If you’re reading this column, congratulations! The only reason you’d be thinking about making waiver moves in advance of Week 16 is if you’ve made it to your league’s championship. The fantasy playoffs can be a crapshoot, so you should feel good about making it to this spot, regardless of what happens this weekend.
Of course, you’ll feel a whole lot better if you’re hoisting the trophy in a week. There remain a few players on the waiver wire who can help you reach that goal. We highlight those players in the final edition of our waiver wire suggestions for the 2015 season.
Karlos Williams, RB, Bills
LeSean McCoy suffered a knee injury on Sunday that looked serious at the time, but that the Bills are calling nothing more than a minor MCL sprain. Even that seemingly innocuous injury, though, could keep him out on Sunday. If that is the case, Williams should be back in the starter’s chair for the Bills. He got just four carries last week, but that was because game flow forced Buffalo to lean on the pass while trying to chase down Washington. Mike Gillislee did run for a 60-yard touchdown, but Williams has the track record this season that will make him the lead back next week if McCoy is out.
Williams, who started two games earlier this season and racked up 180 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in those contests, could see a ton of work if the Bills, favored against the Cowboys, are protecting a lead in the second half. The Cowboys rank 26th in Football Outsiders DVOA against the run, as well, making this a great spot for any back. Talent, opportunity and matchup have all fallen in line for Williams in Week 16. All that’s left is for fantasy owners to take advantage.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Panthers
Mike Tolbert was the nominal starter for the Panthers last week, but Artis-Payne led the team in carries. The rookie out of Auburn ran the ball 14 times for 59 yards, and also caught two passes for 34 yards. The Panthers need just one more win to clinch homefield throughout the NFC portion of the playoffs, something they will be favored to do against the Falcons next week, with or without Jonathan Stewart.
Stewart’s foot injury isn’t serious, but they need him healthy one month from now if they’re going to get to the Super Bowl. That could lead them to be more cautious with him than they would in other circumstances. If Stewart sits out another game, Artis-Payne would be in for a workload resembling the one he got in the win over the Giants last week. The Falcons are 25th in defensive DVOA and 24th against the run. If he gets 15 or more touches against them, he could easily contribute RB2 numbers.
It would still be a roll of the dice to play him, simply because his role could change at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t have a history on which to lean, but Artis-Payne would be in the flex discussion if Stewart is out in Week 16.
Bilal Powell, RB, Jets
Powell has now scored in three straight weeks, placing him firmly on the fantasy radar. In that time, he has 269 yards from scrimmage, racking up at least 79 total yards in all three games. Meanwhile Chris Ivory has slowed down considerably in the second half of the season, running for more than 50 yards in just three of his last nine games. Ivory remains the lead back, but Powell is deserving of the larger role he has had over the most recent month. The Jets aren’t going to take that away from him, given that they need his explosion if they are going to make the playoffs.
Out of the three teams vying for the two wild card spots in the AFC, the Jets unquestionably have the toughest remaining schedule (though don’t dismiss the idea of the Broncos still missing out on the postseason). We know two of the Jets, Steelers and Chiefs will earn playoff berths. The Jets are going to have to win at least one of their upcoming games with the Patriots and Bills. Powell’s ability as a receiver is going to be key in both of those games. In fact, he could play a larger role than Ivory in Week 16, should the Patriots drive the action offensively.
Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks
Michael is going to get some attention on waivers this week. One of the greatest fantasy teases of the last few seasons finally had a productive game, running for 84 yards on 16 carries in Seattle’s 30–13 win over Cleveland. He led the team in carries, a distinction he will likely keep against the Rams next week.
Volume is something we always look for, but it’s not some guarantor of fantasy greatness. There are also a few realities working against Michael. First, Bryce Brown got nine carries, and was just as effective on a per-carry basis. Even if Michael is the primary runner, he’s not going to be in a workhorse role. Second, Seattle gets a much tougher defense in Week 16 than it did this past Sunday. The Browns have been one of the friendliest run defenses all season. The same cannot be said for the Rams. While they’re stronger against the pass than the run, they still aren’t the sort of defense you want to target with a running back.
Remember, too, that we’re talking about Michael, here, a back who has been nothing but a myth until last week. He’s worth owning and potentially considering, but you’ll need to be in a tough spot to get him in your championship game lineups.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Titans
Green-Beckham is basically the only widely available receiver who can find a starting spot in standard fantasy formats this week. He has topped 100 yards in two of his last three games, and is, for all intents and purposes, one of two weapons in the Tennessee passing game trusted by the team’s quarterbacks.
We say quarterbacks here because Marcus Mariota could be done for the season after suffering a minor knee sprain in the Titans’ loss to the Patriots in Week 15. Because Tennessee clearly has no reason to risk further injury to the future of their franchise, Zach Mettenberger will likely start the final two games of the season for the Titans, giving him a chance to audition for the rest of the league. He has the arm to take advantage of Green-Beckham’s ability to stretch the field, and the receiver should command eight or more targets in an offense that doesn’t have much going on outside him and Delanie Walker. We’ll be talking about him as a WR3/4 and potential flex play later this week.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington
Cousins put together one of his best games of the season against Buffalo in Week 15, 5throwing for 319 yards, 11.39 yards per attempt and four touchdowns, while rushing for a fifth score, in Washington’s 35–25 win. Cousins could end up leading Washington to the playoffs, and he’s undoubtedly having a decent season, but we’d be remiss if we did not point out that last week was just the third time all year he had more than one touchdown pass in a game. Still, he’s capable of exploiting pass-friendly situations, and that’s exactly where he finds himself this week.
Washington visits Philadelphia on Saturday with a chance to clinch the NFC East. The Eagles went into Week 15 having allowed the third-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, and then let Carson Palmer throw for 274 yards and 8.56 YPA. Palmer had just one touchdown with David Johnson hogging all the glory, but the fact remains that the Eagles didn’t exactly slow down the Arizona passing game. If you’re looking for championship week help at quarterback, Cousins should be the first name that comes to mind.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Vikings
Bridgewater’s, however, is the second quarterback name that comes to mind. He just had his best game of the season, throwing for 231 yards, 11.55 YPA, and four touchdowns, adding another score on the ground while simultaneously putting the Vikings one step away from the playoffs in a 38–17 win over the Bears last week.
Bridgewater has looked like a completely different passer in the last two weeks, totaling 566 yards on 56 attempts, good for 10.11 YPA. Before Week 14, Bridgewater had one game all season in which he reached at least 9.0 YPA. He has tripled that in his last two games. The Vikings host the Giants and their awful pass defense on Sunday Night Football in Week 16. The Giants entered Week 15 ranked 25th in pass DVOA, then let Cam Newton throw for 340 yards and five scores. Bridgewater rates as mid-tier QB2 in the entire universe of quarterbacks for Week 16, and that puts him on the QB1 radar.
Brandon Weeden on the road. Need we say more? Brian Hoyer is still trying to work his way back from a concussion, and T.J. Yates left Sunday’s game with a knee injury. If both are out, Weeden would take the reins of the Houston offense against the Titans in Week 16. He played in relief of Yates on Sunday, throwing for 105 yards, 5.83 YPA and one touchdown in the Texans’ eventual 16-10 win over the Colts.
There aren’t a ton of great streaming options available for those of you who ride the defense carousel, which also helps make the Titans a palatable option, but this is the reverse of what we talked about with Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers against the Broncos last week. Just like an elite offense makes matchup concerns irrelevant, a floundering offense led by an inept quarterback makes any defense an attractive fantasy option.
Photos: Patrick Smith/Getty Images (Williams), Ronald Martinez/Getty Images (Powell), Matt Hazlett/Getty Images (Cousins)