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: Joe Burrow vs. Ravens
When Cincinnati last faced Baltimore, in Week 7, Burrow threw for 416 yards and 3 touchdowns, scoring a season-high 27.6 fantasy points.
WR Ja’Marr Chase, facing Marlon Humphrey’s tough shadow coverage, gained 201 yards, scoring 34.1 fantasy points on 10 targets. WR Tee Higgins was less productive on better volume, gaining 62 yards on 15 targets. WR Tyler Boyd did very little (7.9 fantasy points), understandably, against Tavon Young’s tight coverage in the slot. And TE C.J. Uzomah caught 3 of 3 targets for 91 yards and 2 scores (24.1 fantasy points).
Baltimore ranks 3rd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing QBs (+2.2). They’re giving up the 2nd-most passing FPG to opposing QBs (17.6), while also ranking 5th-worst in passing fantasy points allowed per pass attempt (0.498). Over the last 5 weeks, they’re giving up the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs (+5.8). Against outside WRs — the strength of Cincinnati’s passing attack — the Ravens are giving up the 4th-most FPG (23.3), and the most over the last 8 weeks. But they’ve been much tougher against slot WRs, giving up the 8th-fewest FPG (10.9).
And Baltimore’s secondary is significantly worse than all of these numbers imply. Baltimore lost CB Marlon Humphrey (out for the year) in Week 14, after already losing CB Marcus Peters in training camp. They were forced to start Anthony Averett and Chris Westry on the perimeter, with Young in the slot. But Westry is on the COVID-19 list, his backup Jimmy Smith is also on the COVID-19 list, and Young is now in the concussion protocol.
All of this to say, Burrow should smash this week, and all of his WRs could go nuclear. There should be some concern over Burrow’s injury (dislocated pinkie on his throwing hand), though he’s been hyper-efficient in the two games since (12.6 YPA). And, mostly, this matchup is simply too attractive to fade. We like him this week as a mid-QB1. [SB]
Start: Russell Wilson vs. Bears
Quarterback is pretty thin this week and once you get past the top-10 or so, things start to not feel so great. Naturally, starting Russell Wilson during semifinals week also doesn’t feel so great at this point – especially after the Seahawks offense fell apart on national TV on Tuesday. Wilson was awful by any measure and scored a season-low 4.2 FP. However, I’m leaving the light on for Wilson to re-discover his ceiling here, especially if Tyler Lockett is back off of the COVID list. The Bears secondary has collapsed recently and are allowing the fourth-highest completion rate (70.3%), second-highest TD rate (6.7%), and second-highest passer rating (113.4) over the last eight weeks. We have Wilson ranked right on the QB1 borderline for Week 16. (GB)
Start: David Montgomery @ Seahawks
Several weeks ago, we asked, “What’s wrong with David Montgomery?” And the answer was, “He’s not seeing the same target-volume he saw last year.” But that’s no longer the case. Despite the handicap of a hyper-mobile QB — hyper-mobile QBs typically neglect their RBs in the passing game — Montgomery leads his team in targets over the last three weeks (averaging 8.0 per game, up from 2.1 targets per game). Over this span, Montgomery averages 16.7 carries, 8.0 targets (most), 21.7 XFP/G (most), and 18.1 FPG (8th-most).
So, in fact, the best overall volume and the best target-volume of any RB over the last three weeks. And how he gets set to face a Seattle defense that ranks 2nd-worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+7.4), 9th-worst in rushing FPG allowed (14.3), and worst in receiving FPG allowed to opposing RBs (15.1).
We like him this week as a mid-range RB1. [SB]
Start: James Robinson @ Jets
Last week, with Carlos Hyde out (concussion protocol), Robinson played on 84% of the team’s snaps, earning 18 of 19 carries and 6 of 8 targets out of the backfield. He totaled 18.6 XFP, which ranked 4th-most at the position, and he scored 18.8 fantasy points, which ranked 5th-most.
And, well, it looks like Robinson is back. Or, at least, back to bell cow-status. And, I suspect, he’s going to retain that role even when Hyde returns from injury.
#Jaguars interim HC Darrell Bevell on RB James Robinson: "James Robinson is our starting running back and he will be played as such."— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) December 16, 2021
And as such, he’s an easy must-start this week and every week moving forward. But especially this week.
This is easily one of the best matchups of Robinson’s career. Jacksonville may actually win this game, as they’re only 1.0-point underdogs. And if they do win, that would be just the 3rd win of Robinson’s career (in 28 games). And despite that massive handicap (of living almost exclusively in negative gamescript), and the handicap of a moronic coaching staff (which nonsensically forced Robinson into a committee alongside Hyde), he has remained one of the most productive RBs in fantasy. He averages 15.7 FPG across his career, just 0.1 FPG less than D’Andre Swift. But in this week’s matchup against the Jets, we should be expecting maybe 50% more than that.
Against RBs, the Jets rank: worst in total FPG allowed (33.9, +4.5 more than next-closest), worst in rushing FPG allowed (20.8), 2nd-worst in receiving FPG allowed (13.1), 3rd-worst in YPC allowed (4.62), and worst in schedule-adjusted FPG allowed (+11.8). That final stat is 59% more than the next-closest defense, 286% more than the defense ranking 5th-worst, and is the highest stat I’ve ever seen allowed by a defense this far into a season. [SB]
Start: Miles Sanders vs. Giants
While Sanders isn’t allowed to score TDs apparently, at least he looks awesome. Miles Sanders is absolutely shredding defenses in this new-found, run-heavy Eagles attack and it all culminated in him hitting a career-high in rushing yards (131) against Washington on Tuesday. My concern last week is that the Eagles would go with a full-blown committee now that all of their guys were back healthy. That wasn’t the case. Sanders operated as the Eagles clear-cut lead back before Jordan Howard came in as the closer. In fact, he led the backfield in carries (18) in the first three quarters while Howard had just six carries before the fourth quarter. With Sanders as the Eagles clear lead back, there is a lot of meat on the bone for him to finally have a ceiling against this Giants run defense that just gave up a combined 21.9 FP to the Cowboys gimpy RBs. I’m back in on Sanders and trusting him as a strong RB2 this week. (GB)
Sit: Darrell Henderson at Vikings
With Darrell Henderson back from his thigh injury and a stint on the COVID list, we got clarity on how HC Sean McVay views his running backs. Sony Michel took control of this backfield on Tuesday and played on 73% of the snaps while Henderson was at 27%. What was especially surprising is how little Henderson played on passing downs. Michel ran 25 routes while Henderson ran just eight. If Henderson has lost the early-down work and passing down snaps to Michel… what does he have left? Michel is running inspired and physically and has clearly carved out the “1A” role in this backfield. Even in this likely high scoring game, Henderson is nothing more than a hail mary FLEX option. (GB)
Start: Ronald Jones @ Panthers
In the four games Leonard Fournette missed last season, Jones played on 63% of the team’s snaps, averaging 19.7 carries, 3.8 targets, 123.0 YFS, and 18.8 FPG. For perspective, that’s both high-end RB1 usage and production.
Following Fournette’s injury in the 3rd Quarter of last week’s game, Jones played on only 47% of the team’s snaps, handling 6 of 9 carries (67%), and 2 of 4 targets (50%) out of the backfield. And these numbers are somewhat skewed by what feels like an outlierish game environment — Tampa Bay trailed throughout in a rare shutout defeat. If I had to guess, I’d assume Jones is fully locked in to the bulk of the team’s carries, but will split passing-down duties with Ke’Shawn Vaughn until Giovani Bernard returns. And that should be an extremely valuable role.
Tampa Bay’s running backs rank 2nd in XTD/G (1.1), 4th in XFP/G (26.8), and 2nd in targets per game (9.1, with 79% of that coming on early downs). And, at least as a runner, Jones is a good bit better than he ever seems to get credit for. Among all RBs with at least 250 carries over the past two seasons, only Nick Chubb, Jonathan Taylor, and Miles Sanders rank better by YPC (5.00).
Tampa Bay enters this week favored by 10.5-points, which should be highly beneficial for Jones as the early-down runner. Though, the on-paper matchup seems fairly tough. Carolina has given up the 2nd-fewest FPG to opposing RBs (17.7), and the 5th-fewest if schedule-adjusted (-3.6). Though, granted, they’ve also given up 17.5 rushing FPG to opposing RBs over their last 6 games, which ranks 4th-most. Anyway, add it all up and we like Jones as a high-end RB2 this week. [SB]
Start: Devin Singletary @ Patriots
Singletary, seemingly, has been promoted to full-on bell cow-status. Over his last two games, he’s played on 87% of the team’s snaps, while handling 87% of the carries and 100% of the targets over the backfield.
In Week 14’s loss, he turned 4 carries and 7 targets into 14.9 fantasy points. In Week 15’s win, he turned 22 carries and 1 target into 16.6 fantasy points.
In the 10 career games Singletary has played on at least 75% of the team's snaps, he averages 14.2 carries, 4.3 targets, and 13.7 FPG. For perspective, 13.7 FPG would rank 20th-best this season. And, well, that’s about what we should expect for Singletary if he maintains this bell cow workload. There just isn’t much upside for him beyond that on an extremely pass-heavy team where the QB serves as the team’s primary goal-line back.
So, we like him this week as a low-end RB2. The Bills are 2.5-point underdogs, but Singletary sees enough target-volume to be considered fairly gamescript-immune. And otherwise the matchup is somewhere between above-average and neutral. The Patriots have given up the 13th-most FPG to opposing RBs (23.9), and the 14th-most if schedule-adjusted (-0.4). But they also rank 4th-worst in YPC allowed (4.61) and 8th-worst in receiving FPG allowed to opposing RBs (11.7). [SB]
Sit: Devonta Freeman at Bengals
What the hell happened with Freeman last week? After seemingly taking over this backfield recently, the Ravens decided to trot out Latavius Murray out of nowhere. Murray led this backfield in both carries and targets against the Packers last week as Freeman got just 6 carries and 1 target. Maybe Freeman is dealing with some sort of minor injury that we don’t know about? Because that is the only explanation that makes sense. Freeman has clearly looked like and produced as the Ravens top option in their injury-riddled season. Keep in mind, Murray had just one carry in Week 14 while Freeman had 13. It makes no sense. That said, Freeman is a low-floor FLEX option coming off his demotion. The Bengals have not allowed a RB to top 12.5 FP against them since Week 9. (GB)
Start: Antonio Brown @ Panthers
Brown technically ranks 6th among all WRs in FPG (19.1), though he hasn’t played since Week 6.
In games all 3 Tampa Bay WRs were active, Brown led in FPG (19.1), well above Mike Evans (15.8) and Chris Godwin (14.7). However, he ranked third in XFP/G (14.7), closely behind Evans (16.4) and Godwin (15.9). But keep in mind, Brown was averaging 19.1 FPG, while running a route on just 66% of the team’s dropbacks. And well, now, with Godwin and Leonard Fournette both out, and Evans questionable, that’s likely to jump to about 100%.
Brown ranks behind only Cooper Kupp in fantasy points per route run (0.64) and behind only Kupp and Davante Adams in targets per route (0.28). And a 100% route share applied to his 19.1 FPG average would give us an expectation of 28.9 FPG.
We’re not expecting that many fantasy points from Brown this week, of course, but we do like him as a low-end WR1. Brown is back to full health (per HC Bruce Arians), but we’re expecting Evans (hamstring) to sit. And we’d probably bump Brown up another tier if Evans plays, drawing Stephon Gilmore into shadow coverage. Brown would then get the much softer matchup, against CB C.J. Henderson who ranks worst of 120-qualifying CBs in fantasy points allowed per snap in coverage (0.40).
So, regardless of Evans’ status, start Brown this week as an easy WR1. [SB]
Start: Russell Gage vs. Lions
Gage just continues to get it done as the Falcons top receiver. He posted another strong performance with 8/91/1 against the 49ers and is now averaging 17.1 PPR points per game across his last five contests after going 0/0 against Dallas back in Week 10. In fact, since Week 10, Gage leads the team in targets (47) while Kyle Pitts (38) is second. And more good news: Gage gets a pristine matchup this week against a Lions secondary that is allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per target to WRs this season. We have Gage firmly ranked as a top-20 WR this week. (GB)
Sit: DeVante Parker @ Saints
Through seven games, Parker averages 8.6 targets, 106.4 air yards, 14.4 XFP, and 12.9 FPG. Across the full season, those numbers rank: 18th, 12th, 24th, and 30th.
And, well, that’s great. Certainly a lot better than he seems to be getting credit for.
Though, granted, Jaylen Waddle missed last week’s game, and the bulk of his production and volume came early in this season, which we can argue came before Waddle’s breakout as the team’s alpha WR1. And Waddle will play this week, activated from the COVID-19 list on Monday.
But the real problem, at least this week, is this: he’s likely to draw shadow coverage from Marshon Lattimore.
Over the prior two seasons, a Lattimore shadow was typically worth a 19.3% reduction to a WR’s FPG average. And this year, Lattimore has shadowed five times, against Davante Adams, Terry McLaurin, D.K. Metcalf, and Mike Evans (2X). 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 7.4 FPG on 5.3 targets per game.[SB]
Both OBJ and Jefferson flopped on Tuesday while Cooper Kupp (shocker!) dominated once again. However, I’m going back to both Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson as strong WR3 starts here in a likely high-scoring affair with the Vikings. Both Beckham and Jefferson were full-time players last week as the Rams continue using 3-WR sets exclusively as their base offense. While they didn’t get many targets in what ended up being a very methodical, slow-paced game against Seattle last week – playing against the much higher scoring Vikings should provide a longer runway for success. Especially since Minnesota is giving up a whopping 41.6 FPG to opposing WRs over the last five weeks, which is a league-high. This secondary has allowed 10 (!!) different receivers to get over 60 yards against them in this span. (GB)
If Emmanuel Sanders sits again… Start: Gabriel Davis at Patriots
Look, I think we’re often too quick to dismiss veterans that are playing well in favor of younger players – especially on win-now teams. But the Bills not finding a way to get Gabriel Davis on the field in a full-time role this season is a coaching nightmare. Davis has done nothing but ball out on his limited opportunities and is now right behind Stefon Diggs in yards gained per route run on this season. Diggs ranks 25th-best and Davis ranks 27th among the 115 WRs with 25 or more targets. Davis finally got a full-time role last week and excelled as he tied for the team lead with Diggs in routes (38) and posted 5/85/2 on the Panthers last week. With Cole Beasley likely out and Sanders (knee) banged up, the Bills may have no other choice but to play the phenom Davis. (As an aside, I will be all-in on Davis next year.) This week? Davis is an upside WR3 even in a tough matchup against this stingy Patriots defense in what looks to be unseasonably nice weather in Foxborough. (GB)
Sit: Jakobi Meyers vs. Bills
The Patriots weren’t spared of the NFL’s COVID outbreak here as Kendrick Bourne is in jeopardy of missing this week’s game. Despite being down their No. 2 receiver, this still isn’t a spot to boost up Jakobi Meyers in your ranks. Meyers has scored over 14 FP in just 4-of-13 games this season and draws a brutally tough matchup here against this Bills secondary that is limiting opposing slot WRs to the third-fewest points per game. Meyers is nothing more than a low-upside WR4, especially since the Patriots will likely take some copy of their run-heavy game-plan from Week 13 here. (GB)
Sit: Chase Claypool at Chiefs
Claypool air-balled last week with just two targets and no catches and if we look under the hood, it’s because he’s continued to lose playing time as of late. Maybe it’s because of a toe injury that held him out in Week 10 or maybe it’s because of his mental mistakes and Mike Tomlin is sick of it, but Claypool has played on just 61% of the snaps over the last three weeks. This week, Claypool is up against a tough matchup against a Chiefs secondary that is limiting boundary receivers to the second-fewest fantasy points per game. Claypool rarely moves into the slot and lines up out wide on 80% of his snaps. He’s a completely boom-or-bust WR4 for the semifinals. (GB)
Start: Dallas Goedert vs. Giants
Goedert is averaging 2.35 YPRR, an all-time great mark for a TE. Only 7 other TEs this past decade have finished a season with a YPRR of 2.35 or better. And since the Zach Ertz trade (Week 7), Goedert is averaging 2.75 YPRR, which would rank 6th-best this past decade, and is a mark only bested by George Kittle, Rob Gronkowski, and Mark Andrews.
Since Week 7, Goedert is averaging 6.4 targets (24% target share), 71.5 yards, and 13.4 fantasy points per four quarters on an 87% route share. If over the full season, those numbers would rank 9th-, 1st-, 4th-, 5th-, and 1st-best. And his best games have come most recently. He’s hit at least 100 receiving yards in back-to-back games, averaging 24.5 FPG over this span, with a low of only 20.5.
In a perfectly neutral on-paper matchup, coming off of a season-high 9 targets, the red-hot Goedert needs to be started as a top-5 option this week. [SB]
Start: Zach Ertz vs. Colts
Ertz, like Mike Gesicki, has a TE-designation for fantasy but is basically an oversized full-time slot WR, running a route on 84% of Arizona’s dropbacks over the last 7 weeks, with 63% of his catches coming from the slot.
Since joining the Cardinals in Week 7, Ertz is averaging 6.3 targets (17.5% target share), 11.3 XFP/G, and 11.5 FPG. Among all TEs over this span, those numbers rank 13th- (10th-), 10th-, and 7th-best.
And some of these numbers might be skewed against him, with Kyler Murray playing hurt and then missing time due to injury. And we should also expect a little bit more from Ertz moving forward, with DeAndre Hopkins out for the remainder of the season and leaving behind an 18% target share. Last week — despite picking up a hamstring injury late in the week which left him entering the game listed as questionable — Ertz gained 74 yards (13.4 fantasy points) on 11 targets (1 off the team-high) and 19.0 XFP (4th-most at the position).
This week he gets a Colts defense that is giving up the 2nd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs (+4.9). Christian Kirk led the team in targets last week, but has the far tougher matchup this time around; Indianapolis ranks 4th-best in FPG allowed to opposing slot WRs (10.2). So, look for Murray to pepper his TE with targets, as opposing offenses have done against Indianapolis all year — Indianapolis has surrendered 45% of their total receiving fantasy production allowed to TEs, which ranks 4th-most. And start Ertz as a top-5 option this week. [SB]
Start: Cole Kmet @ Seahawks
Kmet has led Chicago’s receivers in XFP in 4 of his last 6 games. Over this span, and among all TEs, Kmet ranks 7th in targets per game (7.2), 9th in XFP/G (11.8), but just 15th in FPG (9.4). But we like him this week as a mid-range TE1, given the soft matchup. Seattle is giving up the 3rd-most schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing TEs (+4.6) and the most over the last 5 weeks (+9.0). [SB]
Sit: Noah Fant at Raiders
Despite what is objectively a great matchup against a Raiders defense that has been bludgeoned by TEs all year, I don’t think Fant fits the bill as a good streamer this week. Fant is actually splitting targets with Albert Okwuegbunam over the last three weeks, as Fant has 15 looks while Albert O has 14. Especially with the unruly Drew Lock under center, I’d look elsewhere if you need a TE streamer (like Cole Kmet!). (GB)