Ask not what your roster has done for you to put you in the fantasy playoffs. Ask what you can do to get your lineup a 1-0 record this week. Welcome back to my Fantasy Football Weekly Loves & Hates.
In this series, we identify the best and worst value plays at each skill position for fantasy football purposes. We take into account matchups, game scripts, advanced statistics, and any other relevant news. This won’t be your spot for trying to rank the top players at each position or suggesting deep waiver wire digs every week. Rather, whether you are playing DFS or season-long formats, your start/bench/cut decisions can be informed based on the players that stand out the most at each position—the ones that could go off (loves) and the ones that could disappoint and lose you a matchup (hates).
We will review the previous week’s picks and grade our performance before giving out picks for the upcoming week. I firmly believe that the most important part of the process of winning is to evaluate your winning and losing decisions. We’ll do exactly that in our evaluations of the previous week’s picks.
Week 15 Review
My Week 15 loves and hates can be viewed here. Here are self-evaluations of those picks, with grades for me in parentheses.
My quarterback love of the week was a Primetime choice to roll with a man not exactly known for team success in the bright lights. Still, I felt Kirk Cousins was a safe play against a bruised and battered Chicago Bears secondary. Indeed, the Vikings took control of the game early thanks to a Cousins to Justin Jefferson connection for a touchdown.
However, a few sloppy possessions later, the game was an ugly battle that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer chose to moderate in passive fashion. With superstar running back Dalvin Cook at the helm of the offense on a muggy day, Cousins only passed the ball 24 times all night and produced 12 completions for 84 yards. He did throw 2 touchdowns and a semi-unlucky interceptions but Cook’s 28 carries for 89 yards were what set the tone for Minnesota on offense. With the Bears failing to respond in the red zone and create a competitive game script, Cousins’ low-volume, weak fantasy performance was not a concern for the Vikings’ efforts to grab win #7 on the season. Cousins finished as the QB21 of Week 15, a disappointment for those who started him on Monday Night Football.
On the other hand, my quarterback hate of the week, Tua Tagovailoa, was a solid call. With no Jaylen Waddle around to catch passes and move the chains, Tagovailoa was hassled early by the Jets as he was quick to play from behind and eventually threw a pick-six as one of his two interceptions of the game.
Worst @PFF pass grades in Week 15 👇
Tua Tagovailoa: 38.7
Russell Wilson: 34.4
Carson Wentz: 26.7
Two of them got the win. There's also Russ.pic.twitter.com/TIhIwmwj4r
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 23, 2021
Luckily for those who streamed him, he was able to convert in the red zone a couple of times late to lead a Dolphins comeback and threw two touchdowns to save an otherwise crappy-looking fantasy day. He finished as the QB13 of Week 15, an acceptable performance from a quarterback-streaming team. Still, you can see why I wanted to stay away based on how poorly he played in the first half.
Running Back (B)
With Chase Edmonds returning to the Arizona backfield, questions naturally arose about the fantasy role of James Conner being stinted. I cited the fact that Conner was still the guy in the red zone and fantasy managers should feel comfortable starting him against a matchup like the Lions, one of the best matchups to target running backs. What I did not correctly predict was the game script would be a massively lopsided affair—in favor of the Lions. The worst team in football played from ahead for the meat of the game and both Edmonds and Conner were fantasy duds.
|Chase Edmonds||39%||6 carries, 53 yards, 0 TD||0 catches (1 target), 0 yards, 0 TD|
|James Conner||44%||8 carries, 39 yards, 0 TD||2 carries (2 targets), 31 yards, 0 TD|
Table. Arizona Cardinals running back splits, Week 15 vs. Detroit Lions
This outlier narrative of the Cardinals playing down to their weak competition at a disgusting level isn’t exactly sustainable and going forward, Edmonds and Conner owners should see better days in the final days of the 2021 fantasy season. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that Edmonds and Conner saw fairly evenly split volume but the Cardinals didn’t have enough red zone opportunities in this game to draw a fair conclusion about the red zone opportunity splits for the two backs for the remainder of the season. In the red zone in Week 15, Edmonds had two touches and Conner had one.
Conner, my running back love of the week, finished as the PPR RB29 of Week 15.
Meanwhile, my hate of the week was a whole committee—with Michael Carter coming back from a stint on the injured reserve, it made no sense to me to try to guess how involved the rookie running back would be in a lost cause of a season for the Jets against a defense that is staunch in the fantasy game against running backs. Indeed, I named the entire Jets backfield in the hate section at running back and it paid off because nobody starting a Jets running back in Week 15 was anywhere close to happy.
|Michael Carter||44%||8 carries, 18 yards, 0 TD||1 catch (2 targets), 2 yards, 0 TD|
|Tevin Coleman||30%||8 carries, 50 yards, 0 TD||0 catch (0 targets), 0 yards, 0 TD|
|Austin Walter||8%||2 carries, 12 yards, 0 TD||0 catch (0 targets), 0 yards, 0 TD|
Table. New York Jets running back splits, Week 15 vs. Miami Dolphins
Wide Receiver (A+)
At wide receiver, we put up an absolute clinic in finding value and fading the duds of the week. With Marquez Valdes-Scantling, I was looking for potential to find the end zone and produce explosion through the air via one of the best deep ball passers of the generation against a secondary that is simply ugly at the moment. The Ravens continued to get beat by the big play and MVS used a 31-yard reception to set the tone early and finish with 5 receptions on 7 targets for 98 yards and his third touchdown of the season. He finished as the PPR WR8 of Week 15; doesn’t get much better than that for a FLEX candidate that could have been sitting on your waivers and came into the season being drafted as the PPR WR58 per Fantrax ADP.
🏈 MVP 🤝 MVS 🔥
Starting my Week 15 #FantasyFootball WR Love of the Week is winning folks some playoff games right now.
Matchup made in heaven. MVS responds has 5 receptions (7 targets) for 98 yards and a touchdown… so far.pic.twitter.com/2IHuVY7nMz
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 19, 2021
Meanwhile, I received several start/sit queries involving Brandon Aiyuk, only for me to hard-pass on him in most of your lineups. The narrative and matchup were just not a combo you should deal with in the fantasy playoffs. Lining up repeatedly against elite cornerback A.J. Terrell for a team that was expected to be run-heavy against a run-porous defense, Aiyuk didn’t need volume for the 49ers offense to prosper and he didn’t have the upside worth a fantasy start. Indeed, he caught only one pass on two targets, both his lowest since Week 7. His reception was worth 36 yards but with only one red zone target all day for naught, he never had much of a shot to be fantasy-relevant. Congrats to those who followed the column and benched Aiyuk with your season on the line.
Tight End (B)
Coming into Week 15, Hunter Henry was unrostered in 21% of Fantrax leagues. That was enough for me to feel the need to step in and tell you to change that number in my column on 2021 fantasy football playoff league-winners. To add to the take, I named Henry as my tight end love of the week and took him on for my Week 15 Fantrax staff bold prediction of the week, expecting him to kick off his late-season league-altering fantasy campaign by notching two touchdowns. Fast-wordard to Thursday Night Football in Week 15 and with the Patriots playing from behind against a Colts defense that continued to be strong against the run, rookie quarterback Mac Jones had to be active through the air in a comeback effort and he connected with his favorite red zone target multiple times.
Henry finished the game with 6 receptions on 8 targets (both tied for season-highs) for 77 yards (new season-high) and his second two-touchdown game as a Patriot, making him the PPR TE3 of Week 15. Another week, another bold prediction from yours truly that cashes out. Henry continues to be New England’s go-to man through the air. He leads NFL tight ends this season in receiving touchdowns and ranks second in red zone targets. In a wild card position, Henry poses scoring upside every time he steps on the field and with the Patriots’ pass-catching core declining in health, the 27-year-old tight end cannot be sitting on any fantasy waiver wires.
Hunter Henry PREDICTION:
5 catches 42 yds 2 TDs
Hunter Henry PRODUCTION:
6 catches 77 yds 2 TDs@AhaanRungta does it again ✅
— Colin McTamany (@Colin_McT) December 19, 2021
For my tight end hate of the week, it was hard to get on board with Dalton Schultz in a pass-catching unit that is relatively deep. However, I misread the narrative that Dak Prescott wouldn’t need to pass the rock much and the game would be a grind on the ground. Prescott, who has been anything but sharp recently, threw 37 passes and his lead producer was indeed the tight end Schultz, who caught all 8 of his targets for 67 yards and Prescott’s only touchdown of the contest.
Schultz’s steady performance was enough to make him the PPR TE4 of Week 15. That’s a whiff and a half from me.
Week 16 Loves & Hates
Playing your life in the fantasy playoffs? This is what it’s all about. Approaching your last dance in DFS? Learn which big names you can fade and which buys have some juice. These are my picks to click and duds to ditch in Week 16.
Love: Joe Burrow (CIN)
Last week, it was Marquez Valdes-Scantling at wide receiver; this time, it’s the talented pass-catching core of the Bengals, led by deep ball aficionado Ja’Marr Chase. The Ravens secondary is simply cooked and ranks as the second-worst at containing the explosive pass play for a reason. Every wideout on Cincinnati’s offense has a shot to explode for a big play and find the end zone, especially if the Ravens are serious about not doing much to adjust to Chase’s humongous game in Week 5 against Baltimore, when he popped off for a career-high 201 yards and a touchdown.
The fantasy beneficiary of all of this production through the air—the man creating it, Joe Burrow. The former #1 overall pick has a serious chance to put up one of the best fantasy performances of the 2021 season and do so in the bright fantasy lights of Week 16. If Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley can carry over his strong play from Week 15 and keep this game a high-scoring competition, that can only help Burrow’s case to keep ripping it and establish himself as an alpha in the AFC.
Hate: Cam Newton (CAR)
What are we doing here with these projections on fantasy football platforms? Cam Newton was once one of the most impactful players in the NFL but those days where he could actually hit receivers in stride when they were open are long gone and it’s part of the reason he might not even be the quarterback for the full game in Week 16. Facing a Buccaneers defense that is notorious for defending a run game like no other, Newton’s one skill is further limited and could see him ride the bench in favor of XFL stud P.J. Walker again. Newton is not just a poor choice to entertain fantasy lineups in Week 16 but is also a drop candidate in one-quarterback leagues for the rest of the fantasy season. It’s time to move on.
Love: Rex Burkhead (HOU)
There is no shame in playing it safe with your fantasy life on the line in the playoffs. Targeting the rush defense of the Chargers has been one of the safest strategies of the season so far so we are running it back. They rank #31 as a defense in rush DVOA and #29 as a defense in fantasy points per game allowed to running backs. Enter Rex Burkhead, who has been the lead back for the Texans since Davis Mills came back as the starting quarterback. Over the last two weeks, Burkhead has recorded 27 carries and 7 targets, accounting for 54% of Houston’s opportunity share in the backfield. Roll with Rex in Week 16 as an upside play, ranked as a solid RB2-tier play.
Hate: Alexander Mattison (MIN)
With fantasy first-rounder Dalvin Cook out for Week 16 due to the COVID-19 protocol, panic has set in fantasy managers of Cook, especially those without his immediate handcuff, Alexander Mattison. Trust me, I know the feeling all too well. That doesn’t mean his handcuff, Mattison, will take anywhere near Cook’s fantasy potential in Week 16. Mattison is a talented back, ranking in the 74th percentile in burst score per PlayerProfiler. That doesn’t mean he matches the elusiveness or vision that makes the Vikings trust Cook like a religion, especially in fantasy-hot scenarios such as the red zone.
Mattison has started three games for the Vikings this season and in those games, his red zone usage was inconsistent, posting 5, 1, and 9 rushing attempts in Weeks 3, 5, and 13, respectively when he took over Cook’s job. Additionally, two of those matchups were against the Detroit Lions, who pose absolutely no defensive threat to a rushing offense, ranking #29 in rush DVOA and #31 in fantasy points per game allowed as a defense. Don’t expect that kind of path for Mattison in Week 16, facing a Rams defense that ranks #4 in rush DVOA and #15 in fantasy points per game allowed as a defense.
To make matters a little more wrinkled for fantasy managers with tough start/sit decisions at the RB2 spot in their lineup, rookie running back Kene Nwangwu is also a potential disturbance to the backfield scenario as he has been effective in his small sample size of touches this season, most recently producing 33 yards on just 3 carries in Week 15.
Love: D.K. Metcalf (SEA)
This is a public service announcement. Fantasy football is a game of going 1-0 to save your life. It’s about removing emotion and stiff-arming grudges. Stop benching dudes based on a box score two weeks ago.
I ended up benching Hunter Renfrow to start DK Metcalf and Keenan Allen.
Allen: 6 rec (10 tgt) – 78 yd – 1 TD, PPR WR10 of Week 15
Metcalf: 6 rec (12 tgt) – 52 yd, PPR WR26
Renfrow: 3 rec (5 tgt) – 32 yd, PPR WR73
Comments on this are interesting. 🍿 https://t.co/8zTSTn7Hhr
— Ahaan Rungta (@AhaanRungta) December 22, 2021
Since Russell Wilson‘s return from injury, one of the most talented receivers in football in DK Metcalf has been held in check in the fantasy score, failing to score a touchdown or reach my 80 yard prediction since Seattle’s Week 9 bye. The Wilson-Metcalf connection has been nothing like the potential suggests and has raised questions about starting Metcalf in the fantasy playoffs.
That changes in Week 16 when he gets to face a Chicago Bears secondary that is depleted from injury and COVID-19 and ranks #22 in the NFL in pass DVOA on the season anyway. Additionally, this season, Chicago has given up the 12th-highest rate of explosive pass plays in the NFL. With Tyler Lockett possibly coming back from the league’s COVID-19 list as well, expect some of the defensive attention to be veered in his direction.
That’s why I’m using Metcalf for my Week 16 Fantrax staff Bold Prediction of the Week—expect the athletic wideout to break through and find the end zone this Sunday and have his fourth 80+ yard game of the season.
Hate: Donovan Peoples-Jones (CLE)
It makes no sense to me that a player like this is currently projected by consensus to be a better PPR-format option in Week 16 that reliable target-gatherers like Jakobi Meyers or Laquon Treadwell, both of whom I would easily start ahead of Donovan Peoples-Jones in Week 16.
For starters, Peoples-Jones is primarily dependent on the explosive pass play for fantasy production. If he doesn’t connect on a bomb from Baker Mayfield, he is likely a disappointment in the box score. While Peoples-Jones is effective in this department, ranking among the league leaders in average depth of target (15.6 yards), the Packers rank as the sixth-stingiest defense against the explosive pass play and Peoples-Jones will be seeing a lot of time against developing stud cornerback Eric Stokes, who has held his matchups to a 79.2 passer rating and only 1.26 fantasy points per target this season. Don’t waste a spot in your starting lineup on a boom-or-bust receiver that is likely to not boom.
Love: Dan Arnold (JAX)
Remember the legend of Dan Arnold that took over the fantasy football box news at tight end just a few weeks ago? Yeah, I’m talking about the guy who ranked as the PPR TE3 during Weeks 8 to 10 even without a touchdown, thanks to a staggering 25 targets in that span. That man is now back and ready to be activated ahead of a Week 16 matchup against a New York Jets defense that ranks #32 in pass DVOA as a defense. Trevor Lawrence continues showing some love through the air to his tight ends as the Jaguars rank #13 in the NFL in tight end targets since coming off a bye in Week 8, despite a talent dip to James O’Shaughnessy when Arnold was sidelined with an injury.
If Arnold is starting with no news of a wildly-limited workload, fire him up in starting lineups with confidence in Week 16.
Hate: Dawson Knox (BUF)
The landscape at tight end is already one that has fantasy managers roll their eyes throughout the season. It could get even worse in Week 16 with Travis Kelce dealing with a COVID-19 designation. Dawson Knox has served as relief for those who picked him up early in the season as a red zone target threat with a strong connection with quarterback Josh Allen. All that doesn’t mean much if he can’t show up in Week 16—it’s highly likely that we’re in line for one of those bust games from another important fantasy name at the tight end position.
The Patriots have been getting stronger on defense as the season moves forward and they rank #4 as a fantasy defense against tight ends this season. No team has allowed fewer receptions or receiving yards to tight ends than the Patriots and only three teams have given up fewer touchdowns.
When they last faced Knox and his Bills, it was a historically weather-sabotaged game but Knox was still targeted when he got some separation on defenders. However, he could only haul in 2 receptions on 6 targets in that game for 14 yards. That was heavily in part to his gloves not serving well on a wet, chilly night as he found himself open and in a good position to make a play multiple times. Expect coach Bill Belichick to notice that on film and key in on Knox even more with passing likely up a tick in this week’s rematch. Knox isn’t going to be fantasy-relevant as a tight end unless he gets one to go in the end zone and that’s highly unlikely in Foxborough. Fade him for an upside-option or a safety valve on targets like our good friend Dan Arnold.
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