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 filling out my cash lineups with on Sunday. As is the case each week, I’m ignoring the Thursday night game.
Start of the Week: Carson Palmer vs. Ravens: Palmer had a bad game in a road date with the Steelers last week. He threw for 421 yards, yes, but missed a touchdown to Andre Ellington and tossed two interceptions to just one score. Back at home against the league’s worst secondary and the Cardinals coming off a loss, this sets up as a perfect bounce-back game for Palmer and the Cardinals as a team. The Ravens have allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the most 40-plus-yard pass plays, and second-most 20-plus-yard ones. Meanwhile, Baltimore allows just 3.54 YPC on the ground. The entire Arizona passing attack is in play Monday night. With a team total of 29 points, the Cardinals are projected to be the highest-scoring team of the week.
Drew Brees at Colts: Brees has strung together three-straight semi-strong performances since returning from his shoulder issue. He threw just one touchdown last week, but has averaged 335.3 yards per game the past three weeks with a 5:1 TD:INT ratio. Sunday’s Saints-Colts game has the highest over-under of the week at 52 points, and New Orleans has a respectable team total of 23.75. The Saints should be up in pace. Even on the road, Brees has always performed better in dome environments. Brees has had 10 days to rest up, and the Colts have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Ryan Fitzpatrick at Patriots: Fitzpatrick has somehow found his way into this article multiple times through seven weeks, but he paid off Week 6 by throwing for two scores and running for another while finishing as the overall QB4. He’s an unconventional play, but OC Chan Gailey’s offense always makes him an intriguing two-quarterback league play with upside. The Jets are running the sixth-most offensive plays per game and are averaging 71.3 offensive snaps the past three weeks. The Jets are Week 7’s second-biggest underdog with the Patriots as nine-point favorites. While most expect this game to play closer, game script is in Fitzpatrick’s favor, and the New England secondary isn’t anything to shy away from. The Brandon Marshall vs. Malcolm Butler and Eric Decker vs. Logan Ryan matchups both favor the Jets. Marshall is a locked-in WR1.
Eli Manning vs. Cowboys: Manning is coming off a dreadful Week 6 against the Eagles where he averaged just 5.41 YPA and tossed two interceptions. But the two picks weren’t all his fault; Larry Donnell lost a weak fight for the ball on the first one, and Rueben Randle stumbled on his pick-play route on the second, leading to a pick-six. Prior to last week, Manning was enjoying a fine start to the season. The Giants can’t run the ball whatsoever, so their only source of offense is through the air. Manning threw for a scoreless and pick-less 193 yards in the season opener against Dallas, but the Cowboys dominated time of possession in that game with a healthy Tony Romo under center. Matt Cassel won’t be able to sustain drives like Romo, and the Giants are at home this time. The Giants are 3.5-point favorites with a healthy team total of 24.25.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Texans: Aside from his Week 2 against the Jaguars, last week was Tannehill’s best game of the season, even though he tossed two interceptions. He completed over 75 percent of his passes and averaged 9.17 YPA. The Texans have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, and Miami will be juiced up for its “home opener” under interim coach Dan Campbell coming off a road win against the lowly Titans. When right, Tannehill is pin-point accurate in the short-to-intermediate game, and last week he even showed some ability to push the ball downfield. He also has the ability to run for 20-40 yards and a possible touchdown. Texans-Dolphins has a meager 44.5 over-under, but the Dolphins are four-point home favorites.
Josh McCown at Rams: McCown predictably crashed back to Earth against the Broncos’ elite pass defense at home last week and now gets to head out on the road to St. Louis coming off its bye. The Rams legitimately shut down Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in Week 5 as well as any team could hope, but St. Louis’ offense did the defense zero favors. The Rams are tied with the Broncos and Panthers having allowed the fewest touchdown passes at five. Only the Jets and Broncos have allowed fewer fantasy points on average per week. McCown has been sacked the third-most times in the league, while the Rams have the third-most sacks on defense despite already having their bye. It could be a long day for McCown. The Browns have an ugly 18-point team total.
Derek Carr at Chargers: Coming off strong Weeks 2 and 3 performances, Carr posted a couple clunkers against the Bears and Broncos heading into the Raiders’ Week 6 bye. Things don’t get any easier this week. San Diego can’t stop the run at all, but its pass defense has proven elite. The Chargers are allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and fewest to receivers. The only weak spot is RCB Brandon Flowers, but we’ll get to him later. The Bolts could also be without FS Eric Weddle (groin), but this appears to be a game that favors Latavius Murray and the Raiders’ rushing attack if they’re going to have success.
Sam Bradford at Panthers: Bradford single-handedly just about torpedoed mine and many others’ DFS lineups last week with his horrific effort on Monday night against the Giants. The spot couldn’t have been much better at home against a Giants defense that doesn’t rush the passer, was missing two of its top three cornerbacks, and had allowed at least 260 yards passing in each game. But Bradford was flat-out awful, and has been for the vast majority of the season. His two second-half performances in Weeks 4 and 5 made him look better than he’s actually been in 2015. Now, Sunday could be a letdown spot for Carolina coming off a big-time, exhausting road win in Seattle and a bounce-back spot for the Eagles, but I’m still not willing to gamble on Bradford if better options are available at my disposal. The Panthers are allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. And Bradford doesn’t look right mechanically. He looks like a quarterback who doesn’t trust his lower half coming off back-to-back torn ACLs. Bradford misfired several passes Monday night and has gotten no help from his No. 1 pass catcher in Jordan Matthews.
Joe Flacco at Cardinals: Flacco has had a couple strong weeks through the first month and a half, but he’s needed a ton of attempts to make it happen. He threw the ball 53 times last week to accumulate 343 yards and unloaded 49 passes to tally 362 yards in Week 3. And when Flacco starts throwing the ball a ton, the turnovers start to rise, as he’s tossed seven picks already. The Cardinals have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and are one of five teams to pick off more passes than they’ve allowed touchdowns. Arizona leads the league with 11 picks. Baltimore’s team total sits at a disgustingly-low 19 points with the Cardinals as 10-point home favorites. Steve Smith Sr. will be locked up in Patrick Peterson’s coverage much of the night, and Flacco’s secondary weapons just aren’t much more than Nos. 3 or 4 receivers on good football teams.
Start of the Week: Todd Gurley vs. Browns: The chalkiest play of the week is Gurley. If you have him in season-long, he’s a cinch for your lineup, and in DFS, he’ll likely be the highest-owned running back of Week 7. If you’ve been poking around on Twitter the past couple days, it’s hard not to notice all of the Gurley love. He has back-to-back 140-yard rushing games since taking over as the Rams’ true lead back and is averaging 24.5 carries per game during that time. Coach Jeff Fisher is an old-school coach who loves to run the ball and use a workhorse, foundation back. Gurley is his new Eddie George, and Fisher is prepared to run him into the ground. It’s good for fantasy football, but might be bad for Gurley’s longevity. Oh well, we only care about right now for the most part. And Gurley gets a Browns defense that has allowed 5.19 YPC and the most rushing yards in the league to running backs. The Rams are at home and coming off their bye. Losing RG Rodger Saffold won’t help Gurley, but Saffold wasn’t playing well anyway. Chris Ivory, Dexter McCluster, Latavius Murray, Danny Woodhead, Justin Forsett, and Ronnie Hillman have all had 100-yard games against the Browns each of Cleveland’s first six games. Giddy up.
Latavius Murray at Chargers: Murray has been benched in the second half of back-to-back games whether it’s been due to a shoulder issue he’s been battling, ball-security issues, missed blocking assignments, or a combination of a number of things. But he’s all the Raiders have; Roy Helu is a third-down back at best and the Raiders can’t be serious with fullback-type Jamize Olawale getting carries. Murray said during the Raiders’ bye week that Oakland planned to focus on fixing its running game. And right out of the gate, he gets a tasty matchup with the Chargers. Only the Falcons and Cowboys have allowed more fantasy points to running backs. And only the Browns have surrendered more rushing yards. San Diego is yielding 5.43 YPC. As mentioned above, the Chargers play elite pass defense, so Murray should have to provide the offense Sunday. When the Raiders were playing well at the start of the season, Murray was setting the tone, and Derek Carr was working off him. Look for OC Bill Musgrave to get back to that philosophy.
Frank Gore vs. Saints: In terms of fantasy points per game, Gore is overall RB24 on the season. If not for a couple fumbles at the goal line, he’d be much higher. Gore’s played much better than the numbers would indicate; he’s managed at least 87 total yards in four-straight games and remains the definitive lead back after the addition of Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw will steal some looks in the passing game, but Gore is the preferred option in scoring situations. The Saints have allowed 4.93 YPC, the third-most rushing yards, and sixth-most fantasy points to running backs. While the Colts’ passing attack has an equally-enticing, maybe even better, matchup on Sunday, Gore’s is also phenomenal. With the second-highest team total of the week at 28.25 points in the game with the highest over-under (52), there’s plenty to go around for Indianapolis.
Doug Martin at Redskins: The Redskins’ run defense looked like a unit to avoid after the first few weeks of the season, but Devonta Freeman and Chris Ivory have sliced it up for a combined 299 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries (6.36 YPC) in back-to-back games. The two also combined for 94 yards receiving and one touchdown on 10 catches. The Bucs are coming off their bye. Heading on the road, they’ll likely want to control the clock with Martin and limit Jameis Winston’s pass attempts. In Tampa Bay wins, Winston has averaged 20 passing attempts per game compared to 37 attempts in losses. The “Dougernaut” is coming off his best game of the short season, a 123-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Jaguars. He’s seen at least 20 carries in 3-of-5 games and posted consecutive 100-yard rushing outings. Charles Sims is also in play for Tampa Bay.
Christine Michael at Giants: This one will take a leap of faith because we’re unlikely to learn anything definitive before kickoff on whether Michael will handle the bulk of the carries. But fantasy owners have been waiting for this day for awhile. Michael handled the majority of the first-team reps in Monday’s practice. The media wasn’t able to view practice Wednesday, but signs continue to point to Michael playing a much bigger role on offense coming out of the bye. Michael is an athletically-gifted freak who blew up the 2013 Combine before being the Seahawks’ second-round pick. Not many have more natural talent. With “game manager” Matt Cassel under center and the league’s best run-blocking offensive line in front of him, Michael could easily handle 12-15 touches. That puts him on the FLEX radar, and if Michael shows off early, the Cowboys could continue to feed him. The Giants have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs. If Michael blows up, it’s going to hurt to see him riding your bench in season-long. He’s a fine tournament flier in DFS.
Melvin Gordon vs. Raiders: We’ve tried to get behind Gordon a number of times here, but the rookie is running behind an injury-ravaged offensive line and has had ball-security issues on top of it. He’s topped 51 yards rushing in just one game and fumbled four times before ultimately getting benched in the second half of last week’s loss to the Packers. Coach Mike McCoy expressed extreme disappointment after the game and wouldn’t commit to Gordon as the starter earlier this week. On top of that, Gordon missed practice Wednesday with an ankle injury he suffered last Sunday. Gordon said he’ll play against Oakland, but expect to see plenty of Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver. The Raiders are allowing 3.75 YPC and are 18th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. With the San Diego backfield looking like a three-man operation, Gordon is best left on the bench.
Charcandrick West vs. Steelers: In the Chiefs’ first game minus Jamaal Charles (torn ACL) last week, West out-snapped Knile Davis 43-19 and out-touched him 10-6. The problem is West also fumbled and was benched after it late in the fourth quarter. But coach Andy Reid continues to say he views West as a more natural replacement for Charles, so he should remain the lead dog. Kansas City simply can’t move the ball without Charles, and the Steelers have allowed 3.52 YPC and the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. Alex Smith is going to need to make some plays with his arm to open up running lanes for West and Davis. Better matchups are ahead for West.
LeGarrette Blount vs. Jets: In the four games he’s played, Blount has been the overall RB12 on a points-per-game basis. And that’s in PPR. Both Blount and teammate Dion Lewis are returning top-12 value at the position. But this week sets up as a “Lewis Game” on the heels of Tom Brady and the passing attack. While the Jets play both the run and pass well, their run defense is No. 1 and allowing just 3.02 YPC and the third-fewest rushing touchdowns. The Jets’ star-studded defensive line of LE Sheldon Richardson, NT Damon Harrison, RE Muhammad WIlkerson, and first-round DE Leonard Williams should gobble up Blount. If this one gets out of hand late, Blount could handle clock-killing carries, but most expect it to be closer than the Vegas sharps predict. If the Patriots are going to blow the Jets out, it’ll likely be Brady doing the damage.
Chris Johnson vs. Ravens: Since his big Week 3 against the 49ers, Johnson’s numbers have dipped considerably, and it likely coincides with the return of Andre Ellington. Those two and rookie David Johnson are all getting work in Arizona’s backfield, and CJ2K has averaged just 12.5 carries per game the past two weeks after averaging 19.33 the previous three games. The Cardinals being 10-point favorites could mean a ton of late-game work for Johnson, but he’ll need a ton of volume or a goal-line plunge touchdown to pay off against the Ravens’ 11th-ranked run defense. Baltimore is allowing just 3.54 YPC on the ground. This sets up better for Ellington to do damage.
Start of the Week: Donte Moncrief vs. Saints: What do we have here? A back-to-back “start of the week” nomination for Moncrief. His matchup against Patriots default No. 1 CB Malcolm Butler was tasty last week when he delivered a 6-69-1 line on a season-high 11 targets, and it gets even better this Sunday against Saints RCB Brandon Browner. Browner isn’t going to shadow Moncrief, but the two should face off more often than not. Out of 109 qualifying cornerbacks graded by Pro Football Focus, Browner has been the single-worst in coverage through six weeks. He’s a penalty machine, stiff in the hips, and allowing a whopping 19.2 YPR. Only Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Antonio Cromartie have allowed more yards per reception. Both Moncrief and T.Y. Hilton are in great spots Sunday, especially with Saints LCB Keenan Lewis still ailing with his hip injury. The Colts have the third-highest team total of the week at 28.25 points, and Moncrief has been Andrew Luck’s favorite target in his four starts. Via Rich Hribar, Moncrief’s target share in Luck’s four starts has been 22.4 percent, 21.6 percent, 23.3 percent, and 22 percent. He also saw three red-zone targets Week 6.
Willie Snead at Colts: The Saints’ revelation at receiver, Snead had a quiet 4-55-0 Week 6 against the Falcons, but continues to out-produce fellow WR Brandin Cooks. Snead’s played over 67 percent of the snaps the past four weeks and averaged seven targets per game. Averaging 16.8 YPR, he’s also proven to be a big-play threat for Drew Brees after the departures of Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham. Moving around all over the formation, Snead should avoid RCB Vontae Davis much of the day Sunday, and Pro Football Focus’ WR vs. CB chart projects Snead to mostly see CB Darius Butler. QBs have a passer rating of 149.1 targeting Butler, and he’s allowed an 81.8-percent catch rate while grading out as PFF’s 95th-ranked cover corner out of 109 qualifiers. Saints-Colts has the highest over-under of the week set at 52 points, and the Saints have a team total of 23.75. It should be an up-and-down game played mostly through the air. The Colts have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.
Michael Crabtree at Chargers: The Chargers have an elite pass defense, but the one really weak spot is RCB Brandon Flowers.He’s graded out as PFF’s second-worst cover corner ahead of only Saints RCB Brandon Browner. Allowing a 136.0 passer rating and already five touchdowns, quarterbacks continue to pick on Flowers, especially in the red zone. Crabtree projects to run the majority of his routes at Flowers, and the Raiders have said they want to increase Crabtree’s role coming out of the bye. Crabtree already leads the Raiders in targets at 9.2 per game. With Amari Cooper likely to see budding star LCB Jason Verrett much of Sunday, Crabtree could be Derek Carr’s go-to guy. At a dirt-cheap price in DFS with a high target floor, Crabtree is a fine value play. He’s also a strong WR3 play in season-long leagues and might be Carr’s preferred option.
John Brown vs. Ravens: Brown blew up last week against the Steelers for a 10-196 line, but failed to find the end zone. He played lights-out, and gets an even better matchup at home against the Ravens’ bottom-barrel pass defense. Only the Chiefs have allowed more fantasy points to receivers. And Baltimore has surrendered the most 40-plus-yard pass plays, a specialty of lid-lifter Brown. Carson Palmer could easily throw for another 400-plus yards and multiple touchdowns. Brown moves all over the formation for Arizona and should see any and all Ravens cornerbacks. Starting to get hot and averaging 9.3 targets per game the past three weeks, Brown should be locked in lineups. Cardinals No. 3 receiver Michael Floyd also makes for a fine dart-throw as a WR3.
Martavis Bryant at Chiefs: Making his season debut last week, Bryant put on display what fantasy owners have been drooling about since he exploded over the second half of last season as a rookie. Bryant reeled in 6-of-8 targets for 137 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Arizona and now gets the Chiefs’ league-worst pass defense. Kansas City has allowed the most fantasy points to receivers, and with either Landry Jones or Ben Roethlisberger set to start, Bryant is in play as a strong WR2 with the upside to finish as the overall WR1 any given week. With Antonio Brown drawing most of the defense’s attention weekly, Bryant consistently works in single-coverage. Bryant figures to run most of his routes at rookie LCB Marcus Peters. He’s been the most-targeted corner in the league and allowed six touchdowns and the second-most yards behind Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith.
Golden Tate vs. Vikings: Tate scored his first touchdown of the season last week and had another taken away. He’s seen at least seven targets in 5-of-6 games, but isn’t doing much with them, as he’s only eclipsed 57 yards receiving twice with zero 100-yard games. Tate now gets Vikings slot CB Captain Munnerlyn, who allowed just two catches for 28 yards on four targets to Tate when these two teams met back in Week 2. Lions veteran WR Lance Moore had a big game last week with a 5-106-1 line and could start eating into Tate’s targets. Calvin Johnson is the only reliable member of the Lions’ passing game.
Brandin Cooks at Colts: While Willie Snead might avoid RCB Vontae Davis much of the day Sunday, that will likely mean Cooks sees Davis the most. All the Saints receivers move around enough and play inside and outside, so each will have his opportunities. But Cooks hasn’t done much with his all season. He’s been held under 50 yards in half the Saints’ games and isn’t catching a ton of balls behind emerging No. 1 receiver Snead. And when Cooks does get the ball in his hands, he isn’t turning in big plays. He’s turned into a low-ceiling WR3/4. If stacking Saints in DFS, a Brees-Snead stack should be the way to go. Cooks is averaging just 8.07 yards per target.
Mike Wallace at Lions: Outside of his 8-83-1 day against the Broncos in Week 4, Wallace is averaging a meager 3.5 catches per game for 43.25 scoreless yards on 5.25 targets. This is a run-first offense in Minnesota, and with rookie Stefon Diggs emerging as the up-and-coming No. 1 receiver, there isn’t much to go around behind him. And Wallace projects to run most of his Week 7 routes at Lions No. 1 corner Darius Slay. He’s a boom-or-bust WR3 with an extremely low floor, who’s shown a tendency to bust more than boom in recent games.
Rueben Randle vs. Cowboys: Not many do less with more than Randle. Supremely-talented is Randle, but he has knucklehead tendencies and tends to get in his own way. His 1.17 yards per route mark is 55th out of 64 qualifiers and worse than guys like Jermaine Kearse, Nate Washington, and Robert Woods. Eli Manning has started to shy away from Randle, as he’s averaging just over five targets per game. Randle gets the best matchup of the game among Giants receivers. He’ll be up against first-round bust Morris Claiborne, who’s 98th out of 109 in PFF’s cornerback ratings. But it’s simply too hard to trust Randle, who’s let us down in numerous primo spots over his career.
Start of the Week: Travis Kelce vs. Steelers: Much is made of the Raiders’ struggles with tight ends, but the Steelers are right up there. They allowed four touchdowns to Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler in Week 1 and a 9-92-2 line to Antonio Gates in Week 5. Kelce is at or near the top of the class among tight ends with Gronkowski and Gates. And with Jeremy Maclin (concussion) possibly out and Jamaal Charles (knee) done for the season, Kelce’s target share could spike dramatically this week. On the flip side, if Maclin misses, Kelce should draw heavy defensive attention. Still, Kelce saw seven targets last week and posted his second-most yards (88) of the season. If Maclin sits, he’ll be a candidate for double-digit targets at home as the preferred option in the red zone.
Charles Clay vs. Jaguars: With Sammy Watkins (calf) and Percy Harvin (hip) both out this week, Clay will continue to dominate targets. He’s been targeted 13 times in two of the Bills’ past three games and caught nine balls from E.J. Manuel last week. Manuel will be back under center in London with Tyrod Taylor (knee) missing another game. The Jaguars are a middle-of-the-pack tight end defense, but they haven’t faced one of note since allowing 101 yards to Rob Gronkowski in Week 3. Coach Gus Bradley’s scheme plays favorably to tight ends.
Julius Thomas vs. Bills: On the other side of the Bills-Jaguars tilt is Thomas. After playing just over 50 percent of the snaps in his Week 5 season debut, Thomas’ was in on 73.2 percent of the plays against the Texans. That should only rise after the Jaguars gave him $24 million guaranteed in March. With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in tougher matchups on the outside this week, Blake Bortles might funnel targets Thomas’ way after going to him 13 times in Week 6. The Bills gave up a touchdown to Tyler Eifert last week and recently lost S Aaron Williams (neck) to I.R./return.
Jordan Reed vs. Bucs: After missing the past two games with a concussion, Reed said he’s 100 percent and good to go against Tampa Bay. DeSean Jackson (hamstring) remains sidelined, so Reed should step right back into his voluminous pass-catching role. Even though the Bucs have been the league’s No. 1 defense against tight ends, Reed’s target floor makes him a strong play. In three complete games, Reed has averaged 8.67 targets per game for 80.33 yards.
Zach Ertz at Panthers: Ertz’s snap rate is on the rise, and he’s coming off back-to-back seven-target games. However, with Sam Bradford’s horrendous play, Ertz has yet to top 60 yards in a game and has zero touchdowns. He’s seen plenty of red-zone looks, but Bradford’s missed them. Five of Bradford’s nine interceptions have been on targets to Ertz. The Panthers just allowed 140 yards to Jimmy Graham in Week 6. Prior to that, they’d surrendered just 109 yards total to tight ends. Ertz isn’t the worst play, but it’s not a great spot for him to snap his scoreless streak.
Jordan Cameron vs. Texans: Speaking of doing very little with quite a bit, Cameron is averaging over five targets per game, but has caught less than 50 percent of those and been held to 30 yards or less each of the past three games. The Texans don’t pose a tough matchup, but Cameron’s extremely low floor and Jarvis Landry’s penchant for getting the bulk of the middle-field looks paired with Rishard Matthews’ emergence on the outside has me looking elsewhere.
Crockett Gillmore at Cardinals: Gillmore played over 83 percent of the snaps against the 49ers in his return from a two-week calf injury last game, but was targeted just three times on a day when Joe Flacco fired 53 passes. He’s not seeing enough looks behind Steve Smith Sr. and Kamar Aiken. By playing Gillmore, you’d simply be hoping and praying for a touchdown. After being stomping mats for tight ends in recent years, the Cardinals are allowing the second-fewest points to the position through six weeks. They’re the only team yet to allow a tight-end touchdown.