'The NFL Beat': Bye Week Bros
The one where you have to control your character over a long, spinning, metal cylinder that serves as a bridge over the river of molten rock below. Things are officially getting tough, and every move is critical.
As you've learned by now, your friends aren't always there for you. They steal your tools. They invite their wives to play poker.
A similar reality exists within the game of fantasy football. Your boys will bail on you some weeks.
There are a lot of big fantasy stars who are on a bye in Week 9, and a lot of very fantasy-relevant players such as Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Darren Sproles appearing very iffy at best in most every case to suit up.
I can't leave you, my loyal reader, all dressed up with nowhere to go this Sunday. You have a date with Week 9 that you must keep regardless of whether or not you have your usual accompanying party to roll with.
I have some friends I'm going to introduce you to who aren't likely to have plans for this Sunday yet, and should serve as your best-available fill-in co-pilots until your regular crew gets back together.
Denver Broncos at Cincinnati Bengals
Owners who will be operating without their stud Patriots TEs in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez need look no further than this matchup for possible waiver wire fill-ins.
The important thing to remember when making your sneaky bye-week plays with lower-level players is that you are having to start lower-level players. In these cases, playing the matchup is important. You need every advantage you can get when rolling these guys out. This game represents a very favorable TE position matchup on both sides.
In fact, my system says Cincinnati TEs are facing this week's second-best overall situation while the Denver TEs will be facing my seventh-best matchup. Look for your fill-ins in this order on the waiver wire.
1) Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (likely owned, but worth a look)
2) Joel Dreessen, Broncos (owned in only 25% of Yahoo! leagues)
3) Jacob Tamme, Broncos (owned in only 44% of Yahoo! leagues)
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Do me one favor. Stop, and think one thing to yourself. Take it in and really let it dissolve. It is a healing experience, let me assure you.
"The Baltimore Ravens are no longer an elite defense, and I am OK with that."
I've been telling you to pick up Browns WR Josh Gordon for three weeks now. I sincerely hope you listened and got paid off big. If not, there may still be time as Gordon is available in in 48% of Yahoo! leagues and absolutely should not be. Get him in your lineups and chalk up a WR with a six-to-seven-point floor in standard leagues and 20-point weekly upside. He's a dynamic weapon.
Arizona Cardinals at Green Bay Packers
I would recommend WR Andre Roberts of the Cardinals, but he has likely been picked up in your league after coming back on as a target hog after a relative lull to start his successful, but TD-dependent start to 2012.
I'll roll this week like I did last week. I don't like any "waiver wire" caliber players in this game unless Packers WR Jordy Nelson is not cleared to play when he tests his ailing hamstring at game time on Sunday. In that case, once again I like the old man.
I called it last week, correctly, and while I am not as sure of a TD this week for ageless wonder that is Donald Driver, I think he gets involved. Do not even take a sniff at him in the case that Nelson does indeed draw the start.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans
A few times a year, two Texans running backs go off for huge games. One everybody owns, that is Arian Foster, the best player in fantasy football.
The other is typically his talented backup Ben Tate. Tate will not be playing this Sunday, leaving Justin Forsett sitting on your waiver wire and only owned in 1% of leagues. If you are hurting at RB with a guy like Stevan Ridley or Frank Gore on bye, think about getting in on a piece of my absolute best matchup for opposing RBs in Week 9 and get Forsett in your lineups.
We know Arian Foster will have a monster game, and if the Texans get up, as they will, they will rest him. Huge garbage time action is on the horizon, and Forsett is a very sneaky play this week, as my Ronnie Brown suggestion was last week.
Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts represent my fifth-best matchup for opposing runners coming into Week 9, and many will think that is great news for owners of Dolphins RB Reggie Bush.
What they might not know is that his second-year, oft-injured backup, Daniel Thomas, has been getting an eyebrow-raising level of work. Thomas was in on 67% of the Dolphins' Week 8 snaps in their dismantling of the New York Jets while Bush was only in on 33% of offensive snaps.
Thomas is also getting the goal-line action, and has scored in two of the last three games he has suited up for. Available in 25% of Yahoo! leagues, Thomas is a player I am targeting as one of my top bye week bros for Week 9.
Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars
There are three WRs in this game that may be on your waiver wire that should not be. All represent very respectable flex-play options for Week 9 and should all three be rostered moving forward. They are, in this order:
1) Titus Young Sr., Lions (Likely owned, only available in one-third of Yahoo! leagues)
2) Cecil Shorts, Jaguars (Owned in only 30% of Yahoo! leagues)
3) Ryan Broyles, Lions (Owned in only an astounding 11% of Yahoo! leagues and none of mine)
Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans
Sometimes fantasy football is about thinking outside the box. Putting two and two together and identifying value. I know these things: Bears QB Jay Cutler is an alumnus of Vanderbilt University, which is located in Nashville. This is a homecoming.
His college roommate, and favorite receiving target during his time as a Commodore so happens to be WR Earl Bennett, his current teammate. Bennett remains a favorite target of Cutler, but has seen his targets diminished in Chicago to start the season due to injuries and the addition of stud rookie WR Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery is now injured and a healthy Bennett racked up four targets in Week 8. I love it when players come home, and a tandem like this adds even more to the intangible appeal of this, my 10th-best matchup for opposing WRs in Week 9.
Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins
I want any piece of this game I can get on the Carolina receiving side of things. This is a matchup in which Panthers QB Cam Newton, last year's rookie QB phenom, faces Robert Griffin III, this this year's rookie QB phenom.
Somebody is going to be upstaged and neither one wants to be. I love both QBs in this game, and if you need WR help look at Panthers WR Louis Murphy. Murphy will start opposite Steve Smith against my second-best matchup for opposing WRs in the absence of Brandon LaFellwho is recovering from a concussion suffered last week.
Murphy is a talent that Raiders scouts told me was "once-in-a-lifetime," but could just not stay healthy during his time in Oakland. When the new regime came in, they shipped Murphy to Carolina. Murphy has been getting more involved and should serve in Week 9 as a high upside flex play that could really hurt your opponent. Nothing feels better than winning with guys like this against your league mate's studs.
Tampa Buccaneers at Oakland Raiders
Raiders backup RB Mike Goodson is not as good an NFL running back as starter Darren McFadden, but he does appear better suited to thrive in the horribly thought-out zone blocking system that new Raiders HC Dennis Allen has given OC Greg Knapp the authority to employ.
The Tampa Bay Bucs, in stark contrast to 2011, are not an easy team to run on. If McFadden struggles, we could see the Raiders try and get a spark from Goodson, and those "sparks" sometimes result in monster fantasy plays.
As a side note, if you have space on your roster, pick up Goodson even if you are not comfortable starting him this week. In the event of a McFadden injury, he will be fantasy gold. With the amount of work McFadden is getting in a scheme not fit for his style, history tells us a tire is about to blow, and Goodson would be a fantasy season-maker in this event. I have begun picking up Goodson on Sunday mornings and dropping him after the Raiders play just so I know no one else will be able to get him off waivers in case of a McFadden injury.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks
It is brutal going into Seattle. As good a defense as Seattle is anywhere, at any time, they are a much better group at home. I am downgrading my expectations for all Vikings skill players, but could see some sneaky action for backup RB Toby Gerhart should the run game stall.
The Vikings are a reeling defense that started off 2012 surprisingly poised for juggernaut status, but in consecutive weeks have let Bucs RB Doug Martin and a very small, very mediocre LaRod Stephens-Howling of Arizona run all over them.
Owners with bye week troubles at their WR positions may want to have a look at Seahawks WR Golden Tate who is available in 90% of Yahoo! leagues. Tate, Seattle's No. 2 WR, was targeted seven times last week and faces a Vikings defense that has been blasted by No. 2 wideouts over the last two weeks with Mike Williams (Bucs) and Andre Roberts (Cardinals) each going off for at least 13 points in standard leagues.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
The Giants are not an easy team against the run, but fantasy owners needing help at the RB position are rarely in position to acquire a starting NFL runner as their fill-in, which happens to be the case this week.
Steelers RB Isaac Redman will draw the start in New York this Sunday as Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Jonathan Dwyer (quad) have both been downgraded to doubtful. It isn't a beautiful matchup, or a particularly good player, but it is an offense that will be in scoring position and provide at least a few opportunities for a serviceable day out or Redman.
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
The Cowboys offensive backfield is in disarray following the loss of Demarco Murray and now his backup, an all-time-fantasy-bed-wetting scrub, Felix Jones, is dealing with two injuries. A shoulder and an ankle. Imagine that.
I would take a long look at Cowboys RB Phillip Tanner (who?). Tanner has actually looked like the better back during Murray's absence and is not, well ... Felix Jones. Awful and hurt, like always. The sole chink in the Falcons' armor is their run defense, and I see Tanner as a viable flex option this week that is available in 94% of Yahoo! leagues, and in none of my five.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
And here we are. The Big Fantasy Kahuna. Just like last week it will be occurring in primetime, and just like last week, it involves the Saints. New Orleans is basically my best matchup for all positions in fantasy for the 2012 season as their defense is absolutely abysmal.
This makes for monster fantasy explosions on both sides of the ball as Saints QB Drew Brees has to air it out to keep up, which the Saints can do. There is a lot of waiver-wire fodder worth taking a sniff at in this matchup, so I will list the (widely available) players in order of how I would have them in my waiver priority.
RB: With Darren Sproles out with a broken hand, it moves Saints RB Pierre Thomas to the top of the list, and if you are in one of the 33% of Yahoo! leagues in which Thomas is unowned, navigate away from this page and change that right now. Aside from Thomas:
1) Devery Henderson, WR Saints
2) Jason Avant, WR Eagles
3) Mark Ingram, RB Saints
4) Travaris Cadet, RB Saints
5) Bryce Brown, RB Eagles
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and founder of RosterWatch.]