Championship week. Not everyone makes it this far. The road to a league championship game is usually lined with smart draft picks, deft waiver wire maneuvers, skillful trades, keen roster moves, and a special touch of luck and timing. For those of you who managed to make it to the championship game, congratulations! The final step to winning it all is finally here.
As I have mentioned before, this is not the time to get cute. At this stage of the season, your goal should be to find the right match of sleepers and secondary players to play side-by-side with your studs. The key to knowing which non-studs to play lies in five principles: 1. Know player stats, 2. Understand player matchups, 3. Stay on top of player injuries, 4. Check weather conditions, and 5. Be up on the NFL playoff situation. If you do your homework with these five principles in mind, you will make some of the most well-informed decisions you can make for your fantasy team. Nothing is ever guaranteed in fantasy football. But this type of preparation will maximize your chances of winning your game and a championship this weekend.
So on to a quick look at who to play and who to avoid in Week 16…
Among those I would consider starting if I don’t already have a stud for his position is Jay Cutler. Cutler brushed the rust off mid-way through his game last week, putting up some great fantasy numbers. This week he is on the road, but playing in favorable conditions against the worst passing defense in the league. This is a potential fantasy points bonanza for Cutler. He is a low-end QB1 with upside this week. Another quarterback with similar prospects on Sunday is Andy Dalton. He and the Bengals play host to Minnesota, and the Vikings are just plain awful. Dalton can be inconsistent at times, but there is a lot to like in this matchup. He is worth consideration as a low-end QB1 with upside in Week 16.
A couple of sneaky picks include QB Kirk Cousins and RB Dennis Johnson. The problem with Johnson is that we have very little history on him. And then there is the fact that he and the Redskins are playing Dallas. That’s a good thing in terms of the matchup for Cousins, but when these two teams play, anything can happen. So Cousins should be viewed as a QB2 with great upside this week. He could put up QB1 numbers, but he could just as easily finish with QB3 stats.
Dennis Johnson also has a promising game ahead of him. He is starting in place of Ben Tate. While some are hesitant to start him this week because of the potential to end up in a passing game to keep up with the Broncos, fantasy owners should consider that Houston might lean on their running game during the first half to keep Peyton Manning off the field. That means lots of opportunities for Johnson. That said, he should not be used as an RB1. But if you have to make a choice between starting Mendenhall against the Seahawks or Johnson against Denver, Johnson should be your man. He is a low-end RB2 with upside and a solid flex play in Week 16. Less risky choices at running back include Zac Stacy and Le’Veon Bell – both solid RB2 choices.
As for wide receivers, I wish I could say this is the week to go all-in with Michael Crabtree. He is due for his breakout game. The only problem is that San Francisco may have little to play for on Monday night. An expected win by Seattle on Sunday locks the 49ers in as a wild card for the playoffs – nothing more, nothing less. So temper your expectations for Crabtree unless the Seahawks lose. He is still worth a start as a WR2, but the upside will be gone if Seattle wins today. Speaking of Seattle, they have everything to play for this week (division title, a bye week, and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs), so do not hesitate to start Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as low-end WR2’s with upside. An even better choice, though, would be Julian Edelman, who continues to see lots of targets from Tom Brady.
At tight end, there are plenty of fantasy owners struggling to deal with the loss of Jordan Cameron. If you are one of them, look for Delanie Walker. He has a great matchup against the Jaguars, who have been weak against tight ends this season. If he is isn’t available, consider two high-risk, high-reward possibilities: Dennis Pitta and Zach Miller. Pitta is still coming up to speed following his return to the football field. His matchup against the Pats this week is a favorable one. He’s worth a shot even if he isn’t 100%. Miller isn’t a sexy pick, but the Cardinals have been dreadful against tight ends in 2013. So Miller possesses a good amount of upside to go along with his typical downside in Week 16. You could do worse….
Speaking of downside, I would temper expectations for the Atlanta Falcons offense this week. A road game in San Francisco just doesn’t hold a lot of promise for fantasy points. Matt Ryan is a QB2 with downside going into this one. And don’t expect any of his receivers to achieve anything better than WR2 numbers, if that. As if the Falcons fantasy situation were bad enough, I would avoid anyone on the Arizona Cardinals offense this week. They are likely to be completely shutdown in Seattle. Garbage time points might come into play by the end of their game, but that is a big unknown here. And in a week as important as Championship Week, you shouldn’t take a risk like that.
Finally, I’ve been reading a lot of discussion about whether to sit Drew Brees in his game against Carolina, and whether to sit the Carolina DST going against Brees and the Saints. I understand the concerns. They have some merit. But in the case of Brees, there is just too much to like – too much potential upside – to sit him in favor of someone like Andy Dalton. Again stick with your studs. As for the Carolina DST, if you get the Cleveland DST, then perhaps you should sit Carolina in favor of the Browns. Otherwise, I would stick with them for their potential and lower my expectations. The viable replacement DSTs just aren’t there this week, so Carolina DST fantasy owners would do well to simply hang on tight and hope for the best from the Panthers defense.
So there you have it folks – the good, the bad, and the ugly for Week 16. Wishing all of you great fantasy karma in your matchups this week. I’ll be available right up until gametime to field any of your questions on Twitter @murphysguide.