Everything has led to this point. All the lists of sleepers, busts and breakouts back in August. All those cheat sheets throughout the summer, including the countless tweaks to get them perfect for September. All the trades and waiver wire moves made during the season. All the previous start or sit decisions that helped you stay alive through the year.
All of that has led to the most important Start ’Em or Sit ’Em column of the season. The others helped you win an individual game. This one could help you win a championship and reign supreme over your league for the next nine months. To those of you playing this week, good luck. The following suggestions should help lessen your need for that.
We're going to follow the same start/sit format that we did last week: a slimmed-down version in time for the holidays. Rather than making calls for every fantasy-relevant player, we looked at the consensus rankings and picked out the most interesting divergences from the mean in our Week 16 rankings. We then explained why we are higher or lower than the consensus on each player. That, taken in conjunction with our rankings, should help you build your best lineups for your title game.
Tyrod Taylor (SI rank: 8, Consensus rank: 12)
It’ll be interesting to see where Taylor ranks on 2016 draft boards. He has unquestionably enjoyed a breakout season, throwing for 2,674 yards, 8.01 yards per attempt, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions, while running for 450 yards and three scores. Taylor is seventh among quarterbacks in points per game in standard-scoring leagues, ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. He has six games with at least 22 points this season, and just two with fewer than 15.
Taylor is as steady as they come, and has a ceiling that pushes up to 30 points. What’s more, three of those six 22-point games have come in the last four weeks. Why he’s viewed as a low-end QB1 this week is beyond me. The Cowboys have been league average against the pass this season, ranking 16th in Football Outsiders DVOA, and 16th in pass rush and 18th in coverage according to Pro Football Focus.
Don’t ignore the fact that Sammy Watkins is in the midst of the best streak of his two-year career. He has 19 catches for 459 yards and six touchdowns in his last four games. Taylor has top-five potential this week.
Players I’d start him over: Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford
Teddy Bridgewater (SI rank: 13, Consensus rank: 18)
Bridgewater is coming off two of his best games of the season, throwing for 566 yards, 10.11 YPA, and five touchdowns against zero picks. It wasn’t as though one game carried the other, either. Bridgewater racked up 335 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals two weeks ago, then carved up the Bears to the tune of 231 yards and four scores last week. Before Week 14, Bridgewater had one game with at least nine YPA this season, and he has three now.
Bridgewater also has a great matchup this week, going up against a Giants defense that is nearly as bad against the pass as is the Saints. The Giants are 27th in pass defense DVOA, 25th in pass rush and 29th in pass coverage. They’ve allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks this season, behind (or ahead of, as the case may be) only the Saints. Minnesota’s passing offense still doesn’t have the ceiling to make Bridgewater an absolute must-start play, but his recent performance, combined with the matchup, certainly places him on the QB1 radar for championship week.
Players I’d start him over: Eli Manning, Kirk Cousins
Philip Rivers (SI rank: 18, Consensus rank: 14)
Rivers has been either the best bad quarterback or worst good quarterback in the league since Keenan Allen’s injury. In three games against the Chiefs and Broncos, Rivers threw for 643 yards, 5.95 YPA, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. In two games against the Jaguars and Dolphins, he totaled 611 yards, 7.73 YPA, seven touchdowns and two picks. Basically, he has done exactly what he was supposed to, based on matchup.
This Raiders defense presents him with a largely neutral matchup, but it is ranked 13th in pass DVOA. What it really comes down to, though, is that there are plenty more bankable quarterbacks you can lean on this week. While the Chiefs and Broncos have two of the best defenses in the league, Rivers just isn’t trustworthy with all the injuries to the Chargers’ receiver corps. You should simply be able to do better in your championship games.
Players I’d start over him: Eli Manning, Jameis Winston
Latavius Murray (SI rank: 14, Consensus rank: 7)
Murray’s season-long numbers are good enough to make him the No. 14 running back in standard-scoring leagues, but that masks the fact that he his production has really slowed in the second half of the season. Murray hasn’t rushed for 100 yards since Week 8, which was also the last week he topped 100 yards from scrimmage. In his last eight games, he has just two touchdowns. Last year in his rookie season, Murray had a total of 99 touches, and he's already up to 268 this season.
It's entirely possible that Murray is hitting a wall with two weeks left in the year. The Chargers definitely present him with a great matchup, and that’s part of the reason why he should be in your lineups regardless. The fact remains, however, that Murray’s second-half performance precludes him from projecting as an RB1 for Week 16.
Players I’d start over him: Lamar Miller, Chris Ivory, Darren McFadden
Cameron Artis-Payne (SI rank: 18, Consensus rank: 25)
The Panthers have yet to rule out Jonathan Stewart for Week 16, but right now it looks like he’s going to miss his second straight game because of a foot injury. And it’s the prudent choice of course, because the Panthers should be able to beat the Falcons—and lock up homefield advantage in the NFC—with or without Stewart. They need Stewart 100% a month from now, not against the Falcons on Sunday.
That would leave Artis-Payne as the team’s lead back this week. The rookie out of Auburn racked up 59 yards on 14 carries and also caught two passes for 34 yards. It was his first significant playing time of the season, and he certainly did enough to give the coaching staff confidence that he can carry the load and give Stewart as much time as he needs to get healthy for the playoffs. The Falcons rank 21st in rush defense DVOA and have surrendered the fourth-most points to running backs this season. The Panthers are also laying seven points in this game, meaning Artis-Payne could be in line for a heavy workload on Sunday. Get him in your lineups.
Players I’d start him over: Jeremy Hill, James White, Danny Woodhead
Karlos Williams (SI rank: 9, Consensus rank: 14)
Williams has had two games with double-digit touches this season, and he scored at least 14 fantasy points in both of those games, totaling 180 yards from scrimmage and two scores. Few, if any, running backs have been as effective this season on a per-touch basis. The rookie out of Florida State has 489 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns on 76 touches this season, which translates to 1.2 fantasy points per touch.
For comparison’s sake, Devonta Freeman, has 0.76 points per touch, while Antonio Brown, is putting up 1.28 points per touch. Williams’ small sample size contributes to his lofty point-per-touch number, but there’s no getting around the fact that he has essentially maximized production out of his role this year. With LeSean McCoy out because of a knee injury, Williams should dominate the touches out of the Buffalo backfield against the Cowboys this week. Dallas is 27th in rush defense DVOA and has allowed the sixth-most points to running backs this season. Williams is, in my estimation, an easy RB1 this week.
Players I’d start him over: Tim Hightower, Chris Ivory, Darren McFadden
Christine Michael (SI rank: 29, Consensus rank: 19)
All that Michael needed to (sort of) justify all of the hype was injuries to Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, plus a detour through Dallas. Now, the RB is back in Seattle as, perhaps, a savior of sorts. Michael led the team’s backfield in its first game without Rawls, running for 84 yards on 16 carries, and the fantasy community can reasonably assume that he will once again be the team’s primary back on Sunday.
But even if that’s the case, there’s reason to not be too excited about him in championship week. First, Bryce Brown did get nine carries a week ago, running for 43 yards. On a per-carry basis they were, for all intents and purposes, identical. Second, the Seahawks draw the Rams on Sunday, a slightly tougher matchup than the Browns defense they saw a week ago. Not only is the actual matchup a more significant challenge, but the game flow isn’t likely to be as beneficial as it was in Seattle’s 30-13 win over Cleveland. I wouldn’t be betting on Michael to be anything more than an RB3 or low-end flex play.
Players I’d start over him: James Starks, Giovani Bernard
Stefon Diggs (SI rank: 24, Consensus rank: 35)
Diggs awoke from his six-week slumber last week, finding the end zone twice in Minnesota’s win over Chicago. All things considered, it actually wasn’t the most impressive performance. He had just three catches, four targets and 55 yards, but happened to make sure those catches and targets counted for as much as possible. Still, that Bridgewater took a few shots to him downfield was certainly an encouraging development.
Like we discussed with Bridgewater earlier, Diggs has a great matchup this week. Since Week 8, 10 receivers have scored double-digit points against the Giants, including also-rans such as Corey Brown, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston. Diggs and Kyle Rudolph hog most of Bridgewater’s attention, and that attention could be even larger this week if Adrian Peterson is playing at less than 100%.
Players I’d start him over: Emmanuel Sanders, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb
Kamar Aiken (SI rank: 21, Consensus rank: 26)
The Ravens have had six games without Steve Smith after the veteran receiver suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. In those six games, Aiken has 37 catches for 469 yards and three touchdowns. That comes out to 10.82 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. You know we love to give you context here at SI.com, so that’s exactly what we’ll do now. If Aiken had a 10.82 average all season, he’d be the No. 17 fantasy receiver in points per game, ahead of Allen Hurns and Brandin Cooks.
Why the fantasy community continues to discount him is a mystery to me. He appeared on this list last week, and then proceeded to have his best game of the season, catching eight passes for 128 yards and a score. He’s getting 10.3 targets per game with Smith out, and has reached double-digit targets in four of those six games. He’ll show up for you in championship week.
Players I’d start him over: Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, John Brown
Doug Baldwin (SI rank: 13, Consensus rank: 6)
In a way, I was sort of right about Baldwin last week. He had just four receptions for 45 yards in the Seahawks 30-13 drubbing of the Browns. Of course, two of those four catches went for touchdowns, meaning he still posted a 16.5-point day for his fantasy owners. Baldwin now has 10 touchdowns in his last four games, a run matched only by Jerry Rice in 1987. After scoring 10 times in four games, Rice hit pay dirt two more times in the game No. 5.
It has been fun watching Baldwin over the last month, but he’s no Rice. The streak has to end sometime, and the Seahawks just happen to be playing the Rams, the one team who has had their number over the last three years, this week. We still have Baldwin ranked 13th, so we view him as a must-start receiver, but don’t be surprised if and when he’s finally held out of the end zone.
Players I’d start over him: Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Eric Decker
Eric Ebron (SI rank: 11, Consensus rank: 15)
Ebron had his best game in months last week, catching four of his five targets for 79 yards. He hasn’t taken the step forward in year two that many projected, but he showed in that win over the Saints that he can still be a weapon when given the opportunity. The 49ers are simply playing out the string at this point, and have a long weekend of traveling ahead of them. They also rank 25th in pass defense DVOA and 24th against tight ends specifically.
Ebron may not get more than six or seven targets, but that should be enough to do damage against this defense. With Calvin Johnson no-showing the last few weeks, Ebron could be a larger part of Detroit’s plans than he is in a typical game.
Players I’d start him over: Kyle Rudolph, Zach Ertz
Zach Miller (SI rank: 14, Consensus rank: 10)
Miller caught all six of his targets for 57 yards a week ago, a disappointing showing for a player who seemed in line for a larger role in the Chicago offense. He also did nearly all that work in garbage time, with the Bears trailing the Vikings by three scores in the fourth quarter. Miller is a fine player with a decent presence in the Bears’ passing game, but he’s really no more than a speculative fantasy option.
There’s nothing wrong with his matchup this week, but when you’re looking at players in this neighborhood, you are frequently better off betting on the offense as a whole, and then finding a player in that offense. You might not want to bet on Chicago in Tampa Bay this week.
Players I’d start over him: Will Tye, Austin Seferian-Jenkins