A few well-known names are returning to NFL lineups this week. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will be under center for Philadelphia for the first time since Dec. 10 2017, pushing Super Bowl hero Nick Foles back into a reserve role. Plus, Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones, suspended for the first two games of the year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, will be activated to the 53-man roster and suited up against the Washington Redskins.
There could also be some notable absences. Bills starting running back LeSean McCoy cracked rib cartilage in Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers and is questionable. Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry is still nursing a heel injury and might not suit up for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers, keeping the team’s pass-coverage unit among the bottom of the NFL. And Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald left the game against the Los Angeles Rams early with a hamstring injury.
Those scenarios tie directly to a number of our start/sit recommendations and in one case lead to a highly controversial conclusion.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
Garoppolo completed 18 of 26 pass attempts to eight different receivers for 206 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday against the Detroit Lions, a performance that was tempered by a 27-13 lead after three quarters (teams playing with a lead typically run more than they pass).
In Week 3, on the road against the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs, expect the 49ers to be playing from behind, resulting in more pass attempts. Since 2017, the first year under Coach Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco passes the ball 61 percent of the time when trailing on the scoreboard. That drops to 45 percent of the time when preserving a lead.
Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
Howard struggled against the Seahawks on “Monday Night Football” — 35 yards on 14 carries with three receptions for 33 yards — but this week’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, is at the bottom of most defensive stats. The Cardinals, because they trail so often, rank last or second to last in first downs allowed (54), average time per drive allowed (3 minutes and 37 seconds), plays allowed per drive (7.2) and yards allowed per drive (43). Arizona has also allowed 24 more points than expected on the ground after taking into account the down, distance and field position of each rushing attempt against.
Chris Ivory, RB, Buffalo Bills
McCoy is questionable for Week 3, opening the door for Ivory to be fantasy relevant.
Ivory only has five carries this season but touched the ball 133 times for Jacksonville in 2017, tallying 557 yards from scrimmage with two total touchdowns. Only Leonard Fournette had more red-zone carries on the team than Ivory that year. If there are red-zone or goal-line carries to be had against the Minnesota Vikings, Ivory is likely the man to get them.
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
It’s likely you may not have a better option, given Johnson’s high draft status, but if you drafted Johnson hoping he’d regain his 2016 form you aren’t alone, but so far he has been a shell of his former self. Johnson is seeing a lower share of the touches this year than he did in 2016 (down to 42 percent from 48), which goes even lower when the Cardinals don’t have the lead — a common occurrence in 2018. For example, Johnson touched the ball 44 percent of the time in 2016 when the team trailed by seven points or more and that has dropped to a 35 percent share in 2018 during the same circumstances, with most of those lost opportunities a result of fewer rushing attempts.
Plus, according to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Johnson ran almost 32 routes per game in 2016, averaging 1.7 yards per route run. In 2018 that number has dropped to 19 routes per game, with less than a yard produced per route run. And finally, according to the NFL’s NextGen stats, he was split out wide on 26 percent of his routes in 2016 but just nine percent in 2018.
Perhaps a better rushing situation will come in Week 4 against the porous Seattle Seahawks rush defense or Weeks 5 and 8 when Arizona faces the San Francisco 49ers. But for now, a more cautious stance is warranted.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Hopkins has been targeted 22 times this season, tied for ninth-most in the league, catching 15 of those for 230 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday he will face a New York Giants secondary that has held Blake Bortles and Dak Prescott to a combined 81.6 passer rating against; the league average is 91.3.
The key for Big Blue has been defensive backs Eli Apple and Landon Collins along with linebacker Alec Ogletree, three above-average defenders in coverage. The Giants have yet to allow a receiving touchdown to a wideout in 2018. In addition, only two receivers have more than 50 yards in a game against the Giants' secondary this season.
It’s fair to say the Giants have yet to face a wideout like Hopkins this season, but Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson hasn’t shown any of the MVP form he had last year. And if the Giants can pressure him in the pocket, his efficiency will drop even further. Dating back to 2017, the rate of Watson’s on-target throws drops from 83 to 55 percent under pressure while his interception rate rises from 2 to 7 percent.
Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have to go on the road and play against the Los Angeles Rams, the third-best secondary and fourth-best pass-rushing unit in the NFL. Since 2016, the earliest data is available from Sports Info Solutions, Philip Rivers has become substantially worse under pressure. His on-target rate drops from 82 to 59 percent while his interception rate doubles from 2 to 4 percent, leading to a precipitous drop in his passer rating as well, from 105.2 to 70.6. That's roughly the difference in performance between Tom Brady and Brett Hundley last year.
If Rivers has anywhere near that type of decline in performance, Allen might have one of his worse games in years.
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