Quarterback (Cash Game)
Philip Rivers: (vs Pittsburgh) $6800
Rivers comes into week 5 leading the NFL in passing yards (1250) while piloting the Chargers to a 3-1 record. Keenan Allen has stepped his game up and provided a consistent mismatch for Rivers to target on third down’s, while rookie running back Melvin Gordon has been the workhorse back between the 20’s. Unfortunately for Rivers and company, wide receivers Stevie Johnson (concussion) and Malcolm Floyd (knee) exited the game last Sunday with injuries, and both are expected to miss Monday night’s contest against Pittsburgh. The Chargers do get back tight Antonio Gates, who alongside the young thoroughbred Ladarius Green, combine to form the most lethal tight end duo in the league. The matchup against Pittsburgh is not ideal, as the Steelers Defense is playing particularly stingy against opposing quarterbacks. With that said, I am not shying away from Rivers as a close game will keep him throwing for four quarters, which at this point is enough to convince me he at least hits value in cash games. Rivers has eight touchdowns on 16 red zone throws this season, and a healthy Antonio Gates should only help to improve that already gaudy number.
Eli Manning: (vs San Francisco) $6850
Eli Manning and the Giants get a fantastic matchup this weekend, hosting a beaten down 49ers team that suffered its third loss of season last Sunday against the Packers. Manning has put together three consecutive games with 200+ yards passing and at least two touchdowns while attempting 32 or more passes in every game this season. This team is different than in years past in that the Giants seem content with making their living through the air. The running backs form a true committee approach, with varying skillsets that lend itself to situational substitutions. Manning has one of the premier pass catchers in Odell Beckham Jr, who is capable of beating defenses in every phase of the passing game, but has yet to really break out. That should change this week with the Giants facing a porous 49ers defense that is letting up 263.2 passing yards per game, Manning should see little pressure enabling him to stand in the pocket and pick the secondary apart. He has the upside to be effective in GPP’s, but I like his passing volume for cash games as well. Manning has thrown 21 passes in the red zone this year while completing seven for touchdowns. That type of red zone production is hard to come by at Manning’s price point.
Alex Smith (vs Chicago) $5950
When you think of productive quarterbacks, Alex Smith is certainly not the first one who comes to mind. In fact, he may not be the 10th quarterback who comes to mind. In the right matchups though, Smith can be a GPP game changer, as he offers salary relief at a position that is usually draining your budget. He’s thrown for 240 yards or more in three of his four games this season, while also adding rushing totals of 15, 15, 35 and 25 yards. The biggest knock I have against him is his rather mediocre touchdown totals, but that is a function of having a stud running back in Jamaal Charles and lacking a true #1 receiver up until this year. He’s thrown four touchdowns to three interceptions through four weeks. I don’t often recommend Smith for GPP’s, but his matchup is too good to pass up this week against Chicago. The Bears have let up the 2nd most passing touchdowns (10) trailing only Kansas City, so the opportunity for a back and forth game where both quarterbacks hit value is very possible, perhaps even probable. At $5,950, Smith has a great chance to be the best PP$ play this week.
Jay Cutler (@ Kansas City) $6250
Just as I mentioned above with Alex Smith, Jay Cutler also has a great matchup against what is statistically one of the worst passing defense in the NFL. The Chiefs are letting up the fifth most passing yards per game (295.5), while also letting up the most total passing touchdowns (11). That is an average of 2.75 passing touchdowns per game. Considering Cutler has attempted 36 and 43 passes in the two full games he’s played this year, he has a great chance of totaling 250+ yards and 2+ touchdowns. I am accounting for these totals without Ashlon Jeffery, although the latest news has pegged him as questionable to play. If Jeffery suits up on Sunday, Cutler will be on my short list of quarterbacks. A combo of Cutler and Smith in the Fantasy Aces format leaves a ton of room for flexibility, and I would consider stacking each with their respective stud running backs, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles. That may seem like an odd choice, but with the game script calling for a high volume of passing plays, they make an excellent choice given their pass catching prowess.
Running Back (Cash/GPPs)
Leveon Bell (@ San Diego) $6400
Bell is an automatic play each week, regardless of who the Steelers are playing. Last Thursday night, Bell ran all over a Ravens defense that had previously shut down opposing running backs and to his credit, has shown up in game shape despite being suspended for the first two game of the season. As if his floor couldn’t be any higher, the Steelers will continue to lean on Bell for as long as Ben Roethlisberger is nursing a knee injury. Through two games, Bell has totaled 282 total yards with two touchdowns and 14 receptions. This is a week where you don’t need to get cute at running back. I suggest playing at least two of the top four as all have solid matchups that will yield big fantasy games. The Chargers defensive front has graded out as one of the worst units through four games, allowing the third most rushing yards per game (126.8), as well as four rushing touchdowns. This has all the makings of a 40 point game for Bell, so make sure he is in your lineup.
Jamaal Charles (vs Chicago) $6450
As a rule, I consult the Vegas sportsbooks each Monday and Wednesday to get a general feel for how they are seeing the scoring for that particular week. For the second straight week, point totals are down which means fantasy points are going to be harder to come by. When the point totals are low, I generally want to stick with stud running backs who are able to mitigate risk and variance due to high rushing and pass catching totals. This week is a bonus though, as Matt Forte, Leveon Bell and Jamaal Charles all face off against teams that are struggling on defense. The over/under for the KC vs Chicago matchup is 45 ½, which is also one of the higher totals of the week. Charles is essentially matchup proof, but it helps that he is playing the 24th best rushing defense that is allowing 120 yards per game on the ground. With the game expected to favor the offensive side of the ball, Charles will be very busy, which should translate into 130+ rushing yards, 10+ targets and two total touchdowns. Yes, there are cheaper, more unique options out there, but those players cannot come close to the floor or ceiling that Charles possesses. Play him with confidence.
Devonta Freeman (vs Washington) $5000
After failing to win the starting job in training camp, Devonta Freeman has made the most of his opportunities in the wake of Tevin Coleman’s injury. Newsflash to Coleman, you might be healthy but get used to the bench. Freeman hasn’t just been good, he’s been great. In two games as a starter, Freeman has accumulated 209 yards rushing, ten receptions for 143 yards and six touchdowns. He’s been an absolute game changer in GPP’s. A reduction in points is certainly on the horizon, but with the offense humming the way it is and Julio Jones destroying opposing secondaries, Freeman should have plenty of red zone opportunities to cash in on. The Falcons host the Redskins in what projects to be a tough matchup for Freeman and the Atlanta offense. In particular Washington has effectively shut down the run, having not let up more than 53 yards to any one running back in four games. That will not stop me from putting Freeman in play though. In Freemans first start, he faced off against a Houston defense that had not let up a single rushing touchdown on the season, but then promptly dropped a hat trick of touchdowns on them. As the #1 running back with goal line and third down touches, Freeman is in as good a position as any running back in the league.
Matt Forte (@ Kansas City) $5350
Do you see a trend developing? It is rare to find Forte with a salary that is 20% lower than both Bell and Charles, but due to Jay Cutlers early season injury, his totals suffered with JV-QB1 Jimmy Clausen struggling to move the ball. To illustrate how bad it was, Forte failed to catch a pass for the first time since week 13 of the 2011 season, which was only the third time in his eight year career. It wasn’t Forte’s fault though, as the Bears were running 30% less plays with Clausen under center, so he was not seeing anywhere near his normal amount of touches. The Chiefs defense is letting up 101.5 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the NFL. Their passing defense (as noted above) is atrocious though, and I fully expect Chicago to attack them through the air with a steady dose of screens to Forte. There are trade rumors floating around regarding Forte, which lends even more credence to the fact that Chicago will want to showcase him in a game where scoring should be above average for both teams. If you are doubting the totals that both Charles and Forte could put up, keep this in mind. Chicago and KC are tied for the most points allowed at 125 total points, or 31.25 points per game. This is the main reason I am suggesting Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte. Someone has to account for those points, and given the lack of elite options at receiver on both teams, it will most likely be the quarterbacks and running backs doing the damage.
Wide Receiver (Cash Game)
If you haven’t added Allen to your core of wide receivers you use each week, now would be the time. He is a polished route runner who has the perfect skill set to support Philip Rivers in the Chargers passing scheme. Rivers anticipates routes very well, and Allen is consistently creating space against opposing corner backs. The end result are performances like week 1 and week 3, where Allen posted 15 and 12 catches respectively, for a total of 300 yards. The Chargers face what has been a stingy Pittsburgh pass defense on Monday Night Football.
Wide Receivers (GPP)
Jeremy Maclin (vs Chicago) $5000
I missed out on Maclin’s first big game against Green Bay, mainly because I still very much had doubts as to whether Alex Smith and the Chiefs offensive scheme could produce #1 wide receiver numbers. Smith may not have the biggest arm, but he is accurate and knows how to maneuver in the pocket to create the best angle to his receiver. It’s why he is so good as spreading the ball around. That may be a function of never having a receiver who was consistently getting open, although he now has that in spades with Maclin. I’ve been encouraged by Maclin’s ability to create big plays by gaining yards after the catch. IF you’ve read up until this point, you know that I am targeting the Chicago vs KC game and if Ashlon Jeffrey plays for Chicago, I would recommend him too. This game is an unlikely source of points, but in a week where the winning GPP score will be closer to 200 than 250 points, it makes sense to target the two defenses who’ve let up the most points. The fact that they are playing each other makes it even sweeter.
Demaryius Thomas (@Oakland) $6,200
Thomas has been lost in the shuffle while Julio Jones and Antonio Brown stake claim to the wide receiver championship belt. Peyton Manning is getting older and his physical limitations are growing by the game. Luckily for Manning, he has two receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders who can put in work after the catch and create big plays on their own. Manning still has the intangibles that made him one of the greatest quarterbacks ever, so as long as they all stay on the same page and continue to improve on their timing, I don’t think there is much of a threat to either receiver’s fantasy value. It’s not like Thomas has had a bad year, as he’s caught 33 catches for 361 yards and one touchdown while catching at least seven passes in every game. The problem is not his floor though, it is paying a premium for a receiver who has yet to crack 25 points through four weeks. Brown and Jones don’t have any other receivers they are fighting for targets, so their monster games are going to be much closer together than Thomas. With that said, this is the week to save some money and downgrade from Brown to Thomas or Beckham Jr. Denver plays in Oakland in an advantageous matchup for the offense. Oakland let up big days to Steve Smith (10 catches, 150 yards) and couldn’t cover Eddie Royal or Marques Wilson this past weekend. This is a game that Denver will use to create momentum which could mean a GPP winning performance from Thomas.
Allen Robinson (@ Tampa Bay) $4,600
My strategy this week is to lean on the stud running backs and find value in the middle tier at wide receiver. Generally speaking, I usually lean towards the opposite as it is much easier to find value among running backs priced in the middle tier. Jacksonville gets a porous Tampa Bay defense in week 5 that let up 100 yard games to both Kendall Wright and DeAndre Hopkins. Robinson is starting to come on in his second year, showing off the big play ability that he was famous for at Penn St. Blake Bortles is maturing in the pocket, looking off defenders and going through his progressions. This is the most important thing for a receiver of Robinson’s skillset, as Bortles has to pick the right time to commit down the field or he will either throw into double coverage with safety help, or not allow Robinson to create separation. Allen Hurns has been the more consistent receiver of the two, but Robinson has a ceiling that Hurns does not. Both are great plays this week either in a single stack with Bortles or potentially a cheap double stack that would allow you to build a strong balanced lineup around them. If I had to pick one, I’m going to go with Robinson with the expectation he catches at least one long touchdown.
Mike Evans (vs Jacksonville) $4,800
For many of the same reasons I like Allen Robinson, I also feel that Mike Evans is a great play this week and still drastically underpriced. His salary is reflective of a guy coming off an injury who has yet to put it all together…who also happens to be playing with a turnover prone rookie quarterback. Jameis Winston’s tendency toward staring down receivers is troubling because it stalls otherwise productive drives, but the most troubling is how careless he is when throwing shallow routes. Evans is a complete mismatch in the red zone with incredible leaping ability and a wide catch radius. He is a rookie quarterback’s best friend. Winston seems to know this as he targeted Evans a whopping 22 times in their week 3 matchup against Houston, resulting in seven catches for 101 yards. This week could prove to be a game that lacks defensive discipline which could lead to big plays. Despite Vincent Jackson refusing to go away and continuing to put up big games, this is a game where Evans should shine. Take advantage of his salary while he’s cheap, it will not last much longer.
Tight End (Cash/GPP)
Martellus Bennett (@ Kansas City) $4,750
Travis Kelce (vs Chicago) $4,950
Continuing the trend of Chicago and KC players, Bennett and Kelce are great options to pivot off of Rob Gronkowski this week. Gronkowski will be the highest owned tight end every week he is playing, so to stand out in big GPP’s, you will either need to find uniqueness elsewhere, or pocket the salary relief and take one of the second tier tight ends with a lower ceiling. Neither can match his floor, but both Bennett and Kelce have put up 25 point games this season, and remain the first and second most targeted players on their respective teams. In a game that will be high scoring, both tight ends should receive double digit targets with several looks in the red zone. Similar to Charles and Forte, a Bennett/Kelce stack will offer the potential for a huge ROI this week, allowing you to spend elsewhere and concentrate on the top tier of running back.