Thumbs Up of the Week: Cam Newton (v TB)
There might not be a more unique fantasy quarterback in history than Cam Newton, as his ability as a runner can both keep him afloat on poor passing days and give him sky-high upside when he’s on point through the air. Over the second half of the season, Newton has thrown for just 187 yards per game, but only Ben Roethlisberger is averaging more fantasy points than him. The 2015 NFL MVP should stay hot against the 4-10 Bucs, and despite a shaky start, he could end up finishing as the second-best fantasy quarterback in 2017. Cam is an elite, high-upside QB1 on Christmas Eve.
Thumbs Up: Ben Roethlisberger (@ HOU)
As stated, Roethlisberger has the most fantasy points in the league over the second half of the season, as he’s averaging 23 points per game since Week 9. Big Ben won’t have Antonio Brown on the field in Week 16, but even on the road, he’s a great QB1 play against Houston. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant (not to mention Le’Veon Bell) can make plays in Brown’s absence, and the Texans are 31st in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Fire him up on Christmas Day.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (@ TEN)
The success of Todd Gurley on the ground has limited Goff’s upside recently, but he’s still thrown for multiple touchdown passes in six of the past seven weeks, including four-straight games. Los Angeles should rely on the arm of their talented second-year passer this week against Tennessee’s beatable secondary, especially since the playoff-hopeful Titans simply can’t allow Todd Gurley to do what he did last week in Seattle. Goff is a solid QB1 for the fantasy championship.
Thumbs Up: Nick Foles (v OAK)
Many football fans probably remember what happened in Nick Foles’ only game against the Raiders in 2013, but if you don’t, he tied the NFL record for touchdown passes in a single game with seven of them. His exact numbers were 22/28 for 406 yards, seven touchdowns, zero turnovers, and 10 yards on the ground—or 45 fantasy points. A lot has changed since then, but Oakland’s bad defense hasn’t much, and Foles should be confident after a four-touchdown performance in his first start of the season. He’s a QB1 on Christmas Night.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jimmy Garoppolo (v JAC)
It’s been a very limited sample size, but it’s hard not to be excited about Jimmy Garoppolo’s potential to be an elite franchise quarterback. Tom Brady’s former apprentice is 3-0 with the 49ers (a 1-10 team before his first start), and he just led them to a game-winning drive against the Titans on Sunday. He has a much tougher task this week, though, as Jacksonville’s star-studded defense is allowing just 8.6 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. Despite what he’s shown so far, Garoppolo shouldn’t be in lineups on Sunday.
Thumbs Down: Derek Carr (@ PHI)
Philadelphia is coming off their worst defensive performance of the season after Eli Manning threw for 434 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday, and they’ve now allowed multiple touchdown passes in three-straight games. That said, I wouldn’t want any part of Derek Carr in the fantasy championship. Oakland’s quarterback has been a fantasy disappointment this season, and I think the main reason is that the team chemistry just isn’t there for whatever reason. After being all but officially eliminated from playoff contention in Week 15, there’s no reason to think the Raiders offense will suddenly click with their season now over. Look elsewhere.
Thumbs Down: Jameis Winston (@ CAR)
I typically have Winston lower than most because I don’t trust him enough in fantasy lineups, but he was a QB1 for me last week, and he came through with 299 yards and three touchdowns. The reasoning for his favorable ranking was that Jameis has owned Dan Quinn’s defense over the past three years, but he’s back to a fringe QB2 against Carolina, who held him to 210 yards and two interceptions in Week 8.
Thumbs Down: Kirk Cousins (v DEN)
Kirk Cousins has been better at home than on the road, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but he’s trending in the wrong direction down the stretch. Over the past four weeks, Washington’s quarterback is averaging just 210 passing yards per game, and he’s obviously not a generational runner at the position like Cam Newton is to overcome it. Even against a Denver secondary that is basically all reputation this year, I don’t have enough confidence in the Redskins’ playmakers to feel good about Cousins.
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Thumbs Up of the Week: Latavius Murray (@ GB)
I have Murray here a lot, but after two months of RB1 production, he’s still being ranked as a low-end RB2/FLEX option by most “experts.” Minnesota’s free-agent acquisition is averaging 12 fantasy points per game in standard leagues over the second half of the season, and the only game with fewer than nine points was two weeks ago when the Vikings were missing three starters on the offensive line against one of the league’s top run defenses. Look for Murray to be a big part of the game plan on Saturday night when they visit the possibly-deflated Packers.
Thumbs Up: Jay Ajayi (v OAK)
Every year, it seems like we see a handful of huge games by running backs over the final few weeks of the season, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. First of all, some teams aren’t quite as motivated if they’ve been eliminated from playoff contention, which leads to poor tackling. Also, younger guys might get more playing time, which leads to missed assignments, and the colder weather could help boost the running game, too. I’m not sure how much the Raiders will go with younger guys on defense this Monday night, but I do know they haven’t seemed fully committed all season to me. If they don’t come ready to play on Christmas Night, Jay Ajayi could explode. He’s a high-upside RB2.
Thumbs Up: Derrick Henry (v LAR)
Derrick Henry has been held to a combined 40 yards on 15 carries over the past two weeks, but I think Tennessee should turn to their monster back with their playoff hopes in peril. Los Angeles has been susceptible to opposing running backs, and the Titans need a spark on offense, which could come in the form of Henry this week. The former Alabama star is a strong FLEX with solid upside.
Thumbs Up: James White (v BUF)
The emergence of Rex Burkhead has caused White to barely see the field for New England, but the Super Bowl LI hero could have his role expanded after Burkhead suffered a knee injury in last week’s win. After being held without a carry and catching just five passes over the past two weeks, White could be back to his first-half-of-the-season usage (43 receptions) with Burkhead out, putting him on the FLEX radar in PPR leagues.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Carlos Hyde (v JAC)
Hyde needs to average 102 rushing yards over the final two weeks to reach 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, but I think he will need to do most of his damage in Week 17. The Jaguars haven’t allowed a touchdown in any of the past six games, and they haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since trading for defensive tackle Marcell Dareus earlier this season. Hyde has been held to 3.3 yards per carry this month, and he’s been less involved as a receiver since Jimmy Garoppolo took over as the starter. The 26-year-old is just a FLEX for me.
Thumbs Down: Marshawn Lynch (@ PHI)
I’m clearly off the Raiders this week, and that’s been the case for most of the season. If Philadelphia dominates Oakland at home on Christmas Night like I expect, the game script could be flipped upside-down, leading to limited work for Marshawn Lynch. And unless Minnesota is upset on Saturday night, the Eagles are going to have to win to clinch home-field advantage before Week 17, so they’ll be playing for a lot more than the undisciplined Raiders.
Thumbs Down: Jamaal Williams (v MIN)
Rookie running back Jamaal Williams was a bright spot for the Packers when Aaron Rodgers was out of the lineup, and he could be the focal point of the offense again now that Rodgers has been placed on IR. However, Williams averaged under 4.0 yards per carry in all but one game since taking over as the starter, and Minnesota arguably has the best defense in the NFL. He’s just a low-floor, volume-based FLEX on the eve of Christmas Eve.
Thumbs Down: Leonard Fournette (@ SF)
It looks like Fournette will play this week after missing last Sunday’s win with a quad injury, but he could be risky play for the fantasy championship. Seemingly banged up all year, the fourth-overall pick in April’s draft has been a volatile option recently, as he’s averaged fewer than 3.0 yards per carry in three of his past five appearances, and Fournette has actually been better in bad matchups over that span. You probably have to play him, but I have the rookie as an RB2 rather than an RB1.
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Thumbs Up of the Week: JuJu Smith-Schuster (@ HOU)
Like Latavius Murray, I often have JuJu Smith-Schuster as a “Thumbs Up” because he’s usually ranked too low by almost everyone. The rookie was barely a FLEX option for many analysts in Week 15, but he caught six-of-six targets for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that he nearly housed for the potential game-winning score against New England. With Antonio Brown out, we should see plenty of “Good JuJu” in Houston on Christmas Day. He’s a WR1 for the fantasy championship.
Thumbs Up: Nelson Agholor (v OAK)
Nelson Agholor had a brief midseason slump in what’s turned out to be a breakout campaign, but that was partly due to the Eagles blowing teams out and not having to throw. That hasn’t been the case over the past three weeks, and Agholor has combined for 22 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns over that span—which would equate to a 117/1,408/11 line over a full season. The former first-round pick has that kind of potential if given enough targets, and Nick Foles should look for him often on Christmas Night against Oakland’s slow, tall cornerbacks. I like Agholor as a high-upside WR2.
Thumbs Up: Dede Westbrook (@ SF)
Westbrook was held to just two receptions for 21 yards in last week’s win over the Texans, but I like his chances of a big game on Christmas Eve against the 49ers. The attention Houston put on the rookie allowed Keelan Cole to stay hot with a career-high 186 yards and a touchdown, and even Jaydon Mickens came out of no where to catch four passes for 61 yards and two scores. Fantasy owners shouldn’t overreact to one week, as Westbrook will remain a top target for Blake Bortles. He’s a low-end WR2/FLEX option.
Thumbs Up: Martavis Bryant (@ HOU)
While JuJu Smith-Schuster is the expected candidate to take most of Antonio Brown’s looks, Martavis Bryant could also see an uptick in targets in Week 16. The talented receiver had his best game of the season last week in the heartbreaking loss to New England, and Big Ben should have more trust in him after the plays he made against cornerback Stephon Gilmore. There’s risk, but Bryant has league-winning upside against the Texans and Browns over the final two weeks of the regular season.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Josh Gordon (@ CHI)
You know you’re listening to a lot of Christmas music when you had to make sure you didn’t type Josh Groban instead of Josh Gordon. Cleveland’s star receiver has immense upside every time he steps on the field, and while DeShone Kizer’s play is a huge concern, even more worrisome for me is that dating back to last season, Chicago has done an excellent job of limiting top receiving options. Sit Gordon, but start Josh Groban’s Christmas album.
Thumbs Down: Brandin Cooks (v BUF)
Held to two receptions for 17 yards a couple weeks ago in Buffalo, Brandin Cooks has to unfortunately face them again on Sunday. Pro-Bowl snub Tre’Davious White should be as determined as ever to play well, and Cooks—who has struggled against man-to-man coverage recently—could be shadowed by the star rookie corner. The 24-year-old remains a starting option because of who’s throwing him the football, but as WR2 instead of a WR1.
Thumbs Down: Davante Adams (v MIN)
Fantasy owners might not have a choice to make with Adams if he’s unable to get cleared by Saturday for the non-contending Packers, but if he does play, Xaiver Rhodes will likely spend most of the night covering Brett Hundley’s favorite target. That’s what happened in the first meeting, and Aaron Rodgers was healthy to start the game then, so there’s no reason to think Rhodes would suddenly shift to Jordy Nelson if Adams is healthy. He’s a low-floor FLEX play if active, and I’d rather roll with Jordy. [UPDATE 12/21: Adams has been ruled out for Week 16 because of his concussion.]
Thumbs Down: Alshon Jeffery (v OAK)
A 40-yard reception saved Dez Bryant from being a total bust in Week 15 against the Raiders, but he’s the latest big-bodied receiver to be contained by Oakland’s cornerbacks. While the secondary is a burnable group overall, tall receivers like Bryant and Alshon Jeffery give them less trouble than guys like Nelson Agholor who can create separation based on route running and quickness. Alshon has scored seven times over the past seven weeks, but I would think about sitting him on Christmas Night if I have other options.
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Thumbs Up of the Week: Ricky Seals-Jones (v NYG)
Following a two-week breakout where he caught seven passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns, Ricky Seals-Jones has been quiet in the three weeks since, including just 11 yards in his first career start last Sunday. That’s probably because defenses have started to pay attention to the former college basketball player, but fortunately for him or anyone planning to use him in Week 16, the Giants haven’t really paid attention to opposing tight ends at all this season. I like Seals-Jones as a low-end TE1.
Thumbs Up: Antonio Gates (@ NYJ)
Gates caught his first touchdown since breaking a tie with Tony Gonzalez for the most all-time by a tight end back in September, and he should have a significant role over the final two weeks (and potentially the postseason) after Hunter Henry was placed on injured reserve. The 37-year-old doesn’t have a ton of upside, but he and Philip Rivers have strong chemistry in scoring territory that makes him worth a look against the Jets.
Thumbs Up: Benjamin Watson (v IND)
Earlier this week, Benjamin Watson joined Gates as the oldest tight end in the league when he turned 37, and he looks to have a little more left in the tank than the future Hall of Famer. Watson caught four passes for 74 yards and a touchdown last week against the Browns, and he gets another good matchup with the Colts on Saturday.
Thumbs Up: Daniel Brown (v CLE)
Daniel Brown hasn’t scored or surpassed 32 yards in a game this season, but literally anyone playing the Browns at the tight end position seems to be worth a look this season. Both Brown and Dion Sims are dart-throw options and basement-cost plays in daily fantasy leagues.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Jason Witten (v SEA)
Things are looking up for the Cowboys with three-straight wins and Ezekiel Elliott’s return on Christmas Eve, but I would avoid Witten in fantasy lineups this week. While he found the end zone twice, the Cowboys tight end had just 25 yards per game in three good matchups with the Redskins, Giants, and Raiders. Seattle should be focused defensively after getting embarrassed by the Rams last week, so Witten is just a midrange TE2 for me.
Thumbs Down: Charles Clay (@ NE)
Charles Clay was glad to see Tyrod Taylor back in the lineup in last week’s win over the Dolphins to keep Buffalo in the driver’s seat for a wild-card spot, but things won’t be as easy in New England on Sunday. The Patriots limited Clay to 20 yards two weeks ago, and they aren’t going to let Taylor’s security blanket be a significant contributor in the rematch.
Thumbs Down: Vernon Davis (v DEN)
I had to have a couple veterans in Witten and now Vernon Davis balance out Gates and Watson in the “Thumbs Up” for tight ends, but a drop in production is the bigger reason for Davis being here. The 33-year-old is averaging less than 15 yards per game over the past four weeks, so even in a good matchup, I’d look elsewhere.
Thumbs Down: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (v LAC)
Vernon Davis isn’t the only one to suddenly see a drop in production, as Austin Seferian-Jenkins has done the same over the same period of time. Since Week 12, ASJ has averaged just 12 yards per game and hasn’t found the end zone in two months. He isn’t even ranked this week against a Chargers team that has often limited opposing tight ends.
For defense and kicker advice—and all your start/sit decisions—check out our full Week 16 rankings.