Start ’Em, Sit ’Em: How to set your fantasy lineups for Week 7
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.
Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (in London)
Must start: Blake Bortles, LeSean McCoy, T.J. Yeldon (groin), Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Charles Clay, Julius Thomas (ribs), Bills DST
Bortles is sixth in fantasy points per game and has been a top-10 quarterback in each of the last three weeks. Over the last two, he has been in the top three, throwing for a total of 634 yards and seven touchdowns. The Bills, meanwhile, have allowed the 10th-most points per game to quarterbacks this year. Yeldon is still dealing with a groin injury that could have him out for his second straight game, but if he plays for the Jaguars, he plays for you. Robinson and Hurns are both top-15 receivers by points per game among receivers who have played at least three games this season. Both have turned into must-starts every week. McCoy looked good in his return from a hamstring injury last week, running for 90 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. With Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins out, expect the Bills to lean on the run game on the other side of the Atlantic.
EJ Manuel will make his second start of the season Sunday, and if it looks anything like the first one, the Jaguars will be worth streaming on defense this week. He threw for 263 yards, 6.26 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception in the loss to the Bengals. He did run for a touchdown, but he’s not really a significant threat on the ground. The first rule of streaming a defense is looking for a quarterback to exploit. Manuel fits that mold perfectly.
Sit: EJ Manuel, Tyrod Taylor (knee, out), Karlos Williams (concussion), Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhart, Sammy Watkins (ankle, out), Percy Harvin (hip), Robert Woods
Robinson and Gerhart would split the duties in the Jacksonville backfield if Yeldon is out, but neither inspires much confidence. They combined for 87 total yards on 22 touches a week ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins
Must start: Doug Martin, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Redskins DST
Martin has ripped off two big games in a row, finding the end zone four times over the last two weeks. Remember, however, that he was in the doldrums through the Buccaneers’ first three games. He’s a strong play and is always a potential RB1, but he’s not quite a top-10 option this week. Evans has been a serious disappointment this year, averaging just 5.27 yards per target. Still, we’re talking about a top-10 receiver from last year who is wildly talented, a dangerous deep threat, and a powerful weapon in the red zone. The turnaround is coming. He remains a great buy-low target heading into the weekend. Jackson sits in the low-end WR2 group pretty much every week, but this is a matchup he can exploit.
Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones (toe), Pierre Garcon, Charles Sims, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), Jordan Reed (concussion), Buccaneers DST
Both tight ends in this game have a realistic chance to return from injury, with Reed looking a bit more likely than Seferian-Jenkins. Both would be worth playing if they are able to get back on the field. If neither got hurt, they’d both be considered reliable TE1s by this point of the season, adding even more to an already deep pool of talent. As we’ve been saying for weeks, the Washington backfield is a headache that fantasy owners are better off avoiding in all but extreme situations. The only way you should be considering either of them is if you’re hamstrung by injuries or byes. Garcon currently ranks 44th in points per game at wide receiver, and has topped 70 yards once this season. He’s salvaging his season with touchdowns, but you don’t want to count on that when he’s getting so few receptions and yards. He’s no more than a low-end WR3. Sims, meanwhile, becomes a potential starter in deeper leagues this week, with so many regular starting running backs (Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, the Broncos tandem) on bye. He's getting a good amount of targets in the passing game, but Doug Martin still dominates the touches. Consider him still a low-end RB3, at best.
Sit: Kirk Cousins, DeSean Jackson (hamstring), Jamison Crowder
Jackson suffered a setback in practice, so it will be another week, at least, before he’s back on the field for Washington. Again, you may have to take it slow when he does return given that we’re talking about a hamstring injury for a speed receiver. Cousins hasn’t thrown for more than one touchdown in any game this year. He has four multi-interception games.
Atlanta Falcons at Tennessee Titans
Must start: Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Julio Jones (toe, hamstring), Kendall Wright, Delanie Walker
The Titans’ pass defense has been better than you probably think. According to Pro Football Focus, they rank ninth in pass rush and eighth in pass coverage, so Ryan and Jones will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Jones is dealing with toe and hamstring injuries, but he returned to practice on Monday, and the Falcons will have had 10 days off by time they take on the Titans this week. Freeman is averaging 4.3 more points per game than Chris Ivory, who is second among running backs in PPG and has racked up at least 25.7 points in each of the last four weeks. The Titans have limited running backs this season, but Lamar Miller gashed them last week, and Freeman is on a roll for the ages. Wright has been a no-show in the Titans’ last two games, totaling seven catches for 64 yards. There is good news for him this week, however. Atlanta’s slot corner, Phillip Adams, has allowed a quarterback rating of 107.1 on 23 targets.
Conditional start: Antonio Andrews, Leonard Hankerson, Justin Hunter
The Falcons have allowed the second-most points per game to running backs, which helps make Andrews somewhat intriguing this week. Still, while he has been in control of the backfield over the last two weeks, that has translated to 16 carries and five targets. The matchup may be good, but you still shouldn’t be turning to him unless you’re at less than full strength this week. Hunter played 66.7% of the snaps last week and ran a season-high 38 routes. With all the receivers on bye this week, he enters the WR3 discussion.
Sit: Marcus Mariota (knee), Zach Mettenberger, Tevin Coleman, Bishop Sankey, Roddy White, Dorial Green-Beckham, Harry Douglas, Jacob Tamme, Falcons DST, Titans DST
Mariota sounds like a long shot for this week. Even if he played, you wouldn’t want to turn to him with his gimpy knee. Mettenberger can be a capable backup for the Titans in real life, but he’s not someone you want to trust in fantasy leagues. As an example, I’d rather play Landry Jones, simply because of the Oklahoma product’s weapons in Pittsburgh.
New Orleans Saints at Indianapolis Colts
Must start: Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, Mark Ingram, Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief
Brees has put together three useful fantasy games in a row, though they haven’t been all that pretty in real life. That doesn’t matter to his fantasy owners, though, and he gets a great matchup with the Colts. These teams are going to want to get up and down the field, so Brees and Luck should both flourish. This has the feel of the first truly explosive game for the Colts’ passing attack, with Luck and Hilton both completely over their injuries. The Saints also rank 25th in pass coverage and 31st in pass rush. It hasn’t always been pretty for Ingram, but he has at least 11.8 points in five of his six games this year.
Conditional start: Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Ben Watson, Coby Fleener
Cooks has been a huge bust through six weeks, just as we predicted he’d be back in the summer. Still, with all the big-name receivers on bye this week, it’s entirely possible you have no choice but to play Cooks. The matchup isn’t bad for him or Snead, with the Colts allowing the third-most points per game to receivers this year. The only situation in which you’re starting Watson or Fleener is if you’re an owner of Martellus Bennett or Tyler Eifert.
Sit: C.J. Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Coleman, Marques Colston (shoulder), Josh Hill, Dwayne Allen, Saints DST, Colts DST
There are a lot of names here but not an iota of fantasy value.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Must start: Matthew Stafford, Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Calvin Johnson, Vikings DST
Stafford and Johnson finally got together for a big day, with Stafford going for 405 yards and four touchdowns and Johnson accounting for 166 and one of those scores. Minnesota’s defense is a whole lot better than Chicago’s, but those two should still be able to find success. Johnson is obviously a locked-in starter, while Stafford is right on the QB1/2 fine line. No matter what the depth chart says, Diggs is the No. 1 receiver in Minnesota. He’s looking like one of the potential breakout stars of the second half of the season, and the Lions haven’t stopped anyone through the air. They’re one of five teams to allow 1,200 yards to receivers already this season. Peterson already carved this team up once, running for 134 yards on 29 carries. One bad nugget for him is that Haloti Ngata returned to practice and will likely play on Sunday.
Conditional start: Teddy Bridgewater, Theo Riddick, Mike Wallace, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron (knee), Kyle Rudolph
Bridgewater has had a rough go of it this season, throwing for just three touchdowns, 7.01 yards per attempt and four interceptions in five games. The Lions have allowed the 11th-most points per game to quarterbacks this year, but Bridgewater is really only on the radar in two-QB leagues. Diggs’s emergence should help him take that step so many believed he would this season. Riddick is expected to take on a larger role in the offense this week, though Joique Bell practiced in full on Wednesday after missing three games with an ankle injury. Riddick is a must-start play in full PPR leagues, but is more like a high-end RB3 in standard leagues. Wallace and Tate are both low-value WR3 types, while Ebron would be worth a play if he’s able to return from his knee injury.
Sit: Lions DST, Ameer Abdullah
He's in the doghouse for him fumble-itis, and the Lions will turn to Theo Riddick for more work this week. There's also a very good chance Bell returns in this game, which would likely make Abdullah third on the depth chart. Stay away.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Must start: Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Jeremy Maclin (concussion), Travis Kelce
There’s an outside chance Ben Roethlisberger (knee) will make his return in this game, but for the time being we’ll assume that Landry Jones will get the start. The Chiefs have been very friendly to the pass this year, but the Steelers are going to lean on Bell, who has kept the offense afloat with Roethlisberger on the shelf. Michael Vick has torpedoed Brown’s value over the last few weeks, so his owners will likely take the change at quarterback, even though it isn’t yet Roethlisberger. Bryant showed off his ceiling last week, making it hard to bench him against a team that has allowed the most points per game to receivers. Keep an eye on Maclin’s practice participation this week. There’s a very real chance that he misses this game. If that is the case, Kelce could see 20 targets.
Conditional start: Charcandrick West, Steelers DST, Chiefs DST
West was the latest back to prove that you’re not a fantasy starter just because you’re a real-life starter. He had nine carries for 33 yards a week ago, and the ceiling isn’t much higher on Sunday. The Steelers have allowed the third-fewest points per game to running backs, and are one of just two teams yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season (the Eagles are the other).
Sit: Landry Jones, Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Markus Wheaton, Albert Wilson, Heath Miller
Jones has plenty of weapons, but it’d be hard to trust him in anything but deep two-QB leagues. I’m starting him in just such a league where I have Andy Dalton on a bye. I think that’s really the only scenario I’d consider playing Jones in his first career start. Wilson could actually be a nice punt play in daily formats if Maclin is out.
Cleveland Browns at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Todd Gurley, Travis Benjamin, Gary Barnidge, Rams DST
The Browns have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs. They’ve allowed three 100-yard rushers (Latavius Murray, Justin Forsett and Ronnie Hillman). Chris Ivory had 91 yards and two touchdowns against them, while Dexter McCluster (seriously) had 98 yards on 10 carries. Gurley is going to feast on this defense. Benjamin has been one of the most consistent receivers in the league this year, registering at least 79 yards or a touchdown in all six games. Barnidge has developed into a matchup-proof tight end, catching 23 passes for 358 yards and five touchdowns.
Conditional start: Josh McCown, Nick Foles, Duke Johnson, Tavon Austin, Browns DST
The Rams have allowed the third-fewest points per game to quarterbacks this season, but McCown is a worthy play in two-QB leagues. The Browns have quietly amassed some nice weaponry around him with Benjamin, Barnidge and Johnson, who is definitely a good start in full PPR leagues. Foles, too, could be a low-end QB2 in two-quarterback leagues. The Browns have surrendered the ninth-most points per game to quarterbacks. Understand, however, that this game will be in Gurley’s hands. Austin appears here because of all the receivers on bye. Guys who would typically rank in the 40s at the position are potential WR3s with Green Bay, Cincinnati, Chicago and Denver sitting out this week. The Browns have allowed the 12th-most points per game to receivers.
Sit: Isaiah Crowell, Tre Mason, Brian Hartline, Kenny Britt, Jared Cook
Crowell is the one guy in this group who you could see as a starter if you squint in just the right way, but he’s not getting more than 13 or 14 touches against an elite defense. That’s not a great formula for fantasy success.
Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins
Must start: Ryan Tannehill, Arian Foster, Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins, Jarvis Landry, Jordan Cameron, Dolphins DST
That’s more like it, Dolphins. Last week’s performance was what so many of us, myself included, expected to see from this team all year. Miller finally got a chance to develop a rhythm, and he ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Unsurprisingly, that helped Tannehill get going, especially in the second half. Despite J.J. Watt’s presence, this Houston defense isn’t anything special. Tannehill, Miller, Landry and Cameron are all easy starts, regardless of format. Hopkins is turning into one of the league’s elite receivers, and no one gets as many opportunities as he does. He has had at least 11 targets in all six games this year, and at least 15 in four of them. The Dolphins defense, however, finally translated its talent into a dominant showing against the Titans in Week 6. That could be the sign that they’ve righted the ship.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, Rishard Matthews, Texans DST
Hoyer’s weekly finish at quarterback, beginning with the game in which he took over for Ryan Mallett: 14th, ninth, sixth. Hopkins can do that for a quarterback, but Hoyer has played well in his own right. The Dolphins provide a neutral matchup at best, but Hoyer is still a good play in two-QB leagues, and could be a spot starter in one-QB formats for those of you who typically start Aaron Rodgers or Andy Dalton. Matthews played 90% of the snaps last week, which could be a sign that the team still prefers him to Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker. He’s a low-end WR3 this week.
Sit: Cecil Shorts, Kenny Stills, DeVante Parker
These receivers might be on the radar in 16-team leagues, but nothing shallower than that.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Must start: Tom Brady, Chris Ivory, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
It’s always fun when the best game of the day is in Sunday’s early slate, because that essentially guarantees one marquee game in every time slot. The winner of this game will strike the first blow for supremacy in the AFC East, and while everyone knows everything there is to know about the Patriots juggernaut, the Jets’ offense is still not getting the attention it deserves. Ivory and Marshall are both in the top three at their positions in points per game, while Decker checks in at 12th among receivers who have played at least four games. These teams both have strong defenses, but it’s the offenses that could very well dominate this contest. That’s great news for fantasy owners.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jets DST
Fitzpatrick has taken advantage of all the weapons around him in the Jets’ offense, but he has thrown seven interceptions in five games this season. That, as well as the Jets’ potential desire to ride Ivory and slow this game down, keeps him from being a must-start play. He’s a worthwhile starter in two-quarterback leagues. You’re going to start the Jets pretty much every week, and if they’re the only defense on your roster, you shouldn’t be afraid to play them this week. Understand, however, that you almost never want to deploy a defense against the Patriots unless you have to.
Sit: Brandon LaFell (foot)
LaFell is eligible to come off the PUP list this week, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him out there on Sunday. Even if he does play, he shouldn’t be in your plans for Week 7. He could be a real weapon for the Patriots and fantasy owners in the second half of the season, but let’s see him play a game before getting him in lineups.
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Philip Rivers, Latavius Murray, Danny Woodhead, Amari Cooper, Keenan Allen (hip), Antonio Gates
Rivers isn’t just on pace to break Peyton Manning’s single-season yardage record, set in 2013. He’s comfortably ahead of the pace Manning set that year when he threw for 5,477 yards. Take a look at the Chargers’ remaining schedule, and you’ll see why Rivers could end up as the top-scoring fantasy quarterback this year. Allen’s hip injury isn’t serious and will not keep him out of this game. The Chargers have allowed the most points per game to running backs, so expect the Raiders to administer a healthy dose of Murray to their in-state rivals. The Raiders, meanwhile, have been decent against running backs this year, limiting them on the ground and in the air. Woodhead should be considered a low-end RB2. Gates should give this defense, which hasn’t stopped any tight ends this year, fits on Sunday.
Conditional start: Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree, Malcom Floyd, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
Carr is an easy play in two-QB formats, but just outside the QB1 class. Perhaps the best thing he has going for him is the likelihood that Rivers throws all over the Raiders, forcing him to put the ball in the air 40-plus times. Game flow could also benefit Crabtree and Floyd, but they’re not consistent enough to be thought of as anything more than WR3/4 material. If that’s how far you need to reach this week, there’s a case for starting both of them. Green played 70.2% of the Chargers snaps last week and ran 48 routes. He’s not going away, and is a very sneaky play, especially in daily games.
Sit: Melvin Gordon, Stevie Johnson (hamstring), Dontrelle Inman, Raiders DST
Gordon hit the bench after fumbling twice last week, running his season total to four. It’s hard to imagine the team trusting him at this point, and even if it did, it’s not like he has been setting the league on fire this season. He has just 299 yards on 78 carries and is still looking for his first touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Must start: Eli Manning, Christine Michael, Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring), Giants DST
It’s good that there are just two games on the docket for the late afternoon. Michael’s breakout fantasy performance will come before a national audience. The Cowboys will give Michael a chance to prove he can be their starter for the rest of the season, an opportunity he has never had despite all the hype he has received. There’s no doubt that he’s a world-class athlete. Now he just needs to distil that into effectiveness on the field. Manning put up a stinker last week, but his owners shouldn’t worry. You know he’s going to have a few games like that per season. Beckham admitted that his hamstring still isn’t 100%, but he also said that it didn’t get any worse last week. He may not practice all week, but it would be a shock if he didn’t play Sunday.
Conditional start: Joseph Randle, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Terrance Williams, Rueben Randle, Jason Witten
As Michael goes up, Randle’s stock comes crashing down. While there’s no guarantee the Cowboys ride Michael for 20-plus carries, all indications are that he will handle a starter’s workload. That would mean Randle is only a starter by happenstance. Chances are if you own him, you simply may not have enough other startable options on your roster. Jennings and Vereen have both played more than 40% of the snaps over the last two weeks, with largely uninspiring results. The Cowboys have really struggled against pass-catching backs, however, which makes Vereen an attractive RB3 or flex play this week. Williams and Randle are in their familiar low-end WR3 slots. Both could be turned to for a spot start if one of your regulars is on a bye. As for Witten, most people would likely start him, but the tight end position is deep, and I don’t trust Matt Cassel. Some guys I’d play ahead of him who might come as surprises are Ladarius Green and Vernon Davis.
Sit: Matt Cassel, Darren McFadden, Andre Williams, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell, Cowboys DST
Let’s keep this show rolling.
Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers
Must start: Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray, Jonathan Stewart, Jordan Matthews, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
Newton put together a banner fourth quarter last week to lead the Panthers to a come-from-behind win in Seattle. He’s now tied for third at the quarterback position with Aaron Rodgers in points per game, trailing only Tom Brady and Andy Dalton. Murray has put together two straight positive games, and the Eagles, as a whole, have been much better in games where they’ve committed to the run. In fact, all of their wins have come in the three games they established a real presence on the ground. Don’t be surprised if Murray continues to get 18–20 carries per game. Matthews has been one of the most frustrating players to own this season, and now he’ll have to deal with at least some Josh Norman this week, even though he runs a lot of his routes out of the slot. He’s a low-end WR2.
Conditional start: Sam Bradford, Eagles DST
Just when it looked like Bradford might be finding his stroke, he put up a dreadful performance, highlighted by three interceptions. Now he’ll have to deal with a Panthers defense that has surrendered the fifth-fewest points per game to quarterbacks and has yet to allow a passer to top 20 points in standard-scoring leagues. He’s no more than a mid-tier QB2.
Sit: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Josh Huff, Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, Zach Ertz
Mathews has a total of 22 carries over the last three weeks. Murray had 22 carries last week. Mathews just doesn’t touch the ball enough to count on him, even in a good matchup. This, of course, is a bad one. Ertz somehow still hangs around in fantasy circles, despite the fact that he hasn’t done a thing in two and a half years in the league. There is no reason to think about him as a starting option.
Baltimore Ravens at Arizona Cardinals
Must start: Carson Palmer, Justin Forsett (ankle), Chris Johnson, Steve Smith (back), Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Cardinals DST
The Ravens have allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks and second-most points per game to receivers. The quartet of Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Josh McCown and Colin Kaepernick put up an average of 29.18 points against the Ravens. They’ve allowed the second-most yards and third-most touchdowns to receivers, at 1,332 and nine, respectively. In short, there’s no chance they stop Palmer on Monday night. They can hope to slow him down with Forsett, who gutted through an ankle injury to total 101 yards from scrimmage on 24 touches last week. The Cardinals, however, have been awfully tough to run on this season, allowing the sixth-fewest points to backs. Speaking of backs, Smith still isn’t 100% after breaking a few bones in his back, but he managed to put on a seven-catch, 137-yard, one-touchdown show against the 49ers last week. Play him with confidence.
Conditional start: Joe Flacco, Michael Floyd
The Cardinals rate second in pass coverage as a team, while three members of their secondary (Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Tony Jefferson) are in the top 12 at their respective positions in coverage. Having said that, Flacco will likely have to throw at least 40 passes to try to keep up with Palmer and company on the other side. That volume makes him a worthy starter in two-quarterback leagues. Floyd played more than 70% of Arizona’s snaps last week, as the team transitions to more three-receiver sets. He had one touchdown and nearly had two more. As we discussed above, the Ravens can’t stop anyone through the air. Floyd is a great spot starter in Week 7.
Sit: Buck Allen, Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Kamar Aiken, Crockett Gillmore (calf), Maxx Williams, Ravens DST
Ellington, who once again entered the season with high fantasy hopes, appears to be no more than the third back on the Arizona depth chart. He played nine snaps and had one carry last week. If things don’t turn around for him against the Ravens, you can expect to see his name in our Droppables column on Sunday.