The bye season might be nearing is end, but the fantasy lineup decisions remain as difficult as ever. Injuries are making a mess of too many situations that should be academic down the fantasy stretch.
Sure, we get our Packers, Jets, Bears, Falcons, Bucs and Raiders back -- and we are sending just four teams on break -- but the uncertain health of the likes of Darren McFadden, Andre Johnson, Ryan Mathews, Peyton Hillis, Daniel Thomas, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee, Mark Ingram, Fred Davis, Felix Jones, Kevin Kolb and Sam Bradford muddle things unnecessarily.
At least with the bye weeks of the Vikings, Lions, Panthers and Jaguars we have some decisions made easy -- even if Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Steve Smith and Maurice Jones-Drew are difficult to replace.
To make matters even worse, the months of November and December introduce weather patterns that can turn on a dime and cripple some of your fantasy stars. We'll do our best here to get you prepared for the worst with our Week 9 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em.
Note: The obvious choices are omitted below. We focus our energy on the players you might actually be making a decision on.
• QB Mark Sanchez, RB Shonn Greene, WR Santonio Holmes, TE Dustin Keller, K Nick Folk, D/ST Jets
This is about as crucial of a game the Jets can face coming off their bye week and they get a defense that is in the bottom 10 against QBs, RBs and TEs. It amounts to a "start all" game for your Jets. You should get solid production out of all the guys above and should even consider Plaxico Burress in deeper leagues. Sanchez hasn't been good, but he is going to be his best yet here.
• QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, WR Steve Johnson, TE Scott Chandler, D/ST Bills
While we love the Jets here, you should not like any of your Bills, even if they are home. Fred Jackson has to start in all leagues -- and he is facing the sixth-worst team against RBs in fantasy -- but the Jets run defense is going to improve and won't render a great day for the Bills' leading offensive threat. Fitzpatrick is facing the No. 1 team in fantasy against QBs and Johnson is going to draw Darrelle Revis and a Jets team No. 3 against WRs. Chandler's red-zone TDs returned last week, but the Bills might not score a touchdown in this one.
• WR Sidney Rice
Tarvaris Jackson has been surprisingly effective going down the field with Rice, so consider him a solid start against a middle-of-the-pack secondary. Also, Zach Miller, who has been nonexistent this season, gets the second-worst team in fantasy against TEs. It could be a week to stopgap a TE hole with Miller.
• QB Tony Romo, WR Austin Miles, WR Dez Bryant, TE Jason Witten, K Dan Bailey, D/ST Cowboys
The Cowboys are coming off a brutal week, but they are going to respond in a huge way here -- particularly Romo and his receivers. This one is going to be a blowout and the defense is facing one of the worst offenses in the league. The defense that was shredded by the Eagles is facing a Seahawks team that has given up the most points to opposing D/STs. Use any of your Cowboys with confidence.
• RB Marshawn Lynch, D/ST Seahawks
The second-best rushing defense in the NFL was embarrassed by the Eagles last week, but they are going to respond against one of the worst rushing attacks in the NFL. Considering Lynch here is a bad move. Also, the potent Cowboys offense is going to light up the Seahawks defense, no matter what your opinion of Romo is nowadays.
• RB DeMarco Murray, RB Felix Jones
If there is one thing the Seahawks do right, it is stop the run. They are third-best in fantasy against RBs. Murray was hardly used against a suspect Eagles run defense, so expecting him to go all-Rams on the Seahawks' underrated run defense is a bad move. Adding the fact Jones could be back to split carries should be worrisome, too. This is a bad week to consider Murray, even if he remains the starter.
• QB Matt Schaub, WR Andre Johnson, TE Owen Daniels, K Neil Rackers, D/ST Texans
The return of Johnson should bolster Schaub's modest production and make most of your Texans great options this week. Cleveland is No. 3 in fantasy against QBs, but we are going to figure that is mostly a function of those QBs sitting on leads. The Browns have a decent run defense but are just middle of the pack in fantasy against RBs because teams are just burning clock from the start of the game. Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are less intriguing options with Johnson back, but Daniels really shouldn't be affected all that much. As for the Texans' defense, this is a rebuilt unit under Wade Phillips and one to take advantage of this week.
• RB Peyton Hillis, TE Ben Watson, WR Greg Little, QB Colt McCoy
There is nothing to like about the Browns' offense at this point, particularly against this emerging Texans defense. Hillis might play, but he will be limited, in a timeshare with Chris Ogbonnaya and facing the sixth-best team in fantasy against RBs. Watson is about the best the Browns have going for them right now, but the Texans are fourth-best in fantasy against TEs. It should be another quiet week for McCoy, Little and company.
• QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, WR Julio Jones, TE Tony Gonzalez, K Matt Bryant, D/ST Falcons
You might not have liked your Falcons to date, but this figures to be a grand week for them, especially Michael Turner. Ryan also gets Jones healthy and White at 100 percent. It could cut into Gonzalez a bit, but the veteran remains too good to sit. The Atlanta defense is a superb sleeper here, too. The Colts are sixth-worst in fantasy against opposing D/STs.
• WR Pierre Garcon, WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark
Curtis Painter is at least doing one thing right: Making the Colts leading receiving threats fantasy viable. Garcon clearly is his favorite target, but Wayne and Clark are solid enough to continue using through the bye season. Clark does face the fifth-best team in fantasy against TEs, but his re-emergence of late should keep him active at the thin tight-end position.
• RB Delone Carter, RB Joseph Addai, RB Donald Brown
Addai has been active but nonexistent the past two weeks, giving up the bulk of the carries to Carter and scoring chances to Brown. None of this trio warrants using in Week 9 against an underrated Falcons run defense. The Falcons are a lot better against the run than they have shown this season. They are going to take it away with a large early lead, too.
• RB Daniel Thomas
Here is an obvious vote of confidence that Thomas will play, despite his hamstring woes. If he doesn't, you should consider Reggie Bush in most leagues. The Chiefs are eighth-worst in fantasy against RBs, and the Dolphins' offense begins and ends with its running game with Matt Moore under center. Brandon Marshall is a viable start, too, but the Chiefs will have burgeoning star Brandon Flowers following him all over the field. Marshall is more of a mediocre option.
• QB Matt Cassel, WR Dwayne Bowe, K Ryan Succop, D/ST Chiefs
It is a good time to use your Chiefs. They have found a running game and are playing good defense. They shut down the Chargers' potent offense at home, so blanking this Dolphins offense with Moore at the helm is a distinct possibility. Cassel and the Chiefs D/ST are the best sleepers here. The Dolphins have been ripped through the air and are fourth-worst in fantasy against QBs. Cassel's sleeper status makes the likes of Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin options in deeper leagues if you have a need at the WR position.
• RB Jackie Battle
While we actually love the progress Battle has made as the Chiefs' primary ballcarrier, he is not a great play against an improving Dolphins run defense that ranks in the top 10 in fantasy against RBs. Battle could get a short-yardage rushing score, but listing him as a sit here is more of a warning to temper expectations on him. Still, you are justified using him against the Dolphins, who figure to get the ball pounded at them once the Chiefs get the lead. You definitely should not be considering backups Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster this week.
• RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Kellen Winslow, QB Josh Freeman
The Saints are not a bad defense, but they are in the bottom half of fantasy against QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs. That about covers it. The Saints are giving up a league-worst 5.5 yards per rush and the return of Blount from injury and bye should boost an offense that will be asked to score points in the Superdome to keep up with the Saints. The usefulness of Freeman should encourage you to start the likes of the struggling Winslow and WR Mike Williams. You might even consider Arrelious Benn if you need a WR option in deeper leagues.
• QB Drew Brees, RB Darren Sproles, WR Marques Colston, TE Jimmy Graham, K John Kasay
The Saints had a week to forget, but they are going to come out like gangbusters here in trying to avenge an earlier-season loss. They tend to score early and often at home and should give us great passing numbers as Brees rebounds and torches a Bucs defense that is in the bottom half against QBs and WRs. Colston and Graham (Bucs are fifth-worst in fantasy against TEs) will rebound from off weeks, and Lance Moore is a nice fill-in in deeper formats. Sproles should be productive either on the ground or out of the backfield against a Bucs team that is 10th-worst in fantasy against RBs.
• D/ST Buccaneers
The Saints are a much better offense at home. You have to find a different defense to use this week. There are going to be points and yards everywhere.
• RB Pierre Thomas, RB Mark Ingram, D/ST Saints
We might like Thomas if we knew for certain Ingram would be out. We won't like Ingram even if he plays. The Saints use a three-headed monster for their RB and Sproles is by far the best playmaker. Thomas had a bad week in a great matchup last week if you throw out the late score. As for the Saints defense, the Bucs have an offense that plays consistent and close to the vest, hence their ranking of seventh-best against opposing D/STs. The Saints are going to turn this one into a shootout and the Bucs are going to get garbage-time yards and scores.
• WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis, K David Akers
You should obviously be starting Frank Gore and the 49ers defense in all leagues, but Crabtree and Davis are going to chip in for fantasy owners here, too. Crabtree has proved healthier and Alex Smith has proved capable as a game-manager.
• TE Fred Davis
You cannot like any of your Redskins against the stout 49ers defense, particularly with John Beck as the QB, but Davis is at least the leading receiving threat. We expect him to play, and the one thing the 49ers aren't great against is the TE. They are in the bottom half against TEs.
• RB Ryan Torain, RB Roy Helu, WR Jabar Gaffney, K Graham Gano, D/ST Redskins
Torain might be the Redskins' primary back, but he doesn't figure to get anything started against the 49ers' No. 1-ranked run defense. They are No. 1 in fantasy against RBs all told, so don't consider Torain or his backup Helu. The Redskins could very well be shutout at home by the 49ers, so look for sleepers elsewhere.
• QB Tim Tebow
All that negative talk about Tebow: Forget it for one more week. The maligned quarterback figures to have a decent day against the Raiders here, mostly because of his rushing yards and scores. The Raiders are fourth-worst in fantasy against RBs, and we all know Tebow is more RB than QB right now. Willis McGahee (hand) vows to play, but his surgery was on the hand he was accustomed to carrying the ball in. That makes him and his backups, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball, questionable options. This is a good matchup, but the uncertainty makes them all too risky to start in fantasy.
• RB Michael Bush, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, K Sebastian Janikowski, D/ST Raiders
We cannot be sure exactly what kind of Carson Palmer we are going to get coming off a bye, but we should all feel pretty confident in the trio above. Darren McFadden (foot) is only a play if he starts, so consider Michael Bush a must start if McFadden cannot go. The Raiders defense will get to attack a Tebow that looked awful at home against the Lions. Janikowski (hamstring) expects to return and can be used in all leagues again.
• QB Carson Palmer, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR Denarius Moore, WR Jacoby Ford
Palmer was an unmitigated disaster coming off the bench in his Raiders debut. No matter how good the matchup might look here, you should not use him or the recently signed Housh in any leagues. Save for DHB, the Raiders' slew of receivers are risky options in fantasy.
• RB Cedric Benson, WR A.J. Green, K Mike Nugent, D/ST Bengals
Benson returns from suspension in time to attack a suspect Titans run defense. The Titans are seventh-worst in fantasy against RBs, and the Bengals offense starts with the run. We don't see a good reason to sit any of your Bengals offensive players, even if Andy Dalton isn't in the top 15 of fantasy quarterbacks. On defense, the Bengals match up well against the Titans, who have been completely incapable of establishing the run.
• K Rob Bironas
The Titans are at home, cannot run the ball and don't have a passing game that crushes it in the red zone. All this adds up to Bironas being big piece of the offensive puzzle, especially against a solid Bengals defense that might bend but doesn't figure to break.
• QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Chris Johnson, RB Javon Ringer, WR Nate Washington
The Bengals have been fifth-best against QBs in fantasy and you cannot like anything you have seen from Johnson. Ringer might be able to steal carries, but the time split ruins him for fantasy owners. The Bengals, who boast one of the most underrated secondaries in the NFL, are in the top 10 against receivers, so don't consider Washington or TE Jared Cook either.
• RB Ahmad Bradshaw, QB Eli Manning, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Victor Cruz, WR Mario Manningham
The Pats defense is one of the more vulnerable ones in the NFL. The Pats are last in fantasy against QBs and WRs, making Manning and his trio of outside targets must-start options in all leagues. The Giants running game is struggling and Bradshaw is banged up, but the Pats defense is in the bottom half against RBs. This is the type of game that can revive Bradshaw and the Giants' running game.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, TE Rob Gronkowski, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Deion Branch, K Stephen Gostkowski
This is a "start all" game for the Pats after some struggles against the Steelers a week ago. Tom Brady and Wes Welker figure to be great starts against a Giants defense that is improved against the pass but still suspect. The best matchup here is BGE, who faces a bottom 10 team in fantasy against RBs. The Giants are third-best in fantasy against TEs, but you should not be sitting Gronk or Hernandez in any formats right now.
• D/ST Giants, D/ST Patriots
This doesn't figure to be a game favorable to either defense as both quarterbacks can rip it. Manning will get his chance to prove he can play in Brady's class, which is what he boasted in the preseason. The Giants defense is getting sacks and they can lead to turnovers eventually, but not against Brady at home. The Pats are unbeatable there.
• RB James Starks, TE Jermichael Finley, K Mason Crosby, D/ST Packers
Many teams haven't played well coming off byes this season, but the Chargers are also facing a short week as they play host to the Packers coming off a Monday night game. We see the benefit of starting Starks with so many other backs banged up through the middle of the season. The Chargers are in the bottom third of fantasy against TEs, so Finley should be revived in this one.
• QB Philip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nick Novak
Rivers has been bad of late, especially with regard to turnovers, but the Packers defense has been third-worst against QBs and fifth-worst against WRs. With the Chargers having to play catch-up, Jackson should be much better than he has been since Gates' return. Rivers is too good to be held down for long. They might even be able to sneak out a come-from-behind victory in this one.
• WR Jordy Nelson, WR James Jones, WR Donald Driver, D/ST Chargers
The Packers are not going to be stopped with Aaron Rodgers right now, but these receivers are not great options against a pretty good Chargers secondary. The Chargers are seventh-best in fantasy against WRs, and the numbers for Nelson, Jones and Driver are fairly inconsistent for owners. If you have to play one of them, Nelson is the one, but we figure Finley is going to be the leading receiver for Rodgers here. You have to hate an underperforming Chargers facing the unstoppable defending champs right now.
• RB Ryan Mathews, RB Mike Tolbert, RB Curtis Brinkley
The Chargers might start Tolbert coming off injury in place of the banged-up Mathews -- and Brinkley might miss time with a concussion after his Monday night breakout -- but none of the Chargers backs are good plays against a stout Packers run defense. They could be factors in the passing game, perhaps, but the uncertainty around all of their health makes them sits this week.
• RB Steven Jackson, WR Brandon Lloyd
The Cardinals are not a bad run defense, but Jackson is playing like a must-start beast. The Cards are also fifth-worst in fantasy against WRs, so, regardless of who starts at QB for the Rams, Lloyd looks like a solid start.
• RB Beanie Wells, WR Larry Fitzgerald, K Jay Feely
Wells was able to play and produce last week, so consider him a must-start against a Rams defense that is second-worst in fantasy against RBs. The Rams are also third-worst in fantasy against WRs, so the disappointing Fitzgerald remains a must-start, no matter who is at QB for the Cardinals.
• QB Sam Bradford, QB Kevin Kolb
The banged-up starters may or may not play, but they shouldn't be considered in any formats yet. Give them a week to prove healthy.
• RB Ray Rice, WR Anquan Boldin, D/ST Ravens
The Steelers were able to shut down the potent Pats, but this trio remains too premium to sit, regardless of the matchup. You should lower expectations but don't sit them.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, K Shaun Suisham, D/ST Steelers
Big Ben was a mess in the opener on the road against the Ravens, but he has been playing like a world-beater lately and should not sit in this revenge game at home. You likely won't be sitting WR Mike Wallace in any formats either. The Steelers are going to move the ball on anyone with Big Ben playing this way, so expect field goals and strong defense.
• QB Joe Flacco, K Billy Cundiff, WR Torrey Smith
Flacco was brilliant against the Steelers in the opener, but the Ravens offense has been a mess -- save for the second half of last week. You shouldn't really like any of your Ravens against the resurgent Steelers if you can help it.
• RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Antonio Brown, TE Heath Miller
Mendenhall hasn't been good in great matchups, so expecting him to perform against the No. 2 team in fantasy against RBs is a bad move. Don't lose faith for the rest of the season, but find a fill-in for Mendenhall this week. Big Ben's hot streak has made Brown and Miller top fantasy options but we fully expect this one to play out more like Ravens and Steelers games of the past -- a lot of defense and more field-goal attempts than trips into the red zone.
• RB Matt Forte, K Robbie Gould
The Eagles look like a whole new team right now, particularly on defense. Forte draws the fifth-worst team in fantasy against RBs, but you shouldn't be sitting him in any matchup anyway. The Eagles have improved mightily against the pass and shut down a good Cowboys offense, so consider the Bears kicker as an option coming off bye.
• QB Michael Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, WR Jeremy Maclin, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Brent Celek, K Alex Henery, D/ST Eagles
The Bears have a solid defense, but when the Eagles are playing like they played at home last Sunday, they are unstoppable. You should fully expect another good offensive performance even if this matchup is fairly tough. The one Eagle you have to worry about because of his struggles of late, Jackson, should remain active. He is capable of going off big on any given Sunday. Celek is a sleeper here. He was revived against the Cowboys, the second-worst team against TEs in fantasy. Celek now gets the worst team in fantasy against TEs now. Start him in any format.
• QB Jay Cutler, WR Devin Hester, WR Roy Williams, WR Johnny Knox, D/ST Bears
The Eagles revival has been marked by great play in their secondary. Apparently it just took time to grow accustomed to the their new additions. Cutler is mostly a fringe option -- like all of his targets -- so look elsewhere this week.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List 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.