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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
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WEEK 16
2012
ATL at DET (SAT) CLE at DEN NO at DAL *SF at SEA
BUF at MIA *IND at KC *NYG at BAL STL at TB
CHI at ARI MIN at HOU OAK at CAR *TEN at GB
*Updated CIN at PIT *NE at JAC SD at NYJ WAS at PHI

Prediction: CLE 13, DEN 27 (Line: DEN by 13)

Players to Watch: Demaryius Thomas, Ben Watson

The 11-3 Broncos just inherited the #2 seed thanks to the Patriots loss to the 49ers so they'll keep winning to get that bye week and one home field game. Denver is merely on a nine game winning streak while the 5-9 Browns are venturing out with a 1-5 road record. Not a good equation.

Cleveland Browns
Homefield: Cleveland Stadium
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 PHI 16-17 10 BYE -----
2 @CIN 27-34 11 @DAL 20-23
3 BUF 14-24 12 PIT 20-14
4 @BAL 16-23 13 @OAK 20-17
5 @NYG 27-41 14 KC 30-7
6 CIN 34-24 15 WAS 21-38
7 @IND 13-17 16 @DEN -----
8 SD 7-6 17 @PIT -----
9 BAL 15-25 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
vs Rush Catch Pass
RB Ben Tate 30
WR Miles Austin 5-60
WR Josh Gordon 4-50
WR Andrew Hawkins 2-30

Pregame Notes: The season is winding down and the Browns have established that they are no longer in the bottom tier of teams - they are the next one. The one before you get to just an average team level. The Browns are now good enough to beat a bad team like the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers. But unfortunately they do not play in the AFC West.

The Browns are getting by with marginal success passing and the running of Trent Richardson who has scored in each of the last four games and currently stands at 12 touchdowns on the season. What has waned every week for the last seven games is the rushing yardage which went from a high of 122 yards against the Chargers down to only 28 yards in the Redskins game. But he scored twice in that game as he did the previous week against the Chiefs.

Richardson has been blessed with what became one of the softer schedules in the NFL but that definitely ends this week in Denver. And he's been marginal as a runner now for the last month with sub-4.0 yard averages. Richardson is playing through chest and finger injuries though.

Brandon Weeden is playing well enough that the consensus has him returning next season as the starter again. He only thrown 14 scores on the year and he'll get a big test in Denver versus a defense that allows two scores to almost every opponent but has yet to give up a 300 yard game all year.

Josh Gordon remains the primary who usually only comes up with say 50 or 60 yards per week but has the upside to turn in a nice game in any week. He scored just once in the last seven weeks is may end up with Champ Bailey at least part of the time. Travis Benjamin scored on a 69-yard catch last week which should at least make the secondary account for him too. Greg Little hasn't scored since week seven and is only capable of marginal yardage.

The Browns are bad on the road and the Broncos want to cement their #2 seed. Expect much of the yardage and any passing scores to come late in the game when it doesn't matter.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points CLE 27 19 22 24 16 11
Preventing Fantasy Points DEN 12 3 9 32 4 12

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Brian Hoyer, CLE NO 0000019012 ***
Not that Hoyer can't keep up in a shootout, but that's not likely to be the Browns' game plan heading into this contest--especially if Josh Gordon remains suspended and Jordan Cameron sits out with his shoulder injury.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB Isaiah Crowell, CLE NO 301000000 ***
Crowell capitalized on Ben Tate's injury to turn five touches into 32 yards and a pair of scores. He should have an expanded role this week with Tate out, but he's still the junior partner in the Cleveland backfield and as such a riskier fantasy play.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB Terrance West, CLE NO 600000000 ***
The best way for the Saints to slow the Browns' ground game will be to get up top quickly and force them to play catch-up--though the Pittsburgh game followed a similar path and yet Cleveland ran the ball 28 times. West wound up being the lead dog in that committee and remains in that role here, with a modicum of fantasy upside.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Andrew Hawkins, CLE NO 007800000 ***
Brian Hoyer is no Matt Ryan, and neither is Hawkins the equal of Julio Jones or Roddy White. But if Devin Hester (5-99) and Harry Douglas (6-69) can put up decent numbers on tertiary targets the last remaining viable option in Cleveland's passing game at least warrants fantasy consideration.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Jordan Cameron, CLE NO 00000000 *
Cameron is no lock to suit up this week after dinging his shoulder in the Kickoff Weekend loss to Atlanta. If he plays he's a solid start as the most familiar target in Cleveland's passing game, but you'll have to wait at least until the Friday injury report to get a better read on his availability.
Update: Cameron did not practice all week due to a shoulder injury. He'll be a game time decision against the Saints.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Billy Cundiff, CLE NO 2122 ****
You'd think that you can't match the New Orleans offense with field goals, and yet the Saints have allowed multiple field goal attempts in nine of their last 11 games. Still, this doesn't feel like a great opportunity to trot out Cundiff in your fantasy lineup.

Denver Broncos
Homefield: Invesco Field
Grass
  Opp Score   Opp Score
1 PIT 31-19 10 @CAR 36-14
2 @ATL 21-27 11 SD 30-23
3 HOU 25-31 12 @KC 17-9
4 OAK 37-6 13 TB 31-23
5 @NE 21-31 14 @OAK 26-13
6 @SD 35-24 15 @BAL 34-17
7 BYE ----- 16 CLE -----
8 NO 34-14 17 KC -----
9 @CIN 31-23 ----- ----- -----
News | Statistics | Roster
DEN vs CLE Rush Catch Pass
QB Peyton Manning 300,2
WR Emmanuel Sanders 2-30
WR Demaryius Thomas 5-90,1
WR Wes Welker 7-80,1
PK Matt Prater 2 FG 3 XP

Pregame Notes: The only fear now is that the Broncos get complacent and get a trap game happening. The last two games of the year - against the visiting Browns and Chiefs - may be the easiest matchups of them all. Wanting to hold the #2 seed will keep the Broncos playing to win but now you have to fear what happens when the game is obviously well in hand? Week 17 is a lock to have some absences and slow downs if only in the second half. But it could happen here as well - what is the incentive to push the score higher and higher when it becomes apparent that the Browns can't score much at all?

The projections will reflect a full effort given but there is at least a small element of risk even this week. Next week against the Chiefs all bets will be off after the first touchdown is scored since that alone may be enough to beat them.

Peyton Manning has already slowed down of sorts with only one score in each of the last two games. He's been good for two and usually three touchdowns in every home game this year though his yardage has been lower in most because the rushing effort has maybe even improved with Knowshon Moreno as the starter. He has the benefit of a nice schedule to be sure, but with him running for over 100 yards and scoring in the last two games, the need for Manning to produce points has declined.

Jacob Hester has become a goal line back and scored last week on his seven runs for 20 yards. Moreno has been running with very fresh legs and a sense of determination he never showed before. His final two games are both going to be profitable so long as they do not yank him at any point to save him for the playoffs.

Eric Decker comes off one of his best games of the year with eight catches for 133 yards in Baltimore but he's been significantly less productive in the five previous games. Demaryius Thomas thrown down his first stinker game of the year with only 13 yards on four receptions but he was overthrown on one touchdown and the Broncos won the game handily anyway.

The only concern here is that the Broncos don't realize they have already sewn up the #2 with two easy games left to play. Peyton Manning typically did not do that in Indianapolis so at least for this week, we should see enough playing time in earnest to feel comfortable starting the usual players this week.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM QB RB WR TE PK DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points DEN 9 14 2 7 9 3
Preventing Fantasy Points CLE 20 24 27 2 6 13

  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
QB Peyton Manning, DEN KC 0000030020 ***
Last year's home date with the Chiefs was Manning's only game in Denver where he failed to throw for multiple touchdowns; fantasy owners had to settle for 323 and 1. Against a Chiefs D that just gave up 266 and 2 to Jake Locker, we like his chances of correcting that wrong from a year ago.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
RB Montee Ball, DEN KC 10013200000 ***
Ball scored twice in the front end of last season's series with the Chiefs, then rushed for 117 yards in the rematch--all while sharing 46 touches with Knowshon Moreno. Now that the gig is all Ball's, no reason to think his numbers will be anything other than fantasy stud-worthy.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Demaryius Thomas, DEN KC 0061101000 ****
Thomas topped 100 yards in both ends of last season's series, though he failed to find the end zone in either contest. He and Peyton were a little out of sync in Week 1; expect the kinks to be worked out and Thomas to be his usual dominant fantasy self.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
WR Emmanuel Sanders, DEN KC 2004600000 ***
All three of Denver's wideouts topped 70 yards in the front end of last season's series with KC, and two reached triple digits in the rematch--with Eric Decker, the guy Sanders replaced, pulling an Abe Lincoln (four scores). While Julius Thomas may be taking a bigger bite, there's still more than enough productivity here for Sanders to be more than a little fantasy-relevant.
  Opp RuYDRuTDRecReYDReTDPaYDPaTDInt ConFac
TE Julius Thomas, DEN KC 004701000 ****
Thomas scored in the front end of last season's KC series, then missed the rematch with an injury. After blowing up the Colts in the season opener he gets a Chiefs defense that let Delanie Walker find the end zone on them last week. Doesn't take much to figure out Thomas is a dynamite play this week.
  Opp fgaFGMxpaXPM ConFac
K Brandon McManus, DEN KC 2144 ***
McManus keeps riding the Broncos' gravy train all the way to... well, at least through Matt Prater's four-game suspension.

WEEK 16
2012
ATL at DET (SAT) CLE at DEN NO at DAL *SF at SEA
BUF at MIA *IND at KC *NYG at BAL STL at TB
CHI at ARI MIN at HOU OAK at CAR *TEN at GB
*Updated CIN at PIT *NE at JAC SD at NYJ WAS at PHI

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