ONE NIGHT STANDS
Kyle Orton, QB, Bills
If you can get over that you’re putting Kyle Orton into your lineup, there’s a mountain of statistical evidence in your corner. Take his opponent this week, the Jets; they’ve allowed multiple touchdown passes in every game this year and at least 225 yards in each of the last six. Over the past three weeks the Jets have served up an average of 262 yards and three TDs. Orton has at least 283 yards in each of this three starts and multiple touchdown tosses in each of the last two. All the numbers point towards Orton being not just a decent plug-in this week but a guy who can put 20 or so fantasy points on your plate.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Browns
Ben Tate’s declining effectiveness hasn’t escaped the watchful eyes of Cleveland’s coaching staff, who announced a shakeup of the backfield rotation was in the offing. Given that Terrance West was benched in the last game and Tate’s yards per carry have declined in every game since the season opener, that leaves Crowell as the beneficiary. He’s averaging a full yard more than Tate and certainly passes the eye test as he looks like the most effective back in Cleveland’s stable. Oakland has allowed RB TDs in five of six and 100-plus rushing yards in an equal number of tilts, surrendering a typical game of 130 and 1 on the ground and 35 more receiving yards to opposing backfields. The mind boggles at what Crowell can do with such a matchup; if it’s enough to earn the feature gig outright he’ll turn this one-night stand into a quickie marriage, as no team has a more favorable schedule for fantasy running backs the rest of the way.
Brice Butler, WR, Raiders
Andre Holmes remains the flavor of the month in Oakland, but he’s a work in progress; last week’s drops underscored that point. Butler is seeing fewer targets, but with Holmes’ inconsistencies Derek Carr isn’t limiting his downfield shots to just Andre. Butler’s last two games have seen just six targets and four catches, but 119 yards and a touchdown as well. Facing a Cleveland secondary that over the past three games has given up touchdowns to Allen Robinson, Lance Moore, Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright, Butler has more than a fighting chance of getting behind Joe Haden and Buster Skreen for another home-run opportunity.
Jermaine Kearse, WR, Seahawks
Doug Baldwin will be the guy everybody races to pick up, thanks to his 7-123-1 in Seattle’s first game post-Percy. But don’t sleep on Kearse, who was a red zone favorite of Russell Wilson’s even before Harvin’s departure. He’s seen seven targets each of the past two games and has 112 yards in that span. At minimum he becomes WR2 for a Seahawks team that has aired it out of late and faces the second-most favorable fantasy schedule for wide receivers the rest of the way. Let everyone else throw their FAAB and waiver priority at Baldwin; you steal Kearse on the cheap and enjoy the spoils the rest of the way.
Anthony Dixon, RB, Bills
CJ Spiller is done for the year and Fred Jackson tore his groin muscle away from his bone so don’t buy the “back after the bye” talk; he’ll need at least a month. In the interim, Dixon and Bryce Brown—whom the Bills love so much they haven’t even activated him for a game yet this season—will shoulder the workload in Buffalo. It’s a tough schedule over the next few weeks, but Dixon’s hard-running style should at least keep defenses honest. Don’t look for big yardage, but he can finish at the stripe and should salvage some stat lines with a short touchdown or two. Also, don’t kick FJax to the curb just yet; after facing the Jets in Week 12 the Bills’ schedule gets very RB-friendly—just about the time Jackson should feel up to running again.
Lorenzo Taliaferro, RB, Ravens
Sometimes the logic of an NFL coach just doesn’t make sense. Following a two-game stretch in which Taliaferro carried 33 times for 149 yards and two TDs, Bernard Pierce returned and was handed the change-of-pace carries to Justin Forsett. The result: 27 carries for 83 yards, or just a shade over three yards per carry. All that’s propping up Pierce’s fantasy value is a pair of short-yardage touchdowns. You have to believe that eventually John Harbaugh notices how ineffective Pierce is and returns those carries to Taliaferro—hopefully in time to capitalize on a very favorable post-bye schedule for running backs.
GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
Markus Wheaton, WR, Steelers
A season that started so promisingly—6-97 in the season opener, a reasonably steady stream of targets that included a team-high 11 in Week 6—now looks to be over. Not because Wheaton got hurt; no, the Steelers grew tired of waiting for him to produce—those 11 targets yielded just 4-33—and with the return to health of rookie Martavis Bryant, Wheaton is clearly on the outs. Consider not just Bryant’s debut in Week 7, but also that Lance Moore scored a touchdown and Darrius Heyward-Bey had more catches than Wheaton. It was a nice run; it appears to be over without a touchdown.
Zac Stacy, RB, Rams
Another former fantasy factor for whom the end came quickly. The writing has been on the wall most of the season, as Stacy hasn’t been anywhere near as effective as he was when he laid claim to the Rams’ feature back gig late last season. Coming out of the Rams’ Week 4 bye it’s been mostly Benny Cunningham, and after a disastrous three-way mess in Week 6 Tre Mason emerged as the back most likely last week. That may or may not last, given the Rams’ next three opponents are all tough against the run. But before you think Stacy gets his gig back, look at the first two games of St. Louis’ fantasy playoff sked—at Washington, Arizona—and realize the best course is to avoid this messy situation entirely.