Headline of the game: Can this Saints offense function with this version of Drew Brees and no Michael Thomas?
Brees’ return from his rib injury was less than stellar this past week against the Chiefs. He earned just a 45.6 overall PFF grade in a game where he completed only 44.1% of his passes. For reference, the last time he attempted at least 25 passes and fell below a completion rate of 50% in a regular-season game was in 2013.
So much of the Saints’ passing game relies on timing and receivers getting open in the short and intermediate range, which is why the absence of Thomas is as impactful as it is. Thomas is one of the best in the NFL at creating separation underneath, and when he doesn’t, he’s also one of the best contested-catch receivers the game has to offer.
We saw the Saints’ passing offense struggle — particularly early in the season — while Thomas missed time with injury, and there’s reason to be concerned that the Saints aren’t explosive or efficient enough in the passing game with this version of Brees and no Thomas to be considered favorites in the NFC.
This Christmas Day game gives the Saints an opportunity to knock out the team that ended their 2019 season. Bettors seem convinced, as the spread quickly pushed to 7, and it looks set to add the hook later in the week.
The second-best team in the NFL appears to have gained market notoriety by covering against the Chiefs. Minnesota drops to 21st in our latest Elo ranking after losing to a division rival in a game they weren’t even close to winning.
Given the line movement, it’s no surprise to see that 76% of the cash and 80% of the tickets are on the Saints. PFF Greenline leans counter to the market, but with leading books testing 7.5, this could be a spot to wait on until close to kickoff.
Both offenses have dropped in our opponent-adjusted rankings, but they still sit in the top half of the league. As of now, 67% of the cash has been on the under, which caused the line to drop a full point from the opening number. Possible value could open up on the total, so check back with Greenline before kickoff for insights into numerous betting options.
Kirk Cousins’ home/road splits make him a strong fade in fantasy football this week. He has averaged only 13.3 fantasy points on the road this season versus 24.8 at home.
We have seen him struggle in his last two road games (against the Bears and Buccaneers) because those teams were able to apply pressure on the Vikings’ quarterback on 43% of his dropbacks. Since Week 11, the New Orleans Saints lead the NFL in pressure rate (45%).
Justin Jefferson ranks fifth in the NFL and leads the Vikings in targets (33) when his quarterback is under pressure. The star rookie has commanded a 29% target share and 49% air yard share in the Vikings offense since Week 13.
The Saints have faced the third-most end-zone targets to TEs this season — if Kyle Rudolph plays, he is very likely to find the end zone. It seems only fitting that the red-zone reindeer himself scores on Christmas night. But if he can’t go, fantasy managers could turn to Irv Smith Jr., who ran 37 routes and earned four targets in Week 15. His total routes run were a season-high and ranked fourth among all TEs in Week 15.
Drew Brees completed just 44% of his passes in his first game back from injury but somehow still managed to score 25-plus fantasy points.
Minnesota has been better on pass defense of late because they have stopped teams from piling up passing yardage on them. No QB has passed for more than 300 yards against them since Week 6.
Their one glaring weakness from an efficiency standpoint is that they rank 26th in explosive pass play percentage allowed (16.4%). They have faced the second-highest deep ball rate since Week 12 (18%).
But, as we know, Brees hasn’t been one to push the ball downfield this season — second-lowest deep-ball throw rate (6%) — so there’s real concern about whether he can take advantage of the matchup.
Emmanuel Sanders will likely remain Brees’ No. 1 wide receiver with Michael Thomas sidelined, but don’t overlook Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who is anything but little. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver hauled in a touchdown on one of his four targets on Sunday and would likely be called up from the practice squad for a second-straight week if Tre’Quan Smith can’t play.
He ran 70% of his snaps from the slot — noteworthy because Minnesota has allowed the second-most passing TDs to slot WRs this season.
Headline of the game: The Tampa Bay defense has moved away from being a strength over the second half of the season
Much of the talk early in this season was about the dominant Tampa Bay defense and why that made them a dangerous team. That talk reached its peak following a dominant, 38-10 victory over the Packers in Week 6, where they bottled up Aaron Rodgers and company. If you look at the first eight weeks overall, it was a defense that ranked second in expected points added (EPA) allowed per play to only the Rams.
Since that point, however, the Buccaneers come in at just 25th in EPA allowed per play, with every team they’ve played putting up at least 23 points in that stretch. They’ve remained one of the best defenses in the NFL at defending the run, which leaves their pass defense as the major area that has regressed. In that stretch since Week 9, Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting have allowed passer ratings of 138.2 and 137.4, respectively, on throws into their coverage.
Much of the talk surrounding Tampa Bay has been whether or not the offense can realize its potential, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that their defense needs to tighten up, as well.
The Buccaneers continue to be the second-most-popular team in the betting market, as they are on pace to see the majority of cash for the 12th time this year. The Lions are clearly on the opposite end of the betting spectrum and now sit as the third-worst team in the NFL by our Elo rankings. The spread has already added two points from the open and could test -10 by kickoff.
Matthew Stafford was awarded plenty of grit points after making no-look passes while playing through torn cartilage in his ribs last week. The injury questions should linger until kickoff, with the market seemingly confident in him playing. The total hangs in the balance, as the market expects plenty of points in this matchup. Stafford sitting should usher in quite a few changes to game markets, with Greenline offering value opportunities based on the latest information.
There’s a strong argument to be made that Tom Brady has yet to face a matchup better than the Detroit Lions in 2020. They have allowed the most fantasy points to QBs over the past four weeks, due in part to their lack of pass-rush.
The Lions have pressured opposing QBs on just 20% of their dropbacks the last three weeks, so it should be smooth sailing for Brady and the passing game. TB12 leads the NFL in passing yards and ranks second in passing touchdowns (29) from a clean pocket this season.
The big-bodied wideout has maintained his status as the team’s clear alpha despite the “too many mouths to feed” narrative in Tampa, and he should feast against the Lions, who have allowed the second-most fantasy points to WRs over the past four weeks.
The real debate when it comes to Buccaneers wide receivers is choosing between Chris Godwin and Brown. The only metric that is working in Godwin’s favor is the fact that he is running more routes and playing more snaps than Brown.
But from a production and usage standpoint, Brown has been superior. He’s out-performed Godwin in expected fantasy points, target share (18% versus 12%) and target rate on routes run (30% versus 13%) since the team came off the bye in Week 14.
This is also not a small sample size trap, either, as Brown has been better in all the aforementioned categories since he became a Buccaneer in Week 9. The plus-matchup suggests Bucs WRs should be started, but if one needs to be faded, it should be Godwin.
Since Darrell Bevell took over as interim head coach, he has unlocked Matthew Stafford’s ceiling as a passer. Stafford owns the league’s third-highest PFF passing grade (91.8) and ranks second in the NFL in aDOT (10.5) since Bevell took over.
Only the Lions have allowed more fantasy points than the Buccaneers to quarterbacks over the past four weeks, so don’t overlook Stafford in a projected shootout.
There’s obvious concern that the Buccaneers’ seventh-highest graded pass-rush puts the heat on the Lions’ quarterback, but if there’s any QB that can combat the pressure, it’s Stafford. The pocket passer owns the second-highest QBR under pressure this season (95.7).
Headline of the game: Kyler Murray’s rushing ability remains one of the largest X-factors in the NFC playoff picture
Murray rushed for 50 or more yards in seven of the Cardinals’ first nine games, and that wasn’t a solely volume-driven number. The second-year quarterback was remarkably efficient on those carries, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, with 45% of those rushes going for either first downs or touchdowns. Even with a passing game that still had significant room for improvement, Murray’s rushing ability provided real value and raised the floor of the offense.
Murray put on a show through the air against a depleted Philadelphia secondary this past week, but it also marked the fifth straight game where he failed to put up 50 yards on the ground after making that a regular occurrence early in the season. In the Cardinals’ first game against San Francisco back in Week 1, Murray put up 91 rushing yards on eight scrambles alone. That’s likely something we’re going to see more of once again down the stretch for the Cardinals to make noise come playoff time.
This situation has flipped from preseason expectations, with the Cardinals badly needing a win to control their own destiny in the playoffs. The 49ers are looking to play spoiler to their NFC West rival, with the betting market finding a clear preference in this matchup.
Arizona has added 1.5 points to the opening spread while seeing their win expectancy increase by 7% based on the opening-week line movement. With these teams only separated by six places in our latest Elo rankings, this matchup could play closer than the market currently expects.
The total has dropped 1.5 points from the open, with few buying into the 49ers' recent offensive performances. They still sit 15th in our opponent-adjusted offensive grade, as their pass-catching unit sits in the top 10 of this metric. This could be another betting opportunity, with Greenline expecting a fast-paced game similar to the 49ers' Week 15 game script.
The 49ers could not have envisioned a worse season for 2020 with all the injuries they have dealt with. It’s the same story heading into Week 16, with Nick Mullens, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. all questionable heading into this matchup.
Starting Tevin Coleman in an offense led by C.J. Beathard is not a recipe for success, especially considering the Cardinals have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to RBs over the past two weeks.
The lone bright spot of this 49ers season has been the breakout performance of rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who has 100 receiving yards or a touchdown in nine of 10 games since Week 3. No wide receiver has averaged more expected fantasy points per game (23.1) than Aiyuk since Week 8.
Over that time span, Aiyuk has averaged 12.4 targets per game.
The rookie has also taken over more of the short-to-intermediate routes that would usually be handled by Deebo Samuel. Aiyuk ranks third in the NFL in yards after the catch the past two weeks, and that should allow him to expose the Cardinals’ defense.
Arizona has allowed the second-most yards after the catch to offenses in their last three games.
After it appeared that Kenyan Drake had finally turned the corner as a trustworthy fantasy running back — surprise, surprise — he gets out-snapped/out-touched by Chase Edmonds despite the latter entering the game questionable.
Drake himself did get banged up in this game, so that may have ultimately tilted the snap share (46% versus 55%) in Edmonds’ favor. But even so, the backfield split combined with Kyler Murray’s uptick in rushing puts a damper on Drake’s upside.
He’s been great in fantasy because he has been routinely seeing 15-plus carries and goal-line touches, but he saw zero of those high-value touches in Week 15.
Another aspect that cannot be overlooked for the Cardinals’ run game is the potential loss of blocking tight end extraordinaire Maxx Williams. Drake trails only Derrick Henry in rushing attempts from 12 personnel this season and has averaged 4.8 yards per attempt with Williams run-blocking in those formations.
When it’s been backup tight end Darrell Daniels run-blocking, Drake’s yards per attempt falls to 3.7.
Headline of the game: Can Marcus Mariota deliver again against a better Dolphins defense?
A little over a year after being benched for Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee, Mariota now has the chance to come off the bench in Las Vegas and show that he deserves another starting job in the NFL. His play coming off the bench against the Chargers this past week was an impressive start in that effort — he earned an 82.1 PFF grade in just over 30 dropbacks of relief action. Mariota uncorked two big-time throws in the game and made numerous plays with his legs, finishing with eight conversions on nine rushing attempts.
Things get a little bit tougher in this matchup against the Dolphins, however. Miami comes into the game with the fourth-ranked pass defense in the NFL by EPA per play, and no team has forced more offensive turnovers than the Dolphins have this season (25). It’s a good opportunity for teams to see just where Mariota stands heading into the 2021 offseason.
Saturday’s nightcap is an intriguing matchup between two teams fighting for their AFC playoff lives. Miami controls its own destiny, with the Raiders needing to win out and get help to squeeze in. The market has done a flip on the early favorite, with the Raiders opening at -1.5 but now flipping to +3. The numbers in between 3 aren’t significant, but testing and holding to 3 is a distinct move by the betting market.
Our spread points above replacement indicate this as an appropriate move, given the drop from Carr to Mariota, but early-week reports see a possibility of Carr being able to play. This could cause a correction back from the betting market, opening up value plays on either the spread or total.
Both Tua Tagovailoa and Marcus Mariota can serve as fill-ins for any quarterback-needy teams this week. Either can be easily acquired off the waiver wire ahead of Week 16. The Dolphins quarterback has a plus-matchup versus a Raiders defense that has allowed two passing touchdowns to opposing QBs for five straight weeks, and Mariota has the heavily sought-after rushing upside that we as fantasy managers adore.
But in terms of offensive skill players, Salvon Ahmed looks to be primed to dominate should he remain the bell cow with Myles Gaskin sidelined. The Raiders have allowed the third-most rushing yards to RBs over the past four weeks (5.4 yards per attempt), and the rookie has been nothing but terrific in his three starts this season.
He’s averaged 4.6 yards per attempt and earned a PFF rushing grade of 80.2. But, most importantly, he’s averaged nearly 20 expected fantasy points per game. The only way Ahmed doesn’t hit for fantasy managers is if Gaskin returns.
When Gaskin returned after an extended absence in Week 13, he was the clear workhorse. I would assume the team would go right back to him as it has for most of the season.
Lynn Bowden Jr. is another option for fantasy managers to turn to in a pinch. He’s averaged 11.7 fantasy points per game as the de facto No. 1 wide receiver for Miami with all the injuries they are dealing with. Did I forget to mention he will be facing the team that drafted him in the third round and then traded him? #revengegame
As for the Raiders, it’s going to be a difficult matchup for Josh Jacobs. The Miami Dolphins have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to RBs over the past four weeks. Jacobs still has a strong floor because of the guaranteed workload and the fact that he has nine catches on 11 targets in his last three games.
Fantasy gamers should also feel great about going back to Nelson Agholor despite a middling performance last Thursday night. He still saw eight targets and currently ranks fifth in total air yards over the past four weeks. The speedy wideout also leads the Raiders in end-zone targets (six) and ranks 14th in expected fantasy points scored over the last month.
Still, his big-play ceiling might be limited — Miami has allowed the fifth-lowest completion percentage on throws 20-plus yards downfield (27.1%) this season.
Headline of the game: Washington looks to remain in driver’s seat in NFC East
Even with their loss to the Seahawks, Washington remains the favorite to win the NFC East heading into Week 16. Another loss here to Carolina paired with unfavorable results elsewhere could make that picture murkier, though.
The biggest storyline entering this game is whether Alex Smith will be behind center. Dwayne Haskins made several plays with his legs in the start against Seattle, but he — like Smith — was not effective when it came to pushing the ball downfield. Haskins had as many completions to his own team on throws 10-plus yards downfield (two) as he did to the defense.
Those mistakes and inaccuracy overall from Haskins underscores why Washington made the switch to Smith in the first place. He’s less likely to actively hurt a team that wants to win behind one of the better defenses in the NFL. Smith’s availability became even more important when photos of Haskins at a club without a mask on started to make the rounds.
The Football team continues to exceed expectations, after easily getting over their season-long win total and now controlling their own destiny into the playoffs. They have the second-best against-the-spread record this season, after covering with Dwayne Haskins at quarterback in Week 15.
Only certain books are offering a spread, which has backed off of the initial open. There is some optimism that Alex Smith can play, but the market doesn’t seem overly confident in this — or Dwayne Haskins — at this time. If Smith misses his second straight week, this looks like a situation to avoid, with Washington needing to find a way to win with their defense.
Fantasy managers are praying that Christian McCaffrey can come back for the fantasy football championships, but expectations may need to be tempered even if he does. The Washington Football Team has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks.
CMC has scored 24-plus fantasy points in his three starts this season, so he still should be started, but Mike Davis may not be so locked-and-loaded should he get the nod. He played his lowest snap share (54%) as a starter because backup running back Rodney Smith played a season-high in snaps.
Smith also saw more targets (three versus two) and ran just four fewer routes than Davis. This could be a sign of things to come for the Carolina backfield as a whole.
What’s more certain for the Panthers is the pecking order of their trio of wide receivers. D.J. Moore leads the team in target share (26%) and air yards share (43%) since Week 10 (excluding the game he missed in Week 14).
His team-leading 13.4 aDOT is a clear indication that he offers the most weekly upside of the bunch. Moore’s 17.7 expected fantasy points per game ranks 12th among all WRs since Week 10. Curtis Samuel (12.6) and Robby Anderson (11.8) are both considerably behind him.
All of them have been heavily involved since Antonio Gibson went down with an injury two weeks ago. Thomas ranks sixth in the NFL in targets since Week 13 (33) and McLaurin has seen 19 targets in his last two games. McKissic has averaged 18.1 fantasy points per game in his last three games and shockingly operated as the team’s no doubt lead back in Week 15.
He played a 88% snap share and commanded a 79% RB opportunity share, totaling 23 touches. That’s bell-cow status, folks.
The matchup also couldn’t be better for the trio in Week 16. Carolina ranks sixth-worst in fantasy points allowed to both TEs and WRs over the past four weeks. They have also allowed the sixth-most receptions to RBs this season.
Headline of the game: The current version of this Pittsburgh offense should make them an underdog against any AFC playoff team
Just three weeks ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were 11-0 and in position to earn the only AFC bye come playoff time. Now, there are no guarantees that Pittsburgh will even host a home playoff game following three consecutive losses to Washington, Buffalo and Cincinnati.
No offense has been less efficient over that three-game losing streak than Pittsburgh’s has. Their -0.24 EPA per play since Week 13 is the worst mark in the NFL. They’ve been unable to run the ball for much of the season, and the third-down success they were able to have passing earlier in the year has all but evaporated. Over the last three weeks, Ben Roethlisberger is 16-of-35 for 154 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions on third downs — good for a passer rating of 34.7.
Things don’t get any easier here against a solid Colts defense, but Pittsburgh needs to right the ship. Otherwise, they’ll likely find themselves playing for the AFC North title in Week 17 against Cleveland — an outcome that seemed outlandish just a few weeks ago.
This matchup has such a wide range of outcomes — it could easily be the game of the week, or it could be an ugly defensive showdown. Both defenses sit in the top quarter of our opponent-adjusted rankings, making this the lowest total of the Week 16 slate.
Few can stomach buying low on the Steelers, who are quickly looking irrelevant in the AFC playoff picture. Almost 94% of the initial cash has been on the Colts, which has caused this line to completely reverse off the -3 open. Greenline finally sides with the market, as the Colts look like a value up to +3. Their defense isn’t that far from the Steelers', and their offense is a significant improvement over what is now the worst offensive unit in the NFL.
Jonathan Taylor (16 carries, five targets) saw a season-high snap share (69%) in Week 15. His increased workload should make him at least a low-end RB2 versus a tough Pittsburgh Steelers defense that has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points and third-fewest rushing yards per game to RBs over the past four weeks.
We saw Giovani Bernard, of all players, have a very productive outing against the Steelers in Week 15, so the Steel Curtain shouldn’t be as feared as it once was.
Diontae Johnson has seen 47 targets in his last four games, tied with Darren Waller for the second-highest in the league behind only Stefon Diggs. He is an absolute steal on DraftKings at just $6,300 with the target volume he is seeing this season.
Benny Snell Jr. was a better RB on Monday night for the Steelers, but keep in mind that it was the Bengals’ defense he was up against. He will face a much tougher opponent in Week 16 as the Colts have allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards in their last two games.
Fantasy managers relying on Snell can at least rest assured that he will have volume in this game and have chances to score, but the 100-plus yards from scrimmage he saw in Week 15 is most likely out of reach.
Neither quarterback should be trusted in any format. Phillip Rivers has been red-hot, but he’s had an easy stretch of matchups. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t surpassed 20 fantasy points in his last five games, so he is 100% hands-off.
Roethlisberger’s upside was tied to him throwing the ball deep, but his accuracy has been way off the mark. Among QBs with at least 25 deep-ball attempts, Big Ben’s adjusted completion percentage (31.4%) ranks 31st out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks.
Headline of the game: The Chiefs’ string of close games shouldn’t be a major cause for concern
Following their three-point win over the Saints this past week, the Chiefs have now won every game since Week 8 by six points or less. That is an odd footnote for a team that many consider the comfortable Super Bowl favorite, but that’s all it is — an odd footnote. It doesn’t change the fact that Kansas City is and should be the comfortable favorite to hoist the Lombardi trophy for the second consecutive season.
Before Week 15, the PFF power ratings had the Chiefs as 3.5 points better than the next closest team (Saints), and that is unlikely to change all that much this week.
Patrick Mahomes’ 91.8 passing grade is lower than only Aaron Rodgers this season. Meanwhile, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are second and fifth, respectively, in the NFL in receiving yardage. The Chiefs aren’t without their faults as a team, but their ability to remain in any game because of Mahomes and the league’s best combination of supporting cast and playcalling signals that the recent string of close results shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
The Chiefs have seen the majority of cash in 13 of their 14 matchups, but they haven’t lived up to the public’s expectation, going just 7-7 against the spread. They did cover the closing line last week, but with few getting the -2.5 number, it was another disappointing result for Chiefs backers, who had been on a five-game A.T.S. skid. This will be a highlight of discussion all week, as the market has found an early preference for the Falcons.
It quickly dropped two points after opening at -12.5, but neither of these numbers is all that important. A test of -10 would be noteworthy, but anything before should be viewed as value on the Falcons. Backing Atlanta is never a comfortable proposition, but at such a wide spread, even another fourth-quarter collapse would be a welcome sight. Greenline only finds value on the spread, though the 54-point total is too high based on our model inputs.
Calvin Ridley cannot be stopped. The third-year wide receiver has been on an absolute tear, leading all WRs in fantasy points in his last three games. A big part of his success is coming from his insane usage.
He leads the NFL in team air yards share (49%) and end-zone targets over the last four weeks. Those tried-and-true opportunities frequently lead to fantasy points, and Ridley is taking full advantage. But he will face his toughest task yet versus the Chiefs, who have been one of the better teams at limiting wide receiver production.
They have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to WRs this season, so at an inflated price tag, Ridley at $8,500 has to be a fade on DraftKings this week. Julio Jones may also return to the lineup, which could further limit Ridley’s ceiling if he eats into the latter’s target share.
I don’t think Williams will be involved enough to warrant a start outside of sheer desperation, but it’s worth discussing how much he will eat into Bell’s workload.
Bell will almost certainly be a lock for early-down work, as he has seen 11-plus carries in both games that CEH has been unavailable or hurt mid-game. But Williams is sure to be involved on third downs and in the passing game, so don’t expect any receiving work beyond three targets for Bell.
He is going to have to score to be a fantasy viable option, but like we saw last week with Leonard Fournette in the same matchup versus Atlanta, it’s not a bad bet to make. The Chiefs are implied to score the most points on the Week 16 slate.
The Falcons have also allowed the last three lead running backs they have faced to score 17-plus fantasy points. Each of them saw 14-plus touches, which seems like an appropriate projection of Bell’s workload on Sunday.
Since joining the Kansas City Chiefs, Bell leads the team in carries inside the 10-yard line (six), so the touchdown upside is there for the taking.
Headline of the game: The Jaguars provide another opportunity for Mitchell Trubisky to pad his stats late in the season
Trubisky’s 8.4 passing yards per attempt and passer rating of 112.7 are both top-10 marks in the league over the past three weeks. His passing grade trails those numbers by a decent margin, though, at 63.7 over that same stretch (21st among 32 qualifying quarterbacks).
Still, the numbers are drumming up whispers that the Bears may give him another chance next season, and the scary thing for Bears fans is that this matchup against Jacksonville is only going to help his case for another shot.
The Jaguars have allowed 7.5 yards per pass play this season. The next closest mark is Detroit, at 7.2, and no matter which metric you look at, the Jaguars are comfortably one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. That puts them in good company alongside teams like Houston, Detroit and Minnesota on the teams that Trubisky has come up against in recent weeks.
Obviously, the Bears need a win here, given that they have a legitimate shot at making the postseason, but a stretch of strong statistical play from Trubisky to close the season and convince the Bears to head into 2021 without making a major move at quarterback is among the worst-case outcomes for the team in the long run.
Chicago dominated in a statement victory, with the market quickly buying into this week’s spread. The Bears have received 92% of the cash and 78% of the early-week tickets on the spread, with the moneyline providing a similar preference. There may not be a more one-sided market in Week 16, as this has already been the most significant line movement heading into the weekend.
There seems to be some recency bias in both directions, as few want to buy into the Jaguars after they were given the path to the number one overall pick.
“They can’t possibly screw this up now” is a popular refrain this week. Greenline has some sneaky suspension that this might not be the narrative to buy into for this matchup.
Winter is famously known for being Derrick Henry szn, but out of the sheer cold has emerged a new leader at the running back position. David Montgomery leads all running backs in fantasy points since Week 12, and this locomotive train looks to keep rolling versus the Jaguars in Week 16.
Jacksonville has allowed the most fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks.
The process was there for Cole Kmet to deliver a strong fantasy performance in Week 15 — he was on the field for 100% of the team’s offensive snaps — but he only managed two catches for 12 yards. Luckily he gets the best matchup for TEs in Week 16, so don’t shy away.
Jacksonville has allowed the second-most touchdowns to tight ends this season because they have faced the most end-zone targets to the position. Just cross your fingers that it’s Kmet on the receiving end of a Mitchell Trubisky touchdown and not Jimmy Graham.
Kmet and Graham have split time playing in the red zone, with the rookie the vast majority of all the other tight end snaps.
The Jaguars' offense is in a really tough spot versus the Bears, especially because they could be without star rookie running back James Robinson, who left Sunday’s game with an injury. Jacksonville could be looking at a gross committee involving Devine Ozigbo and Dare Ogunbowale.
It’s not out of the range of outcomes that Ozigbo just inherits the Robinson workload, so he can’t be totally ignored. He has seen at least three targets in two games this year and was extremely productive at the college level.
If anything, I’d take a DFS dart-throw on Tyler Eifert, who has been a sneaky producer at tight end over the past four weeks. He’s scored eight-plus fantasy points in three of his last four starts and ranks sixth in routes run among tight ends since Week 13.
The Bears have allowed the second-most fantasy points to TEs over the last four weeks and over the entirety of the 2020 season.
Headline of the game: The Miami Dolphins will be interested in the outcome of this game
There are two classes of interest at this stage of the season — playoff scenario interest and draft slot interest. This game falls into the latter category, but unfortunately for the Texans, they are not in position to reap the benefits of what will become a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Despite top-five play from Deshaun Watson at quarterback for nearly the entire season (91.9 PFF grade), the Texans are currently projected to be owners of the No. 6 pick in the upcoming draft — a pick that will head to Miami as part of the trade for Laremy Tunsil.
That pick could get even better for Miami with a loss here to a Bengals team coming off a big win against Pittsburgh. With another victory, the Bengals would jump to 4-10-1, while Houston would fall to 4-11.
It’s one thing to have a disappointing season. It’s another thing entirely to end that year without the high draft pick that typically serves as a light at the end of the tunnel. The Texans have their franchise cornerstone in place with Watson, but the new front office will have its hands full when it comes to putting key places in place around him to improve this roster.
The Bengals are once again a betting market favorite after pulling off the second-best moneyline upset of the season. Ryan Finley did just enough through the air and provided plenty with his legs to overcome the top defensive unit in the NFL. If that doesn’t highlight the instability of defense, then nothing will.
The betting market seems impressed, as the Bengals have gotten a majority of the cash and tickets to start the week. The matchup opened at -8.5, but that has already dropped a half-point after Cincinnati's Monday night performance. PFF Greenline finds no value on the spread or moneyline, but a move on the total could be viable.
It is time to trust Giovani Bernard in your starting lineup again. His performances were promising when he first took over for Joe Mixon — he had back to back games with double-digit carries and three straight games with a touchdown. Bernard followed this up with a string of five straight games under 40 rushing yards and no touchdowns.
The combination of his Monday Night performance and his opponent this week should help him continue to roll. He ran the ball 25 times for 83 yards and a touchdown in Week 15 and also caught a touchdown pass. The Bengals gave Bernard the ball more than everyone else on the offense combined. Nine different running backs have put up at least 90 rushing yards against this Texans defense, and 18 rushing touchdowns have been scored against them. Bernard should be in starting lineups championship week.
Bernard might not be the only back with big-game potential in this matchup. David Johnson was the clear lead back for Houston last week while his backups were injured. He always gets the rushing snaps when healthy, and after catching 11 passes for 106 yards last week, he should also get the receiving snaps. The Bengals have allowed Wayne Gallman, Myles Gaskin, and Benny Snell Jr. to rush for over 80 yards against them in the last four weeks. Johnson hasn’t put up those kinds of numbers on the ground since October, but he should have the opportunity in this game.
The Texans' passing game might not have as much success as usual. The only players to reach 85 receiving yards against the Bengals in their last five games have been tight ends. Jordan Akins has six targets in each of his last two games, so the combination of his decent volume and opposition could lead to Akins having his best game in a while.
Headline of the game: The Ravens’ offense is starting to figure things out, which is bad for the rest of the AFC
The Ravens have scored 34, 47 and 40 points in the three games since Lamar Jackson returned from a brief stint on the COVID-19 list. Granted, Baltimore played Dallas, Cleveland and Jacksonville, but this is an offense and a team that many expected to be one of the best in the NFL coming into the season. That certainly wasn’t the case early on, but the Ravens can become dangerous if they start to click as they did for much of the 2019 season.
Their passing offense stuck out as the biggest area for concern, but Jackson is averaging 9.2 passing yards per attempt with a 120.6 passer rating over the past three weeks. Most promising is his improved precision; he has raised his accurate pass rate to 67% from 58% prior to Week 13 while committing just two turnover-worthy plays in the past three weeks compared to 15 in previous weeks. How Jackson performs in those two areas down the stretch will go a long way in determining how the Ravens’ season ends.
These teams appear to be on opposite trajectories given their recent performances, with the Giants falling out of the NFC East discussion while the Ravens are hitting their stride at the perfect time. Baltimore absolutely has to win out to get into the playoffs, but the team should be over an 80% implied win probability in its remaining two matchups.
Markets are disjointed on this matchup, with only a handful posting game lines because of the Giants' quarterback situation. Neither Daniel Jones nor Colt McCoy is all that significant to the spread, as our numbers have Jones as just the 24th-most-important quarterback. McCoy cannot be considered an upgrade, which is why we see the market continue to push away from the Giants.
Patience will most likely be rewarded, as we should see steady one-sided line movement leading up to kickoff.
The Giants' passing game has been very inconsistent. Their leading receiver from one week to another is constantly changing despite the same players receiving a lot of playing time each week. Some weeks all of the receivers get shut down.
Evan Engram is the one player worth considering because of how many targets he sees compared to most tight ends. His 88 targets are the fourth-most for tight ends this season. The Ravens have consistently allowed between 45-55 yards to their opposition’s top tight end the last four weeks. That is a reasonable expectation for Engram. The Ravens haven’t allowed a touchdown to a tight end in that time.
Wayne Gallman’s fantasy stock is on the decline. He hasn’t scored a touchdown in three straight weeks after scoring in five straight. He’s been under 13 carries the last two games after seeing over 13 in each of the previous four. Potential All-Pro backs have found success against the Ravens defense recently, but other backs have not. Gallman isn’t an All-Pro, so he could be under 50 rushing yards.
Mark Andrews is definitely the receiver for the Ravens to trust in this game. He’s caught five or more passes in each of the last four games, which has led to a minimum of 60 receiving yards. The Giants have only allowed 60 yards to a tight end twice this season, but they haven’t faced a tight end as good as Andrews this year.
Marquise Brown has also played better recently, but he will likely be shadowed by James Bradberry, who has allowed an average of 33 yards per game and only one touchdown over his last 12 games. This will limit Brown’s upside for the game but potentially open things up for the other wide receivers.
Headline of the game: The Jets will look to play spoiler for a second consecutive week
The Browns suddenly have a very realistic chance of controlling their AFC North destiny following Cincinnati’s upset of the Steelers in Week 15. For that to happen, they they need to take care of business in New York and have the Colts beat Pittsburgh. The former would have been a given just a week ago, but the Jets showed that they’re not roll over as the season dwindles down, securing a massive upset over the Rams in Week 15.
It’s still difficult to see anything other than a Cleveland win here, though. Baker Mayfield is playing the best football of his career. Since Week 7, the highest-graded passers in the NFL, in order, are Aaron Rodgers, Mayfield, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. You couldn’t handpick better company for your quarterback. It’s up for debate how much of that is real improvement from Mayfield himself and how much is what Kevin Stefanski is doing with that offense, but this has been a dangerous passing offense as of late either way.
It’s going to be hard for the Jets to take a good Cleveland team by surprise after what they did to the Rams.
Cleveland has suddenly become relevant in the AFC North division race, with the Steelers continuing their stumble from perfection. Bettors are now interested in backing the Jets, with this number sliding off 10 down to 9.5. New York has covered five of its past eight games and now has the biggest moneyline upset of any team in the past decade. Despite the market movement, the majority of cash and tickets are on the Browns, who seemingly have everything to play for.
PFF Greenline isn’t interested in the spread at the current price but does find value on the total. The Browns now have the second-best opponent-adjusted offensive grade, as their defensive unit continues to drop off. If this is a smash spot for Cleveland's offense, then the Jets should at least be able to keep the game close enough to get over the 47-point total.
The Jets' offense remains one to avoid as much as possible despite the team finally getting a win. At wide receiver, each of their three starters has hit over 50 yards once in their last four games. Jamison Crowder led the team last week with six catches for 66 yards, but the Browns have shut down slot wide receivers in recent weeks. No slot receiver has gained more than 35 yards against them in the last five games. Outside wide receivers have found more success, but that is partially due to Denzel Ward missing time. Ward is back now, so it’s possible none of the Jets' wide receivers reach 50 yards this week.
Frank Gore was the main back in running situations this past week without much rotation. He hasn’t been particularly effective on his runs, and the Browns have allowed the seventh-fewest points to fantasy running backs this season. The Jets could rotate backs more, so this is a situation to avoid.
The Jets defense hasn’t allowed a lot of fantasy points considering the offenses they’ve faced in recent weeks. Nick Chubb is coming off of a poor game with just 50 yards on 15 carries, but that kind of performance is his floor. He’s scored a touchdown in each of his last four games. He’s an obvious start, but he might not be as effective as usual this week against the Jets run defense.
Kareem Hunt is less viable than he had been earlier in the season. He started the season with 12 straight games with double-digit carries, but he’s been given 13 carries over the past two. He’s averaged 32 rushing yards over the last five weeks. The Browns should be running a lot with a lead, but with how well the Jets are playing, there might not be a lot of garbage time. He should be avoided.
Headline of the game: Justin Herbert has shown what you need to see from a young quarterback to be confident building around him
One of the most important decisions for a franchise is figuring out whether it's worth building around their young quarterback. Denver made the wrong decision with Brock Osweiler, and it ultimately had to unload a valuable draft pick just to get off his contract. The Broncos will be in another spot where they have to make a decision on a young quarterback — Drew Lock — this offseason, albeit not one involving a second contract quite yet.
The Chargers, on the other hand, should have confidence they found their guy after what we’ve seen from Herbert in his rookie season. He has had pass-game weapons to work with, but it’s also important to remember he’s been playing behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines.
Despite that, his PFF grade currently sits at a very respectable 77.8, and he has proven capable of producing big plays. His 11 touchdown passes on throws 20 or more yards downfield this season are fewer than only Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. His success allows the Chargers to focus on adding pieces around him this offseason rather than wondering if they should add additional competition at quarterback.
This spread has tested both sides of -3, with the market failing to find consensus to start the week. The Chargers are getting all the action on the tickets, but our cash percentage indicates significant action by bigger bettors on the Broncos. Denver is the better team, according to PFF's ELO rankings, with a slightly worse offense but q better defensive ranking.
Herbert has regressed some off his early-season performance but still has more than a 20-point lead over Lock in PFF passing grade. There is one viable betting opportunity on the moneyline — otherwise, this game should go overlooked for other viable options this weekend.
The Broncos have allowed plenty of receiving yards in recent weeks, which is great news for Justin Herbert and the rest of the passing offense. Both Bills wide receivers hit over 100 yards last week against Denver, and two Panthers receivers both made over 65 yards the week before. Travis Kelce put together a 136-yard performance two weeks ago, so anyone in the Chargers offense can find success.
The only question is who will be healthy enough to take advantage of them. Hunter Henry is the safest option, as he’s made seven or more targets in 10 of 14 games this season. He only gained 33 yards the first time around against Denver, but that was one of his few games under seven targets. He should have a better game this week. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both have the potential for big games, but it depends entirely on the injury report. Neither player saw his usual amount of snaps a week ago, but they played on Thursday Night Football and had an extended break between games to recover.
For the Broncos, Noah Fant is the most trusted player in this matchup. He’s coming off season highs in targets (11) and receptions (8). That led to 68 yards and a touchdown. He’s gained at least 50 receiving yards in three of his last four games. The Chargers have allowed 13.9 fantasy points per game to tight ends, which puts them in the bottom 10 in the league.
Melvin Gordon III is also a relatively safe play in his revenge game. He’s consistently seeing double-digit carries and has run for at least 60 rushing yards in four of his last five games. He’s also caught seven passes in the last two games after catching two passes in his previous five. The Chargers have been average at run defense recently, so the matchup shouldn’t factor too much into playing Gordon.
Headline of the game: Neither of these teams is as disastrous as earlier in the season
There was a point this season where this game was sure to produce bad football. To be fair, there’s a decent chance it still may, but both the Eagles and the Cowboys have have made strides in recent weeks toward being competitive again. A lot of that has to do with the quarterback position stabilizing under Jalen Hurts and Andy Dalton.
The PFF grades for Hurts’ past two starts against New Orleans and Arizona highlight that the rookie still has significant room for improvement, but at the same time, his athleticism has provided new life to this offense. Hurts is 12-of-23 for 197 yards and four touchdowns on third and fourth down over the past two weeks, securing five additional first downs on the ground on 10 carries.
Dalton, meanwhile, has quietly turned in solid performance after solid performance since returning in Week 11 from injury. He has graded between 69.0 and 75.5 in each of the five games since coming back. He and Hurts will each look to keep their team's slim chances of winning the division alive in this one.
What many once expected to be the deciding game in the NFC East is now a showdown between two teams needing help from the Football Team. The Eagles sit lower in our ELO rankings but are actually favored in this matchup after a move out from pick 'em to +2.5.
Bettors are looking to back Jalen Hurts despite some unsustainable play based on third-down efficiency. Andy Dalton offers the better PFF passing grade, with the market unenthused by his most recent performance. PFF Greenline seems to buy into the motivation factor for the Eagles, as anything before +3 looks like a betting value.
The Eagles offense is pretty straightforward at this point regardless of opponent. Jalen Hurts is the QB2 over the last two weeks thanks to his very rushing high floor, and he’s been good enough throwing to put up fantasy value. The Cowboys have been below average in allowing fantasy points to quarterbacks, including being below average against rushing quarterbacks. Hurts is a clear start at this point.
The Eagles implemented a heavy rotation at wide receiver. Jalen Reagor was the only exception, but he left in the third quarter with an ankle injury and didn’t return. Dallas Goedert hasn’t played as well since Hurts became the starter, and the Cowboys have played well against tight ends. All of the wide receivers and tight ends should be avoided since anyone on the roster could lead the team in receiving this week.
Tony Pollard reached RB1 last week after Ezekiel Elliott was a surprise inactive. Pollard likely won’t repeat that this time around. There is a chance Elliott plays, and even if Elliott plays in a reduced role, that will hurt Pollard’s opportunities. If Elliott doesn’t play, the Eagles have played well against the run recently.
The only backs to reach 100 yards against them recently are Pro Bowlers, and any other back to face them recently hasn’t been nearly as productive. That includes a 15-attempt, 22-yard performance by Carlos Hyde, and 11 yards on 13 attempts by Kareem Hunt. Pollard would be a high-upside play with Elliott out, but the floor would be low.
Headline of the game: The Rams will look to prove their loss to the Jets was not indicative of what they are capable of
This piece last week talked about how the Jets’ offense against the Rams’ defense was the biggest mismatch we’ve seen this season. So, naturally, the Jets came out of that game with their first win of the season. Despite how shocking the result was, it shouldn’t necessarily change how this Rams team is viewed — a team that can beat anyone in the NFL but one that has a wide range of outcomes thanks to the volatility of Jared Goff and their offense.
Goff’s 54.7 PFF grade against New York marked the fourth time this season that he recorded a mark below 55.0. We’ve also seen the other side, with Goff posting seven PFF grades of 75.0 or higher. One of those games was the Rams’ first matchup with the Seahawks this season, and Los Angeles needs a similar performance in this matchup with significant NFC West implications.
Things are quite hot in the NFC West, with the division all but wrapping up in this Week 16 matchup. The team that wins out will lock up the crown, as the market seems torn in deciding a favorite for this matchup. The -1.5 open has held at some books, but things could swing as limits open up later in the week. Right now, 62% of the cash and 52% of the tickets have been on the Rams, with an even higher percentage buying into their slightly positive price on the moneyline.
Los Angeles has the clear advantage in our opponent-adjusted defensive grade, but Russell Wilson still holds the top spot in our opponent-adjusted passing grade. Goff sits 14th in this metric, but Wilson has started to tail off from his early-season tear. Buying into either team will require the ability to overlook certain recent performances, as PFF Greenline offers no value at the current market setup. As always, this is a great spot to monitor up to game time, with any line movement opening up betting value.
The Rams and Seahawks faced off six weeks ago but things should be very different this time around.
Alex Collins and DeeJay Dallas were the lead backs for Seattle in that game, but this time it’s Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Carlos Hyde. Carson has become fairly reliable with double-digit carries and at least 60 rushing yards in each of the last three games. Some of those have come against strong run defenses, including Washington last week. Carson isn’t the highest upside back of the week, but his floor is very reasonable.
The only concern is if Penny takes a few more carries in his second game back. He was Carson's backup last week while Hyde was reduced to playing on third downs.
Josh Reynolds led the Rams in receiving when they played in Week 10 with 94 yards off of eight catches. No other wide receiver has hit that mark against Seattle since then. Terry McLaurin is the only wide receiver to reach 50 yards against them in the last four weeks. This makes it hard to trust any receiver for the Rams, while the Rams secondary also makes it hard to trust the Seahawks receivers. There might not be a better solution on your roster, but the upside for all of these receivers is limited.
The Rams running back situation is very interesting. Most teams don’t run much against Seattle because they are behind, but this should be relatively close. Cam Akers isn’t expected to play. Darrell Henderson should see close to double-digit carries, while Malcolm Brown should see the pass game work as well as a lot of early downs too. Seattle has had a more difficult time stopping running backs as receivers than it has on the ground, so Brown could be the better play among the two.
Headline of the game: Points will be scored in a game featuring two of the most efficient offenses in the NFL
These two offenses rank first (Titans) and third (Packers) in expected points added per play heading into Week 16. That offensive efficiency paired with two less-than-inspiring defenses should equate to plenty of points.
They’re two offenses with a lot of similarities, as well. Both are heavy zone-scheme running teams, and both want to work in a heavy dose of play action off that run game. Ryan Tannehill leads the NFL in passing yards off play action (1,580), while Aaron Rodgers leads the league in passing touchdowns (18) without any interceptions coming off a run fake.
Of course, the other major storyline here on offense is Derrick Henry’s push for 2,000 rushing yards. He has been near unstoppable the past several seasons late in the year. Since 2018, Henry is averaging 6.5 yards per carry with over five yards after contact per attempt across Weeks 14 to 17. Here, he gets a Packers run defense that ranks 27th in yards allowed per run play (4.5) this season. Henry, along with the remainder of both offenses, is set up well for a productive day.
The game of the week offers an intriguing opportunity to see where the top team in the NFC measures up against the next tier in the AFC. Both teams sit in the top 10 of our ELO rankings and in the top five of our opponent-adjusted offensive rankings. Points should come in bunches, as the highest total of Week 16 has seen 91% of the cash and 53% of the tickets on the over. PFF Greenline thinks this could be a bit overstated but doesn’t find quite enough value to recommend fading the market.
One point has been taken off of the opening -4.5 spread, with certain books' pricing indicating a likely move to -3. This is the heavy lean of the cash and ticket percentages, as PFF Greenline finds value in this sentiment toward the Titans. Lock it in quickly, as a move to -3 will eliminate value in this market.
All of the Titans stars are must-starts. Derrick Henry should have another incredible game. The schedule worked out so Henry faces a lot of bad run defenses in December, and this is another good spot. Most teams haven’t been able to fully take advantage of the Packers on the ground because they are playing from behind, but Tennessee should be able to keep up with this offense. The scary thing is the Titans have rested Henry late in games recently with leads, but we might see a full four quarters of Henry running on Sunday.
Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis can be trusted for this game, too. The Packers in general have played well against the pass, but Tennessee’s pass offense does well while the defense focuses on Henry. Tannehill has thrown a touchdown in 11 straight games and has thrown for multiple touchdowns in nine of those 11. The Packers are unlikely to track either of the wide receivers with a particular cornerback, so the Titans' offense can dictate the matchups.
The Packers' offense is also full of players that should be in starting lineups. Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones, Davante Adams, and Robert Tonyan are all no-brainers against this Titans defense that gives up fantasy points to all positions.
Allen Lazard is a potential good play against the Titans defense as well. Adams will likely be tracked by the Titans' top cornerback, allowing Lazard to play against a weaker point in the secondary. Lazard received more routes run and total snaps compared to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for the first time since early in the season before Lazard’s injury. He led the Packers in receiving yards a week ago. While Tennessee’s defense is focused on everyone else, Lazard could be the target on several passes.
Headline of the game: The Bills’ wide receivers pose a tough challenge for New England without Stephon Gilmore
The Bills have shown in recent weeks the value of having wide receivers who can consistently create separation and win early in routes. Specifically, Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley have put that on full display. Those two rank among the top-10 wide receivers in the NFL in PFF grade this season, and they’ve aided in Josh Allen‘s massive leap in 2020.
This is not the Patriots’ defense we’ve come to expect in recent seasons, either. They rank just 16th in team coverage grade, and the loss of Gilmore at cornerback — even in a down year for the reigning Defensive Player of the Year — isn’t going to make things any better. New England ranks 25th in percentage of pass plays allowing 15 or more yards this season, and Diggs and Beasley will look to knock that unit down a few more spots in this matchup.
Buffalo has jumped into the third spot in our ELO rankings, with both their offensive and defensive units in the top 10 of our opponent-adjusted rankings. No one seems willing to touch the Patriots in early-week action, as the spread has quickly pushed from an opening of 4.5 to 7. Some 82% of the cash and 62% of the tickets are on the Bills, whose only incentive is seeding in the next two weeks. Few could have predicted that the AFC East would be locked up before these team’s Week 16 matchup, but a changing of the guard appears to be occurring.
PFF Greenline finds the latest line movement to be an overreaction, especially with the Bills playing only for seeding. The Patriots have been decimated by injuries but could be the only betting option at this inflated number. This looks like the perfect spot to target other bets using PFF's player props tool on Monday night.
Josh Allen had one of his worst performances against New England in their last matchup with 154 passing yards, no passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown on 10 rushing attempts. Stefon Diggs caught six passes while the rest of the Bills combined caught five. Stephon Gilmore missed the first matchup, and he will miss this one, too. Several star quarterbacks have played the Patriots in recent weeks and put up sub-par performances. Allen and the receivers should play better this time around compared, but the ceiling is lower for the passing game than it is in most weeks.
Zack Moss could be in store for a big game even if the passing game isn’t. The Patriots defense has allowed career games to Cam Akers and Salvon Ahmed in the last two weeks. Devin Singletary should see plenty of touches, too, but Moss gets all of the goal-line carries between the two, giving him more upside.
Cam Newton has averaged 120 passing yards per game over the last month and has thrown one passing touchdown in that time. It remains impossible to trust anyone in the passing game.
That leaves the run game. Damien Harris ran for 102 yards in their last matchup, but no player has reached that many yards against the Bills since then. Kenyan Drake is the only one to reach 61 yards. Harris missed last week’s game with an injury, so there is a risk he won’t play again or potentially just split time with Sony Michel on run downs. If you’re willing to take the risk of starting Harris on Monday night, be sure to have a backup plan — either another Patriots back or one of the two Bills backs.