The Loop Fantasy Football Report Week 16: Sidelined stars ruin many playoff dreams

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A whole lot of fantasy football mavens rolled into the playoffs riding the coattails of the NFL’s fastest man, the Cheetah, Tyreek Hill.

Miami’s star wideout was having an MVP level season, taking aim at being the first receiver in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards. And his fantasy backers were laughing all the way to the bank.

Until the Week 15 playoff opener … when the Dolphins’ speedster was sidelined by an ankle injury. The Fins didn’t need him to dispatch the lowly New York Jets 30-0, but fantasy teams certainly did. We thought we could hear some of the wailing in the background all day Sunday while watching RedZone.

Injuries happen. Just ask anybody who drafted Aaron Rodgers … or Joe Burrow … or Kirk Cousins … or Nick Chubb … or J.K. Dobbins …

Fantasy playoff injuries seem crueler. And there are a bunch of them. We’ll break down the most significant Week 16 absences, and we’ll offer some last-second waivers options you might be able to grab to save your postseason.

Running backs – Baltimore’s Keaton Mitchell is only the latest to have a season-ending injury. Week 16 may go on without Indy’s Jonathan Taylor, the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs, Green Bay’s A.J. Dillon, the Chiefs’ Isaiah Pacheco, the Patriots’ Rhamondre Stevenson and the Commanders’ Brian Robinson.

PLAN B: An obvious choice, if the Vikings’ Alexander Mattison is still out, is Ty Chandler. He will be facing Detroit. Other options would be the Chiefs’ Clyde Edward-Helaire or Jerick McKinnon (vs. Raiders), the Bears’ Roschon Johnson (vs. Cardinals) and Cincy’s Chase Brown (vs. Steelers).

CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 16: Ty Chandler #32 of the Minnesota Vikings is tackled with the ball in the fourth quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on December 16, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Pass catchers – More casualties here: the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase, the Packers’ Christian Watson, the Saints’ Chris Olave, the Chargers’ Keenan Allen, Arizona’s Marquise Brown and Houston’s Nico Collins. They’re all varying degrees of iffy for this week.

PLAN B: Our fellow Brooklynite, the Commanders’ Curtis Samuel, had two TD catches last week and is facing a Jets team that has given up. You could also try Houston’s Noah Brown (vs. Browns), Cleveland’s Elijah Moore (vs. Texans), and two tight ends: the Giants’ Darren Waller (vs. Eagles) and Baltimore’s Isaiah Likely (vs. 49ers).

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 17: Curtis Samuel #4 of the Washington Commanders catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Quentin Lake #37 of the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of the game at SoFi Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Quarterbacks – The Chargers’ Justin Herbert left the scene a couple weeks ago, while Houston rookie C.J. Stroud will also miss another game. And QBs who might be out this week include Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence and Seattle’s Geno Smith.

PLAN B: Would you believe the Vikings’ Nick Mullens could save your season? He had more than 300 passing yards and two TDs in Cincinnati last Saturday. Other elderly dudes you might still be able to grab include Cleveland’s Joe Flacco (vs. Texans), Indy’s Gardner Minshew (vs. Falcons) and the Saints’ Derek Carr (vs. Rams.)

CINCINNATI, OHIO – DECEMBER 16: Nick Mullens #12 of the Minnesota Vikings calls a play in the first quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paycor Stadium on December 16, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jeff Dean/Getty Images)

Sitting stars

Dallas running back Tony Pollard could have a hard time in Miami if star lineman Zack Martin is either missing or hobbled. … Cleveland’s defense should cool off Houston RB Devin Singeltary. … With Rams star Cooper Kupp regaining his MVP form we’ll be seeing lesser numbers from WR Puka Nacua. … The 49ers’ defense will clamp down on Baltimore receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers. … Rashee Rice is the only Chiefs receiver Patrick Mahomes, or you, can trust against Las Vegas. … We expect Denver QB Russell Wilson to be slowed by New England’s solid defense, and the desperate Steelers will find a way to bring Cincinnati QB Jake Browning back down to earth.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 17: Tony Pollard #20 of the Dallas Cowboys runs the ball during the second quarter against the Buffalo Billsat Highmark Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Matchup game

If Buffalo RB James Cook runs like he did against Dallas, he’ll get 300 yards against the Chargers. … And if the Cowboys’ run defense looks that weak again, then Miami’s Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane will thrive. … Arizona RB James Conner has been hot lately and will do well, even against the Bears’ decent run defense. … Backs we also like include Atlanta’s Bijan Robinson vs. Indy and Philly’s D’Andre Swift against the Giants. … Vikings rookie WR Jordan Addison should thrive with Detroit’s focus on stopping Justin Jefferson. … Start Tennessee WR DeAndre Hopkins if QB Will Levis plays. … Same goes for Green Bay WR Jaylen Reed if he is healthy. … And since it’s a must-win for the suddenly fragile Jaguars, we like QB Trevor Lawrence against the cross-state rival Buccaneers.

ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 17: James Cook #4 of the Buffalo Bills catches a touchdown pass in front of Damone Clark #33 of the Dallas Cowboys during the second quarter at Highmark Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

Injury watch

Beyond the injury issues we addressed earlier … Indy wideout Michael Pittman Jr. is in the concussion protocol after absorbing the dirty hit that got Pittsburgh’s Damontae Kazee suspended for the rest of the season. … Noteables listed as questionable include three running backs (Steelers’ Najee Harris, Washington’s Brian Robinson and Indy’s Zack Moss) and two tight ends (Bills’ Dalton Kincaid and Steelers’ Pat Freiermuth).

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – DECEMBER 16: Michael Pittman Jr. #11 of the Indianapolis Colts and Damontae Kazee #23 of the Pittsburgh Steelers collide while going after a ball during the second quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 16, 2023 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Deepest sleeper

Sometimes you just need your team to take a 42-0 halftime lead to have your breakout game. So it was with Raiders rookie WR Tre Tucker. The third-round draft pick from Cincinnati was mostly known for dropping passes during the preseason, but he caught three passes for 57 yards and his first two career touchdowns against what passes for a Chargers defense. He could do well this week against the defending Super Bowl champs as the Chiefs focus all their attention on Davante Adams.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 14: Wide receiver Tre Tucker #11 of the Las Vegas Raiders scores a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second quarter at Allegiant Stadium on December 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Candice Ward/Getty Images)

The Thursday/Saturday picks

Saints at Rams (-4½):
Pick: Rams by 7

Bengals at Steelers (+2½):
Pick: Bengals by 7

Bills at Chargers (+13½):
Pick: Bills by 20

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 14: Quarterback Easton Stick #2 of the Los Angeles Chargers is sacked by defensive tackle Jerry Tillery #90 of the Las Vegas Raiders during the first quarter at Allegiant Stadium on December 14, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at

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