San Diego RB Jackie Battle could be a surprise contributor this week. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Week 16! Fantasy championship! It all comes down to this!
You know, for about 16 percent of fantasy owners.
If you're the other 84 percent, then you're watching this week's action with casual disinterest. You might be playing for pride or maybe even a small third-place pot, but, really, if your dream of a title was dashed last week, then bitterness -- not victory -- is about all you're tasting.
But that doesn't mean you should ignore this week's games (or next week's, for that matter). Fantasy owners have a tendency to turn off the attention switch when they're eliminated from competition and act as if the stats accumulated over the final couple weeks don't count. Then, when they're doing their draft prep next August, they won't be able to figure out why Cam Newton is ranked so high after he stunk for the first half of the season.
So, if you're out of it, keep paying attention. Look for young players getting more touches or targets, or simply watch the actual games more closely and see if anyone stands out. It obviously won't help you this year, but you'll be that much more ahead of the curve when you start getting ready for your draft next season.
For those 16 or so percent of fantasy owners who are still competing for the big prize, here are some key numbers to know about every contest, plus a sleeper, stumbler, stud or injury concern to watch out for with a brief explanation why. Note that the "studs" are guys who are either better than most owners realize or established stars who owners might be foolishly thinking about sitting.
Falcons at Lions
Stat to know: Atlanta has only allowed two quarterbacks to top 18.8 fantasy points in a game this season -- Cam Newton (twice) and Drew Brees. Matthew Stafford throws the ball even more than Brees, but with Detroit's depleted receiving corps, Stafford is just an average-at-best play this week.
Stud: RB Michael Turner (Lions have allowed an average of 25.2 fantasy points per game to RBs over their past four contests).
Rams at Buccaneers
Stat to know:
Stumbler: QB Josh Freeman (Rams rank 23rd in FPPG allowed to QBs).
Patriots at Jaguars
Stat to know: The potential return of Rob Gronkowski (forearm) will cause plenty of intrigue among fantasy owners, but don't downgrade any of New England's other receiving options if Gronk is active. Jacksonville ranks 24th in pass defense (246 yards allowed per game), so there will be plenty of yards to go around for Aaron Hernandez, Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker.
Sleeper: WR Justin Blackmon (Patriots allowing seventh-most FPPG to WRs).
Vikings at Texans
Stat to know: All eyes will be on the running backs in this one -- and deservedly so -- but don't forget about Matt Schaub. He's a fringe starter most weeks, but he looks like a QB1 against a Vikings' defense allowing the third-most FPPG to QBs (22.7).
Sleeper: K Blair Walsh (21-of-22 on FG attempts indoors this year, including 6-of-6 on 50-plus yarders).
Bengals at Steelers
Stat to know: Owners will be tempted to sit BenJarvus Green-Ellis because of the matchup, but he's had at least 10.2 fantasy points in five straight games. Also, in his first meeting against Pittsburgh, he quickly racked up 44 yards on the first drive before Cedric Peerman poached a five-yard touchdown. Keep Green-Ellis in your lineups.
Stumbler: QB Ben Roethlisberger (Bengals allowing fifth-fewest FPPG to QBs).
Bills at Dolphins
Stat to know: Most of the starters in this one are pretty obvious (C.J. Spiller, Reggie Bush, Stevie Johnson), but if you're looking a lottery-ticket, boom-or-bust option, consider Bills' WR T.J. Graham. He's received 15 targets the past two weeks, and he'll be up against the Dolphins' 26th-ranked pass defense.
Injury: WR Brian Hartline, ankle/back (Expected to play, but the injuries might slow him enough to keep him out of fantasy lineups).
Chargers at Jets
Stat to know: Expect a defensive struggle in this one, as the Jets (8.8) and the Chargers (8.2) are both in the top seven in terms of FPPG allowed to D/STs. Both defenses are solid plays, though the Jets get a slight edge playing at home against a West Coast team.
Sleeper: RB Jackie Battle (If Ronnie Brown is out, Battle figures to get the bulk of the carries against a Jets' defense allowing the sixth-most FPPG to RBs).
Raiders at Panthers
Stat to know: The Raiders offense has been in a funk lately, and Carson Palmer has disappointed on the road all year (7:8 TD-to-turnover ratio). With the Panthers ranking in the bottom 11 in FPPG allowed to both QBs and WRs, it's tough to trust anyone in Oakland's passing game. The rumors of more playing time this week for Terrelle Pryor don't help.
Sleeper: K Sebastian Janikowski (Panthers allowing the fourth-most FPPG to Ks).
Redskins at Eagles
Stat to know: With both LeSean McCoy (concussion) and Robert Griffin III (knee) expected to return, fantasy owners should have them both in their lineups. McCoy has averaged 114.5 total yards per game against the Redskins in his career, and Griffin lit up the Eagles for 40.4 fantasy points back in Week 11.
Sleeper: TE Brent Celek (Redskins allowing second-most FPPG to TEs).
Titans at Packers
Stat to know: Kendall Wright has been averaging over seven targets per game, but he's expected to miss this week's contest because of a cracked rib. That should lead to more looks for Nate Washington. Kenny Britt is still the top option in Tennessee's receiving game, but Washington is a legitimate boom-or-bust sleeper in a game in which Tennessee figures to throw often.
Sleeper: Packers D/ST (Tennessee allowing sixth-most FPPG to D/STs).
Saints at Cowboys
Stat to know: Owners are likely optimistic about Mark Ingram after he ran 14 times for 90 yards and a score against Tampa last week, but it's important to remember that Ingram piled up 44 of those yards and his touchdown while New Orleans was just running out the clock. Don't expect similar production against Dallas' middle-of-the-pack run defense.
Stumbler: RB Darren Sproles (Cowboys allowing fourth-fewest receiving yards per game to RBs).
Colts at Chiefs
Stat to know: We wound up covering a lot of the key guys in this game in Tuesday's Recap column (stick with Reggie Wayne, Jamaal Charles and Vick Ballard), but owners might once again be wondering whether they should go with T.Y. Hilton. He's had at least 10 fantasy points in four of his past five games, and the Chiefs have allowed 31 pass plays of 25-plus yards, tied for sixth most. Keep Hilton in your lineups, too.
Sleeper: WR Dexter McCluster (Caught 7-of-10 targets last week, making him a decent WR3 in PPR leagues against a Colts' defense allowing the fourth-most FPPG to WRs).
Browns at Broncos
Stat to know: Trent Richardson has scored six TDs in the past four weeks, but he's only averaged 56.8 rushing yards per game in that span. For the season, he's averaging just 3.5 yards per carry. He's still a good flex-back because of his high amount of touches, but if he doesn't score against Denver's second-ranked run defense, he probably won't do much else.
Stud: WR Demaryius Thomas (Browns allowing sixth-most FPPG to WRs).
Giants at Ravens
Stat to know: Torrey Smith has a total of 6.8 fantasy points in the past three weeks, but as long as he's active (concussion), owners should give the big-play receiver another chance this week against a Giants' defense allowing the fifth-most FPPG to WRs (25).
Injury: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, knee (Whoever starts for the Giants -- Bradshaw or David Wilson -- is a good option against a Ravens' defense allowing the seventh-most FPPG to RBs).
Bears at Cardinals
Stat to know: The Bears D/ST is a no-brainer start this week, but Arizona might be just as good of a play. The Cardinals lead the NFL in INTs and are tied for sixth in sacks -- both of which are problems for Jay Cutler and the Bears.
Stumbler: RB Beanie Wells (averaging just 2.8 yards per carry this year).
49ers at Seahawks
Stat to know: Both the 49ers and Seahawks rank in the top 10 in run defense, but don't let that keep you from starting Marshawn Lynch or Frank Gore. Both backs had over 100 yards when these two teams met in Week 7, and both had success against each other last year.
Stumbler: WR Michael Crabtree (Seahawks allowing fewest FPPG to WRs).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.