Fantasy football Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: How to set your lineups for NFL's Week 15

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Fantasy Football: Players to embrace and avoid for Week 15
2:38 | Fantasy
Fantasy Football: Players to embrace and avoid for Week 15
Thursday December 15th, 2016

We think of traditional fantasy football in terms of a full season—Week 1 through Week 17. But season-long owners could benefit from more of the DFS mentality. Season-long fantasy football may encapsulate September through December, but it’s really a collection of weekly games, wrapped up into one, neat package. A player may be great on the whole, but all it takes is one bad week in the playoffs for your superstar to help sink your season.

Therein lies the issue staring Ben Roethlisberger owners in the face this week.

By now, even an analytical Luddite knows that Roethlisberger is a different quarterback when he plays away from Heinz Field. Roethlisberger has played five games at home and seven games on the road this season. In those five home games, he has completed 70.5% of his passes for 1,636 yards, 8.48 yards per attempt, 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. Roethlisberger is averaging 26.37 standard-league points per game at home, and has scored at least 18.56 points in all of those games.

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The tune is very different in those seven road games. While he hasn’t been a complete mess in every road game, Roethlisberger’s numbers in any city other than Pittsburgh are a far cry from what he does in the Steel City. He has completed 59.5% of his passes for 1,618 yards (fewer yards than at home despite two more games on the road), 6.55 YPA, and eight touchdowns against eight interceptions. Even with the help of his lone rushing score of the season, Roethlisberger is averaging 15.18 points per game on the road. Comparing him with other quarterbacks, when he’s at home he scores like Aaron Rodgers at his best. When he’s on the road, he resembles the fantasy output of an average day for Broncos QB Trevor Siemian. Washington Roebling might not be able to build a bridge that spans a gulf that wide.

Roethlisberger’s owners’ angst is perfectly understandable with the Steelers visiting the Bengals on Sunday. They may not be in this position without what he did in the regular season, but his struggles on the road could dash their dreams two wins shy of a fantasy championship. Despite the ugliness of the above paragraph, I’m here to sound a note of caution. Unless you somehow own Roethisberger and Rodgers, or Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, or Roethlisberger and Kirk Cousins, you’ll want to trust the Steelers signal caller this week.

Let’s start with something referenced a little earlier. Roethlisberger hasn’t been a complete disaster in every road game this season. In Week 1 at Washington, he threw for 300 yards, 8.11 YPA and three touchdowns against one pick. On Thanksgiving night in Indianapolis, he totaled 221 yards, 11.05 YPA and three scores, and likely would have gone for more had the Colts kept the game close.

The obvious counter to that is that one game was played in warm weather, and the other was indoors. The high temperature forecast for Cincinnati this Sunday is 25 degrees. Roethlisberger’s home/road splits stretch back before this season, but he has had success in cold weather road games in recent years. Last January in Cleveland, he threw for 349 yards, 9.69 YPA, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Two years ago in Cincinnati, he racked up 350 yards, 8.97 YPA and three touchdowns on Dec. 7.

Most importantly, though, is that Roethlisberger’s road woes aren’t bad enough to force you to go to the stream this week. Do you really want to play Alex Smith over Roethlisberger because Smith has a better setup on paper? Are you really going to trust Colin Kaepernick rather than Roethlisberger, thanks to Kaepernick’s matchup with the Falcons? More often than not, those are the decisions that cost fantasy owners a championship. Stick with Roethlisberger. He will not let you down.

Quarterbacks

Start

Marcus Mariota (at Kansas City)

Mariota is set for a bounceback game after struggling with the Broncos elite secondary last week. As good as the Chiefs are, this isn’t like the previous Kansas City defenses that fantasy owners needed to fear. Mariota’s dud against the Broncos was his first bad fantasy performance since Week 4 against the Texans. He has been incredibly consistent, throwing for multiple touchdowns in every game between his two bad contests with Houston and Denver. Fire him up with confidence this week.

Jameis Winston (at Dallas)

Winston, too, is on track for a rebound with the Buccaneers visiting the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. It’s a huge game for Tampa Bay, with the likelihood that NFC teams will need 10 wins to make the playoffs. The Cowboys ability to take the air out of the ball is a concern, but the defense isn’t close to a shutdown unit in terms of fantasy production for quarterbacks. The Buccaneers are in this spot because they are a meritorious playoff contender. I trust Winston’s ability to put up a QB1 day in what should be a great game.

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Tyrod Taylor (vs. Cleveland)

Even in a great matchup, Taylor isn’t a quarterback with a huge ceiling. What we love about him, though, is that he has a high floor, and a defense like Cleveland’s is not equipped to keep him from reaching that floor. At the very least, Taylor should reach his average of 17.4 points per game. With Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods healthy, and the Browns one of the worst rushing defenses in the league, there’s a great chance that Taylor sails past that average.

**Superflex Special**

Alex Smith (vs. Tennessee)

Over the last eight weeks, the worst a quarterback has finished against the Titans is QB13. In that span, we’ve seen Cody Kessler, Blake Bortles, Matt Barkley and Trevor Siemian all score at least 20.7 points against the Titans. We know Smith isn’t a special talent, but he’s perfectly capable of adding his name to that list. He’s an easy play in all superflex and two-QB formats.

Sit

Andrew Luck (at Minnesota)

I have Luck ranked as my No. 13 quarterback this week. I’d play him over everyone else listed in this section, as well as Dak Prescott, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. Still, there’s a very real chance he falls well short of his season average in Minnesota. The Vikings have made a playoff contender out of shutting down the pass this season, and the Colts offense has operated in fits and starts all year. If I have another palatable option, I’m taking it.

Matthew Stafford (at New York Giants)

Stafford is not going to be able to dink and dunk his way to a meaningful fantasy game against the Giants. He’s going to have to hit some big plays down the field, and the Detroit offense, effective as it has been for most of the season, isn’t equipped to make those plays against a defense as good as New York’s. What’s more, the over/under is a meager 41 points, three points lower than where it opened. The sharps are expecting a low-scoring game between the Lions and Giants. This should be a pretty simple benching for all Stafford owners. The floor is very low, and the possibility he hits his ceiling is incredibly slim.

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Carson Palmer (vs. New Orleans)

The great matchup with the Saints could be bringing a lot of fantasy owners back into the Palmer fold. Unfortunately, once you lose it in the NFL, it’s gone. Palmer has had one strong fantasy game over the second half of the season, two weeks ago against Washington. He threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in that game, but got just 6.52 YPA. That’s the predictive number, and it is not encouraging. For the season, Palmer is at 6.85 YPA. At this point, he’s no more than a mid-tier QB2, regardless of matchup.

Running Backs

Start

Ryan Mathews (at Baltimore)

The Philadelphia backfield has been impossible to figure out all season, which has often led to the Eagles back du jour to end up in the sit section of this column. With Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles out, however, the work of figuring out who might lead the Eagles in touches has been done for us. It’s a tough matchup for Mathews, but with all the work funneling his way, he should still factor into the flex mix this week.

Tevin Coleman (vs. San Francisco)

You always want your running backs active against the 49ers, even if they’re nominal backups with sizable roles like Coleman. In five games this season, the 49ers have allowed two top-24 backs. They have allowed at least one back to score 20 or more standard-league points in eight games. There is no question that both Devonta Freeman and Coleman will feast on this defense.

Kenneth Dixon (vs. Philadelphia)

The Dixon roller coast continued apace last week, with the rookie back on the upswing. Dixon ran for 39 yards on 11 carries and caught eight passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. His rushing numbers don’t jump off the page, but anyone who watched the Ravens loss to the Patriots saw an electric running back with breakaway ability. He was back on the good side of the snap count, playing 42 snaps to Terrance West’s 14. Game script unquestionably played a role with the Patriots getting out to a big lead early, but the Ravens and Eagles are two of 13 teams with a pass rate of at least 60%. This game has sneaky high-scoring potential.

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Frank Gore (at Minnesota)

My fellow rankers at FantasyPros are down on Gore, likely because of the matchup with the Vikings. Yes, there’s reason to be concerned about Gore’s range of outcomes this week, but the bottom line is that he handles nearly every touch coming out of the Indianapolis backfield. He’s averaging 18.4 touches per game this season, and the Colts only go away from the run entirely when they’re being blown out. The Vikings don’t have an offense capable of running away and hiding in this game.

Sit

Dwayne Washington (at New York Giants)

Theo Riddick is expected to miss another week because of his wrist injury, and Zach Zenner is questionable, after being limited in practice all week. Washington should handle a heavy workload on Sunday, and that’s making him a popular player in a lot of fantasy circles. While that’s perfectly understandable, remember that we’re still talking about a rookie who has 212 yards on 69 carries. This game could get away from the Lions, too, with the Giants playing some of their best football of the season, especially defensively. In short, anyone on the Lions offense is a bad bet for fantasy purposes this week.

Jerick McKinnon (vs. Indianapolis)

McKinnon got his heaviest workload last week in two months, handing 14 carries and six receptions. All he had to show for those 20 touches was 69 yards from scrimmage. McKinnon is capable of popping the big play every now and again, and the Colts are a friendly run defense, but you’re betting on little more than blind hope by starting McKinnon. You’re in the semifinals. You should be able to do better than that.

Terrance West (vs. Philadelphia)

As Kenneth Dixon goes up, West comes down. As West goes up, Dixon comes down. It really is as simple as that. The fact that the Ravens and Eagles are two of the pass-happiest teams in the league suggests this will be a Dixon game. When watching the Baltimore offense, it’s easy to come away with the impression that it’s more dangerous with Dixon on the field. This is an absolute must-win for the Ravens, and you can bet the urgency will be reflected in a high snap rate for Dixon.

T.J. Yeldon (at Houston)

Yeldon has had a couple of games with the backfield all too himself, but it really hasn’t mattered. Two weeks ago, he totaled 82 yards from scrimmage, and last week he racked up 90 yards. While the yardage totals are decent, they don’t mean much without a trip to the end zone, and the Jacksonville offense is desperate for the natural reset button of the offseason. The Texans have been hot on defense of late, holding Latavius Murray, Melvin Gordon and Frank Gore to 3.69 yards per carry.

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Wide Receivers

Start

Taylor Gabriel (vs. San Francisco)

With Julio Jones out again because of turf toe, Gabriel is an easy WR2. In six games since earning a larger role in the Atlanta offense, he has 21 catches for 397 yards, 51 rushing yards, and six total touchdowns. That comes out to 12.62 standard-league points per game. The Falcons have an implied team total 31.5 points, making them a team in which you want to invest this week. With Jones out, chances are Gabriel, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will hog a lot, if not all, of the touchdown spotlight.

DeSean Jackson (vs. Carolina)

Jackson has scored a touchdown in three of his last four games, totaling 12 catches for 330 yards in that span. For other players, three touchdowns on so few catches would be alarming, but Jackson has literally made a living out of being a lethal downfield threat. With Kirk Cousins primed for another big game against the Panthers on Sunday, Jackson should thrive alongside him.

Rishard Matthews (at Kansas City)

Matthews should bounce right back with Marcus Mariota in a much softer matchup with the Chiefs on Sunday. The one issue for Matthews could be Marcus Peters. He runs a majority of his routes on the same side of the field where Peters plays, but that’s not enough to back off Matthews in most formats. Before his predictable no-show against the Broncos, he had scored at least 12 standard-league points in four straight games.

Dontrelle Inman (vs. Oakland)

I wrote glowingly of Inman earlier this week in my Week 15 notes column. Inman has turned himself into an easy top-30 receiver. He has scored in three straight games and regularly gets looks down the field from Philip Rivers. He plays nearly every snap for the Chargers, and with an offense like San Diego’s, being on the field is half the battle. With Melvin Gordon likely out this week, don’t be surprised when the Chargers lean more heavily on the pass.

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Steve Smith (vs. Philadelphia)

Consider this an endorsement for both Smith and Mike Wallace. The Eagles have allowed the fifth-most points to receivers this year, with at least one receiver getting into double digits against them in nine straight games. Those receivers have averaged 15.1 standard-league points per game, and three of them have had teammates who also topped 10 points. Baltimore leads the league in pass rate, throwing the ball on 65% of their snaps. If you own Smith or Wallace, they should start for you on Sunday.

Sit

Ty Montgomery (at Chicago)

Montgomery is now officially more running back than receiver, but that might not be a great thing for fantasy purposes. Even as the nominal starting running back for the Packers a week ago he got just nine carries, totaling 41 yards and a touchdown. He still made an impact as a receiver, catching three of four targets for 45 yards, but he’s now relegated to screen work that require a lot of moving parts fitting into place to result in a big play. Even though he’s getting more work out of the backfield, the Packers aren’t likely to give him 15 or more carries. In fact, last week’s nine-carry, four-target usage looks like a ceiling. Montgomery can make that work, as he did last week, but it’s not a winning bet.

Brandon Marshall (vs. Miami)

Like Dontrelle Inman, Marshall was the focus of one section of my Week 15 notes column. Unlike Inman, Marshall’s was negative. Given the structural deficiencies of the Jets offense, Marshall cannot be trusted against the Dolphins on Saturday. He hasn’t topped 80 yards for eight straight games, and has scored just one touchdown in that timeframe. The Jets may be getting a look at Bryce Petty for next year, but, in actuality, they’re also just playing out the string. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are fighting for their playoff lives. Even with Matt Moore under center for the Dolphins, this one could get ugly for the Jets.

Kelvin Benjamin (at Washington)

If Kelvin Benjamin’s name were J.J. Nelson or Tavon Austin or Ted Ginn, he would’ve been roundly dropped by now. You know what’s funny, though? Starting with Week 3, all of those receivers have scored more standard-league fantasy points than Benjamin. Over his last 11 games, he has 38 catches for 566 yards and two touchdowns, which comes out to 6.24 points per game. Players are who they are at this point of the season, and Benjamin is a WR5.

Jordan Matthews (at Baltimore)

Matthews is getting plenty of opportunities, racking up 58 targets over his last six games, including five with at least 10 targets. The problem is he isn’t turning that into meaningful fantasy production. He has 411 yards and one touchdown in that span, with a single-game high of 88 yards. That he should get plenty of looks from Carson Wentz still makes him relevant and potentially worthy of WR3 status, depending on your roster, but it’s hard to have confidence in him after so little production with so many chances for the better part of two months.

Tight Ends

Start

Martellus Bennett (at Denver)

Bennett caught all four of his targets for 70 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots 30-23 win over the Ravens on Sunday. Outside of Julian Edelman, it’s hard to know exactly who will play a big role in the Patriots passing game from week to week, but the mere fact that Bennett could be in the mix gives him a better shot than most of the tight ends in his range of ending up as a TE1. Even in a matchup with the Broncos, he’s worth starting for most of his owners.

Zach Ertz (at Baltimore)

If you’re considering benching Ertz because of a matchup with the Ravens, you need to find a new hobby. Since Week 9, only Travis Kelce and Jimmy Graham have scored more fantasy points from the tight end position than Ertz. He has been a reception monster in that time, catching 42 passes while racking up 414 yards. Even if you were cowed by the matchup, we just discussed what Bennett did to the Ravens last week. Ertz is an easy TE1 with top-three potential at the position.

Ladarius Green (at Cincinnati)

Green came up well shy of expectations last week, catching two passes for 25 yards. More importantly, except for owners who started him and lost narrowly last week, he got six targets despite playing just 28 snaps. Green has 26 targets on 97 snaps this year, a ridiculous usage rate of 26.8%. To put that in perspective, Mike Evans, who leads the NFL with 144 targets this year, has a target per snap rate of 18.3%. Green’s usage rate in Pittsburgh’s high-value offense keeps him comfortably on the right side of the start/sit border.

Sit

Eric Ebron (at New York Giants)

Ebron has been quiet the last three weeks, catching a total of eight passes for 70 yards. Like Fiedorowicz, he has been a touchdown-dependent player this season, though he has had three games with at least 70 receiving yards. Still, in a game where the entire Detroit offense enters with an elusive ceiling and a low floor, Ebron is not someone you want in your fantasy lineup.

Coby Fleener (at Arizona)

This one isn’t likely to be controversial, but if you’re picking around the fringes of the TE1 class, you could be considering rolling with Fleener this week, simply because of his presence in the Saints offense. He’s no more than the fourth option in the offense, and the Cardinals have been a nightmare matchup for tight ends all season, allowing the fewest points to the position.

Defenses to stream

Green Bay Packers (at Chicago)

I live in Chicago. The brutality of winter came early this year, with temperatures that would be harsh for February already hitting the city. The forecasted high for Sunday, when the Bears host the Packers, is -1 degree. Seriously. Even if that comes up, it’s going to be a single-digit temperature and the coldest in Soldier Field history. I do not like Matt Barkley’s chances to thrive in that environment.

New York Giants (vs. Detroit)

The three things I look for when streaming a defense are a strong pass rush, a home game, and a favorite. The Giants rank 12th in the league with 30 sacks this season. They are playing at home and are giving four points to the Lions. What’s more, the Lions have allowed 30 sacks this year, which is also the 12th most in the league, and the over/under is a trifling 41 points. All the elements are there for the Giants to put up a big defensive score this week.

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