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Starts and Fades: Week 16

Well everyone, this is it. The rabble have lost. All that remains are the elite fantasy GM’s to duke it out for the coveted championship (the real championships, not those fake ones that end in week 17). Maybe you got here through a dominant draft. Maybe you got here by deftly playing the waiver wire. Maybe you got here by sheer luck. The how doesn’t matter anymore; what does matter is that you made it to the top of the mountain.

However, if you wish to hoist the trophy you will need to defeat one last challenger. This is no easy task this year given the list of key players who will not be available for championship week: Lamar Miller, Odell Beckham, Jr., Devonta Freeman, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, A. J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Marvin Jones, Kerryon Johnson, Josh Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Cooper Kupp, Jimmy Garoppolo, Jerick McKinnon, Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, Sammy Watkins, and Marshawn Lynch. Do you have the skills to navigate this minefield and reach the finish line? That’s where we come in.

Before we make our picks for championship week though, let’s take a look at how we did last week.

Last Week’s Starts: David Johnson, Ken Dixon, Doug Martin, Dalvin Cook

Johnson’s 3 YPC mark was disappointing against a soft Falcons defense, but he did rack up over 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown as we predicted. Dixon handled a fairly substantial number of carries for being a backup running back, but was not as involved in the passing game as we would have hoped. His 1 catch for 2 yards didn’t add much to his 11 carries for 48 yards. Contrary to our belief that the Raiders would keep it close with the Bengals, the Bengals ran roughshod over the Raiders. This worked out about as well for Martin as you would expect (9 carries for 39 yards). Cook was actually allowed to touch the ball this week, and now we see why Defilippo was not retained as OC. Cook galloped to 136 yards and 2 touchdowns, chipping in another 27 yards on his lone catch.

Last Week’s Fades: Aaron Jones, Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay

It’s hard to judge our prediction for Jones. On the one hand, his 25 yards on 3 carries was impressive against a stout Bears front. On the other hand, those 3 carries were all he got before leaving the game with an injury. We can speculate all day what a full game of Jones would have resulted in, but ultimately you were better off heeding our advice. The same could not be said for Evans and Golladay. Despite facing daunting matchups, both Evans (4/121/0) and Golladay (7/146/0) managed to post solid yardage.

Overall, last week was very much a mixed bag. We’ll aim to even out our performance for the championship week.

Starts

Titans D/ST

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Defenses are a prickly thing in fantasy. There’s rarely any point in carrying backups, but that means you have to balance weekly performance against long-term utility; is it worth starting the top option one week if it means you’re starting the Oakland defense the next week? For the championship though, defenses get a lot simpler. There’s no thinking “what about next week?”, simply “who will be good this week?” This week, that’s the Titans. I know it does’t mean much to say that they are fresh off shutting down Jacksonville and an OBJ-less Giants, but then it’s not like the Redskins are a juggernaut either. Washington’s offensive line has been decimated, they’re down their top two tight ends and primary deep threat, and are currently starting their fourth string QB, a 32-year-old career journeyman who hadn’t started a game since 2011 and wasn’t even a member of the team three weeks ago. Oh, and Tennessee is at home. The Titans have been up and down all year, but they should be solid this week.

Elijah McGuire

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The Jets’ running back corps is waging a war of attrition and losing. Of course, the silver lining is that for every running back that goes down, another must step up. The next man up this time is McGuire, and since his only competition at the moment is satellite back Trenton Cannon, McGuire is likely to have a strong grip on the title of lead back. He’ll be leading the running game against the visiting Packers, who have only been average against the run. McGuire is unlikely to be on the leaderboards for top running back of the week, but if you need an RB2 this week he should see enough volume to rack up at least some points. He may even find his way to the end zone.

Jamaal Williams

New York Rangers v Detroit Red Wings

Opposite McGuire on Sunday will be fellow backup running back Williams. Unlike McGuire, Williams absolutely has the potential to be on the leaderboards this week. Williams will act as the feature back in the wake of Aaron Jones being placed on IR and is likely to see almost every offensive snap on the Aaron Rodgers-led offense (his only competition is Kapri Bibbs, who was just picked up this week). That may not mean as much this year as it has in the past, but having Rodgers as the QB still opens a lot of running room for whoever lines up in the backfield with him. The Jets are also a bottom-10 defense against the run, something Williams should easily be able to take advantage of.

Tyler Lockett

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks

For a guy who’s supposed to be a boom-or-bust WR3/4, Lockett has been amazingly consistent this year. You can usually expect 3-5 catches, at least 50 yards, and a better than 50/50 chance of a touchdown. All this despite the extremely run-heavy approach the Seahawks have adopted. He’s got an excellent matchup this week too. For as good as the Chiefs’ offense has been this season, their defense has been equally poor. Lockett is likely to find room against the porous Kansas City secondary and reach double-digit touchdowns for the first time in his career as he enters this game with 9 on the season.

Fades

Gus Edwards

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Baltimore Ravens

Edwards has been remarkably consistent lately, failing to crack 80 yards only once since taking over as the lead back and reaching 100 yards rushing 3 out of 5 weeks. On a team that desperately wants to play strong defense and run the ball, he’s been just what the doctor ordered. However, he may not see the same usage this week. The Chargers defense is fairly average against the run in terms of efficiency (4.3 YPC), but they’re top 10 in total rushing yards allowed per game. That’s because the Chargers’ offense is a juggernaut that is nearly impossible to stop, forcing teams to pass to keep up. Edwards has no role in the passing game, so if the Ravens find themselves behind he will lose work to Ken Dixon and Ty Montgomery.

Leonard Fournette

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On the surface this appears to be a good matchup for the up-and-down power back as Miami has been a bottom-10 run defense this year. However, Fournette’s situation is not as rosy at it seems. For starters, home Miami and road Miami are two entirely different animals. Since the Dolphins’ bye, they shut down LeSean McCoy and Sony Michel at home while getting blown up by Marlon Mack and the Latavius Murray-Dalvin Cook one-two punch on the road. This game will be in Miami. Second, calling the Jaguars’ offense dysfunctional is an understatement, and the Dolphins’ defense is wildly opportunistic. Lastly, the Jaguars brass has made a clear statement that they are looking to put Fournette in bubble wrap for the rest of this year; he has not topped 15 carries two weeks in a row now. Fournette may be able to find his way to the end zone, but that’s about all the upside he has as he won’t see the touches to put up any significant yardage.

Jaylen Samuels

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With James Conner missing another week due to a high-ankle sprain, Samuels will get another opportunity to act as the feature back. He hasn’t necessarily been anything special in the role, but he hasn’t done anything to lose it either. Besides, who are we fantasy-goers to complain about being able to pick up a feature back off waivers at the start of the playoffs? However, this week probably won’t go quite as well for Samuels as the last two weeks. The Saints boast the top run defense in the NFL and are second in YPC allowed. Samuels may find his way into the end zone, but his yardage is unlikely to be very high.

Of course, all this is a moot point if you’re fortunately enough to have Samuels in a Yahoo league. Given the wasteland at tight end right now, even a bad game from Samuels is worth starting in the TE slot.

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