Words and Rankings by Jim Ayello
1. Arizona vs. Baltimore
The Cardinals defense/special teams leads the league in touchdowns and interceptions. The Cardinals defense has given up one rushing touchdown this season. The Cardinals defense boasts Patrick Peterson, Pro Football Focus's 12th-ranked cornerback to slow down the ageless Steve Smith. The Cardinals defense is about to face Joe justFlacco, who I’ve heard, secretly enjoys muffin bottoms (pretty weird) and throwing interceptions -- he has seven so far this season. I just can’t think of any reason not rank Arizona No. 1 this week.
2. Seattle at San Francisco
No, the Seattle defense isn’t quite the same destructive unit they’ve been in the past couple of years, but they are more than capable of stifling this listless 49ers attack, especially with linebacker Bobby Wagner on tap to return. The last two real defenses the 49ers have faced (Week 3: Arizona, Week 4: Green Bay), they’ve scored a combined 10 points, and Colin Kaepernick threw five interceptions. Kaepernick has been better recently, but still has to prove he won’t play like the same guy who threw for just 262 yards and two interceptions in two games against the Seahawks last season, leading the 49ers to all of 10 points.
3. Minnesota at Detroit
I love Minnesota this week for a few reasons. One, nobody, ain’t nobody turns the ball over quite like the Lions. Their 18 giveaways pace the league, as their quarterback has thrown multiple picks in half of his games this season and has racked up a Michael Vickian 10 total turnovers himself. Reason No. 2 to like the Vikes is last season they held Matt Stafford to 318 passing yards -- in two games, including one 153-yard stinker!. Finally, the Lions ground game is a running joke (get it!), with a fumble here, a fumble there, everywhere a fumble, fumble (this is getting sad). And even it the ground game wasn't a joke, the Vikings have surrendered just three rushing touchdowns this season. Minnesota is stellar play this week.
4. St. Louis vs. Cleveland
Boy, those of us who invested in the Rams defense before the season certainly had this date circled on the calendars. Amazing how quickly things can change. The Rams have yet to play at the elite level we expected, while the Browns offense suddenly looks competent -- if not better -- ranked among the top 10 in both total yards and total points. That said, this still could be the week the Rams defense breaks through. Why? The Browns have allowed 3.7 sacks per game, the fourth most in the league. Meanwhile, few teams get after the quarterback like St. Louis’s front four, which has picked up -- coincidentally -- 3.8 sacks per game (tied for third in the NFL). And remember, few quarterbacks are as susceptible to chucking up pick-bait when under pressure more often than Josh McCown.
5. Pittsburgh at Kansas City
The Chiefs looked lost without Jamaal Charles, and I suspect it will take them more than two weeks to find their way out of the woods. Meanwhile, the Steelers’ top 10 rushing and scoring defense awaits. Pittsburgh has only been vulnerable through the air this season, but with Jeremy Maclin likely out with a concussion and the aforementioned Charles out for the year, Alex Smith and the Chiefs will struggle to exposes the weakness. To me, Pittsburgh looks like a sneaky top five option this week.
6. Carolina vs. Philadelphia
I’d like to take this time and space to formally apologize to Brian Schottenheimer. Over the past couple of years, I relentlessly mocked the former Rams offensive coordinator for installing a pathetic dink-and-dunk offense that never seemed to test a defense or utilize any of the offensive talent on the field. I truly believed it was his gutlessness and lack of creativity that limited the Rams’ offensive potential.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. That Sam Bradford … I just … Brian, I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.
I thought the reason Chip Kelly brought Bradford to Philly was for his outstanding accuracy. Nine picks later, and I’m betting Kelly is beginning to wish Bradford’s true trademark -- fragility -- will resurface soon. What makes Bradford’s crap-ass displays even more amazing is that the Eagles finally have gotten the run game going the past two games. Yet, in those same contests, Bradford has thrown five interceptions. If that pattern continues -- and I’m very sure it will -- the outstanding Carolina defense, led by a now healthy Luke Kuechly and emerging star Josh Norman, is going to have a field day.
7. Buffalo at Jacksonville (in London)
Teams have pretty much abandoned the run game against the Bills (87.2 rush yards per game allowed), instead electing to throw, throw, throw. Considering the Jags have let Blake Bortles sling it 50-plus times twice in the past three games, I’m guessing that’s going to be what we see come Sunday morning (in America). While the Bills have been susceptible through the air (13 touchdowns allowed) -- and Bortles certainly will have his moments -- the Jaguars airshow will present the defense plenty of opportunities to register some sacks and INTs (Bortles has tossed 4 picks in his past two games.)
Finally -- and you should take this with a grain of salt since this is not the same dreadful Jaguars team of years past -- Jacksonville flatout stinks at Wembley. Stadium It’s probably not something you can bank on, but in their past two visits to foggy London Town, they’ve been outscored 73-27.
8. New York Giants vs. Dallas
Matt Cassel isn’t a-w-f-u-l, awful, awful, awful. He’s merely pretty bad, as he's throw more interceptions than touchdowns in two of his past three seasons. That should suffice for fantasy owners looking for bye-week fillers for the likes of Denver or Green Bay. The Cowboys still are without Dez Bryant, and Christine “The Unknown Commodity” Michael is set to make his first career start against a Giants teams that has given up the sixth fewest rush yards in the league. As long as Eli Manning doesn’t go all 2013 on us again, the Cowboys’ opportunities to score will be limited, making the Giants a trustworthy defense this week.
9. New England vs. New York Jets
New England always will be a good fantasy defense for no other reason than the Patriots’ offense limits their exposure. Tom Brady and Co. have turned the ball over just three times this season and have punted on only 14 occasions. Both are best in the league, and both mean the New England defense is not on the field often, and when they are, they’re playing with a lead. I expect this to be the case against the Jets, whose well-traveled quarterback is well-traveled for a reason. Ryan Fitzpatrick is extremely turnover-prone, having thrown at least one interception in all five of his games this season.
10. Atlanta at Tennessee
Well this was bound to happen. Marcus Mariota is one of three quarterbacks to have been sacked on more than 10 percent of his dropbacks (Russell Wilson and Alex Smith are the others). So it comes as no surprise he is dinged up and questionable to play Sunday. That could leave the Falcons facing Zach Mettenberger, who threw an interception in every one of his seven appearances last season and fumbled four times to boot. Don’t get too excited about the Atlanta defense, though. They’ve registered just seven sacks this season and have allowed 20 points or more in all but one game this season.
11. Washington vs. Tampa Bay
This one is pretty simple. If you’re playing the Washington defense, you’re hoping Jameis Winston has another four-interception game in him like he did against Carolina. It’s possible, though no probable. When Winston gets in the most trouble is when his team falls behind, and he is forced to throw to catch up. I just don’t see Washington putting Tampa Bay in that kind of hole. Another reason to be concerned about playing Washington's defense: After starting off the season sturdy against the run, it has allowed back-to-back lead runners to register 190-plus yards against them in Devonta Freeman and Chris Ivory. The surging Doug Martin could be in for a huge game here.
12. Kansas City vs. Pittsburgh
Landy Jones looked good in limited action last week, but 12 passes – which accounts for his entire NFL career – does not a reliable quarterback make. Kansas City is one of the best at putting pressure on opposing passers (13 sacks). Justin Houston leads the league in quarterback hurries with 20, and Tamba Hali is eighth with 11. No other team has two players in the top 10. The Chiefs’ secondary is vulnerable -- 14 touchdowns allowed compared to just 4 interceptions -- but Jones will be, by far, the least imposing passer they’ve faced this year. Of course, this could all be mute if Le'Veon Bell gets 197 carries, as I expect he might.
13. Houston at Miami
No doubt, the Dolphins looked better last week, but the truth of the matter is this: Ryan Tannehill threw multiple interceptions again. That makes three games in a row. Meanwhile, Houston’s pass defense took a big step forward last week, snagging three errant Blake Bortles throws and registering three sacks for the first time this season. That said, while the Texans rush defense has been solid, if Lamar Miller gets to going like he did last week, Houston will be on its heels and in trouble.
14. Philadelphia at Carolina
I don’t love this matchup for the opportunistic Philadelphia defense. The Eagles have been one of fantasy’s most productive plays this season, but that has been predicated on their ability to force turnovers. Those tend to be a bit fluky, I don't think the fluke ferry shows up this week, simply because Carolina doesn’t give up the ball. The Panthers have committed just five turnovers in five games, while putting up 27 points or more in all three of those contests. Look for Philly's defense to return to the norm in this one.
15. Miami vs. Houston
I don’t see the appeal here. I know the Dolphins came out with a vengeance last week in Dan Campbell’s debut, but that was against a lackluster Tennessee team. Houston, especially Brian Hoyer, has been pretty good of late. The Texans’ quarterback has thrown just two just interceptions this season in 132 attempts. And for those hoping a healthy and rejuvenated Cameron Wake will rack up a few sacks and force Hoyer into some bad throws, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Houston’s offensive line has been one of the best in the business, letting their quarterback get sacked on just 3.47 percent of dropbacks. Meanwhile Arian Foster is healthy -- having totaled 100 in back-to-back games -- and should cause problems for a Dolphins defenses that is 31st in the league in rushing yards allowed per game.