Joe Dolan is the managing editor of FantasyGuru.com and a host for SiriusXM Radio. A former writer for PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Joe still contributes to the site with on-camera segments and written columns. He can be heard hosting "SiriusXM Fantasy Football Gameday" every NFL Sunday from 1-7 PM on Sirius 210, XM 87.*
So, this looks like a potentially awesome fantasy game. What's the outlook for both sides?
Let's start with the Bears.
While Jay Cutler returned last week and made some very Cutler throws with a pair of INTs (including a pick-six), he also made some incredible strong-armed throws that only Cutler and maybe a couple other players in the NFL can make. Overall, Cutler played very well against the Browns last week, and Marc Trestman didn't have to answer questions about pushing backup Josh McCown back to the field.
Cutler shook off his rust well last week, and as such, there is reason for the Eagles to be really concerned. After an excellent two-month run during which their defense bent, but didn't break, the Eagles really struggled in Minnesota last week. Matt Cassel looked like Fran Tarkenton, picking apart the Eagle secondary for nearly 400 yards passing, and he did it with the likes of Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright. Certainly, that's not a terrible group of receivers, but it's nothing compared to the Bears' elite trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. The Bears move around their big receivers a bunch, with Marshall playing a lot in the slot and Jeffery seeing some snaps there as well.
All the talk about the Bears passing game – and for good reason – has perhaps led us to forget that Matt Forte remains a really good player. In fact, watch the Bears offense and you'll see a lot of stuff the Eagles do. Forte is a phenomenal zone runner with great vision and good hands as a receiver, and if he gets to the perimeter it'll force the Eagle defensive backs into stopping the run, tough double duty when matched with these receivers. Mychal Kendricks will be a really important player in this one.
This is going to be a major test for Billy Davis, coming off a really bad relapse performance against a far inferior offense. I would expect the Bears offense to put up numbers across the board, in large part because I don't think the Bears will be able to slow down the Eagles.
Any Bear – Cutler, Forte, Marshall, Jeffery, and Bennett – is a good start. And Forte, Marshall, and Jeffery are no-brainers.
The Eagles are in the same boat, as they match up well with the weaknesses of the Bears defense. Namely, it looks like a great week for Shady McCoy.
Heck, even when he saw only eight carries the way he did last week, he still managed to put up double-digit fantasy points. He carried eight times for 38 yards, adding 5-68 as a receiver to total 116 yards from scrimmage. Over the last five weeks, McCoy ranks #2 among running backs with 24.6 fantasy points per game in a PPR. McCoy has told reporters this week that he knows he has a great matchup in this one, and expects to shoulder a huge workload. The Bears have had the worst run defense in the NFL all year, and the potential return of Lance Briggs (shoulder) won't be enough to fix that by itself. Start Shady without hesitation.
But if Briggs is back, would that even be a big deal, if a positive at all? Should Briggs return and not play in nickel packages, his impact on the game will be lessened because the Eagles' speed helps them dictate which personnel the opposing defense uses. And if Briggs does play in nickel, it's possible the Eagles could exploit him with Zach Ertz, who is emerging as a legitimate receiving threat and fantasy option. The Bears have struggled with TEs at times this year, in large part because their safety play hasn't been good, and Briggs would be a downgrade in coverage from rookie Khaseem Greene. Over the last five weeks, Ertz ranks 12th among tight ends with 11.7 FPG. That's made him more productive than Jordan Cameron, Coby Fleener, Martellus Bennett, and Antonio Gates, among others.
At receiver, Riley Cooper is slipping a bit, perhaps because Ertz is emerging. But DeSean Jackson remains an easy start. Nick Foles, Shady McCoy, and DeSean are easy starts. Cooper and Ertz, especially, are sneaky reaches.
Are there any star players who I might consider benching even in a fantasy championship week?
NOTE: I'm not recommending you sit these players outright, but that you may have to consider it, given the circumstances.
QB: Russell Wilson, Seahawks – Wilson is at home against the Cardinals, a tough matchup. Wilson is very steady and reliable, but he may not have the upside you're looking for if you need a lot of points to win your title this week.
RB: Frank Gore, 49ers – If the Seahawks win on Sunday, the Niners (who play on Monday) may opt to rest Gore, as their chances of anything higher than the NFC's #5 seed will be gone. Gore has been dinged up for the last few weeks with ankle and knee problems.
WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – He's coming off a concussion and is going on the road to Seattle against Richard Sherman and the NFL's best defense. If you're ever going to sit Fitz, this is the week.
TE: This is a copout, but there are so few "studs" at the tight end position that I can't possibly endorse a scenario in which sitting one of them seems a good idea (the only legit stud is Jimmy Graham anyway).
I have to decide between two players, and it's a really tough decision. What are some factors I can use to make my decision?
This is the time of year, more than ever, you should use educated guesses to make your lineup decisions. Here are the things I consider when making a tough call.
Health: Simply put, is one guy more banged up than the other?
Matchup: How well is the defense performing? Is it a potential shootout or grind-it-out game?
Player Role: Is he a player who sees consistent targets or carries? Or is he someone who has typically needed a big play to make an impact? I may favor the "safer" player in certain situations, and the upside play in others.
Consistency: This is similar to the previous category. Is the player someone like Julian Edelman, who produces solid numbers week in and week out, or someone like Mike Wallace, who could have a big game but could also get shut down?
Team Situation: Does the team have anything to play for? Will a team be more willing to play its studs for any reason? If I'm considering a young player, is this particular player someone the team wants to get a better look at?
INJURIES TO WATCH
Adrian Peterson, Vikings – Peterson (foot sprain) is expected to play this week, although he hasn't practiced. It's worth noting that both Toby Gerhart (hamstring) and Matt Asiata (ankle) are no guarantees to play, so the Vikings are counting on Peterson.
Eddie Lacy, Packers – Lacy (ankle) didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but the expectation remains that he'll play this week. He's a must-start if he does go against the Steelers.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – As mentioned above, Fitz (concussion) is questionable. He is expected to play, but he needs medical clearance to do so, and it's a brutal matchup in Seattle.
Wes Welker, Broncos – Welker (concussion) is out again this week. Last week, Andre Caldwell was the surprising beneficiary of his absence, and not Jacob Tamme.
Victor Cruz, Giants – Cruz (concussion, knee) has been placed on IR. If you ever needed another reason to ignore the Giant passing offense for fantasy, this is it.
Ben Tate, Texans – Tate (ribs) has been playing hurt for a month or so now, but was finally put on IR. In his stead, rookie Dennis Johnson will start.
Cecil Shorts, Jaguars – Shorts (groin) has been put on IR. Last week, Kerry Taylor started in his spot, but the only viable fantasy receiver here, if any, is Ace Sander.
Stevie Johnson, Bills – Johnson (personal) is not expected to play this week.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars– MJD (hamstring) missed last week's game and is in danger of missing this one as well. Last week, Jordan Todman filled in extremely well for MJD, and would be a viable reach in the event he has to pick up the slack again.
Darren McFadden, Raiders – McFadden (ankle, knee) has practiced all week. If he goes, he'll likely only see change-of-pace snaps behind the more productive Rashad Jennings.
Case Keenum, Texans – Keenum (thumb) is out. Matt Schaub will start.
Willis McGahee, Browns – McGahee (concussion) is questionable for this week, but even if he goes expect the Browns to give more looks to Edwin Baker, who played well last week in his Browns' debut.
EJ Manuel, Bills – Manuel (knee) won't play this week. Thad Lewis will start in his place.
Daniel Thomas, Dolphins – Thomas (ankle) is questionable to go this week. Lamar Miller has looked good the last few weeks when healthy, but the split here when Thomas is active makes the backfield rotation maddening, at best. Things get cleared up if one of the two guys can't play.
Jordan Cameron, Browns – Cameron (concussion) looks unlikely to play this week. Gary Barnidge backs him up.
Rob Housler, Cardinals – Housler (groin) missed last week's action and is questionable at best to play this week.
Jordan Reed, Redskins – Reed (concussion) has finally been placed on IR after missing every game since Week Twelve with his injury.
QB: Kirk Cousins, Redskins – Did you see that Cowboys defense against Matt Flynn and company last week? Gross. Washington's got a shot to put up points this week, and Cousins' 381 yards passing were more than Robert Griffin III had in any game this season.
RB: Zac Stacy, Rams – Since Week 6, Stacy now has double-digit PPR fantasy points in every game but Week 13 against the Niners, when he still posted 8.1 FP. He's touched the ball at least 13 times in every game during that span, as well. He's ideally a flex, but he has consistently produced as a #2 fantasy back. And he's the only legitimate fantasy option on this team, even in a tough matchup with the Bucs.
WR: Doug Baldwin, Seahawks – Baldwin's a great reach this week, with Patrick Peterson likely to see Golden Tate and Tyrann Mathieu out for the year after an ACL tear. On top of that, Baldwin's been the Seahawks' most productive fantasy receiver over the last month anyway.
TE: Delanie Walker, Titans – Walker came through against the Cardinals' terrible tight end reputation last week, and has another solid matchup this week with the Jags, who have injury issues in the secondary. Zach Miller of the Seahawks is another viable reach if you need him this week, going up against the aforementioned Cardinal defense.
QB: Matt Ryan, Falcons – Ryan was doing it with smoke and mirrors for a while there, but the magic has run out, and now he's going on the road against the 49ers. There are better streaming options out there for you.
RB: Bobby Rainey, Buccaneers – Rainey's kind of the opposite of Zac Stacy. He's been under 10 FP in a PPR in three of his last four games, games against the tough Lion, Panther, and Niner defenses. And of his 21.3 FP against the Bills in Week 14, an 80-yard touchdown run accounted for 14 of those points.
WR: Michael Floyd, Cardinals – Floyd's ankle – which he injured late against the Eagles – has been a big problem the last couple weeks. Going on the road to Seattle isn't going to help matters, so it may be best to avoid this passing game in general.
TE: Coby Fleener, Colts – I'm sick of it. Fleener was shut out in a decent matchup last week, so I refuse to trust him in my fantasy championship week. The Colt offense is a total mess.