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Playoff Week #2 Q&A



By Doug Orth | 12/21/23 |

A few years ago, I decided to use the final Blitz of the season to give fantasy managers a sounding board for their toughest lineup decisions entering their league's fantasy championship game. Given how well the idea was received initially, it only made sense to extend it to all three fantasy playoff weeks last year.

Below are seven reader questions (submitted via Twitter or the FFT forum) and my answers. PPR scoring should be assumed unless otherwise noted. Any other special scoring rules will also appear in the question or immediately thereafter.

easilyscan: Jonathan Taylor (@ ATL) or Devin Singletary (vs. CLE)

Scenario A: Taylor is back for Week 16 and Zack Moss is out. Would you consider Singletary over Taylor? My guess would be a strong no.

Scenario B: Both Moss and Taylor are active. Singletary or Taylor?

Allow me to begin by saying that I believe Taylor (thumb) will play in Week 16 and that Moss (shoulder) will be limited if he is active. My quick answer to both scenarios is that I would start Taylor regardless. Let us dig a bit deeper

Singletary gets a slight bump due to an easier on-paper matchup, but I wonder how much of the Falcons' "dominance" against fantasy running backs means. Since Week 5, Atlanta has faced the Commanders, Bucs (twice), Titans, Vikings, Cardinals, Saints, Jets and Panthers. Except for maybe Minnesota, it is hard to imagine one defense facing so many teams with bad/struggling offensive lines consecutively. Despite that, the Falcons have still surrendered two individual 100-yard rushing efforts and six performances in which a running back amassed 99 total yards. The primary reason Atlanta appears to be stingy against running backs is that it has yet to allow a rushing score to the position all season long (all four running back touchdowns have come through the air). That is an impressive feat regardless of the competition, but it deserves an asterisk considering the competition.

Whereas the Falcons rank second in fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs, Cleveland checks in at 10th. With that said, the Browns' resume is much more impressive. Yes, they have yielded six rushing scores over the last six weeks. They have also faced the Ravens, Steelers, Broncos, Rams, Jaguars and Bears. That may not be a murderers' row of great rushing attacks, but there are some good ones in that bunch. Perhaps the Browns' only blemish in 120 carries by running backs over that stretch was Jaylen Warren's 74-yard TD burst in Week 11. Other than that, Cleveland has done a great job of containing Javonte Williams, Kyren Williams and Travis Etienne - among others - during that span. I also question if the Texans can establish much of anything this week in the likely event C.J. Stroud (concussion) misses another game. The Browns' defense is considerably better than the Titans' and Cleveland's offense is more likely to score than the 16 points Tennessee was able to muster in Week 15. In short, I expect the Texans will be playing from behind this time. Singletary may be able to make for a lack of rushing volume as a receiver, but I would hate to count on that OR rely heavily on a backup quarterback (Case Keenum) to be the one to count on making that happen against a good defense.

Cooper Kupp

MissionCoach: I am desperate for a starting WR3.

I am starting: QB (1) Patrick Mahomes; RB (2) Alvin Kamara and Jahmyr Gibbs; WR (3) Justin Jefferson, DJ Moore and ___; TE (1) ___; FLEX (1) David Montgomery; PK (1) Brandon Aubrey; DST (1) Eagles. Possible pivots include Jordan Love (@ CAR), Chase Brown (@ PIT) and Bears DST (vs. ARI)

My choices for WR3: Demario Douglas (@ DEN), Demarcus Robinson (vs. NO), Parker Washington (@ TB) and Khalil Shakir (@ LAC). Waiver-wire options include Jamal Agnew (@ TB), DJ Montgomery (@ ATL), Trey Palmer (@ TB) and DeVante Parker (@ DEN)

My choices for TE1: Dalton Schultz (vs. CLE), Tucker Kraft (@ CAR) and Chig Okonkwo (vs. SEA)

First off, allow me to ease your mind about the starting lineup. The only change I would consider is swapping out the Eagles DST for the Bears. While answers to football questions are rarely ever simple, Chicago's defense has been playing at a supremely high level since acquiring Montez Sweat. If we exclude his first game with the team (traded on a Tuesday and likely did not do much with the team until Thursday or Friday of that week), Chicago is allowing 17.4 points per game (27.3 before) and 287.4 total yards (341). The Bears are also riding a four-game streak of forcing at least three turnovers (14 since Week 11 versus nine before the Sweat trade). While continuing to force turnovers at that rate is unsustainable, it does point to the upside of this unit. Like Chicago, Philadelphia also has a nice matchup (NYG). With that said, the Eagles had some softer matchups earlier in the season and did not take advantage. One could easily argue facing Drew Lock on Monday night was a soft matchup as well. The Eagles likely finish the season 3-0 with two games against the Giants and one against the Cardinals, but they have lost the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their defense taking advantage of good matchups.

At receiver, the only players I would be considering are Douglas, Robinson and Washington. One of the few things I care about when receivers face Denver is if they are likely to line up across Patrick Surtain II very often. Surtain has logged 25 snaps in the slot all season, while Douglas has played roughly two-thirds of his snaps inside. DeVante Parker is at much greater risk of lining up across from Surtain than Douglas. Robinson has been relatively close to a full-time player over the last four games, presumably because he offers more size on the perimeter than Tutu Atwell and is a better blocker. His recent surge has been fueled by touchdowns, however, as he has yet to top four catches or 55 yards receiving.

The Saints have been good at limiting the upside of receivers all season long - Christian Kirk is the only player to top 20 PPR points against them - and have done an equally good job at holding teams' secondary receivers in check as well. (Only twice all season has New Orleans allowed two receivers to eclipse 10 fantasy points in the same game.) Washington is a real consideration because he should be - at worst - the No. 3 option in the passing game now after Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram and has a beautiful matchup. Perhaps the biggest question with him is whether Trevor Lawrence (concussion) will be cleared to play by Sunday. I do not expect Lawrence to clear the protocol in time, so I would probably lean Douglas in this case. If Lawrence clears, I would prefer Washington.

I am not sure if you have a no-brainer choice among your three tight ends options this week, although I am also not sure if any of them could be considered bad choices either. The Browns are the stingiest defense against tight ends and have been for most of the season, although they have shown some vulnerability by allowing four touchdowns to the position over the last four games. The problem is trusting Schultz to be the most recent tight end to overcome the matchup would require me to believe C.J. Stroud (concussion) will be able to play. Even with all of the recent tight end scores Cleveland has allowed, only Mark Andrews and Evan Engram had what could be considered productive days against the Browns this season. I will pass on Schultz if possible.

The Panthers have been very stingy in their own right against the position, as only Sam LaPorta (19.7) and Luke Schoonmaker (10.3) have reached double figures. Cole Kmet (9.6) came close. While a Green Bay tight end has scored in three of the last four games, the Packers could easily decide to make this game a slugfest and feature the run with Christian Watson (hamstring) and Jayden Reed (toe) unlikely to play. Kraft could pay off with a short TD, but I believe the odds are against it happening. This brings us to Okonkwo, who has yet to score 10 fantasy points in any game this season. With that said, he has by far the easiest matchup of the three tight ends and could have Ryan Tannehill throwing him the ball this weekend. Perhaps more importantly, Okonkwo has been knocking on the door of fantasy relevancy over the last month. Although I do not think he breaks the door down this week, I think his ceiling is higher than it is with the other two.

polecatt: (10 team, PPR, big-play bonus, big bonuses at 100 and 300 yards)

I am starting Justin Jefferson and CeeDee Lamb in my first two receiver spots. However, my third receiver/flex is a bit puzzling this week. All of them play on Thursday night as well (Saints at Rams).

Between Puka Nacua, Cooper Kupp or Chris Olave, which one should I start? I have been starting Nacua over Kupp, but Kupp looks like he is back to his old self.

The good news is I don't think you can go wrong with any of your three choices. Let us look at each of them:

Nacua has excelled in the same kind of role that Robert Woods created for himself in L.A. from 2017-21. From getting after it as a blocker to handling a few carries from time to time, the rookie sensation has a bright long-term future with the Rams. The beauty of his fantasy profile is that he has drawn at least seven targets each time out and topped 50 yards in 10 of 14 games. Unfortunately, all four of those games have come over the last nine contests, which means he has become a bit more of a 50-50 player than his overall WR10 ranking would suggest. Of course, there have been extenuating circumstances in those down performances, such as the running game dominating in both Arizona games, Brett Rypien making a start and Matthew Stafford getting hurt in the game before. Nevertheless, it is mildly concerning that he has not topped five catches since Week 7. That alone would weigh heavily on my decision when my other choices are alphas like Kupp and Olave.

There is no question in my mind that Kupp's body is feeling better. I think it also helps his cause that he has lined up more often in the slot over the last four games than he did at any point before Week 12. Let us break it down week by week:

 Cooper Kupp's Slot Usage by Week
Wk 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 15
Slot % 45.3% 47.4% 50.0% 66.1% 36.7% 55.6% 83.1% 69.4% 78.7% 67.1%

It turns out to be a happy coincidence that I was asked about Demarcus Robinson earlier. Since Robinson's playing time spiked in Week 12, so have Kupp's snaps in the slot. Week 12 was the second Arizona game in which Kyren Williams and Tyler Higbee were targeted on 11 of Stafford's 33 throws and the Rams ran the ball 33 times. Since that game, Kupp has drawn 26 targets - including seven in the red zone. Despite missing four games this year and being injured in several others, Kupp's 13 red zone targets are tied for 25th in the league. That is no small feat and puts him in a tie with Nacua for the team lead. Stafford and Kupp have forged such a bond over the years - and working out of the slot so often is such a huge advantage for a savant like Kupp - that he remains the focal point of the passing game. Alontae Taylor figures to be Kupp's primary matchup on Thursday night, while LCB Paulson Adebo - Pro Football Focus' fourth-ranked corner in coverage - will spend roughly half of his evening locking horns with Nacua.

It is very difficult to get a good read on the Saints' offense this year, outside of Alvin Kamara. A less-than-desirable 70 percent of his targets have been deemed catchable this year - which surprisingly ties him with Kupp and Tee Higgins among others. His 12.8 yards per catch is down from 14.5 last season, but he has already matched last season's 72 receptions and is three targets shy of tying his 119 targets. My bigger concern is that he will be four days removed from being a game-time decision with an ankle sprain. While it appears as though he will be good to go for Thursday and the Rams offer less resistance on paper than the Saints, what confidence do we have in his ability to avoid re-injury? Can Derek Carr put consecutive good games together?

Stafford has already proven he can overcome tough matchups recently (Weeks 13 and 14 against the Browns and Ravens). Considering Kupp is still his favorite option, is apparently healthy and has the best matchup, I would lean toward starting him.

Bills04: Unsure at QB: I am going with Justin Fields (vs. ARI). I also have Kyler Murray (@ CHI). I am worried about the health of Marquise Brown (heel).

Unsure at RB: Currently going with D'Onta Foreman (vs. ARI), Jerick McKinnon (vs. LVR) and Saquon Barkley (vs. PHI). I am debating sitting Barkley for Jerome Ford (@ HOU). Barkley historically struggles in PHI. I am also sitting Bijan Robinson (vs. IND) - can't trust (HC Arthur Smith)!

Instead of playing three RBs, I could also start Calvin Ridley (@ TB), Demario Douglas (@ DEN), Dalton Kinkaid (@ LAC) or Cole Kmet (vs. ARI).

I think you have every right to be worried about Hollywood. He has been playable twice since Week 5. While some of that was a product of not having his college buddy (Murray) still sidelined, Brown has logged only three limited practices and a bunch of DNPs since Week 11. I briefly discussed the Bears defense above with MissionCoach's question, which is one of the main reasons I would rather start a quarterback against a defense that has been lit up by the last four true starting quarterbacks it has faced (Arizona) than one that has given up less than 200 passing yards in three of its last five (Chicago). Possibly being without Brown again makes the choice even easier.

Arthur Smith is Public Enemy No. 1 to many in the fantasy community. I cannot imagine spending the sixth overall pick in a draft and opting to load up my fifth-round pick from the previous season because the latter is supposedly better against loaded boxes or in rough weather - which are two of the reasons that beat writers floated on Twitter earlier this week. With that said, I would continue to start him this week. The conditions that supposedly forced Smith's hand last week will not exist inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Furthermore, the Colts will score on the Falcons, so Robinson will almost certainly be involved in the passing game at the very least. To a lesser degree, the Giants seemed to give Barkley similar treatment last week versus the Saints. Matt Breida was getting more work than usual early and Eric Gray saw his first touches in over two months. I choose to believe Barkley will see more work in the first half this week than he saw all of last week (11 touches). Remember, Kenneth Walker just gouged the Eagles' run defense on Monday night.

Ford is clearly the Browns' best running back right now. HC Kevin Stefanski would probably agree with that statement, but his insistence on letting Kareem Hunt steal 10-plus touches every week is as frustrating as it is bewildering. While Hunt is scoring his fair share of touchdowns, he has yet to top four yards per carry in any game. At this point of the season, Ford is more of a floor play than a ceiling option. Conversely, Foreman is a high-ceiling play this week. While some of Arizona's ineptitude against running backs has come as a result of being in the same division as the 49ers (Christian McCaffrey) and Rams (Kyren Williams), even mediocre defenses don't surrender four individual games of AT LEAST 150 total yards AND a touchdown in the same season. My only fear in this game is that Chicago OC Luke Getsy determines after three or four carries that Foreman does not have the hot hand. The Bears should be working with positive game script throughout, so Foreman could legitimately push for 20 touches if things go according to plan.

I think there is a real chance the Chiefs could reprise McKinnon's second-half role from last season. The problem is things have changed a great deal from last year, as Isiah Pacheco was operating as something of a featured back before missing the last two games due to shoulder surgery. The Chiefs' offense also has not played at a high level for most of the season. It would require an extreme leap of faith for me to start McKinnon over someone like Robinson in hopes one of his seven touches (his season-high total from each of the last two games) will result in a touchdown for the third straight week.

If I am ranking how I think they will finish this week, I will go Robinson-Foreman-Ford-Barkley-McKinnon. Having said that, I don't think I could bench Barkley. I also think I would play Ridley over both, but only if Trevor Lawrence plays. I cannot push for Ridley with C.J. Beathard under center despite such a juicy matchup.

jrokh: Brock Purdy (vs. BAL) or Justin Fields (vs. ARI)?

In the three games the 49ers did not have WR Deebo Samuel and LT Trent Williams healthy from beginning to end, Purdy completed 62.5 percent of his throws and averaged 254 yards passing, one touchdown and 1.7 interceptions. In the other 11, he is completing 72 percent of his throws and averaging 275.7 yards passing, 2.4 passing touchdowns and 0.2 interceptions. Although many of the matchups in the latter group were against questionable competition, Purdy also shredded Dallas for four TDs on just 24 pass attempts. He has also thrown for at least three scores in four of his last six outings. While it is reasonable to expect Purdy to struggle a bit more against the Ravens' stout defense, Matthew Stafford touched up Baltimore's defense for three TD passes two weeks ago. This is a tough matchup for Purdy, but not one that managers need to avoid. The Ravens will likely do a decent job keeping Christian McCaffrey somewhat in check, so I suspect Purdy may attempt a few more throws as well.

Given how well Chicago's defense is playing, the Bears may have the opportunity to beat the Cardinals however they choose because Arizona is poor against the run and pass. For example, they could take this opportunity to see if Fields has made noticeable strides as a passer. Or they could do what most teams in this position would do and run the ball 40-plus times. One of the few good things the Cardinals have done is limit rushing production by quarterbacks (only Daniel Jones has exceeded 35 rushing yards against them), and that is a group that includes Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. I think there is a better chance Chicago tries to pound Arizona into submission with D'Onta Foreman (and maybe Roschon Johnson) than to use this game to evaluate Fields' progress as a passer.

So while Fields has the much easier opponent and rushing upside in his favor, this is one of the few times I will go against both and opt for the player with the superior play-caller and supporting cast in a difficult matchup.

weepaws: Kyren Williams (vs. NO), Alvin Kamara (@ LAR), Jahmyr Gibbs (@ MIN), James Conner (@ CHI) and Chuba Hubbard (vs. GB)? Pick three.

Let me answer this somewhat quickly by saying I believe your first three options are the right ones. I would have no problem eliminating Conner from the discussion. While it was nice to see Arizona committing to the run as much as it did against San Francisco in Week 15, the Bears are one of the few teams who have been almost as stingy against running backs as the 49ers. David Montgomery and Gibbs are the only backs to enjoy much fantasy success against Chicago since the Montez Sweat trade. The Cardinals are also not asking Conner to do much of anything in the passing game this year (18 receiving yards in Week 3 is his season high), so betting on Conner means betting he can score a touchdown for a third straight game.

Hubbard is somewhat interesting in that he is one of the few backs in the league that has the backfield mostly to himself. Packers DC Joe Barry has also consistently proven to be one of the league's worst defensive bosses. While his philosophy (forcing the opponent to string together a long drive and counting on the offense to stub its toe along the way) has worked well for one of his mentors (Vic Fangio) over the years, there comes a time when the defense needs to stop bending. Green Bay's defense usually bends and breaks because Barry is too conservative. With that said, I think Williams, Kamara and Gibbs each have multi-TD upside. I don't think Hubbard does.

Mike FF Today: Flex spot dilemma for PPR league... Gus Edwards (@ SF), Tyjae Spears (vs. SEA), Jaylen Warren (vs. CIN), Zay Flowers (@ SF) or Sam LaPorta (@ MIN)

Who is this Mike guy and why does he keep bothering me? (Just kidding, boss!) Even though James Conner and Emari Demercado each had surprising success versus the 49ers last week, their efforts marked the first time since Week 11 (Rachaad White, 17.8) that a back reached double figures against them. Furthermore, Joe Mixon (Week 8; 20.0) is the only other back that can make the same claim since Week 6. Edwards will always benefit from the run threat Lamar Jackson offers, but even that has not helped him much this year (career-low 4.1 YPC). His ability to convert at or near the goal line (career-high 11 rushing touchdowns) is easily the one thing that is keeping his fantasy stock afloat right now.

I feel confident Spears' viability as a fantasy starter will not be in question in about eight months. For now, Derrick Henry is still the king, Tennessee has arguably the worst offensive line in football and Spears is a part-time player - albeit a very explosive one - whose value comes primarily on passing downs and in negative game script. Except for two recent games against Christian McCaffrey, Keaton Mitchell's breakout performance in Week 9 and a Week 10 contest against the Commanders in which the Seahawks forgot that running backs can also be used as pass-catchers, Seattle has done a decent job keeping backs in check. The Seahawks also have not been overly explosive offensively for most of the season, so many of the avenues Spears needs to be productive in fantasy right now either are closed or appear to be mostly blocked.

The 49ers profile as a decent matchup for wide receivers, but the Jaguars entered Week 14 as a very favorable matchup and both Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. disappointed in a big way. While I would expect Flowers' run-after-catch skills to be on display in this contest, I do not think it is a given or even necessarily something San Francisco will allow to happen. Since the beginning of the 49ers' current six-game winning streak, only Devonta Smith and A.J. Brown have exceeded 16.4 fantasy points. Of the six receivers to reach double figures, each of them is what could be considered "name brand" types - Christian Kirk, Mike Evans, Smith, Brown, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett. Flowers could hit in fantasy this week, but I would give it about a 25 percent chance of happening.

Cincinnati has allowed a league-high 100 explosive plays (defined as a run of 10-plus yards or catch of at least 20 yards) this season. Forty-four of those 100 plays have been runs. Warren has 20 such runs - which is tied for the eighth most in the league - this season on only 119 attempts. (For some perspective, Warren's one explosive run every six carries is slightly better than Christian McCaffrey, who averages one every 6.4 carries.) Ty Chandler broke off three explosive runs on 23 carries last week against Cincinnati. To what degree the Bengals adjust their game plan to stuff the run this week and make Mason Rudolph beat them is the unknown variable. Pittsburgh found success riding Najee Harris in the first meeting in Week 12, but that was the Steelers' first game with a new play-caller. The element of the unknown is gone for the most part now and Pittsburgh has failed to do much offensively since that game. The one variable that would make me lean toward Warren this week is if Harris' knee limits him in any way. He practiced in full on Wednesday, so the possibility of Warren having the backfield to himself appears slim.

All of this brings us to LaPorta, who is coming off his first career three-score effort in Week 15. He is likely to have another such game down the road, but his fantasy managers should be happy if he makes one visit to the end zone this week. That is a matter of regression, however, and not because the Vikings have the linebacker and safety play to shut him down. From a common sense football perspective, LaPorta is a good bet to have a good - if not great - game. No team blitzes or rushes three more often than Minnesota, which is to say that DC Brian Flores either tries to heat up quarterbacks or tests their patience more often than any other coordinator in the league. Both situations work to LaPorta's benefit. The Vikings have not faced many upper-echelon tight ends this season, but they have typically yielded a TE1 performance when they did. Travis Kelce (22.7), George Kittle (13.0) and Cole Kmet (2.9 and 11.3) are among the small group of "elite" tight ends they have encountered. Even Kyle Pitts (9.6) enjoyed one of his best games of the year versus Minnesota.

Warren has potentially the highest upside, but I would rest easy with starting LaPorta.


Doug Orth has written for FF Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”. Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.