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Posted Thursday and updated Friday evening, “The Fantasy Blueprint” will get you the stats and information that actually matter for fantasy football, and it will be produced in a way that doesn’t waste our time. If you don't know what "Fantasy Usage" is, read this. If you want my best bets, they’ll be at the top on Friday night. If you need live Vegas odds, go here. If you simply just want my weekly rankings, subscribe here for $3.99 per month and use promo code WINKS10 for 10% off. If you have other questions, reach out on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).
1. Chiefs (32.25 points, -10.5 spread) vs. ATL
Because their run defense is so much better (3rd in EPA) than their pass defense (25th), the Falcons have allowed the fifth most pass attempts per game (40.4) on the sixth highest neutral pass rate (57%). With a backup running back in, the Chiefs could reach a rare level of neutral pass rate on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes is the obvious QB1 overall with Atlanta dead last against fantasy quarterbacks. … Tyreek Hill should play despite a lingering hamstring ailment that seems cramp related. The Falcons’ Cover 1 man defense has no shot at stopping Hill, who belongs in the WR1 overall conversation. Sammy Watkins ran a route on 50-of-60 dropbacks last week and is the WR50 in fantasy usage since returning from injury. A boom-bust player with more busts than booms, you’re either on team Sammy or you’re not. I won’t convince you otherwise. Mecole Hardman continues to play behind Demarcus Robinson but is schemed touches and did have 138 air yards in Week 15. Hardman has ceiling potential in this matchup despite being an overly raw player overall. … Travis Kelce is the TE1 overall. Let’s move on. …
No Clyde Edwards-Helaire should mean Le’Veon Bell in a 60-plus percent role with Darrel Williams mixing in on passing downs. Bell is noticeably slow on tape, but the Chiefs’ league-high 32.25-point team total keeps the veteran in the RB2 mix. In his lone game without CEH, Bell had 16.1 expected PPR points. His touchdown odds are reasonable even with the Falcons ranking third in rushing EPA and seventh against fantasy backs.
Bell is my RB20 this week. Subscribe to Rotoworld EDGE+ here to unlock the rest of my personal weekly positional rankings (posted Wednesday) for only $3.99 per month. Use promo code: WINKS10 for 10% off.
2. Bucs (31.5, -10) @ DET
Especially in a dome when home field advantage matters as little as ever, the Bucs are in a total smash spot against the Lions who are 31st in passing EPA and are missing CBs Desmond Trufant and Julian Okwara. Tom Brady should have no issues beating this man defense with his elite pass-catchers. Already a weekly QB1, Brady offers top-five upside. The Bucs are projected for 31.5 points this week, only trailing the Chiefs. … Despite having similar target totals, Mike Evans has separated as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver ahead of Godwin and Brown. Evans’ 15.5 expected PPR points with Brown leads the team, and he should smash against the No. 29 fantasy receiver defense. The Lions simply don’t have the talent to stop Evans as a fantasy WR1. Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown are in a tier below based on usage. Godwin is only averaging 55 air yards over the last four weeks while sadly operating as a low-aDOT (8.4) slot man, and Brown is only averaging 11.0 expected PPR points per game this season while only playing in three-receiver sets. Based on matchup, both deserve WR3/flex consideration. The ceiling is obvious. Scotty Miller (10 routes in Week 15) and Tyler Johnson (5) round out the rotation. … Rob Gronkowski is the TE11 in fantasy usage on a 15% target share over the last month. Gronk held a 37 to 17 route advantage over Cameron Brate last week as a near every-down player. His touchdown odds are boasted by the Bucs’ massive team total. The Lions’ No. 8 defense against the position is just noise. …
Ronald Jones (COVID-19, finger) is not expected to play, vaulting Leonard Fournette into the RB1 discussion. His 19.6 expected PPR points from last week and the Lions’ dead last ranking against fantasy running backs are worth betting on even if we doubt the ability of Fournette himself. LeSean McCoy and struggling 23-year-old Illinois to Vanderbilt transfer rookie Ke’Shawn Vaughn will only mix in on passing downs and in garbage time. Fournette projects for 15-plus touches and the goal-line role. Detroit has allowed the third most carries per game.
3. Saints (29.75, -7.5) vs. MIN
Obviously rusty with his ribs, Drew Brees was limited on tape in Week 15. The Saints’ league-low 27% neutral pass rate from last week illustrates how little confidence coach Sean Payton had with Brees. The veteran should rebound, however, after getting more time to heal. The Vikings’ typical Cover 2 defense aligns well with Brees’ ability to pick apart soft spots underneath. The Vikings’ No. 27 pass rush shouldn’t slow down Brees’ efficiency. Total play volume is the true concern. Both the Saints (27th) and Vikings (29th) are bottom six in neutral offensive pace. … With Brees in and Michael Thomas out, Emmanuel Sanders has averaged 12.5 expected PPR points. He’s a rebound candidate as a WR3/flex in this domed matchup. The Vikings are 26th against fantasy receivers because of their bottom-five cornerback corps. With Tre’Quan Smith not practicing, Marquez Callaway is the deep sleeper of the week. He’s likely to start in two-receiver sets despite coming off injured reserve. Callaway had 9.5 and 16.5 expected PPR points in his last two games as a starter. Juwan Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphries will battle it out for No. 3 receiver duties, but neither passed the eye test last week. … Jared Cook is averaging 8.0 expected PPR points in games with Brees but looks a step slower this year as an almost-34-year-old. His matchup would be enhanced if Vikings LB Eric Kendricks is out. Cooks is a touchdown-dependent TE2 in an offense projected to score the third most points of the week. Rookie Adam Trautman is running single-digit routes. …
Alvin Kamara’s 14.4 expected PPR points in Week 15 were his lowest with Brees all season, but he’s an obvious elite RB1 in a rebound spot. The Vikings’ No. 20 rushing EPA defense is likely to struggle against the Saints’ top-10 line, and Kendricks’ potential absence puts the Vikings at risk of getting YAC’d by Kamara. Minnesota also ranks 31st in neutral pass rate allowed (42%) with offenses choosing to gash them on the ground. Latavius Murray is an RB4 averaging 8.0 expected PPR points in games with Brees.
Updated Christmas Eve: Not only is LB Eric Kendricks out, but LB Troy Dye is also ruled out. The Vikings only have one healthy linebacker who has played more than 100 defensive snaps right now. Good luck tackling Kamara, Minnesota.
4. Packers (29.75, -3.5) vs. TEN
The Titans have allowed the third most pass attempts per game (41.7), rank 27th in passing EPA defense, and are dead last in adjusted sack rate. Aaron Rodgers should carve up Tennessee as he pushes towards a MVP Trophy. Rodgers is a top-three quarterback with Green Bay projected for 29.75 points, the fourth most on the slate. … Davante Adams has a 35% target share over the last four weeks despite two-straight forgettable stat lines. Adams’ individual matchup is as sweet as it gets in December. The Titans are 30th against fantasy receivers. Allen Lazard is averaging 7.3 expected PPR points since returning from injury. Last week, both Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling ran 31-of-38 routes, but they are used entirely differently. Lazard (9.9 aDOT) works underneath from the slot as the “floor play” between the two while MVS (17.8 aDOT) is the “ceiling play” as the downfield option. Either one can pay off as WR5 darts on lower volume. The matchup is that good. … Robert Tonyan is the TE7 over the last four weeks on TE16 fantasy usage. He’s been an efficiency outlier the entire season and projects for as much touchdown equity as any mid-range TE1 given the Packers’ elite team total. The Titans’ No. 20 defense against fantasy tight ends is one to attack. …
How elite of an RB1 Aaron Jones is depends on if Jamaal Williams (quad) plays. He didn’t practice on Wednesday after leaving Week 15 early. Because of that, Jones had his highest expected PPR point total (18.0) since Week 4 last Sunday. Jones is a candidate to beat his season-long averages if Williams misses. He’s averaged 16.0 PPR points in games with Adams this season. The Titans’ No. 25 defense against fantasy running backs adds to Jones' ceiling potential.
5. Browns (28.25, -10) @ NYJ
Typically stiff against the run (7th), the Jets have nearly no chance at stopping this balanced play-action attack with DT Quinnen Williams (neck) on injured reserve. Baker Mayfield isn’t likely to break even 30 pass attempts as 10-point favorites, but the Browns’ 28.25-point team total (5th) is far too high to not have Mayfield inside the top-16. Cleveland’s increased use of play-action passing has turned Mayfield into a serviceable starter. … Jarvis Landry is the WR7 overall in fantasy usage over the last month on 9.5 targets per game. He’s on the WR1/2 border on usage alone, and the matchup against the Brian Poole-less Jets couldn’t get easier on paper. The Jets are 27th against fantasy receivers and 30th in passing EPA. Rashard Higgins is averaging 84 air yards per game over that same stretch, enough to be the WR26 in fantasy usage. More boom-bust than Landry (7.8 aDOT), Higgins needs to haul in deeper targets (13.7 aDOT) to pay off as a WR3/flex. That’s certainly possible. Explosive rookie deep threat Donovan Peoples-Jones will check in when the Browns opt for three-receiver sets. … Austin Hooper’s 12.6 expected PPR points from last week were his most since Week 15. After an injury and poor weather wrecked his October and November, it’s possible Hooper returns to the TE1/2 border here. The Jets’ No. 32 defense against the position will help his late-season push. The offense needs Hooper to have a chance in the playoffs. …
The Jets’ No. 7 rushing EPA defense takes a massive hit with DT Quinnen Williams (neck) out. Even with a third-string right guard, the Browns should control the trenches and game script as 10-point favorites. Both Nick Chubb (RB9 fantasy usage over the last four weeks) and Kareem Hunt (RB32) can get there if the Browns reach their 28.25-point team total. Game script favors Chubb who typically carries the load when leading. Hunt should see upwards of 15 touches too, however. The Jets have allowed the third most plays per game on defense this season.
6. Ravens (27.75, -10.5) vs. NYG
The Giants’ Cover 3 zone defense is built to slow down run-first offenses like the Ravens’ because they have more defenders in their run fits and have the interior defensive line talent to match Baltimore’s physicality. Fortunately for the Ravens, Lamar Jackson has played similarly to 2019 levels in back-to-back weeks. The Ravens’ 27.75-point team total suggests Vegas is betting on talent rather than matchup here. I agree. Jackson is a top-six fantasy quarterback. … The Giants’ defensive scheme has led to opposing offenses passing at the fourth highest rate in neutral situations, and Marquise Brown’s involvement is ticking upwards. He’s the WR33 in fantasy usage over the last month on a 36% target share. Brown will see stud CB James Bradberry at times but still offers enough big-play potential to be worth a flex spot. Willie Snead had a season-low 2.2 expected PPR points in Week 15. It’s Brown or bust at receiver. … Mark Andrews is averaging 11.1 expected PPR points in games since the bye, enough to be the TE12 in fantasy usage. He is a potential Cover 3 beater in the intermediate portions of the field and has as much touchdown equity as any non-Kelce tight end. The Giants are 15th against the position this season. …
With Mark Ingram healthy scratched, J.K. Dobbins had a season-high 14.6 expected PPR points on 35-of-66 snaps last week. Dobbins is the big-play threat and passing down back while Gus Edwards (12.3 expected PPR points) is the banger on power runs. With how good Dobbins has looked, it wouldn’t be surprising to see an even bigger role heading into the playoffs. Dobbins is very likely to outplay his current RB33 fantasy usage. The rookie, who is averaging 5.2 YPC, is an upside RB2. Edwards is more of a RB3/4. New York is 24th against fantasy backs.
7. Texans (27.5, -9) vs. CIN
In the three games without Will Fuller (suspended), Deshaun Watson’s adjusted yards per attempt has only dropped from 9.5 to 8.7. All things considered, he’s held up well as a passer despite throwing to castaways. This matchup is far easier than the one’s Watson has faced this month (IND, CHI, IND). Cincy is 24th in passing EPA and 31st in adjusted sack rate. Watson is in the top-six mix with Houston projected to score 27.5 points, the seventh most on the slate. … The only two games Brandin Cooks has played without Fuller have been against the Colts’ Cover 2 defense. This is a much better individual matchup for Cooks, who can beat man on the outside. Cooks’ WR41 fantasy usage over the last month is bound to increase, pushing Cooks back into the WR2/3 range. Chad Hansen has been balling out, but he’s been the WR56 in fantasy usage with expected PPR point totals of 11.6, 10.4, and 5.0 over the last three games. He’s a negative regression candidate and maxes out as a WR4/5 with downfield upside. Keke Coutee is averaging 10.9 expected PPR points without Fuller and is the WR55 in fantasy usage over the last month. The slot man arguably does better against zone than man. Cincy’s man defense is 14th against fantasy receivers. He’s a WR4/5 in PPR leagues. … Jordan Akins is averaging 8.5 expected PPR points without Fuller but hasn’t cashed any of them in due to drops. He’s the TE37 on TE19 fantasy usage over the last month. The Bengals’ poor linebacker corps has the defense 27th against tight ends. …
David Johnson unsurprisingly popped for a huge game last week with Duke Johnson and C.J. Prosise out. Duke Johnson still isn’t practicing, so DJ’s RB2 value is likely intact ahead of Week 16. The Bengals’ man coverage is far less likely to allow receiving production than the Colts’ Cover 2 defense, but Johnson should have reasonable touchdown odds as 9-point home favorites. The Bengals have been neutral to fantasy running backs this season, although they’ve lost multiple front-seven starters in recent weeks.
8. Bears (27.25, -7.5) @ JAX
A cupcake schedule and a changed offensive scheme has Mitchell Trubisky looking like a changed man in recent weeks. The Bears are using more jet sweeps and asking Trubisky to do more as a dual-threat quarterback. It’s worked reasonably well and should work again against Jacksonville who is 32nd in passing EPA defense, 29th in adjusted sack rate, and 30th against fantasy quarterbacks. Their Cover 1 man defense should be easy for Trubisky to read. … Allen Robinson is a man beater and will be facing backups on Sunday. The Jaguars are without CBs C.J. Henderson, D.J. Hayden, and possibly Sidney Jones (achilles). Robinson, the WR11 in fantasy usage over the last month, is an upside WR1. Darnell Mooney and to a larger extent Anthony Miller are off the redraft radar. Mooney is averaging just 8.2 expected PPR points with Trubisky, who has a tendency to lock onto Robinson or scramble instead of going through his progressions. That hurts Mooney’s consistency as a desperate WR5. Miller ran 10-of-26 dropbacks in Week 15 while primarily playing only in three-receiver sets. Jacksonville is 24th against the position. … Cole Kmet ran a route on 20-of-26 dropbacks and would’ve had a bigger Week 15 if Trubisky hadn’t only attempted 21 passes. The rookie tight end is still running well ahead of Jimmy Graham (10 routes) and is the TE17 in fantasy usage over the last month. He’s a reasonable TE2 streamer. …
It’s another smash spot for league-winner David Montgomery. The Jaguars have allowed the second most carries per game (28.5) and are 30th against fantasy running backs. Montgomery is all the way up to RB4 in fantasy usage as a three-down player. His 18.9 PPR points per game without Tarik Cohen are real. Montgomery even looks quicker on tape.
9. Bills (26.75, -7.5) @ NE
The Patriots’ defense is 30th in neutral pass rate allowed (42%) because they’re 27th in rushing EPA defense. They simply can’t stop the run right now. It’s a contrast to the Bills’ league-leading neutral pass rate, so it’s an interesting watch to see what OC Brian Daboll dials up. Either way, Josh Allen has earned weekly top-eight love by ranking fourth in passing EPA per dropback. There’s extra motivation to take the crown from their in-division rival. … Stefon Diggs is the WR2 overall in fantasy usage on 11.8 targets per game over the last month. No CB Stephon Gillmore helps his individual matchup and takes some of the juice out of New England’s No. 5 ranking against fantasy receivers. Diggs remains a top-12 option. Cole Beasley is an underrated WR3/4 play in PPR formats. He’s the WR20 in fantasy usage and actual PPR points per game over the last month, averaging 14.0 expected PPR points in games without John Brown. Gabriel Davis is a classic boom-bust flex option on WR38 fantasy usage. His 10.4 expected PPR points without Brown indicate how low his floor is, however. … Dawson Knox has played more recently as the Bills use more tight ends instead of four-receiver sets. He’s averaged 9.8 expected PPR points in his last three games and checks in as the TE18 in fantasy usage over the last four weeks. Knox’s individual matchup against the Patriots’ safeties is a tough one. New England is third against the position. …
It’s possible that the Bills run the ball more than usual because the Patriots are just bad at stopping the run (27th). It’s what coach Sean McVay did two weeks ago, and it’s what offenses across the league have done all season. Devin Singletary was more involved in Week 15, handling both inside the 10-yard line opportunities over rookie Zack Moss who seems pretty bad. 77% of Moss’ touches from last week came in garbage time. Singletary is a desperate RB3/flex option.
10. Cardinals (26.25, -4) vs. SF
After a dip in production because of his shoulder, Kyler Murray has fully rebounded as QB1 with better health. The 49ers’ league-low offensive pace and their well-coached zone defense featuring speedy linebackers work against Murray’s chances of a ceiling game, but the Cardinals’ 26.25-point team total does check in as the 10th highest of the week. Most of Murray’s rushing production against the 49ers in Week 1 came from scrambles, not zone reads. I’m expecting a more balanced attack here. … DeAndre Hopkins has at least 18.0 expected PPR points in each of the last three games as a locked-in WR1, even if this doesn’t project to be a ceiling game. The Niners have allowed the second fewest pass attempts per game (34.3). Hopkins did have an insane 14-151-0 line against them, however. Christian Kirk has sub-12.5 expected PPR points in all but one game this season. He’s a low-volume deep threat who is almost exclusively used near the sideline where targets are less valuable. Kirk will need a random touchdown or big play to pay off as a WR5. He’s been the WR66 in fantasy usage over the last month. Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t reached 15.0 PPR points in a game this season and is the WR88 in fantasy usage. … After Andy Isabella busted, the Cardinals have moved away from four-receiver sets in favor of using more tight ends. Dan Arnold is up to TE21 fantasy usage over the last month. His target projection against the 49ers’ No. 2 tight end defense limits his appeal to TE3 waters. …
Kenyan Drake was a little hobbled last week, allowing Chase Edmonds to play more snaps (36) than Drake (34). It’s unclear if that was a one-week outlier or if the Cardinals value Edmonds’ pass-game prowess. Either way, Drake has relied solely on touchdowns to be a weekly RB1/2 depending on matchup. With the 49ers allowing the second fewest plays per game (57.7) and ranking fifth in rushing EPA defense, Drake maxes out as a boom-bust RB2. Edmonds’ RB25 fantasy usage has him on the RB3 radar despite game script working against him as 4-point favorites.
11. Titans (26.25, +3.5) @ GB
Outlier on RB1/2 usage.
Week 15 routes: Smith (22), Firkser (13).
WR1/2 numbers on WR3 usage. Stud.
+4.4 PPR over expected in breakout season.
Full preview coming by Christmas Eve evening.
12. Chargers (26.0, -3.5) vs. DEN
Very clearly not 100% but elite usage.
Potential goal-line vulture.
Weekly mid-range TE1.
Removed Week 15. WR1/2 usage.
Removed Weeks 14-15. Downfield only.
11.0 xFPs in Week 15 with WRs hurt.
8.4 xFPs in Week 15 with WRs hurt.
Full preview coming by Christmas Eve evening.
13. Eagles (25.75, -2) @ DAL
Jalen Hurts has exceeded early expectations as a passer and has lived up to gaudy rushing expectations with 18 and 11 carries in his two starts. Against the Cowboys’ No. 28 rushing defense, Hurts should be effective on the ground, raising both his floor and ceiling. The Cowboys have allowed the fifth most carries per game (27.6) after all. However, a lot of Hurts passing production has come on third and fourth downs, which can be noisier than we’d like. Hurts is inside the top-10 quarterback rankings, but I’d play studs with larger samples (Rodgers, Lamar, Allen, Murray, etc.) over Hurts. … The Eagles had a season-low 20% neutral pass rate last week and the Cowboys have allowed the third fewest pass attempts per game (34.4) on defense. Volume will be a concern across the board for Philly receivers, particularly because there’s a rotation. Last week, Alshon Jeffery led the group in routes (38-of-58) with Greg Ward (30) and Jalen Reagor (27) next in line. It’s a situation to avoid outside of the deepest of fantasy leagues. Reagor has the most theoretical talent, but he’s struggled winning at the line of scrimmage against man coverage. … Dallas Goedert has 8.7 and 13.6 expected PPR points in his two starts with Hurts. He remains a mid-range TE1 as the Eagles’ most reliable chain-mover. The Cowboys’ No. 9 defense against tight ends is a reflection of how few overall pass attempts they allow. Zach Ertz is averaging -4.0 PPR points over expected per game. …
Dallas is 28th in rushing EPA which has led to allowing the fifth most carries per game (27.6) on defense. The Cowboys’ often-confused linebackers likely struggle against zone reads, elevating Miles Sanders’ big-play potential. Sanders has 19.0 and 17.0 expected PPR points as a near every-down player with Hurts. The rookie has revitalized Sanders’ RB1 status.
14. Dolphins (25.5, -3) @ LV
Through seven starts, Tua Tagovailoa is averaging 192 yards, 1.3 touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions as a conservative rookie playing with below-average weapons. Getting Parker and Gesicki back raises Tagovailoa’s ceiling against the Raiders’ No. 28 passing EPA defense, but the Dolphins’ identity is having a balanced offense with a strong defense right now. Miami’s 25.5-point team total has Tagovailoa in the QB2 mix. … DeVante Parker is expected to play after a one-week absence, and his matchup is a very strong one. Vegas is 19th against the position and could be missing CB Damon Arnette, S Jeff Heath, S Johnathan Abram, and other defensive starters. Parker has been an inconsistent WR3 on 13.2 expected PPR points in his five starts with Tagovailoa. Jakeem Grant is unlikely to play, pushing Lynn Bowden into the starting lineup. With Parker out, Grant has expected PPR point totals of 15.1 and 12.2 in the last two weeks. He’s a desperate WR5/6 play if Parker is at full health. Mack Hollins and Isaiah Ford will also mix in. … Mike Gesicki is averaging 9.4 expected PPR points in six starts with Tagovailoa as an upside low-end TE1. The Raiders’ injured defensive back and linebacker groups could struggle defending the athletic tight end down the seam. Gesicki profiles as a Cover 2 beater from the slot, especially with starting coverage LB Nick Kwiatoski not playing. Durham Smythe is a TE2 streamer if Gesicki is out. …
Myles Gaskin is off the COVID-19 list and will be eligible to practice before the Dolphins’ Saturday game. Before missing time, he was a weekly RB2 on a RB1 workload. With Salvon Ahmed, Matt Breida, and DeAndre Washington all available, Gaskin could have a smaller workload. His boom-bust RB2 profile is aided by this pristine matchup. The Raiders are 32nd in rushing EPA defense and 29th against the position in general.
15. Seahawks (24.5, -1.5) vs. LAR
In addition to having Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald, the Rams Defense is extremely well coached. Russell Wilson was held to 248 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions against CB Brandon Staley in Week 10. Wilson’s No. 27 offensive line will struggle blocking the Rams’ No. 5 defensive line, and Ramsey has as good of a chance of slowing down Metcalf downfield as any corner in the NFL. The Seahawks’ 24.5-point team total (15th) reflects the projected forgettable stat line for Wilson. He’s more of a low-end QB1 this week. … D.K. Metcalf was held to 2-28-0 against Ramey in their last matchup. Downgrading Metcalf’s Week 16 outlook is reasonable even if WR/CB matchups tend to be overrated. The Rams are No. 1 against fantasy receivers after all. With Seattle down to 16th in neutral pass rate over the last month, Metcalf is more of a boom-bust WR2 than WR1. Tyler Lockett is the WR52 in fantasy usage and only has a 19% target share in the last four weeks. It’s possible his knee is slowing him down. The Seahawks desperately need Lockett with Metcalf being shadowed. Still, Lockett’s volatile production keeps him maxed out as an upside WR3/flex. He will have to settle down underneath against the Rams’ Cover 4 zone defense. … Jacob Hollister ran a route on 20-of-33 Week 15 dropbacks as the best bet for a lucky touchdown among Seattle’s tight ends. The Rams are 10th against the position. …
The Rams have allowed the fifth fewest carries per game (22.6) and rank second in rushing EPA. Chris Carson faces an uphill battle to reach the RB1/2 border. Over his last three games, Carson is averaging 14.3 expected PPR points with Carlos Hyde down at 8.0. Carson’s workload should continue ticking upwards as he moves past his foot injury. He’s an RB2. Hyde is insurance only despite his long touchdown last week.
16. Cowboys (23.75, +2) vs. PHI
Averaging 219 yards, 2.0 touchdowns, and 0.6 interceptions in five games since his injury, Andy Dalton belongs on the QB2/3 border against the Eagles’ Cover 1 man defense. Philly can rush the passer with four defenders (2nd in adjusted sack rate) and could cause the Cowboys’ injured offensive line trouble. The Cowboys’ 23.75-point team total seems a little generous, especially if Zeke plays. … Here are the fantasy usage rankings over the last four weeks: Amari Cooper (WR32), Michael Gallup (WR22), and CeeDee Lamb (WR48). Cooper’s season-low 5.2 expected PPR points from last week seems like a total outlier. He’s a rebound candidate against burnt toast CB Darius Slay in one-on-one situations. Cooper is the Cowboys’ best man beater. Gallup’s 7.5 targets per game are 26th among receivers over the last four months, giving him the second best odds of paying off as a championship week start. Unfortunately, he’s still running the most routes near the sideline of the group. Lamb is averaging just 10.9 expected PPR points with Dalton as a lower-aDOT (9.5) slot man. The Eagles are 21st against fantasy receivers overall. … Dalton Schultz is the TE28 in fantasy usage over the last four weeks and is averaging 7.4 expected PPR points with Dalton. He’s a higher-floor TE2 play with a low ceiling as the No. 4 or No. 5 pass-game option. Philly’s below-average linebackers and safeties are a potential mismatch at least. …
17. Colts (23.5, -2) @ PIT
Phillip Rivers is in command right now, bringing the Colts’ passing EPA up to sixth overall. He’s averaging 275 yards, 2.0 touchdowns, and 0.3 interceptions in the five games since Hilton returned from injury. The Colts’ sturdy offensive line and Rivers’ football IQ should handle the Steelers’ blitz-heavy defense better than others, especially with DE Bud Dupree out. Indy’s 23.5-point team total (17th) reflects Rivers’ QB2 projection. The Steelers’ defense is tied for first in neutral pass rate allowed, meaning offenses are choosing to pass instead of run on them. … T.Y. Hilton is PPR’s WR8 over the last four weeks on WR27 fantasy usage. His 94 air yards per game rank 14th among receivers. He is seeing more volume and playing with more explosion since coming back from injury. The Steelers’ No. 9 defense against fantasy receivers keeps Hilton straddling the WR2/3 border. Michael Pittman is only averaging 9.9 expected PPR points since Hilton’s return despite being an every-down player. He’s only a 2021 asset at this point. Zach Pascal had an outlier Week 15 on just 13.0 expected PPR points. His WR86 fantasy usage over the last month makes it unlikely that the slot receiver goes off again. … The Colts’ three-player rotation at tight end has Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox, and Jack Doyle all off the radar. Among the three, Burton’s TE35 fantasy usage over the last month ranks highest. Led by S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh is the best defense against tight ends. …
Johnathan Taylor has 17.7 and 19.7 expected PPR points in his last two games with Jordan Wilkins being completely phased out of the rotation. Taylor’s more comfortable running out of shotgun now after primarily running from under center in college. As long as the Colts aren’t being blown out, Taylor projects for a 60-80 percent snap count. Nyheim Hines only played 16-of-54 snaps last week. Taylor is on the RB1/2 border despite the Steelers’ ranking first against fantasy running backs.
18. Football Team (23.5, -2.5) vs. CAR
He startin’. He throwin'. He throwin’. … He climbin' that pocket and (he’s n luv wit a stripper). … He passin', he playin', he playin'. … He’s not goin' nowhere, Rivera, he's stayin' and (he’s n luv wit a stripper). … Dwayne Haskins could make it rain against the Panthers who rank 26th in passing EPA and will be missing DE Brian Burns. Haskins has volume appeal as a QB2 streamer after exceeding 30 pass attempts in each start while playing in a top-10 neutral pace offense without their starting running back. Still, Haskins’ absurdly low 2.3 touchdown rate limits his ceiling. … Terry McLaurin is averaging 16.9 expected PPR points in five games with Haskins and checks in as the WR25 in fantasy usage over the last month. Volume shouldn't be a concern, and McLaurin’s individual matchup isn’t either. The Panthers typically play soft coverage underneath in their Cover 3 base. Cam Sims ran a route on 60-of-62 dropbacks in Week 15 as the clear-cut No. 2 receiver in two-receiver sets. … Logan Thomas is the TE4 in fantasy usage and actual PPR points over the last four weeks. His 16-target game from last week translated to a very healthy 29% target share. He’s a mid-range TE1 against the Panthers’ youthful back-seven. …
I’ll update the running backs after final injury reports with Antonio Gibson (turf toe) potentially having a chance of playing.
19. Rams (23.0, +1.5) @ SEA
Jared Goff is catching the Seahawks at the wrong time with the defense getting healthier (CB Shaq Griffin, slot CB Ugo Amadi, S Jamal Adams, DE Carlos Dunlap). Goff also only has an 8/8 TD/INT ratio against Seattle in his eight career starts. Vegas’ 23.0-point team total suggests this will be more of a slugfest than shootout despite Seattle ranking 29th against fantasy quarterbacks on the most pass attempts per game (45.4). The Seahawks simply know the tricks coach Sean McVay pulls at this point. … Robert Woods is the WR18 in fantasy usage on a 30% target share over the last month. He’s been the No. 1 option over Cooper Kupp (18% target share), who had a season-low 5.8 expected PPR points last week. Woods’ floor and ceiling are more appealing than Kupp’s. Woods is a WR2 while Kupp battles as a WR3/flex. Josh Reynolds ran a route on 32-of-40 dropbacks last week while Van Jefferson mostly watched on the sideline. … Tyler Higbee, the TE24 fantasy usage over the last month, ran a route on 27-of-40 dropbacks with Gerald Everett missing some snaps due to injury. He’s the slightly better bet as a TE2 streamer. Neither have a floor. …
No Cam Akers means Darrell Henderson will play on early downs with Malcolm Brown operating as the preferred pass-blocking third-down back. Henderson has struggled since injuring his knee, and the ground-game matchup isn’t one to target. Seattle is 11th in rushing EPA, allows the third fewest carries per game (21.8), and held the Rams to 3.6 YPC in Week 1. Henderson is on the RB2/3 border.
20. Raiders (22.5, +3) vs. MIA
After watching Marcus Mariota out-play him last Thursday night, Derek Carr (groin) has rushed back to a full practice on Wednesday. He’s the presumed starter, but his floor is far lower here with in-game benching potential in the event the Raiders want a deeper look at Mariota. The Dolphins’ blitz-heavy defense is bad news for Carr. Vegas’ 22.5-point team total (20th) leaves Carr on the QB2/3 border. This is a slow-paced game on paper. … Henry Ruggs is questionable and could have a reduced role due to missing early-week practices. Even as a full-time player, Ruggs has been off the redraft radar with coach Jon Gruden utilizing him as a Marquise Goodwin type, not a Will Fuller type. Nelson Agholor is the WR15 in fantasy usage over the last month but has struggled recently while in the No. 1 role. Facing CBs Xavien Howard and Byron Jones won’t help. Despite the underlying air yards and targets, Agholor is a low-floor WR4. Hunter Renfrow (concussion) is also questionable. Follow injury reports with all three receivers. … Darren Waller enters each week as the TE2 overall only behind Kelce. The Dolphins’ No. 6 defense against tight ends hurts Waller’s ceiling potential, but Waller is a high-floor player with week-winning upside if game script breaks his way. …
Josh Jacobs has a very strong on-paper matchup. Because the organization prioritizes defending the pass, the Dolphins’ defense is 25th in rushing EPA and 28th in neutral pass rate, meaning opposing offenses are choosing to run against them and having success doing so. Jacobs, who is coming off a season-high 32.5 expected PPR points last week, is a rebound RB1. The 3-point spread isn’t much of a concern.
21. Broncos (22.5, +3.5) @ LAC
Drew Lock has struggled against zone defenses in the NFL, and the Chargers play a lot of Cover 3 zone. Hurting Lock’s QB2 chances is the fact that the Chargers have allowed the fifth fewest pass attempts per game (35.0) on the league’s lowest neutral pass rate allowed (41%). Offenses simply think they can run on the Chargers. Lock needs volume to be viable, and it’s unlikely that he gets it here. Denver projects for just 22.5 points (21st). … The Fantasy Usage Model doesn’t like the Broncos’ receivers. Tim Patrick (WR65), KJ Hamler (WR79), and Jerry Jeudy (WR84) don’t see enough volume to be relied upon in this difficult matchup. The Chargers are third against fantasy receivers. Perhaps Jeudy has a better shot against their zone defense while getting battered by the NFL’s more physical defensive backs. … Noah Fant is the Broncos’ most valuable fantasy asset now that he’s healthier. The 99th percentile athlete is up to TE5 fantasy usage over the last month on a 28% target share. Betting on explosive athletes at tight end is worthwhile in the long run. Fant’s odds of a splash play are elevated by the Chargers’ young linebackers and safeties. …
Like mentioned above, offenses have opted to run on the Chargers in neutral situations this season. Melvin Gordon is a candidate to exceed his RB26 fantasy usage here in this revenge game, especially if DE Joey Bosa (concussion) misses. Gordon handles most third-down and goal-line looks while Phillip Lindsay is stuck in the early-down rushing role. Gordon is a serviceable RB2. The Chargers are 18th against the position.
22. Vikings (22.25, +7.5) @ NO
Both the Vikings (29th) and Saints (27th) want to play slow in neutral situations, but Kirk Cousins should benefit from the 7.5-point spread in terms of volume. The Saints’ defense also is fifth in neutral pass rate allowed (57%), so the Vikings may opt for more passing early on. The issue for Cousins is the Saints’ surging Cover 2 defense that limits big plays. New Orleans’ No. 1 adjusted sack rate defense could dominate Minnesota’s No. 26 offensive line. Cousins is a low-end QB2 with the Vikings projected for 22.25 points. … Clearly the better player on tape, Justin Jefferson is beginning to separate from Thielen as the No. 1 receiver. Jefferson continues to be a total baller, entering the week as the WR9 overall on WR4 overall fantasy usage over the last month. Saints CB Marshon Lattimore isn’t much of a concern for Jefferson’s upside WR2 profile. Adam Thielen has 7.0 and 6.6 expected PPR points in the last two games and has relied on red zone touchdowns (12) to carry him to top-15 numbers. Touchdown reliance hurts Thielen’s floor, but there’s an obvious path to a ceiling. Thielen’s WR45 fantasy usage over the last month should improve with game script in his favor. He’s on the WR2/3 border. The Saints are 13th against the position. … Kyle Rudolph hasn’t practiced as of Wednesday. Irv Smith is averaging 7.3 expected PPR points without Rudolph this season as a TE2 streamer. The Saints’ speedy linebackers and safeties make Smith’s matchup a tough one on paper, but Smith’s usage is just good enough to consider him as a top-24 option. An athletic sleeper, Tyler Conklin has 7.8 and 6.3 expected PPR points as a two-TE set starter in his last two games with Rudolph sidelined. …
Alexander Mattison (concussion) is questionable to play. Dalvin Cook could have yet another near every-snap role. The RB1 in fantasy usage over the last month, Cook is a bet on talent and bet on usage elite RB1 despite a difficult individual matchup. The Saints are third in rushing EPA defense and second against fantasy running backs. He will have to create on his own and catch point-chasing check-down passes to overcome the matchup.
23. 49ers (22.25, +4) @ ARI
C.J. Beathard will start with Nick Mullens potentially headed for Tommy John surgery. Beathard’s career 6.9 YPA and 3.2% touchdown rate are a noticeable step below both Jimmy Garoppolo (8.3, 5.2%) and Nick Mullens (7.9, 4.2%). Beathard’s lone positives are his average matchup and Kittle’s return. Still, the 49ers offense will go through the ground game. … Brandon Aiyuk is the WR1 overall in fantasy usage on 12.8 targets per game over the last month. He needs to be downgraded with Beathard starting and Kittle stealing targets, but Aiyuk’s downfield ability paired with Shanahan’s schemed touches make his floor reasonable and his ceiling strong. He’s a quality WR2 against the Cardinals’ No. 22 defense versus fantasy receivers. Kendrick Bourne and Richie James have shared similar snap counts in recent weeks, but the 49ers could opt for more two-tight end sets with Kittle back. James was the two-receiver set starter last week and looks like the superior on-field talent between the two. For DFS tournaments, James is my preferred punt. … George Kittle feels “great” and expects to be on “somewhat of a pitch count” in his first game back. Kittle has given the 49ers fits historically and has a higher ceiling than others inside the top-12. Even if Kittle plays half of the snaps, he has enough big-play and scoring potential to pay off. Kittle’s return knocks Jordan Reed down a tier. He was the TE13 on a 13% target share in the previous four weeks. It’s highly unlikely that continues now. Reed is a TE2/3. …
With Raheem Mostert out and Jerrick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman limited due to wear and tear, Jeff Wilson projects for an RB2 workload. He’s been the RB20 in fantasy usage over the last month even with Mostert in and played 39 snaps last week compared to the 20 McKinnon and Coleman combined for. Arizona’s No. 15 rushing EPA and No. 12 fantasy running back defense doesn’t change Wilson’s outlook. Wilson is a salary saver on Saturday’s DFS slate.
24. Falcons (21.75, +10.5) @ KC
With the run game in total shambles, the Falcons have pushed all the way up to sixth in neutral pass rate over the last month. Matt Ryan has averaged 39.8 pass attempts during that span. It’s likely that Ryan drops back that often as 10.5-point road dogs in a game featuring two offenses in the top-eight in neutral offensive pace. Even without Julio Jones, Ryan has upside QB2 appeal on volume alone. The Chiefs are 21st against fantasy quarterbacks. … Calvin Ridley is averaging 19.7 PPR points per game on 18.2 expected PPR points in games without Julio this season. He’s the NFL leader in air yards per game on the season (139), over the last four weeks (172), and last week (213). Another healthy dose of air yards are coming. Ridley belongs inside top-three rankings. Russell Gage is averaging 10.6 PPR points on 13.2 expected PPR points without Julio. Like Ridley, Jones has climbed the fantasy usage rankings (WR21) over the last month. Gage should do well against the Chiefs’ Cover 2 defense that prioritizes defending the deep ball. Gage is a volume-based flex play in PPR leagues. … Hayden Hurst is the TE14 in fantasy usage and averages 9.0 expected PPR points without Julio. Because of their scheme and lack of linebacker talent, the Chiefs have been soft against tight ends (22nd) this season. Hurst comes with reasonable upside as a TE1/2 play. He ran a route on 35-of-53 dropbacks last week. …
Ito Smith will start over Todd Gurley, who could end up being healthy scratched on Sunday. Smith (5'9/195) doesn’t have a three-down profile -- Brian Hill likely mixes in on early downs -- but he does have the most chops on passing downs, something that will be handy against the Chiefs’ Cover 2 zone defense as heavy dogs. Still, Smith hasn’t cleared even 8.5 expected PPR points in any game this season. He’s a PPR RB3 until proven otherwise.
25. Lions (21.5, +10) vs. TB
Because they’re No. 1 in rushing EPA defense, the Bucs have allowed the highest neutral pass rate and second most pass attempts per game (41.9) to opposing offenses. Matthew Stafford should pass a ton as 10-point home dogs and could back door into top-15 production despite the Lions’ forgettable 21.5-point team total (25th). The Bucs’ No. 8 passing EPA rank has dropped in recent weeks due to injuries. I like stacking the passing offenses of Tampa and Detroit for Saturday-only DFS tournaments. … Marvin Jones is the WR6 in fantasy usage and the WR14 in PPR points over the last month. Without Kenny Golladay, Jones is averaging 17.2 PPR points on 15.2 expected. He’s underrated in general and super underrated in this matchup, one that could be without CB Carlton Davis who has missed two-straight practices. Jones is too cheap on DFS slates and deserves WR2 consideration in season-long leagues. Danny Amendola is a much better bet than three-receiver set starter Mohamed Sanu for DFS tournaments. Amendola is averaging 9.0 PPR points without Golladay and is the WR54 in fantasy usage. The Bucs are 25th against the position overall. … T.J. Hockenson is a borderline top three tight end with overall volume and on-paper matchup on his side. Tampa is 26th against fantasy tight ends, and Hockenson is running a route on about 75% of dropbacks. His 1.2 red zone targets per game are third among tight ends. …
In healthy games since the bye, D’Andre Swift is averaging 17.9 PPR points on 16.6 expected PPR points. He’s the RB6 in fantasy usage over the last month and could set season highs in snap share on Saturday with the Lions projected to lost by 10 points. Swift’s chances on the ground against the No. 1 rushing EPA defense allowing the fewest carries per game (20.3) are slim, but he could catch more than five passes as a top-14 option. He handled four-of-six inside the 10-yard line opportunities last week.
26. Steelers (21.5, +2) vs. IND
The Steelers are the most one-dimensional offense in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger isn’t attempting downfield passes, and Pittsburgh is first in neutral pass rate. Defenses have caught on, putting more defenders in the middle of the field which is why the receivers keep getting lit up on shallow crosses. The Colts’ Cover 2 zone defense could collapse closer to the line of scrimmage and has enough talent to give Roethlisberger fits. The Steelers’ 21.5-point team total (26th) is fair. … Despite the inconsistencies, Diontae Johnson keeps getting the rock. His 11.3 targets per game over the last four weeks are third among NFL receivers, and he’s the WR13 in fantasy usage during that span. Unlike Claypool, Johnson is an every-down player as a volume-based WR2 in PPR leagues. JuJu Smith-Schuster, who I have actually danced with on video (#FightOn), is the WR23 in fantasy usage and the WR33 in PPR points over the last month. Smith-Schuster is a full-time slot receiver capable of picking apart zone defenses, but he needs a lot of volume to overcome his 5.3 average depth of target. The Colts have allowed the fourth fewest plays per game (58.9). Chase Claypool (28-of-42 Week 15 routes) and James Washington (15) are splitting reps on the outside. Their downfield usage doesn’t align with Big Ben’s strengths and plays directly into Indy’s defensive scheme. Claypool is a boom-bust flex play at this point. The Colts are 10th against the position. … Eric Ebron (back) is expected to play but could be at less than 100% and faces one of the most difficult tight end matchups (5th). Ebron’s floor keeps him outside of top-eight rankings. His touchdown odds are hurt by the Steelers’ 21.5-point team total. …
I’ll update the running backs after final injury reports.
27. Panthers (21.0, +2.5) @ WAS
Lost 15 routes to Smith in Week 15.
Season-high 9.6 xFPs as pass-catching RB.
Hasn't reach 10.0 PPR points in a game.
16.1 PPR per game on 14.5 xFPs since injury.
105 air yards per game in last 4 weeks (12th).
13.8 xFPs since Samuel's return. WR2/3.
Full preview coming by Christmas Eve evening.
28. Jaguars (19.75, +7.5) vs. CHI
The Jaguars need to lose and could rest some players to make it happen. That’s what any rational long-term minded person would do. Mike Glennon and Gardner Minshew are splitting practice reps, and coach Doug Marrone wouldn’t name a starter. Obviously avoid. The Jaguars projected for just 19.75 points. … D.J. Chark is crushing in my points per spreadsheet league. He’s the WR28 in fantasy usage despite putting up WR81 numbers over the last month. During that stretch, Chark averaged 110 air yards per game, although a large chunk of them sailed over his head. Chark is a positive regression candidate as a boom-bust flex. The Bears’ No. 6 defense against fantasy receivers won’t help his odds of cashing in those regression tickets. …
The Jaguars had a 33% neutral pass rate (31st) last week while they actively Tank for Trevor. That tank could include putting James Robinson on ice. He won’t practice this week and could be shut down after massively exceeding expectations this season. Even if he starts, Robinson is a very risky RB2/3 play. He’s lost passing-down snaps to Dare Ogunbowale in each of the last two games. Robinson’s 10.8 and 13.3 expected PPR points over that stretch are well below his season-long average.
29. Patriots (19.25, +7.5) vs. BUF
The Bills’ Cover 2 defense is getting crushed by the ground game. They’re 24th in rushing EPA and face the fourth-highest neutral run rate because of that. Cam Newton should have moderate success as a runner, but he simply doesn’t have the weapons to climb out of the volatile QB2 ranks. The Patriots’ 19.25-point team total is 29th highest this week. Newton has some in-game benching risk. … Jakobi Meyers is averaging 10.3 expected PPR points since N’Keal Harry returned from injury. He’s easily the best bet for WR4 production as a potential Cover 2 beater over the middle. Meyers had 6-78-0 on 10 targets against Buffalo in his first game as an every-down player. Damiere Byrd had 3-39-0 in that same game. …
Damien Harris didn’t play last Sunday after a week of limited practices. His limited tag on Thursday doesn’t clean up the Patriots’ backfield outlook. While the matchup is good on paper, it’s hard to trust New England’s touch distribution. It’s possible that Sony Michel and Harris split time as the early-down grinders with James White cleaning up on passing downs. The negative game script hurts Harris’ chances of RB3 value.
30. Bengals (18.5, +9) @ HOU
To everyone’s surprise including the Steelers, Ryan Finley showed off some dual-threat ability on Monday Night Football. That’s not in his long-term profile, however. Finley’s career 5.4 YPA is worth betting against in all matchups. The Texans are at least missing their starting outside corner Bradley Roby and starting deep safety Justin Reid. … With Tyler Boyd (concussion) unlikely to play, Tee Higgins becomes an interesting WR3/4 play. He has between 10.2 and 10.9 expected PPR points in all games without Joe Burrow. His odds of beating that are high given the weaker target competition and his individual matchup. Higgins could come down with a deep ball against this backup-led secondary. Houston is 29th in passing EPA defense and 23rd against fantasy receivers. A.J. Green deserves a bump as well but has fewer than 5.0 expected PPR points in three of four games without Burrow. The veteran is nowhere near as good as Higgins at this point. … Drew Sample is the TE27 on TE26 fantasy usage over the last month. …
The Texans have allowed the fourth most carries per game (27.6), rank 31st in rushing EPA defense, and 31st against fantasy running backs. The matchup is elite for Giovani Bernard, assuming his Week 15 role carries over. Bernard has 8.1, 9.0, 5.4, and 19.0 expected PPR points in games without Burrow. His usage is all over the map. He’s a boom-bust RB2/3 on a team projected for just 18.5 points (30th).
31. Jets (18.25, +10) vs. CLE
Projected for just 18.25 points, there are few, if any, fantasy assets on the Jets. Sam Darnold has six touchdowns in 10 games this season -- that’s worse than I thought -- and New York is 30th in rushing EPA. … Jamison Crowder is the best bet for a usable box score. His 25% target share over the last four weeks provides a safe floor in this projected negative game script. Crowder also gets the easiest individual matchup with CB Denzel Ward defending outside receivers Denzel Mims (WR67 fantasy usage) and Breshad Perriman (WR72). Crowder and his WR39 fantasy usage are on the PPR flex radar. …
Frank Gore had a season-high 21.5 expected PPR points in last week’s win but that’s obviously an outlier. Gore is the RB34 in PPR points per game over the last month. He’s unlikely to reach 15-20 touches in this slow-paced game.
32. Giants (17.25, +10.5) @ BAL
A limited Daniel Jones that can’t run isn’t one that belongs in fantasy lineups, especially in a slow-paced affair featuring a strong opposing defense. Jones historically has struggled sensing pressure and will face a league-high blitz rate. The Giants’ 17.25-point team total reflects Jones’ poor outlook. … Here are the Giants’ receivers in fantasy usage over the last month: Sterling Shepard (WR46), Darius Slayton (WR68), and Golden Tate (WR74). Targets are split too evenly to overcome the Giants’ low team total. All are off the redraft radar. … The worst starting tight end in PPR points over expected, Evan Engram continues to turn low-end TE1 usage into TE2 numbers. The Ravens are 18th against fantasy tight ends. Engram is more of a TE2 than TE1. …
Wayne Gallman has under 8.0 expected PPR points in each of the last three games with Alfred Morris and Dion Lewis mixing in. Using a Giants backfield against the Ravens’ No. 6 rushing EPA defense isn’t recommended as 10.5-point road dogs.
Charts of the Week
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