Chicago’s defense entered the season looking like it could be a league average unit, which would be a major improvement from last year. Then Kyle Fuller sustained a knee injury in training camp. He’s on IR and is likely to miss the entire season. In the team’s Week 2 loss to the Eagles, nose tackle Eddie Goldman (ankle) and linebackers Lamarr Houston (knee) and Danny Trevathan (thumb) all suffered injuries. Houston is done for the season with a torn ACL, while Goldman and Trevathan are expected to miss at least a few more weeks.
The Bears host the Lions, an offense that has clicked in a big way in two of its three games, this Sunday. You already know you’re starting Matthew Stafford and Marvin Jones. A few other Lions belong in your lineups, but we’ll get to them in a bit. The one I want to talk about now is Dwayne Washington. The rookie from, appropriately, Washington deserves your attention this weekend.
Starting Washington may seem like a bit of a reach. This is, indeed, aimed more at owners in deeper leagues, but Washington can be a starter in any format, depending on your roster. He’s a top-30 back for me this week, and that should put him on the radar for most of his owners as a flex play.
Washington got 40 yards on 10 carries in terrible circumstances against the Packers last week. That he remained a part of the gameplan with the Lions trailing by 21 points at halftime bodes well for his short- and long-term future. Theo Riddick also got 10 carries, but he scratched out just nine yards on the ground. Washington looked like the superior runner last week, and it’s entirely possible the Lions view Riddick as too important to their passing game to risk his health as a marginal runner.
The game script could be much improved for Washington Sunday, no matter what the Bears offense is able to accomplish. Chicago’s defense simply doesn’t have much teeth against the run without Goldman. Washington is set to take advantage, while being a sneaky play in both season-long and DFS formats.
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 every Sunday morning beginning at 12:15 pm ET.
Matt Ryan (vs. Carolina)
Ryan is the No. 1 scorer in the fantasy game through three weeks, racking up 72.1 points in standard-scoring leagues. He has been a top-10 quarterback all three weeks, and that’s without the expected contributions from Julio Jones. Carolina’s defense is obviously excellent, but let’s remember that through the first three weeks of the season, it’s seen Trevor Siemian, Blaine Gabbert and Sam Bradford. Ryan presents its toughest test so far. The Broncos and Seahawks of recent years have proved an elite defense can still be king, but good offense has the advantage if the defense is anything short of that standard.
Andy Dalton (vs. Miami)
It has been a slow start to the season for Dalton and A.J. Green, but this should be a week in which they get back on track. The Dolphins are coming off a short week, and though they held a hobbled Russell Wilson and Cody Kessler in check, they were burned by Jimmy Garoppolo, and shouldn’t be much of a match for the Bengals. Byron Maxwell and Xavien Howard are both 6’ 1”, but neither is a true test for Green.
Joe Flacco (vs. Oakland)
We shouldn’t crush the Raiders for getting torched by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, but we also shouldn’t give them credit for slowing down Marcus Mariota, especially without Delanie Walker. Flacco and the Ravens return home after two weeks on the road to take on a defense that has been quite friendly to the pass. This game comes with an over/under of 46 or 47 and Baltimore laying four points. That’s a great implied setup for a quarterback.
Derek Carr (at Baltimore)
Carr put up big numbers in the first two games of the season before struggling against Tennessee last week, and while his efficiency leaves a bit to be desired, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will be able to take advantage of Shareece Wright on Sunday. With Flacco doing work, as well, Carr will have to keep firing to give Oakland a chance at the upset.
Brian Hoyer (vs. Detroit)
Anyone who trusted Hoyer in a superflex league last week had to wait for the production, but it eventually came in the form of 317 yards and two touchdowns. Matthew Stafford should carve up the Bears’ defense—he’s my No. 2 quarterback this week, trailing only Cam Newton—and that’s going to put the onus on Hoyer and the Chicago passing game. Detroit has surrendered the second-most points to quarterbacks this year, with their best game coming in Week 2 when Marcus Mariota got them for 17.6 points. Hoyer projects as a solid QB2 this week.
Dak Prescott (at San Francisco)
Prescott will be going into San Francisco without his best weapon out wide. Dez Bryant’s absence because of a small fracture in his knee significantly limits Prescott’s upside. The rookie has proven himself good enough to help the Cowboys get a win in this game, but it’s unlikely to come with numbers that make him a good fantasy play. Prescott is a low-end QB2 this week.
Russell Wilson (at New York Jets)
Wilson hasn’t been himself since first injuring his ankle against the Dolphins. Now he’s dealing with a knee injury, as well. On top of all that, the Seahawks make a cross-country trip to play a 1 p.m. ET game against the Jets this week. Seattle’s offense isn’t the same when Wilson isn’t a run threat, and it’s hard to imagine him being one on Sunday. This is just too great of a risk to take. I’m playing the likes of Alex Smith and Brock Osweiler over Wilson this week.
Eli Manning (at Minnesota)
Manning is my No. 15 quarterback, so there’s a chance he’s the best option you have. I like him better than Smith, Osweiler, Wilson, Jameis Winston, Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Still, we’ve all seen what this Minnesota defense has done to Cam Newton and Aaron Rodgers over the last two weeks. Mike Zimmer might have the league’s best pass defense on his hands, and Manning is awfully uncomfortable when pressured. The Vikings sacked Newton eight times last week. This doesn’t shape up as a great matchup for Manning.
Blake Bortles (vs. Indianapolis)
I have Bortles ranked 13th at quarterback this week, thanks largely to what should be a decent matchup. There’s no denying, however, that he has looked like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league through three games. As far as the fantasy world goes, he can overwhelm his missteps with volume, but that just hasn’t been the case this season. Add in a tough draw for Allen Robinson against Vontae Davis, and it could be another long day for Bortles and his fantasy owners.
Spencer Ware (at Pittsburgh)
Jamaal Charles is expected to make his 2016 debut on Sunday night when the Chiefs visit the Steelers. Ware’s status as the only fantasy show in town is about to change, but it likely won’t take too serious a hit this week. The Chiefs aren’t likely to feed Charles too many touches in his first game of the season, especially after they played it so cautiously with him coming back from a torn ACL. We could be looking at a headache for Ware and Charles owners next week, but Ware is in good position for
Theo Riddick (at Chicago)
The Bears’ defensive front has been decimated by injuries, most notably to Eddie Goldman (ankle), Lamarr Houston (knee) and Danny Trevathan (thumb). The Lions offense should have its way with Chicago on Sunday, likely in a way that everyone with a key role will thrive. Riddick is going to split carries with Dwayne Washington, but he’s racking up targets by the armful. He already has 19 on the season, and in the team’s first game without Ameer Abdullah, Matthew Stafford threw nine passes to Riddick. A player of his caliber getting a floor of 16 carries plus targets against Chicago’s defense needs to be in fantasy lineups.
Tevin Coleman (vs. Carolina)
Much of what I said about Matt Ryan earlier applies here. The field is so tilted in the favor of offense that if you like a player, you shouldn’t fear matchups against non-elite defenses. Carolina’s defense is good, but it is far from elite. Coleman has had no fewer than 13 touches in a game this season, and is averaging 18 carries plus targets per game. He shouldn’t be faded because of the matchup.
Chris Ivory (vs. Indianapolis)
Ivory ran for just 14 yards on 12 carries in his 2016 debut against the Ravens last week. The Jacksonville offensive line is a serious issue that could limit his value the rest of the season. At the same time, the Colts have been a sieve against the run, and might have the worst group of linebackers in the league. On top of that, Blake Bortles’s struggles this season could make the Jaguars more run-focused. Ivory makes for a suitable low-end RB2 play.
Matt Jones (vs. Cleveland)
I think it’s pretty clear that I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Matt Jones fan. I’m pretty sure the two words I used most to describe him this summer were “slow” and “bad.” Take a look at the running back landscape, though, and you’ll see that those aren’t necessarily disqualifying traits. Jones has a great matchup against a Cleveland defense that should help provide a favorable game script for a running back. I may not love the player, but I think he handles 18 or more touches on Sunday. That makes him an RB2.
Cameron Artis-Payne (at Atlanta)
Let’s stay in the land of favorable game scripts and discuss Artis-Payne. In Carolina’s first game without Jonathan Stewart, the second-year man out of Auburn ran for 47 yards on 12 carries. Fozzy Whittaker handled most obvious passing downs, but Artis-Payne is clearly the lead back while Stewart is out. The next backfield Atlanta slows down will be the first one it’s stopped this year, plus, as I’ve made clear, I think the Falcons are going to put up some points on the Panthers. This is a strong investment game for fantasy owners.
Jamaal Charles (at Pittsburgh)
Charles could make his 2016 debut on Sunday night against the Steelers. Even if he does, his owners have to be patient before using him. First of all, the fact that the Chiefs don’t play until Sunday night means we likely won’t have any concrete information regarding Charles until fantasy owners have had to make all or most of their lineup decisions. Second, it’s hard to imagine the Chiefs giving him a huge workload in his first game, especially with how well Spencer Ware has played.
Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake (at Cincinnati)
With Arian Foster on the shelf last week, Ajayi and Drake spent the afternoon ping-ponging backfield duties. Drake played nine more snaps, got two more carries, and had two targets while Ajayi had none. The latter, however, scored an overtime touchdown to give the Dolphins a win. Neither is a trustworthy play regardless of the opponent, but especially against a Cincinnati defense that just got embarrassed by Trevor Siemian.
Orleans Darkwa (at Minnesota)
If Rashad Jennings is unable to return from his thumb injury this week, Darkwa would be in line to start for the Giants. Unfortunately, that start would come against what might be the league’s best defense. The Vikings have yet to allow a rushing touchdown, and have held backs to 3.07 yards per carry. They gave up two receiving touchdowns to DeMarco Murray, one of which was in garbage time, but nothing else to backs this year. There’s little hope for Darkwa to change that.
T.J. Yeldon (vs. Indianapolis)
Chris Ivory made his Jaguars debut last week, and likely wasn’t quite 100% after missing the first two games of the season because of an illness. He still earned twice as many carries as Yeldon. If that’s the breakdown going forward, it’s going to be tough to start Yeldon in any game where Ivory is healthy, as both his volume and environment will be substandard. Until we see more from Yeldon, he cannot be trusted as a fantasy starter.
Cole Beasley (at San Francisco)
Beasley already has 20 receptions on 25 targets for 213 yards this season, and that was with Dez Bryant on the field all three games. Bryant will miss this week’s game because of a fracture in his knee, freeing up somewhere in the neighborhood of eight or more targets. Jimmie Ward, San Francisco’s slot corner, is out with a quad injury, which only sweetens the deal for Beasley. This isn’t just a PPR or deep-league play. Beasley has standard-league WR2 juice this week.
Sammie Coates (vs. Kansas City)
Antonio Brown always gets his, but he has a tough matchup with Marcus Peters. Eli Rogers is out on Sunday night because of a toe injury. Rogers does all his work out of the slot, but his absence will have an indirect, positive effect on Coates, simply because there should be a handful of free targets. With so much attention paid to Brown, namely in the form of Peters, Coates has a real chance to get loose deep down the field. He’s a sneaky WR3 play.
Brandon Marshall (vs. Seattle)
Marshall was clearly playing at less than 100% in last week’s loss to the Chiefs. That could be the case for him against the Seahawks this week, and Seattle’s defense remains fearsome against the pass. If I have Marshall, however, I’m not benching him. Chances are he’s healthier than we saw him a week ago, and he’s the kind of receiver who can beat any coverage. With the Jets running a three-receiver base offense, he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to make plays. Even in a tough matchup, I can’t fade him in a season-long format. For the record, I won’t be anywhere near him in DFS contests.
Will Fuller (vs. Tennessee)
As I detailed in this week’s Target and Snap Report, Fuller’s rookie year is off to an excellent start beyond the box score. He has quickly turned into an every-down player for the Texans, and his average depth of targets ranks second in the league among receivers with a snap rate of at least 50%. The Titans have allowed a receiver to go for 100 yards in all of their games so far, and have twice surrendered a touchdown to a different receiver. Fuller will get his alongside DeAndre Hopkins on Sunday.
DeVante Parker (at Cincinnati)
In two games this season, Parker has 11 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He has scored double-digit fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues both games, and has a snap rate of 89%. Going back to this week’s Target and Snap Report once more, Miami runs a three-receiver base offense, and isn’t sure what it has in the backfield. The Bengals is a tough matchup on paper, but the Broncos had a ton of success throwing on them last week. Parker is turning into a must-start receiver.
Golden Tate (at Chicago)
It has been a rough start to the year for Tate, with Marvin Jones turning into the No. 1 receiver in Detroit. Tate, meanwhile, is left hunting for scraps, and there haven’t been many. He has 13 catches for 94 yards this season, failing to register in PPR and standard formats. Don’t lose faith, though, especially in a matchup with the Bears. The Bears’ first injury report of the week included both nose tackles, three of four linebackers, a safety, their top corner, and their starting nickelback. Every fantasy-relevant Lion should be started this week.
Tyrell Williams (vs. New Orleans)
The Saints somehow held Julio Jones in check last week, though given what Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman did to them, I’m not sure how much credit they deserve. In the first two games of the season, they allowed the following lines to receivers.
Amari Cooper: 6-137
Michael Crabtree: 7-87
Seth Roberts: 2-19-1
Odell Beckham Jr.: 8-86 (would have been 9-122-1 without a drop by Beckham)
Sterling Shepard: 8-117
Victor Cruz: 4-91
That should be enough argument for all Williams owners to have him in their lineups this week.
Michael Thomas (at San Diego)
Thomas scored his first career touchdown last week, catching seven of his 11 targets for 71 yards and the score. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, Willie Snead is on track to return after missing last week’s game with a toe injury. With Snead back and Coby Fleener finally getting into the mix, Thomas could struggle to net enough targets on Sunday. The fact that this is a late kick in San Diego makes it harder to trust Thomas, too, given the Saints may not say anything about Snead until announcing their inactives.
Tajae Sharpe (at Houston)
I generally like the Titans’ offense this week, not only because J.J. Watt is on IR with a back injury. A lot of it, however, works against Sharpe. First, DeMarco Murray should continue to thrive, especially with Watt on the shelf. That’s going to open running lanes for Marcus Mariota, who I think we’ll see make an impact on the ground for the first time this season. It also owes to the expected returns of Delanie Walker and Kendall Wright. Roll all that up, and it’s hard to trust Sharpe at the always-deep receiver position.
Sterling Shepard (at Minnesota)
I know plenty of you are looking askance at Shepard’s name on the sit side of the ledger. All the rookie has done is catch 16 passes for 233 yard and two touchdowns in his first three games, scoring double-digit points in standard-scoring leagues every week. But remember, as mentioned already, we saw what the Minnesota defense did to Cam Newton and the Carolina passing game last week. Shepard has done almost all his damage from the slot, and Captain Munnerlyn is one of the best slot corners in the league. This is shaping up to be the first down game of Shepard’s career.
Tyler Lockett (at New York Jets)
Lockett is still nursing a knee injury that limited him to one-third of the snaps against the 49ers last week. With both him and Russell Wilson at less than 100%, he can’t be thought of as a fantasy starter. In the cases of Sharpe and Shepard, I can see why certain owners would play them. I do not see any path to a starting lineup for Lockett. I’d play Kevin White, Sammie Coates and Mohamed Sanu over him.
Hunter Henry (vs. New Orleans)
Henry played every snap for the Chargers last week, catching five passes for 76 yards. The game ended when he lost a fumble, but there was more good than bad from the rookie out of Arkansas. They used him in the role that the previously athletic version of Antonio Gates used to handle, and that could be quite lucrative. Henry is locked in as a starter while Gates is out.
Jimmy Graham (at New York Jets)
Two weeks ago, Graham played four-fifths of Seattle’s snaps, the first sure sign that he was back to full strength. Last week, he caught six of his 10 targets for 100 yards and a touchdown. With Tyler Lockett banged up, Graham, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse may be the only reliable weapons in the passing game for Russell Wilson. Graham didn’t suddenly lose his ability when he left New Orleans. He’s once again in the TE1 discussion.
Delanie Walker (at Houston)
This one is pretty simple. Walker is the best pass-catcher at Marcus Mariota’s disposal, and one of the most dangerous fantasy tight ends. If he plays for the Titans, which he should this week, he plays for his fantasy owners.
Zach Miller (vs. Detroit)
Miller broke through for the Bears last week, hauling in eight passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns. He draws a Detroit defense this week that has allowed the most fantasy points to the position this year, surrendering at least one touchdown to a tight end in all three of their games. Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle and Delanie Walker all scored at least 11.3 standard-league points against Detroit. Miller should do the same.
Julius Thomas (vs. Indianapolis in London)
Thomas has showed up for his fantasy owners in his first two games, but got shut down by the Ravens last week, catching two passes for 13 yards. He has a fine matchup with the Colts and their poor linebackers, but Thomas just isn’t someone who commands a starting spot in your lineup. He’s my No. 14 tight end, which places him just outside the TE1 class. I’d rather count on all the guys above, as well as Eric Ebron, Kyle Rudolph, Dennis Pitta and Coby Fleener.
Gary Barnidge (at Washington)
Barnidge turned in a solid performance in Week 1 of the Cody Kessler era, catching five passes for 66 yards and a two-point conversion. One of those passes was from Terrelle Pryor, and while that’s not going to happen every week, the Browns will continue to find ways to get the ball in Pryor’s hands as frequently as possible. Still, with a sudden influx of depth at tight end, it’s hard to trust Barnidge in an offense that doesn’t have much of a ceiling.
Dwayne Allen (at Jacksonville)
Allen hasn’t done much since Week 1, pulling down five receptions for 60 yards in the Colts’ last two games. He has had a second-tier presence in the offense all season, and it’s hard to imagine that changing any time soon. His strong Week 1 looks less and less impressive with every tight end that finds the end zone against the Lions. He’s a fade until further notice.
Defenses to stream
Detroit Lions (at Chicago)
I’m buying the Chicago offense from a fantasy perspective this week, but the unit’s key players are still Brian Hoyer, a rookie running back making his first career start, and a banged-up Alshon Jeffery. Even if they do have a productive day, the Lions are going to force some mistakes.
Washington Redskins (vs. Cleveland)
As long as Cody Kessler is under center, any defense against the Browns will be streamable. Washington has seven sacks and five takeaways this season, and hybrid player Su’a Cravens is turning into the sort of weapon the team hoped he’d be when it used the 53rd overall pick in this year’s draft.
New York Giants (at Minnesota)
Sam Bradford is better than he gets credit for, and Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph are both emerging for the Vikings, but they’re stuck with an Achilles heel up front. Minnesota’s line makes the Vikings ripe for pickings on the defense stream. The improvements to the Giants’ defense have yet to translate to the fantasy world, but that could turn around on Monday night.