Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 7
Each Sunday evening during football season, after watching the sport all day, I take a quick peek at the following week's slate of games. I have to work on my 15 Transactions column on Mondays, so it allows me to get a head start. It allows me fall asleep that night knowing who's playing who, and maybe, just maybe, something prophetic will pop into my brain while dreaming. (No, my dreams didn't tell me Deshaun Watson would be a top-five quarterback option this season.)
When I went through the exercise this past weekend -- when I went to check Week 7's games -- I screamed. No, it was more like a squeal.
How? I said to myself. How are these the games?
This week is kind of a mess, guys. There just aren't many obvious highly fantasy football-relevant games. And that makes your start-sit decisions even more difficult.
So let me help you.
Start Matt Ryan (at New England): Matt Ryan's had a disappointing season from a fantasy perspective, there's no doubt about that. He's finished 15th or worse in weekly quarterback scoring in four of his five games this year, when he ranked that low in just four of his fantasy relevant games during the entire 2016 season.
He's just not throwing many touchdowns, and that drives fantasy football production. Last year, Ryan had a career high 7.1% touchdown rate, meaning he threw a touchdown on 7.1% of his attempts. Regression was bound to hit (his career average -- and the league's average -- is around 4.5%), but things have now gone too far in the opposite direction, as Ryan has a 3.5% touchdown rate this year.
The hope is that, moving forward, math does its thing. It should this week against the Patriots, at least. No team has allowed more fantasy points to opposing passers than New England -- five of the six starting quarterbacks to face the Pats have finished as weekly top-10 fantasy signal-callers. And only five teams have given up a higher touchdown rate than New England.
In a game that easily has the highest over/under on the week, Ryan is a great option.
Sit Andy Dalton (at Pittsburgh): There's been lots of good work from Joe Goodberry on Andy Dalton's struggles against common opponents. And that's what he gets this week: a division rival in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Dalton's averaged fewer than 13 standard fantasy points scored per game against the Steelers over his career, and over his last four contests against them, he's hit 11 points just once. (Granted, he was hurt in one of those contests.) In that game, though, it took Dalton 54 attempts and lots of garbage time to compile a decent fantasy day.
The Steelers have been strong defensively this year, ranking sixth overall within our schedule-adjusted metrics. And the secondary has allowed just 4.4 net yards per attempt, which is tied with the Bengals for first in the NFL. Even if the Steelers' competition hasn't been strong, risking Dalton this week just doesn't seem worthwhile.
Start Marcus Mariota (at Cleveland): The Browns have been horrendous in the secondary this year (among other areas of the field), and they're surrendering a 7.65% touchdown rate to opposing quarterbacks. That's resulted in every quarterback scoring at least 13 fantasy points against them, with three passers finishing in the weekly top five. Oh, and by the way, they've gone up against the arms of Joe Flacco, Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, and Josh McCown.
Mariota looked banged up on Monday night against the Colts, but he still managed to throw for over 300 yards. And in that game, he threw seven deep balls (passes that traveled 15 or more yards through the air) for a 141.4 quarterback rating. His arm didn't appear to be a huge problem. And, regardless, it may not have to be against the Browns. They've allowed the 12th-most passing yards this year despite seeing the second-fewest air yards, per AirYards.com. So even if Mariota doesn't force it down the field, he should be totally fine.
Sit Philip Rivers (vs. Denver): Yes, Rivers was a QB1 against Denver back in Week 1, but he also threw for fewer than 200 yards. He got away with the top performance because he had three touchdown passes, a feat that's only been accomplished by one quarterback -- Philip Rivers -- against Denver this year. In fact, that Week 1 performance was just the second time Denver's allowed three touchdown tosses in a game since the start of the 2016 season. And the other instance was against Drew Brees in the Superdome. Denver's still a tough matchup for any quarterback, as the secondary ranks in the top-10 within our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points metric.
Start Adrian Peterson (vs. Los Angeles): I went on a little rant on my 15 Transactions podcast this week about how everything sort of fell into place for Adrian Peterson in Week 6, and that feeling is still there -- I still think the matchup and positive game script was perfect for the Cardinals and AP.
With that being said, things are set up nicely for Peterson again this week. The Rams have allowed by far the most fantasy points to the running back position this year, and Peterson's coming off a game where he carried 26 of a possible 29 running back carries. He should -- especially early in the game -- be able to produce.
The biggest worry with Peterson (as I alluded to on my podcast) is the potential for a negative game script. The Rams are 3.5-point favorites against the Cardinals, so the game should be close-ish, but a key reason Peterson was able to see 74% of the team's snaps this past Sunday was because Arizona never trailed. If they do, Andre Ellington should steal looks, as he's the primary pass-catching back on the team. When the Cardinals have led this season, Ellington has just two targets and one attempt. While trailing, those numbers are 34 and 7.
Peterson should be in your lineup given his workload last week to go along with Week 7's opponent, though.
Sit Mike Gillislee (vs. Atlanta): In a game with a high over/under like we're seeing in New England this weekend, Gillislee may be an enticing back to use. But he's arguably the most touchdown-dependent fantasy-relevant (or somewhat fantasy-relevant) player in fake football, and last week, the lone goal-line look on the Patriots ended up going to Dion Lewis. Lewis actually played 43% of the team's snaps in Week 6, while Gillislee -- whether due to an early fumble or not -- was only on the field for 19% of them. And over the last two weeks, Gillislee has only seen four more attempts than Lewis. There are too many question marks to throw Gillislee in your starting lineup this week.
Start C.J. Anderson (at Los Angeles): No team has a worse schedule-adjusted rushing defense than the Chargers according to our numbers, and that's who C.J. Anderson gets this week in a rebound spot. A huge reason Anderson wasn't able to get things going this past week was because the Broncos fell behind in the contest and, in turn, didn't utilize Anderson as much. He played just 47% of the team's snaps, when his previous low in a game this year was a very nice 69%.
Back in Week 1 against the Chargers, Anderson carried the ball 20 times for 81 yards in a neutral game script. He just wasn't overly fantasy relevant because he didn't find the end zone. We shouldn't predict that this week, but he also should give you a much better floor than what we saw a week ago. Unless, of course, Denver decides to play at half speed again.
Sit Orleans Darkwa (vs. Seattle): Opposite of Anderson in last Sunday night's game was Orleans Darkwa, who became not only the first running back to rush for more than 54 yards against the Broncos this year but also the first back to hit the century mark.
Will we see a repeat performance in Week 7? Let's not count on it.
The Giants will host Seattle this week , and they're 5.5-point underdogs. Yes, yes -- they were underdogs (bigger underdogs) last week, but that has nothing to do with this game in Seattle. That's irrelevant.
If things go the Seahawks' way -- as Vegas thinks -- then that could spell trouble for Darkwa. Even in last week's game where the Giants played with the lead, he only played 50% of the team's snaps. In a possible negative game script, that number will end up being even lower thanks to Shane Vereen's pass-catching ability out of the G-Men's backfield.
Start Chris Thompson (at Philadelphia): In Week 6, Chris Thompson set a season high in snap rate (61%), and he doubled his previous season high in attempts (16). It's almost like Washington realized that he's the most impressive running back in their backfield.
I'm excited for Thompson this week because of this increased usage and because the Redskins could see a negative game script as five-point underdogs to the Eagles. Rob Kelley looks like he could return to action, but he's been banged up, so we probably shouldn't assume he'll see a huge workload. Even if he does grab the majority of the early-down work, Thompson could see the field a good bit against an Eagles squad that's faced a 2.50 drop-back-to-run ratio this season. That's by far the highest in the league, leading second-place Washington by 0.71. That's also led to a lot of catches by running backs who've gone up against Philly -- they rank fifth in receptions allowed to the position this year.
All signs point to Chris Thompson having another usable week for your fantasy squads.
Start Alshon Jeffery (vs. Washington): In six games, Alshon Jeffery's ranked better than 30th in weekly PPR wide receiving scoring just once. That came all the way back in Week 2, and it took 13 targets for him to get there.
But, to be fair, things haven't been cake for Alshon. He's gone up against some tough cornerbacks to start the year. The good news is that, through it all, Jeffery still has a 23.53% target market share in the Eagles' offense, and they're getting the ball downfield to him, as he's fourth in air yards among all NFL wideouts.
He didn't put up a huge stat line in Week 1 against Washington, but cornerback Josh Norman was healthy then. Jeffery wasn't shadowed by Norman, but anytime a top corner has the potential to be out, it'll impact the rest of the secondary. If Norman sits this one out (there's a chance he plays), Jeffery could have a nice outing.
Sit Doug Baldwin (at New York): Baldwin's a boom or bust wide receiver week in and week out, and it's been that way for a while now. In 2016, for instance, he finished with the 10th-most points at the wide receiver position, but 15 wide receivers had more top-24 performances than he did.
This year's been even worse, too. He's scored more than 10 PPR points in just one contest, ranking as a WR4 or worse in four of his five games. He's inconsistent, and his volume has even been a little sporadic.
That makes me nervous in a game against the Giants this week. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is back from his suspension, and he'll be lined up against Baldwin in the slot for most of the day. In Week 1, slot wideout Cole Beasley caught just 3 passes for 32 yards against the Giants. Per Pro Football Focus, in Week 2, Golden Tate ran 92% of his routes from the slot against New York and was held to a WR59 performance. In Week 3, Nelson Agholor didn't do a thing.
The Giants can defend slot wideouts. Perhaps part of the reason is because tight ends have found success against them, but it's enough to make me question whether or not Baldwin is a worthwhile start this week.
Start Robert Woods (vs. Arizona): Number-two wide receivers have done work against Arizona this year with Patrick Peterson covering opposing top wideouts. We saw DeSean Jackson with a score last week, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor a couple of weeks back, Brice Butler in Week 3, and Kenny Golladay in Week 1. And it's because secondary wide receivers get Justin Bethel in coverage, who's now, per Pro Football Focus, allowed the second-most yards and by far the most touchdowns (6) in the NFL this year. Bobby Woods has been seeing plenty of volume in the Rams' offense this year with a near-20% target market share, including 15 targets over his last two weeks. This is a great spot for him in Week 7.
Sit DeSean Jackson (at Buffalo): Jackson's been seeing plenty of deep ball looks -- his specialty -- this year, as he ranks third in the league in air yards despite having played one fewer game than the majority of players. The matchup this week may be a little tough, though, as the Bills have allowed just one top-20 performance to a wide receiver all season long. And that's been against decent opponents, too. If you play DJax, you're simply hoping for a deep ball connection, but that's also risky this week given the health of Jameis Winston.
Start Randall Cobb (vs. New Orleans): There are lots of question marks surrounding the Packers offense right now. Who's the lead running back? What's their offensive line going to look like through all of these injuries? How will quarterback Brett Hundley look as the new starter? All of this inherently makes Randall Cobb a questionable start in fantasy football.
How-evah, Cobb may be the one who benefits most from what's happening in Green Bay's offense, at least this week. The offensive line injuries may for Hundley to get the ball out faster, and it may not allow him to get the ball down the field very easily. Cobb, among all Packers' wideouts, has by far the lowest average depth of target this year at 4.8. Davante Adams has the second-lowest at 9.8, just to give you some context.
And in this matchup, Cobb will be lined up against Kenny Vaccaro in the slot. We saw Golden Tate have a big day from that area of the field last week before going down with an injury, and on the year, Vaccaro has faced the 10th-most slot targets while allowing the 10th-most yards, per Pro Football Focus. Cobb could be highly-targeted in this one.
Start Delanie Walker (at Cleveland): It was good to see Delanie Walker get some love last week against the Colts, and we should expect Marcus Mariota to target him a lot in this week's game against Cleveland as well. The Browns, as noted earlier, have been bad against the pass, and that's especially true against tight ends. They've already given up three top-five performances to tight ends this year, and they've allowed the second-most points per game to the position. Walker has the third-highest target market share among tight ends this year, so he'll be able to exploit this matchup.
Sit Jason Witten (vs. San Francisco): It's really tough to find a tight end to sit because any tight end seeing volume is one who can find your starting lineup. Witten, though, is facing a San Francisco 49ers defense that's now surrendered the fewest points to the tight end position this year. And, to be fair, Witten's really only performed against two teams this season: New York and Denver. Both of those teams often get beat by tight ends.
Start Jimmy Graham (at New York): Speaking of New York, that's who Jimmy Graham will face this week. And that's who Jimmy Graham will probably do work against.
The Giants have allowed more fantasy points to tight ends than any other team in the league. Every team the G-Men have faced has had at least one tight end rank in the top-13 in weekly PPR scoring, and two of those teams have been Detroit and Denver. That's Eric Ebron and Jeff Heuerman. They've done nothing outside of those games this year.
Graham has tallied 25 targets across the last three games, giving him the fifth-highest target market share at tight end across the league during this time. He should be able to take advantage this week.
Start the Miami Dolphins (vs. New York): While this start has more to do with opponent than anything else, the Dolphins have actually been a surprise defensively this year, ranking 10th in the NFL according to our schedule-adjusted numbers. But, like I said, this has to do with opponent. The Jets have now allowed at least one sack and one turnover per game, giving the Dolphins a decent floor. There's a ceiling, too, as Miami will be at home as favorites with a low over/under in the game. They're a top streaming option this week.
Sit the Baltimore Ravens (at Minnesota): Even though Minnesota's been starting Case Keenum for much of the season, they've only allowed one big performance to a team defense in fantasy football this year. Keenum's been good at limiting turnovers through the air, and the line's allowed only nine sacks all season long. That one big game also came in Week 4 against the Lions, where Detroit scooped up three fumbles. So they were pretty fortunate. To assume something like that happens again would be foolish, and even if Brandon Williams returns for the Ravens, they're still a questionable play this week.