This is not the week to have an Andy Reid-like brain cramp when you fill out your starting lineup for your fantasy football game.
And this is not Week 2 when it was too early to tell which defenses were the 1985 Chicago Bears and which were the 2011 New England Patriots. Fantasy owners now know which defenses stop the run, shut down the pass or do both.
So if you need a tiebreaker to decide between two players on your fantasy roster vying for a starting spot in this week’s lineup, bench the guy playing the tougher defense. It is as simple as figuring out what play the New York Jets will call when Tim Tebow is at quarterback.
Here are five players to bench against tough opponents this week:
Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears (QB)
Even before he got concussed by the Houston Texans, Cutler was about as attractive to fantasy owners this week as a zombie from The Walking Dead.
Cutler is not an every-week play in fantasy football leagues, especially the ones where you only have to use one QB in your lineup. He is great against the lower-tier teams that can't tackle or cover anybody, while he struggles against above-average pass defenses.
His three biggest fantasy games this season came against Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville, while his worst performances (all under 200 yards passing) came against Green Bay, Detroit and St. Louis.
With that being the case, Cutler cannot be used this week if/when he faces the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. San Francisco is fifth against the pass and should give Cutler and his one and only passing target, Brandon Marshall, no room to throw. The uncertainty surrounding Cutler's health status should be enough to keep him on the bench in most fantasy leagues.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buffalo Bills (QB)
Fresh off his guest spot on The League last week, Fitzpatrick is trying his best to get back into the good graces of fantasy owners. His 337 passing yards and two touchdown tosses against New England this past weekend certainly helped mend a couple fantasy fences.
But his Thursday night game against the Miami Dolphins probably will not help his standing. The Dolphins are only 28th in pass defense, but they've put the clamps on Fitzpatrick in recent history. In his last four starts against Miami, Fitzpatrick has only thrown five touchdown passes against seven interceptions.
This Thursday’s Miami vs. Buffalo game should be a low-scoring, close-to-the-vest affair as the loser’s season is probably over. If you can sit Fitzpatrick for someone else, I would advise it.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (RB)
The Denver Broncos are rolling through the Conference USA-like portion of their schedule now, and up next they get another chance to embarrass Mathews’ Chargers.
Mathews has been a poor man’s Shonn Greene this season. No 100-yard rushing games, one touchdown, two fumbles lost and he has only had 55 receiving yards over his past four contests. Yet because of bye weeks, injuries and the low amount of reliable fantasy running backs out there, Mathews remains a weekly starter for many, if not most, fantasy squads.
Denver boasts the 10th-best run defense and will surely be more stout at home this Sunday. This does not figure to be the week Mathews comes out of his slump and breaks the fantasy bank. If you can give him the week off, do it. If not, then prepare to live with a 70-yard effort.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars (WR)
Fantasy owners are starting to like Shorts as much as David Letterman likes Top 10 lists. The popular pipsqueak with the rad name has been piling up plenty of garbage-time receiving yards and touchdowns recently. He has 356 yards and two touchdowns over Jacksonville’s last four games.
All good, short things come to an end, though. Shorts is matched against the Houston Texans this week. You know, the team with the third-ranked pass defense and the second-best defense overall. This makes Shorts far from an optimum play.
If Shorts gets 100 yards or 50 yards plus a TD, then he will prove to doubters that he can be relied upon every week. But with Blaine Gabbert throwing ducks in his direction and Houston’s tight secondary covering him, Shorts looks to be skiing uphill.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens (WR)
When the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers wage their wars for AFC North supremacy, they may be the hardest-hitting games in the NFL, but they are certainly not high-scoring shootouts.
Smith has to run routes and try to go deep against the top-ranked pass defense in football. Even with defensive quarterback Troy Polamalu still sidelined with his calf injury, the Steelers defense has been playing premier pass defense, only allowing a paltry 171 passing yards per game.
Smith has been stymied by a couple other upper-echelon pass defenses this season. He only had four catches for 41 yards against Houston, four receptions for 38 yards against Kansas City and two grabs for 24 yards and a score against Dallas. Expect him to get stifled by Pittsburgh as well.