Roddy White is still battling through a pulled hamstring and a high ankle sprain. He’s going to be a game-time decision, but said it would be important for him to play Sunday. The Falcons would certainly love to save their season, beginning this week against the division rival Panthers. Harry Douglas will continue to work the slot and dominate Matt Ryan’s targets. Steven Jackson is going to play, and will be critical to Atlanta’s success moving forward. Jacquizz Rodgers could remain a factor as the joker back, a role similar to Darren Sproles in an offense somewhat like San Diego’s.
Ray Rice (hip flexor strain) said, “My leg’s feeling a lot better, and I’m looking forward to doing some damage.” Saying he has his “burst back,” he is excited for the second half of the season. In three games this season, backup Bernard Pierce has touched the ball as many or more times than Rice. The starter is averaging 2.8 yards per carry, and 40.3 rushing yards per game. Pierce hasn’t looked much better, though, with a duplicate 2.8 yards per carry, while rushing for 31.3 yards per game. Baltimore might continue the committee approach Sunday, whether or not Rice is at 100 percent.
C.J. Spiller missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, but should be okay to play Sunday against Kansas City. Fred Jackson has led the backfield in touches for four weeks in a row. For the season, Jackson has rushed 101 times for 425 yards (4.2 yards per attempt), while catching 27 passes for another 223 yards. He has yet to reach pay dirt. Spiller has 90 rushes for 362 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and a score, with 14 receptions for 36 yards. Buffalo is the new Carolina backfield; these highly talented players effectively cancel out each others’ values on the fantasy field. The injury concerns of all these backs make this comparison even more accurate. You’re playing touchdown roulette, just hoping your starter gets the score.
Thad Lewis is listed as doubtful, meaning it could be Tuel Time — Jeff Tuel, that is. Tuel was an undrafted free agent this year, and Sunday would be the second career game for the rookie. In his lone appearance week five, Tuel completed eight of 20 passes for 80 yards and an interception. Downgrade all Bills players appropriately. This will be a tough week for Buffalo against the NFL’s number five pass defense. The Chiefs are also the best in average points allowed (12.25).
Speak of the devil; DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart will be reunited on the field for the first time in 2013. Stewart last suited up in Week 11 of last year. When they have played together, Williams has averaged 12 carries for 59.4 yards, and Stewart has rushed 10.3 times for 46.1 yards, with the two combining for 0.9 touchdowns per game. They each take a slight upgrade when playing alone, but this will become another fantasy situation to avoid, outside of somewhat desperate flex play. On the upside, Cam Newton has the Panthers scoring the 11th most points per game this season (24.3).
Jay Cutler will be out for another few weeks. Josh McCown will get his first start since 2011, news that couldn’t be worse for owners of Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery. In his twelve-year career, McCown has completed 58.2 percent of his passes, with 38 touchdowns and 44 interceptions. The Bears offense could look a lot like the Rams pretty soon, and that’s not a good thing. Expect more involvement from Matt Forte in the coming weeks, as the team adjusts to an inaccurate quarterback.
Willis McGahee is probable for the Browns’ late game against Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed only one rushing touchdown this year, better than any other team. The 32-year-old starting back is only averaging 2.9 yards per carry, and has 233 total yards in six games this year. Only once this year has McGahee surpassed 15 touches, when he carried the ball 26 times in week five. Jason Campbell will get his second start of the year, for a team more focused on exploring their talent than winning games. Last week, Campbell completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 293 yards, two scores, and no interceptions.
DeMarco Murray will return to starting duties, after his annual injury sabbatical. The third year back started just 17 games during his first two seasons. This time, Murray missed only two games, and comes back to face the league’s 20th ranked run defense. Backup Joseph Randle has filled in effectively, receiving 39 touches over the last two weeks. Lance Dunbar will return to the number three role. Miles Austin (hamstring) is doubtful to play against the Vikings Sunday. Terrance Williams will be given another great opportunity to shine. Minnesota is ranked 29th against the pass.
Today’s Green Bay report was brought to you by the letter, “J.” Jermichael Finley is out indefinitely with a bruised spinal cord, and may soon find himself on injured reserve. James Jones will be a game-time decision for Monday Night Football. He is officially questionable for this important divisional match against Chicago. James Starks returned last week from a knee injury, and ran seven times for 57 yards and a score. For the season, the fourth year veteran has 41 rushes for 244 yards (6.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Since starter Eddie Lacy’s week five return (from a concussion), he has led all NFL rushers in attempts (97) and yards (395). The next best at each category are not even close; Frank Gore has 85 rushes, and Jamaal Charles has run for 346 yards. Jarrett Boykin will be playing this week, but his targets will be directly affected by Jones’ availability. Over the last two games, Boykin has turned 16 targets into 13 receptions, 192 yards and a touchdown.
Case Keenum will start his second career game on Sunday night against Indianapolis. In his first NFL action last week, the rookie completed 60 percent of his passes for 271 yards and a score. Head coach Gary Kubiak said of former starter Matt Schaub, “[His] heatlh is fine. It’s a decision based on what I saw take place last week with Case.” The future is not promising for Houston’s tenth year quarterback. Ben Tate “will be ready to go,” said Kubiak about his backup runner. Starter Arian Foster is “still a game-time decision,” according to the coach. Tate has four cracked ribs, but is apparently in better shape than the lead back. Foster pulled his hamstring week seven in Kansas City, and has not missed a game since the end of 2011. Tate has rushed for 318 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and a score, with 16 receptions for another 56 yards. Even with Foster in the lineup every week this year, the backup has seen at least eight touches in each game.
Reggie Wayne is out for the season, which should result in increased targets for receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton. For the season, Heyward-Bey has made 18 receptions for 190 yards and a score, while Hilton has caught 27 passes for 412 yards and two touchdowns. More work could also be on the way for tight end Coby Fleener, and running backs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown. Richardson has only created 3.1 yards per rush this year, compared with an average of 3.6 yards from his rookie year. In the Colts’ last game, Brown was handed 11 carries to the starter’s 14. Brown also caught three passes, while Richardson was not targeted even once. “I have to do a better job of finding ways to get Trent out in space,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said of the running game. “I have to do a better job coming up with schemes that not only give our offensive line a chance to be successful, but of course create holes for Trent and create schemes that compliment his wealth of talent. That’s one of the things that we spent time as an offensive staff looking at during the bye week.” Hopefully that, combined with another two weeks of Richardson studying the playbook, will lead to some improvement for the second-year runner. Among all backs with at least 70 carries, Richardson has caused the most missed tackles per run. He breaks contact more than once every four rushes.
Christian Ponder will start for the Vikings Sunday, leaving Josh Freeman to wait in the wings again. Freeman was abysmal in his lone start for Minnesota this year, connecting on just 20 of 53 passes (37.7 percent complete). Ponder has completed 60.3 percent of his passes this year, for two scores and five interceptions. Adrian Peterson owners should be very happy with this news, as it was on a Ponder-led offense last year that the rusher ran for 2,097 yards en route to an NFL Most Valuable Player award. Peterson told Ed Werder the Vikings should pound the rock against Dallas this week. The MVP has just 44 touches in the last three games.
Tom Brady is only listed on the injury report for an issue with his right throwing shoulder. But everyone who watches football has seen the image of his red, swollen throwing hand. The Patriots could face a $20,000 fine for falsifying the injury report. Regardless of Bill Belichick’s predictable antics, what matters more to Brady’s fantasy owners are the tangible results on the field. In the last four games, the eight time Pro Bowler has thrown only two touchdowns to four interceptions. Brady has nine scores and six interceptions on the season. Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Julian Edelman are all probable to play against Pittsburgh’s fourth ranked defense. The Steelers have allowed only 302.9 yards per game, while the Patriots are 18th in offense, averaging 330.0 yards.
Jimmy Graham (foot) is questionable to play against the New York Jets. The tight end said he hopes to play more than his 18 snaps from last week. “Hopefully I’ll be able to play more,” he said, “but that’s all on Sean [Payton] and all of our coaches and our doctors and what they think.” Marques Colston is questionable because of a knee injury. Check back an hour before kickoff to see their official game statuses.
Michael Vick will not play Sunday, and Nick Foles will start in his place. Foles has started two games this year, and has seen significant action in a third. For the season, the second year veteran from Arizona has completed 57.8 percent of his passes for 622 yards, six touchdowns, and no turnovers. That’s an improvement over Vick, who has connected on just 54.6 percent of his passes for 1215 yards, five scores, three interceptions, and four fumbles. But the Foles effect may be hurting LeSean McCoy’s production. In games that Foles has started, the running back has rushed 21.5 times for 85.5 yards and zero touchdowns. But with someone else starting the game at quarterback, McCoy has rushed 18.8 times per game, for an average of 93.7 yards and 0.5 scores.
Percy Harvin will not play Sunday, but could be available soon for Seattle’s struggling offense. Marshawn Lynch missed two practices this week with a knee injury, but is probable to start against the Buccaneers. Lynch received just eight carries Monday, his fewest since week four of 2011. It’s possible the Seahawks are protecting his knee with the lessened workload. Lynch’s season rate of 4.1 yards per carry are his lowest since 2010, and a drop from 5.0 last year. Sidney Rice tore his ACL in last week’s win over the Rams. He was placed on injured reserve, and will not play again this year. Seattle’s 15th ranked offense will need Lynch and Harvin to step up if this team’s Super Bowl hopes are to remain in tact.
Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson, and Benny Cunningham are all listed as questionable to play Sunday. This feels like the ending of Rocky II (spoiler alert), when whoever could stand up first would win the title. Whoever manages to suit up this week should earn a hefty sum of carries against Tennessee’s 24th ranked rush defense. In the last three weeks, the rookie Stacy has averaged 22.7 touches for 102.0 total yards per game. For the season, he is producing 4.6 yards per carry, compared with Richardson’s 3.1 yard average for the season.
Mike Williams was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, ending his 2013 season. Vincent Jackson will receive an increase in attention, both from opposing defenses and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. So far this year, Jackson has 41 catches for 623 yards and four touchdowns. Williams had 22 receptions for 216 yards and a pair of scores in his short season. Doug Martin remains out indefinitely, with no timetable to return from a torn shoulder labrum. Coach Greg Schiano admitted Friday that surgery will be necessary at some point, bringing to question why a winless team would rush back such a valuable player. Rookie Mike James will start again. In his first NFL start last week, he rushed 10 times for 39 yards, and added four receptions for another 25 yards. James is a dicey flex play against Seattle’s number two defense; they are allowing 289.3 yards per game, and 105.1 on the ground.
Stats and data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com, footballguys.com, and pro-football-focus.com.