Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Andre Brown's return and other key storylines
Rarely does the fantasy community get a new running back who could be a weekly starter this late in the season. With the return of Andre Brown, the 2013 season might be an exception to that rule.
Brown will make his season debut after missing the first eight games of the season because of a crazy preseason injury in which he was hit directly on the metal plate inserted in his leg as the result of a broken fibula last year. Before that injury, he had 385 yards and eight touchdowns on 73 carries. He figured to be a major part of the run game heading into the season, even if David Wilson took off as many people expected. Brown will be eased back into the offense and will split carries with Peyton Hillis, but there's little doubt that he will eventually take over as the feature back. Consider him a weekly flex play as a floor for the rest of the season.
Brown's return is just one of many situations you'll need to be aware of during the 10th week of the NFL season. The rest of them are below in the Week 10 Cheat Sheet.
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.
12:46 p.m. -- One last word of warning to Trent Richardson owners. I understand that you still might want to believe in him and that he has a great matchup with the Rams. Still, at some point we have to trust what we've seen, and that point has long since passed with Richardson. Until he proves he's more than just a plodding runner, I can't recommend starting him regardless of the opponent.
12:27 p.m. -- If you're scrambling for help at running back today, you should once again consider Shonn Greene. He came through with 66 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown last week. While Chris Johnson will dominate the touches out of the backfield, Greene will still get somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-14 touches against a Jacksonville defense that has allowed the most fantasy points per game to running backs.
12:11 p.m. -- The Jaguars may be hurtling toward a potential 0-16 season, but there are two Jaguars worth starting in fantasy leagues today. The Titans allow the seventh-most fantasy points per game to running backs, and that makes Maurice Jones-Drew a solid play. The one worry is the chance that the Titans build a big lead and force Jacksonville to abandon the run. No matter what, though, you should be starting Cecil Shorts. With Justin Blackmon out, I'd be shocked if he got fewer than 12 targets today.
11:51 a.m. -- Tyler Eifert, your time is now. With news that Jermaine Gresham is out today, Eifert will finally have a chance to follow through on some of the sleeper hype he generated over the summer. I have him just inside the top 10 at the position against a Baltimore defense that surrenders the 10th most fantasy points per game to tight ends. He gets a slight bump thanks to the overall effectiveness of the Cincinnati offense.
11:31 a.m. -- Word out of Chicago is that Jay Cutler looks completely unencumbered by the groin injury he suffered in Washington three weeks ago. Now that he's back up close to or at 100 percent, I have him as a solid QB1 today. The Bears offense has developed into one of the better ones in the league, and they should be able to put that on display against the Lions. Get Cutler in your lineups.
11:19 a.m. -- Even though Roddy White is active today, you'll want to look elsewhere for a receiver or flex. It has been a nightmare season for the usually reliable White. I'm reluctant to trust any player in his first game back from injury, and even more so when he's going up against the Seattle secondary. Keep White on your bench.
10:52 a.m. -- Another player causing a lot of angst in the fantasy community is Ben Tate. I understand the trepidation, but I feel he should be started universally. He dealt with the rib issue last week and ran well enough, picking up 81 yards on 22 carries. He'll shoulder the load again this week, though Dennis Johnson and Deji Karim will likely see time, as well. The Cardinals have been tough on opposing running backs this year, but Tate is still a strong RB2 today.
10:40 a.m. -- Good morning everyone. I got a lot of questions about Giovani Bernard in my weekly chat earlier today. He has been cleared today, and there isn't really any reason to expect him to play less of a role in the Cincinnati offense. In general, I'd play him as usual. However, he does have a tough matchup with Baltimore. I've got him as a low-end RB2.
The only necessary handcuff is finally paying off
I think handcuffing running backs is one of the most overrated, unnecessary strategies in fantasy football. It might be a bit risky, but I feel like more often than not, all you're doing is wasting a roster spot for the sake of safety and playing it by the book. It's almost akin to a manager refusing to use his closer in a high-leverage situation in the seventh inning. But this isn't the forum to discuss today's MLB managers' slavish devotion to the save rule. It is, however, the forum to talk about fantasy football's only sensible handcuff, Ben Tate.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Arian Foster during draft season, there was no way an owner could draft him without getting Tate at some point. It was simply too great a risk that you'd be completely wasting your first-round pick, whereas nabbing Tate essentially locked in, at worst, reliable RB2 production for the season. Well, I hope you cuffed the duo, because Foster is out this week with a back injury, and could miss the remainder of the season. Tate, while still dealing with the effects of broken ribs, will start on Sunday. He has a very tough matchup with an Arizona defense that has allowed the second fewest points per game to running backs, but he's still an RB2 in my book. Deji Karim and Dennis Johnson will likely see a handful of touches backing up Tate, but you should only be considering them as starters if you're absolutely desperate. Given that Tate is still banged up, though, you might want to consider stashing one of them in case he eventually has to miss time.
The Mike James Show on Monday Night Football
The Buccaneers finally made it official, putting Doug Martin on IR because of his torn labrum. That means the running back job in Tampa officially belongs to James and only James. The rookie out of Miami had a monster game last week, running for 158 yards against the Seahawks last week. While Seattle hasn't been as dominant against the run as you might assume -- the Seahawks are allowing 4.2 yards per carry -- that he could rack up that many yards against a stout defense on the road is very impressive. He has a great matchup on Monday night, as the Dolphins have allowed the second most fantasy points per game to running backs. Expect James to get 20-plus carries, which should result in another 100-yard game. He's a strong RB1 this week and projects as an RB2 for the rest of the season.
C.J. Spiller finally looks like C.J. Spiller
Spiller has been one of the biggest busts of the season, but there are signs that he will finally give his owners the production they expected of him when they made him a first-round pick back in the summer. He ran for 116 yards on 12 carries, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. Spiller ripped off two huge runs, including a 61-yard jaunt after appearing to tweak his ankle. It's that explosiveness that we just haven't seen out of him this year, largely because of the ankle injury. With that apparently in his rear-view mirror, he could be in line for his best game of the season Sunday.
The Bills head to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers, who have allowed 4.2 yards per carry and 12 rushing touchdowns on the season; only the Jaguars have allowed more scores on the ground. Yes, Fred Jackson remains a presence in the backfield, but Doug Marrone said he is "excited" about getting Spiller more work this week. He should get at least 16 touches on Sunday. I'd be shocked if he didn't get to at least 100 total yards.
Pierre Thomas making the most of his chance
For most offensive players, landing a starting job with Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans would be a gift. For Thomas, however, ending up with the Saints has arguably led to him being one of the most under-utilized players in the league. Thomas has rarely had a chance to be a consistent fantasy weapon in his seven years in the league, thanks primarily to the Saints' focus on the pass. Darren Sproles has been more featured in the offense since he came to the Saints because of his prowess as a pass catcher. While Thomas has usually played well when given an opportunity, his skill set simply hasn't been the best fit for New Orleans' scheme.
That has all changed in recent weeks. Sproles suffered a concussion a few weeks ago and has seen his role in the offense decrease. The Saints have acknowledged that Mark Ingram is a sunk cost, and are no longer wasting carries on him. Thomas, meanwhile, has become a mainstay thanks both to his running and receiving. He has at least 80 yards from scrimmage in each of the last four games, and caught seven passes for 66 yards against the Jets last week. The Saints rely on their running back, whomever it is, being a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, and Thomas is reaping the rewards. The Saints play the Cowboys this week, a team that has allowed exactly 20 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. That's the ninth most in the league. Make sure Thomas is in your lineup.
Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate find themselves in the unfamiliar position of being must-starts
With Sidney Rice out for the year because of a knee injury and Percy Harvin still not quite ready to make his return, the door is open for Baldwin and Tate in Week 10. Baldwin took advantage last week, catching six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown. Tate was kept quiet a week ago, but you're going to want to get them in your lineups.
The Falcons have allowed an opposing wide receiver or tight end to score at least 11 fantasy points in every game this season. We're not just talking the league's elite, either. Both Austin Pettis and Brian Hartline reached the 11-point plateau against Atlanta. That's solid WR2 production every single week, which you'll gladly take out of Baldwin or Tate. It's a safe bet that at least one of them will get there on Sunday. In addition, Zach Miller could be a sneaky play at the tight end position. He hasn't done much this year, but he had his best game of the season last week when he posted three receptions for 49 yards, due in large part to the absence of Rice and Harvin. If you need a bye-week replacement at tight end, give Miller a shot.
Injury news lightning round
News broke late in the week that Dez Bryant is dealing with a bulging or herniated disk in his back. He will play on Sunday, though, and that means he should be started universally in fantasy leagues. The Cowboys play the Saints on Sunday Night Football, but it doesn't sound like counting on him will be a risk.
Giovani Bernard didn't practice much this week because of a rib injury and is listed as questionable. It sounds like he'll play. Luckily, this is an early kick. You'll want him in your lineup if he plays.
Rashard Mendenhall will return this week after missing Arizona's last game with a toe injury. He will start, but Andre Ellington certainly earned himself a larger role in the offense after running for 154 yards on 15 carries when he got the start in Mendenhall's stead. You don't want to start Mendenhall, but Ellington is an RB2.
Trent Richardson (ankle) is listed as questionable. You're probably justifiably gun-shy about starting him, but the Rams have been terrible against opposing running backs, allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to the position.
Marques Colston was a limited participant in practice because of the knee injury that forced him to miss last week's game. He's listed as questionable for Sunday night's game against the Cowboys. I wouldn't risk a zero out of him. Keep him on your bench.
Roddy White (ankle/hamstring) will likely make his return on Sunday, but I wouldn't trust him in his first game back, even if it weren't against the Seahawks.
Victor Cruz (neck) was a full participant at Friday's practice. Deploy him as usual. Same goes for Julius Thomas, who looked iffy because of a knee injury.
Eddie Royal missed practice all week because of his toe injury. The matchup with Denver is great, but it's too risky to consider him given that this game is a late start.