This is The End. All of our elaborate plans have come to an end. As quickly as it began, the fantasy season will now embark upon its final act.
For many players, Week 16 is Championship Week. The long, grueling, exciting road to reach the big game in your league has finally reached its destination. There’s only one weekend left to decide your fantasy fate for this season.
As I’ve been detailing all season long, crazy things can and will happen. So you need to be prepared for the unexpected. We saw it last week. Mike Williams went from being a reliable WR3 with a great matchup to destroying his fantasy owners with a big fat zero against the Cowboys. Ryan Mathews stunned the fantasy world by going off against Baltimore’s vaunted run defense.
Those were just two of the examples. So brace yourself, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Part of the rough road to travel will feature top fantasy players in less-than-desirable matchups. What’s a fantasy owner to do when one (or more) of his key players is facing a tough matchup in such a pivotal week?
My advice is direct and to the point. Keep it simple. Now is not the time to get cute. Now is not the time to try and be a hero when it comes to reaching for something unknown in place of something that’s been proven over the course of the season.
Start Your Studs is a fantasy cliche but it’s born from truth – especially with your championship hopes on the line. Your best players have gotten you to this point. If you put your trust in them so far, now is not the time to cast a casual eye in another direction. No matter how plush the lawn may appear to be, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some top fantasy players who are facing tough matchups this week and what their owners should do.
Eli Manning vs. the Jets – You typically want to avoid the Jets’ pass defense if possible but Eli isn’t likely to shy away from challenging them. Manning certainly comes with some risk after a dismal 9.5-point outing last week, but for the season he ranks seventh among quarterbacks in the National Fantasy Football Championship and has topped 20 points 10 times, including five games of more than 30 points. He’s been ultra-reliable. That said, if I have a standout alternative like Tim Tebow or another Top 5-10 QB, I’d go in that direction. But with a talented stable of weapons in the passing game, you should stick with Manning if he’s clearly been your top QB this season.
Marshawn Lynch vs. the 49ers – This is one of the most difficult decisions of the week. Lynch has been a fantasy uber-stud, scoring in 10 consecutive games. However, running backs simply do not score touchdowns against the 49ers. No one has done it the entire season. But does that mean you should bench the sixth-best RB in fantasy this season? Not unless you have clear-cut studs to start in his place. It’s certainly safe to project 0 touchdowns for Lynch this week, but if anyone’s going to score a rushing touchdown against San Francisco, Lynch seems to be the strongest bet you’re going to find. You shouldn’t expect a banner game but as Lynch showed last week against the Bears he can still deliver for his owners despite a tough matchup. If you’re in the championship game, it’s likely Lynch is a big reason why. So start him as usual. Just don’t expect him to go off.
Steven Jackson vs. the Steelers – Jackson is a Top 15 RB in NFFC scoring but faces a real challenge this week against Pittsburgh’s stout run defense. Jackson, though, remains a solid RB2 choice because he’s so heavily involved in the offense. He had 27 touches last week against Cincinnati, including nine receptions, while finishing with 143 total yards. He’s topped 75 total yards in eight of his last 10 games. Like Lynch, it’s probably best not to project a TD for SJax this week but given his volume potential I wouldn’t shy away from him as a RB2, especially in point-per-reception leagues.
Hakeem Nicks vs. Revis Island – Word out of New York is Darrelle Revis will shadow Nicks on Saturday. Normally, that would be cause for extreme concern but as I wrote earlier I expect the Giants to take their shots at Revis this week. While Revis is still an elite cover corner, he has allowed more production than usual this season. Stevie Johnson gashed him in two games, Wes Welker hit him up for one huge pass play and Dwayne Bowe and Brandon Marshall both had solid fantasy efforts against him. If you’re stacked at WR, sitting Nicks is an option. But chances are, your replacement may have a slightly higher floor but a far lower ceiling. If the targets are there – and I believe they will be – Nicks will be no worse than a solid WR2 this week.
A.J. Green vs. the Cardinals – Green will see a lot of talented rookie Patrick Peterson on Saturday and Peterson’s play has been a big reason why Arizona’s pass defense has allowed less than average of one touchdown per game the past five weeks. On top of that, Green is battling a shoulder injury. But unless you have amazing depth at wide receiver, I would not bench Green as long as he plays on Saturday. He’s WR11 in average points per game in the NFFC and has had double figure points in every game but one this season, including eight games of 15 or more. That’s not someone you should sit against anyone. With the Bengals fighting for a playoff spot, they badly need Green offensively. If he plays, you start him. End of story.
TK’s HOT PICKS
Here are five sleeper picks for Week 16:
QB: Matt Moore (Mia.) – Moore has topped 19 points in the NFFC in four of his last five games and gets the tastiest matchup of the week against New England. The Miami offense is revived, has balance with Reggie Bush and that gives Moore Top 10 upside this week.
RB: Khalil Bell (Chi.) – Bell was one of my under-the-radar RBs to watch last week and he delivered a strong 19.3 points off the bench in the loss to Seattle. Marion Barber may remain the technical “starter,” but Bell is the more productive option and he’s a good bet to get 15-plus touches at Lambeau Field on Christmas night. He’s a fine RB3 with RB2 upside in PPR leagues.
WR: Santana Moss (Wash.) – Moss is sharing targets with Jabar Gaffney but there will be more than enough production to go around for both on Saturday against the woeful Vikings. Minnesota’s pass defense is deplorable, making Moss a high-end WR3 option in all formats.
TE: Greg Olsen (Car.) – Was a fantasy letdown in Week 15 but the matchup on Saturday against the putrid Bucs couldn’t be better. Tampa Bay is failing in every aspect of the game and Carolina should have no difficulty moving the ball offensively. Olsen has low-end TE1 upside in larger leagues this week.
D: Carolina – As stated above, the Panthers get a great matchup this week against Tampa Bay. Carolina stifled a superior Houston offense (even with T.J. Yates) last week and should fare well at home against Captain Checkdown (Josh Freeman) on Christmas Eve.