For devout fantasy football players, Week 16 is more important than the Super Bowl. The pivotal weekend hosts title games across the land for those lucky enough to withstand the preceding gauntlet.
First, take a second to appreciate every fortunate twist and turn making this possible. Did a garbage-time touchdown save the day? How about a questionable penalty negating an opponent’s score? Watch a full day of football from a fantasy lens, and it’s impossible not to fill the day with “what if?” scenarios.
Or maybe it was just Cam Newton and Antonio Brown being awesome. Whatever the path to the championship, here you are. Soak it all in. Now snap out of it. This is the most important lineup of the season, so don’t take Week 16’s roster decisions lightly.
In order to get a head start, here’s an early look at flex rankings for standard and point-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Heading into Week 15, Danny Woodhead hadn’t scored since Week 9. Those four scoreless games weren’t exactly a treasure chest of production otherwise, featuring 110 total yards from the San Diego Chargers scatback. In most standard leagues, owners jettisoned him to the bench or waiver wire and watched in horror as he scored four touchdowns on Sunday.
In what could have been the Chargers’ last game in San Diego, Woodhead made an emphatic closing statement. As noted by ESPN Stats & Info, he matched a feat last obtained by a franchise legend:
Take away the scores, however, and it was far from a dominating performance. He compiled 60 yards on 14 touches, placing the 30-year-old behind his season average of 65.8 yards per contest.
Despite a month of futility, he ranks No. 12 among running backs in NFL.com fantasy scoring, sandwiched between LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte. That’s using standard-scoring formats, which doesn’t account for his 64 receptions.
While gamers shouldn’t overreact and treat him like a stud, he deserves a spot in most Week 16 starting lineups. When he faced the Oakland Raiders earlier this season, he stockpiled a season-high 11 receptions for 75 yards and two scores. Antonio Gates is now in the picture, but Keenan Allen isn’t.
The Raiders rank No. 28 in passing defense, and San Diego’s recent offensive blunders came against the tougher Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs. When it’s clicking, Woodhead becomes a prolific PPR weapon.
On the other side of the coin, Latavius Murray quietly ranks No. 4 in rushing attempts (236) and No. 5 in rushing yards (956). Yet the Raiders running back has just five touchdowns this season and one over the last four games.
Even though Sunday’s loss to the Green Bay Packers eliminated them from playoff contention, the Raiders have made strides behind a bright offensive nucleus. Murray, however, takes little solace in his personal quest for 1,000 rushing yards, per Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle:
He’ll rarely top the weekly leaderboard, but a heavy workload makes him a stable No. 2 fantasy rusher. His investors, however, would love to see his first 100-yard outing since Nov. 1 with championships on the line.
Woodhead wasn’t the only running back to enjoy the last Chargers-Raiders showdown. Murray sliced up San Diego—who has relinquished 4.7 yards per carry this season—for 85 yards and a score on 15 carries.
The 25-year-old will certainly get opportunities to flourish. He has received at least 13 touches in every game this season, and his low touchdown tally isn’t indicative of his chances. According to NFLsavant.com, Oakland has given him 29 red-zone rushing attempts this season, which ties him with Jeremy Hill for No. 10 on the ledger. As long as the Raiders keep calling his number, fantasy owners should follow.
Martavis Bryant has taken a weird turn from touchdown machine to PPR master. While the Pittsburgh Steelers wideout failed to score in consecutive games for the first time this season, he corralled 17 combined catches.
His seven receptions against the Cincinnati Bengals set a personal best before quickly topping it with 10 grabs versus the Denver’s top-ranked passing defense. Most fantasy players will prefer the scores, but Bryant’s investors should relish the heightened workload.
Not only did he provide usefulness in the league’s toughest matchups, he received 14 targets in a game where Antonio Brown exploded for 16 catches, 189 yards and two scores. Earlier in his season, the second-year pro had a couple of three-reception games which would have looked ugly without a “1” in the touchdown column. Now he’s no longer an all-or-nothing upside gamble.
This weekend, owners should enjoy the best of both worlds. Per NFL.com, the Baltimore Ravens have surrendered the most touchdowns (25) and fantasy points per game (28.53) to opposing wide receivers. Those numbers would look worse had Michael Vick not started for Pittsburgh instead of Ben Roethlisberger in Week 4.
Don’t worry too much about the Steelers going run-heavy in a blowout. They didn’t take their foot off the pedal during Week 13’s 45-10 slaughtering of the Indianapolis Colts, when Bryant tallied 114 yards and a score. In a must-win game against a bitter division rival, the Steelers will relish running up the score against a wounded adversary simply waiting for their nightmare season to end.
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