Running back injuries will have a big impact in Week Six for the Buffalo Bills’ next opponent, and potentially later in the season for a Western New York native.
With Cedric Benson out in Green Bay, Niagara Falls’ James Starks suddenly has some fantasy appeal. Starks has yet to get a carry this season, but he’ll be in the mix for the starting job with the Packers.
Alex Green will get the first crack at the job, but Starks did average 4.3 yards per carry last season and has done it before for coach Mike McCarthy. Starks shouldn’t start in Week Six against the Texans, who are giving up just 80 rushing yards per game, but is worth stashing on your bench based on his potential.
The Bills’ opponent Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals, will be without their top two running backs, with both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams on injured reserve, so the job will come down to LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith.
Stephens-Howling missed the last two games with a hip flexor injury. He’ll likely get the first crack at starting, but based on his slight frame (5-foot-7, 185 pounds), he’s better suited to be a third-down back.
The back with the most upside might be Powell, who a year ago was operating a fork lift at a Best Buy in Kansas. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry in the preseason, and against a Buffalo defense that has a history of making superstars out of journeymen – and has given up 558 yards rushing the past two weeks – is worth a flex start.
Here are a couple of other running back sleepers to consider in a bye week.
• Vick Ballard, Indianapolis: Starter Donald Brown is out 2-3 weeks after having knee surgery, which leaves the rookie to make his first start. He’ll face the Jets, who are giving up 24.6 fantasy points (in CBS Sports leagues) and 144.6 rushing yards per game to running backs this season.
• Danny Woodhead, New England: Not so much for his rushing ability, because the Seahawks rank third in the league against the rush, but more for his receiving ability. Seattle has been susceptible to the dump-off pass to running backs, a role in which Woodhead excels.
• Joique Bell, Detroit: Another good pass catching option, Bell ranks third among NFL running backs with 175 receiving yards. He had a career-high six catches for 72 yards in Week Four against the Vikings. Mikel Leshoure is not running away with the starting job for the Lions, so they could turn to Bell, who spent the 2010 preseason with the Bills.

Analyzing the Bills

It was bad enough trying to decide between C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson when both Buffalo running backs were healthy and playing well. It’s even worse now when they’re banged up and the running game is on the skids. How close is it between the two? In ESPN’s ranking among four fantasy experts, Spiller’s average ranking is 24.0, while Jackson’s is 24.8. The best thing to do is start whichever one you have, and hope he’s the guy getting the touchdowns.
There isn’t a whole lot to like about the Bills from a fantasy perspective. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has regressed this season, hurting the stock of receiver Stevie Johnson the most. Neither of them is a particularly good option this week.
Three fantasy-start-worthy quarterbacks are on a bye this weekend (see the list of teams below), so consider Arizona’s Kevin Kolb as a good fill-in. He’s owned in just 22 percent of ESPN leagues, but gets to face a Buffalo defense that’s allowed back-to-back 30-point performances by the opposing quarterback.
Kolb has seven touchdowns to just two interceptions on the season and has thrown for 613 yards the past two games. His favorite target is Larry Fitzgerald, the All-Pro whose numbers have started to pick up the last three weeks (25 catches, 270 yards, two touchdowns).
The Arizona defense ranks fifth in fantasy scoring and has forced 11 turnovers in five weeks. With the threat of Patrick Peterson in the return game, the Cardinals’ defense is a fine play this week.
Bye weeks: Chicago, Jacksonville, Carolina, New Orleans.