Start 'Em, Sit 'Em Week 15: Making it through round two of playoffs
Rather than giving you one column at the end of the year with all my favorite changes to make the fantasy playoffs more fun, we’ll drip them out, week by week, hopefully to keep you coming back for more. Last week, we detailed a change that would actually take place in the postseason by allowing the higher seeds to select their opponents. This week, we’ll take a look at one that would occur during the regular season, but would affect who does and doesn’t qualify for the playoffs.
Our real-life example from last week carries over for this change, which many savvy leagues have already adopted. To refresh your memory, I came in seventh place in one of my leagues despite having the second-most points in the league. Luckily for me, eight teams qualify for the playoffs, so I made it in with a 6-7 record. However, if only six teams earned berths, I would have been on the outside looking in, despite having more points than all but one team in the league. That, of course, makes no sense.
It’s not rare to see an owner in the top-three in points and the bottom half of his or her league standings. I think those teams to be rewarded with trips to the playoffs, and yet too many of them are being left out because the typical fantasy league awards playoff spots by record, and record only. It’s time for that to change across the board.
For leagues in which six teams make the playoffs, the first four spots shall be determined as usual, going to the four best records. The final two spots will go to the remaining owners with the most points. (Same goes for teams with eight spots in the playoffs, it can be broken up in any manner.) There’s much less urgency for a league with eight playoff teams, as it’s harder to have a team with a ton of points miss out on the playoffs, given that points is generally the tiebreaker for teams with the same record, but you can take out the minimal risk by guaranteeing playoff spots to the teams that are in the top three or four in points scored.
It would be a little trickier for leagues that only grant four playoff spots. After all, the head-to-head context is part of what makes fantasy football so much fun. We don’t want to legislate that completely out of the game, but we also want to make sure the very best teams make it to the extra season. By putting a greater emphasis on points, we ensure equity and keep more owners involved through the final week of the regular season.
With that, let’s get to the SI.com Start ‘Em or Sit ‘Em for Week 15.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Roethlisberger may not be Aaron Rodgers, but you did see what this offense did against the Bengals, and what the Packers did against the Falcons last week, right? You’re going to want all your fantasy-relevant Steelers active on Sunday. Bell could approach the monster game he had a week ago, and come close to cementing fantasy playoff MVP honors if he does so. The Falcons have allowed the fifth-most points to receivers this year, making Bryant a worthy starter alongside Brown.
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Julio Jones, Roddy White
Keep a close eye on Jones’ practice participation this week, as he suffered a hip injury late in last week’s loss to the Packers. That injury came after he caught 11 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. His owners desperately need him active for the semifinals. So does Ryan, who had his best statistical game of the year against Green Bay last week. He put up 375 yards and four scores, and that’s what he’s capable of when he has both Jones and White at his disposal. Jackson found the end zone again last week, and is a worthy RB2 in most formats.
Steelers: Markus Wheaton, Steelers DST
Do you ever wonder if Wheaton looks at what Bryant is doing and thinks, "That was supposed to be me?" Unfortunately for Wheaton, he’s not 6-foot-4 with speed to burn. Many expected a second receiver in the Pittsburgh offense to step up and be fantasy-worthy this year. Few thought it would be the rookie out of Clemson.
Falcons: Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
We need some sort of group name for Rodgers, Freeman, Douglas and Hester. No other team has a quarter of guys that are as widely known and roundly ignored by fantasy owners. I’m taking submissions, effective immediately.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Redskins: Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson (shin), Jordan Reed
Washington tends to get away from Morris at its own peril from time to time, but that should not be the case against a Giants defense that has surrendered 4.84 yards per carry to running backs. With Roy Helu out at least a week because of a toe injury, Morris could be more of a factor in the passing game, as well. Jackson returned to practice Wednesday after missing last week’s game with a shin injury. Early signs point to him playing, which is good news for his owners. Don’t be worried about any lingering effects of the injury, or the Washington quarterback situation, if he’s out there.
Giants: Eli Manning, Rashad Jennings (ankle), Odell Beckham, Giants DST
Washington has surrendered the most points to quarterbacks this season, and Manning was well on his way to a big game against Tennessee last week before things got out of hand and the Giants salted away the clock. In other words, Manning is extremely capable of taking advantage of a pass defense as bad as Washington’s. Jennings has not yet showed up on the Giants’ injury report, suggesting that he’ll be back in the workhorse role this week. After burning owners a week ago, he should shine for them on Sunday. The Giants haven’t had a fantasy-relevant defense this year, but the matchup is too good to pass up this week.
Redskins: Robert Griffin, Colt McCoy (neck), Roy Helu (toe), Darrel Young, Pierre Garcon, Niles Paul, Redskins DST
Well, this is awkward. Just two weeks after he was benched for the second straight season, an injury to McCoy may force Griffin back into the starting lineup. No matter who starts for Washington, he will not be a fantasy option beyond a low-end QB2 for two-quarterback leagues. Garcon caught nine passes for 95 yards last week, but that had a lot to do with Jackson being on the shelf. If he returns this week, Garcon will once again be relegated to WR4/5 status.
Giants: Andre Williams, Rueben Randle, Preston Parker, Larry Donnell
Jennings got the start last week, but it was Williams who carried the load in place of his still-injured backfield mate. If he were handling the bulk of the touches again this week, he would be well worth starting. However, it looks like Jennings is going to be back in his customary role as the Giants’ primary back. That shunts Williams back to the bench in fantasy leagues. We’ve yet to see a game where both of them but up starter’s numbers.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Jarvis Landry
Miller doesn’t have many standout performances to his name this season, but what he does have is a backfield to himself and the ability to grind out double-digit fantasy-point games. One case in point was the Dolphins first game with the Patriots this year. He had 78 total yards and a touchdown on 15 touches while splitting the work with Knowshon Moreno. I’m willing to bet that one Miami receiver posts WR2 production in this game, and I’d rather ride with Landry than Mike Wallace, thanks in large part to the targets the former is getting from Ryan Tannehill.
Patriots: Tom Brady, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
Two months ago, Brady’s owners would have killed for a 317-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance. Now it feels like a letdown. He’ll be his usual QB1 self against the Dolphins on Sunday. Meanwhile, Blount jumps up into the RB2 discussion after seeing what the Ravens did to Miami on the ground last week. Gronkowski is rightfully the star of the New England passing game, but LaFell and Edelman keep coming up with useful fantasy performances. Last week, Edelman caught eight passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. You want to invest in this offense as frequently as you can.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
It has been an up-and-down year for Tannehill, and he has been in another one of the valleys over the last two weeks. The puzzling thing isn’t that he has struggled per se, but that he has done so against the Jets and Ravens, two of the league’s worst pass defenses. After seeing that, fantasy owners would be right to stay away from him this week. If you own Tannehill, you undoubtedly have another option to which you can turn in the fantasy playoffs. Same goes for Wallace, who has simply been too inconsistent to trust at this juncture.
Patriots: Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola
Lost among the biggest busts of the season is Vereen, who seems to be shielded by all that has gone well for the Patriots on offense. He came into the season with realistic hopes of being an RB2 in standard leagues and an RB1 in PPR leagues, but has been almost wholly invisible from a fantasy perspective. He has just 756 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns, giving him an average of 7.66 fantasy points per game.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Raiders: Latavius Murray
So it seems that Tony Sparano either a) understands how to engage in a little misdirection every now and again, or b) has a very different definition of the word “workhorse” than you and I do. After swearing that Murray wouldn’t be a workhorse for the rest of the season, he got his back 25 touches in the win over the 49ers last week. Even if he doesn’t get that many this week, we know he’s going to carry the load for the Raiders in what should be a great matchup. The Chiefs have allowed 5.11 yards per carry to running backs this year.
Chiefs: Jamaal Charles (knee, ankle), Travis Kelce, Chiefs DST
The Raiders have allowed the fourth most points to running backs on the season. The first time they played the Chiefs, Charles racked up 122 total yards and a touchdown. Despite effectively missing two games this season, Charles once again leads all running backs in touchdowns, racking up 14 to this point. What I’m trying to say here is that he’s about to have a monster game for his fantasy owners, despite being a little nicked up. Kelce caught seven passes for 110 yards last week. That had to be an eye-opener for Andy Reid, didn’t it? Didn’t it?
Raiders: Derek Carr, Darren McFadden, James Jones, Andre Holmes, Mychal Rivera, Raiders DST
The only interesting player above is Rivera, who could be worth starting, depending on your roster. He’s the first tight end outside my top 12, meaning that he really didn’t miss the starting group by much, especially when you consider the tight ends at the low end of the starting class amount to not much more than a coin flip. He finds himself on the outside because of Oakland's widely ineffective offense, and the fact that their best bet in this game is to ride Murray as much as possible.
Chiefs: Alex Smith, Knile Davis, Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery
I’m starting to lose confidence that this ridiculous no-passing-touchdowns-to-receivers streak is going to last the entire season. When your hopes are in the hands of Bowe and Avery, it becomes a little less ridiculous. Everyone listed above should be an easy sit, though Smith does have some juice as a QB2 in two-quarterback formats, thanks to Charles and Kelce. If Charles is forced to miss this game, which is not expected, Davis would vault into RB1 consideration.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Texans: Arian Foster, DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Johnson
DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell have stolen all the running-back headlines this year, and for good reason. Neither, however, is the league leader in fantasy points per game at the position. That distinction belongs to Foster, who is putting up 19.8 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, one more than Murray and 1.3 more than Bell. The Colts have allowed the seventh-most points to running backs this year. Johnson suffered a concussion last week, but is worthy of flex consideration in what should be a relatively high-scoring game in Indianapolis, so long as he’s able to suit up and play.
Colts: Andrew Luck, Boom Herron, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
With the news coming to light that Reggie Wayne is dealing with a torn triceps, Moncrief immediately becomes a WR3 with sustainable WR2 potential in this offense. Herron has had a couple nice games since he has taken on a larger role in Indianapolis, but he is not Ahmad Bradshaw. Given that all of his owners plucked him off the waiver wire a few weeks ago, I could easily envision a scenario in which he should be on your bench. If you were already well situated at running back before acquiring him, chances are your other options are superior.
Texans: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alfred Blue, Garrett Graham, Texans DST
You didn’t actually consider starting Fitzpatrick last week because of his six-touchdown game two weeks ago, did you? Good, that’s what I thought. He’s worthy of no further consideration against the Colts this week. The Texans are typically a starting fantasy defense, and if you whiffed on the stream options on your waiver wire, you shouldn’t feel a need to bench the Texans simply because of the matchup. The fact remains, however, that you’d rather not play a defense in fantasy leagues if that defense is going up against Luck and the Colts.
Colts: Trent Richardson, Reggie Wayne (triceps), Dwayne Allen (ankle)
Allen returned to the field last week after missing two games, catching one of his three targets. He should only be a week healthier, but it is hard for any offense to produce two starters at the tight end position in the same week, and for now fantasy owners should have far more confidence in Fleener. Wayne is no longer a fantasy option, as his phenomenal career could be coming to an end.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens
Even before the Jaguars announced that Denard Robinson was out for the year, they were going to end up with no one worth starting this week. Even though the Ravens have a poor secondary, you can safely avoid this team in Week 15.
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, Ravens DST
You’re starting Forsett no matter what, but you have reason to be even more excited bout him than usual this week. The Jaguars have allowed the sixth-most points to running backs this season, and are one of eight teams to have 49ersallowed at least 74 receptions to backs, as well. Forsett should be able to get it done on the ground and through the air. Smith stepped up with Torrey Smith hobbled a week ago. With the latter uncertain this week, the former is once again worth deploying as a flex play in most formats.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Denard Robinson (foot), Toby Gerhart, Cecil Shorts, Allen Hurns, Marqise Lee, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
Depending on the depth of your league, there’s an argument to be made for Shorts or Lee as a starter this week. The Ravens secondary is in shambles, and they’ve allowed the most points to receivers this season. Their offense should be able to score plenty against the Jaguars, meaning that Bortles is probably going to attempt somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-to-40 passes in this game. It’s hard to trust the Jacksonville offense, but Shorts, and especially Lee, have low-end WR3 value this week. There is no argument, however, for Gerhart. He will start again with Robinson done for the season, but he’ll likely just plod along against the Ravens, who have allowed the fewest fantasy points to running backs this year.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Torrey Smith (knee), Owen Daniels
Flacco is my first quarterback on the outside looking in at the starting class. He’s had a couple big games in a row, though both were aided by out-of-character rushing touchdowns. Still, he has thrown for a pair of touchdowns each of the last two weeks, and this is a matchup he can exploit. He’s a slam-dunk starter in two-quarterback leagues. If the practice reports are good on Smith this week, he’d be worth flex consideration and would slot as a WR3. Be careful, though, as he burned his owners despite starting a week ago. Make sure he’s making meaningful strides in practice.
Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy (hip), Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Packers DST
There are few things more fun for a fantasy football owner in 2014 than being tied to the Green Bay offense. No matter if it’s Rodgers, Lacy, Nelson or Cobb, you are thoroughly enjoying owning a Packer or two. That won’t change this week, despite a tough matchup in Buffalo. Lacy owners need to monitor his progress in practice this week after he suffered a hip pointer in the win over the Falcons a week ago. This is a short week for Green Bay, but the team doesn’t expect Lacy to miss time, or even be hobbled, by the injury.
Bills: Fred Jackson, Sammy Watkins
Watkins broke out of his slump last week, catching seven of his 12 targets for 127 yards. The Packers have allowed the fourth-most points to receivers this season, and that is at least partially a function of their offense building big leads. That could very well happen again this week, giving Watkins further opportunity to thrive. That would work against Jackson, but he’s still a solid flex play in Week 15. The Packers have allowed 4.23 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns on the season. Jackson slots just outside the top 24 at the running back position this week.
Packers: James Starks, Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless
If Lacy’s hip injury proves to be more serious than expected and Starks ends up getting the start, he would be a must-start with a huge role in the Green Bay offense. Even if Lacy is able to go, Starks should be considered a fringe flex player. He’s going to be involved in the offense, and the Packers could choose to rest Lacy, especially if they get out to a big lead. Playing Starks in fantasy leagues would be a roll of the dice, but at least it would be a calculated one founded on sound logic. Still, I’ve got him pegged as a low-end RB3.
Bills: Kyle Orton, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler, Bills DST
Orton has really struggled in his last five games, throwing for 1,227 yards, 5.93 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Those aren’t exactly numbers that scream “fantasy starter.” There is a groundswell of support for him this week because of the matchup with the Packers, especially since he could throw the ball another 50 times to try to keep up with Aaron Rodgers and company. Having said that, I don’t see how fantasy owners play him over other borderline starters like Mark Sanchez, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Russell Wilson.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Buccaneers: Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
You have to imagine that when Josh McCown lobbied the Tampa Bay brain trust to take Evans in the draft, thus giving him two big receivers, he had games like last week in mind. Evans caught four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns, while Jackson hauled in 10 passes for 159 yards. With the Tampa Bay run game non-existent, Evans and Jackson should continue to get plenty of looks for the rest of the season. Both receivers are easy starts for fantasy owners in Week 15 against a Carolina defense that has allowed the 11th-most points to receivers this year.
Panthers: Jonathan Stewart, Kelvin Benjamin, Greg Olsen
Stewart took advantage of DeAngelo Williams’ absence last week, running for 155 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Even if Williams is able to return this week after sitting out with a broken finger, Stewart has to carry the load for the Panthers. That could especially be the case with Cam Newton out this week. The Buccaneers have allowed the eighth-most points to running backs this season. This is a great matchup for Benjamin and Olsen, as well, but it remains to be seen if Derek Anderson will be up to the challenge. They should each be downgraded, though both are still slam-dunk starters.
Buccaneers: Josh McCown, Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers DST
McCown could actually be a sneaky play in traditional leagues, depending on your quarterback situation. Those of you in two-quarterback leagues should plan on getting him active this week. The Panthers have allowed the 10th-most points to quarterbacks this year, and simply do not have the cornerbacks to match up with the size of Evans and Jackson. McCown should be able to take advantage all afternoon. I’d play McCown before Johnny Manziel, Ryan Tannehill and Andy Dalton.
Panthers: Derek Anderson, Cam Newton (back), DeAngelo Williams (hand/finger), Philly Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Panthers DST
Thankfully, Newton did not suffer a serious injury after being in a car accident earlier this week. We’ll revisit his playing status, which is a distant concern, next week. Stewart owners have to be hoping that Williams doesn’t return and muck up his mojo this week. With Newton out, Ron Rivera could want to get both his backs more involved in the offense. That would be a bad thing for Stewart, who should be capable of carrying the entire load against the Buccaneers.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Bengals: Jeremy Hill, A.J. Green
Green and Julio Jones really do seem joined at the hip at times. They squared off in the SEC, with Green playing at Georgia and Jones at Alabama. They entered the draft the same year, with Green going fourth and Jones going sixth. They’ve each been among the best receivers in the league from the moment they stepped on an NFL field, and last week both of them went north of 200 yards. Green has struggled against Joe Haden in his career, but you should still have every confidence in him this week. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said that he wants to go with more of a feature back approach for the rest of the season, and all signs point to Hill being that guy. He's a top-20 play at the position.
Browns: Isaiah Crowell, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron
Crowell and Terrance West split the workload right down the middle last week (West actually got one more carry) and both ran for 54 yards, but it was Crowell, again, who found the end zone. He remains at the head of the Cleveland backfield, and slots as a strong RB2 against a Cincinnati defense that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs this year. Cameron caught four passes for 41 yards last week, but really looked like himself for the first time since the beginning of the year. While I do not believe Gordon is a WR1 for the final two or three weeks of the fantasy season, I do think he remains an easy play, regardless of opponent.
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Giovani Bernard, Mohamed Sanu, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
The first time these two teams met this season, Dalton had the worst game of his pro career. He completed just 10 of his 33 pass attempts for 86 yards and three interceptions. I don’t see any way that a fantasy owner could have any confidence in him this week. We have to take Hue Jackson at his word, and that word suggests that Bernard won't get enough touches this week to show up on the fantasy radar.
Browns: Johnny Manziel, Terrance West, Andrew Hawkins, Browns DST
We’ve reached the Manziel Mania portion of the column. Look, the excitement surrounding Manziel is understandable, and he certainly can’t play any worse than Brian Hoyer had for most of the season. At the same time, there’s a reason that men who have worked in football their entire lives whose livelihood depends on their ability to evaluate football players thought it best to sit Manziel until their hand was forced by Hoyer’s terrible play over the last few weeks. Don’t expect Manziel to play like a top-five or top-10 quarterback this week. The ceiling is high, but I can think of 20 quarterbacks I’d rather have in my lineup than Manziel.
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
Jets: Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory
In the last two weeks, when Rex Ryan seemed to take over the entirety of the offense, Johnson has 33 carries and Ivory has 32. The Jets are getting absolutely nothing out of their passing game, regardless of whether it’s Geno Smith or Michael Vick under center. Assuming both of these guys get 15-to-18 touches again this week, which looks like a safe bet at this point, they could both put up RB2 numbers in what looks like a great matchup. The Titans have allowed the second-most points to running backs this season.
Titans: Delanie Walker
Walker has been quiet since torching the Eagles for 155 yards three weeks ago, but he has earned his spot as an every-week starter at the tight end position. The good news for him is that he got 10 targets last week, the second time that has been the case in his last three games. The Jets have allowed the fifth-most points to tight ends this year. Also, Walker got off to a hot start this year with Jake Locker, who will be back at the helm this week, as the Tennessee starter.
Jets: Geno Smith, Eric Decker, Percy Harvin, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jets DST
Smith has been a supplier of many sad quotes recently, but you can bet reported looked askance at him when he said he has shown flashes of being a Pro Bowl quarterback. That, um, doesn’t seem true. This isn’t a bad matchup for the Jets with what the Texans and Giants have done against the Titans in the last two weeks, but there’s no way a fantasy owner can have any confidence in this passing game. That’s why everyone tied to it is a sit recommendation, as they have been nearly every game this season.
Titans: Jake Locker, Bishop Sankey, Kendall Wright, Titans DST
Locker will get a few more weeks to prove to the Titans that he can be their starter in 2015, but chances are this team will move on with Zach Mettenberger and another quarterback to be named later. That means Locker will really be using the final few weeks of the 2014 season to show the 31 other teams in the league he has what it takes to be a starter. He does not have what it takes, however, to be a fantasy starter this week.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Broncos: Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson (ankle), Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas (ankle), Broncos DST
The Broncos, their fans, and Manning owners should be rightly concerned about some of the throws he has missed over the last few weeks. Losing his touchdown-streak is one thing, but to see him go consecutive games with fewer than 200 yards was downright shocking. He remains a top-five quarterback play and deserves the benefit of the doubt, but we may finally be starting to see cracks in the armor from which he will not be able to recover. Anderson left last week’s win over the Bills with a minor ankle injury, but it isn’t expected to have any effect on him this week. Julius Thomas was active and then spent the entire game holding his helmet on the sidelines. That should be prelude to him being active in more than just name this week.
Chargers: Ryan Mathews (ankle), Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates
Mathews missed Wednesday’s practice because of an anle injury suffered last week, and while the Chargers don’t seem overly concerned about it right now, it warrants mentioning that he got just two carries in the second half of the loss to the Patriots. Hopefully we get some clarity on this situation before Sunday morning, given that this is a late kickoff. Darelle Revis swallowed up Allen last week. Don’t hold that against him, as Revis has done the same to superior receivers. He faces another tough matchup this week, regardless of whether he sees more of Aqib Talib or Chris Harris, but he still slots as a low-end WR2.
Broncos: Juwan Thompson, Wes Welker, Jacob Tamme
If Anderson’s injury suddenly becomes more of a concern than the Broncos are letting on, Thompson would become a slam-dunk fantasy starter this week. That, however, is a longshot.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Branden Oliver, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
Rivers resuscitated his fantasy value two weeks ago with a huge game against the Ravens, but it was no more than another case of him being capable of beating up on a bad secondary. Playing the Patriots a week ago, he threw for 189 yards, 5.73 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. His numbers, when split out against the league’s stronger pass defenses, are truly staggering. He can only be trusted in the best of matchups, and this is not one of those. His one silver lining could be volume, as he may have to throw a ton to try to keep up with the Broncos’ offense.
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Vikings: Vikings DST
This isn’t necessarily a great matchup for the Vikings defense, but they have been wildly productive, both over the course of the full season, and even more so when you focus on the last few weeks. Matthew Stafford is certainly capable of committing his fair share of mistakes, especially against a strong pass rush like Minnesota’s. They likely won’t put up the gaudy numbers they have in their last two games, but they’re still a solid play this week.
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Lions DST
Stafford has lit up a couple bad defenses in consecutive weeks, combining to throw for 701 yards, 8.87 yards per attempt and five touchdowns in wins over the Bears and Buccaneers. He faces a much better Vikings unit this week, but he’s a top-10 play, especially considering that his best games have come, predictably, with a healthy Megatron at his disposal. Bell has turned into a must-play back over the last month, locking down the primary running duties and turning Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick into nothing more than change-of-pace backs. He was even the most effective receiver out of the backfield last week, catching five passes for 50 yards and a score.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Asiata, Ben Tate, Charles Johnson, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph
Bridgewater had a nice game against the Jets last week, but this Detroit defense is just a tad better than the group he saw a week ago. Johnson has really emerged in the Minnesota offense and is going to be an intriguing player in fantasy leagues in 2015, especially as he and Bridgewater mature together, but he’s not a viable option this week. Neither is Asiata, despite having the backfield largely to himself. The Lions have allowed the fourth-fewest points to running backs this year, and shouldn’t struggle with a back like Asiata, who has a complete lack of dynamism.
Lions: Reggie Bush, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron
Bush appeared to have some flex value last week with a great matchup against the Buccnaeers, and then he touched the ball 12 times for 34 yards. It was a complete disappointment to see him get just eight receiving yards on four catches. There’s a real lack of explosion with Bush this year, and he doesn’t bring anything to the table if he isn’t making noise in the passing game.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
This is neither a rash overreaction, nor a typo. The 49ers, who have played in consecutive NFC Championship games, are not worthy of having one of their players started in typical fantasy leagues this week. They’re not doing themselves any favors with their bizarre play calling, and the fact that this is in Seattle certainly doesn’t help.
Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
It will be quite a bit of symmetry when the Seahawks effectively usher out this era of the 49ers on Sunday. It will be Lynch and the defense that do most of the damage. The Niners have been pretty tough on running backs this year, but Lynch carved them up for 104 yards on 20 carries back on Thanksgiving. The bet here is that he does even more damage this week. The defense, meanwhile, seems to be in the head of everyone who has the slightest tie to the 49ers’ organization. Russell Wilson is very close, but we’ll talk about him shortly.
49ers: Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson, Vernon Davis, 49ers DST
I would love to know when and why the 49ers decided that their best bet on offense was to get away from the run game. How does Gore only get 12 carries against the Raiders? How does he go three straight games with fewer than 14 carries? Kaepernick has never been an effective quarterback without a strong running game supporting him, and yet the 49ers don’t seem to have the patience to establish the run. Rarely have we seen a team over .500 this late in the season that is in such disarray, but it has been a bizarre season for the 49ers right from the jump. You don’t want to have anything to do with this team this week or for the rest of the year.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Robert Turbin, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Tony Moeaki
Wilson has definitely proved me wrong, putting up strong fantasy numbers week after week, and doing so by buttressing his production through the air with consistent numbers on the ground. Having said that, he had one of his worst games of the year against the 49ers, throwing for 236 yards and one touchdown, and picking up 35 yards on the ground on seven carries. My Nos. 8 through 12 quarterbacks this week are Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez. While Wilson is a fine play, I just can’t see deploying him over any of those other guys at the back end of the QB1 group for Week 15.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant
Romo struggled mightily when these teams first met back on thanks giving, but this remains a great matchup for him and the entire Dallas offense. The Eagles have allowed the third-most points to quarterbacks and receivers, and 12th most to running backs. Don’t put too much stock into what happened the first time these teams played either, as Romo was still not too far removed from his back injury. That’s something he’ll be dealing with until the offseason, but the more time he puts between the incidence of the injury and the present day, the better off he will be. There are only six quarterbacks I’d play ahead of Romo this week. You can probably guess five off the top of your head, and the other is Ben Roethlisberger.
Eagles: Mark Sanchez, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews
Sanchez and the entire offense really struggled with the Seahawks a week ago, but this is a much different defense they’ll face on Sunday night. Still, Sanchez is a bit of a risk, as the league seems to have caught up to him in recent weeks. He has 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and threw for just 217 yards and a score in the first meeting with the Cowboys. He scored on a rushing touchdown, which is just the sort of production his owners cannot count on from week to week. McCoy carved up the Cowboys for 159 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries two weeks ago, and has to be salivating over the return matchup.
Cowboys: Joseph Randle, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST
The Cowboys’ supporting cast works really well for them in real life, with Randle, Williams, Beasley and Witten all boasting a specific skill set that makes them sort of like a Swiss-army knife when put together. None of them, however, is worthy of individual fantasy consideration at this point.
Eagles: Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Cooper has been playing a bit more in the last few weeks, though that hasn’t really translated into on-field production. What it has done is take a bite out of Matthews’ late-season surge. The rookie is still ahead of him on the depth chart, both for real-life and fantasy purposes, but those deploying Matthews as a WR3 or flex would be happy to see Cooper recede back into the shadows this week. If you’re desperate at tight end, you could take a shot on Ertz. The Cowboys have allowed the third-most points to the position this season.
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears
Saints: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Kenny Stills, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham
As disappointing as the Saints have been on the whole this year, this is just too good a matchup to bench any of their potential fantasy starters. The Bears have allowed the second-most points to quarterbacks, 13th most to running backs, eighth most to receivers, and most to tight ends. Brees should be able to pick apart this defense, and that means Stills and Colston, in addition to Graham, are worthy fantasy plays this week. Graham has been a bit of a letdown this season, but he will likely make it up to his owners who are still alive this week.
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
Brandon Marshall may be out of the lineup, but Cutler did nearly all of his damage against the Cowboys last week after Marshall’s injury. This offense is certainly capable of running up the score on the Saints with Marquess Wilson playing in place of Marshall. Jeffery, Bennett and Forte will all benefit individually for the last few weeks of the season. Cutler is ninth in fantasy points among quarterbacks and the Saints have allowed the fourth-most points to the position. Even without Marshall, he’s an easy QB1 this week. The team may also show a greater commitment to the run, assuming they’re finally in a game instead of trying to dig out of a big hole.
Saints: Pierre Thomas, Khiry Robinson, Saints DST
Thomas, the Chicago-area native, has always played well against the Bears, and this is a defense that is particularly susceptible to his skill set, given that the linebackers can’t cover anyone. He’s worth some RB3 consideration, and could be plugged into lineups in deeper leagues, or by owners who are absolutely desperate at running back or flex.
Bears: Marquess Wilson, Bears DST
Wilson will get a three-game tryout to show the Bears what he can do outside the numbers, even though he will almost certainly be returning to the slot next season with Marshall and Jeffery both under contract. Those of you in deeper leagues should kick the tires on the Washington State product, however. In addition to surrendering the fourth-most points to quarterbacks, the Saints have allowed the seventh-most points to receivers. Last I checked, the Bears like to throw the ball a little bit.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning, Mark Sanchez.
Running Backs: Le’Veon Bell, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson, Mark Ingram, Latavius Murray, Justin Forsett, LeSean McCoy, Isaiah Crowell, Alfred Morris, Dan Herron, Lamar Miller, Jonathan Stewart, Joique Bell, Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Tre Mason, Rashad Jennings, Giovani Bernard
Wide Receivers: Jordy Nelson, Antonio Brown, Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Jeremy Maclin, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon LaFell, Golden Tate, Julian Edelman, Sammy Watkins, Keenan Allen, Kenny Stills
Flex: Roddy White, Donte Moncrief, Steve Smith, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, Fred Jackson, Marques Colston, Jordan Matthews, DeSean Jackson, Andre Johnson, Martavis Bryant, Jarvis Landry
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett, Coby Fleener, Antonio Gates, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Jared Cook, Dealnie Walker, Jordan Cameron, Julius Thomas
Defenses: Seattle Seahawks, Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings
On the Cusp
Quarterbacks: Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson, Josh McCown, Philip Rivers
Flex: Jeremy Hill, Frank Gore, Shane Vereen, Stedman Bailey, Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald, Charles Johnson, Anquan Boldin
Tight Ends: Mychal Rivera, Zach Ertz, Heath Miller
Defenses: San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals