There are a couple big inactives in the early games with Carson Palmer and Jordan Cameron out. If you need to go off your roster for replacements, consider Jake Locker at quarterback. He's widely available, and if you need to be convinced on him, see the note on the entire Titans' offense below.
As for tight ends, check out Dwayne Allen. He had four receptions on five targets for 64 yards a week ago and is clearly ahead of Coby Fleener in the pecking order. He also has a great matchup against the Eagles on Monday night. Other options include Travis Kelce and Larry Donnell.
Cam Newton is back for the Panthers, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily should be back for fantasy owners, too. Even though the pain in his ribs has subsided enough for him to start on Sunday against the Lions, owners should want to see a game from him before getting him back in their lineups.
First of all, Newton has a tough matchup vs. Detroit this week. Its front seven terrorized Eli Manning and the Giants last week, and could be among the league’s best this year. The fact that he’s still nursing the ribs a bit could curb his running, and that’s a huge chunk of what Newton brings to the table as a fantasy quarterback. Even if he were fully healthy, he likely wouldn’t rank much better than the No. 8 or 9 quarterback this week. Add the ribs and surgically repaired ankle to the mix, and he’s comfortably outside the top 12. Let’s see what he can do this week before making him a starter in fantasy leagues.
One quarterback who does belong in starting lineups this week is Andy Dalton. He salvaged his Week 1 performance for fantasy owners by hooking up with A.J. Green on a 77-yard touchdown late in the Bengals’ win over the Ravens. He won’t need any such late-game heroics to have a big game against the Falcons. Drew Brees completed 29 of his 42 pass attempts for 333 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Falcons last week. Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks combined for 12 catches for 187 yards and a touchdown. Corner Robert McClain and safety Dwight Lowery both earned negative grades in pass coverage from Pro Football Focus. Dalton can, and will, carve up this secondary.
We’ll be updating with all the latest news right here up until kickoff of the early games. Also be sure to join us here or on Twitter for our chat that begins at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.
A nightmare for the Bears and many fantasy owners
The Bears are supposed to have one of the best offenses in the league this year. A lot of that owes to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the best wide receiver duo in the league. Both of them could be out Sunday, and that’s just the start of the headache here.
In last week’s loss to the Bills, Jeffery missed significant time in the second half with a hamstring injury, while Marshall was able to largely play through an ankle problem. Jeffery was finally able to practice on Friday, but he is still listed as questionable for Sunday night’s game in San Francisco. Marshall, however, didn’t practice all week. He, too, is questionable.
Being without Marshall or Jeffery, both of whom are likely the top wide receiver on most fantasy rosters that they are on, would be bad enough. Since the Bears play on Sunday night, these injuries also come with a side dish of indecision. In most cases, fantasy owners won’t even have the option of waiting until kickoff to find out if Marshall or Jeffery is playing. Unless you have the luxury of owning a backup receiver, or potentially flex player, on the 49ers, Eagles or Colts, you’ll have to either plug in an inferior option who plays earlier in the day on Sunday, or decide to roll the dice and hope for the best with Marshall and Jeffery.
If you decide to take the latter route, and don’t already have an insurance policy on your team in the form of a player from the Bears, 49ers, Colts or Eagles you can start in case one or both of the star Chicago receivers do not play on Sunday, consider adding Jordan Matthews or Ahmad Bradshaw. Both are widely available in Yahoo! leagues, and bring at least some upside to the table while allowing you to cross your fingers for Marshall and Jeffery.
Of course, if one or both of them are forced to sit, they are not the only ones affected. First of all, Jay Cutler would immediately plummet down the weekly rankings if he is without both of his receivers. If both are out, Cutler cannot be trusted as a starter. If one is out, he’s just barely still a top-12 quarterback.
As for Matt Forte, you’re going to start him regardless of Marshall’s and Jeffery’s health. It’s certainly possible that if the Bears are missing one of their receivers, Forte’s prospects would rise for this week. If just one of Marshall or Jeffery is out, the Bears’ passing offense wouldn’t be completely neutered, but they would probably have to rely more on Forte. If both are out, however, Forte is going to be staring at eight-man fronts all night.
Finally, Martellus Bennett was able to take advantage with Jeffery missing most of the second half last week. He caught his touchdown in the first half, but was a prime target for Cutler after halftime. He finished with eight receptions on 10 targets for 70 yards and the score. With these two receivers at least likely operating at less than 100 percent, Bennett should be a full go in fantasy leagues. Chances are he’ll get more looks than usual from Cutler.
The fantasy juggernaut in Nashville
Usually when we say something like, “Start all your _________,” the blank is filled in with the word “Broncos,” or “Packers” or “Saints.” You know, typically a team with a track record and a star quarterback. You of course want to start nearly all of your fantasy-relevant Broncos, Packers and Saints this week. However, there is another team in that mix, and it is none other than the Tennessee Titans.
I picked the Titans to win the AFC South in my bold predictions column before the season started, and I’m not backing off that claim one bit. The offense looked great in last week’s win over the Chiefs. Jake Locker completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts for 266 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Ken Whisenhunt made sure to get Kendall Wright a target inside the 10-yard-line, which he promptly turned into six points. Justin Hunter showed his ability to stretch the field, catching three passes for 63 yards, including one for 39 yards. Delanie Walker continued being one of the most underrated tight ends in the league, catching three passes for 37 yards and a touchdown. Shonn Greene contributed, as well, picking up 71 yards on 15 carries. This is a legitimately good offense, buttressed by one of the league’s best offensive lines, and it is going to perform in the home opener against the Cowboys.
Before we get to the good for the Titans, don’t believe everything you’ve heard about the Cowboys' defense after its Week 1 performance against the 49ers. San Francisco managed just 319 total yards on 54 plays. They scored 21 points on offense, but started one of those on the Dallas 2-yard-line and another near their own 40 because of Tony Romo interceptions. The Cowboys held the 49ers scoreless in the second half, and the only time the 'Niners moved the ball into Dallas territory was on a drive they started at their own 41-yard-line.
Having said that, Locker and the Titans are in for a huge day Sunday. The Cowboys graded as the worst pass coverage team last week, according to Pro Football Focus. Expect Locker, Hunter and Wright to all take advantage this week. The Wright-Hunter duo is one of the most under-appreciated in the league, and that is really going to show on Sunday. Kaepernick had his best success when pushing the ball deep down the field against the Cowboys. Although he only attempted only two passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, he completed both for 66 yards and a touchdown. Expect Locker and Hunter to feast on the weak secondary.
Vernon Davis made life tough for the Cowboys as well, as Kaepernick recorded a 127.8 rating when throwing to his tight end. Walker can do a lot of the same things that made Davis such a weapon last week. The Cowboys don’t really have a linebacker or safety who excels in coverage, and that makes keeping a strong receiving tight end in check a major challenge. He may not be the flashiest option, but Walker should be starting for fantasy owners this week.
Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde combined for 116 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. If Greene pushes up toward 18 totes, he should be able to go for at least 75 yards and a score with that great line clearing holes in front of him. There isn’t a Titan a fantasy owner would realistically think about starting who belongs on the bench this week.
The 49ers can run, and the Bears certainly can’t Hyde
The Bears made a lot of changes to last year’s historically bad defense, but through one game those changes have amounted to a band-aid on a broken arm. The run defense was atrocious yet again last week, letting the Bills gain 193 yards on 33 carries. All they’re tasked with doing this week is stopping arguably the best running team in the NFL. It could be a very long night for the Bears in San Francisco.
It goes without saying that you’re starting Gore and Kaepernick. Fantasy owners should also be plugging in Hyde with extreme confidence. He is comfortably behind Gore on the depth chart, but he looked explosive last week, running for 50 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. He’s going to have a significant role in the offense every single week, but all it will take against the Bears is about eight or 10 carries for him to finish as a strong flex play. The bet here is that he gets even more than that, and that he rips off at least one big run on Sunday night.
The Bears struggled mightily last week when the Bills broke out the read option. On one such play, Anthony Dixon ran for 47 yards with the Bills in the shadow of their own goal line. On another, EJ Manuel trotted into the end zone untouched from two yards out. No offense to Manuel and Dixon, but if they were able to befuddle the Bears with the read option, just imagine what Kaepernick and Hyde can do. The rookie RB out of Ohio State is a must-start this week.
Below are some under-the-radar options who are worthy of flex consideration this week.
Lamar Miller vs. Buffalo Bills — Miller ran for 59 yards on 11 carries last week, and added four catches for 19 yards and a score. Matt Forte gashed the Bills on screens last week, catching five such passes for 59 yards. Even though Knowshon Moreno is atop the depth chart in Miami, Miller is the primary pass-catching back. He’ll have a role this week, and should end up getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-to-15 touches.
Terrance West vs. New Orleans Saints — West looked great in his first NFL game, running for 100 yards on 16 carries. With Ben Tate out because of a knee injury, West will get his first career start on Sunday. Forget about Isaiah Crowell getting two touchdowns last week. West dominated the touches out of the backfield after Tate went down. The Saints allowed Falcons running backs 181 total yards and two touchdowns on 27 touches, good for 6.7 yards per touch.
Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns vs. Washington Redskins — It was Lee, and not Hurns, who led the Jaguars with 10 targets last week. The former appears to be over the minor hamstring injury he suffered in practice, but both will benefit from the expected absence of Cecil Shorts. The Jaguars don’t have many guys who can make big plays, but Lee and Hurns are two who have that ability. Expect Chad Henne to force the ball downfield to this pair. DeAngelo Hall and David Amerson are both aggressive corners who like to try to jump short routes. That makes them susceptible to double moves. At least one of these two will be a top-25 receiver this week.
Miami at Buffalo
Knowshon Moreno was limited in practice, but is probable with a shoulder injury. He should be in your lineup this week. Teammate Koa Misi is doubtful with an ankle injury, and that’s good news for C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Sammy Watkins was a full participant in practice. He seems to be over his rib injury, and is probable for Sunday.
Detroit at Carolina
Reggie Bush practiced fully on Friday. He should be good to go for Sunday against the Panthers.
DeAngelo Williams didn’t practice on Friday because of a thigh injury. He’s listed as questionable, but isn’t expected to play unless he makes dramatic progress over the weekend. Jonathan Stewart still is not a good play against the strong front seven of the Lions.
Atlanta at Cincinnati
Jake Matthews has been ruled out with an ankle inury. Gabe Carimi will start in his place. That’s bad news for the Atlanta offense.
New Orleans at Cleveland
Ben Tate is out with a knee injury. Jordan Cameron didn’t practice Friday because of a shoulder injury and is questionable. Fantasy owners should be ready to go without him.
New England at Minnesota
Rob Gronkowski was a limited participant in Friday’s practice, but that’s par for the course for him. He’ll be out there Sunday.
Arizona at New York Giants
Andre Ellington didn’t practice Friday, but his foot held up fine last week. It would be a surprise if he didn’t play. Carson Palmer hasn’t practiced much this week because of a shoulder injury, and there’s a very real possibility he is out on Sunday.
Dallas at Tennessee
No significant injuries.
Jacksonville at Washington
A hamstring injury is expected to keep Cecil Shorts out for a second straight game. Marqise Lee, however, was a full participant in practice Friday while getting over a hamstring ailment of his own. He is listed as probable. Toby Gerhart was limited by his ankle on Friday, but he is probable, as well.
Seattle at San Diego
Antonio Gates did not practice on Friday, but is still expected to be good to go for Sunday.
St. Louis at Tampa Bay
Shaun Hill didn’t practice and is officially listed as questionable because of a thigh injury. He’s not worth starting regardless.
Doug Martin and Logan Mankins were both limited participants in practice. Martin’s knee injury isn’t expected to keep him out, but the same cannot be said for Mankins.
Kansas City at Denver
No significant injuries.
New York Jets at Green Bay
Eddie Lacy was a full participant and is listed as probable. He passed all concussion protocol and will start on Sunday. He may be without tackle Bryan Bulaga, who is questionable because of a knee injury.
Houston at Oakland
Andre Johnson was a limited participant in practice, but he is probable and should be out there Sunday.
Chicago at San Francisco
As we discussed earlier, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are questionable. The late kick makes this a terrible situation for fantasy owners. We will update here with any information that becomes available before Sunday’s action kicks off.