Fantasy Football Week 6 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em: Trust in Philip Rivers

I’ve been in the fantasy industry for a quite a while now, going back to the summer of 2005. I know a lot of my colleagues personally, some as friends and others as acquaintances, and know almost everyone who also submits rankings to FantasyPros, the industry’s rankings clearinghouse, at least by reputation. And yet, every now and again my brethren in the industry will do something that surprises me. One of those surprises arrived this week.

Philip Rivers is the No. 15 quarterback? Really? I certainly don’t think so, and some others in the industry are with me, but that is indeed his consensus ranking. That is shocking, and I fear a case of too many people trying to be the smartest person in the room.

Let’s start with some basic facts. Rivers’s worst game of the season came when he threw for 226 yards, 7.53 yards per attempt and two touchdowns against the Rams in Week 3. He has at least 330 yards or three touchdowns in every other game this year. Rivers is the No. 7 quarterback in standard-scoring leagues this season, and has been a top-11 quarterback in three of his five games. Not only does he possess a huge ceiling, but he rarely delivers a dud, no matter the circumstances. That’s bankability you can’t ignore.

There’s some major cognitive dissonance happening here, as well. Melvin Gordon is the No. 2 running back by consensus, while Keenan Allen is ranked 12th among receivers. It’s awfully hard to have a top-two back and top-12 receiver as teammates and be the QB15 in a given week. Even more so when that back has become a real weapon as a pass-catcher, hauling in 28 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns in five games. I don’t understand how one can buy Gordon and Allen, but also fade Rivers.

Much of this has to do with the strength of Cleveland’s defense, which is why I referenced too many people trying to be the smartest ranker in the room. Cleveland does have a fearsome pass rush and a strong secondary led by rookie corner Denzel Ward. The team is ranked second against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA). I’m not going to give them too much credit for shutting down Sam Darnold or Joe Flacco, or road Ben Roethlisberger in the rain, for that matter. They get major points for holding Drew Brees to 243 yards 6.94 YPA and two touchdowns, but the very next week they surrendered 437 yards and four scores to Derek Carr. We can effectively call those a wash.

Offense has such a strong upper hand over defense in the modern NFL that the on-field advantage for the defense has to be overwhelming for it to matter in a fantasy context. Sure, I’m not ranking Rivers as my first or second quarterback this week. But 15th? That suggests he should be on the bench, assuming quarterback resources are spread across your league equally. Cleveland may be a tough matchup, but Rivers should be nowhere near a fantasy bench. You can trust him this week, just as you always can.

With that, let’s get to the rest of Week 6 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.

Quarterbacks

Start

Baker Mayfield, Browns (vs. Chargers)

I wrote about Mayfield’s favorable upcoming schedule in this week’s Target and Snap Report. It all starts on Sunday when the Browns host the Chargers and their 23rd-ranked defense in quarterback aFPA. The Chargers have allowed three of the five quarterbacks they’ve played to score at least 19.8 points in standard-scoring leagues, a group that includes C.J. Beathard. The only two regular fantasy starters they’ve faced, Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff, averaged 27.45 points. Mayfield has been effective in two and a half games this season, throwing for 838 yards, 7.83 YPA, three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (at Falcons)

Winston should get right back into fantasy lineups in his first start of the 2018 season. The Falcons have been dreadful against the pass this year, ranking 27th in quarterback aFPA. They held Nick Foles in check in Week 1, but since then have surrendered 28.6 points to Cam Newton, 40.54 points to Drew Brees, 25.78 points to Andy Dalton, and 22.6 points to Ben Roethlisberger. Add Winston’s great weapons, and Tampa Bay’s terrible defense to the mix, and you get an ideal fantasy setup.

Andy Dalton, Bengals (vs. Steelers)

Dalton had his worst game of the season last week, but don’t let that affect your impression of him this week. The over/under on Steelers-Bengals is 53, and the Steelers rank 26th in quarterback aFPA. This is a great spot for Dalton, and, for that matter, Ben Roethlisberger. This should be a fun game where every possible avenue of investment is explored.

Superflex Special

Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (at Dolphins)

Trubisky is coming off the best game of his career, a 354-yard, six-touchdown effort against the Buccaneers. He and the Bears have had two weeks to prepare for the Dolphins, which will come in handy against a defense that has exceeded expectations this year. Trubisky and Matt Nagy both seem to be getting more comfortable with their new roles this season, though, and that is helping the talent in, and ingenuity of, Chicago’s offense shine through. Trubisky is a strong QB2 this week.

Sit

Before we get into the sits, a quick disclaimer. Quarterback value is easier to find than ever, and with Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford on a bye week, at least two owners in every league are resorting to a backup. Among the 30 starting quarterbacks this week, at least 20 could find their way into winning fantasy lineups. At the same time, I don’t want to sit here and tell you to sit Josh Allen at Houston or Dak Prescott against the Jaguars. Consider this week’s sits more of a recommendation to start at your own risk rather than sit at all costs.

Andrew Luck, Colts (at Jets)

Luck’s surface numbers have been great the last two weeks, and, at the end of the day, it’s surface numbers that win games in fantasy leagues. Still, the parts of his stat line indicative of strong future performance have lagged in both of those games. He needed 62 pass attempts and a full overtime period to get to 464 yards against the Texans two weeks ago. Last week, it took him 59 attempts and a full half of garbage time to get to 365 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots. Luck is throwing for just 6.09 YPA this season, a sign that his arm strength is not all the way back. He’s my No. 15 QB this week.

Alex Smith, Redskins (vs. Panthers)

Smith and the entire Washington offense looked terrible against the Saints last week, with the quarterback throwing for 275 yards, 7.05 YPA, zero touchdowns and one interception, with much of that modest production coming in garbage time. A rushing touchdowns sort of saved his evening from a fantasy perspective, but it was a truly terrible performance witnessed by most of the country with the game on Monday night. Carolina has been league average against quarterbacks this season, but the defense gets a much-needed boost with the return of Thomas Davis from suspension this week. Smith is no more than a low-end QB2.

Derek Carr, Raiders (vs. Seahawks)

Carr had what seemed like a dream matchup with the Chargers a week ago, and then went out and threw for just 268 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 26-10 loss. In his defense, he was efficient, completing 72.7% of his passes for 8.12 YPA, but he’s still making too many mistakes he should’ve grown out of by this point of his career, with his interception sure to go down as one of the worst throws of the season. This isn’t a terrible spot, especially with the Raiders playing at home, but Carr is stuck on the QB2 radar for the time being.

Running Backs

Alfred Morris, Redskins (at Packers)

Philip Rivers wasn’t the only surprise in this week’s FantasyPros consensus rankings. I also diverged significantly from my colleagues on Morris, whom I slotted 15th at running back, but the consensus has barely as an RB2, ranking him 24th at the position. With Matt Breida out because of an ankle injury, Morris is likely to handle somewhere on the order of 75% of the touches out of San Francisco’s backfield this week. The Packers have been about league-average against running backs this season, but that’s almost immaterial in Morris’s case. Any running back who gets the volume likely in Morris’s immediate future is going to be worth playing in all fantasy formats. Kyle Juszczyk will mix in on obvious passing downs, but Morris could have the ball in his hands 20-plus times in this game.

Aaron Jones, Packers (vs. 49ers)

Oh, you know we’re going right back to this well. At this point, it should be relatively obvious that I’m the foremost Jones fan in the fantasy industry. As I wrote in the first linked piece in the previous sentence, it’s long past time for Mike McCarthy to come to his senses, and I think that even he has to realize that at this point. The 49ers rank 23rd in running back aFPA in standard-scoring leagues, and 26th in PPR formats. If Jones gets 15-plus touches in this game, which isn’t too much to ask, he’ll easily put up RB2 numbers. The second-year back out of UTEP has turned 28 touches into 188 yards from scrimmage (6.7 yards per touch) and one score this season.

Alex Collins, Ravens (at Titans)

Collins has been a bit of a disappointment this season, falling short of his expected volume while ceding too many goal-line touches to Buck Allen. The latter is a real concern, but Collins had one of his better games of the season on a per-touch basis last week, running for 59 yards on 12 carries. It was a surprise that the Ravens got him so little work in a game that was within a score for its duration, and it’s likely the team went back to the drawing board after that helped lead to a disappointing 12-9 loss to the Browns. The Titans’ defense is legitimately good and this will be another good test for the Ravens, but the belief here is that this will be a close game and that the coaching staff won’t make the same mistake this week with respect to Collins that it did a week ago. The oddsmakers are expecting a tight game, too, installing the Ravens as three-point favorites on the road.

Nyheim Hines, Colts (at Jets)

Hines is quietly turning himself into a reliable fantasy option, especially in PPR formats. Over the last two weeks, he has 16 catches for 108 yards and two touchdowns, supplemented by 19 carries for 55 yards. Jordan Wilkins has done next to nothing this season and Marlon Mack may miss another game because of his hamstring injury. Hines is likely to get another 15-plus touches this week, and the Jets have been vulnerable against pass-catching backs this season. They rank 16th in running back aFPA in standard-scoring leagues, but 21st in PPR formats.

Sit

Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, Titans (vs. Ravens)

Lewis and Henry have formed the worst type of backfield pairing this season: a duo without a clear division of labor, tied to an offense that doesn’t produce enough for both of them to be starter-worthy on a weekly basis. They’re an easy fade against a Baltimore defense that is atop the running back aFPA charts in a game that has an over/under of 41, tied for second-lowest on the board this week.

Adrian Peterson, Redskins (vs. Panthers)

Peterson is dealing with a strained shoulder suffered in last week’s loss to the Saints. It isn’t expected to cost him any time, but he’ll likely be at less than 100% in a short week when Washington hosts Carolina on Sunday. Admittedly, Peterson has proved me wrong this season, but circumstances are conspiring against him this week. Any player coming off a shoulder injury in a short week would be a tough sell, let alone one who counts on volume and positive game script for his production.

Kenyan Drake, Dolphins (vs. Bears)

I have a hard time trusting the Dolphins facing a Bears defense that is coming off its bye week, giving it ample rest and preparation time coming into this game. No matter if we like it, Adam Gase is going to stick to his guns and maintain a large presence in the Miami offense for Frank Gore. Drake has been relegated largely to pass-catching duty the last three games, getting a total of 14 carries in those contests. Few backs can subsist on targets alone, especially against a defense like Chicago’s. The Bears rank third in running back aFPA in standard-scoring and PPR leagues.

Wide Receivers

Start

Sammy Watkins, Chiefs (at Patriots)

First and foremost, you have to love that the over/under on Chiefs-Patriots is 59. That’s a Big 12 over/under, not an NFL over/under. Even if it doesn’t go over, there will be points on the board in a big way in this one. Outside of a goose egg against Denver, a game in which he left in the first half with a hamstring injury, Watkins has had at least seven targets in three of four games this season. He’s in an explosive, efficient offense that loves to throw it deep, as we covered in this week’s Target and Snap Report. If you have a fantasy-relevant player from this game on your team, he should be in your lineup.

Jamison Crowder, Redskins (vs. Panthers)

I’m bearish on Washington’s offense in general this week, but the Panthers have been giving to PPR-friendly wide receivers this season, and Crowder certainly qualifies. He had four receptions and 55 yards on a season-high eight targets last week, and while those numbers do not jump off the page, they were clearly a step in the right direction. Crowder will spend most of his day matched up with Carolina slot corner Captain Munnerlyn, against whom Pro Football Focus gives him a slight advantage.

Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (at Raiders)

Forget about last week when Baldwin had just one target. That wasn’t a case of him not getting open or still dealing with a knee injury, but rather the vagaries of football. Baldwin came open on a number of routes, including one of David Moore’s touchdowns, during which he was just as open. In fact, Baldwin played 88.3% of Seattle’s snaps last week, tops among receivers on the team, and a jump of 12 percentage points from the previous week, his first game back from his knee injury. He’s healthy and should thrive against an Oakland defense ranked 24th in wide receiver aFPA this season.

DeSean Jackson, Buccaneers (at Falcons)

As we’ve already stated a few times in this column, almost anyone with fantasy relevance playing in Buccaneers-Falcons is going to be worth starting. Jackson has been a monster this season, topping 100 yards in three of four games and scoring three touchdowns on his 17 receptions. The Falcons rank 29th in wide receiver aFPA and have been susceptible to the big play, getting burned for long touchdowns by D.J. Moore and John Ross, and big games by Michael Thomas, Antonio Brown and Tyler Boyd. This matchup sets up perfectly for Jackson, who will spend most of his day matched up with Robert Alford. The Jackson-Alford matchup is the third-most lopsided in favor of the receiver this week, according to Pro Football Focus.

Sit

Kenny Stills, Dolphins (vs. Bears)

Stills has not been the consistent weapon in the Miami offense so many believed he’d be this season, totaling 40 yards or fewer in three of his five games. What’s more, he has had more than five targets just once on the year, which doesn’t give him much opportunity to capitalize on his big-play ability. The Bears have been effective at shutting down the big play this year, thanks largely to a pass rush that does not let such plays develop, and Stills is expected to see a lot of Kyle Fuller, who’s in the midst of another fantastic season.

Robby Anderson, Jets (vs. Colts)

This may seem an unlikely time to recommend Anderson as a sit after he just caught three passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns last week. Look at those numbers again, though. Do you realize how fluky it is to put up 123 yards and two scores on three receptions and five targets, even for a player with established big-play ability like Anderson? The greater takeaway is that he had five or fewer targets for the fourth time this season, and that he was third among Jets’ receivers in snap rate for the third time in four weeks week, trailing Quincy Enunwa and Jermaine Kearse. Anderson is a boom-or-bust player, and unless you’re down multiple starting receivers you shouldn’t have to lean on someone of that nature this week.

Keelan Cole, Jaguars (at Cowboys)

Ready for a slow-paced game? There may be no slower game in the NFL this season than Jaguars-Cowboys. The oddsmakers are reflecting that with an over/under of 40.5, lowest on the board this week. Cole may have played his way back into the good graces of the fantasy community by catching four of 10 targets for 70 yards last week, but there simply aren’t going to be many scoring chances in this one. As boring as the Cowboys are offensively, they are stout defensively, ranking in the top five in wide receiver aFPA in both standard and PPR formats.

Keke Coutee, Texans (vs. Bills)

So long as DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller are both healthy, Coutee’s going to suffer through fickle opportunity in Houston’s offense. Deshaun Watson is expected to play on Sunday, but is dealing with a chest injury that could limit his effectiveness. This, too, has a low over/under, with the oddsmakers settling on 41 once it appeared likely that Watson would start. The Bills have proved a tough nut to crack through the air, ranking sixth in quarterback aFPA, first against receivers in standard leagues, and second against the position in PPR formats.

Tight Ends

Start

David Njoku, Browns (vs. Chargers)

Njoku is keep going to appear in this space until the rest of the fantasy community realizes that he is an easy starter every week. When Baker Mayfield took over as Cleveland’s starter in the team’s first win in more than a year, Njoku caught two passes for 36 yards in one half of action with the rookie. In Mayfield’s first start, Njoku had five receptions for 52 yards. Last week, he set season-highs across the board, catching six of 11 targets for 69 yards. Not only is Njoku an easy starter, he’s going to be a top-five tight end the rest of the season.

Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (at Falcons)

Brate takes back over as Tampa Bay’s starting tight end this week with O.J. Howard nursing a knee injury. Brate has always been one of Jameis Winston’s favorite targets, especially in the red zone, totaling 105 catches for 1,251 yards and 14 touchdowns the previous two seasons. He’s yet another player who’s a slam-dunk start in what should be one of the highest-scoring games of the week.

Ricky Seals-Jones, Cardinals (at Vikings)

At this point in sports-talk evolution, process over results is a tenet, not a theory. The one thing that does bother me about process-over-results zealots is that they often refuse to reconsider their process when the results don’t work out, all too sure that their process was, and still is, correct. You could accuse me of doing that here after Seals-Jones got blanked against the 49ers last week, but I don’t think that’s the case. I’m going to trust the process for at least one more week, given that Seals-Jones got six targets in that game. If he gets shut out again this week, then I’ll reconsider my process with respect to the Arizona tight end, but I like his chances to produce a low-end TE1 week against the Vikings.

Sit

Austin Hooper, Falcons (vs. Buccaneers)

It may seem silly to sit Hooper in what should be a high-scoring game after he had nine catches, 12 targets and 77 yards last week. Allow me to explain. First, as we discussed last week, it’s hard to find interesting, relevant sits at tight end. The position is a mess, and you don’t need me to tell you not to play Ian Thomas. There are stronger arguments for starting than sitting the top-20 tight ends, Hooper included. We don’t want to bore you, though, so we need to find compelling sits, and that’s part of why Hooper is here. Second, Hooper remains a tough sell in an offense that is going to feature Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu. Having said all that, Hooper is my No. 14 tight end this week, one spot behind Seals-Jones.

Vance McDonald, Steelers (at Bengals)

At No. 15, you’ll find McDonald. Why do I have him just on the wrong side of the start/sit divide? Like Hooper, I don’t trust a player like this in an offense with so many established stars. Antonio Brown, James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster all command such a large share of the offense, that it’s hard for McDonald to get a target in edgewise. Give me someone like Seals-Jones, who I’m confident will get five targets, over someone like McDonald, who admittedly has a higher ceiling, but may not see more than a target or two all game.

Geoff Swaim, Cowboys (vs. Jaguars)

Seriously, this is what this position has come to this season. We’re talking about Geoff Swaim and Vance McDonald as viable starting options. Swaim is the starter in Dallas, totaling nearly a 90% snap rate this season. That’s enough to place him on the fantasy radar at the tight end position. Despite all that time on the field, he has 14 catches for 159 yards and a touchdown this season. Unless you want to bet on him scoring a touchdown against what’s still the best pass defense in the league, you should go in another direction.

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