I had in my head that I was going to, in the wake of recent IR designations for Randall Cobb, Julio Jones and Owen Daniels, do a whole "look at the legitimate fantasy team you could have drafted based only on guys on the IR!" thing. Ahmad Bradshaw, Shane Vereen at running back. Jeremy Maclin at receiver. Dennis Pitta at tight end. That sort of thing.
Anyway, injuries have been piling up lately. In addition to all these IR guys, Cecil Shorts III, DeMarco Murray, Danny Amendola and others have been banged up. So you're searching for starters. Heading into Week 7, let's look at who to use and not to use.
Andrew Luck (vs. Broncos): This one isn't complicated. You start quarterbacks facing the Broncos. Maybe they lose painfully, but they'll do so passing. Ask Tony Romo. Ask Eli Manning. Heck, ask Chad Henne, who even managed 303 passing yards. Luck will get plenty of yardage.
Jay Cutler (at Redskins): Washington doesn't intercept the ball, doesn't prevent passing yards and only pressures a quarterback at about an average rate. Chicago, meanwhile, has added Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery to the Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte combo platter of years past. This is a recipe for a big game from Cutler.
Josh Freeman (at Giants): The Vikings have decided to give Freeman his first start on Monday Night Football against the New York Giants. So, a porous defense, which is nice for Freeman, and a national spotlight, which means the team will be motivated to make sure he looks good. It's easy to envision a lot of production from Freeman.
Alfred Morris (vs. Bears): Chicago's run defense is barely a shadow of its former self while the Bears are still as ball-hawkish as ever on the pass. That is a recipe for a running back to have a big game. Morris has yet to have a truly dominant game this season, but has at least 70 yards in four of his five outings and has three scores. Expect his best game of the season Sunday.
Eddie Lacy (vs. Browns): Cleveland has been unquestionably tough against the run this year as far as yardage, but has allowed a league-worst eight rushing touchdowns. At the same time, with Randall Cobb out for most of the rest of the year and James Jones banged up, the Packers might be looking to run the ball more.
DeAngelo Williams (vs. Rams): Sunday's game against the Texans aside, there is nothing the Rams do well against the run. They are 30th in rushing yards allowed and have allowed six rushing touchdowns. Their one minor skill, if you can call it that, is forcing fumbles (they have forced four, a very middle-of-the-road total), but Williams has averaged one fumble a season over his career.
Justin Blackmon (vs. Chargers): Shorts looks very unlikely to play. Even if he does, he's not going to be at full strength. In two games this year, Blackmon has 326 receiving yards, and was targeted a full 20 times Sunday against the Broncos. He's the only guy in Jacksonville, and he'll get plenty of looks.
Reggie Wayne (vs. Broncos): See Luck, Andrew. You want a receiver facing Denver. His team will be passing the ball. T.Y. Hilton is a probable starter, too. Maybe even Darrius Heyward-Bey, in deeper leagues.
Keenan Allen (at Jaguars): This is a corollary to the "start guys against Denver" point; late in games, when the Broncos are ahead, teams are going to throw the ball against Denver. On the other side of the coin, early in games, teams knowing they will get ahead against Jacksonville haven't been getting cute. They've thrown the ball and taken early leads. Allen has seen his targets climb from one to six to nine to 12 in the last four games; he's fast becoming San Diego's No. 1.
Tony Gonzalez (vs. Buccaneers): This is an easy call. Roddy White is banged up. Steven Jackson is still down. Harry Douglas is fine, for what he is. Kevin Cone and Brian Robiskie and Levine Toilolo and whoever else are all there. But if the Falcons are going to salvage anything about this 2013 season, they'll need their star, and that's Tony Gonzalez. He and Matt Ryan are going to be connecting often.
Jordan Cameron (at Packers): The Packers have given up almost 300 passing yards a game, and have allowed 11 receiving touchdowns. Cameron has at least 60 yards in five of six games, at least 90 in three of six, and five scores. A good mix for a big game.
Brandon Myers (vs. Vikings): The Vikings have been miserable against opposing tight ends for years now. With the exception of Week 6 (with Panthers tight end Greg Olsen banged up), the Vikings have given up an average of 61 yards to tight ends this year, with six touchdowns already. Myers should light them up Monday night.
Matthew Stafford (vs. Bengals): Even considering its quasi-implosion Sunday against Thaddeus Lewis, the Bengals' defense has been pretty stout against quarterbacks on the season, allowing only 216 passing yards a game, and have five interceptions versus only eight touchdowns allowed. Calvin Johnson's health is improving, but who knows if he'll be at full strength. Stafford could struggle.
Nick Foles (vs. Cowboys): Foles has been a popular quarterback pick of late, with the two arguments saying that he's been good so far and -- for this week -- that the Cowboys are bad at defense. It's certainly true that Foles has been good so far, with a 127.9 passer rating this season, but Dallas' defense is not a bad unit. Take out an incomparable-against-anything-else Denver game, and it's average at worst. Foles could struggle.
Geno Smith (vs. Patriots): The Patriots aren't an offense-first team this year. They feature a strong defense, even after the guys who have been hurt. Smith, meanwhile, has thrown 10 interceptions against only seven touchdowns and is averaging fewer than 250 passing yards per game.
Le'Veon Bell (vs. Ravens): Baltimore is one of 10 teams in the NFL averaging fewer than 100 rushing yards allowed per game. More significantly, the Ravens are one of only two teams to have allowed only one rushing touchdown this year. A tough game for Bell lies ahead.
Jacquizz Rodgers (vs. Buccaneers): ... And the Bucs are the other team to have allowed only one rushing score. Tampa Bay has a strong run defense, forcing four fumbles, and Rodgers hasn't exactly lit up the box scores so far.
Stevan Ridley (at Jets): Denver has the fewest rushing yards per game allowed in the game, at 69.8, but that's easy to explain away as "... but teams had to pass." In second place, though, are the Jets, with 75.7 rushing yards allowed a game. And while Denver has yet to force a fumble on a rush, the Jets have forced three. Could be rough for Ridley.
Andre Johnson (at Chiefs): Johnson is as good as Johnson has been for most of his career, but this week, he gets to head to the 6-0 Chiefs to play the best defense in the league while being thrown to by a quarterback, Case Keenum, who will be taking his first NFL snap. It all adds up to a bad recipe.
Torrey Smith (at Steelers): Pittsburgh has allowed the fourth-fewest pass yards per game and only four receiving touchdowns. The Ravens really need to get Ray Rice going if their season is heading anywhere positive. Torrey Smith is the innocent bystander in all of this.
Dwayne Bowe (vs. Texans): It sure would be nice if fantasy owners could see Bowe wake up from his season-long struggles, but Sunday, in a game the Chiefs are likely to lead early, doesn't seem like the time. It's likely the team moves to a burn-the-clock offense pretty quickly.
Vernon Davis (at Titans): When Davis is good, he can be fantastic, but his career has not been marked with consistency so far. After a decent game two weeks ago and a huge game last week, traveling to Tennessee against a decent pass defense seems like a combination that could end badly for Davis.
Jared Cook (at Panthers): Carolina has been a shutdown pass defense this season, with the fewest passing touchdowns allowed and a 6.8 yards-per-completion average. Cook has been quiet since a huge Week 1. The prosecution rests.
Greg Olsen (vs. Rams): Olsen missed Wednesday practice a week ago before practicing Thursday as he deals with a foot/ankle injury. After that, he caught only two passes Sunday for 19 yards. Olsen missed Wednesday practice this week before practicing Thursday as he deals with a foot/ankle injury. After that, who knows. But he scares me.