Anquan Boldin and the rest of the Ravens offense should be in your line-up this weekend.
-by Braden Gall ( @AthlonBraden on twitter)
NFL Bye Weeks: Atlanta, Chicago, Green Bay, NY Jets, Oakland, Tampa Bay
Start These Quarterbacks
Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh (New England)
Despite the way the Patriots have owned the Steelers, Big Ben is still a relatively obvious play this week. The Pats are still ranked last in the NFL in pass defense (322.2 ypg) and are allowing a 65.5 percent completion rate. The Steelers have rediscovered their ability to go vertical in the passing game and Big Ben and Mike Wallace have been the biggest beneficiaries. He has nine touchdowns against a single pick and has averaged 263 yards per game over his last three.
Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee (Indianapolis)
During the 3-1 start for the Titans, Hasselbeck had eight TDs, three INTs and averaged 288 yards per game. Against the Steelers and Texans, middle Tennessee’s Matty-Ice has 366 total yards, two TDs and three INTs. Only the St. Louis Rams' (13 TD, 4 INT) defensive TD:INT ratio is even close to the Indianapolis Colts' 14-3 TD:INT pass defense ratio. The Colts did just allow 43 fantasy points and 62 actual points to Drew Brees.
Tim Tebow, Denver (Detroit)
The stat line for Tebow's first start of 2011 was ultra-predictable. He completed 48.1 percent of his passes for 161 yards, rushed for 59 yards and accounted for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. That line should be a weekly benchmark for Tebow. Detroit's defense has not played up to snuff thus far after two straight losses in which they allowed 332 total yards. Expect a similar line for Tebow's raucous first home start of 2011.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota (at Carolina)
The Panthers have not gotten after the football (9 TDs, 4 INTs) in the secondary and just allowed 21.2 total fantasy points to the Washington Redskins' John Beck last week. Ponder showed poise in his first career start against the best team in the NFL, racking up 20.9 fantasy points of his own. If you are desperate for a spot start this weekend, Ponder looks to be the guy.
Bench These Quarterbacks
Kevin Kolb, Arizona (at Baltimore)
No team in the NFL has allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Ravens' four. They are fourth in the league in total pass defense at 186.8 yards per game allowed. As a two-touchdown underdog (-13) to what should be a focused and angry Ravens team, Kolb has little chance of posting a usable total.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo (Washington in Toronto)
Only the Ravens and Jets have allowed fewer touchdown passes than the Redskins' five allowed. Fitz has not been a MoneyGrabber of late, throwing three total touchdowns over his last three games after nine TDs in his first three. He has not topped 250 yards since Week 3, failing to reach even 200 yards in two of his last three. Look for Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller to be the focal point of the offense once again.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit (at Denver)
This is more of a warning than a benching. If Stafford is healthy, then he is a great start against the lowly Denver defense. However, having a back-up plan ready for the brittle gunslinger is a wise move. There should be plenty of Ponders out there on the waiver wire in case Stafford cannot go last minute. Keep the refresh button cleared of all debris Sunday morning.
Colt McCoy, Cleveland (at San Francisco)
The Niners have been excellent on defense and McCoy is coming off his worst fantasy performance of the 2011 season (178 yards, 0 TD, INT). San Fran just held Matthew Stafford to his worst performance of the 2011 season (183 yards, TD) and sacked him five times in the win over Detroit two weeks ago.
Start These Running Backs
Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, New Orleans (at St. Louis)
The Rams were the worst rushing defense in the NFL heading into last week. And that was before they allowed a Dallas Cowboys record 253 yards to rookie DeMarco Murray in his first NFL start. Thomas posted a season-high 125 yards from scrimmage (and five receptions) while Ingram ran for a career-high 91 yards on 14 carries last week against the Colts. Look for both to excel (along with Darren Sproles) against a team allowing 183.8 yards per game on the ground.
Knowshon Moreno, Denver (Detroit)
Willis McGahee will not suit up for the Broncos, but John Fox is still the head coach. He wants to run the football, especially with Tebow under center, and Moreno figures to get the workload this weekend. The Lions have inexplicably been unable to slow the ground game this season. The Lions rank 28th in the NFL against the run (129.4 ypg) and have allowed 332 yards to Atlanta and San Francisco during their two-game losing streak.
Jackie Battle, Kansas City (San Diego)
The undrafted Houston Cougar has provided a nice fantasy boost over the last two weeks with 195 yards on 35 carries (5.6). And the Super Chargers have been anything but super against the run recently. The Jets and Broncos each rushed for exactly 162 yards against San Diego in the last two games. With the surging Chiefs playing for a huge leg-up in the AFC West race, look for Battle to continue to get plenty of work.
DeMarco Murray, Dallas (at Philadelphia)
If a rookie running back posted 25 carries and a touchdown in his first career NFL start, most would consider the debut a major success. Murray went above and beyond by setting a Cowboys' single-game franchise rushing record (253) and averaged over 10 yards per carry. The Eagles, due to D-line injuries and poor linebacker play, have struggled against the run, allowing 123.8 yards per game – a number that was 140.2 per game before holding the lowly Redskins to 42 yards. Murray certainly won’t hit the 200 mark again, but 100-1 is a very reasonable expectation.
Bench These Running Backs
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland (at San Francisco)
This one is pretty self-explanatory. The much-maligned runner has dealt with everything from strep throat to contract fallout to hamstring issues over the last month. Now, the big bruiser is facing the NFL's No. 2 rushing defense (74.7 ypg) – which is still the only unit to have yet to allow a rushing touchdown in 2011. Montario Hardesty didn’t look much better last week against Seattle either. Bench your Browns backs.
Bernard Scott, Cincinnati (at Seattle)
I will let Corby Yarbrough handle this one. I concur.
New England Patriots (at Pittsburgh)
Whether it’s Ridley, Woodhead or Green-Ellis, it is hard to endorse a fantasy start for any Patriots running back. As a team, New England ran for 69 yards and no touchdowns against the Cowboys. Against a similar 3-4 front with stellar linebacking play, it is hard to see anything but an aerial assault from the Pats this weekend.
Daniel Thomas, Miami (at NY Giants)
The Giants have struggled against the run this season (127.7 ypg) but will welcome back their best defensive player in Justin Tuck this weekend. Last week against the Broncos, one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, Thomas averaged 2.8 yards per carry on 19 attempts. Thomas should still get plenty of touches, but Miami could be playing from behind quickly and will likely need to throw much of the second half.
Seattle Seahawks (Cincinnati)
Yes, the Bengals' defensive statistics have come against lower-level competition: Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, Indianapolis namely. But Cincy is still ranked fourth in scoring defense (18.5 ppg), fifth in rushing defense (89.5 ypg) and fifth in passing defense (189.0 ypg). And considering the Seahawks managed three points against Cleveland last week, it is hard not lump Seattle in with those aforementioned “lower-level” teams.
Start These Wide Receivers
Anquan Boldin, Baltimore (Arizona)
The Ravens' top target reached paydirt for the second time last weekend and should be able to rip through the porous Cardinals secondary. Arizona allowed two Steelers to top the century mark and surrendered three touchdowns to Big Ben last weekend. Look for Joe Flacco and the entire Ravens offense to get on track this week.
Mario Manningham, NY Giants (Miami)
The disappointing wideout appears to be finally back on track with Eli Manning. He has back-to-back five-catch, 56-yard games and it's only a matter of time before the vertical threat makes a big play down the field. The Dolphins appear ripe for the picking. Victor Cruz, for what it's worth disappeared last week with a 2-12 line.
Jabar Gaffney, Washington (Buffalo, Toronto)
Santana Moss is out for a few games and Gaffney becomes the No. 1 wide receiver. While Fred Davis is the defacto No. 1 target in the offense, Gaffney still has plenty of value against the big-play prone Bills defense. This Redskin might not even need to reach the endzone to validate a starting spot this weekend.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh (New England)
The speedy wideout posted season highs in catches (7) and yards (102) last weekend against the terrible Arizona Cardinals. New England hasn’t been much better against the pass and this AFC rivalry has traditionally been a high-scoring affair. Brown is a quality bye-week stopgap this weekend.
Bench These Wide Receivers
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis (at Tennessee)
Fantasy owners must cringe at Wayne's game log since Curtis Painter took over. His once prestigious yardage totals have dropped three weeks in a row and his Painter highs are five catches (Week 6), 77 yards (Week 5) and nary a touchdown in four starts. Wayne is what he is: The No. 31 ranked fantasy wide receiver. Pierre Garcon isn't
Sidney Rice, Seattle (Cincinnati)
The Bengals cover duo of Leon Hall and Nate Clements has been excellent in 2011. I documented where the Bengals' defense has ranked and there is no reason to think that pattern will change against an offense that mustered 97 yards through the air last week against Cleveland. If Tavaris Jackson plays, bump Rice from a WR4 to a WR3.
Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis (New Orleans)
Each week that goes by should make owners more and more comfortable with Lloyd adapting to the new offensive scheme. Of course, if Sam Bradford plays, his value probably reaches WR3 status for this week due to the potentially high-scoring nature of this game.
Denver Broncos (Detroit)
From an aerial perspective, Tebow will struggle most weeks. His fantasy value is saved by his ability to improvise and pick up points on the ground. Eric Decker and company don't have such a luxury. The rapport Demaryius Thomas might have with Tebow further complicates the Broncos' receiving options.
Start These Tight Ends
Fred Davis, Washington (at Buffalo)
With Santana Moss out, Davis becomes the No. 1 target for John Beck.
Heath Miller, Pittsburgh (New England)
Has scored in two of his last three and the Pats' pass defense is atrocious.
Jake Ballard, NY Giants (Miami)
Has caught eight passes for 153 yards and a TD in last two. Beatable match-up.
Bench These Tight Ends
Dallas Clark, Indianapolis (at Tennessee)
Curtis Painter has yet to fully utilize the talented tight end.
Start These Defenses/Special Teams
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Should see plenty of offense…and turnovers, mistakes and special teams potential.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Seattle Seahawks
Should see no offense whatsoever in this one – maybe AJ Green reaches paydirt.
Bench These Defenses/Special Teams
New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Two offenses clicking through the air in what has been a traditionally high-scoring affair.