With COVID and injuries decimating rosters, it’s time to scale back the start/sit column. We’re going with four starts at each position and skipping the sits section the rest of the way.
Start of the Week: Matthew Stafford at Ravens – Fantasy’s overall QB9 in points per game this season, Stafford is coming off his worst game of the year last week in Minnesota, and the Rams still won to clinch a playoff spot. Stafford completed just 56.76% of his passes for a season-low 197 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions, finishing Week 16 as the QB24. The Rams were on four days' rest after playing the previous Tuesday, and stud LT Andrew Whitworth was out on the COVID list. Whitworth is back, and L.A. got a full week of rest. Stafford now draws a Baltimore defense that has been decimated by injuries and just surrendered the fourth-most passing yards in a game ever last week to Joe Burrow, who completed over 80% of his throws at over 11 yards per attempt en route to a sparkling 525 yards and four touchdowns as the week’s top fantasy scorer. Like Burrow, Stafford has a propensity for the deep ball, while the Ravens have allowed the most pass plays of 20-plus yards. Baltimore is 30th in pass-defense DVOA, 31st in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, 31st in opponent yards per attempt, 32nd in passing yards allowed, 30th in passing touchdowns allowed, 31st in interceptions, and 29th in opponent QB rating. Stafford is a top-three play.
Taysom Hill vs. Panthers – Hill missed Week 16 on the COVID list but was activated Wednesday and will be back under center against Carolina after rookie Ian Book was embarrassed in his first career start under the bright Monday night lights against the Dolphins, taking eight sacks and tossing two interceptions, including a pick-six on Book’s second pass of the night. Across Weeks 13-15 in his three starts at quarterback, Hill was fantasy’s QB10 thanks in large part to his rushing upside. Hill carried the ball exactly 11 times in each of those three contests, producing a combined rushing line of 33-207-2, with two more touchdowns as a passer. The Panthers could be down several key defenders, as top pass-rushers DE Brian Burns and OLB Haason Reddick are on the COVID list along with stud LB Shaq Thompson. Top CB Stephon Gilmore has already been ruled out with a groin injury. Carolina is just playing out the string of an embarrassing second half of the season. The Panthers are fourth in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but throw that out the window with so many question marks.
Russell Wilson vs. Lions – This could be Wilson’s final home game in Seattle, as he’s made it no secret that he sought a trade last offseason. And the Seahawks just keep losing, having already been eliminated from playoff contention. Seattle needs to blow things up. But Wilson will get at least one more shot in front of the home “12s” against a Detroit defense that is 26th in pass-defense DVOA, 30th in opponent yards per attempt, 24th in passing yards allowed, 26th in opponent QB rating, and 31st in sacks. This defense is already missing several key defenders on injured reserve, including OLBs Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, and CBs Jeffrey Okudah, Jerry Jacobs, and Amani Oruwariye. Coach Dan Campbell has done a pretty good job of getting his players to perform above their talent level, but this is a very beatable matchup for Wilson, even if he’s been lacking big games. Wilson has multiple touchdown passes in four of his last five outings but is averaging just 215 yards per game in that span. Wilson also hasn’t been using his legs this season. The upside hasn’t been there, but the easy matchup with the Lions puts him squarely in the top-15 mix with a chance at a top-12 week.
Trey Lance vs. Texans – The 49ers have put on a brave face regarding Jimmy Garoppolo and his thumb injury, saying there’s a chance he could play this week against Houston. But Garoppolo didn’t practice at all Wednesday or Thursday and is dealing with a torn ligament in his throwing thumb. That’s tough to play through, and it’s become clear Lance is the favorite to be under center Sunday. With Garoppolo playing reasonably well in the Niners’ run-heavy offense, Lance has been mothballed since we saw him start in Week 5 at Arizona. In that spot start, Lance was just 15-of-29 passing for 192 scoreless yards and one interception but did run the ball 16 times for 89 yards. Coach Kyle Shanahan dialed up several designed runs for Lance. He finished as the QB20 that week, but a touchdown of any sort would have propelled him into at least the top-15. This matchup against Houston is much easier on paper, and Lance has reportedly been practicing much better over the last month. Houston is a middling 15th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, but the Texans have surrendered a league-high five rushing touchdowns to Lance’s position, and their run defense as a whole has been atrocious. Lance has Jalen Hurts- and Taysom Hill-level upside, and we already know the floor. He’s a lock for two-QB leagues with a chance at a top-five week. San Francisco is implied to score 28 points, tied with the Chiefs for the fifth-highest team total of Week 17.
Start of the Week: Ronald Jones at Jets – In the Bucs’ first game without Leonard Fournette (hamstring, I.R.), Jones played a season-high 52% of the snaps last week against the Panthers and handled 20-of-29 backfield carries, ceding seven to Ke’Shawn Vaughn and two to Le’Veon Bell in garbage time. Jones turned his 20 carries into just 65 yards but did score a touchdown. He also notably out-targeted Vaughn 3-1, catching two for 16 yards but dropping the other. Jones isn’t the player Fournette is, but with Tom Brady under center, whoever is running the ball will never see a stacked box. Jones produced the RB12 week last Sunday and now draws a Jets defense that has been railroaded for a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns by opposing running backs, and New York is dead last in fantasy points allowed to the position, 31st in rushing yards allowed, and 24th in opponent yards per carry. A potential league-winner for those who were lucky enough to get Jones off waivers, he’s again a locked-in RB1 this week.
Devin Singletary vs. Falcons – While Zack Moss and Matt Breida have traded DNP-healthy scratches in recent weeks, Singletary has been the lone constant in the Buffalo backfield. He’s played 183 snaps to Moss’ 50 and Breida’s 14 over the last three weeks. Singletary is averaging 17.3 combined carries and targets per contest in that span as the overall RB11 in fantasy points per game and has double-digit touches in five straight outings. Singletary now catches an Atlanta defense that is 25th in run-defense DVOA and 25th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Only six defenses have surrendered more catches to opposing running backs. Buffalo is implied to score a Week 17-high 29 points as 14-point home favorites, signaling a Singletary-friendly game script. Fire him up as a lock-and-load RB2 with upside.
Rashaad Penny vs. Lions – Fantasy’s overall RB4 in points per game over the last three weeks, Penny has 16-137-2 and 17-135-1 rushing lines against the Texans and Bears sandwiched around an 11-39 night against the Rams in Week 15. Penny is a big play-creator and has distanced himself from Alex Collins, who was a healthy scratch last week against Chicago. Penny now draws a Lions defense that is 28th in run-defense DVOA and 26th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. As seven-point home favorites, the Seahawks are implied to score 24.75 points. The Lions are set to start Tim Boyle at quarterback with Jared Goff now battling a knee injury. This spot sets up beautifully for Penny as an RB1/2.
Darrel Williams at Bengals – Clyde Edwards-Helaire injured his collarbone last week and will miss at least this week’s game against the Bengals. With CEH out Weeks 6-10 with a sprained MCL earlier this season, Williams started all five contests and averaged 19.2 combined carries and targets in that span. “The Mentor” scored three touchdowns in those five games and was fantasy’s overall RB14 in half-PPR points per game. Derrick Gore might sneak his way into more of the early-down and short-yardage work this time around, but we should be able to pen Williams in for 12-15 touches minimum in one of Week 17’s most exciting games on paper. A mainstay in the pass game for the Chiefs, Williams should flirt with 4-8 targets against a Bengals defense that has allowed the second-most catches to opposing running backs.
Start of the Week: Michael Pittman vs. Raiders – Pittman has been held out of the end zone since Week 9, but he’s coming off seven week-highs in targets (12), catches (8), and yards (82) last week against the Cardinals, playing a season-high 97% of the snaps. Carson Wentz gaining clearance to start after being placed on the COVID list earlier in the week is huge for Pittman’s fantasy outlook, but he should be funneled targets no matter who is under center. Top Raiders CB Casey Hayward is also on the COVID list on the other side, boosting Pittman’s outlook. Las Vegas is 25th in pass-defense DVOA and 21st in opponent plays per game. Pittman should be glued to fantasy lineups as a target-hog WR3 with upside for more if he finds better touchdown luck. The Colts are implied to score 25.75 points, the ninth-highest team total of the week.
Van Jefferson at Ravens – Jefferson has a combined three catches for 29 scoreless yards over the last two weeks, but he’s been on the field a ton, playing 92% and 96% of the Rams’ offensive snaps in that span, seeing a total of eight targets. Jefferson is one of Matthew Stafford’s top deep threats along with Odell Beckham, and the Ravens have struggled badly at limiting big plays through the air. Baltimore has surrendered the most pass plays of 20-plus and 40-plus yards this season. And only three teams have allowed more fantasy points to wideouts. Jefferson’s floor is low, as evidenced by his last two games, but the ceiling is high in this date with an injury-riddled, poor pass defense. Jefferson is a boom-or-bust WR3 type.
K.J. Osborn at Packers – Osborn’s stock took a hit Friday when an unvaccinated Kirk Cousins was placed on the COVID list, knocking him out of Sunday night’s divisional game. Veteran Sean Mannion will get the start under center, making his third career start and first since 2019. It’s a significant downgrade, but working in Osborn’s favor will be his likely chemistry with Mannion from the summer after both worked with the second-team offense. And Osborn will be an every-down wideout with Adam Thielen (ankle) done for the year. Osborn has seen at least seven targets in three of the last four games, and the Vikings will likely be playing catch-up as 13.5-point underdogs. Mannion might throw it 35-plus times with Minnesota still fighting for a playoff spot. Osborn is a volume-driven WR3 in Thielen’s old role as the team’s WR2.
Tyler Boyd vs. Chiefs – After a mostly forgettable first 12 weeks of the season, Boyd has turned it up of late with 5-85, 4-55, 5-96-1, and 3-85-1 receiving lines across the last four weeks. He’s averaging 5.75 targets per game in that span as the Bengals’ slot man. Boyd has set new season-highs in snap rate the last two weeks, playing 87% of the snaps against the Broncos and then 91% of the downs against the Ravens last Sunday. In what will likely be one of the more exciting offensive games of the week with a 51-point total, Boyd is a PPR-based WR3.
Start of the Week: Rob Gronkowski at Jets – With Mike Evans (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (knee) out last week, Gronkowski played a season-high 90% of the Bucs’ offensive snaps against the Panthers. The targets weren’t there, however, as Gronkowski caught a 23-yard pass on just two targets. Godwin remains out, Evans was just activated from the COVID list Friday, and now Antonio Brown (ankle) will be a game-time decision. Targets remain aplenty in Tampa Bay, and the Jets have been buzz-sawed by tight ends, surrendering the eighth-most fantasy points to the position. This Jets defense is missing top S Marcus Maye. Gronk is a top-five TE1.
Gerald Everett vs. Lions – After going scoreless Weeks 2-11, Everett has three touchdowns over his last five games and has a touchdown and/or 60 yards in four of the last five outings. He’s played 84% of the Seahawks’ snaps the last two weeks and has settled in as Russell Wilson’s top target behind Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Everett now draws a Lions defense that is 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Playing plenty of snaps and running a lot of routes, Everett has put himself on the TE1 map. Seattle is implied to score 24.75 points.
Tyler Higbee at Ravens – Based on snaps, routes, and red-zone usage, Higbee has been somewhat of a disappointment in fantasy this season, checking in as the overall TE23 in half-PPR points per game. He has just three touchdowns on the year despite seeing the seventh-most red-zone targets (15) among all tight ends. Higbee has played at least 91% of the snaps in each of his last five games and now catches a Ravens defense that is 27th in fantasy points surrendered to tight ends. Higbee has back-to-back five-catch games under his belt.
Hunter Henry vs. Jaguars – Henry has distanced himself from Jonnu Smith as the Patriots’ clear-cut TE1. Henry has snap rates of 81% and 86% to Smith’s 25% and 33% over the last two weeks, and Henry has out-targeted Smith 14-3 in that span. Henry caught just 1-of-6 targets last week in a difficult spot against the Bills, but he did go 6-77-2 the previous week, and now draws a Jaguars defense that is a middling 15th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. With Nelson Agholor (concussion) expected to miss this one, it opens up a few more targets. The Patriots are implied to score 28.75 points, the second-highest team total of the week.