St. Louis @ Indianapolis
Same game plan, different opponent. The Rams will enter Week 10 playing offense on the back of rookie Zac Stacy, around whom they are now scheming and calling plays. He's the best skill-position player they have, and St. Louis' coaching staff knows it. The Rams have changed their personnel groupings to support a run-first offense after attempting to play spread early in the year. I'm skeptical Stacy is capable of sustaining his Weeks 8-9 production with such a limited support cast, but would fire him up with excitement against Indy's bottom-six run defense. A true every-down back, Stacy is pushing for RB1 value. ... Kellen Clemens' target distribution on the season: Jared Cook and Chris Givens 14; Stacy 10; Lance Kendricks 9; Austin Pettis 8; Brian Quick and Tavon Austin 5; Daryl Richardson 2. ... There is no featured player in the Rams' passing attack, and Clemens hasn't shown any tendency to pepper one pass catcher with targets. Add in below-average quarterback play and a run-first offense, and you have both a recipe for unreliability and low ceiling for production. While Cook and Givens both possess theoretical big-play ability and can overcome the odds in a random game, the most likely outcome for Rams receivers and tight ends is always clunker weeks. You can try taking a shot. Just realize there is a small chance it'll pay off.
I think it's fair to wonder if the Colts might be 8-0 had they maximized T.Y. Hilton's early-season snaps at the expense of Darrius Heyward-Bey's. Rookie OC Pep Hamilton made the conscious pre-season decision to limit his most explosive playmaker's field time in favor of a drop-prone blocking receiver, all in the interest of playing "run-first" football. (Pep the Playcaller deemed DHB a better blocker.) Now a 90% player in Indy's offense -- though only by default -- Hilton is going to explode down the stretch. Like a more sudden, versatile, quicker-twitch version of Victor Cruz, Hilton is essentially uncoverable one on one, and floats around the formation so often that he becomes very difficult to double team or bracket. Start Hilton as a WR1 this week. Noteworthy opposing wideout stats against St. Louis' leaky secondary this season: Golden Tate 5-93-2; Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Larry Fitzgerald 8-80-2; Anquan Boldin 5-90-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Andre Johnson 7-88. ... Although Andrew Luck's sheer playmaking ability can vault him to spectacular fantasy weeks, Hamilton's run-first approach won't stop curbing his upside. The Colts are 27th in the NFL in pass attempts, and Luck is tenth in per-game fantasy quarterback scoring. He's a mid-range to low-end QB1 against the Rams. Luck's own offensive playcaller is working against him, especially in fantasy.
Luck's target distribution since Reggie Wayne tore his ACL in Indy's Week 7 win over Denver: Hilton 13; Griff Whalen 9; Heyward-Bey 7; Coby Fleener 5; Trent Richardson 3; Donald Brown and LaVon Brazill 2; Stanley Havili 1. ... DHB has dropped four passes over his last four games and still hasn't reached 60 yards in any week this season. He's waiver fodder with little or no chance of being a stretch-run fantasy asset. ... Whalen (40 snaps) was the Week 9 leader in a third receiver rotation that also involved Brazill (21 snaps) and to a lesser extent David Reed (9). Whalen has very little fantasy value beyond 14- and 16-team leagues. Brazill offers the highest upside because he has the most talent, but isn't going to be a fantasy option playing 33% of the offensive snaps. ... The Rams have allowed the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends, giving disappointing Fleener a rough Week 10 matchup. Fleener is just a desperate fill-in type TE1 option. ... St. Louis ranks 28th versus the run and has coughed up 11 rushing TDs through nine games. Unfortunately, Richardson can be trusted only as a flex. The Colts emerged from their Week 8 bye committed to a running back committee, although I did find it promising they used Richardson in the screen game and on pitch-run plays. They're clearly trying to get him on the edges. Richardson needs Indianapolis to jump out to more early-game leads. Brown's playing time will continue to weigh on T-Rich's fantasy value when Indianapolis is erasing deficits. I do think Richardson is a good bet to score against the Rams, but I've admittedly thought that entering each of the Colts' last six games. And he's currently on a four-game touchdown drought.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Rams 14
Oakland @ NY Giants
Darren McFadden's latest hamstring aggravation opens Raiders feature back duties to Rashad Jennings, a versatile player who lacks special qualities but is capable of handling sizable workloads for short stretches and clearly has the coaching staff's trust as an every-down back. In the three games this year where McFadden has either suffered an early injury or missed altogether, Jennings has averaged 18 touches for 111 total yards with one score. The Giants rank ninth in run defense, but Jennings' projected workload gives him Week 10 flex appeal. ... In those same three McFadden-injury games, FB Marcel Reece has averaged five touches for 26 yards. Look for Reece in a pace-change role against the G-Men. ... Terrelle Pryor's rushing stats keep him in the two-QB-league mix, but he's begun to struggle as a passer. And struggle mightily. Pryor has been a one-read quarterback all year, which makes him theoretically easy to defend when opponents take away that go-to receiver. Over his last three games, Pryor has completed just 50-of-94 passes (53.2%) for 592 yards (6.30 YPA), and a 1:7 TD-to-INT ratio. He's taken 14 sacks. The Giants don't rush the passer well -- they're last in the league in sacks -- and struggle in the secondary, so it's entirely possible this matchup will get Pryor back into a groove. It's also entirely possible we've seen the best of Pryor this year. He's not playing well enough to stream as a QB1.
Pryor's 2013 target distribution: Denarius Moore 50; Rod Streater 38; Mychal Rivera 21; DMC 17; Reece 14; Brice Butler 13; Jacoby Ford and Jennings 11. ... Easily the best fantasy bet among Oakland pass catchers, Moore is averaging five catches for 79 yards with three TDs over his last six games. I don't particularly love Moore's Week 10 matchup versus RCB Prince Amukamara -- the Giants' top corner -- and would still confidently start him as a high-ceiling WR3. ... Possession "Z" receiver Streater cleared 60 yards for the first time since Opening Day last week. Streater lacks big-play ability, has scored one touchdown over his last 12 games, and is a complementary wide receiver on a run-first team with a struggling quarterback. He's a WR4 in fantasy. ... Juron Criner played a career-high 63 snaps in the loss to Philadelphia, primarily because the Raiders were in comeback mode all game and flooded the field with receivers. Criner caught three balls for 22 yards and remains behind Ford on the depth chart. Criner does appear to have passed up Butler. Oakland wideouts behind Moore and Streater are not on the radar in re-draft leagues.
The Giants' Week 10 backfield is shaping up as a two-member hot-hand scenario with Peyton Hillis set up for the first crack and Andre Brown easing back in. Washed-up Brandon Jacobs won't play due to hamstring and knee injuries. Coach Tom Coughlin made it clear this week Brown would not immediately assume lead-back work in his return from short-term I.R. "He's ready to help, but there is a big difference between game day and practice," Coughlin said Wednesday. Added Brown, "I'm pretty sure they are going to switch us in, switch us out." Combine the workload uncertainty with Oakland's top-six run defense, and these Giants backs carry an awful lot of bust potential into Week 10. ... It's going to be Brown's backfield in short order, but Hillis is the expected starter against the Raiders. Coughlin and OC Kevin Gilbride are comfortable with Hillis' pass protection, and at this point he's in better football shape than Brown simply because Hillis has been playing. I'd still treat Hillis as an undesirable flex play in this forbidding matchup. Oakland's defensive front-seven stoutness is legit. ... The Giants are more likely to have passing than rushing success versus the Raiders. Lacking outside pass rushers and rag-tag in the secondary, Oakland was exposed and then some in Week 9 by Chip Kelly's aggressive downfield passing attack, as Nick Foles set single-game career highs in virtually every category en route to a seven-touchdown, 406-yard day. Eli Manning is an intriguing matchup-based QB1 streamer and shoo-in two-quarterback-league starter.
Eli's 2013 target distribution: Victor Cruz 77; Hakeem Nicks 67; Rueben Randle 45; Brandon Myers 39; Hillis 11. ... Nicks has been so wildly inconsistent because his skills have faded. He still flashes from time to time, but has become a volume-dependent wideout who relies on winning contested catches as opposed to the smooth separator he used to be. Nicks has a plus matchup this week after Raiders RCB D.J. Hayden (groin) pulled up lame in practice. Hayden was already coming off a Week 9 torching by Riley Cooper, and may now not play at all. Nicks remains a boom-or-bust fantasy WR3. ... Cruz, Torrey Smith, and Larry Fitzgerald are wide receivers I'd be trying to buy low ahead of the fantasy stretch run. Cruz has at least five catches in all but two games this year, but hasn't found pay dirt since Week 4. His current owner may be feeling anxiety. Cruz has rest-of-season WR1 potential in a healthy offense that will benefit from run-game stability once Brown settles in. ... Randle has been and will continue to be a boom-or-bust fantasy option. He has 40 or fewer yards in 5-of-8 games this season, and 75 or more in the other three. This is a good matchup for Randle, but I wouldn't feel comfortable using him as more than a WR3 in 14- and 16-team leagues. ... Myers has been a disappointment in both real life and fantasy with the Giants, and I wouldn't be surprised if they emerge from the Week 9 bye increasing superior blocking TE Adrien Robinson's involvement. The Raiders are 16th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, giving middling TE2 Myers a middling Week 10 matchup.
Score Prediction: Giants 24, Raiders 17
Seattle @ Atlanta
Although this game doesn't necessarily project as particularly high scoring -- the over-under is a reasonable 44.5 points -- I think it's a good one to target for fantasy owners in the comfy confines of Atlanta's Georgia Dome. Over their last seven games, the Falcons have allowed Mike Glennon, Carson Palmer, Geno Smith, receiver-depleted Tom Brady, Ryan Tannehill, Cam Newton, and Sam Bradford to combine to go 154-of-240 (64.2%) for 1,780 yards (7.42 YPA) with a 15:5 TD-to-INT ratio. Even with Percy Harvin (hip) yet to enter the mix, Russell Wilson is pushing for top-six QB1 value. He's got a great matchup this week. ... This is Wilson's target distribution since Sidney Rice tore his ACL in the second quarter of Week 8: Doug Baldwin 11; Golden Tate and Zach Miller 7; Marshawn Lynch 6; Jermaine Kearse 4; Ricardo Lockette 1. ... The Falcons have been gashed in the slot all season long, so much so that they had to scale back usual slot defender Robert McClain's snaps three weeks ago. They're now using two rookies in their nickel package, with Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant bookending LCB Asante Samuel. Baldwin is going to be an intriguing WR3 until Harvin returns. Getting the start in Rice's absence last week, Baldwin soaked up a team-high ten targets and played a season-high 87% of Seattle's offensive snaps.
Tate was targeted only three times in last Sunday's comeback win over Tampa Bay, but had Darrelle Revis on him for most of the game. He remains the Seahawks' No. 1 receiver. Tate will tangle with Trufant on base downs this week, and Alford in sub-packages. ... In-line TE Miller is averaging under ten yards per reception this year and hasn't reached 50 yards in any of his seven appearances. He's a mid-range TE2 against an Atlanta defense surrendering the fifth fewest catches and 11th fewest yards to tight ends. ... Jump-ball specialist Kearse is shaping up as a touchdown-dependent fantasy commodity. I don't like him as much at Atlanta as I did last week. Kearse will run most of his routes into Samuel's coverage. I'd bet on Tate and Baldwin over third receiver Kearse in this game. ... The Falcons are even worse against the run than their No. 20 ranking suggests. Mike Nolan's defense is serving up 4.51 yards per carry, the seventh highest average in football. They're also dealing with a knee injury to critical DT Corey Peters, a top-nine run-stopping defensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus' grades. Running as well as he has all year despite a two-game touchdown drought, Lynch is a top-five RB1 in Week 10.
The Falcons' shortage of supporting-cast talent has officially caught up with Matt Ryan. Ryan has managed 55 completions on his last 89 attempts, for 511 yards (5.74 YPA) and a 2:7 TD-to-INT ratio. Behind a sorry offensive line, Ryan is dinking and dunking in an increasingly predictable offense due to Atlanta's lack of a foundation run game. It would be a stretch to rank Ryan as a top-12 fantasy quarterback option against Seattle's No. 2 pass defense. The Seahawks have limited enemy passers to a 9:13 TD-to-INT ratio on the season. They're tied for third in the NFL in sacks and will make Ryan's life very difficult. ... Ryan's target distribution the last three games, in the post-Julio Jones era: Harry Douglas 30; Jacquizz Rodgers 20; Tony Gonzalez 19; Darius Johnson 14; Drew Davis 10; Steven Jackson 9; Levine Toilolo 3. ... Douglas' target domination is deceptive because he piled up 18 in Week 8, and has 12 combined in the other two games. As a slot receiver, he still has the best matchup of Atlanta's pass catchers versus Seattle. Douglas should avoid stationary RCB Brandon Browner and LCB Richard Sherman on most of Sunday's snaps. Douglas is a middling WR3 play. ... Roddy White maintains intriguing fantasy playoffs value, but isn't worth the Week 10 risk in such a forbidding matchup. White is going to be active, but may not play a full complement of snaps. And when he's on the field, he will take on Sherman. White's return also wipes out Davis' already minimal fantasy value. They play the same position.
Considered a kick return prospect coming out of SMU, rookie Johnson ran 4.59 at 5-foot-9, 179 at his March Pro Day before going undrafted in April. If Johnson keeps third receiver duties over Davis, he will spend Sunday's game in hulking, 6-foot-4 press corner Browner's coverage. It's a mismatch. ... In last January's playoff win, Gonzalez tagged Seattle's linebackers and safeties for six catches, 51 yards, and a score. View Gonzo as a mid-range to low-end TE1 against a Seattle defense allowing the 12th most receptions to tight ends. ... Although S-Jax looked a bit better in Week 9 than he did in his Week 8 return from a six-week hamstring injury, Atlanta's run blocking remains worrisome and he is not being utilized as a full-time player. Jackson played 28 snaps to Rodgers' 22 at Carolina last week, as the former finished with 16 touches compared to the latter's 11. Jackson might have played more had the Falcons grabbed an early lead, but that's a tough bet to happen against the 8-1 Seahawks. As a declining committee back on a pass-first team behind a poor offensive line, Jackson is a mere Week 10 flex option. Glass-half-full owners can try hanging their hats on the fact that Seattle has sprung recent leaks in run defense. Over their last two games, the Seahawks have served up 405 yards on 75 carries (5.40 YPC) to St. Louis and Tampa Bay. After watching their Week 9 clash with the Bucs, I thought Pete Carroll's unit looked like a team desperately in need of a bye. The Seahawks' open date isn't until Week 12.
Friday Update: S-Jax's Week 10 matchup is assisted by the absence of Seahawks LE Red Bryant, who was ruled out on Friday with a concussion. Bryant is a mammoth, 6-foot-5, 330-pound run stuffer. Jackson is an increasingly attractive flex play this week.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Falcons 20