Well folks, here we are. Week 16, for all the marbles. If you’re reading this, then hopefully you benefitted from some combination of Blake Bortles (QB6), Cam Newton (QB1), Marquise Goodwin (WR9), Michael Crabtree (WR6), Mike Wallace (WR26), Randall Cobb (WR8), Greg Olsen (TE2) and/or Vikings Defense, which placed third on the week. Heck, even Joe Flacco (QB9) delivered as a valuable streamer. Hopefully, you’re not like me and you didn’t lose in your most important league by .62 points because Greg Zuerlein, the best kicker in the league this year, missed an extra point. I’m not bitter, you’re bitter.
Regardless, this week is about one thing and that’s winning the championship you’ve worked towards for months. With that in mind, let’s examine the Week 16 landscape with a microscope on key players and tough decisions.
Find me on Twitter @eweiner_bball if you’d like any lineup questions answered personally. Just know that if you ask a question without throwing me a follow I’ll probably give you the wrong advice on purpose. Just kidding, sort of.
Starts Record: 115/174 (66.09%)
Sits Record: 113/155 (72.9%)
Sleeper Record: 39/68 (57.4%)
*Note: These statistics do not include injured players or players who are essentially a wash and did not really help you or hurt you if you started them.
**Assume .5 PPR scoring for any reference to a player’s season-long ranking or in-week ranking
Start: Ben Roethlisberger @ Houston
There’s no reason to run away from fantasy’s hottest quarterback just because Antonio Brown (calf) is sadly sidelined for our fake championship. The QB1 over the last four weeks, Big Ben has miraculously propelled himself all the way up to QB8 on the season despite legitimately sitting around QB20 before the team’s Week 9 bye. While missing AB likely lowers Ben’s ceiling, he still played well and found the end zone without his top receiver last week. It doesn’t hurt he has a guy named Le’Veon Bell who he’ll likely target relentlessly both out wide and out of the backfield. Ranking sixth in run defense DVOA but 23rd against the pass, Houston has been a classic pass-funnel all season long and subsequently has given up the second-most points to quarterbacks on the year. No team has given up more completions of 40 yards or more than the Texans have this season, and we know Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and even Darrius Heyward-Bey can get behind the defense. Ben’s easily still a QB1 this week.
Start: Joe Flacco vs. Indianapolis
Gulp. Yes, it’s time to pick up the most #elite quarterback available on your waiver wire and tee him up for the championship. If you have the stones, that is. The QB9 over the last three weeks, Flacco has thrown for at least 269 yards (nice) and accounted for two touchdowns (one was a rushing score) in all three games, and yet you can argue this week against the Colts is the best matchup yet. The Colts have allowed the eighth-most points to quarterbacks and just gave up the QB5 performance to Brock Freaking Osweiler on just 17 passing attempts. Indy is dealing with injuries in its front seven and secondary, and as detailed in the Mike Wallace portion below, they’ve allowed easily the most completions of 20 yards or more on the season. The Colts rank 30th in pass defense DVOA but a respectable 14th in run defense DVOA, potentially creating somewhat of a pass-funnel situation. It’s worth pointing out Flacco was recovering from a back injury to begin the season and might just finally be fully healthy. He’s a legit top-14 option this week.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Blake Bortles @ San Francisco: This feels weird to type but Blake Bortles is simply too hot to sit right now. Even without his three top depth chart receivers, Bortles threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters last week. Prior to last week, Bortles had been averaging five rushing attempts per game. San Fran has given up the sixth-highest passer rating and the second-most rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks this year.
-Philip Rivers @ New York Jets: The Jets have been shredded by quarterbacks all season long and Rivers is the type of veteran we expect to bounce back after last week’s performance. This comes with a huge caveat, though, as I’d move away from Rivers if Keenan Allen (back) can’t go. As of now, Allen is expected to play. Prior to last week’s down game in a notoriously tough road environment, Rivers had thrown for at least 300 yards and/or multiple scores in five straight games. If Rivers becomes a sit, you can slide Cam Newton, Case Keenum or Alex Smith in here as well. All are playing well and have great matchups.
Sit: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Jacksonville
Pretty obvious one here because we don’t play quarterbacks against Sacksonville unless they’re named Russell Wilson. The good news is Jimmy G looks legit, already a top-18 quarterback in the league despite playing with a bottom-five offensive line and throwing to an island of misfit receivers. Jacksonville is simply a different beast than any other pass defense in the league; if he throws for another 300 yards I’ll gladly eat my words. But even in two-quarterback-leagues Jimmy G isn’t an enticing play this week. Those dynasty shares are looking mighty tasty, though.
Sit: Marcus Mariota vs. Los Angeles Rams
One of the most frustrating fantasy commodities to have shares of this season, Mariota has slipped all the way down to the per-game QB22 this year, beneath CJ Beathard and Carson Palmer. Yikes fam. Mariota doesn’t have weapons that raise his ceiling, the playcalling is vanilla and the Titans are bottom-five in pace. Meanwhile, the Rams have been a stay-away passing matchup throughout the season and have allowed the fifth-lowest passer rating in the league. Oh yeah, and they just ate Russell Wilson’s soul on live television last week. Stay far away from Mariota with the season on the line.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Matt Ryan @ New Orleans: Ryan just hasn’t been very good lately and, per JJ Zachariason, hasn’t had a performance better than QB10 all season. Do you really trust that in your championship game? The Saints have been a tough matchup for passers this year.
-Kirk Cousins vs. Denver: Merely the QB23 over the last four weeks, Cousins has only turned in two top-12 performances in his last eight games. That makes him more of a 2QB-league option this week against a Denver pass defense that’s only allowing 189 passing yards per game, second-lowest in the league.
-Nick Foles vs. Oakland: It’s point-chasing to expect another four-touchdown performance from Foles, though he clearly proved he’s capable of more than just two-quarterback-league desperation. Foles has been useful in fantasy many times before, has a rapport with Zach Ertz, and gets the Raiders at home. Oakland ranks dead-last in pass defense DVOA and has given up the second-highest passer rating this season. 250 yards and two touchdowns is a reasonable projection.
Start: JuJu Smith-Schuster @ Houston
If we’re high on Big Ben this week, it makes sense to have a piece of his receiving corps. While many will likely want to target Martavis Bryant in season-long and DFS, Rotoworld’s Ray Summerlin pointed out that Bryant’s snap share actually decreased when AB was out in the second half last week. JuJu, meanwhile, caught all six of his targets for 114 yards and nearly won Pittsburgh the game on a long catch-and-run down the sideline. Averaging 7.2 targets per game in the five he’s played since Week 10, JuJu has the safest floor among the Steelers pass catchers with the speed to change the game in one play. JuJu saw a 24 percent market share after AB left last week and Houston is a dream matchup. He’s a WR2 this week.
Start: Mike Wallace vs. Indianapolis
Maybe it’s not comfortable (and it’s certainly not fun to write), but Mike Wallace is a legit WR3 this week with upside for more. Always known as a big-play, boom/bust receiver throughout his career, Wallace has established a steady floor with 72 yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games. Not coincidentally, Joe Flacco has played considerably better over that time span. Wallace has also now seen double-digit targets twice in the last four games. Wallace’s target share bumped up when Jeremy Maclin (knee) left Sunday’s game, and per Rotoworld, Maclin is currently a “long shot to play this week” after missing Tuesday’s practice. Wallace is a solid WR3 with a newly established floor and a tasty home matchup against a Colts secondary that’s allowed the eighth-most points to receivers and may be missing top corner Rashaan Melvin (hand), who hasn’t played since Week 12. But we can’t forget Wallace has serious jets and only needs one deep target to tilt a week in your favor. The Colts have given up the most completions of 20+ yards in the league, eight more than any other team, and they’re tied for fourth in 40+ yard completions allowed.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Devin Funchess vs. Tampa Bay: While difficult to do, it’s important not to let one bad performance mar your opinion of a player. Prior to last week, Funchess had reached 80 yards and/or scored a touchdown in five straight games, and he would’ve had a score last week if not for a monster hit in the end zone. Tampa is the best matchup a wide receiver can have and Funchess should rebound to 6-8 targets.
-Robert Woods @ Tennesse: Woods saw seven targets in his first game back despite Jared Goff only attempting 21 throws, which is an excellent 33.3 percent market share. Clearly Goff’s go-to guy, he should have no trouble getting open against the same defense Marquise Goodwin ripped to shreds last week. He’s easily a WR2 in this plum matchup.
Sit: Robby Anderson vs. Los Angeles Chargers
It was encouraging to see Anderson soak up a team-high 12 targets against New Orleans last week, but he still only managed 5/40 in Marshon Lattimore’s stingy coverage. Now he has an even tougher matchup against stud corner Casey Hayward. Even if Hayward doesn’t truly shadow Anderson (my guess is he will), he’ll have to face off with Trevor Williams and rookie Desmond King, both of whom are having excellent seasons in their own right. You can ride Anderson and hope for a long touchdown, and the volume should be there, but we saw last week his floor is still pretty low with Bryce Petty throwing him the ball.
Sit: TY Hilton @ Baltimore
Seemingly a weekly staple of this column, Hilton has continued to struggle with Jacoby Brissett running the offense through no fault of his own. To date, he’s only managed three startable weeks on the entire season. While Baltimore is more beatable with Jimmy Smith out, it’s still a unit to avoid. The Ravens have allowed the fewest receiving touchdowns to wide receivers in the league, even fewer than the Jaguars. Hilton has one of the lowest floors in fantasy; you can do better.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Kelvin Benjamin @ New England: Why are you still starting Kelvin Benjamin?
-Josh Doctson vs. Denver: Poor Josh Doctson. After dealing with Patrick Peterson and Casey Hayward the last two weeks, his reward is a date with Aqib Talib. Pass.
-Keelan Cole @ San Francisco: The reason why Dede Westbrook dudded last week, Cole is averaging over 20 yards per catch this year and is a big play waiting to happen. His floor is low, but you can do worse while chasing a touchdown as the Niners have been beatable all year and are without both starting safeties. This is assuming Marqise Lee (ankle) and Allen Hurns (ankle) are out.
Start: Dion Lewis vs. Buffalo
We have to acknowledge it would be the most Belichick thing of all time to bring back Mike Gillislee and have him score three touchdowns again. Regardless, with Rex Burkhead (knee) out, Dion Lewis should have at least 16 touches to himself in a high-efficiency offense. Ranked sixth among all qualified running backs in yards per carry (5.2), Lewis has a legitimate shot at another 100 yards from scrimmage should he get an even larger piece of the touch pie. The Bills are the ideal matchup: No team has given up more fantasy points or rushing touchdowns to running backs, and they’re second-worst in rushing yards allowed to boot. The Pats are 10.5-point home favorites. Lewis is a high-end RB2 this week.
Start: Christian McCaffrey vs. Tampa Bay
Maybe I’m just bitter over the Packers loss to Carolina, but holy cow was McCaffrey unstoppable on Sunday. While Tampa Bay doesn’t have Dom Capers running its defense, it does have Mike Smith, which is as close as it gets. Tampa has been about average at allowing receiving yards to running backs, but it’s also allowed the sixth-most points to running backs on the year. Difference makers NT Gerald McCoy (bicep) and LB Lavonte David (hamstring) both missed Tampa’s Monday night loss and will be questionable at best on a short week. CMC has 73 catches on the year and is frankly matchup-proof out of the backfield. Crucially, last week he saw 12 carries, his third-most of the season, and 18 total touches. If he gets 18 again, he’s a high-end RB2 with RB1 potential given how Carolina actively schemes him the ball in the red zone. Especially when you’re watching out for the wheel route.
Other Recommended Starts:
-Alex Collins vs. Indianapolis: I’m sticking with Collins as a solid RB2 despite last week’s down performance. He still saw 17 touches and we can’t forget that Cleveland’s run defense has been great all season. Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Collins has now caught at least two passes in five straight games and just saw a career-high eight targets last week, elevating his floor. Indy just lost team tackle leader Jon Bostic (knee), who ranked as Pro Football Focus’ 13th-best run-defending linebacker. In a home game as a huge favorite, Collins should have nice game script and the matchup is pristine.
Sit: Jamaal Williams vs. Minnesota
Per Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, the Vikings are allowing the second-fewest yards from scrimmage per game to running backs. Williams had just 10 touches last week with Rodgers in, and while Hundley being back should mean a more run-centric approach, it’s concerning that Aaron Jones looked much better than Williams did on his three carries last week. It’s just really hard to project volume here with so much uncertainty in Green Bay and the Packers entering as nine-point home underdogs. Green Bay may struggle to sustain drives throughout the game and this is about as bad as matchups get for running backs.
Sit: Marshawn Lynch @ Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s ferocious front seven (say that 10 times fast!) has destroyed the hopes and dreams of running backs throughout the season, both on the ground and through the air. Even with Carson Wentz out, the Eagles have shown the ability to move the ball and enter as nine-point favorites. Should that game script come to fruition, it’s unlikely Lynch sees even 15 touches, similar to when he was game-scripted out of a Week 14 blowout. He’s more of a touchdown-or-bust flex option than the RB2 he’s been over the second half of the season.
Other Recommended Sits:
-Carlos Hyde vs. Jacksonville: Ugh, Hyde killed me last week and now his matchup is just as tough. As I write seemingly every week, the Jags have put the clamps down on opposing running games since adding NT Marcel Dareus. Similar to Lynch, Hyde’s likely hurting your lineup if he doesn’t score this week.
-Joe Mixon vs. Detroit: It’s hard to call Mixon a “sleeper,” so this is more from a DFS perspective. If Mixon (concussion) is cleared to go, he’s likely to go very low-owned in daily fantasy after missing the last two weeks. Detroit has been hemorrhaging rushing touchdowns all season long, but even more so of late. Per Evan Silva, Mixon had 22 and 26 touches in his last two full games played. He’s a legitimate RB2 option if you’ve made this far in the playoffs without him.
Start: Jesse James @ Houston
Tight end is so barren and there are so few trustable options that I’m just writing my streaming recommendations as starts this week. James saw an 18 percent target share with AB out in the second half last week and, as we all know, should’ve had a touchdown. Houston has allowed the sixth-most points to tight ends on the year and is a very attackable matchup.
Start: Ben Watson vs. Indianapolis
Watson displayed his impressive old man athleticism last week en route to a 4/74/1 line in a similarly juicy matchup. Indy has been light on tight ends all year long and it makes sense to target Flacco’s weapons if we like him as a streamer. As stated above, Jeremy Maclin looks unlikely to suit up this week, opening up targets for Watson in the middle of the field. It is worth pointing out that Watson hasn’t seen more than five targets since Week 9, so he still does have a low floor.
Other Recommended Starts:
-It’s a thin streaming week at tight end. Trust your studs that have gotten you this far. Even Greg Olsen, who, per ESPN’s Mike Clay, ran a route on 97 percent of Carolina’s pass attempts last week. If you’re super desperate, Antonio Gates is a decent bet for a touchdown in a great matchup (@ Jets) with Hunter Henry (kidney) out. Just don’t expect much more than 30 yards.
Sit: Charles Clay @ New England
I’m not comfortable chasing Clay’s nine targets from last week and you shouldn’t be either. Clay hasn’t looked the same since returning from mid-season knee surgery (which makes sense), never seeing more than five targets in a game before last week’s nine-target outburst. Last week’s matchup was golden against an awful Miami defense, while New England has specifically limited tight ends all season long and just held Clay to 3/20/0 at home in Week 13. Per Rotoworld’s Evan Silva, Bill Belichick has always treated Clay as a threat and has specifically game-planned against him to the point that he had Aqib Talib shadow him when Clay was in Miami.
Sit: Jason Witten @ Seattle
Witten is running on fumes and Seattle has shut down tight ends for much of the year. If you’re still streaming, James, Watson, Gates, Eric Ebron and even Cameron Brate are all more enticing this week.
Start: Kansas City vs. Miami
Jay Cutler returned to the lovable version we all know and love last week, throwing three ill-advised interceptions and managing just 5.6 YPA. Kansas City’s defense has taken a lot of deserved flack this season, but they’ve actually been really good at home, never allowing a team to score 20 points at Arrowhead. That streak continued last week when they shut down the red-hot Chargers offense, one that’s much better and more explosive than the ‘Fins version. This may come as a shock, but this defense has looked loads better since Darrelle Revis joined the team a few weeks ago. The Chiefs are a 10-point home defense full of playmakers, which is exactly what we want to chase in fantasy. Miami’s implied total is just 17 points.
Start: Pittsburgh @ Houston
The Steelers defense looked better than it had in weeks last week and managed to hold Brady to a below-average performance. Now it gets to face TJ Yates, and as a bonus was likely dropped in tons of leagues due to last week’s matchup. Pro Football Talk reports that top corner Joe Haden is likely back this week. Giddy up!
Other Recommended Starts:
-Los Angeles Chargers vs. New York Jets: It doesn’t take rocket science to target Bryce Petty with your fantasy defense.
-Washington vs. Denver: Washington delivered last week with five sacks and two turnovers as home favorites against Blaine Gabbert, and now they get to face Brock Osweiler in a similar situation.
-Chicago vs. Cleveland: Playing the Browns at home is what dreams are made of. This game has the lowest total of the week.
Sit: Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas
This has the potential to flop given Seattle is playing at home, but they got absolutely trucked last week and have only been a useful fantasy defense in three of the last six weeks. This defense is clearly much worse without difference-makers Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril at three key positions. Dallas gets Zeke back this week and may no longer be an offense to target. I’d sit them if a better option like Pittsburgh or Kansas City is available.
Sit: New Orleans vs. Atlanta
New Orleans isn’t an inherently bad option this week, but it hasn’t surpassed eight points since Week 9 and Atlanta hasn’t been very forgiving to fantasy defenses this year. With so many good options available this week (I didn’t even mention Minnesota or Baltimore above), you can likely do better.
Statistics courtesy of nfl.com, rotoworld.com, Yahoo.com, fantasylabs.com, teamrankings.com, footballguys.com, footballoutsiders.com, profootballfocus.com and pro-football-reference.com