November 13, 2012

The NFL fantasy season is filled with tough decisions. Join SI's roundtable of fantasy experts each week to help sort through the lineup choices, injuries and waiver wire options that can make or break a season. Each week, we'll also feature a question from our readers, which you are free to submit each Sunday of the season at the @SInow Twitter feed.

1. Three quarterbacks -- Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler -- were knocked out by concussions in Week 10. How will the Eagles', Niners' and Bears' passing games be affected?

Mike Beacom: I expect changes in San Francisco and Chicago to be short-lived and minimal, but Philadelphia's change could be permanent. Vick's concussion has given the team an excuse to test out Nick Foles, who made a few plays and a few blunders in the Eagles' Week 10 loss to Dallas. The switch to Foles will affect the team's receivers, who rely on downfield passing opportunities, and possibly LeSean McCoy, who may see more bodies near the line of scrimmage with a rookie under center.

Will Carroll: It's an obvious downgrade for all three, but the bigger issue is why. On two of the plays, the quarterback was running. Oddly, only Vick was in the pocket (and even that isn't too clear). The risk/reward balance is tough to set on a mid-tier quarterback, since the drop-off is tougher to gauge. All three teams have decent backups, but there's a reason they are backups. The WR1 tends to stay about where he is in value with the others dropping off, so I would look elsewhere on everyone but Brandon Marshall.

Eric Mack: Well, you wouldn't have wanted to start the 49ers' Smith against the Bears defense or the Bears' Cutler against the 49ers defense anyway. Find replacements for them and expect that game to be even more of a fantasy mess than it is already projected to be. The toughest call is having to trust Foles instead of Vick against a Redskins defense that has been second worst in fantasy against quarterbacks and wide receivers. Even with Foles starting, consider DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin viable starters. Foles, on the other hand, is probably a risk best avoided, unless you have lost Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), too.

David Sabino: Smith could possibly play for the Niners against the Bears next Monday, but if he doesn't they're still in great shape with Colin Kaepernick behind center. He's a rushing quarterback who can throw, so he might be an intriguing challenge for the Bears. No 49ers receiver had been setting the world on fire with Smith at quarterback, so the difference will be minimal. For the Eagles, Foles is more of a pocket passer than Vick. Having a rookie play behind a makeshift offensive line is terrible news for Maclin, Jackson et al. And the biggest strength the Bears had was the relationship between Cutler and Marshall. Without Cutler, Marshall won't be the same. He's now a great sell-high candidate.

2. The Giants' passing game has struggled in recent weeks. Will it get back on track or is there more trouble ahead?

Beacom: Of New York's remaining opponents, only one (Philadelphia) ranks among the top half of the league in pass defense, and Eli Manning sliced up the Eagles for 309 yards and two touchdowns in the teams' first meeting this year. Things will turn around for this passing game, and sooner rather than later.

Carroll: Isn't this where we were last year? Manning struggling, offensive questions, Coughlin on the hot seat and then ... pow, everything fell into place. Maybe it will again this year, but probably not. I do think this team, and especially this quarterback, will get back on track to some extent, but not get on the kind of run that got them a ring last year.

Mack: That question should have been answered emphatically in Week 10 against the Bengals. Instead, Manning laid another egg and has said he will take the bye week off and not throw the football for a week. That is ostensibly an admission that his arm is tired, as reports indicated. The Giants' schedule after the bye is incredibly tough, so this might be the week to get acclimated to a different starting quarterback for your fantasy team. Manning looks like a big risk right now, particularly since his receivers have started getting jammed at the line of scrimmage and are not getting great separation. Martellus Bennett might lose his job because of drops. Victor Cruz's big plays have disappeared. And while he has looked healthier in recent weeks, Hakeem Nicks is always dealing with some kind of injury.

Sabino: The bye couldn't have come at a better time for the reeling Giants, who have not scored a passing touchdown in three games. There's no way that the talented offense run by Manning and highlighted by Cruz, Nicks and Bennett will fail to bounce back once the necessary adjustments are made during this off week. We'll see them return to normalcy before the fantasy playoffs begin but it's understandable if you want to take a wait-and-see stance for Week 12.

3. The Saints are using a committee at running back. Will anyone eventually emerge as the feature back or will owners be left guessing each week?

Beacom: A week ago the Saints pulled Chris Ivory from the closet and fed him 10 carries; Sunday, Mark Ingram tied a season-best with 16 carries. Nothing surprises me anymore with this team; I wouldn't blink if Drew Brees led the Saints in rushing next week. There are no fantasy winners in this backfield. This situation is pure heartache.

Carroll: Carroll: Not soon. The Saints do not have a real RB1. They'd love to have one -- to have an Alfred Morris step up and own the role -- but they don't. Instead, the coaches use a little depth and a lot of breaking the position down to its component roles. Ingram was supposed to be the guy, but he clearly isn't. The Saints will probably be looking for a feature back again this offseason, but for now, this is a committee to avoid.

Mack: It is the Saints, so it is only logical to expect a mess at the running back position. It will be particularly tough to discern when Darren Sproles (broken hand) returns -- maybe even as soon as the week after Thanksgiving. What is important to note right now is that Pierre Thomas has given way to Ivory and Ingram. Ingram couldn't put Thomas away himself, but Ivory's big plays in recent weeks have. The numbers suggest Ivory is the one to own, but until Sproles proves healthy and productive again, there is no one Saints running back to trust in fantasy.

Sabino: I'm not ready to anoint Ivory as the lead back for the Saints, but through his two games he's been the most impressive running back New Orleans has employed all season. Reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch, he's running with a purpose and has been putting up good numbers in limited action. The more he performs, the more action he'll see.

4. Reggie Bush and Michael Turner both struggled in what appeared to be good matchups Sunday. Who concerns you more?

Beacom: The Miami situation worries me. The coaches have admitted they would like to see what Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller have to offer. Bush may still be the team's lead back, but that means very little if he does not touch the ball at least 15 times a game, and he hasn't reached that total in either of the past two games. Turner is an aging back trying to hold on. He'll have ups and downs the rest of the way, like fantasy owners expected heading into the season.

Carroll: The whole Miami offense hit a wall in Week 10, so I'm less concerned there. Turner looked like he'd lost a step, and when Jacquizz Rodgers was in the game, Rodgers looked like what many thought he'd look like earlier this year, with all the stop-start dodginess that made him so good in college. Turner's going to need to step up to get the Falcons back on the right track and to keep from losing more and more touches to Rodgers.

Mack: It should be Turner, because he was completely ineffective against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL in Week 10, and the Falcons have too good of a passing game now to consider going back to a run-heavy attack. Bush was benched because of a fumble, but he is too important to the Dolphins' chances to be relegated to the sidelines. Also, Bush faces the worst team in fantasy against running backs this season Thursday night at Buffalo. Bush is a clear start. Turner might not be a candidate for another 100-yard rushing game the rest of the season -- and at age 30, maybe even in his career.

Sabino: Bush is more concerning since he was considered the focal point of Miami's offense. His last few games, coupled with an inability to hold onto the ball in critical situations, has forced Joe Philbin's hand and prompted Miami to push Thomas to the forefront. The offense is tailor-made for Bush but he's not thriving. As for Turner, he has always had ups and downs. He's a complementary player in a high-powered offense, but he's also someone who could put up big fantasy points without a heavy workload or high yardage total.

5. Often a little-hyped or injured player will emerge down the stretch to carry fantasy teams to the playoffs. Who has that potential this season?--@azpob-- @John_Colella

Beacom: The Rams will get Daryl Richardson more involved in the final weeks of the season. He has twice as many rushing scores as Steven Jackson and averages two more yards per carry (5.7 to 3.7), but he has half as many carries through nine games. Richardson could come up big for fantasy owners this next month in games against the Jets, Cardinals and Bills.

Carroll: I've liked the potential of Rashard Mendenhall all season. He came back from the ACL only to hurt his Achilles, but he could be back in the last few weeks of the season and would be the clear RB1 for a solid Steelers team that will be fighting for playoff position. If someone is giving up on Maurice Jones-Drew, he could be bought low and held for the last couple games. The foot injury is a real issue and is likely to keep him out longer than a couple more weeks, but the Jags are likely to get him back on the field regardless of record, if only to showcase him for a trade. Greg Jennings is also on the list, but will be harder to get at a bargain price.

Mack: That is the $1 million question -- or whatever your league champion might net later this season. But it is a fantasy analyst's job to project and predict the future out of nowhere, so here goes: Injured DeMarco Murray is going to eventually get back on the field and star to the tune of 100 yards and a touchdown, or two, per week. If you're looking for a nobody to rise from nowhere, let's go with Vincent Brown (ankle). The Chargers are hanging on to their playoff lives right now and Brown might be able to return from his broken ankle in December and post some surprising numbers, say six catches, 80 yards and a score per game down the stretch.

Sabino: I wouldn't be surprised to see Beanie Wells become exactly that player as the season winds down. Currently on injured reserve, he's not eligible to be activated until Week 12, but he should provide a fantasy boost for any team in need of running back depth.

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