Welcome back! It’s only been a week and yet it feels like so much has happened since the Patriots and Chiefs kicked the season off last Thursday night. Even as fantasy owners around the world are ready to tout Kareem Hunt as the next LaDainian Tomlinson, it’s important not to overreact to one week of games. So don’t panic if Kelvin Benjamin or Le’Veon Bell sunk your week one fantasy hopes, and at the same time, it’s probably not healthy to expect the Rams defense to give you 20+ points every week. It was a bizarre week one in general (never forget the week Tom Brady was outscored by Josh McCown, Jared Goff, Mike Glennon and Trevor Siemian), so remember to ride the wave and stay calm while your league mates overreact to a small sample size of games and snaps. My deepest condolences to all David Johnson owners.
Let’s get this out of the way off the bat: I’m sorry if I led you in the wrong direction last week. My goal is to provide a resource that helps you make the best possible decisions for your fantasy team. I received multiple texts after Mike Gillislee scored his third freaking touchdown on Monday night when just that morning I had suggested keeping him on your bench. Hand up on that one. But here’s the thing: Fantasy is a game of probabilities. I won’t always be right. In baseball, a great hitter gets a hit 3 out of every 10 at bats. In betting, winning 53 out of 100 bets is successful. I was one of many fantasy analysts who was plain wrong about Gillislee in week one (Belichick you sly dog).
BUT – I also nailed it when I told you to bench Travis Kelce, a much more contrarian piece of advice that I didn’t see anywhere else as he was consistently ranked in the top five for week one tight ends. You probably won your week if you listened to me and started Adam Thielen (9/157) and Coby Fleener (5/54/1). So if you’ll please stick with me, over the course of the season my goal is to lead you to the right decision more often than not. And I’m confident that I will. With that said, let’s look at who deserves a start in week two and who needs to be warming up your bench.
Starts Record: 9/11 (81.8%)
Sits Record: 7/11 (63.6%)
Start: Russell Wilson vs. SF
Maybe it doesn’t seem like I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m sure Wilson’s week one dud against a beatable Packers pass defense is giving his owners pause. Russ is fine. He’s notoriously struggled in Week Ones throughout his career, and for some reason Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has a long history of slowing down Wilson. Now Russ travels home with a gorgeous matchup against the Niners. Cam Newton was on the road and only needed 14 completions to have a solid fantasy day against this porous defense, and that was in his first game back from offseason shoulder surgery. Russ averaged 9.35 YPA (a very predictive touchdown metric for quarterbacks) against San Francisco in 2 games last year and now finally looks healthy rushing the football, a huge prop for his previously stellar fantasy numbers. The only potential issue is Seattle running up the score and then nursing the clock, but divisional games are often closer than advertised and Seattle has the third-highest implied team total of the week (28). Doug Baldwin should also enjoy a productive day like he typically does at home.
Start: Carson Palmer @ IND
Wait don’t leave! I know, I know, in addition to tons of other fantasy analysts, I recommended Palmer last week and he totally flopped. For the record, I did put my money where my mouth is and start him in one league, so I feel the pain. Palmer’s performance looks poor on the stat sheet, but it was actually much better on film. Per Evan Silva’s appearance on the Fantasy Feast Podcast with Ross Tucker, Palmer actually threw with plenty of zip on his throws and was the victim of unlucky circumstances. Larry Fitzgerald uncharacteristically dropped a touchdown which would’ve significantly changed Palmer’s fantasy day, and Jermaine Gresham caught one that was called back on a penalty. One of Palmer’s interceptions was on a miscommunication where a receiver ran the wrong route, and one was on a tipped ball that hit Andre Ellington and fell right into the lap of a Lions defender. If just a couple of those plays go right, nobody is even peddling the notion that Palmer looks lost.
Now he gets a dream matchup playing against an awful Indy pass defense that is missing its best corner in Vontae Davis. Arizona figures to have the ball a ton considering how the Colts backup quarterbacks will struggle to move the ball against Arizona’s stellar defense. Losing David Johnson obviously hurts the ceiling of this offense, but it also might mean more short, efficient pass targets as an extension of the running game. Palmer now has a healthy and explosive John Brown back and will be able to use Ellington as a weapon out of the backfield. The Colts have a laughable pass rush and made Jared Goff look competent for the first time in his career last week. Palmer is a fine QB streamer and guaranteed to have low ownership percentages in DFS after burning people last week.
Other Recommended Starts: Philip Rivers vs. MIA, Matt Ryan vs. GB
Sit: Dak Prescott @ DEN
Sitting a quarterback against Denver will likely be a weekly staple of this column. Denver sports a historically dominant pass defense with an elite set of cornerbacks and arguably the best pure pass rusher in football. Dak provided a usable fantasy line at home against a solid Giants defense (17 points), but it certainly wasn’t week-winning. Now on the road, he’ll face an even tougher test against a Broncos defense that will force pressured throws and contain his rushing ability better than the Giants could due to a more athletic linebacking corps. Last week Philip Rivers salvaged a solid fantasy line against Denver thanks to two fourth quarter touchdowns when his team was trailing 24-7, but there’s no guarantee Dak faces similar game script. Dallas is actually favored by two points in this game which has the third-lowest implied point total of the week.
Start: Chris Hogan @ NO
Hogan disappointed many a fantasy owner in week one, as he actually registered more carries (3) than catches (1). But if you dig beneath the surface, there were actually a ton of positive takeaways from his game against the Chiefs. First, he led all Patriots receivers in snaps, playing on 90% of downs. He ran a ton of routes out of the slot, Brady’s trusted receiver spot, and with Danny Amendola in the concussion protocol, Hogan figures to run plenty of more routes from the slot on Sunday (and soak up more targets). Hogan’s five targets were solid, and one catch isn’t nearly as bad when you remember Brady only completed 16 passes, likely his season low for completions. Oddly, Chiefs stud corner Marcus Peters matched up with Hogan for much of last Thursday’s tilt, which certainly didn’t help his production. Hogan’s three carries imply the team is committed to getting him the ball in space which should benefit him if he continues to run slot routes.
All of that is important, but Hogan’s Week Two matchup is the cherry on top. New Orleans was absolutely shredded by Minnesota’s wide receivers and Sam Bradford. Imagine what Angry Tom Brady will do to them coming off a week one loss and his worst performance in recent memory. New England has the highest implied team total of the week despite playing on the road, and we already know Drew Brees and Co. can pile on points at home in the friendly confines of the Superdome. New Orleans just made Bradford look like a Hall of Famer and are still down difference-making NT Nick Fairley and the team’s best corner Delvin Breaux. Per Hribar’s Worksheet, “Brady has thrown three or more touchdown passes in each of the past five games in which he failed to throw a touchdown the week prior.” Hogan is severely underpriced on DFS sites and a must-start in season-long leagues.
Start: Larry Fitzgerald @ IND
Back to the well here. I’m considering last week’s start recommendation a success (6/74) especially considering the barren wasteland of week one fantasy scoring. Most notably, Fitz had a team-high 13 targets, one of the best marks in the league. His line could have been significantly bigger if he and Palmer had connected on a few deeper targets that they normally make, so maybe it took a week for both to shake off some preseason rust. Remember, Fitz always starts the season blazing hot, and even at age 34, he recorded the ninth-fastest recorded ball carrier speed in week 1, per Next Gen Stats. Arizona is in a prime spot playing against a shaky Indianapolis defense that Jared Goff and the Rams shredded for 32 points (the other 14 came off defensive scores), and Arizona should have the ball a lot if Indy keeps struggling to sustain drives with either Scott Tolzien or Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. The Colts might be missing Vontae Davis again, and even if he’s back Fitz should avoid him when he lines up in the slot, which he often does. Rams rookie slot receiver Cooper Kupp roasted the Colts out of the slot for 4/76/1 in his first career start.
Other Recommended Starts: Randall Cobb @ ATL, Tyrell Williams vs. MIA, Tyreek Hill vs. PHI, John Brown @ IND
Sleeper: Nelson Agholor @ KC
Sit: TY Hilton vs. ARI
It’s unfair to Hilton, who’s supremely talented, but there is not a Colts player I would feel comfortable starting until Andrew Luck is back and healthy. It’s really that simple. Last week Jack Doyle was a recommended sit for me and he only caught two passes. Hilton is the only potentially valuable Colt as he’ll continue to find ways to get open, but without anyone to get him the ball consistently he will be incredibly hard to rely on for points. Related: The Colts have averaged eight points per game in Tolzien’s two starts. This week Hilton has to face Arizona and shutdown corner Patrick Peterson. Peterson shadowed Marvin Jones last week and held him to two catches. Hopefully you have other options. Just please don’t start anyone on the Colts.
Sit: Dez Bryant @ DEN
I understand if you’re going to ignore this and start Dez, I totally do. But at the very least temper expectations. Per a study conducted by Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus, Dez is the most cornerback-sensitive wide receiver in football. Seriously. In related news, the Broncos have the best three-headed cornerback monster in the league with Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby. I’m sure the Cowboys will do their best to scheme Dez onto Roby as much as possible, but that’s pure conjecture and still not an easy matchup. Last week Dez had two catches on nine targets because he was shadowed by Janoris Jenkins, another shutdown corner. Dez is nothing more than a boom/bust WR3 this week. I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Other Recommended Sits: Kenny Britt @ BAL, Donte Moncrief vs. ARI, Sammy Watkins vs. WAS
Start: Ty Montgomery @ ATL
Montgomery truthers took a pretty big L in week one. While his 2.8 yards per carry was poor, it’s pretty easy to write off that inefficiency considering his matchup against a top-five run defense that just added Sheldon Richardson to its front seven. More importantly, Montgomery led all running backs in week 1 snaps, playing an absurd 72 snaps while looking much improved in pass protection.
Remember, these were two of the biggest offseason knocks against Montgomery (knocks which I adamantly refuted before the season started). TyMo scored a rushing touchdown despite getting hit by Kam Chancellor on the play, and reminded us of his receiving juice with a solid 4/39 on four targets. His 23 touches were a career high, showing how badly Green Bay wants the ball in his hands. Now he travels to Atlanta, who gave up the most receiving points to running backs in 2016 and then followed that up with the most receiving points allowed to running backs in week 1. Montgomery is severely underpriced on Draft Kings and an absolute must-start in season-long leagues. Falcons/Packers will be played in a dome and has the second-highest implied point total of the week. Both times these teams matched up last year the combined point total was 65 points.
Start: Marshawn Lynch vs. NYJ
Lynch looked solid in his season debut, totaling 92 yards from scrimmage and breaking plenty of tackles along the way. We already know he runs behind an elite offensive line and plays in a good offense that’s sure to provide scoring opportunities. Now he gets to face the comically-talentless New York Jets. At home. And the Jets have to fly across the country. On top of that, Buffalo and LeSean McCoy repeatedly gashed the Jets run defense last week, and that’s without the threat of a real passing game. The Jets run defense is clearly worse without Sheldon Richardson, who ranked second in run defense last year per Pro Football Focus. Oakland is favored by 14 points which should give Beast Mode plenty of opportunity to run the ball. He’s a very solid bet for his first touchdown in a Raider uniform.
Other recommended starts: Mark Ingram vs. NE, James White @ NO, Terrance West vs. CLE
Sit: Ameer Abdullah @ NYG
Hopefully you listened to me and left Abdullah on your bench last weekend en route to his 5.6 point dud (.5 PPR). If you did, it might be wise to listen again. Abdullah only managed 41 scrimmage yards despite a career-high 18 touches. I totally believe in Abdullah as a talent, but his situation just doesn’t seem ripe for the picking at the moment. If 18 touches is his volume ceiling, then how much upside is there to be had here? Detroit’s sub-par offensive line is clearly better in pass protection and is missing one of its best players in left tackle Taylor Decker. This game has a low 43.5 implied point total and it’s unlikely Abdullah will have a lead to nurse with New York entering as four-point favorites. The Giants possess a frightening run defense that ranked second in 2016 in Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing DVOA metric and held Zeke Elliott to 4.3 YPC on Sunday night. Theo Riddick caught six passes on seven targets last week and will likely be heavily involved if Detroit is indeed facing negative game script.
Sit: Jordan Howard @ TB
Granted, you’re probably going to ignore this and start Howard, but make sure you temper your expectations. Tampa Bay is a seven-point home favorite that will be hungry after missing week one due to Hurricane Irma (thoughts to all those currently dealing with this horrible situation), and the game has a low implied point total of 43. Working against Howard is the emergence of electric rookie Tarik “The Human Joystick” Cohen who looked to be worth every part of his nickname after posting 113 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his NFL debut. Per Rich Hribar’s excellent Rotoworld Worksheet, Howard played only 57.6% of the snaps last week after averaging almost 71% as a rookie.
With the Bears again projected to lose, Cohen could see a ton of snaps as the Bears try to pass themselves back into the game. Howard dropped a higher percentage of his targets than any other running back last year and never caught a lot of balls in college, so it makes sense the Bears aggressively addressed this team need by drafting Cohen and adding passing specialist Benny Cunningham in free agency. A rushing touchdown was a nice deodorant on an otherwise pedestrian week one tally for Howard, which may be harder to come by as a road underdog facing a Tampa team that only allowed four RB1 weeks in 2016, per Hribar. Bears stud guard Kyle Long was inactive with an ankle injury in week one and recently said, per Rotoworld, his health is “not where I want it to be.” The Buccaneers also added run-stuffing nose tackle Chris Baker to an already talented front seven this offseason. If you’re starting Howard, your expectation should be no higher than low-end RB2 numbers.
Other Recommended Sits: Isaiah Crowell @ BAL, LeGarrette Blount @ KC
Start: Zach Ertz
Ertz hung a sexy 8/93 line against Washington in Week One which was a layup start. Now he travels to Kansas City, who sadly just lost tight end-stopper Eric Berry to a season-ending Achilles injury. On paper the Chiefs are extremely tough against tight ends, though much of that was due to Berry’s stingy coverage. Wentz loves to target Ertz over the middle of the field and he’s as sure a bet as anyone at the position for 7+ targets in a given week. If you drafted Ertz he’s a must start, and he’s also likely to go under owned in DFS.
Start: Coby Fleener
I nailed it with Fleener last week and despite my best judgment I’m going back to him again. Severely underpriced in daily fantasy, Fleener is in a dream spot playing at home in a dome in a game with the highest implied point total of the week. Brees and Brady in the Superdome has shootout written all over it. And like I mentioned last week, Fleener has delivered his best numbers with slot receiver Willie Snead on the sideline, which he will be again this Sunday. Fleener is a great start for owners who are worried about their Hunter Henry pick. If he hits again, I recommend selling high on him before Snead returns.
Temper Expectations: Travis Kelce vs. PHI
Sleeper: Cameron Brate vs. CHI, Jared Cook vs. NYJ
Sit: Hunter Henry vs. MIA
This really isn’t a bad matchup, although Miami will be getting difference-making safety Reshad Jones back from injury. This is, rather, much more about usage. I was off Henry all summer long and yet frustratingly still ended up with him in one league. My worst fears came to fruition Monday night when he didn’t even receive a target despite Philip Rivers attempting 33 passes. Even worse, he only played 23 offensive snaps and is clearly behind Antonio Gates in the tight end pecking order. Henry is an impressive talent who is sure to be a fantasy stud one day, and maybe even later this season if Gates goes down with an injury. But until he’s even used in Los Angeles’ offense, he’s impossible to start in fantasy. There are far too many mouths to feed in this offense to be starting Henry. I prefer Fleener, Brate, Charles Clay, Cook and Austin Hooper this week, many of whom may be on your waiver wire.
Other Recommended Sits: OJ Howard vs. CHI
Start: Baltimore vs. CLE
Last week I suggested you start the Steelers defense against the Browns, and hopefully you listened as they racked up 18 points en route to the fifth best defense score of the week. Baltimore was one of the only teams who scored more; they looked dominant from start to finish last week despite playing on the road as three-point underdogs. Cleveland is an offense to attack while they’re starting rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, and its leaky defense should result in the offense needing to play catch up, which is a great recipe for sacks and turnovers. Kizer looks like the real deal, but he holds on to the ball far too long which led to Pittsburgh recording seven sacks. The Ravens tallied five sacks of their own in addition to forcing five turnovers against a better team than Cleveland. Playing at home as 7.5 point favorites against a rookie quarterback in a game with a low projected point total, Baltimore should be a top-5 defense play this week.
Start: Oakland at NYJ
It’s always more dangerous to start a defense playing on the road, but it’s not often a team as talent-deficient as the New York Jets comes along. The Bills were a recommended start against them last week and registered the 10th-best score of the week despite only recording one sack. Oakland looked better than advertised on the road against a talented Tennessee offense last week and has a top-five pass rusher in Kahlil Mack. With Josh McCown starting, the Jets will be an offense to pick on every week as McCown has shown a propensity to take sacks and force interceptions throughout his illustrious career. Oakland is more likely to pour points on the Jets which should result in more scoring opportunities for this defense as the Jets play from behind.
Sit: Minnesota @ PIT
When looking at start/sit decisions for defenses, it’s sound logic to avoid defenses playing on the road against high-scoring offenses. Minnesota checks both boxes playing at Pittsburgh against one of the best offenses in the league, one that is notorious for playing significantly better within the confines of Heinz Field. Though the Vikings played really well and managed to hold Drew Brees in check on Monday night, they were at home and still only managed two fantasy points. Xavier Rhodes won’t be able to shut down Antonio Brown and the Vikings don’t have another corner with an athletic profile in the same stratosphere as Martavis Bryant, who I expect to have a much better game after a rusty season debut. There are likely better options available.
Hate me for ruining your fantasy week? Love me for winning it? Tell me on Twitter @eweiner_bball
Statistics courtesy of rotoworld.com and profootballfocus.com