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Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em

Week 16 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

We’re almost home, guys and gals. It’s officially fantasy championship week. Those of you that play season-long fantasy in Week 17 need to have a word with your commissioners. Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em is geared toward redraft leagues but can also be used for setting DFS lineups.


Start of the Week: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens: Big Ben’s last two games have been on the road, and the Steelers have played four of their last five away from Heinz Field. It’s become common knowledge at this point that Roethlisberger is much better at home than away from it. He hasn’t thrown for more than 300 yards in any road game this season. At home, he has three 300-yard outings and a 17:3 TD:INT mark in six contests. Baltimore ranks sixth in pass-defense DVOA, but the back end has been pretty giving of late, surrendering the seventh-most fantasy points over the past five weeks. Matters were made even worse two weeks ago when top CB Jimmy Smith suffered a multi-week ankle injury. He hasn’t practiced this week and doesn’t appear close to being ready for Christmas Day. Big Ben has scored at least 20 fantasy points in every home game this year and has topped 30 in three of them. He’s a must-start QB1 in this spot with the playoffs and division lead on the line.


Philip Rivers at Browns: Rivers has been pretty dreadful of late, letting us down in numerous plus spots. But his schedule continues to be one of the best on paper. Rivers has tossed at least one interception in five straight games and has three multi-pick outings in that span. Stretching that out over his past seven contests, Rivers has 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He’s also reached the 300-yards mark just one time in that frame. Cleveland has surrendered the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks over the past five weeks, but part of that is due to facing the fewest pass attempts in that window. I’m still willing to bet against this 0-14 Browns team, even if Rivers only throws around 35 passes. With Melvin Gordon (hip, knee) looking doubtful to return for this one, the expectation is Rivers, for the most part, will be leaned on to carry the offense. The Browns are 31st in pass-defense DVOA, and the Chargers will be considerably up in pace Sunday if Cleveland is forced to play catch-up like they’ve been doing all year. On the season, the Browns are sixth in offensive pace, and the Chargers are 25th. Expect San Diego to get a few more plays out of this matchup.

Cam Newton vs. Falcons: Listed in this same space last week, Newton pulled himself out of his month-long rut and threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Redskins, finishing as the QB5 in Week 15. Heading back home, Newton is in another plum spot. The Falcons are 26th in pass-defense DVOA and have allowed the most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. Looking at the numbers, they’ve played better pass defense of late, but Atlanta’s past two games have been against rookie Jared Goff and the anemic Rams offense and a tanking 49ers team led by Colin Kaepernick. As noted by Pro Football Focus’ Pat Thorman, Carolina tends to play more up-tempo at home as opposed to on the road. And the last time these two teams met, back in Week 4, they combined for 81 points. Newton was concussed in that one and missed 29 snaps. Derek Anderson came on and lit up garbage time to make it close. Carolina is pushing to keep its playoff hopes alive, though those are on life support, but the Panthers also wouldn’t mind trying to ruin the Falcons’ chances at the same time. The 52-point total for this one is the third-highest of the week.

Jameis Winston at Saints: Winston has been a middle-of-the-road QB2 in fantasy over the past 4-5 weeks, and he’s coming off a mistake-filled Week 15 loss to the Cowboys that saw him turn the ball over four times. But the Bucs are beating on the door of the playoffs and are going to need a big performance from their offense Sunday. These two teams just faced off in Week 14, in Tampa Bay, and combined for a measly 27 total points. In that game, Winston threw for 184 scoreless yards. This Saturday, the division rivals will meet in the offense-friendly Superdome. New Orleans is 28th in pass-defense DVOA and has allowed an average of 30 points at home this year. That includes 20- and 21-point outings by the Seahawks and Rams. The Saints lead the league in plays per game and both these offenses are top-10 in pace, even though the Bucs have slowed their roll on offense of late. Drew Brees might force them to pick things up this time around. The 53-point total is the second-highest of Week 16, and we get a dome environment, which is cherished in December.

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Dak Prescott vs. Lions: Outside of the usual suspects, Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant, this game looks like one to avoid for the most part on Monday night. Both offenses like to control the clock and let the seconds run down before snapping the ball. Detroit is 30th in offensive pace, while Dallas is 31st. Only the Dolphins play slower. The 43-point total for Detroit-Dallas is pretty uninviting. Over the last five weeks, the Lions have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. They’re surrendering one passing touchdown per game in that span and have picked off more passes than they’ve allowed touchdowns. After getting off to a terrible start to the season, allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks in the first month, Detroit is now 20th in that category. The Lions held Eli Manning to 201 yards last week and Drew Brees to 326 yards, zero touchdowns, and three interceptions back in Week 13 at the Superdome. Prescott is more of a QB2 for title week.

Matthew Stafford at Cowboys: As mentioned above, Lions-Cowboys is a game I’m not looking to target for fantasy purposes. The 43-point over-under is one of the lowest of the week, and both offenses play extremely slow. Neither wants the other team to have the ball. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see each team only get 5-6 possessions in this one. Stafford is having a great season and is currently the overall QB12 in fantasy points per game. However, a ton of that damage was done early in the year before OC Jim Bob Cooter slowed things down in an effort to keep the Lions’ suspect defense off the field. Stafford has just two multi-touchdown games over his past eight and has topped 280 yards just once in that span. Dallas is middle of the pack in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and 22nd in pass-defense DVOA, but both of these clubs have the same philosophy for the most part. We can do better at quarterback in Week 16.

Joe Flacco at Steelers: One of the top streamers of the past few weeks, Flacco has averaged 303 yards with an 8:3 TD:INT ratio over his past three games. He threw at least two touchdowns in all three of those outings as the Ravens continue to be the most pass-heavy offense in the league, running the ball just 35.75 percent of the time. It’s looking like a good time to jump ship, though. The Steelers are 13th in pass-defense DVOA and have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks over the last five weeks. In that span, Pittsburgh is allowing an average of 206.2 passing yards per game. When these two teams met in Week 9, Flacco completed just 18 passes for 241 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. His last trip to Pittsburgh was also a nightmare fantasy day with 189 yards and 1:1 TD:INT mark in Week 4 of 2015. Flacco is a fine two-quarterback-league play this week, but he’s an underwhelming streamer in 12- and 14-team leagues that start one QB.


Start of the Week: Thomas Rawls vs. Cardinals: Rawls was a massive Week 15 flop in a Grade-A home spot against the Rams. He turned 22 carries into just 32 yards. Los Angeles has had his number this season, holding Rawls to 25 yards on 29 carries. Against everyone else, Rawls is averaging 4.61 yards per carry with two touchdowns on 65 attempts. There’s no questioning his role in this backfield. With C.J. Prosise (shoulder) still out and Christine Michael shipped off to Green Bay weeks ago, Rawls has a stranglehold on the work. He played 92 percent of the snaps last week. Seattle is massive 8.5-point home favorites over Arizona, setting up Rawls to be involved early and often. The Cardinals’ defense has gone in the tank. Over the last five weeks, they’re allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs, and only the 49ers have given up more rushing touchdowns in that frame. Mark Ingram just busted his slump against Arizona in Week 15, averaging 4.59 YPC on 17 totes, while Tim Hightower scored a pair of touchdowns. Rawls has one 100-yard game on the year, and he happened to score both of his touchdowns on that day. Another 100 yards and an end-zone trip are within reach in this spot. Fire Rawls up as an RB1 with confidence.


Todd Gurley vs. 49ers: As Gurley’s owners know well, it’s been a nightmare year for the sophomore. He’s yet to have a 100-yard rushing game, has scored just five touchdowns, and is averaging a vomit-inducing 3.2 yards per carry. But if there’s any week to be excited about Gurley, this is it. Sure, he laid an egg against the 49ers back in Week 1, rushing for 47 scoreless yards on 17 carries, but since then, San Francisco has allowed 11 running backs to run for 100 yards. The Niners are 30th in run-defense DVOA and 32nd in fantasy points allowed to opposing backs. They’ve surrendered 22 rushing touchdowns, while no other team has allowed more than 17. Over the past five weeks, running backs have found the end zone 10 times against the 49ers and are averaging over 4.8 yards per tote. Seeing an average of 17.2 carries per game, Gurley has one of the safer workloads at the position. And with pass-game RB Benny Cunningham (neck) going on I.R. ahead of Week 14, Gurley has seen seven targets over his past two games. 49ers-Rams has the second-lowest total of the week at 40 points, but there are a couple fantasy options in this one, including the running backs from both teams. This will be Gurley’s best shot at a 100-yard day.

Kenneth Farrow at Browns: It doesn’t sound like Melvin Gordon (hip, knee) is going to play this week. He missed practice on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Farrow was a big disappointment in his spot start last week against the Raiders, rushing 15 times for 39 yards, adding two catches for 14 yards. He also fumbled twice. The silver lining, however, is that Farrow out-snapped Ronnie Hillman 41-13 and out-touched him 17-7. Let’s chalk up the down day to rookie jitters and give Farrow the benefit of the doubt. Bring it back and stick with him as a solid RB2 play in a dream matchup. Cleveland is 32nd in run-defense DVOA and 31st in fantasy points allowed to running backs. The Browns and 49ers are the only teams that have faced 400-plus carries on defense this season. And only San Francisco has allowed more fantasy points and rushing touchdowns. Cleveland is yielding 4.7 YPC to running backs, and Farrow should have a floor of 15 touches with upside for 20 or more. After Farrow burned us last week, he’ll make for a fine bounce-back play Saturday.

Rob Kelley at Bears: Last week, Kelley handled his fewest carries since taking over as the starter. He rushed just nine times for eight yards against the Panthers but was able to score from five yards out and caught a season-high four passes for 47 yards. It was easily Kelley’s worst rushing performance in his seven games as the top dog. The Redskins fell in an early hole and were playing from behind all night. Washington is 3.5-point favorites this week at Chicago, and the Bears were just shredded by WR-turned-RB Ty Montgomery for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries (10.1 YPC) last Sunday. Montgomery had runs of 61, 36, and 26 yards. Christine Michael also score a long touchdown. The Bears are 27th in run-defense DVOA and 28th in fantasy points allowed to running backs over the past five weeks. While Kelley has disappointed with 63 rushing yards or fewer in four straight games, this is a perfect get-right spot. Bears NT Eddie Goldman (ankle) remains out.

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Adrian Peterson at Packers: Is anybody interested in a 31-year-old running back, playing at far less than 100 percent, averaging 1.9 YPC on the year, and running behind the league’s worst offensive line? Didn’t think so. Peterson has the star appeal, but he’d had no chance this season. The Minnesota front five isn’t opening running lanes, and Peterson is now battling a groin injury on top of his preexisting knee issue. He didn’t practice Wednesday, and it remains to be seen if he will play in Green Bay. Never bet against Peterson. Odds are he’ll be out there. But “All Day” will be impossible to trust in fantasy lineups. Peterson played just 12 snaps last week in his return, and this backfield is looking like it’s going to be a timeshare the final two weeks. Green Bay’s run defense has cratered since the first half of the year due to numerous injuries, but I’d still take them in a fight over the Vikings’ run offense. Peterson doesn’t have the 20-carry volume to fall back on in this one.

Terrance West at Steelers: The Ravens continue to play games in their backfield. One week it looks like West has taken the reins, and the next it’ll look like Kenneth Dixon is the better back. That was the case in Weeks 14 and 15. Dixon out-snapped West 42-14 in Week 14, but West came right back and played 26 snaps to Dixon’s 15 last week. It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen in Pittsburgh. But the Steelers are 4.5-point favorites at home, suggesting the Ravens will likely be playing from behind if bookmakers know what they’re talking about. On top of being the underdog, Baltimore already runs the ball less than any other team in the league. Dixon is the preferred pass-game back, as we saw against the Patriots two weeks back when the rookie led the team in targets. Dixon will be more of an RB2/flex against the Steelers, while West is on the RB3/4 map. Over the past five weeks, the Steelers have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to running backs.

Isaiah Crowell vs. Chargers: Crowell has seen 12 or fewer carries in eight of the last nine games after opening the year with 12-plus in Weeks 1-5. Coach Hue Jackson came out and admitted this week that Crowell’s workload is dependent on game flow. Since he’s not much of a threat as a pass catcher, Duke Johnson has been racking up the playing time when the Browns fall behind on the scoreboard. And since Cleveland is 0-14, that happens quite often. San Diego doesn’t present a daunting matchup for Crowell, but the Chargers are 6.5-point favorites and could easily come in and boat-race the Browns early. Crowell’s floor is far too low to trust him in championship week. Johnson would be the better play as an RB3/flex, especially in PPR formats.


Start of the Week: Kenny Britt vs. 49ers: It’s been hard for the Rams’ offense to support more than one fantasy option per week this season, but this is one game where we could see Todd Gurley and a Los Angeles pass catcher both do damage. The lone consistent player for the Rams in 2016 has been Britt. He’s already set a new career best in catches and yards and is 13 yards away from 1,000. It would be a major upset if Britt didn’t reach that number this week. Heck, 1,100 is in sight come Saturday. For as bad as San Francisco has been against the run, its pass defense has been equally as incompetent. Only the Packers have surrendered more fantasy points to receivers, and both Green Bay and San Francisco have given up a league-high 21 touchdowns to the position. Last week, Falcons WR Taylor Gabriel was able to score another touchdown against the 49ers, and teammate Aldrick Robinson posted a career-high 111 yards. Britt is ninth among all receivers in targets per game over the past four weeks, seeing an average of nine per week. It really hasn’t mattered to him who has been under center for the Rams. Britt is a top-25 option this week.


Dontrelle Inman at Browns: Inman has been playing heavy snaps pretty much all season in San Diego. But he didn’t start producing until Travis Benjamin went down with a knee injury around Weeks 7 or 8. Over the last eight games, Inman has seen no fewer than five targets in a single contest and has averaged 7.1 per week in that span. He’s posted at least 43 yards in each game in that frame. That provides a nice floor, as Inman is the Bolts’ top possession receiver out of the slot. Inman has shown the ability to blow up in plus spots, with 7-120-1 and 6-119-1 lines already in 2016. Cleveland has allowed just the 11th-most fantasy points to receivers, but that’s because they haven’t faced a ton of volume with offenses being able to run it down their throat. It remains to be seen if San Diego is capable of that in the absence of Melvin Gordon (hip, knee), so Inman out of the slot and Philip Rivers’ tight ends could provide an extension of the running game. The Browns have struggled with slot receivers all year. Benjamin and Tyrell Williams are also in play as WR3 options.

Malcolm Mitchell vs. Jets: Mitchell’s targets have taken a hit the past two weeks, seeing a total of six in that span against the Ravens and Broncos. He dominated the first half against Baltimore, catching a touchdown on four targets, but over his last three halves of play, Mitchell has seen a total of three looks. That’s to be expected in Denver, and the Patriots ran the ball right at the Broncos on the way to a 13-point win. It’s not as if Mitchell hasn’t been on the field. He’s played over 84 percent of the snaps the past three games. Week 16 provides an opportunity for Mitchell to get right. The Jets are dead last in pass-defense DVOA and 22nd in fantasy points allowed to receivers. They’ve been dreadful all year and have since given up on their season. Making his first starts in nearly five calendar years, Matt Moore was able to throw four touchdowns against this sorry Jets defense last week. Imagine what Tom Brady is capable of doing against it at home. This is a tune-up spot for the Patriots. They could easily rest their starters in the Week 17 finale. Brady fired off a season-high 50 pass attempts the last time these two teams met in Week 12. Mitchell caught two touchdowns that day. Fire up all your Patriots pass catchers on Saturday.

Ted Ginn vs. Falcons: Since Week 6, Ginn has seen no fewer than four targets in one game and has seen at least six in 7-of-9 games in that span. With Kelvin Benjamin banged up and falling off the face of the planet, Ginn has essentially taken over as the No. 1 receiver on the outside while Greg Olsen does all the work in the middle of the field and underneath. Ginn has at least 50 yards and/or one touchdown in six of the past nine games. We don’t think of Ginn as a nice floor player, but he’s provided it over the past two-plus months. Ginn only caught two passes for 14 yards in the previous matchup between these two teams, but that was back in Week 4. His role has grown since then. Ginn is a home run waiting to happen. Atlanta is 26th in pass-defense DVOA and allows the third-most passing yards per game. Ginn has a reasonable floor and massive upside.


Jeremy Maclin vs. Broncos: Maclin looked as healthy as he has all season last week against the Titans, leading the Chiefs in targets (7), catches (6), and yards (82). He was also targeted in the end zone in the second half, but Alex Smith threw a costly interception on the play, paving the way for a Titans comeback win. Since returning from his groin injury two games ago, Maclin has played 80.5 percent of the snaps. He should be closer to the 90 percent mark this Sunday night. But that’s still not enough for us to get behind in this brutal matchup. Denver is No. 1 in pass-defense DVOA and has allowed the fewest catches, yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points to receivers. Maclin missed the Week 12 matchup between these two teams, but struggled against Denver last season as well, finishing with receiving lines of 4-57-0 and 3-17-0. It’s a much better spot for Travis Kelce.

Brandon Marshall at Patriots: Marshall saw a nine-week-high 11 targets last week against the Dolphins. The problem was he only caught one of them for 16 yards. In the three games Bryce Petty has started this year, Marshall has receiving lines of 4-9-0 against the Rams, 3-33-0 versus the 49ers, and the 1-16-0 last week. Robby Anderson and Bilal Powell have each seen a team-best 23 targets in Petty’s starts, while Marshall and Quincy Enunwa have both seen 22. Petty clearly has better connections with Anderson and Powell after working the second unit with them all year in practice. Marshall hasn’t been able to take advantage of good spots with Petty, and this one is no different. New England is 25th in pass-defense DVOA but ninth in fantasy points allowed to receivers. Marshall has been one of the biggest fantasy busts of 2016 and is barely on the WR3/4. radar.

Brandon LaFell at Texans: This assumes A.J. Green (hamstring) will be back for Saturday night’s affair. If Green isn’t in the lineup, then proceed with LaFell as a WR3. But Green has already told several people he plans to play this week. He’s been doing a lot more in practice the past two weeks, suggesting he’d be more than a decoy in his return. Over the past five games, with Green out, LaFell has averaged eight targets and has two 90-yard games. In the first nine games of the season, LaFell saw more than five targets just three times and that was when Tyler Eifert was still out in September and early October. Eifert (back) could miss this one after not practicing Wednesday, but it’s too early to tell. If he sits, LaFell would get a slight boost, but not as big of one with Green out. The Texans have allowed the third-fewest catches, yards, and fantasy points to receivers on the year.


Start of the Week: Martellus Bennett vs. Jets: Rob Gronkowski’s (back) season was over seven snaps into the Week 12 matchup between the Jets and Patriots. In the four games, including that one, since, Bennett has seen exactly four targets in all of them. Bennett has scored just one touchdown since Week 5. But this has the makings of a spot for Bennett to have a potential breakout. The Jets have been dreadful against tight ends. And over the last five weeks, no team has allowed more fantasy points or touchdowns to the position. Dwayne Allen mixed in a 4-72-3 line against Gang Green in Week 13, and Dolphins TE Dion Sims had a 4-31-2 night last Saturday. All of the damage done by Allen and Sims was in the red zone, and that’s where Bennett thrives. He’s a top 8-10 play.


Kyle Rudolph at Packers: Only Greg Olsen has seen more targets at the tight end position than Rudolph this season. And Rudolph is one of just three tight ends (Olsen and Travis Kelce) to see at least 100 targets through 14 games. Rudolph has been ultra-consistent. While he’s not going to make the splash plays and have 100-yard games, his volume has been really steady. Over the past four weeks, only Zach Ertz’s 10.5 targets per game has been better than Rudolph’s mark of 10. With Stefon Diggs battling a hip injury and missing practice Wednesday, it could open up even more for the tight end. Rudolph caught a touchdown against the Packers in Week 2, and Green Bay has surrendered the ninth-most catches and 12th-most fantasy points to tight ends.

Antonio Gates at Browns: Gates’ snap rate has been down over the past month. The 36-year-old doesn’t have much left in the tank, and he’s mixed in zero- and one-target games over his last four. Gates did go 5-61-0 on nine targets against the Panthers in Week 14, so it’s not like he’s fallen off completely. Gates is two touchdowns away from tying Tony Gonzalez for the all-time record for tight ends, so we can expect Philip Rivers to do everything he can to get Gates there. Saturday looks like a great chance to make a dent. The Browns have allowed the most touchdowns and fantasy points to tight ends this season. Hunter Henry has been stealing the touchdowns of late and can actually make defenders miss at this stage of his career. He’s also worth streaming consideration. But Gates owners need to fire up the veteran in this spot as well.

C.J. Fiedorowicz vs. Bengals: Fiedorowicz missed last week’s game against the Jaguars with a concussion. He cleared the league’s protocol on Wednesday and has the green light to play Saturday night. Fiedorowicz had a great rapport with check-down master Brock Osweiler, but the insertion of Tom Savage at quarterback shouldn’t hurt the tight end. Savage and No. 2 TE Ryan Griffin showed a strong connection in the second half of last week’s game, and Fiedorowicz has seen an average of eight targets per game over the last four weeks. The Bengals have given up the second-most yards and third-most fantasy points to tight ends. Star WLB Vontaze Burfict is also in the concussion protocol and didn’t practice Wednesday. He’s battling a knee injury on top of that.


Jermaine Gresham at Seahawks: Over the last four weeks, Gresham’s seven targets per game is tied for sixth among all tight ends. He’s playing every snap in a hollowed-out Cardinals passing offense, but volume might not be enough to save him here. Seattle has locked down tight ends all season, allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Over the last five weeks, tight ends have averaged four catches for 40 yards against Seattle with one total touchdown. The loss of FS Earl Thomas (leg, I.R.) hasn’t hurt them in that area to this point.

Jimmy Graham vs. Cardinals: Talk about a buzz kill. Graham looked like the best tight end in the sport at times earlier this year, but his targets have nose-dived in recent weeks. He’s totaled just two catches for 47 yards on six targets combined over the past two games. His dip has coincided with Tyler Lockett’s ascension back up the totem pole. And now Graham gets the toughest individual matchup on the board. The Cardinals have completely stamped out tight ends in 2016. They’re No. 3 in DVOA against the position and have allowed the fewest yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points to tight ends. Only one tight end has scored versus Arizona this season.

Dennis Pitta at Steelers: Pitta has graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ worst tight ends this season. He doesn’t block, and Pitta doesn’t make things happen after the catch. He’s a classic catch-and-fall type who also doesn’t see red-zone looks. Pitta’s two-touchdown Week 13 against the Dolphins has proved to be an outlier. The matchup against the Steelers isn’t scary by any means, but Pitta has been unable to take advantage of plus spots all year. In the meeting between these two teams back in Week 9, Pitta caught just two balls for 14 yards. Leave him alone in Week 16.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.