Week 16 is championship week in most fantasy leagues, and the NFL has provided an enormous batch of targets for choosing between potential D/ST options. In one single NFL week, we will likely see such highly esteemed names as Kellen Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Blaine Gabbert, A.J. McCarron, Brandon Weeden, Zach Mettenberger, Case Keenum, and potentially Charlie Whitehurst under center. This influx of backup quarterbacks into the starting ranks gives fantasy owners a long list of D/ST choices this week, and our tiers below will be littered with options that will face cushy matchups with inexperienced signal callers. With fantasy football fame and glory, as well as the reluctant admiration of your league mates on the line, let’s jump right in and break down the best D/ST and kicker choices the fantasy world has to offer.
Top Tier Monsters
The (1) Seattle Seahawks (vs St. Louis) are rolling on both sides of the ball with Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin leading the offense while Pete Carroll’s defense has allowed just one offensive touchdown in the last three weeks. Week 16 will bring the St. Louis Rams and quarterback Case Keenum to Seattle, which is as tasty as a nice glass of Egg Nog this time of year. Keenum turned in a respectable game last week against Tampa Bay, but traveling to Seattle is a different story. Keenum threw for just 136 yards in his only other road start of the season and will surely be overwhelmed in this game. Seattle will have to deal with Todd Gurley, but the Seahawks have held opposing teams to 54 rushing yards per game over the last five weeks and will continue their hot play on Sunday.
Pittsburgh toasted the (2) Denver Broncos (vs Cincinnati) through the air last week, but those things occasionally happen on the road in the NFL to even the best defenses. The bright spot was that the Broncos allowed just 23 rushing yards to the Steelers, their second-straight game surrendering under 30 yards on the ground. Week 16 brings Cincinnati and quarterback A.J. McCarron to Denver, providing a friendly matchup for the Broncos D/ST. McCarron was not asked to do much in Week 15 as the Bengals easily handled San Francisco, and the backup will face his toughest test yet as a starter against Denver. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard won’t find much running room against Denver, so the Broncos’ secondary should be able to feast on McCarron in this matchup.
The (3) Carolina Panthers (at Atlanta) allowed just one touchdown in the first 43 minutes of Week 15 before letting the New York Giants hang 28-straight points on the board. Despite the late-game collapse, this is still a solid group and the Panthers handed Atlanta a shutout just two weeks ago. The Falcons have scored only 13.0 points per game over the last four weeks and will be no match for Carolina once again.
Winners of eight-consecutive games, the (4) Kansas City Chiefs (vs Cleveland) are another strong Week 16 fantasy play as they host Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs have created an average of 2.7 turnovers per game over the last six weeks, which has helped the Kansas City defense excel. The Chiefs have not allowed 300 passing yards in a game since Week 4 and have been stout on the ground as well, holding six of their last seven opponents under 100 rushing yards. Cleveland owns a sluggish running game and won’t derail the hot play of the Chiefs D/ST on Manziel’s arm alone.
With Marcus Mariota (knee) hurting, the Tennessee Titans will look to Zach Mettenberger to start at quarterback in Week 16. This development makes the (5) Houston Texans (at Tennessee) a solid defensive choice this week, as Mettenberger has tossed five interceptions in three starts this season and has thrown 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his short career. Houston owns the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense and will not find a challenge in stopping Mettenberger this week.
Blaine Gabbert is the target of the (6) Detroit Lions (vs San Francisco) this week, and Gabbert provided the Bengals D/ST with three interceptions in Week 15. Gabbert completed just 30 of 50 pass attempts along with the three turnovers, and has thrown more than one touchdown pass in only one of his six starts this season. In addition to starting Gabbert at quarterback, the 49ers will also likely be down to Travaris Cadet and Kendall Gaskins at running back. Fire up the Lions D/ST this week and don’t look back.
The (7) Buffalo Bills (vs Dallas) get the pleasure of hosting Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboys this week, making the Bills D/ST a suddenly prime fantasy option. Moore chucked a trio of interceptions in 25 attempts last week after taking over for Matt Cassel, and is a great bet for more turnovers on Sunday. The Bills have been getting pushed around on the ground this season including coughing up 130.8 rushing yards per game over the last four weeks, so the Dallas ground game may find success in this matchup. No matter how well the Cowboys run the ball however, Moore will still provide ample turnover opportunities for Rex Ryan’s defense.
The Week 16 starting quarterback for Baltimore has yet to be announced, but the (8) Pittsburgh Steelers (at Baltimore) will have the pleasure of facing Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, or Ryan Mallett this weekend. The Ravens have turned the ball over at least twice in every game since Joe Flacco was lost for the season, making the Steelers D/ST a nice bet for fantasy production this week no matter which quarterback is under center. Pittsburgh has forced eight turnovers in the last three weeks, making this unit a great Week 16 D/ST selection, and is owned in only 49 percent of Yahoo leagues.
Start ‘Em If You Got ‘Em
As demonstrated on Sunday night, the (9) Arizona Cardinals (vs Green Bay) are a very opportunistic defense as the group has forced 10 turnovers in the last four weeks including four in that Week 15 win at Philadelphia. The loss of Tyrann Mathieu certainly hurts this defense, but they will be playing at home this week and the Green Bay Packers have managed only 308.7 total yards per game in their last three road contests. The Cardinals have held their last four opponents under 75 rushing yards and should be able to make the Packers one dimensional fairly quickly, which has been far more advantageous for Green Bay opponents this season than in previous years.
The (10) New England Patriots (at NY Jets) have failed to force a turnover in only one game in 2015, and are a fine D/ST option this week on the road against the Jets. The Patriots have done most of their defensive damage via the sack, but the Jets have allowed only 20 sacks on the season, the second-lowest mark in the NFL. Despite the potential for the Jets to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick adequately, the Patriots have defended the pass well lately, allowing only 184.8 passing yards per game over the last five weeks and should be able to keep Fitzpatrick and the Jets’ duo of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker under control.
If Brian Hoyer (concussion) can’t start in Week 16, the (11) Tennessee Titans (vs Houston) will be facing quarterback Brandon Weeden, who took over at quarterback for Houston after T.J. Yates (knee) went down last week. Weeden did a decent job filling-in for Yates in Week 15, but has historically been a very inaccurate passer throughout his career and has thrown 29 touchdowns and 30 interceptions in stints with multiple NFL teams. Tennessee hasn’t been outstanding at forcing turnovers this season but a date with Weeden could change that in a hurry. The Titans D/ST is worth a look for fantasy owners down on options this week.
Borderline Tier, But Playable In A Pinch
The defense of the (12) Miami Dolphins (vs Indianapolis) has largely been terrible this season, but there is a chance they will face Colts quarterback Charlie Whitehurst this week, which makes this group worth a look from a streaming perspective. Matt Hasselbeck is dealing with multiple injuries and has struggled mightily in his last three starts, so the Dolphins D/ST could be a solid play even if he is under center as well. The Colts have averaged 250.7 total yards per game and turned the ball over seven times in the last three weeks, so check out the Dolphins at home this week.
Eli Manning has been on a bit of a roll lately, but playing without Odell Beckham Jr. this week may alter the picture in this case. The (13) Minnesota Vikings (vs NY Giants) have been gouged on the ground over the second half of the 2015 season, but the Giants own just the 24th-ranked rushing offense among NFL teams, so the chances of Rashad Jennings repeating his Week 15 performances are slim. A defense playing at home against a weak running game and a passing game without its top weapon is a reasonable place to look for a streaming target. The Viking D/ST is owned in 33 percent of Yahoo leagues.
The (14) New York Jets (vs New England) have been forcing turnovers at a solid clip recently, although the recent string of bottom-tier quarterbacks they have faced has padded those numbers. The opposition for the Jets will move from Kellen Moore to Tom Brady this week, as the Patriots invade New York for an AFC East matchup. The second-best run defense in the league shouldn’t be completely dismissed in fantasy leagues, but rolling out this group against the Patriots in a championship game is very unsettling when titles are on the line. The Jets are playing at home, where they have allowed 36 rushing yards total in their last two games, but you can likely do better on the waiver wire by cherry-picking matchups this week.
Brock Osweiler completed just 47.7 percent of his passes at Pittsburgh in Week 15 and comes home this week to face a tougher defense in the (15) Cincinnati Bengals (at Denver). The Bengals allowed 110.1 rushing yards per game in their first seven outings this season, but have lowered that number to 76.3 rushing yards per game over the last seven weeks. The Bengals have now snuck into the top-10 in run defense but will be tested against the Broncos, who have run for 100 or more yards in four of the last five weeks. If the Bengals can keep a handle on the Denver running game, they should be able to slow down Brock Osweiler, who has completed just 60.3 percent of his pass attempts on the year.
Bad Defenses, Bad Matchups, Or Both
(16) Oakland Raiders (vs San Diego), (17) Indianapolis Colts (at Miami), (18) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs Chicago), (19) Chicago Bears (at Tampa Bay), (20) Washington Redskins (at Philadelphia), (21) Philadelphia Eagles (vs Washington), (22) Dallas Cowboys (at Buffalo), (23) St. Louis Rams (at Seattle), (24) Jacksonville Jaguars (at New Orleans), (25) New York Giants (at Minnesota), (26) Atlanta Falcons (vs Carolina)
The Options That Aren’t Really Options
(27) San Francisco 49ers (at Detroit), (28) Green Bay Packers (at Arizona), (29) Cleveland Browns (at Kansas City), (30) San Diego Chargers (at Oakland), (31) Baltimore Ravens (vs Pittsburgh), (32) New Orleans Saints (vs Jacksonville)
In our final “looking ahead” section of the season, we take a glance at Week 17’s schedule to pick out early candidates to grace the top-10 in next week’s D/ST rankings:
Carolina (Wk 17 vs TB)
Cincinnati (Wk 17 vs BAL)
Kansas City (Wk 17 vs OAK)
Washington (Wk 17 at DAL)
St. Louis (Wk 17 at SF)
New England (Wk 17 at MIA)
Jacksonville (Wk 17 at HOU)
NY Jets (Wk 17 at BUF)
Kickers Are People Too
1. Graham Gano (at ATL)
2. Steven Hauschka (vs STL)
3. Chandler Catanzaro (vs GB)
4. Jason Myers (at NO)
5. Stephen Gostkowski (at NYJ)
6. Cairo Santos (vs CLE)
7. Josh Brown (a MIN)
8. Chris Boswell (at BAL)
9. Kai Forbath (vs JAX)
10. Matt Prater (vs SF)
11. Blair Walsh (vs NYG)
12. Robbie Gould (at TB)
13. Brandon McManus (vs CIN)
15. Sebastian Janikowski (vs SD)