Kickoff: Sunday, December 18th, 4:25 PM ET
Location: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Betting Odds: CIN -3.5, 44 total via PFF.com
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
Joe Burrow (Start, QB1)
This has been a year full of tests for Joe Burrow in his follow-up to his breakout 2021 campaign. He started out the season under siege, as the offensive line looked as lost as ever against dangerous pass-rushes. Despite that, he still managed to put up a QB6 finish in the opener against Pittsburgh despite throwing 4 interceptions. Once the line was stabilized, his next test came as Ja’Marr Chase missed his first games as a pro, and Burrow had to fend without him from Week 8 through Week 12. Burrow still managed a QB1 overall week and was QB14 or higher in three of those four games, with three of those matchups coming on the road. Then, after a QB2 overall finish with his full assortment of weapons in Week 13, he lost the rest of his supporting cast last week, as Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, and Hayden Hurst combined for virtually no snaps between the three of them. Burrow still managed 18 fantasy points against a Browns team that has given him fits in the past.
All of this is to say that Burrow is playing the position as well as anyone in the league right now, and his adaptability is a big part of his success. In addition to his passing ability, Burrow quietly has 5 rushing touchdowns on the year (5th among QBs) to go along with 65 rushing attempts (8th among QBs). Tampa Bay is a middle-of-the-pack matchup as far as fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, but the big thing to look for with this Bengals offense is the pass rush. With a 31% pressure rate that ranks 23rd in the league, this looks like a matchup that Burrow can take advantage of, making him a high-end QB1 in Tampa.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB1), Samaje Perine (Sit, Flex)
Joe Mixon returned last week from a concussion to play on 58% of the snaps, his lowest mark of the year in a full game played. However, that is still a strong snap share, and Mixon looked good, rushing 14 times for 96 yards and showing some burst on longer runs. Mixon has only topped 20 fantasy points two times this year, so his upside is not that of a typical RB1. But this Bengals offense is among the best in the league, and Mixon has been churning out double-digit PPR weeks on the regular, making him an extremely dependable back-end RB1. Tampa Bay has been good against the run this year, ranking near the bottom of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, but they are allowing 4.6 yards per carry. Add in that the Buccaneers are likely to be without run-stuffer Vita Vea, and this is not a matchup to avoid for Mixon managers.
Samaje Perine has been very impressive as both a complement to Mixon and as a fill-in, and has earned a sizeable role in this offense. Perine played on 43% of the snaps last week and was already playing above 30% of the snaps before Mixon’s concussion. While he only had one reception last week, he did still see five targets and has 23 combined targets for 15 receptions over the past four weeks. It’s hard to advocate for him as a start with all of the other weapons in this offense, but there are worse desperation options at RB2 in deep leagues.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ja’Marr Chase (Start, WR1), Tee Higgins (Start, WR2), Tyler Boyd (Sit), Trenton Irwin (Sit), Mitchell Wilcox (Sit)
Against a banged-up Bucs secondary, Ja’Marr Chase is a locked-in top-five option at the wide receiver position. He’s seen double-digit targets in 6 of 9 games and has scored 7 touchdowns in the process. And while Tampa Bay ranks middle of the pack allowing points to opposing wide receivers on the year, that production has also come against some very subpar quarterback play. Chase has been a top 5 receiver in 4 of his 9 games this year — start him with confidence.
Tee Higgins ghosted us all last week after popping up on the injury report mid-week and aggravating his hamstring in warmups. He snuck his way onto the field for one snap before the coaches shut him down the rest of the way. Higgins was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, and he does appear to be on the right track to play this week. I have no insight into Zac Taylor’s decision-making here, other to say that he has been cautious holding out injured players for an extra week when necessary. But last week seems to have been him being cautious, and I would expect Higgins to be a relatively full-go this week barring another setback. So while there is clearly risk here there is also upside, as Higgins has produced 11+ PPR points in every week since Week 1. Until last week. He’s still a WR2 against the Bucs, but if your feelings are hurt, I can’t say that I blame you.
Tyler Boyd exited last week on the first play of the game with a dislocated finger that broke the skin. As disturbing as that is to a mortal like me, Boyd doesn’t seem all that fazed, stating “yeah. It’s just a finger. I’m good” when asked about his playing status. He was a limited participant Wednesday, so he may play if you need him. But with Boyd’s up-and-down play this year, he’s better left on your bench until he is fully healthy.
Trenton Irwin has stepped up with the injuries around him, and the team clearly loves him. But he’s more of a role player than startable wide receiver, and should be left on waivers in your fantasy league. Same for Mitchell Wilcox, who is filling in for the injured Hayden Hurst.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady (Sit, QB2)
Tom Brady faces a Bengals defense allowing the seventh-fewest points to the quarterback position on the year, including zero 300-yard passing games. Cincinnati ranks sixth in pressure rate at 36%, though they may be without their star pass rusher Trey Hendrickson, who seems to be questionable at best with a broken wrist. Regardless of the matchup, Brady is not a quarterback that needs to be in your lineup in single-quarterback leagues. Brady has not topped 20 fantasy points since Weeks 4 and 5 and has finished as a QB1 just three times all year. The volume is still there, as he is regularly chucking the ball 50 times per game, but the big play ability and efficiency has disappeared. He’s a relatively safe option that should produce a high-end QB2 performance, but you are welcome to go with the more exciting options this week.
Rachaad White (Start, RB2), Leonard Fournette (Start, Flex)
Rachaad White led the backfield in snaps last week at 53% and has a nice little run of four straight games of 11+ PPR points. Most encouraging is the receiving ability, as White has caught 20 of 22 targets over the past three weeks. This Bengals defense has shut down Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb in recent weeks with the return of defensive tackle D.J. Reader, so White’s pass-catching ability will be big in giving him a startable week here. Expect White to split the snaps again in the backfield and catch a handful of passes, making him a solid RB2 even in a tough matchup.
Leonard Fournette has managed to score double-digit PPR points in all but two games this season, but things are trending in the wrong direction. As White’s role has grown, Fournette’s workload has lessened, especially on the ground. Fournette had just four carries last week and has now had under 10 carries in four of his past six games. Luckily, he’s still catching passes, with 12 combined receptions over the past two weeks. The yardage is not impressive, but as long as Brady is forced to check down to his backs like this, Fournette remains a startable option. He’s not quite to the level of a playoff-caliber RB2, but he’s a fine fallback option in half and full PPR leagues. Even with his snaps fading as the season progresses, he’s still managed a 47% snap share or better in each of his healthy games this year.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Chris Godwin (Start, WR2), Mike Evans (Start, WR3), Julio Jones (Sit), Cade Otton (Sit, TE2)
This entire Bucs offense is lacking explosion, but as long as you are in a league that awards points per reception, Chris Godwin remains a solid option. Taking out his Week 1 performance where Tampa Bay rushed him back from his ACL injury and he left early, Godwin has ten or more targets in seven of ten games and five or more receptions in all ten weeks. He’s got just two touchdowns on the year and just one 100-yard game, however, so we shouldn’t expect a breakout to come against a Bengals defense allowing the fifth-fewest points to opposing wide receivers. They have allowed more points to slot receivers than outside receivers, so Godwin should be able to carve out his typical production in Week 15. Keep an eye on Cincinnati’s excellent slot corner Mike Hilton — he did not practice Wednesday and would be a big absence, although all indications are that he should be good to go.
Old reliable Mike Evans is in a free fall, having not scored a touchdown since Week 4 and failing to reach 60 receiving yards since Week 8. Evans and Brady have been visibly frustrated with each other at times, and this may not be the week to turn things around. While the Bengals’ outside corners Eli Apple and Cam Taylor-Britt seem like good matchups on paper, the Bengals’ defense has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to receivers split out wide on the year, which is where Evans makes his living. It’s hard to not expect a turnaround from Evans at some point — after all, he does have eight-straight 1,000-yard seasons coming into this year, and in his two prior years with Brady, he combined to score 27 touchdowns. But until we see it, Evans feels like a touchdown-dependent WR3 and a player that may not be good enough to crack the lineup of a playoff-worthy fantasy roster.
Julio Jones is playing the third-most snaps at the receiver position for the Bucs but is not producing at a level that matters for fantasy football. And of course, he did not practice on Wednesday and has a knee injury that we will need to monitor. Leave him on waivers, along with the rest of the Tampa Bay wide receivers.
I would like for Cade Otton to be a thing, as he’s a more exciting option than Cam Brate at this stage in their careers. Otton did finally out snap a healthy Brate last week 60%-37%, so things are trending in the right direction. And Otton has seen a healthy 15 combined targets over the past two weeks. Unfortunately, the yardage has been very pedestrian, and as a secondary option in a struggling passing game, Otton is only on the radar in deep leagues.