The Primer: Week 16 Edition (Fantasy Football)
The time has come, my friends. Week 16 is officially upon us, which, in turn, brings us to the final version of The Primer for the 2018 season. It’s been quite a wild ride this year, as the article has grown beyond my wildest dreams and I have you to thank for that. If you’ve shared it on social media, told a co-worker or family member, or whatever, I just want to say thank you for supporting something that I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.
For those of you who don’t know the story of how this all came together, I’d like to share my journey with you. Oddly enough, mine started because I had to have major back surgery back in 2009. The multi-level fusion on my L4/L5/S1 that required part of my hip to fuse the bones together was told to have an 8-12 month recovery. During that time, I had to pass the time at home somehow, as my job had no such thing as “light duty.”
During the fantasy season, I’d always write about everyone’s matchups in the ‘smack talk’ section on Yahoo, highlighting who I thought would win and what positions they had the advantage at, and I didn’t think anyone cared, until I didn’t do it one week. I remember it clearly because I went to the Bears game and was tailgating when I got three messages from leaguemates asking where my usual write-up was.
Back to my recovery from surgery… After playing Madden and MLB’s “The Show” to the point I was bored, I picked up my laptop and started writing random thoughts on players in the upcoming fantasy football season. It would always help convince me which players I’d liked more than others. If you’re torn between two players, I highly recommend putting your thoughts on paper and then reading them afterwards. You might be surprised at just how easy the decision is once you complete that simple exercise.
This went on over the span of a few days and my wife asked the question that may have changed my life. She said, “Why do you spend so much time writing those up and not sharing them with anyone?” After I asked her who would possibly read them, she reminded me that me and my friends would always give each other crap, so the fact they told me they missed my weekly write-up was significant. She then asked, “If you have a website, what would you call it?”
Five minutes later she handed me her laptop and said that she’d just bought the domain ‘TagsFantasyFootball.com’ and that I was going to do share my notes with whoever wanted to read them. After starting a Twitter account and getting a few emails from readers asking for advice, I started to get the itch to do more. Even after returning to work, I would get home at night and write paragraphs on the top-10 quarterbacks, top-20 running backs, top-20 wide receivers, and top-10 tight ends every week. Rankings always felt so hollow to me, which is why I felt the need to explain myself in the paragraphs.
This went on for four years before getting hired part-time by Pro Football Focus in 2015. I continued to work my full-time job while cramming in my work with PFF. That was until the fall of 2016 when they offered me a full-time in-season position. It was at that time where I had to make the decision to leave my full-time job (which was a great career) or pursue my dreams of writing about football. My wife made the decision for me and said that I was going to leave my job to pursue my dreams. Just when I wrapped my mind around doing it, we found out that we were going to have our second child. Needless to say, I told her I wasn’t going to go through with the writing gig.
You know when someone tells you something that you know they mean it with all their heart? She told me I was meant to do this and that we’d make everything work, no matter what. You never want to let down the people you love, but this was something different. I put forth everything I had that year and it led me to getting hired at FantasyPros to a year-round full-time position once that season had concluded.
That’s when I brought up the idea of what’s now known as The Primer, though I wanted to call it “Process Over Results.” In the end, I really don’t care what it’s called. I’ve always wanted to write something like this, just never had the time to dedicate to it. Fortunately, FantasyPros supported me on the idea, and because of your ongoing support, it’ll be back for a third straight year in 2019. Thank you for everything. Now put on your red, because it’s Championship Sunday.
In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been going back into The Primer on Saturday morning trying to update you on the injury reports that impact your decisions. While I cannot write a whole new article, I do talk about a lot of these things on our Sunday morning livestream, which is FREE to everyone. It’s where I discuss all the latest injury news and then take your questions live from 11-12am EST. Click here to be taken to our YouTube page where you can get notifications when we go live.
If you’re new, here’s what you can expect: Numbers, facts, stats, opinions, and some shenanigans here and there. It’s my unbiased opinion about everyone on your roster. Whether it be season-long advice, DFS advice, or wide receiver/cornerback matchups, it’s all covered. The idea here is to give you as much information as possible and give you as much confidence as possible when you hit that ‘submit lineup’ button each week. Who should be in your lineup this week?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
Line: DAL by 7.0
Jameis Winston: We knew the Ravens were a brutal matchup for Winston and the Bucs offense, so when you combine bad weather, we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome. Going to Dallas, it could be interesting. Weather isn’t a factor, but their defense has allowed more than 24 points just once the entire season. They had allowed one or two passing touchdowns in each game from Week 2 to Week 13, but then allowed Carson Wentz to throw for three touchdowns in Week 14. Many will see that they held Andrew Luck to no touchdowns the following week, but if you watched that game, you’d know that Luck didn’t need to throw much or take risks as they were in control the entire game. What’s hurt quarterbacks against the Cowboys has been their lack of plays, as they average just 59.9 plays per game (4th-lowest). It’s why we’ve seen just three quarterbacks throw the ball more than 38 times against them. Oddly enough, 10 of the last 12 quarterbacks to play against the Cowboys have averaged at least 7.1 yards per attempt. We know the Bucs aren’t going to walk into Dallas and expect to run the ball, so they’re surely going to lose the time of possession in this game, which does hurt Winston’s projection. Knowing the Cowboys have still yet to allow a top-six quarterback, Winston’s expectations must be kept in check, though he’s a much better play this week than he was last week. Consider him a high-end QB2 who should provide at least a 15-point floor.
Dak Prescott: Just when many started to trust Prescott, he goes out and has his worst fantasy performance of the year. He’d scored at least 14.1 fantasy points in each of his last eight games, but the 6.2 points against the Colts likely buried many fantasy teams. If you made it through and have Prescott as an option against the Bucs, he should be able to get back to his high-floor reliability, as they’ve allowed 12-of-14 quarterbacks to finish with at least 15 fantasy points. They haven’t given much of a ceiling, despite belief to the contrary. Over their first five games they allowed 16 passing touchdowns with just one interception, but have turned the tide since then, allowing just 14 passing touchdowns with seven interceptions over their last nine games. They have allowed at least one passing touchdown in every game and have allowed the sixth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks, including 95 to Lamar Jackson last week, so the fantasy floor is stable. You should be back on board with Prescott as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 this week.
Peyton Barber: Oddly enough, Barber has now recorded a rushing touchdown in four of the last five games after scoring just one in the first nine games of the season. He’s touchdown-dependent, as he’s totaled more than 85 rushing yards just once all season, but that’s the case with many running backs in the RB3 territory. The Cowboys are coming off a game in which they allowed Marlon Mack to go bananas, but prior to that game, they had not allowed any team of running backs to total more than 112 against them this year, and it had been five straight weeks where they’d held opponents to 68 or less rushing yards. You have to consider the game against Mack an outlier in what’s been a pretty dominant run-defense as of late. In fact, there’s been no team of running backs who’ve averaged more than 4.86 yards per carry against the Cowboys this year, which leaves upside off the table. Prior to the Colts racking up 33 carries, the Cowboys previous five opponents averaged just 14.0 carries per game with no team recording more than 18 carries, which leaves Barber’s floor as a concern, too. Every team is entitled to a bad week from time-to-time, so we won’t erase what’s been a great season because of it. Barber has seen at least 14 carries in five straight games, so he’s on the RB3 radar, but knowing his lack of involvement in the pass-game (hasn’t topped two catches or 16 yards since Week 6), he’s not going to win you a fantasy title or anything.
Ezekiel Elliott: There was a scare during the Colts game where Elliott came off the field a bit gimpy, but he returned and all seems fine. It was a tough matchup against the Colts (as we talked about last week), but that’s not the case this week when the Bucs come to town. Over their last eight games, their defense has allowed a massive 5.36 yards per carry and 12 total touchdowns to running backs. It wasn’t just one big performance, either, as 5-of-8 teams were able to rack up at least 31 PPR points with their running backs alone. Keep in mind that Elliott has accounted for 311.3 of the 332.8 PPR points scored by Cowboys running backs this year, which is a ridiculous 93.6 percent. The last five teams who’ve played the Bucs have all totaled at least 106 yards on the ground, making this an explosion spot for Elliott. The Bucs have allowed a top-four running back performance in four of their last eight games. He’s an elite RB1-play this week and one who should be a lock in DFS lineups.
Mike Evans: He saw a team-high nine targets last week and hauled in 121 of Winston’s 157 yards against the Ravens, giving confidence to his owners as he heads into another tough matchup with the Cowboys this week. On the season, they’ve allowed just six wide receivers to score more than 13.6 PPR points against them. Evans lines up on the left side of the formation about 50 percent of the time, which means he’ll see Byron Jones the most. He’s been the Cowboys top cornerback in coverage this year, as he’s allowed just a 50.9 percent catch-rate, 11.6 yards per reception, and one touchdown on 55 targets. Just one week after Evans became the first wide receiver to post 100 yards on the Ravens, Evans needs to be in lineups, but the matchup is another difficult one. Knowing they’ve allowed just three top-12 performances and seven top-24 performances through 14 games is impressive. Evans should be played as a middling to low-end WR2 this week.
Chris Godwin: He’s now seen 13 targets over the last two weeks, netting just one catch for 13 yards, though you shouldn’t get too discouraged as just two of them were deemed catchable. The weather was also pretty bad for those games, while this game will be played in a dome. He’s going to see Chidobe Awuzie in coverage this week, which is an upgrade over Evans’ matchup. Awuzie has allowed 49-of-71 passing for 668 yards and four touchdowns, which is good enough for a 117.6 QB Rating in his coverage. The issue is that many wide receivers don’t get enough targets against the Cowboys due to the low play-counts. Awuzie has been targeted more than six times just once all season. In that game, he allowed 8/138/1 against the Lions. The fact that the Cowboys have allowed just seven top-24 performances is worrisome, but the Bucs are a pass-heavy team and Godwin’s matchup is one to target. He should be considered a low-end WR3 who’s obviously no sure thing, but he has the best matchup of the Bucs receivers. Update: DeSean Jackson is playing this week, which will lower Godwin’s snap counts making him a risky WR4.
Adam Humphries: In a game where Winston threw for just 157 yards, we couldn’t expect much from Humphries who netted just 4/23/0 on six targets. He’s now failed to top 61 yards in six straight games, which makes him a bit touchdown-needy in standard formats, though he’s been fine in PPR leagues. He’s going to see Anthony Brown most often this week, a cornerback who’s been consistently average. Here’s the QB Rating when targeting him in coverage over each of his three years in the league (most recent first): 103.5, 104.3, 105.5. He’s nothing to shy away from, though the volume has been an issue, as there’s been just four slot-heavy receivers to finish as top-40 options against the Cowboys. Humphries should be considered a WR4 in standard formats but is in the low-end WR3 conversation in PPR leagues.
Amari Cooper: We need to simply wipe away last week from our memories, as the Cowboys team just didn’t show up in Indianapolis. They were coming off an emotional divisional win over the Eagles and it just seemed to be a hangover effect. The Bucs started the season as the worst defense in football but have really changed their play since firing their defensive coordinator. They’ve also had some injuries in the secondary that have led them to playing backups who might just be better than the starters. They did go back to Carlton Davis last week, so maybe they didn’t learn their lesson. Cooper will see a mixture of Davis, Brent Grimes, and Javien Elliott in coverage this week, so it’s not wise to look at one cornerback matchup. While the Bucs have been better against the pass, the chart below contains a list of the pass-catchers who’ve seen at least five targets against them since Week 7 (when they seemingly got better). Cooper has seen at least five targets in each of his seven games with the Cowboys and at least eight targets in five of them. He should be played as a low-end WR1/high-end WR2 this week who presents a solid floor.
Michael Gallup: After being targeted at least five times in 6-of-7 games, Gallup suddenly wasn’t involved in the gameplan against the Colts, as he wasn’t targeted a single time. This obviously raises some red flags, but it’s important you know that he did play 55 snaps, which was tied with Cooper for the team-lead. Still, how are you able to trust someone who wasn’t targeted in his most recent game and one who hasn’t topped 34 yards in five of his last six games. His primary matchup will be with Carlton Davis, who has allowed a healthy 13.4 yards per reception, in this, his rookie year. He returned from injury last week and reclaimed his starting spot, though his replacement was playing better than he has. Gallup is someone who could pop-up on the DFS radar, but there’s simply too much risk to play him as anything more than a WR5-type option in season-long leagues.
Cole Beasley: If Beasley had this matchup back in Weeks 1-8, we’d be attacking it a bit more, as M.J. Stewart was the gift that kept on giving. Javien Elliott has allowed a sky-high 78.3 percent catch-rate, but has kept the play in front of him, allowing just 9.3 yards per reception and no touchdowns in his coverage. It’s only been 23 targets, but Stewart had allowed five touchdowns on 40 of them over the first eight weeks. Beasley hasn’t topped 51 yards since Cooper came to town and has finished below 20 yards in 4-of-7 games. He’s not someone you should be aiming to play this week.
Cameron Brate: So, Brate scores two touchdowns against the Saints top-tier defense against tight ends, but then finishes with one catch for nine yards against the bottom-10 (against tight ends) Ravens defense. You just have to love tight ends, right? Brate has just one game with more than four targets this season, so he’s far from a sure thing, but the matchup against the Cowboys is another good one. Sure, they held Eric Ebron to just one catch for eight yards last week, but the Colts didn’t throw much, and he saw just three targets. There have been six different tight ends who’ve posted top-12 numbers against the Cowboys this year. In fact, it’s scary how similar the Ravens and the Cowboys have been against tight ends. While it didn’t work out for Brate last week (weather was a factor), he should be back in the low-end TE1 conversation this week. Just because he didn’t get it done last week doesn’t mean that’ll be the case this week.
|BAL defense vs. TE||102||74||867||6|
|DAL defense vs. TE||109||79||815||6|
Blake Jarwin: He’s been reliable the last two weeks, totaling seven targets in each game, and turning them into 11 catches for 101 yards. While it’s risky to count on a tight end who’s been relevant for exactly two weeks this year, the matchup this week is close to as good as it gets. The Bucs have allowed a top-12 tight end in 11-of-14 games this year, as their safety play has been brutal. Not only did they lose Chris Conte earlier in the year, but Justin Evans has been on and off the field, leading to Jordan Whitehead and Isaiah Johnson manning the back of the defense and helping cover tight ends. The biggest issue is that the Bucs defense has faced just 28.1 pass attempts per game over their last seven games, which could be very limiting to Jarwin and the tight end group. He was top-12 in routes run among tight ends last week and was top-four in Week 14, so he’s on the field as much as we can hope for. It’s such a limited sample size, but Jarwin has a great matchup and is trending in the right direction. He’s on the streaming radar as a high-end TE2 this week, though the overall passing volume is a concern.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Line: MIN by 5.5
Kirk Cousins: Well, it started out looking like the loss of John DeFilippo was a good one as the Vikings marched down the field and Cousins threw a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, but the longer the game went on, the more we started to see the effect of the change. The run-game was more prevalent than it had been all year and Cousins threw the ball a season-low 21 times. The final score wasn’t all that close, but Cousins’ pick-six made it put the game within reach as the Dolphins scratched back to 21-17 after being down 17-0 to start the game. The Lions are another team the Vikings should be expected to walk-over, as they did in the Week 9 meeting where Cousins threw the ball just 22 times and they won 24-9. That was while the Lions were playing horrendous pass-defense, but they’ve looked better over the last three weeks. It’s obviously not too hard against Josh Allen and Josh Rosen, but they also held Jared Goff to just 207 yards and one touchdown in Week 13. Every game is a must-win for the Vikings right now so don’t expect them to take many chances, though it may be difficult for their run-game to carry them the way they did last week, as Damon Harrison has had a big impact on that part of the game. The Lions have still allowed a 6.1 percent touchdown-rate (fifth-highest) and 8.15 yards per attempt (4th-highest) on the season, so Cousins should have a solid, efficient game on paper. We didn’t get to see too much of the pass-attack against the Dolphins and it’s unsure whether we’ll see it here, but he can be played as a low-end QB1/high-end QB2 in a plus-matchup. It’s unlikely the Lions will be able to keep pace, limiting his upside.
Matthew Stafford: As if the losses of Marvin Jones and Golden Tate weren’t enough, Stafford was without Bruce Ellington last week. Seeing him complete 22-of-29 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown should be considered a massive success against the Bills. Not for fantasy, however. He’s not an option this week, either, as the Vikings are one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL, as Stafford found out back in Week 9 when he totaled just 199 yards and no touchdowns on 36 attempts. That game was in Minnesota, but it hasn’t mattered all that much to opposing quarterbacks. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 5 to find the last time they allowed more than one passing touchdown. Since that time, there’s been no quarterback who’s scored more than 16.0 fantasy points. Keep in mind that 16.0 fantasy points typically isn’t enough to finish as a top-15 quarterback, and that’s been the ceiling over the last few months against the Vikings. Don’t play Stafford in any format this week.
Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray: In the first game without John DeFilippo, the Vikings ran the ball a season-high 34 times between Cook and Murray. While they combined for a massive 204 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, it’ll be a bit tougher for them to accomplish that this weekend against the Lions who’ve been much better against the run since acquiring defensive tackle Damon Harrison. Outside of their game against Todd Gurley, the Lions have held each of their last five opponents to 90 or less rushing yards as a team while allowing one rushing touchdown. Even including Gurley’s game, they’ve allowed just 3.69 yards per carry over the last six weeks. They have allowed production through the air during that time, as running backs have combined to average 5.8 receptions for 36.2 yards and 0.2 touchdowns. Cook sees essentially all of the work in the Vikings backfield and it’s unlikely the Lions put them in a position to not run the ball, so he should be locked in for 18-plus touches here. Cook should be played as a low-end RB1 this week who can break a big play at any moment. His second touchdown run against the Dolphins was something special. Murray is not someone who’s a recommended play this week despite his 15 touches in Week 15. He’ll likely finish outside the top-45 running backs if he doesn’t find the end zone, making him a lackluster low-end RB4.
Zach Zenner, LeGarrette Blount, and Theo Riddick: The snap count from Week 15 was Zenner 26, Riddick 25, and Blount 11, which is what I’d consider to be the pecking order of the Lions running backs. Suddenly, the Vikings don’t look like a matchup that you need to avoid in fantasy, as three straight teams (Patriots, Seahawks, Dolphins) have rushed for at least 114 yards against them. They’ve also allowed at least one rushing touchdown in each of their last four games. Unfortunately, the Lions offensive line didn’t appear to hold up so well against them in the first meeting, as Kerryon Johnson, Blount, and Riddick combined for just 45 scoreless yards on 17 carries. The good news is that they’ve allowed a lot of production through the air, as three teams of running backs have recorded at least 10 receptions against them over the last seven games. Zenner surprisingly saw more targets (4) than Riddick (3) last week, so he’s involved no matter the gamescript. Zenner finds himself on the low-end RB3 radar for this game because it’s always possible Matt Patricia gives Blount the goal-line carries once again. As for Riddick, he’s now totaled 22 carries over the last three weeks, so combining that with his 11 targets is at least 10 opportunities in each game. He’s not going to win you a fantasy title, but he can be a role player as a middling RB4 in PPR formats.
Stefon Diggs: The first time these two teams met, Diggs didn’t play, but we know who he’ll see in coverage. It’ll be Darius Slay matched-up with him, who’s extremely hit-or-miss this year, as he’s allowed just a 55.6 percent catch-rate, but he’s allowed a touchdown every 12.0 targets. At first glance it may seem like “eh, another seven targets for Diggs,” but the fact that he saw 33 percent of Cousins’ targets in the first game under interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. That was also a game where Thielen had a better matchup than Diggs, so it’s possible we see Diggs become more of a focal point of the pass-attack. He also played in the slot quite a bit more last week than he has the entire season, though it’s a very small sample size. He should be in lineups as a solid WR2, even against Slay.
Adam Thielen: What happened to Thielen last week? Was he still dealing with the effects of the injury he suffered towards the end of the Seahawks game? This seems to be coming a trend where Thielen finishes with less than 30 yards, as it’s the third time in the last six games, which came after he tied the record with eight straight 100-yard performances. Week 15 was the first one where Thielen saw less than seven targets, so I’m not panicking, but it’s noteworthy that is was the first game under Keven Stefanski as coordinator. The worst part is that it was a great matchup and Stefanski moved Diggs into the slot much more often than usual. It was one game so we can’t take that as the norm going forward. This week presents another great matchup with Nevin Lawson, who was moved to the slot mid-way through the season. While covering the slot, he’s allowed 22-of-35 passing for 252 yards and three touchdowns. That amounts to a 113.0 QB Rating, which ranks as the 13th-highest among the 47 cornerbacks who’ve played at least 25 percent of snaps in the slot. So, in short, his matchup is well above-average. He should be in lineups as a high-end WR2 and hope that his Week 15 performance was just circumstantial.
Kenny Golladay: Any time you have a wide receiver who’s going to see eight-plus targets, it’s really hard to place them on your bench. That’s where we are with Golladay right now. His matchup with the Bills was a bad one, but he overcame it and finished with 7/146/0. The Bills had allowed the fifth-fewest points to wide receivers. Well, the Vikings will up the competition, as they’ve allowed the second-fewest points to them. You’d have to go all the way back to Week 4 to find the last time they allowed someone to finish better than the WR18 against them. The first meeting between these two teams included Marvin Jones, so Golladay saw just four targets, totaling 3/46/0 in the process. The last time the Vikings allowed a receiver over 69 yards was back in Week 8 when Michael Thomas posted 81 yards. This is clearly not a high-upside matchup for him, as he’ll certainly see Xavier Rhodes much of the day. But going back to the earlier point about a receiver getting targeted relentlessly, it’s hard to consider benching him. He should be considered a high-end WR3 who’s in a tough matchup.
Bruce Ellington: He was scratched last week due to a hamstring injury, so we have no idea whether he’ll be available for this game. His production over the previous three weeks wasn’t exactly great, as he’d totaled just 80 scoreless yards in those contests. With a player who may be at less than 100 percent going into a brutal matchup with the Vikings, you should just look elsewhere. Update: He’s been ruled out for this week.
Kyle Rudolph: The lack of targets continued for Rudolph last week, who saw as many targets (3) and his teammate Tyler Conklin and was outproduced in the process. It’s not something to be too concerned about, as Conklin ran just four routes all day and was targeted on three of them, while Rudolph ran 15 routes. Of the 32 tight ends starting in Week 15, Rudolph ranked 27th in targets per route run. For whatever reason, he’s just not being targeted by Cousins. The Lions haven’t allowed a top-10 performance since Week 8, and even then, it was Ed Dickson who had just two catches for 54 yards with a touchdown. Prior to that, it was Week 5 where Jimmy Graham produced a top-five performance. The 51 receptions they’ve allowed rank as the fourth-fewest in football, so you’re essentially counting on a touchdown from the limited-volume tight end. He’s nothing more than a middling TE2 who’s going to waste with Cousins.
Levine Toilolo: I’ll be honest, I didn’t think Toilolo would continue to lead the Lions tight ends in production, but it’s now been three straight weeks. It’s not as-if he’s blowing the doors off with his 10 catches for 144 yards over three games, but he’s their top option. The Vikings aren’t a team you want to attack with streamers, though, as they’ve allowed just five passing touchdowns in their last nine games. They’ve also allowed just the eighth-fewest receptions to tight ends and three touchdowns to the position all year.