With bye weeks in full effect, lineup decisions are as crucial as ever. If you tuned in last week, you probably benefitted from at least one of DeShaun Watson (QB2), Carson Palmer (QB6), Larry Fitzgerald (WR2), Adam Thielen (WR11), Jerick McKinnon (RB5), Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (TE5) or Evan Engram (TE2). Maybe I helped you navigate landmines like Eli Manning (QB25), Ben Roethlisberger (QB21), Randall Cobb (WR62), Sammy Watkins (WR86), Tarik Cohen (RB31), Wayne Gallman (RB45) or Jared Cook (TE34). Regardless, the fantasy season continues to move by at a blinding pace. Let’s aim for more success with a microscope on key players for the Week 7 slate.
Starts Record: 57/87 (65.5%)
Sits Record: 55/74 (74.3%)
Sleeper Record: 15/29 (51.7%)
*Note: These statistics do not include injured players or players who are essentially a wash and did not really help you or hurt you if you started them.
**Assume .5 PPR scoring for any reference to a player’s season-long ranking or in-week ranking
Start: Matt Ryan @ New England
Man did Ryan and the Falcons disappoint last week. One of my only failed start suggestions, Ryan finished as the QB20 and the Falcons offense went into a shell in the second half. But there should be better days to come, especially in a game with the highest projected point total of the week. Ryan has a career 4.7% touchdown percentage and a career 93.4 Passer Rating, and yet those numbers are at 3.5% and 87.3 so far this year. There’s a ton of room for positive regression to hit this passing offense. His yards per attempt and completion percentage are in line with his career norms, which further shows that Ryan is due for some good fortune. There isn’t a better matchup to get things going than the Patriots laughable pass defense. New England’s pass defense ranks last in the league in both DVOA and fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. This game has the highest projected point total of the week, and here’s betting Julio finally visits the end zone as the Falcons look to get him going.
Start: Marcus Mariota @ Cleveland
Per Rotoworld, Mariota reportedly escaped Week 7 without any setbacks to his hamstring. This is fantastic news for a quarterback that’s so reliant on his legs. His full practice on Wednesday (his first since the injury) seems to validate his renewed health. Mariota checks in as the QB13 by points per game despite already facing Jacksonville and Seattle, and also leaving Week 4’s game after attempting only 10 passes. Mariota’s rushing juice and efficient throwing have helped him establish a safe floor, but we’re yet to really see him display his true ceiling like he did during his hot streak last season. This is an ideal matchup for the entire Tennessee passing offense as Cleveland enters the week allowing the second-most points to quarterbacks, yet also ranking third in rushing defense according to Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing DVOA metric. He’s an intriguing DFS stack with Delanie Walker and/or Rishard Matthews, both of whom I’ll get to below.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Tyrod Taylor vs. Tampa Bay: Tampa is third in points allowed to quarterbacks, and just let Carson Palmer finish as the QB6 on only 22 pass attempts. Tyrod has notorious home/road splits as the Bills starter and is averaging 18.8 fantasy points at home this year despite already hosting Denver. The Bills had two weeks to prepare for this game.
-Dak Prescott: You shouldn’t need me to tell you to start the number two fantasy quarterback by points per game, though nobody is talking about Dak like he’s having an elite fantasy season. The Niners are a bottom-seven passing defense and Dak continues to juice his floor and ceiling with his legs.
Sit: Derek Carr vs. Kansas City
Carr didn’t do much in his first game back from injury last Sunday, and now faces the Chiefs on a short week. While Kansas City hasn’t necessarily been a stay-away passing defense this year, Carr has struggled to find success against this defense in his career. Per Rich Hribar’s excellent Rotoworld Worksheet, Carr’s career finishes against Kansas City are QB19, QB21, QB20, QB22, QB26 and QB29. In general, it’s probably safer to fade players on Thursday night as we saw even Tom Brady struggle in a plum matchup on a short week. Carr hasn’t reached double-digit fantasy points since week two and is somewhat in the ‘prove-it’ category until he appears fully healthy.
Sit: Jacoby Brissett vs. Jacksonville
This one is pretty easy considering Jacksonville is somehow holding opposing quarterbacks to a mind-boggling 6.2 fantasy points per game. Brissett looks to have the size, arm strength and poise to be a legitimate starting NFL quarterback, but he’s really only useful as a fantasy streamer right now considering his lack of experience and weapons. This is actually a pretty nice time to try and trade Brissett to the Aaron Rodgers owner in your fantasy league, or as a trade chip in 2-quarterback leagues. His ROS schedule after this week is @CIN, @HOU, PIT, Bye, TEN, @JAX, @BUF, DEN, @BAL. Yeesh.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Eli Manning @ Seattle: No receivers to throw to, on the road and in Seattle are the wrong boxes to check when searching for fantasy points.
-Jameis Winston @ Buffalo: Jameis is dealing with a shoulder injury, but signs are pointing to him playing. He’s on the road against a Buffalo defense that’s the third-stingiest to quarterbacks and is fresh off a bye.
-Ben Roethlisberger vs. Cincinnati: I mean, do you trust him at this point? Cincy is seventh-best at stopping quarterbacks this year and Big Ben is averaging fewer points per game than Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Josh McCown.
-CJ Beathard vs. Dallas: More of a 2QB-league start, but Beathard has a great matchup against Dallas and gets to play at home. He looked really solid trying to lead a comeback in his first pro stint last week despite playing on the road and not taking reps as the starter in practice. This game has sneaky shootout potential and Beathard is a decent bet for 20 or so rushing yards to prop up his floor.
-Jared Goff vs. Arizona: Technically not a home game for Goff as both teams will travel across the pond, but still a good matchup as Arizona has allowed the fifth-most points to opposing passers and just permitted a QB5 performance to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Goff is an intriguing cheap DFS play this week after two down games against elite pass defenses.
Start: Rishard Matthews @ Cleveland
This is a smash spot for the entire Tennessee offense with quarterback Marcus Mariota healthier and Cleveland’s pass-funnel defense on the docket. Whereas Cleveland impressively ranks eighth in fantasy points allowed to running backs, they’ve been just average against wide receivers. Matthews didn’t wow last week but he still leads the Titans with a 24.78% target market share. Not including the last two and a half weeks without Mariota, Matthews’ receiving line over his previous 16 games is an impressive 69/1,048/15.2/10, per Evan Silva. Considering Tennessee’s pass defense ranks 25th and Cleveland’s ranks dead last per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, I think this game has sneaky shootout potential.
Start: Jarvis Landry vs. New York Jets
Landry enters Week 7 as the WR16 (.5 PPR) by points per game and the owner of a monster 32.31% target market share in Miami’s offense (third in the league to Antonio Brown’s 35.27% market share). Those numbers alone pretty much make him an every week starter, and now he gets to face the Jets at home. His situation will be further enhanced if DeVante Parker is limited or out with an ankle injury. Landry’s a cinch for top-20 PPR numbers.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Pierre Garcon vs. Dallas: Dallas has allowed season-best games to several slot receivers and Garcon was still targeted heavily when Beathard came into the game. This game also has sneaky shootout potential as both pass defenses rank bottom-ten in DVOA.
-Amari Cooper vs. Kansas City: Not for the faint of heart and I’m certainly risking my credibility by even suggesting you start him given his recent struggles. But a blowup game is coming soon and Kansas City has given up the second-most points to wide receivers while Cooper should avoid Marcus Peters on roughly 2/3 of his routes. Keep in mind he had gains of 31 and 19 yards called back on penalties last week. He’d be a much more confident start if those had counted.
Sit: TY Hilton vs. Jacksonville
Despite playing at home this week, Hilton is a serious avoid against Jacksonville’s elite cornerback duo. Since allowing DeAndre Hopkins to score a garbage time touchdown in Week 1, the Jags haven’t allowed a touchdown to an opposing wide receiver. Hilton exemplified his basement-level floor last week (1/19) due to the Colts offensive environment, and he’s been very up-and-down thus far this season. It’s tough to bench a player with his ceiling and market share, but Jacksonville’s secondary is simply too good to expect anything more than WR3/flex numbers here.
Sit: Stefon Diggs vs. Baltimore
Diggs didn’t play after missing every practice last week, and so far this week he missed all of Wednesday’s practice. Related:
If that graph is tough to read, last year Diggs averaged more than eight fewer points per game when on the injury report versus when he was fully healthy, a massive difference. Baltimore’s stingy wide receiver defense that has already shut down AJ Green and Antonio Brown is just the icing on the cake.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Martavis Bryant vs. Cincinnati: Bryant is nowhere near the fantasy circle of trust having only surpassed 50 yards in one game this season. Cincy has stifled opposing receivers and is fresh off its bye.
-Tyrell Williams vs. Denver: Tyrell has only given us one usable fantasy game and has a mere 11.92% market share in the Chargers offense. He’s closer to droppable than a flex play at this point with rookie Mike Williams slowly eating into the receiver rotation.
-Taylor Gabriel @ New England (if Mohammed Sanu sits): Gabriel didn’t come through in this spot last week but he still saw eight targets and Atlanta will likely have to throw a ton on the road in New England. Gabriel oddly leads the Falcons in red zone targets this year (5) and no team has allowed more yards to receivers than the Patriots this season.
-Danny Amendola vs. Atlanta: Gets the easiest matchup against Atlanta corners as slot corner Robert Poole, per Rotoworld’s Brandon Funston, has allowed the sixth-most receiving yards among slot cornerbacks. This game has easily the highest projected point total of the week which we will want pieces of for fantasy.
-Bennie Fowler: Saw 8 targets in last week’s game in which Emmanuel Sanders went down with an ankle injury, and does have a two-touchdown game on his résumé this season. If Casey Hayward shadows Demaryius Thomas (here’s betting he will), targets may be funneled Fowler’s way.
Start: Jerick McKinnon vs. Baltimore
It’s frustrating that Latavius Murray got 15 carries last week considering he’s plodding to 2.37 yards per carry as a Viking, but McKinnon still appears locked into RB1 volume with at least 20 touches in consecutive Dalvin Cook-less weeks. Per Rich Hribar, McKinnon has been an RB2 or better in seven consecutive games in which he’s played at least half of the team’s snaps. Locked into rushing volume and a safe receiving floor with five catches each of the last two weeks, McKinnon feels like a game script-independent RB2 at the very least moving forward. Baltimore has been gashed by the run while nose tackle Brandon Williams has been sidelined with an injury, so it’s worth pointing out he did practice on Wednesday. Still, I’ll be starting McKinnon everywhere I have him until proved otherwise.
Start: Adrian Peterson @ Los Angeles Rams (London game)
Peterson’s quasi-vintage Week 6 rushing line (26/134/2) was one of the most unexpected performances of the season. He looked legitimately dominant with flashes of his classic burst and strength, but even more importantly for fantasy purposes, he played 73.4% of Arizona’s snaps and accounted for 90% of the team’s running back carries (26). Even regardless of impressive box score results, his opportunity has exploded compared to New Orleans where he never accounted for more than nine carries or more than 30% of the team’s snaps in a single game. Per Rich Hribar, the Rams have allowed more top-12 running back finishes than any team in the league this season. In a good matchup with the possibility for 20 or more touches, Peterson has RB1 potential this week.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Tevin Coleman @ New England: Patriots are third-worst in fantasy points allowed to running backs and are in the bottom-two in receptions, yards and touchdowns allowed through the air to the position. Coleman should be able to return starter-worthy numbers on his normal 12-15 touches in a game with easily the largest projected point total of the week.
-Mark Ingram @ Green Bay: Finally blew up last week and now gets a great matchup against a banged-up Green Bay team that’s allowing the seventh-most points to opposing running backs. Even on the road, game script may be in his favor yet again as 5.5-point favorites.
Sit: Tarik Cohen vs. Carolina
Similar to last week, Cohen draws a super tough matchup despite potential game script that will work in his favor. Cohen’s 8.6 points last week don’t look terrible on paper, but roughly half those points came on a 21-yard touchdown pass he threw to Zach Miller which is obviously unsustainable. Carolina’s strong front seven is only allowing 6.1 yards per catch to running backs, in addition to the fourth-fewest fantasy points. It should be noted Cohen’s outlook is improved if Luke Kuechly (concussion) and/or Benny Cunningham (hamstring) are sidelined.
Sit: Alex Collins @ Minnesota
While Collins’ touch totals have increased in every game (7>9>9>12>15), his team has enjoyed neutral or positive game script in three of those games. Collins is still yet to receive a red zone carry this year and has a shaky floor considering he hasn’t caught a pass yet this season. He’s in an awful spot as a two-down grinder playing on the road as a 5.5-point underdog, and that’s before we account for Minnesota allowing the second-fewest points to running backs. Collins is sinking your lineup if he doesn’t score which seems unlikely given his lack of snaps (still only 30% last week) and red zone usage to date.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Rob Kelley @ Philadelphia: Chris Thompson is the only usable Washington running back in a tough meeting with Philadelphia’s front seven.
-Marlon Mack vs. Jacksonville: Mack’s touches should rise with Robert Turbin done for the season with a gruesome elbow injury. He’s an exciting DFS tournament option given his big play ability:
Start: Austin Sefarian-Jenkins @ Miami
Has ASJ entered every week TE1 recognition? It would appear so considering he ranks seventh in points per game at the position (.5 PPR). ASJ is second among all Jets pass catchers in snaps over the four weeks that he’s been active, and he’s already tied for a team-high 23.2% target market share despite missing the first two games of the season. For comparison, that’s higher than the market shares Travis Kelce (21.6%) and Rob Gronkowski (15.82%) have in their respective offenses. ASJ is seeing legitimate tight end usage and his quarterback Josh McCown is somehow playing the best football of his career.
ASJ faces off against a Miami defense that’s allowed the seventh-most points to opposing tight ends so far this year and just gave up seven catches to Austin Hooper in Week 6. He’s getting tons of red zone usage (had a touchdown in back-to-back weeks and had another one dubiously called back last week) and finally appears to be living up to his athletic potential. Even if ASJ’s market share drops a few points to 20%, he’ll still be an every week TE1 moving forward.
Start: Delanie Walker @ Cleveland
This is an easy one. Delanie hasn’t flashed thus far this year and yet still checks in as the TE10 by points per game. His owners might be down on him after a down week in a good matchup against the Colts, but he still saw eight targets and owns an elite target market share himself (23%). Now that Mariota is back and reportedly didn’t suffer a setback last week, it’s wheels up for the entire Titans offense against Cleveland’s porous pass defense. Walker specifically has the best matchup on paper against the second-worst defense at stopping tight ends. Cleveland’s awful tight end defense is even lousier when you consider they’ve allowed huge games to Jesse James, Ben Watson and Tyler Kroft. Walker is a top-five tight end this week.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Jack Doyle vs. Jacksonville: Sneakily owns a 19.33% market share in Indy’s offense after seeing a team-high 11 targets and catching a touchdown last week. Jacksonville funnels targets to the interior due to the elite perimeter cornerback play of AJ Bouye and Jalen Ramsey.
-Jimmy Graham @ New York Giants: We’re pretty much trying to start every tight end that plays against the Giants and that’s even when they’re just streamers. Graham’s averaged 8.3 targets per game over the last three weeks and should have a huge blowup week coming soon. Here’s betting it’s against the league’s leakiest tight end defense. Related to literally every tight end mentioned above:
Sit: Jordan Reed @ Philadephia
A massive disappointment to this point, Reed isn’t even a top-25 tight end in points per game despite that number not including his Week 3 absence. More concerning is his 13.68% target market share in an offense with tons of viable options in the passing game. Kirk Cousins is playing well without showing an affinity for honing in on one specific receiver, which is hurting both Reed’s floor and ceiling; he managed just 37 of Cousins’ 330 yards last week. Now he faces a perennially stingy tight end defense on the road. I’m in ‘prove-it’ mode with Reed until further notice.
Sit: Coby Fleener @ Green Bay
Hopefully you’re not trying to stream Fleener based on his seemingly plum matchup against Green Bay’s secondary. For as bad as the cornerback situation is in Green Bay, the safeties are the strength of that secondary and as a result, the Packers are allowing the second-fewest points to opposing tight ends. Fleener has a laughable 6.94% target market share in New Orleans and most of that was before the return of slot receiver Willie Snead. The game script was certainly not in his favor, but Fleener only played 25% of the Saints snaps last week which renders him completely unusable outside of chasing a touchdown.
-Kyle Rudolph vs. Baltimore: Baltimore doesn’t get the same recognition as Cleveland and New York but they’re quietly third in points allowed to tight ends. Rudolph is at home and has had a massive 26% target market share since Dalvin Cook went down with a torn ACL.
-Austin Hooper @ New England (if Sanu is out): Similar to Gabriel above, Hooper gets a huge bump if Sanu sits. New England has hemorrhaged points to tight ends, Hooper saw a season-high nine targets last week, and he did score a touchdown against them in the Super Bowl.
Start: Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
Jacksonville is an every week fantasy defense despite coming off a ho-hum performance against the Rams. They travel to face an Indy offense that lost guard Jack Mewhort for the season and is allowing the second-most points to defenses for fantasy purposes. Hungry after a home loss, fire up the Jags D with confidence this week.
Start: Buffalo vs. Tampa Bay
Buffalo quietly ranks sixth in defensive DVOA and is holding opponents to a league-low 14.8 points per game. They play at home as favorites, which are two of the crucial boxes to check for fantasy defenses. It helps that they’ve had a week to rest and will face either an injured Jameis Winston or a turnover-prone Ryan Fitzpatrick. Buffalo is third in the league in interceptions despite already having its bye week.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati: Checks both required boxes as a home favorite and faces a Cincy offense that’s been very forgiving to fantasy defenses.
-Minnesota vs. Baltimore:
Sit: Arizona @ Los Angeles Rams (London game)
The Rams have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses despite facing Seattle and Jacksonville in consecutive weeks. Arizona is owned in 63% of Yahoo leagues even though it currently ranks as the 24th-best fantasy defense so far this year, only once surpassing eight points scored. Allowing the fifth-most points per game in the league, Arizona is clearly worse after losing DE Calais Campbell (Jacksonville), S Tony Jefferson (Baltimore), S D.J. Swearinger (Washington), MLB Kevin Minter (Bengals) and pass rusher Markus Golden (ACL).
-New Orleans @ Green Bay: New Orleans is quietly the sixth-best fantasy defense this season and now gets a young quarterback making his first career start.
-Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona (London game): Arizona has allowed the third-most sacks in the league while the Rams have recorded the fifth-most.
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Statistics courtesy of nfl.com, rotoworld.com, Yahoo!, fantasylabs.com, footballguys.com, footballoutsiders.com, arizonasports.com, profootballfocus.com and pro-football-reference.com