Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 8
I was at a bar once with a buddy of mine when he asked, "Should I play Ameer Abdullah this week?"
I just stared at him.
"What do you think?" he added. "Should I put him in my lineup?"
I stared harder. I looked like the Justin Timberlake gif that everyone always shares, except a lot less attractive.
"Come on, man, it's the only fantasy football-related questions I'll ask you tonight, I promise."
Do you guys see the problem here? Do you see the issue? This isn't how fantasy football is played. This isn't how it works. Ameer Abdullah in a plus matchup might be a decent-enough play, sure, but what if my friend had Le'Veon Bell and LeSean McCoy? What if, when I tell my friend, "Yeah, play Abdullah," he then plugs Abdullah into his lineup for one of those running backs?
You see the problem?
Context is everything when making fantasy football decisions. So remember, if you see a player listed as a start in this column, it doesn't mean you've got to shove him into your lineup. These are mostly fringe players to begin with. Because who wants to read a start-sit column that only talks about studs?
Start Andy Dalton (vs. Indianapolis): After beginning the season with back-to-back goose eggs in the touchdown column, Dalton's thrown for at least a touchdown in each of his last four games, totaling nine. It's no coincidence that Dalton's fantasy production got a boost directly when the Bengals replaced offensive coordinator Ken Zampese with Bill Lazor. Dalton now has a 4.8% touchdown rate on the year, which is in line with his career average. All is right in Andy Dalton's world.
Cincinnati will take on the Colts this week, and we should expect this touchdown streak to continue. Indy's allowed a top-15 performance to every single quarterback the team has faced this year, and only New England and Kansas City have allowed more total air yards than the Colts, per AirYards.com. They also lost rookie safety Malik Hooker to a torn ACL last week. The Bengals are heavy 10-point favorites, and you may think "run" as a result, but to get to that positive game script, Dalton's going to need to have a strong performance.
Sit Alex Smith (vs. Denver): The Broncos have oddly not been the toughest opponents for quarterbacks in fantasy football this year, ranking 13th in fantasy points against to the position. And it's not because the secondary has been all that bad -- it's still a fringe top-five unit, according to our schedule-adjusted metrics. The reason they look like a decent-enough matchup is because, while the NFL has allowed a touchdown toss for every 160.81 quarterback passing yards, the Broncos have allowed one for every 109.36.
This is actually a bad thing. It means quarterbacks are overperforming in the touchdown column, because touchdowns are naturally more random than total passing yards. The fact is, Denver's still tough to throw on, and opposing teams know that -- they've faced the fewest amount of air yards against this year.
Smith is probably still fine this week in most leagues because we're in bye week hell, but in shallower leagues, you may have a better option, like Andy Dalton or the next dude.
Start Tyrod Taylor (vs. Oakland): Every non-Trevor Siemian and Joe Flacco quarterback has been usable against the Raiders this year, as Oakland's allowed the ninth-most passing yards and the fourth-highest net yards per attempt to opposing passers this season. Next up is Taylor, who gets to go up against them in a 1:00 p.m. EST game in Buffalo. So not only does Tyrod -- who's posted roughly 18 or more points in half of his games this year -- get a nice matchup, but he gets it against a team traveling from the west coast for an early game. He's in a good spot this week despite his lack of weapons.
Sit Matthew Stafford (vs. Pittsburgh): Pittsburgh hasn't faced many good quarterbacks this year, but it still appears as though the secondary is legit. According to our schedule-adjusted numbers (and I stress "schedule-adjusted"), the Steelers have the fourth-best secondary in football. This week they're on the road to take on Stafford and the Lions, giving Stafford a tough matchup. And Detroit's going to more than likely be without Golden Tate, leaving Stafford with a lot of inexperience on the outside (potentially Kenny Golladay) and in the slot (T.J. Jones). Stafford isn't a worthwhile play with so many above-average options this week at quarterback.
Other quarterbacks to start: Philip Rivers (at New England), Josh McCown (deeper play, vs. Atlanta), Case Keenum (deeper play, vs. Cleveland)
Other quarterbacks to sit: Deshaun Watson (shallower league, at Seattle), Ben Roethlisberger (at Detroit)
Start Wendell Smallwood (vs. San Francisco): The Eagles are in a glorious spot versus our 31st-ranked defense (the 49ers) this weekend, checking in as 13-point favorites at home. That's got blowout written all over it.
Naturally, LeGarrette Blount should be on your radar as the closer in this game, but don't sleep on Smallwood, either. In his return in Week 7, Smallwood played just one fewer snap than Blount, and he was -- as he should be -- more involved in the passing game, seeing two targets to Blount's zero. That could important against San Francisco, as the Niners have allowed the most running back receptions in the NFL this year. Over his last three games (one of them being a stomping against the Chargers), Smallwood's carried the ball 30 times (10 per game) while seeing 10 targets (more than 3 per game). That kind of volume in a plus matchup certainly warrants, at the very least, some flex love.
Sit Lamar Miller (at Seattle): Now, I know it may be tough to bench Miller, but cut me some slack here: finding a relevant running back to bench in today's landscape is like finding something that tastes good on an Applebee's menu. Good luck.
Miller's got a tough one this week, though. Seattle's an above-average team at stopping the run, allowing just a 30.5% Success Rate (percentage of positive expected points runs) to opposing running backs this year. And they've been a lot better over their last three games. They faced two poor rushing offenses in the Colts and the Giants, but they also held Todd Gurley to just 43 yards rushing.
What might be most important here with Miller, though, is game script. The game is in Seattle, and the Texans are 5.5-point underdogs. If the game flow is negative for the Texans, then Miller will need to buoy his numbers a bit as a receiver. But the Seahawks have actually allowed the fewest receptions to running backs this year.
The one thing that should give Miller owners some optimism is that tackle Duane Brown ended his holdout this week. He'll surely have an impact. But I'm not optimistic about Miller's overall ceiling this week, especially considering he's only hit a high ceiling once this season, and it came against a bad Tennessee defense.
Start Dion Lewis (vs. Los Angeles): Lewis has basically become Mike Gillislee in the Patriots' offense over the last two weeks, out-snapping him 43% to 19% in Week 6 and 35% to 18% in Week 7. During this time, Lewis has tallied 24 rushing attempts, and he's got two goal-line carries to Gillislee's one. All of this is to say that, while the Patriots' backfield can be confusing at times, all signs point to Lewis having a role in this offense.
And he's got a good matchup against the Chargers this week. Los Angeles has been stronger of late defensively (read: playing to their actual ability), but on a per-play basis, they've been the second-least efficient team at stopping the run when adjusted for strength of schedule. Or, at least, according to our metrics. And they've given up the second-highest Success Rate, so it's not as though that efficiency is being built by long, unsustainable runs.
The Patriots are, of course, favorites in the contest, so a positive script could be in store for Lewis. That makes him a solid play this week, especially given all the bye weeks.
Sit C.J. Anderson (at Kansas City): Anderson's been a dud in three of his last four games, and he's seen 10 or fewer carries in each of those down contests. Like most running backs, when a team's winning, there's more production at the position. And when they're not, it's tougher to produce. That's really what we're seeing with Anderson: in Denver's three wins this year, he's averaged about 22 carries, 98 rushing yards, and a third of a rushing touchdown per game. In losses, those numbers are 9, 32, and 0.
Will the Broncos win this week? They obviously could, but it won't be easy. They're going to be in Kansas City as 7.5-point underdogs in a game with a low 43-point over/under. Vegas isn't everything, but things aren't exactly looking up for a Denver victory. And that'll hurt Anderson tremendously.
Start Marlon Mack (deeper play, at Cincinnati): Mack played more snaps than Frank Gore last week in a game that got out of hand, but that's also a big reason he's attractive here in Week 8. As I noted earlier, Cincinnati is a huge favorite over Indianapolis. Mack, the team's pass-catching back (he saw six targets last week), could (and should, because he's objectively better) be on the field a good bit in this one. Cincinnati ranks ninth in running back receptions allowed this year, as well, even though they've had their bye -- meaning, they've played one fewer game than a lot of teams. In PPR formats, Mack should actually provide a decent floor this week.
Start Pierre Garcon (at Philadelphia): As I talked about in my 15 Transactions column this week, Garcon's got a trio of tough matchups upcoming after this week, so he's kind of a sell candidate right now in fantasy football. Touchdown regression should eventually hit (he hasn't scored this year despite having 38 receptions), but the schedule itself is pretty rough.
This week, though, things aren't so bad. Philadelphia has been a fantastic pass funnel defense for opposing offenses this year, having faced a 2.50 drop-back-to-run ratio. That's by far -- by far -- the highest ratio a defense has faced in football this year. That means teams are going to throw the ball on them, especially given that the secondary has been banged up since Ronald Darby's Week 1 injury.
Now, Darby may return this week, but that's no certainty. If he doesn't, Garcon's in a fantastic spot, as he'll probably be lined up a good bit against Jalen Mills. On the year, per Pro Football Focus, Mills has allowed more receptions than any other cornerback in the league. That's good news for Garcon.
Sit T.Y. Hilton (at Cincinnati): Though Hilton's easily the best receiver -- and player -- in this Colts' offense right now, he's given you a wide receiver performance above WR46 in PPR formats just twice this year. One of those good games came against Cleveland's bottom-ranked secondary, and the other against San Francisco's. And it took a 60-plus yard play in each of those contests to rank higher than, again, WR46.
Banking on a big play against Cincinnati doesn't seem smart. On the year, only the Broncos have allowed fewer air yards than the Bengals, and Cincinnati's seen the third-fewest 15-plus yard throws tossed against them. Hilton's a really tough start this week.
Start Nelson Agholor (vs. San Francisco): Agholor's coming into Week 8 with three consecutive top-16 wide receiver performances (PPR), having scored a touchdown in each of those contests. He actually now has a score in five of seven games this year thanks to his move to the slot.
But focusing on his last three contests, he's seen a 20% target market share in the Eagles' offense during this time, capturing 17 targets. Those will come in handy this week against the 49ers, because he'll be matched up a lot with K'Waun Williams in the slot. Williams, according to Pro Football Focus, has seen more targets against him in the slot than any NFL corner this year, and he's surrendered a near 100 quarterback rating in that area of the field. Look for Agholor and the Eagles to exploit the matchup.
Sit Kenny Stills (at Baltimore): I've fielded a few questions this week about Stills and if there's some sort of rapport between him and Matt Moore, and my general answer is "maybe," but it also doesn't really matter because the Dolphins are going into Baltimore this week to face the Ravens in a game with an incredibly low 37.5-point over/under. The Dolphins have the third-lowest implied team total of the week. And the Ravens' secondary isn't bad. Per our numbers, it's the fifth-best unit in the league even after adjusting for strength of schedule. There's also a chance that DeVante Parker ends up playing in this game, making Stills an even worse option.
Start Kelvin Benjamin (at Tampa Bay): Benjamin's been dealing with a knee issue, but he still led the Panthers in receiving this past week on six targets. His matchup in Week 8 is awesome. Teammate Devin Funchess will more than likely see a lot of Brent Grimes given the side of the field the two play on, which will leave Benjamin to either Vernon Hargreaves III or Robert McClain. Hargreaves played on the outside throughout the season, but he shifted to the slot this past week against the Bills.
Regardless of which cornerback Benjamin sees, he should eat. Both corners have put up some soft numbers, according to Pro Football Focus, this season, and the Buccaneers, in sum, have the fifth-worst secondary in the league, per our numbers. Only the Chiefs have allowed more points per game to the wide receiver position.
Start Tyler Kroft (vs. Indianapolis): Without Tyler Eifert in the lineup this year, Kroft has consistently played more than 90% of the Bengals' snaps, and over his last three games, he's had a target share north of 17%. The Colts were already a bottom-10 team against opposing tight ends this year, and now, as noted above, they're without Malik Hooker. That gives Kroft a lot of streaming upside in a game that the Bengals should score some points.
Sit O.J. Howard (vs. Carolina): Howard had a big game last week, but there's no reason to throw him in your fantasy lineups with confidence in Week 8. He ran 20 routes in his Week 7 contest, which isn't elite by any means, and the Bills, his opponent in that game, have surrendered the 24th-most points to the tight end position this year while playing teams who really don't feature the position. Carolina's a tougher opponent, and Cameron Brate -- who out-targeted Howard nine to six last week -- is still the preferred tight end to use in this offense.
Start Hunter Henry (at New England): Over the last three weeks, Hunter Henry has run 77 routes (per Pro Football Focus, which is the 12th-most at the position), has captured nearly 20% of Los Angeles' targets, and has scored at least 11.3 PPR points. That's hot.
This week, he's going up against the Patriots in a game that the Chargers could easily be faced with a lot of passing. New England, too, has allowed the eighth-most points to the tight end position this year, including six top-12 and three top-4 performances to the position. Henry should be in your starting lineup.
Start the Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Indianapolis): I've picked on the Colts all column long, so why stop now? Indianapolis has allowed at least three sacks to every non-Tennessee team they've faced this year, and only the Titans and Browns haven't been able to pick them off. And, as we know, the Titans and Browns have bottom-tiered secondaries. In what should be good game flow for this Cincinnati D, they're in prime position to score a lot of fantasy points this weekend.
Sit the Denver Broncos (at Kansas City): Part of the reason the Chiefs have done well this year is that they've only turned the ball over once. Remember Kareem Hunt's fumble on his first ever NFL carry back in Week 1? That's the only time Kansas City has turned the ball over this year. The offensive line has given up a decent amount of sacks, but given Denver's on the road as underdogs, they're not a super high-ceiling play this week.