Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 16
I binged on Hallmark Channel Christmas movies last weekend. Straight-up binged. I wasn't alone, as my wife -- and some adult beverages -- were along for the ride, too. But I binged. Like, four straight movies worth.
I'm not proud of it, but I'm also not ashamed of it. Sometimes cheesy movies with horrible acting are entertaining to watch, even if they're incredibly predictable. Because these movies are incredibly predictable.
Each one goes a little something like this: a hard-working blonde woman is up for a promotion and she, because her job is so important, doesn't have much of a family life and, in turn, hates Christmas. Along comes the blue collar jacked-out-of-his-mind single dad who you'd never expect to fall for that type of woman, but he does. And so does his kid. They make her realize how important love and family is, and she starts to enjoy everything about Christmas. Then she kisses the guy and the movie is over.
That's every Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.
You'd assume the storylines would change, but they don't -- writers keep cranking out the same thing over and over again. But they also know the storylines don't have to change.
Predictability is always looked at as such a bad thing. Formulas can work, though. If people are into something, they're into something. If something is working, it's working.
In fantasy football, if you've made it to Week 16 and are playing for a championship, chances are, you've got this thing down. You know the formula. You're ready to rock and roll in the championship.
If, by chance, you have some fringe start-sit decisions to make this week, let me help. Let me try to make this a little more predictable for you.
Start Derek Carr (vs. Indianapolis): Carr has scored a combined 16 fantasy points over the last two weeks, but don't let that stop you from playing him against the Colts this weekend. The game in Oakland has the highest over-under of the week at 53, with the Raiders as 3.5-point favorites. That means a lot of scoring, and it's hard to imagine Carr playing just a small role in that considering Indianapolis has a bottom-10 pass defense, according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. They've also given up the eighth-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position this year. Let this be your friendly reminder to not give up on Carr.
Sit Carson Palmer (at Seattle): This may be a little obvious, but playing Palmer this week is what we call a bad idea. You may be tempted after seeing two top-five performances over his last three games, but the Seahawks are the fourth-best team at preventing quarterbacks from scoring fantasy points. And Palmer has been a lot worse on the road than at home this year -- away from Arizona, he's averaging just 13.38 points per game versus the 17.62 he's seeing at home. It's just a very avoidable situation.
Start Blake Bortles (vs. Tennessee): Now we're getting into the questionable plays -- are you really going to rely on Bortles in the fantasy championship? Maybe not, but the matchup is certainly there as Tennessee has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the quarterback position while ranking fifth-worst, per NEP. There've been 10 quarterbacks to score 15-plus fantasy points against the Titans this year (that's a rate of 71.42%), and that list includes studs (sarcasm alert) like Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Bortles himself.
It's true that Jacksonville hasn't been throwing the ball as much over their last four games, with Bortles averaging 33.25 attempts per contest during this stretch versus the 41.50 attempts per game he saw through Week 11. But Tennessee's defense, partially because the secondary is so bad, has faced the fourth-most drop backs in football this year. Bortles' volume numbers could -- should -- be higher in this game, which is definitely a good thing for fantasy.
If you're in a pinch, Bortles isn't as scary this week as he is in most.
Sit Matthew Stafford (at Dallas): Though Stafford ranks eighth in quarterback scoring this year, but he's been inconsistent: he has four top-five performance and five games where he's ranked worse than 20th in weekly quarterback scoring. It's not as though he's this plug-and-play guy who you know will give you strong output every week.
And I'm not in love with what could happen to him this week. The Lions are in Dallas to face a Cowboys squad that is average in terms of fantasy points allowed to the quarterback position this year -- it's not as though the matchup is terrible. But the Cowboys run at the second-slowest pace in football while the Lions move at the third-slowest pace. And with a 43-point over/under and an implied team total of just 18.75, I'm worried about Stafford's upside.
Start Todd Gurley (vs. San Francisco): If you're a Gurley owner who made it to the fantasy football finals, good on ya -- that's no easy task. He may reward you this week against San Francisco, too.
The 49ers' struggles against running backs are well documented: they've got the worst rush D, according to our numbers, and they're surrendering a league-high 29.1 standard fantasy points per game to the position. That's 4.4 more points per game than the 31st-ranked Browns.
Gurley is going to get volume, we know this. He's got a 74.38% market share -- the third-best clip in the entire NFL -- in the Los Angeles backfield. Because of that alone, he makes for a good play against the putrid Niners' defense. Gurley hasn't ranked higher than ninth in weekly PPR scoring at the running back position this year, but this could finally be the week that changes.
Sit Thomas Rawls (vs. Arizona): Rawls has now seen 12 or more carries in six games this year, but he's come through with a usable fantasy performance for owners just once, coming back in Week 13 against the Panthers. Otherwise, he hasn't finished higher than RB27 in weekly PPR scoring. While a positive game script should help Rawls this week, he's facing a top-10 rush defense, the Cardinals, who've also given up the ninth-fewest points to the position. There's no reason to believe Rawls will all of a sudden make for a good start, though he could stumble into a touchdown.
Start Ty Montgomery (vs. Minnesota): If Montgomery hasn't grabbed your attention yet, then I'm not sure what he's got to do. He ended up playing 84% of Green Bay's snaps last week, which was the highest any running back played this year for the Packers. He ended up seeing 16 of a possible 20 running-back carries for 162 yards and 2 scores. That's OK, I guess.
Folks may be scared off by Green Bay's matchup against the Vikings, our fourth-ranked rush defense, but Minnesota hasn't been amazing against running backs of late -- Frank Gore gashed them for over 100 yards last week, T.J. Yeldon (T.J. freaking Yeldon!) finished as the 14th-best PPR running back two weeks ago, and Ezekiel Elliott was RB10 in Week 13. The Packers are also 6.5-point favorites in the game, so a positive game script should force a good bit of running. That'll benefit TyMont a hell of a lot.
Sit Matt Forte (at New England): Even if Forte is active this week, you can't start him. For a lot of reasons. He played last week, but he was out-snapped (and outplayed) by teammate Bilal Powell, playing just 17% of New York's snaps. Just as importantly, the Patriots are massive favorites against the Jets. In negative scripts this year, Forte has disappeared as the aforementioned Powell sees the field as the team's primary receiving back. In fact, in wins this year (granted, they've won just four times), Forte is averaging 21.72 PPR points per game. In losses, that drops to 9.87. There's no reason to risk it with him this week.
Start Kenneth Dixon (at Pittsburgh): Yeah, I get it, guys -- Dixon burned you last week. If not for a late touchdown, he would've been an awful play. Teammate Terrance West ended up out-snapping him, running the ball 13 times to Dixon's 9. West also had 4 targets to Dixon's 1.
But the Ravens also saw a positive and neutral script throughout that contest. Just a week earlier against New England, Dixon played 60% of the team's snaps (West was at 20%), carrying the ball 11 times while seeing 11 targets. He, for all intents and purposes, is the top pass-catching back on the team when they're trying to make a comeback.
That could be big in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are five-point favorites in an environment, Heinz Field, where they've averaged 30 points per game since the start of 2014. If the Ravens trail in the contest, I'd expect a hefty dose of Dixon, making him a nice flex option in PPR formats this week.
Start Malcolm Mitchell (vs. New York): The Patriots targeted Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell a total of three times against Denver this past week, avoiding the Broncos' cornerbacks as much as possible. The good news is that Mitchell still played 89% of the team's snaps, his highest rate of the season. Over the last four weeks, Mitchell hasn't played fewer than 79% of New England's snaps, seeing 5, 5, 7, and 2 targets. If you can remove the Denver game from your memory, getting that type of playing time and volume from a guy playing with Tom Brady is always a great thing. That's especially true against the Jets, a team that's given up the 13th-most fantasy points per game to the receiver position this year.
Sit Tyreek Hill (vs. Denver): I know what some Hill owners are thinking: He crushed Denver the last time these teams played, why can't he do it again? Because of opportunity.
Jeremy Maclin has been back from injury for two games, and in those outings, Hill has played 46% and 52% of Kansas City's snaps, respectively. From Weeks 10 through 13 without Maclin, Hill's snap rates were 61%, 68%, 68%, and 51%. He's also been targeted a total of nine times over the last two games after seeing 8.5 looks per game with Maclin sidelined.
The volume just isn't there, despite his splash plays. And in the fantasy championship, do you really want to bank on a relatively flukey big play?
Look, I'm not saying Hopkins is an easy guy to slot into your lineup this week. He's ranked higher than 17th in weekly PPR wide receiver scoring just once this year, and that came all the way back in Week 2. But remember when quarterbacks locked in on him last year and he dominated fantasy football? Remember when Hopkins was consistently seeing double-digit targets per game? With a more efficient passer under center (you can't get much worse than Osweiler, whose -0.05 Passing NEP per drop back this year is only better than Rams' quarterbacks, Jay Cutler, and Blaine Gabbert), Hopkins does have intriguing upside.
Sit Brandon Marshall (at New England): I saw that B-Marsh is currently being started in almost a quarter of ESPN.com fantasy leagues, and I screamed. He has just four top-40 PPR performances all season long, and he's now being out-snapped by teammate Robby Anderson -- he's basically not even New York's number-one receiver anymore. After catching just 1 of 11 targets this past week against Miami, don't torture yourself by playing Marshall against New England this week.
Start Tyler Lockett (deeper play, vs. Arizona): Since Week 12, Tyler Lockett has had no fewer than six targets in a single game, and he finished with eight in Seattle's Thursday night tilt against the Rams this past week. Over this four-game stretch, Lockett's played 78%, 62%, 61%, and 62% of Seattle's snaps. Before it, Lockett had been on the field for more than 60% of his team's snaps in four of eight games.
Being on the field and seeing volume is key in fantasy football, and he has an interesting ceiling against Arizona this week. Though we've avoided wideouts against the Cardinals over the last couple of seasons, we've seen them get roasted with big plays over the last couple of weeks -- the shifty Brandin Cooks ended up as the top fantasy wideout last week, Jarvis Landry had a 71-yard play against them in Week 13, and DeSean Jackson connected on a 59-yard pass in Week 12. Lockett can stretch the field with his speed, and with the uptick in looks in the offense -- alongside the fact that Arizona is a top team against tight ends, which could limit teammate Jimmy Graham -- he makes for an upside play in Week 16.
Start Jason Witten (vs. Detroit): Witten hasn't been the consistent, go-to tight end this year that we've seen in the past, but he's had games where volume has been his friend, including this past week against Tampa Bay. The matchup this week against Detroit is a good one, which makes me believe they'll utilize him in the passing attack -- the Lions have surrendered the fourth-most receptions to the tight end position this year, with nine tight ends finishing as top-12, TE1 options against them in PPR formats this season. Witten should provide a safe floor this week.
Sit Jimmy Graham (vs. Arizona): As I mentioned earlier, the Cardinals are very good against tight ends, having limited them to just 43 catches this year, the second-fewest in football. Graham, meanwhile, has been targeted just six times over the last two weeks, catching two passes. With questionable volume and a tough matchup, you should bench him this week.
Start Jack Doyle (deeper play, at Oakland): Doyle's Week 15 stat line may have not looked fantastic, but he did play 73% of Indianapolis' snaps, the most for any tight end on the team. The Colts also ended up seeing a positive game script, which led to 28 Andrew Luck passes, tying his lowest total of the season in a single game.
Against Oakland, things could be different. As I said earlier, the game has a high over/under with the Raiders as favorites, leaving me to believe that the Colts should throw the rock quite a bit in the game. With injuries to the team's offensive line, Dwayne Allen -- the superior blocking tight end on the team -- may be asked to pass block more than usual, leaving more receiving looks for the dad running Doyle. He's certainly not safe, but he's an easy way to get exposure to a potential high-scoring contest this week.
Other tight ends to start: Antonio Gates (deeper play, at Cleveland), Ryan Griffin (as long as C.J. Fiedorowicz is out, vs. Cincinnati)
Other tight ends to sit: Jermaine Gresham (at Seattle), Dion Sims (at Buffalo)
Start the Los Angeles Rams (vs. San Francisco): Since Colin Kaepernick took over as San Francisco's starting quarterback, the 49ers have allowed 3.11 sacks per game. Prorated over 14 games, that's 43.6 sacks, which is higher than both Denver and Carolina (40), this year's top sacking teams. In other words, any team facing the 49ers is sacking Kaepernick better than a typical Broncos defensive outing.
Though the Rams have struggled a bit getting to the quarterback, this fact should provide a nice floor for them in fantasy this week. It also helps that the game in Los Angeles has a low over/under and -- gasp -- the Rams are favorites.
Sit the Baltimore Ravens (at Pittsburgh): As mentioned earlier, the Steelers are averaging more than 30 points per game at Heinz Field since the start of 2014. While Ravens-Steelers games are generally on the lower-scoring side, I wouldn't want to take my chances against this Pittsburgh offense, one that's allowed just three defenses to rank higher than 16th in weekly scoring this year, all coming when the Steelers were on the road.
Other defenses to start: Tennessee Titans (at Jacksonville), San Diego Chargers (at Cleveland)
Other defenses to sit: Arizona Cardinals (at Seattle), Carolina Panthers (vs. Atlanta)