Giants receiver Domenik Hixon could be a strong play this week with Hakeem Nicks out again with injuries. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Fantasy owners have several things on their pre-game “to-do lists” every week, including checking their players' health/availability and matchups. Once the games start, a new to-do list comes into play, and at the top is monitoring the various running back situations around the league.
Week 5 is no different. Many backfields, such as the Eagles, Ravens and Vikings, are currently stable, but there are several that continue to cause headaches and could ultimately sway some fantasy leagues later in the season.
We'll highlight several of these situations throughout the column, including the return of Rashard Mendenhall and the ongoing Ryan Mathews/Jackie Battle power struggle.
Here are some key numbers to know about every contest, plus a sleeper, stumbler or injury concern to watch out for with a brief explanation why.
Byes: Dallas, Detroit, Oakland, Tampa Bay.
Ravens at Chiefs
Stat to know: According to the Sporting News' garbage-time tracker, Dwayne Bowe leads all receivers in garbage-time fantasy production, with 48.9 percent of his fantasy points coming in garbage time. Still, he's tied for the league lead in targets (49) and the Ravens are giving up almost 296 passing yards per game. He's a safe start this week.
Sleeper: TE Dennis Pitta (Chiefs allowing eighth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends).
Dolphins at Bengals
Stat to know: Reggie Bush played through a knee injury last week, but he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, down from 6.0 ypc the first three weeks. He also failed to catch a pass for the first time this season. Fortunately, the Bengals are giving up over 130 yards per game on the ground, but Bush is more of an RB2 than an RB1 this week.
Sleeper: Bengals D/ST (Miami allowing seventh-most FPPG to D/STs).
Browns at Giants
Stat to know: With Hakeem Nicks once again out, look for Domenik Hixon to take advantage. Hixon had 11 targets last week compared to four for Ramses Barden. Facing a Cleveland defense that ranks 28th against the pass should mean big things for Hixon and Victor Cruz.
Sleeper: K Phil Dawson (multiple FG attempts in three-of-four games).
Packers at Colts
Stat to know: Cedric Benson has averaged 18.3 carries and 11.5 fantasy points over the past three games. Not only does this make him a valuable fantasy back, but his high amount of carries also takes some value away from Green Bay's various receivers.
Injury: WR Greg Jennings, groin (Expect more targets for James Jones).
Eagles at Steelers
Stat to know: The expected return of Troy Polamalu should only help a Steelers defense that currently ranks third against the pass (190.3 yards allowed per game). It's tough to bench any of the key players in Philadelphia's receiving game, but if there's ever been a week to do it, it's this one.
Stumbler: RB Rashard Mendenhall (Eagles allowing fifth-fewest FPPG to RBs).
Falcons at Redskins
Stat to know: Alfred Morris only has one catch this year -- and it went for negative-four yards -- but he's tied for third in carries (82), fifth in rushing yards (376) and tied for first in rushing TDs (4). His value obviously goes down in PPR leagues, but he's still a worthwhile starter every week.
Stumbler: Falcons D/ST (Redskins allowing just 3.3 FPPG to D/STs, tied for second fewest).
Bears at Jaguars
Stat to know: The Jaguars are only slightly below the Bears in terms of pass defense (254 yards allowed per game compared to 249.5 for Chicago), but the Bears have 13 more sacks and nine more interceptions. Jacksonville's passing game will likely continue to struggle, but Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall should thrive.
Sleeper: RB Michael Bush (Jaguars allowing second-most FPPG to RBs).
Seahawks at Panthers
Stat to know: In two home games this year, Seattle's D/ST is averaging 14.5 fantasy points in standard leagues. In two road games, it's averaging just 5.5. Don't ignore that trend this week when the Seahawks are in Carolina.
Stumbler: TE Greg Olsen (Seahawks allowing fourth fewest FPPG to TEs).
Titans at Vikings
Stat to know: The Vikings divvied up targets fairly equally between Percy Harvin (6), Jerome Simpson (5) and Kyle Rudolph (5) last week. Harvin should get the majority of looks most games, and this week, Rudolph should get a few more than Simpson. Tennessee has allowed 34 receptions, 360 yards and six TDs to TEs this year -- all league highs.
Injuries: WR Kenny Britt, ankle and QB Jake Locker, shoulder (Kendall Wright benefited from Britt's absence last week).
Bills at 49ers
Stat to know: Tight ends have scored four touchdowns against San Francisco this season, which is tied for second most. Expect Scott Chandler to get plenty of targets again this week.
Sleeper: RB Kendall Hunter (Bills allowing sixth-most FPPG to RBs; Hunter averaging 4.9 yards per touch).
Broncos at Patriots
Stat to know: Denver (87.5) and New England (85.3) are two of the 10 teams allowing fewer than 90 rushing yards per game. Both Stevan Ridley and Willis McGahee are still worth starting because they're capable pass catchers, but this one has the makings of another Brady-Manning shootout.
Sleeper: TE Jacob Tamme (16 targets the past two weeks; Pats giving up fourth-most FPPG to TEs).
Chargers at Saints
Stat to know: Five of Ryan Mathews' 14 carries and 28 of his 61 rushing yards last week came in garbage time. Mathews has value this week against New Orleans' last-ranked run defense, but Jackie Battle is still atop San Diego's depth chart and will likely get just as many touches. Both are worth using.
Injury: WR Lance Moore, hamstring (Devery Henderson and Joseph Morgan could get more looks if Moore is out).
Texans at Jets
Stat to know: Owners who banked on garbage-time yards last week from Ben Tate got burned, but he's a tempting option again this week against the Jets' 31st-ranked run defense. However, because of the uncertainty of his role, Tate should only be used if you're in a bind because of bye weeks or injuries.
Stumbler: Jets' D/ST (Houston allowing just 2.3 FPPG to D/STs, fewest in the league).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage at http://fantasysource.sportingnews.com/football/free?affiliate_code=sn_navigation