If you’re a Julio Jones owner who needed a win in Week 13 to get to the playoffs, Julio probably got you there. If you’re a Julio Jones owner who qualified for the postseason, you’re almost certainly prepping for a semifinal matchup this week. Unfortunately, you may not have your star receiver available on Sunday.
Jones was a star on Monday night last week, catching 11 passes for a career-high 259 yards and one touchdown, giving him 31.9 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Unfortunately, he also suffered a hip injury at the end of the game. Jones didn’t practice all week, and is a true game-time decision. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for his fantasy owners.
As I alluded to in the open to this column, Jones is playing not only his best football of the season, but also the hottest stretch of his four-year career. He had 10 receptions for 189 yards and a touchdown in Week 13, and that yardage total was, at the time, a career high. He broke it with room to spare against the Packers last week. Going back to Week 10, Jones has averaged 16.88 points across five games. Consistency is one thing, but Jones has had the explosiveness recently to nearly single-handedly win weeks for his owners. That is the most valuable currency this time of year.
The Steelers have allowed the 13th-most points to receivers this season, and have surrendered a few huge games to the position in recent weeks. They’ve let at least one receiver go for double-digit points in each of their last six games. In that span, T.Y. Hilton, Kenny Stills and A.J. Green have all burned them for at least 21.5 fantasy points. Jones and Green have seemed to mirror each other dating back to their days in the SEC, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a fully healthy Jones duplicate the 224-yard, one-touchdown effort Green put up on the Steelers a week ago. We know Jones won’t be fully healthy, but his owners should not be considering sitting him down so long as he suits up for the Falcons. A 75- or 80-percent Jones is still better than most receivers in the league.
If Jones is out, Roddy White becomes an even better play than he already is. White has been consistent all season, and has been even better recently In his last six games, he has a total of 40 catches for 451 yards and four touchdowns. That translates to an average of 11.52 points. Harry Douglas would get a slight uptick in value commensurate with the expected increase in targets, but it would still be a reach to play him. If Jones is out, consider Douglas a low-end WR3 or high-end WR4.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the last-minute you need with the Week 15 Cheat Sheet.
Making up for Thanksgiving
Many of us, present company included, have had to do just that after overindulging a couple of weeks ago. Some people, however, didn’t feast at all on Thanksgiving, at least from the perspective of his fantasy football owners. One such player will flip that script this week.
Tony Romo had his worst game of the season in the Cowboys’ loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving. He threw for 199 yards, 6.86 yards per attempt and two interceptions in a crucial game for the Cowboys and his owners. If you needed a win that week to make it to the playoffs, there’s a good chance you won’t have the opportunity to start Romo, or anyone else, this weekend. If you are alive, however, Romo is ready to make up for that debacle.
Despite Romo’s terrible game in the first meeting with the Eagles, this remains a great matchup. The Eagles have allowed the third most points to quarterbacks this season. The good news for Romo’s owners looking at that stat is that they aren’t giving up a ton of rushing production, either. Quarterbacks have thrown for 7.61 yards per attempt and 26 touchdowns against 10 interceptions when playing the Eagles.
What’s more, Romo was much closer to the incidence of his back injury in that first game with the Eagles. While the back won’t fully heal until the offseason, the fact that he’s another two weeks removed from the injury, and that he will have had 10 days off since his last game, mean that Romo should be coming into this game feeling as good as he has in a while. Remember, Romo had less than four days of rest when he took the field against the Eagles on Thanksgiving. He’ll be in much better shape this Sunday night.
Romo has been among the best fantasy quarterbacks over the last month. Even with that ugly performance on the back of his card, he has 11 touchdowns and just two picks in his last four games. Expect him to play much better and help lead the Cowboys to a huge win this week.
Return of the Murray
Latavius Murray is owned in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues. He is being started in just 24 percent of those. Granted, there are undoubtedly a number of people who owned him but have been eliminated from the playoffs. However, there must also be a large portion of owners still alive who have him on their bench. If that describes you, that hopefully won’t be the case by time you’re done reading this section.
Murray famously broke out three weeks ago against the very same Chiefs he will see on the field on Sunday. You probably don’t need a rehashing of his abbreviated performance, but in case you do, he ran for 112 yards and scored twice, highlighted by a 90-yard touchdown scamper. His night was cut short due to a concussion that cost him the following week, but Murray is set to carve up the Chiefs once more.
Heading in last week’s game, Tony Sparano swore that Murray wouldn’t be a workhorse in the final four games of the season. Sparano either needs a dictionary or understands the art of obfuscation, because Murray carried the ball 23 times and caught two passes in the Raiders’ win over the 49ers. At this point, it’s safe to discard what Sparano said a few weeks ago. Murray essentially has the Oakland backfield to himself, and that should help push him to RB2 production this week.
The Chiefs have limited running backs to two rushing touchdowns this year, but they’ve otherwise been one of the worst run defenses in the league. Backs have run all over the Chiefs for a total of 1,560 yards and 5.11 yards per carry. They have surrendered six 100-yard games this year, including four straight to the group of Marshawn Lynch, Murray, C.J. Anderson and Kerwynn Williams. Those four backs combined for 504 yards on 79 carries, good for an average of 6.38 yards per rush.
The only concern for Murray owners would be that this game might get out of hand, but the Chiefs aren’t built to blow teams away, their Week 4 win over the Patriots notwithstanding. Unless you’re loaded with top-10 running backs, Murray needs to be active this week.
Chris Johnson – Rex Ryan seems to have taken command of the Jets’ offense, much to the delight of Johnson and backfield mate Chris Ivory. They’ve combined for 65 carries over the last two weeks, with Johnson notching a 33-32 majority. He has picked up 158 yards on those 33 carries, just shy of five yards per tote. The Titans have been terrible against the run this year, allowing the second-most fantasy points to backs and a league-high 1,720 rushing yards to the position. Both guys are worth consideration, but Johnson is my preferred option. He seems to be just a half step ahead of Ivory in the pecking order at this point of the season.
Martavis Bryant – Bryant was nearly held completely in check for the third straight game, but he broke loose for a 94-yard touchdown that made his fantasy day. He won’t need any late-game heroics to delight his fantasy owners this week. The Falcons have been unable to stop anyone all season, and feature no semblance of a pass rush. They’ve surrendered the fifth-most points to receivers, and won’t have any answer for the high-powered Pittsburgh offense. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are studs, but Bryant and Ben Roethlisberger are just as easy calls as starters this week.
Shane Vereen – I always preach investment in great offenses, and Vereen certainly belongs to one in New England. We can’t be sure if Vereen supports Keynesian economic theory, but the riches of the Patriots’ offense certainly haven’t trickled down to him this year. He has scored fewer than seven fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in eight games, despite playing 53 percent of the season snaps for a team that is averaging 30.8 points per game. Fantasy owners have rightfully lost their confidence in him.
Mike Wallace – The following are Wallace’s game-by-game receiving yardage totals this season: 81, 56, 74, 35, 67, 46, 59, 50, 51, 38, 35, 69, 39. Translation: He needs to get in the end zone to provide his fantasy owners with any real value. Unfortunately for him and them, he has a date with Darelle Revis this Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, Revis has been the second-best cornerback in coverage this season. He has allowed just two touchdowns this year and defended 10 passes. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Wallace has one of those two touchdowns (the other to get him was Jordy Nelson). However, the New England defense as a whole is much better than it was the first two times these teams met in Week 1. Expect a cold, lonely day for Wallace on Revis Island.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons
• We detailed Julio Jones’ situation above. He’s a true game-time decision.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens
• Steve Smith did not practice Friday due to an illness, but he is listed as probable. Torrey Smith (knee) is also probable after going through a full practice Friday.
Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills
• Eddie Lacy was limited in Friday’s practice because of his hip injury, but is listed as probable. There’s some risk here, as Buffalo has a great run defense and Lacy will undoubtedly split touches with James Starks. I wouldn’t reach beyond a top-15 back to play in place of him, however.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
• DeAngelo Williams is doubtful because of his hand injury, making Jonathan Stewart a great play again this week.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
• Jermaine Gresham (toe) didn’t practice and is questionable.
• Isaiah Crowell (hip) went through a full practice Friday and is probable. He’ll once again be the better fantasy play between he and Terrance West.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
• Andre Johnson (concussion) was a limited participant in Friday’s practice. Consider him a WR3 if he is able to go.
• Reggie Wayne didn’t practice all week because of his triceps injury. Whether or not he sits, Donte Moncrief looks like the second receiver to own in Indianapolis. Vontae Davis (concussion) is expected to start.
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
• Jamaal Charles (knee) practiced in full on Friday. His owners can breathe easier.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
• Charles Clay was limited all week because of a hamstring injury. You should be able to do better, even if Clay plays this week.
• As has become custom, Julian Edelman (thigh), Brandon LaFell (shoulder) and Shane Vereen (ankle) were all limited in practice and are listed as questionable. Expect all three to start.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
• DeSean Jackson (shin) was limited in practice and is listed as questionable. He is expected to play, but keep an eye on this Sunday morning. Either he or Pierre Garcon will be worth starting, depending on Jackson’s status.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
• Julius Thomas (ankle) was a full participant in practice on Friday, and looks safe to deploy this week. His return could give Peyton Manning a boost, as well.
• Ryan Mathews (ankle) did not practice Friday and is listed as questionable. This is too risky for me. The only way you can even think about starting Mathews is if you have another strong option playing late.
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
• Percy Harvin (ankle) was limited in Friday’s practice and is questionable. He shouldn’t be on your radar. Chris Johnson will play despite a minor knee injury.
• Kendall Wright (hand) didn’t practice Friday and is listed as questionable. This is a good matchup, but he’s no more than a WR4 if he plays. Given the late start, you’ll likely want to look elsewhere.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
• No significant injuries
Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
• Cordarrelle Patterson (hamstring) was limited in Friday’s practice and is questionable. He is not on the fantasy radar.
• Reggie Bush (ankle) was also limited in practice on Friday. He should be planted firmly on your bench.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
• No significant injuries
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears
• The official injury report for this game is not yet available, but there are not expected to be any fantasy-relevant players on it. Remember, Brandon Marshall is out for the season with rib and lung injuries.