Green Bay @ St. Louis
We knew Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay's passing offense weren't firing on all cylinders entering Week 6. Game-tape watchers suggested Rodgers was playing like a "rattled quarterback," which seemed to bode poorly versus Houston's No. 4 pass defense. But we also knew the pass attack was capable of hitting full stride at any time, and that's precisely what occurred in Green Bay's 42-24 dismantling of the previously undefeated Texans. Vaulting his overall fantasy QB ranking all the way to No. 1 after a slow start, an indefensible Rodgers has now completed 81 of his last 118 passes (68.6 percent) for 953 yards (8.08 YPA) and a 13:2 TD-to-INT ratio. St. Louis' No. 5 pass defense is tough, but Houston had a pretty on-paper ranking, too. Matchups don't matter when Rodgers is on a roll. ... If the Packers' offensive staff has watched any tape of the Rams' defense over the past two weeks -- and they surely have -- Green Bay will be attacking rookie RCB Janoris Jenkins on Sunday. Opposing receivers have been getting behind Jenkins, and he's had his fair share of mental lapses. Jordy Nelson is a top-11 fantasy wideout over the past three weeks, and I expect him to draw Jenkins in coverage for most of this game. ... James Jones gets a tougher matchup versus Rams LCB Bradley Fletcher, who played a huge role in eliminating Brian Hartline (0 catches, 2 targets) from Week 6. You can perhaps use that as a lineup-decision tiebreaker if you're loaded at receiver, but Jones is awfully hard to sit with six TDs in his past three games.
Alex Green's final stats against the Texans weren't spectacular (22-65, 1-8), but his usage was promising. Aside from dominating touches over James Starks and John Kuhn, Green played 70 percent of Green Bay's offensive snaps and was consistently left in for blitz-pickup assignments, which was a previous knock. Packers backs combined for just two red-zone touches at Houston, but Green got both, including a carry inside the two-yard line. Green's largely pedestrian run skills limit his long-range upside, but he's squarely on the low-end RB2/flex radar against St. Louis. The Rams rank a respectable 13th against the run, but have surrendered six rushing touchdowns in six games and the workload should be there. ... I jumped off the Jermichael Finley bandwagon two weeks ago and would be looking to upgrade at tight end if he were my current starter. Finley has all the talent in the world, but he doesn't get the job done on game days. He's the No. 22 fantasy tight end set to take on a Rams defense that surrenders the eighth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Finley is a back-end TE1 at best at this point. ... Randall Cobb projects to draw Rams slot CB Cortland Finnegan in primary coverage Sunday. I'd never discourage you from starting Cobb because he's a big-time player with dynamic ability, but this is a tough matchup.
Chatter has picked up again of impressive rookie Daryl Richardson making a move on Steven Jackson's starting job. After watching the Week 6 Dolphins-Rams game, I can say confidently that Richardson won't be St. Louis' starter barring S-Jax injury. While Jackson continues to run at a much higher level than his fantasy scoring suggests, Richardson is settling in as an exciting, but limited change-of-pace back. Richardson gained 88 of his 99 yards against Miami on toss sweeps and screens, which accounted for six of his 13 touches. He netted 11 yards on the other seven. Richardson brings a backfield speed element that St. Louis hasn't had in years, but I think his increased Week 6 role was part of a game plan-specific strategy to attack a top-five run defense on the edges. I'd be wary of chasing Richardson's last-week stats into Week 7, and I wonder if he possesses the physicality and inside running chops to make it as a long-term feature back. He only broke one tackle all game at Miami. ... Jackson again looked awesome against the Dolphins. He made unblocked defenders miss and ran with decisive ferocity inside. Jackson lost three yards on a first-quarter carry when RE Jared Odrick knifed into the backfield and had a physical, eight-yard second-quarter run called back by penalty. St. Louis' anemic offense and the offensive line's consistent inability to win at the point of attack are clearly working against Jackson, but his sheer run skills have not declined. I like S-Jax as an RB2 play against Green Bay's No. 17 run defense.
Friday Update: Enhancing Jackson's fantasy matchup will be the absences of Packers NT B.J. Raji (ankle), who was formally ruled out on Friday, and every-down ILB D.J. Smith, who tore his ACL in last week's win. The Rams will start Joseph Barksdale at left tackle in this game due to two injuries in front of him on the depth chart. St. Louis is certain to struggle in pass protection Sunday, and must lean on the run game to keep this contest competitive.
In the absence of slot machine and target monster Danny Amendola, the Rams efforted to get the ball to two receivers in particular against the Fins: Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson. Matched up with Dolphins top cornerback Sean Smith, Gibson enjoyed perhaps his best career on-field game, shaking off a first-drive drop to secure 7-of-9 targets for 91 yards. Givens, targeted seven times, hauled in a 50-plus-yard bomb for the third straight week and has mastered the art of the vertical streak. There's just no completeness to his game. Against Green Bay, Gibson and Givens are both dice-roll WR3s. ... Steve Smith, Austin Pettis, and Brian Quick were the other three Rams receivers involved in Week 6. Quick (two targets) ran an incorrect route and let Sam Bradford's pass hit him in the back on St. Louis' final drive. Pettis (three targets) caught one ball for 11 yards. Smith (two targets) was more efficient with 18 yards on two grabs and perhaps will get a longer look against the Packers. ... Bradford puts impressive RPMs on throws and can be a precision passer from a clean pocket. He gets jumpy under pressure, and the rookie Givens is St. Louis' only wideout who can separate downfield. I strongly doubt Bradford will be a fantasy asset until his line and receiver corps are upgraded. And we may not see Bradford reach that point until 2014.
Score Prediction: Packers 27, Rams 16
Washington @ NY Giants
Robert Griffin III's 76-yard touchdown sprint generated all the highlights after Washington's Week 6 upset of Minnesota, but his precise passing isn't getting enough credit. Griffin completed 77.3 percent of his 22 attempts and was surgical at the intermediate level. ESPN's Trent Dilfer summed up Griffin as a pure thrower nicely on this week's Monday Night Countdown. "What I want to focus on is his accuracy," Dilfer said. "The ball finishes on the facemask every single time it comes out." Griffin's rushing stats make him the highest weekly upside play among fantasy quarterbacks, and his passing numbers stabilize his consistency. I also think you can make a strong argument that Minnesota's defense has played better than the Giants' this year. Settling in as a matchup-proof machine, RG3 needs to be in your fantasy lineup every week. ... Pierre Garcon (foot) has been shut down indefinitely, leaving the Redskins' pass-catching corps as clear as mud. Here is RG3's target distribution in Garcon's three missed games this season: Fred Davis 16, Leonard Hankerson 13, Josh Morgan 12, Santana Moss 10, Aldrick Robinson 6. ... All told, that's 15 games worth of data and none of those pass catchers has topped seven targets in any missed week by Garcon. Even against a banged-up, vulnerable Giants secondary, I don't think there's a receiver on Washington's roster who's a safe bet to exceed 60 yards in Week 7.
My preference is Hankerson, perhaps because I have some built-in bias after studying him a bit in the offseason and think he's a solid young player. He will start for Garcon, but won't be heavily targeted and is a low-upside WR3. ... The Giants can mask pass-defense deficiencies with an attacking, explosive front four, but they're not a great run-defending team. Permitting a generous 4.55 YPC average to opponents, New York poses minimal threat to Alfred Morris' Week 7 outlook. Morris ranks fourth in the NFL in both rushing and fantasy running back points. Only Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, and Stevan Ridley have received more carries. It wouldn't be too bold to deem Morris a locked-and-loaded RB1. ... Savvy Morris owners should have Evan Royster rostered as a handcuff. Royster is clearly out in front of Ryan Grant, the latter of whom has so far played one snap as a Redskin. Royster has played 67 in six appearances, primarily as a third-down back. I think it's fair to wonder whether Royster might actually score more fantasy points than Morris if he happened into the starting job. Morris is a two-down thumper. Royster would be a true every-down back, and like Morris would benefit from the scheme getting him yards. This is a dominant running offense. Even if I didn't own Morris, I'd roster Royster as a high-ceiling stash.
With the healthy return of LT Will Beatty and demotion of annual liability David Diehl, Eli Manning is enjoying the best protection of his career. New York's offensive line was the team's biggest weakness during its 2011 Super Bowl run. This year, it's a strength. Eli hasn't been sacked in 13 quarters, and has absorbed just one sack in the last five games. With his pass-catching corps finally turning a corner in terms of health, Manning is rearing to get white hot beginning with Sunday's mismatch against Washington's last-ranked pass defense. ... Hakeem Nicks disappointed owners with a 3-44 Week 6 stat line, although that was due at least partially to New York taking the air out of the football with a big lead. Manning's 28 pass attempts were a season low. Fire up Nicks against the Redskins' sieve-like secondary after a full practice week. He hasn't been this healthy in a month. ... Victor Cruz is tied with Reggie Wayne for the NFL's targets lead and ranks behind only James Jones in receiving touchdowns. An every-week WR1, Cruz will spend most of Sunday's game in mouthy and burnable Redskins LCB DeAngelo Hall's coverage. Hall replaced Richard Crawford at slot corner on passing downs last week and unsurprisingly got whipped by Percy Harvin. Cruz probably has the best Week 7 matchup of any Giants receiver.
Domenik Hixon has settled back in as New York's No. 3 receiver. He played 22-of-65 snaps (33.8 percent) in last week's blowout win over the 49ers and is a bottom-barrel WR3 regardless of how the box score reads. ... Ramses Barden is the No. 4 wideout, Rueben Randle is No. 5, and Jerrel Jernigan is No. 6. ... Ahmad Bradshaw's sell-high window is in full effect; it's time to bail on him while you still can. While Bradshaw has strung together consecutive impressive efforts with the G-Men using more I-formation looks behind lead blocker Henry Hynoski, this week's appearance on the injury report with a foot ailment is a sign of things to come. The Giants know it, and they plan to get a healthy Andre Brown and rookie David Wilson more involved in response. Start Bradshaw if you can't deal him before Sunday's kick, but his Weeks 5-6 stats will prove a flash in the pan. ... A quote from NFL Films guru Greg Cosell on Wilson this week: "That guy's got serious juice, now. He plays the game at a little faster speed than other people. ... The guy is a superior talent running the football." Wilson remains a recommended RB5/6 stash. ... Martellus Bennett is off the Week 7 injury report, but whether he'll match his early-season production remains to be seen. Bennett does have a strong matchup this week. Washington has allowed NFC highs in receptions and yardage to tight ends.
Friday Update: Bradshaw missed practice on Friday and is listed as questionable on the injury report. He'll be a game-time decision against the Redskins. The Giants have seemed optimistic about Bradshaw's status, but this is clearly a mild setback at the very least, and almost certainly a product of his workloads over the past two games. Check Rotoworld's Player News page on Sunday morning for Bradshaw's official status. If he's declared inactive, I'd look for Brown to get the start and Wilson to be worked in as an explosive change of pace.
Score Prediction: Giants 27, Redskins 20
Baltimore @ Houston
Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb's season-ending injuries were headline stories all this week, but Baltimore's defense was springing leaks long before the personnel losses, ranking 26th in yards allowed and 15th in points. Be it due to comeback-driven deficits or philosophical change -- or both -- the best way to counteract ineffective defense is by scoring more points. From a fantasy perspective, Joe Flacco and his pass-catching corps stand to benefit from increasingly aggressive plans of attack. While Houston is often recognized for imposing defense, it has shown plenty of susceptibility to the pass against the Jets and Packers in the last two weeks. Former shutdown CB Johnathan Joseph is getting picked on playing hurt, and do-everything ILB Brian Cushing is out for the year. Perhaps Flacco should be approached as a back-end QB1 until we see him consistently score like something more, but don't be surprised if he begins lighting up box scores. Down its emotional leader and top cover guy, it's up to Baltimore's contract-year passer to put this team on his back. ... Joseph's groin has become such an issue that he barely practiced this week and may not play. Considering how badly Joseph has been beaten recently, Torrey Smith might want him to suit up. Smith is a recommended WR2 in Week 7 regardless of Joseph's status. This game has shootout potential and Smith is the No. 12 overall fantasy receiver.
Bigger game-day roles for Anquan Boldin mean slower ones for TE Dennis Pitta, and we've seen that play out now in three straight weeks. Flacco's target distribution over that span: Boldin 28, Smith and Ray Rice 18, Jacoby Jones 12, Pitta 11. ... It's worth noting that Pro Football Focus has charted Pitta with just 63-of-114 snaps played (55.3 percent) over the past two games. Boldin is at 88.6 percent. Pitta is clearly a TE2. ... Boldin is a recommended sell high during his hot streak. He's faded sharply down the stretch of the last two seasons and is a year older now. Waiting one more game to move Boldin might prove most beneficial, though. In last season's October meeting with the Texans, Boldin went off for 132 yards on eight receptions. ... Houston ranks in the top seven against the run, but matchups don't matter for Rice. He's already faced three top-15 run defenses and touched them up for a combined 408 total yards, three touchdowns, and a 5.06 YPC average.
Early in the year, the smart money would have been on Ravens-Texans producing a low-scoring result. But injuries have piled up fast on each side, and Vegas has recognized the increasingly ineffective defense being played by Baltimore and Houston. The 48.5 over-under on this game is the third highest of Week 7. ... This was Cosell's assessment of Andre Johnson in Adam Caplan's Week 7 preview podcast. "I think he is (slowing down) a little bit," Cosell said. "I don't think he's quite as explosive as a route runner versus man coverage. I think watching him on tape, it's not as if he's become slow and plodding. But I don't think he quite has that incredible explosiveness that he's had in the past." Cosell is onto something, but I'm still confident Johnson has enough left to defeat cornerbacks like Baltimore's Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams, on whom opponents regularly pick. (See last week's 13-95-2 stat line by Dez Bryant.) Johnson is also more likely to be productive in close, high-scoring affairs like this one projects. Start Johnson with confidence. ... Owen Daniels had his slowest game of the season in last week's blowout loss to the Packers, securing three passes for 46 yards. Daniels remains second on the Texans in pass targets, and Baltimore has allowed the fourth most yards to tight ends through six weeks. Daniels is a TE1.
Look for Houston to open this game attacking with the run, primarily because Baltimore has been so leaky against it recently. Kansas City and Dallas' ground games combined to tag the Ravens for 441 yards and a touchdown on 93 carries (4.74 YPC) in Weeks 5-6. The 93 attempts against is extreme volume, suggesting clubs are seeing poor run fits by Baltimore on tape. Arian Foster's per-touch averages are down this season, and if you've watched the Texans' last three games, you may have noticed Foster slipping more than ever, particularly on strong-side runs. I think it's because he doesn't trust his blocks at right guard and right tackle, where Houston has used rare in-game rotations. Whatever the case, Foster remains the No. 1 fantasy running back scorer and has a favorable Week 7 matchup. ... Ben Tate teased with one big early-season game because Houston was blowing out a weak opponent (Jacksonville in Week 2). He's otherwise been of no fantasy use. Tate plays a significant ball-carrying role only when the Texans get big leads, and I'm betting against them getting one in Week 7. He has lots of downside for a flex play.
Score Prediction: Ravens 30, Texans 27