Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes. Anybody can tell you to start the Russell Wilsons, Aaron Joneses, and Tyler Locketts of the world. That’s not what I’m doing here. I’m looking deeper at legitimate mostly-borderline candidates who owners may truly be contemplating using in lineups.
Start of the Week: Gardner Minshew vs. Texans: Fantasy’s QB15 in points per game, Minshew is coming off his first three-touchdown game in the big leagues in an easy win over the Jets. Prior to Week 8, Minshew was in a two-game rut, completing just 29-of-61 passes (47.5%) against the Saints and Bengals with only one touchdown and a pick. Minshew has his flaws, notably as a fumbler, but his playmaking ability and drive-extending escapability make him a treat to watch. This will be his first London test obviously, but the Texans are severely banged up and shorthanded on defense, especially after losing the heartbeat of the unit J.J. Watt to a season-ending torn pec last week. Slot CB Lonnie Johnson has a concussion, and fellow starting DBs Johnathan Joseph (neck), Gareon Conley (hamstring), Bradley Roby (hamstring), and Tashaun Gipson (back, wrist) are battling various ailments. Minshew made his first NFL start back in Week 2 against the Texans, posting just 213 yards and a touchdown as a passer but ran for a season-best 56 yards on the ground. He was tentative in the first half of that one but really came on later and nearly pulled off the road upset. The Jaguars have loosened Minshew’s leash considerably since then, and Houston is a measly 28th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Texans are an extreme pass-funnel defense, checking in at No. 23 in pass-defense DVOA compared to No. 5 against the run. Derek Carr just hung a flawless 285 yards and three touchdowns on Houston in Week 8 after Jacoby Brissett went for 326 yards and four touchdowns the previous week. Opposing QBs have tossed three-plus touchdowns against Houston in four consecutive games. This game’s 46.5-point total is the week’s fifth-highest.
Josh Allen vs. Redskins: Given his schedule, Allen has been a relative disappointment over the last two weeks against the Dolphins (QB9) and Eagles (QB14), but he’s still shown a safe enough floor thanks to his rushing output and three-straight two-touchdown passing games despite low yardage numbers. Allen is averaging 33.6 rushing yards per game on the year with at least 21 yards in all seven games. It’s been good enough to put Allen as the QB12 in fantasy points per contest. Weather played a role last week against the Eagles with strong, blustery winds and frigid temperatures. Allen was unable to push the ball downfield versus Philly’s vulnerable secondary. The cold is something Allen is used to after playing his college ball at Wyoming, but wind gusts make it difficult on any passer. As long as that’s not an issue this Sunday, Allen has top-five QB1 upside in a smash spot. Washington is 24th in pass-defense DVOA, 22nd in opponent yards per attempt, and 23rd in opposing QB rating. The Skins have also yielded the fifth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks. Kirk Cousins didn’t throw any touchdowns against Washington last Thursday night but did complete 23-of-26 passes (88.5%) for 285 yards (11.0 YPA) in a flawless effort. The Redskins are 28th in opponent plays per game. Buffalo’s implied team total of 23 points is 10th-highest on the Week 9 slate.
Derek Carr vs. Lions: Carr is completing a career-best 72.1% of his passes at a career-high 7.7 yards per attempt clip. However, he’s 23rd among QBs, attempting just 11% of his passes 20-plus yards downfield. He’s obviously taking the easy route and dumping the ball off in the short areas of the field. Whatever works. He’s having a solid season, but it hasn’t translated to big fantasy numbers, as Carr is the QB22 in points per game. Carr has tossed multiple touchdowns in four of his last five games, with a season-high three last week in Houston, and has just four interceptions on the year. He gets a really nice draw here against a Detroit defense that is 26th in adjusted sack rate, 26th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, and dead last in passing yards allowed while checking in at 22nd in pass-defense DVOA. No defense allows more plays per game either. And we know more plays means more opportunities for fantasy production. This might be the best individual matchup Carr will see all season. Previously struggling Daniel Jones busted his slump in Detroit last week with 322 yards and a 4:0 TD:INT mark. Kirk Cousins hung 338 yards and four touchdowns on the Lions the week before. And Aaron Rodgers went for a fine 283 yards and two scores in Week 6. This game’s 50.5-point total is second-highest on the board, and Oakland’s implied total of 26.25 points is fourth-best.
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Sam Darnold at Dolphins: It’s been a capital U-G-L-Y last two weeks for Darnold, from “seeing ghosts” in an 86-yard, four-INT performance in Week 7 against the all-world Patriots to three more picks last week in Jacksonville. Darnold played better -- not that he could have played worse -- against the Jaguars, but both were really tough matchups for the sophomore. The Jets just have to hope he’s not “broken” by the ghosts comment that was aired on national television. Darnold has had rough games before and bounced back. He needs to do the same here against Miami. The Dolphins are at or near the bottom of the league in most pass-defense categories, including 32nd in DVOA, 29th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, 32nd in opponent passer rating, 32nd in opponent yards per attempt, 25th in adjusted sack rate, and 29th in touchdowns allowed despite already having their bye week. Darnold should work from clean pockets and have plenty of space to hit easy throws. Mason Rudolph had maybe the worst first quarter of Week 8 last Monday night against Miami but still managed to hang a season-high 251 yards and two touchdowns on the Dolphins. Josh Allen was the QB9 against Miami in Week 7. And Case Keenum threw multiple scores in Miami three weeks back. Worse quarterbacks with worse supporting casts have had fine fantasy days against this defense. Darnold is a hold-your-breath-and-pray play, but everything comes up roses on paper for him in this spot.
Carson Wentz vs. Bears: Wentz has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in four of his last five games and is the QB14 on the year in fantasy points per contest. The good news is that the Eagles are likely to get DeSean Jackson (abdomen) back in the lineup for the first time since Week 1, which should help open up the offense in a big way. The matchup, however, is not ideal. Chicago is No. 6 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 9 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 10 in passing yards allowed, No. 7 in opponent yards per attempt, and surrender on average of one passing touchdown per game. Case Keenum (2 TDs, 3 INTs) and Teddy Bridgewater (2 TDs) are the only passers to have thrown multiple touchdowns versus Chicago, and Keenum did his with garbage time on his side. I like Wentz’s chances of bettering one touchdown, but the ceiling just isn’t very high in a slowed-down environment against the Bears’ 27th-paced offense. The Eagles are also five-point home favorites and should be able to hammer the Bears on the ground with Jordan Howard in a revenge spot. Philly’s implied team total of 23.5 points is ninth-highest on the slate, but this game’s 42-point total is third-lowest. Wentz is best treated as a high-floor, low-ceiling top-15 play rather than an upside QB1 option.
Jacoby Brissett at Steelers: Just on the outside looking in as a QB1, Brissett is the overall QB13 in fantasy points per game after his 202 yards and no touchdowns last week against the Broncos. It was his second scoreless performance over the last three weeks. Brissett gets another tough draw against a Pittsburgh defense that has carried this team in recent weeks. The Steelers are No. 9 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 3 in adjusted sack rate, No. 2 in interceptions, No. 13 in passing yards allowed, and 10th in opponent passer rating. Pittsburgh shut out the Dolphins for the final 46-plus minutes last Monday night and picked off Philip Rivers and Lamar Jackson a combined five times the two previous weeks. Brissett just doesn’t have the ceiling in this tough road spot against an upper-echelon defense to warrant QB1 consideration. Colts-Steelers has a meager 42.5-point total, fifth-lowest of Week 9.
Ryan Tannehill at Panthers: Since taking over as the starter in Week 7, Tannehill has posted the QB13 and QB11 days with multiple touchdowns in home starts versus the Chargers and Bucs. Tennessee now heads out on the road, and Carolina’s pass defense has been one of the best in football, coming in at No. 2 in adjusted sack rate, No. 3 in DVOA, No. 5 in passing yards per game, No. 4 in opponent yards per attempt, No. 4 in opponent passer rating, and No. 10 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Tannehill was a no-upside floor play in cake spots against the Bolts and Bucs. This spot is much tougher, making Tannehill a low-floor, basement-level ceiling QB2 in a game with a 42-point total, third-lowest of the week. Stopping the run was the problem for the Panthers last week in their blowout loss to the Niners. In its previous game, Carolina picked off Jameis Winston five times. This defense suffocated Deshaun Watson for 160 scoreless passing yards two weeks before that. Gardner Minshew had a big game in between, but Tannehill doesn’t possess the upside of the rookie and has proven turnover-prone in the past. The Carolina D/ST is a far better play than Tannehill.