"What do you think about ... 'Champion Causes'"?
This was a question posed to me during a phone conversation this past summer with my friend Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL), the excellent beat reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal who covers the Raiders. Fans of this column will remember that two years ago, Gehlken had a simple yet inspiring idea. What if every individual who won money in fantasy football donated a portion of his/her winnings to a charity supported by an NFL player who helped them win?
He tweeted the idea, I retweeted it and it gained some traction online. Then last year, I wrote a whole column about Michael's idea. Michael, many others and I started further promotion of the idea on social media, and, well, it took off. Michael's idea was written about in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and many other places. All in all, a total well into six figures was raised for charity, including more than $50,000 for the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Todd Gurley's name. I loved the story Michael told me about this. When he called the Shriners Hospital to find out how much had been raised in Todd's name, the woman who answered was clearly not a football fan. "Michael," she asked as she was looking it up, "all of these donations are in Mr. Gurley's name. Did he die?"
It wasn't just Todd's charity that benefited, of course, as donations were made in the names of many players. You may remember that more than $400,000 was donated to the Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation by grateful Buffalo Bills fans, as Dalton's late touchdown pass in Week 17 last season allowed the Bengals to come back and beat the Ravens, propelling Buffalo into the playoffs.
Well, Michael wanted to build on that success and try to make the idea into a full-blown charity. And it starts with a name. I liked "Champion Causes," I said. It has a double meaning of the causes of champions (both in fantasy and the NFL) and, of course, these players championing causes that need more attention, resources and help. So there's now an account on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChampionCauses) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/championcauses).
Champion Causes' mission remains the same as Michael first suggested a couple of years ago: to connect fans, athletes and the communities they share. On Sunday morning on social media, Champion Causes will post a list of the NFL players who have led you to fantasy glory and their corresponding cause, like Patrick Mahomes and his charity, Team Luke.
It is my hope that you will follow these accounts and help spread the word among the fantasy community. I especially call on the rest of the fantasy industry -- analysts and other websites -- to please help amplify this message even more than you already have so graciously done. And when you do, please use the hashtag #championcauses when sharing your donations. If you tag me in the posts, I will also retweet many of them.
As the 2018 season starts to wind down, it means it's time for one last "Love/Hate" tradition: the way-way-too-early 2019 rankings. These will be updated throughout the offseason, as always -- and obviously, once Le'Veon Bell lands somewhere, that will affect his rank -- but as we enter Week 16 of the 2018 season, if I had to draft for next year today, here's my way-way-too-early 2019 top 50:
1. Todd Gurley II, RB, LAR
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL
4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, CAR
5. Davante Adams, WR, GB
6. James Conner, RB, PIT
7. Melvin Gordon, RB, LAC
8. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU
9. Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
10. Joe Mixon, RB, CIN
11. Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
12. Adam Thielen, WR, MIN
13. Tyreek Hill, WR, KC
14. Michael Thomas, WR, NO
15. Julio Jones, WR, ATL
16. Le'Veon Bell, RB, FA
17. Antonio Brown, WR, PIT
18. David Johnson, RB, ARI
19. Nick Chubb, RB, CLE
20. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, NYG
21. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT
22. Aaron Jones, RB, GB
23. Dalvin Cook, RB, MIN
24. Leonard Fournette, RB, JAC
25. Keenan Allen, WR, LAC
26. Travis Kelce, TE, KC
27. Stefon Diggs, WR, MIN
28. T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND
29. Amari Cooper, WR, DAL
30. Zach Ertz, TE, PHI
31. Robert Woods, WR, LAR
32. A.J. Green, WR, CIN
33. Mike Evans, WR, TB
34. George Kittle, TE, SF
35. Kenny Golladay, WR, DET
36. Kerryon Johnson, RB, DET
37. Sony Michel, RB, NE
38. Phillip Lindsay, RB, DEN
39. Spencer Ware, RB, KC
40. Julian Edelman, WR, NE
41. Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR
42. Chris Carson, RB, SEA
43. Devonta Freeman, RB, ATL
44. Brandin Cooks, WR, LAR
45. Tyler Boyd, WR, CIN
46. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, DEN
47. Tarik Cohen, RB, CHI
48. Marlon Mack, RB, IND
49. Jerick McKinnon, RB, SF
50. Derrius Guice, RB, WAS
Before we get down to business, I would like to take a moment to thank all of you. Truly. You have no idea.
This past year has been the toughest of my professional career. I am very lucky to have as many opportunities as I do at the Worldwide Leader in Sports, and I am extremely grateful for them. Trust me. I never lose sight of that. But sometimes more opportunities mean more challenges, and, well, I don't know if I navigated them successfully or not, but I tried my darndest.
When I brought "Love/Hate" back, I thought for sure I would get (deservedly) a ton of clowning and criticism for a preseason tearful goodbye, only to reverse course two months later.
Instead, the outpouring of support was mind-blowing, as folks welcomed the column back with, er, open screens? You'll never know how much that meant to me. Despite the challenges, this year was among my all-time favorites in terms of the column itself. I normally hate most everything I do, but I really liked this year's batch of columns. I hope you enjoyed them as well.
As a nod to some of these challenges, there won't be a Week 17 version of this column. This is the last one of the year. However, for those playing in Week 17, I will still have rankings next week, and I will still do the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast next week, along with new episodes of The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry on ESPN+ and, of course, a Week 17 edition of Fantasy Football Now, Sunday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
With it being championship week, my guess is you know whom you are going with. I certainly do in my "Vampire" leagues. Many have asked for an update on those leagues, so I will tell you that both "Vampire" teams made the playoffs. In one league, my team is in the finals. In the other league, my team lost last week in the semifinals by 1.1 points -- just a crushing loss, thanks to the anemic Saints offense on Monday night. All in all, a great experience, and one I will absolutely do again next year.
Because it's Week 16, I focused on bigger names with an eye toward DFS. There are still some flex types below, but this has more big names than normal. As always, these are based on ESPN projections for PPR leagues. "Loves" are players I believe will exceed their total; "hates" are those I feel will fall short.
This column is a labor of love for many, and I could not do it without the help of "Thirsty" Kyle Soppe of 06010 podcast fame and The Fantasy Show's "Stat-a-pillar" Damian Dabrowski. And a tip of the cap to my editor, "Not Cool" Keith Lipscomb, who every week has to try to make sense of whatever the hell I turn in. Thank you all, and once again, thanks to you, the readers, for coming along on the ride.
So for the last time in 2018, here we go:
Quarterbacks I love in Week 16
Russell Wilson vs. Chiefs (Projection: 19.8 points): Since Week 10, the Seahawks are the fourth-highest-scoring offense in the league, averaging nearly 30 points. And Wilson has thrown multiple TD passes in all but two games this season. Passing volume has been a concern for Wilson in the past, but QBs facing the Chiefs this season are throwing 26 percent more passes than they do when facing all other teams. Give me the over on 19.8 points for Wilson in what I expect to be a high-scoring game Sunday night.
Andrew Luck vs. Giants (Projection: 19.8 points): The Giants are 11th in blitz percentage, and when blitzed this season, Luck has been great (fourth in completion percentage and ninth in touchdown percentage). Luck also ranks fourth in red-zone touchdown percentage, and the G-Men have given up the seventh-most red-zone drives this season. Also, just a gut call here, I think he's due for a big game. I want the over at home against the Giants.
Mitchell Trubisky at 49ers (Projection: 18.9 points): Good matchup here, as San Francisco has given up multiple touchdown passes in 11 of 14 games this season. In games in which the Bears have scored at least 20 points this season, he's averaging 23.1 PPG and has multiple touchdown passes in seven of those 10 games. Over the past four weeks, the Bears rank fourth in time of possession, and the Niners rank 20th. So I expect them to have the ball a lot against a Niners squad that has been the worst red-zone defense in the NFL over the past four weeks. And, of course, there's also the rushing value he can bring.
Deshaun Watson at Eagles (Projection: 18.1 points): The Eagles have given up more than 295 passing yards in four of their past five games (my Redskins being the lone exception and, well, they can't move the ball through the air) and quietly, since Week 8, Watson leads the league in completion percentage and is fourth in touchdown percentage. With an inconsistent run game (and a tough Philly line), I expect Houston to attack through the air, and if the Eagles drop seven back the way they did against the Rams, Watson will beat them with his legs. Give me the over here.
Others receiving votes: It's not always pretty, but over the past four weeks, the No. 1 QB in fantasy is ... Josh Allen. He has at least 99 rushing yards or a rushing TD in each of those games. With how banged-up the Buffalo backfield is right now, I expect Allen to keep using his legs, especially in the red zone. The Patriots give up a league-high 6.5 yards per carry to QBs this season, so while there's certainly risk of him crashing in New England, there's also reward. I have Allen as a mid-tier QB2 this week. He is still available in more than 65 percent of ESPN leagues. ... Since Week 10, Baker Mayfield leads the NFL in yards per pass attempt. He'll face the Bengals, who give up the sixth-most yards per pass attempt and give up a touchdown on pass attempts at the ninth-highest rate. I'm in on Baker this week against a team he threw four touchdowns against in Week 12. ... You'd have to be pretty desperate (or just looking for a cheap DFS option) to play Derek Carr, but the Broncos create pressure at the seventh-lowest rate this season. Among qualified quarterbacks this season (at least 225 pass attempts), Carr ranks third in completion percentage when not pressured (only Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes have been better). In addition, Denver is 30th against the pass the past four weeks.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 16
Jared Goff at Cardinals (Projection: 19.4 points): In his seven road games this season, Goff is averaging just 13.2 fantasy points and has as many interceptions as TD passes. The matchup with Arizona this week is also an issue for Goff. The Cardinals have given up the sixth-fewest fantasy points to QBs this season, in part because they have given up a league-high 31.1 rush attempts per game. I expect this to be a big game for Todd Gurley II and the Rams' running game, so I'm taking the under on Goff's projection of 19.4 points.
Philip Rivers vs. Ravens (Projection: 18.0 points): Need a "Ravens are good on defense" stat? I got stats. They allow opponents to complete a league-low 58.4 percent of passes (no other defense is holding opponents under 61.5 percent), and they allow opponents to convert just 3.6 percent of passes into touchdowns (fifth-lowest rate). Thanks go to Lamar Jackson, too. Since he took over as starter, the Ravens have held the ball for more than 36 minutes per game, nearly a full minute more of possession than any other team during that stretch. The Chargers already average the third-fewest offensive snaps per game this season, so it stands to reason that volume could be a major issue in this spot for Rivers. I hope I'm wrong, because I need Rivers in a final this week, but low volume against a tough Ravens defense and the return of Melvin Gordon mean I'm taking the under on 18 points this week.
Kirk Cousins at Lions (Projection: 17.1 points): Since Week 5, Cousins has reached 17.7 points only twice (and only once in the past six weeks). He scored just 6.9 points against these very Lions in Week 9, a game the Vikings won 24-9. Now, there was a defensive score in that one, and Latavius Murray ran one in from the 1-yard line, as Cousins attempted only 22 passes. But what do you think changes here? The Lions' offense suddenly lights up the Vikings? The Vikings, a week after running so effectively, suddenly start chucking it? Cousins will be fine, but to get to this number, he's going to need volume, and I just don't see that in a game with an over/under of just 43.5 and the Vikes favored by 5.5 (as of this writing). Under.
Running backs I love in Week 16
Nick Chubb vs. Bengals (Projection: 20.3 points): Tons of volume (since the Carlos Hyde trade, Chubb leads the NFL in percentage of team carries) and it's a great matchup. The Bengals have allowed a league-high 39 percent (!) of running back rushes to gain at least 5 yards, and they have given up the fifth-most red-zone drives. Once in the red zone, they also allow a rushing TD once every 3.7 red-zone rush attempts (worst in the NFL). Chubb will be a fantasy championship rock star.
Joe Mixon at Browns (Projection: 17.2 points): Tons of volume and a great matchup ... wait, what? I just said that. Well, it applies here as well. Mixon is the fifth-best running back in fantasy the past four weeks, and while the Browns have been better against the run lately, they still allow 126 rushing yards per game and the fifth-most yards per carry after first contact this season (1.98). Mixon has 53 carries the past two weeks and is top 10 in RB receptions over the past four weeks, so yeah, what are the Bengals gonna do? Let Jeff Driskel throw it? Exactly. Chubb and Mixon, Mixon and Chubb, back-and-forth, all day.
Phillip Lindsay at Raiders (Projection: 16.6 points): He had a quiet game last week, but the Raiders allow a league-high 146.4 rushing yards per game, the fifth-most yards per carry to running backs this season, and cough up the fourth-highest percentage of running back carries to gain 5-plus yards this season. The Broncos are a three-point favorite in this one, and in the Broncos' past three wins, Lindsay has 44 carries for 346 yards (7.9 YPC) and five TDs.
Jamaal Williams at Jets (Projection: 13.8 points): No Aaron Jones in this one, so Williams will get the majority of work this week. In his 10 career games with at least 15 touches, Williams is averaging 15.7 fantasy points. And since Week 10, the Jets are giving up 156 rushing yards per game, fourth most in the NFL.
Derrick Henry vs. Redskins (Projection: 15.6 points): The first player since LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) to rush for 170 yards and multiple touchdowns in consecutive games, Henry is this year's winner of least likely player to be named in the same sentence as Tomlinson. Henry outsnapped Dion Lewis 47-22 last week, and now he gets a Washington defense that, since Week 9, is allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry. So, yeah, I expect Henry to keep rolling this week. Give me the over on his projection of 15.6 points.
Others receiving votes: Chris Carson is one of just two players with consecutive games of at least 22 carries, 90 rushing yards and a rushing TD this season (Ezekiel Elliott is the other). Carson is averaging 4.88 yards per carry in his past three games, and I'm expecting another heavy workload against the Chiefs' 30th-ranked run defense. ... With Ryan Kelly back at center for the Colts, Marlon Mack got his groove back. With Kelly on the field, Mack is averaging more than 5 yards per carry and 17.6 fantasy points per game, a major spike from the less than 4 yards per carry and 8.4 fantasy points per game without him. I like his chances against a Giants team that has given up at least one running back rushing score in seven of its past nine games. ... Hey, Mike Clay, are you ready for the Ballage Barrage? The Kalen Ballage show gets its first chance to shine with Frank Gore on the shelf. After Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said Kenyan Drake's lack of usage last week was NOT due to injury, my expectation is Ballage fills Gore's role (which yielded 14.6 touches per game for the previous five games). I like him as a flex this week against a Jags defense that, over the past four weeks, has given up 145.3 rushing yards per game (eighth most), six rushing scores (second most) and more than five yards per carry.
Running backs I hate in Week 16
Mark Ingram II vs. Steelers (Projection: 14.0 points): Since Ingram returned in Week 5, Alvin Kamara has 19 more catches than Ingram has targets. Since Ingram is not involved in the passing game, he's gonna need to score to get to 14 points. Now, you hope that New Orleans turns its recent offensive struggles around in a home game, but you can't feel super-great about it. The Steelers are allowing the sixth-fewest rushing yards per game this season, the eighth-fewest yards per carry this season and, most important for Ingram, the eighth-fewest rushing touchdowns this season.
Tevin Coleman at Panthers (Projection: 12.2 points): OK, sure, Kamara was able to produce against the Panthers on Monday night, but few backs are Kamara. In the six weeks prior, the Panthers had allowed the sixth-fewest running back rushing yards per game (69.7), the fourth-fewest running back yards per carry (3.40) and the fourth-fewest running back points per game (19.7). I know Coleman had a big game last week, fueled by three runs of 20-plus yards, but don't expect those big plays to continue this week. Since Week 6, Carolina has allowed the second-fewest rushes of 20-plus yards. Also, Coleman hasn't had more than 13 carries in a game since September. So, while the Ito Smith injury could lead to a few more touches, the Falcons have made it clear they don't want to use Coleman as a workhorse back. I'm taking the under here.
Dion Lewis vs. Redskins (Projection: 10.4 points): Lewis hasn't hit this projected number in three straight games and five of his past six, so with his playing time trending in the wrong direction (he played just 22 snaps last week to Derrick Henry's 47), it's hard to feel good about Lewis reaching double figures. He has no more than 52 yards from scrimmage in five straight games, and it's hard to imagine the Titans trailing in a significant way at home against the Josh Johnson-led Redskins. I think this plays out to be a Henry game again, so in this championship week, I'm looking elsewhere.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 16:
JuJu Smith-Schuster at Saints (Projection: 18.7 points): Since Week 11, Smith-Schuster not only leads the Steelers in targets, he leads the entire NFL (58). More important, he leads the NFL in red-zone targets. I mention that because teams are throwing the ball on 63.5 percent of red-zone snaps against the Saints this season (third highest). The Saints are allowing the fourth-highest deep completion percentage and are allowing a league-high 3.8 deep completions per game this season. He bounces back this week, and in a big way. Gimme the over on the already-high 18.7.
T.Y. Hilton vs. Giants (Projection: 17.0 points): Since Week 11, Hilton is the second-best WR in fantasy; he ranks fourth in targets in that span. Hilton is among the best deep-ball trackers in the game today, and three of the top four wide receiver performances against the Giants this season (Mike Evans, Will Fuller V and Julio Jones) have come by a receiver who ranks top 10 in air yards per target this season. A reminder that at home this season, Hilton is averaging 89.7 yards per game and has scored five of his six TDs, for an average of 18.5 PPG. This game is in Indy. I'll take the over on 17.
Tyreek Hill at Seahawks (Projection: 18.6 points): So he has been a disappointment in two of the past three games, but I like him to bounce back this week against a Seattle team that allows the fourth-most yards after the catch per reception this season. Among the 39 receivers with at least 50 catches this season, Hill ranks fourth in yards after the catch per reception. Seattle has given up more than 42 points per game to opposing wideouts in its past five games, so I'm back in on Hill for at least one huge play in this one, and I'm taking the over on 18.6.
Amari Cooper vs. Buccaneers (Projection: 16.1 points): OK, Cooper was ... um ... not great last week against the Colts, but I like him to bounce back in a much better matchup this week against the Bucs. Once: That is how many times this season the Buccaneers have held opposing receivers without a touchdown in a game. Once. Tampa Bay has allowed a wide receiver TD in all but one game this season. Once. And the Bucs have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to WRs overall. Cooper has seen at least eight targets in five of his seven games with the Cowboys, so I believe the volume should be there. Give me the over on his projection of 16.1 points this week.
Adam Thielen at Lions (Projection: 15.1 points): Hopefully you survived his dud last week, because I'm back in on him against a Lions team that allows the seventh-most slot yards per game, the third-highest completion percentage to the slot and the fifth-most slot touchdowns (11).
Austin Hooper at Panthers (Projection: 10.7 points): Eight times this season a tight end has seen at least five targets against the Panthers. Those tight ends scored an average of 13.9 points in those games. For the season, the Panthers have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Hooper dropped a touchdown pass last week, but I like his chances to do what he did against the Panthers in Week 2, when he caught all five of his targets for a 16.9-point day.
Others receiving votes: The Texans are allowing opponents to complete deep passes at a top-10 rate this season, and last week, with Nick Foles under center, Alshon Jeffery averaged 14.3 air yards per target (all other Eagles: 5.6). In his past four games with Foles (including the playoffs last season), Jeffery has 20 catches on 26 targets for 379 yards (19.0 yards per catch) and three TDs (18.9 points per game). ... With at least seven targets in three straight games and in five of his past six, Robby Anderson is on the flex radar against a Packers team allowing a league-high 29.8 yards per deep completion this season. ... An ugly week for tight ends is appropriate, since it has been an ugly year for tight ends, but if you're streaming, you're just looking for opportunity. Which means you could do worse than Vance McDonald, who has either a TD or at least five targets in six of his past seven games.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 16
Mike Evans at Cowboys (Projection: 15.0 points): The Cowboys own the sixth-best red zone defense (50 percent) and are allowing the fourth-fewest red-zone touchdowns per game this season. Evans sees nice volume, yes, but not elite (he has between six and nine targets in six straight games). Receivers who have seen between six and nine targets this season against Dallas have averaged 12.6 points per game. The Cowboys have allowed the third-fewest completions that gained 20-plus yards this season, and more than half of Evans' fantasy points have come on such receptions. He hasn't scored in four straight games and in six of his past seven, so in a low-volume game on the road against a good defense, I'm taking the under here.
Brandin Cooks at Cardinals (Projection: 14.1 points): You know I'm down on Goff this week, and his struggles lately have hurt the stock of Cooks as much as anyone. In the past three weeks, Cooks has been held below 12 points in all three games and is WR42 in that span. With expected shadow coverage from Patrick Peterson, I'm taking the under on 14.1 points against a Cardinals defense that has allowed the fifth-fewest deep touchdown passes.
Allen Robinson at 49ers (Projection: 12.2 points): A-Rob has caught fewer than 60 percent of his targets this season, so he needs volume to even have a chance to reach this number. Yet, only twice this season has he caught more than five passes in a game. Robinson has gone five straight games without a touchdown, and he ranks as WR44 in that stretch. There is always a chance for more than five catches or a TD, of course, but Mitchell Trubisky spreads it around so much. In a game that Chicago should be winning, this feels like more of a Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard game than any kind of shootout.
DJ Moore (Projection: 10.6 points) and Curtis Samuel (9.3) vs. Falcons: With Taylor Heinicke under center, we just have no idea how this offense will look or whom Heinicke will target. Both of these receivers could hit their numbers -- the projections are pretty low -- or they could do what they did last week when they combined (I repeat, COMBINED) for 6.9 points. In a championship week, against a Falcons team that quietly is the third best against the pass over the past four weeks, I'm avoiding.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- dedicates this column to his friend Lawr Michaels, a fantasy baseball icon who sadly passed away earlier this week. He is the 2017 FSTA Fantasy Football Analyst of the Year and the creator of RotoPass.com and RotoPassDaily.com. He is also one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.