Six Week 10 Storylines: We Finally Have Meaningful Games

Rob Ryan has his defense ready for Tony Romo on Sunday.

Finally. Finally we have matchups that mean something to real football and not just the pretend one we love to play.


We’ve got a divisional clash between a depleted Bengals and disappointing Ravens, but one that still means a lot to the AFC North. We’ll also see the Lions and Bears duke it out in Chicago with a healthy-groined Jay Cutler. The Nick Foles show will travel to Green Bay to take on the Aaron Rodgers-less Pack, and Tony Romo will try to keep the Cowboys on top of their division with a tough win in New Orleans.

After two weeks of mediocre matchups -- finally.

Perhaps no contest this weekend though means more to real and fake football than the Broncos versus Chargers. San Diego is trying to stay alive in the AFC, while Denver needs to keep pace with the surprising team in Kansas City. It may not have the NFL importance like the Cowboys and Saints game does, but there’s no doubt about it: Fantasy football owners will be glued to their televisions when that late afternoon game kicks off.

How many combined touchdowns will Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers throw?

Vegas has the total points scored in this one set at 58, and it should surprise no one if that goes over. From a fantasy football standpoint, this should bring nothing but pretend pigskin smiles.

We currently have Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers as the best and sixth-best options respectively at quarterback this week, and their skill players are surely going to benefit as well. Manning’s trio of receivers rank third, fourth and 16th at wide receiver according to our algorithms, while Philip Rivers’ top target, Keenan Allen, comes in as our 14th-best option at wideout this week.

And don’t sleep on the tight ends, as Julius Thomas and Antonio Gates are the best options outside of Jimmy Graham.

Needless to say, we’re in store for a high-scoring affair. We've seen it with the Broncos all season long, as the lowest-scoring game came in Week 5 against the Jaguars.

There were 54 points scored in that contest.

Get your popcorn ready.

Can the Bengals rebound without Geno Atkins?

Without star defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the majority of their game last week against the Dolphins, the Bengals allowed 157 rushing yards to the 16th-ranked rushing offense in terms of Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points per play (read more about Net Expected Points).

Their season ranking didn’t move much as a result, but it was clear that his stuffing ability was missed.

Fortunately, they’ll face a team this week in Baltimore that can’t run the ball to save their lives. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce continue to be bottom of the barrel runners, coming in as the fourth-to-last and last-ranked running backs in terms of Rushing Net Expected Points. And while Geno does so much for that defense in terms of pass rush as well, the Bengals should feel moderately good that the only offenses they’ll face from here on out that ranks in the top-half of the league in efficiency when adjusted for strength of schedule are the Colts and Chargers.

Fortunately for Cincinnati, too, is the fact that the AFC North is a near disaster, even with Cleveland playing better football than in years past. Their big lead on the division should be enough of a cushion to make a playoff run, especially after Baltimore’s disappointing loss to Cleveland last week. Our algorithms say that the Bengals currently have the fifth-best odds to make the playoffs in the entire NFL.

I’m fully expecting the divisional showdown to be competitive this week, and I’m not banking on Ray Rice coming through for fantasy owners. Continue to bench him until you see a big game.

Will Jay Cutler keep the Bears on track?

The Bears didn’t miss a step with Josh McCown playing quarterback, as his Passing Net Expected Points per pass when Cutler was sidelined was 0.34 to Cutler’s 0.04 season total. To put another way, without Cutler, the Bears were actually adding more points through the air with each pass.

Now, I’m not saying that McCown is better than Cutler. Not at all. He – McCown – faced favorable defenses with Cutler out, allowing for high efficiency. That being said, he filled it nicely.

But now Smokin’ Jay is back and ready to bully the Lions in an NFC North showdown. There’s reason to believe Cutler will be fine from a fantasy and real football perspective, as the Lions rank 20th against the pass when adjusted for strength of schedule. Moreover, they’ve allowed eight touchdown passes over their last three games. It’s not as though they've faced Peyton Manning, either, playing the Browns, Bengals and Cowboys.

Expect Cutler to rebound nicely. If you’re curious who wins the game, check out our game projections.

What will Nick Foles’ do against the Pack?

I’ll drink six-month old milk if Nick Foles throws for seven touchdowns again this weekend. Really, I will. I’ll post it to YouTube, too.

Even though I’m that confident – as anyone should be – that Foles doesn’t do that again, that doesn’t mean I think he flops this weekend against Green Bay. The Packers own the seventh-worst pass defense in the NFL according to numberFire metrics, and were just lit up (kind of) against a backup quarterback a week ago.

The numbers say that Foles should finish as a top-10 quarterback this week in fantasy, so slot him in your fantasy lineup if you’ve got a tough choice with someone like Colin Kaepernick.

Can Case Keenum compete against a tough Cardinals’ defense?

The football community is all backing Case Keenum, and for good reason. Thus far, he’s performed at an Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers level in terms of passing efficiency on a per pass basis, making him one of the best quarterbacks in the league given his limited sample.

Unlike McCown, too, Keenum actually faced a tough task against Kansas City, coming through with a 271-yard day. However, last week against the Colts, a much easier matchup, Keenum’s stats were inflated quite a bit.

His upcoming schedule after this week is awesome, and for that, you made a great call if you picked him up this week. After the Cardinals, the Texans face the Raiders, Jaguars, Patriots, Jaguars, Colts and Broncos through Week 16. But if it’s possible, you may want to pass on him as your starter in Week 10. Arizona's defense is incredibly underrated, and rank seventh against the pass this season. Factor in Arian Foster’s injury for the Texans, and there’s even less reason to feel confident about Keenum this week.

Will the Cowboys and Saints game be offensive-driven?

If this game happened last year, we’d be talking about it being as high scoring as the Chargers versus Broncos game this weekend. However, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has the Saints defense playing great football. Actually, he has them playing the seventh-best defensive football in the NFL.

I don’t think you can overstate how unbelievable the Saints defensive turnaround has been, either. Last season, when you adjusted for strength of opponent, New Orleans ranked 26th in the league defensively, surrendering over 102 points more than an average defense would have in a similar situation.

But this year, New Orleans has performed above expectation, and have actually benefited the team overall. The 2012 defense was essentially giving an additional 6.3 points per game to their competition, while this one is taking away over a quarter of a point per contest.

A lot of it has to do with their pass defense, which ranks just behind Carolina at the six spot in our rankings. Against Dallas this weekend, a team that’s passing in high volume, New Orleans will be tested. Although the Cowboys are an average team efficiency-wise when throwing the ball, they’ve had contests this year where they’ve destroyed opposing secondaries.

Needless to say, this Romo vs. Saints’ secondary battle is going to be one worth watching this weekend. While it could be full of points, don’t automatically assume so with this new and improved Saints team.