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 7 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 Tom Brady?
Many questioned whether or not Matt Ryan's terrific start to 2016 was buoyed by exploiting matchups against leaky secondaries in his first four games. However, after he moved the Falcons offense and scored fantasy points in back-to-back road games against the Broncos and Seahawks, he now sits peacefully atop the fantasy quarterbacking iron throne. He currently leads the league in passing yards (2,075) and trails only Ben Roethlisberger in passing touchdowns, 16 to 15. Ryan has thrown 12 more touchdowns than interceptions, while only five other quarterbacks have thrown at least 12 touchdowns on the season as a whole. Simply put, Ryan is enjoying a career-year with potentially the best group of offensive weapons he's played with in nine NFL seasons. Up next for Ryan and co. is a home matchup with a Chargers secondary decimated by injuries. The team lost Jason Verrett for the season prior to Week 5, and promptly gave up nearly 22 fantasy points to Derek Carr. The Chargers held Trevor Siemian in check last week, but Ryan is a far better (and healthier) quarterback. The Chargers front seven has benefitted from the return of a healthy Joey Bosa and could get to Ryan, though his inflated sack rate (6.44 percent, tied for 10th-highest in the league) hasn't inhibited his ability to produce in fantasy yet.
So far, so good for the 2016 edition of the "Tom Brady revenge" tour. Since returning to action in Week 4 he leads the league in passing yardage (782), is tied for second in passing touchdowns (six) behind Matthew Stafford's seven, and is second in fantasy points scored by quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota) while completing 76 percent of his pass attempts. Josh McDaniels is form-fitting the weekly gameplan to perfectly exploit the opponent's weaknesses, whether it be with heavy tight end usage or a wealth of passing targets for James White. This only elevates Brady's fantasy ceiling, as it doesn't matter who is catching his touchdown passes as long as they're being caught. The tour's next stop is in Pittsburgh against a defense that just let Ryan Tannehill complete 75 percent of his passes at 7.9 yards per attempt because they couldn't put a lick of pressure on him. Brady is among the best quarterbacks in the league at moving in the pocket and avoiding pressure, which could spell disaster for a Pittsburgh team potentially reeling from a recent defeat that also cost them Ben Roethlisberger for two to six weeks. The only real factor working against Brady is if the Patriots jump out to an early lead and turn the keys of the offense over to LeGarrette Blount, as they are wont to do. Otherwise, this is shaping up like another solid outing for No. 12.
Verdict: As the Player Comparison Tool indicates, this choice is basically a toss up. It gives the slight edge to Brady thanks to his inflated "performance" metric as he's only played two games. However, in my opinion, Ryan is the better start of these two. Not only is he playing at home, but his opponent figures to be able to score points on his defense as well. That should keep the game more competitive and Ryan in a more favorable game script for racking up fantasy points. Brady playing on the road against an offense starting Landry Jones under center raises a few red flags.
Who should I start at RB: Terrance West or Spencer Ware?
Since essentially being handed the featured back role in Baltimore in Week 4, West averages 18.3 rushes per game at a 5.4 yards per carry clip with three touchdowns. Over that span he's the fourth-highest scoring back in fantasy with 50.5 points. There's little competition behind him for touches between Kenneth Dixon and Javorius Allen, so his workload remains reliable. West's next opponent, the Jets, feature a stout run defense and dominant front line, despite their current ranking as the 13th-most generous defense to running backs in fantasy points allowed. While some might be quick to point out David Johnson shredded that very front seven in Week 6 with 111 yards on 22 carries and three touchdowns, a closer look at Johnson's game tells a different story. Removing his 58-yard touchdown scamper, his remaining 21 totes went for just 53 yards (2.52 yards per carry), which is more in line with the 3.5 yards per carry this defense was allowing through the first five weeks of 2016. The news of Joe Flacco's shoulder injury could go both ways for West. On the one hand, he could see even more touches in an effort to protect Flacco. But on the flip side, the Jets could sell out, even more, to stop the run and force Flacco to try and beat them through the air with a damaged throwing arm. While the touches will be there for West, there are warning signs that this could be a difficult matchup for him to get over against.
Countless owners foolishly cast Spencer Ware back into the waiver pool with Jamaal Charles returning, only to watch Ware soak up 26 touches in Week 6, which he took for 164 total yards and one touchdown. Charles found the end zone, too, but still looks to be working his way back to full strength and comfort on the field despite claiming he was "110 percent" heading into last week. However, those savvy enough to read the tea leaves in Kansas City knew Charles was only ever going to be "sprinkled in" at first. All of this points toward Ware once again leading this backfield in snaps and touches against a Saints run defense that holds up worse against the run than paper banners do before high school football games. The Saints have only been seen 121 rush attempts against them, but allow over 4.5 yards per carry and have given up 10 rushing touchdowns (and one receiving) to running backs on the year. As a 227-pound bruiser, Ware should be able to both gash the Saints between the tackles and at the goal-line, giving him an excellent outlook while Charles contributes in a limited fashion.
Verdict: While the Player Comparison Tool sees this as an even split, Ware seems to have the far higher ceiling and safer floor. His ability, workload, matchup and this being a home game tip the scale in his favor over West's roadie against a tough run defense with a less than 100 percent quarterback.
Who should I start at WR: Kenny Britt or Golden Tate?
Believe it or not, Kenny Britt had performed quite well on the field and in fantasy before his breakout game in Week 5 against the Lions (seven catches, 136 yards, two touchdowns). Despite rather inexplicably trailing Tavon Austin in targets, he had four or more catches in each of his first five games, with 67-plus receiving yards in four, as well. While his target share might be secondary (for now), Britt is Los Angeles' No. 1 wide receiver. Unfortunately, he's now heading into a tough matchup with the solid New York Giants secondary allowing just a 60.1 percent catch rate to opposing wideouts. The Rams do enjoy the benefit of playing at home, but Case Keenum has been extremely hit or miss for the Rams under center, and trying to find the holes in a strong secondary could prove difficult. While it was great to see Britt finally find the end zone in Week 6, expectations may need to be tempered for Week 7.
After weeks of hearing Golden Tate would receive an expanded role in the offense with little on-field results, that narrative finally bore out in Week 6. Tate saw 32.3 percent of the team targets and hauled in eight catches for 165 yards and a touchdown. It was far and away his best performance of the year, but is it one fantasy owners can trust moving forward? That remains to be seen. As for Tate's outlook in Week 7, he draws a tough matchup against a Washington secondary that has quietly been pretty good. They allow just a 60.8 percent catch rate and 885 receiving yards to the position on the year, and while one could surmise that's partially due to them seeing the second-fewest wide receiver targets in the league (102), they've still kept most opposing pass-catchers out of the end zone (just four wide receiver touchdowns, good for a 3.9 percent touchdown rate). Tate lines up out wide in 2016 on 75 percent of his snaps, splitting them pretty evenly between the right (43 percent) and left (32 percent). This means he'll see plenty of Josh Norman on Sunday, which could go poorly as Norman has played pretty well thus far. All told, Tate owners shouldn't be expecting another massive statistical outburst.
Verdict: This is a tough call, but I have to side with the Player Comparison Tool here. Britt's matchup feels slightly better to me, while I trust his target share and increasing role in the Rams' offense more than Tate's one-week wonder.
Who should I start at TE: Kyle Rudolph or Hunter Henry?
Kyle Rudolph comes off of his bye owning 23.4 percent of the targets in Minnesota but heads into what appears to be a dreadful matchup on paper with the Eagles. Through six weeks, no team has allowed fewer targets (15), receptions (eight) or yards (93) to tight ends than the Eagles. However, this is largely because Philadelphia has yet to face a dynamic tight end seeing a large volume of targets. They played Gary Barnidge and Zach Miller in Weeks 1 and 2, both in diminished roles at that time, Jesse James in Week 3, and somehow managed to dodge Eric Ebron in Week 5 and Jordan Reed in Week 6 (injuries). So don't let the Eagles' FPA numbers for tight ends scare you off, Rudolph is still a fine start in fantasy. He's a top option in an efficient offense and leads the team in red-zone targets with six, scoring all three of his touchdowns in that space. Sam Bradford will continue to look for Rudolph early and often this Sunday.
Hunter Henry is looking to erase the "rookie tight ends can't produce in fantasy" narrative this season, and gets an enticing matchup with the Falcons defense. Excluding the Denver game in Week 5, the last three tight ends the Falcons have faced have finished as the TE2 (Coby Fleener), TE2 (Greg Olsen), and TE10 (Jimmy Graham). Over the last three weeks Henry is second on the Chargers in targets (19), first in receiving yards (218), and first in receiving touchdowns (three). While the matchup and his own ability are fantastic, the one worrisome caveat with Henry is he must split time with Antonio Gates. Over the last two weeks, Gate's playing time jumped from 35 percent to 47 percent, while Henry's dipped from 82 percent to 68 percent. Despite the rookie's performance thus far, this split could continue to even out as Gates gets healthier. Henry has shown he can produce on limited snaps/targets, but his usage certainly needs to be monitored moving forward.
Verdict: While the Player Comparison Tool picks this debate in a landslide favoring Henry, my feeling is to swing the other way and start Rudolph. The Eagles defense has shown cracks when playing good offenses like Washington and Detroit, and Rudolph's role for the Vikings almost assures him targets. Henry, on the other hand, has to battle a wily veteran for targets at his own position, much less a trio of speedy wide receivers who could be getting loose frequently on the turf in Atlanta. While Henry's ceiling might be higher, Rudolph looks to be the smarter play.