Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Cutler replaces McCown; Browns backs blooming

Saturday December 14th, 2013

Jay Cutler's return to action for the Bears will be eased by the talented offensive weapons around him.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Reggie Bush threw his owners into a frenzy last week when he aggravated his calf injury in practice. Chances are many of them did not survive their first-round playoff matchups because of the last-minute change in his playing status. If you were one of the lucky ones, however, he's ready to make up for it this week.

Despite a tough matchup with the Ravens on Monday, Bush should be in your lineup in Week 15. While Baltimore's season-long numbers against the run are among the best in the league, the defense has faltered in recent weeks. In their last four games, they've allowed double-digit fantasy points to Matt Forte, Le'Veon Bell and Toby Gerhart. Bush may cede more touches than usual to Joique Bell, but he's no worse than a high-end RB2 this week.

We'll be updating the Cheat Sheet all Sunday morning with important news as it breaks, and Alex Miglio and Eric Edholm are holding a fantasy chat over at The MMQB from 10:30 to 12:30.

10:40 a.m. update -- It appears Adrian Peterson owners won't have to wait for the last minute to learn about his stats. Reports are coming from the Vikings that both he and Toby Gerhart will not play today. It that is the case, Matt Asiata will get the first start of his career. Even though we can likely pencil him in for the majority of the touches, he's no better than a deep RB3 option. You should only look to him if you're in a bind. Also, ESPN's Adam Schecter is reporting that Cecil Shorts will likely miss today's game as well. It's unfortunate for his owners, as the Bills present a great matchup. With Shorts sitting, Ace Sanders could be a sneaky play against a Buffalo defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to receivers.

11:05 a.m. update -- We're seeing a lot of questions on Andre Brown and Chris Ogbonnaya today. While I wouldn't totally let the matchup with Seattle sway me from playing Brown, it is a red flag. The Seahawks have allowed just four rushing touchdowns and four 100-yard games this year. There's also a significant chance the Giants fall behind and have to eschew the run to try to chase points. He's outside my top 20 at the position.

As for Ogbonnaya, the best thing he has going for him is the defense on the other side of the field. The Bears have allowed 14 opposing backs to score double-digit fantasy points this season. Seven of those guys have put up at least 20 points. Despite his pedestrian numbers this season, he is a strong flex play this week.

11:20 a.m. update -- The Miami backfield has been a headache for fantasy owners all year, so why should it be any different in Week 15? It appears Lamar Miller will play despite suffering a concussion last week, splitting carries as usual with Daniel Thomas. The matchup with the Patriots is one you want to take advantage of, but it's hard to see either of these guys getting more than 15 touches. I'm calling both high-end RB3s this week, and wouldn't be surprised to see the more productive one put up top 20 numbers.

11:40 a.m. update -- It's no surprise, but Maurice Jones-Drew is officially inactive because of his hamstring injury. Jordan Todman probably isn't going to win your game for you this week, but he still looks like an RB2. Sometimes you just have to trust the volume.

12:15 p.m. update -- I'm starting both Andre Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall anywhere I own either of them. The Titans allow 4.1 yards per carry and have surrendered 18 rushing touchdowns, the second-highest total in the league. Meanwhile, quarterbacks have put up just seven yards per attempt against them. Alterraun Verner is questionable but expected to play, meaning the Verner-Jason McCourty corner duo, one of the league's best, will be out there making life hard on Carson Palmer and the passing game. I think the Cardinals will end up putting more of an emphasis than usual on the run game.

Jay Cutler returns, sending unlikely hero Josh McCown back to the sidelines

There was never really a question that the Bears would start Jay Cutler over Josh McCown once he was healthy enough to play. Marc Trestman said all along that Cutler would be reinserted in the lineup once he got over his ankle injury, and McCown himself said the all good-teammate things during his improbable run of top-tier play. Still, McCown played so well that you couldn't fault Trestman if he encouraged Cutler to take the recovery slowly and not rush back.

In seven games this year, two of which were not starts, McCown has completed two-thirds of his passes for 1,809 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. He has scored the 10th-most fantasy points per game among quarterbacks, ahead of Russell Wilson, Nick Foles and Tony Romo. Cutler, on the other hand, ranks 22nd, behind guys like Sam Bradford, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Smith. The bottom line, though, is that it will be Cutler under center in Cleveland on Sunday. Can fantasy owners trust him the way they grew to trust McCown over the last month? I believe that they can. And it has little to do with either quarterback.

Given the history of the franchise, it still feels impossible that the Bears would have one of the league's most impressive caches of offensive weapons. Yet that's exactly where we find ourselves. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery make up the league's best receiver duo. They rank ninth and sixth, respectively, in yards this year, and have combined for 159 receptions, 2,283 yards and 15 touchdowns. Matt Forte is an elite dual-threat running back. He's one of three backs with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 400 receiving yards this season. The other two are Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy. It's not at all a stretch to say that Forte is on their level. With skill players like that, it really doesn't matter who is playing quarterback for the Bears. He's going to be a mainstay in fantasy no matter what. Cutler may have a little rust to deal with this week, but he's still a top-10 QB in my book.

The first signs of life for Cleveland running backs

Running backs on the Browns have left just a bit to be desired this year. The hydra of pre-trade Trent Richardson, Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, pre-release Bobby Rainey and Fozzy Whitaker has put up the fewest fantasy points per game of any backfield in the league. Browns running backs have four touchdowns this season, two on the ground and two more through the air. Those four scores also helped produce the backfield's only double-digit fantasy-point games. You haven't missed out on a thing if you've ignored this backfield all season, but that may be about to change.

It's a good thing the Bears have all those weapons we just discussed, because the defense has been a sieve ever since losing defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins. They've allowed a 100-yard rusher in nine of their 13 games this season. In one of the four in which they didn't, Alfred Morris ran for 95 yards on 19 carries. The Bears have mostly just watched as an opposing running back has hit the century mark in six consecutive games. Adrian Peterson rolled up 211 yards against them two weeks ago. The immortal Benny Cunningham ran for 109 yards after relieving an injured Zac Stacy, who picked up 87 on just 12 totes. Eddie Lacy started the streak with a 150-yard effort, Ray Rice had his best game of the season with 131 yards and a touchdown, and DeMarco Murray managed 146 yards on 18 carries last week. I guess Reggie Bush owners should feel cheated that he got just 105 yards against the Bears in Week 10.

With McGahee out because of a concussion, Ogbonnaya automatically becomes an RB2. As long as the Browns can keep the game close, he should get himself somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 to 20 touches.

Might fantasy owners have to familiarize themselves with Matt Asiata?

Adrian Peterson is a freak. We all know this. He's attempting to prove it to us again by playing this week, just seven days after suffering what looked like a gruesome leg or foot injury. Peterson practiced late in the week, and is listed as questionable. Leslie Frazier said he will be a gametime decision. This does not have to be hard. If he plays, you start him. It's as simple as that.

If he doesn't play, chances are Toby Gerhart will start for the Vikings. He ran well after Peterson left last week's game against the Ravens, picking up 89 yards on 15 carries in a tough matchup. Of course, he is dealing with an injury situation of his own. Gerhart is listed as questionable because of a hamstring issue that cropped up at the end of the Ravens game. If Gerhart does indeed play in place of Peterson, he would be an RB2. If they both play, Gerhart should not be on your radar.

There is one remaining option, and that is that both Peterson and Gerhart have to sit out on Sunday. That would leave Asiata, a second-year player out of Utah, as the last back standing. Asiata has not had a touch all season, and had just three carries as a rookie. While it might be tempting to roll the dice with Asiata if he gets the start, this is too far a reach. Fantasy owners couldn't possibly have any confidence in him, and the Eagles allow just 3.9 yards per carry. Couple that with the fact that the Vikings are likely to be chasing points in this game, and all of a sudden you see those projected starter's touches dwindling for the lightly used back. If Asiata is the man on Sunday, move along and find another option.

It's not Thanksgiving, but this is the game for Michael Crabtree to feast

Crabtree hasn't moved the needle in his first two games this year after missing most of the season with an Achilles injury. He has 12 targets, catching six of them for 108 yards. Now he's dealing with an ankle injury that had him limited in practice earlier this week. However, assuming he is able to go tomorrow, he will provide his fantasy owners with a huge boost.

Given that Crabtree is not quite 100 percent, Tampa Bay's Darelle Revis will likely spend most of his day covering Anquan Boldin or, perhaps, Vernon Davis. That's great news for Crabtree, as secondary receivers have put up strong fantasy numbers against the Buccaneers all season long. Kenbrell Thompkins had 41 yards and two scores against them in September. Three weeks later, Riley Cooper caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. In Week 8, Ted Ginn had five receptions for 80 yards, then hauled in his fourth touchdown of the season in the rematch. Seattle's Jermaine Kearse had two catches for 43 yards and hit paydirt against the Bucs, while Rishard Matthews exploded for 11 grabs, 120 yards and two scores in Miami's win over Tampa Bay. In his four games since, he has 10 catches for 80 yards and zero touchdowns.

Crabtree will just be the latest receiver to take advantage of Jonathan Banks, who has allowed a 90.3 QB rating on pass plays in which he is the defensive target. Make sure to check his status on Sunday, and be confident in riding with him should he get the nod.

With Gronk away, Tom Brady is a poor play

After disappointing his fantasy owners through the first two months of the season, everything finally started coming together for Brady. Since the calendar turned to November, he has 1,861 yards and 12 touchdowns against three interceptions in five games. Of course, two weeks before he started this run, Rob Gronkowski made his season debut. In his first six games of the year, Gronk caught 37 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns. In his seventh, he took a low hit that tore his ACL and MCL, knocking him out for the remainder of the year. Now, Brady has to go it again without his most dangerous weapon.

On top of that, Miami features one of the league's best pass defenses, no matter which metric is your favorite. They surrender 6.9 yards per attempt, tied for 10th in the league, and have allowed just 15 touchdown passes on the year; only four teams -- the Titans, 49ers, Panthers and Seahawks -- have allowed fewer. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins have the league's best pass rush and 12th-best pass coverage. The advanced stats site ranks cornerback Brent Grimes fifth in coverage among everyone at his position. Even though they just lost corner Dimitri Patterson to a season-ending groin injury, the Dolphins are a terrible matchup for Brady. He's outside the QB1 class this week.

Injury news lightning round

Aaron Rodgers still is not ready to return from his broken collarbone. Downgrade Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, James Jones and Eddie Lacy.

Maurice Jones-Drew is doubtful because of a hamstring injury. Look elsewhere. Teammate Cecil Shorts is questionable with a groin injury. Assuming Shorts plays, you'll want to start him in a great matchup against the Bills.

Roddy White is questionable with a knee injury, but he is expected to play. After a largely disappointing season, White has played well in recent weeks. Given the great matchup with Washington, I'd start him if he plays. Tony Gonzalez is also questionable because of a toe injury. He should play, but he's no better than a low-end TE1.

Jordan Reed missed practice all week, and is in danger of missing his fourth straight game because of a concussion. He's questionable, but you should be able to find a better option.

Jonathan Stewart is out thanks to his knee injury. It's a tough matchup for DeAngelo Williams against the Jets, but I'm calling him a high-end RB3.

Tavon Austin missed practice all week and is questionable with an ankle injury. You should not be considering him this week.

Michael Floyd (ankle) and Carson Palmer (elbow) are both listed as questionable, but that appears to be nothing more than a precaution. Both should play on Sunday.

Garrett Graham (hamstring) and DeAndre Hopkins (ankle) are both gametime decisions for the Texans. Both are too risky for my tastes.


Player projections from's fantasy experts

GONOS: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Playoff pressure aplenty this week

BELLER: Breaking down Week 15 player projections

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