The NFL regular season has come to a close. But fantasy football managers turn their attention to playoff-based fantasy leagues and try for one final shot at a championship in 2023 in a quickly growing format. As not all matchups or roles are equal, we’re breaking down our top fantasy football start/sit Conference Championship plays.
Conference Championship Round Fantasy Football Start ’ems
Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Putting together a start/sit in Week 7 is easy. Doing it for the Conference Championship round? That’s harder. There are no bad teams or players. No one has an easy matchup. If I give the edge to anyone this weekend at QB, I lean toward Joe Burrow.
He has shredded the Chiefs’ defense in their last three meetings, completing 72.2% of his passes with an 8:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio while averaging 9.0 yards per attempt. He’s had multiple touchdowns in both playoff games and seems unflappable. It’s not an easy matchup against Kansas City. Since Week 15, they are seventh in success rate and fifth in EPA. But in the game that should be the highest scoring of the two, Burrow is a starter for me this week and likely my top quarterback with Patrick Mahomes injured.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, San Francisco 49ers
This is one of those situations where you don’t need to overcomplicate it. When I asked if there was a chance he won’t play on Sunday, McCaffrey answered, “zero.”
I am not overly concerned about McCaffrey’s calf issue. McCaffrey had 16 touches, 57 total yards, and the score before he left due to a late-game injury. While he did split red-zone work with Elijah Mitchell, his utilization and all aspects of this offense make him unstoppable from a fantasy aspect.
I think he also has the best matchup of the weekend as well. Since Week 15, the Eagles are 18th in yards, 21st in EPA, and 19th in points allowed over the last four games. Calf injury or not, McCaffrey sits on top of the charts this week for the Conference Championship round.
DeVonta Smith, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
DeVonta Smith deserves more respect than he has received since he came into the league. That applies even more so this season, where he truly helped take them to another level while playing alongside A.J. Brown.
However, his play has been at a different level since Week 16. Smith leads the team with a 35.5% target share and 57.1% end zone target share, and he’s averaging 2.58 YPRR (yards per route run). In fact, he’s been targeted on 31% of his routes run over this time frame.
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Smith has seen eight or more targets in all but one game since Week 8, and against the Giants, he caught six of his 10 targets for 61 yards and a touchdown. He has 60 yards or more in every game since Week 13, including four games with 100 or more receiving yards and a touchdown.
Smith is an incredible stacking option with Jalen Hurts or even triple dipping with Brown or Dallas Goedert.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
I could not care less if Travis Kelce is chalk this week. Do whatever you can to ensure he is in your fantasy lineup. Kelce commanded a jaw-dropping 50% target share (17 targets) to finish with 89 yards and two scores on 14 receptions.
Week 13 against Cincinnati was the only time Kelce saw fewer than seven targets this season. But there is no way Kansas City pulls this off without Kelce being the far-and-away top target. Since Week 15, Cincinnati has been 29th in points and 24th in yards allowed per target to tight ends. Now is not the time to get too cute. Start Kelce during the Conference Championship round of the playoffs.
Conference Championship Round Fantasy Football Sit ’ems
Brock Purdy, QB, San Francisco 49ers
This has nothing to do with the skill of Brock Purdy. If anything, he should be the front-runner for the starting job next year. There’s just no way I can recommend him over Hurts, Burrow, or Mahomes.
He came back down to Earth last week against the Cowboys and failed to throw a touchdown for the first time in his young career. Purdy completed 19-of-29 for 214 yards and let Dak Prescott in the Cowboys shoot themselves in the foot. The Eagles are playing the best football of anyone left, and they were teeing off against the Giants last week. I certainly wouldn’t mind having a few lineups with Purdy from a differentiation standpoint, but as a whole, he is ranked at the bottom of QBs for this week.
Isiah Pacheco, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
This one’s tricky because I can make a case for any running back on the slate. Isiah Pacheco has been unbelievably efficient as of late. Since Week 18, not only has he averaged 8.0 and 7.9 yards per carry, but 5.38 and 5.75, respectively, have come after contact. That is Marshawn Lynch levels of efficiency.
Unfortunately, efficiency goes to die against the Bengals’ defense. Since Week 15, Cincinnati has been No. 1 in EPA while sitting ninth in both success rate and DVOA. Of the two backs, I prefer Jerick McKinnon for his receiving upside, but Pacheco should still be in line for 12 to 14 touches. Kansas City could feed either running back to minimize the impact on Mahomes, but I prefer the upside of McKinnon this week.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
In a game full of superheroes, Tyler Boyd is a side character. He’s never going to be the guy when both Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are on the field. Since Week 15, Boyd only has one receiving touchdown and one game with more than 50 receiving yards. He disappeared last week with one catch for 23 yards on two targets.
Of the four teams left, everyone has a dynamic duo, except for maybe Kansas City (but I’d still consider Kelce and JuJu Smith-Schuster in that category). But the point is, why choose a WR3 when you can go for someone whose team will guarantee a high target floor? Unless you are projecting one or two big plays for Boyd, his floor is too unstable for me to trust in fantasy.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Cincinnati Bengals
This is similar to Purdy with the quarterbacks. Just look at the options. Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Dallas Goedert, and Hayden Hurst. One of these names is not like the others.
Since Week 18, Hurst does have a 16% target share and a 28.6% end zone target share. But he also showed up on Thursday’s practice report and was a limited participant with a calf injury.
Kittle, Goedert, and Kelce are premier options in their respective offenses, and it’s hard to consider either of them anything lower than the No. 3 target. Hurst, on the other hand, it’s hard to consider anything more than the No. 4 option. A good day for Hurst would be five targets. That’s a bad day for the others. While he is a good NFL tight end, he’s not in the same league for fantasy.