By Matt Citak
The 2017 NFL season has been rather unpredictable thus far. From a slew of injuries to significant fantasy football players, to rookie running backs bursting onto the scene, to average veteran quarterbacks suddenly looking like studs, it feels like we have seen it all in the first two weeks of the season. And yet, we still have 15 weeks to go. Strap in folks, it’s going to be an interesting season.
Here are Week 3’s Fantasy Football Starts and Sits.
QB: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
The season has not started the way Newton would have liked. While leading Carolina to a 2-0 record against the 49ers and Bills, the quarterback has amassed only 399 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception through two games. It is clear the shoulder he had surgery on during the offseason is still not 100%, but each week Newton looks a little more comfortable on the field. This week, Newton has the pleasure of facing New Orleans and their Swiss cheese secondary. The Saints have given up 25.5 and 30.8 fantasy points to Sam Bradford and Tom Brady, respectively, and have surrendered league highs in completion percentage, passing yards, and touchdowns on throws at least 15 yards downfield. Newton has done well when targeting his receivers downfield, and with Greg Olsen out for a while, he will need to rely on his receivers a lot more. The Saints couldn’t be a more perfect matchup to get Newton back on track.
QB: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford did not put up a monster game against the Giants on Monday, but a big reason for that was the game script. The 29-year-old attempted just four passes in the second half due to Detroit having the lead and New York’s stifling pass defense. Still, Stafford threw for two touchdowns on a 71.4 completion percentage, and has a very appetizing matchup this week. The Lions will welcome the Atlanta Falcons to Detroit on Sunday in what should be a very high-scoring affair, and I fully expect Stafford and Matt Ryan to put on a show. Stafford’s six touchdowns is currently tied with Trevor Siemian for the league lead, and the Lions QB is likely to add a few more to his total against a weak Atlanta secondary.
QB: Jay Cutler, Miami Dolphins
Let me preface this by saying I would only start Cutler if you’re looking for a streaming option at quarterback this week. That said, Cutler has a fantastic matchup as he faces his new divisional rival, the New York Jets. The Jets allowed over 19 fantasy points to both Tyrod Taylor and Derek Carr in the first two weeks of the season, with the latter completing 82.1 percent of his passes for three touchdowns. At this point in his career, Cutler is certainly not as good as Carr. But even so, the 34-year-old threw for 230 yards with a 72.7 completion percentage against the Chargers and their surprisingly solid secondary last week. Cutler is still rather new to the Dolphins offense, and should continue to improve the more he gets accustomed to the system. The Jets have allowed the fifth-highest rate of touchdowns per drive this season, which means Cutler and the Dolphins offense should have a field day on Sunday.
RB: Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
If you’re like me and drafted Crowell early in your fantasy football drafts this year, you have to be disappointed with his performance thus far this season. 27 carries for 70 yards is hardly what you want to see out of one of your starting running backs. However, it’s important to keep in mind that while those numbers are rather awful, Crowell was facing two of the league’s better run defenses in the Steelers and Ravens. But in Week 3, the Browns go on the road to take on the Indianapolis Colts, and are actually favored for the first time since Week 14 of the 2015 season. If the Browns are able to control time of possession, Crowell should get a heavy workload on Sunday. While the start of his season has not been pretty, this week starts a three-week stretch where he gets to face the Colts, Bengals, and Jets. Look for Crowell to begin his season turnaround on Sunday.
RB: Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots
Gillislee is currently leading the league with four rushing touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season. It is very clear that he has taken over for LeGarrette Blount in the Patriots offense, which is great news if you have Gillislee on your team. During his career in New England, Blount averaged over a touchdown and 14.5 fantasy points per game when the Patriots have won by a touchdown or more. New England enters Week 3 as two touchdown favorites over the Houston Texans, which should mean plenty of opportunities for Gillislee to score. The bruising running back is also leading the league in carries inside the 5-, 10, and 20-yard lines, just like Blount did last year. If the Pats build up a big lead as expected, they will likely turn to Gillislee to help close out the game in the second half.
RB: Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions
Riddick has done nothing on the ground to impress this season, carrying the ball 10 times for 19 yards. However he has made his presence felt in the passing game, as he has racked up nine receptions for 44 yards in big wins over the Cardinals and Giants. The Lions will face their toughest matchup thus far this season on Sunday with the Falcons coming to Detroit. But it’s Atlanta’s offense that should worry the Lions, not its defense. The Falcons defense led the league in receptions and receiving yards allowed to backs last season, and through two weeks, have surrendered 14 catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns to Tarik Cohen and Ty Montgomery. Riddick is tied for second on the team with 10 targets. In a PPR league, the pass-catching back is a strong option in what should be a shootout on Sunday.
WR: Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers
Similar to Newton, the start of the season has not gone as well as Benjamin would have hoped. After putting up a dud of a game in Week 1 with only one reception for 25 yards, the 6-foot-5 receiver bounced back with a solid effort against Buffalo in Week 2, catching six passes for 77 yards. A lot of Benjamin’s success rides on the health of his quarterback, and as noted above, Newton is slowly inching closer to being 100 percent recovered from shoulder surgery. Benjamin is a little banged up himself, as he is already dealing with a knee injury along with soreness in his ribs. A matchup against the Saints is just what the doctor ordered, for both Benjamin and Newton. New Orleans has already surrendered 13 or more fantasy points to three different receivers this season. Look for Benjamin to become the fourth, especially with Olsen out.
WR: DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins
With the Dolphins making their 2017 debut in Week 2 due to Hurricane Irma, Parker was forced to open the season with a dreadful matchup against Casey Hayward and the LA Chargers. Even so, Parker was able to reel in four of nine targets for 85 yards against one of the league’s toughest shutdown corners. Cutler showed in his Dolphins debut that he is not afraid to throw the ball up to Parker down the field and let his big receiver jump up and get it (evidenced by Parker’s impressive leaping grab in which he leaped and reached over Hayward to make the catch). Parker received a ton of praise from the Dolphins coaching staff throughout the offseason, and got his season off to a good start in Week 2. This week he faces a Jets defense that just allowed Michael Crabtree to catch six of six targets for 80 yards and three touchdowns. Expect a big game from Parker.
WR: Rashard Higgins, Cleveland Browns
Higgins is a perfect example to show that anything can happen in the NFL. The 22-year-old receiver was cut by Cleveland right before the start of the season and found himself on the Browns practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster prior to last week’s game against the Ravens, and responded by catching seven receptions on 11 targets for 95 yards. With Corey Coleman out with a broken hand, Higgins has gone from practice squad to the Browns’ number one receiver in just two weeks. In their first game together, DeShone Kizer showed an obvious level of trust with the young receiver, as his 11 targets was four more than anyone else on the team. Higgins gets the Colts in Week 3, who have allowed Cooper Kupp and JJ Nelson to each score at least 13 fantasy points in the past two games. Although you probably had not heard of him before Sunday, Higgins could be worth a start this week.
TE: Martellus Bennett, Green Bay Packers
While Bennett’s eight receptions for 90 yards through the Packers’ first two games is far from stellar, the numbers show that the fantasy points should start coming. Bennett is third among the league’s tight ends with 17 targets, trailing only Jason Witten and Zach Ertz. Wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson were both hurt in last week’s loss against the Falcons. Even if both return to the field on Sunday, they will be limited at best. Rodgers will have to lean on his new tight end, along with Devante Adams, with his top two receiving options hobbled by injuries. Bennett is due for a breakout performance, and with the hapless Bengals coming to Lambeau Field on Sunday, this week could be the time.
TE: Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
I had Doyle in the “Sit” section last week, and boy was I wrong. With Jacoby Brissett under center instead of Scott Tolzien, Doyle caught eight of eight targets for 79 yards in the Colts’ Week 2 overtime loss against the Cardinals. The tight end served as Brissett’s safety valve, and should continue to do so until Andrew Luck can return to the field. This week the Colts take on a Browns team that has been abused by tight ends over the first two games of the season. Both Pittsburgh’s Jesse James (six catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns) and Baltimore’s Benjamin Watson (eight receptions for 91 yards) had strong performances against this Cleveland defense, and Doyle should follow suit. The Colts tight end could end up being the top fantasy performer in this game.
QB: Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Wilson has not looked good thus far this season, and his Week 2 performance against the 49ers looks better than it actually was. Wilson finished the game with 198 passing yards on a 59.0 completion percentage, with one touchdown and 34 yards rushing. While the San Francisco defense is certainly improved from last year, it’s hard to imagine they are THAT good. This week the Seahawks face the Tennessee Titans, who were the NFL’s most blitz-heavy defense last season and led in pressures per game. Wilson put up his poor performance last week with the 49ers pressuring him 21 times, or 46.7 percent of his dropbacks, and that was without starting linebacker Reuben Foster. With Seattle’s offensive line struggling as much as it has been, along with the strong possibility that they will be without starting tight end Jimmy Graham, I’m staying away from Wilson this week.
QB: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
This has less to do with Wentz and more to do with his matchup this week. As much as the Giants have been struggling this season, their defense is still one of the league’s best. New York held Dak Prescott and Stafford to 18 fantasy points or less in the first two contests, and only Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, and Ben Roethlisberger have scored more than 20 against the Giants’ defense since the start of the 2016 season. While the matchup will be less daunting if cornerback Janoris Jenkins is unable to take the field, Wentz will be in for a long day regardless. While the second-year quarterback looks like he could finish as a top 10 QB this season, I would not feel comfortable with him in my starting lineup this Sunday.
QB: Eli Manning, New York Giants
With the way they have played in the first two weeks, it’s hard to trust anyone on the Giants right now (save for Odell Beckham Jr.). The offensive line has looked beyond atrocious, and unless New York pulls off a trade for an offensive tackle, it’s hard to imagine Manning being a viable fantasy option at any point this season. The Eagles defensive line has looked good to start the year, and should have no issues getting pressure on Manning early and often. After Detroit sacked him five times on Monday night, the Eagles defensive linemen are likely licking their chops at the thought of this matchup. Unless Ereck Flowers can suddenly learn how to block, Manning should be in for a rough day.
RB: DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans
If you drafted Murray in the early rounds of your draft, I hope you picked up Derrick Henry later on. Henry has outplayed the veteran back through the first two games, gaining 5.9 yards per carry compared to Murray’s 3.3. Murray is dealing with a hamstring injury, which likely has played a large role in him earning Pro Football Focus’ third-worst grade among running backs so far this year. Even if he plays on Sunday, Murray will be going up against Seattle and their elite defense. The Seahawks ranked second in the league in yards per carry allowed last season, and did a great job at limiting Ty Montgomery (2.8 yards per carry on 19 rushing attempts) in Week 1. If you have another solid option at running back, I’d keep Murray on the bench until he can prove he is healthy and still effective.
RB: Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
I know I know, Howard and Murray were both drafted as top 10 running backs with the assumption that they would be able to start basically every week throughout the season. Benching a back like that is tough, but at the end of the day, is likely the smartest option. Howard has seen his workload decrease pretty significantly with the emergence of Tarik Cohen. Cohen has already proven to be a better option for the Bears on passing downs, but he’s also been more explosive than Howard running the ball in the first two games. Add in the fact that the Steelers have limited Isaiah Crowell and Dalvin Cook to 66 total yards or less in each contest this year, not to mention Howard is dealing with a shoulder injury, and you realize that this is a nightmare matchup for the talented second-year running back. Howard might be tough to sit, so if you do keep him in your lineup, don’t expect a big game.
RB: Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
The timeshare in the Saints backfield has been incredibly frustrating for anyone that drafted Ingram on their fantasy team. Through the first two games of the season, Ingram has actually looked good in his limited touches. The 27-year-old back has carried the ball 14 times for 69 yards (4.9 yards per carry) while adding nine receptions for 78 yards. However until New Orleans can admit that signing Adrian Peterson was a bad idea, Ingram will be tough to trust for fantasy purposes. Peterson has looked ineffective with his 14 carries, yet Sean Payton continues to give him the ball. Ingram is one of the Saints’ best offensive players, but until they move on from Peterson, starting the former Alabama running back is a definite risk. With the Saints facing the Panthers and their top run defense this week, it’s best to stay away from any New Orleans running back.
WR: Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings
If Sam Bradford is forced to miss his second consecutive game, and the Vikings put Case Keenum out there at quarterback, then I am avoiding all of Minnesota’s receiving options this week. Diggs was fantastic in the season opener, catching seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns. But in Week 2 with Keenum at QB, the receiver’s numbers dropped to two receptions for 27 yards and no touchdowns. Tampa Bay certainly isn’t the toughest matchup in the NFL, but they have improved on the defensive side of the ball from last year. Keenum spread the ball around against the Steelers last week, targeting Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen, and Laquon Treadwell six times each. This does not bode well for Diggs’ fantasy outlook. If Bradford can’t go on Sunday, Diggs is likely better off on your bench.
WR: Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant started the 2017 season with two very tough matchups against Janoris Jenkins and the Giants and Aqib Talib and the Broncos. Despite going up against two of the league’s top shutdown corners, Bryant has managed nine receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown thus far. In Week 3, Bryant has the unfortunate luck of having to battle against another one of the NFL’s top corners in Patrick Peterson. Peterson ranks best among all cornerbacks in fantasy points allowed per route in coverage over the last three seasons, and the last time these two teams played, Peterson held Bryant to just two catches on 10 targets for 15 yards and a touchdown. The best chance Bryant has of recording even a decent fantasy game is if he can somehow find the end zone.
WR: Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans
Matthews figured to play a large role in the Titans offense this year after his strong campaign in Nashville last season. While that has not been the case through the first two games of the season, I do expect him to eventually get a lot more looks from Marcus Mariota. However that may not be the case this week against the Seahawks. Seattle has allowed fewer than 159 yards per game to opposing receiving corps since the start of last season, thus making the entire Titans receiving crew poor plays this week. I like the rapport between Mariota and Matthews, and fully expect the receiver, along with Corey Davis, to put together solid seasons. But don’t expect that to begin in Week 3.
TE: Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Even though the tight end position has been rather weak this season, Eifert has to be one of fantasy football’s bigger busts so far. The tight end has managed to catch only four passes on five targets for 46 yards. Throughout his career, the only knock on the talented tight end has been his inability to remain on the field. Well, we’re only two weeks into the season and Eifert is already dealing with knee and back injuries. The entire Cincinnati offense has looked awful in 2017, which led to the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese last week. Other than A.J. Green, it will be very difficult to trust any other Bengal until the team shows some signs of improvement. The struggles of the offense, along with his nagging injuries, make Eifert an easy player to bench this week.
TE: Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
Don’t get me wrong, Witten has looked amazing this season. The 35-year-old has 17 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns through the season’s first two games. Yes, Witten is still producing like a top tight end despite being one of the oldest at the position in the NFL. But in Week 3, the Cowboys take on the Cardinals, who have been very stingy against opposing tight ends since the start of last season. Over the last 18 games, Arizona has allowed only two touchdowns to a tight end, and only one tight end has scored double digits in fantasy points in a standard league over that span. With the lack of depth at tight end this year, it will probably be hard to bench Witten, despite the tough matchup. Just don’t expect another huge game from the veteran tight end this week.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.