It's not a terrible week for byes, as the Bills and Panthers are largely irrelevant for fantasy purposes and the Bengals and Cardinals aren't far behind. That said, here are some bye-week fill-ins and players with potential upside as we enter Week 6.
As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: Roethlisberger is coming back from his suspension, and with the Steelers coming off a bye, it's possible Roethlisberger is available in a shallow league. If so, grab him without hesitation. While you're checking, don't forget Ben's top wideout, Mike Wallace (whose season stats so far are essentially meaningless since they were done without Roethlisberger). There's really not much to explain here - Roethlisberger and Wallace are top options on an elite team and shouldn't be on waivers.
Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs: This recommendation has nothing to do with Cassel and everything to do with his opponent this week - the Texans. Houston has allowed 329 yards/game, 8.3 YPA, and 11 passing TDs. For those of you who aren't stat geeks, let's put it like this - those aren't just the worst figures in the entire NFL, they're historically bad numbers.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys: The situation in the Cowboys backfield reminds me a bit of the Giants, as Felix Jones is the Cowboys version of Ahmad Bradshaw and Marion Barber is their version of Brandon Jacobs. In other words, Jones, like Bradshaw is the smaller, quicker, and by just about any measure, better running back. The Giants realized this in the preseason and made Bradshaw their starter. With the Cowboys struggling at 1-3, I have to think it's just a matter of time before they do the same with Jones. There's only so much loyalty you can have for Barber when he's averaging 3.4 YPC while Jones is at 5.4.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks: It wasn't too long ago that I watched Bills games and thought "wow, Lynch is the best player on the field (for either team)." Yes, a lot has changed since - terrible play by the QB and offensive line, some off-field issues for Lynch, and the emergence of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and now a trade to Seattle. I can't help but think, though, that Lynch has the potential to return to that Pro Bowl level, especially now that he's back on the West Coast (where he went to college and is presumably more comfortable). I see Justin Forsett as a third-down, change of pace type of back, not a challenge to Lynch for the the every-down role and certainly not for goal line carries. There's always some uncertainty as to how a new team will use a player, especially in the first couple of games, but to illustrate the point, I'd cut Forsett for Lynch.
Donald Brown and Mike Hart, RB, Colts: Joseph Addai's shoulder injury on Sunday was an immediate reminder that there's a lot of value for the Colts backup RBs if Addai is sidelined. It's unfortunate that Brown has a hamstring injury himself, or he'd be the clear handcuff, and it's probably tough to stash Brown and Hart in most leagues. Follow our Player Updates thoughout the week to decide how to prioritize claims for Brown and Hart.
Reggie Bush, RB, Saints: Many analysts are wondering why the Saints offense is struggling, with "Super Bowl hangover" the most cited explanation. That's fair, but don't discount Bush's absence. Bush should be ready in a couple of weeks - depending on league size, it may be worth stashing him and waiting for him to come back.
Danny Woodhead, RB/WR, Patriots: If I knew that small white guys could earn a significant role in the NFL, maybe I'd have worked out a bit more frequently! Seriously, Woodhead seems to have found a niche in New England as a "change of pace" running back - helping to fill the role vacated by Kevin Faulk. At this point, if you ignore oft-injured Fred Taylor, I'd say Woodhead is only behind Benjarvus Green-Ellis for significant carries in the Patriots backfield. I've even seen Woodhead listed as a WR in some formats (Yahoo!, I believe), which helps.
Deji Karim, RB, Jaguars: Let's file this in the "you may not have realized" category - Karim is the clear handcuff to Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville.
Deion Branch, WR, Patriots: Branch has been largely irrelevant since his Super Bowl MVP with the Patriots. Seattle exposed him for what he is - a mediocre receiver who looked better than he was by playing with Tom Brady. Looking to fill the void left by the trade of Randy Moss, the Patriots have brought Branch into the fold again via trade. Now 31, and widely viewed as injury-prone, it seems clear that Branch can't possibly fill the huge shoes of Randy Moss. That said, it wouldn't be hard to see Branch becoming Tom Brady's second option at receiver. Who knows - maybe they can recapture some of their old chemistry. I doubt Belichick would have given up a fourth-rounder (they got just a third-rounder for Moss) if he didn't think it was possible.
James Jones, WR, Packers: I feel like I profile Jones every week, and I suspect some of you are tired of it by now, so let's get right to the point. The injuries to Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee should create more opportunities for Jones, who had 8 targets last week in their absence. Like the rest of the Packers, Jones' value falls through the floor if Aaron Rodgers is out with a concussion, so keep a close eye on that as well.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams: If you're wondering who's going to replace the targets that would have gone to Mark Clayton, who was Sam Bradford's favorite target but is out for the year, look no further than Amendola, who amassed a whopping 19 targets last week. Amendola plays in the slot, so he's not a true replacement for Clayton, but young QBs tend to like slot WRs or TEs - it's like a security blanket, right in the middle of the field. Except for Amendola, I'm inclined to take a "wait and see" approach with the Rams other receivers.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, and Tony Moeaki, TE, Chiefs: See Matt Cassel, above. As matchups go, this week is as good as it gets for Bowe and Moeaki. To illlustrate, the Texans give up an NFL-high 14.3 points per game to opposing teams' tight ends.
Andrew Quarless, TE, Packers: Quarless has to be the most athletic third-string tight end in the NFL. More importantly, with Jermichael Finley out 3-6 weeks and Donald Lee out a few weeks as well, Quarless is slated to earn significant playing time on a prolific offense. Like James Jones (above) and the rest of the Packers, Quarless needs Aaron Rodgers to be healthy to be fantasy relevant.
Giants D/ST: This looks like an elite unit again, and they have a home matchup against the Lions this week.
Rams D/ST: The Chargers have been historically bad on special teams so far this season, and the Rams get a chance to exploit that weakness this week in St. Louis. Predicting touchdowns via special teams is a crapshoot, but if you're forced to choose among the lower-tier defenses, this matchup is worth a flier. (Even if you disagree, don't forget the Chargers special teams struggles as the season progresses.)
Dead to Me:
Leon Washington, RB, Seahawks: With Marshawn Lynch as the physical back and Justin Forsett the speedster, Washington has no value as a third-string running back on a mediocre offense. Unless your league counts return stats, look elsewhere.
Panthers WRs (besides injured Steve Smith): No explanation necessary, but I'll mention this. A buddy of mine who's a Panthers fan emailed me Monday, argued the Panthers are worse than the Bills, and the two will be battling all season for the #1 overall pick. I think the Bills are worse (and have the tougher schedule), but if forced to predict, I'd say it will be Bills, then Panthers starting the 2011 NFL Draft.