All the way back in Week 4, fantasy owners had to deal with six teams having the week off -- Bye-maggeden, it was dubbed by some -- and it included some pretty prolific fantasy players. After a month of 2-team bye weeks, this week and next are gonna hurt.
Six teams -- Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills and Tennessee Titans -- are all on bye this week. Six more -- Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Houston Texans, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins --are off next week.
With the fantasy playoff looming, these next two weeks are going to test your mettle as a fantasy football team owner. Hopefully, you've built some strong depth on your roster.
And if my some miracle, these super bye weeks aren't affecting your team all that much, now is a time to build some depth. Inevitably, someone in your league is going to cut a player that has no business being on the waiver wire for you to swoop in and stash.
Bills RB Fred Jackson, who is currently injured and whose team is on bye, is a prime example of this. Jackson is due back right before the fantasy playoffs, and has juicy matchups with the Browns (Week 13), Packers (Week 15) and Raiders (Week 16) on the slate.
Browns WR Josh Gordon is someone else who could also be cut loose by a desperate team that needs a win and can no longer afford to carry the suspended by prolific player on the bottom of their roster.
Speaking of stashes, while this guy probably isn't owned in a majority of leagues, if you have a roster spot, I'd like Bucs RB Charlie Sims for the end of my bench. Seemingly every year, a running back emerges out of nowhere just in time for the playoffs and carries a team to a fantasy championship. Sims, a third-round rookie, could be that guy. He's been on injured reserve/designated to return since the start of the season, and should be activated in the next few weeks, if not today.
However, for most of us, this week or next is going to take some crafty navigation of your rosters to come out with a couple of wins. Here's some advice for setting your lineups.
Running back fliers
The running back position is usually a thin one anyway, and this week, fantasy players are without bonafide studs Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy. One of my favorite fliers this week, and a guy I'm using the Carroll County Times league is Bobby Rainey of the Tampa Bay Bucs.
A lot has been made of Sims, mentioned above, but as of this writing Saturday morning, he still hadn't been activated from injured reserve. And Doug Martin, who has been an absolute disappointment anyway, is doubtful to play with injury issues of his own, and may have fallen out of favor with team management anyway.
That leaves Rainey, and when he's had opportunities, he's delivered this season and last for the most part. He gets one of the worst run defenses in the Cleveland Browns this week, a team that cut him last year, by the way. Think he'll have something to prove? Roll with Rainey and hang onto him for next week, when he gets another atrotious run defense in the Atlanta Falcons when Arian Foster, Alfred Morris and others are on bye. He's still available in more than 60 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Another possibility is Andre Williams of the Giants. While he was disappointing in two starts with Rashad Jennings injured, he's a viable RB2 this week in leagues of 10 or more teams because of all the byes and lack of other options. He won't have competition for carries and the Indianapolis Colts defense is just middle of the road. About 60 yards and a touchdown isn't out of the question. He's still out there in about 40 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Jeremy Hill of the Cincinatti Bengals could be in for a big workload this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially if Gio Bernard is out. Even if Gio plays, the Bengals might limit his touches in what should be a pretty lopsided affair and get Hill some second half work if they have a big lead. Hill's been a popular add this week, but is still available in more than 30 percent of leagues in Yahoo.
Don't be fooled by intriguing quarterback options
Robert Griffin III is expected to make his return from injury to the Washington Redskins and start against the Minnesota Vikings this week, and Michael Vick is getting his first start for the New York Jets, replacing ineffective Geno Smith. Both are intriguing, however not necessarily reliable fantasy QB options this week.
RG3 is a bit of a wild card, because it's not clear how the 'Skins plan to use him. He only played one full game, and he was ineffective trying to be a pocket passer in Jay Gruden's offense. Minnesota is a tricky matchup. They actually allow the second fewest points to opposing quarterbacks and their pass rush has been getting after it. However if the Redskins turn Griffin him loose and let him run and make plays, he could be a nice start. I'd like him down the stretch after the week 10 bye, but you might need to pick him up now if you want to guarantee he's on your roster, just in case he has a big game today.
Vick has a tough assignment going into Kansas City, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, against a Chiefs defense allowing the third fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Vick replaced Smith last week and turned the ball over three times, but he did it over three quarters, not three series, unlike Smith. Maybe he'll be better with a week of practice with the ones, but I doubt it. Vick is only intriguing because of his running ability, so I don't really want shares in him.
Hail to the Chiefs
With the exception of Jamaal Charles, there aren't a lot of Kansas City Chiefs I'd usually recommend to start week to week. This week, though, against the Jets horrific secondary and because of the number of teams of bye, I think QB Alex Smith, WR Dwayne Bowe and TE Travis Kelce could be nice starts in almost all formats. Kansas City's defense is a strong play too against the afformentioned turnover-prone Vick, although I'd feel better about them if Geno Smith were still playing.
This should go without saying, but you should in no one be considering taking Marshawn Lynch out of your lineup. There has been a lot of smoke surrounding Beast Mode in recent weeks, and he's severely underperformed, even in match-ups he should seemingly be able to exploit (see Carolina last week). But the Seahawk's best bet for success is to feed Lynch the rock. Against Oakland, they should do just that. My only concern would be a blow out where they attempt to get Christine Michael and Robert Turbin garbage time carries late, but hopefully Lynch will have already gotten his, including at least one endzone splash.
Don't go chasing waterfalls
There are a lot of viable options in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense for you fantasy team, but I wouldn't chase last week's record-setting week by QB Ben Roethlisberger playing against the rival Baltimore Ravens this week. Typically, these games are low-scoring affairs, although both teams have had offensive explosions this year. Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown should be started everywhere, but Big Ben, TE Heath Miller and WR Martavis Bryant should probably be scaled back. For the Ravens, it's a little trickier. RB Justin Forsett is a little banged up and rookie Lorenzo Taliafero vultured some scores last week, so it's hard to say how that plays out this week. Forsett is safer though, especially in PPR, as long as he plays. WR Torrey Smith seems to have come around while Steve Smith is starting to play more his age. If you've been starting either one of them, you might as well keep going that route.
Rivers runs cold?
Let's be honest, if you've got Chargers QB Philip Rivers, you probably aren't benching him unless you drafted him as a back-up to Peyton Manning or something (in which case, make a trade, there is someone in your league who could use a QB upgrade). But this could be a rough go for the Bolts traveling coast-to-coast to South Beach for a 1 p.m. start against the Miami Dolphins, who are playing some really good defense as of late. Ryan Tannehill, who disappointed a lot of folks last week against Jacksonville, isn't a bad start against a banged up San Diego secondary. Same with Mike Wallace, who is this week's squeaky wheel at WR.
I think there is potential for four games to be really high scoring affairs this week and, thus, fantasy football bonanzas.
The obvious one is Peyton Manning's Broncos vs. Tom Brady's Patriots. The QBs are must-starts, of course, as are the usual suspects for Denver. I wouldn't be surprised to see Wes Welker have a nice game against his former team, even though he's been down this year in Denver. But I'm not sure I trust him enough to start him unless it's a PPR.
For New England, I think this is a Shane Vereen week at running back. He's going to play a lot on passing downs and I expect Brady to throw a lot. Don't be scared off by last week's use of Jonas Gray. Brandon LaFell is emerging as Brady's favorite WR and he's still available in about 30 percent of leagues. You've gotta play him. TE Tim Wright continues to carve out a role in the redzone opposite must-start Rob Gronkowski, with a touchdown in each of his last three games.
There are some obvious starts again for the Dallas Cowboys against the Arizona Cardinals -- DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant -- but Jason Witten is an interesting play against a defense that has notoriously struggled to cover TEs. On the other side, QB Carson Palmer is a terrific bye week replacement for Aaron Rodgers, for example, but good luck guessing which WR has a big game this week and which one posts a zero. Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald have been frustrating owns, but both are viable plays. So is emerging rookie WR John Brown, who might end up the most reliable of the three. RB Andre Ellington is an every-week start, of course, and could have a huge game here.
Philadelphia traveling to Houston could be another fantasy slot machine. Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin are must-starts from the Eagles every week, as are Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins for the Texans. Everyone else you're still playing at your own risk.
Monday night's match-up between the Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants is the final game on the shootout slate. Reggie Wayne is back, which makes Donte Moncrief, who broke out last week, a little less appealing, plus there is a revenge factor for Hakeem Nicks, who hasn't done a whole lot of anything this year. I'm not playing Nicks, but him giving a little extra is enough to temper expectations for Moncrief this week. For the Giants, I think Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle are both nice WR plays and TE Larry Donnell could bounce back too.
Streaming a defense might be a little tricky this week. The Lions and Bills are two of the better fantasy defenses, and two with strong streaming match-ups -- the Bengals against the Jaguars and the 49ers against the Rams -- were likely already owned. The Chiefs, as mentioned above, are a good choice against the Jets, although the quarterback change makes me take a little pause, but not enough to not use them.
The Vikings seem to have been a popular add this week, even with RG3 returning and the Redskins coming off their biggest win of the season on Monday Night Football. I think Griffin's escapability will limit the upside of the Vikings pass rush though.
I actually like the other defense in this game. The Vikings have given up the second-most quarterback sacks per game (Jacksonville) and we all saw on Monday that Washington Defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett isn't afraid to blitz the living daylights out of opposing QBs. For one week, I think I'd roll with the Redskins D.