It's the week before The Week. The week that hopefully gets you to The Week. The week that you need your guys to come through if ever there was a week for them to come through. It's the penultimate week of the fantasy football season and everyone needs a win for a shot at a championship.
(Note that I'm ignoring you crazies who contest your championship in Week 18. Stop that. You're not playing 4-D chess. You're just making life hard on yourselves.)
Just because you've made it this far in the season doesn't mean you won't need a little bit of magic from somewhere. It's hard to imagine the story of a fantasy football champion that doesn't include the feats of an unheralded player leading their squad to glory. With Jonathan Taylor shut down for the season and Jalen Hurts likely shut down for this week, the need to find needles in haystacks only grows larger. That's where this list comes in. Finding options where you might not expect to see them. Here we go. Let's all try to get to The Week together. Here are some names.
It might not seem like it, but the 49ers and Panthers have a couple of things in common this year. Both teams employed Christian McCaffrey in 2022. And both teams have run through a trio of starting quarterbacks. That’s where the similarities end. San Francisco’s triumvirate has keyed a run of success, leading the team to a division title. Carolina’s troika has only mustered a 5-9 record with 12 touchdown passes. (Brock Purdy has six passing scores in his past three games.)
But Darnold has given this offense some life. The Panthers are 2-1 with him as a starter. He hasn’t posted eye-popping numbers, but he hasn’t killed them with mistakes, either. If there’s a chance for him to post something akin to a blowup game (in Darnoldian numbers, that is) it’s this week against the Lions. Detroit’s defense has been better against the run lately. It remains wretched against the pass. The Lions have allowed a 300-yard passer in three of their last five games -- two of those passers were Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson. Not exactly a high-powered duo. Darnold’s ceiling might only be 18 points in a run-heavy offense, but it’s more than he’s offered so far this season.
Remember when I mentioned Jones throwing for 300 yards against the Lions? It was just the seventh time he accomplished the feat in his career. And the first time since Week 4 of 2021. Quarterbacks aren’t routinely posting big yardage totals this season, so Jones’ paucity of big games isn’t really an indictment on him specifically. But there’s a chance for him to add another feather in his cap this week.
The Vikings have been pillaged by opposing signal-callers all season. In Weeks 12-14, Minnesota allowed Mac Jones, Mike White and Jared Goff to throw for a combined 1,081 yards. Matt Ryan was limited to 182 yards -- though it looked for a while as though that would be plenty. This week, I wouldn’t expect the Giants to bolt out to a four-score lead … nor give one away. Jones’ ceiling this week is realistically in the range of 225 yards, but if he can throw (or run) for a couple of scores, he has solid streaming potential.
I wrestled for a bit over whether to include Akers in this week’s column. He’s had double-digits in two of his last three games. A fumble against the Raiders prevented it from being three straight. That felt like a player who was emerging from sleeper status and turning into a low-end flex option. Then I saw that he was started in 8% of NFL.com leagues. That felt like he was being ignored enough to earn a mention.
As woeful as the Rams offense has been, Akers is dominating the running back snaps and touches over the past three weeks. That shouldn’t change even with the champs eliminated from playoff contention. That puts Akers in line for a solid matchup against the Broncos. The Denver pass defense is one to be avoided. It’s run defense has been a bit more friendly. Baker Mayfield is getting more comfortable in the offense, but L.A.’s passing game is still limited. Akers should get plenty of touches in a potentially low-scoring affair.
There’s a good chance that fantasy teams featuring Jonathan Taylor didn’t make the playoffs. There’s even less of a chance that the few that made it this far advanced after Taylor’s Week 15 injury. But if you’re still alive and looking for a JT replacement, Moss could be your guy. To be clear, Deon Jackson will have a notable role in the offense, but I expect Moss to see the larger gain in snaps and targets.
He also slides into a schedule that could allow him to be productive to end the season. Moss ran for 81 yards in a relief effort last week against the Vikings. This week he faces the Chargers, and he has a date with the Giants in Week 17. Both defenses have been soft on running backs this season. Even if your season-long teams are already eyeing next summer, Moss could have some DFS value, as well.
Advocating for Bills running backs this season has been a fool’s errand. Their usage rates have been confusing. Their ceilings have been low and their floors unstable. And there’s always Josh Allen throwing a wrench in our best-laid plans by being a tank when running the ball. Since I’m not a quitter, I’m coming back to the well in Week 16.
James Cook has closed the gap on Singletary in terms of rushing attempts, but the fourth-year back still leads the way in opportunities in the ground game. That puts him in the crosshairs of fantasy managers for this week’s game against the Bears. Not only have teams run the ball successfully against Chicago (4.6 yards per carry and 143.9 yards per game), but they’ve also run it a lot. Chicago’s defense has faced the third-most rushing attempts this season. Buffalo’s offense has been a bit more run-oriented in recent weeks. More touches could be coming for Singletary.
Do you remember that stretch in the middle of the season when Marshall was a thing? From Week 8 through Week 11, he averaged 10.72 fantasy points per game and looked like he was earning a bigger role in the offense. That was with P.J. Walker. The switch to Sam Darnold has done him no favors. He was averaging nearly six targets per game during his most productive stretch. That number has dropped to nearly two per game in the last three contests.
Why, then, should I be optimistic for this weekend? Mostly because the Panthers will have to take to the air against Detroit. Since Week 8, Devin Singletary is the only running back to go over 70 rushing yards against the Lions. That’s a list that includes Saquon Barkley, David Montgomery, Aaron Jones and Raheem Mostert. That prospect should mean increased passing volume for Carolina and more chances for Marshall. His value is probably stronger in DFS tournaments, but it does exist this week.
Tom Brady has an affinity for throwing to tight ends. It was easy to say that when he was targeting Rob Gronkowski, but it’s held true for Cameron Brate and now Otton. Even Ko Kieft has a touchdown this year, and I’m still not convinced he’s a real person. TB12’s tight end target rate isn’t as high this year as in past years, but he’s not totally ignoring the position, either. Brady is making short throws at a higher rate than any other starting quarterback this season. That’s helped keep Otton in the fantasy conversation. He’s worked the short and intermediate areas of the field at a higher rate than almost every other Buc, with a route depth akin to the highly-targeted Chris Godwin.
This week, Tampa heads west to take on the Cardinals. That alone puts him on the starting radar. You probably know this by now, but I’ll repeat it just in case. The Redbirds are the best matchup a fantasy tight end can have. They’ve allowed the most receptions, yards and touchdowns to the position. Combine that with solid usage for Otton, and the Tampa tight end should get some lineup run this week.
Adam Rank has famously called Houston the epicenter for #ThatHelpsNoOne touchdowns. He’s not wrong. Here’s the list of tight ends who have scored touchdowns for the Texans in the past five seasons.
- Jordan Akins
- Antony Auclair
- Pharaoh Brown
- Darren Fells
- O.J. Howard
- Brevin Jordan
- Theodore Kerabatsos
- Teagan Quitoriano
- Jordan Thomas
If you pointed out that one of those is a fictional character, kudos to you. If you didn’t catch that, it only proves the point. Alas, the state of fantasy tight end is such that even create-a-players have a chance for a decent week.
That brings us to Akins. He leads all Texans tight ends in routes run and is seeing targets on about 20 percent of his routes. The Texans might not have the most efficient passing offense, but they’re throwing it a lot when they have the ball -- more than 60 percent of the time. That’s noteworthy against a Tennessee secondary that has been a sieve all season. Akins has high volatility, and the floor is zero, but he could be a sneaky play under the right circumstances.
I’ve said it repeatedly in this column. I’ll say it again. When looking for a fantasy defense to stream, managers should be less concerned with the general quality of the defense and more concerned with the quality (or lack thereof) of the offense its facing. In that regard, the Chargers' matchup against the Colts checks a lot of boxes. No team has turned the ball over more than Indianapolis this year, while only two teams have allowed more sacks. With Jonathan Taylor out of the mix, it adds scoring difficulty to a unit that is averaging the fourth-fewest points of any team in the league. Los Angeles’ defense has been below average for much of the year. Against Indy, that won’t matter so much.
All of the things I said about the Chargers defense could apply to the Titans this week against the Texans. Houston is second only to the Colts in the number of offensive giveaways. The Texans are one spot worse than Indy in average points per game. Houston’s offensive line has done a better job of protecting the quarterback, but Lovie Smith’s recent two-headed QB attack of Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel doesn’t frighten anyone. Coming off a week where the Titans kept Justin Herbert and the Chargers passing game (relatively) in check, this play has some legs.
Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is wearing a beanie around his house. Just because. Send him your tales of randomness or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or TikTok at marcasgrant.