After the Steelers and Colts took their players off the market in Week 4, the next seven Sundays will see at least four teams out of action, starting with Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay this weekend. That's three quality quarterbacks (last week notwithstanding), four potential running back starters and a nice handful of wideouts, not to mention a revitalized Jason Witten and fairly consistent Brandon Pettigrew.
The absence of some of elite fantasy players will certainly hurt many teams, but every week new names creep into the flex discussion, and this is no exception. The Dolphins' suddenly sparked passing game is evidence of that. And the Chargers' and Patriots' backfield developments made some deeper names very intriguing. Others, meanwhile, have become increasingly valuable because of injuries (sorry, Beanie Wells, Hakeem Nicks and Santonio Holmes... hmm, wait... not Holmes. No Jet has value. Sorry, Rex Ryan).
Entering the second quarter of the season, the shockingly 0-4 Saints present a weekly smorgasbord fantasy feast for their opponents. With the yards and points they're hemorrhaging, it appears safe to roll out the fringe players for whatever team is lucky enough to face them. The Titans defense is another to pick on, as it continues to give up points (37.8 per game!) like a Big 12 defense. Conversely, the Texans and Niners have been so dominant that true-blue studs (see Peterson, Adrian, Week 3) are the only ones worth taking a shot with versus those units.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Andy Dalton vs. Miami - Dalton has been sensational the last three weeks. During that stretch he's totaled three touchdowns in every game (one rushing) and thrown for 890 yards. Next up he gets a Miami defense that is first in the league against the run. They haven't allowed a 100-yard game and are giving up a pitiful 2.4 yards per carry. Fortunately for Dalton owners, that means BenJarvus Green-Ellis won't carry the ball much, and with the Dolphins 30th against the pass and having just allowed Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kolb to top 300, a big day should be in the works for the "Red Rifle."
2. Andrew Luck vs. Green Bay - The Packers have defended the pass remarkably well after last year's disastrous play, but they've still allowed at least two TD tosses in three of four games. If Green Bay's pass rush doesn't get the quarterback on the ground, they will allow yards, and Luck has the legs, smarts and quick release to combat the pressure. With a defense that cannot even remotely stop Aaron Rodgers, expect Luck to put up nice garbage numbers as the Colts are forced to pass early and often.
3. Jay Cutler at Jacksonville - Against the Jaguars the last two weeks, Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton combined for 557 passing yards and posted two touchdowns apiece through the air. Luck, meanwhile, added 50 rushing yards and Dalton a score on the ground. In Soldier Field, versus the league's worst pass rush (just two sacks in four weeks!), Cutler should have little trouble finding his favorite targets all day.
4. Christian Ponder vs. Tennessee - Ponder may have struggled last week, but the Titans have made good QB starts out of everyone they've faced this season. Tennessee has allowed at least two passing scores and 200 yards to every opponent, and with Ponder getting Jerome Simpson into the fold after a three-game suspension, the Vikings passing game should become more dangerous with each week.
5. Ryan Tannehill at Cincinnati - Last week, Tannehill came out of nowhere to rack up more than 400 yards on a Cardinals defense that had previously allowed less than 200 per game to quarterbacks that included Tom Brady and Michael Vick. And he did this in the desert. Now he faces a Cincinnati team that gave up 322 yards and two scores to Brandon Weeden on its home turf in Week 2. While the Bengals have been better the last two weeks and lead the league in sacks, they're also dead last in yards per rush attempt. Miami's running game is one of the best, so don't be surprised when they use it to get Cincinnati to bite on play-action and give up some big plays to the rookie top-10 draft pick.
6. Brandon Weeden at New York Giants - Weeden might not be putting many in the end zone just yet, but the first-round pick is finding a nice rhythm pulling the trigger for Cleveland. In his past three outings after a highly forgettable Week 1 he's averaged just shy of 300 yards per game with two weeks topping the benchmark. Moreover, Weeden's averaging more than 40 pass attempts per game. That sheer volume will lead to production, and this matchup will be no exception when the Browns are forced to once again play from behind.
1. Andrew Hawkins vs. Miami - After a down performance versus the Jaguars last week, Hawkins could be primed for a big bounce-back. Look what Andre Roberts did to Miami with Larry Fitzgerald drawing coverage. Hawkins is a similarly quick and explosive slot receiver who just so happens to have an opposite receiver, some guy named A.J. Green, distracting entire defenses.
2. Ryan Williams at St. Louis - The Rams have allowed 135 yards per game on the ground at 4.7 yards a tote. Williams struggled badly last week, but that was because Miami boasts the league's best run defense and took an early lead. St. Louis has even fewer weapons than Miami, though, and is not going to put up a ton of points on an aggressive and stingy Cardinals defense. This could be Williams' time to really break out.
3. Domenik Hixon vs. Cleveland - In the three games the Browns have been without Joe Haden, their pass defense has been burned for seven scores and 882 yards. What's more, they've allowed six receivers to post double-digit fantasy points in that stretch. Without Hakeem Nicks versus Philly, it was Hixon, not Ramses Barden, who proved to be Eli Manning's replacement for the missing playmaker. If Nicks' knee does not improve dramatically during the week, expect him to sit once again, particularly given the highly winnable nature of this game. That means Hixon should continue to see a high volume of targets and post back-to-back strong performances.
4. Davone Bess at Cincinnati - Bess has 209 yards in his last two games and now gets a Bengals defense that's rolling with its fifth and sixth options at corner with a rash of injuries in the secondary. Although Cincinnait may get star cover man Leon Hall (hamstring) back, he'll likely square off with Brian Hartline. And with the Bengals leading the league in sacks, a heavy pass rush could lead to a lot of hot routes to Bess underneath. Facing inferior coverage, that figures to equal a lot of catches and yards for the savvy veteran.
5. Jacquizz Rodgers at Washington - After barely registering any yards in Weeks 1 and 2, Rodgers has totaled 125 yards and a score the last two games. Of that total, 75 yards and the score came through the air on nine catches. If the Falcons decide to go with no huddle against an absolutely dreadful Redskins pass defense - which has allowed a league-high 11 passing scores - don't be surprised if Rodgers has his best day yet.
6. Brandon Stokley at New England - In two games versus the Pats last year Demaryius Thomas racked up 13 catches for 209 yards. And he did that catching balls from Tim Tebow. With Peyton Manning under center, expect Bill Belichick to do everything he can to limit Manning's go-to guy, particularly in the red zone. Furthermore, New England knows as well as any team that if you send too many rushers at Manning he'll absolutely pick you apart. When the Patriots use just four to get pressure and drop seven, Manning will look to all his reads and find Stokley uncovering more often than anyone else for what should be a lot of connections between the pair of 36-year-olds.