“Starting your studs” or “going with the guys that got you there” are usually sound strategies to follow, but with so many teams already eliminated from playoff contention, setting fantasy football lineups for Week 18 might end up being a little more tricky than usual. Those teams, who are basically playing out the string, might opt to incorporate some of their seldom used players into their offense a bit more this week. In effect they’d be giving those players a test drive ahead of the 2023 season and thus potentially limiting the snaps of some of the players that we’ve included in our weekly lineups all season long.
As always, injuries will influence our ability to set lineups featuring as many fantasy relevant running backs (RBs) whose potential snap counts, receiving targets, and carries give us the best chance to win our league’s championship. Titans RB Derrick Henry (hip) was inactive last week but logged a full practice on Tuesday. If Antonio Gibson (knee/ankle) is inactive for a second straight week, Jonathan Williams will once again be on the field in passing down situations for the Commanders. Josh Jacobs, who was on the verge of being cut by the Raiders this preseason only to emerge as one of the top backs in the game, is dealing with a hip and oblique injury early this week. Brandon Bolden saw a big uptick in snaps played for the Raiders last week and should be on your watch list as Week 18 kickoff approaches.
Playoff scenarios might also play a slight factor in how we set our lineups this week. There are still many teams vying for either a chance to make the playoffs or an opportunity to improve their seeding but then you have teams like the Buccaneers. They’ve already clinched the NFC South title and can’t improve their playoff seeding, but they’ve confirmed that they’ll be playing their starters in Week 18. They’ve got a two-game winning streak and want to keep their momentum going heading into the playoffs. The Giants are another team who has already clinched a playoff berth and can’t change their seeding. We’ll take a closer look at their backfield options for Week 18 along with a few other backfield situations that deserve our attention as we head into the final week of the fantasy football season.
New York Giants
As this article is being written head coach Brian Daboll hasn’t confirmed how many of his starters will be playing for the Giants in Week 18, but since the G-men have nothing to play for there’s a good chance Saquon Barkley may either be rested or be on a limited snap count this week. Matt Breida would benefit in both cases. He’d see action as the Giants’ primary back and probably play on passing downs as well. Gary Brightwell, who’s looked explosive at times in very limited action this season, would be the next man up.
Keaontay Ingram had been projected as James Conner’s backup ever since the Cardinals released Eno Benjamin after Week 10, but when Conner (shin) had to be removed from Week 17’s game against the Falcons, Corey Clement took over as the team’s primary back. Keep an eye on Conner’s progress as Week 18 kickoff approaches but for now it would appear that if Conner is out, Clement would be the Cardinals’ primary back. Temper your expectations when it comes to any Cardinal back next week. They play the 49ers, who’ve got a stout run defense.
New York Jets
The Jets will be playing out the string this Sunday, but they should be motivated by pride and the fact that they can eliminate the rival Dolphins from playoff contention if they beat them (the Patriots would have to lose too). The Dolphins have given up the third highest average fantasy points per game to RBs over the past four weeks but determining which Jets RB to start in Week 18 will be a challenge. Zonovan Knight took over as the Jets’ primary back in Week 12, but with a 1.11 YPC average in his last two games entering Week 17, he played just 21% of the teams’ offensive snaps. Ty Johnson leapfrogged over Knight and Michael Carter (who played just 29% of the teams’ offensive snaps) in Week 17, playing 47% of the Jets’ offensive snaps and averaging 5.75 yards per carry. Johnson hasn’t seen much playing time this season and when he was utilized, it was mostly in passing down situations. Johnson saw the most activity in early down situations among Jets RBs last week and based on his success he could be similarly utilized in Week 18.
Since Week 13 Gus Edwards has followed up every game in which he’s had single digit carries with a game in which he’s had double digit carries. Edwards only had three carries last week so if the recent trend in his usage continues, he’ll be a lot busier in Week 18 against the Bengals. J.K. Dobbins led the way for the Ravens in Week 17 with 17 carries for 93 yards, (5.5 YPC) but after Week 17’s loss to the Steelers, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh admitted that Edwards should have played more. The Ravens have already clinched a playoff spot but can improve their seeding with a Week 18 win so it’s unlikely that they’d rest Dobbins this week. However, if Harbaugh wants to ensure that Dobbins is ready for a long playoff run he may wish to limit his snaps and it might be in his interest to hop aboard the Gus Bus this weekend.