For many fortunate managers, the fantasy playoffs kick off with the Rams hosting the Patriots for Thursday Night Football. For others, perhaps a toilet bowl tournament or consolation prize awaits. Regardless, we’ve made it. After a roller coaster ride of a regular season, the playoffs have arrived. On Thursdays, caution is a fantasy manager’s greatest ally. It is critical to prevent any disasters in the first game of the fantasy playoffs.
New England Patriots
The rushing attack in New England has been multifaceted this season, and no running back has been able to emerge as a top fantasy asset. Damien Harris is the clear-cut number one running back for the Patriots, but he almost always splits attempts with Cam Newton. With that being said, in nine games, Harris has averaged 71.2 yards per game, which could be excellent if it were coupled with touchdowns or receiving work. The downside for Harris is that both Cam Newton and Rex Burkhead have scored more rushing touchdowns than he has. Additionally, Harris is not involved in the passing attack, with most of the work falling to James White, who has managed to assemble a few fantasy performances that are worth starting in PPR formats. Considering that the Rams’ defense has allowed the seventh fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, Harris and White are both questionable fantasy assets for this week. Damien Harris is wildly dependent on touchdowns to make him relevant in a fantasy sense, and White needs five or more targets in order to be productive. It is wise to look elsewhere for additional upside this week.
Since Julian Edelman’s injury departure earlier in the season, no Patriots wide receiver has risen to fill the void. Many had tabbed N’Keal Harry as the next man up in New England, but he has only managed to catch twenty-six passes on the year, which is hardly worth mentioning in fantasy football. Both Jakobi Meyers and Damiere Byrd have shown flashes at times, but neither receiver has been able to emerge as a consistent option. Against a tough Rams defense, both Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers belong on the bench.
Following a similar pattern, the tight end position in New England is not a place to look for fantasy production. Ryan Izzo is a fine player, but there is simply not enough passing volume to consider him as a fantasy player.
The reason I have urged against any pass catcher on the Patriots is the same reason I will be urging against the passer for the Patriots. At this point in the season, Cam Newton has thrown for 2,053 yards and only five touchdowns, both of which are near the bottom of the league. Newton’s value comes primarily in the rushing game, where he has scored eleven touchdowns. He should only be considered as an absolute desperation play or perhaps as a second quarterback in a two-QB league.
The only player that may be worth a look in New England is Nick Folk. The Patriots may be able to move the ball into field goal range a few times, which may present Nick Folk with several opportunities for success. Folk will probably have a modest day, but if he is able to kick two or three field goals, he’ll be able to finish the week in the top half of kickers.
The Patriots are coming off of one of the best defensive performances of this season, but this is not the same defense they had a season ago, when their defense outperformed many receivers in fantasy points per game. They only retained four starters from last year’s beginning crew, but they have been able to remain among the season’s top defensive units. They don’t have the best matchup this week, although it is quite similar to last week’s matchup against the Chargers, so they may be worth a look if no other streaming options are available.
Los Angeles Rams
Cam Akers is beginning to blossom into the Rams’ top option in the running game, with Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown handling change of pace duties. With the exception of Henderson’s week thirteen touchdown, neither player is worth mentioning in fantasy anymore. Akers may be worthy of starting this week, but he should only be expected to produce modest top thirty running back numbers.
The brightest spots in the Rams’ offensive attack are found in their immensely talented pair of wide receivers. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are dominant players, and both should be in fantasy lineups for Thursday. There is some risk that New England will be able to stifle the production of one of the receivers, but it is difficult to guess which one, if either, will have a poor outing. Chances are, most people have one or the other, and not both, so managers should feel confident starting whichever of the two they have. Josh Reynolds should be on the bench this week, because the Patriots’ defense will likely be able to limit the Rams’ passing attack, and Reynolds will be the first player whose production will suffer.
Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett have both been able to show flashes here and there, but against a tough defense, Everett certainly belongs on the bench. Higbee is a more difficult player to gauge this week, so he may be worth starting if no other streaming options are available, but he may not finish the week inside the top twenty tight ends.
Jared Goff has been rather inconsistent this year, and this may be one of the toughest defenses he has faced thus far. He is coming off of a solid outing against a talented Cardinals defense, but just one week prior he was completely shut down by San Francisco. While he may be able to overcome New England’s defense, fantasy managers should look elsewhere if possible.
Matt Gay is questionable this week. He will likely play, and the Rams tend to kick plenty of field goals. He may be a fine start for this week, considering that this game may result in a low score for both teams.
The Rams’ defense has been a great plug and play option all year, and that is unlikely to change this week. They should be started against a very weak Patriots offense.
Hesitate before starting Damien Harris, James White, Nick Folk, and the Patriots defense. Bench Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, N’Keal Harry, Cam Newton, and Ryan Izzo.
Start Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and the Rams defense. Hesitate before starting Jared Goff, Cam Akers, and Matt Gay. Bench Tyler Higbee, Darrell Henderson Jr., Malcolm Brown, Gerald Everett, and Josh Reynolds.