Remember how the Raiders’ defense was supposed to join the ranks of the elite this season? The regular season has a way of making our preseason touts feel like they were a lifetime ago in a matter of weeks.
The Raiders have allowed the third-most points per game to quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues. They’ve given up at least 20 points to the opposing QB in four games, and at least 26.8 three times. Only the Falcons, Lions and Browns—all of which are also in the top five in points allowed to quarterbacks—have surrendered more than Oakland’s 12 passing touchdowns. The Raiders’ 8.85 yards per attempt against is the second highest in the league, with only the Jets (9.2) allowing more YPA.
Enter Alex Smith. Smith has had a couple of big games this season, spurred on by the fact that the Chiefs have had to throw more than we’ve typically seen from them under Andy Reid. Smith had 363 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and another score on the ground in Week 1 against the Chargers. Three weeks later in Pittsburgh, Smith threw for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a blowout loss. Smith doesn’t exactly get the fantasy juices flowing, but he has proved time and again that if he’s put in a friendly spot, he will take advantage. That’s exactly where he finds himself this week.
The best receiver Oakland has held in check this season was Mike Wallace (four catches, 44 yards), but they let Steve Smith go for eight receptions, 111 yards and a touchdown in the same game. Meanwhile, check out what some other receivers have done against them.
Brandin Cooks: six catches, 143 yards, two touchdowns
Willie Snead: nine catches, 172 yards, one touchdown
Julio Jones: five catches, 106 yards, one touchdown
Tyrell Williams: five catches, 117 yards, one touchdown
Travis Benjamin: seven catches, 117 yards
The Raiders are basically the anti-Broncos, as we’ll see a little later in this column. This is a team that’s going to slow down Jeremy Maclin? I don’t think so. Smith should also have a fully functioning Jamaal Charles at his disposal this week, which raises the overall ceiling of the Chiefs’ offense. Add it all up, and Smith is an easy QB1 this week. He’s my No 10 quarterback, and I’m considering pushing him higher by Sunday.
Smith is just one player I’m starting with confidence. Let’s get to the rest of my start and sit calls for Week 6.
Marcus Mariota (vs. Browns)
Mariota has come up small in a few great matchups this season, but Cleveland is likely his softest test of the year. The Browns have allowed the fifth-most points per game to quarterbacks, surrendering at least 18.2 points to the QB in all five of their games. That’s a great floor, and one that Mariota should stand on this week. Remember, he’s coming off his best game of the season, throwing for three touchdowns and running for another against the Dolphins last week.
Blake Bortles (at Bears)
Bortles has been a bit uneven this year, and the Bears haven’t been a doormat against the pass, allowing 16.84 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Still, this sets up nicely for Bortles and the Jaguars, who have been off since their Week 4 win over the Colts in London. The Bears have been carved up by Dak Prescott and Andrew Luck in two of their last three games, and this game is expected to play into the high-40s.
Brock Osweiler (vs. Indianapolis)
It’s not possible for a quarterback to look much worse than Osweiler did against the Vikings last week. He has been up and down—mostly down—this season, and is curbing the production of both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Luckily, the Colts are at the opposite end of the defensive spectrum from the Vikings. They’ve surrendered the eighth-most points per game to quarterbacks, allowing Matthew Stafford, Blake Bortles and Brian Hoyer to all rack up at least 23.8 points. Vontae Davis was back for the games against Jacksonville and Chicago, too, so they’ve struggled even with their best defender back on the field.
Carson Wentz (at Redskins)
Washington has been surprisingly effective against quarterbacks, limiting them to 16.44 points per game and shutting all but Ben Roethlisberger out of the top 15 at the position. Meanwhile, Washington has been terrible against the run, which could tilt the Eagles’ offense toward Ryan Mathews. Wentz is a fine QB2 in superflex leagues, but don’t trust him as anything more than a top-18 option this week.
Matt Ryan (at Seahawks)
Ryan was excellent from a real-life perspective in last week’s win at Denver, but that made him just QB17. Seattle’s passing defense might be even better than Denver’s. The Seahawks have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks on the year. Ryan was most effective last week when targeting Tevin Coleman, and the Seahawks have better personnel at linebacker and safety to handle the second-year back out of Indiana. Ryan is no more than a decent QB2 this week.
Philip Rivers (vs. Broncos)
It’s remarkable how Rivers has been able to hold everything together in San Diego despite the injuries, but this is a good week to bet on the other shoe dropping. The Broncos have allowed the seventh-fewest points per game to quarterbacks and the fewest to receivers. The Chargers simply don’t have the weapons to challenge Denver’s secondary in a meaningful way. Rivers is going to struggle on Thursday night.
Kirk Cousins (vs. Philadelphia)
Has any player in the league been more “meh” than Cousins? Sure, he has been fine, ranking No. 13 among quarterbacks in points per game, but he has failed to score 20 points in a single week and twice has been south of 15 points. The Eagles, meanwhile, have allowed the second-fewest points per game to quarterbacks, holding three of their four opponents, including Ben Roethlisberger, to 10.3 points or fewer.
Terrance West (at Giants)
One week after running for 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, West piled up 95 yards on just 11 totes. The shockingly low carry number likely was the final straw that cost Marc Trestman his job as the Baltimore offensive coordinator. Marty Mornhinweg is now in that chair, and you can bet that he’ll feature West a whole lot more this week. The Giants have been stout against the run this season, but it’s time for Baltimore to feed West, who could turn into a true workhorse.
James White (vs. Bengals)
In Tom Brady’s first game back, White garnered a season-high snap rate and caught four passes for 63 yards. He played more snaps than LeGarrette Blount for the first time all season, something we can expect to develop into a trend. The Bengals allowed Matt Forte to catch five passes for 59 yards in Week 1, and DeAngelo Williams got them for four receptions for 38 yards and a touchdown the following week. White stands as a solid RB2 this week.
T.J. Yeldon (at Bears)
Yeldon looked like a different back against the Colts two weeks ago, running for 71 yards on 14 carries and catching four passes for 46 yards. Chicago’s defense is better than the one Yeldon saw in Jacksonville’s last game, but it’s not exactly a shutdown unit. Most importantly, Yeldon seemed to wrest the primary back duties from Chris Ivory in the win over the Colts. Yeldon can be trusted as an RB2 in most formats this week.
Tevin Coleman (at Seahawks)
The matchup isn’t ideal, and Coleman isn’t going to thrive every single week. Still, the fact remains that he’s too explosive and too important a piece in the Atlanta offense for him to be a total miss. The Falcons will try to get him favorable matchups as a receiver, as they did with success against the Broncos last week. Even against Seattle, there’s no way I’m sitting Coleman knowing that he’s a good bet to get a floor of 12 combined carries and targets.
Chris Ivory (at Bears)
Ivory’s season has been slow thanks in large part to an illness that cost him the first two weeks of the season, and a schedule that included a trip to London in Week 4, followed by a Week 5 bye. What’s most troubling, though, is that T.J. Yeldon seems to be garnering a larger share of the work out of the backfield. At this point, if you’re starting Ivory you have to hope he scores a touchdown, otherwise he’ll bust. That’s not someone I want in my lineup.
Darren Sproles (at Redskins)
Sproles is a fine play if you’re devoid of options and reaching for someone with enough of a ceiling to justify being on a fantasy roster. The floor is just so low for him. Games like last week, where he had 45 yards rushing and 23 receiving, are the rule, not the exception. The matchup with Washington is great for Ryan Mathews, the team’s primary runner, but nowhere near as good for Sproles, who does almost all of his damage as a receiver.
Duke Johnson (at Titans)
Last week’s game against the Patriots should have been a perfect script for Johnson. New England got out to a huge lead early, was in command the whole way, and ultimately won by 20 points. That’s exactly what you want for your passing-down back. Johnson got just three targets in the game, catching two of them for 21 yards. If he isn’t part of the game plan in those circumstances, when will he be? Johnson shouldn’t be anywhere near the start radar and, in fact, can be dropped if you need to make a move elsewhere.
Jeremy Hill (at New England)
Hill has rushed for fewer than 3.5 yards per carry in four of Cincinnati’s five games this season and has failed to top 40 yards rushing in three of those contests. He has all of three receptions on the season, and 40% of his fantasy production has come via the touchdown. What’s more, he’s dealing with a shoulder injury that could have him at less than full strength this week. The Patriots have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this season, and if their offense is able to get going (and how will it not?), Giovani Bernard will likely be more of a factor for the Bengals than Hill.
Will Fuller (vs. Colts)
Fuller and the Texans should have a much easier time against the Colts this week than they did against the Vikings last week. There’s an identifiable WR3 floor against this Colts defense for a player with Fuller’s talent. Vontae Davis will also likely spend most of his day matched up with DeAndre Hopkins, giving Fuller the easier assignment of Houston’s receivers.
John Brown (vs. Jets)
The Jets have been absolutely dreadful against the pass this season, allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to receivers. They’ve been burned for huge touchdowns by A.J. Green, Marquise Goodwin, Greg Salas, Tanner McEvoy and Sammie Coates in five games. Brown is just the sort of player who can get behind this defense, and he has taken over as the No. 2 receiver in Arizona behind Larry Fitzgerald. Anyone who owns him should be starting him with confidence this week given that Carson Palmer is set to return from his concussion.
Michael Thomas (vs. Panthers)
Thomas has gradually taken on a larger role in the New Orleans offense. He got 11 targets combined in Weeks 1 and 2, then netted 20 in Weeks 3 and 4. He has earned Drew Brees’s trust in the red zone, scoring a touchdown from inside the five-yard line in both of the Saints’ previous two games. That’s a money area for a player who measures 6' 3" and 212 pounds. Carolina’s secondary is a shell of what it used to be, and the Saints’ passing game is nearly unstoppable at home. Get Thomas active on Sunday.
Mike Wallace (at Giants)
The Ravens have already ruled Steve Smith out for Week 6 with an ankle injury. Even with Breshad Perriman starting to make plays in the offense, Wallace likely takes over as Joe Flacco’s top option in the passing game. He has been relatively quiet since the first two weeks of the season, but he has a line on 10 targets on Sunday. That sort of volume against a banged-up Giants secondary should translate to, at the very least, WR3 numbers.
Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams (vs. Broncos)
Here’s what the Broncos have been able to do against some big-name receivers this season.
T.Y. Hilton: four catches, 41 yards
A.J. Green: eight catches, 77 yards
Mike Evans: five catches, 59 yards
Julio Jones: two catches, 29 yards
Kelvin Benjamin did get them for 91 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, but the Broncos haven’t surrendered a thing to receivers since halftime of their opening night win over the Panthers. Benjamin and Williams aren’t likely to break the deep freeze the Broncos have put on receivers this season.
Allen Hurns (at Bears)
Hurns has yet to catch more than five passes or top 80 yards in a game this season. Twice he has had five or fewer targets, and he’s averaging just 6.75 targets per game. Chicago’s defense has been competent this season, holding DeAndre Hopkins, Dez Bryant and Marvin Jones in check. You shouldn’t be at all worried about Allen Robinson, but Hurns projects as no more than a mid-level WR4 on Sunday.
Chris Hogan (vs. Bengals)
I’ve seen some rankers projecting big things for Hogan this week, and I think that’s buying a little bit too much into what they saw a week ago. Yes, with Tom Brady back at the helm, Hogan is certainly relevant in all fantasy formats. At the same time, he’s no better than the fourth option in the passing game. He’s Brady’s primary deep threat, but little else. There are going to be plenty of clunkers mixed in with the occasional big game, simply because of the nature of his role in the offense. Hogan is the sort of player you’re happy to turn to when you’re hit by injuries or bye weeks, but not someone you want to rely on with consistency.
Hunter Henry (vs. Denver)
Jump aboard the Henry bandwagon with me, where we fear no defense or Antonio Gates. Tight end is a bit of a wasteland, and Henry has produced for three straight weeks, which just happen to be the same three games that he has had a meaningful role in the Chargers’ offense. You’re going to look that gift horse in the mouth because of a bad matchup? Henry played 2.5 times as many snaps as Gates last week, and this team has had so many injuries that it can’t afford to sit either tight end.
Zach Miller (vs. Jaguars)
Miller has at least a touchdown or 70 yards in Chicago’s last three games. During that time, he has totaled 18 receptions, 20 targets, 182 yards and three scores, which comes out to 12.07 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. The Jaguars have held Antonio Gates, Dennis Pitta and Dwayne Allen in check, but Miller should be locked in as a starter on merit alone. That this game has an over/under of 47.5 only makes him more attractive.
Coby Fleener (vs. Panthers)
Fleener went for seven receptions, 109 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons in Week 3. In the Saints’ three other games, he has six catches for 54 yards. At tight end, though, you need to look for something to trust, and you can trust the New Orleans offense at home. Panthers-Saints has the highest over/under on the board at 53. I’m not playing Fleener over Henry, Miller, Julius Thomas or Martellus Bennett, but I do like him better than all the other borderline TE1/2 options.
Dennis Pitta (at Giants)
Pitta is staying healthy, and that’s great news. Since going for 102 yards against the Browns in Week 2, though, he has a total of 16 receptions for 118 yards in three games, which translates to fewer than four points per game in standard-scoring leagues. There simply isn’t much upside here. Pitta is no more than a mid-level TE2 option.
Jason Witten (at Packers)
Witten is on the field for every single Dallas play, but he’s as much the team’s sixth offensive lineman as he is the tight end. He has fewer than 60 yards in four of their five games and is averaging just 4.64 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. At this stage of his career, he’s more important to the Dallas run game than its passing attack, and that makes him almost irrelevant in fantasy leagues.
Jesse James (at Miami)
James has scored 30.8 points in standard-scoring leagues this year, and 18 of those points have come on his three touchdowns. Given the shallowness of the tight end pool and the prolific offense in which he plays, James is a more viable play than guys at other positions who are completely touchdown-dependent. Fantasy owners still don’t want to lean on touchdown-or-bust players unless they are completely out of other options.
Baltimore Ravens (at Giants)
The Ravens have quietly put together a solid fantasy season on defense thus far, scoring the 11th most points in standard-scoring leagues. They have 10 sacks and eight takeaways, a mix that bodes well against a Giants offense that is struggling to keep Eli Manning away from pressure. Even though the Ravens are road underdogs, which isn’t typically want we want from a streaming defense, they have the horses to go into New Jersey and slow down the Giants.
Chicago Bears (vs. Jaguars)
As we’ve discussed a few times in this space, the Bears have at least proved they’re mostly competent on defense. Blake Bortles has been far from steady this season, throwing six interceptions in four games, and the Jaguars have surrendered 12 sacks. Just like the Bears produced enough for a defense on the stream last week with five sacks against the Colts, so, too, can they do that against another AFC South foe this week.