By Eric Mack
December 15, 2012
If Robert Griffin sees the field for the Redskins, he's a must-start in fantasy.
Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports

It is Week 15 of the fantasy football season: You have to get this one right. There are no second chances now.

Unfortunately, for those Robert Griffin III owners, you're going to have to go at it with who's behind Door No. 2 at your quarterback position. The question is who can you turn to when your fantasy MVP is resting his sprained LCL?

BURKE: Week 15 actives/inactives

We answer that as thoroughly as possible and offer's Cheat Sheet, 10 weekly tips to help you win in the most crucial week of the fantasy season:

1. The emergency replacement for RG-MVP is ...

Robert Griffin III has been your fantasy revelation this season. Kirk Cousins will be starting in his place for Washington, but you cannot trust that rookie over the veterans out there in fantasy.

This is actually a blessing in disguise, assuredly. Relying on a scrambling, read-option quarterback with a bum knee was going to be tough and you would have had to start RGIII, if he was active for the Redskins.

Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton are the easy starts in all leagues. Josh Freeman, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck and Eli Manning are in that strong next tier.

But, it's unlikely your RGIII replacement is that elite and among the top 10 QBs to start this week. Here is how you should rank the next 10 options, which is most likely how you're going to stopgap the QB position this week: Colin Kaepernick, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Russell Wilson, Brandon Weeden and, finally, Cousins.

The latter three rookies are not ideal, but falling back on them still beats watching RGIII trying to play with that knee issue, only to leave in the first quarter with no fantasy points.

2. Richardson remains a must-start.

There have been some rumors this week the Browns are dissatisfied with their rookie running back Trent Richardson's performance this season, but fantasy owners shouldn't share that same dissatisfaction. In fact, talk that the Browns might actually start to limit Richardson's touches in favor of a backup like Montario Hardesty is likely news to his owners.

It is news you can lose.

Despite averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, easily the worst number among backs with more than 150 carries, Richardson (ribs/chest/finger, and not to mention an illness this week) remains a must-start fantasy RB. Only Arian Foster (16) and fellow rookie Doug Martin (11) have more combined touchdowns than Richardson (nine rushing, one receiving).

By the way, in the best rookie RB category, Martin clearly leads the pack but Richardson still leads his Week 15 opposition Alfred Morris in fantasy production because of the TDs. In yardage, Martin has 1,234 yards rushing and 378 yards receiving for 1,612 combined yards. Morris is second with 1,228 yards rushing, but he has just 42 yards receiving for 1,270 totals yards. Richardson will break 1,000 yards this season, too. He's currently at 869 yards rushing and 348 receiving for 1,217 combined.

How much of a must-start is Richardson this week, despite facing the seventh-best run defense in the NFL this week? This writer's most vociferous critic has a backfield of Martin, Richardson, Stevan Ridley (she's a Pats fan) and DeMarco Murray. It is the recommendation here that Richardson has to start over Ridley and Murray, two other top RB starts this week. Being wrong there would mean a very unhappy holidays.

Ride Richardson. His injuries and yards-per-carry haven't slowed him yet.

3. Banged-up WRs still worthy of a start.

Sure, there are a lot of receivers to pick through, particularly with the expected returns by Cecil Shorts (concussion) and Danny Amendola (foot), but the likes of Dez Bryant (broken finger), Roddy White (knee) and Hakeem Nicks (knee) remain receivers to stick with in crunch time.

They have been frustrating at times this season, but their teams are playing in pivotal games for their postseason positioning (if Dallas is even going to stay alive in the race). It is go time for these go-to receivers, even if they have elite counterparts (Miles Austin, Julio Jones and Victor Cruz) to take away the targets.

With the health question marks on Bryant, White and Nicks, it is possible they draw less defensive attention than they have all season. You should fully expect six catches for 60 yards and a TD from each of them. They are all top-25 options at their position, even at something significantly less than 100 percent.

4. Wilson owners should be doing backflips.

Many of you David Wilson owners, or just plain Virginia Tech fans, have waited a long time for that three-TD breakthrough that came last week against the Saints. Not only has Wilson proven to be a great fantasy sleeper, but he has become a must-start, too.

That's not just because of his ridiculous speed. Ahmad Bradshaw (knee) is out and the Giants aren't going to give Kregg Lumpkin or Ryan Torain real touches off the street.

Sure, you can use the excuse the Saints are just so bad against the run, ranking dead last in rush yards against and allowing the most points to RBs in fantasy all season. But Wilson is facing the second-worst team in the NFL in yards allowed per rushing attempt. The Falcons 4.9 yards per rush allowed is second only to the Saints.

Everything has come together perfectly and quickly for Wilson and his owners. Start him in all leagues.

5. Something that's less than obvious, though it should be:

Seven-year veteran Tony Scheffler is a fantasy starter this week.

Yes, a player owned in just three percent of leagues coming into the week and now owned in just eight percent of leagues is a starter in the most crucial week of the fantasy season.

See, Brandon Pettigrew (high-ankle sprain) won't play and Scheffler will benefit as the primary tight end target on a Lions team that has quietly produced the fifth-most points in fantasy at the TE position this season (96 catches for 997 yards and four TDs). The top four ahead of Detroit are pretty obvious, too: Patriots, 9-1,193-14 (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez); Houston Texans 107-1,169-12 (Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham); New Orleans Saints 72-772-10 (Jimmy Graham); and the Atlanta Falcons 86-862-7 (Tony Gonzalez).

Scheffler is available in just about every league at a position of general weakness in fantasy this season and has the potential to produce like an elite receiver above (6-60-1). If tight end was your team's lone hole coming into the playoffs, you have found your diamond in the rough.

6. Mathews finally a San Diego super Charger?

If you laughed at the thought Richardson might be limited in favor of Hardesty for his 3.5 yards per carry, you won't laugh at what Ryan Mathews has done with his 3.8 yards per carry average. He hasn't reached double figure fantasy points in but one game this season (against those awful Saints), hasn't hit 100 yards and has just one TD all season.

The bet here is Mathews is a smashing success against the Panthers run defense that is sixth-worst in fantasy against RBs this season and dead last in receptions (92) and yards (648) allowed to RBs. Mathews is going to be a statistical monster on the ground and in the short passing game, particularly since third-down back Ronnie Brown (hamstring) expected to be out.

Mathews is a must-start in PPR formats and likely a top-15 scorer at the position in standard leagues as well.

7. Continuing with the low YPC theme:

One of the NFL's most notorious plodding RBs, Michael Turner, is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and remains a must-start at the all-important RB position, too. Not only is Turner continuing to find the end zone on a regular basis -- each of the past four games and five of his past six -- the Giants are in the Saints and Falcons range of yards-per-attempt allowed (4.7).

The Falcons began the season promising to open up their offseason, but the bet here is they simplify it and run the ball right at the Giants to help close in on home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Jazquizz Rodgers hasn't taken enough touches out of Turner to sit the RB formerly known as "The Burner."

The Falcons have limited Turner's carries all season for games like this one. He has reached 20 carries just twice all season, but it will be time to see him surpass his season-high of 24 carries. Keep Turner active for this critical performance.

8. Other "probable" question marks at RB:

Here is how to approach the questions surrounding these other banged-up backs this week:

DeMarco Murray, Cowboys -- He has proven over his foot issues, scoring each of his past two weeks since his return. The Steelers are third-best versus RBs, but Murray remains a top-15 type back you keep active in crunch time, no matter the matchup. Dallas is going to ride him in this important game, especially near the goal line.

C.J. Spiller, Bills -- The Seahawks have an elite run defense, too, but the Bills are at home, playing without Fred Jackson (knee) and are decidedly a run-first team now. Also, the Bills said Tashard Choice is not an elite enough back to seriously consider sharing time with Spiller. Spiller is going to get 25-plus touches and double-digit fantasy points. Keep him active here.

Darren McFadden, Raiders -- He's a RB who has returned to health, so you probably should not be sold on him, even if the Chiefs look like a favorable opponent. McFadden had a scare with his high-ankle sprain in his return game and his history of woes make him a difficult player to trust for 15-plus touches. Start him for his potential, but you shouldn't feel good about having to do so, because he's the Murphys Law of fantasy RBs: What can go wrong, usually will.

Bilal Powell, Jets -- Reports surfaced this week that he has a fractured toe, which is a bummer with his emergence in the run-only Jets offense and the matchup Monday night with the Titans (fourth-worst in fantasy versus RBs). But Powell is going to play and he's going to be good for 60 yards and a TD. Shonn Greene should be, too. Get them both active as needed.

9. Other potential question marks at WRs:

Here is how to approach the questions surrounding these other marginal receivers this week:

Wes Welker, Patriots -- We received a lot of questions about sitting Welker amid his ankle issues and facing the No. 1 team in fantasy versus WRs. Remember, matchups break ties. They don't determine lineup decisions. Welker remains a must-start. Even the resurgent Brandon Lloyd is a viable option, despite the tough matchup.

Cecil Shorts, Jaguars -- His matchup isn't ideal, but his injury was precaution after a concussion and not related to his legs. He was hot before the injury and should be good for double-digit points as Chad Henne has something to prove at his former team. Shorts is a solid option in three-WR leagues.

Danny Amendola, Rams -- He is going to play and be the primary target against the Vikings. You only start him in deeper PPR formats, though. Amendola's return bumps Chris Givens and Brandon Gibson out of fantasy starting lineups, though.

10. Reviewing the most-added players:

Last week's most-added players list read like the most-disappointing Week 14 performances list. Let's see what this week's group looks like:

David Wilson, Giants -- Again, he's a burgeoning megastar with a favorable matchup and a huge opportunity.

Detriot Lions D/ST -- The Seahawks D/ST set records and carried fantasy teams against that awful QB play of the Cardinals. Even in Arizona, the Lions are a top five play at the position, a D/ST streamer's dream.

Montell Owens, Jaguars -- Yes, he is the feature back in a run-oriented offense, but that is a bad one and that Dolphins run defense is too tough to mess with.

Tony Scheffler, Lions -- Again, the stars aligned so this non-star can be the Lions second-best passing target next to Calvin Johnson this week. Start him.

Dennis Pitta, Ravens -- Not only was he revived a week ago, but the Broncos are quietly the third-most forgiving team in fantasy versus TEs.

Good luck in your fantasy playoffs, folks, and hopefully we will see you again in the championship hunt next week.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)