St. Louis @ Houston
With major quarterback woes, Owen Daniels (fibula) out eight weeks, and a defense not playing as well as its No. 1 ranking indicates, the Texans' likeliest and most sensible recourse is to make a decided commitment to the run game and heating-up Arian Foster. Houston's most effective skill-position player the past two weeks, Foster squares off with a Rams defense that ranks 27th against the run. Over its last three games, St. Louis has been gashed by DeMarco Murray, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and washed-up Maurice Jones-Drew for a combined 447 yards and three touchdowns on 74 carries (6.04 YPC). I'd rank Foster as the No. 1 fantasy back for Week 6, ahead of Adrian Peterson. ... Ben Tate seems likely to stay involved as a change-up back, but losing his second fumble in as many weeks means there are no guarantees. Tate didn't get an offensive touch following the early-fourth-quarter miscue in last Sunday's loss to San Francisco. He's a boom-or-bust, low-floor flex. ... Daniels' cracked fibula vaults Garrett Graham into Houston's clear No. 1 tight end role, where he has a shot to pay dividends as an every-week fantasy starter. Graham is hardly a dynamic talent -- he ran 4.71 at an H-backish 6-foot-3, 243 coming out of Wisconsin -- but has sure hands and will be an every-down player in a tight end-friendly offense. Graham has a plus Week 6 matchup against St. Louis' weak linebackers and safeties.
Matt Schaub morphed into Jake Delhomme circa Week 14 in Foxboro last season. Over his past 11 games, Schaub has completed 282-of-432 throws for 2,917 yards (6.75 YPA) with an 11:14 TD-to-INT ratio, 25 sacks absorbed, and a 4-7 record. He's thrown a pick-six in four consecutive games, setting a league record, and was benched for T.J. Yates last week. Losing Daniels doesn't help. With his confidence in the gutter, I'd avoid betting on Schaub to bounce back against the Rams. ... Schaub's target distribution on the season: Andre Johnson 57, Daniels 40, DeAndre Hopkins 33, Foster 25, Graham 21, Tate 13, Keshawn Martin 12. ... Noteworthy wide receiver stat lines against St. Louis' porous secondary through five weeks: Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2. Shake off Andre's slow Week 5 game and start him versus the Rams. ... Hopkins could be a beneficiary of Daniels' absence, potentially moving into the No. 2 pass-option role. The rookie is worth a long look as a WR3 in this prime matchup. ... The Texans figure to stick with their two-tight end offense despite Daniels' loss. Rookie Ryan Griffin will likely play more snaps and is a player to monitor in Dynasty leagues. Griffin stands 6-foot-6, 261 with a basketball background.
Back on the road against the NFL's No. 1 defense both in passing and total yards, Sam Bradford is a risky two-QB-league play. LE/DT J.J. Watt is capable of single-handedly torpedoing offenses, and Bradford's accuracy consistently goes in the gutter under duress. The Texans are limiting opposing passers to the third worst completion rate (53.7%) and YPA (6.2) in football. The Rams likely won't generate much ball movement through the air. ... Bradford's 2013 target distribution: Tavon Austin 40, Austin Pettis 36, Jared Cook 35, Chris Givens 34, Lance Kendricks 19, Daryl Richardson 15, Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead 12, Zac Stacy 1. ... St. Louis' inefficient (58.1% completions), spread-the-wealth passing attack has so far failed to produce a single reliable, every-week fantasy starter at tight end or wide receiver. Cook's Week 1 game has been exposed as a tease, as he ranks 23rd in fantasy tight end scoring over the past three weeks, behind the likes of Mychal Rivera and Levine Toilolo. The Texans have permitted the fewest receptions in the league (11) to tight ends, and the sixth fewest yards (200). Cook is a fantasy TE2-only until something changes. ... Givens has been another disappointment after a big play-filled preseason. Over his last three games, Givens has secured a paltry 8-of-23 targets for 119 yards and has failed to find pay dirt on the season. He's a WR4/5 in fantasy leagues and a poor bet to break out against RCB Johnathan Joseph, who held Anquan Boldin (2-21) in check last Sunday night.
Possession receiver Pettis has caught four touchdowns over the past month, three inside the opposing five-yard line. Most teams run the ball into the end zone when they get deep in scoring position. The Rams throw to Pettis. I'm still not convinced his value or outlook has changed. He's a 6-foot-3, 207-pound wideout averaging 10.1 yards per catch who's cleared 60 yards in 1-of-5 games. If you're starting Pettis, you're betting on a deep red-zone TD. I'd think of him as a low-ceiling WR3. ... Austin has been even less efficient. He's averaging 6.8 yards per catch, has yet to hit the 50-yard mark on the year, has six drops, and has only secured 23 of his 40 targets. He's been a disappointment in real life and fantasy. Others have blamed OC Brian Schottenheimer for Austin's struggles. I think Tavon has a lot of self-improvement to do. ... Stacy asserted himself as St. Louis' clear-cut feature back in Week 5 against Jacksonville, turning in easily the finest performance (14-5.6-78) of any Rams runner to date. Coach Jeff Fisher promptly confirmed Monday Stacy will remain the starter moving forward. Richardson still handled 13 carries, though he was primarily a change-of-pace back on the perimeter. Isaiah Pead did not touch the ball, and all four of Benny Cunningham's runs came on St. Louis' final, garbage-time drive. The Texans' defense is more exploitable on the ground than in the air, permitting 4.20 yards per carry and tying the Rams for 27th versus the run. Stacy is a respectable Week 6 flex play with an arrow pointing up.
Score Prediction: Texans 27, Rams 17
Carolina @ Minnesota
The Panthers' insistence on morphing Cam Newton into a conventional pocket passer is costing them wins and may end up costing Ron Rivera and Mike Shula their jobs. After reinstalling designed quarterback runs both out in the open field and near the goal line in Carolina's Week 3 38-0 drubbing of the Giants, Shula & Co. ostensibly decided during their Week 4 bye to resume the offensive style they played in Weeks 1-2. The result was the same as Weeks 1-2, as well, as the Panthers fell to 1-3 and Cam had his season-worst outing in Arizona, throwing three picks in a pathetic 22-6 loss. Newton's fantasy value is in the hands of Shula. On paper, this is a favorable matchup against Minnesota's 30th-ranked defense. Cam will blow up if Shula calls offense like he did in Week 3, and disappoint if the Panthers play like they did in Weeks 1, 2, and 5. It's a start-Newton-at-your-own-risk scenario. ... Cam's distribution of targets this year: Steve Smith 36, Greg Olsen 32, Brandon LaFell 20, Ted Ginn 18, DeAngelo Williams 8, Mike Tolbert 5. ... Smith ranks a disappointing 58th in per-game fantasy receiver scoring, but if there were ever a matchup to get him back on track, this is it. The game will be played indoors versus Minnesota's No. 29 pass defense, which has submitted ten passing touchdowns through four games and isn't generating up-front pressure, leaving its young secondary vulnerable deep. I don't think Smith's slow start is a sign of diminishing ability. I think he has a chance at a blowup game in Week 6.
This may be owners' last chance to confidently play Williams without fearing an even timeshare with Jonathan Stewart, who is due back from PUP in Week 7. If Stewart's ankles are fixed, he'll immediately upgrade on Williams in terms of big-play ability and versatility. This week, Williams is a quality RB2/flex at Minnesota, which ranks a middling 15th in run defense and permits 4.23 yards per carry. Williams is always a poor bet to score because he gets vultured by Cam and Tolbert, but he's averaging 20 touches a game with a rock-solid 4.46 YPC average. ... In addition to the looming and likely inevitable split backfield, a factor working against Williams and Stewart moving forward will be LG Amini Silatolu's year-ending ACL tear. The 40th pick in the 2012 draft, Silatolu had emerged as Carolina's best lineman and was a top-15 guard in Pro Football Focus' run-blocking ratings as of Week 5. ... Olsen has shaken off an early-week foot scare and will start against a Vikings defense permitting the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. He's a strong TE1 play in Week 6. ... No. 3 pass option LaFell is on pace for 452 receiving yards this season and can't be trusted in fantasy. He's barely worth a roster spot in 12-team leagues.
Matt Cassel is expected to make his final start of the season Sunday before giving way to Josh Freeman, whom the Vikings have signed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the obvious intent of playing sooner rather than later. Christian Ponder (ribs) seems to be out of the picture. Although Freeman is still learning the playbook, it's not out of the question Cassel will be on a short leash against Carolina if he struggles early in the game. And poor early-game performance is a distinct possibility versus the Panthers' No. 8 pass defense, which has held enemy passers to a 3:6 TD-to-INT ratio and bottom-ten QB rating (76.4) on the strength of a top-five defensive front seven. This is not a good matchup for the Vikings' pass game as a whole. ... Cassel's 2013 target distribution: Jerome Simpson 11; Greg Jennings 4; John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph, and Cordarrelle Patterson 2; Jarius Wright and Adrian Peterson 1. ... Simpson's stat lines through four starts: 7-140, 2-49, 3-29, 7-124. Does Simpson have some big-play ability? Affirmative. Is it likely Simpson has turned a corner in his career, and will suddenly break out as a sixth-year pro? Negative. Simpson has long been inconsistent on the field and more likely to throw up duds than dominate. He's a crapshoot WR3 option with considerable Week 6 bust potential.
The Vikings "managed" Cassel in his pre-bye start, playing balanced offense (25:25 run-to-pass ratio) as Peterson tore off 140 yards and two TDs on 23 carries. Look for continued run-game reliance to prevent against a deficit, from which Cassel would be unlikely to rally back. Despite an early-season open date, Peterson leads all running backs in all-purpose TDs (6) and standard-league fantasy points per game (20.8). The Panthers' tough run defense can be safely ignored. ... Carolina's secondary has been such an injury-plagued carousel that I'm not really sure who will play where at corner. I prefer Jennings over Simpson as a fantasy start this and every week because the Vikings' slot/Z receiver has a better chance at consistency. Jennings runs higher-percentage routes close to the line of scrimmage, where modest-armed Cassel has a better shot at finding him. Over his last three games, Jennings has posted respectable stat lines of 5-84, 3-43, and 3-92-2. He hasn't been as heavily targeted as I hoped, but isn't a terrible weekly WR3. ... Regardless of who's been under center for Minnesota, Rudolph has been a huge fantasy letdown. He's on pace for 48 catches and 412 yards, and is a low-end TE2 against a Panthers defense that has permitted the fewest receiving yards (100) and second fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Vikings 21, Panthers 20
Oakland @ Kansas City
Terrelle Pryor has earned major kudos for weekly improvement, developing into a legitimate QB1 streamer in plus matchups. This isn't one of them. On the road to face the 5-0 Chiefs at what promises to be a jacked-up Arrowhead Stadium, Pryor will square off with the NFL's No. 1 defense in points allowed and No. 7 in yardage. Kansas City ranks No. 1 in sacks (21), tied for third in interceptions (7), and has the necessary outside-edge presences to confine Pryor to the pocket, where he can't hurt opponents with his legs and is likeliest to struggle. View Pryor as a two-QB-league option only this week. ... Pryor's 2013 target distribution: Denarius Moore 27, Rod Streater 19, Mychal Rivera 12, Darren McFadden 10, Marcel Reece and Brice Butler 9, Jacoby Ford 7, Rashad Jennings 3. ... Historically a left cornerback only, Brandon Flowers is being employed as a defensive movable-chess piece by new Chiefs DC Bob Sutton. He covered the slot in Week 5, although Titans slot man Kendall Wright still finished with a 6-74 stat line. Finally showing signs of consistency, Moore hasn't dropped a pass since Week 2 and is the No. 8 fantasy receiver over the past three weeks. Despite Flowers' likely shadow coverage, Moore is worth a look as a high-ceiling WR3.
The Raiders don't throw enough to support more than one fantasy starter in their pass-catching corps. Possession receiver Streater is coming off an efficient game (3-56-1 on three targets), but lacks upside to be WR3 worthy in a tough matchup. Chiefs RCB Sean Smith has quietly been one of the steals of 2013 free agency. ... Leave out their Week 3 game in Philadelphia and the Chiefs are playing run-tough defense. In its other four contests, Kansas City has held Giants, Cowboys, Jaguars, and Titans tailbacks to a combined 233 yards on 67 carries (3.48 YPC) without a single touchdown allowed. Jennings is tentatively due back from a Week 5 hamstring injury, but wasn't a full practice participant during the week and is likely short of 100%. McFadden (hamstring, questionable) isn't shaping up as a good bet to play. Reece only has 18 touches on the season. Jeremy Stewart could also be in the Week 6 mix. In a difficult road game with an imposing matchup, it's not a good week to hang your hat on Oakland running backs.
Friday Update: Adding to the likelihood of Raiders run-game struggles will be the Week 6 absence of C Stefen Wisniewski, who is listed as out with a knee injury. It's a big concern against dominant Chiefs NT Dontari Poe, who is headed for All-Pro honors this season.
Despite talent shortages, the Raiders have played surprisingly stout run defense early in the year. Oakland ranks 11th versus the run and is only submitting 3.66 yards per carry, although Jamaal Charles' all-purpose involvement makes him a matchup-proof elite fantasy starter. In addition to ranking fifth in the league in rushing yardage (1,271-yard pace), Charles leads all running backs in targets (44) and is tied for second behind Danny Woodhead in receptions (28). ... Oakland is leakier in pass than run defense. The Raiders have a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio against via the air and are yielding a league-high 72.3 completion rate to enemy passers. The largely bend-but-don't break Raiders defense plays right into dink-and-dunk Chiefs QB Alex Smith's hands. Coach Andy Reid consistently puts Smith in high-percentage passing situations underneath and inside the numbers, playing to his limited quarterback's strengths. Smith ought to be able to dink and dunk all day against Oakland. While Smith's fantasy upside remains capped by a lack of big-play ability, he's certainly worth high-end QB2 consideration in this matchup.
Smith's target distribution: Charles 44, Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery 30, Dexter McCluster 21, Sean McGrath 19, Anthony Sherman 9, Anthony Fasano 7. ... Playing almost all of his snaps on the perimeter, Bowe has an attractive matchup against struggling Raiders CBs Mike Jenkins, Tracy Porter, and D.J. Hayden. Unfortunately, Bowe has consistently disappointed regardless of coverage because the Chiefs' offense is not geared toward pushing the ball outside the hashes or downfield. Bowe has become a total week-to-week crapshoot. He's a dice-roll fantasy WR3. ... I'd still rather play Bowe than Avery, who caught a pair of fluky 40-plus-yard vertical shots from Smith in Week 5, finishing with a 3-91 stat line at Tennessee. Avery suffered an in-game shoulder injury and could barely raise his arm in the locker room afterwards. He is a brittle player and ranks 38th among fantasy wideouts through five games. ... McCluster was not targeted and didn't receive an offensive touch against the Titans. ... McGrath's Beard has caught at least four passes in three consecutive games and will continue to handle Kansas City's every-down tight end duties with Travis Kelce (knee scope) out indefinitely and Fasano (knee, ankle) not yet ready. McGrath has been good for 5-6 targets a week. This is a quality matchup on paper for him if you're desperate. The Raiders gave up seven Week 5 catches to Antonio Gates and miss SS Tyvon Branch (fibula).
Score Prediction: Chiefs 23, Raiders 20