1. Blake Bortles @ NO – 10
In the preseason, who’da guessed that we’d get to championship week, and here’s Blake Bortles as my top fantasy quarterback of the week. Credit Bortles with remarkable improvement throughout the year, and the Jaguars front office for surrounding him with receiving talent. When the Jaguars’ defense comes around, that team is going to be nasty. Bortles has scored the third-most touchdowns, 33, and he faces, arguably, the worst secondary in the NFL. The Saints have allowed the most passing touchdowns by a mile, 39. That’s eight touchdowns worse than the next closest team. They’ve allowed passing scores in every game, and multiple passing touchdowns in nine of the last 10 games.
2. Russell Wilson vs. StL – 9.75
It’s all come together for Russell Wilson. His offensive line is playing well. The schedule has been easy. And, honestly, removing Jimmy Graham from this offense has only helped. Graham got knocked out in Week 12. Since that time, Wilson’s average game: 290 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, 30 rushing yards, and .25 rushing touchdowns. Only Cam Newton approaches that kind of productivity. And the slumping Rams aren’t likely to stop him. They’ve allowed multiple touchdowns in four straight games. Jameis Winston just blew through the Rams for 363 yards and two scores.
3. Cam Newton @ Atl – 9.75
Fortunately, the Panthers need a win this week to secure home field throughout, so Cam should play a full four quarters. Newton saw this team just a couple weeks ago, in a one-sided shutout victory during which he posted three touchdown passes. The Atlanta secondary has been pretty good this year (only four teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns), but Newton is simply magical right now, and he’s unbenchable against every defense in the league, particularly, when he’s scored multiple touchdowns in eight straight meetings with the Falcons.
4. Carson Palmer vs. GB – 9.5
The Cardinals scored 40 points last week, yet Carson Palmer only put up 274 yards and one touchdown, as David Johnson ran through the Eagles. I note that game because Palmer has been a consistent fantasy producer, with rare exception. He’s scored in every game, and he’s scored multiple touchdowns 10 times. This week’s opponent, Green Bay, has a good secondary, particularly if CB Sam Shields can return to the lineup. Only Cam Newton and Philip Rivers have posted explosive games against the Packers. Every other quarterback is averaging 225 yards and one touchdown. Fortunately, Palmer is closer to Newton and Rivers, and he’s got some sizable upside in this matchup.
5. Ben Roethlisberger @ Bal – 9.5
At first blush, this game looks like a potential monster for Ben Roethlisberger. And there’s a good chance that it will be a big game. After all, he’s ripped up Seattle and Denver in the last month. But, there’s some sneaky downside that bears mentioning. First, almost all of Ben’s disappointing games come on the road. Since the beginning of last year, in Ben’s 12 road games, he’s averaged a shocking 0.9 touchdowns per game. Compare that to the 2.8 that he averages at home. Also, he faced Baltimore twice last year, and produced one total touchdown in the two games. And lastly, I’ll mention that the Baltimore secondary is improved, allowing exactly one touchdown pass in five of the past six games.
6. Drew Brees vs. Jac – 9.5
Assuming Drew Brees’ foot injury isn’t too much of an impediment, this is a tantalizing matchup. The Jaguars secondary has allowed a lot of big games this year, including four games with 3+ touchdowns since week 6. Guys like Brian Hoyer and Marcus Mariota have scored three times against the Jaguars. Brees is in a great spot to do the same. All his receivers are healthy, and the running game has been functional with Tim Hightower.
7. Derek Carr vs. SD (Thu) – 9.5
I have a hunch that the Chargers are sitting on a huge letdown. In a season gone wrong, they just played their “super bowl”, a lopsided win in their final game in San Diego. In a short week, I’m not sure they’ll be emotionally ready to stop Derek Carr, one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. He’s thrown multiple touchdowns in eight of his last nine games, and that includes a three-touchdown performance against these same Chargers in week 7. The Raiders haven’t seen many good quarterbacks, so it’s notable that the four best they’ve faced, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, Blake Bortles, and Carr averaged a solid 271 yards and 2.5 touchdowns. Carr is a safe bet for a solid game, with bigger upside than some might think.
8. Tom Brady @ NYJ – 9
At some point, all of Tom Brady’s personnel losses should haunt him. But somehow, it never seems to happen. He’s posted multiple touchdowns in four straight games, and 13 of 14 for the season. For this matchup, he’ll likely be without Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman (not to mention his top runners and half his offensive line), Brandon LaFell is hurt, and he faces a very good Jets defense. Brady had a good game against the Jets in Week 7, but back then he had all his weapons. I’m much more worried this time around. The Jets have a good history against Brady, holding him to 0-1 touchdowns in three of the past five meetings. Darrelle Revis is back, and accordingly, the Jets have only allowed two passing touchdowns in their last three games. And aside from Gronk, Brady will be trying to complete passes to Keshawn Martin and the disappointing Brandon LaFell. Brady almost always finds a way to post a good game, but this game has more danger than most of his starts.
9. Kirk Cousins @ Phi (Sat) – 8.75
Since Week 7, Kirk Cousins has played terrific football. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns and only three interceptions, while completing a whopping 73% of his passes. The Redskins are on the verge of a winnings season and the NFC East crown. But his fantasy play has been all over the board. He’s thrown exactly 1 touchdown in 11 of 14 games. That’s bad. In the other three games, he’s gone berserk with 3, 4, and 4 touchdowns. He’s helped himself with three rushing touchdowns in the past four games, but that’s pretty fluky. He’s not much of a runner. So, is this going to be a one-score game or a monster game? You’ve got two divergent angles to figure out. The Eagles are a bad secondary, allowing the ninth-most passing yards and the third-most passing touchdowns. They’re just one month removed from Matthew Stafford and Jameis Winston combining for 10 touchdowns. That sounds great, but realize this, only five of Cousins’ 22 passing touchdowns have come on the road. Cousins has a massive swing in possible outcomes.
10. Aaron Rodgers @ Ari – 8.75
Aaron Rodgers hasn’t thrown more than two touchdowns since Week 9, and the Cardinals haven’t allowed more than two passing touchdowns since Week 8. So, I don’t see a ton of upside in this game, with the exception that the loss of slot corner Tyrann Mathieu significantly helps Randall Cobb. The Cardinals are expected to counter Cobb with backup Justin Bethel, and that should be a mismatch. Still, that’s not enough to raise my expectations for Rodgers beyond the normal top-end range of output: a couple touchdowns and 270 yards, if everything goes right.
11. Philip Rivers @ Oak (Thu) – 8.75
I’m a little worried about a letdown for the Chargers after last week’s emotional farewell to San Diego. And the short week doesn’t help. And, prior to last week’s big game, Rivers had been shut out in three of four games. Still, there’s reason for optimism. In the earlier meeting, Rivers threw for 336 yards and three scores. And the Raiders haven’t held him scoreless since October 14 of 2007. Aside from tackle King Dunlap, the Chargers’ offensive line is actually healthy for once, and Stevie Johnson should be returning.
12. Brian Hoyer @ TEN - 8.5 (if he plays) *OUT
13. Sam Bradford vs. Was (Saturday night) – 8.5
The statistical high water mark for Sam Bradford’s tenure in Philadelphia came in Week 4 against the Redskins, this Saturday’s opponent. He threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns in that game, and last year, Chip Kelly got massive games out of Mark Sanchez (374, 2) and Nick Foles (325, 3) against Washington. And the Redskins’ secondary is no better now. They’ve allowed multiple passing touchdowns to eight of the last nine quarterbacks they’ve faced, and the one quarterback they shut out was Asterisk Cassel.
14. Matthew Stafford vs. SF – 8.25
I feel like a broken record, talking about Matthew Stafford’s strong second half of the season after his brutal early-season schedule. He’s taken advantage of his recent easy opposition, throwing multiple touchdowns in seven of the last nine games. At first blush, the Niners feel like another easy opponent. But they’ve turned into a really good pass defense. Seven of the past eight quarterbacks they’ve faced have thrown 0 or 1 touchdown. That streak includes some solid quarterbacks like Carson Palmer (0 TDs), Russell Wilson (1 TD), Jay Cutler (0 TDs) and Matt Ryan (1 TD). In particular, cornerbacks Trumaine Brock and Jimmie Ward have turned into solid starters. Show caution here.
15. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. NE – 8.25
Even in an off game last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick still tallied 312 total yards and a score. It was just his second full game without multiple touchdowns. In a very good year for Fitzpatrick, this is a challenging start as he faces a very good Patriots secondary, led by Malcom Butler. Over the past five games, the Patriots rank third in passing yards (211 per game) and passing touchdowns allowed (5). No bueno. That said, during those five games, they’ve faced Zach Mettenburger, Brian Hoyer, Sam Bradford, Brock Osweiler and Tyrod Taylor. #StewBeard threw for 295 yards and two scores in the earlier meeting, and he’s thrown multiple touchdowns against the Patriots in five straight meetings, going back to his days in Buffalo.
16. Eli Manning @ Min (Sunday Night) – 8.25
There are a ton of moving parts in this game. 1) Eli Manning won’t have Odell Beckham, which shuffles the deck for the entire offense. 2) The Giants might be mathematically eliminated by kickoff, depending on the outcome of the Redskins games. 3) The Vikings may have nothing to play for, particularly if the Cardinals beat the Packers, which they are favored to do. In either of those cases, it’s hard for fantasy owners to know how the Giants and Vikings will respond. Will the Giants go through the motions? Will the Vikings continue to rest their banged-up defensive stars? Considering that most of you won’t have the luxury of waiting until Sunday night to better figure this one out, I’m recommending that you pass on Eli, even though the matchup isn’t half bad.
17. Matt Hasselbeck @ Mia – 8.0
It’ll take some stones to start Matt Hasselbeck after three straight crappy performances. But it’ll also take some stones to bench anyone against the wretched Dolphins secondary. Miami has allowed the second-most passing touchdowns, including a whopping 12 in the last four games. The Dolphins are generating little pass rush without Cameron Wake, and cornerback Brent Grimes is a shell of his former self.
18. Teddy Bridgewater vs. NYG – 8.0
Welcome to your first writeup of the year, Teddy Bridgewater! The second-year quarterback has looked like a different player over the last two weeks. He threw for 335 yards two weeks ago, and then last week, he scored five touchdowns. And the Giants allowed five touchdowns last week. Four of the past five quarterbacks to face the Giants have thrown for over 300 yards. Giants are dead last in yards per game, 317. The fly in the ointment is that there’s a very real chance that the Vikings will have nothing to play for on Sunday night if the Cardinals beat the Packers (as they’re favored to) combined with a Falcon loss (as they’re favored to) or a Seahawk victory (as they’re favored to). Even if the Vikings don’t need the win, it’s possible that they’ll play Teddy throughout, though. So, yeah, almost anything is possible here.
19. Jameis Winston vs. Chi – 8.0
20. Brock Osweiler vs Cin – 8.0
21. Ryan Tannehill vs. Ind – 7.75
22. Alex Smith vs. Cle – 7.75
23. Jay Cutler @ TB – 7.75
24. Tyrod Taylor vs. Dal - 7.75
25. Matt Ryan vs. Car – 7.5