By Eric Mack
October 18, 2012

Last week pitted the best offenses (the Pats and the Giants) against the best defenses (the Seahawks and the 49ers). This week matches the best running games against the best defenses, as Seattle travels to San Francisco and Houston hosts Baltimore. Something has to give.

Fantasy points will come at a premium this week with a pool of players from six teams on byes: Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia and San Diego. It is the heaviest bye week of the season, which leaves owners without the likes of Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Bryant, Peyton Manning, Willis McGahee, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Reggie Bush, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, Eagles D/ST, Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Nick Novak.

That's 23 weekly must-starts to replace in lineups in standard leagues. In some formats, that's almost 30 percent of starting lineups.

It's a week to fight, kick and scratch for starters and what precious few points are to be had. We help you out with's still-meaty Week 7 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em:


Titans -- Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt: The Bills are fifth-worst in fantasy against running backs, so CJNoK should be CJ-a-OK here. He was at least decent against a tough Steelers run defense. Britt proved healthy a week ago, so he is a good option against a defense that is fourth-worst in fantasy versus receivers. Also, don't be afraid to use Matt Hasselbeck, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Jared Cook or Rob Bironas if you need to during a heavy bye week.

Bills -- C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Stevie Johnson: Like the Titans, there are good options among the Bills, especially the backs who proved starter-worthy against a good run defense in Arizona. At home against the sixth-worst team in fantasy versus running backs, both Spiller and Jackson are high-end fantasy starts. They both should get 15-plus touches and double-digit fantasy points. Johnson is a borderline must-start in all matchups and he should be much better as Ryan Fitzpatrick finally gets a favorable matchup. Consider Fitzpatrick, tight end Scott Chandler (the Titans are dead last versus tight ends), Rian Lindell and even Donald Jones, if you need a receiver sleeper.


Titans -- Jamie Harper, Javon Ringer, Titans D/ST: Harper picked up a goal-line score last week, but Johnson should finish his own drives here. With regard to the defense: Yes, the Bills are bottom 10 in fantasy versus D/STs, but with both backs healthy and at home, this shouldn't be like most of the Bills' games of late.

Bills -- Bills D/ST: Like the Titans, the Bills look like a potential bye-week replacement against a bottom-10 team versus D/STs, but this game figures to see both teams swapping big plays on offense, mostly in the running game. It is going to be another long day for this maligned defensive unit.


Cowboys -- Tony Romo, Felix Jones, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Cowboys D/ST: The Panthers haven't been awful against receivers, but the Cowboys appeared to have a rejuvenated offense coming out after the bye against a good Ravens secondary on the road. Romo and his targets should have productive days in Week 7, namely the healthy Witten. Jones gets his big opportunity, too, with DeMarco Murray (foot) out and facing the fourth-worst team in fantasy versus running backs. Jones isn't just a start, he's a must-start, along with the maligned defense. The secondary is lockdown-quality and will prove it here.

Panthers -- Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Greg Olsen: Newton is facing a tough task against the No. 1 team in fantasy versus quarterbacks, but Newton's running keeps him productive enough to start in all leagues. The Williams endorsement is not statistically based, but merely a function of the fact that the Panthers probably realized during the bye week that their best chance to win games is by running the football with their talented backs. Williams is the slightly better option over Jonathan Stewart, who is viable but might not get enough touches to reach double digits in fantasy points. The Panthers need to start playing like a running team and resist the temptation to put everything on their sophomore quarterback.


Cowboys -- DeMarco Murray, Kevin Ogletree, Dan Bailey: Save for what could have been a dream breakthrough week for the once-again-injured Murray, you won't miss these guys.

Panthers -- Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Justin Medlock, Panthers D/ST: It's tough to sit a potentially elite receiver with six teams on a bye, but Smith has been disappointing, Newton hasn't recaptured his rookie form and the Cowboys have a good set of corners who have proven to be third-best in fantasy versus wide receivers, not to mention No. 1 versus quarterbacks. The Panthers can change their fortunes by running the ball and playing differently, but their stubbornness to do so makes this another potentially disastrous week against a hungry, capable team in need of a victory.


Ravens -- Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Justin Tucker: This projects to be the worst week of the season to trust the Ravens. This group has earned must-start status in all matchups, though.

Texans -- Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Owen Daniels, Shayne Graham, Texans D/ST: The silver lining for the Texans against the Ravens' defense, in addition to injuries ravaging a once-dominant unit, is that the Texans are at home. Also a plus, Foster get a defense that was ripped on the ground last week. The Texans' defense, facing the fourth-stingiest team in fantasy versus D/STs, is the only real question mark. With bye weeks affecting bench and waiver depth, though, you're better off sticking with them than taking a chance elsewhere and burning another roster spot.


Ravens -- Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Dennis Pitta, Ravens D/ST: Minus its heart in Ray Lewis, sack man in Terrell Suggs and best cover man in Lardarius Webb, the Baltimore defense is on watch. If you have a backup D/ST in a more favorable matchup, start it instead. The Texans are the fifth-stingiest team in fantasy versus D/STs. Flacco faces a unit that was embarrassed by the Packers, but if we learned anything in recent weeks, it's that Flacco is no Aaron Rodgers. Boldin and Pitta are marginal options better off avoided against a good, hungry defense.

Texans -- Matt Schaub, Ben Tate, Kevin Walter, Keshawn Martin: Even with their injuries, the Ravens remain among the top-10 defenses in fantasy versus quarterbacks. It is a strong system even with subs. If Schaub can't keep up in a shootout with Rodgers, you have to figure he won't light it up for fantasy owners in a slower-paced defensive struggle with the Ravens. Tate will eventually be 100-percent healthy and prove viable in fantasy, but he's just not there yet.


Browns -- Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Josh Gordon, Phil Dawson: Richardson (ribs) is going to be an easy call come Sunday. If he's playing, he's a must-start against a Colts defense that made the Jets look like a capable running team again. The Browns are a better running team, so consider Hardesty a potential flex even if Richardson plays. Gordon is making huge plays, so he rates among the starters at receiver in fantasy. Dawson should get ample field-goal opportunities with a running team facing a subpar run defense, if you have your primary kicker on bye.

Colts -- Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne, Adam Vinatieri: Luck is a much better fantasy starter at home, and the Browns are the second-worst team in fantasy versus quarterbacks and receivers. That makes sleepers out of the likes of Donnie Avery, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, T.Y. Hilton and even LaVon Brazill if you're desperate for fill-ins this week.


Browns -- Brandon Weeden, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Travis Benjamin, Ben Watson, Jordan Cameron: Weeden has shown flashes, mostly because Gordon has, but he still rates as a marginal fantasy starter even in his best weeks. You probably shouldn't have slotted Weeden as your only bye-week fill-in at QB. His receivers, namely the drop-happy Little, make Weeden difficult to trust.

Colts -- Vick Ballard, Donald Brown, Colts D/ST: Ignore what Bradshaw did to the Browns' defense. Cleveland still has a good run-stopping unit. Only the Patriots, Texans, Lions, Vikings, 49ers and Bears have allowed fewer rushing touchdowns to running backs than the Browns to date. Ballard will be a non-factor again with Brown (knee) out. Meanwhile, the Colts' defense showed us all we need to know last week against the Jets.


Cardinals -- Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals D/ST: If the Cardinals couldn't help fantasy owners at home against the Bills, expecting much against a surprisingly effective Vikings defense is a bad idea. Fitzgerald might have a pseudo backup quarterback to work with now, but he was more productive with that passer last year than he was with Kevin Kolb (ribs). The Cards' defense handled the Pats on the road, so a road game in Minnesota coming off a loss shouldn't be enough to stop anyone from using the cards this week.

Vikings -- Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph, Blair Walsh, Vikings D/ST: This won't rate as a great week to use the Vikings, but all of the above fantasy options have earned must-start status, regardless of the opponent. At least they are at home.


Cardinals -- John Skelton, William Powell, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Todd Heap, Jay Feely: Skelton proved unprepared when called upon a week ago, so you cannot expect much against a Vikings defense playing at home. The Cards' running game has been worthless, and the Vikings are fourth-best against running backs and fifth-best against receivers in fantasy to date. Look elsewhere for replacement points.

Vikings -- Christian Ponder, Toby Gerhart, Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins: Ponder has been showing progress, particularly with his ability to get the ball to his primary targets, but Arizona ranks fourth-best in fantasy against quarterbacks. Ponder is better as a streaming option when he is facing lesser defenses. The Cards don't qualify, so avoid Ponder and his secondary options this week.


Redskins -- Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, Fred Davis: We are going to learn more about RGIII's juice this week than any other this season. If RGIII wins this one, it will be full-fledged mania. The bet here, mostly because RGIII's targets are so questionable, is that he will be marginalized. There will be no sneaking up on a Giants defense playing at home in a pivotal division matchup (the Giants might be 4-2, but they are 0-2 in the division). Still, you can't sit him. Morris has earned must-start status, while you might consider Pierre Garcon (foot) a suitable bye-week fill-in, if healthy, against a still-banged-up Giants secondary that is seventh-worst in fantasy versus receivers. Davis barely rates as a starter, especially with the Giants rating third-best in fantasy versus tight ends, but he is at least a steady target for RGIII once he breaks containment of a potentially dominant pass rush.

Giants -- Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, Lawrence Tynes, Giants D/ST: The Redskins' defense is better than it has shown, but it doesn't match up well against the potent Giants, especially since Washington is the worst team in fantasy versus receivers, fourth-worst versus quarterbacks and second-worst versus tight ends. The latter fact makes the recently quiet Martellus Bennett a viable start if you're without the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez, the Chargers' Antonio Gates or the Eagles' Brent Celek on bye. Nicks was limping around the field against the 49ers, but this matchup is just too tantalizing to sit him, especially given all the byes.


Redskins -- Evan Royster, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Josh Morgan, Kai Forbath, Redskins D/ST: If these guys can't be used when six teams are on bye -- in a game expected to be a shootout -- they can't be used in any week. Don't own these scrubs.

Giants -- David Wilson, Andre Brown, Ramses Barden, Rueben Randle, Bear Pascoe: Wilson looks like a fantasy powder keg ready to explode, but the Redskins are a top-10 team in fantasy versus running backs. Bradshaw is carrying just too much of the load, and this game isn't likely to be a blowout and lead to garbage time. The latter is the only way Brown, Barden and Randle make a fantasy impact when the Giants are as healthy as they have been.


Packers -- Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Mason Crosby, Packers D/ST: If Greg Jennings (groin) and Jermichael Finley (shoulder) were 100 percent, we would advise starting them, too. As Rodgers said publicly last week and proved in Houston, the Packers are still an offensive machine. Keep them active, even if St. Louis has proven capable defensively, particularly at home. No one is tougher on the fantasy opposition than the Texans at home, and we all saw how that turned out.

Rams -- Steven Jackson, Greg Zuerlein: The Packers' run defense proved tough on Houston's Foster, but he still found the end zone twice. That makes Jackson just good enough to use in such a bye-heavy week if you're without McCoy, Charles, Mathews, Bush, McGahee or Turner. Zuerlein proved human last week in Miami, but the Packers figure to blow this game out and allow the Rams some garbage-time scoring opportunities. You just have to hope the Rams are not so far behind that they have to go for touchdowns in lieu of field goals.


Packers -- Alex Green, James Starks, Randall Cobb: Don't trust an inconsistent Cobb against a Rams team that is quietly No. 1 in fantasy versus receivers. As for the running backs, the Packers only run the ball when they have to. They don't figure to have to this week, unless the Rams let this game get away from them early. The Rams haven't done that yet, so expect the Packers to keep pushing with their unstoppable passing game.

Rams -- Sam Bradford, Daryl Richardson, Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens, Lance Kendricks, Rams D/ST: The Packers are in the bottom half of fantasy against everything (QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs), but these Rams are in the bottom of fantasy in all respects. Bradford will have some opportunities to open it up if down big early, but his receivers are just too sketchy to trust.


Saints -- Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Garrett Hartley: The Bucs don't match up well against the desperate Saints' passing game, so consider Lance Moore (hamstring) and Devery Henderson sleepers if you need wide receiver options. Graham (ankle) is a must-start, assuming he plays as expected. Hartley will get too many opportunities to sit, especially if the Bucs continue to bend but not break as they have at home.

Buccaneers -- Josh Freeman, Doug Martin, LeGarrette Blount, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Connor Barth: This amounts to a rare start-all game for the Bucs. Not only is the Saints defense forgiving (fifth-worst versus quarterbacks, the worst versus running backs and third-worst versus receivers) but the Saints also figure to turn the Bucs offense from a grinder to more of a fast-paced passing team. Martin has the best matchup imaginable, and Blount has taken over as a goal-line back, so he could get a touchdown or two. Even Barth is a viable bye-week fill-in candidate. Freeman has looked closer to his 2010 form and has made both Jackson and Williams among the most productive receivers in fantasy.


Saints -- Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Saints D/ST: Ingram and the Saints defense are two of the biggest scrubs in fantasy right now. The Saints should have studied how to utilize Ingram, but they haven't figured it out yet. Starting Thomas, who still somehow get more 20-to-20 carries than Ingram, or the talented but underutilized sophomore against the seventh-best team in fantasy versus running backs is a bad move. As for the defense, well, forget it.

Buccaneers -- Dallas Clark, Luke Stocker, Bucs D/ST: Clark is frustrated with his usage, but the success of the Bucs' receivers will eventually lead to more coverage over the top and open up Clark and Stocker, who are splitting time. The problem with expecting that to happen this week is that the Saints are actually the second-best team in fantasy versus tight ends. As for the Bucs' defense, it is viable at home, but not against the New Orleans points machine.


Jets -- Shonn Greene, Stephen Hill: Greene has been one of the most unfortunate players in fantasy. Not only have the Jets showed nothing in the passing game, but they have also played a brutal string of the best run defenses in the NFL. The Pats are yet another, but Greene's Jets learned they have to stick to the running game against all odds. Mark Sanchez and Jeremy Kerley might not be bad plays against a Pats defense that made the Seahawks' Russell Wilson look like a fantasy star and have been third-worst against quarterbacks and sixth-worst against wide receivers. The problem is Sanchez's targets aren't even as good as the Seahawks'. Hill is the lone trustworthy option of the bunch against a suspect Pats secondary.

Patriots -- Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots D/ST: The Jets are sixth-best in fantasy versus quarterbacks and fourth-best versus receivers, but no one is sitting Brady, Welker or Lloyd in any leagues. The Jets are seventh-worst in fantasy versus running backs and 11th-worst tight ends, so keep Ridley, Hernandez and Gronk active. Ridley's matchup is tougher than the numbers suggest, but he is also more important to your fantasy team and the Pats' success than he showed in Seattle last week. The Patriot's defense is the question mark, but with the Falcons, Broncos, Dolphins, Eagles and Chargers defenses on bye, the Pats are still a top-12 unit.


Jets -- Tim Tebow, Bilal Powell, Dustin Keller, Nick Folk, Jets D/ST: Don't touch the Jets' defense against the Patriot at home coming off a loss. If Powell and Tebow weren't factors in a blowout against the Colts, they won't be factors here. Keller is an intriguing option against a Pats defense that has been fourth-worst in fantasy vs. tight ends, but Keller has been healthy or a factor yet. Watch him as a sleeper for future weeks. He might be Sanchez's best target down the stretch.

Patriots -- Brandon Bolden, Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen: These backup runners are viable sleepers in weeks they are not playing a good run defense. Despite the numbers to date, the Jets are still a unit geared to stop the run.


Jaguars -- Maurice Jones-Drew: MJD is the lone Jag to trust, especially since the Raiders are 10th-worst in fantasy vs. running backs. They are also seventh-worst versus tight ends, so consider Marcedes Lewis if you're desperate there.

Raiders -- Carson Palmer, Darren McFadden, Denarius Moore, Brandon Myers, Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders D/ST: This is a rare week to take advantage of starting the Raiders. It is a dream matchup for the disappointing McFadden, who faces the second-worst team in fantasy versus running backs. Also, Palmer has developed some consistency with Moore and Myers and Darrius Heyward-Bey should prove to be healthier and more productive against a Jags defense in the bottom half against quarterbacks and receivers. The Raiders' defense is also a viable bye-week replacement against a Jags team that is seventh-most forgiving against D/STs.


Jaguars -- Blaine Gabbert, Rashad Jennings, Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson, Cecil Shorts, Josh Scobee, Jaguars D/ST: We are not sure why anyone would own these guys, much less consider starting them. You need to see a lot more before you do.

Raiders -- None: We just cannot think of a Raiders fantasy option you would own and think: "I have to sit them against the Jags."


Steelers -- Ben Roethlisberger, Jonathan Dwyer, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Steelers D/ST: This is now a desperate Steelers team and it is getting healthy, save for the backs and Troy Polamalu (calf). The Bengals have been the ninth-most forgiving team in fantasy versus running backs, so consider this week's starter Dwyer a great last-minute fill-in option.

Bengals -- A.J. Green, Jermaine Gresham: Despite the slow start, the Steelers are still a top-10 fantasy unit against quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, so you probably shouldn't be so quick to start the surprising Andy Dalton. The one place the Steelers remain in the bottom half, mostly because of the absences of Polamalu, is vs. tight ends. That makes Gresham a viable start, alongside the must-start Green, who has become been the most productive receiver in fantasy.


Steelers -- Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey: The Bengals are a better defense than they have shown to date, but even the marginal Shaun Suisham is a viable option for fantasy owners in the bye-heavy Week 7. The news Friday that Mendenhall (Achilles'/knee) and Redman (ankle) are both out make them easy sits, but it is a huge boon for those that needed a sleeper in Dwyer.

Bengals -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Mike Nugent, Bengals D/ST: BGE showed why he cannot be trusted outside of being a low-end flex and the only real questions among these guys are the kicker and defense. Even with the bad start, the Steelers have still proven to be top-10 in fantasy vs. them, too. It's a bad week to trust your marginal Bengals options.


Lions -- Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Jason Hansen: The Bears have been the "oh my" team no fantasy owners wants to face. Still, don't sit this group in any matchup, though, especially not in a pivotal prime-time division game. Pettigrew is facing the ninth-worst team in fantasy vs. tight ends, by the way.

Bears -- Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Robbie Gould, Bears D/ST: The only question mark of this group is Cutler, because the Lions have been in the top half against quarterbacks and Cutler has been marginal. Cutler is at home, coming off a bye and in an important prime-time matchup, though. He's going to come through where he failed earlier against the Packers. Forte faces a tough Lions run defense, but he is a factor in the passing game, too, and should be part of the reason Cutler performs like a top-12 fantasy quarterback here.


Lions -- Mikel Leshoure, Kevin Smith, Joique Bell, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Tony Scheffler, Lions D/ST: The Bears defense is third-best in fantasy versus quarterbacks, No. 1 vs. running backs and No. 9 versus receivers. Leshoure might be more intriguing this season because of the recent bad news for Jahvid Best (post-concussion syndrome) owners, but this is a bad matchup for him and all marginal Lions.

Bears -- Michael Bush, Alshon Jeffrey, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Kellen Davis: Bush is the only real question and he faces a Lions run defense that has given up just one rushing touchdown to a running back to date. Those rushing scores are the only reason to consider Bush and they won't come in this matchup.

If you play in those one-off salary-cap games, here is how we'd advise you set your lineup:

QB -- Tony RomoRB -- Darren McFaddenRB -- Chris JohnsonWR -- Victor CruzWR -- Brandon MarshallTE -- Jason WittenFLEX -- C.J. SpillerK -- Rian Lindell

D/ST -- Dallas Cowboys

You have a better lineup to win with? Hit me up on Twitter @EricMackFantasy and challenge me with it.

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