The final week of the bye schedule is upon us and the Giants, Seahawks, Titans and Vikings are out of action, leaving the fantasy landscape noticeably thinner at one crucial position. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Chris Johnson are three of the top four leading rushers in the league, and that trio is just one CJ2K 99-yard game away from having 12 100-yard games in the last four weeks. One. Measly. Yard. In that short span, these three studs have amassed a whopping 1,646 yards led by the bionic Peterson's preposterous 629. Throw in Andre Brown, who has posted decent flex numbers with a touchdown vultured from Ahmad Bradshaw in four straight, and you've got a lot of owners scrambling to fill vacant running back slots this week with little hope of achieving anywhere close to their usual production.
Although there's little likelihood of finding enough points to completely offset these huge losses, the best formula for putting it within reach is to fill that starting tailback slot with the most favorable matchup. If you don't have a spare starting running back facing a soft run defense, such as LaRod Stephens-Howling, look for a timeshare member who either fills the breakaway, home-run component of the backfield or is the clear goal-line option. If that removes your best flex option, plan to fill that slot with a high-upside receiver who will either face a weak pass defense or who is in an offense that will be forced to throw it a ton (see Broyles, Ryan for a combination of the two).
At the quarterback position, injuries have thinned the field even more than your typical bye week. And yet, the only significant loss figures to be Ben Roethlisberger to his injured throwing shoulder. Eli Manning has been garbage of late and would be a scary start to say the least if he were active, while Alex Smith and Jay Cutler were about to face off against each other's top-end defenses. Amazingly, with seven scores in the last three weeks Russell Wilson is the second-best option that's missing this week. But those holes can be filled with relative ease. I purposely left Michael Vick out of that discussion because Nick Foles is a better passer and about to prove it against a weak Redskins defense. Others who are typically overlooked - like a couple of NFC West quarterbacks - round out the depth at the position and are worth a gamble in two-QB leagues.
Ultimately, this week will decide the fates of many playoff races, so there's no time like the present to roll the dice. Chances are with so many players injured or on bye, your opponent will be doing likewise. And if he is not and is set at most positions with consistent starters, you have all the more cause to swing for the fences.
No. 2 QUARTERBACKS
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Miami - After an awful two-game stretch at the start of October, Fitzpatrick has been efficiently productive with more than 800 yards and five scores in his last three games. Getting a Miami defense that's 28th against the pass and just allowed Tennessee to roll up 30 points should help him continue his nice stretch.
2. Cam Newton vs. Tampa Bay - It's come to this. Newton has performed so poorly for most of this season, that not only is he just a QB2, but he's not even the best one this week. Nevertheless, he draws a Tampa defense this week that's allowed more yards than anybody through the air. Newton went for 303 yards on them in Week 1-one of his two 300-yard games this season-and should repeat that feat at home, especially when the Bucs stop Carolina's run game dead and force Newton to pitch it upwards of 40 times.
3. Philip Rivers @ Denver - Why gamble with Rivers-who threw four picks the last time he faced the Broncos-you might ask? Simple. Because you know the Chargers are going to be down in Mile High and playing catch up. What's more, Danario Alexander finally presents a capable deep threat opposite Malcom Floyd and should continue to open up the passing game and slowly exhume the Rivers of old.
4. Nick Foles @ Washington - He may be a rookie, he may be making his first career start and he may be on the road, but the moment will not be too big for Foles. And fortunately for him, the matchup is very forgiving. After seeing the 6-foot-6 rookie pocket passer step in for a concussed Michael Vick and complete nearly 70 percent of his passes for more yards in two and a half quarters than the stingy Dallas pass defense normally allows per game, it seems safe to say Foles will fare well against the Redskins' horrible pass defense. Expect a new era for the Eagles to begin this Sunday.
5. Sam Bradford vs. New York Jets - In his last four outings, Bradford has totaled 1,050 yards, thrown four touchdowns and added another on the ground. And he just welcomed the return of Danny Amendola, who totaled 11 catches for 102 yards against the 49ers. If Bradford can throw for 275 yards and two scores without a single pick in San Francisco against an elite defense that had allowed just 187 passing yards per game and had given up a league-low six touchdowns through the air, it's safe to say he can put up similar numbers at home facing a Jets team that let Russell Wilson and Golden Tate combine for three touchdown passes.
6. John Skelton at Atlanta - After starting the year strong versus the pass, the Falcons have struggled some in recent weeks, allowing 290 yards a game over their last four contests. Coincidentally, Skelton has hit at least 290 in each of his last two. Playing from behind, Skelton was forced to throw often and totaled nearly 100 attempts in those two weeks. A road trip across country to Atlanta doesn't figure to change that. Expect high attempt numbers to equal a big day yardage-wise for this gunslinger.
1. Donald Jones vs. Miami - Jones has at least 65 yards or a touchdown in each of the last three games and has racked up 19 targets in the last two weeks. With Steve Johnson still nursing a thigh injury, Jones has stepped into a larger role in the offense and that figures to continue given the team's short week and the loss of Fred Jackson (concussion) to decrease the number of rush attempts. With the 28th-ranked Dolphins pass defense coming to town Jones' stock could be ready to peak.
2. Danario Alexander at Denver - Alexander has been with the Chargers for just three weeks and has played in just two games. He has 195 yards and a score. Robert Meachem, who was signed in the offseason to replace the big-play void created by the loss of Vincent Jackson, has 197 yards in eight games. Alexander, who is averaging 24.4 yards per catch, is 6-foot-5, 215, and fast. And he's already shown nice chemistry with Philip Rivers. Expect him to continue seeing a lot of action when the Broncos force San Diego to play from behind.
3. Chris Ivory at Oakland - The Raiders may have slowed Ray Rice last weekend, but when they have to deal with Drew Brees' right arm, expect those running lanes to reopen like a freeway. Ivory may not see the biggest workload of the Saints' backs - as that's a guessing game every week - but he's clearly the most dynamic option sans Darren Sproles, and he also has the best nose for the end zone.
4. Daniel Thomas at Buffalo - Thomas has had just four less carries than Reggie Bush the last four weeks and has produced more total yards over the last two. Furthermore, the much bigger Thomas has clearly established himself as the goal-line option, as his three scores on the year have all come from within five yards while Bush's four TD runs are all from outside the 10. Against a Bills defense that's dead last against the run in both yards and scores allowed, expect Thomas to get trusted even more than usual after Bush has lost fumbles in two of the last three games.
5. Darryl Richardson vs. New York Jets - This young speedster ripped off 58 yards on just seven carries against the 49ers run defense. He averages 5.7 yards per carry and figures to see a heavier share of the workload after Steven Jackson racked up 32 touches versus San Francisco - 13 more than his previous season high. Against the 30th-ranked Jets run defense that could translate to more than 100 total yards and perhaps a long score.
6. Ryan Broyles vs. Green Bay - The Packers are without their top cover guy and defensive playmaker in Charles Woodson (collarbone) and their only serious pass rushing threat in Clay Mathews (hamstring) is doubtful. They've allowed more than 300 yards passing in their last two contests to Blaine Gabbert and John Skelton. Broyles was much less involved last week than he'd been in the previous three games, but expect that to change when Matthew Stafford is slinging it all over the Packers in Ford Field.
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