By Jay Skurski
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
Week Seven of the NFL season is the toughest yet for fantasy football players.
That’s because a season-high six teams will be on bye this week. Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia and San Diego will all take Sunday off, forcing owners to find suitable alternatives.
A couple of those may be found in Cleveland. The Browns, who got their first win last week, have shown some signs of life.
Rookie receiver Josh Gordon’s 71-yard touchdown catch from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden last week against Cincinnati was one of the prettiest plays of the season. Gordon is available in 27 percent of CBS Sports leagues, and is a starter in only 48 percent of leagues. Those numbers should go up this weekend with a matchup against Indianapolis.
In his past two games, Gordon has 181 yards and three touchdowns. The Colts are allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers on the season and have allowed nine touchdowns to receivers in five games, including five in the last two weeks.
The Indy run defense hasn’t been much better, either. The Colts were gashed for 161 yards and three touchdowns last season by fantasy kryptonite, Shonn Greene of the Jets.
That means you should consider Cleveland’s Montario Hardesty. Browns starter Trent Richardson is dealing with a rib injury that will force him to wear a flak jacket Sunday.
If he’s not able to play the whole game, or sees fewer carries, Hardesty will be in line for more work. He rushed for 56 yards and a touchdown last week, and the Colts have given up 142.6 yards per game on the ground.
Here are a few other sleeper options to consider in this bye-heavy week:
• Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee: The Bills have been extra friendly to opposing quarterbacks all season, allowing 271.2 yards per game through the air through their first six games. Buffalo has also given up 13 passing touchdowns over that time. Hasselbeck has a solid receiving corps in Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington.
• Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo: If there’s a week to start Fitz, this is it. The Titans are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 71.9 percent of their passes, and have given up multiple touchdown passes in all but one game (they held Ben Roethlisberger to just one in Week Six).
• Felix Jones, RB, Dallas: Coming off a 16-point game against Baltimore, Jones goes against a Carolina defense that made a star out of Giants reserve running back Andre Brown in Week Three (113 yards, two touchdowns). With DeMarco Murray out for the Cowboys, Jones will have an opportunity to put up similar numbers. He’s a solid No. 2 back this week.
• Stephen Hill, WR, N.Y. Jets: Hill hasn’t done much since recording 89 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills in the season opener, but the Jets go up against the Patriots this week, and could be throwing a lot. New England’s pass defense is ranked just 28th in the NFL, and has given up 289 yards per game. If the Patriots get out to a big lead, that will force Mark Sanchez and Co. to air it out. Some good garbage time potential here for Hill.
• Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis: The Rams host the Packers on Sunday, and with Danny Amendola out, Sam Bradford will need someone to throw to. Givens has a catch of at least 50 yards in three straight games, and is averaging 28 yards per catch. Givens was targeted seven times last week in St. Louis’ first game without Amendola.
• Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville: True, we’re reaching here, but Blackmon did have nine catches in two games before the Jaguars’ bye week. With six teams on bye, you need to fill out your lineup with someone.
Analyzing the Bills
Running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson will continue their frustrating time share for the time being.
I prefer Spiller over Jackson, but both should get plenty of work and can start.
Receiver Stevie Johnson hasn’t scored a touchdown in three straight games, but he was targeted 11 times last week by Fitzpatrick and had 82 yards. He remains Buffalo’s best receiving option and a worthy start.
Tight end Scott Chandler is a must start for the Bills. Tennessee is allowing the most fantasy points per game (15.5) against opposing tight ends this season.
Titans running back Chris Johnson had 153 yards rushing last year against the Bills and is coming off a 91-yard effort against Pittsburgh. He’s driven fantasy owners nuts all season, but has to stay in your lineup.
The Titans’ receivers are closely bunched – ESPN has Britt ranked 21st, while Wright is 32nd and Washington is 33rd. They’ve all got similar fantasy appeal, that of a No. 2 or 3 spot.