Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (vs TEN) **Thursday** - We have seen some Thursday night shootouts already this year, and with the Steelers secondary banged up and Roethlisberger playing at home in prime time, this could be another one. The Titans gave up two long passing scores to the Bengals last week, they gave up two passing scores to Joe Flacco the game before that, and Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson each threw for four against them. The Steelers offensive line is doing a terrific job keeping the pass rush at bay, which should give Roethlisberger plenty of time to find Antonio Brown, Juju Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant open downfield in good matchups.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, TB (vs MIA) - Miami’s defense is in free fall heading into this one. The Panthers did whatever they wanted in Week 10, Derek Carr threw for 300 against them in Week 9, the Ravens threw two scores against them in Week 8, and Josh McCown threw three scores against them in Week 7. Fitzpatrick could have a modest ceiling if the Tampa defense plays the way it did last week, but he gets Mike Evans back this week to boost that ceiling. Those last four passing performances against them also averaged under 30 attempts a game, so even if it’s a Doug Martin afternoon, Fitzpatrick could do some damage on limited attempts, and he’s also liable to pull down the ball and run, just as Cam Newton did for 95 last week and McCown did for a score in Week 7.
Blake Bortles, JAX (at CLE) - How wild is 2017? We have come full circle to maybe trusting Blake Bortles for one week in our lineup if we are looking for a Cam Newton replacement or streaming quarterbacks. Bortles has been a decent baseline producer during the Jaguars three-game winning streak despite the team not scoring over 27 points. He has thrown for over 250 yards and a score in each game and only throwing two picks over than span. The Browns have allowed multiple scores to every quarterback they have faced except in the inexplicable 12-9 overtime yawner loss to the Titans when Marcus Mariota might not have been fully healthy. The only risk here is that Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah punish the Jaguars for letting Bortles drop back and throw downfield too often - although that happened early vs. Matthew Stafford last week and he threw for 249 and three scores on only 26 attempts.
Blaine Gabbert, ARI (at HOU) - Somehow, some way, Blaine Gabbert has gotten back on the fantasy radar in 2017. We need to confirm that Drew Stanton is indeed out for Week 11, but assuming that he is, Gabbert gets one of the best matchups of the week, and he gets to drive an offense that has strengths to match up with the Texans’ weaknesses. The Texans have given up at least two passing scores and 300 yards in each of the last three games, including one against Jacoby Brissett. They are vulnerable to the vertical pass, which is a staple in the Cardinals offense. Gabbert also has some running ability to boost his floor. This could blow up in our faces like Kevin Hogan in Week 6, but the theoretical ceiling is there.
Jay Ajayi, PHI (at DAL) - Ajayi was already busting a long touchdown during his first week with the Eagles. The team has confirmed that his role will grow this week and going forward. They should know from his history that the more carries Ajayi gets, the more effective he gets down the stretch. He should be the finisher for a team that is in line to win against a weakened Cowboys squad. Three of the four backs to have 19 or more carries against the Cowboys have notched at least 118 rushing yards and three of the four scored. Err on the side of putting Ajayi in this week.
Austin Ekeler, LAC (vs BUF) - The Bills seem to have folded up shop when it comes time to defend the run since they traded away Marcell Dareus. Each of the last two teams to face them have notched at least 181 rushing yards by backs and multiple scores. The #2 back has at least 74 yards in each of those games. It might not be fair to call Ekeler the #2 since the Chargers relied on him down the stretch against the Jaguars until his fumble. He can also contribute as a receiver and should have a high floor in a positive game script this week.
Danny Woodhead, BAL (at GB) - Make sure that Woodhead is active, but assuming that he is, consider him against the Packers this week. He had three catches in one drive in the one game he played, and he was injured on an end zone target. The Packers have allowed at least four running back receptions and 39 running back receiving yards in each of the last four games. Jerick McKinnon scored on one of those, and Benny Cunningham was this close to scoring on another. Woodhead should be a featured player in the red zone, which should be Ravens territory with their defense greatly overmatching Brett Hundley and a weakened offensive line and backfield this week.
Duke Johnson Jr, CLE (vs JAX) - The Jaguars are not vulnerable against the pass, and since they added Marcell Dareus, they are a wall against the run. The only answer for the Browns - if we assume rational coaching on the offensive side of the ball - is to use Duke Johnson Jr often as a receiver out of the backfield. Last week, the Chargers completed 11 passes to running backs, and Austin Ekeler turned two into scores. Tyler Ervin, Javorius Allen, and Marlon Mack all had at least four receptions against them and Johnson has six receptions in two of the last three games. He should be a key player for the Cleveland offense this week.
Doug Martin, TB (at MIA) - Martin has burned all of his bridges in fantasy, but it might be time to build one between him and your lineup this week. The game script should be positive against a sinking Dolphins team, and while Martin did nothing with a positive game script last week, the Dolphins are rolling out the red carpet for opposing backs. On Monday night, the Panthers backs combined for 201 yards and two scores. Marshawn Lynch scored twice in Week 9, and the Ravens backs combined for 168 yards in Week 8. The Dolphins run defense is melting, so Martin has a fighting chance of mattering for your fantasy team this week.
Ted Ginn Jr, NO (at WAS) - Ginn disappeared last week against the Bills, but he wasn’t needed as the Saints scored on the ground six times and won a laugher. Washington is better equipped to make the game competitive, and Ginn is returning to the Superdome, where he has scored or had a 50+ yard reception in each of the last three contests. Washington’s secondary was barely there against Minnesota last week, allowing three scores and 251 yards on 13 receptions to opposing wide receivers. That was with Case Keenum throwing the ball… this week it’s Drew Brees.
Martavis Bryant, PIT (vs TEN) **Thursday** - As explained above in the Roethlisberger blurb, the Steelers are situated well to take advantage of deficiencies in the Titans secondary. If Brandon LaFell and AJ Green can break long scores against the Titans on passes from Andy Dalton behind a piecemeal offensive line, Roethlisberger and Bryant can certainly be expected to have a good chance to hook up on at least one.
Dontrelle Inman, CHI (vs DET) - Inman has quickly emerged as the #1 receiver for the Bears, and just in time for a matchup with the Lions that has yielded five wide receiver scores in the last five games. At least ten passes were completed to wideouts in each of those games, and Inman should lead the Bears offense in targets. The team just asked Mitchell Trubisky to throw a season-high 35 times, so the Bears passing game - and Inman - are alive again when we are setting our lineups.
Keelan Cole, JAX (at CLE) - The Browns have been vulnerable to the deep ball all year, and the Jaguars have been taking more shots downfield to Cole each week. That should peak this week with Allen Hurns out and Dede Westbrook in his first week back off of injured reserve. Cole is one of the best bets among obscure receivers to catch a long touchdown this week considering the matchup, playing time, and offensive philosophy intersection.
Jeremy Maclin, BAL (at GB) - Maclin has quietly been very productive as Joe Flacco’s #1 receiver despite a very small passing game pie to split up in Baltimore. He has scores in three of the team’s four wins, and six catches in the other. He peaked with 8-98 in the team’s last game before the bye. This week the Ravens are favored at Lambeau Field, and they are facing a Packers secondary that has allowed seven wide receiver scores in the last five games, five wide receivers games with at least 82 receiving yards in the last three contests, and six wide receiver games with at least five receptions in the last three contest. Even the lowly Bears passing game accounted for 191 receiving yards on 13 receptions last week.
JJ Nelson, ARI (at HOU) - We’re digging deep for Nelson this week, but the Texans failures in the back of the secondary deserve more examining if we are looking for a waiver wire wide receiver to plug into our lineup. Houston has allowed seven wide receiver scores in the last three games, including long bombs to Paul Richardson Jr, TY Hilton, and Robert Woods. Nelson had a long score go through his hands last week. Prayers might be answered if Gabbert clicks in Bruce Arians’ vertical passing offense.
Cameron Brate, TB (at MIA) - Brate has let us down for two straight weeks, but there is reason for hope in Week 11. The Dolphins have been woeful against tight ends this year. Ed Dickson, Philip Supernaw, Antonio Gates, and Ben Watson have all scored against them. Jared Cook, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, and Austin Hooper have all caught at least five passes against them, with all but Smith catching at least seven. Everything is working against the Dolphins defense right now, so Brate should have a good chance to visit the end zone again.
Marcedes Lewis, JAX (at CLE) - Lewis had a three touchdown game earlier this year, then disappeared for a stretch until catching at least two balls in each of the last three games. He has had at least five targets in each of the last two games, and he scored in Week 7 against the Colts. Lewis is getting downfield targets, averaging over 15 yards a catch this year despite being 33 in a limited pass offense. The Browns have allowed seven tight end scores this year, including two multi-score games to the illustrious duo of Jesse James and Tyler Kroft. Opponents have completed at least five passes to tight ends for at least 55 yards in five of the last six games, and Eric Ebron scored in the one game that didn’t reach those thresholds. Lewis should be involved in the Jaguars game plan in Week 11.
Tyler Kroft, CIN (at DEN) - Kroft has been quiet the last two weeks, but he is due for an outburst against the slipping Broncos defense in Week 11. The Broncos strong cornerback group still encourages opponents to throw to the tight end. Opposing tight ends have scored in four of the last five games against Denver, and Hunter Henry caught four balls for 73 yards in the one game without a tight end score in that span. Jason Witten and Charles Clay are far from the most physically talented tight ends in the game right now, and they managed at least six catches and a score against the Broncos. Expect Kroft’s role in the offense to bounce back this week.