Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Heavy bye week means digging deep to fill lineups
Week 9 marks the first of consecutive weeks with six teams on a bye. It’s not just any six teams, either. Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Buffalo and Tennessee are off this week.
By my count, that means the fantasy community loses three regular starting quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford), three running backs (Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Joique Bell), nine receivers (Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Sammy Watkins) and two tight ends (Martellus Bennett, Delanie Walker). Throw in the likes of Matt Ryan, who would be a regular starter if not for a decimated line, Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush, Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, and you’re looking at 23 players who may have started in your league last week taking a rest in Week 9.
In other words, fantasy owners are going to have to dig deeper than usual to fill their lineups this week. We’re here to help with the Week 9 edition of the SI.com Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns
Buccaneers: Bobby Rainey, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans
Congratulations to those of you who held onto Rainey for this long. You may only get one useful start out of him, but sometimes that’s all you need. Doug Martin, who's been largely ineffective, is dealing with an ankle injury, and rookie Charles Sims could be another week away from returning. That would make Rainey a slam-dunk fantasy starter against a Cleveland defense that has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Evans had his best game as a pro last week, catching four of his seven targets for a career-high 78 yards. Joe Haden and Buster Skrine have each allowed a passer rating of 97.0 or better on passes thrown in their direction this year. That bodes well for Jackson and Evans.
Browns: Ben Tate, Andrew Hawkins, Browns DST
I covered why I’m selling Tate for the rest of the year in this week’s Fact or Fiction. However, the Bucs have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season, making this too good of a matchup to sit him, especially with six teams on bye. Tate remains outside my top-24 running backs for the week, but he's a worthy flex play in 12-team leagues. Hawkins, who has 12 catches on 18 targets for 200 yards and a score in the last two weeks, should be the focal point of the Browns passing attack with Jordan Cameron likely out due to a concussion. This is a great matchup, as the Tampa Bay defense has given up the most points per game to receivers.
Buccaneers: Mike Glennon, Doug Martin (ankle), Charles Sims (ankle), Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers DST
Martin’s fantasy value for the remainder of the 2014 season is nil. He has had plenty of chances to prove to the Buccaneers and the fantasy community that he could repeat what he did in his rookie season, and he has fallen flat on his face every time. The Buccaneers are 1-6 and realistically out of playoff contention. This is a team with some nice pieces however, one of which is the rookie Sims. They’ll likely use the second half of the season to see what they have in him, relegating Martin to the sidelines. If Sims is able to go this week, he’d be a borderline flex play.
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West, Miles Austin, Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Cameron (concussion)
It’s tempting to think that Crowell could be a fantasy starter with the matchup and depleted player pool this week, but the way Cleveland doles out touches between him and West makes it far too risky to play either of them. On top of that, this running game is a mess without center Alex Mack. Tate is barely worth starting this week, even though the Buccaneers defense doesn’t scare anyone. Crowell and West should not be anywhere near your radar. Austin and Gabriel could be desperation plays if you’re hit hard by byes and were unable to grab the Brandon LaFells and Martavis Bryants of the world.
Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
Cardinals: Carson Palmer, Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals DST
Palmer may be on the tail end of his NFL career, but he can still throw a deep ball. He connected with Fitzgerald and John Brown on long touchdowns last week, showing exactly what this offense was missing when he was injured. Orlando Scandrick has been one of the best corners this year, but you’ll still want to play Palmer, Floyd and Fitzgerald. Don’t be too discouraged by Floyd getting shutout a week ago. He dropped what would have been a tough touchdown catch, and let another potential big play down the field slip through his hands. The most important thing is that Palmer continues to challenge defenses with deep throws to Floyd. In three games since Palmer’s return, Ellington has 111.7 total yards per game.
Cowboys: Tony Romo (back), DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST
For now, we’ll assume Romo will be able to play Sunday. However, he'll likely be listed as questionable, and it will come down to how well Romo can tolerate the pain. The Cardinals have allowed the 10th-most points to quarterbacks and second most to receivers, so this is a good matchup, but this is another back problem for a quarterback with a history of back problems. If he starts, he’s my No. 12 quarterback this week. The Cardinals have allowed the fewest points per game to running backs this year, holding all comers beneath not just 100 yards, but 90 yards, as well. They’ll present Murray with his stiffest test yet, especially if it’s Brandon Weeden under center.
Cardinals: Stepfan Taylor, John Brown, John Carlson
If there was ever a time to own Brown, it's now. There are six teams on bye next week, as well, and four in Week 11. Brown had his best game of the season last week, catching five of 10 targets for 119 yards and a score. Of course, nearly all that production was tied up in his 75-yard touchdown, which was more of a one-off play than a scheme-driven result. He has value as a depth receiver, but he’s still outside the starting class.
Cowboys: Joseph Randle, Cole Beasley, Gavin Escobar
You aren’t in a 30-team league, right? OK, moving right along then.
Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans
Eagles: Nick Foles, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Center Jason Kelce looks set to return from a groin injury this week. Kelce, himself, is no doubt excited, but McCoy might be just as thrilled about getting his starting center back. Make no mistake, all the injuries along the Philadelphia offensive line have as much to do with McCoy’s struggles as any other factor. With Kelce back on the field, the Eagles have four of their five starting linemen together for the first time since Week 1. Guard Evan Mathis (knee) isn’t too far behind Kelce, though he likely won’t be back this week. This is great news for all the skill players on this offense. Expect them all to celebrate in kind on Sunday.
Texans: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
The Eagles have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and third most to receivers, but the Texans are not built to exploit that weakness. The reason for that is, of course, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Still, both Johnson and Hopkins have been productive WR2s this year, and are definite starters this week. As they have done all season, the Texans will lean on Foster on Sunday. Anyone who rolled the dice on him is likely toward the top of their league’s standings. He’s now the second-highest scoring running back this year, trailing only DeMarco Murray, after his three-touchdown game last week vaulted him in front of Matt Forte.
Eagles: Darren Sproles (knee), Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Brent Celek
Sproles is expected to return this week after missing one game with a knee injury (the Eagles also had their bye since his injury). If I had more confidence that he’d be at 100 percent, I’d think about playing him thanks to the shallow pool of potential starters. Running backs have really hurt the Texans through the air this season. Le’Veon Bell caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against them two weeks ago. DeMarco Murray had six catches for 56 yards, Fred Jackson hauled in six balls for 52 yards, and Ahmad Bradshaw hit paydirt through the air against them in Week 6. We just can’t be sure how involved Sproles will be if he does suit up this week.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Blue, Garrett Graham
Blue racked up 64 total yards on 15 touches last week, but he’s not even close to threatening Foster’s workload. Just four of those touches came in the first half. All the rest were with the Texans leading by at least 13 points. Fitzpatrick is closer to the starting class of quarterbacks than he usually is, thanks to the matchup and the fact that Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are all taking a rest this week. Fitzpatrick is a fine play as a second quarterback in two-quarterback leagues, but he still should not be anywhere near a starting lineup in traditional one-quarterback formats.
New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs
Jets: Chris Ivory, Eric Decker
Ivory predictably struggled against the strong Buffalo run defense last week, picking up just 43 yards on 13 carries. However, he made two trips to the end zone, the first two rushing touchdowns scored against the Bills all season. He faces a similar matchup this week against the Chiefs, who have allowed the fourth-fewest points per game to running backs and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown. Ivory took the Bills down, and he could very well do the same to the Chiefs this week. Decker sneaks in as a flex play -- I give him the nod because I think the Jets can create enough mismatches with Michael Vick and Percy Harvin to help Decker find some space in the secondary.
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
The Jets have been tough on running backs overall, but they’ve struggled against those who are dangerous as receivers. For example, Matt Forte caught six passes for 43 yards, Branden Oliver had four for 68 and Shane Vereen reeled in five for 71 and two scores. Charles should be able to hurt the Jets through the air. The Jets are allowing the eighth-most points per game to receivers and fourth-most to tight ends. Bowe gets in the starting group thanks to this matchup. I think Kelce, who leads all tight ends and receivers with 8.9 yards after catch per reception, could be a top-five tight end if Andy Reid would commit to him. He’s a phenomenal athlete and likely the team’s most dangerous pass catcher not named Charles.
Jets: Michael Vick, Chris Johnson, Bilal Powell, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland, Jets DST
What does Vick still have left in the tank? If last week was any indication, not much. Vick completed just 18 of his 36 passes for 153 yards -- 4.25 yards per attempt -- and one interception. He did run for 69 yards on eight carries, but this is not the Michael Vick Experience that once tantalized the NFL. Harvin had eight targets and four carries for just 50 total yards in his Jets debut, but that was more combined targets and carries than he got in any game with Seattle this season. The Jets appear committed to using him in a way that he can actually make an impact, which is good news for his owners. Still, his ceiling is that of a WR3, and it’s hard to trust him given the team’s spotty quarterback play.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, A.J. Jenkins, Junior Hemingway, Anthony Fasano
Smith is right on the cusp thanks to the great matchup, but he didn’t take advantage of a similar scenario against the Eagles last week. Smith has surpassed 250 yards just once this season, and has one or zero touchdowns in five of his seven games this year. Smith against the Jets’ pass defense is the resistible force against the movable object. Ultimately, there are too many good quarterbacks out there to consider Smith this week.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals
Jaguars: Denard Robinson, Allen Robinson, Clay Harbor
Look at that, three Jaguars worth starting this week. Their cup runneth over with fantasy-relevant players. In all seriousness, Denard Robinson has breathed life into the Jaguars’ running game in the last two weeks, rushing for more than 100 yards in each game. The Bengals have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, and there’s really no competition for touches in the Jacksonville backfield. Allen Robinson has been the one semi-consistent receiver for the Jaguars this year; he gets enough targets to make an impact even against tough opponents like the Bengals. With Martellus Bennett and Delanie Walker on byes this week, Harbor sneaks into the starting class.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green (toe), Mohamed Sanu, Bengals DST
Initially, I had Dalton on the outside looking in, ranked just behind Eli Manning. But if all of the skill players around Dalton are worth starting, the quarterback likely is, too. Green is expected to return after missing three games with a toe injury. Even if he’s at just 80 percent, he makes this a more potent offense. The Jaguars’ defense has played well in the last month or so, but it is without linebacker Paul Posluszny. Bernard’s hip injury isn’t thought to be serious, and while he should play, expect to see a bit more of Hill than usual. Sanu’s value takes a minor hit with Green back, but he has earned plenty of targets given how well he played as the team’s No. 1 receiver.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Toby Gerhart, Storm Johnson, Allen Hurns, Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Jaguars DST
Bortles could very well one day be a strong fantasy quarterback, especially as he and his fellow youngsters at the skill positions develop alongside each other, but that day is not coming this season. He’s getting just 6.65 yards per attempt and has twice as many interceptions (12) as touchdowns (six). He could end up racking up some yardage and throwing for a touchdown in garbage time, but he shouldn’t even be owned in most leagues, let alone started.
Bengals: Brandon Tate, Jermaine Gresham
Green’s return is exactly what this offense needs to get clicking again. A matchup with the decent-but-not-great Jaguars should help, too. Tate and Gresham are the only players on this offense that fantasy owners have spent even a second or two thinking about this season that should not be started.
San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Branden Oliver, Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates
Oliver remains fantasy-relevant even if Ryan Mathews returns from a knee injury this week; Mathews will likely have just a token role in the offense, given how well Oliver has played. This is a sneakily tough matchup for the Chargers, and it’s a slight surprise that the Dolphins are favored by just one point. They’ve given up the fourth-fewest points to quarterbacks this year, and rank third in pass rush and seventh in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. The universe finally balanced in Allen’s favor last week, as he hauled in nine passes for 73 yards and a score, but he could see a whole lot of Brent Grimes on Sunday. These four players have all earned your trust, but it’s going to be a tough game.
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace, Dolphins DST
Wallace came up short against the Jaguars last week, catching just two passes for 59 yards. He isn’t an elite receiver who is going to show up for his fantasy owners every single game, but he has greatly outperformed his draft-day price tag this season. Speaking of huge returns on investment, Miller might be the poster child for that this season. He ranks 12th among running backs in overall points and points per game, despite starting the year as, at best, an RB3. The Chargers have allowed 51 receptions for 394 yards and five touchdowns to running backs. Miller can exploit them through the air.
Chargers: Ryan Mathews (knee), Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
Mathews is not yet back on the fantasy radar. It will be interesting to see what the Chargers do with him and Oliver when both are ready to go. It's likely that both will get enough touches to curb each other's fantasy value, meaning this could be a last hurrah for Oliver owners. Floyd and Royal are potential starts for owners who are desperate at receiver this week. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Dolphins have allowed double-digit fantasy points to six receivers this year.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay
Tannehill is right on the start/sit border, but falls just behind Andy Dalton and Tony Romo, checking in at 14th in my rankings. For what it’s worth, I have him ahead of Russell Wilson, Alex Smith and Joe Flacco. Tannehill has averaged 45 rushing yards per game in his last four contests, which is equivalent to another passing touchdown in standard-scoring leagues. Despite his improved play, he still has four interception in his last four games, too. The inconsistency through yhe air is what keeps him from becoming a trustworthy player in most formats.
Washington Redskins at Minnesota Vikings
Redskins: Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
After three straight disappointing performances, Morris pleased his fantasy owners with 73 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against the Cowboys last week. The Vikings have allowed the 10th-most points per game to running backs this year, so Morris should have another satisfactory game. I fear that Jackson’s season is going underappreciated across the country. Catching balls from three different quarterbacks, he’s eighth in the league with 664 yards and is getting a ridiculous 12.53 yards per target. No matter who is under center, he should be started every week. Reed has worked his way back to full health, and even though Niles Paul is still involved in the offense, Reed gets more snaps and targets.
Vikings: Jerick McKinnon, Vikings DST
In three games since brushing aside Matt Asiata and taking over as the primary running back in Minnesota, McKinnon has 265 total yards. In his two starts, he ran for 186 yards on 35 carries. Even though Washington has actually allowed the third-fewest points to running backs this year, start McKinnon with confidence this week. McCoy may have been able to pull out a win over the Cowboys last week, but that shouldn’t make you shy about picking on him in fantasy leagues. The Vikings are second in the league with 25 sacks this year. Even if Griffin makes the start, the Vikings are worth streaming this week.
Redskins: Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III (ankle), Roy Helu, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Niles Paul, Redskins DST
McCoy helped Washington pull off an improbable win at Dallas last week, throwing for 299 yards, 9.97 yards per attempt and one interception, while also rushing for a touchdown. That could very well be his only start of the year, as Griffin makes his return from a dislocated ankle this week. Griffin, who has been out since Week 2, was initially given an eight-week timetable to return. He's a bit ahead of schedule, but he'll have just a couple of practices under his belt before Sunday. Griffin could very well be a fantasy weapon in the weeks to come, but let him prove to you that he's healthy, first. In addition, the Vikings have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Garcon, who caught four passes for 47 yards last week, continues to be one of the biggest wide receiver busts this season.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Chase Ford
Patterson finally showed some signs of life, catching a season-high six of 12 targets for 86 yards last week; he's still not worth starting, but he's trending in the right direction. Bridgewater is a solid play in two-quarterback leagues, as Washington has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. However, there still hasn’t been a ton of production from this passing game as a whole, and you certainly cannot trust him over the more qualified options likely on your roster.
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers
With Jake Long (knee) and Brian Quick (shoulder) now out for the season, it’s going to be a long second half for the Rams’ offense. This was already an offense with a low ceiling, and it heads into a tough matchup one week after losing its left tackle and best receiver. It’s really unfortunate for Quick, who was finally putting together a strong season after struggling through his first two years in the league.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, 49ers DST
It was just three weeks ago that the 49ers trounced the Rams 31-17. Kaepernick threw for 343 yards and three scores in that game, while Crabtree and Boldin each found the end zone. The Rams have allowed the sixth-most points per game to quarterbacks and seventh most to receivers. Kaepernick may not pile up another 343 yards, but expect a big game out of him and his top two receivers. Frank Gore had just 38 yards on 16 carries in the previous win over the Rams, but this matchup sets up nicely for him. The 49ers could very well be salting away the clock in the second half, which would mean plenty of touches for Gore and Carlos Hyde.
Rams: Austin Davis, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy, Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Rams DST
Mason is going to have his time in the sun again this year, but this is a terrible matchup for him. Not only have the 49ers allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, but also there’s a very real chance that this game gets out of hand. In that case, Mason would spend a whole lot of time on the sidelines, giving way to Cunningham. With Quick out for the season, keep an eye on how the Rams use Bailey. The second-year man out of West Virginia posted a season-high snap percentage last week, and stands to gain the most individually with Quick out. Britt and Austin were both getting a decent amount of looks already. It’s hard to imagine that increasing very much, even with the team’s No. 1 receiver on the shelf.
49ers: Carlos Hyde, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Vernon Davis
Davis caught four passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns in San Francisco’s first game of the season. Since then, he has 10 receptions for 98 yards and zero scores. Remember, that first game was against a Dallas defense that has allowed the third-most points per game to tight ends this year. Injuries have been a factor, but Davis is a middling fantasy tight end, at best. You can feel free to drop him in many formats.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots
Broncos: Peyton Manning, Ronnie Hillman, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas
It’s time for another great installment in the Manning-Brady feud, with the quarterbacks yet again leading two of the best teams in the AFC. Manning is always going to take what the defense gives him. If you need more proof of that, allow me to direct you to Sanders’ three touchdowns last week. If the Patriots give him running lanes, Hillman could have a huge day. The Patriots have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this year. Demaryius Thomas is on a 168-catch, 2,504-yard, 20-touchdown season-long pace in his last four games. So, yeah, he’s good.
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski
Brady has 1,268 yards, 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last month. Extrapolate that over a full season, and you get 5,072 yards, 56 touchdowns and, of course, zero interceptions. While Edelman’s production has slowed, LaFell and Gronkowski have been huge for Brady. It’s clear how much better this passing attack is when Gronkowski is fully healthy, as he abused the Bears last week for nine catches, 149 yards and three touchdowns. LaFell has alternated between good and bad games over the last five weeks, going for 21 catches, 340 yards and four touchdowns in the good ones. Edelman’s value has taken a hit, but he is still worth playing as a flex, simply by virtue of being in this offense.
Broncos: Juwan Thompson, Wes Welker, Broncos DST
Last week, we surmised that there just aren’t enough passes to go around to make Welker a regular fantasy starter. He then came out and caught two of his five targets for five yards. In his last three games, he has just six targets while Demaryius Thomas has 33, Sanders has 18, and Julius Thomas has 16. The Broncos’ defense has been a strength this year, but I’m staying away from anything defense in this game.
Patriots: Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Danny Amendola, Tim Wright, Patriots DST
Gray can be a fantasy weapon in the right matchup, something he proved a week ago when he ran for 86 yards on 17 carries against the Bears. Of course, the Bears have been, at best, a neutral matchup for running backs this year, and the Patriots were putting the icing on the cake of a 28-point victory. The Broncos, meanwhile, have been one of the very best run defenses this season, allowing just 2.93 yards per carry. Call me crazy, but I don’t see the Patriots winning this one by 28 points, either. The Patriots could try to run the ball to keep Manning off the field, but they have to rely on Brady to come away victorious. Expect Gray’s role to be too small for fantasy purposes.
Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks
It’s hard to believe that two teams could contribute zero fantasy starters when another six are on bye, but such is the case this week. Andre Holmes and Darren McFadden are both a bit tempting, but ultimately fall outside the starting class. We’ll get to why shortly.
Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Doug Baldwin, Seahawks DST
The Seahawks just managed to squeak out a win over the Panthers last week, and while they shouldn't have any problems against the Raiders, it doesn't mean they automatically have a ton of fantasy starters for this week. Lynch should have a huge game. The Raiders have allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs, letting a whopping seven backs put up at least 15 points in standard-scoring leagues this year. With a matchup like that, the Seahawks would be wise to ride Lynch all afternoon. Russell Wilson is likely to do some damage through the air, but the concern is that the Seahawks get up so big, so fast, that he won’t get enough opportunity to have a productive fantasy day. Baldwin, however, is the most likely receiver to be on the other end of a passing touchdown.
Raiders: Derek Carr, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, Andre Holmes, James Jones, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
If there is a Raider worth starting, it would be either McFadden or Holmes. Unfortunately for McFadden backers, the Seahawks have been pretty good against the run this year. They’ve allowed just 3.72 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns in seven games. They’ve been a bit more vulnerable against backs catching passes, but that’s not McFadden’s strong suit. This game could also get ugly, and that would mean a whole lot of passing. There’s where Holmes comes in. He has played well in the last month or so, catching 17 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns. If there’s a lot of garbage time in this game, Holmes could easily rack up 10-plus targets. Even so, I’m not comfortable betting on him in this matchup. The Seahawks have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to receivers.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richadson, Luke Willson, Cooper Helfert
You may be surprised to see Wilson’s name here, and I will say that he’s just barely outside the top 12. However, I expect the Seahawks to get way out in front early in this game, and essentially have it put away by halftime. In such a scenario, the Seahawks have shown that they’re happy to run the ball the entire second half, counting on their defense to ice the game. If that happens on Sunday, Wilson would almost certainly finish outside the top 12 at the position for the week. He’s not the sort of prolific quarterback who’s going to light up the scoreboard in one half. If Wilson is your only quarterback, he’s not going to lose your fantasy matchup for you. I simply think he’s going to be put in a bad fantasy spot with the Seahawks cruising to victory.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Ravens DST
Forsett owners, pay no mind to Lorenzo Taliaferro’s two touchdowns last week. He still had 17 carries and five targets, totaling 85 yards from scrimmage. Every now and again, he’s going to have his touchdowns vultured, and that’s exactly what happened last week. It doesn’t erase the frustrations, especially if one or both of those touchdowns would have given you a win last week, but there’s no reason to be down on Forsett. He has been a reliable RB2 all season, and that’s what he’ll continue to be for the rest of the year. The Steelers covered Steve Smith well in their first game against the Ravens this year, limiting him to six catches for 71 yards. They’re right in the middle of the pack in points allowed to receivers, but that includes games against the Jaguars and Browns. Smith is a strong WR1 play this week.
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
The Ravens have allowed the 11th-most points per game to running backs and ninth-most to receivers. In their first game this year, Bell had 107 total yards against the Ravens, while Brown caught seven passes for 90 yards. That’s a pretty impressive showing against these two stars, relative to the rest of the league. Don’t expect the Ravens to pull off that feat again. Roethlisberger threw for just 217 yards and an interception in that game, but remember that it was a Thursday night affair in Baltimore. The Steelers have a full week to prepare for the return matchup at home. All three of these guys should have a much better night this time around.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels (knee)
Flacco is one of the ultimate boom-or-bust quarterbacks in the league. He has scored fewer than 15 fantasy points in four games this year, including two in the single-digits. He also has two 25-point-plus games, with one where he surpassed 30 points. That makes him a savvy play in the right matchup, but at Pittsburgh does not qualify. He threw for 166 yards and two scores against them the first time, and the Steelers have allowed just one quarterback all season to go north of 20 points. That was Andrew Luck last week. Owen Daniels has not been ruled out just yet, but it looks like he will be inactive. You can’t really afford to roll the dice on him since this is the Sunday night game.
Steelers: LeGarrette Blount, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller
Bryant has brought a new, much-needed element to the Pittsburgh offense. In the last two weeks, he has seven receptions, two of which have gone for at least 35 yards. He should be owned in most formats now that he has taken over as the No. 3 receiver. He played just one fewer snap than Wheaton last week, so it’s clear his role is already growing in the offense. He makes the entire offense better with his ability to stretch the defense vertically, but he should not be trusted as a starter in most leagues this week.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants
Colts: Andrew Luck, Ahmad Bradshaw, Trent Richardson, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen
You’ve heard plenty about Luck’s raw yardage numbers and how impressive they are. A lot of that, however, has to do with him having thrown 42 more passes than anyone in else the league. He’s just eighth in yards per attempt and 15th in completion percentage. That doesn’t really matter to fantasy owners, though. So long as he keeps throwing an average of 43.4 passes per game, his owners will be happy. The Giants have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs. They’ve given up 416 receiving yards to running backs, as well. Only three teams have allowed more, and none of those teams, unlike the Giants, has had its bye. Bradshaw should be in for a big day.
Richardson, who is expected to return after serving as the emergency back last week’s game with a hamstring injury, is a worthy flex play against the Giants’ soft run defense. Moncrief starred while getting his first significant action last week, catching seven of 12 targets for 113 yards and a touchdown. He’s just barely inside the starting group this week. If we knew Wayne would be out, he’d be an easy starter. The risk here is that Wayne plays, relegating Moncrief to a supporting role.
Giants: Andre Williams, Rueben Randle, Larry Donnell
Williams will get another start this week, with Rashad Jennings still not ready to return from his knee injury. Williams has been a major disappointment in his first two starts, running for 110 yards on 35 carries. Still, with Jennings out at least one more game, he doesn’t have much competition for touches in the backfield. The one concern is that the Colts have allowed the second-most receiving yards to running backs, and that would perhaps mean more Peyton Hillis than we’ve seen in the Giants’ last two games. The Colts have been tough on receivers this year, but they may be without Vontae Davis (knee) and Randle has had at least nine targets in each of the last five games. Donnell has been underwhelming since his three-touchdown performance, but the Colts have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends.
Colts: Reggie Wayne (elbow), Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
Wayne is reportedly ahead of schedule and could play this week. However, unless we get concrete information, you can’t risk it with the Colts playing on Monday night. The only way you could plan on starting him is if you had a backup option, such as Moncrief or Odell Beckham Jr.
Giants: Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings (knee), Peyton Hillis, Odell Beckham Jr., Giants DST
Before Ben Roethlisberger’s outburst last week, the Colts had allowed just 14.04 points per game to quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues. Even if Davis is out, this is a very tough pass defense. Manning doesn’t miss out on being labeled a starter by much, but he just can’t quite get over the hump. Same goes for Beckham. Even with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant each scoring more than 20 points last week, the Colts have allowed the ninth-fewest points per game to receivers this year.
Quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Tony Romo
Running Backs: Le’Veon Bell, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles, Ahmad Bradshaw, Andre Ellington, Giovani Bernard, Mark Ingram, Lamar Miller, Shane Vereen, Ronnie Hillman, Alfred Morris, Frank Gore, Justin Forsett, Denard Robinson, Jerick McKinnon, Chris Ivory, Branden Oliver, Jeremy Hill, Bobby Rainey, Andre Williams, Ben Tate
Wide Receivers: Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Jeremy Maclin, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, Emmanuel Sanders, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson, Michael Floyd, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Andrew Hawkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Rueben Randle, Mike Evans, Terrance Williams, Keenan Allen, Michael Crabtree, Brandin Cooks, Brandon LaFell
Flex: Travaris Cadet, Jonathan Stewart, Marques Colston, Dwayne Bowe, Mohamed Sanu, Eric Decker, Julian Edelman, Allen Robinson, Doug Baldwin, Anquan Boldin, Trent Richardson, Donte Moncrief
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen, Julius Thomas, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Antonio Gates, Dwayne Allen, Zach Ertz, Larry Donnell, Jason Witten, Clay Harbor
Defenses: Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins
On the cusp
Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Russell Wilson, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith
Flex: Darren McFadden, Andre Holmes, Tre Mason, Pierre Garcon, Odell Beckham, Reggie Wayne, Martavis Bryant, Cordarrelle Patterson, Wes Welker, DeAngelo Williams
Tight Ends: Jared Cook, Heath Miller
Defenses: Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos