1. Matt Ryan vs. Was – 10
The Falcons scored 48 points last week, and Matt Ryan nearly wasn't a part of any of it. That won't be the case this week as he faces a wobby Washington secondary. Injuries to cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver hobble an already talent-poor secondary. To be fair, the Redskins have played better pass defense this year than last year, but that's not saying much. Over the last two weeks, second-tier quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Eli Manning have topped 270 yards and thrown multiple touchdowns. Those are minimum numbers for Ryan this week, as Devonte Freeman shouldn't be much of a factor against the league's No. 1 run defense.
2. Tom Brady @ Dal – 9.75
After a hot start, the Dallas secondary is slowing turning into the lousy unit we're used to seeing. They've given up progressively more yards in each of their four games, culminating with Drew Brees' 359 yards last week. Tom Brady could easily keep the streak alive by topping 359 yards, something he's done this year. He's already had a 466-yard game and a 358-yard game. Brady is playing at an extraordinary level, even by his standards, and there's no reason to believe that it will change.
3. Carson Palmer @ Det – 9.75
Every opposing quarterback has scored against the Lions, but good passers get really good numbers. And, Carson Palmer qualifies as a good passer. He's topped 300 yards in three of four games, and his 10 touchdown passes is second-most in the NFL. He'll add to that total against a defense that has allowed passing touchdowns in every game, and in 15 straight games. The Lions rank 24th in pass coverage by ProFootballFocus.
4. Aaron Rodgers vs. StL – 9.5
The Rams defense can confound a lot of quarterbacks, as evidenced by the scant three passing touchdowns they've allowed, second-best in the league. And, that's not new. In the Rams last 14 games, only one quarterback has managed to top one touchdown pass, and only three have topped 300 yards. But, Aaron Rodgers does both of those things regularly. He's scored multiple touchdowns 16 times since last year, and he's topped 300 yards 10 times since then. The rules don't apply for Rodgers, and he remains an elite start, even in a tough matchup.
5. Philip Rivers vs. Pit – 9.25
Despite getting no help from a patchwork offensive line, Philip Rivers has managed to post three strong fantasy games in four weeks. And this week represents his best opportunity yet. He's at home, hopefully with a healthier line, Antonio Gates is returning, and he'll be playing against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. The Steelers rank 27th in pass coverage by ProFootballFocus. And, while they slowed down Joe Flacco and Nick Foles over the past two weeks, I'm unconvinced that those successes will translate to Rivers, a dramatically better quarterback.
6. Eli Manning vs. SF – 9.25
I can hear you now. "The 49ers just held Aaron Rodgers to one touchdown, why would I start Eli Manning?" Sure, it was a nice effort by the Niners secondary. It was their only solid effort of the year (they were unchallenged by Teddy Bridgewater in the opener). San Francisco ranks 29th in pass coverage by ProFootballFocus, and they've been particularly bad on the road. Home quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger lit up the Niners secondary for a combined 780 yards and 5 touchdowns. Eli has been very capable since his Week 1 dud, scoring multiple touchdowns in every game. I fully expect that to continue here.
7. Peyton Manning @ Oak – 8.5
The Broncos bullied the Raiders last year, scoring 88 points in the two games, including a five-touchdown performance from Peyton Manning in one of them. And, like last year, the Oakland secondary is bad. They've allowed multiple passing touchdowns in every game, and 319 yards per game. Equally bad is the Denver offensive line. Manning finds himself under siege like never before. He's on pace to be sacked 40 times, after only being sacked 18 times last year. And Oakland isn't half bad at attacking opposing quarterbacks. They're getting good pressure from Justin Tuck, Aldon Smith, and Kalil Mack. But Manning has generated meaningful fantasy stats despite the unprecedented pressure this year, and he probably will here, too.
8. Drew Brees @ Phi – 8.5
Those who didn't give up on Drew Brees were rewarded with a big game last week, and there's a good chance that they'll be rewarded again this week. Despite playing few challenging quarterbacks, the Eagles secondary has allowed good fantasy games to every opponent (aside from Dallas, due to Tony Romo getting knocked out of the game). And, those quarterbacks have tallied 290 yards per game and they've all scored multiple touchdowns. Brees' arm look pretty good last Sunday, and unless he has a setback, I expect another strong game.
9. Andy Dalton vs. Sea – 8
Improbably, only Aaron Rodgers has more total touchdowns than the red hot Andy Dalton. Take a moment to appreciate the fact that I'm making any cornball jokes about his red hot hair. In the past two weeks, he's thrown for 704 yards and scored five touchdowns. He's topped 300 yards and/or scored multiple touchdowns in all four games this year, a streak he hadn't seen since late 2013. Seattle's secondary remains elite, but so elite that you sit fantasy football's hottest quarterback? I say no. Seattle has faced one good passing attack, and Aaron Rodgers finished with a good game, 250 yards and two scores. The other quarterbacks they've faced (Clausen/Foles/Stafford) aren't any good. Seattle ranks 10th in pass coverage by ProFootballFocus. Not 1st. Or 2nd. 10th. It's not the dominating secondary it used to be. Sure, Dalton probably won't explode with a big stat line, but a serviceable one is the most likely outcome.
10 Jay Cutler @ KC – 9
A lot of people gave up on Jay Cutler after his hamstring injury, making him available on the waiver wire for a very promising start this week against the Chiefs. Kansas City ranks 30th in passing yards allowed, and 32nd in passing touchdowns allowed. Three of four opposing teams have passed for over 320 yards, and the only one who didn't, Peyton Manning, threw three touchdowns. For his part, Cutler played a good game last week, and Chicago's lax defense will ensure that Cutler throws frequently. A return by Alshon Jeffery would help his cause further.
11. Sam Bradford vs. NO – 8.0
Don't be under any illusions. Even with three touchdowns last week (against a team missing both starting cornerbacks), Sam Bradford still isn't playing well. He's thrown just one touchdown in three of his four games. He currently ranks 30th in passer rating, behind Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, and both McCowns. The Saints secondary is finally getting healthy, but I still have plenty of doubts about their ability. And it's not just me. ProFootballFocus ranks the Saints as the worst pass coverage defense in the league. Despite playing against a very soft schedule of quarterbacks, they've still allowed 9 total touchdowns, only three teams have allowed more. So, there's some upside to be had here, but until we see the Philly offense finally look in synch, you've got to show caution.
12. Tyrod Taylor @ Ten – 7.75
Tyrod Taylor finally came down to earth last week, with the worst performance of his career. And, while I'd like to tell you that Taylor will definitely bounce back against Tennessee, it's a murkier than it may seem. First, I have some concern that coaches are getting enough tape on Taylor that they're starting to find his tendencies and take them away. Second, if the Bills could be without their No. 1 and No. 2 runners, Tennessee's defense can key on the pass. Third, the Titans are a pretty good pass defense. They rank fifth in pass coverage by ProFootballFocus. The upside, though, is that he can use his legs to extend plays, and find open receivers. Hopefully, Sammy Watkins will be on the field to be one of them.
13. Alex Smith vs. Chi – 7.75
Lord knows you've got to pick your spots to start Alex Smith, but this is as good an opportunity as you'll get. The Bears have allowed 10 passing touchdowns, second worst in the league. And, don't be fooled by their lofty ranking among the elite defenses in passing yards per game. It's a product of very few passing attempts, due to the Bears massive deficits. No team has seen fewer passes than the Bears. Why pass, when you're up by three scores? Smith is very likely to chip in 20+ rushing yards too. He's already topped that number twice this year, and the Bears have already allowed that number twice. A couple times every year, Smith pops off for a big fantasy box score. If Jamaal Charles doesn't simply run the Chiefs to victory, maybe this is the week.
14. Matthew Stafford vs. Ari – 7.75
Several factors have led to Matthew Stafford struggling. 1) Asinine play calling, 2) a rotten offensive line, and 3) a career filled with injuries has sapped Calvin Johnson's explosiveness. Stafford has thrown one touchdown in his past two games. And, frankly, his prior two games weren't any better, but he managed better stats. And, after a facing a tough Seattle team, he now gets another good (not great) defense, Arizona. The Cardinals just held Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles to 67 and 171 yards. They rank 6th in passing yards allowed. Only four teams have allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Your glimmer of hope is that Stafford is good for half a touchdown more in home games than on the road.
15. Andrew Luck @ Hou – 7.75 (EXPECTED TO SIT)
It's hard to trust Andrew Luck on a short week. Depending on which report you want to believe, his shoulder injury could be mild or it could be on the verge of amputation. It looks like Luck will start, although that's no guarantee of his arm strength, nor his prospects of reinjury. The matchup is promising, against a Houston team that's never held him to less than two touchdowns. Never. Last year in Houston he threw for 370 yards and three touchdowns. Luck is a high-risk, high-reward proposition, and in a thin week for quarterbacks, many of you will need to take the risk.
16. Josh McCown @ Bal – 7.75
17. Joe Flacco vs. Cle – 7.75
18. Russell Wilson @ Cin – 7.75
19. Ryan Mallett/Brian Hoyer vs. Ind – 7.75
20. Brandon Weeden vs. NE – 7.75
21. Kirk Cousins @ Atl – 7.75
22. Marcus Mariotta vs. Buf – 7.75
23. Blake Bortles @ TB – 7.75
24. Jameis Winston vs. Jac – 7.5
25. Derek Carr vs. Den – 7.5