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Fantasy Football: Start Flacco and Diggs, sit Rivers and Riddick
3:49 | Fantasy
Fantasy Football: Start Flacco and Diggs, sit Rivers and Riddick
Thursday September 15th, 2016

Thursday certainly didn’t disappoint, at least from a fantasy perspective. You were always starting Matt Forte, Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, but borderline starters Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tyrod Taylor also came through with big scores. Meanwhile, we hope you listened to us when we said to resist the urge to start Sammy Watkins, hoping he could make a big play or two while being less than 100%. His owners should be encouraged for the long term, but he had just two catches for 20 yards.

Right now, everything we saw in Week 1 represents 100% of the season (not including players on the Jets and Bills). Some of what we saw last week was unquestionably thanks to the general randomness that shows up every week, while some was for real. We’ll start to get more obvious separation between the former and latter this week, but being able to spot the difference beforehand can lead to the right lineup decisions for a win in Week 2. We’ll help you make those decisions in the Week 2 edition of Start or Sit.

Be sure to use this column in conjunction with our rankings to fill your starting lineups. You can also get find start/sit advice from us in our Facebook Live chat every Sunday beginning at 12:15 pm ET on the Sports Illustrated Facebook page.

Quarterbacks

Start

Joe Flacco (at Cleveland)

Flacco is primed to be the latest example of why the stream life works so well with quarterbacks in traditional leagues. He and the Ravens offense should have their way against a Cleveland defense that made Carson Wentz look like a successful 10-year veteran last week. Add to that the still muddled backfield situation for the Ravens, and you get a recipe for a monster game from Flacco. He has top-five upside at the position this week.

Derek Carr (vs. Atlanta)

Carr threw just one touchdown last week, but don’t let that cloud how good he was against the Saints. He threw for 319 yards and 8.4 yards per attempt, helping lead his team to a 35–34 win. Atlanta could not slow down Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers last week, and that does not bode well for a showdown with the ascending Raiders. Carr also carries top-five upside in Week 2.

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Andrew Luck (at Denver)

Too many fantasy owners love to get cute and over-think the situation. Yes, Luck and the Colts have a tough matchup against a Denver defense that boasts the best secondary in the league and mostly kept Cam Newton in check, at least through the air. Did you see what Luck did against Detroit last week, though? Forget the results. Luck had 47 pass attempts, and that could be closer to the norm than the exception this season. Thanks to both volume and talent, Luck is matchup-proof.

Marcus Mariota (at Detroit)

Mariota played a sloppy game against a strong Minnesota defense last week, but still came away with 16.74 points in standard-scoring leagues, making him the No. 15 quarterback. He’s in a much better spot this week, going up against a Detroit defense that would be happy to be league average this season. Mariota is a low-end QB1 in Week 2.

*Superflex Special*

Jay Cutler (vs. Philadelphia)

The Bears offense was effective in the first half against Houston last week, scoring 14 points leading the team into halftime up by one. It stalled in the second half, but there were still encouraging signs, at least before the team got to third down where it really struggled. Philadelphia presents Jay Cutler with an easier matchup, even more so with Leodis McKelvin out with a hamstring injury. Cutler and Alshon Jeffery should do a lot of work against this defense, and the game as a whole has some sneaky high-scoring potential, with Jordan Matthews a tough cover for a shaky Chicago secondary.

Josh McCown (vs. Baltimore)

Those of you in superflex or two-QB leagues lucky enough to already own McCown, or snag him off the waiver wire this week, are in good shape. The veteran takes over an offense with a bevy of playmakers and a suspect running game, putting him in position to be the driving force in the offense. Thanks to Cleveland’s poor defense and a couple of offenses stronger through the air than on the ground, this game has sneaky high-scoring potential. McCown slots as a low-end QB2 this week.

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Sit

Philip Rivers (vs. Jacksonville)

Just once, it would be nice to see Rivers get to play most of a season without losing one of his key pass-catchers. That won’t be the case this year, with Keenan Allen on the shelf after tearing his ACL last week. This might be a good week to take a wait-and-see approach with Rivers and the San Diego passing game. On top of that, money is flying in on the over in this game, and yet the total has already dropped a full point. That’s a sure sign of sharp money coming in on the under.

Kirk Cousins (vs. Dallas)

Could Cousins have looked any worse than he did last week? He routinely missed wide-open receivers less than 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, throwing wide on passes he should be able to hit in his sleep. The Cowboys don’t necessarily present a tough matchup, but the Cousins we saw last week is closer to the real version than the one who bluffed the fantasy community into buying him as a possible QB1 this season.

Jameis Winston (@ Arizona)

Yes, that’s right. Last week’s darling, who I and many others tabbed for a breakout season, finds himself on the wrong side of the start/sit discussion this week. To be fair, I have him just outside the top 12, ahead of both guys above, as well as Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matt Ryan. Flying across the country to take on an 0-1 Arizona team is a tough spot for Winston. Even breakout players have a few down games on the road to stardom.

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Running backs

Start

Danny Woodhead (vs. Jacksonville)

I wasn’t going to include Woodhead in the column initially, but I’ve had a lot of questions about him this week. The Chargers are going to lean on Woodhead even more than they typically would with Keenan Allen done for the season. We know he’s one of the most significant threats catching the ball out of the backfield, but he also had 16 carries for 89 yards and a score last week. That’s not going to be the case too often, especially with Melvin Gordon looking like a potential breakthrough player this season, but Woodhead is a good bet to rack up 18 combined carries and targets more often than not.

Jeremy Hill (at Pittsburgh)

Don’t worry about last week, Hill owners. The matchup with the Jets defense was always going to be a problem for the third-year back out of LSU. There’s a good chance he won’t face as tough a run defense the rest of the year. The Bengals are one of the best teams in the league, and Hill is one of the team’s three primary weapons on offense. That’s someone you want in your lineup more often than not.

Jeremy Langford (vs. Philadelphia)

Langford had 17 carries and four targets last week. All other Chicago backs had one carry and zero targets. Forget about a committee, there isn’t even another pulse in the Chicago backfield. Houston held him to 57 yards on those 17 carries, but he still got in the end zone. The Eagles defense isn’t a pushover, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the Texans, and this week’s game script should be more in Langford’s favor.

LeGarrette Blount (vs. Miami)

Could Week 1 have gone any better for Blount backers? He got 22 carries to James White’s one, giving him plenty of opportunity in the run game while White racked up seven targets. Blount picked up 70 yards and a score on his 22 carries, a stat line his owners will take happily even if it isn’t terribly efficient. The Patriots are favored by just less than a touchdown, suggesting a game script that would suit Blount’s talents.

T.J. Yeldon (at San Diego)

I know that a lot of Yeldon owners are discouraged that he had 39 yards on 21 carries last week. The positive spin, however, is that he got less than one yard before contact per carry against the Packers. Spencer Ware got 3.5 yards before contact per carry against the Chargers last week. Yeldon should have a lot more room to operate this week, and if Chris Ivory (illness) is out again, he’s looking at another game with 20-plus touches.

Sit

Frank Gore (@ Denver)

This is a brutal matchup for Gore, who ran for 59 yards on 14 carries against the much softer Detroit defense a week ago. Gore got six targets in that game, and that’s certainly encouraging for his outlook this season. We aren’t too concerned with long-term prospects in this space, however. Gore doesn’t have much yardage upside in this game, meaning he’ll need a touchdown to score as a fantasy starter. You don’t want to bet on that outcome for a player who isn’t a home-run threat against the Denver defense.

Christine Michael (at Los Angeles)

Pete Carroll announced on Wednesday that Thomas Rawls would take back over as the starter for Seattle this week. While Michael will still be involved, it’s impossible for us to know right now just what the breakdown will be. We want to eliminate uncertainty in our lineups, and this is all uncertainty. Michael looked better than Rawls last week, but he didn’t exactly run over the Dolphins, totaling 66 yards on 15 carries. It’s hard to look at Michael and see a top-30 running back this week.

Isaiah Crowell (vs. Baltimore)

If you only look at Cleveland’s Week 1 box score, you’ll likely think Crowell ran strongly in defeat. After all, he had 62 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while outsnapping Duke Johnson 30 to 23. What you won’t see in the box score is that Crowell got 40 of his yards on three carries on Cleveland’s final possession, which began with the team trailing 29-10 with 1:12 left in the game. He should not be on your radar with the Browns hosting the Ravens.

Theo Riddick (vs. Tennessee)

Riddick looked great against the Colts last week, gaining 45 yards on the ground, 63 through the air on five receptions, and scoring twice. While he’s one of the best receiving backs in the league, however, it’s entirely likely that he won’t run for 45 yards in another game this season. Ameer Abdullah was just as good, and remains the team’s primary rusher. Meanwhile, the Colts have one of the worst sets of linebackers in the NFL. Riddick is an admirable depth piece, and worth starting in full PPR leagues, but he belongs on standard-league benches in Week 2.

Matt Jones (vs. Dallas)

There’s a good argument that Jones is the worst starting running back in the league. I made it most of the summer, and he made it for all of us on Monday night against Pittsburgh. Not only did he fail to generate anything of value on the ground, but also he was outsnapped by Chris Thompson by a 2 to 1 margin. Quite simply, Jones shouldn’t be anywhere near a starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

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Wide receivers

Start

Tajae Sharpe (@ Detroit)

Sharpe led all Titans receivers in Week 1 with 11 targets and 64 snaps. No other receiver on the team played more than 37 snaps. That’s the widest snap gulf for any receiver in the league. There’s no question that Sharpe is top option in the passing game, and that’s going to make him a fantasy starter more often than not. Detroit is a much easier matchup for Marcus Mariota and company than Minnesota was a week ago, and the Lions will do enough offensively to force the Titans to keep the foot on the gas all game.

Stefon Diggs (vs. Green Bay)

Minnesota’s offense struggled for much of last week’s win over Tennessee, but you wouldn’t know it from watching Diggs. He hauled in seven of his nine targets for 103 yard and was the one consistent weapon to keep the offense on the field. The Vikings may make the change to Sam Bradford from Shaun Hill this week, but it’s no matter to Diggs. He slots as a top-30 receiver every week.

Mike Wallace (at Cleveland)

There might not be a more Mike Wallace stat line than three catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. That’s what he put up in his first game as a Raven, immediately connecting with Joe Flacco on a deep ball. The nine route has been Wallace’s calling card his entire career, and he’s finally back with a quarterback who can make good use of him down the field. That goes doubly against a Cleveland defense that couldn’t slow down Carson Wentz and Jordan Matthews last week.

Sterling Shepard (vs. New Orleans)

Shepard made a winning impression in his first career game, catching three passes on four targets for 43 yards and a touchdown, dancing along the sideline in the end zone for one of Eli Manning’s three scores. He and the Giants get a New Orleans defense that was terrible last year, didn’t make any meaningful changes, and got torched for 486 yards and 35 points by the Raiders last week. Get all your Giants active on Sunday.

Michael Floyd (vs. Tampa Bay)

As we discussed with Andrew Luck earlier, this is another case of not outsmarting yourself. Floyd was a bit of a disappointment last week, catching three passes for 61 yards and dropping a would-be touchdown. His skill set will occasionally produce games like that. That he got seven targets with an average depth of target of 15.6 yards should encourage his owners. Floyd remains an easy start this week.

Sit

Emmanuel Sanders (vs. Indianapolis)

The Colts present a great matchup for opposing receivers, especially with all the injuries in their secondary. Still, it was the Detroit running backs who did most of the damage last week, and that will be the case for the Broncos with C.J. Anderson. As attractive as this matchup is, Sanders and Demaryius Thomas owners should be worried about Trevor Siemian. I expect to see the Anderson show again on Sunday, with more struggles for the Denver passing game. Even if Thomas is limited by his hip injury, Sanders isn’t worth a start.

John Brown (vs. Tampa Bay)

Brown was the clear trailer in the Arizona passing game last week. Larry Fitzgerald led the way with 10 targets while, as mentioned above, Floyd had seven. Brown had four, which was two fewer than David Johnson and tied him with Jermaine Gresham. The concern with Brown is that he’s a complementary player in the offense with one specific skill. That makes him more a depth receiver than one you count on as a regular starter. With Johnson, Fitzgerald and Floyd clearly ahead of him in the usage tree, Brown should be on your bench this week.

Tyler Lockett (at Los Angeles)

This will become pretty obvious if Russell Wilson ends up sitting because of his ankle injury, but even a compromised Wilson is bad news for Lockett. The second-year receiver out of Kansas State caught just three of his eight targets for 17 yards last week, failing to hook up with Wilson on anything down the field. That’s where Lockett really brings his force to bear, and if Wilson is unable to do what he usually does, he could be in trouble against the Rams front seven, that group’s performance against San Francisco last week notwithstanding.

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Tight ends

Start

Gary Barnidge (vs. Baltimore)

Josh McCown started seven games for the Browns last year, not including Week 1 when he left with a concussion early. In those seven games, Gary Barnidge had 43 receptions for 603 yards and six touchdowns. That comes out to 13.76 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, and a 16-game pace of 98 catches, 1,378 yards and 13 touchdowns (rounded down to the nearest whole number). McCown is again under center for the Browns after Robert Griffin cracked a bone in his shoulder. The Barnwagon is back.

Coby Fleener (at New York Giants)

Fleener was one of the true Week 1 busts, catching one pass for six yards in a game in which the Saints racked up 507 yards of offense and 34 points. The silver lining, though, was that he played more than 80% of the team’s snaps. So long as he’s out there that often, he’s going to get his eventually. That could easily come this week in what should be a high-scoring game against a Giants defense that just allowed Jason Witten to catch nine passes for 66 yards.

Jason Witten (at Washington)

Speaking of Witten, he quickly became Dak Prescott’s best friend. The rookie targeted Witten 14 times, making him the second-most targeted player in the league behind only Allen Robinson. It’s not uncommon for a tight end to become a security blanket for a young quarterback, especially one as reliable as Witten. Remember, too, that Witten never leaves the field. He has the look of a season-long top-10 player at the position.

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Jesse James (vs. Cincinnati)

There was a lot to like about what James did last week. Most notably, he played every single snap for the Steelers, inhabiting the role manned by Heath Miller for 11 seasons. Miller was a top-12 tight end in five of his seasons, and James is a more athletic version of what Ben Roethlisberger has worked with at tight end his entire career. Miller also caught 10 passes in both of Pittsburgh’s regular season games against Cincinnati last year. There’s no reason James can’t make it three in a row for Steelers tight ends.

Eric Ebron (vs. Tennessee)

The Ebron hype train slowed down in the summer when he suffered what was originally feared to be a season-ending injury, but it’s back up at full steam after last week. Ebron caught all five of his targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. In an offense that is going to live off Matthew Stafford’s right arm, Ebron should be a worthy fantasy starter most weeks. Kyle Rudolph burned the Titans for four catches and 65 yards a week ago.

Sit

Martellus Bennett (vs. Miami)

Rob Gronkowski missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, which basically translates to a perfect setup for Martellus Bennett, but the first-year Patriot caught three passes for 14 yards. Gronkowski is trending in the right direction, and if he does play this week, it’ll be hard to trust Bennett in most standard leagues. He’s my No. 14 tight end, so I have him right on the TE1/2 border.

Zach Miller (vs. Philadelphia)

There will be times to start Miller this season. Week 2 isn’t it. I actually think Chicago sets up as a nice bet, laying three points against the Eagles at home, but these pass-catchers are still figuring out how to play off one another. With Alshon Jeffery and Jeremy Langford the clear big dogs in the offense, and Kevin White and Eddie Royal on the next tier, there isn’t enough to support Miller as a starter this week.

Kyle Rudolph (vs. Green Bay)

Rudolph put himself firmly back on the fantasy radar with his four-catch, eight-target, 65-yard effort against the Titans last week. A move to Sam Bradford, who will likely want to push the ball downfield more than Shaun Hill, would be bad for Rudolph. His matchup also gets a lot tougher with the Packers coming to Minnesota. Rudolph is once again in that huge TE2 crop that produces TE1s every week, but he won’t be one of them in Week 2.

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Defenses to stream

Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland)

Even though Josh McCown makes Cleveland’s defense more dangerous because of the steady hand he provides, you’re going to be able to stream against them a lot this season. The Ravens shut down the Bills last week, holding Tyrod Taylor to 111 yards and 5.05 YPA, and LeSean McCoy to 58 yards on 16 carries (3.63 ypc).

Philadelphia Eagles (at Chicago)

The Eagles played well in a cushy matchup with the Browns last week, but things will be tougher for them in Chicago. They’re still one of the best plays among defenses available in at least 50% of leagues, but they’re three-point underdogs on the road against a team with continuity across its offense. Last week, they were four-point favorites at home against a team with a new head coach and starting quarterback.

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