I don't have any empirical evidence for this, but I believe the most exciting fantasy weeks occur when there are a number of compelling real-life matchups. If my completely unscientific research is correct, this should be one helluva week.
Chicago-Detroit, Seattle-Houston, and Philly-Denver are all juicy matchups during the day. That's followed up with perhaps our best prime-time slate of the week, starting with New England-Atlanta and capped by Miami-New Orleans. Basically, Sunday afternoon (or morning for you West Coasters) can't get here soon enough.
We'll be updating here all Sunday morning with important news as it breaks.Meanwhile, Alessandro Miglio and Eric Edholm will be taking your start/sit questions in The MMQB's live chat from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern.
10:33 a.m. -- There were conflicting reports coming out of Oakland this morning, but Matt Flynn will start for the Raiders, as first reported by Jay Glazer. It's unfortunate for Terrelle Pryor owners, as he would have been a slam-dunk QB2 this week. Flynn is a fringe second quarterback in two-QB leagues. You have to love the matchup against Washington, the league's worst pass defense through three weeks.
10:48 a.m. -- It's awfully hard to trust Vincent Jackson today. Word from the Bucs is that his rib injury usually comes with a five-week recovery period. Add to that the fact that rookie Mike Glennon is starting against a solid Arizona defense, and I just don't see Jackson doing all that much today if he plays. Stay away unless you're desperate.
11:05 a.m. -- Seeing lots of questions about C.J. Spiller this week. I know he hasn't quite lived up to expectations, but I'm starting him with confidence today. Houston ran the ball rather effectively against Baltimore last week, but had to abandon the run after falling into a huge deficit. Even with Fred Jackson getting somewhere around 10 touches, I like Spiller for 100-plus total yards and a score today.
11:17 a.m. -- Le'Veon Bell has officially been named the starter for the Steelers today. I think he's a fringe flex option and could be an RB3 this week. However, I love him for the rest of the season. He has a real chance to be a workhorse for Pittsburgh. If he grabs a hold of this role, we could be looking at a guy who gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 touches every week.
11:25 a.m. -- Big news out of Cleveland, where the Bengals will be rolling with a completely decimated secondary. Corners Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson are all inactive. What does that mean? If you own Josh Gordon, you start him. No matter what.
11:39: a.m. -- Ray Rice and Vincent Jackson are both active. I'm rolling with Rice, but staying away from Jackson. Reggie Bush is officially active and is a must-start, as he is every week.
Noon -- One deep player worth starting today: Denarius Moore. Regardless of who starts at QB for the Raiders, Moore should be in your lineup. Washington has been absolutely dreadful against the pass this year, and that game could feature a ton of scoring. On a similar note, you'll for sure want to start Darren McFadden. He'll be a top-10 running back this week.
12:15 p.m. -- Andre Johnson is active and will start today. He may have a tough matchup with the Seahawks, but you just don't bench Andre Johnson. Make sure he's in your lineup.
12:45 -- Time for our weekly Roddy White update. He will play tonight, and the matchup is good, but can you really trust him? I say no. Until he actually proves he is himself on the field, I don't see him being anything more than an expensive decoy. If you're totally desperate you can go with him, but I don't think he finishes the week inside the top 40 at the position.
Final thought of the morning (or afternoon for those of you in the Eastern time zone). If you're scrambling for a last-minute defense, look no further than the Cardinals. Mike Glennon is under center, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are banged up, and the Bucs are in total disarray. Arizona is my favorite stream defense of the week.
A Bell shall toll in London
Le'Veon Bell is set to make his NFL debut when Steelers take on the Vikings across the pond. He missed the first three games of the year because of a foot injury, but he was a full participant in Friday's practice. Even if he isn't the nominal starter, he should get the majority of the touches out of the backfield. There's a reason the Steelers went after Bell in the second round of last April's draft, and we've seen it on display this season. They've had arguably the worst run game in the league this season, so it's hard to imagine them not immediately turning to Bell now that he's healthy. I'm betting he gets somewhere between 16 and 20 touches.
On top of that, the Vikings have been one of the friendliest defenses to running backs in 2013. Reggie Bush and Matt Forte had huge games against Minnesota, and even though Bell isn't the same dual threat that those two are, he'll be able to find plenty of running room. If the Steelers can build a lead, which I expect they will, they'll turn to Bell all the more. He could push up toward 100 total yards with a score.
And what about the other Bell that has tolled all year?
Through three weeks, Joique Bell is the fourth-ranked running back in standard-scoring leagues. He has 296 total yards and three touchdowns and did his best Reggie Bush impression with Bush out against the Redskins a week ago. Unfortunately for Bell owners, Bush is expected to return against the Bears on Sunday. Bush should be started confidently in all formats. Even though he's likely still dealing with the effects of a knee injury, he'll get right back into his role as the primary weapon out of the Detroit backfield. The question, however, is can Bell owners roll with him this week?
The usual caveats about league and roster parameters apply, but I think Bell is a fringe flex option this week. While I do expect Bush to get more touches, I think the Lions will play it a bit safer with him than usual. They need him healthy for the long haul if they're going to compete for a playoff spot, and won't want to tax him too much after sitting out last week. Combine that with the fact that Bell remains the goal-line back, and it adds up to a flex guy in most leagues. He should get somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 touches. If I own him, I'm comfortable plugging him into my lineup.
The Buccaneers may be a mess, but don't worry about Doug Martin
Lost amid the tumult in Tampa is the fact that Martin is second in the NFL with 297 rushing yards this year, trailing only LeSean McCoy's 395. He also has 12 targets, though he's caught just four of them. Mike Glennon doesn't exactly strike fear into the hearts of men, but it's not like Josh Freeman was setting the league on fire, either. You shouldn't downgrade Martin based on the change at quarterback.
With Glennon making his first career start on Sunday, expect to see even more of Martin than usual. Not only will the Bucs build that into the game plan, but Glennon is likely to look to check it down to Martin more often than Freeman did. The Cardinals have been one of the best run defenses in the league this year, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, tied for third with the Jets. Still, Martin could realistically approach 30 touches in this game. You're starting him every single week, but I think you'll be very happy with his output on Sunday.
No clarity in the Baltimore backfield
Ray Rice was limited in practice all week by his hip injury, and is officially listed as questionable. He's a game-time decision, but right now the little information coming from the Ravens suggests he'll play. We know Bernard Pierce will be out there regardless of Rice's status, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll want to play him. He subsisted largely on volume last week, gaining just 65 yards on 24 carries. He did find the end zone, but Rice would likely cut at least 50 percent out of his workload. Even against a Buffalo defense that has surrendered 4.3 yards per carry, you'll likely want to avoid Pierce if Rice plays.
This game kicks off early, so that'll make your decision a bit easier. I'm starting Rice if he plays, and riding with Pierce only if I don't have any other options. I'd consider the former an RB2 and the latter a fringe flex play this week, assuming Rice is in there.
Ryan Broyles getting his chance
Thanks to a pizza mishap, Nate Burleson is out with a broken arm, opening the door for Broyles. The second-year player out of Oklahoma has tempted fantasy owners with his talent since entering the league, but he has mainly vacillated between "injured" and "afterthought." He'll get his first real opportunity to play a large role in the offense against the Bears on Sunday, and I've got him as a WR3/4. Despite the reputation, opposing teams can throw against this Bears defense. It has given up a shocking 8.8 yards per attempt on the season. Christian Ponder looked like an All-Pro in the second half two weeks ago, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for more than 400 yards against the Bears last week. I expect Matthew Stafford to have a big day, and the plain fact is that not every ball can go to Calvin Johnson or Reggie Bush. Love the opportunity, love the matchup, and six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown feels well within reach for Broyles.
The Gronk watch continues for another week
News broke from ESPN Boston on Saturday that Rob Gronkowski will not play against the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday night. He was going to be hard to trust this week anyway, especially after rumblings on Friday that he felt he wasn't quite ready to get back on the field as he continues to recover from five combined surgeries on his arm and back. The fact that he isn't playing is just another bizarre twist in his return. He has been practicing normally for two weeks, and reportedly dominated the live portions of practice this week. After he missed last week, it certainly sounded like the Patriots expected him to be a go for the big inter-conference matchup in Atlanta. He's still a huge weapon for both New England and his fantasy owners, though there could be some discord between him and the team. No matter that, though, you'll want him in your lineup when he returns to the field. It's also worth checking with his owner to see if his price has dipped because of glacial pace of his recovery.
Injury news lightning round
Danny Amendola (groin) did not make the trip to Atlanta. We'll revisit his status next week.
Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring) was a full participant all week. He hasn't done much the last two weeks, but it appears he has put the injury in his rear-view mirror.
Vincent Jackson (ribs) and Mike Williams (hamstring) were both limited participants in practice on Friday. They're officially listed as questionable and expected to play, but keep your expectations low. Mike Glennon is getting his first career start, as we discussed earlier, and they got precious little practice time with the rookie this week. The Bucs will likely lean on Doug Martin on Sunday. If you have Jackson you're starting him, but you likely want to avoid Williams.
Rashard Mendenhall (toe) was a full participant on Thursday and Friday. Use him as normal.
Roddy White (ankle) remains questionable and is still sounding notes of uncertainty with the injury that has bothered him all year. I feel decent about playing him if he suits up with a solid matchup against the Patriots, though.
Brandon Bolden had a big game last week, but he's questionable with a knee injury. Given that Bill Belichick is liable to vary playing time among his running backs wildly from week to week, Bolden's injury and the fact that this is a Sunday night game, I recommend looking elsewhere.
Miles Austin is not an option this week, as he's out due to a hamstring injury.
Andre Johnson (shin) was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as questionable. As long as he plays, you want him in your lineup, no matter if Richard Sherman shadows him all day or not.
Maurice Jones-Drew (ankle) was a limited participant in Friday's practice, but he's listed as probable and will play. The only risk here is that the Jaguars fall behind early and are forced to abandon the run game. Otherwise, MJD should have a nice game against the Colts.