Heroes and Zeroes - Week 16 Fantasy Football Picks

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This season, we are treated to a full slate of games on Christmas Eve in the most important fantasy week of all! (Cue inspiring holiday music set to the tune of Hank Williams Jr.'s MNF anthem). Although the NFL is most closely associated with Thanksgiving in terms of holidays, it really makes the perfect allegory for a Christmas Carol.

Fantasy owners with long memories will take this time to reminisce over their draft day fails and recount all the players they should have taken instead. These would be known as the Ghost of Fantasy Football Past. Owners who drafted well, but lost nonetheless last week on the shoulders of their stars will no doubt be haunted by Ghosts of Fantasy Football Present as they watch Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Doug Baldwin, and Devin Funchess rack up points the week after they needed it. As for the Ghosts of Fantasy Football Future, let's just say the prospect of seeing potential stars like Josh Rosen in a Browns jersey or Saquon Barkley in a Lions jersey should be scary apparitions for devy owners.

Now, let's get to my fantasy "heroes" and "zeroes" at each position for Week 16 of the NFL season. For a full set of rankings, look no further than our very own RotoBaller consensus weekly rankings.

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Week 16 Lineup Heroes

QUARTERBACK

Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings - The former run-and-shoot quarterback hasn't needed to be a gunslinger this year as he was back in his college days, but he can pull out a big game when needed. With Aaron Rodgers going on IR, it would seem that the Packers are rolling over the rest of this year, making this a gimme for the Vikings. A division rivalry is still in play here, however, and the Packers were getting their offense going with Brett Hundley at the helm just before Rodgers returned. The Vikes are still fighting for home field advantage, so Keenum won't just be handing off all game. The Packers defense is far easier to throw against than run, so it won't take a high volume of attempts for Keenum to be effective. He probably has a ceiling of about 320 yards and three touchdowns, but his floor would seem to be at least two TD, since he's recorded as many in each of the last four games against better defenses. He may even be a safer play than Drew Brees this week.

Nick Foles, Philadelphia Eagles - If I liked him last week, why shouldn't I love him this week? The Eagles passed more than expected, but that came out of necessity since their defense failed to show up against the hapless Giants. This week's opponent, the New Vegas Raiders, haven't shown up at all the last couple of weeks and are all but out of the playoff race now. They'll make one last desperate attempt by trying to beat the NFC's best team on the road, but Foles should have no problem racking up points against a defense that averages less than one turnover per game on the year (four interceptions and eight fumbles recovered).

RUNNING BACKS

Dion Lewis, New England Patriots - This week's game should contain far less drama for the Patriots than Catchgate (or Replaygate if you prefer). The Bills may be playoff-bound, but they still have one of the worst run defenses around. Rex Burkhead is out, so the backfield is all for Lewis. Don't even mention Mike Gillislee to me... The Pats won't need to air it out as much as last week, so Lewis should have an easy road to 15+ carries. The last two times he saw that many rush attempts, in Weeks 12 and 13, he ran for 112 and 92 yards respectively. He is an absolute must-start in fantasy leagues and a safe bet in cash games this weekend.

Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions - Who is the starting running back for the Lions, officially? Is is still Ameer Abdullah, or newcomer Tion Green, or does Riddick fit the bill? It doesn't really matter, as the Lions never run the ball much anyway. What does matter is that Riddick is the main pass-catching back and the most consistent player. None of the three average so much as four yards per carry, but Riddick is up to 48 catches on the year, placing him one behind Melvin Gordon and Kareem Hunt for ninth among all RB. He happens to be going up against the Bengals, who have allowed the most receiving yards to running backs this season. He's more of a safe play in PPR leagues, but one that shouldn't be left on benches if you like a sure 10+ points.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Devin Funchess, Carolina Panthers - It was soul-crushing for many Funchess owners to see Cam Newton go berserk (yeah, I kind of blew that call), yet watch their receiver catch one ball for 19 yards. Damiere Byrd was the unexpected beneficiary last week, but don't worry about Funchess. He should square off against the lesser of Tampa's corners, Ryan Smith. The Bucs have not employed shadow coverage at all this season, and Funchess probably wouldn't call for that treatment anyway. Fire him up as your WR2 with confidence.

Eli Rogers, Pittsburgh Steelers - I could have taken the easy route and gone with Juju Smith-Schuster, but that's too obvious. With Antonio Brown sadly MIA for the fantasy playoffs, JJSS should take his place on the outside and face the most embattled CB in the league these days, Houston's Kevin Johnson. Taking his place in the slot is Eli Rogers, who will slide right under the radar. Technically, Darrius Heyward-Bey saw more snaps than Rogers in Week 15, but on the year Rogers has the edge 333-73. Heyward-Bey could be a punt play in deep tournaments, but Rogers is the better bet to haul in a few long receptions and possibly his second touchdown in as many weeks.

TIGHT END

Antonio Gates, Los Angeles Chargers - As much as I want to put Ricky Seals-Jones back in this spot, now that the Blaine Gabbert experiment is over, it's time to give due to a forgotten star of fantasy past. Gates will ride off into the sunset with the all-time touchdown record for tight ends at the end of this season. He may have another score or two in him before it's all said and done. Hunter Henry was put on IR this week due to a lacerated kidney, which means Gates could see his biggest volume yet. Realistically, you can't expect a player whose season high is three catches for 32 yards to suddenly go hogwild, but it's all about the red zone here. Gates is actually third on the team in red zone targets this season with eight, ahead of every wide receiver not named Keenan Allen. Their opponent, the Jets, are among the more generous defenses to tight ends with 669 yards and eight TD allowed on the year. It wouldn't be shocking to see Gates register touchdown number 114 in Week 16, making him a viable play for those who stream in standard leagues.

 

Week 16 Lineup Zeroes

QUARTERBACKS

Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins - If he wants to get out of being hit with the franchise tag for what seems like the 17th year in a row, Cousins simply needs to play better. The lack of running game and inept coaching are holding him back, so you can't hold Cousins personally accountable for his recent drop in production, but when it's time to negotiate, the numbers can and will be used against him. In the last three games, he is averaging 199 yards per game with a 5:3 TD:INT ratio. Cousins traditionally plays better in December, but this year's Skins just don't have enough weapons to make him a fantasy starter any more. Now that Denver's Air Raid defense is back, you need to look elsewhere for your championship-winning QB.

Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Famous Jameis hasn't been eating too many W's lately, but he did put up a fine fantasy performance in Week 15. Winston tossed three TD and fell one yard short of 300 on the day, giving him seven TD and an average of 285 yards in the three games since returning from a sprained AC joint injury. The Carolina defense showed it's still susceptible to the pass by allowing similar numbers to Aaron Rodgers last week, but they aren't always so generous. They rank just 21st in terms of fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks and they are tougher at home, allowing nearly half as many passing touchdowns. With no O.J. Howard and possibly no DeSean Jackson, Winston makes for a super-risky play. Deploy only in deep two-QB leagues.

RUNNING BACKS

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans - In trying to think of a good reason to justify starting Miller anywhere this week, I simply couldn't find one. On the season, he's only carried the ball 20 or more times twice and his season high is 75 rushing yards. That's right, not only has he not cracked the 100-yard mark, he hasn't even cracked 80 on the ground. His receiving output is modest at best--he hasn't caught more than four passes in a game and has gone over 40 receiving yards just once. He is TD-dependent, but even at that you could point to the fact he's only found the end zone in four games. The Steelers defense isn't what it used to be, but they are no slouch either. You're settling big time if you play Miller for his perceived floor, especially with T.J. Yates at quarterback.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers - The Jimmy G era has been glorious for 49ers fans so far. While the receivers (whatever their names are) are loving it, Carlos Hyde probably not so much. In the three games since Garoppolo took over, Hyde is averaging 16 carries for 52 yards, good for a 3.3 Y/A. He's caught five of eight targets in those games for just 26 yards. Now that the Niners don't need to rely on Hyde to move the ball, he is firmly in RB3 territory. Facing the Jags crushes any hope of parlaying that into fantasy stardom in Championship Week. The myth that they are great against the pass but vulnerable to the run can be squashed; they allow the sixth-fewest fantasy points to RB this year. They are good against everything. Hyde, unfortunately, is not.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Robby Anderson, New York Jets - It was fun while it lasted, but it's time to jump off the Anderson bandwagon. Apparently, Bryce Petty no longer works wonders for Anderson's value as he did last season, even though the target volume has been there. Anderson has caught just eight of 18 targets for a total of 67 yards the last two games. Sure, those were two tough road games against good defenses, but this time around he'll get a heaping helping of Casey Hayward all afternoon, who currently sits at the #1 position as top-graded CB in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus. Anderson showed he has great long-term value and could become a weekly WR2, but not in this matchup with everything on the line.

TIGHT END

Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys - It may be your first instinct to trust a veteran on a good team when deciding between any of the 20 tight ends that may or may not score this weekend, but Witten should be scratched off the list outright. There is no more matchup-dependent TE this year than Witten. First off, if you aren't chasing touchdowns at this position, you're doing it wrong. Once you get past the top six scoring tight ends, you're looking at no more than four receptions per game, what Witten is averaging this year, which shouldn't make or break your lineup decision. For scoring upside, Witten figures to be a dud this week against Seattle. He has five TD on the year, but four of those have come against teams that are in the top-four in terms of fantasy points allowed to tight ends (Redskins, Broncos, Giants). In other words, when the fish are presented to him in barrel form, he doesn't miss his shot. The Seahawks are on the other end of the spectrum in terms of defending the tight end and will want to show some pride after being run out of the building by the Rams last week. I expect Witten to be a non-factor and would prefer someone like Ben Watson, who has a far better matchup.

 

More Week 16 Lineup Prep