4:15PM ET Games
Detroit @ Chicago
The Week 9 bye couldn't have come at a better time for Matthew Stafford, who was nursing knee and ankle injuries before the off week. He's back to 100 percent now. Stafford touched up these same Bears for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-26 passing (73.1%) in Week 5, seeing a reduction in attempts because Jahvid Best (12-163-1) ran wild on Chicago. Best, of course, won't play this time around, and Stafford's passing volume is certain to rise. The No. 6 overall fantasy quarterback through nine weeks, Stafford is a locked-and-loaded every-week starter. ... In his last six meetings with the Bears, Calvin Johnson has tortured Lovie Smith's Cover-2 defense for 554 yards and four touchdowns on 34 catches, good for a six-catch, 92.3-yard average. ... Brent Celek became the latest tight end to bust Chicago's zone in Week 9, securing an Eagles-high seven catches for 60 yards. Jermichael Finley (7-85-3), Greg Olsen (5-50-1), Brandon Pettigrew (4-39-1), Jimmy Graham (6-79), and Tony Gonzalez (5-72) are the others. The Bears allow more fantasy points to tight ends than any team in football. Pettigrew is a recommended Week 10 play.
Until we see substantive production from the Nate Burleson-Titus Young-Tony Scheffler group, it's going to be hard to believe in any of the three. In the Lions' last game, Scheffler and Young both scored touchdowns, Young's on terribly blown coverage by the Broncos. Scheffler had two catches for 15 scoreless yards the week before, while Young didn't catch a pass and played only 14 offensive snaps. Burleson gets the most playing time of the bunch, but is averaging 15.3 yards per game since Week 2. Someone needs to permanently emerge here in order to become useful, and I'm not sure anyone will. ... The Bears' defense is serving up 5.21 yards per carry on the season, so this would theoretically be a favorable matchup for Lions backs. Here is Detroit's backfield breakdown in touches and yards since Best went down two games ago: Maurice Morris 25-128, Keiland Williams 21-77. Kevin Smith has now been added back into the mix. Morris did score on a goal-line carry before the bye and would be a fantasy owner's best bet, but he's an extremely low-end flex option. Williams and Smith are of zero use in fantasy leagues for Week 10.
NFL teams are 9-3 coming off bye weeks over the past month, while clubs playing after Monday Night Football are 4-6. While the Bears have seemingly turned around their season with three straight victories, this is another awfully tough matchup for Jay Cutler and the passing game. Fresh after the off week, the Lions rank fourth in sacks and sixth in overall pass defense. Tread very lightly when considering starting Cutler in a fantasy league, and his outside receivers (Roy Williams, Devin Hester) remain non-factors. ... Bears slot receiver Earl Bennett had a nice night against Philadelphia in Week 9, but the last time Bennett cleared 90 receiving yards he regressed to 3-53-0, 3-37-0, 1-14-0 lines in his next three games. Bennett is worth PPR consideration, but he's not going to be a fantasy difference maker. ... The Bears would still be far better off attacking the Lions with the run, keeping Stafford and Megatron off the field and targeting the leakiest part of Detroit's defense with Chicago's best player. The Lions rank 28th against the run and are giving up 5.24 yards per rushing attempt. In seven career meetings with the Bears, Matt Forte has six touchdowns and is averaging 129.7 total yards per game. ... Marion Barber can't be trusted for consistent workloads or yardage, but he's at least worth rostering in touchdown-heavy leagues and as a Forte handcuff. Barber has found pay dirt in four of his five appearances this season.
Score Prediction: Lions 21, Bears 20
NY Giants @ San Francisco
Opposing feature backs' stat lines against San Francisco this season: LeSean McCoy 9-18-0, Jahvid Best 12-37-0, LeGarrette Blount 10-34-0, Cedric Benson 17-64-0, Felix Jones 9-25-0, Marshawn Lynch 13-33-0, Roy Helu 10-41-0, Chris Ogbonnaya 11-37-0. Combined, they have a 3.18 YPC average. The 49ers are the lone team left that has yet to allow a rushing score. In other words, Ahmad Bradshaw's (foot) continued inactivity doesn't do much for Brandon Jacobs' fantasy appeal. The Giants will absolutely have to throw to move the chains. ... The Niners aren't nearly as bad in pass defense as their No. 22 ranking suggests, but this game sets up well for Eli Manning to rack up attempts. In his last seven games, Eli has completed 158-of-248 passes (63.7%) for 2,023 yards (8.16 YPA), 15 TDs, and five picks. He's locked in as a QB1. ... When the 49ers line up to adjust for three-receiver sets, LCB Carlos Rogers kicks to the slot with Tarell Brown staying at right cornerback and rookie Chris Culliver on the left. Rogers is playing like a legit shutdown corner in a contract season, and he's going to square off early and often with Victor Cruz. I've always been a big Cruz fan and own him in a Dynasty league, but I would not start him this week.
Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) is expected to start and will be in Brown's coverage for most of this game. Brown has been the 49ers' weakest cover man, so get Nicks into your lineup. ... Just like last season, Mario Manningham is poised for a fast finish. He'll match up with the rookie Culliver and is a rock-solid WR2. ... In their last six games, the 49ers have held starting tight ends to just one touchdown and a 42.5-yard weekly average. With no teams on a Week 10 bye, burly Giants starter Jake Ballard will safely resume TE2 status. He may have to block Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Aldon Smith for much of Sunday. Smith has 6.5 sacks over his last five games.
In LE Justin Tuck's four games played this season, the G-Men have allowed opposing tailbacks to rush for 389 yards and two scores on 91 carries (4.27 YPC). In four games without Tuck, running backs have 94 attempts for 472 yards (5.02 average) and six rushing touchdowns. This matchup isn't quite as favorable for Frank Gore as New York's No. 25 run-defense ranking indicates, but it isn't prohibitive, either. ... The Giants have been far tougher in pass than run defense all year, racking up a league-high 28 sacks and allowing only nine passing touchdowns while intercepting ten throws. The Niners had better hope they don't have to throw much on Sunday, something coach Jim Harbaugh has been averse to anyway because his quarterback is Alex Smith. This is a difficult matchup for Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards, and Smith is no better than a low-end QB2. ... Because of the Giants' NFL-best pass rush, I'd be concerned that Vernon Davis could get stuck on the line blocking in this game. Glass-half full fantasy owners can note that the Giants gave up 12 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns to Patriots tight ends last week.
Score Prediction: Giants 20, 49ers 14
Sunday Night Football
New England @ NY Jets
Patriots-Jets games are always difficult to predict because the teams specifically game plan for each other. It's not a situation where Bill Belichick or Rex Ryan approaches the matchup thinking, "We're going to do what we do, and see if they can stop us." Each side caters its personnel groupings and playcalls to attack areas it deems the opponent's weakness. Believe it or not, this is rare around the stubborn, old-school NFL. When the Jets and Pats play, you never know what you're going to get. ... Of course, all we have to work with is historical data. We know that New England has held Santonio Holmes to a combined seven catches for 80 yards in their last two meetings, though Holmes has a touchdown in both. I'd still want to start Holmes because the Pats' pass defense stinks. ... One thing we can count on is the Jets at least making an attempt at a run-heavy approach. Shonn Greene had a 41-yard gain called back by penalty in Week 9 that otherwise would've turned his 19-76 line into a much more impressive 20-117 day. Greene is a low-end RB2 and offers little week-to-week upside, but he is not a bad fantasy start because he's going to get the rock a lot, and New England plays mediocre run defense.
Joe McKnight had nine Week 9 carries, but generated only 27 yards (3.0 YPC) and got just three of them when the game was still in doubt. The Jets beat the Bills 27-11. McKnight has a toe injury this week, and his offensive role is guaranteed to decrease, if he even plays at all. ... Plaxico Burress had three catches for 42 scoreless yards in the Jets' Week 5 loss to New England. Plax has looked better recently, but I'd want to see more than two decent games from a 34-year-old receiver with chronic back problems before plugging him into my fantasy lineup. I'm not a Burress believer. ... Mark Sanchez has either been really bad or really good in each of his five career games against New England. He has a three-interception game, a four-INT game, and three pick-less games against the Pats, in the latter combining for six touchdown passes. My bet is always going to be on Sanchez playing poorly rather than well. That may sound simplistic, but the bottom line is that I wouldn't get cute trying to use Sanchez in a standard fantasy league. He's a QB2.
In the Jets' last game against Tom Brady, they dropped seven or eight defenders into coverage on virtually every snap. Brady threw 33 times -- his second lowest attempt total of the season -- while BenJarvus Green-Ellis capitalized on the soft fronts for season highs in carries (27), rushing yards (136), YPC average (5.0), and touchdowns (2). Brady still had 321 yards and a TD, though, and in his last five meetings with Ryan's defense has completed 122-of-184 passes (66.3%) for 1,504 yards (8.17 YPA), 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions. It's a 300.8-yard average. Chris Wesseling and Gregg Rosenthal rank Brady as a top-five quarterback this week for good reason. ... An ESPN report this week suggested that Darrelle Revis will shadow Wes Welker into the slot Sunday, though we've heard that before and it hasn't happened. Seeing is believing at this point. These are Welker's last four lines against the Jets with Ryan as head coach: 5-124, 7-80-1, 6-38-1, 15-192. Start 'em. ... The Patriots pass catcher to be most concerned with in this matchup is Rob Gronkowski. Gronk has not found pay dirt or exceeded 65 yards in four career games against New York, including playoffs. Gronkowski should be near the bottom of this week's TE1 rankings.
Aaron Hernandez, on the other hand, has given the Jets more fits. He's averaging five catches for nearly 70 yards in three regular season contests against New York and will be a better bet for production than Gronkowski this week. ... Deion Branch is struggling mightily to create separation, which perhaps should be expected from a 32-year-old receiver eight games into the NFL season. His yardage total has dropped in each game over the past month and Branch should be benched until he picks it back up. ... Kevin Faulk is tentatively expected back from his lingering knee injury this week, but it's not a sure thing and he won't be a fantasy option. ... Danny Woodhead has no fantasy relevance when Faulk is in the lineup. Woodhead is waiver material. ... Rookie Stevan Ridley's sleeper status is in the gutter with Green-Ellis healthy and a sharp drop in weekly snaps over New England's last four games. ... Green-Ellis is touchdown-less since the aforementioned Jets game, but remains the best bet for carries and goal-line scores in the Patriots' backfield. "Law Firm" is just a flex option, however, with the Jets' run defense stiffening in recent games.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 20
Monday Night Football
Minnesota @ Green Bay
Adrian Peterson's value has actually risen during the season, which is a rare but welcomed development. Not only has Christian Ponder sparked the Vikings' offense by increasing chain movement and sustaining drives, Peterson is benefiting from expanded usage in the passing game. Peterson capitalized on more targets in Week 8 by hauling in a season-high five receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown at Carolina. The passing plays put him in space, where Peterson's open-field running ability can be put to greater use. On Monday night, it helps Peterson's fantasy matchup that the Packers have struggled all year with backs that catch passes. They've yielded 472 yards on 50 catches to running backs through eight games, good for a five-catch, nearly 60-yard weekly average. ... Percy Harvin had a slow first half of the season, playing limited snaps that were further curbed by a rib injury. Harvin is back to 100 percent after Minnesota's Week 9 bye, and coach Leslie Frazier has pledged to increase his playing time. Harvin can be a legitimate threat for 10 touches per game the rest of the way. If you didn't pick up Denarius Moore or trade for Dez Bryant this week, Harvin is an excellent value target for the fantasy stretch run.
A stiff, straight-line wide receiver, Michael Jenkins has topped 45 yards in just 2-of-8 games this season. For a player with such a limited talent level, we need to see sustained production before even considering betting on him in a fantasy league. Usually, the consistency never comes. ... Ponder's target distribution since replacing Donovan McNabb: Jenkins 14, Visanthe Shiancoe 13, Devin Aromashodu 13, Harvin 10. With Harvin now healthy, the rest of the Vikings' pass catchers should be considered hands-off fantasy commodities. ... Ponder has decent two-quarterback league potential because he's entrenched as the starter the rest of the way, is athletic enough to bolster his fantasy value with rushing stats, and now has his top receiver back at 100%. Green Bay's defense has been big on creating turnovers this season, but is allowing lots of yardage and touchdowns.
Unless they dial up a season-best game with the pass rush, the Vikings simply aren't equipped to slow Green Bay's roll. Minnesota doesn't match up well in this game. The Vikes can stop the run (No. 5 ranking) but not the pass (No. 30), and even the most casual observer is aware that Green Bay's greatest strength is the passing game. Aaron Rodgers has a 23:3 TD-to-INT ratio in his last six home games, including two rushing scores. ... The Vikings are expected to get back Antoine Winfield from a neck injury on Monday night, but they typically use him to cover the slot when opponents go three-wide. Burnable Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen play outside cornerback in the nickel. Split end Greg Jennings notoriously abuses Griffin, racking up lines of 7-147-1, 7-152-3, 6-74-1, and 8-88-1 in his last four meetings with Minnesota. ... While Jennings is the No. 6 wideout in fantasy points per game, flanker Jordy Nelson ranks No. 11 despite seeing just over five targets a week. Atoning with playmaking ability, Nelson is averaging a career-high 19.7 yards per reception and is on pace for ten touchdowns.
Coming out of their Week 8 bye, the Packers made a concerted effort to get Jermichael Finley more involved. Rodgers threw Finley's way on three of his first six pass attempts at San Diego, and Finley ultimately capitalized with five catches, 44 yards, and a touchdown. Finley has scored in each of his last two meetings with the Vikings and is the best second-half tight end trade target in fantasy football. ... James Jones has been targeted six times in the Packers' last three games. He has caught all six, but the efficiency is likely to decrease and his week-to-week role isn't significant enough for fantasy reliability. ... Green Bay did emerge from its bye giving James Starks 14 touches compared to Ryan Grant's four, but the Packers are continuing to use the run game on change-of-pace plays only. Neither Starks nor Grant is likely to have per-play success against a Vikings defense that ranks fifth in the league against the run and is permitting just 3.81 YPC. Starks is a very low-end flex option and Grant won't be usable barring a Starks injury.
Score Prediction: Packers 29, Vikings 20