We've had 15 weeks of the season to crunch the numbers, and there are a few known commodities. Let's call them rules, even. Here's what I've learned throughout the season so far:
1. If you think you can guess which Packers receiver is going to go off on a certain day, you're wrong.
2. Rookie QBs really aren't that bad, guys. You know, unless it's anybody other than RGIII, Andrew Luck, and lately, Russell Wilson for fantasy purposes.
3. The Cardinals offense is poison. Absolute poison. And the Cleveland Browns shockingly aren't.
4. Play your passing offense players if they're going against the Colts. Just do it.
5. The names of Vick Ballard, C.J. Spiller, Eric Decker, and Steve Johnson will be on the "Start Him" list way too many times before people get a clue.
6. The names of Michael Turner, all Carolina backs, Michael Crabtree, and Pierre Garcon will be on the "Sit Him" list way too many times before people get a clue.
But perhaps the most important rule is the one that comes into play this week:
7. Ultimately, you don't know know anything and the math is the best guide. Everything is subject to change.
And so it does. Everything is turned on its head this week, with Michael Turner and Pierre Garcon both surprisingly being starting-worthy. Larry Fitzgerald, however, is not.
If you want our full projections, make sure to check out our Week 16 Projections page. But here's a few more guys you should take a close look at if they're on your team, with an especially heavy focus on guys in Saturday's Falcons/Lions game (all two of them on the start/sit line other than the possibly injured Brandon Pettigrew).
Michael Turner - Atlanta Falcons
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.31 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 19 Ranked RB (No. 58 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 74.3%
Week 16 Opponent: at Detroit Lions
Verdict: Start Him
Weren't expecting that one, were you? After weeks of slamming Michael Turner, I am finally, unabashedly calling him deserving of a starting gig in Week 16.
Not because the stats have changed at all, mind you. Turner still only had 16 of Atlanta's 38 total carries last week; Jacquizz Rodgers had 11 while Jason Snelling had six. That trend's not changing any time soon: Turner only had three more carries than Rodgers in Week 14, four more carries in Week 13, and three more carries in Week 12.
And he's still extraordinarily ineffective when carrying the ball this season. His -40.34 total Net Expected Points (NEP) he's lost the Falcons this season is the third-worst mark of any single NFL player; only a pair of Cardinals QBs in John Skelton and Ryan Lindley have hurt their team more. Michael Turner's -0.20 NEP per rush is second only to Darren McFadden's -0.25 figure for the worst average NEP lost per play among backs with at least 10 carries per game.
It's just that, well, the Lions defense really is that bad. At 95.05 NEP given up over expectation this season, the Lions come into this game with numberFire's No. 27 opponent-adjusted defensive unit. And a big part of that is the run-stopping: their -8.37 NEP allowed to opposing rushing attacks is only 25th best in the league. Regardless of whether Turner splits carries, he should be able to have opportunities against this defense. And even having the opportunity is enough to project him to have 65.48 yards rushing and 0.45 rushing TDs - the 12th highest projected rush TD total on our charts this week.
Mikel LeShoure - Detroit Lions
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.60 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 22 Ranked RB (No. 67 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 50.7%
Week 16 Opponent: at Detroit Lions
Verdict: Flex Him
On the other sideline, Mikel LeShoure has similar problems to Michael Turner. He has Joique Bell nipping at his heels as a replacement, he hasn't been particularly efficient (-0.17 NEP per rush), and to top it all off, the Falcons defense is overall playing much better than Detroit's maligned squad. But you know what? In spite of the negatives, LeShoure isn't the worst play on Saturday night.
The first big reason is the sheer number of carries LeShoure receives per game. Despite Bell's increasing influence, the Illinois grad has still doubled Bell's rushing attempt total in three of Detroit's past four games, including a 14 to 7 split last week against Arizona. On the season, LeShoure has taken 53 percent of Detroit's rushing attempts. Bell sits at only 22 percent. And since taking over the starting role in Week 3, LeShoure has only had one game of less than 12 rushing attempts (and even that was 10 against Jacksonville).
The second big reason is that, yeah, the Dirty Birds have numberFire's No. 9 opponent-adjusted defensive unit. But pretty much all of their success (a solid 99% percent of it at least) belongs to the secondary. That run defense... not so tough.
As passing is more efficient than running, only six NFL defenses have allowed more NEP to opposing rushing attacks than the league average play would have allowed this season. The Falcons are one of them. And not only that - their 4.24 NEP allowed is the third-worst mark in the league; only the Bills and Jaguars have been more inefficient against the run. Atlanta may have the seventh-best secondary in the NFL, but exposing that weakness should make the Lions turn to LeShoure early and often. He might not be a star because of his inefficiency, but he'll be serviceable.
Reggie Bush - Miami Dolphins
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.90 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 26 Ranked RB (No. 79 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 81.5%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Buffalo Bills
Verdict: Sit Him
So you're starting Michael Turner, and you're possibly starting Mikel LeShoure. That's two guys that are often must-sits in this space on a week-to-week basis. So there has to be somebody that I'm sitting in their place, right? Meet Reggie Bush.
It was big news that Reggie Bush had his first 20 carry, 100 yard rushing game since Week 2. Many people are saying this is a sign of things to come. I look at this another way: you mean that a running back starting in more than four-fifths of leagues hasn't had 20 carries or 100 yards rushing in 13 weeks? And that doesn't strike anyone as odd at all?
It sure does our analytics. Despite playing the run defense that has given up the single most NEP to opposing offenses, we project Reggie Bush to come in at only 50.28 rushing yards this week on 11.47 carries. The thing is, neither of those numbers is incredibly mindblowing: Bush has rushed for less than 50 yards in five of his 14 starts this season and had less than 11 carries four times. That's largely due to his inefficiency, currently sitting at -0.16 NEP per rush, once of the worse figures in the league.
If you're not a major receiving threat - and his projected 18 receiving yards and 0.09 receiving TDs suggests that he's not - then Bush is the ultimate boom or bust candidate. He's simply not reliable. And he doesn't even have the high ceiling of other similar backs this week. If a high ceiling is what you're looking for in your flex spot this week, Alex Green, Beanie Wells, Jonathan Dwyer, and DeAngelo Williams all had a higher end of their range of scores in our simulations run.
Pierre Garcon - Washington Redskins
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.54 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 18 Ranked WR (No. 57 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 42.7%
Week 16 Opponent: at Philadelphia Eagles
Verdict: Start Him
I feel dirty. Unclean. Like everything I've ever known, everything I've ever thought about thinking that I knew, has been stripped away. I am a bare husk of a man, reduced to nothing.
I am suggesting that you start Pierre Garcon on your fantasy team this week.
I never thought I would stoop so low, promoting the man I so lovingly have called Pierre "Stone Hands" Garcon since the beginning of the season. But the numbers don't lie, and Garcon has not only easily become RGIII's number one target, but he's done so with a surprising amount of efficiency.
Over the last four Redskins games, Garcon has not seen less than nine Griffin targets or less than 30 percent of Griffin's total passes. In one of those games, Week 13 against the Giants, 11 of Griffin's 21 passes went Garcon's way. That's a ridiculous stretch, and it's lasted long enough at this point to be considered a trend. The last time Garcon played in a game (he missed four during Weeks 6 through 9) and wasn't the leading targets-grabber was Week 4 against Tampa Bay. That was in September. We've come a long way, my friends.
And despite my affectionate (kind of) "Stone Hands" moniker, Garcon has actually been above average as a pass catcher this season with Griffin at the helm. His current 64.8 percent catch rate only trails Josh Morgan among the Redskins' top four receiving targets. Even better, it's over seven percent higher than Garcon's previous career-best, which came with Peyton Manning under center in Indy. So maybe people can grow. Who knew?
Now that I have actually given him praise, the cosmic forces that be are going to give him a 2-for-8 catch day for 24 yards and no scores. I can feel it. But my feelings are usually wrong and math is math, so I would go with the numbers on this one.
Larry Fitzgerald - Arizona Cardinals
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.27 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 31 Ranked WR (No. 89 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 69.3%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Chicago Bears
Verdict: Sit Him
If you have Larry Fitzgerald on your team, and you're somehow in your fantasy league's championship game, I can do nothing but applaud your fantasy skills. Because that probably means you took Larry Fitz in the first 25 selections of your draft, and suffice it to say, he hasn't exactly been a top three rounds player so far this year.
You have to feel sorry for Fitzgerald. He's now particularly inefficient on his own, even if his current 45 percent catch rate would have you believe otherwise. It's just that he's been stuck with two of the worst quarterbacks in recent memory.
No single player in the NFL has been less efficient than Ryan Lindley so far this season. Every time he's made a pass attempt, he's cost the Cardinals an average of 0.41 expected points. Only one player with more pass attempts than Lindley's 151 has done worse since the 2000 season: rookie year Alex Smith, who averaged -0.42 NEP per pass for the 49ers in 2005. That year, Smith recorded only one TD as compared to 11 interceptions. Yeah, Lindley's been that bad. In fact, he's cost his team 63.93 expected points on the season, much worse than the second place 47.39 points under expectation by... John Skelton. Crap.
Going against numberFire's No. 1 opponent-adjusted defense - which by the way has allowed a second-in-the-NFL 53 points under expectation to opposing passing games - isn't the time to start playing with fire. It may hurt, but benching Fitzgerald this week is a must. He may go off because of his talent; it's just highly, highly unlikely because of the guys throwing him the ball.
Cecil Shorts - Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.08 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 36 Ranked WR (No. 96 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 18.3%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. New England Patriots
Verdict: Sit Him
Not counting Week 14 when he was out with a concussion, Cecil Shorts The ThirdTM has put up double-digit fantasy points in each of his past five games and in seven of his past eight games. This would be also a good time to mention that he only started seeing regular snaps eight games ago. So against numberFire's No. 21 defense, in a game that's likely to be a shootout, it only makes sense that Shorts... should be nowhere near your starting lineup.
This one's simply an inconsistent rate of converting your chances. In 95 targets this season, Shorts has only converted 49 of them for a 51.6 percent catch rate. That's far below the league-average and even the Jaguars' QB completion percentage, currently sitting at 55.5 percent. And that inability to catch passes isn't a one-time thing; Shorts has not had a single-game catch rate above the league-average 60 percent since Week 10, when he went 3-for-4 against the Detroit Lions. In each of his five games since then, Shorts sat between 45 percent and 58 percent in every single one of his contests.
It's the main reason that, despite an average of just under six receptions per game over his last three contests, Shorts only projects to have 3.23 receptions against the Patriots. That's good for 51st among all receivers in our projections this week, including such big names as Chaz Schilens, Greg Little, and Nate Washington. That also includes teammate Justin Blackmon, who we project with 3.91 receptions this week. The only thing keeping Shorts from freefalling down the rankings is his 0.33 projected TDs, not a bad total in the least.