Merry Christmas to all fantasy football managers out there. The NFL is certainly in the holiday spirit this year, with 10 games scheduled for Christmas Eve, and a triple header on Christmas Day. Tis’ the season of receiver and corner matchups!
The elites outside – Week 16 WR and TE matchups
Detroit Lions vs. Minnesota Vikings
After scoring five touchdowns through the air in week 15, the Lions pass-catching group will look to stay hot in a divisional matchup with the Vikings on Sunday.
Amon-Ra St. Brown comes in ranked 5th overall among receivers in yardage and is taking 57.5% of his snaps from the slot (PFF). The Vikings are unique, leaning on their safeties to handle coverage out of the slot with Camryn Bynum and Josh Metellus. Buy Amon-Ra St. Brown; Metellus leads all safeties in total receiving yardage allowed this season with 621 yards and in YAC allowed at 464 yards (PFF). Josh Metellus also allows receptions on 88.2% of the targets he defends, the second-highest rate at safety in 2023 (PFF). If St. Brown is able to draw Metellus, Jared Goff’s eyes should light up. The matchup for St. Brown with Bynum is favorable as well; the Vikings’ safety allows receptions on 77.8% of targets he is asked to defend, and Bynum is 5th worst at safety in giving up YAC (PFF). Amon-Ra should be living in the slot and have no issues maintaining his high fantasy output.
Sam LaPorta is set to see a blend of Vikings defenders out of the inline spot, most likely linebackers Jordan Hicks and Ivan Pace Jr., along with Harrison Smith and Josh Metellus at safety. Buy LaPorta this week; this will be his first career game against the Vikings, and with the stronger coverage safeties watching Amon-Ra St. Brown, the rookie tight end should earn favorable matchups with the linebackers and Josh Metellus, who has conceded three touchdowns this season (PFF). LaPorta’s aDoT of 7.7 will stretch the coverage of both Hicks and Pace Jr., opening the door for plays down the field against slower defenders. When this Vikings coverage group is able to stick with LaPorta, he has an advantage, carrying the top contested catch rate of all tight ends in 2023 at 80.0%, converting 12 of 15 contested targets (PFF).
Justin Jefferson bounced back nicely from his chest injury in Week 15, drawing 10 targets and converting 7 of those to catches for 84 receiving yards (PFF). He will be working on the outside against Lions corners Cameron Sutton and Jerry Jacobs. Buy Justin Jefferson; he will have a receiving vs. coverage advantage against both Detroit corners, who together have allowed 10 touchdowns this season (PFF). The aDoT of all three players will have them playing between 12 and 13 yards downfield, a medium depth where Jefferson is converting 81.0% of targets to receptions, and has logged 314 of his 682 total receiving yards in 2023 (PFF).
Jordan Addison is coming off his best performance of the year in week 15 and will be working against Cameron Sutton and Jerry Jacobs similar to his teammate Jefferson. Buy Jordan Addison; last week was proof that despite the quarterback carousel in Minnesota this year, there is room for their receivers to produce. Sutton and Jacobs concede passer ratings of 102.2 and 107.8, respectively, and Addison should be able to earn more one on one matchups with Jefferson being back and effective (PFF).
TJ Hockenson will likely split time between Lions slot corner Brian Branch, and linebackers Alex Anzalone and Derick Barnes. Fade TJ Hockenson: Branch is the highest-graded member of the Lions in coverage, limiting opponents to just 139 total YAC on 380 coverage snaps this season (PFF). This should cap the production for Hockensen in the middle of the field, and in the red zone, the linebacking duo of Anzalone and Barnes has yet to concede a touchdown in 2023 (PFF). Expect the Vikings to work on the outside to keep pace scoring with the Lions in week 16.
Matchup Winners: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta, Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison
Matchup Losers: TJ Hockenson
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Jaguars will travel southwest to Tampa Bay for an all-Florida matchup on Sunday. Between the absence of Christian Kirk and Zay Jones now being banged up, Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram are likely to carry the receiving load in week 16 for the Jaguars.
Calvin Ridley is a wide specialist, and on the outside, he is likely to draw three different corners of the Buccaneers. They are Carlton Davis III, Zyon McCollum, and Jamel Dean. Ridley’s aDoT of 14.0 is the seventh deepest among all receivers this season, and he will need to leverage his targets downfield to help the Jaguars move the ball in this game (PFF). Fade Calvin Ridley; with the possibility of his quarterback Trevor Lawrence missing the game with a concussion and Zay Jones continuing to be listed as questionable, Ridley will be drawing much of the attention on the outside, potentially with CJ Beathard targeting him. While this group of Bucs corners has allowed 10 touchdowns on the season (PFF), expect them to do everything they can to keep Ridley in front of them and limit his production to catches underneath without YAC.
Evan Engram will take the bulk of his snaps from the slot and move to the inline spot occasionally. He will match up with linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White, as well as with corner Christian Izien of the Buccaneers. Buy Evan Engram; If the Jags are banged up they may rely more on their run game and completions closer to the line of scrimmage. Engram will be the top candidate on the Jags offense to receive these shorter targets, and his elite contested catch rate of 71.4%, third best at tight end in 2023(PFF), will help while playing at the same depth as Lavonte David and Devin White. When Engram is in the slot against Christian Izien, he is facing a corner, allowing receptions on 82.0% of the targets he defends, a passer rating of 105.8, and has conceded three touchdowns (PFF). There should be opportunities on each drive to build output for Engram on the inside and link it with some bigger plays out of the slot.
In what is likely his last year in Tampa Bay, Mike Evans is having an all-pro campaign, posting 11 touchdowns and eclipsing 1,000 yards for the tenth consecutive season (PFF). He will face Darious Williams and Montaric Brown of the Jaguars on the outside on Sunday. Buy Mike Evans; his matchup with Williams is one of two high-caliber players, but Williams has allowed two touchdowns on the season, and Evans’ deeper aDoT of 15.1 (PFF) will be taking him down the field (PFF). If the Bucs are able to consistently draw Montaric Brown to Evans, they’ll have a major mismatch they are looking to expose. Brown has allowed four touchdowns on the year, and a passer rating of 121.5 (PFF). Evans will not only stretch Brown’s aDoT by over five yards but also has five inches of height on the Jacksonville corner. Expect Baker Mayfield to continue to find his future Hall of Fame receiver in this game.
Chris Godwin has played in all 14 games for the Buccaneers in 2023, his alignment splits are as follows; 63.2% out wide, and 36.0% from the slot (PFF). He will split time outside against Darious Williams and Montaric Brown similar to Mike Evans, and will match up with Jags nickel corner Tre Herndon in the slot. Buy Chris Godwin; if Darious Williams were to travel with Mike Evans, Godwin could make a living going up against Montaric Brown alone. Against Tre Herndon, Godwin will stretch his aDoT by over three yards and look to add to the 81.8% of targets Herndon allows receptions on. Godwin will look to replicate the big performance he had against the Packers in week 15 in a must-win game for his Buccaneers.
Matchup Winners: Evan Engram, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin
Matchup Losers: Calvin Ridley
Dallas Cowboys vs. Miami Dolphins
Christmas will come a day early this year if you like explosive offense and live in Miami. The Dolphins come into this game as the highest-scoring team in the NFL, and the Cowboys rank second in total points scored, trailing the Fish by just 10 points overall (PFF).
CeeDee Lamb has taken nearly 60.0% of his snaps from the slot this season, and he should receive that assignment frequently on Sunday. From the slot, he is likely to face Kader Kohou of the Dolphins. Buy CeeDee Lamb; Kohou leads all corners this season in reception percentage, allowing completions on 84.9% of the targets he defends (PFF). Kohou also ranks second worst in passer rating allowed at 130.0, in addition to conceding six touchdowns in 2023(PFF). CeeDee Lamb will be bringing his elite slot talent against one of the more vulnerable nickel corners throughout the NFL. Unless Jalen Ramsey is traveling with Lamb, he should have plenty of opportunities lining up outside as well. The Dolphins are unlikely to have Xavien Howard opposite of Ramsey, matching Lamb with Eli Apple, who Lamb out grades significantly in receiving vs. coverage, and who concedes 11.2 yards per catch (PFF). With Jalen Ramsey stationary on the right side, the Cowboys should have plenty of flexibility to get Lamb in the right spots to produce.
Brandin Cooks will have to deal with Jalen Ramsey at times and may be limited on his snaps up against Kader Kohou and Eli Apple. Fade Brandin Cooks: despite the small sample of only seven games for Jalen Ramsey in 2023, he is allowing an absurdly low competitive passer rating of 19.9 (PFF). The advantages are limited for Cooks against Eli Apple as well, and he will be looking to catch a long touchdown to remain startable for fantasy managers. Apple has allowed just one touchdown on the year (PFF), and Cooks has not found the end zone in consecutive games.
Jake Ferguson maintains a near even split between snaps from the inline spot and the slot.. Dolphins linebackers Jerome Baker and David Long Jr. handle the majority of the box coverage looks for the Dolphins and will likely be tasked with covering Ferguson. Buy Jake Ferguson; similar to most coverage linebackers both Baker and Long Jr. concede receptions at a high rate, both are north of 78.0% (PFF), and Ferguson’s aDoT will ask them to extend their coverage deeper than normal to defend his targets. Ferguson is averaging 10.3 yards per catch and has tallied at least six catches in two of the last three games (PFF). He comes in sixth overall at tight end in touchdown receptions this season with five (PFF).
The reasons to fade Tyreek Hill in 2023 are difficult to find. In week 16, he will split time against DaRon Bland, Stephon Gilmore, and Jourdan Lewis of the Cowboys, depending on where he lines up. Despite Bland and Gilmore being one of the premier duos on the outside at corner this season, buy Tyreek Hill. Bland and Gilmore should limit the frequency of receptions for Tyreek, but together they have given up seven touchdowns on the season, and be asked to bring down a receiver that is now over 600 YAC on the season (PFF). Hill will stretch the coverage of Jourdan Lewis on his snaps out of the slot, coming in with an aDoT of 11.1 in comparison to 8.4 for Lewis (PFF). Tyreek currently holds two of three categories of the receiving triple crown, with 12 touchdowns and 1,542 receiving yards this season (PFF).
Jaylen Waddle will split time against DaRon Bland and Stephon Gilmore of the Cowboys for the entirety of the game. Fade Jaylen Waddle: while he had an impressive outing in week 15, Waddle has failed to find the end zone in five of the past six games (PFF). Waddle’s aDoT will place him at the same depth as Bland and Gilmore, and the Dolphins receiver has come down with only five contested catches on the year (PFF).
Matchup Winners: CeeDee Lamb, Jake Ferguson, Tyreek Hill
Matchup Losers: Brandin Cooks, Jaylen Waddle
Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers (MNF)
The two best records in the NFL will cap off the Christmas day triple header in 2023 as the Ravens travel to the West Coast to take on the 49ers.
Zay Flowers continues to lead the Ravens in targets in his rookie year, and will take his normal alignment on the outside against Charvarius Ward and Deommodore Lenoir of the 49ers. Fade Zay Flowers; Ward and Lenoir have still given up only three touchdowns collectively in 2023, on over 1,100 coverage snaps (PFF). Flowers will likely be targeted in front of the two 49ers cornerbacks, making his output reliable upon breaking loose after the catch. With the Ravens being limited on threats through the air, expect the San Francisco defense to protect against anything big from Flowers.
Odell Beckham Jr. will also face Ward and Lenoir out wide and should be faded as well. While OBJ has a deep aDoT of 14.9, he has been somewhat inefficient at medium depth, recording just 12 catches this season on routes between 10 and 19 yards (PFF).
Brandon Aiyuk will work outside primarily up against Brandon Stephens and Marlon Humphrey of the Ravens. Both Stephens and Humphrey are limiting receptions on the targets they defend and have allowed only three touchdowns as a pair this season (PFF). Fade Brandon Aiyuk; the Ravens are strong in coverage, and Aiyuk has not scored in consecutive games.
Deebo Samuel will take snaps outside against Stephens and Humphrey but also out of the slot against one of the premier slot defenders in the NFL, Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton. While it may seem natural to fade Samuel in this game, he is worth a buy this week. Deebo should catch the ball in front of Stephens and Humphrey consistently to tally receptions and then force them to bring him down after the catch. Stephens and Humphrey have done well limiting YAC, but Samuel is a different beast with the ball in his hands. The 49ers may lean on Samuel as a threat on the ground in the red zone to supplement his receiving output. Samuel has five rushing touchdowns on the year (PFF).
George Kittle continues to work from the inline spot primarily this season, taking 61.5% of his snaps from that alignment. He is likely to see Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen of the Ravens. Buy George Kittle; these two linebackers grade out very well in coverage but are still prone to allowing receptions, as Smith and Queen allow them on 75.8% and 83.1% of the targets they defend, respectively. Kittle’s aDoT of 9.9 will take him behind both Smith and Queen as a potential contrast to the 49ers ground game with Christian McCaffery. Count on Kittle finding the end zone on Christmas day.
Matchup Winners: Deebo Samuel, George Kittle
Matchup Losers: Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Aiyuk
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