- Last week, the Bears scored 33 points against the Bengals, which means Case Keenum and the Vikings should have no issue against them in Week 15—and fantasy owners should confidently start the Minnesota QB.
Vikings quarterback Case Keenum is in the midst of a career season that will almost certainly result in an NFC North championship, and possibly much more. He may not know it, but the "more" could include a surprise fantasy football playoff MVP award. With his play thus far, the emergence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs as one of the league’s best wide receiver duos, and the Vikings favorable schedule, Keenum should be able to keep the good times rolling all the way through Week 16, helping his owners to fantasy titles.
The Vikings lost to the Panthers last week, but that’s immaterial to Keenum’s fantasy owners. What matters is that he threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 40 more yards, equivalent to a third passing touchdown in standard-scoring leagues. Sure, he threw two interceptions, but those were just blips on an otherwise successful fantasy day. All told, Keenum scored 22.2 points, finishing as the No. 7 quarterback in Week 14. He should bolster his playoff MVP credentials on Sunday.
In Week 15 the Vikings host the Bengals, a team that is wrapping up a disappointing season. Just one week ago the Bengals, playing at home with their slim playoff hopes in the balance, gave up 33 points to Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears. Trubisky enjoyed the best game of his young career, throwing for 271 yards, 8.71 yards per attempt and one touchdown, adding a second score on the ground. After getting torched by an offense that hadn’t done much for the balance of the season, the Bengals fell to 25th against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points against metric (aFPA).
Put simply, this is a defense Keenum should handle. The Bengals are without Adam Jones, which will make it harder to slow down Thielen and Diggs. They’ve been bad against tight ends all season, ranking 26th in aFPA against the position, and now have an assignment against Kyle Rudolph, one of the more effective second-tier tight ends in the league. The Vikings are favored by 10.5 points and playing at home, both of which are contextual factors that typically work to a quarterback’s advantage. Oddsmakers have installed an over/under of 42 points for the game, which gives the Vikings an implied total of 26.25 points. If the Vikings do indeed hit paydirt three or four times, you can bet Keenum will have a hand in getting them there.
Keenum’s playoff MVP candidacy first appeared on the horizon two weeks ago. His first entry in the game log got his campaign off on the right foot. The second one is almost certain to burnish his case. You want him in your lineup with a berth in your league’s championship on the line.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (vs. Bears on Saturday)
Stafford played through a hand injury in the Lions win over the Buccaneers last week, throwing for 381 yards, 8.66 YPA, one touchdown and two interceptions. The turnovers hurt, but he looked no worse for wear despite being limited in practice all week. The Bears have been one of the league’s better pass defenses all season, ranking third in quarterback aFPA, but Stafford torched them in Chicago to the tune of 299 yards, 9.65 YPA and two scores in Week 11. Now playing against them at home as a 5.5-point favorite with an implied total of 24.75 points, Stafford should once again throw his way into the QB1 class.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers (vs. Titans)
Garoppolo has made two starts with the 49ers, throwing for 637 yards, 9.1 YPA, one touchdown and two interceptions. It has been frustrating to watch the 49ers stall in the red zone with regularity the last two weeks, but it’s encouraging that Garoppolo has helped produce nine trips to the red zone in his two starts. The Titans rate a surprisingly high eighth in quarterback aFPA, but Garoppolo has done nothing the last two weeks to suggest he should be on your bench.
Blake Bortles, Jaguars (vs. Texans)
This is a pretty easy case to make. We first made it in the Week 15 waiver wire, and followed up on it with our Week 15 streaming options. Bortles has played his best football of the season the last two weeks, throwing for 577 yards, 9.31 YPA and four touchdowns in wins over the Colts and Seahawks. It wasn’t a huge shock to see him carve up the Colts, but the fact that the played so well against Seattle was impressive, even without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor on the field. Bortles draws a Texans team this week ranked 30th in quarterback aFPA. The Texans did shut him down the first time these teams met, but that was way back in Week 1 when both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus were healthy. Bortles should find his return game with the Texans a whole lot easier.
Kirk Cousins, Redskins (vs. Cardinals)
Cousins predictably struggled against the Chargers last week, throwing for 151 yards, 5.59 YPA, one touchdown and one interception in the Redskins 30-13 loss. All the injuries and poor performance in Washington is finally getting to Cousins, and the offense has looked much different without Chris Thompson. On his own merit, Cousins is likely one of the 10 or 12 best quarterbacks in the league, but the offense around him isn’t making it possible for him to show off that fact. It’s impossible to trust him in fantasy leagues the rest of the season.
Alex Smith, Chiefs (vs. Chargers)
Smith gets a matchup with that same Chargers defense this week that shut down Cousins last week. Smith was so close to a huge day in Week 14, but he had two touchdowns, both to Travis Kelce, taken off the board—one because Kelce was tackled at the half-yard line, and another on an ineligible receiver downfield penalty that had nothing to do with the play—and a third that Kelce dropped. Smith has looked more like the quarterback he was early in the season since Andy Reid gave playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, and that should have him on the QB1 radar. This Chargers defense, however, has turned into a quarterback’s nightmare. The Chargers are fourth in quarterback aFPA, they shut Cousins and Dak Prescott in recent weeks, and they held Tom Brady and Carson Wentz below their season averages. Smith has the look more of a mid-tier QB2 rather than a QB1 this week.
Jared Goff, Rams (at Seahawks)
Goff and the Rams deserve a ton of credit for how they’ve turned around the offense this season. If there’s one secret about them, however, it’s that they’ve struggled against the best pass defenses they’ve faced. In three games against the Jaguars, Seahawks and Vikings, Goff combined for 637 yards, 6.07 YPA, one touchdown and two picks. The Seahawks aren’t the same without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, but this will still be a tough test for Goff in Seattle. The Rams are two-point underdogs with an implied total of 22.75 points. I actually like him better than most this week, but he’s still just my QB15. I’d start Bortles and Smith over him, though I do like him better than Cousins, Jameis Winston and the next guy on this list.
Marcus Mariota, Titans (at 49ers)
I used this fact last week, but it’s so good, and it remains a fact, that I’m going to run it back. The last time Mariota threw multiple touchdowns in a game was the same weekend as the Astros World Series parade. In the six games he has played since then, he has thrown for 1,063 yards (212.6 per game), 6.81 YPA, four touchdowns and nine interceptions. The 49ers rank a friendly 27th in quarterback aFPA, but what gives Mariota’s fantasy owners any confidence that he can take advantage of the matchup? A great matchup is one thing, but the players needs to be able to follow through on it. Mariota has shown nothing recently to suggest he can, and word broke earlier this week that he’s dealing with nagging hamstring and ankle issues. Stay away.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons (at Buccaneers)
I really like this matchup for the Falcons offense, and think we’ll see it produce one of its best games of the season. These teams met late last month, with the Falcons racking up 34 points, 516 total yards and 8.1 yards per play. It was one of the few games this season in which they looked like the 2016 Falcons. Coleman was great in that game, taking over for the injured Devonta Freeman to run for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He won’t get that same volume this week, but this is simply a bad defense that got worse with Gerald McCoy’s biceps injury last week. You’re going to want to start your Falcons in Week 15.
Jay Ajayi, Eagles (at Giants)
I laid out my case for Ajayi in full in the Week 15 Target in Snap Report. The abridged version is that, even if Nick Foles can deliver league-average quarterback play, the Eagles offense is going to have to change the way it wins games without Carson Wentz. That necessarily means an increased presence for the rushing attack, and that almost certainly leads to something like a workhorse role for Ajayi. Corey Clement will still handle much of the passing game duties, and LeGarrette Blount isn’t going to go away completely, but Ajayi is the one back in Philadelphia capable of being the featured part of an offense. They didn’t need him to be that with a healthy Wentz, but they will with Foles under center.
Samaje Perine, Redskins (vs. Cardinals)
It has been an ugly couple of weeks for Perine, who has 121 yards from scrimmage on 36 touches in his last two games. The production has been disappointingly scant, but the volume remains encouraging. Perine brings a 15-touch floor into a game with the Cardinals and their league-average defense against running backs for fantasy purposes. The Redskins are 4.5-point favorites at home in this one. If they are able to produce a script that plays to that spread, Perine is going to go north of 20 touches in a game his team wins. That’s a bet I want to make.
Latavius Murray, Vikings (vs. Bengals)
Murray delivered his first dud last week in nearly two months, running for 14 yards on nine carries in the Vikings 31-24 loss to the Panthers. As well as Murray had played leading up to that game, we knew he wasn’t a back immune to a bad game script, and he was finally saddled with one last week. That shouldn’t be the case this week with the Vikings laying 10.5 points against the Bengals at home. Not only should Murray get plenty of volume, but he’ll also enjoy a great matchup against a Cincinnati defense ranked 30th in running back aFPA. Jordan Howard ran all over the Bengals for 147 yards and two touchdowns last week, while Le’Veon Bell totaled 182 yards from scrimmage and a score against them in Week 13. Murray should add to their recent woes.
DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, Titans (at 49ers)
You’ll notice a theme in the sit section for running backs. Many of the purer timeshares in the league are in bad spots this week. It starts in Tennessee, where the Titans can’t seem to get out of their own way. Murray has rushed for more than four yards per carry once in his last eight games, while picking up fewer than three yards per carry three times in that same span. Henry, meanwhile, has been more effective on a per-carry basis, but has had 10 carries in only three of his last six games. In other words, the Titans have one inefficient back, and one back who doesn’t get enough volume to be a reliable fantasy play. The 49ers run defense has been better lately, holding Jordan Howard and Lamar Miller to a combined 91 yards on 30 carries the last two weeks.
Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, Bengals (at Vikings)
Mixon is expected to return this week after missing the Bengals Week 14 loss to the Bears because of a concussion. Bernard looked good in his stead, racking up 226 yards on 32 touches the last two weeks. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor hasn’t shown much inclination to give two backs significant work in the same game, though that could change given Mixon’s injury status. If it does, it’ll be hard to trust either with just half of the backfield touches. If it doesn’t, it still won’t make Mixon a worthy fantasy starter against a Minnesota defense ranked sixth in running back aFPA. Jonathan Stewart got going against the Vikings last week at least in part because the Panthers are good enough to hang with the Vikings. The Bengals are not, especially in Minnesota.
Peyton Barber and Doug Martin, Buccaneers (vs. Falcons)
If anything has been made clear over the last few weeks in the Buccaneers offense, it’s that Barber needs to get more touches. He has brought life to an otherwise moribund backfield, finding success where Martin has failed. At the same time, Dirk Koetter has made it painfully clear that he isn’t going to abandon Martin completely. That means fantasy owners are stuck with a split backfield in a mediocre offense. A player in such a backfield isn’t one you want to back, especially in a game where his team is a six-point underdog.
Kerwynn Williams, Cardinals (at Redskins)
Adrian Peterson has missed the last two games because of a neck injury, and it appears he’s headed for his third straight inactive week. Williams has started in his place, running for 170 yards on 36 carries. He’s dealing with a minor rib injury that isn’t supposed to compromise him on Sunday, but he remains a risky play, even at his low expectations. The Cardinals have to keep it close with the Redskins for Williams to post even low-end RB2 numbers, and this is a game that could get out of hand. On top of that, the Cardinals will be playing without tackle Jared Veldheer and guard Earl Watford, both of whom suffered ankle injuries last week.
Jordy Nelson, Packers (at Panthers)
In four games with Aaron Rodgers this season, Nelson has 19 catches for 230 yards and six touchdowns. In eight without him, including the game in which Rodgers broke his collarbone, Nelson has 18 catches for 213 yards and zero scores. Guess who’s back? Back again? With Rodgers back under center for the Packers this week, there’s no reason to expect Nelson’s struggles to continue. It’s true that he’s touchdown-dependent, but that was basically true last year and for the first month of this season, and he was still an unquestioned WR1. I’m not ready to call him that, but I am ready to say he should be an easy starter in Week 15.
Marquise Goodwin, 49ers (vs. Titans)
The 49ers have played five games since placing Pierre Garcon on IR. In those five games, Goodwin has averaged 86.8 yards, with his low mark at 68 yards. In two games with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm, Goodwin has 14 catches on 20 targets for 205 yards. His 16-game, Garcon-less pace is 67.2 catches for 1,388.8 yards. His 16-game Garcon-less, Garoppolo-starting pace is 112 catches for 1,640 yards. Starting Goodwin should be an easy call for the rest of the season.
Chris Hogan, Patriots (at Steelers)
Hogan returned to the Patriots last week after missing four games, and five total weeks, with a shoulder injury. He caught one of five targets for one yard, but if you’re still alive last week’s stat line doesn’t matter that much. What does matter is that he was able to play a standard snap rate and didn’t aggravate the injury. Hogan was one of the most productive receivers in the first half of the season, hauling in 33 passes for 438 yards and five scores in his first eight games. The over/under on Patriots-Steelers is 54 points, and the Patriots are favored by three despite being on the road. There won’t be a bad way to get invested in this game.
Dede Westbrook, Jaguars (vs. Texans)
Westbrook has slowly but surely built on his performance with each passing week since making his NFL debut in Week 11. The rookie out of Oklahoma caught five of eight targets for 81 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars 30-24 win over the Seahawks last week. He has at least six targets in all four of his games, and at least eight in each of the last three. Houston has been one of this season’s worst pass defenses, ranking 29th in wide receiver aFPA. Westbrook has to contend with Marqise Lee, but it appears he has reached at least co-equal status with Jacksonville’s nominal No. 1 receiver in four short games.
Juju Smith-Schuster, Steelers (vs. Patriots)
Remember what I just said about this game when discussing Hogan? There’s no bad way to invest in Patriots-Steelers, so long as we’re being realistic. Yes, it would be bad to start Phillip Dorsett or Darrius Heyward-Bey. Smith-Schuster, however, is a fantasy-relevant player, and that makes him a worthy start in a game that could easily play into the 60s. Smith-Schuster was quite in consecutive games before serving a one-game suspension last week, but he scored in three straight before the downturn. If you genuinely considering starting someone in this game, the answer is yes.
Ted Ginn, Saints (vs. Jets)
I have trouble recommending you sit a player with a substantial role in an offense scoring 28.5 points per game, but Ginn just hasn’t been productive enough to trust this week. He has only five targets and 37 yards over his last two games, and even most of his damage in his 71-yard game the week before that came on the largely meaningless final drive of the Saints 26-20 loss to the Rams. It has been a month since he gave his fantasy owners a solid contribution, and he hasn’t scored a touchdown since the first week of November.
Nelson Agholor, Eagles (at Giants)
Earlier this week, I took a look at the fantasy prospects of all the relevant players in Philadelphia in the wake of Carson Wentz’s ACL tear. You can follow the link for my full breakdown, but Agholor was the one I considered the biggest loser. No player in Philadelphia benefited more from Wentz’s ability to extend plays, and his efficiency on deep balls. With his benefactor out for the year, Agholor will likely struggle to post useful fantasy numbers.
Rishard Matthews, Titans (at 49ers)
If you believe in patterns, you might like Matthews this week. His last four weekly stat lines have been four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown, 5-50-0, 5-113-1, and 3-19-0. That pattern would have him tracking for another solid game this week, but that’s a silly way to make your lineup decisions. I prefer numbers that actually mean something, like the fact that Marcus Mariota has four touchdowns and nine interceptions in his last four five games. Or that the 49ers rank 11th in wide receiver aFPA. In recent weeks, the Niners have held Doug Baldwin and Larry Fitzgerald in check. If Mariota struggles again, so, too, will Matthews.
Mike Wallace, Ravens (at Browns)
Wallace has developed into a nice floor receiver, scoring a touchdown or reaching the 70-yard mark in four of his last five games. So why am I fading him in what seems like a good matchup with the Browns? First, the Browns are actually slightly better than league average in wide receiver aFPA. They shut down Davante Adams until the fourth quarter last week and, in other recent weeks, contained A.J. Green, Marqise Lee, Marvin Jones and Stefon Diggs, with none of those receivers topping 66 yards. Second, no matter the matchup, I have a tough time investing in Baltimore’s passing game. For my money, the low ceiling combined with the modest floor makes Wallace no better than the WR40 this week. Most owners still alive at this stage of the game can do better.
Jason Witten, Cowboys (at Raiders)
The good news is that Witten has scored in his last two games. The bad news is that those touchdown receptions were his only catch in both contests. Still, he’s a useful weapon in the red zone for Dak Prescott, and the Cowboys are still going to lean on their passing game more than usual with Ezekiel Elliott out for one more week. The Raiders have held tight ends to five touchdowns this season, but only three teams have allowed more yards to the position.
Jared Cook, Raiders (vs. Cowboys)
Both tight ends in Cowboys-Raiders are worth starting in most fantasy leagues. After two straight duds, Cook got back in the good graces of his fantasy owners last week, catching five passes for 75 yards and a touchdown in the Raiders 26-15 loss to the Chiefs. With Amari Cooper likely out again because of his ankle injury, Cook should be in for a heavy does of targets from Derek Carr.
Charles Clay, Bills (vs. Dolphins)
Forget about last week’s snowy mess of a Bills win over the Colts. It was almost impossible to pass in those conditions, making it easy to explain away Clay’s two-catch, 11-yard game. Assuming Tyrod Taylor returns to the starting lineup, Clay will once again project to his safe, low-end TE1 level he has lived at with Taylor under center. For what it’s worth, the Dolphins rank 29th in tight end aFPA, allowing eight touchdowns to the position this season.
Greg Olsen, Panthers (vs. Packers)
Olsen has limped off the field in both games he has played since returning from a broken bone in his foot. The Panthers are in strong playoff position, so they likely wouldn’t let him go if they weren’t confident in his health, but how can fantasy owners possibly trust him? It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him limited to high-leverage situations, such as third downs and red-zone plays. No matter what, though, it’s too risky to start a player who has a literal zero as his floor in the fantasy playoffs.
Vernon Davis, Redskins (vs. Cardinals)
Davis got back in the end zone last week, but it was merely lipstick on another pig of a day. He caught just two passes for 26 yards, and now has just 41 yards in his last three games. As we’ve said a few times the last few weeks, mostly with respect to Kirk Cousins, all the injuries in the Washington offense have finally caught up to the passing game. Davis is a fine dart throw if you’re desperate, but I’d rather start the players listed above, as well as Eric Ebron and O.J. Howard.
Cameron Brate, Buccaneers (vs. Falcons)
Speaking of Buccaneers tight ends, so much for Jameis Winston’s red-zone love for Brate, huh? Brate had just one target last week, though I guess it’s nice that he hauled in that pass, totaling 11 yards. Tampa Bay’s offense is hard to trust, and Brate’s volume is totally unreliable. Other than that, I can’t see a bad reason to start him.