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STATS’ Favorite Fantasy Football Plays: Week 4

By: Andy Cooper

I told you last week was going to be nuts! We had tons of home underdogs, and lots of “good player in bad matchup” vs. “bad player in good matchup” decisions – a recipe for chaos. If the Packers’ romp over Chicago on Thursday night – which featured four Aaron Rodgers TDs and a Ty Montgomery injury – is any indication, some normalcy will be restored this week.

That’s good news for prognosticators like us. As always, please know that I can’t touch on every player, so feel free to ask me your sit/start questions on Twitter (@cschwartz18).

High-End QB Play: Russell Wilson, SEA (vs. IND)

The Indy defense may have looked competent against the DJ-less Cardinals and the Browns, but they have a much bigger test this weekend. Seattle, meanwhile, is looking to silence doubters by making a statement on national TV at home. I think this could get ugly for Indy. If so, Wilson will provide more of the same as last week, when he threw for almost 400 yards. It helps that Indy has been competent against the run, meaning Wilson may have to make plays himself in order to get out in front. He’s a consensus elite QB play this week, especially with Rodgers having played Thursday.

Stack Partner: Paul Richardson. Doug Baldwin is a game-time decision but most likely playing. Either way, he won’t be 100 percent and is one hit or tweak away from “not returning.” Richardson is talented, a big-play threat, in a great spot, and cheap in DFS.

High-End QB Play: Trevor Siemian, DEN (vs. OAK)

People have already soured on Siemian after his first bad game of 2017. By no means is he a matchup-proof QB1 – there are maybe 8 or 10 of those guys – but he still seems like a competent QB in a decent offense, and worth using in plus matchups. That is what he has this week against an Oakland team that got shredded by Kirk Cousins last week. Denver’s team total will rarely be higher than the 24.5 they’re getting this week. Most importantly, borderline QB1s like Jameis Winston, Cousins, Matt Stafford, Marcus Mariota and Big Ben all have tough matchups this week, so Siemian slides into our top 10 by default. He’s a great DFS play, especially on DraftKings, where Russell Wilson will not be part of the main slate.

Stack Partner:  It depends – at this point you can’t project much separation between Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. On FanDuel, they are priced the same, so I’d roll with Thomas, who has the higher floor and is due for some TD regression (very, very due). On DK, it’s a tougher call as Thomas is a bit pricier. Both are great plays. Hey, why not play both?

QB Sleeper: Eli Manning, NYG (@ TB)

Gulp – this is a GPP play only, not a guy to start in one-QB leagues or in your cash lineup. Manning seemed to get better in every second half, and also better each game, so perhaps he’s just taking a while to warm up. More logically, Odell Beckham is getting healthier, the O-Line is improving from WOAT to merely just “bad,” and Eli is getting more chemistry on quick throws to new teammates like Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram. In a week where many typical QB1s have poor matchups, I like Eli as a GPP play against a TB defense that got lit up by Case Keenum. Most of TB’s studs are banged up too (Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, Gerald McCoy, Brent Grimes), so the defense overall isn’t as scary as usual.

QB Fade: Marcus Mariota, TEN (@ HOU)

We tend to receive push-back whenever we rank Mariota outside the top 10 or 12 QBs. The fact of the matter is he has been a high-floor/low-ceiling guy who hasn’t punished those who fade him in tough spots. He has three passing TDs in three games and is always around 200 passing yards. This week, he has a tough matchup at Houston, which has a defense looking pretty good with J.J. Watt starting to look like himself. I’d start a guy like Dak Prescott over Mariota for sure this week, and I’d strongly consider benching him for QB2s with better matchups, like Siemian or Alex Smith.

High-End RB Play: Kareem Hunt, KC (vs. WAS)

Even with some regression, Hunt’s talent, usage, volume, and team situation add up to an elite RB going forward. This week, he’s the consensus No. 1 guy and a must-play in cash games, if you happen to be playing a MNF slate.

High-End RB Play: Ezekiel Elliott, DAL (vs. LAR)

Dallas knows the only way to contain the unstoppable Jared Goff is by running the clock and keeping him off the field (kidding). In all seriousness, if you are playing the main slate (so no MNF), Zeke is the top RB and must-cash guy. The Rams allowed 84 yards and two TDs to Carlos Hyde, 78 yards to Rob Kelley, and 67 yards to Semaje Perine. Elliott is quite better at football than those guys.

Stack Partner: Cowboys Defense. Goff’s strong recent play will lower ownership here, but they’re still a sneaky play if they can create turnovers against a second-year QB. If Demarcus Lawrence keeps up his Pro Bowl play, the sacks are an added dimension as well.

RB Sleeper: Jacquizz Rodgers, TB (vs. NYG)

The Giants’ pass defense looked pretty stout last week with Janoris Jenkins back, so Philly used the run game to move the ball. Yes, they succeeded in doing so with LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood leading the way. This gives another marginal RB – like Rodgers – hope this week. The Giants’ run defense has looked less elite this year without Johnathan Hankins at DT, and they looked even worse with Olivier Vernon banged up. People may jump to declare this a bad matchup for Rodgers, but I see him as more of a RB2/Flex option this week. With Doug Martin returning next week, Tampa shouldn’t hesitate to use Rodgers a bunch this week.

RB Fade, but also High End RB Play: Le’Veon Bell, PIT (@ BAL)

We have a unique situation here that I must point out. Bell is clearly not a top 2 RB this week in a brutal matchup on the road against a top 5 run D (according to our rating system). Still priced as the overall RB1, this makes him a bad value in cash games. I’d fade him there. On the other hand, you cannot fully fade him in GPPs, as he always possesses perhaps the highest ceiling of any RB, in any matchup. It’s baked into expectations that he has a bad matchup, which should lower his ownership. This makes him a weirdly sneaky GPP play in DFS. Gotta love it.

RB Fade: Chris Thompson, WAS (@ KC)

Thompson has gotten so “good” that it’s time to fade. Last week, with Kelley out, Perine in and out of the locker room, and Washington nursing a lead most of the game, he still only received eight handoffs. He has sustained his value by producing TDs every week, but that cannot keep up without him getting goal-line looks. Nobody has ever scored 15-20 long TDs in a season. He’s still an RB2 in PPR, but this week is a good opportunity to get out in front and fade him against a KC defense projected to hold Washington to just 21 points.

High-End WR Play: Michael Thomas, NO (vs. MIA in London)

Miami just looked plain bad last week, so hopefully you took Sean’s advice and tried to buy low on Thomas. We rate Miami as the No. 6-worst defense against WRs (for fantasy purposes), so this is a plus matchup to say the least. Don’t worry too much about Will Snead’s return. Thomas was a WR1-type last year with Snead and Brandin Cooks on the field, and Snead is more likely to take targets from Colby Fleener and Coleman. With guys like Mike Evans and Tyreek Hill in poor matchups, Thomas is back into high-end WR1 territory this week.

High-End WR Play: Larry Fitzgerald, ARI (vs. SF)

If you own Fitz in season-long, you know to start him every week by now. If you play DFS, hopefully you know Fitz is money in cash games. For some reason, he’s still priced too low for such a target hog and PPR god. He should destroy a SF secondary that got lit up by Sammy Watkins last week.

WR Sleeper: Pierre Garcon, SF (@ ARI)

The other No. 1 WR in that matchup is also a good play, albeit a sneakier one. The Patrick Peterson narrative will scare people away, but the fact of the matter is that Brian Hoyer locks onto his favorite target and forces it. It probably won’t be efficient, but I can see Garcon catching five or six of his 12 targets and having a nice fantasy day, justifying starting him at WR2/3/Flex in season-long leagues. He’s a nice DFS value in GPPs as well.

WR Sleeper: Tyrell Williams, LAC (vs. PHI)

The secondary seems to be the weakness of Philly’s game, as they possess a good offense and stout front 7. Philip Rivers will have to throw, for many reasons. This appears to be baked into expectations for Rivers and Keenan Allen, both ranked in the top 10 by consensus. People are sleeping on Williams, though. Despite Allen’s return, Williams is getting six targets per game, and simply hasn’t generated any big plays yet. This is a great week to bet on a big play against a Philly D that allowed just that to Sterling Shepard last week.

WR Fade: Martavis Bryant, PIT (@ BAL)

Antonio Brown will still get his, as always, and is a tough guy to fully fade in GPPs even in a tough matchup. Bryant, on the other hand, has been big-play and TD dependent. He has only seven receptions on the season, and has put up two stinkers in three weeks – the two weeks he didn’t score a long TD. Bet against the big play this week, and bench him in season-long leagues if you have WR2 and WR3 types with better matchups (Pryor, Tyrell, Landry, Thielen).

High-End TE Play: Zach Ertz, PHI (@ LAC)

I’m just pointing out that he’s here to stay as an elite, top 3 TE. What separates the elite TE from the rest of the pack is the lack of TD dependence. Ertz is a PPR stud who puts up WR2 production in all matchups, so he has arrived at that point. He isn’t priced like it yet in DFS. He may be an even better play than Travis Kelce this week in DFS and season-long PPR formats.

High-End TE Play: Jason Witten, DAL (vs. LAR)

This is another more long-term commentary – Witten is a TE1 by default this year. Reed, Graham, Eifert are banged up, Henry has disappointed, and the list goes on. Meanwhile, 50-year-old Witten keeps chugging along, getting targets and production. He put up a stinker last week – that low floor is what keeps him from the elite. If you don’t have an elite guy, though, he’s basically the next best thing, especially in cash games and head-to-head matchups.

High-End TE Play: Evan Engram, NYG (@ TB)

One of the lone bright spots for the Giants, Engram has been remarkably consistent for a rookie TE (4/44, 4/49, 5/45). He’s been one of the few high-floor TE this year, which by default puts him in the TE1 conversation. This week, he has a suddenly attractive matchup against a TB defense that will probably be without stud LB’s Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander. With Reed banged up and guys like Cook and Ebron in tough matchups, Engram looks like a top 10 TE this week.

TE Sleeper: Julius Thomas, MIA (vs. NO in London)

It’s typically wise to target the Saints defense, but Miami may be too bad and therefore risky to go all-in on. They almost got shut out by the Jets. Because of his low expectations and low price, though, Thomas may be the least risky guy to target on Miami. Three receptions each game so far isn’t terrible for a TE2, providing somewhat of a floor in PPR and DFS, and he is a better-than-usual bet for a TD against a bad Saints D. In fact, he has about the same chance of scoring a TD this week as guys like Witten, Graham, and Walker. He’s not quite at their level in terms of yardage projection, but he’s still a sneaky TE2 this week.

TE Fade: Cameron Brate, TB (vs. NYG)

The “target TE against NYG” narrative is strong right now, and Ertz’s TD last week further fueled it. Looking closely, the Giants have played two of the better TE in the league in their three games (Witten and Ertz), and they actually did a pretty good job bottling up Ertz (just 55 yards on his 10 targets). Cameron Brate splits snaps with O.J. Howard and targets with Evans and DeSean Jackson, among others. If he doesn’t score a TD, he likely won’t provide enough volume to help you. In the TE2 / TE punt range, I like guys like Thomas, Griffin, and ASJ more this week.