4:15PM ET Games
NY Jets @ New England
The Patriots' backfield is likely to have success against the softest Jets defense we've seen since Eric Mangini, particularly after it lost OLB Bryan Thomas to an Achilles' tear. Opposing backs have exposed New York for four TDs and a 186-total yard average over the past three weeks, including 4.7 YPC. So the question really isn't if BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Stevan Ridley will be effective. It's whether one of them will get the rock enough to truly capitalize. Game watchers by now know that Ridley is the Patriots' most talented, versatile back, while Green-Ellis is a pedestrian runner who moves the pile but doesn't outrun or make defenders miss, and offers zip in the passing game. Ridley's workload and snaps played have increased every week this season, and his yards-per-touch average (7.95) dwarfs those of "Law Firm" (4.06) and Danny Woodhead (4.88). Especially if you're in a bye-week crunch, Ridley needs to be in your fantasy lineup. Green-Ellis is shaping up as a dicey, if still reasonable flex play. Coming off an injured left ankle, Woodhead isn't an option.
The Jets are expected to assign Darrelle Revis to Wes Welker situationally, perhaps on all third downs. Keep in mind that Welker rolled through the Jets with a healthy Revis for 80 yards and a touchdown on seven catches early last December. The potential return of Aaron Hernandez (knee) will make Welker and all of the Patriots' receivers that much more difficult to defend. You can't sit the No. 1 fantasy wideout, regardless of matchup. ... Hernandez owners should be excited about his improving health, but he needs to prove he's a regular player in the offense again before being thought of as a bankable fantasy play. ... Rob Gronkowski's 2010 numbers against the Jets don't look great, though he did have 65 yards on four catches against them in the playoffs. Gronkowski leads the NFL in tight end scoring and can only be "stopped" by blocking. The Bryan Thomas injury should translate to a few more pass routes for Gronk. ... In his last two games against the Jets, Tom Brady has a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio and at least 299 passing yards. He's good to go every week. ... Deion Branch scored a touchdown in both of his 2010 games against Rex Ryan's defense, but it's obviously not crazy to sit him with one catch for four yards in his last two games. Branch is probably just as good a bet to see Revis in coverage as Welker.
Ryan's rekindling of the "ground and pound" approach seems swell in theory, but it's difficult to envision how it's going to work. Even with All-Pro C Nick Mangold (ankle) back, New York's O-Line isn't the mauling unit it once was. RT Wayne Hunter has been a massive downgrade from Damien Woody, LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson has always been more agile pass blocker than road-grader, and RG Brandon Moore seems to have lost his fastball after offseason hip surgery. The Jets rank 30th in yards-per-rushing attempt (3.09), and supposed feature back Shonn Greene is 50th in YPC (3.08) among players with at least 15 carries. The per-play ineffectiveness suggests the Jets are kidding themselves with the new philosophy, which changed only because the passing game didn't work, either. Be cautious about thinking Greene is suddenly a strong fantasy option. The Jets are well aware of Greene's struggles, and have spoken openly of increasing Joe McKnight's role. 32-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson (2.95 YPC) certainly won't save the offense.
The decrease in sheer attempts will quickly dump Mark Sanchez into clear-cut QB2 territory, particularly if his 6.8 YPA doesn't improve. At that rate, Sanchez will fall from 300-yard candidate on 37 attempts per game to a 170-200 yard quarterback on the 25-29 passes Ryan would surely prefer. Despite a favorable matchup with New England's 32nd-ranked pass defense, Sanchez is a two-QB league option only. The Jets want to take the air out of the ball. ... It's certainly fair to be frustrated with Santonio Holmes, and at first glance the revamped offense would seem to make him even less desirable. But defenses will begin dropping an eighth defender into the box if the Jets stress running the ball down by down. It should lead to a more efficient passing game, even if it doesn't light up secondaries. For now, it's reasonable to consider Holmes a risky WR3 as opposed to the WR2 you thought you drafted. It's been said before in this space, but Holmes does have a plus matchup. He'll face off mostly with Patriots LCB Devin McCourty, who according to Pro Football Focus is on pace to surrender 1,592 passing yards. No NFL cornerback allowed more than 1,000 from 2008-2010. ... Dustin Keller gave New England fits in Week 2 last season (7-115-1), but they shut him down in Week 13 (3-27) and the playoffs (3-15). Keller is back to risky TE1. ... Plaxico Burress is on pace for 40 catches. He's still only a TD-heavy league option.
Score Prediction: Patriots 34, Jets 17
San Diego @ Denver
The Chargers are dealing with numerous injuries in their pass-catching corps, including Antonio Gates' multi-week foot ailment and Vincent Jackson's hamstring and abdominal injuries. It makes plenty of sense, then, that coach Norv Turner would lean heavily on his run game and increase Ryan Mathews' workload. "He got what 16 carries, 18 carries (last week)?" Turner said in his post-practice interview Wednesday. "If we can get him 24, 25 carries, it's gonna help him." Mathews has certainly earned it, ranking fourth in the league in total yardage and averaging 4.72 yards per carry to Mike Tolbert's 2.61. If you didn't trade for Mathews prior to Week 3, do it while his market value is still reasonable. Currently the No. 6 fantasy running back, Mathews will easily secure a top-five finish if Turner follows through on his plan. ... Tolbert hasn't hit double-digit touches or exceeded 2.9 YPC since the opener. While spotty red-zone touchdowns should keep him afloat, Tolbert is just a risky flex option even in bye-week crunches. He's also fumbled twice.
Champ Bailey (hamstring) practiced fully all week, targeting this division game for his return. V-Jax hasn't topped 54 yards in four straight meetings with Denver, and Bailey's coverage has a lot to do with it. We'll have more info on Jackson by Friday evening, but for now he's shaping up as a game-time decision. Because this game has a late start, it's reasonable to err on the side of caution if you don't know Jackson's status on Sunday morning. ... Gates won't play, giving Randy McMichael the start. McMike caught three passes for 25 yards on six targets last week and will hurt you if he doesn't score. ... V-Jax owners would be smart to pick up Malcom Floyd if he's on the waiver wire. Healthy again, Floyd practiced without limitations this week and could be a sneaky fall-back WR3 as the Chargers' No. 1 passing game option if Jackson is inactive. ... I'd rather play Cam Newton, for instance, than Philip Rivers this week, primarily because San Diego projects to lean heavily on the run. It's still hard to forget Rivers' four-TD Week 11 effort against Denver last year. Bailey played; Jackson and Gates didn't. ... Patrick Crayton and rookie Vincent Brown are the receivers behind V-Jax and Floyd on the depth chart. Neither has exceeded 47 yards in a week this year, and it's just a guessing game as to whom would be more productive.
Willis McGahee earned John Fox's nomination as the Broncos' feature back with a 15-carry, 103-yard burst against Green Bay's then-No. 1 run defense. San Diego is 12th against the run and yields 4.06 YPC. The matchup isn't prohibitive, so McGahee owners can comfortably use the 30-year-old back as a low-end RB2/flex. Just don't be surprised when he doesn't break four yards a carry in a game the rest of the way. ... A year after leading the NFL in pass defense, the Chargers are once again top-five and get LCB Quentin Jammer back from injury this week. Jammer will line up across from possession threat Eric Decker most of the day, while Brandon Lloyd gets Antoine Cason. The Denver wideouts don't change sides much, and Decker will see impressive rookie Marcus Gilchrist when he kicks to the slot. So far at least, Cason has been San Diego's weakest corner. ... A similar-looking Chargers secondary (with not as much pass rush as they've benefited from this year) held Kyle Orton to 217 yards and one touchdown last December. This isn't a good matchup for him. ... Knowshon Moreno has fallen well behind McGahee, playing only 16-of-59 snaps (27.1%) at Green Bay. Moreno touched the ball three times, compared to McGahee's 17.
Score Prediction: Chargers 28, Broncos 20
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ Atlanta
Packers-Falcons has this week's highest over-under at a whopping 53 points. Fire up your guys. ... Aaron Rodgers leapfrogged his way to the No. 1 spot among fantasy QBs with a six-touchdown effort against Denver in Week 4. Atlanta's 24th-ranked pass defense is fresh off allowing three scores and a career-high 319 yards to Tarvaris Jackson. ... Jennings squares off with RCB Dunta Robinson when the Packers play the Falcons, so it shouldn't surprise that Jennings dropped over 100 yards in each of his two 2010 games against Atlanta. Robinson is severely overrated. ... It's hard to imagine sitting Jordy Nelson in a shootout like this, but he does have the tougher matchup among Green Bay wideouts. Nelson will get LCB Brent Grimes for the majority of Sunday night. ... The Falcons have seen Jermichael Finley on tape, but they've never actually played against him. He's a lot bigger in real life than he looks in the film room. Finley is currently the No. 5 tight end in fantasy football. ... Donald Driver is expected to play through a knee injury, but has been totally ineffective. He'll probably continue to share slot receiver playing time with rookie Randall Cobb.
On the ground, it's more of a wait-and-see week for the Packers' backfield. Ryan Grant's return muddles things, reverting the committee to an unpredictable, hot-hand situation. The Falcons rank tenth against the run, although that isn't fully indicative of their stoutness. They've played the last several games without SLB Stephen Nicholas (calf) and DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), and both of the impact defenders will return this week. As Atlanta allowed just 3.60 YPC even without Nicholas and Babs, Grant and Starks would ideally be left on fantasy benches. Starks is coming off an 18-touch, 101-yard game and is the pick if you're deciding between the two. ... James Jones caught his first touchdown of the season in Week 4, though it occurred essentially in garbage time. The Packers were up by 18 points. Jones still only played 54.2% of the snaps.
In his last seven home games, Matt Ryan has led Atlanta to a 6-1 record with a 15:3 TD-to-INT ratio and 66.5 completion rate. The Packers rank last in the NFC in pass defense, have lost FS Nick Collins (neck) for the season, and are clearly scuffling to replace their "centerfield" safety. Only New England has allowed more completions of 20-plus yards. Ryan owners may be displeased with his somewhat spotty start, but he's going to explode soon, quite possibly this week. Ryan is currently the No. 10 fantasy quarterback. He has 290-plus passing yards in 3-of-4 games. ... Ryan might be the best buy-low candidate in fantasy football, but Julio Jones has already arrived. Coming off back-to-back games of 115 or more yards, Jones is out-producing Roddy White and hasn't even found the end zone yet. Jones is a must-start on Sunday night as he prepares to square off with Packers RCB Tramon Williams, who's been shaky this season. Williams gave up a Week 1 touchdown to Robert Meachem and was consistently beaten deep by Brandon Lloyd in Week 4. Lloyd finished with season highs in receptions (8) and yards (136).
White is the No. 24 fantasy receiver through four games, way down from yesteryear's top-three finish. The biggest drop-off has been White's scoring; he only has one touchdown after reaching pay dirt ten times last season. Still on pace for over 100 catches and 1,200 yards, White has been a consistent scorer, and TDs often follow naturally. Tony Gonzalez has hogged touchdowns, but isn't going to hit the 20 for which he's on pace. ... In fairness to Gonzo, he too is an absolute must-start versus Green Bay. A tight end has scored in 3-of-4 games against the Collins-less Packers, who've played their last two against tight end-unfriendly offenses of Chicago and Denver. Gonzo is third in fantasy scoring at his position, behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. ... The Packers' run defense is far better than it showed against Willis McGahee last week. Still second in the league against the run, Green Bay forces its opponents to air it out; no team has fewer rushing attempts against. Michael Turner is plodding along at 2.43 YPC in his last two games. It's just difficult to sit workhorse backs in projected shootouts. Turner is averaging 18.5 touches a week.
Score Prediction: Packers 37, Falcons 31
Monday Night Football
Chicago @ Detroit
Is the Bears' defense overrated?. Since what's shaping up as a fluky Week 1 domination of the Falcons, Chicago has been touched up for an average of 314 passing yards per week, seven touchdowns and two interceptions, while coming up with only three sacks. Opposing backs are averaging 4.66 yards per carry. There's nothing intimidating about those numbers. Use your Lions skill players. ... In Calvin Johnson's last five meetings with the Bears, he's scored three TDs and averaged six catches for 87 yards. At age 26, Megatron is a better receiver than he's ever been. Look for Johnson to dog-walk diminutive LCB Tim Jennings and aging RCB Charles Tillman all over the field Monday night. ... The last time Matthew Stafford made it through a full game against the Bears was during his rookie year, and he racked up 296 passing yards. Like Johnson, Stafford is a way better player now. He's the No. 4 overall fantasy quarterback, and appears incapable of being stopped. ... Lions slot receiver Nate Burleson has four catches for 28 scoreless yards in his last two games, combined. I'd want to see Burleson pick it up before using him in fantasy football.
Jahvid Best is a top-nine PPR back, but much more an RB2 in standard leagues. Whereas his 3.2 YPC is identical to last year's, Best ranks fifth in the NFL in receptions among tailbacks, and sixth in receiving yards. ... The Lions may have to explore using Brandon Pettigrew as a "help" blocker for Jeff Backus soon, because Detroit's blind-side tackle is getting ransacked in protection. While Backus was lucky Stafford escaped countless Week 4 left tackle pressures to take no sacks, Backus was just as ineffective as the previous game, when Jared Allen pinned three quarterback takedowns on him. Backus was facing DeMarcus Ware, of course, but he'll have his hands full again with Julius Peppers on Monday night. To be sure, the stats say Pettigrew is in line for a productive day. Chicago has allowed four touchdowns to tight ends in four games, and a 6.5-catch, 82-yard weekly average. Just don't be surprised when Pettigrew slows down and starts blocking more. He's on pace for career highs in receptions (88) and yards (960). ... The Bears defend designated deep threats well because of their scheme. It isn't good news for Titus Young.
Playing on the road against the aggressive Lions, the Bears will likely try to keep Stafford off the field with heavy doses of Matt Forte. Reintroducing a lead blocker to their rushing attack (FB Tyler Clutts), the Bears skewed toward the run in Week 4, racking up 31 rushing attempts to 17 passes. The revised game plan worked, as Matt Forte averaged 8.2 yards per carry en route to a career-high 205 yards. The Lions rank 20th against the run, allowing 4.76 YPC. ... Jay Cutler is barely on the QB2 radar coming off his fewest pass attempts in a full game since 2009. Detroit is also significantly better in pass than run defense. Cutler is a lowly 24th in fantasy quarterback scoring, so here's to hoping you didn't consider him anyway. The Bears have lost faith in their passing game. ... Dane Sanzenbacher and Johnny Knox are the only Chicago wideouts worth Week 5 consideration, and neither is an inviting option. Sanzenbacher was on the field for just 13 snaps last week. Knox would need Chicago to fall behind early and start winging it to be worthwhile.
Score Prediction: Lions 30, Bears 20