We're officially past the halfway point of the NFL season, meaning we are also heading into the home stretch of the fantasy campaign.

If you're in the cellar of your league, then it's probably time to take things a little less seriously, maybe find ways to have some fun with your lineup.

But if you're still firmly in the mix, then you can ill afford to make bad decisions as to which players to slot into the starting spots.

As always, Stats Perform is here to provide a helping hand with a look at four offensive players and a defense worthy of selection in Week 10.

 

Quarterback: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Do not let the Chiefs' performance against the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers fool you.

Yes, the Chiefs have improved somewhat on defense of late, but they are still one of the league's worst at defending the pass.

They have given up 7.49 yards per pass play this season, while the Raiders are fifth in yards per pass play on offense (7.40).

No quarterback in the NFL has attempted more passes of 21 air yards or more than Carr (41), and he is averaging 16.4 yards per attempt on those throws.

Motivated to bounce back and claim a key win in the division after a shock loss to the New York Giants, expect Carr to be aggressive and, crucially, successful in attacking a vulnerable opponent.

Running Back: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers

Conner leads the NFL in touchdowns with 11 after his hat-trick in the Cardinals' win over the San Francisco 49ers last week.

He will likely get the bulk of the workload in the run game for at least the next few weeks, Chase Edmonds having gone down with an ankle injury at San Francisco.

His next assignment is a Panthers defense that has given up 100 yards rushing in three of their past four games. Back him to produce and find the endzone again at home.

Wide Receiver: Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Washington Football Team

Back off the bye and ready to mount a charge for the one seed in the NFC, the Bucs could hardly ask for a better opponent.

Washington's pass defense has conceded 109 plays of 10 yards or more this season. Only the Indianapolis Colts (110) and Miami Dolphins (112) have been more generous in that regard.

Leading Tampa Bay with 69 targets so far this season and with Antonio Brown unlikely to feature, Godwin is the top candidate to be the latest wideout to capitalise significantly on Washington's unexpected defensive frailties.

Tight End: Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Detroit Lions

Freiermuth may be the answer to fantasy managers' prayers when it comes to the famously top-heavy tight end position.

He has emerged as a key weapon for Ben Roethlisberger in recent weeks, scoring three touchdowns in his past two games.

A matchup with a Detroit defense giving up the most yards per pass play in the NFL (8.28) could provide a recipe for a career day.

Defense: Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots

The Browns defense did an excellent job frustrating Joe Burrow and Co. in their thumping win over the Cincinnati Bengals last week.

This week, they get a favourable matchup in the form of the Patriots. Yes, the Pats are 5-4, but they rank 20th in yards per play (5.46), are tied sixth for the most giveaways (14) and lead the league with 60 negative plays on offense.

Look for Cleveland's defense to enjoy another successful day on the road.

Cassius Marsh has accused Tony Corrente of "hip-checking" him prior to the official flagging the Chicago Bears linebacker for taunting in the fourth quarter of their defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The incident occurred shortly after Marsh followed a sack on opposing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with his custom spinning-jump kick celebration.

Marsh then made contact with Corrente having moved towards the Steelers' bench. The official produced a flag and the Bears were penalised 15 yards.

The Steelers would go on to a kick what would become a crucial field goal for a 26-20 lead, in a game they won 29-27 to move to 5-3 for the season.

Reflecting on the incident after the game, Marsh said: "On my way to the sideline, I got hip-checked by the ref. It's pretty clear. 

"If I was to do that to a ref or even touch a ref, we get kicked out of the game and possibly suspended and fined. I just think that that was incredibly inappropriate.

"I think that one was just bad timing. It's pretty clear to everybody who saw it that I wasn't taunting. 

"I've been doing the celebration my whole career. It's just sad to see stuff like that happen in a close game like that."

Corrente himself insists the contact with Marsh had no part to play in his decision to make the call.

"First of all, keep in mind that taunting is a point of emphasis this year," Corrente said in a pool report. 

"And with that said, I saw the player, after he made a big play, run toward the bench area of the Pittsburgh Steelers and posture in such a way that I felt he was taunting them.

"I didn't judge [the contact] as anything that I dealt with. That had nothing to do with it. It was the taunting aspect."

Justin Fields had led the rallying Bears (3-6) to a 27-26 advantage with less than two minutes remaining, dazzling with a 16-yard pass to Darnell Mooney during the closing stages as Roethlisberger and the Steelers were left with work to do.

Roethlisberger (21-of-30 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns) fuelled a seven-play drive to get Chris Boswell into position for a game-winning field goal – the Steelers snapping a three-game skid against the Bears as Cairo Santos, who had made 40 consecutive field goals, four short of the all-time record, failed with a 65-yard effort in his reply.

"We're finding ways to win the game," Roethlisberger said. 

"Played well enough. Not great. But offensively speaking, we're just doing enough right now."

The Pittsburgh Steelers held on for their fourth consecutive NFL win after withstanding a late surge from the Chicago Bears 29-27.

Chris Boswell's 40-yard field goal lifted the Steelers (5-3) as Cairo Santos' last-gasp 65-yard effort fell short in Pittsburgh on Monday.

Justin Fields had led the rallying Bears (3-6) to a 27-26 lead with less than two minutes remaining, dazzling with a 16-yard pass to Darnell Mooney during the closing stages as Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers were left with work to do.

Roethlisberger (21-of-30 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns) fuelled a seven-play drive to get Boswell into position for the game-winning kick – the Steelers snapping a three-game skid against the Bears as Santos, who had made 40 consecutive field goals, four short of the all-time record, failed in his reply.

No team in NFL history had more wins on Mondays than the Steelers entering the contest and they set out to extend that run after Najee Harris' 10-yard rush gave the hosts a 7-0 lead at the end of the opening quarter.

The Steelers continued to dominate – Roethlisberger throwing touchdown passes to Pat Freiermuth in the second and third quarters for a commanding 20-6 advantage heading into the final period.

T.J. Watt also reached 60 career sacks in his 69th appearance, with only three players reaching the mark in fewer games – Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas, and brother J.J. Watt.

Chicago erased the deficit behind Mooney, who rushed for a score and caught Fields' (17-of-29 passing for 291 yards, a TD and interception) throw in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers had all the answers in a tight finish.

Matt Nagy is back with the Chicago Bears after the head coach cleared COVID-19 protocol ahead of the Week 9 showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Nagy was absent from last week's 33-22 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers following a positive coronavirus test, leaving special teams co-ordinator Chris Tabor in charge.

But after eight days in quarantine, Nagy is set to return to the sidelines for Monday's clash with the Steelers as the slumping Bears (3-5) seek to snap a three-game skid.

"We just had our walkthrough," Nagy said on Thursday. "It was great to be able to get outside to get back out there with them.

"I was cleared on Tuesday, so I was back in the office Tuesday morning. I was able to get back in here and get back to some quote-unquote normalcy. It was awesome seeing all the coaches and really just kind of getting back on track."

Chicago have been outscored by 72 points this season. That is the Bears' worst point differential through their first eight games of a season since 2000 (minus-92 points), per Stats Perform.

The Bears have won their last three games against the Steelers – the most recent of which was a 23-17 overtime victory in Week 3 of the 2017 season.

Chicago are 19-7-1 all-time against Pittsburgh, but that includes Bears wins in each of the teams' first 10 meetings, all before 1950.

"There's definite urgency, and I think that that's OK," Nagy said. "You need to have that … We have this game coming up and we have a bye and then you have eight games after that. But the only thing that matters is making sure that we get that win. The wins change everything.

"Look at the Steelers. They started out 1-3. Here they are 4-3. They've won three in a row. They fought through it. They probably have pretty good leaders, probably have guys that care about playing. And they don't point fingers, they don't blame, they're not negative. They're positive. We've got a positive room in there. The players are positive. They care.

"We want to start a different streak. Let's win one and then win another and continue to go and see where it leads. That's kind of the mindset that we have."

In fantasy football, as in life, things do not always work out the way you planned.

Every year, fantasy managers will leave their draft in a great mood, believing they have nailed it, only to see their star players fail to live up to expectations.

This week's look at some of the top selections for Week 9 features such players heavily, with some who have struggled with consistency or injuries appearing in line for a strong outing this weekend.

Stats Perform looks at four offensive players and a defense who should be fantasy starters in Week 9.

Quarterback: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens

Cousins can be a confounding quarterback for Vikings fans and fantasy players alike, as his 184-yard performance in the Week 8 loss to the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated.

Yet he has an intriguing bounce-back matchup on the road as the Vikings aim to stay in touch in the NFC playoff race.

The Ravens are conceding 7.35 yards per play, the fifth-most in the NFL, and saw their defense shredded for 415 yards passing by Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals in their last game before the bye.

Cousins already has three 300-yard games to his name this season and unquestionably has the weapons to take advantage of the Baltimore defense and record another on Sunday.

Running Back: Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Chicago Bears

Harris has not been efficient in his rookie season, averaging 3.74 yards per carry, but this is a selection predominantly about volume.

Indeed, the former Alabama star has carried the ball 128 times so far this season. Only three players have recorded more rushing attempts.

That is a recipe for success against a Bears defense allowing 4.55 yards per carry, the eighth highest in the NFL. Fantasy managers with Harris on their roster should be optimistic about a player with three touchdowns in his last four games.

Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Diggs has endured a mediocre year, continually frustrating his fantasy owners, though he did find the endzone for the second successive week as Buffalo defeated the Miami Dolphins last week.

And the wideout who led the league in receiving yardage last year gets another chance to exploit a vastly inferior opponent this week as the Bills travel to Jacksonville.

The 1-6 Jaguars are giving up 8.18 yards per pass play. Only the Detroit Lions (8.28) have been more charitable to opposing passing attacks this season, making the Jaguars the ideal opponent for Diggs as he looks to record only his second 100-yard performance of the season.

Tight End: George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals

Like Diggs, it's been an underwhelming season for Kittle, though for different reasons as he missed the last three games with a calf injury.

Prior to being put on injured reserve, however, Kittle had seen 19 targets across his last two games. With Kittle anticipated to return this week, expect him to be a favoured target of Jimmy Garoppolo, which could lead to a big day with the 49ers offense seeming to find its rhythm in the Week 8 win over the Bears.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys vs. Denver Broncos

Third in the league in takeaways with 14, backing an opportunistic defense like that of the Cowboys is never a bad play.

This week they face a Broncos offense that has committed a turnover in all but one game and is averaging 5.51 yards per play, putting them 21st in the NFL.

The Cowboys are eyeing a playoff run while the Broncos, despite being 4-4, appear focused on building for the future, events on Sunday should reflect that.

Mike Tomlin said it is better for the Pittsburgh Steelers to have volunteers than hostages after they traded Melvin Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Steelers sent Ingram to the Chiefs in exchange for a sixth-round pick in next year's draft.

Ingram was in his first season with the Steelers, having spent nine years with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

He tallied 25 pressures for the Steelers this year, third on the team behind Cameron Heyward (42) and T.J. Watt (27).

However, Ingram had reportedly stated a desire for more playing time, which he will now hope to get for a Chiefs defense that has struggled for much of 2021.

Asked about the deal, Steelers head coach Tomlin said: "I enjoyed working with Melvin. it just didn't work out the way we envisioned, the way he envisioned.

"What the team needs is first and foremost. But from a team perspective, it's better to have volunteers than it is to have hostages."

Baker Mayfield will return from a shoulder injury for the Cleveland Browns in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed the news on Friday after the quarterback missed their 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 7 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Mayfield's absence broke his streak of 51 consecutive starts for the Browns, but he will return after a one-week layoff.

"Medically, he’s ready to go," Stefanski told reporters on Friday, confirming Mayfield will start. "Our doctors, our trainers, the second opinions felt very comfortable about that.

"Baker's feels that he's ready. He feels he's ready to help this team win."

The 2018 NFL Draft top pick has been able to participate in three days of practice this week.

Case Keenum started in Mayfield's absence against the Broncos, completing 21 of 33 attempts for 199 yards and one touchdown.

Mayfield, who is in the fourth year of his five-year rookie deal, has thrown at 67.1 per cent this season for 1,474 yards, including six touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

Every few years, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's name surfaces in media reports as a potential candidate for a high-profile college football vacancy. 

It has happened again in recent weeks with traditional powerhouses the University of Southern California and Louisiana State University making mid-season coaching moves. 

Asked at a Tuesday news conference about speculation that he might end up in one of those jobs, Tomlin scoffed at the notion he would leave one of the NFL's most storied franchises to coach in the collegiate ranks. 

"I mean, that's a joke to me," Tomlin said. "I got one of the best jobs in all of professional sport. Why would I have any interest in coaching college football?

"That will be the last time I address it. Not only today but moving forward. Never say never, but never. OK? Anybody else got any questions about any college jobs? There's not a booster with a big enough blank check."

Tomlin, 49, spent a few years as a college assistant before being hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs coach in 2001.

He has been in the NFL ever since and has led the Steelers since 2007, winning the Super Bowl the following year. 

Tomlin has never had a losing season in Pittsburgh and led the team to the playoffs nine times in 14 seasons entering 2021. 

The Steelers are 3-3 this season, giving Tomlin a 148-81-1 regular-season record. He is 8-8 in playoff games. 

Tomlin is under contract with Pittsburgh through 2024. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers made T.J. Watt the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL before the season, and he delivered an emphatic reminder of why in their win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Pittsburgh moved to 3-3 on the year with a dramatic overtime triumph over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, with edge rusher Watt having a decisive say.

Watt was a constant thorn in the side of Seahawks backup quarterback Geno Smith, filling in for the injured Russell Wilson, and saved his biggest impact for overtime.

He sacked Smith for the first time in the extra period and did so again after the Steelers punted the ball back to Seattle, this time robbing him of possession in the process and giving Pittsburgh crucial field position deep in Seahawks territory.

That allowed Chris Boswell to hit a 37-yard game-winning field goal and clinch a 23-20 success.

Watt signed a four-year, $112million contract extension with $80m in guarantees back in September, a price Pittsburgh will be more than happy to pay if he maintains his stellar play.

"That's how he’s compensated," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "I don't think anyone is surprised by his ability to deliver in those moments."

His team-mate on the defensive front, Cameron Heyward, was certainly not shocked when Watt's pressure finally told in the most pivotal spot.

"I love the fourth quarter and the overtime by T.J.,” Heyward said. "All game, he was like, 'Man, I’m just not hitting home.' I told him it was going to come and just, 'Keep staying after it. You’re going to be great.'

"And when we needed it the most, he made his plays. What an emphatic play to end the game with a sack strip fumble. We needed it, and he's a hell of a player."

Chris Boswell made the game-winning kick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 23-20 overtime defeat of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, but T.J. Watt got the assist.  

All-Pro edge rusher Watt forced a fumble by Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith deep in Seattle territory with just over four minutes to play, setting up Boswell's decisive 37-yard field goal just over a minute later. 

After the teams traded punts on their opening possessions in overtime, Watt ran down a scrambling Smith at Seattle's 13-yard line and stripped the ball from the quarterback for the 20th forced fumble of his career – the most of any NFL player since Watt entered the league in 2017. 

It was fitting that defence played a key role in the outcome after both teams struggled to move the ball at times throughout the game. 

Pittsburgh opened the scoring nearly five minutes into the second quarter with a Ben Roethlisberger (29-of-40 passing for 229 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions) touchdown pass to Najee Harris and took a 14-0 lead into half-time. 

Seattle – without injured star quarterback Russell Wilson – answered after the break with a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter and eventually tied the game 17-17 on a Jason Myers field goal with 12:59 remaining in the fourth. 

Boswell then hit from 53 yards with 1:29 remaining before Myers answered from 43 at the buzzer to send it to overtime – though not without controversy. 

The Steelers believed they had the game won when Seattle's DK Metcalf fumbled after a reception and Seahawks receiver Freddie Swain recovered, leaving the visitors scrambling to stop the clock for a field-goal try. 

Officials then did it for them, stopping play for a video review while Smith tried to race to the line and spike the ball. Replay confirmed the initial play was ruled correctly but the stoppage gave the Seahawks time to spike it and set up Myers' game-tying try. 

Watt's big play in overtime ultimately rendered that complaint moot. 

Week 6 of the NFL season sees the first byes of the campaign, meaning fantasy managers may need to start utilising their bench.

Though the starters picked in the early rounds of the draft often lay the foundations for a championship-winning season, the players selected to fill the void when they are not available can be the difference between claiming and missing out on the title.

With that in mind, this week's edition of fantasy picks features three players who can fill the void for fantasy managers with holes in their line-up.

A second-year wide receiver primed to play an even bigger part in an underperforming offense also features in Stats Perform's look at four players and a defense worthy of fantasy selection this week. 

Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team vs. Kansas City Chiefs

If you have a quarterback on a bye, or you are unfortunate to be in a position where the injured Russell Wilson is your starter, then you may be in scramble mode at quarterback.

Heinicke presents a solution to fantasy owners in such a bind. Yes, Washington will be underdogs against Kansas City, but Heinicke has thrown for multiple passing touchdowns in three of his last four games and should have little difficulty moving the ball against a defense allowing 7.08 yards per play, the most in the NFL.

With a high-scoring affair likely on the horizon, Heinicke is a leading option for fantasy owners in need of a quarterback fill-in.

Running Back: Myles Gaskin, Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars

There isn't much reason to get excited about the Dolphins but fantasy owners of Gaskin should be extremely intrigued by this matchup in the second and final London game of the year.

Gaskin had only five carries for 25 yards last week in the Dolphins' 45-17 loss to the Buccaneers but found the endzone twice as a receiver as he hauled all 10 of his targets for 74 yards.

Against a Jacksonville defense that has been stout against the run but is allowing a league-worst 8.79 yards per pass play, there is scope for another big day for Gaskin as the Dolphins seek their second win of an underwhelming campaign.

Wide Receiver: Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Claypool has 296 receiving yards and a touchdown over his last three games playing for a Steelers offense that had struggled mightily prior to their Week 5 win over the Denver Broncos.

With Juju Smith-Schuster out for the season, Claypool should claim even more of a featured role in the offense and in Week 6 has the inviting prospect of a matchup with a Seahawks defense ranked 28th in the NFL in opposing pass yards per play (7.49). Claypool is well worthy of being in your starting lineup come Sunday.

Tight End: Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Alie-Cox was not able to find the endzone in Week 5 after catching two touchdown passes a week earlier, however, he is averaging 13.8 yards per reception, illustrating his big-play threat.

Facing a Texans defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, Alie-Cox should have an opportunity to make a significant impact in Week 6. Alie-Cox could prove an astute pickup for fantasy owners struggling for options at tight end.

Defense: Dallas Cowboys @ New England Patriots

The Cowboys' defense was not expected to be one of the top fantasy units in the league going into the season, however, through five games they have forced 12 takeaways, the second-most in the NFL.

Facing a quarterback in Mac Jones who has thrown a pickable pass on 4.89 per cent of his attempts, well above the average of 3.16, a meeting with the Patriots presents the Cowboys with the chance to add to that total and rack up fantasy points.

Ben Roethlisberger said "I need to be better" as the embattled Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback accepted blame for the team's forgettable start to the NFL season.

Roethlisberger has been criticised and his future questioned amid Pittsburgh's 1-3 start to the 2021 campaign following three consecutive defeats.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards, a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating in last week's 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin continues to field questions on Roethlisberger, the player himself took responsibility for the situation on Wednesday.

"I need to be better," Roethlisberger told reporters ahead of Sunday's clash with the Denver Broncos.

"I need to fight through and figure out how to make better decisions, how to make better throws, how to be a better football player. That's why I just said I'm not going to quit. I'm going to keep doing that.

"I'm not giving up on this season. No one in this building is. It's still early, and there's still a lot of fight left in us."

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season among qualifying quarterbacks, only ahead of Miami Dolphins backup Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets QB Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

His passer rating has decreased from 94.1 in 2020 – the third-largest drop (-15.2) behind Packers star Aaron Rodgers (-20.7) and Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill (-19.6).

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions, 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third-worst in the NFL.

"I know that I can play better football," Roethlisberger said. "I believe in myself. I know that no matter what's going on, I'm going to fight my butt off to get a win, and if that's the way I need to lead right now, by showing these guys that I'm going to do everything I can to win a football game, I'll keep doing that."

On Tuesday, Tomlin said Roethlisberger is dealing with a hip issue, and the latter added: "It's pretty sore. If I showed you the picture, you might not be too well to your stomach. It's a little black and blue.

"As a quarterback, there's so much involved in your lower body. People probably think as a quarterback or as a thrower, it's 'how's your arm doing?' Your arm is honestly a small part compared to the whole package. It's your core. It's your lower body.

"I've got to find ways to be better with my lower body. Going back and watching the game, a few times, a lot of throws I missed were missed because my lower body wasn't in sync."

We're at the point of the season where clear opinions can be formed of NFL teams, whether they be real life or fantasy.

Much can change in the coming weeks but, with four weeks in the books, a divide between the contenders and pretenders is starting to emerge in the NFL, and that will also be the case in fantasy leagues around the globe.

But whether you're looking to maintain a strong start or recover from an underwhelming one, the need to make the right lineup decisions remains. This is no time to get complacent or to get too downhearted and take picking your starters more lightly.

With that in mind, Stats Perform has picked four offensive players and a defense who should be starting in Week 5.

 

Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Having thrown for over 300 yards and a touchdown against a stout Denver Broncos defense last week, Jackson now gets to come home to face a Colts defense allowing 7.35 yards per pass play.

With the turnover-prone Carson Wentz quarterbacking the Colts' offense, Jackson should find plenty of opportunities to pad his stats. Always a must-start, this is a week to be especially excited about owning Jackson in fantasy.

Running Back: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

Held to 34 yards on nine carries on his return from injury last week against the Cleveland Browns, Cook gets a much more inviting matchup in Week 5.

Only two teams, the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the winless Lions. Don't hesitate if Cook is on your roster, slot him into a starting role and back him to return to the endzone.

Wide Receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

There may be some reluctance to start Samuel given the uncertain situation surrounding the 49ers at quarterback and their Week 5 opponent, the unbeaten Cardinals. However, it is not merited.

Samuel leads the NFL in receiving yards with 490, putting him on pace for over 2,000. Maintaining that is unlikely but, averaging 10.5 targets per game, Samuel stands as the clear number one target in the Niners' offense regardless of who is under center.

Each of Trey Lance's touchdowns last week in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo were thrown to Samuel. His target share and the challenge the Niners will likely face in having to keep up with an extremely potent Cardinals offense means any concerns over the quarterback and the matchup should be ignored.

Tight End: Hunter Henry, New England Patriots @ Houston Texans

Henry and Jonnu Smith have yet to deliver on the lucrative contracts they signed with New England in the offseason, but a trip to face the lowly Texans should be just the tonic they need.

Former Los Angeles Charger Henry found the endzone for the first time as a Patriot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

Now he gets the chance to face a Texans defense allowing the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing tight ends. It's time for the Patriots' investment in him to start paying dividends.

Defense: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

Not much is going right for the 1-3 Steelers, but their defense, while not at its 2020 levels, is still a tough one to crack and is tied fourth with 29 opponent plays for negative yardage.

With Teddy Bridgewater in the concussion protocol, the likelihood is Drew Lock will get the start at quarterback for Denver. Lock was tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions last season and threw his first of this year in relief of Bridgewater last week versus the Ravens. 

Long story short, start the Steelers' defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said under-fire quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "absolutely" the best option to lead the team's struggling offense.

Roethlisberger struggled again in Week 4 of the NFL season as the Steelers (1-3) suffered a third consecutive defeat, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating.

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season, only ahead of Miami Dolphins QB Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

"Absolutely," Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether Roethlisberger remains the right quarterback for the offense.

"What he does and what he's done makes me really comfortable in saying that."

Tomlin added: "It's him some, it's us collectively some. We've just got to keep working. Sometimes it can be attributed to the altering of plans late in the week because of player availability or guys not being available. ...

"We've had some big-play opportunities, we [haven't] cashed in on them. We need to cash in on them.

"They're a big component of moving the ball and scoring, particularly when you're not working as efficiently as you like on possession downs, which we aren't. ... We're also going to work to connect on a higher percentages of these chunk opportunities because that aids us in terms of ringing up the scoreboard, as well."

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third worst in the NFL.

Asked if he was concerned about the level of Roethlisberger's safety behind the line, Tomlin said: "Not out of the ordinary. I'm sure if you reviewed the tape and looked at these visits [news conferences] from the first 11 weeks of last year and probably said similar things. He was upright and we were undefeated.

"There's probably a component of just being in your late 30s and playing this game and playing that position and particularly when you're not playing winning football and you get somewhat one dimensional, there's collateral damage that gets associated with that for him and for us."

"Ben used to be able to run really good when he was young," Tomlin said of this week's clash with the Denver Broncos. "Those days are behind him.

"Other than that, I don't see much that's not a discussion in terms of technical alterations or quality of play that can be improved."

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