Week 3 Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em

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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes. Those of you that have been reading this for the last several years know that I try to avoid the obvious plays. Anybody can come on here and say we should start guys like Jalen Hurts, Joe Mixon, and Amon-Ra St. Brown. I try to dig a little deeper.

QUARTERBACK

Start of the Week: Kirk Cousins vs. Lions – Fantasy’s QB18 after two weeks, Cousins is coming off a nightmarish Week 2 against the Eagles where he completed just 58.7% of his passes for 221 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions while averaging a pitiful 4.8 YPA, resulting in the QB25 week. That came after Cousins dissected the Packers for 277 yards and a 2:0 TD:INT mark in the opener as Week 1’s QB12. Whereas the Eagles are No. 4 in pass-defense DVOA after two weeks, the Lions are 28th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, 27th in passing yards allowed, and 19th in pass-defense DVOA. Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz both posted top-five fantasy weeks in Weeks 1-2 versus Detroit. Hurts obviously did a lot of his damage with his legs, and Wentz needed a heavy dose of garbage time. But the Vikings are fourth in pass rate over expectation through two contests, and Justin Jefferson has a decided advantage over whoever the Lions trot out there opposite him in coverage. Cousins doesn’t bring much, if anything, to the table with his legs, but this game features a pair of potent offenses and Week 3’s highest total at 53 points. Cousins is a top streaming option this week.

Starts

Joe Burrow at Jets – Burrow is currently fantasy’s QB11 after two weeks, and he’s second in the NFL in pass attempts behind the guy who will be on the other side in this one, Joe Flacco. The 0-2 Bengals are one of the biggest disappointments, and Burrow has tossed four interceptions, one fewer than last-place Matthew Stafford. But this looks like a winnable spot for everyone on the Bengals after the Jets surrendered 31 points to the Jacoby Brissett-led Browns last week. Coach Robert Saleh’s defense is dead last in pass-defense DVOA and 29th in Pro Football Focus’ coverage grades. Burrow’s new offensive line is 31st in pass blocking DVOA, but it’ll get a bit of a breather from the T.J. Watts and Myles Garretts of the world against a Jets unit that is 22nd in adjusted sack rate. The Bengals will likely try to ride Joe Mixon more as six-point favorites, but Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins have mismatches out wide. Burrow torched the Jets for three touchdowns and the QB10 performance last Week 8. Cincinnati’s implied team total of 24.75 points is the seventh-highest of Week 3.

Matthew Stafford at Cardinals – Stafford leads the league with five interceptions through two weeks and is fantasy’s QB17 while averaging a mediocre 6.6 yards per attempt. His offensive line is in total shambles with LT Andrew Whitworth retired, RG Austin Corbett now in Carolina, C BrIan Allen (knee) recovering from surgery, RG Coleman Shelton now filling in at center, and fill-in RG Tremayne Anchrum done for the year and replaced by someone named AJ Jackson. Fortunately, Stafford was able to lick his wounds from Week 1 and tossed three touchdowns last week against the Falcons, posting the QB10 day. He now gets an Arizona defense that is 30th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, 28th in pass-defense DVOA, and 31st in adjusted sack rate. The Cardinals can’t cover and can’t rush the passer. It’s a great recipe for quarterback success. This game’s 48.5-point total is the fourth-highest of Week 3, and the Rams’ implied team total of 26 points is the slate’s sixth-highest.

Tua Tagovailoa vs. Bills – This feels a whole lot like chasing points and being late to the party after Tagovailoa dissected the Ravens for 469 yards and six touchdowns as Week 2’s top fantasy scorer. But this AFC East clash pits two of the three pass-heaviest offenses against each other, as the Bills are No. 1 in pass rate over expectation, and Miami is third. Buffalo goes to Miami as six-point favorites, and the Bills have looked like a literal juggernaut, destroying the Rams and Titans for easy wins to open the year. That’s last year’s Super Bowl champions and the No. 1 seed from the AFC. Like last week, Tagovailoa could be playing catch-up on the scoreboard. The Bills are No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 1 in adjusted sack rate, and No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA, but this defense remains without top CB Tre’Davious White (knee, PUP), lost starting CB Dane Jackson to a neck injury last week, and now starting safeties Jordan Poyer (foot) and Micah Hyde (neck) both missed practice Thursday. This secondary is banged up and will have to contend with the Dolphins’ superstar wideout duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Both receivers can score from anywhere on the field and are flat-out dominating the targets for Miami. Tagovailoa just has to get it to them, which through two weeks, he’s shown he can do, checking in at No. 2 in passing yards on throws of 20-plus yards. Bills-Dolphins has the second-highest total of the week at 52.5 points.

Sits

Tom Brady vs. Packers – Brady averaged 201 passing yards and one touchdown per game Weeks 1-2. His wideout room has been decimated by injuries, the tight ends aren’t doing anything with Rob Gronkowski in retirement, and the Bucs are throwing far less than they did in Brady’s two previous years in Tampa Bay. Mike Evans is suspended this week, Chris Godwin (hamstring) isn’t going to play, and Julio Jones (knee) DNP’ed Wednesday and Thursday after missing Week 2. That likely leaves Brady with a three-wide set of Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller outside with Russell Gage in the slot. The Bucs are 25th in pass rate over expectation and have been riding Leonard Fournette in September. I’m still holding Brady in season-long leagues in anticipation of Evans, Godwin, and Jones coming back, but after streaming Carson Wentz for Brady last week, I’d prefer options like Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff this Sunday. Brady is fantasy’s QB30 through Week 2. And we all know he doesn’t bring anything to the box score with his legs. Packers-Bucs has one of the lowest totals of the week at 42 points.

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Aaron Rodgers at Bucs – While Tom Brady is fantasy’s QB30, Rodgers hasn’t been much better in the fake football world as the overall QB29 through two weeks. And like Brady, Rodgers’ wideout room looks pretty undermanned and banged up from an injury standpoint. All three of Allen Lazard (ankle), Sammy Watkins (hamstring), and Christian Watson (hamstring) were downgraded to DNP Thursday. Green Bay is 21st in pass rate over expectation two weeks into the post-Davante Adams era, and Rodgers averaged 214.5 passing yards per game Weeks 1-2 with just two touchdowns. This offense runs through its elite backfield tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. On top of all that, the Bucs shut down the Cowboys’ and Saints’ passing games the first two weeks, checking in at No. 2 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 1 in pass-defense DVOA, and No. 2 in adjusted sack rate. As mentioned above, this game’s 42-point total is one of the lowest on the Week 3 slate. Rodgers is merely a back-end QB2.

Russell Wilson vs. 49ers – The Broncos are 0-for in the red zone two weeks into the season. The lowly Seahawks are the only other team without a red-zone touchdown to this point. In turn, Wilson is fantasy’s QB20 and is coming off an extremely disappointing Week 2 against the Texans where he completed just 45.2% of his passes for 219 yards, one touchdown, and one interception at home. It was Wilson’s first game in front of the new home crowd, and they were already booing the team. Coach Nathaniel Hackett may very well be in over his head as a first-time play-caller after riding the coattails of Aaron Rodgers to his first head-coaching job. If Wilson couldn’t get the job done at home against the Texans, there’s no reason we should be firing him up against the Niners. San Francisco is No. 3 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 4 in adjusted sack rate, and No. 7 in pass-defense DVOA. Wilson also looks like he will be without Jerry Jeudy (ribs, shoulder) after he was DNP Wednesday and Thursday. The Broncos are too talented to not break out of this slump, but in a game with a 45-point total against a slow-paced 49ers team doesn’t exactly look conducive to fantasy points.

RUNNING BACK

Start of the Week: David Montgomery vs. Texans – Montgomery played 66% and 80% of the snaps in Weeks 1 and 2 and saw a combined 38 carries and targets in that span. He was uber-efficient last Sunday night against the Packers, averaging over 8.1 YPC, and Montgomery has run 25 pass routes to Khalil Herbert’s eight. Herbert has the lone touchdown of the duo on a goal-line plunge in Week 1, but Montgomery is the clear lead back in the NFL’s most run-heavy offense. The Bears almost refuse to throw, and this home game against the Texans featuring a meager three-point spread should allow Chicago to run as much as they’d like. The Texans were clobbered for 31/161/1 by Jonathan Taylor in Week 1 and then surrendered 25/122/0 to the Broncos’ RB duo of Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon last Sunday. Houston is 25th in run-defense DVOA, 27th in fantasy points allowed to running backs, and 30th in rushing yards allowed. Montgomery is a rock-solid, volume-based RB2 in a likely ground-based affair.

Starts

Miles Sanders at Commanders – One of my favorite mid-round targets in summer drafts, Sanders is the current overall RB11 in half-PPR and got the touchdown monkey off his back with a Week 1 score against the Lions. After finishing second in yards per carry last year, Sanders has picked up right where he left off as an extremely efficient runner in the league’s best rushing offense. Sanders is averaging an elite 5.9 YPC while seeing 15 carries and 2.5 targets per game. The Commanders have been bludgeoned by opponent running backs, checking in at 28th in rushing yards allowed, 31st in run-defense DVOA, and 31st in fantasy points allowed to the position. D’Andre Swift (5/56 + 2/31/1), Jamaal Williams (12/53/1), James Robinson (11/66/1), and Travis Etienne (4/47) have all had success running on Washington. The Eagles use up to four ball-carriers, including Jalen Hurts, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott, but they’re so good at paving running lanes and run the ball with such efficiency and volume that Sanders still gets his as the lead dog. Philly is a 6.5-point favorite, and the Eagles’ implied team total of 26.75 points is the fifth-highest of Week 3.

Dameon Pierce at Bears – After head-scratchingly playing Burkhead on 72% of the Week 1 snaps, the Texans flipped the script, and Pierce out-snapped Burkhead 62% to 37% in Week 2 against the Broncos. Pierce out-carried Burkhead 15-0, but Burkhead still looks like the coaching staff’s preferred option on third downs and in passing situations as a better pass-protector. But Pierce should get the bulk of the carries going forward and now will be involved in a ground-and-pound slugfest with the Bears. This game’s spread sits at a meager three points, so both offenses should be able to run the ball as much as they please. Chicago is 27th in run-defense DVOA, dead last in rushing yards allowed, and 25th in opponent yards per carry. Aaron Jones just wrecked this defense for 15/132/1 on the ground last Sunday night, and AJ Dillon pitched in for 18/61/0. In Week 1, Deebo Samuel (8/52/1) and Elijah Mitchell (6/41/0) also found big holes in the Bears’ run defense. Pierce could flirt with 20-plus carries in Week 3, but his lack of pass-game involvement still makes him a touchdown-dependent RB2.

Tony Pollard at Giants – After Pollard’s disastrous Week 1, the Cowboys thankfully kept Pollard involved in the Week 2 game plan against the Bengals, and he turned his 16 carries plus targets into 98 total yards and a goal-line touchdown. Ezekiel Elliott continues to look ready for retirement and turned his 17 opportunities into a pitiful 49 scoreless yards. It was notable that Pollard received the only goal-line carry between the two. Elliott has run 37 routes to Pollard’s 28, but Elliott has turned those into a mere two catches for -7 yards on four targets while Pollard has turned nine targets into 6/69 receiving. It’s clear to everyone watching that Pollard is one of the Cowboys’ best playmakers and their most talented runner. He’s the RB21 through two weeks and now gets a date with a Giants defense that is 22nd in DVOA against the run and 23rd in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Only six teams have surrendered more receiving yards to the position. Pollard should be teed up as an upside RB3/FLEX play.

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Sits

Cam Akers at Cardinals – After playing just 18% of the Week 1 snaps and carrying the ball three times for zero yards, Akers out-carried Darrell Henderson 15-10 in Week 2 but still averaged an unhelpful 2.9 YPC. And it was Henderson who punched in the short touchdown. Akers just hasn’t looked any good since his 2021 torn Achilles. As much as the Rams and coach Sean McVay want Akers to be the 2020 version of himself, his explosiveness looks sapped. But the Rams also know Henderson can’t stay healthy with a full workload, so Akers has to be involved. He just doesn’t pass the eye test. Henderson is still the preferred RB2.

Raheem Mostert vs. Bills – Chase Edmonds looked like one of the big winners of Week 1 in regards to playing time and opportunities, but the Dolphins switched things up in Week 2 and inserted Mostert as the team’s lead back. Mostert out-snapped Edmonds 55% to 51% and saw 14 carries plus targets to Edmonds’ eight. Mostert was more involved both on early downs and in passing situations, so it’s hard to tell what’s going on in Miami’s backfield after two weeks. This one has the potential to be a weekly fantasy nightmare. The Bills have stamped out opposing running backs to this point, checking in at third in fantasy points allowed to the position, third in opponent yards per carry, and third in run-defense DVOA. We need to see more of this Dolphins backfield before trusting either Edmonds or Mostert as an RB2/FLEX.

Breece Hall vs. Bengals – The Jets’ two-man committee became a three-man one with Ty Johnson entering the playing-time mix, seeing just enough snaps (19%) to be a problem. He acted as the Jets’ third-down and two-minute specialist. Michael Carter held the targets edge over Hall 5-1 against the Browns, but Hall turned his one look into a short receiving score. Both backs saw seven carries apiece, but Carter has played 60-plus percent of the snaps each of the first two games. If Hall is now going to lose playing time to Johnson while also trailing Carter, it makes the rookie unplayable in 12-team leagues. We don’t like three-man backfield committees, and we especially don’t like them in bad offenses. The Jets’ implied total of 19.75 points is the fifth-lowest of Week 3. We can do better than Hall in our FLEX spot.

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WIDE RECEIVER

Start of the Week: Allen Robinson at Cardinals – After his two-target, one-catch Week 1 against the Bills, the Rams made it a point to get Robinson more involved against the Falcons. He caught a short touchdown in the first quarter and finished with a 4/53/1 line on five targets. Robinson later had a second touchdown called back on a late whistle for a mysterious “medical timeout” from the concussion spotter. Through two weeks, Robinson has run only three fewer routes than teammate Cooper Kupp, so he’s on the field a ton in an aggressive pass offense. The Cardinals are 28th in pass-defense DVOA, and only seven teams have allowed more catches to opposing wideouts. Rams coach Sean McVay has called for even more Robinson involvement after his WR24 Week 2. This game’s 48.5-point total is the fourth-highest of Week 3, and the Rams’ implied team total of 26 points is the sixth-highest on the slate.

Starts

JuJu Smith-Schuster at Colts – Despite Patrick Mahomes firing off 35 passes last Thursday night against the Chargers, Smith-Schuster was targeted just three times, turning them into a scoreless 3/10 line as Week 2’s WR87. JuJu still played 74% of the snaps and ran 29 routes, third on the team behind Travis Kelce’s 35 and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 31 on the outside. Smith-Schuster is functioning as Mahomes’ slot receiver, and the Colts are fresh off getting wrecked by Jaguars slot man Christian Kirk for a 6/78/2 day last Sunday. The Colts are 29th in pass-defense DVOA. Chiefs-Colts sports the third-highest total of the week at 50.5 points, and Kansas City’s implied team total of 28.5 is the second-highest. JuJu looks like a safe WR3.

Adam Thielen vs. Lions – Thielen is coming off pedestrian 3/36 and 4/52 receiving lines to open the season, and he really didn’t get involved last week against the Eagles until garbage time. However, Thielen is tied with Justin Jefferson with a team-high 82 pass routes. He’s just not earning targets at 32 years old. Thielen is tied with Irv Smith for second on the team in targets, 12 behind Jefferson. But Thielen’s legs should still be fresh in September, and he’s second on the team in red-zone targets. The opportunities are there for Thielen, and this is a plus-plus spot against a Lions unit that is 19th in pass-defense DVOA and 25th in fantasy points allowed to opposing wideouts. Lions-Vikings has Week 3’s highest total at 53 points. A.J. Brown (10/155), Terry McLaurin (4/75), Jahan Dotson (4/59/1), and Curtis Samuel (7/78/1) have all met or exceeded expectations against Detroit. Thielen is in the WR3 mix for Week 3.

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Garrett Wilson vs. Bengals – The hot waiver-wire add of the week, Wilson is coming off an 8/102/2 explosion against the Browns last week where he saw his snap share rise to 61% from 49% in Week 1. Wilson drew a team-high 14 targets in Cleveland on 36 routes and played more than half of his snaps in the slot, seemingly supplanting Braxton Berrios inside with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore on the outside. Wilson leads the NFL with eight red-zone targets and has drawn 22 targets on 71 routes, becoming Joe Flacco’s go-to option when he needs a big play. The Bengals are 14th in pass-defense DVOA and have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but they’ve faced Mitch Trubisky and Cooper Rush. Diontae Johnson (7/55), Noah Brown (5/91/), and CeeDee Lamb (7/75) have still posted strong weeks against Cincinnati. Flacco isn’t much better than Trubisky and Rush, if at all, but he’s more aggressive. And Wilson’s playmaking ability will be a problem. With the Jets installed as touchdown underdogs at home, the Jets could again be chasing points on the scoreboard.

Sits

Brandon Aiyuk at Broncos – Aiyuk has run a team-high 58 routes through two weeks, and his nine targets are second to Deebo Samuel’s dozen. But in San Francisco’s run-heavy scheme, Aiyuk has produced a scoreless 7/103 line as fantasy’s WR50. The return of Jimmy Garoppolo under center should open up the pass game more, but now George Kittle is expected to make his season debut in Week 3. With Samuel and Kittle likely ahead of him in the pecking order for touches and targets, it’ll be hard for the Niners to support three pass-catchers. Aiyuk could also be the one that sees Broncos top CB Patrick Surtain. The Broncos are sixth in pass-defense DVOA and have surrendered the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

Darnell Mooney vs. Texans – Mooney has basically been running sprints through two weeks. On a – by far – team-best 38 routes, Mooney has turned five targets into two catches for four yards. No team is throwing the ball as little as the Bears. With the Bears installed as three-point home favorites, there will be no reason for the Bears to throw it in this one. Houston’s pass defense is weak, but Chicago’s pass offense is weaker. Mooney isn’t at all startable right now.

Noah Brown at Giants – Brown is coming off a 5/91/1 day against the Bengals last week as fantasy’s overall WR14 in Week 2. He’s played 88% and 85% of the Cowboys’ offensive snaps through two weeks, but Dallas is looking like it will get Michael Gallup (knee) back for Week 3. Gallup will play a reduced role in his season debut, but that’s going to push Brown down the targets totem pole. Cooper Rush is capable of moving the offense, but he’s not someone who’s going to carry multiple pass-catchers. The Giants have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, and Dallas’ 19-point implied team total is the third-lowest of the week.

TIGHT END

Start of the Week: Kyle Pitts at Seahawks – Maybe the biggest disappointment of the first two weeks of the fantasy season, Pitts has posted back-to-back 2/19/0 receiving lines. But Pitts has still run 57 routes on 69 Marcus Mariota drop-backs, running just one fewer route than teammate WR Drake London. But London has out-targeted Pitts 18-10 and has nine more catches. London is coming off of the WR9 week last Sunday against the Rams. And even beat writers have started to ask coach Arthur Smith what’s going on with Pitts and why he isn’t getting targets. Smith knows, and now this sets Pitts up for a potential squeaky-wheel week against a Seahawks defense that has surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points to tight ends. Broncos TEs combined for 7/85 on 10 targets in Week 1, and Ross Dwelley, of all people, caught a 38-yard touchdown against Seattle last Sunday. We have to keep riding Pitts.

Starts

T.J. Hockenson at Vikings – Hockenson is fifth among all tight ends in targets with 14, but he’s turned them into a scoreless 7/64 line and dropped a couple passes last week against the Commanders. Many have pegged Hockenson as a fourth-year breakout candidate, and he’s been in on over 90% of the Lions’ snaps. The Vikings are 21st in fantasy points allowed to tight ends after surrendering a 5/82 line to Dallas Goedert in Week 2. Playing virtually every snap in a game with a lofty 53-point total, Hockenson should be glued to lineups as an easy TE1 play.

Tyler Higbee at Cardinals – Higbee’s 18 targets are second to only Mark Andrews’ 19 at the position, but Higbee has turned his into 12/110/0 despite being top-10 in the entire league with four red-zone targets. Higbee dropped a couple of passes in Week 1 and never seems to be able to do a whole lot with his heavy usage. Higbee has still played 94% and 97% of the Rams’ snaps and has run the third-most routes among tight ends. The Cardinals are dead last in fantasy points allowed to tight ends after Darren Waller (6/50/1), Foster Moreau (3/30), Travis Kelce (8/121/1), and Jody Fortson (1-yard TD) have all taken advantage of Arizona’s weak pass defense. Higbee is a top-10 option at the position this week in a game with a 48.5-point total.

Zach Ertz vs. Rams – Ertz’s summer calf injury limited him to 60% of the Week 1 snaps, but he was back to close to 100% last week and was in on 84% of the snaps against the Raiders. Ertz’s 14 targets are tied for fifth in the league at the position, and he’s reeled in 10 of them for 89 yards and one touchdown. Since coming over from the Eagles, Ertz has been one of Kyler Murray’s favorite targets to move the chains and in the red zone. The Rams have held Dawson Knox and Kyle Pitts in check the first two weeks, but Ertz deserves back-end TE1 treatment.

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