Week 16 is in full swing and there are plenty of start/sit debates to be had. Each decision could be the difference between making your league’s championship final or watching from the rail. With another wave of Covid hitting the league hard, as well as the wear and tear of an NFL season, many of our squads are at less than full strength. The adage “start your studs” is great when they actually, y’know, play every week. But in this day and age, we have to consider matchups and game flow seemingly more than ever before. With that in mind, here are my Week 16 start and sit recommendations. Choose wisely, and may the fantasy gods be in your favor.
Week 16 Start and Sit Recommendations
Quarterback to Start
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals v. Baltimore Ravens
Lost amidst the debate about whether John Harbaugh should have kicked the extra point late in the fourth quarter, or Tyler Huntley’s efforts is that the Baltimore Ravens surrendered yet another top-10 fantasy performance last week. Sure, there is no shame in allowing Aaron Rodgers to post top-10 numbers. But Rodgers’ outing was the seventh time this season that a quarterback has reached that threshold against the Ravens this year. This is simply not the Baltimore Ravens defense we have seen for nearly their entire run in Charm City. Baltimore allows the second-most passing yards per game in the NFL, and only the Las Vegas Raiders have intercepted more passes as a unit. In addition to their struggles on the field, Baltimore has been hit hard on the defensive side with Covid-19 issues. Nine defenders were on the team’s reserve-Covid list as of Wednesday. Enter Joe Burrow.
Burrow has been a bit inconsistent of late, but he buried Baltimore back in Week 7. He threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns in Cincinnati’s 41-17 victory, finishing as the overall QB2 that week. That may be a bit ambitious, but I certainly would not be surprised to see Burrow post top-10 numbers. Running back Joe Mixon is in line to play Sunday, but he is dealing with an ankle injury. This could be a spot where Cincinnati relies more on the passing game given the advantageous matchups. All three of Baltimore’s top three projected corners rank in the bottom 25 percentile in the Pro Football Focus grading system. And we know Burrow has three excellent receivers at his disposal. For what it’s worth, Burrow is PFF’s top-graded signal-caller on the season. I expect an efficient outing out of Burrow on Sunday, and he is a quality QB1 this week.
Quarterbacks to Sit
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks v. Chicago Bears
I take no pleasure in listing Russell Wilson as a Week 16 sit. He is the last quarterback standing on my RazzBowl team, and I would love nothing more than for him to put up 30 points on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. But I just don’t see it. Since missing a month with a broken finger, Wilson just has not been very good. In three of his last six games, he has completed fewer than 55 percent of his passes and failed to throw a touchdown. He has thrown for six scores in the other three games but has done so averaging just 246 passing yards per game. Overall, he is the QB15 in total fantasy points since Week 10. That may not look so bad. However, keep in mind that many other quarterbacks have missed time due to injury or a bye in that stretch.
Wilson has long been a victim of coaches who refuse to let the game rest in their supposed franchise quarterback’s hands. This year is no different in that regard. Wilson has thrown at least 33 passes just twice in 11 starts. And he is no longer running to help mitigate his lack of pass attempts. He has rushed for more than 20 yards just twice this year. He cleared that number 11 times during the regular season in 2020. If there is a bright side, it’s that the matchup with Chicago should be a favorable one. Chicago allows the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks on the season. They too have been decimated by injuries and Covid in recent weeks. But I think Wilson has both a lower floor and ceiling than most would expect given his name value. I would not feel good about starting him this week.
Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings v. Los Angeles Rams
Unlike Wilson, Kirk Cousins at least has some recent receipts. He is the overall QB6 since Week 10 and currently ranks as the QB8 on the 2021 season. Cousins has thrown for multiple touchdowns in each of his last seven outings. But his two most recent efforts could be cause for concern. He has completed just 47.3 percent of his passes in that stretch and totaled a mere 303 passing yards. The touchdowns have saved what would be back-to-back fantasy disasters. Not coincidentally, those two games were both played without safety net Adam Thielen. Thielen looks ready to play on Sunday, which raises Cousins’ floor compared to his last two games. However, a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams and their stingy defense may offset the likely return of Thielen to the lineup.
The Rams allow the sixth-fewest fantasy points to the quarterback position this season. They also lead the NFL with a 36 percent pressure rate. Cousins is not exactly known for thriving when he is under duress. His 4.75 yards per pass under pressure is third-worst among full-time quarterbacks this year. The spread between his yards per throw when operating from a clean pocket versus when pressured is the highest in the NFL, and the difference between his quarterback rating when clean versus when pressured is second-highest. If the Rams can force Cousins out of his comfort zone, he could be in for a long day. I initially ranked Kirk Cousins 16th among quarterbacks for the week. I may move him up a spot or two by Sunday. But I am not expecting a whole lot of fantasy production out of Cousins in this matchup.
Running Back to Start
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Devin Singletary rushed for at least 70 yards in three of Buffalo’s first four games this season. After that, however, his production (and the Bills’ running game in general) took a bit of a nosedive. The Bills decided to lower Singletary’s workload beginning in Week 5. Over the ensuing six ball games, Singletary had just 34 carries. Recently, though, the tide has turned back in Singletary’s favor. In their last four tilts, the Bills have entrusted Singletary with a team-high 51 totes. It seems that the team is finally giving Singletary the chance to be their lead back. That should bode well for him as the team prepares for an AFC East showdown in Week 16 with the New England Patriots.
My recommendation to start Singletary this week may be a bit situation-specific. I envision Singletary as a floor play as opposed to a ceiling play. By that, I mean that if you are shooting for the stars and looking for 20-plus points, Singletary is probably not your man. He has yet to eclipse 100 total yards in any game this season and has scored just three touchdowns. Similarly, New England has allowed just six touchdowns to opposing running backs, which is tied for the fewest in the NFL. On the flip side, they have given up the fifth-most total yards to the position. Based on his recent opportunities (59 in his last four games), Singletary makes for a relatively safe Flex option. With the fantasy season in the balance, every point counts, so don’t underestimate the role of a player like Devin Singletary in this spot.
Running Back to Sit
Duke Johnson, Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints
Duke Johnson was one of the feel-good stories of Week 15. Well, not for me as a Jets fan, but I digress. Johnson seemingly came out of nowhere to post last week’s top overall total at the running back position. But I would be remiss if I did not put a proverbial asterisk on that performance given the opponent. The Jets are notoriously weak on defense, particularly against the run. The question was not if a Miami running back would be successful last week, it was which one. Johnson turned out to be the answer in a week where the Dolphins had multiple running backs dealing with Covid issues. With the group seemingly back at full strength, there is no guarantee that Johnson will step into 22 carries as he did a week ago. Johnson also figures to have much tougher sledding this week against the New Orleans Saints.
New Orleans gives up the fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. They also allow an NFL-low 3.54 yards per carry to the position. Even with last week’s breakout performance, Miami has not exactly excelled in the run game. Their offensive line has given running backs an average of 1.16 yards per carry before contact. That is the fifth-lowest number in the league. There are a lot of ways that starting Johnson could go sideways. Again, I will go back to the floor versus ceiling theory. We saw Johnson’s ceiling last week, so I can understand wanting to capitalize off that. But you are not getting credit for last week’s numbers. I think Johnson’s floor could be extremely low this week. I would be sweating bullets if I needed 10 points from Johnson on Monday night to win my matchup. So for those reasons, I’m out.
Wide Receivers to Start
Amon St. Brown, Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons
Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons v. Detroit Lions
I am listing both wide receivers involved in the Detroit-Atlanta Week 16 matchup because I feel there are some similarities between the two. On the year, Amon St. Brown sits as the overall WR43, while Russell Gage follows closely at WR49. But the pair have been straight-up monsters lately, especially in PPR formats. Over the last three weeks, Gage has 23 catches for 285 yards and a touchdown. Not to be outdone, St. Brown has tallied 26 receptions for 249 yards and two scores. Both St. Brown and Gage have been top-eight fantasy wideouts over that timeframe. I am not quite ready to declare that they will keep up this level of production. But I think what they are doing is sustainable enough to trust them in your semifinal lineups.
St. Brown lines up in the slot for the Lions 79 percent of the time. That means a date with Falcons slot corner Richie Grant. Grant has only covered 99 routes, but the results have not been in his favor. He allows an 84 percent catch rate and 1.84 yards per route run. For reference, the highest mark in those two categories among corners who have covered at least 200 routes are 82 percent and 1.68 yards per route run. So, yeah, Grant has struggled. It is possible that St. Brown sees a bit less volume with Jamaal Williams and possibly D’Andre Swift back in the fold. However, the matchup is certainly right, and I think St. Brown will still put up solid results. He is a fringe WR2 for me this week.
The Atlanta Falcons similarly deploy Gage, though his splits are a bit more spread out. Gage lines up in the slot 51 percent of the time. There he is likely to meet Lions slot man AJ Parker. Parker has covered 262 routes, so his track record is pretty bankable. While he has been better than Grant, Parker has also had his issues. He has allowed a 77 percent rate and 1.28 yards per route run this season. Detroit’s outside corners, Will Harris and Amani Oruwariye have not been much better. Harris is a converted safety who grades out 90th out of 91 players at his position, while Oruwariye ranks 84th out of 117 true corners. (Parker, if you’re wondering, is 112th.) I also have Gage ranked as a borderline WR2 this week, and I think he is a solid Week 16 play.
Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals v. Baltimore Ravens
This is a bit of a correlation play with Joe Burrow, so I won’t dive too deep here. Suffice to say, most people consider Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins “set it and forget it” type fantasy plays, while Tyler Boyd tends to be more matchup-dependant. This week, the consensus has him at WR38, which means you are probably starting him as a Flex depending on your other options. I feel he offers a bit more upside than that. As I mentioned in the Burrow section, I believe Cincinnati relies on the pass more than normal this week. If that is the case, Boyd should get a bigger bump in production than Chase and Higgins. Boyd’s individual matchup is not one to shy away from either. Ravens slot corner Tavon Young ranks just 88th among 117 cornerbacks according to PFF. I think Boyd is a solid WR3 this week.
Wide Receiver to Sit
Odell Beckham, Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings
I’m not gonna lie – I did a double-take when I first noticed I had Beckham ranked outside the top-40. Am I being too harsh? Maybe. Before last week, he had scored in three straight games, so we know the upside is there. He had just one catch for seven scoreless yards last week. But I think I am less concerned with the results and more worried that he saw only three targets, especially when Ben Skowronek got five. I also see this game against the Minnesota Vikings following a similar path to the Rams’ Week 15 win against Seattle. Los Angeles won that game on the strength of their defense and their running game. I think a similar blueprint could be on the mind of Sean McVay heading into this matchup in Minnesota.
I mentioned earlier that I am fading Kirk Cousins this week. In a way, I think my recommendation to fade Beckham is more based on that than any data point regarding Minnesota’s subpar pass defense. No, I am not worried about Patrick Peterson. Besides, I expect Minnesota to play a fair amount of zone. But even that likely means more looks for Cooper Kupp if that is even possible. If this game gets away from Minnesota early, I can see the Rams taking the air out of the ball a bit. I admit this is more of a gut call than anything based on how I see the game going. If this game is 24-21 heading into the fourth quarter, I am probably going to look a bit foolish here. But sometimes you have to go with your gut on these things, so buyer beware on Beckham.
Tight End to Start
Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans
It feels a bit dirty to recommend starting a player who has surpassed the 30-yard mark in just two of his last 10 games, as is the case with Chargers tight end Jared Cook. He also had a rough night at the office last week against Kansas City. However, Los Angeles is looking a bit shorthanded heading into their Week 16 matchup with the Houston Texans. The Chargers placed star running back Austin Ekeler on the reserve/Covid list. They also placed wideout Jalen Guyton on the list. Ekeler and Guyton are third and fifth on the team in targets, respectively. Cook is fourth, which means he likely moves a spot up in the pecking order behind Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. He should also have less competition for tight end targets after the unfortunate injury suffered by Donald Parham last week.
If Cook lines up against Texans linebacker Garret Wallow, he should have a distinct advantage. Wallow has been targeted on a whopping 23 percent of routes in his coverage, and the results have not been pretty. Opponents have caught 92 percent of those passes, good for 2.36 yards per route covered. Those are borderline Travis Kelce/George Kittle numbers. Of course, Cook is not on their level, nor will he receive their type of target share. But in a game where I would expect a slight uptick in targets, it is good to know that he should enjoy a favorable matchup as well. Cook is a bit of a touchdown-or-bust tight end, but so are most in this range. If you are looking for a potential streamer at tight end, Jared Cook could be a solid Week 16 bet.
Tight End to Sit
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
On teams where I do not have an obvious starter at tight end, I often look for touchdown upside. And yes, Hunter Henry scored two touchdowns last week and paces the position with nine scores. But I’m not sure that Week 16 is one where I would expect Henry to find the end zone. The Buffalo Bills have allowed just three scores to enemy tight ends all season long. They have also allowed the fifth-fewest receiving yards to the position. Linebacker Matt Milano has been solid in coverage, as have safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. While I cannot dismiss Henry’s knack for finding paydirt, he ranks just 16th among tight ends in receiving yards. Henry is more touchdown-dependent than his year-to-date ranking (TE7) would suggest. Thus, I believe he is a bit more volatile as well.
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