The NFL Handbook – Week 13

There are only five weeks left in the NFL regular season. Sad!

Not only does this mean that your fantasy playoffs are likely right around the corner – and every week means even more – but also that there are just five more regular season handbooks to help put a few extra greenbacks in your pockets.

If you’re one to take part in wagering on said games, and/or a participant of the daily fantasy sports, that is.

And if you don’t like money, well, no one likes a loser. This handbook will surely help you avoid such a fate, as I’ve analyzed each of the games on tap this week, and provided an overview of each team’s outlook from the fantasy football perspective. There’s also some statistical “analysis”, and my betting picks for each game as well.

For the fantasy portion, I’ve broken each team’s fantasy relevant players into four categories:

  1. Ballers –  Either the guys you just aren’t benching, or the ones with favorable match-ups. Either way, they should be in your lineups.
  2. Under the Radar – Guys who you may not start typically, or have what appear to be tough matchups, but have a good opportunity to produce. Good for dfs (DraftKings, Fanduel, etc.) as they should have low(er) ownership.
  3. Temper Expectations – Proceed with caution. May be players you’d normally start, or guys who’ve been playing well in recent weeks/have a plus matchup, but might not put up the numbers needed to justify a start this week.
  4. Bums – It’s a good idea to just avoid these guys in your lineups.

Complete Week 13 Fantasy Football Rankings

For the betting side, I used the opening spread and over/under totals from A lot of the lines have moved in reaction to the money, injury updates, etc., but picking and choosing which current odds to use felt a bit too arbitrary.

Best of luck this week!

Minnesota Vikings (9-2, 8-3 ATS) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4, 5-6 ATS)

Spread: ATL -3

O/U: 47.5

MIN 13.74 (7th) 12.12 (1st) 20.09 (16th) 5.98 (5th) 1.73 (3rd) 8.27 (17th)
ATL 16.78 (17th) 17.06 (10th) 17.34 (6th) 6.39 (8th) 4.18 (9th) 9.27 (26th)

Case Keenum, and Matt Ryan might currently be the two hottest quarterbacks in the league. Both have completed over 70% of their passes in three straight games, and they’ve combined to throw for 12 TDs (Keenum – 7, Ryan – 5) with just 3 INTs (Keenum – 2, Ryan – 1) over that same three-game stretch.

One major difference, though. Well, two actually…

1. Keenum is averaging 289 passing yards a game over his last three – which if extrapolated over the entire season would put him 2nd behind only Brady – while Ryan is right around the league average at 242 yards per.

2. Keenum faced a Top-10 passing D in the Rams, as well as the Lions and Redskins – who both have respectable secondaries. Meanwhile, Ryan put up his numbers against two pass defenses which rank in the Bottom-10 (Dallas and Tampa Bay) and an injury-raved Seahawks unit.

Yes, the Falcons have won three straight. And yes, going streaking in the NFL is an impressive feat. Especially, when you outscore your opponents 95-58. But, let’s pump the brakes on all of the “Atlanta offense is back!” talk.

Given their respective opponents, you’d figure Ryan was the one averaging 289 yards with 7 TDs. He’s not, though. And, his numbers are even less impressive when considering the cupcake matchups they’ve had.

I’ve also just accepted my invitation to the annual Playa Hater’s Ball. Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! Hate! R.I.P. Charlie Murphy.

Moving on.

This Vikings defense is far superior to that of the Bucs, Cowboys, or Richard Sherman/Kam Chancellor-less Seahawks. In fact, the 11 passing TDs they’ve allowed are the 4th fewest, and just nine teams have allowed fewer passing yards per game. Minnesota has allowed multiple TD passes in just three of their 11 games, and just two QBs have gone over the 300 passing yard mark while six were held to 225 or less.

Oh, and lest we forget the run D which has allowed just 66 rushing yards per game (2nd), and the fewest rushing TDs (3) to running backs. Then, there’s CB Xavier Rhodes who’s locked down any and all comers – including Antonio Brown.

All told, you can expect to see a lot of Mohamed Sanu – who’s been balling lately – but outside of the 2017 Mike Vick disguised as a receiver, it’s probably in your best interest to avoid the Falcons in your fantasy lineups this week.

Now on the flip side, Atlanta has held three of the last four QBs they’ve faced without a passing TD while allowing just 214 passing yards per game over that stretch. Now again, matchups matter. But, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott are pretty damn good. And, the fourth guy – Ryan Fitzpatrick – is playing in his 13th season for a reason; he’s not trash.

Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant remains in the concussion protocol, which is bad but good news for Keenum and co. And, without the former Pro Bowler, the depth of this Falcons secondary will be tested. But regardless of whether or not Trufant can go, you have to like Keenum to continue his recent play this week considering his only two bad games this season came against Baltimore and Pittsburgh – who rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively (yards allowed), in defending the pass this season.

The Falcons rank 8th against the pass, but are allowing an 89.8 QB rating (15th), and have just 3 INTs on the year (31st). So, look for Keenum to keep it rolling this week.

Minnesota will need him to ball out more than ever because the Falcons run D has been surprisingly stout (after being one of the league’s worst a season ago). The addition of Dontari Poe has been one of the more underrated moves, but you can bet opposing RBs have felt the difference.

Atlanta has allowed just one 100 yard rusher this season, and the five TDs they’ve allowed to backs on the ground put them tied for the 9th fewest. After weeks of back-and-forth between Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, Murray has clearly separated himself as the most productive back in Minnesota. Thing is, since Dalvin Cook went down, Murray has just 5 receptions to McKinnon’s 28.

Atlanta has been susceptible to receiving backs on the year, allowing 45.2 receiving yards per game (22nd), so given the matchup, McKinnon is the Vikings back you’ll want in your lineups this week.

If you had to pick one, that is.

At the end of the day, you’ll want to have your popcorn ready as we get a playoff preview in early December. Yes, this game figures to be highly competitive, but for some reason people are still sleeping on the 9-2 Vikings. Any time you can catch one of the league’s best in an underdog role, it’s just foolish to let it pass…

I like the under as well.

Vikings 23 – Falcons 20

Ballers: Case Keenum, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Julio Jones

Under the Radar: Jerick McKinnon, Mohamed Sanu

Temper Expectations: Latavius Murray, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman

Bums: Austin Hooper

New England Patriots (9-2, 7-4 ATS) at Buffalo Bills (6-5, 6-4-1 ATS)

Spread: NE -9

O/U: 49

NE 18.76 (28th) 17.93 (17th) 24.89 (31st) 7.15 (17th) 1.00 (1st) 5.18 (1st)
BUF 13.61 (6th) 21.19 (30th) 19.29 (12th) 6.21 (7th) 7.64 (18th) 9.09 (24th)

Thankfully, Buffalo’s Nathan Peterman experiment lasted about as long as white people dabbing. No offense, but when Hillary Clinton jumps on board, everyone takes a L. Just like whoever approved the decision to bench Tyrod Taylor.

But, honestly? Does it even matter who’s at QB this week?

Tom Brady is 26-3 in his career against the Bills, and the Patriots have won 9 of the last 11 against Buffalo. Brady didn’t play in last season’s loss, and the 2014 loss came on the last day of the regular season when the Pats had already clinched – Brady didn’t play the 2nd half. Which means, we have to go all the way back to September 25, 2011 to find the last time the Patriots truly lost to the Bills…

Not only did that game feature guys like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Chad Johnson, and Fred Jackson, but Taylor was in his rookie season with the Ravens (the aforementioned Ryan Fitzpatrick was Buffalo’s starting QB).

Simply put, Brady owns Buffalo. And, if the Bills plan on reversing their current failures against New England, they’ll need LeSean McCoy to come through in a major way because while the numbers might suggest that the Pats present a welcomed foe for opposing QBs, that hasn’t truly been the case in recent weeks.

After allowing 338 passing yards, and over 2 TDs per game to QBs through their 1st six games of the season, New England has limited them to just 224 yards with five total TDs over their last five. Sure, two of those five games featured Brock Osweiler and Matt Moore, but the other three saw them hold down Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Derek Carr.

This secondary has been much improved, and whether it’s Taylor, Peterman, or Jim Kelly, the Bills rank 30th in passing offense this season.

Back to McCoy.

Since Kareem Hunt‘s 17 in Week 1, no RB has seen more than 14 carries against New England, and their +105 point differential trails just Philly and the Rams. All of which helps to explain why they’ve faced the 4th fewest rushing attempts of any team, and are allowing backs to put up less than 100 rushing yards per game.

Thing is, they’ve also allowed backs to pick up 4.9 yards per carry – more than any other team. Only Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Jordan Howard have received more carries than McCoy through 12 weeks, and New England is also allowing backs to pick up an extra 50 yards per game receiving – McCoy ranks 13th among RBs in receiving yards.

The matchup is primed for McCoy to have a big day. Especially when you consider that despite playing in just 8 of 11 games, Charles Clay leads Buffalo in receiving yards, and the Patriots have not allowed a TE to score in five-straight games while limiting them to an average of 28 receiving yards over that stretch.

Like I said, McCoy needs to ball out. Buffalo has no other options offensively, although the gravity-defying rookie Zay Jones is starting to come on as of late.

Let’s rewind a few weeks to when I mentioned the Bills struggles against the run since trading Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville; that hasn’t changed. They’ve also allowed two 100 yard receivers in their last three games, and despite being one of the better units at defending the TE position, they haven’t faced Rob Gronkowski.

Overall, Buffalo has been solid against the pass. Only two QBs have thrown multiple TD passes against this defense, and they’ve limited signal callers wearing a different color uniform to just 13.7 fantasy points per game. I’m not expecting a monster game from Brady, but hell, he’s Tom Brady. Odds are he becomes the 3rd to throw multiple TDs, and he’s virtually a lock to put up over 250 yards.

Were you considering benching him anyway?

Patriots 34 – Bills 20

Ballers: Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy

Under the Radar: Rex Burkhead, Tavaris Cadet

Temper Expectations: Danny Amendola, Tyrod Taylor, Zay Jones, Charles Clay

Bums: James White, Jordan Matthews, Deonte Thompson

San Francisco 49ers (1-10, 5-6 ATS) at Chicago Bears (3-8, 5-5-1 ATS)

Spread: CHI -3

O/U: 40.5

SF 19.75 (32nd) 23.62 (32nd) 20.90 (20th) 7.37 (18th) 8.36 (22nd) 9.55 (29th)
CHI 14.36 (11th) 17.94 (18th) 20.78 (19th) 6.75 (14th) 10.36 (29th) 9.09 (24th)

The argument has long been made that Brady is a “system” QB, and history has proven that just about anyone can step in for the Pats and look incredible. Now, no. I don’t agree that Brady is entirely the product of the Pats system, but playing for Belichick damn sure hasn’t hurt.

Remember that one time Tom Brady tore his ACL in Week 1 of the 2008 season, and Matt Cassel stepped in and led the Pats to an 11-5 record? Well, that performance led to a six-year, $63 million dollar deal with the Chiefs.

He was released just four seasons later.

Completely different set of circumstances, but now that C.J. Beathard is hampered by a knee injury, Jimmy Garoppolo – the latest product of Belichick’s system – will be the starting QB for the San Francisco 49ers this week, and I can’t be the only one who sees a bit of Cassel.

I just don’t see the optimism… This season at least.

In his 1st start as a 49er, Jimmy G draws a Bears defense which is tied for 9th with 30 sacks, and has allowed just 233 passing yards per game (13th). Now, Chicago has allowed QBs to average a 95.3 QB rating against them (22nd), so it’s not all bad. But, with Pierre Garcon out for the season, the only real receiving threat at his disposal (outside of Carlos Hyde) is Marquise Goodwin.

Now, I like Goodwin. Hell, he leads the league with 21.4 yards per reception. However, his 43.5 catch % ranks 195th out of 203 qualified receivers. Does QB play have a role in that, sure. But, the Bears have been pretty solid in limiting the deep plays, and it’s hard to imagine Jimmy G airing it out from the jump which means a lot of intermediate stuff for Trent Taylor and Louis Murphy.

Neither of which is scaring anyone.

Maybe Jimmy is the next Brady, and can transform marginal NFL talents into star players, but his prospects aren’t the greatest out the gates.

Speaking of Hyde, he hasn’t found the end zone in five-straight games. In fact, he’s been held scoreless in 9 of 11 games this season. But, even without the TD production, the former Buckeye ranks 13th in fantasy points (standard scoring) and leads the Niners in receptions – with his 295 receiving yards ranking 10th at the RB position – and his fantasy owners find themselves in a bit of a pickle this week.

On one hand, you have to figure the Bears primary objective will be to make Garoppollo beat them through the air. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Hyde has seen 8+ defenders in the box on 39% of his snaps (10th highest rate in the league), and logic suggests that number will only climb with Garoppollo under center.

On the other hand, Chicago has allowed backs to pick up over 4 yards per carry while giving up eight rushing TDs on the season. And, with a new QB – who’s not fully acclimated – logic would also suggest that Hyde will be even more heavily involved in this offense than he already is.

So, what do you do?

Well, I’m leaning towards the latter winning out, and I believe Hyde should put up some decent numbers this week. I mean Jimmy G can’t be any worse than C.J. Beathard or Brian Hoyer, and while I’m not completely buying the Garoppolo hype, I think he’ll be productive enough to keep Chicago honest.

And, offensively for the Bears? Jordan Howard’s trend of alternating 100 yard games with wack games has now made it to six weeks. After putting up 167 rushing yards Week 6 at Baltimore, Howard put up 65, 102, 54, and 125 yards on the ground in weeks 7-11 and last week saw him put up a whopping six yards. Meanwhile, San Francisco has allowed 113 rushing yards per game to RBs – more than every team but the Rams.

Howard will go over 100 this week.

Oh, the Niners have also given up multiple TD passes in six-straight games while allowing a TE to score in five-straight. I heard SF’s defensive coordinator – Robert Saleh – had a nosebleed the other day…

The Niners D couldn’t stop it.

49ers 22 – Bears 24

Ballers: Carlos Hyde, Jordan Howard

Under the Radar: Louis Murphy, Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Dontrelle Inman, Adam Shaheen

Temper Expectations: Jimmy Garoppolo, Marquise Goodwin, Garrett Celek, Kendall Wright

Bums: Aldrick Robinson, Trent Taylor, Benny Cunningham, Tre McBride

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7, 3-7-1 ATS) at Green Bay Packers (5-6, 5-6 ATS)

Spread: TB -2

O/U: 43

TB 17.90 (23rd) 18.75 (23rd) 28.57 (32nd) 5.78 (4th) 5.18 (11th) 7.82 (16th)
GB 16.20 (14th) 18.90 (24th) 24.84 (30th) 4.15 (1st) 8.55 (23rd) 9.45 (27th)

Jameis Winston is back as the starter in TB, but with how this Bucs defense has played, it really doesn’t matter. Especially when you consider that Brett Hundley just played the best game of his young career – in arguably his toughest test yet – Sunday night in Pittsburgh.

On the season, the Bucs have allowed 288.5 passing yards per game (most), 19 passing TDs (10th most), and QBs have posted a 98.7 QB rate against them (6th highest). They’ve also allowed 10 rushing TDs (6th most). The 23.8 points they’ve allowed per game are more than all but 12 teams, and the 4,351 yards they’ve allowed lead the NFL.

Jameis Winston doesn’t play defense.

Making matters worse, CB Vernon Hargreaves and S Josh Robinson/T.J. Ward haven’t practiced this week, and are listed as questionable.

Needless to say, Brett Hundley, Jamaal Williams, Davante Adams, and Randall Cobb all need to be in your lineups this week. Hell, I wouldn’t even be surprised if Jordy Nelson re-surfaced. But, I wouldn’t advise rolling with him this week considering he’s averaged just 2.6 receptions and 20.6 yards per game over Hundley’s five starts.

Now unfortunately for the Bucs, the issues don’t end on the defensive side of the ball as they lost two starting offensive lineman for the season – Demar Dotson and Ali Marpet – Doug Marin remains in the concussion protocol, and DeSean Jackson missed Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury.

Welcome back Jameis!

The good news for this Buccaneers offense is that they still have Mike Evans, and only four teams have allowed more passing yards per game than the 259.4 allowed by the Packers. Green Bay has also held opposing tight ends to just 37.9 receiving yards per game (2nd fewest). So, by process of elimination, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Packers get abused by receivers.

The numbers back up this conclusion, by the way.

Evans hasn’t had a 100 yard receiving game this season, but I have a feeling that’ll soon no longer be true.

Problem is, the Bucs aren’t likely to generate much offense outside of Evans. Tampa Bay is one of just five teams to have rushed for less than 1,000 yards on the season, and without Martin, Dotson, and Marpet, the odds aren’t in favor of them finding much success on the ground. And, that’s not even factoring in the 3.7 yards per carry (10th) this Packers D has limited opposing backs to.

It is worth noting that Charles Sims‘ 26 receptions are more than Jacquizz Rodgers (7) and Peyton Barber (4) have combined, and the Packers have allowed RBs the 9th most receiving yards per game at 46.5. So, while Rodgers and Barber figure to be the primary ball carriers if Martin can’t go, Sims is the one who makes an interesting streamer given his pass-catching ability.

This Bucs offense has been painful to watch at times, and while the Packers D tends to make everyone look good, the Bucs D makes everyone look better.

Buccaneers 19 – Packers 27

Ballers: Mike Evans, Davante Adams

Under the Radar: Charles Sims, Adam Humphries, Brett Hundley, Jamaal Williams, Randall Cobb

Temper Expectations: Jameis Winston, Jacquizz Rodgers, O.J. Howard

Bums: Peyton Barber, Chris Godwin, Cameron Brate, Jordy Nelson, Lance Kendricks, Richard Rodgers

Houston Texans (4-7, 7-4 ATS) at Tennessee Titans (7-4, 4-6-1 ATS)

Spread: TEN -6.5

O/U: 42.5

HOU 19.15 (30th) 14.05 (4th) 24.58 (28th) 9.08 (27th) 9.00 (26th) 9.82 (30th)
TEN 16.80 (17th) 16.20 (6th) 22.87 (26th) 6.55 (11th) 7.27 (16th) 10.45 (32nd)

A lot has changed since the last time the Oilers faced the Oilers: Houston’s real secondary finally showed up, we shouldn’t see Matt Cassel this time (I’ve now mentioned Cassel more times in this article than I have all season; I think I’ve met the quota), and most notably, Tom Savage – who’s not Deshaun Watson – will be starting at QB opposite Mariota.

That said, there aren’t many takeaways to be had from the Texans’ dominant 57-14 victory over the Titans in Week 4, so let’s focus on what we know…

The Texans have lost 3 of their 4 games since Watson tore his ACL, and have averaged just 17 points per game over that stretch. Thing is, if we ignore the turnovers (10 in four games) Savage really hasn’t been that terrible. He’s averaged 231 passing yards per game, and has thrown 3 TDs. And, those numbers come despite facing two of the league’s top pass defenses in the Rams and Ravens.

Tennessee is not one of the league’s top pass defenses, and the 21 passing TDs they’ve allowed are tied for the 6th most. Not to mention, they’ve faced Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, and Jacoby Brissett – three of the league’s worst QBs statistically this season – over their last four games.

… They’ve allowed 255.3 passing yards per game with 8 TDs over that four-game stretch.

Now, I’ll probably regret writing this by early afternoon Sunday, but Savage isn’t a bad QB to stream this week. The Titans have allowed four WRs to go over 100 yards against them (five if you count Maclin’s 98), and one of those four guys goes by the name of DeAndre Hopkins – who ranks 4th in receiving yards and 1st in receiving TDs on the season.

Savage has targeted D-Hop an impressive 49 times in his four games back under center, and last I checked Jalen Ramsey still plays in Jacksonville. The Titans have no one to contain Hopkins, and he alone could probably make me look like a much smaller version of Warren Moon.

You know what else would probably make my passing skills look comparable to those of Uncle Rico’s?

Facing this Texans defense.

Houston has allowed QBs to put up a 96.8 passer rating against them (8th highest) with 256.5 passing yards per game (24th), and an average of 12.4 yards per completion (3rd most). All while giving up more passing TDs than every team but the Broncos.

True, Marcus Mariota has struggled a wee bit this season. But, given the matchup, it’s safe to assume he’ll have one of his better games of the season. Especially when you consider that Houston has allowed more rushing yards per game to QBs than 27 of the league’s other 31 teams.

Also worth consideration is the fact that the Texans have been miserable in defending tight ends. The 58 receiving yards per game they’ve allowed to the position are good for the 7th most, and the 6 TDs they’ve allowed the position? Tied for the 5th most.

Tennessee has this guy named Delanie Walker, and besides having a dope name, Walker also happens to play tight end; pretty well I must add. Only three TEs have more receiving yards this season than Walker’s 613, so you shouldn’t be surprised when he flirts with 100 receiving yards come Sunday.

You might have noticed that this entire saga has revolved around these two passing offenses/defenses. Well, that’s because both teams rank among the league’s best against the run. Don’t believe me? Have a look at his nifty table…

TEN 73.45 4 3.42 5 0.36 5 52.18 31
HOU 74.64 5 3.51 7 0.27 1 33.09 4

See what I mean?

DeMarco Murray is one of the league’s elite backs, and when you think of him in terms of fantasy football, he’s likely considered a “must-start” kind of guy. Thing is, his fantasy production has been largely the dependent on his 5 rushing TDs (5th most among RBs). He has just two 100 yard rushing days on the season, ranks 29th among RBs in rushing yards, and has been splitting snaps pretty evenly with Derrick Henry.

Sure, the Texans gave up 2 TDs on the ground last week to Baltimore… They’ve now allowed a grand total of three on the season (tied for the fewest in the NFL).

On the flip side, Lamar Miller‘s 271 receiving yards rank 12th among RBs, and he has 3 receiving TDs on the year. As you can see from my nifty table, the one green area shows us that Tennessee has struggled a bit with pass catching backs. So, I’m hoping Miller sees enough work in the passing game to have a productive fantasy day, but it’s still a dice roll.

Honestly, I’d just avoid them all.

That said, this one will likely come down to which QB throws the fewest interceptions, and which kicker can make the most FGs (just like a large majority of the games played in the NFL). Tennessee has the edge in both of those categories, but the game should be a lot closer than Vegas thinks.

Yes, the Titans are 7-4 and have won six of their last seven games; they’ve also faced one of the weakest schedules in the league – go play someone 15 years younger than you in basketball and see how the game ends up. I’m not buying this team, and I don’t believe their nearly as good as their record indicates. So, as long as Savage protects the football, I believe Houston will be within striking distance when all is said and done.

Texans 23 – Titans 24

Ballers: DeAndre Hopkins, Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker

Under the Radar: Tom Savage, Corey Davis, Eric Decker

Temper Expectations: Lamar Miller, Bruce Ellington, DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry

Bums: Braxton Miller, C.J. Fiedorowicz

Denver Broncos (3-8, 2-8-1 ATS) at Miami Dolphins (4-7, 3-6-2 ATS)

Spread: MIA -1

O/U: 38

DEN 16.71 (16th) 17.72 (15th) 17.03 (5th) 10.83 (31st) 11.55 (31st) 8.55 (19th)
MIA 17.93 (23rd) 19.44 (26th) 20.33 (17th) 10.41 (28th) 10.18 (28th) 7.73 (15th)

Marvin the Martian, the Joker, Lex Luthor, Tom… I’ve always liked rooting for the villain. And, that’s probably why I find pleasure in watching the bottom of the standings – to see who winds up worst – while everyone else is focused on the top.

Guess I’m just inherently evil.

In any case, this game is one of two scheduled in Week 13 which could have a large impact on the race for last place… I just wouldn’t advise watching it.

After starting the season 3-1, Denver has lost seven-straight games. Impressive. They also boast one of the league’s worst offenses, have allowed more points per game than all but five teams, and even reverted to starting Brock Osweiler for a stretch.

It’s been bad in the Mile-High City.

And, while they get to enjoy much “nicer” weather, Dolphins fans have faced a much similar sob story on Sundays. After opening the season 4-2, Miami has lost five-straight games. They also boast one of the league’s worst offenses, and have allowed more points per game than every team but the Colts.

This one should be a barn burner.

Now just because a seven-game losing streak wasn’t enough, the Broncos will have to play this one without CB Aqib Talib because, well, you saw the fight. Dolphins QB Jay Cutler has looked good in flashes this season; he’s also shown us he’s still the same apathetic guy I’ve grown to love and appreciate over the years. So, while the Broncos have allowed more passing TDs than any other team (with Talib in the lineup), I wouldn’t go rushing out to grab Cutler this week.

For starters, this Broncos secondary has still limited QBs to just 213.4 passing yards per game (3rd), and while that number might see a slight uptick without Talib, it’s not like they’re bringing in a high school kid to replace him. And secondly, Jay Cutler is still the same apathetic guy I’ve grown to love and appreciate over the years. You just have to learn to take the good with the bad when it comes to Jay.

Let’s start with the good, his 64.6% completion rate ranks 11th.

Oh, you thought there’d be more? Well, unless you consider 178 passing yards per game (31st), an 82.7 passer rating (25th), or 9 interceptions in 9 games good, then we’ve reached the end of that list.

Now, Denver has allowed more passing yards to the tight end position than every team but Washington, and the 7 TDs they’ve allowed to the position are the 4th most. Very quietly, Julius Thomas has seen a career resurgence in recent weeks, and his 342 receiving yards rank 17th among TEs on the season. Thomas has seen 24 targets over Miami’s last four games – catching 16 for 160 with 2 TDs – and while the loss of Talib hurts, Denver has been one of the best teams in defending opposing WRs.

Meaning more targets for Thomas.

Oh, and to make Broncos fans hate themselves even more, Denver will also be without their 6th leading tackler, and major contributor to their dominant run D, Domata Peko (you know, the guy with the amazingly, crazy long hair). On the season, the Dolphins run game has been brutal, but Kenyan Drake has looked ok (at times) since Miami parted ways with Jay Ajayi. And, with Damien Williams out for this one, Drake finds himself in one of the rare “feature-back” situations this week.

He’s worth a stream based on opportunity alone.

And, offensively for Denver? Well, the Broncos are like that couple who can’t figure out if they love or hate one another. One week, they’re all in love, posting Snaps, IG pics, and cute little quotes on Twitter. And the next, all signs of the other is deleted from all social media accounts…

Trevor Siemian is back as the starting QB, and while he showed signs of promise early in the season, he was eventually benched in favor of Brock Osweiler. Who knows whether Siemian will be the 68.8% completion, 231 yard, 4 TD guy from Week 2 or the 52.8% completion, 198 yard, 3 INT guy from Week 8? But, one thing is for sure, Miami’s secondary hasn’t been good. At all.

QBs have a 105.7 passer rating (2nd highest) against them, they’ve allowed an average of 264 passing yards per game with 11 TDs to just 2 INTs over their last four, and only four starting QBs have failed to put up 15 fantasy points against them (Flacco didn’t play a full game, so technically three).

There’s a greater than 0% chance that Siemian plays well on Sunday, and could be worth a GPP DFS play if the price is right. Same goes for TE Virgil Green/Austin Traylor – as Miami is one of the few teams as terrible as Denver in defending the tight end position – and same goes for Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and C.J. Anders… Devontae Booker.

Yes, this Broncos offense has been a mess this season, but it’s in no way, shape, or form due to a lack of talent. The matchup is primed for Siemian to play well, and the Dolphins have allowed the 5th highest yards per reception rate (14.03) to go with an average of one receiving TD per game to WRs. Decent QB play will open up the running lanes, and the Dolphins have allowed backs to pick up nearly 4.5 yards per carry and an average of 104 rushing yards per game.

Basically, what I’m saying is that the Broncos will look like the Patriots this week, and all things considered, this game will wind up being a bit more offensive than one might initially think. Denver ends their losing streak.

Broncos 27 – Dolphins 23

Ballers: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Kenny Stills

Under the Radar: Trevor Siemian, C.J. Anderson, Devontae Booker, Virgil Green/Austin Traylor, Jay Cutler, Kenyan Drake, Julius Thomas

Temper Expectations: Bennie Fowler, Cody Latimer, Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker

Bums: Jamaal Charles

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5, 6-5 ATS) at New York Jets (4-7, 6-4-1 ATS)

Spread: KC -5

O/U: 44

KC 17.68 (22nd) 16.98 (9th) 24.76 (29th) 6.46 (10th) 3.27 (6th) 6.18 (4th)
NYJ 17.46 (21st) 17.50 (13th) 21.37 (22nd) 8.07 (23rd) 8.55 (23rd) 6.27 (5th)

Speaking of losing streaks, the Chiefs started the season 5-0 and looked to be the favorite in the AFC. Seven weeks later, the same Chiefs are 6-5, have lost three straight, and will be lucky to make the playoffs; let alone win their division.

Over the years, many an expert has dubbed the NFL a “copy-cat league”, and the Chiefs present the perfect justification – on both ends of the spectrum.

The shovel pass has existed for years in the NFL, but very few teams utilized their tight end as the receiving option until KC found success in doing so. Look around the league now and you’ll be hard-pressed to watch a game without seeing a TE on the receiving end of a shovel pass. Remember the wildcat offense made famous by the Dolphins about 10 years back? It only took a few weeks before it spread through the league like wildfire. And, the latest development (told you the Chiefs were on both ends of the spectrum) comes in defending this Kansas City offense.

Back in Week 6, the Steelers handed the Chiefs their 1st L of the season, and it was largely the result of their defensive scheme. Pittsburgh played a soft zone coverage and gave up the short stuff, but didn’t let anything over the top. Guess what approach Oakland, and every team they’ve played since has taken?

Yet, the Chiefs can’t figure it out.

Through their 1st five, KC was averaging 414 yards and 31.6 points per game. In the six games since being exposed by the Steelers – including the matchup with Pittsburgh – those averages are down to 312 yards and 17 points per game. Yikes.

And they can’t even blame matchups.

New England, Philadelphia, and the LA Chargers – all whom they faced in the 1st five weeks – rank among the Top-15 defenses on the season. While all five of the teams they’ve faced since that matchup with the Steelers – Oakland, Denver, Dallas, NY Giants, Buffalo – rank in the Bottom-15.

Either the Chiefs randomly forgot how to play football, or the Jets would be wise to employ a similar approach this week. Regardless of how you see it, adjustments need to be made. Quickly. And, it starts on the ground.

Seems like three seasons ago, but there was a time (not too long ago) when rookie RB Kareem Hunt had taken the league by storm with his Madden created-playeresque performances. Through KC’s 1st five, Hunt averaged 122 rushing yards, 155 all-purpose yards, and found the endzone a total of 6 times.

Since then? Well, he went from Madden created-player to unemployed Madden player, and those gaudy averages now look like this: 46.8 rushing yards/76.5 all-purpose yards per game, and zero TDs.

In fact, Hunt hasn’t scored since Week 3.

Everyone in their right mind knew he wasn’t likely to keep up his record-setting pace all season, but find me someone who expected this drastic off a drop-off, and I’ll show you a liar. Hunt draws a Jets defense this week which hasn’t allowed a 100 yard rusher since Week 1, is allowing backs to pick up just 3.7 yards per carry (9th), and has given up just 5 rushing TDs to RBs on the season.

Not a good look.

In spite of it all, Hunt still ranks 4th among RBs in fantasy points while Alex Smith ranks 4th at the QB position, Tyreek Hill sits 12th among WRs, and Travis Kelce ranks 2nd among TEs (standard scoring)… Crazy huh?

It’s also a direct reflection of just how good this offense is, and just like the wildcat, HB/WR pass, end around, flea flicker, so on and so forth, it’s only a matter of time before KC figures this out. At which point, the scheme will become just another weapon in the arsenal instead of making up the entire armory; just like its predecessors.

Andy Reid is too good of a coach, and this offense is too good to stay grounded much longer. Expect them to get back on track this week against a middle of the pack Jets D.

Problem is, their defense has been trash too, and Josh McCown is making his case as the G.O.A.T. among Jets QBs. I kid, he’ll never be Broadway Joe. But, at this rate, he’ll be up there with Chad Pennington and Vinny Testaverde in no time.

Real talk.

McCown’s 67.3% completion rate ranks 5th on the season, and his 2,549 yards rank 12th, as do his 17 passing TDs and 95.3 passer rating. Everyone loves to talk about Brady, but McCown is no spring chicken. He’s now in his 15th season at 38 years of age, and is putting up arguably the best numbers of his career. All despite losing his top receiver – Quincy Enunwa – in the preseason, taking on more sacks than all but two QBs, AND PLAYING FOR THE JETS!

Someone please clap for the man.

If you haven’t been rolling with McCown and co., you’ll want to do so this week as the Chiefs have allowed 256.6 passing yards per game (25th), and 17 passing TDs (T-15th) while surrendering more receiving yards per game to WRs than all but five teams (161.8) and over 14 yards per reception (30th). They’ve also allowed more TD passes to the WR position than every single team in the NFL.

If Robby Anderson – and to a lesser extent Jermaine Kearse – is somehow still floating around on your waiver wire, do yourself a favor and change that. Now.

Oh, and when I said the Chiefs defense has been trash, I meant the entire defense. Not just the secondary. KC has allowed the fewest receiving yards per game to opposing backs, and a total of zero receiving TDs – which is the main reason why they’ve allowed the 9th fewest fantasy points per game to the RB position.

That’s cool and all, but they’re also allowing backs to pick up 4.2 yards per carry (20th), 104.4 yards per game (29th), and have given up 9 rushing TDs through 11 games. Don’t be surprised to see Matt Forte, and Bilal Powell to get it going again this week.

Doesn’t seem like there will be much defense here, and both teams have gone over the projected point total in 55% of their games so I’m thinking this will wind up being one of the more higher scoring games of the week, and a good matchup to target in DFS. KC needs this one badly, though, and I think they’l figure out a way to sneak out of Jersey with a W.

Chiefs 27 – Jets 24

Ballers: Alex Smith, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Josh McCown, Robby Anderson

Under the Radar: Albert Wilson, Bilal Powell, Matt Forte, Jermaine Kearse

Temper Expectations: Kareem Hunt, Austin Seferian-Jenkins

Bums: Charcandrick West, Demarcus Robinson, Elijah McGuire

Indianapolis Colts (3-8, 6-5 ATS) at Jacksonville Jaguars (7-4, 6-5 ATS)

Spread: JAX -9.5

O/U: 41

IND 17.24 (20th) 20.43 (29th) 22.25 (24th) 8.36 (24th) 11.27 (30th) 9.45 (27th)
JAX 8.87 (1st) 18.26 (20th) 12.32 (1st) 7.48 (20th) 5.64 (12th) 6.82 (7th)

Like Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette appears to be running in to the proverbial “rookie wall” as of late. Unlike Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette has a favorable matchup this week and he’s actually been productive.

But, just when I thought the Jags were done with their Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde ways, they lose to the woeful Cardinals, and we’re right back to square one.

Blake Bortles is trash against bad pass defenses but balls out against the good ones, their helmets still look ridiculous, start Fournette and Corey Grant breaks a 56-yard TD, bench Fournette and he runs for 3,000 yards, Dede Westbrook is yet to combine for 100 yards, let alone the 200-yard game he expected in his debut…

The Jaguars offense makes no sense. Their defense, though? Well, their defense is incredible.

Good luck this week, Indianapolis! And, stay classy.

Colts 13 – Jaguars 26

Ballers: Jack Doyle, Leonard Fournette

Under the Radar: Marqise Lee, Marcedes Lewis

Temper Expectations: Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Blake Bortles, Dede Westbrook

Bums: Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack, Chester Rogers, Donte Moncrief, Keelan Cole

Detroit Lions (6-5, 5-5-1 ATS) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5, 5-5-1 ATS)

Spread: BAL -3

O/U: 41

BAL 8.89 (1st) 17.65 (14th) 15.51 (2nd) 7.59 (21st) 7.36 (17th) 7.36 (13th)
DET 16.19 (14th) 20.11 (28th) 19.61 (13th) 8.54 (26th) 7.91 (20th) 6.36 (6th)

If you watched any of the Ravens game Monday night, you likely saw Jon Gruden in one of those lame Corona commercials – where some dummy calls and asks him a nonsensical question – and you also likely heard him gushing over this Ravens team.

Now, let me be the 1st to admit, Jon Gruden has forgotten more about football than I’ve ever learned, or ever will learn for that matter. But, “The Ravens are who we thought they were! NOW, IF YOU WANNA CROWN ‘EM, THEN CROWN THEIR ASS!”

… Personally, I think it’d be wise to pump the brakes.

Sure, Baltimore’s defense ranks among the league’s best if based on stats independently. But, let’s not overlook the fact that they’ve faced Kevin Hogan/DeShone Kizer, Blake Bortles, EJ Manuel, Mitch Trubisky, Matt Moore, Brett Hundley, and Tom Savage… Not exactly Murderer’s Row. In fact, Kizer, Savage, Trubisky, and Hundley all rank in the Bottom-5 in passer rating on the season, and just because I feel like activating super hater mode, guess who owns the sixth worst rating?

Joe Flacco.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these guys are all in the NFL for a reason. They’re the genetic lottery winning, otherwordly talent possessing, best of the best of athletes. But, if you think that means that they’re all on the same level, you’re playing yourself.

That said, the Ravens take on the Lions and Matt Stafford this week. That’d be the same Matt Stafford who has 3,010 passing yards on the season; just 294 less than Savage, Trubisky, and Hundley have combined for.

Now no, I’m not suggesting that Stafford is going to come out and light Baltimore up for 450 yards. But, he did put up 423 on Pittsburgh, and statistically, their pass D is just marginally worse than that of the Ravens.

Not to mention, Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins both reached 125 yards receiving against the Ravens over the past two weeks. Marvin Jones (11th – 731) and Golden Tate (18th – 698) both rank among the Top-20 receivers in yards on the season.

Stafford and the Lions present an entirely different set of challenges than Hundley and the Packers or even Savage and the Texans, and it remains to be seen whether this defense is actually as good as advertised, or just the product of a favorable schedule.

But, what we have seen for certain, is the brazen disrespect this offense has for the art of playing offense. Watching the Ravens offense might be worse on the eyes than looking directly at that solar/lunar eclipse thing a few months back.

Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

I mean, I guess you can say their run game has been somewhat respectable – their 1,285 rushing yards rank 11th – but Baltimore is one of the absolute worst passing teams in recent memory, and if you’ve been lucky enough to not have witnessed them, consider yourself blessed.

Luckily, for Baltimore, their main strength offensively happens to be one of the Lions main weaknesses since Haloti Ngata has been sidelined. With Ngata in the lineup, Detroit was allowing backs to rush for just 3.5 yards per carry and an average of 71 yards per game. In the six games without Ngata, we’re looking at 4.7 yards per carry and an average of 122 yards.

Ravens RB Alex Collins has scored a rushing TD in back-to-back weeks, and ranks 5th among RBs at 4.9 yards per carry.

I just don’t think he’ll be enough to carry them.

Baltimore has gotten by on defense and special teams for weeks now. But, this week they face a prolific offense, a special teams unit which can match them blow for blow, and that’s a nightmare for an offense which struggles to put points on the board.

Ravens 20 – Lions 24

Ballers: Alex Collins, Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, Marvin Jones

Under the Radar: Danny Woodhead, Jeremy Maclin, Ben Watson

Temper Expectations: Mike Wallace, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Golladay, Eric Ebron

Bums: Joe Flacco, Javorius Allen, Chris Moore, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner

Cleveland Browns (0-11, 2-9 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-6, 6-4-1 ATS)

Spread: LAC -13

O/U: 42.5

CLE 18.09 (26th) 17.27 (12th) 18.55 (9th) 10.50 (30th) 12.73 (32nd) 8.55 (19th)
LAC 12.69 (3rd) 20.01 (27th) 19.55 (11th) 4.83 (2nd) 3.27 (6th) 7.09 (10th)

I have a feeling the Browns will win a game this season. But, it won’t be this one.

The Chargers have held opponents to 18.4 points per game (6th), Cleveland has scored just 15.1 per – the fewest in the league. LA has held QBs to a 77.5 passer rating (4th), DeShone Kizer ranks last in passer rating at 57.2. The Chargers have 14 interceptions on the season (14), Kizer leads the league in INTs with 14. 23% of the Browns passing yards have come from TE Seth Devalve and David Njoku, the Chargers have been one of the best in the league against the position.

I know the Browns are wack, you know the Browns are wack, and the Browns know the Browns are wack.

You ever get so fed up with something that you just give up and do the bare minimum just to get by until it’s over? Well, after losing their 1st seven games by an average of 9.4 points, Cleveland has lost their last four by 14.3.

The good news is, Josh Gordon is back. The bad news is, the Chargers haven’t allowed a 100 yard receiver on the season, the 4th fewest yards per game to the position, and just 10.92 yards per reception – lowest rate in the league. Oh, and the Browns have fewer passing yards than all but six teams.

Not a good look.

It’s not all bad in Cleveland, however. LeBron and the Cavs have won 10 straight, the Indians are building a dynasty, Duke Johnson ranks 4th among running backs in receiving yards, and (surprisingly) Isaiah Crowell ranks 17th in rushing yards.

Wait, what?

Yeah, those last two matter because, well, the one weakness for this Chargers D has been defending running backs. The 48.5 receiving yards per game LA has allowed to backs are the 8th most, and the 4.9 yards per carry are more than all but one team. There’s a bit of hope for this offense.

Meanwhile, Cleveland lost Jamie Collins, Emmanuel Ogbah, and went from one of the league’s best against the run to one of the league’s worst about as quickly as Johnny Manziel went from their future to… Whatever the hell Johnny Manziel is doing now.

Cleveland has allowed an average of 4.4 yards per carry to Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon over their last two – each ran for over 100 yards. LA’s Melvin Gordon hasn’t been dominant this season, but he’s still on pace to finish the year with over 1,000 yards, and has more rushing attempts on the season than all but five backs.

Good news for this Chargers offense because while the 22 passing TDs the Browns have allowed this season are the 2nd most, they’ve held QBs to just 232 passing yards per game (12th). Philip Rivers comes into this one ranked 8th in passing yards, so I’m not suggesting he’ll have a bad fantasy day, but the 129.6 yards per game Cleveland has allowed to WRs are the 7th fewest. In fact, no receiver has gone over 100 yards against this D since T.Y. Hilton’s 153 in Week 3.

Don’t fret Keenan Allen owners.

Since that Week 3 performance from Hilton, only two WRs have exceeded the 66 yards A.J. Green put up against Cleveland last week – Adam Thielen (98), and Golden Tate (97).  Both Tate and Thielen have lined up in the slot on over 47% of their snaps, and with Mike Williams out and Dontrelle Inman in Chicago, the only other receivers – to have caught a pass for the Chargers this season – are Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin. 22.5% of Williams’ snaps have come from the slot to just 22.2% for Benjamin. That number is 36.5% for Allen.

No, not a huge difference, but large enough to suggest he’s the receiver to play this week. Just in case his beard, and the back-to-back 150+ yard games weren’t enough.

Look for Hunter Henry to get plenty of love as well.

Yes, Henry has a tendency to miraculously disappear like another man who donned the initials HH, but his 45 targets are tied for the 3rd most on the team and his 420 yards are almost three times that of the 147 Antonio Gates has to his name. And, although the Browns limited some pretty good tight ends to an average of just 34.3 yards over their last four games, they also allowed a TD to a TE in three of those games, and only the Giants have given up more TDs on the season while no team has given up more receptions to the position.

Rivers will still get his numbers.

I honestly can’t remember the last time that a Chargers team was this healthy this late in a season, and I’m sure their confidence is through the roof knowing they finally have their squad largely in tact. Not to mention how well they’ve been playing. And, with the rest of their division is struggling, the Chargers have a shot at their 1st AFC West crown since 2009. They won’t let that slip away with a loss to the woeful Browns… At home.

Browns 13 – Chargers 31

Ballers: Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon, Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry

Under the Radar: Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Austin Ekeler

Temper Expectations: Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams

Bums: Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins, Seth Devalve, David Njoku

New York Giants (2-9, 4-7 ATS) at Oakland Raiders (5-6, 4-6-1 ATS)

Spread: OAK -9

O/U: 41.5

NYG 19.18 (31st) 17.95 (19th) 21.91 (23rd) 12.19 (32nd) 8.00 (21st) 8.91 (21st)
OAK 18.03 (25th) 18.63 (21st) 20.58 (18th) 8.41 (25th) 6.00 (13th) 9.82 (30th)

I have no idea what the vibe is like inside the Giants’ facility, but I imagine it’s about as upbeat as a Nirvana x Soundgarden collaboration.

For starters, the team looked to have given up on the season back in Week 9 following their bye. And secondly, there have been rumblings of head coach Ben McAdoo losing the locker room for weeks; you think they have his back after how the whole Eli Manning situation was handled?

I don’t.

Surely, they’ll come out and play for Geno Smith – they’re professional athletes, and have a job to do. However, with Bora Bora on the horizon, you really think they’ll be out there giving 110% on 100% of the downs?

I don’t.

That said, Amari Cooper will not be suiting up for this one, nor will Michael Crabtree. And, even with them on the field, this Raiders offense has been everything but impressive. Derek Carr ranks 14th in passing yards on the season, the 91 rushing yards they average a game rank 27th, and they’ve managed to put up just 20.5 points a game – 12th fewest.

Speaking of receivers, Sterling Shepard will likely be back for this Giants’ offense, and while they rank 24th with just 2,251 passing yards on the season, only six teams have given up more than the 2,693 allowed by Oakland. Geno Smith hasn’t shown us much over the course of his five-year career, but at the same time, no team has allowed QBs to put up a better passer rating than the 110 QBs have averaged against the Raiders.

Something has to give.

However, while there are a lot of uncertainties to be had between these two passing offenses, there are two things I know for sure:

1. Neither team can stop the run.

The Raiders have allowed backs to pick up 4.2 yards per carry (23rd), and the Giants sit at 4.1 (17th). Both rank in the Bottom-10 in rushing yards allowed per game to RBs. With Geno under center for the Giants, and the replacements at WR in Oakland, look for both teams to rely heavily on the run game.

2. Neither team can defend the TE position.

The Giants have allowed 69.8 receiving yards per game to the position (30th) with 10 total TDs, while Oakland has given up 56.4 (24th) with four total TDs. Evan Engram ranks 5th among TEs with 470 receiving yards, and Jared Cook ranks 14th with 536; both figure to see a lot of action come Sunday.

The Giants are a bad football team, yes. But, it’s not like the Raiders have been out here ballin’ like the ’72 Dolphins. I can’t make sense of them being a nine-point favorite in this spot. Especially, considering they’ll be without their two best receivers. The only way to make sense of the line is to assume that there’s some public perception factored in. But whatever, I’ll gladly take the nine.

But, then again, maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic.

Giants 17 – Raiders  20

Ballers: Evan Engram, Marshawn Lynch, Jared Cook

Under the Radar: Geno Smith, Orleans Darkwa, Sterling Shepard, Cordarrelle Patterson, Seth Roberts

Temper Expectations: Derek Carr, Johnny Holton, DeAndre Washington

Bums: Wayne Gallman, Shane Vereen, Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Jalen Richard

Carolina Panthers (8-3, 7-4 ATS) at New Orleans Saints (8-3, 7-4 ATS)

Spread: NO -4

O/U: 47.5

CAR 14.34 (10th) 13.57 (3rd) 21.01 (21st) 6.40 (9th) 7.27 (14th) 7.09 (10th)
NO 16.06 (13th) 17.11 (11th) 19.95 (14th) 6.68 (13th) 1.36 (2nd) 7.64 (14th)

The Saints marched all over Carolina in their Week 3, 34-13 victory, but I have a feeling we’ll see a different result this time around.

Cam Newton’s play has been up-and-down all season, but it was mostly down to begin the year as he worked his way back from off-season shoulder surgery. Through the Panthers 1st three games – including the matchup with New Orleans – Cam averaged just 189 passing yards per game, but in the eight games since, his average is up to 229. He’s also nearly doubled his rushing attempts per game. (4.7 through the 1st 3 with 8.6 since).

He’s a large part of the reason the Panthers have averaged 25.4 points a game since averaging just 9 through their 1st three, and when you add his (and the offense’s) improved play to the fact that this New Orleans D will be without S Marcus Williams, DE Alex Okafor, and possibly CBs Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, and P.J. Williams, you have to figure that Carolina’s offense will look much better this time around.

Problem is, the Panthers won’t be at 100% themselves.

DE Charles Johnson has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy – which is great news for Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara‘s fantasy owners but bad news for this defense – and LB Thomas Davis, RB Christian McCaffrey, and TE Greg Olsen are all also listed as questionable but expected to play per head coach Ron Rivera.

Given the magnitude of this game on the race for the NFC South crown, I’d imagine all three of the latter will play, but if you held on to Greg Olsen all season (or picked him up recently) I wouldn’t advise starting him in your fantasy leagues this week.

Olsen was on the field for just 33% of the Panthers snaps last Sunday, and left the game due to discomfort in the surgically repaired foot which forced him to miss the eight games prior. Carolina is practically a lock to make the postseason, and you have to imagine he’ll be limited (if anything) to ensure he’s good to go when the games truly count.

The Saints have been solid at defending TEs anyway.

McCaffrey is a different story. Not only does he rank 4th among RBs in receiving yards this season, but the Saints have allowed backs to put up about 50 yards per game – more than all but four teams. And despite leading all backs in targets (by a nice margin), McCaffrey has seen double-digit targets in just two games this season. One of which, he caught 10 passes for 56 yards and a TD (vs. Philadelphia in Week 6). And, the other was the 9 catch, 101 yard (career-high) performance he dropped on the Saints the 1st time around.

All of which should tell you that he’ll be a factor if he plays. So, if he does, start him. No questions asked.

Remember when I mentioned the Panthers offense had turned it around in their last eight games after struggling out the gates? Well, their defense has seen converse results.

Through the 1st eight games, QBs averaged just 201.6 passing yards per game, accounted for a total of 10 TDs, and those eight teams averaged just 17.8 points per game against this Carolina defense. Well, over their last three, QBs have averaged 277.8 passing yards per game, accounted for a total of 7 TDs, and those three teams have averaged nearly 22 points per game.

One could argue that Drew Brees hasn’t been the Drew Brees we’ve grown accustomed to this season, but he still ranks 4th with over 3,000 passing yards; more than Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, and Josh McCown – the last three QBs to face the Panthers. So, yeah, that argument could hold water, and I’ve advised against starting him at multiple points throughout the season…

This isn’t one of those points.

The Panthers have allowed the 6th fewest passing yards, yes, they’ve also allowed multiple TD passes in 7 of their 11 games – including the three thrown by Brees in the 1st game – while allowing a 93.5 passer rating (21st). Oh, and you might have noticed both Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse went over 100 yards receiving on them just a week ago.

These two teams have gone over the implied point total in five of their last six matchups, both teams have gone over the total in 55% of their games this season, and there’s no reason to expect a defensive struggle in this one.

It will be competitive, though.

The Rams put an end to New Orleans’ eight-game win streak a week ago, an eight-game win streak that began with a win over Carolina. Now, sometimes a loss is needed to humble a team, so maybe the L was good for the Saints, but Carolina doesn’t forget being on the wrong end of that 34-13 ass whooping either.

Panthers 27 – Saints 26

Ballers: Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess, Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, Michael Thomas

Under the Radar: Jonathan Stewart, Russell Shepard, Ted Ginn

Temper Expectations: Greg Olsen

Bums: Kaelin Clay, Ed Dickson, Brandon Coleman, Willie Snead, Josh Hill

Los Angeles Rams (8-3, 7-4 ATS) at Arizona Cardinals (5-6, 3-7-1 ATS)

Spread: LAR -7

O/U: 45.5

LAR 12.90 (5th) 22.25 (31st) 16.48 (4th) 6.18 (6th) 2.45 (4th) 5.64 (2nd)
ARI 18.93 (29th) 16.44 (7th) 22.27 (25th) 7.12 (16th) 9.00 (26th) 8.45 (18th)

Don’t look now, but after beating Jacksonville last week, the Cardinals are quietly enjoying a one-game win streak. The Rams are also on a one-game win streak, but that’s not the only way in which these two teams are alike.

Arizona has scored one point per 17.9 yards gained this season. Coincidentally, LA has allowed one point per 17.9 yards surrendered. Arizona is averaging 18.5 points per game on the season, and guess how much the Rams are allowing? 18.7. Even weirder, the Rams defense has allowed 3,696 yards this season… Guess how many yards the Cardinals offense has accounted for?

3,626 (funny how math works).

Money is on the Cardinals scoring around 18 points in this one. Unfortunately for Arizona, you have to score more points than the other team in order to win, and just two teams have failed to put up at least 18 on this Cards D – SF (twice), and Indy.

Ok, so it’d be negligent to base the game’s outcome on averages – I mean, it’s not like these two teams matched up in all 11 games. But, they did match up in Week 7, a game which the Rams mopped up the Cards, 33-0. And, seeing how only the Eagles average more than the 29.9 points a game the Rams have put up, Jared Goff ranks 7th in passing yards per game (269.5) and 10th in passing TDs (18), and Todd Gurley ranks 3rd in rushing yards while tied with Mark Ingram for the most rushing TDs with 8… The numbers are despairing for Arizona no matter how you slice it.

The good news is, Carson Palmer broke his arm during the aforementioned homicide in Week 7. Not good that he broke his arm, but good that it’s not necessarily the best barometer of what to expect in this one.

Arizona was down just 6-0 when Palmer went down in the 2nd quarter of that game. Now, technically, it was 13-0 because the hit which led to his broken arm also happened to result in a pick-six. But, whatever. It’s like one of those chicken egg questions. Regardless, Drew Stanton came in, and the Cards offense put up just 60 yards thereafter.

Blaine Gabbert isn’t Kurt Warner, but I’d imagine he’ll find a bit more success moving the football. I hope he’ll find a bit more success moving the football.

But, the may have to do so without the services of Adrian Peterson who’s dealing with a neck injury.

The timing couldn’t be worse for AP as the Rams are one of just three teams allowing backs to pick up over 4.5 yards per carry (4.71), and only the Lions and Bills have allowed RBs to find the endzone via the run more frequently than LA. Now, before you go out and buy your Kerwynn Williams jersey, you should realize two things:

  1. If the Cardinals believed in his ability to carry the load, Peterson probably wouldn’t even be on the team.
  2. He’s averaging 2.5 yards per carry. Just for a little perspective, his 2.5 ypc rank 204th – Jeremy Hill, Eddie Lacy, Eli Manning, and Aaron Ripkowski (who’s a fullback) have all had more success. In fact, five RBs are averaging double.

He may get the opportunity, it just probably won’t mean too much. But, if Peterson plays, you’ll want him in your lineups. And with him, I’d give the Cardinals a puncher’s chance. Without him, however…

Rams 27 – Cardinals 13

Ballers: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Cooper Kupp

Under the Radar: Josh Reynolds

Temper Expectations: Sammy Watkins, Kerwynn Williams, Jaron Brown, J.J. Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Ricky Seals-Jones

Bums: Pharoh Cooper, Tavon Austin, Gerald Everett, Tyler Higbee, Blaine Gabbert, D.J. Foster, Jermaine Gresham

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1, 9-2 ATS) at Seattle Seahawks (7-4, 4-6-1 ATS)

Spread: PHI -3

O/U: 48

PHI 13.67 (7th) 12.24 (2nd) 18.97 (10th) 6.95 (15th) 2.91 (5th) 7.09 (10th)
SEA 13.75 (8th) 15.02 (5th) 19.97 (15th) 7.37 (18th) 3.45 (8th) 7.00 (9th)

Not only has Seattle gone through more combinations on their offensive line than when trying to unlock your bike after setting the lock while drunk, but the Legion of Boom is a lot more doomy than boomy at this point.

It’s a miracle the Seahawks even have enough bodies to play this game.

Meanwhile, the Eagles look like they’re playing Madden on rookie. They lost in Week 2 to the Chiefs – back when the Chiefs looked to be the league’s best – and since then, Philly has won nine-straight by an average of 17 points.

The scariest part is that they have that rare combination of dominant offense/defense, and while the rest of the league is dealing with injury after injury, Philly is seemingly getting stronger on a weekly basis. Yeah, Seattle is one of the toughest places to play. However, the ‘Hawks have lost two-straight at home just twice since drafting Russell Wilson.

They’ve lost their last two home games.

Have you seen Russell Wilson play lately, though? He’s carrying this team, and while that’s impressive, even LeBron needs a supporting cast. Sure, he might be able to beat the Bulls single-handedly, but the Warriors? Nah, fam.

Remember back in 2011 when Vince Young compared the Eagles to the Dream Team? Well, he was right to an extent; just a few years premature (Philly is more Golden State than Dream Team, but that’s a different conversation).

That said, I still think Wilson puts up solid fantasy numbers Sunday night. For starters, he’s put up less than 15 fantasy points in just two games this season. Secondly (thirdly, and fourthly), he’s averaging 51.8 rushing yards over the ‘Hawks last four, has a rushing TD in back-to-back games, and only six teams have allowed more rushing yards to QBs than the Eagles.

It just won’t be enough.

With Doug Baldwin grabbing just two passes in each of Seattle’s last two for a total of 65 yards, and no running game to speak of, the only other Seahawks I’d trust in my fantasy lineups this week are Jimmy Graham and Nick Vannett.

Wilson has thrown a TD pass to one of his tight ends in nine-straight games, and we all know how good Graham is. But, if you’re looking for a sneaky DFS play at TE, Vannett is your man. He was on the field for 58% of Seattle’s offensive snaps last week, saw four targets resulting in 2 catches, 29 yards, and a TD, Luke Willson is out with a concussion, and Jimmy Graham will surely draw a gang of attention.

Offensively for the Eagles, don’t overthink it. It appears it’ll take an act of God to slow them down. But, good luck predicting which RB you want. One of them will likely score, but starting one is a bit like playing Russian roullette.

Eagles 27 – Seahawks 23

Ballers: Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham

Under the Radar: LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Jay Ajayi, Nick Vannett

Temper Expectations: Doug Baldwin, Paul Richardson

Bums: Mack Hollins, Torrey Smith, Eddie Lacy, J.D. McKissic

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-2, 6-5 ATS) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-6, 6-5 ATS)

Spread: PIT -5.5

O/U: 43

PIT 12.73 (3rd) 16.51 (8th) 17.65 (7th) 5.45 (3rd) 4.55 (10th) 5.82 (3rd)
CIN 15.13 (12th) 17.79 (16th) 16.40 (3rd) 6.63 (12th) 8.55 (23rd) 8.91 (21st)

Neither of these teams have excessive injuries, but the injuries they do have are to impact players.

For Pittsburgh, it’s WR Antonio Brown, LB Ryan Shazier, LB James Harrison, and S Mike Mitchell listed as questionable with T Marcus Gilbert and CB Joe Haden out. No big deal, just 13 Pro Bowl appearances between them.

For Cincy, LB Vinny Rey and Nick Vigil are out – they rank 6th and 3rd in tackles for this Bengals D – as is S Shawn Williams who ranks 8th in tackles for the Bengals. Then, you have DE Michael Johnson – who ranks 4th on the team in sacks – who’s listed as questionable.

It’s hard out here.

Now, everyone likes to throw out how Ben Roethlisberger “struggles” on the road. Well, he’s 11-2 over his regular season career in Cincinnati, with the last loss coming in 2013. In fact, Pittsburgh has won eight of the last ten overall against their division rivals. So, much for struggles.

But, even if he does struggle, it might not matter.

The 3.89 yards per carry Cincinnati has allowed to RBs rank 13th in the league, and that’s pretty good. Problem is, they’ve faced more rushing attempts than every team besides San Francisco, and those 3.89s add up to 102.2 rushing yards per game – 7th most. Plus, don’t forget they’ll be without Rey and Vigil.

Le’Veon Bell leads the league in carries, and yards.

Now, if the 3rd B – Antonio Brown – plays, you’re playing him in your fantasy leagues. But, it’s worth noting that he’s had less than five catches in just three games this season; one of which was Week 7 vs. Cincy. That game also produced his 4th lowest yardage total of the season, and over his last five games against the Bengals, AB is averaging just 59.2 yards per game.

Oh, and the injury he’s dealing with is a toe, not a good look.

Add all of those factors, with the 24 pass attempt Big Ben put up in the 1st matchup with Cincy – his fewest on the season – and it’s probably wise to just avoid the Steelers passing game, if possible. Especially when you consider that the Bengals have allowed just 219.1 passing yards a game – fewer than all but four teams. They’ve also allowed the 3rd fewest yards to wide receivers.

So, given the matchup and the injuries, TE Jesse James is a solid streamer this week.

Same goes for Andy Dalton.

Yes, I know this Steelers D has been one of the best in defending the pass. However, Jacoby Brissett ranks 23rd at 215.3 yards per game, Marcus Mariota ranks 18th at 227.3, and Brett Hundley ranks 33rd at 169.3. Over the last three weeks, those three have combined to average 257.7 yards and have put up 6 TDs against the Steelers D.

Andy Dalton has been slightly better statistically than Mariota, significantly better than Brissett and Hundley, and has A.J. Green at his disposal – Pittsburgh has allowed three 100 yard receivers over their last four, and 5 TDs to WRs over that stretch.

Then, there’s Joe Mixon.

While some of his fellow rookies have struggled of late, he’s now scored in three of the Bengals last four and put up the 1st 100 yard game of his young career last time out. On the season, Pittsburgh has allowed backs to pick up 4.2 yards per carry – tied for the 11th most. But, when you have a +65 point differential, you’re likely to see fewer rush attempts; Pittsburgh has faced the 5th fewest.

The Bengals have run the ball on 44.3% of their offensive plays, and Mixon has seen at least 20 carries in two-straight games. He might not put up 100, but you have to like his odds at a nice game. Especially, if Shazier and Harrison can’t go.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel the Steelers are the worst best team this league has to offer, and with Baltimore and New England coming down the pike, this game has the makings of the proverbial “trap”.  That said, the Bengals should keep this one within striking distance – they do still have the slightest of playoff hopes.

Steelers 23 – Bengals 21

Ballers: Le’Veon Bell, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green

Under the Radar: Jesse James, Andy Dalton, Alex Erickson

Temper Expectations: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Brandon LaFell, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Bums: Martavis Bryant, Giovani Bernard, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Kroft

Best of luck this week, and thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe, and follow me on Twitter: @maxingyourodds

Washington Redskins (5-6, 5-6 ATS) at Dallas Cowboys (5-6, 5-6 ATS)

Spread: DAL -1

O/U: 44

WAS 17.00 (19th) 18.98 (25th) 18.01 (8th) 10.46 (29th) 7.64 (18th) 9.00 (23rd)
DAL 18.18 (27th) 18.73 (22nd) 24.34 (27th) 7.71 (22nd) 7.09 (14th) 6.82 (7th)

These two met in Week 8 – a 33-19 shellacking of the Redskins – and since then, nothing was the same.

Washington has gone 2-2 since that drubbing, with their two losses coming at the hands of the Vikings and Saints – two of the NFC’s best – by a combined 11 points. Despite dealing with more injuries than a graceless geriatric patient, the ‘Skins are playing some of their best football of the season and find themselves with the slightest of chances at a Wild Card berth.

… The Cowboys have gone 1-3 since.

You see, Dallas lost this guy named Ezekiel Elliott (suspension), and he’s pretty good at running fast while carrying an elliptically shaped, leather ball and avoiding people as they attempt to prevent him from running fast. In the three games without Elliott, the ‘Boys have averaged just 7.3 points per game, while allowing 30.7 points; doesn’t take a mathematician to figure they’ve lost all three.

Sure, Tyron Smith missed two of those three games, but let’s not get it twisted. Neither Alfred Morris nor Rod Smith is Zeke. Hell, they wouldn’t make Zeke if somehow combined – that’d just be a guy named Alfrod (the Dallas backs have rushed for about 40 yards per game fewer in the three games since the suspension went into effect).

So, yeah.

But, lost amidst all of the overzealous, sky is falling panic talk from the Cowboys nation, is the fact that over their three-game losing streak, they also happened to face three pretty damn good teams.

No excuse for a true contender. But, if looking at this team from a realistic perspective, they never really were a real contender to begin with…

Back to the point.

Despite holding Eli Manning to 113 yards passing and 0 TDs a week ago, Washington has allowed QBs to put up nearly 275 passing yards per game with 8 passing TDs over their last four. And, while Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland present a formidable challenge for Dez Bryant and co., no team has allowed more receiving yards per game to the tight end position than the 72.4 the Redskins are giving up on the season.

Yes, Jason Witten‘s name may be connected to the head-coaching vacancy at the University of Tennessee. But for now, he’s still a TE for the Dallas Cowboys. A TE who ranks 5th in receptions, and 11th in yards.

Washington is also allowing RBs to rack up 4.2 yards per carry – which is tied for the 11th highest average in the league. Remember the aforementioned Alfrod? Well, the duo is averaging 4.3 yards per carry with Zeke sidelined; only 13 backs have a higher average on the season. So yeah, the drop-off in talent is evident, but it’s a bit like going from a Lexus to a nicely equipped Toyota.

Similar quality, but just not quite as wavy.

That said, a big night on the ground would the perfect remedy for this offense, and I expect they’ll get it. If they can keep the scoreboard a little less lopsided, that is.

Problem is, while Philip Rivers became just the 2nd QB to throw for more than 265 yards against this Dallas D on the season, the Cowboys have allowed more passing TDs than all but five teams – giving up at least two in eight of their eleven games.

Kirk Cousins‘ 3,038 passing yards this season trail only Tom Brady, and his 19 TD passes put him in a tie for the 7th most.

Oh, and on the ground? Well, you might have noticed that Samaje Perine has now put up back-to-back 100+ yard rushing games for the Redskins (sorry for doubting you, sir). But, what you might not have noticed is that the Cowboys allowed just 71.9 rushing yards per game to RBs in the seven games with Sean Lee in the lineup, and in the four without him? 132.8 yards per game.

He’s again listed as doubtful to play in this one.

These two teams have combined to score at least 50 points in each of the last four contests, and given the matchups, there’s plenty of reason to believe they’ll make it five straight. The Cowboys have also won seven of the last ten in this series – with Cousins owning a 1-5 record against the team formerly known as “America’s”.

Honestly, this one’s a toss-up – which is evidenced by the opening spread of -1.

Dallas owns a slight edge over Washington in the standings, and will find themselves right in the mix for the Wild Card if they can figure out how to come away with Ws in their three remaining Zeke-less games. There’s also the pride factor which has been evidenced time and time again this season. And, after getting their asses handed to them thrice, you have to figure Dallas will come out poised for this rivalry game. Oh, and they’re also the healthier of the two; which is something like picking the fastest turtle.

Anyway, while I’d find endless pleasure in seeing the Cowboys lose their 4th straight, I just don’t think it’ll happen. Dan Bailey was shut out in his return last week. He hits the game winner on Thursday night.

Redskins 24 – Cowboys 27

Ballers: Kirk Cousins, Samaje Perine, Jamison Crowder, Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten

Under the Radar: Josh Doctson, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, Cole Beasley

Temper Expectations: Vernon Davis, Terrance Williams

Bums: Byron Marshall, Ryan Grant, Brice Butler