Exploiting the Matchups: Week 18 Start/Sit and Streamers

Exploiting the Matchups: Week 18 Start/Sit and Streamers

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Only two teams are locked into specific playoff spots entering Week 18 — the Bucs and Giants — but a few others have questionable motivation for the final game of the regular season. Minnesota can't move down from the No. 3 seed in the NFC, and can only move up if the 49ers lose to the Cardinals despite being favored by two touchdowns (FWIW, the Niners play after the Vikings on Sunday). 

Then we have the Chargers, who caught a nice break with the Baltimore-Cincinnati game being scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday. If the Bengals win, the Chargers know they're the No. 5 seed ahead of their 4:25 ET kickoff in Denver. If the Ravens win, the Chargers need to win or else they'll drop to No. 6 and face the Bengals or Bills in the first round instead of the Jaguars/Titans.

We can also expect some non-playoff teams to lighten workloads for veterans and give more playing time to young players, though this is harder to predict ahead of time apart from cases where the replacement (like Washington QB Sam Howell) is announced as a starter during the week.

On top of that, we still need to see how the NFL's decision on the postponed Bills-Bengals game might impact Week 18 motivations in the AFC. If the game is ultimately called off, the Ravens-Bengals matchup this Sunday becomes far less important to both teams, though they'd technically still have seeding to play for (the difference between 2 vs. 3 for Cincy and 5 vs. 6 for Baltimore). A rescheduling of the Buffalo-Cincinnati game for "Week 19" would give the Bills and Bengals more to play for in Week 18, with the AFC North no longer clinched and the race for the No. 1 seed no longer entirely dependent on the Raiders upsetting the Chiefs (the Bills can lock up the top spot with two more wins, regardless of KC's result... if they play two games).

Things are simpler on the NFC side, though the late-afternoon window does have a  scenario where the Eagles are crushing the Giants and then the Cowboys start pulling starters against the Commanders once they realize they're stuck with the No. 5 seed. The Giants may or may not start Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley, but I'd be shocked if either plays the entire game with nothing on the line in terms of playoff seeding. Meanwhile, Bucs coach Todd Bowles already confirmed he'll play starters in a game with no impact on seeding... just don't be upset/surprised if it's for less than four quarters.

It's a lot to keep in mind; the good news is that we have a second straight January weekend with little-to-no concern about bad weather impacting games. Even Buffalo and Chicago are forecasted for winds below 10 mph and temperatures in the 20s or low 30s this Sunday.

Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.


Quarterbacks 👍


Brock Purdy (vs. ARZ) — 27% started

Start Over — Russell Wilson (vs. LAC), Daniel Jones (at PHI)

Purdy has been surprisingly consistent as the caretaker of a well-oiled machine, throwing for 185-to-284 yards and exactly two touchdowns in each of his five starts. He's not who you want for DFS tournaments, but in any other format there's value in what should be a similar performance this Sunday. Only the Chiefs and Eagles have larger implied totals than the Niners (27.25) for Week 18, with Purdy and Co. facing a Cardinals defense that has seven starters on the injury report and its two best defensive backs (CB Byron Murphy, S Budda Baker) on injured reserve. The Niners, meanwhile, appear to be getting Deebo Samuel back from a knee sprain after he was a full practice participant Wednesday.


Other Good Matchups: Patrick Mahomes (at LV), Aaron Rodgers (vs. DET)


Running Backs 👍


Kenneth Walker (vs. LAR) — 62% started

Start Over — Josh Jacobs (vs. KC), Ezekiel Elliott (at WAS), Alvin Kamara (vs. CAR)

The Rams have allowed the sixth most fantasy points per game to running backs since DT Aaron Donald suffered a high-ankle sprain Week 12, yielding 4.7 YPC and four fantasy scores of at least 19 PPR points. It might be five if not for Walker's early exit from the first matchup between these teams Week 13; he had three carries for 36 yards before an ankle injury prevented him from playing the second half (or the following week). 

The rookie has since returned to a starring role with back-to-back games of 20-plus carries for 100 or more yards, while Donald remains sidelined for a game the Seahawks need to win. Just make sure Walker returns to practice Thursday or Friday after missing Wednesday's session due to an illness (he's also still listed with the ankle injury, but Pete Carroll said last week it's not a concern anymore... and the workloads more or less confirm that).


Tyler Allgeier (vs. TB) — 34% started

Start Over — Jamaal Williams (at GB), Devin Singletary (vs. NE), David Montgomery (vs. MIN)

The Bucs have allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points to running backs this year and got DT Vita Vea back from a calf injury last week, but there's a good chance he and other starters will be rested at some point Sunday. The Falcons are favored by four points, setting up Allgeier for another busy day after three straight games with at least 18 touches and 95 total yards. Also note that he needs exactly 100 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the year.


Other Good Matchups: Najee Harris & Jaylen Samuels (vs. CLE), Jerick McKinnon & Isiah Pacheco (at LV), Cam Akers (at SEA), Miles Sanders (vs. NYG), Zack Moss (vs. HOU), Latavius Murray (vs. LAC)


Wide Receivers 👍


Christian Kirk (vs. TEN) — 66% started

Start Over — Brandon Aiyuk (vs. ARZ), Terry McLaurin (vs. DAL), JuJu Smith-Schuster (at LV)

Evan Engram and Zay Jones did the heavy lifting when these AFC South rivals met four weeks ago in what was arguably Trevor Lawrence's finest pro performance to date. Kirk, meanwhile, was held to 45 yards on seven targets by a defense that's given up the most fantasy points in the league to wide receivers. Maybe it plays out that way again, but I'd bet on Kirk taking a larger share of the production against Tennessee's pass-funnel (second in DVOA against the run, 28th against the pass). He'll likely be guarded by safety Amani Hooker or CB Josh Kalu (4.58 40) on most of his slot snaps, creating ample opportunity for Kirk to do his thing as one of the few big-play threats in the league who works from the inside out.


Rashid Shaheed (vs. CAR) — 1% started

Start Over — George Pickens (vs. CLE), Donovan Peoples-Jones (at PIT), DJ Chark (at GB)

Shaheed has quickly become a personal favorite, looking more like a poor man's Chris Olave than a rich man's Deonte Harty (lazy comparison, I know). In fact, Olave and Shaheed have handled similar workloads in terms of snaps and targets since the start of December, with the Saints scaling their first-round pick back a bit even before he missed Week 16 with a hamstring injury. The bigger limitation has been a lack of team passing volume, which won't necessarily be the case this week with the Saints eliminated from playoff contention and playing indoors against a defense that has its top two cornerbacks on injured reserve. It's a good spot for both Shaheed and Olave, a duo that could have a long run together in New Orleans (albeit at different pay rates for the foreseeable future).


Other Good Matchups: A.J. Brown & DeVonta Smith (vs. NYG), Christian Kirk & Zay Jones (vs. TEN), Drake London (vs. TB), Chris Olave (vs. CAR), Christian Watson (vs. DET), Equanimeous St. Brown (at MIN), Chris Moore (at IND)


Tight Ends 👍


Dallas Goedert (vs. NYG) — 56% started

Start Over — Pat Freiermuth (vs. CLE), Dawson Knox (vs. NE), Gerald Everett (at DEN)

While his stat lines were modest the past two weeks, Goedert took 94 and 96 percent of Philly's offensive snaps in his first two games back from injured reserve, immediately reclaiming the role that saw him average 4.8 catches for 60.4 yards per game over the first 10 weeks of the season. Even if he doesn't get QB Jalen Hurts (shoulder) back this week, Goedert should be able to put up numbers with Gardner Minshew against a Giants defense that figures to rest/pull some starters.


Other Good Matchups: Evan Engram (vs. TEN), Tyler Higbee (at SEA)



Quarterbacks 👎


Kenny Pickett (vs. CLE) — 5% started

Start Instead — Jarrett Stidham (vs. KC), Desmond Ridder (vs. TB) 

Pickett has made progress since a Week 9 bye after looking incompetent in the first half of the season, and we don't have to worry about him being pulled from the game early (unless it's for extremely poor play). Resist any temptation to start him, all the same, as the Steelers have become a run-first offense for the first time in years and figure to continue that approach against Cleveland's run-funnel defense. The Browns have given up the second fewest fantasy points to QBs and the sixth most to RBs, ranking 13th in DVOA against the pass but 29th against the run. The Steelers could be the fourth team in a row to put up more rushing yards than passing yards against Cleveland, after the Ravens, Saints and Commanders did it the past three weeks (albeit with weather a huge factor against New Orleans).


Other Tough Matchups: Jared Goff (at GB), Mac Jones (at BUF), Tyler Huntley (at CIN)


Running Backs 👎


Rhamondre Stevenson (at BUF) — 72% started

Start Instead — Cam Akers (at SEA), Jerick McKinnon (at LV), Miles Sanders (vs. NYG)

The bad news for Stevenson is that he's facing a tough defense, with the Bills ranked third in both overall defensive DVOA and run-defense DVOA while allowing the 11th fewest fantasy points to running backs. The good news is that a bad matchup increases his chances to get more playing time, as he remains the top option for passing situations. Bad news pt. II is that all this matters again, after Damien Harris returned from a four-week absence to take 12 touches and 48 percent of snaps in last week's 23-21 win over Miami. Stevenson should still be starting in most season-long leagues, of course, but there are better choices for shallow formats and DFS this week.


Raheem Mostert (vs. NYJ)  — 33% started

Start Instead — Rachaad White (at ATL), Latavius Murray (vs. LAC)

Mostert had a big game in Foxborough last weekend behind an 8-62-1 receiving line, but he played only 42 percent of snaps to Jeff Wilson's 65 percent and finished with nine carries (compared to 15 for Wilson). It was Mostert's first NFL game with more than four catches or five targets, and he's now in danger of falling flat while splitting work with Wilson behind a backup or third-string quarterback. The Jets have given up the 12th fewest fantasy points to RBs and rank ninth in run-defense DVOA, continuing to fight hard on that side of the ball even as an incompetent offense has knocked them out of playoff contention.


Other Tough Matchups: James Conner (foot) or Corey Clement / Keaontay Ingram (at SF), Travis Etienne (vs. TEN), Brian Robinson (knee) / Antonio Gibson (knee) - (vs. DAL), 


Wide Receivers 👎


Jaylen Waddle (vs. NYJ) — 89% started

Start Instead — DeVonta Smith (vs. NYG), Amari Cooper (at PIT), Christian Kirk (vs. TEN)

Waddle scored a 67-yard TD three weeks ago and an 84-yarder a week later, keeping him alive as a top fantasy producer even with disappointing volume. The problem is that he's fallen shy of double-digit PPR points in his other three games since the end of November while drawing seven or fewer targets in each contest, held back by his own fibula and shoulder injuries as well as Tua Tagovailoa's latest concussion. 

For an idea of what might go wrong this Sunday, we only need look back to Week 5 when Waddle played through a groin injury against the Jets and was held to 3-23-0 on four targets with Skylar Thompson playing most of the game at quarterback. Waddle's tough individual matchup with Jets CBs Sauce Gardner and Ahmad Gardner isn't even the biggest concern at this point.


DJ Moore (at NO) — 51% started

Start Instead — Michael Pittman (vs. HOU), Jerry Jeudy (vs. LAC), Garrett Wilson (at MIA)

The lack of playoff implications in the Panthers-Saints game could inspire a more aggressive outlook on offense from two teams that prioritized their rushing attacks the past couple months while holding on for dear life in a pathetic competition for the NFC South. The problem here is that I only see one side capable of making good on any aggressions, as the Saints defense has become healthier and more effective in recent weeks at the same time the Carolina defense has gone the other direction (see: Mike Evans). The Saints even got top corner Marshon Lattimore back from a two-month absence last week, further upgrading a defense that ranks seventh in DVOA against the pass.


Other Tough Matchups: Mike Williams (at DEN), Mike Evans (at ATL), Diontae Johnson & George Pickens (vs. CLE), Brandin Cooks (at IND), Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins & Richie James (at PHI)


Tight Ends 👎


Dawson Knox (vs. NE) — 50% started

Start Instead — David Njoku (at PIT), Tyler Higbee (at SEA)

Held to one target and no catches on 63 snaps Week 13 in the first meeting between these teams, Knox has since ripped off three straight games with five or more targets, 38 or more yards and a touchdown. But his averages for the season remain modest even after the recent hot streak — 3.3 catches for 36.0 yards on 4.5 targets per game — and he's facing a tough pass defense Week 18.


Other Tough Matchups: Pat Freiermuth (vs. CLE)


Streaming Picks

For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)

QB Deshaun Watson (at PIT)

QB Brock Purdy (vs. ARZ)

QB Russell Wilson (vs. LAC)

RB Zack Moss (vs. HOU)

RB James Cook (vs. NE)

WR Jakobi Meyers (at BUF)

WR Zay Jones (vs. TEN)

WR Treylon Burks (at JAX)

TE Hayden Hurst (vs. BAL)

K Robbie Gould (vs. ARZ)

D/ST Jaguars (vs. TEN)


For Medium-depth Leagues (16-39 percent rostered)

QB Mike White (at MIA)

RB Khalil Herbert (vs. MIN)

RB Chuba Hubbard (at NO)

RB Alexander Mattison (at CHI)

WR Corey Davis (at MIA)

WR Hunter Renfrow (vs. KC)

TE Juwan Johnson (vs. CAR)

K Jake Elliott (vs. NYG)

D/ST Vikings (at CHI)

D/ST Browns (at PIT)


For Deep Leagues (0-15 percent rostered)

QB Skylar Thompson (vs. NYJ)

RB Jaylen Warren (vs. CLE)

RB Joshua Kelley (at DEN)

RB Ty Johnson (at MIA)

WR Greg Dortch (at SF)

WR Chris Moore (at IND)

WR Alec Pierce (vs. HOU)

TE Trey McBride (at SF)

TE Albert Okwuegbunam (vs. LAC)

K Wil Lutz (vs. CAR)

D/ST Falcons (vs. TB)


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Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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