Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 14

The start/sit question is one that many a fantasy football analyst dreads. And yet, it's often the most important one.

As fantasy football enthusiasts, we spend the offseason poring over stats, news, projections, rankings -- whatever we can get our hands on -- all in anticipation of dominating our leagues on draft night.

But while we might agonize over whether Player A will have a better season than Player B as the clock ticks down on our eighth pick, the truth is that once the dust settles and the games actually begin, a good chunk of our roster will be cycling in and out of our lineups all season. At the end of the day, it won't matter that you picked the right guy if you started him in all the wrong weeks.

Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another.

With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week and will hopefully be able to sway you in one direction or another. And away we go!


Start Jameis Winston (vs. Indianapolis): In typical Jameis Winston fashion, right when you're beginning to gain some confidence in him, he goes and submits one of his worst fantasy performances of 2019, throwing for under 300 yards for the first time since Week 5 and zero touchdowns for the first time all season.

But that had more to do with Nick Foles completely imploding for three first-half turnovers, ultimately resulting in an easy Tampa Bay win and Winston not needing to air it out like he normally does. Peyton Barber would run in both of their offensive touchdowns, something we also shouldn't expect to happen most weeks.

Given how inept the Bucs' defense has been all year, we should see a more back-and-forth contest against the Colts and a return to Winston slinging it like usual. Tampa Bay checks in as a home favorite with a 24.75 implied total, and Indianapolis' pass defense is middle of the road at best, ranking 17th in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. Winston shines in numberFire's projections, ranking as the QB4 this week.

Start Matt Ryan (vs. Carolina): While Matt Ryan isn't quite as turnover prone as Winston, he's having a rather similar fantasy campaign, playing for a losing team with a poor defense, often benefiting from shootouts and garbage time to rack up fantasy points. No team passes more frequently than the Falcons.

Although Ryan hasn't been a remarkable fantasy asset in his four games since returning from injury, he's still thrown for 300 yards twice, and we shouldn't forget the upside he showed earlier in the year, rolling off six straight games with over 300 yards while tallying 3 or more scores four times.

Ryan's matchup against Carolina has some shootout potential with one of the higher over/unders of the week (47.0), and Atlanta is expected to put up points at home (25.00 implied total).

Although the Panthers theoretically pose a tougher matchup as numberFire's sixth-ranked schedule-adjusted pass defense, this team hasn't been immune to giving up strong performances to opposing quarterbacks, getting diced up for three touchdown by Drew Brees in Week 12 and allowing one of those 300-yard performances to Ryan himself in Week 11. The team has also been in a downward spiral, losing five of the last six, resulting in the firing of longtime head coach Ron Rivera.

Our model projects Ryan for a QB8 finish against Carolina.

Start Sam Darnold (vs. Miami): After seemingly making strides the prior two games, Sam Darnold surprisingly faceplanted against the Bengals, tossing 239 yards with no touchdowns despite a season-high 48 pass attempts.

However, Darnold should right the ship against the Miami Dolphins, who have pretty much been a weekly panacea for opposing quarterbacks. Over the last three weeks, the Dolphins have allowed three passing scores to each of Carson Wentz, Baker Mayfield, and Josh Allen, and there's little reason to think Darnold can't join them. Miami ranks 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and has allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Darnold projects as numberFire's QB12 in Week 14.

Sit Drew Brees (vs. San Francisco): Drew Brees projects as a low-end QB1 in this week's rankings, so he's arguably still an option in deep formats, but he's one to avoid if possible in a tough spot against San Francisco.

The 49ers rank first in schedule-adjusted pass defense, and only the Patriots have allowed fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Although Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray found some success against San Francisco in recent weeks, Brees lacks the running ability of those two, making it less likely he can replicate their success.

Also, while Brees is putting up solid fantasy numbers this year, he's largely benefited from a cakewalk schedule in his healthy games, with five of six games coming against Atlanta (twice), Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Houston -- all defenses ranking bottom-seven in fantasy points allowed to opposing signal-callers.

Other quarterbacks to start: Carson Wentz (vs. New York Giants), Kirk Cousins (vs. Detroit), Ryan Tannehill (at Oakland), Ryan Fitzpatrick (at New York Jets; deep formats)

Running Back

Start Kenyan Drake (vs. Pittsburgh): Kenyan Drake is coming off a quiet performance and gets a difficult matchup against the Steelers -- numberFire's third-best schedule-adjusted run defense -- but based on usage, he still deserves to be in most lineups as an RB2 or flex play.

Drake, David Johnson, and Chase Edmonds were all active together for the first time last week, and despite the low fantasy output, Drake dominated the backfield once again, leading the way with 18 opportunities (13 carries and 5 targets) and a 79.7% snap rate. Johnson would back him up with just 6 opportunities and a 23.4% snap rate, while Edmonds wouldn't play a single offensive snap.

Against tough opponents in the Rams, 49ers (twice), and Bucs, Drake has struggled to get much going in three of his four games with Arizona, but his volume has remained consistent, logging at least 17 opportunities in all four, including a season-high 23 in Week 11. Yet another run-stopping defense obviously isn't ideal, but the Cardinals are just 2.5-point home underdogs, so game script shouldn't be an issue as it was in last week, potentially leading to more opportunities.

numberFire's projections are particularly bullish on Drake in PPR formats, ranking him as the RB13.

Start Devonta Freeman (vs. Carolina): In his first game since Week 10, Devonta Freeman reassumed his role as Atlanta's lead back last week, tallying 17 rushes and 5 targets with a 66.7% snap rate. While that didn't amount to much in the box score against New Orleans, that volume should play well against Carolina's far less imposing run defense, which ranks 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and has allowed the most fantasy points to opposing backfields. Our model projects Freeman as a top-17 back in all formats.

Start Phillip Lindsay (at Houston): Phillip Lindsay actually saw a dip in snap rate last week (43.9%), but he still dominated backfield opportunities over Royce Freeman 20-9. While Lindsay hasn't done much to enamor himself with fantasy managers lately, he's now averaged 18 opportunities over the last three weeks and should be able to do some damage against the Texans.

Houston not only ranks just 19th in schedule-adjusted run defense, but they also rank 26th in Target Success Rate allowed to running backs. The end result has been a bottom-10 fantasy defense against the position, and over the last three weeks, they've allowed RB1 performances to James White, Jonathan Williams, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards, with the last two coming in the same game.

Freeman's presence continues to cap Lindsay's upside, and there's obvious risk in trusting a 9.5-point road underdog, but the opportunities should be there in a plus spot. He ranks just outside the top-20 running backs in numberFire's projections.

Sit Ronald Jones (vs. Indianapolis): Ronald Jones seemed set up for a potential big day in a fantastic matchup against Jacksonville in Week 13, only to see a mere six carries on 27.3% of the snaps. Instead, teammate Peyton Barber would reap the benefits, scoring a pair of touchdowns on 17 rushes.

The frustrating turn of events was the result of Jones getting benched for a missed blitz pickup, and while head coach Bruce Arians has said Jones is still the starter, it's hard to have much faith in those words entering such a crucial time in the fantasy season.

Furthermore, even if you believe Arians, Jones has seen his weekly usage decline as is. After tallying 20 and 19 opportunities in Weeks 9 and 10, those marks have dropped to 8, 15, and now 6 over the last three. He's also exceeded a 50% snap rate just once all season (Week 9).

Throw in a middling matchup against Indianapolis, which has allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs, and you're better off avoiding this murky backfield entirely.

Other running backs to start: Miles Sanders (vs. New York Giants; if Jordan Howard remains out), David Montgomery (vs. Dallas), Austin Ekeler (at Jacksonville), Devin Singletary (vs. Baltimore), Kareem Hunt (vs. Cincinnati), Sony Michel and James White (vs. Kansas City; risky but a favorable matchup), Derrius Guice (at Green Bay; deep formats)

Wide Receiver

Start Tyler Lockett (at Los Angeles Rams): Perhaps the hardest decision at wide receiver this week is what to do with Tyler Lockett, who's coming off three straight clunkers, including a mind-boggling goose egg last week against Minnesota. Over this span, Lockett has dealt with a leg injury, and he was also sick last week, so perhaps some down performances were to be expected. Still, a combined nine targets over those three games (10.3% target share) isn't exactly what you want to see entering the fantasy playoffs.

If all that wasn't enough, Lockett could also see shadow coverage from Jalen Ramsey this week, which won't help matters, either.

But unless your team is overflowing with top wideouts, it'll be difficult to bench Lockett in spite of the risks. He played on 88.0% of the snaps last week, so theoretically, the targets should materialize again, and few can match his upside, with an 11/154/1 performance in Week 3 and 13/152/2 in Week 9.

And despite the mediocre matchup against the Rams, there's some shootout potential here if Jared Goff can hold up his end of the bargain. Goff returned to form against the Cardinals in Week 13 (424 yards and 2 scores) and has generally performed well in plus matchups. While Seattle's defense is certainly a step up from Arizona, they aren't elite, either, ranking 30th in adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders. Bettors like the chances of a high-scoring game, too, as the vast majority of bets and money are on the over, per oddsFire.

If that comes to fruition, then that should mean more pass attempts for Russell Wilson, leading to more chances for Lockett to bust out of his slump. numberFire's projections remain optimistic, ranking Lockett as the WR12.

Start Alshon Jeffery (vs. New York Giants): Alshon Jeffery played for the first time since Week 9, and Carson Wentz welcomed him back with a team-high 16 targets (35.6%), leading to 9 receptions, 137 yards, and a score. Of course, this came against the Dolphins, but Jeffery leads the team with a 26.1% target share and 33.7% air yards share in his eight healthy games, and he should be able to keep things going with another favorable matchup on tap against the Giants.

New York is numberFire's 27th-ranked schedule-adjusted pass defense, and they sit 29th in Target Success Rate allowed to wide receivers. Only the Buccaneers have allowed more fantasy points to opposing wideouts.

Start Robby Anderson (vs. Miami): The Jets may have flopped against the Bengals, but Robby Anderson saw season-highs in both targets (10) and receptions (7), leading to a 101-yard day at the office. The deep threat always holds a low floor -- making him more of a flex play -- but he owns a solid 18.4% target share and 36.0% air yards share in Sam Darnold's nine starts, and over the last two games, he's seen a slight uptick in volume, leading the team with 15 targets (21.4% target share) and a massive slice of air yards (51.0%).

A matchup against the league's worst pass defense is the perfect spot to cash in on all those air yards. Miami has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and the most touchdowns (20).

Sit Brandin Cooks (vs. Seattle): Jared Goff may have bounced back with a 400-yard passing day, but Brandin Cooks apparently didn't get an invitation to the party, catching his 2 measly targets for 24 yards. He's now tallied just six targets (7.6% share) in his two games since returning from a concussion, and even if we expand out to his other seven healthy games, he's seen a paltry 13.8% target share. He only has one touchdown (Week 2) and one 100-yard game (Week 3) this season, and those came months ago.

We know the upside Cooks theoretically brings to the table, and perhaps he remerges before the end of the season, but that isn't a leap of faith you want to be making in the win-or-go-home portion of the fantasy season.

Other wide receivers to start: Courtland Sutton (at Houston), DeVante Parker (at New York Jets), Robert Woods (vs. Seattle), Tyler Boyd (at Cleveland), James Washington (at Arizona; deep formats), Zach Pascal (at Tampa Bay; deep formats), Anthony Miller (vs. Dallas; deep formats)

Tight End

Start Jack Doyle (at Tampa Bay): With the Colts sorely lacking healthy pass-catchers -- most notably Eric Ebron (IR) and T.Y. Hilton (calf) -- Jack Doyle (11 targets) and Zach Pascal (10 targets) would soak up the volume in Week 13 against Tennessee. You don't often see double-digit targets for a tight end, and seeing as Hilton is out for the foreseeable future, Doyle and Pascal will continue to be the Colts' primary options against the Bucs.

And it's not like Doyle doesn't have any history as a strong fantasy option. In 2017, he ranked fifth among tight ends in targets, averaging 7.2 per game. He should be a weekly TE1 the rest of the way. As a bonus, Tampa Bay has allowed the third-most fantasy points to tight ends this season, too.

Start Vance McDonald (at Arizona): Tyler Higbee was the latest tight end to tear up the Cardinals, catching 7-of-8 targets for 107 yards and a score. Arizona ranks 31st in Target Success Rate allowed to tight ends and has allowed by far the most fantasy points to the position, including a league-high 13 touchdowns (no other team has allowed more than 8).

With even fill-in tight ends like Higbee and Ross Dwelley scoring touchdowns against Arizona the last couple games, there's no reason to stop rolling out opposing tight ends, and this week the beneficiary should be Vance McDonald. His usage hasn't been anything exciting this year, but he leads the team with nine red zone targets, which is exactly what we want to see to take advantage of this spot. Playing time also isn't an issue, as he's logged over 85% of the snaps in four straight games

Other tight ends to start: Jacob Hollister (at Los Angeles Rams), Michael Gesicki (at New York Jets), Ryan Griffin (vs. Miami), Kyle Rudolph (vs. Detroit), Tyler Higbee (vs. Seattle; if Gerald Everett remains out)