Each week of the regular season in "Fantasy Audibles" I'll use the SAP Player Comparison Tool to help you make the right decisions when it comes to difficult lineup dilemmas. The tool uses several factors to help make an educated suggestion, including past performance, matchup, consistency, upside and intangibles. It finally appears as if the tool is fully operational (though not 100 percent reliable), so I'll use a combination of the tool and old-fashioned fantasy methods to help make a determination on four difficult Week 3 matchup decisions below. Let's take a look at the start/sit questions haunting some of our fantasy readers and try to help them set a winning lineup.
Who should I start at QB: Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger?
So far Matt Ryan has engaged in two shootouts with 118 total points being scored. That's helped him comfortably operate in back-to-back pass-heavy game scripts against suspect secondaries, as Oakland and Tampa Bay allow the most and fourth-most passing yards per attempt in the league after two games. Still, Ryan is second in the NFL in completion percentage (72.6) and is the only quarterback with a completion percentage over 70 with at least 70 attempts. All told, he's being efficient with his passes (five touchdowns, one interception) and exploiting positive matchups, which is what he has again on Monday against a depleted Saints secondary.
The Saints pass defense allows 8.51 yards per attempt and a 70.89 completion percentage to opposing passers so far. The losses noted in Gregg Rosenthal's tweet above certainly aren't going to help. Ryan has to travel into the Superdome, but the fast track could help his explosive playmakers, Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu, find more space as well. Ryan's season-to-date scoring output and matchup are both reflected in the Player Comparison tool's analysis, but this is where we need to dig a little deeper in regards to Ben Roethlisberger.
On the surface, Big Ben's matchup seems tougher, as the Eagles currently allow the fewest fantasy points to opposing passers in the NFL. But this is why fantasy points against (FPA) stats are incredibly misleading. The Eagles boast such a strong FPA ranking largely because they've played Robert Griffin III (who was injured mid-game but played through it), Jay Cutler (also injured mid-game) and Brian Hoyer (filling in for the injured Cutler). That type of early-season schedule would inflate any defense's stats. A more careful analysis, however, shows an Eagles defense with plenty of holes in the secondary. While the safety tandem of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod is sound, the cornerback rotation of Nolan Carroll, Ron Brooks and Jalen Mills is anything but. In just two games, the Eagles have already given up completions of 44, 58, and 49 yards -- to Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, and Alshon Jeffery, respectively. An elite QB-WR combo such as Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown should have no problem carving up that group, while Sammie Coates may be able to work the deep areas of the field once again. Of course, there is a chance the Steelers could jump out to an early lead against rookie passer Carson Wentz resulting in a run-heavy, clock-killing approach. However, that lead would still likely involve plenty of work from Big Ben and co., meaning fantasy owners shouldn't be too worried.
When push comes to shove, I feel it's safer to ride the hot hand in the juicy matchup, and that's Matt Ryan. The Steelers have a strange history of playing down to inferior opponents, which could make this matchup with the Eagles go off the script I detailed above. Meanwhile, the Saints in the Superdome figure to take turns lighting up the scoreboard with the Falcons, making Ryan the higher-upside and likely safer option for Week 3.
Who should I start at RB: Devonta Freeman or Isaiah Crowell?
All offseason we heard whispers of Tevin Coleman stealing work from Freeman, and those rumors became a painful reality over the first two weeks. They're the only two backs to see the field in Atlanta, with Freeman owning a slight edge over Coleman in snaps (72 to 62) and touches (32 to 27), while Coleman has the edge in fantasy points (24.8 to 13.3) thanks in large part to one touchdown and one big 47-yard catch. Even in the red zone, a place we once thought Freeman would thrive, he holds a minimal edge over Coleman in terms of touches (nine to seven), though Coleman scored the lone touchdown of the group. Truth be told, the committee situation in this backfield couldn't have played out any worse for fantasy, but this is the hand we've been dealt and we need to play it. Freeman's ceiling is ultimately capped by this time-share, making him at best middling flex option -- even against a shaky Saints defense.
On the other hand, Crowell could be breaking free from his committee a bit, though his emergence couldn't be coming at a worse time. Already through two weeks Crowell has lost his starting and backup quarterback (Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown), and will likely be getting the ball from under-developed rookie Cody Kessler on Sunday or street free agent Charlie "Clipboard Jesus" Whitehurst, who signed with the team this week. Yikes. And this all comes after Crowell saw nearly 65 percent of the backfield opportunities (targets and carries) in the first two games. Pass-catching "specialist" Duke Johnson only owns a 10 to three edge in targets as well, though that could be a product of RGIII's preference to run instead of check down to his backs. Still, Crowell is receiving more work, and producing on those touches. This week he faces a Miami defense that was ripped apart by LeGarrette Blount in Week 2 to the tune of 123 yards and a touchdown, a back with a similar running style to Crowell. Crowell will face a tougher task with Miami being at home and likely keying in to stop him and not Kessler (Blount at least had Jimmy Garoppolo for much of the game to keep Miami honest), but there are reasons for optimism when it comes to starting Crowell.
Neither back is in an ideal spot this week, but when it comes to starting either in the flex I'd roll with Crowell. As the Player Comparison Tool indicates, Crowell's upside is higher, though I think the tool is overrating Freeman's consistency based on last year's performance. Ultimately, Crowell's matchup and share of touches in the backfield give me more hope than what Freeman's disastrous split offers fantasy-wise thus far.
Who should I start at WR: Allen Robinson or Stefon Diggs?
Despite currently leading the Jaguars in targets with 20 (22.3 percent of the team total), Robinson has by and large been a fantasy disappointment. He's yet to find the end zone ... though part of that is because the team has barely looked his way in the red zone. Last year Robinson led the team with 22 red zone targets, including 18 from within the 10-yard line. Now, the Jags have only run 14 red zone plays so far in 2016, but Robinson has been targeted just once on those 14 plays. His matchup this week against the Ravens should theoretically be easier than what he's faced the last two weeks (a talented Packers secondary and emerging shutdown corner Jason Verrett), but the Ravens secondary hasn't been as much of a sieve as many expected this offseason. To date, the Ravens allow just 6.13 yards per pass attempt and a middle-of-the-pack 63.64 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. They did get shredded by Corey Coleman to start Week 2, though, with the rookie notching 42 yards and two touchdowns on three targets in the first quarter. Robinson and Blake Bortles are a solid combo, and should be able to exploit similar matchups on Sunday. While Robinson's totals thus far don't inspire a lot of confidence, there's reason for optimism that a home game against the Ravens could be just what he needs to bounce back into fantasy owners' good graces.
Meanwhile, Stefon Diggs tore through back-to-back secondaries (including the Green Bay unit that held Robinson in check) on his way to leading the NFL in receiving yards after two weeks. Diggs has done all this while playing with two quarterbacks (Shaun Hill and Sam Bradford), as well, and having no legitimate threat opposite him, unlike Robinson has with Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas. Looking ahead to Sunday, on paper, a date with the Panthers seems worrisome, but two of the team's top-three cornerbacks -- James Bradberry and Daryl Worley -- are rookies. Diggs worked over promising second-year player Damarious Randall on Sunday Night Football, and should have no problem handling the likes of Bradberry or Worley, though Bene Benwikere could be a challenge in the slot. The Vikings offense also lost starting running back Adrian Peterson and starting left tackle Matt Kalil to injuries this week. Both losses could foretell an increase in targets for Diggs as the team looks to use quick passes to mitigate the Carolina pass rush and open up running lanes.
While Diggs seemingly has everything lining up in his favor, for Week 3 it feels better to chase the bounce-back game with Allen Robinson. The safer play is probably Diggs, as the Player Comparison Tool points out, but it's hard to sit a stud like Robinson heading into a more favorable overall offensive matchup.
Who should I start at TE: Dennis Pitta or Dwayne Allen?
The tight end position is largely a wasteland, with Vance McDonald sitting as the TE2 in terms of scoring ... on just three catches. That's why it's hard to turn away from a volume hog like Pitta, who saw a whopping 12 targets (26.7 percent of team total) in Week 2. Pitta was Joe Flacco's security blanket back in 2012, but multiple injuries essentially put his career in jeopardy. Kudos to Pitta for not only fighting back but performing at a high level. Pitta's Week 3 opponent, the Jaguars, have only seen 10 tight end targets through two weeks, allowing just five catches for 44 yards. Of course, that's because both offenses (Packers, Chargers) don't heavily feature their tight ends (though Antonio Gates did catch a touchdown in Week 2). An athletic, high-volume tight end could be a tough matchup for the Jaguars up the middle of the field. Pitta is currently tied for third among tight ends with 16 targets, and should see a fair amount of looks this weekend.
Allen stuck with the Colts in free agency because the team promised him a bigger role, but so far it appears as if Allen is stuck in the same sort of tight end committee he saw when Coby Fleener was still in town. Through two weeks, he's only seen one more target than Jack Doyle (10 to nine), though Allen holds the edge in red-zone looks at three to one. Still, this is disconcerting for a player whom many pegged as a breakout candidate. Working in Allen's favor is the injury to Donte Moncrief, who will miss several weeks with a shoulder injury. With Moncrief out of the lineup -- and little depth at wide receiver behind T.Y. Hilton and Phillip Dorsett -- Allen could see a bump in his targets. This is just conjecture, although the Colts passing distribution in Week 2 seems to back up this theory. In the first quarter, Doyle was the only tight end targeted by Andrew Luck on his nine attempts, for just 11 percent of the total. Meanwhile, in the second through fourth quarter (after Moncrief was injured) Allen and Doyle each saw four targets, good for a combined 28.6 percent of Luck's 28 attempts. His matchup against the Chargers is favorable, though, as the team allows over nine yards per reception to tight ends thus far in 2016.
The presence of Doyle is a pretty large thorn in the side of Allen's fantasy value, and for that, I have to lean Pitta here. Pitta's performance and volume of the passing game in Baltimore are both trending upwards, as the Player Comparison Tool indicates, helping make him the better, safer start in Week 3.