It's not a really big week on the wire, but there are still some players to take a chance on. The bye weeks are coming to a close, so it's time to start thinking about geting your squad ready for the playoffs. That means handcuffing your key back and getting backups to play the matchups in the playoffs if needed. Trade deadlines are also hitting soon in many leagues, so take a look around and see if there are any deals to be made in your league with the also-rans or those desperate for a win this week.
Bye Weeks: Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets
Mark Sanchez, PHI - We led off with Sanchez last week, and he responded well in his first start as an Eagle, throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout of the Panthers. He connected with rookie Jordan Mathews on both of his touchdown throws and brought Brent Celek back to life (much to the chagrin of Zach Ertz owners). Other than a Week 14 tilt against the Seahawks, the schedule sets up pretty well for the former Jet the rest of the way, so he should be picked up by any owner who has doubts about their starter heading into the stretch drive. He should be able to keep producing in Chip Kelly’s offense, so don’t let past transgressions keep you from pulling the trigger.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton returns again this week, but his inclusion is more with an eye down the road than it is for this week’s matchup against the Dolphins. He obviously missed Sammy Watkins last week against the Chiefs and a short week means his best weapon will again be at less than full speed. But once this hurdle is cleared, the fantasy prospects look much brighter, starting with the Jets in Week 12. He’s going to be a solid streaming option and an asset down the stretch in two-QB leagues.
Josh McCown, TB - Before the season began, McCown was one of the more popular sleeper candidates. Instead, he fizzled to start the year, before an injury opened the door for Mike Glennon to grab the job for the last six weeks. McCown finally got a second chance last week and performed well against the Falcons. He has back-to-back road games against the Redskins and Bears, which means he should continue to put up respectable numbers the next two weeks.
Teddy Bridgewater, MIN - Bridgewater is sitting on plenty of waiver wires this week, and he gets to face the Bears coming off his bye. The Bears have been getting roasted the past few weeks, which gives the rookie plenty of appeal if you need to navigate your bye this week. Kyle Rudolph should return soon, which will provide more help in the red zone.
Drew Stanton takes over for Carson Palmer in Arizona and has some upside thanks to Bruce Arians' offense and a nice set of weapons, but he’s more of an emergency/bench type that you don’t really want to rely upon except in leagues where you have to start two quarterbacks. Zach Mettenberger should bounce back against the Steelers this week, giving him some upside as a desperation play. Ryan Mallett draws the start this week for the Texans against an improving Browns secondary that just gave Andy Dalton fits.
C.J. Anderson, DEN - A combination of injuries and ineffectiveness by Ronnie Hillman finally got Anderson a shot in the Broncos backfield and he looked great. We have talked about him earlier in the year, back when Hillman first got his shot, and always believed he was the back to watch in Denver. He has the best combination of talents for this offense and should get a chance to state his case while Hillman is sidelined. Montee Ball is slated to return, which could throw a monkey wrench into things, as will Hillman’s eventual return. Obviously, whoever emerges as the lead back in this offense is someone you want to have on your team for the fantasy playoffs, so Anderson should be a priority this week.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims didn’t set the world on fire in his first action of the year, but this is still a backfield in flux, and Sims should continue to improve and could take control by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. If you like to add depth for a playoff run, Sims still has that upside intact, but even I have to say I am less excited than I was a couple weeks ago. Still, I might wait a week, unless I could swap him for Anderson. If you are looking for more immediate returns, then you may want to look elsewhere this week.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - I know, I keep throwing Crowell’s name into this column week after week. I can’t help myself. He is the most talented back the Browns have on the roster and if they continue to make a run for the playoffs, I still think he is going to be a big part of it. He’s still third in the pecking order behind Terrance West and Ben Tate, but I am stashing him in leagues where I can.
Carlos Hyde, SF - Hyde is going to continue to get more work as the season moves on, both to keep Frank Gore healthy and because he has looked great when they have put the ball in his hands. He’s only one injury away from being a workhorse back.
Theo Riddick could get back on the field if Reggie Bush’s ankle sidelines him again. He didn’t do much in relief last week, but he can provide some PPR value if he gets the touches. Roy Helu also could provide some PPR value this week against Tampa Bay. Damien Williams should lead any RBBC in Miami if Lamar Miller is sidelined. Matt Asiata will hang onto his role as the goal-line back for now, and he scored three times his last game. Joseph Randle had a big touchdown run last week and would take over as the primary runner if DeMarco Murray were to get injured.
Jordan Matthews, PHI - We had high hopes that Matthews would finally emerge with the move to Mark Sanchez at quarterback and things went just as planned, at least for the first week. Sanchez looked to the rookie early and often and found him for two touchdown passes last week. Sanchez likes to throw the short and intermediate passes that are Matthews’ bread-and-butter, and they showed the chemistry that they have built during the off-season. The Eagles offense has a lot of moving parts, but you have to like it when a quarterback has something going with a particular receiver. Matthews' stock is on the rise and he now looks like a solid WR3 with upside.
Greg Jennings, MIN - Jennings qualifies this week as a solid bye-week replacement thanks to the matchup with the Bears. He is getting targets every week, so at the very least he has a decent floor to stand on, with a great chance of finding the end zone this week against a reeling Bears defense.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry has settled into his role in this offense and makes for a decent bye-week replacement for PPR owners. He saw ten targets last week and has supplanted Brian Hartline as the No. 2 option behind Mike Wallace.
Marqise Lee, JCK - The season-ending injury to Allen Robinson gives Lee the opportunity to set in and finally make some noise next week coming out of the Jaguars' bye. He has plenty of talent, so deep leaguers might want to take a shot on him this week while the price is right and hope that he rewards them in his first start of the year.
We still think it’s time for the Broncos to see what Cody Latimer can bring to the field. He’s a speculative buy in deep leagues. Jermaine Kearse finally connected on a deep throw from Russell Wilson and just missed another that would have been a touchdown. He’s a boom-or-bust option. Justin Hunter has really struggled of late as the lackluster quarterback play has hurt his development. Still, he has some upside in a matchup against the Steelers.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera gets a bump up the list this week coming off another solid outing that saw him find the end zone again. He is seeing plenty of action and Derek Carr keeps looking his way as a safety net. He’s a solid streamer against the Chargers this week.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - We have been banging the drum on Rudolph for weeks as he neared his return to action, which could come as early as this week. The Vikings might not fully use him until Week 12, but once he is back up to speed, he should once again become a key red zone target. Norv Turner loves throwing to his TE’s and will not hesitate to get Rudolph involved.
Coby Fleener, IND - Fleener is coming off his best game of the season prior to the team’s bye and has a long history with Andrew Luck from their days at Stanford. The game against the Patriots figures to be a high-scoring affair, meaning there should be enough balls flying around to give Fleener a start if you are thin at TE this week.
Brent Celek, PHI - We mentioned in the Sanchez blurb how he got Celek involved in the offense last week. He looked great and could get more work as a result. He shouldn’t be seen as a safe option with Zach Ertz still around, but at least he has some desperation appeal again.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins bounced back last week, finding the end zone with Josh McCown at the helm. It at least has the arrow pointing in the right direction again. Jace Amaro is on bye this week but he caught a touchdown last week and seemed to have some chemistry with Michael Vick. Jared Cook finally broke free for a big TD. Don’t buy into it too much, but he does have some bye-week appeal.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns defense always plays better at home and returns there after a rousing performance against the Bengals last week. The team finds themselves in first place and will welcome rookie Ryan Mallett to the Dawg Pound.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints will host Andy Dalton coming off a horrible performance against the Browns last week. They also have a very tantalizing playoff schedule, something for teams headed there to think about.
KICKERMatt Bryant, ATL - This week’s kicker dart lands on Matt Bryant, in a matchup against a Panthers team that just got humiliated by the Eagles.
Week 10 brings another week with six teams on bye, with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady being the biggest names sitting. Luckily, there are options at the position this week that can get you through the bye without having to make a trade, so my advice is to take that route first if you can. If your team is riding high and headed for the playoffs, continue to try and plan ahead as much as you can, grabbing upside plays and injury stashes and locking up key handcuffs to your stud running backs where you can.
Bye Weeks: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers, Washington Redskins
Mark Sanchez, PHI - We have had plenty of breakout running backs and have had a few waiver wire wide receivers who also are on the verge of being difference makers, but this season hasn’t really brought us a quarterback on the wire that has had the look of a viable QB1 until this week. Nick Foles suffered a broken collarbone, which thrusts the former Jet into the starting job on one of the league's more explosive offenses, likely for the rest of the fantasy season. There is more talent around him than he ever had in New York and Chip Kelly’s scheme is truly a plug-and-play system that will allow Sanchez to exorcise many of the demons from his time under Rex Ryan. Sanchez has the immediate ability to at least match the production that Foles was giving us this year, which makes him a low-end QB1 immediately. His appearance this week comes at a nice time, since we have a bunch of top QB’s on bye this week.
Robert Griffin III, WAS - Despite Colt McCoy leading the team to two straight wins, Washington inserted RGIII into the lineup last week, and lost a tough game to the Vikings in the process. I personally would have made him wait until after the bye, since McCoy clearly was getting the job done, but I’m not the coach. Griffin looked good enough that it is clearly time to scoop him back up in any leagues he is available in for the stretch drive which will start after the team’s bye this week. I wouldn’t want to have to rely on him as my number one, but I wouldn’t mind having him on my bench heading into the playoffs if I was relying on a lesser QB1, so I could play the matchups the rest of the way.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Tannehill had his best game of the year last week, and heads into the second half on an upswing. This week isn’t the best time to deploy him, since the Lions are tough at home. But the Dolphins QB should be owned as a quality backup with some tantalizing matchups still to come on the schedule.
Michael Vick, NYJ - I had Vick here last week as a guy to look at to navigate the bye-heavy weeks. Last week’s tilt against the Chiefs on the road was a tough one, and the stats showed it. However, Vick was pretty solid throwing the ball and still showed that he can tuck it and make positive plays with his legs. He also showed that he is still vulnerable to injury, as he got knocked out of the game temporarily with a head injury. If you are in a jam this week, then Vick is worth a look in a home game against the Steelers, who are still most vulnerable to attack through the air.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton was playing very well heading into his bye last week and comes into a stretch of games that should provide him with every opportunity to keep putting up solid numbers. The defense is solid enough to provide some short fields to work with and the injuries at running back have firmly put the ball in Orton’s and Sammy Watkins’ hands the rest of the way.
Blake Bortles catches a Dallas team that is stymied on offense without Tony Romo and hurting on defense due to a slew of injuries. He is a reasonable boom-or-bust option this week if you are desperate. Brian Hoyer is not going to win many weeks for you, and he isn’t that fun to watch play since he misses so many passes. But, with the running game stalled, he is throwing the ball downfield and will soon get his top two targets back in the fold. He could make some noise down the stretch once Josh Gordon gets back. The clock is starting to tick on Ryan Fitzpatrick in Houston, who could give way to Ryan Mallett coming out of the bye.
Adrian Peterson, MIN - The embattled Vikings running back reached a plea deal for the charges he faced in Texas and did not admit to child abuse. So now that the case has been settled, it will be up to the league to decide if the “suspension” the team levied will be deemed stiff enough punishment. There is no telling just yet how the NFL will proceed, but it does look like he will be cleared to play at some point this year after all. That means he needs to be picked back up in any league where he was dropped just in case he is activated in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Jeremy Hill, CIN - Hill is not available in any leagues that I play in, but he is potentially out there in short bench leagues. He should be owned everywhere after his breakout game last week and can finally be deployed by his patient owners, as he will have a bigger role in this offense even after Giovanni Bernard comes back and can dominate in any weeks that he has the touches all to himself. Bernard still isn’t practicing, so Hill could be in for another heavy workload this Thursday against a Browns defense that can’t stop the run.
Terrance West, CLE - West seems like the back to own in Cleveland right now, especially in light of the recent ineffectiveness of Ben Tate. I still am a bigger fan of Isaiah Crowell’s talent, but West has the faith of the coaching staff right now and Crowell has been relegated to the bench. Sometimes there are things going on behind the scenes we just aren’t privy to. I thought the Browns might just be showcasing West to try and trade him, but there he was last week playing the role of number one back. In a short week, he is the Browns back to tap if you need help, although a matchup with the Bengals doesn’t bode well for big numbers.
Tre Mason, STL - Mason seems to have taken control of the committee for the Rams, getting the bulk of the work in a big win against the Niners. The matchups are tough the next two weeks (Ari, Den), but things soften up a bit after that. All that is really missing from Mason’s game right now are the touchdowns, but they could start to come just in time for the fantasy playoffs. He’s a gamble that could pay off and a guy you might want to try and add while his stock is still depressed. Zac Stacy owners may finally just have to cut the cord and move on.
Alfred Blue, HOU - Arian Foster pulled his groin late last week and gets a bye to try and get ready for Week 11. At this point, we don’t know how bad the injury is, but Foster has battled these types of injuries the past few years. Blue showed himself a viable replacement the last time Foster missed time.
Charles Sims, TB - I profiled Sims last week, since he had finally reached the point of the season where he could be activated from the I.R. for duty. The team elected not to activate him last week but has already hinted that the rookie will likely make his NFL debut against the Falcons this week. Tampa Bay is a lousy team going nowhere this season. Lovie Smith drafted Sims and will want to see what he has in his rookie as the year draws to a close. Sims can catch passes out of the backfield, giving him more upside in PPR leagues, and should emerge as the lead back by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. He is a guy you want to add in case he hits when the games count the most.
Anthony Dixon will likely draw another start this week as Fred Jackson doesn’t look quite ready to play. He’s a serviceable option in a bye-heavy week. Jonas Gray should have benefitted from a blowout win against the Broncos, but it didn’t really happen, partly thanks to a Denver defense that stymied the Patriots run game throughout. There will be better weeks ahead after the bye week to deploy him as the Pats “big back”. Matt Asiata created waves and headaches for fantasy owners with his three-touchdown day on Sunday. He is the goal-line back now, which hurts McKinnon’s value. He’s a tough guy to start, because if he doesn’t score, you won’t get much else in return. Daniel Thomas could end up getting the start if Lamar Miller’s injury is worse than feared. The Lions are a tough team to run on, so he’s not someone to use unless you are desperate. Isaiah Crowell is still my favorite Browns running back and I hope the coaching staff is just trying to toughen him up with the tough love lately. He is currently buried on the depth chart but not dead. Still, I can’t blame those in shallower leagues looking elsewhere for immediate help if they decide to drop him.
Martavis Bryant, PIT - Honestly, I should have had Bryant even higher on the list than I did last week. Three NFL games, five touchdowns later and a player who has arrived as the potential key to the entire Pittsburgh passing game. Bryant brings the element of size and speed that has been missing and Big Ben has been exploiting it since he arrived on the scene. His presence has actually even helped the stock of Markus Wheaton, who is once again a viable pickup in his own right, having scored two touchdowns himself the last two weeks. The addition of Bryant to the corps has allowed the two speedsters to take advantage of the single coverage that Antonio Brown provides someone else on the field. Neither of these guys will pop as much in PPR leagues, but in touchdown-heavy formats, especially those that reward long TD’s, both should be rostered the rest of the way. Bryant has more upside due to his size in the red zone.
Kenny Britt, STL - I was kind of lukewarm on Britt last week, leaving him for the digging deep section until I saw how he performed in his first game as the Rams new No. 1 WR. He was solid, scoring a touchdown and just missing a second. He will be somewhat of a touchdown dependant start, since the Rams offense is hard to trust, but he will continue to get targets and at the very least should be on someone's bench as a flex/depth option.
Jordan Matthews, PHI - Matthews' role in the offense has been increasing of late, and the Eagles have signaled that they aren’t entirely pleased with the play of Riley Cooper. Add the fact that Mark Sanchez is now the Eagles' quarterback, and we have some new reasons to get a bit more excited for some continued improvement from the Eagles' exciting rookie. Sanchez and Matthews spent a lot of time on the second unit in preseason, and that connection proved fruitful as Sanchez hit Matthews for his first touchdown since Week 3. I’m hoping that Sanchez’s arrival helps finally push Matthews up a notch in the pecking order, making him easier to trust as a weekly starter.
Kenny Stills, NO - Stills is a hard guy to trust, but in a bye-heavy week, you may have no choice but to go with a boom-or-bust option somewhere in the lineup. He has been producing of late and is always a better start at home in the dome, where his speed can produce that one long bomb that can make fantasy owners smile. With a bunch of home games dotting the remaining schedule, he’s not a bad guy to have in reserve, just in case he and Brees get into some kind of groove.
Jarvis Landry found the endzone again last week and is getting enough work to be in the weekly flex conversation, just maybe not this week against the Lions. Donte Moncrief took a backseat to Hakeem Nicks, possibly since it was a return to New York for the former Giant. Nicks was predictably bad and hopefully Moncrief will get more play going forward. Taylor Gabriel will benefit from a banged up Andrew Hawkins as well as a dearth of playmakers at receiver for the Browns right now. He has shown the ability to make big plays and Kyle Shanahan will dial his number a couple of times this week against the Bengals. Corey Washington should start to get more looks thanks to the struggles of Rueben Randle and Preston Parker. Wes Welker got banged up and Andre Caldwell was ineffective. Cody Latimer’s time could be arriving soon, so it might be time to speculate again in deep leagues.
Charles Clay, MIA - Clay is finally healthy again and followed up a dud against the Jaguars with a solid effort versus the Chargers last week. His stock is directly tied to the improvement of Tannehill and as such he is back to being worth a roster spot, especially for those with injury-prone starters as their main guys.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - We are a week closer to Rudolph's return, which should come in Week 11 after this week’s bye. The Vikings are desperate for help inside the red zone and this is an area that Rudolph has already shown he can deliver. This is likely the last week to get him at a reasonable discount.
Owen Daniels, BAL - Gotta give the veteran credit for only missing one week with his latest injury. He’s a boring player, but effective for PPR owners in Gary Kubiak’s offense. In a bye-heavy week, you could do worse than the solid floor that Daniels will surely provide.
Mychal Rivera, OAK - Rivera gets a bump up the list this week after scoring two touchdowns last week, building on a busy week just prior. He’s coming on as a reliable safety net for Derek Carr, who will continue to look to his new favorite target as long as he keeps making plays.
Tyler Eifert may not be quite ready to play this week, but like Rudolph, he is close to returning to the field. If you want to try and bolster your bench, you could grab him ahead of the curve this week. Eric Ebron should be back in action this week, but the Dolphins aren’t a team you want to use a rookie coming off an injury against really. Jared Cook will continue to get targets, but there just isn’t much upside to get excited about here. Jim Dray has shown good hands and grit subbing for the injured Jordan Cameron and should get another start this week.
Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens might seem like an odd choice coming off a game where they were just lit up by the Steelers. But they put plenty of pressure on Big Ben last week and get to face the Titans and their new rookie QB this week and will be looking to take their anger out on somebody.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints were a preseason sleeper and they seem to be warming up finally. They play better at home historically and catch a San Francisco team that just surrended eight sacks to the Rams last week.
KICKERPatrick Murray, TB - The Atlanta defense is bad enough to provide extra opportunities for the Bucs placekicker this week. As decent a streaming option as he is, he has the added benefit of making your opponent wonder just what you are up to anyway starting fringe Bucs against him.
I am going to call this submission of the Waiver Wire Report my "Bad Back" edition. That's because I threw my back out yesterday and as any one of you who has ever experienced serious back pain, I was in bad shape as the time to hit the keyboard arrived. Luckily, my good friend Don, who is a chiropractic-massage therapist, came over for a visit tonight and got me back into action. I also employed the use of a heating patch, extreme stretching and some herbal pain-killers that Lawr would approve of to soldier forward. This is potentially another solid week to play the wire in many leagues as we have some new running backs emerging, which always gets the FAAB dollars flowing. If you are looking for streaming options, your first stop should be down in Florida, where the Dolphins come off a huge win against the Bears and head to Jacksonville. If your team is cruising through the bye weeks, you will want to start thinking about locking up your handcuffs where necessary. Now onto this week's list.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA - Last year, this column got singled out for one of our preseason predictions. I had hyped Tannehill as a sleeper QB early on and was recognized for the call. I also bring it up since this is the first time he’s made the column this year, which for me makes him one of the more intriguing names for medium-sized leagues. His play is trending in the right direction and the schedule brings the Jaguars, who just lost starting MLB Paul Posluszny to injury. He has thrown two touchdowns a game for his last three and should be able to build on the momentum the entire team has on the road in Jacksonville.
Robert Griffin III, WAS - It’s time to bump Griffin up the list this week after Kirk Cousins was benched in favor of Colt McCoy last week. Griffin is going to get the job back as soon as he is healthy, so it’s time to take a shot in the leagues where he’s still floating around. It would be better for the team to wait until after the Week 10 bye to bring him back, but if they lose again, he may be forced into action in Week 9. There is plenty of risk here, but no other QB available at this point has the upside RGIII does, even at less the 100 percent.
Kyle Orton, BUF - Orton got something going with Sammy Watkins last week and gets to face a struggling Jets team in New York this week. Orton has tossed multiple touchdowns the last two weeks and the Jets secondary is banged up and vulnerable to the big play.
Eli Manning bounced back after a down week and will hit some wires thanks to a bye week. He’s a roller-coaster but still has playmakers in Odell Beckham, Larry Donnell and Rueben Randle. The air coming out of Brian Hoyer’s stock puts Johnny Manziel another lousy start away from getting a shot. Hoyer has delayed the timetable, but the loss of Alex Mack has changed the equation in Cleveland. As we mentioned above, it looks like McCoy will draw the start this week, which gives him value in two-quarterback leagues as a plug-n-play option.
Tre Mason, STL - Mason finally got mentioned here last week and then went out and seized control of the Rams backfield. He rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown last week and anyone who took a shot on him last week looks like they have an every-week starter going forward. Zac Stacy owners are left holding the bag and will have to bite the bullet and move on. Mason has some of the same downside that Stacy did. He doesn’t catch passes, so when the Rams are trailing, he will cede touches to Benny Cunningham. When the Rams have a lead, he can generate the volume necessary for big weeks. He’s worth big bucks this week, since he is a starter, and they don’t pop up on the waiver wire this late in the season that often.
Bryce Brown, BUF - The Bills lost both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller to injury last week. That thrusts Brown into the equation alongside Anthony Dixon until Jackson returns from his groin injury in perhaps four weeks. It’s a golden opportunity for Brown to strut his stuff and push Dixon into a supporting role. When Jackson returns, Brown should stick in the backfield rotation assuming the role that Spiller, who is out for the season, was filling. The downside here is that this isn’t a juggernaut offense and the immediate schedule is dotted by stingy run defenses.
Denard Robinson, JCK - Robinson took advantage of his teammates' struggles and cashed in on a soft matchup against the Browns leaky run defense in Week 7. It has put him in the driver's seat for touches in Jacksonville, which makes him an add in all leagues this week, but bidders should take last week’s results with the grain of salt it deserves. If you need the help, by all means bid. Just understand the production may only net you flex-level stats at an inflated price.
Anthony Dixon, BUF - Dixon gets his own writeup, since it was he and not Brown who got the carries last week, since Brown was a healthy scratch last week. Dixon is a special teams stud, which has kept him active on gamedays. Dixon doesn’t have the upside or talent of Brown, but he does have the trust of the coaching staff, which matters, especially since Brown is prone to ball control issues and other mistakes that drive coaches crazy. Dixon will be part of the mix, but has less upside since at best he’ll force a 50-50 split with Brown until Jackson returns.
Travaris Cadet, NO - Cadet is a better target for PPR owners, who will now get a chance to build upon some momentum while Pierre Thomas is on the shelf for a couple weeks. Cadet should get the touches in the passing game that Thomas was handling, which gives him some PPR value since the Saints will have to throw to stay in ballgames. Any Saints weapon has the element of boom-or-bust. Cadet just gets added to the list. Stephan Taylor is emerging as a goal-line vulture.
Benny Cunningham got 19 touches last week, so no matter who gets the early down work, he seems locked into his role going forward. Jonas Gray was surprisingly used ahead of Branden Bolden last week. We knew the “genius” wasn’t going to make things easy on us. Gray is worth a flier. DeMarco Murray rolled an ankle, which will make many of his owners look to secure Joseph Randle this week. Don’t make it easy for them. Charles Sims should see his first action of the year any week now so he is worth a flier in deep leagues. Randle will have significant value if Murray misses time, which is a real possibility with a historic workload. Jonathan Stewart is the lead dog in Carolina, but draws the Seahawks this week.WIDE RECEIVERS
Doug Baldwin, SEA - Baldwin made the most noise last week in the wake of the trade of Percy Harvin. He led the team in targets with 11 and hauled in seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. He will continue to see an increase in targets and should have a much more stable floor going forward as a stable WR3 candidate. He doesn’t have the same upside as some guys who have headlined this section, but he gets a great matchup against the Panthers this week, which sets him up for another solid week of production.
Allen Robinson, JCK - While Cecil Shorts was coming up empty against the Browns, Robinson finally flashed some of his playmaking ability with a nice catch-and-run for a touchdown. He’s locked in as the No. 2 receiver and is a stronger play in standard leagues than Shorts thanks to his big play ability.
Brandon LaFell, NE - The veteran gets a bump up the list after another solid game as Tom Brady’s most reliable target outside of Rob Gronkowski. He is worth grabbing for depth as a what-the-heck flex guy. Tom Brady’s play is trending in the right direction, which gives upside to the guy getting the snaps and the targets.
Jermaine Kearse, SEA - Kearse didn’t see a rise in snaps but finally saw more balls come his way as Percy Harvin’s targets got divvied up. Kearse didn’t do a ton with the increased attention last week and opened the door for Paul Richardson to get himself on the radar. Both of these Seahawks receivers are worth grabbing and/or monitoring in leagues, but they will be hard to trust.
Donte Moncrief, IND - Reggie Wayne could be sidelined for a couple of weeks, which will open up key targets in Andrew Luck’s world. Hakeem Nicks is the new No. 2 on paper, but Moncrief is the newcomer here. He is more talented than Nicks and he’ll have a better chance of breaking out and surprising than Nicks will have of making an impact.
Martavis Bryant was a guy we talked about early in the preseason, then he promptly got hurt and his arrival was delayed until last week. He immediately came in and provided a spark and will continue to push Markus Wheaton for playing time. Jarvis Landry seemed to have locked up his place in the rotation and his quarterback is surging. There is some nice upside here if he and Tannehill can develop some chemistry in the red zone. Steve Johnson is emerging as a viable target in the Niners offense. He has lots of competition for targets on a team that doesn’t really want to throw it that much, but he's sure looked good the last few weeks.TIGHT ENDS
Charles Clay, MIA - Clay is finally healthy and gets a great matchup against the Jags this week. He’s a solid streaming option this week who could climb back into the TE1 conversation if he can string together a few solid weeks.
Gavin Escobar, DAL - Escobar was a surprise contributor last week for the Cowboys, hauling in two touchdown passes, which gives him three in his last two games. His role is clearly emerging in the offense and he should continue to be a factor in the redzone. He is still down the pecking order for volume targets and yardage, but if he keeps getting balls thrown his way near the goal-line, he’ll get the attention of more owners.
Cooper Helfet turned in a nice effort last week but Luke Wilson will be back soon. Jace Amaro has talent but Percy Harvin’s arrival will push him down the pecking order for targets. Jermaine Gresham had a PPR breakthrough last week with ten catches and has one more week at least before A.J. Green returns and ushers him into the background again.DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Miami Dolphins - I have so many other Dolphins on the list this week that I can’t ignore their improving defense in a matchup with the hapless Jaguars and turnover-prone Blake Bortles.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs are always a better bet at home and the Rams have a rookie quarterback coming into the lion’s den. The Chiefs could make an impact on special teams as well.
Shayne Graham, NO - The Saints kicker gets a primetime matchup at home in the dome against the Packers. Expect lots of offense and plenty of opportunities for the veteran kicker.
Week 9 brings us to the bye week heavy portion of the fantasy schedule. There are six teams off this week, with another six to follow in Week 10. With so many teams off, fantasy owners will be left scrambling for replacements, which can lead to opportunities for those who have either rostered depth or just prepared themselves better for the wave. There aren't as many must-add players on the list this week, so those of you who don't need to burn roster spots on streamer options may want to consider looking down the road and making some preemptive adds or just handcuffing important players. I have a few suggestions that fit all of the above in this week's report.
Bye Weeks: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Tennessee
Eli Manning, NYG - The Giants quarterback comes off his bye week to face a Colts defense that is reeling a bit after getting torched by Big Ben and the Steelers for six touchdown passes on Sunday. Now they have to travel to the Meadowlands for a Monday Night matchup that looks much more appealing for the Giants offense than it did a week ago. With so many top QB’s on bye this week, Manning is perhaps the best plug-n-play option you will find this week.
Michael Vick, NYJ - Vick finally has ascended to the starter’s position over struggling Geno Smith. Rex Ryan’s job is in danger, so he will turn to the 34-year-old to help ignite the offense. I won’t lie and say I expect Vick to come up big against the Chiefs this week, but he can still run the ball and has Percy Harvin and Eric Decker to work with. He’s worth a shot to help get you through the heavy bye weeks and perhaps he will fill up the stat sheet like he used to.
Colt McCoy, WAS - I have been saying for weeks that RGIII would most likely not return until after the team’s Week 10 bye, and after McCoy’s nice performance against Dallas, Washington can err on the side of caution and not rush Griffin back into action too soon. The former Longhorn will likely garner another start against the Vikings this week, which gives him value in two-quarterback leagues and as a desperation start everywhere else.
Alex Smith, KC - With so many quarterbacks on bye this week, you may have to submit a long list to ensure you come away with a viable option if your starter is off this week. Smith gets to face the Jets this week, who can still stop the run, but are atrocious against the pass. Gang Green has allowed 22 touchdown passes this year and the most points to fantasy QB’s this year.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - Hoyer is another streaming option this week facing the Buccaneers. The Browns have had issues scoring the last two weeks, but Tampa is playing so poorly that the Browns should be able to get back on track this week. Jordan Cameron’s concussion means he may miss this week’s game, which is unfortunate, but Kyle Shanahan has some sneaky play-makers in Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin as well as PPR machine Andrew Hawkins and the still healthy Miles Austin.
Kyle Orton has been playing very well since taking over for EJ Manuel. If he wasn’t on bye this week, he would be a higher priority. Ryan Fitzpatrick gets a good matchup this week against the Eagles, but he’s not that high on my priority list. He is playing better of late and has a very solid floor this week. Zach Mettenberger made some noise in garbage-time against the Texans, and will garner more attention next week when the team comes off it’s bye to face the Steelers.
Bobby Rainey, TB - Rainey should take over this week as the Bucs lead rusher as Doug Martin suffered another injury and was firmly put on the trade block by the team heading into the deadline. Rainey is not an exciting back and the offense is a mess, but if you need a guy for this week, he is the safest bet out of this backfield.
Charles Sims, TB - Sims will be eligible to return to the field this week, and once he is cleared for action, the team will immediately want to see what they have in their third round pick. He figures to make his biggest impact in the passing game, but with the guys in front of him performing so poorly, he could easily end up as an every-down back by the time the fantasy playoffs arrive. I have grabbed him already on a couple of teams where I had the luxury to stash him, and if you can afford to make space for him, you should try.
Jonas Gray, NE - Gray assumed the “big-back” role in the Patriots offense last week as expected, and as such deserves a roster spot for now. He isn’t a guy you want to rely on unless you envision a game where the Pats will be comfortably out in front and looking to kill some clock late. A game against the Broncos doesn’t look like one of those weeks. Still, the rookie from Notre Dame will likely get first crack at any goal-line carries, so there is some upside here in touchdown-heavy leagues.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, BAL - Bernard Pierce was a healthy scratch last week, which seemingly has locked the rookie in as Justin Forsett’s backup as well as the touchdown vulture. He hit pay dirt twice last week and isn’t such a bad bet to find the end zone again this week against the Steelers in a prime-time matchup between division rivals.
Theo Riddick, DET - I would be much higher on the Lions' newest weapon, but Riddick will likely take a back seat to Reggie Bush in the passing game, and will have to wait for another injury to make an impact again. He has looked great his last two games and is worth stashing in PPR leagues, since both of the backs ahead of him have a history of injuries.
DeAngelo Williams should return from injury this week, which really just hurts Jonathan Stewart’s value in the short-term. Travaris Cadet took a back seat to Mark Ingram last week but caught four passes in limited work. Just a PPR play. Roy Helu made some nice plays against the Cowboys and could get more work as the season progresses. He still profiles best in PPR leagues. Carlos Hyde should start to see more work in the second half and is perhaps the best example of a guy you want to stash. A back with upside on a good offense, with an aging running back ahead of him on the depth chart.
Andrew Hawkins, CLE - The “Hawk”, as he has been dubbed by the Cleveland faithful, has been the team’s most reliable player all season long. He has seen nine targets in each of the last two weeks, found the end zone for the first time last week and is playing the league’s worst pass defense this week. Add in the fact that the running game is struggling in the wake of Alex Mack’s injury and Jordan Cameron could be out of action, and Hawkins is a PPR streamer-of-the-week.
Donte Moncrief, IND - Moncrief did as we expected last week and easily outperformed Hakeem Nicks with Reggie Wayne sidelined. It’s a trend that will continue and he should leapfrog Nicks in the pecking order going forward. The only downside is that Wayne could return this week, limiting the opportunities for the talented rookie. The Colts are one of a handful of teams that can support three WR’s and he proved last week that he has WR2 upside if injuries hit again in Indy.
Brandon LaFell, NE - LaFell continues to impress as Tom Brady’s top receiver and has now ascended into starter’s territory until further notice. The schedule isn’t that great over the next few weeks, but with Brady looking back in top form, LaFell should continue to produce useful fantasy numbers.
Martavis Bryant, PIT - Bryant’s arrival in the Steeler passing game has instantly paid dividends as he scored another two touchdowns last week and could have just unseated Markus Wheaton as the WR2 going forward. He has the size at 6’4” that has been lacking in the red zone and is clearly Ben Roethlisberger’s new best friend in close. Others will preach more caution here, and I can’t deny the schedule isn’t that great and Wheaton is still in the mix. Still, there is big weekly upside to be had here and he’s a guy I want on my teams if I can squeeze him in.
Davante Adams, GB - Adams has locked up the WR3 job in Green Bay, which gives him weekly value as a flex, and huge upside if either Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb get injured later in the year. He might be ripe to be plucked off another owner's roster in a bye-heavy week or even off the waiver wire in shallower leagues. He is a good bet to continue to emerge as the season progresses and opponents force Rodgers to look his way.
Allen Robinson, JCK - Robinson scored again last week, albeit in garbage time as usual. Fantasy owners shouldn’t care when he gets his stats as he has emerged as the best weapon at Blake Bortles' disposal.
Justin Hunter, TEN - Hunter has a ton of upside and now has a quarterback who likes to throw the ball downfield. Hunter and Mettenberger have some chemistry dating back to the preseason and connected on a nice touchdown last week. It at the very least gives us some hope that better days lie ahead for one of our preseason sleepers after this week’s bye.
John Brown is one of my favorite guys to watch this year. It’s just tough to rely on the number three option in Arizona. But hey, the breakout is real and Brown is at least worth flex consideration in a bye-heavy week. Kenny Britt takes over as the new number one receiver for the Rams in the wake of Brian Quick’s injury. Stedman Bailey will start on the other side. Miles Austin is worth consideration with Jordan Cameron’s status in doubt. Kenny Stills has taken a back seat to Brandin Cooks, but he still remains a reasonable boom-or-bust option any given week.
Heath Miller, PIT - Miller took advantage of last week’s bonanza to post his best game of the year. With the Steelers passing game revived, Miller is at least a solid bye week option and solid backup once again. He is one of Big Ben’s most trusted guys, and can only benefit from other players opening up the middle of the field for him to work underneath.
Timothy Wright, NE - Wright got back into the offense last week, scoring his third touchdown over the last four weeks. You can’t really predict how much he will play any given Sunday, but if you are desperate for a TE this week, then he is worth a shot. If you are a Rob Gronkowski owner, you might want to consider adding him to your bench as the very rare TE handcuff.
Kyle Rudolph, MIN - This is a pre-emptive call to add Rudolph anywhere he might have been dropped. He should be ready to return after the team’s Week 10 bye and will immediately become a potential TE1 due to his use in the red zone. Teddy Bridgewater has been waiting for the player who was supposed to serve as his security blanket and will pump plenty of checkdowns his way once he makes it back onto the field.
Jace Amaro hasn’t quite hit his stride yet, but Michael Vick at least gives some reason to be hopeful for an uptick in production. Austin Seferian-Jenkins had an up-and-down week, scoring the team’s only touchdown, only to fumble the game away in overtime. He’s a reasonable play this week against a Cleveland defense that can cover wideouts but gives up plenty of yards. Mychal Rivera had his busiest game of the year last week, so Derek Carr may continue to look to him if the offense is sputtering. Crockett Gillmore takes over for Owen Daniels in a very TE-friendly offense against a Steelers defense that can be exploited through the air.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns defense plays better at home, where the Dawg Pound can get them fired up. They have been creating turnovers the last few weeks and should be able to hold the anemic Tampa Bay offense in check, making them a worthy streaming option for one more week.
Washington Redskins - Coming off an impressive performance against the Cowboys, the Skins bring their blitz-happy scheme to Minnesota to create headaches for rookie Teddy Bridgewater. If you are in a bind this week, you could do worse than bet on the team that harassed Tony Romo continuously on Monday Night.
KICKERCairo Santos, KC - Santos seems like a solid choice this week against a Jets team that gives up a lot of points but can still stiffen up near the goal-line.
We have reached Week 7 of the fantasy season, which means you should start getting a clearer picture of where you stand in your respective leagues. You might be cruising along near the top of the pack, which means you should have some room to start looking down the road and getting your ducks in a row for upcoming byes and your late-season stretch run. You may want to consider burning a roster spot or two on handcuffs to your stud running backs as well. If you are sitting in the middle, or god forbid, the bottom of the back, don't despair just yet. I've had more than one team get hot and roll off a string of wins to squeak into the playoffs where it is anybody's game. Perhaps you've been speculating and some of your bets have been coming through. Stay the course and hit the phones to try and swing a deal or two to shake up your squad a bit. There aren't a ton of impact names breaking through this week, as the best choices were likely scooped up in competitive leagues the last couple of weeks. Still, there are some guys to speculate on for those of you in deep leagues, so take some shots as you finally cut the cord on some injured starters.
Bye Weeks: Philadelphia Eagles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Carson Palmer, ARI - Palmer has long been a favorite of this column, so it was nice to see him back on the field for the Cards last week. Granted, he wasn’t quite 100 percent, as he lacked his typical downfield arm strength, but he showed veteran poise and got his two key receivers involved. He has a great matchup against the Raiders this week and should be rostered again in any leagues he was dropped as a solid QB2 with QB1 upside going forward.
Joe Flacco, BAL - The last time I hyped Flacco was in Week 4 and he promptly went out and laid an egg against the Colts. Part of that initial praise was the upcoming schedule, which included games against Tampa Bay and Atlanta. While the first part of the equation didn’t pan out, if you tabbed the Ravens signal-caller last week, you were rewarded with a monster five-touchdown day. The Falcons defense has been giving up tons of fantasy points to opposing QB’s, so Flacco can look to build on the momentum at home this week.
Brian Hoyer, CLE - We had Hoyer here last week and he returns thanks to a meeting with Jacksonville this week, followed by plus matchups against the Raiders in Week 8 and Buccaneers in Week 9. That schedule and the renewed connection with Jordan Cameron have the Cleveland native's stock trending in the right direction the next few weeks. The run-happy Browns put somewhat of a ceiling on the yardage numbers, but the floor looks rock-solid and his confidence is soaring after a dominant win at home against the Steelers.
Derek Carr, OAK - The Raiders rookie makes the list in light of his four-touchdown breakout against the Chargers. The Raiders defense and running-game are struggling, which puts the team in comeback mode early as well as puts the ball in Carr’s hands. The schedule isn’t the best the next few weeks, but he has shown enough upside to plug-n-play through the bye weeks.
I am a Mike Glennon fan, but feel free to take a chance on another QB with some upside as he heads into his bye week. We cautioned you on Austin Davis’ schedule getting tougher, and he fell back to earth against San Francisco. It doesn’t get any easier this week against the Seahawks. Blake Bortles didn’t give me any reasons to get that excited about him as more than a borderline QB2. Robert Griffin III is looking like a viable stash candidate with Kirk Cousins turning the ball over so much.
Jerick McKinnon, MIN - We have talked about the talented rookie for the VIkings ever since Adrian Peterson was suspended and always mentioned that it was only a matter of time before he pushed Matt Asiata into a supporting role. Judging by last week’s carries, that time has finally arrived. He finally earned the start and out-touched his counterpart 17-3. While I know he is long gone in the majority of leagues that this audience plays in, he is still available in a shocking amount of standard-size leagues and that should no longer be the case now that he has ascended into a starting role.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE - Crowell is a repeat from Week 5, just like McKinnon. I have repeatedly staked my claim that Crowell is the best pure talent at running back on the squad, and trusted that the coaches would finally see that he was outplaying Terrance West by a large margin. West was a healthy scratch last week and Crowell ran well again as he has in every game so far. Ben Tate is still the starter, and that isn’t going to change, but the Browns run so much that Crowell is going to get his 6-10 carries every week and that is enough to lock him in as a flex starter with upside thanks to an easy upcoming schedule. If Tate goes down, we have much more clarity about who would take over as the lead “dawg”. The only knock on Crowell from last week is that he lost a fumble as well as bobbling two other pitches, so he will have to work on his ball control going forward.
Antone Smith, ATL - Smith finally makes the list since he just keeps scoring. That’s five TD’s in six weeks, all of them long scores. The biggest problem is that despite his playmaking ability, the Falcons have still yet to increase his weekly touches. That really is the only thing holding him back from being an every week starter, but at this point, he has to be considered a viable flex start, since he can provide points even if he only breaks one big play a week. It makes him a boom-or-bust play until he can secure a bigger workload, which hopefully will come at some point this season.
Brandon Bolden/James White, NE - Stevan Ridley’s season is over after suffering tears to both his ACL and MCL. It opens up the power-back role in the Patriots offense, but also means fantasy owners will have to deal with the whims of Bill Belichick. If you are struggling at running back, or just looking to add depth, then by all means take a flier on Bolden, White or even practice-squad addition Jonas Gray. Bolden is the guy worth the biggest bid, since he’ll likely get the first call as the goal-line guy behind Shane Vereen. Vereen should benefit most, but in weeks when the Patriots should be playing with a lead, whoever emerges as the “closer” will have more value.
Theo Riddick was really emerging last week for the Lions, but he suffered a hamstring pull which puts a damper on the mini-breakout. He is a name to file away. Tre Mason finally gets his name called, since Zac Stacy’s stock continues to crater. Right now, it is a three-man RBBC along with Benny Cunningham, but Mason is finally on the radar for deeper leagues. James Starks played as many snaps as Eddie Lacy last week, which is bad news for Lacy owners and makes Starks worth a bench spot. Damien Williams should emerge as the clear backup to Lamar Miller in Miami in the wake of Knowshon Moreno’s season-ending knee injury. I own DeMarco Murray in two important leagues, and I am starting to think about adding Joseph Randle as insurance.WIDE RECEIVERS
Andre Holmes, OAK - Hopefully, you got in on Holmes a couple weeks back, when he was cheap, because getting a share of his stock got a whole lot more costly after last week’s two-touchdown game. This is the third week in a row where I have written him up, and he should graduate from the list this week now that he is locked into the lineup as Derek Carr’s new number one option. He’ll have some down weeks playing for a bad team, but he should have a stable enough floor to keep him in your lineup so you can cash in on the big weeks that are sure to come.
Odell Beckham Jr., NYG - Beckham should now get picked up in all leagues, since he will graduate from just playing in three-wide sets to taking over for Victor Cruz as a starter. Both Beckham and Rueben Randle will see their roles and targets increase, which means the opportunity is there for both to deliver more value going forward. The only real downside is that the Giants looked terrible last week and we will have to see how these receivers operate without Cruz around to garner attention. Beckham has the talent to make plenty of noise, so he’s worth an aggressive bid if he’s still lurking on the wire in your league.
Davante Adams, GB - We will keep writing about Adams, since his ownership numbers are still paltry in standard leagues, but his role in the Packers offense continue to evolve. Last week saw a season high in targets, catches and yards (8, 6, 77) and maybe most importantly trust from Aaron Rodgers. When Rodgers ad-libbed his fake-spike pass, he threw it to Adams. To me, that is a sign that his quarterback isn’t afraid to throw it to him in any spot if he is open. He is still the WR3 in the offense, but you know a big game is coming at some point. Hopefully, he can continue to put up stat lines that justify starting him in your flex spot so you can cash in when the scores finally materialize.
Cecil Shorts, JCK - Shorts has been slowed all year by hamstring injuries, but last week he finally started to look like the player who emerged as a quality WR the last two years. The key stats from last week's game were his ten catches on 16 targets. Those kind of numbers are PPR gold. Many of his catches were short slants and underneath routes, as Blake Bortles checked down to him all day long. He’s not a game-breaker, but as long as he stays healthy, he will be an asset, especially in PPR leagues.
Malcom Floyd, SD - The veteran continues to make plays for Philip Rivers, much to the chagrin of Keenan Allen owners. I really have to hand it to Floyd, since I thought he was just about done after last season’s injury-plagued campaign. But he is going to keep putting up consistent numbers in this offense as long as he stays healthy.
Jarvis Landry, MIA - Landry took advantage of Brandon Gibson’s injury to have a breakout performance as the #3 WR for the Dolphins. He should be able to at least hang onto the slot-position and could eventually put heat on Brian Hartline’s hold on the WR2 job. In really deep leagues where pickings are slim, Landry could be your best bet for an upgrade to your WR 4-5 slots.
Brian Tyms got a mention here last week and then scored a touchdown in his limited snaps. He’s firmly on the radar now and should see his role increase if he keeps making plays. Brandon LaFell might have just had his best game of the year, but Tom Brady obviously will warm to any receiver who can consistently catch the football. It at least gives LaFell a decent weekly floor to work from. Robert Woods woke from his slumber last week and seems to have some chemistry going with Kyle Orton. Corey Washington is still behind Preston Parker in the pecking order to replace Victor Cruz in the slot. But if Parker flops, then Washington could get a shot to run deep on the outside and see if he can rekindle some of his preseason magic. If you like to buy cheap lottery tickets in your deep league, here is a pretty good one. The Vikings were bad last week, which obscured the fact that Jarius Wright still got his touches. I think he still has some intrigue as Teddy Bridgewater’s security blanket.TIGHT ENDS
Jace Amaro, NYJ - The Jets finally decided to take the reigns of their rookie tight end last week, lining him out wide more often and letting him run down the field. He caught ten passes for 68 yards and a touchdown and should continue to emerge as a factor for a Jets team in need of playmakers. Geno Smith’s erratic play is a negative, but the arrow is pointing in the right direction now for the 6’5” rookie.
Clay Harbor, JCK - Harbor has been filling in admirably for the injured Marcedes Lewis and turned in his best game last week with 91 yards and a touchdown. He is worth streaming into your lineup this week if you need a replacement for Jimmy Graham or an underperforming starter.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins is on bye this week, but he should continue to see his role grow in the offense that will continue to have to throw the ball to stay in games. Jermaine Gresham is the defacto number two target behind Mohamed Sanu until A.J. Green makes it back. Tim Wright scored on his only catch last week but is a very risky play due to his limited snaps. Ladarius Green is one of our favs and should at least see a little bump in playing time with Eddie Royal sidelined.DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS
Cleveland Browns - I gotta tab my guys this week coming off a thrashing of Pittsburgh heading into a matchup against the hapless Buccaneers. The Browns defense is rounding into shape and has been waiting for a breakout performance. The Bucs could be just what the doctor ordered.
Buffalo Bills - The Bills were lit up by the Patriots last week, which should fuel them for a bounce-back effort against the struggling Vikings offense.
KICKERChandler Catanzaro, ARI - This week’s kicker dart lands on the Cardinals kicker. I like the name and I like the revamped offense with Palmer back.