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After weeks of speculation and conflicting reports, Rob Gronkowski has finally been cleared to return this week by doctors. Of course, that doesn’t mean he will definitely play. Gronkowski remains listed as questionable on the Patriots injury report and, after all the false starts in previous weeks, it would be wise to wait until their 1 p.m. start time before locking him into your lineup. If he does start, he’s expected to be on a snap count but it’s the red zone targets that we really care about and the 6-foot-6 Pro Bowler will certainly accommodate. Last season against the Jets, Gronk caught six passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Jets defense has allowed 18 receptions for 196 yards over the last two weeks.
On the flip side, Danny Amendola will miss yet another game, this time with a concussion. Cornerback Aqib Talib is also expected to miss Sunday’s game which could open up the door for a bigger effort from Geno Smith and his top target, Stephen Hill.
While Gronkowski and Amendola have been frequent fliers on the inactive list, Roddy White will be inactive for the first time in his career. After playing 133 consecutive games, White will join Julio Jones (out for the season) and Steven Jackson (out Week 7) on the sidelines. That means it will likely be a big game for Tony Gonzalez, who has caught 22 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns over the last two weeks. Harry Douglas will start as Ryan’s number one receiver and figures to see plenty of Darrelle Revis all day.
On Tampa Bay’s side, receiver Mike Williams has returned to full practice and is expected to play on Sunday but remains listed as questionable. Be sure to check his game time status before locking him into your lineup.
In Detroit, Calvin Johnson remains limited with a knee injury, though offensive coordinate Scott Linehan expects Megatron to play a bigger role on Sunday. Of course, the Lions seem to have found a new red zone weapon in undrafted rookie Joseph Fauria who is coming off a three touchdown performance in Week 6 and now has five scores on the season. Having Calvin back in a bigger role could help both of them secure more endzone grabs.
In Miami, the Bills’ expect to have C.J. Spiller ready to go despite being limited with a hamstring injury and Stevie Johnson has been upgraded to probable after being limited with a back injury so both should be in the lineup against the Dolphins. On the Miami side, look for Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline to have big games against a Buffalo defense that gives up the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers. A.J. Green and Marvin Jones scorched them for 208 total yards and two touchdowns last week.
Michael Vick will miss his second straight game, leaving Nick Foles as the starter against a Cowboys defense that has allowed the most quarterback fantasy points of any team. Outside of Peyton’s big game against them, they have also allowed 20+ point performances to Eli Manning, Alex Smith, and Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, for Dallas, DeMarco Murray is out with a sprained knee ligament which leaves rookie Joseph Randle as the team’s starting back. On the positive side, Miles Austin is back for the second-straight week and figures to be a bigger part of the passing game against a Philly defense that has allowed the most wide receiver fantasy points in the league.
Chicago also has a great matchup against another terrible NFC East passing defense in the Redskins. Although they kept Tony Romo in check last week, they have allowed 22+ point performances to Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford. That should mean big games for Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as well. The Redskins will need Alfred Morris to run a lot if they want to win but the Bears defense has been very stingy against the run.
The Rams enter their matchup at Carolina with back-to-back wins but will need Zac Stacy to put up impressive numbers once again if they hope to seal their third straight. That may be tough against a Panthers defense that ranks fourth against the run. Cam Newton is in a good position to have another big game after passing for 242 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Vikings, and scoring another touchdown on the ground. Perhaps this could be the game DeAngelo Williams finally sees the end zone for the first time this season, the Rams have allowed huge games to Arian Foster, Frank Gore, and DeMarco Murray.
In Jacksonville, Blaine Gabbert remains out which means Chad Henne will start once again for the NFL-worse Jaguars offense that looked better with him behind center. Henne passed for 303 yards against Denver on Sunday, including 14 passes for 190 yards to Justin Blackmon who figures to have another big game. Cecil Shorts returned to practice on Friday after suffering a sprained shoulder against the Broncos and is expected to be a game time decision.
No one has a more favorable matchup than the Chargers this week and Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Ryan Mathews, and Danny Woodhead should all have big games against the Jags defense.
The Titans got surprisingly good news with Jake Locker returning at quarterback after missing three weeks with a hip and knee injury. He was initially expected to be out four-to-eight weeks but will be back behind center against the Niners as he’ll try to keep his four game interception-free streak alive. The Titans also expect to have Shonn Greene back to spell Chris Johnson who has been struggling of late. Johnson has rushed 37 times for just 71 yards over the last three games.
On the flip side, Frank Gore could not be hotter, putting up 417 yards over his last four games. He’s likely to have another big game with the Titans having allowed double-digit rushing days to Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Bilal Powell, Jamaal Charles, and Marshawn Lynch. Colin Kaepernick has also played better of late, passing for five touchdowns and just one interception over the last three weeks.
There no happy returns on the Packers, however, with Randall Cobb out for multiple weeks with a broken fibula and James Jones expected to be miss Sunday’s contest with a sprained knee ligament. That means Jarrett Boykin will start alongside Jordy Nelson and could be in for a big game against the Browns. Even number three receiver Myles White could factor in against the stringy Browns defense. The Browns will need a big game from Jordan Cameron if they hope to have any chance of making this a game. Cameron has caught just eight passes for 100 yards and no touchdowns over two games since Brandon Weeden took over the starting job.
While the Packers have to start inexperienced players at receiver, the Texans will roll out undrafted free agent Case Keenum in place of the injured Matt Schaub. It couldn’t be worse timing for Keenum as he gets the start against a Chiefs defense that has allowed under 11 points per game. Those ripples should also hurt the value of Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, and Garrett Graham.
The Chiefs will have to get a strong effort from their defense because Houston certainly will. While Schaub and T.J. Yates’ pick-six returns have piled up points for opposing teams, the Texans defense is allowing the fewest passing yards per game in the NFL. That should hurt Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe, and Donnie Avery but Jamaal Charles figures to be in for a big game with the Texans allowing 121 rushing yards per game.
The Steelers finally won their first game of the season on Sunday against the Jets but will have their hands full with the 3-3 Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have the toughest run defense in the league which will definitely limit Le’Veon Bell’s fantasy value. At the same time, the Steelers defense has been effective themselves lately and will be a tough matchup for the Ravens. Joe Flacco has more interceptions than touchdowns this year while Ray Rice is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry.
Just about everyone is startable in the Denver-Indianapolis matchup which figures to be a shootout. Everyone except, perhaps, Trent Richardson. Andrew Luck is expected to throw a lot against the Broncos and Richardson is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry on the season.
The Monday Night Vikings-Giants game offers an interesting matchup of terrible defenses. Both teams are giving up over 31 points per game which should help both offenses put up fantasy-relevant numbers. Both Adrian Peterson and Brandon Jacobs are in line for big games and Eli Manning should have no problem getting the ball to Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Josh Freeman couldn’t ask for a better matchup to make his Vikings debut with the Giants giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season.
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