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I usually start this column with "another week, another Monday," but that would be inappropriate this time around. Yes, today is actually Saturday, but this Monday isn't just any Monday either – it's a double order of Monday football that is going to determine fantasy champions all over the world! And while we're at it, here's a message to those of you in leagues that don't have the finals until Week 17: find a new league. To the rest of you, good luck this weekend. You've survived a wild and crazy year to give yourself a chance to take home a title (or two, or three).

Monday's late afternoon matchup sees the now Antonio Brown-less Steelers traveling to Houston to face the reeling Texans, coming off a fourth consecutive loss. Despite last week's late game dramatics to fall at the hands of Bill Belichick, Pittsburgh still has a chance at a first round bye and the top overall seed for the AFC playoffs. And speaking of first round byes, the Eagles can clinch just that with a win on Monday night as they host an underachieving Raiders team. Nick Foles looks to move to 2-0 as the starting QB in Philly, who still control their own destiny to the NFC's one seed.

Oh and merry Christmas.

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Week 16 NFL Game Notes

Sunday and Saturday games:

 
 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Houston Texans

Date and Start Time: Monday, December 25th at 4:30 p.m. EST

Game Spread: Steelers -10

Notables from Injury Report & Inactives:

  • Antonio Brown (WR, PIT) - Leg - OUT
  • Lardarius Green (TE, PIT) - Concussion - Questionable
  • Jadeveon Clowney (DE, HOU) - Knee - Questionable
  • DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU) - Toe - Questionable (expected to play)
  • Tom Savage (QB, HOU) - Concussion - Doubtful

 
Offensive and Defensive Rankings (through Week 15):

Steelers Texans
Passing Yards 2nd 18th
Rushing Yards 21st 15th
Pass Defense 5th 27th
Run Defense 8th 10th

 
 

Oakland Raiders @ Philadelphia Eagles

Date and Start Time: Monday, December 25th at 8:30 p.m. EST

Game Spread: Eagles -10.5

Notables from Injury Report & Inactives:

  • Jared Cook (TE, OAK) - Wrist - Questionable (expected to play)
  • Amari Cooper (WR, OAK) - Ankle - Questionable (expected to play)
  • David Amerson (CB, OAK) - Foot - Questionable
  • Carson Wentz (QB, PHI) - Knee - OUT

 
Offensive and Defensive Rankings (through Week 15):

Raiders Eagles
Passing Yards 16th 8th
Rushing Yards 25th 2nd
Pass Defense 23rd 22nd
Run Defense 15th 1st

 
 

Must Starts

Top Players That You Should Have In Your Lineup

Le'veon Bell (RB, PIT)

The league leader in total yards, Bell is averaging an absurd 28.9 touches per game. He's going on four straight weeks now with 25+ points in PPR leagues, and he hasn't had a single digit scoring week since Week 1. He's already matchup-proof and all but guaranteed for 20+ touches, and this spot gets even juicier with Antonio Brown sidelined due to a partially torn calf muscle. Houston's run defense is actually not bad, but Le'veon is the safest play in all of fantasy this week.

DeAndre Hopkins (WR, HOU)

On the other side of the ball, Hopkins has sustained consistency despite the lackluster quarterback carousel in Houston. Since TJ Yates has taken over under center two weeks ago, Nuk has hauled in three scores on 14.5 targets per game. He's seen double digit targets in all but three games, and hasn't totaled under 75 yards since Week 6. Chances are that the Texans are going to be playing from behind on Monday, which means that they'll need to utilize their best offensive weapon. Don't hesitate because of the matchup.

Ben Roethlisberger (QB, PIT)

Big Ben on the road is not the same as Big Ben at home. He hasn't thrown more than two touchdowns in any game this year away from Heinz Field, but he hasn't thrown more than one interception either. In fact, both his best and worst games have been in Pittsburgh. So why is he listed as a must start? Because you more or less know what you're going to get out of him, even without AB. Houston's pass defense is one of the weakest in the league, and Ben should be good for 250-300 yards. He's unlikely to put up a truly monstrous day, but he should be at least a low-end QB1 this week, specifically given all of the injuries at the position.

Zach Ertz (TE, PHI)

I realize that Ertz has been particularly volatile over the last few weeks, but there are only two or three tight ends at the entire position that can truly be trusted on a weekly basis. The short of it is, if you have Ertz you are playing him. His bad weeks are bad, but he's put up more good weeks than most other tight ends, and he scored a touchdown on 56 yards last week in Foles' first start of the season. The Eagles should be able to move the ball at will against the Raiders, so you'll want as many pieces of the passing attack as you can.

 

Must Sits

Players To Avoid Putting In Your Lineup

Amari Cooper (WR, OAK)

One of 2017's biggest disappointments, it simply hasn't come together this year for Cooper (or the Raiders as a whole). If you take away his 210-yard performance in Week 7, he's averaging just 36.1 yards per game, and that isn't even counting Weeks 12 and 14, either of which he didn't play the whole game. He was held out last week against Dallas with an ankle injury, but is expected to play in Philly. Nonetheless, he's virtually impossible to trust, healthy or not.

Lamar Miller (HOU, RB)

Speaking of impossible to trust, how about a running back averaging 3.6 yards per carry on a team that's scored 20 points just once in the last seven weeks? The touches have more or less been there for Miller (outside of last week's blowout in Jacksonville), but the production hasn't. The game flow is unlikely to be in his favor on Monday, and the Steelers are likely to stack the box with Yates at QB. He's not the absolute worst play if you have no other options, but his ceiling is severely capped.

Any Tight End in the PIT/HOU Game

Both Jesse James and Stephen Anderson have had double digit target games over the last month, but each of those games were also the only time it happened to either of them all season. James was at the center of last week's much disputed ending against New England, but he finished with just 7 receiving yards. Still though, that's seven more than Anderson saw in Jacksonville. If you have absolutely no other choices, go with James over Anderson simply because he's more likely to have a role, but I'd recommend staying far away from both.

Entire Eagles Backfield

It's admittedly a little weird to have the entire backfield of the #2 rushing team in football listed here, but there's only so many touches to go around. Jay Ajayi is the obvious choice if you are going to fire up one of the running backs, but even he's surpassed double digits PPR points just twice since being in Philly. The presence of LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement haven't been anything to write home about either, but none of the above have reached the end zone in any of the last three games. I'd rather look elsewhere than take a chance on a 12-15 touch RB in a pass-first offense (Ajayi).

 

Solid Options/Sleepers

Which Players Will Have Solid Games and Which Could Surprise?

Solid Option - JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, PIT)

Nobody may benefit more from Antonio Brown's absence than the NFL's youngest player, who turned in his second 100+ yard performance of the season last week. He should be good for at least 6-7 targets and is a WR2-3 with upside for more in all formats.

Solid Option - Martavis Bryant (WR, PIT)

He has less upside than JuJu, but he's had at least four catches in each of the last four weeks. With AB out (have you heard?), there's little reason that he can't replicate that number.

Solid Option - Michael Crabtree (WR, OAK)

One of the few pieces in the Raiders offense worth consideration, Crabtree's been the only semblance of consistency out of the passing attack. With seven catches in each of the last two games and double digit targets in both, he's a super safe play in a game that Oakland will likely be playing from behind. I have him as a WR2 this week, and a better (safer) option than either of the two guys above.

Solid Option - Alshon Jeffrey (WR, PHI)

There's a lot of receivers worth firing up on Monday, but how about the #1 receiver on one of the most high-powered offenses in football? No matter who is at QB, the ball is likely to be spread out pretty well for Philadelphia, but Alshon is almost in must start territory having scored at least one touchdown in six of the last seven games.

Solid Option - Nelson Agholor (WR, PHI)

It's pretty crazy to think that Agholor has been a legitimate fantasy option almost all season long, but here we are. Averaging over seven catches and 88 yards in the last three games played, he'll continue to be a WR3 with Foles under center for a second week.

Sleeper - Marshawn Lynch (RB, OAK)

The Raiders are close to dead last in the NFL in rushing yards and the Eagles are ranked first in rushing defense, so this makes no sense right? Exactly right. Almost nobody is going to be on Marshawn this week, which is part of the reason I like him. I also like him because he's averaging over 5.5 yards per carry in the last three weeks, and has found the end zone in three of the last four. It'll take some cajones to pull the trigger on him in your championship week, but I think he's a sneaky good play.

Sleeper - Nick Foles (QB, PHI)

Probably a little less sneaky, the Eagles offense looked just fine last week under Foles. The rushing attack is good enough to keep defenses honest, and the raucous Philadelphia crowd will be in full force on Christmas night. Though I have him listed as a sleeper and Big Ben as a must start, I ironically think Foles will finish ahead of Roethlisberger as a clear cut QB1 this week. He's just a little more risky since we've seen so little of him.

 

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