Real football isn't all about the offensive players. Why should fantasy football be any different? Every week here in Reading the Defense, we're looking back at the fantasy week that was and offering help for the week that's to come.
Defensive line: It wasn't the greatest week for defensive linemen, but Akiem Hicks made the one big play to put himself atop the list. The Patriots lineman recorded a sack and recovered a fumble in the end zone as part of his first double-digit day. Hicks had barely been a blip on the fantasy radar until a trade to New England thrust him onto the field. Now he's tallied 17 total points in the past two weeks. Things could be tougher this week against a Jets team that has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the league.
Linebacker: There wasn't much for the Dolphins to get excited about this past week, but Kelvin Sheppard was one of the few bright spots. The Miami linebacker recorded 11 tackles in a game for the second time this season, matching his total from Week 11. Considering the wretched state of the Dolphins on both sides of the football, it wouldn't be wise to plug Sheppard into your lineup again this week.
Defensive back: When we talk about the Cardinals secondary, Deone Bucannon isn't usually the first name that comes up. However the hybrid safety/linebacker has been a major playmaker for the Cardinals and ranks second among all fantasy defensive backs. Bucannon did it again on Sunday night against the Eagles with nine tackles and an interception. Now with Tyrann Mathieu out for the season with a knee injury and the Packers paying a visit to the desert, the second-year player could be an even busier man.
What went wrong
» It's been an inconsistent season for Bobby Wagner who has continually dealt with injuries. However his lack of fantasy production over the past couple of weeks seems to go beyond that. One of the biggest playmaking linebackers has been limited to just six total fantasy points in the past two games after having scored seven points in Week 13 alone. With the Seahawks needing wins to lock up a playoff spot, they'll need some improved play from Wagner. Fantasy fans would agree.
» J.J. Watt, where have you gone? Maybe he's a victim of his own success. When he doesn't put up bonkers numbers, we start to think something is wrong. Certainly it's not easy to perform with a broken hand which has been Watt's circumstance the past few weeks. But we've become so accustomed to seeing the Texans star succeed under most any circumstance that it's a head-scratcher on those occasions when he doesn't. Maybe this week's game against Tennessee will return him to top scorer status.
Week 16 boomer
J.J. Watt, DL, Houston Texans: We're doubling down on the prediction that the Titans are the cure for what ails Watt. No team in the NFL has allowed more sacks than Tennessee and the last time these teams met, the Texans sacked Marcus Mariota seven times -- including 2.5 from Watt. This time Houston will face the far less mobile Zach Mettenberger behind a still-bad offensive line. Look for Watt to turn it up this week.
Week 16 buster
Cliff Avril, DL, Seattle Seahawks: It's hard to make any correlations between teams that last faced each other in Week 1. But we'll do it anyway. The Rams held Avril to no sacks and just two tackles in the season opener. Perhaps even more fitting is that St. Louis has surrendered just 18 sacks all season long, fewest in the league. The Rams best shot at a win would be to ride Todd Gurley to success which could further limit Avril's effectiveness.
Week 16 sleeper
Corey Graham, DB, Buffalo Bills: It hasn't been the best week for the Bills defense. Reports of strife in the locker room followed a game in which this unit was torched by Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense. But there could be some redemption in this secondary against Kellen Moore and the Cowboys floundering pass attack. Dallas' four quarterbacks have combined for 19 interceptions this season -- second-most in the NFL. This could be a chance for Gilmore and company to snag a few picks.
First down: It won't have any impact on his fantasy value for this week, but it's always a good time to honor the career of the great Charles Woodson. The veteran defensive back announced that he will retire at the end of this season. After a quick start to the fantasy season, Woodson slowed down a bit but was still a force to be reckoned with on the field and in the stat sheets. There is no doubt that he will be in Canton in five short years.
Second down: The Cardinals (and fantasy managers) suffered a huge loss when Tyrann Mathieu was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. The injuries ends the season for one of the top defensive backs across real and fantasy football. It also could change the roles of Deone Bucannon and Tony Jefferson as both look to help pick up the considerable slack.
Third down: The Kansas City Chiefs still aren't sure if they're going to have Justin Houston at their disposal this week against the Cleveland Browns. The pass rusher has missed the past three games with a knee injury but coach Andy Reid says that Houston is making progress. His fantasy value is very sack-dependent, but that's potentially good news against the Browns suspect offense.
Fourth down:Bears linebacker Shea McClellin is in the league's concussion protocal after suffering symptoms after last week's game. The fourth-year player leads the team in total tackles and has been a top 15 fantasy linebacker for the past month. Keep an eye on his status ahead of this week's game against Tampa Bay.