Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward season-long leagues but can also be used for daily fantasy purposes.
Start of the Week: Lamar Jackson at Falcons: Since taking over as the Ravens’ starter in Week 11, Jackson is overall QB17 in fantasy points per game with a QB13 day against the Bengals followed by a QB15 afternoon against Oakland. Jackson has completed 27-of-44 throws (61.4%) for 328 yards (7.45 YPA), 1 TD, and 3 INTs. Obviously, the real draw with Jackson is his rushing output after he amassed a 38-188-1 rushing line versus Cincinnati and Oakland. The Ravens curiously tried to prove to everyone that Jackson could throw the ball in the first half last week, somewhat capping his upside by not allowing him to run the ball. They changed the plan after the half, and Jackson rushed nine times and scored a touchdown in an eventual easy win. Joe Flacco (hip) isn’t going to play this week after missing practice Wednesday; the Ravens want Flacco to get a full week of practice before allowing him to return — if he ever gets his job back. The Bengals and Raiders presented Cottonelle-soft matchups for Jackson at home. He’ll go on the road for the first time but gets a similarly cake draw on the fast turf of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Atlanta is dead last in team defense DVOA, checking in at 29th against the pass and 31st versus the run. Only the aforementioned Bengals have surrendered more fantasy points to quarterbacks. Games on the turf in Atlanta tend to shoot out with point totals of 55 — 80 — 73 — 63 — 43 — 41 this season. Both the Ravens and Falcons are top-12 in offensive pace. Atlanta has faced three mobile quarterbacks thus far. Dak Prescott had a rushing touchdown two weeks ago, Jameis Winston rushed for 29 yards in Week 6, and Cam Newton led the Panthers with 42 rush yards in Week 2. Jackson will almost certainly flirt with 100 yards via the ground. Anything he does as a passer is viewed as a bonus, and he’s shown he can make throws over the last couple starts. No quarterback outside of Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Cam Newton, and Drew Brees has more upside than Jackson. Keep riding the wave. Ravens-Falcons has a solid 48.5-point total, sixth-highest of Week 13.
Jameis Winston vs. Panthers: Winston is coming off one of the best games of his career last week at home against the 49ers. The numbers weren’t explosive with 312 yards and 2 TDs passing, but Winston didn’t turn the ball over for the first time this season. Winston was the overall QB6 for Week 12 and has posted QB1 and QB9 days in his other two games he’s played from start to finish this season. Overall, the duo of Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick is the combined QB2 on the season behind only Patrick Mahomes. Following his strong Week 12, Winston should have a relatively long leash this time around against the Panthers after coach Dirk Koetter had some words of praise for the fourth-year passer on Wednesday. Still, fantasy owners refuse to play Winston because of his turnovers. It’s silly. Turnovers really aren’t all that big of a drag on fantasy box scores. The Panthers are a true pass-funnel defense, checking in at 27th in pass-defense DVOA as opposed to No. 7 against the run. They’re also 27th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and No. 8 to running backs. Fitzpatrick got the nod against Carolina back in Week 9 and threw for 240 yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs en route to the QB6 finish, even if he had to backdoor it by racking up garbage-time points on the road. This isn’t the old Carolina defense; this version gets no heat on quarterbacks, ranking 23rd in adjusted sack rate. Russell Wilson had his first 300-yard passing game of the season versus Carolina in Week 12, throwing for 339 yards and two scores as the QB10. Two weeks prior, Ben Roethlisberger was the QB2 after throwing for 352 yards and 5 TDs. Even Alex Smith had a multi-TD game against Carolina in Week 6. The 55.5-point total for Panthers-Bucs is this slate’s highest. Winston’s rushing floor gives him a nice floor to fall back on as well. He’s averaging 7.3 attempts and 36 yards on the ground with one touchdown in games he’s played in full.
Russell Wilson vs. 49ers: Wilson is coming off his best passing game of the season, eclipsing 300 yards for the first time in 2018 with 339 yards and two scores against the Panthers while completing 71% of his passes. Weeks 3-8, Wilson averaged 22.6 attempts per game with zero days of more than 26 throws. Since Week 9, Wilson is averaging 31.75 attempts with three games of 31-plus passes. He’s thrown multiple touchdowns in seven-straight games. With more volume of late and an increased rushing output at 5.5 rush attempts per week over the last four, Wilson’s floor has come up considerably. The Niners are 24th in pass-defense DVOA and a middling 17th in pass yards allowed. Jameis Winston just hung 312 yards and 2 TDs on San Francisco last week for the QB6 day. Eli Manning had three scores against the Niners the previous week. The 49ers’ pass rush is 20th in adjusted sack rate and dead last with two interceptions. Richard Sherman is having a great season at corner, but the rest of the defense is mediocre at best. Wilson is a rock-solid start at home as a 10-point favorite against a defense facing the 10th-most plays per week and 10th-most passing attempts on the year. Seattle’s implied team total of 28.25 points is the sixth-most on the week.
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Philip Rivers at Steelers: The overall QB11 on the year, Rivers has been getting by on big plays and strong touchdown numbers. He’s 18th in the league in passing attempts, having thrown more than 29 passes in a game just once since Week 4. But Rivers has multiple touchdowns in 11-of-11 games and is top-four in yards-per-attempt, touchdown throws, and passer rating. He’s in the MVP conversation. The Chargers really like to run the ball with Melvin Gordon, but Gordon (knee) is out this week, and the Bolts are likely going to have to run and gun with the high-octane Steelers. Both clubs are top-14 in offensive pace, and Pittsburgh has faced the ninth-most pass attempts. The Steelers are 16th in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks and 16th in pass-defense DVOA. Honestly, this defense has faced one of the softest QB schedules, including dates with Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco (x2), Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, and Case Keenum. This will be the best offense its seen since the Chiefs in Week 2 when Patrick Mahomes went into Pittsburgh and threw 6 TDs. Rivers’ floor is ultra-safe, and if he gets 30-plus attempts, which is a good bet for this one, his ceiling rises quite a bit. Rivers is a strong QB1 in a game with a 51.5-point total, the fifth-highest of the week.
Tom Brady vs. Vikings: Brady hasn’t been a QB1 much of the season, checking in at 15th in fantasy points per game and 14th in overall points at quarterback. Since Week 5, Brady has just two multi-TD games and two 300-yard passing days. Brady is the QB18 in that span. He’s truly shown zero upside and isn’t providing any week-winner games for fantasy footballers. In the three games before the Week 11 bye, Brady was the QB20 — QB16 — QB23. He was again the QB16 last week against the middling Jets. In home games, the Patriots run the ball at the eighth-highest clip, throwing it just 54.47% of the time. Brady now draws a tough spot against a Vikings Defense that is No. 5 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, No. 8 in pass-defense DVOA, No. 5 in pass yards surrendered, and No. 4 in adjusted sack rate. Brady could always smash against any defense, but the numbers haven’t been there of late, and he’s very notably struggling badly against the blitz. I’ve been riding Brady in leagues where I have him, but we’re down to the nitty-gritty ahead of the fantasy playoffs. I probably should have pulled the plug long ago, but I’m looking at other streaming options where I own Brady this week. Dak Prescott against the Saints on Thursday night is intriguing, as is anyone listed above in the “starts” section of this piece. A feather in Brady’s cap would be top Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes missing the game with a hamstring injury, but coach Mike Zimmer seems somewhat confident Rhodes will suit up. Brady is ideally really only a two-QB league play.
Carson Wentz vs. Redskins: Since the Week 9 bye, Wentz has been the QB10 > QB29 > QB24 against the Cowboys, Saints, and Giants. He’s laid eggs in back-to-back weeks and has a 1:3 TD:INT ratio in that span. The Redskins aren’t an overly-imposing matchup at 23rd in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 23rd in pass yards, but they’re 12th in pass-defense DVOA. And the Eagles have found a reliable running game with Josh Adams. Wentz fired off a season-low 28 pass attempts last week against the G-Men while Adams toted the rock 22 times with the Eagles playing from behind much of the day. Dak Prescott just torched this Washington defense for a season-best 289 passing yards and 2 TDs on Thanksgiving, adding a third score on the ground, but the Eagles and Redskins are both bottom-eight in offensive pace. That along with Adams’ emergence has to have us really worried about volume for Wentz. The 44-point total for Redskins-Eagles is the third-lowest on the board. Philly is a healthy 6.5-point favorite at home, which may lead to even more work for the duo of Adams and Corey Clement. This Eagles Offense just hasn’t been the same since the trade for Golden Tate. Wentz is a safe two-QB league play, but the upside may not be there.
Marcus Mariota vs. Jets: Coming off yet another random performance where he completed all but one of his passes and topped 300 yards for the second time this season, Mariota gets the Jets on the heels of the overall QB6 performance in Houston this past Monday night. Mariota hit wide-open touchdowns to Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis in Week 12. He has sandwiched a pair of top-eight finishes the last three weeks around a terrible QB28 day in Indianapolis two Sundays ago. This Tennessee offense is the most bipolar, unpredictable unit in the league. When we think they’re ready to pop off, they stumble. They’re coming home on a short week to take on a Jets Defense that’s 12th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks, 15th in pass-defense DVOA, and 16th in overall pass yards surrendered. It’s a middle-of-the-road matchup on paper and one that won’t necessarily strike fear in an opponent. But the Jets did recently just get top CB Trumaine Johnson back from a multi-week quad injury. Both clubs are also bottom-nine in offensive pace and like to establish the run. This has the makings of a really slow game where volume could be an issue. Bookmakers seem to agree, dolling out a 40.5-point total for Jets-Titans, the lowest of the week, tied with Bills-Dolphins.
Start of the Week: T.J. Yeldon vs. Colts: Leonard Fournette has been suspended for Week 13 after his on-field fist-fight with Bills DE Shaq Lawson last Sunday. Fournette came off the bench to scuffle with Lawson, and it continued into the tunnel. Fournette appealed his ban but lost on Wednesday. He’s officially out. So it’ll be Yeldon and Carlos Hyde in the backfield. In six games Fournette has missed this season, Yeldon has played 71.5% of the snaps with touch counts of 12 — 13 — 18 — 11 — 17 — 9 while averaging 85.2 yards per game with two total scores. Fournette missed Weeks 2-3 and then 5-8 after returning briefly for Week 4. That four-game stretch from Weeks 5-8, Yeldon was the overall RB12 in fantasy points per game. Weeks 2 and 3, Yeldon was the RB33 and RB19, so he’s been very useful when Fournette has been absent from the lineup. Hyde was only in Jacksonville for the Week 8 date against the Eagles. Yeldon out-snapped Hyde 37-28 that day. Hyde has been a popular waiver-wire pickup this week, but Yeldon is the superior play. He just brings more to the table in all facets of the game. The only worry is Hyde could steal a goal-line touchdown. The Colts are 17th in fantasy points allowed to running backs and a surprising No. 5 in run-defense DVOA. However, Indy has allowed the second-most catches to running backs and just allowed 96 yards and two touchdowns on 13 touches to Kenyan Drake last week, including a 5-64-1 receiving line. Just three weeks ago, Yeldon had a strong 5-51 line through the air against this same defense, and that was with Fournette piling up 29 touches ahead of him. The Colts play at the second-fastest offensive pace and are 21st in opponent plays per game. The Jaguars ran 75 offensive plays when these clubs met in Week 10, the third-most plays Jacksonville has gotten off in 2018. Hyde has seen his playing time rise a bit from 12% > 15.9% > 21.4% the last three games, but there’s more than enough to go around for both backs playing in an offense that wants to hide its quarterback. Cody Kessler will be making his first start of the year for the Jaguars. He’s a 6’1/215 popgun-armed passer who loves to work the ball to his backs, tight ends, and slot wideouts in easy pitch-and-catch situations. Yeldon is a rock-solid RB2 with an outside shot at a top-12 day.
Chris Carson vs. 49ers: Since Week 3, excluding his injury-shortened Week 9, Carson has seen at least 14 carries in every game with three 100-yard efforts and an 83-yard day two weeks back against the Packers. He’s the RB23 in fantasy points per game in that span. Carson has scored in back-to-back contests and solidified himself as the lead dog with Rashad Penny working as the change-of-pace and Mike Davis mixing in on pass downs. The Seahawks continue to be the most run-heavy team in the league as the only club running the ball more than 48% of the time at a 50.58% clip. The 49ers are 14th in run-defense DVOA and 16th in fantasy points allowed to running backs. However, the Seahawks are massive 10-point favorites at home and should control this game start to finish. Peyton Barber was able to patch together an 18-47-1 rushing line last week in an easy home win for the Bucs. Saquon Barkley and David Johnson have each totaled 100 yards against the Niners the last four weeks, and Doug Martin averaged a healthy 4.5 YPC in between them. Carson should easily see 18-plus carries with upside for more. He’s a lock-and-load RB2. Seattle’s implied team total of 28.25 points is the week’s sixth-highest. Carson-Seahawks D/ST is a solid DFS stack.
Frank Gore vs. Bills: Gore has seen double-digit carries in every game since Week 4 and is averaging 14.5 touches in that span. He’s yet to rush for a single touchdown on the season, but the Dolphins have committed to the 35-year-old as their lead back. Kenyan Drake is an 8-12 touches per game change-of-pace, pass-down specialist at this point. Gore’s ceiling is extremely low, but he’s displayed a safe floor averaging 63.4 rushing yards over the last eight games and has just two outings below 53 yards. The strength of the Buffalo defense is its secondary and pass defense. The Bills are No. 1 in pass-defense DVOA but 15th against the run and have allowed the third-most touchdowns and ninth-most fantasy points to running backs. They get blown out so often that teams are able to impose their will on them via the ground. Buffalo is coming off an emotional home win over the Jaguars last week and head out on the road to Miami as five-point underdogs. The Bills are a candidate to not show up for this one, and the Dolphins being healthy favorites puts Gore in the mix as a solid volume play. He’s averaging 4.5 YPC on the year and is showing no signs of slowing down despite not scoring touchdowns. This is as good a spot to reach pay dirt as Gore will have all year. Leonard Fournette (18-95-2), Jordan Howard (14-47-2), and Marlon Mack (19-126-1) have all performed above expectation against the Bills the last five weeks. Isaiah Crowell even scored a touchdown in Buffalo’s 41-10 blowout of the Jets two weeks back. Gore is a decent RB3 dart.
Austin Ekeler at Steelers: Melvin Gordon (knee) is out for at least Week 13, leaving Ekeler to step right into his role as an every-down back. When Gordon missed Week 7 against the Titans, Ekeler played 95.5% of the downs and touched the ball 17 times on a day the Chargers ran a season-low 44 offensive plays. The Chargers average 59.1 plays and will face a Pittsburgh team that is top-10 in offensive pace and 20th in opponent plays per game. This game has shootout written all over it between two top teams in the AFC. Ekeler is a near-lock for 20-plus touches as a volume play. The Steelers are No. 10 in fantasy points allowed to running backs and 12th in run-defense DVOA, but we throw all that out the window when Ekeler is going to be on the field this much playing in an offense that operates through its running back. Ekeler is a great bet for 15-plus carries and 6-10 targets. He should be started with confidence in all formats as a borderline RB1.
Peyton Barber vs. Panthers: Barber has scored in back-to-back games with 18 carries in each contest. He had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season Week 11 against the Giants and is the overall RB17 in fantasy points per game over the last two. Barber looked spry while averaging 5.9 YPC against the G-Men but reverted to his regular self at 2.6 yards-a-pop last Sunday versus the Niners. He was still able to reach pay dirt, but Barber totaled just 63 yards on 20 touches, right in line with his season norms. He simply has to score to be of value in fantasy. When Barber faced these same Panthers in Week 9, he was only able to muster up 31 scoreless yards on 11 carries. Barber is a virtual zero in the passing game. The way to beat Carolina is through the air. The Panthers are No. 7 in run-defense DVOA and No. 8 in fantasy points allowed to running backs. They’re 27th against the pass. The volume has been great for Barber, and the sky-high 55.5-point total is very friendly. Barber has just been extremely TD-dependent. Carolina has surrendered the ninth-fewest rushing scores to running backs. This has the look of a game Jameis Winston will have to win for the Bucs.
Tevin Coleman vs. Ravens: We bet against Coleman last week in a perceived shootout against the Saints, and he managed just six yards on eight carries before scoring a garbage-time four-yard touchdown from Matt Ryan with the Falcons already trailing by 21 points with 1:51 to play. It literally saved fantasy footballers who started Coleman. He’s been extremely boom-bust all season long and now gets a Ravens Defense that is No. 1 in fantasy points allowed to running backs and No. 6 in run-defense DVOA while allowing the third-fewest rushing yards. This defense stamped out Joe Mixon on the ground two weeks back, holding him to a 12-14-1 line. Coleman just doesn’t get enough volume to overcome this tough matchup. He’s ceding 6-10 carries to Ito Smith every week in an offense that already prefers to throw the ball. Coleman will need a big play and TD to pay off.
Isaiah Crowell at Titans: Since his 15-219-1 day in Week 5 against the Broncos, Crowell has amassed a 63-192-1 line, averaging 3.05 yards per carry while playing through multiple nagging ailments. The Jets are getting blown out on the regular and head out on the road as 7.5-point underdogs for this one in Tennessee. The Titans just got smashed in the face by Lamar Miller for a 12-162-1 night on Monday, including a 97-yard touchdown, but they’d previously been one of the better run defenses in football. Tennessee is still No. 6 in fantasy points allowed to running backs and 11th in run-defense DVOA. Meanwhile, the Jets are cycling through running backs, continuing to give snaps and touches to Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon in a sort-of three-man committee. The Jets’ implied team total of 16.5 points is the second-lowest on the slate, ahead of only the Cardinals. Since the start of Week 6, Crowell is the RB46 in fantasy points per game. He’s a low-floor RB4 play. Jets-Titans sports the lowest total of the week at a disgusting 40.5 points.
Start of the Week: D.J. Moore at Bucs: Moore played a season-high 91.5% of the snaps in the absence of Devin Funchess (back) last week and was second on the team with nine targets behind Christian McCaffrey’s 11. Moore turned in an 8-91 receiving line as the WR19. Over the last four weeks, Moore has been in on 85.2% of the plays and really has become Cam Newton’s No. 1 playmaker after McCaffrey. Funchess should be back this week, but Curtis Samuel (hamstring) is now hurt, opening up another hole in the offense. Moore should be close to an every-down player once again in this likely NFC South shootout. The Bucs are dead last in pass-defense DVOA and 28th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. Moore disappointed against Tampa Bay back in Week 9 with just one catch for 16 yards on two targets, adding a 32-yard run, but he’s far more established now. Dante Pettis (4-77-1), Odell Beckham (4-74-1), Josh Doctson (4-46-1), Tyler Boyd (9-138-1), A.J. Green (5-76-1), Jarvis Landry (10-97-1), and Julio Jones (10-144) have all met or exceeded expectations against this secondary since the Bucs’ Week 4 bye. Carolina’s implied team total of 29.5 points is fourth-most on the week. Moore is a plug-and-play WR2 dripping with upside. The Panthers will be way up in pace against a Bucs squad operating at the league’s fifth-fastest offensive pace.
Josh Reynolds at Lions: In the three games Cooper Kupp (knee) has missed, Reynolds has been on the field for 83.6% > 88.5% > 97.5% of the snaps, running 105 routes. Reynolds drew just one target in the Week 7 tilt, but came back and saw five and eight looks against the Packers and Chiefs. He scored three touchdowns in those two contests, setting new career-highs with six grabs for 80 yards last time out versus Kansas City. Reynolds will be on the field a ton the rest of the way as the third wideout in an offense that uses more 11 personnel than any other team. The Lions are dreadful against the pass, checking in at 31st in DVOA and 21st in fantasy points allowed to wideouts. Detroit has benched outside CB Teez Tabor and inserted UDFA rookie Mike Ford as the starter opposite Darius Slay two weeks back. Ford got lit up for 5-144 by D.J. Moore in Week 11 before holding his own against popgun-armed Chase Daniel on Thanksgiving. Slay will likely stick to Brandin Cooks all afternoon, leaving Reynolds to work on Ford and Robert Woods getting Nevin Lawson in the slot. Lawson has also been bad in 2018. Slay is the only thing keeping this secondary from being a total train wreck. The Rams should have no issues moving the ball up and down the field in this dome environment. L.A.’s implied total of 32.25 points is the second-most of Week 13. The only concern here would be volume since the Lions play at the league’s slowest pace and face the fewest plays per game. Reynolds is still a strong WR3 option coming off his WR13 week.
Adam Humphries vs. Panthers: Humphries makes an appearance for the second-straight week after posting a 6-54-1 day on the Niners en route to the WR23 day in Week 12. Humphries (27) ran one fewer route than both DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin (28) and was on the field for just 52.1% of the downs, but the Bucs were nursing a comfortable lead and didn’t have to go three- and four-wide in comeback mode against San Francisco. Humphries is still second on the team to Mike Evans in routes over the last four weeks and eighth among all wideouts in the league over that span. He’s been on the field plenty and has averaged 6.3 targets in games started and finished by Jameis Winston. Humphries caught all eight of his targets for 82 yards and two touchdowns against this same Carolina defense back in Week 9 with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls. The Panthers are 27th in pass-defense DVOA and 20th in fantasy points surrendered to wideouts. Nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn is Pro Football Focus’ No. 89 cover corner out of 114 qualifiers. Slot WRs Doug Baldwin (5-39), Bruce Ellington (6-52), JuJu Smith-Schuster (3-90-1), Humphries (8-82-2), Willie Snead (5-54), Sterling Shepard (4-75), Tyler Boyd (6-132-1), and Cole Beasley (7-73) have met or exceeded expectations against Carolina. Humphries is back in the WR3 picture in a game with the highest total on the board at 55.5 points. Tampa Bay throws the ball at the seventh-highest rate.
Josh Doctson at Eagles: Doctson is coming off single-game highs for targets (10), catches (6), and yards (66) last Thursday against the Cowboys. He’s seen at least five targets in 6-of-7 games since the Redskins bye after seeing a total of 13 targets the opening three weeks. Only five wideouts have ran more routes than Doctson’s 146 over the last four weeks. Doctson’s 23.6% target share in Colt McCoy’s first start led the Redskins in Week 12. Unlike Alex Smith, McCoy wasn’t afraid to throw the ball up to Doctson and let him make a play with his 6’2/202 frame. And on Wednesday, McCoy said he’s going to “continue to trust” Doctson and “get him the ball and let him go and make plays.” The duo now gets an Eagles secondary that has been riddled with injuries, losing No. 1 CB Ronald Darby to a torn ACL in Week 10, with other CBs Sidney Jones (hamstring), Avonte Maddox (knee), and Jalen Mills (foot) also hurt. All four missed Week 12, while Rasul Douglas gutted through a knee issue of his own. It was a ripe spot for Odell Beckham to go off, but the Giants stuck to their old-school game plan of running the ball most of the day and blew a 16-point lead to lose the game. Philly has been getting killed through the air, allowing the second-most catches, yards, and fantasy points to receivers. Only New Orleans has surrendered more in each category. This 44-point total game isn’t all that attractive from a fantasy lens, but there are a couple guys in good spots, including Doctson. With the Redskins as 6.5-point ‘dogs, Washington could be chasing points like it did last week when McCoy fired 38 passes. There are worse dart throws for WR-needy owners.
Demaryius Thomas vs. Browns: Thomas is coming off a 4-38-2 on five targets outing against the Titans on Monday night, easily his best game since joining Houston at the trade deadline. The dual red-zone touchdown game was a bright spot, but the volume is still relatively low. Thomas has seen target counts of 3 — 1 — 5 since the deal and is averaging 33 yards in a run-heavy offense. Deshaun Watson has attempted 25 or fewer passes in six-straight games, and DeAndre Hopkins remains the alpha dog of this passing game. It’s easy to chase those two touchdowns from Thomas, and it’s a near-certainty he’ll stay involved moving forward, but it’s really tough to produce usable fantasy stats on 4-5 targets per week. And that’s been Thomas’ ceiling in Houston. The Browns are No. 4 in pass-defense DVOA but 21st in fantasy points allowed to wideouts simply because they’ve faced the most plays and most passing attempts after playing a boat-load of overtime games early in the year. The Texans are six-point home favorites and winners of eight straight. The plan for weeks has been to feed Lamar Miller, and that’s the pathway to success in this one. Cleveland is 25th in run-defense DVOA, and Miller has routinely been getting 20-plus touches. Hopkins is the lone playable wideout for the Texans, while Miller is a high-end RB2. Watson will need rushing stats for QB1 status.
Jarvis Landry at Texans: Over the last three games, Landry has averaged just 5.7 targets after seeing double-digit looks seven of the Browns’ first eight games with seven looks in the lone contest he didn’t reach that plateau. Since Baker Mayfield took over as the full-time starter in Week 4, Landry has two touchdowns and is the WR46 in PPR points per game. In other words, he’s barely been hanging on as a WR4. It was tough to sit him when he was seeing so much volume, but now that part of his game to fall back on has gone out the window since interim OC Freddie Kitchens took over play-calling duties. Landry has failed to top 50 yards each of the last four weeks. The Texans are No. 5 in fantasy points allowed to wideouts and held slot guys Trey Quinn (4-49), Emmanuel Sanders (6-47), Danny Amendola (5-43), and Dede Westbrook (4-17) scoreless in their last five games. The Browns are spreading the ball around too much for Landry to get heavy usage. He’s a TD-or-bust WR4. A silver lining is Landry leads the team in red-zone and inside-the-10 targets. This game also features two defenses that are bottom-eight in opponent plays per game with a 48-point total.
Sterling Shepard vs. Bears: Shepard has found his way into the “starts” section of this column multiple times over the last month, and he’s yet to deliver despite prime matchups with the Niners, Bucs, and Eagles. His receiving lines in those games are 2-9-1 > 2-22-0 > 3-34-0 while seeing a total of 10 targets. That’s an average of 3.3 targets per game against three of the worst secondaries in the league. Shepard will now face one of the best in the Bears, who are No. 2 in pass-defense DVOA and No. 10 in pass yards allowed. Running the bulk of his routes out of the slot, Shepard will do battle with Bears nickel CB Bryce Callahan, who is Pro Football Focus’ No. 6 cover corner out of 114 qualifiers, right behind teammate and outside CB Kyle Fuller at No. 5. The Giants refuse to throw the ball and will try and work through Saquon Barkley as much as possible Sunday. Anything else will go to Odell Beckham while Shepard and the rest fight for loose scraps. The Giants’ implied team total of 20.25 points is the sixth-lowest of the week.
Start of the Week: Eric Ebron at Jaguars: Ebron missed practice on Wednesday with a back issue, so that’s something to watch the remainder of the week. Ebron has played through numerous nicks and bruises this season, so for now, this one won’t be treated any different. With Jack Doyle (kidney) done for the season, Ebron jumps back into a locked-in TE1 the rest of the way. The NFL’s touchdown catches leader with 11, Ebron played at least 71% of the snaps in four of the five games Doyle missed earlier in the season with the lone exception being a Week 7 clobbering of the Bills where the starters were rested in the fourth quarter. Ebron reeled in four of his 11 scores in those five contests and ran 202 routes. Defending tight ends has been an issue for the Jaguars, surrendering the third-most touchdowns and 12th-most fantasy points to the position, including a 3-69-2 day to Ebron in Week 10. He did that on 13 routes. Ebron now figures to be running two or three times as many per game the rest of the season. Ebron is an auto-play with Doyle out.
Cameron Brate vs. Panthers: In the Bucs’ first game sans O.J. Howard (foot, ankle), Brate stepped in and played 69.9% of the snaps last week against the 49ers, running a season-high 33 routes. He nabbed a six-yard touchdown on four targets, catching three of his total looks for 26 yards. The missed connection was another target in the end zone that fell incomplete. Jameis Winston definitely has an affinity for Brate in the scoring area. The Panthers present another cake matchup for Brate. Carolina is dead last in touchdowns and fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Only four teams have surrendered more catches to the position. Vance McDonald (4-44-1) and Jesse James (1-8-1) both caught touchdowns against the Panthers in Week 10. Brate’s teammate, Howard went 4-53-2 in Week 9 at Carolina. Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst combined for 6-60-1 in Week 8. Zach Ertz (9-138) and Dallas Goedert (4-43-1) were the offense for the Eagles in Week 7. Vernon Davis (3-48-1) and Jordan Reed (5-36) were the Redskins’ top two receivers the previous week. Brate has a touchdown or bust feel to him, but this defense has been getting shredded all year. In a likely shootout with a 55.5-point total, Brate is an easy call as a TE1 streamer.
Austin Hooper vs. Ravens: Hooper is seventh among all tight ends, averaging 6.75 targets per game over the last four weeks. But he’s one of the more dicey streamers week to week because his production with elite on-field usage is so unpredictable. Hooper at least gets a Baltimore defense that is 17th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. The Ravens allowed a combined 4-71-1 day to Raiders TEs Lee Smith and Jared Cook last week. C.J. Uzomah (3-41) was second on the Bengals in receiving the week before while his backup Matt Lengel caught a four-yard score. Vance McDonald and Jesse James combined for 5-77 in Week 9. Greg Olsen went 4-56-1 in Week 8. Ben Watson had 6-43-1 the game before that. This is an exploitable spot for Hooper on the fast track of Mercedes-Benz Stadium indoors where shootouts tend to break out.
Matt LaCosse at Bengals: Jeff Heuerman suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung in the Broncos’ Week 12 win over the Steelers. LaCosse came on and played a season-high 47.4% of the snaps and should be a near-every-down tight end the rest of the way. LaCosse is big at 6’6/255 and caught a short red-zone touchdown after Heuerman’s injury last week en route to a 3-34-1 day. The Bengals have surrendered the second-most catches for the fifth-most yards, second-most touchdowns, and second-most fantasy points to tight ends. David Njoku rebounded to lead the Browns with 5-63-1 last week, while No. 2 TE Darren Fells also caught a touchdown. O.J. Howard had a 4-68-1 effort in Week 8 against Cincinnati. Travis Kelce went 5-95 in Week 7. Vance McDonald and Jesse James combined for 12-94 the previous week. LaCosse is one of the better waiver-wire adds of the week as a plug-and-play in a sneaky game between two top-eight offenses in pace.
Jimmy Graham vs. Cardinals: Graham is unplayable right now. He’s gutting through a broken thumb suffered in Week 11 and has been held to two or fewer catches in three-straight games and four of the last five. Graham hasn’t topped 34 yards in any of those four outings and has just two touchdowns on the season. He’s been a huge flop of a signing for GM Brian Gutekunst. This Packers Offense has disappointed as a whole much of the year. And the Cardinals are No. 7 in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Aaron Jones should get a ton of work as a 15-point home favorite.
Vance McDonald vs. Chargers: McDonald suffered a hip injury in the Week 12 loss to the Broncos and didn’t practice Wednesday. He’s expected to be fine for Sunday night against the Chargers, but this is a tough draw for him at less than 100% health. The Bolts are No. 11 in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and No. 1 in DVOA against the position. Ricky Seals-Jones (1-5), Jeff Heuerman (4-20), Jared Cook (4-52 and 4-20), and Travis Kelce (1-6) have all had letdowns against this defense. There have been big games by George Kittle (6-125-1) and David Njoku (7-55-1), but McDonald being dinged up could lead to more snaps for Jesse James.
Kyle Rudolph at Patriots: Rudolph has been a dud all season long but popped up to tie his season-high with seven catches, turning them into 63 yards. His two best games of the year have come against Green Bay after he went 7-72 against the Pack in Week 2. Rudolph has topped 50 yards just once since Week 4 and hasn’t found the end zone since Week 3. The Patriots have surrendered the third-most touchdowns and fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends, but Rudolph has disappointed in too many spots this year to go back to the well. He’s simply a distant fourth in the chain of command in this Minnesota offense. Rudolph possesses next-to-zero upside.