Jacksonville @ Tennessee
Chris Johnson entered the Titans' Week 9 trip to St. Louis with 111 scoreless yards on his previous 48 carries (2.31 YPC). Exploding for a 23-150-2 rushing line, Johnson turned in easily his most promising performance of the season, maximizing runs by finishing them with authority and handling his highest carry total since Week 2. In addition to a year-best 6.52 YPC average, Pro Football Focus credited Johnson with season highs in yards after contact (57) and broken tackles (4) against the Rams. Based strictly on tape study, I've long maintained Johnson's potential to rediscover stardom was up to him. And watching the Rams-Titans game, I wondered if Shonn Greene's healthy return motivated CJwhateverK to run with purpose and aggression. If Johnson keeps up this standard of play, he's every bit capable of being as effective as Jamaal Charles. Lock in Johnson as an RB1 against the Jags' last-ranked run defense. ... "Big back" complement Greene is shaping up as a TD-dependent flex option. He'll vulture all goal-line work and probably hover in the 8-12 touch-per-game range the rest of the way. He's definitely worth a look this week against such a generous opponent. ... Jake Locker was the biggest disappointment of Tennessee's Week 9 win, missing receivers with poor ball placement and taking four sacks. Dating back to his days as a Washington Huskie, Locker has been such a streaky, week-to-week quarterback that one game’s play can't reliably be taken as an indicator of what's to come. Locker's running ability combined with Jacksonville's leaky pass defense gives him streamer QB1 appeal again this week. The Jaguars have allowed a 16:3 TD-to-INT ratio to enemy passers, and rank last in the AFC in sacks. Locker's upside didn't evaporate in one bad game.
Locker's full target distribution this year: Kendall Wright 44, Nate Washington 40, Delanie Walker 25, Kenny Britt 19, Damian Williams 14, Johnson 13, Justin Hunter 7, Greene 1. ... Washington has topped 62 yards in 2-of-8 games and scored a touchdown in 1-of-8 this season. Coming off a catch-less Week 9, he's hard to trust despite this cake matchup. ... Wright opened the season as a situational slot receiver. He's played 79% of Tennessee's offensive snaps the past four games, clearly emerging as the Titans' go-to guy in the pass game. Wright's stats in Locker's last five starts: 9-98, 3-69, 7-54-1, 6-71, 5-56. He's a quality WR3 against the Jags. ... Britt was also held without a catch in St. Louis and played only ten snaps. He should've been dropped by re-draft leaguers weeks ago. ... Hunter bypassed Britt and Williams to be the Titans' No. 3 receiver in Week 9, receiving more playing time (18 snaps) than both and securing 2-of-2 targets for 13 yards. Hunter's role as a rotational receiver on a low-percentage passing team makes him an unattractive Week 10 fantasy gamble, but I wouldn't be surprised if Hunter delivered a big game before the season is through. Guessing when it'll happen is still going to be virtually impossible. ... Possession-blocking TE Delanie Walker has started all eight Titans games this season. He has maxed out at 52 yards and will likely only pay Week 10 dividends if he scores a red-zone TD.
Justin Blackmon's year-ending suspension will have a large fantasy fallout in Jacksonville, beginning at quarterback where Chad Henne loses his primary chain-moving after-catch weapon. Henne has never flirted with QB1 production, but was an every-week two-quarterback-league starter due to his impressive wideout corps and garbage-time stats. Now facing Tennessee's top-seven pass defense without his beastly Z/slot receiver, Henne is barely a top-24 fantasy QB. The Titans have limited opponents to a combined 7:6 TD-to-INT ratio. ... The primary box-score beneficiary will be emerging Mike Brown, who had already earned 78.7% of Jacksonville's offensive snaps the past three weeks. He'll now be an every-down player, lining up as a motion man at Z and slot receiver. If Tennessee has a deficiency anywhere in the secondary, it's slot cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. Brown has a plus matchup, his playing time is on the rise, and he's going to benefit from pass-happy comeback mode just like Cecil Shorts and Blackmon before him. Brown is squarely on the WR3 radar this week. ... Rookie Ace Sanders has performed so poorly that Stephen Burton is more likely to play the old Brown role. Shorts (WR2) and Brown (WR3) are the Jaguars' only pass catchers worth standard-league consideration this week. Burton is worth a flier in 16-teamers.
The only game in which Shorts has not seen double-digit targets this season was Week 6 against Denver, when he suffered an early-game shoulder injury. Although his matchup is tougher versus red-hot contract-year RCB Alterraun Verner, Shorts is a quality WR2 based on volume. He has rest-of-season WR1 upside in PPR leagues. Shorts will be peppered with targets. ... It isn't crazy to think Marcedes Lewis would also receive a post-Blackmon bump. It's just difficult to lean on a tight end with zero touchdowns over his last nine games and no games over 31 yards this season. Lewis is a better blocker than pass catcher. The Titans are 18th in catches allowed to tight ends and 13th in yards, giving Lewis a mediocre Week 10 matchup. ... Although his sharp decline in on-field performance and putrid run blocking are obvious concerns, Maurice Jones-Drew is a solid low-end RB2/flex against Tennessee's leaky run defense. The Titans rank 26th versus the run and have coughed up ten rushing touchdowns through eight games. On the back of Zac Stacy, the Rams shredded Tennessee for 160 yards and two TDs on 32 carries (5.0 YPC) last week.
Score Prediction: Titans 24, Jaguars 13
Philadelphia @ Green Bay
Leave out Nick Foles' Week 7 start against Dallas where it's conceivable he played through an early-game concussion, and on the season he's completed 63-of-89 passes (70.8%) for 948 yards (10.65 YPA) and a 13:0 TD-to-INT ratio with a 14th touchdown on a scramble. Those are Peytonian stats. Foles' record-tying Week 9 seven-score performance has put him squarely back on the QB1 radar for Sunday's bout with Green Bay's No. 20 pass defense. The Packers have allowed 14 touchdown passes compared to three interceptions. These are the only Week 10 fantasy quarterbacks I'd start over Foles: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, and Russell Wilson. I'd strongly consider Foles over Cam Newton this week. ... Although LeSean McCoy's YPC average is down with Michael Vick's (hamstring) dual threat removed from Philadelphia's offense, McCoy's increased passing-game usage stabilizes his RB1 value. He has at least four receptions in three consecutive weeks and at least 16 touches in every game this year. Despite Sunday's difficult matchup with Green Bay's top-five run defense, McCoy remains an every-week RB1. ... Foles' 2013 target distribution: DeSean Jackson 25; Jason Avant and Riley Cooper 17; McCoy and Zach Ertz 15; Brent Celek 10; Bryce Brown and Jeff Maehl 7.
D-Jax's stats in the four games Foles has attempted at least 25 passes this season: 7-132-1; 6-64-2; 3-21; 5-150-1. Extrapolated over a 16-game schedule, those numbers would put Jackson on an 84-catch, 1,468-yard, 16-touchdown pace. The lone Packers corner who can run with Jackson is RCB Sam Shields, and the Eagles move D-Jax around the formation enough that he should avoid Shields on plenty of snaps. ... Cooper's numbers in Foles' four games of extensive play: 0-0; 4-120-1; 6-88; 5-139-3. Jackson is a WR1. Cooper is a boom-or-bust WR3 option. ... Although both found Week 9 pay dirt, neither Ertz nor Celek has cleared 60 yards in any game this season. The fact that Green Bay is allowing the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends may translate to one paying off in Week 10. As for who it'll be, your guess is as good as mine. I would play Ertz over Celek due to the target differential. ... Possession-slot receiver Avant's playing time is down with the Eagles employing more two-tight end packages instead of three-wideout sets. Avant only played 30-of-60 snaps in last Sunday's win over Oakland, and finished without a reception. Avant could score a fluke touchdown against the Packers and would still be fantasy waiver-wire material.
Similar to St. Louis' strategy following Sam Bradford's ACL tear, look for the Packers to build their offense around rookie workhorse Eddie Lacy in the absence of Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). This would mean more two-tight end packages with blocking-oriented Andrew Quarless as an every-down player, and increased usage of FB John Kuhn. The Packers could use newly activated OT Derek Sherrod as an in-line tight end in jumbo packages. Lacy leads the NFL in rushing yards (545) over the past five weeks, and has scored a touchdown in three straight games. His season YPC average is up to 4.45 after a beastly performance in last Monday night's loss to Chicago. The Rams have had offensive success playing this sort of smash-mouth football with Zac Stacy, and Green Bay has superior run-blocking talent. ... Another fallout from making Lacy their offensive centerpiece could be fewer three-wideout sets. James Jones and Jordy Nelson will be the primary receivers moving forward, with Jarrett Boykin and Myles White likely taking on diminished roles. After a 15-yard Week 9 game against the Bears, Boykin's fantasy value has quite possibly hit the gutter. He's only worth hanging onto in 14- and 16-team leagues in anticipation of Rodgers' return.
James Starks is also going to play a critical role as the second part of a one-two punch behind Lacy, though trusting complementary skill-position players is always risky business. Philly ranks 15th versus the run and is permitting 4.06 yards per carry. Starks is a low-end flex play. ... Seneca Wallace's target distribution off the bench versus Chicago: Nelson 8; Quarless 7; Jones 2; Boykin and White 1. ... Wallace is better than he showed against the Bears, but remains a back-end QB2 as a player coach Mike McCarthy will attempt to "hide." Philadelphia's 32nd-ranked pass defense does give Wallace two-quarterback-league appeal in this particular matchup. ... Nelson's fantasy value isn't torpedoed without Rodgers. The Packers will still dial up a high percentage of plays for Nelson whenever Wallace drops back to pass. It's also worth noting the Eagles may be minus top CB Bradley Fletcher (pectorals) in this game, and RCB Cary Williams is regularly torched by enemy wideouts. Nelson should not lack for targets and has a plus matchup despite the under-center downgrade. At very worst, he's a WR2. ... Jones' most likely outlook is a TD-dependent WR3. His snaps were limited against the Bears, but Jones will become a full-time receiver again in Week 10. ... Quarless' Week 9 targets are likely to prove misleading. Wallace has familiarity with him from their time together on the second-team offense, and Wallace ran the first team for the first time this week. The Eagles have allowed the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Score Prediction: Packers 24, Eagles 23
4:05PM ET Game
Carolina @ San Francisco
Back from a bye, 30-year-old Frank Gore's legs should be as fresh as they've been all season entering this tilt with Carolina's No. 2 run defense. Despite the difficult on-paper matchup, Gore is entrenched as an every-week RB1. He's totaled 100 yards and/or scored a touchdown in six straight games, and gained 558 yards with six touchdowns on his last 116 carries (4.81 YPC). ... The Niners are more likely to have rushing than passing success versus the Panthers, who have limited enemy signal callers to a 7:12 TD-to-INT ratio. They play ferocious football in the defensive front seven. A borderline QB1, Colin Kaepernick will likely only pay off as a fantasy start if he breaks a long run or two off read option or on a scramble. ... Vernon Davis is the one San Francisco pass catcher I'd feel confident playing versus the Panthers. Carolina served up 6-81-1 to Tony Gonzalez last week, a 5-48-1 line to Bucs TE Tim Wright in Week 8, eight catches to Rams tight ends in Week 7, and an 11-109-1 number to Vikings TEs in Week 6. ... These are the results of the last five opposing "No. 1" receivers to face the Panthers: Larry Fitzgerald 3-43; Greg Jennings 6-34; Chris Givens 1-24; Vincent Jackson 5-79; Harry Douglas 3-82. No touchdowns. Anquan Boldin is just a WR3. ... Mario Manningham will eventually take over as the Niners' clear-cut No. 2 receiver, but figures to rotate with Kyle Williams and perhaps Jon Baldwin in his Week 10 return from the PUP list. Manningham is coming off ACL and MCL surgery. If/when 100%, Manningham could be a real boon to Kaepernick's receiver corps because he creates separation from defensive backs. To this point, Davis has been the only Niners pass catcher capable of that.
The Panthers are on the road for this daunting matchup with a refreshed Niners defense that gets back All-Pro edge rusher Aldon Smith. San Francisco ranks No. 6 in total defense and has allowed the third fewest points in football. While this is a premium real-life NFL game, it isn't necessarily one to target for box-score stats. The over-under is 43 points, third lowest among Sunday's games. ... I'm a huge proponent of Cam Newton and probably always will be, but the physical 49ers are a team capable of frustrating Cam, which has historically led to shaky on-field performance from Carolina's 24-year-old quarterback. Enemy passers have managed a 10:9 TD-to-INT ratio against the Niners, and an NFC-worst 57.2 completion rate. I would seriously consider playing Nick Foles over Newton this week. Ultimately, Cam remains a top-12 QB1 regardless of matchups. ... Cam's target distribution over his last six games: Steve Smith 47, Brandon LaFell 36, Greg Olsen 31, Ted Ginn 23, DeAngelo Williams 16, Mike Tolbert 12, Jonathan Stewart 3. ... Devolving into a late-career possession receiver on a team that ranks 30th in the league in pass attempts, Smith is a limited-ceiling WR3 against San Francisco's press-man secondary. No longer utilized as a field stretcher, 34-year-old Smith is 46th in per-game fantasy wide receiver scoring.
If Cam is going to have a big passing day -- and the odds are against that -- I'm fascinated to see from where it'll come. Olsen noticeably favored his balky foot in last week's win over Atlanta, and the 49ers are allowing the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Olsen can expect frequent coverage from Patrick Willis. ... LaFell has been held under 55 yards in 6-of-8 games. Beyond 14- and 16-team leagues, it's hard to justify owning LaFell on fantasy rosters, let alone starting him. ... Third wideout Ginn is averaging 46 yards per game and hasn't hit pay dirt since Week 3. He's a WR5 at best. ... Carolina's backfield has become a true fantasy quagmire. Here are the rushing stat lines of the last five enemy lead backs to face the Niners: Chris Johnson 9-39-0; Rashard Mendenhall 10-40-0; Arian Foster 21-98-0; Daryl Richardson 12-16-0; Maurice Jones-Drew 19-75-0. Williams averaged 18.1 touches per game before Stewart came off PUP. In Stewart's Week 9 return, Williams handled 15, gaining 54 scoreless yards against Atlanta and was outgained by Stewart. So a three-headed timeshare that also involves goal-line vulture Tolbert and quarterback runs will now tangle with San Francisco's top-12 run defense at Candlestick following a 49ers bye. I think it would be awfully bold and perhaps even irresponsible to start any Panthers running back in Week 10.
Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Panthers 17