We have a monster 14-game slate, the biggest of the season. The slate is unique given that there does not appear to be a single chalk play at any position. Nobody at all stands out as likely to be even 25% rostered. The main reason for this is there are no screaming values (like we have regularly seen at running back in recent weeks) or obviously underpriced options. The elite players like Jonathan Taylor and Cooper Kupp are priced fairly ($10k-plus salaries) and the lack of value elsewhere makes getting up into that range painful, so those potentially chalky options are not going to be overly owned unless we get some sort of late-breaking news that opens up value.
In addition to the lack of obvious value, we also have a plethora of strong options at every position due to having 28 teams on the slate. Add it all up and we get a slate where we can simply pick and choose the spots we want to attack without paying as much attention to ownership and game theory as we normally would.
With the 14-game slate, we have basically every top fantasy quarterback in the player pool. In fact, the top seven fantasy quarterbacks (FanDuel scoring) for the 2021 season are each on the slate: Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes II, Kyler Murray, Matthew Stafford, and Jalen Hurts. Given the tightly bunched pricing at the position, you can easily limit your player pool to these top options and lock in the combination of upside and high floor expectations we have come to expect from these top performers. Each of the three top quarterback plays listed below come from this top tier.
While we do not have to get cute with the position on this slate, there are plenty of intriguing options outside the top tier, as well. Joe Burrow is fresh off of a 525-yard passing game and playing in a potential shootout. Trey Lance is inexpensive and brings major rushing upside to the table in a prime matchup. Dak Prescott is sitting outside the top tier this season but has his full complement of weapons and is priced too low ($7,400). We also have Russell Wilson ($7,300) priced way down against the Lions.
Top QB Plays
Patrick Mahomes II ($8,500), Kansas City at Cincinnati
The Chiefs offense is starting to become what we thought it might be heading into the season. Over the last three weeks, Kansas City has averaged 39.3 points per game. Over this stretch, Mahomes has averaged 309 passing yards and 2.7 passing touchdowns per game. He easily picked apart the Steelers defense last week despite not having Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill being limited due to illness. Mahomes will have all of his weapons heading into a huge matchup against the Bengals. While narratives may be overrated, it should be noted that the recent spotlight on Burrow (including ESPN commentator Damien Woody saying he would take Burrow over Mahomes if starting a franchise) may provide extra motivation for Mahomes.
Regardless of narratives, the matchup against Burrow has the potential to fully unlock Mahomes’ upside if the Bengals offense puts points on the board. Over the last couple of months, the Chiefs have regularly been blowing out opponents. Only against Justin Herbert and the Chargers did we see Kansas City have to play aggressively for a full four quarters. In that game, Mahomes threw for 410 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Bengals defense is fresh off of allowing 304 passing yards to Josh Johnson, who had spent only a week or so in Baltimore before being forced into the starting lineup.
Heading into the season, many expected this version of the Chiefs to be the deepest — and best — of the Patrick Mahomes II era. After a rollercoaster of a year, that's finally the case according to @Conner_DKC. KC is ready to make another SB run. ðŸ‘€â¬‡ï¸https://t.co/QwbNlQbsT6— Arrowhead Report (@SIChiefs) December 30, 2021
Jalen Hurts ($7,900), Philadelphia at Washington
We saw Hurts in this exact matchup just two weeks ago and he dominated Washington both through the air on the ground, throwing for 296 yards while also adding 38 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. The Washington defense has faded in recent weeks. After getting shredded by Hurts in Week 15, they allowed 400 passing yards and 5 touchdowns to Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush in Week 16. While Hurts is not significantly cheaper than the other top options, the $900 discount compared to someone like Allen could be significant given the tight pricing on this slate.
Josh Allen ($8,800), Buffalo vs. Atlanta
Expect Allen to be the most popular quarterback option on the slate when all is said and done. In a must-win game for the Bills to stay atop the division, Allen should dominate as a passer and runner. He just went into Foxboro and dissected a top defense for 314 passing yards and 3 touchdowns while also rushing for 64 yards. The Bills offense never even punted the ball. He now gets a home matchup against a mediocre Atlanta defense that gave up 368 yards and 4 touchdowns the last time they faced a top quarterback (Tom Brady in Week 13).
Other QBs to consider:
Trey Lance ($6,400), Houston at San Francisco
Lance is our top low-priced, swing for the fences, play of the week. In his last start, he rushed 16 times for 89 yards. With Lamar Jackson likely sidelined again this week and Jalen Hurts still dealing with a minor ankle injury, Hurts has the highest rushing expectation at the position this week. He also will have plenty of passing game weapons at his disposal with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk each playing at a high level of late. The Houston offense has been frisky over the past month, so there is a good chance this is a game where the 49ers have to remain aggressive for a full four quarters.
Joe Burrow ($7,700), Cincinnati vs. Kansas City
Burrow is fresh off of a 525-yard passing peformance and we are still going to be able to get him at sub-5% ownership. That is the kind of slate we have here. The Chiefs defense has been excellent the second half of the season, however. Through six weeks this year, the Chiefs' defense was 31st in the league but has risen up to 16th in scoring defense. Despite the stiff challenge, Burrow has massive upside in a potential shootout and confidence is sky high in Cincinnati.
Jonathan Taylor stands out at the top of the list but is priced way up on his first main slate appearance in a few weeks. There are not any unexpected situations where backups are stepping into bigger roles than expected like we have seen in recent weeks (e.g. Justin Jackson last week and Alexander Mattison the week before). Thus, there are no painless paths to squeezing Taylor or the other top backs (Alvin Kamara, Austin Ekeler, and Joe Mixon) into our lineups. A balanced approach may be our best bet and there are some solid options in the $7K range to build around.
Top RB Plays
David Montgomery ($7,200), Chicago vs. NY Giants
Montgomery has been one of the NFL’s only workhorse backs over the past month. In his last four games, he has 70 carries and 26 receptions. The receiving numbers are especially noteworthy, as 6.5 receptions per game is a number we typically only see from the likes of Austin Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey. The Giants are allowing the eighth-most FanDuel points to opposing running backs (22.9 per game) and the Bears are 6-point home favorites. The matchup could not be much better and the mid-tier price point makes Montgomery an especially attractive option this week.
David Montgomery leads all RBs in targets and receptions over the last five weeks.— Adam Rank (@adamrank) December 30, 2021
Darrel Williams ($6,200), Kansas City at Cincinnati
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire doubtful, Darrel Williams should get his sixth start of the season. In his five previous starts, Williams has averaged 94 total yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game on 19.2 opportunities (carries plus targets). The total on this Chiefs-Bengals matchup has risen to 51 points, tied for highest on the slate.
Jonathan Taylor ($10,000), Indianapolis vs. Las Vegas
Taylor has been the league’s hottest back and faces a Raiders defense allowing the sixth-most FanDuel points to opposing backs. The Colts were listed as 8.5-point home favorites before the uncertainty regarding the status of Carson Wentz. Assuming Wentz is able to clear COVID-19 protocols in time for Sunday, this will be an ideal spot for Taylor to have another huge game. The only issue will be whether you can fit his salary in given the general lack of value on the slate. Adding to Taylor’s appeal is the fact he will have Quenton Nelson back clearing a path for him.
Other RBs to consider:
Rex Burkhead ($5,600), Houston at San Francisco
If we are going to take a chance on any low-priced back this week, Burkhead is the one to target. While the return of David Johnson may complicate matters slightly, it is hard to imagine the Texans going away from Burkhead as the primary backfield option after what his Week 16 performance. In an upset win over the Chargers, Burkhead rushed 22 times for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Sony Michel ($7,100), LA Rams at Baltimore
Michel has been a nearly every-down back since taking over the lead role in Week 13. He has played at least 90% of the snaps in three-of-four games. While Michel has only had two touchdowns since he earned the starting role, he is getting plenty of scoring opportunities with 14 carries inside of the ten yard line the last four games. The Ravens defense gave up 135 total yards and 2 touchdowns to Joe Mixon last week.
Javonte Williams ($6,100), Denver at LA Chargers
Williams disappointed last week against the Raiders, which may mean we get him at reduced ownership this week. However, this matchup is a prime opportunity for Williams to bounce back. The Chargers allow the third-most fantasy points to opposing backs and are fresh off of giving up 149 yards to Rex Burkhead.
One of the things making this slate fun to play is that the wide receivers all seem fairly priced. There are very few glaring values and we have a gaggle of players with legitimate upside. Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill are great options if you can fit them in. That is easier said than done this week. Fortunately, the $6,400 to $7,700 range is absolutely loaded with strong options. We highlight three from this pricing tier below but one could easily make a case for many others in this range, including Ja'Marr Chase, Keenan Allen, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Amari Cooper, DK Metcalf, Christian Kirk, Odell Beckham Jr, D.J. Moore, and Michael Pittman Jr.
Top WR Options
Tee Higgins ($7,000), Cincinnati vs. Kansas City
Over the past five games, Higgins has averaged 6.8 receptions for 116.6 yards and scored four touchdowns. He’s gone for 114-plus yards in four of five games. Higgins has emerged as at least the equal of Ja'Marr Chase. The duo has begun to emerge as arguably the most dangerous one-two punch at wide receiver in the NFL. Both are strong options this week against the Chiefs in a game we want to have exposure to in tournaments. With Higgins playing at a more consistently high level and carrying a cheaper price tag than Chase, he gets the edge as the top option.
A.J. Brown ($7,500), Tennessee vs. Miami
This is a tentative recommendation pending positive health reports on Brown in the lead up to the game. He popped up on the Thursday injury report with a calf injury and a questionable tag. Assuming Brown is good to go, he is a top option on this slate. With the tight pricing, we ideally want to stay in the sub-$8K range for all of our wide receivers and Brown allows us to do so while not sacrificing upside. Brown was dominant last week against the 49ers, catching 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. With the Titans pushing to lock down the AFC South, expect the team to again pepper Brown with targets. The Dolphins have a top pass defense but run a blitz-heavy scheme that asks cornerbacks to man up in true single coverage relatively often. While the Miami corners are talented, going one-on-one versus a player with Brown’s size, speed, and strength is a tough ask.
All 4 of A.J Browns touchdowns this year have come against Cover 0 or Cover 1.— Jordan Vanek (@JordanVanekDFS) December 31, 2021
27 TGTs 18 Rec 313 Yds 4 TD’s
The Dolphins have top corners, but play these coverages at one of the higher rates in the NFL and AJ Brown is a top end wide receiver.
CeeDee Lamb ($7,200) Dallas vs. Arizona
As with the Cincinnati receivers, both of the Cowboys' top options are strongly in play. Amari Cooper ($6,700) is slightly cheaper but the slight lean is towards Lamb, who has been more consistent. While Lamb has been good nearly all season, he has not shown much upside over the past month. In fact, Lamb has not scored since Week 10. This looks like a potential get right spot for him with the Cardinals talking about stopping the Dallas rushing attack and forcing the Cowboys to beat them through the air. We know Lamb is one of the better young talents in the league and he is due for some positive touchdown regression soon. The price is right if we want to build a balanced lineup.
Other WRs to Consider:
Cooper Kupp ($10,200), LA Rams at Baltimore
There is no reason to doubt Kupp in this matchup against a banged up Ravens secondary that just allowed 525 passing yards to the Bengals last week. While Baltimore should have more bodies available in the secondary this week (Jimmy Smith should return), this is still an undermanned unit going up against the league’s most productive wide receiver. The only issue this week is the salary, a massive $10,200 price tag. Playing Kupp almost certainly eliminates Taylor from your lineup and requires serious sacrifices to be made at other positions. We know Kupp is going to get his catches and yardage but we also need multiple touchdowns for him to pay off this price tag. He has five two-touchdown games on the season, so it is not unreasonable to think he gets there again this week. Put him in your player pool but the setup of the slate makes him more of a player to sprinkle in than a true core piece.
Tyreek Hill ($8,200), Kansas City at Cincinnati
Hill reportedly was not himself last week after making a quick return after being sidelined with COVID. Assuming he is back to full health again, it should be all systems go in a potential shootout against the Bengals. In a similar game script in Week 15, Hill exploded for 12 catches, 148 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers.
Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews are both coming off of huge games and are elite options again this week if you can fit their salaries in. In the mid-tier, Kyle Pitts, Rob Gronkowski, and Dallas Goedert stand out as nice value options with solid upside.
Top TE Options
Travis Kelce ($8,200), Kansas City at Cincinnati
Last time we saw Kelce, he was dominating the Chargers on his way to 10 catches for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns. He could pick up right where he left off in a prime matchup against the Bengals, who will be without top coverage linebacker Germaine Pratt.
Cincinnati has been absolutely torched by tight ends in recent weeks. In Week 14, George Kittle went off for 13 catches, 151 yards and a touchdown. The following week, Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam combined for 8 catches and 115 yards. Last week, it was Mark Andrews dominating the Bengals for 8 catches, 125 yards and a touchdown.
Kyle Pitts ($6,000), Atlanta at Buffalo
It is a reflection of just how absurdly high expectations were for Pitts that his rookie season has seemed mildly disappointing. He is on pace for over 70 catches and almost 1,100 receiving yards in his age-20 season. He is coming off of an impressive 6-102-0 game on just six targets against the Lions. With the Falcons a big road favorite against the Bills, we should expect Pitts to see a few extra targets this week. While he does not project as well as Kelce or Andrews, the salary savings is significant.
Kyle Pitts was looking lonely in the sheet so let's throw in some more TEs. Here's everyone since 2006 with 500+ yards as a rookie (plus Jordan Reed, who had 499 in 9 games). pic.twitter.com/L5Qq1LlX5H— Adam Harstad (@AdamHarstad) December 30, 2021
Other TEs to consider:
Rob Gronkowski ($6,700), Tampa Bay at NY Jets
With Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette out and both Mike Evans and Antonio Brown banged up, Gronkowski is the healthiest of the top weapons on Tampa Bay. Only a couple of down performances the past two weeks are keeping Gronkowski from being a chalky play this week. It is worth remembering that Gronkowski has notched multiple touchdowns in 30% of his starts this season. Against a bad Jets pass defense, he has a realistic shot at another big game.
Dallas Goedert ($5,800), Philadelphia at Washington
The Giants shut down Goedert for the second time in four games. Do we chalk this up as just a bad matchup? In the two games between the poor showings against the Giants, Goedert averaged 6.5 catches for 120 yards and 1.0 touchdowns per game. One of those huge games came against this week’s opponent, Washington. In that Week 15 matchup, Goedert set season highs in targets (9), receptions (7), and yards (135).
New England Patriots ($5,000) vs. Jacksonville
After being embarrassed at home last week against the Bills, this Patriots defense could be out for blood against a struggling Jaguars offense. Jacksonville has an implied team total of 12.5 points, an absurdly low number. With the Patriots favored by 15.5 points, the Jaguars will be forced to go pass-heavy despite a brutal offensive line if this game goes according to script.
Indianapolis Colts ($3,900) vs. Las Vegas
This Indianapolis defense has been consistently strong all season and matches up well against a Raiders offense that has struggled in recent weeks. The Colts are a big (8.5 points) home favorite and priced under $4k, making them a solid salary-saving option that should come at very low ownership.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers($4,900) at NY Jets
The Buccaneers sacked Carolina quarterbacks Cam Newton and Sam Darnold seven times last week. This unit has had multiple sacks and forced at least one turnover in seven straight games. Against a shaky Jets offense with a mistake-prone rookie quarterback, this is another good spot for the Buccaneers.