Welcome to Pro Football Weekly's Fantasy Buzz, where we'll hit on the most pressing topic for every team, every week to try and help you make the most informed daily and weekly roster decisions.
As a general rule of thumb each week, we'll get you the Thursday Night Football goods, an extra serving beyond what we have for the weekend's slate, and Sunday noon games in time for your Thursday afternoon commute. We'll then circle back in this same space and round out the weekly action by Friday afternoon. Voila.
If you see a position ranking in parentheses, that's where I have a player slotted for the week. Just don't let that preclude you from checking out our top 100 regardless of position here.
Let's get to it.
Has anyone else dropped a TyFREAK Hill (WR23) reference yet? Well, anyone besides my colleague John Sahly on PFW's new Fantasy podcast? Jeremy Maclin seems on track to return from his groin injury, but don't expect Hill to resume being a 20-snap player. All he's done in 11 games is score seven total touchdowns, or more than the six Chris Conley and Albert Wilson have combined for in 64 NFL appearances.
The Falcons have their own blitz-beating, scoreboard-heating version of Hill, Taylor Gabriel. With five combined touchdowns in his past four games, Gabriel clearly shouldn't have been released by the Browns, nor should he still be available in 64 percent of yahoo! leagues. Don't say I never helped. The most encouraging part of Gabriel's career-high 102 scrimmage yard, two-TD outing in Week 13 is he got his despite Tevin Coleman (RB26) getting back on the field.
Living in Chicago, I'm familiar with frustration stemming from a 2015 first-round WR struggling with injuries. Unlike Kevin White, DeVante Parker (WR32), selected seven picks after White, has already shown he's a game changer. His latest setback, a back injury that forced Parker's early exit Sunday when he was en route to a third consecutive double-digit fantasy output, opens the door for rookie Leonte Carroo. He caught career touchdown No. 1 after White's exit, but perhaps Kenny Stills (team-leading five TDs) is the desperation play against a Ravens 'D' that's allowed 17 receiving touchdowns, trailing only the Niners.
Only Denver-Jacksonville, with a point total of 40, is expected by Vegas odds makers to be a bigger defensive struggle than the Ravens hosting the 'Phins (40 1/2). A look at Joe Flacco's uneven play makes it easy to understand why. There's simply not much that excites about Baltimore from a fantasy perspective, but the defense could excel against Ryan Tannehill, coming off a career day but with just consecutive 100.0-rated games once in four-and-a-half seasons. Miami's O-line is hurting and the Ravens have Suggs-Dumervil together again.
You probably didn't envision a Colin Kaepernick (QB7)-Vance McDonald stack helping you clinch a postseason spot, but it just might. Kap is good again, like really good in fantasy especially, and he gets a Bears 'D' likely to be without its three fastest linebackers and coming off a season-high 46 rushing yards permitted to a QB, Marcus Mariota. Meantime, McDonald has been Kap's favorite target, and the Bears 'D' has a target on its back, having permitted TDs to TEs in four straight.
When Jordan Howard (RB3) gets more than 18 touches, the Bears win. When he doesn't, they lose. Sounds simple (talking to you, Dowell Loggains), right? This seems like the week Loggains keeps it simple. San Francisco is the worst run 'D' in football — fantasy and reality — and Howard could get his best blocker, Josh Sitton, back. At 766 rushing yards, he's well within reach of the 1K milestone — which should be a good motivator for a 2-9 team with the NFL's 31st-ranked scoring offense.
The Eagles' most valuable fantasy asset, Jordan Matthews (WR22), has an ankle injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice before limiting his Thursday participation. We look forward to 2017, when Carson Wentz will have help. Meantime, look elsewhere for fantasy production if you can.
Tyler Eifert (TE6) admits he's still adjusting to the extra attention normally paid to A.J. Green, and he was blanked by Baltimore a week ago before the Bengals faced a 16-0 deficit and Andy Dalton was forced to throw on almost every dropback. The Eagles are nearly as tough on opposing tight ends as the Ravens, perhaps making Tyler Boyd (WR35), whose modest 62 yards in his first NFL start, should increase against the Eagles' reeling corners.
If giving Brock Osweiler $37 million guaranteed was the biggest free-agent gaffe by any NFL club, was spending a mid first-round pick on DeAndre Hopkins (WR26) fantasy's worst universal draft move? Hopkins finished 5-70 a week ago — one of his better games of 2016 — and hasn't found the end zone since Week Five. His catch average is down three yards over his career mark; Will Fuller could challenge Nuk for Houston's receiving yardage lead by season's end.
Davante Adams (WR28) is one of the league's more improved players, with eight receiving touchdowns and three 100-yard games in his past 11 contests, compared to six and two respectively, over his first 32. He has a tough assignment in Johnathan Joseph, but Adams might be too hot for even Joseph to handle right now. Osweiler is cold — though that infers he was once hot — enough to entrust the Packers 'D' as a top streaming option this week.
With Paxton Lynch in line for his second career start, against Jacksonville's talented 'D,' the Broncos' don't figure to be a fantasy haven Sunday. Actually, their defense against Blake Bortles should face about as tough a challenge as taking candy from a baby, but Emmanuel Sanders (WR14) and Demaryius Thomas (WR15) might take a backseat to Devontae Booker (RB13), who's inefficient but the best Denver's run-heavy approach has got.
Is the Jacksonville 'D' streamable this week? The Falcons' stop-unit finished No. 8 in scoring in Week Five, Lynch's first start, but trusting Gus Bradley's group means having some level of trust in Bortles not giving Denver short fields. No thanks.
In his first two starts, Jared Goff has helped Todd Gurley (RB21) score his first rushing touchdown and tally his highest receiving total since early October. In the Rams' view, that's called doing "a model job." All kidding aside, Goff wasn't close to the Rams' problem in New Orleans, but he isn't close to being a guy you want to mess with in fantasy, either.
Which Patriot stands to gain the most in fantasy from Rob Gronkowski's likely season-ending back injury? It might not be Martellus Bennett, who's also hurting and hasn't exactly lit it up with Gronk, aside from the Cleveland game, Tom Brady's first back. Malcolm Mitchell, who saw his playing time increase after Gronk exited last week and collected two more touchdowns, looks like the WR3 with huge upside in an offense that should use more "11" personnel.
Matthew Stafford (QB4) has combined for 662 passing yards and four touchdowns in his past two trips to New Orleans and has only improved since. Golden Tate (WR16), who found the end zone twice in the past meeting, has emerged since his benching as Stafford's preferred option — though Anquan Boldin continues to come up huge on third down for the Lions. But after reaching 54 receiving yards on Thanksgiving for just the second time since Week Four, and garnering the most targets (11) since Week Two, Marvin Jones (WR34) has earned another appearance in your lineup in a game with points aplenty coming.
Like Tate, Mark Ingram (RB9) has answered the bell since being benched with a pair of monster, top-3 overall fantasy finishes against bad defenses over the past four weeks. Quietly, Ingram's 5.3 YPC is tied with Jay Ajayi for the NFL's best. But a toe injury has sidelined him in consecutive practices and could open the door for Tim Hightower (RB25) to ascend. In fact, irrespective of Ingram's status, start Hightower, who tallied 85 scrimmage yards vs. Detroit a season ago and has 100-plus total yards and/or a score in four of the past five games.
Is Sammy Watkins (WR31), coming off a 3-80 showing on 25 snaps in his return Sunday from I.R., a viable option down the stretch? Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn may have let the cat out of the bag Thursday, saying Watkins still has a broken bone in his foot. But after not practicing Wednesday with soreness, he was limited the past two days. Buffalo's playoff hopes may ride on Watkins, and we all remember what he did late last season. If the Bills plan on playing him, you should, too, as his upside — did you see him get behind Jalen Ramsey on the go ball Sunday? — is too risky to have on your bench.
All due respect to Derek Carr (QB15), fantasy's No. 7 QB overall and a bonafide MVP candidate, he's finished in the top seven in QB scoring just four times. For all his late-game heroics and a few absurdly productive outings, he's been inconsistent in make believe. Buffalo has battened down the hatches defensively since Russell Wilson and Tom Brady blew its doors off in Weeks Eight and Nine, respectively. Consider Sunday a terrific fantasy gauge for Carr.
Vernon Davis has been an awesome story and, more often than not, awesome injury fill-in for Jordan Reed, logging rock-solid TE1 finishes in each of Reed's absences. In fact, Davis has two additional TE1 games with Reed playing. We don't love either option Sunday, though. Reed appears hard-pressed to go with the separated shoulder, and Arizona has yielded an NFL-low 282 yards to opposing tight ends and is the only NFL stop-unit yet to allow a touchdown to the position.
Remember when watching Bruce Arians' offense was akin to fantasy porn? We don't fault you if you say no, as that's a weird question, not to mention it feels like a distant memory. David Johnson is obviously still the Ron Jeremy of fantasy football, but Larry Fitzgerald (WR7) will snap his six-game touchdown drought against young pup nickel Kendall Fuller, who isn't dropping his nuts against the future Hall of Famer.
Unlike Brandin Cooks, who let the media know he was none too pleased about being the odd man out of the Saints' most lopsided victory, Sterling Shepard (WR27) kept quiet after his first silent NFL night, in Cleveland. Instead, it was Eli Manning apologizing to Shepard for not looking his way, which we anticipate will happen more frequently — Shepard averaged more than seven targets over his first 10 games. One more note we find surprising: Pittsburgh has permitted six touchdowns to receivers — the fewest in the NFL. Odell Beckham Jr. (WR1) is the more prolific scoring receiver ever through his first three seasons. Who you got in this one? We like OBJ.
Not a good week for tight ends, with Gronk and Reed ailing and Delanie Walker resting, but it might finally be the one in which Ladarius Green (TE12) makes his mark. Green had just two catches on Thanksgiving, but they went for 35 and 32 yards. The G-Men have only allowed two touchdowns to tight ends this season, but 697 yards is more than 27 other NFL defenses. Both Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin say they're "excited" about Green and what he can contribute the rest of the way.
Doug Martin (RB15) owners likely feel hamstrung. They waited patiently for his return. Tampa has been steadfast in its commitment to the lead back, but he's averaging 3.0 yards per carry and lost what could've been a killer fumble Sunday. Martin started fast vs. Seattle but was ineffective after intermission with the Bucs looking to preserve a 14-0 advantage. San Diego's stout run 'D' has loosened some in recent weeks. In a prove-it game for Tampa, it needs Martin to prove he can pick up the run game, and owners need Martin for a better late-than-never flourish.
Hamstrung, what better way to describe the 2016 Chargers? They have a league-leading 18 players on injured reserve, yet to their credit, might be the NFL's most impressive 5-6 club. But injuries aren't going away. Breakout fantasy star Tyrell Williams (WR20) has a shoulder issue, and Travis Benjamin hasn't been the same since hurting his knee. Philip Rivers (QB9) didn't target Antonio Gates (TE9) for the first time ever Sunday, when Gates went catch-less for the first time in 77 games. (Side note: what is it about future Hall of Fame tight ends getting the cold shoulder the past two weeks?) But what better time for Gates (and Hunter Henry, TE13) to pick up the receivers than against Tampa, which just signed Major Wright as safety insurance with Chris Conte hurting.
What a fall from grace for the reigning NFC champs and MVP, Cam Newton (QB14). In right-to-potential postseason dab-week in fantasy, Newton should be relegated to backup status. Ouch. Newton has just five QB1 finishes this season, and he's finished higher than sixth once — a four-TD assault on the hapless Niners way back in Week Two. Are you trusting Newton against Seattle, the fifth-best fantasy 'D' vs. QBs, welcoming back Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett? I wouldn't.
Of course, just two slots behind Newton, fantasy's top dog last season, was Wilson (QB10) in 2015. And while he has actually been an ever bigger fantasy disappointment this season, and he had his first multi-turnover game Sunday since Week One, Wilson also had 80 rushing yards, his highest total since December 2014. The Rams notwithstanding, Carolina has permitted an average of 31-plus points in its past three road games. Wilson also has a 106.5 rating and ridiculous 32:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in primetime throughout his career. Look for a bounce back.
INDIANAPOLIS-NEW YORK JETS
Darrelle Revis had quite a week. It began with him allowing multiple touchdowns in a game for the first time ever — to Patriots fourth-round rookie Malcolm Mitchell to boot. That was followed by an anonymous Revis source telling the New York Daily News he's punted on 2016. Now, he gets Donte Moncrief (WR18), who has scored in all but one game this season and gets Andrew Luck (QB6) again.
Brandon Marshall (WR8) in Week 12 finally rewarded fantasy owners with a touchdown, his first since Week Five, and though we don't expect Vontae Davis to get torched by Marshall like he did against Antonio Brown a week ago, look for Marshall to stay hot. He gets up for meetings with his former teammate, going 16-220-2 combined in the past two clashes with Davis, and Marshall typically saves his best for under the bright lights.