Start and Sit
The best players to target and avoid on your fantasy rosters (with impact from venues, weather forecasts, and opponents).

Start and Sit: Wild-Card Weekend

New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The playoffs represent a definitive end to fantasy football seasons, but they don't mean the end of fantasy football. Daily fantasy football is at its best in January when the pool of players is reduced and you can watch every game without distraction. To try to help, I'll be continuing my start and sit article throughout the playoffs, and I'll try to complement my typical matchup tables with some salary-related thoughts in the text.

The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and opponent tendencies (Opp). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.

You can see our full weekly projections with projected stats, matchup adjustments and fantasy points by subscribing to FO+.


Quarterbacks

Best Week 18 Matchups - Quarterbacks
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
D.Brees NO 1 CHI Rk 7 6 6 6  
Pts   +1.1 0.0 -0.2 +0.9
M.Trubisky CHI 0 NO Rk 10 8 7 7  
Pts   +1.0 0.0 -0.5 +0.5
L.Jackson BAL 0 TEN Rk 1 2 2 1  
Pts   -0.3 -0.3 +0.8 +0.2

With every other game outside and four of those five with forecasted kickoff temperatures below freezing, Drew Brees and Mitchell Trubisky enjoy a massive advantage this weekend playing in the dome in New Orleans. Brees is the bigger winner with his average of 3.8 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2017. But Trubisky should see a boost as well since domes increase passing yards and touchdowns per target by 4% and 5% even for visiting quarterbacks, while cold temperatures decrease those rates by 4% and 11%. In DraftKings, Brees and Trubisky are the only two standout values at the position with projected surpluses of $700 and $400. Still, those numbers are well below the typical standards of the positional leaders since the Saints and Bears defenses are both in the top 13 in pass defense DVOA and top eight in defensive DVOA. I wouldn't wed myself to those two options since other passers have better overall projections, and some of their skill players provide values that make them compelling pairs in stacks. Lamar Jackson is a great example, and he draws one of the few bad defenses this weekend. The Titans are 30th in pass defense DVOA and increase passing touchdown rate by 16%.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Quarterbacks
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
T.Brady TB 0 WAS Rk 4 4 4 4  
Pts   -0.7 -0.3 -1.4 -2.4
R.Wilson SEA 1 LAR Rk 3 3 3 3  
Pts   -0.5 0.0 -1.5 -2.0
R.Tannehill TEN 1 BAL Rk 5 5 5 5  
Pts   -0.5 -0.3 -1.1 -1.9
P.Rivers IND 0 BUF Rk 11 11 11 11  
Pts   -0.5 -0.3 -0.7 -1.5
B.Mayfield CLE 0 PIT Rk 9 9 10 10  
Pts   -0.4 -0.3 -0.7 -1.4

You probably recognize the Rams, Ravens, Bills, and Steelers as strong pass defenses. And all four are in the top 12 in pass defense DVOA. But Washington is easy to overlook in that class since the team finished below .500 and is the biggest underdog this weekend despite their home game. I wouldn't conflate the spread with Tom Brady's fantasy prospects. Washington is the No. 2 DVOA pass defense and No. 7 defensive front with a 7.9% adjusted sack rate, and they reached those heights on the strength of a defensive line with star players such as Chase Young rather than by blitzing. It's the classic formula that has disrupted Brady in the past. That may not portend an upset, but don't be surprised if a defense that has cut passing yards and touchdowns by 12% and 19% and increased interceptions by 38% per attempt sabotages the GOAT's fantasy day. And Brady's DFS salaries don't seem to account for that possibility, in particular on DraftKings, where his $6,900 salary remains third-highest at the position.


Running Backs

Best Week 18 Matchups - Running Backs
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
J.Dobbins BAL 0 TEN Rk 11 11 11 11  
Pts   -0.1 0.0 +0.4 +0.3
G.Edwards BAL 0 TEN Rk 16 16 16 16  
Pts   0.0 -0.1 +0.4 +0.3
D.Singletary BUF 1 IND Rk 17 17 16 17  
Pts   +0.1 0.0 +0.1 +0.2
Z.Moss BUF 1 IND Rk 14 14 14 13  
Pts   +0.1 -0.1 +0.1 +0.1
J.Conner PIT 1 CLE Rk 12 12 12 12  
Pts   +0.1 0.0 0.0 +0.1

The Titans have a better run defense (16th in DVOA) than pass defense (30th), but bad pass defenses are better boosters of running back fantasy value because they create opportunities in the red zone. To that point, the Titans are the No. 6 increaser of rushing touchdown rate at 27%, and that makes both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards decent bets to run in touchdowns even sharing their backfield with Lamar Jackson. That said, I'd side with Edwards in DFS. He's $2,200 and $1,100 less expensive in DraftKings and FanDuel, respectively. And he has nearly matched his rookie teammate with 49 versus 52 touches the last four weeks.

As the No. 9 and 19 DVOA run defenses, the Colts and Browns aren't exactly plus matchups for opposing running backs. But the Bills' and Steelers' statuses as heavy favorites could make Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, and James Conner appealing options if their teams can build leads that in turn increase their rushing attempts in the second half to kill clock. Conner may be a non-starter for many fantasy players with his recent inefficiency, his injury track record, and his team's now-infamous poor run blocking -- the Steelers are in last place with 3.78 adjusted line yards. But consider that Conner offset his poor rushing totals with 10 catches the last two weeks. Conner's versatility limits his downside and makes him a decent daily option, especially in DraftKings, which uses scores with full PPR.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Running Backs
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
D.Montgomery CHI 0 NO Rk 3 3 3 3  
Pts   -0.1 0.0 -1.0 -1.1
A.Gibson WAS 1 TB Rk 9 8 8 9  
Pts   +0.3 -0.1 -1.0 -0.8
N.Chubb CLE 0 PIT Rk 6 6 6 7  
Pts   -0.2 0.0 -0.6 -0.8
D.Henry TEN 1 BAL Rk 2 2 2 2  
Pts   +0.3 0.0 -1.0 -0.7
J.Taylor IND 0 BUF Rk 4 4 4 4  
Pts   -0.3 0.0 -0.2 -0.5

David Montgomery eclipsed 100 total yards in five of his last six games and scored eight touchdowns. But he did that against the Lions, Texans, Vikings, Jaguars, and Packers twice, and those defenses are all in the bottom half in run defense DVOA. At No. 2 in that metric, the Saints are a different challenge. They cut run plays by 10% and rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 13% and 29%, respectively. Montgomery remains a DFS option because his 12.2% target share since Tarik Cohen's Week 3 knee injury is top-seven at the position. But he'll need to catch several passes to make up for a matchup-driven projection of just 67 yards on the ground.

Like Montgomery, the quartet of Antonio Gibson, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, and Jonathan Taylor are all featured backs whose statuses as underdogs threaten their carry volumes. Gibson is the most tenuous since the Bucs are the No. 1 DVOA run defense and No. 1 cutter of both run plays and yards per attempt and since his workload has ebbed and flowed with that of J.D. McKissic as Washington has trailed and led in games down the stretch. But Gibson is also less expensive at $5,700 and $6,200 in the DFS platforms. I think he's a notable surplus value in the latter, but I'll only feel that way on Saturday if both he and quarterback Alex Smith are mostly well from their recent toe and calf injuries. Follow the news before you lock him in your lineups.


Wide Receivers

Best Week 18 Matchups - Wide Receivers
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
M.Thomas NO 1 CHI Rk 11 7 7 7  
Pts   +1.5 0.0 -0.1 +1.4
D.Mooney CHI 0 NO Rk 21 21 21 20  
Pts   +0.6 0.0 +0.2 +0.8
A.Robinson CHI 0 NO Rk 9 5 4 5  
Pts   +1.1 0.0 -0.5 +0.6
J.Smith-Schuster PIT 1 CLE Rk 14 12 13 12  
Pts   +0.5 -0.6 +0.6 +0.5
C.Beasley BUF 1 IND Rk 19 18 20 16  
Pts   +0.2 -0.4 +0.6 +0.4

As Brees and Trubisky gain from their dome venue, so too do their primary receivers. Michael Thomas is the most obvious of that set, but he may not be that obvious since he has missed the Saints' last three games with a high-ankle sprain and played just two games with Brees at quarterback all season. The news suggests that Thomas is trending positively, and so I'm willing to risk him in my lineups, especially in tournament settings. The Bears receivers are trickier. Allen Robinson is their obvious No. 1, but he will likely draw attention from cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who was a major factor in the Saints' tendencies to cut No. 1 receiver yards by 16% per target but boost No. 2 receiver yards by the same rate. As such, Robinson lands close to neutral in value at his hefty salaries. In a perfect world, I'd love to throw rookie Darnell Mooney in my lineups to save some money for other positions. He is coming off a season-high 13 targets in Week 17 and has a 20.2% target share since Trubisky returned to the lineup in Week 12 that is top-30 among wide receivers. But Mooney also suffered an ankle injury late last Sunday that has him questionable this week. Even if he plays, he is a major risk of an early exit.

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cole Beasley may not seem too similar. But both spend a lot of time in the slot, and that makes both strong plays this weekend in their matchups. The Browns have limited No. 1 outsider receivers, especially with cornerback Denzel Ward in the lineup. But they have boosted slot receiver touchdowns by 80% per target, top-five in the league. Meanwhile, the Colts are top-six increasers of both yards and touchdowns per target for slot receivers, and that may be the only weakness in their pass defense that is top-eight in DVOA allowed to No. 1 and No. 2 receivers and tight ends.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Wide Receivers
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
C.Godwin TB 0 WAS Rk 15 15 15 17  
Pts   -0.2 -0.2 -1.0 -1.4
A.Brown TB 0 WAS Rk 17 17 17 18  
Pts   -0.3 -0.1 -1.0 -1.4
D.Metcalf SEA 1 LAR Rk 3 3 3 3  
Pts   -0.6 0.0 -0.7 -1.3
A.Brown TEN 1 BAL Rk 5 5 4 6  
Pts   -0.6 0.0 -0.7 -1.3
S.Diggs BUF 1 IND Rk 1 1 1 1  
Pts   -0.6 -0.1 -0.2 -0.9

Washington may not have a shutdown corner, but the pressure their front four can bring plays up their coverage. They are upper-half cutters of yards and touchdowns per target to No. 1, No. 2, and slot receivers, and so I don't love Chris Godwin's or Antonio Brown's value this week, although their listed positional rankings of 17th and 18th would improve if Mike Evans were forced to miss Saturday's game with his knee injury.

Normally I wouldn't push in-season results as strong predictors of postseason rematches. But DK Metcalf managed just eight catches and 87 yards in two games against the Rams this season, and that inefficiency matches the broader trends of cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey allowed just 4.9 yards per target this season, finishing sixth of the 115 cornerbacks that saw 25 or more targets. And Marlon Humphrey wasn't far behind with 6.6 yards per target despite the Ravens' COVID disruptions. A.J. is the better Brown in general, but relative to their DFS salaries, I prefer Marquise this week. Since Week 12, Hollywood is second among all receivers with a 33.3% target share and six touchdowns, and he does not share his counterpart's defensive challenge.


Tight Ends

Best Week 18 Matchups - Tight Ends
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
J.Cook NO 1 CHI Rk 4 4 4 2  
Pts   +0.3 0.0 +0.3 +0.6
M.Andrews BAL 0 TEN Rk 1 1 1 1  
Pts   +0.1 -0.3 +0.6 +0.4
V.McDonald PIT 1 CLE Rk 19 19 19 19  
Pts   0.0 0.0 +0.1 +0.1

Jared Cook is the last of the Brees dome beneficiaries. But among the teams with games this weekend, the Titans and Browns are the standout plus matchups for their opposing tight ends. Both teams are bottom-five in DVOA defense against the position and both are top-10 increasers of tight end touchdowns per target. Mark Andrews makes an excellent play and rounds out a counterintuitive Ravens passing game stack with Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown. He's far and away my No. 1 option at the position this week, which makes his $5,200 and $7,000 DRS price tags somewhat palatable. Vance McDonald is more of a lottery ticket. He doubled his previous season high with six targets in Eric Ebron's Week 17 absence. Ebron may return from the COVID reserve list this weekend, but if he doesn't, McDonald could provide a decent floor and help save some money for other positions.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Tight Ends
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
A.Hooper CLE 0 PIT Rk 6 5 5 6  
Pts   +0.1 -0.2 -0.5 -0.6
D.Knox BUF 1 IND Rk 14 14 14 15  
Pts   -0.1 -0.1 -0.3 -0.5
J.Smith TEN 1 BAL Rk 5 6 6 5  
Pts   -0.2 -0.1 -0.1 -0.4
C.Kmet CHI 0 NO Rk 7 7 7 7  
Pts   -0.1 0.0 -0.3 -0.4
L.Thomas WAS 1 TB Rk 2 2 2 3  
Pts   -0.2 -0.1 +0.1 -0.2

The many strong overall defenses of wild-card weekend are mostly strong against tight ends as well. The Steelers, Colts, and Saints are top-four defenses at DVOA allowed to the position and top-10 decreasers of tight end yards and touchdowns per target. As such, I'd avoid Austin Hooper, Dawson Knox, and Cole Kmet this weekend if their own inconsistencies hadn't already scared you away. The Ravens and Bucs are less scary by DVOA standards, and I might even recommend Logan Thomas since the Bucs have boosted tight end touchdown rate by 22% to counterbalance their cutting of yards per target. I'm not sure if "breakout" is the right word for a 29-year-old player, but Thomas has jumped to fourth at the position with a 24.4% target share since Week 13 and could be a featured option for Alex Smith or Taylor Heinicke if Washington falls behind or if Terry McLaurin remains limited by his ankle injury.


Defenses

Best Week 18 Matchups - Defenses
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
Rams DST LAR 0 SEA Rk 6 5 7 2  
Pts   +0.2 0.0 +1.2 +1.4
Bucs DST TB 0 WAS Rk 1 1 1 1  
Pts   +0.1 +0.1 +0.6 +0.8
Ravens DST BAL 0 TEN Rk 11 11 11 10  
Pts   +0.1 +0.2 +0.4 +0.7
Steelers DST PIT 1 CLE Rk 4 4 2 3  
Pts   +0.1 +0.1 +0.3 +0.5

With a reduced pool of teams in the playoffs, the obvious defensive plays target the worst quarterbacks. The Saints versus Trubisky lead the pricing sheet, but my earlier commentary on the benefits of the dome explain why they don't make the matchups leaderboard. I prefer the Bucs or Steelers facing either Smith or Heinicke and Baker Mayfield. But keep in mind that fantasy does not always match reality. Since sacks are a key component of fantasy scoring, the Rams are a compelling counter play. The Seahawks are the No. 3 booster of sacks per pass attempt, and the Rams finished second with an 8.6% adjusted sack rate. They tagged Russell Wilson for five sacks in their most recent matchup in Week 16 and also held the Seahawks to just 20 points.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Defenses
Player Tm Hm Opp Lbl TT Ven Wea Def Tot
Browns DST CLE 0 PIT Rk 5 7 5 7  
Pts   -0.3 +0.2 -0.6 -0.7
Bears DST CHI 0 NO Rk 9 10 10 11  
Pts   -0.2 0.0 -0.2 -0.4
Colts DST IND 0 BUF Rk 8 8 8 8  
Pts   -0.2 +0.1 -0.2 -0.3
Saints DST NO 1 CHI Rk 2 3 2 4  
Pts   -0.4 0.0 +0.2 -0.2

The Bears and Colts are strong defenses that make for questionable DFS choices on the road facing exceptional quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Josh Allen. But the Browns might have made for an interesting recency-driven play since the Steelers have fallen to 22nd in weighted offensive DVOA. I'd still avoid their defense for two reasons. The obvious one is that their head coach Kevin Stefanski will miss this game after a positive COVID test, which subjectively seems to open the door to a catastrophic wild card showing. But more objectively, Ben Roethlisberger's rebirth as the quickest deliverer of passes in the NFL has landed the Steelers first in adjusted sack rate on offense. Myles Garrett may be the best pass-rusher in football, but he'll be hard-pressed to make his typical impact, especially with teammate Olivier Vernon out for the playoffs with an Achilles injury and unable to divert any offensive line attention. Look elsewhere for a DFS play this weekend.

Comments

2 comments, Last at 07 Jan 2021, 6:34pm

1 A little confused

My FFL league is over (2nd place thanks to Kamara killing me early in the finals), but some of the starters above surprise me.

Given Indy's above-average run D and merely average pass D, why not start the hot Josh Allen at ome in mild weather?

Same with the RBs in that game--you're starting the two BUF RBs facing a tougher run D, and sitting the arguably pretty hot Colts RB facing the lesser run D? (are you assuming Phil Rivers carries the load for Indy?  That gives me the chills and should Frank Reich as well.)

Finally, starting Beasley (is he even playing with his injury?) and sitting Diggs really surprises me. Indy has been susceptible to deep strikes--even after stifling the Steelers for about 40 minutes, Ben found the soft spot and kept poking at it.  Your Beasley rationale makes some sense, but only if he's healthy. They may well decide he's 50/50 and they can win this week without him. (Then again if Beasley sits, Indy can double/shadow Diggs more, making him a tougher start.... now I'm talking myself in circles.)  Okay, so if Beasley sits, don't start Diggs, either.  But if Beasley starts, I think Diggs is the FFL player to trust.  I hate starting guys with iffy injuries--can't tell if they'll Superman through it, or pull up lame in the first quarter.

2 Re: confusion

Note that the best and worst matchup players highlight players projected to do better or worse than they would do in neutral contexts.  To that point, Stefon Diggs is my No. 1 wide receiver for the week, but we still project him to produce lesser statistics than he normally would.  The tables try to show those distinctions with the projection and ranking movements based on context, but also check out the Weekly Projections page under the FO+ dropdown to see all of that laid out in order based on their projected scoring.