Fantasy Football Week 16: Fact or Fiction on Week 15's Top Superstars
It all comes down to this. After 15 weeks of agonizing over lineup construction, adding and dropping players and scouring the waiver wire for the best sleeper picks on the market, you are preparing for the final game of the 2012 fantasy football season.
Most leagues will determine their champions in Week 16, so you need to know what is true and what isn't based on what we just saw in Week 15. One-week anomalies can be devastating to your team because you invest so much in that one game, so if it all falls apart, you are stuck between a rock and hard place.
As we prepare to leave Week 15 behind, it is time to look beyond these individual-game performances to determine fact and fiction. There is plenty of evidence out there at this point in time to support a player one way or the other.
In the spirit of Christmas, we are going to provide you with the gift, or burden, of knowledge to prepare you for the biggest fantasy weekend of the year.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
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Week 15 Stats
14-for-23, 205 yards, 1 TD; 9 carries, 92 yards, 3 TDs
With the Seahawks racking up at least 50 points for the second consecutive week, Wilson's fantasy value has never been higher. He was the best fantasy player in Week 15, racking up 39 points in standard scoring leagues on the strength of his three rushing touchdowns.
It took Wilson a long time to arrive on the fantasy radar, especially with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III being the two high-profile rookie quarterbacks this season, but he has proven he belongs in the discussion with them for Rookie of the Year.
Fantasy owners don't necessarily care about that, but given that Wilson has completed at least 60 percent of his passes and scored at least two touchdowns in six of the last seven games, he is looking more and more like a must-start each week.
Here is where things get a little tricky, because Wilson does not have a good matchup in Week 16. The Seahawks host the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night. Even though the 49ers gave up 31 points in the second half to New England, they are still the best, most dominant and consistent defense in the league.
However, Wilson does have a 12-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home this season. The Seahawks, as a group, seem to play better in front of their own fans.
With the status of 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith up in the air, that defense suddenly looks slightly less imposing. Wilson should have a much better effort against them than when they met in Week 7, and he completed just nine of his 23 passes for 122 yards.
Beanie Wells, RB, Arizona Cardinals
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Week 15 Stats
17 carries, 67 yards, 3 TDs
Wells still struggles to rack up the yardage playing for a team that doesn't have a quarterback or an offensive line, but when he does have a good fantasy week, he usually goes big. He has scored five touchdowns this season, three in Week 15 and two against St. Louis in Week 12.
As long as the matchup is right, Wells has turned himself into a viable starting option for fantasy owners. Considering where he was just two months ago, that is saying a lot.
The Cardinals are not likely to hang 38 points on another team this season since they finish with games against Chicago and San Francisco, but if they are able to get in the red zone, we all know whose number they will call.
Wells' value is tied entirely to getting into the end zone. He has run for just 155 yards in the last four games, so he needs to be a touchdown machine to have any value.
With the Bears on the horizon, Wells will revert back to his form from Weeks 13 and 14 when he had just three fantasy points combined in standard scoring leagues.
Danny Woodhead, RB, New England Patriots
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Week 15 Stats
12 carries, 61 yards, 2 TDs; 5 receptions, 23 yards
The return of Stevan Ridley's fumble-itis against San Francisco opened the door for Woodhead to get back in the good graces of fantasy owners. He had his best performance of the season and could be a more prominent part of the offense in Week 16.
When Bill Belichick and Tom Brady lose faith in you, as they appeared to do with Ridley, it is hard to get back in the circle of trust. Woodhead is not nearly as dynamic a running back as Ridley, but he brings a steady presence and is far more valuable as a pass-catcher.
If Woodhead was able to put up the kind of fantasy performance like he did against San Francisco next weekend, he could be an incredible last-second find for your fantasy team.
There are two things to love about Woodhead in Week 16. First, as mentioned before, the fact that Ridley really hurt his stock last week is going to create more opportunities for more players in the running game.
Second, and more importantly, the Patriots will be out for blood this week against Jacksonville after last week's loss against San Francisco. Belichick is going to do his best Pete Carroll impression and run up the score, just to say he did.
Woodhead showed the Patriots why he should be a bigger part of the offense, so now it is on the team to make sure he gets the necessary touches to keep it going.
James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers
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Week 15 Stats
5 receptions, 60 yards, 3 TDs
With Jordy Nelson's hamstring causing him all sorts of problems, Aaron Rodgers has been able to spread the ball around even more than he usually does.
Jones was the beneficiary of all those extra opportunities in Week 15, as he had his first multi-touchdown game since Week 6 against Houston. It was also the first time since Week 9 that he had more than two receptions in a game.
Given that he has 12 touchdowns on the season, it was not likely that Jones was going to be spending a lot of time on the bench, but seeing him have a huge game against a good defense like Chicago's makes owners feel a lot more confident in what he will do this week.
Given the way that Rodgers spreads the ball around, Jones is not likely to suddenly have a 10-catch, 200-yard game in Week 16. What he is likely to do is provide a handful of catches, as well as add a touchdown or two along the way.
In Week 16, Jones and the Packers have the luxury of taking on the Tennessee Titans' 27th-ranked pass defense. Even if you don't expect Jones to get three touchdowns again, he should have no problems approaching 100 yards and at least one touchdown catch.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
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Week 15 Stats
7 receptions, 107 yards, 2 TDs
It is amazing to see where Crabtree was one year ago and where he is today. He wasn't bad in 2011, but considering that he was a top-10 pick and was never really able to stay healthy, he looked like a bust.
Today, Crabtree has an outside shot to go over 1,000 yards receiving if he can get 132 more yards in the next two weeks. He has also turned into the best playmaking receiver the team has had since Terrell Owens left.
Fantasy owners love seeing that Crabtree is peaking at the right time. He has caught at least seven passes in each of the last three games with 301 yards in that span. This week, he has a difficult matchup against a great Seattle secondary.
As much as I want to believe in Crabtree's performance over the last three weeks, there are two reasons not to play him in Week 16.
First, the Seahawks have the No. 3 pass defense in the NFL. Granted, some of that can be attributed to the fact they have gone up against teams like Arizona twice, Minnesota, New York Jets, Chicago and Buffalo, but they are also stacked with talent.
Second, when push comes to shove, the 49ers are always going to smash the ball down your throat. Colin Kaepernick has helped Crabtree's fantasy value, because he is actually willing to throw the ball down the field.
But you still have to pick and choose the spots you start a 49ers receiver. This is not the right time to bet on Crabtree.
Dennis Pitta, TE, Baltimore Ravens
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Week 15 Stats
7 receptions, 125 yards, 2 TDs
Pitta was able to overcome all of Joe Flacco's issues to put together his best fantasy game of the season. The fact that he did so against a Denver defense that was playing as well as any in the NFL is an encouraging sign.
Despite being a strong fantasy tight end all season, Pitta really has been an unsung hero because the Ravens have other, more notable options in fantasy like Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.
But it is not often you find a tight end with a chance to finish the season with 70 receptions (he has 57 right now) and over 700 yards (he has 613). In traditional scoring leagues, Pitta has scored at least 10 points in four of the last six weeks.
Everything stacks up perfectly for Pitta to continue his hot streak in Week 16. He is going up against the Giants, who rank 28th in the league in defending the pass and just got roughed up by Atlanta.
Pitta has proven time and again that he doesn't need Flacco to be on top of his game in order to produce numbers. That is a key piece of information, because Flacco will always make at least two or three throws in a game that make you believe he should be on the bench.
Tight ends are always a tricky bunch to get a hold on, so when you have one starting to show some consistency at this point in the season, it is best to strike while the iron is hot.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington Redskins
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Week 15 Stats
2 receptions, 56 yards, 2 TDs
Hankerson did not have many opportunities with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, but what chances he did have, he made the most of. He turned two receptions into touchdowns while also adding 56 yards.
Week 15 was the first time since the second game of the season that Hankerson found the end zone. The fact he was able to do it against a Cleveland team that was playing well, especially on defense, heading into the game is a positive sign.
Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Redskins, Hankerson does have the kind of big-play ability down the field that can really open things up for this offense if he is able to create space between defenders.
As much as I like what Hankerson can do down the field, there is simply not enough evidence to support starting him right now. He could eventually grow into a viable fantasy option in the future, but he has had nine games this season with two catches or fewer.
The Redskins should be able to put up a lot of points against an Eagles team that can't stop turning the ball over; just don't expect Hankerson to be on the receiving end of those scoring plays.