It is the bye-week season. Now the real fun begins.
It is hard enough to manage your fantasy football lineup and roster when you have a full 32 teams at your disposal. Taking away six -- such as Baltimore, Dallas, Miami, St. Louis, Washington and Cleveland in Week 5 -- makes it even more challenging.
Say goodbye, for a week, to Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, Ravens D/ST, Tony Romo, Jason Witten, Dez Bryant, Felix Jones, Cowboys D/ST, Steven Jackson, Tim Hightower/Ryan Torain, Santana Moss and Peyton Hillis. Say hello to the likes of Mark Ingram, Thomas Jones, Steve Breaston, Mike Thomas, Marcedes Lewis, Mike Williams (either one), Isaac Redman, Michael Crabtree, Plaxico Burress and Johnny Knox.
That group comprises who we should be leaning on without our Ravens, Cowboys, et al this week. They haven't done much to date if you have been starting them, but you have no choice but to use them now.
Those who make the best switch-aroos are going to be the ones with the high seeds heading into the fantasy postseason.
Remember, though, no one goes unbeaten in fantasy football, so don't do anything drastic with your roster to try to salvage one week. It is still early. In fact, having all your players on bye now -- and being forced to start certain zeroes -- could be a blessing in disguise later. You can be closer to full strength in the rest of the weeks, while everyone else is scraping along with hardly useful spare parts.
On to the all-important Start 'Em and Sit 'Em in our first bye week of the 2011 season ...
• QB Michael Vick, D/ST Eagles, K Alex Henery
Vick is a must start like LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, but we figured we would highlight him here for a huge game. The Bills have given up the fifth-most points to quarterbacks -- despite picking off Tom Brady as many times as Brady was picked off all of last year. Vick's expected big game should mean some numbers for a guy like Brent Celek or Jason Avant and Steve Smith, too. These guys are options as bye-week replacements. Celek is especially interesting because the Bills are in the bottom 10 against fantasy pass-catchers. On the other side, the Eagles D/ST faces a Bills team that has given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses. The Bills have allowed just three sacks and haven't lost a fumble. With that said, Trent Cole and company are going to get to the quarterback and cause problems this week.
• RB Fred Jackson, K Rian Lindell
The Eagles defense has been a huge disappointment, even against the pass. Also bad is a unit that is second-worst against the run and has allowed the most points to running backs to date. This could be another Bills shootout-type game, so consider all of the Bills offensive parts as necessary, including Lindell, who should be busy as the Eagles bend but don't break.
• RB Ronnie Brown, D/ST Bills
With the bye weeks kicking in, you likely are scraping for a flex player or a fill-in running back. Don't bother with Brown, even if the Bills are bottom 10 in the league against backs. Brown had a boneheaded "fumble" near the goal line last week when he thought it was a good idea to pass the ball back when he was stuffed at the line. That kind of play will get you buried on the bench. Brown didn't need any other reasons to be used less. He hasn't been busy yet anyway. As for the Bills, this could be wide open, but the Eagles secondary could start playing the way it is supposed to any week here. That makes Ryan Fitzpatrick, David Nelson and Donald Jones less intriguing.
• RB Darren Sproles, RB Mark Ingram, WR Lance Moore, K John Kasay
Sproles has thoroughly outperformed both Ingram and Pierre Thomas, so consider him a must-start in deeper leagues through the bye season. We are going to advise going with Ingram as necessary here, too. The Panthers are fifth-worst in fantasy against RBs, and the Saints are going to want to control the clock to keep the ball away from the surprisingly potent Panthers. As for the Saints receivers, it is pot luck with Marques Colston back. The only sure thing is tight end Jimmy Graham, but if you need a sleeper WR, go with Moore over Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson right now. Any one of them could be useful, but none is a sure thing.
• RB DeAngelo Williams, RB James Stewart, TE Greg Olsen
The Panthers running game opened up a little last week, so Williams and Stewart should prove useful as bye-week replacements. If you have been starting them all along, this might be their best chance to put up numbers yet. Olsen looks like a very good option this week with Jeremy Shockey banged up. The Panthers feature the tight end heavily in the offense and more will be heaped on Olsen's shoulders here. Newton and Steve Smith are obvious must-starts right now.
• D/ST Saints, D/ST Panthers
These aren't first choice units but they are useful in some weeks -- just not this one. This is going to be a shootout. You can start any Saints or Panthers offensive player you deem necessary, except Colston. He came back early from his injury but he just wasn't much of a factor last week. It will be tough to trust him if you have other viable options not on bye.
• WR Denarius Moore, K Sebastian Janikowski
We haven't really been fair to the Raiders thus far this season in this space. They are a much better offense than given credit for. Darren McFadden, an obvious must-start, makes everyone around him better -- even Jason Campbell, who is the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL. Michael Bush could be a sleeper flex option to post a TD in relief of McFadden, who was dealing with a minor hammy tweak.
• RB Arian Foster, TE Owen Daniels, K Neil Rackers, D/ST Texans
Well, we have to admit we were impressed with what Foster did to the Steelers defensive front. Either Foster is a world-beater and/or that Texans offensive line is the best in the game. Let's go with the idea that it is a bit of both worlds. With Andre Johnson (hamstring) out, you should expect Daniels to be Matt Schaub's go-to man. Daniels is healthy and likely to be one of the most productive tight ends in the coming weeks. Schaub is going to be less productive without Johnson but he should still be good enough to use as a starter during the bye weeks. He can spread the ball around to the backs, tight end and Kevin Walter or Jacoby Jones -- the latter of which are nice sleepers this week.
• RB Ben Tate, D/ST Raiders
The Raiders are the second-worst team in fantasy against backs, but we learned last week just how much the Texans are going to lean on Foster when their primary back is healthy. Tate didn't get many touches -- he has been a bit banged up himself now, too -- and we cannot advise you using him unless as a flex fill-in in a deeper league. As for the Raiders D/ST, the Texans have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing D/STs. They are averaging just one turnover a game and Foster should run often on Sunday.
• RB Thomas Jones, RB Dexter McCluster, QB Matt Cassel, WR Steve Breaston, K Ryan Succop
Here is your bye-week landmine, the all-disappointment bowl. Like the Colts, the Chiefs have been busts in the first month, but they draw a favorable matchup here and are looking ready to get something fantasy-worthy together. Both backs should be decent against a Colts front that was gashed by the Bucs on Monday night. Also, Cassel is healed and should be his best yet, allowing a secondary target like Breaston to take the pressure off Dwayne Bowe.
• RB Joseph Addai, WR Reggie Wayne, WR Pierre Garcon, TE Dallas Clark, K Adam Vinatieri
What do you know, Curtis Painter has revived the Colts' fantasy options! Garcon seems to be Painter's favorite target and Clark should be much more productive against a Chiefs team that is in the bottom quarter of the league against fantasy TEs. Addai should be leaned on heavily against a Chiefs defense that has given up a league-high five rushing touchdowns to backs and is fourth-worst in fantasy against RBs.
• D/ST Chiefs, D/ST Colts
It is tough to dislike any option on either side in this one, other than the defenses. We are accustomed to taking advantage of the favorable matchups these two teams provide, but we cannot advise using either defense against the other. You should have better options available to you, even without the six D/STs on bye. The Chiefs and Colts offenses are going to finally give us some hope.
• RB Cedric Benson, WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, D/ST Bengals
Andy Dalton hasn't played like a rookie and the Bengals won't yet lose Benson to suspension (they might not at all). Green and Gresham are performing well enough to use in all leagues on a regular basis, too.
• WR Mike Thomas, TE Marcedes Lewis
We don't have any confidence in rookie Blaine Gabbert against the Bengals, who are fourth-best against WRs and third-best against QBs. Thomas and Lewis, though, are Gabbert's go-to guys. He is going to lock on them and keep trying to get them the ball on passing downs. If Maurice Jones-Drew can stay as productive as he has been on the ground, those passing downs will be short-yardage ones -- good news for Lewis. The Jaguars tight end is closer to 100 percent now and fantasy owners are wise to jump back on board.
• RB Bernard Scott
We thought Scott was going to be useful by now, but he isn't even an option as a bye-week replacement. Benson is just too much of the offense. You likely aren't trusting many of the Jags and Bengals in fantasy anyway, but this one figures to be more of a defensive game and less fantasy-friendly.
• RB Beanie Wells, D/ST Cardinals, K Jay Feely
Wells has been one of the better finds this season, and although the Vikings have a decent run defense, the Cardinals are going to pound the rock with Wells to set up the pass. The Vikings have struggled where the Cards defense has been exposed -- via the pass -- so if you need a replacement for the Ravens or Cowboys, the Cards might be a sleeper fill-in.
• QB Donovan McNabb, WR Percy Harvin, WR Michael Jenkins, K Ryan Longwell
McNabb and the Vikings have been inept through the air, but Jenkins has been a pleasant surprise and Harvin still has the potential to have a huge breakthrough. We figure the Cardinals, who are in the bottom 10 against QBs and WRs, will provide a matchup to take advantage of with the sleepers in the Vikings' passing game. These are viable bye-week replacements, particularly at home.
• QB Kevin Kolb
We wouldn't trust Kolb in most weeks because his receivers after Larry Fitzgerald are nondescript. Todd Heap is not good for more than a few catches or a handful of yards and Early Doucet hasn't made an impact since Week 1.
• WR Sidney Rice, WR Mike Williams
You cannot trust Tarvaris Jackson, despite his big performance last week, but it looks like Rice has at least made the Seahawks a threat down the field. The Giants are in the bottom half in the NFL against the pass, so consider Rice a must-start and Williams a sleeper. You might even give Zach Miller a look, too.
• RB Ahmad Bradshaw, QB Eli Manning, WR Mario Manningham, WR Victor Cruz, D/ST Giants, K Lawrence Tynes
We are assuming you're starting Nicks without thinking twice, but the Giants return home with their offense clicking under Manning. Bradshaw is sharing carries but he has also been productive as a receiver and his running mate is a little banged up right now. Manningham should be healthier while Cruz has put some good weeks together in his absence. The bye season should help both of these guys find starting time in fantasy lineups.
• RB Marshawn Lynch, RB Brandon Jacobs
The Giants have won back-to-back road games, despite not being able to stop their opponents on the ground. It looks like it could be a decent week for Lynch, but we have a feeling this run defense is going to improve. Against Seattle, you stop the run first -- and teams mostly have. Jacobs, meanwhile, has a swollen knee and his fantasy production has been reliant on getting one-yard touchdowns. There won't be any of those this week as the Giants score from further out.
• RB Chris Johnson, WR Nate Washington, K Rob Bironas, TE Jared Cook
Johnson finally went over 100 yards last week and he draws the reeling Steelers, who are in the bottom third in fantasy against RBs. You have to keep Johnson active. He will help the chains move into the red zone, even if the Steelers tighten up, stall drives and force field goals for Bironas. In the passing game, Kenny Britt's loss is Washington and Cook's gain. They are nice options as bye-week replacements, even if the Steelers are No. 1 in the NFL against the pass and No. 1 in fantasy against WRs.
• RB Isaac Redman, D/ST Steelers
Redman is the beneficiary of two banged-up Steelers backs. Further, while Ben Roethlisberger might play, he won't be 100 percent. It is a great time to jump on Redman, who could be good for over 100 combined yards and a score here. As for the beaten-up Steelers defense, it is far too proud of a unit to be considering sitting during a mini cold streak.
• RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Antonio Brown, QB Matt Hasselbeck
Mendenhall is an easy sit because he hasn't been good and has a hammy issue. Redman is going to steal the thunder this week. Brown was the Steelers' leading receiver last week, but that was a bit of smoke and mirrors. We would list him behind Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Heath Miller and maybe even Emmanuel Sanders in the pecking order still. As for Hasselbeck, the Steelers might be down, but they are still No. 1 in the NFL against the pass.
• RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Mike Williams, TE Kellen Winslow
After a busy Monday night victory in a matchup against the NFL's leading run defense, you have to keep Blount active. We suppose you can find two more productive backs in smaller leagues, but Blount is what makes the Bucs go and they will try to impose their will with him. It might not work, but you shouldn't be sitting Blount in any matchup. If Blount gets going, that should set up Williams and Winslow to finally make significant contributions this week against a 49ers team that is fourth-worst in fantasy against WRs.
• WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis, D/ST 49ers
Crabtree has proved healthier and could be ready to take off at the right time for fantasy owners, especially against a Bucs team in the bottom 10 of fantasy against WRs. Alex Smith isn't going to have too many performances like he had against the Eagles last Sunday, but a home game and a revitalized offense can keep the likes of Frank Gore and Davis productive.
• QB Josh Freeman, QB Alex Smith
They were arguably at their best yet this season last week, but that isn't saying a whole lot. They haven't been viable starters in fantasy to date. They don't figure to light things up here, either. This is going to be a defensive struggle and the quarterbacks will be left to manage the game more than win it.
• QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mike Tolbert, D/ST Chargers
Rivers hasn't been the same without Antonio Gates, but this should be his most productive week yet. The Broncos are the worst in fantasy against WRs and third-worst against QBs. The Chargers are going to use Mathews and Tolbert in the passing game, as they have, and you might even be able to use a Malcom Floyd as a sleeper.
• RB Willis McGahee, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Eric Decker
The Chargers have been quietly effective against the run and the pass, but McGahee has taken over as the Broncos' feature back -- and he gets goal-line carries, too! Also, Lloyd was outstanding against the Packers and should be used a lot, along with Decker, in a game that figures to see Denver playing from behind.
• RB Knowshon Moreno
Well, we have a bust on our hands here. I guess we found out why the Broncos wanted to add a running back in free agency, winding up with the aged McGahee. Moreno just isn't a load-carrier, especially not on a bad team. We don't feel the need to advise you to sit any of your Chargers, but you should be sitting all of your Broncos you can afford to sit.
• QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Plaxico Burress, RB Shonn Greene, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, K Nick Folk
The Pats defense hasn't done anything to scare off opponents this season. They are second-worst against both QBs and WRs and are seventh-worst against RBs. It should be a rebound week for Sanchez, Holmes and Burress in a shootout. Also, Green should be featured more on the ground -- playing keep-away from the Pats offense -- while L.T. is used in the passing game. Your Jets should be their best yet.
• TE Rob Gronkowski, K Stephen Gostkowski
You never sit Tom Brady or Wes Welker, but you should add Gronk and Gost in that category, too. If the Jets do anything to slow the Pats, they will at least allow Gronk to get involved over the middle and Gostkowski to clean up the stalled drives with field goals.
• Jets D/ST, TE Dustin Keller
There really is only one game a year to be wary of the Jets D/ST: On the road at New England. The Jets gave up points last week but it was mostly the fault of the offense and Sanchez's turnovers. The Pats defense cannot do what the Ravens do, but expect the Pats offense to put up plenty of points for their defense. As for sitting Keller, the Pats do one thing very well -- they take away the tight end. They blanked Gates in Week 2 and are top 10 in fantasy against TEs.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB Danny Woodhead, RB Stevan Ridley, WR Deion Branch, WR Chad Ochocinco, D/ST Patriots
The Pats fantasy players have two tough games a season, both Jets games. You might not be able to afford sitting all these guys with six teams on bye, but you cannot expect much. The Jets shut down the Ravens and they are going to steadily climb back up the defensive charts in all categories -- particularly against the run. The Pats don't like to run the ball at bad defenses, so trying to run against the Jets shouldn't be expected.
• WR Jordy Nelson, D/ST Packers, K Mason Crosby
Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley are must starts, and Nelson probably is too. He signed a contract extension and has picked up the slack left by the aging Donald Driver and slow-starting James Jones. The Packers are going to engage in shootouts just about every week, no matter how good their defense is. Opposing offenses are going to be playing catch-up, and the Packers just cannot be matched point for point.
• RB Michael Turner, QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, WR Julio Jones, TE Tony Gonzalez, K Matt Bryant
The Packers have been the worst team in fantasy against QBs and the third-worst against WRs. It is enough to keep all of the Falcons' primary options active in what should wind up being a high-scoring affair. The surprise here, perhaps, is suggesting you should start Turner against the Packers' run defense, which is No. 2 to the 49ers. Well, the Falcons start with the run and are going to try to keep the ball away from Rodgers by pounding Turner right at them. Turner is good and durable enough to post a double-digit week against anyone.
• RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant, D/ST Falcons
The Packers figured to unleash Starks while Grant was banged up, but it didn't happen. Now that Grant is back, we cannot advise using the Packers' runners. They just don't focus on running the ball into a cloud of dust when Rodgers can rip off 10- to 20-yard passes. On the flip side, the Falcons defense has been a disappointment while playing a tough schedule. And it doesn't get any tougher than Rodgers and the Packers. You are justified cutting the Falcons D/ST for a bye-week replacement at another position, or just another defense in general.
• QB Jay Cutler, WR Johnny Knox, D/ST Bears
Matt Forte draws a surprisingly tough matchup here. The Lions have fixed their issues against the run, but Forte also happens to be the leading receiver in the NFC, mostly because Cutler doesn't have anywhere else to go with the ball. When he does go down field, expect it to be to Knox. Somehow the Bears lost sight of the fact Knox is their best receiver, leaving him out of the starting lineup to open the season. Knox is starting again and should prove to be a nice sleeper during the bye-week season.
• QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew, D/ST Lions
The Bears are the Lions' stiffest test to date, but Stafford has earned must-start status in fantasy. He has the arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson and uses his tight ends very well. Pettigrew is a developing into a steady fantasy force and should be starting through the bye weeks. The Lions D/ST isn't anyone's first choice, perhaps, but the Bears give up a lot of sacks -- second-most in the league -- and Cutler can be pressured into turnovers.
• RB Jahvid Best, WR Nate Burleson
The Bears have given up yards and fantasy points to backs, but Best hasn't been great and the Bears have yet to give up a rushing touchdown. It won't get any easier for Best this week and it is best to avoid him if you have an alternative. The Lions will be forced to pass, but Burleson is falling down the pecking order behind Johnson, Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and not Titus Young.