INDIANAPOLIS — Championship week is here.
The Indianapolis Colts host the Carolina Panthers this week in a matchup that could spawn some high-quality fantasy performances for your championship hopes.
They have their top receiver back in T.Y. Hilton, their running back is taking on a weak run defense and the defense is facing a rookie quarterback making his first-career start.
Let's take a look at what you should expect this week from the Colts players in your lineups.
*Weekly positional rankings from FantasyPros.com, based on Half-PPR scoring. Ranks as of Friday of game week.
QB Jacoby Brissett
- Last game: 18-of-34 passing (52.9 percent), 165 yards, 1 carry, 7 yards — 6.7 FP
- Last three games avg.: 20.7-of-36.7 passing (56.4 percent), 245.0 yards, 2.0 carries, 10.7 yards, 3 total TD, 2 total TO — 15.1 FP
- FantasyPros Week 16 Position Rank: QB23
- Panthers vs. QBs: 11th (16.4 FPPG)
Brissett's numbers have obviously been a roller coaster throughout the season as some weeks the offense relies on the run, and others they just run into defenses that are able to contain them through the air. However, the Colts are looking to make some subtle tweaks to the offense over these last two game that may not be noticeable to the naked eye but could yield positive results.
"But really for Nick (Sirianni) and I and the rest of the offensive staff to say, 'Hey, we've got two games. Should we try a couple things? Might we try a couple things, experiment with one or two things?' Let us learn, let us learn Jacoby. Maybe there's something that we haven't been doing that is good for him," Colts head coach Frank Reich told reporters this week.
"So we'll look at some alternative schemes, introduce one or two new thoughts in the next two weeks. Not major things, you're probably not going to notice it just by the eye, but it could be a philosophical thing, it could be little small sudden things that we do in the way we call our plays, the way we check our plays and check in and out of plays," Reich continued. "We need to continue to learn and get better. He's our quarterback so we need him in there to work through those things."
These changes that will be implemented also feature some things Brissett would like emphasized.
"Yeah, in fact he (Brissett) did. That was part of the discussion," Reich said. "We talked about this week. So I turned it back to him, 'Anything in particular? Your comments or observations?' Like you said, he had a few things. 'Hey, can we do a little bit more of this and why don't we try this?' A few small things that I thought were good suggestions."
It should be noted that the Panthers do have a quality pass defense. They are tied for the most sacks in the league, they have five players who have at least five sacks, and they also have five players with at least two interceptions.
Although Carolina has performed well against the pass, there is potential there for Brissett to have a big day. Since Week 5, the Panthers have allowed six 300-yard passers and six quarterbacks to have multiple touchdowns.
RB Marlon Mack
- Last game: 11 carries, 19 yards (1.7 avg.) — 1.9 FP
- Last three games avg.: 12.7 carries, 55.3 yards (4.1 avg.), 2 total TD — 9.5 FP
- FantasyPros Week 16 Position Rank: RB11
- Panthers vs. RBs: 32nd (27.3 FPPG)
Smash that "Start" button for Mack this week.
Yes, his numbers have been down as the Colts have faced two of the best run defenses in consecutive weeks, but he had his last 100-yard game just three games ago (for him — a fractured hand put him on the sideline for two weeks).
Against Carolina, there's been a lot of team success as runners (they've allowed 100 yards rushing in all but two games), but there's also been nine players who have rushed for at least 80 yards against them individually. There has also been six running backs who have scored multiple touchdowns against them. The Panthers have allowed a running back to have at least 10 fantasy points every week since Week 12, seven in total since then. This means Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins are also playable FLEX options this week, although Mack is easily the safest.
The Panthers are among the bottom three teams in the NFL in run plays of both 20-plus (20) and 40-plus (five) yards allowed, opponent rushing yards per carry (5.2), and overall run defense (140.2 YPG).
WR T.Y. Hilton
- Last week: 4 receptions (9 targets), 25 yards (6.3 avg.) — 4.5 FP
- Last three weeks avg.: 3.0 receptions (7.0 targets), 32.3 yards (10.8 avg.) — 4.7 FP
- FantasyPros Week 16 Position Rank: WR33
- Panthers vs. WRs: 21st (23.7 FPPG)
Hilton is back in the lineup, but he has yet to have a productive fantasy performance for quite some time. Part of it is his health, a "pitch count" and overall struggled in the Colts' passing game.
However, with another week healthy, Hilton should begin playing a little more. "I would think so," Reich said when asked if Hilton's playing time will increase this week.
Hilton is the type of receiver you almost have to start if he's playing, and this week is no different despite the recent struggles. Twelve opposing wide receivers have had at least 80 yards against Carolina. With how hungry Hilton is to get back on track, it wouldn't be surprising to see him become the 13th.
TE Jack Doyle
- Last week: 2 receptions (5 targets), 21 yards (10.5 avg.) — 3.1 FP
- Last three weeks avg.: 3.3 receptions (7.3 targets), 40.3 yards (12.1 avg.), 1 total TD — 7.7 FP
- FantasyPros Week 16 Position Rank: TE13
- Panthers vs. TEs: 5th (5.6 FPPG)
Since fellow starting tight end Eric Ebron landed on Injured Reserve, Doyle has easily been the Colts' primary pass-catching tight end. He's been targeted at least five times in each matchup, averaging 7.3 per game.
Generally, tight ends have not done well against the Panthers — with Luke Kuechly, Shaq Thompson and Eric Reid roaming around, that's understandable — but Thompson is out this week with an ankle injury if you're looking for a silver lining. Only two opposing tight ends have had at least 80 yards against the Panthers, and there have only been four tight ends with at least 10.0 fantasy points against them. Tight ends have only scored three touchdowns against the Panthers this season.
Colts Defense/Special Teams
- Last week: 424 yards allowed, 34 points allowed
- Last three weeks avg.: 419.3 yards allowed, 34.3 points allowed, 7 total sacks, 6 total takeaways, 1 return touchdown
- FantasyPros Week 16 Position Rank: DST7
- Panthers vs. DSTs: 23rd (8.1 FPPG)
Similar to Marlon Mack, the Colts DST is a strong play this week as they take on a rookie quarterback making his first career start in Will Grier.
The Colts have had big issues in pass defense the last two weeks as they played against Jameis Winston and Drew Brees without the services of star cornerback Kenny Moore II. While Moore II is still out this week, Grier is not Winston or Brees (at least not yet).
Before missing Moore II, from Weeks 8-13, the Colts allowed just 203.7 net passing yards per game and were averaging 2.7 sacks per contest. They've been even better and more consistent against the run, allowing 88.3 rushing yards per game since Week 5. Regardless, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey — the league's current third-leading rusher — will be a huge test for the Colts.
The Panthers have allowed a sack in every game, and 11 games with at least three sacks (that's all but three games). They've also turned the ball over in all but one game (eight multi-turnover games). They rank tied for 25th in interceptions thrown (16), 28th in passer rating (78.8), 29th in third-down conversions (32 percent), tied for 29th in pass plays of 20-plus yards (35), and tied for 30th in sacks allowed (51).