The Primer: Week 16 Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)
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Fantasy football is supposed to be fun, but a lot of us came out of Week 15 feeling unfulfilled.
It was a fantasy playoff week, so of course, there were eliminations, which always bring sadness. But this was worse. Week 15 was calamitous.
In the days leading up to the games, there was a wave of additions to the COVID-19 list. As if all the injuries weren’t enough to drain some of the joy from every NFL season, we now lose players to the virus every week, and the losses are so … arbitrary.
In Week 15, a good-sized swath of the player population simply disappeared. It was a little like “The Leftovers,” the HBO series that began with 2% of the Earth’s population vanishing. Except on that show, the 2% all disappeared at once. Last week gave us more of a constant slow-drip of COVID scratches.
Then we got our first game of the week, and it was a dandy. The Chiefs beat the Chargers in overtime Thursday night, 34-28. The stars shone. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill balled out for the Chiefs. Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, and Austin Ekeler did their thing for the Chargers. It was a satisfying start to the week.
And then the wheels came off.
So many top players laid eggs: Alvin Kamara, Cordarrelle Patterson, Najee Harris, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, Kyler Murray … I could go on. The Buccaneers, who have provided us with perhaps the most star-studded offense in the league, were ravaged by injuries on Sunday night. Chris Godwin tore his ACL. Mike Evans and Leonard Fournette pulled hamstrings. It was carnage.
Three games were postponed until after the weekend, giving us Monday and Tuesday doubleheaders. The quality of those games was not high.
The thing is, fantasy football is a zero-sum game. No matter how Week 15 played out, the same number of people were going to win and lose their playoff matchups. So why did Week 15 leave us feeling so collectively dejected?
Bad breaks can even out over the course of a fantasy season, but in the playoffs, a bad week is the end. We don’t want our seasons to reach their terminus because of bad breaks. If we’re going to go out, we want to go out valiantly in battle. We want to go out because your Cooper Kupp outgunned our Jonathan Taylor. We want to see our heavyweights landing haymakers, and if yours land more, we can live with it. The random viral absences and dud games from stud players? That stuff is harder to take.
Hey, Week 15 sucked. It’s going to leave a bad taste for a day or two, but hopefully not any longer, because this is supposed to be a good week. We take our fantasy football seriously, but friends and family are always more important, and this is a good time of year to remember that.
If you’re still smarting from a tough playoff loss, may the joy of the holiday season heal your spirit.
Happy Holidays, friends. Here’s wishing peace and happiness to you and your family.
– Pat Fitzmaurice
CLE vs. GB | IND vs. ARI | DET vs. ATL | LAR vs. MIN | JAC vs. NYJ | NYG vs. PHI | BUF vs. NE | BAL vs. CIN | LAC vs. HOU | TB vs. CAR | CHI vs. SEA | DEN vs. LV | PIT vs. KC | WAS vs. DAL | MIA vs. NO
Cleveland Browns vs. Green Bay Packers
Baker Mayfield: Mayfield wasn’t able to clear COVID protocols before Week 15’s delayed matchup against the Raiders, but he should be all set to return against the Packers. It hasn’t been pretty for Mayfield though when he’s been in the lineup this season and this is a tougher matchup on paper for opposing QBs. Mayfield should remain on your waiver wire this week in 1QB formats and he can be played as a low-end QB2/high-end QB3 in Superflex leagues.
Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers has been on an absolute tear his past four games. Since Week 11, Rodgers is averaging 325 passing yards and 3.5 touchdowns per contest and he’s the QB4 over that time frame, despite playing one less game than the players above him on that list. He’s picked apart opposing defenses here recently and that doesn’t figure to stop any time soon. In Week 16 against Cleveland, Rodgers can be viewed as a mid-range QB1.
Nick Chubb: Chubb did exactly what fantasy managers thought he would do to the Las Vegas Raiders run defense this past week. Chubb carried the ball 23 times for 91 yards and a touchdown, but he also had a second rushing touchdown that was called back due to a holding penalty. Despite the third-string QB being in the game, Chubb was able to keep the offense moving as he put the team on his back and it translated to fantasy production. Looking ahead to Week 16, the Packers are allowing the 8th fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs this season, but Chubb should see plenty of work this week to offset the difficult matchup. He can be viewed as a mid-range RB1.
Kareem Hunt: At the time of writing, there hasn’t been any update regarding Hunt and whether or not he’ll be able to make it back for this matchup against the Packers on Christmas Day. If Hunt does return for Week 16, he should see enough work to be on the edge of RB2 status.
Aaron Jones: After seeing just 8 total opportunities in Week 14, Jones rebounded and saw 15 total opportunities in Week 15 against the Ravens. Jones had 13 carries, which turned into 58 rushing yards, and he added a touchdown through the air on just two receptions for 12 yards. This type of volume certainly isn’t conducive to a consistent top-5 ranking each week, but he’s continued to produce for fantasy football with his propensity to find the end zone. Against Cleveland this week, Jones can be ranked as a mid-range RB2 yet again that will need to find the end zone to crack the top-12.
AJ Dillon: The usage for the Packers’ RBs is certainly very difficult to predict week in and week out. After seeing 15 carries in Week 14, which led the team, Dillon saw his rushing share drop to just 7 carries. While he made them count by finding the end zone, it’s extremely concerning to see that Dillon only had 8 total opportunities this past week. Moving forward, it’s extremely risky to trust Dillon in your starting lineup in the second round of the fantasy playoffs and there are probably better options available. He’ll most likely need to find the end zone in order to crack the top-24 and that’s too much volatility for Week 16. He can be viewed as a high-end RB3.
Jarvis Landry: Landry missed Week 15 – like so many other Cleveland players – but he should be set to return for this matchup against the Packers. Before Week 15, Landry had rounded into an extremely reliable fantasy asset. In the three games prior, Landry has finished as a top-30 WR in each contest and he had scored in two of those games. It’s not a lineup decision that seems super enticing when you consider him, but Landry should at least be in the conversation for starting lineups this week against Green Bay. He can be viewed as a low-end WR3.
Davante Adams: Adams continues to produce top-tier fantasy numbers with Rodgers as his QB. Even in a game last week where Adams didn’t cross the 50-yard threshold, he still ended the week as a fantastic fantasy option because of his connection with Rodgers in the red zone. There’s very little to say at this point about Adams and he can be plugged into your starting lineup – just like he has been all year – as a top-5 option.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling: In Weeks 11 and 12, MVS totaled 19 targets and he appeared to be cementing himself into a starting role for fantasy lineups everywhere. Unfortunately, out of their bye week, MVS only put up 20 receiving yards on three receptions and fantasy managers had to watch Allen Lazard steal all of that production. With that being said, MVS rebounded again in a big way in Week 15 and he was able to finish with a 5-98-1 stat line. Rodgers is looking to get him involved in the offense and he comes with incredible upside each and every week. There’s still no predicting if it’s going to be MVS’ week to shine or if Lazard is going to receive an increased workload. We can’t lock MVS into our starting lineups due to his volatility, but he’s certainly worth considering as a low-end WR3/high-end FLEX play this week due to the upside he provides.
Allen Lazard: Lazard emerged for a big performance in Week 14, but he disappeared again in Week 15 and watched MVS put up a dominant performance. He certainly comes with upside, but there’s an extremely low floor present with Lazard that makes him a very risky play every single week. He should only be considered in deep leagues as a low-end FLEX.
Austin Hooper: Hooper missed Week 15 and David Njoku stepped up in his place. However, now that all three Cleveland TEs are likely to be active for this matchup, it’s virtually impossible to predict which one will have the solid performance. Hooper should be the first one considered, but he can’t be trusted as anything more than a mid-range TE2.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Arizona Cardinals
Carson Wentz: Wentz wasn’t needed much in Week 15, but when he was asked to throw the ball…it wasn’t pretty. On just 12 total pass attempts, Wentz completed five passes for just 57 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The matchup against New England wasn’t a cakewalk and the run game was certainly working, but Wentz should have been able to do more than just 57 yards passing. This matchup against Arizona should be enticing due to the fact that Jared Goff just shredded them, but we absolutely cannot trust Wentz in our starting lineups in 1QB formats. He’s nothing more than a low-end QB2 in Superflex formats.
Kyler Murray: In one of the most shocking events of Week 15 – and there were plenty of them – the Cardinals lost 30 to 12 to the Detroit Lions. Arizona could barely move the ball on offense and Murray was not effective (to put it lightly). He went 23-for-41 for just 257 yards and one touchdown to one interception while adding an abysmal three yards rushing on the ground. Murray and the Cardinals simply looked lost out there and it came through in the fantasy production. Looking ahead to Week 16, Murray will try to get back on track against a Colts defense that’s allowing just 248.6 passing yards per game to opposing QBs, but 2 passing touchdowns on average. We should still view him as a mid-range QB1 due to his upside, but his fantasy finish is going to be completely dependent upon what version of this Arizona offense we see out there.
Jonathan Taylor: This stat is absurd. Did you know that Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette are tied for the second most RZ rush attempts in the NFL this season at the RB position with 41? Taylor is currently sitting in the lead with 73. That’s right, Taylor has seen 28 more red zone carries this season than any other RB in the league. There’s very little to say about Taylor at this point that hasn’t been said already. You’re starting him every single week, no questions asked.
Nyheim Hines: Hines was able to find the end zone last week, but that literally came on his one and only touch of the day. He’s not worth playing in any format this week.
James Conner: Conner wasn’t at 100% this past week against the Lions and he failed to provide top-tier fantasy production in a plus matchup. Now, Kliff Kingsbury says Conner will be a game-time decision for Saturday night’s game against the Colts. Indianapolis has a tough run defense, which is evidenced by the fact that they’re allowing the 7th fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs this year, but if Conner is able to go, he Conner should see plenty of work on the ground, and we know the scoring opportunities are going to be there. If he plays, he can be viewed as a high-end/mid-range RB2.
Chase Edmonds: Edmonds made his way back into the lineup last week and failed to make much of an impact against the Lions. He had just 7 total opportunities in that game and registered just one target, which is the aspect of the game where he’s typically heavily involved. There’s a strong possibility that the Cardinals offense gets back on track this week and we see a competent and capable team out there on the field, which would lead to a normal workload for Edmonds. However, that’s not a guarantee. In round two of the fantasy playoffs, we need guaranteed production in our lineups, so rolling out Edmonds as anything more than a mid-range RB3 is a very risky play. It could certainly pay off, but there’s an unbelievably low floor.
Michael Pittman Jr: Pittman had a chance for a big play last week before getting ejected, but Wentz wasn’t able to connect with him deep downfield. His fantasy managers were disappointed last week due to the fact that he only put up seven receiving yards before exiting the game, but he should be put right back into starting lineups this week against Arizona. The Colts are most likely going to have to throw more this week and Pittman’s still a key focal point for them on offense. He should bring a safe floor and that’s invaluable right now in fantasy football. He can be viewed as a low-end WR2 for Week 16.
Christian Kirk: With no DeAndre Hopkins in the lineup, Kirk was able to come through for fantasy managers with a 9-94-1 stat line. While the majority of his production came late in the game, Kirk was the clear WR1 in Hopkins’ absence and that should give us confidence in playing him again here in Week 16 against the Colts. Indianapolis is middle of the pack when it comes to defending opposing WRs this season, so we shouldn’t be scared off of playing Kirk in this matchup. With the guaranteed targets, plus his talent and ability, Kirk’s a solid low-end WR2/high-end WR3 for Week 16.
AJ Green: Green put up decent numbers this past week, but the majority of his production came on one circus play where Kyler Murray simply chucked it up to a spot and Green was able to haul it in. There are moments where Green simply looks disinterested out there and it’s difficult to trust that in your fantasy lineup. He should see plenty of targets again this week due to the fact that Hopkins is sidelined, but he’s nothing more than a FLEX option with a wide range of outcomes.
Zach Ertz: Ertz was one of the main beneficiaries of having Hopkins out of the starting lineup in Week 15. After having just nine targets over the previous two games combined, Ertz jumped up to 11 targets in Week 15 and he was able to reel in six of them for 74 yards. He should continue to be heavily targeted in this offense moving forward as long as Hopkins is out, which means that he can be trusted in fantasy lineups as a mid-range/low-end TE1.
Detroit Lions vs. Atlanta Falcons
Jared Goff: Goff has been playing uncharacteristically well lately, but he landed on the COVID-19 list, and Lions head coach Dan Campbell says he’s probably not going to play on Sunday. If Goff can’t go, the Lions would give the start to journeyman backup Tim Boyle, who’d be unplayable for fantasy purposes.
Matt Ryan: Did you know that Ryan has finished as a top-12 QB just three times this entire year? Without top-tier playmakers around him, Ryan is struggling to produce for fantasy football and we normally wouldn’t be looking his way at all in the fantasy playoffs, but he has an enticing matchup this week against Detroit. The Lions shut down Kyler and the Cardinals this past week, but otherwise they’ve been an exploitable matchup on defense. With that being said, we can’t view Ryan as anything more than a mid-range/low-end QB2 that still probably doesn’t come with a ton of upside, but he should provide a safe floor.
D’Andre Swift: At the time of writing, it’s unclear whether or not Swift will be able to return for this matchup against the Falcons. If he does end up starting, he’s worth viewing as a low-end RB1 due to the matchup and his assumed health. We’ll continue to update as the week progresses.
Jamaal Williams: Word on Williams’ status has been difficult to find, to say the least. After landing on the COVID list it’s essentially been no communication on his availability moving forward. We need to see Williams return to practice this week and practice in full for us to even consider him for our starting lineups. In the second round of the playoffs, it’s probably best to leave him on your bench regardless.
Craig Reynolds: Let’s all recognize it. Reynolds has been fantastic for fantasy purposes over the past two games. He’s now had 37 carries for 195 yards over that time frame and he’s done this after coming out of absolutely nowhere. Reynolds’ role is completely dependent upon Swift and Williams being out, but if he is indeed the lone starting RB again for Week 16, we can confidently start him in our lineups as a low-end RB2 with upside due to the matchup.
Cordarrelle Patterson: Just like many top-tier players last week, Patterson busted for fantasy football in spectacular fashion. While he probably should have been credited with a touchdown that could’ve saved his fantasy day, he did very little and just put up 3 total fantasy points. It’s going to be difficult to move on from that disappointing performance, but Patterson belongs right back in starting lineups this week as a top-tier option against the Lions. Detroit is allowing the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs this season and Patterson should have a solid bounce-back performance here. He can be viewed as a mid-range RB1.
Amon-Ra St. Brown: St. Brown has always had the talent and ability to make an impact for fantasy football this season, but the Lions have only just recently unleashed him and it’s working. He now has 35 targets over the past three weeks and he’s hauled in 26 of them for 249 yards and two touchdowns over that time frame. He’s been a dominant fantasy asset and he now gets to take on the Atlanta Falcons secondary that cannot stop anyone. They’re allowing the 5th most fantasy points to opposing WRs this year and St. Brown should continue to see plenty of volume to return low-end WR2 value.
Josh Reynolds: Reynolds is certainly boom-or-bust, but he’s shown that he has a connection with Goff and that he can produce in plus matchups. This week against the Falcons, who are bleeding fantasy points to opposing WRs, Reynolds can be viewed as a mid-range FLEX play that could help put your lineup over the top.
Russell Gage: Did you all see Gage “Moss” a defender last week for a touchdown?! After being considered simply a slot receiver that doesn’t bring a ton of dynamic ability to the table, Gage has really rounded into a solid receiver here this season and he’s stepping up for the Falcons offense in a big way. Over the course of the last four games, Gage has three top-12 fantasy finishes and he’s now locked into starting lineups moving forward. Against the Lions’ secondary this week, Gage can be viewed as a high-end WR3.
Kyle Pitts: Pitts continues to see a steady amount of targets in this offense and he’s putting together an incredibly high YPR with the targets that he does reel in. He’s now averaging 14.6 YPR on 58 receptions this season and he’s up to 847 yards on the year. These are great numbers for a rookie TE, but they’re offset by the fact that he has just one receiving touchdown on the year. Pitts should continue to be highly efficient with his opportunity this week against Detroit, so we can continue to rank him as a low-end TE1, but the likelihood that he finds the end zone is minimal.