Saturday Night Football
Atlanta @ Detroit
So much for The Madden Curse. Calvin Johnson must average 91 receiving yards per game in Weeks 16-17 to break Jerry Rice's single-season record of 1,848. Megatron is averaging 119.1 yards per game this year and averaged 105.1 last year, so he looks like a cinch for the all-time mark. Playing indoors at Ford Field in the NFL's pass-heaviest offense, there isn’t a better receiver play in fantasy title week. ... Matthew Stafford's target distribution since Ryan Broyles and Titus Young were declared done for the year in Week 13: Johnson 50, Tony Scheffler 22, Kris Durham and Joique Bell 14, Brandon Pettigrew and Will Heller 8, Mikel Leshoure 6, Mike Thomas 4. ... Although Scheffler's production has underwhelmed since being elevated to the No. 2 option in Detroit's pass game, he's played nearly 70 percent of the offensive snaps the past two weeks and will square off Saturday night with a Falcons defense that has allowed the 12th most yards to tight ends. Scheffler is in a good situation, and this is a good matchup. He's a worthwhile back-end TE1 for fantasy leaguers still scrambling at the position. ... Pettigrew suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 14 and may not play the rest of the way. ... Midseason trade acquisition Thomas has fallen behind Durham, who was on the practice squad three weeks ago. Even in a high-volume Lions passing attack, only Johnson and Scheffler are realistic Week 16 fantasy starts.
There are a few reliable aspects to Stafford's game: He delivers the ball with power and velocity. He teases with accurate throws from different platforms, before one is inevitably returned for a pick six. Volume can buoy Stafford in an offense that leads the NFL in pass attempts -- by 64 (nearly two games' worth). Much less reliable has been his fantasy performance. Chiefly to blame for the Lions' six-game losing streak, Stafford has churned out clunkers in three of the last five weeks. Even against Atlanta's feisty, opportunistic pass defense, Stafford is plenty capable of rebounding from last week's Disaster in the Desert. Will he deliver? Your guess is as good as mine. One thing is for sure: Gambling LCB Asante Samuel is licking his chops. ... Detroit's ground game has a favorable matchup versus Atlanta's No. 24 run defense, although the usage split between Leshoure and Bell has been a bit of a weekly conundrum. While Bell tends to be more involved when Detroit encounters pass-heavy situations, Leshoure has established himself as the superior fantasy play with a stranglehold on goal-line work. He's scored seven touchdowns over the last seven games, despite managing just 196 yards on his last 64 runs (3.06 YPC). Though Leshoure runs with purpose and power, he's been a bit of a plodder in his first season back from a torn Achilles'. He's still a respectable flex option in what projects as a high-scoring game. Change-of-pace back Bell should not be under consideration for fantasy title contenders.
Matt Ryan endured a four-game slump that began right after midseason, but he's snapped out of it since. Still sixth in QB scoring, Ryan has completed 50 of his last 67 passes (74.6 percent) for 572 yards (8.54 YPA) and a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio. He shredded a red-hot Giants defense last week. Facing the NFC's most banged-up secondary Saturday, Ryan should have no trouble staying hot in the dome. Only Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and perhaps Tony Romo would be superior Week 16 quarterback plays. ... Ryan's target distribution since Julio Jones returned from his ankle scare four games ago: Jones 34, Roddy White 30, Tony Gonzalez 26, Jason Snelling 13, Jacquizz Rodgers and Harry Douglas 11, Michael Turner 6. ... With White battling a balky knee, Jones has seamlessly stepped into Atlanta's No. 1 pass option role. Jones has four touchdowns during that month-long span, catching at least five passes in all four games. Expect more fireworks in Julio's matchup with Lions sixth-round rookie RCB Jonte Green. ... At least for receiver-rich fantasy owners, White should be viewed as a dicier play. White has reached pay dirt once over his last eight games, and projects to man up with Lions top CB Chris Houston on the majority of Saturday's snaps. The game's high-scoring outlook and ideal environs will make White impossible to bench in three-receiver leagues, but he's more WR3 than WR2 in Week 16.
The Lions permit the eighth most fantasy points and fourth most touchdowns to tight ends. Still the No. 1 fantasy tight end on the year, Gonzo should be locked into lineups on Saturday night. ... Douglas' 83 yards in Week 15 were his most in 19 games and not a sign of things to come. ... Turner has scored a touchdown in five straight games. He's just become impossible to project for productive rushing efforts with 237 yards on his last 80 carries (2.96 YPC). As is always the case, Turner paying dividends as a Week 16 fantasy starter will depend wholly on whether he scores at the goal line. Turner is a dice-roll flex play. ... Even during the five-week period where his role has increased significantly at the expense of Turner's, Rodgers has averaged just 11 touches for 54 total yards per game, with one touchdown. Rodgers has not been a strong fantasy start at any point this year, and lacks the natural running ability to be one in the future. Although he can make defenders miss in space, Quizz possesses scant short-area burst and minimal power at 5'6/196.
Score Prediction: Falcons 30, Lions 24
1:00PM ET Games
New Orleans @ Dallas
At a seemingly conservative 51.5 points, Saints-Cowboys has the largest over-under of Week 16. Both clubs field top-four passing offenses, and they'll do battle beneath the JerryWorld dome. Be excited to start your studs. ... "He is driving this team to victory in desperate measures," ESPN's Steve Young said of Tony Romo on this week's Monday Night Countdown. "I think the last two weeks of the season are gonna be more of this; making the big throws." Added Ron Jaworski, "I'm not sure the (Cowboys) win a game without Tony Romo. He's been absolutely phenomenal. Over the last month, he's been carrying the football team." Across the past four weeks, Romo has a 9:3 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging 338.3 passing yards per game. Only Cam Newton, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees are superior title-week quarterback plays. ... Since breaking his left index finger in the fourth quarter of Week 14, Dez Bryant has secured 6-of-11 targets for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Sure to be more comfortable in his second game playing through the injury, Bryant needs to be viewed as a high-upside WR1 versus New Orleans' No. 31 pass defense. "The one thing that stands out on film -- and this is necessary if you're truly to reach that elite level at receiver -- is he now wins against double coverage," NFL Films guru Greg Cosell said of Bryant on Adam Caplan's Week 16 Preview Podcast. "All elite receivers get double covered, and you've gotta be able to win. And he's winning against double coverage, and that's critical."
The Saints have allowed the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends and will play without FS Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring) on Sunday. On pace to break Tony Gonzalez's single-season record for receptions by a tight end, Jason Witten should be locked into fantasy lineups. ... Whereas Bryant will attempt to get open against Saints outside CBs Patrick Robinson and Jabari Greer, Miles Austin arguably has the most attractive Week 16 matchup of Dallas pass catchers versus a New Orleans defense that has struggled to defend slot receivers all year long. They used special teamer Elbert Mack in the role last week. Austin is a rock-solid WR3 with a higher ceiling than his recent stats suggest. ... Proving his ankle injury is behind him, DeMarco Murray has hit pay dirt in all three games since returning in Week 13. Also averaging 23.3 touches a game over that span, Murray is approaching RB1 value versus the Saints' 31st-ranked run defense. Finding a groove with 110 yards on his last 22 carries (5.00 YPC), Murray is operating as a true every-down back, as well. Phased out of the offense, Felix Jones has totaled nine snaps the past two weeks.
"He was a turnover machine," Jaws conceded of Brees, referring to Weeks 13-14. "Well, all that stopped (in Week 15). No. 9 looked like the Drew Brees we've come to know and love." Brees shredded the Bucs for 307 yards and four touchdowns, avoiding turnovers for the first time since Week 11. While the Cowboys' No. 14 pass defense is better than Tampa Bay's, Dallas has glaring holes over the middle and down the seam after losing both starting inside linebackers to injured reserve. Top backup Ernie Sims is tentatively expected to play despite suffering a concussion last week. Brees can attack Sims and replacement ILBs Dan Connor and Alex Albright with success, and is a shoo-in top-five QB1. ... Brees' target distribution over the last three games: Jimmy Graham 25, Darren Sproles 24, Lance Moore 20, Marques Colston 18, Pierre Thomas 13, Devery Henderson 8, Joe Morgan 7, David Thomas 2. ... Graham's numbers are down due to a nagging wrist injury and increased defensive attention, but he's still been hogging targets and will be Brees' best means of exposing Dallas' inside 'backer deficiencies. Heath Miller poured seven catches, 92 yards, and a touchdown on the Cowboys last week, and after the game Ben Roethlisberger complained that Steelers OC Todd Haley didn't exploit that matchup enough. Pay-dirt due after a four-game scoring drought, Graham is the No. 2 fantasy tight end in champions week, behind only Aaron Hernandez.
Look for Colston to get back on track as well against a Cowboys defense scrambling at slot corner following Orlando Scandrick's season-ending injury. Colston is the No. 15 fantasy receiver and a recommended WR2. ... Always a good bet for quality WR3 stats in shootout games, Moore is the No. 18 overall fantasy wideout the past five weeks. ... Streak-route specialist Morgan has caught nine passes this year; eight have gone for 27 or more yards. Morgan isn't targeted enough for serious fantasy-finals consideration, but his improvement is good news for Brees. Morgan's stat lines the past two weeks: 2-106, 2-61-1. He's rendered Henderson a non-factor. ... Sproles now has 19 touches and three TDs the past two games, and along with Graham is a weapon with which Brees can pepper Connor and Albright over the middle. Sproles is a recommended flex, especially in PPR. ... While Pierre Thomas continues to take a backseat and Chris Ivory (hamstring) remains inactive, Mark Ingram has taken over as New Orleans' clear-cut primary ball carrier. Ingram quietly has 158 yards and two touchdowns on his last 28 carries (5.64 YPC) and gives the Saints yet another way to attack Dallas' inside linebackers as a between-the-tackles runner. Ingram would be a risky flex play without a ton of upside against the Cowboys, but he's a decent bet to score.
Friday Update: Ivory is listed as questionable for Week 16 after a week of limited practices. He'll be a game-time decision, but the odds favor Ivory getting one more week before returning for the regular season finale. In the seemingly unlikely event Ivory is active Sunday morning, his presence would threaten Ingram's start-ability in flex spots.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Cowboys 27
Minnesota @ Houston
Getting back to their philosophical roots following a depressing Week 14 loss to New England, the Texans pounded the ball 32 times with Arian Foster and Ben Tate during last week's bounce-back home win over upstart Indianapolis. Andre Johnson (11-151-1) was featured in a pass game led by highly efficient Matt Schaub (74.2 percent completions, no turnovers) while Foster carried the mail (27-165). This is the brand of offense Houston unfailingly desires to play. Despite matching up with a solid, 13th-ranked Vikes run defense in Week 16, expect more heavy volume from NFL carries leader Foster. ... Foster, by the way, is up to 325 rushing attempts and on pace for 372, which doesn't include what he'll get in the playoffs. He'll be a bit of a red-light risk in 2013 fantasy football. Tate isn't a title-week fantasy option, but he'll be an intriguing mid- to late-round pick in next year's drafts. You can argue that Tate is more explosive than Foster when the blocking frees either back into space. ... 15th in fantasy quarterback scoring, Schaub will be a viable QB2 versus Minnesota's No. 23 pass defense. Reliant Stadium's dome provides a quality setup for passing, and Sam Bradford poured 355 yards and three touchdowns on these same Vikings last week.
Staying on a wicked tear, Johnson has 68 catches for 1,002 yards (14.74 YPR) over his last eight games. Math majors know that's a 2,000-plus-yard pace if extrapolated across 16. Start Johnson as a top-five receiver play in championship week. ... With Johnson hogging targets and production in a relatively low-volume Houston passing attack, Owen Daniels has taken a recent backseat. Daniels is still a top-eight scorer at his position over the course of the season, though, and the Vikings' Cover-2 defense surrenders the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends. Consider Daniels a mid-range to low-end TE1 in Week 16. I'd still view Daniels as more likely to pick up his box-score stats than stay as cold as he's been the past three weeks. ... The Texans' No. 2 receiver spot has morphed into a timeshare between blocking specialist Kevin Walter and improved rookie DeVier Posey. Posey has secured 4-of-5 targets for 65 yards the past two weeks, compared to Walter's 11 yards generated on the same number of pass attempts. Posey and Walter offer no Week 16 appeal, but the youngster is worth monitoring for forward-looking fantasy owners. Walter turns 32 years old before next season and is owed a potentially prohibitive $3.5 million salary.
Adrian Peterson update: The NFL rushing leader needs to average 147 yards per game in Weeks 16-17 to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105. Houston ranks fifth in run defense, but a less stout 12th in yards-per-carry allowed, making A.P.'s matchup less imposing than it may seem. Peterson has shredded top-ten run defenses all year anyway. Start him as the best running back play in the league this week and every week. ... Besides Peterson, Kyle Rudolph is the only Vikings skill-position player worth a weekly look in fantasy leagues. Limited to three combined catches for 22 scoreless yards the past two games, Rudolph will square off Sunday with a Texans defense permitting the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends. Unfortunately, relying on Rudolph in championship week indirectly means fantasy leaguers would be relying on Christian Ponder, and that's never a great idea. Rudolph will pay dividends if and only if he manages an end-zone trip, bringing an awful lot of downside to the table. ... No Minnesota wide receiver has cleared 50 yards since Week 10. Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Jarius Wright are all fantasy trash.
Score Prediction: Texans 27, Vikings 20