Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 11
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 Matt Ryan (at Carolina): Excluding an injury-shortened Week 7, Matt Ryan is technically coming off his worst fantasy performance of the season, though it was hardly a disaster, throwing for a pair of scores against New Orleans and earning just under 15 fantasy points in most formats. But this had more to do with the Saints' offense surprisingly failing to hold up their end of the bargain in an assumed shootout -- scoring just nine points -- leading to Atlanta passing just 51.4% of the time, well below their league-high 68.7% season average.
However, seeing as the Falcons' defense ranks 30th in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- numberFire's metric for schedule-adjusted pass defense -- and 31st in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate, we should probably chalk last week up as a fluke and expect Atlanta to go back to giving up boatloads of points.
Sure enough, that's reflected in a solid 49.5 over/under in this week's contest against Carolina. Despite this being a tough matchup for Ryan -- the Panthers rank third in both Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and adjusted sack rate -- we should see Ryan chucking it early and often.
Prior to his Week 7 injury, Ryan posted six straight 300-yard passing performances, tossing multiple touchdowns in all but one of those games. He tallied over 40 pass attempts four times over that span, and as a team, Atlanta leads the league with 42.0 attempts per game. numberFire's projections rank Ryan as the QB7 this week.
Start Derek Carr (vs. Cincinnati): Compared to Matt Ryan, Derek Carr hasn't been lighting up the box score nearly as often, but prior to a quiet day against the Chargers, Carr strung together solid passing performances against Detroit, Houston, and Green Bay, throwing for over 280 yards and multiple scores in all three games.
He should be able to perform at that level against the Bengals, who rank 31st in schedule-adjusted pass defense and 30th in adjusted sack rate. Cincinnati has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and Oakland has the week's highest implied total (29.50). All of it adds up to Carr checking in as the QB8 in numberFire's projections.
Start Kyle Allen (vs. Atlanta): As noted earlier, Atlanta's pass defense is practically nonexistent, so deep leaguers can take a chance on Kyle Allen to take advantage as numberFire's projected QB14.
Although Allen hasn't been the most exciting fantasy quarterback this year, the Panthers are expected to rack up the points at home (27.50 implied total), and the Falcons have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers. Allen is coming off the first 300-yard passing day of his career, which was in a far tougher spot on the road in Green Bay.
Sit Jared Goff (vs. Chicago): Jared Goff is predictably coming off a dreadful game in Pittsburgh, and while he and the Rams are back home this week, things won't get much easier versus the Bears. Goff's results continue to be entirely matchup dependent, as he's now been held to single-digit fantasy points in three games against top-four pass defenses (San Francisco, Carolina, Pittsburgh), per numberFire's metrics. Chicago ranks fifth.
Start Brian Hill (at Carolina): The top waiver wire pickup in most formats this week, Brian Hill will be the Falcons' lead back for the near future, as Devonta Freeman is expected to miss a couple weeks with a foot injury.
Well, it just so happens his matchup doesn't get a whole lot better than the Panthers' lackluster run defense, which ranks 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing backfields.
With Freeman going down midway through Week 10, Hill went on to tally 20 carries and 2 targets with a 50.6% snap rate, all promising signs that he'll have a featured role this week. Coach Dan Quinn has said as much, too, and while Kenjon Barner and Qadree Ollison could factor in, neither one has seen the field much this year.
Hill projects as numberFire's RB14 in standard formats and RB10 in PPR leagues.
Start Joe Mixon (at Oakland): Playing for the winless Bengals has routinely put Joe Mixon in negative game scripts this season -- rarely a good thing for a running back -- but even with Cincinnati getting throttled by Baltimore in Week 10, Mixon piled up a whopping 30 rushes and 3 targets on a season-high 76.0% snap rate.
This elevated workload came in rookie quarterback Ryan Finley's first NFL start, suggesting that the Bengals will be content to ease Finley in, regardless of the score. Finley only passed on 44.4% of their snaps, way down from the team's 67.7% clip for the season.
So while Oakland should roll as double-digit home favorites, last week's 33 opportunities are nothing to scoff at, and Mixon should be in line for another hefty workload. The Raiders are a middle-of-the-road run defense, ranking 17th by numberFire's metrics, and they rank just 31st in Target Success Rate allowed to running backs. Mixon projects as a top-15 back in all formats.
Start Devin Singletary (at Miami): Devin Singletary's Week 10 output was disappointing, garnering just 50 yards from scrimmage with no scores in a loss to the Browns. But it was still a positive performance from a usage perspective, as he saw at least 66% of the snaps for the third straight game, and his 14 opportunities more than doubled up Frank Gore (6).
Singletary remains the clear lead back for Buffalo, and that should mean far better results in one of our favorite matchups to exploit this year: the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins rank 27th against the run when adjusted for schedule and have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing backs.
Sit David Johnson (at San Francisco): David Johnson returned to action last week, but fantasy managers probably wish he hadn't, as he would go on to see just six opportunities on a 42.9% snap rate. Not only was Johnson benched down the stretch in favor of Kenyan Drake, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury later admitted Johnson is still working through his injuries. A clip of a plodding Johnson that made the twitter rounds sure didn't inspire much confidence, either.
Technically, Johnson isn't listed on the injury report to begin the week, but there's little reason to be optimistic in a brutal upcoming matchup against San Francisco. Drake clearly isn't going anywhere, and the 49ers have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Between injury concerns, a split backfield, and a tough opponent, only those in truly dire circumstances should be starting Johnson this week.
Start Courtland Sutton (at Minnesota): At first glance, this looks like a shaky week to start Courtland Sutton, who not only has the inexperienced Brandon Allen making just his second start at quarterback but a matchup against a tough Minnesota defense. Denver has the week's lowest implied total (15.00), and the Vikings rank eighth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.
So why should you consider starting him this week? Well, the Vikings have actually struggled against wideouts this season, ranking just 28th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position. Sure enough, that's showed up in the fantasy box score, too, with the team allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers.
Obviously, there are still concerns surrounding Allen, though he did throw for two scores in his first start against Cleveland, including one to Sutton. Most importantly, Sutton led the team with eight targets and a massive 44.4% share in that game, so the volume will almost certainly be there. numberFire's projections are also favorable, ranking Sutton as a top-15 wideout in all formats.
Start Calvin Ridley (at Carolina): A date with Carolina's tough pass defense isn't ideal for Ridley, and he's yet to really stand out following Mohamed Sanu's trade to New England, notching a combined 12 targets in the two games since.
But Ridley's seen his snap rate rise to at least 80% in both weeks, and with Austin Hooper now out for a lengthy absence and vacating an 18.5% target share, surely Ridley will see more volume moving forward. As previously noted, Matt Ryan should be throwing plenty in an expected shootout, so a dwindling passing-catching group should boost the floors of both Julio Jones and Ridley as Ryan's top two targets.
Our projections are especially high on Ridley, ranking him as the WR16 in standard scoring and WR12 in PPR.
Start Tyler Boyd (at Oakland): As noted when discussing Joe Mixon, a Ryan Finley-led pass offense isn't anything to get stoked about, but Tyler Boyd led the Bengals with eight targets (27.6%) against the Ravens and has a better chance of putting up fantasy points this week with the Raiders on tap. Oakland is numberFire's 27th-ranked pass defense, ranking 25th in Target Success Rate allowed to wideouts while coughing up the third-most fantasy points per game to the position.
Cincinnati's modest 19.00 implied total limits the overall upside of this spot, but Boyd should still be able to find success in a plus matchup. He projects as a top-20 wide receiver this week.
Sit Robert Woods (vs. Chicago): With Cooper Kupp inexplicably going without a catch against Pittsburgh, Robert Woods ended up being the beneficiary, catching 7-of-11 targets for 95 yards. While that's great and all, we naturally can't rely on Kupp going catchless every week, and with another rough game expected from Goff, it's difficult to get too jazzed about starting Woods. Woods owns a mediocre 20.2% target share this season, and the Bears have allowed the third-fewest fantasy point per game to wide receivers. He's projected outside the top-30 wideouts in all formats.
Start Gerald Everett (vs. Chicago): Many of the same overall concerns with Robert Woods apply to Gerald Everett, but the difference is that the Bears have been less effective at stopping tight ends, ranking 27th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position while giving up the seventh-most fantasy points per game. Everett's fluctuating weekly targets keeps his floor low, but he led the team with 12 targets last week -- his third game with double-digit targets this season -- giving him a better ceiling than most.
Start O.J. Howard (vs. New Orleans): Well, we finally saw O.J. Howard come through with a solid game, scoring his first touchdown and logging season-highs in targets (7) and snap rate (98.8%). Of course, the caveat is this came against the Cardinals, whose struggled against tight ends are well documented. Is this just a one-game fluke or a sign of Howard getting more involved the rest of the way?
The risks are obvious, but between injuries and bye weeks, you could do worse than take a shot on Howard. Although New Orleans hasn't given up a ton of fantasy points to tight ends, they're 26th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position.