New Orleans @ Carolina
The 2013 Panthers have been dynamite at home, ripping off six victories on the strength of elite defense and Cam Newton's individual dominance. (Their only road loss was to Seattle, 12-7, on Opening Day.) In Carolina this year, Newton has completed 122-of-185 throws (66.0%) for 1,546 yards (8.36 YPA) and a 12:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He's run for three more scores and is averaging 39 rushing yards per game. Cam is an easy top-five QB1 against a Saints defense that has allowed at least 26 points in four of its last five road trips. ... Newton's target distribution over the last five weeks: Greg Olsen 44; Steve Smith 31; Brandon LaFell 28; Ted Ginn 23; DeAngelo Williams 12; Mike Tolbert 9. ... Although the Saints have generally been stingy in tight end coverage this year, Olsen caught eight passes against them in these clubs' Week 14 meeting, and appears to have clearly emerged as Cam's go-to option in the passing game since shaking his midseason foot injury. Olsen is the No. 5 overall fantasy tight end over the past five weeks. ... LaFell has cleared 70 receiving yards in just 2-of-14 games this season and turned in a 2-22-0 line in the Week 14 tilt. LaFell isn't remotely worth WR3 consideration with fantasy championships on the line.
Smith was more productive with a 6-49-1 number at New Orleans two weeks ago, but still doesn't have an appetizing matchup. Here are the stat lines of the last 13 "No. 1" receivers to face the Saints and emerging shutdown CB Keenan Lewis: Brandon Marshall 4-30-1; Mike Wallace 3-24; Larry Fitzgerald 5-64; Vincent Jackson 5-77; Aaron Dobson 6-63; Stevie Johnson 7-72-1; Dez Bryant 1-44; David Nelson 1-19; Anquan Boldin 6-56-1; Roddy White 2-24; Golden Tate 4-45; Smith 6-49-1; Chris Givens 1-31. View Smith as a respectable but fairly low-upside WR3. ... DeAngelo Williams earned increased flex consideration in Week 15 by shredding the Jets' once-stout defensive front for 168 yards and a touchdown on 18 touches. Williams' role is more defined with Jonathan Stewart (MCL tear) out through Week 17, and the matchup is ripe for the picking. New Orleans ranks 21st in run defense and serves up 4.64 yards per carry, the fifth highest clip in football. Williams is always at risk of losing red-zone work to Tolbert, but the workload and leaky opponent are certainly working in Williams' favor. He's still more of a flex play than locked-in RB2.
Drew Brees' ugly road-home splits are worth Week 16 discussion, but those stats more often than not tend to represent hindsight analysis, as opposed to predictive. In fantasy title week, I'd feel much more comfortable hanging my hat on Brees and coach Sean Payton's offensive brilliance, in addition to their Week 14 dissection of Carolina's No. 2 defense. In New Orleans' 31-13 humbling of the then-streaking Panthers, Brees completed 30-of-42 passes (71.4%) for 313 yards (7.45 YPA), four touchdowns, and no picks. Peyton Manning is the only quarterback I'd start over Brees in Week 16. ... Brees' target distribution since Marques Colston returned from a knee injury six games ago: Colston 55; Jimmy Graham 49; Pierre Thomas 34; Darren Sproles 32; Lance Moore 21; Kenny Stills 17; Robert Meachem 13; Ben Watson 10; Mark Ingram 7. ... Locked back in as an every-week WR2, Colston is the No. 14 fantasy receiver the past five weeks. He set season highs in catches (9), yards (125), and touchdowns (2) in the Week 14 beatdown of Carolina. ... Graham (6-58-2) also did his thing in these teams' Week 14 meeting and has the friendliest on-paper fantasy matchup in New Orleans' pass-catching corps. The Panthers have allowed the tenth most receptions (69) and seventh most touchdowns (8) in the league to tight ends. Just as he's been for most of the year, Graham is the No. 1 tight end play in fantasy football this week.
At No. 2 receiver, the Saints mix and match Moore, Stills, and Meachem in such a heavy rotation that none of the trio has stood out from the pack. Stills possesses the most big-play ability, but hasn't seen more than four targets in a game since Week 10. ... The Saints' backfield committee has become similarly trying to pin down. Sproles played a season-high 44 snaps in last week's loss to St. Louis, while Thomas' 15 touches were his most since Week 12. Clearly 100% healthy again, Sproles offers the most Week 16 fantasy intrigue as a flex play, and high-end one in PPR leagues. Carolina's No. 2 run defense smothered Thomas for 28 scoreless yards on 11 touches in Week 14, and I'd bet against Payton calling many base-run plays against such a stout defensive front. Attacking the Panthers on the perimeter would be a more logical approach, featuring Sproles. Thomas is a lower-end flex option. ... Since his faux-breakout game in Week 10 against Dallas, non-factor Ingram has carried a combined 27 times for 88 scoreless yards (3.26 YPC).
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Panthers 24
Minnesota @ Cincinnati
The Bengals have played run-heavy offense since their Week 12 bye, but were forced to scrap that approach in last Sunday night's loss after Pittsburgh grabbed an early 24-0 lead. This remains an offense largely built on the run game. And it certainly doesn't hurt that Minnesota has scuffled against the run. The Vikings rank 20th in run defense and have allowed 13 rushing TDs, tied for tenth most in football. With 15-plus touches in five straight games, Giovani Bernard has settled in as a high-end flex starter. On pace for 56 receptions -- seventh most among running backs -- Gio is a particularly attractive play in PPR leagues. ... Despite the plus matchup and fantasy-friendly switch in Cincinnati's offensive philosophy, BenJarvus Green-Ellis' outlook hasn't changed much. Law Firm is a fantasy black hole whenever he doesn't score a goal-line touchdown, something he's done in 5-of-14 games on the year. Green-Ellis' lack of big-play running ability and pass-game involvement gives him a dangerously low weekly floor. His odds of hitting pay dirt do seem good in this particular week, but BJGE will drill a crater in your fantasy lineup if he doesn't deliver. He's a low-ceiling, low-floor flex. ... Andy Dalton has theoretical QB1 streamer appeal against Minnesota's bottom-three pass defense, but is difficult to trust when he isn't playing well. Dalton has completed 129 of his last 230 throws (56.1%) for 1,381 yards (6.00 YPA) and an 11:9 TD-to-INT ratio. He's an outstanding two-QB-league play, but someone to avoid in standard formats.
Dalton's target distribution since the Bengals' Week 12 bye: A.J. Green 33; Marvin Jones 16; Jermaine Gresham 12; Gio and Mohamed Sanu 10; Tyler Eifert 9; Andrew Hawkins 6; Green-Ellis 2. ... Green is a top-five WR1 against a Vikings defense that has coughed up a league-high 32 passing touchdowns. Green has 90-plus receiving yards and/or a touchdown in 10-of-14 games this year. He's the No. 8 overall fantasy wideout. ... Sanu has one touchdown and hasn't cleared the 70-yard mark all season. He's well off the Week 16 radar, even in this favorable matchup. ... Rotational No. 2 receiver Jones' odds of booming seem good on paper against this opponent, but he's failed to pay off in similar setups before. He's a boom-or-bust WR3. ... The Eifert-Gresham conundrum has played out exactly as feared during the preseason. They cancel each other out in weekly box scores, with neither emerging as a dependable fantasy commodity. The Vikings allow the third most fantasy points to tight ends, but it doesn't matter. Gresham and Eifert are TE2s.
Matt Cassel warrants recognition for three straight impressive starts -- wins over Chicago and Philly, and an overtime loss to Baltimore -- but could be in for a rude awakening on the road against Cincinnati's top-seven pass defense. The Bengals permit the lowest yards-per-pass-attempt average (6.2) in the AFC and NFL's sixth lowest passer rating (78.9). Cincy DC Mike Zimmer is famous for out-coaching overmatched offensive coordinators like Minnesota's Bill Musgrave. Cassel remains a low-end QB2. ... Cassel's 2013 target distribution: Greg Jennings 44; Jerome Simpson 37; Cordarrelle Patterson 25; John Carlson 19; Jarius Wright 14; Adrian Peterson 11; Toby Gerhart 6. ... Jennings is a somewhat attractive, if low-upside WR3 against a Cincinnati defense down both of its starting corners. RCB Leon Hall (Achilles') is on I.R., and LCB Terence Newman will miss at least one more game with an MCL tear. Jennings won't win your fantasy week, but should keep you competitive if you're desperate. ... Taking a backseat to Patterson, Simpson has topped 60 yards in one of his last ten games. Avoid Simpson in even the deepest leagues. ... Carlson won't play Sunday after his concussion symptoms resurfaced before Thursday's practice. The Vikings will turn back to a rotation of Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison at tight end. With Carlson shelved in Week 15, Ford and Ellison combined for two receptions.
We now have a four-week sample of raw rookie Patterson averaging six all-purpose touches per game with a touchdown in three straight. He's easily the highest-ceiling option in Minnesota's pass-catching corps. I'd play him over Jennings every time. ... Peterson has a difficult matchup against Cincy's top-five run defense, but you know he wants to finish out a disappointing season (for him) with a bang. His Week 14 foot sprain isn't expected to be a performance-affecting injury. With a full week to rest and improved quarterback play in Minnesota, Peterson can't be left out of the top-five RB1s for Week 16, in my opinion. If Zimmer drops more defenders into coverage in an effort to mask his cornerback deficiencies, Peterson will eat. And trophy seekers should start him with confidence.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Vikings 21
Indianapolis @ Kansas City
Andrew Luck isn't to blame for the 2013 Colts' offensive inconsistency. Coaching, offensive line deficiencies, and supporting-cast musical chairs have rendered Luck a low-end to borderline QB1 when his skill set suggests he should have no trouble scoring like a top-six or seven quarterback. It's why visiting Arrowhead to face a Chiefs defense allowing the fourth fewest points in football with the NFL's third most sacks and big, physical press corners isn't a good matchup because it'll ask so much of the people around him. And the people around Luck have been holding him back all year. I'd start Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Kirk Cousins, and Colin Kaepernick over Luck in Week 16, and would consider Matt Schaub over him as well. ... Luck's target distribution the last two weeks: T.Y. Hilton 17; Da'Rick Rogers 15; Trent Richardson 12; Coby Fleener 10; Donald Brown 6; Griff Whalen 5; LaVon Brazill 4; Darrius Heyward-Bey 3; Weslye Saunders 2. ... Hilton has five-plus receptions in six of his last seven games and is the only Colts pass catcher worth starting in fantasy title week. Chiefs outside CBs Sean Smith (6'3/214) and Marcus Cooper (6'2/192) are generally effective at re-routing receivers in press-man technique, but can be torched deep. That is especially the case with Cooper. ... Rogers is a less enticing Hail Mary WR3 than last week, when he turned in a 2-23-0 clunker on six targets, dropping one and having another intercepted. Rogers remains an intriguing long-term talent, but he's simply not yet a trustworthy fantasy play.
Further clouding Rogers' outlook is the return of Brazill from a foot injury. The Colts will likely employ a No. 2 receiver rotation behind Hilton, with Brazill, Rogers, and Heyward-Bey all getting snaps. Whalen played 36 downs in last week's win over the Texans and is also in the mix at slot receiver. ... Fleener has big-time athletic tools, but isn't a physical football player and on Sunday will face one of the NFL's most physical defenses. This isn't a good matchup for him. The Chiefs allow the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends. ... Brown's healthy return from his Week 15 stinger renders Indianapolis' backfield hands off from a fantasy perspective in title week. Richardson and Brown will resume sharing snaps and touches. Kansas City's defense has been leaky on the ground -- the Chiefs rank 18th versus the run and permit the seventh highest yards-per-carry average (4.47) in football -- but Indy has struggled to run block throughout the season and neither of the Colts' running backs has provided any semblance of box-score consistency.
Jamaal Charles returns from a Week 15 five-touchdown demolition of an above-average Raiders run defense to take on a truly porous Indianapolis unit. Charles is the No. 1 fantasy back for Week 16. The Colts rank 27th versus the run and permit 4.38 yards per carry, the ninth highest clip in the NFL. ... Alex Smith has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games. Smith has completed 149 of his last 233 passes (64.0%) for 1,609 yards (6.91 YPA) and a 16:2 TD-to-INT ratio. It's not only the best statistical stretch of Smith's career, he's legitimately playing like a top-dozen NFL quarterback on the football field. Kansas City's largely unaggressive offense and the Colts' above-average, 14th-ranked pass defense keep Smith out of the mid-range QB1 hunt, but he's earned a spot at the back end. Smith is the No. 13 overall fantasy quarterback on the season, and No. 2 behind Peyton Manning over the last five weeks. ... Smith's target distribution over his last six games: Dwayne Bowe 48; Charles 34; Dexter McCluster 33; Donnie Avery 24; Anthony Fasano 15; Sean McGrath 12; Anthony Sherman 8; A.J. Jenkins 6; Junior Hemingway 4.
Despite Smith's outstanding performance, the Chiefs lack big-time fantasy pass catchers. Bowe hasn't topped 70 yards in a game all year, rendering him a touchdown-dependent WR3 with a low ceiling. ... McCluster resumed practicing in limited form this week and is tentatively due back after missing Week 15 with a foot laceration. His return muddies K.C.'s wideout corps. McCluster and Avery have been regularly canceling each other out in weekly box scores. ... McGrath caught a red-zone touchdown getting the start in place of constantly-injured Fasano in last week's win over Oakland, but finished with two receptions for 14 yards. As the Chiefs face a Colts defense allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends, McGrath and Fasano are best left avoided.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 24, Colts 20
Dallas @ Washington
Reenergized to some extent by Kirk Cousins' installation under center, Washington's offense couldn't ask for a more favorable Week 16 matchup at home versus a Dallas defense allowing the most yards and seventh most points in the NFL. Over their last two games alone -- against career backups Josh McCown and Matt Flynn -- the Cowboys were gashed for 53-of-75 passing (70.7%), 647 yards (8.63 YPA), and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Through two career starts, Cousins has completed 55-of-82 throws (67.1%) for 710 yards (8.66 YPA), five touchdowns, and three picks. Cousins should be squarely on the QB1 streamer radar for Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan owners. He's an excellent two-quarterback league plug-n-play. ... Redskins playcaller Kyle Shanahan didn't alter his offense to cater to Cousins' different skill set from Robert Griffin III in Week 15, confirmed by the continued heavy targeting of go-to "X" receiver Pierre Garcon. This was Cousins' target distribution in last week's loss to Atlanta: Garcon 10; Santana Moss 9; Logan Paulsen and Aldrick Robinson 7; Josh Morgan 4; Fred Davis 3. ... Garcon burned the Falcons for a 7-129-1 stat line. Second in the NFL in receptions (96) and tenth in receiving yards (1,146), Garcon is a WR1 in this plum matchup. ... Moss' numbers were his best of the season at the Georgia Dome, but he remains a WR4/5 in standard leagues. His role hasn't changed. Moss is a limited-snap 34-year-old slot receiver. You'd have to be in an extremely deep league to consider Moss in title week.
With Jordan Reed (concussion) shelved, the Redskins have continued to rotate in-line tight end Paulsen and passing-down role player Davis. Davis only played 20 snaps against Atlanta. Paulsen secured 3-of-7 targets for 21 yards. It's a situation to avoid in the fantasy playoffs. ... The Redskins also used a rotation of Robinson (36 snaps) and Morgan (44) at "Z" receiver. Streak-route specialist Robinson would be the better bet of the two if you're somehow desperate in Week 16. He has homerun-hitting speed. ... Cowboys DC Monte Kiffin's defense has hemorrhaged 787 yards and seven TDs on 140 carries (5.62 YPC) to Saints, Giants, Raiders, Bears, and Packers tailbacks over its last five games. Eddie Lacy slaughtered Dallas for 171 total yards and a score last week. Look for Alfred Morris to finish his overall-underwhelming second fantasy season with a bang. Morris ripped off 106 total yards on 19 touches with Cousins at quarterback in Week 15.
The Cowboys' offensive identity woes continued into their shocking Week 15 collapse against Green Bay, blowing a 26-3 halftime lead by unforgivably calling 24 second-half pass plays and only seven runs. Dallas ran the football just three times in the fourth quarter. In response, expect playcaller Bill Callahan to hammer home DeMarco Murray Sunday in Washington. Despite Dallas' wavering in-game commitment to its rushing attack, Murray is the No. 4 fantasy running back over the past five weeks, behind only Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, and Matt Forte. ... There was a shining fantasy light amid Tony Romo's Week 15 late-game pick-a-palooza, as Romo topped 300 yards for the first time since early November, and Dallas' passing attack generally clicked before the back-breaking fourth-quarter interceptions. Romo has posted a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio over the past seven weeks and is back in the top-ten fantasy QB1 hunt against Washington's No. 21 pass defense. This game has some shootout potential based on the bottom-barrel defenses involved.
Romo's target distribution in Miles Austin's seven 2013 starts: Dez Bryant 73; Jason Witten 44; Murray 39; Austin 37; Terrance Williams 23; Cole Beasley 15; James Hanna 7. ... With 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in four consecutive games, Bryant is back on a tear. He has 46 targets over the last month. ... Since returning from his latest hamstring injury four games ago, Austin has secured 6-of-16 targets for 89 scoreless yards. Austin is worthless in both real life and fantasy. ... The Skins have allowed the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends, setting up Witten for another big game. Witten has four touchdowns the past four weeks, playing his way back into the high-end TE1 mix. ... Williams and Beasley are fantasy irrelevant with Austin hogging so many slot and Z receiver snaps. Williams hasn't hit 50 yards in a game since October, and may not even play Sunday due to a hamstring injury. Rotational slot man Beasley hasn't topped 20 receiving yards in any of the last five weeks.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Redskins 23