1. Carson Palmer @ SF – 10
In the past two weeks, Carson Palmer has played two of the five best pass defenses in the league, and he's walked away with 680 yards and seven touchdowns. The sky's the limit against the hapless Niners. San Francisco may have the least talented secondary in the league. Among all four of the starters in their defensive backfield, it's possible that none of them would be starters on any other team in the league.
In fairness, the Niners have played a lot better at home than on the road. They allow 70 fewer passing yards and 1.2 fewer touchdowns at home. Still, compared to playing the Seahawks and Bengals, this game is a walk in the park, and Palmer's only real threat is the prospect of his running game stealing his stats.
2. Cam Newton @ Dal – 9.25
Thanks to last week's five-score outburst, only Carson Palmer (27) has more total touchdowns than Cam Newton (26). And since rushing touchdowns are (usually) worth more points than passing touchdowns, Newton is the highest-scoring fantasy quarterback in many leagues. He's now thrown 20 touchdowns, a number I didn't think he'd hit all season, considering his wide receivers. But, this is a very difficult matchup, and I expect Newton to post a modest game, statistically. Dallas allows the third-fewest passing yards, just 186 per game. And only three teams have allowed fewer touchdowns passes. Elite arms (Brady, Brees, Ryan) are getting almost 300 and 2. Everyone else is averaging 220 yards and 0.7 touchdowns. If you think Newton is at the Brady/Brees/Ryan level, set your expectations high. Otherwise, be careful of a potential trap game.
3. Eli Manning @ Was – 9.25
Eli Manning generally struggles against his own division, but not the Redskins. He's thrown touchdowns in seven straight matchups with Washington, and he's thrown multiple touchdowns in three straight, including this year's earlier meeting, in Week 2. The Redskins secondary was just blown apart by a lukewarm Tampa offense, and it wasn't a fluke. They've given up multiple passing touchdowns in seven of the previous eight games. Odell Beckham draws a tricky matchup with the only good member of this secondary, Bashaud Breeland, but Manning has enough other targets that I'm confident that he'll find his way to another good game.
4. Josh McCown vs. Bal – 9
The Browns made the right call in moving Johnny Manziel to third string. Not just because of his apparent addiction issues. But also because Josh McCown is averaging 70 more yards and one more touchdown per game than Manziel. McCown gives the Browns the best chance to win, and it gives fantasy owners a fantastic opportunity for a waiver wire wonder. The Ravens have allowed the fourth-most passing yards, and the sixth-most passing touchdowns. Until the incoherent Case Keenum came along last week, they had allowed multiple touchdowns in five straight games. The three opposing quarterbacks who have failed to throw multiple touchdowns against the Ravens are all backups (Manning, Vick, Keenum). McCown has posted big games against elite pass defenses, Arizona and Denver. This game is fractionally as difficult.
5. Aaron Rodgers vs. Chi – 9.0
Aaron Rodgers wasn't great last week, but he made a handful of money throws, and I'm optimistic that he'll be able to be productive again this Thursday. Rodgers has hammered the Bears for two straight years, averaging 281 yards and 3.75 touchdowns, which includes his three-touchdown game from Week 1. Despite the fact that he's not playing at his typical elite level, he's still thrown multiple touchdowns in eight of ten games, and he's third in passing touchdowns among all quarterbacks. I don't see explosive output coming, though. Chicago's defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has done a remarkable job with his secondary. Over the past four weeks, opposing quarterbacks have averaged 229 yards and one touchdown.
6. Drew Brees vs. Hou – 8.75
Over the past three games, the Houston defense has been fantastic, allowing 6, 6, and 17 points. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 0, 0, and 1 touchdowns, while averaging 195 yards. That sounds impressive, but they've faced Zach Mettenberger, Andy Dalton, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, so there's something of an asterisk on those stats. Stopping Drew Brees is another matter entirely. He's scored in every game, and he's scored 13 times in his last three games. I'm not ruling out another impressive performance by Houston's defense, but until they prove it at a high level, the advantage goes to Brees.
7. Kirk Cousins vs. NYG – 8.75
Which Kirk Cousins are we going to get on Sunday? The one-touchdown version that we've predominantly seen (exactly one passing touchdown in 8 of 10 games) or the electrifying version who has blown up in recent weeks with two monster games? His two big games came against two bottom tier secondaries, Tampa Bay and New Orleans. And that's why I like Cousins this week: New York is on par with those awful defenses. The Giants have allowed the second-most passing yards, and the sixth-most passing touchdowns. Every opposing quarterback has scored. Cousins played this defense in Week 3, and looked pretty good, hitting 316 yards and throwing a touchdown. He's a better quarterback now then he was then. He could easily top both numbers this week.
8. Philip Rivers @ Jac – 8.75
With Jacksonville on the docket, a repeat of last week's shutout is unlikely for Philip Rivers. Rivers clearly misses Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd, but he's not without weapons. Danny Woodhead, Antonio Gates and Stevie Johnson are quality targets for Rivers. Rivers faced the Jaguars last year, and crushed them with 377 yards and three touchdowns. The Jaguars' secondary isn't any better this year. Four of the past five quarterbacks have thrown multiple touchdowns. Last Sunday, Marcus Mariota, minus his No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers, was held without a passing touchdown. Rivers is in that same predicament, but he's a lot better than Mariota, and has better alternate weapons.
9. Brian Hoyer vs. NO - 8.25
10. Matthew Stafford vs. Phi – 8.5
I'm exasperated with Matthew Stafford, much like you must be. I was willing to overlook a disappointing first half of the year because of the difficulty of his schedule (Denver, Seattle, San Diego, Arizona, Minnesota twice). But, the results aren't any better of late, against dramatically worse opposition. Philadelphia is a deeply positive matchup. Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill, and Matt Cassel have combined for 10 touchdowns in the last three weeks. But Oakland was similarly too, and Stafford didn't throw even one touchdown.
11. Derek Carr @ Ten – 8.5
I keep expecting the Titans secondary to post an epic melt down, but aside from a big Drew Brees game, it hasn't happened. Other than Brees, nobody has topped two touchdowns, and nobody has topped 266 yards. And even without star cornerback Jason McCourty the past couple games, they've done an admirable job with Cam Newton and Blake Bortles, holding them to one passing touchdown apiece. Derek Carr is coming off an inexplicable turd last week, and I'm a little gunshy about fully endorsing him here. Still, he's been very good in the majority of his games, and he retains a starter's grade this week.
12. Ben Roethlisberger @ Sea – 8.5
The Seahawks remain a very good pass defense, but that's a step down from their "bench everyone who opposes them" status of past years. Just two weeks ago, Carson Palmer riddled them for 363 and three touchdowns in Seattle. It was the biggest fantasy game they've allowed since Week 5 of 2011. And last week, Blaine Gabbert looked functional against them. Ben Roethlisberger's performance before the bye will only add to his legend. Hobbling off the bench, he subbed for an injured Landry Jones, and threw 33 passes for 379 yards and three scores. This is a much tougher matchup, but the Steelers can attack so many ways that Roethlisberger will likely find his way to a serviceable box score anyway.
13. Tom Brady vs. Den – 8.5
To my eyes, Tom Brady is coming off the worst performance of his season, and the entire Patriots offense looked out of sync without Julian Edelman. And, I'd like to tell you that it's going to get better, but now he tangles with the best defense in the NFL, and unquestionably the best secondary. The Broncos are allowing the fewest passing yards and the fewest passing touchdowns. And if you think that these defensive stats don't matter to a guy at Brady's level, let's remember Aaron Rodgers' 77-yard game. With Edelman out and Amendola iffy to play, this is a very dangerous spot for Brady.
14. Blake Bortles vs. SD – 8.5
Often times, quarterbacks who face the Chargers end up with diminished stats because their running backs simply salt away the game against a horrible Chargers front seven. It happened last week, as Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West ran unopposed through the Chargers, and Alex Smith finished with a forgettable 253 yards and 0 scores. But, the Jaguars don't run through anyone. Jacksonville is 26th in rushing attempts, 27th in rushing play percentage, and 24th in rushing yards per game. Bortles is going to pass. He's thrown 40 or more passes in half his games. The two times opposing quarterbacks have challenged the Chargers secondary with 40 passes, they've been rewarded nicely: Josh McCown put up 356 and 2, while Jay Cutler posted 345 and 2.
15. Jameis Winston vs. Ind – 8.5
16. Andy Dalton vs. StL – 8.5
17. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Mia – 8.5
The Jets offensive line has slumped with injuries and inconsistency, and the entire Jets offense is playing poorly. Fitzpatrick has been under duress, and playing poorly enough that head coach Todd Bowles needed to publicly reconfirm his commitment to his quarterback. Fortunately, Fitzpatrick faces a reeling Miami secondary, and it should provide him with another opportunity for two scores, something he's done in eight of nine full games. The one game in which Fitzpatrick didn't have two scores? Against this Miami team in Week 4. But since then, Miami's past defense has fallen apart. Over the past five games, Miami is allowing an average of 286 yards and 2.2 touchdowns.
18. Matt Hasselbeck vs. TB – 8.5
19. Tony Romo vs. Car – 8.25
Josh Norman is the best cornerback in the league, and he'll almost certainly shadow Dez Bryant. That means that Tony Romo will need to cobble together fantasy points from Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten. Those three have scored 3, 2, and 2 touchdowns this year. It's going to be an uphill battle for Romo against an elite secondary. Aside for Aaron Rodgers throwing four touchdowns against a prevent defense in a lopsided game, the Panthers secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to a paltry 232 yards and 0.8 touchdowns per game. Romo will likely top that, but not enough to make him a safe start.
20. Ryan Tannehill @ NYJ – 8.25
21. Matt Ryan vs. Min – 8.25
22. Mark Sanchez at Det – 8.25
23. Jay Cutler @ GB – 8.25
24. Marcus Mariota vs. Oak – 7.75
25. Russell Wilson vs. Pit – 7.75
26. Brock Osweiler vs. NE – 7.5
27. Alex Smith vs. Buf – 7.5