Week 16 can make a fantasy owner do crazy things. With the championship on the line, I’ve seen far too many folks get cute and have it backfire on them.
The most important thing to remember about this week, is that it’s just like every other week. Sure, you’re playing for a trophy, but the object is still the same – to win the game.
You win games for the first 15 weeks of the season by playing your best players. Start your studs, and play they guys who got you there. I don’t care if “so-and-so” has a great matchup. If “so-and-so” is shmoe, you shouldn’t start him over your stud. Period.
Now, you could be in a situation where you do need a plug-and-play. If that applies to you, consider yourself extremely lucky. Regardless, it’s still important to be abreast of all the key situations from around the league, so let’s kick things off with the Low Down.
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The Low Down
Like we expected, Christian Jones played every-down along with Jon Bostic for the Bears on Monday night. Jones paced Chicago with 13 total tackles, while Bostic managed a respectable eight. Both players have to be considered upside LB2s this week, with the edge going to Jones.
The Packers have moved on from their “Clay Matthews at middle linebacker” experiment. Matthews was back on the outside full-time last week, with Sam Barrington and A.J. Hawk playing inside. Hawk was in a two-down role and remains off the fantasy radar. Barrington did see subpackage snaps and posted an impressive 10 total tackles (nine solo). Despite these encouraging numbers, Barrington is a risky play this week in a poor matchup against the Bucs.
A lot of people have their eye on Giants rookie Devon Kennard, but look beyond the box score. Kennard is not playing every-down, so his production is unsustainable. He’s an extremely volatile fantasy play this week. I wouldn’t recommend relying on him with a fantasy championship on the line.
After he appeared to be on the verge of a breakout, Jags linebacker Telvin Smith has floundered over the last two weeks. He’s far from a safe fantasy option on Thursday night, so you may want to fade the rookie and place your trust elsewhere.
William Gay posted eight total tackles and a pick-six against the Falcons, but don’t take this as a sign of things to come. Gay saw double-digit targets for only the third time this season. His numbers will regress this week.
Injuries struck hard in Denver this past week, with both Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan going down against the Chargers. Trevathan’s injury was severe enough to land him on injured reserve. Marshall has a foot issue that isn’t as bad, but will cost him the next 1-2 weeks. The pickings are slim in Denver, and I really don’t think there will be a viable fantasy replacement. Todd Davis and Steve Johnson saw snaps last week, so they’re in the mix. We could also see rookie Lamin Barrow on the field. John Fox hasn’t stated his plans just yet, so it’s best to avoid this situation in Week 16.
Rookie phenom Chris Borland left Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks with an ankle injury and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. This is a tough blow, as Borland was the defensive equivalent Odell Beckham down the stretch for fantasy owners. Michael Wilhoite and Nick Moody will start for the 49ers this week, and neither player offers more than a low LB3 ceiling. Borland owners should look elsewhere for production.
The Chargers placed Donald Butler on injured reserve with a dislocated elbow. With Butler out, Manti Te’o played nearly every-down against the Broncos. His stat line of six total tackles doesn’t pop off the box score, but Te’o should still get LB3 consideration this week.
Trent Cole has a broken left hand, which means we should finally see Brandon Graham in an every-down role. Get your popcorn ready because Graham has an extremely strong matchup against Washington this week.
Oakland placed Sio Moore on injured reserve with a hip injury. Moore tallied 90 total tackles and three sacks in 11 games this season. The injury doesn’t sound serious, so Moore’s status for offseason activities isn’t in doubt. With Moore out, the Raiders are using Miles Burris and Ray-Ray Armstrong at inside linebacker. Neither player is on the fantasy radar.
Chandler Jones is back. The Pats defensive end played 56-of-81 snaps, recording seven total tackles and 1.5 sacks against the Dolphins. He appears likely to see an increased role this week, so fire him up as a high-end DL1.
Craig Robertson is on an absolute tear with double-digit tackles in four of his last five games. Keep in mind he’s been doing so with Karlos Dansby sidelined. Dansby got limited work in at practice last week, and could be back in action this week. Keep a close eye on his status if you’ve been relying on Robertson. If Dansby returns, Robertson would likely slide back to a two-down role.
Keenan Robinson couldn’t get back on the field for Washington, so we again saw Will Compton in an every-down role. Compton posted nine total tackles, and Perry Riley managed 10 against the Giants. Keep an eye on Robinson’s status this week.
Anthony Barr remained sidelined for the Vikings in Week 15, and we saw Gerald Hodges again in a starting role. Hodges played every-down and paced the Vikings with nine total tackles. Hodges would make for another solid spot-start if Barr can’t suit up again this week. We’ll be updating Barr’s status later in the week.
The Dolphins were without both Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi in Week 15. Instead, Miami turned to Kelvin Sheppard and Jason Trusnik as their three-down options, and both players topped double-digit tackles. There’s no word yet on Jenkins’ or Misi’s status for this week, but Sheppard and Trusnik would make for very dicey plays if they get the nod again.
Tyrann Mathieu returned to practice on Monday and appears to be set to return this week. He’ll play with a cast and is far from a lock to see significant snaps. Leave him on the wire in redraft leagues.
With Major Wright sidelined, Bradley McDougald got the start at strong safety for the Bucs and racked up an impressive 15 total tackles (11 solo) against Carolina. The numbers are very intriguing, but McDougald unproven track record makes him a dangerous Hail Mary play this week.
Week 15 Pass Rushers
Terrell Suggs cracked double-digit sacks after notching 2.5 on eight QB pressures against the Jags. ... Mario Williams posted another sack in Week 13, bringing his season total to 13. ... Panthers DE Charles Johnson notched a half-sack on 10 QB pressures. Johnson has played extremely well over the last month, and should be locked in your starting lineup this week. ... Carlos Dunlap tallied a sack on four QB pressures against the hapless Browns. ... J.J. Watt was at it again, sacking Andrew Luck twice on a whopping 12 QB pressures. Can we get this guy an MVP award? ... Justin Houston had a sack on 10 QB pressures. His 17 sacks are currently tied for the league lead with Elvis Dumervil. ... Jason Pierre-Paul has six sacks over the last six weeks. He’s playing for a contract, so expect him to keep racking up the numbers this week.
Other Week 15 Observations
T.J. McDonald needs just 13 tackles to top triple digits for the season. McDonald had a strong sophomore campaign. His fantasy stock is on the rise for 2015. ... Paul Worrilow got “D’Qwelled” in Week 15, with six of his 11 tackles awarded as assists. ... DeAndre Levy topped double-digit tackles for the 10th time this season. His 132 tackles sit behind only Luke Kuechly and Lavonte David for the league lead. ... D’Qwell Jackson notched 10 tackles for the Colts. That’s the sixth time he’s put up double-digits this season. ... George Wilson posted nine tackles and a sack for the Titans. He’s a boom-or-bust DB3. ... Even in a game where the Eagles struggled offensively, Philly still yielded eight total tackles to Barry Church. ... Mychal Kendricks managed just two total tackles against the Cowboys, but don’t be too overly concerned. He didn’t play poorly and should still be considered a back-end LB1. ... Likewise, don’t worry about Curtis Lofton’s poor Week 15 stat line. The Bears essentially couldn’t generate anything on offense until garbage time.
You’re going to want to roll with whoever starts for the Browns this week against Carolina. Carlos Dansby could be back, if not Craig Robertson is a strong play against the No. 1 fantasy matchup for linebackers. ... DeAndre Levy gets a plus matchup against the Bengals. He’s one of the top fantasy plays this week. ... Likewise, Paul Worrilow is an excellent start against the Saints. ... On the other side of that matchup, keep rolling with Curtis Lofton and look to get David Hawthorne in your lineups. ... Christian Jones and Jon Bostic face a Lions team that currently gives up the most tackles per game to opposing linebackers. Both are upside LB2 plays.
Thursday night plays can be iffy, but I’d lean toward starting Jurrell Casey against a Jags team that yields the second-most fantasy points per game to defensive ends. ... Jason Pierre-Paul continues to roll this week against the Rams. They’re the No. 4 fantasy matchup for defensive linemen. ... You’re not even thinking about benching Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon against a Vikings team that has yielded the second-most sacks to defensive ends in 2014.
If you’re in a pinch at defensive back, I’d recommend taking a long look at Ryan Clark. The veteran gets the No. 1 matchup for defensive backs in the Eagles. ... T.J. McDonald should get close to topping 100 tackles for the season in a strong matchup against the Giants. ... I’d look to get Dashon Goldson in my lineup this week. Goldson gets a fantasy boost against Green Bay. ... If you’re desperate, you may want to consider the Jets defensive backs in a strong matchup against New England. The situation is a bit of a mess in New York, but Jaiquawn Jarrett would be the priority play of that motley crew.
I’d look to fade the Jacksonville linebackers on Thursday night. J.T. Thomas and Telvin Smith get the worst fantasy matchup for linebackers in the Titans. ... You can’t sit Bobby Wagner, but be forewarned that the Cards are the second-worst matchup for the position. ... You may want to avoid the Washington linebackers against Philly. The Eagles currently rank as the No. 30 fantasy matchup for linebackers. ... Likewise, Mychal Kendricks gets a downgrade on the other side of this matchup. ... Sam Barrington looked good last week, but he gets a terrible matchup against the Bucs in Week 16.
Cameron Jordan has been an extremely solid fantasy asset this season, but he's a downgrade in Week 16 against a Falcons team that doesn’t yield many sacks. ... Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry owners get the short end of the stick this week with the Bengals facing Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Avoid the Arizona safeties this week in a brutal matchup against the Seahawks. ... The Rams yield the second-fewest fantasy points per game to defensive backs, so downgrade Antrel Rolle and fade Stevie Brown. ... You’re also fading Michael Griffin and George Wilson against a Jacksonville team that gives up the fewest tackles per game to defensive backs.