The last fantasy-relevant games to be played on Christmas Day were back in 2017. It seems almost fitting for 2020 that the end to a chaotic season starts while we’re enjoying the holiday. The weekend is packed with games from Friday to Monday. The news cycle won’t stop while we’re opening presents and adjusting to the latest news will be critical to bringing home a championship. Without a Thursday night game to preview, I’ve looked into some of the best and worst matchups as we head into the weekend along with some of the news coming out of Wednesday.
Best and Worst Matchups
Baker Mayfield at Jets
Jalen Hurts will be the popular add this week, but Mayfield and the Browns are in a prime spot. But let’s assume the Jets’ performance in Week 15 is real. Their defensive front was able to pressure Jared Goff on 11 of his 34 attempts (32.4%). Goff’s nightmarish splits under pressure were on full display as he barely crested 200 passing yards. However, the Jets placed Quinnen Williams and Harvey Langi, both defensive starters, on Injured Reserve. Williams and Langi combined for four pressures in Week 15 alone and Williams leads the team in sacks, hits, and pressures. The losses of these two are devastating to the Jets’ defense, but Mayfield likely would have excelled anyway.
Mayfield has played well in and out of structure over the last month. His 0.47 Expected Points Added (EPA) per Play from a clean pocket drops to a manageable 0.10 when under duress. Even in Week 14 against Baltimore, where he was pressured on 38.3% of his attempts, Mayfield threw for 108 yards and a touchdown. Regardless, the Browns have been passing at a season-high 60.8% rate in neutral situations along with 54.2% inside the 20-yard line. We typically look to the Browns’ running game for fantasy value, but Mayfield is a Top-12 option in Week 16.
Russell Wilson vs. Rams
The Rams did just lose to the Jets, but their defense was still stifling overall. New York averaged just 24.7 yards per drive and recorded 289 total yards on the day. They were forced to settle for field goals after starting inside the Rams’ 30-yard line on back-to-back drives. Sam Darnold was still pressured on 35.5% of his attempts which lines up with Los Angeles’ defensive performance as of late. They’re second in EPA per Dropback (-0.22) and Rush EPA Allowed (-0.25) over the last month. They’ve allowed just seven passing touchdowns since Week 7. Given their ability to cause disruptions up front and through the air, fantasy managers should think twice before relying on the Seahawks’ passing game in their championship.
Wilson’s neutral and red-zone passing rates are on the decline. His 55.1% neutral passing rate over the last two weeks pales in comparison to the 66.2% rate we saw through the first nine weeks of the season. The ‘Let Russ Cook’ movement is in shambles and the MVP candidate throughout most of the season isn’t helping his case. Wilson is 24th in EPA per Play over the last month and has averaged 15.9 PPG over that span. If his previous contest against the Rams is any indication of what’s to come (248 yards, 0 touchdowns, 3 turnovers), fantasy managers should at least entertain the idea of a different option in Week 16.
David Montgomery at Jaguars
Derrick Henry will likely be the favorite running back on Sunday, but Montgomery shouldn’t be too far behind. The Jaguars rank 30th in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed to running backs. They’ve allowed a single player to rush for over 100 yards in three out of their last four games. The last two teams to face them scored twice on the ground. With Jacksonville allowing a 46.2% rushing success rate over the last month, David Montgomery may be part of the reason fantasy managers take home a championship.
Montgomery’s workload has steadily risen over the last few weeks. He was essentially splitting carries with Cordarrelle Patterson in Week 13 (67.7% touch share), but Montgomery finished Week 15 with 33 touches. His 97.1% touch rate against the Vikings was impressive, but 62.5% success rate (percentage of runs that increased the Bears’ win probability) was equally impressive. Montgomery has averaged 26.5 PPR PPG since Week 12. However, it’s important to account for his defensive matchups over that span. Regardless, the Jaguars are yet another positive matchup for the Bears’ rushing attack making Montgomery a great start for Week 16.
Le’Veon Bell vs. Falcons
Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s injury puts Bell back into the spotlight. Fantasy managers will look at the matchup and Kansas City’s team total (highest on the slate) and plan accordingly. But the Falcons aren’t the softest matchup for running backs. Since their Week 10 bye, they’re 10th in Rush EPA (-0.15). Atlanta hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Leonard Fournette is the only running back to score multiple rushing touchdowns against the Falcons and it took two attempts from the 1-yard line to get him there. The matchup isn’t the greatest and we’re still unsure what Bell’s workload will be on Sunday.
When Edwards-Helaire was active, he was part of a committee (49.4% touch share over the first month Bell joined the team). Darrel Williams was still involved in the two-minute drill. Bell began to mix in on short-yardage situations. The workload never coalesced around one player. Even when Edwards-Helaire was sick but active in Week 13, Bell saw 65.0% of the touches but split the snaps with Williams 52% to 48%. Bell will be the starter, but the Chiefs’ running backs have combined for just 13 attempts from within the 20-yard line since their bye. The matchup may look good on paper, but Bell may not meet expectations in a critical spot for fantasy managers.
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Tyreek Hill vs. Falcons
Teams have avoided the Falcons’ rush defense by taking to the air. Their secondary has allowed two passing touchdowns in three consecutive games and has recorded just two interceptions since their bye. Wide receivers have wreaked havoc on Atlanta’s corners and safeties with six receivers finishing inside the Top 24 since Week 11. Primary wide receivers have been especially effective. Michael Thomas (12-104-0 in Week 11 and 11-105-0 in Week 13) and Mike Evans (7-110-0 in Week 15) torched the Falcons in their respective matchups setting up Tyreek Hill for Sunday. Kansas City’s passing attack is diverse, but we should be able to count on Hill during our championship match.
Hill was seen drinking pickle juice and getting his hamstring worked on during Week 15. He sat out of practice Wednesday, but ‘he’s going to be OK’ according to Andy Reid. Fantasy managers will hope that’s the case given his status on the team. Since the team’s bye, Hill’s 56 targets are rivaled by Travis Kelce alone. He ranks third in air yards and first in touchdowns over that span. We think of him as just a speedster, but he’s just behind Kelce in red-zone targets (18) and has three rushing attempts to go with the targets. Health is the only thing stopping Hill from maintaining his WR1 status as we head into the weekend.
To be honest, I don’t see too many landmines outside of the tough matchup for the Seattle receivers. Buffalo will face the Patriots’ defense without Stephon Gilmore and just allowed 46.9 yards per drive to Tua Tagovailoa with three starters on offense out. The Saints may have limited the Broncos' and Eagles' passing games, but Calvin Ridley has tagged them twice for big games in Weeks 11 and 13 which provides some confidence for Justin Jefferson. The Colts best pass rusher (DeForest Buckner) missed practice on Wednesday and their secondary did gave up 106 receiving yards to David Johnson and multiple deep shots to Chad Hansen in Week 15. The Steelers’ offense continues to unravel, but the matchups for Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool shouldn’t be further downgraded because they’re facing Indianapolis.
COVID-19 Watch Week 16
We’ve seen one or two fantasy-relevant players miss a game due to the pandemic throughout the season. We’ve seen whole team units placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. We’ve even seen teams have to send out their second-string personnel in order to play a game. However, a team missing most of their coaching staff is a new one.
Detroit is already dealing with multiple injuries to their offensive unit and now has no idea who will be able to coach the players available. In addition, a report surfaced that their coaches broke protocol which may have contributed to the outbreak amongst the staff. The Lions resumed practice despite missing most of their coaches and the game is still scheduled for Saturday. A season to forget wont’ be as forgettable with this many storylines coming out of Detroit.
Also, the Jets placed TE Ryan Griffin on the reserve/COVID-19 list. No details have been provided as to whether or not the veteran tight end tested positive or was deemed a close contact. However, no additional transactions were made by the Jets on Wednesday which suggests any exposure was limited to just Griffin and no other team members.