It is never too soon.
As we enter Week 16 of the 2019 fantasy football season, there should be only two things on your mind. One, your championship match, which is either a one- or two-week playoff that starts Saturday.
And secondly, next year, the 2020 fantasy season.
Sure, you wanna take a few minutes here or there to think about your job, your kids, the holidays, whatever, fine. Knock yourself out. Take a minute. Heck, take two. I’ll allow it.
But do it fast because we’ve got this week and next year to get to. This week is covered below in the Love/Hate portion of the column.
Last week I released my way, way, way-too-early top 50 for 2020, and I already think I’m too low on Michael Thomas (No. 4 overall). Everything will change in a major way after free agency and the draft, of course. I’ll put out a way, way-too-early top 100 after the Super Bowl.
But the point is that it’s never too early to think about next year.
And that includes your league.
It’s time to start the conversations among your leaguemates about your format for next year.
You see, I love fantasy football. You love fantasy football. We all do. But it is an imperfect game. Antiquated rules. Too much variance and luck. Not year-round.
I can’t do much about the last one, sadly (although I have already agreed to be in at least one XFL fantasy league because I am a degenerate). I can, however, help with the first two issues. And I’m not alone.
I asked my social media followers this: “Crowd-sourcing for a future column: If I made you Czar of Fantasy Football and you could make one change to the game that everyone would follow, what would it be? Looking for game mechanics like no kickers or 1/2 PPR, not player behavior like no vetoes or no bad trade offers. #FFCZAR”
Clearly this is something everyone feels passionate about. As of this writing, there were more than 5,000 combined suggestions.
There are many ways to play and enjoy fantasy football. The most important thing is to have fun, and everything else is secondary. There is no right way to play fantasy football. But if there was, this would be it.
Matthew Berry’s Ultimate Fantasy Football Rules
Editor’s note: You can play with most of the customizations below in the ESPN Fantasy Football game, and we will look to add support for more of them in advance of next season.
1. You’ve gotta do an auction for your draft. It’s fairer, as everyone gets a shot at every player. It takes more skill, as it involves not only player evaluation but also reading the room, understanding changing market value in real time and resource allocation (how much to spend at each position). And it’s more fun, it takes longer and it inspires a lot more interaction and trash talk. And isn’t that the point of draft day, the best day of the year?
2. The same goes for in-season waiver-wire moves. I much prefer using FAAB (free agent acquisition budget) bidding on players every week. And then it can be first-come, first-served pickups after that or a waiver system. But definitely an auction for the first free-agent period of the week. Also, this is more work, but I like the Vickrey system on blind bidding, where the highest bidder wins but pays just $1 more than the next-highest bid. It’s more realistic (since that’s most likely what you’d do in a live auction) but also fraught with peril, because what if others go big with their bids, too? Much fun.
3. No kickers. Too random, and the scoring makes no sense. A field goal in real football is three points, period. But a 50-yarder in fantasy is worth five? Ban kickers. I enjoy the leagues I play in without kickers so much more. I remember we had Blair Walsh, the former Vikings kicker, on the podcast a few years ago. Blair is a big fantasy player (and a great guy), and on the podcast we asked him where he took kickers in his own drafts. His response: “The last round, of course. Come on.”
4. No defense/special teams. Same theory. They are less random than kickers, but still. Fumbles and defensive touchdowns are fairly fluky. It’s also weird because kickers are a part of special teams. Honestly, if you play with them, you should have defense be separate and have kickers be a part of special teams. For most folks, you’re scouring the wire for defenses to stream every week, and I’d rather be scouting future players. So … if we have no kickers and no defense, that means we are playing …
5. Super flex. I have been playing in “super flex” leagues the past few years, and I really enjoy them. The version I like the most is 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE and 4 flex, where one of the flex positions can be a QB (we call it an OP spot in ESPN leagues). You start 10 players, but if you want to add a third WR or a fifth flex, I’m fine with it. Draft 17-man rosters with no IR spot.
It increases the importance of quarterbacks, which better mirrors the NFL, since QB is the most important position in pro sports. It also allows more lineup flexibility and increases decision-making, which again helps with the variance.
6. Six points for a touchdown pass. Again, QBs need to be the most important in the game, and that’s what it is in the actual game.
7. Full PPR. Truthfully, half-point PPR is the most fair way to go, but I enjoy full-point PPR more. It is what it is. This is my list. I am not a huge fan, however, of TE premium scoring, where tight ends get more points (usually 1.5 PPR).
8. Reward players for “earning” a defensive pass interference call. They moved the ball for the offense, they should get some credit. I propose one point for both the QB and the pass-catcher involved in the DPI if the penalty is 15 yards or fewer and two points for each player if it’s more than 15 yards.
9. No yardage bonuses. I get the argument; I just don’t like ’em. Again, it’s my list. Also, I’m right.
10. QB kneel-downs should not count toward rushing totals. While I know the yardage needs to be accounted for in official statistics, it could be placed in a miscellaneous team category so that it doesn’t affect individual yardage totals and, thus, fantasy output.
League scoring, schedule and playoffs
11. The schedule format should be treated like “two games a week.” You play your head-to-head matchup, but the top half of the league in scoring also gets a win each week (and the bottom half gets a loss). So, every week you will go 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2. For example, if it’s a 12-team league, the six highest-scoring teams each week would get a win regardless of whether they won their head-to-head matchup. This allows you to keep the fun of head-to-head play but removes some of the bad luck you might encounter when you put up a good score only to face an opponent who has Lamar Jackson the week he accounts for six touchdowns. (@RiDoiteain on Twitter said his league does the two-games-played format for Weeks 1-4 and then goes straight up after that, so they wind up with a 16-game regular season, just like the NFL. I kind of like that, too, but my preference is two games a week for the entire fantasy regular season.)
12. The final playoff spot goes to the team with the highest point total among those not already in the playoffs. It’s another way to fight against the randomness of the schedule. If you score enough points in the regular season, that should get you in.
13. Keep the “two-game” format for the playoffs, with total points being the tiebreaker. So if every team goes 1-1, teams with the highest point totals move on.
14. Have a loser punishment for last place, agreed on before the season by everyone. People have different levels of tolerance, but you gotta have something to keep engagement high.
15. Have something to play for if you are not in the playoffs. Draft order the next year, their league fee back, something. If there is nothing to play for, then non-playoff teams need to have rosters locked. Only teams with something to play for should be allowed to make waiver moves.
16. No vetoes unless there is clear collusion. Always and forever. People need to be allowed to coach their team, even if it’s done badly.
Others receiving votes
Those are the changes I would make universally. But here are some other suggestions that I thought were interesting.
• “All play,” which is to say you “play” every team in your league every week. So in a 10-team league, you would play nine games every week. If you score the most in your league, you go 9-0. Score the fewest and you’re 0-9.
• One point per first down.
• I’m anti-kicker and team defense, but if you play with a team defense, it shouldn’t be punished for its offense surrendering points (via pick-sixes, scoop-and-scores, for example). The ESPN Fantasy game already has this covered, but it’s worth investigating if you play elsewhere.
• Some sort of substitution protocol to protect against injury, like designating a bench player before the game who would be subbed in if one of your players gets hurt in the first three quarters.
• There were many different suggestions on playoffs. Feel free to look through the thread with all the responses to this tweet. Interesting stuff. If you have a rule suggestion for me, feel free to reach out to me on any of my various social accounts.
Let’s get to it. It’s Week 16. You know the drill. I tried to focus a little more on players about whom you might have to make a decision this week, since it’s championship week. Thanks, as always, to “Thirsty” Kyle Soppe of the Fantasy Focus 06010 podcast and The Stat-a-Pillar of The Fantasy Show on ESPN+, Damian Dabrowski.
Quarterbacks I love in Week 16
Matt Ryan, Falcons (vs. Jaguars): It has been a lost season for Atlanta and one in which Ryan has dealt with injuries to himself and to key offensive parts such as Austin Hooper, Devonta Freeman and Calvin Ridley. Despite all of that, it’s worth noting Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott are the only QBs with more games of more than 18.5 points this season than Ryan. He has seven such games, which is a way to say that it can often work in a big way for Ryan. And at home this Sunday, against the second-worst scoring defense in the NFL since Week 10 and a team that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing QBs the past four weeks, I say it does.
Jameis Winston, Buccaneers (vs. Texans): If there were a poster child for the entirety of the “Love/Hate” column, his name would be Jameis Winston. He was on the “Love” list this preseason and has made either the “love” or “hate” part of this column multiple times each this season and throughout my writing career. I should do a whole “My Life with Jameis” thing at some point, because it has been a wild ride. He has made me look brilliant, he has made me look stupid and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. But I’m putting him here because, despite how hot he has been lately, there might be concern about the fact that, you know, he doesn’t have Mike Evans, Chris Godwin or even Scotty Miller to throw to. I just don’t know how you bench him. Last week, he joined Lamar Jackson as the only QBs with consecutive games of at least 32 points this season. Since Week 6, he is the third-best QB in total points. Despite all the turnovers, he is still averaging 355.8 passing yards per game (52.7 ahead of any other QB!). Winston is leading the NFL in pass attempts and it doesn’t matter who is out there, Jameis will keep chucking it, especially against Houston’s bottom-12 pass defense the past four weeks. If you’re in the finals, it’s likely because of Jameis, so here we go. The Texans have allowed at least 18.8 QB points in six of their seven road games this season.
Kyler Murray, Cardinals (at Seahawks): If you are in the finals, it’s despite Murray, not because of it, as he has been QB27 on a points-per-game basis the past four weeks (three games for Murray). But I like his chances to turn it around here in a game with one of the highest over/unders on the slate. Since Week 9, the Seahawks generate pressure at the lowest rate in the NFL (20.8%). That matters because Murray is a different QB when not feeling the pressure this season. When not pressured, Murray has a 70.6% completion rate, 4.3% TD rate, and a strong 3.4 TD-INT ratio (17 TDs, five INTs) in 394 attempts. He was a top-seven QB five times from Weeks 5-11 (the only other QB who can claim that is Lamar Jackson). The Cardinals are a 9.5-point road underdog, so I expect Murray to be throwing to keep up with Seattle. I have him as a top-10 play this week.
Others receiving votes: Don’t look now, but over the past four weeks, Mitchell Trubisky ranks third in passing yards, fourth in rushing yards among QBs and sixth in fantasy points at the position. This is a tougher matchup than you’d think against a Chiefs defense that sees a version of Matt Nagy’s offense in practice every week (Nagy is an Andy Reid disciple), but I like Trubisky as a deeper-league or two-QB-league play. … Two of Kirk Cousins‘ four best fantasy games with Minnesota have come against the Packers. I’m not sure he goes off to that level on Monday night, but with Adam Thielen back and a banged-up running game I could see Minnesota taking more deep shots than usual against a Green Bay squad that is tied for the second-most completions of 40-plus yards allowed this season. I like Cousins as a top-15(ish) play this week. … Podcast listeners know what happens when you trust the Bengals, but for the desperate out there, Andy Dalton is the next QB to get to play the Dolphins and their 30th-ranked pass defense the past four weeks.
Quarterbacks I hate in Week 16
Tom Brady, Patriots (vs. Bills): With just three total touchdown passes in his past five games against the Bills and an average of 216 passing yards per game, this does not bode well for Tom leading you to a title. Brady is just QB26 since Week 7 and he has traditionally been a worse fantasy QB in the fantasy playoffs than he was during the regular season. Case in point: Four of Brady’s past five games with fewer than 7.5 fantasy points came in Weeks 15-17. And two of those came at home … against the Bills. He is averaging 9.3 points in his past five games against Buffalo, including Week 4 when he had 3.7 points. Brady has fewer than 200 yards passing in three of his past four, so I’m looking elsewhere this week.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers (at Vikings): Once. Just once in his past six games has Rodgers been better than QB20. His weekly average finish this season has been QB15. That’s lower than Gardner Minshew, among others. There have been 34 quarterbacks who have passed for at least 250 yards in a game since Week 9, which is when Davante Adams returned to the lineup. Aaron Rodgers is not one of them. The Packers are just 18th in pass attempts per game since Week 9, as they have leaned on the running game much more this season to the detriment of Rodgers’ fantasy stock. Rodgers has traditionally struggled against Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, having never thrown for more than 213 yards at Minnesota with Zimmer as the head coach, and 2015 was the last time he had multiple passing touchdowns in a game in Minnesota.
Running backs I love in Week 16
Joe Mixon, Bengals (at Dolphins): Mixon leads the NFL in both touches (54) and scrimmage yards (342) over the past two weeks, so those who hung tough with him during his early-season struggles have been rewarded. Make of this what you will, but four of Mixon’s top five games this season have come on the road, with a strong chance to make it five of six with this visit to Miami. The Dolphins cough up the second-most yards per play this season and the fifth-most RB fantasy points. With touch counts of 16, 18, 23, 26 and 28 in his past five games, Mixon is a solid RB1 this week.
Austin Ekeler, Chargers (vs. Raiders): Here’s a list of things Ekeler has done recently. He has at least four receptions in four straight games. He has a higher average weekly finish than every RB in fantasy this season except Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott. He has been the seventh-best RB on a per-game basis since Melvin Gordon came back. He has more receiving touchdowns than every active player who will play this weekend except Kenny Golladay. Here’s what he hasn’t accomplished: He didn’t fumble twice last week. I don’t know what the Chargers are going to do with Gordon this week, but Ekeler will certainly be heavily involved against a Raiders team that allows the seventh-most receiving yards to opposing running backs and the third-most receiving touchdowns to RBs.
Devonta Freeman, Falcons (vs. Jaguars): OK, I know I’m on Matt Ryan as well, but gimme some Devonta Freeman this week too. Allowing a league-high 182.7 rushing yards per game since Week 9, the Jaguars limp into Atlanta allowing 5.15 yards per carry this season (second most) and a TD on 5% of carries (third most). Freeman has 68% of the Falcons’ running back rush attempts over the past three weeks, so I like his chances at having a top-12 day against a Jacksonville run defense that has been trucked for multiple rushing touchdowns in four of the past five games.
Others receiving votes: Something has to give. Marlon Mack looked, ahem, like anything but Marlon Mack last week. If you’re playing this week, I understand being hesitant to throw him back into your lineup. There’s definite risk here. But as bad as Mack looked last week, the Panthers’ run defense has looked even worse, allowing 5.19 yards per carry this season and a TD on 6.9% of carries, both most in the NFL. The Colts are home favorites by a touchdown, so I like Mack’s chances to get back on track against the NFL’s 31st-ranked run defense the past four weeks. … The reason the Panthers are only 31st against the run the past four weeks is because the Rams have actually been worse. Now, some of that is because they’ve played the Ravens, Cowboys and Seahawks in that stretch, but still. The Niners can run as effectively as any team in the NFL and that’s one of the reasons why Raheem Mostert is the only player in the NFL with a touchdown in each of his past four games. He has double-digit touches and has played the majority of snaps the past three weeks and will once again this week. … Since Kareem Hunt returned in Week 10, he has finished 17th or better at RB in five of six games, he has run 134 routes and caught 30 balls. In that time frame, Ravens opponents have completed 84% of passes to RBs, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL. Considering Cleveland is a double-digit underdog and the strength of the Ravens’ secondary, I won’t be surprised to see a lot of passing attempts and a lot of dump-offs to Hunt.
Running backs I hate in Week 16
Le’Veon Bell, Jets (vs. Steelers): Yes, it’s a revenge game … but for whom? Le’Veon got what he wanted. He sat out the season and got his money. He left a lot of his teammates high and dry and I’m pretty sure they haven’t forgotten. Since Week 4, the Steelers have allowed the fourth-fewest red zone drives per game (2.8) and the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. I should also mention that the Jets average a league-low 2.1 red zone drives per game this season. So limited scoring opportunities and limited possessions won’t help. This game features two teams that rank 22nd or worse in pace this season. Kareem Hunt is the only RB to reach 14 fantasy points in a game vs. Pittsburgh this season and after Sunday, that is likely to still be true.
Phillip Lindsay, Broncos (vs. Lions): Averaging just 49.5 rushing yards per game over his past four (and not more than 60 in any of them), Lindsay hasn’t had enough passing-game work to make up for the lack of rushing (just eight catches in his past six games). Royce Freeman actually has run more routes than Lindsay since Week 7. And what you might expect to be an easy matchup with Detroit is much tougher than you think upon closer inspection. Since Week 10, the Lions have allowed just 83.1 rushing yards per game (second fewest) and a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.
Carlos Hyde, Texans (at Buccaneers): I know, I know. He was definitely useful last week and certainly the volume has generally been there, with at least 16 touches in three of his past four games. But with just nine catches this season, you need volume and a score for him to pay off. He got that last week (104 yards and a touchdown), but that’s unlikely against a Tampa defense that has seen 79.1% of yards gained against them come through the air (most in the NFL). Part of the reason for that is their secondary is brutal, but also because their run defense is terrific. The Bucs allow a league-low 73.3 rushing yards per game.
Pass-catchers I love in Week 16
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks (vs. Cardinals): Here’s the problem (Editor’s note: There’s actually no problem here, other than the fact a not-so-humble brag is on its way). I am in the finals in six leagues this year, including the #DFBInvitational, a 33-man roster, 12-team dynasty super flex league with tight end premium scoring. It’s filled with a ton of smart, well-known fantasy analysts. Very tough league and I am happy to be in the finals. I have a good team — it scored the most points in the league — but here’s why I mention it. I’m playing Graham Barfield — very good analyst, very good player — and he has a great team with great matchups. That includes Lockett, who faces an Arizona team that allows the third-most catches and fifth-most yards to WRs this season. They also allow the most receptions and yards to the slot. Lockett has six touchdown receptions in six home games. I would LOVE to be wrong here. I hope he lays an egg. But I think he has a massive game. And you know what else? I think I’m right.
Breshad Perriman, Buccaneers (vs. Texans): So if you made the “leading WR for Tampa Bay in every game” into one player, that player would have 391.7 fantasy points. Michael Thomas, the No. 1 receiver in fantasy, has 335.3 points. It’s loosey-goosey math, but it sort of works because Perriman is most likely to be the No. 1 WR for Tampa this week in a game with no Chris Godwin or Mike Evans. Perriman has at least 70 yards in three straight games, he is catching 76.5% of his targets and has run a route on 92% of Winston’s dropbacks in that span. Nine times this season a Tampa Bay WR has had a weekly finish of sixth or better at the position and while there is definitely risk in playing him, there is also potential for a lot of upside against a Texans defense that allows TD catches to WRs at the 10th-highest rate and is a bottom-12 pass defense the past four weeks. In addition, the game is tied for the highest over/under on the Week 16 slate.
Terry McLaurin, Redskins (vs. Giants): Certainly this selection is fraught with peril, but every week Dwayne Haskins looks more and more comfortable. No doubt it helps when his college teammate happens to be the most talented guy on the field. In getting a 20% target share from Haskins this season, McLaurin has been the 25th-best WR in fantasy on a points-per-game basis since coming out of the Redskins’ bye in Week 11. Now, he has needed an incredible one-handed catch for a touchdown and a long touchdown thanks to Avonte Maddox being out of position, but however he got there, he now has double-digit fantasy points in three of his past four games, and this is a dream matchup. The Giants allow the fourth-most yards per game to WRs, they allow TD catches to WRs at the second-highest rate and have given up 14 deep touchdown receptions, most in the NFL. I get it. Believe me, my friend, I get it. But if ever there were a week for a Redskins wide receiver, this is it.
Others receiving votes: Mike Williams has scored in consecutive games after being held without a touchdown this season prior to that, and I expect the regression monster to continue helping you out in this spot, especially since I am playing against him in another final. So you know he’s going to go off. #BitterBerry might be in full effect on Monday. Anyway, opponents are scoring on 7.4% of perimeter pass attempts against the Raiders (the second-highest rate this season) and 77% of Williams’ points this season have come when lined up out wide. … Anthony Miller has been nothing short of ridiculous lately (over the past five weeks he is WR8 with six or more catches in four of the past five), and while the Chiefs’ defense has been a lot better recently, they really excel at stopping perimeter receivers, where they allow the league’s lowest completion percentage and the seventh-lowest touchdown percentage. That means Mitchell Trubisky may be looking to Miller even more than he already has been, since Miller spends most of his time lined up in the slot. Kansas City is a bottom-10 defense in both slot completions allowed and slot touchdown rate. … Much more of a DFS play or a super-desperate option in season-long leagues than anything, but Steven Sims Jr. has nine catches for 85 yards and a score in his past two weeks combined on the strength of 18 targets as one of the few healthy Redskins pass-catchers. And, you know, he plays the Giants. … It has been a tough month of December if you roster Hunter Henry, but against a Raiders team that has allowed the second-most TE scores and the second-most yards per reception to t he position this season, Henry is poised for a strong finish. … Jacob Hollister and his 6.2 targets per game since Week 9 are this week’s lucky winner in America’s favorite game show: Which tight end gets to face the Cardinals? Arizona has allowed 15 touchdowns to tight ends in 14 games this season. Also, the aforementioned Graham Barfield has Hollister on his team, along with Lockett. And it’s TE premium scoring, which means 1.5 points for a tight end reception. And Graham’s QB is Russell Wilson. Slow those three down, Arizona, and everything is forgiven. … And it’s certainly risky, as all second-tier tight ends are, but with so many pass-catchers banged up, it does seem like there’s more reason to be optimistic this week about O.J. Howard, who is averaging six targets per game over his past three. He has at least 11 points in two of those three games and gets a Texans squad that, since Week 10, has given up the second-most points to opposing tight ends.
Pass-catchers I hate in Week 16
Odell Beckham Jr., Browns (vs. Ravens): OBJ is one of the biggest non-injury-related fantasy busts this season (at least in terms of games missed), as there are 34 WRs who have a higher average weekly finish than Beckham this season (including Cole Beasley!). There’s not much reason for optimism here. The way to attack Baltimore this season has been from the slot, as the top three scoring WRs against the Ravens (Jamison Crowder, Jarvis Landry and Mohamed Sanu) all run the majority of their routes from the slot, and more underneath than anything. Beckham was held to just two catches for 20 yards in the first meeting with the Ravens, and while he always has the chance to break a big one, Baltimore is the fourth-best defense in terms of deep touchdown percentage. Beckham has just two touchdowns this season and he has been held to fewer than six points in two of the past three. So if you reached the finals this week, it’s in spite of him, not because of him. He’s a risky WR2/3 in this one.
Kenny Golladay, Lions (at Broncos): The Broncos are allowing just 2.5 deep completions per game this season (sixth fewest), an imposing matchup for Golladay with a third-string QB under center. Last week, in a favorable matchup with a positive game script (down two scores for the majority of the game), Golladay caught just three of seven targets for 44 yards in his first game since Marvin Jones Jr. was ruled out for the season. No WR has scored more than 18.8 points at Denver this season. With expected shadow coverage from Chris Harris Jr., Golladay is merely a WR3 in this one.
John Brown, Bills (at Patriots): Brown has been great for the majority of this season, but being one of the few to produce against the Patriots isn’t something I expect to happen. Just once this season has New England allowed a receiver to score more than 15.6 points in a game, and when these two teams met in Week 4, Brown averaged 1.1 fantasy points per target, his second-least-efficient outing of the season. Stephon Gilmore was a big reason why in that one and he remains an issue here, as does the Patriots’ ability to bring pressure. They rank seventh in pressure rate this season and Brown’s four lowest point-per-target games this season have come against a defense that ranks seventh or better at bringing the heat. Josh Allen completes just 28.6% of his passes when pressured with twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Brown has been held without a touchdown in five of his past six road games and I think you’re lucky if he repeats the 11.9 points he gave you when these two teams played in Buffalo.
Matthew Berry — the Talented Mr. Roto — sends all the good fantasy karma your way this weekend.