With a quarter of the 2014 NFL season in the history books, week 5 is now upon us as the Green Bay Packers hammered the Minnesota Vikings 42-10 in another Thursday night rout.
In the NFC South, it is back to basics for the quartet of teams that make up what always seems to be the league's most volatile division. Last year's division champs, the Carolina Panthers, and this year's preseason favorites, the New Orleans Saints, both come off frustrating week 4 setbacks. The Atlanta Falcons, who fancy their own chances of success in 2014, stubbed their toe on the road against the Vikings in week 4, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finally got into the win column with an impressive come-from-behind win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
All four teams in the NFC South find themselves entrenched in early-season mediocrity. Without a true frontrunner in this division, all of the teams, including the Bucs, who were seemingly left for dead after a week 3 nightmare in Atlanta, still have everything to play for. Twelve games remain, with bye weeks on the horizon, as well.
While real life issues take care of themselves, all fantasy football owners are concerned with is their entities continuing to produce, or finding ways to get back on track. All four of these clubs boast intriguing fantasy plays heading into week 5, and while there is still plenty of room for the NFC South's teams to sort themselves out with regards to divisional hierarchy, fantasy owners who find themselves in the lurch know that it's now or never in terms of getting their own teams back on the right path.
Here is your week 5 NFC South fantasy roundup:
It goes without saying that the Carolina Panthers, who won the NFC South a year ago, have had a difficult start to their 2014 season. Sure, things could be worse, as the Panthers stand at .500 with a 2-2 record, but if any team needs good news on the injury front, it is Carolina.
DeAngelo Williams is back on the shelf, having already missed 2 games earlier in the year through injury. Williams had just returned from a troublesome quad injury before spraining his ankle in last weekend's loss to the Ravens in Baltimore. DeAngelo Williams is having a difficult time staying healthy in 2014.
With fellow backs Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Mike Tolbert (leg) also out of action, it appears that Carolina will turn to former practice squader Darrin Reaves as their lead man on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Former Cleveland Browns and Texas Longhorns teammates Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya will factor into the mix as well, though Reaves figures to see the most action, as Ogbonnaya was only signed this week, and Whittaker has just recovered from a quad injury of his own. Furthermore, coach Ron Rivera has stated that the team will move forward with a 'hot hand' approach, which will only further cloud the backfield situation from a fantasy standpoint.
Needless to say, the Panthers' backfield looks like one to avoid, even against a suspect Bears rush defense. Cam Newton continues to battle his own ailments, but if anyone on the Panthers' roster figures to be in line for a nice day on Sunday, it is rookie wideout Kelvin Benjamin.
Benjamin has lived up to the hype, and has made the most of his targets, having snared 21 receptions for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns, including an impressive 5/76/1 touchdown line last Sunday despite being shadowed by Ravens CB Jimmy Smith for much of the afternoon. Expect Benjamin to continue to roll against a Bears defense that will truck on without the services of Charles Tillman, who was lost for the season after injuring his triceps two weeks ago.
Tight end Greg Olsen should be in line for a solid outing as well, so while the team's run game may be one to ignore for this week, both Benjamin and Olsen look like fine week 5 plays.
New Orleans Saints
Last Sunday night's embarrassing defeat in Dallas was not what the Saints expected as they now head into week 5 with a 1-3 record. Widely considered preseason NFC South favorites and potential Super Bowl contenders, the Saints have had issues across the board on both sides of the ball.
Nevertheless, the team in black and gold can still help out a fantasy owner or two in week 5. The Saints welcome the Tampa Bay Bucs into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this weekend, and with a bye week looming, New Orleans will be looking to put things right and emerge from their one-week hibernation rejuvenated and ready to start things afresh. Week 5 has 'bounce back' written all over it for Drew Brees and his Saints teammates.
Owners of Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, Brandin Cooks and Khiry Robinson should start those players without hesitation. Tampa showed tons of mettle, rallying around quarterback Mike Glennon and a plucky effort from their defense to upset the Steelers at Heinz Field, but the Saints may be a different animal in the dome. New Orleans beat the Vikings two weeks ago in their only home game to date, but have dropped all three of their road affairs.
This is the type of game that has that classic Sean Payton/Drew Brees light up the scoreboard type feel to it. Look for Brees to get the offense clicking on all cylinders, after the team ended last weekend's game against Dallas with some fourth quarter momentum. With Mark Ingram still still sidelined by a broken hand, Robinson should continue to see the brunt of the work on the ground with Pierre Thomas and Travaris Cadet mixed in. Meanwhile, Graham seems poised for one of his signature games, while the team should look to get its impressive rookie, Cooks, back on the tracks.
If the Saints find a way to establish the run early against a knicked up Tampa defense, the floodgates in the passing game should open up, and once that happens, it's tough to chase that team inside of that dome.
Like the Panthers, Atlanta sits at 2-2 in the NFC South entering week 5. The Falcons looked out of sorts in Minnesota, failing to stop rookie Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikes' offense in the signal-caller's first career start. The offense had a bad day at the office as well, as turnovers and continued attrition along the offensive line via injury plagued the dirty birds last weekend. Matt Ryan should be throwing, and throwing often in week 5.
With those injuries up front, things will get even tougher in regards to the ground game. Expect to see plenty of shotgun snaps for Matt Ryan, which should lead to a high volume of targets for both Julio Jones and Roddy White. The tandem will be fine week 5 plays as they face off against the New York Giants. Stephen Jackson probably won't be the best play of the week, as it may take time for Atlanta's new look offensive line to gel. Look for Ryan to get rid of the ball quickly on high-percentage throws to his pair of top targets.
Protection issues may ensue, but Ryan is usually at his best when tasked with running things out of the gun in a two-minute style. Jackson owners may want to look for a better alternative, but those who are planning on keeping Jones and White in their lineups should rest easily Saturday night.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
At last. Having been left for dead after a miserable week 3 in Atlanta, the Bucs rallied around one another to pull of an exciting last minute comeback win over the Steelers on the road. Josh McCown continues to be sidelined by his thumb injury, but even a return to health may no longer be enough to unseat Mike Glennon, a youngster who played with veteran poise in Pittsburgh, and made a couple of crucial throws inside the last minute to set Tampa up for the win.
Speaking of comebacks, Doug Martin made one of his own, having missed weeks 2 and 3 with a knee injury. The "Muscle Hamster" found the end zone in Pittsburgh, tallying 40 rushing yards and 16 receiving yards to boot. Unfortunately, however, Tampa did incur a loss of sorts as rookie receiver Mike Evans was forced from the game with a groin injury, and is now expected to miss at least 2 weeks. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a nice streamer option at the TE position for week 5.
Evans' impending absence may force even more attention and focus from opposing defenses upon Vincent Jackson, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Glennon with just 7 seconds remaining in Pittsburgh. However, no Evans opens up the door for two intriguing skill men in the form of WR Louis Murphy and rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Murphy was actually targeted 11 times last week, more than any other receiver in pewter and white. The former Raider, Panther and Giant set up the Bucs' go-ahead score with a clutch reception inside the final minute, while compiling a 6 catch, 99 yard stat line in Pittsburgh. Murphy is expected to slot into Evans' position opposite Jackson in the Bucs' offense. He may not be an elite fantasy play, but he is definitely a name to monitor while Evans is out.
Seferian-Jenkins, meanwhile, played on every offensive snap last week, having been inactive since week 1 with a foot injury. The rookie is setting up as an intriguing week 5 streaming option, and is scratching the surface of TE1 territory. It all depends on what kind of looks Glennon gets from the defense, but the second-year quarterback should have plenty of opportunities to find his rookie tight end against a bad Saints pass defense, which ranks near the bottom of the league. Owners in need of a plug-and-play should think hard about snapping up Seferian-Jenkins, who should be available on the waiver wire in most 10-12 team formats. He out-snapped Brandon Myers a week ago, and now appears to have a permanent grip on the tight end position moving forward through week 5.
If the Saints do, indeed, get out to a quick start at home as they did against Minnesota in week 3, Tampa will have no choice but to air it out. Martin should be in line for a decent workload, as Tampa may elect to play a ball-control style early on in an attempt to keep the Saints' offense on the sideline, similar to what Dallas did in week 4. But if things go south quickly, ASJ could be a sneaky bet for some nice production in week 5 at New Orleans if Tampa is forced to play from behind.