Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 5

The start/sit question is one that many a fantasy football analyst dreads. And yet, it's often the most important one.

As fantasy football enthusiasts, we spend the offseason poring over stats, news, projections, rankings -- whatever we can get our hands on -- all in anticipation of dominating our leagues on draft night.

But while we might agonize over whether Player A will have a better season than Player B as the clock ticks down on our eighth pick, the truth is that once the dust settles and the games actually begin, a good chunk of our roster will be cycling in and out of our lineups all season. At the end of the day, it won't matter that you picked the right guy if you started him in all the wrong weeks.

Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another.

With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week and will hopefully be able to sway you in one direction or another. And away we go!


Start Kyler Murray (at Cincinnati): Kyler Murray didn't have an amazing game by any means last week, but he proved that his running ability should continue to help give him a solid weekly floor. Although he only threw for 241 scoreless yards with a pick, he also ran 4 times for 27 yards and a touchdown, helping him to a respectable QB12 performance in most formats.

And yet, he gets the nod here for the second straight week because he appears to be getting very little love in Week 5. Although he's rostered in 95% of CBS leagues, he's only getting the start in 45% of them -- despite going on the road to face an awful Cincinnati Bengals defense.

As anyone who watched Monday night's game against the Steelers can attest, the Bengals defense looked absolutely dreadful, allowing Mason Rudolph to complete 24-of-28 passes (85.7%) for two scores, while also routinely having no answer for the running back duo of Jaylen Samuels and James Conner out of the wildcat formation.

Through four weeks, Cincinnati ranks 31st against the pass in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and 28th overall in total defense.

Toss in both Arizona's fast pace and own 24th-ranked defense and we have a game with some sneaky shootout potential. numberFire's model projects Murray as the QB8 in Week 5.

Start Andy Dalton (vs. Arizona): This battle of sorry defenses could also mean a bounce-back performance from Andy Dalton. Yes, along with the Bengals' listless performance on defense, Dalton certainly didn't do them any favors, either, posting easily the worst Passing NEP mark of the week at an ugly -21.66 mark. In fact, it was the third-worst passing performance of the entire season.

Still, as mentioned above, this should be a fast-paced game, and the Bengals are the second-most pass-heavy team behind only the Atlanta Falcons. Dalton is still among the league leaders in pass attempts (fourth behind Kyle Murray) and already has two 300-yard passing days. Additionally, the Cardinals' pass defense ranks 20th by numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics and has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks.

Dalton is projected as numberFire's 11th-best at the position this week.

Sit Dak Prescott (vs. Green Bay): Now, let's get this out of the way first. Yes, in most formats, you're starting fantasy's QB4 through the first month of the season. But if you have as solid backup option available, this would be the ideal time to give Dak Prescott a seat against the Green Bay Packers.

For starters, the Packers have been stout against the pass, ranking first overall in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play, and only the New England Patriots have allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. It's worth noting that Green Bay hasn't exactly faced a murderers' row of signal-callers against the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Kirk Cousins, and Joe Flacco, but even Carson Wentz only threw for 160 yards against them, needing three scores to salvage his fantasy night.

On top of that, last week against New Orleans, the Dallas Cowboys reverted to the conservative run-first play-calling that the fantasy community has lamented for years. The offense was held to just 10 points, and Prescott emerged as the QB24, easily his worst fantasy outing in four games. The Cowboys also lost tackle Tyron Smith, which could also further hinder this offense moving forward.

While it remains to be seen if Dallas can make the proper adjustments against Green Bay, the reality is that running could very well be what proves to be successful. The Packers' defense is on the opposite end of the spectrum against the run, ranking dead last by numberFire's metrics. Even with Smith's absence, Ezekiel Elliott could very well be the focal point of their attack.

Prescott could bounce back from last week's performance, but his ceiling looks very limited in this matchup.

Sit Baker Mayfield (at San Francisco): Baker Mayfield rebounded nicely with 342 passing yards against the Ravens, though he's still looking for his first multi-score game of the season. He could have a much more difficult time on the road against a 49ers defense that's performed well so far (fifth versus the pass) and is coming off a bye week. Mayfield is just the QB17 in numberFire's projections.

Other quarterbacks to start: Much like Matthew Stafford last week, Jacoby Brissett (at Kansas City) could benefit from being forced to throw to keep up with the high-flying Chiefs (56.0 over/under). We've seen both sides of Jameis Winston (at New Orleans) this season, so nothing is ever truly safe, but there's upside to be found throwing in a dome against a defense that's allowed big games to Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. Philip Rivers (vs. Denver) remains as steady as ever, throwing for 300-plus yards in three of four games, and he's at home against Denver's 26th-ranked pass defense.

Running Back

Start Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler (vs. Denver): Truth be told, it's difficult to say how things will play out between Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, but unless we get more definitive news of the workload split prior to kickoff, both backs figure to get a good chunk of touches in a game where the Chargers are 6.5-home favorites and are dealing with injuries on offense. Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin have been limited in practice, and Dontrelle Inman was placed on IR this week.

Those mounting injuries should theoretically keep both pass-catching backs involved as Ekeler has averaged 6.3 targets per game in 2019, while Gordon averaged 5.5 last season. And the rushing matchup doesn't get much better than Denver, too, which ranks second-to-last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

Start Sony Michel (at Washington): Ugh. Few backs have been more maddening than Sony Michel -- wavering somewhere between a start or sit every week -- which is pretty much par for the course when it comes to the Patriots' backfield.

Michel was listed as a "sit" in Week 4 against the Bills, and while his carries jumped back up to 17 -- his second-highest mark this season -- you probably didn't regret benching him because it amounted to a ho-hum 63 yards and zero scores. He was uninvolved in the passing game as usual, and naturally it was Brandon Bolden of all players who tallied New England's lone rushing touchdown.

All this is to say that Michel remains an unenthusiastic start at best, but outside of his weird usage in Week 3, he's now logged 15 or more carries three times, and the Pats figure to absolutely slaughter Washington as 15.0-point road favorites. Despite the disappointing results in positive game script after positive game script, Michel still has double the red zone carries (12) of anyone else on the team -- a mark that also ranks top-five in the league -- and has earned 11 of 17 carries inside the 10-yard line.

According to numberFire's projections, Michel is the RB15 in standard leagues and RB23 in PPR leagues this week.

Sit Josh Jacobs (vs. Chicago): With only five targets through four games, Josh Jacob's volume pretty much follows wherever Oakland's game scripts go, logging 24 and 19 touches in their victories compared to 10 and 12 touches in losses.

As 5.0-point underdogs in London against an anemic offense like Chicago, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibilities that the Raiders can keep this one close, but the Bears' defense has yet to allow more than 15 real-life points to any team this season. As a result, it isn't surprising to see Oakland with one of the week's lowest implied totals (17.75 points), leaving it unlikely that Jacobs will have many scoring opportunities.

The potential for volume in a close game keeps Jacobs in the flex conversation, but his floor will remain limited unless he starts seeing more targets.

Sit Frank Gore (at Tennessee): Frank Gore surprisingly managed to pile up 109 rushing yards on 17 carries against the vaunted Pats defense last week, but 69 of those came on two plays, which probably isn't something we should expect regularly from the 36-year-old. He'll once again be an underdog against the Titans, which doesn't bode well for his touches (five targets in four games), and with Josh Allen potentially sidelined with a concussion, the Bills might not be able to get much going against a defense that's playing very well.

Other running backs to start: Damien Williams is back practicing this week, but LeSean McCoy (vs. Indianapolis) remains the safest back for Kansas City team with a week-high 33.50 implied total. McCoy leads the team with 11 red zone carries. Assuming Saquon Barkley remains out, Wayne Gallman (vs. Minnesota) will be a solid volume-based start despite a tough matchup. He racked up 18 rushes and 7 targets against Washington last week. Devonta Freeman (at Houston) isn't exciting but saw 12 rushes and a season-high 9 targets in a loss to the Titans. Ito Smith vultured a touchdown and is splitting red zone carries, but Freeman's overall usage keeps him in play against Houston's 27th-ranked rushing defense.

Wide Receiver

Start Calvin Ridley (at Houston): The numbers don't speak well for Calvin Ridley, who's seen a head-scratching 13% target share behind Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, and Mohamed Sanu this season, so perhaps it isn't surprising he's only getting the start in 43% of CBS leagues despite being on 97% of rosters.

That makes him a risky start, but one has to wonder if the hip injury that popped up last week could be partially to blame for his ordinary Week 4 performance. And following his one-target game in Week 3 against the Colts, Ridley openly admitted he had trouble getting open. In those two games, Ridley caught a combined 4-of-7 targets for a measly 38 yards and no scores. Prior to that, he caught 12-of-16 targets for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2.

Do we just chalk this up to a flukey two-game stretch or a troubling trend? Obviously, it's difficult to say, but the one thing we can feel confident in is that Matt Ryan and the Falcons chuck the ball a ton. Atlanta leads the league in passing play percentage and due in part to the Falcons often playing from behind, Ryan leads the league in pass attempts.

Atlanta is a road underdog against Houston -- a game with the week's second-highest over/under (49.0 points) -- so we could see yet another game with Ryan throwing it early and often.

That sheer volume could help Ridley break out of his mini-slump, even if his target share remains questionable. numberFire's projections also favor a bounce-back, ranking Ridley just outside the top-20 wideouts in both standard and PPR leagues.

Start Marquise Brown (at Pittsburgh): Marquise Brown is coming off back-to-back disappointing weeks, and the masses are losing faith, with Brown only getting the start in 48% of CBS leagues. However, he saw seven and nine targets these past two weeks, and for the season, he still leads Baltimore in both target share (24%) and air yards share (36%). Brown's volume hasn't gone anywhere, and prior to the Bengals' awful display on Monday night, Pittsburgh was really struggling against the pass, so this could be the right spot for Brown to right the ship -- particularly given that the Steelers have struggled with the deep ball.

Sit D.J. Chark (at Carolina): The Carolina Panthers own the fourth-best passing defense by numberFire's metrics and is tied for the league lead in sacks. They've also allowed the seventh-lowest Target Success Rate to wide receivers. Let's just say the Jaguars will probably have a tough time getting things going on the road -- as shown by their lackluster 18.75 implied total. numberFire's projections place D.J. Chark just outside the top-35 wide receivers in all formats.

Sit John Brown (at Tennessee): John Brown similarly draws a rough matchup against a Tennessee pass defense that ranks third in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and eighth in Target Success Rate versus wideouts. Add in Matt Barkley potentially starting for the Bills, and this isn't a game you want any exposure to if at all possible.

Other wide receivers to start: Alshon Jeffery (vs. New York Jets) drew nine targets in his return last week, and DeSean Jackson shouldn't be back yet. The Jets have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wideouts in standard formats. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (vs. Dallas) gets a big boost if Davante Adams is sidelined with a toe injury. Will Fuller (vs. Atlanta) has been more bust than boom this year, but you know all it takes is that one big play to come through, and he's still second on the team in target share (18%) and air yards share (29%). Atlanta's 27th-ranked pass defense could do the trick.

Tight End

Start Austin Hooper (at Houston): Austin Hooper isn't someone we expect to see many yards out of, but he hauled in 9-of-11 targets for 130 receiving yards in last week's loss to Tennessee. While we surely can't expect that every game, 8.3 targets per game is mighty good for a tight end -- that's how many Travis Kelce has averaged so far -- and only Julio Jones has a higher target share on the pass-happy Falcons.

Sit O.J. Howard (at New Orleans): Jameis Winston has thrown for 380 or more yards in back-to-back weeks with a combined 7 touchdowns -- and all O.J. Howard has to show for it are 6 receptions off 7 targets for 99 yards and no scores. Being part of a pass offense that seems to be rounding into form keeps Howard just interesting enough in deep formats, but he's basically fighting for scraps with everyone else behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

Other tight ends to start: Greg Olsen (vs. Jacksonville), Will Dissly (Los Angeles Rams), Tyler Eifert (vs. Arizona)