We are almost to the halfway point of the 2014 NFL season, as the New York Jets and New England Patriots got us off to a cracking start last night in Foxboro. The Pats edged Gang Green as Nick Folk saw a last-gasp 58-yard field goal blocked by Chris Jones, giving football fans a second straight thrilling finish to a Thursday night contest.
It will be back to business as usual Sunday with thirteen more week 7 games on the schedule followed by Monday night's matchup between the Texans and Steelers. Three of the NFC South's four squads will be in action as Carolina, Atlanta and New Orleans all face difficult opponents in the early games, while Tampa Bay enjoys their bye week.
With the NFC South still very much up for grabs, the Panthers, Falcons and Saints all have opportunities to enhance their positioning in the chase for the divisional crown.
Here is your week 7 NFC South fantasy roundup:
Welcome back Jon! The Panthers get a much needed backfield boost with the return of Jonathan Stewart, who has missed the last three games with a knee injury With DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert battling injury problems of their own, Stewart figures to slot in and see plenty of work in week 7, with the Panthers set to face off against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. J-Stew (right) is in line to return for Carolina in week 7.
This is an intriguing matchup, even for a player coming off of an injury, as Green Bay presents the league's worst rush defense, surrendering over 154 yards per game on the ground. Carolina won't be tripping all over themselves to get the likes of Darrin Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker involved, so if Stewart can hold up, he should be in line to have himself a day. The former Oregon star may not be ticketed for 20 or more carries, but he should absolutely be on the field for the important, early downs and goal line situations.
Stewart is an RB2 for week 7, and if not for any lingering concerns over his knee, would be flirting with RB1 territory.
New Orleans Saints
Fresh off of their bye week, the Saints are hoping to use week 7 as a springboard to sort things out after stumbling out of the gates to a lackluster 2-3 start. Trouble is, the Saints face a difficult challenge against the upstart Lions in Detroit.
Compounding the Saints' well-documented road issues will be the questionable status of elite tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham sustained a shoulder injury in the Saints' week 5 win over Tampa, and did not practice on Wednesday. He did, however, return on a limited basis for Thursday and Friday's sessions, though there is still a chance that he could be held out for up to three weeks per media sources. Jimmy Graham (shoulder) is questionable for week 7.
Josh Hill will front some week 7 sleeper appeal in deeper leagues if Graham can't go on Sunday. The second-year man out of Idaho State is not a recommended start in standard 10-12 team leagues, however. If Graham does miss week 7 and beyond, Hill should be a name to watch, as the Saints' coaching staff loves his potential.
As for good news on the injury front, running back Mark Ingram returned to practice after breaking his hand in week 2 at Cleveland. His return was expected, as coach Sean Payton had expressed hope last week that the former Heisman trophy winner would be available in week 7. Ingram may not be in line to handle anything more than 10-15 carries right off the bat, but he should fill his normal role as the team's early down and goal line back, while splitting reps with both Pierre Thomas (good PPR play this week) and Khiry Robinson, who ran well in his absence.
The Saints are also expected to see fullback Erik Lorig in action for the first time this season. The former Buccaneer, who inked a four-year contract with New Orleans in free agency, has been out of action since suffering a lower leg injury in training camp. A good lead blocker, Lorig's return should help provide a much needed lift to the team's rushing attack, with a difficult Detroit defensive front awaiting. Lorig also has the ability to double-down as a tight end in situations, a further asset to the Saints if Graham can not suit up.
The Falcons continue to experience a ping-pong season of sorts, up one week, down the next. They will look to right the ship once again in week 7 as a date with the Ravens looms in Baltimore on Sunday.
Running back Antone Smith has been quite a buzzworthy name in fantasy circles the last few weeks, as the former Florida State man seemingly makes huge plays every time he touches the football. The issue with Smith is, as of now, he still does not receive enough weekly touches to justify starting outside of deep league flex plays. Smith has shown what he can do, averaging over 28 yards per touch. It's up to coach Mike Smith and play-caller Dirk Koetter to get Smith the ball. Steven Jackson is what he is at this point, and Jacquizz Rodgers is not much of a threat outside of the occasional positive play.
With Atlanta facing a good Baltimore defense, they will need to have balance. They can not rely on Matt Ryan to will them to a win on the road with his arm, and if they struggle to establish the run, Smith could emerge as an X factor in the short passing game or on designed runs out of the shotgun. Julio Jones and Roddy White will have their hands full on the perimeter, so Atlanta will need all the help it can get on the ground. We shall see if week 7 presents the opportunity for Antone Smith to finally see that increase in usage.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs head into their week 7 bye coming off of tough back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Baltimore. The open date comes at a good time for Lovie Smith's bunch, as several ailing players get a chance to heal up in advance of week 8.
One bright spot last week was the quicker-than-expected return of rookie receiver Mike Evans, who was thought to be looking at up to three weeks out with a groin injury suffered in the team's lone victory over the Steelers in week 4. Evans saw 8 targets from Mike Glennon, reeling in 4 of them for 55 yards and a touchdown in last week's loss to the Ravens. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson should benefit from Mike Glennon getting an extended run under center in Tampa.
Both Evans and veteran Vincent Jackson should continue to progress alongside Glennon, assuming the youngster remains under center. Josh McCown, sidelined by a thumb injury, has yet to resume practicing, and while Tampa has struggled by and large under both quarterbacks, the team has shown some signs of life recently under Glennon. It will be interesting to see how Smith, notoriously loyal to his starting quarterbacks in Chicago, handles this situation. Tampa will face the Minnesota Vikings in week 8, so next week's practice report will be one to monitor.
Nevertheless, in standard 10-12 team formats, outside of Jackson and Doug Martin, most of the Bucs' skill players, including Evans and fellow rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins, can be left on benches or the waiver wire for the time being.