Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 3
It's the quarterback apocalypse of 2015.
Because of Tony Romo's injury, Drew Brees' questionable rotator cuff, and poor play from a handful of supposed-to-be fantasy football QB1s, the signal-calling situation across fake pigskin is somewhat of a disaster. It's apocalyptic. And it's frightening fantasy owners.
The number of "should I trade for this really mediocre fantasy quarterback?" questions received on Twitter this week would make any fantasy football veteran chuckle. There's no need to send a starting wide receiver for Eli Manning. Ryan Tannehill doesn't need to be a weekly plug-and-play option, you guys. And he shouldn't be.
If you're in a bad situation at the quarterback spot, rather than panicking and trading your early-round, valuable assets away, start to embrace streaming. Because it works. Don't go to the waiver wire, see Andy Dalton's QB7 status and say to yourself, "Hey, maybe he can be my Drew Brees replacement."
If you do that, you may be in trouble here in Week 3.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Andy Dalton (at Baltimore): This is the third straight week Dalton's been in this column, but the first time he's not being backed by yours truly. And some may be wondering why. After all, he's the seventh best fantasy quarterback through two games, and he's facing a Ravens' defense that just watched Derek Carr light them up.
I've loved Dalton over the last two weeks because he's been a favorite in both contests with a decent team total according to Vegas. That matters, especially for the Red Rifle. Over the last two years, he's scoring over four more fantasy points per game in contests where he's a favorite compared to when he's an underdog, and when the game total is over 45 points, that increases even more.
This week is supposed to be a fairly low-scoring one against the division-rival Ravens. And it being a division game matters for the sometimes-not-so-clutch Dalton. Over his career, he's averaged more interceptions than touchdowns against the AFC North (1.21 to 1.25 per game), while his non-AFC North splits see a strong 1.79 touchdowns to 0.86 interceptions per contest.
The matchup may appear good, too, but the "Oakland owned this secondary last week!" argument is a lazy one to make. Though Carr crushed the Ravens' secondary last week, Peyton Manning looked lost against it in Week 1. They still rank 15th according to our metrics, so let's not pretend it's going to be a cakewalk for Dalton. I'd stay away.
Derek Carr (at Cleveland): Carr looks to be a prime candidate to regress here in Week 3. Everyone loves to pick on the Browns, but do yourself a favor and pick on their offense, not their defense. Through two weeks of the season, our numbers have Cleveland ranked 12th in total defense, and their secondary is a top-10 unit. That's not all that far off from where things were at last year, either.
With the Raiders traveling to Cleveland, things could be a little messy after their big Week 2 victory. Vegas has Oakland as four-point underdogs with just a 19 point team total, making this an obvious situation to stay away from.
Quarterbacks to Start Instead
Carson Palmer (vs. San Francisco): I'm not sure we can dub Carson Palmer an every-week starter in fantasy football just yet, because dating back to last season, he's consistently faced bottom-half defenses. But dating back to last season, he's also been a full-blown QB1 in fantasy football.
All but one start Palmer has made since the beginning of 2014 has resulted in a top-16 quarterback finish, with five of the eight ending in the top 10. He's on fire, and our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric currently recognizes him as the second best passer in the league behind Ben Roethlisberger.
Speaking of Roethlisberger, he torched the 49ers secondary in Week 2 in Pittsburgh. And it's because the secondary isn't good, ranking 20th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP. Now it's Palmer's turn, as a favorite at home, to do the same. He certainly has top-five upside again this week.
Nick Foles (vs. Pittsburgh): The Steelers' offense became very legitimate in Week 7 of last year when Martavis Bryant became a part of the unit. From that point forward, Pittsburgh had the best offense in the entire NFL according to our metrics, and that's continued into 2015, as they have the top-ranked group once again after two weeks of play.
This may seem irrelevant, but stay with me.
The strong Steeler offense has brought shootouts. Usually that doesn't matter a ton because quarterback passing attempts don't correlate strongly to fantasy output, but it does in this case because the Steeler secondary has performed so poorly.
As a result, fantasy quarterbacks are thriving. Over the last 11 fantasy relevant games (contests ever since the offensive philosophy shifted), the Steelers have surrendered 10 top-10 quarterback performances in fantasy football. That's not a typo -- every single passer to face Pittsburgh has done serious work, and the one player who didn't finish in the top 10, Alex Smith, still threw for over 300 yards. Signal-callers against this can't-stop-a-thing secondary have averaged over 22 points per game during this stretch.
This is absurd. It's asinine. It's frighteningly terrible. But it's also a quarterback streamer's dream.
Running Backs to Sit
Doug Martin (at Houston): The good news for Muscle Hamster owners is that he's seeing the bulk of the work for Tampa Bay. The bad news is that he hasn't done a whole lot, especially when you consider the opponents he's faced.
Through two weeks, Martin has a Rushing NEP of -7.86. Among the 23 running backs with 25 or more carries so far in this new season, Martin's total is the absolute worst.
And that's with two plus-matchups, too. In Week 1, Tampa Bay faced Tennessee, a team that ranked 29th against the run according to our numbers last year. Last week, in a game that featured a positive game script, Martin wasn't able to do a thing against last year's league-worst rush defense.
Houston's a tougher matchup, and the Texans are heavy favorites in the game. That doesn't help Martin's cause, making him a guy to sit in Week 3.
Rashad Jennings (vs. Washington): If I own a New York Giants running back -- hopefully you're not including Andre Williams here -- I'd be getting worried. I'd be looking to sell. I'd be looking to do something.
The reason for this is because of unpredictability. In Week 1, things looked decent for Jennings, despite being out-snapped by Shane Vereen. Vereen was the man in Week 2, seeing only three fewer carries than Jennings on 13 more snaps but being heavily involved in the passing game.
Vereen is capping Jennings' upside -- a lot -- because of his receiving abilities. And the Giants aren't getting any push up front, making the situation even worse.
Now they'll face a Washington defense that's much improved already here in 2015. It's not like the Redskins couldn't stop the run in 2014, though -- they were a top-five run-stuffing unit according to our numbers, but couldn't hold passing attacks to save their lives.
So Jennings is tough to trust, and the matchup isn't good. I wouldn't be putting him in my lineups this week.
DeMarco Murray (at New York): I mean, do you want to start DeMarco Murray in fantasy football right now? The Eagles' offensive line looks awful, Sam Bradford has been nothing more than a mediocre passer, and in sum, the Eagles' ground attack ranks third worst in the NFL, per our metrics.
In Week 3, the Eagles get the Jets in New York. So far this season, the best running back performance against the Jets came from Josh Robinson, who scored 8.9 PPR points thanks to a garbage time drive at the end of Monday night's game. New York, for the record, ranks first against the run according to NEP.
It's not a good time to sell DeMarco Murray in your season-long league because you're not going to get a good return, but it's also not a time to start him.
Running Backs to Start Instead
Jonathan Stewart (vs. New Orleans): So far in 2015, the Panthers have faced the Jaguars and Texans. Both teams are 0-2, but the Jags actually rank as the second best rush defense in the league right now according to our numbers, while the Texans are 19th. Let's not pretend these were easy games for J-Stew.
Stewart's played over 70 percent of the team's snaps over the first two weeks of the season, and he gets the Saints this week, a team, as I stated earlier, that's had trouble stopping the run over the last year-plus. Carolina is also a heavy favorite in the game, so a positive game script could mean a heavier dose of Stewart, who's seen 35 carries over his first two contests. He's a great play this week if the matchup and game goes like it should.
Frank Gore (at Tennessee): You couldn't really ask for a worse start to the season in terms of matchups than what Gore's seen. As I said, the Jets have the best rush defense in the league per NEP, and the Bills, Indianapolis' Week 1 opponent, is projected to do very well against the run as well.
Indianapolis finally has a plus-matchup this week against Tennessee, a team that struggled against the run a season ago. With a high team total, and with the Colts favorites, we should expect a lot of Gore and potentially his first touchdown as a Colt. As long as he can hold onto the ball at the goal line, of course.
LeGarrette Blount (vs. Jacksonville): I did just say that Jacksonville's rush defense has been stellar, so while this matchup isn't great from an analytical perspective, it's not so bad for Blount from a game script standpoint.
Blount owners should be worried about Dion Lewis right now, because he's been one of the best running backs in the NFL through two weeks. But as I mentioned in this week's 15 Transactions column, if Lewis is taking on more of the Vereen role this season -- perhaps with more rushing attempts -- then we should expect this to be a Blount game. If the spread was closer, I'd be more hesitant, but as 13.5-point favorites over Jacksonville, New England could be grinding clock with their bigger-bodied back after they take a big lead.
Blount's not a lock this week. At all. And I should be clear about that. But if you're hurting, I'd feel decent about throwing him into my lineup given the touchdown and grind-it-out opportunity this game could bring.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Marques Colston (at Carolina): I can't really fathom the fact that Marques Colston is being started in over 18 percent of ESPN.com leagues right now. Why? What's the logic? Sure, he's seen 12 targets over the first two weeks of the season, but he's also being out-snapped by teammates Brandin Cooks, Brandon Coleman and Willie Snead.
Now, the struggling Saints will go to Carolina where they're projected to score just 18 points according to Vegas. The Panthers defense has looked great, which includes stud corner Josh Norman. To me, there's no way I'd be feeling good about Colston in my lineup this week.
Steve Smith (vs. Cincinnati): Perhaps Smith isn't bench-able in your league because it's tough to find a fill-in, so treat this more as a "don't expect Week 2 Steve Smith to show up in Week 3" recommendation.
The Bengals' secondary is very good, and both of their starting cornerbacks can cause problems. So far this year, the highest ranked wide receiver against the Bengals has been Steve Johnson, who finished as the 29th best PPR wideout in Week 2 thanks to an ordinary 5-catch, 45-yard, 1-touchdown game. Though Smith should see plenty of targets in an offense without offensive threats, he may be inefficient, similar to what we saw in Week 1 against Denver.
Torrey Smith (at Arizona): Don't chase last week's performance by the 49ers. I already talked about how the Steelers have forced shootouts over the last half year, and that's a huge reason for Smith's big stat line a week ago. Things should be different against Arizona, who rank sixth in the NFL against the pass according to our Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points metric.
Wide Receivers to Start Instead
Donte Moncrief (at Tennessee): Whether people want to believe it or not, Donte Moncrief has become an every-week starter in fantasy football. He's associated with one of the best quarterbacks in the game, and he's playing starting wide receiver snaps, seeing 74 and 78 percent of the team's snaps in his first two contests.
Per target, only four wide receivers with 10 or more looks this season have been more efficient than Moncrief. And among these 58 wide receivers, Moncrief's biggest competition for targets, Andre Johnson, ranks 50th.
In a game that should see the Colts scoring a good number of points, Moncrief is a clear start.
Brandon Marshall (vs. Philadelphia): Like Moncrief, Brandon Marshall has started the season off hot, too. Looking only at those 58 wide receivers with 10 or more targets on the year, Marshall is 12th in efficiency, with teammate Eric Decker is sixth. The duo has helped Ryan Fitzpatrick total over 10.00 Passing Net Expected Points over the first two games of the season, which is 13th best in the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Eagles -- the Jets' Week 3 opponent -- have looked terrible in the secondary. I mean, Byron Maxwell looks like he's purposely giving up yards to opposing wide receivers. It's caused the Eagles to already surrender three top-30 wide receiver performances in PPR leagues in two weeks. And one of those weeks was against a Dez Bryant-less Cowboys.
Decker's got a knee issue, and his status for Week 3 is up in the air. Even if he goes, Marshall's a good play. If he doesn't go, Marshall's volume and matchup make him a stud.
John Brown (vs. San Francisco): A tweet from Rotoworld's Evan Silva hit my timeline yesterday, where he noted the 49ers gave up four passing plays of 40-plus yards to the Steelers on Sunday. They had done that just eight times throughout the entire 2014 campaign.
That tweet immediately made me think of Brown, who can stretch the field vertically for the Cardinals' offense. After a modest 9.5-point performance in PPR leagues in such a great matchup last week, owners may be feeling down on Brown. Don't. He's in a good spot this week and has big-play upside.
Tight Ends to Sit
Zach Ertz (vs. New York): It seems like I'm picking on the Eagles, and while I kind of am, I'm also recognizing the fact that the Jets defense looks very legitimate after two weeks of play. Though New York faced Cleveland in Week 1 -- a team with no true tight end threat -- they completely stuffed the Colts' tight ends in Week 2. I mean, like, stuffed. For zero fantasy points.
Part of that was due to a Dwayne Allen injury, but even Coby Fleener wasn't targeted. A huge reason for that is because the Jets can bring pressure, and keeping the tight end on the line as extra help is sometimes necessary. Ertz may not even be that guy (Brent Celek still exists), which doesn't help his chances of being on the field, and given the Jets' defense as a whole, Ertz is one player I'd stay away from this week.
Tight Ends to Start Instead
Eric Ebron (vs. Denver): Few people talking about Eric Ebron in the fantasy community, and I'm not sure why. He has 15 targets through two weeks of the season, which is sixth most among all NFL tight ends. Moreover, he's scored twice, acting as a good red zone threat for Matthew Stafford.
The Denver defense is one of the best, most-underrated groups in the NFL, but teams have found success using their tight ends against the unit in recent memory -- last season, nine tight ends finished with top-12 performances against Denver, while five had top-three games in PPR leagues. Given the Broncos have Aqib Talib and Chris Harris shutting down the outside, it makes sense for the Lions to continue to use Ebron in this one.
Vernon Davis (at Arizona): Arizona has been a defense to target when picking your tight end over the last couple of seasons, and while that's a volatile way of looking at things, Davis still makes sense this week for other reasons. He's 12th in tight end targets so far this year, and that includes a Week 1 game where the game script was super run-heavy for the 49ers. San Francisco is 6.5-point underdogs this week though as well, which means we should expect passes from Colin Kaepernick. That plays into Davis' favor -- you could do a lot worse in Week 3.
Defenses to Sit
Kansas City Chiefs (at Green Bay): I'm not sure if this needs to be said or not, but playing a defense in Green Bay doesn't make any sense at all. Aaron Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception at home since December 2nd of 2012, meaning there's not going to be a ton of chances for turnovers. Oh, and the Packers are favorites with the third-highest team total of the week. No thanks.
Other defenses to sit: Dallas Cowboys (vs. Atlanta), St. Louis Rams (vs. Pittsburgh)
Defenses to Start Instead
Cleveland Browns (vs. Oakland): I mentioned Derek Carr could struggle earlier, and I actually think the Browns defense makes for a good play this week in fantasy football as a result. Utilizing Vegas is key for fantasy football decisions, but it's even more important when looking at which defenses to choose. You want low over/unders, and you want to take defenses that are favorites to win -- teams playing from behind will be more prone to turn the ball over.
That's exactly what we have here. The Browns are four-point home favorites, and the game has the second-lowest over/under on the week. Snag them to stream if they're on your waiver wire.
Other defenses to start: Houston Texans (vs. Tampa Bay), Carolina Panthers (vs. New Orleans)