Start ’Em, Sit ’Em: How to set your fantasy lineups for Week 15

With fantasy football playoffs heating up, get your lineups set with Michael Beller’s Week 15 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em, which includes more targeted advice for those still alive in their leagues.
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If you’ve been following along with us all season here at (thank you), you’ll notice that the following is much different than the start/sit columns we’ve been running all year. Only about 35% of season-long fantasy owners who began the year are still alive in their leagues, making our full start/sit recommendations a tad superfluous. Instead, we bring you the slimmed-down version in time for the holidays. Rather than making calls for every fantasy-relevant player, we looked at the consensus rankings and picked out our most interesting divergences from the mean. We then explained why we are higher or lower than the consensus on each player. That, taken in conjunction with our overall rankings, should help you build your best lineups for Week 15.

BELLER: Complete Week 15 fantasy rankings | Risers and Sliders

One quick note before we get started: The rankings listed in parentheses are by position. For example, Kamar Aiken is our No. 26 receiver this week, compared with his No. 32 consensus ranking.

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Ben Roethlisberger (SI rank: 6, Consensus rank: 9)

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The logic behind ranking eight or more quarterbacks ahead of Roethlisberger rests entirely on Denver’s defense being the best in the league. That is undoubtedly true, but it also ignores the fact that matchup is the single most overrated factor we reference when making fantasy decisions. Matchup matters, but not nearly as much as conventional wisdom suggests, and it certainly doesn’t come close to counterbalancing talent. Want proof? Tom Brady racked up 23.2 points in standard-scoring leagues against the Broncos. LeSean McCoy went for 159 total yards against the Jets and their No. 1 rush defense DVOA. The Rams are third in pass defense DVOA, but they still gave up 108 yards to Antonio Brown, and 61 yards and a pair of touchdowns to A.J. Green.

Don’t put too much stock into this matchup. Will Roethlisberger and the Steelers face their toughest test of the season? Yes, of course. But the Steelers are third in overall offense DVOA, fifth in pass and second in rush. Pittsburgh’s offense is just as good as Denver’s defense. Perhaps more importantly, the Steelers are laying 6.5 points in this game. No one is considering benching Antonio Brown or DeAngelo Williams. Ben Roethlisberger and Martavis Bryant should have that same status, too.

Players I’d start him over: Blake Bortles, Drew Brees

Ryan Fitzpatrick (SI rank: 8, Consensus rank: 11)

Fitzpatrick heads into Week 15 as the No. 9 quarterback in total points in standard-scoring leagues and No. 15 in points per game. He has seven weeks finishing inside the top 12 at the position and five in the top 10. Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are both top-10 receivers in total points, making Fitzpatrick the only quarterback with a pair of WR1s in standard fantasy formats. So how, exactly, is his consensus ranking outside the top 10 this week? You can continue to fade Fitzpatrick at your own peril if you like, but the fact of the matter is he is an easy QB1 this week. The Jets are favored by 3.5 points in Dallas this week, and the Jets have a team total of 23.5. The Cowboys have been solid against the pass this season, ranking 15th in pass DVOA and allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, but we just detailed above why matchup concerns are overrated. Fitzpatrick, Marshall and Decker have clicked all season. The quarterback should be considered matchup-proof at this point.

Players I’d start him over: Drew Brees, Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr

Matthew Stafford (SI rank: 13, Consensus rank: 8)

When you look at the season-long numbers, there doesn’t appear to be much difference between Fitzpatrick and Stafford. The former is averaging 0.8 more points per game in standard-scoring leagues, but Stafford has more yards and just one fewer touchdown. Fantasy football, however, is a season-long endeavor made up of weekly results, and that is where Fitzpatrick outpaces Stafford. Stafford has just two top-12 weeks this year, and those two games make his numbers look much better cosmetically than they are beneath the surface. Stafford’s monster performances against the Bears and Eagles have accounted for 37.5% of his touchdowns and 21.8% of his yards. Yes, he has a great matchup with the Saints this week, but is that enough to carry him, especially when he isn’t connecting on anything down the field? Out of 25 qualified quarterbacks, Stafford is 22nd in accuracy rate on deep targets (passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air), 21st in yards and 19th in touchdowns. That’s where the Saints are getting hurt, but Stafford and the Lions don’t seem equipped to take advantage of that weakness.

Players I’d start over him: Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr

James Starks (SI rank: 29, Consensus rank: 27)

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There’s definitely a place for Starks in starting lineups in all fantasy formats, depending on the overall makeup of your roster. We have him 30th among running backs, which definitely places him in the RB2 discussion and makes him a strong flex option. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Eddie Lacy more than doubled his carries last week and looked good doing so. It’s tough to count on Starks for anything more than 15 touches, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he came up short of that mark. That’s why he’s merely part of the discussion, rather than being locked in as an RB2. The Packers are favored by 3.5 in Oakland, and the over/under on the game is 46.5, so there should be plenty of scoring to go around. That’s no guarantee, however, that Starks cashes in on the same types of big plays that carried him to one of his best performances of the season in the win over Dallas last week.

Players I’d start over him: Matt Jones, Ameer Abdullah

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Charcandrick West (SI rank: 13, Consensus rank: 17)

West looked good in his second game back from a hamstring injury, running for 54 yards on 10 carries. He likely would have been in for more work, but with the sloppy track in Kansas City last week, the offense took a more cautious approach than it might have in dry conditions. West’s backup, Spencer Ware, suffered a rib injury in that win over the Chargers that could very well land him on the shelf this week. Even if he does play, he won’t be at full strength. By the time Sunday’s matchup with the Ravens gets here, West will be a month removed from the injury. We can’t be completely sure, but all of these factors certainly hint at West reclaiming his role as the team’s workhorse back this week. The only thing preventing him from RB2 status a week ago was Ware’s presence, as well as the likelihood that the Chiefs would spend at least one more week easing him back into the gameplan. They no longer have that need and may not have that luxury if Ware is inactive. The Chiefs may be on the road, but they’re favored by 7.5 points in this game. West is going to get plenty of work, and he is an easy RB2 with an RB1 ceiling.

Players I’d start him over: Buck Allen, Latavius Murray, Denard Robinson

Devonta Freeman (SI rank: 12, Consensus rank: 8)

Both our ranking and the consensus ranking suggest Freeman is an RB1. We discussed Freeman in this week’s Risers and Sliders, and it’s undeniable that his production has tapered off dramatically since the middle of October. We won’t repeat all the numbers referenced in that column here, so check it out if you’re interested in some how-the-mighty-have-fallen stats. What we will say is the last five games Freeman has started and finished (he left the team’s Week 11 loss to the Colts after sustaining a concussion), Freeman has 303 rushing yards, 188 receiving yards, one touchdown and one lost fumble, which translates to 10.82 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. The Falcons are at their best when they get the ball in Freeman’s hands 20-plus times a game, but this offense has come apart at the seams over the last six weeks, and it’s hard to bet on a running back in that bad of an environment.

Players I’d start over him: Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill

C.J. Anderson (SI rank: 28, Consensus rank: 39)

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It’s still early in the week, so much of Anderson’s consensus ranking could be attributed to his uncertain playing status: He missed last week’s game because of an ankle injury that could have him out or at less than 100% this week, too. If Anderson is able to play at a level resembling his usual self, he should be right on the RB2/3 borderline. The Broncos still want to push the ball down the field, but with Brock Osweiler under center, they’re at their best when Ronnie Hillman and Anderson get 30 carries between them. As good as the Broncos’ defense is, it will need help from the run game in controlling Ben Roethlisberger and company. The best way to slow down the Steelers’ offense is to keep it off the field, a fact Gary Kubiak knows well. If he has Hillman and Anderson at his disposal this week, both will get plenty of work.

Players I’d start him over: Jeremy Langford, Isaiah Crowell

Kamar Aiken (SI rank: 26, Consensus rank: 32)

In five games since Steve Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury, Aiken has 29 catches for 341 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 10 targets per game in that stretch and is clearly the top option in the Baltimore passing game. No matter if it’s Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen under center, Aiken is going to be dealing with substandard quarterback play. That is a given. The fact remains, however, that Aiken is easily the team’s most dangerous vertical weapon, which should net him at least 10 more targets on Sunday. What’s more, the Ravens are significant underdogs to the Chiefs. If the latter is able to do what is expected, the Ravens are going to be playing from behind for most of the game. That’s always good, at least in theory, for the trailing team’s top receiver. Aiken stands to reach WR2 numbers in a matchup with a Chiefs defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.

Players I’d start him over: Emmanuel Sanders, Michael Crabtree

John Brown (SI rank: 24, Consensus rank: 19)

As you can tell by our ranking, I like Brown this week and would start him in most scenarios. I’m not quite as bullish on him as the rest of the pack, though, because there are two other mouths to feed in Arizona’s passing game, meaning any one of the three is liable to go hungry in a one-game sample. If you’re putting a receiver in the top 20 at the position, you’re certain he’s going to return WR2 value. As good as Brown is, and as readily as I’d start him, I can’t necessarily say that. Not when Michael Floyd is playing just as well, if not better, and not when Larry Fitzgerald is good for at least eight targets in a typical game. I am certain that the Cardinals will give us two receivers with at least WR2 numbers on Sunday night—I just have more confidence in those guys being Floyd and Fitzgerald.

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Why? Look at the receivers who have torched the Eagles recently. Dez Bryant had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson both had at least 56 yards and a score. Calvin Johnson burned them for eight receptions, 93 yards and three touchdowns. Sammy Watkins racked up five grabs for 81 yards and a trip to the end zone. For the most part, these are big, physical receivers like Floyd and Fitzgerald. To be fair, slot mavens Jarvis Landry and Cole Beasley carved up the Eagles’ secondary, but I’d still rather bet on Floyd and Fitzgerald than Brown this week.

Players I’d start over him: Allen Hurns, Martavis Bryant

Amari Cooper (SI rank: 21, Consensus rank: 26)

Cooper’s no-show last week likely cost a few of his owners in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. If you were able to move on despite his goose egg, don’t be afraid to get him right back into your lineup this week. Matchup matters a lot more for Derek Carr and the Raiders than it does for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The Raiders will be happy to move on from Denver’s defense, welcoming Green Bay to Oakland this week. The Packers do have an above-average pass-coverage unit, but nothing like what the Raiders dealt with a week ago. The over/under on this game is 46.5, the fourth highest on the board in Week 15, and the Raiders are 3.5-point underdogs. That’s an ideal formula for a receiver who doubles as the most talented skill position player on the field. I feel awfully safe relying on Cooper for WR2 production this week.

Players who I’d start him over: T.Y. Hilton, Randall Cobb, Danny Amendola

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Richard Rodgers (SI rank: 15, Consensus rank: 12)

Counterfactuals are potentially the worst argument crutch known to man. They can be interesting as thought experiments, but you shouldn’t be relying on them to make a case. Having said that, there are exceptions to every rule, and we find a counterfactual that makes a good point with respect to Rodgers’s fantasy prospects. What if he didn’t catch that 61-yard Hail Mary against the Lions two weeks ago? Without that miracle play, for which the Lions were equally, if not more, responsible, Rodgers would have 48 catches for 381 yards and six touchdowns this season. That comes out to an average of 5.7 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. He’d have exactly one game with double-digit points, and that would be an effort in which he had five catches for 19 yards. He was just lucky that two of those catches ended with him in the end zone. Rodgers had two targets last week. It was the eighth time this year he had five or fewer targets in a game. Is that really someone you want to bet on this time of year?

Players I’d start over him: Zach Miller, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Eric Ebron