When you’re handing out fantasy football game balls for Week 16, don’t forget one for U.S. Bank Stadium. That’s where the Minnesota Vikings play, and that was the place to be in the early window on Christmas Eve.
Most of the stars were popping in Minnesota’s 27-24 victory on Saturday. Justin Jefferson staked his claim as fantasy’s best wideout, posting a silly 12-133-1 line on 16 targets. He’s been at 24 points or higher for three straight games, producing in the money weeks. Tight end T.J. Hockenson did even better with his 16 targets — 13-109-2, an absolute feast at fantasy’s weakest position. Kirk Cousins didn’t involve the others much, but he still finished with 299 yards passing and three scores.
Dalvin Cook was a minor disappointment (77 total yards, no score) and for the second straight week, Adam Thielen (1-6-0) was an afterthought. But most of the primary Vikings raced past expectations.
It helps to have Minnesota’s leaky secondary on the other side, keeping the opponent in the game. Daniel Jones threw for 334 yards and a score, and all three of his primary wideouts came through. Isaiah Hodgins (8-89-1) had the lone touchdown catch, but Richie James (8-90-0) and Darius Slayton (4-79-0) were also productive. The Giants also moved the ball on the ground, mainly through Saquon Barkley (133 total yards, touchdown) and the enterprising Jones (34 rushing yards).
With nasty winter weather throughout America taking over much of the early-window slate, it was reassuring to settle in to Minnesota’s climate control. It never snows in the dome. The air conditioning doesn’t throw off anyone’s passing game. You could backline this matchup with confidence.
Hopefully you took the indoor theme one step further and played it safe at kicker. Graham Gano and Greg Joseph spent the afternoon one-upping each other and racking up points. Gano had the early foot, converting from 44, 44, and 55 yards. Then Joseph ended the game in dramatic fashion, nailing a 61-yard kick at the buzzer. He also had a 40-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Contrast those kickers to the situation in frosty New England, where Nick Folk missed two extra points and Evan McPherson whiffed a field goal and a PAT. Folk and McPherson are great kickers normally, but the weather was uncooperative in Foxborough. Why run uphill when you don’t have to?
Back to the Vikings and Giants for a second, that game had particularly favorable pace in the fourth quarter, when the teams combined for 28 points. Jefferson’s touchdown came with 3:06 remaining, and the Giants scored on a Barkley run (and tacked on the two-point conversion) just 59 second later, tying the game. That allowed Cousins and friends to tack on some extra yards, before Joseph connected from the parking lot.
Late scoring, that’s the nectar of the fantasy gods. Josh Allen managers love him rushing in a touchdown inside of four minutes at Chicago, then throwing a touchdown pass to Dawson Knox with 1:08 to play (Matt Harmon’s favorite holiday present) with the game already in hand. Allen didn’t have his best fantasy game of the year, but the late surge pushed him up to QB3 by the time the early window closed.
Jared Goff wore the QB1 jersey at the window closing, another win for Garbage Time Heroes. The Panthers trampled Detroit’s run defense, which set up Goff for a ton of late volume. He finished with 355 yards passing and three scores, while the Lions managed just 45 rushing yards.
While Goff did plenty with D.J. Chark (4-108-0) and Amon-Ra St. Brown (7-76-0), it was unknown tight end Shane Zylstra (5-26-3) who gobbled up all of the touchdowns. Zylstra had eight career catches and 61 career receiving yards before Saturday. Some holiday miracles can never be explained.
Editor’s note: More analysis from Saturday’s slate to come …
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