Active/Inactive Update (12:25 p.m. ET):
Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Arian Foster are all active this week. Megatron and Foster should be started in all formats. Whether or not you play Andre Johnson will depend on your roster, but he's no more than a low-end WR2 in a vacuum. He should see a healthy does of Orlando Scandrick on Sunday.
As expected, both Joique Bell (concussion) and Theo Riddick (hamstring) are inactive today. Reggie Bush is a top-10 running back play this week.
Keep an eye on Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Sunday. He's active, and while he's not yet a fantasy option in most formats, he can develop into a situational starter in traditional leagues. He's clearly a superior option to Brandon Myers, and could open up the Tampa Bay offense similar to Larry Donnell in New York.
In the late games, all signs point to Vernon Davis (back) sitting out. Eric Decker (hamstring) is a game-time decision. You're going to want to go in another direction if you're planning on starting either of these guys.
Good news if you're waiting on using Niles Paul on Monday night. It sounds like the Washington tight end will start against the Seahawks. It's not yet a guarantee, so you might want to add Logan Paulsen as an insurance policy if you can, but Paul cleared all the concussion protocol and practiced late in the week. With Jordan Reed (hamstring) likely to sit, Paul should get his usual targets on Monday.
There is a long and proud tradition of former NFL players taking their talents to the ballroom and owning the hit reality show “Dancing With The Stars.” Emmitt Smith, Hines Ward and Donald Driver all won the competition in their respective seasons, while Warren Sapp, Jerry Rice and Jason Taylor came in second. It makes sense, of course, that former professional football players would be good dancers. Part of what made them so great on the field, their footwork, translates right over to the dance floor. It’s a crucial element to success in both football and dancing, and one that Titans head coach Ken Whisenhut swore rookie running back Bishop Sankey just didn’t have. Now it seems that Whisenhunt has changed his tune on Sankey’s footwork. Funny how being 1-3 can do that.
Sankey was initially expected to be the starter in Tennessee after the team selected him in the second round of this year’s draft. Instead, he was stuck behind the plodding Shonn Greene on the depth chart. Whisenhunt continued to insist that Sankey had to improve his footwork to get more time on the field. He had no more than a cursory role in the first two games of the season, but opened some eyes when he ran for 61 yards on 10 carries against the Bengals in Week 3. He got just eight touches in the loss to Indianapolis last week, but turned those into 57 yards and his first career touchdown. Apparently the last two weeks (or the dance lessons we cannot confirm that Sankey took) erased Whisenhunt’s concerns about Sankey’s footwork. The coach said Sankey will get a heavier workload and be involved in the offense earlier than he has in the first four games of the season. It comes at a perfect time for his fantasy owners.
The Browns have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this year. Le’Veon Bell, Mark Ingram and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all gone for more than 15 points in standard-scoring leagues against Cleveland. Sankey should get a minimum of 15 touches, and could push up all the way toward 20. I’d be shocked if he didn’t join Bell, Ingram and Taliaferro on the list of running backs who have tortured the Browns this season.
Here’s all the rest you need to know for in the Week 5 Cheat Sheet.
Another rookie running back to love
Nearly all the attention paid to the slumping Patriots focuses on the offense, and with good reason. Never did we think the wheels would completely fall off a unit piloted by Tom Brady, so it has been shocking to see the extreme struggles this group has gone through in the first month of the season. However, the retooled defense was supposed to be a strength this year, but it has really just been average. It ranks 18th in run defense according to Pro Football Focus, and has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, Matt Asiata, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis have all reached double digits against the Patriots, with Moreno falling just short of 20 points, and Charles pushing the 30-point plateau. That makes Cincinnati rookie Jeremy Hill worth starting in Week 5.
Hill was noticeably absent from the Cincinnati gameplan in Week 1, but offensive coordinator Hue Jackson insisted Hill would be more involved going forward. Since then, he has 22 carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns. In that same timeframe, Giovani Bernard has 223 yards and three scores on 47 touches, so it’s not like he needs Bernard to be a sudden no-show to have a big game. Bernard is, of course, going to get more touches than Hill, as he should, but that doesn’t preclude Hill from being a fantasy option this week. The Patriots have already allowed two pairs of teammates to run wild against them this year. Moreno ranked fourth among running backs in Week 1, while Miller was 14th. One week ago, Charles led all running backs in fantasy points, and Davis put up the 14th-best score. Bernard and Hill can do the same this week.
Reggie Bush is a top-10 back
Joique Bell suffered a concussion last week, and has been ruled out for this week’s game against the Bills, opening the door for Bush to get 20-plus touches on Sunday. That volume, combined with the matchup, should lead to Bush posting top-10 numbers.
The Bills have been one of the toughest teams to run on this year. Their run defense ranks second, according to Pro Football Focus, and they’ve allowed just 2.29 yards per carry. Only five teams – Seattle, Arizona, Washington, San Francisco, and the New York Jets – have surrendered fewer fantasy points per game to running backs. However, they have been carved up through the air by good pass-catching backs. Matt Forte had eight receptions for 87 yards Week 1, and Arian Foster caught seven balls for 55 yards against them a week ago. All told, they’ve allowed 28 receptions to running backs for 247 yards, the fourth-highest total in the league. We all know what Bush can do as a receiver. Based on that alone, he’s a strong play as an RB1 this week.
Bush had at least 20 touches in six games last year. He averaged 19.95 fantasy points in those games, totaling 897 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. I’m trusting that track record and his skill set, which is a mismatch for the Buffalo defense.
Justin Forsett – Forsett seems to be the nominal No. 2 back in Baltimore week after week, and yet, he’s the only one who has had at least 12 touches in every game. While Lorenzo Taliaferro or Bernard Pierce may be the starter as a more traditional runner, Forsett is the one back in Balitmore with a safe, concrete role in the offense. That rock-solid consistency is just about the only thing a fantasy owner can count on in the Ravens’ backfield. The Colts have been a bit worse than league-average against running backs this year, allowing the 13th-most points per game to the position. Darren Sproles, a player with a similar skill set to Forsett, had seven catches for 152 yards against the Colts, and put up a 23.8-point fantasy day. He’s easily a flex play this week, and can be an RB2, as well.
Marques Colston – I understand the frustrations over Colston this year. The 31-year-old receiver had five catches for 110 yards Week 1. He has seven catches for 75 yards in the three games since. It would be a mistake for fantasy owners to sit him down this week, though, as he has one of the best matchups on the board. The Buccaneers have allowed the most fantasy points per game to receivers this year. Kelvin Benjamin, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown have combined for 22 catches, 384 yards and five touchdowns against Tampa Bay. This game sets up beautifully for Drew Brees and company, with the overmatched Buccaneers heading to New Orleans this week. Colston may not be WR1 or even consistent WR2 material any more, but he’s going to have a big game on Sunday.
C.J. Spiller – Fred Jackson has out-snapped Spiller 145-100, outgained him (in total yards) 322-288, and out-targeted him 24-10. Spiller had a walk-in touchdown on a reception against the Bears in Week 1, but his only other touchdown came on a kickoff return. We’ve already discussed in multiple places this week, including the Start/Sit column and the Running Back Committee Watch, that Spiller and Jackson simply do not both put up fantasy starter’s numbers in the same week. What gives fantasy owners any confidence that this will be Spiller’s week? The Lions are allowing just 3.42 yards per carry, and held both Rashad Jennings (at least on the ground) and Eddie Lacy in check. Spiller isn’t going to succeed where those two guys failed.
Darrin Reaves – Fantasy owners may be tempted to trust the flavor of the week in Carolina, but that would be a mistake. Remember, volume isn’t everything. It’s a very good thing for a running back to have, but it shouldn’t earn the blind faith of fantasy owners. The Bears should be able to take advantage of a struggling Carolina defense, and that should mean more Cam Newton and less ground attack for the Panthers offense. I wouldn’t expect Reaves to finish inside the top-30 running backs this week.
Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers
• Brandon Marshall was a full participant in practice all week after being hobbled by an ankle injury last week. You know what to do here. The Bears will likely be without center Roberto Garza (ankle), but could get back guard Matt Slauson (ankle). Either way, backups Brian De La Puente and Michael Ola have played very well this season.
• Jonathan Stewart is doubtful with a knee injury, while DeAngelo Williams has already been ruled out because of his ankle. That opens the door for the aforementioned, underwhelming Reaves. Linebacker Thomas Davis should play despite a hip ailment.
Houston Texans at Dallas Cowboys
• Arian Foster will be a game-time decision because of the hamstring injury that has been bothering him for weeks. If he can’t go, Alfred Blue would be a strong play. Andre Johnson has been limited in practice all week due to an ankle injury. He’s officially listed as questionable. He’s no more than a WR2 at this point of his career.
• Dez Bryant (shoulder) is probable and will play.
Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions
• Sammy Watkins (ribs) was a full participant in practice and is listed as probable. I wouldn’t trust him with new quarterback Kyle Orton.
• Joique Bell has been ruled out because of the concussion he suffered last week. Golden Tate (hamstring) has been limited all week, but he is listed as probable.
Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts
• Bernard Pierce won’t be held out due to his thigh ailment, but he was active last week and didn’t see a snap. As stated earlier, Justin Forsett is the only back fantasy owners can trust right now.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars
• Markus Wheaton was limited in practice due to a groin injury, but he is probable. He’s a high-end WR3 this week. Ryan Shazier (knee) and Ike Taylor (forearm) are out, but James Harrison is listed as probable.
• Marqise Lee will miss his third straight game because a hamstring injury. Cecil Shorts is back on the shelf with a hamstring injury that just won’t go away. Allen Robinson is a decent WR3 option.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
• Austin Seferian-Jenkins is questionable with an ankle injury, but he isn’t quite on the fantasy radar. Mike Evans is out 2-to-4 weeks with a groin injury.
Atlanta Falcons at New York Giants
• In addition to Sam Baker and Joe Hawley, the Falcons will be without guard Justin Blalock. Harry Douglas (foot) is also out.
• Odell Beckham has missed the entire season with a hamstring injury, but he’s expected to make his NFL debut on Sunday. Keep an eye on him. He could be a solid depth option going forward.
St. Louis Rams at Philadelphia Eagles
• Jeremy Maclin won’t be kept out by his hamstring ailment. He participated fully in practice on Friday and is probable. The Eagles also get right tackle Lane Johnson back from suspension this week.
Cleveland Browns at Tennessee Titans
• The bye week was exactly what Jordan Cameron needed. He was a full participant in practice, and seems to be over his shoulder injury. Ben Tate will also return after injuring his knee Week 1.
• Jake Locker will start after missing last week’s game with a wrist injury. Delanie Walker is still dealing with a shoulder ailment, but he is listed as probable.
Arizona Cardinals at Denver Broncos
• Carson Palmer is out once again with the nerve issue in his right shoulder. Andre Ellington was a limited participant, as he will be most of the season, with a foot injury. He is listed as probable.
• Danny Trevathan is back from a knee injury this week. Brandon McManus is also listed as probable with a groin injury. The team cut Matt Prater, so McManus isn’t in any danger of missing Sunday’s game.
New York Jets at San Diego Chargers
• Nick Mangold (shoulder) and Willie Colon (knee) are both probable, good news for Chris Ivory and the entire Jets offense. Eric Decker (hamstring), however, didn’t practice all week and is questionable. He’s too risky to play this week. Chris Johnson is probable with an ankle injury, but Ivory clearly owns this backfield.
• The Chargers defense will definitely be without Melvin Ingram, and Dwight Freeney (knee) and Corey Liuget (concussion) could both join him on the sidelines. They’re listed as questionable.
• Jamaal Charles (ankle) was predictably limited in practice, but he’s listed as probable and will play Sunday. Donnie Avery is out with a sports hernia.
• Michael Crabtree (foot) and Frank Gore (back) participated in Friday’s practice fully, and both are probable for Sunday. Vernon Davis (back) didn’t practice all week and is questionable. Fantasy owners should plan on going in a different direction.
Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots
• It looked like Marvin Jones would get back this week, but he tweaked an old ankle injury in practice and is now listed as doubtful. He’s still a good long-term play for fantasy owners. Vontaze Burfict is doubtful because of a concussion suffered in Week 2.
• Rob Gronkowski (knee) practiced in full on Friday. He will start for the Patriots, so he should start for fantasy owners.
Seattle Seahawks at Washington Redskins
• The official injury report for this game isn’t available yet, but all signs point to both Marshawn Lynch (back) and DeSean Jackson (shoulder) playing. Niles Paul (concussion) practiced fully Friday, but Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited.