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Playoff Week #2 Q&A

By Doug Orth | 12/22/22 |

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 that idea has been received, it only makes sense to apply the same logic to all three fantasy playoff weeks.

Below are several 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.

Christian Watson

Gepetto: Starting Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins and Tee Higgins. Need one more of the following: Christian Watson (@ MIA), D.J. Moore (vs. DET), Chris Olave (@ CLE), Brandon Aiyuk (vs. WAS) or Treylon Burks (vs. HOU)

Scoring format: one point per 10 yards, six points per touchdown, 40+ yard long receiving bonus of two points, 100+ receiving yards game bonus of three points.

Let us begin by ranking the receivers in terms of their matchup this week:

Moore (Lions give up the third-most points to WRs on the season)
Watson (15th)
Aiyuk (18th)
Olave (22nd)
Burks (30th)

There is little question that Sam Darnold's insertion into the lineup has been the best thing for Moore's fantasy prospects, as the latter has recorded at least 73 yards receiving and a touchdown in two of the three weeks the former has played. The one exception was a run-heavy win over the Seahawks in Week 14 in which Moore was targeted only three times (zero catches). Working against Moore is the vast improvement the Lions have made during their recent 6-1 stretch. Detroit has been brilliant versus the run over that span, but it can still be had through the air. In just the last four games (beginning with the Thanksgiving Day loss to Buffalo), the Lions have surrendered 13-plus fantasy points to Isaiah McKenzie, Stefon Diggs, Christian Kirk, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn and Garrett Wilson.

The Dolphins appeared to be a middling matchup overall, but the amount of yardage they have surrendered to opposing receivers (2,218) ranks 10th in the league. Somehow, they have only permitted eight receiving scores to those wideouts, which ranks as the third-fewest. To what can we attribute this? I believe the answer lies in some weather luck (played Buffalo twice, once in extreme heat and once at around 20 degrees with some late snow) and a fair amount of average (at best) quarterback play from recent opponents. Since losing to Joe Burrow in Week 4, Miami has opposed Zach Wilson, Kirk Cousins, Kenny Pickett, Jared Goff, Justin Fields, Jacoby Brissett, Davis Mills, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy, Justin Herbert and Josh Allen. Even during a down year, Aaron Rodgers ranks on the high end of that group. Another reason to be confident in Watson this week is the success similar receivers have enjoyed against Miami. Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Mike Williams have each touched up the Dolphins for at least 14.9 PPR fantasy points. Considering how much Rodgers seems to enjoy playing with Watson right now, we should expect a similar or better effort from the rookie in what should be a high-scoring game.

Aiyuk's fantasy viability has been on life support a bit since Purdy took over, as the third-year wideout has only eight catches on 14 targets for 99 yards and a touchdown in the 11-plus quarters since Garoppolo got hurt. Some of that has been a product of San Francisco not needing much from the passing game in wins over Tampa Bay and Seattle. It seems unlikely Washington will put enough heat on the 49ers to change their approach, and it is not as if the Commanders are giving up much through the air these days (five straight games with less than 200 yards passing allowed).

Olave has built a decent case for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, but the Saints' offense is dragging him down - especially now as opponents are making him the primary focus of their game plan. The Ohio State product has one WR1-level performance in his last five games and four WR3 efforts. Juwan Johnson appears to be the apple of Andy Dalton's eye in the red zone, further hurting whatever upside Olave could have. The Saints' passing game could also be highly impacted by what is expected to be some bad weather (projected temperature in the teens with winds between 25-35 mph).

Burks, who was starting to flash before his Week 13 concussion, is likely to return this weekend following a two-game absence. Working against him this week is the twice-a-year thrashing Derrick Henry gives to Houston and the expected absence of Ryan Tannehill (ankle). To their credit, the Texans have not been quite the laughingstock against the run they were during the teams' first meeting in Week 9, so there is an opportunity for Burks to push for 6-8 targets this time around. Even so, I have my doubts this is a blow-up spot. Not only will Tennessee avoid putting its fate on Malik Willis' right arm right now, but Darius Slayton's 18.5 PPR fantasy points in Week 10 are also the most an individual receiver has scored against Houston since the Texans' Week 6 bye.

Verdict: With two of the candidates appearing to lose some steam for varying reasons and one coming back from injury in a run-heavy offense, my decision comes down to Moore versus Watson. Making this decision easier is that Gepetto has two WR1s in Hill and Hopkins and another potential one in Higgins. That kind of solid floor-ceiling mix likely means we can shoot for the most upside with the final slot. While Moore certainly has upside anytime he steps on the field and Detroit struggles mightily against receivers who spend a fair amount of time in the slot, he doesn't come attached to one of the game's most accurate quarterbacks or play in an offense capable of engaging (or willing to engage) in a shootout. Watson's floor should be 15 points, which makes him my choice.

polecatt: Justin Herbert (@ IND) or Trevor Lawrence (@ NYJ)

Scoring format: All touchdowns worth six pts, three pts for 40+ yard TD bonus, six points for 50+ yard TD bonus; one point per 50 yards passing, six points bonus at 300 yards and another three points at 400 yards.

With Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both healthy, Herbert had turned in four consecutive strong fantasy efforts before last week's mostly unexplainable dud against a Tennessee defense that had been shredded in consecutive games by Jalen Hurts and Lawrence. It is difficult to get back on the horse and ride it again after such a showing, but we all know that the Chargers' offense goes as Herbert goes and that the volume will be there (four straight games of at least 42 pass attempts and nine in all for the season). While the Colts are not the cakewalk matchup for quarterbacks they may appear to be, Indy has surrendered at least 20 fantasy points and two total touchdowns to six of the last nine signal-callers it has faced.

Accounting for four touchdowns in consecutive games at the pro level is an impressive feat regardless of the competition, so Lawrence is rolling. Shredding a Titans defense that made Herbert look normal one week later and following that performance up with a near masterpiece against the vaunted Cowboys' defense gives the impression Lawrence has arrived and is on a hot streak. One of those two things might be true, but Josh Allen (twice) is the only quarterback to account for two scores against the Jets since Week 3. New York's defense is for real and probably features the best secondary the Jaguars have seen since at least Week 8 (Denver).

Verdict: It does not feel great to leave the "hot" player on the bench in favor of "the other guy," but the good news here is that Herbert only seems like a step down because he spent most of the first part of the season without his top two receivers. It also does not help he is coming off a down game in a matchup he should have crushed. Nevertheless, I will gladly take the quarterback facing an Indy defense that has yielded seven touchdown passes in the last two games. The Jets are a scary matchup for quarterbacks. Lawrence is showing he is ready to join the QB1 conversation, but leave him on the bench in favor of Herbert this week.

gcmmidwest: Two flexes and one WR. Brandon Aiyuk (vs. WAS), J.K. Dobbins (vs. ATL), Terry McLaurin (@ SF), Christian Watson (@ MIA), A.J. Dillon (@ MIA), Tyler Boyd (@ NE), D'Onta Foreman (vs. DET) and Tyler Allgeier (@ BAL)?

I feel comfortable in eliminating Aiyuk, Boyd, Foreman and Allgeier from consideration immediately. Aiyuk is a dicey play at best moving forward for the reasons discussed above, Boyd has been a hit-or-miss flex for reasons I cannot explain - even when he should have been a solid WR2/3 option - and Foreman faces a Detroit defense that has stifled running backs for about two months. Allgeier is coming off a career game, but he is still sharing too much work with Cordarrelle Patterson and does not get enough work in the passing game to justify the risk in starting him against a tough Baltimore run defense.

Very quickly, we are down to four options for three spots. I discussed Watson above. McLaurin is averaging 15.3 PPR fantasy points since Taylor Heinicke took over as the starting quarterback in Week 7 (11.1 before). Squaring off against the 49ers' defense is not the preferred matchup in the fantasy semifinals, but Washington's likely inability to run the ball is going to allow McLaurin to get some volume. If there is one thing we have learned about McLaurin over the years, it is that his fantasy upside is limited only by the play of his quarterback. He will get open, even against underrated CB Charvarius Ward.

Dobbins is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of being 70-80 percent healthy - it is obvious he isn't 100 percent - but that has not stopped him from ripping off a pair of 120-yard rushing days since returning. Working against him are several factors: a lack of volume (no more than 15 carries in a game in his NFL career), limited involvement in the passing game, the absence of Lamar Jackson and an Atlanta defense that has allowed two running back touchdowns in the last five games. The Falcons have struggled more with power backs (Leonard Fournette, Foreman, Nick Chubb and Brian Robinson Jr.) and tend to hog the ball more than most opponents, so Dobbins is a high-risk option in Week 16 with a lower-than-usual ceiling. Making matters worse is how inept the Ravens have been offensively for most of the season.

Dillon's situation is somewhat similar to Dobbins' in that the matchup is not great and his touch upside is limited. What is different is that Dillon is used considerably more as a receiver and faces a Miami defense that has been exploited repeatedly by running backs in the passing game. One other notable difference is that Packers-Dolphins should be a much higher-scoring affair than Falcons-Ravens, and there is a decent chance Green Bay will be playing from behind in the second half.

Verdict: As far as I am concerned, Watson and McLaurin are strong WR2 plays at worst this weekend with WR1 upside. McLaurin may not do anything special against San Francisco, but I would be very hesitant to sit him in any game where I think he has 10-target upside. I think he has that in Week 16. Perhaps it is wishful thinking on my part, but I believe Watson is poised to bounce back in a big way against the Dolphins after the cold weather in Green Bay stifled the passing game on Monday night. Seeing Miami struggle with big receivers who can stretch the field such as Tee Higgins, Mike Williams and Donovan Peoples-Jones gives me even more hope. Last but not least, I will take Dillon over Dobbins in the battle of strong committee backs. Not only is Dillon getting significant work near the goal line again, but he is also attached to the better offense.

jrokh: Half PPR. I need two - at least one RB - from Joe Mixon (@ NE), Najee Harris (vs. LV), Chris Godwin (@ ARI), Travis Etienne (@ NYJ) and Jerry Jeudy (@ LAR).

While I believe the Tampa Bay offense has overcompensated for its offensive line issues by throwing everything quicker and shorter than Tom Brady usually does, the change has been good for Godwin. Since Week 5, Godwin has earned no fewer than eight targets. That kind of volume will typically lead to good things in fantasy. Arizona brings the heat as much as any defense (34.4 percent blitz rate ranks third) but does not have anyone the Bucs need to fear in the slot on defense. (LB Isaiah Simmons leads the team in slot coverage snaps with 212. CB Byron Murphy, who missed Week 15 due to injury, is second with 105.)

Jeudy is a good - if not very good - receiver, but I want nothing to do with the Denver offense for the rest of the season. Yes, passing game coordinator Klint Kubiak is getting more out of the offense since taking over as the play-caller, but it feels as if Jeudy's recent run has been fueled more by the absence of Courtland Sutton than Kubiak taking over for HC Nathaniel Hackett. The Rams are not an imposing matchup this year, but it should be noted the only receivers to do much of anything against them lately play for Seattle.

I have yet to figure out why Jacksonville insists on using Etienne mostly as a runner and not as a receiver. After all, all he did at Clemson was set school records for his work in the passing game. It makes even less sense considering how often Trevor Lawrence was the one throwing him the ball back in their college days. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get behind Etienne has a must-start in tougher matchups like the Jets until he becomes more of an option as a receiver. The Jets are not giving up much in the way of total yards (Dalvin Cook's 83 is the most in the last three games) or touchdowns to running backs (two since Week 7), so I would avoid Etienne as anything more than a flex in most leagues this weekend.

The one good thing about Mixon's upcoming matchup with the Patriots is that New England has coughed up two touchdowns to running backs in the last three weeks. The bad news is that those two TDs account for half of the scores they have allowed to the position all year. In other words, Mixon is a floor play this week and could struggle to finish inside the top 20 running backs in Week 16.

Fantasy managers should feel much better about firing up Harris. While the Raiders mysteriously found a way to bottle up Austin Ekeler and the Chargers in Week 13, Las Vegas has surrendered at least one TD to a running back in every other game since Week 7. It would be foolish to expect Harris to match the 168 total yards that Rhamondre Stevenson posted against the Raiders last week, but Pittsburgh is giving him enough volume to push for 100-plus and a score.

Verdict: Even though jrokh does not necessarily need to start one receiver from this bunch, Godwin is a must-start. Due mostly to the fact Mixon and Etienne are facing very difficult matchups, I feel confident in recommending Harris and Godwin. Jeudy has a chance at outperforming Harris, but the likely return of Sutton and my general disgust for the Broncos' offense make it hard for me to rank Jeudy higher than third on this list.

easilyscan: Ravens DST (vs. ATL) or Browns DST (vs. NO)?
Swim54: Eagles DST (@ DAL) or Broncos DST (@ LAR)?

Baltimore has played well defensively of late, compiling at least three sacks in all but four games. The Ravens have also held five of their last six foes to 14 or fewer points. The problem with choosing Baltimore this week is that Atlanta's offensive philosophy in 2022 is not unlike the Ravens': run the ball, chew the clock and limit mistakes. As a result, the Falcons are one of the worst teams to target for fantasy purposes. Conversely, the Saints are one of the best. (At least, they were until recently.) New Orleans still is not scoring at a prolific clip, but Andy Dalton has not thrown an interception in four straight. The Saints have occasionally given up a few sacks, but only more than two in four of 14 contests. The great equalizer could be the miserable playing conditions discussed above.

It may be a bit of a market overcorrection, but the Broncos' defense is finally starting to perform - in fantasy - up to its talent level. Nine sacks over the last three weeks are good, but it is the eight interceptions - two more than they recorded over the first 11 weeks - that stand out. The downside of that production is that two of those games came against backup quarterbacks (Tyler Huntley and Colt McCoy/Trace McSorley) and the other one happened in a game Denver fell behind 27-0. What is more pertinent here is that this week's matchup is against the Rams, who are also using a backup quarterback (Baker Mayfield) and have been held to less than 20 or fewer points in nine of its last 11 contests. Conversely, the Eagles have compiled 19 sacks and forced two turnovers over the last three games. Philadelphia has a dominant and deep front seven that plays a bit too soft on the back end for my liking but gets away with it because it can afford to, often pouncing on an opponent trying to do too much while trying to rally from a two-score deficit. The Cowboys are not an ideal matchup with a trip to the fantasy championship game on the line, but Dak Prescott has been a bit too careless in recent weeks with seven interceptions over the last four games. Although I acknowledge not all of those interceptions were his fault, it is reflective of the team that is not playing its best football right now.

Verdict: While recent performance affects my DST decision every week, I tend to focus more on what the opponent has done recently - especially against similar opposition. Atlanta's offensive philosophy might be good for winning real football during a rebuild, but it is not great for fantasy managers trying to find a favorable DST matchup. The Saints rank as a highly favorable matchup over the course of the season, but they are the sixth-worst matchup over the last five weeks. I would lean toward Baltimore's recent sack production as my tiebreaker in this decision. I am not doing so with a lot of confidence, however.

The Eagles vs. Broncos decision is the ultimate better defense versus better matchup decision. At the end of the day, I can see the Broncos-Rams contest being a highly conservative affair that may only see about 50 passes thrown. There is more potential for fireworks - and thus, turnovers - in the Eagles-Cowboys game. I could not live with my decision of sitting the Eagles just because of a perceived difficult matchup and missing out on a fantasy championship as a result. I could live with myself if Denver's defense throttles another down-on-its-luck offense and that is the decision that keeps me out of the title game.

Dr. G: Zack Moss or Deon Jackson (both vs. LAC)?

As most fantasy managers already know by now, the Chargers present a highly favorable matchup for running backs. The biggest problem with targeting that matchup this week is determining which Colt will benefit the most. Perhaps just as importantly, what kind of game script can we expect? The Chargers have not been the kind of team that starts fast en route to building an early 14-point lead. The reason this is important is that Indy appears to prefer Moss as the early-down pounder in a post-Jonathan Taylor world and Jackson in more of a passing-down role. If the Chargers can avoid the same fate that befell Minnesota - namely coming out listless and falling behind early - then Jackson should be highly involved. If the Chargers cannot get rolling early, then Moss (and possibly Jordan Wilkins) might see the bulk of touches out of this backfield.

Verdict: Can the answer be neither? Even in the best of times, I think we know Moss is not a legitimate option on passing downs. That is a big deal when he is stuck on a team that wants to run the ball but struggles to block. The odds are much better that Jackson not only does more with his rush attempts versus the Chargers, but that he will also see the bulk of the action as a receiver. I would not be fired up about playing any Indy running back in Week 16, but I believe Jackson offers the highest floor and the most upside. With Moss, fantasy managers would need to hope he finds the end zone. It is possible against the Chargers, but his floor is 30-40 scoreless yards and about half of the 24 carries he handled last week.

Dr. G: Dallas Goedert (@ DAL), Gerald Everett (@ IND) or Evan Engram (@ NYJ)?

Everett has been steady for most of the season, but it feels like any upside he carried left about the same time Keenan Allen and Mike Williams returned. While that may or may not be true, it is difficult to put any trust into a tight end that has not scored in nearly three months. That is a rather remarkable feat considering he ranks seventh among tight ends with 13 red zone targets and eighth with five looks inside the 10.

Engram is finally getting the elite usage most of us expected from him after seeing 115 targets as a rookie with the Giants in 2017. Over the last three weeks, Engram's 32 looks are easily the most among tight ends and two more than any other player in the league (Justin Jefferson, 30). Attracting a high number of targets against the Lions and Titans is one thing since both have been among the worst at defending the position this season, but doing so last week against the Cowboys suggests the Jaguars are starting to view him as an important piece of the offense.

It did not seem like it before his Week 10 shoulder injury, but Goedert was the epitome of consistency at tight end (after Travis Kelce, of course). The 27-year-old managed at least 11 PPR fantasy points in six of nine games and topped nine in all but one, giving him a higher floor than just about any other tight end. Working against him this week is a tough matchup and the likelihood he will be catching passes from Gardner Minshew instead of Jalen Hurts.

Verdict: Assuming he returns from IR as expected this week, Goedert would probably be my choice if I also knew Hurts was starting. We do not have that information now and we probably will not have it until Saturday afternoon at the earliest. Unfortunately, managers will be gambling if they wait for clarity on those two very important moving parts. Considering how good the Jets have been at shutting down perimeter receivers, the Jaguars will likely be forced to rely heavily on their options in the slot. The two Jaguars that spend the most time there are Christian Kirk (423 slot snaps) and Engram (191). Engram has lined up in-line on 181 snaps, meaning only 23.7 percent of his snaps have been spent on the outside. The Jets are not a great matchup for any position, but Engram's recent usage and the likelihood that Zay Jones and Marvin Jones struggle on the outside - combined with Travis Etienne's limited usage in the passing game - suggest he and Kirk will stay busy. I would rather take my chances with him than bet on Hurts and Goedert both being healthy enough to play a full game.

Serenity Now: Dak Prescott (vs. PHI) or Geno Smith (@ KC)?

Pick three (standard scoring): Nick Chubb (vs. NO), Saquon Barkley (@ MIN), James Conner (vs. TB), J.K. Dobbins (vs. ATL)

No individual quarterback has accounted for more than two touchdowns against the Eagles this season. (The combination of Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love did put three passing touchdowns on Philadelphia in Week 12, however.) Prescott was able to avoid the Eagles in Week 6 as he was completing his recovery from a thumb injury. The problem for him - and any other quarterback facing Philadelphia, for that matter - is that the NFC East leaders have no discernible weaknesses on defense. They may occasionally play softer in coverage than I would prefer, but the Eagles can afford to do it because they rush the passer so well and are usually playing with a decent lead.

Smith has failed to throw for two passing scores only three times this season, including both times the Seahawks faced the 49ers. The Chiefs rank second in most TD passes allowed (30), meaning they are coughing up an average of just over two per game. They have a meager eight interceptions, which is tied for the eighth-fewest. This same defense surrendered four TD passes to the Broncos in Week 14 and two to the Texans in Week 15. For the season, 12 quarterbacks have thrown for at least two scores versus Kansas City and six have accounted for three TDs. Even without Tyler Lockett this week, I believe Smith will be OK.

At running back, Chubb (foot) has an injury that could cast some doubt on his availability and ability to perform at a high level. If he sits, Serenity Now's decision will be made for him. If Chubb plays, he should be started in fantasy against a defense that just permitted 191 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson. Barkley starts regardless of the matchup, but he gets a Minnesota defense that has struggled to corral about any dynamic runner it has faced recently (Tony Pollard, Rhamondre Stevenson and Zonovan Knight among them). Conner is simply getting too much volume as a runner and a receiver to bench right now. Tampa Bay has not been the force against the run it has been in previous years (largely because Akiem Hicks and Vita Vea have not played together very often this year), so I would take 20 or so touches from him over 15 from Dobbins.

Verdict: The decision at quarterback is a simple one for me: Smith.

The standard scoring aspect makes it a more difficult call for me at running back. However, as long as Chubb is cleared for Week 16, I would not think twice about going with him, Barkley and Conner over Dobbins.

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.