Chicago vs. Tampa Bay
This game will be played in London, where weather has previously impacted scoring. As this is being written, however, the Wembley Stadium forecast calls for clear skies and temperatures in the 60s. The over-under is 43.5 points. ... Matt Forte is on pace for career bests in total yards (2,422), YPC (5.32), and receptions (96), which is saying something for a player who's finished as a top-ten fantasy back in two of the past three years. While a healthy Marion Barber poses a threat for goal-line work, last week's season-high 11 carries don't forecast a committee. Eight of Barber's attempts came late in the fourth quarter with Chicago up 39-10, including five with the backup offense when Caleb Hanie came in for garbage time. Ranked 18th against the run, the Bucs may or may not have top DT Gerald McCoy, who was limited in practice this week with a high ankle sprain. Playing like he wants more money, Forte is a shoo-in top-ten running back. He's the Bears' offensive centerpiece. ... Rookie Dane Sanzenbacher will get one more week to play the slot with Earl Bennett (chest) set to miss this game. Sanzenbacher remains a dicey WR3, playing only 50-55% of the Bears' offensive snaps and averaging just over three catches for 30 yards per game since Bennett went down.
Sparked by hard-hitting, playmaking FS Tanard Jackson's return, the Tampa pass defense came to play in Week 6 against the Saints, intercepting Drew Brees three times in the All-Pro's worst game of the season. It's reason for pause when thinking Jay Cutler might find a groove after his year-best game. The Bears enlisted frequent seven-man protections last Sunday night, holding the Vikings to one sack as Cutler passed for 267 yards, two scores, and no picks. Perhaps the best news for Cutler is that the Bucs rank 25th in sacks and have struggled to apply pressure all year. Cutler is a risky bye-week QB1, but should be used confidently in two-QB formats. ... The Bears re-promoted Roy Williams to the starting lineup versus Minnesota, but used a rotation at split end with Johnny Knox playing 27 snaps and Williams seeing 33. Knox finished with two receptions for 41 yards, while Williams had three grabs for 50. That'd be pretty good production if Knox and Williams were one player. In fantasy football, it's referred to as canceling each other out. ... Devin Hester caught five passes for 91 yards in Week 6, the majority of the production coming on a 48-yard first-quarter scoring bomb. The touchdown was Hester's first on offense this year, and he entered the game averaging just 34.2 receiving yards per week.
In a battle of quarterbacks coming off their best games of the year, Josh Freeman has the tougher matchup. The Bears have a better pass defense ranking than the Bucs, allow a full yard less per pass attempt, have yielded fewer touchdown passes, and generate noticeably more pass rush. Freeman's Week 6 success was largely attributable to New Orleans' inability to bring pressure, as the Saints didn't sack him once, and Freeman had all day to throw on both of his scoring tosses. On the year, Freeman has a 5:6 TD-to-INT ratio and ranks 18th in passing yards per game, just ahead of the likes of Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, and behind Kevin Kolb and Joe Flacco. He's clearly a QB2. ... Owners can point to Mike Williams South's 9.5 target-per-game average over the past month as reason to believe he can turn it around. The opportunities certainly are there; Williams just needs to play better. He's got a league-high six drops over that span. As the Bucs' split end, Williams will spend the heavy majority of this game in LCB Charles Tillman's coverage.
Arrelious Benn continues to lose playing time to Dezmon Briscoe, with the former seeing 54.6% of the snaps and the latter 38.7%. While Benn caught a 65-yard TD pass on a badly blown coverage in Week 6, he's averaging a pedestrian 40.5 yards per game and ranks 39th in fantasy receiver points. He's a WR4/5. ... Freeman needs to show sustained production for his pass catchers to be confident fantasy plays. Kellen Winslow is scoreless on the season with a career-low 9.5 yards-per-catch average. ... Slot receiver Preston Parker only plays 41.6% of the snaps and therefore will never be a recommended fantasy start in this space. For Parker believers, it's worth noting that he's had his best games against zone defenses, and the Bears play a Cover-2 shell. In this system, inside receivers are often allowed to run free over the middle, virtually unguarded. Parker posted 6-98 and 5-70-1 lines against the similar schemes of Minnesota and Indianapolis earlier this year. He remains a low-end WR3 option. ... Earnest Graham will pick up another start with LeGarrette Blount (knee) out, and the 31 1/2-year-old earned an RB2 start by showing lively legs with 131 yards on 19 touches in Week 6. Graham looked very good, frequently pushing the pile and dominating the workload over Kregg Lumpkin. Opposing tailbacks are averaging 5.34 YPC on their last 104 rushing attempts against the Bears, so it's far from a prohibitive matchup.
Score Prediction: Bucs 20, Bears 17
4:05PM ET Games
Pittsburgh @ Arizona
The Steelers' offensive line is finally coming together. LT Max Starks has more than held his own after signing off the street two weeks ago, and LG Chris Kemoeatu (knee) is off the injury report after a three-game absence. It's a big plus for Rashard Mendenhall, who earned AFC Offensive Player of Week 6 honors with a slump-busting 146 yards and a touchdown versus Jacksonville. Mendenhall showed his old explosiveness on a 68-yard first-half run. The Jags entered the game with a top-ten run defense and left ranked 19th. The Cardinals are 20th against the run and tied for the NFL high in rushing scores allowed. ... Isaac Redman returned to a third-down role against the Jaguars, getting only five touches. Jonathan Dwyer was even less of a factor, playing three snaps and rushing twice for eight yards. ... We've previously discussed Arizona's vulnerability to tight ends in this space, a weakness sure to be exacerbated by FS Kerry Rhodes' foot surgery. The Cards have a weak pass rush, which could free up Heath Miller to run more pass routes. On a personal note, I'll be starting Miller in my own league in place of Vernon Davis, who is on a bye.
Fully expected to play through a "slight" hamstring pull, Mike Wallace will give Cards RCB Patrick Peterson fits in the intermediate and deep passing games. While it's too early to call Peterson a bust, early signs aren't promising for the rookie's chances of avoiding a position switch to safety. Per Pro Football Focus, Peterson has allowed 21-of-28 passes to be completed against him (75%) for 287 yards (10.25 YPA), and a pair of touchdowns. Wallace is the No. 3 overall receiver in fantasy, and this might be his most favorable matchup all season. ... Hines Ward confirmed his two-score Week 5 was a mirage with 47 scoreless yards on three catches last Sunday. He's averaging an explosion-less 10.3 yards per catch and isn't a fantasy option. ... Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders continue to rotate in the third receiver role. They'll need either a Wallace or Ward injury to matter. There's little to no separation between the two. ... After a slow start, Ben Roethlisberger has a 6:1 TD-to-INT in his last two games. I'd still use Tim Tebow over Big Ben this week (in case you're deciding between them), but Roethlisberger has a very favorable matchup against a Cardinals pass defense that ranked in the league's bottom dozen even before losing Rhodes.
Arizona's bust of a passing game couldn't have picked a tougher post-bye opponent. The Steelers' shutdown pass defense is allowing a league-low 157.7 yards per game, unthinkable 4.88 yards per attempt, and 56.7 completion rate against. Kevin Kolb is off both the standard- and two-QB league radars this week. ... The lone start-able member of the Cardinals' passing attack is Larry Fitzgerald. In two career matchups with Pittsburgh, Fitz has accumulated 17 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns. ... Kolb revealed this week that the Cardinals "changed two to three different things that are going to help us" during the bye, one that may involve promoting Early Doucet into the starting lineup, over Andre Roberts. Doucet could be a WR3 candidate if that takes place, but it's not a bankable fantasy situation until we see it on the field. ... Run defense remains an issue for Pittsburgh, and probably will until NT Casey Hampton (shoulder) returns at full strength. With both Hampton and backup Chris Hoke (stinger) out this week, the Steelers are forced to turn to practice squad-type Steve McLendon. At 6-foot-4, 280, McLendon looks more like a tight end than a nose tackle. Over the past three weeks, the Steelers have allowed 359 yards and two TDs on 77 carries (4.66 YPC) to opposing tailbacks. His legs fresh off a bye, Beanie Wells has scored in every game he's played this season and "earned" at least an RB2 start, regardless of matchup.
Score Prediction: Steelers 27, Cardinals 16
Kansas City @ Oakland
Raiders coach Hue Jackson tried to keep us guessing about his Week 7 quarterback, but ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news on Wednesday: It will be Carson Palmer. With just three practices under Palmer's belt, it's a safe bet that Jackson devised an exceptionally run-dominated game plan. In a potentially momentum-grabbing division game leading into a bye, Jackson can't put his team's fate in the hands of a rushed, untried passer, much as he couldn't trust Kyle Boller to start a game. It would be unfair to expect Palmer to throw more than 18-24 times. ... Oakland wideouts should eventually capitalize on the quarterback upgrade, but need to be on fantasy benches this week. Palmer missed the offseason, camp, and first six games, and hasn't so much as performed a "football activity" in 9 1/2 months. I'd be surprised if any one of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, or Jacoby Ford exceeded six targets. ... Darren McFadden rediscovered the end zone in Week 6 and ranks third in fantasy scoring among tailbacks. He should anticipate 30 touches against the Chiefs, with Michael Bush quite possibly being saddled up for 8-10 more. There is little doubt that the Raiders will try to run it down the throat of Kansas City's 21st-ranked rush defense.
UPDATE: Schefter and NFL.com are now both reporting that Palmer is NOT expected to start, although "no final decision has been made." The Raiders are certain to go extremely run-heavy against the Chiefs regardless of the quarterback, severely curtailing the appeal of Heyward-Bey, Moore, and Ford in fantasy leagues. Boller is 2-11 in his last 13 NFL starts.
Predicting the Chiefs' Week 7 game plan isn't quite as simple because coach Todd Haley fancies his offense as a potentially successful passing unit. Haley and GM Scott Pioli duped themselves into believing Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin could cover up for OC Charlie Weis' loss, when in actuality it was Weis' schemes -- and not any matter of supporting cast -- that papered over their quarterback's flaws. Matt Cassel's pre-bye success may refuel Haley's unrealistic line of thought. In his last three games, Cassel has completed 56-of-82 throws (68.3%) for 693 yards (8.45 YPA), seven touchdowns, and one interception, although those numbers have come in matchups with the bottom-15 pass defenses of Minnesota and Indianapolis, and a San Diego team that lost top CB Quentin Jammer to early-game injury. The Raiders do rank 28th against the pass, but have a top-ten defense in terms of sacks, yards-per-attempt against, and completion rate allowed (53.4). A pass-first approach would certainly bode well for Dwayne Bowe and Breaston, but it could easily backfire on Cassel and Haley. Cassel isn't a good fantasy option this week, or ever.
Bowe's numbers have taken off with Cassel picking it up. The No. 7 receiver in fantasy points per game, Bowe has four TDs and a six-catch, 101-yard average since Week 1. ... Breaston has put up good-looking box-score stats with 91 yards in Week 4 and two Week 5 scores. Unfortunately, he hasn't exceeded six targets in any game so far. Breaston can make up for it somewhat with efficiency, but simply doesn't project as a heavily targeted receiver. He's a dicey WR3, and not a recommended fantasy start. ... Jackie Battle owners should feel good about playing him against a Raiders run defense serving up 4.92 yards per carry, but they need to be aware of Battle's skill-set limitations. While he runs with power and purpose, the 28-year-old career special teamer has no wiggle to his game and won't catch defenses by surprise going forward. He'll also be removed on the majority of passing downs. Battle is a poor man's LeGarrette Blount. ... His role in decline with no touchdowns on the season, 33-year-old Thomas Jones isn't worth a roster spot in 12-team fantasy leagues. ... Dexter McCluster's amount of touches has dropped in three straight games, and he bottomed out with 18 total yards just before the open date. Like Jones, McCluster hasn't found the end zone all year. He's an RB5 in PPR leagues and off the radar in standard settings.
Score Prediction: Raiders 21, Chiefs 17