Get the Athlon Sports Newsletter
Play your Bengals, Panthers, Colts and Titans this weekend.
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
Start These Quarterbacks:
Matt Ryan, Atlanta (Minnesota)
After five straight weeks with only one touchdown in each game, Ryan rested on the bye week. Since that bye, Ryan has averaged 314 yards per game with six total touchdowns in his last three games. The Vikings are 28th in the league against the pass and have allowed a league-worst 19 passing touchdowns. Julio Jones or not, Ryan is a great play.
Vince Young, Philadelphia (New England)
Young finished with a useful 258 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in the huge win over New York last weekend. With Jeremy Maclin likely returning to the lineup, facing the worst pass defense in the NFL and probably playing from behind for the majority of the game will give Young owners at worst a Top 15 fantasy number.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
He has thrown five interceptions against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but he also kept his team in both games and threw for a career-high 373 yards — without A.J. Green. The Browns have been solid against the pass, but only because nobody has had any need to throw the football. Dalton should be around that 220-2 range this weekend in a must-win situation for the Bengals.
Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Locker, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
No matter who starts, there could be plenty of value under center for the Titans. The Bucs are ranked 29th in the NFL against the pass, and only the Chargers, Colts and Vikings have allowed more passing touchdowns than their 18 allowed. Locker sparked the offense last weekend in the second half and has obvious ability.
Bench These Quarterbacks:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (at NY Jets)
This makes four straight weeks that we have addressed Fitz’s struggles. Here are his last three stat lines: 191-1-2 against the Jets, 146-1-3 against the Cowboys and 209-0-2 against the resurgent Dolphins. His highest passer rating was 51.9 over that span. The Jets have allowed an NFL second-best eight passing touchdowns and are sixth against the pass.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay (at Tennessee)
Please do not buy into Freeman’s 342-yard, two touchdown performance last weekend. He still sports an 11:15 TD:INT ratio and posted those numbers against the NFL’s second-worst pass defense. The Titans are stronger against the pass, and Freeman is 27th in the NFL in passer rating behind names like Kolb, Cassel, McCoy and Orton.
Alex Smith, San Francisco (at Baltimore)
This one goes without saying, but Smith and the Niners are traveling across three time zones in a short work week against maybe the best pass defense in the league. They have allowed a league-best seven passing touchdowns and are seventh against the pass at 211.3 yards per game.
***Just so you know not to play them: Colt McCoy (at Cincinnati), Blaine Gabbert (Houston), Tyler Palko (Pittsburgh), Caleb Hanie (at Oakland)***
Start These Running Backs:
Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams, Carolina (at Indianapolis)
Cries for Stewart to become an every down back are getting louder and louder. He has averaged seven yards per touch over the last two games and has become quite a factor — for the first time in his career — in the passing game. The Colts are 31st in the NFL against the rush at 145.6 yards, and both Panther backs could do something in a game that Carolina has to win.
Chris Johnson, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
The Bucs are 26th against the run at 133.5 yards per game and have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns (only Carolina has allowed more with 14). If Jake Locker is starting, fans can expect a heavy dose of the ground game in the form of CJ2K and maybe even Javon Ringer. If Johnson cannot get on track against Tampa Bay, 2011 will officially become a wasted season for the stubborn contract holdout.
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
Benson averaged 2.7 yards per carry and totaled 41 yards against the Ravens, but he made most prognosticators look foolish by reaching paydirt twice — which matched his season total. The Browns are 29th in the NFL against the run at 139.3 yards allowed per game. Look for all hands on deck for a key divisional game.
Donald Brown, Indianapolis (Carolina)
Carolina ranks 30th in the NFL against the run at 140.7 yards allowed per game and has allowed more rushing touchdowns (14) than anyone else in the league. With Joseph Addai still having major issues, Brown has gotten the majority of the looks at 17 and 18 touches respectively over the last two. Look for the Colts to run the football to keep Cam Newton off the field.
Bench These Running Backs:
Ray Rice, Baltimore (San Francisco)
If you play in a PPR format, you cannot bench Rice. But in a touchdowns and yards league, it is hard to see Rice posting more than 10 fantasy points. The Niners are the only team yet to allow a rushing touchdown and lead the NFL in rushing defense by a wide margin (73.9 yards per game allowed). Look for 20 touches, 70 total yards and an outside chance at a receiving touchdown.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (at Baltimore)
The short week and cross-country flight for a player who has been battling injuries would make me nervous if they were playing the Browns. But this is the Ravens, who lead the NFL at 3.3 yards per attempt and are fifth in the league against the run. This has defensive struggle written all over it — with or without Ray Lewis.
Toby Gerhart, Minnesota (at Atlanta)
The Falcons are No. 2 in the NFL at 85.4 yards per carry and have stifled running backs all season long. Chris Johnson rushed for 13 yards on 12 carries and caught three passes for 15 yards in last week’s dominating performance. If it weren’t for a 17-yard Matt Hasselbeck scramble, the Titans would have totaled 24 yards rushing total.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Percy Harvin, Minnesota (at Atlanta)
With Purple Jesus on the sideline, Harvin is pretty much the only playmaker the Vikings have on offense. He has caught six passes in each of the last two games and routinely gets rushing attempts from out of the backfield. He has 11 attempts for 55 yards and a touchdown over the last three weeks. With the ground game held in check and the game likely getting out of hand early, Harvin could benfit with another strong showing.
Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, NY Jets (Buffalo)
The Bills are 24th in the NFL against the pass at 250 yards allowed per game and are 23rd in passing touchdowns allowed (17). Over the last three games, they have been even worse. Buffalo surrendered 160 yards and three touchdowns to Matt Moore in last week’s blowout loss. Tony Romo threw for 270 yards and three scores in the 44-7 drubbing two weeks ago. And both Holmes (3-29-1) and Burress (5-79) had solid games in the 27-11 win over the Bills.
Nate Washington, Tennessee (Tampa Bay)
Washington was easily the more dependable of the two Titans receivers last weekend. He posted a nasty 9-115-2 line with most of damage coming once Jake Locker was inserted into the lineup. The strong-armed passer hit him for two scoring strikes in the second half, and the Titans will continue to look his way against a defense that ranks 29th against the pass.
Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis (Arizona)
He has caught a touchdown in three of four games and has become Sam Bradford's top target. Against an atrocious Cardinals defense, the only thing that will keep Lloyd from a big fantasy number is the compensation benchmark that kicks in with his 30th reception in a Rams uniform (he has 26 currently). But giving up a fifth rounder instead of a sixth sounds pretty reasonable for a player with 26 catches for 322 yards and three scores in five games.
Jerome Simpson, Cincinnati (Cleveland)
AJ Green is going to try to practice this week, but the Bengals have to play it very cautiously with their prized deep threat. Especially in a game they should have no problem winning. Simpson caught eight passes for 152 yards in his absence last week and has scored in two of the his last three games.
Vincent Brown, San Diego (Denver)
With Malcolm Floyd still on the bench with an injury and Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates drawing the Broncos' top covermen, Brown has a good chance to make a big play. His speed and down-the-field ability were extraordinary in college, and that ability showed in spades against the Raiders. Rivers has targeted him 19 times over the last three weeks and should be looking his way plenty this weekend.
Stevie Johnson, Buffalo (at NY Jets)
Welcome to Revis Island. No offense has stumbled more over the last month than the Bills. Enough said?
Eric Decker, Denver (at San Diego)
The former Golden Gopher wideout was held without a reception last week and has one total catch in two games. As long Tim Tebow is playing quarterback, the opportunities will just not be there for Decker.
Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City (Pittsburgh)
Tyler Palko is killing Bowe owners everywhere, and the Steelers rank third in the NFL against the pass at 183.2 yards per game. He just cannot be trusted against the Steel Curtain.