Graham Barfield and Scott Barrett are here to help you out with all of your Start / Sit needs with a deep rundown of their favorite- and least-favorite plays every single week. This article will be continually updated with news throughout the week, so make sure you keep it locked on our projections and on this column all the way through to kickoff on Sunday.
For the context of this article, any Start / Sit recommendation for “Shallow” leagues refers to 10-team leagues while “Deep” is 12- or 14-teamers.
Start: Kyler Murray @ Lions
Kyler Murray is back? Kyler is definitely, 100%, fully back.
Since returning from injury in Week 13, Murray averages 25.1 FPG, including 8.5 rushing attempts and 12.0 rushing FPG over this span. Across his prior 5 injury-marred games, he averaged just 6.4 rushing attempts and 1.5 rushing FPG.
Vegas expects Arizona to score 30.25 points this week (most by +1.75) and win by 13. Detroit is giving up more production to RBs than QBs, but that’s mostly due to gamescript. They’re actually far more inefficient against the pass, ranking 2nd-worst in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt (0.53) and 4th-worst in opposing passer rating (101.3). Though, against RBs, they rank 17th-best by YPC allowed (4.28).
Typically the massive spread would be a significant concern, but Murray has historically smashed in similar environments. In his 7 career games the Cardinals have been favored by 7.0 or more points, he averages 26.7 FPG. In the 15 career games the Cardinals have had an implied point total over 27.0, he averages 25.2 FPG.
Even without WR DeAndre Hopkins, Murray is an easy top-3 option this week. [SB]
Sit: Carson Wentz vs. Patriots
New England’s pass defense isn’t just great, it’s historically great. Opposing QBs are averaging a passer rating of just 70.9 against them, which ranks 6th-best by any defense this past decade. Since Week 7, opposing QBs are averaging just 9.3 FPG against them. That’s not a typo.
Wentz has been solid this year, ranking 16th in FPG (16.7). Or, better yet, 12th in FPG (18.9) if we exclude comically lopsided victories (of 25 or more points). But in this matchup, there’s a legitimate chance he fails to score even 12 fantasy points. Only 2 of New England’s past 7 opponents have accomplished this feat (Josh Allen and Justin Herbert), and Wentz himself has reached that mark just once over his last 4 games. [SB]
Start: Jalen Hurts vs. Washington
It appears Hurts is no lock to suit up for Sunday’s game, splitting snaps with Gardner Minshew in practice this week; still dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered 3 weeks ago. Considering that 45% of Hurts’ total fantasy production has come on the ground, this injury is an obvious concern. And, as a result, we’re not quite as high on him as we typically would be.
But, still, given this matchup, I think you have little choice but to start Hurts as a low-end QB1 at worst. Washington is the league’s top pass funnel defense (+7.0% over expectation), and the most favorable matchup for any QB, ranking: worst in total FPG allowed (22.3), worst in passing FPG allowed (18.5), 4th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (3.8), worst in fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.500), and 5th-worst in opposing passer rating (101.2).
Hurts currently ranks 5th in FPG (21.9) and averages 22.7 FPG in career games started and finished, hitting at least 19.0 fantasy points in 12 of 15 games (80%). Perhaps this injury caps his rushing yardage expectation, but if he’s able to start, he can still be a threat for vultured rushing touchdowns near the end zone. He ranks 5th among all players in rushing touchdowns inside the 10-yard-line (7).
If Hurts is out, Minshew needs to be considered as a high-end QB2. Again, this matchup is phenomenal. And Minshew is far better than your typical backup. In 2019, he averaged 19.8 FPG, which would rank 10th-best this season. And, in a comparably soft matchup against the Jets in Week 13, he earned a 133.7 passer rating, scoring 18.8 fantasy points on just 25 pass attempts. [SB]
Start: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Jets
Hopefully you’re not streaming QBs this late into the season and have an entrenched starter. But, if you’re not feeling so sure about your usual QB (ahem, like Russell Wilson) or if Lamar Jackson sits – then Tua Tagovailoa is by far your best Week 15 streaming option. Tua is still available in 57% of Yahoo leagues and 56% of ESPN leagues ahead of the Dolphins home game against the Jets. You don’t need me to write about how bad the Jets secondary is to know Tua is a great play this week, but their recent numbers are eye-poppingly bad. Over the last eight weeks, the Jets have allowed a league-high in completions (71.7%), YPA (9.2), touchdown rate (7.1%), and a 120.3 passer rating. Whew. Tua has finished as a QB1 (top-12 in weekly scoring) in 4-of-7 games since returning from injury in Week 6 and hasn’t finished worse than QB18 in this stretch. He’s a high-floor QB1 to start off the fantasy playoffs. [GB]
Start: Clyde Edwards-Helaire at Chargers
Look, it’s very unlikely that CEH will ever be the guy I thought he could be — a high-end PPR machine — as he’s still losing significant passing down work to Darrel Williams. Over their last three games played together since CEH returned in Week 11, Williams has run way more routes (64 to 40) and has gotten more targets (9 to 8). That’s a less-than-ideal sign for the long-term. In the short-term, AKA just this week, this seems like a spot where CEH could be relied on heavily.
While Williams is playing more on passing downs, CEH is at least getting the majority of the carries. Again, over their last three games played together, Williams has gotten just 12 carries while CEH has 36. And this is definitely a spot for Edwards-Helaire to get rolling on the ground. The Chargers have tightened a bit as of late, but their bulk stats still aren’t awesome as they’re giving up the eighth-most YPG on the ground to RBs over the last eight weeks (108.9). That’s because opposing offenses are just sticking to the ground game against them. In fact, only the Bills (+9.7% above expectation) are getting run on more often in close games than the Chargers (+6.9%) over the last eight weeks.
CEH is a strong RB2 start this week with a low-end RB1 ceiling if you squint hard enough (he needs to score a TD). [GB]
Sit: Miles Sanders vs. Washington
Of course, this comes down to the options that you have on your bench because it may be hard to steer clear of Sanders with how bad the RB landscape is this week — but there is a chance that the Eagles could have their full backfield healthy here. Sanders was limited in practice coming out of their bye, which is good news, but Jordan Howard was back too and Boston Scott should get back to his usual role now that he’s over his sickness that held him out of practice in the lead up to their Week 13 game against the Jets.
There is a chance that the Eagles go with a full-blown three-man committee just like they did back in Week 11 vs. the Saints when all three of their RBs were healthy. In that game, Sanders led the way in carries (16) but Howard (10) and Scott (6) both got quite a bit of work as well. Washington has been excellent against the run this year (3.63 YPC allowed; second-best), but they’ll certainly be up against the wall with five of their 6 current defensive line starters out on the COVID list. So, the matchup on the ground will be easier for Sanders & Co. here – I’m just worried that Sanders’ floor is extremely low coming off a “setback” with his ankle and now that Howard is healthy. Sanders is a TD-dependent FLEX for the opening round of the playoffs. [GB]
Start: Devonta Freeman vs. Packers
Don’t look now, but Devonta Freeman may still be a thing. He’s hit at least 12.0 fantasy points in 5 of his last 7 games. And since Week 9, he’s clearly been the team’s lead back. Over this span, he averages 14.5 carries, 4.7 targets, 75.0 YFS, 15.5 XFP/G, and 14.2 FPG, ranking top-20 in each stat. But over the last 2 weeks, he’s been upgraded to bell cow-status, handling 66% of the snaps, 88% of the carries (13.5 per game), and 88% of the targets out of the backfield (6.5 per game). In a perfectly neutral to slightly below average on-paper matchup, we like him as a mid-range RB2 this week. [SB]
Start: If you’re desperate… Malcolm Brown is available in 95% of Yahoo / ESPN leagues and the Dolphins entire RB room besides Brown and Duke Johnson has COVID. Brown hasn’t played since Week 7 after a knee/quad injury has kept him out, but he’ll obviously be fresh and relied on heavily if Myles Gaskin, Phillip Lindsay, and Salvon Ahmed are all out. Gaskin and Ahmed have been in the league’s protocols since late last week, so they have a larger window of time to get back on the field than most guys do. But, if it’s just Brown, he’ll be in line for 15-18 touches against the worst defense in the league. [GB]
Start: Hunter Renfrow @ Browns
Renfrow tied a career high in targets in Week 12 (9), bested that mark in Week 13 (10), and then shattered it in Week 14 (14). He’s now exceeded 100 receiving yards in 3 straight games, averaging 11.0 targets, 117.7 yards, and 23.8 FPG (low of 19.2) over this span.
This week he gets a Browns defense that appears especially vulnerable to slot WRs (where Renfrow runs 65% of his routes). Against outside WRs, the Browns rank 12th-best by FPG allowed (19.7), 6th-best by passer rating allowed (82.4), and 3rd-best by fantasy points per target allowed (1.56). Against slot WRs they rank 15th-worst (13.5), worst (130.7), and worst (2.28).
Is Hunter Renfrow the next Calvin Johnson or the next Jerry Rice? Good question. I don’t know. Maybe both. But at the very least, he’s the greatest WR of all-time, and an easy must-start WR1 this week and until Darren Waller returns from injury (likely Week 16). [SB]
Sit: Mike Evans vs. Saints
Now, I’m not actually recommending you to sit Evans (though maybe I am depending on your options), but I will suggest you strongly temper your expectations. Evans ranks 11th in FPG (16.8), but he’s just 22nd in our projections this week, in a brutal matchup against CB Marshon Lattimore’s shadow coverage.
Over the prior two seasons, a Lattimore shadow was typically worth a 19.3% reduction to a WR’s FPG average. Included in that figure are three shadow games against Evans, where he totaled a combined zero yards on five targets when lined up against Lattimore (71% of his routes). Lattimore has shadowed 4 times this season, against Davante Adams, Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf, and Evans. If we ignore just one play (a non-called OPI where Lattimore fell down on the play), he’s held them all to a combined 8.9 FPG on 6.4 targets per game. Of course, Evans had the best outing of the bunch (12.8 fantasy points), but only because he salvaged his day with a touchdown. But he caught just 2 passes for 48 yards on 43 routes run (1.12 YPRR). And that’s sort of how I’m viewing him this week; as a low-end WR2, but more touchdown-or-bust than that ranking implies. [SB]
Start: Russell Gage @ 49ers
Gage was a popular add off the waiver wire a week ago, and it wasn’t hard to see why. Following an impressive performance in Week 12 (7 targets, 18.2 fantasy points), Gage exploded in Week 13 (12 targets, 24.0 fantasy points). But he wasn’t quite as productive last week, catching 4 of 6 targets for 64 yards. Though, in his defense, Carolina is a brutal matchup for slot WRs (where he runs 51% of his routes). And actually, the majority of the opponents he’s faced have been exceedingly stout against the slot. In fact, Gage might have had the toughest strength of schedule of any player in fantasy.
Only 3 of his 10 games have come against opponents who did not rank top-12 in FPG against slot WRs. In those games, he averages 7.0 targets and 16.1 FPG. Or, 8.3 targets and 18.1 FPG if you want to count Week 13 as a top-20 matchup. (Wes Huber would. Tampa Bay’s slot CB Sean Murphy-Bunting sat out of their Week 2 matchup, but was eviscerated by Gage in Week 13.)
And this week, Gage gets arguably his most favorable matchup yet. The 49ers rank 5th-worst in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs (14.9), but they’re tough just about everywhere else. They rank 11th-best in FPG allowed to outside WRs (19.5) and 3rd-best in FPG allowed to opposing TEs (8.3). So, I’d expect another underwhelming performance from Kyle Pitts, and for more volume to be funneled in Gage’s direction. Or at least enough to support his low-end WR2 ranking. [SB]
Start: Christian Kirk at Lions
With DeAndre Hopkins out for the season, the Cardinals are going to have to rely heavily on Kirk, AJ Green, Zach Ertz, and Rondale Moore to try and close out the NFC West division title. When Nuk missed Weeks 9-12 with a hamstring injury, Christian Kirk easily led the team in routes while Ertz (21), Moore (20), and Kirk (18) were all very close for the team lead in targets. Of course, that usage comes with the caveat that Kyler Murray missed the entirety of that Week 9-12 stretch, too.
Luckily, this is about as easy of a draw as possible for the Cardinals passing attack – especially where Kirk sees his targets. In Kyler’s 10 starts, Kirk is second on the team in deep targets (15+ air yards) with 20 while Nuk has 22. We’ll certainly see a few Kyler-to-Kirk shots here against a Lions secondary that is allowing the second-worst completion rate on deep balls (53.7%) and the second-most EPA (expected points added) on those plays (0.64). Kirk is a high-ceiling WR3 start this week. [GB]
Sit: Michael Pittman Jr. vs. Patriots
Pittman ranks 24th among WRs in FPG (14.6), but he ranks just 32nd in our projections this week. Pittman is awesome. He’s really good at football, currently leading all WRs in separation rate. But this seems like a near-insurmountably bad matchup, and especially for a team ranking bottom-12 in pass attempts per game. (See: the Carson Wentz writeup)
The last time a WR exceeded 11.0 fantasy points against New England was 7 weeks ago. And top CB J.C. Jackson is a big reason why. He’s shadowed in 5 games thus far, holding Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans, DeVante Parker, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Kyle Pitts to a combined 8.1 FPG on 6.8 targets per game. Look for him to shadow Pittman this week (on the 80% of routes he runs out-wide), and for Pittman to (understandably) disappoint. [SB]
Sit: Darnell Mooney vs. Vikings
With Justin Fields back under center and Allen Robinson back on the field, Darnell Mooney cratered on SNF vs. the Packers last week. Mooney got 5 targets, but only caught one for 19 yards. Meanwhile, A-Rob got 6 targets and wasn’t much better with just 2/14 receiving. The Bears had a number of big plays and a punt returned for a TD so they didn’t have a ton of play volume in general, but the fact of the matter is that Mooney is averaging just 9.5 FPG in Fields’ 8 starts on the season. In fact, Mooney has been held to 45 or fewer yards six times with Fields under center. Yikes. He has three great matchups to close out the fantasy season (vs. Vikings, Seahawks, and Giants) – but with Fields back and A-Rob drawing targets, Mooney reverts back to being nothing more than a low-floor option moving forward. [GB]
Start: Pat Freiermuth vs. Titans
Since Week 6, Pat Freiermuth ranks 2nd in end zone targets per game (0.88), 11th in targets per game (6.0), 9th in XFP/G (10.9), and 5th in FPG (12.3).
He has 6 touchdowns over his last 7 games, and has also hit double-digit fantasy points in 6 of his last 8 games. Keep in mind, TE Eric Ebron played in 3 of these 8 games. In the 5 games Ebron has missed, Freiermuth has averaged 13.7 FPG (would rank 5th-most), and his route share jumped from 57% to 73%.
He gets a bottom-10 on paper matchup (but matchups are fairly overrated for TEs, unless at the extreme polar ends) and so we still like him this week as a mid-range TE1. [SB]
Sit: Ricky Seals-Jones @ Eagles
After drafting Logan Thomas in nearly every league this offseason, it was pretty disappointing to see him land again on I.R. It was a major bummer, but at least I had a somewhat competent replacement / handcuff in Ricky Seals-Jones. Or, so I thought. From Weeks 4-8, Seals-Jones ran a route on 92% of the team’s dropbacks, averaging 6.0 targets and 40.5 YPG. But — another bummer — he’s seemingly since been demoted. Last week, TE John Bates played over him, running 27 routes (64%) to Seals-Jones’ 17 (40%). Unfortunately, he’s no longer worthy of a roster spot. [SB]
Start: David Njoku vs. Raiders
If you need a streamer this week, Njoku is your best bet with the Browns going through a slew of COVID issues. Austin Hooper and Jarvis Landry are both in a race against time to get through the league’s protocols in time to play – they both have to clear by Friday. Not only are they both unlikely to play, Harrison Bryant is working his way back from an ankle injury and may be limited if he can suit up. Ironically, Njoku is now the last man left standing after missing last week with COVID. The good news is that this matchup is insanely easy, too. The Raiders have allowed the third-most YPG (64.6) to TEs on the year. [GB]