Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 16

Robert Woods returned from injury and didn't miss a beat. He's in play once again this week. But who else should you be starting and sitting?

Who doesn't want to win?

I know it's "just fantasy football," but your softball team is "just a recreational team." That doesn't mean any at-bat with the game on the line isn't anxiety-driven. It is. Because you care.

You want to win.

And there's nothing wrong with that. If your uncle doesn't understand why you're getting worked up on Christmas Eve after your opponent's wide receiver caught a 74-yard bomb, ignore him. You can tilt. You have the right to tilt.

The unfortunate part of championship week is that half of you who made it this far are going to lose. But, even knowing that, you should do your best to set yourself up for a W. Perhaps these starts and sits will get you going in the right direction.


Start Philip Rivers (at New York): Push last week's performance from Rivers aside -- it was a divisional matchup against a Chiefs defense that's been playing a lot better at home against opposing passers over the second half of the year than most probably realize. This week's different. Rivers gets the Jets, who rank in the bottom half of the league against the pass according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points metric. They've also surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing passers, as well as the third-most air yards according to Rivers had posted four straight QB1 performances prior to last week, and we should expect him to get back in the swing of things in this one.

Sit Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. Jacksonville): Jimmy G's thrown a touchdown for every 504 passing yards in his three starts with the 49ers, when the average throughout the NFL this year is a touchdown per 161.94 passing yards. Usually, I'd sit here and scream "Positive regression!" with something like this, but it would be silly to do that this week. Because Jacksonville's defense -- and secondary, in particular -- is elite. Not only do they have our number-one ranked schedule-adjusted pass D, but Russell Wilson -- fantasy football's top quarterback this year -- is the only passer with a QB1 performance against the Jags. And it took two 60-plus yard touchdowns (usually unsustainable touchdowns) to get there. I'm fully onboard the Garoppolo bandwagon, just not this week in this matchup.

Start Joe Flacco (deeper play, vs. Indianapolis): Flacco's averaging more than 19 fantasy points per game over his last three games, with all three contests against beatable, mediocre defenses. But, hey, that's what he'll get again this week when he takes on the Colts in Baltimore. The Ravens are big 13.5-point favorites in a game with a 41.5-point over/under, giving them the fifth-best team total on the entire slate. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year, but they've really only faced one elite option all season long in Russell Wilson (until this week, of course). When adjusted for strength of opponent, our numbers peg them as the absolute worst secondary in football. So that, combined with a little more confidence in Flacco's recent play, is why he's a solid streamer this week.

Sit Derek Carr (at Philadelphia): On paper, the matchup isn't all that horrendous for Carr this week. The Eagles are coming off an Eli Manning beatdown (from a fantasy football standpoint) in Week 15, they're an average team in fantasy points against to the quarterback position, and no team has faced a higher pass-to-run ratio this year. But, man, Derek Carr looks broken. The last time he finished as a QB1 in weekly scoring was back in Week 7, and you could argue that he's had only one non-plus matchup during this seven-game stretch. Trusting him in the fantasy football championship given his recent play wouldn't make a whole lot of sense logically.

Other quarterbacks to start: Blake Bortles (at San Francisco), Case Keenum (at Green Bay)
Other quarterbacks to sit: Marcus Mariota (vs. Los Angeles), Matt Ryan (shallower league, at New Orleans)

Running Back

Start Jay Ajayi (vs. Oakland): Ajayi now has 27 carries over the last two weeks, which is good to see after combining for 29 attempts during his first four games as an Eagle. His share in the Philly backfield still isn't quite ideal, though, as he's still seen only 45.76% of the team's carries during this two-game stretch. The good news is that things are trending up: during his first four games with Philadelphia, that number was 22.48%. Ajayi's got a good matchup this week as well, with the Eagles as nine-point favorites versus Oakland, a unit that ranks as either an average or a below-average team in almost any rushing defense metric. The probably positive script for the Eagles should create more rushing opportunities, too, which will help with any market share concerns there are with Ajayi. He's not a locked-in RB1 by any means, but you could do a lot worse this week.

Sit Jamaal Williams (vs. Minnesota): Williams has seen double-digit carries in each of his last six games, and he's been plenty fantasy relevant over this time. It all started after an Aaron Jones injury in Week 10, where Williams took over the backfield with 20 carries while playing 53% of the team's snaps. From Weeks 11 through 13, then, Williams didn't dip below the the 82% snap rate mark. But over the last two weeks, those rates have been just 66% and 61%, respectively. And, in Week 15, Jones ended up playing 37% of Green Bay's snaps, his highest rate since his Week 10 injury.

Williams' role isn't exactly trending up. And in Week 16, the Packers will face Minnesota, owners of the league's best rush defense, at least when looking at fantasy points allowed to the running back position. Green Bay's also a nine-point underdog -- if they're trailing, that won't benefit Williams much at all.

Start Jerick McKinnon (at Green Bay): Both Vikings backs are in play this week against the Packers, a bottom-10 defense in fantasy points allowed to the position. But McKinnon is extra interesting because Green Bay's allowed the fourth-most receptions, the sixth-most receiving yards, and the second-most receiving touchdowns to running backs this year. McKinnon actually saw six targets and found the end zone the last time these teams faced one another, and it wouldn't be shocking to see a similar outing this week.

Sit Marshawn Lynch (at Philadelphia): There was a four-game stretch between Weeks 9 and 13 where Lynch was starting to live up to his preseason average draft position. He actually had three top-10 PPR performances during that span, the only three of his bleh 2017 campaign. Naturally, it took a lot of scoring to get there -- four touchdowns on the ground, actually. The fact is, Marshawn's hit 80 yards rushing just once this year, and he's seen more than three targets in a game only once as well. He's touchdown-dependent. And against an Eagles defense that not only has surrendered the second-fewest points to running backs this year but that's also given up the fifth-fewest rushing touchdowns to the position, you can sit Lynch.

Start Mike Gillislee (deeper play, vs. Buffalo): Starting Gillislee with a championship on the line would be tough to stomach, but who knows, maybe some of you are in deep leagues and need a dart throw running back this week. He's not a bad one. Rex Burkhead is out for New England, and while Dion Lewis will certainly see plenty of work, Gillislee should be mixed in as well. Most importantly, he could -- and probably will -- end up seeing goal-line touches. Since Week 10, only two running backs have more carries within the opponent's five-yard line than Burkhead, and Dion Lewis, despite seeing plenty of volume, has only one goal-line look. New England could easily see a positive game script against Buffalo this week as 12.5-point favorites, and the Bills, per our metrics, have the league's worst rush defense. Oh, and it's Gillislee's former team -- we've got the narrative going strong, too.

Other running backs to start: Lamar Miller (vs. Pittsburgh), Alex Collins (vs. Indianapolis)
Other running backs to sit: Peyton Barber (at Carolina), Orleans Darkwa (at Arizona)

Wide Receiver

Start JuJu Smith-Schuster (at Houston): With Antonio Brown sidelined, the Steelers have about 12 targets up for grabs. We should expect JuJu Smith-Schuster to benefit a lot from that after playing 99% of Pittsburgh's snaps against the Patriots this past Sunday, while no other wideout on the team even hit 60%. And JuJu will face a Houston secondary that's given up the fifth-most fantasy points and eighth-most air yards to opposing wideouts this season. Smith-Schuster is a legitimate WR1 candidate this week.

Sit Robby Anderson (vs. Los Angeles): Anderson ended up seeing mad volume in his first game without Josh McCown, but in a tough matchup, he still only caught 5 of 12 targets for 42 yards. Things aren't any easier this week for him, as he'll take on Casey Hayward and the Chargers, who own numberFire's sixth-best schedule-adjusted pass defense. They're also a top-10 team in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.

Start Robert Woods (at Tennessee): The Titans are outside the bottom-10 in fantasy points allowed to the wide receiver position this year, but they're a better matchup than they appear. When adjusted for strength of opponent, our numbers have Tennessee as the third-worst secondary in the league. On the season, they've allowed 9 top-12, WR1 performances in PPR formats, and 14 top-24 ones (that's one per game!). Woods picked things up right where he left off in Week 15, seeing 7 of 21 Jared Goff's throws. If he keeps up that type of top-notch target share, he should see plenty of volume, as the Titans have actually faced the second-most passing plays in the NFL this year.

Sit T.Y. Hilton (at Baltimore): Another week, another T.Y. Hilton "sit" recommendation. The Ravens may be without cornerback Jimmy Smith, but they looked fine in Week 15 against the Browns, holding Cleveland's wide receivers to just 81 yards receiving. Sure, Cleveland's quarterback situation is worse than Indianapolis', but Hilton still has just three games above WR20 in PPR formats this season, and Baltimore's given up just seven top-20 performances all season long. Jimmy Smith or not, it's not going to be easy for Hilton again this week.

Start Mike Wallace (vs. Indianapolis): Wallace has a target share close to 21% over the team's last three games, and he's combined for 34% of Baltimore's receiving yards. He hasn't scored over this time, but he shouldn't have a ton of trouble this week against Indy's bottom-ranked defense. It's one that's allowed the second-most fantasy points to the wide receiver position. And, remember, Baltimore has one of the higher implied team totals of the week.

Other wide receivers to start: Keelan Cole (deeper play, at San Francisco), Kendall Wright (deeper play, vs. Cleveland)
Other wide receivers to sit: Corey Davis (vs. Los Angeles), Marquise Goodwin (vs. Jacksonville)

Tight End

Start Jesse James (at Houston): Just to reiterate, Antonio Brown being out means there's a lot of volume up for grabs in the Pittsburgh offense. Every typical player in the O will benefit some way. That includes James, who actually has run more routes than any other tight end in the NFL over the last five weeks, per Pro Football Focus. It's a good matchup for him, too, as the Texans have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends this year.

Sit Jason Witten (vs. Seattle): As is the case each week, any tight end seeing volume is fine to use in fantasy football. Witten's seen 12 targets over the last three weeks, though, which isn't anything to write home about. In fact, his target share during this time is outside the top-10 at the position, and the main reason you want to use a tight end like Witten is for those targets. The matchup is a below-average one, and I'd rather look for higher-upside plays like Jesse James this week.

Start Eric Ebron (at Cincinnati): Ebron now has at least four catches in each of his last five games, averaging 5.4 receptions per contest. And over this time, only six NFL tight ends have a higher target share (18.64%) than him. This week, he'll take on a Bengals D that's given up the 10th-most receptions and 12th-most receiving yards to the tight end position. In PPR formats especially, Ebron may provide a decent floor as more of a desperation play.

Other tight ends to start: Charles Clay (at New England), Jack Doyle (at Baltimore)
Other tight ends to sit: None. If a tight end is seeing volume, he's a viable option.


Start the Chicago Bears (vs. Cleveland): As I said in this week's 15 Transactions column, it should be enough just to list the Bears' opponent and walk away. Because the Browns' offense is that bad, and they're that good for opposing defenses. On the year, they're allowing 3.07 sacks and 1.79 interceptions per game, all while scoring fewer than 15 points each contest. They're the best matchup a streaming defense can find, especially one that's at home as a decent favorite.

Sit the Seattle Seahawks (at Dallas): The Seahawks' defense has allowed 72 points over the last two weeks, and they've only gotten to opposing quarterbacks twice. They're not the same Seahawks we've seen dominate over the last half decade. With them being on the road this week as five-point dogs, you can't trust them.

Other defenses to start: Washington Redskins (vs. Denver), Baltimore Ravens (vs. Indianapolis)
Other defenses to sit: Tennessee Titans (vs. Los Angeles), Green Bay Packers (vs. Minnesota)