Start 'Em & Sit 'Em is the ultimate look at weekly matchups and how they'll affect your fantasy team. Sleeper alert features a player who's under the radar and could produce good numbers. Owners beware features a player who's a regular fantasy starter but could fail to meet expectations. For your final lineup decisions, check our lineup rankings.
Start of the week
Darren Sproles at Rams: Sproles has become a fantasy superstar in New Orleans, and not just in PPR leagues -- the Kansas State product is in the top 12 in fantasy points at his position in standard formats in 2011. He's a great start this week against the Rams, who have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this season. Sproles will have even more appeal if Mark Ingram is out with a bad heel.
Quarterbacks - start 'em
Matthew Stafford at Broncos: Stafford is coming off his worst statistical performance of the season, scoring 11.32 fantasy points in a loss to the Falcons. That's no reason to bench him (assuming he's healthy), especially with the Broncos next on the schedule. Denver's defense has surrendered the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, so Stafford should shine in the Mile High City this weekend.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Patriots: Roethlisberger has been on absolute fire after a slow start to the season, averaging a stout 22.1 fantasy points over the last three weeks. Next on the slate are the Patriots, who have allowed the third-most fantasy points to signal-callers in 2011. In a game that could turn into a shootout at Heinz Field, look for Roethlisberger to put up a nice stat line in this important AFC battle.
Eli Manning vs. Dolphins: Manning is on pace to have the best fantasy season of his career, posting 1,778 yards and a combined 12 touchdowns in his first six contests. His success in the stat sheets should continue against the Dolphins, who have allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than any other team in the league. Look for Manning to throw for 250-plus yards and multiple touchdowns in the Meadowlands.
Joe Flacco vs. Cardinals: Yes, Flacco was dreadful in a loss to the Jaguars on Monday night. But that contest was on the road, where the Delaware product has been inconsistent in recent years. This week he'll be on his home field against the Cardinals, who have given up an average of close to 20 fantasy points per game to field generals. That's enough to make Flacco a viable matchup-based starter in most formats.
Matt Hasselbeck vs. Colts: Hasselbeck has been downright bad from a fantasy perspective over his last two starts, averaging a brutal 8.47 fantasy points. But if you're in desperate need of a quarterback, the old veteran out of Boston College is worth a roll of the dice against the Colts -- their defense has surrendered an average of 19.46 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks after the first seven weeks.
Sleeper alert - John Beck at Bills (Toronto): Start Beck? Really? Well, if you're in a deeper league and need a quarterback, I'd roll the dice. He scored better than 18 fantasy points in his first start of the year, and this week's opponent, the Bills, have not been great against the pass. In fact, Buffalo's defense has surrendered an average of close to 18 fantasy points per game to field generals in 2011.
Quarterbacks - sit 'em
Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Redskins (Toronto): Fitzpatrick had a hot start to the season, but he's cooled off considerably in recent weeks. In fact, the Harvard product has averaged just 11.1 fantasy points in his last three starts. This week's opponent, the Redskins, have an improved defense that has surrendered just five touchdown passes all season. That's not a favorable stat for owners of Fitzpatrick.
Matt Cassel vs. Chargers (Mon.): It's tough to trust a quarterback like Cassel, who can look like a world beater one week and a bench warmer the next. I think he'll assume the role of the latter this week, as he goes up against a Chargers defense that held Cassel to just 13.14 fantasy points in Week 3. He's also averaged an awful 129.7 passing yards in his last four games against this AFC West rival.
Kevin Kolb at Ravens: Kolb is coming off a nice stat line from a fantasy perspective, scoring 18.28 points against the Steelers. But this week he'll face the Ravens, who are going to be more than a little ticked off after losing to the Jaguars on national television. Baltimore has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks as well, so Kolb could be in for a very tough afternoon.
Alex Smith vs. Browns: Smith has been a viable fantasy option at different points during this season, but the Utah product has been inconsistent overall and hard to trust in fantasy leagues. This week he goes up against a Browns defense that has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing signal-callers. That makes Smith someone to keep on the fantasy sidelines in this contest.
Christian Ponder at Panthers: Despite the fact that it was his first NFL start -- and it came against the champion Packers, Ponder still posted close to 16 fantasy points last week. With that said, I wouldn't trust him this week in a road game against the Panthers. The Vikings will use Adrian Peterson a ton against Carolina's horrible run defense, so Ponder's totals will be modest.
Owners beware - Tim Tebow vs. Lions: I know, I know, I've been touting Tebow like he's the second coming of Steve Young over the last week. But I lean on the numbers in Start 'em & Sit 'em, and the fact is that the Lions have given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. And unless the line protects Tebow better, he's going to take a ton of sacks and be forced into bad throws.
Running backs - start 'em
Ryan Mathews at Chiefs (Mon.): Mathews was a disappointment from a fantasy perspective last week, scoring just 6.50 fantasy points on NFL.com. He'll rebound on Monday night, however, as the Fresno State product goes up against a Chiefs defense that struggles to stop the run. That includes a game against the Bolts in Week 3, when Mathews posted two touchdowns and a total of 26.90 fantasy points.
DeMarco Murray at Eagles: Murray was listed in the sleeper portion of this column last week, and he more than helped fantasy leaguers with a ridiculous 253 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Rams. Next on the slate is a Sunday night matchup against the Eagles, who have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. With Felix Jones still out, Murray is a terrific fantasy option.
Chris Johnson vs. Colts: Yes, it has come to this -- I now have to tell fantasy owners when to start or sit Johnson. He's been dreadful this season, ranking just 30th in points at his position -- even backups like Ben Tate and Michael Bush have more points! But CJ2K needs to be active against the Colts -- their defense has surrendered the third-most fantasy points to running backs in 2011.
Reggie Bush at Giants: The Dolphins pass attack is a mess -- the team even signed J.P. Losman off the scrap heap this week -- so I expect to see Bush in a prominent role against the Giants. Their defense has given up an average of 20.87 fantasy points, including seven touchdowns, to opposing runners in 2011. With Daniel Thomas out, Bush is a viable flex starter in most leagues.
Sleeper alert - Bernard Scott at Seahawks: The Bengals will be without Cedric Benson this week due to a league-imposed suspension, so Scott is going to see a ton of work against the Seahawks. Their defense has been better than advertised, but the fact that Scott will see a featured role makes him an attractive option in fantasy land. Consider him a legitimate flex starter in most formats.
Running backs - sit 'em
Knowshon Moreno vs. Lions: Moreno is the new starting running back for the Broncos, as Willis McGahee will be out of action with a busted hand. While that does help improve the value of the Georgia product, keep in mind that this week's matchup against the Lions is not at all favorable. In fact, Detroit's defense has given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing runners.
DeAngelo Williams vs. Vikings: A former fantasy star, Williams' stats have been scarier than a scene in the original Halloween this season. Outside of one long touchdown run against the Saints in Week 5, the veteran has been almost invisible. He's also losing more and more work to Jonathan Stewart, who is the Carolina runner to start if you have to choose between the two against Minnesota.
Jackie Battle vs. Chargers (Mon.): Battle had a respectable stat line last week, rushing for 76 yards on 16 attempts in a win over the Raiders. But he also shared a lot of the carries with Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones -- that is a cause for some concern. And with a matchup against the Chargers next on the schedule, Battle's carriage could turn into a pumpkin on Monday night.
Maurice Morris at Broncos: The running back position is ultra-thin this week due to a combination of bye weeks and injuries, so Morris is going to be a potential flex starter in a lot of leagues. Of course, it's hard to expect him to produce a nice stat line against the Broncos. Surprisingly, their defense has allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs in 2011.
Alfonso Smith at Ravens: If you didn't believe me when I said good runners were going to be hard to come by in most leagues this week, the fact that I have to list someone like Smith as a sit 'em should prove it. He'll start in place of an injured Beanie Wells (knee), but you shouldn't consider him anything but a desperation flex starter against the Ravens and their stout run defense.
Owners beware - Peyton Hillis at 49ers: Whether it's the Madden-cursed Hillis (hamstring) or Montario Hardesty in the Browns backfield this weekend, neither has a favorable matchup against a stout 49ers defense -- no team has allowed fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. That makes Hillis or Hardesty little more than lackluster flex starters in most formats.
Wide receivers - start 'em
Marques Colston at Rams: An injured shoulder had him on the sidelines earlier in the season, but Colston is now back at 100 percent and blowing up the stat sheets. No wideout has scored more fantasy points over the last two weeks, and a game against the Rams makes Colston a must-start. Their defense has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in 2011.
Brandon Marshall at Giants:Matt Moore might not be the best quarterback, but his presence under center hasn't hurt Marshall's value. In fact, the veteran wideout has been targeted 22 times over the last two weeks. That trend will no doubt continue against the Giants, who have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Consider Marshall a borderline No. 1 or 2 option.
A.J. Green at Seahawks: Some might call this the year of the quarterback, but how about the impact rookies are making in 2011? Green has been one of the biggest contributors, posting 453 yards and four touchdowns while ranking ninth in fantasy points among wide receivers. He'll continue to post strong numbers against the Seahawks, who rank an unimpressive 20th in pass defense this year.
Anquan Boldin vs. Cardinals: Boldin has posted better numbers over the last two weeks, catching 12 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown. He'll be motivated to produce against his former team, the Cardinals, who come to Baltimore for a visit. Arizona's defense has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers, so Flacco should look to Boldin often in this battle of the birds.
Nate Washington vs. Colts: Washington has done next to nothing since the Titans lost Kenny Britt, proving that he can't handle the pressure of facing No. 1 cornerbacks on a regular basis. Still, the veteran is worth a roll of the dice as a No. 3 fantasy option or flex starter against the Colts -- their defense has allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season.
Sleeper alert - Antonio Brown vs. Patriots: Brown was a nice sleeper in fantasy land a week ago, posting 102 yards in a win over the Cardinals. This week he goes up against the Patriots, who have allowed more points to wide receivers than anyone else in the NFL. With Hines Ward at less than 100 percent due to a sore ankle, Brown could be a great sleeper for the second straight weekend.
Wide receivers - sit 'em
Reggie Wayne at Titans: How's this for a stat -- since posting 16.60 fantasy points in Week 1, Wayne has averaged an awful 5.3 in his last six games. He's also fallen to 30th in fantasy points among wideouts, with players like Michael Jenkins and Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of him. So if you have depth at wideout, it's a pretty good idea to put Wayne on the pine against the Titans.
Sidney Rice vs. Bengals: Here's some NFL trivia for you. Who is the second-ranked defense in the NFL? No, it's not the Jets, Steelers or Eagles. It's the Bengals! This unit has played lights out, especially against the pass, as wideouts have scored the third-fewest fantasy points against them. That's bad news for Rice, who has 76 yards and no touchdowns in this last two games.
Percy Harvin at Panthers: Harvin ranks a very disappointing 40th in fantasy points among wide receivers, and he'd be even lower if not for his 166 rushing yards. Overall he's averaged a dreadful 3.9 catches and 39.4 receiving yards per game, and the fact that he's been playing with injured ribs isn't helping his cause either. Keep Harvin on the bench against the Panthers if at all possible.
Michael Crabtree vs. Browns: Crabtree was seeing more targets in the weeks before San Francisco's bye, but Braylon Edwards is expected back this week. Also, a matchup against the Browns and CB Joe Haden isn't at all favorable. In fact, Cleveland's defense has surrendered fewer fantasy points to wide receivers than any other team. That makes Crabtree a real risk.
Eric Decker vs. Lions: Decker had a nice thing going with Kyle Orton earlier in the season, but it looks like he and Tebow aren't on the same page just yet. In Week 7, both Demaryius Thomas (10) and Eddie Royal (4) saw more targets than the Minnesota product. Based on that lack of rapport and a tough matchup against the Lions, Decker needs to be on the fantasy sidelines.
Owners beware - Miles Austin at Eagles: It's hard to bench a player of Austin's caliber, and you shouldn't do it unless you're stacked at the wide receiver position. Just keep in mind that No. 1 wideouts facing CB Nnamdi Asomugha and the Eagles have averaged an awful 4.8 fantasy points since Week 2 -- that includes Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Johnson and Santana Moss.
Tight ends - start 'em
Fred Davis at Bills (Toronto): Davis led the Redskins receivers in fantasy points last week, and he's guaranteed to see more targets in the absence of Chris Cooley (knee, injured reserve). In fact, I think he'll be a top-five fantasy tight end the rest of the season. With Santana Moss (hand) also out of action, I'd expect Davis to receive plenty of opportunities against the Bills.
Owen Daniels vs. Jaguars: A terrific draft bargain, Daniels is back at 100 percent and producing between the white lines for fantasy owners. At this point, he's scored the seventh-most points at his position as one of Matt Schaub's top options. He's a nice choice this weekend against the Jaguars, who have surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this year.
Vernon Davis vs. Browns: The Browns have been tough on opposing wide receivers, especially with Haden playing at such a high level, so teams are going to the tight end more often. That's evident in the numbers, as Cleveland's defense has allowed an average of close to 10 fantasy points per game to the position. That makes Davis a nice starting option across the fantasy landscape.
Sleeper alert - Jake Ballard vs. Dolphins: Need a tight end this week? Take a chance on Ballard, who has seen more work in the Giants offense in recent games. In fact, the second-year wideout from Ohio State has put up just two fewer fantasy points than Vernon Davis after seven weeks. The Dolphins also give up a ton of points to tight ends, so Ballard is worth a roll of the dice.
Tight ends - sit 'em
Greg Olsen vs. Vikings: Olsen had a ghostly performance against the Redskins last week, as he was almost invisible with his one catch for four yards and no touchdowns. He is dealing with a turf toe issue, however, which could have been partially to blame for his lack of numbers. Those sort of ailments tend to linger, so Olsen could put up another stinker this week against the Vikings.
Jermaine Gresham at Seahawks: One of the most targeted tight ends in the league, Gresham has been a nice option for fantasy owners this season. However, this week's matchup against the Seahawks isn't favorable on paper. In fact, Seattle's defense has allowed an average of just seven fantasy points per game (two touchdowns overall) to tight ends. Start Gresham with real caution.
Heath Miller vs. Patriots: Miller has put up some decent numbers in recent weeks, scoring a touchdown in two of his last three games. But against the Patriots, he could be in for a rough afternoon in the stat book. New England's defense has been tough on tight ends, allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Look elsewhere if you need to fill the positon this week.
Owners beware - Brandon Pettigrew at Broncos: Pettigrew was in this exact spot last week, and he managed just 3.1 fantasy points in a loss to the Falcons. He has another tough matchup ahead against the Broncos, so we'll keep the Oklahoma State product in the "owners beware" portion of the column. Denver's defense has given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
Kickers - start 'em
Jason Hanson at Broncos: The Lions offense has turned into a juggernaut this season with Stafford under center. That's been great for the value of Hanson, who might be the most valuable 41-year-old player in fantasy football. He's a solid No. 1 option against the Broncos, who have allowed the second-most fantasy points per game to kickers. Look for Hanson to post nice totals.
Billy Cundiff vs. Cardinals: Cundiff has come a long way from being a journeyman kicker, ranking in the top 10 in fantasy points at his position on NFL.com. He should bounce back from a forgettable loss to the Jaguars this week, as the Cardinals come to town for an inter-conference battle. Arizona has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing kickers this year.
Dan Carpenter at Giants: The Dolphins are struggling to move the football on offense, but Carpenter still has some value in fantasy land when the matchup is favorable. That's the case this weekend, as he faces a Giants defense that has surrendered an average of close to nine fantasy points per game to opposing kickers in 2011. Consider Carpenter a nice option in most leagues.
Sleeper alert - Olindo Mare vs. Vikings: Mare is coming off a huge game against the Redskins, scoring a season-high 15 fantasy points. He's in position to make it two monster stat lines in a row, as Mare goes up against a Vikings defense that has allowed more fantasy points to kickers than any other team. The veteran is still a free agent in most NFL.com fantasy leagues.
Kickers - sit 'em
Adam Vinatieri at Titans: Vinatieri will go down as one of the most clutch kickers in the history of the National Football League. But right now, he's no more than an average option from a fantasy perspective. The veteran ranks 25th at his position in points, and the Colts' sputtering offense isn't going to get him in position to improve this week against the Titans.
Phil Dawson at 49ers: Dawson is coming off a solid, 10-point performance in a win over the Seahawks last week. But that 10 points makes up for close to one-fourth of all his fantasy production in 2011. What's more, the veteran out of Texas must now face a Niners defense that has allowed an average of just 6.83 fantasy points per game to kickers. Look for other options.
Josh Brown vs. Saints: In 2010, Brown re-established himself as a top-three kicker based on fantasy points. Unfortunately, the Nebraska product is now on the outside looking in as it pertains to the top 30 players at his position. This week's opponent, the Saints, have been stingy against kickers -- that makes Brown even less attractive from a fantasy perspective.
Owners beware - Stephen Gostkowski at Steelers: Once considered an elite fantasy kicker, Gostkowski ranks just 16th in points at his position this season. While he's still a viable starting option, keep in mind that this week's opponent, the Steelers, have allowed the fewest fantasy points to kickers this season. Kicking at Hinez Field is never a simple task, either.
Defenses - start 'em
Saints defense at Rams: It's hard not to like the Saints this week, fresh off their big defensive performance against the Colts and with a game in St. Louis next on the schedule. Opposing defenses facing the Rams have scored the most fantasy points at the position this season, and the prospect of another A.J. Feeley start should have fantasy leaguers frothing at the mouth.
Giants defense vs. Dolphins: The Giants are fresh off a bye week, while the Dolphins come into the Meadowlands with a bad taste in their mouth after choking a late lead to Tebow and the Broncos. That puts Big Blue in a very good position to succeed, especially when you consider that defenses facing Miami have scored the fourth-most fantasy points at the position this season.
Texans defense vs. Jaguars: The Jaguars might have beaten the Ravens last Monday night, but it wasn't because of their offense. Rookie Blaine Gabbert doesn't have the experience or the weapons in the passing game to have any real statistical success, so the Texans defense should post some terrific fantasy numbers. Even without LB Mario Williams, this is a nice starting option.
Sleeper alert - Bengals defense at Seahawks: As I mentioned earlier, the Bengals have one of the top-rated defenses in the league. However, this unit is also in the top 10 in fantasy points at the position. And with a date against Charlie Whitehurst and an inconsistent Seahawks offense next on the schedule, fantasy leaguers shouldn't be timid about starting Cincinnati this week.
Defenses - sit 'em
Vikings defense at Panthers: The Vikings used to field one of the best defenses in fantasy football, but personnel moves and age have dropped them from the elite tier. In fact, these Purple People Eaters are just 20th in fantasy points at the position. With Cam Newton putting up ridiculous numbers for a rookie, it's a good idea to keep the Vikes on the fantasy sidelines.
Redskins defense at Bills (Toronto): Here's an interesting stat: Out of all 32 NFL teams, defenses facing Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and the Bills have scored the fewest fantasy points per game (2.17) at the position. So despite the fact that the Redskins have been more formidable on that side of the football overall this season, this is still a unit to avoid in Week 8.
Chiefs defense vs. Chargers (Mon.): The Chiefs might have scored 35 fantasy points last week, but this unit has no business in your lineup. Heading into Week 7, it had scored just nine points total! And in their last game against the Chargers, Kansas City scored a meager seven points. Even though Philip Rivers is struggling, you can do much better than the Chiefs.
Owners beware - Steelers defense vs. Patriots: The Steelers defense has been a much better fantasy option in recent weeks after a slow start, but facing Tom Brady and the Patriots is enough to make any unit less of an option. So far this season, opposing defenses facing New England's prolific offense have scored the sixth-fewest fantasy points at the position.