Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em NFL Wild Card Round: Will chaos carry into the playoffs?

As managers transition to NFL playoff formats, who are the start 'em and sit 'em fantasy players for the Wild Card round of the playoffs?

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. We kick things off with the Wild Card round. As the level of competition rises, 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 Wild Card Weekend.

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NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for the Wild Card Round: 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 Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs?

Start ‘Em | Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams (vs. ARI)

Let’s kick things off with a divisional rematch between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the NFC. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, despite the turnovers, is having a great season. He ended the regular season fourth in passing yards with 4,886 and completed 67.2% of his passes. Stafford threw 41 touchdowns, second-most in the NFL and tied with his career-high mark (2011).

These two teams are well-acquainted, as this will be their third meeting of the season. The Rams lost to the Cardinals in Week 4 but won the second game in Week 14. The difference is the Arizona team Stafford faced in the early part of the season was the hottest club in the NFL — not a squad that lost four of its last six.

The return of J.J. Watt will help the Cardinals, but he is not the one being asked to cover Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr., and Van Jefferson. Stafford posted 20+ points in both games against Arizona and was the QB7 in Week 14. He should be a safe QB start in fantasy for the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

Sit ‘Em | Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers (@ KC)

Let’s be honest — we are all surprised the Steelers are in the playoffs. It took a miracle win by the Jaguars for it to happen. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger will get credit for the wins (no, they are not a QB stat), but by no means did Big Ben play well this year. To close out the season, Roethlisberger averaged just 168.5 passing yards over his final four games with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3:3.

Roethlisberger has finished as a QB1 or better just three times all season. The last time these teams faced off (Week 16), he posted only 7 points and finished as the QB28 on the week. The Chiefs are one of the hottest defenses in the NFL and should have no issue containing Roethlisberger in the final game of his career.

Running Backs

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 Wild Card round of the playoffs. Let’s look at the top start and sit options from RB committees around the league for this week.

Start ‘Em | Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (vs. LV)

The Bengals’ passing attack receives plenty of attention. Joe Burrow is phenomenal, and so is his connection with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and even Tyler Boyd. Somehow, this has overshadowed Joe Mixon’s outstanding season.

Playing in 16 games, Mixon set career-high marks in rushes (292), rushing yards (1,205), touchdowns (13), and receiving yards (314). Mixon also hauled in 42 of 48 targets (both second-best in his career) and 3 receiving touchdowns. It is the quietest RB4 season that I can ever remember. The Raiders are 30th in the NFL in points allowed to the RBs, and Mixon could be the RB1 of the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

Sit ‘Em | Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles (@ TB)

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Monday that he is hopeful Miles Sanders (hand) will play in the Wild Card round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In Week 18, Kenneth Gainwell saw the majority of work with Sanders, Jordan Howard (COVID), and Boston Scott (COVID) out. Still, odds are that Philly will have a full complement of running backs in the first round of the postseason.

Also, Jalen Hurts will be the starting QB, and he always takes a good deal of carries. While the Eagles have rushed more than anyone (61%) since Week 8, those attempts begin to lose some of their luster if split between multiple RBs. Add in a date with the Buccaneers, who are No. 1 in rushing yards allowed and No. 15 in points to the running backs, and Sanders could be more of a trap play than some want to imagine. Sit Sanders in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.

NFL Start ‘Em, Sit ‘Em for the Wild Card Round: 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 start ’em or sit ’em recommendations for the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs.

Start ‘Em | Odell Beckham Jr., Los Angeles Rams (vs. ARI)

All eyes are on Kupp, and deservedly so. The guy just had a historic season and deserved all the praise. Yet, so does Beckham. Since joining the Rams, OBJ has recorded 27 receptions on 48 targets for 305 yards with 5 touchdowns. Starting in Week 12, Beckham scored double-digit points in every game except Week 18.

Beckham is LA’s No. 2 target, especially in the red zone. As we discussed with Stafford, the matchup against the Cardinals is great — but it is even better from a fantasy aspect for WRs. Over the last four weeks, Arizona is 31st in points allowed to the position and has allowed 13 receiving touchdowns since these teams last met in Week 14. I expect that trend to continue and for OBJ to be on the receiving end of one of those scores.

Sit ‘Em | Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh Steelers (@ KC)

Chase Claypool had 11 touchdowns and 873 yards last season. This year hasn’t gone as well, as he just scored for the second time on Sunday. Roethlisberger leads the NFL in the quickest time per throw at 2.38 seconds and is ahead of only Jared Goff in intended air yards per attempt at just 6.6 yards. He’s not going downfield whatsoever.

Roethlisberger doesn’t have the arm to utilize Claypool, and Claypool doesn’t have a route tree that fits Ben’s arm and throwing style. These two guys don’t mesh. Claypool is as boom/bust as it gets.

Tight Ends

It’s notoriously hard for fantasy managers to find consistent production from the tight end position. In the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs, start ’em or sit ’em decisions could mean the difference between a win or loss as the margins are razor-thin.

Start ‘Em | Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. PHI)

Rob Gronkowski gets better when the lights get brighter, which is a scary thought for the Eagles. Playing in 12 games this year, Gronk recorded 802 yards and 6 touchdowns on 55 receptions (89 targets) as he once again proved to be a massive presence in the red zone. With that said, 4 of his 6 touchdowns came in the first two games of the year.

The Buccaneers need Gronkowski to step up in a big way, which he has. Over the last two games, with injuries and absences involving Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and now-former Buc Antonio Brown, Gronkowski posted 252 yards and 14 receptions on 20 targets. I don’t see that slowing in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs against an Eagles team that ranked dead last against the TEs in fantasy. Gronkowski is a top-five TE in the Wild Card round and should be started in fantasy.

Sit ‘Em | Dawson Knox, Buffalo Bills (vs. NE)

This will be one of the games of the Wild Card Weekend. The downside is it’s not a matchup Dawson Knox wants to see. In his two previous games against the Patriots this season, Knox had 4 total receptions on 9 targets for 25 yards and a touchdown. He finished as the TE30 and the TE15, respectively. That’s a far cry from the breakout player we’ve seen the rest of the season.

The Patriots are No. 1 against tight ends this season (6.72 points per game). Knox has been somewhat phased out of Buffalo’s offense recently, as he’s recorded more than 60 yards in a game just once since Week 5. Knox does have touchdown upside, but he also has a low floor. He could struggle once again as these teams look to settle their 1-1 season split.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.

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