Trey Lance (vs Houston)
Kyle Shanahan is muddying the water by leaving the possibility open that Jimmy Garoppolo will start, but expect Lance to get the call. He has reportedly been running the offense more smoothly in practice, at least at times, and he’ll be better prepared than his first start, when he still had 89 rushing yards. The 49ers offense was also missing George Kittle for the game. The Texans don’t have a lot of tape to prepare for the Lance led 11-on-11 Shanahan offense, so the 49ers should have the drop on them for this one.
Tua Tagovailoa (at Tennessee)
Tennessee has given up 300 yard passing games to Mac Jones and Jimmy Garoppolo and a 298 yard game to Trevor Siemian just since Week 10, and earlier in the season Carson Wentz threw for three scores and Zach Wilson for two against them. The run defense is the much stronger side of Tennessee, but the Dolphins don’t have a running game to speak of, so they should naturally attack the Titans weakness with short passing from Tagovailoa, who is riffing with former college teammate Jaylen Waddle right now.
Taysom Hill (at Carolina)
Hill returned from the covid list on Wednesday and should have his bout with the virus behind him by Sunday, when the Saints will face the Panthers in what is basically a win or go home game for them. The Panthers are behind the Saints in the outbreak curve and will likely be more affected than the Saints, and the Panthers are also in the swirl down the drain give up phase of the season. Carolina gave up two rushing scores to the only true running quarterback they faced this year, Jalen Hurts.
Kirk Cousins (at Green Bay)
UPDATE: Cousins is on the covid list and out for Week 17
Howard missed practice on Wednesday, but returned to some extent on Thursday so the trend is going in the right direction for him to play Sunday, but there’s always time for it to change. For now, we should pencil Boston Scott in as the starter, and strong RB2 play against a fading Washington defense that was just part of a 56-14 debacle of a loss to Dallas last week. Scott would also get passing down work even if Howard is the starter, so he is a solid play this week independent of Howard’s status, but Howard becomes a boom/bust RB2 if he can start.
Darrel Williams (at Cincinnati)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire avoided a broken bone in his shoulder/collarbone area, but he still suffered a bruise and missed practice on Wednesday. The Chiefs should be conservative with his return since they have the inside track for home field advantage and the #1 seed. Williams has been excellent as a receiver and should get first crack at goal line carries as long as Edwards-Helaire sits.
D’Onta Foreman (vs Miami)
Foreman will be a good play this week if the Titans can play from ahead against the Dolphins. If they can frustrate Tua Tagovailoa and A.J. Brown can win against the Dolphins top end corners, Foreman could get 20+ carries nursing a lead and wearing down the aggressive Dolphins defense.
Ke’Shawn Vaughn (at New York Jets)
Vaughn broke a 55-yard touchdown run against the Panthers last week, and earned “three down” praise from Bruce Arians. It’s possible that he could be in a more of a committee with Ronald Jones II this week, Jones could always have a lapse that leads to Vaughn taking over, and he should get any garbage time work if the Bucs can build a lead against the woeful Jets.
Rashaad Penny (vs Detroit)
Penny has had two good weeks in the last three, so maybe he’s not a sleeper, especially against the Lions at home, a matchup and setting that should allow the Seahawks to control the game script. Penny has been a good fantasy play any time in his career that he has gotten to 12 carries, and barring an injury he will get there in Week 17. He could be a preferable play over more established running backs.
A.J. Dillon (vs Minnesota)
If the Packers can jump out to a lead at home against the morose Vikings in Lambeau, Dillon could be the boa constrictor that closes out the win. Dillon had 97 total yards in the first matchup, albeit with Aaron Jones on the bench. The Vikings allowed 147 rushing yards to backs and a score last week on 29 carries even though the opposing quarterback threw three interceptions.
Tyler Boyd (vs Kansas City)
Boyd has bounced between sleeper and banished to the bench all year. Last week’s result was just due to a busted coverage on his 63-yard touchdown or he would have only had two catches for 22 yards during a huge afternoon for the Bengals passing game. Boyd hasn’t been as big a part of the Cincinnati pass offense when Joe Burrow is cruising, but he is a more important target when Burrow is struggling, which may well be the case when the Bengals face the red hot Chiefs defense.
Rashod Bateman (vs Los Angeles Rams)
Bateman’s snap share went up to 81% last week, so hopefully he is finally entrenched as the #2 receiver against the Rams this week. Tyler Huntley or Lamar Jackson will start, and both have been more than capable of feeding Bateman when he is out there. Bateman should also dodge Jalen Ramsey more often than Marquise Brown, and the Ravens are likely to have to pass a lot to make up ground when their ailing secondary likely allows the Rams to move the ball through the air at will.
Courtland Sutton (at Los Angeles Chargers)
This is what it has come to with the Broncos top two receivers. Tim Patrick is out for Week 17 on the covid list, which narrows the target tree and helps the case to play Jeudy or Sutton. Sutton’s case is also helped by Lock’s willingness to throw downfield and throw 50/50 balls, while Jeudy was the one successful downfield target last week. The Broncos should choose to attack the Chargers run defense first and foremost, but that should set up play action and hopefully scoring opportunities for the passing game, which have been hard to come by.
UPDATE: Jerry Jeudy has been placed on the covid list, making Sutton a better sleeper and taking Jeudy out of consideration.
K.J. Osborn (at Green Bay)
UPDATE: With Kirk Cousins going on the covid list, Osborn isn't a priority sleeper this week.
Van Jefferson (at Baltimore)
Jefferson has disappeared from the Rams passing game as Odell Beckham Jr has come on, but that could change this week against the Ravens. The Bengals had all of their top three receivers go for at least 83 yards last week, and two of them were over 125 yards. Jefferson has been the top deep target for Matthew Stafford since DeSean Jackson was released, so it only takes one play for him to hit in Week 17.
Foster Moreau (at Indianapolis)
Darren Waller was seen at practice earlier this week to create some optimism for his possible return, but then he landed on the covid list, so he will miss Week 17. Moreau has actually been a good play each of the last two weeks, with at least 4-65 in each game, catching 11 of his 13 targets. This week, he gets a Colts defense that has allowed four catch and touchdown games to Geoff Swaim and Ryan Griffin, two scores to Hunter Henry, and at least five tight end catches in every game since Week 8.
Jared Cook (vs Denver)
Cook scored the first time out against the Broncos this year, and he has gotten at least four targets in each of the last six games, and at least five in five of them. Donald Parham is on injured reserve, so Cook should be the primary target at tight end for Justin Herbert as the Chargers try to stay alive in the playoff hunt.
Tyler Higbee (at Baltimore)
The Ravens troubles in pass defense don’t just inflate wide receiver stats. Tight ends have scored eight times against them this year, so this is as good a week as any to bet on Higbee getting back in the end zone for the first time since Week 10. Higbee has at least five targets in each of his last five games, so that gives him some safety as a streaming play in the championship.