Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward redraft leagues but can also be used for setting DFS lineups, as these are the players I’ll likely be building my cash lineups around on Sunday. As was the case last week, I’m ignoring the Thursday night game.
Start of the Week: Russell Wilson vs. Bears: The Bears have been abysmal against the pass through two games. They’re one of two teams yet to register a sack on defense, with the other being the Raiders. Chicago has faced just 47 pass attempts, yet allowed seven touchdowns through the air, good for one touchdown every 6.7 attempts, by far the worst mark in the league. The Bears now get to go to Seattle for the Seahawks’ home opener as 14.5-point underdogs. The Seahawks are 0-2 and looking to make a statement. Wilson has attempted at least 30 passes in back-to-back games, something he’d only done twice in his career before now. He might not get quite that volume, especially if Seattle jumps out to a huge lead, but the Seahawks should be able to do whatever they want offensively.
Cam Newton vs. Saints: Newton may really discourage as a passer, but his rushing floor is so high with 24 attempts through the first two weeks. He’s a do-it-yourselfer when the Panthers get near the goal line, as evidenced by his Superman-style front flip into the end zone last week against the Texans. This Saints defense has offered little resistance on the young season, allowing a touchdown every 13.25 pass attempts and the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. So, this should be a week Newton is able to do some work through the air, especially if CB Keenan Lewis (hip) and FS Jairus Byrd (knee) remain out. Ted Ginn makes for a sneaky play at receiver. Newton had his best game of 2014 against DC Rob Ryan’s group in Week 14, throwing for three touchdowns and adding 83 rushing yards and a fourth touchdown on the ground.
Nick Foles vs. Steelers: J.J. Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) tweeted this out earlier in the week: “Of the last 11 relevant fantasy weeks (excluding Week 17 of last season) the Steelers have allowed 10 top-10 fantasy quarterback finishes.” This Steelers-Rams game has the second-highest over-under of the week at 47.5 points, and the Steelers are just one-point favorites, leaving the Rams with a very respectable team total of 23.25. Points should be put up on the board in this one. Pittsburgh ran the sixth-most plays in the league last season. They’ve slowed down some through two games this year, but are getting Le’Veon Bell back in the fold and coming off a stomping of the 49ers where they were able to sit on the ball. The Rams will be up in pace, and Pittsburgh’s secondary is one of the worst in the league. The way to beat the Steelers is through the air. They’ve allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks through two games. QBs are averaging 7.98 YPA with six touchdowns.
Marcus Mariota vs. Colts: Mariota will make his home debut against a Colts defense that has proven to be somewhat decent against the run, allowing just 3.69 YPC to running backs, led by rookie RE Henry Anderson. The Colts, however, have been less than stellar against the pass, allowing 8.28 YPA to Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They also could be missing their top four cornerbacks in Vontae Davis (concussion), Greg Toler (neck), Darius Butler (hip), and D’Joun Smith (knee). Mariota has shown serious playmaking ability in his first two starts and is unlikely to face the amount of pass-rush heat he took last week this time around against Indianapolis. He’s a high-upside option in a game he’ll be up in pace.
Peyton Manning at Lions: Detroit’s defense hasn’t been nearly as good through two weeks as it was last season. The Lions have allowed the most fantasy points to running backs and the 11th-most to quarterbacks. QBs are averaging over 9.2 YPA against them with both RCB Rashean Mathis and slot CB Josh Wilson acting as sieves. This game will be played in a dome, and the Broncos have a healthy projected team total of 23.75 points. Hopefully coach Gary Kubiak recognizes just how much more effective Manning has been from the shotgun and allows him to play to his strengths. This Detroit defense is very beatable through the air. Demaryius Thomas has a great matchup.
Joe Flacco at Bengals: Flacco has struggled throughout his career against the Bengals, completing just over 59 percent of his passes at 6.02 YPA with a 13:18 TD:INT ratio across 14 games. On top of that, he doesn’t have many weapons to throw to, and the Bengals have been a top-seven defense against quarterbacks through two games, allowing just over 6.3 YPA. This feels like a game the Ravens are going to have to win on the ground behind Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro.
Drew Brees at Panthers: This obviously hinges on Brees even making the start due to his bruised rotator cuff suffered in the Week 2 loss to the Bucs. Should he be under center, Brees is a player to avoid. His pass-catching corps has been terrible, and the strength of the Panthers defense is its coverage unit led by budding star Josh Norman, who is Pro Football Focus’ No. 2 cover corner after two weeks. Quarterbacks have a 46.3 passer rating throwing at him. Expect Norman to see both Brandin Cooks and Brandon Coleman on Sunday. Norman is a corner who doesn’t get beat deep. The Panthers are also expected to get DT Star Lotulelei (foot) back in the lineup. With Brees battling a bum shoulder, look for the Saints to try and hammer the run game and limit Brees’ attempts.
Sam Bradford at Jets: Bradford was one of the favorite plays the first two weeks, but has been a complete and utter disappointment. The Eagles run a ton of plays, which in theory makes Bradford an enticing play each week, but according to Rich Hribar’s Week 3 Worksheet, Bradford ranks 33rd among quarterbacks in fantasy points per snap at .154. Now heading out onto the road in a hostile environment against an elite defense, it’s hard to get behind Bradford. Darrelle Revis will lock down one side of the field, and Buster Skrine is a tough, physical slot corner. Antonio Cromartie has been beatable at right cornerback, but that’s where Riley Cooper typically lines up. Coach Todd Bowles is going to blitz the hell out of Bradford, and to this point, Bradford has refused to take shots downfield.
Matthew Stafford vs. Broncos: Another quarterback at less than 100 percent health. Stafford took a shot to his throwing arm in Week 1 that led to some numbness, then got crunched in the Week 2 loss to the Vikings, requiring X-rays on his chest and ribs. Stafford is practicing in full this week and will make the start, but he’s not on the QB1 map against a Broncos defense that has allowed — by far — the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks through two weeks. Denver is allowing 5.4 YPA and yet to surrender a touchdown pass to go with four interceptions. Aqib Talib has provided lockdown coverage on the outside, as quarterbacks have a staggering 5.1 passer rating throwing at him.
Start of the Week: Latavius Murray at Browns: The Raiders project to be one of the lowest-scoring teams of the week with a team total of 19.25 points, but it sets up as a game where Murray shouldn’t be a victim of game flow. The Browns are allowing over 5.1 YPC to running backs and have yielded the fifth-most fantasy points to the position through two weeks. Murray has touched the ball 18 times in each game and has gone over 80 total yards in both, which were two tough matchups against the Bengals and Ravens. Cleveland was awful against the run last season and has picked up right where it left off. Murray has been a true every-down back for Oakland, leaving him with a high floor.
Isaiah Crowell vs. Raiders: It’s hard not to like the running games for both teams in this Raiders-Browns tilt. Crowell has disappointed a number of times before, but he’s coming off a 15-carry, 72-yard, one-touchdown effort against the Titans and gets a Raiders club coming off a big win at home that is traveling cross-country to play a 10 AM Pacific time game. Following his impressive Week 2, Crowell is expected to continue to lead the two-man backfield committee between he and Duke Johnson. Crowell will continue to bang the rock on early downs. Through two weeks, the Raiders have allowed 4.66 YPC, three touchdowns, and the third-most fantasy points to running backs.
Frank Gore at Titans: Gore has disappointed much like the rest of the Colts’ offense through two games. But he should’ve had a much bigger game against the Jets in Week 2. He had two 10-plus yards runs called back by holding penalties and fumbled a ball at the goal line without being touched while walking into the end zone. The Titans allowed over 2,000 yards on the ground to running backs last season to go with 17 rushing scores, finishing only better than the Raiders in terms of fantasy points allowed to the position. Gore should be a lock for 16-20 carries with rookie backup Josh Robinson really struggling as a runner and showing a case of butterfingers.
Melvin Gordon at Vikings: This sets up as a perfect game for Gordon. The Vikings were shredded on the ground in Week 1 by Carlos Hyde to the tune of 168 yards and two touchdowns. Detroit abandoned the run against Minnesota in Week 2, instead opting to force-feed Calvin Johnson targets. Expect the Chargers to go the 49ers route of things in this one, hammering Gordon on the ground after seeing him run for 88 yards on 16 carries last week. Running backs are averaging over 4.6 YPC against the Vikings after two games. San Diego will look to control the clock on the road.
C.J. Anderson at Lions: Anderson has been a colossal disappointment, averaging a pitiful 2.33 YPC through two games. But he’s been a bit banged up with toe and ankle injuries. Anderson will have 10 days to recover after playing last Thursday night, and the Lions have allowed the most fantasy points to running backs through two weeks. Anderson is too talented to be playing as bad as he has, and with the extra rest and hopeful revisions to the offense by coach Gary Kubiak, Anderson can find his groove. This might be Anderson’s final chance to prove he can be Denver’s lead dog.
Devonta Freeman at Cowboys: With Tevin Coleman (ribs) sidelined, Freeman is expected to get the start and carry the mail for the Falcons. He’ll be backed up by Terron Ward. Dallas has been a top-10 defense against running backs on the young season, allowing just 2.1 YPC and one touchdown. The addition of WLB Sean Lee has been huge after he missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. It’s time to start taking this Cowboys defense seriously. It’s an overachieving bunch that consistently gets the job done because they’re always fresh with the Dallas offense dominating time of possession week-to-week. Freeman isn’t a special runner, as he’s averaging just 3.3 YPC during his career with an awful 1.95 mark to start 2015. Freeman makes more sense in PPR leagues, but is barely an RB3.
Bishop Sankey vs. Colts: As pointed out above, the Colts have actually been pretty stout against the run to start the season. Third-round rookie RE Henry Anderson has been a one-man wrecking crew up front, while fifth-round NT David Parry has also controlled the line of scrimmage. Running backs are averaging just 3.69 YPC against the Colts. And with this game expected to be played up in pace thanks to the Colts offense, it could mean less playing time for Sankey and more for Dexter McCluster. Neither Sankey nor McCluster really screams “play me” Week 3.
Doug Martin at Texans: The Texans are surprising 6.5-point favorites, which points to a negative game script for Martin and the running game. It’s tough to trust the Texans to win in such convincing fashion and jump out to a monster lead when they could be without both Arian Foster (groin) and DeAndre Hopkins (concussion), while playing Ryan Mallett at quarterback. But this is a prime letdown spot for the Bucs after getting a big divisional road win against the Saints last week. The Texans, if they have anything, it’s a strong defense led by All-Pro LE J.J. Watt. Houston is only allowing 3.75 YPC to running backs this season with zero touchdowns. Watt and NT Vince Wilfork should control the line of scrimmage and dominate a weak Tampa Bay offensive line.
Lamar Miller vs. Bills: Miller has been one of the biggest early-season disappointments. Being drafted in the third and fourth rounds of fantasy drafts, he’s averaging just 2.91 YPC on 23 carries and has yet to score a touchdown. To make matters worse, the Dolphins have an infatuation with pulling Miller off the field when they get close to the goal line, and instead inserting Damien Williams. They did it all preseason and again in Week 1. The trifecta of Miller not producing, not getting goal-line looks, and not being 100 percent healthy (ankle) put him off the radar in Week 3. And that goes without mentioning the Bills’ elite run defense that is allowing 3.86 YPC to running backs.
Start of the Week: Brandon Marshall vs. Eagles: The Eagles are getting flamed via the pass through two games, and $63-million CB Byron Maxwell has been one of the worst cornerbacks in the league. Per Pro Football Focus, Maxwell has allowed 15-of-19 passes thrown at him to be caught for 240 yards and two touchdowns. That comes out to a 153.8 passer rating. (A perfect QB rating is 158.3.) Most of that damage was done by Julio Jones in Week 1, but Maxwell fell victim to Terrance Williams for a long touchdown late last week. Marshall should see his fair share of both Maxwell and RCB Nolan Carroll, who couldn’t even start over burn victim Bradley Fletcher last season. With Eric Decker’s (knee) status for Week 3 in serious question and unlikelihood that he’ll be anywhere near 100 percent if he does play, Marshall should soak up targets. Another great stat from Pro Football Focus is their Yards Per Route Run metric. Marshall, off to a flying start, is fourth behind Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and Larry Fitzgerald. It’s a great indicator of success for receivers.
Donte Moncrief at Titans: Moncrief has taken the next step in his development this season and become a major part of the Colts’ passing offense with T.Y. Hilton (knee) banged up and Andre Johnson looking like he might be done. Moncrief is playing over 75 percent of the snaps and is tied with Hilton for the team lead in targets at 19. He’s managed to catch 13 of them for an explosive 168 yards and two touchdowns. Andrew Luck has an astounding 131.0 passer rating targeting Moncrief. He now gets to run routes against a Titans pass defense that is allowing over 16.1 YPR to receivers. Moncrief has high-end WR1 upside anytime he steps on the field with Luck at quarterback.
Allen Robinson at Patriots: Robinson had as disappointing a Week 1 out there, catching just 1-of-6 targets for 27 scoreless yards. It left owners questioning whether he’s droppable in 12-team leagues. The obvious answer was no, and Robinson promptly erupted for 155 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins last week. We should have seen it coming, with the 6’3/215 athletically-gifted freak Robinson running all of his routes at Miami’s itty bitty corners. He made contested downfield catch after contested downfield catch. The Jaguars are expected to get blown out by the Patriots on Sunday, but that means plenty of garbage time for Robinson. New England’s corners aren’t anything to write home about, as all three of Malcolm Butler, Tarell Brown, and Bradley Fletcher has received extremely poor coverage marks from Pro Football Focus. Both Butler and Brown are under 6-feet tall, while Fletcher was arguably the worst corner in all of football last season.
Kenny Britt vs. Steelers: If Nick Foles is a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback this week, that means at least one of his pass catchers is going to have to do some damage. Britt and TE Jared Cook make the most sense. Britt has only been targeted just seven times through two games, but is averaging over 20 yards per catch and scored on a 40-yard bomb last week. He’s the go-to receiver when the Rams need a big play, and this Pittsburgh secondary is certainly susceptible to them after Torrey Smith got loose for a 75-yard touchdown last week. The Steelers are a bottom-barrel coverage unit.
James Jones vs. Chiefs: This looks like a great week to use Jones. Chiefs fill-in RCB Jamell Fleming has been making the starts in place of suspended CB Sean Smith, who will miss one more game. Out of 101 corners graded at Pro Football Focus, Fleming has been the worst through two weeks. He’s allowed a league-high 17 catches for 208 yards and one touchdown. Jones plays primarily left receiver, which means he’ll be running most of his routes at Fleming. Davante Adams will draw the toughest assignment with rookie LCB Marcus Peters. We all know Aaron Rodgers is unstoppable at home and loves to target Jones in the red zone. He’s a good bet to score Monday night.
Michael Crabtree at Browns: If the Browns choose to have Joe Haden shadow Amari Cooper, that would leave Crabtree working against veteran Tramon Williams. Either way, if the Browns just play “sides,” neither Haden nor Williams is a good matchup for Crabtree as he comes off an explosive 9-111-1 effort against the Ravens last week. The Raiders are traveling to the East Coast for an early start, and the strength of the Browns defense is its pass coverage. Expect the Raiders to try and pound Latavius Murray with Cleveland allowing better than 5.1 YPC on the ground.
Terrance Williams vs. Falcons: Williams was having a very quiet day last Sunday before roasting Byron Maxwell for a 42-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It’s the kind of play we’ve grown accustomed to seeing Williams make, but he was also dangerously close to burning fantasy owners with just three catches for 42 yards before that. Extremely volatile, Williams is hard to rely on as kind of a Torrey Smith-type receiver. Insert Brandon Weeden at quarterback for the Cowboys, and I want no part of this passing game. Williams should run most of his routes at Falcons No. 1 CB Desmond Trufant, who’s allowed just two catches on four targets in his coverage this season.
Keenan Allen at Vikings: This has the makings of another Stevie Johnson game among Chargers receivers. Johnson will draw Vikings slot CB Captain Munnerlyn in coverage much of the afternoon, and there’s a good chance that leaves Allen working mostly against shutdown CB Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes held Calvin Johnson to seven catches for 62 yards and one touchdown on a whopping 13 targets last week. At less than five yards per target, that’s a fine day for Rhodes. Allen isn’t near the physical specimen Megatron is, giving the edge to 6’1/210 Rhodes on the outside.
Golden Tate vs. Broncos: While Calvin Johnson should draw the toughest matchup against Aqib Talib, Tate’s day won’t be any walk in the park. Chris Harris will be assigned to Tate in the slot and outside in two-wide sets. Talib is Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 cover corner through two weeks, and Harris is No. 6. He’s allowed just eight catches for 71 yards total and only four for 22 yards out of the slot. The Broncos completely shut down the Ravens’ and Chiefs’ passing games Weeks 1 and 2. Don’t bank on Detroit with a banged up Matthew Stafford being the team to crack the code this week.
Start of the Week: Greg Olsen vs. Saints: The Saints allowed Cardinals blocking specialist TE Darren Fells to roast them for a 4-82-1 receiving line in Week 1. Austin Seferian-Jenkins should’ve had an easy three-yard touchdown in Week 2, but Jameis Winston overthrew him. New Orleans offers zero resistance to tight ends, and Olsen is the locked-in No. 1 option in Carolina. He saw double-digit targets last week and is a good bet to be funneled passes again on Sunday. Olsen has better than even odds to find the end zone in Week 3.
Zach Ertz at Jets: The Jets didn’t allow a single catch to a tight end in Week 2, but that’s partly because the Colts didn’t even target Dwayne Allen or Coby Fleener. In Week 1, the Browns’ cluster of warm bodies at tight end managed to combine for six catches and 65 yards. Coach Todd Bowles’ defenses in Arizona badly struggled against tight ends the previous two seasons. With Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine manning receivers, Ertz could be the Eagles pass catcher with the best matchup this week. He’s top-five in tight end targets through two weeks with 13.
Jared Cook vs. Steelers: Cook isn’t nearly the same player as Rob Gronkowski or have the track record of Vernon Davis, but this matchup is primo for the Rams tight end. Pittsburgh gave up four touchdowns to Gronkowski and Scott Chandler in Week 1 before surrendering a 5-43 line to Davis in Week 2. Cook leads the Rams in targets after two games with 12 and should have plenty of open space to operate in the middle of the Steelers’ defense this week.
Jimmy Graham vs. Bears: What do they always say? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And Graham has reportedly started to voice his displeasure with his usage in the Seahawks’ passing game. He’s reportedly “pissed off” and “hates” his role in Seattle and is ready to erupt off the field. The best way for the Seahawks to prevent that is to get Graham the ball on it. The Bears have handled tight ends well through two weeks, but they’ve faced Richard Rodgers and Darren Fells. In other words, replacement-level tight ends. Look for the Bears to get Graham involved early and often.
Heath Miller at Rams: Miller is a prime regression candidate with Le’Veon Bell back in the fold for the Steelers. The veteran tight end was taking on an increased role in the pass game, but Bell should be back to see 6-8 targets weekly out of the backfield and out wide. On top of that, the Rams have been pretty good against tight ends in recent years despite struggling with Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed to open 2015. Miller falls back into the TE2 category for Week 3.
Vernon Davis at Cardinals: The Cardinals clamped down on Ben Watson and Josh Hill in Week 1 and held Martellus Bennett to four catches for 48 scoreless yards in Week 2. Davis is looking like he’ll be a big part of San Francisco’s passing offense in 2015, but with fully-healthy CB Tyrann Mathieu and SS Deone Bucannon teaming up to cover the middle of the field, Davis isn’t a top-12 option.
Crockett Gillmore vs. Bengals: Gillmore blew up for a 5-88-2 line last week against the Raiders, but Oakland has the early signs of a defense that will be matchup heaven for pass catchers. Gillmore isn’t going to be that heavily involved on a weekly basis, even if he’s an above-average athlete. He’ll be asked to help block more often than not. He’s blocked on 62-of-132 snaps this season. The Bengals have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends through two weeks.