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.
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San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Must start: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Bears DST
The Bears are suddenly in the playoff hunt at 5–6 and have home games with San Francisco and Washington the next two weeks. Things could get very interesting in Chicago, but it has to start with Cutler and the offense taking care of business on Sunday. The 49er defense is 31st in overall DVOA, 31st against the pass and 27th against the run. Forte is sharing the backfield with Jeremy Langford, and Jeffery is still a little banged up, but they should both get going against the Niners. Cutler, meanwhile, is a relatively easy play in one-QB formats and should be locked in as a starter in all two-QB leagues.
Conditional start: Shaun Draughn, Jeremy Langford, Anquan Boldin, Zach Miller, Martellus Bennett (ribs)
Draughn has had 20 touches in all three of his starts this year, and has had at least 80 yards from scrimmage in two of them. Volume alone places him in the RB2 discussion. Boldin has had exactly 93 yards in each of the last two weeks, racking up 13 catches and 18 targets in that time. He, too, is reliant on volume, but there could be enough for him to reach WR3 status. Forte outcarried and outsnapped Langford last week, but it was the rookie who found the end zone. A 60-40 split in Forte’s favor is again likely, making Langford a potential flex play with a high ceiling. Whoever starts for the Bears at tight end will be worth starting in fantasy leagues. Keep your eye on Bennett’s practice participation this week.
Sit: Blaine Gabbert, Carlos Hyde (foot), Torrey Smith, Marquess Wilson, Garrett Celek, 49ers DST
There’s no question that Gabbert has played better than anyone expected, but there’s just as little doubt that he should be on all fantasy benches, even in two-QB leagues. The Bears have turned into a surprisingly tough defense against the pass.
New York Jets at New York Giants
Must start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eli Manning, Chris Ivory, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Odell Beckham Jr.
The over/under on this game is 45, but it sure does feel like it will get into the 50s. The Giants are 25th against the pass and 17th against the run in DVOA, while the Jets have gone into a defensive tailspin over the last six weeks. You’re going to be happy if you’re invested in either passing game, despite Manning’s flop against Washington last week. Darrelle Revis is still going through the concussion protocol and is no sure thing to play on Sunday. That would be great news for Manning and Beckham, but even if he plays, Revis hasn’t been his usual self this season. In addition to their poor DVOA ratings, the Giants are 26th in pass rush and 27th in pass coverage. Fitzpatrick is, without question, a QB1 this week.
Conditional start: Rueben Randle, Jets DST
Randle has touchdown upside every week, but you really need to be in a tight spot to roster him on Sunday. He has more than five receptions in just one game this season and has also topped 70 yards once. With the entire universe of receivers available to you, Randle should more than likely be on your bench.
Sit: Bilal Powell, Shane Vereen, Rashad Jennings, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell, Giants DST
We don’t really need to explain why Vereen and Jennings shouldn’t be anywhere near your lineup this week, right? Good.
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals DST
Palmer threw up a surprising dud against the 49ers but ultimately saved his fantasy day with the slowest touchdown scramble in NFL history. This is undoubtedly a tough matchup, but Andy Dalton carved up the Rams for 233 yards and three touchdowns last week. Johnson takes over as the starter for the Cardinals this week, and while the Rams present him with a tough test, it’s hard to see him as anything less than an RB2 so long as he has the Arizona backfield all to himself. Gurley, meanwhile, has suffered a reversal of fortune over the last month, averaging fewer than four yards per carry in each of his last four games. That’s largely the fault of the St. Louis passing game, which hasn’t been able to take any pressure off the rookie out of Georgia.
Conditional start: John Brown, Michael Floyd, Tavon Austin
These guys all slot as WR3s, though for different reasons. For Brown and Floyd, it’s the Arizona offense that makes them intriguing fantasy options every week. Palmer and the passing game can typically produce two receivers worth starting, and Arizona is going to always give us at least one guy who puts up WR2 or better numbers. That makes both part of the WR3 discussion every week. Austin continues to be fantasy’s Most Frustrating Player™ after catching six passes for 33 yards and running for 63 yards and a score on four carries last week. Still, you know that his production is completely unpredictable. He’s someone I almost always shy away from unless I’m desperate.
Sit: Case Keenum (concussion), Nick Foles, Andre Ellington (toe), J.J. Nelson, Brian Quick, Jared Cook, Rams DST
The Rams’ defense is the only player of note here. Remember, offense drives the action in today’s NFL. I don’t care how good a defense is, I don’t want to use it against Palmer and the Cardinals in fantasy leagues.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Devonta Freeman (concussion), Doug Martin, Julio Jones, Mike Evans
Freeman is expected to return this week after missing last week’s loss to the Vikings with a concussion. Assuming he’s back on the field, he’s my No. 1 running back this week. Tampa Bay has been very good against the run, rating second in DVOA, but Freeman racked up 131 total yards on 27 touches against them in the Bucs in their first meeting. Remember, no team has been capable of keeping him in check, even as the Falcons began to fall apart. Even when the 49ers held him to 12 yards on 12 carries, he caught eight passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He already had 43 yards in the first quarter against the Colts two weeks ago before suffering his concussion. The other three guys listed above also are locked in as starters, with Martin enjoying a particularly good matchup this week, but Freeman is right back where he belongs on top of the running back rankings. We’ll discuss the looming Mike Evans–Desmond Trufant matchup more in this week’s Cheat Sheet.
Conditional start: Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Vincent Jackson, Jacob Tamme, Falcons DST
Ryan has undoubtedly been among the most disappointing fantasy players this year, but the pendulum has swung too far against him this week in fantasy circles. Let’s first remember that he threw for 397 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers four short weeks ago. Tampa Bay is 24th in pass defense DVOA and 31st in coverage. Ryan’s not a slam-dunk starter every week by any means, but he should be good for his owners on Sunday. Winston came back down to earth after his five-touchdown game against the pathetic Eagles defense. He’s no more than a low-end QB2 in my estimation, especially if Trufant can take away Evans. That possibility also makes Jackson a bit more intriguing. He comes in as a WR2/3 this week, with 16 targets in his last two games. Tamme has done nearly all his damage this season with Leonard Hankerson out, placing him on the TE1/2 borderline for Week 13.
Sit: Tevin Coleman, Charles Sims, Roddy White, Buccaneers DST
With Freeman back on the field, Coleman is again relegated to a fantasy-irrelevant backup role. Keep him stashed just in case Freeman isn’t able to go on Sunday, though that would require a setback.
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Must start: Thomas Rawls, Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Seahawks DST
Both quarterbacks will have to make a few plays in this crucial NFC showdown, but it’s the running backs who will star for both teams. Let’s start with Peterson, who is just 72 yards behind his 2012 pace through 11 games. You’ll remember that as the year he ran for 2,097 yards and won the MVP. It was right about this time, too, that he started the streak that carried him north of 2,000 yards. It will be one of the most impressive rushing performances of the season if he begins a similar run against the Seahawks. Rawls, meanwhile, racked up 81 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries last week. In five games as Seattle’s primary runner, he has 611 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Vikings’ defense is 23rd in rush DVOA on the season. The Seahawks have been gashed by tight ends all season, allowing the second-most points to the position. Rudolph moves into the safe TE1 class and is a great replacement if you lost Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.
Conditional start: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Stefon Diggs, Vikings DST
My fantasy brethren are significantly higher on Wilson than I am this week. The Vikings are 13th in pass DVOA, fourth in pass rush and ninth in coverage. They’ve limited quarterbacks to the fifth-fewest points this season. He’s definitely in the QB1 discussion, but I’d rather start the likes of Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford. Baldwin and Diggs check in as WR3s in this matchup, though they’re trending in different directions. Baldwin has had three strong games in a row, topped off with his three-touchdown performance against the Steelers last week. He could be in line for more red-zone targets, as well, with Graham out for the season. Diggs has a brutal matchup, and the Vikings haven’t had much going through the air for the better part of a month now.
Sit: Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Luke Willson
Willson is mildly intriguing with Graham on the shelf, but tight end is far too deep to trust him this week, especially against a strong Minnesota pass defense. Keep an eye on his production with the chance of him being a long-range option in Week 14.
Houston Texans at Buffalo Bills
Must start: LeSean McCoy, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Texans DST
Houston’s defense has turned a corner over the last month or so, helping the team keep pace with the Colts in the AFC South. Despite the tough matchup, both McCoy and Watkins belong in your lineups this week. There’s plenty of reason to believe in McCoy, from his recent performance to the bump in volume he should get with Karlos Williams (shoulder) likely out. Watkins is going to have it a bit tougher. Houston is sixth in pass defense DVOA, while it’s 20th against the run. J.J. Watt is making life miserable for quarterbacks, and that obviously trickles down to the receivers. In the last three weeks alone, the Texans have held A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Brandin Cooks below their respective season averages. Hopkins owners were realistically dreaming of a 30-point fantasy game last week against the Saints, but he shockingly no-showed, catching five passes for just 36 yards. His matchup with Ronald Darby will be one of the highlights of this game.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, Tyrod Taylor, Alfred Blue, Bills DST
It might be hard for those of you invested in Taylor in two-QB leagues to get away from him this week, but understand there isn’t much of a ceiling for him on Sunday. As we said above, Houston has finally turned into the defense everyone expected it to be all season long. Over the last three weeks, the Texans held Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Drew Brees to an average of 11.93 points in standard-scoring leagues, and the only reason it was that high was thanks to an anomalous rushing touchdown by Fitzpatrick. Taylor is my No. 25 quarterback this week, behind Jameis Winston, Matt Hasselbeck and the guy he’ll face on Sunday. The Bills are really no better than league-average against the pass, and Hoyer has played like a high-end QB2 for most of the season. That’s likely his ceiling, but the floor isn’t much lower. The Bills rate 30th in rush DVOA and 21st in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus, making this actually a decent spot for Blue. He got going against a dreadful New Orleans defense last week. Think of him as a high-end flex option for Week 13.
Sit: Karlos Williams (shoulder), Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Robert Woods, Charles Clay
Clay is well off the fantasy radar. He hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3 and hasn’t had more than six points in standard scoring leagues since the middle of October. Shorts is potentially a punt play in daily leagues, but you shouldn’t have to dig this deep in a season-long format.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Must start: Buck Allen, Lamar Miller, Kamar Aiken, Jarvis Landry
All things considered, the injuries to Justin Forsett and Steve Smith weren’t awful outcomes for the Ravens. They weren’t going anywhere this season, and now they’re getting extended looks at players who could be important pieces in the future. Aiken has made the most of his opportunity at the top of the depth chart, hauling in 24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns over the last four weeks. He has turned himself into a solid WR3 in all fantasy formats. Allen, meanwhile, has averaged 21.5 touches and 99.5 yards from scrimmage over the last two games. The Dolphins’ defense is 25th in rush DVOA and has allowed the fourth-most points to running backs. Every time I want to break free from the Dolphins, they do something to keep me coming back. This time, they had a monster second half against the Jets, and follow that up with a great matchup on Sunday. Miller is ceding more touches to Jay Ajayi, but his owners should be very confident in a bounceback performance this week, so long as he doesn’t get Philbin’d the way he was the last two games. Landry has 47 targets, 34 receptions, 350 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games. He should have his way with the putrid Baltimore secondary.
Conditional start: Ryan Tannehill, DeVante Parker, Dolphins DST
When this season ends, I’m going to need a Tannehill detox. I built him up as a true breakout player all summer, and he has done nothing but disappoint. Our relationship reached its nadir in the first half of the Dolphins’ loss to the Jets last week. After having Alex Smith as one starter in a two-QB league all week, I made a Saturday morning switch to Tannehill, then watched him implode in the first half while Smith was putting together one of his best games of the season. Of course, Tannehill ended up having the better game by being a garbage-time superstar, and now he has a phenomenal matchup with the Ravens. In other words, I’m back in. You shouldn’t be afraid to join me. The Dolphins are finally giving the rookie Parker a shot in the starting lineup this week after he caught four of his 10 targets for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Remember, he was the 14th overall pick in the draft for a reason. He may be a breakout star in 2016, but he can at least be a WR3 for the rest of 2015.
Sit: Matt Schaub, Jay Ajayi, Chris Givens, Rishard Matthews, Kenny Stills, Crockett Gillmore, Jordan Cameron, Ravens DST
Schaub had a semi-decent fantasy performance against the Browns last week, throwing for 232 yards, two touchdowns and two picks. Of course, that says more about the Browns than it does about Schaub. Ajayi’s time is coming, but not until 2016. For now, he’ll just frustrate Miller owners.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Must start: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert (neck), Gary Barnidge, Bengals DST
Look at all those Bengals. That’s what happens when the No. 1 offense in DVOA gets together with the No. 29 defense. You’re going to want all your Bengals active on Sunday. Keep an eye on Eifert’s practice participation this week. He was out early in the week, which was to be expected after he suffered a neck stinger. If he gets in even a limited session on Friday, it would be a good sign that he’ll be ready for the Browns. Hill and Bernard could be in for a lot of work if the Bengals are protecting a big lead, though that script would favor the former. The Browns rank 29th in pass defense DVOA but managed to keep Green in check the first time these teams met. I wouldn’t bet on that happening again. Barnidge surged up the tight end rankings with Josh McCown this season, so give his stock a modest hit after the quarterback’s season-ending injury. He’s still an easy TE1 with Austin Davis under center.
Conditional start: Duke Johnson, Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin
Jones only makes it here because of the incredible mismatch between these teams. He’s not worth starting in most formats most weeks, but the Bengals could very well put up 35 or more points in this game. That makes Jones a dart throw if you need one. Benjamin would be a better play, even though Davis is a bit of an unknown in this context. He’s WR14 by total points and WR19 in points per game. Benjamin has scored more points than T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper, Demaryius Thomas and Randall Cobb. Johnson is akin to Theo Riddick. He’s in the RB2 discussion in full PPR leagues, but he doesn’t get enough work to really consider him as a starter in standard formats.
Sit: Austin Davis, Isaiah Crowell, Brian Hartline, Browns DST
Hey, at least LeBron James and the Cavaliers look like a force again this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Must start: T.J. Yeldon, Allen Robinson, Julius Thomas, Delanie Walker
Yeldon’s usage is beyond frustrating, but fantasy owners shouldn’t expect it to change this season. For whatever reason, Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville brain trust don’t want to use one of the team’s most talented players in the red zone. That keeps him at a low-end RB2 ceiling, since he’s totally depending on big plays to find the end zone. Robinson, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent performers this season, regardless of position. The last time he had fewer than 11 points in a game was the final day of baseball’s regular season. That was Oct. 4, for those who have forgotten. Thomas had his best game of the season last week and stands to see more targets if Allen Hurns (concussion) is unable to play on Sunday. Outside the Gronkowski-Eifert-Olsen-Barnidge group, no tight end is on more solid footing than Walker. He’s a lock for eight targets per game and is Marcus Mariota’s best weapon in the red zone.
Conditional start: Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, Allen Hurns (concussion)
Borltes hasn’t thrown for more than two touchdowns in a game since the middle of October, and he could very well be without Hurns on Sunday. He’s right on the QB1/2 borderline, but some players I’d start ahead of him include Ryan Fitzpatrick and Eli Manning. Mariota is deeper down the list, and someone I’d only consider in two-QB formats. In the first game between these teams, he had just 231 yards through the air, though he did run for a touchdown. Hurns is going through the concussion protocol, but right now it looks like he’s going to be out on Sunday.
Sit: Denard Robinson, Antonio Andrews, David Cobb, Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham, Jaguars DST, Titans DST
Andrews is part of the flex discussion every week, but he needs a good matchup to be inserted as a starter confidently. The Jaguars have allowed the fewest yards per carry this season and are fourth in rush defense DVOA. That’s not a good matchup.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates, Broncos DST
For more details on why you should be starting Hillman and Anderson if you own them, check out this week’s Fact or Fiction. In this space, it’s sufficient to say that you should believe in the ascendancy of the Denver running game. Thomas had arguably the worst game of his NFL career last week, but he still racked up 13 targets. Don’t worry about a player with his talent, especially in a great matchup like this one. Same goes for Sanders, who was finally able to stretch the field effectively with Brock Osweiler at the helm. Johnson got 10 more targets last week, catching seven of them for 92 yards and a touchdown. In three games without Keenan Allen, he has averaged 9.3 targets.
Conditional start: Brock Osweiler, Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead
Both quarterbacks in this game are potential starters in two-QB leagues. That’s good news for Osweiler and terrible news for Rivers. The latter carved up the Jaguars last week, but Denver’s pass defense is slightly better than the unit he saw down in Jacksonville. Tom Brady is the only quarterback who has really gotten to the Broncos this year, and Rivers is no Tom Brady, especially without Allen. Osweiler is taking a backseat to the run game, but the Chargers are 28th in pass defense DVOA. He’ll have a chance to make a few plays down the field. Woodhead’s production has slowed over the last few weeks. He has seven catches for 48 yards and zero scores in that time, and we know he doesn’t do anything on the ground. He’s a PPR mainstay, but no more than a mid-tier RB3 and decent flex option in standard leagues.
Sit: Melvin Gordon, Dontrelle Inman, Malcom Floyd, Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
Inman will be on the punt-play radar in daily leagues most weeks for the rest of the season, but not this one, with the Denver secondary on the other side of the field. Gordon had one of his best games as a pro last week, but he still totaled just 80 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. You heard it here first: Gordon will be one of the best fantasy bargains in 2016.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Must start: Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Jeremy Maclin, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Travis Kelce
The Chiefs have cleaned up most of their defensive issues from earlier in the season and now rank sixth in overall DVOA. Having said that, I’m comfortable labeling Carr a matchup-proof quarterback. He responded to a bad game against the Lions by throwing for 330 yards, 8.92 YPA and three touchdowns in the win over Tennessee last week. With Carr back home for the first time in three weeks, I want to cast my lot with the second-year quarterback. The same goes for Cooper and Crabtree, though one will have to deal with Marcus Peters for most of this game. The matchup is much better for the Chiefs, with the Raiders checking in at 20th in pass defense DVOA. This could be a sneakily high-scoring game, especially with Alex Smith in one of the best stretches of his career.
Conditional start: Alex Smith, Charcandrick West (hamstring), Spencer Ware, Chiefs DST
We’ll get to Smith in a second. The West–Ware conundrum is one of the most interesting this week and for the rest of the season. If West is able to return from his hamstring injury, there’s no telling how the Chiefs will dole out the work between him and Ware. There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Ware has to have a role in the offense, given how well he has played the last two weeks. At the same time, West was turning into a fantasy star before our eyes before his hamstring injury. It’s quite possible the Chiefs turn to a two-headed backfield that is great for them but a nightmare for fantasy owners. Right now, both are just outside the RB2 class because of the inherent uncertainty. Smith is quietly putting together a solid QB2 season, ranking 16th among quarterbacks in total points. He doesn’t make mistakes and has at least 33 rushing yards in each of his last four games. Smith is well worth starting in two-QB leagues this week.
Sit: Seth Roberts, Raiders DST
Congratulations if you threw a dart that hit Roberts when he went for 113 yards and two touchdowns last week. Don’t bet on that happening again.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
The easy narrative in this one is that MVP candidate Newton takes the Panthers down to New Orleans, obliterates the league’s worst defense, and leads the team to its 12th straight victory. That feels a little too clean for the way the NFL works. The Saints are going to find a way to keep this close, and that’s why Brees is a safer play than he’s getting credit for this week. It’s admittedly a bad matchup, and Cooks will have to deal with Josh Norman, but the bet here is that the Saints are ready to go this week. The best play in this game might be Stewart, who is a lock for at least 20 carries against the Saints’ awful run defense. Ingram volumes his way close to the 100-total-yard mark every game, but it hasn’t been easy of late. He needs to find the end zone to really show up for his fantasy owners. The Saints are 32nd in DVOA against tight ends. Olsen should have a field day.
Conditional start: Devin Funchess, Ben Watson
Funchess disappeared last week, but don’t let that sway you from using him on Sunday. This is the Saints were talking about. Cecil Shorts scored a touchdown against them last week. Jamison Crowder went for a score and 60 yards against them two weeks ago. Dwayne Harris had two touchdowns in New Orleans in Week 8. They can’t stop anyone through the air, and Olsen can’t do everything on his own. Funchess is a WR2/3 this week. Watson has gone three games without hitting pay dirt, but he did have nine targets a week ago. The Panthers are second in DVOA against tight ends, but with the startable pool thinning out, Watson is, at least, a high-end TE2.
Sit: C.J. Spiller, Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, Willie Snead, Saints DST
Moving right along…
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots
Must start: Tom Brady, DeMarco Murray, LeGarrette, Blount, Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, Patriots DST
No Rob Gronkowski. No Julian Edelman. No Dion Lewis. Maybe no Danny Amendola. It really doesn’t matter. Brady is still going to do what he always does. Just look at last week. Going up against the best pass defense in the league without Edelman, Lewis and Amendola, as well as Gronkowski for a portion of the game, Brady threw for 280 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores went to Brandon Bolden and Scott Chandler. The last time the Patriots were fully healthy at the skill positions, those two combined for 35 snaps. LaFell should be in for his biggest workload this week with Gronkowski out, and that makes him an easy play against a Philadelphia defense that is coming apart at the seams. The Eagles have surrendered the most points to receivers this season. Chandler is also well worth starting as long as he’s filling in for Gronk.
Conditional start: Danny Amendola (knee)
Amendola held a questionable designation all week before landing on the inactive list in Week 12. That’s a good sign for his status this week. We should know more by Sunday, but all indications are that he’ll play. This is a late kickoff, however, so if Amendola ends up with the dreaded game-time decision tag and you have a viable option in the early games, you may want to go in that direction.
Sit: Sam Bradford (shoulder), Ryan Mathews (concussion), Darren Sproles, Brandon Bolden, James White, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Keshawn Martin, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Bradford is expected to return to the field after practicing fully as early as Wednesday of this week. That won’t make any difference for any member of this offense. Garbage time may be plentiful, but that doesn’t mean it will be productive. Stay away from the Eagles this week. As for Bolden and White, there’s no reason to chase points with those two. They’re just faceless cogs in the Patriots machine.
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Ben Roethlisberger (concussion), DeAngelo Williams, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Roethlisberger returned to practice on Wednesday, and we should know by Sunday, if not by Friday afternoon, whether he will play in Week 13. It certainly appears that he’ll be good to go, and if that’s the case, the Steelers are going to put on a show for a national audience. That’s simply what this offense does, even without Le’Veon Bell. The Colts are 30th in pass rush and 17th in pass coverage, which is a terrible formula when you’re going up against Roethlisberger, Brown and Bryant. At the same time, the Steelers rank dead last in pass coverage and hover right around league average in most other defensive stats. The Colts may keep this one interesting, which would be great for anyone invested in the Steelers. The last thing you want is for them to run away and hide.
Conditional start: Matt Hasselbeck, Frank Gore, Donte Moncrief
Russell Wilson threw for 345 yards, 11.5 YPA and five touchdowns against the Steelers last week. Hasselbeck isn’t going to reach those numbers, but he can still deliver a strong fantasy performance on Sunday night. He has put up decent numbers in his four starts, throwing for 1,023 yards, 6.82 YPA and seven touchdowns against two interceptions. Think of him as a low-end QB2. Gore, meanwhile, really isn’t more than a flex play with the Colts’ run game completely stuck in the mud. He has picked up fewer than four yards per carry in his last four games. The Colts are much more likely to attack through the air, which places Moncrief on the WR3 radar this week.
Sit: Markus Wheaton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Heath Miller (rib), Jesse James, Colts DST, Steelers DST
Don’t be fooled by Wheaton’s nine-catch, 201-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Seahawks last week. Richard Sherman effectively took Brown out of the game, and Roethlisberger made them pay by hooking up with the little-used Wheaton. That experience will not repeat itself on Sunday night.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Must start: Darren McFadden, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
With Tony Romo back on the shelf, the Cowboys should get back to featuring McFadden and the run game. Washington ranks 21st in rush defense DVOA and 25th by Pro Football Focus grades, so volume and matchup are both in McFadden’s favor. Jackson has scored each of the last two weeks, though it’s a bit disconcerting that he got just four targets in the Week 12 win over the Giants. Dallas, however, has struggled against No. 1 receivers, ranking 28th in DVOA against the position. The Cowboys are also 24th against tight ends, so Jackson and Reed should thrive for Kirk Cousins.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Dez Bryant, Redskins DST
If you own Bryant, you’re likely starting him, but it’s hard to get too excited with Matt Cassel under center. I’d rather play Kamar Aiken, Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. Bryant checks in at 25th in my receiver rankings this week. As for Cousins, he’s a decent play in a two-QB league, but he’s not quite up to the QB1 class in this matchup. He has just two games with more than one touchdown pass this season. Those were against the Buccaneers (24th in pass defense DVOA) and Saints (32nd).
Sit: Matt Cassel, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST
You’re going to see some people out there telling you that Morris is somehow back after his 78-yard performance last week. The number alone should tell you not to believe them. He volumed his way to that anemic total, requiring 23 carries to get there. He did run for 92 yards against the Saints, but anyone reading this could probably get at least half that, if not more, against that terrible defense. Washington is 31st in rush offense DVOA for a reason. That reason is Morris and Jones are incapable of running the ball effectively, especially behind an offensive line that ranks 18th in run blocking.