It is no secret that the key to Week 18 is judging the motivation of each team. We want to build our core around players on teams needing wins. We can also take some calculated risks on players with nothing left to play for who are still hoping to finish the season on a high note. There are also opportunities to find value with backups thrust into larger roles.
Luckily, we have a number of top quarterbacks who are playing with divisional titles on the line. The NFC West is still up for grabs meaning both Kyler Murray and Matthew Stafford have no questions concerning motivation. Russell Wilson is viable in a spoiler role opposite of Murray and Trey Lance (if he starts) has upside opposite Stafford. We are always on the lookout for rushing upside in our tournament lineups. Josh Allen is playing with the AFC East title on the line. Meanwhile, Taysom Hill needs a win to position the Saints for a playoff spot.
Top QB Plays
Kyler Murray ($8,400), Arizona vs. Seattle
The Cardinals should be motivated for this divisional matchup against the Seahawks. A win combined with a Rams loss to the 49ers would give Arizona the NFC West crown and a first-round home game. This game has sneaky shootout potential. The Seahawks offense has found its groove over the last five games with Rashaad Penny putting up big rushing numbers. Seattle has averaged 29.6 points per game over that stretch. Murray missed the Week 11 matchup but performed well against the Seahawks in both games last season, averaging 314.5 passing yards and 2.5 passing touchdowns and 42 rushing yards with 0.5 rushing touchdowns. Murray looks fully healthy and is moving around as well as he has since the start of the season, so the rushing upside is there.
Josh Allen ($8,800), Buffalo vs. NY Jets
One of the themes this week will be relying as much as possible on players with clear motivation to perform well in Week 18. Allen and the Bills fit the bill. Taking care of business at home against the Jets will lock up the division and home field advantage in the first round for Buffalo. Allen played poorly last week (though he still managed 23.9 fantasy points) and will be looking to get back on track before heading into the playoffs. This is an ideal get-right spot. Allen has thrown for 300-plus yards in three straight games versus the Jets.
Other QBs to consider:
Taysom Hill ($7,700), New Orleans at Atlanta
Hill is another player who has everything to play for. If New Orleans wins and the Rams take care of business at home against the 49ers, the Saints will improbably lock up a playoff spot. Hill has been playing with an injured throwing hand but has done enough to help the Saints to a three-game winning streak. While his passing numbers have been modest, he has averaged 63 rushing yards per game as a starter this season. Against a Falcons defense that allowed a pair of rushing touchdowns to Josh Allen last week, Hill’s rushing ability gives him plenty of upside.
Matthew Stafford ($7,400), LA Rams vs. San Francisco
Stafford is surprisingly affordable in a home matchup against a 49ers defense that could be without three starting defensive backs. While Stafford does not have as much upside as the top dual-threat quarterbacks, he has thrown three or more touchdown passes in half of his games this season.
Jonathan Taylor is going to be incredibly popular this week and it is hard to find a good reason to fade him. That being said, his salary will require real sacrifices elsewhere and makes it nearly impossible to also fit in Cooper Kupp. Your decision on Taylor, Kupp, or neither is a good place to start your lineup building if you are single entering. There are some solid values in the sub-$7K range, including Devin Singletary in a great matchup and Samaje Perine stepping into the lead role for the Bengals.
Top RB Plays
Jonathan Taylor ($10,200), Indianapolis at Jacksonville
The Footballguys consensus projection has Taylor scoring 22.5 points in this spot, nearly six points more than any other running back on this slate. Rostering Taylor is attractive due to his potential to go off for a monster game. He has gone for 140-plus yards and at least two touchdowns three times since Week 9. Just as importantly, Taylor is very unlikely to sink your lineup. He has scored at least once in 12-of-13 games. He also has 100-plus rushing yards in 7-of-8.
PROP ALERT!— Brad Evans (@NoisyHuevos) January 6, 2022
Jonathan Taylor rush yards against Jacksonville opens on FanDuel at 104.5 (-114).
Hammering. Must win for Indy. Jags have given up 119.2 rush ypg to RBs over their last five games. Taylor over in 7 of last 9 games. #FadeTheNoise
The matchup is excellent. In his previous matchup against the Jaguars, Taylor had 126 total yards, six receptions, and a touchdown. Jacksonville gave up four rushing touchdowns combined to Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson last week and looked like a team just playing out the string on a lost season.
Devin Singletary ($6,700), Buffalo vs. NY Jets
Singletary has quietly emerged down the stretch as a go-to option in the Bills offense. He had his best rushing game of the season last week, rushing for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries. It was his third straight game with a touchdown and he has averaged 21 touches per game over that stretch.
The Jets are allowing a ridiculous 29.5 FanDuel points per game to opposing running backs this season. New York has allowed the most total yards and the most total touchdowns (26 in 16 games). The Bills are 16.5-point home favorites, making this as good a spot as possible for Singletary.
David Montgomery ($7,600), Chicago at Minnesota
In a season where there have been few running backs who we can count on week in and week out to get a heavy workload, Montgomery has stood out as a rare exception. In his last six games, he is averaging 18.2 carries and 6.0 targets per game (24.2 opportunities). Over this stretch, he is averaging 95 total yards and 0.7 touchdowns per game.
The Vikings have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. Minnesota has been officially eliminated from playoff contention and seemed ready for the season to be over in a listless performance against the Packers last week. In terms of motivation, Minnesota looks like one of the team most likely to phone it in for Week 18.
Other RBs to consider:
Samaje Perine ($6,500), Cincinnati at Cleveland
Joe Mixon was unlikely to play in a mostly meaningless season finale even before landing on the COVID-19 list. Now, it is a virtual guarantee that the Bengals offense will run through Perine in Week 18. Opposing backs have had success against the Browns defense. We just saw Najee Harris rack up 206 total yards on Monday Night. Even in a loss to the Browns in Week 9, Perine and Mixon combined for 147 yards, seven receptions, and two touchdowns.
RB Samaje Perine should be a solid option in Week 18 with Joe Mixon out.— Andrew Erickson™ (@AndrewErickson_) January 5, 2022
Saw 15 touches for 83 yards in Week 5 with Mixon sidelined due to an ankle injury.
Also ran a route on 59% of Joe Burrow’s dropbacks and earned five targets
As noted above, you probably will have a tough time building lineups including both Taylor and Kupp. As such, we might get Kupp at lower ownership than in some other recent weeks. If you play either of 2021’s biggest fantasy stars, you are going to need to find some value at other spots. Fortunately, there are some solid, high floor options in the $6K range like DJ Moore and Russell Gage. A better option may be a balanced approach. There are some great options in the mid-$7,000s with major upside.
Top WR Options
Stefon Diggs ($7,700), Buffalo vs. NY Jets
Diggs has gone seven straight games without topping 85 receiving yards. While he still scored five touchdowns over that stretch, it is the coldest stretch of Diggs’ career in Buffalo by far. He has not had a big game since all the way back in Week 10…against the same Jets defense he will face in Week 18. In that previous matchup, Diggs had 8-162-1 in a Buffalo blowout.
In addition to the plus matchup, we are attracted to Diggs given that Buffalo is one of the few teams on the Week 18 slate we can trust to be 100% motivated and playing with actual stakes given their need to get a win to secure the division title. An additional motivational element is the push for 100 receptions. Diggs is only six catches short and 100 receptions earns him a $1.55M bonus. Expect Allen and the coaching staff to make certain Diggs gets there.
DJ Moore ($6,100) Carolina at Tampa Bay
Moore had a rough outing two weeks ago against this Buccaneers defense, catching just 5-of-12 targets for 55 yards. With that type of volume at this price point, we will take our chances. Moore is averaging 10.2 targets per game since Week 12. He has also averaged 11.2 targets per game in five games against Tampa Bay the last three seasons. The double-digit target expectation gives Moore a high floor and makes him one of the better bargains on the slate. We need to take some shots on value options if we want to fit in Taylor or Kupp.
Cooper Kupp ($10,000), LA Rams vs San Francisco
The salary is tough to fit in this week, especially if you are going to play Jonathan Taylor but we know Kupp is worth making sacrifices to roster. He is on pace for one of the greatest wide receiver seasons in the history of the NFL. You need a big number from Kupp for him to make good on this type of salary. We know he is capable. He has 29.5 fantasy points or more in 25% of his game this season and 21-plus in half of his games.
Kupp caught 11 passes for 122 yards against the 49ers in Week 10. San Francisco could be without three starting defensive backs this week. Jimmie Ward, K’Waun Williams, and Dontae Johnson are each on the COVID list. From a motivational standpoint, Kupp needs 12 receptions to break the NFL record and is only 136 yards from a 2,000-yard receiving season.
Other WRs to Consider:
Russell Gage ($5,700) Atlanta vs. New Orleans
Gage stands out as the top wide receiver value under $6K. He caught 7-of-8 targets in the Week 9 matchup against this Saints defense. Gage has averaged 6.0 catches for 73 yards and 0.3 touchdowns over his last six games and has emerged as the clear WR1 in Atlanta. We do not have to worry about weather in this spot and we saw Atlanta throw for 343 yards against New Orleans in their previous matchup.
Amon-Ra St. Brown ($7,500), Detroit vs. Green Bay
Since Week 13, St. Brown is the WR2 behind only Cooper Kupp with 103.5 FanDuel points in five games (20.7 per game). He has five straight games with at least 11 targets and at least 8 receptions. St. Brown has also been occasionally lining up as a running back and received a couple of carries in each of the last two games. He is getting absolutely elite usage. While the matchup is not appealing on paper, the Packers could be resting key starters with the top seed locked up.
A.J. Brown ($7,400), Tennessee at Houston
We know the Titans will be motivated in Week 18. With a win, Tennessee locks up the top seed in the AFC and a first-round bye. Brown has been a truly boom or bust fantasy option all season. He has 7.3 points or fewer in 7-of-12 games. But he also has gone for 23-plus points in 25% of his games, which makes him a great large-field GPP play.
This is a strong week for tight end value. The projections for Kyle Pitts, Rob Grownkowski, and George Kittle are competitive against the top wide receivers and running backs, making a two-tight end lineup a solid contrarian option.
Top TE Options
Kyle Pitts ($5,800), Atlanta vs. New Orleans
As noted above when discussing Russell Gage, Matt Ryan has owned the Saints defense. He has three straight games with 300-plus passing yards against New Orleans and averages just under 300 yards per game for his career. Pitts is 59 yards away from setting the all-time rookie record for tight ends. We need to keep an eye on his hamstring injury but if all checks out, this is a great spot for Pitts at a sub-$6K price point.
Rob Gronkowski ($7,400), Tampa Bay vs. Carolina
Gronkowski needs 85 receiving yards to trigger a $500,000 contract bonus. Seven catches would net him another $500,000. These are both well within reach and we should expect Tom Brady to be aware of these milestones and make sure Gronkowski gets paid. With Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin out and Mike Evans playing through a hamstring injury, Gronkowski is currently the top option in the Buccaneers passing offense. He racked up 115 yards last week as the focal point of the passing attack and has similar upside in Week 18.
Rob Gronkowski’s 2021 Incentives— Spotrac (@spotrac) January 5, 2022
- 55 Catches: $500k
- 750 Yards: $500k
- 9 TD: $500k
Gronk needs 7 catches, 85 yards, & 3 TDs in Week 18.
His $500k of playoff incentives (SB berth & win) are moot because of less than 65% regular season snaps played.https://t.co/6x8SWLpyM5
Other TEs to Consider
George Kittle ($6,900), San Francisco at LA Rams
Kittle has been up and down this season, with a few monster games mixed in amongst forgettable performances. In a must-win game against the division-rival Rams, Kittle is worth rolling the dice on in tournaments.
Pat Freiermuth ($5,200), Pittsburgh at Baltimore
With Diontae Johnson likely out with COVID, Freiermuth is pushed up a rung on the list of priority targets for Ben Roethlisberger in what is likely the final game of his career. Expect him to get a couple of extra looks this week given how much volume Johnson typically sees. The Steelers have an outside shot at the playoffs with a win, so motivation will not be an issue. While Freiermuth has been relatively quiet of late, he does have six touchdowns in his last nine games and is the go-to target in the red zone.
Buffalo Bills ($4,500) vs. NY Jets
The Bills forced five turnovers in their previous meeting against the Jets. As a big home favorite, the Bills should also be one of the most motivated teams on the slate. Buffalo needs a win to lock up the division title and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($4,200) vs. Carolina
The Panthers have given up seven sacks in back-to-back games, one of which was against this same Buccaneers defense. Carolina has also turned it over at least twice in five straight games. The Buccaneers are playing for playoff seeding and should be motivated.
Detroit Lions ($3,200) vs. Green Bay
The Packers have absolutely nothing to play for in Week 18. The top seed in the NFC is locked up so there is no reason to risk an injury to Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams, or any other key offensive pieces. This is a spot where the Lions will be incredibly contrarian and come at a very low price, which is not a bad gamble given they are likely to be facing backups for much of this game.