1. Demaryius Thomas – DEN (vs. SD)
Thomas is the clear No. 1 fantasy wideout for this weekend’s slate of games. Responsible for a team-high 138 regular-season targets, Thomas was No. 2 in fantasy scoring at the position. He racked up 1,430 yards and scored 14 touchdowns on 92 receptions. The San Diego defense has allowed a total of six passing scores over its last six games, but it benefited greatly from an effective, run-heavy attack on the other side of the ball. Thomas and Co. will have plenty of opportunities to score against an underwhelming secondary. In the first meeting between these two teams, Shareece Wright shadowed Thomas to the tune of 50 snaps. Thomas caught seven balls for 108 yards and three touchdowns. In Week 15, Wright played exclusively at left corner, which left Thomas to face off with both Wright and Richard Marshall. The duo held Thomas to a 4-45-0 line on five targets.
2. Julian Edelman – NE (vs. IND)
3. T.Y. Hilton – IND (@ NE)
4. Eric Decker – DEN (vs. SD)
In PPR formats, you could easily make a case that Edelman is the top fantasy wideout this weekend. He’s seen nine or more targets in six straight games, reaching as high as17 in Week 15. Over New England’s last two games, Edelman saw an absurd 45 percent of the team’s targets. With Aaron Dobson looking doubtful, Edelman will line up to Tom Brady’s right more often than usual. He’ll see a little bit of standout Vontae Davis, but primary coverage will come from underwhelming Josh Gordy and Darius Butler. Edelman is set up nicely for another massive workload.
Speaking of massive target numbers, Hilton has enjoyed 33 looks over the Colts last two games. That works out to 41 percent of the team’s total targets. Key to Indianapolis’ comeback against Kansas City on Saturday, the sophomore wideout hauled in 13 of 18 targets for 224 yards and three touchdowns. Per Pro Football Focus, Hilton was in the slot on 49 of his 59 snaps in the win. Aqib Talib shadowed a host of No. 1 wide receivers this past regular season, but rarely traveled to the slot. Hilton can expect to see quite a bit of competent, but beatable Kyle Arrington this weekend.
Powered by a team-high 50 targets, Decker was the top-scoring fantasy wide receiver over the last five weeks of the 2013 regular season. He racked up 32 catches for 491 yards and eight touchdowns during that span. The eight scores were three more than any other player in the league. Of course, Wes Welker was out of action during three of those five games. With the team’s primary slot man back in action – not to mention Manning’s propensity for spreading the ball around – it’s fair to expect Decker to return to earth this week. Decker managed only five catches for 94 yards and no scores in two regular season meetings with San Diego. He figures to see an even mix of Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall in coverage.
5. Keenan Allen – SD (@ DEN)
6. Wes Welker – DEN (vs. SD)
Allen was targeted only three times in Sunday’s win over Cincinnati, buts it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Playing with a lead, San Diego called only 19 passes in the game. This means Allen still saw 20 percent of the targets, which is just about in line with the 25 percent he’s seen for most of the season. The Chargers will need to throw more often this week, which will allow Allen more of an opportunity. Of course, efficiency could be a problem with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in coverage. Denver’s top corner shadowed Allen when these teams met in Week 15, lining up opposite San Diego’s top wideout 61 times. Allen caught only two balls for 29 yards on five targets, but did bail out owners by scoring on both catches.
Prior to suffering a concussion that ended his regular season after 13 games, Welker was No. 14 in fantasy points at the wide receiver position. Working primarily out of the slot, he caught 73 balls for 778 yards and 10 touchdowns on 109 targets. Yardage, of course, is an ongoing issue for Welker, but he sees enough targets, including plenty near the end zone, in the league’s top offense. Back to full health for the playoffs, Welker will face off with Marcus Gilchrist this weekend.
7. Anquan Boldin – SF (@ CAR)
8. Marques Colston – NO (@ SEA)
9. Michael Crabtree – SF (@ CAR)
10. Steve Smith – CAR (vs. SF)
Boldin took a back seat to Crabtree in the 49ers victory in Green Bay on Sunday, but he’s been plenty involved throughout the 2013 season. Including Sunday’s six-target effort, Boldin is now averaging 8.5 targets-per-game since Crabtree’s Week 13 return. That works out to a massive 32 percent of the team’s targets and is five percentage points above what Crabtree has seen. Crabtree, meanwhile, finally busted out in the team’s Wild Card victory over Green Bay. In his sixth game since returning from a torn Achilles, Crabtree was targeted a season-high 13 times. He had totaled 30 targets over his first five games. Boldin gets the nod here as a result of his more-consistent and heavier usage, but the matchup does make this one a close call. Boldin will see Drayton Florence when out wide and Captain Munnerlyn while in the slot. Both, especially Florence, have done well in coverage this season. Crabtree, meanwhile, has the luxury of taking on a struggling Melvin White.
Colston matched a season low with two targets against the Eagles. He had been averaging 8.4 per-game since returning from injury in Week 10. When these teams met in Week 13, both Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell played their sides, leaving Colston to operate against inferior coverage in the slot. He still managed only four catches for 27 yards on six targets. Expect a similar gameplan this weekend, with Colston working primarily against Walter Thurmond III.
Smith is questionable for Sunday with a knee injury, but he’s far from a great play even if he goes. No. 39 in fantasy points among wide receivers before missing most of Week 16 and all of 17, Smith doesn’t see enough of a workload to offset the Panthers’ run-heavy scheme. Carlos Rogers (hamstring) remains questionable for Sunday, which makes coverage of Smith a bit tricky to predict. If Rogers goes, expect Smith to see a lot of Tramaine Brock some of Rogers. If Rogers sits, Tarell Brown and Perrish Cox figure to work against Smith. With Brown and especially Brock playing well, Smith will have his hands full either way.
11. Danny Amendola – NE (vs. IND)
12. Kenbrell Thompkins – NE (vs. IND)
13. Eddie Royal – SD (@ DEN)
14. Golden Tate – SEA (vs. NO)
Amendola, Thompkins, and Dobson combined for 12 targets over the Patriots’ last two games, so there’s not much to get overly excited about here. Still, Dobson is expected to sit out, which does make the other two wide receivers a bit more intriguing. Back when he was playing regular snaps during the first six weeks of the season, Thompkins was No. 20 in fantasy points among wide receivers. The only thing consistent about Amendola’s targets has been their volatility throughout the season. He has a pair of 14-target games, but failed to eclipse four looks in four other games. Thompkins generally works on the left side of the formation, which means he’ll have his hands full with Davis. Amendola has a favorable matchup with Butler working against him in the slot.
Powered by an extremely fluky eight touchdowns on just 47 receptions, Royal was the No. 34 fantasy wide receiver during the regular season. Still, he’s working as Rivers’ No. 2 target as of late, stealing away looks from both Antonio Gates and Vincent Brown. Royal usually works in the slot, which means he’ll be covered by an older, but still competent Champ Bailey. There’s not a lot to like here, but Royal is a safe bet for five or six targets.
Tate would be a bit higher if not for the expected return of Percy Harvin. Even if Harvin is limited, targets were already hard to find in one of the league’s run-heaviest offenses. Even worse for Tate is the fact that Keenan Lewis covered him 35 times when these teams met earlier this season. Lewis has shadowed several top wideouts this season, including DeSean Jackson this past Saturday. Lewis does, however, remain questionable with a head injury.
15. Brandon LaFell – CAR (vs. SF)
16. Griff Whalen – IND (@ NE)
17. Doug Baldwin – SEA (vs. NO)
18. Percy Harvin – SEA (vs. NO)
19. Kenny Stills – NO (@ SEA)
20. Lance Moore – NO (@ SEA)
LaFell has a plus matchup with either Rogers or Cox covering him in the slot…Whalen has emerged as the Colts’ No. 2 receiver, but saw only three targets on Saturday. He’ll move around a lot, but will see plenty of Talib…Baldwin’s fantasy appeal is limited by the return of Harvin. The two figure to share slot duties against Malcolm Jenkins. Expect Harvin to be limited in his first game since Week 11…Already canceling each other out, Stills and Moore may not even see many targets with Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell tattooed to them all afternoon long.
21. Vincent Brown – SD (@ DEN)
22. Ted Ginn – CAR (vs. SF)
23. LaVon Brazill – IND (@ NE)
24. Da’Rick Rogers – IND (@ NE)
25. Jermaine Kearse – SEA (vs. NO)
26. Austin Collie – NE (vs. IND)
27. Quinton Patton – SF (@ CAR)
28. Robert Meachem – NO (@ SEA)
29. Andre Caldwell – DEN (vs. SD)
30. Ricardo Lockette – SEA (vs. NO)
31. Seyi Ajirotutu – SD (@ DEN)
32. Domenik Hixon – CAR (vs. SF)
Projected primary cornerback coverage: Brown (Chris Harris Jr.), Ginn (Brown), Rogers (Logan Ryan), Kearse (Corey White), Patton (Florence)
1. Jimmy Graham – NO (@ SEA)
Graham matched his second-lowest target total of the season when Brees looked his way only four times in Saturday’s win in Philadelphia. Averaging 8.4 targets-per-game coming into the playoffs, Fantasy’s No. 1 tight end each of the last two seasons is primed for a rebound in Seattle. In the Week 13 meeting with the Seahawks, Graham hauled in only three passes for 42 yards on nine targets, but did find the end zone – something he did 16 times this season. A clear product of strong cornerback play, opponents of Seattle targeted a tight end 24 percent of the time this season, which is the fourth-highest mark in the league. The Seattle defense is tough, but its linebackers will struggle to shut down an oft-targeted Graham.
2. Julius Thomas – DEN (vs. SD)
3. Greg Olsen – CAR (vs. SF)
4. Vernon Davis – SF (@ CAR)
With Seattle on tap, Graham isn’t quite as appealing as he is most weeks. That makes our second tier of tight ends worth some consideration in salary-based formats.
Despite the three-week Welker absence, Thomas did not see an increase in targets. He’s hung right around the 6.5-per-game mark all season. Of course, in the high-powered Denver offense, that’s plenty. Despite missing a pair of games, Thomas was No. 3 in fantasy points among tight ends, hauling in 65 balls for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. In two meetings with San Diego, Thomas totaled seven receptions, 145 yards, and one touchdown on 13 targets.
Olsen has seen seven or more targets in six of the Panthers last seven games. In fact, he’s seen at least one third of the team’s targets in four consecutive games and an enormous 35 percent total over that span. With Steve Smith dealing with a knee injury, Olsen is guaranteed to be a large part of the offensive gameplan. Of course, sledding won’t be easy against a 49ers defense that hasn’t allowed more than two passing scores in a game since Week 1. The veteran hauled in only one of three targets for 14 yards when these teams met in Week 10. Olsen will see plenty of targets this time around, but his ceiling is limited.
Davis saw seven targets against Green Bay on Sunday, which solidifies his fantasy value a bit after he had totaled eight the previous two games. He’s now seen 4.8 targets-per-game since Crabtree’s return, which isn’t a ton, but is enough when you consider his massive usage near the end zone. The Panthers’ defense is elite, but it has struggled a bit against opposing tight ends.
5. Coby Fleener – IND (@ NE)
6. Antonio Gates – SD (@ DEN)
7. Zach Miller – SEA (vs. NO)
8. Ladarius Green – SD (@ DEN)
Fleener doubled his target total from his previous three games with a seven-target afternoon against Kansas City on Saturday. If New England goes out of its way to shut down Hilton, there’s a shot at a repeat performance this week. Of course, there are plenty of better options at the tight end position…Miller is only averaging four or so targets per game, but did score five touchdowns during the regular season. He figures to see even fewer looks with Harvin back in action.
It may surprise you to know that Green and Gates are even with five targets a piece over the team’s last two games. After averaging 7.5 target-per-game over San Diego’s first 13 games, Gates has a total of 11 over the four games. Even worse, he hasn’t been utilized near the goal line very often this season. Green, meanwhile, run blocks 58 percent of the time when he’s in the game. You could do worse in terms of a high-upside flier, but the bust factor here is very high.
9. Ben Watson – NO (@ SEA)
10. Michael Hoomanawanui – NE (vs. IND)
11. Luke Willson – SEA (vs. NO)
12. Jack Doyle – IND (@ NE)
13. Weslye Saunders – IND (@ NE)
14. Garrett Celek – SF (@ CAR)
15. Jacob Tamme – DEN (vs. SD)
1. Seahawks (vs. NO)
2. Panthers (vs. SF)
3. 49ers (@ CAR)
4. Broncos (vs. SD)
5. Patriots (vs. IND)
6. Colts (@ NE)
7. Saints (@ SEA)
8. Chargers (@ DEN)
1. Matt Prater – DEN (vs. SD)
2. Stephen Gostkowski – NE (vs. IND)
3. Steven Hauschka – SEA (vs. NO)
4. Adam Vinatieri – IND (vs. NE)
5. Nick Novak – SD (@ DEN)
6. Phil Dawson – SF (@ CAR)
7. Shayne Graham – NO (@ SEA)
8. Graham Gano – CAR (vs. SF)