New England @ NY Jets
Rex Ryan's Jets defense bottled up New England's sputtering offense in these teams' Week 2 meeting in Foxboro, as the Pats narrowly escaped with a 13-10 win. Now the Patriots travel to the Jets' building, where New York has yet to surrender more than 20 points in any game this season. Fantasy owners shouldn't anticipate much scoring from Pats-Jets because both clubs are playing potent defense, and each team's offense has been inconsistent at best. ... The Patriots are back to square one in their pass-catching corps, having lost Danny Amendola to a Week 6 concussion with Rob Gronkowski (arm surgeries) not yet back. Tom Brady's target distribution in the three games this season where Julian Edelman, Kenbrell Thompkins, and Aaron Dobson have been his primary pass options: Edelman 34, Thompkins 25, Dobson 23, Brandon Bolden 7, Josh Boyce 4, Michael Hoomanawanui and Stevan Ridley 3. ... Edelman's snaps were scaled back last week, but the Pats are going to need him to be a full-time player again. And he caught 13 balls against these same Jets in the Week 2 game. Edelman should be locked into PPR lineups. He's a WR3 in standard settings. ... The Patriots seem quite pleased with Dobson's improvement, playing him more than any of their wideouts in Week 6 (80-of-88 snaps). Dobson caught six passes for 63 yards against the Saints and is worth a look for WR3 desperados.
Friday Update: Gronkowski's agent announced Friday Dr. James Andrews has medically cleared his client, and ESPN's Ed Werder (very reliable) reported Gronk "is expected" to play against the Jets. I would consider Gronkowski a top-two tight end play immediately, alongside San Francisco's Vernon Davis. By all accounts, Gronkowski has been "dominant" in Patriots practices, even to the extent that teammates were frustrated he looked so good yet wasn't playing in games. And I'm not concerned about his Week 7 playing time. I think he will be full go right away.
Fallout of the Return of Gronk: This sounds simplistic, but I think the primary fallout is it upgrades the talent level of New England's offense. Not much changes; they just have a (much) better tight end now. The player who will lose the most playing time is Hoomanawanui. I expect the Patriots to continue to play 11 Personnel offense, with Dobson and Thompkins at outside receiver, Edelman as the primary slot man, and Gronkowski as the every-down tight end. Gronkowski commands double and triple teams in scoring position, which should help spark the Patriots' run game. And Brady now has back the most lethal red-zone presence in football.
Thompkins is likely to spend most of Sunday's game in Antonio Cromartie's coverage, and "Cro" is struggling. Opposing No. 1 receiver stats versus the Jets this year: Antonio Brown 9-86, Julio Jones 8-99, Vincent Jackson 7-154, Nate Washington 4-105-2, Stevie Johnson 6-86, Edelman 13-78. Loved by Brady on end-zone fades, Thompkins has four TDs over his last four games. ... Ridley's Week 6 return from a thigh contusion brought clarity to the Patriots' backfield, as their most talented runner racked up 21 touches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount (7-9) was totally ineffective, while passing back Bolden was utilized only as a change-of-pace runner (5-19) with three targets as a check-down option. The problem for Ridley in Week 7 is the matchup. Lead back stats versus the Jets' No. 2 run defense this year: Doug Martin 24-65-1; Ridley 16-40-0; C.J. Spiller 10-9-0; Chris Johnson 15-21-0; Jacquizz Rodgers 14-43-2; Le'Veon Bell 16-34-0. Those runners have combined for a 2.23 YPC average. Ridley is likely to see 15-plus touches again and is worth a look as a flex play, but he's going to need better matchups for confident usage as an RB2. ... Blount is a clearly inferior runner to Ridley and figures to fade out of the picture sooner rather than later. ... Bolden is just a role player and has yet to receive more than 11 touches in any game this year. He's not a Week 7 fantasy option.
The Jets have Week 7 offensive hope due to the banged-up state of New England's defense. NT Vince Wilfork is on I.R. with a torn Achilles'. WLB Jerod Mayo joined him in the season-ending-injury group this week with a torn pectoral. Shutdown CB Aqib Talib (hip) is not expected to play. So the Pats will be without their best player at each level of defense. ... New England is allowing 4.24 yards per carry, the ninth highest average in football. With Mike Goodson done for the year with an ACL tear, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory will handle the Jets' backfield duties going forward. Powell is a low-end flex option against a Patriots defense he stung for 70 total yards and a TD in Week 2. ... Although he lacks the versatility of Powell, Ivory is slated for increased usage, as well, as a violent between-the-tackles complementary runner who could take advantage of the Patriots' depleted front seven. Ivory isn't a realistic Week 7 fantasy option, but he's worth owning in 12- and 14- team leagues as a bench stash. Ivory is still the most talented runner the Jets have. To this point, his touches have been limited by a committee approach and his recurring hamstring woes.
Geno Smith's target distribution since Santonio Holmes suffered his multi-week hamstring injury: Jeremy Kerley 13; Stephen Hill 10; Jeff Cumberland 9; Powell 5; David Nelson 3. ... Accurately forecasting worthwhile fantasy numbers from any Jets pass catcher has been a difficult task this season. So let's focus on their skills. At 6-foot-4, 210 with legit 4.3 wheels, Hill is averaging 16.7 yards per reception and gives you your best shot at a big play. Talib's absence gives Hill a Week 7 assist. He's a boom-or-bust WR3 option. ... Kerley is a between-the-numbers, high-percentage receiver who plays Z and slot. He will get the start opposite Hill. If you're a PPR owner looking for a wideout capable of giving you five or so quiet receptions, Kerley is the way to go. ... The Pats have allowed the seventh most catches and 11th most yards in the league to tight ends. So on paper, this is a plus matchup for Cumberland, who is locked in as the Jets' top tight end with Kellen Winslow entering the second week of his month-long suspension. Cumberland is a bit of a lumbering player, though he's quite capable of scoring red-zone touchdowns and sneaking behind the defense. Cumberland is a fantasy TE2, ideally, but you could do worse for a Week 7 fill-in flier.
Score Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 17
Buffalo @ Miami
The Dolphins return from a Week 6 bye to square off with a Bills offense starting Thad Lewis at quarterback a week removed from a right foot sprain. Lewis more than held his own in last week's O.T. loss to Cincinnati, but sustained success against a defensive front as talented and rested as Miami's is unlikely. Look for another heavy dose of run plays from a Bills team committed to the run and leading the NFL in rushing attempts. Although Lewis is clearly a better quarterback than given credit for, he's going to be a low-volume passer in a difficult matchup. He's just a two-quarterback-league consideration. ... Lewis' Week 6 target distribution: Robert Woods and T.J. Graham 6; Fred Jackson 5; Scott Chandler 4; Marquise Goodwin, Chris Hogan, and Tashard Choice 3; C.J. Spiller 2. ... Combine Lewis' tendency to spread his throws around instead of locking onto one particular pass catcher with Stevie Johnson's return from a back injury, and no Bills receiver or tight end is a trustworthy fantasy play. Johnson would be the best bet because he's playing so much slot receiver, where he can avoid stationary LCB Brent Grimes' coverage. ... Woods is more likely to match up with Grimes because the rookie runs most of his pass routes at opposing left cornerbacks. Pro Football Focus has graded Grimes as a top-nine corner through five games, and No. 10 overall in pass coverage. Woods is an undesirable WR3 this week.
The Dolphins are allowing the second most fantasy points to tight ends, which theoretically gives Chandler a plus matchup. Unfortunately, Chandler is a touchdown-dependent tight end who will burn a hole in your fantasy lineup if he doesn't hit pay dirt. He's cleared 50 yards in 1-of-6 games this year. ... Until Spiller shakes his ankle woes and resumes operating as an even committee back alongside Jackson, Spiller can only be treated as an RB2/flex. For his part, Spiller has been highly effective in his reduced role despite playing at significantly less than 100%. He's rushed 18 times for 121 yards (6.72 YPC) and a touchdown the past two weeks. And that explains why the Bills' coaching staff isn't resting him. Spiller is still a quality on-field performer, and he's historically given Miami's heavyweight defense fits. ... The Dolphins rank 15th versus the run and surrender 3.96 yards per carry, so this is an average to below-average matchup for Spiller and Jackson. F-Jax's last two games have produced just 88 yards on 27 runs (3.26 YPC), though his involvement in the pass game and chances at a goal-line score keep Jackson on the flex-play radar this week.
Before their Week 6 bye, the Dolphins showed signs of leaning on Lamar Miller as a true feature back and moving away from their early-season RBBC with Daniel Thomas. Miller has outplayed Thomas in virtually every area, so the switch would make sense. Only time can tell whether this will truly become a trend, but in Week 5 Miller played a season-high 45-of-59 snaps compared to Thomas' 11 downs. On the season, Miller is averaging 4.22 YPC to Thomas' 2.63. Pro Football Focus has also given Miller better grades than Thomas as a pass blocker. Miami's coaching staff had a week off to review the tape in preparation of attacking the Bills' No. 28 run defense. Miller is an intriguing Week 7 flex play, with RB2 rest-of-season potential if he can maintain the lead over Thomas in terms of snaps and touches. ... Although Ryan Tannehill has made year-two strides, the box scores have yet to cooperate. Tannehill is 21st in per-game fantasy quarterback scoring, behind the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Geno Smith, and just ahead of Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton. With top CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist) and FS Jairus Byrd (foot) back in action, Buffalo's pass defense won't be as leaky as it was over the first five-plus games. Tannehill is a fantasy QB2. He needs more help from his pass protection in order to take a serious statistical leap.
With a game under his belt in first-year Bills DC Mike Pettine's defense, look for Gilmore to get the Week 7 Mike Wallace assignment. Gilmore was eased into the Week 6 lineup, playing only 27-of-88 downs. This week, Gilmore was a full practice participant for the first time all season. Just 53rd in per-game fantasy wide receiver scoring, Wallace is a roll-of-the-dice WR3 play. ... Tannehill's target distribution over Miami's first five games: Wallace 44, Brian Hartline 39, Brandon Gibson 33, Charles Clay 31, Miller 9, Thomas 6. ... Clay is always an intriguing TE1 option because plays all over the formation and runs high-percentage pass routes that make it easy for Tannehill to connect. The Bills have allowed the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends, giving this the impression of a difficult matchup. Clay is not utilized like most tight ends, however. I wouldn't discourage anyone from playing him this week. ... On pace for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns, Hartline is a low-ceiling WR3. He hasn't hit the 70-yard mark since Week 1.
Score Prediction: Dolphins 24, Bills 20
San Diego @ Jacksonville
On the strength of 5-80, 6-115-1, and 9-107-1 statistical lines, Keenan Allen has solidified himself as an every-week WR3 with WR2 upside. The Bolts are using him at every wide receiver position on the field, and in last week's upset of Indianapolis Allen was treated as a legit No. 1 wideout by Philip Rivers, leading San Diego in targets (12, next closest was 8) while exhibiting slippery after-catch running skills in the open field, and outstanding change of direction. Allen has blossomed into an ideal fit for San Diego's quick-pass offense. Start him against Jacksonville's burnable secondary. ... Rivers' target distribution over the three-week stretch: Antonio Gates 28, Allen 27, Vincent Brown and Danny Woodhead 21, Eddie Royal 12, Ryan Mathews 5, Ronnie Brown 3, Ladarius Green 2. ... Target leader Gates has a plus matchup against a Jags team surrendering the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends. Gates and Allen project as San Diego's reception and yardage leaders moving forward. ... Jacksonville has allowed a league-high 14 touchdown passes and is tied for 29th in sacks. Simply talent deficient on defense, the Jaguars lack imposing pass rushers and allow enemy quarterbacks to operate in clean pockets. It's a recipe for success for Rivers, who I'd view as a top-five QB1 in Week 7 and a top-ten fantasy starter moving forward.
Royal missed a chunk of Week 6 snaps with a toe injury, finishing without a target. He'd clearly moved to the backburner even before then, and can be dropped in 12-team leagues. ... Although San Diego's pass-catching corps has been in constant motion this season, recent data suggests Brown is the No. 2 wideout behind Allen, and Rivers' No. 4 pass option behind Gates, Allen, and Woodhead. Brown is WR4/5 bench depth until something changes. ... The Jags rank last in the NFL in run defense, have permitted seven rushing touchdowns through six games, and cough up 4.77 yards per carry. While fantasy owners still can't anticipate significant goal-line or passing-game involvement, Mathews is a quality RB2/flex because the opponent is so weak. When he has lasted four quarters healthy this year, Mathews is averaging 18.6 touches per game. His weekly upside remains capped by the Chargers' distrust of Mathews in all critical situations, which he re-confirmed in Week 6 against the Colts by bone-headeadly running out of bounds with San Diego in crucial late-game clock-killing mode. ... Although Woodhead is a vanilla week-to-week flex play in standard leagues, he's on pace for 96 catches and can be leaned on as an every-week RB2/flex in PPR formats. The Chargers get Woodhead into space in the pass game, and utilize him as a change-of-pace runner on the ground. He's averaging 13 touches for 69 yards per game.
Appearing more physically fit and focused than he ever did as a rookie, Justin Blackmon is a burgeoning fantasy beast. Perhaps most critically, rookie OC Jedd Fisch is utilizing Blackmon to his strengths. Playing frequent slot snaps and running high-percentage patterns like slants and skinny posts, Blackmon is dominating defenses in the middle of the field, where his Boldinian physicality makes him a matchup nightmare. Chad Henne's strength as a passer is throwing inside the numbers and down the seams. Add in generous helpings of garbage time and Cecil Shorts' injury, and Blackmon is a candidate to lead the NFL in targets on a weekly basis. Already struggling, Chargers lightweight CBs Shareece Wright (5'11/182), Johnny Patrick (5'11/190), and Derek Cox (6'1/195) will have their hands full. Treat Blackmon as a WR1. ... Henne's targets since Blackmon came off suspension: Blackmon 29, Shorts 10, Clay Harbor 8, Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Brown 5, Ace Sanders 4, Justin Forsett 3. ... Shorts (sternum/clavicle) isn’t expected to play against the Chargers, thrusting Brown into the starting lineup with Sanders coming off a concussion. It's a fantasy situation to avoid behind target monster Blackmon. ... Marcedes Lewis is tentatively due back from a recurring calf injury that has cost him all but one game this season. The Jags could really use Lewis to help liability OTs Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor pass and run block.
Friday Update: Listed as questionable, Shorts told reporters Friday he will try to play against the Chargers despite an injury that is restrictive on his upper-body movement, and cost him sleep during the week. I wouldn't be convinced Shorts is capable of playing a full game. He should be on fantasy benches this week. Perhaps Shorts will be worth revisiting in Week 8 against the 49ers if he beats the odds and plays well versus San Diego.
I haven't had many opportunities to see Jones-Drew sprung into the open field this season due to a Jaguars offensive line that ranks dead last in Pro Football Focus' team run-blocking metrics. MJD got one of those chances in last week's loss to Denver, and his lack of high-end run skills was apparent. Jones-Drew no longer has a second gear and isn't moving well laterally. He's a weekly sell-high recommend in this space, and will remain so going forward, particularly if he strings together another productive outing versus San Diego's No. 17 run defense. The Bolts are giving up 4.82 yards per carry, which is the fourth highest average in the league. ... Forsett appears to have overtaken Jordan Todman as Jacksonville's No. 2 running back. While Todman played only nine snaps against the Broncos and failed to record an offensive touch, Forsett was active in comeback mode and secured 3-of-3 targets for 18 yards. The Jaguars would likely fall back on a timeshare if Jones-Drew was injured or traded, but Forsett would be the preferred fantasy target. The versatile scatback is worth stashing right now in 14- and 16-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Jaguars 17