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: Taysom Hill @ Jets
Hill threw 4 interceptions last week. He’s been dealing with a partial tear of the plantar fascia (foot) for several weeks now, which is supposedly a more painful injury than if it were fully torn. And as of last week, he is also dealing with “Mallet Finger” on his throwing hand, the same injury that kept Russell Wilson off the field for three games, and still seemed to be affecting him for several weeks after.
And still, you’re starting him this week as a low-end QB1.
In spite of these ailments, last week, Hill managed to throw for 264 yards (2 touchdowns) while adding 101 yards rushing on the ground. Through 5 career QB starts, Hill averages 22.2 FPG (low of 18.5), which would rank 6th-most among all QBs this season. Although the risk of Hill getting benched (should he struggle) seems massive, he otherwise boasts one of the highest floors in fantasy, averaging 77.5 rushing YPG, 1.0 rushing touchdowns per game, and 13.8 rushing FPG in his 5 career starts.
And this week’s matchup is excellent. The Jets have given up the 4th-most passing FPG to opposing QBs (17.3), while also ranking 3rd-worst in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt (0.52). They rank 4th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing QBs (+2.4), though Hill’s Week 13 opponent (the Cowboys) ranked top-10 by the same stat (and 3rd-best in opposing passer rating). The Jets have allowed an opposing QB to reach 18.5 fantasy points against them in 8 of their last 9 games (20.4 FPG), though only one of these QBs ranks top-10 in fantasy points scored. [SB]
Sit: Joe Burrow vs. 49ers
Burrow has quietly struggled in recent weeks, averaging just 13.6 FPG since Week 9. And now he’s dealing with a dislocated pinkie on his throwing hand. This injury occurred late in the 2nd quarter, and Burrow completed just 12 of 23 passes for 158 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception in the 2nd half.
Burrow was a fringe-QB1 prior to injury, ranking 12th in FPG (18.4). But, we like him this week as just a high-end QB2. In addition to the injury concerns, this is also a difficult matchup; San Francisco ranks 6th-best by passing FPG allowed (13.9), and over the last 5 weeks opposing QBs are averaging just 14.2 FPG against them. [SB]
Start: Cam Newton vs. Falcons
I know, I know. Cam was awful his last time out against the Dolphins as the Panthers offense collapsed. HC Matt Rhule was so furious after the game that he ended up firing OC Joe Brady in the lead up to Week 14 and made it clear that the two had philosophical differences offensively. Rhule, once again, reiterated that he wants to run the ball way more – and I absolutely think that Cam is going to be a huge part of that. Cam ran it 10 times for 46 yards and a score back in his first start of the year in Week 11, but the Panthers got away from that the following week as Cam ran for just 5 yards. Well, this is an ideal get right spot for Cam and the Panthers run game as a whole against this Falcons defense that has struggled against mobile QBs all year. Jalen Hurts (7/62), Daniel Jones (8/39), Taylor Heinicke (5/43), Sam Darnold (8/66), and Trevor Lawrence (5/39) have all had solid days on the ground against Atlanta. Cam is obviously not without risk, but he simultaneously carries the highest ceiling among streamers on this slate. And in must-win weeks like this, you’re shooting for the most upside possible. [GB]
Sit: Ryan Tannehill vs. Jaguars
Tannehill and the Titans have been a totally different offense with Derrick Henry sidelined. It’s almost like good RBs matter. Since Henry went down, Tannehill has averaged just 6.1 YPA, 193 YPG, and has a 4:6 TD-to-INT ratio. That seems bad! Taking it a step further, SIS has an EPA (expected points added) approximation that measures just how valuable players are when they are and are not on the field. With Henry, the Titans were at 0.08 EPA/play (which would rank seventh-best) but have since slipped and averaged just -0.13 EPA/play without Henry (31st). Yikes.
As a result, Tannehill’s weekly finishes (QB16 > QB6 > QB20 > QB28) have been predictably sub-par with Henry off the field. So, even though this seems like a good matchup, I’m not optimistic that Tannehill will turn in a strong box score – especially with AJ Brown and Julio Jones still sidelined. We have Tannehill plugged in at QB21, making him a 2-QB / SuperFlex play only. [GB]
Start: Javonte Williams vs. Lions
I already spent a great deal of time talking about Williams here, but here’s the synopsis:
Through the first 12 weeks of the season, Williams was looking uniquely elite in terms of hyper-efficiency, though he was frustratingly stuck in a 50/50 committee (technically 48/52) with Melvin Gordon. But, with Gordon out last week, we finally got to see Williams in the bell cow role we were long awaiting. And he again looked elite, scoring 30.0 fantasy points (most) on a 26.9-point expectation (2nd-most).
So what happens next? Might Denver keep him in that bell cow role? Has he at least earned more work, possibly tipping this backfield towards 70/30 in his favor? Or will Denver go back to that frustrating 50/50 committee?
It’s hard to say what exactly might happen. But the upside of more work coming Williams’ way — especially with Gordon still banged up (hip) — needs to be factored into the analysis. As such, we’re viewing him as a low-end RB1 this week. But, even if we were promised a 50/50 committee, you’d still be starting Williams as a mid-range RB2 at worst.
That’s because this week’s matchup is just about perfect. Denver is favored by 7.5-points, and Denver is the 6th-most run-heavy team when playing with a lead of 5 or more points (60%). And Detroit ranks 4th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (16.3) and 4th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing RBs (+4.8). [SB]
Start: Josh Jacobs at Chiefs
After Kenyan Drake (ankle) got injured early and with Jalen Richard (COVID) out, the Raiders had no other option but to put Josh Jacobs on the field for nearly every single play last week. Jacobs’ 85% snap rate and nine receptions both marked career highs en route to a season-high 24 FP. Jacobs being more involved in the passing game isn’t a new trend, either – he was easily tracking a career-high 3.6 receptions per game after returning from injury in Week 4 – and he’ll certainly be relied way more heavily as a receiver with Drake out for the season. Richard is in danger of missing this game, too, and that will lock in Jacobs a bell-cow once again. Jacobs’ volume is impossible to fade here – especially as a receiver. The Raiders are huge underdogs against the Chiefs, which should lend itself to plenty of checkdowns for Jacobs again. That happens to line up perfectly against Kansas City’s weakness as they are allowing 6.5 receptions (eighth-most) and 57.4 receiving yards (third-most) per game to opposing RBs. [GB]
Sit: Ezekiel Elliott at Washington
Again, this is one of those situations where you might not have any other options besides Zeke – and that’s OK! This has been a brutal year for injuries and there are only about 12-14 no-brainer starts at RB this week. However, you know what the issue is with Zeke at this point. He’s clearly running at way less than 100% and even though he’s had a long week to get treatment on his knee, the recent sample of games Zeke has put together is awful. And that’s putting it mildly. Over the last month, Zeke has turned in a Myles Gaskin-like 3.2 YPC and 4.5 YPR and averaged 11.3 carries and 35.8 yards rushing in this stretch. The Cowboys would be wise to shut down Zeke and get him back to full strength for the playoffs but Zeke himself has said he’s going to keep playing though it. Right now, you’re playing Zeke for a few goal-line TD plunges – especially in this matchup. Washington’s run defense has been strong even without Chase Young and Montez Sweat as The Team has given up just 3.64 YPC (fifth-fewest), 8.1 rushing fantasy points per game (second-fewest), and 55.1 yards per game (fewest) to opposing backs over the last eight weeks. Zeke projects like an RB2 because of his TD equity, but he’s a shaky FLEX without a score or two. [GB]
Start: Devonta Freeman at Browns
Freeman flopped in this spot a few weeks ago for just 7 FP, but I’m going back to him as an RB2. Unlike Latavius Murray, Freeman’s still got a little juice left in the tank and the Ravens have taken notice as he set a new season-high in snaps (69%) last week. Freeman now has 24, 17, and 19 touches over his last three games and he has a great chance to make good on that volume here. The Browns run defense has been cracked for 4.61 YPC (seventh-most) over the last eight weeks while allowing a RB to clear 17 FP against them in 5-of-7 games in this stretch. [GB]
Sit: James Robinson at Titans
We faded J-Rob last week because of his multiple injuries (knee/heel/ankle) and that ended up working – but by no fault of Robinson or his health. HC Urban Meyer inexplicably benched Robinson after he fumbled early in the game only to bring him back onto the field late in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Urban is going to be one-and-done and he knows it – he’s acting like a coach who wants to simulate to the end of this season just like in Madden. Well, the same logic that we used with Robinson applies this week: He’s playing hurt and the Jags are still the Jags. J-Rob’s snap rate (63% > 52% > 44%) has trended down in three-straight games and Carlos Hyde has run more routes than him (35 to 31) over the last two weeks. This matchup is also brutal. Tennessee’s run defense has tightened as of late and are only giving up 3.56 YPC (third-fewest) and 56.5 rushing yards per game (second-fewest) to RBs over the last eight weeks. [GB]
Start: Marquise Brown @ Browns
Since Week 7, Marquise Brown ranks behind only Diontae Johnson in targets per game (12.2) and XFP/G (23.0). Unfortunately, the production hasn’t been there, as he ranks just 22nd in FPG over this span (14.6), but he’s not the one to blame. Over this span, QB Lamar Jackson ranks dead-last in PFF pass grade (43.5).
That’s our concern with Brown this week — that Jackson falls apart, like he did when he last faced the Browns two weeks ago, compiling a distressing 165/1/4 line on 32 pass attempts. This season Jackson has twice as many games with 2 or more interceptions than he does games with 2 or more passing touchdowns. And, well, yeah, that’s bad.
But, still, I think you have little choice but to start Brown this week, who ranks 10th in XFP/G (16.5) and 11th in FPG (16.7) across the full season. At least on paper, the Browns don’t look like a tough matchup for Jackson, ranking 9th-worst in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt (0.48). And though he struggled against them in Week 12, he’s thrown for 3 or more touchdowns in 3 of their last 5 meetings. But it’s undeniably a terrific matchup for Brown (if Jackson can at least play somewhat competently), as Cleveland ranks 4th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s (+3.4). [SB]
Start: Hunter Renfrow @ Chiefs
Renfrow earned double-digit targets for the first time in his career last week, when he hit 100 receiving yards for the second week in a row. He’s now finished as a top-12 fantasy option in 4 of his last 5 games following the release of Henry Ruggs, averaging 16.8 FPG over this span (14th-most). Across the full season, Renfrow ranks 23rd in FPG (14.5), just ahead of Terry McLaurin (14.4) and D.K. Metcalf (14.3).
And, well, there you go, folks. I guess that’s what they call him “The Accountant.” He’s always adding up numbers.
Just kidding, he’s called “The Accountant,” because he looks more like an accountant than an NFL player. But, that’s exactly why you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. And especially when that book is a slot WR. (As I showed here, athleticism is massively overrated for WRs, and especially slot WRs.) But if you judge this “book” by its numbers, Renfrow is an easy WR2. And that’s how we should be viewing him this week, in a perfectly neutral matchup against CB L'Jarius Sneed and the Chiefs. [SB]
Sit: Brandin Cooks vs. Seahawks
Cooks has had a pillow-soft matchup in four straight games. The Titans and Dolphins rank worst- and 6th-worst (respectively) by FPG allowed to opposing WRs. The Colts rank 3rd-worst by schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing WR1s, and the Jets rank 4th-worst over the last 5 weeks. Despite this soft stretch of schedule, he averaged just 9.3 FPG over this span.
And, so, he’s become extremely difficult to trust. And this week’s matchup is absolutely brutal. The Seahawks rank 2nd-best in FPG allowed to opposing outside WRs (14.9), and top-5 by schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to both WRs and WR1s (and top-3 over the last 5 weeks). He’s just a high-end WR3 this week. [SB]
Sit: Courtland Sutton vs. Lions
Sutton has to be extremely frustrated with how his season has gone to this point. After popping for some big games early in the year when Jerry Jeudy was out, Sutton is an absolute non-factor in this Broncos passing offense right now. Over the last month of action, Sutton has caught 7 balls for 70 yards total. In fact, Sutton ranks 79th (!!) in targets per game among WRs over his last four games. That’s pathetic for a player of Sutton’s caliber and the fact that he just got a fat contract extension a few weeks back tells you everything you need to know about how Denver feels about him. It isn’t Sutton’s fault that Teddy Bridgewater is a backup posing as a starter. Even in this dream matchup against the Lions, Sutton’s recent usage drags him down into hail-mary WR4 territory. [GB]
Start: D.J. Moore vs. Falcons
Moore’s 2021 should have been incredible after his hot start, but he’s obviously been bogged down by brutal QB play as of late. After putting up 6.7 receptions and 85.5 yards per game in his first six outings, Moore has since tallied 4.3 receptions and 56.8 yards per game over his last six. The good news? Moore has clearly been Cam Newton’s favorite target. In his two starts, Cam has targeted Moore 29% of the time and there is obviously room for that to grow even more with CMC out. This matchup is ideal, too, as the Falcons are giving up a whopping 42.5 FPG to opposing wideouts over the last five weeks (second-most). I’m going back to Moore as a WR2 in this spot. [GB]
Start: Russell Gage @ Panthers
Gage is drawing quite a bit of buzz this week, and it’s not 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). He’s now seen 7 or more targets in 4 of his last 5 games. And so, it appears, Atlanta finally has a third fantasy-viable option on their team; after the 30-year-old RB/WR hybrid averaging 18.0 FPG and the rookie phenom TE who appears to be double-covered on every play.
Still, I’m a little hesitant to write up Gage as a “start” this week. Carolina held him to zero fantasy (0 targets) in Week 8, and Carolina has allowed the 3rd-fewest receptions and the 3rd-fewest receiving yards to opposing slot WRs, which is where Gage runs 53% of his routes. But, still, on this relatively gross week, he’s still deserving of a “start”-designation as a high-end WR3. [SB]
Sit: Cole Beasley @ Buccaneers
From Weeks 6-9, Beasley averaged 11.0 targets per game and 16.0 FPG. The next week, he played on just 16% of the team’s snaps due to injury. And in the three games since, he’s averaged only 4.3 targets and 6.0 FPG.
Initially, I wanted to blame this on injury, but Beasley has practiced in full in each of the last two weeks (minus veteran’s rest). Maybe he is banged up, or maybe not, but either way it does seem as though TE Dawson Knox has supplanted him in the pecking order (we’ll get to him a little later).
And, in addition to his recent string of down-games, his bottom-5 matchup makes him even more difficult to trust this week. Tampa Bay is the league’s No. 1 reverse-slot funnel, ranking 3rd-best in FPG allowed to slot WRs (10.1), but 2nd-worst in FPG allowed to outside WRs (23.9). So, look for big games from Knox and the other WRs, but we shouldn’t be anticipating too much from Beasley. [SB]
Sit: Rashod Bateman @ Browns
Things were looking a lot more promising for Bateman a few weeks ago. He had seen at least 6 targets in each of his first 5 career games (just 1 of 19 WRs to accomplish this feat), averaging 54.0 YPG over this span. But he averages just 2.5 targets per game and 15.5 YPG in the 2 games since. More alarmingly, he’s clearly now just a part-time player, as his route share has fallen from 72% to 47% over this span. Add in all the aforementioned concerns with Lamar Jackson (mentioned in the Marquise Brown section above), and Bateman is an easy “sit” this week, as just a mid-range WR5. [SB]
Start: Dawson Knox @ Buccaneers
A few weeks back we talked about how Knox was looking eerily similar to 2020 Robert Tonyan. At that point, Knox ranked 7th among all TEs in FPG (11.8), despite averaging just 4.0 targets per game (24th). Like Tonyan, he was obscenely efficient, averaging 2.94 fantasy points per target, an all-time great mark.
This made me nervous, anticipating a heavy regression to the mean. And though that’s come — he’s fallen short of his volume-based expectation by 3.0 or more points in three of his last four games — he’s helped to offset the impact with a massive increase in volume. He averages 12.8 XFP/G over the last 3 weeks (5th-most), and has seen his route share jump from 70% to 90%.
This newfound surge in volume has left me far more bullish on Knox’s prospects of returning mid-range TE1 production throughout the remainder of the season (he currently ranks 7th in FPG with 12.0). And, in any case, he’s clearly a mid-range TE1 this week. This game offers a massive 53.5-point over/under, and Tampa Bay is especially vulnerable to TEs, ranking 9th-worst in FPG allowed (14.6). [SB]
Sit: Tyler Higbee @ Cardinals
Despite ranking highly in route share (86%, 2nd-most), and seeing decent target volume (5.3 targets per game, 15th-most), and playing in a top-3 offense, Higbee has failed to exceed 11.0 fantasy points in each of his last nine games. He ranks just 24th in FPG over this span (8.1). And I wouldn’t expect too much more than that this week, against an Arizona defense that ranks 5th-best in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs (-2.8). [SB]
Start: Jared Cook vs. Giants
The Chargers are the latest team to have a COVID issue with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both in the protocol. If both of those guys end up missing, Jared Cook becomes the top streamer of the week based on opportunity alone. It also doesn’t hurt that the Giants have allowed 6.3 receptions per game (fifth-most) over the last five weeks. [GB]
Start: Gerald Everett @ Texans
If desperate for a spot-start at the TE position, you can do a lot worse than Everett.
Since the team’s Week 9 bye, he’s just one target off of D.K Metcalf for the team-high, and he’s averaging 12.7 XFP/G over this span, which ranks 5th-most among TEs. He’s been modestly productive, averaging 10.1 FPG over this stretch, which ranks 10th-most at the position, though that’s also +3.6 FPG more than D.K. Metcalf. He gets a favorable matchup this week, against a Texans defense that ranks 5th-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed to opposing TEs (+3.3). I’m viewing him as a fringe TE1 this week. [SB]