Fantasy Football Buzz: 1 area of intrigue for every team in championship week

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Detroit Lions defensive back Asa Jackson (30) tackles New York Giants' Sterling Shepard (87) after he catches a pass for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun) — Bill Kostroun

4Welcome 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.


The best two-game stretch of Matt Moore's nine-year career? Interestingly, fantasy semifinals and finals of the 2009 season. Moore tossed six touchdowns, zero picks and a combined 470 yards in wins over Minnesota and New York, finishing as fantasy's No. 5 and No. 9 weekly scorer, respectively. He's had just one more top-12 weekly finish since, in Week Nine of 2011. He'll look not only to cement himself in Dolphins lore but fantasy history again Sunday in Buffalo, where the Bills have surrendered four combined passing touchdowns to QBs not named Tom Brady. We're not saying, we're just saying.

LeSean McCoy (RB6) has been kept under 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in one full game this season, Week Two. It's happened one other time, when the awesomely consistent McCoy hurt his hamstring in the third quarter vs. the Dolphins in Week Seven. Miami has held three teams below 100 rushing yards this season and none in the past five weeks. To wit: Shady has three top-6 championship week scoring finishes in his past five seasons.


Julio Jones (WR4) is healthy just in time for a secondary he merely dropped 300 yards on in Week Four, the sixth-most prolific receiving day in NFL history. A fun trivia question one day might be, who was the next leading yardage producer on a bananas day that featured 571 total yards and 48 points from Atlanta? The answer is Devonta Freeman (RB13), who tallied 64 scrimmage yards and a score. The guess here, which we only arrived at by heading way out on a limb, is the Falcons might not fly quite as high this time, not against a Carolina 'D' that allows an average of 30 points on the road compared to 20 at home, and could welcome back Luke Kuechly — though we wish he'd take the rest of 2016 off for his well being.

It's December and playoff time, which means Jonathan Stewart (RB16) can't be stopped. His 4.98 yards per carry, 16 combined touchdowns and 452 totes are the most in any month of his career. Stewart, fantasy's No. 9 scoring back over the past four weeks, ravaged Washington for 132 yards on 25 carries Monday night, his best showing since, you guessed it, December of 2014. If you're worried about the particularly short week, that's understandable, but Carolina looked pretty formidable in a spoiler role and can do so again against its rivals.


The Bears likely won't see Jordan Reed, an early Christmas gift, but they may need an extra serving of magic egg eggnog after DeSean Jackson (WR25), Jamison Crowder (WR29) and Pierre Garcon (WR31) are done with them. Kirk Cousins (QB8) was almost perfect at Soldier Field last December, when he and Reed owned the middle of the field. It's still a problem area for the Bears 12 months later, and they lack the secondary speed (Jackson and Crowder) and strength (Garcon) to handle all of Washington's weapons.

If Matt Barkley (QB16) wasn't interested in targeting Alshon Jeffery (WR11) for three quarters a week ago when Jeffery was lined up across from Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, we suspect he won't be overly eager to test Josh Norman. More likely, we envision Cameron Meredith (WR36) again getting plenty of opportunities from the slot to build on his 9-104 outing, and he'll see rookie Kendall Fuller, whose mental toughness wasn't called into question by his own coaching staff this week like brother Kyle's. But Kendall would be pressed back into service only because Quinton Dunbar is out.


Philip Rivers hasn't avoided throwing an interception in a game since Week Nine. The Browns haven't picked off a pass since their Week 10 trip to Baltimore, their only game in the past eight doing so. Unlike Rivers' season, turnovers won't make or break you in fantasy, but game flow might. Thus, in addition to playing Rivers and his studs, might we suggest not being turned off by Kenneth Farrow's less-than-rousing debut when his encore comes in a likely lopsided blowout against the NFL's worst fantasy run 'D.'

Sorry, we're fresh out of Browns fantasy commentary.


Stefon Diggs' career-high 182 receiving yards came against Damarious Randall and the Packers in Week Two. It took him his next four games combined to reach that total again. His ceiling is higher than Adam Thielen's, but not his floor. Diggs laid an egg in the semi-finals with his worst game of the season, but at least his 2-13 outing raised his four-game total to 164 yards — the same as his Week 10 outburst. Streaky Stefon.

Speaking of streaking, Jordy Nelson (WR6) streaking past Cre'Von LeBlanc and Chicago's ill-fated quarters coverage a week ago was something, huh? Another streak? Ty Montgomery (RB15) has the first touchdown streak of his young career after embarrassing the Bears, whose Week 16 film may or may not be used on a how-not-to-tackle instructional video. The Vikings had their own issues with Frank Gore a week ago, making both of these guys obvious plays. It says here Davante Adams (WR32) also bounces back after dropping two easy TDs Sunday.


We made the argument for Derrick Henry, who knows a thing or two about collecting end-of-season hardware, as a guy worth rostering this week in the '9 route.' He just missed the cut of our top 30 running backs, but Henry is rock solid — both as a freakish physical specimen and as your championship week FLEX. Rookie running backs are carving out bigger roles for playoff contenders in December, Henry included.

I saw somewhere on the interwebs Blake Bortles being touted as a streaming recommendation, and although I admittedly went for a refresher on his first game vs. a bad Tennessee secondary — season-high 337 passing yards, three touchdowns and no INTs (!) — I'm still not going there.


The Patriots' No. 1 scoring 'D' has permitted on the ground 1,231 yards and five touchdowns, good for fourth and second in the league, respectively. How desperate are you for Bilal Powell (RB22) this week? He's still the Jets' top recommended play, ahead of Brandon Marshall and Robby Anderson.

Dion Lewis (RB30) chose a great time in real life for the best rushing performance of his career, but a puzzling one for fantasy owners. The 2016 Jets do one thing well (two if you include embarrassing themselves) — stop the run — but in the week's most lopsided point spread, there should be a lot of opportunities for Lewis and LeGarrette Blount (RB14). With the Patriots still hoping to lock up the top seed, we should continue to see a playoff-like backfield proliferation, which seemingly may favor Lewis in this type of game.


Frank Gore (RB8) needs 109 yards for his ninth 1,000-yard rushing season. Even with Robert Turbinating most of his goal-line chances, Gore is RB11 overall. Yet two of the Raiders' top-three run defense performances have come in the past two games. He's still an obvious start, unlike Donte Moncrief (WR34), who's ready to roll after missing the Colts' biggest win with a hamstring. But in the week's biggest point total (53), Indianapolis needs its best red zone threat, who scores one out of every five times he catches it, to give it a chance.

Derek Carr (QB9) and Amari Cooper (WR7) are one of the league's more exciting young duos. They're also Oakland's second-most reliable fantasy combination, behind Michael Crabtree (WR14) and Latavius Murray (RB7). Carr's injured finger remains an "issue," according to Jack Del Rio, and Cooper has three clunkers in his past four games, when Crabtree and Murray have finished as WR18 and RB7, respectively. Perhaps star power shines the brightest for Oakland with a No. 1 seed a win over the Colts and Denver loss to the Chiefs Sunday night away, but it'll be a departure from what we've seen recently.


Carlos Hyde (RB21) and his strong season, which began with a two-touchdown bang in Week One against the Rams in San Francisco's singular victory, have been lost in the 49ers' 1-13 abyss. Credit Hyde and DeForest Buckner for giving Niners fans something other than Trent Baalke's imminent firing to cheer for, but also know that the Rams have permitted just seven combined rushing touchdowns over their past 13 games.

Along with DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson, Todd Gurley (RB3) has a chance to come full circle Sunday. A back chosen first overall by many in August just might secure just his third RB1 finish of the season and first since Week Five. Of course, you and I might also look like an RB1 against the 49ers, but the time has come to swallow hard and get Gurley (back?) in your lineup... assuming, of course, any of his owners are still playing for something.


We all know Drew Brees tossed zero touchdowns and three picks in consecutive weeks vs. the Lions and Bucs in Weeks 13-14. Few will remember Jameis Winston (QB12) also failed to throw for a score in Tampa's defense-driven 16-11 triumph. In fact, Winston, in his past three road games, has a 4:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In his only three games against the Saints, Winston has averaged just 191 passing yards with three total touchdowns. Contrary to popular belief, the New Orleans 'D' can at least say it's stopped someone.

All of that said, the point total here is 52 and Vegas knows all. Unlike Winston, Brees certainly got back on track a week ago, shredding the Cardinals for four touchdowns and more than 300 yards — exactly what he did at home to the Rams, prior to the our brief Brees hand wringing. Our guess is Michael Thomas (WR15), inactive in the first meeting and now tied with Sterling Shepard for the rookie receiving touchdown lead with eight ahead of a matchup with lesser rookie Javien Elliott, goes off... kinda like Mark Ingram on his coaches after receiving the hook near the goal line in last week's big win.


The Cardinals in 2016 have proved they aren't regression-proof, but David Johnson sure looks matchup-proof (h/t goes, I believe, to Evan Silva on Twitter for shedding light on this monster phenomenon): fantasy's top-scoring RB (and it isn't particularly close) has dropped 160 scrimmage yards and two scores on Minnesota; 171 on Seattle; 147 and three touchdowns on the Jets; 124 on the Rams; and 132 and a pay dirt trip on New England. It's a large enough sample size to believe this trip to Century Link won't be different.

Russell Wilson (QB10) had his second-worst fantasy day of the year in Week Seven's 6-6 tie in the desert. Considering Arizona just yielded 48 at home to the Saints and Seattle has averaged more than 30 in each of its past four home games, it's probably wise to eject that performance from your memory. Particularly because Wilson, Thomas Rawls (RB20) and Tyler Lockett are all much healthier but the Cardinals defense, which finally ceded a touchdown to the tight end position and gets sleeping giant Jimmy Graham (TE3), isn't.


Sorry, A.J. Green owners, but the Bengals made the smart decision reportedly shutting down their best player for the final two games of a lost season. And with Tyler Eifert already down, it'll be tough to endorse any Bengals skill players today. The Texans have held six of their past seven foes below 100 rushing yards; Jeremy Hill (RB19) is touchdown dependent but should be busy enough to warrant the only start from this group after a touchdown and 20-plus carries in three consecutive games.

If the Bengals 'D' wasn't so disappointing, they'd be a decent stream option against Tom Savage in his first-ever NFL start. Instead, it appears the fantasy figure most affected by Savage will indeed be Hopkins. A consensus first-rounder, Nuk (WR20) has disappointed immensely this season, and only in part due to Brock Osweiler's incompetence. But the move to Savage last week certainly shook Nuk up — in a good way. Of Hopkins' season-high 17 targets for eight catches and 87 yards — the latter two each his second-highest marks of the season — 15 of the looks came from Savage, with all of the connections also between the new pairing. The Bengals are tough on opposing wideouts, but the Texans may as well wrap a bow on Savage because he's undoubtedly an early Christmas gift for Hopkins owners.


The Chiefs' run 'D,' a problem for the better part of the season, has gotten progressively worse since that wild overtime victory in Denver three weeks ago, when it appeared poised to get a lift from Justin Houston. So too has the Broncos' run game, so inadequate behind a porous offensive line it likely spurred frustrations boiling over between a dominant 'D' and dormant 'O' in last week's postgame locker room. Even in the week's lowest point total (37), Emmanuel Sanders (WR13) and Demaryius Thomas (WR12) are must-starts — Sanders has been the better option vs. the Chiefs the past two seasons — but that's about it. Unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have the Broncos 'D,' a safe bet to tally more than five points vs. the Chiefs this time around.

Tyreek Hill (WR18) took the Chiefs' second play from scrimmage 68 yards for a score — his 10th all-purpose TD of the season — then, naturally, received zero touches on offense the rest of the game. Well done, Brad Childress and Andy Reid. In light of Travis Kelce (TE1) calling out the "conservative" play-calling, contributing to the Chiefs squandering a 14-point lead Sunday, and Hill's record-breaking three-score domination in Denver last month, we'd guess he'll get more chances.


This is the embattled play-calling portion of this week's buzz, where, like Reid and Childress, Marty Morninwheg is under fire for what John Harbaugh deemed "the all-time worst play call" last week. With the Ravens sporting a 10-point lead and knocking on the Eagles' door more than halfway through the fourth quarter, Morninwheg called a Joe Flacco pass to Darren Waller, which was promptly intercepted. Baltimore eventually hung on for a one-point win thanks to a missed two-pointer by the Eagles. With Le'Veon Bell absurdly hot since the Ravens stoned him and a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting, and a Jimmy Smith-less Ravens 'D' starting to bend, this feels like a Kenneth Dixon (RB29) game. The problem, of course, is Morninwheg and Terrance West. But there's no problem in trusting big-game Steve Smith (WR23) in Baltimore's biggest. He's listed as questionable with a thigh injury, but that's like listing me as questionable to check out the dessert table on Christmas.

Roethlisberger (QB11) hasn't been special lately, at least not in fantasy football, and the Steelers haven't needed him to be because Bell has arguably been the best player in football of late. Both players were shut down in the past meeting, as Pittsburgh was held out of the end zone until it was trailing 21-0 in the fourth quarter. The key to a better performance, again without Ladarius Green, is getting help for Antonio Brown (WR1), who lamented the "triple coverage" he was saddled with a week ago after Green's exit with a concussion. Eli Rogers had his best NFL game (6-103) last time out vs. Baltimore and, though you're not trusting him to get you all the marbles, he's the X-factor to unlocking Brown.


There's a ton of uncertainty in this matchup, from Dallas' motivation after clinching the top seed, to Matthew Stafford's middle finger (this should be the name of a band of a fantasy football team). My bold prediction on this week's podcast was Dez Bryant (WR10) slaying a Darius Slay-less Lions secondary en route to WR1 of the week. I still feel good about that — Dez is always motivated, particularly in his up-and-down season — but I just can't find a ton of other plays to like in this one. What if we in fact see an early hook for Dak Prescott (QB13) or Ezekiel Elliott (RB1)? And if Stafford again struggles, do you like the chances of Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner against fantasy's No. 2 run 'D?'