As always, please remember that the players listed are mostly meant to be borderline guys, who need reasons for you to play or bench them. You won’t see recommendations to start Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson, because you should always start Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson. Make sense? Good.
Note: The fantasy points per game (FPPG) referenced below are from FOXSports.com standard leagues.
Week 10 Byes: None
Thursday game: Raiders at Chargers
Stay away: Andy Dalton, Bengals (vs. Steelers)
The Steelers have been their typically strong selves against the pass this season, allowing just 15 FPPG to opposing quarterbacks, and less than 185 passing yards per game. Dalton has had a solid season for the Bengals, with 12 touchdown passes and almost 1,700 yards in eight games, but he’s still more game manager than game winner, even with five TD passes in his last two games. The Steelers could make it a long day – or at least not a productive fantasy one – for the redheaded rookie.
• Josh Freeman and the Bucs host the Texans, who have allowed 13.3 FPPG to opposing quarterbacks (fourth in the league). Freeman has done an about face from his breakout 2010 season, with eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions so far. He’s been getting better lately from a fantasy perspective, but you might want to keep him parked on the bench this week.
• I feel bad for Jay Cutler. His offensive line is finally improving, but his receivers are still awful (save for sure-handed college teammate Earl Bennett). This week, Cutler and the Bears host the Lions, who are fifth in the league with 13.9 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks, as well as a league-low 5.8 yards per attempt. Cutler is a fantasy tweener – sometimes you start him, and sometimes you don’t. This week, you probably don’t.
Play, play, play: Mark Sanchez, Jets (vs. Patriots)
The Sanchize gets a bad rap sometimes, at least from a statistical standpoint. He ranks ninth in the NFL with 12 touchdown passes, and has thrown for an average of 222 yards per game. The Patriots’ pass defense isn’t as terrible as it was earlier in the season, but it still isn’t very good, ranking 30th with 23.1 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks. If you own Sanchez, he probably spends most weeks as your fantasy backup. See if you can sneak him in there for Sunday night’s AFC East hate-fest.
• You’re so inconsistent, Matt Cassel. You’ve thrown one touchdown pass and four interceptions in your last three games, but have surpassed 250 yards in four of your last five. What are we going to do with you? Against the Broncos, who made Carson Palmer look good last week and give up a league-worst 25.4 FPPG to opposing quarterbacks, we’re going to start you in many cases. Don’t let us down.
• Christian Ponder hasn’t been bad since taking over for Donovan McNabb, throwing for 455 yards and three touchdowns in two starts, and adding a helpful 35 yards on the ground. The Vikings visit the Packers this week, and for all the awesomeness the Pack has shown this season, their pass defense has been weak, allowing 22.8 FPPG to opposing quarterbacks. I guess when you score touchdowns every time you have the ball, you figure it’s more fun to get it back as fast as you can. The Vikings aren’t going to win this game, but that doesn’t mean Ponder won’t post solid numbers.
Stay away: Brandon Jacobs, Giants (at 49ers)
With Ahmad Bradshaw out due to a broken foot, Tom Coughlin’s pet rhinoceros did a fine job against the Patriots, racking up 100 yards from scrimmage and a TD on 18 carries and four receptions. Unfortunately, the G-Men head to San Francisco this week, where the Niners and their league-best rushing defense (9.7 FPPG and 70.8 yards per game allowed to opposing running backs) will be waiting. Jacobs will be busy, but he’s unlikely to have another big game.
• Like we said here last week, the only reason Rashard Mendenhall doesn’t get as much grief as Chris Johnson is because he didn’t sign a huge contract during the offseason. Mendenhall has 473 rushing yards in eight games, and has broken the 100-yard barrier only once. This week’s matchup against the second-ranked Bengals rushing defense (84.5 yards per game, 3.3 YPC, 15.8 FPPG) looks like another bad one for Mendenhall and his fantasy owners.
• LeGarrette Blount’s return from a two-game injury absence was OK, as he gained 72 yards on 13 carries against the Saints in Week 9. A much-improved Texans’ defense has been very good against the run (91.4 yards per game, 14.1 FPPG), and should be ready to hold Blount in check on Sunday. Blount isn’t a must-bench, but if he’s on your regular should-I-or-shouldn’t-I list, give him the week off.
Play, play, play: Chris Johnson, Titans (at Panthers)
CJ2K lives! OK, that’s an exaggeration, but he did gain 55 yards in the first half against the Bengals before being shut down in the second. He also caught four passes for 46 yards in his second best game of the season. This week, Johnson and the Titans visit a Panthers team that has allowed a league-worst 26.2 FPPG to opposing backs, and 11 (!!!) rushing touchdowns. You’ve hung in with Johnson for this long, right?
• In case you missed it, the Raiders gave up 914 rushing yards to the Broncos last week. What’s that? It was only 297? Close enough. The Silver and Black D is so bad that Tim Tebow’s 118 rushing yards didn’t even count against their 23.5 FPPG allowed (30th in the league) to opposing running backs. Ryan Mathews is expected to be active on Thursday night for the Chargers, and you can start both he and Mike Tolbert in this appetizing matchup.
• Chris Ogbonnaya was on the Texans’ practice squad a month ago, and now he’s about to make his second start for the Browns. Is he worth a start for you? Normally I’d say no, but the Rams’ rushing D ranks 27th with 22.7 FPPG allowed to opposing running backs. Yes, they’ve buckled down over the past couple of weeks, but they were facing a gimpy Beanie Wells and the Mark Ingram-less Saints. If you’re scrambling for a running back this week, Ogbonnaya might not be the worst idea you’ve ever had. How’s that for an endorsement?
Stay away: Reggie Wayne, Colts (vs. Jaguars)
One of my five teams suffered from so much bad drafting and bad luck at quarterback that I’ve had to start Curtis Painter for the last three weeks. In those three games, he’s gotten minus-one, 13 and one point, so you can understand why I hate him (and myself). Wayne probably doesn’t like Painter much either, as he’s on pace for his lowest reception total since 2003. Against the Jaguars, who have allowed 16 FPPG and just eight receptions per game to opposing wideouts, Wayne is a shaky fantasy play.
• Could you possibly sit fantasy rookie of the year contender (non-Cam Newton Division) A.J. Green? Maybe. Green and the Bengals face a Steeler D that ranks second with 14.9 FPPG allowed to opposing wide receivers. Green wasn’t picked early in fantasy drafts, and because of that he’s often on teams that have two other good receivers (I receive many questions about him every week). If that’s your situation, you can consider benching him, no matter how good he’s been.
Play, play, play: Steve Breaston, Chiefs (vs. Broncos)
Jonathan Baldwin’s emergence didn’t bother Breaston last week, as he caught seven passes for 115 yards in a blowout loss to the Dolphins. He’ll face less coverage coming out of the slot, and while the targets will be spread around more due to Baldwin’s presence, it’ll help him on many occasions. This week, Breaston and his teammates will run free against a Bronco D that has allowed 27.8 FPPG to opposing wide receivers. Bet on a second solid game in a row.
• Greg Little was targeted eight times last week by Colt McCoy, but caught only two passes for 33 yards. If you thought Little would be a breakout rookie, you’ve either managed your expectations or cut him by now. However, he’s still the most likely Browns’ wideout to have a strong game, and this week he’ll face a Rams’ squad that has allowed 26.6 FPPG to opposing wide receivers (29th in the league).
• Santonio Holmes gets his second chance against the horrible Patriots’ pass defense, which ranks last in fantasy, reality and every state of being in between. Holmes caught four passes for 60 yards and a score against the Pats in Week 5, and that seems like a good starting point for the rematch.
Winslow hasn’t had more than 66 receiving yards in a game this season, but he’s had touchdowns in each of the last two weeks. He’s usually a low-end fantasy starter, and against the Texans, who have allowed just 4.9 FPPG to opposing tight ends, he’s not a good option for you.
• The Giants have also performed well against tight ends, ranking sixth with 6.5 FPPG against, and allowing just four receptions per game. Vernon Davis might be the 49ers’ best receiver, but because of that he gets double-teamed all over the field, and his production (31-339-3) has been down this season. He’s not recommended in Week 10.
In recommending Christian Ponder at quarterback, we noted the Packers’ poor pass defense. Against tight ends, they’ve allowed 9.6 FPPG. Rudolph had five targets to Shiancoe’s four in Week 8, and the bet here is that Ponder will keep throwing to his fellow rookie. Visanthe Shiancoe could muck things up for Rudolph, but against the porous Pack there might be enough to go around for both of them. Rudolph is probably a better bet in deep leagues than in 12-teamers, but I’ve got a hunch about this one.
• Brandon Pettigrew is here mainly because he had a bye in Week 9, and I wanted to remind you to get him back in your lineup. Pettigrew is playing against the Bears, who have given up a league-worst 11.5 FPPG. Jackpot!
• Greg Olsen is Cam Newton’s second-favorite target, with 30 receptions for 359 yards and four touchdowns. He’s got a date coming up against the Titans, who rank 29th with 9.8 FPPG. Start Olsen if you have him.
• Need to reach deep? Jacob Tamme is again the Colts’ starting tight end in the wake of Dallas Clark’s injury. Tamme won’t have the same success catching passes from Curtis Painter as he did when paired with Peyton Manning last season, but he’s going up against a Jaguars’ defense that has given up 10.3 FPPG to opposing tight ends. Tamme isn’t a great start in most formats, but if you use two tight ends, he’s worth considering.