The B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football in Week 16
This is a time of great joy. Of happiness and cheer. Of good will toward man.
Oh, and it's Christmas, too. That's fine.
I'm speaking, of course, of the fantasy playoffs. Of the tournament that will end with that most important and precious gift of all—a fantasy championship.
It's a time of great excitement, as fantasy managers daydream about where they will display their trophy. How they will spend their prize money. What witty bit of smack talk they will drop on their vanquished foes.
But it's a nerve-wracking time as well. Each and every point becomes exponentially more important. Every lineup decision can be the difference between being a champ and a chump.
This column aims to help you keep your title dreams alive. To get you into the championship game next week. To tell you which stars will smash, which disappointments waiting to happen you should fade and what matchup plays can put you over the top in Week 16.
All that's left to do now is to unwrap your gift.
Week 16 Smash Starts
This is the time of year when fantasy legends are made.
Last year in Week 16, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins exploded for a 12/194/2 line against the Baltimore Ravens. Teammate Joe Mixon posted 135 total yards and two scores of his own. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow erupted for 525 passing yards and four touchdowns.
It was a good week to be a Bengals fan—or a fantasy manager with shares of those players.
There's no guarantee that the players listed here will go down in the annals of fantasy history alongside that chilly day in the Queen City.
But all are well-positioned to succeed in this most important of weeks on the fantasy schedule.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers (at IND) (DraftKings DFS Value: $7,100)
Herbert was a disappointment last week, failing to throw a touchdown pass while tossing a pair of interceptions. But he has over 300 passing yards in each of the last three games and faces a Colts defense that just surrendered a huge game to Minnesota's Kirk Cousins.
Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks (at KC) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800)
Smith's 238 passing yards and a touchdown last week weren't great numbers, but they also weren't all that surprising against San Francisco's stout defense. The sledding should be easier this week against a Chiefs defense allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks.
Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (at CLE) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,800)
Saturday's weather forecast in Cleveland is very December in Cleveland—30 mph sustained winds and snow are expected. That should equate to a heavy dose of Kamara against Cleveland's 24th-ranked run defense. The Browns have allowed the third-most PPR points to running backs this season.
Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs (vs. SEA) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,900)
To say that McKinnon has been hot of late is a whopper of an understatement—the ninth-year veteran has scored four touchdowns over the past two games and has posted over 30 PPR points in back-to-back contests. Ride the hot hand in a favorable fantasy matchup with the Seahawks.
DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers (vs. DET) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,500)
Moore wants the same thing this Christmas he has the past several—a decent quarterback to catch passes from. That ain't happening in 2022, so he'll have to settle for a primo fantasy matchup with Detroit's 30th-ranked pass defense—and maybe a Baby Yoda Chia Pet.
DeVonta Smith, Philadelphia Eagles (at DAL) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,600)
Smith has been on a nice three-week rip—three straight games with eight targets, five catches and at least 17 PPR points. There's a good chance he makes it four in a row against a banged-up Cowboys secondary giving up the ninth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
T.J. Hockenson, Minnesota Vikings (vs. NYG) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,900)
There aren't many home run matchups at the tight end position. But Hockenson gets a decent one with a Giants team that ranks 13th in PPR points given up to tight ends. Hockenson has received at least six targets in every game since Week 9.
Chigoziem Okonkwo, Tennessee Titans (vs. HOU) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,500)
Okonkwo has quietly emerged as a viable fantasy starter over the past few weeks—he's second among tight ends in PPR points over the past three weeks. The Texans have struggled defensively this season, allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Week 16 Must-Fades
There's no good time for a player to bust. But some are worse than others—and with the exception of Week 17, there's no worse time for a player to pull a Sue Storm than this week.
That's a Fantastic Four reference, if you were wondering, Sue Storm is the Invisible Woman.
If a player faceplants in Week 4, it's unfortunate—but losing a game then is just a temporary setback. Lose in Week 16, though, and it's a different story. It's game over. Endsville—where all rail service terminates.
That's Stephen King. I'm a real Renaissance man.
These aren't absolutely doomed to failure. But there's a distressingly large enough chance that they will swoop in like the Grinch and steal Christmas.
Only this time there won't be any change of heart at the end.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (at New York Jets) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,000)
Over the past month, Lawrence has three outings with over 300 passing yards and three scores and the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks. But the Jets defense is no joke, and this is one of a number of games in Week 16 in which weather could be a big factor.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (vs. PHI) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,100)
Prescott hasn't been especially impressive over the second half of the season—he's just 11th in fantasy points per game among quarterbacks since Week 9. No team in the NFC has given up fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks this year than the Eagles.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (vs. TB) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,800)
It seems that Conner can't catch a break of late. It's bad enough that injuries at quarterback have turned the Redbirds one-dimensional and allowed opponents to stack the box. Now he draws a bottom-five fantasy matchup for his position with the Buccaneers.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (at NE) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,900)
Mixon hasn't scored a touchdown since his record-setting five-score game in Week 9. He hasn't logged 15 carries in a game since Week 9. He's been held under 25 rushing yards in two of his last three games. And he draws a terrible matchup for running backs this week with the Patriots.
Chris Olave, New Orleans Saints (at CLE) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,100)
That Olave is dealing with a hamstring injury is bad enough. But if there really are 30 mph sustained winds, 50 mph gusts and sub-zero wind chills Saturday in Cleveland, you can kiss the downfield passing game goodbye.
Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers (at IND) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,300)
Williams has been productive since returning from a long layoff because of a high ankle sprain. But he's likely to see a lot of Stephon Gilmore in coverage this week, and the Colts have given up the seventh-fewest PPR points to receivers this year.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (vs. WAS) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,300)
Kittle's a hard guy to sit. But the 49ers have become that much more run-heavy with Brock Purdy under center—last week's big game came on just five targets. The Commanders also happen to be dead last in PPR points allowed to tight ends this season.
David Njoku, Cleveland Browns (vs. NO) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,300)
Njoku has had his moments this season, but said moments have been relatively few and far between. Also, at the risk of being redundant, the weather in Cleveland has the potential to cripple the passing game for both teams Saturday.
Week 16 Mastering the Matchups
There's a mantra in fantasy football that many managers follow religiously—"Always Start Your Studs."
More often than not, it's a good idea. But for every rule, there is an exception—especially in a week where one dud can mean the difference between the season continuing or coming to a disappointing close.
It could be that your weekly starter is injured. Or one more of your players could be impacted by the winter weather threatening several games in Week 16. Or that one of your starting wideouts is this week's Bust of the Week.
That's foreshadowing right there.
Whatever, the reason, if you need a matchup play in Week 16, here are some players to keep in mind.
Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at ARI) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,600)
That Brady is a matchup play and not a weekly starter speaks to the season he and the Buccaneers have had. But Brady is coming off one of his best statistical performances of the season ahead of a plus matchup with Arizona's 23rd-ranked pass defense.
Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers (vs. WAS) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,500)
With Jalen Hurts of the Eagles looking unlikely to play against the Cowboys with a sprained shoulder, many managers are digging through the scrap heap for a spot starter. Purdy is eighth in fantasy points among quarterbacks over the past two weeks.
Zonovan Knight, New York Jets (vs. JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,400)
Knight and the Jets ground game couldn't get anything going last week against Detroit, but with heavy rain and wind in the forecast for New Jersey on Thursday night, both the Jets and Jaguars could be forced to lean heavily on the run.
Zack Moss, Indianapolis Colts (vs. LAC) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,000)
It was Moss, and not Deon Jackson, who led the Colts in carries last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Assuming that continues this week against the Chargers' 28th-ranked run defense, the former Buffalo Bills bruiser could be a surprise star.
Marquise Goodwin, Seattle Seahawks (at KC) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,300)
With Tyler Lockett on the shelf with a broken hand, Goodwin will step into the No. 2 receiver role against the Chiefs. He's shown the ability to take advantage of a target bump, including a 5/95/1 stat line two weeks ago against the Carolina Panthers.
Darius Slayton, New York Giants (at MIN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,200)
It's not especially easy for fantasy managers to get excited about any of the Giants' receivers. But if ever there was a week to get on board the Big Blue Express, it's in Week 16 against the Vikings and the worst pass defense in the NFC.
Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals (at NE) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,200)
It appears that Hurst is on track to play Saturday after missing time with a calf injury in a plus matchup for tight ends with the Patriots. It's going to be frosty in Boston at game time, but the precipitation and high winds will hopefully have already blown through.
Cade Otton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at ARI) (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,800)
Otton has flashed at times this season—the rookie has posted 10 or more PPR points four times. A fifth could be in the offing against the Cardinals—no NFL team has surrendered more fantasy points to the tight end position in 2022.
Week 16 Reading the Defense
This is as good a place as any to talk about the weather some more—because it's probably going to set up several defenses for a big day by depressing offensive production.
On Thursday night, heavy rain and wind is expected at MetLife Stadium for the contest between the Jaguars and Jets—and things just get worse after that.
In Cleveland, it's supposed to be bitterly cold and windy Saturday with a chance of accumulating and blowing snow during the Browns' tilt with the Saints. Per CBS Sports, the last time an NFL game was played with 25-plus mph winds was last year's Bills/Patriots game in which New England attempted all of three passes. The over/under in that game at DraftKings is a meager 32.5.
The Bills and Bears will play similar conditions in Chicago. The Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans will meet in what could be the coldest game ever at Nissan Stadium. Wind and cold could be a factor in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England.
It's shaping up as a potential disaster for some offensive players. But the flip side of bad weather and lower scores is more points for defenses. There are a number of excellent streaming plays this week, and every-week starters like the Bills could be even more productive than usual.
If you live in the area impacted by this week's storm, stay safe. If you don't, consider yourself lucky.
Strong D/ST Plays
Cleveland Browns (vs. NO) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,800)
Frankly, even if the weather was nice in Cleveland the Browns would be on the streaming radar—the Saints are third in the league in giveaways and seventh in fantasy points allowed to defenses. With the potential for it to snow sideways, Cleveland is that much better a play.
Tennessee Titans (vs. HOU) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,600)
The Texans are a disaster offensively—31st in yards per game and 30th in points per game. Houston is banged up at wide receiver and will be without top running back Dameon Pierce. And wind gusts in the game could approach 25 mph. Other than that, everything is fine.
Denver Broncos (at LAR) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,500)
The Broncos have been a mess this season, but the Denver defense sits near the top of the league in a number of statistical categories. Weather won't be a factor in the climate-controlled confines of SoFi Stadium—but the sad state of the Rams offense will be.
Weak D/ST Plays
New York Jets (vs. JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,000)
The Jets have been carried for a good portion of the season by a defense that ranks third in yards allowed and fourth in points allowed. But it may take that rainstorm to salvage a decent fantasy outing against a Jaguars team allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points to defenses.
New England Patriots (vs. CIN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,700)
The Patriots are fantasy football's highest-scoring defense after 15 weeks, so the prospect of sitting them is a hard pill to swallow. But the Bengals are rolling offensively over the last month-plus, and Joe Burrow has played some of the best games of his NFL career in the cold.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. LAC) (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,400)
The Colts have been a major disappointment in 2022, but the defense quietly ranks 10th in fantasy points for the season. The Indy defense faces an uphill climb this week, however—Justin Herbert and the Chargers have given up the ninth-fewest fantasy points to defenses.
Week 16 Fantasy Mailbag
Every week during the 2022 season, I'll be pulling a handful of fantasy football questions from the Bleacher Report app and answering them here. Hopefully, those answers will aid not only the managers making the query but others as well.
Have a question you want answered? Head on over to the fantasy football section of the app and make with the asking.
With Nick Foles starting at quarterback for the Colts, should I bench Michael Pittman for Zay Jones or Allen Lazard? Should I flex one of those receivers or D'Onta Foreman? -- @mikeyzmom11
Target share is a concern for Pittman with a new quarterback, but the drop-off from Matt Ryan to Foles (if there is one) isn't enough to justify sitting Pittman. I have considerable concerns about Jones this week (that will be detailed shortly), and Foreman's workload decreased considerably last week. Lazard draws the start in the flex spot.
Is the bad weather in Chicago enough of a hit to Josh Allen's value to consider benching him? -- @BillsMafiaDon
Generally speaking, it's a good idea to never say never in fantasy football. But it would take an awfully good Plan B under center for me to entertain the notion of sitting Allen, bad weather or no. With that said, Allen's performance in brutal conditions against the Patriots last season was his second-worst fantasy outing of the season, so if you have a Kirk Cousins or Tua Tagovailoa backing him up and the forecast doesn't improve, it may be time to start thinking about the unthinkable.
With Jalen Hurts likely out this week, should I start Gardner Minshew or Nick Foles at quarterback? I know—it's awful. -- @MattG1276
That is not an especially appealing combination of options, to be sure. From a matchup perspective, Foles has the clear edge—the Cowboys have given up the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, while the Chargers have allowed the 14th-most. But Minshew has a much better supporting cast around him, and the Eagles have been light-years better offensively than the Colts. Go with Minshew.
Need an RB2 and a Flex—Kareem Hunt, A.J. Dillion, Leonard Fournette, Marquise Brown, Marquise Goodwin -- @SlamminStan
This one carries a major caveat. If Nick Chubb's foot keeps him out against the Saints, then Hunt is a potential top-10 back and an easy call at running back. If Chubb plays, Dillon gets the nod over Fournette—Dillon has four touchdowns over the last three weeks and just posted his best fantasy stat line of the season. Dillon gets the flex call if Hunt is a go at RB, with Goodwin and his plus matchup the fallback plan. Fournette's usage and the sorry state of the Arizona passing attack with Trace McSorley at quarterback rule out Fournette and Brown.
Can I trust Dallas Goedert at tight end this week, or should I start Juwan Johnson instead? -- @JamesThaKing
There are a couple of reasons why Goedert is an easy call over Johnson this week. The first is Goedert's connection was Gardner Minshew—he caught six passes for 105 yards and two scores in Minshew's start against the Jets last season. The second is the aforementioned atrocious weather conditions in Cleveland. Stay away from any pass-catcher in that contest if possible.
THE Fantasy Bust of Week 16
Over the first 14 weeks or so of the season, fantasy football is a marathon. Sure, one player can make or break a week, but that massive game from Colts running back Deon Jackson in Week 6 isn't going to win you a championship any more than the faceplant from Brian Robinson of the Commanders in Week 8 will doom you to missing the playoffs.
Now, however, it's time to sprint. Every game is a season all its own. Every lineup decision is absolutely crucial. One massive game from a single player can make you, especially if that player is someone who isn't counted on to post top-10 numbers each week. Conversely, one dud can just as easily sink you—this isn't the time of year for four-point afternoons.
That's what makes The Fantasy Bust of Week 16 such a painful call. A week ago, he was a matchup winner—the highest-scoring receiver in fantasy football.
But just as the fantasy gods giveth, the fantasy gods taketh away.
Zay Jones, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (at NYJ) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,100)
After exploding for six catches for 109 yards and three touchdowns last week, there's no denying that Jones is having easily the best season of his NFL career. Per Brett Hawn of Jaguar Report, the 27-year-old said his recent hot streak is simply of product of getting reps and targets.
"I think honestly, just the consistency of playing through a duration of the season," Jones said. "I did it earlier in my career. I more so had to take a different approach and role when I was with Las Vegas as far as knowing the dynamic of our team and what my role was, and this one, I'm more a part of it, more games, more opportunities, maintenance on my body. Trying to stay as healthy as possible, understanding that when I look at Christian [Kirk] and Marv [Jones Jr.] and Ag, it's just us, we have to go make the play."
Over the past month, only three wide receivers have tallied more PPR points than Jones. And that outburst has endeared him to many a fantasy manager.
But in Week 16, Jones and the Jaguars face a Jets team that has allowed the second-fewest PPR points to wide receivers in 2022. Jones will likely draw rookie star Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner for much of the game, and Gardner has allowed a completion percentage against of just 52.9 percent and just one touchdown in coverage this year. And the weather in New York is likely going to make downfield passing difficult at best and impossible at worst.
There's just too much working against Jones this week. Barring a Christmas miracle, fantasy managers who start him will receive a lump of coal in their stocking—and get bounced from the playoffs.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Looking for fantasy rankings? Check out Gary's Week 16 Big Board!
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Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.