Start and Sit: Week 16

Marlon Mack
Marlon Mack
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

One of the more agonizing aspects of fantasy football is that the entire season comes down to this one weekend, where a single matchup with an opponent will either crown you the champion or deny you the crown no matter how much success you had in getting to this point. There is no way around some of the randomness involved in one weekend, but you can still tilt those random scales in your favor by paying attention to context. Players often show marked tendencies with factors such as home-road splits, weather, and defensive opponents. And you can use that knowledge to make better decisions that will hopefully secure you a fantasy championship. Good luck.

The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.


Philip Rivers' November struggles have seemingly made this December a swansong for him with the Chargers, so it feels strange to recommend him for your fantasy playoffs. But Rivers' -25.7% DVOA stretch from Weeks 10 to 13 has given way to 25.4% over his last two starts, which have also netted 300-plus yards in each game and four total touchdowns. With a home matchup in Week 16 against the Raiders, that good play is likely to continue. The Raiders have the No. 31 DVOA pass defense and increase passing yards per attempt by 16% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 43%, second-most in football. The home start and plus matchup jump Rivers from the back end of my QB2s in true talent all the way to sixth at the position this week.

Russell Wilson doesn't need the same matchup help to earn a starting nod in shallow formats. He's already my No. 7 quarterback in true talent and fifth in fantasy scoring in another excellent and durable season. That said, Wilson does have a strong matchup this weekend at home against Arizona. The Cardinals are a frequent mention in this article because of their poor defense against tight ends -- which I'll get to soon -- but they are a bad pass defense overall with the No. 28 DVOA. They increase pass plays by 6%, passing yards per attempt by 7% per attempt, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 28%, all of which buoys Wilson to third for me this week.

Jameis Winston is talked about more for his league-leading 24 interceptions than anything else, but he has actually outscored the MVP candidate Wilson in fantasy this season. Winston leads the NFL with 4,573 passing yards, 239 ahead of Dak Prescott in second place. And he has thrown for 914 yards the last two weeks despite losing his star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Even with Godwin already ruled out this Saturday, Winston is my No. 1 quarterback this week. He is at home facing a Texans defense that is No. 26 in DVOA against the pass, increases pass plays by 6%, and increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 32%, third-most in football. He may throw a pick or two, but he will likely offset that in fantasy with his extreme volume and efficiency.

With three wins already in the bank, the Dolphins will likely not be fighting for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft on Sunday when they take on the basement-dwelling Bengals. But the Dolphins could be major contributors to your fantasy championship success. Ryan Fitzpatrick has averaged 19.4 fantasy points per game since he took over as starter in Week 7. That's ninth-best at the position just behind Aaron Rodgers and just ahead of Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson. Facing a Bengals defense that is No. 27 in DVOA pass defense and that increases passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 18% and 12%, you can likely start Fitzpatrick in confidence. But my one reservation is a 60% chance of rain and sustained wind speeds of around 15mph. I'd probably want to see that weather forecast die down a bit before I trusted Fitzpatrick with a title on the line, especially if you have options like Rivers, Matt Ryan, or Jacoby Brissett without those same concerns.

If it weren't for Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen could boast being the quarterback who most exceeded his fantasy expectations this season. That makes it a bit of a bummer that he has had such a difficult schedule of opponents in the fantasy playoffs. Allen has shown marked splits in his pass production this year based on the DVOA pass defense of his opponent. That has led to just 285 combined passing yards the last two weeks against the Ravens and Steelers, both in the top five in football. And unfortunately, it won't be any easier in Week 16 as Allen travels to Boston to face the Patriots. New England is No. 1 in DVOA pass defense, decreases pass plays by 6%, and decreases passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 20% and 39%, both top-two in football. Allen threw for just 153 yards and didn't throw a touchdown in his home start against the Patriots in Week 4, although he left that game early in the fourth quarter with a concussion. Hopefully, he can avoid another injury and can repeat his fantasy-saving rushing touchdown, something he does better than any other quarterback (yes, even better than Jackson). But that's just not enough for me to trust him in shallow formats this week. Look for a better streaming option.

Lost among the Rams' many problems, Jared Goff has had even bigger opponent-related passing splits this year than Allen. He has enjoyed massive passing days of more than 350 yards four times this season, but three of those four have come against bottom-half DVOA pass defenses in the Cardinals, Bengals, and Buccaneers. Against the top pass defenses like the Ravens, Bears, and especially the 49ers, Goff has struggled. And there's no reason to expect Goff to excel in his second 49ers matchup this weekend. The 49ers are No. 2 in DVOA pass defense. They decrease pass plays by 15%, second-most in football. And they decrease passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 19% and 10%, respectively. He threw for just 78 yards in the first meeting, and that came at home where Goff has scored 4.7 more fantasy points per game than he has on the road since the start of last season. Perhaps the 49ers are less scary now with their myriad secondary injuries, but I'm not willing to take that chance in a fantasy championship.

You easily could talk me into playing Patrick Mahomes, who has spent the bulk of his short career defying the typical context splits that other quarterbacks show with home vs. road, in bad weather, and against strong pass defenses. But it is probably still worth noting that Mahomes has all three major contextual factors working against him this week. He travels to Chicago to face the Bears on Sunday night. They are the No. 7 DVOA pass defense, and they decrease passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 8% and 37%, third-most in football. And this game kickoff at 36 degrees Fahrenheit and will cool down further from there. If you trust the broader trends to hold for Mahomes in the long run, then those conditions all conspire to bump him from third in true talent to 12th this week at the position.

And I wish I could talk you into benching Drew Brees this Sunday, but I know that's a long shot given that he just threw for 656 yards and nine touchdowns over the last two weeks. But those spectacular performances both came at home in New Orleans, where we didn't need any more evidence that he's a top-five passer. This season, he's averaged 333 passing yards, 2.8 passing touchdowns, and 24.7 fantasy points per game at home. On the road, it has been a different story. There, he has averaged just 150 passing yards, 1.3 passing touchdowns, and 10.6 fantasy points per game. The small sample size has likely contributed to that 14.1-fantasy point advantage at home, five points higher than any other quarterback in 2019. But Brees has averaged 5.6 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since the start of 2016. It's a glaring trend, and one that drops Brees to a back-end QB2 for me this week even against a Titans defense that is neutral in DVOA pass defense and for passing yards and touchdowns.

Running Backs

Best Week 16 Matchups - Running Backs

If you're looking for a defensive matchup you can get excited about in fantasy, look no further than Marlon Mack. Mack draws the best possible matchup against the Panthers this weekend. They are No. 32 in DVOA run defense and even better than that would imply for backs in fantasy. The Panthers increase their opponents' rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 20% and 144%, both the most in football. With Mack demonstrating full health over the last two games, I think you can trust him as a top-five option this week.

Joe Mixon isn't far behind that standard, and he has lived up to that consistently over the second half of this year. Since Week 10, he is averaging 17.6 PPR points per game, sixth-most at the position. This week, he travels to Miami to face a Dolphins defense that is No. 29 in DVOA run defense and that increases run plays by 18%, tied for the most in football. As mentioned in the Fitzpatrick paragraph, weather is a concern for that game. But rain and wind typically just shift more work from a team's passing game to their running game. Apart from fumbles, Mixon shouldn't have the same downside risk that Fitzpatrick and the other Dolphins and Bengals passing options do.

And pretty much all of those things are true for Dolphins back Patrick Laird. Laird has more playing time risk than Mixon does -- he took just 12 carries to Myles Gaskin's nine last week and saw the same offensive snap share of 48%. But Laird does get the benefit of an excellent defensive matchup in the Bengals and their No. 27 DVOA run defense. They increase run plays by 18%, tied for the most in football. And they increase rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 11%.

Devonta Freeman has been a bit more matchup-reliant this season than his fantasy owners would have liked, but the good news is that he draws an excellent one this weekend for fantasy championships. He is at home against the Jaguars. They are No. 31 in DVOA run defense, increase run plays by 7%, and increase rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 13% and 39%. That latter number is nowhere close to the Panthers, but it is still the third-most in football.

Carlos Hyde never had any expectation of being an every-down back, especially once he was paired up with receiving back Duke Johnson in Houston. That makes him about the easiest back in football with which to play the matchups, but unfortunately for his owners, the matchup in Week 16 is a bad one. The Buccaneers are the No. 1 DVOA run defense and No. 15 DVOA pass defense, a combination that skews their opponents' work away from the run. They decrease run plays by 17%, third-most in football. Meanwhile, the Bucs also decrease their opponents' rushing yards per attempt by 26%. Altogether, those factors drop Hyde from a true talent flex consideration to No. 36 for me at the position this week. Avoid him in your shallow formats.

Definitely do not avoid Derrick Henry, who can make a strong case as the best fantasy back in football in November and December. But it may not be fair to have super-high expectations for Henry this week, even at home in Tennessee. His opponents, the Saints, are maybe the most difficult matchup in football for fantasy scoring. They are No. 9 in DVOA run defense. They decrease run plays by 20%, the most in football. And they decrease rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 13% and 8%. I have Henry 13th this week, so keep him in your redraft lineups. But maybe don't use him as a DFS centerpiece, especially given that his $7,700 price tag in DraftKings is $1,500 more than Mack and the much better matchup.

As of Thursday, it's unclear whether Bo Scarbrough can make his return from a rib injury to face the Broncos on Sunday. But even if he can, I would prefer to avoid him this week. The Broncos are middle-of-the-pack with the No. 17 DVOA run defense, but they are a worse matchup than that would suggest in fantasy, decreasing rushing touchdowns per attempt by 32%. The matchup drops him to 31st at the position for me this week in really an optimistic view of his health and standing with the team. If Kerryon Johnson is activated from injured reserve, that ranking would fall even further.

The Steelers and Ravens are better known for the excellent pass defenses this season, but neither are appealing matchups for running backs in fantasy, either. The Steelers have the No. 3 DVOA run defense, decrease rushing yards per attempt by 11%, and decrease rushing touchdowns per attempt by 62%, the most in football. The Ravens decrease run plays by 18%, the second-most in football. Colder weather will incentivize the Jets and Browns to rely more heavily on Le'Veon Bell and Nick Chubb, but their game scripts may not cooperate. With rankings in the mid-20s, I see both Bell and Chubb as more flex options this week than their typical RB1/RB2 statuses.

Wide Receivers

Russell Wilson's plus passing matchup against the Cardinals this week should help both of his top two receivers, Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Beyond just their No. 28 DVOA pass defense, the Cardinals are bottom six in DVOA defense against No. 1 receivers and against "other" wide receivers (subscription required). That, plus the Cardinals' tendency to boost their opponents' pass plays and passing touchdowns, should help both receivers, who are already likely to see a small boost in target share with Josh Gordon being suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Lockett is a WR1 and Metcalf a WR2 for me this week.

The Raiders have a similar tendency that benefits multiple opposing receivers. Keenan Allen doesn't need that help to produce as a WR1, but Mike Williams does as a WR2. The Raiders are bottom-four in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers, and they generally increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 43%, second-most in football. Williams' total of two touchdowns this season doesn't capture his exceptional touchdown potential, but he has actually seen 13 red zone targets, just two fewer than last year when he produced 10 receiving touchdowns. Scores in two straight games are simply regression doing its thing. I expect a third straight for Williams this week.

Despite his inexperience and the inexperience around him in the Broncos offense, Courtland Sutton has emerged as a safe WR2 this season. And I think he's a WR1 this week at home against the Lions. The Lions have the No. 29 DVOA pass defense and No. 14 DVOA run defense, a split that tends to motivate their opponents to throw the ball -- they increase pass plays by 7%. Meanwhile, the Lions also increase their opponents' passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 10% and 23%, the fifth-most in football.

Three touchdowns on just five catches in relief of Mike Evans on Sunday may have pushed my projections a bit too optimistic on Breshad Perriman this weekend, but it's hard to argue with a home matchup against the Texans and fantasy enabler Jameis Winston at quarterback. The Texans have the No. 26 DVOA pass defense, increase pass plays by 6%, and increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 32%, third-most in football. Perriman is likely a boom or bust option, but his boom is such a boom that I've ranked him in my top 10 this week.

Worst Week 16 Matchups - Wide Receivers

Definitely side with the unproven Perriman if you would otherwise start one of the Bills receivers, John Brown or Cole Beasley. They will face the brunt of the bad matchup that is the Patriots. In addition to being the No. 1 DVOA pass defense overall, the Patriots are No. 1 in DVOA against every receiver grouping. Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and Jonathan Jones are three of just 17 qualified cornerbacks with a 60% coverage success rate or better based on Sports Info Solutions charting (subscription required). Chances are, the entire Bills passing attack will be diminished in such a difficult road matchup.

Robert Woods didn't capitalize on his target resurgence -- he has at least nine targets in five straight games -- in a good matchup against the Cowboys last week. He caught just four passes for 17 yards. I expect better from Woods this Saturday, but maybe not a lot better. Julio Jones victimized the 49ers secondary without Richard Sherman and some other key starters, but Woods isn't that same overwhelming physical talent. I think he could struggle against a defense that has been No. 2 in DVOA against the pass and top 10 against every receiver grouping.

Danny Amendola had eight catches and 102 yards on 13 targets last week, and while that wasn't his only big fantasy day this season, it was the first that felt sustainable now that Marvin Jones, Marvin Hall, and T.J. Hockenson are out for the season. Amendola is really just one of two professional targets for the Lions at this point, and that may well sustain WR2 fantasy success over the final two weeks. But I'm still reluctant to rely on Amendola as more than a flex option on the road in Denver this week. While weak against No. 1 outside receivers (No. 25 DVOA), the Broncos are fifth in DVOA against "other" wide receivers. Meanwhile, the Broncos also cut passing touchdowns by 23% per attempt, sixth-most in football.

Tight Ends

A Vance McDonald in-game injury and a surprise David Njoku healthy scratch have likely prevented you from taking advantage of the elite Cardinals matchup for tight ends so far in the fantasy playoffs. But you finally have a chance to reap the benefits in Week 16 with Jacob Hollister. Hollister hasn't scored a touchdown since he scored three times in his first three starts following Will Dissly's injury, and his true talent has dropped into the TE2 range for me because if it. But Hollister is a TE1 this week against that Cardinals defense that is No. 32 in DVOA against tight ends and allows 74 yards per game to the position, the most in football. McDonald is about the only tight end this season who hasn't thrived in this spot. Team No. 1 tight ends have averaged 4.7 catches, 59 yards, and 0.93 touchdowns against the Cardinals this season, and that doesn't even include Rhett Ellison catching a touchdown behind Evan Engram in Week 7.

With that touchdown rate, my 1.0 PPR-point boost for Hollister this week likely undersells this matchup. Start him in shallow leagues and especially in DFS, where his $4,200 price tag on DraftKings is comparable to clear TE2s like Jason Witten and Kyle Rudolph.

Hunter Henry has seen his second-half production swing with Philip Rivers' up-and-down play, but Rivers looks capable again just in time for a home matchup against the Raiders that should really benefit Henry. The Raiders allow 61 yards per game to tight ends, sixth-most at the position. They also increase touchdowns per attempt by 43%, second-most in football.

With all the fantasy attention on Breshad Perriman -- and rightly so given my top 10 ranking -- it's easy to overlook tight end O.J. Howard. Howard has been pretty terrible for fantasy owners this season in a Bruce Arians offense that is the definition of unfriendly to tight ends. But Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston may not have a choice but to rely on Howard against the Texans in Week 16. With Evans, Godwin, and Scotty Miller all injured, the Bucs have a receiving corps behind Perriman of Justin Watson, Ishmael Hyman, Cyril Grayson, Codey McElroy, and Spencer Schnell. I'm a professional football writer, and I only know one of those players. The Texans allow 58 yards per game to tight ends, and I think Howard himself may beat that total this week without many clear candidates to stand in his way.

Tyler Higbee has been the breakout player at the position this December, tallying 65.4 PPR points over the last three weeks to lead the position. I tend to think that production without the injured Gerald Everett should help him keep the Rams' No. 1 tight end job even if Everett returns this week. But that still doesn't make Higbee an attractive shallow-league option in Week 16. Higbee's fantasy outburst was likely aided by matchups against the Cardinals and Seahawks, the two friendliest defenses for receiving yards for tight ends. This week, Higbee will be on the opposite end of that spectrum facing a 49ers defense that is No. 2 in DVOA against the position. They allow just 29 yards per game to tight ends, the fewest in football. And they also decrease pass plays by 15% and passing touchdowns by 10%. Higbee's recent production has been so outlandish that he remains inside my top 10 despite the bad matchup, but I'm not sure I could put him in my lineups over the similarly-projected Hollister this week even with Higbee ranked nine spots higher in true talent.

Meanwhile, I'm definitely going to try to avoid Jared Cook in fantasy this weekend. The Titans are neutral against the pass in every respect, including a No. 22 DVOA ranking against tight ends, specifically. But Drew Brees' massive home/road splits are the tide that lifts -- and sinks -- all boats. Cook has averaged 1.7 more catches for 18 more yards, 0.17 more touchdowns, and 4.6 more PPR points per game at home than on the road this season.


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