Matthew Stafford (vs Oakland) - Teddy Bridgewater didn’t do much against the Raiders last week, but that’s because he only threw 22 passes. Every other quarterback that has faced the Raiders except Peyton Manning has thrown for multiple scores against Oakland and none of that group has thrown for fewer to 265 yards against them. Even Peyton Manning threw for 266. There is unlikely to be a pesky running game to take pass attempts away from Stafford with the Lions continued struggles to get a push in the trenches.
Mark Sanchez (vs Tampa Bay) - We already know Sanchez can pilot this offense to low QB1 numbers, he threw for 156 yards in less than a half last week. Tampa contained Matt Cassel last week, but not much better quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins, Blake Bortles, and Marcus Mariota have had near flawless games against them with three or more passing scores, and Cousins and Mariota play in highly structured pass offense like Chip Kelly’s. Sanchez is a very safe bye week or emergency plug-in.
Tyrod Taylor (at New England) - If Rex Ryan had his way, Taylor would throw 12 times like he did two weeks ago. That’s not going to be an option against a Patriots team that hung 40 points on the Bills in Week 2. They had Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis then, but the game is at Foxboro and don’t expect the Bills to be able to take the air out of the ball. Taylor accounted for four scores in the first matchup between these two and he should be forced to generate a lot of offense again this time.
Brock Osweiler (at Chicago) - Osweiler is not a high ceiling option in his first NFL start, but he’s not a big bust risk either. He’s the quarterback that will oversee the full install of the Gary Kubiak offense, which has elevated middling talents like Jake Plummer, Brian Griese, and Matt Schaub. Osweiler appears to have command of the playbook, and he’ll be inheriting Demaryius Thomas. The Bears pass defense was atrocious earlier in the year. It has gotten better against an undermanned Philip Rivers offense and Nick Foles, but the mere relief of not having to drag Peyton Manning to victories could be a big boost for this Denver offense and expose some of the flaws in the Bears ragtag unit.
Chris Thompson (at Carolina) - Thompson seems to be the best option of the three choices for the Washington offense against a stout Panthers defense. Carolina has allowed almost seven receptions a game to running backs, and Thompson contributed gains of 38, 23, and 16 yards on his three touches last week, so he should be in line for more work this week, if only by necessity. He is clearly over his back injury and ready to play a big role in the upset bid against the undefeated Panthers on the road
Andre Ellington (vs Cincinnati) - Ellington has gotten eight touches in two of the last three weeks, including three receptions in each of those games. That resulted in 49 yards against Baltimore and 88 yards plus a score last week to close out Seattle. This week against Cincinnati could bring even more targets with Michael Floyd and John Brown nursing hamstring injuries. Ellington is heating up, and he could break a long one against a defense that has given up long gains to the likes of Melvin Gordon III, Thomas Rawls, and DeAngelo Williams this year.
Ronnie Hillman (at Chicago) - Peyton Manning is out as quarterback in Denver and that means the full install of the Gary Kubiak offense can proceed. The running game should actually work now as the handoffs and flow of the play can run without having to compensate for Manning’s lack of mobility. Hillman hasn’t played as well as CJ Anderson lately, and Anderson might be the right play in hindsight if the Broncos give him the chance beause he’s more rugged and well-suited for the scheme, but if Hillman can get 15-20 carries behind the quality of the Denver defense controlling the game, he should be a good play.
Dexter McCluster (at Jacksonville - Thursday) - How many people know that the Jaguars have allowed the lowest yards per carry of any defense at 3.3 (which would be the second lowest in the last five years if it holds up)? The Titans would be smart to go away from the defense’s strength and attack the Titans through the air while spreading them out. That fits much better with McCluster’s skill set. He’s coming off of a game where he scored a touchdown, and the Jaguars on average give up almost seven catches a game to running backs, with three receiving touchdowns allowed so far. If there’s a decent Titans running back this week, it will be McCluster.
Giovani Bernard (at Arizona) - Bernard has fallen off because the Bengals insist on trying to get the running in wet cement Jeremy Hill going every week to no avail. They might not have that chance this week against their old quarterback Carson Palmer, who is piloting a potent, high-scoring offense. To keep up with the Cardinals, the Bengals should stay in hurry up/spread mode more often, which is where Bernard does his damage.
Karlos Williams (at New England) - Williams has scored in every one of his six games this year, including Week 2 against the Patriots. If the Bills want to hang in this game, they’ll need to shorten it by stringing together long possessions behind the running of LeSean McCoy and Williams. Williams looked like a wide receiver catching a 26-yard touchdown last week, and the Bills would also be smart to get him more involved as a receiver.
Danny Amendola (vs Buffalo) - Maybe Amendola is too obvious to be a sleeper, but just in case you are on the fence about playing him, he should definitely be in your lineup. In addition to getting a spike in snaps and targets in place of Julian Edelman, Amendola should be a lead piece of a passing attack that will attempt to bleed the Bills stout defense to death with short passing like they did in Week 2. Edelman had 11 catches for 97 yards and two scores in that game. Amendola should be almost as effective as Edelman in the role, and key the Patriots offense this week.
Harry Douglas, Dorial Green-Beckham (at Jacksonville - Thursday) - As explained above for Dexter McCluster, if the Titans are rational they will test the Jaguars pass defense a lot more than they’ll test the run defense. Douglas and Green-Beckham are the only healthy receivers with any experience, and they’ll face a defense that has given up seven touchdowns to wide receivers in the last four weeks. Neither of them are must plays, but if you need to dig deep in a PPR (Douglas) or nonPPR (Green-Beckham) league at wide receiver or flex, they could get you off to a surprisingly good start on Thursday night.
Terrance Williams (at Miami) - Williams has been a forgotten man, even with Dez Bryant missing six games this year. In Week 1 with Romo and Bryant, Williams had his highest catch total of the year (5) for 60 yards, and he is a facing a Dolphins defense that has allowed long bombs to Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, and Nate Washington to connect for long touchdowns. Williams is a high ceiling what the heck flex play because of his role in the deep passing game.
Brian Quick, Tavon Austin (at Baltimore) - If we know one thing about Case Keenum from his time starting for Houston, it’s that he is a bold downfield thrower who will give his receivers chances to make plays. If the Rams emphasize the deep passing game against the Ravens, Quick appears to be in the crosshairs, with his targets trending up to seven last week. As much as the Rams love to rely on Todd Gurley, the Ravens are strong against the run and weak against the pass, so offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti should dial up some deep shots to keep them honest. The Ravens have given up a whopping nine touchdowns to wide receivers in the last four weeks, including long touchdowns to Torrey Smith and Malcom Floyd. If Rams are going to add to that total, Quick or the speedster Austin are the most likely players to be on the other end of that pass.
Steve Johnson (vs Kansas City) - Johnson might be an easy call for some, but if you are on the fence, consider that the Chiefs have given up at least six passes to a wide receiver in every single game this year, and Johnson is probably the #1 for Philip Rivers with Malcom Floyd hurt and Keenan Allen out. Mixed in with those high reception games are five 100-yard games and three multi-touchdown games, so Johnson has a high ceiling at home. The only quarterback even close to Rivers level that the Chiefs have faced this year is Aaron Rodgers, and he threw five touchdowns to wide receivers.
Jaron Brown (vs Cincinnati) - Michael Floyd and John Brown didn’t practice on Wednesday with hamstring injuries. We’ll follow this throughout the week, but even if either or both of them can play, we’ve already seen Brown have one “active inactive” and one decoy game. Jaron Brown is more than capable if he is put in as the #2 receiver, with three catches for 38 yards last week after Floyd went out, and a 7-75 line last year when Larry Fitzgerald was out. The Cardinals pass offense is going to remain aggressive no matter who lines up at wide receiver, so Brown should have an opportunity to make an impact unless the two injured receivers ahead of him get well very quickly.
Eric Ebron (vs Oakland) - Ebron has been a mainstay in the Lions pass offense this year, with four or more catches in five of his seven games played and scores in almost half (3) of them. That’s more than enough foundation for a big game against the worst defense in the league at defending the tight end. Only the Broncos failed to have a tight end score against the Raiders this year. Even tight end challenged teams like Minnesota and the New York Jets notched a tight end touchdown against them. Four tight ends have gone over 80 yards receiving against the Raiders, including noted big play artists Martellus Bennettt and Crockett Gillmore.
Clive Walford (at Detroit) - Walford has scored in three of the last four weeks, and the Lions have given up eight touchdowns to tight ends this year, including four in the last three weeks. Walford is a boom/bust play, as he doesn’t seem to be getting many targets, but he has gotten his three highest target tallies in the last three weeks, so his usage is trending up. He’s a great option if you have to go to the waiver wire for your tight end in a nonPPR league this week.
Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams (vs St. Louis) - Joe Flacco has already shown an inclination to target Gillmore in the red zone, and Williams usage is going up at just the right time. Both had four catches for at least 40 yards and a score last week, and the Ravens should be eager to use the tight ends extensively against a Rams defense that just gave up a long catch and run score and a second short touchdown to previously unheralded Chicago tight end Zach Miller. All of the other tight ends of note that the Rams have faced (Jimmy Graham, Gary Barnidge, and Jordan Reed) have gotten at least 50 yards against the Rams.
Jacob Tamme (vs Indianapolis) - Leonard Hankerson might be back this week, but the relationship between Tamme and Matt Ryan only strengthened while Hankerson was out, and that should carry over to this week’s matchup against Tamme’s former team. The Colts have allowed touchdowns to tight ends in each of the last four games, and Vontae Davis’s ability to make life hard for Julio Jones should only encourage Ryan to look to Tamme more often. The Colts have also given up at least 79 yards receiving to tight ends in each of those four games. Tamme should be central to the passing game again this week.