- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Fantasy owners should never carry a grudge with certain players based on one really bad game. The Dallas Cowboys are indeed coming off an ugly blowout loss to a division opponent Sunday night, but check out the next five opponents: the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. Wow, that's very favorable. I don't see any defensive juggernauts there, which is why there's no better time to trade for Cowboys wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin.
I ranked Tony Romo's top receiving options 10th and 11th for this week's home game against a Seahawks secondary that hardly inspires fear to anyone except Seahawks fans. Yes, for some reason Romo didn't target his top guys much against the Philadelphia Eagles -- each of them had to settle for three receptions -- but I'd hardly call this the team's plan moving forward. Plus, when cameras picked up Bryant and Austin complaining to others on the sideline late in the game, it was a sure harbinger to me that better things are to come.
We're in Week 9, and we have a far better idea than in early September which defenses are legit and which aren't. The Seahawks' D isn't notably bad, not like the St. Louis Rams' defense, which allowed DeMarco Murray to embarrass it for 253 rushing yards in Week 7, and the Seahawks have actually done a decent job against quarterbacks this season, ranking in the top 10 for fewest fantasy points allowed. But look at the quarterbacks they've faced: Only Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger could be considered top-10 options. That's what I would call a misleading stat. Romo is the best fantasy quarterback the Seahawks will face until Michael Vick in Week 13.
I'm sticking with Romo, Jason Witten, Bryant and Austin not only this week, but for good. Kudos to the Eagles, a previously porous defense, for figuring things out after their bye week, but the Cowboys are about to fatten up statistically, and fantasy owners should enjoy it.
Speaking of the NFC East: On the other side of the schedule spectrum are the New York Giants. I love Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks against the New England Patriots on Sunday, and I ranked Mario Manningham, Victor Cruz and tight end Jake Ballard well. The Patriots have the third-easiest D for opposing quarterbacks to accrue fantasy points against, with only Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets failing to top 300 passing yards against them. Manning has thrown an interception in only one of his past five games, and he's well on his way to his third consecutive 4,000-yard passing season. Only three other quarterbacks can extend their streak to three years. It's not outrageous to rely on all three Giants wide receivers, and Ballard has been a top-10 tight end the past month. The Giants have a tough real-life schedule ahead, with the Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and later the Cowboys twice and Jets once, but at least a few of those teams can be thrown against.
And speaking of the AFC East: I realize Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has many fantasy fans, but the numbers show this is an average quarterback hardly playing his best football. Fitzpatrick's schedule features the Jets twice this month, beginning Sunday. I'd try to avoid Fitzpatrick and wide receiver Steve Johnson, if possible. Fitzpatrick last topped 14 fantasy points in Week 3, and he has more turnovers than touchdown passes in that span. People point to his season QBR as evidence he's elite -- he's fifth in the league using that metric -- but his QBR is just 58.3 since Week 4. Johnson has similarly sputtered since Week 3. He did perform better than most last season against Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, but I'd call it a poor time to invest in the Bills' passing game. Do so in December, as this team closes with the Dolphins, Denver Broncos and Patriots.
Infirmary ward: We'll be updating the staff rankings Friday, and perhaps by then we'll have a better idea whether Darren McFadden, Andre Johnson and a host of other top fantasy options will be active. For now, I've chosen to leave McFadden and Johnson out of the rankings, as I don't expect them to play. McFadden (sprained foot) has not been practicing, and just because the Oakland Raiders come off a bye week doesn't suddenly heal things. I hope McFadden does play, of course, because the matchup against the Broncos is tantalizing, but for now I have more-than-worthy backup Michael Bush at No. 16 and McFadden out. Johnson and his balky hamstring could be a game-time decision Sunday. This just in: Fantasy owners don't like game-time decisions.
As for other injuries to watch, some might still be relying on Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, who has a potentially nice home matchup against the Rams, but Kolb's turf toe could keep him out. He'd be barely a top-20 quarterback for me regardless. All the fantasy rankers have Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount at No. 12, and we each left San Diego Chargers injury risk Ryan Mathews (groin) out. Mike Tolbert is expected to play, but I ranked Jacob Hester just in case. San Diego isn't scoring much on average defenses, and now it gets Aaron Rodgers and the champs. Philip Rivers is the No. 16 quarterback for the season. This is not the best week to expect big numbers.
Eric Karabell analyzes this week's tough rankings decisions, including a look at the Dallas Cowboys' offense and various injured stars, such as Andre Johnson and Darren McFadden.