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USATSI

Fantasy Football is all about the matchups. Even though you drafted your team with certain hopes and intentions, your weekly lineup decisions shouldn't be determined by the order you picked your players in. You need to check who your players play and make sure you've got the right guys in -- and the wrong guys out.

It's too early to be absolutely sure on which matchups will be easy and which ones will be tough, but we can take some educated guesses based on healthy personnel, defensive schemes, track records and key details of offenses. The things we know can help us minimize the impact of the things we don't know. This should lead to better decisions being made.

We'll go through every game and highlight the players who aren't obvious starts and sits (because you don't need to be told to start Christian McCaffrey). You should feel more comfortable starting or sitting players based on the information given, and feeling comfortable with your Fantasy lineup before the games start is the best feeling in the world.

It's also important to have a keen eye for matchups dictated by the remaining schedule. I am now updating my projected Strength of Schedule rankings broken down by position available on SportsLine. My objective is to break down how the schedule affects every Fantasy relevant player for the upcoming four weeks, the playoff stretch and the entire season. You'll also be able to find my key takeaways on which players you should buy low, sell high and more trade advice.

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Thu, Dec 14 at 8:15 pm ET •
LV -3, O/U 34.5

Obviously it will be a challenge for the Chargers offense to rack up numbers with Easton Stick at quarterback. He did get into a rhythm late last week and actually looked serviceable, if not flat-out good. Playing without Keenan Allen, however, just might be too much for the Chargers to overcome, even in a favorable matchup. Assuming Josh Palmer returns, look for him to line up across the formation like Allen would and hopefully be the benefactor in terms of target share. And if you're bummed about the Bolts, remember this: After the Raiders thoroughly humiliated Joshua Dobbs last week, they let Nick Mullens come in cold off the bench and put up 83 yards over two fourth-quarter drives. This game could be a tough watch, much like last week's Raiders game and the Chargers game from two weeks ago. 

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sat, Dec 16 at 1:00 pm ET •
CIN -3, O/U 40

For a backup QB in a West Coast offense, Nick Mullens is pretty good. In 17 starts, Mullens has a 64.1% completion rate, 7.7 yards per attempt, a 4.0% TD rate (24 total), a 3.5% INT rate (21 total) and a career off-target throw rate of 8.8%. And not only is he not shy to try the deep ball (16% of his career pass attempts have gone 15-plus Air Yards downfield), but he's managed to be successful with them (54.5% completion rate with five touchdowns). By comparison, just six quarterbacks have a completion rate higher than 50% this season, and one of them is Kirk Cousins. He's a terrific fit for the Vikings offense and has the benefit of throwing to an awesome receiving corps. With Dobbs, the Vikings threw the ball just 54.6% of their snaps. I would expect them to be much closer, if not over, a 60% pass rate given the quarterback change as well as the injury to Alexander Mattison. All of this figures to be a plus for the Vikings receivers, and it's a problem for the Bengals pass defense, who have allowed bottom-10 numbers in catch rate, yards per catch, Yards After Catch per reception (YAC/reception) and missed tackles to wide receivers over their past six games.

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
CIN Cincinnati • #6
Age: 28 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs MIN CIN -3 O/U 40
OPP VS QB
12th
PROJ PTS
20.2
QB RNK
17th
YTD Stats
PAYDS
924
RUYDS
77
TD
7
INT
2
FPTS/G
16.7
Browning has been excellent at locating open targets over his three starts, but he's doing so without pushing the ball far downfield. Of his 87 pass attempts in those starts, 63 traveled nine or fewer Air Yards while nine went 15 or more yards downfield. That's a pretty telling sign that he's been much more of a distributor than a gunslinger. He also has thrown ONE pass into the end zone in those three games. The Vikings will bring a blitz-heavy pass rush and a zone-heavy coverage unit behind; they've allowed a league-high 84.8% catch rate in their past four games, but for just 7.2 yards per catch with 10 completions of 20-plus yards and three receiving touchdowns. Browning's pass protection should hold up, but it's really tough to expect him to keep finding big plays against arguably the best defensive unit he's seen this season. One QB has thrown two touchdowns against the Vikings in their past nine games.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sat, Dec 16 at 4:30 pm ET •
IND -1.5, O/U 42

Both offenses have struggled to run in their past two games, and both have been inconsistent with their passing games. The Colts especially lamented their mistakes in their blowout loss at Cincinnati next week and will aim for cleaner play this week. Expect them to attack the Steelers on the edges and over the middle and really test their linebackers in coverage, something they can employ with all of their skill-position players. Meanwhile, it's tough to expect Pittsburgh's offense to find answers after another week of poor rushing efficiency and poor passing. The Colts have struggled to keep players from getting extra yards after the catch (7.5 YAC/reception allowed in their past four games ranks highest in the league), but the Steelers have the sixth-fewest YAC yards this season and have the second-lowest receiving average collectively (9.5) in their past five. If anything, this could be a week where they scheme up Jaylen Warren to make some plays after the catch -- he has the highest YAC/reception on the Steelers and it's not even close (8.8).

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
PIT Pittsburgh • #22
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
@ IND IND -1.5 O/U 42
OPP VS RB
8th
PROJ PTS
11.8
RB RNK
28th
YTD Stats
RUYDS
690
REC
24
REYDS
149
TD
4
FPTS/G
10.1
Harris has been living on about 15 touches per game. That part's not bad -- the larger issue is that Harris has only topped 15 PPR points when he's scored a touchdown. He's only done that four times this season, and all four have come from 10 yards or closer. The matchup isn't that big of a deterrent -- Indy has allowed three rushing touchdowns to running backs in each of its past two games and 14 total on the season. Defensive tackle Grover Stewart's big return last week didn't help much. What matters is that the Steelers offense has been ugly all year long and doesn't seem likely to change this week with Mitchell Trubisky under center. In Week 14, Pittsburgh ran three plays from 10 yards or closer; on the season they've had 34 (tied for third-fewest). It's never easy to trust a running back who has to score in order to be solid for Fantasy teams, especially those who lose third-down work pretty routinely. I'd feel better starting Jerome Ford, Chuba Hubbard, Javonte Williams and Kenneth Walker.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sat, Dec 16 at 8:15 pm ET •
DET -4.5, O/U 47.5

Jared Goff's poor play last week, and his relative shaky play in the past three weeks, have come when his offensive line hasn't protected him well (42.6% pass rush pressure rate allowed in those games). It would be a big boost for Goff if center Frank Ragnow came back this week, but it would be even bigger for the Lions run game. Denver's run defense never recovered like its pass defense and pass rush did from earlier in the year, allowing at least 4.0 yards per carry to RBs in four of its past five games and in all but four games this season (5.5 yards per rush allowed overall). Not only would being run-heavy help the Lions dominate time of possession, but it would also keep their defense from being over-exposed for the fifth straight week. 

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
CAR +3, O/U 34

Would you believe the Panthers have had a sizable time-of-possession advantage in each of their past three games? They've used it to score 6, 18 and 10 points. All of that might sound familiar to Falcons fans, who saw the Panthers hold the ball for nearly 35 minutes in Week 1 at Atlanta, only to come away with 10 points. The Falcons leaned into its run game while playing at a slow pace, effectively creating a formula for taking down the Panthers that nearly everyone has used. Arthur Smith did the same thing two weeks ago against the Jets and it worked. It feels safe to expect a similar game script for this matchup, even with the Falcons potentially missing some key defensive players. 

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
ATL Atlanta • #5
Age: 22 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
@ CAR ATL -3 O/U 34
OPP VS WR
16th
PROJ PTS
11.7
WR RNK
31st
YTD Stats
REC
56
TAR
83
REYDS
745
TD
2
FPTS/G
12.1
When the Falcons need to throw, or want to throw, London comes alive. Look no further than last week's showdown with the Buccaneers for an example. But when the Falcons don't need to throw, London's targets sink. That's what happened two weeks ago against the Jets (five targets, one catch) and back in Week 1 versus the Panthers (one target, no catches). Carolina's offense has become a total farce, one that ranks dead-last over the last four weeks in yards per play (3.8) and passing yards per game (121.8) despite being fifth-best in time of possession! Even with the Falcons defense missing some pieces, expect Atlanta to run the ball at will and not push Desmond Ridder into high passing volume. That figures to limit London's targets, making him no better than a flex in PPR and a potential outright sit in non-PPR. I'd rather start Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham and Curtis Samuel in PPR.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
CLE -3, O/U 38.5

Cleveland won't have safety Grant Delpit (their leading tackler) or defensive linemen Maurice Hurst or Ogbo Okoronkwo (second in team in sacks), and they may also be without safety Juan Thornhill and cornerback Denzel Ward. At minimum, the Bears can test the Browns' depth and attack with a big dose of the run game. The more RB runs a team calls against the Browns, the worse the Browns defense has held up this year (look no further than their losses against the Rams and Broncos). This could mean a decent workload for D'Onta Foreman, who operated as the Bears' main running back last week and even ran more routes than Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson combined.

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
IND Indianapolis • #15
Age: 39 • Experience: 18 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs CHI CLE -3 O/U 38.5
OPP VS QB
7th
PROJ PTS
15.2
QB RNK
18th
YTD Stats
PAYDS
565
RUYDS
-1
TD
5
INT
2
FPTS/G
23.3
I've been loving Flacco's aggressiveness (along with the Browns' total faith in letting him throw a lot). Last week he seemed to be in rhythm with his receivers, he proved he still knows where to go with the ball from play to play and his tendency to attack deep provided ample opportunities for big plays. But I do think a lot of last week's numbers were because of bad busts in coverage by the Jaguars combined with Flacco not being under a lot of pressure from the Jags' pass rush. When he's been pressured, Flacco's completion rate has dropped from 62.1% to 34.8%, his yards per attempt have sunk from 7.1 to 4.3, and his QB rating cratered from 97.2 to 45.2. Chicago's pass rush has come alive with Montez Sweat getting after the quarterback, and I expect it to remain strong even without Yannick Ngakoue for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Flacco's offensive line is down to two backups at both tackle spots (though Geron Christian has played pretty decently), and center Ethan Pocic might not play. Plus the Bears have allowed one quarterback to land 20-plus Fantasy points in their past eight games. It makes for a really tough spot for Flacco.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
GB -3.5, O/U 41.5

Jordan Love needs a bounce-back game in the worst way, and this matchup should be it. A lot will hinge on the health of many players on both sides of the ball -- the Bucs finished last week's game with three starters in the secondary, one key linebacker, one big defensive tackle and a rotational pass rusher sidelined. Packers receivers have been dropping like flies as Christian Watson missed last week's game and Dontayvion Wicks hurt his ankle badly (Jayden Reed seems OK after getting checked for a concussion last week). If Love has time to stay clean in the pocket and can throw to his starters against backup defenders then he should do well.

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
GB Green Bay • #11
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs TB GB -3.5 O/U 42
OPP VS WR
8th
PROJ PTS
12.3
WR RNK
26th
YTD Stats
REC
48
TAR
74
REYDS
540
TD
7
FPTS/G
12.2
How can you turn down a WR who has 15-plus PPR points in 4 of his past 5 games? It's clear by now that the Packers view Reed not only as a primary slot receiver but as a YAC differentiator, kind of like Deebo Samuel in San Francisco. That gets him a couple of carries every week, but it's been the steady dose of catches -- at least four in each of his past five games -- that keeps him in the lineup conversation. About the only negative is that his ADOT (Average Depth of Target) has plummeted from 13.0 in his first nine games to 5.7 in his past four. However, with the Packers thin at receiver (Christian Watson isn't expected to play) and a plus matchup against a beat-up Buccaneers secondary, there's a ton of potential for Reed again this week. It definitely helps that the Buccaneers rank bottom-five in yards per catch (13.5), YAC/recepton (6.6) and completions of 20-plus yards allowed (16) to slot receivers this season. I'd start him over Tyler Lockett, Adam Thielen, Terry McLaurin and Diontae Johnson.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
MIA -8.5, O/U 37.5

The Dolphins have a real problem across their offensive line -- four of their five starters from the beginning of the season could be out, leaving a leaky unit to protect Tua Tagovailoa against the NFL's fourth-best pass rush in pressure rate (42.2%). That's on top of the Jets secondary being toward the top of the league in pretty much every single defensive metric. Mike McDaniels' genius will be tested for sure, but one way he could get around this is by finding success running the ball. Raheem Mostert is pretty clearly the Dolphins' top runner and the primary breadwinner when they beat the Jets in Week 12 (a 20-94-2 stat line). Plus it's not like Miami's offensive line was stellar when these teams met three weeks ago. A slow pace for the Dolphins with a big dose of the run and creative passing concepts to a hopefully-healthy Tyreek Hill is probably the best the Dolphins could do.

Sit Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
MIA Miami • #1
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs NYJ MIA -8.5 O/U 37.5
OPP VS QB
19th
PROJ PTS
16.4
QB RNK
14th
YTD Stats
PAYDS
3697
RUYDS
55
TD
24
INT
10
FPTS/G
20.6
His best receiver seems to be operating at less than 100 percent, his offensive line is a calamity, and he's facing a Jets defense that held him to 9.8 Fantasy points three weeks ago when both of those first two issues weren't really issues. If that's not enough, the Jets have let up 20-plus Fantasy points to just four QBs all year, and just one (Josh Allen) had more than 23. It figures to be another low-upside matchup for Tagovailoa, who will continue to throw short passes but might be better off handing the ball to his running backs, which he did plenty of times back on Black Friday. I'd rather start quarterbacks in better matchups like Matthew Stafford, Trevor Lawrence, Russell Wilson and Sam Howell.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
NE +7.5, O/U 37

It's been the Patriots run defense, not their pass rush, which has dominated offensive fronts all year. Only when facing a weak offensive line do the Patriots show some life getting after the quarterback. Kansas City's O-line hasn't been perfect but has done a good enough job to keep Patrick Mahomes clean, which should be the case again this week. Normally the idea of Mahomes throwing 35-plus times is enough to make him the top quarterback in Fantasy but given the state of his receiving corps and his track record against worse defenses, it's entirely possible that Mahomes turns in a modest stat line. It doesn't help his case that the Patriots have been pretty good at covering tight ends all year (one touchdown to the position) and have held Travis Kelce in relative check in every single game he's played with Mahomes against them. New England also happens to rank sixth-best in red zone defensive efficiency, allowing 17 touchdowns on 37 red-zone drives this season. Without explosive plays, Mahomes could be in for a tricky night.

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
NO -6, O/U 39

The Giants have been winning with aggressive defense, strong rushing by Saquon Barkley, and good enough passing by Tommy DeVito. It's a formula that should give the Saints fits on Sunday. Derek Carr has thrown one touchdown while pressured this season and has a 50% completion rate and a 6.0-yard passing average when he's under duress. The Saints O-line has to hold up. Meanwhile, New Orleans' defense has let up 4.8 yards per carry and five touchdowns to running backs in its past seven games -- that includes giving up 161 rush yards over 33 carries to the Panthers last week. As for DeVito, New York's coaching staff is doing a good job keeping him as an efficient game manager. He's unlikely to play Superman for the Giants but will take advantage of his opportunities if the Saints sell out to stop the run too often -- that includes using his legs. Given how the Saints have been playing lately against non-Panthers teams, the Giants could steal another win. 

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 1:00 pm ET •
TEN -3, O/U 37

Houston has a slew of question marks on offense. Case Keenum will start, Nico Collins is out, the O-line isn't perfect and there's no established deep threat. As a result, the Texans will have a hard time moving the chains. Tennessee's coming off of an emotional come-from-behind victory at Miami but can win this game in a completely different yet very familiar way: By leaning on Derrick Henry. The big fella didn't even play 50% of the Titans' offensive snaps on Monday and figures to be fairly fresh. Houston's run defense has held backs to 3.3 yards per carry on the season with only five having 15-plus PPR points, but I would expect its offense to put them in some tough positions if they have backups at quarterback and receiver. That could end up playing into Henry's hands as a high-volume, touchdown-driven Fantasy bulldozer.    

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 4:05 pm ET •
ARI +12.5, O/U 48

San Francisco hasn't just won three straight against Arizona -- they've blown them out by at least 19 points each time. Running the ball has obviously been a big part of their recipe for success in the series -- they've thrown the ball 29 or fewer times in each win. Don't let that totally scare you from going with Brock Purdy this week -- in each of the three games a Niners QB has totaled at least two scores and in two of the three the quarterback has tossed at least three touchdowns. The fun part is that the Cardinals offense has been blown out in just one game since Kyler Murray came back, and the 49ers have some injuries impacting their defense, so there is a shot that the Cardinals can at least keep it semi-close and force a slightly different game script than in prior meetings. 

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 4:05 pm ET •
LAR -6.5, O/U 50.5

they were down by 24-plus points near halftime and into the fourth quarter. Their previous high in run rate was 44%. It might be a signal that the Commanders won't force Howell to throw over and over if they find themselves behind again this season. But there's more: Terry McLaurin has not accounted for 15 PPR points in a game since before Halloween, and only one receiver has had one game with 80 or more yards in the Commanders' past five (Curtis Samuel, on a 12-target game in Week 12). The weakness in the Rams defense lately is against the pass. While there's potential for Howell to notch a good game, there's a little worry he might not get the volume we need for him to do it.

Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 4:25 pm ET •
BUF -2, O/U 50.5

Buffalo's defense hung late, and may have gotten a little lucky, to avoid another disastrous loss at Kansas City last week. They might not be as fortunate this week against a Cowboys offense that's rolling. As a result, expect Josh Allen to try and carry the Bills offense for the third week in a row. Granted, since Joe Brady took over the play calling, James Cook has had a much larger role in the offense, and that includes his usage as a receiver. Expect some wrinkles in the passing game to help Cook this week (Dallas is less daunting against pass-catching running backs), but also expect Allen to attack a little shorter downfield and over the middle to try and find lapses in coverage away from the Cowboys' cornerbacks while negating the pass rush with quick throws. That could help spell a rebound game for Dalton Kincaid.

Start Him in PPR (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
BUF Buffalo • #86
Age: 24 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs DAL BUF -2 O/U 50.5
OPP VS TE
28th
PROJ PTS
9.6
TE RNK
13th
YTD Stats
REC
61
TAR
72
REYDS
495
TD
2
FPTS/G
10
A couple of bad yardage weeks isn't enough to completely make me pass on Kincaid. I especially like that Dawson Knox's return last week did nothing to hurt Kincaid's role in the Bills offense -- he actually had a higher route participation against the Chiefs than he did in his previous game against the Eagles (when Knox was still sidelined). On paper, the matchup is tough: Dallas ranks well against allowing Fantasy points to tight ends, but they've only defended two who have gotten at least six targets. Each of the two had at least nine PPR points. Kincaid has at least six targets -- and five catches -- in each of his past seven games. I wonder if the Bills view him as a matchup beater when the Cowboys play heavy zone coverage and have him try to win on underneath routes. I still think he's worth trusting in PPR formats ahead of Dallas Goedert, Cole Kmet, Kyle Pitts and Logan Thomas.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Sun, Dec 17 at 8:20 pm ET •
JAC +3, O/U 42.5

Last week was the first time this season the Ravens were bombarded with long pass attempts. Nearly 45% of Matthew Stafford's throws traveled at least 10 Air Yards downfield with over a third of them going 15-plus Air Yards. Even when Baltimore played more zone from the second quarter on, the Rams tried deep shots over and over. The volume, combined with the Rams' red-zone offense, made the game much higher scoring than anticipated. You'd think the Jaguars would try and emulate that, but last week Lawrence was dreadful on his deep passing (2 of 14 on passes of 15-plus Air Yards with one touchdown, three interceptions and zero drops). It wasn't until Lawrence began completing passes and getting into a rhythm in the second half did the Jaguars offense start to look good. I'm expecting the Ravens run defense to keep Travis Etienne from being efficient on the ground, so it'll take Lawrence locking in much sooner this week for the Jags to have a chance.

Start Him (Lineup Decisions)
Projections powered by Sportsline
JAC Jacksonville • #16
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Weekly Breakdown
MATCHUP
vs BAL BAL -3 O/U 42.5
OPP VS QB
15th
PROJ PTS
18
QB RNK
12th
YTD Stats
PAYDS
3261
RUYDS
259
TD
21
INT
10
FPTS/G
19.7
Even in a sloppy three-interception game at Cleveland last week, Lawrence overcame a bad start and a lot of pass rush pressure to post his fourth straight game with at least 23 Fantasy points. Just like last season, he seems to be hitting his stride late. Additionally, the Jaguars run game hasn't been consistent over those past four games (22.8 RB rushes per week, 3.0 yards per rush, 0.34 yards before contact per rush). That's helped Lawrence average nearly 40 pass attempts per game (50 last week boosts that number). The Ravens run defense has been a little dicey over their last four games (4.5 yards per rush) but much of that is from matchups where teams ran the ball over 25 times against them. I'm not confident the Jaguars will have much success nor stick with the ground game, further pushing the game script in Lawrence's favor. Lawrence will have to beat the Ravens' pass rush downfield like Matthew Stafford did last week to have some success, but I think he'll have the opportunities to do it. He's got the upside to be a top-12 Fantasy QB, but toward the bottom of the group. I feel better starting him over Russell Wilson, Jared Goff and Sam Howell, but not over Brock Purdy, Matthew Stafford, Justin Fields or Jordan Love.
Start 'em
10.0-7.00
6.99 - 5.01
5.00 - 0
Sit 'em
Mon, Dec 18 at 8:15 pm ET •
SEA +4, O/U 47.5

I'm sure Seattle would love to run the ball, but they have to trust their passing game given the success so many other offenses have had against the Eagles this season. Slowing down Philly's offense is the other key -- this is the easiest matchup for Philly's offense in at least three weeks, and they might be inclined to try and run the ball since that element of the Eagles offense has been missing for some time. So there's a possibility both teams try and run the ball more than we'd expect. The edge, given the matchup, would go to the Eagles, which is enough to keep D'Andre Swift in lineups one more week ... seven running backs getting 15-plus PPR points against the Seahawks in their past six games would be a good reason to ride with Swift, too.