1. Tom Brady @ NYG – 10
I don't need many words to justify my No. 1 ranking for Tom Brady this week. He faces the 31st-ranked pass defense, New York, a team that's allowed every opposing quarterback to top 249 yards. What's more, good quarterbacks are crushing them. Brady's peers, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Drew Brees have averaged 410 yards and 3.7 touchdowns.
2. Andy Dalton vs. Hou – 9.75
These teams faced each other almost exactly one year ago, and Andy Dalton was tremendously ordinary (233-1-1). But what a difference a year makes. Now, Dalton is a league leader in every passing category, and his team is undefeated. Dalton has posted just one clunker all year, and his 20 total touchdowns trails only Tom Brady. With rare exception, the Texans secondary has been lousy all year, allowing big games to far less capable quarterbacks, including Ryan Tannehill (four touchdowns), Blake Bortles (331-3), and Alex Smith (three touchdowns). I see no reason to expect a letdown for Dalton in an easy matchup.
3. Drew Brees @ Was – 9.5
With 10 touchdowns and 900 yards in his last two games, Drew Brees is on one of the best passing streaks in the history of the NFL. Will the Redskins defense slow his roll? Doubtful. Five of the past six quarterbacks have thrown multiple touchdowns against Washington. No quarterback has fallen under 250 yards since Nick Foles in Week 2. The return of cornerback Chris Culliver helps the Washington secondary, but he's not 100%, nor is Bashaud Breeland, and DeAngelo Hall hasn't seen the field since Week 3.
4. Eli Manning vs. NE – 9.5
When we think of "Manning vs Brady", Eli isn't the guy that comes to mind. And rightly so. He's only faced the Patriots four times in his entire career. Granted, two of those times came in Super Bowls (and both were wins), so you can make a strong case that Eli's starts against Brady are more impactful than Peyton's. Fortunately, the Patriots aren't in the NFC East. Here's Eli's per game average against his division: 184 yards, 0.3 touchdowns. Here's Eli's per game averages against everyone else: 298 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Patriots secondary is pretty wobbly, allowing big games to every opposing quarterback aside from Kirk Cousins and Brandon Weeden.
5. Blake Bortles @ Bal – 9.5
If you don't have Blake Bortles on your team, you may not realize just how fantastic he's been for fantasy use. In almost any scoring system, he's been a top-10 producer. What's more, he's been very consistent, with scores in every game and multiple touchdowns in six of his seven games since the opener. That's a handy stat to remember because coincidentally, the Ravens have allowed multiple touchdowns in six of their past seven games. They're also given up the fourth-most passing yardage, 301 per game. I don't see any help on the way for the Ravens secondary. CB Jimmy Smith, CB Kyle Arrington, and S Kendrick Lewis simply aren't that good.
6. Cam Newton @ Ten – 9.25
On paper, Cam Newton shouldn't be this good. His receivers are awful. He's completing barely 50% of his passes. He's thrown interceptions in seven of nine games. He's averaging fewer passing touchdowns per game than Ryan Fitzpatrick. But, there he in the top five among fantasy quarterbacks, thanks in no small part to his rushing heroics. It's virtually impossible to predict rushing touchdowns, but I'll mention that rushing quarterback Tyrod Taylor ran for 76 yards and a score against the Titans in Week 5. Then again, Johnny Manziel only managed one yard in Week 2. Last week, the Titans we missing two corners, Jason McCourty and Blidi Wrey-Wilson, and Drew Brees picked apart a secondary that's normally pretty good. If those two miss another game, I like Cam Newton even better than his current ranking.
7. Aaron Rodgers vs. Det – 9.25
Aaron Rodgers posted an amazing second half last week, and torched a very good secondary, even if the Panthers were in "prevent mode" for most of the game. Now he faces a much easier task, against a reeling organization. The Lions have allowed big numbers to seven of eight opposing quarterbacks, including the usually moribund Teddy Bridgewater and Alex Smith over the past two games. Inexplicably, the Rodgers has struggled in his Lions matchups, averaging a paltry one touchdown over the past four games, and failing to top 226 in three of the last four. I'd shrug off his historic struggles were it not for his own inconsistent play this year.
8. Derek Carr vs. Min – 9
Derek Carr is third in passing touchdowns, with 19 already, including 11 in the last three games alone. And, he's been successful against good secondaries, including the Chargers (three games ago) and the Jets (two games ago). So a matchup with a good Vikings secondary doesn't cause me much hesitation. Minnesota is allowing just one passing touchdown per game, fourth-best. What's more, they're the NFL's No. 1 pass defense on the road, allowing just 193 yards per away game. Much of Carr's success is due to a much improved offensive line. Carr is absorbing the third-fewest sacks per drop back, just 3%. Much of the Vikings defensive success has sprung from their ability to create pressure. That may not happen in this game, which is part of why I like Carr to remain hot.
9. Josh McCown @ Pit – 8.5 (if he starts)
I'm certainly hoping Josh McCown can return under center for the Browns, because he was, quietly, one of the best surprises of the year. Many people wrote off his colossal three-game stretch early in the year by pointing at three lackluster opponents: Oakland, San Diego, and Baltimore. But after that he threw multiple touchdowns against Denver and Arizona. He's only had one full game without multiple touchdowns. The Steelers secondary is improved, but still below average, with problematic personnel CB William Gay, CB Antwan Blake, and S Will Allen. In the last month of games, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Derek Carr (last week) have posted some huge games against the Steelers, and McCown's success this year suggests that he's next in line.
10. Peyton Manning vs. KC – 8.5
Since joining the Broncos, Peyton Manning has absolutely owned the Chiefs, with an average stat line of 286 yards and 2.7 touchdowns. But does history matter when his 2015 arm doesn't bear much resemblance to his 2012, 2013, or 2014 arm? Probably not. More salient are his struggles of late, including an inability to throw more than one touchdown pass in four of his last five games. Kansas City's secondary has played better lately, mirroring the return of cornerback Sean Smith. The last three quarterbacks they've faced have posted very modest numbers, just 225 yards per game, and one touchdown pass.
11. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Buf – 8.5
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been one of the most consistent fantasy quarterbacks in the league, with multiple touchdowns in every full game but one. I'm a little nervous about the injury to his non-throwing thumb, but he played well with the injury last week, totaling 272 yards and two scores. Thursday's matchup is with a Bills secondary that has struggled all year. Excepting Marcus Mariota, every opposing quarterback thrown multiple touchdowns and/or topped 300 yards. Any time both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are healthy, I feel pretty good about having Fitzpatrick in my starting lineup.
12. Sam Bradford vs. Mia – 8.5
I know it's hard to start Sam Bradford, considering that he ranks 19th in touchdowns and 14th in yards. But, the matchup is pretty compelling. Every opposing quarterback has scored against Miami. Three games ago, Brian Hoyer threw though them for three touchdowns. Two games ago, Brady posted four touchdowns. Last week, Tyrod Taylor only threw 12 passes, completed 11, and managed a touchdown pass. Bradford has a lot more upside than his typical 250 yards and one touchdown.
13. Carson Palmer @ Sea – 8.25
Remember all those easy matchups Carson Palmer enjoyed through the first half of the season? Well, that's over. This week, he faces his first in a series of brutal matchups, starting in the league's most inhospitable location, Seattle. The Seahawks have allowed one passing touchdown at home this year, and they are allowing the 2nd-fewest home passing yards, just 198 yards. Your glimmer of hope is that similarly skilled passers, Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton, both threw for over 250 yards and two scores. But those games weren't in Seattle. Throughout his lengthy career, Palmer has never topped one touchdown against Seattle.
14. Joe Flacco vs. Jac – 8.25
On one hand, Joe Flacco's receiver situation is pretty dire. Without Steve Smith, he loses one of the best receivers in the game, and a downfield threat that opened up the field for his other receivers. On the other hand, the Jaguars secondary is a train wreck. Look at their last three games as a prime example. They faced three mid-bottom tier passers, Brian Hoyer, EJ Manuel, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They all topped 272 yards and threw multiple touchdowns. Every opposing quarterback has thrown a touchdown against the Jaguars. So, even with Chris Givens and Kamar Aiken as his starting wideouts, Joe Flacco can find his way to some success.
15. Matthew Stafford @ GB – 8.25
It's a tough time to bank on a member of the Detroit Lions, but the way the Packers secondary is playing, he's startable. Check out the Packers last three opposing quarterbacks: 1) Three games ago, Philip Rivers threw for 500 yards and two scores. 2) Then Peyton Manning played his best game of the year, and threw for 340 yards. 3) Last week, Cam Newton scored four times, totaled 354 yards. Stafford has played a brutal schedule of defenses, and this one is much easier than most. Stafford's track record against the Packers is pretty good, including two three-touchdown games in the past three meetings.
16. Jay Cutler @ StL – 8
17. Russell Wilson vs. Ari – 8
18. Ryan Tannehill @ Phi – 8
19. Kirk Cousins vs. NO – 8
20. Landry Jones vs. Cle – 8
21. Teddy Bridgewater vs Oak – 7.75
22. Tyrod Taylor @ NYJ – 7.75
23. Jameis Winston vs. Dal – 7.75