As October turns to November and the 2011 NFL season enters its third month, the fantasy football season gears up for one of the most crucial parts of the year...the stretch run that will determine which teams will continue playing when the playoffs begin and which teams will be forced into that cold, dark place known as the offseason.
However, the continuing bye weeks and accumulating injuries force many fantasy owners to look outside the top 10 players at each position when setting their Week 9 lineups, so for those owners here's a look at some at some strong matchup plays for this week that merit serious consideration for inclusion in starting fantasy lineups.
The Atlanta Falcons got perhaps their biggest win of the season two weeks ago against the Detroit Lions, but quarterback Matt Ryan had yet another shaky day at the office, completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes and throwing two interceptions against one touchdown pass.
The stage should be set for Ryan to bounce back coming out of the Falcons' bye week, as Atlanta squares off against an Indianapolis Colts team that has been woeful on defense and has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks.
New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez only threw for 173 yards in the Jets' Week 7 victory over the San Diego Chargers, but the third-year pro also tossed three touchdown passes and turned in his second-best fantasy performance of the season.
Sanchez has burned me nearly every time I've recommended him, but he should be able to build on that performance this week in a very important AFC East matchup with the Buffalo Bills, who are the seventh-friendliest fantasy matchup for opposing quarterbacks.
After taking a one-week vacation courtesy of National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell, Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson will be back in the lineup when the 5-2 Bengals travel south to face the Tennessee Titans Sunday.
It's a good week for Benson to return (at least for his fantasy owners), as the Titans defense has struggled against the run, ranking 27th in the league and allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
Miami Dolphins running back Reggie Bush had by far his best game of the season on the ground in last week's loss to the New York Giants, topping 100 yards rushing for the first time this season and gaining an impressive 6.9 yards a carry.
With the playing status of running back Daniel Thomas very much up in the air for this week's game, Bush could be a very viable fantasy option against the Kansas City Chiefs, who have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to opposing ball-carriers.
With starter Willis McGahee sidelined by a broken hand, the job of lead back in the Denver Broncos backfield fell to Knowshon Moreno in Week 8, and the third-year pro played fairly well, averaging nearly five yards a carry in a loss to the Detroit Lions.
Moreno should find the sledding a bit easier this week against the Oakland Raiders, who are a middle-of-the-pack run defense but have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs so far this season.
Wide receiver Early Doucet of the Arizona Cardinals may have only reeled in five receptions for 50 yards over his last two games, but the fourth-year pro has also scored a touchdown in each of those contests and has already set career highs this season in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
Doucet should have an excellent chance to keep his best professional season going this week against a St. Louis Rams team that has been decimated by injuries at cornerback and is the second-most favorable fantasy matchup in the NFL for opposing wide receivers.
It hasn't taken ninth-year wide receiver Brandon Lloyd long to become acclimated to his new digs, as Lloyd has hauled in 12 catches for 127 yards in his two games in the Gateway City, including his first touchdown as a member of the Rams in last Sunday's upset of the New Orleans Saints.
Regardless of whether it's Sam Bradford or A.J. Feeley under center when the Rams face Arizona, Lloyd should have a solid statistical outing, as the Cardinals have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers.
New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham may have dropped to third in the wideout pecking order in the Big Apple, but the fourth-year pro still had his best game of the season in last week's win over the Miami Dolphins, catching six passes for 63 yards and a score.
There should be plenty of passes to go around this week against the New England Patriots, who have the NFL's worst pass defense and who have allowed the most fantasy points per game in the league to opposing wide receivers.
Tight end Brent Celek has been invisible most of the season in the Philadelphia Eagles offense, but that wasn't the case in last week's blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys, in which the fifth-year veteran had seven receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Celek may well make it two big games in a row this week against the Chicago Bears, who have loads of trouble covering tight ends and are far and away the friendliest fantasy matchup in the NFL for opposing tight ends.
On its surface the Buffalo Bills defense doesn't appear to be anything special, ranking a very moribund 26th in the NFL in total defense.
However, appearances can be deceiving, as the Bills are a very respectable 11th in points allowed and lead the National Football League with 14 interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.
The Bills are fresh off a 23-0 whitewashing of the Washington Redskins and face a New York Jets offense that has been erratic Sunday, making them a viable matchup play for fantasy owners with a need at the position.