Fantasy Cheat Sheet: The 10 tips that will help you win in Week 16
You have analyzed, and perhaps even overanalyzed, everything all season. You won't stop now, especially with your fantasy football championship on the line.
Thankfully, NFL teams are not yet resting players for the postseason, which can strip the strongest of fantasy teams of their lead dogs. Unless you eked by in Week 15, your championship-caliber fantasy team is loaded with viable starting options.
SI.com's Cheat Sheet helps you pick between the good and the great, outlining the top 10 tips to help you win in the all-important Week 16:
1. The player's the thing.
You've set lineups all season and made it this far knowing what you're doing, but an interesting dilemma looms if you have a guy like Tony Romo as a secondary quarterback option this week. Do you have to play him because he is facing the Saints defense that has been second-worst in fantasy versus QBs, allowing a league-high 27 touchdown passes?
Yes, you can expect 350 yards and three TDs -- if not even more -- from Romo in that delectable matchup, but he should remain on your bench if you have the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton. We said those, and Matt Ryan, were the only ones that should start over Romo this week. Then, Ryan went out and tossed four TDs on Saturday night in a relatively neutral matchup, showing exactly why you stick with your steady starters in fantasy crunch time. Even if Romo projects to score the most points at the QB position, you stick with what has brought you here. Just ask last week's supposed beneficiary of the Saints matchup, Josh Freeman, who choked away countless fantasy championship hopes, throwing four interceptions without a TD versus the Saints. It proved once again players win fantasy games, not matchups. One tweeter asked to sit Ryan in favor of Romo. It seemed justifiable, because Ryan had slowed while Romo has taken off in the season's second half. But it needs to be reminded, Romo has outscored Ryan in fantasy only six times through 15 weeks, and one of those was Ryan's bye week. Romo just doesn't provide the consistency an elite fantasy QB like Ryan provides. Ryan over Romo this week is the prime example of how you start your studs.
And is anyone sitting Adrian Peterson against fantasy's No. 4 team versus RBs? No way.
2. Yes, you have to play RGIII.
No, RGIII didn't get you here, technically speaking, because he was a DNP goose egg last week. Kirk Cousins or some other fill-in got you by, but you have to get your fantasy rookie of the year active again.
A sore knee for a read-option QB who relies on his legs just as much as his arm for fantasy points can be a bad omen, but the success of Cousins last week shows just how confident the Redskins are in the health of RGIII. They have to feel Cousins would be perfectly capable of taking down the Eagles -- eighth-worst in fantasy versus QBs -- after his performance a week ago.
The fact they're fully prepared to put RGIII back out there, despite that, should give you all the confidence in the world RGIII can lead you to a victory this week.
3. WR question mark of the week: Hakeem Nicks.
We expressed a bit too much confidence last week in the likes of White (knee), Hakeem Nicks (knee) and Dez Bryant (broken finger), suggesting all three would be good for six catches for 60 yards and a TD. The results were awful for White (two catches for 16 yards) and Nicks (three catches for 40 yards). Only Bryant came close to coming through: four catches for 59 yards and a TD.
White, still not 100 percent, was the most-viewed player in fantasy Saturday, so there were obviously many still left with the question of whether to start him. He responded with a remarkable eight catches for 153 yards and two TDs.
It might be the Ryan-like example of why you need to trust a guy like Nicks. No, Nicks hasn't had a season like White, but he is still in that class, potentially, and is worthy of staying active if you're weighing him against the inconsistent likes of: Danario Alexander, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Williams, Kenny Britt, Greg Jennings or Larry Fitzgerald.
Here are some of the wild cards you should consider starting over Nicks, especially because his matchup at Baltimore is as shaky as his own health: Miles Austin, Brandon Lloyd, Cecil Shorts, James Jones, Randall Cobb, Stevie Johnson, Pierre Garcon and Danny Amendola.
4. RB question mark of the week: Ahmad Bradshaw.
Bradshaw (knee) was cleared medically and was able to practice Friday, so you should feel confident in him being active and starting for the Giants on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore. You shouldn't feel any confidence he is going to perform, though, even if he is facing an aging and declining Ravens defense that is uncharacteristically eighth-worst in fantasy versus RBs.
Bradshaw can play with his sore knee. You cannot star, though. You should keep him reserved.
The news he is on the right side of questionable makes it more obvious you have to sit explosive rookie David Wilson. If Wilson was going to be a trustworthy option for you in crunch time, he would have showed it last week against the Falcons. Instead, the Giants showed so much confidence in Wilson, they gave an equivalent number of touches to Kregg Lumpkin, someone they signed off the street just a few short weeks ago.
Don't trust Bradshaw or Wilson, no matter how appealing that Ravens matchup might appear.
5. TE question mark of the week: Rob Gronkowski.
You shouldn't be following the day-to-day news on this guy. The Patriots like to be coy with their injury report, but they are consistent in their conservative approach of avoiding counting on players at less than 100 percent.
Gronkowki, who is just past the four-week mark in his 4-to-6 week broken arm, has been ruled inactive Sunday. The Patriots just wouldn't risk Gronk's postseason availability in what is a relatively meaningless, easy game at Jacksonville this week.
It is exactly the news Aaron Hernandez (ankle) owners want to hear. Lloyd and Wes Welker owners should be well-served this week, too.
6. Some more must-sit players to avoid this week:
• WR Torrey Smith (questionable, concussion), Ravens -- He is expected to play after his concussion a week ago and he is facing that awful Giants secondary, but he is too big of a risk for inconsistent production just as much as his injury. Anquan Boldin is a nice sleeper for this reason and is the better play than Smith.
• RB Jonathan Stewart (questionable, ankle), Panthers -- He was able to participate in practice on a limited basis Friday, but he remained inactive Sunday. The news Stewart won't play is good news for the resurgent DeAngelo Williams, who is facing a Raiders defense that is fifth-worst in fantasy versus RBs. Williams is one of those players you should cringe with if you have to trust him to bring home a fantasy title.
• WR Sidney Rice (questionable, knee), Seahawks -- The knee might not keep him out of a pivotal division game against the 49ers, but it should be the clincher to help you sit him in the matchup against the best team in fantasy versus WRs. Golden Tate is only slightly more intriguing, but both should be avoided, if possible.
• RB Bryce Brown, Eagles -- He is healthy, but he has declined the past couple of weeks and still has those fumbling issues. To top it off, LeSean McCoy (concussion) is returning to the starting lineup. Brown might have been a gem for you down the stretch of the fantasy regular season, but he cannot be trusted against the sixth-best rush defense in the NFL, Washington. McCoy, however, is a solid play, if not a must-start.
• WR Greg Jennings, Packers -- He isn't on the injury report anymore, and Jordy Nelson (hamstring) remains out, but Jennings is too risky to trust in crunch time. Like some early round picks, Jennings is not the reason you're still playing fantasy football. Jennings hasn't managed more than 50 yards all season and he hasn't scored a TD since coming down with the sports hernia in Week 4.
7. Don't chase last week's higher scorer.
There are good reasons one-week wonders rarely become two-week wonders. Consistency is paramount in fantasy crunch time. We'll use the Cardinals D/ST as the example here.
It was a nice surprise if you played the Cardinals D/ST last week, as they blew out Detroit, but it is a huge risk trusting them again in Week 16 playing host to the Bears. That two-sack, four-turnover, two-TD performance against the lame-duck Lions made the Cardinals D/ST the most-activated fantasy player -- not just D/ST unit -- in CBSSports.com's leagues this week.
You can't blame those fantasy owners that stream defenses for chasing with that move, especially with the Bears ranking in the bottom half of fantasy against opposing D/STs (due to the high sack and interception totals).
Here's where that is going to break down there, though: The Bears aren't out of contention and won't get blown out. In fact, the bet here is the Bears defense obliterates the mess that is the Cardinals' awful QB situation and stuffs their mediocre running game, orchestrating a blowout the other way.
8. If you stream D/STs, we rank your best alternatives.
If you're counting on the Cardinals defense, be afraid and make a move. Here are the defenses we suggest you stream over them, or another defense you're worried about in a bad matchup:
• Chargers -- The Jets stink because they're gutless. They don't have the guts to play Tim Tebow, a QB that led a team to a division title and a postseason victory a year ago. Now, the QB the Chargers get to face is Greg McElroy. Mark Sanchez will back him up. The Jets have had opportunity to fold months ago. Now, that they're officially eliminated from postseason contention, expect them to play their worst, which can be pretty bad. The Jets were already the sixth-worst team in fantasy versus D/STs. Specifically, in this matchup, the Chargers are best at stopping the one area the Jets are moderately capable: the running game. It is going to be a long day for any Jets QB not named Tebow here.
• Jets -- This is not a hedge as much as a belief this Chargers-Jets game is going to be like most Jets games, all defense. The Chargers are the eighth-worst team in fantasy versus D/STs and the Chargers are a west coast team playing a 1 p.m. game on the east coast. The Jets' pathetic offense will make it tough for this unit to star, though, so choose the Chargers as a first choice.
• Dolphins -- It is surprising to see how low the ownership is on this defense, just 38 percent in Yahoo leagues. That is less than the Jets (61 percent) and the Chargers (47), too. The matchup is a good one, too, as the Bills are the ninth-worst team in fantasy versus D/STs. If you're looking for safe, the Dolphins playing at home are an even better bet than the Chargers or Jets. At least that team hasn't played like dogs of late.
• Redskins -- To be clear, the Redskins are not a good defense on their own, but the matchup is too good to ignore. The Eagles are the worst team in fantasy versus opposing D/STs and the Redskins are clearly playing for something here. The Eagles don't stand a chance.
9. Some struggling RBs facing great matchups deserve your faith.
You might not like these guys of late, but the matchups line up nicely for a rebound here:
• Stevan Ridley, Patriots -- The Jags are the second-worst team in fantasy versus RBs and the Patriots are going to have a lot of opportunity to run out the clock on the ground here. He's a must-start with the potential 100 yards and multiple touchdowns, even if Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead are also rotated in.
• DeMarco Murray, Cowboys -- Your patience has paid off handsomely here. Murray faces the worst team in fantasy versus RBs in a must-win game for the Cowboys. You have to love a star like this one in a favorable matchup with so much at stake for his team.
• Reggie Bush, Dolphins -- Not only is Bush facing the third-worst team in fantasy versus RBs, but he also won't have to contend with TD vulture Daniel Thomas, who has been ruled out for the year. The Dolphins might be wise to take an extended look at rookie Lamar Miller, but Bush stands to earn himself a free-agent deal elsewhere with a big performance here.
• Darren McFadden, Raiders -- Here is another disappointing player few people can trust but faces a very good matchup in crunch time. The Panthers are the sixth-worst team in fantasy versus RBs, McFadden has finally proven healthy and has TDs in each of the past two weeks since his return.
10. Some lower-end WRs facing favorable matchups deserve your faith, too.
Their numbers have been inconsistent, but the promise for production this week is intriguing with these receivers:
• Miles Austin, Cowboys -- The Saints have improved in recent weeks, particularly with that shutout of the Bucs, but Romo and the Cowboys have much better talent on the outside to exploit the secondary. Austin is coming off a seven-catch, 79-yard performance against one of the best teams in fantasy versus WRs. He should be good for 6-100-1 against the Saints.
• Danny Amendola, Rams -- His foot issues have been problematic, but the Vikings couldn't stop him (6-58-1). The worst team in fantasy against WRs (Tampa Bay) might make Amendola as good as he has been all year. Sam Bradford is also hot, too.
• Anquan Boldin, Ravens -- The Giants are the fourth-worst team in fantasy versus WRs and Smith is questionable with a concussion. Boldin is a nice sleeper to reproduce the double-digit fantasy points he has posted in each of the past two weeks. Even Smith proves to be a factor, the Giants are a desperate team that has to make this game a shootout late, if they fall behind. The pace should be in Boldin's favor.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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