Thumbs Up of the Week: Matt Ryan (@ CAR)
The Falcons didn’t have the season they or anyone expected, but Dan Quinn’s squad showed flashes of the team they could have been last week in a 40-14 win over the Cardinals, and Matt Ryan’s 24 fantasy points were the most since Atlanta’s five-game losing streak began. Over the past five meetings, Matty Ice has averaged 23.5 fantasy points per game against Carolina, including at least 17.4 fantasy points in every game over that span. The top-tier upside might not be there if the Panthers can’t hold up their end of a shootout, but Ryan—the No. 2 fatnasy quarterback on the year—is a top-five play for Week 16.
Thumbs Up: Nick Foles (v HOU)
He didn’t put up huge numbers last week, but Nick Foles played great for the Eagles, and his inclination to throw downfield could give Houston problems on Sunday, as they have struggled to defend the deep ball. And for what it’s worth, in one matchup against Romeo Crennel’s defense, Foles threw for 124 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in just a quarter of action before breaking his collarbone in a 2014 game. The reigning Super Bowl MVP is the top streamer of the week.
Thumbs Up: Tom Brady (v BUF)
I think people take the previous week into account too much when rankings players or making lineup decisions, which has most viewing Tom Brady as a low-end QB2 rather than a low-end QB1 for the fantasy championship. The matchup isn’t easy against the Bills, but Brady threw for 324 yards in Buffalo earlier this year, and New England should be extra angry/determined/focused following their second loss in a row. At home, I doubt the Pats settle for four short field goals, a one-yard touchdown run, and a pick-six to get a win against their AFC East foe like they in October.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (@ ARI)
Fantasy owners might understandably be jumping ship if they overcame a 0:5 touchdown interception ratio by Jared Goff over the past two weeks to still make it to the fantasy championship, but overall, he’s been too good to write off heading into a matchup against the 3-11 Cardinals. Arizona is allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing passers, but Patrick Mahomes, Philip Rivers, and Matt Ryan have all had at 19+ points against them since Week 10, and I would think Sean McVay wants to get the passing attack rolling before January. Goff is no longer an elite QB1, but he should remain a top-eight option.
Others: Baker Mayfield (v CIN), Josh Allen (@ NE)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Philip Rivers (v BAL)
Although he’s having arguably his best season to date, Philip Rivers has mainly been an MVP candidate due to efficiency rather than volume, and Saturday night could be a clock-killing game between the Ravens and Chargers. When you combine a stingy Baltimore secondary and the desire of both teams to control time of possession—the Ravens by utilizing a run-heavy attack under Lamar Jackson and Los Angeles by simply preferring to run the play clock down on offense—Rivers is a midrange QB2.
Thumbs Down: Deshaun Watson (@ PHI)
On paper, the Eagles look like a tremendous matchup for Deshaun Watson, as Jim Schwartz’s defense has been exposed by dual-threat quarterbacks Marcus Mariota (29 fantasy points), Cam Newton (24), Blake Bortles (19), and Dak Prescott twice (20, 24). However, the game isn’t played on paper, and I think Philly’s defensive front will dominate with help from the playoff-hopeful home crowd on Sunday, which would obviously make things difficult for Watson behind a sub-par offensive line. I still have the former Clemson star as a QB1, but it’s the low-end variety.
Thumbs Down: Lamar Jackson (@ LAC)
Another win by Baltimore might give Lamar Jackson more breathing room as the starter, but John Harbaugh can’t afford to mess around in a playoff race, especially after Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh all won in Week 15. I think that could lead to Joe Flacco making an appearance on Saturday night, and even if he doesn’t, the Chargers are a concerning matchup because they like to control time of possession (as stated), and typically try to take away what the offense does best (just look at Tyreek Hill’s disappointing performance last week). For the Ravens, it’s pretty clear what they want to do, and Jackson could struggle if forced to win with his arm against a secondary that includes standouts Casey Hayward, Derwin James, and Desmond King.
Thumbs Down: Dak Prescott (v TB)
Dallas should bounce back offensively as they look to lock up the NFC East, but Dak Prescott hasn’t had a game with 15+ fantasy points that didn’t come against the division since Week 6, and Tampa Bay has played much better on the backend in recent weeks (13.7 fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks over the past six games). Also, I’m expected a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott, and I don’t think Jameis Winston will do enough on the road to make Dak have to air it out. All the “Thumbs Up” options are better plays for me.
Others: Kirk Cousins (@ DET), Jameis Winston (@ DAL)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Derrick Henry (v WAS)
The past two weeks is exactly what Derrick Henry should have been doing all year if he was consistently fed (OK, maybe not exactly a 3,264-yard, 48-touchdown pace), and the monster runner has the makings of a league-winner for those who have stuck with him or were fortunate to scoop him up thanks to an impatient owner. The Redskins kept their season alive with a big win over the Jaguars last week, but their run defense continues to struggle over the second half of the year, and Henry is too hot to keep out of lineups for a game the Titans are heavily favored in.
Thumbs Up: Marlon Mack (v NYG)
Two tough matchups to start the month led to just 22 carries for 60 yards (2.7 YPC) for Marlon Mack, but Indy’s starter went off against the Cowboys last week, rushing 27 times for 139 yards (5.1 YPC) and two touchdowns. While it wasn’t public knowledge, Colts head coach Frank Reich apparently told the FOX broadcast team that he wanted to re-establish the running game, and he kept his word in an eventual 23-0 victory. Mack should again be a focal-point for another home game, and the Giants have allowed 128.0 rushing yards per game since trading run-stuffer Damon Harrison. The second-year back is a top-15 play for the fantasy championship.
Thumbs Up: Kalen Ballage (v JAX)
Every year, players emerge out of nowhere to be difference-makers in the fantasy playoffs, and Kalen Ballage certainly fits the description coming off a 12-carry, 123-yard performance that included a 75-yard touchdown run against a stout Minnesota defense. Ballage is a name that people should have known based on his athletic upside, but he was basically a dynasty hold with just 13 touches entering Week 15. Now, the rookie is in the low-end RB2 conversation despite a tough matchup against the Jaguars.
Thumbs Up: James Conner (@ NO)
There are reasons to be hesitant about getting James Conner (ankle) back in lineups—New Orleans has allowed the third fewest fantasy points per game to opposing runners, Jaylen Samuels has looked good over the past two weeks, and the Pitt product will probably be less than 100%—but it’s unlikely you have two better running backs and a better FLEX than Conner for the fantasy championship. The 23-year-old is immediately a top-12 option if he suits up on Sunday. [Update: Conner has been ruled out for Week 16, so Jaylen Samuels is immediately a top-20 play in all formats]
Others: Tevin Coleman (@ CAR), Jamaal Williams (@ NYJ)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Leonard Fournette (@ MIA)
Maybe Leonard Fournette doesn’t need a full workload to put up numbers against the Dolphins after they were just shredded for 198 rushing yards and three scores by Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, but the Jaguars would be wise to once again scale back his workload in a lost season. The No. 4 overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft has already missed half the year and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, so there’s no reason to push him as if he’s chasing a rushing title. Fournette is worth a spot in lineups, but consider him a low-end RB2/FLEX rather than his usual RB1/RB2 status.
Thumbs Down: Josh Adams (v HOU)
Philadelphia has featured Josh Adams over the past month, but he didn’t look good in last week’s win over the Rams, rushing for just 28 yards (and a short touchdown) on 15 carries. At the same time, Wendell Smallwood (ten carries for 48 yards) provided juice for the Eagles off the bench, including a couple red-zone scores of his own. Adams is expected to start again, but against a stout front at less than full health with Smallwood and Darren Sproles mixing in, the rookie is closer to the top 40 than top 20.
Thumbs Down: Doug Martin (v DEN)
I’m not worried about Doug Martin falling out of the game plan like last week due to the Raiders trailing, but I am worried about Denver’s run defense, which has been excellent over the past seven games with just 3.8 yards per carry allowed. Martin might need a score to pay dividends, and that’s not something you should rely on in the fantasy championship. Only consider the veteran as a FLEX option if you’re out of alternatives.
Thumbs Down: LeSean McCoy (@ NE)
New England limited LeSean McCoy to 12 carries for 13 yards in their previous meeting this season, and it’s probably safe to assume they will key on the running game once again in Week 16. McCoy is averaging a career-low 4.0 yards per touch this year with just two total touchdowns, and Josh Allen (506 yards) is the team’s leading rusher. Look elsewhere with championships on the line.
Others: Lions RBs (v MIN)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Alshon Jeffery (v HOU)
Remember on the Sunday Night Football broadcast when they showed all the words used to describe Nick Foles by his teammates, and one of the words was “gunslinger”? I would bet Alshon Jeffery gave that description, as the two have shown a great connection on downfield passes dating back to last year’s Super Bowl run. As stated, the Texans—who have one of the smallest secondary groups in the league—have struggled against the deep ball, so Jeffery could explode again as Philly looks to continue their improbable playoff push. He’s currently my No. 9 receiver for Week 16.
Thumbs Up: Tyler Lockett (v KC)
Tyler Lockett has set career-highs across the board this season—including 800 yards and nine scores—despite the Seahawks having a ground-and-pound attack, but we could see his numbers really climb if Seattle is forced to open up the offense in a potential shootout against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Sunday night. Lockett should also benefit from Doug Baldwin’s two-touchdown game last week to take some attention away. I have the dynamic wideout as a low-end WR2.
Thumbs Up: Josh Reynolds (@ ARI)
The Cardinals will likely let Patrick Peterson shadow Brandin Cooks this week, which would allow Josh Reynolds to possibly beat up on Arizona’s revolving door (especially with recent starter David Amerson in the concussion protocol) at the other outside cornerback spot in Week 16. Jared Goff threw for 354 yards against the Cardinals back in Week 2, and when the offensive struggles end for the Rams, it could bring an excessive amount of fantasy production for everyone involved. Reynolds is a top-30 option.
Thumbs Up: John Ross (@ CLE)
Cincinnati selected John Ross in the top ten of the 2017 NFL Draft hoping that he would be an explosive compliment to A.J. Green, but while that hasn’t happened with just 19 receptions for 206 yards (10.8 average) through two seasons, the speedster has scored six touchdowns this year, and he now gets a chance to step up as the undisputed No. 1 option in the passing game for a two-game stint. The Browns allowed Ross to have one of his better showings of the season last month with three receptions for 31 yards and a score, and the upside is still waiting to be unlocked as the 4.22 sprinter seeks his first career reception of 40+ yards.
Others: Nelson Agholor (v HOU), DaeSean Hamilton (@ OAK)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Brandin Cooks (@ ARI)
He’s still on pace for a career-high in receiving yards, but Brandin Cooks has really slowed down as the rest of Sean McVay’s offense has, following up three 100-yard games in a row with lines of 4/62, 3/22, and 6/59 this month. Last week in particular should have been a cupcake matchup against Philly’s slow cornerback group, but Cooks was limited to shorter throws near the boundary. Despite a season-high 159 yards against Arizona earlier this year, I have Cooks as a mid-to-low WR2 that might not get many balls in his direction, as targeting Patrick Peterson probably isn’t a good way for Jared Goff to break out of his slump.
Thumbs Down: Kenny Golladay (v MIN)
A huge first half last week in Buffalo got Kenny Golladay back on the WR2 map for most (and his 146 yards got him over 1,000 on the season), but I’m not ready to significantly boost him in the rankings heading into a matchup against Xavier Rhodes. Last month, Golladay was limited to 46 scoreless yards in Minnesota while Marvin Jones (66 yards) was still healthy to occupy Rhodes some, and Detroit no longer has a formidable offensive threat to free up the second-year receiver. The floor and upside are lowered for “Babytron” in Week 16.
Thumbs Down: Robby Anderson (v GB)
The struggling Houston secondary unsurprisingly allowed deep threat Robby Anderson go for a 7/96/1 line last Saturday, but I think he is another option that’s being overvalued based on what happened last week. On Sunday, Anderson will be matched up against standout rookie cornerback Jaire Alexander, and Green Bay’s first-round pick has the speed (4.38 40-yard dash) to contain the former Temple star. I wouldn’t consider Anderson as anything more than a decent FLEX.
Thumbs Down: Panthers WRs (v ATL)
Monday night was tough to watch as Cam Newton struggled drive the ball downfield due to a bad shoulder, so it was probably painful for fantasy owners that needed just a handful of points out of Curtis Samuel (17 receiving yards) and/or D.J. Moore (12 receiving yards). Even in a home-run matchup, neither young weapon can be treated as a low-end WR2/FLEX option for the fantasy championship, though they might get more of a chance to make plays with Taylor Heinicke under center.
Others: Sterling Shepard (@ IND), Golden Tate (v HOU)
Thumbs Up of the Week: David Njoku (v CIN)
Unfortunately, David Njoku has combined to catch just nine passes for 73 scoreless yards over the past three games (all great matchups), and his stretch of six games with 52+ yards over a seven-game stretch seems like forever ago. The talent hasn’t gone anywhere, though, and Njoku had a season-best 5/63/1 line against the Bengals in their previous meeting. Baker Mayfield orchestrating a spread-the-wealth passing attack is always a threat to the 2017 first-round pick, but I’m optimistic about the fantasy championship.
Thumbs Up: Austin Hooper (@ CAR)
In general, last week was one to forget at tight end, and that included Austin Hooper’s first game of the year with zero receptions (he had a chance to bring in a pass at the goal line, but it was broken up). The position is a crapshoot more than ever, so it makes sense to bet on a guy working in one of the league’s best offenses, especially since Carolina has allowed the third most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.
Thumbs Up: Dallas Goedert (v HOU)
Doug Pederson decided to go with more two-tight-end personnel in last week’s upset victory over the Rams, and it led to Dallas Goedert playing 61% of the team’s offensive snaps, which was his highest mark since Week 3. Philly’s second-rounder has a zero-point floor behind Zach Ertz, but Houston has struggled to defend the position, including 53 yards allowed to Jets rookie Chris Herndon in Week 15.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Kyle Rudolph (@ DET)
There are really no bad options at tight end this week because things are in such disarray, but the Vikings went to a run-heavy offense last week under new offensive coordinator Kevan Stefanski, and they are unlikely to open up the passing attack in Detroit, which means fewer opportunities for Kyle Rudolph. The veteran is just a low-end TE2.
Thumbs Down: Vernon Davis (@ TEN)
Even at age-34, Vernon Davis is a big-play threat for Washington, but he has just one catch of more than 20 yards since the start of November, and the Titans have allowed the fewest points per game to opposing tight ends. Getting someone in lineups to kick things off on Saturday might be tempting, but Davis’ outlook isn’t strong. [Update: Davis has been ruled out for Week 16, but Jeremy Sprinkle won’t be a strong option against Tennessee]
Thumbs Down: Texans TEs (@ PHI)
Throwing a Houston tight end out there between Jordan Thomas, Jordan Akins, and Ryan Griffin might pay off if Deshaun Watson is forced to get rid of the ball underneath due to struggles up front, but I think fantasy owners are better off rolling with someone that has a more stable role.