It was a Red Cross Sunday in Week 7, with players going down everywhere, so there are plenty of options to pick through this week for your starting lineup. Here's some advice to heed, though: Don't trust these backups.
There were good reasons these guys weren't starters in the first place and, in almost all cases, there isn't a one-for-one swap, starter for backup. Seeing Matthew Stafford, Andre Johnson, Beanie Wells, Jahvid Best, Peyton Hillis, Mark Ingram, Willis McGahee, Felix Jones, Santana Moss, Brandon Jacobs, Joseph Addai, Marshawn Lynch, Hines Ward, Tim Hightower (on IR and out for the season) and Sam Bradford all injured would seemingly be a time to capitalize on their backups.
Nope. They merely leave a clustered mess behind.
The good news is we do get our Pats, Eagles, Giants, 49ers, Bills and Bengals back. But even that is offset by the second-toughest bye week of the season that leaves us without: Green Bay, N.Y. Jets, Atlanta, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Oakland.
Don't fret, there will be just two four-team bye weeks remaining after this one: Week 9 and 11. It should be smoother sailing from here.
For now, get your lineups set with our industry-leading Start 'Em and Sit 'Em:
• RB Mark Ingram, RB Darren Sproles, K John Kasay, D/ST Saints
The Rams run defense is so bad they gave up 253 yards rushing to a backup running back last Sunday. It should make for Ingram's best day yet, even if Sproles is the Saints RB to have still. Ingram is dealing with a heel issue, so watch that in case he doesn't suit up. Both backs are strong plays, and you might even get 60 yards and a score out of Pierre Thomas here, especially if Ingram cannot go. This is going to be another Saints blowout, so expect a lot of running out the clock. The Saints defense is a solid play, regardless of whom starts at quarterback for the Rams.
• RB Steven Jackson, WR Brandon Lloyd
Jackson held up very well against a very good Cowboys run defense, so you have to put him closer to the must-start category -- even if the Rams are a sad bunch. Lloyd should only get better and better, particularly if Sam Bradford (ankle) can play.
• WR Robert Meachem, WR Devery Henderson
This early season power combo has fallen on hard times since the re-emergence of Marques Colston. They could sneak up and get a token touchdown or two between them, but counting on that happening with the way Drew Brees, Colston and Jimmy Graham (obvious must-starts) are jelling is a bad move. The passing game, while always first for the Saints, might take a step back and watch the running game develop here.
• QB Matt Schaub, D/ST Texans, K Neil Rackers, TE Owen Daniels
The Jags might have nearly blanked the Ravens at home, but this road game presents a far bigger test. Arian Foster is the hottest thing going right now, and WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) has to start if he plays. He likely will, which will help Schaub stay in fantasy lineups but will force you to remove the likes of WR Jacoby Jones and WR Kevin Walter, who really weren't consistent in Johnson's absence anyway. As for the tight end, Daniels has emerged as a solid starter and the Jags are eight-worst in fantasy against TEs. You will want to use the Texans defense in any format here, too, especially against a rookie quarterback.
• WR Jason Hill
Hill made some surprise catches Monday night, but he will slink back behind Mike Thomas and maybe even Mike Sims-Walker in Blaine Gabbert's pecking order. Marcedes Lewis will make more of an impact than he has down the stretch, but he still isn't a good play either. The Texans have played some very good defense; none of your non-Maurice Jones-Drew Jaguars look like favorable plays.
• RB Ben Tate
The Jags shut down the Ravens running game, and Foster doesn't figure to give up enough carries to keep Tate secondarily productive here for fantasy owners. The Jags are in the top 10 against RBs in fantasy.
• WR Michael Jenkins
We are going to jump on the Jenkins bandwagon. Somehow, he, not Percy Harvin, is the Vikings' leading receiver. Jenkins looked solid with Christian Ponder, so it wasn't just Donovan McNabb. Visanthe Shiancoe looked a bit more productive, too, if you need a sleeper at tight end. You shouldn't like anyone other than Adrian Peterson in this Vikings offense, but perhaps Jenkins or Shiancoe can be a sleeper for you.
• QB Cam Newton, TE Greg Olsen, K Olindo Mare, D/ST Panthers
Newton did something real exciting last week -- other than winning a game: He bounced back from a slow start to have another big day. It might have been the last thing you needed to see. He makes Steve Smith a fantasy beast and uses both his tight ends Olsen and Jeremy Shockey well. Start Olsen over Shockey, but both can be useful.
• QB Christian Ponder, D/ST Vikings, K Ryan Longwell
The Vikings offense showed a bit more pep against the Packers at home, but they go back out on the road here. It should make for a lot tougher game. Heck, we might even see McNabb again before this season is over. The Panthers have a decent secondary that can make life hard on a rookie passer on the road in his second NFL start.
• RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Brandon LaFell
Jonathan Stewart is looking like a better option than Williams but neither is exciting this week. Stewart at least stays productive with scores and receptions. Williams seems to disappear in the middle of the field and fails to have a fantasy impact. The Vikings are in the bottom half against RBs, but they still are not a matchup to take advantage of. LaFell resurfaced with a touchdown last week, and he can be a stopgap, but he is just too inconsistent to trust. Those balls that went to LaFell can go back to Olsen this week.
• WR Brandon Marshall, RB Daniel Thomas
The Giants defense is in the bottom 10 against WRs and RBs, so Marshall and Thomas look like great plays. You should even consider Reggie Bush and Davone Bess as flex options. Matt Moore isn't even an average NFL quarterback, but the Giants are a below-average NFL defense right now and we can take advantage of what should be some garbage time for the Dolphins offense.
• QB Eli Manning, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Hakeem Nicks, D/ST Giants, K Lawrence Tynes
This is a "start all" game for the Giants, who go as Manning goes. The Dolphins are fifth-worst in fantasy against QBs, so Manning figures to have a productive day. That makes all of his primary receivers viable starts, including a healthier Mario Manningham and the emerging Victor Cruz. The defense will also get Justin Tuck back, so the Dolphins will be face a strong and deep pass rush coming from a lot of different directions.
• RB Brandon Jacobs
Jacobs (knee) is going to try to come back, but even if he does, he will be limited to goal-line work, you have to figure. The Giants have a brutal stretch of games coming up and they need Jacobs healthy. They are not going to waste Jacobs' bullets here on putting away the Suck for Luck Dolphins. Look elsewhere for a flex option.
• QB Joe Flacco, WR Anquan Boldin, K Billy Cundiff, D/ST Ravens
Your Ravens are coming off a real stinker Monday night, but this matchup in a short week qualifies as a good one. You still have to start Ray Rice, despite a decent Cardinals run defense, but the opportunities to capitalize here are with the passing game. Flacco should be much better against a Cards defense that is sixth-worst against QBs, and Boldin should be active in all leagues against the third-worst team in fantasy against WRs. You might even want to take a shot on rookie Torrey Smith. After that debacle against the Jags offensively, the Ravens kick it in here.
• RB Alfonso Smith, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, QB Kevin Kolb
You cannot sit Larry Fitzgerald, but all your other Cardinals shouldn't be used here against a hungry Ravens defense. Beanie Wells (knee) is out and Smith will likely get the majority of touches in his place, but neither he nor third-down back Stephens-Howling are a good play against a Ravens defense that is No. 2 against RBs or QBs. This one could be a shutout for the Ravens D/ST.
• RB Delone Carter, WR Pierre Garcon, K Adam Vinatieri
The Colts have found something with Carter, who might not start over the banged-up Joseph Addai but he will prove productive enough for fantasy owners. Carter should get the bulk of the work as the Colts evaluate for 2012. Further, the Titans are fifth-worth in fantasy against RBs. Garcon was quiet Sunday night, but this game figures to be a lot more productive for the Colts receivers, including Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. You can start them as necessary.
• RB Chris Johnson, WR Nate Washington, K Rob Bironas
We have been bullish on CJ2K, but it has proved to be bull-shh. This is the time to call in Pedro Cerrano from
• RB Ryan Torain, TE Fred Davis, K Graham Gano
The loss of Tim Hightower (knee) for the season is initially going to be Torain's gain. Eventually, it will be Roy Helu's job. Torain will likely draw the start and he gets the sixth-worst team in fantasy against RBs. Davis assumes the role of the Redskins' leading receiver with Santana Moss (broken hand) and Chris Cooley (knee) out, so consider Davis closer to a must-start gem now, too, at the tight end position. WR Jabar Gaffney should be much improved and he is the clear choice to be the top outside threat over Anthony Armstrong.
• RB Fred Jackson, WR Steve Johnson, K Rian Lindell
Jackson is as must-start as it gets now, even if the Redskins are in the top half of fantasy against RBs. The Redskins are a lot better defense than most give them credit for, but don't sit any of your Bills because of it. This is not a bad matchup, especially playing at home.
• QB John Beck, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
The Redskins and Bills looked like promising passing offenses out of the gate. We should throw that out of the window now, particularly with Beck losing a lot of his starting offensive options. Fitzpatrick remains in a quality offense, but it is mostly one geared to run now. They are less of a come-from-behind and surprise people team now. That means modest numbers for Fitzpatrick in most weeks, like it has been for the past month.
• D/ST Lions, K Jason Hanson
The iffy status of Matthew Stafford (ankle) hurts everyone but Calvin Johnson in the Lions offense. It affects Brandon Pettigrew the most, and you have to downgrade Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler as well, despite the favorable matchup. If Stafford plays, you start him and any of his receivers as needed. The Broncos offense was mostly inept last Sunday, so the Lions defense should be productive for fantasy owners here.
• QB Tim Tebow
You might not need Tebow, but he is good for at least a rushing score or two, particularly with goal-line back Willis McGahee out for a couple of weeks. Tebow is going to have a stadium full of adoring fans behind him, so this should be interesting. He really doesn't have much going with a specific receiver, so trusting Demaryius Thomas or Daniel Fells after they scored a week ago is dangerous.
• RB Maurice Morris, RB Keiland Williams
Perhaps the sleepers to consider here are the time-share backs Morris and Williams, but the Broncos are fourth-best in fantasy against RBs. Morris and Williams also are deep into a time-share with Jahvid Best (concussion) still expected to be out.
• RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Eric Decker
As often happens often with QB changes, the previous primary receiver takes a significant step back. Decker fell completely off the radar with Tebow, who didn't look good running the Broncos offense until it was in the hurry-up mode. Moreno steps back into the starting lineup with McGahee down, but he does it against a Lions front that is top 10 in fantasy against RBs. Moreno is little more than a flex in this spot and you shouldn't expect much, even if the Broncos are focused on the run. This is the Tebow show now.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, K Stephen Gostkowski
The Steelers are not a defense to take advantage of, but you shouldn't be sitting any of your primary Pats options coming off the bye here. BGE figures to get a lot of work against the Steelers front that is improving but still in the bottom half of fantasy against RBs. The Steelers are toughest on QBs (fourth-best) and WRs (third), but you aren't sitting Tom Brady or Wes Welker. You shouldn't be sitting those TEs either.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Rashard Mendenhall, K Shaun Suisham
Remember when fantasy owners were complaining about Big Ben? Boy, that sure looks dumb now. He is enjoying a career year and he should have a busy day against a Pats defense that is the worst in fantasy against QBs and WRs. It is mostly because the Pats play such fast-paced, high-scoring games, but the Steelers should be able to keep up with Mike Wallace, TE Heath Miller, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Mendenhall slumped back below mediocrity in a favorable matchup last week, but the way you beat the Pats is run the ball at them and play keep away. This is a crucial week for Mendenhall.
• WR Deion Branch, D/ST Patriots
The Steelers have a great secondary, so you should try to find a replacement for Branch at least. Also, Big Ben has curtailed his turnover woes from the early part of the season and the Pats defense has given up passing yards in bushels. The Steelers know they cannot turn the ball over and expect to keep up with Brady here, so expect them to play clean and crisp.
• TE Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, D/ST 49ers, K David Akers
This is going to be another great week to use the 49ers defense against a pitiful Browns offense that mustered just six points against the Seahawks. The Browns aren't particularly good on defense either, so expect continued success from improved game-manager Alex Smith and start his primary weapons in Davis and Crabtree. Frank Gore is an obvious must-start among backs, especially coming off a week of rest.
• RB Montario Hardesty, RB Peyton Hillis, WR Greg Little
This is clearly a "sit all" game for the Browns. Hardesty could be a sleeper down the stretch, but Hillis might play here. Regardless, both backs will be worthless against a defense that is No. 1 in fantasy against RBs. The 49ers are not that vulnerable to the pass either, so avoid Colt McCoy and his bevy of underwhelming receivers.
• WR A.J. Green, TE Jermaine Gresham, K Mike Nugent, D/ST Bengals
Andy Dalton isn't yet useful outside of two-quarterback leagues, but his leading targets Green and Gresham should be used here. The Bengals defense faces a struggling Seahawks offense, which isn't good even if Tarvarvis Jackson (pectoral) returns.
• RB Bernard Scott, RB Brian Leonard
The Bengals will be without Cedric Benson because of a suspension, but we should expect these two backs to share carries to the point of crippling each other for fantasy owners. Also, the Seahawks have a very underrated run defense, so there might not be much in the way of rushing yards to go around anyway. Like the Browns game a week ago, this looks like another low-scoring defensive struggle.
• RB Justin Forsett, RB Leon Washington
Marshawn Lynch is another of the starting backs who may be down and out, but the time-share behind him is going to be just like the Seahawks' fill-ins: Part-timers and not that productive. There are sleepers because of potential opportunity and waiver options because of injury, but you shouldn't be starting any of the Bengals or Seahawks in standard leagues -- unless out of necessity.
• RB DeMarco Murray, TE Jason Witten, K Dan Bailey
Murray is the load-carrier for the Cowboys now after his 253-yard breakthrough. He gets the first start of his career -- Tashard Choice started last week -- and Murray gets it against Eagles defense that is fourth-worst in fantasy against RBs. You probably should be starting all of your Cowboys in this expected shootout, even if Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are facing those elite corners. The guess here is Murray and Witten open hot and everything opens up in this offense. The Eagles defense has been bad.
• QB Michael Vick, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin, K Alex Henery
You won't be sitting LeSean McCoy against any defense, even if the Cowboys are third-best in fantasy against the run, but you should also keep Vick, and his duo on the outside, active in this pivotal NFC East tilt.
• D/ST Cowboys, D/ST Eagles
This game is a fantasy owners dream. It figures to feature plenty of fireworks and touchdowns, and they will come in prime time -- perhaps after your opponents fantasy starters are done for the week. The only real fantasy options you don't want to take a risk on here are the defenses. They might be able to force a turnover or two, but they are going to give up yards and points in offenses that have geared up for this game. The winner could be the favorite to win the NFC East in a down year. The better offense wins.
• QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, WR Vincent Jackson, RB Ryan Mathews, K Nick Novak, D/ST Chargers
San Diego hasn't been great offensively, perhaps because Rivers hasn't been good and Gates hasn't been healthy. They are going to break through here against the Chiefs in prime time. This is a "start all" game, even if they are on the road. The Chiefs are bottom 10 in fantasy against backs, too, so Mike Tolbert can be a useful flex in addition to Mathews being a starter for you.
• WR Dwayne Bowe, WR Steve Breaston
The Chargers are an elite secondary, sitting fourth-best in fantasy against WRs, but Matt Cassel has been healthier of late and is involved Steve Breaston more now. Plaxico Burress didn't get yards last week against the Chargers, but he did pick up scores. Consider Breaston a nice sleeper option if you are down a bye-week WR.
• RB Jackie Battle, RB Thomas Jones, RB Dexter McCluster
The Chiefs woke up last week, but did it mostly with the help of a gaggle of turnovers handed to them. Rivers and the Chargers are not going to be as forthcoming. The Chargers have one of the elite defensive units in football, somewhat quietly, so don't consider any Chiefs other than Bowe and maybe Breaston. This game turning into a shootout after the Chargers get up big early might be the only way your Chiefs help you.