News & Analysis

Jeff Ratcliffe's fantasy football focus: Facts, predictions, and tips for Week 16

By Jeff Ratcliffe
Dec 21, 2018

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Sep 9, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Fantasy Focus is a weekly column that breaks down everything you need to know to set your fantasy football lineups. Make your start and sit decisions with fantasy facts, injury information, matchups stats, predictions for the week and more.

We’re leaving together, but still it’s farewell. And maybe we’ll come back to earth, who can tell? I guess there is no one to blame. We’re leaving ground. Will things ever be the same again?

It’s the final countdown.

That never gets old. If you’re a millennial, look it up. Anyway, this is it. The last hurrah. Five months of work culminating in three days of fantasy madness. It’s easy to get sucked into the insanity and overthink your lineup decisions. But the advice remains the same:

Keep it simple stupid.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But if you’re really in a bind and don’t know what to do, I highly recommend using our rankings to make your decisions. It’s how I set my own lineups each week. Remember, projections are a great starting spot, but they’re kind of like the rough copy. Rankings are the final draft.

Otherwise, if you’ve made it this far, enjoy it. Making it to a fantasy championship game isn’t easy, so relish the moment. You’ve earned it. And best of luck this weekend.

Injuries

This is a very tricky week on the injury front with a number of the top fantasy names banged up. Todd Gurley headlines this list. Gurley has been every bit of an elite fantasy option in 2018, but injuries tend to catch up with players who see heavy volume. Gurley is dealing with a knee injury and is looking iffy for Sunday. The Rams signed veteran C.J. Anderson this week, but the sharp fantasy play is John Kelly. Scoop him up if he’s available.

We expected Gurley to be elite, but very few fantasy pundits or players saw James Conner’s season coming. With Le’Veon Bell holding out, Conner took the bull by the horns and put together a Pro Bowl seasons where he was essentially a lock for top-five fantasy numbers every week. But Conner has missed the last two weeks with a high ankle sprain and is looking unlikely to get back on the field this week. That will put Jaylen Samuels in the lead back role yet again. Let’s be clear that this isn’t a good matchup for Samuels, but he should see more than enough work to be considered an RB2 play.

While Keenan Allen hasn’t necessarily been elite this season, he was surging down the stretch. Allen was knocked out of last week with a hip injury will be a game-time decision on Saturday. If Allen is unable to go, look for Mike Williams to assume No. 1 duties. Williams is coming off a monster performance in Week 15, but this is a tough matchup against the Ravens. He’s best viewed as a back-end WR2 if Allen sits.

More injury notes: After missing the last three weeks, Melvin Gordon is off the injury report and on track to play. This isn’t an ideal matchup for Gordon, but he still should be considered a back-end RB1. … Be careful if you plan to use Damien Williams this week. Yes, he was fantastic for fantasy purposes in Week 15, but Spencer Ware appears to be on track to play this week. Ware would slot right back in as the lead back, relegating Williams to change-of-pace duties. … DeSean Jackson got a full practice in on Thursday and should be back on the field for the Bucs this weekend. There isn’t a ton of appeal in using Jackson for fantasy this week, but his presence will put a cap on Chris Godwin’s outlook. … Tyler Boyd has yet to practice this week and looks to be on the wrong side of questionable with a knee injury. Boyd had a breakout year in 2018, but like many of the Bengals key skill position players, he’ll finish out the fantasy season on the sidelines. … Likewise, Odell Beckham Jr. won’t get back on the field this week. Still an elite talent, let’s hope the Giants can right the ship in the offseason for Beckham’s 2019 fantasy outlook.

Wide receiver matchups

Julio Jones is a bit dinged up, but it appears he should be fine to play this week. Jones enters Week 16 with a respectable six scores to go along with a league-leading 1,511 receiving yards. Jones should pad those numbers this week with a plus matchup on tap against Carolina. He figures to draw a shadow from James Bradberry, who is allowing 14.1 yards per catch and has surrendered five touchdowns on the season.

Entering Week 16, Davante Adams leads all wide receivers in fantasy scoring. He’s done so on the strength of a league-high 12 receiving touchdowns to go along with 100 catches and over 1,300 receiving yards. Adams is poised to finish out the fantasy season with a bang with a plus matchup on tap against the Jets. He’ll see plenty of Morris Claiborne in coverage. The Jets corner is allowing a massive 15 yards per reception this season.

Losing Will Fuller earlier this year certainly changed the dynamic in the Texans offense, but DeAndre Hopkins continues to play excellent football. He’s coming off a 10-catch performance in Week 15 where he ranked No. 1 in fantasy scoring among wide receivers. Hopkins figures to continue to roll against the Eagles. He’ll see his share of Rasul Douglas, who has seen a massive 23 targets thrown into his coverage over the last two weeks.

Adam Thielen has cooled off over the second half of the season and is coming off a fantasy dud in Week 15. But he’s in a great spot to bounce back against the Lions. Thielen will draw primary coverage out of the slot from Nevin Lawson. These two faced each other back in Week 9. While Thielen didn’t put up big yards in that contest, he did find the end zone. Look for Thielen to have a productive day as the Vikings are fighting for their playoff lives.

Julian Edelman has continued to be Tom Brady’s safety blanket in the short and intermediate areas of the field, and his target volume figures to increase follow the news about Josh Gordon. Edelman has seen double-digit targets in five of his last seven games, including Week 8 when he last faced the Bills. Edelman was a solid as ever in that contest, topping 100 yards and tying for second among wide receivers in fantasy scoring for the week.

We’ve seen Robby Anderson surge down the stretch with touchdowns in each of the last two weeks to go along with 11 catches. He’s surprisingly in WR2 territory this week given his recent uptick and favorable matchup. Anderson will see his share of Jaire Alexander in coverage. The rookie has a bright future in the NFL, but he’s been heavily targeted over the last two weeks with 17 balls thrown into his coverage.

While we did note Kenny Golladay’s tough matchup last week in this very column, our staff also ranked him as a consensus top-20 option. His big performance against the Bills showed exactly why we shouldn’t overvalue matchups in our start/sit decisions. However, they are a factor, and Golladay’s matchup this week won’t do him any favors. Expect Xavier Rhodes to shadow Golladay in this contest. Despite the tough matchup, Golladay is still a WR2 play.

On the other side of that contest, Stefon Diggs also figures to see shadow coverage. Darius Slay tends to track the top outside receiver, so we expect him on Diggs over Thielen. Slay has been impressive this season, forcing an incompletion on 21.5% of his targets. That ranks seventh in the league. Like Golladay, you’re still going to use Diggs, but make sure you temper your expectations.

Mike Evans has somewhat quietly produced an impressive statistical season. He enters the week second in the league in receiving yards and ranks 10th among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. But this could be a bit of a letdown week for Evans as he’ll see his share of Byron Jones. The Cowboys defensive back is one of 2018 biggest breakout corners. Jones is yielding a stingy 51% catch rate with just one touchdown allowed in his coverage this season.

The 49ers look like they found themselves a player in rookie wideout Dante Pettis. Over the last three weeks, Pettis has notched three touchdowns and ranks fifth among wide receivers in fantasy scoring over that span. While the numbers are encouraging, Pettis gets a major downgrade this week against the Bears. All three of Chicago’s starting corners ranking in the top 20 in PFF grades and Chicago allowed zero touchdowns to the Rams and Packers receivers over the last two weeks.

We saw flashes of fantasy upside from Corey Davis this season, but this isn’t the week to get our hopes up for him. The surging Tennessee run game and Davis’ matchup give him a fantasy downgrade this week. Washington has used Josh Norman as a shadow fairly consistently over the second half of the season, so look for Norman to be on Davis. While Norman isn’t the player he was four years ago, he’s still done a good job of containing receivers this season.

Matchup stats to know

After being one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of 2018, Derrick Henry has caught fire over the last two weeks, leading all non-quarterback fantasy options in scoring. The stars continue to align for Henry down the stretch, as he’ll face a Washington defense that has allowed four of the last five backfields they’ve faced to top 100 rushing yards. Henry is an RB1 play in Week 16.

The Seahawks have pounded the rock on the ground this season and enter the week as the league’s top rushing attack from a statistical standpoint with a massive 154.9 rushing yards per game. That’s good news if you’re a Chris Carson owner, as is this week’s matchup. Kansas allows the most fantasy points per game to running backs and have surrendered a rushing score to each of the last three backfields they’ve faced.

Phillip Lindsay‘s remarkable season continues into fantasy championship week with a plus matchup on tap against the Raiders. Lindsay is a Monday night hammer against this Oakland defense the just got lit up by Joe Mixon in Week 15. Running backs have found the end zone four times over the last three weeks against Oakland. Lock Lindsay in as a top-10 play this week.

There’s a good chance that Marlon Mack help propel you to a win last week in the fantasy semifinals. If that’s the case, continue to ride the wave with Mack. Unlike last week, Mack draws a very favorable matchup against a Giants that have allowed over 100 rushing yards to six of the last seven backfields they’ve faced.

Tevin Coleman was a big-time fantasy play last week, but be careful with your expectations for Coleman this week. Carolina has been tough against the run for most of the season with just two backfields topping 100 yards against the Panthers. Of course, it should be noted that Carolina has surrendered a rushing score to running backs in each of their last six games. However, only the Saints managed to go over 100 yards on the ground during that stretch. Coleman is best viewed as a back-end RB2.

With James Conner looking unlikely to play, we can expect Jaylen Samuels to again serve as the lead back for the Steelers. Samuels is certainly in the RB2 conversation, but don’t expect him to repeat last week’s rushing outburst. New Orleans has been one of the stingiest rushing defenses this season, and currently allow the fewest rushing yards per game at just 79.1.

Frank Gore’s injury last week opened the door for rookie Kalen Ballage and he exploded through it. Ballage entered the game with just 11 rushing yards on the season and went 10x on that total with 123 yards on 12 carries. He figures to see plenty of work this week with Gore on injured reserve, but be careful with Ballage. Jacksonville isn’t quite the defense we saw in 2017, but they’ve still be very tough on the run. Sure, Derrick Henry put up his massive game in Week 14, but other than that the Jags have shut down the run game over the last two months.

Bad matchups and injuries have shaken up the quarterback position here in fantasy championship week. Those in need may want to fire up Baker Mayfield. The rookie has shown the ability to put up fantasy points this season. Better yet, the Browns are still in the playoff mix. But the icing on the cake is this matchup. Entering Week 16, Cincinnati is the No. 1 fantasy matchup for quarterbacks. Mayfield is a top-10 play this week.

To Lamar, or not to Lamar? That’s the question many Lamar Jackson owners face this week. It’s a tricky matchup, as the Chargers give up the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. However, we can’t treat Jackson like a quarterback for fantasy purposes. Sure, that’s his position designation, but Jackson’s fantasy upside is with his legs. He leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards with 564 entering the week. And it just so happens that the Chargers are a good matchup for the run game. If you’re on the fence about Jackson, be sure to consider the fact that the Chargers have allowed five rushing scores over their last three games.

You probably didn’t think you’d be considering sitting Tom Brady with the fantasy championship on the line when you drafted him back in August, but here we are. Brady hasn’t been terrible this season, but he’s far from elite. To make matters worse, Brady has a tricky matchup against the underrated Bills defense. Since Week 3, just two quarterbacks have topped two passing scores against the Bills. Brady faced Buffalo over that span back in Week 8. In that contest, he threw for 324 passing yards and no scores.

The Rams offense entered this season on fire and Jared Goff fantasy owners certainly benefited. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Goff ranked third among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Since then, he’s a lowly 17th. To make matters worse, Goff has to face an Arizona defense that has allowed just one quarterback to top two passing scores and currently ranks as the sixth-worst fantasy matchup for the position. Fade Goff if you can this week.

Other matchup upgrades:

Russell Wilson vs. Kansas City
Dak Prescott vs. Tampa Bay
Mitchell Trubisky vs. San Francisco
Ezekiel Elliott vs. Tampa Bay
Joe Mixon vs. Cleveland
Gus Edwards vs. LA Chargers

Other matchup downgrades:

Jameis Winston vs. Dallas
Matt Breida vs. Chicago
Adrian Peterson vs. Tennessee
Kenyan Drake vs. Jacksonville

(READ MORE: Tyler Buecher and Tyler Loechner breaks down the DFS tournament slates on DraftKings and FanDuel. And Scott Spratt advises how to approach adjustments this week based on weather and venue.)

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