It’s time for our weekly stroll across the league, looking at all the start and sit possibilities for every fantasy-relevant player. Remember, the conditional start players will depend on your roster and league parameters. Use those in conjunction with our weekly rankings to build your best possible lineup, and check out our rest-of-season player rankings as you ponder midseason trade targets.
Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs
Must start: Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), Jeremy Maclin, Martellus Bennett, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
When these two teams get together on Sunday, we’ll be watching two of the three most complete running backs (the other is Le’Veon Bell) in the league. The Bears and Chiefs have actually been stingy against the run, at least from a fantasy standpoint, but that’s more a function of how much they’ve both struggled against the pass. They’ve also yet to face a both yet to face a back like the one they’ll see Sunday. Jeffery is expected to return from his hamstring injury, and he can exploit a defense that has allowed the most points to receivers, even if he isn’t at 100%. These teams may be a combined 2–6, but there’s plenty of fantasy star power here. Don’t be surprised if this is one of the more exciting games of the weekend.
Conditional start: Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Eddie Royal
The only reason Cutler and Smith aren’t both must-starts is because you likely drafted them as backups. As good as the matchup is for both of them, I wouldn’t start either over Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan or any of the other plug-and-play QB1s. Still, the Chiefs have allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, while the Bears have allowed the 10th most. Cutler played very well against the Raiders last week, and was carving up the Cardinals before injuring his hamstring. Smith, meanwhile, has put together useful outings in three of his four games this year. Both are slam-dunk plays in two-QB leagues, and capable spot starters if you’re typically starting Cam Newton or Ryan Tannehill.
Sit: Bears DST
This group probably isn’t as bad as advertised, especially if the pass rush led by Pernell McPhee is league average, but it’s only worth using in the best of matchups.
Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals
Must start: Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green, Jimmy Graham, Tyler Eifert, Seahawks DST
This has to be the most interesting game of Week 5. Cincinnati’s offense is one of the best in the league, but it has yet to stare down an opponent like Seattle. Hill is like basically every non-elite running back this week, in that you’re starting him easily, but holding your nose while doing so. This is Dalton’s chance to prove he has made a level jump at the quarterback position. Regardless of the outcome, he and this offense are for real. If that unit can put together another strong performance against the Seahawks, however, everyone who still snickers at Dalton will have no choice but to change their tune. Wilson is probably the only quarterback in the league who could survive behind Seattle’s offensive line. That’s going to be an issue all season, but he’s still a safe QB1 against a Cincinnati defense allowing 7.27 yards per attempt. The team will be leaning on him heavily with Marshawn Lynch out again because of that hamstring injury.
Conditional start: Thomas Rawls, Giovani Bernard, Doug Baldwin, Bengals DST
Rawls will get another start in place of the injured Lynch, but you only want to turn to him if you’re desperate, perhaps if you are a Lynch owner. The Seattle offensive line is a serious problem, and it will have its hands full with Geno Atkins, a one-man wrecking crew and run stuffer on the Cincinnati defensive line. Rawls is no more than an RB3. Hill had three touchdowns last week, but Bernard out-carried and out-snapped him, yet again. The problem, though, is that the matchup doesn’t favor Cincinnati producing two starter-worthy running backs. I’d rather bet on the one who gets most of the touches at the goal line. Baldwin has put together a few decent games, but it’s not as though he has dramatically changed his rest-of-season value. Baldwin is forever a low-end WR3. The Bengals have been burned by Steve Smith and Jeremy Maclin the last two weeks, but Baldwin doesn’t get nearly the volume those receivers do.
Sit: Marshawn Lynch (hamstring), Tyler Lockett
Lockett continues to hang on in some fantasy circles, but he has 10 catches for 109 yards. Let’s get real.
Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons
Must start: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones
Washington’s defense has played very well this season, but this is a test unlike any it has faced this season. DeAngelo Hall will be out again in this game, and that’s bad news with the league’s best receiver waiting on the horizon. Tevin Coleman could return from his rib injury this week, but it stands to reason that Freeman will have one more game with the backfield largely, or entirely, to himself. Washington, however, has allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, so don’t bet on another 30-point game.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Leonard Hankerson, Redskins DST
The Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points per game to running backs, but matchup isn’t the problem with the Washington backfield. Clarity is, and without it, Morris and Jones may give their owners more headaches than points. Both have low-end RB2 value, but it’s nearly impossible to predict which back is going to get more touches because their skill sets are relatively similar. Hankerson has 30 targets while Roddy White has just 14, and eight of those targets for White came in Week 1. Last week, Hankerson played the same number of snaps as White for the first time. He’s the new No. 2 in Atlanta. If Jackson is able to go this week, he’ll slot in as a low-end WR2, especially with Cousins throwing an accurate deep ball. Garcon is in that same range. Cousins has thrown more than 40 passes each of the last two weeks and could do it again with the rate at which the Falcons offense is scoring. Cousins is a worthy starter in two-QB leagues.
Sit: Tevin Coleman (ribs), Roddy White, Jordan Reed (concussion), Falcons DST
Don’t forget that Coleman was the Falcons’ starter for the first two weeks. When he’s fully healthy, he could be the only entity that derails the Freeman fantasy train.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: T.J. Yeldon, Doug Martin, Allen Robinson, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
This isn’t a great or terrible matchup for any of the fantasy-relevant players involved in the game. Yeldon, Martin, Robinson, Evans and Jackson are going to start most weeks, and all grade as 2s at their respective positions this week. Yeldon has yet to have a signature game this season, but he played 94% of the snaps last week. His big showing is coming. Same goes for Evans, at least in 2015. We know who he is, and that’s one of the 10 best receivers in the league. Do not get discouraged. Martin and Charles Sims are essentially splitting snaps right down the middle, but Martin gets the vast majority of the carries. That does make the Buccaneers a touch predictable based on personnel.
Conditional start: Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Allen Hurns, Julius Thomas (hand), Jaguars DST, Buccaneers DST
Bortles and Winston are both low-end QB2s in two-quarterback formats. The Buccaneers have surrendered eight passing touchdowns, which is fifth most in the league, while the Jaguars have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points per game to the position. Bortles is my QB19 for Week 5, while Winston checks in at QB22. Hurns has scored in two straight weeks, but he took advantage of a great matchup with the Colts last week. He’s still just a WR3, but that does make him intriguing in all formats. Thomas could make his Jaguars debut this week, and if he does he will be immediately relevant. Given the way these offenses have played, both defenses are stream options for Week 5.
Sit: Charles Sims
Sims really only plays in obvious passing situations, and that’s not a role worthy of fantasy consideration. He has a total of 12 carries and seven targets the last two weeks.
New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles
Must start: Drew Brees, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Jordan Matthews
This should be a great matchup for both quarterbacks, who both quelled their owners’ fears last week. The Saints have allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks, and while that’s a bit inflated by a pair of rushing touchdowns, they’ve also surrendered 9.77 YPA. The Eagles, meanwhile, invite teams to throw all over them because their offensive tempo also lets the other team run a ton of plays, and just as importantly, their run defense has been very good this season. Brees and Bradford are safe QB1s this week. Ingram gets a tough draw, but his owners had to be encouraged that he had 17 carries and seven targets a week ago. Even with Spiller getting more involved, Ingram isn’t going to disappear from the passing game. He has the third-best receiving grade among running backs from Pro Football Focus.
Conditional start: C.J. Spiller, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Eagles DST
Spiller made a huge splash in overtime last week, catching the game-winning 80-yard touchdown pass. Of course, before that he had just four catches for 19 yards, so if Zach Hocker makes that field goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter, we’re now discussing another disappointing Spiller performance. The Eagles backfield headache continues to pound heading into Week 5. I have Murray as my No. 22 back this week and Mathews as No. 37, but it’s borderline impossible to believe in this run game. The Saints’ defense doesn’t scare anyone, but they’ve been at least average against running backs. The problem remains an offensive line that just might not have what it takes to make much out of Murray as a fantasy back in 2015. I’d still play him ahead of the likes of Alfred Morris, Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead and Giovani Bernard. I’ve been selling Cooks since about the MLB All-Star break, and obviously, he hasn’t done anything to make me change my mind. This is undeniably a great matchup, but he just doesn’t make plays down the field and isn’t a huge red-zone threat. Plus, the Saints love throwing to their running backs. Agholor continues to play nearly every snap for the Eagles. He was out there for 96% of the snaps last week. The big game is coming. He’s a low-end WR3 in my book this week.
Sit: Darren Sproles, Marques Colston, Ben Watson, Zach Ertz, Saints DST
The one guy you could make a case for is Sproles, but then you’re betting on him making some noise with the eight or so opportunities he will get to do so. That’s a bet you only want to make if you’re desperate at running back or flex.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Must start: Justin Forsett, Ravens DST
Forsett finally got going last week, racking up 150 yards on 27 carries in Baltimore’s win over Pittsburgh. Now he gets a Browns defense that has been terrible against the run this year. They’ve allowed the fourth-most points to running backs, more than five yards per carry, and 239 receiving yards, which is the seventh-highest total in the league. On top of that, Steve Smith is likely to be out with a back injury, meaning the anemic Baltimore passing game becomes that much more challenged. Forsett could have the ball in his hands 30 times in this game.
Conditional start: Josh McCown, Joe Flacco, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Travis Benjamin, Kamar Aiken, Gary Barnidge, Browns DST
Both quarterbacks are startable in two-QB formats, but it’s McCown who I believe in more if choosing between the two. He has played well in his last two starts, surpassing 340 yards in both games and throwing for 8.08 YPA, four touchdowns and one interception. The Ravens have really struggled against the pass since losing Terrell Suggs, and have now surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Keep an eye on the workload balance between Crowell and Johnson. Both played well last week, but Crowell lost a fumble and it was Johnson who was in the game during a crucial goal-to-go series late. Crowell did rack up 125 total yards, but Johnson is earning himself more playing time. Both are worthy flex options this week. Aiken steps up as Baltimore’s No. 1 receiver, and that alone makes him worth a shot as a WR3 in deeper leagues. With one more good game, Barnidge would be on the TE1 radar.
Sit: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Brian Hartline, Marlon Brown, Crockett Gillmore (calf), Maxx Williams
If Gillmore is able to play through a calf strain, he’d be on the TE1/TE2 borderline. No one else here carries any fantasy value.
St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Todd Gurley, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Packers DST
No matter how tough the Rams are against the pass, this is the best quarterback in football. As if he needed a boost, he’s playing at home, where he has become invincible. The Rams have allowed just three passing touchdowns this year, but they are surrendering 7.19 YPA. They’ve also been burned on the ground, so don’t be surprised if you see Eddie Lacy tote the rock 20-plus times on Sunday. The only hope the Rams have to win this game is to do so with the run game and defense, and they have the right runner to do so, just in the nick of time. Gurley should be fed the ball early and often, though he could come off the field in obvious passing situations. That would be a bad thing if the Rams fall far behind, but you can bet that they’ll still find a way to get the ball in his hands.
Conditional start: Tavon Austin
Austin had one of his best games as a pro last week, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it occurred in Gurley’s coming-out party. The Rams will figure out creative ways to use those two athletes together, and it will benefit both of them. As for this game, Austin is a low-end WR3, thanks largely to volume. The Rams are going to have to throw a lot to try to keep up with Rodgers.
Sit: Nick Foles, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, James Starks, Kenny Britt, Ty Montgomery, Rams DST
The Packers are so good on offense that the Rams’ defense, which is one of the best in the league, just cannot be trusted for fantasy purposes. Rodgers is still finding new ways to do the unthinkable.
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans
Must start: Kendall Wright, Charles Clay, Delanie Walker, Bills DST
Wright is quietly putting together a great year, and it’s translating into fantasy success. He put up a dud Week 2, but has 11 catches for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his other two games this season. He’s also third in the NFL with 7.8 yards after contact per catch, a trait that makes him a favorite of Marcus Mariota. Clay has put up two big games in a row, and now draws a Tennessee defense that has surrendered the fifth-most points per game to tight ends. There are only four players at the position—Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Martellus Bennett and Jimmy Graham—I’d play over him this week.
Conditional start: Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Boobie Dixon, Karlos Williams (concussion), Sammy Watkins (calf), Percy Harvin
Both quarterbacks are solid plays this week and must-starts in two-QB formats. The problem with playing them in one-quarterback leagues is that the position is very deep this week. I’ve got Mariota 14 and Taylor 16th, with Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton ranked ninth through 12th. As good and Mariota and Taylor might be, I don’t think you can play them over any of those four, and chances are you have another good signal caller if you own one of this game’s starters. No matter who Taylor’s No. 1 receiver is this week, that player will be worth starting. We just have to get word on whether or not Watkins will be able to play through his calf injury. Williams is likely to miss this week’s game because of a concussion, and that would make Dixon a low-end RB2. The Titans have allowed 4.49 yards per carry to running backs this year.
Sit: LeSean McCoy (hamstring), Bishop Sankey, Antonio Andrews, Dorial Green-Beckham, Titans DST
The one thing you should keep an eye on is the usage of Sankey and Andrews. If the latter has another strong game, he could become worthy of placing on your radar.
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions
Must start: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Cardinals DST
Palmer against the Lions is really a matchup made in heaven if you own the quarterback. The Lions are allowing the seventh-most points per game to quarterbacks, sitting at 19.9 points allowed in standard-scoring leagues. That’s equivalent to 300 yards and two touchdowns. They’ve surrendered 9.13 YPA, and the fifth-most yards to receivers. Palmer and Fitzgerald should feast. Johnson has had a couple of strong games in a row, and has racked up at least 16 carries in each of the last three weeks. He’s an RB2 until further notice. Things are about to take a turn for Megatron. The Broncos, Chargers and Seahawks, three of the Lions’ four opponents thus far, have allowed the fewest, second-fewest, and third-fewest fantasy points to receivers this season.
Conditional start: Matthew Stafford, Ameer Abdullah, John Brown, Lions DST
Just like the schedule is starting to ease up for Johnson, so, too, is it for Stafford. There’s no shame in struggling in consecutive games against the Broncos and Seahawks, which could have the two best defenses in the league. Stafford should be considered a low-end QB2 in this matchup. Both Drew Brees and Jay Cutler (before he got hurt) had success against the Cardinals. Abdullah got his first double-digit carry game of the season, though he turned that into just 33 yards on the ground against the stout Seattle defense. This is also a tough matchup, making Abdullah an RB3 or flex option at best. Brown hasn’t been making big, downfield plays this year, and that’s really where all his assumed value rests. I’d be finding another option in all but the most dire of circumstances.
Sit: David Johnson, Andre Ellington (knee), Joique Bell (ankle), Theo Riddick, Michael Floyd, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron (knee)
Johnson, Ellington and Floyd could all come up big for the Cardinals at some point this season, but their fantasy value for Week 5 is minimal. When all three backs are healthy, it will be interesting to see how Bruce Arians doles out the work.
New England Patriots at Dallas Cowboys
Must start: Tom Brady, Dion Lewis, Joseph Randle, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Jason Witten, Patriots DST
Brady and the Patriots return from their bye week to take on a Dallas team that could be without Sean Lee. You’ll remember Lee as “the guy who wouldn’t have missed his assignment on C.J. Spiller’s game-winning touchdown from last week.” His absence would mean big things for Lewis, and bigger things than usual for Gronkowski. Randle was in the doghouse after fumbling once and exposing the ball at the goal line yet again, but it’s hard to imagine Darren McFadden getting the lion’s share of the carries. The bigger concern could be the Patriots turning this one into a laugher.
Conditional start: LeGarrette Blount, Terrance Williams
The last time we saw the Patriots in action, Blount scored three touchdowns in the second half with the Patriots grinding out the clock in a 51–17 win over the Jaguars. That’s a risky proposition on which to bet in a season-long league, but Blount does rate as an RB3 thanks to the possibility. You may not realize this, but Williams already has nine red-zone targets this year. He has caught just two of them, but he’s getting the opportunity. Now the execution needs to follow.
Sit: Brandon Weeden, Darren McFadden, Danny Amendola, Cole Beasley, Cowboys DST
Moving right along.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Must start: Peyton Manning, Latavius Murray, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Amari Cooper, Owen Daniels, Broncos DST
The Raiders have allowed the fifth-most points to quarterbacks this year, and the Broncos are still trying to figure out exactly what they have with their running game. You can bet this is going to be a Manning show. Everyone was worried about this passing attack after one week, and while they’ve largely corrected the issues, the big play hasn’t been there. Still, Thomas and Sanders quietly go about their business. Since that terrible Week 1 against the Ravens, they’ve combined for 543 yards and three touchdowns. You know what to do with tight ends against the Raiders. Daniels is an auto-play this week. Cooper should be started, as well, but understand that the Broncos have allowed the fewest points to receivers this season.
Conditional start: C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman
It’s fitting that these two are together, and the only ones listed, in this section. It sure seems that if there is a lead dog in the Denver backfield, Hillman is the guy. Neither has looked great this year, but there’s no possible way, either via the numbers or the eye test, to say that Anderson has been the better back. We’re looking at a full-fledged timeshare that is going to produce nothing more than an RB2 in most weeks.
Sit: Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Raiders DST
The Broncos have the league’s best secondary, and potentially the best overall defense. They’ve held Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Philip Rivers and Teddy Bridgewater to 6.68 YPA and two touchdowns while picking them off six times. It takes a matchup-proof quarterback to start against the Broncos. Carr may be in the midst of a breakout season, but he is not matchup-proof.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants
Must start: Eli Manning, Carlos Hyde, Rashad Jennings, Odell Beckham, Vernon Davis (knee), Giants DST
Remember all those “maybe they’re not as bad as we thought” stories about the 49ers after Week 1. Looks like they are that bad. They’ve allowed 9.23 YPA this season and the seventh-most points to receivers. They’ve essentially been lucky to surrender just six passing touchdowns. Manning and Beckham should be able to abuse this team. After holding Adrian Peterson to 31 yards on 10 carries Week 1, the 49ers have allowed the triumvirate of DeAngelo Williams, Chris Johnson and Eddie Lacy to run for 277 yards and five touchdowns. The only way you’re benching Jennings is if you’re very deep at running back. Most Hyde owners are wishing they sold high after that Week 1 performance against the Vikings, but there’s still hope for him yet. He’s not the problem. The offense as a whole is. The Giants have allowed 32 receptions for 294 yards and two scores to backs, so don’t be surprised if the Niners try to get him involved through the air. If Davis plays, he’s a great, sneaky start against a Giants defense that has allowed the second-most points to tight ends this year.
Conditional start: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Rueben Randle
It’s nearly impossible to have any confidence in Colin Kaepernick right now, and that unfortunately trickles down to Boldin and Smith. With Kaepernick’s glaring mechanical issues, it’s remarkable he’s completing even 50% of his passes. You can’t think of either San Francisco receiver as anything more than a WR3 until Kaepernick makes visible strides on the field. Randle, however, is worth a dart throw as a WR3, given the 49ers’ struggles with receivers. There is a concern, however, that Beckham and Jennings could gobble up all the yards.
Sit: Colin Kaepernick, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, Larry Donnell, 49ers DST
For a more extended look on Kaepernick, check out this week’s Fact or Fiction. He cannot be trusted until he cleans up arguably the league’s worst mechanics.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Philip Rivers, Le’Veon Bell, Danny Woodhead, Antonio Brown, Keenan Allen
The Steelers, specifically Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley, will have had 11 days to think about what they did the last time we saw them on the field. This is Bell’s team with Ben Roethlisberger shelved, and he could end up touching the ball 30 times against a team that has been burned by running backs on the ground and through the air. The Chargers have allowed the second-most points to backs, and they’ve done it in all ways. They’ve surrendered the fourth-most rushing yards, fifth-most receiving yards to backs, and second-most touchdowns. The Steelers are right in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to every position, other than tight end where they’ve surrendered the fourth most. The only real receiving threat they’ve seen out of the backfield, Dion Lewis, had four catches for 51 yards, which explains Woodhead’s inclusion. There’s a very real chance Stevie Johnson (hamstring) and Malcom Floyd (concussion) could miss this game, meaning Allen would do his best DeAndre Hopkins impression and get something on the order of 20 targets.
Conditional start: Michael Vick, Melvin Gordon, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green
I was as excited as anyone for Gordon last week, but after he ran for just 38 yards on 12 carries, it’s time to permanently downgrade him. Woodhead’s cemented role in the offense wouldn’t be a concern if Gordon were producing with his chances, but he simply can’t get into a rhythm with limited touches. He’s right on the RB2/3 borderline this week. Pay close attention to how the Chargers deploy Gates, who is set to return from suspension this week, and Green. Gates likely remains the starter, but Green did a lot of good things for this team during the first month of the season. It would be a surprise if they just shunted him to the sideline in favor of the veteran. Both are just outside the TE1 class, thanks largely to the uncertainty of their respective roles. As for Vick, consider him a low-end QB2 in two-quarterback formats.
Sit: Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Malcom Floyd (concussion), Heath Miller, Steelers DST, Chargers DST
Bryant could be an immediate fantasy weapon, but it’s hard to throw him right into the lineup with Michael Vick under center. If Roethlisberger were healthy, I’d be comfortable calling Bryant a WR2 right out of the gates. If Johnson or Floyd manages to go, they could both warrant attention as WR3s.
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