Whether fantasy owners have just one more win standing between them and fantasy glory or are in desperate need of another win to simply make the Super Bowl in their league, Week 16 is yet again a crucial one for fantasy football.
And in another week where picking which players to start or sit is critical, there are quite a few stars that have emerged and helped carry teams late in the season.
With that in mind, here are the breakout players who could help or hurt teams in Week 16 of the fantasy playoffs.
Start 'Em: Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington Redskins
As a rule, any quarterback starting against the Dallas Cowboys will put up huge fantasy numbers. But Kirk Cousins is a backup, so he can't possibly dissect the Dallas defense, right? Wrong.
Over the last two weeks, backup quarterbacks have crushed the Cowboys secondary in ridiculous fashion. Josh McCown and Matt Flynn combined to pass for 647 yards, eight touchdowns and just one interception against Dallas.
Former Bears coach and current ESPN analyst didn't hold any punches on Sunday when talking about the Dallas defense, according to Pro Football Talk:
Ditka on the Cowboys: "That is the worst defense in the history of the Cowboys organization."— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 15, 2013
Meanwhile, Cousins replaced Robert Griffin III and went off against the Atlanta Falcons, passing for 381 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. While the Redskins didn't get the win, he will likely still be expected to pass the ball late in the game against a team that can score at will.
Going up against a Dallas defense that ranks last in the league against the pass, Cousins should be expected to put up huge fantasy points in Week 16.
Prediction: 29 fantasy points
Sit 'Em: Carson Palmer, quarterback, Arizona Cardinals
Carson Palmer put up a mediocre point total in Week 15 against a good Tennessee Titans defense. His reward in Week 16 is a Seattle Seahawks defense that ranks first in the NFL against the pass.
And after being hampered by an elbow injury that kept him out of practice leading up to the Titans game, Palmer appears to have a high ankle sprain, according to Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports 910 in Phoenix:
BA on Cards post game show Carson Palmer high ankle sprain, was able to play through it, heavy tape job. He'll be sore tomorrow.— Mike Jurecki (@mikejurecki) December 16, 2013
If the above facts aren't enough evidence that Palmer is a dangerous start this week, take into consideration that Palmer put up just 10 points against the Seahawks back in Week 7 with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Prediction: 11 fantasy points
Start 'Em: Ryan Mathews, running back, San Diego Chargers
Ryan Mathews likely served as a Christmas miracle for fantasy owners without studs like Adrian Peterson in Week 15, and he could very well put up good numbers again this weekend.
Playing against the Oakland Raiders has worked well for players like Jamaal Charles and Nick Foles this season, and they serve as a favorable matchup for Mathews in Week 16. Fallon Smith, a reporter for CSN Bay Area, tweeted what Raiders coach Dennis Allen thought of his defense on Sunday:
Dennis Allen admits defense is getting worse and it's concerning. #Raiders— Fallon Smith (@FallonSmithCSN) December 16, 2013
Mathews' generous matchup against the Raiders doesn't look that great when considering that they are ninth against the rush in terms of yards per game, but they have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns on the season.
If Mathews is given the bulk of the carries yet again over teammate Danny Woodhead, who could likely see a few screen passes, he will put up another good point total for fantasy owners.
Prediction: 15 fantasy points
Sit 'Em: Steven Jackson, running back, Atlanta Falcons
Here's the good part for Steven Jackson owners: The Falcons running back finished with two touchdowns and 16 fantasy points. Here's the downside: Jackson has 15 carries for 38 yards and four catches for just five yards.
Simply put: If it wasn't for two goal-line scores of two and three yards, Jackson wouldn't have eclipsed five points in fantasy. And in the "How could this get worse?" department, Jackson was facing a Washington Redskins defense that is allowing 110 rushing yards per game.
This week, the Falcons will face the 49ers on the road. San Francisco ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed with just 99.4 yards averaged per game. The 49ers have also only allowed 10 rushing touchdowns all season—11 less than the Redskins.
If starting Jackson is a necessity this week, go for it. But if there are other starting running backs on the roster, sitting Jackson on the bench might be the best idea for Week 16.
Prediction: Six fantasy points
Start 'Em: Julian Edelman, wide receiver, New England Patriots
For a player owned in under 56 percent of NFL.com fantasy leagues, Julian Edelman has made several fantasy owners look smart over the last few weeks.
Against the Miami Dolphins, Edelman stretched his streak to four straight games with double-digit fantasy points. With 139 receiving yards and a touchdown, Edelman's 19 points ranked fourth among fantasy wide receivers in Week 15.
While a matchup against the Baltimore Ravens doesn't appear to be favorable, Edelman will likely once again be a reliable safety valve for Tom Brady without Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. Baltimore ranks 13th against the pass in the NFL but has allowed 20 touchdowns through the air before facing the Detroit Lions.
Edelman once again looks like a smart start and will move his double-digit points streak to five straight weeks against the Ravens.
Prediction: 16 fantasy points
Sit 'Em: Greg Jennings, wide receiver, Minnesota Vikings
Remember the days when Greg Jennings would put the team on his back for the Green Bay Packers? Well, he did just that for the Minnesota Vikings and fantasy owners loyal enough to start him in Week 15 with 163 yards and a touchdown in the win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Which Start 'Em will have the best week?
While Jennings finished Sunday as the No. 2 fantasy receiver in the league, one game does not a fantasy star make. Jennings was facing an Eagles team that has allowed the most average fantasy points (29.57) to wide receivers this season, according to NFL.com fantasy.
In Week 16, Jennings will have to face a Cincinnati Bengals defense that is allowing over nine points less per game to fantasy wide receivers and boasts the seventh-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
If Jennings can survive this week, he might just be a fantasy sleeper for next season. But with so much on the line in fantasy, it's tough to depend on him against a tough Bengals defense.
Prediction: Five points