Fantasy owners and the Patriots are hopeful that TE Aaron Hernandez returns from an ankle injury this week. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
There's a theory that teams perform better coming out of bye weeks. Last week the Steelers and Colts returned to action after a one-week hiatus. The Colts performed better offensively than they had the previous three games; the Steelers performed worse, though they did more than double their average rushing output.
It's tough analyze league-wide football trends this early in the season, and in the case of individual teams, much depends on specific matchups. We can't learn a lot from the performances of the Colts and Steelers last week, but with four new teams coming off byes this week -- Dallas, Detroit, Oakland and Tampa Bay -- it will be worth watching to see how they perform.
Any edge can be helpful in fantasy football, and if offenses generally seem crisper after a week off, then fantasy owners can use that knowledge to their advantage later in the season.
Here are some key numbers to know about every contest, plus a sleeper, stumbler, stud or injury concern to watch out for with a brief explanation why. Note that the "studs" are guys who are either better than most owners realize or established stars who owners might be foolishly thinking about sitting.
Byes: Carolina, Chicago, Jacksonville, New Orleans.
Rams at Dolphins
Stat to know: The Dolphins have only allowed nine sacks, but they're tied for fourth in giveaways (12). The emerging Rams' D/ST should be a solid play against a Dolphins' offense with a rookie quarterback and a still-not-100-percent Reggie Bush.
Stumbler: WR Brian Hartline (Rams allowing 16.7 fantasy points per game to WRs, fourth fewest).
Raiders at Falcons
Stat to know: It's been a slow start for Darren McFadden, but expect the Raiders to try to get him going early against a Falcons team allowing just under 143 rushing yards per game (sixth worst).
Sleeper: RB Jacquizz Rodgers (Oakland allowing sixth-most FPPG to RBs, including fourth-most receiving yards per game to RBs).
Cowboys at Ravens
Stat to know: It will likely be another tough week for Joe Flacco and his receivers. Dallas has the top-ranked pass defense (169.5 yards allowed per game) and is allowing the eighth-fewest FPPG to QBs (14.7) and second-fewest to WRs (15.4).
Stud: RB DeMarco Murray (Baltimore allowing over 118 rushing yards and one rushing TD per game).
Lions at Eagles
Stat to know: Jeremy Maclin tied DeSean Jackson for the team lead with eight targets last week. Maclin has been a disappointment this year, but he's still getting plenty of looks. Don't be afraid to use him against Detroit's burnable secondary.
Stumbler: RB Mikel LeShoure (Eagles allowing fewer than 98 rushing yards per game and have allowed just one rushing TD all season).
Bengals at Browns
Stat to know: The Browns are giving up over 280 passing yards per game, but they should get a boost from the return of suspended CB Joe Haden. A.J. Green is still a must-start, but the trickle-down effect could limit Andy Dalton and Cincinnati's other receivers.
Sleeper: Bengals D/ST (Bengals tied for league lead in sacks; Cleveland allowing 10th-most FPPG to D/STs).
Colts at Jets
Stat to know: Shonn Greene had just eight of the Jets' 23 rushing attempts last week. His days as the feature back appear to be over. Even against the Colts' poor run defense, Greene is a risky option.
Sleeper: RB Vick Ballard (Jets allowing 172.4 rushing yards per game).
Chiefs at Buccaneers
Stat to know: Brady Quinn taking over as the Chiefs' starting quarterback might have some worried about Dwayne Bowe, but it's not as if Matt Cassel was playing well before his concussion. Bowe should be just fine against a Bucs' defense allowing the fourth-most FPPG to WRs (30.8).
Sleeper: RB LeGarrette Blount (Getting more touches; Chiefs allowing 10th-most FPPG to RBs).
Patriots at Seahawks
Stat to know: Something's gotta give when Stevan Ridley, owner of two-straight 100-yard performances, squares off against Seattle's third-ranked run defense (66.6 ypg). Ridley hasn't been much of a factor in the receiving game, but he has the second-most carries over the past two weeks (50). We still like him.
Injury: TE Aaron Hernandez, ankle (Hoping to play but will be a late game-time decision).
Bills at Cardinals
Stat to know: Arizona is allowing just 53.6 percent of passes thrown against it to be completed, which is tied for the second-best mark in the league. Still, the Cardinals give up 231 passing yards per game and are susceptible to big plays. Keep Stevie Johnson in your lineups.
Sleeper: RB William Powell (Bills allowing third-most FPPG to RBs).
Giants at 49ers
Stat to know: It's still unclear if Hakeem Nicks (knee, foot) will be ready to play on Sunday, but even if he does, he's a risky option against a 49ers' defense allowing just 17 FPPG to WRs (tied for fifth fewest).
Stumbler: Giants D/ST (49ers allowing just 4.8 FPPG to D/STs, tied for fifth fewest).
Vikings at Redskins
Stat to know: Robert Griffin III (concussion) is the biggest injury to watch, but Jerome Simpson (back) might be just as big for fantasy owners. The Redskins are allowing the most FPPG to WRs (36).
Stumbler: WR Pierre Garcon (Just eight targets the past two games; Vikings allowing 11th-fewest FPPG to WRs).
Packers at Texans
Stat to know: Owen Daniels has scored in three straight games and has at least 72 yards in each of the past two contests. He should continue having success against a Packers' defense that's tied for the 10th-most FPPG allowed to TEs (8.6).
Sleeper: QB Matt Schaub (Green Bay allowing eighth-most FPPG to QBs).
Broncos at Chargers
Stat to know: The Chargers have been decent against running backs this year (16th in FPPG allowed), but they're allowing the fifth-most receiving yards per game to RBs (58). Willis McGahee has been more involved in Denver's passing over the past two weeks, catching 11 passes. He's still a good starting option.
Stud: RB Ryan Mathews (12 more touches than Jackie Battle last week; Denver has allowed over 150 rushing yards in two of the past three games).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage at http://fantasysource.sportingnews.com/football/free?affiliate_code=sn_navigation