Monday night's matchup between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers features a pair of teams with offensive players finally getting back to strength after a season of missed games. Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, and Jonathan Stewart are just some of the players who have missed significant time this season, but they're all back now. Monday's game kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET in Charlotte, and all these returning players make for some fantasy intrigue:
Start if you're desperate: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola
Bench: Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson
In the wake of his first-week fumble, Ridley seemed to fall into head coach Bill Belichick's bad graces, but has moved his way back to a high-dollar play since; he has scored six touchdowns in his last four games, averaging 85 rushing yards a game. Between Vereen's return and the Panthers defense's abilities, Ridley might suffer, but overall, he seems safe. ... A healthy Gronkowski is a top-two tight end. And he's healthy. ... Meanwhile, Gostkowski has been fantasy's best kicker on a per-game basis. ... The Patriots' defense is tied for ninth in the NFL, and while Carolina doesn't allow a lot of points to opposing defenses, this seems like a reasonable matchup.
Brady looked capital-G Great in his last game, with 33 fantasy points, but that came on the heels of four rough games in a row. With all his weapons healthy, he is probably back to his old self, but the uncertainty and a good Carolina defense combine to make him no slam dunk. ... If Vereen plays, he very well could produce, but fantasy owners basically have to decide a day and a half ahead of time, and that's a dicey proposition for a player just back from injury. Better to wait until he's not a Monday night play. ... The story doesn't change with Amendola. He's a heck of a receiver when healthy, but he's always a snap away from leaving any game.
Edelman has seen his stock fall in recent weeks, while Dobson's has gone the other direction, but neither one is safe in a week where the team plays a defense that destroys wide receivers.
Start in every league: Cam Newton, Defense/special teams
Sure, Newton is coming off of a five-point fantasy day a week ago, but he had averaged 22 per game the four weeks before that, and always has his running game in his back pocket. Overall, he's fantasy's seventh-best quarterback in points per game. ... The Panthers' defense hasn't scored in the single digits since Week 2, and is fast working on supplanting Kansas City's unit as best in the league.
Smith hasn't topped 69 passing yards in a game this year, and has only three scores. It hasn't been his best year, but he's still the best option the team has among wide receivers. ... Olsen's stats have been similar to Smith's, but among a less productive position. He's a low-end TE1 without a huge upside, but he's fairly trustworthy.
Williams is probably the most skilled Panthers' running back overall; Tolbert is the most likely to reach the end zone. But Stewart's return to activation -- and playing time -- has relegated the whole group to fantasy afterthought, as it's almost impossible to guess which will do what in a given game. ... LaFell had three touchdowns in three games earlier in the year, but hasn't scored since Week 6, and only has 16 fantasy points in that time.