Now more than ever, fantasy owners cannot afford a mistake when it comes to their risky stars that have helped them to this point.
With the fantasy playoffs winding to their conclusion, each remaining lineup surely has stars who have experienced up-and-down seasons. The owner who can properly predict which stars will shine and falter in Week 16 will come away with a surefire win.
Through careful analysis of matchups, trends and other factors, this feat is rather easily accomplished for those willing to invest the time in the research. That, or suave enough to find a trustworthy source.
Note: All fantasy scoring info courtesy of ESPN standard leagues. Points-against info courtesy of ESPN.
Start 'Em: Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins (vs. DAL)
What, too early to call Kirk Cousins a star?
Sure, Cousins is only owned in 6.9 percent of leagues, but he is a legitimate starter in all formats. But as head coach Mike Shanahan told the media, via NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal, the offense hardly changed with Cousins under center:
You have the same dropback, you have the same ability to run quarterback keeps or half-rolls or bootlegs, waggles, different types of screens depending what the defense is giving you, so that's part of our offensive scheme.
Shanahan is referring to his team's Week 15 contest against Atlanta, where Cousins threw for 381 yards and three scores—good for 21 fantasy points.
Now Cousins gets a shot at Dallas, a defense that has allowed backups Matt McGloin, Josh McCown and Matt Flynn to combine for 902 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions the last three weeks. The Dallas defense allows a league-worst 21.4 points on average to quarterbacks.
Cousins is hitting his stride in a favorable matchup just in time for owners.
Sit 'Em: Eli Manning, New York Giants (at DET)
Week 15 was special for Eli Manning—he threw for 156 yards and five interceptions.
Manning has now failed to surpass 20 fantasy points since Week 1, and to make matters worse, he will be without star wideout Victor Cruz in Week 16, per ESPN:
BREAKING: Giants have ruled out WR Victor Cruz (concussion, sprained knee) for Sunday's contest vs. Detroit.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 19, 2013
Detroit only allows an average of 15.3 points to quarterbacks. Manning may hit that number, but it is wise to bet on the under.
Start 'Em: Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers (vs. OAK)
Ryan Mathews has gone from a seemingly perennial fantasy wasteland to one of the most reliable backs the league has to offer in recent weeks.
Such is life for fantasy owners.
Mathews has scored 11 or more points in five of his last six games. As NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano points out, he is in some exclusive company this year:
Ryan Mathews now has as many 100-yard rushing games this year (5) as Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 13, 2013
Expect a sixth for Mathews against Oakland, a team that ranks in the top 10 in terms of points allowed to running backs with an average of 19.1 per game. Mathews is in for a huge day.
Sit 'Em: Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (vs. NE)
Ray Rice has been mostly nonexistent this year thanks to nagging injuries and a woeful offensive line. Things are set to get worse in Week 16 against New England as ESPN illustrates:
Ray Rice is averaging 1.05 yards per rush after contact, the worst in NFL. Patriots have allowed 1.38 yards after contact, 6th in NFL.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2013
Rice has scored 10 or more points in just four games this year, has rushed for over 100 yards once and has a 3.1 yards-per-carry average.
Rice has hurt owners all year long, and there is simply no reason to believe he will turn things around in Week 16. Oh, and he is listed as questionable on the injury report. Stay away.
Start 'Em: Mike Wallace, Miami Dolphins (at BUF)
Mike Wallace is another big name who simply underperformed for the first half of the season and change but is now putting it all together when fantasy owners need him most.
Wallace has scored 14 or more points in three of his past four weeks, with his single-point outing coming in Week 14 against Pittsburgh—a matchup smart owners should have passed on anyway.
But Week 16 the forecast is beautiful with a trip to Buffalo on the menu. The Bills allow the fourth-most points to the position at 24.9 on average. A minimum of 14 for Wallace yet again is not out of the question.
Sit 'Em: Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons (at SF)
Speaking of that Buffalo defense, the Bills made it seem like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White was back to his elite fantasy form in Week 13 as he caught 10 balls for 143 yards for 14 points.
So much for that.
Recent weeks have not been kind to White. He has scored less than 10 in two straight, and his 14-point outing in Buffalo remains his only journey over 10 this year.
It gets worse. White is not breaking the 10-point barrier for the second time this year in Week 16 when the Falcons travel to San Francisco to fight a 49ers defense that ranks fourth-best against wide receivers with an average of 15.4 points allowed.
Start 'Em: Charles Clay, Miami Dolphins (at BUF)
Everyone expected Charles Clay to be a top-10 scorer at tight end by this point in the season, right?
No? Well, he is. Clay failed to record a point in Week 15 against New England, but that was his first time doing so all year.
Clay has scored more than 10 points in five games this year, including one foray over 20. Week 16 is a matchup with Buffalo, a team he scored six on earlier in the year courtesy of one reception that went for a touchdown.
At a miserable position, Clay is a must-start despite a bad outing a week ago.
Sit 'Em: Martellus Bennett, Chicago Bears (at PHI)
Martellus Bennett is the inverse of most on this list. He started the year strong but has fallen off a fantasy cliff in recent weeks with the postseason underway.
Bennett has scored a combined 10 points in his last three outings and has hit double-digit production once since Week 2.
To make matters worse, Philadelphia allows the third-fewest points to tight ends with an average of 5.2 allowed per game. Bennett may not even reach that with most of the touches going to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in recent weeks.