Man, I hate goodbyes.
This has been my second season covering fantasy football and I must say, nothing on this planet makes me happier. I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always loved fantasy sports. Put the two together and I’m in heaven. I personally would like to thank each and every person who reads my work, interacts with me on Twitter and simply loves the fantasy game as much as I do. Having said that, let’s get into my final starts and sits of the season.
This one is for all the marbles.
Thumbs Up; Quarterbacks
Ryan Tannehill @ Buffalo Bills: Don’t get me wrong, I am a Bills fan, but I am quite fond of Mr. Tannehill. One of the hottest signal callers in fantasy football, Tannehill has tossed 10 touchdowns and four interceptions over his last five games. He’s thrown for 300 yards or more in three of his last four, and over the last five, is averaging 24.4 fantasy points per game. In your fantasy title, Tannehill is a top-10 quarterback against a Bills defense that is surrendering two passing touchdowns per game, and 27 on the season (4th-most). Opposing quarterbacks have tossed at least two touchdowns in each of the last two contests, and I think Tannehill exceeds that total in another big game for the Dolphins. He is quietly QB13 on the year.
Ryan Fitzpatrick @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Since Week 10, FitzMagic is a top-seven fantasy quarterback. The Amish Rifle is absolutely slinging it right now, coming off a 400-yard, four-touchdown performance. Now he faces an improving Jaguars run defense, but a stinky secondary that is surrendering the third-most fantasy points to passers (23.71 per game). The Jags are also coughing up two passing touchdowns per game, and considering Fitzpatrick tossed two scores during the last meeting between these teams, I think you can pencil him in for at least 17 fantasy points.
Kirk Cousins vs Dallas Cowboys: Cousins turned the ball over three times, but still managed to throw for 381 yards and three touchdowns, finishing as the seventh-best quarterback for Week 15. The matchup was favorable, and Cousins took advantage of it. Now he goes from a good matchup to a historically bad defense in Dallas. The Cowboys are coughing up the most fantasy points per game to opposing passers (26.43) and have allowed eight signal callers to finish as a QB1. Opposing offenses are averaging a healthy 69.8 offensive plays per game against Dallas, and this secondary is surrendering the most passing yards per game (297.4).
Matt Ryan @ San Francisco 49ers: Ryan hasn’t thrown for over 210 yards in each of the last two weeks, despite some very strong matchups. Now he goes to Candlestick to face a tough 49ers defense who need to win. Opposing quarterbacks are posting just 14.47 fantasy points per game (3rd-fewest), and I’d much favor the 49ers defensive line against a weak Falcons offensive front. Matty Ice will be ice cold in this contest. Play Cousins, Fitzpatrick, Tannehill, Cutler, Dalton (I can keep going) over him.
Drew Brees @ Carolina Panthers: Please, do not think I am advising you to bench Brees. That, at this time of year, would be ludicrous. However, I am saying to temper expectations a tad. Carolina is very tough against quarterbacks, surrendering just 13.61 fantasy points per game to the position (2nd-fewest). Brees did explode for four scores during the last meeting between these division rivals, but that was in the Superdome. Brees, though he hasn’t been terrible, hasn’t been the same quarterback away from home this year. He has thrown 400 less yards, is sporting a completion percentage of 63.4, compared to 73.2 at home, and 11 scores and seven picks. Brees is still a top-seven quarterback in my rankings, and you aren’t sitting him, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t post top-10 numbers.
Thumbs Up; Running Backs
Ryan Mathews vs Oakland Raiders: Both Mathews and quarterback Philip Rivers are strong candidates for fantasy comeback player of the year. Just one season removed from breaking more collarbones than touchdowns scored, Mathews has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. He’s looked much better, a violent, powerful runner who continues to fight for extra yards. More importantly, he is staying healthy. Mathews has carried the ball 29 times in each of his last two games, dominating the carry count. He’s rushed for 100 yards in three of his last five games, and is a top-10 back this week against the Raiders. Oakland has coughed up 14 rushing scores on the season, while also surrendering the seventh-most fantasy points to runners. Mathews quietly touches the ball on 65.2 percent of his snaps, which is the most in football. Keep riding this super charged bolt.
Giovani Bernard vs Minnesota Vikings: Bernard received the majority of the carries during Sunday night’s game, out-carrying BenJarvus Green-Ellis 13-4. The Law Firm was dealing with an illness all week, so perhaps that played a role. Either way, it was good to see Gio receive the goal line work for the Bengals, as he continues to outperform Green-Ellis in that regard. He’s a good play this week against a Vikings defense that is allowing 23.71 fantasy points per game to rushers, the sixth-most in the league. Cincinnati may be ahead in this game, which could spell a ton of work for Bernard. Gio is averaging a healthy 15 touches per game over his last three games.
Jordan Todman vs Tennessee Titans: Todman filled in admirably for Maurice Jones-Drew on Sunday, and made the best out of his first NFL start. In fact, he totaled more yards than MJD ever had at any point this season (153). Jones-Drew’s Week 16 status is still pretty iffy, and if he can’t go, Todman will once again get the call in a very favorable matchup. The titans are allowing the second-most fantasy points per game to running backs, and have been getting shredded lately. This past week, Tennessee coughed up over 30 fantasy points to the Arizona backs and 31 to the Denver backs the week before. Denard Robinson clearly isn’t a threat, as he was out-touched 29-2.
Andre Brown @ Detroit Lions: This is a brutal matchup for Brown. Detroit is a very tough team against the run, but especially at home, where they are giving up the fewest rushing yards per game in the league (70.1). They haven’t allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in seven of their last eight contests, and via my buddy Rich Hribar, Detroit hasn’t allowed a back to post double-digit fantasy points since Matt Forte accomplished the feat all the way back in Week 4. Pretty impressive stuff. Take all that and then consider how bad Eli Manning has been, as well as Victor Cruz possibly being sidelined for this game, and the Giants offense could fall flat. Again.
Rashard Mendenhall @ Seattle Seahawks: Mendenhall had a nice fantasy outing last week, but that was against an atrocious run defense in the Titans. Besides, he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry, and benefited from two short touchdown runs. Don’t count on that against the Seahawks, who have only coughed up four rushing scores all season long. Mendy also only played on 31 of Arizona’s 61 snaps last week, which hurts. Oh, yeah. This game is in Seattle. Stay away.
Thumbs Up; Wide Receivers
Kendall Wright @ Jacksonville Jaguars: I don’t know what it’s going to take for Wright to get the fantasy love he deserves, as he is still only owned in 63 percent of Yahoo! leagues. The sophomore wideout has caught 85 balls for 1,007 yards, both of which are career highs. He is currently 7th in the league in receptions, and Fitzpatrick loves him. Last week, he had 20 (!) targets, and is currently tied for 12th in targets among receivers with 125. Wright is averaging 11 PPR fantasy points per game this year, and has a great matchup this week against a Jaguars defense that struggles against the pass. The last time he faced the Jags, he hauled in seven of nine targets for 78 yards.
Mike Wallace @ Buffalo Bills: Wallace and Tannehill are beginning to click as of late. Over the last five games, Wallace has been targeted a healthy 40 times, hauling in 24 balls for 372 yards and three scores. The deep ball accuracy from Tannehill is improving from where it was to start the season, and considering the Dolphins are passing the ball 64 percent of the time, there will be volume in this terrific matchup for Wallace. The Bills are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points per game to receivers this season (32.59)and they can certainly give up the big play, coughing up 13 pass plays of 40-plus yards and 45 of 20 or more. Wallace is back in the WR2 consideration.
Michael Crabtree vs Atlanta Falcons: Crabtree continues to get back into the swing of things, as his snap count has increased in each of the last three games. He’s coming off his best outing of the year, catching five balls for 45 yards and a touchdown. We know Colin Kaepernick loves him (whom I also love this week),as Crabtree has been targeted a strong 18 times during his first three contests. He could have his best game of the year this week against a struggling Falcons secondary that has coughed up 15 pass plays of 40 yards or more (second-most), as well as the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season.
Larry Fitzgerald @ Seattle Seahawks: What do you get when you mix a receiver with concussion symptoms and a matchup against the Seahawks vaunted secondary? If you guessed fantasy hell, you are correct. Fitzgerald suffered the injury during an onside kick attempt during the end of Sunday’s game, and is a major risk for your fantasy championship. Seattle is allowing the fewest passing yards per game (174.2) and leads the league in interceptions (22). They also haven’t allowed a wide receiver to find the end zone since Week 11, and that was rather fluky with Jarius Wright hauling in two. There are better options than Fitz this week.
Andre Johnson vs Denver Broncos: Johnson had a miserable Week 15 performance, largely due to the fact that Case Keenum continues to fail to resemble an NFL quarterback. It’s hard to trust Johnson, no matter how good he is, when the quarterback is continuously forcing throws that aren’t there, or underthrowing his wideouts. I’m worried about him this week, and while the Denver secondary is certainly beatable, they are continuing to buckle down in the secondary. You may not have a choice but to start him, but again, I’d temper expectations.
Thumbs Up; Tight Ends
Delanie Walker @ Jacksonville Jaguars: I don’t mean to pick on the Jaguars, but Fitzpatrick and Walker have been dialed in this year. According to Rich Hribar (follow him on Twitter, won’t you?), Walker has been targeted on 24.8 percent of Fitzpatrick’s pass attempts when on the field. Also, during the last four games in which the two played together full-time, Walker has failed to finish worse than TE5 for that week. During his first game back from concussion on Sunday, Walker was targeted 11 teams, hauling in eight balls and a touchdown. He goes from the worst team at defending tight ends (Arizona) to the second-worst team in the Jaguars, who are surrendering 13.71 fantasy points per contest to the position.
Zach Ertz vs Chicago Bears: I like Ertz a lot if you don’t own a high-end fantasy tight end for the championship week. He is clearly the number one passing option among Eagles tight ends, as Brent Celek has been targeted just 12 times over his last five games, while Ertz has seen 18. Celek is more of a blocker, and prefers that role. This game between the Eagles and Bears should be a shootout, and Ertz can exploit a Bears linebacking corp that is incredibly banged up. Chicago is also surrendering the ninth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends.
Tim Wright @ St. Louis Rams: I like Wright as a player, but it seems every time he has a very good fantasy outing, he follows it with back-to-back weak ones. He did that very such thing during weeks 9-11 and 12-14. The Rams are tough against tight ends, allowing just 8.04 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends (3rd-fewest). He’s just too inconsistent for me to trust during my fantasy championship.
Thumbs Up; D/ST
Lions defense vs New York Giants: Quarterback Eli Manning has thrown nine interceptions compared to just five touchdowns over his last five games. He has a whopping 25 picks on the season, and considering he may be without Victor Cruz for this game, the Lions defense should have a field day, Opposing defenses are averaging a league-leading 13.86 fantasy points per game against the Giants, and Detroit’s defense is particularly strong at home. They will get after Eli and company with that stout defensive line, and are very opportunistic.
Titans defense @ Jacksonville Jaguars: Lately, streaming defenses facing the Jaguars hasn’t exactly worked out, outside of last week where the Bills posted a strong 14 fantasy points. I recommended Tennessee’s defense the last time they faced Jacksonville, and they fell flat, scoring just seven fantasy points. Perhaps it will help with Cecil Shorts being placed on IR, but I just have a sneaky feeling they will falter.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.