Thumbs Up of the Week: Jalen Hurts (@ DAL)
I feel like Hurts shouldn’t be here because it’s too obvious, but a lot of people listening to ESPN (which is a week or multiple weeks late on pretty much everything) is likely reason for his roster percentage being less than 33.3% before finishing as the top overall scorer of Week 15. Philadelphia’s starter needs to be played as a high-end QB1 for a great matchup against the rival Cowboys, who have been destroyed by dual-threats Russell Wilson (36.8 fantasy points), Kyler Murray (28.9), and Lamar Jackson (25.6) this year.
Thumbs Up: Jared Goff (@ SEA)
Other than Robert Woods and Tyler Higbee, the Rams were a massive disappointment last week in a loss to the Jets, but I would expect a bounce-back performance on Sunday with the NFC West on the line. Over the past five matchups versus Seattle, Goff has averaged 325.8 passing yards per game—never throwing for fewer than 293 yards over that span. Look for the game plan to revolve around the passing attack with Cam Akers (ankle) out.
Thumbs Up: Tua Tagovailoa (@ LV)
Miami should very encouraged by Tagovailoa finding a way to win without two big-time playmakers—DeVante Parker (hamstring) and Mike Gesicki (shoulder)—in the lineup last week, and the two rushing touchdowns in particular showed that he will do what it takes to put points on the board. This week, it shouldn’t be such a grind versus a Las Vegas defense that has some serious issues in coverage, so Tua should stay hot as at least a high-end QB2.
Thumbs Up: Marcus Mariota (v MIA)
Derek Carr (groin) is trying to play, but if Mariota ends up on the other side of the Dolphins-Raiders matchup this Saturday night, he’d immediately be a streaming target. In his first action of 2020, the former No. 2 overall pick showed very impressive accuracy to all levels of the field and will only get better with more reps, but the real value comes in the rushing production (nine carries for 88 yards and one touchdown). I’m sure Jon Gruden will have put together a game plan to avoid the stingy perimeter coverage of Miami’s defense.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Drew Brees (v MIN)
Not having Michael Thomas (ankle) is obviously a big loss for the Saints, and it could really be felt this week if Mike Zimmer’s defense—as most expect—is able to prioritize stopping Alvin Kamara out of the backfield. In the past two matchups for this NFC rivalry (including playoffs), Brees has thrown for just 164.0 yards per game with a 2:2 touchdown-interception ratio, and that was with the New Orleans offense operating more efficiently. I don’t see a shootout happening on Christmas.
Thumbs Down: Matthew Stafford (v TB)
Stafford played well through a painful rib injury last week, but he still had just 252 yards and one touchdown against a Tennessee defense that can’t generate a pass rush—and that won’t be the case this week against Tampa Bay. There will always be upside with Stafford because his willingness to chuck it, but I wouldn’t feel great about the floor with a very aggressive defense coming to town; only the Steelers (47), Rams (44), and Eagles (44) have more sacks than the Bucs (43) this season.
Thumbs Down: Cam Newton (v BUF)
The Patriots were able to have some offensive success against the Bills in their first matchup, but that was before Sean McDermott’s unit was playing to their full potential, which is no longer the case. Newton—who might even split time with Jarrett Stidham—has been held without a rushing touchdown in four of the past five games, and he’s thrown for five scores in 15 games since 2018. I don’t have him in the top 24 for Week 16.
Thumbs Down: Ben Roethlisberger (v IND)
As anyone who watched the game on Monday night knows, Roethlisberger is simply not seeing the field well at all right now, and it’s tough to count on him figuring it out this week versus an Indianapolis defense that can confuse opponents with different coverages. In four games this month, Big Ben has as many turnovers (six) as he does touchdowns (six), and he’s averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt. Consider him a low-end QB2.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Le’Veon Bell (v ATL)
The last game for Bell as the starter (13 touches for 55 scoreless yards) combined with success of Atlanta’s defense against opposing running backs (sixth-fewest fantasy points per game allowed) has some hesitant about Bell, but I think he can be an upside RB2 for the fantasy championship. In a week with several question marks in terms of health and/or workload for backs around the league, Bell has the talent and role in the league’s most high-powered offense to feel confident about.
Thumbs Up: Leonard Fournette (@ DET)
Fournette is in a similar position to Bell, but the matchup inspires even more confidence with Detroit allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing runners (29.5). Last week, Fournette played on 66% of the team’s offensive snaps, handled 14-of-16 carries, and led the backfield in targets (five). Roll him out this week as a runner with one of the highest chances of a score in the league for a game Tampa Bay should play from ahead in.
Thumbs Up: David Johnson (v CIN)
Bell, Fournette, and now Johnson makes this a “Ghost of Christmas Past” week, but you could argue that all three veterans should be ranked in the top 15 at running back. To make up for a lack of rushing production, Johnson caught 11-of-11 targets for 106 yards last week, and the Bengals are an excellent matchup despite coming out to play on Monday night versus Pittsburgh (they still allowed 105 yards and a score to Benny Snell). DJ is a very strong play this weekend.
Thumbs Up: Peyton Barber (v CAR)
For a deeper option in Week 16, Barber has scored twice this month, and no matter who ends up under center for Washington, I’m sure the running game will be a bigger factor as they hope to control things with a chance to win the NFC East. Carolina has allowed the fourth-most yards per carry (4.7) in the league, and I doubt a negative game script will be a concern based on how good Washington has played recently (5-4 record with losses by a combined 12 points).
Thumbs Down of the Week: James Conner (v IND)
The other game with 100+ total yards for Benny Snell this year—which happened back in the opener—was followed by just four touches for four yards the following week, but Mike Tomlin talking up the second-year back after Monday night’s loss makes a repeat unlikely with Conner (quad) expected to return. Overall, the backfield could be headed for a full-blown split, and that’s bad news versus an Indy defense that has held opponents that don’t have Derrick Henry to 48.5 rushing yards per game since their Week 7 bye.
Thumbs Down: Giovani Bernard (@ HOU)
Bernard going for season-highs in carries (25), rushing yards (83), total yards (97), and total touchdowns (two) last week against a tough Pittsburgh defense was probably the shock of the week, but I’m a little wary of a possible trap game coming up against the Texans. Before the heroic performance on Monday night, Bernard had 55 touches for 203 scoreless yards in the five previous games, and he seemed to be absolutely drained by the fourth quarter; don’t be surprised to see Cincinnati go back to more of a committee following what was essentially their Super Bowl in Week 15.
Thumbs Down: Gus Edwards (v NYG)
The Ravens committing to J.K. Dobbins and Edwards as a one-two punch has elevated the value of both runners this month, but don’t be fooled into thinking New York will be an easy opponent. Just last week, it took a late score for Nick Chubb (15 carries for 50 yards and one touchdown) to pay dividends, as he and Kareem Hunt were limited to 3.2 yards per carry. Edwards has been a quality FLEX recently, but I’d avoid him if possible for this matchup.
Thumbs Down: Falcons RBs (@ KC)
Interim head coach saying that Ito Smith is the lead runner for Atlanta officially takes Todd Gurley out of starting consideration in fantasy leagues, but hopefully the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year at least helped people in the first half of the season when he scored nine touchdowns over the first nine games. Even in a good on-paper matchup, I wouldn’t feel good about trusting any Falcons runner with a fantasy title up for grabs.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Chris Godwin (@ DET)
Continuing to rank Godwin as a WR1 might just be insanity at this point, but he’s too good to not have a monster game in 2020, and the Lions are pretty much as bad against the pass as they are the run. Over the past six weeks alone, Detroit has been shredded by Terry McLaurin (7/95), D.J. Moore (7/127), Curtis Samuel (8/70/1), Will Fuller (6/171/2), Brandin Cooks (5/85), Davante Adams (7/115/1), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6/85/1), and Corey Davis (4/110/1); Godwin will hopefully be next.
Thumbs Up: DeVante Parker (@ LV)
As stated, the Raiders are having all kinds of issues on the backend, so if Parker is healthy enough to go on Saturday night, he would carry plenty of upside as a WR2 play. In particular, the holes for Las Vegas have been at intermediate areas of the field—including along the sideline where Parker can dominate. The former first-round pick is a borderline top-20 option with the hopes he and Tua Tagovailoa can finally connect on the level of Parker and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Thumbs Up: Michael Gallup (v PHI)
Dallas hasn’t had much offensive success versus Philadelphia over the past two matchups with 9.0 points per game, but Gallup has been a bright spot with averages of 6.0 receptions and 79.5 yards, while the Eagles—in a best-case scenario—will have Darius Slay (concussion) back to take on Amari Cooper with little else behind him at cornerback. I’d say both Gallup and CeeDee Lamb are worth strong FLEX consideration for a potential shootout.
Thumbs Up: Darnell Mooney (@ JAX)
Marquise Brown (98 yards) came up just short last week, but the Jaguars had allowed a 100-yard receiver in their previous nine games—a streak that went back far enough to include Kenny Golladay (hip). Although Allen Robinson is the most likely candidate to have a huge day, Mooney shouldn’t be overlooked. With a touchdown in back-to-back games, I have the rookie as a high-upside FLEX in 0.5 PPR leagues.
Others: Antonio Brown (@ DET), Sammy Watkins (v ATL)
Thumbs Down of the Week: D.K. Metcalf (v LAR)
It would be blasphemy to bench Metcalf during championship week without top-tier replacements on the roster—like, Brandon Aiyuk and Justin Jefferson stacked—but expectations should certainly be tempered. The first matchup against Jalen Ramsey resulted in just 28 scoreless yards for Metcalf, and Seattle’s passing attack isn’t what it was earlier in the year (their top target has cleared 80 yards just once over the past six games). Metcalf needs to be downgraded to WR2 range.
Thumbs Down: Marvin Jones (v TB)
The recent struggles of the Tampa Bay cornerback group is something to be concerned about heading into January, but for this week, I actually think Jones could be a good matchup for them as a bigger receiver compared to Tyreek Hill (13/269/3) and Calvin Ridley (10/163/1). Remember, getting torched by Hill was followed up by the secondary shutting down Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, so it’s not like the Bucs have been shredded by everyone they’ve faced. If the front seven gets to Matthew Stafford like I think they can, Jones could fail to reach expectations.
Thumbs Down: Marquise Brown (v NYG)
With lines of 4/85/1, 5/39/1, 2/50/1, and 6/98 this month, Brown might have finally endeared himself enough to fantasy owners since his zero-catch showing to end November, but the matchup concerns me on Sunday. Being a branch off the Bill Belichick tree, Joe Judge will surely make sure Baltimore’s top wideout doesn’t beat them, and James Bradberry coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list should go a long way to successfully executing the game plan.
Thumbs Down: Rashard Higgins (@ NYJ)
Higgins is another player that has caught fire in December (6/95/1, 6/68/1, and 4/76), but for some reason this spot feels a lot like last week when everyone was on Tim Patrick and he caught just three passes for 14 scoreless yards. I’d feel better starting a receiver in a more high-scoring, back-and-forth game such as Sammy Watkins or Michael Gallup.
Others: T.Y. Hilton (@ PIT), Tyler Lockett (v LAR)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Robert Tonyan (v TEN)
They aren’t going to do anything that takes away from their chances of winning a huge game on Sunday night, but does anyone think Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur won’t have some plays dialed up to get Tonyan the ball in scoring territory after his Pro Bowl snub? Tied for Travis Kelce as the NFL leader in touchdowns at tight end (ten), Tonyan is arguably a top-three play for Week 16.
Thumbs Up: Tyler Higbee (@ SEA)
Higbee found the end zone and went for a season-high 67 yards last week, and he will now look to keep the playoff production going against the Seahawks, who have allowed him to catch ten passes for 176 yards in their past two meetings. The aggressiveness of Jamal Adams and the Seattle defense could be used against them on Sunday if Higbee can find space with misdirection in Sean McVay’s offense. I have the veteran as a top-15 option.
Thumbs Up: Hayden Hurst (@ KC)
The numbers for Hurst since a strong start have mostly been disappointing, but he scored last week on one of his five targets, and now a good matchup is coming this weekend versus a Kansas City defense that has struggled to defend opposing tight ends all year. Before last week (and some plays were notably there to be made for Jared Cook), the Chiefs had allowed 100+ yards to the position in three of their previous four outings.
Thumbs Down of the Week: None
Just like last week, it’s tough to consider anyone worth a “Thumbs Down” designation considering the state of the position. I mean, Evan Engram—in the midst of perhaps his worst season to date—was named a Pro Bowler and seemed to think he was getting pranked.