Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 2
My home league opponent and I were tied when Washington had the ball close to the Steelers' end zone at the tail end of the first Monday Night Football game of the season. He had Kirk Cousins going. My team's players were finished playing.
Game. Set. Match.
And we're back. Fantasy football is back.
Our game about a game can be cruel. Cousins, on paper, was a good play for Week 1. The Steelers' secondary is filled with inexperienced and low-end players, and the Monday night tilt itself set up to be a shootout. Considering that Cousins played like moldy pizza throughout the game and topped it off with an interception -- one that flipped the outcome of many, many fantasy matchups -- makes the outing a particularly tough one to swallow for Cousins owners.
The lows will be there, but the highs will be, too.
Don't beat yourself up over a tough Week 1 loss -- there are plenty of weeks left. The next one, in fact, is already here.
Start Derek Carr (vs. Atlanta): Carr had arguably the best matchup in football in Week 1, going up a Saints' secondary that became even more banged up with the loss of Delvin Breaux. He turned in a 319-yard, 1-touchdown performance, giving him low-end QB1 numbers for the week.
He'll be at home this week against an Atlanta secondary that looked awful in Week 1, surrendering four touchdown passes to Jameis Winston. Currently, per our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Atlanta has the fourth-worst secondary in football. Combine that with a 4.5-point advantage for the Raiders, according to Vegas, in what's being projected as a high-scoring game (over/under of 49), and Carr makes for a great option at quarterback in Week 2.
Sit Alex Smith (at Houston): Smith's Week 1 performance was somewhat flukey, as few of us saw such a negative script unfolding in Kansas City. That forced a lot of attempts -- he actually threw more balls against San Diego this past week (48) than he's ever thrown in a single game of his career.
It'd be shocking if the game against Houston this week goes the same way. Both teams will look to control the clock with the ground game, and the Texans have a much stronger defense -- a preseason top-10 one, according to our numbers -- than San Diego does. The Vegas over/under in the contest is set at a modest 43.5, and with the Chiefs not favored, that means their implied team total is fairly low. It just all sets up to being a more conservative contest than what we saw in Week 1, with Smith not seeing the same type of upside that was captured against the Chargers.
Start Joe Flacco (at Cleveland): Since Week 3 of last season (excluding the fantasy irrelevant Week 17), the Browns have played 14 games. In 11 of those 14 contests, they've surrendered a top-12 fantasy quarterback performance. The only signal callers to not reach top-12 status? All reasonable exclusions: Peyton Manning, Nick Foles, and Matt Schaub.
And you could make the argument that Cleveland's defense is worse this year than last, especially after Carson Wentz lit them up last week for 19.22 fantasy points. In his NFL debut. After barely playing in the preseason.
Flacco and the Ravens are near-touchdown favorites on the road in this one, giving them a positive game script and a nice implied team total on the week. He's the perfect streaming option at the position.
Sit Tyrod Taylor (vs. New York): It's reasonable for Taylor owners to panic after what unfolded in Week 1. The Ravens defense looked improved over the latter portion of last year, and perhaps it's a decent unit in 2016. But Taylor ended the Week 1 tilt against Baltimore with just 5.54 fantasy points, and our metrics pegged him as the sixth-worst passer of the week.
What's worse is the fact that the Bills played at the slowest pace in the NFL last week despite seeing a negative game script for part of the game. And, in Week 2, they're matched up against the Jets, who were the third-slowest offense in Week 1.
Sammy Watkins has a foot injury, and tackle Cordy Glenn has already been ruled out for the Thursday night game. It's hard to imagine anyone's quarterback situation being so bad in Week 2 that they'd be forced to play Tyrod in single-quarterback leagues. You should wait for him to show you he's back to his 2015 form before you use him.
Start Trevor Siemian (vs. Indianapolis, deep play): No, you shouldn't be streaming Siemian over someone like the aforementioned Flacco, but I low-key love his spot this week.
The Colts were just lit up through the air this past week by Matthew Stafford and the Lions. The reason for that was two-fold: a Vontae Davis-less Colts' secondary is easy to pick on, but the Lions also took advantage of that by throwing their standard quick, short passes, which get receivers in space to make plays.
Stafford ended Week 1 with the third-lowest air yards percentage in the league at 32.1%. That is, 67.9% of his accumulated yards in Week 1 came via yards after the catch. Siemian, against the Panthers, ranked sixth-lowest at 45.5%. He, too, was looking for safe throws, allowing his wideouts to do work for him.
I'd expect more of the same in Week 2 in a home matchup versus this Colts secondary. The Broncos are also 6-point favorites with an over/under of 46, meaning Vegas is expecting them to score points. Siemian should be involved with that in some way, shape, or form. Just make sure Demaryius Thomas is playing, as he could be sidelined with a hip injury.
Start Rashad Jennings (vs. New Orleans): Jennings didn't come through with a strong fantasy performance in Week 1, and he was inefficient on the ground with a -0.05 Rushing NEP per rush average. (Last year's league average was -0.03.) He did play 57% of the team's snaps, though -- he hit that mark just once last year.
Being on the field will be important against the Saints, who may end the season with a historically bad defense. I already spoke to Delvin Breaux's injury, which will hurt the secondary a ton, but the rush defense is just as bad, entering Week 2 as our 32nd -- that's dead last -- ranked unit. And unlike his matchup against Dallas -- a team that runs at a snail's pace -- the Giants' Week 2 game against New Orleans should be a high-scoring shootout, giving Jennings plenty of upside.
Sit Matt Jones (vs. Dallas): Jones wasn't horribly bad in his 2016 debut -- he had a 57.14% Success Rate (percentage of positive runs, per NEP) when running back Success Rates generally hover around the 40% range. The problem was that Washington threw the ball at an alarming rate, finishing Week 1 with a 3.58 drop-back-to-run ratio, 0.90 points higher than the second-ranked Chiefs.
That had a lot to do with a negative game script against the Steelers, sure, but Jones is going to need plays -- volume -- in order to be relevant in fantasy football. Dallas, his Week 2 opponent, isn't a team that wants to give opposing offenses the rock. They played at the 10th-slowest pace in Week 1, and over the last two years, Dallas has seen the 12th- and 4th-fewest plays run against their defense. That will limit Jones' upside in this contest tremendously.
Start Terrance West (at Cleveland, deep play): The goal of this column isn't to give you obvious plays. I hope that's clear -- I did, after all, just recommend you play Trevor freaking Siemian.
If you want to play the game script prediction game, a deeper look this week could be Terrance West. He ended up playing 44% of the team's snaps in Week 1 (teammate Justin Forsett saw 50%), but saw 12 carries to Forsett's 10. He's more of the in-between-the-tackles bruiser in the Ravens' O, which could come in handy if the Ravens have the lead against the Browns' front seven. That's what Vegas thinks will happen, at least, as they're favored by 6.5 points, the second-highest spread of the week.
Sit Isaiah Crowell (vs. Baltimore): Again, there's a chance the Ravens come away with an easy win in Cleveland this week. And that leads to the Browns seeing a negative game flow in the contest. That could mean more Duke Johnson, especially with Josh McCown at quarterback, who favors running backs in the passing game more than Robert Griffin III does. Crowell had a decent enough Week 1 game against Philadelphia thanks to a touchdown score, but his snap count may drop a bit in this matchup. He's going to be too volatile week to week to trust.
Start Shaun Draughn (at Carolina, deep play): We have to recognize that running backs play certain roles in NFL offenses these days rather than all of the roles. Draughn is San Francisco's primary backup, which was made clear in Week 1, as he saw 26% of the team's snaps. Teammate Carlos Hyde has never been a pass-catcher (23 receptions in 21 NFL games entering the season), and the thought was that Draughn would play that pass-catching role for the 49ers this year.
In Week 1, both Hyde and Draughn saw two catches, and Draughn did more with them (18 yards versus 5). If Draughn is indeed the 49ers go-to passing-down back, that'll be good for his matchup in Carolina, as the Panthers are insane 13.5-point favorites. That'll lead to more passing for the 49ers and, of course, more time for Draughn to be on the field to catch passes.
Start Willie Snead (at New York): I promise I'm not listing Snead here because of his dominant Week 1 performance. That certainly doesn't hurt, though.
Snead played 67% of his snaps from the slot against the Raiders this past Sunday. Meanwhile, the Cowboys completely funneled their looks against the new-look Giants -- Snead's Week 2 opponent -- to that area of the field...because it's a weakness for the Giants. Cole Beasley ended with 12 targets, while the dad-running Jason Witten saw 14.
Snead should see plenty of looks in this contest given the matchup. That means he should be on your fantasy radar.
Sit John Brown (vs. Tampa Bay): I'll keep this pretty simple. The matchup is fine, and Brown is a good wide receiver. He's one that should be fantasy relevant moving forward. But he was on the field for just 35 of Arizona's 65 snaps on Sunday against New England, which comes right after he missed a lot of the preseason with concussion issues. Brown's just too hard to trust right now given the ambiguity of his situation.
Start Sterling Shepard (vs. New Orleans): You can't ask for a much better scenario than what the Giants' wide receivers will see this week. New Orleans' top-three corners in this week's game combined to play a combined zero -- zilch -- snaps in all of 2015. The Giants will run plenty of three-wide receiver looks, so even if you're worried about Victor Cruz seeing the field over Shepard, don't be. In fact, Shepard played 95% of New York's snaps in Week 1 versus Cruz's 85%. In what should be a high-scoring contest, Shepard makes for a solid WR2 play.
Sit Sammy Watkins (vs. New York): Similar to John Brown, the question marks surrounding Sammy Watkins make me nervous. But the matchup isn't fantastic, either. No, it's not that I fear Darrelle Revis, I just fear, as I noted above, the pace of this game. Both teams play slowly, resulting in what will probably be very few plays run in the game. And considering how much of a dumpster fire the Bills' offense was in Week 1, forcing Watkins into your lineup -- especially in shallower leagues -- doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I'd rather wait and see the goods from the Buffalo offense before I start anyone outside of LeSean McCoy.
Start Travis Benjamin (vs. Jacksonville): Keenan Allen's season-ending ACL tear is going to open the door for a lot of the San Diego pass-catchers, including Travis Benjamin, who should end the season as the team's top target.
This week he gets a beatable Jacksonville secondary in a game that has the Chargers as 3-point favorites with a fairly high 47.5 over/under. Don't forget this, either: Philip Rivers went for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns in a Keenan Allen-less offense last year against the Jaguars.
Start Delanie Walker (at Detroit): Walker owners may be upset about his Week 1 fantasy performance, but things should be a lot better here in Week 2.
In 2015, the Lions -- Walker's opponent this week -- allowed 12 touchdowns to the tight end position, the most in the league. It looks like that porous portion of the defense trickled into 2016, as the Lions allowed three touchdowns to the Colts' tight ends in Week 1.
Walker should be heavily involved regardless (within the context of tight end usage, at least), making him a nice floor play. But with this particular matchup, he also has an insane ceiling.
Sit Austin Seferian-Jenkins (at Arizona): Look, guys, don't get cute. It's true that ASJ had a nice touchdown grab against the Falcons in Week 1, but facts are facts: Luke Stocker, Cameron Brate, and Brandon Myers each played a higher percentage of snaps than Seferian-Jenkins did. He's a great pass-catcher, but he clearly still hasn't gotten it together between the ears. Otherwise, he'd be on the field more than he was in Week 1.
Start Jesse James (vs. Cincinnati): Jesse James made this column last week, and while he put up a moderate TE16 line in PPR formats in Week 1, his usage was exciting. He was on the field for every single Steelers' snap, and he ended the game with seven targets. That's certainly not bad for the tight end position.
This week, James has a really solid matchup. The Bengals allowed the most receptions to the tight end position last year and Heath Miller (we miss you) caught a combined 20 passes in two games against Cincy in 2015.
And if you look at last week, this matchup gets even better. The slot was open for the Jets, which is why we saw Quincy Enunwa go for 7 catches, 54 yards, and a score. Cincy's number-three corner, Darqueze Dennard, was out, allowing that area of the field to be exploited even more than it typically is (Eli Rogers alert).
Don't expect 10 receptions, but it does all add up to James being a nice play this week.
Start the Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland): Everything looks perfect for the Ravens' defense this week, as they're heavy favorites against a Browns' offense that'll be starting a brand new quarterback. The only downside is that they're on the road, but even still, stream them with confidence.
Sit the Cincinnati Bengals (at Pittsburgh): The Bengals' defense is one of the better units in the league. But on the road in a divisional matchup against a Steelers' offense that just dee-stroyed Washington on Monday night? You should be looking elsewhere.
Other defenses to start: New York Jets (at Buffalo), Chicago Bears (vs. Philadelphia)
Other defenses to sit: Kansas City Chiefs (at Houston), New York Giants (vs. New Orleans)