Unlock More Content Like This With A
Footballguys Premium Subscription
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
We have reached week 16 and the semi-finals of most fantasy leagues. Those of us still alive in the final four, have invested a lot of time and work to get here. The only words of wisdom I'll throw out here is; don't relax too early. A lot of managers get to this point and feel like there is nothing left to do but put in a lineup this week. Don't be that manager. The truth is just the opposite. You are playing one of the four best teams in your league and will need every possible advantage. Keep up the intensity and leave no stone unturned in the effort to squeeze the most possible points out of your lineup.
Jalen Thompson led the Cardinals in tackles last week with a modest 5-1, but look for linebacker Josh Woods to hold that spot in week 16. The Bears are a mediocre matchup for safeties, but no team has given up more points to linebackers since week eight. Chicago's average of 33.5 points per game to the LB position is about one and a half more than the second-place Commanders. That may not seem like much, but in the grand scheme of things, a point and a half per week is a fairly wide margin. UPDATE: Woods landed on IR about an hour after this piece was submitted. Krys Barnes should take over the lead role and is an even better fantasy option. Rookie Owen Pappoe is likely to be the second linebacker on early downs.
After losing to the one-win Panthers, there is increasing speculation, and in the case of most fantasy managers, hope, that the Falcons will move on from head coach Arthur Smith after the season. Smith has undermined a lot of talent and potential for us on both sides of the ball during his tenure. From that perspective, change would be welcomed. Meanwhile, Smith and his staff are shuffling lineups hoping to find a diamond that might help save their jobs.
Not all of the new faces in the starting lineup were by choice as David Onyemata and Kentavius Street were out with injuries, but the changes in the secondary had nothing to do with anyone being hurt. We've seen DeMarcco Hellams get on the field in previous weeks. He took over the starting strong safety job against Carolina, seeing action on 62 of 66 snaps. The results were marginal from a statistical perspective at three tackles and five assists, but those numbers were not all that bad for a safety in a game that was short on offense for both teams.
Hellams may not be an option this week when the Colts come to town. Indianapolis has allowed the fewest points to safeties over the second half of the fantasy season. He might be worth a shot next week, though, as the Bears have given up the sixth most points to safeties since week eight.
The other change that could have some significance in corner-required leagues is the benching of Jeff Okudah in favor of Clark Phillips III. Okudah was active and saw a little action in week 15 when the Falcons' starting corners were Phillips, A.J. Terrell, and Mike Hughes, who got the call over Dee Alford.
Marcus Williams has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season and for most of his career, for that matter. He was not available for the second half of Sunday's game due to a groin injury. Geno Stone started six games for Williams earlier in the season, reaching double-digit points in five of them with a low of nine against the Colts. San Francisco is a mediocre matchup for safeties, but Stone could be a solid option for us.
Justin Madubuike was 1-0-1 with a forced fumble against Jacksonville, giving him at least half a sack in eleven straight games and 12 of 14 on the season.
Terrel Bernard was a beast early in the season and has a good matchup this week with a Chargers team that has allowed the seventh most points to linebackers since week eight. That said, Bernard is slumping. He has double-digit points in just two of the last six games with four or fewer solo stops in five of them. There have been some bad matchups among those six games, and the Buffalo defense has come on during that span. The slump may not be all on Bernard, but why he is not scoring doesn't matter at this point. We just need points.
Jaycee Horn has played in three games since returning from injury. Despite playing part-time in one of them, he is 15-3 with a pair of pass breakups over those games. Horn is probably not a great option this week against the Packers, who are a horrible matchup for corners, but he gets the Jaguars in week seventeen. Jacksonville has given up the second most points to corners since week eight.
Vonn Bell's up-and-down season does nothing to instill confidence, especially after his two-tackle performance last week. On the positive side, Bell plays every snap when healthy, which he now is, and gets the Packers this week. Over the last eight weeks, Green Bay has been the best matchup for safeties by a wide margin of over three points per game.
We don't get many splash plays from Tremaine Edmunds, who was in the right place at the right time for a lucky bounce last week. If he is on your roster, start him (or T.J. Edwards) this week, though. Not because we are chasing last week's points, but because the Cardinals are the third-best matchup in the game for linebackers since week eight.
The Bengals lost a significant piece of their defense when D.J. Reader was carted off with a torn quad on Saturday. Josh Tupou will replace Reader in the base defense with Zach Carter likely to get more playing time as well.
For those looking ahead to next year, rookie Myles Murphy is making a strong impression. His playing time has been up of late with Murphy seeing about 40% of the snaps last week when he was 2-2-1. That gives him a pair of sacks in his limited role over the last four games. Murphy was a first-round pick, so the long-term expectations are high.
Over the last couple of weeks, I've been talking about how Myles Garrett has not been healthy and is slumping horribly because of it. He still has no sacks since week eleven, but Garrett looked much better against the Bears. He finished a 2-1 on the stat sheet but was a big factor on the field. The Texans are a mediocre matchup, but I would feel much better about playing Garrett this week.
With Ogbo Okoronkwo injured, Alex Wright had a starters-role versus Chicago. Za'Darius Smith was on the field for the first play, but Wright played eleven more snaps and had a far greater impact at 4-0-1 with a forced fumble.
With Grant Delpit out of action, D'Anthony Bell got the start at strong safety. Unfortunately for the many managers who picked him up in anticipation of the starting role, Bell split time with Duron Harmon.
Donovan Wilson was banged up and missed some time but managed a solid 5-3. Wilson is not a player we have counted on for much this year, and that is what he has given us, not much. However, the Cowboys have injuries at safety so Wilson could be in line for an every-snap role against the Dolphins, who have given up the third most points to safeties over the last eight weeks.
Demarcus Lawrence had his best game of the season versus Buffalo, with seven solo stops, an assist, and a forced fumble. Don't chase the points, though. The Dolphins are not going to run the ball 44 times like Buffalo did, and they don't give up many sacks. Look for Lawrence to turn back into a pumpkin this week.
Joesy Jewell (7-2) outproduced Alex Singleton (3-2) in week 15. There is nothing to see here beyond some rotten luck for those of us who started Singleton in our playoff games. Despite the good matchup and playing every snap as usual, it was the first time since week two that Singleton failed to reach double-digit points. If you survived the poor outing, keep him in your lineup this week against the Patriots, who have allowed the fifth most points to linebackers since week eight.
The Lions' defense was struggling, so they decided to shake up their lineup over the last couple of weeks. While Ifeatu Melifonwu did next to nothing in his week fourteen start, it was a totally different story in week 15. Not only did he play virtually every snap, but Melifonwu was the team's second-leading tackler at 6-3, adding a sack, forced fumble, and two pass breakups for a 20+ point fantasy day. We have not yet seen enough of him to consider the big game anything more than an outlier at this point, but it should be enough to get him another start for the Lions.
Dan Campbell told us last week that Jerry Jacobs wasn't being benched, but they were going to rotate players at their CB2. Jacobs didn't rotate much in week fifteen when he saw zero snaps. Kindal Vildor played 18 snaps, and Khalil Dorsey got the other 44.
Green Bay Packers
Darnell Savage did not practice last week and was inactive for Sunday's game. That opened the door for Rudy Ford to get back on the field. He put up a solid 4-4 with a pass breakup, while Jonathan Owens had yet another strong outing at 7-5. When looking at matchups, many, if not most, managers would see the Panthers and assume they were one to avoid. That is not necessarily the case as the Panthers rank tenth in points to safeties over the last two months. For what it's worth, Jessie Bates III and DeMarcco Hellams just put up 18 combined stops against them.
Derek Barnett was not able to prosper in Philadelphia, but the change of venue has been good for him so far. It's a small sample, but Derek Barnett is 5-1-1 with 4 tackles for loss in the last two games. I'm not excited about him yet, but he has my attention.
Nick Cross did not start but split time with Rodney Thomas again. It's too late for him to be a factor this year, but the solid play by Cross is a good sign that he could finally make his way back to the starting job in 2024. Call it a dynasty alert and a possible target for those looking to next year.
JuJu Brents returned after missing six games and was right back in the mix. The Colts were in a nickel base defense more than 90% of the game with Brents and Jaylon Jones on the outside and Kenny Moore working in the slot. The Steelers are a horrible matchup for defensive backs across the board, so no one in the Indianapolis secondary had a great game. We can't expect much more this week against the Falcons either, unless they get the running game cranked up, which has not happened lately.
Kansas City Chiefs
Nick Bolton has been nothing but a tease for IDP managers this year. He's been dealing with one injury after another, but even the six games he has played have been disappointing. Bolton has no more than five solo stops or nine combined in any game, and his remaining matchups are the Raiders and Bengals. Both are below-average opponents for linebackers.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have a bright future with Maxx Crosby and first-round pick Tyree Wilson on the edge, but we should not overlook Malcolm Koonce. The third-year player was 3-0-2 with a pair of forced fumbles against the Chargers. It was the first multi-sack game of his career and gives him four in the last six games.
Divine Deablo turned in his second-best production of the season with a line of 7-5 but came out of the Chargers game with a sore ankle. Between that and the Chiefs being a below-average matchup, it is a good idea to look elsewhere this week.
Raiders defensive starters all played about 66% of the snaps in the blowout win against Los Angeles. That doesn't fully explain the low tackle numbers (1-3) by Robert Spillane. We can chalk up the rest to the Chargers game plan. At least he bailed us out a little with the forced fumble. Spillane was 6-5 in the first meeting with Kansas City and is a safe, high-floor play this week.
Los Angeles Chargers
Eric Kendricks is redhot. He has a sack in three straight games and is coming off a 20+ point fantasy week, which is his best production of the season. The Bills have been an average matchup for linebackers for the most part, but they will be a great one if they run the ball 40+ times like they did last week. Buffalo doesn't give up many sacks, but I still see Kendricks as a strong, high-floor start in this one.
Kenneth Murray went down with a shoulder injury in the second quarter of Thursday's game and missed a few snaps. He was able to return but appeared to be bothered by the shoulder. With a long week to recover, he should be a go for week 16 but could remain a little tentative when it comes to hitting.
Los Angeles Rams
I have not yet had time to review the Rams' week 15 game to see what they were doing with their safeties, but the snap counts tell most of the story. Los Angeles ran a big nickel base defense with Quentin Lake going 4-1 and breaking up a pair of passes on 90% of the snaps. John Johnson was 2-1 with a pick on 95%, and Jordan Fuller went 2-3 on 98%. I'll go out on a limb and say that Fuller likely worked in his normal free safety/centerfield role. The Saints have been the sixth-best matchup for safeties since week eight so if you need a stream option this week, take a look at Lake or Johnson.
Bradley Chubb had the best game of his career against the Jets. At 5-2-3, with a pair of forced fumbles and a recovery, he was a game-winner for pretty much everyone who started him. Including all three of the managers that started him against me. Chubb did all that damage against the Jets, who are the best matchup in the game for edge defenders. IDP managers will not have that luxury this week when Miami hosts a Cowboys squad that is completely at the other end of the spectrum. New York is giving up an average of over 36 points per game to the edge position. Dallas is allowing 15.5.
Ivan Pace Jr continued to get it done, going 7-2 even against a Cincinnati team that had been near the bottom of the barrel as a matchup for linebackers. Indeed, it seems the only thing that might slow him down is the potential return of Jordan Hicks, who is back on the practice field this week. After such a long time off, it would be a surprise to see Hicks with a big role this week, but if he plays at all, next week could be a different story.
New Orleans Saints
Jordan Howden had a big game in week 14 and grabbed a lot of attention. As I mentioned in last week's column, though, his matchups to finish the season are not good. Thus, the 3-1 against the Giants comes as no surprise.
Before the season, Cameron Jordan was talking about his plans for the future and the possibility of playing beyond 2023. That may no longer be an option for the longtime Saints star. Jordan is being phased out and has not seen 40% of the snaps in any of the last three games.
New York Giants
Bobby Okereke could not have picked a worse time to give us a stinker. Prior to week 15, his lowest production of the season was a 7.5-point outing when he totaled 3-4 in week nine. Somehow, he managed a season-low of fewer than four points against a New Orleans offense that has been a decent matchup for linebackers all year. This is a hard one to swallow if you started him, but that's just how the funny-shaped ball bounces sometimes. It was an outlier, so don't think twice about playing him this week against the Eagles.
New York Jets
The Jets will be without Quinton Jefferson for the rest of the season. He landed on IR this week with a hip injury. They could also be without John Franklin-Myers for at least this week as he is also battling a hip issue. That means more playing time for Solomon Thomas on the inside and a trio of young players that will see a few more snaps per game on the edge.
It has become an unwritten rule this year that if you need an edge defender with the chance for a big game, look to see who is playing the Jets, Giants, Panthers, or Commanders. New York faces off with Washington this week, so if you have Jermaine Johnson or Quinen Williams, this is the week to play them.
Shaquille Leonard made his starting debut with the Eagles in week 15, but those holding out hope for the rebirth of an IDP stud were highly disappointed. Leonard started but was limited to 28 snaps and four total tackles (1-3). Instead of giving Leonard a major role, the coaching staff elected to roll with a big nickel as their base defense, fielding Sydney Brown as the third safety on 79% of the snaps.
I just mentioned the four teams we all love to have our edge guys facing this year. Philadelphia gets the Giants this week and then again in week eighteen. So just how big is the impact of this matchup? Tanoh Kpasagnon is a run-stopping defensive end with 13 career sacks over six seasons. He was a career-best, 5-1-3 against New York last week, while rookie Bryan Bresee, who had a sack and a half to his credit entering the game, went 2-1-2. Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat are automatic starts in this matchup. Fletcher Cox and Jalen Carter are worthy of strong consideration as well.
The Steelers were already in a tight spot on defense due to injuries. Things got a lot worse when Damontae Kazee was ejected for a cheap shot on Michael Pittman, followed by Minkah Fitzpatrick leaving the game with a knee injury on the next play. Fitzpatrick has already been ruled out for week 16, and Kazee was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the season. Trenton Thompson and Miles Killebrew finished the game and are in line to start against the Bengals. At least if Thompson is available. He, too, was banged up and is dealing with a neck stinger. I would love to tell everyone who the next man up would be, but I honestly have no idea. They might be having tryouts before the game.
It would appear that the organization was not impressed with the play of Blake Martinez in his limited week fourteen role. He was inactive versus the Colts, leaving Elandon Roberts, Mykal Walker, and Mark Robinson to handle the linebacker duties. I wonder if Martinez can play at safety?
Cameron Heyward's status for this week is in doubt as well. He is currently in concussion protocol.
The Seahawks shook things up a bit by benching Tariq Woolen for Monday night's game. With Devon Witherspoon recovering from a hip issue, Seattle started Tre Brown and Michael Jackson at corner in the win. Woolen was active and played a few snaps, making it unclear who will get the start versus Tennessee. The Titans are a horrible matchup for defensive backs anyway.
The situation at safety is a bit more sticky. Jamal Adams has been nursing his knee injury all season, so it was not unexpected that he would miss practice early in the week. When he was not on the field Friday, there was a sense that something was going on. When Adams was inactive for the game, Pete Carroll passed it off as if Adams was just resting his sore knee. Then we learned that Adams was not only inactive for the game, he stayed home and watched it on TV like the rest of us.
As if that were not enough to signal trouble in paradise, Jordan Love went out and had a great game, including a pair of interceptions. On Tuesday, Carroll insisted the decision to rest Adams was based solely on Adams' health and that the team is looking forward to having him back in time to face the Titans on a short week. Sounds like a load of coachspeak to me. Tennessee is a poor matchup for safeties anyway, but this situation could speak volumes to dynasty managers. Especially considering Adams will be 34 years old a few weeks into next season.
San Francisco 49ers
Javon Kinlaw was a first-round pick in 2020 and was supposed to be the replacement for DeForest Buckner. His career has been derailed by injuries for the most part, leaving Kinlaw with one career sack heading into week thirteen. Over the last three games, he is 5-4-3.5. The 49ers could have both Javon Hargrave and Arik Armstead back from injury this week, so Kinlaw is unlikely to see more than scraps when it comes to playing time the rest of the way this year, but the future could bring bigger things.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The plot thickens in Tampa Bay, where Devin White was believed to be a healthy inactive for week fifteen. There are different versions of the story depending on who is telling it, but the bottom line is that White is set to be a free agent at the end of this season and is unlikely to be back with the Buccaneers. According to Coach Bowles, White said he could not play last week because of his foot injury. Bowles went on to say that when/if he returns, White would be part of the linebacker rotation. Bowles did not say White would return as a starter. It looks like K.J. Britt could have the job the rest of the way.
Khaleke Hudson got the call to replace Jamin Davis, who landed on IR last week. Hudson looked pretty good on the field and was strong in the box score, going 8-6 on an 85% play share. The Jets are not a good matchup for linebackers in general, but Washington is not a team we would expect to pull away on the scoreboard, so who knows?
What we do know is that the Jets are the best matchup in the game for edge defenders and rank sixth in points allowed to interior linemen. Washington traded away their edge guys. That and injuries leave Casey Toohill and K.J. Henry as their outside guys. It would be tough to trust either of those players with the start, but it's a gamble that could pay off big.
Da'Ron Payne and Jonathan Allen have struggled since their linemates were traded away, but this matchup is a good reason to dust them off and put them back in our lineups.
Washington played nickel on every snap last week. The Jets are hardly a wide-open passing game, so that might not happen again this time around. That said, rookie Jartavius Martin made the most of his opportunity, going 7-3-1. This is another dynasty special as the second-round pick should find his way into the starting lineup in 2024.
That does it for the divisional round offering. Best of luck this week, and I hope you are back as a winner to get ready for the championship.
Enjoy this article? Find more from John here.
Continue reading this content with a ELITE subscription.
An ELITE subscription is required to access content for IDP (individual defensive players) leagues. If this league is not a IDP (individual defensive players) league, you can edit your leagues here.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE