The Best of Week 16 - Footballguys

Matt Waldman scouts our in-season content and shares five must-knows and his takes on each.

YOU GUYS HAVE A TON OF ARTICLES.

This statement about Footballguys is a blessing but it can feel like a curse. Our staff delivers insights that change seasons for the better yet realistically, no fantasy owner has the time to read everything we publish in a week.

If this describes you, let me be your scout. Here are five insights from Footballguys articles that I find compelling for the weekend ahead. I'll share what should help you this week, touch on the long-term outlook, and sometimes offer a counterargument.

1. Games That Matter And Game Predictor

In this Week's Top 10, I wrote that the center is one of the most valuable positions on a football field — and one of the most underrated:

If I ran the operations of a football team and had to choose one player to begin my build (say it's a new league, an expansion team, or even a rebuild), give me a good center. It's the most underrated position in football — despite being one that many NFL general managers cite as a vital spot.

The center is a massive factor in creating cohesion for the offensive line because he's the communicator for a lot of line calls and audibles. He's the glue that does the most double-teaming of top disruptors. He's called upon to pull or reach linebackers to transform runs into big plays.

He has to see the field as a second quarterback. Think of a center as a great editor for a publication stocked with talented writers (skill players).

The Falcons could not run the ball or protect the passer before Alex Mack joined the team. He was a huge reason for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman's success. Even with two starting guards missing, Mack has kept the line from completely destructing.

Ask the Cowboys line how much it missed Travis Frederick, a pick many panned until he stepped onto the field and helped Dallas have what was considered one of the great offensive lines in football. Ask Nick Foles and Carson Wentz about Jason Kelce. You know what? Forget that, ask Doug Peterson if the Eagles could have thrived with two different quarterbacks without Kelce.

You know when the Seahawks' like fell apart a few years ago? When it traded Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham. You know when the Saints' line became a top unit? Same answer.

The rebuild of the Rams' offensive line often headlines with Andrew Whitworth's arrival but it was the same year Los Angeles added former Pro Bowl center John Sullivan, who at one time with the Vikings was considered the best center in the league.

Why is Melvin Gordon III III averaging more than a cloud of dust this year? Mike Pouncey. His brother Maurkice is a huge reason Le'Veon Bell is still at home and aging Ben Roethlisberger is having a career year. And in the games where Adrian Peterson was opening a can of whoop ass on the league this year, Chase Rouiller was usually healthy.

Add Ryan Kelly to the list of good centers. Teammate Quenton Nelson will earn a lot of love this week for his play but Kelly was the glue of this unit that dominated the surging Dallas Cowboys defense. Whether he needed to pull, double team, reach block or shield a War Daddy one play and Dallas' tandem of athletic phenoms at linebacker the next, Kelly was up for the cause.

Clayton Gray is our site's center if Footballguys was a football team. This week, he posted an article entitled "Games That Matter," a look at games that will determine playoff spots. David Dodds' Game Predictor is a tool as old as this site that has excellent value at this time of year.

Let's pair the two and add a few of my insights to find valuable but unlikely plays for those of you in need of fantasy starters you might have never thought about considering until this week's rash of injuries that will impact our championship week:

So, that means these games matter - for at least one team - in Week 16 (all times Eastern):

  • Washington at Tennessee - Saturday at 4:20 pm
  • Baltimore at LA Chargers - Saturday at 8:20 pm
  • Cincinnati at Cleveland - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Tampa Bay at Dallas - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Minnesota at Detroit - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Buffalo at New England - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Houston at Philadelphia - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Atlanta at Carolina - Sunday at 1:00 pm (note that the Panthers have shut down Cam Newton for the rest of the season, so they might not be all-in here)
  • NY Giants at Indianapolis - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • Jacksonville at Miami - Sunday at 1:00 pm
  • LA Rams at Arizona - Sunday at 4:05 pm
  • Chicago at San Francisco - Sunday at 4:05 pm
  • Pittsburgh at New Orleans - Sunday at 4:25 pm
  • Kansas City at Seattle - Sunday at 8:20 pm

The bolded teams still have a shot at the postseason or are already in and are trying to better their seeding. The other teams aren't going to the playoffs, but they have a chance this week to play the role of spoiler if they so desire.

So, in a bit of a stroke of luck for the NFL, a whopping 14 games this week involve at least one team still focused on a championship.

Matt's Thoughts: Let's take this team-by-team...

Washington at Tennessee: Based on Game Predictor, both teams should have success running the ball. Derrick Henry is an obvious choice; Adrian Peterson is not. Peterson has struggled for weeks due to a decimated Washington offensive line. This week, the line has both starting tackles back as well as center Chase Roullier.

When Peterson has worked behind a healthy offensive line, he's had strong fantasy performances. This is not a player with any quit in him. Last year against the once-mighty Jaguars defense, Peterson earned nearly 80 yards behind a bad Cardinals offensive line and had moments that indicated what he would do this year when he had a modicum of assistance from his supporting cast. Start Peterson with confidence.

Baltimore at LA Chargers: Gus Edwards remains the play over Kenneth Dixon — fairly obvious after watching last week's split. Keenan Allen would be an obvious play if he were not questionable. If he suits up, start him because the Ravens struggle with receivers who work the middle of the field. If Allen is out, that workload could be split among Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams. Both are worth a shot if that's the case — Tyrell as the less obvious option who works the middle of the field well on the routes where the Ravens have been most vulnerable.

Cincinnati at Cleveland: The Browns are the team vying for a playoff spot and the Bengals gave up four touchdowns to Baker Mayfield in its last tilt with Cleveland. While Nick Chubb is a good and obvious start, the bigger question is which Browns receiver (if any) is the best bet for strong fantasy production?

Big receivers on the perimeter and in the slot have been the best options against the Bengals. Look for another good week from Antonio Callaway.

Tampa Bay vs Dallas: The Cowboys have a playoff berth on the line and Geoff Swaim could be an underrated option against a porous Buccaneers defense that has given up 57 yards to Josh Perkins, 46 yards to Ian Thomas, and 112 yards and a score to Vance McDonald. Swaim is at the absolute bottom of the barrel but if you're desperate for a tight end, he might be worth considering. Adam Humphries has had a pair of quiet weeks but matches well with the Cowboys defense.

Minnesota at Detroit: Dalvin Cook is running hot but Latavius Murray also earned nearly 70 yards and a touchdown last week. Dodds expects the Vikings to run over Detroit and if this game echoes what we saw against Miami, expect Murray to earn another decent week with a shot at another score. Murray is unlikely to earn you huge upside, but he might have a higher floor than backs like Spencer Ware, John Kelly, or even Melvin Gordon III and Todd Gurley.

Buffalo at New England: Expect Buffalo to run on New England but it's not because LeSean McCoy is back. Josh Allen is the legs of this ground game. If you're dealing with injuries to known starters and seek upside, think of Allen as Lamar Jackson — quarterbacks who've been given the green light to run the ball and passing production as a fine bonus.

Jackson is in an offense that tests the defense with the potential of the run first. Allen is in an offense that tests the defense with the potential of the pass but allows Allen to run even when he misses open reads. Look the Patriots to learn that Allen is a fine athlete who, in hindsight, should be treated as a running quarterback.

Based on recent rankings, it Allen is an obvious consideration but folks still feel a stigma about starting a rookie against Bill Belichick. Don't let that perception sway you, because the Patriots don't have the personnel to be anything more than a bend-don't-break defense. Allen will bend that unit into fun shapes with his legs, even if his arm doesn't get them into the end zone.

Houston at Philadelphia: The Eagles secondary is in bad shape. Guess which Texan has faced the Eagles defense more than any receiver this year? DeAndre Carter. He's playing the Keke Coutee role while Coutee's hamstring remains an issue until we see him again in May 2019. Look to Carter as a desperation substitute who has a higher floor than you'd expect as the Coutee substitute on swing passes and routes over the middle and big-play upside as a vertical threat with YAC talents.

Atlanta at Carolina: Mohamed Sanu will see more love with Julio Jones out. Calvin Ridley is boom-bust right now because of his drops. Look for a season-best from Sanu this weekend.

NY Giants at Indianapolis: If you have Evan Engram, he's worth a start due to the absence of Russell Shepard and Odell Beckham Jr, Jr. He's fairly obvious. Bennie Fowler and Corey Coleman are not, but both will see a lot of playing time this week. Speedsters with YAC skill do well against the Colts. Fowler is the more consistent player but Coleman will get his shots and could be a nice longshot if in a truly sore spot.

Jacksonville at Miami: Is this Kenyan Drake's week despite the big game from Kalen Ballage against Minnesota? The Jaguars give up yards to receiving backs and Drake is definitely that type of player.

LA Rams at Arizona: C.J. Anderson may see playing time but he's been signed to backup John Kelly if Todd Gurley doesn't play. That's my bet because Justin Davis and Malcolm Brown are banged up. Kelly knows the offense; Anderson doesn't — and he's been cut by two teams this month. Arizona gave up a career-best rushing output to Tevin Coleman — a fast player with average to below-average skills between the tackles. Zach Zenner earned 54 yards and a score the week prior. If Gurley is on a pitch-count or out, start Kelly.

Chicago at San Francisco: Look for the first big week from Allen Robinson since Week 10 (6-133-2). The 49ers secondary gives up yardage to the top receiver option, regardless of the strength of the opposing passing game.

Pittsburgh at New Orleans: Continue riding Jaylen Samuels, who fits the profile or receiving backs who earn yardage or touchdowns against the Saints. Don't expect John Conner the play.

Kansas City at Seattle: Elijah Penny won't play and the Chiefs should force Seattle to throw. Mike Davis could be a good alternative for fantasy players losing a trusted starter this week. The Chiefs have given up at least 45 yards receiver to 7 running backs this year.

2. The Best (and worst) of Cutting the Cord

Chad Parsons did a self-assessment of his 2018 calls in this weekly column devoted to being fantasy's "Turk." Here are some of the notable good and bad calls with my thoughts added to them:

Marcus Mariota: After proclaiming Mariota a cut after his Week 1 injury, Mariota was up and down (mostly down) all season with six games of single-digit fantasy scoring and never surpassing a 40% start rate (MFL data) in any single week. Mariota was a strong call to move on from in shallow and medium depth redraft leagues for early-season waiver options. Matt's Thoughts: Mariota has been through multiple coaches and offenses early in his career. He's a talent but a task-oriented leader who needs a lot of structure and consistency so he can develop to his potential. The dramatic changes early in his career could be a huge factor in his failure to develop into a consistent option.

LeSean McCoy as a shallow league cut call after Week 6, considering his 100% MFL roster rate at the time, was one of the bold calls of the column in 2018. McCoy produced only two games of more than 10 PPR points the rest of the season as the Bills offense revolved around high-variance Josh Allen and his rushing more than any dependable rushing attack from McCoy. Matt's Thoughts: The Bills offensive line was so bad, it was hard to imagine McCoy becoming a worthwhile option this year.

Mike Gesicki was touted with the best early opportunity of the rookie tight ends. However, Gesicki struggled to produce despite minimal depth chart competition in Miami. Gesicki was a strong drop recommendation outside of dynasty formats in the opening month of the season and did not surpass 7.4 PPR points in any single game of the fantasy regular season. Matt's Thoughts: He's a player who tested great but doesn't move well on the field in ways that matter more in the NFL than they do in the Big 10. Gesicki's flaws were hidden easier at Penn State. We'll see if he can improve enough next year to make a dent.

Chris Carson: Calling for Carson as a cut after Week 1 was aggressive but costly as Seattle was one of the strong rushing teams of the season plus Rashaad Penny did not take over as the clear starter at any point. Carson has five weeks with a start rate of at least 60% since Week 6 and a host of 12+ fantasy point performances. Matt's Thoughts: Carson isn't the athlete that Penny is but Penny is not the refined decision-maker between than tackles that Carson or Davis are.

Marlon Mack: After a rough Week 2 debut, Mack was recommended as a sell-drop (shallow leagues) only to hit his stride midseason with games of 32 and 29 PPR points respectively. Mack faded late in the fantasy regular season (rebounding with 25 PPR points in Week 15) but was a hot pickup if dropped even in shallow formats after the recommendation. Matt's Thoughts: Mack has made some strides as a decision-maker but he's a lot like Tevin Coleman. The Colts line improved enough as the season progressed to maximize the potential of its speedy back.

Austin Hooper was a cut recommendation after Week 4 and posted 16 and 22 PPR points respectively the next two weeks and another two games of 15+ points later in the fantasy season. Considering the injury carnage at tight end and Hooper's stable role for the Falcons offense, Hooper was a clear miss this season. Matt's Thoughts: If Matt Ryan would throw 50-50 routes, Hooper would be a more productive talent. When this position gets healthy in 2019, Hooper's totals might regress to the fantasy TE2 range.

3. Week 16 Pricing eValueator

Austin Lee's chart is an informative tool for DFS leagues. Here are some of the plays Austin's chart recommends as good values along with my commentary about them:

  • Matt Ryan (DraftKings and FantasyDraft): Despite losing Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Tevin Coleman, and Austin Hooper are all capable of supporting a 300-yard day. Ryan has always been good at spreading the ball around and Sanu and Ridley have the skills to win anywhere on the field. Sanu will move to Jones' spot and look for Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall to rotate the slot duties.
  • Kenyan Drake (DraftKings and Yahoo): See my thoughts from "Games That Matter/Game Predictor."
  • Jordan Howard (FanDuel, DraftKings, and FantasyDraft): Howard's powerful style matches up well against the 49ers. He should earn some red zone work.
  • John Kelly (FanDuel): This could be a nice low-cost play with strong upside you wish to take a chance on Gurley earning a short pitch-count, at best.
  • Brice Butler (DraftKings and FantasyDraft): He should have a better grasp of the offense and he offers some experienced skill that could get the best of A.J. Bouye while Jalen Ramsay handles Kenny Stills.
  • Corey Coleman (DraftKings and Yahoo): He's a big-play weapon on a team in need against an opponent that's vulnerable to speed.
  • Bennie Fowler (DraftKings and Yahoo): A solid possession play with some fade route ability. Less boom-bust than Coleman.
  • Mohamed Sanu (FanDuel, DraftKings, and Fantasy Draft): See Matt Ryan entry.
  • Tyrell Williams (DraftKings and Yahoo): See thoughts from "Games That Matter/Game Predictor."

4. Five Tight Ends I'm targeting in Dynasty

This month's series at the Gut Check covers players I'm targeting in dynasty leagues. This week's column ended the series with a look at tight ends. Here's the rookie prospect I'm targeting, T.J. Hockenson of Iowa:

If Hockenson declares for the draft, he's one of the best tight ends in this class. He's already a superior prospect to his more heralded teammate Noah Fant, who fights the ball and makes more unforced errors than you'd like to see from an NFL player.

Hockenson, like former Hawkeye George Kittle, is an excellent blocker who can stay on the field as an in-line tight end of value against defensive ends and outside linebackers and a receiver who can play H-Back, slot, or the perimeter. He's a sturdy athlete after the catch with enough burst and speed to earn strong gains after the catch.

Alabama's Irv Smith is a quality player of note but he's the only one I've seen thus far who deserves mentioning in the same tier as Hockenson, who reminds me of a faster Dennis Pitta. You'll probably hear even more complimentary comparisons in the coming months from others who catch onto his talent.

5. IDP Matchups

Dave Larkin's IDP Matchups tracks pressures, sacks, hits, and dropbacks and uses the data to recommend passing matchups to exploit and avoid for the week. It also does the same with tackles, attempts, dropbacks, and rush percentages.

Here are some of the notable matchups:

Exploit...

DALLAS PASS RUSHERS VS. TAMPA BAY OFFENSIVE LINE

The Dallas Cowboys crumpled like wet tissue paper against the Colts last week, a result not entirely unpredictable when the importance of the game for both sides was considered. A beating like that can inspire a team, however, so expect a strong response from Jason Garrett’s men in a game that they need to seal the division.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line has performed better on the road than at home in terms of pressure allowed, but that shouldn’t be deterrent here. Overall, the Bucs line allows 7.1 quarterback hits per game and their quarterback – whether Fitzpatrick or Winston – has resembled a pinata at times this season. In a game the Cowboys need, bet on them to beat the Bucs into submission.

Key stat: At home, the Cowboys apply pressure on 16.8% of opponent dropbacks.

ARIZONA DEFENDERS VS. LOS ANGELES

TVO factor: 1.099 (22nd)

The Rams are limping into the postseason, but a trip to Arizona looks like the perfect chance to right their wrongs. The status of Todd Gurley remains in question after he sustained an injury last week against Philadelphia. Even if the highly productive Gurley misses the game, however, the Rams have more than enough firepower and running game potential to make this a cakewalk.

The Cardinals face rushing attempts on an incredible 46% of snaps, a sign of just how often they have been in negative game scripts. The Steve Wilks era may be coming to an end before it has even properly started, and a win for the Rams here will be yet another nail in the coffin. However, this clash bodes well for Arizona’s defenders, who should see ample tackle opportunity.

Key stat: The Cardinals defense has averaged 55.6 tackle opportunities per game, with the league average at 50.2.

Avoid...

LOS ANGELES PASS RUSHERS VS. BALTIMORE

The Chargers have been a middling pass rushing unit this year, albeit without their top edge rusher Joey Bosa for most of the season. They face just 36.6 dropbacks per game, below the league average. That number could dip even lower this week against a Baltimore team that is comfortable running the ball down the opponent’s throat.

Baltimore’s offensive line is stingy in giving up the pressure and still sets the league pace with rushing attempts (32.1 per game). If the game remains close – and in this well-matched affair, it should – expect the Ravens to keep things close to the vest and limit pass rushing opportunities. Start your Chargers at your own risk.

Key stat: Baltimore’s offensive line has allowed pressure on just 10.8% of dropbacks.

JACKSONVILLE DEFENDERS AT MIAMI

TVO factor: 1.191 (8th)

This is a game you want no part of, mainly due to the uncertainty surrounding both teams’ ability to sustain offense. Could Ryan Tannehill produce something masterful? It is a possibility, albeit a remote one. Is Cody Kessler capable of orchestrating some productive drives? Also, a chance, though slim.

This is simply not the type of game we can pin our championship hopes on, even with a favorable TVO factor. If you must side with one set of players here, make it Jacksonville’s, but this is a ‘avoid like a plague’ type of game.

Key stat: The Dolphins offense has allowed just 40 tackle opportunities per week over the last three games.

Matt's Thoughts: Look for Peyton Barber to spring a good run or two thanks to Dallas getting caught with a draw or delay. He's a not a great start but has solid flex potential. This offers another blip on the radar for John Kelly if the Gurley talk sounds like a small pitch count, at best. Lamar Jackson could be a decent fantasy producer this week because of the added passing bonus and the time he can create in the pocket. Kalen Ballage doesn't look like a great option here. Consider Drake ahead of the rookie.