The toughest bye week of the year is upon us. The only week with six teams out of action - no Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs, Dolphins, Eagles or Falcons - means A LOT of talent is unavailable. At least three starting quarterbacks and two studs, depending how you look at Philip Rivers' horrendous Monday night collapse, are out of lineups this week, at least eight weekly starting wideouts, a whopping six high-end running backs and two Hall-of-Fame tight ends all take a seat. It is without a doubt time to dig deep into the bench and perhaps the waiver wire to scour for favorable matchups or high-upside plays.
At quarterback, the best path to a successful week if you're looking for that second starter or forced to replace a Peyton Manning or Matt Ryan is to find the best combination of experienced signal caller and leaky pass defense. Fortunately, there are a fair amount of them this week (Brandon Weeden may be a rookie, but that dude is older than Aaron Rodgers, so he gets some experience cred just for pushing 30). Rolling with a Joe Flacco versus a stiff Houston defense or Alex Smith facing an elite Seahawks secondary is too risky despite each player's ability to post big games. Only the top tier of QBs should be chanced versus those defenses, as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady showed last week.
In the end, you may still need to get lucky with a player or two who would have been an inconceivable option just a few short weeks ago. That's why it's so important to pay attention to injuries, depth chart movement and trends. And with that said, I'll leave you with a bonus flex option for only the most desperate of owners: Cedric Peerman. The Bengals running back replaced Bernard Scott when the latter went on IR last week and was impressive working in the passing game with eight grabs for 76 yards in his first significant action as the top backup to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The shifty back with breakaway speed may even warrant more touches this week if The Law Firm struggles against a usually stiff Steelers run D.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Jay Cutler vs. Detroit - Cutler has gone for at least 275 yards and two touchdowns in each of his last two weeks and has done that with Matt Forte (ankle) catching just three passes. The latter should be close to 100 percent following the bye week and play more snaps and in turn boost Cutler's numbers. While the team is without Alshon Jeffery for a while with a broken hand, Cutler will welcome back a favorite target with Earl Bennett coming off his own hand injury. Facing a middling Lions pass defense Monday night should provide some big plays for the Bears' pass attack in Soldier Field.
2. Carson Palmer at Jacksonville - No team in the league gets after the quarterback worse than the Jaguars. In five games they've totaled a pitiful three sacks, and over the past three contests they've given up at least 240 yards and two touchdowns through the air. With Palmer averaging nearly 290 yards a game, the Jags defense could get picked apart as Oakland's speedy wideouts have time to break free from coverage.
3. Andy Dalton vs. Pittsburgh - The Steelers are among the league's best at limiting a quarterback's per-play efficiency. Dalton is fourth in the league at more than 8.0 yards-per-attempt. Something has to give. And without Troy Polamalu (calf) and possibly without LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) again, that something figures to be the Steelers defense. A.J. Green has been dominant through six games, and the complementary pieces are in place for Dalton to keep up his hot start to the year.
4. Josh Freeman vs. New Orleans - It's probably safe to say that with Drew Brees facing the Bucs' 31st-ranked pass defense that this will turn into a pass-heavy game. Fortunately for Freeman, the Saints aren't much better against the throw. The Saints allow a whopping 8.6 yards per pass attempt, tied for 31st in that stat, and Freeman is finally getting comfortable in Greg Schiano's offense, as evidenced by his combined 627 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks. So look for him to continue finding Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams for big gains.
5. Matt Hasselbeck at Buffalo - Hasselbeck is coming off 290 yards and a score against a highly physical and aggressive Steelers defense. He has Kenny Britt almost back to full strength and speedsters Nate Washington and Kendall Wright lining up all over the field - not to mention one of the league's fastest tight ends in Jared Cook. Prior to drawing a Cardinals team that couldn't block a hamster from getting to their quarterback, the Bills had allowed six touchdown passes in just six quarters. On the road or not, that bodes well for Hasselbeck and his deep contingent of weapons.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Tennessee - In Weeks 3 and 4, Fitzpatrick went off for more than 550 yards and seven touchdowns. The last two games he's done a complete 180, combining for less than 300 yards and notching zero scores. On the plus side, he went from four picks during his hot stretch to just one. With the Titans highly generous pass defense (13:4 TD:INT) coming to town, expect Fitzpatrick to fall somewhere between the extremes he's seen lately.
7. Brandon Weeden at Indianapolis - Last year, Cam Newton was an elite quarterback in both real and fantasy football. He set the rookie record with 4,051 passing yards. Over the last five games since a disappointing Week 1 showing, Weeden has thrown for 1,401 yards and seven touchdowns. At that pace he'd eclipse 4,300 yards and put up 21 scores for the season. No one is saying he'll maintain that clip, but he's throwing it nearly 40 times a game, and versus a Colts defense that has little threat of a pass rush or tight coverage, his pace is unlikely to slow this week.
1. Mike Williams vs. New Orleans - Williams seems to keep getting overlooked as a weekly starter, but one more game like his last two (both more than 100 yards) and that will all change. Facing the Saints miserable pass defense at home should land him - at least temporarily - on the must-start list.
2. Alex Green at St. Louis - Although the Rams have been surprisingly good against the run, particularly lately, it became obvious last week that the Packers trust Green to handle the load out of the backfield. He saw 22 carries and turned in a solid performance against a stout Houston defense with more than 70 total yards. If the Packers open up a lead or move the ball well against St. Louis - two distinct possibilities - Green should have plenty of chances for yards and perhaps his first career score.
3. Josh Gordon at Indianapolis - With Gordon the hope each week is to catch lightning in a bottle because this young receiver is simply a superior athlete who is capable of breaking a big play at any moment. He's proved that each of the last two weeks with a score of more than 60 yards, and logic dictates that he should start seeing more targets from Brandon Weeden, who averages nearly 40 pass attempts per game. More targets equals more chances. With six teams on bye, Gordon looks awfully promising thanks to that upside.
4. Kendall Wright at Buffalo - Wright has at least 65 yards or a score in each of the last three games and hasn't seen less than eight targets since Week 1. Whether it's Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker at quarterback, he's clearly a big part of the Titans' gameplan. With his explosive ability after the catch and the Bills inability to slow the pass, Wright could become the 10th wideout to catch a touchdown or the sixth player to register 100 yards receiving on Buffalo. Or both.
5. Stephen Hill at New England - Don't kid yourself. Shonn Greene won't be running all over the Patriots' sixth-ranked run defense like he tore through a soft Colts D last week. And when the Patriots jump out to a two-score or bigger lead, the Jets will be forced to throw and throw often. New England's last three games looked like deja vu of 2011's miserable pass defense as they allowed just shy of a 1,000 combined yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. And that includes a shocking effort from a previously grounded Russell Wilson. Although Mark Sanchez has struggled and Hill is just back from a sore hamstring, the long-limbed speedster figures to get a lot of looks as the Jets play from behind, so the friendly matchup may result in some big yardage for the youngster.
6. LeGarrette Blount vs. New Orleans - Although this figures to become a pass-heavy game given both team's inability to slow the throw, the Saints are still a sorry mess against the run. It's likely the Bucs will try to grind out some long drives early to keep Drew Brees off the field and Blount, who has scored in each of the last two games and looked impressive in the process, could make it a third straight if Tampa gets inside the 10. After all, the Saints have allowed six rushing scores to running backs in just five games.
7. Danny Woodhead vs. New York Jets - Desperate times call for desperate measures. With six teams on bye and a lot of RB talent out of action, Woodhead could be a nice solution. He started his career versus the Jets and has played well against them. More important, he's totaled at least 70 yards or scored a touchdown in four straight games. Against the weak Jets run defense and with Brandon Bolden dealing with a knee injury, Woodhead might be a sneaky good play.
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