The 2021 NFL regular season is over, but fantasy football doesn’t have to stop. If you’re playing playoff fantasy, particularly in one-and-done formats, you need the best plays for this week. Let’s take a look at the top RB start ’em and sit ’em plays for the Wild Card round.
Wild Card Round Start ‘Em: Running Backs
The fantasy football regular season has come and gone, but we still have playoff fantasy football and DFS. As always, Pro Football Network will do its best to steer you in the right direction. Let’s get into this week’s start ’em and sit ’em plays at the running back position.
Start ‘Em | Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. LV)
Whether you’re playing in a one-and-done playoff fantasy league or DFS, Joe Mixon makes for a great play this week. The Bengals have several things going for them. They already beat the Raiders once…with ease.
In Week 11, the Bengals won 32-13, and Mixon rushed for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries. Cincinnati is a touchdown home favorite over Las Vegas. They are also well-rested after sitting their starters in last week’s meaningless game. At the same time, the Raiders not only played in the final game of the regular season, but they played the maximum 70 minutes of football.
Mixon is $7,100 on DraftKings’ Saturday slate. He will likely be heavily rostered, but that’s okay. You can be contrarian elsewhere this week.
As for one-and-done playoff formats, this is the week to use Mixon. The Bengals will be underdogs against (likely) the Titans next week. There won’t be a more favorable spot to use a rested, talented running back with a projected positive game script. Start Mixon.
Start ‘Em | Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. PIT)
I am writing this article on Wednesday (January 12). At this point, it’s too early in the week to be sure of Clyde Edwards-Helaire or Darrel Williams’ status. However, whichever one starts is a strong option for your DFS or one-and-done playoff fantasy lineup.
The Chiefs are a double-digit home favorite against a Steelers team they demolished 36-10 back in Week 16. Edwards-Helaire was injured in that game, and Kansas City rotated all three backs given the score. They ran the ball a combined 32 times for 125 yards. If the Chiefs control this week’s game, I expect another run-heavy approach, particularly in the second half.
CEH is currently dealing with a shoulder injury, while Williams hurt his toe last week. We don’t know either’s health at this point. Fortunately, for DFS, they are similarly priced on DraftKings. CEH is $5,500, and Williams is $5,200 on the Sunday slate. If Edwards-Helaire (or both) are active, CEH is the start. If it’s just Williams, he is the start.
In fact, Edwards-Helaire sitting out might be better for one-and-done fantasy playoff formats because fantasy managers can use Williams this week and still have CEH available for future rounds. The Steelers allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to running backs this season. Once we have clarity on CEH and Williams’ injuries, plan your lineup around using the KC starter this week.
Wild Card Round Sit ‘Em: Running Backs
Deciding which running backs to sit isn’t as straightforward as it is during the regular season. Which RBs are better left out of your lineup this week?
Sit ‘Em | Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers (@ DAL)
Elijah Mitchell returned in Week 17 and was immediately reinstalled as the 49ers’ starting running back. However, all wasn’t as well as it seemed. Although Mitchell returned to 20+ carries, his snap hovered around just 55%, and he’s still not being utilized in the passing game (2 targets in Week 17 and 0 in Week 18).
This week, the 49ers get a Cowboys defense that allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season. Although this should be a highly competitive game, San Francisco is a road underdog. In wins, Mitchell averaged 101.5 rushing yards per game. In losses, he averaged just 63 rushing yards per outing. Of Mitchell’s 6 touchdowns, 4 have come in wins.
I certainly understand the argument for using Mitchell in one-and-done fantasy playoff leagues. If you think the 49ers will lose, this is your only opportunity to use him. With that said, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If Mitchell is only giving you 60-80 empty rushing yards, that’s not going to be worth it.
As for DFS, Mitchell sits at $5,700 on the DraftKings Sunday slate. He’s more expensive than the above-mentioned Kansas City backs and Leonard Fournette ($5,600). Unless you’re dealing with an elite downhill runner in a projected positive game script (guys like Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor), you generally don’t want non-pass-catching running backs. Mitchell will need at least 1 touchdown to be a good play this week. Fade him.
Sit ‘Em | Philadelphia Eagles running backs (@ TB)
All season, the Bucs have been a pass-funnel defense. Opponents just can’t run on them. They allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to running backs. This week, the Eagles are 8-point underdogs in Tampa Bay. They hope to get Miles Sanders back from a broken hand, while Boston Scott and Jordan Howard are off the reserve/COVID-19 list.
This isn’t just about the matchup — it’s also about Philadelphia’s running back situation. We’ve now seen all three of the aforementioned backs produce in flashes, as well as Kenneth Gainwell.
If you’re in a one-and-done fantasy playoff league, there is certainly value in using Eagles this week, as they are likely to lose. However, Philadelphia’s running game is not where you want to take a shot at a contrarian play. While deploying Eagles will afford you a larger player pool in the subsequent rounds, you still need to score points. I struggle to see how Philly’s running backs will do that.
In DFS, Sanders is $5,000, Scott is $4,500, Gainwell is $4,400, and Howard is $4,300 on the DraftKings Sunday slate. Even at a lower price than the other starting backs on the slate, a returning Sanders is too risky between the matchup and his uncertain usage. If he doesn’t play, Scott and Howard will likely share work. Due to the lack of touchdown upside, the Eagles’ backfield is one to avoid this week.