Thursday, October 20, 2011

Power Ranking Your Fantasy Options for Week 7

If all you're looking for is another fantasy analyst's set of position rankings, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how I'm ranking the top 26 QB, 36 RB, 36 WR, and 20 TE options for Week 7.

However, if you're looking for power rankings of the 32 NFL team with advice on who to play this week as well as some occasionally humorous, usually statistical analysis, they boy do I have 8,000 words for you.

There will definitely still be some tweaks to this column over the next few weeks, but my hope is that it will become a helpful weekly column for fantasy owners, people in pick'em pools, gamblers, and anyone who's somehow still alive in a suicide pool.

Andrew Luck or Bust
Miami, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Jacksonville

There isn’t a single head coach in this group who should live to see Week 9. Between these 4 teams, there will be less than 10 games won, and that includes the 2 games that Jacksonville and Indianapolis play against each other.

32 (32) Miami Dolphins (0-5, vs. Den)

There are only 4 games left on the schedule that they have any hope of winning, and hope isn’t exactly a word I would use to describe any aspect of this team.

However, there is one massive bright spot for fantasy owners in Miami, and for the second straight week, I’ll be referencing Madden in my synopsis of the Dolphins. There’s a trend developing around the NFL that has been an integral part of Madden for over a decade: if you’re incapable of reading a defense, you key in on one receiver that you trust, and you throw the ball to him on 70% of your passing plays, regardless of the coverage or down and distance. With Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, we’ve been witnessing this for the past year and a half, (as much as you can witness games that are difficult to watch), Curtis Painter has been doing it for the past 3 weeks with Pierre Garcon (ironic, considering how many passes he dropped last season), and this past Monday, we saw it with Matt Moore (#25 QB) and Brandon Marshall (#9 WR). Revis Island be damned, Moore was going to try to get the ball to Marshall as much as possible, resulting in over 100 yards and a few interceptions, and I suspect that will also be the case this weekend against Champ Bailey and the 22nd ranked Broncos pass defense. Denver’s rush defense isn’t any better than its pass defense, so I think Daniel Thomas (#18 RB if he’s healthy) should serve nicely as a #2 RB or Flex, and that Reggie Bush (#32 RB) could be worthy of a flyer this week in deeper leagues.

31 (31) St. Louis Rams (0-5, @Dal)

As a team that desperately needed someone for Bradford to throw to, the Rams were the obvious benefactor in one of the two strange trades that happened so far this week; adding Brandon Lloyd (#29 WR) at the “cost” of a 6th round draft pick. Here’s my question(s): How exactly does the guy who led the NFL in receiving yards last season have less value than approximately 200 collegiate guys entering the draft pool this April? Isn’t that draft pick going to a Broncos team that has had arguably the worst draft classes over the course of the past decade? How many more hours need to pass before we find out that Lloyd is a devout Muslim or Buddhist and vehemently refused to be a part of a locker room led by Tebow? That’s the only rational explanation for this trade, right?

Unfortunately, Sam Bradford (#19 QB for the time being) may be out for 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, so it might be a month before we get to see if they’re able to make a connection. If Bradford does play, he’s been connecting frequently with Lance Kendricks (#16 TE) as of late, making him one of the best options that you can probably find on your waiver wire. Regardless of Bradford’s status, I’m not a fan of Steven Jackson this week (#19 RB). He’s one of those names that you feel compelled to play if he’s on your roster, but the Cowboys have the best rush defense in the NFL (69.6 yards per game, 1 TD in 5 games), so I would at least think about (and probably end up deciding against) benching him if your team isn’t being decimated by the bye weeks.

30 (30) Indianapolis Colts (0-6, @NO)

They’re one loss ahead of the Dolphins and Rams in the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes, but they’re clearly a better team that just continues to find ways to lose games they could have won. In a 32 team league with a considerably lower number of serviceable quarterbacks to go around, Curtis Painter (#14 QB) has actually looked better than anyone was expecting. Against a very good Bengals pass defense last week, he completed 68% of his passes en route to a Josh Freeman-ish 188 yards with 1 TD, 1 INT, and a few scrambles for 14 yards. He’s somehow still available in 94.6% of leagues, and he’s certainly worth a shot if your primary QB is on a bye or facing a very good defense. Among his targets, you’re definitely playing Pierre Garcon (#13 WR), you’re probably playing Reggie Wayne if you own him (#31 WR), you shouldn’t even own Austie Collie anymore, and I think we’re finally at the point where you can count on Dallas Clark (#9 TE) for some solid production.

The Colts running situation isn’t nearly as cut and dry. Fantasy owners across the country agree that they should just hand the reins over to Delone Carter (#23 RB), but the Colts seem committed to keeping Joseph Addai and Donald Brown in the mix whenever they’re healthy enough to fall down on first contact. It’s tough to hope for anything better than borderline flex numbers from the primary back in a 3 headed rushing attack that hardly runs well to begin with; let alone when it’s facing a slightly above average rush defense in a game they’ll likely trail from the beginning. But with bye weeks still heavily upon us, I understand it might be necessary to play a Colts running back, at which point I think Carter is the one you want.

29 (29) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5, vs. Bal)

As much as it’s possible to look bad when you lose by 4 at the home field of the “defending” Super Bowl runners-up, that’s how bad the Jaguars looked last week. Having watched the game against my will (a Steelers fan who arrived to the bar at 2:00 demanded that they put her game on the Carolina/Atlanta TV I had been sitting in front of since 12:30, even though the Steelers game was being shown 4 TVs further down the bar, and even though there’s a damn Steelers fan club within 4 miles of where we were. Once you’ve set the precedent of appeasing a whiny yinzer, it’s time for me to take my business elsewhere.), I have no idea how the final score ended up being as close as it was. Jacksonville was visibly outplayed in every aspect of the game except for the scoreboard.

The only Jaguar I would really consider playing this week is Maurice Jones-Drew (#9 RB), but even he might have a rough go of it against the 3rd ranked Ravens rush defense. Mike Thomas (#28 WR) still gets a ton of targets, so he might be worth a spot start if you’re desperate at WR, but you absolutely don’t want to start Blaine Gabbert (#26 QB). The only reason that I ranked Marcedes Lewis at all (#20 TE) is to remind you that you don’t want to play him either; he has all of 10 receptions so far this season, and David Garrard isn’t walking through that door. As a rule of thumb, avoid any non-MJD Jaguars that you can.

Awful But Improving
Arizona, Seattle, Denver

Thanks to their Week 6 bye, odds are that I’m misremembering how bad these three teams actually are, but at this point in time, they seem to be in better shape than they were 3 weeks ago, and it wouldn’t surprise me if any or all of them finished the year with 6 wins.

28 (28) Arizona Cardinals (1-4, vs. Pit)

Though it certainly isn’t evident in my player rankings, this reeks of a trap game to me. Arizona is a desperate team, coming off a bye, playing at home, against the team that denied them a Super Bowl ring; a Steelers team that is probably and understandably more concerned about the 3 games that it plays after it presumably takes care of business in Arizona.

Despite getting slaughtered in Minnesota before their bye week, it feels like the Cardinals have been showing some improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Kevin Kolb (#23 QB) has been incorporating Early Doucet and Jeff King into the offense, making it less of a “Fitzgerald or Bust” pass attack. I’m not suggesting they’re capable of winning games in which he doesn’t have a big day, but the addition of the other “threats” should open up just enough room for Larry Fitzgerald (#8 WR) to be Larry Fitzgerald; even against the #1 ranked Steelers pass defense. Beanie Wells (#12 RB) is a must-start at full health against the Steelers’ impeccably average rush defense, but he and Fitzgerald are the only Cardinals that I think you can rely on this weekend. If you’re really in a pinch, the #2 WR has been the one to score against the Steelers in each of the past 2 weeks, so I wouldn’t argue with taking a shot on Early Doucet (#35 WR), but I certainly wouldn’t bank on him having a productive day either.

27 (27) Seattle Seahawks (2-3, @Cle)

St. Louis at 31. Arizona at 28. Seattle at 27. San Francisco might win the NFC West by more games than the NFC West winner won last season. It’s a shame, really, that the Seahawks have won two games, because they’re arguably the only team aside from Miami that can say it is in dire need of Andrew Luck. Arizona, Jacksonville, and St. Louis theoretically already have their quarterbacks for the future, and Peyton Manning should come back for at least another 2 or 3 years for the Colts. Meanwhile, Miami and Seattle are working with a collection of QBs who have been in the league more than long enough to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they’ll never amount to anything.

So whether it’s Tarvaris Jackson or Charlie Whitehurst under center, you don’t want Seattle’s quarterback (#24 QB) on the road against one of the better pass defenses in the league to date. Though you definitely don’t want the QB, you probably want his #1 WR, because Sidney Rice (#16 WR) has been playing admirably since his return from injury, and should only get better coming out of the bye week. Perhaps you even give the #2 WR a shot, because Doug Baldwin (#32 WR) has been putting together a nice little under-the-radar rookie campaign. There’s no one else in the pass game of any interest, but you’ll probably want to start Marshawn Lynch (#17 RB) against the 27th ranked Browns rush defense. If Joseph Addai can rush for 64 yards against them, anyone else can do better.

26 (26) Denver Broncos (1-4, @Mia)

I’ll admit it. I’m excited to see what he can do. If Kyle Orton was starting this game against the Dolphins, you couldn’t possibly make me any less interested in this game. But with Tim Tebow (#12 QB) taking the snaps? Suddenly this battle for ineptitude becomes one of the 4 early afternoon games I’m actually interested in watching. Say what you want about him (who hasn’t?), he certainly makes things more interesting.

Unfortunately, there’s virtually no one for him to throw the ball to. Brandon Lloyd is out of town, and Demaryius Thomas and Eddie Royal are questionable to start at best. That leaves Eric Decker (#30 WR), Daniel Fells (#17 TE), Matt Willis, and I suppose Dante Rosario as the only guys to look for. It’s going to be hard to blame the kid for running all the time if you keep in mind that those were the options he’s been blessed with. The lack of a real pass game should result in a big day for Willis McGahee (#13 RB), because he’s their best shot at moving the ball against a very forgiving Dolphins defense. And if they keep using him as a pass-catching spell HB, Knowshon Moreno (#34 RB) might be a sneaky good start in a PPR league.

Capable of Winning, Likely to Lose
Minnesota, Carolina, Kansas City, Cleveland

There’s just something about each of these teams that wouldn’t completely shock you if they won or lost any game against any team by 30 points, but you still don’t ever totally expect them to win a game unless it’s at home against a team sucking for Luck.

25 (23) Minnesota Vikings (1-5, vs. GB)

Two weeks ago, the Vikings had one of the most efficient offenses in the league. Last week, they absolutely looked like one of the worst teams in the league. I believe their true identity lies somewhere closer to the latter, but all bets are off with the insertion of the rookie QB. (Okay, not really; you can still totally bet Green Bay -9, and probably should.)

This is one of those rare weeks where Adrian Peterson (#5 RB) probably isn’t the best possible option at RB. Granted, you’re still playing him unless you have the most stacked team in the history of fantasy football, but against the Packers’ 5th ranked rush defense, in a game where the opposing team would clearly be stuffing the box and daring Christian Ponder (#21 QB) to beat them deep, I think you have to considerably lower your normal expectations for Peterson.

It’s also imperative that you lower your expectations for the primary receivers in Minnesota. Aside from returning the opening kickoff for a score in the first game of the season, Percy Harvin (#23 WR) hasn’t yet found the end zone. He had a mildly encouraging 7 receptions for 78 yards on Sunday night, but without any touchdowns, it’s getting difficult to argue that he’s more valuable than Donald Driver or Ben Obomanu; and I’m not about to rank either of those guys in my top 36. At tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe (#15 TE) has hardly been the definition of consistent production this season, and it’s tricky to forecast how he’ll do without McNabb. Rookie QBs often rely heavily on their check down receiver, which is often the tight end, but Kyle Rudolph has been as good of a pass catching tight end as Shiancoe, if not better, and I highly doubt that Minnesota’s tight end by committee is one that you really want on your fantasy team.

24 (22) Carolina Panthers (1-5, vs. Was)

If only they could play defense.

In their 5 losses, they’ve scored 23.4 points per game, but they’ve allowed their opponents to score 30.6 points. With MLB Jon Beason out for the season, teams have had nothing resembling difficulty running on the Panthers, and it’s not as if Chris Gamble is striking fear in the heart of opposing wide receivers. Yes, the quarterback has thrown his fair share of back breaking interceptions, but that’s bound to happen when you start a rookie. Even with those turnovers, the offense has played much better than their 1-5 record would indicate; which has been great news for fantasy owners and people who bet the over/under lines (although there’s no way I would bet the over this week).

The Skins appear to have an above average defense, so even in a week without Brady, Vick, Eli, or Fitzpatrick, I only have Cam Newton ranked as the 4th best QB option. Vick didn’t exactly excel against the Skins last week, and considering they’re very similar quarterbacks, it wouldn’t shock me if Newton was held to 300 total yards and 1 TD. Fortunately, we can say with a fair amount of certainty that Steve Smith (#7 WR) will be the primary beneficiary of whatever passing yards Newton amasses.

Unfortunately, there’s still no real rhyme or reason to the Panthers’ backfield. Jonathan Stewart (#30 RB) had more yards and scored the goal line touchdown, but DeAngelo Williams (#21 RB) had more carries, and has increasingly been receiving more carries than Stewart over the past 3 weeks. Granted, that difference has gone from 2 carries to 3 carries to 5 carries, but if you own DeAngelo, you’ll take any causes for optimism that you can find. The tight end situation in Carolina is a little bit clearer than its RB situation, but so long as Jeremy Shockey is still around, I can’t in good faith rank Greg Olsen (#11 TE) in the top 10; even though he has clearly been the primary tight end for Newton, and has been the one getting all the touchdowns as of late.

23 (25) Kansas City Chiefs (2-3, @Oak)

Sitting here in my 2010 AFC West Division Champions hoodie, I still don’t really know what to make of this team. Despite losing Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs somehow have the 6th best rush offense; and despite losing Eric Berry, they somehow have an average pass defense. Their 3 losses have come against teams in the top 30% of the power rankings, and their 2 wins have come against teams in the bottom 25%. I still think they’re a bad team that will somehow find a way to win 5 games and play itself right out of a top 5 draft pick.

From a fantasy perspective, Dwayne Bowe (#3 WR) should have a monster game against the Raiders’ 28th ranked pass defense. Over the past 4 weeks, Bowe has averaged 5 receptions for 101 yards and a score, and each of those games came against teams with a better defense than Oakland has. That pretty much concludes your Kansas City wish list. Though I expect Bowe to have a big day, he’s virtually the only guy that Matt Cassel (#15 QB) has to throw to; and I think we can all agree that Cassel is hardly a threat to throw for 250+ yards and 4 TD in consecutive games. Jackie Battle (#16 RB) had a solid day two weeks ago, but with Dexmas JoCluster still in the picture, I wouldn’t be counting on a guy with 70 career touches to repeat that performance. He’s definitely worth starting, but I don’t think he’s a 6 YPC kind of guy. Further down the list, I’ve got Dexter McCluster (#33 RB) if you’re in a PPR league, but I wouldn’t even consider him if it’s a standard league.

22 (21) Cleveland Browns (2-3, vs. Sea)

Whether or not Hillis starts (my rankings assume he won’t), this is a Cleveland team that has been and will continue to be a collection of guys that you really want no part of in fantasy football. Sure, you have to at least consider a starter from any team, especially during bye weeks, but chances are you have better options on your bench or on the waiver wire.

Against a pretty bad Seahawks pass defense, there’s a very good chance that Greg Little (#18 WR) will continue to enhance his fantasy value. Little isn’t a bona fide starter just yet, but as I’ve been saying for weeks, Colt McCoy (#16 QB) would have more value if there was actually someone on that team that he could trust to throw the ball to, and Little has clearly become one of McCoy’s favorite targets in the past few weeks. The other primary pass catcher, Benjamin Watson (#10 TE) has been a very consistent (albeit, not great) producer, and has some definite value given his potential to score if and when the Browns are in the red zone.

I wouldn’t advise starting any of the Browns’ running backs this week. Seattle’s rush defense ranks 7th in the NFL, and either Peyton Hillis (unranked) will be playing at less than full strength, or Montario Hardesty (#24 RB) will be in the game averaging 3 yards per carry. He’s maybe worth a start in a deep league or a PPR league, but I presume Colt McCoy will be throwing the ball 40+ times, as usual.

Washington, Philadelphia, New York Giants, Dallas

None of these teams is definitively better than any of the other 3 (although I would argue that Washington is clearly in 4th place), which is why Dallas, Philadelphia, and New York are each between +220 and +250 to win the division.

21 (17) Washington Redskins (3-2, @Car)

As I predicted going into last week, the Redskins now have a controversy at QB and RB. Rex Grossman threw 4 interceptions against the Eagles, after which John Beck came into the game and orchestrated a pair of long drives that nearly brought Washington back from the dead. That wouldn’t really be a controversy if the receivers weren’t voicing support for Grossman to remain the starter. It looks like John Beck (#22 QB) is going to get the nod this week, but I don’t think it would surprise anyone if Shanahan changed his mind at the last minute, or at the 7th minute of the 2nd quarter. Until proven otherwise, you don’t want any part of the Redskins’ QB situation; though you could certainly do worse than Santana Moss (#24 WR) and Fred Davis (#6 TE), who have a tendency to produce no matter who’s throwing them the ball.

The RB situation is even more blurry, but worth much more to look into, because the Skins have a solid rush offense and are facing the previously-mentioned, still-atrocious Panthers rush defense. Last week, which includes the entire week leading up the game, the Redskins’ running back dilemma was an absolute disaster for all partial owners of Troyman Hirainlu. Reports all week were that Hightower would be the #1 guy, right up until kickoff when they made Torain the “feature” back for all of 22 yards while Hightower sat out the entire game. Even though he didn’t do well last week, I think Ryan Torain (#20 RB) has the most favor with Shanahan, and I would rather have Roy Helu (#36 RB) than Hightower if I had to choose between the two; but as has been the case since draft day, I wouldn’t personally touch this backfield with a ten foot pole.

20 (24) Philadelphia Eagles (2-3, BYE)
19 (18) New York Giants (4-2, BYE)

My guess is that both of these teams finish the season with an 8-8 record, and that they’ll both somehow make headlines during their bye week.

18 (14) Dallas Cowboys (2-3, vs. StL)

Remember last year when the Chargers were visibly and statistically one of the best teams in the league, yet somehow found a way to miss the playoffs? That might be where we’re headed with the Cowboys. They’ve had arguably the most difficult schedule to open the season, but have one of the best passing offenses and total defenses to show for it. If they’re as talented as they should be, every game left on their schedule is incredibly winnable, starting with a home game against the Rams this Sunday.

I would gladly start any key component in the Cowboys passing game. He’s certainly been dragged through the mud, but Tony Romo (#5 QB) has averaged over 300 yards per game and is only going to get better as he gets his timing back with Miles Austin (#5 WR). Dez Bryant (#14 WR) hasn’t been the best PPR receiver in the world, but when he plays, he’s going to get you a few big catches, and he’s probably going to find the end zone. Jason Witten (#2 TE) wasn’t targeted much last week against a Patriots team that, for all of its defensive flaws, can really shut down opposing tight ends, but he found the end zone and I suspect he’ll do it again this week against a terrible Rams defense.

But the worst part of the Rams’ defense has been its ability to stop the run. He’s a definite wild card, but with Felix Jones out with a high ankle sprain, DeMarco Murray (#14 RB) should get the bulk of the carries against a team allowing opponents to rack up 163 rushing yards per game. One way or the other, this is going to be a statement game for the Cowboys, and I think it’ll be a good statement when they finish the day with close to 500 yards of total offense.

Treading Water
Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, Tennessee, New York Jets, Oakland

Either Houston or Tennessee will wind up winning the AFC South, but the other six teams in this section will probably finish the season within 1 game of 9-7, but ultimately miss out on the playoffs unless one of the teams in the Top 10 completely falls apart. (Here’s looking at you, Tampa Bay and Buffalo.)

17 (16) Atlanta Falcons (3-3, @Det)
16 (19) Chicago Bears (3-3, @TB)

Despite the fact that the Bears beat the Falcons convincingly when they played in Week 1, if they played on a neutral field today, I feel like most people would mistakenly pick the Falcons to win the game. For some reason, public perception is that the Falcons are better than 3-3 and that the Bears are worse than 3-3, but I feel it’s the other way around. The Bears’ 3 losses came at the hands of the 3 best teams in the NFC, each of which was still anyone’s game late in the 3rd quarter, and they’ve looked pretty good in their three wins. Atlanta, on the other hand, can’t even move the ball in games that they lose, and their 3 wins were nail biters over teams that rank 20th or worse in my eyes.

Nevertheless, the Falcons seem to have all the fantasy studs. Michael Turner (#4 RB) should have a field day against a Lions front seven that has been shredded in consecutive weeks by Forte and Gore, especially in the aftermath of a game in which they displayed a renewed commitment to their rush attack. Following a 139 yard 2 TD day, Turner trails only Adrian Peterson in rushing touchdowns, and proved that he’s still capable of putting the team on his back; even if it was against the Panthers.
Because of the apparent shift in Atlanta’s offensive game plan, and the fact that Detroit has the 6th best pass defense in the NFL, the fantasy anticipation for Matt Ryan (#17 QB) and company is considerably lower than usual. Having entered the season as one of the consensus top 3 fantasy WR, Roddy White (#10 WR) just barely cracks the top 10, even in a week without Andre Johnson, Wes Welker, Stevie Johnson, AJ Green, Hakeem Nicks, and DeSean Jackson. White was targeted on all of 5 plays last week, resulting in just 21 receiving yards, and the matchup doesn’t get any better this week; but he’s still Roddy White, and Julio Jones (#27 WR) is still banged up, so if the Falcons attempt anything further than ten yards down the field, it will almost certainly be to Roddy. Within those first ten yards though, Tony Gonzalez (#8 TE) should continue to build on what has already been another great year for him.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Bears still have a very “Forte or Bust” type of offense. Even though he didn’t find the end zone last Sunday, Matt Forte (#2 RB) did have 23 touches for 123 yards in a game that was over by halftime; and this week the Bears go up against a Buccaneers defense that is much less formidable than the Vikings rush defense they just faced. The whole London thing is an X-Factor that I don’t think you can account for, but it certainly doesn’t scare me away from starting Forte in every single format.

Jay Cutler (#8 QB) is my overreaction / bold prediction of the week. When he has time to actually set his feet in the pocket, he’s proven that he’s better than your average quarterback; and suffice it to say, Tampa Bay’s 26th ranked pass defense won’t have Warren Sapp or Derrick Brooks coming after Cutler. If Cutler does anywhere near as well as I expect him to do, Roy Williams (#21 WR) will be a solid #2 WR option, and Devin Hester (#36 WR) should have some value as a flex play, especially if your league awards points for return yards.

15 (20) Cincinnati Bengals (4-2, BYE)

Tied with Tampa Bay for the biggest jump of the week (5 spots), I’m officially purchasing a small amount of shares in the Cincinnati Bengals. The offense is nothing special, but so long as they have one of the best defenses in the NFL and continue turning the ball over just once per game, they’ve got a puncher’s chance in any game, and might be able to ride a favorable schedule to a 10-6 season.

14 (8) Houston Texans (3-3, @Ten)
13 (10) Tennessee Titans (3-2, vs. Hou)

Without even playing a game last week, Tennessee was leapfrogged by three other teams, and Houston simply played poorly enough to warrant being dropped six spots in the rankings. Both of these teams looked great by the end of Week 4, but have been slightly falling apart since then as they both attempt to find their identity without their star wide receiver.

Fortunately for Houston, Andre Johnson should be back within a week or two, but it’s highly doubtful that they’ll have him in this one. They are a completely different team without him, which is hardly groundbreaking analysis, because the Lions would be just as helpless without Calvin Johnson, but it’s pretty clear that they cannot play from behind. With Johnson out, the opposing team can focus on just stopping the run, and if they’re able to take Arian Foster (#7 RB) out of the game, it doesn’t have much difficulty keeping Jacoby Jones (#19 WR) and Kevin Walter (unranked) from beating them deep.

The X-Factor for Matt Schaub (#11 QB) has been Owen Daniels (#5 TE), though he hasn’t been anywhere near as much of a factor as we thought he would be once AJ went limp. Daniels was only targeted on 3 of Schaub’s 37 pass attempts last week, much of which was due to Baltimore’s focus on shutting him down. If he has another sub-par day, so will Matt Schaub and so will the Texans.

On the other side of the ball, Tennessee absolutely has to get Chris Johnson (#10 RB) going. Without a great wide receiver, tight end, or quarterback, Chicago has left it up to Matt Forte to guide them to victory, and Tennessee needs to do the exact same thing. Matt Hasselbeck (#10 QB), Nate Washington (#22 WR), and Jared Cook (#18 TE) are not the answer to life in Tennessee without Kenny Britt.

12 (13) New York Jets (3-3, vs. SD)

The Jets are kind of like the Falcons, except the Falcons are about an 82 on offense and a 67 on defense, and the Jets are about a 67 on offense and an 82 on defense. When they lose games, they look terrible; when they win games, it’s usually a result of their opponent losing the game than the Jets actually winning it. The most intimidating things are the Jets are a cornerback you can choose to avoid and a head coach who talks a big game. Nothing else about this team is going to keep you up at night, and that’s why they’ll ultimately miss the playoffs.

This week, the Jets 31st ranked rush offense goes up against the 2nd ranked Chargers pass defense. I must say, I’ll be curious to see how they intend to score when Mark Sanchez (#20 QB) is searching for holes that don’t exist and Shonn Greene (#22 RB) is incapable of even finding the ones that do exist. 296 total yards might win you a game against the Dolphins, but that same offensive effort won’t get you a point against San Diego. Inevitably, they’ll get some production out of Santonio Holmes (#15 WR) and Dustin Keller (#12 TE), because Sanchez should at least be able to throw for 175 yards, but you can’t count on huge days from anyone on the Jets this week; which really isn’t anything new.

11 (12) Oakland Raiders (4-2, vs. KC)

Not sure if you heard about this – it kind of flew under the radar – but it looks like the Raiders made some sort of trade with the Bengals this week.

Will Carson Palmer come in and immediately contribute in a positive way to this offense? Probably not. Does Carson Palmer give the Raiders a better chance to win than Kyle Boller – a guy who has attempted just 18 passes in the past season and a half? Absolutely. Had they held on to them, were the Raiders going to screw up the draft picks that they traded for Palmer? Without a doubt.

I’m sure I’m in the minority, but until Palmer starts throwing pick sixes, I actually like the trade. It instills a confidence in your team and your fan base that says we’re sick of rebuilding and we’re going for it all this year. Maybe it cripples them a little bit a few years down the road, but on the off chance he still has a few years left in the tank, how can you argue with trading for a former Pro Bowler QB in this pass-heavy league the NFL has become?

As far as this week is concerned, I would keep a safe distance from that entire passing game. If you’re in a state of desperation, you might get a few points out of Carson Palmer (#18 QB), Darrius Heyward-Bey (#26 WR), Jacoby Ford (#33 WR), and/or Kevin Boss (#19 TE), but we all know the only Raider that you want is Darren McFadden (#3 RB). Until Palmer is fully situated, they’ll find a way to get Run DMC 30+ touches per game, all of which he can do some serious damage with. Even if DMC does get that many carries, there should still be at least 10 touches in the cards for Michael Bush (#31 RB), so I wouldn’t mind using him as a bye week fill-in.

Fan Favorites
Tampa Bay, Buffalo, San Francisco

Speaking from first-hand experience, if your favorite team sucks, then you’ve probably embraced one of, if not all three of these teams (in addition to Detroit, of course). Whether due to their style of play or the fact that they’re turning the page on a recent history of incompetence, these teams are fun to watch and easy to root for.

10 (15) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2, vs. Chi)

It’s been a bizarre month for Tampa Bay. After eking out a Monday Night win over the still winless Indianapolis Colts, people started wondering whether they were a legitimate 3-1 team. Following their 45 point loss in San Francisco, everyone wrote them off as dead. Then this past week, they shocked everyone and beat the Saints. Now they fly to London to play a home game against the Bears? Only in the NFL.

The good news for the Bucs is that they’re facing a Chicago defense that ranks near the bottom of the league in total yards allowed, so Josh Freeman (#9 QB) just might have a repeat of last week’s 300+ yard 2 TD day, which would mean big things for Kellen Winslow (#4 TE) and Mike Williams (#17 WR), who was unofficially reinstated as Freeman’s favorite target last week. I’ve also got Arrelious Benn (#34 WR) sneaking into the rankings thanks to how much Freeman loves to spread the ball around.

It seems unlikely that LeGarrette Blount would even travel with the team to London, so Earnest Graham (#15 RB) should have another fairly productive game against a Bears team that has allowed 4 rushing TD in the past 3 weeks.

9 (7) Buffalo Bills (4-2, BYE)
8 (11) San Francisco 49ers (5-1, BYE)

Remember when Chris Berman used to pick them as his Super Bowl teams every pre-season?

Better Than Most, But Not Quite Polished
Pittsburgh, San Diego, New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore

There’s something about all 5 of these teams that puts them head and shoulders ahead of the 25 teams ranked behind them, but still leaves them a mile behind the Super Bowl favorites. Think about it: if you put any of these teams on a neutral field against any of the teams ranked 8-32, you’d be picking the team from this group, right? But if you put any of them on a neutral field against New England or Green Bay, you’d put your money on Brady or Rodgers, right? They’re all playoff caliber, but they don’t quite have that Super Bowl factor yet.

7 (9) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2, @Ari)

The length of this article has gotten completely out of control, so I’ll be going through the rest of these teams in an abbreviated fashion.

Want to know what’s scary about the Steelers? Their best defender (James Harrison) has been out with a fractured orbital bone, Ben Roethlisberger clearly hasn’t been himself, their turnover differential so far on the season is negative 10, and they’re still 4-2. I’m not sure what exactly the opposite of “firing on all cylinders” would be, but that’s what the Steelers have been doing, and they still have a winning record. Yikes.

If Ben Roethlisberger (#6 QB) doesn’t have a big game this week against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, then I’m not entirely sure you can feel safe, let alone confident, starting him in your fantasy league again this season. Needless to say, I think he’ll have a big game.

Aside from Wes Welker and Calvin Johnson, Mike Wallace (#2 WR) has been the most consistently amazing wide receiver in the league this season, and should continue that trend this weekend.

After last week’s break-out game, Rashard Mendenhall (#8 RB) can once again be considered a durable and reliable fantasy running back, and should be started in all formats.

6 (5) San Diego Chargers (4-1, @NYJ)

Wherefore art thou, Philip Rivers (#7 QB)? Rivers was amazing last season despite missing Gates and Vincent Jackson for large chunks of it, so it would be foolish to assign blame for his 6 TD / 7 INT start to the season to the lack of Gates (especially considering he’s on pace to pass his previous career high for passing yards by over 200 yards). The completions and yardage are there; the touchdowns are bound to come.

Ryan Mathews (#6 RB) has been downright unstoppable this season, and is quietly on pace for over 2,100 yards from scrimmage. Against a Jets rush defense that ranks 28th in the NFL, he’s poised for a big game in a big market. His value drops a little bit if Mike Tolbert (#28 RB) is able to fully return from his concussion, but Mathews had been putting up big numbers when Tolbert was at full strength, so I wouldn’t worry too much about him.

Vincent Jackson (#6 WR) and Malcom Floyd (#25 WR) should have big games, even with the whole Revis Island factor included. You know Rivers is going to throw for at least 250 yards, and if Gates is even able to play this week, the Jets have been solid against opposing tight ends.

5 (4) New Orleans Saints (4-2, vs. Ind)

After 6 weeks, Darren Sproles (#11 RB) has clearly emerged as the Saints running back that you want; especially if you’re in a PPR league. He has 511 yards from scrimmage, which is almost double the total that Mark Ingram (#27 RB) has amassed. If it weren’t for a couple of goal line touchdowns in recent weeks, Ingram wouldn’t even be worth owning anymore.

Speaking of barely worth owning anymore, if you have one of Drew Brees’ (#3 QB) receivers with a name other than Jimmy Graham (#1 TE) or Marques Colston (#12 WR), then you’re completely wasting a roster spot. The Meachem/Moore/Henderson trio has had all of 19 targets since Colston’s return, which works out to just over 3 targets per person per game. It’s kind of hard to count on a guy for any sort of fantasy production when he’s only getting 3 chances per game. If you don’t believe me, here’s a quick list of names receiving roughly 3 targets per game: Lavelle Hawkins, Emmanuel Sanders, Derek Hagan, Josh Morgan, Brandon LaFell…do you want any of those guys on your team? That’s essentially what you can expect to get out of Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, or Devery Henderson for the rest of the season.

4 (2) Detroit Lions (5-1, vs. Atl)

Javhid Best probably isn’t going to suit up this weekend due to a concussion. If he doesn’t, it’s anyone’s guess who the primary running back will be. My assumption is that Keiland Williams (#26 RB) will get the bulk of the touches, but it could very well be Maurice Morris or Ronnie Brown. Even if we find out for certain who the starter will be, the Falcons have the 8th best rush defense in the league, and Detroit hasn’t exactly been running the ball with any sort of proficiency, so I would recommend avoiding the Lions’ back field entirely.

You’re probably going to want a piece of their passing game, though. The Falcons pass defense is pathetic at best, so you’re absolutely starting Matthew Stafford (#2 QB), Calvin Johnson (#1 WR), and Brandon Pettigrew (#3 TE) if you have the luxury. Until either Titus Young or Nate Burleson clearly emerges as the #2 WR, I’d be hesitant to take a flyer on either of them, but I’d definitely rather have one of them than Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, or Devery Henderson.

3 (6) Baltimore Ravens (4-1, @Jac)

Not since opening weekend against the Steelers has Ray Rice (#1 RB) reminded us why he was the consensus #2 overall pick on fantasy draft day. Obviously, I think he’s due for one of those days this week against a Jaguars team that allowed 175+ rushing yards in 2 of the past 3 weeks.

Which Joe Flacco (#13 QB) will we see on Monday night? Probably one that hands it off considerably more times than he attempts to throw it, since the Jaguars allegedly have the 8th best pass defense; but when he does go to the air, it’s pretty safe to assume he’ll be aiming for Anquan Boldin (#11 WR), Ed Dickson (#14 TE), or Ray Rice since they’re the only guys on the team averaging 4 or more targets per game this season.

The Favorites
New England, Green Bay

Simply the best. Better than all the rest.

2 (3) New England Patriots (5-1, BYE)

They didn’t look great last week against the Cowboys, but a win is a win in this league, and the Patriots should finish the regular season with the most wins in the AFC.

1 (1) Green Bay Packers (6-0, @Min)

I don’t think the Packers rushing situation will ever get solved. It seems like they want James Starks (#25 RB) to get 60% of the carries, Ryan Grant (#35 RB) to get 35%, and Kuhn to get the scraps, but maybe it’s time to just accept that both Starks and Grant are below average guys and that the Packers don’t have a running back that you’ll ever want to start.

Fortunately, they’ve got plenty of receiving threats to load up your roster with instead. Because I had the nerve to doubt him last week and rank him 7th among QBs, Aaron Rodgers (#1 QB) went out and had the best day of any QB, and I hereby vow to never rank him lower than 4th again. As much as he spreads the ball around, Greg Jennings (#4 WR) is unmistakably still his #1 target, and Jordy Nelson (#20 WR) has cemented his status as a weekly deep ball threat. And although he hasn’t found the red zone yet this month, Jermichael Finley (#7 TE) is still a bona fide top 10 tight end.

If you’re miraculously still alive in a suicide pool, I was 5-0 last week and have another 5 suggestions for you:

5th best: Carolina over Washington
4th best: Green Bay over Minnesota
3rd best: Baltimore over Jacksonville
2nd best: New Orleans over Indianapolis
The best: Dallas over St. Louis

There aren’t any great upsets on the moneyline, but I’ll be taking Arizona +165 to knock off the Steelers.

For any questions that the following rankings don’t clearly answer, reach out to me on twitter (@kerrancejames) and I’ll do my best to help you out.

Rank:   QB:                        RB:                     WR:                     TE:
   1       A Rodgers             R Rice                 C Johnson            J Graham 
   2       M Stafford             M Forte              M Wallace            J Witten 
   3       D Brees                 D McFadden       D Bowe               B Pettigrew
   4       C Newton              M Turner            G Jennings            K Winslow
   5       T Romo                 A Peterson           M Austin             O Daniels
   6       B Roethlisberger     R Mathews          V Jackson           F Davis
   7       P Rivers                 A Foster               S Smith               J Finley
   8       J Cutler                   R Mendenhall       L Fitzgerald        T Gonzalez
   9       J Freeman               M Jones-Drew     B Marshall          D Clark
  10      M Hasselbeck        C Johnson             R White              B Watson
  11      M Schaub               D Sproles             A Boldin             G Olsen
  12      T Tebow                 B Wells                M Colston          D Keller
  13      J Flacco                  W McGahee         P Garcon            H Miller
  14      C Painter                 D Murray             D Bryant             E Dickson
  15      M Cassel                 E Graham             S Holmes           V Shiancoe
  16      C McCoy                J Battle                 S Rice                 L Kendricks
  17      M Ryan                   M Lynch              M Williams          D Fells
  18      C Palmer                 D Thomas            G Little                J Cook
  19      S Bradford              S Jackson             Jac Jones            K Boss
  20      M Sanchez              R Torain               J Nelson              M Lewis
  21      C Ponder                 D Williams           R Williams
  22      J Beck                     S Greene              N Washington
  23      K Kolb                    D Carter               P Harvin
  24      C Whitehurst            M Hardesty          S Moss
  25      M Moore                 J Starks                M Floyd
  26      B Gabbert                K Williams            D Heyward-Bey
  27                                      M Ingram              Ju Jones
  28                                      M Tolbert             M Thomas
  29                                      B Tate                   B Lloyd
  30                                      J Stewart               E Decker
  31                                      M Bush                 R Wayne
  32                                      R Bush                  D Baldwin
  33                                      D McCluster          J Ford
  34                                      K Moreno             A Benn
  35                                      R Grant                 E Doucet
  36                                      R Helu                   D Hester

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