Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 11
There's a chance that we're actually living in the Upside Down.
Not a Stranger Things fan? Don't worry. The Upside Down is just an alternate dimension existing in parallel to the human world. And it's bad -- way worse than your typical, everyday world. Weird things happen there.
And weird things are happening in the NFL -- and, in turn, fantasy football -- this season.
Alex Smith is a clear-cut top-five quarterback. Adam Thielen is averaging almost two full PPR points per game more than Julio Jones. Austin Seferian-Jenkins is a top-10 tight end option. The Jacksonville Jaguars' defense may win people fantasy championships.
Yes. This has to be the Upside Down.
Let's hope some of these players can escape this week.
Start Ben Roethlisberger (vs. Tennessee): Roethlisberger has been nothing but average this year, posting a weekly quarterback ranking higher than 10th just once all season long. And maybe you're not that into him against a Titans defense that's been completely average against opposing signal-callers when looking at fantasy points against. I can understand that.
But what if I told you that Tennessee has barely been tested this season through the air? And what if I told you that the three competent passers they've faced -- Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Derek Carr -- averaged more 28 fantasy points per game against the Titans this year? That should get you a little interested in Big Ben this week, no?
It's the truth, though. Tennessee's barely been tested through the air, having faced Blake Bortles, Jay Cutler, Jacoby Brissett (he was QB14 against them), the tandem of Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, Joe Flacco, and Andy Dalton this season. When adjusted for strength of opponent, the Titans have the third-worst secondary in football, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. With a high implied Vegas team total this week, Roethlisberger should be able to do some damage.
Sit Matthew Stafford (at Chicago): The Bears have actually been pretty strong against opposing passers this season, and they've faced big names like Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, and Jameis Winston. Despite that schedule, only Rodgers and Ryan were able to score more than 14 fantasy points against the Bears. Some regression could hit at some point this year, as Chicago's given up the ninth-fewest passing yards in the league but the fourth-fewest touchdowns (in other words, they should've surrendered more passing touchdowns than they have), but with this game being played in Chicago and with such a low 41.5-point over/under, Stafford isn't any sort of must-start passer.
Start Case Keenum (deeper play, vs. Los Angeles): Starting Keenum obviously comes with the risk that the Vikings may decide to bench him mid-game for Teddy Bridgewater, but he's not in the worst spot from a fantasy perspective this week. If you look strictly at how many fantasy points opposing defenses are allowing to quarterbacks, you may be scared off of Keenum -- the Rams are allowing the fourth-fewest points to the quarterback position this year. But, like the Titans, they've also faced some mediocre quarterback competition.
What has me intrigued about Keenum as a deeper play this week is that both the Vikings and Rams have been fairly pass-heavy teams in neutral game scripts, and both of them have played at a fast pace this season. For context, the Rams have a pass-to-rush attempt ratio of 1.52 when the scoring margin has been plus or minus six points this season. Minnesota's is 1.30. Those two numbers are far higher -- or more pass-heavy -- than their overall ratios (1.03 and 1.13) thanks to both teams winning games and seeing positive game scripts. And regarding their pace of play, each team is ranked in the top-10 in situation-neutral pace this season.
What's this all mean, then? It means there could be a lot of passing as long as this game is close. And it looks like it could be, as Vegas has made the Vikings just 2.5-point home favorites. The game's over/under isn't all that bad at 46, too.
Sit Andy Dalton (at Denver): To be honest, there aren't a lot of usually usable quarterbacks this week that are worthy of a bench, with a lot of passers in good spots. Maybe you were thinking about playing Dalton since the Broncos have now allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this year. Well, they've also faced Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Alex Smith this year. Per our schedule-adjusted numbers, Denver still has a top-10 secondary and shouldn't be considered a plus matchup at all. Given this game is on the road and the Bengals are underdogs, Dalton can be benched.
Start Chris Thompson (at New Orleans): Samaje Perine should benefit most from Rob Kelley's season-ending injury, but Thompson should see an uptick in production as well. In two games without Kelley this year, Thompson carried the ball 24 times while seeing 12 targets. In those contests, he handled almost 36% of the team's total carries and 40% of Washington's running back carries. When Kelley's played, those numbers are 21.81% and 27.07%, respectively. In other words, he's seen an increase of 13% to 15% in his backfield market share without Kelley in the lineup.
This week, he'll face a Saints defense that's been good against fantasy running backs but has struggled when adjusted for strength of opponent, per numberFire metrics. They've also allowed the second-most running back receptions per game this season. Thompson, a pass-catching specialist, should benefit from the matchup, too.
Sit Alfred Morris (vs. Philadelphia): As noted in this week's 15 Transactions column, things weren't horrendous for Morris in Week 10, his first game as the Cowboys' starting running back. He toted the rock 11 times out of a possible 15 running back carries, which tells us that he'll probably see a decent workload when the game script is positive. But it wasn't in Week 10, which forced Rod Smith -- the back their utilizing as the team's main receiver out of the backfield -- on the field for 60% of the team's snaps. Morris played 35% of them.
The fear with this game is two-fold. Not only could Dallas trail once again (they're home underdogs), but Philadelphia has been stout against the run, surrendering the second-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year. Morris should see better days ahead -- this week's just not a great one for him.
Start Dion Lewis (at Oakland): Lewis now has double-digit carries in each of his last four games, and even with Rex Burkhead in the mix over his last three, he's got a 43.30% rushing attempt share in the New England backfield. That's not a bad thing considering the Patriots are typically in positive game scripts. That should be the case this week as they're 6.5-point favorites against the Raiders, who've given up a top-10 running back performance in PPR formats in each of their last five games, and that excludes Kenyan Drake's RB11 outing back in Week 9. Lewis is in a good spot.
Sit Joe Mixon (at Denver): As noted above, the Broncos' pass defense hasn't been nearly as bad as folks might think, and the same definitely goes for the rush defense. On the season, they've allowed only one 60-plus yard rusher, and they have the best rush defense in the league, according to our algorithm. And it's not like Mixon himself has been some stud. Even without Jeremy Hill over the last two games, Mixon's combined for just 68 yards on 22 attempts. He's been fortunate to find the end zone twice, but his ceiling has been pretty capped due to poor offensive line play. To expect he can hit it big in this matchup would be foolish.
Start J.D. McKissic (deeper play, vs. Atlanta): If you need a waiver wire running back this week, especially in a PPR format, McKissic could be it. C.J. Prosise is out for the fantasy football season (shocker) due to an ankle injury, leaving the Seahawks to just McKissic and Thomas Rawls, assuming Eddie Lacy can't suit up (he didn't practice Tuesday because of a groin injury). McKissic would then serve primarily as the team's pass-catching back, and that could lead to some volume through the air. Not only did he see four targets last week on just 32% of the team's snaps, but he'll face a Falcons unit in Week 11 that's allowing the third-most receptions to running backs per game after leading the league in that category in 2016. He's got a low floor, but it's not crazy to think he can catch five or six passes in this contest.
Start Sterling Shepard (vs. Kansas City): Shepard now has 22 targets over his last two games, capturing a target share of more than 30% during this time. That's elite. And despite not scoring a touchdown, he's got 37.2 PPR points in those two contests. This week, the Giants are hosting Kansas City, a game where the Chiefs are 10.5-point favorites. Quite simply, that could easily lead to a lot of passing from the G-Men and quarterback Eli Manning against a defense that's just average against the pass, per our numbers. Shepard should be in your lineup this week and pretty much every week moving forward.
Sit Davante Adams (vs. Baltimore): Adams is coming off a big game against the Bears, but his matchup this week isn't as friendly. He'll probably see a lot of Jimmy Smith in coverage, which isn't a good thing, but the Baltimore secondary as a whole has been strong this year, ranking fourth in the NFL, according to our numbers. On top of that, only one wide receiver playing against the Ravens this year -- Michael Crabtree -- has cracked the top-15 at the position in weekly PPR scoring . Despite seeing a target share north of 26% with Brett Hundley under center, Adams is a risky play this week.
Start Jamison Crowder (at New Orleans): Once considered a massive bust in fantasy football, Crowder has 24 targets over his last two games, totaling nearly 200 yards receiving in that span. He actually has 39 more receiving yards over his last two games versus his first six of the season. Part of that is because Washington's exploited slot matchups, but they should be able to do the same this week against the Saints, who've given up monster performances to slot receivers this year.
In Week 1, Adam Thielen ran almost 73% of his routes from the slot (per Pro Football Focus), and hauled in 9 catches for 157 yards against New Orleans. Golden Tate was the WR3 against the Saints in Week 6, and he didn't even finish the game due to injury. And Chris Hogan ran the majority of his routes from the slot against the Saints in Week 2, finishing with almost 19 PPR points.
The truth is, while the Saints' defense is improved and the entire team is looking great, they haven't really been tested. It's a good sign that they're taking care of business when they should, but the secondary still has some holes, specifically in the slot, where Crowder roams each week.
Sit Marqise Lee (at Cleveland): There's a good chance Jason McCourty shadows Marqise Lee this week, and that's not good for his potential in fantasy football. As much as the Browns look like pushovers through the air, they've mostly been beat in the middle of the field to slot receivers and tight ends. Outside wideouts haven't had much success -- Cleveland's allowed five top-12 performances, but three of those came to slot wide receivers. The other two were to Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, two studs. And McCourty has a lot to do with it, as he's, per Pro Football Focus, allowed the fifth-worst quarterback rating among all relevant cornerbacks this season.
Start Tyler Kroft (at Denver): Kroft had just one catch for four yards last week against the Titans, but the good news is that he still saw six targets while running 29 routes (seventh-most at the position in Week 10). He doesn't have an absurdly high target share like some other tight ends -- it's a little over 16% over the team's last five games -- but Kroft has a juicy matchup this week against Denver. While the Bronco corners can shut down the outside, over the last few years, it's allowed tight ends to do work in the middle of the field. In fact, this season, they're allowing the second-most points to the position per game. That makes Kroft a pretty good option this week, perhaps one that you can find off the waiver wire.
Sit Julius Thomas (vs. Tampa Bay): As I say each week, it's almost impossible to find a usable tight end -- one who's seeing volume -- and deem him a sit. But I've had some folks in my Twitter mentions this week ask about Thomas, and I've got to say, it's tough for me to buy into him. He's scored a tuddy in consecutive weeks, but one of those matchups came against Oakland, a bottom-10 team at defending the tight end, and in the other, against Carolina, his score was one of just two receptions. He still has a meager 13.09% target share over the team's last five games, and Tampa Bay can be beat all over the field, which has made them a top-10 team at defending tight ends in terms of fantasy points against this year. Thomas isn't worth it.
Start Marcedes Lewis (deeper play, at Cleveland): If you want to dig a little deeper -- perhaps you've got a tight end on bye -- Marcedes Lewis is in an interesting spot this week. Cleveland's been generous against opposing tight ends, as they've surrendered the third-most fantasy points to the position this year. And while Lewis has just two double-digit PPR performances this season, he's run the seventh-most routes at the tight end position across the league over the last three weeks while seeing 11 targets over his last two. You could do worse.
Start the Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Buffalo): The Bills have been a mess over their last couple of games, and their benching of Tyrod Taylor could easily make the situation worse. At least in the short term.
This week, that's who the Chargers will be facing. Los Angeles has actually been a pretty solid squad defensively this season, and over their last five games, they've ranked in the top-14 in weekly defensive scoring four times along with three top-seven performances. The only flat performance they've provided fantasy owners was a game against one of the best offenses in football, New England. As four-point favorites in a game with a fairly low over/under, they're a good play this week.
Sit the Minnesota Vikings (vs. Los Angeles): I already mentioned that this Vikings-Rams tilt could be higher scoring than expected, but to go along with this, the Rams have been the least friendly team to opposing fantasy defenses this year. Given that, despite Minnesota being at home, I'd be hesitant in starting them.