We thought we knew the NFL. The Eagles were a dream team, the Jets and Steelers were impossible to run the ball against and the 49ers and Bills haven't been good teams since the mid-90s.
This has been a different year for us on all those accounts. But the fact those curveballs were thrown our way in fantasy should teach us anything can happen on any given Sunday.
We should fully expect the Eagles to come around, the Jets and Steelers to roll as their schedules soften considerably and the 49ers and Bills to finally suffer some growing pains. This is the week for this to all come true, but we have been wrong on these accounts multiple times this year already.
Regardless, start your Eagles, Jets and Steelers with supreme confidence and begin to worry that your 49ers and Bills fantasy options are about to hit a wall.
Here is the Start 'em and Sit 'em for Week 6, a week without Chargers (Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Ryan Mathews), Cardinals (Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells), Titans (Chris Johnson), Broncos (Tim Tebow, Willis McGahee), Chiefs (Dwayne Bowe) and Seahawks (Sidney Rice).
Note: The obvious choices are omitted below. We focus our energy on the players you might actually be making a decision on.
• QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin, K Alex Henery, D/ST Eagles
The Eagles offense woke up against the Bills last Sunday, but turnovers kept them from winning the game. This one counts as a must-win if Week 6 games can be that. Everyone in the Eagles offense should be good to go and potentially productive, even if the Redskins are top five against quarterbacks and top 10 against running backs and receivers. Your Eagles are too good to sit and that goes for that maligned defense, too. The Eagles figure to get some turnovers in this one.
• RB Ryan Torain, RB Tim Hightower, TE Fred Davis
It is an unfortunate situation the Redskins don't have a surefire RB starter this week, because the Eagles are worst in fantasy against RBs to date. We should figure both Torain and Hightower play, but Torain was the hot hand before the bye and he should be the initial option here, particularly since Hightower has a sore shoulder. As for the Redskins in the air, Santana Moss has a tough matchup against those corners but probably should remain active. Davis should be used frequently in the middle of the field with the corners clamping down the wideouts on the outside.
• D/ST Redskins, QB Rex Grossman
The Redskins are in first and the Eagles in last in the NFC East, but it doesn't figure to look like it in this one. The Eagles can make most of their poor start by taking one in Washington and they are going to do it by getting after the quarterback and forcing Grossman into mistakes. The Eagles offense is going to get hot, too, so avoid the Redskins defense.
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Steve Johnson, K Rian Lindell
The Giants have given up the second-fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL, mostly because they have been so exposed on the ground to date. Going into the season, you had to figure the Giants would be the other way around, vulnerable to the pass with a banged-up secondary and stout against the run with a solid defensive front. Fitzpatrick has been mediocre at best in recent week, but he should be productive against the Giants, making Johnson and David Nelson viable options in all leagues. You obviously have to be using your fantasy MVP to date, Fred Jackson.
• QB Eli Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Hakeem Nicks
The Bills are the second-worst team in fantasy against QBs, even if they have forced 12 interceptions. Manning's error-prone ways returned last week, but he should still be productive through the air with the emergence of Victor Cruz, the improving health of Mario Manningham and the continued presence of Nicks. All three Giants receivers should be active in most formats. Manningham is going to break through against a Bills team that has given up the fourth-most receiving yards to receivers. Bradshaw, meanwhile, should benefit from Brandon Jacobs' knee strain and the Giants needing to getting back to running the ball. They have been one of the worst rush offenses in the NFL, despite a commitment to the running game. The Bills are bottom 10 against RBs.
• D/ST Giants, D/ST Bills, RB Brandon Jacobs
There is no good reason to sit anyone in this game, because neither team has played much defense to date. The Giants were victimized by turnovers last week and the Bills defense has been getting them in bunches, but it won't continue here. The Giants are going to focus on ball control and play keep away from the Bills' potent offense. Don't use the banged-up Jacobs or either defense in this probable shootout.
• RB James Starks, RB Ryan Grant, WR James Jones, WR Jordy Nelson, D/ST Packers, K Mason Crosby
This is a great week to buy into the Packers running game. It hasn't been used all that much, but the Rams are one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL. They are fourth-worst against RBs to date and the Packers figure to be all over them early and often, leaving the mop-up duty to Starks and Grant. As for the receivers, Jones' resurgence has made Donald Driver disappear and Nelson a non-factor of late. Still, you can get use out of Jones and Nelson.
• QB Sam Bradford
No one can be sure who Bradford is going to use in the passing game, but you can be sure there will be ample garbage-time yardage for the Rams to pick up here. Brandon Gibson should likely be the wide receiver of choice, ahead of Mike Sims-Walker and Danario Alexander. The loss of Danny Amendola (triceps) for the season should open up Gibson as a sleeper.
• RB Steven Jackson
The Rams might want to get back to establishing the run with a healthier Jackson, but trying that against the Packers defense has been bad for business for Green Bay's opponents. You should look elsewhere if you have Jackson, even amid the bye season. Only the Cowboys, who have played just four games, have allowed fewer rushing yards. The Packers have allowed the second-most receiving yards to backs, but Jackson hasn't been involved in that way in this Rams offense. He has just four receptions in three games.
• WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis, D/ST 49ers, K David Akers
Alex Smith has finally proven to be a capable starter, mostly because the 49ers defense is so good and they are winning the field-position battle. Smith's usefulness in fantasy still isn't there, but at least Davis and Crabtree aren't worthless any more. Even though the Lions are playing well against the run, you still shouldn't sit Frank Gore.
• QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew, D/ST Lions, K Jason Hansen
Stafford is going to be leaned on heavily in this one to win the game and he will use his secondary receivers more than he has yet. The 49ers have a good defense -- maybe even a great one -- and they are going to clamp down on Calvin Johnson and force Stafford to go elsewhere. When Stafford does go elsewhere, it is usually to the tight end, which makes Pettigrew a must-start and Tony Scheffler a sleeper. If you want to take a flier on a Lions receiver, we would advise rookie Titus Young over Nate Burleson now.
• RB Jahvid Best
Backs coming off busy Monday night performances and then playing the 49ers' run defense just are not good plays -- ask LeGarrette Blount. Best had a career-best effort against the Bears -- another good run defense -- but the 49ers are in a league of their own against RBs this season. Not only are they No. 1 in fantasy against them, but they have yet to allow a rushing TD. Best has just one 100-yard game in his career and it is a pretty good bet he won't get another one here, or a rushing TD. Sit him if you have viable alternatives.
• RB DeAngelo Williams, TE Greg Olsen
Cam Newton has opened up the Panthers offense and this one should be a shootout. Williams and Jonathan Stewart might not get a lot of yardage on the ground, but the offense will get them chances to score in the red zone via the pass. Olsen has emerged as a solid fantasy starter in a Panthers offense that loves using the tight end.
• QB Matt Ryan, TE Tony Gonzalez, K Matt Bryant, D/ST Falcons
Ryan hasn't gotten off to the start we thought he would, but now the schedule loosens up a bit for him and the Falcons. He still has elite potential in fantasy. Gonzalez and Roddy White should have big weeks, and the defense should have its best week yet.
• WR Julio Jones, D/ST Panthers
Jones was quiet last week against the Packers, mostly because he missed the second half with a hammy issue. Even if Jones is able to go, and recent reports say no, he will be facing a Panthers secondary that is top 10 in fantasy against WRs.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Heath Miller, K Shaun Suisham, D/ST Steelers
This is a "start all Steelers" game against the Jags, except for the shaky status of the running backs. Big Ben has taken matters into his own hands and should remain as productive as any quarterback not named Rodgers or Brady. That makes Mike Wallace an elite option, Miller a viable start at tight end and Hines Ward, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders sleepers.
• WR Mike Thomas, TE Marcedes Lewis
We probably don't need to remind you how good the Steelers secondary is, but they are No. 1 against QBs and WRs. They will also be facing a rookie starting QB in Blaine Gabbert. The Steelers have been giving up yards on the ground, surprisingly, so don't sit Maurice Jones-Drew. You just don't want to be running the Jags leading receivers, presumably Thomas and the disappointing Lewis, out there.
• WR Pierre Garcon, WR Reggie Wayne, K Adam Vinatieri
The Bengals are behind only the Steelers and Jets against QBs, which is good company. We still wouldn't sit Wayne, and Garcon has been a monster since Curtis Painter took over the starting role. Painter isn't a good play, but he at least has made Garcon viable again for fantasy owners.
• RB Cedric Benson, WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, D/ST Bengals, K Mike Nugent
The Colts defense doesn't stop anything well enough to be wary of your Bengals this week. Andy Dalton might not be a starter outside of two-quarterback leagues, but Benson, Green and Gresham should be in there for you. The Bengals defense has been one of the surprises of the first half, and the Colts offense one of the biggest disappointments; it should make for a great week for the Bengals' D/ST and the kicker.
• TE Dallas Clark, RB Joseph Addai, RB Delone Carter
It isn't time to completely give up on Clark, but it is not a good week to trust him. The Bengals are playing great in the secondary, and Painter still hasn't developed anything with his tight end. As for the Colts' RBs, Addai is banged up and Carter could start. You have to be desperate to want to use him or Donald Brown against the Bengals defense, though.
• QB Tony Romo, WR Miles Austin, WR Dez Bryant, RB Felix Jones, TE Jason Witten, K Dan Bailey
It takes going all the way to tight end before you find something the Patriots haven't been exposed against. They are third-worst against QBs, eighth-worst against RBs, the worst against wide receivers and ... drum roll ... fifth-best against tight ends. Still, you should not sit Witten in any league, so this amounts to a "start all" game for your Cowboys. Romo and company should be plenty productive in a shootout here. Jones (shoulder) should prove healthy and capable, too, coming off a bye week. The Pats were gashed on the ground last week and the best way to beat them is to play keep away.
• TE Aaron Hernandez, TE Rob Gronkowski, WR Deion Branch
Hernandez's return last week cut Gronk down, but both should be plenty productive week to week -- especially since Dallas has been a bottom-10 team against TEs in fantasy. Branch is good enough to use during the bye season, too.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, D/ST Patriots
The law firm broke through against a presumably tough Jets front last week, but the Cowboys are a Ryan-led defense, too, and have been great against the run this season. They have given up the fewest rushing yards this season and should lead the pass-happy Pats to being just that. BGE, Stevan Ridley and Danny Woodhead are all bad plays. As for the Pats D/ST, Romo is almost certain to do something dumb to lose the game late, but there are going to be too many yards and points on the board to make the Pats D/ST a unit worth using.
• TE Owen Daniels, WR Kevin Walter
Daniels has become the Texans' leading receiver from the tight end spot. Walter will be the top target on the outside. The Ravens are second-best in fantasy against TEs, but the absence of Andre Johnson (hamstring) will keep Daniels as a primary target. Start him, despite the tough matchup.
• QB Joe Flacco, WR Anquan Boldin, K Billy Cundiff, D/ST Ravens
The Texans aren't a favorable matchup anymore but they are in the bottom half against WRs, which make Boldin and Flacco useful enough to use after the bye week. This could wind up being a battle of field goals, which is why you should be starting Cundiff and the Ravens defense.
• QB Matt Schaub
You won't be sitting Arian Foster in this tough matchup, perhaps, but you should find another option for Schaub, especially since Johnson will remain out. Schaub will try to stay productive, spreading the ball around, but it is more likely the Texans try to pound the ball right at the Ravens. Foster is their best chance in this one.
• RB Darren Sproles, WR Marques Colston, K John Kasay, D/ST Saints
Jimmy Graham has become a must-start, but there are very few Saints you wouldn't want to use this week. Sproles remains a fantasy scorer as a receiver, but Mark Ingram could have a busier week pounding the rock at the Bucs. They struggled mightily against the 49ers' running game. Colston looks healthy enough to start for fantasy owners now, which makes Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson low-end options.
• RB Earnest Graham
The Bucs offense looked pitiful against the 49ers and now LeGarrette Blount is banged up. Play Blount if he plays, but Graham should prove useful as a bye-week replacement in relief or as a starter. Graham is a threat out of the backfield, too. The Bucs struggles make Josh Freeman and Kellen Winslow use-at-your-own-risk types.
• WR Mike Williams
Williams' struggles could be pinned on Freeman's disappointing start, but we figure he probably just wasn't ready for prime time in fantasy. The Saints aren't a great defense but you are justified benching Williams until he finally shows his 2010 form. His best hope here is garbage-time yards if the Saints can get up on the Bucs early.
• RB Peyton Hillis, TE Ben Watson
The Raiders are the second-worst team in fantasy against RBs, so consider Hillis a must-start coming off his bye week. Montario Hardesty is even a sleeper as a change-of-pace back. As for the disappointing Colt McCoy and the Browns passing game: Watson remains the top fantasy option there, but Greg Little is a starter now and he could prove to be a great sleeper down the stretch. Eventually McCoy is going to get his mojo going.
• D/ST Raiders, K Sebastian Janikowski, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
The Raiders are one of the most underrated teams in the NFL and they have handle far better competition than the Browns to date. The D/ST should get a share of turnovers and should remain active in all leagues. DHB has finally put some good weeks back-to-back, so consider him viable during the bye season -- heck, he might even prove to be a third-year receiver breakout. Jason Campbell is surprisingly not terrible.
• WR Denarius Moore
You might not have noticed, but the Browns are fourth-best in fantasy against WRs. An arrival by DHB has made Moore less of a factor of late, so don't consider the rookie viable outside of the deepest of leagues.
• WR Percy Harvin, D/ST Vikings
This one is a shot in the dark, perhaps a last shot for Harvin owners. The Bears have a pretty good defense and Harvin is a playmaker that should -- please for the love of all that is right in the world -- be unleashed. We have little confidence it will be as a receiver, but perhaps he can affect the running game like he has in the early part of the season as a change of pace for Adrian Peterson. The Bears' run defense was beaten up by the Lions on Monday night. The Vikings should be able to get to Cutler and force some turnovers, so consider this D/ST viable this week, too. The Bears are in the bottom half of the league against opposing D/STs, mostly because of sacks.
• QB Jay Cutler, D/ST Bears, K Robbie Gould
Cutler still doesn't have a true target outside of the must-start Matt Forte, but he should be productive enough to use in all leagues this week. His weapon is a diversified attack, perhaps. He can spread the ball around and throw for 300 yards and a few scores. Dane Sanzenbacher, Johnny Knox and Devin Hester (in that order) is how you should rank his outside targets. They are useful sleepers in deeper formats. Someone is going to have to catch the touchdowns if Forte doesn't.
• WR Michael Jenkins, K Ryan Longwell
The Vikings enjoyed a breakthrough last week and they are getting the Bears on a short week after Monday nighter, but that Bears team has to be hungry. They have played a tough schedule to date and the Vikings at home might be their first real cakewalk of the season. Jenkins has been Donovan McNabb's leading target but a fumble last week could change that -- perhaps this is how Harvin finally breaks through. Because we could see the Vikings getting blanked, Longwell is not a good play. Cut him for a kicker on a more capable offense.
• RB Shonn Greene, QB Mark Sanchez, WR Santonio Holmes, TE Dustin Keller, WR Plaxico Burress, K Nick Folk, D/ST Jets
They have gotten off to a terrible start, but this is a "start all" game for the Jets. Even LaDainian Tomlinson can prove capable in prime time. Sanchez has had some stinkers, but the Jets offense got the running game rolling with Greene, finally, and that should open up the play-action pass. Every one of your Jets can start for you this week.
• WR Brandon Marshall, RB Daniel Thomas, RB Reggie Bush, D/ST Dolphins
Someone has to be useful on the Dolphins, right? Not necessarily. This is a "sit all" game for the Dolphins. Marshall is the type of physical receiver who can handle a rugged defense, but he could get stuck on Revis island. Thomas has promise and the Jets have been getting hammered on the ground, but that is a trend that definitely won't continue for long. The Jets are too tough up front. This should be a bad night for Thomas and all your Dolphins.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watchlist and his Sunday night staple Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.