6 Fantasy Football Last Minute Start or Sit, Week 16

I want to see Vick Ballard under my tree, but LeSean McCoy is nothing more than a piece of coal.

It's Sunday morning, and after a quick turnaround from last night's Falcons-Lions game, it's time to get right back on the horse. First of all, before you set any lineups, make sure to send a thank you note to Roger Goodell's office for an early Christmas gift - 12 Sunday early games? In the fantasy playoffs? You shouldn't have! That means that by about 4:30 EST, you should know how your fantasy team's doing.

And if you listen to numberFire's suggestions, there's one obvious answer to that question: well. Very well. We've beaten the fantasy projections given out by your fantasy league provider 93% of the time, and we're back to give you more stats-filled goodies for your Dec. 23rd stocking.

To switch it up and get in the holiday spirit, I'll be telling you which players are presents (must-starts), which ones are pairs of socks (flex-plays, could be worse), or which ones are lumps of coal (must-sits) for your fantasy team this Sunday. It's more fun the more you goodies you have under your Starting Lineup tree.

If you want our full projections, make sure to check out our Week 16 Projections page. And we've already taken a look at a few of today's players more in-depth in our Thursday Start/Sit, including Reggie Bush, Pierre Garcon, Larry Fitzgerald, and Cecil Shorts The ThirdTM. But here's a few more guys you should take a close look at if they're on your team.

LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Eagles

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.11 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 25 Ranked RB (No. 76 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 49.4%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. Washington Redskins
Verdict: Lump of Coal

After a couple weeks out with a concussion, or slightly lightheaded star and often top-three fantasy draft selection returns to save the day, dragging Eagles fans from the pits of despair and spurring forlorn fantasy owners to fantasy glory!

Or, you know, he'll be a completely average back. That works too.

Because the fact is, even before the injury, LeSean McCoy wasn't exactly rocking anybody's world. The carries were there - he had at least 13 in every single game Weeks 1 through 11 - but they only resulted in three 100 yard rushing games. The targets were there - he's averaged just under five per game this season - but an abysmal 5.9 yards per catch average meant that nobody was getting much value from him passing the ball. The success rate is there - 35.6 percent of his rushes this year have increased the Eagles' chance of scoring - but his -0.16 Net Expected Points (NEP) per rush means he's one of the least efficient backs in the league on average.

The formula is there for McCoy to be the back of old, but he simply hasn't put it all together this season. For McCoy to be a worthwhile back, he almost certainly has to score a touchdown... which is exactly what our analytics don't think he's going to do. He's projected for only 0.33 total TDs this week, his 0.24 projected rushing TDs an astonishing 30th among all RBs.

The Redskins aren't particularly efficient against the run, as their 25.93 points under expectation allowed to opposing running games only ranks 17th in the NFL. But against the Eagles, they may not have to be. As a team whole, the Eagles lose 0.17 expected points every time they run the ball, the third worst average in the league behind Arizona and Oakland.

Vick Ballard - Indianapolis Colts

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 12.86 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 8 Ranked RB (No. 35 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 43.5%
Week 16 Opponent: at Kansas City Chiefs
Verdict: Present

What's this you got for me? A Vick Ballard? And it was even on the waiver wire too (he's only owned in 73.7 percent of ESPN leagues)? You shouldn't have!

Actually, I'm just being modest here. You absolutely should have. Because not only is Vick Ballard a must-start, he's a must-start RB1 this week. That's right, Ballard's one of our top ten running backs because he hits on each part of the holy trinity of solid backs: efficiency, attempts, and a great matchup.

Efficiency: Vick Ballard has averaged -0.12 NEP per rush on the season. That's slightly below average. But that also doesn't tell the whole story. In Ballard's past three weeks, the back has actually gained Indianapolis 7.22 NEP above expectation. That number is top five among all running backs since Week 12. That's right: in the past three weeks, Vick "Who?" Ballard has been one of the five most effective running backs in the NFL. Don't worry, I was shocked too.

Attempts: Earlier on in the season, Indianapolis wanted to pass, pass, and pass some more. But Ballard's recent effective running seems to have brought a stabilizing force to their playcalling. Week 14, 46.9 percent of Indy's plays were runs. Week 15, the proportion was even better at 48.1 percent. Considering the Colts' season average is running on only 40.3 percent of offensive plays, the playcalling is certainly moving the right direction for Ballard owners. Not that it's mattered much: only one of his nine starts has seen him snag less than 12 carries.

Opponent: Perhaps the biggest reason to trust Ballard this week, though, might just be his matchup. In recent weeks, Ballard has gotten to run against the Lions and Titans. They're not good. But the Chiefs are just plain awful, especially against the run. One of only six NFL teams to have allowed points over expectation to opposing running games this season, the Chiefs' 2.12 expected points given up includes positive NEP figures in each of their past three games. While Indy's running game is trending up, KC's run defense is trending downwards even further.

Shonn Greene - New York Jets

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.10 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 20 Ranked RB (No. 60 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 54.5%
Week 16 Opponent: vs. San Diego Chargers
Verdict: Pair of Socks

Somebody in that horrific excuse of an offense has to get yards at some point, right? Chance are, it's not going to be Greg McElroy - we only project him to have 210.38 yards passing in this game. Instead, much of the load should fall on the New York Jets backfield, and specifically Shonn Greene. Let his fantasy owners rejoice...

... until they see that, well, maybe a lot of carries doesn't necessarily mean production this week. Greene's -25.67 NEP is the 16th-worst total in the entire NFL and 11th-worst total among running backs, meaning that there aren't too many people carrying the ball less effectively than Greene has. Even though Greene has carried the ball at least 13 times in every single Jets game since Week 5, he has only topped the 100 yard rushing barrier twice all season.

The San Diego defense is moderate; they're ranked as numberFire's No. 11 opponent-adjusted unit entering Week 16. But at least the Jets have committed to running the ball (not that they have that many other options). The last time the Jets attempted more passes than rushes in a game? Week 12 against New England, a game they would eventually lose 49-19. In the three weeks since, the Jets have rushed the ball 115 times as compared to just 77 pass attempts, a 59.9 percent rushing rate that ranks as easily the best in the league.

So even if Bilal Powell steals carries - like the 19 attempts he had in Week 14 - Shonn Greene is still likely to get his looks. He's averaged 19 attempts per game over the past three contests, and that heavy workload is unlikely to change soon. Quantity over quality is the game here with Greene.

Michael Crabtree - San Francisco 49ers

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.59 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 29 Ranked WR (No. 85 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 47.5%
Week 16 Opponent: at Seattle Seahawks
Verdict: Lump of Coal

To be fair, there are a few things to like about Crabtree. He's easily leading the Niners in targets by 47 over his nearest competitor. And his catch rate sits at an exceptional 69.5 percent. And... his name is cool?

That's about all I have for Crabtree, because as long as the Niners shy away from the pass and are facing numberFire's No. 6 opponent-adjusted defense, his fantasy owners should stay far, far away.

San Francisco's SNF opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, hold the highest proportion of running plays in the NFL at 56.2 percent of all snaps. Know who's second? Those pesky 49ers, who have run the ball on 54.0 percent of their snaps. And it's gotten to be an even larger disparity for San Francisco with Kaepernick under center: they ran on 60.9 percent of their plays in Week 15 and 54.9 percent of plays in Week 14.

Not that they'd want to throw against Seattle, anyway. The Seahawks have allowed only 0.22 points over expectation to opposing passing games the entire season, an average of (get this) 0.02 NEP per game. That places them as the sixth-best secondary in the NFL, directly behind the 49ers themselves. No single QB has thrown for more than 253 yards against Seattle since Week 8, and only Jay Cutler threw for more than one TD (in a game Chicago eventually lost anyway).

Crabtree's seen increased targets the past couple weeks, accounting for over 40 percent of Kaepernick's throws each of the past two weeks, but I expect a regression to the mean. And unless he sees near half of Kaepernick's throws again (unlikely), there's no reason to gift wrap this lump of coal this week.

Danny Amendola - St. Louis Rams

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.61 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 17 Ranked WR (No. 64 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 16.0%
Week 16 Opponent: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Verdict: Present

But while one NFC West receiver is trending downwards, another is rising right back up to the top. Danny Amendola owners (or those who can snag him off waivers): it's time to get reacquainted.

In his first game back from injury last week, Amendola certainly didn't look like a guy who had been slowed by a foot injury. Playing against a ragged Minnesota secondary (+118.16 NEP against opposing passing games), Amendola lit it up, with six receptions on a team-leading 12 targets and a touchdown. Sam Bradford certainly hasn't lost his trust in his No. 1 target, who shockingly still leads St. Louis in targets by 12 over Brandon Gibson despite only playing nine games this year.

And it's a good thing too, because St. Louis likes to throw. 57.3 percent of the Rams' offensive plays this season have been passing attempts. That trend was out in full force in Week 15 (75.3 percent), Week 14 (59.1 percent), and Week 13 (59.1 percent). As the season's gone on, the Rams have begun throwing the ball more than ever.

This isn't the week that's going to change, my friends, because the Bucs defense has more holes than Captain Jack Sparrow's boat heading into the city. Tampa Bay and their No. 23 opponent-adjusted defense has allowed 100.08 points over expectation to opposing passing games this season. That's the seventh-highest total in the NFL, and perhaps more importantly, the second-worst secondary Amendola has played against this season behind the Vikings last week.

Hakeem Nicks - New York Giants

Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.81 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 25 Ranked WR (No. 81 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 65.4%
Week 16 Opponent: at Baltimore Ravens
Verdict: Pair of Socks

There are two schools of thought about Hakeem Nicks. There's the side that says, "All the potential's there!" and the side that says "But the production hasn't been." Our analytics see both points as valid, even if tending more towards the latter.

On the "Well, maybe Santa's not too mean" side, you see that Nicks is the clear No. 2 receiver on a team that has been extremely efficient passing the ball so far this season. While Victor Cruz is the clear number one receiver on most days, Nicks has received 97 targets in 11 games played for the Giants this season. That 8.8 targets per game is more than Crabtree has received as the 49ers' clear No. 1. And that's not even accounting for the outliers; Nicks actually led the team last week against Atlanta with seven targets, or 28 percent of Eli Manning's throws.

But on the other hand, Nicks' season has mirrored his old UNC football teams: it looks pretty, but nothing substantial has really come from it. At 54.6 percent, Nicks' catch rate remains in the lower tier of the NFL; the league average sits around 60 percent. And that's especially hurt him in the red zone: Nicks has only caught three of Eli's 20 TD passes this season, while Cruz has nine and Martellus Bennett has five. That's resulted in only two double-digit FP days for Nicks since Week 2, when he went off for his only exceptional performance of the season against Tampa Bay in Week 2.

That odd combination results in a middling projection for this week. Yes, we think he'll get receptions, but 4.57 catches isn't great. Yes, there's a chance he'll reach the endzone, but 0.44 projected receiving TDs is only 19th among all receivers this week. He's not a terrible flex play, but this week, we like James Jones, Danario Alexander, and Brandon Lloyd more.