Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 5
"This play is for fantasy football," I texted my friend.
It was the end of the Steelers-Chiefs game, and Pittsburgh had a healthy 36-point lead. With eight seconds left on the clock in the fourth quarter and the Chiefs on the Steelers' three-yard line, Kansas City -- Jeremy Maclin, more specifically -- called a timeout. They had a fourth-and-goal and couldn't get their ish together, so rather than run a play that had a high likelihood of failing, which would turn the ball over, the Chiefs opted to go to the drawing board in what had become a meaningless contest.
That play was for fantasy football.
This is why we love this game, guys. No matter how out of hand it gets, there's always garbage time. There's always that end-of-game play that can completely change the outcome of fantasy contests. Sometimes those plays are two-yard screens to a third-down running back, but sometimes they're what we saw in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Sometimes they turn Alex Smith into an undeserving top-notch fantasy start.
Start Carson Wentz (at Detroit): According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, when adjusted for strength of schedule, no secondary has been worse this year than Detroit's, Carson Wentz's opponent in Week 5. That's shown in the box score, as they've now allowed three top-seven quarterback performances (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Brian Hoyer) and at least two passing touchdowns to every signal-caller faced through four weeks.
Wentz, meanwhile, hasn't been too shabby himself. In three games, the rookie has two, top-12 performances, and his Passing NEP per drop back rate of 0.33 is second-best in the NFL among passers with 100 or more drop backs, trailing only Matt Ryan's.
Though this week's contest is in Detroit, the Eagles are 3-point favorites with a reasonable 46-point over/under. It's be surprising if Wentz couldn't take advantage of the matchup.
Sit Matt Ryan (at Denver): Your top fantasy quarterback thus far in 2016 is Matt Ryan, who's finished as a top-eight passer in every game played this season. This isn't necessarily a fluke, either -- Ryan had a lot of touchdown progression coming this season after a career low touchdown rate in 2015.
Despite math working in his favor through four weeks, this weekend will surely be the toughest test he's faced. The Broncos have the 2nd-best pass defense in the league according to our numbers, and since the beginning of last year, only two quarterbacks have ranked higher than 10th in weekly scoring against Denver. And, at home during this time span, the Broncos have allowed just a little over 13 fantasy points per game to opposing passers.
I can't totally fault you for playing Ryan this week given how he's started the year. But to expect a top-10 performance again would be optimistic.
Start Trevor Siemian (vs. Atlanta): There's a chance Siemian isn't under center for Denver this weekend, and if he's not, you can consider Paxton Lynch here instead. Because the matchup is beautiful for either Denver quarterback -- the Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points to the quarterback position this season, and Denver is playing at home as a six-point favorite. Those two things combined make for a perfect quarterback streaming option.
Sit Kirk Cousins (at Baltimore): Cousins has been pretty steadily since Washington's Week 1 debacle against the Steelers, ranking as the 14th-, 9th-, and 13th-best quarterback in weekly scoring from Weeks 2 through 4, respectively. Despite this, I'd be hesitant playing him on the road in Baltimore this weekend, even though we just witnessed Derek Carr lighting up this same Ravens team.
Baltimore is a decent-enough favorite and, outside of Week 4's game against Carr, have limited quarterbacks to low-end QB2, high-end QB3 performances. Our rankings actually have the Baltimore secondary as the 10th-best one in football, which scares me off of Cousins for this week. He's more of a middle-of-the-road QB2 option.
Start Terrance West (vs. Washington): I'm fully expecting the masses to be against Baltimore running backs this week with Kenneth Dixon returning, but Dixon has yet to play a meaningful snap this year (and in his career) and is coming off an injury. It'd be a little surprising to see him dig a whole lot into West's role this weekend, or at least I would think so.
Though West isn't playing many snaps (he's yet to play more than 44% of Baltimore's snaps in a single game), he is seeing decent usage, toting the rock 10 or more times in every game this year, including a 21-attempt contest last week against Oakland with Justin Forsett out. Washington is beatable on the ground, having already surrendered five top-20 PPR performances to running backs in just four games. In deeper formats, West should still be OK this week while Dixon eases into things.
Sit New York Giants Running Backs (at Green Bay): No running back on New York has an RB1 performance yet this season in PPR leagues and, if Rashad Jennings happens to be back in the mix in Week 5, then we're probably looking at a big split in touches throughout the backfield. To make things worse, the Giants are underdogs -- big ones at 7.5 points -- in Green Bay, a team that ranks second against the run according to our numbers. I'll pass.
Start Jordan Howard (at Indianapolis): Howard ended up seeing 23 of the Bears' 26 attempts last week against Detroit, playing 91% of the team's snaps. Those are both top-notch shares for a running back in today's NFL, and we should expect the same given his performance in Week 4.
This week, Chicago will see the Colts on the road. Though they're underdogs, which could lead to fewer runs, Howard should still be involved in the passing game enough to make you feel good about using him. He does, after all, have 10 targets over his last two contests. And, not only that, but Indianapolis ranks 29th in fantasy points against to the running back position.
Sit Giovani Bernard (at Dallas): We say it every week: what does Dallas want to ideally do? Run the football and limit possessions for opposing offenses. That means fewer plays for the Bengals this week, who are on the road. That's not good for Bernard, who's already struggled a bit this year outside of a Week 2 game against Pittsburgh. A key reason for that was a big, big negative game script for Cincinnati, whereas a road game against a conservative offense doesn't exactly scream "shootout" -- Cincy should be in it throughout. Vegas pegs this game as a close one with a one-point spread, so we could see more Jeremy Hill than Bernard this week.
Start Bilal Powell (at Pittsburgh, deeper play): Over the last two weeks, Bilal Powell has outscored Matt Forte in PPR formats. Why? Because the Jets have been getting smoked -- they couldn't get anything going against the Chiefs two weeks ago, losing by 21, and they lost by double-digits last week against the Seahawks. That's led to more usage for Powell, who's primarily been used as their third-down back -- he's seen 41% and 52% of the team's snaps the last two weeks, respectively.
This week, Powell goes to Pittsburgh and will face a Steelers team that's a big 7.5-point favorite. The Steelers have averaged more than 30 points per game at home since the start of 2014, so there's a good chance this game is a pass-first one for New York. Powell, then, could be on the field as much as he has been over the last two weeks. Oh, and for the cherry on top, Pittsburgh's already seen pass-catching backs Chris Thompson (RB25 in Week 1), Giovani Bernard (RB2 in Week 2), and Darren Sproles (RB8 in Week 3) post very usable weeks against them this season.
Other running backs to start: LeGarrette Blount (at Cleveland), Frank Gore (vs. Chicago)
Other running backs to sit: Miami Dolphins running backs (vs. Tennessee), Matt Jones (shallower leagues, at Baltimore)
Start Tyrell Williams (at Oakland): The Raiders have now allowed the most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this year, and that includes a game against the thin Tennessee Titans' wide receiving group. Williams, meanwhile, has seen 6, 9, and 8 targets from Weeks 2 through 4 -- since Keenan Allen's Week 1 injury -- all while playing the second-most snaps at wide receiver (behind Dontrelle Inman, not Travis Benjamin) for San Diego. It's a plus matchup in a game that could see the Chargers trail, which means plenty of opportunity for Williams.
Sit Mohamed Sanu (at Denver): This one's pretty easy. Sanu has seen just 12 targets over the Falcons' last three games, and he now has a market share of just 14.39% this season. Yes, he missed a little time due to injury, but that share is small even regardless of that fact.
Like his quarterback, you can't feel confident about starting Sanu in Denver this week. The Broncos have seen just five wide receivers rank higher than 20th in weekly PPR scoring at the position since the start of 2015, meaning approximately 74% of their games see opposing wide receivers not being very usable in fantasy. And if that type of performance is coming from anyone in Atlanta, it's Julio Jones, not Mohamed Sanu.
Start DeVante Parker (vs. Tennessee): Titans' cornerback Perrish Cox has the fourth-worst cornerback grade in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, which has allowed secondary options Will Fuller and Michael Crabtree to post top-20 weeks at the wide receiver position against Tennessee. While Parker isn't playing as many snaps as teammate Kenny Stills, he's still seen no fewer than 87% of Miami's snaps since returning to the field in Week 2. He also has a target market share of nearly 21% over the last three weeks, which is about seven percentage points higher than Stills'. It all points to Parker having a nice day.
Sit Michael Floyd (at San Francisco): Michael Floyd was outsnapped by Jaron freaking Brown in last week's loss to the Rams, and now has more than three catches in just one of his four games to start the year. He's found the end zone twice, which is great, but that'll be tougher to do with Carson Palmer sidelined for Thursday night's game against the 49ers. There's little reason to trust Floyd in this one.
Start Tajae Sharpe (deeper play, at Miami): Really, things haven't been that bad for Tajae Sharpe. His numbers aren't there, I know, but he's played as Tennessee's number-one receiver each week this year, seeing 96% of the team snaps in Week 1, 100% in Week 2, 75% in Week 3, and 88% in Week 4. He's also seen 32 targets, which is good for a 23.70% market share in the Titans' exotic smashmouth offense. You have to think, eventually, things turn around.
Perhaps it will this week. Top wide receivers have completely smoked Miami this year, as evidenced by Terrelle Pryor's overall WR3 performance in Week 3 and A.J. Green's 10-catch, 173-yard, 1-touchdown day on Thursday last week. The peripheral numbers are there for Sharpe -- it's just a matter of time before a top-10 performance happens.
Start Cameron Brate (at Carolina): Brate has now seen more than 80% of Tampa Bay's snaps since Austin Seferian-Jenkins' departure, totaling 18 targets in Weeks 3 and 4 combined. Much of the volume has to do with the fact that Tampa Bay currently has the sixth-highest drop-back-to-run ratio in football, running more passing plays than any other team in the league.
That may not change in Week 5, though, as they travel to Carolina where they'll be seven-point underdogs. The Panthers have been generous against tight ends to start the year as well, surrendering the fourth-most points to the position. Everything points to Brate giving you a serviceable performance.
Sit Dwayne Allen (vs. Chicago): Even with a decent matchup, it's tough to trust Allen right now. Donte Moncrief has been sidelined, so you'd think Allen would present some upside. Instead, he's seen a combined nine targets over the last two games, resulting in a grand total of 10.5 PPR fantasy points. There's no reason he should be in your fantasy lineup.
Start Zach Ertz (at Detroit): The Lions gave up the most tight end touchdowns in football last year, and they've already surrendered six in the first four games on 2016. Ertz is back from his injury, which means he'll be playing starter snaps once again. In our one-game sample with Ertz and Wentz, the tight end saw a solid 7 targets, catching 6 for 58 yards. He could light up the Lions this weekend.
Start the Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. New York): The Steelers looked like the Steelers of old on the defensive side of the ball against the Chiefs in Week 4, and they've got a great fantasy matchup here in Week 5. The Jets have now given up a top-five fantasy performance to opposing defenses in each of their last two games, and they should be playing in a negative game script for this one -- as noted earlier, the Steelers are 7.5-point favorites. That could mean a Ryan Fitzpatrick turnover or two.
Sit the Cincinnati Bengals (at Dallas): The Cowboys have been great at protecting their quarterback and the football, and that's led to zero opposing defenses ranking higher than 20th in weekly scoring against them this year. With this contest in Dallas and not Cincinnati, the talented Bengals' defense shouldn't be trusted.