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  • Rivers and the Chargers take on the vaunted Ravens’ defense on Saturday this week, and his owners shouldn't hesitate to start him in fantasy football championships this weekend.
By Michael Beller
December 20, 2018

If there’s been a theme to our Start ’Em, Sit ’Em columns this season, it has been that matchup doesn’t matter. If there’s been a player who has personified that theme, it has been Philip Rivers. It is altogether fitting, then, that, among all players seemingly locked in as starters, Rivers should have one of the toughest matchups in Week 16, fantasy football’s championship week. Loyal readers already know where we’re headed. Don’t you dare think about sitting Rivers.

Let’s go over all the pertinent details. Are the Ravens tough on quarterbacks? Yes, they are. They’re fourth against the position in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, aFPA, and, from an absolute basis, have allowed the fourth-fewest points to quarterbacks in standard-scoring leagues. They’re second in passing defense, first in yards per attempt allowed, and have surrendered the fourth-fewest passing touchdowns in the league. So, yes, this is not going to be a walk in the park for Rivers.

You know what the Ravens’ defense isn’t, though? Infallible. Patrick Mahomes just put up 21.78 points on the Ravens two weeks ago. They allowed 25.2 points to Ben Roethlisberger in Week 9, 27.96 points to Cam Newton in Week 8, and 18.98 points to Baker Mayfield in Week 5. In two games against the Ravens, Andy Dalton scored 26.6 and 19.34 points. They had their impressive performances, too, holding Roethilsberger in their first meeting, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to fewer than 15 points, but it’s not like they’ve completely turned out the lights on every quarterback they’ve faced this season.

Now let’s turn our attention to Rivers. He’s ninth in total points and 11th in points per game among quarterbacks this season, so his bona fides as someone who begins every week as a starter, and must be proven to be otherwise, are unquestioned. The No. 14 fantasy quarterback by points per game, Tom Brady, is averaging 18.41 points per contest. Rivers has exceeded that mark in nine of his 14 games this season. He has scored at least 20 points eight times, and ranks seventh in the NFL in yards, second in yards per attempt, and third in touchdowns.

What’s more, it’s not as though Rivers fattened up against a weak schedule. He has played four teams—the Bills, Broncos, Cardinals and Steelers—ranked inside the top 10 in quarterback aFPA. In those four games, he threw for 1,215 yards, 9.0 YPA, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. His lowest fantasy output came against Pittsburgh, a game in which he threw for 299 yards, 8.31 YPA, two scores and zero picks, while leading the Chargers to a huge 33-30 win on the road against a division leader. The guy can rise to a challenge.

We’re not down here. Rivers has been great on the road this season, as those numbers against the Steelers should have indicated, but even better at home. In six games played at home this season, eliminating the London game against the Titans that counted as a home game for the Chargers, Rivers has averaged 315.5 yards, 2.3 touchdowns per game and 0.67 interceptions per game, with 8.68 YPA. No matter how good the defense, Rivers has the advantage playing at home.

Finally, consider the context of the game as set by the oddsmakers. The Chargers are 4.5-point favorites and have an implied team total of 24.5 points. Keenan Allen is likely to be a game-time decision, but Rivers carved up the Chiefs without him last week, throwing for 313 yards, 8.24 YPA and two scores. He did that without Melvin Gordon, who will return this week.

Does Rivers have his work cut out for him this week? Yes, of course he does. You know who else does? The Ravens’ defense. I’ll back the MVP candidate leading a favored, 11-3 team at home over the good, but not quite great, defense.

With that, let’s get to the rest of our Week 16—championship edition—of Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.

Quarterbacks

Start

Matt Ryan, Falcons (at Panthers)

Ryan got it done last week against the Cardinals, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and adding another score on the ground. Despite a massively disappointing season for the Falcons, Ryan is the No. 2 quarterback in fantasy football leagues, trailing only Patrick Mahomes. Don’t let the Falcons unsightly record fool you. Ryan has been a great fantasy quarterback this year. The Panthers rank 22nd in quarterback aFPA.

Kirk Cousins, Vikings (at Lions)

Cousins hasn’t been the major upgrade many—myself included—thought he would be in Minnesota, but he has generally come through for his fantasy owners in predictable spots, and that’s exactly where he finds himself this week. The Vikings are in control of the final wild card spot in the NFC, and a win in Detroit this week would go a long way to getting them back to the playoffs. The Lions have been better against the pass of late, and the Vikings got back on track by feeding Dalvin Cook early and often last week, but this is still a game where Cousins projects as a low-end QB1.

Lamar Jackson, Ravens (Saturday at Chargers)

Since taking over as the starter in Baltimore five weeks ago, Jackson has averaged 18.22 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. That has him on par with Tom Brady’s, Cousins’s and Carson Wentz’s season-long numbers. Jackson has a safe floor thanks to rushing production that’s built on designed runs, not scrambles. He’s a worse bet to hit his ceiling than most quarterbacks because of his inconsistent arm, but his floor makes him a safe play in all leagues this week.

Superflex Special

Sam Darnold, Jets (vs. Packers)

Darnold has thrown for 423 yards, 6.82 YPA, three touchdowns and one interception since returning from injury in Week 14. This week, he gets a Green Bay defense ranked 20th in quarterback aFPA. Given his newfound connection with Robby Anderson and the emergence of Elijah McGuire, it’s reasonable to expect Darnold to put up top-20 numbers at his position this week.

Start, but…

Jared Goff, Rams (at Cardinals)

Goff hasn’t looked the same since losing Cooper Kupp, throwing for 1,139 yards, 6.36 YPA, five touchdowns and six interceptions in four games since Kupp tore his ACL. That stat line includes his 413-yard, four-touchdown game in the Rams’ 54-51 win over the Chiefs. In his last three games, Goff has 726 yards, 5.58 YPA, one score and six picks. Still, this has the feeling of a get-right game for the Rams, favored by 13.5 points at Arizona. There’s also the chance that the offense leans a bit more on Goff this week, given Todd Gurley’s knee inflammation.

Tom Brady, Patriots (vs. Bills)

Brady is down to 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring and 14th in points per game. He has been fine, but nowhere near great, all season, and was mediocre at best last week, throwing for 279 yards, 7.75 YPA, one touchdown and one interception in the loss to the Steelers. This week, he faces a Bills team that ranks second in quarterback aFPA. In their first meeting this season, Brady threw for 324 yards, but got just 7.2 YPA and did not have a touchdown. Brady’s almost never going to be a bad fantasy play in a game where his team is favored by 13 points, but his ceiling is now where his floor used to be.

Sit

Josh Allen, Bills (at Patriots)

There’s a huge difference between Allen and Lamar Jackson, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the latter is a start and the former a sit this week. Both would be nowhere near the fantasy discussion without their rushing production and, taken at first glance, it appears the two are equally good in that regard. Jackson, however, has had 75 designed runs and 12 scrambles the last five weeks. Allen has had 17 designed runs and 23 scrambles in that same time. In other words, Allen’s rushing numbers are far less bankable. The Bills are 13-point underdogs in New England this week, meaning Allen is going to be forced to make more plays with his arm, and I’m not yet sold that he’s up to that task.

Nick Foles, Eagles (vs. Texans)

In fairness to Foles, his fantasy bottom line did a poor job of telling just how well he played last week. Foles didn’t throw for any touchdowns, but he racked up 270 yards and 8.71 YPA, leading the Eagles to 30 points and an upset over the Rams in Los Angeles. Still, I’m not buying into him as a fantasy starter, especially against a Houston team with a pass rush equipped to make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Foles is a fine QB2 in superflex and two-quarterback leagues, but he’s barely a top-20 quarterback this week, and given that he just came back into our fantasy lives, you can almost certainly do better with players already on your roster.

Running Backs

Start

James White, Patriots (vs. Bills)

White totaled 94 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches the first time the Patriots and Bills met this season. Ten of those touches and 79 of those yards came through the air, and we know that’s where White does his best work. He has been limited in his last two games, catching seven passes for 40 yards and, not coincidentally, both of those were New England losses. I’d expect to see him featured early and often in this game.

Jordan Howard, Bears (at 49ers)

The Bears locked up the NFC North last week, but they still have something to play for in the regular season. First, they need to guarantee themselves at least the No. 3 seed, which seems a much better spot than the No. 4 seed on the NFC side of the bracket this season. Second, they could still get a bye with a little help from the Cardinals or 49ers when those teams play the Rams. In other words, the Bears will be motivated to win this game in San Francisco, despite last week’s celebration. The Bears have been leaning on Howard moreover the last three weeks, and it has worked nicely for both them and the back. He has 237 yards and a touchdown on 54 carries in those three games, helping the team’s elite defense control the clock. Expect a similar gameplan from Matt Nagy this week.

Elijah McGuire, Jets (vs. Packers)

McGuire has turned in a couple useful games in a row, totaling 154 yards and two touchdowns on 41 touches over the last two weeks. He has had at least 20 touches, 71 yards from scrimmage and a score in both games, and is locked in as the Jets’ do-it-all back for the rest of the season. The Packers are about league-average against running backs from a fantasy perspective, and the oddsmakers have installed the road team as 2.5-point favorites, indicating a close game is at hand. The Packers are 0-7 away from Green Bay this season, which further suggests this game should be close. McGuire is game-script independent, but a close game will keep him heavily involved.

Peyton Barber, Buccaneers (at Cowboys)

Barber got things going in a tough spot last week, running for 85 yards and a touchdown in a 20-12 loss to the Ravens. Barber has hit paydirt in four of his last five games, and has had at least 16 carries in five of his last six. With that sort of volume a near guarantee, it’s hard to look at Barber as anything worse than low-end RB2 or high-end flex play in most formats.

Kalen Ballage, Dolphins (vs. Jaguars)

Ballage took over for the injured Frank Gore last week, running for 123 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. This is very much an audition for Ballage to be the Dolphins’ primary running back next year, even though the Dolphins are still in the AFC playoff hunt at 7-7. It’s clear that Adam Gase views Kenyan Drake more as a complementary back who makes his largest impacts in the passing game, which clears the way to double-digit carries for Ballage this week. Jacksonville’s defense is still strong up front, but not nearly what it was last year, making this the sort of matchup that knocks a back’s value a bit, but doesn’t make him unplayable. Consider Ballage a low-end RB2.

Zach Zenner, Lions (vs. Vikings)

This is mostly for owners in deeper leagues or those ravaged by injury who have still managed to make it to their championship games. Zenner has quietly taken over as the primary runner in Detroit’s offense, wresting that role away from LeGarrette Blount. Over the team’s last two games, Zenner has 99 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. He’s more an RB3/4 and deep flex option, but he should see double-digit carries in this one, even if the game script isn’t great. The Vikings are just 12th in running back aFPA, so if the Lions’ defense can keep them in this game, Zenner could push north of 15 touches.

Sit

Adrian Peterson, Redskins (Saturday at Titans)

The most game-script dependent back in the league actually got a decent game script last week, but the results were still ugly. Peterson ran for 51 yards on 19 carries, the sixth time in his last seven games he ran for fewer than 3.7 yards per carry. The one game in that stretch in which he surpassed 3.7 yards per carry was when he rode a 90-yard touchdown to a 98-yard day against the Eagles, so it’s not as though he ran all over the defense in that one, either. The Titans are favored by 10 points in this game, which is almost certain to result in a bad script for Peterson. Stay far, far away.

Kenyan Drake, Dolphins (vs. Jaguars)

Drake’s disappearance from the Miami run game has made him impossible to trust, yet he continues to show up as a top-30 or top-35 back in FantasyPros consensus ranking. The death knell for him came last week when Frank Gore suffered a season-ending foot injury, and Kalen Ballage got 12 carries to his one. Drake is not the sort of back who can live on targets alone. In fact, few can, as our next entry has showed the last few weeks.

Dion Lewis, Titans (Saturday vs. Redskins)

Lewis last had a useful fantasy game in the first week of November, when he totaled 122 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on 19 carries and four receptions. He had 20 carries the next week 40 totes in the five games since. At the same time, Derrick Henry has turned into fantasy football’s unlikeliest playoff hero in that time, limiting Henry to 17 carries over the last two games, even though they’ve won those games by a combined 38 points. Even in a game that should produce a positive script, there’s no possible way to trust Lewis.

Wide Receivers

Start

Dante Pettis, 49ers (vs. Bears)

Pettis’ three-game touchdown streak was snapped last week, but he caught all five of his targets for 83 yards in the 26-23 win over the Seahawks. Over his last four games, the rookie out of Washington has 17 catches for 338 yards and four scores. That comes out to 14.45 points per game in standard leagues and 18.7 points per game in PPR formats. Pettis didn’t play much early in the season, but he’s showing why the 49ers grabbed him with the 44th overall pick in this year’s draft.

Robert Foster, Bills (at Patriots)

Foster is one of the hottest receivers in the league, already turning himself into one of 2019’s top fantasy sleepers. Over his last five games, he has 17 catches for 438 yards and two touchdowns on 29 targets, He has three 100-yard games in that span, and has twice put up at least 90 yards and a score in the same game. Foster is averaging 11.16 points per game in standard leagues and 14.56 points per game in PPR formats over this five-game window, on par with what Stefon Diggs has done over the full season in the former, and Alshon Jeffery in the latter. Whether there’s any causation to this correlation, Foster has come on ever since Josh Allen returned from injury in Buffalo’s final game in November.

Curtis Samuel, Panthers (vs. Falcons)

Samuel flopped in a big spot, catching one of four targets for 17 yards last week. Cam Newton will not play on Sunday, and is almost certainly done for the season, but that could be a good thing for Samuel. Newton’s shoulder was clearly affecting his performance, making it all but impossible for him to drive the ball downfield or to the sidelines. That’s where Samuel does his best work, so any healthy quarterback, even Taylor Heinicke, will be an upgrade.

DaeSean Hamilton, Broncos (at Raiders)

Hamilton followed up his seven-catch, nine-target, 47-yard, one-touchdown game in Week 14 with seven grabs for 46 yards on 12 targets against the Browns last week. The yards-per-target numbers don’t jump off the page, but the fact that he has 19 looks from Case Keenum in the last two weeks, the only ones in which he has had a meaningful rule in the offense, is encouraging. Hamilton’s recent volume makes him a low-end WR3 this week.

Mike Williams, Chargers (Saturday vs. Ravens)

With Keenan Allen out for essentially all of last week’s 29-28 win over the Chiefs, Williams starred for the Chargers. He caught seven of nine targets for 76 yards and two touchdowns, and added a third score on a 19-yard run. Even if Allen is able to return this week, he’ll likely be playing at less than 100%. Williams should have a big role on Saturday, and even though the matchup is tough, he projects as a WR3.

Antonio Callaway, Browns (vs. Bengals)

Just like we did with Zach Zenner above, we’ll give you at least one deep-league play at receiver. Baker Mayfield is one of my favorite quarterback stats this week. I’ve got him ranked sixth this week in a matchup with a dreadful Bengals defense that’s ranked 27th in quarterback aFPA. Mayfield carved up the Bengals four weeks ago, throwing for 258 yards, 9.92 YPA and four touchdowns while leading the Browns to a 35-20 victory. Callaway caught four passes for 62 yards and a score in that game, and remains Mayfield’s most dangerous deep threat. He’s a great long-range play this week.

Sit

Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (vs. Rams)

There’s some support for Fitzgerald in the fantasy community after he caught seven of eight targets for 82 yards last week, but I just can’t see it this week. Each game should be taken on its own individual merit, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Fitz’s 82-yard performance last week was his first game with more than 60 yards since October. The floor here is quite low, and the ceiling is what we saw last week, only with better touchdown luck. That’s not a bet I want to make.

Golden Tate, Eagles (vs. Texans)

Tate has now had two ugly games in a row, catching six passes for 50 yards the last two weeks. What makes it even worse is that the Eagles have scored 53 points in those games, and he has still been a complete non-factor. It appeared he was catching on in the Eagles offense just a few short weeks ago, but any goodwill he had built up is gone.

Demaryius Thomas, Texans (at Eagles)

On the other side of Texans-Eagles, we find another veteran receiver who was traded at midseason, but has yet to gain any real traction with his new team. Thomas has had no more than 61 yards in a game with the Texans, and, outside of a two-touchdown game against the Titans four weeks ago, has been a fantasy flop since joining Houston. Thomas’s six-catch, 59-yard game against the Jets last week marked just the second time in six games with the Texans that he put up double-digit fantasy points in PPR leagues. Even against an injury-depleted Philadelphia secondary, it’s hard to have confidence in Thomas this week.

Josh Reynolds, Rams (at Cardinals)

Reynolds racked up 12 targets last week, catching five of them for 70 yards. It was his best game since Week 11, when he caught six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs. Reynolds did this, however, against an Eagles secondary that we just mentioned has been decimated by injury this season. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are ranked ninth in quarterback aFPA, and will present a much tougher challenge. Reynolds is still getting too much credit for his offense, and not taking enough of a hit for his lack of production since taking over as a starter for the injured Cooper Kupp.

Sterling Shepard, Giants (at Colts)

Odell Beckham could miss his third straight game because of a quad injury, and that would likely have Shepard on the fantasy radar. Shepard, however, has been a monumental disappointment this season, catching 56 passes for 692 yards and four touchdowns. In the last two weeks without Beckham, he has four receptions for 54 yards, though he did hit paydirt in one of them. The Colts, meanwhile, are in the top 10 in wide receiver aFPA in standard and PPR leagues, and they’ve allowed four total receiver games of more than 15 fantasy points in half-PPR leagues.

Tight Ends

Start

David Njoku, Browns (vs. Bengals)

Njoku has been quiet in recent weeks, catching nine passes for 73 yards in his last three games. Still, this is an excellent matchup that should have everyone with a meaningful role in Cleveland’s passing game on the fantasy radar. The Bengals are 23rd in tight end aFPA in standard and PPR leagues, and 27th in quarterback aFPA.

Trey Burton, Bears (at 49ers)

Burton has 12 targets in two games since Mitchell Trubisky returned from a shoulder injury, catching six of them for 58 yards and a touchdown. Four of those receptions, 36 of the yards, and the touchdown came in last week’s win over the Packers. So long as Trubisky is healthy, Burton projects as a low-end TE1.

Vance McDonald, Steelers (at Saints)

McDonald is a touchdown-dependent tight end, but the offense in which he plays makes him a better bet to find the end zone than most other touchdown-dependent tight ends. His ownership rate suggests that he’s on a roster in all competitive leagues, and those of you who have him aren’t going to find anything better on the waiver wire for Week 16. We’ll touch on the top three, widely available players at the position next for those in need of help, but it should also drive home the message to McDonald owners that it’s better to stick with the devil you know.

C.J. Uzomah, Bengals (at Browns)

Uzomah has at least five targets in four of his last five games, catching 18 passes for 177 yards in that span. Sure, those numbers aren’t exactly what anyone would call impressive, but at least he’s getting opportunities to make plays. That’s more than can be said for most tight ends who aren’t obvious starters. The Browns are 24th in tight end aFPA in standard leagues and 28th in PPR formats, making Uzomah my favorite streamer at the position this week.

Ian Thomas, Panthers (vs. Falcons)

Thomas was shut down last week, but, in the team’s first two games after Greg Olsen’s second foot injury of the year (including the game in which he suffered the injury), Thomas had 14 catches for 123 yards on 16 targets. A healthy Taylor Heinicke can’t be that much worse than an obviously injured Cam Newton, which helps make Thomas my second favorite streamer this week.

Chris Herndon, Jets (vs. Packers)

Herndon caught three of four targets for 53 yards last week, and has six targets in two games since Sam Darnold returned from injury. He’d be my third choice if I were in need of a tight end to stream this week.

Sit

Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (at Lions)

One last time in the sit section for Rudolph. The guy keeps showing up with a top-15 ranking on FantasyPros even though he has had fewer than 60 yards in all but two games this season. The last time he scored a touchdown, there was a week left in MLB’s regular season.

Jimmy Graham, Packers (at Jets)

One of this season’s biggest busts, Graham has 49 catches for 581 yards and two touchdowns on the year. He hasn’t had more than 60 yards in a game since Week 6, and hasn’t hit paydirt since Week 9.

Gerald Everett, Rams (at Cardinals)

Everett is entirely dependent on touchdowns for his fantasy value, which makes him a particularly bad play this week. The Carindals are ranked first in tight end aFPA in standard and PPR leagues, and have allowed three touchdowns to the position, shutting George Kittle and Travis Kelce out of the end zone in three combined games.

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