As Week 7 of the 2013 NFL season gets underway, there are several fantasy football stars with a little bit extra to prove thanks to their respective circumstances.
Whether it's a must-win situation to save a team's playoff hopes, a matchup with a fellow elite individual who is considered superior or an effort to dispel irresponsible trade rumors, the storylines surrounding some of this week's best are sure to generate headlines.
The aforementioned subplots apply to skills players that will be focused on in the upcoming analysis, but we will start by breaking down at a former No. 1 overall pick who must step up and make a statement.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers
In his third season, all the pressure is on Newton to fulfill the potential promised by his status as the top choice of the 2011 draft.
Last week, Newton stuck through adversity by delivering one of the best games of his young career, completing 20 of 26 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for an additional score on the ground as well.
Cam Newton now has 3 career games with at least 3 Pass TD and 1 Rush TD, the most such games in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 13, 2013
True, it came against a putrid Minnesota Vikings secondary, but winning on the road against the Vikings is never an easy task. The young signal-caller nevertheless passed the test with flying colors.
The key is consistency, which NFL Network expert Daniel Jeremiah hinted at in his blunt, humorous Twitter evaluation of Newton's virtuoso effort in Minnesota:
Cam Newton this week > Cam Newton last week— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 13, 2013
With another favorable matchup in the St. Louis Rams in Week 7 at home, Newton has no excuses.
The 24-year-old signal-caller faces a bottom-three rush defense and has the benefit of an elite-caliber Panthers defense to support him against the Rams' inconsistent offense that averages fewer than 300 yards per game.
Now is the time for Newton to come into his own, extinguish rumors of head coach Ron Rivera's demise and start translating his often-brilliant play into more wins.
Projected numbers: 25-of-35 passing for 380 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 10 carries, 85 yards, 2 TDs
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans
Lost in the chaos of the Texans' four-game slide, a depressing quarterback situation and the general disarray that defined a 38-13 loss to the St. Louis Rams in Week 6 was Foster's resurgence.
The prolific running back has been producing great numbers in the past three games, capping that stretch off with 20 carries for 141 yards and four receptions for 57 yards versus St. Louis.
It was a historical achievement that Foster was able to fare as well as he did despite the blowout loss:
Arian Foster had 198 yards from scrimmage today, 2nd-most in NFL history by a RB whose team lost by at least 25 points. @EliasSports— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 13, 2013
Foster only has two total touchdowns, but pride and the season are both on the line as Houston goes to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to square off with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
As impressive as the instant turnaround in Kansas City has been under new head coach Andy Reid, the quality of wins hasn't been great, and the Chiefs haven't faced a roster this deep or talented across the board.
Kansas City ranks 23rd in rush defense, and with a conservative game plan likely in place for either T.J. Yates or Case Keenum starting at quarterback, Foster should see plenty of passes thrown his way, too.
Many are ready to write the Texans off, but Foster has all the makings of leading his team to the biggest upset of Week 7.
Projected numbers: 25 carries, 155 yards, TD; 7 receptions, 50 yards, TD
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
When the Bengals travel to Ford Field on Sunday to take on the Detroit Lions, a lot of fanfare will surround both Green and Calvin Johnson, two of the best receivers in the league.
Johnson is widely considered the greatest, which makes sense after he set the single-season record for receiving yards last season with 1,964.
But with Megatron on the mend from a knee injury and having limited participation in Wednesday's practice, per the Lions' official website, this is an ideal stage for Green to strut his stuff.
That's especially so after the Lions' official Twitter proclaimed Johnson as superior, though it did acknowledge Green was "probably" second-best:
OPPONENT BREAKDOWN: A.J. Green probably the next best receiver to Calvin Johnson http://t.co/9cz8sYaDD4— Detroit Lions (@NFLDetroitLions) October 17, 2013
Detroit doesn't have a good secondary and certainly not a cornerback at all capable of even limiting Green in one-on-one situations. Quarterback Andy Dalton is borderline incompetent when throwing to anyone other than Green, too.
That should result in Green seeing double-digit targets for the fourth time this year, going off for multiple touchdowns and well surpassing the 100-yard plateau.
Projected numbers: 11 receptions, 185 yards, 2 TDs
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Trade speculation has swirled around Gonzalez. ESPN.com's Jeffri Chadiha described the conversation centering around the legendary tight end returning to the organization he spent his first 12 NFL seasons with—the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
Now that the Falcons have started 1-4, have lost Julio Jones for the season and have another star receiver in Roddy White playing through pain, a Super Bowl seems like pure fantasy for Gonzalez in Atlanta.
However, the organization has tersely denied the trade talk, implying a refusal to give up on the 2013 season:
Which team is under the most pressure to win?
As long as Matt Ryan is throwing him passes, Gonzalez should continue to thrive.
He will see far more targets with Jones out of the lineup, and has proven capable of beating double-teams even at this late stage of his career.
All of the Falcons' losses have been by seven points or fewer and were all to winning teams, save for the New York Jets. Fresh off a bye, Atlanta's passing offense will go off at home against its winless NFC South foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Gonzalez will lead the charge and prove that he is indeed riding with the Falcons despite a discouraging start to the year.
Projected numbers: 9 receptions, 110 yards, 2 TDs
|Rank||Quarterback||Running Back||Wide Receiver||Tight End|
|1||Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers||LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles||A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals||Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta Falcons|
|2||Peyton Manning, Denver Broncos||Arian Foster, Houston Texans||Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears||Vernon Davis, San Francisco 49ers|
|3||Robert Griffin III, Washington Redskins||Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions||Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts||Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns|
|4||Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers||Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings||Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers||Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys|
|5||Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons||Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs||Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins||Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins|
Rankings are strictly opinion