Seattle @ Cleveland
The Seahawks run defense is pounding opponents into submission, forcing offenses to resort to the pass to move the ball. Despite a 2-3 record and consistently playing from behind, Seattle is in the top ten in passing yards allowed per game. They're permitting just 3.13 yards per carry, and 330-pound big uglies Red Bryant and Alan Branch are fresh off a bye. While Montario Hardesty projects as Cleveland's feature back in this game with Peyton Hillis nursing a hamstring pull, Hardesty offers limited upside as a flex option only. On the year, Hardesty has proven a mediocre talent with 143 yards on 40 rushing attempts (3.57 YPC) and countless drops in the passing game. ... The Browns are hopeful that Hillis will be available for blitz-pickup situations against Seattle. Hillis didn't practice this week and should safely be on fantasy benches. Owners will just have to sit tight and hope Hillis gets healthy, because he doesn't have much trade value right now.
As expected, Greg Little took over as the Browns' featured pass catcher following his post-bye promotion into the starting lineup. Comfortably leading Cleveland with 12 targets in Week 6, Little secured a game-high six for 72 yards and narrowly missed a touchdown when he slipped at the Raiders' one after a first-quarter red-zone reception of 15 yards. Little played a season-high snap percentage (69-of-71), moving to the slot on every passing down. The Browns, of course, have a ton of passing downs because they 1) rank second in the NFL in pass attempts per game and 2) frequently play from behind. It's an excellent fantasy situation. In Week 7, Little will square off with oft-burned Seahawks RCB Brandon Browner on early downs and rookie Richard Sherman when Little kicks to the slot. Per Pro Football Focus, Browner has allowed 28 of the last 35 throws against him to be complete (80%) for 389 yards (11.1 YPA) and two touchdowns. Sherman is a fifth-round pick many NFL teams projected to safety coming out of Stanford. ... Colt McCoy and the rest of the Browns' receivers are simply hands off with Little dominating targets on offense. Mohamed Massaquoi is averaging 45 yards per game, Ben Watson 42, and Evan Moore 20.
A Browns pass defense that ranks in the NFL's top four to this point is suddenly incredibly banged up. Shutdown CB Joe Haden (knee) won't be 100 percent in the questionable-to-doubtful event he does face Seattle, and nickel back Buster Skrine suffered a hip injury in practice this week, jeopardizing his availability. The Haden factor shouldn't deter owners from using Sidney Rice as a WR3. ... The Seahawks are expected to start Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback with Tarvaris Jackson nursing a pectoral strain in his throwing arm. After replacing Jackson in Week 5 -- before Seattle's Week 6 bye -- Whitehurst looked to slot receiver Doug Baldwin early and often. The two hooked up on all six Whitehurst-to-Baldwin targets for 90 yards, including a 27-yard TD. Baldwin's matchup is also improved due to the state of Cleveland's secondary. ... Target distribution after Whitehurst replaced Jackson against the Giants: Baldwin 6, Rice 4, Ben Obomanu 3 (all incomplete), and Golden Tate 2. ... Obomanu played significant snaps recently only because Big Mike Williams was out with a concussion. "BMW" returns this week, eliminating both from fantasy consideration.
Before the bye week, Marshawn Lynch turned it on a bit against the Justin Tuck-less Giants, who've struggled mightily in run defense without their star end. In Lynch's other four games, he's failed to hit four yards a carry while adding next to nothing in the pass game. Lynch averaged a pathetic 35.2 rushing yards per week in the first month. Cleveland's No. 27 run defense ranking makes it look vulnerable on the surface, but it's permitting just 3.91 YPC with two rushing scores allowed through five games. The reason the Browns rank so low is because opponents grab early leads against them and take the air out of the football. Do you believe the Seahawks will put Cleveland in a first-half hole and run away with this game? If so, start Marshawn Lynch. I wouldn't.
Score Prediction: Browns 21, Seahawks 17
Houston @ Tennessee
Arian Foster has scuffled on the ground in his last two games, but elite every-down backs keep fantasy owners happy with receiving-saved stat lines. While Foster is averaging 3.16 yards per carry during that span, he's also come through with 285 total yards. The Titans boast a top-ten run defense, but Foster's "floor" is very high. He's an every-week starter. ... Andre Johnson (hamstring) will miss a third game, leaving Matt Schaub to fend for himself with weak weaponry and a likely run-first approach in a poor matchup. Only the defenses of Pittsburgh and Detroit have allowed fewer yards per pass attempt than the Titans, who are fresh coming off a bye. Having topped 230 yards in just 2-of-6 games so far, Schaub is no more than a high-end QB2. ... Jacoby Jones flashed his playmaking ability with 76 yards and a touchdown on four Week 6 catches, but history says Jones will follow up a big game with a clunker. Because Jones typically lines up on the left side of the offensive formation, he's likely to spend most of this game in Titans RCB Cortland Finnegan's coverage. A feisty, physical corner, Finnegan has been dynamite in pass defense all year. According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowing a stingy 9.6 yards per attempt against.
The Ravens' Week 6 double teaming of Owen Daniels opened up the field for Jones, but it's hard to bank on that continuing. Tennessee will have to be more concerned with Jones after watching the tape, and the Titans' shaky safety play routinely makes them vulnerable to tight ends. In their last three games, the Titans have allowed three touchdowns and 176 yards on 16 catches combined to tight ends of Denver, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, none of which fields a particularly dangerous player at the position. If I'm a betting man, my money is still on Daniels leading the Texans in targets, catches, and receiving yardage in Week 7. ... Kevin Walter is never going to be more than a run-of-the-mill possession receiver, but he's put up quality numbers with Johnson out. On 14 targets in two games, Walter has 11 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Walter also had seven receptions for 79 yards and a score in his last game against Tennessee.
This projects as a low-scoring, defense-dominated game. Both the Titans and Texans have top-ten defenses in yards and points allowed, and each team has lost its best receiver to injury. A Kenny Britt-less Matt Hasselbeck will settle in as a mid-range QB2 the rest of the way, deferring to a balanced to run-heavy offense with a far less explosive supporting cast. Damian Williams is averaging just 10.4 yards per reception, while Nate Washington has commanded considerably more defensive attention since Britt went down. Williams is a low-end, low-upside WR3, while Washington is likely to draw plenty of Johnathan Joseph in coverage. ... Optimists can point to Jared Cook's three-game target increase as reason to believe his role may be growing, but it was discouraging to hear OC Chris Palmer say this week that Cook would continue to play only in passing sets. “I think when you say he is a tight end people think he is an every-down tight end. But he’s not," acknowledged Palmer. Cook defers to blockers Craig Stevens and Daniel Graham on the majority of snaps. His targets and playing time spiked in Week 5 -- before the bye -- only because the Titans were in pass-heavy comeback mode after falling behind the Steelers early. Cook's playmaking ability makes him a viable bye-week crunch option, but he's not a true fantasy starter.
The Titans undoubtedly spent their open date working to fix the running game. The unit currently ranks dead last in rushing yards per game, as well as yards per carry. Whether a remedy is even possible only time will tell, but glass-half-full fantasy owners can view Chris Johnson's first five games and subsequent bye as a substitute for his training camp and preseason. Johnson missed all of August due to a holdout. He's also got a favorable schedule the rest of the way. Here's a look: vs. HOU, vs. IND, vs. CIN, @ CAR, @ ATL, vs. TB, @ BUF, vs. NO, @ IND, vs. JAX. Johnson did average 4.11 YPC with a touchdown in his last two games preceding the bye. It's a healthy step up from Johnson's 2.13 average in Weeks 1-3, and perhaps a sign of things to come.
Score Prediction: Texans 20, Titans 17
Atlanta @ Detroit
Despite GM Thomas Dimitroff's best efforts, the Falcons' coaching staff is insistent on fielding a balanced to run-based offense. While it may not be in the team's best long-term interests to lean so heavily on a declining back like Michael Turner, the coaches' success in doing so during last week's division victory will give Mike Smith's staff even more incentive to stay with the approach. Facing the Panthers' pathetic, 31st-ranked run defense, the Falcons finished with a 1960s-style 35:22 run-to-pass ratio in the convincing 31-17 win. Detroit's vulnerability is run defense, ranking 26th against it and surrendering 5.21 yards per carry. The Lions struggle to hold the point of attack because coach Jim Schwartz's Wide-9 scheme spurns gap control in favor of up-field pass rush. Turner should receive 22-28 carries and have success in this matchup. ... On the flip side, Matt Ryan's fantasy value has taken a hit. We entered this season with high hopes for Ryan in large part because all of Atlanta's offseason personnel moves pointed toward a pass-first, no-huddle heavy offense. The Falcons' no-huddle has been highly productive in spots, but Smith refuses to make it a staple in weekly game plans. The Lions have a top-six pass defense, and their aggressive front four will get plenty of penetration against Atlanta's suspect offensive line. While a potential shootout could buoy Ryan in Week 7, he's just a low-end QB1 in this matchup.
Falcons LT Sam Baker's potential absence due to a bad back should give the coaches even more reservations about letting Ryan drop back. Former NFL Europe journeyman Will Svitek is Baker's backup. ... Roddy White ranks 18th in fantasy wideout scoring, a steep drop from last year's top-three finish. It's plenty to keep trotting out White on a weekly basis, though. Detroit's aggressive defense isn't likely to drape him in double teams, and White's Week 6 stat line was adversely affected by 53 yards and two would-be touchdowns worth of pass interference penalties. Both flags set up one-yard scores for Turner. It goes without saying that those touchdowns would have helped Ryan, too. ... The Lions have allowed four TDs to tight ends in their last four games, which should bode well for Tony Gonzalez. Gonzo leads Atlanta in touchdown catches this year. ... Julio Jones (hamstring) is likely to miss another game, setting up Harry Douglas for a second straight start. The Falcons' rekindled run-happy mentality just doesn't help the outlook for Atlanta's No. 3 receiving option. With Jones inactive for Week 6, Douglas was targeted only four times, securing two for 57 yards. Per Pro Football Focus, Douglas played 40-of-62 snaps, blocking on 17 of them.
Matthew Stafford's on-field performance has slipped since the start of the season, but he's still lighting up the box score. On pace for 40 TDs and 4,610 yards, Stafford is a top-five fantasy quarterback heading into a matchup with Atlanta's 27th-ranked pass defense. The Falcons are stifling the run and allowing 66.7% of the passes thrown against them to be complete, for an average of 7.97 yards per pass play. A throw-oriented game plan would be wise for Lions OC Scott Linehan considering both the matchup and absence of Jahvid Best (concussion). ... Calvin Johnson's touchdown roll has slowed, but he's remained dominant with back-to-back 100-plus yard games. Megatron will give Atlanta matchup fits because he has seven inches and 55 pounds on Falcons top corner Brent Grimes (5'10/181), and the rest of the secondary is a nightmare in coverage. ... Updated Lions targets over the past month: Brandon Pettigrew 41, Megatron 39, Titus Young 21, Nate Burleson 20. As the target leader for a Lions offense that ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts, there's no question that Pettigrew is an every-week fantasy starter.
Burleson showed signs of life with 10 targets in Week 6, scoring his first touchdown of the year. Unfortunately, he's averaging just over two catches for 17 yards in his last four games. While the matchup is right, Burleson simply hasn't been productive enough to be considered a worthwhile WR3. ... With Burleson getting more balls in Week 6, Young took a backseat with one catch for 14 yards. Young is a nice young player, but he's not a fantasy option yet. ... The Lions' running game is a situation to avoid in Week 7 because there's little clarity about who's going to get the football, and Atlanta is stymieing ground attacks. The Falcons rank eighth against the run and are allowing just 3.74 yards per carry to opposing tailbacks. With Best out, candidates for carries in the Detroit backfield are Maurice Morris, Keiland Williams, and newly acquired Eldra Buckley, probably in that order. None of the above will be a confident bet to exceed 15 touches on Sunday. While Morris is expected to start the game, keep in mind that he has only nine carries on the season. Williams has 19.
Score Prediction: Lions 27, Falcons 21