Fred Jackson, Bills -- We know the talent is there with Jackson. He ran for 1,062 yards last season on 237 carries, and has gotten 4.5 yards per carry over his career. It was hard to believe the Bills drafted C.J. Spiller after the way Jackson broke out last season, but it has been Jackson who has owned the starter's role since the trade of Marshawn Lynch. Jackson ran all over the Lions in Week 10 and has at least 20 carries in three of the last four games. With Spiller likely out this week, there's no doubting Jackson is the man in Buffalo. His schedule the rest of the way is average (faces solid-but-not-spectacular run defenses in Miami, Cleveland and Minnesota), but this is a bet on the player, not his opponents. Jackson is a top-15, if not top-12, running back going forward.
LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers -- Since taking over as the primary ballcarrier in Tampa, Blount has produced two good games and one great one. A few things we know for certain. First, Blount is going to get about 20 carries per game. Second, Tampa is a pretty good team and figures to be in every game from here on out, meaning there shouldn't be a game where they have to abandon the run. Third, in Weeks 14 and 15, traditionally the first round and semifinals of the fantasy playoffs, Blount plays the Redskins (5.0 yards per carry allowed this season) and Lions (4.7 yards per carry, 10 rushing touchdowns allowed). He's not going to be a factor in the passing game, which is why I rank him just behind Jackson moving forward, but he's also a top-15 back, and has potential to swing championships with those two great playoff matchups.
Keiland Williams, Redskins -- Lost in the shuffle of Mike Vick's historic performance Monday night was the 139-total yard, three-touchdown effort of Williams. Of course, the Eagles weren't exactly pressing the line with a huge lead all night, but as far as fantasy owners are concerned, stats are stats, regardless of when they happen. This is a guy who succeeded every time he had a chance at LSU. He was a career-backup, but ran for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns on 299 carries, good for 5.7 yards per carry. The word out of Washington Tuesday was that Ryan Torain would see a specialist about his hamstring troubles, which only bodes well for Williams. Should he manage to keep the job, he has great matchups in the playoffs against the Buccaneers (30th vs. the run in yards per carry), Cowboys (24th) and Jaguars (23rd).
And one deep, deep sleeper ...
Kevin Smith, Lions -- Look, the odds of this happening are probably worse than Brett Favre not crying at his third (fourth? fifth?) retirement ceremony in a few weeks. But Jahvid Best has not been the same since suffering his turf toe injury. Since Week 2, he hasn't scored, rushed for more than 59 yards in a game or eclipsed 100 total yards in any week. If the Lions' coaching staff grows more frustrated with Best, Smith could end up getting more looks. He had 14 touches two weeks ago and nine this past Sunday, so it's not like he has been a complete afterthought. Don't rush out and grab him now, but keep him on your radar.
If you're a Shonn Greene owner, odds are you're not too happy with the second-year back. You probably spent a top-15, perhaps even top-10, pick on him, and the thanks he's shown you has come in the ungrateful form of 463 yards and one touchdown through nine games. But there's reason for hope.
Let me take you way back to the 2009 season. Thomas Jones was running well for the Jets, and a rookie out of Iowa named Shonn Greene didn't play all that often. That is until the last two weeks of the season, when he had 29 carries combined, before exploding in the playoffs racking up 263 yards on 44 carries in wins over the Bengals and Chargers.
Now let's jump back to this season. Greene is faced with a similar situation. After riding shotgun to an older, yet still effective back all season, Greene is starting to take over. For the second time this year, and first since Week 4, Greene got more carries (20) than LaDainian Tomlinson (18) last week. Moreover, Tomlinson appears to be slowing down, running for just 221 yards on 65 carries (3.4 YPC) in the Jets' last four games. That stands in stark contrast to the 5.7 YPC he got across 76 carries the first five weeks of the season.
Greene looks like a great candidate to have his season breakout this week against the Texans, but before you think he's going to carry you in the playoffs the same way he did the Jets last season, check his schedule. The Jets are at Pittsburgh and Chicago in Weeks 15 and 16.
Looking for an angle on the Thursday night game between the Bears and Dolphins? Look no further than the Bears defense. I'll be the first to say that the Bears' six wins have come against teams that are a combined 15-39 (Lions, Cowboys, Packers, Panthers, Bills, Vikings), but this defense is a top-five unit in the league. The Bears are first in the league in defensive YPA, allowing just 6.0 yards per pass attempt. They allow the third-fewest yards per carry at 3.5. Their 24 takeaways lead the league. They've surrendered 153 first downs, fifth-least in the NFL, and their opponents have converted just 32.5 percent of third downs, which is tied for third best in the league. They may have to travel on a short week, but they get to face Tyler Thigpen, who has spent all season as the third quarterback in Miami. Realistically, how many snaps could he have been getting in practice? The short week will likely have a greater effect on a Dolphins offense that figures to be out-of-sync than it will on the Bears.
I like the Bears. And while I'm not saying bench Brandon Marshall or Ronnie Brown, I don't like either of their prospects this week. I would look elsewhere before starting Davone Bess, though.
Marshall and Brown aren't the only week-in, week-out starters who will struggle this week. Nik Bonaddio of numberFire does not like Steven Jackson's chances against the Falcons:
"I'm wont to call Steven Jackson a 'bust' because he fits every archetype of players I love: he's a consistent workhorse, dependable for at least 8-10 points every week despite having to carry a distinctly below-average team for many years. Consider his inclusion on this list less as a condemnation of him and much more of a coronation of the Falcons' rushing defense, an underrated unit that ranks third in rushing defense, surrendering only three TDs on the ground all season. I love where the Rams are going and I think they're about a year away from being the NFC West front-runner for the indefinite future, but this week they're going to have to move the ball through the air to win, and I have to think that Sam Bradford and his array of WR3 options aren't going to be able to do that effectively. This leaves Jackson in the difficult situation of having to face a nine-man wall, something that haunts his dreams from the bleaker days of the Marc Bulger era. He's still a starter but the matchup may dictate a flex play: adjust your expectations to league-average and you should be fine."
A quick check of how the Falcons have performed against some of the league's top rushers bolster's Nik's analysis.
• Week 1, Rashard Mendenhall -- 21 carries for 70 yards before a game-winning 50-yard touchdown run in overtime.• Week 4, Frank Gore -- 21 carries for 77 yards• Week 5, Peyton Hillis -- 10 carries for 28 yards• Week 6, LeSean McCoy -- 21 carries for 64 yards• Week 7, Cedric Benson -- 20 carries for 70 yards• Week 9, LeGarrette Blount (not a top rusher yet, but still warrants mentioning) -- 13 carries for 46 yards
1. Drew Brees vs. Seahawks2. Aaron Rodgers @ Vikings3. Philip Rivers vs. Broncos4. Peyton Manning @ Patriots5. Mike Vick vs. Giants|6. Tom Brady vs. Colts7. Eli Manning @ Eagles8. Matt Ryan @ Rams9. Mark Sanchez vs. Texans10. Matt Schaub @ Jets11. Joe Flacco @ Panthers12. Jay Cutler @ Dolphins13. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Raiders14. Jon Kitna vs. Lions15. Kyle Orton @ Chargers
1. Chris Johnson vs. Redskins2. Adrian Peterson vs. Packers3. Michael Turner @ Rams4. Ray Rice @ Panthers5. Jamaal Charles vs. Cardinals6. Frank Gore vs. Buccaneers7. Ahmad Bradshaw @ Eagles8. Arian Foster @ Jets9. Rashard Mendenhal vs. Raiders10. LeSean McCoy vs. Giants11. Darren McFadden @ Steelers12. Peyton Hillis @ Jaguars13. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Browns14. Shonn Greene vs. Texans15. Fred Jackson @ Bengals16. LeGarrette Blount @ 49ers17. Steven Jackson vs. Falcons18. Cedric Benson vs. Bills19. Knowshon Moreno @ Chargers20. Matt Forte @ Dolphins21. Ryan Mathews vs. Broncos22. LaDainian Tomlinson vs. Texans23. BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Colts24. Jahvid Best @ Cowboys25. Felix Jones vs. Lions26. Keiland Williams @ Titans27. Joseph Addai/Donald Brown (whoever starts) @ Patriots28. Thomas Jones vs. Cardinals29. Ronnie Brown vs. Bears30. Beanie Wells /Tim Hightower (whoever starts) @ Chiefs
1. Roddy White @ Rams2. Hakeem Nicks @ Eagles3. Miles Austin vs. Lions4. Greg Jennings @ Vikings5. Andre Johnson @ Jets6. Reggie Wayne @ Patriots7. DeSean Jackson vs. Giants8. Terrell Owens vs. Bills9. Calvin Johnson @ Cowboys10. Brandon Lloyd @ Chargers11. Anquan Boldin @ Panthers12. Jeremy Maclin vs. Giants13. Dez Bryant vs. Lions14. Santonio Holmes vs. Texans15. Dwayne Bowe vs. Cardinals16. Mike Wallace vs. Raiders17. Marques Colston vs. Seahawks18. Johnny Knox @ Dolphins|19. Braylon Edwards vs. Texans20. Malcom Floyd vs. Broncos21. Larry Fitzgerald @ Chiefs22. Percy Harvin vs. Packers23. Brandon Marshall vs. Bears24. Mike Williams (SEA) @ Saints25. Michael Crabtree vs. Buccaners26. Mike Williams (TB) @ 49ers27. Steve Johnson @ Bengals28. Randy Moss vs. Redskins29. Mike Thomas vs. Browns30. Brandon Tate vs. Colts
1. Vernon Davis vs. Buccaneers2. Dustin Keller vs. Texans3. Antonio Gates/Randy McMichael (whoever starts) vs. Broncos4. Jacob Tamme @ Patriots5. Aaron Hernandez vs. Colts6. Tony Gonzalez @ Rams7. Kevin Boss vs. Eagles8. Brandon Pettigrew @ Cowboys9. Kellen Winslow @ 49ers10. Jason Witten vs. Lions11. Zach Miller @ Steelers12. Marcedes Lewis vs. Browns13. Tony Moeaki vs. Cardinals14. Jermaine Gresham vs. Bills15. Greg Olsen @ Dolphins
We went 2-for-3 last week, and that Giants game felt bad from the start. That drop by Hakeem Nicks was huge, though. If he holds on, there's a good chance he goes the distance, and then the Giants trail by just six in the third quarter. The Steelers and Saints are obvious picks this week, but I'm going to assume most people have used those two at this point of the season. If you haven't, I like the Saints the best. But I'm leaving those two off my top-three, only because most of you still alive in survivor pools can't use them anymore.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Cardinals) -- The best thing you can say about this Cardinals team is that they somehow have three wins. They're 30th in passing offense, 29th in rushing offense, 27th in passing defense and 28th in rushing defense. The Chiefs just got embarrassed by Denver, and are now tied with the Raiders just one game ahead of the Chargers in the AFC West. The Cardinals are 1-4 on the road and have been outscored 144-68 in those five games.
2. San Diego Chargers (vs. Broncos) -- I never feel comfortable taking the Chargers, but they've got themselves right back into the thick of things in the AFC West. It may have been garbage time for most of the game, but Matt Cassel threw for 469 yards and four touchdowns against the Broncos last week. Philip Rivers is expected to have Malcom Floyd (hamstring) back this week, and Rivers is making a serious run at MVP. This is as confident as I've ever felt recommending the Chargers.
3. Tennessee Titans (vs. Redskins) -- We take a clear step down here, as I don't feel nearly as confident about the Titans as I do about the Chiefs and Chargers. Still, the Redskins looked pathetic against the Eagles on Monday night, and now they have a short week to prepare for Chris Johnson and Vince Young, who will start. Young is no Mike Vick, but clearly the Redskins had issues with Vick's running ability, something that could pop up again in Nashville.
One note. I think the Bengals are ripe to be upset at the hands of the Bills. I'd stay away from Cincinnati in survivor leagues.
Send any fantasy questions my way on Twitter, @MBeller.