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: Matt Ryan vs. Bucs: Ryan hasn’t had a great first half of the season. He’s not throwing the ball downfield and is QB23 in points per game among those with at least three starts. Ryan is turning the ball over too much and is on pace to throw his fewest touchdowns since his rookie season. And this is with Julio Jones at receiver. I admittedly bought into the Ryan hype after OC Kyle Shanahan was hired, but it hasn’t worked out to this point. Still, we can win with Ryan at quarterback, and this is as good a week as any to use him. At home, against a Tampa Bay team that gives up the most points per game and the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, Ryan is definitely in play. Only the Texans have allowed more touchdown passes than the Bucs. The Falcons have a high implied team total of 28 points in a game with a 48.5-point over-under. All three of Ryan, Devonta Freeman, and Jones are upper-echelon plays at their respective positions.
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Brian Hoyer vs. Titans: Hoyer is by no means a good quarterback, but this is purely based on volume with Arian Foster (Achilles’) out for the season. In the three games Foster missed plus his first game back when he split duties with Alfred Blue, Texans quarterbacks averaged 50.25 pass attempts per game. The Texans have zero running game without Foster. They have no choice but to throw the ball. It also helps Houston runs the fastest-paced offense in the league. Hoyer has shown time and again he’s capable of putting up top-six QB numbers, whether it’s working in garbage time, peppering DeAndre Hopkins with targets, or both. Game script will likely be in the Texans’ favor here at home against one of the worst teams in the league, which could limit Hoyer’s attempts, but he should easily throw it 30-plus times on the safe side and potentially hit the 40 mark. We’re rooting for 40-plus attempts here. Hopkins and Nate Washington could see 30 combined between them. Titans DBs Perrish Cox (hamstring), Michael Griffin (knee), and Jason McCourty (hamstring) are all banged up. Cox missed practice Wednesday and is Tennessee’s top cover corner.
Philip Rivers at Ravens: Rivers is averaging 52.25 pass attempts per game the past four weeks. The next highest mark is Drew Brees at 41.75, so Rivers attempted more than 40 more passes than Brees Weeks 4-7. Not only is Rivers #good, there’s so much volume here. The Chargers and Ravens are both top-eight offenses in pace, so a ton of plays are going to be run Sunday. Most quarterbacks struggle on the road, but Rivers has even home-away splits. He’s also played pretty well traveling to the East Coast. At Baltimore last season, Rivers went 34-of-45 for 383 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. The 2015 version of the Ravens’ pass defense is much worse than the 2014 one. Baltimore is allowing the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Ravens play the run well, and the Chargers have completely abandoned their running game in recent weeks with the offensive line banged up and rookie Melvin Gordon battling ball-security issues. This is going to be all Rivers, Keenan Allen, Ladarius Green, and Danny Woodhead.
Andy Dalton at Steelers: Dalton is overall QB2 in points per game, but some remain hesitant, especially with the Bengals coming off their bye and falling out of the fantasy news cycle for a week. And Dalton, historically, has been much worse inside the AFC North. The Bengals are 2-6 against Pittsburgh with Dalton, who’s posted a 79.2 passer rating in those games. But this is a new Dalton. Playing out of his mind with the Bengals off to a 6-0 start, I see no reason to back off Dalton for this game, even if it’s on the road. Dalton fired three scores Week 6 in Buffalo, and that was with the Bills taking away A.J. Green. Green has dominated the Steelers, and this Pittsburgh secondary is allowing 7.75 YPA while Dalton leads the league with his 9.1 YPA average. Bengals-Steelers has the fourth-highest over-under of the week at 48 points, and the game is a pick ‘em with both teams having implied totals of 24. The Steelers have a strong run defense, so this is another game for Dalton to put a notch in his belt and prove he’s ready to take that next step in Year Five.
Ryan Fitzpatrick at Raiders: Fitzpatrick, the Nick Mensio favorite. Low key, Oakland has a pretty solid run defense. The Silver and Black is allowing just over 3.83 YPC to running backs. Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith are known more for rushing the passer, but both have graded out as top-six 3-4 outside linebackers against the run. Nose tackle Dan Williams is top-12 among 72 players at his position and has proven to be a wonderful free-agent signing for GM Reggie McKenzie. The Jets project to try and pound Chris Ivory, but he’s less than 100 percent with a quad issue, and the weakness of this Raiders defense is its secondary with top CB T.J. Carrie having to play safety. Both Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall have matchup advantages at receiver, and the Raiders have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. According to Rich Hribar’s Week 8 Worksheet, only Peyton Manning failed finish as a top-12 quarterback against the Raiders this season.
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Josh McCown vs. Cardinals: McCown had that insane three-week stretch Weeks 3-5 where he threw for at least 341 yards and two touchdowns in each game. Since then, he’s running the gauntlet of top defenses. McCown posted a 63.3 passer rating Week 6 at home against the Broncos and didn’t lead a single touchdown drive last week in St. Louis before leaving late in the fourth quarter with ribs and shoulder injuries. McCown didn’t practice Wednesday, but is reportedly fully expected to start Sunday. It’s another week to avoid the 36-year-old. The Cardinals lead the league in interceptions and allow the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Arizona is also one of two teams yet to allow a touchdown to a tight end, so it could be a slow day for Gary Barnidge. And with Patrick Peterson playing lockdown coverage outside and likely to cover Travis Benjamin, McCown doesn’t have many other options outside of Duke Johnson out of the backfield.
Nick Foles vs. 49ers: The 49ers’ pass defense is one to exploit, especially on the road. They’re allowing a whopping 8.48 YPA and the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. On the flip side, the Rams run one of the slowest offenses, and Foles has attempted more than 30 passes in a game just once, while failing to throw for 200 yards in five-straight. He has fewer fantasy points than both Teddy Bridgewater and Peyton Manning. Expect Foles to hit some shots with the 49ers selling out to stop Todd Gurley, but it’s not going to be enough to make Foles a top-12 scorer.
Derek Carr vs. Jets: Carr is coming off a monster 289-yard, three-touchdown game against one of the league’s better secondaries in San Diego. I completely whiffed on Carr last week, but I’m not willing to chase the points, even with the Raiders back home to face a Jets team traveling cross-country. This is a prime letdown spot for Oakland after that big divisional road win. Meanwhile, Gang Green will be determined to get back in the “W” column after a hard-fought loss to New England. The Jets boast the league’s No. 4 pass defense in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Darrelle Revis will likely be tasked with locking down Amari Cooper while Antonio Cromartie does battle with Michael Crabtree. The two could also simply choose to play sides. But this defense is brimming with talent both up front and on the back end. It won’t be an easy day for Carr.
Russell Wilson at Cowboys: Wilson has just one top-12 finish on his 2015 resume. The Seahawks and Cowboys are two of the seven slowest offenses in the league, and both are extremely run-heavy if everything is going to plan. Dallas is also tops in time of possession per game. Wilson just isn’t going to have the ball enough. And when the Seahawks have had the ball on offense, they’re dead-last in red-zone touchdown percentage. Add everything up, and this looks like another week to avoid Wilson and the entire Seattle pass offense. It sets up pretty well for Marshawn Lynch. The Cowboys have been gashed on the ground the past four weeks, allowing 5.14 YPC, 488 yards, and five scores. Dallas has allowed the eighth-fewest points to quarterbacks.
Start of the Week: Justin Forsett vs. Chargers: Forsett is coming off a 36-yard rushing game against the Cardinals, but he did save his week with a 14-yard touchdown run. Arizona fields one of the league’s top run defenses. On the other side of the spectrum is San Diego. The Chargers are allowing 5.41 YPC and the second-most fantasy points to running backs. Only the Browns have allowed more yards and the Falcons more fantasy points to the position. The Chargers are coming cross-country for the East Coast matchup with a 1 PM ET start. Forsett should get all he can handle, and he’s been handling a massive portion of Baltimore’s carrier. According to Graham Barfield, Forsett has seen 71.3 percent of the Ravens’ team carries the past four weeks. He’s a top-eight running back. Two of San Diego’s top three inside linebackers — Manti Te’o (ankle) and Denzel Perryman (biceps) — are injured and haven’t practiced this week.
Chris Johnson at Browns: Always target the Browns’ run defense. That’s been a rule of thumb through the first seven weeks. Cleveland has allowed at least one running back from each team its faced to total 100 yards in every game this season. The reborn CJ2K is in line to be the next. Even with Andre Ellington back in the fold, Johnson has amassed 32 carries the past two weeks. At 30 years old, Johnson is averaging 5.11 YPC and has run for at least 100 yards in three of Arizona’s past five games. The Browns’ run defense is allowing 5.29 YPC, the most rushing yards, and third-most fantasy points to running backs. The Cardinals head into Cleveland as 4.5-point favorites with an implied team total of 25.25. They’ve also been one of the more-balanced offenses.
Duke Johnson vs. Cardinals: Arizona is allowing just 3.75 YPC and the fourth-fewest rushing touchdowns to running backs. However, Johnson isn’t a typical running back, as he racks up most of his points as a pass catcher out of the backfield. While the Cardinals have been stout on run defense, only the Falcons and Raiders have yielded more catches to opposing running backs. Over the past five weeks, Johnson is averaging 7.2 carries and 6.2 catches per game on 34 targets. He’s caught at least six passes in 4-of-5 games since getting involved in the Cleveland backfield. While the Browns have been rotating all three of Johnson, Robert Turbin, and Isaiah Crowell, the rookie Johnson has maintained value as a borderline RB2/FLEX option in PPR formats.
Charles Sims at Falcons: Much like Duke Johnson above, Sims, even with Doug Martin posting three-straight 100-yard rushing games, continues to be involved on offense. He’s averaging 3.7 targets per game on the season and 12.3 touches the past three weeks. The Falcons are allowing over 9.14 catches per game just to running backs, by far the highest clip in the league. Atlanta has also surrendered the most touchdowns to running backs. With Nos. 2 and 3 receivers Vincent Jackson (knee) and Louis Murphy (torn ACL) out, Sims pass-catching role could potentially expand. Both Martin and Sims are in play against the Falcons’ bottom-barrel running-back defense.
Marshawn Lynch at Cowboys: Lynch is a no-brainer start in season-long leagues, but he’s likely to go overlooked in the DFS community. As pointed out above, from Evan Silva, the Cowboys have allowed 488 yards, five touchdowns, and a 5.14 YPC average to running backs the past four weeks. Devonta Freeman, Mark Ingram, LeGarrette Blount / Dion Lewis, and Orleans Darkwa have run all over them. Lynch is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season last Thursday night against the 49ers, which included a touchdown, and has had 10 days to rest a previously-ailing hamstring. Especially on a non-PPR site like FanDuel, with Lynch’s salary at $8,300 between the high-end guys like Freeman and Le’Veon Bell and mid-range backs Ingram and Todd Gurley, Lynch is a lock to be overlooked. Dallas has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs.
Orleans Darkwa at Saints: The second-year UDFA out of Tulane was signed off the Dolphins’ practice squad last November and had been bringing up the rear of the depth chart before leading the Giants in carries last week against the Cowboys. He managed 48 yards and a score on eight totes and earned the praise of coach Tom Coughlin, who’s said Darkwa deserves more opportunities. Darkwa was a hot add on the waiver wire and gets a Saints’ run defense that’s allowing 4.92 YPC and the 10th-most fantasy points to running backs. But it’s too hard to trust Darkwa in this four-man backfield where Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen are also getting carries. Darkwa’s ceiling isn’t very high, while his floor is somewhere around zero.
Carlos Hyde at Rams: Hyde has been playing through what he’s calling a “stress fracture” in his foot, though the team won’t confirm what’s the exact issue. The 49ers are the biggest underdogs of the week with the Rams favored by eight points at home. San Francisco’s implied team total is a minuscule 15.75 points. St. Louis plays much better defense at home and is allowing just 3.93 YPC to running backs. Since his 168-yard, two-touchdown Week 1, Hyde is averaging a pitiful 3.39 YPC with one score. The right side of the 49ers’ offensive line is a nightmare, and Colin Kaepernick isn’t beating many with his arm. The Rams will flood the box and make it a point to stop Hyde.
Eddie Lacy at Broncos: Lacy has frustrated owners with his 3.88 YPC average, light workloads, and zero touchdowns since Week 1. Last time out against the Chargers’ bottom-two run defense, Lacy managed three yards on four carries and took a backseat to James Starks. The good news is Lacy has had the bye week to rest his previously-injured ankle, and Starks missed practice Wednesday with a hip injury. Starks’ status for Sunday is unclear. Him missing would obviously be welcome news for Lacy owners, but the matchup still isn’t the best on the road against a Denver defense allowing just 3.58 YPC to running backs. Lacy also looks to be well overweight. Neither he nor Starks should be expected to do much on Sunday. If Lacy can get right, though, he does have an appetizing stretch run Weeks 10-14 with the Lions, Bears, Vikings, and Lions again.
Frank Gore at Panthers: The Colts are seven-point road underdogs on Monday night with an implied team total of 19.75. The Panthers have been middle-of-the-pack against the run, but with DTs Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei and MLB Luke Kuechly all healthy, this isn’t a defense we’re looking to target, especially at home. The Colts are limiting Gore’s touches, and Ahmad Bradshaw is getting more run in the passing game. With the Colts expected to be trailing, Gore might not touch the ball more than 12-14 times. It’s just not the right spot to fire up Gore if you have better options.
Start of the Week: Stefon Diggs at Bears: Diggs has come on like gangbusters to take over as the Vikings’ No. 1 receiver the past three weeks, averaging 8.3 targets per game and playing 80.95 percent of the offensive snaps the last two games. Compared to a young Antonio Brown by teammate Mike Wallace, Diggs is a sharp route runner with speed on top of it. His Week 8 matchup doesn’t get much better. Diggs projects to run the vast majority of his routes at Bears outside CBs Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller. There’s been talk of moving Fuller to safety long-term because he hasn’t been able to cover one-on-one on the outside. Porter is your run-of-the-mill, warm-body veteran. Both have received extremely poor marks in coverage, and the Bears have allowed the most touchdown passes and third-most fantasy points to receivers. Keep running Diggs out there as a WR2/3.
Nate Washington vs. Titans: Washington (11) is tied for fifth in targets per game behind teammate DeAndre Hopkins (14.4), Julio Jones (12.7), Demaryius Thomas (12.5), and Keenan Allen (12). Washington clearly doesn’t belong in the same conversation with those players, but the Texans are the highest-paced offense in the NFL, and with Arian Foster (Achilles’) now done for the season, Brian Hoyer is going to have to throw the ball even more. Washington posted a garbage-time-fueled 9-127-2 line last week on 16 targets, but projects to be the clear-cut No. 2 option in the pass game again this week with Cecil Shorts (hamstring) still sidelined at practice. If Shorts plays, forget all this, as he and Washington will split looks. But if Shorts sits, Washington has #NarrativeStreet also working in his favor after spending the previous six seasons with the Titans. Washington also runs most of his routes at left and slot corners, meaning he’d avoid RCB Perrish Cox, if Cox plays.
Eric Decker at Raiders: Decker’s target total has risen from five to seven to 12 the past three weeks, and he’s out-targeted teammate Brandon Marshall 5-3 in the red zone during that span. Running roughly 80 percent of his snaps out of the slot, Decker will again be in the best spot on Sunday. The Raiders are weak in the middle of the field and have been destroyed by tight ends. The Jets don’t have a legitimate tight end, so Decker should see a solid share of those middle-field targets. D.J. Hayden covers the slot for Oakland and has graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 103rd-ranked cover corner out of 109 qualifiers, giving up 37 catches and three touchdowns.
Tavon Austin vs. 49ers: The former No. 8 overall pick has quietly emerged as the Rams’ top receiver. He’s led the team in targets two of the past three games and is averaging six per game over the last four. Austin is also the team-leader in red-zone targets with five the past three games. The 49ers are awful against the pass, especially on the road, and have surrendered 15.16 YPR and the fourth-most fantasy points to receivers. The Rams aren’t going to go wild passing the ball on Sunday, but when Nick Foles does throw it, it tends to go to Austin. Owners also get the added bonus of Austin receiving carries out of the backfield and handling punt-return duties.
Marvin Jones at Steelers: Jones’ targets have been inconsistent the past four weeks, seeing eight Week 3, two Week 4, eight again Week 5, and a dozen Week 6. He doesn’t need more than five or six to do damage. The Steelers’ secondary has righted itself after opening the year a mess, but RCB Antwon Blake remains a big-time weak spot. He’s graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 108th-ranked cover corner out of 109 qualifiers and surrendered the second-most catches (37) among all cornerbacks. Jones is a proven touchdown-scorer, and the Bengals project to throw the ball quite a bit in what could turn into a shootout with a 48-point over-under.
Travis Benjamin vs. Cardinals: Benjamin was shut down by the Rams last week, getting held to a 4-47 line with a lost fumble. Things don’t get any easier Week 8. Patrick Peterson comes to town and could end up shadowing the fourth-year breakout receiver. Peterson has the size and speed to win consistently against Benjamin and has been playing lights-out after a bad 2014 campaign. Look for Josh McCown to work the underneath stuff with Duke Johnson and Gary Barnidge.
Willie Snead vs. Giants: Snead was another play that burned us bad in Week 7. The 25 yards were Snead’s fewest of the season, and he dropped a touchdown pass. He was still targeted seven times and played over 80 percent of the snaps, so we’re not writing him off this week just because he hurt us last week. Drew Brees can’t throw the ball downfield and has started building chemistry with Brandin Cooks and Ben Watson in the short passing game. Snead also figures to see his fair share of Giants LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who’s allowing a 56.9 passer rating in his coverage. Snead remains on the WR3 map, but this is one of his tougher matchups.
Michael Crabtree vs. Jets: Crabtree is leading the Raiders in targets at 9.3 per game. Amari Cooper sits at 8.3, but has outproduced his veteran teammate. It remains to be seen if Darrelle Revis will shadow Cooper. If he does, that’ll leave Crabtree to contend with Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie had a poor start to the season, but has turned his game up a notch the past couple weeks. The Jets are a top-10 pass defense. Crabtree will likely need to see double-digit targets to produce top-36 numbers at receiver this week. There are better WR3 options on the board.
James Jones at Broncos: No other receiver scores more of his fantasy points on touchdowns alone than Jones. Against a Broncos pass defense that has allowed just one touchdown to a wide receiver all season, Jones doesn’t figure to have much success. All three of Denver’s CBs Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, and Aqib Talib have graded out as top-23 cover corners at Pro Football Focus. Randall Cobb gets the toughest test against Harris in the slot, while Jones and Davante Adams project to split time between Roby and Talib. Richard Rodgers could be the biggest beneficiary and see a few extra targets come his way Sunday afternoon.
Start of the Week: Martellus Bennett vs. Vikings: Only Antonio Gates, Jordan Reed, and Rob Gronkowski are averaging more targets per game than Bennett’s 8.8. And over the past three weeks with Jay Cutler healthy, Bennett has averaged 11 looks. The return of Alshon Jeffery has helped open up the middle of the field for Bennett. He scored a touchdown three weeks back and had one knocked away last game. The Vikings are allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Tyler Eifert at Steelers: Eifert almost burned us Week 6 before he caught a late touchdown against the Bills. His weeks have been up and down for the most part, and the targets have been super inconsistent with so many mouths to feed in Cincinnati. Of Eifert’s 40 targets, 24 came in two games, while he averaged just four per game in the others. But this sets up as a week to keep Eifert involved down the seams. Only the Raiders have allowed more touchdowns to tight ends than the Steelers, and only Oakland and Seattle have allowed more fantasy points to the position.
Delanie Walker at Texans: Walker sees as consistent targets as any other tight end. Over his past four games, Walker has been targeted no fewer than six times and topped out at 10 twice. No matter who’s at quarterback for the Titans, whether it’s rookie Marcus Mariota (knee) or Zach Mettenberger, Walker is the preferred check-down option in this safe, tight end-friendly offense.
Crockett Gillmore vs. Chargers: Gillmore hasn’t done much since tearing up the Raiders for a 5-88-2 line in Week 2, but he did come on late in last Monday night’s loss to the Cardinals, finishing with five catches for 53 scoreless yards on seven targets. With the Chargers likely to be without FS Eric Weddle (groin) again this week, there should be running room down the middle of the field for Gillmore. San Diego gave up a long touchdown to Raiders rookie TE Clive Walford last week and were burned by Gary Barnidge for a 6-75-1 line a couple games back.
Jimmy Graham at Cowboys: It’s impossible to feel comfortable with Graham. He’s been targeted five times or less in four of Seattle’s seven games and coming of a 2-31 night against the 49ers in a plus matchup last week. With this game expected to be dominated by both rushing offenses, there may not be a ton of targets for Graham once again. The Cowboys have allowed just one touchdown and the third-fewest fantasy points to tight ends after seven weeks.
Kyle Rudolph at Bears: If Rudolph isn’t scoring a touchdown, he’s basically putting up a zero. He hasn’t seen more than five targets in a game since Week 2. The Bears have allowed the fewest yards and sixth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Rudolph’s only hope is if Adrian Peterson continues to stall in the red zone and Teddy Bridgewater is forced to throw to his big-bodied tight end.
Eric Ebron vs. Chiefs: Ebron has been targeted five times or fewer in 4-of-5 games he’s played and gets a tough matchup against FS Eric Berry and the Chiefs in London. Berry is a top-five cover safety at Pro Football Focus. Ebron has made the most of his targets this season, but Kansas City has given up the third-fewest yards to tight ends and fourth-fewest fantasy points. This is a game where Calvin Johnson should soak up a dozen targets and dominate outside.