Saturday December 19th, 2015

In my 10-plus years of covering fantasy football, and 20 playing it, I’m not sure I can recall a season in which so many backup running backs were pushed to the forefront at this most crucial stage of the season. Denard Robinson, Tim Hightower, Brandon Bolden, Bryce Brown and Fozzy Whitaker could all have a large say in who ends up playing in your league’s championship game. None of them—not a single one—was on the fantasy radar as recently as one month ago.

Just like real life, you’ve done your job in fantasy leagues when you’ve made the playoffs. Once you’re there, it’s really just a crapshoot. You probably didn’t expect Robinson’s or Hightower’s name to come up when you rolled the dice, but that’s where we find ourselves. We also find ourselves looking for, and finding, all the last-minute advice we need in the Week 15 Cheat Sheet.

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New York Jets at Dallas Cowboys

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Jets

14th

2nd

20th

3rd

Cowboys

6th

27th

4th

6th

Vegas lines

Jets -3.5

Over/under 42

Jets o/u 23

Cowboys o/u 19.5

This game is Saturday, so make sure you have your lineups set. The Jets bring a still-somehow-underrated passing game into a game they absolutely cannot afford to lose with the Chiefs and Steelers also with 8-5 records. Fading them continues to be a terrible idea.

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Player who could surprise: Darren McFadden

McFadden is really the Cowboys' only hope to make this a game. He had two huge runs against the Packers last week, finishing the game with 111 yards on just nine carries. Of course, with the Cowboys chasing all game, they had to lean on the passing game. With Matt Cassel under center, McFadden is the team’s only plus fantasy player. If they can get him established early, they could have a chance to pull off the upset.

Player who could disappoint: Dez Bryant

Sorry, Bryant owners. This is a lost season for one of the best receivers in football. That could help make him a bargain at the draft table in 2016, but that’s not really any solace to those of you who need him to shine in the fantasy playoffs. He’s tied for 60th in points per game among receivers, behind Cecil Shorts, Pierre Garcon and Torrey Smith. That’s as ugly as it gets for a guy who was a worthy first-round pick in the summer.

Matchup to watch: Jets offensive line vs. Cowboys run defense

The Jets have quietly amassed one of the most balanced, effective offenses in the league, and even though Chris Ivory has slowed as the season has progressed, he got back across the 100-yard threshold last week. The Cowboys, meanwhile, have struggled against the run all season, rating 26th in Football Outsiders DVOA.

Injury report

No fantasy-relevant injuries

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Bears

19th

17th

11th

8th

Vikings

12th

8th

16th

17th

Vegas lines

Vikings -5.5

Over/under 42.5

Bears o/u 19

Vikings o/u 24.5

These teams played a little more than a month ago, with the Vikings pulling a come-from-behind win out of nowhere thanks, in part, to the one play Charles Johnson has made all season. Expect Minnesota’s heroics to come from more conventional sources this week. In other words, Adrian Peterson, as usual, will carve up the Bears on Sunday.

Player who could surprise: Stefon Diggs

It has been a quiet six weeks for Diggs, who appeared to be in the midst of a rookie breakout when Minnesota visited Chicago the day after Halloween. That was the last time Diggs visited the end zone, catching six passes for 95 yards and a score in the Vikings’ 23-20 win. That was also the last time Diggs got double-digit targets in a game. Teddy Bridgewater, however, had one of his best games of the season last week, and finally took a few shots downfield to Diggs. He’s not going to go totally silent for nine straight weeks.

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Player who could disappoint: Matt Forte

With the Bears all but eliminated from playoff contention, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if they wanted to get more of a look at their future at running back. That, of course, is Jeremy Langford, who had 11 carries and seven targets last week. Forte, meanwhile, had 10 and two, respectively. Forte ran well on his 10 attempts, picking up 45 yards and a score, but he could cede even more touches to Langford this week.

Matchup to watch: Adrian Peterson vs. Bears run defense

Peterson trucked for 103 yards on 20 carries in the first meeting between these teams, but the Bears managed to keep him out of the end zone. Chances are they won’t be so lucky this week. The Bears are 32nd in rush defense DVOA and 24th in run defense by Pro Football Focus’ metrics. Peterson always seems to save his best for Minnesota’s NFC North foes. That’s great news for his fantasy owners this week.

Injury report

Alshon Jeffery (calf, illness): Questionable

Zach Miller (ribs): Questionable

Harrison Smith (knee): Out

Anthony Barr (groin): Out

Linval Joseph (foot): Questionable

Everson Griffen (shoulder): Questionable

Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Chiefs

10th

5th

29th

1st

Ravens

26th

4th

32nd

2nd

Vegas lines

Chiefs -7.5

Over/under 41.5

Chiefs o/u 25.5

Ravens o/u 17

Smart fantasy owners would be wise to heed the line on this game. The Chiefs are favored by 7.5 points, which definitely suggests that they’ll be nursing a lead in the second half. Keep in mind what that would mean for the run game on one side and the passing attack on the other.

Player who could surprise: Charcandrick West

West ran for 54 yards on 10 carries last week, looking like himself for the first time since suffering his hamstring injury. Now that he’s a full month removed from that injury, he should be at, or very close to, 100%. Meanwhile, Spencer Ware isn’t practicing this week because of a rib injury he suffered in the win over the Chargers last week. West will lead the team in carries on Sunday, and could very well get 20-plus touches in a game where the Chiefs are heavy favorites.

Player who could disappoint: Buck Allen

The expected game flow that could work for West would be terrible for Allen. He does have some protection against a bad script because he’s integral to the Ravens’ passing game, but carries remain his lifeblood. If the Chiefs get way out in front, Allen could be looking at his least active game since Justin Forsett’s season-ending arm injury.

Matchup to watch: Chiefs offensive line vs. Ravens run defense

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Pro Football Focus rates the Chiefs as the 10th-best run-blocking team, and the Ravens as fifth best in the league in run defense. Alex Smith has been playing some of the best football of his life, but the Chiefs are always going to be a run-heavy team, as they’ve proved in the wake of Jamaal Charles’ knee injury.

Injury report

Justin Houston (knee): Out

Spencer Ware (ribs): Questionable

Crockett Gillmore (back): Out

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Texans

18th

19th

10th

16th

Colts

28th

24th

30th

20th

Vegas lines

This game could very well decide who wins the AFC South and who spends the entire playoffs at home. Of course that’s the game where you’d hope to have a pair of backup quarterbacks under center. Are we sure we can’t give this spot to whoever finishes third between the Jets, Chiefs and Steelers?

Player who could surprise: T.J. Yates

Over the last two weeks, the Colts have surrendered 96 points in losses to the Steelers and Jaguars. Ben Roethlisberger and Blake Bortles combined for 614 yards and seven touchdowns in those games. Yates is not Roethlisberger or Bortles, but he can take advantage of this defense. The Colts have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in nine of their 13 games this year, and just breathed some life into Matt Ryan a few weeks ago. Yates is steady enough to burn this group.

Player who could disappoint: Frank Gore

With all the injuries at the running back position, it’s borderline remarkable that the 32-year-old Gore has played every game this season. Having said that, he has just 762 yards on 210 carries, which translates to 3.6 yards per carry, and five total touchdowns. The Texans, meanwhile, are seventh in run defense, according to Pro Football Focus.

Matchup to watch: DeAndre Hopkins vs. Vontae Davis

Hopkins had one of his best games the first time these teams met this season, catching 11 of 14 targets for 169 yards. Davis will be looking for some redemption, but Hopkins still has to be considered the favorite to win this battle.

Injury report

Brian Hoyer (concussion): Out

Andrew Luck (abdomen): Out

Matt Hasselbeck (back): Probable

Donte Moncrief (toe): Questionable

Greg Toler (knee): Questionable

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Falcons

5th

30th

2nd

26th

Jaguars

30th

18th

15th

29th

Vegas lines

Jaguars -3

Over/under 49

Falcons o/u 23

Jaguars o/u 26

The Falcons may have a better record, but the Jaguars have to feel better about their short- and long-term future. The over/under in this game is third highest on the board, trailing only Cardinals-Eagles and Lions-Saints. That’s good news for everyone involved.

Player who could surprise: Denard Robinson

Robinson got his first chance for significant playing time this season last week, and it turned out much the same as it did for him in 2014. In other words, he impressed, running for 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Remember, Robinson galvanized the Jacksonville run game last year after the Toby Gerhart experiment failed miserably. The Falcons have allowed the third-most points to running backs this season and rank 24th in rush defense DVOA. Robinson is an easy RB2.

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Player who could disappoint: Devonta Freeman

Everyone expects Matt Ryan to fall short, while Julio Jones has remained incredibly productive amidst the wreckage in Atlanta. Freeman isn’t the singular talent Jones is, though, and it has shown in the second half. Freeman hasn’t topped 100 yards on the ground since late October, and hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown since the middle of that month. If the offense struggles again, Freeman could leave his owners wanting more.

Matchup to watch: Allen Robinson vs. Desmond Trufant

This is another week filled with marquee receiver-corner matchups, with Robinson vs. Trufant just a step behind Beckham vs. Norman and Brown vs. Harris/Talib. The Jagaurs will undoubtedly move Robinson around, but these two should see plenty of each other on Sunday.

Injury report

T.J. Yeldon (knee): Doubtful

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Titans

29th

6th

24th

21st

Patriots

8th

11th

17th

5th

Vegas lines

Patriots -14

Over/under 46.5

Titans o/u 16

Patriots o/u 30.5

The Patriots broke the elusive 30-point expectation barrier this week, coming into this game with a team total of 30.5 points. The only real question is, in a game where the Patriots are expected to have a huge second-half lead, is there a running back who will carry the load with LeGarrette Blount on the shelf?

Player who could surprise: Brandon Bolden

James White figures to be New England’s primary pass-catching back, but we know the Patriots aren’t enamored of him as a runner. Bolden may not be the receiver White is, but he’s probably more skilled catching the ball than Blount, the man he replaces this week. If the Patriots are, indeed, nursing that big lead, Bolden could be the hammer in the second half. A 20-touch game isn’t out of the question.

Player who could disappoint: Danny Amendola

I like Amendola and would be starting him confidently anywhere I owned him. Having said that, he needs to get in on the fun immediately. If the Patriots go up, say, 21-0 by the middle of the second quarter, they could start to pack it in. Every so often, the Patriots give us one of these games where they win with one arm tied behind their back, if for no other reason than to stay healthy. They’ve done it for years under Belichick, especially at the end of the season. If that happens, Amendola could get squeezed.

Matchup to watch: Patriots offensive line vs. Titans front seven

The one potential monkey wrench for the Patriots is that the Titans’ front seven is actually rather good. According to Pro Football Focus, they rank eighth in run defense and 13th in pass rush, making them one of nine teams to be in the top 13 in both stats. New England’s line, which hasn’t exactly been a strength, will have its hands full.

Injury report

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Patriots QB Tom Brady (illness) questionable vs. Titans

Kendall Wright (ribs): Out

Julian Edelman (foot): Doubtful

Danny Amendola (knee): Probable

Tom Brady (illness): Questionable

Scott Chandler (knee): Questionable

Patrick Chung (foot): Questionable

Devin McCourty (ankle): Questionable

Carolina Panthers at New York Giants

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Panthers

3rd

7th

7th

15th

Giants

27th

25th

21st

30th

Vegas lines

Panthers -6

Over/under 48

Panthers o/u 27

Giants o/u 21

Way back in 1998, the 14-0 Broncos went into the Meadowlands and lost to the underachieving Giants. Could history repeat itself on Sunday? The Panthers will be without Jonathan Stewart (foot) and the Giants are desperate for a win to stay atop the logjam in the NFC East. Cam Newton, however, presents this defense with a nightmare matchup.

Player who could surprise: Fozzy Whitaker

At this point, we’re all guessing at who will lead the Panthers backfield in carries. Whitaker, Mike Tolbert and Cameron Artis-Payne will all be involved, and any, realistically, is liable to end up getting a plurality of the touches. Whitaker looks the most likely, however, and if this game follows the script suggested by the line and over/under, he could be set up for his best game in the NFL.

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Player who could disappoint: Ted Ginn

Ginn has four touchdowns in the last two weeks, and five over the last four, but he’s getting it done in unconventional fashion. Ginn makes big plays down the field, but he went five straight games without scoring a touchdown, and has just one 100-yard game this season. Owners are expecting a lot, given that he’s the team’s No. 1 receiver and has a great matchup, but he’s nowhere near being a bankable player. I wouldn’t think of him as more than a low-end WR3.

Matchup to watch: Odell Beckham vs. Josh Norman

The league’s most electric, highlight-friendly receiver against its best cornerback. You do not want to miss one second of these two going at it.

Injury report

Jonathan Stewart (foot): Out

Greg Olsen (knee): Probable

Dwayne Harris (shoulder): Questionable

Buffalo Bills at Washington Redskins

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Bills

16th

21st

19th

11th

Redskins

17th

16th

25th

7th

Vegas lines

Bills -1

Over/under 44

Bills o/u 22.5

Redskins o/u 21.5

Few people would dispute the assertion that the Bills are the better team in a neutral setting, but it’s not as though they’re a juggernaut, and Washington is 6-1 at home this season. It’s a bit surprising to see the Bills as one-point favorites, even though they might have cruised to a division title of they could trade divisions with Washington.

Player who could surprise: Tyrod Taylor

Most would agree that Taylor is a QB1 this week, so he’s expected to have a strong game. I believe he has top-five upside against a defense that ranks 22nd in pass DVOA. Taylor has one of the highest floors at the position because of his rushing production, and he’s on a three-game hot streak during which he has averaged 25.47 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Not coincidentally, Sammy Watkins is on his best three-game run of the season.

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Player who could disappoint: DeSean Jackson

Jackson is expected to play despite suffering a knee injury in the win over the Bears last week. A speed player like Jackson is really at a disadvantage if he’s playing at anything less than 100%, and that seems like a guarantee this week. It won’t help that he’ll likely draw Ronald Darby, who appears headed to a Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Matchup to watch: Jackson vs. Darby

We just referenced it above, but it’s clearly the best matchup in this game. Darby ranks fourth among all corners in coverage this season, behind only Josh Norman, Chris Harris and Tyrann Mathieu. He’s going to make Jackson’s life very tough on Sunday.

Injury report

Charles Clay (back): Out

Karlos Williams (shoulder): Questionable

Mario Williams (illness): Questionable

DeSean Jackson (knee): Probable

Chris Thompson (shoulder): Questionable

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Packers

11th

13th

8th

23rd

Raiders

22nd

15th

13th

31st

Vegas lines

Packers -3.5

Over/under 47.5

Packers o/u 25

Raiders o/u 22

The Packers are laying 3.5 points in this game, but it’s not the walkover that might have been expected at the beginning of the year. In fact, you could argue that it’s Oakland, and not Green Bay, that will have the superior passing offense on the field. That doesn’t happen all that often for Aaron Rodgers.

Player who could surprise: Eddie Lacy

Do you believe in Lacy? Are you willing to roll the dice? Guess what? It isn’t really a roll of the dice. Lacy has 100-plus yards in three of his last four games, and is back in the coaching staff’s good graces after his in-game benching against the Lions two weeks ago. Again, Green Bay is much more effective all around this season when the run game controls the action. Even though James Starks will have a role, Lacy will be the workhorse.

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Player who could disappoint: Richard Rodgers

Rodgers has entered the fantasy discussion by virtue of being the first semi-reliable pass catcher at tight end the Packers have had since JerMichael Finley’s early days, but you probably think he’s having a better season than he is. Take away that fluky Hail Mary, and Rodgers is averaging just 5.7 points per game. The Raiders have also cleaned up the issues they had with tight ends that plagued them early in the year. Rodgers is no more than mid-tier TE2.

Matchup to watch: Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree vs. Packers secondary

The Packers rarely go man in the secondary, so it will be up to Cooper and Crabtree to find the soft places in the zone to make plays down the field. As up and down as Cooper’s rookie season has been, this seems to be a matchup that suits his talents.

Injury report

Sam Shields (concussion): Out

Davante Adams (foot): Questionable

Amari Cooper (foot): Probable

Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Browns

24th

26th

26th

18th

Seahawks

2nd

1st

3rd

24th

Vegas lines

Seahawks -14.5

Over/under 43

Browns o/u 14

Seahawks o/u 29

The Seahawks have the second-highest team total this week, trailing only the Patriots. That’ll happen when you’re one of the hottest teams in the league and welcoming the Browns to your home stadium. This one could get ugly very early, which might not be great news for fantasy purposes, especially since we’re not sure who will run the ball for Seattle.

Player who could surprise: Tyler Lockett

Everyone is heaping attention on Doug Baldwin, with good reason, but that has served to keep Lockett under wraps. The rookie out of Kansas State has 20 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns over the last four weeks, good for an average of 13 points per game. Baldwin is Russell Wilson’s favored option, but Lockett isn’t too far behind. He may be the better daily play, as well, given the difference in price and expected ownership rate.

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Player who could disappoint: Doug Baldwin

It’s hard for a receiver to score eight touchdowns in three games. How hard? Randy Moss never did it, and he had a 23-touchdown season in his career. Terrell Owens never did it. All Cris Carter did was score touchdowns, and he never did it, either. Jerry Rice did it twice, but he’s the best to ever play the position. The last player to achieve the feat was Drew Bennett in 2004, and he put up a goose egg in game four. You’re starting Baldwin without question this week, but the party has to end eventually.

Matchup to watch: Gary Barnidge vs. Seahawks linebackers and safeties

The Seahawks have been soft on their seam coverage this year, getting burned by strong pass-catching tight ends all season. Cleveland doesn’t have much hope to pull off the upset, but any realistic scenario in which they do so includes a huge game out of Barndige.

Injury report

Travis Coons (groin): Questionable

Marshawn Lynch (abdomen): Out

Kam Chancellor (pelvis): Questionable

Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Broncos

1st

14th

1st

22nd

Steelers

23rd

3rd

27th

27th

Vegas lines

Steelers -6.5

Over/under 45

Broncos o/u 19.5

Steelers o/u 26

While I love the Steelers in this game and think you’re a fool if you consider benching their regulars, I was still surprised to see them favored by 6.5 points. That, as well as their team total of 26, should tell you exactly what to expect from them. Even with the toughest matchup in the league, this could very well be the best offense in football.

Player who could surprise: Ben Roethlisberger

From the questions I’m receiving this week, it seems that somehow people would be surprised if Roethlisberger is able to best the mighty Broncos defense. The Steelers have arguably the best offense in the league for a reason, and it’s not because they beat up on the doormats. They do that, to be sure, but they also show up against all comers. Do not bench Roethlisberger this week, unless you’re interested in making your semifinal matchup harder than it should be.

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Player who could disappoint: Emmanuel Sanders

In three-plus games with Osweiler under center (Sanders missed one of the quarterback’s starts because of injury), Sanders has one with 100-plus yards, and three with fewer than 20. Outside of that 100-yard effort against the Patriots, Sanders has a total of five catches for 36 yards with Osweiler at the helm. Denver’s path to winning on Sunday is paved with defense and the running game, with one or two big pass plays mixed in for effect. That’s not the sort of game where Sanders thrives.

Matchup to watch: Antonio Brown vs. Chris Harris

Most weeks, this would be the best matchup available. Most seasons, in fact, this would be the very best receiver-corner matchup. Odell Beckham and Josh Norman earn that distinction in Week 15 specifically and 2015 generally, but this is a nice consolation.

Injury report

C.J. Anderson (ankle): Questionable

Evan Mathis (ankle): Questionable

DeAngelo Williams (illness): Probable

Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Dolphins

25th

29th

28th

14th

Chargers

13th

28th

6th

25th

Vegas lines

Chargers -2

Over/under 46

Dolphins o/u 21.5

Chargers o/u 23.5

Here’s yet another example of a pair of teams going nowhere that could nevertheless give us a very entertaining fantasy game. Neither of these teams is all that interested in playing defense. If the Dolphins actually use Lamar Miller properly, and Antonio Gates gets 10-plus targets as expected, we could see some meaningful fantasy fireworks in San Diego.

Player who could surprise: Melvin Gordon

Indeed, Gordon doing anything at this stage of the season would be a shock. If you have the stomach to get him in your lineups this week, he may finally pay off. The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most points to running backs this season. The last last four starting running backs to face them—a list that includes Darren McFadden, Chris Ivory, Buck Allen and Rashad Jennings—averaged 16.08 points in standard-scoring leagues. Gordon is still getting just shy of 20 touches per game, even though the results haven’t been pretty. The stars may just yet be aligned for the rookie.

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Player who could disappoint: Philip Rivers

There’s no doubt this is a great matchup for any quarterback, and Rivers certainly has QB1 upside this week. Having said that, he has been, to put it bluntly, terrible since losing Keenan Allen. Outside of a four-touchdown game against the Jaguars woeful passing defense, he has one score against three picks and 6.97 yards per attempt since Allen’s season-ending injury. He’s hard to trust, even while acknowledging this is a defense he’d normally pick apart with ease.

Matchup to watch: Chargers offensive line vs. Dolphins pass rush

Even without Cameron Wake, the Dolphins have maintained the league’s most efficient pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus. The Chargers, meanwhile, rate dead last in pass blocking. That’s yet another reason why Rivers might let down his owners in the semifinals.

Injury report

Jarvis Landry (knee): Probable

Rishard Matthews (ribs): Questionable

Steve Johnson (groin): Doubtful

Ladarius Green (ankle): Questionable

Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Bengals

4th

10th

12th

10th

49ers

15th

32nd

18th

9th

Vegas lines

Bengals -5

Over/under 40.5

Bengals o/u 23

49ers o/u 18

No Andy Dalton might not be a problem for the Bengals this week. They head to San Francisco to take on an overmatched 49ers team that is still five-point underdogs despite being at home and facing a backup quarterback.

Player who could surprise: Jeremy Hill

A.J. McCarron is probably the perfect quarterback for Hill owners. He’s good enough to keep the Bengals offense humming, but bad enough to force the team to lean on the run game a bit more than it did with Dalton healthy. The 49ers have allowed the most points to running backs this season, and just got torn apart by Isaiah Crowell a week ago. Hill should have one of his best games of the season on Sunday.

Player who could disappoint: A.J. Green

I hate to say this about one of my favorite players to watch, but this sets up as a game in which Green may not give his owners the WR1 week they’re expecting. McCarron hit Green on a 66-yard touchdown last week, but there’s no question that his stock takes a hit without Dalton under center. This also smacks of a game the Bengals can win without their best. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them coast to a 20-3 victory, or something along those lines. That’s typically not the best game for your top receiver.

Matchup to watch: Bengals offensive line vs. 49ers pass rush

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​McCarron is going to have enough to worry about making his first career start. The last thing he needs is for his line to fall apart in front of him. Luckily, Cincinnati has been one of the best pass-blocking teams all year, while the 49ers rank 28th in pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus.

Injury report

Andy Dalton (thumb): Out

Tyler Eifert (concussion): Out

Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

vs. TE

Cardinals

9th

9th

9th

13th

Eagles

31st

20th

31st

4th

Vegas lines

Cardinals -4

Over/under 50.5

Cardinals o/u 27.5

Eagles o/u 23.5

More than one or two fantasy semifinal matchups are going to come down to the prime time games. The two highest game totals can be found on Sunday and Monday night, starting with the Cardinals and Eagles. I do worry about this one getting out of hand, with the Cardinals so clearly superior to their hosts.

Player who could surprise: Ryan Mathews

This player has to be on the Philadelphia side. Carson Palmer is an MVP candidate. He typically carries two of his receivers to at least WR2 production, and Michael Floyd and John Brown have been outplaying Larry Fitzgerald of late. David Johnson has put together a couple big games as the starter. No one on Arizona is surprising us. That leaves the Eagles, and Mathews is the best candidate. He returned from a concussion last week, and while the results weren’t great, the fact that he got 13 carries was certainly encouraging. He probably has the best combination in the backfield of talent and Chip Kelly’s trust. That’s prime currency in Philadelphia and could lead him to an RB2 performance on Sunday night.

Player who could disappoint: Larry Fitzgerald

At least two of Arizona’s receivers will finish this week inside the top 24 at the position. That’s simply par for the course for this offense. Unfortunately, one is typically on the outside looking in at that group, and Fitzgerald has been the odd man out more often than not in the second half. We probably shouldn’t be all that surprised that a 32-year-old at a demanding position is slowing down a bit as the season progresses. All Arizona receivers are worth starting confidently, but I have the most faith in Michael Floyd, with Fitzgerald and John Brown neck and neck.

Matchup to watch: Cardinals receivers vs. Eagles secondary

The Cardinals are capable of throwing more looks at opposing secondaries, thanks to the overall skill sets and varied talents of Fitzgerald, Floyd and Brown. As ugly as Philadelphia’s numbers against the pass have been recently, they remain darlings of the advanced stats set. They’re 11th in pass defense DVOA and Pro Football Focus’ pass coverage ratings. This should be a better battle than most expect.

Injury report

Andre Ellington (toe): Questionable

Patrick Peterson (ankle): Questionable

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints

 

vs. QB

vs. RB

vs. WR

Vs. TE

Lions

20th

22nd

14th

28th

Saints

32nd

31st

22nd

32nd

Vegas lines

Saints -3

Over/under 51

Lions o/u 24

Saints o/u 27

A bit earlier, when previewing Dolphins-Chargers, we talked about games that have no real-life meaning, but remain wildly intriguing for fantasy purposes. This is exhibit A. These teams have nine combined wins, zero combined playoff hope, and little interest in playing defense. We’re ready for some football.

Player who could surprise: Theo Riddick

The Saints have allowed an opposing running back to either rack up 60 receiving yards or score through the air in seven of their 13 games. They’ve surrendered the most receiving yards and touchdowns to running backs this season. Riddick, meanwhile, is first among backs in receptions (67), second in yards (578) and tied for second in touchdowns (three). It’s Riddick’s strength against one of the Saints’ many weaknesses. Advantage, by far, Riddick.

Player who could disappoint: Tim Hightower

The fantasy community is all in on Hightower after he surged back into relevance last week, running for 85 yards and a touchdown in the Saints’ win over the Buccaneers. Of course, it took him 28 carries to get there. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. It signals that he’s clearly the lead back in New Orleans. On the other, it’s a very bad thing. The only reason he got that many carries was because the Saints had a favorable running game script, getting out to an early lead. If that’s not the case this week, and if he is as inefficient with his carries, he could sputter to a terrible night.

Matchup to watch: Calvin Johnson vs. Delvin Breaux

This is definitely on the undercard with all the great receiver-corner matchups this week, but Johnson-Breaux is a great dessert after spending Sunday gorging on the likes of Beckham-Norman and Brown-Harris.

Injury report

The official injury report for Monday Night Football isn’t available until Sunday, but there aren’t expected to be any fantasy-relevant injuries here. Calvin Johnson (ankle) and Eric Ebron (illness) both practiced in limited fashion on Friday and should be available for their fantasy owners this week.

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