowing just a 55% completion rate. No worse a reminder of their struggles can be found than last week's fourth and 10 touchdown pass from Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb to Andre Roberts in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter. Now they'll have to solve A. J. Green, who has three touchdowns in four games, along with no less than five receptions per contest. As Andy Dalton's favorite deep threat, Green is averaging 107 yards per game and has five plays of greater than 20 yards. He's set for another couple of deep grabs, and 100-yard day is in his reach. Andrew Hawkins, who has found ways to be deadly in space, has four plays of his own greater than 20 yards and is fourth overall in yards after the catch. Forget BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week, as not only did he lose two fumbles last week, but he's up against a Dolphins defense ranked first against the run. If Ellis scores it'll be on a short plunge, but I'm not banking on him being as big a part of the game plan. Jay Gruden's offense will attack early and often, with full knowledge they play better when ahead. The Dolphins may cause a few turnovers in this one, and should gain good chunks of yardarge, but Tannehill is completing just 29 percent of his passes inside the ten yard line and less than 20 percent inside the 20, leaving his runners as the truly viable fantasy plays. The Bengals have had a hard time defending the middle of the field, so you might see a downfield shot to Brian Hartline. However, it's more likely you can count on decent PPR numbers from Hartline as your WR3 or Flex, but I don't see anything more than 70 yards or so. Davone Bess has seen steadily increasing targets and could see more opportunity here. In the end, the Bengals have too much firepower, even for an opportunistic defense like Miami's. Though Dalton's been sacked 12 times, he's tough and poised in the pocket. He's a strong fantasy play this week and will be a difference maker on Sunday.
CINCINNATI 27, MIAMI 17
|An emotional week for Arians|
In a game likely to be played on high emotions, the 1-2 Colts have to face their toughest opponent without the services of Head Coach Chuck Pagano. It was announced earlier this week that Pagano is suffering from Leukemia, leaving Colts Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians to take over on an interim basis. The Packers come into this one having just escaped New Orleans, and this is a scare game for the. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn't been in sync with his offense and is 1-3 for his career against the AFC South. Packers RB Cedric Benson has never managed more than 3.5 yards per carry against Indianapolis in three games while scoring just once. On the other side, in two games against the Packers Reggie Wayne has gained 208 yards and scored once. In his new role as head coach, Arians faces a tough first game plan. Offensively, Arians by nature is aggressive, choosing to eschew shorter passing options for spreading out the defense and attacking mismatches down field. He also has given up the mantra that you should use the run to set up the pass. Instead, Arians will attack on early downs in an effort to move the ball and take advantage of man coverage in the defensive backfield. In this case, he's blessed to be working with a young talent like Andrew Luck. He also has patched together what is a pretty decent trifecta of receivers with veteran Reggie Wayne, St. Louis injury casualty Donnie Avery and rookie T. Y. Hilton. All three have found the end zone this year, and all three warrant attention from defensive coordinators for their speed and hands. With Wayne mentoring the group, the Colts passing offense, ranked 27th just a year ago, is ranked 12th in yards per game this year. Donald Brown has been the casualty of this growth, particularly for fantasy owners. Brown has just 43 rushing attempts through three games and has caught just one pass. Stopping the run has been the Packers' biggest problem this year. While they're currently ranked 18th, giving up 113 yards per game, a week prior to facing off with the hapless rushing attack of New Orleans they were ranked 26th. Thus Brown's importance in this game is amplified, and I expect Arians in his first game as head coach to use Brown a little bit more often. Make no mistake though, Andrew Luck will attempt over 30 passes against the Packers, and that's because the Colts defense, though improving, still is giving up too many touchdowns through the air. The Colts will likely find themselves behind and forced to throw. Keep an eye on Hilton, who is seeing his role in the offense grow, including his Week Three highs for the team in receiving yardage with 113.
For the Packers, finding RB Cedric Benson was a chance to take some pressure of QB Aaron Rodgers, because the offense was beginning to become repetitive and predictable. Benson is tied with Ray Rice for number of attempts with 64, and while he isn't the yardage eater of days past, he is consistently receiving 18 carries per game. In addition, he's added a new wrinkle to his game, that of receiver. Benson has never caught more than 28 balls in a season. He already has 12, and all of those have come in the last three games. Even without the services of WR Greg Jennings, the leadership of Rodgers and the experience of Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley, along with newer weapon Randal Cobb should carry this team. Andrew Luck will make his share of plays, and in two QB leagues, he'll be worth starting, giving you around 210 yards, with two touchdowns and a couple of picks. Rodgers, who has a 26/5 touchdown to interception ratio indoors, will throw for near ly300 yards with three or four TDs shared between Nelson, James Jones and Finley; and since Green Bay throws 67 percent of the time inside the ten, fullback John Kuhn will likely add one as well.
PACKERS 31, COLTS 20
BALTIMORE @ KANSAS CITY
The last time these two teams met was in January 2011 in the AFC Wild Card Game. Baltimore disposed of Kansas City 30-7 rather easily, intercepting Chiefs QB Matt Cassel three times and holding him to just nine completions on 18 attempts. The only Chiefs player that made an impact was Jamaal Charles, who rushed nine times for 82 yards and a touchdown. The good news for the Chiefs is Charles is healthy and still around. The bad news for the Chiefs is so is Cassel. Cassel has thrown seven interceptions in the last four games while throwing nine all last season. Ironically, though the Ravens defense has given up 83 points and just two passing touchdowns, they have given up a league worst 63 passing first downs, and are ranked 29th in ceded passing yardage with 296 per game. They've also given up six rushing touchdowns, so you'll see a heavy dose of Charles, both on the ground (career average of 6.4 yards per carry against the Ravens) and in the air. Cassel will have to throw against this secondary, but will have to do more than look for big man Dwayne Bowe, even though he's the one with the most consistent hands. I expect more of Tony Meoaki and Jon Baldwin in this game to take coverage off of Bowe.
Baltimore's offense is ranked second overall, and QB Joe Flacco's aerial weaponry of Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta can work all areas of the field. Ray Rice has seen his value shift to more of a PPR player so far, and that could continue in the future. With Flacco becoming a more powerful QB, we've seen Rice's rushing attempts lessen. His 64 has him tied with Cedric Benson for 16th in the league. However, this game should be Ray Rice's to own. The KC defense is ranked 13th, and might be better if their offense wasn't constantly pinning them back into bad position with costly turnovers. Thus, the Chiefs defense has been faced with short fields and as such, have given up 136 points; Only the Titans having given up more. Where the Chiefs really struggle though is against the run, giving up 4.2 yards per attempt and 118 yards a game. With the Ravens having played three games in a span of 14 days, now on the road, and add the possibility that KC star LB Derrick Johnson hasn't practiced and may not play, expect Rice to get 25-30 carries this weekend. Flacco will have less attempts, and thus less yardage. Torrey Smith, nursing a sore ankle, is likely to draw the Chiefs best CB Brandon Flowers as his matchup, meaning more receptions for Anquan Boldin this week, in addition to a touchdown. Dennis Pitta will also cause problems in the middle of the field and provide 70 yards receiving. The Chiefs only chance to win is to play a perfect game without turning the ball over. The Chiefs are minus 13 in the give/take this year. The Ravens will take a halftime lead and never look back.
RAVENS 27, CHIEFS 14
If there was a troubling statistic for Atlanta QB Matt Ryan last Sunday it was that the his offensive line that had allowed just four sacks in the first three games, allowed Ryan to be stung seven times. This could have been great news to Redskins Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett. However, the losses of Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker on defense have made for trying times in Washington. Last week, they were unable to prevent the Buccaneers from torching their secondary for nearly 300 yards Sunday. Now they get an Atlanta offense completing around 75 percent of its passes on the road, an offense which plays better on grass than on their home turf, and one that is averaging 31 points per game. Perhaps the only thing Washington has going for it is that only Houston and Pittsburgh are better keeping time of possession than the Redskins. Thus, the Redskins will probably employ a similar strategy to what Carolina did. They'll use their mobile quarterback Robert Griffin III to throw short passes to his receivers and use his legs on some bootlegs and draws. The Redskins are averaging 5.8 yards per carry at home, making Alfred Morris, the first consistent runner in a Shanahan system since Terrelle Davis, a strong fantasy play. The Redskins have yet to lose when Morris carries 20 times or more. Griffin will make his share of throws, mostly to Fred Davis, which
|Morris has made a huge difference for Washington.|
In the end, Washington's 31st ranked secondary won't have enough to stop Ryan and the Falcons. Roddy White has proven over and over he's impossible to guard in single coverage – just ask Haruki Nakamura. Julio Jones is a versatile weapon who can run and catch. Then there's TE Tony Gonzalez, who finds gaps in zones and outmuscles man coverage. White will improve his numbers this weekend with over 100 yards. Bigger backs have struggled against the Redskins linebackers, and Michael Turner will be no different. Pencil him in for 50-60 yards and maybe a late touchdown. Washington might hang in initially, and Griffin will make in interesting, but the upset seems a little far-fetched with their beat up defense.
FALCONS 31, REDKSINS 24
CLEVELAND @ NEW YORK GIANTS
A surly 0-4 Cleveland team could be the most dangerous kind for the New York Giants to face if they weren't coming off such a disappointing loss. Eli Manning threw for over 300 yards but it wasn't enough to keep Philadelphia from pulling out the victory. The Browns have had over 10 days to get ready for New York, and after a tough fought loss to divisional foe Baltimore, the Browns should give the Giants all they can handle. Unfortunately for Cleveland, CB Joe Haden won't return until next week and they'll miss him in a big way against the pass-happy Giants. Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson, who saw his attempts dwindle to 14 last Thursday, should get a full load. In Browns lore, that means 15 carries, but we'll call it a load and watch Richardson break a few nice runs. Keep in mind though, that the Browns have generated just 12 rushing first downs. Only Oakland has been worse. And when it comes to scoring by run, both of these teams hold the fort, allowing just three rushing TDs between them. Thus, Richardson might have more success finding that area of the field catching the football.
Joe Flacco scored the only rushing touchdown against Cleveland this year, and I don't expect Ahmad Bradshaw will do much until late in the game, the only time the Giants seem to run well. However, with Hakeem Nicks already ruled out of this weekend's game, Bradshaw could see higher than average receptions. For Nicks, that makes three of four years where he's missed at least two games. Ramses Barden is also questionable with a concussion, which he suffered some point late in the Eagles game and may be the only reason to explain how Barden thought he'd get away with that fourth quarter mugging of Nnamdi Asogmugha. Victor Cruz will be Manning's top target and as long as he doesn't turn into Greg Little, should bring nice returns and a score. Martellus Bennett should put up good yardage, but the Cleveland linebackers are pretty tough in coverage and haven't allowed a TE to put score yet. Look rather for Domenik Hixon as a solid play again, and don't be surprised if Reuben Randle shows up with decent numbers in the box score.
For the Browns, Greg Little will continue to be Brandon Weeden's top receiver, which means 10 targets, three drops and 4-6 receptions. Mohamed Massaquoi is still questionable, though Josh Cribbs will return. That's a help to the Browns special teams, but not much else. There's just not enough weapons for Weeden to pull this one out, even with a depleted Giants secondary, I'm taking them Giants in a close one.
GIANTS 21, BROWNS 18
|The NFL's fine favorite Harrison returns|
PHILADELPHIA @ PITTSBURGH
For the first time this year the Steelers will see their entire starting defense take the field. It couldn't come at a better time, as the Steelers are 1-2 and facing an optimistic Philadelphia team that just moved to 3-1 despite being outscored 83-66. Much has been made of Michael Vick's QB rating of 65.5 versus the blitz, especially since the Steelers tend to blitz a lot. However, he's 1-0-1 against the Steelers with five touchdowns and just two interceptions. It's also worth noting the Steelers haven't been getting to the quarterback that much. Their sack total dropped from 48 to 35 between 2010 and 2011, and this year they've put quarterbacks down just five times. Lamar Woodley has been relatively useless without James Harrison on the field, and Harrison has now missed nine games in the last twenty. If the Eagles can get LeSean McCoy going, then they'll be able to keep the Steelers rush at bay, making Vick better able to find his favorite target Jeremy Maclin for decent yardage. For the Steelers, in order to open up the downfield passing game, they will have to convince the Eagles they can run. It will help having Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield finally, as the
Steelers 2.6 yards per carry this season will attest. However, Mendenhall probably won't get more than 15 carries, which at best might give him 60 yards. Ben Roethlisberger is more likely to be passing on early downs, using Antonio Brown and Heath Miller to sustain drives. The last two times these teams met it was a 15-6 defensive battle. This game will be similar, with a big turnover and a quick strike making the difference. I see the Steelers forcing Vick into another mistake, and turning it into a decisive touchdown. Second and third receivers have been the Eagles nemesis, with Domenik Hixon, Michael Floyd and Jacoby Jones all finding the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders will get his turn this week for the Steelers. While the Eagles have a lot of numbers working in their favor on this one, the Steelers have been very strong at home, and for the first time are fully healthy.
PITTSBURGH 20, EAGLES 16
DENVER @ NEW ENGLAND
Probably the most interesting matchup of the week, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning renew their rivalry, this time with Manning draped in the orange and blue of the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning is 6-10 all time against New England, 4-6 against Brady. He brings a much improved offense to face New England's 20th ranked defense. I've never quite understood how a team ranked seventh against the run and 13th against the pass ends up 20th overall, but that's New England's plight. The Patriots sport the top rated offense, but that had plenty to do with the 52 points they dropped on Buffalo, including six straight touchdown scoring drives. The Patriots and Broncos won't be wanton for passing yards, as both coaches will be willing to let their quarterbacks decide the outcome of this one. Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas, if he can stop fumbling the ball when he changes hands, will be the Patriots focus. He's second overall in yards after the catch in the NFL, making him the most likely weapon Belichick's team will aim to remove from the equation. They were successful in doing so with Larry Fitzgerald and Stevie Johnson. That leaves Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme, who should have 6-7 receptions each. Joel Dreessen has scored in two straight games and seems to be someone Manning aims for in the red zone. He'll get another chance Sunday, as of the eight passing touchdowns the Pats have allowed, three have come at the hands of opposing tight ends. Willis McGahee with be given 15 attempts to break through the Patriots ground defense, which is ceding just 3.4 yards per carry. I don't expect more than 60 yards and a touchdown plunge. Denver is holding opposing runners to the same tally, though fantasy owners now have to worry that New England rookie Brandon Bolden may cut into Stevan Ridley's totals. However, Brady will be throwing 35-40 times Sunday, making Wes Welker another solid start. Rob Gronkowski will play his role as always, and will get another couple of chances to find the end zone. I don't expect much from Brandon Lloyd, as Denver has allowed few big plays this year, and Lloyd is primarily New England's home run threat. Kellen Winslow could become a larger part of the game plan, though TE Aaron Hernandez did practice and could dress for the game. Even though the Pats have a history of frustrating Manning, and former Patriots lineman Dan Koppen will line up as Manning's Center for the first time, I see Denver surprising the inconsistent Patriots with a no-huddle of their own, while Denver's defense pressures Brady into a couple of turnovers.
BRONCOS 34, PATRIOTS 27
THE 4PM DOCKET
TENNESSEE @ MINNESOTA
The last time Minnesota and Tennessee matched up it was 2008. The Vikings had Gus Frerotte at the helm, the Titans had Kerry Collins. However, their running backs were the same, and both excelled, scoring two touchdowns each. This time around things could be very different. For one, the Titans are sporting the second worst defense in the league, ranked 27th against the run and pass. Offensively, you might expect that reinserting veteran Matt Hasselbeck for injured rookie Jake Locker might instill more confidence for Offensive Coordinator Chris Palmer. But Hasselbeck's numbers against Minnesota aren't so reassuring. Hasselbeck is 1-4 for his career versus the Vikings with a line of 67-of-112 (59.8%) zero touchdowns and two interceptions. His road record for his career is 35-50 while completing less than 60 percent of his passes. Chris Johnson, who was a rookie the last time he met the Vikings, ran 17 times for 61 yards (a 3.59 YPC) and two scores. He also caught three passes for 14 yards.
Meanwhile, Minnesota QB Christian Ponder hasn't exactly overwhelmed with brilliant statistics either this year. However, what he has done is avoid making big mistakes while completing 68 percent of his passes. He has played poised and stayed within the system set up for him. The return of Jerome Simpson can only help the Vikings' offense with its limited number of weapons, and if Simpson can keep himself out of jail, he has a chance to make an impact right away. Last week's victory over Detroit gave everyone a snapshot of Minnesota Viking football this year. Run the ball with Adrian Peterson, play solid defense and special teams, and have Ponder fill in the gaps. This game shouldn't be much different in terms of a road map. At home, Adrian Peterson should be a top five finisher this week, and he's good for at least one touchdown. Simpson led all receivers last week with four catches on five targets for 50 yards. Expect Bill Musgrave to get Simpson involved early so he can draw some of the coverage away from leading receiver and most potent weapon Percy Harvin. Kyle Rudolph has three touchdowns in four games for the Vikings and is tied for second with three reception inside the ten yard line. Of the ten passing touchdowns Tennessee's defense has allowed, six have been to tight ends, making Rudolph a strong play Sunday.
As for Hasselbeck and Johnson, I don't trust either of them to play consistently. Johnson will get his fair shot of carries, particularly after last week's strong showing. Yet Minnesota's rush defense is giving up just 85.3 yards per game, and just 3.3 per rush. At this point last week, Johnson was managing just 1.4 yards per carry. We knew that would get better, but now it's 3.2 per carry because of his 141 yards against Houston's top defense. Which Johnson is going to show up? Not last week's version if you want this writers' opinion. I'm not seeing more than 15-20 carries, and around 75 yards. Johnson may be used in the flat more against Minnesota's tough 4-3 in an effort to get him outside into space. Kendall Wright has seen his targets increase from six Week One to eight and then 11 by Week Three. He had eight last week to lead all Titans receivers, so while Nate Washington has been the big play guy (averaging 22.8 per catch), Wright is the PPR and go-to-guy on this offense. Kenny Britt has missed practice all week and is not likely to play, leaving Wright as the best of Tennessee's options. Big tight ends have given Minnesota trouble, so as long as his ankle doesn't slow him, Jared Cook is probably the best Tennessee player to rely on in terms of fantasy.
One final thought: Tennessee has also given up three returns for TDs, Minnesota has returned two for scores -- Advantage: Minnesota.
VIKINGS 24, TITANS 13
SEATTLE @ CAROLINA
The Seahawks face a second straight week of airplanes and baggage, a lovely side effect that comes from having a football team near hardly anyone else in the country. They say defense wins championships, and it's becoming clear that Seattle is standing by that mantra. Ranked 29th in offense and 32nd in passing yardage, there's no doubt that Russell Wilson is beginning to have some rookie struggles. His three interception performance last week though might not be so much a condemnation of him as a quarterback as it is of the whole passing offense. Wide receiver Doug Baldwin, last year's reception leader for the Seahawks, has seen his targets and opportunities dwindle, partly due to injury, and partly because it's wise never to give a reception away to an opposing defensive back as he did in St. Louis. However, Wilson numbers aren't great. He's managed just 6.4 yards per attempt on 17 of 25 passing due to the St. Louis pass rush. Carolina has 12 sacks on the year, tying them for eighth overall, meaning the Seattle offensive line will have its hands full again. The good news with Wilson is that he's elusive and can be even better out of the pocket. Carolina's allowing opponents to complete about 67 percent of their passes, so this could be a decent outing for Sidney Rice. Last week, the Seahawks CB Brandon Browner was repeatedly pick on, and Rice will be likely paired up against him. Marshawn Lynch is still the focal point of the offense, and with Carolina yielding 135 yards per game, he'll add to his NFL leading tally in yards heartily this week. However, a key factor about Lynch is that he loses nearly a yard per carry when running on grass versus turf, so taper expectations. It helps that starting Carolina MLB Jon Beason is doubtful for Sunday's game, so Lynch should get you some decent yardage, but he may not yield a 100-yard day. However, his use near the end zone is almost guaranteed.
Seattle has never faced Cam Newton, who is a much more powerful version of Wilson. Not only that, but Newton's arsenal of choices is a little more varied. While they are fantasy ownership nightmares, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams offer a power/finesse combo that few other teams possess. Both are decent pass catchers out of the backfield, and both backs gained over five yards per carry last season. Seattle's allowed only 58 points, so Carolina Offensive Coordinator Rod Chudzinski is going to have to get creative, while finding a way to keep Seattle sack leader Chris Clemons in check. My feeling is Newton will be moving around a lot, scrambling for yards when necessary and making a lot of plays on the run. Greg Olsen has become his favorite target of late, leading the team in receptions and yards for two straight weeks. Steve Smith draws a tough matchup here, and though his yardage has declined since the first two weeks, the most disconcerting thing about Smith is that he hasn't scored yet. Odds are Newton will find him Sunday, as Seattle's passing touchdowns have gone to quicker, speedy receivers underneath the coverage. The Seahawks are going to be tired, Pete Caroll won't get a benefit call, and the Cam Newton won't fumble away the game-sealing drive.
PANTHERS 24, SEAHAWKS 13
CHICAGO @ JACKSONVILLE
At its heart, this matchup is going to come down to one simple thing: whether Jacksonville QB Blaine Gabbert can get enough protection from his beat up offensive line to allow him to stand firm in the pocket and deliver the football when necessary. Against a Bears team that made the Dallas Cowboys front five look like they were attempting to Sumo wrestle instead of sustain blocks, it appears less than likely. Now add the fact that Gabbert's home passer rating is 20 points less than when on the road and you've got a mess in the making. Maurice Jones-Drew isn't someone you can bench, mainly because whatever he doesn't get you by running, he can get you through receiving. He'll be given his just due this weekend in an attempt to keep the Bears offense on the bench, even with the Bears stuffing 16 percent of opposing rushing attempts. Honestly, I'm not so sure the Bears defense isn't better suited for scoring than their offense. Juston Blackmon's targets doubled from Week Three to Week Four, and he may be in for some looks here. I'm watching to see how they're using him and whether Gabbert can get him the ball to allow him to use the skills we're all waiting to see. The Bears offense isn't much prettier ranked 26th, except that they've put up 46 more points in the same number of games as the Jags. Jay Cutler is completing a rather pedestrian 57 percent of his passes and has a 5/6 TD:INT ratio. You'd look for optimism if you're the Jags in those kind of numbers until you realize your team has managed just two sacks all year long to along with two interceptions. Matt Forte is probable, and unless you see differently, you're starting him. Same goes for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, though I feel Forte and Michael Bush should be able to carry a lot of the load for most of the day. The Bears defense makes even a better play. I'm still convinced Cutler will throw at least two passes he shouldn't and the Jags will get a few points off of ugly mistakes.
BEARS 31, JAGS 10
BUFFALO @ SAN FRANCISCO
For a moment there Sunday, the Bills looked like they might have taken that next step toward winning the AFC East. And then the real Bills defense showed up. Fifty-two points later they were scraping their beaten bodies off the Ralph Wilson Stadium carpet. The Bills defense has now allowed 40 or more points in two games, something that should have San Francisco fans licking their chops. My prediction that Fred Jackson would be a top five back by the end of the year is looking to have as much credence a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl appearance this year, but he'll still be given a chance to stay atop the depth chart. However, this game is going to require the Bills have their big-play weapon, C. J. Spiller, out there now as much as possible. San Francisco has allowed just one rushing touchdown all year, coupled with a dismal 3.2 yards per attempt for opposing rushers. That makes both of these guys high risk plays. If anything, you play Spiller in a PPR scoring league because you know he'll factor there. As for the passing game, Scott Chandler makes another solid play this week, as San Francisco has given up three of their five touchdowns to TEs. Chandler had two scores last week, and is now the fifth ranked tight end in ESPN standard scoring leagues. Ryan Fitzpatrick makes a decent bye week play here, as I don't expect the Bills to be able to move the much on the ground. Unlike Matt Cassel and the Chiefs, whom some might be apt to make a comparison to in terms of this game, Fitzpatrick averages 7.4 yards per attempt, and last week averaged over nine yards per toss last week versus New England. He's the eighth ranked QB right now in fantasy according to ESPN for standard leagues. He'll have to throw, the result of which will be another game where Fitzpatrick makes over 30 throws, something he's done three out of the Bills' four games. He'll likely get you a touchdown or two, but is also likely to be picked off a few times. The 49ers are still a primarily a rush first team, running over 49 percent of the time. Frank Gore has 66 attempts, 15th on the attempts list. However, he's 11th in terms of rushing yards per game with 81.5. The Bills defense has been surprisingly incompetent. Yielding 137 yards per game on the ground and a 4.8 carry average, about the only person they're stopping in the running game is themselves from tackling anyone. Gore, as well as Kendall Hunter should have some value with garbage time yards after San Francisco puts the game out of reach. In terms of the 49ers passing attack, against Buffalo they can pick their poison. The Bills have surrendered nine passing touchdowns, and opposing quarterbacks have feasted on them. In two QB leagues you could do worse than Alex Smith here. He won't have a ton of attempts as it won't be necessary, but I see two touchdown passes for him: one to Vernon Davis, and one to Michael Crabtree, getting him his first of the year. I'd also play the 49er sdefense here, even with starter LB NaVrro Bowman and CB Carlos Rogers questionable. Fitzpatrick and the Bills are plenty mistake prone, and a pick-six isn't out of the question.
49ers 27, BILLS 14
SAN DIEGO @ NEW ORLEANS
The Chargers are 3-1 for the second straight year under Norv Turner. The team has become synonymous with the word underachieving, and of all years for the Chargers to find early success, this one seemed the least likely. They lost perennial 1,000 yard receiver Vincent Jackson and replaced him with Saints free agent Robert Meachem. They let go of yardage grinder Mike Tolbert and replaced him with Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle. The defense cut anchor Luis Castillo, who couldn't get back on the field after multiple injuries wore him down. And they lost starting safety Steve Gregory and replaced him with Atari Bigby. Ryan Mathews was lost in the pre-season to a broken collarbone and missed the first few games. Finally, Antonio Gates, their star tight end, is on the decline after years of nagging foot and leg injuries. No one expected the Chargers to compete in the West like they have. But compete they have, putting up 100 points in their first four games while playing aggressive defense. Many will look at the Chargers schedule, particularly now that we have a better idea of things, and say the real tests start now. After all, the only real competition the Chargers faced was the visiting Atlanta Falcons, who wiped the field with them. Their other three wins: Oakland, Kansas City and Tennessee are all on disappointing trajectories, leaving the Broncos as their only considerable threat to the AFC West title. This week they get a shockingly bad defensive team in the Saints, who at 0-4 may have already seen their playoff hopes fall by the wayside. Facing life without tackling maven David Hawthorne, as well as Jonathan Vilma and Jonathan Casillas has proven too much for the interim coaching staff to handle. While Drew Brees is still doing what he does best, which is rank among the elite NFL quarterbacks in terms of yards, passing touchdowns and passing attempts, none of it matters because New Orleans is giving up over 400 yards of offense to opponents per game. Runners like Jamaal Charles have put up over 200 yards on them. Receivers like Steve Smith and Pierre Garcon have tallied 100-yards receiving in a game. Opposing QBs have completed 68 percent of their passes against them. Fantasy wise, you're lining up your Chargers as if they were invited to a banquet. Robert Meachem, who has done little if not make the Saints look wise for letting him go, is likely to exact revenge for his first big game of the year. Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates should also provide good yardage totals. However, the question is how much Norv Turner trusts his defense, because that in itself will determine if he's willing to go toe-to-toe with the Saints powerful offense, or if he'd rather use the clock, relying on his RBs Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle and even Ronnie Brown. I think it will be the latter, and the running attack of San Diego will be used as a lead in for some Philip Rivers play-action passes. The Chargers defense is currently ranked 12th, but there has to be some uneasiness there. Even in the game where they lambasted the Chiefs, Kansas City mustered 349 yards of total offense. The Raiders and Falcons also managed over 300 yards each. Of their five interceptions, three came last week against the bungling Chiefs. San Diego's 17th ranked pass defense will be tested by a New Orleans offense that throws over 70 percent of the time. They'll mix It up by using Pierre Thomas and occasionally Mark Ingram, though I again will look to a former player, Darren Sproles, to ignite his offense. He's the best fantasy play here short of Jimmy Graham, simply because the Saints need to hold onto the ball longer and keep their defense rested. This game has all the makings of a shootout, and the only people not benefiting from it will be the defenses. The Chargers had problems with the Falcons high flying passing attack. New Orleans at home will be too much for them as well.
SAINTS 42, CHARGERS 34
HOUSTON @ NEW YORK JETS
In one of the few matchups this weekend wherein the last meeting between the two teams had many of the same cast members, the Texans find themselves having surpassed New York, who was the better team just two seasons ago. Back in 2010, the Jets took a 23-7 lead before Houston came back and regained the lead 27-23 with just a little over a minute remaining. Instead of going for the dagger, Houston ran three straight running plays to Arian Foster, who failed to get a first down, and with 59 seconds left, Mark Sanchez took the Jets for the winning touchdown in just 43 seconds. This time things have really swung the other way. The Jets are without their temperamental and best wide out Santonio Holmes, not to mention Sanchez's favorite target last year, TE Dustin Keller, hasn't seen the field. Linebacker Bart Scott said at the beginning of the season that he thought this was the best Jets defense yet. Now, sans star cornerback Darrelle Revis, doubts must be creeping in. Against this Houston offense, which can bury a team on the ground or in the air, the Jets 31st ranked rush defense (21st defense overall) is going to have to slow Foster, Ben Tate and even Justin Forsett. Tate is possibly out with an injury making Forsett a good investment this week. Check the injury report. The Jets 4th ranked pass defense has little hope of remaining in that slot, as Andre Johnson will now be the responsibility of Antonio Cromartie, leaving the rest of the Jets secondary to pick up Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter and what I suspect will be a sprinkling DeVier Posey, who was active for the first time last week. The Jets are going to have to keep the Houston offense off the field, and that means somehow getting Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell rushing yardage. Both WR Stephen Hill and TE Dustin Keller have been held out of practice with hamstring issues. Whether they'll go Monday will be clearer Saturday after practice. Former Raider receiver Chaz Schilens, once thought to have much promise, had seven targets Sunday and six receptions. He's worth keeping an eye on as the Jets need someone to step up big. To that end, the Jets signed ex-Jaguar Jason Hill to add receiver depth, and will likely have to play him Monday. I suspect Tim Tebow could have a much larger role in this week's offense seeing how misdirection might be the only thing to keep DE J. J. Watt from over-committing, and possession will be a crucial statistic if the Jets hope to win. Neither Greene or Powell make my fantasy lineup this week unless I'm stuck with them, and Mark Sanchez may see his last game at QB because it's unlikely the Jets can win this game in their current condition. Tebow-mania might be just around the corner.
TEXANS 27, JETS 13