1:00PM ET Games
Denver @ Houston
Coming off a Thursday night loss to San Diego where they were dominated in time of possession (39:21) -- and genuinely out-coached -- the Broncos head to Houston's domed Reliant Stadium for a favorable-environment game against a soft, downward-spiraling opponent. Over its last three games, the Texans' defense has allowed enemy passers to complete 61-of-101 throws for 683 yards and a 7:2 TD-to-INT ratio. They're hardly sieve-ish stats, but a far cry from Houston's deceptive No. 2 NFL ranking in pass defense. Peyton Manning is an easy call as the premier quarterback play in fantasy finals week. ... Peyton's target distribution since Julius Thomas returned from a knee injury two games ago: Eric Decker 17; Demaryius Thomas and Julius 15; Knowshon Moreno 13; Andre Caldwell 11; Wes Welker 10; Montee Ball 9; Jacob Tamme 7; Joel Dreessen 2. ... Demaryius has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his last eight games. Shake off last week's 4-45-0 hiccup versus San Diego and start Demaryius as an elite WR1 against a Houston defense dealing with a groin injury to top corner Johnathan Joseph. … Decker has lacked the 2013 consistency of his more talented wideout teammate, but maintains weekly blowup potential. He's the No. 10 fantasy receiver on the season and an every-week WR2.
The Texans are 17th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but matchups have not mattered for Orange Julius at any point this year. He's scored a touchdown in nine of his dozen appearances. Only Jimmy Graham and Vernon Davis are superior Week 16 tight end plays. ... Wes Welker (concussion) will miss at least one more game, thrusting Caldwell -- not Tamme -- into the Broncos' third receiver role. With Welker inactive in last Thursday night’s loss, Decker saw increased slot snaps while Caldwell played outside opposite Demaryius. Caldwell deserves credit for hanging a 6-59-2 line on the Chargers, but wasn't a full-time player, and I'd be loath to trust him in the fantasy finals with so many other options in Denver's pass-catching corps. He's a high-risk WR3. ... The Texans' 2013 defensive weakness has been on the ground, where they rank 24th against the run and are missing ILB Brian Cushing badly for the second straight year. Moreno returns from an extra-long week to rest whatever's been ailing him and is a borderline RB1 in this game. Ball is much less trustworthy, as his usage is largely tied to blowout wins. With Denver playing from behind for most of the Week 15 Chargers game, Moreno handled 13 touches to Ball's eight. Ball's role isn't reliable enough for flex start-ability.
Denver's defense has been a disappointment for most of 2013, but the reinsertion of Matt Schaub is unlikely to be the shot in the arm Houston needs to capitalize. Over his last six appearances, washed-up Schaub has completed 119-of-194 passes for 1,261 yards (6.5 YPA) and a 3:7 TD-to-INT ratio with 13 sacks taken. In the Texans' quarterback-friendly scheme, Schaub could still pay dividends for two-QB leaguers if the Broncos grab a large early-game lead, increasing garbage-time opportunities. He's just not a QB1 streamer. ... Andre Johnson has been Houston's lone consistent pass catcher this season, averaging a 7-100 stat line with five touchdowns over his last eight games. Schaub's insertion isn't a downgrade to Johnson considering Case Keenum's recent inept play. The NFL's receptions leader (99), Johnson is an every-week WR1 regardless of his quarterback’s identity. ... DeAndre Hopkins has struggled with route running and missed assignments as a rookie. His run blocking has been especially poor. Hopkins is a fantasy WR4/5.
Texans rookie Ryan Griffin is my favorite sleeper of Week 16, and a recommended streamer for owners of Jordan Cameron (concussion), as well as ex-owners of Rob Gronkowski. The Broncos allow the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, and neither Garrett Graham (hamstring) nor Owen Daniels (fibula) is expected to play. Griffin played 67-of-67 snaps in Houston's Week 15 loss to Indy, securing 6-of-6 targets for 62 yards. Schaub has long favored peppering tight ends in the red zone over Johnson, for whatever reason. Griffin could be another beneficiary should the Texans encounter an early-game deficit. I like Griffin as a cheap FanDuel option and Hail Mary TE1. He led Houston in preseason receptions (14) and goes 6-foot-6, 261 with soft hands. ... The Broncos have coughed up 432 yards and five touchdowns on 91 carries (4.75 YPC) to Kansas City, San Diego, and Tennessee over the past three weeks. With Ben Tate (ribs) shut down, Dennis Johnson is worth a look in flex spots. A poor man's Maurice Jones-Drew at 5-foot-7, 196, Johnson has rushed 37 times this season for 154 yards (4.16 YPC) with six catches. Johnson should be Houston's clear lead back Sunday, with Deji Karim and Jonathan Grimes behind him.
Score Prediction: Broncos 30, Texans 20
Tennessee @ Jacksonville
I'm guessing there will be a number of fantasy owners who trot out Ryan Fitzpatrick in title week in an attempt to chase last week's volume-augmented stats against Arizona. Fitzpatrick attempted a career-high 58 passes in the 37-34 overtime defeat. The Jaguars don't have a particularly stout pass defense, but expecting a repeat of last Sunday's wild game would be an ill-advised strategy in this projected low-scoring affair. Fitzpatrick is far more two-quarterback-league starter than QB1 streamer. ... Fitz's target distribution this year: Kendall Wright 80; Delanie Walker 50; Nate Washington 47; Chris Johnson 34; Justin Hunter 31; Kenny Britt 16; Michael Preston 6. ... Wright shook off his Week 14 clunker against the Broncos to whip the Cardinals for 12 grabs and 150 yards on 20 targets. The target number is obviously unsustainable, but Wright has been an every-week WR2 in PPR and high-end standard-league WR3 since early in the season. There's nothing about Jacksonville's defense that should discourage owners from locking Wright into championship lineups. ... The Jags allow the second most fantasy points to tight ends, and Walker is the No. 13 overall tight end in fantasy points per game the past five weeks. He's a low-end TE1.
Washington's Week 15 stat line (7-92) was his best since September, but buoyed by Hunter and Damian Williams' inactivity due to violations of team rules. Hunter and Williams will return this week, rendering Washington and Preston non-factors. Beyond Wright, Tennessee's wide receiver corps has been and will remain a crapshoot in Week 16. ... Johnson's matchup looks appealing on paper -- the Jaguars rank 30th in run defense and have allowed the third most rushing touchdowns (17) in the league -- but it's a potential landmine due to Jacksonville's more-stout recent play. Over the past six weeks, the Jaguars have limited this same Tennessee team, Arizona, Cleveland, Houston (twice), and Buffalo to a combined 562 yards on 155 carries (3.63 YPC). In these clubs' Week 10 meeting, Jacksonville held Johnson to 30 yards on 12 carries, though he did catch five balls for 43 yards. I'd like to wish Johnson owners Week 16 luck, because I think they're going to need it.
Jacksonville's offense is in shambles with Maurice Jones-Drew (hamstring) expected to miss his second straight game and Cecil Shorts (groin surgery) officially shut down. The Jaguars will turn back to Jordan Todman at tailback, while Mike Brown and Ace Sanders start at wide receiver and Marcedes Lewis remains the tight end. I guess the third receiver will be Kerry Taylor. With Chad Henne facing a Tennessee defense that ranks top ten against the pass and has surrendered the fewest passing touchdowns (13) in football, I'd write off all Jaguars pass catchers as Week 16 fantasy options. ... The Titans are much more vulnerable on the ground, ranking No. 23 versus the run with the second most rushing TDs (20) allowed in the league. Look for Todman to again serve as Jacksonville's offensive centerpiece after burning Buffalo last week for 153 yards on 29 touches. The Jags' coaching staff clearly doesn't trust No. 2 back Denard Robinson, who played all of nine snaps while clear feature back Todman handled 67. Todman is a high-end flex with some upside. Because he has bounced around the league since the Chargers drafted him in the 2011 sixth round out of UConn, it's easy to forget that Todman was the Big East Offensive Player of the Year the season he declared for the draft and ran a 4.41 forty at the 2011 Combine at 5-foot-9, 203. He excels in the passing game and does not lack NFL-caliber running ability.
Score Prediction: Titans 20, Jaguars 14
Cleveland @ NY Jets
The 40.5-point over-under on Browns-Jets is Week 16’s lowest and still seems generous as both clubs rank among the NFL's bottom six in scoring and top 12 in total defense. Josh Gordon is the obvious premier play. Gordon leads all NFL receivers in standard fantasy points per game (17.3), and is too fast and physical for the Jets' beleaguered secondary. ... Jason Campbell has completed 90 of his last 158 throws (57.0%) for 1,014 yards (6.42 YPA) and a 5:5 TD-to-INT ratio, committing a sixth turnover on a lost fumble. Campbell has generally played better than expected under Norv Turner's tutelage this season, but not well enough lately to trust as anything more than a two-quarterback-league play in the fantasy finals, even against New York's No. 26 pass defense. ... Campbell's target distribution on the year: Gordon 60; Jordan Cameron 36; Chris Ogbonnaya 33; Greg Little 32; Davone Bess 30; Fozzy Whittaker 22; Willis McGahee 5; Edwin Baker 4. ... Cameron (concussion) is expected to miss Week 16, leaving Gary Barnidge and MarQueis Gray to handle tight end snaps. Barnidge is primarily a blocker. He has 11 receptions through 14 appearances. Though not a serious re-draft option, Gray is an intriguing prospect. He played some quarterback for the Minnesota Gophers and has five Wildcat carries for 39 yards this season. Worth a look in Dynasty leagues, Gray ran a 4.68 forty-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 240 during February’s Scouting Combine.
Held to 50 yards or fewer in 11-of-14 games this season, Little would be an extremely tough sell as a WR3 play, even in a plus matchup. The Browns will likely look to upgrade at No. 2 receiver in the offseason. … Bess (14 drops among 86 targets) has been an unmitigated disaster, and it's entirely unclear why he still plays so much. ... Cleveland threw a curveball with its Week 15 backfield, using mid-week practice squad signee Edwin Baker as the lead runner against Chicago instead of Ogbonnaya or Whittaker. Baker totaled 84 yards on 12 touches. The Browns clearly have no commitment to any of the tailbacks on their current roster. With Willis McGahee now medically cleared from his concussion, Cleveland's run game is an obvious fantasy situation to avoid in trophy week against the Jets' No. 3 run defense.
The Jets' No. 30 offense has vanishingly little chance of generating consistent chain movement or scoring chances against Cleveland's No. 8 defense. Only Chris Ivory is worth a look in a flex spot due to his running talent and outstanding recent play. Ivory has gained 543 yards and scored three touchdowns on his last 93 carries (5.84 YPC), but remains a low-ceiling flex option only without a passing-game role against a Browns defense that ranks No. 8 versus the run. ... Geno Smith's target distribution with Jeremy Kerley back in the lineup the past two weeks: Santonio Holmes 13; Kerley 10; David Nelson 8; Kellen Winslow 7; Bilal Powell 5; Jeff Cumberland and Tommy Bohanon 4. ... I could write several more paragraphs on how each of the aforementioned seven players isn't worth starting in Week 16 fantasy lineups, but you already know that. Holmes would be the one receiver with some hope. Browns top cornerback Joe Haden (hip pointer) is not expected to play Sunday, and Cleveland has struggled to slow No. 1 receivers over its last four games. Here are those wideouts' stats: Brandon Marshall 6-95-1; Antonio Brown 6-92-1, Cecil Shorts 6-64-1; Julian Edelman 6-64-1. Holmes played 54-of-63 snaps in the Jets' Week 15 loss to Carolina, leading New York with eight targets. Holmes remains no more than a Hail Mary WR3.
Score Prediction: Browns 17, Jets 14
Miami @ Buffalo
Flying under the radar has been Ryan Tannehill's breakout second season, which has especially picked up over the last month. Finally demonstrating chemistry with $60 million spring acquisition Mike Wallace, Tannehill has completed 100 of his last 152 throws (65.8%) for 1,146 yards (7.54 YPA) and a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Tannehill has a difficult Week 16 matchup against a Bills defense that ranks sixth against the pass, first in sacks (49), and third in interceptions (20), but his to-date play has locked him in as an every-week two-quarterback-league starter. Tannehill's improvement has also spiked the fantasy reliability of his supporting cast. ... Tannehill's target distribution since Brandon Gibson tore his patellar tendon seven games ago: Brian Hartline 66; Wallace 62; Charles Clay 52; Rishard Matthews 51; Lamar Miller 21; Daniel Thomas 8; Michael Egnew 9. ... Wallace is averaging five catches for 84 yards per game with three touchdowns over the last month. Even if he's not yet trustworthy enough to lock in as a fantasy WR2, Wallace has played himself into high-end WR3 territory. When Miami and Buffalo played in Week 7, Wallace totaled 88 yards and caught five passes. ... Hartline has exceeded 70 yards just twice over his last 13 games. He does have five-plus receptions in six straight weeks. Hartline is a WR4 in standard leagues. He's a low-ceiling WR3 option in PPR. I prefer Wallace's Week 16 matchup because he projects to run most of his routes against Bills LCB Leodis McKelvin, while Hartline takes on RCB Stephon Gilmore.
The Patriots surprisingly assigned top corner Aqib Talib to Clay on a high number of Week 15 snaps, limiting Clay to one catch for six yards among two targets. Thus, Wallace (6-105-1) went off on the perimeter. It's hard to imagine Bills DC Mike Pettine copying Bill Belichick's approach after it didn't pay off. Before Week 15, Clay had seen at least seven targets in five straight games and was providing reliable weekly TE1 value. Working against Clay's fantasy title week outlook is the fact that Buffalo held him to one catch for a seven-yard touchdown in Week 7. On the season, the Bills are 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... With Thomas and Miller both healthy in last Sunday's win over New England, the latter handled a team-high 15 carries while the former managed 18 yards on six touches. Miller played 34 snaps compared to Thomas' 18. The Week 16 matchup is favorable against Buffalo's bottom-seven run defense, but Miami's backfield hasn't been a consistent source of fantasy production all season. And betting that will change in fantasy championships probably isn't a savvy approach. If you're somehow desperate to invest in a Fins running back, Miller would be the best bet simply because he gets more playing time and carries, and Thomas suffered an apparent Week 15 setback with his previous ankle injury.
Sunday's matchup with Miami is a dangerous one for fill-in starter Thad Lewis, who will replace E.J. Manuel after the rookie's third knee injury of his first NFL season. The Dolphins are capable of bringing ferocious front-four pressure, a trait that can make life difficult on an already limited passer. Seventh in the NFL in sacks (41) and holding enemy quarterbacks to the fourth lowest passer rating in football (77.1), Miami's defense combined with Tannehill's progression have been the highest-impact keys to the Dolphins' three-game win streak. Particularly without top receiver Stevie Johnson (personal), Lewis isn't even a QB2 in Week 16. Miami's defense is an attractive fantasy streamer play. ... Lewis' target distribution on the season: Johnson 24; Scott Chandler 18; Fred Jackson 14; Robert Woods 13; T.J. Graham 12; Marquise Goodwin 8; C.J. Spiller 5; Chris Hogan 3. ... Look for Hogan to fill in as Buffalo's primary slot receiver, with either Goodwin or Graham starting opposite Woods outside. ... Coach Doug Marrone told reporters last week he wanted to increase Goodwin's stretch-run involvement. Goodwin proceeded to play 15 snaps in the win over Jacksonville -- a season low since Week 7 -- and see zero targets. Goodwin has flashed serious big-play ability as a rookie, but he's a Dynasty league prospect only. This potential start could still give the coaches a positive late-season impression of Goodwin entering the spring.
Woods turned in his most productive game (5-82-1) since the first month of the season in last week's win over Jacksonville, but was held to 24 scoreless yards on three receptions in Buffalo's October meeting with Miami. (Lewis started that game.) Woods runs his routes on the same side of the field as Dolphins top corner Brent Grimes, and isn't an appealing Week 16 sleeper despite Johnson's absence. ... Chandler has gone eight games without a touchdown, pushing him toward the back end of TE2s. He's always been a TD-dependent fantasy commodity. The Dolphins allow the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends, but Chandler has consistently come up short even in the finest of matchups. ... Whereas Miami has played stingy pass defense this season, DC Kevin Coyle's unit has been vulnerable on the ground. The Dolphins rank 22nd against the run. As usual, Spiller will be a boom-or-bust flex option. Miami held Spiller to 11 yards on six carries in Week 7, though he was playing through a high ankle sprain at the time. F-Jax is a steadier, lower-upside flex with a higher floor. I'd still prefer to aim higher with fantasy trophies on the line.
Score Prediction: Bills 20, Dolphins 17
New Orleans @ Carolina
The 2013 Panthers have been dynamite at home, ripping off six victories on the strength of elite defense and Cam Newton's individual dominance. (Their only road loss was to Seattle, 12-7, on Opening Day.) In Carolina this year, Newton has completed 122-of-185 throws (66.0%) for 1,546 yards (8.36 YPA) and a 12:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He's run for three more scores and is averaging 39 rushing yards per game. Cam is an easy top-five QB1 against a Saints defense that has allowed at least 26 points in four of its last five road trips. ... Newton's target distribution over the last five weeks: Greg Olsen 44; Steve Smith 31; Brandon LaFell 28; Ted Ginn 23; DeAngelo Williams 12; Mike Tolbert 9. ... Although the Saints have generally been stingy in tight end coverage this year, Olsen caught eight passes against them in these clubs' Week 14 meeting, and appears to have clearly emerged as Cam's go-to option in the passing game since shaking his midseason foot injury. Olsen is the No. 5 overall fantasy tight end over the past five weeks. ... LaFell has cleared 70 receiving yards in just 2-of-14 games this season and turned in a 2-22-0 line in the Week 14 tilt. LaFell isn't remotely worth WR3 consideration with fantasy championships on the line.
Smith was more productive with a 6-49-1 number at New Orleans two weeks ago, but still doesn't have an appetizing matchup. Here are the stat lines of the last 13 "No. 1" receivers to face the Saints and emerging shutdown CB Keenan Lewis: Brandon Marshall 4-30-1; Mike Wallace 3-24; Larry Fitzgerald 5-64; Vincent Jackson 5-77; Aaron Dobson 6-63; Stevie Johnson 7-72-1; Dez Bryant 1-44; David Nelson 1-19; Anquan Boldin 6-56-1; Roddy White 2-24; Golden Tate 4-45; Smith 6-49-1; Chris Givens 1-31. View Smith as a respectable but fairly low-upside WR3. ... DeAngelo Williams earned increased flex consideration in Week 15 by shredding the Jets' once-stout defensive front for 168 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches. Williams' role is more defined with Jonathan Stewart (MCL tear) out through Week 17, and the matchup is ripe for the picking. New Orleans ranks 21st in run defense and serves up 4.64 yards per carry, the fifth highest clip in football. Williams is always at risk of losing red-zone work to Tolbert, but the workload and leaky opponent are certainly working in Williams' favor. He's still more of a flex play than locked-in RB2.
Drew Brees' ugly road-home splits are worth Week 16 discussion, but those stats more often than not tend to represent hindsight analysis, as opposed to predictive. In fantasy title week, I'd feel much more comfortable hanging my hat on Brees and coach Sean Payton's offensive brilliance, in addition to their Week 14 dissection of Carolina's No. 2 defense. In New Orleans' 31-13 humbling of the then-streaking Panthers, Brees completed 30-of-42 passes (71.4%) for 313 yards (7.45 YPA), four touchdowns, and no picks. Peyton Manning is the only quarterback I'd start over Brees in Week 16. ... Brees' target distribution since Marques Colston returned from a knee injury six games ago: Colston 55; Jimmy Graham 49; Pierre Thomas 34; Darren Sproles 32; Lance Moore 21; Kenny Stills 17; Robert Meachem 13; Ben Watson 10; Mark Ingram 7. ... Locked back in as an every-week WR2, Colston is the No. 14 fantasy receiver the past five weeks. He set season highs in catches (9), yards (125), and touchdowns (2) in the Week 14 beatdown of Carolina. ... Graham (6-58-2) also did his thing in these teams' Week 14 meeting and has the friendliest on-paper fantasy matchup in New Orleans' pass-catching corps. The Panthers have allowed the tenth most receptions (69) and seventh most touchdowns (8) in the league to tight ends. Just as he's been for most of the year, Graham is the No. 1 tight end play in fantasy football this week.
At No. 2 receiver, the Saints mix and match Moore, Stills, and Meachem in such a heavy rotation that none of the trio has stood out from the pack. Stills possesses the most big-play ability, but hasn't seen more than four targets in a game since Week 10. ... The Saints' backfield committee has become similarly trying to pin down. Sproles played a season-high 44 snaps in last week's loss to St. Louis, while Thomas' 15 touches were his most since Week 12. Clearly 100% healthy again, Sproles offers the most Week 16 fantasy intrigue as a flex play, and high-end one in PPR leagues. Carolina's No. 2 run defense smothered Thomas for 28 scoreless yards on 11 touches in Week 14, and I'd bet against Payton calling many base-run plays against such a stout defensive front. Attacking the Panthers on the perimeter would be a more logical approach, featuring Sproles. Thomas is a lower-end flex option. ... Since his faux-breakout game in Week 10 against Dallas, non-factor Ingram has carried a combined 27 times for 88 scoreless yards (3.26 YPC).
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 24
Minnesota @ Cincinnati
The Bengals have played run-heavy offense since their Week 12 bye, but were forced to scrap that approach in last Sunday night's loss after Pittsburgh grabbed an early 24-0 lead. This remains an offense largely built on the run game. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Minnesota has scuffled against the run. The Vikings rank 20th in run defense and have allowed 13 rushing TDs, tied for tenth most in football. With 15-plus touches in five straight games, Giovani Bernard has settled in as a high-end flex starter. On pace for 56 receptions -- seventh most among running backs -- Gio is a particularly attractive play in PPR leagues. ... Despite the plus matchup and fantasy-friendly switch in Cincinnati's offensive philosophy, BenJarvus Green-Ellis' outlook hasn't changed much. Law Firm is a fantasy black hole whenever he doesn't score a goal-line touchdown, something he's done in 5-of-14 games on the year. Green-Ellis' lack of big-play running ability and pass-game involvement gives him a dangerously low weekly floor. His odds of hitting pay dirt do seem good in this particular week, but BJGE will drill a crater in your fantasy lineup if he doesn't deliver. He's a low-ceiling, low-floor flex. ... Andy Dalton has theoretical QB1 streamer appeal against Minnesota's bottom-three pass defense, but is difficult to trust when he isn't playing well. Dalton has completed 129 of his last 230 throws (56.1%) for 1,381 yards (6.00 YPA) and an 11:9 TD-to-INT ratio. He's an outstanding two-QB-league play, but someone to avoid in standard formats.
Dalton's target distribution since the Bengals' Week 12 bye: A.J. Green 33; Marvin Jones 16; Jermaine Gresham 12; Gio and Mohamed Sanu 10; Tyler Eifert 9; Andrew Hawkins 6; Green-Ellis 2. ... Green is a top-five WR1 against a Vikings defense that has coughed up a league-high 32 passing touchdowns. Green has 90-plus receiving yards and/or a touchdown in 10-of-14 games this year. He's the No. 8 overall fantasy wideout. ... Sanu has one touchdown and hasn't cleared the 70-yard mark all season. He's well off the Week 16 radar, even in this favorable matchup. ... Rotational No. 2 receiver Jones' odds of booming seem good on paper against this opponent, but he's failed to pay off in similar setups before. He's a boom-or-bust WR3. ... The Eifert-Gresham conundrum has played out exactly as feared during the preseason. They cancel each other out in weekly box scores, with neither emerging as a dependable fantasy commodity. The Vikings allow the third most fantasy points to tight ends, but it doesn't matter. Gresham and Eifert are TE2s.
Matt Cassel warrants recognition for three straight impressive starts -- wins over Chicago and Philly, and an overtime loss to Baltimore -- but could be in for a rude awakening on the road against Cincinnati's top-seven pass defense. The Bengals permit the lowest yards-per-pass-attempt average (6.2) in the AFC and NFL's sixth lowest passer rating (78.9). Cincy DC Mike Zimmer is famous for out-coaching overmatched offensive coordinators like Minnesota's Bill Musgrave. Cassel remains a low-end QB2. ... Cassel's 2013 target distribution: Greg Jennings 44; Jerome Simpson 37; Cordarrelle Patterson 25; John Carlson 19; Jarius Wright 14; Adrian Peterson 11; Toby Gerhart 6. ... Jennings is a somewhat attractive, if low-upside WR3 against a Cincinnati defense down both of its starting corners. RCB Leon Hall (Achilles') is on I.R., and LCB Terence Newman will miss at least one more game with an MCL tear. Jennings won't win your fantasy week, but should keep you competitive if you're desperate. ... Taking a backseat to Patterson, Simpson has topped 60 yards in one of his last ten games. Avoid Simpson in even the deepest leagues. ... Carlson won't play Sunday after his concussion symptoms resurfaced before Thursday's practice. The Vikings will turn back to a rotation of Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison at tight end. With Carlson shelved in Week 15, Ford and Ellison combined for two receptions.
We now have a four-week sample of raw rookie Patterson averaging six all-purpose touches per game with a touchdown in three straight. He's easily the highest-ceiling option in Minnesota's pass-catching corps. I'd play him over Jennings every time. ... Peterson has a difficult matchup against Cincy's top-five run defense, but you know he wants to finish out a disappointing season (for him) with a bang. His Week 14 foot sprain isn't expected to be a performance-affecting injury. With a full week to rest and improved quarterback play in Minnesota, Peterson can't be left out of the top-five RB1s for Week 16, in my opinion. If Zimmer drops more defenders into coverage in an effort to mask his cornerback deficiencies, Peterson will eat. And trophy seekers should start him with confidence.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Vikings 21
Indianapolis @ Kansas City
Andrew Luck isn't to blame for the 2013 Colts' offensive inconsistency. Coaching, offensive line deficiencies, and supporting-cast musical chairs have rendered Luck a low-end to borderline QB1 when his skill set suggests he should have no trouble scoring like a top-six or seven quarterback. It's why visiting Arrowhead to face a Chiefs defense allowing the fourth fewest points in football with the NFL's third most sacks and big, physical press corners isn't a good matchup because it'll ask so much of the people around him. And the people around Luck have been holding him back all year. I'd start Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Kirk Cousins, and Colin Kaepernick over Luck in Week 16, and would consider Matt Schaub over him as well. ... Luck's target distribution the last two weeks: T.Y. Hilton 17; Da'Rick Rogers 15; Trent Richardson 12; Coby Fleener 10; Donald Brown 6; Griff Whalen 5; LaVon Brazill 4; Darrius Heyward-Bey 3; Weslye Saunders 2. ... Hilton has five-plus receptions in six of his last seven games and is the only Colts pass catcher worth starting in fantasy title week. Chiefs outside CBs Sean Smith (6'3/214) and Marcus Cooper (6'2/192) are generally effective at re-routing receivers in press-man technique, but can be torched deep. That is especially the case with Cooper. ... Rogers is a less enticing Hail Mary WR3 than last week, when he turned in a 2-23-0 clunker on six targets, dropping one and having another intercepted. Rogers remains an intriguing long-term talent, but he's simply not yet a trustworthy fantasy play.
Further clouding Rogers' outlook is the return of Brazill from a foot injury. The Colts will likely employ a No. 2 receiver rotation behind Hilton, with Brazill, Rogers, and Heyward-Bey all getting snaps. Whalen played 36 downs in last week's win over the Texans and is also in the mix at slot receiver. ... Fleener has big-time athletic tools, but isn't a physical football player and on Sunday will face one of the NFL's most physical defenses. This isn't a good matchup for him. The Chiefs allow the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. ... Brown's healthy return from his Week 15 stinger renders Indianapolis' backfield hands off from a fantasy perspective in title week. Richardson and Brown will resume sharing snaps and touches. Kansas City's defense has been leaky on the ground -- the Chiefs rank 18th versus the run and permit the seventh highest yards-per-carry average (4.47) in football -- but Indy has struggled to run block throughout the season and neither of the Colts' running backs has provided any semblance of box-score consistency.
Jamaal Charles returns from a Week 15 five-touchdown demolition of an above-average Raiders run defense to take on a truly porous Indianapolis unit. Charles is the No. 1 fantasy back for Week 16. The Colts rank 27th versus the run and permit 4.38 yards per carry, the ninth highest clip in the NFL. ... Alex Smith has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games. Smith has completed 149 of his last 233 passes (64.0%) for 1,609 yards (6.91 YPA) and a 16:2 TD-to-INT ratio. It's not only the best statistical stretch of Smith's career, he's legitimately playing like a top-dozen NFL quarterback on the football field. Kansas City's largely unaggressive offense and the Colts' above-average, 14th-ranked pass defense keep Smith out of the mid-range QB1 hunt, but he's earned a spot at the back end. Smith is the No. 13 overall fantasy quarterback on the season, and No. 2 behind Peyton Manning over the last five weeks. ... Smith's target distribution over his last six games: Dwayne Bowe 48; Charles 34; Dexter McCluster 33; Donnie Avery 24; Anthony Fasano 15; Sean McGrath 12; Anthony Sherman 8; A.J. Jenkins 6; Junior Hemingway 4.
Despite Smith's outstanding performance, the Chiefs lack big-time fantasy pass catchers. Bowe hasn't topped 70 yards in a game all year, rendering him a touchdown-dependent WR3 with a low ceiling. ... McCluster resumed practicing in limited form this week and is tentatively due back after missing Week 15 with a foot laceration. His return muddies K.C.'s wideout corps. McCluster and Avery have been regularly canceling each other out in weekly box scores. ... McGrath caught a red-zone touchdown getting the start in place of constantly-injured Fasano in last week's win over Oakland, but finished with two receptions for 14 yards. As the Chiefs face a Colts defense allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends, McGrath and Fasano are best left avoided.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 24, Colts 20
Dallas @ Washington
Reenergized to some extent by Kirk Cousins' installation under center, Washington's offense couldn't ask for a more favorable Week 16 matchup at home versus a Dallas defense allowing the most yards and seventh most points in the NFL. Over their last two games alone -- against career backups Josh McCown and Matt Flynn -- the Cowboys were gashed for 53-of-75 passing (70.7%), 647 yards (8.63 YPA), and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Through two career starts, Cousins has completed 55-of-82 throws (67.1%) for 710 yards (8.66 YPA), five touchdowns, and three picks. Cousins should be squarely on the QB1 streamer radar for Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan owners. He's an excellent two-quarterback league plug-n-play. ... Redskins playcaller Kyle Shanahan didn't alter his offense to cater to Cousins' different skill set from Robert Griffin III in Week 15, confirmed by the continued heavy targeting of go-to "X" receiver Pierre Garcon. This was Cousins' target distribution in last week's loss to Atlanta: Garcon 10; Santana Moss 9; Logan Paulsen and Aldrick Robinson 7; Josh Morgan 4; Fred Davis 3. ... Garcon burned the Falcons for a 7-129-1 stat line. Second in the NFL in receptions (96) and tenth in receiving yards (1,146), Garcon is a WR1 in this plum matchup. ... Moss' numbers were his best of the season at the Georgia Dome, but he remains a WR4/5 in standard leagues. His role hasn't changed. Moss is a limited-snap 34-year-old slot receiver. You'd have to be in an extremely deep league to consider Moss in title week.
With Jordan Reed (concussion) shelved, the Redskins have continued to rotate in-line tight end Paulsen and passing-down role player Davis. Davis only played 20 snaps against Atlanta. Paulsen secured 3-of-7 targets for 21 yards. It's a situation to avoid in the fantasy playoffs. ... The Redskins also used a rotation of Robinson (36 snaps) and Morgan (44) at "Z" receiver. Streak-route specialist Robinson would be the better bet of the two if you're somehow desperate in Week 16. He has homerun-hitting speed. ... Cowboys DC Monte Kiffin's defense has hemorrhaged 787 yards and seven TDs on 140 carries (5.62 YPC) to Saints, Giants, Raiders, Bears, and Packers tailbacks over its last five games. Eddie Lacy slaughtered Dallas for 171 total yards and a score last week. Look for Alfred Morris to finish his overall-underwhelming second fantasy season with a bang. Morris ripped off 106 total yards on 19 touches with Cousins at quarterback in Week 15.
The Cowboys' offensive identity woes continued into their shocking Week 15 collapse against Green Bay, blowing a 26-3 halftime lead by unforgivably calling 24 second-half pass plays and only seven runs. Dallas ran the football just three times in the fourth quarter. In response, expect playcaller Bill Callahan to hammer home DeMarco Murray Sunday in Washington. Despite Dallas' wavering in-game commitment to its rushing attack, Murray is the No. 4 fantasy running back over the past five weeks, behind only Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte. ... There was a shining fantasy light amid Tony Romo's Week 15 late-game pick-a-palooza, as Romo topped 300 yards for the first time since early November, and Dallas' passing attack generally clicked before the back-breaking fourth-quarter interceptions. Romo has posted a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio over the past seven weeks and is back in the top-ten fantasy QB1 hunt against Washington's No. 21 pass defense. This game has some shootout potential based on the bottom-barrel defenses involved.
Romo's target distribution in Miles Austin's seven 2013 starts: Dez Bryant 73; Jason Witten 44; Murray 39; Austin 37; Terrance Williams 23; Cole Beasley 15; James Hanna 7. ... With 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in four consecutive games, Bryant is back on a tear. He has 46 targets over the last month. ... Since returning from his latest hamstring injury four games ago, Austin has secured 6-of-16 targets for 89 scoreless yards. Austin is worthless in both real life and fantasy. ... The Skins have allowed the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends, setting up Witten for another big game. Witten has four touchdowns the past four weeks, playing his way back into the high-end TE1 mix. ... Williams and Beasley are fantasy irrelevant with Austin hogging so many slot and Z receiver snaps. Williams hasn't hit 50 yards in a game since October, and may not even play Sunday due to a hamstring injury. Rotational slot man Beasley hasn't topped 20 receiving yards in any of the last five weeks.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Redskins 23
Tampa Bay @ St. Louis
The Bucs trek to the Edward Jones Dome for a date with a Rams defense that brings explosive edge pressure and has surged to No. 5 in the NFL in sacks (42) with RE Robert Quinn garnering Defensive POY notice. St. Louis' secondary is vulnerable when the pass rush doesn't get home, but it has been lately and that figures to continue on The Ed's fast track. This isn't a good matchup for Mike Glennon, who's begun to slump down the stretch of an otherwise promising rookie year. He has a 4:5 TD-to-turnover ratio over his last three games, falling short of 200 passing yards in all three. Glennon is a low-end QB2 in Week 16. ... This is Glennon's 2013 target distribution: Vincent Jackson 108; Tim Wright 56; Tiquan Underwood 38; Brian Leonard 31; Chris Owusu 15; Bobby Rainey 12. ... Jackson is the lone trustworthy Bucs pass catcher in fantasy championship week. Notable enemy receiver stat lines coughed up by St. Louis this season: Marques Colston 8-92-1; Brandon Marshall 10-117-1; T.Y. Hilton 7-130; Golden Tate 5-93-2; Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Larry Fitzgerald (twice) 8-80-2 and 12-96-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Andre Johnson 7-88; Anquan Boldin (twice) 5-90-1 and 9-98.
Underwood has made seven starts since Mike Williams landed on I.R., registering box-score lines of 2-29-1, 3-64, 1-20, 3-108-2, 3-51, 0-0, and 2-15. Avoid. ... The Rams have allowed the fourth fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends, keeping Wright in the TE2 category despite his garbage time-enhanced 7-82-1 number in last week's blowout loss to San Francisco. Wright has reached 25 receiving yards in just two of his last six games. ... I wouldn't discourage anyone from playing Rainey in a Week 16 flex slot -- Tampa Bay is committed to feeding him and playing balanced offense -- but Rainey isn't getting the up-front blocking he and Mike James benefited from closer to midseason. Leave out Rainey's 80-yard touchdown run on his opening carry of Week 14 versus Buffalo, and he's managed 173 yards on his last 70 rushing attempts (2.47 YPC). Even if you leave in the 80-yarder, Rainey is at 3.56 yards per carry over that span. St. Louis is not quite a pushover defense up front, ranking No. 12 versus the run and holding opponents under 4.0 YPC on the season. Rainey is a mildly attractive, mid-range flex play in championship week.
Rams offensive centerpiece Zac Stacy also lacks an ideal Week 16 matchup, but there are reasons to be excited about him in this game. The Bucs are unlikely to put a big lead on St. Louis, and the Rams will unfailingly pound the rock. Impressive early in the season, Tampa NT Akeem Spence hit a Rookie Wall about a month and a half ago and has been getting washed out of run plays. The Bucs have fallen to 15th in run defense, losing core early-down SLB Jonathan Casillas (knee) to I.R. along the way. Stacy is a legit RB1 in Week 16. ... Tampa Bay isn't particularly stout in pass defense, but St. Louis doesn't have fantasy-viable pass catchers in a dysfunctional passing attack quarterbacked by journeyman Kellen Clemens. In the Rams' Week 15 upset of New Orleans, for instance, no St. Louis receiver or tight end even hit 50 yards. This is Clemens' 2013 target distribution in case you're wildly desperate: Chris Givens 37; Jared Cook 34; Tavon Austin and Stacy 23; Austin Pettis 18; Lance Kendricks 15; Stedman Bailey 14; Brian Quick 12. ... Austin is the only player worth a look against a Bucs defense that has struggled to contain slot receivers, but the rookie was inactive last week due to an ankle sprain, and couldn’t practice this Wednesday or Thursday. With a game so reliant on stop-start moves and suddenness, an ankle injury is concerning for Tavon's effectiveness in the event he does play.
Score Prediction: Rams 21, Bucs 17
4:05PM ET Games
Arizona @ Seattle
The Cardinals have played solid and sometimes even stout pass defense this season on the strength of high blitz frequency and outstanding secondary personnel, but their weaknesses were exposed in last week's overtime win at Tennessee. Missing safety/slot corner Tyrann Mathieu (ACL/LCL tear) and losing fill-in Rashad Johnson to an in-game high ankle sprain, Arizona was shredded on blitz beaters inside the numbers by Kendall Wright and Delanie Walker for a combined 20 receptions, 203 yards, and a touchdown. It's a deficiency film junkie Russell Wilson will surely notice on tape. Wilson poured 264 total yards and three touchdowns on the Cards when these teams met in mid-October. Fire up Wilson as a top-eight QB1. ... Quietly, almost, Doug Baldwin leads Seattle in receiving yards (770) and touchdowns (5) on the season despite playing fewer snaps and seeing 21 fewer targets than Golden Tate over the course of the year. Baldwin became an every-down player in Seattle's offense six games ago and has topped 70 yards and/or scored a touchdown in all but one of them. In an ideal Week 16 matchup, Baldwin is a high-end WR3 against a team fellow slot man Wright ransacked for a 12-150 line on 20 targets last week.
Wilson's target distribution with Percy Harvin (hip) back on the shelf for Seattle's last three games: Tate 19; Baldwin 16; Zach Miller 14; Jermaine Kearse 11; Marshawn Lynch 10; Luke Willson 7. ... Far and away, the Cards allow the most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. The risk with Miller is always that he's so incredibly touchdown dependent and will tank your fantasy lineup if he doesn't score. He's a high-risk and ultimately undesirable streamer. ... Tate is a virtual lock to get the Patrick Peterson shadow treatment. These are Tate's last two stat lines in games against Peterson: 4-77-0; 2-6-0. Tate is more WR4 than WR3 option in fantasy title week. ... Third receiver and jump-ball specialist Kearse hasn't hit pay dirt since early November, which means he hasn't been a fantasy factor. He's averaging two catches for 15.5 yards over his last four games. ... The Cardinals rank No. 1 versus the run and deserve credit for consistent stinginess up front, but the one back they haven't had answers for is Lynch. BeastMode piled up 94 total yards and a touchdown on 22 touches when these clubs met in Week 7. Even if Lynch isn't quite as good a Week 16 fantasy start as LeSean McCoy or Jamaal Charles, he's still an easy top-five RB1.
The once-hot Cardinals passing offense hit the skids in last week's narrow win over the Titans as DT Jurrell Casey shredded Arizona's interior offensive line. The Cards' coaching staff has done a commendable job of masking up-front deficiencies all year, but superior opponents can still exploit them. And the Seahawks are a superior opponent. When Arizona and Seattle met in Week 7, Carson Palmer absorbed seven sacks and threw two interceptions, and afterwards there were many calls nationally for the Cardinals to bench Palmer. It's a good thing they didn't, but also not good that they travel to Seattle in Week 16. It's a week to avoid Arizona's passing game in fantasy lineup decisions. ... Palmer's target distribution during the Cardinals' 5-1 hot run: Larry Fitzgerald 62; Michael Floyd 44; Andre Roberts 32; Rob Housler 30; Andre Ellington 17; Jim Dray 12; Rashard Mendenhall 8; Jake Ballard 4. ... Fitz is tentatively expected to start despite last week's fourth-quarter concussion, but managed 17 yards on two receptions in the Week 7 game and is best treated as a WR3 in fantasy title week, as opposed to the WR1 he's scored like lately. Especially at CenturyLink Field, facing Seattle is the worst matchup possible for enemy wideouts.
Fitz is still a better box-score bet than Floyd, who runs his routes outside and will do battle with physical mismatch creators LCB Richard Sherman and RCB Byron Maxwell. Maxwell has been an upgrade since replacing Brandon Browner. Floyd is just a WR4 this week. ... The Seahawks have allowed the eighth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. With Housler nursing an ongoing groin injury and only blockers Ballard and Dray behind him, Arizona's tight end position is safe to ignore in Week 16 lineup decisions. ... Roberts has reached 50 yards once over his last 13 games. Steer clear of Roberts even if Fitzgerald has a pre-game setback. ... Seattle has not been as stout in run defense over the course of the season as its reputation suggests, but this remains a matchup to avoid for Cardinals tailbacks. In Week 7, the Seahawks' defensive front manhandled Arizona's talent-deficient offensive line at the point of attack, limiting Mendenhall and Ellington to a combined 25 yards on 16 carries (1.56 YPC). Ellington is going to need to rip off an unlikely big run or receiving play to pay flex dividends. As usual, Mendenhall would need a goal-line score.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 23, Cardinals 10
NY Giants @ Detroit
Despite back-to-back clunker games due to a snowstorm (Week 14) and genuinely poor play (Week 15), Matthew Stafford enters fantasy championship week as the No. 3 overall fantasy quarterback and a far better bet to bounce back than stay in the tank. Minus Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) over their last three games, the Giants have allowed San Diego, Washington, and Seattle quarterbacks to burn them for 65-of-89 passing (73%), 678 yards (7.62 YPA), and a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio. JPP isn't expected to play this week, either. The last time Stafford threw three or more picks, he rebounded the following week to throw for 330 yards and three touchdowns in Detroit's Thanksgiving humbling of Green Bay. He's a top-five QB1 in title week. ... Stafford's target distribution in Nate Burleson's six 2013 starts: Calvin Johnson 73; Burleson 48; Joique Bell 35; Reggie Bush and Kris Durham 27; Brandon Pettigrew 24; Joseph Fauria 9. ... His slowdown in recent production notwithstanding, Megatron is the top fantasy receiver play of Week 16. These are the last five No. 1 wideouts' stat lines against the Giants: Jordy Nelson 8-117; Dez Bryant 9-102; Pierre Garcon 9-61; Keenan Allen 3-59-2; Doug Baldwin 6-71-1. ... Burleson also has a plus finals week matchup, but his production hasn't been up to snuff, and unlike Megatron the 32-year-old slot receiver doesn't warrant benefit of the doubt. Burleson hasn't hit pay dirt since his Week 12 return from a broken arm, maxing out at 51 yards during that span. He's a WR4 in Week 16.
Bush has gained 517 yards on his last 99 rushing attempts (5.22 YPC) and registered 100-plus total yards and/or a touchdown in eight of his 12 appearances. Off the injury report for Week 16, Bush is a locked-and-loaded RB1 against the Giants' No. 13 run defense. He burned Baltimore's top-seven unit for 101 total yards and a score last Monday night. ... Bell managed 57 scoreless yards on ten touches against the Ravens. He'd be a weak flex play against the G-Men. ... Durham hasn't been a fantasy factor since Burleson's return. His last two stat lines are 0-0 and 1-5. ... Fauria has some TE1 streamer appeal with Pettigrew (ankle) looking unlikely to play Sunday, though not much. The Giants allow the 13th most fantasy points to tight ends, but Fauria has only been a red-zone package player in Detroit's offense because he struggles mightily as a blocker. And there are no guarantees Fauria will suddenly become an every-down tight end even with Pettigrew on the shelf. I'd set Fauria's chances of scoring a touchdown at 50:50, and his odds of topping 50 receiving yards at 30:70. I'd prefer to stream Ryan Griffin over Fauria in finals week.
The Giants are playing abysmal offense. Tom Coughlin is aware. "It was a pathetic performance," said the old ballcoach after New York's Week 15 shutout loss to Seattle. "We didn't block anybody. We didn't make any plays." Leading the league in interceptions (25), Eli Manning now faces a Lions defense that has limited enemy signal callers to 41-of-80 passing (51.3%) for 540 yards (6.75 YPA), one touchdown, and two interceptions the past three weeks. Detroit has 12 sacks during that run. They've had an admittedly favorable schedule -- Nick Foles in the snow, Matt Flynn, and Joe Flacco -- but nothing Eli has done this year suggests he'll be immune to the foreboding statistics. I like the Lions at home as a fantasy defense streamer, and wouldn't touch Eli with a ten-foot pole. ... Manning's target distribution since Andre Brown returned from short-term I.R. six weeks ago: Victor Cruz 45; Brown 26; Brandon Myers 24; Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle 23; Jerrel Jernigan 17; Bear Pascoe 9. ... Myers hasn't exceeded six targets in any game since Week 2, and the Lions allow the second fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. I'd prefer Fauria or Griffin as a TE1 streamer. Myers brings very little to the table.
As target monster Cruz (knee, concussion) will not play at Detroit, the G-Men will likely turn to Randle at X receiver, with Nicks sliding over to Z and Jernigan handling slot duties. Although he's been entirely boom-or-bust in his usual third receiver role, Randle is one of the more intriguing fantasy title week sleepers. This game will be played indoors, and Detroit still ranks 23rd versus the pass despite its recent stout play. Randle is a critical piece of the Giants' future. It isn't crazy to think OC Kevin Gilbride draws up a game plan to feature him. He's a high-ceiling, low-floor WR3. ... Couple Jernigan's lack of playmaking ability with a knee injury that kept him from practicing early this week and you have a fantasy player to avoid in Week 16. ... Coming off a one-catch, five-yard game on five targets, Nicks still hasn't scored a touchdown all season, clearing 60 yards once over his last seven games. Nicks is in the last two games of his rookie contract. I have a feeling some desperate NFL GM is going to severely overpay for his services. ... The bad news for Brown is Detroit ranks No. 4 against the run. The good news is Peyton Hillis (concussion) isn't expected to play Sunday, leaving Brown to gobble up snaps and carries. This is a brutal matchup for Brown on paper, but he's likely headed for 20-plus touches and could even approach 30 if the game stays competitive. Brown has the appearance of a low-ceiling, high-floor RB2/flex option.
Score Prediction: Lions 28, Giants 17
4:25PM ET Games
New England @ Baltimore
Tom Brady goes on the road in Week 16 for a challenging matchup with Baltimore's No. 13 pass defense, which since Opening Day has limited enemy signal callers to a 15:12 TD-to-INT ratio and is surrendering the third lowest completion rate (56.9%) in the league. With Elvis Dumervil healthy following a Week 14 ankle injury and Terrell Suggs on the opposite edge, the Ravens aren't going to give Brady many clean dropbacks. New England's passing attack will likely focus inside the numbers. When these clubs met in the playoffs last January, Baltimore's defense wasn't as good as it is now -- and the Patriots' offense was much better -- but the Ravens still held Brady to 29-of-54 passing (53.7%) for 320 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. I'd rank Brady as a top-12 quarterback this week, but would play Jay Cutler over him. ... Brady's target distribution with Rob Gronkowski (torn ACL) out last week: Julian Edelman 19; Danny Amendola 14; Shane Vereen and Josh Boyce 7; Michael Hoomanawanui and Austin Collie 3; LeGarrette Blount 1. ... Edelman is for real. He's cleared 100 yards and/or scored a touchdown in four straight weeks, averaging 13 targets per game during that stretch. He's earned every-week WR2 value. ... Amendola played only five fewer snaps than Edelman in last week's loss to Miami, seeing an expected bump in role and playing time as the Patriots leaned more on three-receiver sets as their base offense. Amendola is the No. 25 fantasy wideout over the past three weeks. He's a quality WR3 in title games.
The Patriots' third, "X" receiver spot will obviously be manned by someone on Sunday, but I have no clue who it'll be between Boyce (ankle), Kenbrell Thompkins (hip), and Aaron Dobson (foot). It is a fantasy situation to avoid. ... The Dolphins sold out to stop Vereen in last week's five-touch, 21-yard clunker, incorporating MLB Dannell Ellerbe and defensive backs in double coverage. Vereen has been an RB1 in PPR leagues since returning from short-term I.R. five games ago, and I wouldn't expect that to change at Baltimore. Vereen is more of an RB2/flex in standard leagues, but the savviest approach is to keep on starting him. ... New England has turned to a full-blown two-man rotation at early-down back, giving Blount 20 snaps and 12 touches against the Fins. Stevan Ridley played 13 downs, managing 43 yards on eight carries. As the Pats' backfield currently lacks a high-volume runner, it's best left avoided in Week 16 lineup decisions. Baltimore ranks No. 7 in run defense and has allowed just four rushing TDs all year, the fewest in football.
Baltimore's passing game has been wildly inconsistent this season with underwhelming overall production, ranking 20th in the NFL in passing yards per game (227), tied for 26th in passing scores (18), and sixth in sacks allowed (42). New England ranks 18th versus the pass and has stumbled more often than not lately, but nothing Joe Flacco has done this year suggests he's worth viewing as more than a mid-range to low-end QB2. He was a major flop this past Monday night, passing for 222 scoreless yards against a generally leaky Lions secondary under Ford Field's dome. ... Here is Flacco's target distribution since Baltimore's Week 8 bye: Torrey Smith 61; Jacoby Jones 41; Ray Rice and Marlon Brown 32; Ed Dickson 25; Dennis Pitta 15; Dallas Clark 13; Tandon Doss 11; Deonte Thompson 8. ... Smith is the Ravens' clear-cut No. 1 receiver and a WR2 play with some upside in Week 16. Smith has 69-plus yards and/or a TD in six of his last seven games. Enemy No. 1 receiver stats against New England over the past four weeks: Andre Johnson 8-121; Demaryius Thomas 4-41-1; Josh Gordon 7-151-1; Mike Wallace 6-105-1.
The only thing consistent about Jones and Brown's box-score production is their back-and-forth flipping and flopping of productive efforts. I've found no way to get a handle on which Baltimore complementary wideout is going to have a good game in a given week. They're fantasy WR4s at best. ... Pitta was another Monday night disappointment, securing 2-of-4 targets for 24 yards one week after seeing 11 targets. Pitta's playing time has increased more slowly than anticipated, as he remained a sub-50% player against the Lions. He's still squarely on the low-end TE1 radar versus a Patriots defense allowing the fifth most receptions (78) and seventh most yards (838) to tight ends. ... Battling a hip injury and losing all semblance of lateral movement skills, Rice is what he is this year and we can't expect that to change with two weeks left in the regular season. The Pats rank 31st against the run and allow 4.44 yards per carry -- the eighth highest average in football -- and Rice still is no more than a low-ceiling flex play. He has shown no ability to break long plays in the run or pass game, and will likely need a goal-line plunge or two to pay off as a fantasy start.
Score Prediction: Ravens 21, Patriots 20
Oakland @ San Diego
Vying for the AFC's sixth seed, the 7-7 Chargers return from a nine-day layoff after a Thursday night win over Denver to host an Oakland team that isn't built to play competitive pass defense. The Raiders lack a true edge pass rusher and have a secondary largely concocted via one-year free-agent mercenary-type signings. Although Philip Rivers was flukily picked off three times in these clubs' October 6 meeting -- his TD-to-INT ratio on the season is a near-impeccable 28:9 -- Rivers wound up gashing the Raiders for 411 yards and two touchdowns with a 72.9% completion rate. View Rivers as a mid-range QB1 in this favorable-weather matchup. ... Here is Rivers' target distribution since San Diego's Week 8 bye: Keenan Allen 52; Antonio Gates 50; Danny Woodhead 32; Eddie Royal 27; Vincent Brown 26; Ladarius Green 19; Ryan Mathews 17. ... Allen is now on pace for 72 receptions, 1,064 yards, and eight scores. The yards would be the most by a rookie receiver since Michael Clayton in '04. "He knows how to score. He's unbelievable," Rivers said of Allen after the Broncos upset. "Some receivers just have a knack for knowing how to play. And he knows how to play." Allen dropped a 6-115-1 line on Oakland in Week 5 and is a borderline WR1 in title week. ... Slowing down the stretch of his age-33 season, Gates is just 22nd in fantasy tight end scoring over the past five weeks. The Raiders have allowed the seventh fewest receptions and eighth fewest yards in the league to tight ends. Gates is just a low-end TE1 in Week 16.
Green has gone catch-less in back-to-back games. He's still been a 52% player in San Diego's offense, but the Chargers are using him as a blocker to create personnel mismatches in the run game. With two tight ends on the field who are both receiving threats, defenses are forced into nickel and dime packages. It's great for Mathews' value, and bad for Green's. ... Royal and Brown have been off the radar in re-draft leagues for months. ... The Raiders have generally played stout run defense this season, but they've sprung leaks of late. Over its last three games, Oakland has coughed up 275 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 64 carries (4.30 YPC) to Chris Ivory, Lance Dunbar/DeMarco Murray, and Jamaal Charles/Knile Davis, which doesn't even include Charles' 8-195-4 Week 15 line as a receiver. Meanwhile, Mathews has 768 yards and five TDs on his last 169 carries (4.54 YPC). Over the last month, he's played 179 snaps to Woodhead's 138. Mathews is a borderline RB1 against the Raiders. ... With his touches and playing time down, Woodhead has settled in as a flex option only. The Chargers simply have more confidence in and are more committed to Mathews as a true foundation back. Woodhead is a passing-game role player.
The lone Oakland skill player worth serious start consideration in championship week is Rashad Jennings, who stung Kansas City for 103 total yards and two scores in last week's loss. Week 14 hero Marcel Reece had seven touches as the change-of-pace back. San Diego lets up 4.73 yards per carry, the third highest clip in football. Jennings is a high-end RB2 with a floor raised by his every-down back usage. Despite a large deficit, he had 26 touches against the Chiefs. ... This was Oakland's Week 15 wideout snap distribution with Denarius Moore returning from his shoulder injury: Andre Holmes 59; Rod Streater 54; Moore 35; Jacoby Ford 13. Streater led the way with nine targets, but Holmes (4-58-1) had the best stats, and Moore's playing time figures to rise in his second game back. None of them will be an every-down receiver. The matchup is terrific against San Diego's bottom-four pass defense, but the reliability factor is missing as Oakland rotates its pass catchers and shuttles Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor in and out of the game in NCAA-style fashion. ... Raiders rookie TE Mychal Rivera caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from McGloin in the third quarter last week, but Rivera hasn't topped 30 yards in a game since mid-November, and the Chargers are 20th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. TE1 streamers should aim higher.
Score Prediction: Chargers 28, Raiders 20
Pittsburgh @ Green Bay
On paper at least, Le'Veon Bell has the premier matchup among Steelers-Packers skill-position players. Over the past seven weeks, Green Bay has been gashed by Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Andre Brown/Brandon Jacobs, Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart, Reggie Bush/Joique Bell, Steven Jackson, and DeMarco Murray for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns on 184 carries (5.48 YPC). The Packers allow 4.56 yards per attempt on the ground over the course of the season, which is the league's sixth most generous clip. Bell is a borderline RB1 at Lambeau Field. ... Quietly enjoying a big-time fantasy campaign, Ben Roethlisberger ranks ninth in scoring at his position, seventh in touchdown passes (25), and sixth in passing yards (3,915). He's squarely in the QB1 hunt against the Packers' No. 22 pass defense. I'd like Big Ben even better if Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) got the green light, boosting this game's shootout potential. Green Bay has allowed 26-plus points in seven of its last eight games. Roethlisberger owns a sterling 17:4 TD-to-INT ratio over his past seven starts. ... Big Ben's target distribution over his last six games: Antonio Brown 57; Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders 38; Bell 36; Jerricho Cotchery 26; Markus Wheaton 7.
The Packers don't have a defensive back quick enough in a short area to keep up with Brown, who is fifth among fantasy wideouts in scoring on the season. His WR1 value has never wavered. ... Cotchery is likely to be a Week 16 non-factor. The Packers are shutting down slot receivers with CB Tramon Williams playing inside, over their last three games holding the following players to the following stat lines: Nate Burleson 0-0; Harry Douglas 2-20; Miles Austin 2-35. ... Sanders is a touchdown-dependent fantasy WR3. Lacking upside whenever he doesn't find pay dirt, Sanders has been held to 70 yards or fewer in 11-of-14 games this season, and hasn't hit 70 yards in six straight. Aim higher if you're pursuing a fantasy trophy. ... I'd like Miller more in Week 16 if he had more production to hang hats on. The Packers allow the tenth most fantasy points and receiving yards (803) to enemy tight ends. Unfortunately, Miller has one touchdown on the year and has demonstrated scant playmaking ability in his first season back from a devastating knee injury. He's a low-end TE1 at best. I'd start Ryan Griffin and Delanie Walker over him with confidence.
While acknowledging Aaron Rodgers (clavicle) still has an outside shot to play, I'm approaching the Packers' Matchup breakdown as if Matt Flynn will get the nod. If it's later announced Rodgers will start, all Green Bay skill-position players get fantasy upgrades. As do the Steelers. ... Another plus for the Packers' passing game is the absence of Pittsburgh OLB LaMarr Woodley, who hit I.R. this week with a calf injury. That isn't to say Flynn is suddenly a viable fantasy start against the Steelers' top-eight pass defense, but it always helps when the opponent loses its top pass rusher. Despite last week's comeback win over Dallas' barely-there defense, Flynn is not a recommended two-quarterback-league play. ... Flynn's target distribution through four games as a Packer (three starts): James Jones 23; Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin 21; Eddie Lacy 20, Andrew Quarless 19; Brandon Bostick 7; John Kuhn 4; James Starks 3. ... Across the board for Green Bay's pass game, last week's stats against Dallas are difficult to treat as indications of what's to come based on the hopeless state of the Cowboys' defense. Applying that box score to this game would be irresponsible. I'd continue to rank Green Bay's wideouts as Nelson > Jones > Boykin, viewing Jordy as a fairly boom-or-bust WR3, Jones as a lower-end WR3, and Boykin as a fantasy WR4.
Houston's Ryan Griffin and Detroit's Joseph Fauria are both superior Week 16 TE1 streamers to Quarless, who has been fairly consistently targeted by Flynn but takes on a Pittsburgh defense allowing the 19th fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Quarless is capable of catching check-down passes from Flynn, but lacks explosive receiving ability and generally does more blocking than route running. ... The Packers have built their offense around Lacy in the absence of Rodgers, and will continue to lean on Fat Ed as a chin-checking bellcow in Sunday's plus matchup with Pittsburgh. The Steelers rank 19th in run defense and have coughed up 15 rushing touchdowns, the sixth most in football. Lacy has been a locked-and-loaded RB1 every time he's dressed this season. He's a true every-down back on pace for 1,556 all-purpose yards and ten touchdowns.
Score Prediction: Packers 23, Steelers 20
Sunday Night Football
Chicago @ Philadelphia
This week's Sunday nighter is the premier game of fantasy finals week as fair weather is in the Philly forecast and the whopping 56-point over-under is highest of Week 16. The week's shoo-in No. 1 fantasy back is LeSean McCoy, who leads the NFL in rushing by more than 100 yards and will go to work against Chicago's last-ranked run defense. The Bears are dead last in rushing yards-per-game allowed (152.4) and yards-per-carry submitted (5.17). This is a true cupcake for Shady. And after abandoning the run game in last week's forgettable loss to Minnesota, coach Chip Kelly will surely attack Chicago with it. ... The Bears' defense has been stouter in the air, ranking No. 11 versus the pass, sixth in interceptions (17), and No. 12 in passer rating against (84.2). The Eagles still shouldn't struggle to move the football and create scoring chances for Nick Foles, who remains a top-five QB1. The only quarterbacks I'd start over Foles in fantasy title week are Peyton Manning (@ HOU), Drew Brees (@ CAR), Matthew Stafford (vs. NYG), and Cam Newton (vs. NO). ... Foles' target distribution since returning from a concussion six games ago: DeSean Jackson 43; Riley Cooper 40; Zach Ertz 25; McCoy 23; Jason Avant 17; Brent Celek 10.
The No. 4 overall fantasy receiver on the season behind only Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, and Demaryius Thomas, Jackson has at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown in 11-of-14 games this season. Bears top CB Tim Jennings deserves credit for playing Dez Bryant (2-12-1) and Gordon (3-67-1) tough the past two weeks, but this isn't the week to worry about D-Jax. ... Foles hasn't quit targeting Cooper, but the big passing plays simply haven't been there between the two like they were around midseason. Cooper is scoreless in four weeks straight, averaging three catches for 47 yards per game during the month-long stretch. Cooper has settled in as an inconsistent, boom-or-bust WR3 option. Theoretically at least, Bears DC Mel Tucker's Cover 2-based defense is designed to limit the long passing plays upon which Cooper previously thrived. ... Although the Bears typically present an inviting matchup for tight ends -- they're allowing the 11th most fantasy points to the position -- Ertz and Celek's passing-game roles are always matchup oriented and oftentimes game-plan specific. If Kelly leans on his run game to put away the Bears, it's entirely possible superior blocker Celek will get a lot more playing time than Ertz in this particular week. Ultimately, I wouldn't want to count on either Eagles tight end with fantasy trophies on the line.
The Bears are in a similar spot taking on an Eagles defense allowing the 30th most yards in football. Leave out the Week 14 snowstorm game against Detroit, and Philadelphia has been lit up by Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel for a combined 50-of-76 passing (65.8%), 684 yards (9.0 YPA), five touchdowns, and three picks since its Week 12 bye, with a sixth score on a Cassel scramble. The Eagles don't have much talent on defense. Aside from two tipped interceptions in his Week 15 return from a high ankle sprain, Jay Cutler was highly effective against a better Browns defense, demonstrating impressive mobility in and out of the pocket and feeding big, physical, mismatch-creating weapons Brandon Marshall (6-95-1), Alshon Jeffery (5-72-1), and Martellus Bennett (6-71). Cutler's matchup and supporting cast are attractive enough that he's squarely back in the QB1 mix. I'd view him as a top-eight quarterback play in the fantasy finals. ... Here is Cutler's target distribution on the year: Marshall 84; Jeffery 72; Martellus 56; Matt Forte 48; Earl Bennett 21; Michael Bush 4. ... Marshall has 75-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 11-of-14 games, and rekindled his neverending chemistry with Cutler last Sunday, seeing a team-high 13 targets and catching a touchdown in Joe Haden's coverage. Fire up Marshall with excitement against a Philadelphia defense allowing the most fantasy points in the league to wide receivers.
Approaching the end of a monster second-year breakout, Jeffery is on pace for 92 catches, 1,446 yards, and eight touchdowns. These are Jeffery's box-score lines in Cutler's last three starts: 5-72-1; 9-114; 4-105. Start 'em. ... The Eagles have been surprisingly stingy in tight end coverage, allowing the second fewest fantasy points in the league to the position. They're 25th in receptions allowed to tight ends and 19th in yards. Martellus is toward the lower end of TE1 options in Week 16. ... Although Philadelphia's defensive strength is versus the run, Forte has been matchup proof throughout the season. In five dates with top-eight run defenses, Forte has averaged 103 total yards per game with three touchdowns. Forte shouldn't have trouble paying off as a top-eight RB1 starter in this game, which should be up and down the field in nature with high-scoring potential.
Score Prediction: Bears 30, Eagles 27
Monday Night Football
Atlanta @ San Francisco
Monday night's game provides the quietly white-hot 49ers with an opportunity to stomp a Falcons defense that's been among the worst three in football this season. Over its last eight games, Atlanta has hemorrhaged 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns on 176 carries (5.80 YPC) to Pierre Thomas, Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Rainey, Carolina's backfield, Andre Ellington, C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson, Eddie Lacy, and Alfred Morris. The Falcons rank 29th versus the run and allow 4.65 YPC, the fourth highest clip in football. Frank Gore should not struggle to run all over this group. ... Frequent blowout wins and supporting-cast deficiencies have rendered Colin Kaepernick's first full season as an NFL starter a slight disappointment from a fantasy standpoint, but he's peaking at the right time as San Francisco rallies toward the playoffs. Amassing a 13:3 TD-to-turnover ratio over his last eight games, Kaepernick enters Week 16 having completed 80 of his last 130 throws (61.5%) for 992 yards (7.63 YPA), nine touchdowns, and two interceptions. Facing an Atlanta defense that is tied for 30th in sacks (28) and has allowed the third most passing touchdowns (28) in football, Kaepernick is worth a long look for QB1 streamers. Kap's playmaking ability, cannon arm, and full-strength receiver corps give him upside. The risk is that San Francisco will destroy the Falcons, limiting pass-game volume. It's been an issue for Kaepernick's fantasy stats all year.
Kap's target distribution with Michael Crabtree back in the starting lineup the last three weeks: Anquan Boldin 26; Crabtree 18; Vernon Davis 15; Bruce Miller 14; Mario Manningham 6; Gore 3. ... Both Boldin and Crabtree have terrific matchups on paper. Coming off a 5-45-1 line in Tampa Bay, Crabtree will be a fantasy WR2/3 taking on Falcons rookie perimeter CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Boldin will run slot routes against wildly inconsistent Robert McClain inside the numbers. I like Crabtree as the superior upside play. Boldin shouldn't have trouble racking up 4-7 catches. ... The Falcons allow the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, setting up Davis for a potential week-winning game. Despite ranking 12th among tight ends in targets on the season, Davis is second in touchdown catches (12) and third in yards (805). Fire him up with excitement.
Atlanta's offense has made incremental strides down the stretch of a lost season, but expecting substantial box-score production against a Niners defense that ranks third in yards and points allowed would be doltish. San Francisco has been particularly stingy through the air, ranking fourth in the NFL in pass defense and second in passer rating against (73.5). The 49ers' 15 passing touchdowns allowed are fourth fewest in football. Matt Ryan is a fantasy backup in finals week. ... Ryan's target distribution since Roddy's Week 10 return from a hamstring injury: Harry Douglas 57; White 46; Tony Gonzalez 39; Darius Johnson 26; Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson 21; Jason Snelling 9. ... San Francisco simply doesn't give up big pass plays, ranking 30th in 20-plus-yard completions permitted (32) and 27th in 40-plus yarders (6). So anyone hanging their hat on a Falcons pass catcher will need them to either rack up catches underneath or score touchdowns. And the Niners don't permit many of the latter, either. Still a savvy route runner but lacking explosion during the stretch run of his age-32 season, White is a low-ceiling WR3 in Week 16. I think White's most likely projection is something like five catches for 48 yards.
Douglas has the superior matchup against aging slot CB Carlos Rogers, who's been the 49ers' weak link in pass coverage. RCB Tramaine Brock, for instance, is a top-five corner in Pro Football Focus' grades. LCB Tarell Brown has been his usual steady self when healthy. I'd personally play White over Douglas in fantasy lineups, but not by much. I don't think either will help owners get trophies. ... The 49ers annually play smothering tight end coverage, keyed by second-level maven ILB Patrick Willis. This year, San Francisco is allowing the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. It is perhaps worth noting that Gonzalez dropped an 8-78-1 line on the Niners the last time these clubs met in last January's playoffs. Gonzalez will be the best bet for a touchdown in Atlanta's pass-catching corps on Monday night. ... S-Jax deserves credit for salvaging his season to some extent with a strong late push. He's sprinkled five touchdowns among his last 69 carries, and given Falcons management some reason to consider bringing him back for 2014. I still wouldn't view Jackson as more than a limited-ceiling flex play against San Francisco's top-six run defense.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Falcons 17
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