In an age of pinball-like numbers and huge point totals, it was refreshing to turn on Thursday's battle between the 49ers and Seahawks and see a defensive battle. I had joked that the game might come down to a showdown between Steven Hauschka and David Akers, and that nearly came to fruition. The opening salvo for Week 7 hardly included highlight moments for either offense.
I appreciated Frank Gore delivering a monster effort in a tough spot and rewarding trusting fantasy owners with 182 total yards. Gore ate up chunks of yardage in the second half as the offensive line got a great lean. Otherwise, Alex Smith threw a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker, but did not target Vernon Davis at all. You read that correctly. Smith also threw an interception inside the Seattle three-yard line.
Russell Wilson wasn't as bad as the numbers would suggest, as he was betrayed by drops at every turn. Marshawn Lynch tried to keep pace with Gore, producing a 100-yard game of his own against the stout San Francisco run defense.
Shake it off and, as the Chargers' PR staff advises, "Take a chill pill." There are better numbers and more highlights on the way. As a bonus, coverage will not revolve around Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers (Norv Turner), Michael Vick, the Kansas City quarterback "controversy," "Matty Ice" or the Dolphins (I got nothing). Those squads take a seat for Week 7.
Heroes (Exclude Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning)
Tony Romo at CAR
Romo started the season with a huge effort against the Giants. He struggled through three games ahead of the Week 5 Bye, but returned to action with a strong performance against the Ravens (261 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the narrow loss).
The Cowboys' success or failure in this game will rest squarely on Romo's shoulders. With no DeMarco Murray to run the ball, Romo will need to push downfield to Dez Bryant (15 targets) and Jason Witten with hope of freeing Felix Jones in the backfield. The Panthers have been a middling pass defense to date, surrendering 269 passing yards with eight total touchdowns (seven passing) and five interceptions. The Dallas offensive line will be under fire against a Carolina pass rush that has produced 14 sacks.
Ben Roethlisberger at CIN
Roethlisberger has been a tremendous contributor to fantasy lineups through five games. He's registered two games with at least 350 passing yards and has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season (three multi-touchdown games to start the season).
The Bengals are starting to get healthy in the secondary, so I suspect we'll see a slightly better effort than we have thus far. Cincinnati allowed multiple touchdown passes to Brandon Weeden in both "Battle for Ohio" contests. Those members of the secondary will be tested in their return by Roethlisberger, who has attempted 38 or more passes in four of his five starts. With no consistency in the running game and injuries impacting the defense, Roethlisberger will keep firing on Sunday night. Cincinnati has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, surrendering 252 passing yards and 1.3 touchdown passes per game with few turnovers (two interceptions).
Andrew Luck vs. CLE
Luck's run of strong fantasy starts ended at three in Week 6 against the Jets. New York raced out to a big lead behind Shonn Greene, and Antonio Cromartie virtually erased Reggie Wayne from the score sheet. Luck was shut out for the first time this season, finishing the game with 280 passing yards and two interceptions.
He's set to rebound in a big way this week against the Browns. I know that Joe Haden is back on the radar and will check Wayne, but A.J. Green still had great success in Week 6. Luck has other options in the receiving corps to do damage (Donnie Avery is a "sleeper" this week), and the inconsistent Indianapolis running game will keep the game on Luck's arm (44 or more attempts in four of his five starts).
Josh Freeman vs. NO
Freeman's consistency issues always leave me reticent to endorse him wholeheartedly. This week's matchup against the Saints warrants a back-end QB1 appearance against the New Orleans defense. The Saints have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (298.8 passing yards and 1.8 passing touchdowns per game).
Freeman posted back-to-back strong games against the Redskins and Chiefs. The schedulers offer up a gift here, as the Tampa Bay running game should afford Freeman play-action opportunities.
Jay Cutler vs. DET
I'm intrigued by the note out of Chicago that the Bears are contemplating a no-huddle look. The Chicago offense needs to get things started faster, as they failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first halves of games against the Cowboys and Jacksonville before the Bye week. Cutler finished each of those games with two touchdowns and passed for 275 and 292 yards, respectively.
The Lions have been a mediocre team against quarterbacks through five weeks. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown seven touchdowns against two interceptions. The big question is whether the Chicago offensive line will be able to withstand the Detroit pass rush.
Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. TEN
Fitzpatrick looks to bounce back from back-to-back dismal efforts against the 49ers and Cardinals. He's been shut out in two straights and barely registered 150 passing yards against the Cardinals (18-of-32 for 153 yards). Fitzpatrick had opened the season with 12 touchdown passes through four weeks.
This week's matchup against the Titans is clearly a nice bounce-back opportunity. The Titans have allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (13 passing touchdowns). Look for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to contribute in the passing game and for Scott Chandler to dominate the red zone.
Andy Dalton vs. PIT
Dalton posted another huge stat line in the Week 6 loss to Cleveland. He's logged multiple touchdown passes in four of the past five weeks, a run that includes three 300-yard games. Unfortunately, Dalton continues to log a hefty turnover total. He threw three interceptions in the Week 6 loss, his sixth consecutive game with at least one interception.
The Steelers rank fourth against quarterbacks in terms of passing yards (200.8 yards allowed per game), but have surrendered nine passing touchdowns with just two interceptions. Pittsburgh has allowed multiple touchdown passes on three occasions.
Matt Schaub vs. BAL
The Ravens lost several key players from the defense in Week 6. They enter this Week 7 contest having allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. However, those numbers have been skewed in recent weeks because of the failure of the run defense. Haloti Ngata is playing through an injury, and we can reasonably assume that Arian Foster and Ben Tate will find success on the ground. As a result, Schaub will take his shots downfield off play-action. I expect a solid rebound effort from Schaub after being shut out by the Packers in Week 6. He's a solid, albeit unspectacular, Bye week option this week.
Carson Palmer vs. JAC
The true hero in this contest will be running back Darren McFadden. But, lest we forget, McFadden has been known to rack up receiving yards and YAC. McFadden will also run wild against the sieve-like Jacksonville run defense.
I digress. Palmer passed for more than 350 yards for the second time this season in the narrow Week 6 loss to Atlanta. He's passed for at least 297 yards in three of five games and finally has his full complement of receivers back in the fold. Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey will both find their way into fantasy lineups this week.
The Jaguars have been a mediocre team against quarterbacks. They have ceded the 15th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (262.8 passing yards per game and seven total touchdowns). He's undoubtedly have time to sit in the pocket and work downfield, as the Jaguars have produced just three sacks to date.
Brandon Weeden at IND
Weeden has quietly started to put up solid weekly numbers following that opening week debacle against the Eagles. He's passed for at least 231 yards in five straight games, including three efforts of at least 291 yards. Weeden has also generated three multi-touchdown games (two against the Bengals).
The Colts have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, yielding 214.6 passing yards and two passing touchdowns per game.
Matt Hasselbeck at BUF
Hasselbeck performed well in Week 6 against the Steelers, producing 290 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception. He stands under center this week against the heretofore torturous Buffalo defense. It's a defense that, despite a strong effort against the Cardinals, has still allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks (15 total touchdowns allowed, 13 by air). The availability of Kenny Britt alongside standout rookie Kendall Wright and tight end Jared Cook makes Hasselbeck a viable Bye week stand-in). If Chris Johnson can replicate his effort from Week 6, Hasselbeck will find gaps in coverage.
Mark Sanchez at NE
Sanchez didn't need to do much behind the dominance of Shonn Greene and the ground game in Week 6 against the Colts. He completed 11-of-18 attempts for 82 yards, including 4-of-5 red zone attempts with two touchdowns. I don't expect this to be an easy score, but the New England secondary has been torched repeatedly. New England has already allowed 15 passing touchdowns, including three by Russell Wilson just last week.
Joe Flacco at HOU
Flacco and the no-huddle offense were set to usher in a new era of offensive dominance in Baltimore. With several key member of the defense lost for the season and many others ailing, the short-term success of the Baltimore franchise rests squarely on Flacco's shoulders. He's posted one touchdown and one interception in the past two weeks while averaging 210.5 passing yards.
The Texans have allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Remember, they ranked much higher prior to last week's debacle against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Houston had surrendered six passing touchdowns through the first five weeks.
Cam Newton vs. DAL
When last we saw Newton, he was dominated by the Seattle defense. He passed for 142 yards, rushed for 42 yards and was shut out of the end zone for the first time this season.
Newton is hardly a lock for a rebound effort this week against the Cowboys. Dallas has allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. This defensive unit hasn't generated many turnovers (just one interception), but Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne can slow down receivers on the edge with physical play. I rated Newton ninth in my preliminary quarterback rankings.
Matthew Stafford at CHI
Fantasy owners celebrated Stafford's rushing touchdown against the Eagles last week. It saved them from a potential shutout from their quarterback. His touchdown pass to Nate Burleson made it a good fantasy day, and his final total of 311 passing yards made it even better.
Unfortunately, fantasy owners have had to get used to late production from Stafford and the Detroit offense. To date, he and Calvin Johnson have yet to connect for a touchdown. I hear the talk of "he's due," and I suppose that's true. Stafford has passed for at least 300 yards on three occasions, though he's yet to generate a multi-touchdown game.
What else needs to be said? The Bears rank first against quarterbacks, producing 13 interceptions against four interceptions.