QB Tiers & Rankings: Week 16 (Fantasy Football)
If you’re reading this column, it means you’re still alive in your fantasy playoffs. And if you’re still alive after Week 15, it means you’re probably not very good at fantasy football, because anyone with a good team got crushed in Week 15.
Or maybe I’m just bitter after a couple of dominant squads went down last week. Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking quarterbacks, not insulting my readers, so…quarterbacks. No position was worse in Week 15. Only two quarterbacks topped 300 passing yards. No one threw for more than two touchdowns. Just three quarterbacks hit 20 points. Andrew Luck, Drew Brees, Cam Newton — three of the top six quarterbacks this season — scored in single digits. It was ugly.
This week doesn’t look much better. Between injuries, difficult match-ups, and teams packing it in, this is the toughest it’s been to put together the tiers and rankings. All with fantasy championships on the line. Let’s get to it.
I assume you all skip the intro, so with this being the last week, I just wanted to say a quick thanks for reading throughout the year. Truly appreciate it.
Mahomes, Luck, and Watson are all easy starts, so let’s get to the two more difficult cases.
Drew Brees had a season-wrecking 5.9 fantasy points on Monday Night Football, his second single-digit game in three weeks. In that span, he has just two touchdowns vs. three interceptions and is averaging 5.65 yards per attempt. Those are Cody Kessler numbers. Now he gets a Steelers defense allowing just 6.0 net yards per attempt (8th fewest). Still, I expect a big bounce-back from Brees. His three-game skid was all on the road, and while his home/road splits are overblown, returning to the Superdome will help. Plus, the Steelers defense depends on its pass rush, generating sacks on 8.4% of drop-backs (2nd best). Brees doesn’t take sacks as only Luck has been dropped on a lower percentage of his pass attempts. If you need more comfort, the Saints have the highest implied team total on the week (31.5). I know it’s been rough, but I think Brees is a must-start this week.
Ben Roethlisberger was also a disappointment last week. You have to wonder if the rib injury was still bothering him, but there’s too much firepower on this offense to think of sitting the NFL’s leading pass-attempter. Especially playing in the Superdome in the game with the highest over/under (57) on the week.
Russell Wilson (SEA): vs. Kansas City
Mitch Trubisky (CHI): @ San Francisco
Dak Prescott (DAL): vs. Tampa Bay
Matt Ryan (ATL): @ Carolina
Aaron Rodgers (GB): @ New York Jets
Tom Brady (NE): vs. Buffalo
Baker Mayfield (CLE): vs. Cincinnati
I like Russell Wilson quite a bit this week. Should be a high-scoring game and he’s been producing when the opposing team can force Seattle to throw.
Mitch Trubisky snapped out of his funk with a solid 19 fantasy points (20/28, 235 passing yards, two touchdowns) to take the NFC North. Next up is a 49ers defense allowing the 6th most fantasy points to quarterbacks (19.6). Sounds good, but there are some red flags. The 49ers have been good against rushing quarterbacks, allowing just 168 yards on 52 attempts (3.2 ypc), and rushing is a huge part of Trubisky’s fantasy appeal. Plus, the Bears are projected for only 23.25 points based on the betting lines, and there’s trap game potential traveling cross-country after a big division-clinching win. Given the match-up and how good Trubisky’s been on the season, plus the overall “meh” of this tier, I’m keeping him as a solid start.
Dak Prescott was shut out by the Colts, which isn’t as bad as it sounds. The Colts rank 17th in net yards per attempt (6.4) and allow 16.3 fantasy points to quarterbacks (12th fewest)…they’re decent. Prescott’s Week 16 match-up is a little easier, facing a Buccaneers defense allowing the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (20.6). Sure, the Buccaneers have looked better since firing defensive coordinator Mike Smith, holding opponents to under 200 passing yards in five of their last six games. That’s mostly because the Bucs have been facing run-first offenses who have absolutely gashed them on the ground (156 rushing yards per game in that span). Dallas can certainly follow that script, and it may limit Prescott’s upside, but he should have a nice floor. And as Jim Sannes notes, Prescott likes playing in JerryWorld.
It’s really hard to say what you’ll get out of Matt Ryan. It’s a meaningless game, on the road, possibly without Julio Jones, and definitely without Cam Newton to push the over. Ryan was the QB1 last week, though it was on just 231 passing yards and two passing touchdowns (plus the rare rushing score). You probably don’t have a better option, and sitting the number two overall quarterback in a good match-up in your championship game is the definition of “getting cute.” But I’m expecting merely solid, not great production.
It’s been a disappointing season for Tom Brady, and I think that’s how he’ll end 2018. The yardage has been there as he actually ranks fifth in passing yards, which would be news to his fantasy owners. Touchdowns have been harder to come by. He has 24 on the season, which is fine, but the 4.7% touchdown rate is his lowest since 2013 and he has one or zero touchdowns in five of his last seven games. The Bills quietly have an elite pass defense, allowing the third-fewest net yards per attempt (5.6).
I can’t tell if I’m way too high on Baker Mayfield (QB20 over the last three weeks, scoring under 14 points in all three games) or way too low on him (Cincinnati allows the second most points to quarterbacks, and as Field Yates notes the Browns offense has been elite in the second half). Ultimately, I’m trusting Vegas. The Browns are big home favorites with an implied team total of 26.25, among the highest of the week. Mayfield is not the safest play, but he offers strong upside.
Lamar Jackson has a tough match-up, as the Chargers are allowing the seventh-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks (15.3). Since Joey Bosa’s return, they’ve allowed finishes of QB23, QB30, QB10, QB23, and QB8. The top-10 finishes were Ben Roethlisberger and Patrick Mahomes. Jackson…he’s not in that class. Jackson should be ok-he has at least 15.9 fantasy points in all five of his starts, and the 17.2 rushing attempts per game guarantee a decent floor if he can stay out of the concussion protocol-but I doubt this is the game he figures out how to pass. Personally, I’d prefer not to hang my championship on a rookie on the road against a strong defense.
Josh Allen is a tough call. Simply en fuego since returning from injury, Allen is the QB1 over the last month. The problem is he’s scoring an insane 57% of his fantasy points on the ground. It feels like the bottom can fall out at any time when you’re relying so heavily on a handful of rushing attempts. That’s almost what we saw on Sunday, as Allen turned nine attempts into a mere 16 yards. He did get a rushing touchdown, plus 204 yards and a score through the air to salvage his day. The Patriots do seem like the type of team he can beat…old, slow and sporting the worst run defense in the league. At the same time, Allen seems like a pretty easy puzzle for Bill Belichick to solve. The low implied team total (16.25) also scares me.
Philip Rivers (LAC): vs. Baltimore
Jared Goff (LAR): @ Arizona
Kirk Cousins (MIN): @ Detroit
Nick Foles (PHI): vs. Houston
Jameis Winston (TB): @ Dallas
Sam Darnold (NYJ): vs. Green Bay
Derek Carr (OAK): vs. Denver
Marcus Mariota (TEN): vs. Washington
Case Keenum (DEN): @ Oakland
Josh Johnson (WAS): @ Tennessee
Eli Manning (NYG): @ Indianapolis
Nick Mullens (SF): vs. Chicago
Ryan Tannehill (MIA): vs. Jacksonville
Matthew Stafford (DET): vs. Minnesota
Philip Rivers is really good. He’s playing really well. He’s probably on your bench this week. The Ravens have the second-best pass defense according to Football Outsiders and are allowing the fewest net yards per attempt (5.3) in the league. More importantly, since Lamar Jackson took over and turned the Ravens’ offense comically run-heavy, they’ve been dominating time of possession. Dominating. They’ve held the ball for over 35 minutes per game, and only the Chiefs have won the time of possession battle. It’s hard to put up fantasy stats from the sideline. Now throw in Keenan Allen‘s injury, Ray Lewis likely shutting down 2018 league-winner Hunter Henry, and a potential let-down game after last week’s big win (though to be honest, every game is a potential letdown game for the Chargers).
Jared Goff just pulled off the Reverse Emanski, with back to back to back duds. I do think he can be ok in Week 16, but I would hate to hit “submit” on that lineup. The Cardinals are allowing the sixth-fewest points to quarterbacks (15.2), in part because they have a pretty good pass defense (allowing 5.9 net yards per attempt, 4th fewest), in part because they’re much easier to beat on the ground (allowing 4.7 yards per carry, 11th most) and in part because their games tend to hit junk time by the second quarter. On the positive side, the Rams are big favorites with the second highest implied team total of the week in a prime “get right” spot. I could see the Rams using this as glorified practice to get back on track and reinstall some confidence in Goff before the playoffs. It’s also starting to look like Gurley may sit, in which case I’d bump Goff up to the end of the QB1 tier.
Hey, Nick Foles looked alright on Sunday! You’re crazy if you think he should be starting over Carson Wentz, but he looked alright. If the Eagles’ offensive line can hold up against Houston’s pass rush, he should be able to exploit the Texans’ weak secondary for another solid game.
Marcus Mariota has just over 10 fantasy points over the last two weeks. It’s not that he’s been bad, he just hasn’t had to do much in two blowouts. Unfortunately for Mariota, a third blowout seems inevitable with Washington coming to town.
If Case Keenum has proven anything this year, it’s that you should not start him on the road. He gets a Raiders defense ranked 31st against the pass per Football Outsiders, so you’re really going to want to start him on the road. But you should not start Keenum on the road. It’s like a Chinese buffet-seems like a good idea at the time, hard to pass up that value, but you’re going to feel sick when it’s over.
Josh Johnson is now two for two in putting up startable fantasy weeks, with QB3 and QB11 finishes since taking over. He has just 346 passing yards total but is getting it done on the ground with at 45 and 49 rushing yards plus a touchdown in each start. Washington’s 13.75 implied team total is a massive red flag, but in a pinch you can hope that rushing magic continues for one more week. Someone somewhere is going to win their 2QB league starting the Joshes Allen and Johnson, which is just incredible.