Kickoff: Sunday, January 8th, 4:25 PM ET
Location: Empower Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Betting Odds: DEN -2.5, 40 total via Caesars
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
Los Angeles Chargers
Justin Herbert (Start, QB2)
If the Bengals beat the Ravens earlier in the day, the Chargers will have nothing to play for. You’ll need to weigh your options, and have potential backups available in the later time slots, as this game is in the late afternoon window. So take that into account with these rankings. We could get a full game from the Chargers, or we could get all backups. We just don’t really know right now.
Justin Herbert is the easiest to avoid of the Chargers due to the quarterback position, as you may have better options. Herbert has only cracked 20 fantasy points twice since the Week 8 bye, so while the offense looks better with a healthy receiving corps, we haven’t exactly seen fireworks from a fantasy perspective. Denver has given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks over the year, and Herbert has scored multiple touchdowns in just seven games on the season. Herbert is definitely a fine QB1 if he plays, but the threat of a meaningless game drops him to a QB2 for these purposes.
Austin Ekeler (Start, RB1), Joshua Kelley (Sit)
While the threat of Austin Ekeler riding the bench in a meaningless game is scary, I can’t in good conscience recommend him as a sit until we know the outcome of the Bengals/Ravens game. There’s not much analysis here, Ekeler has been a league-winner. How many drives in a meaningless game would we need from Ekeler to feel good about starting him over players available on waivers — 5 drives? Ekeler can put up points in a hurry in PPR leagues, so even limited work is probably worth a start unless you are stacked at the position.
Joshua Kelley is operating as the clear backup, playing on 36% of the snaps last week against the Rams. It’s tempting to look for a scenario where he has a big game, but he’s probably not going to see a heavy workload unless this is a meaningless game, at which point Justin Herbert may be sitting out as well. If word comes out that Ekeler will definitely see very few snaps, however, Kelley would be a borderline RB2 this week.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Keenan Allen (Start, WR1), Mike Williams (Start, WR1), Joshua Palmer (Sit), Gerald Everett (Sit, TE2)
Denver has been a tough matchup for opposing pass-catchers, allowing the second-fewest fantasy points on the season to wide receivers. And yet with the roll that Keenan Allen has been on, I’ll take my chances and continue to play him. Allen’s seven-straight games of 12 or more PPR points showcase his solid floor, especially with just two touchdowns during that stretch. He’s a low-end WR1, though keep an eye on the outcome of the Bengals game like with all of these players.
Mike Williams is in a similar spot to Allen, drawing a tough matchup but with a solid volume base to back him up. Williams has topped 65 receiving yards in eight of his 12 games played, including four games of 110+ receiving yards. I give the slight edge to Allen as he draws the easier targets, but Williams is a high-end WR2 depending on the playoff scenarios at kickoff.
Joshua Palmer has settled into a snap share in the 60% range since the return of Allen and Williams, and his volume has decreased over each of the past five weeks. He bottomed out with one target and no receptions last week, so while there are some scenarios here where the starters are rested and he racks up the volume, I wouldn’t want to trust him in a championship unless desperate.
After burning everyone with a goose egg in Week 16, Gerald Everett rebounded with a touchdown last week, albeit with just three catches for 15 yards to go along with it. His usage has fallen off with Allen and Williams back on the field, so Everett probably shouldn’t be trusted in your fantasy finale.
Russell Wilson (Sit, QB2)
Russell Wilson rushed for two touchdowns last week on his way to being the QB5 on the week, giving him three top-five finishes on the season. Unfortunately, Wilson has failed to crack the top 12 at his position in any of his other 11 starts, and he has just not been a dependable weekly option. Wilson last played the Chargers way back in Week 6, where Wilson threw for just 188 yards in a game that went to overtime, scoring 14 points for a QB15 overall finish. The Chargers defense is playing better as of late, though there is a chance that this game is meaningless for them if the Ravens lose. Wilson is a relatively dependable QB2 in superflex leagues, but you probably have a higher ceiling option in single quarterback leagues.
Latavius Murray (Start, RB2), Chase Edmonds (Start, Flex)
Latavius Murray played 60% of the snaps last week, and as a veteran running back that is not an important piece of Denver’s future, there is little reason to expect him to be rested. Since the Week 9 bye, Murray has scored double-digit PPR points in five of eight games and has ranged between 9 touches and 25 touches over that span. The Chargers’ defense is the eighth-best matchup for opposing running backs on the year, and there is a chance that the Chargers have nothing to play for if the Bengals beat the Ravens in the early slate. Murray is a volume-based RB2 for Week 18; you can expect his regular workload in this final game.
Chase Edmonds has been back from IR for two weeks and saw his snaps jump from 42% in Week 16 to 59% last week. Edmonds has caught all five of his targets over his past two games and has finished as the RB34 and the RB23 in PPR leagues in his two weeks with the Broncos. He’s likely to see less volume than Murray, but with Marlon Mack on IR Edmonds has a sizeable role here. In a messy Week 18 slate, Edmonds is an acceptable desperation RB2 option, as we at least can feel confident in his role.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Jerry Jeudy (Start, WR2), Courtland Sutton (Start, WR3), Albert Okwuegbunam ()
With Kendall Hinton out and Greg Dulcich on IR, the Broncos’ pass-catching options are a bit thinned out, meaning we may be able to count on some volume here with the Denver wide receivers.
Jerry Jeudy has logged back-to-back limited practices this week, so he seems to be on track to play with an ankle injury that he played through last week. Jeudy has had eight or more targets in each of his past four games, so while the results have been a bit up and down, he’s seeing dependable volume. He’s got a slight risk of a re-aggravation that pulls him from a meaningless Week 18 game, but otherwise, he’s a solid WR2 option based on his usage.
Courtland Sutton also looks set for a sizable role in this thinned-out receiving corps, racking up a combined 9 catches on 13 targets in his first games back from injury. Sutton has just one touchdown on the year and likely has a lower ceiling than Jeudy, but Sutton has been a top-40 option in 10 of 14 games on the season, providing a safe floor in a week of question marks at the position.
Shockingly, Albert Okwuegbunam sprung back from the bench to post three catches for 45 yards and a TD on six targets last week. He led his tight end room in snaps with 53%, so he’s still in a committee here. But the new head coach seems interested in playing him, putting him on the fringes of the TE streaming landscape. But I’d rather not trust Albert O with my championships on the line, I’d hate for him to burn me a second time this year.