Hours separate fantasy football owners from one of the most difficult batches of start ’em, sit ’em decisions in recent memory.
Most owners everywhere received a collective third-degree burn last week as Jacksonville, Cleveland, Oakland and more pulled out wins, producing some eye-popping numbers from unknowns (Crockett Gillmore, anyone?) and silencing some of the game’s biggest stars (hi, Marshawn Lynch).
It’s rebound time for bettors and star players alike, though. Things will return to normal, as they do each year, so owners better prepare as if Week 2 never happened, at least when it comes to the wild and unpredictable.
Below, let’s take a look at some tough lineup decisions.
Start: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins (vs. BUF)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed owners last weekend what he can do when the offense rests in his hands, going for 23 points by way of 359 yards and two touchdowns.
It’s not something that will happen every week, but one of the game’s bright young passers figures to put on another show against the Buffalo Bills this weekend with lead back Lamar Miller dealing with an injury, although he is expected to play, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
With the offense once again in his hands, expect Tannehill to produce well. He’s hosted the Bills three times in his career, totaling eight touchdowns in the process. It’s a trend set to continue with his deepest supporting cast to date.
Sit: Sam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles (at NYJ)
Sam Bradford’s ownership percentage has dipped by more than 15 percent in the span of a week, bringing him to 62.3.
For good reason, too. Instead of excelling in Chip Kelly’s offense free of St. Louis’ terrible offensive lines over the years, Bradford has done a faceplant with 19 total points in two games.
Instead of expecting a turnaround, look for things to get worse. Now Bradford has to travel to New York to take on a New York Jets defense that has allowed 17 total points to quarterbacks this year, including holding Andrew Luck to eight points.
Until the Philadelphia offense shows some signs of bite, there’s no reason to risk a play on Bradford on the outside chance he explodes.
Start: Dion Lewis, New England Patriots (vs. JAC)
It may seem like playing with fire to roll with a New England Patriots running back, especially with the threat of LeGarrette Blount lurking in the background.
But it’s impossible to ignore Dion Lewis, a pass-catching threat who has 28 points to start the season, ranking him fifth in scoring at the position. It’s also impossible to ignore the fact he lost a fumble in Week 2, but the coaching staff didn’t turn away from him despite depth at the position.
For once, it appears the Patriots have a stable starter. Even if Blount starts to eat into some of the carries, the Jacksonville defense has allowed 12 receptions to running backs in two games, meaning Lewis can break free for solid production through the air, too.
Sit: Bishop Sankey, Tennessee Titans (vs. IND)
The fantasy realm received a jolt in Week 1 when Bishop Sankey erupted for 20 points against Tampa Bay, perhaps signaling the arrival of a new reliable name at the position.
Instead, Sankey’s opposition improved in Week 2 by way of a matchup against Cleveland, and he responded with just four points.
Things don’t figure to get easier with Indianapolis in town. The Colts looked good against the run last week, limiting Chris Ivory and others to just nine total points. Luck’s offense figures to put the Colts in front, too, meaning the Titans will be chasing points—a bad sign for Sankey considering the coaching staff turns to Dexter McCluster when down, and he stole 10 carries from the starter just last week.
Without guaranteed opportunities in a tough matchup, owners need to look for guys who will see surefire handoffs.
Start: Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals (vs. SF)
A 29-point outburst from Larry Fitzgerald last weekend isn’t some one-hit wonder by a veteran, folks.
Just as quarterback Carson Palmer is still one of the best fantasy producers when healthy, so too is Fitzgerald. He’s the No. 1 in a Bruce Arians offense led by a capable quarterback, so week-to-week production looks like a sure thing.
Especially this week. Folks may shudder at the thought of a San Francisco defense, but it’s easy to forget how much the unit lost this past offseason. In fact, the 49ers have been one of the league’s worst teams against wideouts, allowing a gaudy 56 points so far.
It’s been a while since Palmer and Fitzgerald have hooked up against the 49ers thanks to injury woes to the former. Back in 2013, though, Fitzgerald posted 230 yards and a score in two games against a much better San Francisco defense with Palmer under center.
Some things never change. With both weapons healthy, Fitzgerald is in for a big day.
Sit: Steve Smith, Baltimore Ravens (vs. CIN)
Steve Smith looked great last week in Oakland, torching the Raiders for 150 yards and 15 points, helping owners to forget about his one-point outing in Week 1.
Expect Sunday to go more like his season debut than rebound.
The Bengals just don’t give up points to No. 1 wideouts. The unit held Oakland’s Amari Cooper to four points in Week 1 before he went on to score 16 next time out. It then held San Diego’s Keenan Allen in check with minus-one point after he exploded for 16 in his team’s opener.
Even worse for Smith, the Bengals have picked off Joe Flacco 18 times in 14 career matchups. This is one to avoid despite Smith’s obvious upside this year.
Start: Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings (vs. SD)
Kyle Rudolph found his way to paydirt last weekend against Detroit, a strong sign of things to come now that he has five catches in each of his first two games.
Young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will continue to lean on his top tight end, which is nothing but a good thing going into a matchup with San Diego. The Chargers have already allowed a touchdown to tight ends in each of their two games on just eight catches, good for 21 total points.
As a touchdown-based play, owners won’t find many better options than Rudolph, who gets a struggling defense that has to travel across the country for an early kickoff.
Sit: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles (at NYJ)
Again, the fading Philadelphia offense continues to hurt owners.
Whereas Rudolph’s ownership percentage hovers around the 40 percent mark, Zach Ertz sits at 73.7—after dipping by 6.9 in the span of a week.
As they say, the writing is on the wall. Ertz has five points through two games on six catches. It’s impossible to know if and when he will see opportunities within this unpredictable offense, especially going into a showdown with the Jets, a team that has allowed just five points to tight ends in two games.
Owners need to look elsewhere, as there are plenty of players at the position in better matchups and sure to see some usage.
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