Week 9 represents our last hellacious round of byes, with six teams taking a breather this week. Somehow, this set of byes is even tougher on the fantasy community than Week 8's.
Two of the league's best offenses, the Broncos and Lions, are both off this week. I count nine players between those two teams alone who are universally started across the fantasy universe every single week. While the other four teams out this week aren't nearly as potent offensively, the 49ers, Jaguars, Giants and Cardinals all provide at least one or two players whom fantasy owners count on as regular starters.
There are plenty of options for the fantasy owner missing a player or two this week. We'll tackle that subject and the rest of the last-minute news you need to know for Week 9.
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.
10:40 a.m. Update -- Let's kick off our morning updates with the most pressing fantasy issue for Week 9. We still don't have any further clarity regarding Arian Foster's status for tonight's game against the Colts. If you have a comparable option, you should plan on benching Foster. It's just too great a risk to count on him tonight. However, if you also own Ben Tate, you could roll the dice and wait until a decision is made on Foster. Tate will play, so you could plug him in there should the worst-case scenario come to fruition.
11:05 a.m. -- Most of us are likely operating at less than full strength due to byes this week. One of my favorite fill-in receivers is Darrius Heyward-Bey, though he's dealing with a sore hamstring. It sounds like he'll be able to go, though. Someone is going to have to step up alongside T.Y. Hilton with Reggie Wayne out for the year, and DHB is positioned to be that guy. If you were planning on using him heading into the weekend, you can feel free to stick with him.
11:25 a.m. -- It sounds as though Eddie Royal will suit up despite a toe injury. The Chargers have a great matchup with a Washington defense that has allowed the third most fantasy points per game to wide receivers. However, Royal is running third in San Diego behind Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown. I'd only turn to Royal if I were grasping at straws this week.
11:50 a.m. -- Roddy White and Marques Colston are inactive today. You likely weren't counting on White at this point of his nightmare season, but Colston's inactive status hurts a bit. That is, unless you're an owner of Lance Moore, Kenny Stills or Darren Sproles. All three should play a bigger role in the offense with Colston out. If you own any of them, they should be active for you.
12:05 p.m. -- You were probably already starting Terrance Williams if you own him. However, if you need another reason to be excited about him, Miles Austin is inactive today. In his last four games, Williams has 14 catches, 23 targets, 313 yards and four touchdowns, and the Vikings allow the eighth most fantasy points per game to receivers.
12:20 p.m. -- There are plenty of strong options out there for a one week plug-and-play at wide receiver. Doug Baldwin should see an increased role in the Seattle offense with Sidney Rice done for the year and Percy Harvin not quite ready to return. Drew Davis gets at least one more week in the Atlanta starting lineup with Roddy White inactive for another week. Kenny Stills and Lance Moore should both have plenty of attention from Drew Brees with Marques Colston inactive and Jimmy Graham still a little banged up. All four are ready to help you today.
12:45 p.m. -- One receiver on whom we don't have a ton more information is James Jones. According to WTMJ in Milwaukee, Jones has a true 50-50 chance of playing tomorrow night against the Bears. That makes him way too great a risk this week. With all the other options out there this week, you should find a way to keep Jones on your bench.
Moving on from Justin Blackmon
By now you know that Blackmon is suspended indefinitely for violating the league's substance abuse policy. We likely won't see him on the field again until 2014. So what's a fantasy owner who was counting on Blackmon to do?
You can't fully replace a guy like that without making a trade, and of course that requires giving up another asset. If you're simply trying to fill his roster spot with another receiver, I'd stay in Jacksonville and give Mike Brown a chance. He missed four games after fracturing a vertebra Week 1, but has played well since making his return four weeks ago. He has 12 catches for 212 yards and a touchdown in the last three games, getting 19 targets in that span. With Blackmon likely done for the year, he should get even more targets per game for the rest of the season. Sure, this is a terrible offense and it's hard to get psyched about anyone involved, but Brown could be a nice depth receiver for fantasy owners when the Jaguars return from bye next week.
As an aside, Cecil Shorts' stock gets a nice boost as a result of Blackmon's suspension. He proved last year that he can be a WR1 at times, and he could easily get double-digit targets every game the rest of the way. If you need help at the position, I'd consider checking in with Shorts' owner. He may not cost you all that much in a trade.
Arian Foster forcing his owners into a tough decision
Foster suffered a hamstring injury in Houston's last game two weeks ago, and looks like a true game-time decision for Sunday night's game with Indianapolis. That puts all Foster owners in a tight spot. You're really rolling the dice if you plan to start him, since you won't really have a ton of options to replace him if he ends up being deactivated. If you've handcuffed Ben Tate to Foster you should at least have someone you can throw in your lineup, but Tate is expected to be limited due to broken ribs. The Bears and Packers play Monday night, but you're starting Matt Forte and Eddie Lacy if you own them, so it's not like you'd be thinking of them as backup plans for Foster. Additionally, no other back on those teams would be worth a plug-and-play this week.
Ultimately, I think this is too big of a risk. Even if Foster is able to give it a go, the matchup is not great -- the Colts allow just 14.2 fantasy points per game to running backs, the seventh fewest in the league. If you have other viable options, I'd use them.
The Carolina backfield gets a bit muddier
Jonathan Stewart is set to make his 2013 debut Sunday after missing the first eight weeks of the season because of an ankle injury. The Panthers have given the fantasy community two useful backs this year already, but Stewart's return clouds the situation for all three. DeAngelo Williams is 10th in the league with 477 yards, though he just scored his first touchdown of the season last week. Mike Tolbert has been a decent bye-week replacement for his owners, notching three scores on the year and averaging a shade more than 11 touches over the last three weeks.
Let's start with Tolbert, as Stewart's impact on him is a bit easier to project. The bruiser will still get the short-yardage and goal-line carries, and that's already why you start him. He likely won't get as many carries as he's had the last few weeks, but he's relevant in fantasy leagues because he scores touchdowns. He'll still have that arrow in his quiver.
Williams' stock takes a huge hit with Stewart's return, though. Ron Rivera said Williams will remain the starter and that he'd like to get Stewart somewhere between six and 10 carries to give Williams a breather. The Memphis product is still worth a start this week, but monitor what Stewart does when he's in the game. If he proves effective in his first game back, he could earn a larger role in the offense. Even if he struggles Sunday, six-to-ten carries certainly feels like his floor. Without the volume he has enjoyed all season, Williams is no longer a regular starter.
Surviving the bye-week blues
Maybe you're missing Peyton Manning or Matthew Stafford. Perhaps you're struggling at receiver without Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, Victor Cruz or Larry Fitzgerald. You could find yourself scrambling for a running back while Knowshon Moreno, Frank Gore and Reggie Bush rest this week. Luckily for you, we have options for you at all three positions.
Alex Smith, Chiefs -- The Chiefs quarterback played well in a tough matchup last week, throwing for 225 yards and two touchdowns against the Browns. This week, he gets the ever-so-friendly Buffalo defense, which has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks thanks to a league-high 20 passing touchdowns allowed. The Chiefs are always going to lean heavily on Jamaal Charles, but Smith could be asked to do more this week with such a beneficial matchup.
Josh McCown, Bears -- This one is all about environment, opportunity and the likely game situation. McCown played well in relief of Jay Cutler against Washington, throwing for 204 yards and a touchdown on 20 pass attempts. The Packers allow 7.6 yards per attempt and have surrendered 12 passing touchdowns this season, and the Bears have a strong passing offense built around reliable, dangerous weapons. McCown may not be Cutler, but he can make good use of Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. Finally, I fully expect Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to put up 30-plus points on Monday night. McCown will have to throw often if the Bears have any chance of staying in the game.
Bilal Powell, Jets -- It was Chris Ivory who ran for 104 yards two weeks ago, and Powell has just 22 carries over the last three weeks, but I like him for a rebound performance against the Saints. First of all, we can write off that game from Ivory against the Patriots as a bit of a fluke. It was the only time all year he got more carries than Powell. The Saints allow 4.8 yards per carry, so Powell can do plenty of damage if he gets enough of an opportunity.
Shonn Greene, Titans -- The Rams have been terrible against the run this season, allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Chris Johnson has been dreadful all season, and Mike Munchak said he'd like to get Greene 15 carries on Sunday. That could be enough for him to make an impact in fantasy leagues. It wouldn't be an ideal play, but if you're digging deep, give Greene a chance.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- See Smith above. The Bills are just as friendly to receivers as they are to quarterbacks, surrendering the most fantasy points per game to the position. Bowe has been a nightmare for his fantasy owners all year, but he'll finally reward their patience on Sunday.
Vincent Brown, Chargers -- Washington features quite possibly the worst pass defense in the league this year. They've allowed 8.4 YPA, 15 passing touchdowns and the third most fantasy points per game to receivers. Keenan Allen has gotten a ton of attention, but Brown, too, is worth starting this week.
Injury news lightning round
DeMarco Murray is listed as probable and will make his return after missing two games because of a knee injury. You'll want him active against a Minnesota defense that has allowed the most fantasy points per game to running backs.
Zac Stacy is listed as questionable with an ankle injury, though he was able to participate in a limited fashion in Friday's practice. He's expected to play, but we won't have to run any risks here. The Rams play early. You'll want to start him if he is able to go.
Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles are dealing with minor knee issues, though both are listed as probable. You know what to do.
C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (knee) are both probable, though I'd look elsewhere rather than play either of these guys against the Chiefs.
James Jones was a limited participant at Friday's practice because of his knee injury. Given that the Packers play Monday night, you'll be taking a serious risk if you start him.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is generating some second-half sleeper buzz with Reggie Wayne done for the season. However, he's listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. The Colts expect him to play, but I'd try to find a better option this week.