Kickoff: Monday, January 2nd, 8:30 PM ET
Location: Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati, OH
Betting Odds: BUF -1, 49.5 total via Caesars
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
Joe Burrow (Start, QB1)
If you had any remaining questions about starting Joe Burrow, he likely put those to rest last week with his QB3 overall performance. On the road, against Bill Belichick and the excellent Patriots’ defense, in the cold December weather, Burrow eviscerated New England in the first half. Sure, the Bengals’ offense faltered in the second half, but a dropped touchdown and a couple of miscommunications were mainly outside Burrow’s control. His 52 attempts, 375 yards passing, and three touchdowns all show just how reliable he is, even in adverse conditions.
These are important points to remember this week, especially against a Bills defense that has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to the quarterback position on the season. But Burrow will be playing in the comfort of his home field with his full complement of weapons, and this Bills defense isn’t bulletproof. They have allowed 300-yard passing days to Kenny Pickett, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Jacoby Brissett, after all. The Bengals mostly struggle with excellent pass rushes, and while the Bills’ pressure rate of 34.8% does rank tenth-best in the league, missing Von Miller certainly takes a bite out of that unit. The Bengals will need to overcome the loss of right tackle La’el Collins to an ACL injury, but the rest of the line is still intact. Expect a shootout on Monday night, with Burrow turning in another top-five quarterback performance to cap off the fantasy playoffs.
Joe Mixon (Start, RB1), Samaje Perine (Sit, Flex)
The Bills’ defense is a middle-of-the-pack unit in limiting fantasy points to running backs, ranking as the 11th toughest matchup in the league. Let’s not overthink it with Joe Mixon though, who is playing roughly 60% of the snaps in one of the league’s best offenses. Mixon’s ceiling is more in line with an RB2, as outside of his 55-point blowup in Week 9 he has topped 20 points just once, with 22 PPR points in Week 1. But Mixon is a locked in 10+ fantasy points on a weekly basis, which has value, and his pass-catching work has helped to provide that floor. Mixon has topped a 15% target share in seven of his 13 games and has combined for 12 receptions over the past two weeks. Mixon hasn’t reached the end zone since Week 9’s 5 touchdown performance, but he’s still been able to provide value without scoring.
Samaje Perine will play his typical 40% of the snaps, mostly in passing situations, and could certainly fall into the endzone to give you a low-end RB2-type game. But Perine’s workload since Mixon’s return from injury has dried up, making him nothing more than a deep league desperation play and high-end handcuff.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Ja’Marr Chase (Start, WR1), Tee Higgins (Start, WR1), Tyler Boyd (Sit), Trenton Irwin (Sit), Hayden Hurst (Sit)
Ja’Marr Chase has actually struggled recently by his lofty standards, and has left some points on the board with some uncharacteristic drops and missed connections on 50/50 balls. Still, that hasn’t stopped him from hitting 14+ PPR points in all of his last four games since his return from injury, and the breakout is always right around the corner. This time last season, Chase put up 266 yards on 11 catches with 3 touchdowns in a home game against the Chiefs in Week 17. Buffalo has given up the 12th-most points to opposing wide receivers on the year, so this isn’t an impossible matchup despite the Bills’ excellent defense. Chase has topped a 25% target share in 9 of his 11 games this year, don’t even think about benching him in the fantasy finals.
Tee Higgins quietly has scored a touchdown in four straight games, so while his upside is lower than that of Chase’s, Higgins slots in as a low-end WR1 for Week 17. Since the bye week, Higgins has three 100-yard games in his five weeks of action and is one of the better contested catch receivers in the league. In a game with a nearly 50-point over/under, we should be looking for reasons to play Higgins, and he should be locked into nearly every lineup. Higgins has failed to reach double-digit PPR weeks just twice this year — way back in Week 1, and then of course in the game where his hamstring injury flared up in pre-game workouts.
Tyler Boyd isn’t the worst desperation flex if you need him, as this game should be high scoring and Boyd always has a shot at a touchdown in this Burrow-led offense. But Boyd has topped five targets in a game just five times all year and is generally not a big play threat. The Bills have been a tougher matchup for slot receivers than outside receivers on the year, so this doesn’t look like a Boyd game on paper. Trenton Irwin played on 45% of the snaps last week and filled in admirably as the Bengals’ receivers have suffered injuries over the past few months. Irwin does have four touchdowns over the past six weeks, but the volume is low and he is at best the fifth option in this passing game.
Hayden Hurst looks set to return from a calf injury this week and could slot in as a low-end tight end streamer if needed. But I’d rather not count on a tight end coming off an injury in the fantasy championship, especially a low-ceiling option like Hurst.
Josh Allen (Start, QB1)
Start Josh Allen. Ok, if you need a reason, Allen has been a top-ten quarterback in all but three weeks this year and is coming off back-to-back top-five quarterback performances. Sure, this Bengals defense has allowed the sixth-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks on the year, so it will be a challenge. But Allen’s 746 rushing yards rank 28th among all players, running backs included, and his yardage total is the fourth-best among all quarterbacks.
Jacoby Brissett‘s 20.3 fantasy points is the most that the Bengals have allowed to a quarterback all year, so maybe we should temper our expectations a bit. But Cincinnati’s defense has suffered some major injuries to the defensive line and secondary along the way, and this Bills offense will be a real test. Allen’s upside is as good as anyone’s in the league with five 30+ point fantasy performances in 2022. He should remain in your starting lineups in Week 17.
Devin Singletary (Start, Flex), James Cook (Sit, Flex)
Devin Singletary put together a nice performance last week in the freezing cold in Chicago, but this Bengals unit is a different challenge. Cincinnati is the eighth-toughest matchup for fantasy running backs on the year, and D.J. Reader is a force at defensive tackle each and every week. This profiles more as a pass-heavy shootout than a ground-it-out game, lowering Singletary’s floor significantly. Also lowering his floor is his usage, as Singletary seems to be a part of a full-blown committee after some early season bell cow usage. Singletary has eight weeks on the season with 70% or more of the offensive snaps, but since Week 13 he has topped out at just 60%. Singletary is a relatively consistent player and can be counted on if needed for some baseline production. But with just four RB1 performances on the year and eight total RB2 performances, Singletary is more of a flex option as we chase higher ceiling outcomes in our championships.
James Cook has come on strong as of late, posting 12 or more PPR points in three of his last four games. That coincides with his four highest snap shares of the season, ranging from 36-42% of the snaps. In a high-powered offense, there are worse low-end flex options than Cook. He’s got a touchdown in back-to-back weeks and has a six-catch game over that sample. But we should hopefully have more dependable options for our starting lineups at this point in the season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Stefon Diggs (Start, WR1), Gabe Davis (Sit, Flex), Isaiah McKenzie (Sit), Dawson Knox (Start, TE1)
Stefon Diggs has combined for just 10 scoreless catches over the past three weeks, so if you somehow made the fantasy finals — well done! Despite the urge to send a message and leave Diggs on your bench, I implore you to stick with him for another week. Diggs’ rough stretch has coincided with cold December weather and a Sauce Gardner matchup, making the past three duds easy to write off. Before this stretch, Diggs was on a heater, scoring as a top 20 PPR receiver in eight straight weeks. The upside is just too great, and while this Bengals’ defense is a bottom-half matchup for wide receivers, their cornerbacks are exploitable with Chidobe Awuzie out for the season. Coupled with a high of 60 degrees in the forecast for Monday, and Diggs is in a great spot to rebound in this potential shootout.
Gabe Davis has shockingly morphed into a low-ceiling/high-floor flex option over the back half of the season, and Davis has topped 12 PPR points just once since his Week 7 bye. Davis is on the field a ton, ranking 16th in routes run and air yards on the year, yet is just the WR35 in fantasy points per game. His 17% targets per route run is down from last year, and we just haven’t seen any signs of a breakout recently. Davis has scored 7 touchdowns on the year, and in an elite offense, there are certainly worse options to run out there as a WR3 or a flex. But if possible, Davis is likely more of a bench player for serious contenders.
Isaiah McKenzie saw his snap share drop from 56% in Week 15 to just 36% last week as Khalil Shakir saw his usage increase. McKenzie saw a 19% target share as recently as Week 14, so he’s not without upside. But his usage can’t be trusted and he is mainly a touchdown-dependent desperation play.
It hasn’t always been pretty this year for Dawson Knox, but with a touchdown in three straight games, he is certainly on the tight end streaming radar in Week 17. The Bengals have allowed just 3 receiving touchdowns to tight ends on the year, which may be a problem for a player with Knox’s profile. But their 77 receptions allowed to the position are the ninth-most in the league, which constitutes a good matchup playing against this solid defense. Knox is a low-end tight end option in nearly every league type.