Each week of the regular season in "Fantasy Audibles" I'll use the SAP Player Comparison Tool to help you make the right decisions when it comes to difficult lineup dilemmas. The tool uses several factors to help make an educated suggestion, including past performance, matchup, consistency, upside, and intangibles. It finally appears as if the tool is fully operational (though not 100 percent reliable), so I'll use a combination of the tool and old-fashioned fantasy methods to help make a determination on four difficult Week 16 matchup decisions below. Let's take a look at the start/sit questions haunting some of our fantasy readers and try to help them set a winning lineup.
Who should I start at QB: Ben Roethlisberger or Derek Carr?
Ben Roethlisberger has been a bit up-and-down since Pittsburgh's Week 8 bye, though his two single-digit outings both came on the road. This week he draws the Ravens defense on his home turf, and likely without Jimmy Smith locking down Antonio Brown. Smith is Baltimore's best cover corner, and his absence is a huge boost in fantasy. Baltimore allows just 13.91 fantasy points per game when Smith plays, versus 19.03 fppg when he misses most of the game or the entire game (this counts Week 14 against New England). This only aids Big Ben's dominance at home, where he owns a 17-to-three touchdown-to-interception ratio and the league's top home passer rating, 119.0.
Derek Carr is still working his way through a finger injury but finds himself in a great spot to bounce back after two straight disappointing outings. Carr gets to face the Colts in Oakland in good conditions. On the season, the Colts allow the sixth-most passing yards per game and have a bottom-four interception rate (1.6). Carr should be able to find holes in the Indianapolis secondary, especially since the Colts could struggle to put pressure on Carr. Among quarterbacks with at least 250 drop backs, Carr boasts the lowest sack rate (sacks per dropback) in the league with a sterling 2.68 percent. His offensive line is stout and Carr releases the ball quickly, all of which doesn't bode well for the Indianapolis pass rush. Yes, they recorded five sacks last week against the Vikings, but that offensive line has been decimated by injuries and is protecting Sam Bradford. Carr should have all day to sit in the pocket as Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree find holes in the Indy secondary.
Verdict: This one is close, but I have to lean with Carr ever so slightly. The guaranteed good conditions and matchup with a subpar defense seems to suggest that Carr's ceiling is higher than Big Ben's. The Pittsburgh offense has been running through Le'Veon Bell of late, and if he gets going on the ground that'll take the air out of Pittsburgh's passing attack.
Who should I start at RB: Doug Martin or Latavius Murray?
Doug Martin has posted double-digit fantasy points in four of his six games since returning from injury, but three of those outings were made possible by him finding the end zone. Overall, he's struggled in the ground game averaging just 2.8 yards per carry in that span. Making matters worse for Martin is that Charles Sims has also returned to action and has immediately seen 75 percent of the backfield targets the last two weeks to go along with 15 percent of the rush attempts. That chunk of the workload hurts Martin's outlook as he heads into a matchup with a Saints defense allowing just 74.14 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry since Sheldon Rankins returned in Week 9 (seven games). Martin is the lead back, but he'll likely need a touchdown to return fantasy value when it matters most.
From Week 12 to Week 14, the Raiders made DeAndre Washington a healthy scratch or at least severely limited his role. This led to Latavius Murray seeing the field on 66-plus percent of Oakland's offensive plays in each game while averaging 22.3 touches per game. Well, that changed in Week 15 when Washington returned to a sizeable role (16 percent of the plays). Not surprisingly, Murray's workload sunk to just 14 touches. This fits with the 15.5 touches per game Murray averaged from Weeks 1 to 11 as part of Oakland's three-headed committee. So, was this Oakland reverting back to what worked in the past, or simply a one-game, matchup-based aberration? That's what fantasy owners will have to ask themselves, as Murray is heading into a nice matchup against the Colts this week. The Colts are in the bottom 10 in the league in rushing yards (1,379), yards per carry (4.57), and receiving yards (642) allowed to opposing backs. Even if Murray loses work between the 20s to Washington and Jalen Richard, he's the team's primary option in scoring opportunities. On the season, 77 percent of the red-zone backfield opportunities have come Murray's way.
Verdict: While both backs are losing work in some sort of committee, Murray's matchup gives him the best odds of posting solid fantasy numbers and especially finding the end zone. The Colts-Raiders game figures to be one of the highest-scoring contests of the week, creating more chances for Murray to find the end zone.
Who should I start at WR: Dontrelle Inman or Malcolm Mitchell?
Rather quietly, Dontrelle Inman has emerged as a steady fantasy producer at wide receiver. With Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams ailing over the last month Inman has hauled in 19 of 26 targets for 307 yards and three touchdowns, good enough to be the WR6 in that span in standard scoring. He's seen six-plus targets in seven of his last eight games but hasn't garnered double-digit looks since Week 4. Up next he faces a Browns defense that seemingly finds new ways to get beat each and every week. But for the sake of this matchup, no team has allowed more passing touchdowns than Cleveland (31) in 2016, though only 17 have gone to wide receivers (fifth-most). Between the volume he should see in this contest and the matchup overall, Inman is looking like a strong play.
Rob Gronkowski's injuries have opened the door for rookie Malcolm Mitchell to step into the fantasy spotlight this year. Since Week 11, Mitchell leads all Patriots wide receivers in playing time (77 percent of offensive plays to 75 for Julian Edelman) and touchdown receptions (four). He's third on the team in targets (28), but second in receptions (22) and receiving yards (277) in that span. Last week's 1.4 fantasy point disaster was predictable, though, as the Denver defense has shut down nearly every receiver it has faced in 2016. The same cannot be said for the New York Jets (Mitchell's next opponent). The Jets have been victimized by big-play passing attacks all year, as they allow the 10th-most yards per game to opposing receivers despite seeing just the 24th-most wide receiver targets. Their 27 passing touchdowns allowed is tied for the third-highest mark in the league. All told, this is a huge mismatch for the Jets and Tom Brady should be able to exploit every weakness in the New York secondary with relative ease.
Verdict: Both players are in prime fantasy matchups, but when breaking the tie I feel Mitchell's red-zone usage tips the scales in his favor. With Gronk out Mitchell has become Brady's go-to target in the red zone. Case in point, the rookie has more red-zone targets (10) since Week 11 than Inman has the entire year (4). In fact, Mitchell has more red-zone touchdowns (three) since Week 11 than Inman has red-zone catches all year (two).