Buffalo Bills at New York Jets
Must start: Karlos Williams, Chris Ivory, Sammy Watkins, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Jets DST
LeSean McCoy will be limited because of his shoulder injury, but Williams will not have the easiest night either. The Jets have allowed the fewest points per game to running backs, surrendering just 3.41 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown. Watkins will have to deal with Darrelle Revis, while Marshall will face off with Ronald Darby. Decker, in fact, could be the receiver who flies under the radar and ends up having the best game of the three, though all are very safe, strong plays.
Conditional start: Tyrod Taylor, Ryan Fitzpatrick, LeSean McCoy (shoulder), Charles Clay, Bills DST
Taylor only had a total of 15.24 fantasy points last week. Safe play was in full effect because he was coming back from a injury. The Jets are a tough matchup, but he’s a mid-tier QB2. Same goes for Fitzpatrick, who has posted at least 18.9 points in three of his last four games. If McCoy is able to go, he’ll be a must-start, facing that same matchup caveat mentioned for Williams above. He would also push Williams down to a conditional start tag, but the rookie has proved he can make a lot of noise with limited touches. You wouldn’t have to squint to find a flex spot for Williams if McCoy plays.
Sit: Stevan Ridley, Robert Woods
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Jeremy Langford, Todd Gurley, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Rams DST
Gurley will do what he normally does, dominate. Langford opened a whole lot of eyes in his first career start last week, but he faces a much tougher test against the Rams. Think of him as a low-end RB2 this week. In three games since returning from his hamstring injury, Jeffery has 28 catches for 414 yards and two touchdowns, good for an average of 17.73 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. You can safely bet on he and Bennett both getting 10-plus targets from Jay Cutler.
Conditional start: Jay Cutler, Tavon Austin
This is undoubtedly a tough draw for Cutler, but there’s no ignoring the fact that he has been a steady fantasy performer since returning from a hamstring injury. He has scored at least 18.2 points in all five games since getting back in the lineup and has averaged 19.24 points per game. Austin, the Most Frustrating Man in Fantasy Football, was at it again last week, catching four passes for 15 yards but picking up 66 yards on the ground on eight carries. His ceiling, combined with his unpredictability, makes him forever a high-end WR3.
Sit: Nick Foles, Matt Forte (knee), Marquess Wilson, Eddie Royal (knee), Brian Quick, Jared Cook, Bears DST
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, James Starks, Randall Cobb, Eric Ebron, Packers DST
The Lions have allowed the fourth most points per game to quarterbacks. The Packers have lost two straight games with Rodgers under center for the first time since 2010. Sometimes it’s good to bet on the narrative. Starks is officially the No. 1 back in Green Bay, even when Eddie Lacy is healthy. The Lions have struggled similarly against the run, surrendering the third-most points per game to backs and ranking 29th in rush defense DVOA. Ebron’s consistency puts him just on the right side of the TE1/2 line every week, and the Packers have allowed the 11th-most points per game to tight ends.
Conditional start: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Golden Tate, Davante Adams, James Jones, Calvin Johnson (ankle)
The good news for Stafford is that he’ll likely have to throw the ball 40 times to keep up with Rodgers. Johnson has been limited in practice because of his injury but can still pull in a few points. Stafford could theoretically volume his way to a QB1 performance, but this Green Bay pass defense has been very good all season. It’s awfully hard to believe in the Detroit run game, but if you’re looking for a fantasy play from this team, it has to be Bell. He was the lead back in their last game before the bye, running seven times for 56 yards. Adams is clearly the No. 2 receiver in Green Bay this week, and he’s very close to a must-start in my estimation. He has played 97% of the snaps since returning from his ankle injury and had seven catches on 11 targets for 93 yards last week. The overall matchup for the Packers keeps Jones on the fantasy radar, but you need him to score a touchdown to show up in meaningful fantasy fashion. He’s just not going to do it with yards.
Sit: Ameer Abdullah, Eddie Lacy (groin), Lions DST
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Darren McFadden, Doug Martin, Dez Bryant, Mike Evans
As good as Bryant and Evans are, we could see the running backs dominate this game. The Cowboys clearly want to lean on McFadden, giving him 47 carries over the last two games. He looked great in a tough matchup with the Eagles last week, racking up 117 yards. Meanwhile, Martin has an excellent matchup with a Cowboys unit that is 27th in rush DVOA and has surrendered the second-most points to running backs. Bryant and Evans are easy plays, even with uneven quarterback performance, but McFadden and Martin will be the stars of this one.
Conditional start: Matt Cassel, Jameis Winston, Austin Seferian-Jenkins (shoulder), Cowboys DST
This matchup, however, is undeniably great, making Cassel a solid play in two-quarterback leagues. The same goes for Winston, though he desperately needs Seferian-Jenkins to get back on the field. The song remains the same for the second-year tight end. If he can return, he’s well worth starting. He’s part of the glut at the backend of the TE1 class, but he’s more talented and has a better role than, say, Julius Thomas, Jason Witten and Jordan Cameron.
Sit: Christine Michael, Charles Sims, Terrance Williams, Vincent Jackson (knee), Jason Witten, Buccaneers DST
Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans
Must start: Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker, Panthers DST
Newton’s not going to get his fantasy points in the traditional manner, but he will get his at the end of the day. He will do what he needs to do and his fantasy owners are just fine with that. Newton is third among quarterbacks in total points and second in points per game, trailing only Brady. Both of these teams have been tough on running backs, but this game sets up excellently for Stewart. Even in Nashville, the Panthers should be able to control the matchup with relative ease. We know how Carolina wins its games, and it’s not with Ted Ginn and Corey Brown. Walker’s on the right side of the TE1/2 border this week, but don’t plan on another fortunate 61-yard touchdown.
Conditional start: Marcus Mariota, Antonio Andrews, Dorial Green-Beckham
Mariota returned from his knee injury in a big way last week, throwing for 371 yards and four touchdowns in an overtime win against the Saints. He’s one of two quarterbacks to have multiple games this season with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The other is Tom Brady. The Panthers, however, are second in overall and pass defense DVOA. Remember that Andrews is really a matchup guy. I’d feel bad about him as my RB2, and only decent with him in a flex spot. We’ll also probably see a decent amount of David Cobb this week. Green-Beckham got a season-high 10 targets last week, catching five of them for 77 yards. He’s likely the team’s top fantasy receiver from this point forward, though you should still think of him as a low-end WR3 this week.
Sit: Ted Ginn, Devin Funchess, Corey Brown, Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright (knee), Titans DST
New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins
Must start: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, DeSean Jackson, Ben Watson, Jordan Reed
Brees has thrown for fewer than 300 yards twice this season. He has thrown for more than 350 yards four times. After a surprisingly low touchdown rate through six games, he has 10 scores in his last two. Now he gets a Washington defense that will likely be without at least two starters in its secondary (DeAngelo Hall and Bashaud Breeland). He’s a top-three quarterback this week. Cooks and Snead should also take advantage and are similarly easy starts against Washington. Ingram continues to rack up touches getting 26 more a week ago. As long as he finds the end zone, he’s a near lock for 15 points in standard-scoring leagues. Jackson looked spry in his return to the field and was already practicing fully on Wednesday. He, too, should find a friendly secondary on the field this week. Reed saved his game in Week 9 with a late touchdown.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Pierre Garcon
Forget about Cousins as just a starter in two-quarterback leagues. He can get into traditional lineups, especially if you just lost Ben Roethlisberger or Andrew Luck, or have Matt Ryan or Philip Rivers on bye. The Saints have allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks this year. They’ve held just two quarterbacks below 20 points. Thanks to the matchup, both Cousins and Garcon should be on your radar this week.
Sit: C.J. Spiller, Matt Jones, Alfred Morris, Chris Thompson, Marques Colston, Brandon Coleman, Jamison Crowder, Saints DST, Redskins DST
Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles
Must start: Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, DeMarco Murray, Jarvis Landry, Eagles DST
Since Joe Philbin’s ouster in Miami, Miller has been among the very best fantasy backs in the league. In four games with Dan Campbell at the helm, Miller has 347 rushing yards, 116 receiving yards and six touchdowns in four games, which translates to an average of 20.58 points per game. Philadelphia presents a tough matchup, but Miller has the look of a top-five or top-seven back for the rest of the season. Similarly, Murray has turned back into an RB1 over his last four games, also thanks in part to finally getting the ball with significant frequency. He has had at least 18 carries in every game of Philadelphia’s 3–1 run, and that pattern is going to continue for the rest of the season. Tannehill was frustratingly held out of the end zone last week, despite throwing for 309 yards and 8.58 yards per attempt. He should be considered a low-end QB1 against the Eagles. Malcolm Jenkins, who should get primary duty on Landry in the slot, has allowed a 114.9 quarterback rating when covering slot receivers.
Conditional start: Sam Bradford, Ryan Mathews, Jordan Matthews, Dolphins DST
Bradford and Matthews hooked up nine times for 133 yards and a touchdown last week, but both their days would have looked rather pedestrian if not for overtime. The Dolphins pass defense isn’t scaring anyone, but there’s no reason to dive in head first on the Bradford–Matthews connection. The quarterback is no more than a mid-tier QB2, while the receiver is a low-end WR2, at best. Mathews with one T, on the other hand, has found the end zone in three of the Eagles’ last four games and is doing a ton of damage with limited opportunity. He’s a legitimate flex play, even though he’s not going to get more than 12 or 14 touches.
Sit: Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Rishard Matthews, Kenny Stills, Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Jordan Cameron, Zach Ertz
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Gary Barnidge, Steelers DST
The Ben Roethlisberger effect is back. With the starter out again, Brown has nowhere near the ceiling or floor that he typically does. With Landry Jones, he’s barely a WR1. The effect does not apply to Williams, at least beyond the fact that it does limit the explosiveness of the offense as a whole, just like it didn’t bring down Le’Veon Bell. Count Barnidge among those hoping that Josh McCown will be able to return this week. In six games with McCown under center, Barnidge has 36 catches for 512 yards and six scores. In three games with Manziel, he has six grabs for 90 yards and zero touchdowns.
Conditional start: Duke Johnson, Martavis Bryant
Just like Brown becomes a low-end WR1 without Roethlisberger, Bryant falls to a conditional start without the star quarterback available. He can still be thought of as a high-end WR3 or flex play. Johnson had just two catches for 38 yards last week, though one did go for a touchdown. He’s a strong choice in PPR leagues, but no more than a low-end RB3 in standard formats.
Sit: Johnny Manziel, Josh McCown (shoulder), Landry Jones, Isaiah Crowell, Travis Benjamin, Heath Miller, Browns DST
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens
Must start: Blake Bortles, T.J. Yeldon, Justin Forsett, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns (foot)
The Ravens have allowed the second-most points per game to quarterbacks and receivers this year. Bortles is ninth among quarterbacks in points per game, while Robinson and Hurns are seventh and 11th, respectively, at receiver. In other words, this is a dream matchup for the Jaguars. Even Yeldon, who managed to top 100 total yards against the tough Jets defense last week, should thrive in this game. Get all your Jaguars active, other than perhaps Julius Thomas. On the other side, only Forsett warrants guaranteed fantasy attention. Understand, however, that the Jaguars have allowed the fewest yards per carry in the league this year.
Conditional start: Kamar Aiken, Julius Thomas, Jaguars DST
Aiken has filled in admirably for Steve Smith this year, catching 22 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown in the three games Smith has missed either largely or entirely. At the very least, he should get seven or eight targets, which places him in the WR2/3 discussion. Thomas is always in the TE1/2 discussion, but guys like Charles Clay, Eric Ebron and, if he can finally return, Austin Seferian-Jenkins would all be better options.
Sit: Joe Flacco, Buck Allen, Crockett Gillmore, Ravens DST
Minnesota Vikings at Oakland Raiders
Must start: Derek Carr, Adrian Peterson, Stefon Diggs, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree
Carr has been on fire the last three weeks, throwing for 923 yards, 8.32 YPA and 11 touchdowns against one interception. The Vikings’ defense is 15th in pass DVOA, and they’ve reached that league-average ranking by beating up on bad quarterbacks. Carr, Cooper and Crabtree will give this defense everything it can handle. Plus, if Latavius Murray is out because of his concussion from last week, the passing game will have to play an even larger role than it usually does for the Raiders. The Raiders have been a bit better than league average against the run, and a bit worse than league average against the pass. Diggs presents a matchup nightmare for D.J. Hayden, who has been the third-worst cover corner in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
Conditional start: Latavius Murray (concussion), Vikings DST
The only reason Murray appears here is because his status for this game is still up in the air. If he goes for the Raiders, he should go for 100% of his fantasy owners. This is a late start on Sunday afternoon, so hopefully we get some clarity before the early games begin. I hate using a defense on the road against a good offense, but there’s no reason to fade Minnesota for a significantly worse unit. Some stream possibilities I’d consider over them are Pittsburgh and Dallas.
Sit: Teddy Bridgewater (concussion), Taiwan Jones, Marcel Reece, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Andre Holmes, Kyle Rudolph, Raiders DST
New England Patriots at New York Giants
Must start: Tom Brady, Eli Manning, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Odell Beckham Jr., Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
The over/under on this game is 55.5. That alone is a green light to get pretty much any realistic fantasy starter into your lineups. The Giants have allowed the second most yards and catches to receivers this year, and Trumaine McBride, the team’s primary man in slot coverage, has surrendered 28 catches on 35 targets for 304 yards, two touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 110. The lone concern for Blount is that this game won’t be enough of a blowout for him to be featured in the second half. The loss of Dion Lewis doesn’t really affect him. In fact, you could say that it has a negative impact on him, since he doesn’t shine until he’s protecting a big lead, and the absence of Lewis will make it harder on the Patriots to create those deficits. Vereen might come as a surprise, but the Giants are going to have to lean on Manning and the passing game to stay in this one. Vereen has come on strong recently, scoring in three of his last five games and catching 22 passes for 187 yards over that span.
Conditional start: Brandon LaFell
LaFell is always going to be intriguing simply because he’s on the Patriots, but he is trending in the right direction. After two straight ho-hum games, he caught five of his nine targets for 102 yards last week. He’s never going to be a slam dunk WR2, but he always has that capability because this offense is just so potent.
Sit: Brandon Bolden, James White, Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Rueben Randle, Danny Amendola, Giants DST
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
Must start: Peyton Manning (foot), Charcandrick West, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders (ankle), Travis Kelce, Broncos DST
The Chiefs have been much better against the pass over the last month or so, but this was one team Manning was able to get to earlier this year. After a terrible first half in their first meeting, he ended up throwing for 256 yards and three touchdowns in the Broncos’ Week 2 win. Hopefully we get some encouraging news on Sanders before the early games kick off, but for now you can plan on having him at your disposal. Thomas likely has a date with Marcus Peters, who’s 34th among cornerbacks in coverage this season. That shouldn’t scare you or Thomas. West has been very good in his last two games, and we know he’s the man in the Kansas City backfield, but this is a brutal matchup, and if the game gets out of hand he could be phased out of the offense. Kelce is the safest fantasy play on the Chiefs this week.
Conditional start: Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Maclin
Anderson and Hillman both had seven carries last week. Anderson had 34 yards, and Hillman had one. Yep, one. Game flow could grant both of them more totes in this game, but neither inspires much confidence. They both have an RB2 ceiling but enter the game more as high-end RB3s. Aqib Talib may be serving his one-game suspension, but that just means Maclin will deal with Chris Harris instead. It’s an equally bad matchup.
Sit: Alex Smith, Albert Wilson, Owen Daniels, Vernon Davis, Chiefs DST
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Must start: Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Larry Fitzgerald, Jimmy Graham, Cardinals DST, Seahawks DST
This should be a great real-life game on Sunday night, but it could be a frustrating one for fantasy owners looking for a big game out of some of their regular starters. I’d still roll with Palmer, but I do have Blake Bortles and Derek Carr ranked ahead of him this week. The Seattle matchup isn’t the death sentence it was in 2013 or 2014, but it’s still no cakewalk. I have more confidence in him than I do in Johnson, however. The Seahawks have allowed the second fewest points per game to running backs and are eighth in rush defense DVOA. The same can be said for Lynch, who squares off with Arizona’s No. 3-ranked rush DVOA. Don’t shy away from Fitzgerald because of the matchup. Is it a tough one? Of course. But we’re still talking about the No. 4 receiver in points per game. You don’t sit him because of a bad matchup. Again, this could be beautiful football, but ugly fantasy football.
Conditional start: Russell Wilson, John Brown (hamstring), Michael Floyd
Wilson is 23rd among quarterbacks in points per game this season. He has only scored more than 20 points once this season and that was Week 2. Conversely, he has had fewer than 15 points three times, and all of those have come in his last four games. I’m only turning to him if I’m absolutely desperate, and that goes for two-QB leagues, as well. There’s no way Fitzgerald, Brown and Floyd all show up for their fantasy owners this week. That just doesn’t happen against this caliber of defense. Fitzgerald is the only Arizona receiver who is matchup proof. The others are more high-end WR3s than they are WR2s this week. I have more confidence in Floyd, simply because I don’t trust speed receivers coming off hamstring injuries.
Sit: Andre Ellington, David Johnson, Thomas Rawls, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett
Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals
Must start: Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Bengals DST
Those of you who are invested in Cincinnati players are going to feel pretty good about having the Monday night hammer in your hands this week. Houston’s defense is 21st in DVOA and is below average against both the run and pass. It shouldn’t present much of a challenge to the Bengals’ offense, which is second in overall DVOA and first in pass DVOA (yes, ahead of New England). The Texans have allowed the sixth-most points per game to running backs this year, so it stands to reason that at least one Bengals runner will do well this week. The smart money is on Bernard, who simply has a more lucrative role in the offense at this point. Hopkins will have to deal with Adam Jones, but you know he’s getting force-fed at least 12 targets in this game. He’s a top-five play at receiver every week. To be fair, Jones is ranked fourth in coverage by Pro Football Focus through nine weeks. This could be Hopkins’s toughest test to date.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, Jeremy Hill, Nate Washington, Marvin Jones
We’ve seen Hoyer volume his way to big games time and time again this year. He’s 14th among quarterbacks in points per game despite the Texans being 3–5, and he has had at least 20.9 points in three of his last four starts. The Bengals bring a pass defense that is 11th in DVOA, but they could have this game locked up, for all intents and purposes, by halftime. That would play right into Hoyer’s hands. That would also benefit Hill, who has received at least 15 carries in the Bengals’ last three games, but hasn’t turned that into meaningful fantasy production. His high water mark for yards on the year is 63, and he has scored touchdowns in just two games. The lack of consistency and explosion explains why he’s down here and Bernard is a must-start. He is still a low-end RB2. In Houston’s last two games, with Cecil Shorts out, Washington had 13 total catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Shorts should return in this one, but Washington is a decent dart throw if you need help at receiver.
Sit: Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Cecil Shorts (hamstring), Texans DST