Kickoff: Sunday, December 25th, 8:20 PM ET
Location: State Farm Stadium, Glendale, AZ
Betting Odds: TB -7.5, 40.5 total via Caesars
Writer: Erik Smith (@ErikSmithQBL on Twitter)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Brady (Start, QB1)
Tom Brady finds himself right on the QB1/2 border this week, and I’m rounding him up since this game will not be played in sub-zero temperatures. Brady and the Bucs’ offense looked on track in the first half last week before an epic meltdown in the second half, where Brady turned the ball over four times in quick succession. Despite the turnovers, Brady became the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards against the Bengals this year, and he finished as the QB12 on the week. Brady’s volume this year (411 completions and 623 attempts, both league-highs) gives him a nice floor, and he has produced 15 or more fantasy points in 9 of 14 games.
Brady struggled last week with pressure, and this Cardinals defense does have the 10th-best pressure rate in the league, right next to last week’s opponent, the Bengals. But the Cardinals are allowing the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and have not been nearly as stingy as the Bengals overall. A QB12 or better performance is likely as many other quarterbacks struggle in the cold, so start Brady with confidence, despite having a relatively low ceiling.
Rachaad White (Start, RB2), Leonard Fournette (Start, RB2)
So much for Rachaad White taking over this backfield, as he saw his snaps dip to a 39% share last week, down from 53% the previous week. Neither White nor his backfield teammate did much to win or lose this job, so this seems to be based on the whims of the coaching staff as far as the weekly split goes. But we can expect White to be around 40% or more of the snaps, putting him on the map as an RB2. To be an RB2, however, we need to see White regain his passing game work. White had racked up 22 targets and 20 receptions over the prior three weeks before cratering to just one catch for five yards on two targets last week. As long as the passing game work rebounds, White will be on the RB2 radar in PPR leagues, though closer to the flex side than the RB1 side. This Cardinals defense has allowed the 11th-most receptions to opposing running backs on the year, as well as the seventh-most points to the position overall, so this is a decent matchup overall.
Leonard Fournette gets points the ugly way in PPR leagues, but points are points. Fournette rebounded to play on 58% of the snaps last week and swallowed up four receptions for an 11-point PPR day. Despite looking mostly like a plodder in an offense that struggles to run the ball, Fournette’s pass-catching volume has helped produce a double-digit PPR game in all but two weeks this season. Fournette is unlikely to win your week for you, but he’s a more than capable RB2 who can hold things down while your more talented players provide the ceiling. This is a solid matchup in a good weather environment, making Fournette firmly in the RB2 mix.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Chris Godwin (Start, WR1), Mike Evans (Start, WR2), Russell Gage (Sit, Flex), Cade Otton/Cameron Brate (Sit, TE2)
After failing to score a touchdown through his first seven games, Chris Godwin has now scored three touchdowns in his past five games. Godwin has topped 10 PPR points in each of his last 11 games with two top-ten WR performances over his past four. The volume has been rock solid, racking up eight or more targets in every game since Week 5, and Brady certainly trusts him over the middle of the field. Godwin faces a Cardinals defense that has allowed the 13th-fewest points to the wide receiver position, so this isn’t a dream matchup by any means. But in one of the few games that we can project a high-volume passing game across the wintry weekend, Godwin is a rock-solid back-end WR1.
Mike Evans had 71 yards receiving in the first quarter last week and seemed on his way to a breakout performance, that is until the offense melted down as Brady turned the ball over repeatedly in the second half. Evans’ numbers actually aren’t all that far off from his previous two seasons with Brady, though his catch rate is down a full five percentage points. But we probably wouldn’t even notice if not for the massive regression in his touchdown scoring. After combining for 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons, Evans has just three this year. Evans’ 12 red zone targets and 6 inside the ten are a far cry from last year, where he finished with 23 and 23 respectively. Despite the struggles, Evans will play in warm weather this week with a starting-level quarterback, which puts him above much of the rest of the league. Consider him a solid WR2 with upside for more.
With Julio Jones inactive last week, Russell Gage saw his snaps share jump from 33% the week prior to 62% last week, and his target share jump from 4% to 29%. He was facing a Bengals defense decimated at slot corner, however, and Jones was limited in practice on Wednesday and could return this week, so be cautious trusting Gage. If Julio were to miss this week and the rest of your options are mired in cold-weather battles, Gage could be a suitable desperation flex option. But Gage has just two performances all year inside the top 45 at his position, making him a risky play in the fantasy playoffs.
If the Bucs would consolidate their targets into one tight end we might be able to stream them, but they unfortunately have a two-man committee. Bad things just seem to happen when they target Cameron Brate, and while Cade Otton keeps showing flashes of production, the Bucs have been reluctant to turn him loose in his rookie year.
Trace McSorley (Sit)
I saw some of Trace McSorley in the preseason, and I could best describe him as looking like a slot receiver attempting to play quarterback. He did show some flashes from time to time, and does give the offense some mobility under center. But that was the preseason, and McSorely has just 39 career passing attempts after racking up 15 last week when Colt McCoy left with an injury. McSorley went 7 of 15 for 95 yards and 2 interceptions against a tough Broncos defense, and while Tampa Bay is middle of the pack in allowing fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, I thought their corners looked really good last week against the Bengals’ high-powered offense. If McSorley is able to provide any fantasy value it will come with his legs, but the 27-year-old former sixth-round pick shouldn’t be trusted in your fantasy lineups.
James Conner (Start, RB1)
Even with a third-string quarterback under center, James Conner can be trusted as a low-end RB1/high-end RB2. Conner has played 91% or more of the snaps on offense in each of the past three weeks, which are absolutely elite usage numbers at the position. In his two games with McCoy under center, against tough defenses in the Patriots and the Broncos, Conner still managed to score 18 and 23 PPR points, good for RB1 performances each week. He gets another tough test in this Tampa Bay run defense that shut down the Bengals’ running game even with Vita Vea inactive. But as long as Conner maintains his volume, including his passing game work, and continues his hot streak of a touchdown in five-straight games, Conner should maintain his low-end RB1 production for the fantasy playoffs.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
DeAndre Hopkins (Start, WR2), Marquise Brown (Start, WR3), A.J. Green (Sit), Trey McBride (Sit, TE2)
With McCoy under center the past two weeks, DeAndre Hopkins was fed his typical 11 targets in each game, resulting in 7 catches for at least 60 receiving yards in each. It will be a bit of an unknown with the new quarterback in McSorley this week, but it’s hard to imagine Hopkins not drawing the majority of the targets that are available, regardless of the quarterback. Hopkins has topped a 26% target share in each of the past two weeks, so while it might not be pretty with McSorley, Hopkins makes for a volume-driven WR2 and a chance to avoid some of the cold weather games across the league.
Marquise Brown has topped a 19% target share over the past two weeks with McCoy, though the results have been much worse than Hopkins’. After reaching double-digit PPR points in every game with Kyler Murray, Brown has failed to reach 10 PPR points in either game without Murray. As a deep threat in the passing game, it is easy to see why Brown’s numbers take a hit with the backup. I would love to tell you to outright sit Brown, but in a week full of backup quarterbacks and cold weather games, you may not have a choice. Brown will at least be in an environment conducive to passing, away from the elements, and can be counted on for some target volume. But we will probably need a big play to get much higher than WR3 production.
With all of the bad weather around the league in Week 16, at least Trey McBride won’t have that as a concern, making him almost a tight end streamer. McBride has seen his usage go up over the past two weeks, drawing a combined 11 targets for 7 receptions and two top-17 TE performances. Unfortunately, McSorely being under center just makes McBride too much of an unknown to trust, but in some deep tight end premium leagues, he may be worth a look. Since the Zach Ertz injury, McBride has played over 73% of the snaps in all five weeks, and he’s drawn a 14% target share in both of the past two weeks.