In “Start or Sit,” we make a call on players who merit strong starting consideration — and players who might be best on the bench. However, owners should tailor their own lineup strategy to their roster constraints, league rules and other relevant factors.
Here’s our Week Seven rundown:
Titans RB Chris Johnson (at Buffalo) — If you have held on to Johnson for this long, you owe it to yourself to get him into the lineup in Week Seven. There are so many factors pointing to it being the logical move. For one thing, Johnson's last regular-season rushing touchdown came 10 games ago … at Buffalo, when he racked up 153 rushing yards and a pair of scores in a Tennessee win. That was his last monster, win-the-week sort of game — you know, the sort of performance that prompted you to draft him in the summer. In two career games against the Bills, Johnson has 389 combined yards and four TDs. I know, I know — there are limitations to citing historical trends to suggest Johnson as a play. If that's not your bag, well, try this on: the Bills are surrendering 173.5 rushing yards and 1.5 rushing TDs per game. Anyway you look at it, this is the week to start him — and with a smile. You're making the right play. Time to get those chips in the middle of the table.
Cowboys RB Felix Jones (at Carolina) — If you have Jones, you have likely either 1) won a multi-owner waiver fight or 2) shown deep wells of patience keeping him on the roster to this point. Either way, get him in the lineup this week against Carolina. The Panthers are allowing 127.4 rushing yards per game, and the Cowboys' commitment to the run in the first game after the bye adds to the appeal.
Giants WR Hakeem Nicks (vs. Washington) — I like him for mulitple reasons. For starters, he will be making his second start after a three-game absence because of a foot injury. Also, he was a key part of the Giants' passing game in both meetings against Washington a season ago, catching 12 passes for 195 yards on 23 total targets. There's also the matter of the Redskins surrendering 328.3 passing yards per game entering Week Seven.
Browns WR Josh Gordon (at Indianapolis) — He's already a very good option in three-WR formats, and I'm not opposed to him getting looks in two-WR formats, considering that six clubs are on bye and that the Colts, Cleveland's Week Seven opponent, are not strong vs. the pass (10 TD passes allowed in five games). Considering that Gordon didn't play college football a season ago, his early production (12 catches, 274 yards, three TDs) is respectable, and he really has started to improve of late. Already, Gordon is the Browns' primary downfield target, and the club is more equipped to take field-stretching shots than it has been in past seasons. What's more, if Gordon continues to improve, he could see more and more passes thrown his way. Make no mistake: Gordon is an in-season waiver-wire addition with some real upside.
Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Tennessee) — The Titans' pass defense is not so good. Opponents are completing 71.9 percent of their passes against Tennessee, and the Titans have allowed 13 TD passes in six games. If Fitzpatrick is your designated bye-week fill-in starter, well done — this is a matchup he can exploit.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford (at Chicago) — I don't have high hopes for the Lions' offense on Monday night. While the Bears are allowing 225.4 passing yards per game, they are allowing a mere 5.19 yards per play. When the teams last met in Week 10 of the 2011 season, Stafford threw for 329 yards, but it came on 63 attempts and included four interceptions. (It also came five weeks after the Bears' defense, which was vulnerable at safety, was shredded by the Lions' offense with surprising ease.) The Bears, who are the only NFL team yet to allow a pass play of 40 yards or more, are not unfamiliar with the Lions' big-play potential, and they have had two weeks to prepare. Certainly, some fantasy owners are going to start Stafford regardless of the matchup, and he's definitely capable of thriving against even a strong defense like Chicago's. However, I just don't like the matchup.
Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck (at Buffalo) — If you are starting Hasselbeck in Week Seven, you will bank on him having the necessary time to pick apart a Buffalo defense that's below-average against the pass. However, the Bills' pass rush could present problems for Hasselbeck and Co. Hasselbeck, who was sacked three times in Week Six by Pittsburgh, is not particularly mobile, and Buffalo's defensive line can create a good deal of pressure up the middle and off the edges.
Jets RB Shonn Greene (at New England) — For the bulk of the players on your roster, matchups matter. Last week was a good time to start Greene; the Colts are porous vs. the run, and Greene responded with a monster game (32 carries, 161 yards, three TDs). However, in Week Seven, Greene faces a New England defense that's allowing just 82.7 rushing yards per game. Greene is a starting back in an offense that might just go all-in with the running game going forward, considering its passing-game issues, so he definitely has fantasy value. However, he lacks upside this week.
Panthers RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (vs. Dallas) — While the Panthers' running game has been above-average from a yards gained per game (114.0) and per attempt (4.5) perspective in 2012, it hasn't been as potent as a season ago, when Carolina gained 150.5 yards per contest and nearly a full yard more per carry (5.4). Williams' yards-per-carry average has plummeted (5.4 to 3.6), and Stewart's average has also fallen (5.4 to 4.3). Perhaps the Panthers' running game will perk up after its Week Six bye. If it doesn't … well, fantasy owners depending upon Stewart and Williams could find themselves in tough spots. With Panthers QB Cam Newton already a major rushing and TD threat, a Carolina running game with a collective lower ceiling will most clearly affect the Stewart and Williams devotees. The Cowboys are allowing just 3.8 yards per carry, so fantasy owners with other options at running back might want to take a wait-and-see approach on the Carolina offense in Week Seven.
Vikings QB Christian Ponder (vs. Arizona) — When Minnesota hosted Arizona a little more than a year ago, the Cardinals surrendered 122 rushing yards and three TDs to Adrian Peterson in a 34-10 Minnesota rout. Considering that the Cardinals are solid vs. the pass and have allowed just five TDs through the air entering Week Seven — and with Peterson having so much success a season ago — it wouldn't be an upset if Minnesota emphasized the run on Sunday.