Indianapolis @ Kansas City
It's hard to tell if the Chiefs have thrown in the late-season towel, because they've been so bad all year. What's the difference? Fantasy owners should attack Kansas City's defense regardless. The likeliest candidate for a bounce-back game among Colts skill-position players is Reggie Wayne, whose Week 15 letdown (3-14) resulted from bracket coverage and double teams. The Chiefs unfailingly play "sides" at cornerback, leaving top CB Brandon Flowers on the left side, Jalil Brown at right corner, and Javier Arenas in the slot. Based on where he normally lines up, Wayne will play most of his snaps against Arenas and Brown. 12th in receiver scoring on the season, Wayne can win those matchups in his sleep. ... Donnie Avery is the Indy receiver to avoid in Week 16 fantasy lineup decisions, running most of his routes into Flowers' coverage. ... Versatile rookie T.Y. Hilton plays all over the formation (X, Z, slot) and is the No. 7 fantasy receiver over the past five weeks. He's a weekly boom-or-bust play who booms more often than not. ... The Chiefs are only 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, including 31st in receptions and 30th in yards. Coby Fleener's return has made Dwayne Allen a fantasy option to avoid. Allen found pay dirt in Week 15, but managed just 36 yards, and the end-zone trip was his first since early October.
Kansas City's defense has allowed a 25:7 TD-to-INT ratio to opposing passers this season, while generating the third fewest sacks in football. This is a quality matchup for Andrew Luck, who ranks eighth in fantasy quarterback scoring and is a mid-range QB1 play with some upside in Week 16. The Colts run a very vertical-oriented pass offense and Kansas City's secondary is highly susceptible deep. ... Indianapolis coach Bruce Arians head-scratchingly used journeyman third-down back Mewelde Moore in the goal-line role during last week's loss to the Texans. Moore fumbled at the one-yard line early in the second quarter and wasn't heard from again. Arians expressed post-game regret about the decision, so Vick Ballard will be thrust into every-down workhorse duties in Week 16. Although Ballard's lack of true big-play running ability always limits his ceiling to some extent, he'll be a rock-solid flex option against Kansas City's No. 26 run defense. Plodding short-yardage option Delone Carter (ankle) will be inactive again. Donald Brown is on injured reserve.
Throw out Brady Quinn's post-Jovan Belcher game, and he's completed 77-of-137 passes (56.2 percent) for 729 yards (5.32 YPA), zero touchdowns, and six interceptions in seven appearances. The Chiefs have lost all seven. Quinn will play through a rib injury Sunday, so we may yet see Ricky Stanzi make his NFL debut. Rather than look to Kansas City's pass-catching corps for fantasy sleepers, owners should pick up Indianapolis' defense and start them in Week 16. They're a great matchup play for streamers. ... Jamaal Charles received only nine carries in Week 15, gaining ten yards as Kansas City fell to Oakland 15-0. Charles' workload was minimal because the Chiefs possessed the ball for fewer than 20 minutes; the Raiders had it for 40:06. As we've learned for boom-or-bust runners like Charles and Chris Johnson, clunker games in any given week are not necessarily a sign of things to come. They usually are not. The Colts rank 23rd against the run and permit 4.80 yards per carry, which is the fourth highest clip in football. Keep the faith in Charles and start him as a high-end, high-upside RB2 in championship week.
Score Prediction: Colts 27, Chiefs 10
Washington @ Philadelphia
Although Nick Foles has theoretically made strides since taking over as Eagles quarterback in mid-November, it's hard to forget his Week 11 start against these same Redskins. Foles fumbled three times, absorbed four sacks, and completed 21-of-46 throws (45.7 percent) for 204 yards, no touchdowns, and two picks. While Foles figures to be better prepared this time around, Redskins DC Jim Haslett's aggressive blitzing and improved overall defense will toughen the rookie's road behind a Philly offensive line that still struggles to pass protect. "The most overlooked element in the Redskins' five-game win streak has been their defense," NFL Films' Greg Cosell stated this week. "... This defense has played significantly better over the last month or so." Coming off last week's step back against the Bengals, Foles is a low-end QB2 in finals week. ... The Redskins do rank 30th against the pass and are willing to send the house on blitzes, leaving their secondary vulnerable if opposing quarterbacks can get the ball out. Jeremy Maclin will have openings in the back end. He's also Philadelphia's most oft-targeted receiver during Foles' stretch under center.
Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek, Damaris Johnson. Behind clear No. 1 receiver Maclin, these will be Foles' alternative pass-game options against the Redskins. Not one of them is a confident fantasy starter in championship games. Celek, returning from a concussion this week, might be the one player worth a look by owners desperate at tight end. No. 2 TE Clay Harbor was placed on injured reserve this week with fractures in his back, and the Redskins have allowed the second most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Avant is a pedestrian slot receiver lacking playmaking ability. Cooper is a lanky, straight-line, poor man's version of Kevin Walter. No, thanks. ... LeSean McCoy returns from his own concussion in Week 16 to reenter what coach Andy Reid promises will be a committee attack alongside Bryce Brown. I'd expect the Eagles' offense to struggle for ball movement Sunday while McCoy and Brown trade off series, adversely affecting both rhythm and volume in an already daunting matchup with Washington's top-six run defense. Fumble-prone Brown ran hesitant last Thursday night, as if he were more concerned with making mistakes than hitting the hole. Brown now has just 41 yards on his last 29 carries (1.41 YPC). McCoy would be a superior fantasy bet, but ideally it's a situation to avoid.
Robert Griffin III is expected to return from his LCL injury on Sunday, although fantasy owners ought to anticipate a conservative, run-heavy approach. Washington ranks fourth in rush attempts and has been playing ball-control offense all year anyway. It's what they do. With 785 yards on his last 165 carries (4.76 YPC), Alfred Morris should be locked into title-week fantasy lineups. "This guy's been an unbelievable find," ESPN's Ron Jaworski observed of ALF this week, "and a perfect fit for their inside, outside zone-running game. He's a perfect one-cut downhill runner. And people bounce off him." The Eagles' defense has shown signs of life the past two games, but they still rank 20th against the run and got busted up by Cincinnati for 157 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in Week 15. ... I'd look for Redskins-Eagles to be a relatively low-scoring affair and Washington to be much less aggressive with Griffin on option runs out of the Pistol in his first game back. While playing guys like Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton, or Russell Wilson over Griffin shouldn't fly, RG3 is best viewed as a mid-range to low-end QB1 in championship week.
The Redskins are 7-1 in Pierre Garcon's eight appearances, and he's secured 23 of a team-high 38 targets for 340 yards and three touchdowns the past four weeks. While a dialed-back passing offense is likely in Griffin's return game, Garcon is playing well enough to be considered a high-upside WR3 in a Week 16 date with Nnamdi Asomugha. Asomugha lacks speed to recover when receivers run by him, and tackles poorly when the ball is caught in front of him. Garcon's football-playing strengths are deceptive vertical speed and physical run-after-catch ability. The Redskins should still take a number of downfield shots, and Garcon is likely to be targeted on most or all. ... Leonard Hankerson's two touchdowns in the Kirk Cousins game support the notion that HankTime still has a chance to be a good receiver in the league. Unfortunately, they came on his only two targets of the contest and Hankerson is highly unlikely to repeat the production as a rotational player in Philadelphia. ... Logan Paulsen, Josh Morgan, and Santana Moss make up the rest of Washington's pass-catching corps. They belong on fantasy waiver wires at this point in the year.
Score Prediction: Redskins 20, Eagles 17
St. Louis @ Tampa Bay
At first glance, fantasy leaguers face a bit of a title-week dilemma with Doug Martin. The rookie workhorse has been limited to 252 yards on his last 77 carries (3.27 YPC) in a suddenly sputtering offense, and is coming off a season-worst game. I still think owners should be looking for reasons to start Martin because he's been so good all year. St. Louis' run defense got gashed for 218 yards and two touchdowns on 28 combined rushing attempts (7.79 YPC) by Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder last week. Martin is the centerpiece of his team's offense, and Bucs rookie coach Greg Schiano is committed to jumpstarting him this week. “One of the things we talked about when we arrived here was establishing a new culture,” Schiano said on Wednesday. " ... Doug Martin is part of establishing that new culture. I think it would be not a good time in our program’s development to say, ‘Hey, Doug, why don’t you go cool off here.'" Look for a heavy workload out of Martin against a Rams defense that ranks 16th against the run and has allowed the third most rushing touchdowns in football. Still the No. 3 fantasy running back on the season -- behind only Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster -- Martin has earned locked-in RB1 treatment in Week 16. ... Struggling Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman's target distribution over the past four games: Vincent Jackson 37, Mike Williams 31, Dallas Clark 26, Tiquan Underwood 25, Martin 16.
Freeman's 2012 stats look good on paper and there have been times this year that Tampa has flashed dominance in the downfield passing game. The Bucs' dirty little secret, however, is that Freeman's success has been wholly dependent on his receivers winning on the outside, and he's been ineffective whenever the run game has struggled. Freeman is inaccurate in the short and intermediate regions, and his performance tends to tank with bodies around him. Now facing a Rams defense whose strength is pass rush and secondary play, Freeman is too risky for QB1 consideration in fantasy Super Bowls. Coming off last week's four-pick disaster, he's simply not playing well enough. ... Jackson, on the other hand, is the No. 4 overall fantasy receiver and an every-week starter. Look for V-Jax to get the better of gambling rookie RCB Janoris Jenkins in their Week 16 matchup. ... Williams will face St. Louis top CB Cortland Finnegan on the majority of Sunday's snaps and is a touchdown-reliant WR3. He'll hurt you if he doesn't find pay dirt. Start him if you think he will. ... St. Louis ranks 15th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, giving Clark a middling matchup. Just 22nd in tight end scoring on the season, Clark is a bottom-barrel TE2.
First against the run and dead last versus the pass, the Bucs field the most lopsided defense in football. Steven Jackson's matchup is forbidding enough to drop his outlook from rock-solid RB2 to low-end flex because his ceiling appears to be so capped. Tampa surrenders the NFL's fewest rushing yards per game (83.3) and yards per carry (3.49). ... At the opposite end of the spectrum is Danny Amendola, whom the league's worst secondary will have a difficult time containing in the slot. Over his heel injury, Amendola is off the Week 16 injury report after resuming his featured role with six grabs for 58 yards and a touchdown on a team-high 12 targets in last week's loss to Minnesota. Amendola needs to be locked into title-week PPR lineups as a WR2. He's a strong WR3 in standard. ... Chris Givens (1-22) and Brandon Gibson (6-76) both played fewer snaps with Amendola back against the Vikings and neither is on the Week 16 fantasy radar. ... Rookie Brian Quick played a season-high 18 snaps in Week 15, catching three balls for 12 yards and a score. He's a name for keeper leaguers to track. "I'm anxious to see these final couple of games and next season," NFL Films' Greg Cosell said of Quick this week. "I think he's more physically gifted with his size and movement than both Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd." ... In addition to struggling in pass coverage, the Buccaneers rush the passer poorly (29th in sacks). Sam Bradford should have a mostly clean pocket on Sunday and is an attractive two-quarterback league start.
Score Prediction: Bucs 23, Rams 17
Tennessee @ Green Bay
"We're talking about Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Adrian Peterson being the only candidates for MVP," ESPN's Trent Dilfer said on Monday Night Countdown this week. "What about this guy? 32 touchdowns. 8 interceptions. He's dragged a team to 10-4. ... I continually am blown away by how good Aaron Rodgers is, and how easy he makes it look." Consistency has been an issue for Rodgers this year, but he bounced back from a slight four-game funk to drop 291 yards and three touchdowns on the Bears in last week's win at Soldier Field. Rodgers returns home this week to face Tennessee's No. 19 pass defense, a unit whose ranking is skewed a bit by Mark Sanchez's field fart on Monday Night Football. The Titans have allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns and third highest completion rate in the league to opposing quarterbacks. Rodgers will stay hot in Week 16. ... James Jones hogged all the touchdowns, but Randall Cobb did the open-field damage at Chicago with 115 yards on six receptions. Cobb hasn't found pay dirt in a month, which means he's due. He's a top-12 receiver play in title week, back in Title Town. ... As alluded to in this space several times before, Jones seems to produce whenever we expect him not to, and fail to produce whenever we expect him to score big. Last week's three touchdowns change little. He's a boom-or-bust WR3. ... Greg Jennings hasn't just been a disappointment since returning from injury three games ago. He's been a disappointment all year. Jennings has played in six games this season, and he's failed to top 50 yards in all six. He's a low-end WR3.
Regardless of how many touchdowns and fantasy points the Titans have allowed to tight ends, it's hard to imagine relying on Jermichael Finley in fantasy's Super Bowl week. Finley is the No. 23 tight end scorer and has found pay dirt once in his last 13 games. ... Tennessee's defense ranks 25th against the run and offers up a favorable weekly matchup for ground games. The Packers, unfortunately, are unlikely to capitalize to the extent that one of their running backs has a big fantasy day. Green Bay's backfield timeshare has expanded to four members, with Alex Green (13-35 stat line last week) struggling in the lead role, late-season street free agent pickup Ryan Grant (8-32) seeing increased opportunities, DuJuan Harris (5-27) third in line, and John Kuhn (2-5) handling most short-yardage work. In a favorable matchup, it's certainly conceivable that the Packers could have collective rushing success against the Titans. It's much less conceivable that Green, Grant, Harris, or Kuhn would pay dividends as a Week 16 fantasy starter. Green may not even play due to a concussion, which would leave Grant, Harris, and Kuhn to split the load. Avoid.
Friday Update: Green missed his third straight practice on Friday. The Packers haven't given up hope of Green playing against the Titans, however, and are listing him as questionable with his availability pending a neurological test on Saturday. The Green Bay backfield is not worth Week 16 fantasy investment.
Jake Locker's disappointing season continued in last Monday's "win" over the Jets. Locker has an alarming tendency to play too fast under the slightest hint of pressure, and his college accuracy problems have not gone away. Green Bay's defense is exponentially better with Clay Matthews in the lineup, and he's now returning from a six-tackle, two-sack demolition of the Bears. Locker can be written off in standard settings. He's a dicey two-QB league play. ... Locker's target distribution since Dowell Loggains replaced Chris Palmer as Titans offensive coordinator three games ago: Kendall Wright 23, Kenny Britt 20, Nate Washington 19, Jared Cook 15, Chris Johnson 9, Michael Preston 4. ... Wright cracked a rib against the Jets and probably won't play in the season's final two weeks. Since Wright has led Tennessee in targets, his absence is likely to have a significant fantasy fallout. In a game where the Titans figure to play from behind and Locker rack up pass attempts, Britt is an intriguing WR3 with upside despite last week's one-catch, seven-yard clunker against Antonio Cromartie. Britt projects as the primary box-score beneficiary of Wright's injury.
Washington has played 85 percent of Tennessee's offensive snaps over the past three weeks, so the notion that he might see more playing time due to Wright's absence is not especially realistic. Washington might see a few more targets per game, but he is an inferior receiver to Britt and not an attractive WR3 at this point in the year. ... Green Bay's defense ranks a middling 14th against the run and surrenders a generous 4.46 yards per carry. So on paper, Chris Johnson has a plus Week 16 matchup. The fact that Johnson is so reliant on long runs makes him a boom-or-bust gamble, but at the same time his game-breaking potential is hard to bench. Start him as an RB2.
Score Prediction: Packers 30, Titans 17