You might have noticed the average scoring output for your fantasy team is higher than normal this year. That’s because scoring in the NFL is at an all-time high. Teams are averaging close to 24 points per game — the highest rate since 2002, the year the NFL expanded to 32 teams — which translates to an 11 percent increase over 2017, the highest year-over-year change since 1975.
Three of the league’s top fantasy scorers — New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, running back Alvin Kamara and wideout Michael Thomas — are on a bye, eliminating them from contention on your roster this week. Same for quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions.
It won’t be easy to replace their production, but here are six players — three to start and three to sit — to help make the decision a little easier.
Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles is coming off a clunker, but he is still completing a career-high 61 percent of his passes for 305 yards per game. Plus he adds an additional 33 yards per game on the ground, giving you a limited dual-threat quarterback option on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, have a mediocre pass rushing unit (19th per Pro Football Focus) and secondary (17th) that shouldn’t be too much of an issue for Bortles on Sunday.
Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Among tight ends, Hooper ranks ninth for total targets (27) and gets to face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense that is allowing the most fantasy points per game to the position (13.4).
Looked at another way, opposing quarterbacks have a league-high 131.1 passer rating against the Bucs when targeting tight ends, and that includes a 75 percent competition rate with two touchdowns and no interceptions thrown this season.
Wendell Smallwood, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Starting running back Jay Ajayi was placed on injured reserve Monday, ending his season. Coach Doug Pederson has several options to distribute his snaps, but Wendell Smallwood might be the one who emerges from the pack.
The third-year pro played as many snaps as Ajayi did on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings and has touched the ball 35 times this season for 246 total yards and two touchdowns with over three yards per carry produced after contact, the highest on the team.
Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys
Prescott’s touchdown rate is down and his interception rate is up for the second straight season, leading to career lows in completion rate (62 percent) and passer rating (81.4) in 2018; those numbers get even worse when facing a pass rush, a strength of this week’s opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars. In pressure situations, Prescott’s completion rate drops from 73 to 35 percent and his passer rating is lowered from 86.9 to 68.5. As it stands now, his overall performance is only good enough to win six games during a 16-game season per ESPN (38.4 QBR, 26th out of 33 qualified passers).
His biggest test will come on Sunday against Jacksonville, a team that is allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to the position (12.0) this season.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills
This week will see a double whammy against McCoy. The Texans have the fourth-best run defense this season (3.4 yards allowed per carry) with a league-low one rushing touchdown against in 2018. Plus, the Bills are an underdog on the road, meaning they should be trailing more often than they lead, generating fewer rushing opportunities for McCoy: In 2018, the Bills run the ball 64 percent of the time when ahead but just 36 percent of the time when trying to catch up.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins
Drake is featured on both rushing and receiving plays yet will be stifled by a Chicago Bears defense that is playing as good as any defensive unit in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago boasts the league’s top run-stopping unit, the fourth-best pass rush and the best secondary of 2018.
Football Outsiders agrees, listing the Bears run defense at No. 4 and defensive line at No. 1 for adjusted sack rate, which takes into account the strength of each offensive line faced (12 percent, almost twice the league average of 7 percent).
With such a fearsome unit hounding Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill all game long, there simply won’t be enough quality opportunities for Drake to make any meaningful impact.
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