Oct. 20—With a newly expanded 17-game schedule, you would think the NFL has no reason to jam a ridiculous amount of byes into a single week. And you would be mistaken.
Some brilliant minds at 345 Park Avenue determined that the league should put six teams on hiatus this week, including some of the league's top powers
Vikings fans are already well aware their cardiac-causing team is off for this week. They are joined on the sidelines by the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
When you break it down by position, the Week 7 absences range from serious to alarming:
Running back — Four of the top eight scoring leaders of 2021 are missing, and that doesn't include the Vikings' Dalvin Cook. How can you replace the likes of Austin Ekeler, Ezekiel Elliott, Najee Harris and James Robinson? You might still be able to pick up on waivers the Bucs' Gio Bernard. Or the Colts' Nyheim Hines. Maybe even Houston relic Mark Ingram.
Wide receiver — Four of the top 11 are out: Mike Williams, CeeDee Lamb and the Vikings' duo of Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. But the waiver wires in more than half of all leagues still have guys like Chicago's Darnell Mooney, the Saints' Marquez Callaway, Indy's Zach Pascal and former Gophers star Rashod Bateman of the Ravens.
Quarterback — Need a sub for top-10 stars like Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Josh Allen or Kirk Cousins? You can pick up New Orleans' Jameis Winston or New England's Mac Jones. Feeling more adventurous? Then how about two currently struggling guys due for a rebound: the Panthers' Sam Darnold or the Giants' Daniel Jones.
Tight end — Dallas surprise Dalton Schultz is the only top six TE off this week. There are plenty of options for those wishing to take a flyer, such as the Giants' Evan Engram, New England's Jonnu Smith or Hunter Henry, or the newest Arizona Cardinal, Zach Ertz.
Defense — Among those missing are top-ranked Buffalo, third-ranked Dallas and ninth-rated Minnesota. So look for someone playing a really lousy offense, such as Arizona (vs. Houston), Carolina (vs. Giants) or Denver (vs. injured-plagued Cleveland).
Kicker — Four of the top 10 are out, including Greg Zuerlein, Greg Joseph and Tyler Bass. Kickers with good matchups this week include Miami's Jason Sanders and New England's Nick Folk.
Probably not too many guys you can afford to sit during Byemegeddon but ... Chicago fill-in running back Khalil Herbert looked very good last Sunday against Green Bay, but don't even think he'll repeat that performance against Tampa Bay. ... Cincinnati's Joe Mixon won't post his usual strong numbers against the Ravens. ... The Rams defense has been shutting down running backs all season. This week they'll smother Detroit's D'Andre Swift. ... Seattle's running game surprised with Alex Collins looking good in Pittsburgh, but he'll have a tougher time Monday night against New Orleans. ... And if we were playing by the rules of chess, you'd be better off resigning than starting any Texans against unbeaten Arizona.
Boy, is Matthew Stafford going to have fun going against his old Lions team on Sunday ... Arizona will have no trouble with Houston, so we're thinking Cards will be running more than passing, which means Chase Edmonds and James Connor are both worth starting . ... Tampa Bay RB Leonard Fournette is now back in peak form and will score at least once vs. Chicago. ... Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa looked good in his return last week and will look better against Atlanta for the now-desperate Dolphins. Same goes for WR Jaylen Waddle. ... We said Green Bay TE Robert Tonyan would regress this year, and boy has he. But we smell a TD for him this week against Washington.
Cleveland's injured list is bursting, but more on that later. ... Baltimore lost RB Latavius Murray to an injured ankle, so both Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman snagged touchdowns last week. And they could again this week ... It's a tossup at the moment who will be quarterbacking the 49ers against Indy: ailing Jimmy Groppolo or ailing Trey Lance. ... Washington RB Antonio Gibson was slowed again last week, so be wary. On the positive side, Seattle RB Rashaad Penny is expected to return, as is Cleveland WR Jarvis Landry. Players listed as questionable for this week include Giants WR Kadarius Toney, Bears RB Damien Williams, Cleveland WR Odell Beckham Jr., and two Indy wideouts, T.Y Hilton and Parris Campbell.
THE DEEPEST SLEEPER
You know we're scrounging if we're picking a running back who has yet to rush the ball during his short NFL career. But Cleveland running back Demetric Felton stands a good chance of seeing big duty Thursday night because of the injuries to starters Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and the substitution of Case Keenum for injured Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. This rookie from UCLA, who has caught six passes, one for a touchdown, this season, Someone has to constitute the Cleveland offense. Keep an eye on Chubb's status on Thursday, as he could return. A lot of folks will flock to D'Ernest Johnson, but if you're especially bye-week desperate, give this Bruin a try.
THE THURSDAY PICK
Broncos at Browns (-3 1/2 ):
Pick: Browns by 1
We'll be updating our column, based on the latest injuries and innuendo, right up until Sunday's kickoff. Go to TwinCities.com/theloop.
You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere's "BS Show" podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at email@example.com.