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: Philip Rivers vs. Steelers: Rivers is coming off easily his best game of the season, a 358-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Browns. Another leaky AFC North pass defense comes to town Monday night. The Steelers have cleaned things up a bit since Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick went off against them in Weeks 1 and 2, but this back end remains one to stream against. Ross Cockrell has been a nice find at cornerback, but Antwon Blake and William Gay are still the every-down starters. As a team, the Steelers field a bottom-six pass defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Rivers may be without both Malcom Floyd (concussion) and Stevie Johnson (hamstring), but the return of Antonio Gates from suspension will help offset the loss of Johnson. The Chargers have a very respectable team total of 24.25 points as three-point favorites.
Eli Manning vs. 49ers: Manning has picked up right where he left off last season. He just threw his first interception of the year last week against the Bills and has seven touchdowns with Odell Beckham yet to have a signature, overall WR1 game. This may be the week for Beckham. And Manning will obviously benefit. The 49ers are traveling cross-country as 6.5-point underdogs. San Francisco’s pass defense held firm in a home game with Aaron Rodgers in Week 4. However, the 49ers’ back end has proven to be Swiss cheese on the road. Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer each had their best games of the young season in home dates with San Francisco, combining to complete 41-of-59 passes (69.5 percent) for 680 yards (11.53 YPA), five touchdowns, and one interception. Look for most of the Giants’ production to come via the pass.
Sam Bradford vs. Saints: No other quarterback has been as hot and cold as Bradford. He was dreadful in the first half of last week’s loss to the Redskins before firing off three touchdown passes with a couple long ones to Riley Cooper and Miles Austin. Bradford had another touchdown to Zach Ertz called back on a penalty. He now gets a Saints pass defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Bradford and the Eagles are also at home. New Orleans is allowing 9.77 YPA and has yet to pick off a pass. Brandon Browner has been Pro Football Focus’ worst cover corner through a quarter of the season. Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis are back, but that’s not enough to move off Bradford in a tasty home matchup with a projected team total of 27 points.
Marcus Mariota vs. Bills: When looking at the Week 5 slate for the first time early Tuesday morning, Mariota immediately jumped off the screen at quarterback. And Rich Hribar threw out some great Mariota stats in his Week 5 Worksheet on Wednesday. Here’s a snippet: “Mariota ranks third in passing points per attempt, behind only Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton. Every quarterback to face Buffalo so far has attempted at 35 passes.” It’s very difficult to run the ball against the Bills. Don’t expect much from the Titans’ collection of backfield misfits. With coach Rex Ryan’s unit stacking up well against the run, opposing offenses are using sheer volume to rack up production through the air. Buffalo has faced the most pass attempts (192) and allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks despite being third in the league with six interceptions. Being that this game is in Tennessee, Mariota is an option to seriously consider, even with a team total of 19.5 points.
Alex Smith vs. Bears: Rivers, Manning, and Smith might be my three favorite quarterbacks of the week. A trio of wily veterans, Smith possibly has the best matchup of the bunch. The Bears’ struggles against the pass are well documented. They got shredded by Aaron Rodgers and Carson Palmer in Weeks 1 and 2 before bending but not breaking Weeks 3 and 4 versus Russell Wilson and Derek Carr. Make no mistake, Smith is more Wilson or Carr than Rodgers or Palmer, but at least Smith is playing at home. Chicago has allowed the second-most touchdown passes in the league with 10 and starts Kyle Fuller and Tracy Porter at cornerback. Both have received extremely poor coverage marks from PFF. Jeremy Maclin should eat them alive. The Chiefs have a juicy 27.5-point team total.
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Peyton Manning at Raiders: At the season’s quarter pole, Manning is on pace for a 10-year low 3,847 passing yards, career-worst 24 touchdowns, and 14-year high 20 interceptions. We saw what happened when everyone was quick to write off Tom Brady early last season, but Manning is looking like a shell of his former self at 39 years old. He’s averaging a career-worst 6.3 YPA and is on pace to absorb a career-high 40 sacks. Normally, we wouldn’t think twice about starting Manning against the Raiders. But 2015 hasn’t qualified as “normal” for Peyton. The Raiders have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and field an awful secondary. It’s just hard to trust this Denver offensive line to protect Manning and give his ducks enough time to leave his hand. Oakland’s edge-rushing duo of Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith rivals Denver’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The Broncos are unlikely to find much success running the ball, so the receivers are going to have to make plays after the catch. This sets up as a potential letdown spot for the 4-0 Broncos.
Russell Wilson at Bengals: The only way sitting Wilson is doable is if you own any of Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, or Alex Smith noted above. Without a capable streaming option, Wilson is a must start simply because of his rushing floor. But this isn’t a great matchup for either offense. Both offenses are extremely run-heavy and prefer to control the clock, which translates to fewer possessions for the opposition. The Bengals are allowing just 7.26 YPA to quarterbacks, and both Adam Jones and Leon Hall are having strong to-date seasons in coverage. Wilson’s weapons are lacking, as Cincinnati can really concentrate on stopping Jimmy Graham and Doug Baldwin and not get hurt. Wilson is averaging just 1.25 passing touchdowns per game and has yet to score as a runner.
Derek Carr vs. Broncos: Carr disappointed last week with just 196 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick last week against the Bears. Things get a whole lot tougher for fantasy’s QB14. The Broncos have a lethal pass rush, get LE Derek Wolfe back from suspension this week, and field the league’s No. 1 secondary. Denver is allowing the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks by a wide margin. Passers are averaging 6.01 YPA with a 2:6 TD:INT ratio. The Broncos will likely stick Aqib Talib to Amari Cooper, leaving fellow elite corners Chris Harris and Bradley Roby to work against Michael Crabtree and the Raiders’ lesser receivers like Seth Roberts. This game could be a defensive struggle.
Matthew Stafford vs. Cardinals: Nobody should seriously be considering starting Stafford after his first four weeks, and Week 5 doesn’t bring anything easier to the table for Detroit. The Cardinals are allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and are second in the league with seven interceptions. Stafford is averaging a five-year low 6.2 YPA and on pace to throw a career-worst 20 interceptions and five-year-low 20 touchdowns. Defenses are bottling up Calvin Johnson, and the Lions’ secondary options aren’t making any plays. Detroit also can’t run the ball at all. The Lions are home underdogs with a team total of 20.75 points against Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Start of the Week: Dion Lewis at Cowboys: Handed a fresh two-year, $4.4 million contract extension Thursday, Lewis has taken ahold of the Patriots’ starting running back job after signing a reserve/futures contract last winter. Lewis dominated snaps in the first half of the Patriots’ last game, a Week 3 win over the Jaguars, before giving way to LeGarrette Blount when the game was already well in hand. Lewis punched a touchdown in from eight yards out against Jacksonville and is tied for the league lead in targets per game among running backs at six. He’s been a PPR machine for New England and is even returning value in standard formats. The Patriots have the highest team total of Week 5 at 29 points. Dallas has allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs, including the fourth-most catches for the second-most yards to the position.
T.J. Yeldon at Bucs: Yeldon has been a rookie disappointment in that he’s yet to find the end zone and is averaging 3.7 YPC. But what Yeldon does have going for him is a supportive coaching staff that has played him on over 81 percent of the snaps, excluding the Jaguars’ blowout loss to the Patriots when Yeldon was rendered useless with the Jaguars down by 40-plus points. He was in on 92.9 percent of the snaps in a close game with Indianapolis last week. Yeldon also gets serious volume in the Jaguars’ offense, averaging a cool 20 touches per game. Jaguars-Bucs has a 2.5-point spread, so Yeldon should be on the field for at least 85 percent of the plays. The Bucs have yielded the eighth-most fantasy points and a 4.25 YPC average to opposing running backs. Snaps lead to touches, and touches lead to production. This is Yeldon’s easiest matchup of the young season.
C.J. Spiller at Eagles: Getting behind Spiller takes a leap of faith, but with bye weeks coming into play, Spiller is going to be needed in lineups at some point. He touched the ball on 33 percent of his snaps last week against Dallas and scored the game-winning 80-yard touchdown in overtime. Coach Sean Payton continues to insist he needs to use Spiller more. He’s no threat to Mark Ingram’s early-down work, but Spiller has to play more in the pass game. The Eagles are strong against the run but have become a bit susceptible to running backs in the pass game since ILBs Kiko Alonso (knee) and Mychal Kendricks (hamstring) have been out, forcing rookie Jordan Hicks into the starting lineup next to DeMeco Ryans. By himself, Hicks has allowed 14 catches for 140 yards on 19 targets the past three games. With no downfield weapons outside of Willie Snead, Drew Brees has been working the short passing game with Ingram and Spiller. Saints-Eagles has the highest over-under of the week at 49.5 points, tied with Patriots-Cowboys. It should be an up-tempo game.
Alfred Morris at Falcons: The Redskins’ backfield has been a tough one to figure out, but as of late, Morris has been getting the nod over rookie Matt Jones, while Chris Thompson has been operating as the pass-game back. The Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points to running backs through a quarter of the season, including a league-high seven rushing touchdowns and 4.24 YPC average. The Redskins like to control the clock, and the best way to do that is to run the ball with success. Morris is averaging a pedestrian 3.95 YPC but is the best bet for goal-line work as long as the Redskins can keep this one close. With a 7.5-point spread, we could see plenty of Thompson. Thompson is worth considering in PPR formats.
Justin Forsett vs. Browns: Forsett should be locked into lineups after getting back on track in Week 4 against the Steelers with 150 yards on the ground. He failed to score a touchdown and didn’t catch his lone pass-game target. Expect Forsett’s usage to rise this week. The Ravens will be without Steve Smith Sr. (back), and the Browns are allowing better than 5.1 YPC and the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. While he’s yet to do much as a pass catcher in OC Marc Trestman’s offense, look for Forsett to get a couple more looks, especially if both Smith Sr. and Crockett Gillmore (calf) sit. Forsett is a surefire RB1 against Cleveland’s league-worst run defense.
Jeremy Hill vs. Seahawks: Hill owners were able to take a deep breath after last week’s three-touchdown game against the Chiefs in which he played 55.5 percent of the snaps. But it’s easy to look past the fact that Hill got just nine carries. Unless you’re Matt Asiata or LeGarrette Blount, nine carries isn’t going to be enough to return value on most afternoons. Hill now gets to run against a Seattle defense that is allowing just 3.46 YPC and the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs. It should be a “Jeremy Hill game” as opposed to a Giovani Bernard one, but the Seahawks like to milk the clock on offense and play stout defense. Hill’s schedule won’t really soften up until the second half of the season. It’ll be tough to sit Hill this week unless you have other options, but we’re pretty much relying on Hill scoring a touchdown if we play him against Seattle.
Carlos Hyde at Giants: The Giants are allowing the 11th-most fantasy points to running backs. On paper, that looks great for Hyde. Diving into the numbers further, the Giants are allowing just 3.28 YPC to running backs. They’ve given up only two rushing touchdowns and bottled Karlos Williams up with ease in Week 4. All of the running-back fantasy points against the Giants are coming via the pass. They’ve surrendered the fourth-most catches in the league to backs, and Reggie Bush plays that role for the 49ers. The 49ers are 6.5-point underdogs heading to the East Coast coming off three-straight losses. San Francisco will try to work Hyde early, but this one could get out of hand, rendering Hyde a disappointment like he’s mostly been since his Week 1 explosion.
Melvin Gordon vs. Steelers: We tried to goose Gordon’s season here at Rotoworld last week ahead of a splendid home matchup with the lowly Browns’ run defense. Gordon didn’t return the favor. He was stacked up for 38 rushing yards on 12 carries and failed to convert his loan goal-line attempt. It didn’t help that the Chargers were without the entire left side of their offensive line and their center. Clearly, San Diego prefers a timeshare backfield with Gordon and Danny Woodhead. After failing to capitalize against the Browns, it’s impossible to get behind Gordon against the Steelers. Pittsburgh, despite allowing Justin Forsett to run for 150 yards in Week 4, has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs and 3.75 YPC with zero touchdowns. Monday night sets up as a game the Chargers are going to have to win through the air and in the short passing game.
Ameer Abdullah vs. Cardinals: Abdullah got the start last Monday night against the Seahawks and should get another one this week with Joique Bell still nursing an ankle injury. The rookie hasn’t had much success outside of scoring a long touchdown on his first NFL carry. He’s been held under 50 yards rushing each game and is averaging just over two catches per week. Like Seattle in Week 4, Arizona isn’t a defense to jump-start your running game against. The Cardinals have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to running backs, 3.94 YPC, and one touchdown on the ground. Abdullah’s floor is raised with his receiving skills, but hasn’t been getting enough work there.
Start of the Week: Kamar Aiken vs. Browns: Steve Smith Sr. (back) isn’t going to play Sunday, leaving Aiken as the default No. 1 receiver. Marlon Brown, Darren Waller, and Chris Givens round out the rest of the depth chart. Aiken has been in on 81.3 percent of the snaps the past two games and figures to pace Baltimore in targets Sunday. He caught 5-of-7 balls for 77 yards and a score last week when Smith Sr. was in and out of the game. “Shutdown” Browns CB Joe Haden has been anything but in the early stages of the season and is battling a broken finger and bruised ribs. Coming into the year, pass coverage was viewed as the strength of the Browns’ defense. To this point, the Browns haven’t able to stop the run or pass. They’re allowing the 11th-most fantasy points to receivers. Aiken can be plucked off the wire and plugged in as a WR3 immediately.
Travis Benjamin at Ravens: Staying in the same game as Aiken above, shift over to the Browns and take a look at Benjamin. It feels a bit like points-chasing with Benjamin after his strong first couple weeks, but the Browns are making a full effort to involve Benjamin more on offense. He’s played 77.9 percent of the snaps out wide the past two weeks, seeing 20 targets. Benjamin has reeled in 10 of them for 124 yards and a score. The Ravens have been getting killed in the secondary, giving up the second-most points to receivers, including the second-most touchdowns with seven. Easily Josh McCown’s favorite and most explosive target, Benjamin needs to start being taken seriously. The Browns aren’t likely to have much success running the ball.
Kendall Wright vs. Bills: If the Titans are going to have success throwing the ball, Wright will be involved. For some unknown reason, the Titans aren’t using Wright as an every-down receiver, and instead are riding Harry Douglas and Justin Hunter in two-wide sets. Still, the Titans play enough in three-wide that Wright has played 77.7 percent of the snaps the last two games. Tennessee has had two weeks to prepare for Buffalo. If the coaches have watched any tape, they know Stephon Gilmore and Ronald Darby are tough to beat on the outside. Wright runs over 70 percent of his routes out of the slot. Nickell Robey covers the slot for Buffalo. He’s a diminutive 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. Wright is the Titans’ best receiver by a wide margin, and Robey is the weakest link. The Titans won’t be able to run on the Bills. Wright is a good bet to flirt with 8-10 targets.
Willie Snead at Eagles: Snead has played over 58.7 percent of the snaps the past three weeks and continues to see them rise while Brandon Coleman loses playing time. Snead’s been targeted six times each of the past three games, catching 15 of his 18 targets for 177 yards and a score. He’s been the only semblance of any sort of downfield production in the Saints’ passing attack with Brandin Cooks continuing to be a disappointment. “No. 1” corner Byron Maxwell is battling a sore quad for the Eagles and said he could barely run earlier this week. When he’s been on the field, he’s been burnt to a crisp in coverage. Nolan Carroll plays opposite Maxwell. Snead should see both corners. The Eagles have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to receivers. With the Saints unlikely to have a ton of success on the ground, Drew Brees can take some shots downfield. Saints-Eagles has an over-under of 49.5 points and should be up in pace with both pass games notching big plays.
Allen Robinson at Bucs: I’m a big fan of playing big-bodied, ultra-athletic receivers like Robinson against teams that like to use smaller corners like the Bucs. Especially with RCB Johnthan Banks (knee) likely to be inactive, the Bucs will trot out some combination of Tim Jennings (5’8/186), Mike Jenkins (6’/200), Sterling Moore (5’10/204), and Alterraun Verner (5’10/189) at corner. Robinson is 6’3/210 with a 42-inch vertical. The Bucs are a middle-of-the-pack pass defense on a good day, and while I like the idea of streaming this unit at home against Blake Bortles, I still feel they’re vulnerable to a couple touchdowns. After seeing Josh Norman, Brent Grimes, and Vontae Davis in three of his first four games, Robinson finally gets a breather against Tampa Bay. He’s a lock for at least eight targets and could see close to a dozen while Julius Thomas (hand) is still out.
Golden Tate vs. Cardinals: The Lions’ offense is a mess right now, and Tate has yet to get his season off the ground. After going 105-1,420-5 last season, Tate is on pace to catch 72 passes for a mere 760 yards and has yet to score a touchdown. Calvin Johnson being back healthy has a lot to with it. Tate was a prime regression candidate heading into 2015. Matchups have been extremely tough for Tate, and it won’t get any easier Sunday against Cardinals slot CB Tyrann Mathieu. Mathieu is Pro Football Focus’ No. 3 cover corner out of 104 qualifiers. On top of that, Tate isn’t even playing every snap for the Lions, being removed in certain packages, as OC Joe Lombardi put it. Matthew Stafford isn’t playing well and making a concerted effort to get Megatron the ball. Tate gets a boost being back home on the Ford Field turf, but its not enough for me to feel good about using him.
Michael Crabtree vs. Broncos: It’s hard to like anyone on the Raiders this week outside of Amari Cooper. Cooper is at least going to get his targets against the Broncos’ No. 1 pass defense and has a chance to break one. Crabtree has been fed well with 38 targets through four games, but he’s broke 80 yards just once, has one touchdown, and two games under 40 yards. At less than 100 percent because of an ankle injury suffered last week, I want no part of Crabtree against Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, and Bradley Roby. The Raiders could surprise and take this one at home from the 4-0 Broncos, but Cooper is going to have to do the heavy lifting with Latavius Murray.
James Jones vs. Rams: Jones has been lights-out since his return to the Packers with four touchdowns through four games. The Packers have a juicy 27.75-point team total at home against St. Louis, but this feels like a Randall Cobb, Richard Rodgers, and Eddie Lacy game. The Rams are excellent against the pass, but struggle with slot receivers. Jones is a big-bodied outside receiver who isn’t particularly fast. Rams LCB Trumaine Johnson has the size to match up with Jones and is PFF’s No. 9 cover corner. Janoris Jenkins, opposite Johnson, is a bit more up-and-down in coverage, but he tends to struggle more with speed receivers who blow by him for long touchdowns.
Doug Baldwin at Bengals: Baldwin leads the Seahawks with 23 targets. Eight tight ends and 39 receivers across the league have more than that. This isn’t a voluminous passing attack in Seattle, and Baldwin is barely doing anything with his looks. He’s averaging less than 10.0 YPR and is averaging a meager 1.40 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus. This game will be down in pace. Baldwin runs over 80 percent of his routes out of the slot. Savvy veteran Leon Hall covers the slot for the Bengals. Another year removed from a torn Achilles’, Hall has been stingy in coverage, allowing an 80.7 passer rating and 7.5 YPR against him. Avoid all Seahawks pass catchers.
Start of the Week: Owen Daniels at Raiders: Daniels is just about done at 33 years old (next month), but the matchup is just too good for him. The Raiders have been flat-out destroyed by tight ends through four games, giving up 32 catches for 388 yards and six touchdowns. That comes out to over 26 PPR fantasy points per game. Daniels is probably the worst tight end the Raiders will have seen come Sunday, but he’s a really good bet for a touchdown and his normal 4-6 catches for 40-60 yards. Daniels leads the Broncos in red-zone targets at the season’s quarter pole.
Antonio Gates vs. Steelers: Gates is coming back from his four-game suspension this week and expected to regain his starting spot ahead of Ladarius Green. Green should still play, but this is Gates’ job. Especially with Malcom Floyd (concussion) and Stevie Johnson (hamstring) up in the air for Week 5, Gates could step right back into 6-10 targets and be a factor in the red zone. The Steelers gave up four touchdowns to Patriots tight ends in Week 1 and are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to the position. Make sure Gates is activated before Monday and fire him up.
Delanie Walker vs. Bills: Walker missed Week 2 but came back to catch 7-of-10 targets against the Colts in Week 3. He’s Marcus Mariota’s safety blanket over the middle and is averaging 6.5 targets per game in an offense catered to tight ends by coach Ken Whisenhunt, who played tight end. The Bills have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to the position. Larry Donnell should have had a much bigger day against Buffalo last week, but is so bulky and immobile that he doesn’t get up field as quickly as others. Walker is a plus athlete. Fire him up as a locked-in TE1.
Charles Clay at Titans: Clay has become Tyrod Taylor’s favorite target. His targets have risen from four to five to seven to 13 in Week 4. He gets a big boost with Sammy Watkins (calf) out of the lineup. Watkins may return this week, but Clay should still get “his” with 6-8 targets, especially if the Bills are forced to throw the ball more if LeSean McCoy (hamstring) and Karlos Williams (concussion) can’t play. The Titans have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Clay is a top-five play.
Jimmy Graham at Bengals: Graham is hard to sit, considering the price owners paid for him in drafts, but he’s just not getting the job done. No fault to him; the offense just doesn’t play to get Graham the ball at high volume. He has two eight-target games, but combined for six targets in Seattle’s other two contests. Frustration is surely mounting. The Bengals, with fine coverage safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, have contained tight ends through four weeks. A tight end has yet to score a touchdown against Cincinnati. Graham has become extremely touchdown-dependent.
Gary Barnidge at Ravens: I want to get behind Barnidge just because of his name, but I need to see more. He’s reeled in 12 of his 15 targets the past two weeks for 180 yards and two touchdowns. One of those games was against the Raiders, but Barnidge answered with a 6-75-1 Week 4 against the Chargers. He’s a Josh McCown favorite. The matchup isn’t right this week. The Ravens have allowed just eight total catches for 31 yards and zero touchdowns to tight ends across four games. Inside linebackers C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith, as well as FS Will Hill, are all above-average in coverage.
Larry Donnell vs. 49ers: Donnell is ninth among tight ends in targets with 24, but he’s averaging a pitiful 7.9 YPR. He’s made of concrete with stiff hips and an inability to get upfield. The 49ers have been middle of the road against tight ends, allowing an average of four catches for 41 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game. Donnell will need to find the end zone to be a success.