Week 16 marks the championship for most fantasy leagues, so this one is for bragging rights until next year! In order to do that you will need to put the right lineup in place, and not try and get cute like so many owners do at this time.
First, owners need to know that the Rams placed K Greg Zuerlein on Injured Reserve Wednesday with a back injury. That means the #1 kicker in fantasy football is off the table for the final game. As a replacement, you should consider guys like Phil Dawson, Kai Forbath, Harrison Butker, and/or Jake Elliot. I don't project kickers because their whole point system depends on the offense stalling in field goal range. But these three have plus matchups this week.
Next, we need to remember that Antonio Brown suffered a partially torn calf in Week 15, so he is out. Aaron Rodgers went back on the I.R. after the Packers were officially eliminated from the playoffs, so he is one-and-done. Rodgers' injury isn't as big of a problem as Brown's is because you've made it most of the year without him anyway.
Brown, on the other hand, is going to be next to impossible to replace with the available players in Week 16. Chances are your available options are going to be Martavis Bryant, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Mike Wallace at WR. I would personally rank them as Wallace, Westbrook, Bryant, and then Cole. Westrbook and Bryant are closer than Bryant and Cole.
Nick Foles – Eagles:When Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 15, most of us thought the offense would struggle to move the ball under Nick Foles' leadership at QB. However, Foles beat the Giants for 237 yards and 4 touchdowns in Week 15, opening some eyes to just how good the Eagles offense is. Although I must say that it could just as easily have been how bad the Giants defense is.
Nevertheless, I am going with Foles this week since he plays another beatable defense in the Raiders. Had Dak Prescott not gone all Dak Prescott last week, throwing no touchdowns and 2 interceptions, the Raiders would still be dead last in the NFL for INTs this season at 2.
Foles may not hit 100 yards, but I wouldn't be shocked if he put up another 4 TDs without any INTs this week.
Blake Bortles– Jaguars:Speaking of beatable defenses, let's move on to a 49ers defense that is giving up the 4th-most fantasy points to QBs this season at 21.8 PPG. In 14 games this season the 49ers have given up 3,392 passing yards (15th-most), 25 passing TDs (8th), while taking away just 7 INTs (tied for 3rd-fewest). Those stats, or lack thereof, have the 49ers sporting the 2nd-worst fantasy defense in the NFL this season.
When you consider that over the past 3 games Bortles is averaging 301 passing yards with 7 TDs and no INTs, you can see where Bortles has the matchup in place to finish off the fantasy season with a bang. Personally, I'd rank Bortles as a QB1 in the top 10, with a real chance to finish inside the top 5 this week.
Ezekiel Elliot – Cowboys:Zeke's six-game suspension is finally over, and just in time to take on a Seahawks run defense that was wrecked last week when Todd Gurley racked up 152 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns. Seattle disappointed a lot of owners last week, and is likely to do so again this week.
There is one thing you can be sure of with Elliot this week: he has a chip on his shoulder the size of a mountain. Elliot has believed all along that he shouldn't have to serve a suspension since he wasn't charged criminally, so he has to be chomping at the bit to run hard to give the Cowboys, and their fans, everything they've been missing for the past six games.
Dion Lewis – Patriots:There is some talk that Mike Gillislee could see a return to the field now that Rex Burkhead is out with a sprained knee. And it doesn't hurt that the Patriots are playing the Bills, Gillislee's old team. The problem is, Dion Lewis is averaging 62.8 YPG rushing since Week 5, and has scored 4 TDs in that span.
Lewis has filled in about as well as anyone can expect for a Patriots RB. He's more of the early-down back with James White handling the passing downs. The problem with Gillislee is he is a one-trick pony… a pure runner only. Lewis provides more dual-threat ability that fits right in with what the Patriots do, so I'm not buying in Gillislee over Lewis.
As for the Bills, they have the worst run defense against fantasy RBs this season, giving up 22.2 PPG in standard scoring formats. Even if Lewis loses some touches to White and Gillislee, I'm still looking for double digits from Lewis this week.
JuJu Smith-Shuster – Steelers:The Steelers' 2nd-round rookie passed Martavis Bryant on the depth chart fairly early on, and has now put up high-end WR3 numbers for the season. With Brown now out for Week 16, Smith-Shuster and Bryant will handle the WR duties, with Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bay mixed in for a few snaps.
While I do think a guy like Jesse James will finish with sneaky TE fantasy numbers, Smith-Shuster is the guy I think the Steelers feel the most comfortable with taking over Brown's role for this game. With the Texans giving up the 4th-most fantasy points to WRs (23.8 PPG), Smith-Shuster is firmly on the WR1 radar this week.
Adam Thielen - Vikings:Thielen has swapped spots with Stephon Diggs as "the man" in Minnesota's passing game this season, amassing a total of 83 catches, 1,191 receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns through 14 games. It's quite a nice jump from the 69/967/5 line he put up in 16 games last season.
Thielen put up a dud last week, managing to draw just 5 targets, catching 3 of them for 30 yards. Week 15 marked only the 2nd game Thielen has hauled in less than 5 catches this season, and I fully expect him to get back on track this week against a Packers secondary giving up the 5th-most fantasy points to WRs this season at 23.2 PPG.
Greg Olsen – Panthers:Of the 31 passing attempts Cam Newton had in Week 15, 12 of them went Olsen's way. Any time a player can draw 39 percent of the passing attempts in a single game, you can be sure he will end up with quality fantasy numbers that week. Olsen finished the game with 9 catches, 112 yards, and a touchdown.
With the Panthers clearly looking to get Olsen involved and geared up for the playoffs, he is now a must-start TE1. Tight end is always an all-or-nothing position, but I'm prepared to put him in the 2nd tier for TEs with guys like Evan Engram and Delanie Walker.
Chicago Bears defense:Chicago's offensive woes are no secret, with no real options for them at WR and TE, and a rookie QB struggling to produce. However, did you know the Bears defense has actually been the 10th-best fantasy defense over the past month? Their 73 points allowed is 11th over that span, while their 10 sacks tie them for 9th along with the Ravens. Even more impressive, the Bears have 5 fumble recoveries over the past month, 1st in the NFL!
This week the Bears host DeShone Kizer, the NFL leader in INTs (19). The simple truth about Kizer is that he is not getting better as the season moves on, even with Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon back at WR. If you can't get it done with those two on the outside, then you probably have all the answers you need when evaluating a guy as your QB of the future.
As for the Bears, I would put them as the 5th-best fantasy defense this week behind the Ravens, Jaguars, Chargers, and the Steelers.
Jimmy Garoppolo – 49ers: The 49ers have clearly found their QB of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo, with the 26-year-old QB throwing for 1,026 yards, 3 TDs, and 2 INTs in just 4 games this season. He racked up 381 passing yards in Week 15, which would have led the league if Eli Manning didn't forget that he was Eli Manning, posting 434 yards against the Eagles.
This week Garoppolo has the monumental task of trying to do what few others have done this season – put up quality numbers against the Jaguars defense. With the Jaguars on pace to set several defensive records, coupled with the 49ers' noticeable lack of quality WRs, Garoppolo is one QB I would avoid even in 2-QB leagues.
Matt Ryan – Falcons: Ryan entered this season as a must-draft QB after he put up 4,944 passing yards, 38 TDs, and just 7 INTs last season. Ryan was the best waiver wire addition last season, possibly putting unreal expectations on him for this year. Through 14 games this season, Ryan has averaged just 249.3 YPG passing, down 59.7 YPG from last season.
Unless something changes over the final 2 games, Ryan is on pace to miss 4,000 passing yards for the first time since the 2010 season, the year before the Falcons drafted Julio Jones. With Ryan throwing for fewer than 222 yards in 5 of his last 6 games, and the Falcons on the road playing a Saints team with 6 INTs over the past 4 games, Matty Ice doesn't make for a QB I want to trust with my title hopes.
Jamaal Williams – Packers: Williams had a quality 5-game run (pun intended), piling up 105 carries for 382 rushing yards, 22 receptions for 193 receiving yards, and scoring 5 TDs over that span. His numbers took a dip last week (10 carries for 30 yards, 0 targets) as Brett Hundley returned to the bench in favor of Aaron Rodgers. But Hundley is back under center and will remain there over the Packers' final 2 games this season.
Hundley's shortcomings as a passer bode well for Williams' carries and targets, but the Vikings defense stymies that upside. With home field yet to be decided in the NFC (or the AFC for that matter), the Vikings have more to play for than the Packers at this point.
Peyton Barber – Buccaneers: With Doug Martin benched in Week 15 for violating team rules, Barber took over as the starting RB against the Falcons and finished with a solid 68 total yards. It's fairly obvious to everyone at this point that Martin won't be back with Tampa Bay next season, and the Bucs clearly want to see exactly what they have with Barber as the starter.
The problem for him this week is he faces a tough Panthers defense giving up just 14.9 PPG to fantasy RBs, 3rd-fewest in the NFL. Add to that the Bucs placing O.J. Howard, Justin Evans, Vernon Hargreaves, J.R. Sweezy, and Adarius Glanton on I.R. this week, and DeSean Jackson's status in doubt with an ankle injury, the Bucs are somewhat limping into this Week 16 matchup. I'd find other flex options if you can.
Jordy Nelson - Packers: The simple truth with Nelson is this is a lost season for the 32-year-old chain-moving WR. Nelson is useless with Hundley at QB (3.6 receptions per game, 33.6 yards per game this season), and he is back under center again to finish off the season. I know it's hard to cut a WR that is healthy, and that you drafted at the top of the 2nd round. But Nelson can be cut in all formats for a hot FA like one of the guys I mentioned when talking about replacing Antonio Brown.
As Elsa once said, "Let it go… LET IT GO…"
Any Jets WR: Many of us owned either Robby Anderson or Jermaine Kearse this season, largely due to Anderson's 7 TDs and Kearse's 5 TDs. But that was with Josh McCown at QB, and he is now out for the remainder of the season with a broken hand.
With McCown out, the Jets have turned to 26-year-old, clearly not the future at QB, Bryce Petty. With Petty under center, none of the Jets WRs or TE can be trusted. The only people that hold any sort of value for them are their RBs, who will see plenty of carries and check-down passes. If you own a Jets offensive player, I'd first ask: why? Then, I would suggest you hit the waiver wire and replace him as soon as possible.
Antonio Gates – Chargers: Gates is a sure-fire Hall of Fame TE, of that there is no doubt thanks to the 917 receptions, 11,381 receiving yards, and 113 touchdowns he racked up throughout his 15-year NFL career.
However, Gates hasn't had more than 3 receptions in a game this season, and his season-high of 32 receiving yards leaves a lot to be desired. So why even bother mentioning him? After the Chargers placed Hunter Henry on I.R. with a kidney laceration on Tuesday, Gates' ownership shot up nearly 3 percent on Wednesday. Three percent doesn't sound like much, but it is massive when you consider the number of fantasy leagues out there.
When it comes to Gates, be aware, and beware.
Seattle Seahawks defense: The Seahawks defense is a far cry from what it used to be, with guys like Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Cliff Avril out for the season; Earl Thomas nursing a sore heel; and Shaq Griffin trying to return from a concussion. Those injuries, coupled with offensive problems, allowed the Rams to humiliate the Seahawks by a score of 42-7 in Week 15.
This week the Seahawks travel to Dallas to take on a hungry Cowboys team looking to play spoiler. With Zeke back and ready to roll, and the Rams giving the Cowboys the perfect game plan in Week 15, I'm not excited about playing a defense owned in nearly 85 percent of fantasy leagues out there.
If you need a replacement defense this week, consider the Bears or Redskins as streaming options.
Good luck to everyone. And, remember, 2nd place is just the first loser!