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.
Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs (in London)
Must start: Matthew Stafford, Charcandrick West, Calvin Johnson, Jeremy Maclin (concussion), Eric Ebron, Travis Kelce
Stafford is no longer a plug-and-play quarterback, but he has taken advantage of good matchups this season, and he certainly has one this week. Don’t sleep on the fact that he was really banged up for the first few weeks of the season, as well. Both he and Johnson should exploit this secondary. In the games Ebron has started and finished this season, he’s averaging 10.65 points, which would place him fourth at tight end. He’s locked in as a fantasy starter when healthy. West’s owners were likely thrilled with his performance last week, but the even better news was that he got 22 carries. There’s no doubt who owns the Kansas City backfield in Jamaal Charles’s absence. In the two games since Charles’s injury, Kelce has 10 catches on 13 targets for 161 yards. He’s an easy top-five tight end this week.
Conditional start: Alex Smith, Golden Tate, Albert Wilson, Chiefs DST
Make no mistake, the only reason Tate is here, and not a sit, is because of the matchup. Tate ranks 61st among receivers in points per game. He has been a legitimately bad fantasy player this season. He can, however, exploit this matchup. The same goes for Smith and Wilson, especially the latter if Maclin is forced to sit again. Rashean Mathis has allowed an 80.5% catch rate, while Darius Slay checks in at 70.6%.
Sit: Ameer Abdullah, Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, Knile Davis, Lions DST
The Lions rank 30th in rush offense according to Pro Football Focus and 32nd in Football Outsiders DVOA. Abdullah leads the team with 222 rushing yards this season. You just don’t want to get involved with this backfield.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Must start: Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Stefon Diggs, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Vikings DST
I knew that Peterson had an unbelievable career track record against the Bears. I didn’t know just how good until I went looking for the exact details. In 12 career games against the Bears, Peterson has 1,396 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was able to do that against the likes of Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and Alex Brown and Tommie Harris. What chance does this Bears defense stand of slowing him down? The Bears have allowed the second-most pass touchdowns and faced the second-fewest pass attempts on the year. Make sure Diggs is in your lineup. The Bears aren’t the most explosive team in the league, but Forte, Jeffery and Bennett almost always deliver. Even in a tough matchup, they can all be 1s at their respective positions this week.
Conditional start: Teddy Bridgewater, Jay Cutler, Mike Wallace, Eddie Royal
Bridgewater and Cutler are both slam-dunk plays in two-quarterback leagues, and the former is a borderline QB1 with this great matchup. The Bears have allowed the fifth-most points per game to quarterbacks and got burned for 405 yards and four touchdowns by Matthew Stafford in their last game. Wallace and Royal are really just deep-league plays. Wallace has had all of one good game for the Vikings this season, while Royal is the fourth option in the Chicago offense. The matchup isn't bad for either, but you shouldn't have to reach this far unless you're in a league with at least 14 teams.
Sit: Charles Johnson, Marquess Wilson, Kyle Rudolph, Bears DST
Diggs has turned Johnson into a fantasy afterthought, Wilson can’t crack fantasy lineups when Jeffery and Royal are healthy, and Rudolph is simply too inconsistent to trust as a regular fantasy starter.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Must start: Matt Ryan, Doug Martin, Devonta Freeman, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder)
Ryan ranks 22nd among quarterbacks in points per game. At this point, he’s a matchup quarterback. He has a great one this week against a Buccaneers defense that has allowed the third-most points per game to quarterbacks. It also has surrendered the third-most points to receivers, so Ryan and Jones should get back on the right track. Martin has had three huge weeks in a row and gets a Falcons defense that has been one of the most friendly to running backs this year. Vincent Jackson is out with a knee injury, opening the door for both Evans and Seferian-Jenkins, if he can return, to get even more targets than usual. There are offensive strengths against defensive weaknesses across this game. There will be fireworks in Atlanta on Sunday.
Conditional start: Jameis Winston, Leonard Hankerson (hamstring), Roddy White
Winston had his best game as a pro last week, throwing for 297 yards, 10.24 yards per attempt and two touchdowns. Just as importantly, he looked in command of the Tampa Bay offense. In my mind, he’s an easy play in two-QB formats this week. Hankerson missed last week’s game because of his hamstring injury. If he suits up this week, he’s a WR3. If he doesn’t, White slides into his spot for both real-life and fantasy purposes.
Sit: Charles Sims, Tevin Coleman, Vincent Jackson (knee), Jacob Tamme, Buccaneers DST, Falcons DST
Jackson is expected to be out for the next few weeks due to the knee injury he suffered against Washington last week. Sims has turned into an important real-life player in the Buccaneers’ offense, but he hasn’t yet translated that into a meaningful fantasy presence.
Arizona Cardinals at Cleveland Browns
Must start: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Gary Barnidge, Cardinals DST
The Browns are dead last in rush defense DVOA and 16th in pass defense DVOA. That’s an awful combination to bring into a matchup with the Cardinals. Johnson may not even be in Arizona if not for David Johnson’s preseason injury, and now he’s a reliable RB2. He has scored the 13th most points per game at the position over the last five weeks, which covers all but one game that he has started. The Cardinals haven’t been as potent since an easy three-game stretch to start the season, but this is a matchup they should exploit. Barnidge, meanwhile, is now the No. 5 tight end in points per game, and No. 1 over the last five weeks.
Conditional start: Duke Johnson, Michael Floyd, Travis Benjamin
Since becoming a key part of the Cleveland passing game, Duke Johnson has turned into one of the best receiving backs in the league. In the last five games, he has 31 catches for 263 yards and a touchdown. He’s averaging just more than seven carries per game in that same window. Johnson is an easy play in full PPR leagues and a borderline RB2 in standard formats. Floyd’s snap rate dipped down to 66.1% last week, and that’s where his owners can expect him to be in an average contest. He’s going to be a WR3 most weeks, with matchup and your specific roster makeup dictating whether or not he starts. The results weren’t there last week, but Benjamin got eight more targets and is one of three Browns who play a meaningful role in the offense. He’s not as good a play, however, as either Barnidge or Johnson.
Sit: Josh McCown (shoulder), Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, Brian Hartline, Browns DST
Crowell is averaging a little more than 12 touches a game, and the touchdown frequency that carried him to fantasy relevance last year just hasn’t been there in 2015. That’s the risky game played by guys who depend on touchdowns for the balance of their fantasy value. Crowell should be rostered in most formats, but you’re digging deep if he’s on your starting radar.
San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Carlos Hyde, Todd Gurley, Rams DST
No team has been able to stop Todd Gurley yet. There’s no reason for the 49ers to be the first. The last team to hold Gurley under 100 rushing yards in a game in which he had at least 10 carries was Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2014. The 49ers won’t put an end to that streak. The 49ers offense has dragged down Hyde, who kicked off the year on such a promising note. This is undoubtedly a tough matchup, but Hyde remains a low-end RB2 thanks to expected volume, as well as his sheer talent.
Conditional start: Anquan Boldin, Tavon Austin
Boldin has three games this year with at least 10.2 points in standard-scoring leagues. He has scored fewer than four in each of the 49ers’ other four games, totaling 10.3 points in those weeks. He’s as up and down as they come, thanks in large part to Colin Kaepernick and the schizophrenic passing offense in San Francisco. He’s an acceptable starter every week, but chances are you can do better than to run out Boldin against the Rams. The matchup is much better for Austin, but he has exactly one game with at least 50 receiving yards this year. You’re counting on him getting in the end zone or making a splash as a runner if you play him in any week.
Sit: Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Reggie Bush, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Torrey Smith, Kenny Britt, Vernon Davis, Jared Cook, 49ers DST
Basically, this game has “20–3, Rams” written all over it.
New York Giants at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Odell Beckham Jr. (hamstring)
Brees really struggled in the win over the Colts last week, throwing for 255 yards, 5.8 YPA, one touchdown and one interception. He’s just barely inside the QB1 class this week, spurred mainly by the fact that the Saints are favored to win this game. Ingram, however, could be in for his best performance of the season against a team that got carved up by Darren McFadden last week. The Giants have surrendered 4.86 yards per carry and seven total touchdowns to running backs. They’re also in the top 10 in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns allowed to backs. Beckham has been playing at less than 100% for two weeks now, but the good news is he hasn’t suffered any setbacks.
Conditional start: Eli Manning, Shane Vereen, Rashad Jennings, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Giants DST
The Saints have allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks, making this a dream matchup for Manning. Unfortunately, when Beckham isn’t fully healthy, Manning really suffers, evidenced by his performance the last two weeks. Manning can still be an acceptable starter in all fantasy formats, but I’d play Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill over him this week, just to give you a few examples. Vereen and Jennings are better cast as flex plays. Jennings hasn’t hit pay dirt on the ground since Week 1 or rushed for more than 63 yards in a game all season. Vereen can actually be the guy who opens up the offense, thanks to his pass-catching abilities. Cooks’s six-catch, 81-yard game last week was his second-best fantasy performance of the season. Use that information however you like.
Sit: Orleans Darkwa, Andre Williams, C.J. Spiller, Khiry Robinson, Rueben Randle, Marques Colston (shoulder), Brandon Coleman, Larry Donnell, Ben Watson, Saints DST
Despite what you may have read elsewhere, Robinson is not “coming on” in the Saints backfield. Yes, he had 14 carries and vultured two touchdowns last week. He also ran for 28 yards on those 14 carries. Ingram picked up 143 on the same number. The intriguing backup running back in this game is Darkwa, who turned eight totes into 48 yards and a score last week. If his role increases again, he’s going to be a popular player on the waiver wire.
San Diego Chargers at Baltimore Ravens
Must start: Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead, Justin Forsett, Keenan Allen, Steve Smith, Antonio Gates (knee), Ladarius Green
These are two bad defenses, especially against the pass, and that could mean big things for fantasy owners. The Chargers do have to make the tough west-to-east trip and then play in a 1 p.m. ET game, but that’s about the only thing that should slow them down. Rivers has attempted at least 48 passes in each of the last three games, and the Ravens have allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks. What’s even better for fantasy owners here is that the Chargers are 23rd in pass defense DVOA, and have been even worse without Eric Weddle. The Ravens could very well force Rivers to throw 50 more times on Sunday. Whoever starts for the Chargers at tight end is an easy play, and even if Gates is in, Green is a borderline TE1. This is a great matchup for every usual fantasy starter playing in Baltimore on Sunday.
Conditional start: Joe Flacco, Stevie Johnson
Flacco is no more than a QB2 in any given week this year, but this is the safest week yet to deploy him in two-QB leagues. The Chargers will likely be without Weddle again, and that really opens up the middle of their defense. Don’t be surprised if it takes 30 points to win this game. Johnson got eight targets in his return from a hamstring injury last week, and is on the WR2/3 borderline with the great matchup on tap.
Sit: Melvin Gordon, Branden Oliver, Buck Allen, Malcom Floyd, Kamar Aiken, Crockett Gillmore, Chargers DST, Ravens DST
Gordon has yet to post a 10-point fantasy day in his career. He has had the exact same stat line in both of the last two weeks: seven carries, 29 yards. Until further notice, he’s not worthy of starting consideration.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger (knee), Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, Le’Veon Bell, A.J. Green, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Tyler Eifert
Assuming Roethlisberger starts, this will be the most exciting game of Week 8. We usually get burned when we make that sort of assumption, but there’s too much star power in this matchup for it to fall flat. Roethlisberger’s return is great news for everyone involved. If it were Landry Jones or Michael Vick under center, the Bengals could get out to a big lead, then pack it in with the game well in hand. Roethlisberger, however, will lift the Pittsburgh offense and force Andy Dalton and company to keep firing at full capacity. It’s always a good week to be invested in these two offenses. When they go head-to-head, it’s even better. First to 35 wins.
Conditional start: Marvin Jones
Jones is the one fantasy-relevant player who isn’t a must-start in this game, simply because of all the mouths to feed in Cincinnati. Having said that, Jones has 20 targets in the last two games combined and has played 81% of the Bengals’ snaps this season. He’s a WR2 and flex candidate, and an easy WR3.
Sit: Heath Miller, Bengals DST, Steelers DST
There won’t be much defense in this game, real life or fantasy. Enjoy the show and find your defense elsewhere.
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Must start: DeAndre Hopkins, Delanie Walker
Yeah, either this game or 49ers–Rams is the polar opposite of Bengals–Steelers. Outside of Hopkins and Walker, there are only two other players in this game I’d even consider for my lineup in a standard league. The Titans are sixth in pass defense DVOA, which means they have as realistic a chance as any team to keep Hopkins in check. Still, when a receiver is getting 15 targets per game and is as talented as Hopkins, it’s hard to hold him down entirely.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, Alfred Blue, Kendall Wright, Titans DST, Texans DST
Blue takes over as the starter for Houston with Arian Foster (Achilles) on the shelf. Blue got three starts earlier in the year, staying quiet in the first two before exploding for 139 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries in a win over the Buccaneers. The Titans have allowed the sixth-fewest points per game to running backs, though they are much better against the pass than the run. Blue should get plenty of volume in this game, but remember that Foster wasn’t exactly tearing it up on the ground before his injury. Blue is more a high-end RB3 than low-end RB2. Hoyer can be a backend starter in two-QB formats and nothing more. Wright has just 109 yards and a touchdown in his last three games, and the likelihood of Zach Mettenberger under center for another week brings down his value. Think of him as a WR3.
Sit: Marcus Mariota (knee), Zach Mettenberger, Antonio Andrews, Bishop Sankey, Chris Polk, Dorial Green-Beckham, Justin Hunter
We’ll have to revisit this one later in the week. If Mariota is able to return from his knee injury, everything changes for the Titans’ passing game. He’d be a mid-tier QB2, and Wright’s ceiling would increase significantly.
New York Jets at Oakland Raiders
Must start: Chris Ivory (hamstring), Latavius Murray, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Amari Cooper, Jets DST
Ivory dealt with a hamstring injury against the Patriots, but he practiced in full on Wednesday. That’s a great sign for a player who missed a game earlier this year due to injury. If Ivory is able to play, he needs to be in your lineup. His teammates Marshall and Decker are matchup-proof, but the Raiders are about league-average against the pass. The Jets, meanwhile, are far better than league average against the pass and the run, ranking third and first, respectively, against them in DVOA. You have to play Murray and Cooper, but understand that this is going to be one of their toughest tests to date. Perhaps the only one that was more challenging for Cooper was the Broncos, and they held him to four catches for 47 yards.
Conditional start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Carr, Michael Crabtree
Fitzpatrick and Carr are both worthy of starts in two-quarterback leagues, but neither is quite in the QB1 class this week. The Jets have made life rough for every quarterback not named Tom Brady they’ve seen this season. No other signal-caller has had more than 14.3 points against the Jets. The Raiders have been much more friendly to quarterbacks, but Fitzpatrick, despite three great weapons in the offense, is still a bit too mistake-prone to trust with complete confidence. He is, however, my No. 15 quarterback this week, ahead of Russell Wilson, Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning and Carr.
Sit: Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy, Roy Helu, Raiders DST
Even if Ivory is out, Powell and Stacy do not warrant your attention. If Ivory’s injury lingers, one running back, most likely Stacy, could be someone to add from the waiver wire after this week. The Raiders, surprisingly, rank 11th in rush defense DVOA.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
Must start: Marshawn Lynch, Darren McFadden, Jimmy Graham, Jason Witten, Seahawks DST
After a hamstring forced Lynch to miss two games, and hampered him in one more, he returned to form last week, running for 122 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. The Cowboys are 26th in rush defense DVOA and have allowed the fourth-most points per game to running backs. Lynch, as usual, is among the best running back plays this week. McFadden has a much tougher test, but all signs point to him carrying the load for the Cowboys. Joseph Randle will be out with an oblique strain, and McFadden earned the job after running over the Giants a week ago. Unfortunately for him, he gets the Seahawks this week and the Eagles next week. He may not be able to fully take advantage of Randle’s absence. Graham is no more than a low-end TE1 these days, barely more valuable than Witten. Both should be played in most formats, but give me Gary Barnidge or Eric Ebron ahead of them.
Conditional start: Russell Wilson, Dez Bryant (foot)
Is this too harsh a grade for Wilson? I sure don’t think so. He has exactly one top-10 finish at the quarterback position this year. He’s getting nothing out of his receivers and seemingly even less from Graham. Why should he be trusted as a fantasy starter without question? I’ll take Eli Manning, Teddy Bridgewater and Ryan Fitzpatrick over him this week. As for Bryant, he’s practicing in limited fashion this week. Even if he’s able to return, however, it would almost certainly be at less than 100%. If you’re desperate, you can play him. More than likely, though, you’ll want to see what he can do before getting him in your lineup.
Sit: Matt Cassel, Christine Michael, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Terrance Williams, Cowboys DST
It would make me physically ill to start any of these receivers in anything shallower than a 16-team league.
Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Packers DST
I don’t care how good the Broncos defense is (and it is really good), you start Rodgers with extreme confidence every single week. Both teams have had two weeks to prepare for this game, and I’m always going to give Rodgers the edge when he has had a week off. Lacy was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice, while it was James Starks who missed it with a hip injury. Don’t be surprised if the Packers lean on Lacy, given the strength of Denver’s secondary. What’s being missed in this matchup is that Green Bay’s defense, especially against the pass, is nearly as good as Denver’s. The Packers rank fifth in pass defense DVOA this year, and have a star-studded secondary of their own. Both Denver receivers fall outside the top 10 at the position this week.
Conditional start: Peyton Manning, Ronnie Hillman, James Jones, Broncos DST
Manning is no more than a matchup play for the rest of the season, and, as stated above, this is a terrible matchup. There’s no way I’m starting him in one-quarterback formats. Hillman is a worthy, low-end RB2, especially since the Broncos may try to control this game on the ground. This could be a lower-scoring game than you’d expect from Rodgers vs. Brady in the past, and that would play into Hillman’s hands. Jones has just 14 targets in his last three games, and is living on an unsustainable touchdown rate. Davante Adams, who should return this week, will soon be the No. 2 receiver in this offense.
Sit: James Starks (hip), C.J. Anderson, Davante Adams (ankle), Richard Rodgers, Owen Daniels
Adams will be back on the field for the first time since Week 2, ignoring the one series he was able to play the following week before aggravating his already injured ankle. There’s no reason to play him in his return, especially with the brutal matchup, but we haven’t heard the last of him in the 2015 season. If and when he returns to the starting lineup, he’ll be a top-30 receiver for the rest of the season. The Packers offense is missing an explosive element, which is what he can help provide.
Indianapolis Colts at Carolina Panthers
Must start: Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Frank Gore, Jonathan Stewart, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
Luck, Gore, Hilton and Moncrief are worth starting this week, but all are at the low end of their respective positions. Moreover, there’s little chance all four will have strong fantasy performances. The Panthers have an elite defense, especially against the pass, and Luck looks like he’s still operating at less than 100% because of the shoulder injury. Realistically, your roster will force you to start any of these fantasy-relevant Colts if you own one, but you might not want to actually watch Monday Night Football. On the other side, Newton, Stewart and Olsen can abuse a defense that is 21st in pass DVOA and has allowed the sixth-most points to running backs. If the Panthers jump out in front, something many of the Colts’ opponents have been able to do this year, Stewart could be in for his best game of the season.
Conditional start: Ted Ginn
Ginn’s averaging six targets per game, and the Colts have allowed the eighth-most points per game to the receiver position. There are worse reasons to play someone as a WR3 in a deeper league. That’s where Ginn slots this week.
Sit: Corey Brown, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Colts DST
Fleener the last three weeks: eight catches, 76 yards. Allen the last three weeks: five catches, 54 yards. Cannibalism is bad, kids.