Early Start ‘em Sit ‘em Conference Championships: DeVonta Smith, Miles Sanders, Elijah Mitchell, and More

    What are our early Conference Championship start/sit recommendations as fantasy managers look to get the most value out of the remaining teams?

    With just two weeks left in the 2022-23 NFL season, the opportunities for fantasy football managers are running out. In our Conference Championships start/sit article, we look to identify some of the more intriguing options to put in lineups this week and which players might be better off being left out.

    With just four teams remaining, what should fantasy managers make of the likes of Miles Sanders, DeVonta Smith, Elijah Mitchell, and Joe Burrow?

    Conference Championships Fantasy Football Start ’ems

    The matchup data quoted below is from half-PPR fantasy scoring. With this being the standard scoring for Underdog Fantasy, these recommendations are largely directed toward their Conference Championship Best Ball tournaments. Yet, the recommendations below can also be used as a guide across other platforms and scoring systems.

    Joe Burrow, QB | CIN @ KC

    We saw a strong performance from Burrow in the Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills. After a somewhat mixed outing against the Baltimore Ravens the week before, Burrow bounced back with 242 passing yards, two touchdowns, and 31 rushing yards. While the performance was not a groundbreaking one from a fantasy perspective, it was a good outing from the Cincinnati Bengals QB.

    This week against the Chiefs, there is certainly an opportunity for Burrow to produce for fantasy managers. Between Weeks 13 and 17, the Chiefs allowed 20 or more fantasy points on four occasions.

    Trevor Lawrence did not put together a vintage performance last week, but Burrow and the Bengals’ offense is a class above. The last time Cincinnati faced Kansas City, Burrow threw for 286 yards and two touchdowns while adding 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

    Elijah Mitchell, RB | SF @ PHI

    How much of a value Mitchell ends up being this week will really depend on the news we hear regarding Christian McCaffrey and his calf injury. The early reports this week are that McCaffrey will be fine, which should allow Mitchell to remain relatively under the radar.

    MORE: Early NFL Conference Championship Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

    However, if McCaffrey starts missing practice, the price for acquiring Mitchell in single-week formats could rise. With McCaffrey dealing with a calf injury last week, the San Francisco 49ers gave Mitchell the ball 14 times. He struggled for efficiency against a good Dallas Cowboys’ run defense, but the workload was promising to see.

    In the back half of the 2022 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles were one of the more friendly defenses for running backs from a fantasy perspective.

    DeVonta Smith, WR | PHI vs. SF

    As we expected last week, the Eagles featured DeVonta Smith heavily, with A.J. Brown drawing a lot of attention from the New York Giants’ defense. That should be the case again this week, meaning that Smith could once again be the superior fantasy asset in the Eagles’ receiving corps.

    The 49ers’ pass defense has been especially vulnerable against opposing WRs from a fantasy perspective. We should expect to see either Charvarius Ward working on Brown or several double-teams over the Eagles’ leading receiver. As a result, Smith could have a lot of success. It will be interesting to see how Smith and Brown are valued across the various formats this week.

    Hayden Hurst, TE | CIN at KC

    Hayden Hurst heads into the AFC Conference Championship Game on somewhat of a roll. In the past three weeks, he’s caught 13 of his 17 targets, going over 40 yards in each of the last two weeks.

    Hurst also caught a touchdown against Buffalo in the Divisional Round, where the defense almost seemed to forget he existed. In an offense that contains Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Joe Mixon, and Tyler Boyd, it’s no surprise that Hurst can have a tendency to slip under the radar.

    This week, the Bengals face a Chiefs team that had struggles against opposing tight ends down the stretch. Between Weeks 15 and 17, Kansas City allowed an average of 17.17 fantasy points to opposing TEs. They did a better job against Evan Engram in the Divisional Round, but he still finished with five receptions for 31 yards.

    Of the four tight ends on the field this week, Hurst is the lowest priority. However, from a potential output-to-cost ratio, he could end up being more than a solid option for fantasy managers.

    Conference Championships Fantasy Football Sit ’ems

    Miles Sanders, RB | PHI vs. SF

    The box score from the Divisional Round really emphasizes the concern with Miles Sanders’ fantasy value. While his final line of 17 attempts for 90 yards looks nice, he was the only Eagles runner not to find the end zone.

    That means of the three running backs, Sanders finished with the lowest fantasy output, despite being the highest-priced of the trio. Counting against Sanders further this week is a tough matchup against the 49ers’ defense.

    MORE: NFL Power Rankings Championship Round

    Against the Cowboys, San Francisco held Ezekiel Elliott to 26 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Tony Pollard could only manage 22 yards from his six rushing attempts before getting injured.

    The ceiling here with Sanders is capped enough that if he is the costliest Eagles RB to utilize this week, I would rather look elsewhere.

    Chiefs WRs | KC vs. CIN

    It’s close to impossible to trust any of the Chiefs’ WRs this week. Last week, the passing game revolved around Travis Kelce, who saw 17 targets. The wide receivers combined for a total of 13 targets, with Kadarius Toney leading the group at seven.

    The Chiefs’ passing offense is almost entirely centered on Kelce in tough spots, and it’s difficult to know which Chiefs receiver will break out.

    The Bengals also stifled the Bills WRs last week. They held Stefon Diggs to 35 yards on four receptions, with Gabe Davis at 34 yards on three receptions, and Cole Beasley with three receptions for 33 yards.

    If you start any of Kansas City’s WRs, then you’re essentially looking at a touchdown-or-bust situation. It may be worth spending a late-round pick in Best Ball formats on one of them, with Toney being the prime target and JuJu Smith-Schuster the second priority.

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