The NFL is hitting fantasy football owners with a lot this week. Not only did we have our usual Thursday night game, but we're also dealing with our first week of byes (Carolina and Green Bay), plus our first of two London games this year (Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh).
Normally, a week with two byes isn't a big deal, but the Panthers and Packers both feature starting fantasy QBs and TEs, meaning owners had to call on their bench or hit the waiver wire earlier than usual for these two key positions.
The London game also isn't a huge deal, though there are always worries about field conditions at Wembley Stadium. It's gotten better in recent years, but considering how relatively inept both the Vikings and Steelers have looked at times this year, any potential impediment has to be seen as a negative.
Regardless, these are the cards we've been dealt, so it's up to fantasy owners to move ahead and put the best possible options in their starting lineup. We're here to help. Here are some key numbers to know about every game, plus a stud, sleeper, stumbler or injury concern to watch 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.
Bears at Lions
Stat to know: The Bears are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to WRs (31.1). That doesn't matter much for Calvin Johnson, who's a must-start every week, but it's good news for Ryan Broyles, who should get a lot of targets filling in for the injured Nate Burleson (arm). Consider Broyles a sleeper, particularly in PPR leagues.
Injury: RB Reggie Bush, knee (Expected to play; should do better as a receiver than a runner.)
Seahawks at Texans
Stat to know: These teams rank Nos. 1 and 2 in pass defense, though it's worth noting that the Seahawks have a 1:5 TD-to-INT ratio on defense while the Texans have a 6-to-1 mark. Russell Wilson is still playable, and if you need to start either Sidney Rice or Golden Tate, there's at least a decent shot a touchdown.
Injury: WR Andre Johnson, shin (Expected to play; Johnson would be the only usable Texans receiver in this matchup.)
Colts at Jaguars
Stat to know: Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) are expected to share carries again, but against Jacksonville's last-ranked run defense (167.7 yards allowed per game), both should put up starting-caliber numbers.
Stud: WR Cecil Shorts (Leads the NFL in targets; even with Blaine Gabbert back at QB, Shorts will get plenty of looks.)
Giants at Chiefs
Stat to know: The Chiefs' run defense numbers are inflated by Michael Vick's 99 yards against them last week, but if they have a defensive weakness, it's on the ground (124 yards allowed per game). Give the speedy David Wilson one more chance as a flex-back.
Stud: WR Hakeem Nicks (averaged 7.5 targets and 9.85 fantasy points in Weeks 1 and 2, so don't overreact to last week's shutout.)
Steelers vs. Vikings
Stat to Know: RB Le'Veon Bell (foot) is expected to make his season debut this week, and it's not a bad matchup considering the Vikings are allowing 114 rushing yards per game. Bell might not get more than 15 touches, but his bruising style should play well on the often shoddy turf at Wembley Stadium in London.
Sleeper: WR Emmanuel Sanders (Averaging 10 targets per game; Vikings allowing 315.7 passing yards per game.)
Cardinals at Buccaneers
Stat to know: With both Vincent Jackson (ribs) and Mike Williams (hamstring) hurting -- plus rookie Mike Glennon at QB -- this one figures to be all Doug Martin for the Bucs. However, with run defense being Arizona's strength (just 73.3 yards allowed per game, third best), it could be a big day for Arizona's D/ST.
Sleeper: WR Michael Floyd (Bucs' CB Darrelle Revis likely covering Larry Fitzgerald, which should lead to more targets for Floyd.)
Ravens at Bills
Stat to know: The Bills are tied for the second-most rushing yards allowed per game (155). Even though Ray Rice (hip) is expected back this week, Buffalo gives up enough yards to give both Rice and Bernard Pierce starter-worthy value in leagues with a flex.
Stumbler: RB Fred Jackson (Baltimore is one of three teams that hasn't allowed a rushing TD this year.)
Bengals at Browns
Stat to know: The Bengals and Browns have solid across-the-board defenses. You're still going to start A.J. Green, Jordan Cameron, Gio Bernard and maybe even Josh Gordon, but with both teams in the top 15 in both run defense and pass defense (and in the top 11 at defending the TE), don't look for any bye-week fill-ins from this game.
Sleeper: Browns D/ST (Bengals allowing 8.3 FPPG to D/STs, tied for 12th most.)
Jets at Titans
Stat to know: The Titans run defense is allowing only 101.7 yards per game (13th), but that comes with a 4.4 yards-per-carry average (tied for seventh worst). With Christopher Ivory (hamstring) not expected to play, Bilal Powell should be able to have another good game.
Sleeper: Titans D/ST (Jets allowing 8.3 FPPG to D/STs, tied for 12th most.)
Eagles at Broncos
Stat to know: LeSean McCoy is a must-start in any matchup, but this week will be a good test for him. Denver is allowing just 1.7 yards per carry to running backs, so McCoy might have to do most of his damage as a receiver this week.
Sleeper: Broncos D/ST (Eagles allowing third-most FPPG to D/STs)
Cowboys at Chargers
Stat to know: Ryan Mathews isn't getting much playing time on third down or around the goal line, and this week he takes on a Cowboys' defense allowing the third-fewest FPPG to RBs (10.2). Consider Mathews a risky flex.
Injury: WR Miles Austin, hamstring (Rookie Terrance Williams would be a sleeper against San Diego's last-ranked pass defense if Austin can't go.)
Redskins at Raiders
Stat to know: Raiders' WR Denarius Moore has two double-digit fantasy performances sandwiched around a goose-egg. Obviously, consistency is an issue, but Moore has major upside this week against Washington's 31st-ranked pass defense.
Stud: QB Robert Griffin III (Raiders have allowed six TD passes with no INTs.)
Patriots at Falcons
Stat to know: There have been conflicting reports about whether Rob Gronkowski (back, forearm) is going to play this weekend. Because it's a Sunday night game, fantasy owners better have a primetime alternative (Charles Clay? Zach Sudfeld?) if they plan on waiting it out. If he does play, it's a nice matchup, as the Falcons are allowing the 12th-most FPPG to TEs (9.6).
Sleeper: WR Kenbrell Thompkins (Falcons allowing sixth-most FPPG to WRs.)
Dolphins at Saints
Stat to know: The Dolphins are allowing the 10th-most FPPG to RBs, which includes 45.3 receiving yards per game to backs. Look for the versatile Pierre Thomas to have a nice game.
Stud: RB Lamar Miller (Saints allowing 5.3 yards per carry.)