Fantasy football Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: How to set your lineups for Week 3

The Week 3 start-or-sit landscape was thrown into flux early in Week 2. The first running back to leave a game last week with an injury was Jonathan Stewart. About nine hours later, Adrian Peterson was the last. In between, five other backs who would typically start had to depart due to injury. Peterson, Danny Woodhead and Ameer Abdullah are done for the season, and while none of the other four suffered that fate, they are all expected to sit this week.

That has led to some interesting names on the right side of the start/sit ledger at running back this week. Below, we’ll help you make the tough borderline decisions at every position.

Be sure to check back with our start/sit column from the time it debuts on Thursday all the way through to kickoff on Sunday. As new information becomes available, we’ll update the column to reflect the landscape as it is at that moment. You’ll also be able to find start/sit advice from us in the form of our weekly rankings and our Facebook Live chat on Sunday beginning at 12:15 pm ET.

Thursday Night Football: Stream Patriots vs. Texans live in prime time on SI.com

Quarterbacks

Start

Ryan Tannehill (at Cleveland)

Jump aboard the Tannehill Express as it heads to Cleveland. That’s right, it’s officially the Tannehill Express after what he did in the no-huddle against the Patriots last week. When the Dolphins went almost exclusively without a huddle, he connected on 27 of his 34 pass attempts for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Tannehill has pulled the rug out on us before, but the passing attack may have turned a corner last week, especially with DeVante Parker going for 108 yards on eight grabs.

Philip Rivers (at Indianapolis)

Rivers and the Chargers looked good in the first game without Keenan Allen (and mostly without Danny Woodhead), and that bodes well in what should be a great matchup on Sunday. The Colts defense has been unable to slow down either the Lions or Broncos, and the Chargers have a lot more vertical ability than either of those teams. You may not have expected Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams to be the guys carrying the load at the opposite ends of Rivers’s passes, but they’re more than capable.

Derek Carr (at Tennessee)

Don’t blame Derek Carr for Oakland’s loss last week. All he did was complete more than three-quarters of his passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. The Raiders defense was supposed to be the team’s breakout unit this year, but perhaps the offense deserved that attention. The Titans defense is vastly improved over last year, and has done excellent work against the Vikings and Lions in its first two games, but Oakland brings a different level of firepower.

Marcus Mariota (vs. Oakland)

On the other side of that game, Mariota should be able to have his cleanest performance of the year. He bullied his way to decent fantasy games in Weeks 1 and 2, but it has been far from pretty. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, meanwhile, have torched Oakland’s defense. Oakland has great athleticism in the middle of the defense that could curb Mariota’s rushing upside, but he should be able to attack this group through the air.

**Superflex special**

Brock Osweiler (at New England)

I’m not playing Osweiler in a traditional one-quarterback league, but I’ve seen enough of the Houston passing game, thanks in large part to the emergence of Will Fuller, to trust Osweiler as a QB2 this week. With Jacoby Brissett under center and LeGarrette Blount running well, I think the Patriots will do what they can to slow the game down. Even without the Patriots playing along, though, Osweiler can do some real damage with Fuller joining DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller as a legitimate weapon.

Sit

Russell Wilson (vs. San Francisco)

Remember, our start/sit recommendations are based on quarterbacks finishing in the top 12 at the position for the week. There’s a chance Wilson is the best option you have available, but I do not view him as a top-12 quarterback in Week 3. The loss to the Rams last week really isn’t too concerning. Russell’s complete inability to be a run threat is. That’s what makes this offense go, and without it, Russell isn’t anywhere near the fantasy star we expect him to be. I’m putting him on my bench until I see proof of that, assuming I have another palatable option. He is, however, my No. 14 QB, and I’d play him over the next two guys.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (at Kansas City)

Fitzpatrick and the Jets passing game looked unstoppable against the Bills last week, even though Matt Forte hogged most of the touchdown glory. The Kansas City defense is a different beast, especially at Arrowhead. Brandon Marshall (knee) and Eric Decker (shoulder) are both dealing with injuries, and while the receivers are expected to play, having them at less than 100% would be terrible news for Fitzpatrick. He’s never a terrible play because of those receivers and the potency of the Jets offense, but this week he falls outside the top 12.

Matthew Stafford (at Green Bay)

Stafford has found a lot of success under Jim Bob Cooter, playing largely in a risk-free, dink-and-dunk passing game. Cooter had already taken over as the Detroit offensive coordinator before the team’s two games with Green Bay last year. Stafford threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns against one pick, but the Packers made him work for everything, allowing just 6.33 yards per attempt. Give Dom Capers another chance to scheme against this offense and he’s going to wreak havoc. Stafford is still uncomfortable against pressure, and while Cooter’s offense works to counteract that by getting the ball out quick, the bet here is Capers gets the best of round three.

Related: NFL Week 3 Power Rankings: Impressive Texans on the rise as Colts keep tumbling

Running backs

Start

Christine Michael (vs. San Francisco)

You’re going to notice a familiar theme about the backs listed in the start section. They all got a boost because of injuries suffered last week. Michael has run the ball effectively this season, picking up 126 yards on 25 carries. He also had three catches for 26 yards against the Rams last week. With Thomas Rawls likely out this week, Michael could be in for a major workload. He has RB1 upside and a top-15 floor.

Jerick McKinnon (at Carolina)

McKinnon’s moment has arrived. The third-year pro out of Georgia Southern will start in place of the injured Adrian Peterson, with reports out of Minnesota suggesting he’ll handle somewhere in the neighborhood of 65% of the carries. Combine that with a target share near or at 100%, and he should have about 18 carries plus targets against the Panthers. It’s a tough matchup, but McKinnon’s athleticism is off the charts. Given the overall carnage at the position, he projects as an RB2.

Related: Fantasy football Week 3: Player rankings for every position

Charles Sims (vs. Los Angeles)

Don’t pay too much attention to Dirk Koetter’s insistence that Jacquizz Rodgers also will be involved while Doug Martin (hamstring) is out. That may be the case, but Sims should handle a workload resembling that of a typical starter. In fact, Tampa Bay really doesn’t need to change anything about the offense. Sims’s skill set allows him to step into the Martin role, while Rodgers can fill in for what Sims typically does. Sims is well worth starting this week, but with Martin due back in about a month, the short-term starter is a strong sell-high candidate.

Theo Riddick (at Green Bay)

Riddick is one of the trickiest players to value going forward. His role can’t help but increase with Ameer Abdullah (foot) done for the season, but the Lions have shown us that they don’t trust him as an every-down back, and that’s why I’m not penciling him in as a locked-in fantasy starter. His elite receiving skills give him an attractive floor, though, and if Abdullah’s absence grants him eight or nine carries per game, he’ll be in the RB2 and flex mix every week. That’s where he fits in against the Packers in Week 3.

Sit

Rashad Jennings (vs. Washington)

There’s just no way you can trust Jennings after what we’ve seen from him the first two weeks. He was pedestrian against the Cowboys in Week 1, and downright awful against the soft New Orleans defense last week. He was outsnapped and outcarried by Shane Vereen, a development that completely torpedoes his volume-based value. Desperation is all that could steer Jennings into a typical fantasy lineup this week.

Isaiah Crowell (at Miami)

There may not be a greater fantasy impostor in the league right now than Crowell. In Week 1, 40 of his 62 yards came on the final three plays of the game with Philadelphia up by 19 and less than interested in playing actual defense. He broke an 85-yard touchdown run last week, a fluky play against a loaded front. Add Cody Kessler to the mix and it could get really ugly for the Cleveland running game, especially if Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins are able to build a big lead.

Related: Week 3 Waiver Wire: Look no further than Baltimore to replace your injured back

Ryan Mathews (vs. Pittsburgh)

Don’t be fooled by Mathews’s three touchdowns. There’s real reason to be concerned about him for the rest of the year. Darren Sproles is going to be significantly involved in the offense all season, hogging targets while stealing away a noticeable number of carries. The one thing Mathews has going for him is a stranglehold on the work inside the 10, but he’s ceding a lot of would-be yardage elsewhere. Pittsburgh has done a great job limiting the run in its first two games, making Mathews a sneakily bad play in Week 3.

Fozzy Whittaker (vs. Minnesota)

This week is not last week. Don’t chase the points with Whittaker. He was pressed into action after Jonathan Stewart left with a hamstring injury and played well, running for 100 yards on 16 carries. Unfortunately for his backers, Ron Rivera said Cameron Artis-Payne will handle a larger share of the workload with Stewart on the shelf. Whittaker may get a few more carries than he usually does, but not enough to make him a relevant fantasy player this week.

Wide receivers

Start

DeVante Parker (vs. Cleveland)

Well hello, DeVante Parker. That was quite the show you put on in the second half last week. Ready to do it again? Since I’m not actually talking to Parker, I’ll go ahead and answer for and say that yes, he is ready to do it again on Sunday. There’s no doubting his WR1 talent, and we saw that on display against the Patriots last week. His work ethic has come into question, but that’s all that can stop him from developing into a locked-in fantasy starter. No one in the Cleveland secondary is equipped to slow him down.

Stefon Diggs (at Carolina)

Just in case you thought that Diggs hadn’t yet attained the matchup-proof label, here’s your confirmation. Diggs looked the part of a true breakout receiver last week, hauling in nine passes for 182 yards and a score. In just two weeks, he has done seemingly everything a receiver can, beating coverage deep, on routes run toward the sideline, and on shallow crossers. No matter the defense, he’s going to find his way. Plug him into your lineup for good.

Will Fuller (at New England)

In two career games Fuller has:

  • Two 100-yard games.
  • A place in the record books next to DeSean Jackson.
  • 211 yards.
  • One touchdown.
  • Two 35-plus-yard catches.
  • One drop that would have been an 81-yard touchdown.

In other words, the rookie is a nightmare for defensive backs to keep in front. It’s not going to be this easy for Fuller every single week, but he has forced his way into Houston’s usage tree, alongside DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller. That’s going to make him a player worthy of starting in most fantasy leagues, more often than not. Don’t forget what Ryan Tannehill did to the Patriots last week, with both Parker and Jarvis Landry going off for big games.

Tyrell Williams (at Indianapolis)

Melvin Gordon is having a breakout out before our eyes, and Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead are out for the year with torn ACLs, but Philip Rivers is still Philip Rivers. He’s going to chuck that ball a lot every week, and a majority of those passes are going to be in the direction of Travis Benjamin and Williams. Volume won’t be a problem, and Williams showed what he can do with the ball in his hands when he turned a simple crossing route into a 44-yard touchdown last week. Add in his size (6’4”, 205 pounds) and matchup, and it’s easy to see why you want him in your lineup.

Related: Target report: Mike Evans firmly in WR1 position after matchup with Cardinals

Sit

Randall Cobb (vs. Detroit)

Cobb has gone 16 straight games without topping 100 yards. He has gone eight games without a touchdown. Over that eight-game window, he has 43 catches for 375 yards, which comes out to an average of 4.69 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. He hasn't posted double-digit fantasy points since Nov. 8 of last year. Until further notice, he belongs on your bench.

Demaryius Thomas (at Cincinnati)

In this week’s Target and Snap Report, I detailed why Thomas’s numbers last week obscure the reality that he’s in trouble with Trevor Siemian under center. The harsh reality is that a quarterback who cannot push the ball downfield, coupled with Denver’s strong run game and elite defense, curbs what should be limitless upside, based on Thomas’s pure ability. Cincinnati features some of the strongest perimeter defense in the league. It’s going to be a long afternoon for Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.

Julian Edelman (vs. Houston)

This is the sit call that has the best chance to burn me. It doesn’t require an elite quarterback to take advantage of what Edelman does well, and his best skills—route running, clearing defensive backs at the top of his breaks and finding soft spots in zones—never slump. Still, I’m having trouble trusting Jacoby Brissett, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bill Belichick is, too. This has the feel of a game the Patriots slow down with LeGarette Blount and try to keep in the high-teens or low-20s. The Patriots are reportedly preparing Edelman as the backup quarterback, and it would be quite Belichickian for Edelman to post a 20-point day throwing the ball, but it’s hard to view him as a top-30 receiver this week.

Golden Tate (at Green Bay)

If the Packers are able to get Matthew Stafford off-schedule in the manner described above, it’s going to trickle down to his receivers. Tate is off to a frustratingly slow start this year, with Marvin Jones looking like the true No. 1 receiver in Detroit. Stefon Diggs burned the Packers last week, but Tate is not that kind of receiver. Green Bay also did a good job against Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in Week 1, at least in part by making Blake Bortles uncomfortable with the blitz. That same script is too easy to see coming for the Lions this weekend.

Related: Replacing Peterson, Buy on Floyd and Russell, Sell on C.J. Anderson and Wallace

Tight ends

Start

Dennis Pitta (at Jacksonville)

Returning to the field healthy has been an odyssey for Pitta, and it was great to see him not only playing, but also thriving last week. He caught nine passes for 102 yards, marking the first time he surpassed 100 yards in a game since the final weeks of the 2012 season. Pitta was on his way to becoming a fantasy mainstay before injuries cost him most of the last three years, and he certainly looked like a true TE1 last week. Those who claimed him off the waiver wire will want to get him right into their lineups on Sunday.

Jason Witten (vs. Chicago)

The Bears haven’t really faced a true threat at the tight end position this season, starting the year against the Texans before hosting the Eagles, who were without Zach Ertz last week. Trey Burton, however, got them for 49 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, which has to bode well for Witten. The Bears will be without Danny Trevathan, Pernell McPhee and Eddie Goldman, at the very least, on Sunday night. Dak Prescott and the entire Dallas offense should exploit their absences.

Dwayne Allen (vs. San Diego)

Travis Kelce and Julius Thomas have combined for 10 catches and 145 yards against the Chargers this year, with both topping the 70-yard mark. With Donte Moncrief out 4 to 6 weeks because of a shoulder injury, Allen should take on a larger role in the Colts passing game. He grades as a low-end TE1 this week.

Sit

Gary Barnidge (at Miami)

Cleveland giveth, and Cleveland taketh away. Barnidge was set to reprise his role as a top-five tight end with Josh McCown back at the helm, but now that the quarterback is out for the foreseeable future with a shoulder injury, Barnidge is back on the fringes of the starting discussion. Until we see something positive from Cody Kessler, it’s hard to trust anyone tied to the Browns passing game.

Kyle Rudolph (at Carolina)

Rudolph has had a couple of strong games this season, playing himself back onto the same fringes of the starting discussion where Barnidge fell to after McCown’s injury. Rudolph is a better play than Barnidge this week, but still not a top-12 option. The best news for him is that he has had eight targets in both games, and that sort of volume is going to make him a viable starter more often than not, especially at what has become a shallow tight end position. The matchup with Carolina, however, knocks him on the wrong side of the border this week.

Coby Fleener (vs. Atlanta)

You just know that after months of hype, followed by weeks of troubling information coming from Saints training camp, all punctuated by two terrible games to start the regular season, Fleener is going to go off when everyone least expects it. If that’s your logic for playing him, though, you might want to find a hobby other than fantasy football. Fleener had a dream matchup last week against the Giants, and caught two passes for 29 yards. It’s likely that Michael Thomas starts getting a longer look from Drew Brees, and that will cut directly into Fleener’s share of the passing game. Stay away from him this week.

Related: You Want the Truth?

Defenses to stream

Miami Dolphins (vs. Cleveland)

Cody Kessler making his first career start? The Browns on their third starting quarterback of the season in three games? A Miami defense that has looked better than expected and vastly improved from last year’s letdown? Oh yeah, this is the perfect stream candidate for Week 3. Grab the Dolphins if you still can.

New York Giants (vs. Washington)

The improved Giants defense is one of the stories of the first two weeks this season. It held Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in check on the road in Week 1, and then limited Drew Brees to 263 yards, 5.98 YPA and one touchdown a week ago. Kirk Cousins’s surface numbers this season look fine, but anyone who has watched Washington has seen a quarterback woefully off the mark. The Giants should take advantage.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Los Angeles)

When in doubt, stream a defense from a team that is playing at home and favored to win. It’s all the better if that defense happens to be going up against a potentially incompetent passing game. The Buccaneers are laying 5.5 points at home and have the pleasure of facing Case Keenum and the Rams. That’s both “when in doubt” boxes checked.

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