I drafted Julio Jones in the first round of my fantasy football draft this season. I wrote that he would score at least twice as many touchdowns as he did last year. I guessed eight.
When he made it through Week 8 with zero touchdowns, people were making jokes. Heck, I was making jokes. But I still said he’d score at least six times. There are transcripts.
It is now Week 16, and Julio Jones has six touchdowns. He might get to eight, he might not. Pegging an exact prediction is a silly goal. But Julio Jones is the No. 3 fantasy receiver on the season, barely out of third and with a perfectly fine shot at No. 1. And for a guy who has drawn criticism for having inconsistent production, highs and lows, he’s had nine games of 20-plus PPR points, including six of his last seven games.
Believe in progression, believe in regression. Positive or negative, it’s undefeated.
That brings us to our Week 16 fantasy matchups advice, powered by the stats and information compiled over at Pro Football Focus. As always, I’m starting off with my mismatch of the week. Good luck in your fantasy championships. Since I didn’t make mine, I’ll live vicariously through all of you.
Mismatch of the week
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Running one of my old standards back: Since trading away Damon Harrison, the Giants have been maybe the worst run defense in the league. The team has allowed 100-plus rushing yards and at least one touchdown to every backfield since Harrison left in Week 8 except one, Week 14 against Washington when the Mark Sanchez start meant everything was bad for the Redskins. Opposing backs have averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the non-Harrison Giants.
But you know all that. Here’s the thing you might not know: Ryan Kelly returned to the Colts’ lineup in Week 15. When he was out, Colts RBs averaged 3.4 yards per carry. When he’s played this year (including that Week 15 game), that average is 5.0. The Colts have for years had their offensive line as a primary weakness. It is not one this year. Mack is a top-10 fantasy back this week.
Cody Kessler, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Obviously, this is a deep dive. But if you’re in a desperate situation, I think Kessler has a shot at a productive week. The Jaguars are facing a Dolphins team that has allowed multiple touchdown passes in eight of their last nine games, with the only exception being Sam Darnold’s disaster game back in Week 9. Over that stretch, they’ve allowed 20.8 fantasy points per game, which would be barely out of worst in the league over the full season. The Dolphins have allowed the eighth-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks and the fifth-highest yards-per-carry average; Kessler just ran for a career-high 68 yards. In a two-QB league, I’m at least looking his way.
Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins
Frank Gore’s injury is likely to end his season, which brought Ballage into relevance after a season of minimal playing time. All this because the Dolphins would apparently need a writ of mandamus to give Kenyan Drake a starting running back’s workload — he hasn’t topped 10 carries in a game since Week 8, has averaged 5.5 a game over his last six, and only had one measly carry last week. Unless you think the Dolphins are going to give Brandon Bolden a big workload (they aren’t), those carries they refuse to give Drake are going to go to Ballage.
Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers
Cobb has had 17 targets in three games since his return from injury, and while those targets have only resulted in 98 total yards and one score, I’m optimistic for a return to form in Week 16. Cobb is almost exclusively a slot receiver, running 87.3 percent of his routes from the slot this year and seeing 47 of his 53 targets there. Well, only the Buccaneers have allowed more fantasy points to slot receivers than the Jets this year, and that’s because the Buccaneers allow more fantasy points to everyone than just about anyone else. Morris Claiborne and Trumaine Johnson man the outside for the Jets, and while nobody has slowed Davante Adams down much this season, they’ll have as much a chance as anyone. But in the slot, Buster Skrine has been a lit match most of the season, putting up a 51.3 coverage grade on the season and allowing a 121.9 passer rating into his coverage.
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
This recommendation is made under the assumption that Odell Beckham Jr. does not make his return in Week 16 — the team has no great reason to bring him back at this point, but it’s always possible. The thing is, though, that even if Beckham does return, the tight end position is such a disaster around the league, Engram is a fine play. But in his two-year career, Evan Engram has played 24 games — 11 with Beckham, 13 without. In games without, he averaged 2.4 more targets and 4.2 more PPR points a game. You could argue Engram’s strong rookie year is almost entirely the product of Beckham’s absence. Against a big-play-amenable defense — the Colts have allowed three different TE groups to top 120 yards on them this year — a Beckham-less Engram has a high ceiling.
Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
I have to imagine that any fantasy owners with Brady have long since been eliminated, but in case you’ve sneaked through the cracks or are pondering Brady in DFS … don’t do that. On top of Brady’s general struggles, he’s facing a Buffalo team that just doesn’t allow yards. The Bills gave up 250-plus passing yards in each of their first four games with 8 total passing TDs in that time. In 10 games since, only two quarterbacks have even topped 177 yards against them, and only one (admittedly, Brady, back in Week 8) has topped 208. Only Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill have thrown for multiple touchdowns. A great defense and a bad offense make for quarterbacks who don’t succeed much against them and don’t often have to succeed.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington
Peterson had a 90-yard touchdown run in Week 13! That’s really good! It’s the fourth-longest rush of the season, and this year has been an outlier in that regard.
If you take that run away, Peterson is averaging 2.6 yards per carry over his last seven games.
The 33-year-old started the season strong enough, topping 90 yards on the ground in five of Washington’s first seven games, but he’s cratered since then. He was the No. 7 RB through Week 8 (which included his bye), but he’s only 31st in Weeks 9-15. Add to that the fact that he’s facing a stout Titans run defense that has allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs for the season, and Peterson is an easy stay-away.
Keenan Allen/Mike Williams, WRs, Los Angeles Chargers
Allen was the hottest receiver in the game heading into last Thursday, when his injury opened the door for Williams to pick up exactly where Allen left off. You want to ride the hot hand, and the Chargers have two of them, good for whether Allen makes it back from injury or doesn’t. The problem? The Chargers face the Ravens Saturday, and the Ravens just don’t let wide receivers do anything. Bengals receivers scored four first-half touchdowns against Baltimore in Week 2; take that half out, and the Ravens have allowed five touchdown receptions to receivers all year, including only two since Week 7. That includes holding Mike Evans, Julio Jones and Tyreek Hill out of the end zone in the last three weeks.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers
In Week 13, Graham had eight receptions. He only gained 50 yards on those catches, but still, that was his highest reception total since the middle of 2016. There was reason for some mild optimism. In two games since, he’s totaled five receptions for 45 yards. He hasn’t scored or topped 50 yards since Week 9, only has two touchdowns on the season, and is putting up a career-worst 61.9 PFF grade a year after putting up a then-career-worst 66.0. Graham isn’t even a must-roster at this point, and against a Jets team this week that has held eight different TE groups to under 20 receiving yards, he definitely isn’t a fantasy starter.
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