1. Cam Newton @ NO – 10
Last Sunday, the Saints secondary, sans Rob Ryan, played their best game of the year. But, there's little chance that they'll rise up to surprise us again when facing MVP front-runner Cam Newton. Newton's group of receivers have never been in better shape. Devin Funchess is starting to turn the corner, and Jerricho Cotchery is now healthy and adding stability to an inconsistent group of targets. The Saints have allowed the most passing touchdowns and passing yards, and in both cases by a lot.
2. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ind – 9.75
I suppose I should mention this week's opponent, the Colts, but does it even matter? Aside from his "knock the rust off" game upon returning from his seven week injury, Ben Roethlisberger has been a juggernaut. It almost seems like Ben is incapable of a pedestrian game. After monster games to start the season, he's been equally prolific since his return, including a stunning 456-yard performance in Seattle last Sunday. The Colts are a middle of the pack pass defense that's allowed passing scores in every game, and multiple scores in seven games.
3. Tom Brady vs. Phi – 9.75
Tom Brady just posted three touchdowns against the best defense in the NFL. Now he faces a secondary that has allowed 10 touchdown passes in the last two games. And, that came against rookie Jameis Winston and the highly inconsistent Matthew Stafford. The only thing keeping Brady from a perfect 10/10 grade is the dramatically impaired state of his receiving options. Assuming Rob Gronkowski doesn't go, it means that he's without his best wide receiver (Julian Edelman), tight end (Gronk), and pass-catching running back (Dion Lewis).
4. Andy Dalton at Cle – 9.5
Andy Dalton returned to form last week with a very strong game against good Rams pass defense. He won't need to be nearly as sharp to attain fantastic results against a lousy Browns defense. Cleveland has allowed the 7th-most passing yards, and the third-most passing touchdowns. Dalton posted three touchdowns against them in Week 9, and Cleveland made Matt Schaub look functional on Monday night. Over their past month of games, the Browns have allowed per game averages of 310 yards and three touchdown passes.
5. Carson Palmer @ StL – 9.5
Organizationally, the Rams are a team in freefall. They've lost four straight games. They can't find a functional quarterback. Jeff Fisher is probably finished. They've got one foot in Los Angeles. And they're screwing up a rookie of the year candidate, Todd Gurley. It's gotten bad enough that even the usually-stout Rams secondary is faltering. Over the past three weeks, three middle-tier passers, Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton have had strong games against St. Louis. Carson Palmer is a better passer than all those guys (okay, there's a debate with Dalton, but it's close), and I expect him to rebound from last week's shocking clunker. Remember, Palmer has thrown the 2nd-most touchdowns in 2015, and prior to last week, he had thrown 4, 3, and 4 touchdowns.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. NYG – 9.25
#StewStubble went berserk last week, posing a four-touchdown game against the sagging Miami secondary. You might be surprised, but if that's the case, you don't know The Beard as well as you should. Fitzpatrick blows up with explosive output at least once a year. Last season, he hammered the Titans for 358 yards and six touchdowns. Going back, he's posted a four-touchdown game every season since 2009. Fitzpatrick has posted multiple touchdowns in 9 of his 10 full games this year. He'll likely post another good game this week against a lousy New York secondary. Every opposing quarterback has scored, and topped 250 yards. I'll add this, and you can decide if it's relevant: The Giants allow the most passing yards on the road, 323. But, this game is only a pseudo-road game, since it's in the Meadowlands.
7. Eli Manning vs. NYJ – 8.5
November was a good month for Eli Manning. In four games, he threw 12 touchdowns, and topped 320 yards three times. Normally, a meeting with the Jets is daunting, but New York's secondary has been inconsistent, even before Darrelle Revis was concussed. They had allowed multiple touchdowns in five of the past six games, despite playing some pretty wobbly quarterbacks. So, I expect Manning to keep his momentum going, although injuries to the Giants offensive line will limit his upside. Justin Pugh (concussion) and Weston Richburg (ankle) were inactive last week, and Geoff Schwartz broke his ankle last week. The Giants are likely to have just one starter on their offensive line on Sunday.
8. Jay Cutler vs. SF – 9.25
For anyone projecting fantasy success when facing the Niners, they need only look at the venue. This game will take place in Soldier Field. The Niners allow a paltry 16 points in home games, but that explodes to a league worst 35 points in road games. More salient to Jay Cutler is the Niners' road failings against the pass, where they allow 312 yards per game, second-most. They're also allowing the second-most passing touchdowns on the road, 2.4 And, lastly, Cutler should be unpressured. The Niners are sacking opposing home quarterbacks at a minuscule rate of just 1.8% of dropbacks, second worst in the league.
9. Matthew Stafford vs. GB (Thu) – 9
It's almost surreal to talk about the Lions sweeping a series from the Packers, but there's a very real chance it happens if Matthew Stafford stays upright. The Packers didn't manage any sacks on Stafford in the first meeting, and if that happens again, Stafford is well poised to succeed. In games in which he's been sacked two or fewer times, he's averaged 278 yards and 2.3 touchdowns. The Packers have registered 0 or 1 sack in four of the past five games. Stafford put up a solid 242 yards and two touchdowns when these teams met in Green Bay, and now he's home, where his two monster performances have occurred (Week 6 vs Chicago: 405-yards, four touchdowns; Thanksgiving: 337-yards, five touchdowns).
10. Aaron Rodgers at Det (Thu) – 8.75
It's time for us to talk about the difference between Aaron Rodgers, the NFL player, and Aaron Rodgers, the fantasy football player. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is playing at the lowest level of his career, and the Packers have lost four of their last five games. But, from a fantasy football standpoint, he's been pretty good. He's averaging a solid 256 yards per game, and he's third in touchdown passes with 24. That's a damn good fantasy season. When he faced this same Lions team three weeks ago, it was the Packers worst regular season loss in years. But he still finished with 333 yards and two scores. The Lions defense has allowed multiple touchdowns in five of the past six games. Rodgers historically struggles with the Lions, and I'm not calling for a breakout game. But I do expect him to finish with respectable numbers.
11. Matt Hasselbeck @ Pit – 8.5
Matt Hasselbeck has won each of his four starts, and has thrown multiple touchdowns in three straight games. People are actually speculating about whether they want to put Andrew Luck into the lineup when he's healthy. And that chatter won't die down after his (likely) solid game against the struggling Pittsburgh secondary. Russell Wilson just hammered the Steelers for five touchdowns, but that wasn't an isolated case. The week before that, Johnny Manziel threw for 372 yards. The week before that, Derek Carr threw four touchdowns. The Steelers have allowed the fourth-most passing yards, and the fifth-most passing touchdowns.
12. Derek Carr vs. KC – 8.5
This is a matchup with almost identical, opposing stories to tell. With rare exception (Detroit, Week 11, I'm lookin' at you) Derek Carr has been an incredibly reliable high-end fantasy producer. Remove the Lions game from his past six opponents, and Carr is averaging an astounding 3.2 touchdowns and 311 yards per game. That sounds great, until you look at an equally effective Chiefs pass defense. With rare exception (Bills, Week 12, I'm lookin' at you), the Chiefs pass defense has been incredibly effective. Remove the Bills game from their past six opposing quarterbacks, and the Chiefs are allowing an astounding 0.8 touchdowns and 206 passing yards per game. So, this game has tremendously wide variation of possible outcomes for Carr. You'll want to show more caution than normal, yet it's very possible that he'll still succeed, like usual.
13. Blake Bortles @ Ten – 8.5
I was really optimistic about Blake Bortles when he faced the Titans two weeks ago. But he laid an egg in that home game against the Titans' marginal secondary. Now he's on the road, and I'm gun shy about giving him a full endorsement, especially if Allen Hurns doesn't play, as expected. Aside from that game, Bortles has been a solid fantasy contributor, with multiple touchdowns in every game since Week 4. And the Titans have allowed at least one passing touchdown in 24 straight games. But most of those games are only one-touchdown efforts. So, it's a high floor for Bortles, but I don't see explosive upside.
14. Ryan Tannehill vs. Bal – 8.5
For all of the Dolphins' problems, Ryan Tannehill has posted decent fantasy numbers. He's topped 300 yards and/or thrown multiple touchdowns in all 10 games since the opener. First round rookie wideout DeVante Parker emerged last week as a viable target, which helps blunt the loss of Rishard Matthews, who had been playing well. But, mostly, this matchup is about a bad Ravens secondary. Since the opener, every opposing quarterback has scored, and only Michael Vick and Case Keenum failed to score twice. Seven opposing teams have topped 275 yards. And, the Dolphins just aren't running the ball. Lamar Miller and Jay Ajayi have totaled only 19 carries in the last two games. Meanwhile, Tannehill has thrown 82 passes in those two game. The departure of OC Bill Lazor should mean a more balance, but still, the most effective way to attack the Ravens is through the air.
15. Matt Ryan @ TB – 8.5
After another mistake-filled game, Matt Ryan is under a tremendous amount of scrutiny. But there are few "slump buster" defenses more ready to provide a bounce-back than the Bucs. They've allowed multiple touchdown passes to eight straight quarterbacks, with the exception of Matt Cassel, who technically, does not count. And, Ryan hasn't been a terrible fantasy producer. He's fourth in the NFL in passing yards, and he's thrown touchdowns in every game but one. The Bucs are brutally tough to run, and as a result, five of the past six opposing quarterbacks have topped 40 attempts. The
16. Philip Rivers vs. Den – 8.25
The problem for Philip Rivers is a terrifying matchup between his perpetually decimated offensive line and the team that's registered the most sacks in the NFL, Denver. Rivers is going to take a beating, and he's not going to be able to hold the ball for long. I see a lot of short passes coming from him, which could be helpful for Danny Woodhead and Antonio Gates. Broncos safety T.J. Ward and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams suffered high ankle sprains, and aren't likely to play, which helps. Even after giving up three passing touchdowns to Tom Brady last week, the Broncos are still No. 1 in touchdowns allowed (1.0 per game), and No. 1 in passing yards allowed (181 per game).
17. Drew Brees vs. Car – 8.25
Prior to last week's shutout, Drew Brees went 45 straight games with a touchdown pass, and 98 in his previous 99 games. Now, facing a terrific Carolina defense, Brees could get shut out in consecutive games. Aside from Aaron Rodgers posting a bunch of garbage time stats in a blowout loss, the Panthers has held opposing teams to one touchdown pass per game, and just 206 yards per game, which is 12 yards less than the No. 1 pass defense, Denver. In fairness to Brees, Carolina hasn't faced many good quarterbacks, and we're only four games removed from Brees posting one of the best fantasy box scores in the history of the game. His receivers are healthy, his awful defense will require him to throw throughout the game.
18. Marcus Mariota vs. Jac – 8.25
I didn't love Marcus Mariota's performance last week, but at the end of the day, he managed to convert a meager 17 receptions into three touchdowns, which bailed him out for fantasy owners. My temptation is to give him a strong grade against a bad pass defense. After all, the Jaguars have allowed huge fantasy numbers to five of the past six opposing quarterbacks they've faced. But, the one quarterback who failed to produce against Jacksonville? Yep, Mariota two weeks ago. In fairness, he didn't have either of his starting wide receivers in that game. And the return of Kendall Wright is one of the reasons Mariota will play better than last time.
19. Brian Hoyer @ Buf – 8.25
20. Russell Wilson @ Min – 8.0
With eight touchdowns in the past two games, there's a renewed sense of optimism for Russell Wilson' fantasy prospects. But, I'm lukewarm on him this week. First, some perspective on his eight touchdowns in two games: he had thrown eight touchdowns, total, in his previous eight games. His last two opponents, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, rank 31st and 28th in passing yardage allowed. They rank 31st and 17th in road sack percentage, which is an important stat against the Seahawks beleaguered offensive line. Minnesota is a dramatically better opponent. No opposing quarterback has topped two touchdowns, and the Vikings rank 4th in passing yards allowed, just 239 per game. And, they're good at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, with multiple sacks in seven games. I see a return to Wilson's familiar one-touchdown output.
21. Jameis Winston vs. Atl – 8.0
22. Brock Osweiler @ SD – 8.0
23. Kirk Cousins vs. Dal – 8.0
24. Matt Schaub vs. Mia – 7.75
25. Alex Smith @ Oak – 7.75
26. Matt Cassel @ Was – 7.75
27. Tyrod Taylor vs. Hou – 7.5