The NFL may not have an All-Star break placed neatly near the middle of its season, but rest assured the fantasy season has distinct phases. We've entered the bye-week portion of the season, the first four weeks of which are especially brutal. Six teams will sit out in Weeks 5 through 8, stretching the limits of starting rosters and waiver wires everywhere. Into the void will step The Replacements, valuable backups and pickups who will prove worthy of a starting fantasy role, at least for one week.
We'll define the term "starters" as the top 12 quarterbacks, top 30 running backs, top 30 wide receivers and top 12 tight ends.
Your Week 5 Replacements are ...
Byes: Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, Miami, St. Louis, Washington
Replacement: Jay Cutler
Only one quarterback usually on the outside looking in will jump into the top 12 this year, and that is the sour-faced Cutler. On its face, the Lions' front four seems like a lot for the Bears' offensive line to handle, but for all the negative press, make no mistake that this year's O-line is much better than the one that lost in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. Gabe Carimi is out, but usual starting guard Lance Louis is back, keeping Carimi's seat at right tackle warm and booting the awful Frank Omiyale to the bench. Tony Romo may have fallen apart in the second half, but he torched the Lions from a sheer numbers perspective, and I'm not giving the Lions a ton of credit for keeping Matt Cassel and Donovan McNabb in check. The Lions win the game, but this game will be played in the mid--to-high 20s. Expect two touchdowns and 250-plus yards for Cutler.
Replacements: Stevan Ridley, Isaac Redman, Marshawn Lynch, Jonathan Stewart, Michael Bush
Ridley and Redman were waiver-wire darlings this week, and they should factor right into the mix. Ridley's not just some guy the Patriots scooped up in the draft. After two nondescript years at LSU, he ran for more than 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior. The Patriots took him in the third round despite running back not appearing to be a need. He looked impressive in spot duty against the Bills (six carries, 42 yards) before piling up 97 yards on 10 carries last week. With Danny Woodhead potentially out, he should see steady work this week.
Betting on Redman is the same as betting on Rashard Mendenhall to sit this week. If that's the case, Redman should get 20-plus touches, making volume his best friend. The Titans did a good job against Ray Rice, but Willis McGahee, Maurice Jones-Drew and Peyton Hillis have all had success running the ball. Redman's an easy starter if Mendenhall sits.
As for Lynch, Stewart and Bush, the precise reason you own them is for weeks when six teams are on a bye. Get them in your lineups as needed.
Replacements: Victor Cruz, Titus Young, Malcom Floyd, Pierre Garcon, Mike Thomas
Cruz isn't sneaking up on anyone anymore, but he's still relatively available in fantasy leagues. At this point, I'd still rather have Mario Manningham, but there's no doubt Cruz will be a factor in a passing game that has proved capable of supporting three fantasy receivers. This week the Giants draw the Seahawks, who are middle of the road in pass yards allowed and YPA against. The Giants should control this game from the start at home, with Cruz still serving as the No. 2 receiver as Manningham works back from his concussion.
Even the strongest defenses in the Lovie Smith era have been vulnerable to the pass, and the 2011 Bears are no different. Part of it is the design of the defense, and part is the personnel, especially with Chris Harris injured. While Calvin Johnson will get his, expect Titus Young to be the main beneficiary. Young has started showing spark the last few weeks. He has the skill set to beat the Bears' overmatched safeties.
Floyd has been quiet this season, but a pass-friendly Denver defense (8.4 YPA) will have its hands full with Vincent Jackson, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert. With Antonio Gates potentially out again, Floyd, a 6-foot-5 receiver, can be the big body in the middle of the field for Philip Rivers. This will be Floyd's week to crack the top 30.
If you just saw Garcon's line last week, you might have thought Peyton Manning made a miraculous recovery. While Garcon won't repeat Week 4's fluky performance for quite some time, Curtis Painter surprisingly represents an upgrade over Kerry Collins. Garcon is now on a level with Thomas as suitable bye-week guys, especially in favorable matchups. I'd put both just inside the top 40 the rest of the way, putting them just into the average starting lineup this week.
Replacements: Jared Cook, Kellen Winslow
A lot has been written about Cook this week, so I'll just say the following: This will be Cook's first and last appearance on The Replacements. With Kenny Britt done for the season, the Titans are one playmaker short. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound Cook will be that playmaker.
Winslow has seemingly been a fringe guy forever, and he's right on that cusp again this season. This week in San Francisco, he'll benefit from a 49ers run defense primed to load up against LeGarrette Blount. If you've stuck with him to this point, it will pay off this week.
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