Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

 Log In  | Sign Up  |  Contact      

Playoff Week #1 Q&A

By Doug Orth | 12/14/23 |

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 five 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.

Jordan Love

gridirongoofs: (10-teamer, four flex spots, only need to start one WR.)

Current lineup is Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, David Montgomery, D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Trey McBride and Saints DST. I am putting in a claim for Matthew Stafford in case C.J. Stroud does not play. Jordan Love, Derek Carr and Kyler Murray are other options.

Also, Zack Moss (vs. PIT) or DeAndre Hopkins (vs. HOU) this week?

With Justin Herbert out for the season, I would be less than thrilled about my investment in the Chargers. With that said, Ekeler should have enough volume moving forward to somewhat offset the touchdown upside he loses with Herbert on the shelf. Allen can be at least a WR2, but we will have to wait at least a week to see how he meshes with new starter Easton Stick.

Overall, this is a good lineup to be taking into the fantasy playoffs. It is a lineup that would likely be buoyed by starting Stafford regardless of whether Stroud (concussion) plays this week. We are beginning to see evidence that the Rams' key contributors probably were never healthy at the same time over the first 10 or so weeks. Stafford has thrown for 10 touchdowns over the last three games, including three apiece against two of the better secondaries in the league (Browns and Ravens). The Commanders have not been great in any aspect on the defensive side of the ball, but their pass defense has been atrocious for most of the season. Four straight quarterbacks - and eight of the last nine - have thrown for at least two touchdowns. For the season, five passers have thrown for three or more scores.

My next choice after Stafford would be Love. Love at least gets the beatable Tampa Bay pass defense at home in Week 15. The Bucs' pass defense has been mostly awful in seven road games, surrendering an average of 313 passing yards and 2.3 total touchdowns to the quarterback position. In six home contests, Tampa Bay has allowed an average of 245 passing yards and 1.1 total touchdowns. I started Ridder in a pinch last week and was rewarded with 25.4 fantasy points. Love's dud against the Giants would give me pause, but he could enjoy a similar performance to the one Ridder just enjoyed.

Carr has been underwhelming all season long and is set to face a Giants' defense that just bottled up Love a few days ago. From purely an on-paper perspective, Murray's matchup against the 49ers is not THAT daunting, as four of the last seven quarterbacks to face San Francisco have scored at least 19 fantasy points. The problem with taking Murray here is that we need to count on him to produce in garbage time - which is usually a bad thing to depend on - because Arizona's defense is unlikely to have many answers for the 49ers' offense.

Most fantasy managers probably remember Moss most for his first four games (and rightfully so). The problem with that is he has not been the same runner after Week 5, as he has topped 3.7 yards per carry since then. Perhaps some of that was the result of a bit of a letdown on his part knowing that Jonathan Taylor would be getting his job back in the near future. For the season, Moss has been credited with only three broken tackles and is averaging a mere 1.6 yards after contact (both per Pro Football Reference). Given how poorly Pittsburgh's offense has played of late, there is a chance Moss will see enough volume to post his first double-digit fantasy effort since Week 8. I am not sure it is worth the risk.

It took a bit longer than fantasy managers would have liked, but the Will Levis-to-DeAndre Hopkins connection appears to be a thing. Hopkins has earned 12 targets in consecutive weeks, which is good for a 33.8 percent target share. Even in an offense that wants to run the ball as much as the Titans do, that kind of volume will always have a place in our fantasy lineups. While I do not see a ceiling game from Hopkins this week, the Texans will be hard-pressed to keep him from drawing another 10 or so targets. Interestingly, six receivers have recorded at least 10 targets against Houston in 2023. None of them has scored fewer than 13.6 fantasy points. (The average point total of that group is 17.2.) Garrett Wilson gashed the Texans for 20.1 last week with Zach Wilson throwing him the ball. Furthermore, Houston could be extremely shorthanded on offense this week, which could put Tennessee in favorable field position several times. It would not be surprising if one of those possessions ended with Hopkins scoring against his former team. Give me Hopkins over Moss this week.

Chickie: Superflex league, 12 teams. I have Tua Tagovailoa (vs. NYJ), Justin Fields (@ CLE), Jordan Love (vs. TB) and Joe Flacco (vs. CHI). I am contemplating the latter two. My opponent has both Amari Cooper and David Njoku. Flacco, aside from having a better matchup than both Tagovailoa and Fields, can also serve as a partial mitigator against both Cooper and Njoku. If Tyreek Hill (ankle) is hobbled that would diminish Tua’s passing game. Thoughts?

Tagovailoa is an easy player to bench this week, in my opinion. The Jets have allowed only four quarterbacks (Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson and Dak Prescott) to score as many as two total touchdowns. Each of them either rushed for at least 40 yards or brought a serious running threat to the table. Tagovailoa faced this same defense on Black Friday just over three weeks ago and was picked off twice. That was with a healthy Hill and against a Jets' team that was on a short week after Buffalo dismantled it. This time around, there is a real chance Hill may not play. If he does, it will not be at anything close to 100 percent. Tagovailoa would be the last of the four players listed above that I would start.

There is a case to be made for Fields. As good as Cleveland's defense, it has yielded three touchdowns in each of the last two weeks to Matthew Stafford and Trevor Lawrence. Russell Wilson accounted for two scores in Week 12. My working theory on how this happened to one of the best defenses in the game is that it coincides with stud CB Denzel Ward missing all three games with a shoulder injury. Ward is getting close to a return after practicing all of last week on a limited tag, but he did not play in Week 14 despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Another missed game by Ward would make me feel much better about playing Fields over either Love or Flacco.

I discussed Love at some length in the previous question. I would feel some trepidation about him coming off his performance and likely being without Christian Watson and Dontayvion Wicks, but I believe strongly enough in the Bucs' inability to hold up against the pass that I would be willing to believe in Love. (Yes, that was intentional.)

While it may be a bit hyperbolic to say the Bears have been a shutdown pass defense over the last month or so, the truth of the matter is they have not allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 236 yards or two touchdowns since acquiring Montez Sweat right before the trade deadline. There are certainly other factors that have led to its resurgence, but Chicago is no longer a defense we can or should target for fantasy purposes. One feather in Flacco's hat is that he has attempted 44 and 45 passes in his two starts, which means volume should be in his favor yet again with Jerome Ford (hand) hurting and Kareem Hunt doing next to nothing on the ground outside of scoring touchdowns.

I went into this question expecting to say I would start Love and Flacco, but I think I would rather take my chances on pairing Love with Fields' upside.

Craigp94: Sam Howell (@ LAR) or Matthew Stafford (vs. WAS); six points per TD, one point per comp after 20.

Largely because football is (usually) only played once a week, I tend to ignore a player being on a "hot streak." My quick answer to this question is Stafford, for all the reasons I detailed in the first question. However, I owe it to my loyal readers to at least discuss why Howell is worthy of consideration.

Volume is king at just about every position in fantasy football, which is a big reason why Howell ranks fourth in Craigp94's scoring. He has 22 more pass attempts (509) than second-place Patrick Mahomes and nine more completions (335-326). Stafford is 80 attempts and 82 completions behind Howell, although it is important to note the former missed a game due to injury. The reason why I feel the answer is clearly Stafford does not have to do with his floor. (Howell has scored at least 19 fantasy points in six straight weeks in more traditional four-point-per-passing touchdown leagues that do not award bonuses for completions.) The question is upside, and it would seem as though Stafford has it (with a healthy group of receivers and 10 touchdowns in his last three games).

Howell does not have as much upside with one passing TD in his last three games (four rushing scores, however). This is because the few big fantasy efforts the Rams have surrendered to quarterbacks this season have been to the best of the best or elite run threats (or both) - a group that includes Jalen Hurts, Anthony Richardson, Dak Prescott and Lamar Jackson. Howell does not lack mobility, but he is not in the upper echelon of quarterbacks just because he has volume working in his favor.

DrG: Easton Stick (@ LV) or Drew Lock (vs. PHI) for QB2 (superflex)? Terry McLaurin (@ LAR) or Jakobi Meyers (vs. LAC) for WR3?

It is these kinds of questions (the first) that make me dislike the superflex format, but that is a discussion for another day. With that said, Lock is an easy pick for me this week - assuming Geno Smith (groin) has to miss another game. While the matchup against the Eagles is not a guaranteed 20-point performance for whatever quarterback they are facing, only four of the 13 quarterbacks to draw a start against Philadelphia this season have failed to score at least 18.9 fantasy points. Nine quarterbacks have thrown for at least two scores and four have accounted for four TDs!

While I believe Stick is capable of being a long-term NFL backup, I have no faith in him on a short week against an improving defense with a beat-up supporting cast. Keenan Allen (heel) has already been ruled out. Joshua Palmer (knee) is expected to play since Week 8 on Thursday Night Football, but he is highly unlikely to see his usual allotment of snaps. Quentin Johnston may be showing signs of progress, but it would be a huge stretch to say he is deserving of more than five or six targets. Even if the Chargers lean heavily on Austin Ekeler this week, they may struggle to score more than 14 points. Never mind the fact the Raiders have allowed 20-plus fantasy points to only four quarterbacks this season.

Through nine weeks, McLaurin was the WR17 in total fantasy points and the WR19 in fantasy points per game (among receivers who had played every one of their team's games up to that point). Somewhat interestingly, McLaurin is averaging 17 PPR fantasy points against the Eagles this season and 9.8 against everyone else. He is on roughly the same pace as he was in 2020 (134) and 2021 (130). His recent demise is not the product of a lack of targets either. The targets have not changed much over the last four games (he is averaging 10 over that stretch as opposed to 7.8 from Weeks 1-9), but his catch rate has fallen from 67 to 45 percent. Additionally, his yards per catch have also dropped from 12.1 from Weeks 1-9 to 9.7 over the last four contests. It is almost incomprehensible how such a route-running technician could go from one extreme to the other so quickly. What has changed is that McLaurin has posted three of his highest average depth of target (aDOT) marks of the season in his last three outings, going from 11 in Week 11 to 13.5 and 17.3 before the bye. McLaurin had only three aDOT marks higher than 11 over his first nine contests. The problem is OC Eric Bieniemy's offense seems to prioritize spreading the wealth over feeding its primary playmakers. McLaurin reportedly expressed his frustrations with the coaching staff during the bye week, for what it is worth.

Meyers' plight is not much different from McLaurin's, only his struggles have lasted a bit longer. His Week 13 eruption (6-79-1) was mostly the product of the Raiders targeting Chiefs CB Jaylen Watson, while his only other double-digit effort since Week 7 was greatly influenced by a 17-yard touchdown run. Since Week 7, Meyers has earned a mere 26 targets (4.3 per game), which greatly overshadows the fact he has caught 20 of them (77 percent). Las Vegas is coming off a shutout loss and may be on the verge of benching Aidan O'Connell for Jimmy Garoppolo, which may not be a bad thing at this point. Unfortunately, we cannot count on that happening this week. The one caveat to keep in mind, however, is that Davante Adams popped up on the injury report on Wednesday (Dec. 13) with an illness and is listed as questionable. While an illness is unlikely to keep Adams from playing, the Raiders also do not have a lot to play for anymore. In short, I would start Meyers over McLaurin if Adams ends up on the inactive list on Thursday night. Otherwise, I will follow the volume and pray Commanders-Rams turns into a bit more of a shootout than the matchup says it should.

polecatt: I am in a league where we keep 8-12 players each year. It is PPR, long-ball bonus, with big bonuses at 100/300 yds. Normally, I like to keep eight and get a high draft pick. However, this season I may struggle to narrow it down to 12. I have several no-brainer keepers, such as Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Puka Nacua, Kyren Williams, Kenneth Walker, Sam LaPorta, C.J. Stroud, Justin Herbert and Chris Olave. I have three spots left and a few guys I am on the fence about: Cooper Kupp, Jaylen Warren, Kyle Pitts and Anthony Richardson. Should I keep all, none or some?

First of all, kudos on an incredible roster. Because the first nine are no-brainers like polecatt said, I will focus on the final four.

The answer to the question depends largely on the size of this league and the number/quality of keepers you expect your league-mates to keep. If most of the rest of the league is keeping roughly 10 players on average, you would theoretically be starting next year's draft at around pick 100 in a 10-team league or 120 in a 12-teamer. I do not think it is much of a reach to say that at least three of the four "fence" guys will be taken by pick 100 or 120 next summer. With that said, there are other factors to consider here, such as the long-term value of the "fence" players.

The decision to keep Kupp is almost entirely dependent on the quality of player you expect to draft next summer. Kupp is the clear WR5 from a keeper/dynasty perspective on this list, yet it would not surprise me if he ends up being more productive than Nacua and Olave for another year or two. If I knew I was getting a solid RB2 with the pick I get for releasing Kupp back into the player pool and had the depth you do at receiver, I would probably let Kupp go. However, if a back like Warren is what you can expect in return, then I would not.

Despite being heavy on quarterbacks and receivers and light on running backs, I would feel comfortable parting with Warren. Najee Harris is stuck in Pittsburgh for at least another season and will probably stick around another year after that (the team will likely exercise his fifth-year team option). Assuming Harris' option is picked up, it means the best we can realistically hope for is that Warren hits the open market after his contract expires following the end of the 2024 season (when he will be 26 years old). That is a long wait for an older player who may never be allowed to be anything more than a committee back in Pittsburgh.

This team may be the rare occasion I would be OK with letting go of Pitts, although I am not sure I would. Most of us can acknowledge Pitts' current circumstance has much less to do with his talent and much more to do with how he is being used. (Imagine how much his value would skyrocket if HC Arthur Smith is no longer in Atlanta after this season or Pitts is traded.) Even with LaPorta on my roster, I would think long and hard about keeping Pitts. Cornering the young tight end market in a keeper/dynasty league not only makes things easier from a long-term roster-building perspective, but it also allows you to dictate the terms in trade talks since tight end is such a hard position to fill.

The only easy keeper decision of the bunch is Richardson. I could care less if I already have Herbert and Stroud on my roster. Richardson could easily be a top-five quarterback as soon as next season with better injury luck. This year's No. 4 overall pick may end up being a more athletic version of Jalen Hurts in Shane Steichen's offense, which is the kind of upside you are not going to find very often.

In summary, I would definitely hold onto Richardson. Kupp and Pitts are likely holds based on certain criteria. I do not have much of an issue letting Warren go with what you already have at running back.

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.