MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Buccaneers (vs. Patriots)
The Patriots have gone from a defense that shuts down the opposition’s top threat to allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, second-most to running backs and fourth-most to wide receivers and tight ends. The biggest threat the Patriots currently pose to fantasy owners comes from sitting anyone (Cam Newton owners quietly nod). Tampa boasts diversity through the air, where Jameis Winston connected on scoring strikes with three different pass catchers — Mike Evans and TEs Cameron Brate and O.J. Howard — without an interception. Like Newton, Winston’s inconsistencies aren’t a concern here, nor is the “Thursday Night Football” factor — week’s highest point total — 55½) — is a half-point less than the average combined TNF total thus far.
Must start: Jameis Winston, Mike Evans
Solid play: DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate
Worth a look: Doug Martin, Jacquizz Rodgers
Packers (at Cowboys)
After surrendering 35 points to the upstart Rams at “Jerry World,” Dallas — potentially without its most important non-QBs, Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee — welcomes a Packers offense that registered 34 points and 413 yards in January’s postseason thriller. Green Bay is well rested after pulling the curtains down on Mike Glennon’s Bears career last Thursday and has WR Jordy Nelson, who again leads the NFL in receiving touchdowns, after he missed the playoff game. Dallas’ formula of grinding the clock and defenses that catalyzed its 2016 breakthrough has dissipated (No. 23 in time of possession, up from No. 2 a season ago) … with Elliott. Randall Cobb, one week after Rams’ slot Cooper Kupp broke out, Geronimo Allison and rookie Aaron Jones with Ty Montgomery ailing should join the fun of the Packs’ fantasy fixtures.
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
Solid play: Geronimo Allison, Aaron Jones (first check status of Ty Montgomery), Martellus Bennett
Texans (vs. Chiefs)
If Kareem Hunt is this year’s Ezekiel Elliott, is Deshaun Watson 2017’s Dak Prescott? Following his record-breaking five total touchdowns amid Houston’s best offensive performance in franchise history, the QB6 overall after just three starts gets a talented ‘D’ that nearly lost at home to Washington. The Chiefs allowed Kirk Cousins to rush for 32 of his career-high 38 yards on that final drive and have surrendered more yards on the ground to quarterbacks than all but one defense. Will Fuller made an unmistakable impact with two touchdowns and drawing a 45-yard pass interference flag in his 2017 debut, and gets Kansas City’s vulnerable CB2 matchup. Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins each went over 100 in a 19-12 home win over the Chiefs in Week 2 last season… with Brock Osweiler at the controls.
Must start: Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller
Solid play: Will Fuller
Worth a look: D’Onta Foreman, Bruce Ellington
Giants (vs. Chargers)
New York’s season might be off the rails, but the Giants are coming on strong in fantasy, where Eli Manning suddenly has totaled three touchdowns in each of the past two weeks and is QB11 overall. The Chargers have allowed more passing touchdowns than every defense except Tennessee and Chicago. Odell Beckham has another tough matchup after struggling vs. Brent Grimes and through a dislocated finger. But rookie TE Evan Engram is becoming a strong secondary target for Manning, and fellow rookie Wayne Gallman even managed to breathe life into a ground game left for dead essentially since the Giants’ last Super Bowl.
Must start: Odell Beckham*
Solid play: Eli Manning, Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard
Worth a look: Wayne Gallman, Brandon Marshall, Giants D/ST
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Raiders (vs. Ravens)
With Derek Carr expected to miss at least a couple weeks with a fracture in his back, the Raiders should at least be in better hands with EJ Manuel than they were with Matt McGloin and Connor Cook late last season. That’s hardly a ringing fantasy endorsement of a club that was struggling with a healthy Carr (total of 17 points and 12 first downs on last 26 series) and hosts a Ravens ‘D’ looking to get well after again getting run over at home by the Steelers. Baltimore’s pass ‘D’ has frustrated better receiving groups than Oakland’s current configuration with Michael Crabtree hurt and Amari Cooper mired in a drop-fueled tailspin — just ask Antonio Brown or that poor water cooler.
Must start: Raiders D/ST
Worth a look: Marshawn Lynch, Amari Cooper, Jared Cook, Michael Crabtree*
Lions (vs. Panthers)
The good news: Detroit overcame the shock of losing to the defending NFC champs in Week 3 on an overturned touchdown and 10-second runoff as time expired to earn a road upset in Minnesota. The bad news: the Lions might produce a 100-yard rusher — something Ameer Abdullah came four yards short of doing for the first time by a Detroit back in 56 games — before another wideout reaches the century mark. Detroit continues to win with its opportunistic ‘D’ and safe game plans on offense, a wonderful development for Jim Caldwell and tough one for fantasy owners. The Panthers made Tom Brady’s Patriots look ordinary for three-plus quarters in Foxboro on Sunday.
Worth a look: Matt Stafford, Golden Tate, Ameer Abdullah, Lions D/ST
Jaguars (at Steelers)
Leonard Fournette has been as advertised — and then some — for Jacksonville. So too for the most part has Blake Bortles. Fournette has found the end zone in all four games en route to RB4 overall. But the only time he’s failed to command more than 16 touches was in a blowout loss to Tennessee, and the Steelers at home are the week’s biggest favorites — 8 ½ points. Fournette obviously still belongs in lineups — just as he belongs on the field more than 57 percent in a timeshare with Chris Ivory. But forget any other Jaguars in this one, with Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns coming off bad outings and Marcedes Lewis returning from his three-touchdown London aberration to semi-retirement.
Must start: Leonard Fournette
Titans (at Dolphins)
“Don’t worry, Titans fans, Matt Cassel will prove Sunday he’s a better option in Tennesssee’s exotic offense than that unemployed lightning rod dual-threat quarterback,” said no one, ever (probably). There’s a chance Marcus Mariota (hamstring, check status) goes after missing the second half in Houston on Sunday (along with Tennessee’s defense) and being listed as day to day. There’s zero chance of feeling good about any Titan in this matchup if he doesn’t.
Must start: DeMarco Murray, Delanie Walker, Marcus Mariota*
Solid play: Rishard Matthews
Worth a look: Eric Decker, Derrick Henry