The fantasy landscape gets a bye week reprieve of sorts. With the 49ers, Jets, Patriots and Rams taking the weekend off, there is not a significant amount of talent being removed from lineups this Sunday. Outside of the Patriots skill players, the toughest losses to overcome will be Frank Gore, Shonn Greene and the San Francisco defense/special teams. Having the Rams and Jets on bye the same week is a nice belated Halloween treat for fantasy owners, as they provide no sure starters outside of Greene, who only recently has looked that way.
That means it's not a week in which we have to dig too deep for those QB2s and flex starters. By this point in the season the stronger matchup plays are becoming more apparent on a weekly basis, but it's also important to follow recent trends, as there are always teams whose first half of the year is a bit of a mirage. A good example of this is the Vikings defense. Through six games the Vikings were great against the run, not allowing a 100-yard rusher, and allowed just two passers to top 250 yards. The last two weeks, though, they've let LaRod Stephens-Howling and Doug Martin rack up more than 360 total yards and three scores in their building while also letting John Skelton and Josh Freeman each top 250 passing. They are on the downslide along with the Packers and Chargers defenses, both of which are fading after strong starts.
In the next three-week stretch that concludes the bye schedule, it's pivotal to find those best defensive matchups while playing your top talent. These weeks will make or break the playoffs for many, so be aware of rising players (see Jonathan Stewart and Darrius Heyward-Bey below) and take advantage of defenses that are bleeding yards. If you have not done so already, reassess who truly is your best talent and use that as a guide to help make starting decisions. Although it may not be this weekend, there are definitely weeks in which benching players like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson might be the prudent thing to do.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Carson Palmer vs. Tampa Bay - Palmer has just one game so far in which he did not throw for at least 295 yards or two touchdowns. With Darren McFadden still struggling to run the ball efficiently and a defense coming to town that limits the run (6th in yards allowed) but has been burnt by the pass (31st in yards through the air), Palmer might finally combine the yards and scores into a huge outing.
2. Joe Flacco at Cleveland - Flacco threw for more than 350 yards and added a score on the ground the first time these teams met, and with the Ravens defense suddenly quite vulnerable to giving up yards and points, expect Flacco's arm to get plenty of work in the Dawg Pound. The Browns have allowed just 340 yards and no scores through the air the last two weeks, but the Ravens are coming off their bye and know their divisional foe quite well. Look for Baltimore to soften Cleveland with Ray Rice and let Flacco stick the dagger in with some shots down field.
3. Andy Dalton vs. Denver - The Broncos defense has been tough versus the pass this year. It is tied for seventh in yards allowed per game and has allowed just one quarterback to top 250 yards. Still, Dalton had his best game as a rookie against a Broncos defense that has not changed dramatically. He threw for 328 yards and two scores in Mile High and now gets a shot to go toe-to-toe with Peyton Manning on his turf. As on fire as Manning is, expect Dalton to be throwing it a ton and post numbers by virtue of sheer volume if nothing else. Of course, having A.J. Green on the other end of many targets won't hurt either.
4. Andrew Luck vs. Miami - Luck may only have one touchdown pass in his last three games, but a couple rushing scores have helped offset what would otherwise be terrible fantasy lines. Getting Miami at home might help, though. The Dolphins allowed a combined 598 yards passing in their last two games to the likes of Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez and give up 281 yards passing yards per game. With their ability to stone the run (3rd fewest yards per game at 82.0), expect Luck to sling it around plenty this week and get back into the end zone with his arm.
5. Brandon Weeden vs. Baltimore - Although Weeden's streak of three straight with 230-plus yards and two touchdowns ended last week with one of his worst performances of the season, much of that can be blamed on the wet and windy conditions in Cleveland. Facing a Ravens defense that he threw for 320 yards on in Baltimore should get Weeden back on track. After all, he tossed it all over the field on the road against a healthy Ravens defense. The beat-up Ravens have given up 900 yards of offense in their last two meetings.
6. John Skelton at Green Bay - Skelton has thrown for more than 550 yards the last two weeks, including 290 against a 49ers defense that put some major hits on him. He has not gotten into the end zone much with just one score, but he couldn't have a much more favorable matchup for fantasy production. The Packers are without Charles Woodson and just let Blaine Gabbert post his first career 300-yard game. And when Aaron Rodgers and Co. get the lead, expect Arizona to let Skelton throw it in the neighborhood of 50 times again.
7. Russell Wilson vs. Minnesota - Josh Freeman just lit up the Vikings defense for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Mini Josh Freeman, A.K.A. Russell Wilson, has really turned up his play in recent weeks (a trip to San Francisco notwithstanding), and figures to continue his impressive ways versus a suddenly vulnerable Vikings defense that's given up exactly 262 passing yards in back-to-back weeks.
1. Daniel Thomas at Indianapolis - Reggie Bush likely will still lead the way for the Miami backfield, but it is worth noting that Thomas has gotten more of the goal-line opportunities recently, cashing in a short score in three of his last four games. Furthermore, after seeing Thomas record more carries than Bush for the first time this season when both backs were healthy, it seems this backfield is becoming more of a timeshare than expected.
2. Andre Roberts at Green Bay - With John Skelton at quarterback the last two weeks Roberts has seen 20 combined targets and racked up 14 catches for 168 yards and a score. Now he'll get to take a shot at a banged-up Packers defense that just allowed Blaine Gabbert to top 300 yards for the first time in his young career and gave up 116 receiving yards to Cecil Shorts. The Cardinals likely will have to throw a ton to keep pace with the Packers' prolific offense, and assuming Larry Fitzgerald draws double coverage most of the game, Roberts should remain a favorite option for Skelton.
3. Jonathan Stewart at Washington - As good as the 10th-ranked Redskins run defense has been at limiting yards (just 92.1 allowed per game), it's still allowed at least 100 total yards or a touchdown to an opposing running back in every game this season. And the Redskins just gave up their first 100-yard rushing performance to bruising back Jonathan Dwyer. With Stewart finally getting his shot to be more of a feature back, the former 1,000-yard rusher may make it consecutive Jonathan's to top 100 on the Skins.
4. Darrius Heyward-Bey vs. Tampa Bay - DHB has at least 85 yards or a score in back-to-back games, and though he was targeted just three times last week that was more a product of the Chiefs having a miserable run defense and Oakland playing with a lead the whole game. Against a Tampa team that's much stiffer versus the run and could well build a lead behind a suddenly explosive offense, expect the Raiders to throw more often on the 30th-ranked pass defense. Denarius Moore's recent string of good games will bring DHB less attention from the defense but possibly the more targeted option for Carson Palmer.
5. Cecil Shorts vs. Detroit - If Matthew Stafford can throw for more than 350 yards and three touchdowns on the smothering Seattle secondary it seems safe to say he's back. That means the Lions should get a lead and force the Jaguars to lean on Blaine Gabbert's arm while playing from behind. Shorts, who's seen 22 targets the last two weeks and totaled 195 yards and a touchdown, looks like the default No. 1 receiver in Jacksonville. Riding him now while he's making the most of it is the savvy move.
6. Ryan Broyles at Jacksonville - Just watch the highlight of Broyles' touchdown catch against the Seahawks if the idea of starting him doesn't sit well. He made a fantastic play on a poorly thrown ball by Matthew Stafford and had the presence of mind to turn and immediately find the pylon. Although he was shown up by Titus Young's big day and saw only five targets, Broyles has proven himself to be a tremendous slot receiver the last two weeks and will only get better with each game. When the Jags have their hands full focusing on Calvin Johnson and Young, don't be surprised if Broyles puts up good numbers.