Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 4
You ever have a bad day at the gym? You're tired, you didn't eat all that healthy throughout the week, and you just can't get your brain and body to work together. On those days, your goal isn't to just get through the workout. You're actually trying to not fall off the treadmill.
And so do bad performances on a football field.
Football is a game of small sample sizes, my friends. Believing one bad performance will carry over to the next isn't the fairest assumption to make.
Take Carson Palmer, for instance. His bottom-line numbers weren't off-the-charts great despite two plus matchups over the first two weeks of the season, and that forced fantasy owners to drop him heading into this past week. But his opposition was weak in Week 3, and on paper, things looked fine. And he looked fine, too, producing a very usable fantasy performance.
It's always an important thing to remember in this stupid game we all love to death: a bad performance one week doesn't necessarily mean a bad performance in the next.
I'm going to need you to keep that in mind as you get to reading the first start of this week.
Start Jay Cutler (vs. New Orleans): The Saints have allowed the most 30-plus-yard plays (6) on deep throws (15 or more air yards) this season, all while seeing almost 7 deep ball tosses against them per game on average. That's the eighth-most in the NFL. Cutler, meanwhile, has heaved it deep on 24.68% of his passes, which is the fifth-highest rate in the NFL this year. Those throws didn't convert in Week 3 against the Jets, as Cutler was just 3 of 10 for 60 yards on them. But he hypothetically should have an easier time this week. And in a game with a near-50 point total, according to Vegas, he makes for a strong streaming option.
Sit Kirk Cousins (at Kansas City): The only signal-caller to do something against Kansas City this year on the fantasy football end has been Carson Wentz, but he did things that Kirk Cousins hasn't really done this season. In that Week 2 contest, Wentz ran for 55 yards, while Cousins has 39 rushing yards on the season. And in that game, Wentz threw it deep 12 times, totaling 117 yards on those throws. Cousins has gone deep just 10 times for 86 yards all season long.
Cousins should be a fine fantasy quarterback from here on out -- he's never had a top-12 quarterback performance in Week 1 or Week 2 dating back to 2015 -- but this is not an easy matchup for him.
Start Trevor Siemian (vs. Oakland): Siemian was a touchdown regression candidate after the first two weeks of the season, and he came out last week and was a dud from a fantasy perspective. That was bound to happen. In an easier matchup this week, though, fantasy owners should look to him off the waiver wire. The only quarterback to really do anything through the air against the Raiders this year has been the aforementioned Cousins, but they also faced Josh McCown in Week 2. Let's not pretend they're a scary secondary -- according to our schedule-adjusted metrics, they've got the third-worst secondary in football.
One worry with Siemian this week is that he's done the majority of his work in the red zone this year, throwing six touchdowns from that area of the field. That's the most in the league. Oakland's only allowed three red zone touchdowns, and they've given up just one from within their own 10-yard line. Siemian's thrown five from there -- again, the most in the NFL.
He's still a good play overall, but he'll need to make a big play or two happen in order to be of sincere value.
Sit Ben Roethlisberger (at Baltimore): Ben Roethlisberger in Baltimore is not a pretty Ben Roethlisberger. And, no, it's not because of his physical appearance, which we've seen distorted in Baltimore before.
Over the last four years on the road against the Ravens, Big Ben has scored 18.86, 3.80, 6.68, and 19.38 fantasy points. That looks like a boom-or-bust situation, but really, that first performance -- 18.86 -- was buoyed by a rushing touchdown. In truth, he's averaged just 0.75 touchdowns with a full interception per game against Ravens in their house during this time. Even though we saw a banged-up Baltimore defense struggle a bit against the Jaguars in Week 3, it's tough to really trust Roethlisberger on the road against a secondary that has strong personnel.
Start Joe Mixon (at Cleveland): Mixon officially became the Bengals' lead back against the Packers in Week 3, playing 56% of the team's snaps while securing 18 of a possible 28 running back rushes. And he's been the most impactful Cincinnati running back so far, too, with a Success Rate (the percentage of runs that go for positive expected points) north of 37%. The other two backs -- Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard -- have Success Rates below 27%.
The Browns actually haven't been all that bad against the run this year (they've only allowed one top-20 performance to a running back so far in PPR formats), and the Bengals are on the road in Week 4. Those two things make Mixon a less enticing play. But given his share in the backfield and the chance for a positive game script, he should be started in most 12- or 14-team leagues.
Sit Jonathan Stewart (at New England): We caught our first glimpse of a true negative game script for the Panthers in Week 3, and it resulted in a massive workload for Christian McCaffrey. Not Jonathan Stewart. The two backs had a similar snap split as previous weeks, but CMC saw 11 targets to J-Stew's 2, and Stewart ran the ball 12 times after averaging 16.5 per game over the first two weeks of the season.
The Panthers' underperforming offense will be in New England this weekend, where the Patriots are nine-point favorites. That leads me to believe we'll see a lot more McCaffrey than Stewart.
Start Chris Carson (vs. Indianapolis): Carson ended up with a 56% snap rate in Seattle's Week 3 loss to Tennessee, leading the Seahawks' backfield. That's huge news, not just because he played the most snaps, but he did so in a negative game script.
That script should be flipped in Week 4 with the Indianapolis Colts in town. Though they've been pretty strong against running backs this year -- they're allowing just a 24.2% Success Rate against to the position, which is fourth-best in football -- volume should be there for Carson with the Seahawks as 13-point favorites. A game in which Seattle should be in the lead is only a good thing for their top early-down back, no matter the opponent.
Sit Ameer Abdullah (at Minnesota): Abdullah is in running back purgatory, at least for fantasy football owners. He's not really the goal-line back in the offense (teammate Dwayne Washington has more carries from within the opponent's 10-yard line than Abdullah), and he's not the primary pass-catcher (Theo Riddick exists). So, in turn, while he may be the most talented back in that offense, he's not getting enough love where he needs to get love to score fantasy points. And against a Vikings' D in Minnesota that's allowed the fewest points to running backs to start the year, he can stay on your bench.
Start Tarik Cohen (at Green Bay): Even in a neutral game script last week, Cohen was useful in PPR formats with 4 catches for 24 yards to go along with his 12 carries for 78 yards. He still, however, didn't play as many snaps as he played in Week 2 when the Bears were smoked by the Buccaneers on the road (63% in Week 2 versus 43% in Week 3).
This week he'll be in Green Bay to face the Packers, and the Bears are touchdown underdogs. That should result in more playing time for the pass-catching Cohen, meaning more fantasy gold in PPR formats.
Other running backs to start: Wendell Smallwood (deeper play, at Los Angeles), C.J. Anderson (vs. Oakland)
Other running backs to sit: Frank Gore (at Seattle), Isaiah Crowell (shallower leagues, vs. Cincinnati)
Start DeAndre Hopkins (vs. Tennessee): As my pal Rich Hribar mentioned on Twitter this week, the Titans are the only team in football that's allowed a top-12 performance to a wide receiver each week this season. Moreover, DeAndre Hopkins has historically dominated Tennessee. With his near-40% target market share, which is the best in football, Hopkins could go nuclear this week. If you were on the fence with him in a shallower league, do your best to put him in your lineup.
Sit Amari Cooper (at Denver): You could say that this recommendation is good for Michael Crabtree, too, as both wideouts will face incredibly tough cornerback matchups this week in Denver. Since the start of 2015, neither player is averaging more than 3.75 catches, 36.75 yards, and 0.25 touchdowns per game against the Broncos.
It's true that both Dez Bryant and Keenan Allen have already been useful in fantasy versus the Broncos this year, but it took a combined 26 targets for the two to rank 11th and 17th in weekly PPR scoring, respectively. Assuming that type of volume will be there for the Raiders' wide receivers is far too optimistic, especially after a performance last week that saw a combined eight targets go their way against a defense that funnels targets more towards the middle of the field, similarly to Denver.
Start Adam Thielen (vs. Detroit): The Lions have allowed a mere two 20-plus-yard receptions on throws that travelled 15 or more yards through the air this season, which ties them for the best in the NFL. And they've faced a vertical offense (Arizona) and Matt Ryan in two of their three contests this year. That's pretty impressive.
It also might be a big deal against a Minnesota offense that's been heaving the ball down the field this year. Sam Bradford and Case Keenum both rank in the top four in percentage of passes that have gone 15 or more yards through the air -- if Detroit can stop that, then the Vikings' overall ceiling may be capped.
With that being said, we should expect stud corner Darius Slay to shadow Stefon Diggs this weekend, which should open things up for Minnesota's number-two wideout. Even if the big plays aren't there, Thielen should see a lot of love from his quarterback this weekend.
Sit Terrelle Pryor (at Kansas City): As shown above, I'm not overly high on Kirk Cousins this week, and that's even truer of Terrelle Pryor. He's got almost a 20% target market share in the Washington offense this season, but he's done nothing with the volume, catching 10 passes for 116 yards and no touchdowns. And Cousins isn't looking to him on the off chance he goes deep -- Pryor has four deep targets in three games. Even if he avoids Marcus Peters in this matchup, he's still no lock to produce.
Start Jordan Matthews (at Atlanta): Jordan Matthews has just 11 targets this year, good for a subpar 14.10% target market share in the Bills' offense. So why on God's green Earth would you want to play the guy? The matchup. It's because of the matchup.
Matthews has played 66% of his snaps from the slot this year (per Pro Football Focus), and he'll be moving to that spot anytime the Bills are in three-wide receiver sets. That hasn't been all that frequent in 2017 with the Bills playing in mostly neutral game scripts -- they're running three wide receivers onto the field at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL.
This game figures to be the first time Buffalo will see a true negative game script this season, as they'll be in Atlanta as eight-point underdogs. The Falcons primarily use the beatable Brian Poole in the slot, and slot wideouts over the last two weeks (Randall Cobb and Golden Tate) have combined to see 20 targets. Cobb was injured in his game against Atlanta and still finished with 60 yards, while Tate was inches away from a multi-touchdown game.
That's why J-Matt's an intriguing look this week. Is it risky? Of course. He hasn't seen much volume to start the year, so we're not exactly sure how Tyrod Taylor and company are going to utilize him. But if there's one time to take a chance, this is the matchup to do it.
Other wide receivers to start: DeVante Parker (vs. New Orleans), DeSean Jackson (vs. New York), Marquise Goodwin (deep play, at Arizona)
Other wide receivers to sit: Martavis Bryant (at Baltimore), Michael Crabtree (at Denver)
Start Cameron Brate (vs. New York): Starting tight ends to face the Giants this season have ranked third, seventh, and third in weekly PPR scoring at the position. While Brate has been on the field for fewer snaps than teammate O.J. Howard this year, he's run 11 more routes (per Pro Football Focus). And he's seen three more targets. He, for all intents and purposes, is their pass-catching tight end. That's good news against the G-Men.
Sit Eric Ebron (at Minnesota): Ebron ranks in the top 10 in routes run this year (per Pro Football Focus) at the tight end position, but he's only come through with one top-30 performance in PPR formats in three games. In a tough matchup on paper against Minnesota (both tight end touchdowns allowed by the Vikings this year came in garbage time), he just can't be trusted.
Start Jesse James (at Baltimore): Similar to the Giants, Baltimore hasn't had much success against tight ends this year. Cincinnati tight ends didn't do a thing against them in Week 1, but let's be real -- Cincinnati anything didn't do a thing against them in Week 1. The Browns duo of tight ends caught 5 passes on 8 targets for 88 yards and a score against the Ravens in Week 2, and then, of course, Marcedes Lewis decided to be functional in Week 3, tearing them apart for three scores.
James hasn't seen bad usage this year, grabbing hold of 12 of his 17 targets for a pair of scores (both coming in Week 1), and he's been on the field for 86% of Pittsburgh's snaps, tying him for the sixth-highest snap rate among tight ends in the NFL to start the year. Baltimore has capable players on the outside to lock things down (relatively speaking), which could force Big Ben to look James' way in this one.
Start the Cincinnati Bengals (at Cleveland): DeShone Kizer is taking more than three seconds per throw, according to NFL.com's Next Gen Stats, which is the second-longest time in the league. That's more than likely due to Kizer consistently looking for a big play, as he's thrown more deep balls this year than every quarterback not named Tom Brady.
Holding onto the ball like that causes sacks. And sacks are what you want from a fantasy football defense. Cleveland's now allowed the fourth-most sacks in the league this year, while Cincinnati is tied for the fifth-most sacks generated. It's a great matchup for the Bengals' strong defensive line.
Sit the Houston Texans (vs. Tennessee): Houston's at home in a game with a low over/under, but targeting the run-first Titans isn't what you want to do with your fantasy defenses. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is good at protecting the football, and the team's offensive line has allowed just two sacks this year. And they've faced Seattle and Jacksonville. Seattle was unable to tackle Mariota behind the line last week after doing it six times in Week 1 and 2, while Jacksonville sacked Mariota once. Keep in mind, the Jags lead the league in sacks through three weeks. It's not a good matchup for Houston.