-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
Start These Quarterbacks:
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
Dalton’s performance hasn’t been elite of late, but the defenses he has faced are: Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, Houston. And he fared admirably, averaging 216.7 yards per game with five touchdowns. He hasn’t throw an interception in three straight games, and the Rams haven’t been stopping any part of any offense.
Tim Tebow, Denver (New England)
Would the NFL simply cancel the season and award the Lombardi Trophy to Tim Tebow himself if he were to pull off an upset of Tom Brady and the Pats? With the Patriots' ability to score early, Tebow might be in 2-minute mode for the final three quarters, and that is great news for fantasy owners. New England is still last in passing defense at over 308 yards per game allowed, and Tebow could be in store for another big game on the ground as well.
Jake Locker, Tennessee (at Indianapolis)
The rookie was a top-five option last week in fantasy and will be facing the worst team in the NFL this weekend. The Colts allow a league-worst 29.4 points per game and have a league-worst six interceptions. Locker will get it done both with his powerful right arm and mobile lower extremities. Look for another solid outing from the youngster.
T.J. Yates, Houston (Carolina)
If you need to dig deep, look for Yates to produce again. His clutch performance in the second half last week proved he has great leadership ability — and it bumped a mediocre fantasy day into 300-yard, 2-TD range. In two starts, he has 488 yards, 3 TD and one INT — and now he faces a defense ranked 29th in scoring (27.3 ppg).
Cam Newton, Carolina (at Houston)
All three of this week’s “Lowered Expectations” are tough benches, but also have brutal match-ups. Houston has been nearly dominant on defense: Fifth in INT (17), third against the pass (183.5 ypg) and a nasty fourth in scoring (16.0 ppg). With homefield advantage still on the line for Houston, expect this team to rally around its ailing defensive coordinator. A 183-1-3, 32-? line sounds about right for Newton. It will all come down to the rushing touchdowns column.
Philip Rivers, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Chargers and Rivers are hot through the air (6 TD, 0 INT) over the last two — against Jacksonville and Buffalo. Rivers is still having one of his worst seasons statistically, and his offensive line has been terrible. Against a Baltimore pass rush that is leading the league in sacks (45.0), is third in scoring defense (16.5 ppg), fifth against the pass (192.3 ypg) and has allowed a league-low nine touchdown passes, Rivers' upside appears very limited.
Ben Roesthlisberger, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
Keep a close eye on Big Ben’s ankle. He is questionable for a game that has major playoff implications in the AFC, so it is unlikely he misses time. He is one of the toughest hombres in the league, but the Niners have been nasty on defense all season. Their 18 interceptions rank second in the league, and the ground game won’t help him at all. There is very little to like about the two-time Super Bowl champ this week.
Start These Running Backs:
Cedric Benson, Cincinnati (at St. Louis)
His 21 carries for 91 yards last week against Houston is much more impressive than the 9.1 fantasy points indicate. And now he gets the worst rushing defense in the league, as the Rams allow 156.8 yards per game. They clearly had no desire to stop Marshawn Lynch on Monday night and won’t be game for the Bengals' power rushing attack either.
Roy Helu, Washington (at NY Giants)
Helu has been a top-10 back over last three weeks as he has topped the century mark and the 23 carry plateau in each game. And Giants have been about as bad as any team…ever…over the last three weeks. They have allowed 40.3 points per game in the last three weeks, and the Skins offense should be able to move the ball in what will be a high-scoring affair.
Reggie Bush, Miami (at Buffalo)
Michael isn’t the only Bush who should be in your lineup this weekend. (Sorry.) The former Saint is running with renewed vigor and has back-to-back 100-yard games to show for it. The Bills have been atrocious for the better part of two months and are allowing 130.7 yards rushing per game at a 4.7-yard clip.
Ryan Grant, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Assuming James Starks is out again, Grant is the guy against a defense that surrenders 132.5 yards rushing per game. Grant ran with renewed energy last week in what was his best game in what seems like three seasons (10 att., 85 yards, 2 TD, 1 rec., 13 yards). The Chiefs, with a new head coach now, are coming off a disgusting performance against the Jets: 37 points allowed, 159 yards rushing allowed, three rushing TDs allowed.
Felix Jones, Dallas (at Tampa Bay)
Welcome back, King Felix! The Cowboys gave Jones the ball 22 times for 137 yards from scrimmage in the Sunday night shootout with the Giants. While no team has been as bad as New York on defense of late, Tampa Bay isn’t far behind. The Bucs are 29th in the league against the run (139.7 yards per game) and a league-leading 19 rushing touchdowns. Plug and play.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh (at San Francisco)
The Niners are on the verge of greatness when it comes to playing the run. They still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown (second place: five allowed), they lead the league in rushing defense (70.5 ypg) by a wide margin and are No. 1 in scoring defense at 14.0 points allowed per game. With Big Ben banged up, it's tough to see big numbers for Mendenhall.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego (Baltimore)
The Ravens are third in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed with six, are third in the NFL in points allowed per game at 15.5 and are No. 2 in the NFL against fantasy running backs. In a PPR league, he deserves a slight bump in value, but it is hard to see him continuing his roll on the ground this weekend.
Frank Gore, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
Rushing yards will be tough to come by on both sides of the ball Monday night. The Steelers are allowing 15.2 points per game, good for second in the NFL. They have allowed an NFL 3rd-best six rushing touchdowns and only 97.0 yards per game. Gore hasn’t reached the 100-yard mark since Week 9, so don’t expect it to happen this weekend.
Start These Wide Receivers:
Santana Moss or Jabar Gaffney, Washington (at NY Giants)
The Giants have been awful of late and the secondary is a big part of their struggles. Moss is coming off a 3-81-1 game and has 12 receptions in his last three. Gaffney has 18 receptions for 279 yards and two scores in his last three. Without Fred Davis, these two should get the majority of the targets against the porous G-Men.
Donald Driver or James Jones, Green Bay (at Kansas City)
Jordy Nelson is a must start with Greg Jennings out; however, both Driver and Jones deserve a look this weekend as well. Driver set a season high with 75 yards last week and has at least four catches in each of the last two. Jones is more of a hit-or-miss (94, TD one week sandwiched by zero catch performances) but has more upside than Driver. Pick your poison and hope you picked correctly.
Demaryius Thomas, Denver (at New England)
Thomas is a physical specimen who has all the natural ability to be an elite receiver but has experienced nagging injuries and a steep learning curve. With 11 catches for 222 yards and three scores over his last two games, it appears that he is starting to blossom. Against the worst Patriots secondary in more than a decade, he should play well.
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia (NY Jets)
Much like the way you should bench whichever running back is facing the 49ers, whoever gets locked down by Derrelle Revis is a near must-bench as well. With his antics, contract talk and Michael Vick’s struggles, it is hard to recommend D-Jax this week. He hasn’t topped 100 yards since Week 4 and has scored one time in eight games.
Steve Smith, Carolina (at Houston)
Smith is a tough bench, but the Panthers passing game has little upside this weekend. The Texans have been excellent against both phases of offense. And Smith has struggled of late, totaling 11 catches, 75 yards per game and no touchdowns over his last three. Look for a 5-70-0 line as his potential upside.
Michael Crabtree, San Francisco (Pittsburgh)
The former two-time Biletnikoff Award winner has become a must-start of late. Unfortunately, Monday night isn’t one of those. This game features two of the best front sevens in all of football, and both quarterbacks and running games will struggle. Look for a very low-scoring, tightly played affair. No big plays for Crabtree this weekend.