This is championship week for most fantasy leagues: A tip of the cap to those of you who are still in the hunt for a title. The holidays have created an unusual NFL schedule, but it appears that no NFL team will be resting their starters for the playoffs … at least for this week.
On to week 16 …
MATCHUPS TO EXPLOIT
Patriots (vs. Jets) Saturday, noon
New England has been held under 30 points eight times this season, but it’s unlikely to get to nine this week. At this point, the Jets are phoning it in … if they’re even bothering to pick up the phone. Gang Green has been thoroughly embarrassed in two of the last three games. They did beat the pathetic 49ers in Week 14, but gave up 248 yards rushing in that game. Future Hall-of-Famer Matt Moore (assuming Harts High School has a HOF) just lit them up for four TD passes. Martellus Bennett is not filling the void created when Gronk went down. Julian Edelman has 44 catches in the past six games, but only one TD. It’s always risky starting a NE running back. Dion Lewis led the team in carries and yards (18 for 95) last week, but LeGarrette Blount (15 TDs this year) remains the No. 1 option at the goal line.
Must start: Tom Brady, Blount, Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots D/ST
Solid play: Lewis, Edelman
Worth a look: Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell
Last resort: James White, Chris Hogan
Colts (@ Raiders) Saturday, 3:05 p.m.
The Colts have a Jekyll and Hyde offense, to be sure, but they play much better on the road than at home. In their last four away games, Indy has scored 34, 31, 41, and 34 points, respectively. In those four games, they averaged 35 points – 9.1 points better than their season average. In their last four home games, they’ve scored just 60 points – total – an average of 15 per game.
Must start: Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton
Solid play: Donte Moncrief* (if active) Adam Vinatieri
Worth a look: Phillip Dorsett (if no Moncrief)
Last resort: Robert Turbin, Erik Swoope, Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle
Stay away: Colts D/ST
Bucs (@ Saints) Saturday, 3:25 p.m.
Jameis Winston threw for just 184 yards and 0 TDs in a 16-11 win against the Saints on Dec. 11. Logic suggests more points and more yards this time around. The Saints play better at home and average a league-leading 423 yards per game on offense. The Bucs will need to score a bunch to win. Tampa is in luck: New Orleans gives up 28 points per game.
Must start: Mike Evans, Cameron Brate
Solid play: Winston, Doug Martin
Worth a look: Roberto Aguayo
Last resort: Adam Humphries
Stay away: Charles Sims, Bucs D/ST
Seahawks (vs. Cardinals) Saturday, 3:25 p.m.
These two teams last faced off in Week 7 and battled to a historically bad 6-6 tie. In the seven games since then, the Cardinals have given up 30, 20, 30, 38, 23, 26, and 48 points, respectively, for an average of 30.7 points allowed per game. For the season, only the 49ers yield more points than the Cardinals have given up during that span. Perhaps Arizona has the Seahawks’ number, but this could be a very different game than the last matchup. Seattle is tough at home and is battling for the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Must start: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks D/ST
Solid play: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Stephen Hauschka
Worth a look: Thomas Rawls, Tyler Lockett
Todd Gurley might finally get things going against the 49ers and their atrocious run defense. Travis Kelce had eight receptions for 101 yards last time the Broncos and Chiefs faced each other. If Denver’s vaunted pass defense has an Achilles’ heel, it would be tight ends. It should be another good week for LeSean McCoy: the Dolphins give up 4.8 yards per carry. Those in desperate need of a QB could consider Matt Barkley. He has thrown six TDs in his four starts and crested 300 yards twice. Washington gives up 258 passing yards per game. The Titans are a sneaky D/ST play this week. Only San Diego and the Jets have turned the ball over more than Jacksonville.
MATCHUPS TO AVOID
Giants (@ Eagles) Thursday, 7:25 p.m.
The Giants may be 10-4, good buddy, but their offense is 27th in yards and they are traveling to face the Eagles’ 12th-ranked defense. Philly is in last place in the NFC East, but is 4-2 at home. New York has struggled all year on the ground. The Giants are ranked 30th in rushing yards and produce just 81 per game. If a New York RB were to produce, we’d give the nod to Paul Perkins. He ran for 56 yards on 11 carries last week versus the Lions. Rashad Jennings had 18 carries but produced only 38 yards. Jennings is averaging 3.2 yards per carry this season, down from 4.4 a season ago. This is also not a great fantasy matchup for the Eagles. The Giants give up just 17.9 points per game.
Must start: Odell Beckham
Solid play: none
Worth a look: Eli Manning, Perkins, Sterling Shepherd, Giants D/ST
Last resort: Jennings, Robbie Gould
Stay away: Shane Vereen, Victor Cruz, Will Tye
Bengals (@ Texans) Saturday, 7:25 p.m.
The Texans have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL thus far this season. The Bengals are suffering through a miserable season and are particularly bad (2-5) on the road. A.J. Green could return this week.
Must start: none
Solid play: Green*, Tyler Eifert
Worth a look: Jeremy Hill, Brandon LaFell (if no Green), Bengals D/ST
Last resort: Andy Dalton, LaFell (if Green active)
Stay away: Randy Bullock
Lions (@ Cowboys) Monday, 7:30 p.m.
Detroit is 29th in rushing yards and is averaging a paltry 21.5 points per game. The Lions have compiled a 9-5 record by playing conservative, mistake-free football. That template won’t be good enough to beat the 12-2 Cowboys in Dallas. The NFC Central title will likely come down to Week 17, making this game virtually meaningless to the Lions. If Theo Riddick (wrist) returns, it could provide a boost to Detroit’s anemic ground game.
Must start: none
Solid play: Golden Tate
Worth a look: Matthew Stafford, Eric Ebron, Matt Prater
Last resort: Riddick*, Dwayne Washington (if no Riddick), Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin
Stay away: Lions D/ST
The Cowboys D/ST is playing well, but don’t bank your fantasy championship on them. Detroit has turned the ball over just 12 times all season. Le’Veon Bell managed just 32 yards on 14 carries last time he faced the Ravens. Can’t imagine anyone sitting Bell, but wanted to get that out there. Brandon Marshall has become an afterthought in the Jets’ passing “attack.” Time to give up on Allen Robinson. He has totaled 11 catches in his last five games. The Titans will likely beat the hapless Jags, but this is not a great matchup for Marcus Mariota. Jacksonville gives up just 210 passing yards per game.
*Check injury status