The time has come for my final Start/Sit column of the 2021 fantasy football season. Thank you so much to all who have read and supported me throughout the year. We have one more hill to climb before we can call ourselves fantasy football champions, so let’s get to it. Here are my Week 17 starts and sits. These may not all jibe with my Flex rankings that I posted on Thursday, so read below to get my rationale for my suggestions.
Week 17 Start and Sit Recommendations
Quarterback to Start
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals v. Kansas City Chiefs
When I recommended Joe Burrow in this space a week ago, I did not expect 525 passing yards and four touchdowns. But I did expect him to exceed expectations. I would imagine expectations are a bit higher heading into Week 17 after last week’s QB1 effort. And no, I do not believe Burrow will be this week’s top fantasy quarterback. He probably won’t even be the top fantasy quarterback playing in Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon. However, he should do enough to make his managers happy in Week 17.
Betting against the Kansas City Chiefs defense has been bad business over the second half of the season. The Chiefs have won eight straight, and have allowed just 103 total points over that span. They enter Week 17 with the NFL’s fifth-best pressure rate at 34 percent. However, Burrow has been Joe Cool under pressure this year. Among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 50 passes under pressure, Burrow’s 59.2 percent completion percentage ranks first, and his 89.4 quarterback rating ranks third. While I believe Kansas City’s defense is legit, I would also argue that much of their recent success has occurred at home. Their eight-game winning streak has included just two road games. In those two games, opposing quarterbacks posted top-eight weekly fantasy finishes. The Chiefs have allowed five QB1 finishes in six road games this year.
While Cincinnati would certainly be wise to sustain drives and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field, they will have to score points to win this game. Burrow is well-equipped to do so. He was PFF’s top-graded quarterback even before last week’s victory. And Cincinnati’s pass-catching weapons are among the best in the NFL. Head coach Zac Taylor knows they cannot settle for field goals to beat the Chiefs. When asked this week what they will have to do to win on Sunday, Taylor responded, “You’ve always got to plan on scoring points.” Burrow will have to throw the ball and the Bengals will have to score touchdowns for them to win this game. I think that raises the floor a bit for Burrow from a fantasy perspective. I am expecting another top-10 fantasy finish in what should be one of the best games of the week.
Quarterback to Sit
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks v. Detroit Lions
Last week, I considered Russell Wilson a sit. His second pass of the day went for a 41-yard touchdown pass, and I was prepared to look stupid. But that did not happen. Well, I might have looked stupid for other reasons, but not because of Wilson. He ended the day as last week’s QB15 after throwing for 181 yards and two scores in a last-minute loss to the lowly Chicago Bears. Wilson has just not been the same quarterback since returning in Week 10. He has just eight touchdowns in seven games while averaging a pedestrian 206.1 passing yards per game. Wilson is also no longer a running quarterback. He has just 154 rushing yards on the season. That is fewer than Carson Wentz, Tyler Huntley, Jameis Winston, and Zach Wilson to name a few.
Believe it or not, the Detroit Lions rank 13th in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. This is not the smash spot it would appear, and Wilson is no longer the no-brainer fantasy starter he has been in the past. In a week where there are multiple fringe QB1’s who will have to chase points (Joe Burrow and Kirk Cousins come to mind) and others who can provide a rushing floor (Taysom Hill and Trey Lance, for example), I am finding it very difficult to rank Wilson inside my top-12 for the week. Wilson has a safer floor than most of the quarterbacks I just mentioned but lacks the upside to get me excited about playing him in a fantasy football championship final.
Running Back to Start
Michael Carter, New York Jets v. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starting running backs in fantasy against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers usually does not work out too well. The Bucs rank eighth in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs this season, and tops in terms of rushing yards permitted to the position. Even the great Alvin Kamara was held to 31 scoreless yards against them two weeks ago. So there is certainly risk here in starting Michael Carter against the Super Bowl Champions. However, I believe there is some hope for Carter to do enough in the passing game for him to put up RB2 totals this week.
While Tampa has been stout in run defense, they have given up some passing production to enemy backs. Running backs have 103 receptions against Tampa Bay this year. That is second-most in the NFL, and how I expect Carter to do much of his damage on Sunday. New York placed Tevin Coleman on the reserve/Covid list on Thursday. That means Carter should get all the work he can handle on Sunday. Ty Johnson was a healthy scratch two weeks ago as a direct result of three dropped passes the week before. He then played just one offensive snap last week. If the Jets are going to feature a running back in the passing game, it will be Carter.
The Jets are likely to get blown out on Sunday, but I would point to Weeks 7 and 10 as Exhibits A and B that such a scenario is not a death knell to Carter’s fantasy production. In Week 7, the Jets lost 54-13 to New England. Carter had just 37 rushing yards in that game but finished as the RB19 on the strength of eight catches. In Week 10, New York lost 45-17 to the Buffalo Bills. Carter had just 39 rushing yards, but scored a touchdown and caught four passes. He finished that week as the overall RB13. With Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder iffy for Sunday’s contest, I expect Carter to get plenty of targets. I ranked Carter as a borderline Flex earlier in the week, but I now see him as an RB2 with a relatively high floor.
Running Back to Sit
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants at Chicago Bears
If you have made it to your championship final with Saquon Barkley on your roster, you are already a winner in my book, regardless of what happens this weekend. Barkley will be returning to the scene of the crime on Sunday when the Giants face the Chicago Bears. It was at Soldier Field last September where Barkley tore his ACL. Barkley was starting to look like his old self earlier this year, but an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly six weeks, and he has struggled ever since. In his last six games, he has totaled just 266 scoreless yards, averaging 3.5 yards per carry over that timeframe. I can’t imagine things suddenly turning around for Barkley this week against the Bears.
The Giants are in a complete freefall on offense. They have scored just 69 points over their last six games. What’s worse is that nearly 40 percent of those points have been scored in the final five minutes of those games. If it weren’t for garbage time, this team would be averaging single-digit points per game during this stretch. Head coach Joe Judge has stated that he plans to play both Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm at quarterback this week. The pair combined for an almost unfathomable 118 yards and two interceptions on 44 pass attempts. They were so bad that Giants fans thought Ian Book looked decent on Monday night. This is an offense that I want no part of, even against a middling defense like Chicago’s.
If you are playing Barkley, you are doing so a pure volume play and hoping he pops one big run. I cannot sit here and pretend that scenario is impossible. The Bears have allowed an explosive run play on 13 percent of their opponent’s carries this year. That is the sixth-highest rate in the league. So I suppose there is room for optimism on that front. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Bears load the box and dare the Giants to beat them through the air. I also do not know if the 4-11 Giants want to overwork Barkley at this point in the year. I initially ranked Barkley as a mid-range RB2, but I now view him as a borderline RB2/Flex. Start him if you must, but at least temper expectations.
Wide Receivers to Start
Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams at Baltimore Ravens
I discussed Odell Beckham in my contribution towards this week’s Bold Predictions article here on FantraxHQ. Rather than regurgitating my reasoning for being high on OBJ, I would encourage you to read that piece. Suffice to say that the Ravens are struggling on the back end, especially when it comes to outside receivers. Of course, we know Cooper Kupp will get his, so perhaps Beckham and Jefferson do not have quite as high a ceiling this week as Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase last week, for example. But I still think both are viable options this week. I believe Beckham offers a bit more upside in this matchup, but I would not shy away from Jefferson either. The Rams’ trio of wide receivers all posted top-30 finishes in Weeks 12, 13, and 14. Do not be surprised if they pull off the feat again this week.
K.J. Osborn, Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
K.J. Osborn has been the third wheel in Minnesota’s receiving corps for much of the season. However, he has continued to produce when provided opportunities. I mentioned this stat in this week’s Flex Rankings piece, but it bears repeating. Here are Osborn’s numbers in games where he has been targeted at least six times versus games where he has not:
|5 or Less||8||13||115||0|
The NFL is a “next man up” league, and Osborn has embodied that mantra. Minnesota placed Adam Thielen on injured reserve this week, effectively ending his 2021 season. Osborn will get another chance to produce this week, and he has proven he can step up when called upon. The matchup is not ideal, and there is no guarantee that Kirk Cousins will be able to overcome the Packers and bitterly cold temperatures. That means that Osborn is probably more of a Flex this week than a pure WR3. But I would start him unless you have clear-cut starters at those positions.
Wide Receivers to Sit
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers v. Houston Texans
My recommendation to bench Brandon Aiyuk in Week 17 is a little bit dependent on other factors, so pay attention to news out of the Bay area in the coming days. As of now, incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo is very much a question mark for Sunday’s game due to a thumb injury. Starting running back Elijah Mitchell is also questionable after missing the last three weeks with a knee injury. The 49ers’ offense has evolved a bit in the second half of the season. The return of superstar tight end George Kittle in Week 9 has allowed Kyle Shanahan to utilize wide receiver Deebo Samuel more out of the backfield. That, in turn, has allowed Aiyuk more opportunities as a receiver. After posting just 13 catches for 143 yards over his first seven games, Aiyuk has responded with 33 catches and 482 yards in his last eight contests.
However, if Lance starts at quarterback, there may be fewer opportunities in the passing game. One of Lance’s attributes is his rushing ability, so Aiyuk could take a hit because of that. He may also be hurt if Mitchell indeed returns to the lineup. San Francisco could have Mitchell and Jeff Wilson rotate at running back and feature Samuel as the team’s top wide receiver. Aiyuk managed to salvage a WR26 performance last week but has just seven total targets over his last two games. I’m afraid he could get squeezed out a bit this week as well. The Houston Texans are a neutral matchup for opposing wideouts, so relying on a player whose volume is very much in the air makes for a dicey proposition. Aiyuk is shaping up as a very volatile WR4 this week.
Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
I have been imploring anyone who would listen to bench Courtland Sutton for the better part of two months now. And, for the record, I have yet to be wrong. Sutton is a mere afterthought when Jerry Jeudy has been available this season. In the nine games that Jeudy has played, Sutton has yet to finish as a top-60 (yes, 6-0) fantasy wide receiver in any single week. Last week was his most productive game with Jeudy on the field. He caught four passes for 33 yards. Rejoice! So yeah, don’t start Courtland Sutton. And it brings me sadness to report that I am adding Jeudy himself to the “no-fly zone” list of wide receivers. Jeudy enters Week 17 with the same number of touchdown catches and 80-yard games as I do. He has posted just one top-24 finish in his nine games.
Things have gotten worse for Denver’s pass-catchers since Drew Lock has entered the fray. Denver attempted just 22 passes with Lock under center for last week’s loss to Las Vegas. Now they will take on a Los Angeles Chargers team that held them to 155 passing yards in their Week 12 matchup. The Broncos will continue to rely on their running backs, relegating their wideouts to beg for scraps. Denver did place Tim Patrick on the reserve/Covid list, so there could be an extra target or two for Jeudy and Sutton this week. But I cannot imagine it will make much of a difference. I have no confidence in starting any of Denver’s primary pass-catchers in this matchup.
Tight End to Start
Gerald Everett, Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions
Lost amidst the struggles of the Seattle Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson is that tight end Gerald Everett has been quite productive over the second half of the season. Everett has had at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown catch in five of his last seven games. That is good enough for him to be the overall TE9 during that stretch. He now gets to face a Detroit Lions defense that has given up the fourth-most receiving yards and 10th most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season.
Linebacker Derrick Barnes has been particularly generous in coverage this year. Barnes has a 28.1 PFF coverage grade. That is the worst in the NFL by a considerable margin. The next lowest grade is Alec Ogletree’s 34.0 mark. Not surprisingly, Barnes has allowed league-highs in both fantasy points (0.48) and yards (2.13) per route covered. Everett has earned 38 targets in his last seven games and has run a route on at least 60 percent of dropbacks in each of those outings. He has a relatively safe floor and has considerable upside given the matchup. Everett is still out there in over 30 percent of Fantrax leagues, which seems crazy considering his production at such a thin position. If he is still available in your league, he could be a savvy Week 17 plug-and-play.
Tight End to Sit
Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins at Tennessee Titans
So often, perception is the reality in fantasy football. I am guilty of it as well. I have continued to rank Mike Gesicki ahead of Gerald Everett every week, despite mounting evidence that Everett has been the superior fantasy play for basically half the season. As I just mentioned above, Everett has had at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown five times in his last seven games. Do you want to guess how many times Gesicki has done that in his last seven games? I’ll give you a hint – the answer rhymes with “hero”. Gesicki gets a Week 17 matchup against a Tennessee team that allows the fifth-fewest fantasy points and fourth-fewest yards to opposing tight ends on the season. I will be fading Gesicki this week, and I’m going on record and saying that Everett outscores Gesicki this week.
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