With redraft leagues over and champions crowned, the growing game of NFL playoff fantasy football gives us a few more weeks to enjoy filling out starting lineups. As the level of competition rises, fantasy start ’em or sit ’em decisions become a bit more difficult as the margins begin to shrink. Let’s dive into the fantasy football start ’em or sit ’em decisions for the 2021-22 NFL playoffs.
NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for the 2021-22 NFL Playoffs: Quarterbacks
While the focus in the majority of fantasy leagues falls on skill positions, quarterbacks — in most cases — consistently bring the highest weekly total. Which QBs are must-starts, and who should remain on the bench in the NFL playoffs?
Start ‘Em | Mattew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (vs. SF)
There are four teams left in the postseason. You won’t find an easy game or matchup. This is the Championship Round of the 2012-22 NFL playoffs, after all. You can make an argument for basically any QB, but I’ll start with Matthew Stafford. Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Stafford had about as clean of a game as you can ever expect. He completed 28 of 38 passes for 366 yards and 2 touchdowns while adding 6 yards and another score on 4 rushing attempts.
The lone blemish was a fumble late in the game. Sunday marked the third game in a row Stafford had scored 3 times. The first came against his NFC Championship opponent, the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are a balanced team. They’re No. 7 in overall defensive DVOA (Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric) and No. 2 vs. the run. But they’re No. 16 against the pass.
It just so happens the Rams run a system that looks like a Madden playbook, and they also have the hottest receiver since Calvin Johnson on their side. I like the Rams to come out on top and Stafford to be the MVP of the game. Give me Stafford this week as my starter in DFS with a generous helping of Cooper Kupp.
Sit ‘Em | Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers (@ LAR)
There is really only one choice here. It has to be Jimmy Garoppolo. He did the absolute bare minimum to get here, but that’s okay. He did what Kyle Shanahan asked of him. Jimmy G just doesn’t stack up when compared to Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, or Stafford.
Garoppolo completed 11 of 19 attempts for 131 yards with an interception against the Packers. He is one of just 16 QBs since 1990 to throw for 150 yards or fewer in a Divisional Round victory. Fun fact, he’s done it twice. Garoppolo had 131 yards in a 2020 win over the Vikings.
He is a game manager. Good or bad. Garoppolo doesn’t have the ceiling of other quarterbacks still playing. I expect the Rams to get pressure on him early and often. Aside from going for a contrarian play, I would not start Garoppolo in DFS.
While these RBs found themselves with adjusted roles following injuries to surrounding players and poor play from others, they are on opposite sides of start/sit debates for the 2021-22 NFL playoffs. Let’s look at the top fantasy start and sit options from RB committees around the league for this week.
Start ‘Em | Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (@ KC)
Joe Mixon is the best fantasy running back left playing. He carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards and a touchdown against the Titans and caught 6 passes for 51 yards. It was the Bengals’ only TD of the day in their 19-16 win. He played on 46 of the 64 offensive plays and led the backfield in routes (26) and targets (7). Cincinnati’s offense is still reliant on Burrow and the passing attack, but Mixon has a massive role in their game plans.
Mixon is having the best season of his career, as he set new highs in touches (334), scrimmage yards (1,519), and touchdowns (16). Averaging 18.4 fantasy points on DraftKings, Mixon is the No. 1 ranked RB of the Championship Round. The Chiefs are No. 20 in DVOA against the run, but I see Mixon getting his value as a receiver as the game script will likely be negative. He is one of the few three-down workhorse backs in the NFL. Fire him up this week in fantasy.
Sit ‘Em | Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. CIN)
I have no idea which Chiefs running back is going to be the lead guy in any given week. Jerick McKinnon emerged following an injury to Darrel Williams and once again was a key factor. He played on 53 of the 76 snaps, ran 38 routes, rushed 10 times for 24 yards, and managed 5 receptions for 54 yards. Then there is Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who played on fewer snaps (23), ran fewer routes (7), saw fewer targets (2), and handled fewer carries (7).
Yet, Edwards-Helaire led the team in rushing with 60 yards and caught 1 target for 9 yards. This backfield is a mess to figure out. CEH did see more snaps late in the game, including in the two-minute drill, but who is getting the ball? For my money, I am staying away from the Chiefs backfield in fantasy. It’s a stance I’ll likely hold for next season, too.
NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for the 2021-2 NFL Playoffs: Wide Receivers
The WR position is the deepest in fantasy football, with a plethora of quality starting options to choose from every single week. As matchups can be the final deciding factor, here are some of our fantasy start ’em or sit ’em recommendations for the NFL playoffs.
Start ‘Em | Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals (@ KC)
The Bengals are a great story. They’re a young team that is likely a year ahead of schedule and plays with an attitude that matches their QB. Do I think they will beat Kansas City? No, but they can put up points. They’ll need to against Mahomes and the Chiefs. Who is Burrow going to target? Ja’Marr Chase, just as he has all season.
Against the Titans, Chase hauled in 5 receptions on 6 targets for 109 yards, marking his fourth straight 100+ yard game. He is one of the best deep threats in the NFL and is slowly developing a more nuanced route tree. You don’t end a regular season with 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns just by chance. The Bengals have to put up points, which means Chase should be heavily involved early and often. He is a top-five play in DFS this week at $6,700.
Sit ‘Em | Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (@ LAR)
Brandon Aiyuk contributed about as much on Saturday as the Packers’ special teams unit. He did basically nothing. He was held without a carry or a reception while receiving 1 target. That’s it. It was a game won in the trenches, but you can’t help but think the weather played a factor on Garoppolo’s shoulder and thumb. That won’t be an issue in Los Angeles.
Aiyuk is a streaky player as of late. Since getting out of Shanahan’s dog house in Week 7, he has five games of 60 yards or less and just as many with 85 or more. Volume is a concern, as he recorded 4 or fewer receptions in eight of his last 13 games. If I use a 49ers pass catcher in DFS, it’s Deebo Samuel or George Kittle. I just don’t trust Garoppolo to keep three receivers fed while the 49ers also maintain a steady rushing game with Elijah Mitchell.
It’s notoriously hard for fantasy managers to find consistent production from the tight end position. In the NFL playoffs, start ’em or sit ’em decisions could mean the difference between a fantasy win or loss as the margins are razor-thin.
Start ‘Em | Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. CIN)
Now is not the time to get cute. Sure, there might be a better value if we had a full slate of tight ends at our disposal. Yet, there wouldn’t be a better tight end available than Travis Kelce. He still is the No. 1 TE in the NFL. Kelce caught 8 of 9 targets for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Bills in one of the best games I/anyone has ever seen in the NFL.
Yes, he is $1,500 more than Kittle ($5,000), but you have to pay for Kelce’s upside. Rarely is the highest-priced player in DFS the chalk play, but Kelce will be the chalk TE this week. I am not betting against him or the Chiefs. Kelce has 100+ yard, 2-touchdown upside against a Bengals defense that ranked 27th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends this season (14.85).
Sit ‘Em | C.J. Uzomah, Cincinnati Bengals (@ KC)
This is nothing against C.J Uzomah. He’s been pretty hot as of late. Against the Titans, Uzomah recorded 7 receptions on 8 targets for 71 yards, tied for the team lead in receptions, and finished third in receiving yards. Despite recording only 39 catches in 16 regular-season games, Uzomah has combined for 13 receptions for 135 yards in two postseason contests.
Kelce, Kittle, and Tyler Higbee have a higher upside, which is what I am shooting for in DFS. The Chiefs can be stingy against tight ends, and Uzomah is at best the fourth option in Cincinnati’s passing game (not to mention Tyler Boyd is still around). I prefer other options over Uzomah this week.