4:25PM ET Games
NY Giants @ San Francisco
Last week, three games had over-unders in excess of 50 points. This time around, not a single game has a plus-50 over-under and Giants-Niners is a kind of microcosm of the week. I like both of these offenses, but I don't necessarily love the way they match up with the opposing defense and would lean toward projecting a low-scoring outcome. These teams played twice last year to final scores of 20-17 and 27-20. So, not quite scoring bonanzas. I'd probably bench any borderline starters -- Domenik Hixon, Rueben Randle, Mario Manningham -- and move forward only with the studs. ... Vernon Davis comes to mind as a locked-in stud with big-game potential. The Giants are in rough shape at safety, where Kenny Phillips (MCL sprain) will miss his second straight game and Antrel Rolle is dealing with a lingering patella injury. In January's playoffs, Davis exploded on the G-Men for 112 yards and two TDs. New York's defense is more poorly equipped to handle him now. ... The Giants were much tougher on Michael Crabtree in that aforementioned game, holding him to one catch for three yards. In last year's 49ers-Giants regular season matchup, the G-Men held Crabtree to one catch for 21 yards. Despite last week's good-looking box score, I don't think much of Crabtree as a fantasy player and would have no problem benching him this week.
Frank Gore continues to be a recommended sell-high, but use him if you've got him. The 49ers are in no rush to install short-yardage vulture Brandon Jacobs as a game-day contributor; he was a healthy scratch in Week 5. Coming off a 14-106-1 line against the Bills, Gore gets another favorable matchup against a New York defense that continues to be vulnerable versus the run. The 16th-ranked unit has been touched up for an average of 4.53 yards per rushing attempt and may not get better until DT Chris Canty (knee) comes off PUP. Get Gore rolling. ... Alex Smith is a two-quarterback league option, but nothing more. Don't go chasing last week's fluky stats against the Bills. ... Colin Kaepernick played a significant role again in Week 5, handling the ball five times and generating 46 yards and a touchdown. Pro Football Focus charted Kaepernick with a career-high 20 snaps last week. While not a realistic standalone fantasy option at this point, Kaepernick's skill set and small-sample productivity hint at big upside were he to ever replace Smith.
The one Giant who stands out as having a noticeably strong matchup based on last year's two meetings with the Niners is Victor Cruz. Matching up with slot CB Carlos Rogers, Cruz torched San Francisco for 16 catches and 226 yards combined. ... Martellus Bennett had the look of an early-season tight end difference maker, but his fantasy stock may be circling the drain. Bennett hyperextended his left knee in Week 5 against the Browns and returned to the game as an in-line blocker for Ahmad Bradshaw. On Wednesday, Bennett acknowledged that he "messed some sh-t up" in the knee, which sounds like something that threatens seriously to affect his on-field performance, particularly in the passing game. Bennett needs to be on fantasy benches until we see his box-score production pick back up. And we may wait awhile. ... Hakeem Nicks (knee, foot) is shaping up as a full-blown game-time decision. The last time we questioned whether he could produce on the rebound from an injury, though, Nicks dog-walked Aqib Talib for 199 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions in Week 2. Nicks is worth the wait on Sunday if you secure a viable late-game fallback like Hixon. I also think Nicks' return would make life easier on Cruz in the slot.
Friday Update: Nicks participated in a limited practice for the second consecutive day Friday. While he's "questionable" on the injury report, that may only be a precautionary listing. Nicks expressed confidence that he'll play against the Niners, and the signs all look good. Roster Hixon or perhaps Manningham as a safety valve if one of them is available on the waiver wire, but for now I'd expect Nicks to play. Bennett, by the way, is listed as probable and will definitely be in the starting lineup against San Francisco.
Whereas the Giants' run game is likely to struggle in Week 6 no matter what happened last Sunday against the Browns, I think Eli Manning can have success throwing the football on the Niners. San Francisco ranks second in the league in pass defense, but its pass rushers aren't getting home. Vic Fangio's defense has generated just nine sacks through five games, and the Giants' O-Line has allowed one sack of Eli since the opener. Manning topped 300 yards in both of last year's Giants-49ers games, also throwing four touchdown passes. ... Bradshaw deserves credit for running hard and smart in last week's drubbing of Cleveland en route to career highs in carries, touches, and yards. Considering Bradshaw's history of foot injuries, though, I think it's fair to question whether he'll bounce back with the same kind of effectiveness. Bradshaw was also a product of his situation to a large extent. The Browns lost MLB D'Qwell Jackson (concussion) and NT Ahtyba Rubin (leg) to injuries over the course of the game. With Andre Brown (concussion) out again, Giants coaches spoke this week of increasing David Wilson's role. Although Wilson's workload seems likely to stay in the single-digits, he may give the G-Men their best chance to formulate a rushing attack against San Francisco's immovable front with superior speed and elusiveness. Try to sell Bradshaw high before Sunday's game, and view him as a flex only if you can't swing a deal.
Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Giants 17
Minnesota @ Washington
Offenses generally operate at peak efficiency when they're not disrupted by defenses. And since losing OLB Brian Orakpo to a Week 2 pectoral tear, the Redskins have shown little capability of hindering enemy offenses. Washington has surrendered 84 points over its last three games, as Bengals, Bucs, and Falcons passers have combined to complete 78-of-119 (65.5 percent) throws for 1,045 yards (8.78 YPA), and a 7:3 TD-to-INT ratio against the Redskins. Beyond Matt Ryan, that's not quite an All-Pro quarterback cast. Christian Ponder has earned elite QB2 status, and is worth a look for QB1 streamers due to his favorable matchup. The Vikings will move the ball via the air in this game. ... The Skins are using seventh-round rookie Richard Crawford at slot corner, where he was victimized by Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins for a 59-yard touchdown in Week 3 but hasn't faced much in the way of dynamic slot receivers in the last two weeks. That will change Sunday when Crawford squares off with Percy Harvin, who is the best slot receiver in football. Over his last 16 games dating back to last season, Harvin has 1,191 yards and seven touchdowns on 107 receptions. He's rushed 52 times for 254 yards (4.88 YPC) and three more scores, plus an 11th TD on a kickoff return. Not including returns, it's an average of over 90 total yards per game.
There's no great explanation for Adrian Peterson's four-game scoring drought. Just to be sure, I used Tuesday night to go back and watch all of 17 his Week 5 runs, and came away impressed by Peterson's explosive lateral movements and physical pushing of the pile. Harvin did "vulture" an early rushing touchdown, taking a zone-read handoff from Ponder and diving in for the first-quarter score. But that's not a sign of things to come, and I wouldn't be surprised if Peterson led the NFL in rushing TDs over the final 12 games. Start Peterson if you've got him, and trade for him before kickoff if you don't. He's never been so available. ... Jerome Simpson was a hot waiver wire claim a few weeks back, but he's experiencing weakness in his lower leg brought on by a back injury. Coming off a catch-less game, Simpson won't be a fantasy option for the foreseeable future. Look for Simpson in a decoy role. ... Red-zone touchdowns have kept Kyle Rudolph's fantasy value afloat, but he's only on pace for 61 catches and 541 yards. Expect Rudolph's production between the 20s to pick up moving forward, as the Vikings have used John Carlson and Rhett Ellison on the line more to free up Rudolph for increased pass catching. The Redskins have also been generous to tight ends. Only the Titans have allowed more catches and touchdowns to opposing TEs through five games.
Despite his questionable tag, Robert Griffin III (concussion) is fully expected to play against the Vikings. Due to this game's late start, RG3 owners would be savvy to secure another 4PM-or-after fantasy QB2. Ponder and Kevin Kolb come to mind. ... Just keep in mind this is no cakewalk matchup for Griffin and his receivers. Minnesota fielded one of the NFL's poorest pass defenses in 2011, but Leslie Frazier has turned the group around. Rejuvenated by the return of RCB Chris Cook, healthy slot CB Antoine Winfield, and addition of promising nickel LCB Josh Robinson, the Vikings rank a formidable 15th versus the pass and have always put heat on the quarterback. Top to bottom, Minnesota has a top-ten defense. ... I'd be less concerned with Alfred Morris' matchup than Griffin's, though. Washington's zone-blocking scheme is matchup proof when it's clicking, and it's clicking. I recall some fantasy-land concern about Morris entering Week 4 against the Bucs, when Tampa Bay was ranked first in the league in run defense. Morris shredded them for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (5.38 YPC). Morris is a confident RB2 play in Week 6.
Pierre Garcon is clearly still working his way back from an early-season foot sprain, and it's fair to wonder if he should be playing at all. "He's battling it," OC Kyle Shanahan admitted this week. "It hurts him to run." Garcon was targeted seven times in Week 5, but dropped two and generated just 24 yards. Garcon is to the point where we need to see him produce before recommending starting him. He's just not playing well enough right now. ... Leonard Hankerson was surprisingly demoted out of the Week 5 starting lineup and played single-digit snaps against the Falcons. Hankerson can be dropped in fantasy leagues. ... Josh Morgan got the nod in place of Hankerson and caught one ball for four yards. The Skins value blocking ability above all else at the wideout position opposite Garcon, and that doesn't help much in fantasy. ... After his Week 5 77-yard touchdown catch, which came on a busted coverage, the Redskins spoke this week of increasing Santana Moss' role. If inserted into the starting lineup in place of Morgan, Moss could certainly bring more playmaking ability to the table. There are no indications that will happen, though. ... Fred Davis isn't a legit fantasy starter, but he's worth a look as bye-week filler. The Redskins lack clarity in the receiver corps, and tight ends can be Cover-2 beaters. Frazier runs a lot of Cover 2.
Friday Update: Garcon was a late addition to Friday's injury report and is now listed as questionable for Week 6. The D.C. beat writers seem to expect Garcon to play, but it's no sure thing and he may not be anywhere close to 100 percent even if he's active. Redskins receivers are shaping up as a corps to avoid in fantasy lineup decisions this week. If Garcon didn't play, the Skins could turn to Hankerson or perhaps back to Aldrick Robinson.
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Redskins 20
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ Houston
Due to the reduced role of Andre Johnson -- we'll get there in a minute -- I think it's fair to suggest Owen Daniels has emerged as the No. 1 pass option in Houston's offense. The stats are certainly in Daniels' favor. He leads the Texans in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving TDs. Tight ends have given Green Bay fits due to shaky safety play and CB/FS Charles Woodson's fading cover skills. I like Daniels to stay hot in this matchup. ... Johnson's targets and production are down this season, but so are his snaps. It's almost as if the Texans are trying to "save" him after Johnson missed 12 games over the previous two seasons. Ordinarily about a 98-percent player, Johnson is down to 79 percent this year. All of this will likely be water under the bridge when the Texans get into a shootout, of course. They haven't played a team with a winning record yet. The Packers will be able to put points on the Brian Cushing-less Texans, and Houston will have to respond by throwing the ball. Look for a rebound week from Johnson. ... Matt Schaub's target distribution on the season: Daniels 33, Johnson 30, Kevin Walter 21, James Casey 19, Arian Foster 17, Keshawn Martin 10. ... Casey is making a run at Walter to be the Texans' third pass option. The Houston pass catchers behind Daniels and Johnson remain hands-off in fantasy.
The Packers have played better run defense than their No. 17 ranking indicates, but Foster is matchup-proof when he leads the NFL in touches with no slowdown in sight. Keeping pace with his draft status as the No. 1 pick in most leagues, Foster ranks No. 1 in running back scoring. ... Ben Tate (toe) is tentatively expected to be healthy after missing Week 5. Tate's usage is often minimal unless the Texans are blowing out opponents, though, and I don't expect them to blow out the Packers. Tate is an RB3/4 until we see him back in a significant game-day role. ... Justin Forsett returns to third-string duties after playing poorly against the Jets last Monday and can be dropped in all leagues. ... Andrew Luck's heroic Week 5 comeback against the Packers exposed Green Bay's pass-defense deficiencies. Woodson seems to be fading fast, and LCB Tramon Williams is good, but not a shutdown corner. Schaub is worth a look as a bye-week plug-and-play and will pay dividends if this evolves into a high-scoring affair.
It's no secret that the timing of Green Bay's pass offense has been off early in the season. Aaron Rodgers is so good that he still ranks sixth in fantasy quarterback points and No. 5 over the past three weeks. The Packers toyed with the idea of a balanced offense before Cedric Benson's foot injury, but they may revert to a decidedly pass-heavy approach the rest of the way. The Texans are playing top-four pass defense, but Rodgers can pile up attempts, and that's great news for his fantasy outlook. ... Sometimes-shadow CB Johnathan Joseph has been struggling with a groin injury. He was picked on in last Monday's narrow win over the Jets, getting beat by both Jeremy Kerley and cornerback convert Antonio Cromartie for long gains. I wouldn't be afraid of Joseph shutting down Jordy Nelson. ... Jermichael Finley has a shoulder injury, and Packers No. 2 TE D.J. Williams is battling hamstring woes. Greg Jennings is out again with lingering groin soreness. With no reliable threat at tight end, Green Bay may look more to James Jones on possession-type routes. Jones is always a good bet for touchdowns when he's playing a lot of snaps, and he'll be an every-down receiver against the Texans, likely squaring off often with LCB Kareem Jackson.
In the pass game, the Packers can exploit Cushing's absence with movable chess piece Randall Cobb. The Texans will be vulnerable in underneath coverage of backs and outlet receivers, and Cobb has strung together back-to-back productive games as his snap counts have continued to rise. He's worth a genuine look as a Week 6 WR3 or flex play. ... Coach Mike McCarthy confirmed this week that Alex Green would receive the "first crack" at Green Bay's lead back job. Although the Packers still don't trust Green to be a full-time player or protect Rodgers in the hurry-up attack, he'll be fantasy owners' best bet in the absence of Benson. Green possesses impressive cutting ability and surprising long speed for a 230-pound man. Just don't expect more than 12-15 touches in a rough matchup with Houston's top-nine run defense. ... John Kuhn will still be the favorite for goal-line carries going forward, and James Starks lurks as a fallback option should Green falter. McCarthy promises to ride the hot hand.
Score Prediction: Packers 24, Texans 23
Monday Night Football
Denver @ San Diego
At 49.5 points, Broncos-Chargers has the highest over-under of Week 6. Both teams' offenses match up well with the opposing defense, particularly the Denver pass game against San Diego's secondary. Continuing to prove the naysayers wrong in what so far has been a top-three fantasy quarterback season, Peyton Manning's stats if you leave out the first quarter of the Falcons game have improved to 123-of-187 (65.8 percent) for 1,454 yards (7.77 YPA), 11 TDs, and zero INTs through five games. He's all the way back, and will face San Diego's No. 20 pass defense in this week's Monday nighter. ... The Chargers' run defense ranking is No. 5 overall, but I'm not buying them as a shutdown unit. Their 3.74 YPC allowed is good but not great, and they've faced what hindsight tells us is a weak running back schedule, aside from Jamaal Charles. (Charles lit them up for 111 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.18 YPC.) More involved in the pass game the past two weeks -- he has a combined 11 catches on 12 targets -- Willis McGahee should not struggle to run on this group. In his last three meetings with San Diego, McGahee has gone off for 321 yards and two scores on 54 rushing attempts, good for a red-hot average of 5.94 yards a pop.
Remember the preseason debate? Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker; which receiver would be Manning's "No. 1"? Demaryius is winning that battle. Thomas leads Denver in targets on the season, and only Brian Hartline and Reggie Wayne have more receiving yards in the entire NFL. The Chargers' pass defense has allowed an 11:6 TD-to-INT ratio against while averaging just two sacks per game. Manning will have success picking on this unit, and Thomas is his go-to guy. ... Just based on early-season performance, Thomas also gets a more favorable coverage draw than Decker in Week 6. Thomas runs the majority of his routes down the left sideline, where he'll deal with RCB Antoine Cason. Chargers LCB Quentin Jammer is susceptible deep, but still covers the short to intermediate portions well. Decker remains a solid fantasy start, but I'd again bet on Thomas leading Denver in receiving this week. ... Manning's target distribution on the year: Thomas 46, Decker 44, Jacob Tamme 36, Brandon Stokley 20, McGahee 17, Joel Dreessen 16. ... Tamme has theoretically been targeted enough to achieve back-end TE1 status, but he's barely averaging over eight yards a catch and isn't scoring touchdowns. Tamme is the only Broncos pass catcher worth consideration behind Thomas and Decker, and he's just a fantasy backup.
Fantasy-minded folks know the truth, but Norv Turner might come out of this Ryan Mathews thing looking like a genius. Slow-playing Mathews in his Week 3 return, punishing him for no real good reason in Week 4, and lengthening his Week 5 leash before unleashing him in Week 6 could make it all appear to be some perfectly-designed plan. And the results will look really good if Mathews stays healthy and plays like he's capable. A dynamite, big-play back with explosive burst, moves, and power, Mathews was San Diego's best player in last Sunday's loss to New Orleans. He'll now deal with a Denver defense that ranks 21st against the run and has never been able to stop him. In three career meetings with the Broncos, Mathews has 382 yards on 72 carries (5.31 YPC) and three touchdowns. He's rushed for 120-plus yards in each of those games, and chipped in 31 additional yards on five receptions. Because the Broncos are so proficient at getting after opposing quarterbacks but leaky against the run, Mathews will continue to be the Chargers' best bet for ball movement on Monday night. ... Jackie Battle's unearned starting job has been stripped as fast as it was assigned, and he'll be reduced to ineffective pace-change back the rest of the way. Mathews owners can hold onto Battle as a handcuff, but that's all he is. ... Mathews is ready to explode. He'll face one run defense ranked higher than 19th in his next seven games.
It's popular to dance on Antonio Gates' grave. He's obviously done; look at this box score! Gates isn't done, though, and that couldn't have been clearer against the Saints. Gates still runs well, the Chargers are still trying to get him the ball in scoring position, and the statistics are soon to follow. Slow starts suck, but fantasy owners need to keep eyes ahead. An improved run game to distract double teams will be a difference maker for Gates' chances of getting open, and he needs to be started in projected shootouts like this. He's still San Diego's best receiver. ... Philip Rivers has scuffled against the Broncos recently, completing a combined 58-of-102 passes (56.9 percent) for 751 yards (7.36 YPA), two touchdowns, and two interceptions in his last three dates with Denver. With LT Jared Gaither (groin) hobbled, it's hard to trust Rivers' protection. I think he's a matchup play at this point, and this isn't a great matchup. ... The Broncos have used Champ Bailey in unpredictable ways this year. He shadowed Brandon Lloyd all over the field in Week 5 after playing 80 percent of his snaps in the first four games as strictly a left corner. Here's guessing Denver doesn't think enough of Malcom Floyd to follow him around with Bailey, and Champ stays "home" at LCB for the majority of Monday night. If so, he's going to deal with Robert Meachem for most of the game. Floyd would get the more favorable draw against Broncos RCB Tracy Porter.
Friday Update: In his post-practice press conference, Turner indicated that Gaither is unlikely to play against the Broncos after missing practice on both Thursday and Friday. Broncos RE Elvis Dumervil should be licking his chops. Backup LT Mike Harris, an undrafted rookie who played right tackle at UCLA, was an early-season turnstile playing in Gaither's place, almost single-handedly torpedoing San Diego's passing offense. Rivers and deep threats Meachem and Floyd could have trouble connecting on Monday night if Gaither is indeed inactive. Look for the Chargers to lean on Mathews in this game.
Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Chargers 24