- Should you put Ben Roethlisberger or Mitch Trubisky in your lineups? Is Dion Lewis or Derrick Henry worth a play against the Cowboys? Find out in this week's Start 'Em, Sit 'Em.
One quarterback who has started all his team’s games this season is in the top five in yards per attempt and touchdowns, while in the bottom five in interceptions. Three more are among the five-best quarterbacks in the league in two of those stats, but just one has managed to maximize YPA and touchdowns, while minimizing turnovers. Any guesses as to his identity?
No, it’s not Patrick Mahomes. He’s fourth in YPA and first in touchdowns, but his six interceptions are tied for 12th-most in the league.
Jared Goff? Like Mahomes, he’s in the top five in YPA (first) and touchdowns (fifth), but he has thrown five picks, which has him in a five-way tie for 19th, more than nine quarterbacks who have started every game this year.
The answer? It’s Philip Rivers. The 15-year veteran is putting together one of the best seasons of his career, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 2,008 yards, 9.13 YPA and 17 touchdowns against three interceptions. He ranks second in the league in YPA and third in touchdowns while throwing the fifth-fewest interceptions, trailing only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan (the other quarterback to clear two of the thresholds) and Alex Smith. And yet, some fantasy owners are questioning whether Rivers is a worthy starter in Seattle this week. In fact, my brethren in the fantasy industry have assigned him a consensus ranking of 14th among quarterbacks, placing way too much stock in what’s admittedly a tough matchup. I have him ninth, which makes me more bullish on him than any of my fellow rankers.
The season-long stats mostly speak for themselves, but this isn’t the case of Rivers riding a few huge games to gaudy numbers. He has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the league, throwing for multiple scores in every game while hitting at least 7.5 YPA in six of seven contests. He has scored at least 17 points in standard-scoring leagues six times, and 20 or more points five times. Three of his 20-point games came against the Raiders, Chiefs and 49ers, teams ranked 24th or worse in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, aFPA, but he hasn’t simply fattened up on bad competition—which is what a good quarterback should do anyway. He carved up Buffalo, ranked second in quarterback aFPA, for 256 yards, 9.48 YPA and three touchdowns, totaling 22.74 points. In his last two games, wins over the Browns (first in QB aFPA) and Titans (11th), he totaled 513 yards, 11.15 YPA and four touchdowns against one interception.
Seattle may present him with a tough matchup on the road, but that’s nothing new for Rivers. He torched Buffalo on the road, and the only thing that kept him from having an even bigger showing in Cleveland was the fact that the Chargers led by at least two scores for the final 40 minutes of the game. Rivers may not have his usual ceiling in Seattle, but you don’t take guaranteed production off the table, and it’s worth noting that the 48 over/under on this game is the fifth-highest one on the board this week. There’s no reason to make perfect the enemy of good here. Keep Rivers in your lineup.
With that, let’s get to the rest of Week 9 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (at Ravens)
Yeah. It’s Roethlisberger on the road against a team that gave him fits in Pittsburgh earlier this season. I don’t think I care. If you believe that Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster and James Conner will all get theirs in this game, then you have to believe that Roethlisberger will be right there with them. Even with this game being at the home of the defensive-minded Ravens, the over/under is a healthy 47.5. You can trust Roethlisberger.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers (at Panthers)
In Fitzpatrick’s first three games of the season, he threw for 1,230 yards, 11.08 YPA, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He struggled in the first half of Week 4 against Chicago’s excellent pass defense, and that cost him his job. Pressed back into action last week, he completed 11 of 15 passes for 194 yards, 12.93 YPA, two scores and zero picks in one quarter, leading the Buccaneers all the way back in what turned out to be a narrow loss to the Bengals. In other words, take out an ugly half against one of the league’s best pass defenses, and Fitzpatrick has thrown for 1,424 yards, 11.3 YPA, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions in 13 quarters of action this season. Get him in your lineup against an average Carolina pass defense.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (at Vikings)
Stafford is right on the QB1/2 border this week, but I’d still feel good about playing him if he were regularly one of my options. The over/under on Lions-Vikings is 49.5, and Minnesota’s offense is going to force Stafford to throw more often than Jim Bob Cooter would like. He may have just lost Golden Tate, but he still has plenty of weapons in Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson. Stafford is a low-end QB1 this week.
Joe Flacco, Ravens (vs. Steelers)
Flacco carved up the Steelers in their first meeting this season, throwing for 363 yards, 8.64 YPA and two touchdowns. Flacco’s unlikely to be that efficient again, given that he has completed barely more than 60% of his passes for 6.61 YPA this season, but this game has sneaky high-scoring potential. If you like Roethlisberger, as I do, you should like Flacco, too, at least as a solid QB2 play.
Alex Smith, Redskins (vs. Falcons)
Washington’s passing game has been terrible this season, but Atlanta’s defense has somehow been worse. They rank 30th in quarterback aFPA, 28th and 30th, respectively, against running backs and receivers in standard leagues, and 32nd and 30th against them in PPR formats. Smith and the passing game can’t simply show up and expect to add to Atlanta’s misery, but there’s enough here to believe in the quarterback as a top-15 option this week.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (vs. Chiefs)
Mayfield finds himself in a spot similar to Smith, at least from a matchup perspective. The Chiefs have been awfully friendly to opposing quarterbacks, ranking 28th in aFPA against the position. At the same time, no defense has slowed down Patrick Mahomes and company, and that’s going to provide Mayfield with plenty of volume on Sunday. He doesn’t need to be efficient to produce low-end QB1 or high-end QB2 numbers.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (at Bills)
The Bears are big favorites at Buffalo, but this has the look of the ugliest game of the week. The over/under on this game is 37.5. The next lowest of the week is Titans-Bills at 41. The Bears should shutdown a Bills offense led by Nathan Peterman, meaning Trubisky likely won’t need to lead the offense to a 30-point day for his team to come away with a win. The Bills, meanwhile, are stout defensively, ranking second in quarterback aFPA, and the Bears may be without Allen Robinson again because of a groin injury. Trubisky’s rushing value nearly got him into the "Start but…" section, but, ultimately, he’s no more than a middling QB2 in a game where 16 or 19 points could be enough to win.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (vs. Titans)
If Bears-Bills isn’t the ugliest game of the week, Titans-Cowboys will be. These teams are nearly mirror images of one another, especially through the air, where neither team has had any success this season. The addition of Amari Cooper is good news for Prescott, but it’s still hard to trust him in a fantasy setting when there are so many other options at your disposal.
Marcus Mariota, Titans (at Cowboys)
Everything working against Prescott as a fantasy starter applies to Mariota, as well. You can craft a scenario in which Mariota delivers a performance worthy of fantasy attention, but it takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics. There’s little reason to jump through those hoops when players like Joe Flacco, Baker Mayfield, Case Keenum, Brock Osweiler and even Prescott, all clearly superior options, are also available in most leagues.
Aaron Jones, Packers (at Patriots)
It’s time for me and my fellow Jones truthers to rejoice. The Best Back in Green Bay™ finally got a chance to shine last week, running for 86 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. With Ty Montgomery gone, Jones should get more looks in the passing game. Jamaal Williams will still have his role, but the Packers clearly made a concerted effort to feature Jones last week, and it nearly gave them a win in Los Angeles over the undefeated Rams. They aren’t going to change that style in New England this week.
Latavius Murray, Vikings (vs. Lions)
This might seem obvious, but Dalvin Cook is expected to make his return from a hamstring injury this week. Cook is likely be limited, but his presence could have some Murray owners looking in another direction. That would be a mistake. It's a bit of a surprise that the Vikings are running Cook out there with their bye looming in Week 10, and it would be a shock if he got more than a few carries. Murray should remain in control of the Minnesota backfield for at least one more game, and it could be a lucrative one for him. The Lions rank 30th in running back aFPA in standard leagues, and 29th in PPR formats. The Vikings are favored by 5.5 points, and if the game follows that script Murray will get plenty of volume.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets (at Dolphins)
Nevermind the fact that Crowell ran for just 25 yards last week. The Bears are a tough draw for any back, ranking third in running back aFPA, and the Jets were playing from behind the entire afternoon. Pay more attention to the fact that he got 13 carries, compared with five for Trenton Cannon. With Bilal Powell out for the season, Crowell will hog most of the carries for the Jets. So long as the Dolphins don’t run away from them on Sunday, Crowell should be in line to be a top-25 back for the week.
Dion Lewis, Titans (at Cowboys)
As ugly as this game is going to be, it’s unlikely to end 3-0 or 9-6. Someone is going to pop a meaningful play here or there, and Lewis is best equipped to do it for the Titans. Dallas has been better against backs in standard leagues than PPR formats, and Lewis has consistently been a bigger threat than Derrick Henry. Even when Henry got 12 carries in the team’s last game, a 20-19 loss to the Chargers, Lewis got 13, running for 91 yards while Henry trudged his way to 33 yards.
LeSean McCoy, Bills (vs. Bears)
Do you want anything to do with anyone on an offense led by Nathan Peterman going up against the Bears? The Bills’ implied team total is 13.75 points, the lowest mark we’ve seen this season. McCoy’s name brand will have him on the fantasy radar this week, but there is no reason to believe anyone on this offense will get anything going against Chicago on Sunday.
Derrick Henry, Titans (at Cowboys)
Henry has yet to rush for 60 yards in a game this season. He finally scored his first touchdown in Week 7. He’s a non-factor in the passing game. The three most-productive games out of Tennessee’s backfield this season belong to Dion Lewis. Not to belabor the point, but Titans-Cowboys is likely to be a slugfest reminiscent of a game from the mid-1990s, not 2018. In other words, there’s absolutely nothing to like about Henry this week. The only way he shows up in meaningful fantasy fashion is if he punches in a short-yardage touchdown, and that’s not a bet you should have to make, even with six teams on bye.
Duke Johnson, Browns (vs. Chiefs)
Johnson and Henry are both much higher than I would have expected in the consensus rankings kept by FantasyPros. Henry is 35th among backs, while Johnson is 36th. That suggests both are on the flex radar, and it is desperation time for some owners with six teams taking a seat. Still, while I can understand the reasoning for Henry, even though I don’t buy it, I don’t even see the argument for Johnson. He has been invisible in Cleveland’s offense all season, catching 20 of 29 targets for 203 yards, while averaging fewer than three carries per game. The team made changes at the top earlier this week by firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, but to start Johnson this week is to believe in an apparition.
Ito Smith, Falcons (at Redskins)
Remember when Smith was set to be a league-winner? Man, those were wild times. In two games since Devonta Freeman went on IR, Smith has 38 yards on 18 carries. Yet somehow he refuses to leave the fantasy consciousness, sitting ahead of Henry and Johnson in FantasyPros consensus ranking at 33rd among running backs. It’s time to let this one go, guys. And of course we’re going to take a victory lap here and link to our piece written in the aftermath of Freeman going on IR. If we couldn’t take victory laps, where would be the fun in writing about sports?
Demaryius Thomas, Texans (at Broncos)
Thomas gets a shot at the NFL’s quickest revenge game ever, facing the only team he has ever known five days after it traded him to Houston. I wrote earlier this week about the effects the trade would have on Thomas’s fantasy value. In short, he gets a slight boost thanks to a quarterback upgrade that outweighs his transition to being a clear No. 2 receiver in his offense for the first time in his career. Denver’s pass rush should be able to get to Deshaun Watson, but I still like Thomas to play to safe WR3 production this week.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos (vs. Texans)
I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to call yourself part of the fantasy community if you aren’t excited about Sutton’s first game as a starter. The rookie out of SMU has bided his time this season, catching 17 passes for 324 yards and two touchdowns while playing in the shadows of Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. He’ll get his shot the rest of the season, and it starts on Sunday against the Texans. I’d be surprised if he got fewer than eight targets in that game, making him WR2/3 material. Remember, he was the 40th pick in the draft for a reason. The 23-year-old can ball.
D.J. Moore, Panthers (vs. Buccaneers)
Moore finally emerged from behind Torrey Smith with the veteran inactive last week, catching five passes for 90 yards. Smith has not been practicing, which is a good indication that Moore will draw another start on Sunday. It’s time for him to take on a larger role in the offense, anyway, especially after he showed what he can do when he’s getting regular targets throughout a game. The Buccaneers feature the league’s worst pass defense, ranking 31st in wide receiver aFPA, and 32nd in quarterback aFPA.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (vs. Chargers)
Baldwin flopped last week, getting just three targets and catching two of them for 26 yards. Much of that, however, had to do with the fact that the Seahawks took a 21-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, and never led by fewer than 14 points the rest of the game. Russell Wilson attempted just 17 passes, with Chris Carson and Mike Davis combining for 35 carries. All of Baldwin’s targets came in the first half, and the one he didn’t catch was an end-zone target. The Seahawks likely won’t be able to run away from the Chargers the way they did the Lions last week. What’s more, the Chargers are ranked 28th in wide receiver aFPA.
Amari Cooper, Cowboys (vs. Titans)
You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts. As bad as Cooper’s numbers were in Oakland, there were a few encouraging signs. Most notably, he caught 22 of 31 targets, a 71% catch rate that blows away his 56.7% career mark coming into the season. Cooper will have less competition for targets in Dallas than he did in Oakland, and he’s clearly the team’s biggest threat in the red zone, at least in the passing game. Give me Cooper over players such as Chris Godwin, Jordy Nelson, Geronimo Allison and Jermaine Kearse this week.
Tre’Quan Smith, Saints (vs. Rams)
It seems I’m the only member of the fantasy community who isn’t bullish on Smith this week. In fact, every time I update my rankings, the system asks me if I’m sure I want to have Smith ranked 54th among receivers when his consensus ranking is 36th. Yes, I’m sure. The optimism is based mostly on the 60.5 over/under on Rams-Saints, and I’ll be the first to admit that’s as good a reason as any to take a shot someone you’re slotting as a WR3, especially in a week with six teams on bye. I just can’t hop on board this particular train. Put simply, I don’t see where Smith gets his volume. It’s not coming at the expense of Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara or Mark Ingram. At the same time, it’s not as though there’s much room for his role to grow. He has played at least two-thirds of the snaps in all of the Saints’ last three games, and while he did put up a big number on Drew Brees’s record-setting night, he has six catches for 62 yards in the other two games.
Randall Cobb, Packers (at Patriots)
Cobb returned from a hamstring injury last week, catching four of five targets for 40 yards in the Packers’ 29-27 loss to the Rams. Cobb was second on the team in both receptions and targets, but he played fewer snaps than Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison. Cobb does bring something unique to the offense in the slot, but Valdes-Scantling emerged in October, and Allison was the second-most reliable receiver on the team in September, trailing only Davante Adams. With all those mouths to feed, plus the emerging Aaron Jones, it’s hard to trust Cobb as a fantasy starter, even in what could be a shootout.
Keke Coutee, Texans (at Broncos)
Coutee’s on-again, off-again relationship with the fantasy community is in the latter status after Houston traded for Demaryius Thomas. While Coutee still retains fantasy value and could secure the majority of the deep looks previously reserved for Will Fuller, he’s going to be a boom-or-bust player. That’s not the sort of player you want to believe in, especially when he’s returning from a hamstring injury.
Mike Williams, Chargers (at Seahawks)
Williams has gone silent after a hot start to the season, catching six passes for 119 yards and one touchdown in his last four games. He has one reception in three of those contests, taking a backseat not only to Keenan Allen, but also Tyrell Williams. It’s possible the Chargers used their bye to figure out ways to get the younger Williams more involved, but he needs to show us a prove-it game before he gets back into fantasy lineups.
Austin Hooper, Falcons (at Redskins)
Hooper has a consistent role in a high-powered, pass-friendly offense, and that’s enough to make him at least a worthy streamer every week. In his last three games, he has 21 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown. In a week where Zach Ertz, Jack Doyle, Eric Ebron, Evan Engram and C.J Uzomah are on bye, Hooper is an easy starter.
Jordan Reed, Redskins (vs. Falcons)
It’s remarkable that Reed has been healthy all season and this ineffective, but he is due for some positive regression. He ranks eighth among tight ends and first on Washington in targets, yet has just one touchdown on the season. That cannot stand, especially for a player who is so dangerous in the red zone. The Falcons have done a decent job against tight ends, but rank 30th in quarterback aFPA on the season.
Chris Herndon, Jets (at Dolphins)
Herndon has scored touchdowns in three straight games, while totaling just 11 targets in the process. Basically, he’s the reverse-Reed this season. Still, He has turned into a weapon for Sam Darnold, and with Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson out, the quarterback will take all the help he can get. The Dolphins rank 26th in tight end aFPA in standard-scoring leagues on the season.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (vs. Lions)
We’ve been saying this for a while, and we’ll say it again. It is hard for a tight end to show up when he plays with two star receivers who hog more than 54% of the team’s total target share. Rudolph has been reduced to picking up the scraps, and that has worn on his fantasy value. He has topped 60 yards in a game just once this season, and hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3. Even last week when he got seven targets, his most since the last game of September, he caught just four passes for 39 yards.
Charles Clay, Bills (vs. Bears)
Six teams are on bye this week taking five viable starting tight ends with them, so more than a few owners are going to be scrounging around at this position. Still, Buffalo’s offense is a terrible bet this week, even worse than it usually is. Tight ends I’d start ahead of Clay include Rudolph, Ben Watson, Hayden Hurst, Jordan Thomas, Jeff Heuerman, Cameron Brate and Mark Andrews.
Geoff Swaim, Cowboys (vs. Titans)
I’d play all those tight ends, plus Clay and Nick Vannett ahead of Swaim. The last time he had more than three targets in a game was the last day of the MLB regular season.