Start and Sit: Week 5
by Scott Spratt
We've reached October, but the typical October weather has not yet reached the Week 5 slate of games. The Rams-Seahawks, Bears-Raiders, and Sunday night Colts-Chiefs games are the only ones this weekend that should dip into the 50s Fahrenheit -- still too warm to affect passing production -- and no games are forecasted for high winds. That gives us another week of good and bad matchups driven by defensive tendencies, but there are a number of compelling ones with so many backup quarterbacks in play.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
Teddy Bridgewater is 2-0 as a starter this season, and so it seems unlikely the Saints will deviate from their fantasy-unfriendly low-volume passing attack that has resulted in averages of just 185 passing yards and one passing touchdown in his starts. I have him 23rd among quarterbacks in my true-talent rankings this week, which is even worse than it sounds with less capable fill-ins like Luke Falk, Matt Barkley, and Dwayne Haskins behind him. However, if Bridgewater is going to have a breakout fantasy performance, it will likely come this week at home against the Buccaneers. The Bucs are probably better than I expected, but even their throttling of the Rams last week created fantasy opportunities for Jared Goff, who threw for a bananas 517 yards and two touchdowns to more than offset his three interceptions. I estimate the Bucs to generally increase pass attempts by 4%, and they also increase passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 43%. Their marked defensive improvements seemed more geared to stop the run (No. 1 DVOA run defense) than the pass (No. 15), so Bridgewater is an intriguing DFS tournament option.
I didn't list the Panthers as a bad passing matchup for Deshaun Watson last week, but I probably should have. The Panthers look much improved with the No. 4 DVOA pass defense this season. Watson should have an easier time this week against a Falcons defense that, like the Bucs, is stronger against the run (No. 7 DVOA) than the pass (No. 21). They increase pass attempts by 5% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 44%, and crucially for the Texans, have the fourth lowest sack rate of just 3.9%. I have Watson as my No. 1 fantasy quarterback this week, and if he can't enjoy some clean pockets here, I'll become very worried.
NFC East rivals Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott have good matchups for Week 5. Wentz's home contest against the Jets is the more obvious of the two, with the Jets increasing passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 33% but not decreasing passing plays like most bad teams. Prescott draws what seems like a much-improved pass defense (No. 5 DVOA) in the Packers, but Prescott, like many dome passers, also shows marked career home/road splits. Since 2016, he has completed 2.7% more passes for 18 more yards and 0.3 more touchdowns per game at home than on the road. That plus a noticeable rushing yards and touchdowns advantage at home adds up to nearly three extra fantasy points per game at home.
I expect the difficult venue was a major factor in Prescott's poor fantasy day in New Orleans in Week 5. This week, he's back in my top five at the position.
If, like me, you are dealing with some quarterback injuries in deep formats, consider Chase Daniel in England this week. Mitchell Trubisky's shoulder injury may not be as bad as it originally appeared, but he is unlikely to play this week. Against the No. 27 DVOA pass defense that increases yards and touchdowns per attempt by 16% and 62%, Daniel could have a solid fantasy day. I have him inside my top 20.
Outside of a DFS tournament, you would never bench Aaron Rodgers for Chase Daniel, but their respective bad and good matchups make it close. I have Rodgers down nine spots to 12th at the position this week playing on the road in Dallas. That venue loss isn't too big of a deal since road games in a dome are easier on travelling quarterbacks than road games outside, and Rodgers has scored more fantasy points per game on the road than at home since 2016 anyway, which is very unusual. But while being neutral for completion percentage and passing yards per attempt, the Cowboys defense does cut passing touchdowns by 12%, fourth-most in football. I expect him to better his meager fantasy totals from the first three weeks, but Rodgers may do a bit worse than usual in Week 5.
Even in their best matchups, you probably wouldn't start Joe Flacco or Matt Barkley, whom I assume will play for the concussed Josh Allen this week. But you definitely aren't starting them this week. Flacco has traditionally shown substantial home/road splits, which I expect will continue in Denver. He plays the Chargers in Los Angeles on Sunday. Meanwhile, even if Allen plays for Buffalo, he would draw a difficult matchup with the Titans.
Flacco played both Steelers games for the Ravens in 2018, so Lamar Jackson has never faced them. I'm not confident I have Jackson's split tendencies figured out, but the Steelers did seem to make move on their defense this offseason with him in mind. In particular, linebackers Mark Barron and Devin Bush are faster than big and could be more effective in spying Jackson than most teams' linebackers. I'm not dropping Jackson out of my top 10, but I have him out of my top five for the week.
Meanwhile, Kirk Cousins has fallen from 10th to 14th in my true-talent rankings in just four games this season. He is on the road against the Giants this week, and while he has a massive passing attempts split of 15.5 per game at home and 34.0 per game on the road this year, I think that split might reflect his opponents just as much. Those home games have come against the Falcons and Raiders while the road games have come against the Packers and Bears. The Giants seem to fall in that former group, and so I think Dalvin Cook may shoulder the load for the Vikings this week even on the road.
Typically, running backs produce better fantasy numbers at home than on the road, but this week's best matchups feature as many road picks as home ones because these backs insulate themselves with relevance in the passing game. That's certainly the case for David Johnson on the road in Cincinnati, but Johnson also benefits from a Bengals defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season, behind only the Dolphins. He and Joe Mixon in that same game will also likely see added work with their teams dealing with wide receiver injuries to Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and John Ross.
Alvin Kamara and Le'Veon Bell are two of the most productive receiving backs in football, which is why they have plus matchups despite facing Buccaneers and Eagles defenses that are top-five in DVOA against the run.
Ronald Jones is one of my favorite waiver wire pickups this week, coming off a breakout game in which he out-carried Peyton Barber 19 to nine. But that pickup is more about potential than my immediate expectations. Last week's favorable game script against the Rams may have motivated Jones' increased volume, and so I've only moved him to 35th in my true-talent rankings this week. Meanwhile, facing a Saints defense that is stronger against the run (No. 15 DVOA) than the pass (No. 26) and has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs, Jones drops further to my No. 42 back this week. Keep him on your benches, and don't drop him if he has a bad performance.
Adrian Peterson has enjoyed a more stable workload so far this season, but his arrow is pointed downward and he will likely pass Jones very soon. With just 28 yards on 11 carries against the Giants, Peterson failed to take advantage of one his better potential matchups last week. And now this week, he draws a Patriots defense that is almost as good against the run (No. 2 DVOA) as against the pass (No. 1). The Patriots have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs and haven't allowed a touchdown to one. Receiving back Chris Thompson is the only Redskins back you should consider playing.
The rookie Josh Jacobs continues to maintain an RB1 workload, but he's a borderline RB2/flex consideration for me this week facing a Bears defense than cuts rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 16% and 48%, the latter of which is the most in football. Frank Gore overcame his difficult Patriots matchup in Week 4 to produce 109 rushing yards, but he draws another this week in Tennessee and may have to split time with Devin Singletary, who is back in limited practice. Aaron Jones almost certainly won't have to contend with teammate Jamaal Williams, who suffered a concussion last week. That yanks him back to borderline RB1/RB2 status for me for however long Williams misses, but Jones is a bit worse than that in Dallas this week. The Cowboys cut rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 9% each.
Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins haven't quite lived up to their Round 1 draft statuses so far this season, the former scoring just one touchdown and the latter falling short of 70 receiving yards for three straight weeks. I expect those totals to improve in Week 5, facing the Buccaneers and Falcons, respectively, which are both better against the run than the pass. Meanwhile, Hopkins' teammate Will Fuller could enjoy a big fantasy day as well. Kenny Stills may miss this week with a hamstring injury, and that bumped Fuller to 25th in my true-talent receiving rankings, which became 18th after contextual adjustments.
Bills receivers Cole Beasley and John Brown see my two biggest downgrades of the week, both on the road in Tennessee. But I'm more confident that I'm right about Brown than I am about Beasley. The Titans have the No. 3 DVOA defense against No. 1 wide receivers this season, but they haven't played a prominent slot receiver outside of maybe Jarvis Landry, who performed poorly in the Titans blowout of the Browns in Week 1.
The Packers receiver duo of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison lose a bit of value being on the road against the Cowboys, but I still have both of them in my top 15 at the position with typical No. 1 option Davante Adams expected to be out.
Zach Ertz and George Kittle are every-week starters at tight ends, but they should be extra safe this week with their plus matchups at home against the Jets and Browns. I've lowered Jared Cook outside of my top 20 tight ends in true talent. He just isn't enjoying the target volume I expected in a depleted Saints receiver group, no doubt influenced by Drew Brees' injury. That said, I think he gets a bump into the top 20 this week facing a Bucs team that has allowed the third-most fantasy points per game to tight ends this year.
Vernon Davis may not play this week as he has ended up in concussion protocol. But if he does, I'd more confidently trust him than Paul Richardson even if Terry McLaurin is forced to miss another week. The Patriots are top-five in DVOA against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. You could even rely on normal third-string tight end Jeremy Sprinkle in a pinch if Davis misses this week. First-time rookie starter Dwayne Haskins will presumably fare better with his shorter-depth targets like his tight end, slot receiver Trey Quinn, and receiving back Chris Thompson than he will with his outside options.
The ageless Delanie Walker has quickly re-established himself as a top-10 fantasy tight end, but he is just barely that this week facing a Bills team that has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends this season. And Greg Olsen faces a similarly tall task in Week 5. With Jalen Ramsey in and out of their lineup, the Jaguars have become a more favorable matchup against No. 1 wide receivers (No. 23 DVOA) than against tight ends (No. 8). Olsen is just above Walker as my No. 9 tight end for the week.