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Championship Week Q&A

By Doug Orth | 12/28/23 |

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.

Puka Nacua

treewarden: Half-PPR Flex - Tony Pollard (vs. DET), Nico Collins (vs. TEN) or Puka Nacua (@ NYG)?

My lineup is:
QB: Jalen Hurts
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Alvin Kamara
WR: Justin Jefferson, A.J. Brown, Brandon Aiyuk
TE: Trey McBride

We should all be so fortunate to have this dilemma. My quick answer to this question is Nacua, but I want to take a minute to explain the thought process.

Pollard recently acknowledged he was not as close to 100 percent earlier in the season as he thought, which helps to explain why he disappointed so many fantasy managers in September and October. While he may be as healthy as he has been all season, his biggest problems now may be that the Dallas defense appears to be struggling and the Cowboys' Week 17 matchup. Although the Lions have permitted a handful of big performances to running backs this season, they rank as the most difficult matchup for running backs. The vast majority of RB1 efforts they allowed were to backs who are high-volume receivers in addition to their team's primary bell-cow. While that description should fit Pollard, his usage in the passing game has been very hit-or-miss this season for someone who has 52 catches.

Choosing between Collins and Nacua is a bit more difficult because good receivers have repeatedly gutted the Titans in 2023, but health at this time of the year is often an important factor in lineup decisions. Even though Collins played relatively well in Week 16 against a tough Cleveland secondary, I have my doubts he will be in midseason form for the Texans' second matchup versus the Titans in three weeks. There is also some doubt at this point if C.J. Stroud (concussion) will be ready to return. Even if Stroud plays (but especially if he does not), I do not think Collins has earned the benefit of the doubt over a player like Nacua following last week's effort.

Against a Saints defense that had surrendered only one 20-point performance to a receiver this season entering Week 16, Nacua (season-high 33 points) and Demarcus Robinson (20.2) each turned the trick last time out. For Nacua, his 9-164-1 receiving line on 11 targets - to go along with two carries for 16 yards - was the first time he topped eight targets or five catches in a game since Week 7. Needless to say, it was a performance that was hard to see coming. However, Nacua's Week 16 effort reestablished his ability to show a high ceiling with a healthy Cooper Kupp. That is a big deal moving forward and suggests HC Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford view them as mostly equal partners (even if Kupp was a bit unlucky on some of his targets). While the Giants have not given up many huge receiver performances since Week 10, the Rams' offense is running hot enough at this point that it can capably support at least two WR1s. That means Nacua's fantasy managers have very little to worry about in Week 17.

weepaws: Half PPR. Need a QB and a Flex. I currently have Baker Mayfield (vs. NO) at QB1. Available options include Nick Mullens (vs. GB), Derek Carr (@ TB) and Jake Browning (@ KC).

RB2 start: Joe Mixon (@ KC) or James Conner (@ PHI)?

Mayfield has shown a surprising ability to maintain a high floor in 2023, finishing with at least 18.2 fantasy points in nine of 15 outings. The second-best effort of his season came in Week 4 against the Saints (24.9). Very little about the two teams has changed since then, except for the likelihood Mayfield feels more comfortable in OC Dave Canales' offense than he did before - as evidenced by his 76.2 percent completion rate over the last two weeks (6:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio). Furthermore, Matthew Stafford just diced up the secondary of New Orleans last week. Mayfield may not be in Stafford's class, but it is hard to imagine the Saints doing much to slow down the Bucs after they gave up multiple QB1 efforts against a schedule full of also-rans.

Mullens would not be a consideration for me considering he is not only at risk of being benched during the game, but also because he will be without T.J. Hockenson (torn ACL and MCL) and could be without Jordan Addison (ankle). Browning would also not be a consideration since he will likely be without Ja'Marr Chase (shoulder) again. Carr is the best choice for those in constant search of the best matchup, but consecutive three-touchdown games - plenty of which came in garbage time - are not enough to outweigh a season full of mediocrity.

The Chiefs have shown some vulnerability against the run in recent weeks, giving up 125 total yards (110 rushing) to Josh Jacobs in Week 12, 87 yards (73) to AJ Dillon in Week 13, 141 (58 on 10 carries) to James Cook in Week 14 and 145 to Zamir White on Christmas. Unfortunately, we also saw the downside of trusting Mixon last week as well, although I think that showing by Cincinnati had a lot to do with Chase's absence. I find it difficult to believe Mixon will enjoy much success against Kansas City if Chase sits again. Additionally, good touchdown luck has been the key to keeping Mixon relevant in fantasy ever since Joe Burrow was lost for the season in Week 11.

The same can probably be said for Conner since Week 12, but the difference with him is that he has been far more efficient with his touches than Mixon - even in some very challenging matchups. The one advantage Mixon held over Conner was work in the passing game, but Arizona turned back the clock to the Kliff Kingsbury era with Conner's usage last week. After ignoring him as a receiver for most of the season (17 catches for 39 yards entering Week 16), Conner popped off for five receptions, 67 yards and a touchdown versus the Bears. Since the Eagles are another tough run defense (as was Chicago), fantasy managers should expect Conner to outperform Mixon this week.

weepaws: Alvin Kamara (@ TB), Jahmyr Gibbs (@ DAL) or Austin Ekeler (@ Broncos)?

Rashee Rice (vs. CIN) or Brandin Cooks (vs. DET) for my final receiver spot?

Which of the "other" players should I use for my flex?

The running back question comes down to Kamara vs. Ekeler since there may not be more than a handful of backs I would play over Gibbs this week. If we are interested in answering this question as efficiently as possible, the answer to Kamara vs. Ekeler boils down to projected volume versus matchup. The Chargers showed some fight against the Bills in Week 16, but it is hard to throw much support behind an Easton Stick-led offense without Keenan Allen. Ekeler is the least of the Chargers' problems right now, although it seems obvious at this point he is not getting much help. He has scored one touchdown in the last six games. He is losing too much work to Joshua Kelly and Isaiah Spiller. He probably will fall short of 50 percent of his reception total from last season (107) and is highly unlikely to hit 500 yards receiving for the first time in three years. The one feather in his hat this week is a matchup against Denver, which continues to get hammered by running backs. The Broncos are also the one team Ekeler enjoyed success against since the Chargers' season went off the rails around Week 10. Denver has yielded 20-point fantasy games to running backs in each of the last three weeks, surrendering 21 to Ekeler in Week 14, 24.8 to Gibbs in Week 15 and 21 to Ezekiel Elliott in Week 16. While I would not predict another 20-point effort for Ekeler this week, he should be a strong RB2 start at worst.

Fantasy managers have seen diminishing returns from Kamara over the last three weeks. For those who trusted him in Week 16, he disappointed with 8.5 points against the Rams - with most of those points coming late. While it is possible Kamara could be wearing down a bit, last week seems more like a one-off in that his rushing volume was low and he wasn't able to do much of anything after the catch. Unfortunately for Kamara and his managers, the Rams and the Bucs have yielded very similar numbers against running backs in 2023. Kamara enjoyed a RB1-level performance when Tampa Bay beat New Orleans in Week 4, but it was on the strength of 13 catches in a game Derek Carr was checking down on seemingly every other play. I intend to start Kamara in every league I have him in, but I would not rank him over Gibbs (in a projected shootout) or Ekeler (in one of the easiest matchups for a running back this week).

At receiver, I understand the question. Both receivers should do well. However, when we consider Rice is the overall WR5 over the last five weeks and outperforming the likes of Amon-Ra St. Brown in that time, he is a must-start. Rice's 19 points per game from Week 12 to Week 16 is a higher mark than any single-game number Cooks has posted over that time. In fact, Cooks has only delivered one game of more than 19 points all season.

Cooks has been a solid fill-in at times in 2023, but his lack of consistent targets on a strong offense with a very good quarterback continues to baffle me. Only three times all season has he topped five targets and only once has he drawn more than seven. While the Lions are a juicy matchup considering five receivers have reached double figures against them in just the last two games, Kamara could easily see more targets and has the rushing upside to boot.

bimmer: Half PPR.

QB: Jalen Hurts (vs. ARI) or Justin Fields (vs. ATL)?

RBs: Need two - Joe Mixon (@ KC), D'Andre Swift (vs. ARI), Ty Chandler (vs. GB)?

WRs: Puka Nacua (@ NYG) or Zay Flowers (vs. MIA)?

TE: Trey McBride (@ PHI) or Isaiah Likely (vs. MIA)?

FLEX: Remaining RBs/WRs/TEs or Drake London (@ CHI)?

Hurts has been good for at least two total touchdowns in 13 of 15 games and faces an Arizona defense that has yielded at least 20 fantasy points to a quarterback in four of its last five contests. (The one exception was Mitchell Trubisky in Week 13.) The last three signal-callers to top 20 points against them did so on 33 or fewer pass attempts, which figures to be in the range Hurts will have in Week 17. Matthew Stafford and Brock Purdy each threw for four touchdowns, while Fields just posted 267 total yards and two scores (one rushing) against them last week. The Falcons have not faced many top-tier quarterbacks, but the one most comparable to Fields was Kyler Murray (19.3) in Week 10. Perhaps most impressively, the Falcons have permitted only two passing scores to a quarterback since Week 9 (Baker Mayfield accounted for both in Week 14). With D.J. Moore (ankle) ailing, Hurts is the safe (and smart) play.

Since I discussed Mixon earlier, I will move on to Swift. The ex-Lion finally managed to stop his contribution to the "Brotherly Shove" campaign by crossing the goal line for a change and avoiding going down at the 1 yet again in Week 16. (The number of times Swift has been tripped up at the 1 this season has been nothing short of amazing, for anyone who did not get my "Brotherly Shove" comment in the previous sentence.) The Cardinals have been the league's most forgiving defense against running backs this season and are coming off a game in which Khalil Herbert gouged them for 112 yards and a score on 20 carries. While I have my doubts Swift will get to 20 carries in back-to-back weeks, I like his chances to be a top 10-15 option at running back this week. Buying into Chandler requires a bit more faith because the threat of Alexander Mattison (ankle) being more involved looms. With that said, can the Vikings really afford to go away from the one back that has provided some level of explosiveness in a game they need to have? Green Bay has also proven to be soft against the run, allowing huge games to Isiah Pacheco, Saquon Barkley and Rachaad White in Weeks 13-15. Chandler may not be quite on that level, but there is little question in my mind he possesses more upside this week than Mixon.

Fantasy managers should be prepared for a big falloff this week from Nacua, if only because I think Matthew Stafford will probably want to make sure he gets Cooper Kupp going again. I am not so steadfast in that belief that I could bench Nacua for any non-elite receiver, however. The Giants have fared reasonably well against receivers since getting pummeled by Dallas on Thanksgiving, but it would be a bit disingenuous to say the Commanders, Patriots, Packers and Saints represent the top tier of NFL passing games. The Eagles (New York's Week 16 opponent) are struggling - relatively speaking - and managed to get two of their receivers into double figures. New Orleans (the Rams' Week 16 opponent) entered last week with a more sterling resume against receivers and was diced up by Stafford & Co. The Giants blitz at the second-highest rate in the league (43.5 percent), which should open up some run-after-catch opportunities for Nacua. Meanwhile, I am not sure Flowers' slot rate of 29.9 percent is high enough to convince me he will have success against Miami. Perimeter corners Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey may not be playing at an All-Pro level, but the odds are slim that Flowers can replicate last week's 9-72-1 line against them.

It is simple for me at tight end. McBride is the focal point of the Cardinals' offense. Linebacker play (i.e. coverage) may also be the weakest part of Philadelphia's defense. Likely should enjoy low-end TE1 production this week, but the matchup against the Dolphins is not a great one and certainly not good enough that I would play him over a target hog like McBride.

At the flex, the Bears are playing too well on defense to make me believe London will be worth a start on this team - especially when options like Mixon and Flowers are available. Following a midseason swoon in which it appeared Baltimore forgot about him, Flowers' activity has picked up enough over the last four games to make him worth a start despite what I said a couple of paragraphs earlier.

jrokh: Amari Cooper (vs. NYJ), Davante Adams (@ IND) or D.J. Moore (vs. ATL)

There is conflicting information regarding Moore, as speculation earlier in the week suggested he was dealing with a high-ankle sprain. However, he was not listed on the team's initial practice report for Week 17 on Wednesday (Dec. 27). Moore was far too uninvolved in Week 16 for this injury to be minor. Even if his injury is somehow a non-issue, there is not a ton of upside in playing him in Week 17. The Falcons have not yielded a touchdown of any kind to a receiver since Week 9. A healthy Moore could easily be the exception to that rule, but his health is too much of a question mark for me right now.

Amari Cooper

Cooper is being targeted like an alpha with Joe Flacco under center. Since getting off to a slow start in their first game together against the Rams in Week 13, Cooper leads the league with 37 targets. Eight of those looks came in a difficult matchup against the Bears two weekends ago (4-109-1) and another 15 came in what was supposed to be another tough matchup versus the Texans (11-265-2). I highly doubt the Browns will change what is working offensively (i.e. Flacco throwing 40-plus times per game) just because the Jets have a great cornerback duo. Assuming Cooper's heel injury does not keep him from playing on Thursday, he remains a must-start.

While the Raiders deserve their flowers for their defensive effort and the Chiefs deserve some credit for keeping Adams in check on Christmas Day, the biggest problem for the three-time All-Pro was not L'Jarius Sneed. While Adams should have had at least two more catches, Aidan O'Connell's inability to complete a pass after the first quarter had more to do with Adams' struggles (wind appeared to be a major issue, for what it is worth).

Even for a star like Adams, it is difficult for fantasy managers to shake off a one-catch performance and pretend like it didn't happen entering championship week. The good news here is that he is probably in line for a strong rebound effort. Vegas-Indy will be played in perfect conditions, the Raiders will almost certainly want to force-feed Adams the ball and the Colts do not have anyone on Sneed's level to discourage O'Connell from looking Adams' way. I am not starting Adams with a great deal of confidence, but I think there is a better than one-in-three chance that he will be the most productive receiver from this group this week.

MissionCoach: Patrick Mahomes (vs. CIN) or Jordan Love (@ MIN)?

Dalton Schultz (vs. TEN) or Tucker Kraft (@ MIN)?

Eagles DST (vs. ARI), Broncos DST (vs. LAC), Jaguars DST (vs. CAR) or Rams DST (@ NYG)?

The Chiefs are in a weird place in that Rashee Rice is on the verge of becoming a star but is not quite there yet. Travis Kelce's age (34) is starting to show in his game. The vaunted offensive line is not holding up its end of the bargain. Mahomes does not trust the line to hold up or his receivers to get open. Last but not least, the running game is not good enough to carry Kansas City through this tough time.

While I despise the phrase "the offense is broken," I do not think we will see vintage Mahomes again until next season. The Chiefs have had ample opportunity over the last two months to show growth (not to mention upside). His best weekly fantasy finish over that time was the same game (QB9). Outside of that, he has not been a top-12 quarterback in any week since the team's Week 10 bye. His average passing numbers over that span are 240 yards and 1.4 passing TDs. Mahomes' best performance over that time is 298 yards passing and two touchdowns versus the Raiders in Week 12 (20.8 fantasy points). While the point can be made that Cincinnati made Mason Rudolph look good, much of that happened because George Pickens was that much better than the players guarding him last week. Who do the Chiefs have that can beat defenders with raw speed like that? Marquez Valdes-Scantling? No thanks.

The alternative to Mahomes is Love, who faces a Minnesota defense that has allowed one passer to top 20 fantasy points since Week 3 (Jake Browning, 21.0). Over that time, the Vikings have stymied Mahomes (19.2), Justin Fields (14.6), Brock Purdy (16.8) and Love (16.6) among others. If I were benching Mahomes this week - which is not out of the question - I would want to do so with an option with a healthy supporting cast and a proven ability to perform well when pressured. Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks and Jayden Reed are all in some doubt to play this week due to injury, which leaves Romeo Doubs and perhaps Bo Melton as Love's top receiver options. If two of the three injured options are good to go, that may be enough for me to roll with Love. However, I do not think I could bench Mahomes for Love's less-than-perfect situation and feel good about my decision.

I would not be surprised if there is much more than a four-point difference either way between Schultz and Kraft. The difference between the two is that Schultz has virtually no ceiling this week, as only three tight ends have reached double figures versus the Titans. (Last week, Colby Parkinson was the first tight end to score a touchdown against Tennessee). None of those three topped 10.9 PPR fantasy points. The Titans have faced David Njoku, Evan Engram and Schultz, so their ability to clamp down against the position is no joke. Conversely, Love may not have many other healthy alternatives other than Kraft to throw to this week. While Minnesota has not been a great matchup for tight ends either, the Vikings' blitz-happy defense should theoretically create some opportunities for Kraft to move the chains. Even if C.J. Stroud returns to action this week, my lean would be toward Kraft.

For the choice at DST, the only realistic options in my mind are the Broncos and Jaguars. With that said, only Denver feels like an appealing option here. The Broncos collected six sacks and forced two turnovers in the game Justin Herbert was lost for the season in Week 14. In the subsequent two games started by Easton Stick, defenses have piled up eight sacks, forced five turnovers and scored twice on defense. While most of that damage was a product of the Raiders' defense in Week 15, we have seen Denver's DST do a good job of creating pressure and forcing miscues recently and more frequently than any of the three other options.

Lake209: I am limping into the final. I lost Christian Kirk and Tank Dell earlier. Now, Jaylen Waddle and Isiah Pacheco seem unlikely to play.

I have to start three of the following seven: Ty Chandler (vs. GB), Marquise Brown (@ PHI), Jameson Williams (@ DAL), Dontayvion Wicks (@ MIN), Marvin Mims (vs. LAC), Josh Downs (vs. LV) and Dallas Goedert (vs. ARI).

As noted above, the threat of Alexander Mattison chipping away at Chandler's workload is a real one. Then again, Mattison did little to put pressure on him by losing a yard on two carries last week. There is enough upside for any decent or good running back facing the Green Bay defense right now that I think he has to be considered a must-start from this group.

Outside of one game in Week 12, Hollywood Brown has been a virtual non-factor for the second half of the season. Considering the amount of practice time he has missed recently and the likelihood he will still be affected by his heel injury - if he plays - makes him a no-go for me.

As much as I want Downs to be a thing right now, he has not reached double figures in fantasy points since Week 8 despite seeing 13 targets in one game and nine in another. Last week should have been a showcase for him without Michael Pittman Jr. (concussion) around, but it was more of the same - albeit in a tough matchup. Mims will theoretically have some value if Courtland Sutton is unable to pass through the league's concussion protocol in time, but I don't want to deal with multiple moving parts (including Jarrett Stidham replacing Russell Wilson at quarterback) if I donít have to in the fantasy championship. Moving on ...

Following the wishes of this manager, I think Williams is the one gamble from this group that has a chance to hit big, although I would say there is only about a 20 percent chance of it happening. Williams' role is starting to grow with 13 targets over the last two contests. There is a very real chance this game shoots out and recent history (Seattle in Week 13 and Philadelphia in Week 14) tells us the Cowboys are capable of giving up good fantasy performances to multiple receivers in the same game. If I had to take a shot on a receiver from this group this week, it would be Williams.

Unfortunately, the chest injury that knocked Wicks out of Week 16 may end up keeping him out of Week 17 as well. The primary reason I am advocating for Williams over Wicks is health. If Wicks can squeeze out a full practice by Friday, I would probably start him over Williams.

Goedert feels like more of a floor play than a ceiling play this week, but consecutive games of nine targets have me believing he is healthy and primed to end a five-game scoreless streak. Arizona ranks among the stingiest defenses in the league in terms of tight end production but has yielded five good - if not great - games to the position since Week 7. Cole Kmet had a career day against the Cardinals last week and played only 30 offensive snaps. Goedert's usage is not much different from Kmet's, so we should not be surprised if Philadelphia takes a page from Chicago's playbook and makes Goedert even more of a priority than he has been in recent weeks.

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.