Fantasy football championships are being contested by millions of owners entering Week 16, and many times, what puts the league winners over the top are riskier stars who hit it big at the perfect time.
Cognitive kerfuffles are created when fantasy owners are setting their final lineups at this juncture in the NFL season, particularly when consistency is a huge issue and matchup scenarios make matters more difficult.
Let's take a look at some of the players who should swing a slew of fantasy leagues after putting on sensational performances in Week 16.
Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago Bears
There are few players who are as risky to play week to week. That was characterized in Cutler's first game back under center, when he threw two early interceptions in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns.
After that rocky start, Cutler turned it on, throwing for three touchdowns and completing 22 of 31 passes overall for 262 yards.
Health is still a bit of a question mark for the Bears signal-caller, but as long as his right arm is somewhere near 100 percent, he can make any throw required on the NFL gridiron.
Having big-bodied receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside also makes Cutler's job easier, as does versatile, pass-catching running back Matt Forte and athletic tight end Martellus Bennett.
Week 16 presents a Sunday night showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles, with each jockeying for playoff position in holding the fourth and third seeds at the moment, respectively.
The Eagles have the 31st-ranked pass defense and have an uptempo offense that gets off the field quickly regardless of whether or not they're being effective. That means plenty of opportunities for Cutler to get the ball to his playmakers and capitalize on his arm talent to beat Philly deep.
Plus, if this is going to be a shootout—and it should be—it's worth noting the Eagles gave up 21 points in the fourth quarter this past Sunday. Check out how ominous that trend is in preparing to face Cutler, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Jay Cutler: 99.9 Total QBR in 4th quarter. His Total QBR in the 4th quarter this season is 95.2, tops in NFL— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
If a meager-armed QB like Minnesota's Matt Cassel can have success throwing deep on the Eagles and lighting it up in the final 15 minutes, imagine what Cutler should be able to do.
Projected Numbers: 25-of-38 passing for 330 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals
At some point, head coach Bruce Arians is going to have to give in and give Ellington far more touches than he gets at this point.
With the 2013 season essentially on the line in Week 16 facing the NFC West division-leading Seattle Seahawks, now would be a good time to really turn the sixth-round rookie out of Clemson loose.
Unfortunately, he did suffer a thigh injury in Week 15's win, and that makes his prospects a bit dicier. However, Ellington said he'd be good to go against Seattle, per ArizonaCardinals.com's Kyle Odegard:
Andre Ellington couldn't play in OT because he took several hits to the thigh but said he will be fine for Seattle.— Kyle Odegard (@Kyle_Odegard) December 16, 2013
Ellington has been sensational when he's been given the chance to be, but Arians has stubbornly stuck with the more powerful running Rashard Mendenhall, who is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry compared to Ellington's 5.9.
What's more, Ellington is a capable receiving threat out of the backfield, as he proved in Week 15's overtime victory over Tennessee in hauling in four receptions for a team-high 87 yards. Oh, and he out-rushed Mendenhall 71-69 despite receiving only 10 carries to Mendenhall's 21.
ArizonaSports.com's Vince Marotta made a rather bold claim about Ellington with regard to how much value he's yielded in his first season:
Andre Ellington has to be the best value pick from the 2013 NFL Draft. Guy is unbelievable!— Vince Marotta (@Vincemarotta) December 15, 2013
The madness has to end for the Cardinals to have any chance against the mighty Seahawks, especially with Cardinals superstar wideout Larry Fitzgerald having suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter Sunday:
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion trying to recover onsides kick in the fourth quarter of Arizona's OT win over Tennessee.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 16, 2013
It's a bold move to play Ellington with so much on the line in fantasy this week, but there are few flex options or No. 2 running backs with more ability to erupt, given the circumstances.
Projected Numbers: 12 carries, 80 yards, TD; 5 receptions, 70 yards, TD
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
So the Colts don't have much of a running game, and Hilton is the best, most reliable target quarterback Andrew Luck has to throw to.
Head coach Chuck Pagano said before last week's game that the speedy second-year sensation has been battling through a shoulder injury, per Colts.com's Kevin Bowen:
Pagano says T.Y. Hilton is fighting through a shoulder injury, nothing serious.— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) December 11, 2013
Which underrated player will have the best Week 16 performance?
Having said that, Hilton had a bounce-back game of sorts in Week 15, nabbing eight receptions on 12 targets for 78 yards against the Houston Texans. They may have the worst record in the NFL, but they have one of the premier pass defenses and are a familiar AFC South foe.
Thus, it's worth taking a flier on Hilton in Week 16 despite the lackluster month he'd had before Sunday's effort when the Colts travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs.
Luck's athletic ability should help him avoid the Chiefs' vaunted pass rush (tied for third in the league with 43 sacks), and Hilton should be able to break for big gains upfield when the play breaks down.
Projected Numbers: 10 receptions, 120 yards, TD