Success on the ground will help Pennington through the air
Rex Grossman, Chicago Bears:Grossman struggled with ball protection in Week 6 against Arizona, but expect the Bears coaching staff to have addressed that in the bye week. The strategy won't change much this week. Chicago will have an aggressive gameplan that will call for Grossman to put the ball in the air, especially on deep routes to Bernard Berrian who will look to exploit a suspect 49ers secondary. The key for Grossman will be making better decisions and checking down to his hot receivers when Berrian is taken out of a play. He's still a starter and will put up good numbers against a bad defense.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers:The Steelers will run at DE Derrick Burgess who is a better pass rusher than a run defender and struggles to anchor at the point of attack when teams run directly at him. Parker's speed will get him to the edge and test the pursuit speed of the Raiders LB's. He's a top five back this week.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans:Johnson is the second leading receiver in the NFL, and he consistently beats double teams. David Carr trusts him, and Johnson has rewarded him by producing four 100-yard receiving games this year. He's a top WR pick this week.
Todd Heap, Baltimore Ravens:Heap will become the primary receiving option under Head Coach Brian Billick, who is now calling the plays on offense. With one safety committed to the run, and another playing single deep coverage, Heap will see LB coverage underneath. The Saints LB's lack the size and speed to hang with Heap in the middle of the field, and McNair will have a sizeable window to get Heap the ball before the safety can arrive to make a play on the receiver. He could put up his best day of the year.
Denver Broncos:The Broncos might have one of the top defenses in the league right now. They can generate pressure with their front four, their LB's are very athletic and can play in coverage, but also play physical against the run, and they have two top shut down corners led by Champ Bailey. This could be the unit to slow down the Indy passing machine. Start them, even against Indy.
Steve McNair, Baltimore Ravens:The Ravens are hoping that the bye week provided some more time for McNair to familiarize himself with the offense. With Brian Billick now calling the plays, look for more emphasis on the running game and for McNair to lean more heavily on TE Todd Heap who could be in favorable matchups with the Saints LB's in this game. Look for a limited role for McNair in this one, and limited production as a result. He's a backup option only.
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints:McAllister's physical running style will be a key to the offense. Despite the Ravens dominating front four, Deuce will continue to pound the ball between the tackles to force the Ravens to fill the interior run lanes quickly and open up the run and pass out on the perimeter where the Saints top playmakers are. He will get a lot of touches, but the yards will be hard to come by. He's only a #2 back.
Darrell Jackson, Seattle Seahawks:Jackson normally would stretch the field out on the perimeter against a suspect secondary, but will have to resort to crossing routes and quick comebacks to help his new QB Seneca Wallace, who steps in for the injured Matt Hasselbeck. Jackson is not particularly elusive in the open field, so his yards after the catch will be limited. We could see a late shot downfield once the corner bites on the short routes, but Jackson is only a borderline consideration as your top WR this week.
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis Colts:Ian Gold and the rest of the Denver LB corps are very athletic and can make plays all over the field. Manning may have a tough time finding favorable matchups along the perimeter, so he will look to Clark as his primary target in the middle of the field. By aligning him in the slot when the Broncos have their base defense in the game, Clark will likely be covered by a LB with minimal safety help over top. Normally, that would be an ideal matchup, but with Gold's speed and athleticism, Clark will struggle to release off the line and shake Gold in the open field. Don't look for a big day from Clark.
San Diego Chargers:The Rams new offensive system emphasizes shorter routes and yards after the catch. This gets the ball out of QB Marc Bulger's hands more quickly, neutralizing San Diego's pass rush, and exploiting their weaknesses in the secondary, the weakest link in this strong unit. The presence of RB Steven Jackson will also keep the Chargers from coming after Bulger full speed. This will be a tough week for the Bolts.
Sleeper of the Week
Chad Pennington, QB, New York Jets:The Jets are beginning to make strides in the running game, which will only make Pennington better because he will be able to create more time to throw off play action. With the Browns top two corners out with injuries, look for Pennington to challenge the young secondary in the deep and intermediate passing game, using Laveranues Coles to split the safeties on deep post patterns, and Jerricho Cotchery on crossing routes in LB coverage. Pennington should be on your list of potential starters this week.
Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints:The Ravens will match size on size as they put Samari Rolle on the bigger Colston. This will be a physical battle at the line, one that Colston can win on occasion with double moves and physical strength, and if he gets behind Rolle, he has a size advantage and will go up and fight for the ball. They key will be if Rolle can hold Colston up long enough for the pass rush to get to Brees. Colston is a good pick as a #2 receiver.