Bring it on, Week 5! Four teams on a bye this week? No problem. We can work around that. Injuries? Pffffft! Comes with the territory. This is what the fantasy football season is all about. It’s not just what you do in the first few weeks – resting on your laurels after a good draft and picking the waiver wire clean –it’s how your team stacks up through the times when your studs are taking a seat for the week. This is where the depths of your knowledge are tested.
Since Ray Flowers was kind enough to go position by position earlier today, I’ll go game by game here and throw out some fantasy thoughts that may help make your decision-making process a little easier. I’m not going to sit here and talk about starting Drew Brees or Roddy White; that’s not going to help very much. No, in this piece I’m going to look at some of the role players and see who you might be able to use in the comings weeks as more and more of your core players get a little time off.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
On the Cardinals side, the big questions revolve around Ryan Williams and Andre Roberts. First the easy part – Roberts. He’s definitely stepped up and is the clear-cut number two lining up opposite Larry Fitzgerald. With 229 yards, four touchdowns, a target percentage of 18.5 and four red zone targets, he’s done a tremendous job building up his credibility as a go-to guy. He makes for a very solid WR3 right now. Williams, on the other hand, still need to prove himself and this is the perfect time. The Rams allow an average of 135.3 yards per game on the ground and have allowed six rushing touchdowns through four games. If Williams can’t get it done here then he’s got problems.
For the Rams, the biggest question mark is the ground game. Steven Jackson is still dealing with his groin issue, so everyone wants to know about starting Daryl Richardson. Bottom line is this: unless Jackson is 100% and not limited in practice, then Richardson is a viable play if you’re in dire need of a RB or a flex play. Is he going to put up big points? Probably not, but he’ll be better than nothing and likely more helpful than some shlock receiver who gets only one or two targets a game.
Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts
It doesn’t look like Greg Jennings is going to play so look for James Jones to get a bunch of work as opposed to Randall Cobb. Figure that Aaron Rodgers will spend most of his time looking for Jordy Nelson as well but Jones should be worth a start if you have a gap to fill. Cedric Benson has another good match-up as the Colts have allowed an average of 131.3 rushing yards per game and four rushing touchdowns through three games.
It looks like another tough week for Donald Brown as the Packers have allowed just one rushing touchdown through four games this season. It’s probably safe to assume that the Colts will have to air it out which means plenty of work for Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. Maybe Coby Fleener too, but he’s been a bit of a disappointment through the first three games.
Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs
The Ravens offense is looking pretty strong and very well balanced lately. Ray Rice gets a ton of work and Joe Flacco is doing a very good job of spreading the ball around to Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta. So long as the offensive line holds up, they are all decent plays against a Chiefs defense that has been vulnerable to both the pass and the run.
While Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe are beasts, the rest of the Chiefs’ offense has been somewhat of a disappointment. Dexter McCluster had a good Week 1, but hasn’t done much since and tight end Tony Moeaki has been invisible. They’re a two-trick pony club right now and could have a very tough time if the Ravens defense is pumped up enough.
Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals
Maybe it was because Reggie Bush was banged up, but the Fins have been a little too pass-happy lately. Brian Hartline has stepped it up, but I agree with ray when I tell you to keep your expectations in check. Solid for PPR play, but you just can’t rely on him week in and week out. Not to mention, the Bengals are leading the NFL in sacks right now and have a solid pass rush, so little rookie Ryan Tannehill could be in for a long day. Tight end Anthony Fasano might be worth a look off your waiver wire if he’s available. Fifteen targets over the last two games with one touchdown.
Slowly but surely, Andrew Hawkins is becoming one of my favorite receivers this year. Before last week’s lousy game, he was rolling with touchdowns in two straight and 130 of his 200-odd yards came after the catch. With the Fins pass defense coughing up 298 yards per game with six touchdowns, Hawkins could find himself with a few extra targets as Miami tries to contain A.J. Green. Their run defense should handle BenJarvis Green-Ellis pretty well, so hopefully it all rests on Andy Dalton here.
Philadelphia Eagles at Pittsburgh Steelers
Michael Vick bruised his knee last week, but appears to be fine and ready for action this week. He may not run as much, but hopefully he won’t have to now that his receiving corps is back and healthy. Jeremy Maclin is looking to rebound from a horrible game last week, but that was his first game action since the hip flexor injury.
The ground game for the Steelers has just been a disaster this season. Will the addition of Rashard Mendenhall help things out? Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman has been able to do much with the limited work they’ve been given, so Mike Tomlin is obviously looking for someone to step up. If Mendenhall actually gets into the game this week (certainly not a guarantee), he could be worthy of a flex play if you’re having bye-week issues.
Atlanta Falcons at Washington Redskins
Jacquizz Rodgers does not get enough work to make him even a legitimate flex play, so stop asking if you should trade for him. He had one strong game, and while the Falcons offense is rolling right now, the coaching staff is going to take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Michael Turner will continue to get the bulk of the work and Rodgers may get a handful of carries. Besides, Washington’s run defense has given up just two touchdowns on the ground this year and is giving up an average of just 89 rushing yards per game.
If Pierre Garcon is starting, then given the fact that the Skins might have to air it out in the second half, you should play him. Leonard Hankerson hasn’t been doing much and there’s little or no chemistry between Robert Griffin III and tight end Fred Davis. Atlanta run D ranks 29th in the NFL and has coughed up six touchdowns on the ground this year, so Alfred Morris is definitely worth starting.
Cleveland Browns at New York Giants
Brandon Weedon needs more reliable receivers. Greg Little can’t catch and Jordan Norwood is unreliable right now. With Mohammed Massaquoi and tight end Alex Smith hurt, this could be the coming out party for rookie Jordan Cameron. If the Giants run D stuffs Trent Richardson, Cameron could be in line for more targets.
With Ahmad Bradshaw back, Andre Brown is nothing more than bench depth now. He’s not even worthy of a flex play anymore, so if you’ve got him, stash him and wait for Bradshaw to get banged up again. With Ramses Barden diagnosed with a concussion, there’s no question that Domenik Hixon is the guy to own. Hakeem Nicks might not play again this week, so Hixon could be in line for another big week.
Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
This is Marshawn Lynch’s team now since Russell Wilson has proven to be nothing but sub-mediocre. That, in turn, has made both Golden Tate and Sidney Rice very unreliable plays. Rumors have been swirling about, speculating that Matt Flynn might take over soon, but that’s not happening this week. When it eventually does happen, we can revisit the value of the wideouts.
The ground game is always tough to deal with as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart split the work and you just never know who’s going to break out. Problem this week is that it could be neither as the Seahawks give up an average of just 62.8 yards per game. Cam Newton is probably going to have to stick to the air which means Steve Smith and Greg Olsen should be in line for plenty of targets.
Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars
While the Jaguars pass defense might be allowing 255 yards per game, Jay Cutler might be afforded too many opportunities to air it out as this game could be dominated by the ground work. The Jags allow an average of 150.3 rushing yards per game and have allowed six rushing touchdowns this season. While Matt Forte should get the bulk of the work, if the Bears go up early, Michael Bush could get a lot of work and be worthy of a flex play.
Justin Blackmon had 10 targets last week and hauled in six catches for 48 yards. Nothing spectacular, by any means, but it is slightly encouraging. If the Jags really do get Blackmon more involved in the passing game, he’ll soon be worthy of a roster spot. For now, the match-up against the Bears doesn’t look good so he can be left on the wire a little longer.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
This one doesn’t even need to be broken down. Another epic battle between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning is headed your way, so start them all. I wouldn’t be getting all juiced up about Lance Ball or Brandon Bolden here, but Stevan Ridley and Willis McGahee should both have solid games before the gunslingers fully take over.
Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers
With both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller both ready to play, the ground attack goes back to a time share situation which means both can be used as a flex but neither can really be counted on as a primary running back. It could be a long day for the Bills offense, but if they can get down inside the red zone, Scott Chandler could get some decent work in this week.
Owners of Frank Gore should be wary of what’s going down right now as Brandon Jacobs is likely to make an appearance this week provided he practices in full either Thursday or Friday. Between Jacobs and Kendall Hunter and offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s desire to give defenses a number of looks to prepare for, Gore’s carries could start to dwindle over the next few weeks. On the passing front, look for Mario Manningham to possibly step up as he and Alex Smith continue to improve their on-field chemistry.
Tennessee Titans at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Hasselbeck will be under center this week and while the Vikings pass defense is ranked just 15th in the league, owners of Titans offensive players need to remember what the Vikings di to the 49ers in Week 3. Even if Kenny Britt does make it back, he could be a suspect play. Chris Johnson owners need to hold onto what he did last week for thoughts on the rest of the season as opposed to what happens with him this year. The Vikings run D has allowed only one rushing touchdown this year and gives up an average of just 85.3 yards per game.
Given the fact that the Titans pass defense is atrocious and has coughed up 10 passing touchdowns this season and an average of 285 passing yards per game, I’m declaring this week as Percy Harvin’s coming out party. Kyle Rudolph will get in on the action as well, but this is going to be Harvin’s week to shine.
San Diego Chargers at New Orleans Saints
The potential time share we’re looking at between Ryan Mathews and Jackie Battle should be worrying Mathews’ fantasy owners as Battle will be the one to get the goal-line work. It will be as bad as when Mike Tolbert was poaching all the work and eventually pushed Mathews to the side in several games. Since the Saints run D is the worst in the NFL, both should still be worthy of a flex play this week. I’ll also say that Robert Meachem, who has been a huge disappointment this season, could be in line for a breakout with the added motivation of playing his old team.
On the Saints side, it should be business as usual as they look for their first win of the season. The ground game, save for pass out to the flat to Darren Sproles should be as unreliable as ever, so expect Drew Brees to air it out. Lance Moore is getting more targets lately, but if he wants that to continue, he’s going to have to start making bigger and better catches.
Houston Texans at New York Jets
The Texans defense is intense and the Jets offense is a mess. Maybe Jeremy Kerley is worth a waiver pick-up if you’re really desperate, but what good is he with no one to throw him the ball? In the reverse, the Jets D is giving up 172.8 rushing yards per game and seven rushing touchdowns and they’ve turned to former running back James McKnight for cornerback help with Darelle Revis out for the year. Start your Texans, sit your Jets.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.