Welcome to Pro Football Weekly's Fantasy Buzz, where we'll hit on the most pressing topic for every team, every week* to try and help you make the most informed daily and weekly roster decisions.
As a general rule of thumb each week, we'll get you the Thursday Night Football goods, an extra serving beyond what we have for the weekend's slate, in time for your Thursday afternoon commute. We'll then circle back in this same space and round out the weekly action by Friday afternoon. Voila.
If you see a position ranking in parentheses, that's where I have a player slotted for the week. Just don't let that preclude you from checking out our top 100 regardless of position here.
Let's get to it.
Fantasy's No. 2 overall defense in 2015, the Chiefs have again weathered Justin Houston's absence to rank fourth among stop units in scoring this season. It appears Houston's return will have to wait one more week. But Carolina has permitted the seventh-most points to opposing fantasy defenses, with Cam Newton getting pummeled routinely, and Dee Ford has exploded lately. Moreover, with Jeremy Maclin sidelined, and Alex Smith being Alex Smith, are you really surprised we chose to focus on 'D?'
The soft area of the Chiefs' 'D,' however, is versus the run, where it's yielded 4.8 yards per carry, including the third-most rushing yards by quarterbacks. In addition to Newton (QB4), Jonathan Stewart (RB11), who has been held to 3.4 yards per carry the past two games, should be busy as a runner to keep Kansas City's ascending pass rush at bay.
Houston has a $37 million problem, Brock Osweiler, and the only cure might be more bell cow, Lamar Miller (RB7). A shoulder injury that preceded the bye has kept Miller limited this week, but the Texans maintain he'll be ready for a full workload. It's all relative considering Miller's Miami vice — a run-committed game plan — but he's already on pace to exceed his previous career-high in carries by 90. Will Fuller (knee) hasn't been a worthwhile fantasy asset since Week Four, but he'll avoid Jalen Ramsey and should produce this week.
As if the Jaguars aren't frustrating enough, fantasy owners must contend with the Chris Ivory (RB22) vs. T.J. Yeldon (RB28) conundrum. I've sold most of my Yeldon shares (yes, the ham sandwich is delicious) because Ivory broke out last week, his fourth consecutive game out-producing the sophomore, while handling the most carries (18) by a Jag since Week One. He's also still locked in near the goal line, should Jacksonville ever begin making its way there with any regularity.
Get your Kapri Bibbs (RB27) on if it makes you happy — I explain why it could be worthwhile here — but understand Devontae Booker's (RB8) true breakout likely looms vs. a pitiful Saints 'D.' How pitiful, you ask? New Orleans has surrendered 14 combined TDs to backs — tied with Cleveland for the most in the NFL — despite playing two fewer losses, err, games than the Browns! OK, I just talked myself into recommending both Denver backs this week.
Strange NFL world we live in when playing two Saints backs — Mark Ingram (RB9) and Tim Hightower (RB26) — against Denver is even worth considering. Michael Thomas (WR18), meanwhile, has become matchup proof, which is more a testament to Drew Brees' safety valve (guess Mickey Loomis didn't need to spend $18 million on Coby Fleener, after all) than an indictment on the Broncos' exceptional pass defense.
Start 'em if you got 'em, said no fantasy analyst ever (probably) this week regarding the two most embarrassing QB situations in the NFL. But that doesn't mean everyone should be ignored in this clown show. Lance Kendricks (seriously) isn't the worst streaming TE option out there. He has seven catches in consecutive games and would've been Week Nine's highest scoring TE not named Graham or Witten if not for a dropped touchdown in the final two minutes. Then there's Todd Gurley (RB15), to whom the Rams promise to give more carries and, subsequently, no running lanes in the second half.
The one pass catcher I'd typically think is a solid play, Brandon Marshall (WR15), has been ineffective for more than a month and gets a tough matchup in Trumaine Johnson. Matt Forte (RB14), fantasy's No. 5 RB, clashes against a run 'D' that's allowed just three rushing touchdowns in the past seven games after letting San Francisco score three times on the ground in Week One.
We probably don't need to tell you to play Matt Ryan (QB1) and Julio Jones (WR2), particularly against an Eagles pass 'D' that's officially been grounded. But Taylor Gabriel and Austin Hooper, if you're into riding the hot hands, both warrant consideration. Both youngster's involvement is on the upswing and, with Tevin Coleman and Jacob Tamme still out, Gabriel and Hooper have been plugged into Atlanta's well-oiled big-play machine without a hiccup.
For as fantastic as the Falcons' passing game has been, their pass defense has been equally bad. After ceding eight combined passing scores over the past two games, they'll try and stop the bleeding versus one of the NFL's worst receiving corps. Jordan Matthews (WR17) and Zach Ertz (TE10) might not get a better chance to shine this season. With Ertz in particular, it took too long, but it appears the passing game will finally center around him.
It's understandable to focus on Alshon Jeffery (WR7) and Mike Evans (WR5), on the receiving ends of ultra-reliant gunslingers, Jay Cutler (QB12) and Jameis Winston (QB10). But it says here Zach Miller (TE9) and Cameron Brate (TE12) take advantage of all that attention this week.
We can't endorse Doug Martin due to the combination of Chicago's sneaky stout run 'D' and Martin's long layoff, but we can't recommend Jordan Howard (RB5) strongly enough. Get used to Howard being near the top of our RB rankings; the Bears have their Pro Bowl OGs back and are ready to drop the hammer, again and again.
Will the return of Jared Cook and James Starks help Aaron Rodgers (QB3) start cooking with gas again, a stark contrast from what we've seen too often this season (OK, that was too much)? Don't play either this week, and we suspect Ty Montgomery (WR19) might keep Starks in a backup role, but the Packers sorely lack the speed Cook can add in the middle of the field. Despite being burned a thousand times by him before, color us curious.
Advantageous Rishard Matthews (WR28) has scored in four of the past five games, over which time he's emerged as the most reliable red zone weapon through the air for Marcus Mariota (QB10), who remains inconsistent between the twenties and insanely awesome in the red zone. With DeMarco Murray (toe, RB6) nicked and Derrick Henry poised to miss his first NFL game, and Green Bay still the NFL's best run 'D,' Matthews and Delanie Walker (TE6) belong in lineups.
Pat Shurmur and Ronnie Hillman might be the keys to unlocking Minnesota's offense, just like we all predicted in August. Seriously, Hillman's seven carries for 30 yards, plus a 32-yard catch-and-run, sparked the Vikings. That tells us everything we currently need to know about the Vikings, but also that Hillman deserves a longer look, which he'll get Sunday vs. a bad Washington defense.
Rob Kelley (RB21) finds himself atop Washington's backfield pecking order after the bye. Minnesota has yielded three of its five explosive runs this year over the past three games. Explosive, Kelley isn't. In the right place at the right time, when Washington must take heat off Kirk Cousins after Trent Williams' suspension, he just might be. The same was true for Matt Jones to begin the season, but let's see if Kelley is more opportunistic.
Anyone seen DeVante Parker? Asking for an injury-decimated Miami WR corps, which now more than ever needs its 2015 first-rounder to play like one. With Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills both likely out, it'll potentially be Parker and rookie Leonte Carroo heading the receiving game. Perhaps Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake take on more in the passing game. Undoubtedly, Jay Ajayi — 77-529-4 over the past three games — gets 25-plus carries against a defense yet to allow a 100-yard rusher.
Miami's 'D,' on the other hand, permits 136 rushing yards per game —No. 30 in the NFL— and visits Melvin Gordon (RB2), amid his best two-game stretch as a pro. In addition to Gordon, Philip Rivers (QB8) and Tyrell Williams (WR24) are both good for Plan B, which is better than Measure C (sorry, Chargers fans).
Even if Carlos Hyde (RB16) returns as expected, DuJuan Harris should be kept on speed dial after showing what he can do in space a week ago (5-83-1 receiving). Colin Kaepernick, in addition to receiving our facepalm award of the week for exercising his right to protest but not his responsibility to vote, returns to the bench after a game against the Saints let him take a brief trip down memory lane.
Drew Stanton was the last quarterback not to record a QB1 finish versus San Francisco, but he still tossed a pair of TDs in pinch-hitting duty for Carson Palmer (QB11) in Week Five. The Niners don't rush the passer — read: do anything — well, so Arizona's maligned O-line might get a brief respite. Anything other than an extended resurgence by Palmer on Sunday, when he'll have new starter J.J. Nelson (WR31) and John Brown (WR22) healthy and complementing Larry Fitzgerald (WR6), could dispel the Cardinals' flickering postseason hopes.
Sunday could represent a flash point for the Cowboys season. How does Dak Prescott (QB14) perform with Tony Romo (we think) active and holding the clipboard for the first time via coach's decision since becoming a full-time starter 10 years ago? How do Dez Bryant (WR8) and Jason Witten (TE13 and coming off his biggest day in at least four years) respond? And does Ezekiel Elliott (RB4) keep it up against a Pittsburgh run 'D' that made great strides with its own hammer, Cam Heyward, back a week ago?
Will the real Antonio Brown (WR3) and Le'Veon Bell (WR3) sidekick please stand up? Seriously. Fantasy owners, much less Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger (QB6), are begging him, please. Eli Rogers broke through in garbage time a week ago with his best day as a bro. Sammie Coates broke hearts with another drop fest, including one in the end zone. And Ladarius Green may no longer be broken, as he appears on track to make his Steelers debut. Shrewd fantasy owners will be paying keen attention to this one, but they better place their bets now, because it could be too late come the Week 11 waiver period. It's blind faith, and I've went back and forth about 12 times on it this week, but I'm looking at Green as skill Steeler No. 3 to own down the home stretch.
Christine Michael (RB24), a late addition the injury report this week with a hamstring, will play, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. But his snaps have been gradually going to C.J. Prosise over the past three games, culminating with the rookie out-snapping Michael on Monday night, albeit the two combining for a paltry scrimmage 16 yards (15 from Prosise). New England yields plenty of receiving yards to backs, however, especially when it goes into prevent late in games, and it woudn't be surprising if Prosise is Seattle's best fantasy producing back again Sunday night. We're not sure either are viable, but Michael owners won't like the latest development.
Dion Lewis owners have waited and waited, only to hear Bill Belichick say this week, with Lewis set to make his 2016 debut after multiple knee surgeries, James White is the clear-cut receiving RB until further notice. Because placing your fantasy bets in the New England backfield wasn't difficult enough previously. With Chris Hogan's status dicey coming out of the bye due to a back injury, Martellus Bennett could be headed for an uptick, and potentially available on waivers.
Offenses are using their tight ends to attack the Giants — Zach Ertz broke out Sunday, preceded by Lance Kendricks and Dennis Pitta combining for 19 targets against the G-Men. Tyler Eifert (TE7) had a fulll week to continue getting healthier after his London explosion. With the RB situation nothing if not confounding — I'm throwing my dart this week toward Gio Bernard (RB20) before Jeremy Hill (RB23) — take solace in knowing Eifert, not Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd, is a rock-solid option on a day A.J. Green (WR4) gets a tough draw in Janoris Jenkins.
Looking for a contrarian DFS play? How about WR Roger Lewis, the rookie Bowling Green product with three NFL catches for 61 yards, all over the past two games, including touchdowns of 24 and 30 yards? Something is amiss with the Bengals pass 'D,' and with Victor Cruz out, Lewis is the third option alongside Odell Beckham (WR1) and Sterling Shepard (WR27). That's a good place to be, unlike depending on fantasy points from the Giants backfield.