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NFL fantasy football stats & trends for Week 16: Big weeks ahead for Patrick Mahomes, James Cook?

Each week, NFL fantasy researcher Joel Smyth will identify important stats and trends to inform fantasy decisions ahead of your next matchup. These won't be your basic, elementary stats, but rather deep and unique insights to give you an edge over your friends (and enemies).

Here are eight notable nuggets ahead of Week 16 of the 2023 NFL season.

1) A White Christmas

Rachaad White
Tampa Bay Buccaneers TB · RB

White has stayed red-hot despite his targets taking a dip in recent games. And that dip could swing back up come Sunday. When defenses play zone coverage, it often funnels passes to players out of the backfield, and that has been especially lucrative for White. Jacksonville runs the fourth-heaviest rate of zone coverage and has unsurprisingly allowed the most receptions to running backs as a result. White is a matchup nightmare for the Jaguars, as he ranks first among RBs in receiving yards versus zone (compared with 29th when facing man coverage). I expect the Bucs to return to feeding their back in the passing game, boosting his already elite floor.

2) The Brady bump

James Cook
Buffalo Bills BUF · RB

Through 14 games, Cook leads all NFL backs in yards per touch. The second-year pro has been rewarded for his efficiency with increased volume in the wake of Buffalo's mid-November coaching shake-up. Since Joe Brady took over offensive play-calling duties, Cook's touches have increased from 14.4 per game to 21 -- and he's averaged a robust 24.1 fantasy points per outing in that span. However, there's still a fantasy downside to Cook's game: his lack of goal-line carries. Even with Brady calling the shots, Cook hasn't gotten any goal-line work, limiting his rushing touchdown total on the year to two. Still, he’s my overall RB4 for the week, as he plays a Chargers team sitting in the bottom five versus fantasy running backs. 

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3) New year, same QB story

Patrick Mahomes' average fantasy draft position this year was the selection before A.J. Brown. That looks bad in hindsight. What makes it worse? The countless quarterbacks who were available much later in drafts and have proven to be incredible values. For example, the fantasy quarterfinal QB1, Jared Goff, was selected, on average, the pick before Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo back in the fall. Seven of the top eight QBs in last week's playoff round were drafted as the QB17 or later. When taking the entire season into account, 18 quarterbacks have averaged at least 16 points and just two are above 20. Remember for next year, with such slim margins, a late-round quarterback is always the answer.

4) Stand Pat

Patrick Mahomes
Kansas City Chiefs KC · QB

Mahomes shifts his play style to fit the strengths of his team. Right now, those strengths do not begin on the outside. With Mahomes' most-trusted weapons typically aligning inside, the two-time MVP has fallen to last in air yards per attempt. This has drastically hurt Mahomes’ fantasy ceiling but has increased the floor of other Chiefs players, such as Rashee Rice and the team's multitude of running backs. The Chiefs have had the most success this year working the ball inside and underneath, and then allowing their skill players to do the rest. As a result, Kansas City paces the league in yards after catch -- by more than 200 yards -- which is not ideal for a Vegas defense that ranks 31st in yards after catch per reception.

Kansas City’s passing game lined up perfectly versus the Raiders in Week 12, resulting in Mahomes’ only game of 20-plus points since the midway mark of the fantasy season. Don't be surprised if we see a repeat performance on Christmas.

5) The No. 1 gift

A.J. Brown
Philadelphia Eagles PHI · WR

If you have Brown on your semifinal roster, congrats, you’ll be moving on to the championship. The stars are aligned for Brown to have a massive bounce-back performance on Christmas Day. Let's break it down. The struggling corners in New York play the second-most man coverage in the NFL -- resulting in a heavy rate of targets to the first read -- while allowing the most yards after catch to wideouts. Enter Brown, this season's fantasy WR1 versus man coverage. Brown has the most targets and yards after catch against man this year, and is the clear-cut king of first-read target-share percentage. Expect Jalen Hurts to target Brown early and often in a guaranteed mismatch no matter whom Big Blue tasks to guard the dominant wideout. 

6) Peace & Love

Jordan Love
Green Bay Packers GB · QB

Nobody in the NFL is as drastically different when it comes to throwing under pressure than Love. This has been the case all year, but it has been especially evident since Love’s fantasy hot streak started in Week 10. The Green Bay signal-caller is the fantasy QB1 in that span without pressure ... and the QB24 under pressure. The Panthers' defense is not usually friendly to opposing quarterbacks, but it is very friendly when it comes to pressure rate, ranking dead last in the league. If the Panthers can keep this game somewhat close in Carolina, allowing Love the opportunity to rack up some significant volume as a passer, he should have the clean pocket to deliver another high-level fantasy performance.

7) New Diggs

Stefon Diggs
Buffalo Bills BUF · WR

Diggs managers must be disappointed with yet another rough output from the star receiver. But in hindsight, Diggs' performance last week wasn't that bad (at least relatively speaking). The Bills absolutely dominated Dallas on the ground, running the ball 49 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Even before the game got out of hand, there was no real need for Buffalo to pass the ball. As a result, the Bills' other pass catchers -- Dalton Kincaid, Khalil Shakir and Gabe Davis -- combined for 0.0 fantasy points. Last year, after each of Diggs’ four games with fewer than seven targets, he scored 20 ppg the following week, with at least nine targets in each matchup. With Los Angeles allowing the third-most fantasy points to the position, I expect the veteran star to bounce back once again.

8) Finally touched down

Ty Chandler
Minnesota Vikings MIN · RB

Alexander Mattison’s volume was never the problem -- it was his inefficiency. What happens when you give that volume to a more skilled back? Ty Chandler happens. Chandler has rushed for more yards than expected on 48 percent of his carries this season, the third-highest rate among RBs, per Next Gen Stats. Mattison struggled by this metric -- particularly near the end zone, ranking last in yards over expected per goal-line attempt. With Chandler at the helm, the Vikings’ rushing-touchdown curse has been broken. He's scored on both of his goal-line attempts this season, far better than Mattison's 0-for-9 mark. Detroit's defense is tough on the ground this season, but history favors the Vikings, who have had a running back score in eight consecutive games against the Lions.

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