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Inside the Matchup

Week 18

By: Andy Swanson | Ken Ilchuk | Nick Caron | HC Green



Sunday Early:



Sunday Late:

NYJ @ BUF | NO @ ATL | CAR @ TB | SF @ LAR


- Green highlight indicates plus matchup (top eight)
- Red highlight indicates negative matchup (bottom eight)

Chiefs at Broncos - (Caron)
Line: KC -11.5
Total: 45.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Four straight 20-point fantasy games have helped reestablish Patrick Mahomes as an elite fantasy quarterback down the stretch and he now gets a chance to play against a team that he struggled against back in Week 13. The Broncos held Mahomes to 184 yards and he was kept to just one (rushing) touchdown while completing a season-low 51.7 percent of his passes. Of course, it’s worth considering that the Chiefs won that game by multiple scores and the Broncos really weren’t able to move the ball so there was no push for Mahomes to sling the ball.

The Broncos defense has been good for most of the season, but this past week they gave up 34 points to the Chargers while allowing Justin Herbert to throw for a pair of touchdowns. While Denver doesn’t have anything to play for, the defense does still seem to be playing with some heart and they haven’t allowed a single quarterback to throw for more than two touchdown passes all season.

Mahomes’ upside might be limited in this one, but he does have a strong floor given the recent success the Chiefs have had. One player who’s been struggling as of late, though, is wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Hill has been held to fewer than 12 PPR fantasy points in four of his past five games while his targets have also been surprisingly limited. He was held to a season low two receptions which he converted for just 22 yards against the Broncos in Week 13 and could be in line for another tough matchup this week as he’ll likely face plenty of bracket coverage from the Broncos. Still, he remains an elite fantasy option as he’s seen a total of 25 targets over his past three games.

Patrick Surtain has had an excellent rookie season and has been moved around the defensive formation quite a bit but will miss this game along with Ronald Darby. That’s great for Travis Kelce who has again been one of the league’s best performers at the position, but did indeed struggle against the Broncos back in Week 13. He caught three passes for just 27 yards in that contest.

All of the Chiefs stud passing game players have limited ceilings this week, but they’re all must-starts in fantasy football championships.

DEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.29
DEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.22
DEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.27
DEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.30

Running Game Thoughts: The Chiefs were without running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 17 which paved the way for Darrel Williams to return to a dominant role. He responded by rushing for 88 yards on just 14 carries, including a pair of touchdowns, and catching three passes in what was an impressive RB1 fantasy performance. With Edwards-Helaire expected to be out again, look for the Chiefs to lean heavily on their running game to secure what should be a win.

Williams has seen 12 or more carries just four times this season, but he’s averaged nearly 20 points per game in those contests. It seems almost certain that he’ll reach that number this week, so there’s plenty of reason to be excited about getting him in your lineup.

Value Meter:
QB1: Patrick Mahomes
RB1: Darrel Williams (low end)
WR1: Tyreek Hill
TE1: Travis Kelce
Bench: Derrick Gore, Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle

Passing Game Thoughts: You know things are bad when a 245-yard, one touchdown game out of your quarterback is considered a surprisingly good day. That’s what we got from Drew Lock this past week as he and the Broncos got crushed by the Chargers. Even with that game, which was Lock’s best of the season, the Broncos wide receivers were still terrible. None of them turned in quality fantasy days which has become the norm and they’re just not startable for fantasy. The only player who did anything of significance in that game was tight end Noah Fant, who caught six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. While that performance was great to see out of a player we had high hopes for, the ceiling is still quite limited for him this and really every week in this Denver offense. It’s a hard avoid right now for all members of the Denver passing game.

KC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.2
KC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.13
KC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.9
KC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.14

Running Game Thoughts: The split backfield in Denver continues to be a problem for fantasy as neither Melvin Gordon nor Javonte Williams has been able to establish himself as the true “starter” in the offense. Both backs continue to typically see between 12 to 18 touches or so per game which is a decent enough workload, but with the offense being as bad as it is overall, their fantasy output is really limited and one—or both—backs are typically disappointing for fantasy purposes.

Gordon missed the Broncos’ first matchup with the Chiefs back in Week 13, which led to Williams getting his first and really only true bell cow back opportunity of the season. He responded with a 178 total yard performance with a touchdown and six receptions, delivering easily his best fantasy performance of the season. That won’t be the case this week, though, as Gordon is healthy and should again be in line to see roughly half of the backfield touches.

Both backs could be considered borderline RB2/Flex options this week, as usual, but dynasty managers who have Williams rostered have to be excited about a Melvin Gordon-less future in Denver.

Value Meter:
RB2: Javonte Williams
Flex: Melvin Gordon
Bench: Drew Lock, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Noah Fant, Albert Okwuegbunam

Prediction: Chiefs 31, Broncos 16 ^ Top

Eagles at Cowboys - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: DAL -4.5
Total: 43.5

Passing Game Thoughts: QB Jalen Hurts has attempted at least 30 passes in a game exactly once in the last nine weeks. Throw his favorite target, TE Dallas Goedert on the Covid inactive list, and any hopes for a potent passing game seem to go out the window, especially given the ineffectiveness of WR’s DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, and Jalen Reagor in recent weeks.

But the problem is, amongst the team’s 12+ players who tested Covid positive is basically the entire RB room. Hurts has been playing through a bad ankle, and in a game that means nothing to the playoff-bound Eagles, it doesn’t seem HC Nick Sirianni would be eager to test it too much in this one.

So that’s a long way of saying the Eagles might actually throw the ball this week. RB Kenneth Gainwell, normally the 3rd down receiving back, should get a significant bump and could absorb a lot of Goedert’s targets in the short to intermediate passing game. DeVonta Smith may see a spike as well, and I like Greg Ward if you need a late sleeper. He only has six catches on the year, but three of them are for touchdowns, including one against Dallas earlier this year.

DAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.10
DAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.28
DAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.16
DAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.17

Running Game Thoughts: As we mentioned, Howard and Scott are both on the Covid list, and Miles Sanders has already been ruled out with a hand injury. The only remaining back of note is Gainwell, who should bring flex value this week as both a runner and a receiver, especially if the Eagles limit Hurts’ running.

Value Meter:
QB1: Jalen Hurts (high-end)
WR2: DeVonta Smith (low-end)
FLEX: RB Kenneth Gainwell, WR Greg Ward
BENCH: RB Miles Sanders, RB Jordan Howard, RB Boston Scott, WR Jalen Reagor, WR Quez Watkins, TE Dallas Goedert

Passing Game Thoughts: Cowboys HC Mike McCarthy said his team will be playing to win against the Eagles in Week 18. With a top four seed already secured, Dallas can still get as high as the two-seed with some help.

So the good news for Dak Prescott owners is that it sounds like the QB will play. The point of concern is in how he might play. While he posted 238 yards and three touchdowns against Philly early in the season, this is not the same Dak Prescott. He has had issues with accuracy, issues with his reads, and has generally looked unsettled. Still, with seven TD passes over the last two games, he is a low-end QB1 given his plethora of weapons.

WR’s CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper are products of their quarterback and has been alarmingly inconsistent, but there is potential for big production in the pass game, especially with both top RB’s nursing injuries. TE Dalton Schultz has been the primary target for Prescott in recent weeks, and that figures to continue against the Eagles.

If you’re looking for a sleeper, Cedrick Wilson is an interesting play with Michael Gallup done for the year (ACL). Dallas runs a lot of 3-wide sets, which will put Wilson on the field enough to make an impact. He has caught 17 of 22 targets over the last five weeks, including 6-for-6 last week.

PHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.28
PHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.11
PHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.31
PHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.2

Running Game Thoughts: Tony Pollard has been limited in practice in recent weeks but has continued to play. He’s actually out-touching Zeke Elliott, who has not looked right all season. Both are low-end RB2/RB3 plays this week, but Pollard has gotten more involved in the passing game, giving him some added value.

Value Meter:
QB1: Dak Prescott (mid-range)
RB2: Ezekiel Elliott (low-end)
RB3: Tony Pollard (high-end)
WR1: CeeDee Lamb (mid-range)
WR2: Amari Cooper (low-end)
TE1: Dalton Schultz (low-end)
FLEX: WR Cedrick Wilson
BENCH: Michael Gallup

Prediction: Cowboys 25, Eagles 17 ^ Top

Steelers @ Ravens - (Green)
Line: BAL -4.5
Total: 41.0

Passing Game Thoughts: All you need to know about the potency of Pittsburgh’s aerial attack Monday night is Ben Roethlisberger averaged 2.7 yards per attempt and 5.1 per completion in their win over Cleveland. It was also the second time in three weeks that Big Ben hasn’t completed a pass of more than 20 yards. During that span, the veteran is averaging 143 yards, 0.67 TDs and 0.67 INTs per game. I don’t know what passing looked like in the 1940s, but I’m guessing it was something like this.

Making matters worse, Roethlisberger is unlikely to have No. 1 receiver Diontae Johnson (illness) available in Week 18 after he was placed on the COVID list. Johnson leads the team in receptions (100), yards (1,110) and touchdowns (8), and he had an 8-105-2 line against Baltimore the last time they played. Without him, Chase Claypool (3-17-0) will be the top dog. The second-year pro hasn’t done much since his much-discussed gaffe against the Vikings, but he’ll be needed on Sunday. Ray-Ray McCloud (4-35-0) should also see a bigger role with Johnson out.

Barring a crazy Week 18, the Ravens will finish the season ranked dead last in pass defense; they’ve allowed 4,507 passing yards, which is 181 more than Seattle. They put up a solid effort for a while against the Rams before ultimately fading in crunch time as LA escaped with a one-point win that seriously damaged the Ravens’ playoff hopes. Claypool is playable as a risky WR2 while McCloud has some flex value unless Johnson unexpectedly returns.

BAL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.3
BAL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.21
BAL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.4
BAL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.5

Running Game Thoughts: Right now, Najee Harris (28-188-1) is the only consistent part of Pittsburgh’s offense. He accounted for 206 of the team’s 313 yards in Week 17. He posted 107 yards on Dec. 5 against Baltimore but did not find the end zone. If there’s one thing Baltimore’s defense can still hang its hat on, it’s stopping the run, and to that end they lead the league at just 84.8 yards allowed per game. Even with that, Harris is playable as an RB1.

Value Meter:
RB1: Najee Harris
WR2: Chase Claypool
Flex: Ray-Ray McCloud
TE1: Pat Freiermuth
Bench: Ben Roethlisberger, Diontae Johnson (IR-COVID)

Passing Game Thoughts: While John Harbaugh continues to suggest we may see Lamar Jackson (ankle) back under center in Week 18, those words should be taken well salted as the former MVP was called a game-time decision back in Week 15 and hasn’t taken the field since Dec. 12. As such, expect Tyler Huntley to get the call. In his four starts, Huntley has averaged 225 yards passing, 53 yards rushing and 1.25 total TDs. In a week where a lot of teams may sit their QBs, Huntley should offer QB1 value.

Mark Andrews (6-89-0) continues to stake his claim as one of the top tight ends in the NFL, producing week after week through quarterback injuries even as those around him fade. He belongs in the conversation for the top TE drafted in 2022 and is a high-end TE1 in the finale. Marquise Brown (ankle) showed up on the injury report Thursday as a DNP, throwing his availability into question. Although his numbers have dropped off markedly since the early parts of the season, he’s still a WR3 if active.

On the strength of their nine-sack performance on Monday night, the Steelers now lead the league with 52 sacks. TJ Watt has 21.5 of those, bringing him within one of the NFL sack record held by Michael Strahan. In terms of yardage allowed, Pittsburgh is 12th at 220.3 per game. If Brown can’t go, Rashod Bateman (7-58-0) would ascend into flex position or maybe even a low-end WR3.

PIT FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.16
PIT FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.8
PIT FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.18
PIT FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.23

Running Game Thoughts: Facing a stout Rams front, Devonta Freeman (14-76-0) and Latavius Murray (11-31-0) teamed with Huntley (6-54-0) to average 5.2 yards per carry last Sunday. That bodes well for them in Week 18. Whereas LA ranks sixth against the run, Pittsburgh is 31st, yielding 139.6 yards per game on 4.8 yards per carry. That gives Freeman value as an RB2/RB3 with Murray checking in as a flex.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tyler Huntley
RB2/RB3: Devonta Freeman
Flex: Latavius Murray
WR3: Marquise Brown (inj-ankle)
TE1: Mark Andrews
Bench: Lamar Jackson (inj-ankle), Rashod Bateman

Prediction: Ravens 24, Steelers 20 ^ Top

Bengals @ Browns - (Green)
Line: CLE -6.0
Total: 38.0

Passing Game Thoughts: All Joe Burrow (knee) has done in the past two weeks is pass for 971 yards and 8 TDs without an interception. He limped off the field in the closing moments last Sunday, however, following an odd sequence of play calls that ended in a game-winning field goal. While the injury is not believed to be serious, Burrow won’t play in the finale, turning the offense over to Brandon Allen, who made five starts a year ago. Allen averaged 185 yards, 1 TD and 0.8 INTs per game.

With Burrow out, you wonder how much Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins will play this Sunday, if at all. Chase was unstoppable against the Chiefs, catching 11 passes for 266 yards and 3 TDs in a game he almost singlehandedly turned the tide of. Higgins was quieter, posting a 3-62-0 line, but he’d surpassed 100 yards in four of his previous five games. Tyler Boyd (4-36-1) didn’t do a lot, either, though he did extend his touchdown streak to three games.

Cleveland ranks sixth in pass defense at 208.5 yards per game, and they held up their end against the Steelers this past Monday night, limiting Ben Roethlisberger to a measly 2.7 yards per attempt. With Burrow out and uncertainty surrounding how much the top three wideouts will play, you’d do well to avoid them all. Of that group, however, Boyd seems the most likely to see extended action.

CLE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.22
CLE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.17
CLE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.24
CLE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.16

Running Game Thoughts: Burrow isn’t the only Joe taking a seat in Week 18 as Joe Mixon (illness) was placed on COVID IR and has been ruled out. That should mean lots of Samaje Perine, who played well in the two games he saw extended action this season, posting 158 yards and 2 TDs in Weeks 5 and 7 combined. Cleveland struggled with Najee Harris on MNF and now sit 16th against the run (111.1 yards per game). Perine could be used as an RB2.

Value Meter:
RB2: Samaje Perine
WR3/Flex: Tyler Boyd
Bench: Joe Burrow (inj-knee), Joe Mixon (IR-COVID), Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins

Passing Game Thoughts: After being sacked nine times in Week 17, Baker Mayfield (shoulder) was placed on IR so he could film more Progressive ads... or undergo labrum surgery... or maybe both. Reports differ. Case Keenum is now in line to make his second start of the season. He passed for 199 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs in a Week 7 win over the Broncos and like as not will provide steadier play at the position than Mayfield has for most of the 2021 campaign.

Jarvis Landry (4-43-0) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (3-76-0) led the way for Cleveland’s scuffling passing attack on Monday night. Landry has seen 10 targets in three of his last four games, marking a nice uptick in work after some lean early months, even though he’s only topped 60 yards once in that stretch. Peoples-Jones continues to function as a hit-or-miss deep threat, averaging 18.0 yards per reception on the season.

While Cincinnati’s pass defense ranks an unimpressive 27th on the year, allowing 253.2 yards per game, they did a nice job of staunching the bleeding against the Chiefs last Sunday when Patrick Mahomes and company managed just three second-half points. Feel free to pencil in Landry as a midrange WR3 for the season finale while DPJ could fit in as a flex flier.

CIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.15
CIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.12
CIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.19
CIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.4

Running Game Thoughts: Despite the insistence of the Monday Night Football crew, Nick Chubb (12-58-0) ran sparingly against Pittsburgh, rarely probing the soft underbelly of their run defense. He’s banged up, reportedly dealing with a rib injury, but for now it appears he’ll start in Week 18 against a Bengals defense he gashed for 137 yards and 2 TDs back on Nov. 7. Kareem Hunt (ankle) hasn’t been ruled out, but it’d be surprising to see him back after missing the last three games.

D’Ernest Johnson (5-13-0) is the wild card here. Depending on the health of Chubb and Hunt, he could see a lot of work if he clears the COVID protocol. Johnson posted 168 yards and a touchdown in Keenum’s other start and would be worth rolling the dice on if he’s active. Cincy is fifth in the league in run defense (96.1 yards per game), but they’re like to rest some key defensive personnel in this one.

Value Meter:
RB2: Nick Chubb
Flex: D’Ernest Johnson (IR-COVID)
WR3: Jarvis Landry
Flex: Donovan Peoples-Jones
Bench: Baker Mayfield (IR), Kareem Hunt (inj-ankle)

Prediction: Browns 24, Bengals 12 ^ Top

Washington at Giants - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: WAS -7.0
Total: 38.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Washington HC Ron Rivera named Taylor Heinicke the starter for Week 18, but it’s based more on final evaluation than merit. Heinicke has just five TD’s and six INT’s over the last five weeks and hasn’t surpassed 250 passing yards since Week 10. He’s playing for Washington’s backup spot in 2022.

His arsenal of weapons isn’t exactly helping him. Terry McLaurin, who is coming off one of his best games of the season with eight targets, is about the only legitimate target still on the field. With Ricky Seals-Jones likely to still be in concussion protocols, the team is down to John Bates at TE, but it’s safe to say the Washington passing game shouldn’t be on your radar if you’re still competing as a fantasy owner.

NYG FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.18
NYG FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.9
NYG FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.11
NYG FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.18

Running Game Thoughts: Antonio Gibson is fresh off the Covid list, but is still dealing with a hip injury that has severely limited his practice time. He has played through injury for much of the second half of the season, but given that Washington is out of the playoff picture, don’t be surprised to see Jaret Patterson, who has 110 yards on 25 carries and two scores over the last three games.

Value Meter:
RB2: Antonio Gibson (low-end, if he plays)
WR2: Terry McLaurin (low-end)
TE2: John Bates (high-end)
FLEX: RB Jaret Patterson
BENCH: QB Taylor Heinicke, RB Jonathan Williams, WR DeAndre Carter, WR Curtis Samuel, TE Ricky Seals-Jones

Passing Game Thoughts: Mike Glennon suffered a hand injury in the Week 17 loss to the Bears and will undergo surgery, leaving the reins to Jake Fromm, who managed just 25 passing yards and an interception in his first start a couple weeks ago.

Kadarius Toney and Darius Slayton are both likely out due to injury, leaving Kenny Golladay as the only healthy starter. But that doesn’t matter if the QB can’t get him the ball, and that seems like the likeliest scenario here. If anyone is going to catch passes it will be TE Evan Engram who should provide a nice security blanket for Fromm if the Giants do decide to throw.

WAS FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.1
WAS FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.25
WAS FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.2
WAS FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.13

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants completely gave up on the passing game last week, which led to a spike in carries for both Saquon Barkley and Devontae Booker. Now that the backup QB is down and No.3 is stepping up behind center, it figures to be a similar game plan this week. But given the fact that the two backs are essentially splitting carries, the ceiling for both will be limited.

Value Meter:
RB2: Saquon Barkley (low-end)
RB3: Devontae Booker (mid-range)
TE2: Evan Engram (low-end)
FLEX: WR Kenny Golladay
BENCH: QB Jake Fromm

Prediction: Washington 13, Giants 3 ^ Top

Bears @ Vikings - (Green)
Line: MIN -5.5
Total: 44.0

Passing Game Thoughts: Chicago’s quarterback carousel continues to spin with Justin Fields (illness) initially being announced as the starter for the first time since Week 15 due to an ankle injury only for the team to pivot back to Andy Dalton after Fields landed on the COVID list. Dalton started last Sunday, one week after Nick Foles led the team to victory in Seattle, and threw for 173 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT in an easy win over the woeful Giants. His fantasy appeal is nil against the Vikings.

Darnell Mooney (7-69-1) led the team in receiving once again in Week 17, and he now finds himself just 71 yards away from a 1,000-yard season. In a game that holds little meaning, this is the type of statistical milestone that coaches often emphasize so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dalton target Mooney frequently in the finale. That gives the second-year wideout borderline WR2/WR3 value. Chicago’s most recent 1,000-yard receiver, Allen Robinson, will likely be playing his final game for the club. A-Rob never meshed with Fields and will doubtless be looking for greener pastures in 2022.

One name to watch for next season is Cole Kmet (3-25-0), who had solid numbers but somehow never caught a touchdown pass despite checking in at 6-foot-6. He could be a desperation TE1 this Sunday. With their season on the line Monday night, the Vikings allowed 307 yards passing to Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love, and they failed to register a sack in 42 attempts. For the season, the Vikings rank 26th in pass defense (252.1 yards per game) with only three teams having allowed more TD passes.

MIN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.5
MIN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.10
MIN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.1
MIN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.24

Running Game Thoughts: Considering how thoroughly they beat the Giants, you would have expected better production from Chicago’s offense. Instead, David Montgomery turned his 22 carries into just 64 yards, albeit with a pair of touchdowns. Expect a big dose of Montgomery in Week 18 as well after the Packers averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 32 rushes Sunday night. He’s an RB1 versus the 27th-ranked run D.

Value Meter:
RB1: David Montgomery
WR2/WR3: Darnell Mooney
Bench: Justin Fields (IR-COVID), Allen Robinson, Cole Kmet

Passing Game Thoughts: With Kirk Cousins on COVID IR, Sean Mannion was tasked with saving Minnesota’s season. It didn’t go well. Cousins is back to start the finale in what could serve as the final chapter of this era of Vikings football with the quarterback, head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman all potentially coming to the end of their run. Although Cousins has had a solid season overall, he scuffled down the stretch, including his miserable Week 15 effort against the Bears where he threw for just 87 yards while being sacked four times. He’s a low-end QB1 this Sunday.

With Cousins less effective, Justin Jefferson has seen his numbers erode as well. After averaging 101 yards per game during his first 12 outings this season, JJ has seen that number drop to 75 yards over his last four. He’s still the lynchpin of the passing game, though, and a quality WR1 in Week 18. One positive item for 2021 was the development of K.J. Osborn (3-50-1), who has scored in four of the last five weeks. It’s fair to wonder if Osborn’s growth could have the Vikings reconsidering Adam Thielen’s role with the club going forward. For this Sunday, Osborn can function as a WR3.

After holding the Giants to *checks notes* negative-six yards passing last Sunday, the Bears are now one of just four clubs allowing less than 200 yards per game through the air. They had similar success with Cousins in Soldier Field, and there’s actually a bit of swagger emanating from Chicago’s defense right now. That injects some downside potential into all three Vikings fantasy options.

CHI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.20
CHI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.15
CHI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.23
CHI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.26

Running Game Thoughts: With Mannion under center, everyone knew the Vikings needed to lean on Dalvin Cook. Green Bay knew that as well, and they shut it down completely, holding the talented back to just 13 yards on 12 total touches. The Bears made him work for it in their previous meeting as well, limiting Cook to 91 yards on 30 combined touches. While many teams might consider working Alexander Mattison into the gameplan more to save a little wear and tear on Cook, that hasn’t been Minnesota’s style so don’t expect it to change. Play Cook as an RB1 here.

Value Meter:
QB1: Kirk Cousins
RB1: Dalvin Cook
WR1: Justin Jefferson
WR3: K.J. Osborn
Bench: Alexander Mattison, Adam Thielen (IR), Tyler Conklin

Prediction: Bears 24, Vikings 23 ^ Top

Titans @ Texans - (Swanson)
Line: TEN -10.5
Total: 42.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Tannehill and the Titans are one win away from securing the No.1 seed in the AFC. That is a pretty impressive feat, considering the team lost all-pro running back Derrick Henry to a foot injury mid-season.

It is also impressive when you consider the fact that Julio Jones has been an unmitigated bust, and A.J. Brown has been up and down both on the field and with various injuries. Add in the fact that Ryan Tannehill averaged nearly three fewer points per game than last season, and you have a team that should be fighting for a playoff spot, not honing in on the first-overall seed.

If Mike Vrabel is not your 2021 coach of the year, I would be shocked.

Tannehill is very much in play in this game against a Houston defense that ranks 11th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. If Trey Lance can put up 249 and 2, you would think Tannehill could put up a similar stat line.

You are starting A.J. Brown without question, with the hope of a bounce back after last week’s disappointing 2/41 day. I would not expect 11/145/1 as he did against the 49ers back in Week 16, but 8/100/1 is well within reach.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Chester Rodgers will see around 70% of snaps, but they are more boom/bust plays.

Twenty different wide receivers have topped ten fantasy points this year against Houston, a defense void of playmakers at all three levels.

HOU FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.14
HOU FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.3
HOU FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.17
HOU FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.10

Running Game Thoughts: The Titans started the 21-day clock on Derrick Henry returning to the team from a broken foot. Based on a video posted on social media showing King Henry running without pain and going through drills, it is fairly certain he will be activated come playoff time.

Technically, Henry could play this week if they fully activate him, but we doubt that will happen. Look for D’Onta Foreman to get the start again and carry the majority of the load against the Texans.

Foreman is a strong play in this matchup and would make for a solid RB2 for any team. Only the Jets and Lions have given up more fantasy points to running backs than the Texans, and Foreman should be in line for around 100 rushing yards and a score.

Value Meter:
QB1: Ryan Tannehill (Low-End)
RB2: D’Onta Foreman (High-End)
WR1: A.J. Brown (Low-End)
WR3: Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (Low-End)
TE2: Geoff Swaim (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: Davis Mills has more 300-yard passing games this season than his counterpart in this game, Ryan Tannehill. Considering the fact that the Texans have just one good skill position player in Brandin Cooks, a subpar offensive line, and a mediocre defense, Mills has quietly been pretty good in his rookie season.

For the Texans to pull off the upset and win this game, Mills will need to pass the ball a ton and limit his mistakes and turnovers. The Titans boast the best run defense in the league and a resume filled with some of the best running backs in the league struggling to move the ball.

With all due respect to Rex Burkhead, we do not see him having much success running the ball against this front seven.

Cooks is a solid play and should be in your lineup, regardless of the type of league scoring. We like him more in PPR, but he still is a strong play in standard.

The rest of the Texans should be on your bench. Nico Collins looks like a promising young player. Chris Conley is a savvy veteran who has big-play ability, and Rex Burkhead is a valuable receiver out of the backfield. All three should be avoided.

TEN FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.11
TEN FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.31
TEN FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.3
TEN FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.27

Running Game Thoughts: You have to love the fact if you are a Rex Burkhead manager that the veteran tailback has averaged 18 carries per game dating back to Week 15, including 22/149/2 against the Chargers.

The former Patriot had 16 against Jacksonville back in Week 15 and 16 again this past week against the 49ers. He will likely get around that workload against the Titans. However, they will likely be empty carries based on the challenging matchup the Titans present to running backs.

Only James Robinson has topped the 100-yard mark vs. Vrabel’s defense, and even the venerable Jonathan Taylor managed just 70 rushing yards back in Week 8.

The bottom line is you are going to be frustrated if you start Rex and he does not score because the yards will not likely be there on Sunday.

Value Meter:
QB2: Davis Mills (Low-End)
RB3: Rex Burkhead (Low-End)
WR2: Brandin Cooks (Low-End)
WR4: Nico Collins (Low-End)
TE2: Pharaoh Brown (Low-End)

Prediction: Tennessee 30, Houston 10 ^ Top

Colts @ Jaguars - (Swanson)
Line: IND -15.5
Total: 44.0

Passing Game Thoughts: After a disappointing home loss to the Raiders, the Colts are faced with a must-win road game against the Jaguars. When faced with a must-win game, taking on the worst team in the league, even on the road, is not the worst thing in the world.

But the Colts still need to take care of business and not let this golden opportunity to make the playoffs slip through their fingers.

For those with a Week 18 championship, the matchup for the Colts passing game weapons is excellent. On the year, the Jags have given up the 5th-most points to opposing wide receivers and the 6th-most to opposing quarterbacks.

Nine opposing quarterbacks topped 20 fantasy points against the Jags this season, including Zach Wilson and Mac Jones, in the past two weeks. However, the quarterback who put up the fewest points this season against Jacksonville is Carson Wentz, who threw for just 180 yards and no scores in Indy’s Week 10 win.

Wentz should fare better this week, assuming he is back to full strength after dealing with COVID. He is not a great start and should be viewed as a high-end QB2, but Michael Pittman Jr. and T.Y. Hilton should be in lineups as WR2 and Flex options, respectively.

Hilton is not getting enough volume in the passing game to be a trusted WR3, with 11 total targets dating back to Week 13. However, he does have a score in each of the last two games and could be a boom or bust flex in deeper leagues.

There are no injuries in the passing game for the Colts or the secondary of the Jags that would affect the outcome.

JAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.12
JAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.19
JAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.5
JAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.20

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Taylor passed Edgerrin James on the Colts single-season all-time rushing list. Taylor is in the discussion with Cooper Kupp for fantasy MVP honors, with over 2000 total yards and 20 combined touchdowns.

You are starting Taylor with zero doubts. The Colts are a run-first team and will want to regain their identity after a disappointing home loss to the Raiders. Look for Taylor to surpass 150 total yards and notch at least one touchdown.

Taylor posted 21/116/1 against the Jags back in Week 10 and should easily match that total again this week.

Value Meter:
QB2: Carson Wentz (High-End)
RB1: Jonathan Taylor (Elite)
WR2: Michael Pittman Jr. (Low-End)
WR3: T.Y. Hilton (Low-End)
TE2: Mo Alie-Cox (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: It must have burned Trevor Lawrence to his core watching fellow rookie Mac Jones dominate the Jags last week with three passing touchdowns in route to a 50-point shellacking.

There are times when the top quarterback in the draft lucks out and lands in a good spot, like Kyler Murray or Andrew Luck. There are other times when the top QB lands in a dumpster fire like Jacksonville and never recovers.

Hopefully, for Lawrence’s sake, the Jags get the right coach who can help turn around the franchise and get him on the right track.

Despite playing in all 16 games this season, Lawrence ranks 22nd in total fantasy points scored on the season by a quarterback. Russell Wilson, who was plagued by an injury to a finger on his throwing hand, outscored Lawrence by six points despite playing in three fewer games.

There is no situation in which you would want to play Lawrence unless you are in a deep 14-team super flex league. Otherwise, keep him on the waiver wire and hope he can provide enough offense in the passing game to help the Jacksonville run game.

If forced to start a wide receiver on this team, the play would be Laquon Treadwell. The former first-round use has at least 50 receiving yards in each game, dating back to week 12. He also, unfortunately, has not scored a touchdown in 2021.

The Colts will likely be without starting cornerback Xavier Rhodes due to a hamstring injury. His absence would boost the value of Jags wideouts, but not enough to make them start-worthy in standard 12-team leagues.

IND FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.9
IND FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.26
IND FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.14
IND FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.3

Running Game Thoughts: Dare Ogunbowale and Ryquell Armstead shared the rushing duties for the Jags with James Robinson out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Neither player did much in the 50-10 beatdown in Foxboro last week, but Ogunbowale did register a receiving touchdown and 32 receiving yards.

Ogunbowale played on 66% of snaps compared to 30% for Armstead and did lead the team in carries.

The Colts do have a strong defense, but they are far from a unit to avoid. They have given up six total touchdowns to running backs since Week 12, including a solid performance last week by Josh Jacobs in which Jacobs posted 80 total yards and a score.

Ogunbowale is a nice flex option for owners looking for a running back flex play this week.

Value Meter:
QB2: Trevor Lawrence (Low-End)
RB3: Dare Ogunbowale (High-End)
WR3: Laquon Treadwell (Low-End)
WR3: Marvin Jones (Low-End)
TE2: Luke Farrell (Low-End)

Prediction: Indianapolis 34, Jacksonville 10 ^ Top

Packers @ Lions - (Green)
Line: GB -3.5
Total: 44.5

Passing Game Thoughts: With a chance to clinch the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye last Sunday night, Aaron Rodgers calmly went about his business, connecting on 29 of his 38 passes for 288 yards and a pair of TDs (much of it coming in the first half) before taking a seat and letting Jordan Love finish up. Expect the two quarterbacks to split the duties once again in Week 18, though how playing time will be divvied up is unclear. As such, it renders both essentially unplayable against the Lions.

It would follow that Davante Adams (11-136-1) would play for as long as Rodgers is out there before spending the rest of the game on the sidelines. Adams is just 22 yards away from breaking Jordy Nelson’s franchise record for receiving yards in a season, so that might be a milestone to target. Look for Adams to play long enough and be involved at a level to warrant taking a chance on him as a WR3. Allen Lazard (6-72-1) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (1-3-0) may see limited burn as well, making both flex plays. MVS, in particular, might see some shot plays from Rodgers after the two couldn’t connect during the Sunday night win over Minnesota.

The Lions enter Week 18 ranking 25th against the pass at 244 yards per game allowed, and they don’t have the personnel to really challenge Green Bay’s passing attack -- that might be one reason Matt LaFleur feels comfortable getting key players some work in a game that holds no postseason relevance. Detroit gave up 51 points to a shaky Seattle offense last weekend, and they may already be looking ahead to the offseason.

DET FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.13
DET FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.5
DET FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.15
DET FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.9

Running Game Thoughts: Although there’s no definitive right answer, the one-two punch of Aaron Jones (8-76-0) and AJ Dillon (14-63-2) may have supplanted Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt as the NFL’s best duo. Both players are capable receivers as well. Detroit is 28th against the run and had no answer for Rashaad Penny in Week 17, so if the Packers are looking to shorten the game, they could certainly lean on the ground attack. Even still, that might simply mean a lot of Patrick Taylor (6-18-0), so don’t view Jones or Dillon as more than risk/reward flex plays.

Value Meter:
Flex: Aaron Jones
Flex: AJ Dillon
WR2/WR3: Davante Adams
Flex: Allen Lazard
Flex: Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Bench: Aaron Rodgers (inj-toe)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jared Goff (knee) has missed the past two games, one on the COVID list and one with a knee issue, but he’s been improving and could return in Week 18. If not, Tim Boyle would be in line for his fourth start. The former Packers backup has looked more comfortable with each outing, though he did toss three interceptions last week in a 51-29 loss to Seattle. No matter who gets the starting nod, you wouldn’t want either one in your fantasy lineup.

One player you absolutely do want out there is Amon-Ra St. Brown (8-111-1), who has put together a strong rookie campaign, particularly after his role increased following the season-ending injury to T.J. Hockenson (hand). St. Brown has caught 43 passes over his last five games with four TDs in that time. Josh Reynolds should be back this Sunday after missing Week 17 on the COVID list. He’s averaged 49 yards per game since joining the Lions and could be used as a flex.

Green Bay has generally done solid work against the pass, ranking ninth in the NFL in yards allowed (213.7 per game) and fifth in interceptions (18). The question here is who will play? And how much? That applies both to defensive backs and pass rushers as the Packers may not want to put more miles on the likes of Rashan Gary and Kenny Clark. One player that might return to get his feet wet is Jaire Alexander (shoulder), who hasn’t played since Week 4 due to a shoulder injury.

GB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.6
GB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.23
GB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.25
GB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.12

Running Game Thoughts: D’Andre Swift (4-32-0) returned to action last Sunday after being out since Thanksgiving with a shoulder injury of his own. He played sparingly, though, and there’s no reason to expect a heavy workload this Sunday, either. Jamaal Williams (11-22-1) spent his four seasons with the Packers, and he could serve as the de facto primary back in Week 18. Although they did a nice job in Week 17, the Packers have had their struggles against the run, sitting 13th at 109.8 yards allowed per game. Both backs for Detroit could function in that RB3/flex area.

Value Meter:
RB3: D’Andre Swift
Flex: Jamaal Williams
WR1/WR2: Amon-Ra St. Brown
Flex: Josh Reynolds
Bench: Jared Goff (inj-knee)

Prediction: Packers 27, Lions 16 ^ Top

Jets at Bills - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: BUF -16.0
Total: 41.0

Passing Game Thoughts: The New York hype machine was pushing Zach Wilson again this week. What they forgot to mention is that his solid effort came against half a Buccaneers defense. He’s a marginal NFL quarterback and not fantasy-worthy this late in the season.

The other problem is no one can be sure who he’ll be throwing to. Braxton Berrios, who has been making the most of his opportunities over the last month is highly questionable to play at this point. Elijah Moore may or may not play. Jamison Crowder could be a target hog if he’s ready to go, but are you willing to take that big a risk at this point? It’s just one humble opinion, but this pass attack, against a dominant Bills defense, in the January cold of Orchard Park, should be a complete pass-over for owners.

BUF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.16
BUF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.32
BUF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.29

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Carter suffered a concussion but seems to be making a remarkable run through the protocols and could be ready for Sunday. If he is, he’s a solid RB2 and the heartbeat of this offense.

Value Meter:
RB2: Michael Carter (low-end)
TE2: Tyler Kroft (low-end)
FLEX: RB Ty Johnson, WR Keelan Cole
BENCH: QB Zach Wilson, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Jamison Crowder, WR Braxton Berrios, WR Elijah Moore

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Allen had a tough game last week, but this Jets defense, despite a solid showing against a depleted Bucs team last week, will be overmatched. Allen tossed two touchdowns and notched 366 yards on 75% passing against these Jets in Week 10. Allen might be the top QB play in fantasy this week. This figures to be a veritable victory lap for Allen and the Bills.

The receiving corps is loaded. Stefon Diggs has had at least seven targets in nine of the last ten games, including three 13-target games. He also has seven TD’s in that span. He’s a WR1 in all formats. Cole Beasley and Gabe Davis are back in the lineup and figure as low end WR2/WR3 options. Isaiah McKenzie doesn’t get a lot of looks, but he is definitely a top option for Allen around the goal line. Emmanuel Sanders figures to be out again this week, which could mean a boost in targets for TE Dawson Knox. Weather and game plans have limited him in recent weeks, but the Jets offer a get-right opportunity, and Knox always seems to be a threat to score in the red zone.

NYJ FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.7
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.1
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.22
NYJ FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.6

Running Game Thoughts: Devin Singletary has locked in as the main mail carrier in Buffalo, and in cold weather at the end of the season, the Bills are happy to let him deliver. He’s coming off his first 100-yard game of the season, and over the last three games is averaging 4.0 yards per carry with four touchdowns.

Value Meter:
QB1: Josh Allen (high-end)
RB1: Devin Singletary (low-end)
WR1: Stefon Diggs (low-end)
WR2: Cole Beasley (low-end)
WR3: Gabriel Davis (low-end)
TE1: Dawson Knox (mid-range)
FLEX: WR Isaiah McKenzie
BENCH: RB Zack Moss, RB Matt Breida

Prediction: Bills 32, Jets 10 ^ Top

Saints @ Falcons - (Swanson)
Line: NO -3.5
Total: 40.0

Passing Game Thoughts: It is impressive that the Saints are one win away from making the playoffs, considering all of the things they had to overcome. They started the season displaced from a hurricane, Drew Brees is no longer there, Jameis Winston suffered a season-ending knee injury and numerous COVID-19 breakouts.

Somehow the team managed to weather the storm and look primed to make the playoffs as favorites against the Falcons on Sunday.

From a fantasy perspective, the Falcons present a plus-plus matchup for quarterback Taysom Hill. Atlanta has given up the 4th-most points to opposing QBs in 2021, with seven players topping 20 fantasy points.

When the two teams played back in Week 9, Trevor Siemian threw for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Hill did not do much in last week’s game against Carolina, with 222 passing yards and a score. We anticipate more production in both the passing and running game, with a solid chance of Hill delivering a top-10 performance.

The team got a shot in the arm with the return of speedy wide receiver Deonte Harris from suspension. Harris gives the team another downfield threat next to Marquez Callaway, although, of the two, Callaway is the better play this week.

Callaway posted six catches for 97 yards on a team-high ten targets against Carolina after going 6/112 two weeks ago against the Bucs.

Tre’Quan Smith continues to be limited with a chest injury, while starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk logged a limited practice with his knee injury.

ATL FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.4
ATL FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.7
ATL FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.8
ATL FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.21

Running Game Thoughts: Alvin Kamara has not been the dominant fantasy force like we have seen in years past, as the lack of a passing threat from Drew Brees has closed up many of the holes in the defense Kamara previously exploited.

His 3.6 yard per carry average is a full yard worse than the lowest point of his career, and he has just four rushing touchdowns in 12 games. By comparison, Kamara had six rushing touchdowns in his monster Christmas Day performance against the Vikings last season.

Despite his disappointing overall stats, you are starting Kamara and should expect around 100 total yards and a score. The days of monster games might be behind us, but he is still a threat whenever he touches the ball and does have five receiving touchdowns on the year.

The Falcons have given up the 9th-most points to running backs over the previous five weeks, including 110/2 to Devin Singletary and the Bills. While we don’t anticipate a monster game from Kamara, posting a similar stat line to Singletary’s is well within reach.

Value Meter:
QB1: Taysom Hill (Low-End)
RB1: Alvin Kamara (Low-End)
WR3: Marquez Callaway (Low-End)
WR4: Deonte Harris (Low-End)
TE2: Adam Trautman (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Falcons enter the regular-season finale as the No.27 ranked scoring offense in the league at 18.3 points per game, just behind the Jets and the Bears. Not exactly the type of performance owner Arthur Blank expected when he brought over offensive coordinator Arthur Smith from the Titans to be the team’s new head coach.

Of the ten quarterbacks who managed to play a full 16-game season, only Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence have put up fewer fantasy points than Matt Ryan. Considering that Ryan, at age 37, is the 10th-highest-paid QB in the league, Blank is not getting his money’s worth from his quarterback.

It’s not all Ryan’s fault. The Atlanta offensive line is dreadful, his star wide receiver Calvin Ridley left the team and is still dealing with personal issues and the team struggled to run the ball.

On a positive note, rookie tight end Kyle Pitts looks like a budding star, and veteran journeyman Cordarrelle Patterson turned into an offensive force, both receiving and rushing the ball.

Pitts missed practice on Wednesday and is dealing with a hamstring injury. If he is able to log a full practice on Friday, he should be in your lineup. If not, you should consider finding a backup tight end for your Week 18 title game.

Patterson is a must-start, but the stout Saints run defense could limit his production on the ground. Patterson managed just ten yards on nine carries in the first matchup but more than made up for it with 126 receiving yards.

NO FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.21
NO FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.32
NO FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.10
NO FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.25

Running Game Thoughts: Only the Texans and the Dolphins have averaged fewer rushing yards per game than the Falcons in 2021. Mike Davis ranks 34th at the position, with 473 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in 16 games.

In a strong matchup, Davis has proven to be a risky play. In a game like this against a stout run defense like the Saints, he should be considering an incredibly risky play.

Davis ran the ball nine times for 13 yards against New Orleans back in Week 9. It would not surprise us to see a similar stat line this week.

Value Meter:
QB2: Matt Ryan (Low-End)
RB3: Mike Davis (Low-End)
WR3: Cordarrelle Patterson (Low-End)
WR4: Russell Gage (Low-End)
TE1: Kyle Pitts (Low-End)

Prediction: New Orleans 24, Atlanta 7 ^ Top

Panthers @ Bucs - (Swanson)
Line: TB -8.5
Total: 41.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Darnold took back the starting quarterback job from a struggling Cam Newton, only to lose back-to-back games against the Bucs and the Saints.

In those two contests, Darnold failed to throw a passing touchdown, complete more than 66% of his passes or top 200 yards, and the Panthers offense managed just 16 total points. Darnold now gets another chance at a Buccaneer defense that all but shut him down, and a team looking to bounce back from a close game in which they almost lost on the road to the Jets.

Of course, Darnold should be nowhere near your starting roster, so we will not spend much more time talking about him. The problem is Darnold has been so terrible that he has seriously hurt the value of the pass-catching options on the team.

No wide receiver has topped 100 yards since D.J. Moore did back in Week 12, and no wide receiver has reached the end zone in the past three weeks.

If pressed to start one of the receivers on this team, you would go with Moore based on his volume. Just when we thought Robby Anderson (quad) could have some value after posting ten targets in Week 16, Anderson came crashing down with two catches for 10 yards on two targets.

No team has fewer fantasy points from tight ends than the Panthers, so any thought of rolling out Ian Thomas or Tommy Tremble should be thrown out the window.

TB FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.8
TB FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.29
TB FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.6
TB FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.11

Running Game Thoughts: The running back duo of Ameer Abdullah and Chuba Hubbard combined for 14 rushing yards total against the Bucs back in Week 16. Although they did fair better last week against the Saints, with Hubbard scoring a touchdown with 55 rushing yards, you cannot count on either player in your fantasy playoffs.

The Bucs will create a ton of pressure on Darnold and crowd the line of scrimmage. Once the Tampa offense gets out to a big league, Darnold will be under constant pressure and will commit a few turnovers. This will limit the effectiveness and the ability of the Panthers to run, effectively killing any value for Hubbard or Abdullah.

Value Meter:
QB2: Sam Darnold (Low-End)
RB3: Chuba Hubbard (Low-End)
WR3: D.J. Moore (Low-End)
WR4: Robby Anderson (Low-End)
TE2: Ian Thomas (Low-End)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bucs offense struggled last week on the road against the Jets, with Tom Brady forced to bring the team back from the brink of defeat with a last-minute touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson. It also did not help that Antonio Brown suffered another mental breakdown, leaving the team mid-game, and taking off his uniform, and throwing it into the crowd.

Luckily for Brady and the other Bucs, they have a get-right game at home before the playoffs start. What better way to get back on track than beating up on a terrible team like the Panthers.

From a fantasy perspective for Brady, it is not the best matchup for two reasons. First, the Panthers do have an above-average pass defense that limited opposing QBs to the 6th-fewest points this season. Even Brady himself managed just 14.4 before leaving early in a blowout.

That leads us to our second point. The Bucs are going to win this game by halftime, and Brady may not need to throw a ton based on game script.

Of course, you are starting Brady as he is always an elite option. Just don’t be shocked if he doesn’t put up 401/3 like he did last week.

With the cancer that is Antonio Brown no longer infecting this team, the Bucs can go back to playing their style of the offense without the pariah in the room demanding targets and causing drama.

Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski are elite starts, with the latter posting his second 100-plus yard game in the last four weeks.

Grayson is a nice story, but he is a little too boom or bust to throw in your lineup in this type of game.

CAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.30
CAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.30
CAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.26
CAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.22

Running Game Thoughts: The Bucs inability to run the ball against a Jets team that has been gashed this season was a shock. Ronald Jones managed 26 yards on ten carries before leaving with an ankle injury. Le’Veon Bell and Ke’Shawn Vaughn did not do much better.

Jones is questionable with an ankle injury and will likely miss this game, leaving the team with Vaughn and Bell to carry the load.

Considering those two struggled to move the ball against one of the worst rushing offenses, it is a bit concerning this week that they are taking on a Panthers team that has given up the 4th-fewest.

Jones did have 20/65/1 back in Week 16, so by no means is this a game to avoid. But based on what we saw last week, neither Vaughn nor Bell look super attractive.

Value Meter:
QB1: Tom Brady (High-End)
RB2: Ke’Shawn Vaughn (Low-End)
WR1: Mike Evans (High-End)
TE1: Rob Gronkowski (High-End)

Prediction: Tampa Bay 34, Carolina 7 ^ Top

49ers at Rams - (Caron)
Line: LAR -4.5
Total: 44.5

Passing Game Thoughts: We don’t yet know who will be starting at quarterback for the 49ers in what is a must-win game for them. This past week the team was without Jimmy Garoppolo and we got to see rookie Trey Lance who was at least serviceable as he threw for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns with one interception. He also added eight rushes for 31 yards. While Lance was fine in the victory over Houston, he didn’t flash in any significant way that would definitely force Kyle Shanahan to start him this week. With Garoppolo practicing at least in limited fashion and Shanahan having already shown that he’s willing to go back to him earlier this year, it’s still very possible that we’ll see Garoppolo behind center this week.

The difference in quarterback does mean a significant difference for fantasy, not just for the QBs themselves but also for the pass catching weapons in San Francisco. Tight end George Kittle, in particular, has not yet established a strong connection with Lance. He was targeted just twice this past week and that has to be a concern for anyone who’s got him rostered. Realistically you’re still starting Kittle if you have him, but both his upside and his floor seem to be significantly impacted with Lance behind center.

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was able to catch four of the six passes that game his way for 94 yards this past week, but he has also failed to create much of a connection with Lance. He’s a big enough playmaker to still be in your lineup as a WR3/Flex even if Lance is behind center, but he’s probably closer to a WR2 if it’s Garoppolo.

Deebo Samuel hasn’t done a ton as a receiver when Lance has been behind center, but the 49ers have made a concerted effort to manufacture touches for him whether it is as a receiver or as a runner, regardless of which quarterback is playing. He’s probably the safest of all of these options and he continues to produce ridiculous per-touch statistics that make him a WR1 whether it’s Lance or Garoppolo.

Of course, Lance being the starter this week is a lot more fun if you’re looking for a quarterback to start. He hasn’t shown as much passing ability as Garoppolo, but Lance continues to be one of the league’s most proficient runners at the quarterback position when he’s on the field. He’s ran the ball 24 times in the two starts he’s made this season which adds significant fantasy value. He’s a low-end starter this week even though the Rams defense is very good, because he’s a threat to run the ball for touchdowns any time the team is near the end zone. He’s a scary option against a good LA defense, but his upside is huge. If you’re an underdog in your championship week, he’s a fun option at QB who could crush if things go his way.

LAR FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.26
LAR FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.18
LAR FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.20
LAR FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.19

Running Game Thoughts: Elijah Mitchell made his return to the lineup this past week and, despite his doubters, immediately returned to the bell cow role that he’s had throughout most of the season. Mitchell ran the ball 21 times for 119 yards while also adding a pair of catches and scoring in the receiving game. Mitchell has been one of the league’s best waiver wire additions in 2021 and he should be in line for another heavy workload game here in Week 18 against the Rams.

Los Angeles has been fairly good against opposing running backs this season, but they did allow the dusty duo of Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray to combine for over 100 rushing yards against them this past week. Mitchell is a low-end RB1 in this one and he could deliver another huge week if he’s able to get into the end zone more than once.

Value Meter:
QB1: Trey Lance
RB1: Elijah Mitchell
WR1: Deebo Samuel
WR2: Brandon Aiyuk (if Jimmy Garoppolo starts)
WR3: Brandon Aiyuk (if Lance starts)
TE1: George Kittle
Bench: Jeff Wilson, Jauan Jennings

Passing Game Thoughts: The Rams continue to win, but the “Stafford for MVP” talks have quieted down in recent weeks as the quarterback has struggled a bit, having thrown six interceptions with only five touchdowns over his past three games. Stafford’s fantasy numbers have also dipped over this stretch to the point that he’s back to being just a mid-to-low-level QB1 this week against a good 49ers defense that desperately needs to win.

One player who hasn’t taken a step back, though, is wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Kupp has been absurdly dominant all season long, having put together one of the truly great, consistent fantasy seasons of all-time. He has been a WR1 almost every week while delivering monster, week-winning spike performances. There’s absolutely no question that he’s the WR1 for fantasy right now and he gets to face a 49ers defense that he caught 11 passes for 122 yards against back in Week 10.

Odell Beckham Jr. extended his touchdown streak to five scores in six games and while he’s failed to reach even 40 receiving yards in four of those six games, he’s quickly become one of Stafford’s favorite red zone weapons. It’s hard to rely on him as anything more than a WR3, but he’s pretty solidly in that range.

Van Jefferson has now gone three straight games without a touchdown and it’s become obvious that while he’s still a valued member of the Rams passing attack, he’s taken a back seat to the Kupp/Beckham Jr. duo, particularly in the red zone. That makes him tough to start in fantasy right now.

Tight end Tyler Higbee is the only other fantasy-relevant weapon in the Rams passing game and while he hasn’t been terrible, he really lacks the upside that we’re looking for from a potential game-changing fantasy tight end. Higbee has scored just three times all season and he’s only exceeded 50 yards three times all year.

SF FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.23
SF FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.20
SF FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.12
SF FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.28

Running Game Thoughts: The fact that Cam Akers was a full participant and is expected to play this week is an incredible feather in the cap for modern medicine. Once considered a career-ending injury, Akers ruptured his Achilles’ tendon back in July and has somehow recovered within the same season.

The reality is that we really don’t know what Akers’ usage is going to be in his first game back, but it would make some sense that he would at least be eased in for one week before being fully unleashed in the playoffs. It’s tough to trust Akers given that we don’t know what his workload will be.

As such, we should expect that Sony Michel should continue to be the primary back, although his upside is certainly limited given that Akers should at least get some work. Still, Michel has averaged over 23 touches per game over his past four contests so he’s a pretty safe bet to see enough touches to at least deliver RB2 fantasy numbers this week against the 49ers.

Value Meter:
QB1: Matthew Stafford
RB2: Sony Michel
WR1: Cooper Kupp (high end)
WR3: Odell Beckham Jr.
Bench: Cam Akers, Van Jefferson, Tyler Higbee

Prediction: Rams 24, 49ers 20 ^ Top

Patriots at Dolphins - (Ken Ilchuk)
Line: NE -6.0
Total: 39.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Last week’s blowout win against the Jaguars quickly became a run game clinic for the Pats. As a result, there isn’t much to report from this passing attack. As he has all season, QB Mac Jones has been respectable, but limited and is a low-end option only in deeper formats.

Hunter Henry is a legit TE1, but hasn’t been the TD-maker he was earlier in the season. This week, against a much-improved Miami pass defense, he’s could be in line to lead this team in targets, and if he scores, it’s a bonus. Jakobi Meyers, targeted 28 times (20 catches) over the last three weeks, is the only Patriots receiver with fantasy value. But the Patriots seem to be in run-first mode as they head towards the postseason, so it’s hard to give him more than a WR3 designation.

MIA FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.24
MIA FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.27
MIA FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.13
MIA FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.15

Running Game Thoughts: While the Dolphins have done a much better job defending the pass over the second half of the season, they have been susceptible against the run. Damien Harris scored twice early in Week 17, but has been limited by a hamstring injury since. If he goes, he’s been the workhorse and should serve as a solid RB2. Watch the injury reports this weekend. If he can’t go, Rhamondre Stevenson will step in, coming off a 100-yard effort in relief of Harris last week. They could share the load, which would limit the ceiling for both.

Value Meter:
QB2: Mac Jones (low-end)
RB2: Rhamondre Stevenson (high-end), Damien Harris (high-end, if he plays)
WR3: Jakobi Meyers (low-end)
TE1: Hunter Henry (high-end)
FLEX: RB Brandon Bolden, WR Kendrick Bourne
BENCH: WR Nelson Agholor, WR Kristian Wilkerson, TE Jonnu Smith

Passing Game Thoughts: Tua really struggled in a bad weather game in Nashville last week, but the truth is he’s been less than spectacular for much of the second half of the season. He has only eclipsed 250 passing yards three times this season, and not since Week 11. He’s averaging less than 200 yards per game over the last three weeks with three touchdowns against four interceptions in that span. He’s got very limited fantasy value at this point, especially against Bill Belichick and the Pats’ defense.

Tagovailoa peppered DeVante Parker with 13 targets last week and he only caught four…and did nothing with them. The better option here is Jaylen Waddle. Prior to last week’s rain-soaked debacle, Waddle had four straight games of at least eight catches, and he had at least 90 yards in three of those games. Those represent WR1 numbers, but in a tough matchup, better to line him up as a WR2. TE Mike Gesicki has 71 catches on 109 targets this year, but he has not been the scoring threat he’s been in past seasons.

NE FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.31
NE FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.14
NE FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.28
NE FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.32

Running Game Thoughts: Since Week 15 Duke Johnson has taken over the reins of this run game, rendering Myles Gaskin fantasy irrelevant. Phillip Lindsay has also entered the fray, but not enough to be a fantasy option this late in the season.

Value Meter:
QB2: Tua Tagovailoa (low-end)
RB2: Duke Johnson (high-end)
WR2: Jaylen Waddle (mid-range)
TE1: Mike Gesicki (low-end)
FLEX: RB Myles Gaskin, WR DeVante Parker
BENCH: RB Phillip Lindsay, RB Malcolm Brown, RB Salvon Ahmed, WR Albert Wilson

Prediction: Patriots 17, Dolphins 14 ^ Top

Seahawks at Cardinals - (Caron)
Line: ARI -6.5
Total: 48.0

Passing Game Thoughts: It took a game against the hapless Lions, but Russell Wilson finally woke up this past week! The Seattle QB threw for 236 yards, but more importantly threw four touchdown passes as the Seahawks ran up the score. It was Wilson’s first time throwing for more than two touchdown passes in a game since all the way back in Week 1.

While it was nice to see Wilson back in the QB1 range, it’s hard to believe that he’ll do it again against a very good Arizona defense. The Cardinals held the Cowboys passing game in check this past week and they also held Wilson to just 207 passing yards and no touchdowns when these teams played back in Week 11. This is just not a passing game that anyone should be trusting right now - don’t believe what your eyes told you this past week.

If you want to start a player in the Seattle passing game, DK Metcalf is finally looking like he might be back. He’d been horrible for a good chunk of the middle of the season, but he’s stepped up a bit in recent weeks, having at least turned in double-digit PPR fantasy point performances in four of his past five games. This past week, of course, he’s completely lit the scoreboard up when he caught six passes for 63 yards and three touchdowns against the Lions, but he’ll have a much more difficult matchup against the Cardinals here in Week 18. Arizona held Metcalf to four catches for just 31 yards when these teams played back in Week 11 and he’s probably a touchdown-or-bust WR2 this week.

Wide receiver Tyler Lockett has quietly put together a nice stretch to end the season as he’s scored 12 or more PPR fantasy points in five of his past six games. While he hasn’t really had the huge spike weeks that we’ve come to expect from him, Lockett has been utilized heavily as of late and we should expect that he’ll see a good portion of the Seahawks’ passing targets in this one. He caught four passes for 115 yards against the Cardinals back in Week 11 so there’s some hope that he could put together another nice fantasy game.

ARI FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.25
ARI FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.24
ARI FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.7
ARI FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.31

Running Game Thoughts: 25 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns is the kind of performance that would’ve been almost completely impossible to predict from Rashaad Penny as recently as six weeks ago, but the former first round pick has really taken this opportunity as Seattle’s starter and ran away with the job. Penny has now gone for 135 or more rushing yards in three of his past four games, having scored five touchdowns over that stretch, and he’s a certified RB1 just given his usage.

Sure the Cardinals have been great against opposing running backs, including this past week when they held the Cowboys backfield to just 25 rushing yards, but Penny could see another 20-touch game in this one. It’s hard to look past that type of upside and floor combination.

Value Meter:
QB2: Russell Wilson
RB1: Rashaad Penny
WR2: DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett
Bench: DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, D'Wayne Eskridge

Passing Game Thoughts: Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray disappointed against the Lions in Week 15, but has since turned in back-to-back 20-point performances against good Colts and Cowboys defenses. His solid passing numbers are bolstered by his rushing which has really increased down the stretch as he’s averaging nearly 50 rushing yards per game since coming back from his multi-week injury. The Seahawks are a middle-of-the-pack fantasy defense against quarterbacks this season, but they’ve actually given up some pretty big fantasy games to bad QBs as of late, including a two TD game to Detroit’s Tim Boyle this past week.

With DeAndre Hopkins still out, other receivers have had to step up, the best of which has been Christian Kirk. Kirk has now turned in four straight double-digit PPR games while averaging nine targets per game over that stretch. He’s not a particularly sexy option and he did only catch two passes for 25 yards when these teams met back in Week 11, but that was with Colt McCoy at quarterback so it’s hard to hold that against him. Kirk’s a solid WR3 this week with WR2 upside.

A.J. Green has been less reliable than Kirk but he’s still been much better than many expected heading into the year. He’s only caught four passes over his past two games, though, so it’s probably wise to keep him on your fantasy bench right now while the Cardinals incorporate more pass catching weapons into their offense.

With rookie Rondale Moore sidelined over the past two weeks, it’s been Antoine Wesley who has jumped into fantasy relevance, having caught six passes for 59 yards and three scores while Moore has been out. Wesley is very much a touchdown-or-bust player as he’s not being targeted at a high rate at all and there’s even a possibility that Moore plays this week which would make Wesley irrelevant very quickly, but he’s someone you could consider if you’re in a very deep league. He’s still a bench player in most leagues, however.

Tight end Zach Ertz has been one of Murray’s favorite weapons since he joined the team mid-season and he’s now turned in three straight double-digit PPR days, which is a lot more than most fantasy tight ends can say. More importantly, Ertz has been targeted a whopping 33 times over those three contests so this isn’t some fluky thing. If anything, we should expect that his numbers actually get better if he continues to see this kind of usage. Ertz is a sneaky TE1 fantasy play right now.

SEA FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.17
SEA FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.2
SEA FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.21
SEA FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.8

Running Game Thoughts: Week 17 saw James Conner sidelined for the second straight week which led the way for Chase Edmonds (ribs, toe) to get another opportunity to be the bell cow back for the Cardinals. While Edmonds didn’t deliver anything crazy from a fantasy standpoint against the Cowboys, he has now touched the ball 24 and 23 times in his two games without Conner, which is easily good enough that we would want to rank him as an RB1 if Conner is out again. Follow injury reports over the weekend on Edmonds as he missed practice on Thursday.

Conner is still limited in practice and there’s not a lot of reason for the Cardinals to risk throwing him back into the lineup if he’s not healthy, so we should expect that he’s out yet again this week. If he does play, of course, we have to assume that he’ll be healthy enough to see his usual role as the team’s primary goal line back which has been good enough to make him an RB1 most weeks and an RB2 at worst.

Value Meter:
QB1: Kyler Murray
RB1: Chase Edmonds (if Conner is inactive)
RB2: James Conner
WR3: Christian Kirk
TE1: Zach Ertz
Flex: Chase Edmonds (if Conner is active)
Bench: A.J. Green, Rondale Moore, Antoine Wesley

Prediction: Cardinals 27, Seahawks 20 ^ Top

Chargers at Raiders - (Caron)
Line: LAC -3.0
Total: 49.5

Passing Game Thoughts: Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert remains one of the premier players in fantasy football this season but he’s in a tough spot to continue putting up big numbers this week against the Raiders.

Las Vegas has quietly held four of their past five opponents to fewer than 200 passing yards. While their opponents have been some of the league’s worst passing games including Denver, Cleveland and Washington, the one opponent who did have a great performance was Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes threw for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Raiders back in Week 14. Mahomes is a bit more in line, skills-wise and weapons-wise, with what the Raiders will face here in Week 18 against Herbert and the Chargers.

Herbert himself threw for 222 yards and three touchdowns in an easy win over the Raiders earlier this season. That game saw Mike Williams surprisingly held in check during what was his early-season hot streak. While Williams did get into the end zone this past week, it was only his second touchdown in 10 games and he hasn’t exceeded six receptions in a game since Week 5. That lack of consistency and lack of real upside has brought Williams back down to being just a WR3/Flex down the stretch.

The player who continues to provide consistent fantasy numbers remains Keenan Allen who has now reached double-digit PPR fantasy points in all but one game he’s started this season. He was held in check to just 36 yards when these teams played back in Week 4, but Allen is a no-brainer WR1 right now.

LV FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.27
LV FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.4
LV FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.30
LV FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.7

Running Game Thoughts: We came into the 2021 season with one of the biggest questions surrounding Austin Ekeler being his role as the team’s goal line back. Well, with 18 touchdowns on the year and still a game to go, it seems as though he’s answered that question emphatically. Even though he’s been held to fewer than 70 rushing yards in all but one game this year, Ekeler remains one of the league’s most utilized pass catching backs. When you add that and his touchdowns together, you have an undisputed elite fantasy back who’s poised to finish as a top three player at the position this season.

Ekeler had his best rushing day of the season when he faced the Raiders back in Week 4, rushing for 117 yards and a touchdown while adding three receptions for 28 yards and another score. The Raiders have been terrible against opposing running backs all season and there’s no reason to think that Ekeler won’t finish the regular season strong in this one.

Value Meter:
QB1: Justin Herbert
RB1: Austin Ekeler
WR1: Keenan Allen
WR3: Mike Williams
Bench: Justin Jackson, Jalen Guyton, Josh Palmer, Jared Cook

Passing Game Thoughts: It was another pathetic fantasy performance from Raiders quarterback Derek Carr this past week as he threw for 255 yards and a touchdown but also tossed a pair of interceptions in Las Vegas’ surprising win over Indianapolis. While Carr and the Raiders will take their win, fantasy owners have to be disgusted that the QB has now failed to reach even 13 fantasy points in five straight games and hasn’t thrown multiple touchdown passes in a game since Week 10.

With the Raiders passing game as poor as it has been and tight end Darren Waller still sidelined, it’s really only been Hunter Renfrow who’s been consistent for them this season. Renfrow turned in another nice performance this past week, catching seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Colts. He’s now delivered double-digit PPR fantasy points in all but three games this season. He isn’t particularly exciting to drop in your lineup, but there’s really no denying that Renfrow has been an extremely reliable WR2 who’s also chipped in some WR1 weeks this season. He caught six passes for 45 yards and a touchdown when he faced the Chargers earlier this year and he should again be in line to be a key contributor in the Raiders passing game this week.

The other pass catcher of note, as of late, has been veteran Zay Jones. Jones has shockingly become a serious addition to the Raiders passing game, having been targeted an average of nearly eight times per game over his past six contests. While it hasn’t necessarily resulted in huge fantasy numbers most weeks, Jones has now delivered three straight double-digit PPR fantasy days. He’s not a real exciting option, but the peripheral numbers are there and you could certainly do worse if you’re in a desperate spot at Flex here in Week 18.

Tight end Darren Waller (knee) hasn’t suited up since Thanksgiving and it’s hard to believe that he’ll be back on the field in this one, but if he is then you probably don’t have a significantly better option than him at tight end. He’d be a low-end TE1 with a low floor.

LAC FPts Allowed vs. QBs: No.19
LAC FPts Allowed vs. RBs: No.6
LAC FPts Allowed vs. WRs: No.29
LAC FPts Allowed vs. TEs: No.1

Running Game Thoughts: With 18 or more touches in three straight games, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that running back Josh Jacobs is a bit banged up heading into Week 18. Jacobs will be nursing some sore ribs but he’s expected to suit up against the Chargers. Los Angeles held him in check as he rushed for just 40 yards on 13 carries against them, but it’s also worth considering that Jacobs was playing in his first game after missing two contests, so he was probably not completely ready to take a full workload and perform with it.

While Jacobs hasn’t been a huge disappointment this season, the truth is that he’s been lackluster most weeks. While he’s reached at least 10 PPR fantasy points in every game except one, he’s also failed to reach 20 PPR fantasy points in all but one game this year. That kind of production is typically worthy of a borderline RB2/Flex and that’s about where Jacobs should be this week.

Value Meter:
RB2: Josh Jacobs
WR2: Hunter Renfrow
TE1: Darren Waller (knee)
Flex: Zay Jones
Bench: Derek Carr, Bryan Edwards, DeSean Jackson, Foster Moreau

Prediction: Chargers 27, Raiders 17 ^ Top