Thursday Night Football
Cincinnati @ Philadelphia
This week's Thursday night game pits against each other two teams at opposite ends of the NFL spectrum. In the thick of the AFC playoff hunt, 7-6 Cincinnati returns from a Week 14 choke-job loss to Dallas. 4-9 Philadelphia has accepted a lost season, auditioning young pups while vets ride the bench. Playing spoiler, those pups pulled off an upset of NFC playoff-contending Tampa Bay last week. The Bengals have two major on-paper advantages in this game. One lies in the defensive trenches. The other is in Cincinnati's passing game. ... Since the Week 7 firing of DC Juan Castillo, the Eagles have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 130-of-186 throws (69.9 percent) for 1,508 yards (8.11 YPA), and an 18:0 TD-to-INT ratio. It's a seven-game sample that bodes well for No. 11 overall fantasy passer Andy Dalton as a back-end QB1. He should be locked into two-quarterback league lineups. ... Philly's defense has been toasted for 12 catches, 229 yards, and three TDs by opposing No. 1 receivers Vincent Jackson and Dez Bryant the past two weeks. A.J. Green is better than both, and should have no trouble running by RCB Nnamdi Asomugha, and out-physicaling LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Fantasy owners need to confidently shake off Green's season-worst Week 14 game (3-44-0) and start him as a top-five WR1 on Thursday. The Eagles have allowed the third most passing touchdowns in the league.
Dalton's two-game target distribution since Mohamed Sanu suffered a year-ending foot fracture in the Bengals' Nov. 30 practice: Green 21, Andrew Hawkins 16, Jermaine Gresham 13, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 9, Marvin Jones 7. ... Replacing Sanu at No. 2 receiver, Jones flashed playmaking ability with 82 yards on four Week 14 touches. The fifth-round rookie isn't a realistic standard-league fantasy option, but Jones is a prospect to monitor. ... Finally seeing a deserved uptick in snaps, Hawkins has been a 70-percent player in Cincinnati's offense since Sanu's injury. Coming off a 6-44-1 line against Dallas, Hawkins is worth a look from owners scrambling for WR3 options. He has a favorable matchup versus rookie slot corner Brandon Boykin. ... Philadelphia is 22nd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, giving Gresham an average to below-average Week 15 matchup. Heavily utilized as a blocker and on pace for under 800 yards, Gresham typically pays fantasy dividends only when he scores red-zone touchdowns. Four of Gresham's five TDs this season have occurred on plays inside the opponent's 20-yard line. ... The Eagles rank a middling 17th against the run. Having totaled at least 100 yards in four straight games, Green-Ellis has been sprung for long gains at a career-high rate over the past month behind an at-times dominant Bengals offensive line. Green-Ellis is a respectable, if relatively low-upside flex play in Week 15.
Stringing together back-to-back competent performances, Nick Foles has completed 59 of his last 90 throws (65.6 percent) for 676 yards (7.51 YPA), and a 3:0 TD-to-INT ratio. He scored a fourth touchdown on last week's molasses-slow red-zone scramble. Foles has exhibited promising traits with a live arm and instinctive pocket mobility, although he's in for his toughest test yet versus Cincinnati's AFC-best front four in Week 15. While Philly's offensive line has improved recently, it hasn't faced an opponent capable of knifing through the interior like Geno Atkins' Bengals. Foles is a two-quarterback league option and nothing more. ... Foles' target distribution through five appearances: Jeremy Maclin 39, Riley Cooper 28, Brent Celek 22, Jason Avant 18, Clay Harbor 17, Bryce Brown 16, Damaris Johnson 9. ... Despite his team-high target numbers, Maclin has been maddeningly inconsistent with yardage totals of 93, 0, 55, 38, and 104 in Foles' five games. Maclin's featured role with DeSean Jackson (ribs) and Celek (concussion) sidelined keeps him in the WR3 conversation in a plus matchup with Bengals 34-year-old LCB Terence Newman. ... Cooper has been Philly's first-team "X" wideout in Jackson's absence, with Maclin moving to Z. Primarily a blocker and red-zone specialist, Cooper has failed to clear 40 yards in his two starts.
The Eagles have used a three-wide, shotgun-heavy offense in Foles' last two starts, thrusting slot man Avant into an every-down role. Pro Football Focus charted Avant with 71-of-76 snaps (93.4 percent) in last week's loss to Tampa Bay. Avant has made some nice catches en route to 212 yards the past two weeks, but he'll have the most difficult matchup among Philadelphia receivers if the Bengals play "sides" at cornerback, as they usually do. In Cincy's passing-down defense, Pacman Jones mans right corner with Newman on the left and top CB Leon Hall in the slot. Avant would draw Hall on the majority of Thursday's snaps. ... Weeks 12-13 hero Bryce Brown will likely be benched in many fantasy leagues against the Bengals, following last week's clunker in Tampa. It's important to note that no one runs on the Buccaneers, however. The Bucs allow 78.2 rushing yards per game, fewest in the league by more than a dozen. Whereas Tampa Bay's top-ranked run defense tilts its nose tackle in a cocked stance to tie up multiple blockers, freeing the linebackers to blow up run plays, Cincinnati's 11th-ranked group utilizes a more aggressive, up-field style geared toward rushing the passer and causing backfield penetration. The penetration would be greater cause for concern if Brown lacked speed to beat linebackers to the perimeter. But Brown has speed in spades, and Foles' improvement should only help the efficiency of the run game going forward. Start Brown on Thursday night as a high-upside, if moderately high-risk RB2.
Score Prediction: Bengals 23, Eagles 17