Outside of an injury designation, the most dreaded words in fantasy football have to be ‘bye week.’ You may have carefully selected your players during the draft with bye weeks in mind, but you forgot about them. Drew Brees has helped lead your team to a winning record through four weeks, but now you’re scrambling to find a replacement. You didn’t even realize Julio Jones was on bye until you checked your lineup this morning to see if there was some sort of update on his hip flexor.
Fear not, brave fantasy players, it’s as simple as taking things step-by-step. First things first, “Thursday Night Football” is on the docket for tonight’s entertainment. Let’s ensure you’re most entertained by making the right plays, and the right sits, to get your week started off right. As usual, these are players some owners might be on the fence about starting this week.
Jameis Winston - QB, Tampa Bay
It’s no secret the Patriots’ pass defense has not been up to snuff in 2017. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, New England ranks dead last in the league in pass defense DVOA and when looking at the raw statistics, those we love to drool over in fantasy, it’s not even a matter of debate: The Patriots have been hemorrhaging fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.
Through four weeks, the Patriots defense is allowing 31.5 fantasy points per game to opposing signal callers and that’s three points more per game than the second-worst defense—the Tennessee Titans at 28.5 FPts/G.
Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense got things rolling against an admittedly weaker New York Giants defense that many expected to be one of the best in the NFL. Likewise, many expected the Bucs offense to take a leap this year, but after a bit of a so-so start to the season, Winston has a chance to build off of last week’s three-touchdown performance that landed him seventh among quarterbacks in fantasy points in Week 4 when the Pats come to visit on Thursday night.
Chris Hogan - WR, New England Patriots
Whereas Winston gets the chance to pick on one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, the Patriots wide receiver corps gets an equal chance to feast on Tampa Bay’s secondary on Thursday. No team is giving up points to opposing wide receivers like the Bucs are this season. In three games, Tampa Bay is allowing a whopping 30.5 fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts, the most in the NFL.
Some owners might still be a little cautious about playing Hogan every week due to his workload. After all, he only has 26 targets which puts him into Marqise Lee and Randall Cobb territory. The injury to Julian Edelman paved the way for Hogan to receive more targets and the former Penn State lacrosse standout has made the most of it.
Hogan has 15 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns—only Jordy Nelson has more touchdown receptions among receivers with five. Through the first four weeks, Hogan ranks fifth among all wideouts in fantasy points per game and stands a good chance of eclipsing his per game average of 11.8 on Thursday.
O.J. Howard - TE, Tampa Bay
At some point, it’s time to believe the hype. This week is the week.
With the way Cameron Brate broke out last year for the Bucs, it was clear Howard’s role in the offense, at least to start the season, was going to be less than prominent when Tampa Bay made him the 19th overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft. Last week he had his most productive game yet, scoring his first career touchdown when the Giants left him wide open for a 58-yard score:
O.J. Howard was wide-open, and catches his first NFL touchdown on a 58 yard pass from Jameis Winston. Extra point was no good. pic.twitter.com/tn1rudiPFT— Football Dungeon (@DuaneLively) October 1, 2017
Howard only has eight targets this season, catching four passes for 92 yards and that lone touchdown, but this week he faces a Patriots pass defense that has struggled to cover tight ends—they rank 28th in DVOA versus opposing tight ends. New England is surrendering the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Tampa Bay’s defense isn’t stopping anyone outside the Bears, so this seems like the week both teams could put up points in bunches. Let’s hope Howard gets his chance on Thursday.
Doug Martin - RB, Tampa Bay
In fantasy, you have to see it before you believe it. We haven’t seen Doug Martin in over five weeks, so I’m not ready to deploy him in any league until I see him back on the field. With returns like his, it’s also difficult to gauge how the offense will utilize him, how often he’ll see snaps, and just how many opportunities he’s going to have.
I know, the Patriots defense is not only giving up points to quarterbacks, but they’re also giving up a ton of points to running backs, both in the passing game and on the ground. Without knowing how the Bucs ground game is going to shake itself out, I’m going to look elsewhere for my running back in Week 5.
DeSean Jackson - WR, Tampa Bay
DeSean Jackson is truly the epitome of boom or bust potential. He has 20 targets on the season, but just nine catches. Those nine catches have gone for 143 yards and a touchdown, which is mightily impressive, but consider four of those receptions, 84 yards and his only touchdown came in Week 3 against the Vikings. His other two games would have been huge flops had he earned a spot in your fantasy lineup, even as a flex option.
Mike Gillislee - RB, New England
New England sports a stable of running backs including James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead (when healthy), and Mike Gillislee. Gillislee has been the most consistent of the bunch thus far, proving that when the ball is near the goal line, he’s the man they call on to get it in. He’s 15th among running backs in fantasy points scored per game, a ranking boosted by his four rushing touchdowns—which he’s tied with the likes of Todd Gurley, Jordan Howard, and Kareem Hunt for second in the NFL.
However, Gillislee has yet to receive a single target in the passing game. This Bucs defense has been pretty stingy against running backs, giving up only 196 rushing yards on 72 attempts (2.72 yards per carry) and just one rushing touchdown. Tampa Bay’s defense in stopping running backs through the passing game has been a bit squishy, they’ve allowed 20 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown, but Gillislee is a non-factor in that facet of the Patriots offense. If you’re desperate to start a Patriots running back, James White should be the best play; he has 22 receptions on 26 targets for 173 yards.