Week 7 of the 2013 NFL season looks like the league's unofficial rivalry week.
In two early games, the Patriots take on the Jets while the Eagles host the Cowboys. Then in the late slate, the Steelers welcome the Ravens to Pittsburgh. And if that isn't enough, Peyton Manning makes his return to Indianapolis in the Sunday primetime game.
Luckily for fantasy owners, there really aren't any muddy injury situations to deal with this week. We pretty much have certainty already that surrounding all our big names. That should make for a relatively worry-free Sunday morning, but you never know when you might get thrown a curveball. Just ask Calvin Johnson owners.
We'll be updating here 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. ET.
12:44 p.m. update: Lots of intrigue at the tight end position today. One guy you shouldn't worry about activating is Greg Olsen. He was able to practice late in the week and is good to go against the Rams. Get him in there.
12:19 p.m.: Seeing a lot of people celebrating the fact that Joique Bell is active. Why? He's an afterthought in that offense with Reggie Bush healthy, and the Lions have a tough matchup with the Bengals. If you're considering staring Bell today, you're either in a very deep league or hurting big time.
12:03 p.m.: Martellus Bennett is up and active for the Bears. He should give the Redskins fits today. Make sure he is in your lineup.
11:38 a.m.: Jay Glazer reports that James Jones is unlikely to play because of his knee injury. Look elsewhere.
As expected, Rob Gronkowski is active for the first time all season. You didn't take a shot on him back in the summer just to sit him once he got in the lineup. Start him with confidence today.
11:34 a.m.: Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts are active for the Jaguars. Blackmon should be started regardless of format. As for Shorts, the shoulder could be significantly limiting today. I don't think he finishes any higher than a WR3, and that's a best-case scenario.
11:31 a.m.: Fred Davis is inactive for Washington today, making Jordan Reed the only true tight-end show in town. Given the great matchup with the Bears, you could certainly do worse at the position this week. Reed is a top-10 guy at tight end for Week 7.
11:21 a.m.: Cecil Shorts is out on the field going through drills with the rest of the Jacksonville receivers. If he were fully healthy, I'd recommend rolling with him. However, that shoulder is likely to limit him even if he does play. If you have a comparable option, you should sit Shorts. If you don't, you should feel alright about starting him today.
11:02 a.m.: Let's talk Brandon Jacobs. He's questionable with a hamstring injury, and we're unlikely to know whether or not he'll play until sometime tomorrow. Even if he does play, his role could be limited depending on the severity of the injury. That makes him too great a risk for my tastes. Now I wouldn't dip all the way down to, say, Joique Bell, just to avoid Jacobs. But if you have comparable options, Jacobs has to sit.
10:45 a.m.: As we wait for our first batch of actives and inactives, let's talk about Michael Crabtree. This won't help you this week, but he 49ers expect to get him back from a torn Achilles in mid-to-late November. If you've got some roster space to work with, he's worth stashing right now. He could end up playing a huge role in the fantasy playoffs.
Josh Freeman gets his first start for the Vikings
There probably isn't a player in the league who has had a worse 2013 season than Freeman. He started the year at the helm of a team some believed could be a playoff sleeper. If Freeman led the Buccaneers to the playoffs -- or even had them in the discussion late in the year -- he probably would have cashed in as a free agent this offseason. Of course, the exact opposite happened. The fifth-year man floundered in Tampa, fell out of favor with Greg Schiano, had sensitive information leaked, and got benched for Mike Glennon before being released one month into the season. And yet he can erase all that with a strong second-half run in Minnesota.
Despite being unfairly persecuted to a certain degree in Tampa, Freeman was not free from blame. In three starts this year, he completed just 45.7 percent of his passes for 571 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He had plenty of weapons in Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Doug Martin, but could not get anything going. Furthermore, Tampa's offensive line played pretty well in his three starts, earning positive grades from Pro Football Focus in each outing. No matter how you look at it, Freeman played terribly for the Buccaneers this season.
So why do I like Freeman to be one of the surprise players of the second half? Thanks to Adrian Peterson, Freeman gets a bit of an upgrade in the skill players surrounding him. Would you rather have Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Kyle Rudolph or Jackson and Williams? I'd rather have the former, especially because of what Rudolph can do for him in the middle of the field. Minnesota's offensive line has been good in pass protection, ranking ninth in the league according to PFF. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, take a look at his schedule. After getting the Giants on Monday night, the Vikings play the Packers, Cowboys and Redskins. Those three are all in PFF's bottom five in pass coverage and rank 21st or worse in YPA allowed. There are six teams on bye each of the next two weeks. Fantasy mainstays like Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers will all sit either Week 8 or Week 9. Fringe guys like Jay Cutler and Eli Manning will also have their byes one of the next two weeks. Freeman will have great matchups both of those weeks. You can start him in a pinch this week, but I think he definitely puts up starter's numbers in Week 8 and Week 9.
Rob Gronkowski makes his much-awaited return
I admit it, I will not be sad to retire the weekly Rob Gronkowski section of the Cheat Sheet. It was getting a bit tiresome to try to unravel all the yarn that had been tangled by Gronkowski, Bill Belichick, the Patriots, Gronkowski's father, Drew Rosenhaus, and the Patriots' beat writers. In the least surprising development in this saga, it was Rosenhaus who alerted the nation that all the doctors had given Gronk their imprimatur, clearing the way for him to make his season debut against the Jets.
I usually urge caution in situations like this. It's always hard to know exactly what role a guy will play in his first game back from injury. Having said that, all the reports suggest that Gronk has been dominating in practice in recent weeks. He's my No. 8 tight end for the week, meaning I'd likely start him wherever I owned him. However, what I'd really try to do is swing a trade as soon as possible. If you're a Gronk owner, you obviously had to plan for his absence from day one this year. That means you might have ended up placing a big bid on Julius Thomas after his Week 1 explosion for the Broncos. You may have targeted a second- or third-tier tight end, like Martellus Bennett or Antonio Gates, late in your draft. If that's the situation in which you find yourself, you'll definitely want to make a deal. There isn't any reason to have two tight ends of high stature on your roster, unless you can start both of them. You won't want to make that decision every week, and you can optimize your roster by making a trade to upgrade another position. Check in with Jimmy Graham's owner to see if he's jumpy.
What to do with Calvin Johnson
Johnson got back on the field last week, but he was still clearly hobbled by his knee injury. He played just 38 snaps, serving mainly as a decoy in the Lions' 31-17 win over the Browns. At the same time, Detroit could afford to take it easy with him in the second half, as they held onto the lead for the final 11 minutes of the game. He practiced all week, but fantasy owners could be excused for wondering what his role will be against the Bengals.
The fact that Johnson was able to participate in practice after playing on his gimpy knee is a sign that he'll be more involved this week. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said as much, so fantasy owners should feel relatively comfortable rolling with him. The bottom line is you just don't bench a guy like Johnson. This is an elite talent capable of going off any given week, regardless of matchup. For pure entertainment purposes, it would be a shame if he can't go at 100 percent. This game features two of the league's best receivers in Johnson and A.J. Green. They could put on quite the show for us in Detroit.
Nick Foles and Jay Cutler need to be started in every league
Are you a Drew Brees owner still wondering what you'll do without your signal caller this week? Or maybe you're a Matt Ryan owner who is feeling terrible now that your quarterback lost Julio Jones for the season and Roddy White at least for this week. Or perhaps you own Tom Brady and don't trust him in a tough matchup with the Jets, even with Gronkowski back on the field. I hope you have one of these two guys ready to step into the breach.
Foles lit up the Buccaneers last week, throwing for 297 yards, three touchdowns and adding a rushing score. The Cowboys have allowed 7.9 YPA and a league-high 14 passing touchdowns. Foles is in line for another huge day. Depending on Michael Vick's status next week, you may have missed your window of opportunity to trade Foles, but you can still reap the benefits of owning him for now. He's my No. 6 quarterback for the week.
Among regular starting quarterbacks, Cutler ranks 10th with 23.1 fantasy points per game. That has him ahead of Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick, and less than a point behind Cam Newton and Tony Romo. He could move up in the rankings this week after facing the dreadful Washington defense. The Redskins have allowed a ridiculous 8.6 YPA and 10 touchdowns on the season. In his last three games, Cutler is 75-of-116 for 937 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions, though all three of those picks came in the same game. He's my No. 8 quarterback this week.
Brandon Jacobs is kind of, sort of back
Pressed into starting duty against the Bears last week, Jacobs flashed some of that mid-aughts swagger by running for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He's listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, but word out of New York is they were just being cautious with him during practice this week. You may not get very many more opportunities to start him the rest of the year, especially once Andre Brown returns from his broken leg, but you want him in your lineup this week.
The Vikings have allowed 24.3 fantasy points per game to running backs, the most in the league. DeAngelo Williams totaled 117 yards on 22 touches against them last week. Le'Veon Bell ran for two touchdowns against them in his NFL debut. Reggie Bush tore them apart Week 1, racking up 191 total yards and a score. The following week, Matt Forte went for 161 yards from scrimmage. They've been about as friendly as a defense could possibly be against opposing runners. Take advantage and start Jacobs on Monday night.
Terrance Williams and Keenan Allen are ready to help the WR-needy
No doubt, both Williams and Allen are owned in your league. You're not going to be able to scoop them up after reading this. However, if you're lucky enough to own one of them, make sure you have him starting this week.
Williams has become the Lou Gehrig to Miles Austin's Wally Pipp. He took the opportunity created by Austin's injury and has grabbed control of the starting role opposite Dez Bryant. In the last three weeks, Williams has 13 catches for 249 yards and two touchdowns. He's going up against an Eagles defense that has allowed 7.5 YPA and 13 touchdowns in six games this year. I think it will be a big day for everyone involved in this game, Williams included. We should get no fewer than eight starter-worthy players (Romo, Foles, LeSean McCoy, Joseph Randle, Bryant, DeSean Jackson, Williams and Jason Witten) from Dallas and Philadelphia.
No receiver in the league has had a better October thus far than Keenan Allen. He has 15 receptions on 21 targets for 222 yards and two touchdowns across the last two weeks. On a per-play basis, Jacksonville's pass defense isn't quite as bad as you might think. The Jaguars have surrendered 7.2 YPA this year, tied for 15th in the league. However, they rank 29th in pass rush and 22nd in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus, and have allowed a league-high 14 passing touchdowns. You can bet Philip Rivers will look Allen's way somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 times on Sunday. That should be enough to make him a starter in fantasy leagues this week.
Injury news lightning round
• Martellus Bennett is questionable with a knee injury. He played well with the same injury and designation last week, catching six passes for 68 yards, and has had 10 days off since then. It would be a big surprise if he missed the game in Washington.
• Mike Williams was a full participant in Friday's practice, and is listed as probable with a hamstring injury. He should be able to get back out there after missing last week's loss to the Eagles.
• Justin Blackmon didn't practice Friday because of a hamstring injury, but it sure sounds like he will play. He should be universally started.
• Cecil Shorts is questionable with a shoulder injury. He says he'll play, but he has also had trouble lifting his arm this week. He'd be a risky fantasy option if he does give it a go. With Ace Sanders and Stephen Burton both out due to concussions, Mike Brown could be a sneaky play in deep leagues.
• Julian Edelman is questionable with a thigh injury, but is expected to play against the Jets. Expect him to get double-digit targets with Danny Amendola sidelined. Brandon Bolden is expected to play, though he is listed as questionable again because of his knee injury. You should be able to find a better option.
• In that same game, Aqib Talib is out because of a hip injury. Bump Stephen Hill up your weekly rankings. I'd start him in most leagues.
• Greg Olsen was in a walking boot earlier in the week, but he is listed as probable and should play despite his foot injury. I'd consider benching him for another comparable option, but I wouldn't go reaching down a tier or two.
• Thad Lewis (foot) participated fully in Friday's practice. He will start, but the matchup in Miami is terrible. C.J. Spiller (ankle) also practiced fully and is probable. I'm starting him assuming he goes, but I have him as a low-end RB2 for the week. Stevie Johnson will also get back on the field after missing last week's game with a back injury.
• As we discussed in Friday's survivor column, the Dolphins get Cameron Wake back from a knee injury this week. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (groin) is also expected to make his return. If the Dolphins happen to be available in your league, I'd recommend grabbing them. They should be a top-five defense this week.
• In a bit of a surprise, Jake Locker will make his return to the starting lineup just three weeks after suffering what looked like a devastating hip injury. I wouldn't start him, but this is good news for Chris Johnson, Nate Washington and Kendall Wright.
• James Jones is questionable because of the knee injury he suffered against the Ravens last week. He did not practice all week, so it is unlikely he suits up on Sunday.
• Andre Johnson (shin) participated fully in Friday's practice. I don't care if Case Keenum is Houston's starter this week in a brutally tough matchup with the Chiefs. I'm starting Johnson no matter what.
• Willis McGahee (knee) was a full participant in practice on Friday and should start for the Browns. I've got him as an RB3 for the week.