There’s a sweet smell in the air this time of year. But it’s not tailgates, beer and highly-paid men in pads pummeling each other. It’s actually the smell of full-grown men (and women?) hunched over their laptops, researching, adding, dropping and trading their way to glory. Yes, friends, fantasy football season is upon us.

And what better way to start the season than with the inaugural edition of The Fantasy Football Backup Plan? There’s probably plenty, but you’re here, I’m here, and when we’re together baby, nothing else matters.

Here’s a general rundown of the column: these aren’t player you necessarily wanted to start this week, but due to injury, byes or general suckery, you have to. It’s your backup plan. Each week, I’ll run down some of the top widely available fill-ins by position, convince you starting them isn’t the worst idea ever and tell you who they’ll be better than that week.


Donovan McNabb vs. San Diego

Yahoo: 47 percent owned, ESPN: 66 percent owned

Every fantasy “expert” and their mother, provided their mother is also a fantasy expert, has pretty much discounted McNabb as a viable fantasy option this season, but he’s in a much better situation now than he was with the Redskins. In his Vikings debut, McNabb will have to throw a lot to keep up with the Chargers’ offense, so he could be good for 250+ yards and a few scores in Week 1.

Guys he’s better than this week: Joe Flacco, Kevin Kolb, Matt Cassel

Colt McCoy vs. Cincinnati

Yahoo: 38 percent owned, ESPN: 24 percent owned

McCoy isn’t getting the respect he deserves in fantasy circles. Sure, he’s no stud, but he has to at least be on the Mark Sanchez fantasy-level, right? He’s got a talented young receiving corps, a solid running game and a new, offensive minded head coach in Pat Shurmur. McCoy could be first slightly better than mediocre Browns quarterback in a long time, and that journey starts against the Bengals on Sunday.

Guys he’s better than this week: Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jason Campbell

Cam Newton vs. Arizona

Yahoo: 33 percent owned, ESPN: 24 percent owned

Cam Newton is the NFL’s newest former college football demigod, and he makes for an intriguing fantasy option. He’ll likely throw for just a Jimmy Clausen-esque 190 yards and two interceptions this week, but he could give you 40+ rushing yards and maybe even a score, which sweetens his outlook. He’s not someone to target in one-quarterback leagues, but in way deeper leagues, he could be a rich-man’s Tarvaris Jackson.

Guys he’s better than this week: Matt Hasselbeck, Chad Henne, Alex Smith

Running Backs

Ben Tate vs. Indianapolis

Yahoo: 44 percent owned, ESPN: 43 percent owned

As I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, ESPN’s resident cell-phone-MRI-ologist Dr. Michael Kaplan has expressed concern about Arian Foster’s injured hamstring. Whether you own Foster or not, Tate is worth a spot on your roster until we know Foster is fully healthy. Gary Kubiak is a Mike Shannahan-disciple, so deep down he hates fantasy football, meaning Tate should get a decent share of carries this week, Foster or no Foster.

Guys he’s better than this week: Ryan Grant, LaDanian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush

Delone Carter vs. Houston

Yahoo: 21 percent owned, ESPN: 9 percent owned

With Peyton Manning’s neck finally crumbling under the weight of his massive forehead, the Colts will likely become a run-first team without him in Week 1. Joseph Addai is still in the fold, but rookie Delone Carter will steal some carries from him, especially in short-yardage situations. Against a Texans’ defense still transitioning from a 4-3 to a 3-4, Carter could sneak across the goal line once or twice.

Guys he’s better than this week: Brandon Jacobs, C.J. Spiller, Daniel Thomas

Deji Karim vs. Tennessee

Yahoo: 9 percent owned, ESPN: 8 percent owned

What is the proper term for a handcuff’s handcuff? The double-handcuff, or dub-cuff? The chain, clamp, or shackle? Rashad Jennings’ trip to the IR caused so many fantasy questions. Maurice Jones-Drew claims he’s at full health, but there are still concerns. The Jags still plan to ease MJD back into action this week, so dub-cuff Karim will have some value this week, especially with an unsettled quarterback situation.

Guys he’s better than this week: Willis McGahee, Danny Woodhead, Ryan Torain

Wide Receivers

Nate Burleson vs. Tampa Bay

Yahoo: 46 percent owned, ESPN: 25 percent owned

Rumors coming out of Tampa Bay suggest the Buccaneers intend to have two cornerbacks, a safety, a defensive tackle and two ball boys covering Calvin Johnson at all times, meaning Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to take his golden arm and boyish good looks in another direction. Burleson isn’t a stellar option, but 50 yards receiving and a touchdown is possible, so you could do worse.

Guys he’s better than this week: Pierre Garcon, Mike Thomas, Malcolm Floyd

Earl Bennett vs. Atlanta

Yahoo: 19 percent owned, ESPN: 4 percent owned

Bennett was the Bears’ leading receiver in the preseason. I’m not sure if that means anything, but Jay Cutler likes throwing to him. And if you don’t give Jay Cutler what he wants, he’ll probably just end up pouting on the sidelines. Then Bennett won’t get any receptions. See the cycle here? The Bears will likely have to throw a lot to keep up with the Falcons this week, so Bennett could see some opportunities down the field.

Guys he’s better than this week: A.J. Green, Johnny Knox, Hines Ward

Robert Meachem vs. Green Bay

Yahoo: 46 percent owned, ESPN: 93 percent owned

The Saints are impossible to predict. If your 6-year-old nephew played for New Orleans tonight, Drew Brees will probably get him seven or eight touches. But Lance Moore has been ruled out tonight and Marques Colston coming off his thousandth offseason surgery, so if I’m picking one receiver on the Saints this week, its Meachem. Expect around 60 yards and a score from him tonight.

Guys he’s better than this week: Austin Collie, Sidney Rice, Plaxico Burress,

Tight Ends

Todd Heap vs. Carolina

Yahoo: 34 percent owned, ESPN: 17 percent owned

Though Kevin Kolb only has as many NFL pass attempts as the great Brodie Croyle, he’s somehow gotten a reputation for liking to throw to his tight ends, so Heap could be in for a career renaissance in Arizona. Heap is solidly the No. 2 receiving option on this Cardinals team, and while Larry Fitzgerald will see the primary red zone targets, Heap could definitely sneak across the goal line against a mediocre Panthers defense.

Guys he’s better than this week: Greg Olsen, Zach Miller

Heath Miller vs. Baltimore

Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 9 percent owned

It’s still four days before the Steelers and Ravens play each other, but I can already predict exactly what will happen in the game. Neither team will score more than 16 points, and the only offensive touchdown of the game will be scored by Heath Miller on a one-yard reception. Not Ray Rice, not Rashard Mendenhall, not Mike Wallace and not Anquan Boldin. Heath. Freakin’. Miller.

Guys he’s better than this week: Visanthe Shiancoe, Chris Cooley

Defense/Special Teams

Cleveland vs. Cincinatti

Yahoo: 18 percent owned, ESPN: 5 percent owned

When you’re streaming fantasy defenses, you’re usually looking for which team is playing the most inept offense. And man, are the Bungles chock-full of inept. Their quarterback and top wide receiver have never played a regular season snap, and running back Cedric Benson was literally released from jail less than a week ago. The Browns are by no means a good defensive team, but the Bengals offense could make just about any opponent look good.

Defenses they’re better than this week: Detroit, Dallas

Tennessee vs. Jacksonville

Yahoo: 8 percent owned, ESPN: 1 percent owned

Luke McCown will start at quarterback for the Jaguars when they face Tennessee this week. I’m going to pause here for a second while you race to add the Titans defense to your fantasy team. You back? Good. I’ll just about guarantee the Tennessee defense holds Jacksonville to less than 20 points and intercepts two passes this week, so if you didn’t add them before, go add them now. No, seriously. Go.

Defenses they’re better than this week: San Diego, Atlanta

  1. shippity says:

    Some comments.

    1. I hope you revisit these QB recommendations after the results of this weekend. I want to qualify that I’m huge proponent of quality of opponent type analysis, but I think you’re severely underestimating the potential downside of these QB’s, even in when facing relatively weak matchups. I think making arguments for these extreme low-end QB’s over the “guy’s they’re better than” demands follow-up. I don’t dare claim one should be results oriented over one week, but outrageous claims need to be made with great care and accountability.

    Furthermore, how does this add upon Chet’s rankings. Don’t get me wrong, I almost seek more opinions but for comparison I’m going to point out what you are suggestion in those terms.

    McNabb(24) over 14,17,21
    McCoy(23) over 19,18,22
    Newton(26) over 25,27,unr

    I imagine you will hit one of these longshots every now and again, but due to the risk associated which such plays, it would be intellectually dishonest to not document all the others times it blows up in your face.

    Lastly wrt Meachem – “ESPN: 93 percent owned” – ROFL come on.

    Don’t mistake this for random trolling by one who is perpetually negative and ungrateful. My last post to this site here ( was applauding good work.

  2. Josh Vitale says:

    @shippity: I see what you’re saying Shippity. Thanks for the comment. For the QBs, Flacco has completed just 50% percent of his passes in his carer against the Steelers, so while I think he’s a better fantasy QB than McNabb by a longshot, I think McNabb will score pore points this week, and Kolb is making his first start in almost a year, so he’ll have some rust against a underrated Carolina pass D.

    Also, I don’t think saying McCoy will be better than Sanchez, Fitzpatrick and Campbell this week is much of a longshot, as neither of those three are really anything special, fantasy-wise.

    As for Meachem, I mostly left him in for the YAHOO users, as he is owned in just 47 percent of leagues. I know he’s owned in way more ESPN, and I almost took him out for it, but he’s too good to be unowned in that many Yahoo leagues.

  3. MattTruss

    MattTruss223 says:

    Just a heads up on the Delone Carter over Brandon Jacobs comment:

    RB Brandon Jacobs has three rushing touchdowns in past two games against the Redskins. He also has recorded three 100-yard rushing performances against the Redskins. (Yahoo! Sports)

    I’m not sure the context of those three games. But I think I’ll start Jacobs still. I am curious your thoughts on Ryan Grant vs. Delone Carter. I’m torn with the news that it will be 50/50 Grant and Starks vs. New Orleans tonight. Kinda want to wait and see how that plays out, but it’s just for a flex spot.

  4. Rags says:

    For anyone who wants to advise:

    So my league (non-PPR), has two RB, 3 WR, and a flex, so it goes a little deeper than I’m used to. I ended up weak at my WR3 spot, but I have too much depth at RB.

    WR – Calvin Johnson
    WR – Mike Williams (TB)
    WR – Robert Meachem
    RB – Darren McFadden
    RB – Peyton Hillis
    WR/RB/TE – DeAngelo Williams

    Mike Tolbert
    James Starks
    Delone Carter
    Stevan Ridley
    Kendall Hunter

    Does Meachem make an ok WR3 for the year if I have Williams in the flex? I’m leaning towards keeping him in this week for the reasons you mentioned above, but I’m going to need another WR for the year.

    I have an offer of Tolbert for Santana Moss (from pretty much the only owner willing to trade before the first week). Should I take it? Who would you try trading for an appropriate level WR back? Or should I drop Ridley for someone like Bennet, Nate Washington, Massaquoi, or Mason? The WRs in this league are pretty picked over.

    Thanks so much!

  5. MikeZ says:

    I have Karim on my team and Delone Carter is available (probably not for much longer), do you think Carter and his goal line carries would be better to stash?

  6. douglas says:

    enjoy articles like this. i think too many experts play it safe, even with sleeper starters, which is essentially what all these folks are. I may not agree with all of your recs, but are sure as hell appreciate the stones it takes to lay it down in writing that ‘x’ will do better than ‘y’.

    One question tho. Realizing there’s no real certainty that Foster will or won’t play, why is everyone touting Tate? Am I wrong in reading depth charts that say Ward is the back-up? The vet is also a much better pass catcher and would be the dude in on 3rd downs. Where’s the love for Ward?

  7. Van Haggard says:

    @ Razzball &friends: who is the best speculative RB out of these FA’s? Ringer, snelling, kendall hunter, jacquizz rodgers, deji karim, leon washington.
    thanks guys

  8. Josh Vitale says:

    @MattTruss223: I’m actually torn on Grant as well, because I think he’s still the best back on the Packers and could be an every-week RB2 if he gets the bulk of the carries. But with a 50/50 split between him and Starks, he’s a risk until we see the situation play out. Plus, the Packers are obviously a pass-first team, and their running backs only scored 7 rushing touchdowns last season. The Colts will likely run it a lot without Manning, so I think Carter has a better shot at a TD than Grant will.

    @Rags: Meachem definitely isn’t a bad WR3, but given the Saints tendancy to spread the ball around, looking for another WR for your team is probably a good idea. I would wait and see how Week 1 plays out then try to make a move from there.

    @MikeZ: In the short term, Karim may be slightly better because of MJD’s health, but as the season wears on, Karim’s role will probably decrease and Carter’s will increase because of the inevitable Addai nagging injury. Carter is probably the better long-term stash.

    @douglas: Ward is technically the No. 2 on the depth chart, but Tate is the backup there that actually has upside. Ward may be better in a PPR initially, but Tate is probably the more valuable handcuff for Foster. They drafted him early last season, so they’ll definitely want him to see more action than Ward as the season goes on.

  9. HotRod says:

    Celek vs. STL or Kendricks vs. PHI at TE this weekend?

  10. FishMan says:

    10 team league lineup question – no ppr, all TDs are 6 pts, including passing

    QB – Ben or Stafford – leaning Stafford due to better matchup
    RBs – Best, Gore and Felix Jones – start 2 plus a flex. I’m currently planning to play all 3
    WRs are Calvin and Andre. (Dez and Steve Johnson in reserve)

    Do I play one of the RBs are flex or go with Dez Bryant or Johnson?

  11. Fantasty Morsels says:

    Who would you guys go with in a Head-2-Head non ppr at RB? I know who I should go with, but one guy seems like he could put up some numbers. I have Leshon McCoy and either Deangelo Williams or Reggie Bush. I know I should prob go with Williams, but it seems like the Pats give up the rush yards a bit. Any ideas?? Thanks.

  12. Fantasty Morsels says:

    FishMan- I would go Stafford for the TD’s. Don’t trust Best after last season – so I would go with Steve Johnson instead (not much else in Buffalo’s closet).

  13. Matt says:

    Harvin or Holmes this year? I like Harvin’s upside this year with McNabb at the helm, but injuries are a concern and Holmes could have a big year as the WR1 in a good offense. Who should i keep and who should i trade for Wells?

  14. Josh Vitale says:

    @HotRod: Chet likes Kendricks slightly more in the rankings. I’m fairly certain Chet has never been wrong.

    @FishMan: I like Ben slightly more than Stafford this season, but I would vote Stafford this week. Ben is playing a tough Ravens D, and the Lions will likely throw the ball everywhere. Big week for Staffs.

    @Matt: Holmes is definitely the safer play here. Harvin is talented, but he’s not really suited to being the go-to option at WR on a team. Holmes will probably put up 1,000 yards this season, so if you’re moving one, trade Harvin.

  15. MattTruss

    MattTruss223 says:

    Excellent, I’ll be watching the game tonight closely anyway. Thanks for the tip, and I look forward to this column.

    @Rags – With Moore out tonight, I’d hope Meachem goes nuts and then flip him for the long term for somone better. Maybe a package deal, the ol’ 2 for 1

  16. Van Haggard says:

    @ Razzball &friends: who is the best speculative RB out of these FA’s? Ringer, snelling, kendall hunter, jacquizz rodgers, deji karim, leon washington.

  17. Josh Vitale says:

    @Van Haggard: Karim should be owned almost everywhere right now, until we know whether MJD is fully back or not. As for the others, I know Chet is a fan of Jacquizz, and he could definitely see more touches as the season goes on. I like Kendal Hunter as well, because Gore can never seem to stay fully healthy. I’d say Karim, Rodgers then Hunter.

  18. Van Haggard says:

    Thanks! Goodluck this week.

  19. Errin Carner says:

    Any comments?

    14 team, PPR league – need to decide between Marshawn Lynch and Nate Burleson as a flex player.

    Yes, my team is that thin. (My other starters at RB/WR are Foster/Tate, Beanie Wells, J-Jax and Roddy White)

  20. Errin Carner says:

    Sorry – meant V-Jax in above post.

    Any comments?

    14 team, PPR league – need to decide between Marshawn Lynch and Nate Burleson as a flex player.

    Yes, my team is that thin. (My other starters at RB/WR are Foster/Tate, Beanie Wells, V-Jax and Roddy White)

  21. Get off my Ditka says:

    fellas, in quite a predicament here (and will most likely be in this predicament every week).

    need to pick 2 out of these 3.

    Best vs TB
    Beanie vs. Carolina
    Greene @ Dallas

    right now i’m leaning towards beanie. but can’t decide between best or greene.

  22. Nate says:

    Would you recommend dropping ridley or carter for tate?

  23. Eng says:

    Would you rather have Kerry Collins or Starks? (1 QB+ QBflex league, Manning owner+Brees)

  24. Joe B says:

    Need some advice on who to start in my FLEX this week in a PPR league…

    K Moreno vs Oak
    T Hightower vs NYG
    P Harvin at SD

    I’m leaning towards Moreno, but I hate that McGahee is stealing carries. Are either Hightower or Harvin safer plays?

  25. Steve Stevenson says:

    I own Tate all over the place, but in the one league where I don’t own Foster but have Gore as my RB2, would you recommend dropping Tate for Hunter, or hold off until we see how Foster does? The Foster owner doesn’t really have anything I’d want that he’d be willing to trade for Tate at this point.

  26. Josh Vitale says:

    @Errin Carner: In a PPR, I might go Burleson. Seattle isn’t much of a running team, and Lynch doesn’t get receptions. Plus, the Lions will probably throw it all over the field Sunday.

    @Get off my Ditka: I agree with Beanie, because he has no real competition for carries. And same thing for Best. Lions offense could really blow up this week, so Best could have a big impact. Shonn just slightly below those two this week.

    @Nate: I sound see dropping Ridley for Tate. Just way to much competition for touches in NE for Ridley to get much fantasy value.

    @Eng: If it’s QB flex, Collins. Even if he has a really bad day, which is probably likely, he’d likely get more points than a low-level RB, especially one who’s splitting carries.

    @Joe B: I like Hightower this week. He’ll probably split carries too, but he’s looked good for the Skins in the preseason, and the Giants defense is a mess of injuries right now.

    @Steve Stevenson: I would hold onto Tate for at least this week and just see what happens. If Foster plays and shows no ill-effects of his injury, feel free to get the Gore-cuff. But if Foster really is hurt, you might want to hold Tate. Hunter likely won’t leave the wire until there’s a Gore injury anyway.

  27. Eng says:

    Thanks for the feedback bud!

  28. Calogero says:

    Which of these two apparently non-latino WR should I start, Julio or Santana?

  29. MJD Took A Knee says:

    What should I do with Austin Collie in NonPPR. I am not sure if he is a hold onto and see what happens but I don’t want to miss out on Carter if IND runs more now (or if Addai gets hurt).

    12T NonPPR 2RB/2WR/Flex

    RB: AP – Gore – Ingram – Starks – McGahee
    WR: Wallace – Manningham – Moore – Collie

    Some Wire guys: Burleson – Bennett – Carter – Jacoby Ford – Denarius Moore – Arrelious Benn –

  30. Josh Vitale says:

    @Calogero: Santana. Rex Grossman might be the worst starting QB in football, but the Giants D is an injury-riddled mess right now.

    @MJD Took A Knee: I would hold Collie this week and see what happens in the Colts game. No need to be to rash right now. Who knows? Maybe Kerry Collins loves him some concussion-prone receivers. If he doesn’t, feel free to give Carter a look next week.

  31. MJD Took A Knee says:

    Thank ya.

  32. Razzo Rizzo (Badabing) says:

    Well here’s my team for my inaugural foray into the Razzball community (Razzball north,commenters league). I give my team a B. What do you think Doc.

    Matthew Stafford, Det QB
    LeGarrette Blount, TB RB [Breaking News]
    Knowshon Moreno, Den RB
    Beanie Wells, Ari RB [Recent News]
    Calvin Johnson, Det WR
    Greg Jennings, GB WR
    Roy Williams, Chi WR [Breaking News]
    Owen Daniels, Hou TE
    Saints D/ST D/ST
    Sebastian Janikowski, Oak K


    Ben Roethlisberger, Pit QB
    Sam Bradford, StL QB
    DeMarco Murray, Dal RB
    Danny Woodhead, NE RB
    Donald Driver, GB WR
    Jacoby Jones, Hou WR
    Lance Kendricks, StL TE

  33. Razzo Rizzo (Badabing) says:

    Sorry about that Josh i wasn’t paying attn to the header. What do you think of my team

  34. Josh Vitale says:

    @Razzo Rizzo (Badabing): For starters, Stafford, Roethlisberger and Bradford were my three favorite fantasy quarterbacks heading into the season, so I love that part of your team. For your RBs, Blount is solid, but Wells and Moreno must overcome their injuries/inconsistency, but if they do, that’s solid as well. Megatron and Jennings are good for you at WR, but it’s pretty thin behind them. Other than that though, I like your team.

  35. Razzo Rizzo (Badabing) says:

    Thx for your analysis Josh I agree with you. I’m hoping to trade Stafford for a stud WR/RB after a couple games. Great column and keep up the good

    P.S. Ya a thin bench is the price i payed for grabbing a 3rd QB but I think it’ll work out

    Good luck this season

  36. GatorUSMC says:

    I’m having trouble filling my flex spot in a ppr league:

    Garcon (Ind-WR) No Manning
    M.Bush (Oak-RB) Gamble on him getting red zone over McFadden

    Knox (Chi-WR) Got bumped to 3 WR although I doubt he’ll be there for long.
    Carter (Ind-RB) I think the running game will be locked down to make Collins throw and don’t see problems with them going from 4-3 to 3-4 Def

  37. tarheelkiller says:

    Hey Josh-

    Can you give me your thoughts on this team? 1/2 PPR league

    QB- Brees
    RB- Blount
    RB2- R. Matthews
    WR- C. Johnson
    WR2- J. Maclin
    TE- A. Gates
    WR/RB Flex- F. Jackson
    K- Vinatieri
    Baltimore D

    M. Williams (SEA)
    M. Bush
    D. Woodhead
    B Pettigrew

    Am worried about Garcon- could pick up Meachem as a free agent and drop him if it makes sense. Also, probably should get rid of Maclin and try to upgrade Matthews ASAP, right (I have no faith in Vick as a passer whatsoever)?

  38. Josh Vitale says:

    @GatorUSMC: I think the best option out of those four is Carter. It’s hard to trust Knox and Garcon, and you never know what Bush will do. I think Carter sees some goal line carries this week.

    @tarheelkiller: The team is solid overall, but I would agree with you that Meachem has more value with Garcon, especially since both Colston and Manning are out. As for Maclin/Mathews, I would see if you could package those for a higher-level RB2 or WR2, then mix and match at the Flex. Fred Jackson would be a solid RB2 this year.

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