Exploiting the Matchups: Week 18 Start/Sit

Exploiting the Matchups: Week 18 Start/Sit

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Welcome to the first ever Week 18 matchups guide, which will take the usual start/sit format even as most of us shift our focus to DFS, dynasty leagues or other non-redraft forms of fantasy football. Some, of course, still have championships to play for in the final week of the regular season, with the NFL's new format meaning fewer starters will be rested.

'Fewer' isn't the same as none, of course, so we'll start by mentioning that Joe Burrow has already ruled himself out, with the Bengals one of a number of teams that technically can improve their playoff position but are highly unlikely to make a meaningful jump. Different teams value that differently, to be fair, and Zac Taylor's opinion doesn't necessarily translate to other coaches.

The Packers and Eagles are the playoff teams with the least to play for, but as of Friday morning there'd been no report of resting starters. Still, the Packers in particular don't have much incentive to play their top guys through all four quarters, and we'd be foolish to ignore that in projections and decisions for Week 18 (Vegas certainly hasn't, with Green Bay favored by only 3.5 over a two-win team).

Last but not least, there are usually a few non-playoff teams that use Week 18 to evaluate less experienced players, especially if/when the starter has been battling injuries. Antonio Gibson (hip) comes to mind as a prominent example, though this tends to be a little more difficult to get a read on, as most non-playoff teams simply try to win (especially if the coach is perceived to be on the proverbial hot seat).

Anyway, it's all pretty messy, but you're used to that by now with all the COVID outbreaks on top of the usual array of injuries the past month.

Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.

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Taysom Hill (at ATL)

17% started

Hill is slumping from a fantasy standpoint, with modest rushing stats in his past two games, which were sandwiched around a COVID absence. He returned healthy last week, however, and did solid work as a passer (17 of 28 for 222 yards and a TD) in an 18-10 win over a Panthers team with a an-average defense. This week, Hill gets an easier draw, with Atlanta allowing the fourth most points to QBs overall and the third most on the ground (83-416-4). Hill has taken either 11 or 12 carries in each of four starts this year, averaging 11.3 for 63.0 ypg.



Running Backs


AJ Dillon (at DET)

45% started

The Packers are careful with Aaron Jones' workload... which you may have noticed last week if you started him in a playoff matchup and watched him get all of two touches and after halftime. Now, Green Bay is locked in as the NFC's 1 seed, setting up a situation where Jones is likely to be held out entirely or pulled from the game early. That should end up benefiting No. 3 RB Patrick Taylor as well, but the bet here is that Dillon first gets a good number of chances to beat up on arguably the worst defense in the league.


D'Andre Swift (vs. GB)

58% started

The bad news? Swift got only six touches last week in his first game back from a shoulder injury, then told reporters Thursday that he doesn't expect his role to change much for the season finale. The good news? Twitter comments don't mean a whole lot, especially from players rather than coaches, and the "same role" should yield more than six touches given that Swift played 57 percent of Detroit's snaps last week (not too far from his pre-injury norm). Plus, there's a good chance he'll take aim at Green Bay's backups at some point Sunday, if not right from the opening whistle.



Wide Receivers


Odell Beckham (at SF)

54% started

The 49ers already have been more accommodating to WRs than other positions, allowing the ninth most fantasy points and ninth most yards per target (8.3). Now, they have COVID outbreak in their cornerback room, temporarily leaving Josh Norman as the only healthy cornerback on the active roster. Even if some of the guys make it back, this looks like a solid matchup for Beckham, who has scored TDs in five of six games since a Week 11 bye. He should handle a full workload Sunday, with the Rams hoping to climb over Arizona to avoid a road game in the first round of the playoffs.


Darnell Mooney (at MIN)

38% started

Mooney sits 71 yards shy of 1,000 as he prepares to close out his season against a defense that's given up a league-high 42.3 PPR points per game to wide receivers. He's also been safe in terms of volume, with five or more targets in every game since Week 3, including 13 last week against the Giants with Allen Robinson back in the lineup. And while Justin Fields has shown some chemistry with the young wideout, Week 18 starter Andy Dalton has sent a robust 27.6 percent of his targets to Mooney, who's averaged 5.5 catches for 61.2 yards on 8.8 targets in the four full games he and the Red Rifle have played together (Weeks 1, 12-13, 17).



Tight Ends


Pat Freiermuth (at BAL)

23% started

While he hasn't maintained his mid-season surge, Freiermuth still has multiple catches in 10 straight games, including last week when he returned from concussion protocol to play a season-high 62 snaps (77 percent) in the 26-14 win over Cleveland. All the playing time led to only 5-22-0 on six targets, but the rookie should fare better Sunday against a Baltimore defense that had its issues against tight ends even before all the injuries in the secondary. As is, the Ravens have allowed the fourth most points to the position this season, despite holding Freiermuth in check back in Week 13 (3-26-0 with a two-point conversion).



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Tyler Huntley (vs. PIT)

11% started

Last week, I made the mistake of listing Lamar Jackson (ankle) in this space, buying into some early week hype that he might return, albeit at less than 100 percent. I won't make the same mistake twice, especially with Jackson missing practice again, but I'll still caution against starting his better-than-expected backup, Mr. Huntley. While his efforts have been admirable, Huntley's lack of arm strength is noticeable, and three of his four starts so far ended with less than 16 fantasy points. We're chasing dragons if we expect a repeat of the Green Bay game (four TDs, 35.9 points), especially with T.J. Watt and Co. on tap this week.



Running Backs


Cordarrelle Patterson (vs. NO)

76% started

The Falcons may try to help Patterson finish his breakout season on a high note, but that doesn't mean they'll be successful even if the thought is in mind. The last time he was a real factor in Atlanta's passing game was the Week 9 win over these same Saints, who've yielded the second fewest fantasy points to RBs while leading the league in YPC allowed (3.7). It's also a tough draw for Mike Davis, who has more yards than Patterson (and the same number of TDs - two) over the past five games. Davis getting the goal-line work last week (including a short score) is another complicating factor, after C-Patt got most of those carries throughout the year.


Javonte Williams (vs. KC)

50% started

Williams erupted for 178 total yards the last time these AFC West rivals met, but that was on 78 percent snap share with Melvin Gordon sidelined by an injury. MG3 has since returned to the lineup and resumed his 50/50 split with the rookie, who has averaged 12.0 carries for 46.8 yards and 2.0 catches for 7.3 yards in four games since he faced the Chiefs. Even if his per-touch efficiency improves this week, Williams faces other obstacles apart from the timeshare, with KC favored by 11 points as Drew Lock prepares for another start. As much as the Broncos want to base their offense around the running backs, things may go off-script if they fall into a hole early on.



Wide Receivers


Brandon Aiyuk (at LAR)

67% started

Aiyuk did fine last week with four catches for 94 yards on six targets, continuing his trend of solid-but-unspectacular performances throughout the second half of the season. The concern this week is two-fold, with either Trey Lance or a less-than-100-percent (and already not that good) Jimmy Garoppolo starting at QB for the 49ers, against a solid Rams defense with Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams taking the vast majority of perimeter CB snaps. The Niners dominated the Rams last time these teams met, but even then, Aiyuk managed only three catches for 26 yards in the Week 10 win.


DeVante Parker (vs. NE)

19% started

Top cornerback J.C. Jackson more than holds his own in the slot, but the Patriots still use him outside far more often than not, even against teams like Miami that put their most dangerous receiver (Jaylen Waddle) in the slot most of the time. That means the Dolphins' top perimeter target, Parker, likely will see a lot of the interception machine, potentially leading to another inefficient day after last week's 4-46-0 disaster on 13 targets at Tennessee.



Tight Ends


Mike Gesicki (vs. NE)

45% started

Gesicki still hasn't done much with Tua Tagovailoa at QB, with Week 7 being the last time the tight end scored even a dozen PPR points in a game. He'll likely have to settle for a disappointing finish to the final season of his rookie contract, considering the Patriots have allowed a league-low 6.5 PPR points per game to tight ends, with Gesicki himself putting up a goose egg on three targets way back in Week 1.



Streaming Picks

For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)

QB Taysom Hill (at ATL)

RB D'Onta Foreman (at HOU)

RB Rhamondre Stevenson (at MIA)

WR A.J. Green (vs. SEA)

TE Pat Freiermuth (at BAL)

K Matt Prater (vs. SEA)

D/ST Titans (at HOU)


For Medium-depth Leagues (15-39 percent rostered)

QB Trey Lance (at LAR)

RB Boston Scott, Jordan Howard or Kenneth Gainwell (vs. DAL)

RB Jaret Patterson (at NYG)

WR K.J. Osborn (vs. CHI)

WR Marquez Callaway (at ATL)

TE Cole Kmet (at MIN)

K Michael Badgley (vs. JAX)

D/ST Browns (vs. CIN)


For Deep Leagues (under 15 percent rostered)

QB Andy Dalton (at MIN)

RB Samaje Perine (at CLE)

WR T.Y. Hilton (at JAX)

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (vs. CIN)

TE David Njoku (vs. CIN)

K Randy Bullock (at HOU)

D/ST Giants (vs. WAS)


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Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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