Oakland @ San Diego
Vying for the AFC's sixth seed, the 7-7 Chargers return from a nine-day layoff after a Thursday night win over Denver to host an Oakland team that isn't built to play competitive pass defense. The Raiders lack a true edge pass rusher and have a secondary largely concocted via one-year free-agent mercenary-type signings. Although Philip Rivers was flukily picked off three times in these clubs' October 6 meeting -- his TD-to-INT ratio on the season is a near-impeccable 28:9 -- Rivers wound up gashing the Raiders for 411 yards and two touchdowns with a 72.9% completion rate. View Rivers as a mid-range QB1 in this favorable-weather matchup. ... Here is Rivers' target distribution since San Diego's Week 8 bye: Keenan Allen 52; Antonio Gates 50; Danny Woodhead 32; Eddie Royal 27; Vincent Brown 26; Ladarius Green 19; Ryan Mathews 17. ... Allen is now on pace for 72 receptions, 1,064 yards, and eight scores. The yards would be the most by a rookie receiver since Michael Clayton in '04. "He knows how to score. He's unbelievable," Rivers said of Allen after the Broncos upset. "Some receivers just have a knack for knowing how to play. And he knows how to play." Allen dropped a 6-115-1 line on Oakland in Week 5 and is a borderline WR1 in title week. ... Slowing down the stretch of his age-33 season, Gates is just 22nd in fantasy tight end scoring over the past five weeks. The Raiders have allowed the seventh fewest receptions and eighth fewest yards in the league to tight ends. Gates is just a low-end TE1 in Week 16.
Green has gone catch-less in back-to-back games. He's still been a 52% player in San Diego's offense, but the Chargers are using him as a blocker to create personnel mismatches in the run game. With two tight ends on the field who are both receiving threats, defenses are forced into nickel and dime packages. It's great for Mathews' value, and bad for Green's. ... Royal and Brown have been off the radar in re-draft leagues for months. ... The Raiders have generally played stout run defense this season, but they've sprung leaks of late. Over its last three games, Oakland has coughed up 275 yards and six rushing touchdowns on 64 carries (4.30 YPC) to Chris Ivory, Lance Dunbar/DeMarco Murray, and Jamaal Charles/Knile Davis, which doesn't even include Charles' 8-195-4 Week 15 line as a receiver. Meanwhile, Mathews has 768 yards and five TDs on his last 169 carries (4.54 YPC). Over the last month, he's played 179 snaps to Woodhead's 138. Mathews is a borderline RB1 against the Raiders. ... With his touches and playing time down, Woodhead has settled in as a flex option only. The Chargers simply have more confidence in and are more committed to Mathews as a true foundation back. Woodhead is a passing-game role player.
The lone Oakland skill player worth serious start consideration in championship week is Rashad Jennings, who stung Kansas City for 103 total yards and two scores in last week's loss. Week 14 hero Marcel Reece had seven touches as the change-of-pace back. San Diego lets up 4.73 yards per carry, the third highest clip in football. Jennings is a high-end RB2 with a floor raised by his every-down back usage. Despite a large deficit, he had 26 touches against the Chiefs. ... This was Oakland's Week 15 wideout snap distribution with Denarius Moore returning from his shoulder injury: Andre Holmes 59; Rod Streater 54; Moore 35; Jacoby Ford 13. Streater led the way with nine targets, but Holmes (4-58-1) had the best stats, and Moore's playing time figures to rise in his second game back. None of them will be an every-down receiver. The matchup is terrific against San Diego's bottom-four pass defense, but the reliability factor is missing as Oakland rotates its pass catchers and shuttles Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor in and out of the game in NCAA-style fashion. ... Raiders rookie TE Mychal Rivera caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from McGloin in the third quarter last week, but Rivera hasn't topped 30 yards in a game since mid-November, and the Chargers are 20th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. TE1 streamers should aim higher.
Score Prediction: Chargers 28, Raiders 20
Pittsburgh @ Green Bay
On paper at least, Le'Veon Bell has the premier matchup among Steelers-Packers skill-position players. Over the past seven weeks, Green Bay has been gashed by Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Andre Brown/Brandon Jacobs, Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart, Reggie Bush/Joique Bell, Steven Jackson, and DeMarco Murray for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns on 184 carries (5.48 YPC). The Packers allow 4.56 yards per attempt on the ground over the course of the season, which is the league's sixth most generous clip. Bell is a borderline RB1 at Lambeau Field. ... Quietly enjoying a big-time fantasy campaign, Ben Roethlisberger ranks ninth in scoring at his position, seventh in touchdown passes (25), and sixth in passing yards (3,915). He's squarely in the QB1 hunt against the Packers' No. 22 pass defense. I'd like Big Ben even better if Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) got the green light, boosting this game's shootout potential. Green Bay has allowed 26-plus points in seven of its last eight games. Roethlisberger owns a sterling 17:4 TD-to-INT ratio over his past seven starts. ... Big Ben's target distribution over his last six games: Antonio Brown 57; Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders 38; Bell 36; Jerricho Cotchery 26; Markus Wheaton 7.
The Packers don't have a defensive back quick enough in a short area to keep up with Brown, who is fifth among fantasy wideouts in scoring on the season. His WR1 value has never wavered. ... Cotchery is likely to be a Week 16 non-factor. The Packers are shutting down slot receivers with CB Tramon Williams playing inside, over their last three games holding the following players to the following stat lines: Nate Burleson 0-0; Harry Douglas 2-20; Miles Austin 2-35. ... Sanders is a touchdown-dependent fantasy WR3. Lacking upside whenever he doesn't find pay dirt, Sanders has been held to 70 yards or fewer in 11-of-14 games this season, and hasn't hit 70 yards in six straight. Aim higher if you're pursuing a fantasy trophy. ... I'd like Miller more in Week 16 if he had more production to hang hats on. The Packers allow the tenth most fantasy points and receiving yards (803) to enemy tight ends. Unfortunately, Miller has one touchdown on the year and has demonstrated scant playmaking ability in his first season back from a devastating knee injury. He's a low-end TE1 at best. I'd start Ryan Griffin and Delanie Walker over him with confidence.
While acknowledging Aaron Rodgers (clavicle) still has an outside shot to play, I'm approaching the Packers' Matchup breakdown as if Matt Flynn will get the nod. If it's later announced Rodgers will start, all Green Bay skill-position players get fantasy upgrades. As do the Steelers. ... Another plus for the Packers' passing game is the absence of Pittsburgh OLB LaMarr Woodley, who hit I.R. this week with a calf injury. That isn't to say Flynn is suddenly a viable fantasy start against the Steelers' top-eight pass defense, but it always helps when the opponent loses its top pass rusher. Despite last week's comeback win over Dallas' barely-there defense, Flynn is not a recommended two-quarterback-league play. ... Flynn's target distribution through four games as a Packer (three starts): James Jones 23; Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin 21; Eddie Lacy 20, Andrew Quarless 19; Brandon Bostick 7; John Kuhn 4; James Starks 3. ... Across the board for Green Bay's pass game, last week's stats against Dallas are difficult to treat as indications of what's to come based on the hopeless state of the Cowboys' defense. Applying that box score to this game would be irresponsible. I'd continue to rank Green Bay's wideouts as Nelson > Jones > Boykin, viewing Jordy as a fairly boom-or-bust WR3, Jones as a lower-end WR3, and Boykin as a fantasy WR4.
Houston's Ryan Griffin and Detroit's Joseph Fauria are both superior Week 16 TE1 streamers to Quarless, who has been fairly consistently targeted by Flynn but takes on a Pittsburgh defense allowing the 19th fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Quarless is capable of catching check-down passes from Flynn, but lacks explosive receiving ability and generally does more blocking than route running. ... The Packers have built their offense around Lacy in the absence of Rodgers, and will continue to lean on Fat Ed as a chin-checking bellcow in Sunday's plus matchup with Pittsburgh. The Steelers rank 19th in run defense and have coughed up 15 rushing touchdowns, the sixth most in football. Lacy has been a locked-and-loaded RB1 every time he's dressed this season. He's a true every-down back on pace for 1,556 all-purpose yards and ten touchdowns.
Score Prediction: Packers 23, Steelers 20
Sunday Night Football
Chicago @ Philadelphia
This week's Sunday nighter is the premier game of fantasy finals week as fair weather is in the Philly forecast and the whopping 56-point over-under is highest of Week 16. The week's shoo-in No. 1 fantasy back is LeSean McCoy, who leads the NFL in rushing by more than 100 yards and will go to work against Chicago's last-ranked run defense. The Bears are dead last in rushing yards-per-game allowed (152.4) and yards-per-carry submitted (5.17). This is a true cupcake for Shady. And after abandoning the run game in last week's forgettable loss to Minnesota, coach Chip Kelly will surely attack Chicago with it. ... The Bears' defense has been stouter in the air, ranking No. 11 versus the pass, sixth in interceptions (17), and No. 12 in passer rating against (84.2). The Eagles still shouldn't struggle to move the football and create scoring chances for Nick Foles, who remains a top-five QB1. The only quarterbacks I'd start over Foles in fantasy title week are Peyton Manning (@ HOU), Drew Brees (@ CAR), Matthew Stafford (vs. NYG), and Cam Newton (vs. NO). ... Foles' target distribution since returning from a concussion six games ago: DeSean Jackson 43; Riley Cooper 40; Zach Ertz 25; McCoy 23; Jason Avant 17; Brent Celek 10.
The No. 4 overall fantasy receiver on the season behind only Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, and Demaryius Thomas, Jackson has at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown in 11-of-14 games this season. Bears top CB Tim Jennings deserves credit for playing Dez Bryant (2-12-1) and Gordon (3-67-1) tough the past two weeks, but this isn't the week to worry about D-Jax. ... Foles hasn't quit targeting Cooper, but the big passing plays simply haven't been there between the two like they were around midseason. Cooper is scoreless in four weeks straight, averaging three catches for 47 yards per game during the month-long stretch. Cooper has settled in as an inconsistent, boom-or-bust WR3 option. Theoretically at least, Bears DC Mel Tucker's Cover 2-based defense is designed to limit the long passing plays upon which Cooper previously thrived. ... Although the Bears typically present an inviting matchup for tight ends -- they're allowing the 11th most fantasy points to the position -- Ertz and Celek's passing-game roles are always matchup oriented and oftentimes game-plan specific. If Kelly leans on his run game to put away the Bears, it's entirely possible superior blocker Celek will get a lot more playing time than Ertz in this particular week. Ultimately, I wouldn't want to count on either Eagles tight end with fantasy trophies on the line.
The Bears are in a similar spot taking on an Eagles defense allowing the 30th most yards in football. Leave out the Week 14 snowstorm game against Detroit, and Philadelphia has been lit up by Carson Palmer and Matt Cassel for a combined 50-of-76 passing (65.8%), 684 yards (9.0 YPA), five touchdowns, and three picks since its Week 12 bye, with a sixth score on a Cassel scramble. The Eagles don't have much talent on defense. Aside from two tipped interceptions in his Week 15 return from a high ankle sprain, Jay Cutler was highly effective against a better Browns defense, demonstrating impressive mobility in and out of the pocket and feeding big, physical, mismatch-creating weapons Brandon Marshall (6-95-1), Alshon Jeffery (5-72-1), and Martellus Bennett (6-71). Cutler's matchup and supporting cast are attractive enough that he's squarely back in the QB1 mix. I'd view him as a top-eight quarterback play in the fantasy finals. ... Here is Cutler's target distribution on the year: Marshall 84; Jeffery 72; Martellus 56; Matt Forte 48; Earl Bennett 21; Michael Bush 4. ... Marshall has 75-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 11-of-14 games, and rekindled his neverending chemistry with Cutler last Sunday, seeing a team-high 13 targets and catching a touchdown in Joe Haden's coverage. Fire up Marshall with excitement against a Philadelphia defense allowing the most fantasy points in the league to wide receivers.
Approaching the end of a monster second-year breakout, Jeffery is on pace for 92 catches, 1,446 yards, and eight touchdowns. These are Jeffery's box-score lines in Cutler's last three starts: 5-72-1; 9-114; 4-105. Start 'em. ... The Eagles have been surprisingly stingy in tight end coverage, allowing the second fewest fantasy points in the league to the position. They're 25th in receptions allowed to tight ends and 19th in yards. Martellus is toward the lower end of TE1 options in Week 16. ... Although Philadelphia's defensive strength is versus the run, Forte has been matchup proof throughout the season. In five dates with top-eight run defenses, Forte has averaged 103 total yards per game with three touchdowns. Forte shouldn't have trouble paying off as a top-eight RB1 starter in this game, which should be up and down the field in nature with high-scoring potential.
Score Prediction: Bears 30, Eagles 27
Monday Night Football
Atlanta @ San Francisco
Monday night's game provides the quietly white-hot 49ers with an opportunity to stomp a Falcons defense that's been among the worst three in football this season. Over its last eight games, Atlanta has hemorrhaged 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns on 176 carries (5.80 YPC) to Pierre Thomas, Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Rainey, Carolina's backfield, Andre Ellington, C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson, Eddie Lacy, and Alfred Morris. The Falcons rank 29th versus the run and allow 4.65 YPC, the fourth highest clip in football. Frank Gore should not struggle to run all over this group. ... Frequent blowout wins and supporting-cast deficiencies have rendered Colin Kaepernick's first full season as an NFL starter a slight disappointment from a fantasy standpoint, but he's peaking at the right time as San Francisco rallies toward the playoffs. Amassing a 13:3 TD-to-turnover ratio over his last eight games, Kaepernick enters Week 16 having completed 80 of his last 130 throws (61.5%) for 992 yards (7.63 YPA), nine touchdowns, and two interceptions. Facing an Atlanta defense that is tied for 30th in sacks (28) and has allowed the third most passing touchdowns (28) in football, Kaepernick is worth a long look for QB1 streamers. Kap's playmaking ability, cannon arm, and full-strength receiver corps give him upside. The risk is that San Francisco will destroy the Falcons, limiting pass-game volume. It's been an issue for Kaepernick's fantasy stats all year.
Kap's target distribution with Michael Crabtree back in the starting lineup the last three weeks: Anquan Boldin 26; Crabtree 18; Vernon Davis 15; Bruce Miller 14; Mario Manningham 6; Gore 3. ... Both Boldin and Crabtree have terrific matchups on paper. Coming off a 5-45-1 line in Tampa Bay, Crabtree will be a fantasy WR2/3 taking on Falcons rookie perimeter CBs Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. Boldin will run slot routes against wildly inconsistent Robert McClain inside the numbers. I like Crabtree as the superior upside play. Boldin shouldn't have trouble racking up 4-7 catches. ... The Falcons allow the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, setting up Davis for a potential week-winning game. Despite ranking 12th among tight ends in targets on the season, Davis is second in touchdown catches (12) and third in yards (805). Fire him up with excitement.
Atlanta's offense has made incremental strides down the stretch of a lost season, but expecting substantial box-score production against a Niners defense that ranks third in yards and points allowed would be doltish. San Francisco has been particularly stingy through the air, ranking fourth in the NFL in pass defense and second in passer rating against (73.5). The 49ers' 15 passing touchdowns allowed are fourth fewest in football. Matt Ryan is a fantasy backup in finals week. ... Ryan's target distribution since Roddy's Week 10 return from a hamstring injury: Harry Douglas 57; White 46; Tony Gonzalez 39; Darius Johnson 26; Jacquizz Rodgers and Steven Jackson 21; Jason Snelling 9. ... San Francisco simply doesn't give up big pass plays, ranking 30th in 20-plus-yard completions permitted (32) and 27th in 40-plus yarders (6). So anyone hanging their hat on a Falcons pass catcher will need them to either rack up catches underneath or score touchdowns. And the Niners don't permit many of the latter, either. Still a savvy route runner but lacking explosion during the stretch run of his age-32 season, White is a low-ceiling WR3 in Week 16. I think White's most likely projection is something like five catches for 48 yards.
Douglas has the superior matchup against aging slot CB Carlos Rogers, who's been the 49ers' weak link in pass coverage. RCB Tramaine Brock, for instance, is a top-five corner in Pro Football Focus' grades. LCB Tarell Brown has been his usual steady self when healthy. I'd personally play White over Douglas in fantasy lineups, but not by much. I don't think either will help owners get trophies. ... The 49ers annually play smothering tight end coverage, keyed by second-level maven ILB Patrick Willis. This year, San Francisco is allowing the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. It is perhaps worth noting that Gonzalez dropped an 8-78-1 line on the Niners the last time these clubs met in last January's playoffs. Gonzalez will be the best bet for a touchdown in Atlanta's pass-catching corps on Monday night. ... S-Jax deserves credit for salvaging his season to some extent with a strong late push. He's sprinkled five touchdowns among his last 69 carries, and given Falcons management some reason to consider bringing him back for 2014. I still wouldn't view Jackson as more than a limited-ceiling flex play against San Francisco's top-six run defense.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Falcons 17