Congratulations to those of you who are competing for fantasy championships. You are on the verge of receiving the ultimate reward for many months of research and dedication. This column is designed to help you by identifying the best starts and most advisable sits at the QB, RB, WR and TE positions. Your time won’t be wasted with recommendations that you start Drew Brees or LeSean McCoy. Nor will you be reading about the need to keep Trent Richardson or Ray Rice affixed to your benches. And no… do not convince yourself that Richardson will help you this week. Instead, there will be a focus on less obvious player evaluations as we enter Week 16. Since game time is approaching, we’ll launch into this week’s starts and sits. Good luck!
Philip Rivers vs. Raiders
He has resided within the mid to low range among QB1s this season, but will vault to top three status for this week’s dream matchup. Oakland just allowed a franchise record 56 points in Week 15, permitted a total of 93 in their last two contests, and has surrendered an average of 34 PPG in the last seven. A combination of questionable schemes and poor techniques have exposed the Raiders’ pass defense since they were undressed by Nick Foles in Week 9, and Rivers should feast upon this increasingly challenged unit. 350 yards and four TDs are very possible, and that could be a conservative forecast.
Colin Kaepernick vs. Falcons
Kaepernick has thrown multiple TD passes in just six contests this season. But half of his season total (18) has been generated in the past five games. This week’s matchup provides him with a tremendous opportunity to deliver excellent passing numbers, as he should be given a green light to launch a steady aerial assault. Not only is Atlanta’s 25th ranked pass defense yielding 255 YPG, but only two teams have surrendered more TDs through the air than the whopping 28 that have been permitted by the Falcons. 16 of those have occurred since Week 7, and Kaepernick should encounter little difficulty adding his name to the list of QBs that have dissected this unit.
Matt Ryan at 49ers
In the past two weeks, Ryan matched up against the league’s 21st and 22nd pass defenses respectively, yet only manufactured 208 YPG, with three TDs and two INTs. He has only produced four TDs in Atlanta’s past four games, while gaining an average of just 6.3 yards on his connections. Now, he must face the NFL’s fourth best pass defense, which has only surrendered 200 YPG, while yielding the league’s fourth fewest TDs all season (15). Since the Week 9 bye, Drew Brees has been the only opposing QB that has been even remotely successful against San Francisco. As the 49ers have allowed just 177 YPG and four TDs through the air in the other five contests, while generating five INTs. You simply must have a better option than Ryan this week.
Andrew Luck at Chiefs
He deserves credit for maintaining a reasonable level of production amid the deficiencies that have surrounded him since Reggie Wayne was jettisoned to the sidelines. He continues to suffer from a dearth of proficient weaponry beyond T. Y. Hilton, whose inconsistency will be discussed at length in the WR section. Coby Fleener has not been completely reliable, and the second-year signal caller has been forced to utilize a myriad of lesser options. All of which has taken a toll on his viability, and his output. Last week’s 180-yard performance versus Houston represented his third game with 200 yards or less in the last four weeks. Owners should not rely upon a massive improvement when Luck and his teammates travel to Kansas City.
Ryan Mathews vs. Raiders
Mathews has finally has evolved into the proficient starter that he was universally projected to be, before the perpetual disappointments compelled nearly all owners to place their trust elsewhere. The fourth-year back has averaged 95 YPG in San Diego’s past five contests, while exceeding 100 yards in three of those games. He has also discovered the end zone in two consecutive contests, and four of the past six. Keep riding him this week, when he faces an Oakland run defense that had been respectable, but has worn down sizably in recent weeks.
Jordan Todman vs. Titans
Maurice Jones-Drew’s hamstring issue thrust Todman into a prominent role during Week 15, and the second-year back took full advantage of his opportunity. He was allotted 25 carries, generated 109 yards, and collected four of his team high eight targets for an additional 44 yards. His viability in Week 16 is still dependent upon Jones-Drews’ health. But he should have performed with sufficient effectiveness to garner a continued role in the Jaguars’ attack. Particularly since there is little need to subject MJD to further injury. Todman will have an appealing matchup versus a Tennessee defense that ranks just 23rd versus the run, and has yielded 20 TDs on the ground. If you are not enamored with your starting RBs’ matchups this week, Todman has an excellent chance to help you earn a championship in just his second career start.
Rashad Jennings at Chargers
The consistent production by Jennings has been an encouraging development in an otherwise forgettable season for Oakland’s talent starved offense. He has accumulated 116.5 YPG as a rusher and receiver during his past six games, and has been surprisingly matchup-proof throughout that span. That bodes well for this week’s encounter with San Diego, as the Chargers currently rank a respectable 14th versus the run. Jennings should find success generating yardage on the ground, even if it requires patience and a considerable number of carries. He is also fully capable of amassing sizable yardage as a highly utilized target within the passing attack. Plus, he is among the coveted RB options that are not likely candidates to share carries.
Andre Brown at Lions
Brown paid immediate dividends to anyone who had the foresight to secure him, when he made his 2013 debut in Week 10. Not only did he generate 115 yards and a TD during that contest, but he also amassed 127 yards two weeks later. But since that time, Brown has only exceeded 66 yards once, and has failed to surpass 35 in two of the past three games. He was completely neutralized by Seattle last week, managing just 17 yards on 11 attempts (1.5 YPC), and the ongoing struggles that exist with New York’s passing attack do not provide a deterrent toward focusing upon stopping Brown. Detroit’s fourth ranked run defense will only create further disappointment for his owners.
Steven Jackson at 49ers
His viability as a fantasy option declined steadily and significantly during the first 11 weeks of the season. But the revitalized veteran has generated far better production since that time, accumulating 256 yards in the past four weeks, while discovering the end zone five times. While his turnaround is commendable, this week’s encounter with San Francisco should compel owners to employ other options. The 49ers’ sturdy run defenders currently rank sixth, while limiting opposing backs to just 3.9 YPC. They have also yielded just three TDs in their past eight contests, and should prohibit Jackson from extending his recent surge.
Rashard Mendenhall at Seahawks
The six-year veteran has manufactured respectable production in recent weeks, averaging 60 YPG in Arizona’s past four contests, while scoring five TDs in his last five games. However, it is wise to avoid using Mendenhall or his teammate Andre Ellington this week when the Cardinals travel to Seattle. The Seahawks’ 10th ranked rush defense has only permitted four TDs all season, and is consistently an impenetrable force at home. They also neutralized Mendenhall in Week 7, limiting him to just 22 yards on 13 attempts (1.7 YPC). He did score during that encounter, but you do not want to count on that occurring again.
Michael Crabtree vs. Falcons
He has received 18 targets in three games since rejoining the 49ers, while averaging 51 YPG. While his numbers have been short of exceptional, that is reasonable production considering that he is still in the early stages of a return from significant injury. His presence on the field has combined with the output that he has generated to make the San Francisco offense more effective. Now, he has a chance to manufacture significant results when he lines up versus Atlanta, whose deficiencies versus the pass were discussed earlier. Not only should he produce considerably more yardage than he has managed in three previous contests, but he should discover the end zone for a second consecutive week against the overly charitable Falcons.
Danny Amendola at Ravens
Amendola has not provided the level of production that many of his owners envisioned when he was selected in the fourth round of last summer’s drafts. But at this critical juncture of the season, he just might supply the additional lift that you lineups now need. The Patriots have been forced to adjust to life without Rob Gronkowski once again, and it appears that Amendola will remain a primary beneficiary. The 14 targets that he received last Sunday represented his highest total since Week 1. That enabled him to collect 10 receptions, for a season high 131 yards. With the collective health of Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson currently in question, Amendola appears primed to join Julian Edelman as Tom Brady’s most utilized options at WR. That should result in another productive outing against Baltimore on Sunday.
Rod Streater at Chargers
Streater averaged just 5.5 targets per contest during Oakland’s first 12 games this season. But the second-year wideout has led the team in each of the past two contests, while accumulating 19 during that span. The additional opportunities have enabled him to generate 11 receptions for 189 yards and a TD. That includes the career best seven catches and 130 yards that he amassed in Week 14. He should continue to garner the attention of Matt McGloin with great frequency again this week, as the Raiders will likely attack San Diego’s 29th ranked pass defense. That should result in another productive outing for Streater, which makes him a feasible WR3 option for risk-taking owners.
Roddy White at 49ers
By this point, you have undoubtedly gotten the impression that the Falcons’ primary offensive components should be avoided during this week’s daunting Monday Night matchup. White has been productive in his last three contests, collecting 23 receptions, and averaging an impressive 90 YPG. But those numbers were generated against Buffalo, Green Bay and Washington. And facing San Francisco’s pass defenders is a completely different task. It will be exceedingly difficult for White to penetrate the end zone against this secondary, and his yardage total will be far below his recent average. Blend in the expected struggles of Matt Ryan, and White is best left cemented to your bench.
T. Y. Hilton at Chiefs
Even though Hilton is clearly the Colts’ top receiving option, that has not resulted in consistent production for fantasy owners. While he has surpassed 100 yards in four contests, he has only averaged 36 YPG in the other 10. Prior to last week’s 78-yard output against Houston, Hilton had averaged a paltry 34 YPG between Weeks 11-14. He has only managed a TD in two games throughout the entire season, and has not scored since Week 9. This is not the week to place your hopes in an end to that lengthy streak. Particularly with so much at stake. The Chiefs have not regained the degree of dominance that they possessed earlier this season, but are fully capable of neutralizing Hilton, since the Colts’ remaining weapons are far from dangerous.
Steve Smith vs. Saints
Most owners have successfully digested the fact that this performer is not living up to his brand name this season. The 13-year veteran has averaged a mere 50 YPG, failed to even reach that number in five contests, and the most yardage that he has attained in any game has been just 69. He has only produced four TDs, with only one being generated since Week 7. This week he will face a familiar rival in New Orleans, but the Saints’ third ranked pass defense is far more formidable than the previous units that Smith has lined up against. Even though he manufactured 49 yards and a TD when these teams met in Week 14, 30 of those yards and the score came with less than 10 minutes remaining in a blowout.
Delanie Walker vs. Jaguars
He has been highly involved within Tennessee’s offense in recent weeks, having received at least nine targets in three of his last four games. The lone exception occurred in Week 13, when a concussion forced him to the sidelines. In Week 15, a fully recovered Walker garnered a season high 11 targets, which he utilized to collect eight receptions for 62 yards, along with his sixth TD of the season. This week he will face a Jacksonville pass defense that has allowed the fifth most TDs (27), and he should take full advantage of the favorable matchup. When these teams met in Week 10, Walker caught four of his eight targets, accumulated 62 yards, and produced a TD. He should be provided with frequent opportunities once again this Sunday, and his owners will reap the benefits.
Zach Miller vs. Cardinals
Rather than recommend an obvious start at this position, here is a suggestion for owners who are disenchanted with their current TE. Arizona’s perpetual struggles when attempting to cover opposing TEs have been discussed repeatedly in this column, and it provides the basis for Miller’s ascension into sleeper status. The Cardinals have easily surrendered the most TDs to TEs, along with nearly 300 more yards than any other team. Even though Miller’s target totals have often been underwhelming, he is a reliable and productive target when given the opportunity. He did accumulate five receptions for 86 yards and a TD when Russell Wilson delivered eight passes in his direction during Week 13. Wilson can be relied upon to consistently locate his weapons that have gained separation, rather than force the ball to a particular target. This week, Miller should be open on a frequent basis, and the results should be favorable.
Antonio Gates vs. Raiders
Through his 11-year career, Gates has assisted many owners in their quests for championships. But it would be unwise to depend upon him this week. His 23-yard performance in Week 15 was only too indicative of the anemic production that he has delivered throughout the season. Since Week 5, he has averaged just 43.5 YPG, and scored only once. He has failed to exceed 41 yards in five contests during that span, and has surpassed 53 yards just once. The Raiders’ rapidly degenerating defense certainly is not a deterrent toward Gates production. But the Chargers are most likely to utilize Ryan Mathews extensively, then ask Philip Rivers to distribute the ball to multiple targets, with the major of opportunities being presented to Keenan Allen. There are other options that should provide better output.
Timothy Wright at Rams
In Week 15, Wright received nine targets, which enabled him to amass collect seven receptions, while amassing 82 yards and a TD. It provided further evidence that when he is targeted extensively, Wright can generate favorable numbers. Unfortunately, that process has been wildly inconsistent. Which has limited him to 21 yards or less in four of Tampa Bay’s last six contests. Plus, there is another major reason why this is hardly the week to entrust him in your lineups. Only three teams have been more effective at containing TEs than the Rams, who have permitted just four TDs to the position all season. He is far too risky to deploy in this matchup.