It seems that we have this discussion every week. A quarterback generally respected as a locked-in starter is pushed down the rankings because of overwrought matchup concerns. In Week 9, it was Philip Rivers at Seattle. In Week 10, it was Russell Wilson at the Rams. Two weeks ago, we had to discuss Ben Roethlisberger in Denver. Last week, we beat the drum for Matt Ryan against the Ravens.
You know what they say: Three out of four isn’t bad.
Rivers was the QB15 against the Seahawks, but his numbers were much better than that suggests. He threw for 228 yards, 8.77 yards per attempt and two touchdowns, and was only held back by the fact that the Chargers cruised to a 25-17 win. Wilson carved up the Rams, totaling 176 passing yards, three touchdowns and 92 rushing yards, en route to 28.24 fantasy points, and a top-five finish at the position. Roethlisberger racked up 462 yards, 8.25 YPA and a touchdown against the Broncos, ending that week as the No. 10 quarterback. Ryan was the lone exception, getting shut down last week by the Ravens to the tune of 131 yards and a touchdown. Still, I’ll always take my chances that offensive talent is going to win out over a tough matchup. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do in this space again, this time with Jared Goff against the Bears.
The Rams-Bears matchup on Sunday Night Football is one of the highlights of this week’s schedule, a meeting of two division leaders, and arguably the league’s best offense against its best defense. Even if neither team is demonstrably the best unit, the Rams’ offense and Bears’ defense are among the top five, at worst, on those respective sides of the ball.
No matter how you view it, Goff will have his work cut out. Yet, we haven’t really seen this Rams offense slowed down all season. They’ve scored at least 29 points in 12 of their 13 games, reaching 35 or more six times. They’re averaging 34.9 points per game, 439.9 yards per game, and 6.7 yards per play, good for second, second and third, respectively, in the NFL. In an offensively driven league, a tough matchup almost doesn’t matter at all for a unit this good. Could the Bears’ defense shut down the Rams? Of course. Is it a smart move to bet that they will? Absolutely not. And it’s probabilities and likelihoods in advance that we must trust in the fantasy world.
What’s more, the oddsmakers aren’t exactly expecting a defensive showdown in Chicago on Sunday night. The over/under on the game is 52, and the Rams are favored by a field goal. That means an implied total of 27.5 for the Rams, and 24.5 for the Bears. If I told you right now that the Rams would win this game 27-24 or 28-24 or 27-23, all of which would be right in line with what the oddsmakers expect, would you want Goff in your lineup? Exactly. Goff’s not going to have a perfectly clean game, and it may not be his most explosive performance of the season, but the Rams always get theirs, and Goff is the one directing those efforts. He needs to be in your lineup.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 14 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (at Seahawks)
Cousins has struggled in recent trips to Chicago and New England, and he’ll get another tough test this week in Seattle. Still, even though he was bad from a real-life standpoint in the loss to the Bears, he put up 262 yards and two touchdowns, finishing that game with 16.98 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Seattle hasn’t been a particularly tough draw for quarterbacks this season, ranking right in the middle of the league in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric. When in doubt, I’ll bet on a quarterback with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs at his disposal.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks (vs. Vikings)
It’s probably time to stop trying to explain Wilson’s absurdly high touchdown rate this season, and just enjoy the ride. Wilson has 29 touchdowns on 326 pass attempts, good for an 8.9% touchdown rate. For sake of comparison, Peyton Manning had an 8.3% touchdown rate when he set the NFL record for touchdown passes in a single season with 55 in 2013. Wilson has thrown for multiple scores in 12 of 11 games this season, and at least three touchdowns in six games. He’s made the most of his attempts from a yardage perspective, too, ranking fifth among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts with an 8.33 YPA. He should have your unyielding trust.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens (at Chiefs)
Jackson had his worst start as a passer in last week’s 26-16 win over the Falcons, throwing for 125 yards and 5.95 YPA. He made up for it on the ground, though, running for 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Jackson now has 265 rushing yards and two scores as a runner over his last three games, translating to 38.5 fantasy points with his legs. That’s more than David Johnson, Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson, Mark Ingram and Tevin Coleman have in that same timeframe. Jackson has the same floor as your typical RB2, except he’s sure to add at least modest passing stats on top of that.
Josh Allen, Bills (vs. Jets)
Allen has put together a couple of huge fantasy games in a row, doing a lot of the heavy lifting on the ground. In Week 12 against the Jaguars, he threw for 160 yards, 8.42 YPA and one touchdown, while running for 99 yards and a score. Last week, he piled up 231 yards, 7.0 YPA and two scores through the air, and 135 yards on the ground. He may not be as bankable a runner as Jackson, but he has at least 30 rushing yards in four games this season, and has hit paydirt four times as a runner. Allen’s floor is higher than he gets credit for, and his ceiling is nothing to dismiss, given what he can do with his legs. The Jets are ranked 26th in quarterback aFPA this season.
Tom Brady, Patriots (at Dolphins)
We discussed Tom Brady’s underwhelming fantasy season both in last week’s Start ’Em, Sit ’Em, and this week’s rankings. He has now ranked 15th or worse at the position in five straight games, and has as many top-10 weeks as he does sub-20 weeks on the year (three). It’s silly to actively fade Brady, but he’s not the slam-dunk start he once was. Including all the players mentioned above, I’d start Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan ahead of him this week.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (vs. Rams)
All signs point to Trubisky returning this week after missing two games with a shoulder injury. It might be easy to forget this in the season of the quarterback, but Trubisky ranks fifth in points per game at the position this season, trailing only Patrick Mahomes, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. If Trubisky does indeed return, the Bears will be as healthy as they’ve been all season on the offensive side of the ball this week, and while the Rams’ defense produces more than its fair share of big plays, it’s also susceptible to the pass, ranking 31st in quarterback aFPA on the year. The only real concern with Trubisky is the health of his shoulder, but the Bears likely wouldn’t chance him if they had any worries that he was truly at risk of aggravating the injury to the degree that made it significantly worse.
Carson Wentz, Eagles (at Cowboys)
Wentz bounced back last week, completing nearly 70% of his passes for 306 yards, 7.85 YPA and two touchdowns against one interception in the 28-13 win over Washington. He gets a much tougher test this week on the road against a Dallas defense ranked 12th in quarterback aFPA. Wentz did well against the Cowboys in Philadelphia last month, however, throwing for 360 yards, 8.18 YPA, two scores and a pick in a 27-20 Eagles loss. Wentz’s tumble down ranking boards—he has a consensus ranking of 19th among quarterbacks on FantasyPros—is another example of matchup concerns run amok. Wentz may not have a top-five ceiling this week, but we’re still talking about a quarterback averaging 284.6 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game, to go along with a 69.6% completion rate and 7.71 YPA who just handled this defense four weeks ago.
This is a unique week at a position that has become incredibly deep this season. There are 18 quarterbacks I wouldn’t hesitate to start this week, unless I had to make a decision between two of them: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady, Mitchell Trubisky, Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield. Additionally, there’s nothing interesting about me telling you to bench Derek Carr against the Steelers, Nick Mullens against the Broncos, or Jeff Driskel against the Chargers. One interesting quarterback who I would sit, Marcus Mariota, plays on Thursday. As such, the sit section this week will be limited to one player. At least he might salvage the section by coming as a bit of a surprise.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (vs. Eagles)
In that same game, Prescott threw for 270 yards, 7.5 YPA and one touchdown, adding another score on the ground. Prescott has done everything the Cowboys have needed of him on their four-game winning streak, but that hasn’t translated into consistent fantasy success. Prescott has ranked eighth, 17th, third and 18th in those four games. The ceiling here is a low-end QB1, and the floor is a low-end QB2, and that’s generally not someone I want to trust in the fantasy playoffs. I’ve got Prescott ranked 20th among quarterbacks for the week.
Chris Carson, Seahawks (vs. Vikings)
It’s likely that everyone will tell you to start Carson this week, but I’m higher on him than most. His consensus ranking at FantasyPros is 22 among backs, but I’ve got him 15th. Put simply, I’m not at all worried about Rashaad Penny. Sure, the rookie looked good last week, running for 65 yards and a touchdown on seven carries, but Carson did well for himself, too, totaling 108 yards from scrimmage on 13 carries and three receptions. Carson played nearly three times as many snaps as Penny, and that’s not going to change. You should be playing Carson with as much confidence as you have every week he has been healthy this season.
Josh Adams, Eagles (at Cowboys)
Adams was decent in his second game as the Eagles workhorse back, running for 85 yards on 20 carries. The fact that he didn’t have a target is a bit concerning for his fantasy value, but there’s zero doubt as to who owns the Eagles’ backfield. The bigger issue this week could be game script, with the Eagles 3.5-point underdogs in Dallas. This could be one of the slower games of the week, though, and it’s hard to imagine the Cowboys running away with it, even if they do ultimately win and cover. Think of Adams as a low-end RB2 and relatively easy start, unless you’re loaded at running back.
Austin Ekeler, Chargers (vs. Bengals)
I wouldn’t fade Ekeler based on his ugly performance with Melvin Gordon out last week, or the fact that Justin Jackson was just as good as Ekeler was bad. The Chargers know what Ekeler brings and aren’t going to go away from him simply because of one mediocre game. Even if Jackson gets additional touches, and he earned them based on what he did last week, Ekeler is likely a good bet for 15 touches with the Chargers being two-touchdown favorites at home against the Bengals this week. Give a player like him that large of a workload against a defense ranked dead last in running back aFPA, and he’s almost guaranteed to deliver.
Jeff Wilson, 49ers (vs. Broncos)
Among the running backs pressed into action because of injuries, Wilson is the one I feel best about this week. Unlike the backs on the Chargers and Steelers, he’s not going to have to split carries. Last week, with Matt Breida limited to five carries and three targets, Wilson racked up 15 carries and nine targets, totaling 134 yards from scrimmage. That was a game the 49ers were never in, trailing by at least two scores for more than 43 minutes of game action. Even if the Broncos run away with this game—and I’m not sold that they will, especially with Emmanuel Sanders injured—Wilson is going to have a huge role in the offense. It might not be the prettiest performance we’ve ever seen, but I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t deliver RB2 numbers.
Jaylen Samuels, Steelers (at Raiders)
Chances are strong that if you rushed to the waiver wire to add Samuels this week, or if you had him handcuffed to James Conner, he’s going to be one of your best backs or flex plays for Week 14. Having said that, there’s no guarantee that he enjoys a workhorse role on Sunday. In fact, Samuels himself said that he and Stevan Ridley will both get opportunities to be the lead back in the offense, trading possessions. Samuels is likely the more dangerous of the two as a receiver, but this sounds like it’s going to be close to a 50/50 timeshare on Sunday. Think of Samuels more as a flex than as an RB2. And those of you in deeper leagues should feel decent about playing Ridley, as well.
LeGarrette Blount, Lions (at Cardinals)
All the hype surrounding injuries to Melvin Gordon, James Conner and Matt Breida let us forget about Blount, who is set to start his third straight game for the Lions. He was great in his first start, running for 88 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in a loss to the Bears. He was held in check last week in the loss to the Rams, but still got 16 carries, running for 61 yards. So long as the Lions get neutral or positive game script—and it’s worth noting they are one-point favorites in Arizona—Blount is going to push up or near 20 carries. The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 26th in running back aFPA this season.
Jordan Howard, Bears (vs. Rams)
The Rams rank seventh in running back aFPA in standard leagues, behind a stout defensive front led by Aaron Donald. The Rams score 34.9 points per game, and their only loss this season came in a game where they put up 35 points. You don’t beat the Rams by slowing them down. You beat them by containing them where you can and understanding that you’re likely going to need at least 28 points to come away victorious. I can’t think of a worse possible context in which to trust Howard. This game has a huge workload for Tarik Cohen written all over it.
Isaiah Crowell, Jets (at Bills)
Crowell had his first good game in about two months last week, running for 98 yards on 21 carries in the loss to the Titans. The Bills’ defense has been great against the pass but soft against the run, ranking 21st in running back aFPA in standard-scoring leagues. That seems to set this up well for Crowell, but he still needs game script to be on his side, and I’m not convinced it will be. The Bills have been a much better team with Josh Allen under center than anyone else this season, and, for as much flak as they’ve taken, they’re likely the better team between these two at the moment. They’re favored by 3.5 points in a game with an over/under of 38.5, which means the Jets’ implied total is 17.5 points. The short-yardage touchdown is always on the table, but that’s what Crowell will need in order to have a meaningful fantasy performance.
Chris Thompson, Redskins (vs. Giants)
Thompson got back on the field last week for the first time in more than a month, getting three carries and five targets in the loss to the Eagles. The Giants have been terrible against backs all year, ranking 31st in positional aFPA in both standard and PPR leagues. Just last week, Tarik Cohen lit them up to the tune of 12 catches for 156 yards, and it would seem that Thompson could follow a similar script this week. And yet, do you want to bet on Mark Sanchez and this Washington passing game? Even in what are ideal conditions? I sure don’t. Backs I’d play over Thopmson include Peyton Barber, Justin Jackson, Stevan Ridley and Nyheim Hines.
Courtland Sutton, Broncos (at 49ers)
I had Sutton earmarked for this column before Emmanuel Sanders tore his Achilles in practice earlier this week. The injury to Sanders makes Sutton a must-start across the board. Nothing should prevent the rookie out of SMU from getting double-digit targets in this game, and even without Sanders the Broncos are going to be favored. The team has legitimate playoff hopes this season, but it will start to see on Sunday if Sutton can be their No. 1 wide receiver of the future.
Curtis Samuel, Panthers (at Browns)
Samuel has scored four touchdowns in his last five games, a timeframe that coincides with him taking on a larger role in Carolina’s offense. Last week, even with Devin Funchess and D.J. Moore both active, Samuel racked up 11 targets, catching six of them for a season-high 88 yards. Moore also got eight targets in the game, but Funchess got just three. It’s entirely possible that the Panthers are turning the page at wide receiver, transitioning Funchess out for more of both Samuel and Moore.
Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries, Buccaneers (vs. Saints)
DeSean Jackson is expected to miss another game with his thumb injury, which should mean big workloads for Godwin and Humphries this week. Godwin caught five of his six targets for 101 yards and a touchdown last week, while Humphries reeled in seven of nine targets for 61 yards and a score. The over/under on Saints-Buccaneers is a robust 56 points, so even as eight-point underdogs, the Bucs have an implied total of 24 points. The Saints have been much better against the pass recently, but are still ranked 27th in wide receiver aFPA in PPR leagues. Even with Mike Evans locked in as a fantasy starter, there’s plenty of room to get Godwin and Humphries in lineups.
Golden Tate, Eagles (at Cowboys)
After a few weeks of figuring things out in Philadelphia, Tate had his first big game with the Eagles, catching all seven of his targets for 85 yards and a touchdown last week. He has 23 targets in his last three games, two more than Zach Ertz, 17th among receivers in that span. Tate’s first game as an Eagle was against the Cowboys, but he wasn’t yet fully up to speed in the offense, and got just four targets while playing 29% of the plays. His snap rate since then is 58% overall, and hasn’t been less than 48% in any game. Way back in September when he was still with the Lions, he burned the Cowboys for eight catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns. This can still be that good of a matchup for him.
Josh Reynolds, Rams (at Bears)
Reynolds is always going to have value as someone getting a 90% snap rate on one of the best offenses in the league, but it’s too fleeting from week to week. Two games ago, he caught six of eight targets for 80 yards and a touchdown. Last week, he had five targets, pulling down two of them for 19 yards. The Rams stagnated on offense against the Lions for much of the game, but still managed to put up 30 points, of which Reynolds contributed very little. He’ll likely avoid Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan for much of Sunday night’s contest with the Bears, but all that means is a heavy dose of Prince Amukamara.
Anthony Miller, Bears (vs. Rams)
Miller does get a shot in the arm with Mitchell Trubisky’s return, but he still shouldn’t be in a typical fantasy lineup. In Trubisky’s last start, he got just three targets, catching two of them for 25 yards and a touchdown. He has averaged 4.9 targets per game with Trubisky at the helm, which means he’s entirely depending on touchdowns or a big play to get him going from a fantasy perspective. The Rams are friendly to opposing receivers, ranking 31st in positional aFPA, but Aqib Talib’s return could help change that, and is already having a domino effect on the rest of the secondary.
Mohamed Sanu, Falcons (at Packers)
Sanu is what he is—a clear WR3 on his own team who needs to make the absolute most of every target to show up from a fantasy perspective. He’s going to pop every now and again, but there just isn’t enough of a reliable target share to make him trustworthy as a regular starter. He has plenty of fantasy value as a depth receiver when byes are still active, but that point of the season has passed. Sanu hasn’t topped 80 yards since Week 4, and he hasn’t found the end zone since Week 6. If you need to start Sanu at this point of the season, you’re either desperate or wracked by injury.
Mike Williams, Chargers (vs. Bengals)
There’s going to be some temptation to start Williams this week given that the Bengals are ranked 28th in aFPA, but playing him is the same deal with the devil that it has been all season. You have to hope that he finds the end zone on minimal targets. Williams has had four or fewer targets in all but two games this season, and each of his last nine games. He hasn’t topped 60 yards in that span, deriving all his fantasy value from scoring touchdowns. That’s a terrible bet to make, even in what seems like a good matchup.
Trey Burton, Bears (vs. Rams)
In Mitchell Trubisky’s 10 starts this season, Burton has put up 3.4 catches, 4.6 targets, 42 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game. In Chase Daniel’s two starts, he averaged two catches, 3.5 targets, 14 yards and zero touchdowns. Trubisky will return this week, which places Burton back on the low-end TE1 radar.
Austin Hooper, Falcons (at Packers)
If we were trying to find a player who represents perfect equilibrium between being boring, yet also easy to start, it’s Hooper. He has at least five targets in each of his last four games, is averaging 6.1 targets per game this season, and plays in a pass-first offense that absolutely needs his production. Even with the Falcons sliding—they’ve scored fewer than 20 points in all of their last four games—Hooper is a universal start this week.
C.J. Uzomah, Bengals (at Chargers)
What’s it take to make it into the back end of the TE1 class? That’s right, touchdowns. And what’s the best way to get those? Volume. Uzomah has 19 targets the last two weeks, and that’s not going to change now that A.J. Green is on IR. If you’re scrounging around for scraps at this position, Uzomah at least represents hope.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (at Seahawks)
After one week of decent production, Rudolph got just three targets last week, catching all of them for 38 yards. Even when he gets volume, he doesn’t do much with it. Rudolph has three games this season in which he has had at least five targets, but fewer than 40 yards. As we’ve said in this space many times, it’s hard for anyone in any passing game to show up when they have teammates like Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
Gerald Everett, Rams (at Bears)
The fact that Everett got just three targets last week wasn’t necessarily a disappointment. We need to be realistic about these fringy tight ends, and Everett has four or more targets in just three games this year. What was a disappointment was that he didn’t spend any time outside the numbers after burning the Chiefs for a 40-yard touchdown while lined up as a traditional outside wide receiver in Week 11. If he’s not getting looks like that, he’s nowhere near the fantasy radar.
Chris Herndon, Jets (at Bills)
You’re probably as bored of reading about Herndon as I am of writing about him. If you want to start a low-leverage, touchdown-dependent tight end playing in a game with an over/under of 38.5, of which his team has an implied total of 17.5 points, be my guest.