MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Steelers (at Colts)
Indianapolis survived a furious fourth quarter from Tom Savage’s Texans to escape from Houston with a desperately needed win. Going from Savage to a rested Ben Roethlisberger, though, is kind of like when the Colts turned from an injured Peyton Manning to Curtis Painter in 2011. Of course you’re playing Antonio Brown (seven career TDs vs. Indy, tied for his most against any NFL club) and Le’Veon Bell (NFL-high 229 touches). Can Martavis Bryant, who’ll have a role following his one-game deactivation, draw inspiration from fellow trade deadline survivor WR T.Y. Hilton (5-175-2 to almost singlehandedly take down the Texans)? The Colts have surrendered a NFL-high 53 explosive passing plays and 2,517 yards through the air.
Must start: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown
Solid play: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers D/ST
Worth a look: Martavis Bryant
Lions (vs. Browns)
Arguably no NFL passer is hotter than Matthew Stafford, who has three consecutive 300-yard games after tallying just four in the previous 22 outings. No NFL team is a hotter mess than Cleveland, but the one thing it does well — besides embarrass itself — is defend the run (NFL-best 2.9 YPC allowed), and that’s where Detroit struggles. But that's not enough to make us wonder whether or not the Lions should be among the week’s biggest favorites (-12). The best stretch of Marvin Jones’ career has come in the Lions last three games vs. New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Green Bay coinciding with Stafford’s yardage spike; Detroit’s top perimeter playmaker has averaged 6-110-1 on 12 targets as he slowly shakes the inconsistent tag. Eric Ebron even flashed competence in Green Bay and, in a week with Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and Jared Cook resting and Cleveland looming, is fantasy relevant.
Must start: Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Lions D/ST
Solid play: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick
Worth a look: Eric Ebron
Rams (vs. Texans)
For all the Savage takes regarding Houston’s Deshaun Watson-less offense, the Texans pass ‘D’ has been every bit as exposed since losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus: 10 touchdowns and an average of 290-plus passing yards permitted. Now they’ll visit the first place Rams with Jared Goff after undressing the Giants and boasting multiple touchdowns in four of his past six games. Of course, deciding which pass catcher Goff will favor has been a crapshoot in the Rams’ suddenly dynamic attack. Robert Woods is settling into a steady WR3, though, after securing his first two Rams touchdowns, and Cooper Kupp’s red zone usage and Sammy Watkins’ splash ability keeps them in WR3 territory as well.
Must start: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Rams D/ST
Solid play: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp
Worth a look: Sammy Watkins
Jets (at Buccaneers)
Josh McCown returns to Tampa as fantasy’s QB11 overall, with 12 of his 16 total touchdowns, but just four of nine giveaways coming since Week 5. The Bucs, meanwhile, returned home from New Orleans in shame and without injured Jameis Winston and suspended Mike Evans. If the Bucs are again without a ‘D’ that seems to care, well, McCown, Robby Anderson and another two-headed backfield (Bilal Powell and Matt Forte) clearly still do. Look for them to build on solid showings last Thursday vs. a Buffalo ‘D’ with far more pride than the Bucs.
UPDATE: Matt Forte (knee) was ruled out with a knee injury but Bilal Powell slides into an enticing RB2 spot with RB1 upside, while Elijah McGuire lands on the FLEX radar.
Solid play: Josh McCown, Robby Anderson, Bilal Powell, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Worth a look: Jermaine Kearse, Elijah McGuire
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Dolphins (at Panthers)
Miami couldn’t take advantage of Jay Cutler’s best outing as a Dolphin— 311 yards and three TDs —vs. the Raiders’ sieve secondary. Now a Panthers ‘D’ that’s done everything except consistently take the football away welcomes a sloppy offense trying to avoid a third consecutive primetime embarrassment. After keeping the Bears and Bucs offenses scoreless, Carolina held Atlanta to 53 rushing yards and 17 points. It also notched its third interception in two weeks, tripling the Panthers’ total in the first seven games. DeVante Parker, Miami’s big-play threat, will draw ascending James Bradberry following an encouraging return from his three-game absence. A Jay Ajayi-less run game, which debuted promisingly save for Kenyan Drake’s fumble, encores vs. the second-ranked run ‘D,’ whose four TDs surrendered are the NFL’s second fewest.
Solid play: Jarvis Landry
Worth a look: DeVante Parker, Kenyan Drake
Last resort: Jay Cutler, Kenny Stills, Damien Williams
Bengals (at Titans)
Andy Dalton tossed six touchdowns without a pick in his first two road games. He’s averaged just 138 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in his past two, including Sunday in Jacksonville, where the Bengals’ frustrations boiled over with usually reserved A.J. Green going WWF on Jalen Ramsey (and somehow avoiding a suspension). Joe Mixon can’t get out of neutral on the ground. Cincinnati can’t consistently incorporate a No. 2 receiver (No. 9 overall pick John Ross was a healthy scratch for the first time Sunday). And Marvin Lewis can’t blame it on fired coordinator Ken Zampese, whose offense at least eclipsed 200 yards in all 18 games (replacement Bill Lazor’s has 148 and 179, respectively, in its past two losses).
Must start: A.J. Green
Solid play: Joe Mixon
Worth a look: Tyler Kroft, Gio Bernard, Andy Dalton, Brandon LaFell
Chargers (at Jaguars)
The Chargers are a better team than Cincinnati, but their shortcomings — inconsistent protection and a disappointing run game — are similar. They also have an immobile quarterback who’ll make some questionable throws in Philip Rivers. This game screams Melvin Gordon breakout, but last week suggested the same for Mixon. Before their bye, the Bolts were held to a season-low 13 points in New England, and they’ve averaged 17 in five losses. It’s unlikely fellow rookie Los Angeleno coach Anthony Lynn will enjoy the success Sean McVay did in Jacksonville two weeks ago — fueled by defense and special teams, areas the Bolts are average — and Lynn’s team travels cross-country as four-point ‘dogs.
Must start: Melvin Gordon
Solid play: Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry
Worth a look: Philip Rivers
Cardinals (vs. Seahawks)
Adrian Peterson just carried the ball a career-high 37 times against the NFL’s worst fantasy run ‘D’ in his second top-8 RB1 finish in three Cardinals appearances. On a short week ahead of hosting a Seattle ‘D’ no one will mistake for the rebuilding Niners or a Bucs team whose dysfunction threatens to blow its rebuild up, don’t expect a repeat. The Seahawks are fantasy’s fifth-stingiest run ‘D’ but more importantly have zero reasons not to sell out in stopping Peterson with Drew Stanton at the helm. In two pinch-hitting appearances for an injured Carson Palmer vs. Seattle, Stanton has zero TDs, three INTs and a 5.3-yard attempt average.
Must start: Adrian Peterson
Solid play: Larry Fitzgerald