This column is dedicated to the grind of the fantasy football season, in which hard-working owners are constantly thinking about possible waiver pickups and/or trades to make, all in the name of turning fake teams into very real moments of glory. With that in mind, here are the biggest questions for Week 6, with games loosely ranked from the most to least fantasy intrigue.
Bye weeks: Buccaneers, Vikings
Panthers at Saints (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Will we get a better read on New Orleans’s passing attack?
Before their Week 5 bye, the Saints were predictably good at moving the ball (sixth in total yards per game), but maddeningly unpredictable in terms of who would come away with the big stats, especially in the passing game. Brandin Cooks was drafted to be a high-upside WR2, but he did little in Weeks 3 and 4, while Willie Snead’s numbers petered out after a huge Week 1. Meanwhile, the likes of Coby Fleener and Brandon Coleman popped up with big games, only to slink back to uselessness. In fairness, Michael Thomas has been a relative metronome, getting between 44 and 71 yards in every game, with a couple of touchdowns along the way. Here’s hoping New Orleans comes out of its break with at least greater dedication to getting Cooks the ball, or else it’ll be hard to know when to ever start any Saint apart from Drew Brees and Mark Ingram. Oh, and I almost forgot: Kuuuuuhhhhhnnnnn!!!!!!
Jonathan Stewart is expected to return for Carolina, which could abruptly end the joyride for Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker owners. If he’s over his hamstring problems, Stewart will find himself in a great spot, getting the Saints’ beyond-suspect defense and a motivated Cam Newton, who himself is expected to return from a concussion incurred by being a little too casual about getting into the end zone. For those hanging on to Ted Ginn (10.6 percent in ESPN leagues) — if he doesn’t do something here, it’s time get Ginn gone.
Ravens at Giants (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: What will Baltimore’s version of Martyball look like?
Marc Trestman lost John Harbaugh’s trust, man, so he got the boot and Marty [takes a moment to make sure he knows where to put the “h"] Mornhinweg takes over the offense. Harbaugh was presumed to have been angered over the Ravens not running the ball enough, as Terrance West got just 11 carries in a loss last week to the Redskins despite averaging 8.6 yards per tote, so the RB could be in for a greater workload, although Kenneth Dixon is working his way back into playing shape. Mornhinweg’s track record indicates that he’s not shy about throwing it, either, and an emphasis on vertical shots could mean good things for Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, especially if Steve Smith’s injured ankle is causing him problems.
Odell Beckham Jr. got a season-high 12 targets and his first touchdown last week, but he still ended up with just five catches for 56 yards. After setting all sorts of records over his first two seasons, perhaps some regression was inevitable for the Giants star, and he may be more like a low-end WR1 the rest of the way. Eli Manning is having enough problems as it is, given his leaky offensive line, and if Beckham is not going to play like a transcendent talent, then Manning could slip out of the QB1 discussion entirely.
49ers at Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Can Colin Kaepernick, you know, play?
Somewhat lost in all the attention Kaepernick garnered for his anthem protests were all the questions about his status as a football player. Early in the offseason, it seemed almost inevitable that San Francisco would move him to another team, likely for almost nothing in return, given the QB’s hefty contract and on-field regression. Kaepernick is apparently healthy again after a litany of injuries, and, in theory, he should be well-suited for many aspects of Chip Kelly’s offense, but it’s worth bearing in mind that he played his way onto the bench last year in favor of Blaine Gabbert, who spent this season reminding the world that he is awful at football.
Kaepernick has a strong arm and an un-Gabbert-like willingness to use it (again, in theory), which could be bad news for Jeremy Kerley, who sopped up passes on underneath routes for the past two weeks. By contrast, that could be good news for heretofore wasted deep threat Torrey Smith, and Kaep’s potential in the read-option could bode well for Carlos Hyde.
Chiefs at Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)
Key question: Is Jamaal Charles fully up to speed?
If so, that’s a lot of speed, giving the Kansas City offense a dimension it has sorely missed and may need in what could turn into a shootout. Following a hot start, Spencer Ware has come back to Earth, as have, unfortunately for him, some of the footballs he’s been carrying. Ball-security issues are the last thing Ware needs if he wants to keep Charles from running away with the gig.
— Andrew Carter (@Andrew__Carter) October 12, 2016
Jaguars at Bears (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Is Cameron Meredith really Chicago’s top receiving option?
Meredith was singled out in this space last week, and then he feasted on single coverage opposite Alshon Jeffery, catching nine passes on 12 targets for 130 yards and a touchdown. Given that he is replacing the injured Kevin White, who was leading the Bears in targets, Meredith could continue to see a steady stream of throws his way, but then again, he’s a second-year player who was an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, so it’s hard to know what to expect. Well, one thing we can expect is more frustration from Jeffery if he doesn’t see more balls from Brian Hoyer.
Broncos at Chargers (Thursday, 8:25 p.m.)
Key question: How much work will Devontae Booker get at C.J. Anderson’s expense?
Booker was a popular waiver add this week after getting 10 touches for 59 yards last week while Anderson had 14 touches for 62 yards. Since his big Week 1 performance, featuring 139 total yards and two touchdowns, Anderson has been been averaging 3.1 yards on the ground with two more touchdowns, so it’s possible that Denver may be souring on his workhorse potential, as the team has in the past. If this continues to be something like a 60-40 split in touches between the two, Anderson can’t be seen as anything more than an RB2 with upside, while Booker attains flex value.
Cowboys at Packers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.)
Key question: Is this Dak Prescott’s last stand?
The fifth-round pick has played remarkably well in place of Tony Romo, but the latter’s broken back is healed, just in time to possibly emerge from Dallas’s Week 7 bye with his old starting job. A trip to Green Bay could be just the spot for Prescott to prove, or not, that he can get it done when the Cowboys have to throw a lot to stay in a game. Dez Bryant appears on track to play, which would certainly help Prescott’s cause.
Bengals at Patriots (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Is Gio Bernard taking over from Jeremy Hill?
Bernard started last week’s loss at Dallas, a game in which Hill ran four times for 12 yards before leaving with an injury to the shoulder/chest area. Hill is expected to play this week, but Cincinnati may be tiring of his continued ineffectiveness even when completely healthy, as he has been averaging just 3.6 yards per carry since his breakout rookie season. Bernard rang up 50 yards on nine carries against the Cowboys, and his greater versatility could make him more appealing for a Bengals offense that is struggling to score.
Colts at Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.)
Key question: Can Lamar Miller finally look like a first-round pick?
He has only averaged over four yards per carry in one of five games, hasn’t scored in any and last week, the one thing on which his owners could hang their collective hat, Miller’s consistently large amount of touches, dried up. The Houston back got just nine, for a measly 24 yards, while backup Alfred Blue — Alfred Blue, for heaven’s sake — turned six carries into 35 quick yards. Indy, which allows the third-most fantasy points to RBs, should allow Miller to thrive, and if he can’t reward his owners against this unit, it could be time to break glass in case of emergency.
Good news: Lamar Miller is not the record-holder in most touches without a TD through 5 games. Bad news: It’s only because he got 9 touches!
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 10, 2016
Falcons at Seahawks (Sunday, 4:25 p.m.)
Key question: Will Tyler Lockett return to relevance?
Lockett was a popular sleeper pick, and he blew up in Week 2 (4-99), but the second-year WR hurt his knee in that game and fell off the fantasy map. A Week 5 bye came at the right time for him, and Pete Carroll has been promising bigger things for the explosive player. Atlanta is tied with Detroit for most receiving touchdowns allowed (14), so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Lockett rocket past coverage for a score.
Rams at Lions (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Did Justin Forsett land on his feet in Detroit?
One man’s trash is sometimes another man’s treasure, as they say, and while the Ravens decided they had no use for Forsett, there is a path to a big role for him with his new team, the Lions. Theo Riddick can catch passes in the flat but flat-out isn’t very good at running between the tackles, and Detroit’s other early-down options are either injured, unproven or both. Forsett was only averaging 3.2 yards per carry in Baltimore, but he notched a decent 4.2 last year and an excellent 5.4 the year before that, and if there’s any tread left on his 30-year-old tires, he could be walking into a treasure trove of opportunity.
Steelers at Dolphins (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Can Miami’s offense begin to get its act together?
Things have turned so sour in South Beach that even Jarvis Landry, who usually gets out of bed with double digits in targets, saw only three last week. DeVante Parker also got only three (just as he did the week before), but he turned them into two catches for 70 yards, so he could be interesting — if only Ryan Tannehill got enough protection to let him look downfield with any regularity. And then there’s the running game, feh. Here’s a telling stat, courtesy of Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar: “The Dolphins have run 41 and 43 plays on offense the past two weeks, the two lowest totals in a game for any team this season.” Landry still makes for a solid PPR play, but head coach Adam Gase needs to start living up to his offensive-guru reputation before we get excited about anything Fins-related.
Eagles at Redskins (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Will Ryan Mathews continue to monopolize the carries for Philly?
Before the Eagles went into their Week 4 bye, it looked like Ryan Mathews would have no choice but to share carries with Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner, given how good the pair looked while Mathews was nursing an ankle injury in Week 3. However, in Week 5, the Smallwood/Barner combo got zilch, zippy, bupkis in the running game. Mathews didn’t exactly set the world on fire, with 42 yards on 11 carries at Detroit, and he committed a very costly fumble near the end, so perhaps his grip on carries won’t be so tight going forward.
Pederson says if he gets opportunities to put Smallwood and Barner in the game, he will. But Sproles & Mathews are primary guys. #EaglesTalk
— Eagledelphia (@EagledelphiaPA) October 10, 2016
Jets at Cardinals (Monday, 8:30 p.m.)
Key question: Can Quincy Enunwa be a very poor man’s Eric Decker?
Decker (shoulder) is likely done for the season, leaving Enunwa with an enormous opportunity to become the second banana in a passing offense that, last season, pretty much focused entirely on Decker and Brandon Marshall. Ryan Fitzpatrick badly needs Enunwa to take a step forward, but at the same time, the entire Jets organization desperately needs the veteran QB to, well, stop being so terrible in his own right. Decker has long been underrated, and Enunwa is nowhere near his caliber, but the Jets don’t appear to have many other options receiving options at the moment.
Browns at Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m.)
Key question: Can Derrick Henry recover some of his touches?
It has been turning into The DeMarco Murray Show in Tennessee, with the veteran back not only getting the vast majority of the carries but the second-most passing targets on the team, as well. Henry looked good in the preseason and appeared to have earned more of a committee role, but not so much over the past few weeks. A home date with Cleveland (i.e., the likelihood of the Titans taking and keeping an early lead) could be just what the rookie needs to remind his coaching staff that he can play, too.