Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees: Silva's Week 12 NFL Picks and Predictions
I will be breaking down every single football game this week. Like on NFL Playbook they break down every single game, that's what I did, and my article is long, so be ready for a show.
Last Week's Record (10-4)
My Overall Record (68-30)
Write a Comment and tell me what you think of my picks and my article.
Let's get cracking.
1:00 P.M. ET Games
An inside runner, Lynch will have fewer lanes to cut through when he returns. He's probable for Week 12, but he isn't a fantasy option against Miami's No. 12 run defense if he plays.
Fred Jackson is a good bet to lead Buffalo's backfield in touches. On the season, Jackson is averaging 4.8 yards per play compared to Lynch's 3.8. Clearly, Jackson is the more effective back in all areas.
Terrell Owens' 197-yard Week 11 probably isn't a sign of things to come. While it did confirm that the 36-year-old has something left in the tank, Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has never had sustained success in the NFL.
Fitzpatrick is always a better bet to be ineffective after a productive game than to keep it going.
Owens and Lee Evans are mere WR3s, even against Miami's rookie corners and No. 22 pass defense.
Bills rookie TE Shawn Nelson isn't capitalizing on his starting job yet. He caught just one ball for 25 yards in last Sunday's loss to Jacksonville.
The Bills' No. 31 run defense continues to deal with injuries at every level. DT Marcus Stroud (knee) is still banged up after missing Week 11 and Buffalo plays musical chairs at linebacker every week.
Coming off an extended rest period after last Thursday's 24-touch, 138-yard, three-touchdown gashing of Carolina, Ricky Williams is an RB1. At 32, however, Ricky isn't a great bet to hold up with such workloads over the next six games.
Backup Lex Hilliard, who showed terrific power against the Panthers, would be a savvy "handcuff" pickup for Williams owners.
The Fins' coaching staff is showing more confidence in Chad Henne. While Henne is barely on the fantasy radar, he has averaged 32 attempts per game since Week 8. He isn't taking vertical shots, but has found a go-to target underneath in Davone Bess.
The duo has hooked up 16 times for 191 yards in the last three games. Bess is a zone buster and Buffalo plays lots of Cover 2, so he's a good PPR play this week.
Bess is playing the most snaps among Miami wideouts, while Brian Hartline, Ted Ginn Jr., and Greg Camarillo rotate. The latter three are waiver wire material.
My Pick- Dolphins
Indianapolis @ Houston
Texans-Colts in Week 9 didn't produce especially high-scoring results (20-17), but was decidedly pass heavy (94 combined throws; 44 rushes). There's no good reason to think those numbers will change much this time, as both clubs have top-three passing attacks and bottom-three rushing offenses.
While Matt Schaub has a difficult matchup against a Colts club that allows the NFL's fourth lowest YPA and has given up a league-low seven TDs, you can be sure he'll throw early and often. Indianapolis is also likely to be without top CB Kelvin Hayden (knee) for another week.
Andre Johnson had 10 catches in his last meeting with the Colts. He has top-three WR1 upside against Indy's rookie corners.
Kevin Walter has one TD all year. He's proven to be more of a WR4 matchup play than every-week WR3 despite Owen Daniels' season-ending injury. This isn't a favorable matchup.
Ryan Moats is now No. 3 in Houston's backfield, but Steve Slaton and Chris Brown are forming an even rotation. Slaton is a flex play and barely worth consideration in non-PPR formats. Indianapolis is tough on tight ends, so Texans rookie James Casey is a weak bet.
Peyton Manning has 299+ yards in each of the last four weeks. He'll benefit from the absence of Texans FS Eugene Wilson, who went on injured reserve Wednesday after undergoing surgery to repair two broken toes.
Houston's alternatives are Dominique Barber and John Busing. Both lack cover skills.
Reggie Wayne will see RCB Dunta Robinson in primary coverage. Robinson is having a good year, but Wayne is the No. 1 receiver in fantasy.
The Texans struggle against tight ends, and Dallas Clark had a career-high 14 catches against them in Week 9. He also gets a matchup upgrade with Wilson out.
Donald Brown is officially a non-factor in Indy's backfield, with just nine touches since returning from a shoulder strain in Week 9. Joseph Addai has 32 over that span.
An every-down back again, Addai has eight touchdowns in his last seven games. He's an every-week RB2 and faces a Texans run defense that showed plenty of leaks last Monday night.
Pierre Garcon has overtaken Austin Collie to be the Colts' No. 2 wideout. In the last three games, Collie has 83 yards and no TDs on 15 targets. Garcon has 218 yards and one score on 28 Manning attempts.
My Pick- Colts
Cleveland @ Cincinnati
Cincy will be rearing for points in bushels coming off a letdown loss to Oakland. The Paul Brown Stadium forecast (54-degree temps, 20% chance of rain, 11MPH winds) won't hinder passing, so Carson Palmer is a must-start against Cleveland's No. 26 pass defense. No one gives up more yards per throw than the Browns.
Chad Ochocinco routinely obliterates Browns RCB Brandon McDonald and scored two TDs in their last meeting. Ocho is an easy WR1. Avoid rotating possession receivers Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell, who crush each other's upsides.
Cedric Benson (hip) will be a game-time decision, but is an RB1 if he starts against the Browns' No. 29 rush defense. Bernard Scott is only a fantasy option if Benson is inactive.
Should Benson play, Scott's upside would be around 12 touchrd performance, so we should know that CedBen is at least close to 100 percent if he's dressed on Sunday.
Browns playcaller Brian Daboll finally let Brady Quinn take downfield shots in last week's surprise 75-total point game against the Lions.
Quinn threw perfectly placed scoring bombs to Chansi Stuckey and Mohamed Massaquoi, and finished with four TDs overall.
Bengals Pro Bowl-caliber press corners Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall won't let Cleveland's wideouts get as wide open as Detroit's No. 32 pass defense did, however.
While Quinn's improved confidence and aggressiveness are promising for his future, he's no more than a QB2 going forward.
The Bengals are one of the toughest teams in the league against No. 1 receivers, so it's too early to get excited about Massaquoi. He'll be a good player in the long run, but this is an unfavorable matchup.
Jamal Lewis had 3.1 yards per carry against the Lions. Detroit surrenders 4.5 YPC on the year. Lewis has no explosion and isn't remotely an option against Cincinnati's No. 2 rush defense.
Despite a sit-down with Eric Mangini this week, Jerome Harrison remains Cleveland's No. 3 tailback behind Lewis and Chris Jennings. Harrison has zero touches since Week 8.
My Pick- Bengals
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta
Matt Ryan broke out of his sophomore funk in Week 11, stringing together 10 straight completions at one point, avoiding picks, and throwing for 268 yards and two TDs against a Giants secondary that got a shot in the arm with DB Aaron Ross (hamstring) back.
Ryan now returns home, where he's been sensational. His TD to INT ratio is 8:4 with a 65.8 completion rate in the Georgia Dome compared to 8:8 and 55.8 marks on the road.
Only the Lions and Titans have given up more passing touchdowns than the Bucs, so Ryan should be started with supreme confidence again.
Coach Mike Smith said this week that Michael Turner (high ankle sprain) has "no timetable" for return, but he practiced Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to face Tampa. The Bucs have fallen to No. 32 against the run, so Turner is a borderline RB1 even at less than 100%.
Barring a last-minute deactivation of Turner, Jason Snelling is no longer an option. Tampa can't cover tight ends. Tony Gonzalez is hot and a top-five TE1 this week. Aqib Talib will shadow Roddy White, making White a fairly risky play.
The Bucs' shutdown corner helped hold Marques Colston under 75 yards last Sunday. Falcons blocking receiver Michael Jenkins hasn't scored all season.
After back-to-back impressive starts, Josh Freeman took a step back against a Saints team that was without its top two corners in Week 11 before losing starter Randall Gay and nickel CB Leigh Torrence to in-game injuries.
While Freeman flashed his Ben Roethlisberger-esque pocket feel and touch on a pretty 18-yard TD pass after evading numerous blitzers, he had four turnovers and made awful second-half decisions.
Still very raw, Freeman will remain inconsistent in the final six games and is only a low-end option in two-QB leagues against Atlanta's No. 29 pass defense.
Kellen Winslow will be affected by Freeman's ups and downs, but remains the rookie's go-to guy. Despite Antonio Bryant's (knee) return, Winslow easily led Tampa with 13 targets last week.
With Bryant back, the Bucs are now using a four-wideout rotation also involving Sammie Stroughter, Michael Clayton, and Maurice Stovall. None are reliable.
The Bucs have resumed a three-man RBBC with Earnest Graham reinstalled at tailback. Carnell Williams is a flex option against the Falcons' porous rush defense, but Graham and Derrick Ward are safely bench material.
My Pick- Falcons
Seattle @ St. Louis
Marc Bulger's fractured tibia deals a death blow to St. Louis' receiver corps. Bulger led the Rams to a Week 9 win at Detroit, and helped keep them close in losses to New Orleans and Arizona in the last two weeks.
While he didn't play particularly well along the way, Bulger was at least finding Brandon Gibson and Donnie Avery more consistently than he had all season.
Backup Kyle Boller, who's long been afraid in the pocket, is a horrible fit for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's system because of his inaccuracy. Avery and Gibson are bench fodder for the rest of 2009.
Steven Jackson's numbers (26 touches, 116 yards, TD) don't show it, but Arizona did a good job of containing him in Week 11. Cardinals linebackers Karlos Dansby and Clark Haggans refused to let S-Jax turn the corner, and he would've averaged just 2.62 yards per touch if not for a 48-yard run late in the third quarter.
It remains to be seen if Seahawks LBs Aaron Curry and David Hawthorne can do the same, but don't bet on it. Since Week 1, Jackson is averaging 26 touches for 133 total yards per game. He also has a rushing touchdown in three straight efforts.
The Seahawks would've continued their pass-a-lot approach in Week 11 had they sustained drives. Possessing the ball for just 17:49, Seattle managed 29 passes compared to nine rushes.
Matt Hasselbeck is an excellent bet to rebound against a Rams defense that's bringing no pressure. They have only three sacks in their last two games, and Seahawks LT Sean Locklear performed well in his first 2009 start last week, holding Jared Allen to one assisted tackle and no sacks. Hasselbeck lit up St. Louis for 279 yards and three scores in their Week 1 meeting.
Noteworthy Seahawks lines from that same matchup: Nate Burleson (7-74-1), John Carlson (6-95-1), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (6-48). Burleson and Carlson are strong fantasy starts again, and not just because of what they did to the Rams earlier this year.
St. Louis lacks speed at corner to slow Burleson, and Carlson won't have to block as often as usual because of the Rams' weak pass rush.
Julius Jones (ribs, lung) is a game-day decision. Check back Sunday morning for his official status. Should Jones not be able to go, Justin Forsett will be worth using in all leagues as an RB2.
My Pick- Seahawks
Carolina @ NY Jets
Run-heavy game plans are the norm for Carolina, and this one will be no different. DeAngelo Williams, bothered by a knee injury for the last two weeks, is off the injury report after ripping the Dolphins for 122 yards on 13 carries (9.4 YPC) in Week 11.
He's sure to get the football more against a mediocre Jets run defense, which ranks No. 17 overall. While D-Will is an RB1 Sunday, Jonathan Stewart is a terrific flex.
The Jets lost their girth when Kris Jenkins went out for the year and are suspectible to power rushers. J-Stew is the more physical of Carolina's backs.
Red flag Steve Smith this week for the Darrelle Revis factor. Revis, the Jets' LCB, normally lines up on the opposite side of Smith (Carolina's LWR), but will definitely shadow him with Dwight Lowery (ankle) and Donald Strickland (concussion) out.
Already breaking in new free safety Eric Smith, there's no way the Jets will let Steve burn up usual RCB Lito Sheppard all gameAfter a 91-yard Week 10, Muhsin Muhammad had 27 in Week 11.
He isn't good enough for fantasy use despite a favorable matchup with Sheppard. Carolina TEs are hands off, but Gary Barnidge is showing the most promise. He is already the team's second most explosive receiving option.
After showing signs that he might break free from the rookie wall, Mark Sanchez went back in the tank last week with four picks. Three went to the same guy (Patriots RCB Leigh Bodden), and one was returned 53 yards for a TD. Sanchez isn't even a QB2 against Carolina's No. 4 pass defense.
The Panthers' joke of a run defense got lit up by Ricky Williams for 138 yards and three touchdowns two Thursdays ago. It's the next 30+ year-old running back's turn.
Thomas Jones, who has stiff-armed Shonn Greene to the ground in their competition for carries, is an easy top-ten RB play.
Jerricho Cotchery has seemingly shown more "rapport" with Sanchez than in-season acquisition Braylon Edwards, who has just four catches for 89 yards in his last two games. Cotchery has nine grabs for 152 yards and two TDs over that span, but his matchup is more difficult than Edwards' this week.
Cotchery will mostly square off against Panthers top CB Chris Gamble, while RCB Richard Marshall will be on Edwards. Neither is a particularly attractive play because Carolina's secondary is so stout and Mark Sanchez is so bad, but Edwards offers a shade more upside.
My Pick- Jets
Washington @ Philadelphia
The Skins boast the No. 1 pass defense, but have problems this week. Coach Jim Zorn ruled out RCB DeAngelo Hall (knee), and pocket-pushing DT Albert Haynesworth (ankle) is in danger of missing another game.
The Eagles will stay pass-heavy with Brian Westbrook (concussions) out. Both Jeremy Maclin (who would've seen the majority of Hall) and DeSean Jackson have favorable matchups.
Washington is tough on tight ends, but Brent Celek should find more lanes down the seams with FS LaRon Landry forced to help CBs Fred Smoot and Carlos Rogers outside.
The Eagles will reevaluate Westbrook's status in Week 14, but he won't be a fantasy asset for the rest of 2009. Philadelphia would be lucky to get any impact from its 30-year-old back in the real-life playoffs. Don't think he's a savvy pickup.
LeSean McCoy faces a Redskins run defense that continues to sag. Now ranked 25th overall, the Skins allow 4.4 YPC and would be severely weakened by Haynesworth's absence. McCoy is a high-end RB2 going forward.
Jason Avant is a serviceable WR3 gamble if you're desperate. He has 12 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown in his last two outings, and Washington will struggle to defend the slot without Hall.
Rock Cartwright was this week's No. 1 fantasy pickup. He has shown some quickness in the hole as Ladell Betts' "change of pace" back over the past few games, but there's a reason he's been a special teamer his entire eight-year career.
The 29-year-old hasn't scored a rushing touchdown since 2005 and now faces a Philadelphia defense that ranks top ten against the run, permitting under four yards a carry.
Cartwright isn't even a safe bet to operate as a true featured back with Quinton Ganther and Marcus Mason behind him. Neither is a clearly inferior ball-carrying option.
The Redskins' shortened-up passing attack would seemingly give them a chance against the NFL's most blitz-happy team, but Washington simply doesn't have any fantasy players worth using.
Devin Thomas hasn't proven capable of mustering any hint of consistency, Fred Davis' week-to-week production is highly inconsistent, and Santana Moss doesn't catch deep balls anymore.
Eagles RE Trent Cole should have his way with Skins LT Levi Jones when Jason Campbell does take 5-7 step drops. On paper at least, this one is a mismatch favoring Philly.
My Pick- Eagles
4:05 P.M. ET Game
Jacksonville @ San Francisco
Instead of moving FS Reggie Nelson to corner, the Jags are sticking with speed-challenged former undrafted free agent Tyron Brackenridge to "compensate" for top CB Rashean Mathis' (groin) indefinite loss.
Brackenridge was lit up by Terrell Owens (9-197-1) last week, and will see a lot of Michael Crabtree in coverage this Sunday. Crabtree scored his first NFL touchdown against a tough Green Bay secondary in Week 11.
He's a borderline WR2 against Jacksonville's No. 25 pass defense. Josh Morgan and Isaac Bruce are rotating opposite Crabtree. Neither is an option.
For many of the reasons above, Alex Smith is worth a long look if you're desperate for a QB1. Frank Gore, averaging a scintillating 5.4 YPC and TD per appearance, squares off with a Jags run defense that began the year hot but has plummeted to No. 17 overall.
Coach Mike Singletary reaffirmed this week that Gore is the 49ers' offensive centerpiece, and that they won't suddenly become a spread team. Expect a healthy 25 touches from Gore.
Among TEs, only Dallas Clark has more fantasy points than Vernon Davis in 2009. Davis is a slot receiver in the Niners' spread sets, which will bolster his numbers even in "down" weeks. This won't be one.
The 49ers' run defense entered Week 11 allowing the fewest yards per carry in the league and as the NFL's No. 3 overall unit. Minus ILB Takeo Spikes (hamstring), however, San Francisco was exposed by Ryan Grant for 145 total yards and a touchdown.
Maurice Jones-Drew is a far better talent than Grant and Jags offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter likely noticed the 49ers' leaks in film study this week.
If Jones-Drew's 1,862-total yard and 21-touchdown paces weren't enough to make you feel confident about him, this development should help.
A knee injury kept Mike Sims-Walker out of Wednesday's practice, but there's no indication that it will threaten his playing status against San Francisco's No. 30 pass defense. Check his Friday update, but he's an obvious must-start if he plays.
The 49ers are playing musical chairs at corner and may bench LCB Tarell Brown for burnable veteran Dre' Bly this week. David Garrard's matchup is also favorable and the Bay Area weather will be fair, but he always has limited upside.
Garrard typically struggles on the road, and has just two multiple-touchdown games this year. Torry Holt hasn't topped 37 yards since Week 6. Keep him reserved.
My Pick- 49ers
4:15 P.M. ET Games
Chicago @ Minnesota
Chicago's constant protection breakdowns have gotten to Jay Cutler's head. Cutler is consistently throwing off his back foot, hurrying passes in the short-to-intermediate area, and he missed three wide-open receivers for potential TDs in last week's loss. Johnny Knox, Greg Olsen, and Devin Hester all got behind the Eagles' secondary at different points, only to be overshot.
Cutler would have hit those plays in Denver with Ryan Clady on his blind side. 34-year-old Bears LT Orlando Pace is at the end of the line, however, and now has NFC sacks leader Jared Allen to deal with.
Coming off a measly 54-yard effort against Philly, Matt Forte is greeted by the Vikings' No. 3 run defense. Only Pittsburgh has yielded fewer rushing TDs.
If there is a Bear definitely worth every-week use, it's Greg Olsen. Cutler has an aggravating tendency to stare him down, but at least they connect regularly. Olsen has 18 catches in his last three games, and few teams are worse than Minnesota at stopping tight ends.
Earl Bennett has separated some from Johnny Knox in the Bears' No. 2 wideout "competition," but he remains a low-upside play. Vikings LCB Antoine Winfield (foot) still isn't 100%. Devin Hester continues to run poor routes, but has a good fantasy matchup.
The mediocre version of Chicago's Jekyll-and-Hyde pass defense showed up in Week 11, letting Donovan McNabb throw for two scores and complete 72 percent of his passes with a robust 7.6 YPA.
Brett Favre is due for a second-half slowdown, but he's an every-week starter right now. Currently the No. 5 fantasy QB overall, Favre has a 12:1 TD to INT ratio and a 283-yard average in his last five games.
Adrian Peterson went scoreless for just the third time all season in Week 11. He'll rebound against a Bears team he's gashed for 270 yards and three TDs in their last two meetings.
Bernard Berrian found paydirt against Seattle last week, but managed just two grabs for 11 yards. Clearly passed by Sidney Rice as Minnesota's No. 1 receiver, Berrian is a fantasy backup.
Rice, the No. 6 overall fantasy WR, is officially a WR1 and every-week play, even against Bears LCB Charles Tillman. He's on pace to finish at 80-1,400-7. Percy Harvin quietly had his second best receiving game of the year in Week 11, going for 5-79-1 against Seattle. He's still too inconsistent offensively to be a solid WR3.
Visanthe Shiancoe's 78 yards last Sunday were easily a season high. His week-to-week fantasy numbers remain highly dependent on finding the end zone.
My Pick- Vikings
Kansas City @ San Diego
San Diego opened up Kansas City in Week 7, thrashing rookie coach Todd Haley's club 37-7. The Chiefs have upset Pittsburgh and improved significantly since, but the Bolts would still have to beat themselves to drop this one.
K.C. doesn't have any answer for Chargers stud wideout Vincent Jackson's speed and physicality, ranking 28th against the pass and giving up big plays on at will.
V-Jax and Philip Rivers are every-week starters, and will be aided by favorable conditions at Qualcomm Stadium (high 60s, 10 percent chance of rain, only 10 mph winds).
The Chiefs lost yet another safety for the season this week, placing Maurice Leggett on I.R. They can't hope to contain Antonio Gates.
After a miserable start, LaDainian Tomlinson is suddenly the No. 7 overall fantasy back. While his 3.4 YPC average is awful, San Diego's fast-moving offense gives him scoring chances. He has five TDs in his last four games and is a high-end RB2 against Kansas City's No. 27 rush defense.
Malcom Floyd is the only starting Chargers skill player to bench. He's flopped since Chris Chambers' release, averaging just three catches for 38 yards per game with no scores in the last three weeks.
The Bolts' much-improved secondary doesn't get enough credit for their 7-3 record and stance atop the AFC West. Only the Seahawks were worse against the pass in 2008, but San Diego is now No. 11 in pass defense, allows the fifth fewest completions of 20+ yards, and has given up just 13 passing TDs all year.
The latter statistic is most impressive because teams are often trailing when facing them. Matt Cassel leads a Chiefs offense that will finish the season strong, but doesn't have a favorable matchup.
San Diego's lone weakness in the secondary is against tight ends. The Chiefs don't have a TE capable of exploiting that vulnerability.
Jamaal Charles continued to prove that he is Kansas City's most explosive player by bringing back last week's opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD to complement 64 hard-earned yards and a receiving score in last week's win.
What took Haley so long to realize this is debate for another time, but Charles is clearly the Chiefs' every-down back.
Chambers enters Sunday's game with a chip on his shoulder, and can be a WR2/3 despite San Diego's tough secondary.
The Chargers won't respect him with double coverage, so Chambers should be open. Chiefs slot man Lance Long's eight-catch, 74-yard Week 9 has proven a tease. He has four catches for 55 yards since.
My Pick- Chargers
Arizona @ Tennessee - My Upset
Kurt Warner (head) is on track to make his 43rd straight start against a Titans secondary that ranks 31st, gives up the second most passing TDs in the league, and has allowed opposing QBs to throw for at least 286 yards in 8-of-11 games.
With 60+ degree temps, 11 mph winds, and just a 20 percent chance of showers in the LP Field forecast, you won't find a QB with a better matchup Sunday.
While Larry Fitzgerald faces Cortland Finnegan, Anquan Boldin will square off with 35-year-old Titans LCB Nick Harper. Expect "Q" to lead Arizona in receiving for a third straight week.
Steve Breaston went target-less in last week's win at St. Louis, but surely would've had second-half production had Warner not been concussed for the final two quarters. Matt Leinart entered and threw for just 74 yards. Don't let Breaston's goose egg fool you; he is a quality WR3 in this matchup.
Chris Wells and Tim Hightower continue to split Arizona's backfield. The more elusive, explosive, and powerful Wells is RB2 material against a Tennessee defense that is undersized in the front seven and gives up 4.4 YPC. Hightower is more of a flex option in PPR leagues only.
Chris Johnson leads the NFL in total yards, rushing, YPC among players with 62+ carries, and runs of 20+ and 40+ yards. He remains the Titans' offensive centerpiece even against run-tough teams like Arizona.
Kenny Britt is already Tennessee's best receiver. Though raw coming out of Rutgers and still developing physically at age 21 (turned in September), Britt's physicality and deceptive speed have given Tennessee a new dimension outside.
He's an every-down wideout with Justin Gage (back) still out and worth WR3 use against Arizona's No. 27 pass defense.
While low pass attempts (averaging just 21 throws a game) cap his fantasy ceiling, a confident Vince Young is an effective Vince Young. And V.Y. has appeared as sure of himself as ever over the past month, winning all four games and racking up 146 rushing yards in the meantime.
The scrambling makes V.Y. an ideal two-QB league play when he's facing weak pass defenses. Nate Washington has just three catches for 47 yards in his last two games. He's falling behind Britt in the competition for targets. Continue to avoid the Titans' three-man rotation at tight end.
My Pick- Titans
Sunday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Baltimore
Ben Roethlisberger (concussion, questionable) is still deciding whether to suit up at the Ravens, but he'll most likely play. Coming off a gut-check loss to Kansas City, the Steelers need this win over an intradivision opponent. Still, Big Ben is a risky plug-and-start in a late game. Consider other options unless a definitive answer comes Saturday. Should Roethlisberger start, Pittsburgh will likely employ a pass-first offense. Baltimore is much weaker in pass than run defense, and will be without both top pass rusher Terrell Suggs (MCL sprain) and CB Fabian Washington (torn ACL). Get Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller going if Big Ben looks like a go.
Rashard Mendenhall is coming off a 116-total yard effort, but isn't remotely as good a fantasy play as he was last week. The Ravens have the NFL's No. 5 rush defense and Mendenhall's confidence still wavers at times despite a terrific season (5.1 YPC, ownership of clear-cut starting job). This is the same Ray Lewis-led defense that broke Mendenhall's shoulder in Week 4 last year, ending his rookie season. Hesitant running could earn him a spot on the bench. Still, there have been no signs that Willie Parker or Mewelde Moore will significantly cut into his workload if Mendenhall plays well. He saw 25 touches last week compared to Parker's seven and Moore's two.
Joe Flacco's struggles continued in Week 11 against Indianapolis. Flacco has one TD pass since Week 6 and is barely a QB2 at this point. He's topped 195 yards just once in the last month. Pittsburgh is a top-12 team against the pass, allowing just 6.4 yards per throw (fifth fewest in the league). The failure of Kelley Washington and Mark Clayton to step up in contract years has made Derrick Mason easier to double team and take out of games with bracket coverage. It remains to be seen if the Steelers will employ such stategies, however. Coordinator Dick LeBeau runs a blitz-heavy agenda, so Mason should theoretically see plenty of man coverage.
Ray Rice faces the NFL's No. 1 run defense Sunday, but should stay in fantasy lineups as the focal point of Baltimore's offense. The Steelers would prefer Rice catching check downs to Flacco connecting on bombs. Rice has also totaled 278 yards and two scores in two meetings this year with the Bengals, who are second in rush defense. It isn't like he can't dominate difficult matchups. Todd Heap will play through a rib injury, but there's no sense in using him as a fantasy starter when he isn't 100 percent or productive. He's borderline waiver material.
My Pick- Steelers
Monday Night Football
Tom Brady Vs Drew Brees
New England @ New Orleans - Game Of The Week
Lots of scoring is expected when the NFL's Nos. 1 and 2 offenses square off in a dome, so we'll focus on who not to start in this space. On New England's side, Laurence Maroney is a high-risk, if potentially high-scoring bet. The Saints get back DT Sedrick Ellis, who had New Orleans ranked among the top-six rush defenses before spraining his MCL in Week 7. The Pats will likely also use a spread offense to exploit the Saints' injuries at corner, and Kevin Faulk is the team's spread back. It doesn't help Maroney that power runner Sammy Morris (knee) appears poised to return. Maroney's ceiling is somewhere around 15 carries if Morris plays.
For the Saints, Jeremy Shockey should be planted on fantasy benches. The Patriots continue to shut down opposing tight ends with FS Brandon McGowan's sticky coverage, and Shockey had only 17 yards on two catches last week while playing second fiddle to No. 2 tight end David Thomas (4-66-1). Reggie Bush, coming off a knee injury, is another recommended "sit." He will likely focus on punt returns Monday night, perhaps only getting 6-9 touches on offense.
Expect Pierre Thomas to be the featured back in a prove-it game for the Saints. Coach Sean Payton has been able to "keep Thomas fresh" by employing a committee with Mike Bell, but will want the ball in the hands of his best players in this one. On the season, Thomas is averaging 5.7 yards per touch compared to Bell's 4.1. While Bell's usage in short-yardage situations naturally will bring down his per-play averages, he is simply not as explosive as Thomas, nor remotely as versatile. The Saints can run spread and base formation plays with Thomas in the game. Bell is not a passing-game asset, limiting Payton's playcalling when on the field.
Others to avoid: Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson. Both of the Saints' secondary receiver options are reliant on the big play, which the Patriots don't give up very often. Saints slot man Lance Moore (ankle) sat out practice Friday and still isn't 100 percent. Let's make sure he can still play before using him. He's been out for a month. Patriots TE Ben Watson would figure to benefit from a pass-first game plan from New England, but is only a marginal TE1. He hasn't topped 51 yards in a game since Week 1 or scored since Week 7.
My Pick- Saints
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