Indianapolis and Pittsburgh are both back in action in Week 5, but Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay all get a break, which means even more players will be unavailable this week compared to last. Those who have Matthew Stafford or Tony Romo will be looking for a starting quarterback, while owners will also have to find a way to make do without Calvin Johnson, Darren McFadden and others this week.
Byes aside, everyone has to get their teams in order for this weekend’s action, and Athlon Sports is here to help you make those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, NFL.com or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.
Bye week teams: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay
Sneaky Start of the Week
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego at New Orleans
No doubt, Mathews owners were a little worried if they took a look at the box score from San Diego’s 37-20 victory over Kansas City last week. If they did, they would have seen that Mathews had 14 carries and two receptions, but Jackie Battle had 15 and four, not to mention two touchdowns and 12.9 more fantasy points (22.1 to 9.2).
Some of this discrepancy can be explained in that Chargers head coach Norv Turner apparently benched Mathews at the start of the game due to a Week 3 fumble. While nothing was announced or, more impressively, was leaked regarding this decision prior to kickoff, what’s more telling is that after it came to light both the running back and coach seemed to be on the same page about it. In other words, message delivered, message received, let’s move on.
Unfortunately, further developments, namely the fact that Battle, and not Mathews, is currently listed atop the Chargers’ depth chart, would lead one to assume that this perhaps this matter isn’t over. Last week and depth chart positioning aside, I am fairly confident that it will only be a matter of time before this is behind everyone and that Mathews resumes his rightful place as the Chargers’ No. 1 back.
In fact, I am willing to go so far as to say that regardless of whether he starts or not this Sunday in New Orleans, that Mathews will do more than enough damage to merit starting for your fantasy team. The Saints are dead last in the NFL in both total defense and rushing defense, as they are allowing 186.8 yards on the ground. That’s more than enough for both Battle and Mathews to get theirs, and then some.
New Orleans also is allowing more than 30 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, including 21.6 to Alfred Morris in Week 1 and 37.8 to Jamaal Charles in Week 3. While I don’t anticipate either Mathews or Battle reaching either of those levels, I am expecting them to do something along the lines of what the Carolina duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams did in Week 2. In that game, Williams had more carries and rushing yards than Stewart, but Stewart was more productive as a receiver and ended up with slightly more fantasy points (13.3 to 12.9). Mathews is more versatile and more of a threat out of the backfield as a receiver than Battle, and I am expecting him to do a little more damage that way against the Saints, which will help him to finish with more fantasy points than his teammate.
Surprise Sit of the Week
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville vs. Chicago
I know, I know. You never sit your studs. In general this is a theory I subscribe to, so by naming MJD here, I am not necessarily saying that you MUST sit him. I am merely trying to prepare his owners for what I believe will be a fairly pedestrian day at the office this Sunday.
Jones-Drew is currently seventh in the NFL in rushing with 352 yards and is averaging nearly five yards per carry. Quite an accomplishment considering he missed basically all of the preseason because of a contract holdout. However, a closer look at his numbers reveal that he’s had one fantastic game and three fairly ordinary ones.
In Week 3 against Indianapolis, Jones-Drew rambled for 177 yards on 28 carries (6.3 ypc) and a touchdown. In the three other games he has 175 yards on 54 carries (3.2 ypc) and no scores. Chicago is currently third in the league in rushing defense, allowing just 67.3 yards per game, 3.6 yards per carry, and the Bears have given up just one rushing touchdown.
Fantasy-wise, the Bears are allowing the third-fewest points to opposing running backs, having already shut down DeMarco Murray and Steven Jackson. Cedric Benson’s 81 yards in Week 2 is by far the most rushing yards they have allowed to a single back so far, and that was in a game in which Green Bay intercepted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler four times.
Jones-Drew is the best running back the Bears have faced yet, no argument here. However, the Monsters of the Midway have been up to the task to this point when it comes to defending the run. More importantly, I just don’t see Jaguars second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert faring any better than Tony Romo (5 INTs), Aaron Rodgers (1 TD, 1 INT) or Andrew Luck (1 TD, 3 INTs) did against the Bears’ D, allowing the Monsters of the Midway to focus their attention on stopping MJD. Jones-Drew won’t be shut out, he’s too talented and tough for that, but he’s going to have to earn every yard he gets this Sunday, and I just don’t think it will be all that many.
Andrew Luck (IND) vs. GB
Since throwing three interceptions in his pro debut in Chicago, Luck has a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Outside of Jay Cutler, Green Bay has allowed the opposing quarterback to score at least 19 fantasy points, and gave up 35.8 to Drew Brees in last week’s win at home. Luck isn’t Brees, not yet anyways, but he’s more than capable of taking what the defense allows and finding a way to move his team down the field. The Colts have allowed just five sacks in their first three games, which will be key against the Packers. I think they find a way to keep Luck upright, and if anything, the game situation will probably allow Luck plenty of opportunities to air it out in the second half.
Alex Smith (SF) vs. BUF
Smith posted back-to-back solid games to open the season, but has seen his production decline since then. Against Minnesota he saw his franchise record for passes without an interception come to an end. Then last week against the Jets, he didn’t need to throw the ball that much as the 49ers rushed for more than 250 yards and dominated the proceedings from start to finish. That could very well be the case this Sunday against Buffalo, but instead I am saying the coaching staff will let Smith take a few more shots down field against a Bills defense that is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
Christian Ponder (MIN) vs. TEN
The Vikings’ young quarterback is 8th in the league in passer rating and has yet to throw an interception. However, he’s also 25th in the league in passing yards, 22nd in passing attempts and has just four touchdown passes in four games. If there’s ever a week to let the second-year starter air it out it’s this week. Tennessee is allowing opponents to complete more than 75 percent of their passes, 285 yards per game through the air, and has given up 10 touchdown passes compared to just one interception. The Vikings’ offense also finally got Jerome Simpson back from suspension last week, giving Ponder another weapon in the passing game, along with fellow receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Cam Newton (CAR) vs. Seattle
It probably seems like I’m picking on Newton, but actually I’m not. He certainly proved me wrong last week with his three-touchdown, zero-turnover effort against Atlanta. However, Seattle’s defense is fourth in the league in total yards allowed and their pass rush is even more disruptive than Atlanta’s. The difference here, in my opinion, is that the Seahawks will be able to contain Newton in the pocket more and limit his yards if he does escape. I also don’t see Newton finishing this game without turning it over at least once, even if this one is at home.
Michael Vick (PHI) at PIT
Like Newton, Vick is a dual threat who can hurt you with both his arm and his legs. Vick’s biggest issue so far has been turnovers, as he’s already produced nine (6 INTs, 3 fumbles) of them. However, Vick didn’t turn the ball over once in leading his Eagles to a win over the Giants this past Sunday night, and Pittsburgh’s defense has only produced three takeaways of its own. So why is Vick in the Sit section, you ask? 1) I don’t think Vick plays another turnover-free game, he’s been somewhat erratic (56.8 completion rate) when he’s thrown the ball, and hasn’t been all that dangerous (4.8 ypc) when running it. 2) The Steelers welcome back hard-hitters and defensive leaders Troy Polamalu and James Harrison this Sunday, have had an extra week to get healthy and prepare for Vick and the Eagles, and have allowed only 190 yards passing per game so far. Also, while Vick didn’t turn the ball over a single time against the Giants, he still only put up 20.5 fantasy points. I just don’t see him putting together a big game in this one.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (BUF) at SF
Fitzpatrick leads the league in touchdown passes with 12 and is tied for second in interceptions with seven. He had four of each in the Bills’ 52-28 loss to New England last Sunday. This week the Bills are in San Francisco to take on a 49ers defense that’s sixth in the league in passing defense and has already held in check both Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. Chances are Fitzpatrick will finish Week 5 as a league leader, but my thinking is that it will be for interceptions and not touchdowns. Several solid starting quarterbacks are already missing this week because they are on bye, but I still think there are better options out there than Fitzpatrick for Week 5.
Cedric Benson (GB) at IND
After a slow start out of the gates in Week 1 against San Francisco, Benson has averaged 95.3 total yards and 13.5 fantasy points over his last three games. The biggest omission from his production to this point has been the end zone, as in he’s yet to find it. Green Bay’s offense obviously goes through Rodgers and his right arm, but the Packers have put more emphasis on the running game as of late. Here’s saying that continues against Indianapolis, who is giving up 131.3 yards per game rushing.
Alfred Morris (WAS) vs. ATL
Morris has gone from a nice story during training camp to surprise Week 1 starter to, dare I say it, reliable fantasy option. The main reason for this is twofold – Morris is getting the touches (averaging 20.5 carries per game) and the rest of the ‘Skins backfield is either banged up (or worse) or has been ineffective when given an opportunity. The bottom line is this – Morris is the man right now in the backfield and you want to keep rolling with him this week against an Atlanta defense that’s 29th in the league against the run.
Pierre Thomas (NO) vs. SD
Yes, the Saints also have Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram in their backfield, but this recommendation of Thomas is more of a usage thing. Thomas is second to Ingram in carries by only four fewer attempts, but he’s leading the team by far in rushing yards (152). What’s more, Thomas is fifth on the team in both receptions (11) and targets (16), meaning he’s getting his chances as a receiver too. Sproles is the undisputed backfield receiver, but Brees throws enough and spreads it out enough for others, like Thomas, to benefit. This week’s match-up with San Diego looks to be one of those prime opportunities as the Chargers have given up the third-most receptions (32) to opposing running backs. These factors make Thomas an appealing RB3/flex option this week.
Michael Turner (ATL) at WAS
Turner turned back the clock last week against Carolina, rushing for 103 yards and also taking a pass 60 yards for a touchdown. It was good to see Turner show off some of that speed and breakaway ability that seemed to be missing at the start of the season. Then again, this was against the Panthers, who are allowing the most fantasy points to opposing running backs. This week, I think the going will be a little tougher for Turner against Washington, who is giving up 89 yards on the ground per game. I also expect the Falcons to attack the Redskins’ 31st-ranked pass defense a little more than they will run it, which in turn limits Turner’s opportunities.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (CIN) vs. MIA
The Law Firm can’t seem to get out of his own way. He’s getting the carries (averaging 20.5 per game), but not the yards (286, 3.5 ypc) or the touchdowns (2 total). He hasn’t been much of a threat out of the backfield (6 rec., 46 yds.) and has already lost two fumbles, which is uncharacteristic of him. Miami is No. 1 in the league in rush defense, as the Dolphins are giving up just 56.8 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. This seems like a pretty good week to leave BJGE on your bench.
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller (BUF) at SF
I’m sure Jackson and Spiller owners alike were happy to see their guys back in action last Sunday against New England. I’m not so sure how they felt after the duo combined for 117 total yards, no scores and two lost fumbles, or a total of 10.2 fantasy points. That’s not enough for a starting running back and this was their combined output. Both seemed to make it through no worse for the wear in coming back from their respective injuries, but this also means they will be sharing the touches from here out. I’m not saying there’s not enough opportunities for each to produce, and I am curious to see how the timeshare plays out (who gets the most carries, what’s the breakdown). Just not this week, in San Francisco against a 49ers defense that’s allowing 3.2 yards per carry, has surrendered one rushing touchdown so far and has yielded less than 10 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. No thank you.
Domenik Hixon (NYG) vs. CLE
In Week 3 against Carolina, Ramses Barden exploded for nine catches and 138 yards starting in place of an injured Hakeem Nicks AND Hixon, who missed the game due to concussion-related symptoms. Hixon returned last week to catch nine passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, as Nicks missed a second straight game. Nicks isn’t playing again this week against Cleveland, who is allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and is still missing Joe Haden, their best defensive back. Barden isn’t expected to play either as he suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to the Eagles. So who does that leave?
James Jones (GB) at IND
One could make the argument that Jones, who is leading the Packers in touchdown catches with three, is second in yards (191) and fourth in receptions (16), is already a decent WR3/flex option. This argument only gets stronger with the knowledge that Greg Jennings will miss this week’s game (and possibly more) because of a groin injury. Jones may not get the official start opposite Jordy Nelson, but he’ll be out there plenty and should get strong consideration to receive the start from you if you own him or choose to pick him up.
Kendall Wright (TEN) vs. MIN
Wright leads all rookie wide receivers in catches with 18 and while he may not have accumulated lots of yards (148, 8.2 ypc) so far, it’s clear he’s getting plenty of opportunities. Even though he’s the Titans’ No. 3 receiver, he leads the team in targets by 13 over tight end Jared Cook and with fellow wideout Kenny Britt hampered by an ankle injury that could keep him out another week, this trend should continue. Also it’s worth pointing out that Wright’s first career touchdown pass, an 11-yarder in the fourth quarter at Houston last week, came courtesy of Matt Hasselbeck. Why’s that significant you ask? Because it’s Hasselbeck, and not Jake Locker, who will be the Titans’ starting quarterback this Sunday against Minnesota, as Locker is out with a shoulder injury. There appears to be no reason to think that Hasselbeck won’t continue to look Wright’s way in the passing game.
Dwayne Bowe (KC) vs. BAL
This is more of an indictment of Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel than Bowe. Cassel has thrown twice as many interceptions (four) as touchdowns (two) the past two weeks and has completed less than 60 percent of his attempts in that span. Baltimore has been susceptible to the pass, allowing Brandon Weeden to throw for 320 yards last week. However, they also have only allowed two receiving touchdowns so far and are still capable of forcing a turnover or two. Just not crazy about how this appears to be setting up for Bowe and his mates.
Jeremy Maclin (PHI) at PIT
In his defense, Maclin has been dealing with a couple of different hip ailments, which have limited his practice time and kept him from taking the field in Week 3. The real concern, however, is what he’s done when he has played, which is two catches for 30 yards in his last two games. One of those did go for a touchdown, but Maclin owners are looking for and needing more production from him. Unfortunately, I think the hip is still an issue and the Pittsburgh defense, with Troy Polamalu back in the secondary, will be an even bigger one come Sunday. The Eagles are off in Week 7. Maclin owners may have to be patient and hope for better things starting in Week 8. Right now, I don’t think he’s startable.
Pierre Garcon (WAS) vs. ATL
Similar to Maclin, Garcon also has been hampered significantly by a foot injury. Since breaking out for four receptions, 109 yards and a long TD (80 yards) against New Orleans in Week 1, Garcon has played in one game and caught a total of, wait for it, one pass for 20 yards. He does finally appear to be getting healthier, as he’s been practicing fully for the first time in weeks, but his absence has allowed others, namely receiver Leonard Hankerson and tight end Fred Davis, to work on chemistry with rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Until Garcon makes it through an entire game and posts some decent numbers, you may want to stash him away and hope Week 1 doesn’t end up as his lone highlight for this season.
Fred Davis (WAS) vs. ATL
In Washington’s first two games, Davis caught a combined four passes for 52 yards. In the past two, he’s caught 11 for 160. The only bugaboo that remains is he’s still searching for his first touchdown. I think that changes this week against the Falcons, who allowed Carolina’s Greg Olsen to go for 6-89-1 last week.
Joel Dreessen (DEN) at NE
Denver has two reliable tight ends in Jacob Tamme and Dreessen. Tamme is leading his position mate in targets, receptions and yards rather comfortably. However, Dreessen has two touchdowns to Tamme’s one. New England is allowing the second-most fantasy points to tight ends and Peyton Manning is not afraid to throw to either of his. Tamme may be the safer pick here because he gets more opportunities, but I say Dreessen is the one who makes the most of his by finding the end zone this Sunday in Foxboro.
Heath Miller (PIT) vs. PHI
Miller is tied for second in the league with four touchdown catches and he’s had an extra week to let his ribs heal completely. That’s great for Miller and his owners, but here’s what’s not: the Eagles are allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends and held the Giants’ Martellus Bennett (No. 6 TE in fantasy) to one catch for two yards last week. Miller owners may be better off if they extend his break another week.
Tony Moeaki (KC) vs. BAL
Kevin Boss has been sidelined by injury, which theoretically should open up the door for Moeaki. Remember, Moeaki burst on the scene in 2010 when he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns as a rookie. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the same since he tore his ACL during the preseason last year and has just nine catches for 76 yards and no touchdowns so far. There’s no telling when, or if, Moeaki will return to his rookie-year form and no reason why he should even be on your radar right now.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans
The Vikings are fourth among defense/special teams in fantasy scoring. They are capable of getting after the quarterback (12 sacks) and the big kick return (2 TDs). The Titans’ offense has been inconsistent to start the season, is making a switch at quarterback (although Matt Hasselbeck has plenty of starting experience), and is allowing 27.4 yards (eighth-highest in NFL) on kickoff returns. Seems like a decent match-up to me, no?
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
This is certainly not a pick based on statistics. Granted the Steelers have only played three games so far, but they still have a total of just five sacks and three turnovers on defense. No, this choice is more circumstance-driven, if you will, as the Steel Curtain happily welcomes back two of its key members – safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison. Do I think the addition of two All-Pro playmakers to the Steelers’ defense will make that much of a difference? Yes, yes, I do and we will see why starting this Sunday against the Eagles.
Green Bay Packers vs. Indianapolis Colts
The Packers are doing a good job of getting to the quarterback (14 sacks, 4th in the NFL), but they aren’t really forcing that many turnovers. The Colts have done a pretty good job of protecting Andrew Luck (5 sacks allowed, tied for 29th) and since throwing three picks against Chicago, he’s had only one interception in his past two games. I think the Colts’ offensive line will give Luck enough time and the rookie will continue to take care of the ball in a game that allows the home team to pile up some yards and put some points on the board against the Packers.
New York Jets vs. Houston (Monday)
As bad as the Jets’ offense has been recently, the defense hasn’t exactly been stellar. They gave up 254 yards on the ground against San Francisco last week and have just five sacks on the season. Enter an undefeated Texans team that loves to run the ball (most rushing attempts in NFL) and has given up a total of three sacks in four games. The Jets’ offense won’t be able to put up much of a fight against a stout Texans’ defense, which allows the Texans to wear down the Jets and pound them into submission with the ground game by the second half.
Blair Walsh (MIN) vs. Tennessee
Walsh, a rookie, is 9-of-10 so far on field goal attempts, including three makes from 50 yards and out. He’s attempted more field goals than PATs (9). The Titans are allowing 37.8 points per game, the most in the league. What more could you ask for?
Robbie Gould (CHI) at Jacksonville
The always-reliable Gould is a perfect 20-for-20 on all of his kicks (12 PAT, 8 FG) so far. The thinking here is that his kick distribution evens up a little bit this week. The Bears will be able to drive the ball against the Jaguars, but have to settle for three enough times to allow Gould to put up double digits.
David Akers (SF) vs. Buffalo
Akers will score, as will the 49ers, but the majority of his kicks against the Bills will count for one point, not three.
Nick Folk (NYJ) vs. Houston (Monday)
The Jets scored no points against San Francisco, the No. 5 defense in the NFL. Next up is Houston, who just happens to be the No. 3 defense. It’s kind of hard for a kicker to score if his team doesn’t/can’t move the ball, right?
— By Mark Ross, published on Oct. 5, 2012