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These are the players who stood out for fantasy-relevant reasons — the good reasons, the bad reasons, and the in-between.
This column will be posted every Monday afternoon.
Teams who could rest starters
Kansas City Chiefs — Coach Andy Reid is a militant “starter rester.” He’s done it dating back to his time in Philadelphia, and he has done it in his time with the Chiefs. Remember, QB Patrick Mahomes got his first start in Week 17 of the 2017 season, when Alex Smith and company had already locked up their playoff seeding. With the Chiefs locked in to the AFC’s #1 seed — and its only bye — with a 14-1 record, there’s no reason to believe Reid won’t sit players down in a meaningless game with Denver. He confirmed as much on Monday. (Joe Dolan)
Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills — The Steelers are locked into the second or the third seed in the AFC playoffs after their victory over the Colts in Week 16. Pittsburgh could elect to rest its starters this week with minimal benefits to be gained this season between the second and third seeds (no bye week/no home-crowd advantage). The Steelers’ starters desperately need some rest since they haven’t had an uninterrupted period of rest this season since their “bye week” got moved up to Week 4 because of Tennessee’s COVID-19 outbreak. At the very least, the Steelers are candidates to pull their starters early if they look to build off their offensive momentum in the second half of Week 16 against the Colts.
The Bills would be in a similar spot to the Steelers if they defeat the Patriots on Monday Night Football as they’ll be locked into the second or the third seed. The Bills don’t have the rest issues that the Steelers have entering Week 17, but HC Sean McDermott could still view Week 17 as a chance to rest some key players or to limit their game reps heading into the postseason. (Tom Brolley)
Players about whom we’re feeling more optimistic based on recent play or news.
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers receivers — The Buccaneers had failed to score in the first quarter of four straight games, and they had been outscored 59-7 in the first quarter of their last six games before exploding against the Lions in Week 16. Brady posted 179/2 passing in the first quarter against the Lions, and the Bucs averaged 8.4 yards per play in their 40-point rout of Detroit. Brady spread the love around in just one half of action as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski each scored 13+ FP in their landslide victory. The Bucs get one of the easiest matchups in the league this week against a Falcons secondary that Brady lit up for 390/2 passing just two weeks ago. Start all your Bucs passing-game weapons this week! (TB)
George Kittle (SF) — Kittle provided an immediate spark for the 49ers offense in Week 16 even after an eight-week layoff for his broken foot. Kittle posted 4/92 receiving on five targets against the Cardinals despite playing just 50% of the snaps. He also helped new starting RB Jeff Wilson to run for a career-high 183 rushing yards in their upset victory over the Cardinals. Brandon Aiyuk was the only player who didn’t like Kittle’s return to the lineup as he mustered just a 15-yard catch on two targets — the rookie WR was the WR3 in Weeks 8-15 with 20.8 FPG. Kittle’s workload should grow this week against the Seahawks so he’s back to being a top-five option at the position, especially with Travis Kelce potentially resting this week. (TB)
Alvin Kamara (NO) — Kamara was in the giving mood for fantasy owners on Christmas as he tied an NFL record with six rushing TDs against the Vikings. The Saints posted 583 total yards and they averaged 8.0 yards per play on their way to scoring 52 points against the Vikings on Christmas Day. Kamara certainly did his part with the sixth-best fantasy performance for a RB since 1950 as he finished with 22/155/6 rushing and 3/17 receiving. The Saints are gunning for the top seed this week, and he’ll be an elite option once again against a Panthers defense that’s giving up the sixth-most FPG to RBs (25.5) this season. (TB)
Melvin Gordon (Den) — Gordon played well in Week 16’s loss to the Chargers — he had 16 carries for 79 yards — but he was disappointing for fantasy because he didn’t get targeted in the passing game and the Broncos didn’t give him a goal-line carry despite it being a REVENGE GAME for Mel (it went to QB Drew Lock instead, which helps no one). However, he should once again be the bell cow in Week 17, as Phillip Lindsay (hip) is on injured reserve, and the Broncos get to face off against a Chiefs team that will almost certainly be resting key starters on both sides of the ball. (JD)
Ezekiel Elliott (Dal) — Hey, welcome back Zeke. After sitting out in Week 15 with a calf injury, Zeke returned to the lineup against Philly in Week 16, posting 19/105 rushing and 4/34 receiving while playing just 53% of the offensive snaps. Zeke was running hard, and while it looked like he was playing through some discomfort, he was able to take advantage of a shorthanded Eagle defense that lost DT Fletcher Cox to a stinger early in the game. Next week, he goes up against a Giants defense that just got shredded on the ground by the Ravens in Week 16. Of course, the Ravens are a different beast than the Cowboys, but Zeke just had his season-high in rushing yards and receiving yards in the same game, so fantasy players might well be intrigued to get him in there for Week 17 in a must-win game for Dallas. (JD)
Jeff Wilson (SF) — Wilson threw his hat into the ring to potentially be San Francisco’s lead runner in 2021 after his impressive performance against the Cardinals. The third-year RB posted a career-best 183 rushing yards on 22 carries (8.3 YPC) and he added a 21-yard TD catch for 27.4 FP in Week 16. Wilson played on 70% of the snaps ahead of Jerick McKinnon (4/32 scrimmage, 18%) and Tevin Coleman (3/4,12%). He’ll be in line for a huge workload once again as a low-end RB1 against the Seahawks. (TB)
Myles Gaskin (Mia) — OC Chan Gailey has preferred rolling with a primary back this season, but there was some question as to who would be the lead back in Week 16 with Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed actually active together. Gaskin emphatically answered that question with 14/87 rushing and 5/82/2 receiving for 33.9 FP against the Raiders in Week 16. He played on 78% of the snaps and he’s now seen 19+ touches in five straight games when he’s been on the field. Gaskin will get a middle-of-the-pack matchup against the Bills this week, but there’s a chance the Bills could be cautious with the reps of their starters. (TB)
Antonio Gibson (Was) — Gibson (turf toe) made it through his Week 16 return well enough, carrying 10 times for 61 yards and catching 3 passes for 8 yards while playing 30% of the Team’s snaps against Carolina — coach Ron Rivera clearly didn’t want to push his star rookie, which is understandable, and even still the Team plays JD McKissic when behind, which it was for virtually the entirety of Week 16. The Team is short underdogs to Philadelphia in Week 17, but they should automatically get a boost if QB Alex Smith (calf) can play. Heck, even if Smith can’t play, this is a better team without the abominable Dwayne Haskins, who was cut this week — Taylor Heinecke would start if Smith can’t. The Team should be able to keep it close against the Eagles, which would mean more carries for Gibson. He could be a high-end RB2. (JD)
Players about whom we’re feeling less optimistic based on recent play or news.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions receivers — This season can’t end soon enough for the Lions after they got shellacked by the Buccaneers in Week 16. The Lions were without many of their top coaches last week, including interim HC Darrell Bevell, and they had no chance once Stafford left after the second drive with an ankle injury. Stafford has been battling rib and thumb injuries in recent weeks and Detroit should do right by their franchise quarterback and sit him in the season finale even if he pushes to play against the Vikings. Marvin Jones (3/19 receiving) and T.J. Hockenson (4/23) had no chance come through for fantasy owners with Chase Daniel and David Blough taking the reins of this offense. Daniel and Blough would have more success with a full week of practice in an easier matchup against the Vikings this week, but playing any receiver in this passing attack is a risky proposition if Stafford is out of the lineup. (TB)
Russell Wilson and the Seahawk Receivers (Sea) — Wilson had a mediocre game in Week 16, against an admittedly tough Ram defense — he went 20/32 for 225 yards and a TD, though adding a rushing TD helped his fantasy stats a bit if you started him. Nonetheless, this is a bad passing game right now. Wilson had 4 TD passes against the atrocious Jets in Week 14. Outside of that game, Wilson has thrown 6 TD to 4 INT in his last six games. His only rushing TD over that span came in Week 16, as mentioned. He hasn’t thrown for 300 or more yards in a game since Week 9. I don’t know how much further we can bury Wilson and this passing game, but if you’ve made it this far with Wilson as your fantasy QB, it’s in spite of him, not because of him. (JD)
Players whom we’re not ready to upgrade or downgrade, but their situations demand monitoring based on recent play, injuries, or news.
Kyler Murray (Ari) — Murray seemed to get injured on the final play of the Cardinals’ awful loss to the 49ers in Week 16, and coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters on Monday that Murray’s injury — a lower-leg injury — has his status up in the air for Week 17. The Cardinals and Rams, therefore, could be having a battle of backup QBs you’ve never heard of, since Jared Goff (thumb) is injured too. Murray’s backup is the athletic Chris Streveler, who went to the University of South Dakota and spent some time in the CFL. Goff’s backup is John Wolford from Wake Forest. And even if Murray does go against this nasty defense, will his leg injury prevent him from running? It’s not a pretty situation. We’ll keep monitoring him. (JD)
Deshaun Watson (Hou) — Watson still isn’t getting the credit he deserves for how amazingly well he’s playing this season despite his team being trash. He went 24/33 for 324 yards and 3 TD against the Bengals in a loss in Week 16. Unfortunately, he also injured his throwing hand towards the end of the game, and we’ll have to see how it responds this week before making 100% sure he’s in our projections this week. Both Watson and coach Romeo Crennel expect the quarterback to suit up in Week 17 against Tennessee, and the Texans have every incentive to win considering they don’t even have their first-round pick (Miami does). However, there’s always the chance ownership — which is looking for both a new GM and a new coach — pulls the strings here. For now, expect Watson to go. (JD)
Jared Goff (LAR) — Goff was awful in Week 16 against the Seahawks, going 24/43 for 234 yards with a pick. But he also broke the thumb on his throwing hand late in the game, and now his status for Week 17 is up in the air. It apparently will require surgery, but NFL Network reports that Goff is hoping to push the surgery off until after a potential Rams’ playoff run. But again, how exactly do we feel good about Goff playing with a broken throwing thumb after throwing multiple TDs in just one of his previous five games while healthy? The Rams’ backup is Wake Forest legend John Wolford, by the way, so there’s not a whole lot to be optimistic about if Goff can’t play against the Cardinals (who also have a QB injury issue of their own). (JD)
DeVante Parker (Mia) — The Dolphins, without Parker, barely held serve in Week 16 as it took some late-game heroics from Ryan Fitzpatrick to stay in the top-seven spots in the AFC. Parker nearly played against the Raiders after getting limited practices throughout last week so he appears to be on track for a return in Week 17 in a pivotal game for the Dolphins. Parker will return to a tough matchup with Tre’Davious White and the Bills, and he’ll also be stepping back into an uncertain quarterback situation. HC Brian Flores has already said Tua Tagovailoa will start for the Dolphins in the season finale, but the rookie will have a short leash if he struggles again with Fitz ready to step into the lineup if needed. (TB)
Jarvis Landry and the Browns passing game (Cle) — The Browns were basically without their entire WR group in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Jets, which certainly contributed to the loss. Meanwhile, Landry was steaming at home on his couch, incensed that his first missed game of his NFL career came because of contact tracing, not because of a positive COVID-19 test. Coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters on Monday that he anticipates Landry — and all his WRs inactive on Sunday — to be activated if they continue to test negative this week. The Browns went into Week 16 with torrential momentum, with an outside chance of winning the AFC North if things broke right. They now head into Week 17 fighting for their playoff lives against Pittsburgh. (JD)
Keenan Allen (LAC) — Allen (hamstring) was inactive in Week 16 after tweaking his hamstring in Week 15, and there is really no reason the Chargers should risk him for Week 17 — unless coach Anthony Lynn thinks beating the Raiders is critical to saving his job. Allen crushed the Raiders for 9/103/1 the last time these two teams played, so he’d be a tough guy to sit for fantasy purposes, but it just seems more prudent for the Chargers to pack it in and plan for 2021. (JD)
Terry McLaurin (Was) — McLaurin (ankle) was inactive against Carolina in Week 16 after not practicing all week. The Team now has a must-win game against Philly in Week 17, and fortunately for McLaurin — if he plays — it will be without the abysmal Dwayne Haskins at QB. If he can go in Week 17, he gets to go up against an Eagle secondary that just got absolutely smashed by Dallas in Week 16. He’ll likely catch a Darius Slay shadow, however, which is about the only matchup against Philly that isn’t a positive one. (JD)
Dallas Goedert (Phi) — Goedert caught 3 passes for 38 yards in Week 16 before leaving with a calf injury against the Cowboys. It’s notable because Goedert dealt with a calf injury in all of 2019, so you wonder if that’s a recurring problem for him. It’s also notable because the Eagles are now eliminated from playoff contention and could choose to just pack it in with Goedert until 2021. The Eagles already have an off-season of difficult decisions coming, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to push it with Goedert. (JD)
Ronald Jones (TB) — RoJo will come off of the COVID-19 list this week and he’s on track to play against the Falcons this week barring any setbacks to his surgically repaired finger, which he suffered in Week 14. Jones posted 15+ FP in three of his last four games before his two-game absence, but he’ll get a tough matchup against the Falcons in his return to the lineup. Leonard Fournette did stumble into the end zone twice against Atlanta in Week 15 with RoJo out but he averaged just 3.5 YPC. We’ll see if Fournette goes back to being a true handcuff to Jones this week with LeSean McCoy sticking in his passing-back role. (TB)
JK Dobbins (Bal) — Dobbins had a strong performance against the Giants in Week 16, carrying 11 times for 77 yards and a TD. But he injured his chest early in the third quarter, returned only briefly, and didn’t see a carry the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Gus Edwards posted 15/85 rushing and 2/37 receiving. We’ll keep an eye on Dobbins’ status this week — it’s entirely possible the Ravens correctly assessed that they were in no danger of the Giants threatening a comeback and held out one of their most important offensive players. The Ravens’ offense has taken off since they removed Mark Ingram from the RB rotation. Hopefully, Dobbins’ injury won’t prevent him from suiting up in a must-win Week 17 game. (JD)
Aaron Jones (GB) — Jones looked primed for a massive, league-winning week heading into a matchup with a shaky Titans defense in snowy conditions at Lambeau Field without Jamaal Williams (quad) in the lineup. Those plans went out the window after he took a hit to his hip early in the second quarter, which ended up limiting his snaps the rest of the game. Jones ended up with 12/108 scrimmage in Week 16 as he ceded 22 touches to rookie A.J. Dillon, who turned his opportunities into 129/2 scrimmage. There’s a good chance Jones shows up on the injury report this week, but Jones will likely try to play against the Bears with the Packers looking to lock up the NFC’s top seed. Jones will be a low-end RB1 this week with Williams potentially returning to the lineup and with Dillon earning more trust after his Week 16 performance. (TB)