Whether you think so or not, Week 7 is one off the more critical weeks in fantasy football. You’re more than half-way through the regular season and a win this week could mean all the difference between grabbing a playoff spot and sitting on the sidelines jerkin’ your gherkin. If you’re sitting at 6-0 or 5-1 then you’re probably in a good spot. A 4-2 record becomes borderline if you take a loss because all those clowns sitting at 3-3 that find a way to win this week are going to be competing with you for those final playoff positions. So pay attention, read all the news you can about your players, study the match-ups and don’t make any boneheaded decisions that you’re liable to regret in two or three weeks’ time.
If you’re dealing with injuries or bye-week issues, then you better be both smart and savvy on the waiver wire. Don’t go dropping players you shouldn’t drop. If I have one more person ask me if they should drop Philip Rivers for Josh Freeman, I’m going to yank my hair out and head-butt you with my shiny, bald noggin. Don’t drop a guy you’re liable to start in a week or two. Drop that shlub that sits on your bench and will never see a single day in your starting lineup. Everyone’s got one. Some people may call it a second defense or a second kicker. If that’s the case, then lose one of them or get your head examined. Be smart and you’ll find yourself competing for a championship. Act like an idiot and prepare to be ridiculed by the rest of your league. The choice is yours.
In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on the match-ups for this week…
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Obviously this looks like a big defensive match-up here as both teams rank pretty high up against both the run and the pass. But while using Frank Gore makes me a bit nervous, I think Marshawn Lynch makes for a decent play after seeing what Ahmad Bradshaw did to the 49ers run D last week. Now while the Niners could be vulnerable to the run, the Seahawks could be a little vulnerable against the pass if the Niners’ offensive line can keep Alex Smith from getting sacked a dozen times. Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis may get bottled up again this week so that could leave Mario Manningham as a decent option so long as his shoulder is good.
Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills
The over/under on this game is 46.5 and if the weather is clear then I say take the over. Unlike the SF/SEA match-up, these defenses are horrible. They’re downright atrocious. They’re so bad, that I have a hard time not recommending any of the starters. Unless you have someone who is, without question, a significant upgrade, then I say start someone from this game. Does that mean I’m saying start Kendall Wright over Victor Cruz? No. That would be stupid. But would I start Donald Jones over Darrius Heyward-Bey or Scott Chandler over Fred Davis? Yes. Yes, I would. Like I said, don’t make bad decisions, but if you’re genuinely stuck between two guys and this match-up is the tie-breaker, the guy playing in this game wins. If you need your hand held a little here, send me an email and I’ll help you through it. The email address is at the end of this article.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers give up an average of 127.4 rushing yards per game. Does that mean you start Felix Jones this week? Um, yeah. I would say so. Their passing defense works a little better so you may want to hedge your bets on Dez Bryant and Miles Austin, but I do think Jason Witten could have a decent game. Tight ends against Carolina are averaging roughly 63 yards per game against them.
For the Panthers, I always have a hard time recommending their running backs and this week is no different. I think Newton will have to take it to the air a little more often which should hopefully mean a decent week for Steve Smith and even Brandon LaFell. Unless Carolina uses a lot of two-tight end formations, Greg Olsen could be a bust if he has to hang back and block Dallas’ tough pass rush. Speaking of a tough pass rush, that should actually help Cam Newton’s rushing yardage as he’ll probably be flushed out of the pocket a lot more often.
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans
The mighty Texans D has seemingly lost a step with Brian Cushing being lost for the season. But these Ravens aren’t the Green Bay Packers, so I don’t know about 40-plus points this week. But while the Texans are normally solid against team’s number one receiver, the secondary wideout and tight end seem to be faring a little better. That could mean good news for Torrey Smith and even Dennis Pitta.
On the other side, these are not the Ravens of old and the absence of Ray Lewis is going to really take its toll. The secondary coverage will have its hands full with Andre Johnson but the middle could be where it’s at for Owen Daniels. Not to mention the passes out to the flat that end up in Arian Foster’s hands.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
What a nice change for the Giants who faced one of the best pass defenses to facing the absolute worst in the league. The Redskins have given up more than 200 more passing yards than the next-worst defense and are allowing an average of 328 passing yards per game. That might mean that Ahmad Bradshaw’s foot problem is irrelevant. If the G-Men go up big, they might not even play Bradhsaw in the second half and just let David Wilson run the clock out. Either way, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz become obvious must-starts. Add in Martellus Bennett as well.
For the Skins, they’re going to have to work hard to establish the run with Alfred Morris as time of possession is going to be their best friend. With Pierre Garcon likely out again, they just don’t have the horses to keep up in a shootout. Tight end Fred Davis leads the Skins in targets, receptions and yardage but he still hasn’t found the endzone yet.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Truth be told, this one has fantasy trap written all over it. By that, I mean with so many people ready to start Josh Freeman against this weak-ass Saints D, he couldn’t possibly deliver on all that promise/potential, could he? And could Doug Martin really finally bust out against a defense that allows an average of 172.8 rushing yards per game? I’m buying into it, but would be lying if I didn’t think this is a sucker’s bet. I’m starting a combination of Freeman, Martin, and Mike Williams in a few different leagues, but am only doing it because I can afford the risk. Either my team is so good that a loss doesn’t matter or so bad (only because of bye week issues) that I’ve got nothing to lose. Either way, this should be an interesting one to watch.
As for the Saints, how do you not start all the receivers and Darren Sproles against a pass defense that allows an average of 312 yards per game through the air? Keep an eye on the health of Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham, though. Graham should play, Moore might not. If Moore is out, then Devery Henderson is definitely worth a look. The strong suit for the Bucs is the ground game defense so, even if you’re desperate, I’d steer clear from using Pierre Thomas.
Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams
Last week should have answered the running back questions in Green Bay as Alex Green had 22 carries to James Starks’ five. The Rams run D is fairly middle of the road but they do allow just over 100 rushing yards per game, so Green could find himself in a good position to put up some points this week. The Rams passing defense is their strong suit, but we’re talking Aaron Rodgers and company, so how do you bench them? With Greg Jennings likely to miss another game, Randall Cobb remains a great play.
Despite the fact that the Packers give up an average of 110 rushing yards per game, you can’t really trust Steven Jackson as he is now in a full time-share with Daryl Richardson. Maybe a possible flex play, but even that is stretching it. Brandon Gibson has been a hot pick-up as he seems to be Sam Bradford’s go-to guy with Danny Amendola out. But keep an eye on Chris Givens who has seen an increase in targets over the last two weeks.
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
Similarly to the Packers, the Cardinals running game seems to have taken shape with William Powell being the lead back. That’s not to say that LaRod Stephens-Howling still won’t get some third down work, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be a worthwhile fantasy play. This week also marks the return of John Skelton, so while Larry Fitzgerald owners are plenty happy, those that own Andre Roberts are probably not as thrilled.
Christian Ponder’s knee might be fine, but it’s doubtful that he’ll be throwing for 352 yards this week so don’t get your hopes up. The Vikings will lean on Adrian Peterson as much as possible and from there turn to Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph. Jerome Simpson should be back this week so don’t expect much from Michael Jenkins this time around.
Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts
It only took five or six weeks to happen but it looks like Brandon Weeden has finally found his go-to receiver with Josh Gordon. He’s a quality deep threat and has the ability to also work as a possession receiver, so expect to see his targets increase over the next few weeks. The Colts don’t give up a whole lot of yardage through the air, but they’ve allowed 10 passing touchdowns this season, so Gordon should be a solid start this week. For those sweating the Trent Richardson rib injury, it looks like he’ll be playing this week. He may be wearing a flak jacket for extra protection, but at least he’ll be playting.
For the Colts, Vick Ballard gets a chance to redeem himself against a team that is allowing an average of 131.3 rushing yards per game. The Browns have only given up three rushing touchdowns but that’s because their pass defense is so bad that they’ve coughed up 15 touchdowns through the air this season. That’s good news for Andrew Luck and the receiving corps. Reggie Wayne is a must-start while Donnie Avery should see several targets and plenty of yards. T.Y. Hilton makes for a nice sleeper during the bye-weeks. He may not rack up a whole lot of yardage, but I could see him stealing a TD-grab at some point.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders
Maurice Jones-Drew should be the focal point of the Jags’ offense as usual despite the fact that it’s the Raiders’ pass D that is hurting, particularly in the secondary. But Blaine Gabbert has his shortcomings and neither Justin Blackmon nor Laurent Robinson is going to help him through it. It’s making the Raiders D looking like a nice sleeper option.
While Darren McFadden should have a strong day against a defense that gives up an average of 163 rushing yards per game, Denarius Moore is rekindling that relationship with Carson Palmer and should be a great play this week and beyond. He’ll start climbing the leaderboards in target percent soon enough and if Palmer can limit the mistakes, be a must-start each week. He’s not there yet, but should be shortly.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Always an epic battle between these two clubs…well almost always. Sometimes it can get a little lopsided and this just might be one of those times as the Jets D is hurting and the Pats actually have a more balanced attack with Stevan Ridley having such a great year. The return of Aaron Hernandez will help Tom Brady out for sure, and word on the street is that Brandon Lloyd will be just fine this Sunday.
On the Jets side, it obviously comes down to how many mistakes Mark Sanchez makes. If he’s on, then Jeremy Kerley and returning tight end Dustin Keller could be solid plays as bye week replacements. Stephen Hill also makes for a nice option, but has been limited with this hamstring problem. Shonn Greene had the game of his life last week, but don’t expect a repeat as the Pats’ run D has only allowed two rushing touchdowns this season and an average of just 82.7 yards per game.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
With Troy Polamalu likely out this week, the Steelers secondary could struggle against the likes of A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham. Andrew Hawkins could be included there except for the fact that he’s been a bust the last few weeks and is now dealing with a back problem. Perhaps Armon Binns gets a few extra looks this week. With Brian Leonard questionable, Cedric Peerman moves up the depth chart, but BenJarvis Green-Ellis still gets the nod as the primary.
With Rashard Mendenhall dealing with an Achilles injury and Isaac Redman with knee issues, Baron Batch should get some extra work. But look for Ben Roethlisberger to concentrate on the aerial attack with Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Heath Miller. The Bengals have a strong pass rush and are second in the league with 20 sacks, but if Big Ben works quickly, he’ll find a way to neutralize it.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
The Bears run defense is a tough nut to crack, so don’t expect big numbers out of Mikel Leshoure this week. They’re giving up just over 65 yards per game on the ground with just one rushing touchdown all year. The pass defense is no slouch either, ranking fifth in the league. Matthew Stafford isn’t going to be able to afford any slow starts or inconsistencies. If he struggles out of the gate, it could be a long night for those hoping Calvin Johnson or any of the other Lions receivers do anything special.
Detroit has a pretty tough run defense as well, so keep your expectations for Matt Forte in check and look for Jay Cutler to try and win it through the air. Brandon Marshall leads the NFL in target percentage, but if the Lions work on containing him, it could be a tough night for da Bears. That is, of course unless Alshon Jeffery decides to show up.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.