Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 16

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. Houston): After throwing for 450-plus yards and 4 touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, Jameis Winston has rewarded faithful fantasy managers at just the right time. However, the injuries are really beginning to mount for Tampa Bay, with wideouts Mike Evans and Scotty Miller hitting the injured reserve and Chris Godwin ruled out.

With Winston now expected to rely on the likes of Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson, and O.J. Howard against Houston -- not to mention his ongoing thumb issue -- this isn't exactly the perfect scenario, but we shouldn't let all that deter us from staying the course for championship week.

The Texans rank 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play -- aka schedule-adjusted pass defense -- and they've allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. The game's total has dropped from 53.0 to 50.0, but that's still a shootout-friendly figure, adding to the likelihood that Winston will be chucking it over 40 times for the third straight week.

Of course, the risk with Winston is always turnovers -- he leads the league with 24 interceptions, after all -- but between averaging a league-best 326.6 passing yards per game and ranking behind only Lamar Jackson in passing scores (30), he generally compensates for his mistakes, and we've already seen his week-winning upside. Winston is the QB7 in numberFire's projections this week.

Start Kyler Murray (at Seattle): Although Kyler Murray had a fairly mundane QB16 finish in Week 15, that had more to do with Kenyan Drake going absolutely bonkers and hogging four of the Cardinals' five touchdowns for himself against Cleveland (Murray threw a score to Dan Arnold for the other).

Despite taking a backseat, this was still an encouraging performance for Murray, averaging 8.8 yards per pass attempt while adding 56 rushing yards on 8 carries, and if he was involved in any of the other four touchdowns, he would've cleared 20 fantasy points.

With a week-high 51.5 over/under upcoming versus Seattle, Arizona could be in for another high-scoring contest, and the Seahawks are fairly average against the pass, ranking 14th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Our model likes Murray as the QB8.

Start Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Cincinnati): Of the potential quarterback streamers who might be available, Ryan Fitzpatrick checks in as one of the better championship choices against a shoddy Bengals defense that ranks 29th in schedule-adjusted pass defense and 24th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.

Between Miami's own terrible defense and ineffective run game, Fitzpatrick has been consistently airing it out lately, averaging just over 40 pass attempts per game over the last five weeks. During this stretch, he's thrown for multiple scores against the Giants, Eagles, and Browns.

And while he's not typically thought of as an especially mobile quarterback, he hasn't been a zero on the ground, either, notching 30-plus rushing yards in three of the last four and cashing in three rushing scores on the season.

Put it all together and Fitzpatrick could be in line for another solid fantasy performance and ranks 16th in this week's quarterback projections.

Sit Jared Goff (at San Francisco): Last week, Jared Goff was well on his way to one of those week-killing fantasy performances we've seen all too often from him this year, but he eventually managed to salvage his day with a pair of garbage-time scores in a blowout loss to the Cowboys.

Despite the final QB13 finish, Goff averaged a miserable 5.6 yards per attempt, requiring 51 passes reach 284 yards. It's not like Dallas has been a particularly imposing defense this season, either, ranking 18th against the pass by numberFire's metrics.

None of that bodes well for his upcoming spot versus the 49ers, who rank second in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and first in Football Outsiders' adjusted sack rate. Goff has routinely struggled in difficult matchups this year, being held to single-digit fantasy points and zero touchdowns against Baltimore, Chicago, Pittsburgh... and San Francisco. He's not the guy you want to be counting on for your fantasy championship.

Other quarterbacks to start: Matt Ryan (vs. Jacksonville), Ryan Tannehill (vs. New Orleans), Philip Rivers (vs. Oakland; deep formats), Andy Dalton (at Miami; deep formats)

Running Back

Start Marlon Mack (vs. Carolina): Since returning from injury in Week 14, Marlon Mack has been held to single-digit fantasy points the past two games, logging under half the snaps while averaging just 12 carries with zero targets. Bad as that is, those results came in rough matchups against New Orleans and Tampa Bay, teams that have allowed the fourth- and second-fewest fantasy points to opposing backfields.

But things should get a whole lot easier for Mack in Week 16, going from two of the toughest run defenses to the weakest. Carolina ranks dead last in both schedule-adjusted run defense and fantasy points allowed to running backs. They've now given up 23 rushing touchdown to the position, with no other team exceeding even 14.

Indianapolis is also a 7.0-point home favorite, so game script should also encourage the Colts to give Mack more opportunities. Although Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins will continue to steal snaps, Mack is firmly in the RB2 conversation and is an especially strong play in standard formats where his lack of passing game usage isn't as problematic.

Start Devonta Freeman (vs. Jacksonville): Devonta Freeman has been a pretty unexciting fantasy running back this year, but he could succeed at just the right time against the Jaguars. Jacksonville ranks 30th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and only the Panthers have allowed more fantasy points to running backs. Since returning from injury in Week 13, Freeman has tallied 22, 21, and 15 opportunities while seeing the field for at least 66% of the snaps in all three games.

He had one of his best performances of the season in a similar spot against the aforementioned Panthers in Week 14, and Atlanta is favored by 7.0 points at home, setting him up for a positive game script. Our projections rank Freeman right around the top-15 backs in all formats.

Start Phillip Lindsay (vs. Detroit): Phillip Lindsay flopped in a theoretical plus spot against Kansas City last week, though this had more to do with the Broncos abandoning the run after falling behind the Chiefs early -- a bit of a surprise considering the tough snowy conditions. Royce Freeman actually equaled Lindsay in opportunities (nine each) and out-snapped him by a decent margin, too (54.2% to 39.0%).

Freeman's presence continues to limit Lindsay's fantasy output, and this latest result might normally take us off him in the most crucial of weeks -- except Denver now draws the floundering Detroit Lions.

Although Detroit rates as an average schedule-adjusted run defense (16th), as losers of 10 of the last 11 games, they've routinely provided positive game scripts for opposing offenses, resulting in them allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. Sure enough, Denver is a 6.5-point home favorite, and Lindsay shouldn't have the game flow issues he enduring against Kansas City.

And despite last week's troubling workload split, Lindsay's opportunities have been pretty consistent prior to that, notching 18, 16, 20, and 18 the previous four games. He projects as a borderline top-20 back in Week 16.

Sit David Montgomery (vs. Kansas City): Depending on your situation, David Montgomery is a reasonable flex play against the Chiefs -- who rank 28th in schedule-adjusted run defense -- but he could very well suffer the same fate as Lindsay did if the Bears fall behind quickly. That's much like how things played out for Montgomery in last week's loss to Green Bay, with pass-catching back Tarik Cohen getting both more opportunities (18 to 15) and snaps (65.5% to 42.9%).

Furthermore, Montgomery hasn't been a particularly effective rusher even when he does get touches this season. He's averaging -0.14 NEP per carry -- meaning he's actually hurt his team more often than o -- which is worse than Sony Michel (-0.09) and Le'Veon Bell (-0.10) and only slightly better than Devonta Freeman (-0.15) and 36-year-old Frank Gore (-0.16).

But at least Bell and Freeman have provided value in their respective passing games, whereas the more one-dimensional Gore, Montgomery, and Michel actually rank as the three worst overall running backs in Total NEP this season.

Given the matchup, there's definitely a path to a strong game for Montgomery, but concerns with game script, usage, and efficiency make him more of a low-end RB3, which is about where numberFire's projections place him this week.

Other running backs to start: Joe Mixon (at Miami), James Conner (at New York Jets), Kenyan Drake (at Seattle), Miles Sanders (vs. Dallas), Raheem Mostert (vs. Los Angeles Rams), Mike Boone (vs. Green Bay; if Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison are out)

Wide Receiver

Start Breshad Perriman (vs. Houston): As noted earlier about Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay's pass-catchers are dropping like flies, but someone has to catch his passes, and our best bet is Breshad Perriman. Although Perriman's six targets in Week 15 resulted in just a 14.6% target share, he led the team in air yards share (27.1%), helping him to 5 catches for 113 yards and a whopping 3 touchdowns.

Obviously, finding the end zone again this week -- let alone multiple times -- is no guarantee, but with Chris Godwin added to the list of guys out, Perriman's share of the pie should only go up, and there ought to be plenty of targets to go around in a possible shootout against Houston.

The lack of overall looks last week does lower Perriman's floor, but the ceiling is readily apparent after his massive performance, as well as what we saw Mike Evans and Godwin achieve with Winston throughout the season.

Perhaps numberFire's projections are overly optimistic, but they're extremely bullish on Perriman, ranking him as a top-10 wideout this weekend.

Start Terry McLaurin (vs. New York Giants): Trusting anyone in Washington's offense is pretty much boom-or-bust by default, but Terry McLaurin flashed some of his upside in Week 15, nabbing 5-of-5 targets for 130 yards and a score against Philadelphia. The low passing volume in this Dwayne Haskins offense is troublesome -- he's exceeded 30 pass attempts in just once in six starts -- but Haskins is coming off his best game of the season, and McLaurin owns a 23.6% target share and 37.6% air yards share over those starts.

But perhaps most importantly, McLaurin has another favorable matchup looming against the Giants, who have given up the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers and rank 27th in Target Success Rate allowed to the position. Our model like McLaurin as a potential WR2.

Start Tyler Boyd (at Miami): Tyler Boyd is coming off a down game, but that was to be expected against the Patriots, numberFire's top-ranked pass defense. Well, Boyd now goes to the complete opposite end of the spectrum in Week 16 against the Dolphins, the worst schedule-adjusted pass defense. Miami has allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing wideouts, including a league-high 24 touchdowns.

Since Andy Dalton retook the starting job in Week 13, Boyd has led the team with a 24.0% target share, and considering Ryan Fitzpatrick could also find success against Cincinnati's defense, there might even be some sneaky shootout potential. Boyd hovers just outside the top-20 wideouts in this week's projections.

Sit John Brown (at New England): John Brown was pegged as a "sit" last week against Pittsburgh, but he actually came through with a solid performance, catching 7-of-10 targets for 99 yards. But the road gets even tougher against the Patriots this week, who have not only allowed the fewest fantasy points to wideouts but have given up a mere three touchdown passes to the position all season.

Brown did okay against New England in their first matchup (5/69/0), but he figures to get the Stephon Gilmore shadow treatment again, giving him both a shaky floor and ceiling. Buffalo has a minuscule 15.50 implied total, tied with Detroit for the lowest of the week.

Other wide receivers to start: Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf (vs. Arizona), A.J. Brown (vs. New Orleans), Courtland Sutton (vs. Detroit), Christian Kirk (at Seattle), Michael Gallup (at Philadelphia)

Tight End

Start O.J. Howard (vs. Houston): O.J. Howard had another solid, if unspectacular, performance in Week 15, catching 4-of-7 targets for 46 yards, but he tied his season-high in targets and could possibly see even more this week in Tampa Bay's injury-ravaged offense. In fact, of the remaining healthy pass-catchers, it's actually Howard who has the most targets (19) over the past three weeks, two more than Perriman. Maybe Howard finally comes through when fantasy managers finally need him most because... fantasy football.

Start Tyler Higbee (at San Francisco): Those who picked up Tyler Higbee for his juicy matchup against Arizona back in Week 13 probably didn't think they were hitting the multi-week jackpot, as Higbee has now surpassed 100 receiving yards for three straight games with a 26.4% target share. However, not only is Higbee now getting a rough matchup against San Francisco, but fellow tight end Gerald Everett is slated to finally ready to return this week and throw a wrench in everything.

Still, Everett's playing time was already on the downswing even before his three-game absence, suggesting that the Rams may stick with the red-hot Higbee as their top tight end. It's not ideal -- particularly given the matchup -- but it's hard to sit Higbee after getting us this far.

Other tight ends to start: Dallas Goedert (vs. Dallas), Jacob Hollister (vs. Arizona), Mike Gesicki (vs. Cincinnati)