Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: RGIII, Josh Gordon lead Week 7 decisions
Robert Griffin III might be limited by a lack of reliable wide receiver options
Cam Newton has struggled and could be hampered by the Cowboys' top defense
Darren McFadden could have a big game against the Jags' poor rushing defense
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 SI.com'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.