FOX Sports Exclusive
Romo, Luck smart starts in Week 16
“We will see better football this week.”
It’s been my mantra this week as I plowed through statistical nuggets, play-by-play accounts and reviewed game tape from Week 15. We had great hope for the first week of the fantasy playoffs with a number of marquee matchups on the slate. Many of those matchups ended in blowout fashion with an extraordinary number of our would-be fantasy heroes lining the “Duds” column. I don’t even know where to begin a breakdown of the Monday night capper to a rough weekend.
“We will see better football this week.”
The Week 16 schedule begins on Saturday night when the Falcons visit Matthew Stafford and the Lions. I’m projecting a bounce-back effort for Stafford at home following the Week 15 debacle in Arizona. He’s nestled in at No. 9 in my initial Week 16 rankings.
Stafford joins Ryan among those players that will make the holidays brighter for fantasy owners. Who’s going to be “Grinch-like?”
Let’s get inside the white lines in this first installment of “Lineup Calls” for Week 16.
Cam Newton vs. OAK
Following a frustrating start to the season, Newton has been tremendously consistent down the stretch. He’s accounted for multiple touchdowns in six of his past seven starts.
Newton is in a great spot for the heavily-favored Panthers at home this week. The Oakland secondary has failed miserably all season except for matchups against the Chiefs. Oakland has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, ceding an average of 260 passing yards per game with 27 total touchdowns.
Tony Romo vs. NO
While the football world monitored the progress of rookie and second-year quarterbacks, Romo and the Cowboys made tremendous progress in relative anonymity. He’s produced four multi-touchdown performances in his past six starts, a period that included four 300-yard games.
This week, Romo faces a Saints team that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, including 27 passing touchdowns. I understand that the Saints harassed Josh Freeman and shut him out. That’s not going to happen in Dallas.
Robert Griffin III at PHI
Griffin III has reportedly moved well and practiced fully Wednesday, per The Washington Times . We’ll get full notices on Friday, as we did from FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer last week, so stay tuned. If Griffin III is cleared, then he’s in your lineup. The Eagles have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, including 30 total touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Andrew Luck at KC
Luck has hardly been dominant, but fantasy owners have routinely come back to the scoreboard to find multiple touchdowns on the ledger. He’s accounted for multiple touchdowns in five of the Colts’ past seven games. Vick Ballard has made this a more balanced offense, and secondary receivers have upped their production alongside Reggie Wayne.
This is a fantastic matchup for Luck on paper. The Chiefs have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, generate few turnovers and have registered the third-lowest sack total in the game (24). Though Brandon Flowers may be able to contain Wayne, Luck has ample downfield threats to post a big effort on the road.
Ben Roethlisberger vs. CIN
Roethlisberger picked up where he left off upon returning to the Pittsburgh lineup in Week 14. Well, he did so statistically, but the Steelers have absorbed back-to-back losses to the Chargers and Cowboys. Roethlisberger passed for 624 yards and five touchdowns in those games, and I expect to see him pushing the ball downfield this week against the Bengals. In the first meeting, Roethlisberger completed 27-of-37 attempts for 278 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The Bengals have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, so this is hardly an easy matchup. However, Roethlisberger’s routinely put up strong numbers this season, and this is a “must-win” game at home to salvage any hope of a playoff run in Pittsburgh.
Colin Kaepernick at SEA
Speculation early this week was that Richard Sherman would lose the appeal of his four-game suspension, thereby leaving the Seahawks without both starting cornerbacks for this huge Sunday night game. Kaepernick is coming off of his most impressive effort as the 49ers’ starter, a 216-yard, four-touchdown victory over the Patriots in prime time. Kaepernick continues to make plays downfield with the heavily-targeted Michael Crabtree.
Andy Dalton at PIT
The Steelers have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, but the secondary has been porous during Ike Taylor’s absence. Both Philip Rivers and Tony Romo moved the ball effective and found the end zone multiple times. I’m not surprised that the Dallas squad did so, but the San Diego effort in Week 14 was telling. Dalton and the Bengals are chasing a return to the playoffs, and I expect to see him attacking downfield to push the pace. He was awful in the first half last week, but salvaged the day with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run against the Eagles.
Matt Schaub vs. MIN
Schaub has been a maddening fantasy option this season. He’s generated 22 touchdowns passes this season, but nine of them came in two games. The ninth-year quarterback from Virginia has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six games this season, and has topped 300 passing yards only twice.
He ranks as a high-QB2 option this week in a great matchup against the Vikings. Minnesota has allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, including 27 total touchdowns against 10 interceptions. I understand the reticence to start him, but it’s a grand matchup.
Sam Bradford at TB
Owners seeking alternatives to their less than rock-solid starters are honing in on Bradford as a big-time “Ninja” for championship week. He’s produced multiple touchdown passes in four of his past six starts, including the 377-yard, three-touchdown failed comeback effort against the Vikings in Week 15.
Amid locker room turmoil and sideline shoving matches, the Buccaneers have assumed the top spot in terms of generosity to fantasy quarterbacks. Tampa Bay has allowed 29 total touchdowns while surrendering 322 passing yards per game. The Tampa Bay pass rush has been grossly inconsistent, generating just 25 sacks (tied-28th) all season. Look for Bradford to connect with fellow “Ninjas” Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola on the road.
Chad Henne vs. NE
It’s time to play in catch-up mode. I don’t anticipate that Henne rolls out and dominates the Patriots as Colin Kaepernick did in Week 15. No, it’s a function of playing from behind and working the ball downfield with Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon. Henne’s the big dice roll for those facing heavy odds in title week.
Ryan Tannehill vs. BUF
Tannehill turned in his first multi-touchdown game since Week 6 last week against the Jaguars. As such, he’s hardly a huge play this week, but this Buffalo defense continues to underwhelm. In the first meeting (Week 11), Tannehill completed half of his pass attempts (14-for-28) for 141 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
The Bills have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, so owners looking for a clear-cut matchup play might look in Tannehill’s direction. Might I offer one additional option?
Nick Foles vs. WAS
As expected, Foles struggled against the underrated Cincinnati pass defense in Week 15. He completed 16-of-33 attempts for 180 yards with one touchdown and two turnovers (one fumble). Still, I remain moderately intrigued by the Week 16 rematch against the Redskins.
Foles completed 21-of-46 attempts for 204 yards in the first meeting with two interceptions and four sacks. He also fumbled three times, but all three fumbles were recovered by Philadelphia. The Redskins have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks (28 total touchdowns), and the return of LeSean McCoy should help to stabilize this offense after two failed weeks from Bryce Brown. I don’t suggest that the Eagles stymie their division rival’s playoff hopes. However, I do expect the Eagles to keep it interesting.
Josh Freeman vs. STL
Freeman appeared on our long list of fantasy failures for Week 15 when he was shut out by the Saints. He did pass for 279 yards in the “avoid embarrassment” effort, his best yardage output since the Week 7 loss to those same Saints.
Freeman ranks as a high-QB2 option this week, though I do so with trepidation against Jeff Fisher’s Rams. The Rams have allowed the 14th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks (18 total touchdowns against 13 interceptions). The St. Louis pass rush is the part of the equation that concerns me most. The Rams have recorded 41 sacks this season, a total good for fourth in the NFL.
Carson Palmer at CAR
Palmer has bestowed great “fantasy” numbers upon trusting owners for much of the season. He’s produced six multi-touchdown games in his past eight starts, a stretch that included four 300-yard games. However, this week he faces off against a sneaky-good Carolina pass defense. The Panthers have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season (19 total touchdowns against nine interceptions). Carolina is also tied for seventh with 36 sacks, so Palmer will feel the heat. You can toss him into your lineup with hopes of comeback points again, but that’s a risky proposition in championship week.
Eli Manning at BAL
Manning was shut out for the fourth time this season in Week 15 as the Falcons stomped the Giants. This is a difficult follow-up spot for Manning in Baltimore. While the Ravens have been obliterated by opposing rushers during their recent slide, opposing passing games have been less than dominant. Even Peyton Manning was limited to just 204 passing yards (17-of-28) with one touchdown in Week 15.
Baltimore has allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, surrendering 15 total touchdowns against 12 interceptions (32 sacks).
Let’s take both quarterbacks to the sidelines. Do you trust Joe Flacco, even against the heretofore generous New York pass defense? I believe it’s too big a risk for championship week.
More Stories From Michael Harmon