For most fantasy football owners, this is it. Titles are won and lost in Week 16. Well, unless you’re in one of those weird leagues that ends in Week 17. In which case, you probably use the metric system and still think cassettes could be making a comeback soon, too. Good luck with that.
Championship week is here, and the teams that are left had to survive some odd performances to get to this point. Jamaal Charles hardly saw the ball in Week 15, Justin Forsett was uncharacteristically mediocre — against the Jaguars, of all teams – and Aaron Rodgers turned in essentially the worst fantasy performance of his career. What did we learn from Green Bay’s effort in Buffalo? Well, for one, use the Bills defense. More on that later. As for Rodgers, expect him — and usually sure-handed Jordy Nelson — to bounce back in a big way against the Buccaneers this week. Not only do fantasy owners need him, the Packers need him in a big way right now, too.
That last point is a key element to consider this time of year. If an NFL team already has everything locked up, there’s legitimate concern that their star players could be resting up for January. Fortunately for us, this has been such a crazy season that virtually all of the good teams still have something to play for. The Patriots and Broncos are vying for homefield advantage, nothing is really set in the NFC and the entire AFC North is still in playoff contention.
Well, except for the Browns, who got so frustrated with Brian Hoyer that they decided the headlines they’d grab by starting Johnny Manziel were more important than making the playoffs. Good luck to all the Josh Gordon owners out there who need Johnny Football to throw the actual football to their guy this week.
As always, the quickest path to fantasy success is to find the strong players that are facing weak opposition and cash in. With that in mind, here are the Money Matchups for Week 16…
QB: Tom Brady, NE (@ NYJ). Remember when people were worried that Brady might be losing it? Even then, he would’ve been a great start against the Jets. Now he’s back to playing like the Brady that married a supermodel, tossing multiple touchdowns in every single game since that Monday Night meltdown against the Chiefs way back in Week 4. In his first meeting with New York this season, he managed 261 yards through the air and three scores. With a healthy Rob Gronkowski to throw to, there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat that.
Sleeper: Matthew Stafford, DET (@ CHI). Stafford probably hasn’t delivered the return you were looking for, based on where you drafted him this season. But, if you’ve survived to this point, your patience should pay off. The Lions face the Bears this week, and Chicago — while fairly inept across the board defensively — has been particularly bad against the pass. Only one team yields more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the Bears, the Lions have plenty to play for here and Stafford just carved up Marc Trestman’s squad to the tune of 390 yards and two TDs in Week 13.
RB: C.J. Anderson, DEN (@ CIN). Yes, he’s only been a starter for about a month. And yes, last week was kind of frustrating when he had a TD called back and managed a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. Whatever. Over his last four games, Anderson has received 117 touches, posting 534 total yards and five TDs. The Broncos are running more in general and, even when they turn to Peyton Manning, the RB is still a valuable commodity in this offense.
Sleeper: Mark Ingram, NO (v ATL). For what seems like the 137th time this season, the Saints are playing at home. And with the Falcons in town, this is essentially an elimination game in the mesmerizingly mediocre NFC South. Ingram has been a beast all season, gets pretty much every single goal line carry and now goes up against an Atlanta defense that gives up the second-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. It’s worth noting that Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson are back in the mix, so they could cut into Ingram’s touches a little. But he’s still very usable in a potentially great matchup.
WR: Jordy Nelson, GB (@ TB). Nelson has pretty much been the model of consistency among wide receivers this season, ranking No. 3 at the position in scoring and managing double-digit fantasy points in nine contests so far. Of course, he also dropped what would have been a 94-yard touchdown last week, which means you might not even be in the fantasy playoffs anymore if you were leaning on him. It also means he’ll be looking to bounce back in a huge way this week, and his quarterback — quite possibly the league MVP — will be looking for a huge statement game as well. There’s potential for a monster performance here and — just to add one more factor into the equation — they’re facing the Buccaneers, who seem to have a team rule against covering opposing WRs.
TE: Rob Gronkowski, NE (@ NYJ). More than anything, this is just a reminder that Gronk has been the only truly dependable elite weapon at his position this season. Sure, there are other guys who can give you a good game every once in a while, and players like Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas certainly have huge upside in any given week. But Gronk has been an absolute machine since he got fully healthy. His 11 touchdowns rank behind only Thomas (12) among tight ends, and his 1,093 yards are more than double what Thomas has posted. He’s found the end zone seven times over the last seven weeks, while averaging 95 receiving yards per game since the start of October. And now he’s playing the Jets — a team the Patriots wouldn’t mind running the score up against, and one who allows more points to opposing TEs than all but three NFL teams.
D/ST: Buffalo Bills (@ OAK). The Bills are quietly the top scoring defense in all of fantasy football, and they lead the NFL in sacks — usually the most “reliable” stat for fantasy purposes. And if people thought it was a fluke, well, they just held Manning and Rodgers to a combined zero TDs over the last two weeks. Up next? The Raiders.
Sleeper: Baltimore Ravens (@ HOU). The Ravens’ D has been much more productive in the second half of the season and, honestly, does Ryan Mallett scare you? Wait he’s hurt. Does Ryan Fitzpatrick scare you? Hmmm… he’s out too. Tom Savage? Also injured… Ok, you get the picture: does whichever QB the Texans felt less comfortable starting than Tom Savage scare you?
Deep Sleeper: Carolina Panthers (v CLE). That’s right, a bonus pick for this week because it’s the holiday season. The Panthers D was great in 2013, struggled for the first ten or so weeks of 2014 and has quietly improved lately. But none of that matters. What does matter is the fact that they host the Browns and — until Manziel shows otherwise — you should at least consider anyone that’s facing him. Especially if you’re desperate for D help right now. Remember, Mr. Football actually tossed two more interceptions against the Bengals that were ultimately called back. That performance could have been worse.
The Fantasy Football Fix podcast is available on ArizonaSports.com every week during the NFL season, with Luke Lapinski, Jordan Byrd and Paige Dimakos giving you all the insight you need to rise to the top of your league. You can interact with the show by finding us on Twitter (@FantasyFballFix) or on Facebook.