Buffalo @ New England
The Bills have backfield dilemma. Theoretically, two productive runners would be a good problem to have. But it's holding the offense hostage right now, because C.J. Spiller isn't getting the ball enough. Fred Jackson is Buffalo's best inside runner, but the only way to get the most out of Spiller is to use him as a feature back. Spiller needs some inside runs, so that his in-space chances aren't telegraphed. His overall volume of touches must increase in order for Spiller to be properly utilized, handling the ball with regularity in all phases of the game. Whether coach Chan Gailey scales back Jackson's in favor of Spiller remains to be seen. Until we see an increased role put into action, Spiller is a boom-or-bust RB2. Averaging 4.52 yards per touch compared to Spiller's league-high 7.82, F-Jax is a flex option. If Gailey does commit to Spiller as the lead back, he is capable of carrying fantasy teams to the championship game. ... The Patriots rank seventh in run defense and surrender the second lowest YPC rate (3.49) in football, so a productive Buffalo run game seems unlikely barring an unforeseen philosophical switch to Spiller. Powered by 310-plus-pound DTs Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, New England's defensive front is incredibly hard to move off the ball.
The promotion of Marcus Easley from Buffalo's practice squad this week hints at internal concern over Stevie Johnson's badly bruised thigh. The Pats held Johnson to a paltry two catches for 23 yards on ten targets in the teams' Week 4 matchup. 32nd in fantasy receiver scoring this year, consider Johnson a mid-range WR3. ... Defenses are crowding the line of scrimmage against Buffalo's offense because there is zero vertical threat. Gailey's Pistol Spread has become easy to defend. With a 3:4 TD-to-turnover ratio and 186-yard average over his past four games, Ryan Fitzpatrick is a mid-range to low-end QB2 even in a matchup with New England's No. 28 pass defense. He's playing too poorly for standard-league consideration. ... On pace for just 612 yards, 52 catches, and six touchdowns, Bills No. 2 receiver Donald Jones would be a major stretch as a WR3. He's topped 65 yards once in 2012. ... It's written in this space every week and probably won't change: Scott Chandler is a touchdown-dependent player. He hasn't been scoring touchdowns recently. He'll be a worthwhile start if he rediscovers Week 10 pay dirt. He'll be a dud if he doesn't.
With a 52-point projection, Bills-Pats has the second highest over-under of Week 10, behind only Falcons-Saints. Buffalo ranks 31st in total defense, 24th versus the pass, and 31st against the run. Fire up your New Englanders. ... Tom Brady lit up the Bills for 340 yards and four all-purpose touchdowns in the aforementioned Week 4 game. Needless to say, start 'em. ... Rob Gronkowski is on pace to finish as the No. 1 fantasy tight end for a second straight year. Gronk's stat lines in five career meetings with Buffalo: 5-104-1, 8-108-2, 7-109-2, 4-54-2, 3-43-1. ... A potential tweak made during New England's Week 9 bye might have been a reemphasis on getting Brandon Lloyd the ball downfield. Gronk, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez are great, but the Patriots' offense can be absolutely lethal if it presents a vertical threat. Lloyd is the only way they can do that. He'll square off Sunday with a Bills defense that will be minus LCB Aaron Williams (knee) and lost top reserve Terrence McGee (knee) to injured reserve this week. Oft-burned Leodis McKelvin will start outside opposite Stephon Gilmore, and that's a matchup Lloyd would not struggle to exploit.
Great matchups all over the place: Welker burned the Bills for nine receptions and 129 yards in September, and they've since moved on to their second different slot corner of the season. Gailey admitted after that game that Welker is essentially impossible to cover. "To be honest with you," Gailey said, "I don’t believe we’ve had a guy in the three years I’ve been here that can cover that guy one-on-one." ... Hernandez is expected to return against the Bills and will be a top-five tight end moving forward. Playcaller Josh McDaniels has long been big on featuring Hernandez in the pass game, and if you have an opportunity to "buy" him before Sunday's kickoff, jump all over it. Hernandez may not be acquirable the rest of the way. Buffalo has allowed the eighth most fantasy points in the league to tight ends, so both Gronk and Hernandez can have big Week 10 games. ... It may seem unrealistic to think that five Pats skill guys beyond Brady can light up the box score in the same game, but it is not out of the question against such a bad defense. You just start them all. Stevan Ridley is the No. 9 fantasy back and the Bills can't stop the run. ... Brandon Bolden's knee injury and subsequent four-game PED suspension have removed him from the re-draft radar, and Shane Vereen has taken over as the No. 2 back. Because this game has blowout win potential for New England, Vereen is worth a desperation flex-spot roll of the dice.
Sunday Update: Hernandez will not play against Buffalo, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported late Saturday and reiterated Sunday morning. Daniel Fells and Visanthe Shiancoe are candidates for snaps in Hernandez's "move" tight end role, although neither is a fantasy option as Kellen Winslow showed during his early-season stint trying to replace New England's most versatile receiving weapon. The beneficiaries of Hernandez's absence in the box score are likely to include Welker, Gronkowski, and Lloyd. They may see 1-2 additional targets apiece.
Score Prediction: Patriots 35, Bills 10
Denver @ Carolina
NFL Network's Kurt Warner was asked this week to name a midseason MVP. "Matt Ryan has to be up there," he said. "I'm still gonna pick Peyton Manning. He's exceeded expectations, playing as well as he's ever played. ... The thing that puts him over the top is the guys around him play at a higher level than they've ever played before." On a five-game streak of 290-plus yards and three touchdown passes, Manning is a locked-in top-five fantasy quarterback play against the Panthers' overachieving No. 13 pass defense. ... The "guys around him," of course, are Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Both are enjoying breakout seasons and are Nos. 7 and 8 in receiver scoring. They're every-week starters. ... Peyton's target distribution since Denver's Week 7 bye: Decker and Demaryius 17, Jacob Tamme 8, Joel Dreessen and Brandon Stokley 6, Willis McGahee and Virgil Green 3, Ronnie Hillman 2. ... Four targets a game won't get it done for Tamme when he averages under nine yards a catch and is working on a seven-game scoreless streak. He's not on the re-draft radar anymore, and isn't helping Denver's offense. ... Carolina ranks in the bottom ten in catches allowed to tight ends, and bottom 15 in yards. No Broncos tight end is a strong fantasy start, but Dreessen is your best bet. He plays more than double the snaps of Tamme and is a fixture in the red-zone offense. Dreessen has four TDs in his last six games.
Peyton’s equal targeting of Decker and Thomas -- and it's been that way all season -- is a reminder that Manning unfailingly keeps both of his top receivers involved. He's been through this in Indy, with Wayne and Harrison. And later Wayne and Garcon. Peyton pays attention; he keeps track. Decker has 70 targets on the season compared to Thomas' 65. Decker is also coming off a bigger game. I'd bet on Thomas having more production in this one. ... Stokley has been highly efficient this season -- 24 catches on 30 targets -- but he's cleared 50 yards in 1-of-8 games. Fantasy owners with designs on winning leagues will aim higher. ... McGahee had a slow Week 9 box score (23-66, 1-4) because the Bengals' defensive line simply won the trench battle against Denver's offensive line. Cincinnati's front four, led by All-Pro candidate DT Geno Atkins, is good enough to take over a game. While the Panthers have tightened their ship defensively since early in the season, they still don't present a tough enough matchup to warrant avoiding in fantasy leagues. Carolina ranks 20th versus the run and middle of the pack in yards-per-carry allowed (4.18 YPC). McGahee is the No. 11 overall fantasy rusher through nine weeks and an every-week starter. ... Confirming that his increased Week 8 role was purely the product of garbage time, Ronnie Hillman received two Week 9 touches and remains a pace-change back. Hillman carries re-draft league value only as a speculative stash who'd lead the backfield if McGahee got hurt.
The Panthers have scaled back the complexity of their offense since the Week 6 bye. It's paying dividends. Carolina came within a last-minute field goal of knocking off the Bears two weeks ago, and got its second win of the season in last Sunday's 21-13 downing of Washington. Cam Newton has the offense on the move, posting a season high for passing yardage (314) at Chicago before accounting for two touchdowns and no turnovers against the Skins. Newton is the No. 7 overall fantasy quarterback over the past three weeks. While Denver's top-ten defense presents another challenge, Newton has shown matchup-proof ability when he is playing well. And he is playing well again. He needs to be started confidently against the Broncos. ... Steve Smith is in his 12th NFL season. Champ Bailey is in his 14th. Somehow, they've never faced each other in an NFL game. Smith has played Denver just once in his career (2008), and Bailey was out injured. So there is no historical data on Bailey shutting down Smith, or Smith dominating Bailey. On pace for 76 receptions and 1,260 yards and coming off his first touchdown of the season, Smith is a strong WR2 in Week 10. 34-year-old Bailey got touched up for a 7/99/1 line by A.J. Green last week.
No. 2 receiver disappointment Brandon LaFell returns from a concussion in Week 10 as a weak WR3 option. While his matchup is favorable with heavy defensive attention likely to be devoted to Smith, LaFell has failed to top 65 yards in 5-of-7 appearances this season and is the No. 3 option in the pass game behind Smith and Greg Olsen. LaFell is a boom-or-bust fantasy play. ... 16th in tight end scoring, Olsen has a plus matchup with a Denver defense that struggles at safety and inside linebacker. The middle of the field is often left open. The Broncos have allowed the third most fantasy points to tight ends. Olsen is on the back-end TE1 radar this week. ... The Panthers have shown no commitment to Jonathan Stewart -- or the running game in general, really -- for the majority of the season. After a 21-touch game against the Bears in Week 8, Stewart handled 11 at Washington, generating 57 scoreless yards. DeAngelo Williams was used sparingly, but broke off a 30-yard touchdown among his six carries. The NFL later ruled that the TD shouldn't have counted because line judge Thomas Symonette blew his whistle when Williams appeared to step out of bounds at the Redskins' 17. Stewart remains the superior fantasy play moving forward, but he's just a flex option. Williams is the Panthers' change-of-pace back until proven otherwise.
Score Prediction: Broncos 28, Panthers 21
4:05PM ET Game
NY Jets @ Seattle
Only two games this week have over-unders below 40 points. Jets-Seahawks is one, and Niners-Rams is the other. Start your every-week studs, but peruse games with higher scoring projections for Week 10 sleepers. ... Greg Cosell suggested this week that the Jets may have a hard time scoring points, period, in Seattle. And that this is the week Mark Sanchez could be benched for Tim Tebow. "Everyone wants to talk about Tebow," Cosell said. "And I think this could easily be the game, at some point. I don't think they're gonna run the ball effectively. And ... against that press-man and the pressure that the Seahawks put on quarterbacks, I don't think this bodes well for the Jets' pass game." ... Although Shonn Greene picked up his play before New York's Week 9 bye, he will run head-on into a brick-wall Seahawks front seven. Also potentially losing snaps to returning passing-down back Bilal Powell (shoulder), Greene is a low-upside flex play in Week 10.
Sanchez is an inside-the-numbers, short-to-intermediate passer at his absolute finest, and no Jets pass catcher better complements that skill set than Dustin Keller. Fully over his early-season hamstring strain following a Week 9 bye, Keller is worth a long look as a TE1. Seattle's defense is most vulnerable underneath and down the seam, having surrendered the sixth most catches and eighth most yards to tight ends. ... Sanchez's target distribution since Keller got healthy in Week 7: Jeremy Kerley 22, Keller 18, Stephen Hill and Greene 14, Clyde Gates 11, Chaz Schilens 8. ... Kerley could salvage production in the slot on passing downs, but he won't get off the line of scrimmage at 5-foot-9, 190 against Seattle's overpowering press corners outside. Kerley is a low-end WR3 option in Week 10. ... The Seahawks play top-seven pass defense and are especially smothering at home. In four games at CenturyLink Field, enemy quarterbacks have combined to complete 96-of-159 passes for 932 yards (5.86 YPA), just three touchdowns, and four picks this year. The schedule has included Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Tony Romo; Seattle isn't shutting down stiffs. Sanchez is awfully close to a stiff, so it's fair to reason that this game could get ugly. Start Keller, but otherwise expect little passing success from the Jets in this matchup.
If the Seahawks loosened their leash on Russell Wilson in Week 8, it didn't carry over to Week 9. Wilson still played well in the game, but Seattle reverted to its season-long approach of simply pouring on rushing attempts. Unafraid of an oft-stout Vikings defensive front, the Seahawks piled up 45 carries as a team. Marshawn Lynch is the featured player in Seattle's offense, and he's a top-five running back start against the Jets' No. 29 run defense. ... Even after the loss of Darrelle Revis, New York is playing top-six pass defense and has not allowed an enemy No. 1 outside receiver to score a touchdown since Revis went down in Week 3. Playing the best ball of his career and earning a spot on my Midseason All-Pro Team, Antonio Cromartie is reason enough to hold Sidney Rice out of Week 10 fantasy lineups. ... Coming off a two-score, six-touch effort, Golden Tate has a better matchup than his teammate against the Jets. A poor man's Percy Harvin, Tate rushed twice for 21 yards on top of his Week 9 receiving stats and should get the better of Jets No. 2 CB Kyle Wilson. Tate is a quality bye-week crunch WR3. ... Wilson should be picked up in all leagues as a high-upside QB2. He has an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio over the past month and could earn more rope if he keeps playing lights out. Wilson has been terrific in recent games.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 20, Jets 9