It’s here! Week 16, Championship Week. If it isn’t in your league, then you need to start a campaign to get that changed. It’s bad enough that NFL teams are starting to really succumb to injury, let alone talking about resting starters for their own playoff runs, so inflicting a Week 17 Championship Week is just plain cruel. The teams owners turn out in Week 17 games are usually a shadow of the roster that enabled them to reach the title-game, so how does it truly reflect a justified winner of the season? Week 17. Pah. Just don’t do it to your league!
On with last week’s observations, and, good luck!
Week 15 Observations
Familiar names sat atop the Week 15 tackles tables and points scorers, namely Luke Kuechly, who recorded 15 total tackles (10 solo) and Deone Bucannon who scored 27.5 points thanks to 11 total tackles (nine solo) and a pick-six. Both players have been in among the top-12 at their respective positions for most of the season and will be key starters for owners again in Week 16… A surprising performer last week was Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, who recorded 14 total tackles. Thomas has been in and around the Miami lineup at free safety all year, but the last four weeks have seen his playing time shoot up from 40 – 50 percent to 80 – 90 percent of snaps. He’s averaged nine tackles a game in that stretch and is worth considering in deep leagues if you need a waiver wire starter… Kurt Coleman failed to record an interception or sack last week after seven consecutive weeks with one, but overcame a tough matchup against the Giants with 13 total tackles (one for loss). He’s been a DB1 over the course of the year, and since Week 8 he has been the second highest scoring DB, behind only Reshad Jones… The matchup looked great for the in-form Derrick Johnson, and he delivered with 12 total tackles and a forced fumble. That’s now his ninth-straight game with double-digit points. For owners that dodged the flashier names on draft day for older, less-hyped players like Johnson, D’Qwell Jackson and Karlos Dansby, they have all rewarded owners with LB1 seasons and would have been available rounds later than Kuechly, Lavonte David and C.J. Mosely. It’s a timely reminder as those of use eliminated from the playoffs look backwards to where we went wrong, and start thinking about 2016. Even though I’m a hardcore-IDP fantasy player, I’m a big advocate on draft day grabbing my offensive upside early and often, and taking IDP value in later rounds… Other double-digit tackle performers of note last week included NaVorro Bowman (12), Jerrell Freeman (12), Mychal Kendricks (11), Preston Brown (11), Paul Posluszny (10), Landon Collins (10), Mike Adams (10) and Karlos Dansby (10). Adams added a forced fumble, and Posluszny snagged an interception to boost their fantasy returns. Poz’s pick was particularly impressive considering his broken hand and having a club right now… Vontaze Burfict looks like he is all the way back. He played 68-of-69 snaps last week, recording seven total tackles, an interception and a sack. He’s averaged 19.2 ppg over the last three weeks, despite playing less than 70 percent of snaps in Weeks 13 and 14, and looks to be a borderline LB1 this week even though the Broncos are a middle of the road matchup… A season-ending injury to hybrid slot corner/safety Tyrann Mathieu means there is some additional opportunity in the Cardinals secondary so turn your attention to Tony Jefferson, who is also benefitting from an ankle injury that sidelined Rashad Johnson last week as well. Jefferson played 100 percent of snaps for the first time last week, and although his fantasy score wasn’t particularly impressive, he has five double-digit scores on the season when playing on a limited snap count. He’s got playmaking skills and upside in his increased role so has some potential as a waiver wire pickup if available… Prince Amukamara has been back for four weeks now and has seen an uptick in his fantasy score each week, to 13.5 last week against the Panthers, who ranked as a bottom-five matchup for corners. Amukamara has shown in previous seasons he is a borderline DB1, and through the first five weeks of the season, before he succumbed, he was exactly that, so appeals as a sneaky Week 16 play.
Week 15 Pass Rushers
Melvin Ingram was the highest scoring linebacker last week thanks to two sacks, a forced fumble and six total tackles. He also had three quarterback hits and three hurries last week in his best pass rushing performance of the year, and has begun to deliver on his rookie hype. The Chargers have been poor this year, and Ingram has been one of the few bright spots. He’s now got eight sacks on the year and four in the last three weeks, and would be of particular interest if there is a coaching change and scheme switch to a 4-3 next season… Another 3-4 OLB who started for next to no-one and had a decent week was veteran Julius Peppers, posting 2.5 sacks, the most from any player in Week 15… IDP studs Chandler Jones and Geno Atkins both managed two sacks last week, taking their season totals to 12.5 and 10 sacks respectively… Secret Superstar Malik Jackson racked up two sacks as well. The Denver interior lineman has been a waiver wire bargain this season, taking advantage of his role on the Denver pass rush unit that features the likes of Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaq Barrett, Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe. Allowing him plenty of 1-on-1s. Jackson’s 18.8 points return last week took his season total to 124.8, enough to be the 13th highest scoring defensive lineman, which is crazy for a player with just 5.5 sacks on the year, but, it’s been that kind of year for d-lineman… DeMarcus Lawrence was the Cowboys end to own last week, not his higher profile teammate Greg Hardy. Lawrence led all d-lineman in scoring with 21.8 points thanks to a sack and seven total tackles, four of which were for a loss. Hardy could only manage 8.8 points, and has even been outscored by Lawrence 94.5 to 89.8 since his Week 5 return. Hardy has slipped to being a top-end DL2, but does still rank above Lawrence because of his ultimate sack-upside… Olivier Vernon bounced back from a disappointing five points last week with 18.8 in Week 15 thanks to 11 total tackles (two for a loss) and half a sack. Since Week 5, Vernon has been a top-three defensive lineman, and will project as low-end DL1 next season. The 25 year old has come on leaps and bounds this season, despite the loss of Cameron Wake opposite him, and been one of the most effective and disruptive edge threats in the league. I’m already thinking that Vernon and the Saints’ Cameron Jordan appeal to me next season as DL1/2s that have huge upside and will be significantly cheaper than the likes of Watt, Quinn, Jones, Ansah, Dunlap, Wilkerson etc… Some potential pickups for some Week 16 joy could be Robert Ayers or Danielle Hunter. Ayers and Hunter both had 1.5 sacks last week, and both players are benefiting from their higher profile team-mates (Everson Griffen and Jason Pierre-Paul) playing well and attracting the bulk of offensive attention.
Guys I Like
Ziggy Ansah vs 49ers
The 9ers have been a great matchup for pass rushers, and Ansah, who has lost his lead in the sack race to Khalil Mack (15) will be looking to add to his tally of 13.5. He may not have had a sack last week, but he had recorded seven in the four weeks before that, while the 9ers offensive line have allowed a league-worst 15 sacks over the last five weeks. If you’re in a deep league with 16 or 32 franchises you may want to consider Jason Jones (one sack, two hits, 13 hurries in last four weeks) or Devin Taylor (three sacks, two hits and 10 hurries in last four weeks), with the preference for Taylor.
The Giants are a better team than their record suggests, and as shown by their gutsy comeback against the unbeaten Panthers, and will be looking to their pass rush to inspire a Week 16 win. JPP recorded his first sack of the season last week, but has actually been a presence in the backfield since his return, averaging 5.8 disruptions per game. Ayers has 4.5 sacks in the last three games so is clearly a player in form, while the Vikings have been the sixth-best matchup for d-lineman all year.
You don’t need me to tell you to start Luke Kuechly, but he does have the No.1 matchup for linebackers in Week 16. It is great news for Thomas Davis owners, as the pre-season LB3/4 has been excellent this year surpassing expectations, scoring ten or more points in 12-of-14 games this season. His 14.3 points against the Falcons in Week 14 is a good benchmark in what to expect from Davis this week.
Will Compton vs Eagles
Disappointingly Keenan Robinson and Perry Riley are injured, or have just returned from injury, making neither player a viable start in a crucial Week 16 game for your fantasy team against the second best matchup for linebackers. Will Compton has been manning a three-down linebacker off-ball role for the Redskins defense over the last five weeks, and although he hasn’t had a single double-digit fantasy score, he has been recording plenty of tackles (35), however the problem has been most have been assisted (19). He’s a gamble, but the matchup is there for him…
Will Allen vs Ravens
Allen only ranks as a top-end DB3 on the season as he missed three games in the middle of the year, but his 12.0 ppg average rank him as a low-end DB1, higher than more high profile safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Johnathan Cyprien. In Week 4 when the teams last met, Allen scored 13.5 thanks to eight solo tackles and he’ll be looking for a similar score again this week.
Jaquiski Tartt vs Lions
I loves me some Jarquiski Tartt. The hard-hitting 9ers safety has been a top-end S2 since Week 7, despite a disappointing three point return last week. In his Week 7 – 14 spell Tartt averaged 12.1 ppg, so this week against the No.1 matchup for safeties, he looks set to threaten DB1 status again.
Guys I Don’t Like
A week after liking the Vikings pass rush, it’s time to bench them. Despite the aforementioned successes in Week 15, the Giants have been an awful matchup for edge rushers, so Robison (mediocre season) and Hunter (situational rusher only) should be benched this week. Griffen is a tougher call, and unless you have an exceptional bench option, he almost has to start, although expectations should be tempered.
Jerry Hughes vs Cowboys
It’s hardly been a great year for Hughes, but he has managed some sort of rescue job over the second half of the season. Before the Bills Week 8 bye Hughes had just one sack, two hits and 15 hurries, but since then he’s posted four sacks, three hits and 29 hurries. Unfortunately Dallas has been a stingy matchup all season and I like them to stifle Hughes this week, relegating him to a top-end DL3.
The standout worst matchup for linebackers is the Rams, and Wagner (9 pts) and Wright (5.3 pts) will be looking to improve upon their poor fantasy returns from Week 1. That seems unlikely though considering how tough the Rams have proved to be all season. Downgrade Wagner to a top-end LB2, and Wright to a middle of the pack LB3.
D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman vs Dolphins
No-one is benching Jackson considering he’s a top-five linebacker, but downgrade him in a tough matchup against the Dolphins. A bigger worry is Jerrell Freeman, who scored 12.4 points last week in his return after a missing two weeks due to injury. I like Freeman per se, but this matchup downgrades him from being a potential LB2 to an upside LB3, which might mean you need to bench him in favor of someone else in your championship week.
Reggie Nelson vs Broncos
The league’s leader in interceptions is in for a difficult game against the Broncos, who allow the fewest points in the league to opposing safeties. Nelson’s fantasy value was already pretty volatile, being firmly rooted in unpredictable splash plays, so he’s better benched this week for a safer, high-floor option.
Several solid weeks of scoring led me to suggest picking up and playing Byrd and Vaccaro but the last few weeks have seen both players start scoring less. Byrd has turned in two displays of less than 10 points, while Vaccaro managed just 4.5 points last week. Heading into a game in so-so form with the fourth worst matchup in a must-win fantasy week doesn’t fill me with confidence…