I used this space last week to delve into the Bills' epic struggles and tout the Jets, who were set to play Buffalo, as the week’s top D/ST option. One resounding Bills win later, that call doesn’t look so hot.
On the other hand, how was I to know at the time that Buffalo would employ the masterful strategy of giving Matt Barkley the start at quarterback? In and out of the NFL for the past few seasons, Barkley had been picked up less than two weeks previously by the Bills but played remarkably well in New York.
Or maybe a Jets team seemingly intent on getting Coach Todd Bowles fired simply laid a Rex Ryan-sized egg, but in any event, we won’t have a chance this week to assume it was a fluke by the Bills and stream another defense against them. We also can’t fire up anyone with the good fortune of playing the Jets, because both teams are on a bye, along with Cleveland, Miami, New England and San Francisco.
That makes for a whopping six teams taking the week off, which is happening for the second time this season and coming at a particularly inopportune moment for fantasy players scrapping to get into the playoffs and needing as big a contribution as their rosters can muster. The good news is that, outside of the Patriots and with apologies to the rest of the AFC East, most of the NFL squads on a break aren’t exactly brimming with fantasy-relevant talent.
Note that The Washington Post defaults to PPR scoring, and that the rankings will update throughout the week, so please check back frequently. Here are this week’s top movers and players of note.
On a bye this week: 49ers, Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Jets, Patriots.
Quarterbacks: Fresh off leading the Saints to 96 points over their past two games, Drew Brees goes back home to a date with the Eagles' injury-ravaged secondary. . . . Patrick Mahomes is joined by Jared Goff in the top four, ahead of a Chiefs-Rams game in Mexico City with an over/under line of 64, the NFL’s highest in decades. . . . The Panthers' Cam Newton, following a beating in Pittsburgh, is on the road again but likely won’t be held in check for a second straight week. . . . Remember when we were freaked out about Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder? He has now joined Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the only QBs with at least three TD passes in six straight games. . . . The Seahawks' Russell Wilson has been a lock of late for multiple TD passes and finally added a big rushing performance on Sunday. . . . The Bears' Mitchell Trubisky has been terrific in four of his past five games but gets a Vikings squad that has returned to stifling QBs. . . . Lamar Jackson, he of the enormous rushing potential, is being ranked on the assumption that Joe Flacco (hip) will sit this game out for the Ravens, but that’s hardly set in stone at this point.
Running backs: The Rams' Todd Gurley has scored in 13 straight games. . . . Under new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, the Cardinals, have David Johnson partying like its 2016. . . . Not that we needed any more confirmation that Christian McCaffrey is being given all the work he can handle, but the Panthers confirmed it anyway by releasing C.J. Anderson. . . . The Cowboys' Ezekiel Eliott just trampled the Eagles, but not as badly as the Browns' Nick Chubb ran roughshod over the pliant run defense of the Falcons, Dallas’s next opponent. . . . The Steelers' James Conner is in the concussion protocol, but will have had 10 days to get cleared to face the Jags. . . . In his first action since Week 4, the Jaguars' Leonard Fournette gained just 109 on 29 touches, but he scored twice and, you know, got those 29 touches. . . . The Packers finally gave us a chance to witness the firepower of a fully armed and operational Aaron Jones. . . . Here’s hoping a fully healthy Dalvin Cook has emerged from the Vikings' bye week. . . . As usual for the Bears' Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard, usage could come down to game flow, with the latter particularly reliant on Chicago leads and goal-line chances. . . . If Lamar Jackson does start at QB for the Ravens, that, plus a date with the RB-friendly Bengals, could bode very well for Alex Collins. . . . Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll is saying that Chris Carson will play against the Packers, so he gets ranked ahead of Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis — for now.
Wide receivers: Who needs Dez Bryant? Michael Thomas was already pretty much a one-man WR corps for the Saints. . . . The Texans' DeAndre Hopkins has scored in each of his past four games and in six of his past eight, with 237 yards in the other two outings. . . . The Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. has overcome Eli Manning’s shortcomings to submit huge performances in four of his past five games and now gets a delicious matchup with the Buccaneers. . . . The Vikings may well be forced into a one-dimensional, pass-heavy attack by the Bears, which should mean force-feeding Adam Thielen the ball, as per usual. . . . The Steelers' Antonio Brown has yet to go over 105 yards this season and must contend with Jalen Ramsey and the Jags, but he did drop a 7-132-2 line on Jacksonville in a January playoff game. . . . The Falcons' Julio Jones has TDs in each of his past two games, and will have seven more chances to heap as much dirt as possible on one of football’s silliest narratives. . . . Cooper Kupp (knee) is out for the season, which should mean a few more targets for the Rams' Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods and puts Josh Reynolds on the WR4 radar. . . . Is this the week Keenan Allen has a monstrous day for the Chargers? It’s coming at some point, right? . . . Stefon Diggs (ribs) is expected back for the Vikings, but owners will have to keep a close eye on his health. . . . The absence of A.J. Green might be a drawback for the Bengals' Tyler Boyd, who’s up against a rested Ravens secondary. . . . Let’s see a modicum of consistency from the Titans' Corey Davis before we think of him as a no-doubt WR2.
Tight ends: The Eagles' Zach Ertz used a massive outing against the Cowboys to take the top spot from the Chiefs' Travis Kelce in season-long TE scoring, but the latter has a slightly better-looking matchup this week. . . . Greg Olsen ended his streak of three straight games with a TD for the Panthers, but his injured foot continued to hold up. . . . The six-team bye week has been particularly hard on the TE position, with the likes of George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski, David Njoku and even Chris Herndon out of action, which is why the Packers' Jimmy Graham and his 6-90-1 line over the past three weeks combined checks in at No. 5. . . . Eric Ebron keeps scoring at an improbably high rate for the Colts, but Jack Doyle keeps getting many more snaps and, eventually, that should translate to superior fantasy numbers. . . . When last seen before the Broncos' bye, Jeff Heuerman was slapping up a 10-83-1 line and looking a lot like a TE1 following the trade of Demaryius Thomas . . . The Vikings' Kyle Rudolph hasn’t scored since Week 3 or topped 41 yards since Week 4.