Jacksonville @ Oakland
Darren McFadden's trademark violence and explosion were missing on early-season runs, but the Week 5 bye seemed to do him some good. Oakland tweaked its zone-blocking scheme during the open date, incorporating power- and angle-based concepts. Although it didn't fully show in the box score at Atlanta, McFadden responded with a season-best game in Week 6. He totaled 98 yards and a touchdown, and had two long runs called back by penalties, including a ferocious first-half rumble for 21. Beginning with Jacksonville's 30th-ranked unit, McFadden has the most favorable rushing schedule in the league the rest of the way. The Raiders face just one run defense ranked higher than 20th over their next ten games. If there is still a buy-low window with your league's McFadden owner, this may be your last chance to pounce. The Jaguars have been gutted by the run and benched two defensive linemen during their Week 6 bye. The healthy return of Darrius Heyward-Bey and reemergence of Denarius Moore as a dangerous intermediate and vertical playmaker are additional boons to Oakland's running-game outlook. ... Mike Goodson busted 43- and 37-yard gains against the Falcons, but remains a change-of-pace back in OC Greg Knapp's offensive system. While clearly out in front of Taiwan Jones in the running back pecking order, Goodson has yet to exceed six touches in any game this season and is strictly DMC's handcuff.
Moore missed the opener with a hamstring injury, but he's been Carson Palmer's go-to guy since returning in Week 2. Palmer's target distribution in Oakland's last four games: Moore 35, Brandon Myers 19, Marcel Reece 17, Derek Hagan and Heyward-Bey 15, McFadden 14, Rod Streater 11. ... Moore burned Asante Samuel for an early-game 49-yard bomb in Week 6 and scored a 25-yard touchdown on a crosser, making three defenders miss after the catch. The Raiders' usage of Moore as more than just a sideline-running deep threat bodes well for his consistency. He is the featured player in Oakland's pass game, and fantasy owners should feel comfortable riding Moore as an every-week WR3 from here on out. ... Moore will find openings downfield against the Jags' secondary. Jacksonville's pass rush has been nonexistent -- ranking last in the NFL in sacks -- and will be without top cover safety Dwight Lowery (ankle). ... Heyward-Bey has been injured and unproductive. We need to see him put something in a box score. Despite leading Raiders wide receivers in Week 6 snaps, Heyward-Bey was targeted twice and held catch-less. ... Myers is just a guy. He has no playmaking ability and a weekly ceiling of about five catches for 60 yards. ... Hagan has passed Streater on the depth chart, but neither is a fantasy option. ... Palmer is throwing the ball much better than the chatter might indicate and this is a great matchup for him.
The Raiders are not considered one of the NFL's better pass-rushing teams. They rank 31st in sacks and have underachieved despite a talented front four. Welp, that front four came to play against the Falcons last week and harassed the heck out of Matt Ryan, hitting him nine times and forcing "Matty Ice" into three picks. This all bodes poorly for Jacksonville's passing game, which flatlines whenever Blaine Gabbert feels duress. ... The Jaguars have publicly vowed to force feed Justin Blackmon the football coming out of their bye week. Blackmon has yet to hit 50 yards in a game this season while struggling to get open. We'll see how that goes. ... Cecil Shorts has displayed more big-play ability than Blackmon and will start in place of concussed Laurent Robinson. From a fantasy perspective, it's just hard to trust any pass catcher when Gabbert's the guy throwing him the ball. Even in a favorable matchup like this. ... If Mike Mularkey is going to last longer than one season as Jaguars coach, he may need to win a few games. In Week 7, handing the rock to Maurice Jones-Drew relentlessly against Oakland's No. 18 run defense is Mularkey's best option. Despite the offensive mess around him, MJD is a strong fantasy buy low.
Score Prediction: Raiders 24, Jaguars 16
Sunday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
A.J. Green put together an excellent rookie season. The fact that he's way better this year is kind of scary. He's 24. Green leads the league in receiving yards through six games, and no NFL wideout has scored more fantasy points. He also scored a touchdown in each of his 2011 meetings with the Steelers. Now set to face declining RCB Ike Taylor and struggling LCB Keenan Lewis, Green is poised to set the Pittsburgh defense ablaze. ... Andy Dalton's on-field play has now underwhelmed in back-to-back weeks, although he's come away with four passing scores and 615 yards; legit QB1 stats. Dalton has turned the ball over six times. The Steelers' defense is a shell of its former self and won't have SS Troy Polamalu (calf), so ride Dalton if you believe he'll stay hot. Perhaps I'm stubborn, but I'm convinced his hot box-score run will end sooner rather than later. Dalton has been preying on weak defenses, and isn't half the passer his stats suggest. At No. 4, Pittsburgh is the first pass defense Dalton has faced this year that ranks higher than 22nd. ... Jermaine Gresham has played three career games against the Steelers and never topped 37 yards. He's an integral blocker against OLBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis played 75.1 percent of Cincinnati's offensive snaps in the season's first month. Coaches were displeased with Green-Ellis' productivity, and he's been a 44-percent back the past two games. In last week's loss to the Browns, Cedric Peerman showed better burst than Green-Ellis on nine touches, and Peerman has certainly demonstrated superior passing-down tools. Pittsburgh's run defense isn't impenetrable like it once was, but Green-Ellis' role is diminishing and he will struggle to provide RB2-caliber stats without a goal-line carry. His fantasy arrow continues to point directly down. ... Peerman's eight catches for 76 yards in Week 6 aren't repeatable, but he's a candidate for 7-12 touches against Pittsburgh. You should still be able to find better flex options. ... It would make sense for Cincinnati to pursue a tailback upgrade before the October 30 trade deadline. Bernard Scott is gone for the year, and the backs they have right now are role player-caliber at best. ... Andrew Hawkins has dynamic change-of-direction skills and straight-line speed, but the Bengals don't get him the football enough. “Baby Hawk” is averaging five touches for 43 yards over his last three games and he hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3. Hawkins could be a Wes Welker type of player if he were utilized with more frequency.
So much for a healthy Steelers team after their Week 4 bye. Banged up in last Thursday night's humbling loss to Tennessee, Pittsburgh will be minus RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle) on Sunday night, and may not have C Maurkice Pouncey (knee), either. Both injury situations are exploitable by Cincinnati's vastly underrated defensive line. A dominant talent, LE Carlos Dunlap should run circles around fill-in rookie RT Mike Adams. If Pouncey missed the game, No. 2 center Doug Legursky would have to fend off penetrating sparkplug DT Geno Atkins, who leads all defensive tackles in sacks (6.0). Cincinnati can win this battle in the trenches, neutralizing the Steelers' run game and affecting the passing attack. ... Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles') and Isaac Redman (ankle) didn't practice all week and are out for the game. Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and rookie scatback Chris Rainey are next up on the running back depth chart. In what should have been a favorable run-game matchup, the Pittsburgh backfield is shaping up as a three-way committee and fantasy situation to avoid. Dwyer is the best bet of the remaining three Steelers backs for early-down and goal-line carries against the Bengals. ... The line casualties could affect Heath Miller's Sunday Night Football stats if he's forced to assist overmatched rookie Adams with help blocks in the Dunlap matchup. Miller is a TE2 in Week 7.
Saturday Update: Multiple Steelers beat writers are forecasting Dwyer as Pittsburgh's starting tailback on Sunday Night Football. The matchup is fairly intriguing because Cincinnati's defense is vulnerable to the run game at the second level. If Dwyer gets a few nice blocks from the front five, he could be sprung for a few nice runs. He's worth a long look as a desperation flex play. Batch will likely play on passing downs, with Rainey coming in for gadget-type plays and perhaps a screen or two. Rainey doesn't carry the ball between the tackles.
Mike Wallace's Week 6 stat line (2-94-1) satisfied fantasy owners, but he could have had a bigger game. Wallace split Titans LCB Jason McCourty and FS Michael Griffin's zone coverage on a first-quarter double move, only to drop the slightly overthrown would-be 15-yard touchdown pass. Wallace was targeted again in the end zone in the third quarter, only to be overthrown for a second time by Ben Roethlisberger. Despite a slim stature (6'0/199), Wallace is Big Ben's favorite red-zone option and has four TDs to show for it through five games. "60 Minutes" also has 19 catches, 320 yards, and three scores in his last four meetings with the Bengals. He's a good bet for a big Sunday night. ... Antonio Brown is skilled enough to turn his season around, but he's just 32nd in per-game fantasy receiver scoring and is dropping balls at an alarming rate. Brown has settled in as the clear No. 2 pass option in Pittsburgh, behind Wallace. Fantasy owners should still be willing to start Brown in a nice matchup versus Bengals LCB Nate Clements, who turns 33 in two months. ... Although Cincy's at-times dominant pass rush could impact his efficiency, Ben Roethlisberger remains on the back-end QB1 radar against the league's 17th-ranked pass defense. The Steelers are so shorthanded at running back that they may have to lean on Big Ben's arm to move the chains on Sunday night. Roethlisberger is currently the No. 9 overall quarterback in fantasy points per game.
Score Prediction: Steelers 20, Bengals 17
Monday Night Football
Detroit @ Chicago
Jay Cutler strung together back-to-back QB1-caliber fantasy efforts at Dallas and Jacksonville before Chicago's Week 6 bye. Cutler certainly can be an effective matchup play, but sustained consistency is so elusive because the Bears' porous offensive line can torpedo the pass game in any given week. Cutler will be without promising rookie wideout Alshon Jeffery on Monday Night Football due to a fractured hand, and Detroit's front four teed off on Michael Vick last week with 15 quarterback hits. The return of FS Louis Delmas (knee) is also a difference maker for the Lions' back four. If the Bears are smart, they will lean on Matt Forte, who is as healthy as he's been all year coming off an open date. Cutler is a high-end QB2 with some upside in this game, but there are better Week 7 standard-league streamer QB1s. ... Gunther Cunningham accepted the Lions' defensive coordinator job before the 2009 season, and Forte has had his unit's number ever since. In six career matchups with Cunningham's Detroit defense, Forte has poured on them an average of 130.5 total yards per game, 5.27 yards per carry, and five all-purpose touchdowns.
Cutler may struggle, but Brandon Marshall can still be an absolute terror for a Lions defense that may be minus two of its top three corners. RCB Jacob Lacey is coming off a concussion, and slot CB Bill Bentley has a bum shoulder. Marshall's average of 11.2 targets per game ranks third in the NFL, behind only Victor Cruz and Reggie Wayne. The Bears are effectively moving him all around the formation, creating favorable matchups and making Marshall more difficult to double team. Per Mike Clay of Rotoworld and Pro Football Focus, Marshall has played 51 percent of his snaps at split end, 32 percent at flanker, and 17 percent in the slot. 11 of Marshall's targets have come at slot receiver, and he's secured 15 of his 16 targets when aligned wide right. The Lions simply don't have a cornerback capable of containing him. ... Perhaps in response to the Jeffery injury, Bears OC Mike Tice this week talked up an expanded role for TE Kellen Davis. Davis is big and he moves well for his size, but this is an I'll-believe-it-when-I-see it deal. The guy has played in 69 career games, and topped 40 receiving yards in one of them. So let's root for Davis, but not start him in fantasy. ... Devin Hester figures to get the "start" in Jeffery's place, but a healthy Earl Bennett figures to play the second most snaps in the Bears' receiver corps Monday night.
The Bears' secondary is playing at as high a level as it ever has under Lovie Smith, but Chicago's Cover 2 has never solved Calvin Johnson. In Megatron's last seven meetings with the Bears, he's averaged six catches and 93 yards with four TDs. And Johnson may be more of a zone-beater than ever this year because of how often he's playing in the slot. ... Megatron is 6-foot-5, 239 and jumps 42.5 inches vertically. Bears slot CB D.J. Moore is 5'9/192 with a 39.5-inch vert. They may need a bigger boat. ... Megatron can have success against the Bears on Monday, but that may be where it ends for this Lions offense. Matthew Stafford is playing so poorly that he needs to be downgraded to QB2 status until he picks it back up. This is the worst football of his career. Still fruitlessly working to perfect the sidearm fadeaway, Stafford is the No. 22 fantasy quarterback and has four touchdowns through five games. The Bears lead the NFL in interceptions, and no defense is allowing a lower quarterback rating to opposing passers. Chicago is also fifth in the league in sacks. And 28th in passing scores allowed. This is a really difficult matchup for Stafford. I'd bet on Cutler outscoring him in this game. ... You know the drill with Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew by now. They both lack playmaking ability and are volume-dependent pass catchers whose fantasy value is wholly reliant on a pass-first attack. Burleson and Pettigrew are fantasy garbage to me, but I suppose one man's trash can be another man's treasure.
Mikel Leshoure didn't clear 100 total yards or find the end zone in his first game back from the Lions' Week 5 bye, but his on-field play was promising. Leshoure continues to be used regularly in the pass game, and appeared to have more juice in his legs after the open date. Leshoure clearly isn't going to be the 30-touch back he was in his NFL debut a month ago at Tennessee, but he's settling in as a viable low-end RB2 who should see no fewer than 17 touches a game. Even against the Bears' top-ranked run defense, Leshoure is a quality fantasy start during the bye-week blues. ... Averaging eight touches over the Lions' past four games, Joique Bell is a pedestrian change-of-pace back with some receiving skills. He's depth in fantasy leagues. ... The light isn't flipping on for Titus Young, who might be the most disappointing young receiver in the NFL to date. Trying to play through a knee injury, Young has drops in back-to-back games and has caught just one pass of longer than 17 yards on the season; a fluke 46-yard Hail Mary in the aforementioned Titans game. Chicago's defense is designed to eliminate deep threats like Young. ... Tony Scheffler has exceeded 30 yards in 1-of-5 games and isn't on the fantasy radar.
Score Prediction: Bears 24, Lions 17