4:15PM ET Games
Green Bay @ Minnesota
Aaron Rodgers is the No. 1 player in fantasy football, leading the NFL in completion rate (70.2%), passing scores (17), touchdown rate (TDs/pass attempts), yards per attempt (9.8), and adjusted YPA (factoring in interceptions). This is the league's best quarterback, and Minnesota's No. 24 pass defense won't slow his roll. ... Top Vikings CB Antoine Winfield is due back from his neck injury this week. Winfield guards the slot when opponents go three-wide, so he'll go to waste on Donald Driver and/or Randall Cobb. ... Greg Jennings has a ridiculous seven-catch, 105-yard average and five touchdowns in his last three meetings with the Vikings. Jennings plays most of his snaps outside and should mostly avoid Winfield's coverage. ... Looking for Jermichael Finley to get back on track? Minnesota's Cover 2 may be just what the doctor ordered. Finley lit up Chicago's similar scheme for 85 yards and three TDs on seven catches in Week 3, and in Finley's last meeting with Minnesota he had six catches for 128 yards and a score. ... Jordy Nelson is the No. 11 fantasy receiver, killing single teams en route to an 11-touchdown pace and 69 yards a game. Expect Nelson to face off with burnable Vikings CB Cedric Griffin for most of this one.
UPDATE: Winfield is listed as doubtful on the final injury report. The Vikings will be without two starters in the secondary, as SS Jamarca Sanford (concussion) is also expected to miss the game. They have little prayer of containing the Green Bay passing game.
James Jones reached pay dirt for a third straight game in Week 6, but saw just one target. Again, Rodgers will continue to throw to Jones if he's open, but he's always a dicey play as Green Bay's No. 4 passing-game option. ... James Starks led the backfield in touches for a fourth time in five games last week, but failed to capitalize on a mouth-watering matchup against St. Louis' last-ranked run defense. With no end in sight to Green Bay's hot-hand committee, it's a situation to avoid in Week 7. The Vikings have a top-five run defense, permitting 3.45 yards per carry. Starks remains the better bet if you're deciding between him and Ryan Grant. The possibility of a blowout win over a team letting a rookie QB make his first start is realistic and even probable, potentially increasing rushing chances. Starks just hasn't played well enough to truly justify using in such a difficult matchup. ... Grant is essentially waiver-wire material at this point. Not only is he getting the ball less than Starks, Grant has averaged 2.69 yards a carry in his last two games, and wouldn't even be assured the feature back role were Starks to get injured. In that scenario, the Packers would likely turn to Alex Green and/or John Kuhn to handle Starks' role. Grant doesn't have much left.
The Vikings will throw Christian Ponder to the wolves in his first start, facing off with the defending Super Bowl champs. The Packers lead the NFC in interceptions and have shut down the last two passing games they've faced. Minnesota's combo of dead-legged wideouts and porous O-Line was a disastrous recipe for a veteran quarterback, and it's difficult to envision a debuting rookie having any more success. While Ponder has athleticism Donovan McNabb no longer does, it's likely the only way this year's biggest draft reach could accumulate substantive fantasy production would come in throw-happy comeback mode. I can't imagine starting Ponder, Michael Jenkins, or even Percy Harvin, who played a neck-wringing 29-of-66 Week 6 snaps (43.9%). ... After Ponder replaced McNabb, he targeted Jenkins four times, Berrian twice, and Harvin twice. So as of yet, there is no evidence that suggests Ponder's insertion will save Minnesota's slot receiver. ... The Packers will surely gear up to stop Adrian Peterson, but that's gone on for years and Peterson hasn't finished outside the top-three fantasy backs in his career. Peterson leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and carries, and is sure to remain the offensive focal point in Ponder's first start. All Day is averaging 121.5 total yards per game in eight career meetings with the Pack.
Score Prediction: Packers 38, Vikings 13
St. Louis @ Dallas
The Rams' defense ranks 32nd versus the run, but opportunistic offenses prefer attacking it with the pass. It makes sense with St. Louis' top three corners on I.R. A comedy of errors occurred in the injury-ruined secondary on Jordy Nelson's 93-yard Week 6 touchdown catch, as SS Darian Stewart blew a tackle before losing his footing to trip nearby CB Al Harris out of the play. Nelson ran untouched to pay dirt. The Cowboys are without Felix Jones (high ankle sprain), and their best talent was always in the passing game, so a throw-happy approach seems likely. Tony Romo has at least 300 yards in four of his first five games, and among NFC teams only New Orleans has allowed more passing scores than St. Louis. ... Dez Bryant has oddly gone reception-less in 3-of-5 second halves this season, but should have a field day against washed-up Harris in coverage. The former Packer turns 37 in two months. ... Miles Austin played 66-of-74 snaps (89.2%) in his Week 6 return from a hamstring injury. He has an even more favorable matchup than Bryant, squaring off with oft-burned CB Justin King. King plays left cornerback in St. Louis' base defense and moves to the slot on passing downs, so he'll essentially follow Austin around the formation. According to Pro Football Focus, King has allowed five touchdown passes in the last three games.
The above scenario would bode well for fill-in tailback DeMarco Murray, whose college strength was the passing game with 157 receptions at Oklahoma, more than any running back drafted in April. Murray saw extensive action with Dallas' first-team offense when Jones was healthy last week, and received six of the backfield's ensuing seven touches following Felix's injury. All told, Murray amassed 12 touches compared to Tashard Choice's six after Jones went down. While this is going to be a rotation, Murray is Dallas' clear favorite for carries and catches, making him a worthwhile flex against St. Louis' soft front seven. In addition to ranking last in the league in run defense, the Rams are serving up a healthy 4.85 yards per carry. ... Choice did receive three red-zone touches to Murray's two last week, although the former isn't a good bet for more than 7-10 carries and 3-5 receptions in this game. Dating back to Week 14 last year, Choice is averaging a lowly 2.92 yards per rushing attempt. ... Jason Witten ranks second in the NFL in targets per game among tight ends, behind only Jimmy Graham. He's the No. 4 tight end in fantasy football.
The start-ability of every Rams skill player will be heavily impacted by the status of Sam Bradford (high ankle sprain). ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Wednesday that the Rams expect Bradford to play, but multiple national insiders have since either speculated or reported otherwise. St. Louis would simply be unlikely to stay competitive with A.J. Feeley at quarterback. The 34-year-old journeyman has well below league-average talent and no experience in Josh McDaniels' offense aside from practice. Feeley would also be facing a top-five defense. ... The Cowboys rank first against the run, allowing 3.35 YPC and a single rushing score in five games. Steven Jackson needs to be benched if Feeley starts. St. Louis-Dallas is a 4:15ET game, so we may not have a good feel for Bradford's availability until late afternoon Sunday. ... Feeley doesn't have arm power to consistently deliver the football outside the numbers. It's why he's only had previous success in West Coast offenses. Brandon Lloyd goes from high-upside WR2 with Bradford to bottom-barrel WR3 with Feeley. ... The Rams' No. 2 receiver job is up for grabs, and it's a week to wait and see for that situation. Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson are in the mix. Greg Salas is expected to man the slot. ... Lance Kendricks has had an awful start to his rookie season. He's averaging just 35 yards a game and leads all NFL tight ends in drops despite ranking 22nd in targets.
UPDATE: Bradford missed a third straight day of practice, and ESPN's John Clayton is reporting that he's "doubtful" to play against the Cowboys. The Rams, officially, consider Bradford a game-time decision. The smart money still says he won't play.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 34, Rams 16
Sunday Night Football
Indianapolis @ New Orleans
Colts-Saints has Week 7's highest over/under. Start your studs. ... No defense in football fields a smaller cornerback trio than the Colts, with LCB Jacob Lacey (5'10/177), RCB Jerraud Powers (5'10/192), and slot CB Terrence Johnson (5'9/190) comprising the nickel lineup. It comes as little surprise that they've been exposed by big wideouts Jerome Simpson (6-101), Dwayne Bowe (7-128-2), and A.J. Green (5-51-1) over the past two weeks. All three are 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds or better. At full health and a full-time player again, Marques Colston goes 6'4/225 and is coming off his best game of 2011. ... On Sunday, Jimmy Graham will look to break Tony Gonzalez's NFL tight end record for most consecutive 100-yard receiving games. Graham has four in a row and leads his position in fantasy points by a margin that grows by the week. He may quietly be the league's most dominant pass catcher. ... Here are the target and snap counts for Saints wide receivers from Week 6: Colston 11 and 52, Lance Moore 3 and 40, Devery Henderson 2 and 29, and Robert Meachem 2 and 21. It's become a pick-your-poison kind of situation behind Colston.
Updated Saints red-zone touches (season totals): Mark Ingram 20, Darren Sproles 12, Pierre Thomas 7. ... Thomas is averaging 2.07 yards per carry in his last two games. If that continues, he'll eventually be weeded out of the offense in favor of Ingram. Thomas lost a fumble and didn't touch the football in the red zone last week, while previous surprise goal-line vulture Jed Collins didn't carry the ball at all. ... With Thomas struggling and touchdowns in three of his past four games, the winds may be blowing toward Ingram's breakout week. Indy's defense ranks 30th against the run and has allowed seven rushing scores through six games. Over the past three weeks, Chiefs, Bucs, and Bengals backs have racked up 428 yards and two touchdowns on 89 carries (4.81 YPC) against the Colts. This is a favorable matchup for Ingram, and the sudden retirement of C Olin Kreutz helps his cause. Kreutz was getting manhandled on the interior; it looked like he retired last offseason. I’m guessing he was playing at 245 pounds. ... The sample size is admittedly small, but Drew Brees has six TD passes, a 320-yard average, and 70.4 completion rate in two home games this season. Brees is a top-four fantasy quarterback on the year.
Curtis Painter is a sneaky desperation bye-week QB1. He has a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio through three starts, and the Colts' pass protection has improved since Peyton Manning began chipping in with playcalls. Painter has taken one sack in the last two games. The Saints' defense is generating an embarrassing lack of pressure despite blitzing on over 70% of plays, and last week didn't sack Josh Freeman once while serving up his season-best game. In a projected shootout against a defense that's yielded the NFL's most passing TDs, I'd feel good about Painter as a two-QB league starter at worst. ... This is also a good week to use Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon as WR3s. Wayne has the superior matchup against struggling RCB Tracy Porter. Garcon leads Indy in targets by a healthy margin since Painter took over. Here's the distribution from Painter so far: Garcon 27, Wayne 21, Dallas Clark 16, Austin Collie 15. ... Clark finally had a productive game in Week 6 (6-53-1), but may be kept in to block against Saints DC Gregg Williams' blitz-happy defense. Clark just isn't trustworthy. ... The Saints allow the third highest yards-per-carry average against (5.12 YPC) in football, which perhaps is a factor that could help jumpstart sluggish-moving Delone Carter. Carter received 14 touches in Week 6, compared to Donald Brown's seven. Brown scored an 18-yard touchdown and remains the better runner, but isn't getting the rock enough.
UPDATE: Addai made a borderline-shocking return to practice Friday, participating in full. The Indianapolis Star now expects Addai to play against the Saints, killing the fantasy appeal of both Carter and Brown. Addai also isn't a recommended option, despite the game's high-scoring projection. There's no way to tell Addai's game-day role, or whether he'll be effective coming off what was supposed to be a multi-week injury. He's only missed one game.
Score Prediction: Saints 35, Colts 23
Monday Night Football
Baltimore @ Jacksonville
"They are the best defense I've seen in years," ESPN's Ron Jaworski said of the Ravens this week. "This year, they've taken it to another level." Jaws went so far as to suggest that the 2011 Ravens defense has approached the level of 2000, when Baltimore won the Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback. The Ravens field a top-seven unit versus both the run and pass, presenting Week 7's biggest mismatch against Jacksonville's 32nd-ranked offense. Baltimore should control this game from start to finish, dominating time of possession and limiting the impact of all Jacksonville skill-position players. Maurice Jones-Drew is the only Jaguar worth a serious look, and even he's risky. MJD's passing-game contributions are way down this year, and the Ravens have already kept Arian Foster (15-49-0), Chris Johnson (24-53-0), Rashard Mendenhall (12-45-0), and Shonn Greene (10-23-0) all out of the end zone. If you're keeping score at home, those backs have a combined 2.79 yards-per-carry average against Baltimore.
This game has Week 7's lowest over-under at a paltry 39 points. If Baltimore's shutdown defense wasn't reason enough to sit your Jaguars, the low-scoring projection should be. ... Mike Thomas is the No. 41 fantasy receiver, struggling in his conversion from slot to featured wideout. Thomas' yards-per-catch average has dropped from 2010, he has one touchdown in five games, and his yardage has slipped in three straight weeks. ... Contending with Dallas Clark to be this year's top tight end bust, Marcedes Lewis figures to spend this game on the line blocking Terrell Suggs. Lewis is averaging 23.2 yards per game, hasn't scored yet this season, and has no chemistry with Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert targeted Lewis a team-high eight times in Week 6, but the duo hooked up just twice for 29 yards. ... The Jags brought back Mike Sims-Walker this week after he was cut by the Rams. Over the past two years, Sims-Walker has been exposed as a JAG ("Just a Guy"). He may replace Jason Hill as a starter, but won't save this putrid passing offense. ... Gabbert has done well to avoid turnovers for the most part, but the coaching staff has shown little confidence in him. They were still calling run plays down by two touchdowns against the Steelers last week.
The Jaguars opened the year defending the run well, but this is hardly an imposing matchup for Ray Rice. Over the past three weeks, Jacksonville has surrendered 439 yards and three rushing touchdowns on 97 carries (4.53 YPC). Even if the per-play average were still low, the Jaguars are falling behind early in games, letting opponents take the air out of the ball, and watching them rack up rushing attempts. Rice is the No. 4 overall back in fantasy points per game and an elite RB1. ... Anquan Boldin racked up season bests in receptions (8) and yards (132) last week and figures to give the Jags fits because he works the middle of the field, where Jacksonville's Cover 2 is most vulnerable. Boldin has continued to see significant playing time in the slot this season. ... The Jaguars are allowing an average of over 80 yards per game to tight ends, the most in football. If I'm picking between tight ends in this game, I'm going with Ed Dickson over Marcedes Lewis.
The Jags have a top-eight pass defense, allowing just 6.6 yards per pass attempt and the NFL's third fewest 20-plus yard completions among teams that have played six games. It's a scheme thing; the defense is designed to limit long passing plays. This all adds up to a poor matchup for one-trick pony deep threat Torrey Smith. While Smith is a full-time player and did earn himself some credibility with 84 yards in Week 6, keep in mind that he only saw five targets, catching three, and got 61% of the yardage on a 51-yard bomb against easily-beaten Texans CB Kareem Jackson. Smith isn't going to be a heavily targeted player in the Ravens' offense, so he'll require big plays to maintain respectable production. ... Joe Flacco has topped 225 passing yards in two games so far. While there are worse fantasy options out there, Flacco just doesn't offer a high ceiling on a weekly basis. Hopefully, you find a quarterback with more upside in Sunday's games.
Score Prediction: Ravens 24, Jaguars 10