The Quarterback Breakdown offers data-driven analysis for each week’s main NFL slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
It’s Week 16. It’s not all that different from Week 15, except now it might be harder to watch football due to pre-Christmas activities — and that’s why I don’t celebrate Christmas.
Happy Festivus. I’ve got a lot of problems with you people.
Although it has wider applicability, this breakdown is explicitly for the 12-game main slate.
The Big Two
Two players are atop the quarterback salary scale this week.
- Russell Wilson ($7,000 DraftKings, $9,000 FanDuel)
- Tom Brady ($6,900 DraftKings, $8,600 FanDuel)
“Nine-Meal, 4,800-Calorie Diet”
For the first time all season, the guy who got in shape during the offseason by eating a ton of food leads the position in salary. Despite completing just 46.7 percent of his 30 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown in Seattle’s embarrassing 42-7 home loss to the Rams last week, Wilson has been the No. 1 fantasy quarterback since his Week 6 bye, passing for 2,447 yards, rushing for 367 yards, and scoring 24 total touchdowns in his past nine games. With little support from his running backs, Wilson actually leads the Seahawks with 81 carries, 521 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns. Of the team’s 34 offensive touchdowns, 33 have been scored by Wilson as either a passer or runner. Based on team-agnostic merit, Wilson probably deserves to be the league’s Most Valuable Player.
Because of Wilson’s Konami Code capability, he’s always in play, but the Seahawks are implied for just 21.0 points as +5.0 road favorites. Additionally, there’s nothing especially exploitable about his matchup: The Cowboys are 20th against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which isn’t bad enough to make them a team to target with quarterbacks, especially since linebacker Sean Lee — perhaps the most important member of the Dallas defense — has returned from his hamstring injury. With Lee, the Cowboys have allowed just 16.9 points per game (PPG); without him, 29.3. However, if the Cowboys defense possesses a notable weakness it’s the inexperience of the secondary. For the past three games the Cowboys have relied on three rookies at cornerback: Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods. They have played respectably with Pro Football Focus grades no lower than 77.5 — but they are rookies, and Wilson is capable of flaming a cohort of first-year corners. Wilson has strong correlation with wide receiver Paul Richardson and tight end Jimmy Graham, but they likely won’t have exorbitant ownership because of their poor performances last week. If you roster Wilson in guaranteed prize pools, use our Lineup Builder to create Seahawks stacks. Per our friends at Bet Labs, the Seahawks could be undervalued after their blowout loss.
“Fear is the Path to the Dark Side: Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to Hate, Hate Leads to Victories”
After throwing just two interceptions through the first 10 games of the season, Brady has now thrown five over the past month. He also hasn’t thrown for 300 yards in any game during that span. In New England’s 27-24 victory over the Steelers, Brady guided the Pats on a game-winning drive in the final minutes — he’s now massively favored to win the MVP award — but Brady hasn’t been a positive Plus/Minus player for a while: He’s failed to hit his salary-based expectations in seven of his past 10 games, and his struggles aren’t unexpected. Three of his past four games were against divisional opponents (and the Pats and Steelers have now played each other three times in 14 months), and as Brady has aged he’s tended to underperform in the second half of the season against teams familiar with him. In the first decade of his career, Brady was fairly agnostic to this division-focused split. Since 2011, though, he hasn’t been immune to it, averaging 21.0 PPG against the AFC East in the second half and 26.0 against all other opponents. Brady also hasn’t been helped by playing five of his past six games on the road.
The Patriots are now at home, and they’re massive -12.5 favorites implied for a slate-high 29.75 points — but they’re once again facing a divisional opponent, and their matchup isn’t easy: The Bills have held opponents below their Vegas expectations in a league-high 10 games. The Bills in particular have a good pass defense, which has held opposing quarterbacks to the fourth-fewest fantasy points with 14.2 DraftKings and 13.4 FanDuel PPG thanks in part to top-five PFF cover corner Tre’Davious White and top-three cover safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde. It’s hard to cast shade at Brady, who leads the league with 4,163 yards passing and has the ability to go off in any given game, but Brady investors have cause for concern. Over his past four games, he has 15.01 DraftKings and 14.76 FanDuel PPG. Over that same time, Browns rookie DeShone Kizer — who has an NFL-high 19 interceptions as the quarterback of a winless team — has 15.36 DraftKings and 14.86 FanDuel PPG.
Philip Rivers ($6,400 DraftKings, $8,100 FanDuel): The Chargers have the slate’s highest passing points expectation, and the Jets have allowed top-six fantasy marks to quarterbacks with 19.9 DraftKings and 19.4 FanDuel PPG. Cornerback Morris Claiborne has been exposed in shadow coverage the past two weeks by Demaryius Thomas and Michael Thomas (10/102/2 on 12 targets), and opposite him the outside rotating duo of second-year players Juston Burris and Rashard Robinson has been ineffective, as both corners have PFF grades below 45.0. Even without stud tight end Hunter Henry, Rivers has the potential for a 300-yard, multi-touchdown game.
Jared Goff ($6,100 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel): Before his Week 8 bye, Goff had zero 300-yard/multi-touchdown games; after the bye, he’s had three. Before the bye, Goff was completing 59.9 percent of his passes. Since then, he’s completed 65.0 percent and not less than 61.5 percent in any game. After their 42-7 road victory over the Seahawks last week, the Rams are first in the league with 31.29 PPG and a +7.25 Vegas Plus/Minus. They’ve hit their implied Vegas expectations in a near-elite 10 games. They’re -6.5 road favorites over the Titans, who are 24th in pass defense DVOA. The Rams have a league-high +9.36 Spread Differential, and the Titans have a -3.86. The spread has moved from -7.0 to -6.5 even though the Rams have gotten the supermajority of the early bets, so there’s sharp money on the Titans — but the Rams could crush.
Jimmy Garoppolo ($5,300 DraftKings, $7,000 FanDuel): For his career Garoppolo has 8.5 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A), and in his three starts with the 49ers he’s completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 1,008 yards and an 8.5 AY/A. The 49ers have a brutal matchup against the elite Jaguars defense led by Pro Bowl corners Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, but they’re at home and, per Sports Insights, the sharps are on the 49ers. San Francisco plays at the league’s fastest pace (25.44 seconds per play) and has the fourth-highest passing rate (63.1 percent). Garoppolo will have little ownership, but — based on Wilson’s 24.84-point performance against the Jags in Week 14 — Jimmy G. warrants GPP exposure. Just call him “Jimmy GPP.”
Matt Ryan ($6,300 DraftKings, $7,700 FanDuel): The Falcons are first in the league in time of possession (3:00), plays (6.39), and yards (36.9) per drive — but they’re 32nd in average starting position (own 24.9-yard line), so they’re not as good at converting yards to points as we’d expect. To wit, no team this year has underperformed their implied totals more than the Falcons have with their -3.91 Vegas Plus/Minus. Ryan’s not having a bad season (7.5 AY/A), but he’s in danger of not hitting 4,000 yards passing for the first time since 2010. He has a tough matchup against the Saints defense, which is fourth in pass DVOA thanks in large part to the cornerback duo of Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley. Even with market share monster Julio Jones, Ryan is last among all starting quarterbacks with his -3.63 DraftKings and -3.79 FanDuel Plus/Minus values.
Tyrod Taylor ($5,500 DraftKings, $7,500 FanDuel): The Bills are fighting for a playoff spot, Taylor has rushing upside, and the Pats have allowed top-six fantasy marks of 20.5 DraftKings and 19.2 FanDuel PPG to opposing quarterbacks. He’ll have almost no ownership as a +12.5 road dog.
Blake Bortles ($6,500 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel): The Jaguars are last in the league with a 49.4 percent passing rate, but Bortles is a potential pivot play. Over the past month he’s completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,063 yards and seven touchdowns, adding 87 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The 49ers have allowed quarterbacks top-four fantasy marks of 20.2 DraftKings and 19.5 FanDuel PPG and are utterly exploitable in the secondary: Safeties Jimmie Ward (arm) and Jaquiski Tartt (arm) are on Injured Reserve and cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and K’Waun Williams both have PFF grades below 50.0. A top-five fantasy quarterback over the past month, Bortles has the position’s highest Bargain Rating on FanDuel. The Jags are No. 1 in the Bet Labs power rankings. Sex is great, but have you ever put Bortles into 150 tournament lineups and then rode on in the friscalating dusklight?
The Model Quarterbacks
There are six quarterbacks — SIX! — atop the Pro Models built by Jonathan Bales, Peter Jennings (CSURAM88), Adam Levitan, and Kevin McClelland (SportsGeek).
- Cam Newton ($6,800 DraftKings, $8,300 FanDuel)
- Drew Brees ($6,500 DraftKings, $8,400 FanDuel)
- Alex Smith ($6,600 DraftKings, $7,800 FanDuel)
- Dak Prescott ($6,000 DraftKings, $7,600 FanDuel)
- Kirk Cousins ($5,400 DraftKings, $7,300 FanDuel)
- Drew Stanton ($4,500 DraftKings, $6,000 FanDuel)
As mentioned on the Week 16 Daily Fantasy Flex, Newton is a potential chalk lock. He has been inconsistent, but since the Panthers traded away Kelvin Benjamin his play has radically improved. He’s throwing the ball less often per game (28.3 attempts vs. 33) and accumulating fewer passing yards (186.8 vs. 229.1), but he’s scoring more touchdowns (2.16 vs. 1.63), throwing far fewer interceptions (0.17 vs. 1.38), and running for way more yardage (64.7 vs. 31.9). Benjamin’s absence might not be the reason for the turnaround, but his departure at least hasn’t prevented Cam from producing. Wide receiver Devin Funchess has emerged as a viable No. 1 option in the passing game, tight end Greg Olsen is back to his #überWitten ways, and running back Christian McCaffrey is second only to Le’Veon Bell at his position with 73 receptions. Playing at home as a -10.0 favorite, Newton has a favorable matchup against the Buccaneers defense, which is 29th in pass DVOA. Newton is the highest-rated quarterback in the Bales Model for both sites and the SportsGeek Model for FanDuel. He has the position’s highest median and floor projections.
Brees is back at the Coors Field of fantasy football, but he’s not the Brees of seasons past. He is still playing well — his 2017 AY/A of 8.3 is superior to his half-decade (2012-16) AY/A of 7.8 — and he always has the chance to go off for a 300-yard, three-touchdown game, especially at the Superdome, where he benefits from his legendary home/road splits, but Brees is averaging just 34.1 pass attempts per game compared to 41.5 for the previous five seasons. Unless the Saints have a negative game script they don’t seem likely to lean on the pass, and their status as -5.5 home favorites doesn’t suggest that they’ll need to throw often. Still, in the history of our database Brees has never been cheaper than he is now on DraftKings, where he’s the No. 1 quarterback in the SportsGeek Models.
In the four games before offensive coordinator Matt Nagy assumed play-calling duties, Smith averaged 223.5 yards passing, 28.5 yards rushing, and one touchdown (to one interception) for 17.0 PPG. Since Week 13, though, Smith has averaged 288.3 yards passing, 35.7 yards rushing, and two touchdowns (to 0.33 interceptions) for 27.3 PPG. The Chiefs have averaged 29 PPG under Nagy’s guidance and are now -10.5 home favorites against the Dolphins, who are 27th in pass defense DVOA. Smith leads the NFL with four 300-yard/three-touchdown passing performances. Although he seems to be the epitome of a low-ceiling passer, Smith benefits from the playmaking capabilities of wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Smith is the top-rated FanDuel passer in the CSURAM88 Model.
With running back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys have averaged 28.3 PPG this year; without him, 18.3. With Zeke, Dak has averaged 225 yards and two touchdowns passing and 24.4 yards and 0.5 touchdowns rushing per game. Without him, Dak has averaged 191 yards and 0.83 touchdowns passing and 21 yards and 0.33 touchdowns rushing. Zeke returns this week. The Cowboys are -5.0 favorites at home — where Dak benefits from strong location splits — and the matchup against the Seahawks isn’t bad: Defensive end Cliff Avril (neck), cornerback Richard Sherman (Achilles), and safety Kam Chancellor (neck) are on IR, and linebackers Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion) are questionable for Week 16. It’s not coincidence that the Seahawks have given up 72 points in the past two games. Dak is the No. 1 DraftKings quarterback in the CSURAM88 Model.
If Cousins weren’t the highest-paid player in the league ($23.9 million this year), I might feel sorry for him. Last year he was at his best with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon at wide receiver, Jordan Reed at tight end, Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson at running back, and Trent Williams at left tackle. Not one of those players was on the field with Cousins in Week 15. His 8.0 AY/A is in line with his 7.9 mark from 2015-16, but his season has spiraled out of control since the Week 11 season-ending injury to Thompson (leg), who led the team in receiving through the first 10 weeks. Without Thompson, the Redskins have averaged 16.8 PPG and Cousins has a zero percent Consistency Rating. This week, though, Cousins has several factors in his favor. Running back journeyman Kapri Bibbs has emerged as a potential pass-catching replacement to Thompson. Additionally, the Redskins are at home as -3.5 favorites against the Broncos, who have allowed 27 touchdowns to quarterbacks. Finally, not since his 2015 breakout campaign has Cousins been cheaper than he is now on DraftKings, where he’s the highest-rated quarterback in the Levitan Model.
Just last week another minimum-priced quarterback on FanDuel took on the Giants. That worked out pretty well. Stanton is no Nick Foles, but the Cardinals are -3.5 home favorites, and the Giants have allowed top-two fantasy marks of 21.5 DraftKings and 20.4 FanDuel PPG to quarterbacks. They will be without No. 1 cornerback Janoris Jenkins (ankle, IR) and maybe strong safety Landon Collins (ankle, questionable). If you’re going to roster a bad quarterback, you might as well do it when he’s cheap, facing a bad passing defense, and throwing to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Stanton is the No. 1 FanDuel passer in the Levitan Model.
Positional Breakdowns & Tools
Research the quarterbacks for yourself with our tools, and read the other Week 16 positional breakdowns.
Good luck this week!
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