The Vikings have played three of their last four games in the spotlight, and all of them have gone poorly—a Sunday night loss to the Bears in Week 11, a reversal against the Patriots in the featured game in the late afternoon window 13 and a Monday night loss to the Seahawks in Week 14. With all that national TV spotlight, Kirk Cousins’s failures have been on display for everyone to see. He was bad in all three games, totaling 671 yards, 5.46 yards per attempt, four touchdowns—three of which came in garbage time—and four interceptions. All that face-planting on the big stage likely has fantasy owners lucky enough to be alive in Week 15 running in another direction. Contrary to that understandable impulse, they’d be wise to give Cousins at least one more chance.
Cousins’s performance in those games cannot be excused or easily dismissed. He was a big part of the problem in all three losses, routinely detracting from Minnesota’s chances of coming up with a big win. But each of these three losses was on the road against a good team—the Bears and Patriots are almost certainly going to go into the playoffs as division winners, and the former will do so with the league’s best defense by far, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are winners of four straight games, as well as one of the best home teams in the league, with their only loss in Seattle coming to the 10-3 Chargers.
Two of the factors working against Cousins in those three games are not at play in Week 15. First, the Vikings will be back at home for the first time since Week 12. Second, they will not be playing a good-to-great defense, but rather a mediocre Dolphins’ unit. Miami ranks 24th in DVOA, 26th in pass defense DVOA and 32nd in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric, aFPA. They’ve allowed Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck, Josh Allen and Tom Brady to all score at least 24.22 standard-league fantasy points against them since Week 6, and while they held Matthew Stafford and Aaron Rodgers below that number, the two of them combined for 416 yards, 8.32 YPA, four touchdowns and no picks. Forget what you’ve seen from Cousins recently. This is an excellent spot for him.
It’s worth noting that in Cousins’s one non-terrible game over the last month, he enjoyed largely the same conditions. In Week 12, the Vikings played at home against a Packers team ranked 25th in DVOA and 21st in quarterback aFPA. Cousins was excellent in that game, throwing for 342 yards, 9.0 YPA and three touchdowns against zero interceptions in a 24–17 Vikings win.
Like closers and quarterbacks, fantasy owners need to have short memories. Embracing that mindset will make you more comfortable with starting Cousins this week, and starting Cousins is almost sure to be the right move.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the Week 15 Start ’Em, Sit ’Em.
Aaron Rodgers, Packers (at Bears)
I know, I know. The Bears shut down the Rams to a hilarious degree last week, and buried Jared Goff in the process. They made that whole “defense doesn’t matter in fantasy, start Goff with confidence” take of mine seem pretty foolish. And yet, I’m going right back to the well this week, recommending Rodgers in Chicago. This time, I expect to find water. The Bears defense is a whole lot more dangerous than it was the last time these teams met in Week 1, but you’ll remember that as the game in which Rodgers returned from an ugly knee injury to throw for 286 yards, 9.53 YPA and three touchdowns, rallying the Packers from a 17-point halftime deficit to a 24–23 win. He may not have a top-five ceiling this week, but I’ll be surprised if he plays any worse than a high-end QB2.
Baker Mayfield, Browns (Saturday at Broncos)
The Browns have now played five games since firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, installing in their respective places Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens. Mayfield has thrown for 1,406 yards, 9.19 YPA, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions in those five games. Add in his modest rushing numbers, and he’s averaging 19.61 points per game in standard-scoring leagues in that span. For sake of comparison, that’s a better per-game average than the season-long numbers of Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson. Mayfield has been highly efficient in his last four games, throwing for at least 9.23 YPA in all of them and totaling nine scores.
Lamar Jackson, Ravens (vs. Buccaneers)
I wrote at length about Jackson’s fantasy value when the team named him the starter over Joe Flacco for the rest of the season earlier this week. In short, get Jackson back in your lineup with confidence this week.
Derek Carr, Raiders (at Bengals)
Carr had his best game of the season last week, throwing for 322 yards, 9.47 YPA two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Raiders’ 24–21 win over the Steelers. In his last two games, he has 607 yards, 8.43 YPA, five scores and zero picks. The Bengals, meanwhile, are ranked 19th in quarterback aFPA, rating, at worst, as a neutral matchup. Carr is an easy QB2 this week, with legitimate QB1 upside.
Matt Ryan, Falcons (vs. Cardinals)
As bad as this season has been for the Falcons—and, as losers of five straight, they’ve got a great argument for this season’s most disappointing team—Ryan has generally delivered from a fantasy perspective when he should. The Falcons were never in last week’s loss to the Packers, but Ryan still threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns. They trailed against the Saints on Thanksgiving throughout, but Ryan still threw for 377 yards and two scores. Their five-game run of ignominy began in Cleveland, but Ryan managed 330 yards and two touchdowns in the loss. It hasn’t been pretty but, for fantasy purposes, it has been effective. That should be the case again at home against the Cardinals this week.
Mitchell Trubisky, Bears (vs. Packers)
If you believe that the Bears can and will cover the 5.5-point spread at home against the Packers this week, then Trubisky should at least be on the start radar. If you believe in schedule-adjusted scoring, then you should like the fact that the Packers are ranked 21st in quarterback aFPA. If you believe that Trubisky shook off at least some of the rust last week after missing two games with a shoulder injury, then you should feel good about him being another week removed from the incidence of the injury. All of those factors taken together, plus the fact that he showed no limitations on his running last week, have him as a mid-tier QB2 with QB1 upside this week.
Josh Allen, Bills (vs. Lions)
Allen has taken the fantasy community by storm recently, though he has done it mostly with his legs. In his last three starts, he has thrown for 597 yards, 6.78 yards per attempt, three touchdowns and four interceptions, while racking up 335 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in his last three games. Earlier this week, John Paulsen and I discussed whether fantasy teams could win a championship with Allen as their starter the next two weeks, and he might a great point about the Lions. They’ve done an excellent job limiting the rushing production of mobile quarterbacks this year, holding Trubisky (18 rushing yards), Russell Wilson (15), Aaron Rodgers (10), Cam Newton (two) and Dak Prescott (two) all in check. If Allen can’t get anything going on the ground, he likely won’t put up starter-worthy numbers.
Nick Foles, Eagles (at Rams)
I dove into Foles’s case for being a fantasy starter earlier this week when it was reported that Carson Wentz would likely be out against the Rams, and came out feeling bearish about last year’s Super Bowl MVP. In short, Foles was bad in his two games as a starter this year, the Eagles’ offense isn’t nearly as strong as it was last season, and the Rams feature an active, athletic, opportunistic defense. All that adds up to a tough assignment for Foles on Sunday night.
James White, Patriots (at Steelers)
White turned in a dud last week, catching two passes for 15 yards and running four times for 13 yards in the Patriots’ 34–33 loss to the Dolphins. The Steelers have been tougher on running backs in PPR than standard leagues, which suggests they do better than the average team against players like White, but you should still be playing him with confidence on Sunday. No matter matchup or recent performance, White has a huge role in the New England offense. This game has an over/under of 52.5 points, tied with Rams-Eagles for second highest on the board this week. I’m not turning away from White in that sort of environment.
Marlon Mack, Colts (vs. Cowboys)
Mack has taken a dramatic tumble down the consensus rankings at FantasyPros this week, largely because of a matchup with a Dallas defense that’s ranked fourth in running back aFPA in standard-scoring leagues. Still, it’s challenging to fade a player who has delivered either a touchdown or 93 total yards in all but two games this season, and who has had at least 14 touches in six of his last seven games. Mack’s ceiling takes a hit against the Cowboys’ defense, but his floor remains too high to bench him. Don’t sleep on the fact that while the Cowboys are snagging all the headlines, the Colts are still favored by three points in this game.
Dion Lewis, Titans (at Giants)
Remember two weeks ago when Tarik Cohen burned the Giants for 156 receiving yards on 12 catches. Remember how last week people thought Chris Thompson could do a version of that before remembering that he’s on the most inept offensive team in football? Well, Lewis isn’t on an inept offense, and is capable of burning the Giants in much the same way Cohen did in Week 13. The Giants are ranked 31st in running back aFPA in both standard and PPR formats, allowing 72 receptions for 570 yards and five receiving touchdowns to backs this year. Lewis is equipped to take advantage.
Jordan Howard, Bears (vs. Packers)
Howard quietly had his best game of the season last week, running for 101 yards on 19 carries in the Bears’ 15-6 win over the Rams. It has been a disappointing season for Howard, but he hasn’t lacked volume, totaling 197 carries, good for 15.2 per game. He has had at least 15 carries in six games this year, and at least 16 in three of his last four contests. If the Bears can win and cover the 5.5-point spread against the Packers this week, Howard should push up toward 20 carries, especially after showing how effective he can be in keeping a dangerous quarterback off the field.
Derrick Henry, Titans (at Giants)
There’s going to be a clamor to start Henry this week after his 238-yard, four-touchdown performance from a week ago. That, however, would be a textbook example of point-chasing. Remember, Henry hadn’t run for more than 60 yards in a game all season before last week, and it wasn’t for a lack of the Titans trying. He had double-digit carries in seven of the team’s first 12 games, and the most he had to show for all that work was 57 yards, back in Week 3. The Giants are terrible against the run, but, again, this sets up as a better draw for Dion Lewis than it does for Henry.
Kenyan Drake, Dolphins (at Vikings)
Speaking of point-chasing, Drake had six carries for 24 yards and zero catches before finishing off the Miami Miracle to beat the Patriots last week. Had he not received the final lateral and turned it into one of the most dramatic plays of the season, it would’ve been his fourth game with fewer than 60 yards from scrimmage in the previous five weeks. Unless you know of another Miami Miracle on the horizon, Drake shouldn’t be anywhere near a fantasy lineup.
Tevin Coleman, Falcons (vs. Cardinals)
This is a tough one because Coleman is always dangerous enough to turn in an RB1 day, but he has been such an afterthought of late, in both Atlanta’s offense and the fantasy world, that he shouldn’t be trusted this week. He got double-digit carries last week for the first time since 10, but turned his 10 rushes into just 45 yards. His touch total and touch share has been decreasing steadily since the middle of the season, and it’s likely the Falcons will want to see more of Ito Smith, who will be back with the team next year.
Adrian Peterson, Redskins (at Jaguars)
Peterson is possible the most game-script dependent running back in the league, and game script is something that’s not going to be in Washington’s favor so long as it keeps trotting out Josh Johnson or Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Peterson ran for 16 yards on 10 carries in the 40-16 loss to the Giants last week. He had a 90-yard touchdown two weeks ago, but just eight yards on his other eight carries in that game. Outside of that, he hasn’t rushed for 70 yards in a game since the end of October. It’s impossible to see him, or the Washington offense, get anything going in Jacksonville on Sunday.
Adam Humphries, Buccaneers (at Ravens)
I’d tell you to follow my pal Evan Silva from RotoWire on Twitter (@evansilva), but I’m guessing there are approximately zero people who follow me and not him. Anyway, Evan dropped few great Humphries stats in a tweet yesterday, which I will now borrow from liberally (read: in full).
John Brown, Ravens (vs. Buccaneers)
Brown scored his first touchdown in Lamar Jackson’s four starts last week, though he still had just two catches for 23 yards. Still, cue up some of what the Ravens have done the last four weeks, and you’ll find that they’re still doing everything they can to get Brown involved, including getting him targets deep down the field. In fact, in Week 13 against the Falcons, Brown broke free for what would have been a 51-yard score had Jackson not overthrown him. Brown’s starting case is built on Jackson getting better through the air, and we’ve seen signs of that the last two weeks, as I laid out when I argued that Jackson should be locked in as a fantasy starter earlier this week. Brown leads the Ravens with 18 targets since Jackson took over as the starter, 17 of which have come in the last three games.
Curtis Samuel, Panthers (vs. Saints)
Samuel has taken on a larger role for the Panthers in recent weeks, and it’s hard to imagine the team relegating him to a bit role at this point. He has 19 targets in his last two games, catching 10 of them for 168 yards. He had been one of Carolina’s most dangerous weapons even before burnishing his presence in the offense, scoring touchdowns in three of the four games preceding his role jumping to a new level. The over/under in Saints-Panthers on Monday night is 52, the fourth-highest on the board this week.
DaeSean Hamilton and Tim Patrick, Broncos (Saturday vs. Browns)
Hamilton and Patrick led the Broncos in receiving last week, and with Courtland Sutton’s status for Saturday up in the air because of a leg injury, that could be the case again this week. Hamilton got nine targets in the loss to the 49ers, catching seven of them for 47 yards and a touchdown. Patrick led the team with 10 targets, pulling down seven for 85 yards. The Browns have been tough on receivers this year, but this game has a healthy over/under of 45.5 points, and Hamilton and Patrick would both be in line for a floor of seven targets should Sutton be inactive.
Robby Anderson, Jets (vs. Texans)
Anderson has 36 targets in his last five games, catching 17 of them for 212 yards and a touchdown. In Sam Darnold’s return to the field last week, Anderson pulled down four of seven targets for 76 yards and a score. Volume plus the return of his favored quarterback puts Anderson on the WR3 radar this week.
Josh Reynolds, Rams (vs. Eagles)
Sometimes, a theory doesn’t turn into a law. When Cooper Kupp went down with a torn ACL, the fantasy community theorized that Reynolds could turn into a regular starter while enjoying a 90% snap rate in one of the best offenses in the league. Reynolds came through in his first game as a starter, catching six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown, but he has fallen flat the last two weeks, totaling five catches for 55 yards. He’s not an absolute must-sit, but consider him no more than a top-40 option at the position this week.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals (at Falcons)
Fitzgerald has fewer than 60 yards in each of his last five games. He has scored three touchdowns in that span, but had just 23 and 30 yards in the two games in which he hit paydirt. What’s more, the Cardinals have scored 21 points or fewer in all but one game this season, meaning there aren’t very many touchdowns to go around. Even in what’s a good matchup on paper, Fitzgerald cannot be trusted in fantasy lineups.
Golden Tate, Eagles (at Rams)
It finally appeared that Tate was finding a foothold in the Eagles offense. From Week 11 through Week 13, he racked up 23 targets. He seemingly broke through in the last of those three games, catching seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. It all came crashing down last week, when he caught one of three targets for seven yards in the 29-23 loss to the Cowboys. What was even more disappointing than his bottom-line numbers was the fact that Carson Wentz attempted 32 passes in the game, and just three of them went in Tate’s direction. With Wentz possibly out this week, it’s hard to get excited about Tate as a play against the Rams.
Demaryius Thomas, Texans (Saturday at Jets)
In five games with the Texans, Thomas has 14 catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 20 targets. That comes out to 2.8 receptions, four targets, 35.8 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game. At this stage of his career, Thomas is heavily touchdown-dependent, and all but one of his five touchdowns this season have come inside the red zone. Even in great matchup—the Jets are ranked 32nd in receiver aFPA—Thomas is no more than a WR4.
Ian Thomas, Panthers (vs. Saints)
Thomas shined in his first start since Greg Olsen’s season-ending foot injury, catching nine of 11 targets for 77 yards. He got five targets the week before, hauling in all of them for 46 yards. His role clearly changed after Olsen’s injury, and the way he has performed as the team’s primary tight end should have him on the radar in all fantasy leagues, especially in a game with an over/under of 52.
Trey Burton, Bears (vs. Packers)
Burton didn’t do much in Mitchell Trubisky’s return last week, but he did get five targets, catching two of them for 22 yards. Allen Robinson is dealing with a hip injury, and if he’s forced to miss Sunday’s game with the Packers, Burton would have a larger role in the offense. Etiher way, he projects as a low-end TE1.
Evan Engram, Giants (vs. Titans)
Engram returned last week after a two-game absence, catching three passes for 77 yards. It has been a disappointing season for the second-year tight end, but he has played some of his best ball of late, totaling five receptions for 123 yards in his last two games. He’s an easy start if Odell Beckham is out again because of his quad injury, and more of a borderline TE1/2 if Beckham returns.
C.J. Uzomah, Bengals (vs. Raiders)
Uzomah got just three targets last week, but he caught all of them for 37 yards. The Raiders have been terrible against tight ends this season, ranking 32nd in positional aFPA and allowing a whopping 11.3 yards per target. For sake of comparison, Travis Kelce is averaging 9.42 yards per target this season, while George Kittle is putting up 10.92 yards on an average look from his quarterback.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (vs. Dolphins)
SI.com’s Start ’Em. Sit ’Em’s favorite whipping boy is back for at least one more go-round in the 2018 season. Rudolph had two catches for seven yards on five targets last week. He has two touchdowns on the season and has had fewer than 60 yards in all but two games. This man belongs nowhere near a fantasy starting lineup.
Vernon Davis, Redskins (at Jaguars)
Jordan Reed is doubtful for this week’s game in Jacksonville because of a toe injury. That could entice some fantasy owners into playing Vernon Davis, especially those who have been riding with some combination of Uzomah, Chris Herndon and Vance McDonald in recent weeks. That, however, would be a mistake. Have you watched the Washington offense since losing Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to season-ending injuries? Including the game in which McCoy was injured, Washington has averaged 14.5 points and 261.5 yards per game. Things aren’t suddenly going to turn around under Josh Johnson in Jacksonville on Sunday.