Congratulations to those of you whose teams are playing for Fantasy Championships this week. And as you proceed with one last week of feverish preparation... don't become so entrenched in your decision making that you neglect to enjoy the moment. With so many variables that exist in fantasy football, maneuvering your teams into the Championship Games is truly an accomplishment to revel in.
Many of you have a reliable starter that has anchored your QB1 slots during your postseason drive. But if you have two viable options, or are pondering alternatives for any reason, this column will assist you. With that in mind, here are the Week 16 rankings, followed by in-depth analysis of the QB1s, along with the best and worst matchups. Good luck to all of you!
Top 25 Rankings
1. Aaron Rodgers at Buccaneers
After delivering two games with less than 190 yards within the first three weeks of the season, Rodgers had been matchup proof, while making a case to be considered the NFL's best QB. He entered Week 15 with 30 TDs and just two INTs in his last 11 games, with a remarkable 35 TD/ 3 INT ratio for the season. However, Buffalo’s fifth ranked pass defense performed the role of cooler, and combined with an uncharacteristic performance by Rodgers and his primary weapons to result in horrific results for his owners. Rodgers was also the victim of multiple drops, including a shocker by Jordy Nelson that prohibited a 94-yard TD. Instead, Rodgers failed to record a score for the first time this season. This week, he will face a far less daunting task. Even though Tampa Bay’s defense unit is hardly the sieve-like unit that it was earlier this year.
2. Andrew Luck at Cowboys
No Luck owners will be sitting him, and there is no compelling evidence that he cannot resume what had been an ongoing assault on opposing defenses. Even though his output in Week 15 fell short of expectations. Luck’s 187 yards versus Houston were the fewest since Week 2, and well below the 370-yard, three-TD performance that he delivered against the Texans in Week 6. Still, his season-long stranglehold on the NFL lead in passing yards remains intact (4,492). He also generated two TDs, which was the 12th time that he has produced multiple scores this season. That improved his season total to 38, which is also the NFL’s highest total. Even though the Dallas defense has not been among the league’s most charitable from a statistical standpoint, Luck should deliver 250+ yards and three TDs.
3. Tom Brady at Jets
The idea of having a starting QB with Brady’s acumen and ability lining up against a pass defense that has surrendered the second highest number of TDs should contain massive appeal for his owners. And that is the exact scenario that will occur this week. Among the 29 scores that Gang Green has yielded through the air are the trio of TDs that Brady generated in Week 7. That contest occurred within a five game span when he produced 18 TDs with just one INT. He has also amassed multiple TDs in 10 straight contests, after accumulating two against Miami’s third ranked pass defense. Plus, he has manufactured over 250 yards in nine of his last 10 contests, after collecting 287 against the Dolphins. Dissecting the Jets will be a much simpler endeavor, and owners will benefit from this outstanding matchup.
4. Drew Brees vs. Falcons
If you are a Brees owner, and your team is still playing for a championship, then you were fortunate to survive the worst performance of his season in Week 14. That debacle followed a season best 420- yard, five-TD gem in Week 13, and left owners wondering what level of production they would receive in Week 15 during his appealing matchup with Chicago. Fortunately, Brees rebounded against the NFL’s 30th ranked pass defense by amassing 375 yards and three TDs. That was his second highest yardage total of the season, and the seventh times that he has surpassed 300 yards. It was also his fifth game with at least three TDs, with all of them occurring in the past eight contests. This week’s encounter with the NFL’s worst pass defense remains enticing, as he should once again produce 300+ yards and multiple TDs.
5. Matthew Stafford at Bears
Heading into Week 15, Stafford's favorable schedule during the fantasy postseason had enabled him to construct his most productive stretch of the season. He had accumulated 701 yards and five TDs in Weeks 13-14, and appeared poised to generate favorable numbers last Sunday against Minnesota. However, he could only manage an underwhelming 153 yards, and generated one TD versus the Vikings’ sixth ranked pass defense. It was his lowest yardage total of the year, as owners were forced to endure another disappointing Stafford outing after two encouraging performances. Fortunately for anyone who survived his outing, Stafford will now face the highly vulnerable Bears, who rank just 31st versus the pass.
6. Matt Ryan at Saints
If you drafted Ryan as your QB1 last summer, and steadfastly utilized him throughout the year, then you have survived quite a statistical ride. He averaged 316 YPG and produced 10 TDs in September, then delivered a six game stretch in which he only generated multiple TDs once. But he has resurrected his season since Week 12, by amassing 10 TDs during Atlanta’s past four games, and exceeding 300 yards in his last three. That includes the 310-yard, two-TD performance that he supplied against Pittsburgh in Week 15, even though Julio Jones was sidelined with his highly scrutinized hip ailment. Ryan should have his potent weapon back in the lineup this week. But even if that does not occur, Ryan has a legitimate opportunity to shred the Saints’ woeful pass defense, and lead his owners to fantasy championships in the process.
7. Peyton Manning at Bengals
While the act of sitting Manning in Week 15 should not have received serious consideration, some owners were contemplating doing exactly that in the aftermath of his horrifically un-Manning-like performances in Weeks 13-14. He had produced less than 170 yards in both contests, failed to generate a TD pass for the first time in 52 games, and tossed two INTs during that same Week 14 encounter. Manning supplied only marginal improvement for his owners in Week 15 by amassing 233 yards and one TD. He deserves credit for overcoming flu-like symptoms and an in-game thigh injury, although the fact that he attempted only 20 passes for the second consecutive week is a concern. He will be facing a Cincinnati defense that has been more vulnerable on the ground than through the air, and Denver might place heavy emphasis on their rushing attack again. Still, he should be in your lineups, unless you somehow have another top eight option.
8. Tony Romo vs. Colts
Romo supplied owners with a much better performance in his Week 15 matchup with Philadelphia than he did during their Thanksgiving Day contest. He failed to produce a TD during that forgettable encounter, and tossed two INTs. But last Sunday Night he torched the Eagles for 265 yards, while connecting with Dez Bryant for three TDs. It was his second consecutive game with three scoring throws, and the fourth time in six contests that he has amassed at least three. That also increased his season total to 28, which is the league's seventh highest. 250+ yards and three TDs are attainable this week, when the Colts' 19th ranked pass defenders travel to Dallas.
9. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chiefs
Last summer he was considered a borderline low end QB1, who could also serve as a viable target for owners who preferred to exercise patience when selecting their QBs. Fast forwarding to now, Roethlisberger has easily exceeded those expectations. He enters Week 16 second only to Luck with 4,415 yards, after generating 360 yards against Atlanta in Week 15. It was his eighth game with at least 300 yards this season, and the sixth time in his last seven that he has accomplished that feat. And even though he did not produce a TD for just the second time this season, he is still fifth among all QBs with 29 TDs. He can be started with confidence against the Chiefs this week, despite their lofty ranking versus the pass. Roethlisberger simply has too much explosive weaponry at his disposal not to be sufficiently productive for his owners.
10. Russell Wilson at Cardinals
Wilson's continued viability as a QB1 has been discussed frequently in this column, as he delivers more to fantasy owners than analysts who mistakenly focus on his passing yardage have stated. His proficiency as a runner has paid repeated dividends, as he continues to lead all QBs in rushing with 754 yards, and tops his peers with five TDs on the ground. The 49ers were acutely aware of Wilson's abilities, and made a concerted effort to limit his output in Week 15. As a result, he manufactured 27 yards, which was his lowest total since Week 6. While Arizona's defense can be imposing, their decimated offense will produce a series of three and outs against Seattle's stifling defense this week. That will continually place the ball in Wilson's hands against an increasingly tired Cardinal defense, and lead to a productive outing.
11. Mark Sanchez at Redskins
Finding the last two signal callers to complete this section of the rankings became extremely difficult this week, as nearly all of the remaining options have either been unimpressive in recent weeks, or will encounter unfavorable matchups. Sanchez barely secures the 11th slot, even though his last two performances do not inspire much confidence. Anyone who starts him is risking another game consisting of balance throws, stare downs of primary receivers and his tendency to stand in the pocket far too long. Yet, he will be in control of a potentially lethal aerial attack, and a matchup with the same Washington pass defense that just allowed Eli Manning to dissect them for 250 yards and three TDs. That simply cannot be completely ignored.
12. Alex Smith at Steelers
Yes… Alex Smith is a QB1 this week. He nearly secured that distinction before Cutler was jettisoned to the bench. But that decision in Chicago solidified Smith’s status. Smith also merits inclusion within the top 12 due to his enticing matchup with Pittsburgh’s hospitable secondary. The Steelers rank a lowly 25th versus the pass, and have surrendered 28 TDs. They have also allowed 10 QBs to generate multiple TDs, and in the past two weeks, Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan torched them for a combined 612 yards. Smith’s limitations have not magically disappeared. But he has produced two TDs in three of his last four contests, and has surpassed 290 yards in his last two. That level of production should occur again this week.
13. Cam Newton vs. Browns
14. Eli Manning at Rams
15. Ryan Tannehill vs. Vikings
16. Joe Flacco at Texans
17. Robert Griffin III vs. Eagles
18. Philip Rivers at 49ers
19. Teddy Bridgewater at Dolphins
20. Kyle Orton at Raiders
21. Andy Dalton vs. Broncos
22. Colin Kaepernick vs. Chargers
23. Josh McCown vs. Packers
24. Shaun Hill vs. Giants
25. Blake Bortles vs. Titans
Drew Brees vs. Falcons
Despite seven 300-yard performances this season, and 10 games with at least two TDs, starting Brees no longer is done with the unwavering confidence that has previously existed during his tenure as a Saint. His visible decline in proficiency this year has coincided with the overall erosion of a team that has been a powerhouse in recent seasons, but now requires some degree of rebuilding. However, same the signal caller who generated over 5,000 yards in 2011-2013 does have an excellent matchup in Week 16. The Falcons remain dead last against the pass, and are yielding nearly 300 YPG (293). In their last four contests, they have surrendered 360 yards to Roethlisberger, 327 yards and three TDs to Rodgers, 294 yards to Drew Stanton, and 322 yards to Brian Hoyer. Brees also generated yards 333 when he faced Atlanta in Week 1, although he managed just one TD. Expect better results during their rematch.
Matthew Stafford at Bears
Stafford’s disappointing output in Week 15 supplied his owners with an unwelcome reminder pf the inadequate performances that he has delivered this season. He had entered Week 13 with just 13 TDs and eight INTs for the season, before providing two of his four 300-yard outings in Weeks 13-14, and producing the only three-TD effort of the year in Week 14. But he should rebound this during a rematch with division rival Chicago. The Bears rank a lowly 31st versus the pass, have already permitted a league worst 33 TDs through the air. They have also surrendered 300 yards to even different signal callers, including Stafford on Thanksgiving Day. He torched them for a season high 390 yards and two TDs during that Week 13 encounter, and should supply his owners with 280 yards and multiple scores during this crucial week.
Matt Ryan at Saints
Despite the absence of Julio Jones in Week 15 Ryan remained effective, while surpassing 300 yards for the third consecutive game. He was able to take advantage of a burnable Pittsburgh pass defense, and connected with Harry Douglas 10 times for 131 yards. While the status of Jones should be monitored this week, Ryan will provide high quality production for his owners even if his elite WR remains sidelined. Because he will be the recipient of an exceptional matchup. The Saints currently rank just 26th versus the pass, and are 28th in scoring defense, while yielding 26.7 PPG. Their resume In recent weeks alone is hardly respectable. Pittsburgh carved them up for 538 total yards in Week 13, while the Saints also surrendered 435 yards and two TDs to Roethlisberger. Then, they allowed what had been a dormant Carolina offense to assemble 497 total yards in Week 14, as Cam Newton launched a trio of TD passes. While they were more effective against Cutler in Week 15, Ryan and the Falcon offense are hardly the dysfunctional mess that currently exists in Chicago. His owners should be ecstatic that he will be facing this unit, and he should amass a sizable number of fantasy points.
Peyton Manning vs. Bengals
The high quality production that he had assembled on a weekly basis throughout much of the season has diminished during the past three weeks, and the drop in passing attempts during his last two contests is alarming. While the future Hall-Of-Famer is definitely capable of rebounding this week, his output is dependent upon whether the Broncos maintain their mammoth emphasis on their ground game that has occurred since Week 12. Plus, Manning must contend with an unappealing matchup. He will be facing a Cincinnati defense that has allowed the fewest number of TDs through the air (14). The Bengals rank 11th versus the pass, have only permitted three QBs to reach 300 yards, and have surrendered more than two TDs only once. Owners can only hope that Manning will be given sufficient opportunities to attack this unit, and deliver a more favorable output than has been the case during the fantasy postseason.
Philip Rivers at 49ers
Rivers remains 10th among all QBs with 3,639 yards, and is ninth with 27 TDs. Yet, he certainly has not provided owners with anything that remotely resembles the production that he was delivering earlier this season. After producing multiple TDs in seven straight games between Weeks 2-8, he has only accomplished it one time since. While he will be the best option for many of you this week, it is best to plan on only modest production. While the 49ers are concluding a season that has shockingly gone astray both on and off the field, their defensive unit has remained formidable. They currently rank in third in total defense, and are permitting only 307 YPG. They are also third versus the pass, while yielding just 206 YPG. Plus, they just held Wilson to 163 yards through the air, and 27 yards on the ground. San Francisco is also ninth in scoring defense, allowing opponents just 20 PPG. Not the type of matchup that is conducive for Rivers to amass sizable numbers.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Vikings
Some owners are giving strong consideration to starting Tannehill in this week’s Championship Games, even though his output has recently declined. He had generated multiple TDs six times during an eight game stretch, but has only managed a total of three scores in his last three games combined. And after accumulating at least 47 yards on the ground in six straight contests, he has only reached that total once in his last seven games. This week’s matchup should provide further hesitation for anyone who is contemplating having Tannehill as their starter. The Vikings rank an impressive sixth versus the pass, and are allowing just 216 YPG. In their last three games, they have limited Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Geno Smith to just one TD each. They have only permitted multiple TDs six times all season, and have only surrendered 300 yards an opposing signal caller only once. There are other options who will be facing much softer defensive units than Tannehill this week.