1. Carson Palmer @ Phi – 10
Carson Palmer has thrown the second-most touchdowns, and the Eagles have allowed the second-most touchdowns. Do I really need to go on? Fine. I’ll pad my word count by mentioning that all of Palmer’s weapons are healthy at the same time. Early in the season, Michael Floyd was nursing a finger injury. In the middle of the season, John Brown had hamstring problems. Now, everyone is healthy, and the departure of Chris “TDN” Johnson is an upgrade for Palmer because David Johnson is the team’s best receiving back (not withstanding his dropped touchdown last week). The Eagles have allowed 14 passing touchdowns in their last four games.
2. Cam Newton @ NYG – 10
Prince Amukamara and Landon Collins have helped stabilize a struggling Giants secondary, but overall, this is a fantastic matchup for Newton. The Giants get zero pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They rank 31st in sacks, with just 16. By comparison, the Broncos have 43. That could be a problem when facing Cam Newton, already one of the toughest quarterbacks to track down. The Giants have allowed more than 300 passing yards in three of the last four games. With Jonathan Stewart likely to miss this game, there should be a few more passes coming from Cam Newton, and potentially more goal line carries.
3. Tom Brady vs. Ten – 10
Tom Brady leads all quarterbacks in touchdowns, and Tennessee’s secondary has been a train wreck since cornerback Jason McCourty got hurt, so this matchup pretty much writes itself. Over the past three weeks, the Titans have allowed 305 passing yards per game, and 3.7 touchdowns. And those numbers came against Blake Bortles, Derek Carr and Ryan Fitzpatrick, none of whom are peers to Brady. There’s an outside chance that Julian Edelman will return for this game, which would only provide further upside for Brady.
4. Russell Wilson vs. Cle – 9.5
As Russell Wilson was heading into Week 11, he had scored 10 touchdowns, and was, by any measure one of the biggest disappointments of the fantasy season. In the four games since Week 11, he’s gone completely berserk, with per game averages of 293 yards and four touchdowns. The reason for his surge are two fold: a dramatically improved offensive line, and a really easy schedule. Both factors are in play this week against Cleveland. The Browns defense has allowed more than 30 points in five of the past six games. The only quarterbacks who haven’t scored multiple touchdowns against the Browns are guys who aren’t starters now, or weren’t starters earlier in the year.
5. Blake Bortles vs. Atl – 9.5
Blake Bortles is on a fantastic tear, with multiple touchdowns in eight of his last nine games, and nine touchdowns in the last two weeks. In fairness, Bortles has faced a lot of easy matchups this year, and the Falcons are among the tougher secondaries they’ll see. Granted, the Falcons just got hammered by Cam Newton last week, but he’s having a magical year, and it was the first time the Falcons have allowed three passing touchdowns. Atlanta ranks seventh in passing yards allowed, 252 per game, and they’re eighth in passing touchdowns allowed, with just 17. I don’t know that it matters if TJ Yeldon plays, since Denard Robinson has looked good in his place, and Bortles has all of his weapons available.
6. Drew Brees vs. Det – 9.5
Aside from a dud against Houston, Drew Brees has been electric since his seven-touchdown outburst in Week 8. His average game (including Houston) since then is a whopping 322 yards and 2.8 touchdowns. With all his receivers healthy, I don’t see any reason to believe he’ll have a letdown against Detroit. Good quarterbacks get paid against the Lions: Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer, Jay Cutler, and Aaron Rodgers (twice) averaged 302 yards and two touchdowns against Detroit. Brees is certainly in that class.
7. Matthew Stafford @ NO – 9.25
The Saints did a terrific job against Jameis Winston last week, but that result was an extreme outlier in a horrific season for New Orleans secondary. In the five games prior to last week, the Saints had allowed a staggering 316 passing yards per game and 4.2 (!) touchdowns. As long as Brandon Browner is on the field, every opposing quarterback has gigantic upside. Since the Lions schedule turned easier in Week 6, Stafford has been a pretty reliable fantasy producer, scoring in every game, and scoring 9 times the past three weeks. The Saints rank last in every passing category, and Stafford has a massive ceiling.
8. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Den – 9
Do you dare start Ben Roethlisberger against the best pass defense in the league? This is a decision that will make or break many rosters. I’d like to tell you to simply start Ben no matter the opponent, but it’s not that simple, as we saw last week, when he was held scoreless by Cincinnati. Let’s start by measuring the difficulty of the task for Ben. Denver ranks No. 1 against the pass with a paltry 206 yards. They’re No. 2 in passing touchdowns allowed, with one per game. Half their opposing quarterbacks have failed to complete more than 18 passes. Brutal, right? Working in Ben’s favor are a few things. Just a few weeks ago, he put up 456 yards in Seattle, the closest thing to Denver’s defensive equivalent. And he’s a dramatically better home quarterback. Over the past two years, in Heinz Field, he averages a crazy 354 yards and 2.8 touchdowns. That’s 70 more yards and triple (!) the touchdowns he averages on the road. You can see from my ranking and grade that I give Ben the edge in this matchup, but know that the variation of possible outcomes is dramatic.
9. Aaron Rodgers @ Oak – 8.75
The difference from the Aaron Rodgers of years past and this year’s incarnation is his lack of explosive games. He’s topped two passing touchdowns just once in the last 10 games, that’s the worst such 10-game streak of his career. I don’t see explosive output coming this week either, but it’s not impossible. Only twice has Oakland allowed more than two touchdowns. One of those two big games came from Philip Rivers on 58 (!) pass attempts. But even high volume doesn’t necessarily equate to fantasy success. Last week Brock Osweiler threw 51 times, and barely got to 300 yards, and didn’t score. Against the Raiders, good quarterbacks usually end up with solid, but not spectacular stat lines, and that’s mostly what we’ve gotten from Rodgers this year.
10. Philip Rivers vs. Mia – 8.5
If you’ve been holding Philip Rivers over the past month, it was for this game. Miami is a tremendously wobbly defense, and it’s Rivers’ chance to redeem himself for the three goose eggs he’s posted in the last four games. The last eight quarterbacks to face Miami have posted average lines of 292 yards and 2.5 touchdowns. That includes recent meltdowns that allowed Eli Manning to throw four scores on Monday night, and the four that Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a couple weeks ago. Yes, Rivers is desperately short-handed, but he managed a four-touchdown game against a similarly bad Jacksonville defense just three games ago.
11. Eli Manning vs Car – 8.5
In the second half of the season, Eli Manning has been riding the statistical coattails of Odell Beckham and posting great numbers. He’s thrown multiple touchdowns in five of six games since Week 8, and he’s topped 320 yards in four of the last six. He’s nearly reached unbenchable status, but for the sticky wicket of this week’s opponent, Carolina, a great defense. Beckham faces his toughest matchup of the year as he draws defensive player of the year candidate Josh Norman. Norman will surely track Beckham around the field, and Norman puts a death sentence on most opposing wide receivers. And before you look at Julio Jones’ seemingly respectable numbers last week (7-88-0), realize that most of those numbers came in garbage time, and not against Norman. Opposite Norman, the Panthers are in trouble. Cornerback Charles Tillman has a partially torn ACL and Bene Benwikere was just put on IR. The Panthers may be forced to start Robert McClain, who they signed off the street on Tuesday. That could put Rueben Randle on a big game, which can save Eli’s day.
12. Derek Carr vs. GB – 8.5
The Packers secondary is the strength of their defense. Cornerbacks Sam Shields, and Casey Hayward have played well. And rookie cornerback Damarious Randall should be in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. Green Bay doesn’t get enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, though, and that could be a difference in this game. Only two quarterbacks have topped 300 yards, and only five has managed more than one touchdown. Derek Carr, meanwhile, was pretty bad last week against Denver, but showed enough grit to grind out a road victory with two late touchdowns. That brings him to 10 multiple touchdown games in 12 full contests, a damn fine improvement over last season. While I don’t love the individual matchups for his receivers, Carr usually finds a way to get things done, and I expect a couple scores in this home game.
13. Matt Ryan @ Jac – 8.25
It’s tough to start Matt Ryan, but the Jaguars defense makes for a pretty compelling case. Ryan has failed to top one touchdown eight different times; and last week, despite being in passing situations all game, he still posted lousy numbers. But, the Jaguars secondary has been equally wobbly this year. Yes, they crushed Indianapolis last week (and nearly decapitated Matt Hasselbeck), but in the six games prior to that, they had allowed quarterbacks to pile up a whopping 313 total yards per game, and 2.7 touchdowns. I don’t know that I’d trust Ryan as my only quarterback, but he’s a solid QB2 in superflex leagues.
14. Tyrod Taylor @ Was – 8.25
There’s a lot of risk/reward when starting Tyrod Taylor. He’s a low-percentage passer with a marginal arm. And, what’s worse is the unpredicablility of his output. He struggled in very favorable matchups against the Giants, Titans, Dolphins, and Eagles (last week). Yet, he’s posted big games recently against two very strong secondaries, the Chiefs and Texans. Go figure. This matchup has the makings of a big game. If we throw out the walking asterisk that is Matt Cassel, the Redskins have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in seven straight games. But, Taylor has fooled us before, and there are no guarantees here.
15. Alex Smith @ Bal – 8.25
You rarely get explosive output from Alex Smith, but you can find decent fantasy games in the right situation. A game against the Ravens surely looks like one of those situations. Russell Wilson just hammered the Ravens for five touchdowns, and they’ve now given up the fifth-most scores and the eighth-most yards. The only quarterbacks they’ve slowed down are Ryan Tannehill and three backups. Everyone else has put up a meaningful fantasy game, and Smith should do so as well. If nothing else, Smith is a reasonably safe play, having scored in eight of his last nine games.
16. Jay Cutler @ Min – 8.0
Jay Cutler has had a highly successful season, but not in fantasy terms. His success has come by way of avoiding dumb plays, previously a chronic problem for him. He hasn’t been an explosive fantasy player. He’s topped 300 yards just twice, and he’s scored three touchdowns in just one game. Injuries to his receivers is certainly part of the story. Even though he was handled by the Vikings in Week 8, he’s got a pretty good chance at a solid game this week, because the Vikings may be without their top three defensive players, and their top three safeties. Even if some of them play, they’ll likely be playing hurt. I don’t see big numbers, but the Vikings usually-stout defense will likely have more leaks than usual.
17. Brock Osweiler @ Pit – 8.0
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick @ Dal – 8.0
19. Jameis Winston @ StL – 8.0
20. Kirk Cousins vs. Buf – 8.0
21. TJ Yates @ Ind – 7.75
21. Ryan Tannehill @ SD – 7.75
22. Marcus Mariota @ NE - 7.5