Week 7 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Should you start Kaepernick vs. Broncos?
There’s one element of fantasy football that owners seem to understand in theory but continually screw up in practice. Each individual week and game is its own entity, and should be treated as such. While events that occurred in the prior week do carry over, say, like Andre Holmes emerging for the Raiders, each week needs to be treated as its own ecosystem, shielded from what happened before it.
Let’s use Colin Kaepernick as an example. The 49ers played the Rams in St. Louis last week. An indoor environment is ideal for a quarterback like Kaepernick. He’s as athletic as anyone at the position and deadly when throwing the ball out of the pocket, but he isn’t the most accurate passer. A dome takes all the elements out of the equation, and the fast surface makes Kaepernick even more dangerous with his legs. Also, the Rams haven't been able to put pressure on the quarterback since losing Chris Long -- they have just one sack since Long injured his ankle the first week of the season.
With everything in his favor last week, Kaepernick threw for a season-high 343 yards and three touchdowns, leading the 49ers to a 31-17 win over the Rams. It was a predictably great environment to deploy Kaepernick, and he rewarded anyone who did.
This week, however, things will be different for him. Kaepernick and the 49ers travel to Denver to take on the Broncos on Sunday night. The Broncos rank 13th in pass rush and third in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Moreover, the 49ers are likely to emphasize the run game in an effort to keep Peyton Manning grounded. Unlike last week, the external factors are not trending in Kaepernick’s favor.
You can probably already tell where Kaepernick falls this week, but what about the rest of the fantasy-relevant players? Let’s find out in the Week 7 Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em.
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones
The Falcons are underachieving for a second-straight year, going 2-4 through six games. The offense is hurting without guard Sam Baker and center Joe Hawley, both of whom are out for the year. Jones is dealing with a minor ankle injury, but that shouldn’t prevent him from being a WR1 this week. Ryan, however, is now down at the low end of the starting quarterback class. Jackson is a flex play, but his upside is limited by the presence of Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman and the woefully under-utilized Antone Smith. Jackson just barely makes the cut.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels, Ravens DST
Just going to try this on: “Baltimore Ravens, offensive juggernaut.” Nah, that doesn’t feel right. However, the Ravens have proved they can take advantage of bad defenses, and the Falcons feature one of the worst. Quite simply, they can’t put any pressure on the quarterback. Flacco should have another big day, but matching last week’s five-touchdown effort might be a stretch. Forsett has become a safe, reliable RB2, and the Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points per game to running backs. While Forsett doesn’t measure up to Matt Forte, he does share the pass-catching gene with the Bears’ running back.
Falcons: Antone Smith, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman, Roddy White, Devin Hester, Harry Douglas, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
Atlanta’s usage of Smith is, at best, foolhardy. Smith is ranked 10th among running backs in fantasy points, racking up 64.6 points in standard-scoring leagues on 25 touches for a ridiculous 2.58 points per touch. To put in context how extreme an outlier he is, DeMarco Murray, the MVP candidate and runaway leader among running backs for points, is averaging 0.71 points per touch, while Matt Forte checks in at 0.66. Maybe the Falcons should think about getting the ball in Smith’s hands more than four times per game. Meanwhile, White isn’t getting enough receptions to count on as anything more than a WR3 this week.
Ravens: Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Torrey Smith
Smith came through with four catches for 51 yards and two touchdowns last week, but it would have been more encouraging to see more receptions and yards and fewer scores. Touchdowns are largely a function of matchup and play calling. Receptions and yards are far more consistent and predictive of future value. Smith got just five targets last week, and didn’t make any big plays down the field. If you can use this small window to trade him, do so.
Tennessee Titans at Washington Redskins
Titans: Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker
I mentioned this in the Week 6 Target Report, but I want to again bring up my theory that Justin Hunter will have a big game 90 percent of the times he catches three passes. Hunter averages about three targets per game that travel at least 20 yards in the air. Not only do these passes naturally go for more yardage than your average target, they also have a greater chance of resulting in a touchdown than any other non-red-zone target. If he catches three passes, chances are at least one is a deep ball. The theory was proven true two weeks ago, when he caught three passes for 99 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown. Last week, he had three receptions. One went for 38 yards. Another went for 22 and Hunter was tackled on the Jacksonville 1-yard-line. He just missed another 15-plus-point fantasy day on the back of just three receptions. If you think Hunter will catch three passes, you start him.
Redskins: Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed
It’s getting harder to recommend Garcon as a starter in traditional 10- or 12-team fantasy leagues. He makes the cut this week as a flex play, but not by much. He’s never been a guy to make big plays down the field with much consistency, and Kirk Cousins’ lack of accuracy is taking a huge chunk of his short and intermediate game. After games against the Seahawks and Cardinals, two of the best run defenses in the league, I think Washington gets back to pounding the rock with Morris this week. Jackson has become the true No. 1 receiver in Washington, while Reed put up a big game in his return from a hamstring injury. You can trust both every week.
Titans: Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst, Bishop Sankey, Shonn Greene, Kendall Wright, Titans DST
Locker may get back on the field after missing last week’s game with a hand injury, but he should not be trusted as a starter for Week 7. It has been nearly a month since he has played a full game. Sankey turned in a disappointing showing (18 carries, 61 yards) with the backfield to himself last week. It was especially frustrating to see Jackie Battle vulture the 1-yard touchdown. If he isn’t getting those carries, he can’t be considered a starter in a week where only two teams are on bye.
Redskins: Kirk Cousins, Roy Helu, Andre Roberts, Redskins DST
Remember those heady days of yore when Cousins was potentially a full-time replacement for Robert Griffin III? I loved all those Griffin trades drawn up by talking head GMs that could maybe, just maybe, take place while Cousins was taking the Lombardi Trophy on a monument-by-monument tour of D.C. How things have changed. Now the Redskins are talking about Griffin being ready to return in Week 8 and local media is carrying the Colt McCoy banner. The lesson, as always, is let’s give football things time to simmer before making a proclamation.
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams
Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
The Seahawks suffered their second loss of the season last week, giving Lynch just 10 carries in the process. Chances are he carries the ball just a few more times against the Rams this week. I’d be shocked to see him get fewer than 20 totes on Sunday. For everything that Russell Wilson brings to the table, and there is plenty, this team is better off when Lynch is the focal point of the offense.
Rams: Jared Cook
Cook got 11 targets last week, catching four of them for 74 yards. He also had a big play called back on a dubious offensive pass interference call. Chances are he’ll rack up the targets again this week, with Brian Quick and/or Kenny Britt likely to see a whole lot of Richard Sherman. The Seahawks have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to tight ends, surrendering a total of seven touchdowns to the position. Cook sneaks into the starting group this week.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Percy Harvin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Luke Willson
Wilson is my No. 13 quarterback this week, so he just misses out on being recommended as a starter. Despite what Colin Kaepernick did to the Rams on Monday Night Football, the St. Louis defense has done well against quarterbacks this year. Wilson and the Seahawks are not equipped to take advantage of the Rams the way Kaepernick and the 49ers’ receivers did last week. The best thing that Wilson has going for him this week is the complete lack of pressure the Rams have generated since losing Chris Long. The team has a grand total of one sack in the last five weeks.
Rams: Austin Davis, Zac Stacy, Benny Cunningham, Tre Mason, Brian Quick, Kenny Britt, Rams DST
Stacy’s calf likely contributed to him getting just eight carries last week, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Cunningham has looked like the better running back all too frequently this season. Mason also saw his first game action last week, and could remain a thorn in fantasy owners’ side for the rest of the year. He’s not going to get enough touches to be fantasy relevant, but he unquestionably maintains a level of explosion that Stacy and Cunningham lack, and that could get him a handful of touches per game. Quick and Britt each have their virtues, but I don’t trust either of them against the Seahawks in a week where nearly everyone is available. There just isn’t enough consistency in this passing attack.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Ben Tate, Jordan Cameron, Browns DST
The Browns are our winner for this week’s edition of “Let’s All Pick on the Jaguars.” Even after facing Charlie Whitehurst last week, the Jaguars have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. Hoyer only attempted 17 passes last week with the Browns in control of the Steelers from start to finish, but he projects as a low-end QB1 this week. Getting a fully healthy Cameron back certainly helps. The tight end had three catches for 102 yards and a score against Pittsburgh. He’s easily the No. 1 option in the Cleveland passing game and a TE1 for the rest of the season. Tate got 25 more carries last week, running for 78 yards and two scores. While Isaiah Crowell got 11 carries, the important takeaway for Tate owners is that he touched the ball more than twice as often as did his backup. There isn’t any controversy here. The Jaguars have allowed 27 sacks, turned the ball over 12 times, and are scoring just 13.5 points per game. The Browns are one of the best stream options at defense this week.
Jaguars: Cecil Shorts
The Jaguars have four legitimate options at wide receiver, but it’s clear that Shorts tops the depth chart. He got 16 targets last week, and now has 29 in a little more than two games played this season. He’s a WR3 in 10-team leagues and a flex option in 12-team leagues this week. The Browns have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to receivers this year.
Browns: Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Taylor Gabriel
Crowell did carry the ball 11 times last week and he is going to have a role in this offense, even with a healthy Tate. It’s clear that the Cleveland coaching staff thinks he is a better complement than West to Tate. Still, Tate has 47 carries since making his return from a knee injury. Crowell has 17 touches in those two games. His carries will depend on game flow and situation. They are not likely to be enough to count on him as a starter. Meanwhile, with Cameron back healthy, Hawkins’ fantasy value takes a significant hit. He didn’t have one target last week.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson, Toby Gerhart, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
Johnson scored a touchdown in his first career start last week, but he rushed for just 21 yards on 10 carries. Gerhart may be back this week, but it’s unclear what the Jaguars would do with both backs (and Denard Robinson), healthy. The best long-term bet is on Johnson given how poorly Gerhart and Robinson have played this year, but no one carrying the ball for the Jaguars has that high a ceiling. This is one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Shorts’ presence also relegates Robinson, Hurns and Lee to the fantasy bench, because there isn’t enough juice in the passing attack to support two starting fantasy receivers. Harbor, who's finally getting a chance with the Jaguars, is a high-end TE2 and a nice option in deep leagues, but he doesn’t make the top 12 at the position this week.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Bengals: Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Mohamed Sanu
With A.J. Green (toe) out last week, Bernard and Sanu carried the Cincinnati offense. Bernard rode an 89-yard touchdown run to a big day, totaling 157 yards from scrimmage. Sanu, meanwhile, caught 10 of his 14 targets for 120 yards and a score. Sanu once again projects as a strong WR2, with Green still injured and Marvin Jones on the IR. Hill got 12 touches last week and was able to find the end zone on a short run. Bernard suffered a minor shoulder injury a week ago, and while it won’t keep him out of the game Sunday (he returned to action last week after hurting the shoulder), the team could choose to lean on Hill a bit more in Week 7.
Colts: Andrew Luck, Ahmad Bradshaw, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen
There’s not much to say about Luck that hasn’t already been said. He has thrown for at least 300 yards in all but one game this year, and has reached 370 yards in four of his six outings. He has had just one game without an interception, but fantasy owners can live with that given the gaudy yardage and touchdown numbers he is amassing. The Bengals struggled with Cam Newton on the ground last week, and while he and Luck are clearly different types of runners, both can gash defenses. Bradshaw got his customary 14 touches last week, going for 59 total yards and a touchdown. With the way Luck is playing, you have to start Hilton and Wayne every week. Coby Fleener may have gotten the touchdown, but Allen once again had more targets, receptions and yards.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, Brandon Tate, Greg Little, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
Dalton had a solid game against the Panthers, but he is not to be trusted without Green healthy. The latter could return this week, but the smart money is on him coming back in Week 8. The Bengals signed Little after last week’s game, and he brings with him all that fantasy value he had in Cleveland over the years. Which is to say none. The Bengals will likely be without linebackers Ray Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur this week. That’s bad news for a matchup with a high-powered offense like Indy’s.
Colts: Trent Richardson, Hakeem Nicks, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
Any time you roll the dice and start Richardson, you’re betting on him getting in the end zone. He has essentially zero yardage value, so the only way he can put up a useful game is by scoring a touchdown. He has only done so twice this season, one from one yard out and the other from five yards. Luck, however, leads the league in red-zone pass attempts, making any bet on a Richardson touchdown more likely than not to be a losing one. He has some value as a bye-week fill-in, especially with the heavy bye weeks beginning next week, but he’s not someone you want to be counting on if you have your whole roster available.
Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills
Vikings: Jerick McKinnon
For now, McKinnon looks like the only Vikings player worth starting in most 10- and 12-team leagues. He got 11 carries and six receptions last week, while Matt Asiata touched the ball just three times. However, head coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in the week that he wanted to get Asiata more touches and McKinnon fewer against the Bills. McKinnon is clearly the more talented, explosive player, and while he’s just 5-foot-9, he checks in at 208 pounds. Continuing to feed the slow, plodding, uninspiring Asiata and McKinnon’s expense seems a poor decision, but fantasy owners should be ready for this eventuality. If McKinnon gets 15 touches, he will prove a solid flex play.
Bills: Fred Jackson, Bills DST
The Vikings have been terrible against the run this year, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. They’ve allowed double-digit games to Stevan Ridley, Pierre Thomas, Antone Smith, Eddie Lacy, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. With C.J. Spiller in nothing more than a complementary role this season, Jackson is a strong play on Sunday. Teddy Bridgewater struggled mightily in his second start of the season, throwing three picks and taking the responsibility for many of the eight sacks the Lions had last week. The Bills can take advantage of him and the Vikings in similar fashion.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford, Vikings DST
Even if the Vikings give off strong indications that Asiata will again get starter’s touches this week, he would still remain a sit recommendation. All that would change is that McKinnon would join the rest of his teammates down here. The Bills have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this season, and Asiata is not the sort of back who defies the odds. Patterson has pulled a disappearing act all season, while Jennings and Wright are really no better than WR5s. There’s really nothing to like about this offense at the moment, other than the potentially burgeoning value of Bridgewater.
Bills: Kyle Orton, C.J. Spiller, Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler
Chandler does have 15 targets in the two games started by Orton, and he became the first Bills tight end since Pete Metzelaars in 1992 to surpass 100 receiving yards in a game. He could be on your radar as a potential streaming option, but he doesn’t make the best start this week. The Vikings haven’t faced a murderer’s row of tight ends this year, but they did hold Jimmy Graham to 54 yards on six catches. Watkins did not enjoy his first trip to Revis Island, catching two passes for 27 yards. That’s also part of the reason Woods got 10 targets a week ago. Both should be on your bench this week, as the Vikings have allowed just the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.
Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace
Now that Knowshon Moreno is out for the year with a torn ACL, Miller is a true RB1. He already ranks ninth among running backs in fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues, and eighth in fantasy points per game among backs who have played at least four games. The Bears have been better against the run than you might guess, ranking 13th against the run according to Pro Football Focus, but you should be starting Miller with confidence. The Bears are right in the middle of the pack against the pass, ranking slightly better than league average in pass rush and in coverage. That shouldn’t dissuade you from starting Wallace, who has been a reliable WR2 all season, this week.
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
We saw last week just how efficient this offense can be when it gets a clean game from Cutler. He threw for 381 yards, 10.0 yards per attempt, one touchdown and, importantly, zero interceptions as the Bears methodically put away the Falcons in Atlanta. The Bears’ offensive line now ranks first in the league in run blocking and is just about league average in pass blocking, which is just as important as all the talent at the skill positions. Marshall and Jeffery were both fully healthy last week for the first time since the first half of Week 1, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see them each top the 100-yard mark. Forte may not realistically be part of the MVP discussion, but he has 150 yards from scrimmage in four of Chicago’s six games this year.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Damien Williams, Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
Landry is one Dolphin to keep an eye on this week. He played a season-high 78 percent of the snaps in Miami’s 27-24 loss to Green Bay last week, catching six of his eight targets for 75 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Brian Hartline didn’t get a target despite being on the field for all but one snap. If Landry again out-produces him, it will likely be a sign of his ascension in the passing game. What’s more, Pro Football Focus currently ranks Landry as the seventh-best run-blocking receiver in the league.
Bears: Santonio Holmes, Bears DST
The Bears defense isn’t likely to be a recommended start very many weeks, so let’s take this opportunity to praise rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller. He is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and has clearly learned a thing or two from veteran teammates Charles Tillman. Why, you ask? Fuller is also tied for the most forced fumbles in the league, jarring three balls loose, including one using Tillman’s go-to punch move. The ratings systems also like him, as he currently ranks 24th in overall performance among 103 cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics.
New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions
Saints: Drew Brees, Khiry Robinson, Pierre Thomas, Brandin Cooks, Marques Colston, Saints DST
This was as close as I’ve ever come to recommending to sit Brees. This offense is not the high-powered machine we’re used to if Jimmy Graham is out (and it looks like he will be this week), and the Lions have one of the best defenses in the league this year. However, I could only find eight quarterbacks I'd start ahead of Brees (Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco and Tom Brady). Robinson has played quite well in Mark Ingram’s stead, and even though the latter is expected to return this week, I think Robinson gets at least one more game in the driver’s seat. Cooks is a lukewarm WR2, while Colston is a tepid flex play. I rank the Saints’ defense 12th this week, due largely to the fact that they can force Matthew Stafford into mistakes.
Lions: Joique Bell, Reggie Bush, Golden Tate, Lions DST
This goes against my time-tested approach of picking either Bell or Bush as a starter. More often than not, one of these guys will finish the week as a worthy fantasy starter, and the other will not. However, in three of the 14 games both played last year, they each put up top-24 scores among running backs. This can be one of those weeks. The reason? Calvin Johnson’s continued absence. With Megatron out, the Lions are much more likely to lean on the run game in general, as well as Bush as a receiver out of the backfield. They could both get 15-plus touches against a Saints defense that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Like the 2013 Seattle defense, the 2014 group in Detroit is matchup-proof.
Saints: Mark Ingram, Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, Josh Hill
Ingram will likely return from a broken hand this week, but the Saints have no reason to rush him back into a primary role with how well Robinson has played. I’d expect him to get his feet wet this week before jumping back in next week. Graham is likely to miss the next game or two because of his sprained shoulder. Neither Watson nor Hill has any short-term fantasy relevance.
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Jeremy Ross, Eric Ebron
Last week, we discussed how Stafford struggles when Johnson is out of the lineup. Specifically, we pointed to the two games Johnson missed last season in which Stafford averaged just 240 yards and a touchdown. He was even worse last week, throwing for 185 yards, 5.6 YPA and a touchdown, as the Lions cruised to a 17-3 win on the strength of their defense. Until Johnson returns, you cannot trust Stafford in your starting lineup.
Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers
Panthers: Cam Newton, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen
Welcome back, Cam Newton. With his personal rushing attack largely dormant as he rehabbed ankle and rib injuries, Newton had fallen off through the first five weeks of the season. The fantasy community thankfully waved goodbye those days last week, as Newton ran a career high 17 times, picking up 107 yards and a touchdown, and threw for 284 yards and two scores. Newton is back among the group of quarterbacks you start every week. It helps to have a pair of weapons like Benjamin and Olsen. The latter has arguably been the team’s most valuable player this season, showing up every single week and delivering for the Panthers and his fantasy owners. There should be plenty of fireworks in Green Bay on Sunday, with nearly as many provided by the road team as the home team.
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
The Panthers have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and eighth most to receivers. Last week, they allowed Andy Dalton and Mohamed Sanu to connect 10 times for 120 yards and a touchdown, which means Rodgers and Nelson should have a huge day against the Panthers, helping to push Nelson past Antonio Brown in fantasy scoring among receivers. Brown is 0.5 points ahead of Nelson in standard-scoring leagues heading into this week. This is also a great matchup for Cobb, but when you’re one of Rodgers’ top two targets, what isn’t a great matchup? We long ago downgraded Lacy, but he still has to be considered an RB2, simply by virtue of getting the majority of the carries in this offense. This could be a good week for him, as the Panthers have surrendered the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs.
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Darrin Reaves, Jerricho Cotchery, Jason Avant, Panthers DST
DeAngelo Williams is expected to miss a few more weeks with his sprained ankle, but Stewart is back in full pads and practicing this week. The Packers have been relatively soft on running backs, allowing the 11th-most fantasy points per game to the position, but Stewart should still be well off the radar this week. Newton’s running may open up the offense for everyone, but it also means that the quarterback is the most effective runner for the Panthers. Moreover, Stewart wasn’t effective before his knee injury. Let’s at least see a little something from him before plugging him into fantasy lineups.
Packers: James Starks, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless, Packers DST
Adams had another useful game last week, catching six of his eight targets for 77 yards. It was clear from Rodgers’ post-game comments that the Packers want to get the rookie out of Fresno State more involved in the offense, so he could be an intriguing player for fantasy owners with a few heavy slates of byes looming in the next couple weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce
I know they just had a bye last week, but does it feel to anyone else like forever since we’ve seen Charles? Maybe it’s because he had 80 yards and didn’t score on 15 carries in the Chiefs’ last game. Whatever the case may be, he’s set up for a huge day on Sunday. The Chargers have been tough on the pass, but they’ve been burned by running backs catching the ball out of the backfield. They’ve allowed the most receptions (41) and receiving touchdowns (four) to running backs, as well as the fifth-most receiving yards (309). Charles is a matchup-nightmare for them. Pay little attention to the fact that they Chargers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends this year. The best tight end they’ve seen is either Clay Harbor or Jace Amaro.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Branden Oliver, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Chargers DST
The Rivers-for-MVP train motored along unabated last week, as the quarterback threw for 313 yards, 9.2 YPA and three touchdowns in the Chargers’ 31-28 win over the Raiders. He has become a matchup-proof quarterback. Oliver ranks 20th among running backs in fantasy points despite playing in just four games and getting his first start last week. He’s seventh in points per game among backs who have played at least four games, and his a high-end RB2 this week. Allen leads all receivers on San Diego in targets and snaps, but for whatever reason the production just hasn’t been there this season. At some point, that has to start evening out for him.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Chiefs DST
Smith is definitely one of those guys whose usefulness in fantasy leagues from week to week depends a lot on the matchup. This is not a good one for him. Even after getting carved up by Derek Carr last week, the Chargers have surrendered the 10th-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. He could hit on a big play or two with Charles, but this is a bad matchup for the Kansas City passing game as a whole.
Chargers: Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green
Royal and Floyd have both outpaced Allen to this point of the season, but eventually their receptions, yards and touchdowns will come close to lining up with their targets and snap percentage. In other words, expect Royal’s and Floyd’s production to slow down a bit as Allen’s picks up in the next few weeks. No matter what, they aren’t worth starting with only two teams on bye this week. Even with their somewhat strong numbers, they are no more than WR4s.
Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders
Cardinals: Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals DST
Carson Palmer returned from his shoulder injury last week, and immediately the Cardinals offense became more effective. Heading into the game with Washington, neither Floyd nor Fitzgerald had scored this season. Both hit paydirt last week. Palmer’s rejuvenated shoulder nerve, in no uncertain terms, saved both of their seasons. They are both WR2s this week, while Ellington is a strong play against an Oakland defense that has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year. They’ve allowed five different backs to put up 15 or more points in standard-scoring formats.
Raiders: Darren McFadden, Andre Holmes
Holmes has emerged as the top receiver in Oakland over the last two weeks, catching nine of 20 targets for 195 yards and a touchdown. At 6-foot-4, he’s a great weapon for Derek Carr in the red zone. He flashed his big-play ability last week, torching Brandon Flowers for a 77-yard touchdown. He’s a WR3 for the rest of the season, and a low-end WR2 against an Arizona defense that, while strong, has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to receivers. McFadden is a low-end RB2 or flex play. With Maurice Jones-Drew completely ineffective, McFadden should hog the touches coming out of the Oakland backfield. The Cardinals have given up the third-fewest points per game to running backs, though.
Cardinals: Carson Palmer, John Brown, John Carlson
After my paean to Palmer above, you might be asking why he should sit this week. He is in the starting discussion in traditional one-quarterback leagues, but the pool of worthy starters this week is just too deep to throw Palmer in there. To give you some context, he’s my No. 14 quarterback this week, immediately behind Brian Hoyer and Russell Wilson, and ahead of Matthew Stafford and Colin Kaepernick. There’s a chance, depending on your roster, that he’s your best option. He certainly isn’t a bad one, as the Raiders have allowed big games to Ryan Tannehill (278 yards, two touchdowns) and Philip Rivers (313 yards, three touchdowns) in their last two games.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Maurice Jones-Drew, James Jones, Brice Butler, Denarius Moore, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
Carr had his best game as a pro last week, throwing for 282 yards, 8.3 YPA and four touchdowns against the Chargers. He appears to have a strong No. 1 receiver in Holmes, and at least a decent No. 2 in Jones. Carr looked great, hitting on a few deep balls and making some truly excellent throws, the second touchdown to Holmes standing out among the bunch. Last week’s performance should have him on your radar, but he’s still not worth starting in Week 7. Next week, when the Raiders visit the Browns, might be a different story.
New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys
Giants: Andre Williams, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell
Williams didn’t exactly impress in his first start in place of Rashad Jennings, carrying the ball 16 times for 58 yards. It’s clear the Giants do no trust him on passing downs, as Peyton Hillis replaced him whenever the team was likely to pass. Williams has another week as a low-end RB2, but Jennings is expected to return after the Giants’ Week 8 bye. On the plus side, the Cowboys have allowed 5.6 yards per carry this season. Randle elevates to the top of the depth chart with Victor Cruz (knee) out for the season. However, he already had 39 targets in the last four weeks, so it’s unrealistic to expect him to get that many more looks from Eli Manning. His rest-of-season ceiling remains that of a low-end WR2. The Cowboys have allowed the most fantasy points per game to tight ends this season, making Donnell a great play this week.
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cowboys DST
The Cowboys turned in one of the most impressive performances of the season last week, going into Seattle and coming out with a 30-23 victory. In the process, DeMarco Murray topped 100 yards for the sixth-straight game. Don’t expect the Giants to put an end to that streak. Romo played a very efficient game, throwing for 250 yards, 7.8 YPA and two touchdowns. He took a big hit to his midsection, but everything in his ribcage checked out fine earlier this week. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could very well miss this week’s game after leaving the loss to the Eagles with back spasms. That would only make this an even better matchup for Romo and his receivers.
Giants: Eli Manning, Peyton Hillis, Odell Beckham Jr., Giants DST
Everything was set up for Manning to have a huge game last week. Then his offensive line fell apart and Cruz tore his patellar tendon. Manning instead turned in an absolute clunker of a performance. It’s hard to imagine things being any better against a Dallas defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Beckham definitely has long-term upside as the No. 2 receiver for the Giants. He played 87.5 percent of the team’s snaps last week, and that is likely to continue with Cruz out. However, this just isn’t the week or the matchup for him. The Cowboys have allowed just one receiver, Brian Quick, to score at least 10 points this season.
Cowboys: Jason Witten
Witten scored his first touchdown of the season last week, but he still had just two catches for 24 yards on five targets. He is the only offensive player in the league, other than quarterbacks and linemen, who has played every single one of his team’s snaps this year, but he’s mostly helping to clear the way for Murray. He’s doing a great job of that and remains a huge part of Dallas’ real-life offense, but he’s no longer much of a weapon in the fantasy world.
San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos
49ers: Frank Gore
Yes, that is correct. Gore is the only player on the 49ers worth starting in traditional 10- or 12-team leagues this week. Despite last week’s pass-happy performance from the 49ers, their best bet to beat Denver is to shorten the game, minimize possessions, and keep Peyton Manning and the Denver offense on the sidelines for as much time as possible. That would call for a whole lot of Gore on Sunday night.
Broncos: Peyton Manning, Ronnie Hillman, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Broncos DST
Manning is now just two touchdown passes away from tying Brett Favre for the most all time. It doesn’t much matter that the 49ers have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season. I’m willing to bet Manning breaks the record on Sunday night. The Niners’ defense has gotten back on track in recent weeks, but you don’t bench Manning, the Thomas boys, or Sanders for anyone. This is just too potent an offense. Hillman gets a very weak endorsement as an RB2 this week. His best chance for the game unfolding in his favor is for the 49ers to sit back in coverage all night, forcing Manning to check to the run.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Carlos Hyde, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, 49ers DST
This goes hand-in-hand with Gore being a strong play and borderline RB1 this week. I fully expect the 49ers to pound the run this week. Not only is it their true identity on offense, but it’s also their best formula for beating the Broncos in Denver. Quite simply, I don’t think there will be enough targets for Crabtree, Boldin or Davis to put up useful fantasy numbers. As for Kaepernick, the depth of the quarterback pool dooms him this week.
Broncos: Juwan Thompson, C.J. Anderson, Wes Welker
Manning attempted 33 passes last week. Just one was thrown in Welker’s direction. While that is unlikely to be the case again this week, it’s proving hard for Welker to break into the offense with the Thomases and Sanders dominating all the targets. Moreover, Manning only seems to have eyes for one Thomas or the other once the Broncos get in the red zone. Welker has never been a guy with big-play ability, so he is completely dependent on red-zone targets to hit paydirt. I’d look in another direction this week.
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
It’s actually somewhat remarkable what Foster and Johnson are doing this season with the ineffective Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. Foster has the second-most fantasy points per game, trailing only DeMarco Murray. Johnson’s fantasy scoring has been limited since he has just one touchdown, but he’s 13th in the league with 419 yards and tied for 10th with 34 catches. Foster is a RB1 this week, while Johnson checks in as a WR2. They should both keep up that level of production for the rest of this season. Hopkins is a solid flex play this week, but remember that Johnson leads him in overall and red-zone targets. The veteran is still the No. 1 receiver in Houston. The “Texans DST” above may as well just say “J.J. Watt.”
Steelers: Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
Bell has surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this season. The only other person who can say that is DeMarco Murray. Unfortunately, Bell hasn’t scored since Week 1. That’s an anomaly of the highest order. So long as he keeps getting plenty of touches and racking up yardage, he’s eventually going to start visiting the end zone with consistency. Brown leads all receivers with 93.7 points in standard-scoring leagues this year, edging Jordy Nelson by a half-point through six weeks. The Texans have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to receivers.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Blue, Garrett Graham
The Steelers’ defense hasn’t exactly shut down the competition this season, but they’ve allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Sure, they may have faced Mike Glennon, Blake Bortles, Brian Hoyer twice, and the non-running version of Cam Newton, but the stats are what they are. Plus, it’s not like Fitzpatrick is any better than any of those quarterbacks.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, LeGarrette Blount, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, Steelers DST
Roethlisberger has come up short in back-to-back games that seemed to set up well for him. Both the Jaguars and Browns were in the top 10 in terms of most fantasy points per game allowed to quarterbacks this season when Roethlisberger faced them. He combined for 501 yards, 6.4 YPA, two touchdowns and one interception in those two games. That’s not the kind of guy I want to start against Watt and company.