I don’t believe I have ever retweeted anything so quickly. Great idea, elegantly presented; it was a no-brainer.
Michael Gehlken is a reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and a very good one, at that. I started following him a number of years ago for Chargers news. He covered the team for seven seasons, including five with the San Diego Union-Tribune. With the team moving on to Los Angeles, Gehlken moved on as well. He now covers the Raiders for the Review-Journal in anticipation of the team moving to Las Vegas.
In 2016, toward the end of December, Gehlken was pondering the quirk in the scheduling that had 12 games from last year’s Week 16 fantasy championship slate played on a Saturday, Christmas Eve, and two on Christmas Day. As Gehlken told me later, “As a longtime participant, I respect the fantasy culture and emotional investment placed on an athlete’s performance. As an NFL reporter, I appreciate those athletes as people whose passions extend beyond the game. Obviously, they don’t need money. But their favorite causes and communities do.”
And so, on the morning of Dec. 24, @GehlkenNFL tweeted: “A thought on Christmas Eve: If a player helps win your fantasy league, consider donating portion of winnings to a cause he supports.”
As an example, he attached a list of 15 charities fronted by NFL players. I hit retweet the second I saw it. Great idea. GREAT IDEA.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter was one of many, many people who retweeted it, and that one tweet reached over 1 million people. And wouldn’t you know it? People did more than read it and retweet it. “Once fantasy titles started to become decided, I began receiving donation screenshots from across the country,” Gehlken said. “Causes such as STOMP Out Bullying for David Johnson, the ALS Foundation for LeSean McCoy, and Young Life for Jordy Nelson received contributions. Different charities reached out in appreciation. It was incredible.”
It was really great to see. I saw a lot of this in my social feeds as well. Now, as we approach this season’s Week 16, it is likely either the finals in your league, or the first of a two-week playoff in ESPN standard leagues. There are two games Saturday (Colts-Ravens and Vikings-Packers), then 12 games on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas Day, including ESPN’s Monday Night Football game between the fantasy-friendly Eagles and Raiders. No “Sunday Night Football”: The Steelers and Texans will play at 4:30 p.m. ET Monday.
The holidays are a season of family and friends, spending time with people we love. It’s a time for celebration, a time for reflection and a time to honor old traditions and start new ones. This is a tradition that Gehlken hopes will build on last year’s momentum, for “holiday philanthropy to permeate fantasy football culture as a common consideration for champions or other cash earners.” It’s something I’d like to help with.
You guys know I love fantasy football, but as great as our dumb little game is, it is not perfect. And if there is one thing I could change about it, it would be the way that some fantasy players look at actual NFL players. Obviously, there is a statistical and transactional nature to fantasy football. And that contributes to people thinking of NFL players as statistical pieces of meat rather than as real people with emotions and personal challenges. As a result, it leads folks to be dismissive of players as people, to yell at them on social media if a game or injury goes a way they don’t like. This is not me on some pedestal lecturing. I’m as guilty of making this mistake as anyone else.
So maybe this is a way to change the conversation. As Gehlken said, “The overlap between fantasy football and the holidays could be an opportunity to impact lives. Fantasy football engages tens of millions of people each year, and many participants own multiple teams. Most of these leagues will be decided directly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day again in 2017. There is no pressure to it. Your winnings are your winnings. But if you’re in position to donate a portion or feel compelled to “tip” your top fantasy performer in some regard, [find] a cause your key player supports. If even the smallest percentage of champions donate, a lot of good will go toward some great causes.”
Most NFL players are good guys, people who care about their community and use their platform to do good. They are cheered for their achievements on the football field and the help they bring fantasy players, but their charitable work deserves some love as well. A quick search should be able to tell you the foundation or charity that your fantasy superstar supports. Or do what I am planning to do: Since pretty much all of my teams that are in the finals have some combo of Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt or Todd Gurley, I’ll make a donation in their names to the Jimmy V foundation for cancer research.
Whatever your status in life is, the fact that you are able to read this on a computer, tablet or phone tells me there are people in this world worse off than you. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but whatever you can swing, even just a small token, will help. There is a lot of good that fantasy football brings the world. How great would it be if we could add raising money and awareness for charity to the list?
As for Gehlken, he is in one league and did, in fact, make the championship game. His plans? “Kareem Hunt will receive a contribution from me, win or lose this weekend. He supports the Special Olympics, Kansas City Charter.”
If you end up donating this, please tweet at me and @GehlkenNFL and let us know. And feel free to mention this to all of your other fantasy football friends. Gehlken is on to a great idea, and I’m hopeful that we can help him grow it. Besides, some good fantasy karma never hurt.
Let’s get to it. It’s championship week, so no need to get cute. Chances are, most of your lineup decisions are made, so in this week’s column, I’ll try to focus even more on players who aren’t automatic starts or sits but rather borderline calls. But I suggest that you always check my rankings, as they change throughout the week and are my final call on this-guy-or-that-guy questions. The final version will be posted Sunday morning.
Thanks, as always, to Kyle Soppe of ESPN Fantasy and Jacob Nitzberg of ESPN Stats & Information for their help at various points in this column.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 16
Cam Newton, Panthers: An obvious name, but I’m the only one who has him No. 1 overall, and he is worthy of DFS consideration. In four career home games against the Buccaneers, Cam has 12 total touchdowns, including at least three scores in three of the four games, and he’s averaged 27.4 fantasy points in those four games. Coming off a four-score, 31.5-point effort last week, Newton should obliterate an undermanned and banged-up Tampa defense that allows the most passing yards per game this season (271.3) and the fourth-highest completion rate (67.5 percent). And, oh yeah, they have the fewest sacks on the season and allow the eighth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks. Giddyup.
Case Keenum, Vikings: So, since Green Bay’s Week 8 bye, every QB except for Joe Flacco has scored 15-plus fantasy points against the Packers. They’ve allowed 20.8 fantasy points per game to opposing QBs in that span, most in the league, partially because they’ve also surrendered the most passing touchdowns in that span. Meanwhile, Keenum has thrown multiple TD passes in four straight games (and six of his past seven). He has 17-plus points in seven straight games — other QBs that have had such a streak this season: Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz — so he is as hot a QB as there is in the league, and should keep it going against a Packers team that allows opponents to complete 68.4 percent of passes this season. He’s an easy top-10 play for me.
Philip Rivers, Chargers: I get it, Rivers burned you last week (started in 54.6 percent of ESPN leagues). So, if you’re playing this week, congrats on surviving that. I believe he bounces back this week, though. Look, last week he played on a shorter week, on the road (in Arrowhead), against a Chiefs team he traditionally struggles against: 8.7 fantasy points per game (FPPG) with three times as many INTs as TD passes over his past seven meetings. But don’t forget Rivers was QB4 in Weeks 11-14. Facing a Jets team that has allowed the fifth-most QB points this season, I like Rivers as a top-five play this week.
Others receiving votes: Over the past four weeks, Blake Bortles has been the second-best quarterback in fantasy. That is not a misprint. With 18-plus points in four straight games, he should have another productive Sunday against a 49ers team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in eight of its past nine games (to the likes of T.J. Yates, Marcus Mariota, Eli Manning and Drew Stanton, among others). … Don’t look now, but Jameis Winston now has his third straight game with 270-plus yards and multiple passing touchdowns. He is the fifth-best QB in fantasy during the past three weeks, and you know I like Carolina to put up points here. The Panthers are 28th against the pass over the past four weeks. I think this game has sneaky shootout potential. I have Winston as a top-15 play. … If you are truly desperate and looking outside the top 15 (or need a cheap DFS option), Joe Flacco is averaging more than 19 points a game over his past three and should have a solid game against a Colts squad that has allowed the third-most passing yards this season.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 16
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers: I know this will bum my friend Stephania Bell out, but as good as Jimmy G has looked (on the field and at the postgame news conference — even I have to admit he’s dreamy), I just can’t imagine starting a guy this week against Jacksonville. Opposing QBs are averaging 9.4 fantasy points per game against the Jags, with only Russell Wilson breaking the 20-point barrier this season. Need more “the Jags play good pass defense” stats? Because I’ve got them. Jacksonville has allowed the lowest completion percentage, fewest passing yards, fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs and is tied for the third-fewest passing touchdowns allowed.
Matt Ryan, Falcons: If you made it this far with Ryan as your QB, you’ve made it in spite of him, not because of him. As we’ve said on the podcast, there have been 143 instances in which a QB scored 18.5-plus points in a game this season (done by 39 different QBs). Matt Ryan is not one of them. So there’s a lack of upside here, but the floor is low, too. Ryan has gone four straight games without multiple TD passes, and the Saints should give Ryan another tough run just like they did in Week 14, when Ryan had just 6.8 points against them. No, thank you.
Running backs I love in Week 16
Dion Lewis, Patriots: With no Rex Burkhead due to injury, Lewis should get a bulk of the carries against a Buffalo team that, during the past six weeks, has allowed an average of 4.88 yards per carry to opposing RBs (second highest in the league in that span) and 10 rushing scores to RBs, three more than any other team. In their Week 13 matchup, Lewis had 92 yards on 15 carries (6.13 yards per rush), and won’t have Burkhead to “vulture” the two touchdowns this time. Yes, Mike Gillislee will likely be active and hey, it’s the Patriots, so anything can happen, but Gillislee hasn’t played since Week 8 (and he has been healthy) and is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. Lewis, meanwhile, is averaging 5.18 yards per rush this season, second most among RBs (Alvin Kamara).
Alex Collins, Ravens: Yes, tough week last week, but I expect Collins to get back to his dominant self against a Colts team that has coughed up more than 21.5 RB points in four straight games (third-longest active streak). Partially it’s because I expect the Ravens to be up in this one and running it out in the second half, but also because of Collins’ style. Did you know that the only RB with more carries who is averaging more yards after first contact per carry than Collins is Mark Ingram? That matters because Indy is allowing the eighth-most yards after first contact per carry since Week 11. I have Collins as a top-15 play this week.
Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: I like both players in this one and let’s start with Murray. He has at least 15 carries in eight of his past nine games, while the Packers allow the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. And when the Vikings win, he does well. In Minnesota’s past five wins, Murray has had at least 12 fantasy points in each (the Vikes are 9-point favorites in this one). Meanwhile, McKinnon is the primary running back on passing plays (since their Week 9 bye, 28 of the 40 targets to running backs have gone to him). Wouldn’t you know it, but this is an area where the Packers struggle. During the past six weeks, the Packers have allowed the most receptions and second-most receiving yards to opposing RBs. They’re also tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns allowed to running backs this season. McKinnon has at least 14 touches in eight of his past 10 games. I have both guys as top-20 plays this week.
Others receiving votes: It seemed as if the Bengals decided to phone it in for the rest of the year last Sunday, but even if they start trying, it may not matter against Theo Riddick. Over the past four weeks, Cincy has allowed the most receiving yards, the most yards per reception (13.5) and the most fantasy points to opposing RBs. With Riddick getting more and more touches lately, I have him as a top-25 play in PPR. … In their past four games, the Buccaneers have allowed seven rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs, and if Devonta Freeman hadn’t fumbled at the 1-yard line on Monday night it would be eight. Jonathan Stewart has at least 11 carries in eight straight and is a top-30 play for me this week. … During the past three weeks, no running back has more carries than C.J. Anderson‘s 67. And it makes sense. What are the Broncos gonna do: Let any of their QBs throw it? That kind of volume should work well against a banged-up Redskins team allowing the fifth-most rushing yards in the NFL. … If Kerwynn Williams can go, I like him for deep leagues against a Giants team allowing the second-most rushing yards in the NFL. … Same game, also for deep leagues or the really desperate, Wayne Gallman now has 13 catches in the past two games (only Le’Veon Bell has more in that span) and Arizona has allowed the 11th-most receptions to running backs this season. Gallman has back-to-back weeks of at least 13.9 points.
Running backs I hate in Week 16
Carlos Hyde, 49ers: As Jimmy Garoppolo has raised the level of the entire San Francisco offense, it’s worth noting that Hyde has been below 10 points in two of Jimmy’s three starts (he had just two such games in the 11 games prior to Jimmy G taking the reins). It’s hard to see a lot of upside for Hyde in a crucial Week 16 matchup where you are most assuredly playing another very good team. Hyde has just one rushing touchdown in his past eight games. It feels like that is unlikely to change against a Jacksonville D that hasn’t given up a rushing TD to a RB since Week 9, that is allowing just 3.65 yards per carry to opposing RBs since getting Marcell Dareus (seventh best) and is eighth best for the season in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. Hyde is just outside my top 20 this week.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders: While the volume should be there for Lynch, I’m worried it won’t be enough. The Eagles allow a league-low 3.11 RB rushing yards per carry and 49.6 RB rushing yards per game this season. In fact, backs are averaging just 1.46 yards per carry before first contact against Philadelphia (lowest in the NFL and the second-lowest rate in the past decade). That’s important against an Oakland team that ranks bottom 10 in the NFL in running back yards per carry before first contact. If Nick Foles plays like he did last week, there’s a very good chance the Raiders are down big in this one and having to throw a bunch. They’ve been using Lynch recently on third down and in passing situations, but still, that kind of game script doesn’t bode well for a big game from Lynch. I have Beast Mode just outside my top 20.
Samaje Perine, Redskins: It’s not his fault, the kid runs hard and I love having him on the team, but the offensive line is so beat up and it’s expected Trent Williams is getting shut down for the season, which certainly doesn’t help. Perine is averaging a paltry 2.79 yards per carry with no scores in his past three games (a total of 120 rushing yards in those three), so this is probably not the week he gets on track. For all their recent struggles, the Broncos have limited opposing running backs to just 3.24 yards per carry over the past six games, the third-lowest rate in the league in that span (despite being tied for facing the seventh-most carries by RBs). They are a top-eight run defense overall the past four weeks and I have Perine outside my top 20, as a volume-based flex play only.
Wide receivers I love in Week 16
Mike Evans, Buccaneers: It’s been a tough, up-and-down year for those of us who have Evans as our No. 1 wideout, but I believe he finishes strong. Off his best fantasy game since Week 7, it should have been even bigger, as he had more than 80 yards and a score called back due to some very questionable offensive pass interference plays. Evans is averaging 16.5 fantasy pts in his past three meetings against the Panthers, and Carolina allows the 10th-most fantasy points versus outside wide receivers (where Evans lines up). In the Panthers’ past four games, they’ve allowed six different wide receivers to get at least 16 points, and you already know I think this game is a shootout. Evans locked is a top-seven play for me this week.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: I’m mentioning him in case you were worried about him with Drew Stanton getting the start Sunday. Super-small sample size, of course, but in games with Stanton, Fitz has been targeted on a higher percentage of his routes, has made more catches per route and has more yards per reception than with either of the other two QB options for Arizona. In the two Stanton starts this season, he had 15 catches for 183 yards on 23 targets (against the 49ers and Seahawks). And now he faces a Giants team that is 27th against the pass the past four weeks and is top four in the NFL in most yards, most completions and highest completion percentage allowed against the slot. I have Fitz as a top-10 play.
JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant, Steelers: A large target share is obviously available with Antonio Brown missing this game, and my expectation is that the majority of that is split among these two. And even though it’s a #RoadBen game, that volume should be enough against a Houston team that, since its Week 7 bye, has allowed the fifth-most receptions to WRs, second-most receiving yards to WRs, the most fantasy points to WRs and is tied for the most receiving scores to opposing WRs. I prefer Smith-Schuster to Bryant, as he’s been more productive all year long and has at least 97 yards in three of the past five. Bryant is more risk/reward, but he averaged more than 11 points in the two weeks Smith-Schuster missed and his chemistry with Ben is improving. Bryant has caught 67 percent of his targets from Roethlisberger the past four weeks, an improvement of 15 percent from earlier in the season. I have Smith-Schuster as a top-15 play this week and Bryant as a high-end flex with upside.
Others receiving votes: He’s been up and down, but after an 11-catch effort in Week 15 (on 16 targets), Sterling Shepard will match up with an Arizona defense that has allowed the third-most receptions to WRs lined up in the slot this season (largely due to avoiding Patrick Peterson). In fact, over their past six games, Arizona has allowed seven double-digit fantasy point games to opposing WRs, including four to primary slot receivers (Doug Baldwin, Bruce Ellington, Cooper Kupp and Jamison Crowder). I have Shepard as a top-20 play. … You were already starting Adam Thielen, but there should be some optimism for Stefon Diggs against a Packers team that, since Week 6, has allowed the highest deep completion percentage and the most deep touchdowns. In fact, Green Bay has given up a deep touchdown pass in eight straight games (tied for the longest streak in the past decade). … For those looking a little deeper, I kinda like Mike Wallace. He has at least 9.8 points in six straight games and you already know I like Flacco in this game. As of this writing, Jeremy Maclin hasn’t practiced yet this week, and the Ravens are going against a Colts team that is among the five worst in deep pass completions, yards and completion percentage, I have Wallace as a top-30 play. He’s available in 57 percent of leagues, by the way. … It looked like Robert Woods didn’t miss a beat last week. Now fully healthy, this is a strong matchup for him against the Titans’ 20th-ranked pass defense over the past four weeks.
Wide receivers I hate in Week 16
Golden Tate, Lions: For all the struggles the Bengals have had this season, they’ve played the slot really well. They have allowed the second-fewest completions (just 3.4 per game) and the third-lowest completion percentage to slot receivers. In fact, the Bengals have given up just the third-fewest WR points, and it’s hard to have optimism for a big game here. Tate’s been under 6.5 points in three of his past five games. Since coming to Detroit in 2014, Tate has just two touchdowns in outdoor games. I have him just outside my top 20.
Robby Anderson, Jets: A big part of Anderson’s game is the deep ball, and this year, Chargers opponents are completing a league-low 28.7 percent of deep passes this season (the lowest rate since the 2009 Revis Island Jets). Yes, Tyreek Hill beat them deep for one last week, so if you want to hang your hat on something, you can cling to that, but the Chargers have given up just 17 deep WR catches this season, 26.1 percent fewer than any other defense this season. It took Anderson 12 targets to total 40 yards in Bryce Petty‘s first start of the season last weekend. Despite how hot he’s been, in a crucial Week 16 game, it’s hard for me to think of Anderson as anything more than a boom-or-bust WR4.
Tight ends I love in Week 16
Jimmy Graham, Seahawks: I know, I know. He has been brutal recently. But I don’t expect Russell Wilson to have another bad game. And he knows one way to do that is to exploit a Cowboys team that, since Week 9, is allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. In fact, during that stretch we’ve seen three tight ends score more than 16 points against Dallas (Travis Kelce, Austin Hooper, Hunter Henry). For almost every tight end, it comes down to whether they score a touchdown. With 18 end zone targets (no other TE has more than 10 this season), I like Graham’s chances of getting one on Sunday.
Jack Doyle, Colts: Doyle has accounted for 28 percent of all of the Colts’ receptions this season (highest rate among TEs this season … and that includes a missed game), so he’s a top-10 play for me again this week, especially considering Baltimore has allowed the ninth-most tight end points this season. I expect the Colts to be down in this game and to struggle to run the ball, which means throwing and when they throw, it goes to Doyle, who has six games with seven-plus receptions, second most among tight ends (only Travis Kelce has more).
Others receiving votes: Houston allows the sixth-most points to tight ends this season and Jesse James is averaging 6.2 targets a game in his past five games. I could see him getting more love with Antonio Brown out. … Charles Clay got nine targets last week and, despite missing three games, still leads the Bills in receiving. Against the Patriots, I have a feeling Buffalo is gonna have to pass. … With no Hunter Henry, you’ll see a lot of Antonio Gates this Sunday. Tight ends have 22 red zone targets from Philip Rivers this season (tied for third most in NFL) and the Jets have allowed eight tight end touchdowns this season (tied for third most). Gates is available in pretty much every league.
Tight ends I hate in Week 16
Jared Cook, Raiders: Cook has scored fewer than four fantasy points in three of his past four games, and nearly two-thirds of Cook’s fantasy points since Week 5 have come against the Chiefs or Dolphins. The Eagles have allowed just one tight end touchdown in the past seven games.
Jason Witten, Cowboys: As much as the Seahawks have struggled recently on defense, they’ve given up the fifth-fewest points per game to opposing tight ends since Week 8 and, in fact, opponents are completing a league low 57.3 percent of passes to TEs against Seattle this season. Witten has just one game with more than 61 receiving yards this season, so you’re really hoping for a score here. And with Ezekiel Elliott back and a good matchup for Dez Bryant in this one, I think that’s unlikely. I have Witten outside my top 10.
Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, congratulates you on having a reason to read this week. Well done. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, the founder of the Fantasy Life app and a paid spokesperson for DRAFT.