Welcome to Week 7 of the NFL season, also known as the lightest slate of action before the playoffs get started. Six teams are on bye this week, which to the fans means there are only 13 games on tap. To the fantasy owners, however, this means a lot of players aren’t available and quite a few teams will be going deep into their bench to put together a starting lineup.
Athlon Sports is here to help you make all of 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: Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego
Sneaky Start of the Week
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee at Buffalo
Hasselbeck will make his third, and probably final, start this week in Buffalo in place of Jake Locker. Locker has been sidelined the past three weeks with a shoulder injury, but he returned to practice this week and Titans head coach Mike Munchak has already said the second-year player will get his job back from the veteran Hasselbeck once he’s healthy.
So if this is in fact Hasselbeck’s last start (provided Locker stays healthy), what better way for him to go out than to get the NFL’s worst defense, no? Prior to last week, Buffalo had given up more than 1,200 yards and 97 points in a span of two games.
While the Bills’ D looked much better in the overtime win in Arizona, this unit still has its share of issues. In fact, this game features two of the bottom three defenses in the entire league, so chances are this affair will feature plenty of offensive fireworks.
I like Hasselbeck to go back to the bench swinging, if you will, as the Bills are allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks. If Chris Johnson can take advantage of the Bills’ rush defense (worst in the league), that should open up things even more for Hasselbeck, who has multiple weapons in the passing game in receivers Kenny Britt, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright, as well as tight end Jared Cook. The Titans may not win, but if you decide to start Hasselbeck, I think you will at least like that outcome.
Surprise Sit of the Week
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina vs. Dallas
Even though Smith is not currently leading the Panthers in receptions (tight end Greg Olsen is with 22), he’s still Cam Newton’s top target. The problem with this lies in the fact that the Panthers are 27th in the league in passing offense and Newton hasn’t been near as productive this season as he was at the start of his record-setting 2011 campaign.
Smith has a total of 21 receptions in the Panthers’ first five games. He’s still getting it done in terms of yardage (18.5 ypc), but he has yet to find the end zone. Since opening the season with consecutive 100-yard efforts, Smith has averaged less than four catches and 60 yards receiving over the past three games.
Dallas is No. 1 in both total and passing defense and has allowed the fewest receptions and yards to opposing wide receivers. Outside of Brandon Marshall (138 yards) and Anquan Boldin (98) no wide receiver has gone for more than 58 yards receiving against the Cowboys.
The Panthers’ offensive line is in a state of flux without All-Pro center Ryan Kalil, so don’t be surprised if Newton has no choice but to get rid of the ball quickly and for the Panthers to try and do some damage with short, underneath routes, which is not necessarily Smith’s bread and butter. Neither the match-up nor the likely offensive game plan, otherwise known as chuck and duck or tuck and run, bodes well for the dynamic, diminutive wideout.
Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) at Cincinnati
Somewhat quietly, Big Ben is putting together yet another solid, productive season. He’s fourth in passer rating and tenth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, and eight of those in front of him have the benefit of one more game played. He has thrown 10 touchdown passes compared to only two interceptions (and has yet to lose a fumble), which is even more impressive considering the injuries and upheaval that the Steelers’ offensive line has already gone through. Roethlisberger is 12-4 in his career against Cincinnati, this week’s opponent, and he has accounted for a total of 23 touchdowns (20 pass, 3 rush) in those 16 games. Provided his patchwork o-line gives him enough time to throw the ball, it should be another productive day at the office for No. 7.
Andrew Luck (IND) vs. CLE
Luck is averaging 300 yards per game and has thrown six touchdowns and just two interceptions at Lucas Oil Stadium. Cleveland is 30th in the league in pass defense (294.2 ypg) and has allowed 15 passing touchdowns in six games. Care to guess where and against whom the Colts are playing this Sunday?
Ryan Fitzpatrick (BUF) vs. TEN
Matt Hasselbeck may have gotten the “Surprise Start” nod above, but that’s not to take anything away from Fitzpatrick or rather his match-up against Tennessee’s defense. As was stated previously, this game features two of the league’s bottom three defenses, not to mention that the Titans are 29th against the pass. Fitzpatrick’s biggest issue this season has been interceptions as he has eight already, but the Titans have only picked off four passes, while surrendering 13 scoring strikes. This Buffalo-Tennessee tilt is what I would call a “Green Light Fantasy Special,” meaning I wouldn’t hesitate to start any of your Bills or Titans here, other than the defenses of course.
Matt Schaub (HOU) vs. BAL
This is not a knock on Schaub, who is a capable passer (12th in passer rating) and does a good job of protecting the ball (4 total turnovers). It’s just that Houston loves to run the ball, as the Texans are sixth in rushing yards and second in attempts. Plus there’s the matter of this week’s opponent, Baltimore, who have gave up a franchise-worst 227 yards on the ground to the Cowboys last week. The Texans strangely went away from the run early in last week's game against the Packers, which contributed to their offense sputtering, resulting in them falling behind early and eventually losing big. I don’t think the coaching staff makes that same mistake twice, especially against a Ray Lewis-less Ravens defense.
Christian Ponder (MIN) vs. ARI
Ponder was flawless in his first four games, throwing no picks and contributing five total touchdowns. In the past two games he has thrown four touchdown passes, but also four interceptions. Arizona is allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and has picked off more passes compared to aerial scores allowed. This seems like a good week for the Vikings to put more of the offensive burden on running back Adrian Peterson rather than their second-year quarterback.
Sam Bradford (STL) vs. GB
Bradford is coming off of a season-high 315-yard effort, in which he didn’t throw a touchdown pass and also got sacked three times. Oh and the Rams lost too. This week the Rams host the Packers, a team that leads the NFL in sacks (21) and just handled a previously undefeated Houston team rather easily. While he should get plenty of opportunities to throw the ball, I’m just not so sure he will have enough time to pull the trigger.
Trent Richardson (CLE) at IND
So it appears I was a week early in including Richardson here, as a rib injury and a fairly stingy Cincinnati defense held the rookie to just 37 yards on 14 carries. The important thing is Cleveland won, right? Oh yeah, there’s also the little matter that the Browns get the Colts this week. Richardson has insisted all along that he won’t let the rib/cartilage issue prevent him from playing this week. Then again I think pretty much every running back in the league would say the same thing if they had a date with Indianapolis awaiting them. Don’t forget the Colts put up little resistance to the Jets’ ground and pound attack last week, including 161 yards and three touchdowns to Shonn Greene alone. Flak jacket? Check. Momentum after last week’s win? Check. Really bad rush defense on tap? Double check. Talented, bruising young back ready to roll? Oh yeah.
Felix Jones (DAL) at CAR
Thanks to a foot injury suffered by DeMarco Murray, Jones saw his first significant action in some time and made the most of it. He started things off early with a 22-yard scoring run and finished the day with 92 yards on 18 carries. Murray’s sidelined at least this week after the Cowboys discovered he sustained some ligament damage in his left foot, which means Jones will get the start against Carolina. Jones has disappointed many a fantasy owner in the past with his untapped potential and injury-prone nature, but I think this time it will be different. He looked pretty good against the Ravens last week and should find some running room against the Panthers on Sunday. Carolina is allowing the third-most fantasy points to running backs and is giving up an average of 127.4 yards on the ground per game.