Kickoff: Sunday, January 8th at 4:25 PM ET
Location: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Betting Odds: SF -14, 40.5 Total on Oddshark
David Blough (Sit)
A mere month ago, Cardinals fans’ concerns about the quarterback position centered around Kyler Murray‘s Call of Duty habits. Keep these folks in your thoughts: after suffering through Colt McCoy and Trace McSorley, the Arizona faithful now have to watch David Blough work without the team’s best wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) and tight end (Zach Ertz) in the final game of the season. Our expectations are lower than a Skip Bayless Tweet.
Blough’s 222 yard, 1 TD, 0 INT effort on 24-40 passing against a subpar Atlanta Falcons’ pass defense is his high water mark. Things get tougher against a stout San Francisco 49ers unit jockeying for playoff position. Look elsewhere if you’re vying for a championship. You deserve better.
James Conner (Start, RB2), Corey Clement (Sit), Keaontay Ingram (Sit)
James Conner is a must-start if he gets the green light to play, but the former Pittsburgh Panther and Steeler was a non-participant in Wednesday’s practice. He dressed and participated in Thursday warm-ups, but sat out positional drills. There’s a good chance the Cardinals put Conner on ice with nothing of consequence to play for, so be sure to have a late-game backup plan if you’re reserving a lineup slot for him.
From a depth chart standpoint, Corey Clement stands to inherit a sizeable workload if the Cardinals elect to keep Conner out of harm’s way in what is essentially a meaningless game for the team. However, I think the Cardinals might be inclined to gauge the growth of Keaontay Ingram to inform their offseason approach in free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Arizona State rookie get a few more looks than usual. With so much uncertainty surrounding this backfield, it’s hard to recommend either as a viable championship week play.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Marquise Brown (Start, WR3), Greg Dortch (Sit), A.J. Green (Sit), Trey McBride (Sit, TE2)
Since returning from injury in Week 12, Marquise Brown leads all Cardinals receivers with a 21.3% target share. His steady diet of targets should continue with both DeAndre Hopkins and Rondale Moore on the shelf. However, it’s not the quantity, but rather the quality of those targets that’s concerning. With no dynamic threat in the offense to draw opposing defensive attention, the 49ers are likely to smother Brown and make Blough beat them with the likes of Greg Dortch and A.J. Green. Therefore, I anticipate a high volume of targets for Brown, but a disproportionately low number of receptions and yards.
Green has generally performed like the washed-up 34-year-old receiver that he is, but Dortch has been Jekyll & Hyde in a football uniform. The 5’7″ 175-pounder from Wake Forest has six games with four or more receptions this season, but 10 with two or fewer. In his last outing against San Francisco, Dortch caught nine passes for 103 yards. It wouldn’t surprise us if Dortch built upon that success by logging his fourth game of the season with nine or more catches. It also wouldn’t shock us if he was missing from the box score entirely. Consider him a high-risk, high-reward deep league flex, but a less-than-ideal option in traditional 12-team formats.
Trey McBride has played 73 percent or more of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps ever since Zach Ertz left on a cart with a season-ending knee injury. McBride saw a total of only eight targets in those first three games but slowly began making some noise in recent weeks. He was quietly the overall TE2 in Week 17 after catching seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. It’s a tall ask for him to repeat that feat against the 49ers. McBride should see a half-dozen or more targets, but I expect mid-to-low-end TE2 numbers from the talented rookie in Week 18.
San Francisco 49ers
Brock Purdy (Sit, QB2)
Like the Cardinals, the San Francisco 49ers have cycled through multiple quarterbacks this year. After losing Trey Lance to an ugly lower-body injury earlier this season, Jimmy Garoppolo took the reins, put the team on his back, and started winning football games before bowing out with an injury of his own. Enter Brock Purdy, the final selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, who promptly came in to lead the 49ers to five straight victories.
If the Philadelphia Eagles fall to the New York Giants on Sunday, they’ll drop their third game in a row and open the door for the 49ers to take over the top spot in the NFC. In preparation for such a scenario, the 49ers will come out guns blazing this week to secure a coveted first-round bye. I don’t love him as an option in single-quarterback formats. Still, even if he plays sparingly, Purdy should handsomely reward fantasy managers in 2QB and superflex leagues, thanks to his efficiency: per CBS Sports, in the four-game span following Garoppolo’s foot injury, Purdy’s passer rating of 112.7 leads the entire NFL.
Christian McCaffrey (Start, RB1), Jordan Mason (Sit), Tyrion Davis-Price (Sit)
I agree with fellow FantasyPros Expert Rankers, who view Christian McCaffrey as the consensus overall RB1 in Week 18. Only Austin Ekeler has been a more prolific fantasy running back over the past three weeks, and McCaffrey enjoys the easier matchup in the regular season finale. However, like many elite fantasy options, McCaffrey’s second-half workload in Week 18 could be limited if a strong positive or negative game script encourages the team to rest him for the playoffs. In such a scenario, expect Jordan Mason to see more work, and Tyrion Davis-Price should get fed a bit, as well. In any case, McCaffrey remains a must-start in all leagues of all kinds.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Brandon Aiyuk (Start, WR1), Jauan Jennings (Sit), Ray-Ray McCloud (Sit), Danny Gray (Sit), George Kittle (Start, TE1)
With Deebo Samuel likely out for the regular season’s swan song, Brandon Aiyuk should see more than his usual allotment of targets. Here’s where the fun begins: according to PFF, Aiyuk enjoys the most favorable WR/CB matchup in the NFL in Week 18. Expect Aiyuk to abuse the recently re-signed Jace Whittaker en route to a monster day. I’m higher than consensus on Aiyuk and expect Top 10 numbers in Week 18. Start him in all formats.
Jauan Jennings has been on the field for 84 percent or more of the 49ers’ offensive snaps over the past three games, making him the biggest beneficiary of Deebo Samuel‘s injury-driven absence. However, Jennings has drawn only six total targets over that span. The electric Ray-Ray McCloud could always make a splash play or two, and Danny Gray could get a long look if the game script warrants it. However, all are low-confidence plays that are much better as GPP tournament bargains for DFS enthusiasts.
Like Aiyuk, George Kittle should be a fixture in all Week 18 lineups. No tight end has scored more fantasy points than George Kittle over the past three weeks. Only T.J. Hockenson, Tyler Higbee, and Darren Waller have even scored half as many points over that span. Kittle has been simply dominant, and there’s every reason to believe his high level of production will continue against a Cardinals defense that has allowed the second-most number of fantasy points to opposing tight ends.