Fantasy Playoffs Best-Worst Matchups Week 16 2017

By Evan Tarracciano
Evan Tarracciano It’s the Final Countdown.

Yes, cue in the glam-rock cheesy song written by the band Europe in 1986. Put that sucker on repeat, because the time is fast coming to a close where the 2017 Fantasy Football season will reach its end.
In each of the past two week we’ve dived into which matchups either benefit or hurt fringe starters on teams still in the playoffs, but more so now than ever I can’t stress this enough.

Don’t. Overthink. It.
Facing a tough defense will certainly put a damper on a player’s projections, but it isn’t the end of the world and shouldn’t immediately rule them out of contention. Likewise, a player squaring off against a bottom-tier defense should be adjusted accordingly, but Dion Lewis isn’t going to turn into the next Le’Veon Bell just because he takes on the weakest running defense in the league (more on that later). I’d highly encourage owners to take the time this week after all of the practice reports have been finalized on Friday (there are no games on Thursday this week, thank goodness) to analyze their rosters carefully, and don’t tinker with them too much.

A huge mistake would be to mess with the success that allowed you to get this far. Take the advice of someone who has made a last-minute change and come back to haunt them in the final week – it will be a decision that you remember for years to come. Don’t be the person who dwells on the “what if…” scenario.

Looking ahead to Week 16, here is a quick breakdown of matchups against the top and bottom defenses (based upon their rolling prior four week averages in a PPR format), and what players stand to be impacted:

Worst DSTs vs. RBs:

1. Cincinnati – (vs. Detroit) As injuries have continued to mount in the Bengals defense this season, their overall quality of play has diminished to the point of them being targeted, rather than avoided. Over the past four weeks the team has surrendered 722 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns, allowing the opposition to feast. Luckily for the team, this week they face one of the weakest running games in the league in Detroit, who favors passing the ball instead. The combination of Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and Tion Green will receive a bump up in projections, but none of these players should be viewed as more than a FLEX option in a PPR setting.
2. Detroit – (@Cincinnati) Yes, you read that correctly. The two worst rushing defenses in the league will be squaring off against each other in Week 16. Unlike the Lions backs against the Bengals, I can certainly get behind starting Joe Mixon or Giovani Bernard against the Lions, who have allowed a staggering 808 rushing yards and 9 rushing touchdowns over the last month. That is absurd. Mixon has been a full participant in recent practices and figures to inherit the majority of touches instantly, with Bernard mainly being a factor on passing downs. Mixon is an upside RB1 with Bernard a solid FLEX in all formats.
3. Buffalo – (@New England) The Bills were already planning on getting stomped against the offensive juggernaut known as the Patriots, and this porous DST certainly won’t help matters. Bill Belichick is a surgeon at exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition, so Fantasy owners should expect to see heavy doses of Dion Lewis and James White in this game, with Rex Burkhead still nursing a knee sprain. Lewis will be more involved between the 20’s and will take over the touches that Burkhead had around the goal line, with White coming in to spell him on obvious passing situations.
4. Green Bay – (vs. Minnesota) This game already figured to be rather uncompetitive after the loss of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, but the Vikings strong running game will give them the opportunity to dominate time of possession, even on the road. Minnesota uses a unique system that still sees both RBs receiving 15-20 touches per game, with Latavius Murray being more of the bruiser and Jerick McKinnon using his speed in space with the passing game. Again, both backs will be in play, with Murray falling inside my top 15 ranking this week, and McKinnon a top 20 option in PPR formats. The Packers don’t allow many rushing touchdowns in the red zone, but have surrendered nearly 700 yards on the ground since Week 12.

Best DSTs vs. RBs:

1. Minnesota – (@Green Bay) No change here in the rankings since Week 15. The Vikings continue to be incredibly stout on the ground, as they have been for the majority of 2017. As referenced earlier, the loss of several options in the passing game will force the Packers to be more reliant upon Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, which feeds right into Minnesota’s gamescript. Both backs will have a very difficult time running it inside or outside of the tackles, so expect Green Bay to shift to a screen play several times. Neither player is inside my top 30 this week, and with Jones now returning and stealing away carries, this split is best left to avoid.
2. Carolina - (vs. Tampa Bay) Even with Thomas Davis suspended this week after a nasty late hit on Davante Adams, the Panthers pack more than enough punch to subdue Peyton Barber. The Buccaneers opted to make Doug Martin a healthy scratch a few weeks ago due to his ineffectiveness, and is looking to be without O.J. Howard and possibly Cameron Brate in Week 16. Barber is a bruising back who excels in breaking tackles and picking up the tough short-yardage situations when called upon, but will face an uphill battle in this contest. His volume still makes him worthy of a FLEX option, but nothing more.
3. Denver – (@Washington) Slowly but surely, as the Broncos defense has been bolstered by healthy players returning after lengthy injury absences, their status has returned as one of the best units in the league. This week they face the Redskins and Samaje Perine, who has averaged a mere 2.8 yards per carry over the last three weeks. Perine’s overall volume still makes him worthy of a start due to a higher floor than most, but to expect anything more than 40-50 yards on the ground this week is a bit much. The Broncos are one of the few squads in the league who have allowed an average of 105 rushing yards or less over the past month.
4. Philadelphia – (vs. Oakland) Last week’s game against the New York Giants was closer than many expected, but that was as a result of Big Blue being able to pick up yards through the air, rather than on the ground. The strength of the Eagles defense still lies in their ability to limit yards after contact and gang tackle, a strategy which will benefit them as they face Marshawn Lynch. Though he isn’t the physical specimen that he was in years past, Lynch is still a bowling ball when he has a head of steam, and plays with more physicality than his 5’11, 215 lb. frame would suggest. Lynch’s workload has been a roller coaster since Week 7, and his total touches will be dictated by game flow. He is a FLEX option currently.

Worst DSTs vs. WRs:

1. Tampa Bay – (@Carolina) It speaks volumes that the Buccaneers still hold the worst ranking over the last month, even after they limited the Atlanta Falcons to 212 yards passing, and largely shut down Julio Jones last week. Improvements were made to be sure, but the team still allows nearly 300 passing yards per game, and is facing one of the hottest offenses in football. Cam Newton has limited options to work with at receiver, especially with Devin Funchess hurt. He will mainly look to Christian McCaffery and Greg Olsen to move them down the field again this week.
2. New England – (vs. Buffalo) The Bills lack of elite receiving options couldn’t even take advantage of this plus matchup, so there is very little sense bumping up anyone in projections. Kelvin Benjamin figures to lead the core in targets, but has been dealing with a knee injury for several weeks, and is doubtful to make a major impact outside of a red zone target. Zay Jones has had five receptions over the past four weeks, and has failed to put up more than 68 yards in any game this season. Buffalo is still in the hunt for a playoff spot and figures to make this a competitive game, but the offense mainly flows through LeSean McCoy and Charles Clay. Benjamin is a WR3 at best.
3. Kansas City – (vs. Miami) Similar to Tampa Bay, the Chiefs remain a bottom five option even after taking major strides forward last week. In a matchup that was supposed to be a shootout on paper, the Chiefs held Philip Rivers to just 227 passing yards, and caused three interceptions and a forced fumble. The Dolphins currently rank 20th in the league in passing yards per game, largely in part due to the inconsistent play at the quarterback position between Jay Cutler and Matt Moore. Jarvis Landry will remain a volume-based PPR WR1, while Kenny Stills and Davante Parker fit more into the FLEX discussion. Cornerback Marcus Peters figures to roam the field.
4. Dallas – (vs. Seattle) With both teams fighting for playoff contention in the NFC, this game figures to have one of the highest over/under lines of the week. The Cowboys have allowed nearly two touchdowns to WRs per game over the last four weeks, a trend that is likely to continue. Doug Baldwin remains Russell Wilson’s safety valve on scramble drills, with Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett being deep threats. All three receivers are perfectly viable options here, with Baldwin being a top-15 option, and Richardson/Lockett fitting into the FLEX category.

Best DSTs vs. WRs:

1. Jacksonville – (@San Francisco) First and foremost, can we all tip our caps to the Jaguars, who have finally come back to the playoffs after a decade? Well done. The main reason behind the team’s success in 2017 has unquestionably been their defense, which has held opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers in check. Jalen Ramsey is amongst the top cornerbacks in the league, and one of the few who can boast the “shutdown” title. The 49ers are coming off of three consecutive victories since starting Jimmy Garoppolo, largely led by Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor. Goodwin is dealing with a back injury and Taylor is purely a chain-moving option, so don’t be surprised to see San Francisco opt to give Carlos Hyde plenty of check-down looks instead when players are covered downfield.
2. Denver – (@Washington) I stated earlier than the Broncos defense is returning to form, both against the pass and run. Opponents have averaged 215 yards through the air over the last month, and Denver has allowed just two receiving touchdowns during that span. The Redskins were already rolling out a depleted core, and will have to rely upon Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson to carry them. Kirk Cousins is coming off of two consecutive games with under 200 passing yards, a trend which very well may continue here. Crowder is fine as a WR3 in PPR formats, but Doctson is no more than a dart throw.
3. Cincinnati – (vs. Detroit) The Lions have experienced major problems running the ball this year, which has forced them to operate much more of a pass-first option than offensive coordinator Jim-Bob Cooter would prefer. Even with that history playing into the strengths of the Bengals defense, I would still have a very hard time downgrading either Marvin Jones or Golden Tate too much, if at all. Matthew Stafford has averaged over 280 yards passing per game this year, and has really limited his interceptions. This would be an example of “not overthinking things”, as I laid out earlier.
4. Miami – (@Kansas City) The good news for the Dolphins secondary is that they only truly have one wide receiver to focus on from a coverage standpoint, in Tyreek Hill. The bad news is that Hill’s Olympic-esque speed makes him impossible to cover, as evidenced by his 15.6 YPC this season. An interesting statistic from RotoWorld is that each one of Hill’s seven touchdowns this season have come outside the red zone – that is primarily where Alex Smith’s focus shifts to Travis Kelce. Hill will still be a locked-and-loaded volatile option at WR1 this week.

Worst DSTs vs. TEs:

1. New York Giants – (@Arizona) The Giants are entering truly rarified air with how bad they have been against tight ends this year, to the point where I’ve received more than my fair share of questions about owners starting Ricky Seals-Jones in championship games. Ouch. Seals-Jones will still fall outside of my top 15 rankings at the position, but it wouldn’t be a major surprise if he finds the end zone against this Swiss-Cheese secondary.
2. Cleveland – (@Chicago) Again, this is another matchup where the weakness of one team can be offset by another. Just like the Cardinals, the Bears have quite literally no one of note worth starting at the position, even more so in the final week of the season. Gloss over this one for now.
3. Washington – (vs. Denver) More of the same here, folks. Anyone expecting the Denver Broncos tight end core of Virgil Green and Austin Traylor to come out and make a major splash is really, really reaching. Or in a 20-team Denver-only league. And even then…..

Best DSTs vs. TEs:

1. New Orleans – (vs. Atlanta) Finally, something to discuss at the tight end position. Wait, what did you say? Austin Hooper has averaged less than three receptions and 18 yards over the last five weeks? Yeesh. Not that anyone should have been starting Hooper anyway, but can he can be safely glossed-over in leagues.
2. Tampa Bay – (@Carolina) Ah, NOW we are getting somewhere. Greg Olsen finally experienced his big breakout game of the season, catching nine receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. As I hinted to earlier when discussing the Panthers wide receiving options (or lack thereof), owners should expect Cam Newton to continue peppering Olsen with targets, especially with Devin Funchess nursing a shoulder injury. The volume is likely to keep him atop the TE1 discussion.
3. Minnesota – (vs. Green Bay) With Aaron Rodgers out for the season and the team fielding the tandem of Richard Rodgers and Lance Kendricks, this is another matchup to gloss over. Hard pass.

Other players to consider:

RBs with an easy Week 16 schedule
Alex Collins (vs. IND)
Kenyan Drake (@KC)

RBs with a tough Week 16 schedule
Lamar Miller (vs. PIT)
Mike Davis (@DAL)
DeMarco Murray/Derrick Henry (vs. LAR)

WRs with an easy Week 16 schedule
Adam Thielen/Stefon Diggs (@GB)
Larry Fitzgerald (vs. NYG)

WRs with a tough Week 16 schedule
Robby Anderson/Jermaine Kearse (vs. LAC)
T.Y. Hilton (@BAL)

TEs with an easy Week 16 schedule
Evan Engram (@ARI)
Jack Doyle (@BAL

TEs with a tough Week 16 schedule
Vernon Davis (vs. DEN)
Jesse James (@HOU)
Antonio Gates (@NYJ)