Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
Passing-game production will be tough to come by for the Colts in this one. Jacksonville ranks eighth against the pass and has surrendered the NFL's second fewest 20-plus yard completions, preventing long bombs with a strict Cover-2 zone. The Jags have held Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, and Mark Sanchez all to 200 passing yards or fewer, and Curtis Painter is far worse than all of the above. Tanking over the past month, Painter has completed 71-of-127 passes (55.9%) for 603 yards (4.75 YPA) in his last four games, with a 1:5 TD-to-INT ratio and sixth turnover on a lost fumble. With a quarterback playing terribly in an unfavorable matchup, expectations have to be low for Indy's receivers. ... Jacob Tamme will replace Dallas Clark (leg) as the Colts' slot tight end for the foreseeable future, maybe the rest of the season. Tamme was targeted a team-high seven times in Week 9, although two of them came via Dan Orlovsky after Painter was benched in the fourth quarter. An ordinary talent whose 2010 numbers were inflated by Peyton Manning's extremely efficient aggressiveness, Tamme may post a decent game or two down the stretch, but will almost certainly be unreliable in a passing "attack" that doesn't generate enough yards and touchdowns to support a single stable fantasy receiver, let alone a newcomer.
Painter's updated target distribution among wide receivers this season: Pierre Garcon 53, Reggie Wayne 43, Austin Collie 30. ... Garcon is still the best fantasy bet of the bunch, but his stats have circled the drain along with Painter's over the past month, averaging 43 yards during that span without a touchdown. Garcon is quickly losing WR3 appeal. ... Wayne has been nearly as bad, failing to find pay dirt since the opener and averaging 46 yards in the last four games. In his contract year, Wayne is playing like he knows this lost season will be his last in Indianapolis. ... For the second straight game in Week 9, Joseph Addai (hamstring, knee) was active but did not play. The Colts have had a different player lead the team in rushing in each of the last three games, and none of them is Addai. Fantasy owners' best option is to simply look elsewhere. Not helping matters is the fact that the Jags' front seven is fresh off a bye after holding Arian Foster and Ray Rice to a combined 140 yards on 41 carries (3.41 YPC) in their previous two games.
Indianapolis is getting slaughtered by the pass, but not even the friendliest matchup possible can spark Jacksonville's passing "offense." Blaine Gabbert shouldn't be playing. In his last five starts, the top-ten pick has completed an unthinkably poor 62-of-146 throws (42.5%) for 716 yards (4.90 YPA) with four touchdowns and five turnovers. No Jaguar has exceeded 63 receiving yards since Week 5. Jason Hill is the definition of a tease, and Marcedes Lewis is just barely a top-40 tight end. Yes, top forty. He's 39th in scoring at the position. ... These are Mike Thomas' three career stat lines against the Colts: 3-63, 5-68-0, 2-20-1. Indianapolis' smallish defense matches up well with little slot receiver types. Thomas is 60th in fantasy scoring among wideouts, so move along. ... His legs fresh after a Week 8 bye, Maurice Jones-Drew remains the Jags' best option for ball movement. Jones-Drew has 12 touchdowns in 10 career matchups with the Colts. He's also averaging 5.16 yards per carry in those games, and Indy's run defense is as bad as it's ever been.
Score Prediction: Colts 16, Jaguars 10
Denver @ Kansas City
Tim Tebow has been a top-five fantasy quarterback in 2-of-3 starts and is averaging 20 standard league points per game. In Week 9, Tebow ranked third behind only Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers. Safe from an in-game benching after leading Denver to a 2-1 record thus far, Tebow will continue to be a high-upside QB1 at Arrowhead. If he holds this job for the season's duration, I'd be willing to guarantee Tebow will be a top-ten quarterback the rest of the way. This is a particularly favorable matchup for Tebow because the Chiefs rank dead last in the NFL in sacks. ... Maybe just to keep the Raiders guessing, the Broncos didn't come out running a read-option offense in Week 9. Tebow took seven of his first 13 snaps from center, and save for two early QB keepers, it wasn't until the second half that the Urban Meyer-like spread morphed into Denver's base attack. In the final two quarters, the Broncos ran 19 plays out of the shotgun compared to nine from center. All told, they racked up 316 yards and three touchdowns on 39 offensive snaps from the 'gun (8.18-yard average) compared to 90 yards and one TD on 19 pro-style plays (4.74 average). Perhaps the read-option is a Wildcat-like fad to which NFL teams will eventually catch up, but for now it's a big-play creating force. Healthy again, feature back Willis McGahee scored a 60-yard touchdown on a third-quarter option run and is a fantasy must-start. In Week 10, he'll take on a Kansas City defense that ranks 19th versus the run and allowed 142 total yards to Reggie Bush last week.
The plight of Denver pass catchers is much different. The Broncos finished Week 9 with a 38:21 run-to-pass ratio, and Tebow has yet to exceed 172 passing yards through three starts. Eric Decker once again appears to be Denver's best bet for targets, but he's proven to be a weekly roll of the dice. Tebow doesn't play favorites in the pass game and is an incredibly inefficient passer, leaving little volume to go around. ... Here is Tebow's target distribution on the season: Decker 22, Eddie Royal 22, Demaryius Thomas 15, Knowshon Moreno 9, Daniel Fells and Matt Willis 7. ... The Broncos' preferred change-of-pace back behind McGahee is Lance Ball, leaving Moreno with a third-down only role. Moreno played 16 snaps in Week 9, while Ball had 13 and McGahee 39.
Some observers may have earmarked Matt Cassel for a Weeks 9 through 11 hot run with three straight matchups against bottom-ten pass defenses, but he couldn't have started it more slowly than last week's miserable effort against Miami. Cassel rarely kept his feet in Week 9, taking five sacks and nine hits while failing to lead a touchdown drive. Cassel's pass protection has been up and down this season, and he just isn't a good quarterback. In his last three games, Cassel is 54-of-101 (53.5%) for 675 yards (6.68 YPA), one touchdown, and five turnovers. After Elvis Dumervil got off the snide with two sacks of Carson Palmer last week, I'd worry that Cassel will again be under heavy duress. He's just a QB2. ... In his last three meetings with Dwayne Bowe, Bailey has held Kansas City's No. 1 receiver to lines of 0-0, 1-6, and 13-186-2. The outlier occurred when Denver built a 35-0 second-quarter lead in Week 10 of last season, and a playing-hurt Bailey gave Bowe all kinds of cushion. Denver won the game 49-29. Bowe has been too productive in his contract year to bench, but owners need to be aware of Bailey's capability of shutting him down.
The possibility of Jonathan Baldwin and Steve Breaston swapping big games back and forth was mentioned in this space last week. In Week 9, it was Breaston on top (7-115) with Baldwin (1-12) taking a backseat. The week before, Baldwin led the Chiefs with five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown; Breaston managed 42 yards on three scoreless grabs. Breaston is the safer fantasy bet in that he plays more snaps (75-of-84 in Week 9). Baldwin is a part-time player (38 snaps), but has more talent. While both have favorable Week 10 matchups with Bailey likely to shadow Bowe, neither Breaston nor Baldwin should be counted on for consistency. ... Jackie Battle's Week 9 numbers were down because K.C. fell behind 14-3 at the half and was forced into pass-heavy comeback mode. More alarming is Battle's weekly yards-per-carry decline. His YPC average has dipped in four straight games, bottoming out at 2.86 against the Dolphins. Battle maintains low-end RB2/flex appeal for a Week 10 game in which his workload figures to increase, but it's worth remembering that he hasn't been a feature back since college. His body isn't used to this many carries.
Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Chiefs 21
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
Camp darling Antonio Brown failed to score or clear 70 yards in each of the first six games, but he's maximizing his opportunity at a larger role. Whereas Brown played 46.7% of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps in the first month and a half, his snap rate has jumped to 59.8% in the last three games with Hines Ward (ankle/concussion) and Emmanuel Sanders (personal/knee) in and out of the lineup. Brown leads the team in targets during that span with 35 -- the next closest Steeler is Mike Wallace with 27 -- and only Wallace, Vincent Jackson, and Calvin Johnson have scored more fantasy points among wideouts over the last three weeks. Brown is the real deal, and his role will only expand with Sanders rehabbing from in-season knee surgery. ... While Brown has added a new dimension to Pittsburgh's offense, Wallace has a more favorable Week 10 matchup. Brown plays split end in most personnel groupings, lining up to the offense's left side. He'll square off with Bengals top cornerback Leon Hall for the majority of this game, leaving 32-year-old Nate Clements on Wallace. "60 Minutes" will have a clear upperhand when the two go mano-a-mano.
Ward is catch-less since Week 7 with five targets in the last three games. Injuries have plenty to do with it, but he's not a fantasy option. ... Since Week 3, the Bengals have held opposing tight ends to an average of four catches for 40 yards per game, with Dallas Clark scoring the lone touchdown in Week 6 garbage time. Heath Miller is running more pass routes, but this is a tough matchup. ... With no teams on a bye, Ben Roethlisberger is more of a high-end QB2 facing Cincinnati's top-ten pass defense. Bengals DC Mike Zimmer has had Roethlisberger's number recently, holding him to a combined 3:3 TD-to-INT ratio in their last five meetings on 97-of-161 passing (60.2%) for 1,112 yards (6.91 YPA). It's a pedestrian 222.4-yard average. ... With the Steelers leaning on a pass-heavy, spread-type offense that has been much discussed previously in this space, Rashard Mendenhall has three straight games of 16 touches or fewer. While Mendenhall has continued to play well on decreased opportunities, he is an RB2 only at the moment. He's not getting the rock enough, and the Bengals rank first in the AFC in run defense.
The Steelers' 2011 run defense hasn't been the shutdown unit of seasons past, but it's creeping back up the NFL rankings since five-time Pro Bowl NT Casey Hampton returned from a shoulder injury. Whereas Pittsburgh's defense allowed 272 yards and two touchdowns on 67 carries (4.06 YPC) without Hampton in Weeks 5-7, opposing rushers' stats have plummeted to 110 yards and one score on 39 carries (2.81 average) with Hampton in the lineup for Weeks 8-9. The Steelers now rank sixth in the league against the run. Cedric Benson resumed his normal workload coming off suspension last week, seeing 20 carries to change-of-pace back Bernard Scott's six, but this will be a difficult matchup for Cincinnati's feature runner. Benson has averaged 3.13 yards a carry in his last three games, and his downhill, straight-ahead style has never given the Steelers much trouble. Benson has faced Pittsburgh six times in his career, all as a Bengal over the last three seasons. In those games, Benson has never topped 76 rushing yards, managing 258 combined on 79 carries (3.26 YPC). In other words, this is a good week to sit Cedric Benson. ... Jermaine Gresham will apparently return from his hamstring injury in Week 10, but he could easily get stuck as an in-line blocker against James Harrison. Gresham is on pace for under 500 receiving yards.
With Pittsburgh's run defense stiffening and the pass defense playing at an elite level, the Bengals may struggle for ball movement on Sunday. Andy Dalton has proven a pro-ready game manager and Cincinnati is 6-2, but the stats should be kept in perspective. The Bengals' wins have come against teams with a combined 16-33 record (.326), and Dalton has faced just two top-14 pass defenses. The Steelers' defense is easily the best he'll see all season. ... I'll be interested to see whether A.J. Green gets the Ike Taylor treatment this week, and I wouldn't consider it a given because Green is a rookie and Jerome Simpson isn't a slouch. Green's position in the base offense is flanker (RWR); Taylor is an RCB in the base defense. If the Steelers play sides, Green will avoid Taylor's coverage on the heavy majority of snaps. Green is the No. 7 fantasy receiver, so I'd want him in my fantasy lineup every week. ... If anything, the threat of Taylor staying at right corner makes Simpson more risky. I'd look elsewhere for my Week 10 WR3. ... William Gay is the Steelers' weakest defensive back in coverage and plays in the slot when opponents go three-wide. Bengals slot man Andre Caldwell is a worthwhile deep sleeper. Caldwell played 51-of-77 snaps in Week 9 (66.2%) and ranked second on the team with nine targets. With Gresham likely to block more often than not, Caldwell should be open and Dalton's go-to guy over the middle.
Score Prediction: Steelers 17, Bengals 16
4:05PM ET Game
Baltimore @ Seattle
In a clash of two juggernaut run defenses, the Ravens hold a clear edge because they generate better ball movement than Seattle via the air. Since a painfully slow start, Joe Flacco has a 60.2% completion rate in his last two games and 300-plus yards in each. Flacco isn't a fantasy starter, but his improvement -- even if only incremental -- bodes well for surrounding skill players. ... In terms of pass defense rankings, the Seahawks are in the bottom ten in completion rate and QB rating allowed, and they rank 29th in sacks. Flacco should have time to throw, and Anquan Boldin has a commanding lead among Ravens receivers in targets; his 73 are 19 more than second-place Ed Dickson's. Still looking fresh since Baltimore's Week 5 bye, Boldin is averaging 6.5 catches for over 101 yards in his last four games. Be wary of Boldin slowing down during the stretch run like last year, but he is an every-week WR2 until the slippage begins with added value in PPR leagues. ... I really want to like Torrey Smith. He gets open with more consistency than any other Baltimore wideout and has been a few dropped passes away from back-to-back 100-yard games. Smith may take a playing-time hit when Lee Evans (ankle) returns, but he can have a big day against Seattle's stiff-hipped secondary if he holds onto the ball. Smith separates with ease.
As alluded to above, Dickson is getting a fair amount of looks but isn't capitalizing. He hasn't scored since Week 1 and is averaging 9.2 yards per catch. Seattle has allowed an average of 65 yards to tight ends over the past month, but Dickson simply hasn't been good enough for serious fantasy consideration. ... Seattle's typically run-tough defense sprung a Week 9 leak, getting gashed by Dallas rushers for 163 yards on 29 attempts (5.62 YPC) while giving up another 47 receiving yards to DeMarco Murray. Even with a difficult matchup, Ray Rice is a top-ten fantasy running back. The Ravens should be in scoring position enough for Rice to get ample red-zone opportunities, and he's been too hot for even the NFL's best run defenses to handle in the pass game. Among tailbacks, only Darren Sproles and Matt Forte have more receiving yards this year.
Tarvaris Jackson was the worst quarterback in the league last week, completing 17-of-30 passes for 221 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions. Coach Pete Carroll has acknowledged that T-Jack's right (throwing) pectoral strain still isn't healed, and it's hard to imagine using him even in a two-QB league against Baltimore's top-five pass defense. ... The Ravens have limited opposing No. 1 receivers to an average of under three catches for 58 yards and one score over the last three games during a stretch that included Mike Wallace and Larry Fitzgerald. It's not promising news for Sidney Rice. ... In Jackson's last three full games played, slot receiver Doug Baldwin has a combined 11 catches for 142 yards and no touchdowns. It'a scoreless average of 35.5 yards on four catches. ... As expected, Big Mike Williams' (3-41) return to the lineup in Week 9 rendered Ben Obomanu (2-6) fantasy obsolete. Obomanu actually got the start, but the two shared time evenly. Williams played 30 snaps; Obomanu 29. It might be the least attractive fantasy situation going. ... I'd say there's about a 98% chance that Marshawn Lynch's 23-135-1 line from Week 9 proves a fantasy tease. The Cowboys' run defense was an absolute sieve without ILB Sean Lee, and Lynch entered the game having exceeded 33 rushing yards just twice in his previous six 2011 appearances. The Ravens have the NFL's third-ranked run defense, permitting 3.35 yards a carry.
Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Seahawks 13