Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: How to set your fantasy lineups for Week 6
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
Must start: Matt Forte, Calvin Johnson, Martellus Bennett
How many years of Forte and Johnson are the Bears and Lions going to waste, respectively? The Bears have played better as of late, and Forte is doing his usual thing. He has surpassed 100 yards from scrimmage in four of the team’s games, and the one he didn’t was the game started by Jimmy Clausen. The Lions have allowed the seventh-most points per game to running backs. Get ready for Johnson’s breakout game in the 2015 season. He has faced some of the toughest pass defenses in the league, including the Broncos, Seahawks and Cardinals. The Bears don’t quite measure up to those groups. Matthew Stafford’s deep-ball struggles are a minor concern, but you know Johnson is good for a nine-catch, 165-yard, two-touchdown game eventually. Don’t be surprised if this is it. The Lions have allowed touchdowns to opposing tight ends in four of their five games this season, which bodes well for Bennett.
Conditional start: Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Ameer Abdullah, Alshon Jeffery (hamstring), Eddie Royal (hamstring), Marquess Wilson, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron (knee), Lions DST
Cutler and Stafford are both high-end QB2s with QB1 upside in this game. Those pass defenses have been equally as tough on Stafford as they’ve been on Johnson, and he should be over the minor injuries that limited his effectiveness the first few weeks of the season. Cutler has exploited a few plus matchups with Oakland and Kansas City, but he was without Jeffery in both of those games, so it was almost a wash. Jeffery and Royal could both return to the field this week. The former would be an easy play if he does return, while the latter would be more of a high-end WR3 type. If both are out, Wilson is a must-start receiver. He has 12 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown in the last two weeks. Ebron is likewise a must-start guy if he can return from the knee ailment that kept him out last week, but Abdullah and Tate are more on the fringe. Abdullah may still be in Jim Caldwell’s doghouse after fumbling twice last week. Look for something positive about him before playing him in all formats.
Sit: Joique Bell (ankle), Zach Zenner, Bears DST
Bell practiced fully early in the week, so he should be set to return for the Lions. Given Abdullah’s trouble holding onto the ball, expect Bell to slot back in as the starter, even though he was off to a dreadful start before the injury.
Washington Redskins at New York Jets
Must start: Chris Ivory, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jets DST
The Jets return from their London trip and subsequent bye as one of the biggest favorites in Week 6. That should be great news for Ivory, even though the Washington defense has been tough on the run this year. It did, however, surrender 153 yards and a touchdown to Devonta Freeman last week. The Jets are one of three teams with two receivers ranking in the top 20 in fantasy points per game (the others are the Packers and … we won’t spoil the surprise. See if you can figure it out). Marshall and Decker are both auto-plays every single week.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder, Redskins DST
Any time a running back and two receivers from the same team are must-starts, their quarterback can’t be too far behind. Fitzpatrick is an easy QB2 and has low-end QB1 upside in this matchup. The one concern is that the Jets could build a huge early lead, then lean on Ivory to salt the game away. The backfield headache in Washington was at it again last week. Jones had 11 carries for 20 yards and a touchdown, while Morris had eight totes for 17 yards. Jones played 20 snaps, while Morris played 14. Over the last two weeks, however, Morris has outsnapped Jones. You should only be looking to this low-value situation if you are desperate. It appears as though Jackson will get back on the field for Washington this week. If you drafted him, he’s certainly one of your two or three best receivers when he’s healthy, but you might want to wait a week, if you can, before getting him in your lineup. We’re talking about a speed guy who is coming off a significant hamstring injury. Garcon is averaging less than 10 yards per catch and just 6.21 yards per target. He’s no more than a WR3, even if Jackson is out. Crowder has been an effective slot receiver the last few weeks, and he wouldn’t really be hurt if Jackson returns. He, too, is a low-end WR3.
Sit: Kirk Cousins, Chris Thompson, Derek Carrier
Cousins is an acceptable matchup play, but the Jets have allowed the second-fewest points per game to quarterbacks. Thompson can be an RB3 in full PPR leagues.
Arizona Cardinals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown, Cardinals DST
The turning point for the Cardinals’ season may have come the day they signed Johnson. In the last three games, he has 296 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries, and has turned into a stabilizing presence in the Arizona backfield. Bell’s worst fantasy performance of the season thus far came last week when he had 127 total yards and a touchdown. The Michael Vick effect has killed Brown, turning him into a low-end WR1 or high-end WR2, but it hasn’t curbed Bell’s value one bit. In two games with Vick as the starter, Brown has eight catches for 87 yards. That’s a typical half for him when Ben Roethlisberger is healthy. At this point, Brown owners need to hope for as quick a return as possible for Roethlisberger, because their once elite commodity is behind the eight ball.
Conditional start: John Brown
Two of the three receivers who have scored against the Steelers this year, Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, are speed guys. That could play into Brown’s hands. Still, his value is fundamentally different than it was at the start of the year. He begins as a WR3 but can elevate to a WR2 in the right matchup.
Sit: Mike Vick, Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Michael Floyd, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, Steelers DST
Vick’s greatest impact on the fantasy landscape has been taking one of the five best players in the league and turning him into a shell of himself. Thanks, Mike. Ellington got his feet wet with three carries last week, one of which he turned into a 63-yard touchdown, but that was against a tired defense in garbage time. He’s not going to get enough touches to warrant fantasy consideration. Bryant has a lot of upside going forward, especially when Roethlisberger returns, but he shouldn’t be on your radar while Vick is on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings
Must start: Adrian Peterson, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace (knee), Travis Kelce, Vikings DST
We should be seeing one of the greatest possible running back showdowns this week, but a torn ACL suffered last week knocked Jamaal Charles out for the season. The Chiefs have been tough on the run, with Matt Forte’s 71-yard performance last week standing as the high water mark for rushing yardage against them this year. Still, this is Peterson. The Vikings may be able to do damage through the air, as has every team that has faced the Chiefs this season. They’ve allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks and receivers, which makes Wallace very intriguing this week. Maclin and Kelce are still going to get theirs, but the loss of Charles really hurts everyone on this offense. More drives are going to stall, there will be more three and outs, and teams will be able to pay more attention to the passing game with Charles on the shelf.
Conditional start: Teddy Bridgewater, Charcandrick West, Stefon Diggs
Of the five quarterbacks who have started against the Chiefs this year, three—Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler—have had their best games against them. Andy Dalton threw for 321 yards when the Bengals met the Chiefs, but had just one touchdown because Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard hogged all the fun near the goal line. Bridgewater is a high-end QB2 this week. West will get his first career start, though it remains to be seen how much the Chiefs will ride him. Until we get a really good look at him, consider him an RB3. Diggs saw his first game action last week, catching six of his 10 targets for 87 yards. He could, before long, become a starter in this offense, and this is an exploitable matchup.
Sit: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Charles Johnson (ribs), Kyle Rudolph, Chiefs DST
Smith was already no more than a mid-tier QB2 with Charles healthy. Without him, he’s going to be a matchup play in two-quarterback leagues for the rest of the season, at best. Davis isn’t likely to have a role that makes him worthy of any fantasy consideration.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
Must start: Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Charles Clay, Bengals DST
The 5–0 Bengals roll into Buffalo with a matchup-proof player at every fantasy position. Dalton, Bernard, Green and Eifert are all starting for you, in all formats, regardless of matchup for the rest of the season. The Bills have been tougher against the run than the pass, though they have struggled a bit against pass-catching backs, most notably when Dion Lewis caught six balls for 98 yards. Dalton is second in points per game among quarterbacks, and his worst performance in standard-scoring leagues coming in Week 1, when he threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Green is eighth among receivers in points per game, while Eifert is second at tight end.
Conditional start: Jeremy Hill, LeSean McCoy (hamstring), Karlos Williams (concussion), Marvin Jones (foot), Sammy Watkins (calf), Percy Harvin, Bills DST
The entire fantasy community will have its collective eye on Buffalo’s practice week. McCoy, Williams and Watkins could all return from injury, while quarterback Tyrod Taylor is dealing with a sprained MCL. It looks like McCoy and Watkins will be able to return this week, and both would be worth playing if they do indeed suit up against the Bengals. McCoy could actually be in line for his best game of the year if Williams is out again. Thomas Rawls carved up this Cincinnati defense for 169 yards and a touchdown last week. Even if Watkins is out, it’s hard to have much faith in Harvin without Taylor under center. Hill has been one of the most disappointing players. He was on the field for just 19 snaps last week, while Bernard was out there for 66. Game flow played a part, but Bernard is back on top in Cincinnati.
Sit: Tyrod Taylor (knee), E.J. Manuel, Boom Herron, Boobie Dixon, Mohamed Sanu
Rex Ryan is trying to sound a confident note with Taylor, but he seems like a long-shot bet for this week. If he does play, he’s still too great a risk. His floor is dependent on his rushing production, and that may not be part of his game with his knee at less than 100%.
Denver Broncos at Cleveland Browns
Must start: Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Gary Barnidge, Broncos DST
Peyton Manning’s struggles this year have predictably trickled down to Thomas and Sanders. Thomas has just two double-digit fantasy point games, one touchdown and one 100-yard game this season. Sanders has been more consistent, but he, too, has just one 100-yard performance, and both his touchdowns came in the same game. Barnidge has turned into a rock-solid TE1 over the last three weeks, catching 20 of his 26 targets for 319 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos are a nightmare matchup for the pass, but Barnidge should be trusted in all formats as a regular starter.
Conditional start: Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Travis Benjamin, Browns DST
Who would have ever thought we’d see the day when Barnidge was a must-start and Manning was not? Manning is 31st among quarterbacks in points per game, behind Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick and Jameis Winston. You just can’t trust him as a locked-in starter, especially since the Broncos can win this game with their defense. The run game would be a key component in that script but Anderson and Hillman will continue to split the duties, meaning it’s hard to rely on either as a starter in fantasy leagues. The Browns have allowed the most points to running backs this year, though, giving both some low-end RB2 and flex upside. On the other side, Johnson and Crowell have that same low-end RB2 upside, though it’s always tough to challenge this Denver defense. Johnson’s role is actually more bankable in this specific matchup because of his activity in the passing game.
Sit: Josh McCown, Owen Daniels
As good as McCown has been—and it’s not just smoke and mirrors at work in Cleveland—he cannot be played in any season-long format this week. The Broncos have allowed the fewest points per game to quarterbacks, holding them to an average of 10.6 points in standard-scoring leagues. They basically turn everyone into Ryan Mallett.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Must start: Arian Foster, T.J. Yeldon, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns
Foster was held in check on the ground last week, running 19 times for 41 yards, but he salvaged his fantasy day by catching nine passes for 77 yards. The best news for his owners might be that he touched the ball 26 times. Expect that to remain the same against Jacksonville this week. Yeldon similarly made his noise through the air last week, hauling in five passes for 31 yards and a score. The Texans have allowed the eighth-most points per game to running backs. Hopkins is on pace for 240 targets, which would obliterate Rob Moore’s record of 208, set in 1997 (targets became an official stat in 1990). Remember the bit of trivia from earlier on the three teams with a pair of receivers in the top-20 in points per game? Jacksonville is the third, with Robinson and Hurns ranking 10th and 14th, respectively.
Conditional start: Blake Bortles, Julius Thomas, Texans DST, Jaguars DST
Bortles has been impressive this season, scoring the ninth-most points per game at quarterback. Having said that, he has just two top-12 weeks, and the Texans have been relatively strong against quarterbacks this year. Bortles is right on the QB1/2 borderline, making him an easy play in two-QB formats. Thomas was limited last week, catching both of his targets for 20 yards. He’s riding the start/sit border at his position, as well.
Sit: Brian Hoyer, Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington
Hoyer starting is good news for all the other parts in the Houston offense, but he himself is not fantasy-relevant.
Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans
Must start: Lamar Miller, Jarvis Landry, Kendall Wright, Jordan Cameron, Delanie Walker
The coaching change in Miami benefits Miller more than anyone else. His owners are understandably disappointed in his output thus far, but that owes to his bizarre snap rate more than anything else. Expect the Dolphins under Dan Campbell to feature Miller a whole lot more. It’ll be fun seeing Landry and Wright on the same field, given their very similar skill sets. Both rate as low-end WR2s in this matchup. Cameron and Walker are also at the backend of their position’s starting class, though Cameron should be able to take advantage of a Tennessee defense that got burned by Austin Seferian-Jenkins in Week 1.
Conditional start: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, Dolphins DST
Both quarterbacks should be played in two-QB leagues, but they’re not all that close to the starting class in one-QB formats. That probably won’t raise many eyebrows as it pertains to Tannehill, who is desperately in need of a prove-it game before he earns back the trust of the fantasy community. Mariota likely has more support, but the Dolphins have been better than league average at limiting quarterbacks, from a fantasy perspective.
Sit: Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey, Rishard Matthews, DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, Titans DST
Andrews seems to have taken over as the lead back in Tennessee, but let’s understand what that role nets him. He had nine yards on seven carries last week, while catching three passes for 45 yards. He’s on the fantasy radar when it comes to being a depth back, but he shouldn’t be anywhere near your starting lineup this week.
Carolina Panthers at Seattle Seahawks
Must start: Marshawn Lynch (hamstring), Greg Olsen, Jimmy Graham, Panthers DST, Seahawks DST
The over/under on this game is 41, which makes a ton of sense given the identities of these two teams. All signs point to a return for Lynch, but it is a late afternoon game, so hopefully we get some clarity a few hours before kickoff. Remember what Tyler Eifert did to the Seahawks last week. The Panthers don’t have as many weapons as the Bengals do, but they could try to use Greg Olsen in the same way. Outside of him, the only players who need to be started in this game are the superstar tight ends. This game could very well be defined by both defenses.
Conditional start: Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Jonathan Stewart
There’s a very good chance that if you own Newton or Wilson, he is your best quarterback. If that’s the case, you’ll likely be in at least a decent spot playing whoever you own. The reason they appear here, however, is because they’re both on the QB1/2 border this week. The Seahawks and Panthers have both been tough on quarterbacks, allowing the 11th-fewest and fifth-fewest points per game to the position, respectively. The Seahawks have had some trouble aside from boosting their numbers in a matchup with Jimmy Clausen, but the quarterbacks who have gotten to them—namely Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton—have carved them up through the air. Newton may not have that in him this week. Stewart has been nothing short of terrible this season, and the Seahawks remain one of the strongest run defenses in the NFL. He’s an RB3.
Sit: Thomas Rawls, Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, Doug Baldwin
Rawls would be worth a start if we find out before it’s time to set lineups that Lynch will miss another game, but that looks highly unlikely.
San Diego Chargers at Green Bay Packers
Must start: Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Danny Woodhead, Melvin Gordon, Eddie Lacy, Keenan Allen, Randall Cobb, James Jones, Antonio Gates, Packers DST
Rivers and Allen are well worth playing this week, but Green Bay’s defense is flying under the radar with all the attention showered on Rodgers and the offense. The Packers have allowed the fourth-fewest points per game to quarterbacks and receivers, and are the top ranked pass defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Allen’s touchdown upside is also a bit limited with Gates back on the field. The Packers have been mostly good against running backs, though both Matt Forte and Todd Gurley ran for more than 140 yards in matchups with them. On the other side, you know what to do with this passing game, and the Chargers have allowed the second-most points per game to running backs. Lacy’s breakout game for this season may be in the offing.
Conditional start: Richard Rodgers
Rodgers has taken on a larger role in the Green Bay offense this season, but his high watermark for single-game yardage sits at 45. He's completely dependent on touchdowns for his fantasy value, and that's not a bet you want to make too often. Rodgers is an acceptable spot starter this week, but he's no more than that.
Sit: James Starks, Malcom Floyd, Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Ty Montgomery, Davante Adams (ankle), Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
All these receivers have WR3 upside in most weeks, but this isn’t necessarily a good matchup for any of them. You shouldn’t have to dig down this far to fill out your receiver slots in Week 6.
Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers
Must start: Colin Kaepernick, Justin Forsett (ankle), Carlos Hyde, Anquan Boldin
Kaepernick a must start? That’s right, like most quarterbacks, Kaepernick should be able to take advantage of the Ravens. They’ve allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks, checking in at 22.5 in standard-scoring leagues in an average contest. That includes holding Peyton Manning to 5.9 points in Week 1 and Michael Vick to 12.3 in Week 4. Derek Carr, Andy Dalton and Josh McCown averaged 31.37 points against the Ravens. Kaepernick should be able to follow that script, and that should mean good things for Boldin, as well. The Niners have allowed the sixth-most points per game to running backs, and Forsett is coming off back-to-back huge games. He is, unfortunately, dealing with an ankle injury, and the late kickoff in San Francisco could complicate matters for his owners.
Conditional start: Joe Flacco, Steve Smith (back), Kamar Aiken, Torrey Smith, Crockett Gillmore (calf)
The 49ers are a great matchup for quarterbacks (8.9 YPA), but Flacco just doesn’t have the weapons to take advantage in a way that makes him a player you have to start in standard fantasy leagues. He is worth a play in two-QB formats, but you can do better in one-QB leagues. It is a matchup Steve Smith can exploit, but he’s still rehabbing a back injury and could very well be a game-time decision. If that’s the case, you can’t roll the dice unless you have a suitable replacement who is also playing late or in one of the primetime games. Aiken rates as a WR3, with or without Smith, given the mere fact that the Ravens are desperate for playmakers. Torrey Smith can have a good game for the same reasons as Kaepernick and Boldin listed above, but he’s still more of a WR3.
Sit: Reggie Bush, Vernon Davis (knee), Ravens DST, 49ers DST
Just a few years ago, these teams had two of the best defenses in the league. That’s how quickly circumstances can change in the NFL.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
Must start: Tom Brady, Andrew Luck (shoulder), Dion Lewis, Frank Gore, Julian Edelman, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
Brady has clearly had all 16 games circled on his calendar this season, but he probably circled this one with black ink. If there’s one team Brady wants revenge on, it’s likely the one that caused the summer of his discontent. I fear for a team that hasn’t really been able to stop anyone going up against Brady and the Patriots. Every fantasy-relevant player for the Patriots is a top-10 option at his respective position. Luck should be able to return this week, though it would be comforting for everyone involved if we get something confirmed by 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Assuming he’s back, Hilton and Moncrief are both strong WR2s. Teams have to throw a lot to keep up with the Patriots, so Luck, Hilton and Moncrief owners should all be looking forward to Sunday night.
Conditional start: LeGarrette Blount
Blount has had a couple good games in a row, though he didn’t get in the end zone in last week’s win over the Cowboys. However, game flow really aided him in both of those contests. The Patriots have won their last two games, over Dallas and Jacksonville, by a combined score of 81–23. Indianapolis could very well keep this one close, and that wouldn’t exactly play into Blount’s hands.
Sit: Danny Amendola, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Colts DST
Two weeks ago, with Allen out, Fleener had nine catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Last week, with both Allen and Fleener healthy, they combined for three catches for 30 yards. The two cannibalize one another’s stats, making both unstartable.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Must start: Eli Manning, Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), Jordan Matthews
A pair of divisional foes meet on Monday night, with both offenses coming in relatively hot. Pay attention to Beckham’s practice participation this week, because if he’s compromised at all, that would torpedo Manning’s value. Given that he was able to return to last week’s game after suffering the injury, however, he should be good to go for his owners and the Giants in Week 6. Bradford has thrown for 603 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions in the last two weeks, finally getting on the track that so many fantasy owners thought he and the offense would be on all year. Murray, too, had his first good game of the year: 83 yards and a score on 20 carries, with seven catches for 37 yards. Matthews’s production has been up and down this season, and the Giants have allowed the seventh-fewest points per game to receivers on the season.
Conditional start: Rashad Jennings, Ryan Mathews, Giants DST
Jennings hasn’t turned his lead-back status for the Giants into much fantasy production, totaling 180 yards and a touchdown on 53 carries. He has averaged just less than 13 touches per game, and he doesn’t have the explosiveness to convert that into significant fantasy numbers with any measure of consistency. As such, he has settled into an RB3 role. Mathews got just 11 touches last week, but he racked up 96 yards and a touchdown. Consider him a high-end RB3 and flex play this week.
Sit: Shane Vereen, Darren Sproles, Rueben Randle (hamstring), Dwayne Harris, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Nelson Agholor (leg), Miles Austin, Larry Donnell, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Since Randle’s big Week 3 performance, he has eight catches for 73 yards. In other words, he’s still who we thought he was. Harris could have some WR3 upside in deeper leagues if Beckham is out, but that doesn’t seem likely. As for Philadelphia’s quartet of receivers listed here, they’re all off the fantasy radar, with Agholor being the only one who could eventually have some semblance of value.