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NFL Skinny: Week 15 preview

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

I was knocked out of my highest priority league last week because I made the wrong choice at QB between Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick. It was the second week in a row that I made the wrong choice, and it was the umpteenth reminder that I really hate not having one franchise QB that I simply never have to think about benching — there's maybe 6-7 of them, with Luck just missing that elite cut. At any rate, I still have a couple other dogs in the hunt among all my leagues, but as I pointed out with the Luck/Kaepernick example, one wrong move can provide a swift ending to the '12 season. Should I go with Brandon Weeden or Ben Roethlisberger? Steve Smith or Owen Daniels? You might be able to win a championship even if you don't make all the right moves. But you at least better hope that you make more than your opponent.

Let's get the Week 15 thought-process started, Skinny-style:

Total Week 15 green-light plays by position: 8 QB; 9 RB; 16 WR; 8 TE; 5 DST

Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring

QUARTERBACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (QB): NO; TB; WAS; OAK; PHI

Least FPPG allowed (QB): PIT; CHI; SEA; SF; ARI

I'm playing a heavy Matt Ryan hunch this week. He was lackluster against New York in the playoffs last season, and he's actually been much better on the road this year. But something tells me that the Falcons passing game will have a field day this week at home against a Giants defense that has allowed the 5th-most pass plays of 20-plus yards (49). And the Giants could be without top cover corner Prince Amukamara, who is dealing with a strained hamstring.

As you can see, I'd be going Andrew Luck over Colin Kaepernick this week, if I still had that choice. Luck has the 2nd-most pass attempts in the league and Houston has allowed 356 passing yards (yes, 356) in its past 4 games.

I'm expecting Robert Griffin III to play this week with a sprained knee, and I've ranked him accordingly — which means I've deducted for a likely knee brace and a bit more conservative offensive approach. But, as you can see, I don't expect those factors to hurt his value too much. Given that it's considered a mild sprain, I'm guessing adrenaline will help him move around pretty well on Sunday.

I'd be a bit worried if I were a Matthew Stafford owner. Arizona was humiliated last week, and I think you can count on a "pride" effort from the Cardinals at home this week. And Arizona has maintained a strong pass defense despite losing the past nine games. In fact, only Chicago has allowed a lower QB Rating than the Cards' 71.9 mark.

As of right now, I'm leaning towards Brandon Weeden over Ben Roethlisberger. But Weeden's home numbers — 57.3 QB Rating, 4:10 TD-to-INT ratio — has me concerned. That said, the matchup discrepancy heavily favors Weeden — Washington allows 295.4 passing yards compared to 232.1 for Dallas. And you can't ignore the fact that Big Ben's big numbers last week came from some serious garbage time production as San Diego was up 34-10 before two late, meaningless, TD passes by Roethlisberger.

Matt Schaub has had two monster games this year, while the 11 others have been no better than fair-to-middling. On the other side of the ball, Indy has been solid (league average) in fantasy against opposing QBs. Don't overrate the matchup for Schaub. I'd definitely look to avoid having to rely on him to get me to the next round of the playoffs.

RUNNING BACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (RB): NO; JAX; OAK; TEN; BUF

Least FPPG allowed (RB): HOU; SF; PIT; DEN; SEA

I've been at a point for a while with Stevan Ridley where I've looked at him as matchup proof. The Patriots lead the league in trips to the red zone per game (4.7), and the threat of Tom Brady and the passing game allows Ridley to work often against less-than-loaded boxes. The 49ers are, perhaps, the league's toughest matchup for a RB, but Steven Jackson and Reggie Bush have come away with double-digit fantasy tallies against them the past two weeks, and if they can do it, Ridley definitely can too — let's say 70 yards and a TD.

Reggie Bush has averaged a solid 5.0 YPC over his past 3 games, and faces a Jacksonville defense allowing the 2nd-most FAN PPG to RBs. The Jags have allowed double-digit fantasy points to 4 RBs in the past 2 games, so while Bush has clear high-end RB2 upside this week, Daniel Thomas also makes for a justifiable Flex flier.

Carolina allows 4.6 YPC to RBs, and it has been particularly bad on the road, where that YPC number jumps to 5.1. I know Ryan Mathews did very little with his 25 carries last week. But you have to cut him some slack given that he was playing Pittsburgh on the road. And the one thing he did do was hold on to the pigskin. With 20-25 touches this week at home against the Panthers, I expect Mathews to have his best fantasy game of the year (I know, it's not saying much).

The Jets have wisely leaned on the run in the past month, with RBs averaging more than 34 carries in the last four games. In that span, Shonn Greene has outcarried Bilal Powell 76 to 54, but Powell has a 14 to 9 advantage in red zone carries. With 12-15 touches, and steady red zone work, Powell has been a top 15 fantasy RB producer since Week 11 (4 TDs), and I see him and Greene as near-equals (RB2 bubble) this week on Monday night against a Tennessee defense allowing the 4th-most FAN PPG to RBs.

We'll have to wait and see what the MRI has to say about Ahmad Bradshaw's knee. It's not expected to be a serious issue, but I'm guessing that it'll at least be an excuse for Week 14 breakout rookie David Wilson to get another 10-12 touches. If Bradshaw's tests come back worse than expected and Wilson looks like he'll be featured in Atlanta, boost the game-breaker well into RB2 territory as the Falcons have allowed a healthy 4.5 YPC to RBs.

Joique Bell led Lions RBs in touches for the first time this season in Week 14. And it's about time. Bell (5.4) is averaging 1.7 yards more per carry than Mikel Leshoure (3.7), and he's 4th among all RBs in receiving yards (380). Bell is averaging 0.87 fantasy points per touch. Among the 25 RBs that have scored more fantasy points than Bell this season, only Darren Sproles (1.16), Andre Brown (1.12) and C.J. Spiller (0.93) have averaged more fantasy points per touch. Don't be surprised if Bell's role only continues to grow the rest of December. Against an Arizona defense that has allowed 4 100-yard rushers in the past 3 games, Bell has definite Flex appeal.

WIDE RECEIVERS


Most FPPG allowed (WR): TB; NO; WAS; NYG; IND

Least FPPG allowed (WR): SF; SEA; PIT; NYJ; CIN

As Andy Behrens pointed out in this week's Target Practice, Josh Gordon saw a season-high 12 targets in Week 14. And he's set to face a Redskins defense that allows 199 yards per game to WRs, 2nd-most in the league. Gordon is averaging 101 receiving yards in his past 2 games, and he should be able to maintain that rate against Washington.

Don't put too much weight on the name brands that are Greg Jennings and Larry Fitzgerald. The reality is that Jennings has played five games this season, and he hasn't gone above 46 receiving yards in any of them. He's combined for just 73 yards on 5 catches in the two games since returning from injury — he's averaged more than 50 snaps in those 2 games, so it's not like he hasn't been playing. As for Fitzgerald, Arizona's abysmal QB situation has basically wasted one of the prime-aged seasons of one of the greatest WRs of all-time. Since Week 7, Fitzgerald is 72nd among WRs in fantasy points, behind the Morgans (Josh and Joe). What a travesty.

If Danny Amendola can return from a foot injury this week — head coach Jeff Fisher says there's a good chance — expect him to be a PPR force. Only Tampa Bay has allowed more receptions to WRs than Minnesota.

New England is having serious depth issues at WR, with Julian Edelman and recently-signed Donte' Stallworth done for the season because of injuries. Add in Rob Gronkowski's absence and Tom Brady really has little choice but to lean heavily on Brandon Lloyd, who posted a top 10 fantasy WR performance in Week 14 (7/89/1). The matchup isn't great for Lloyd this week against San Francisco, but he still has WR3 upside now that he's back in a prominent role under Brady's direction.

The worse-than-usual rankings for Kenny Britt and Stevie Johnson are directly related to the corners that they'll be seeing a lot of this week — Antonio Cromartie and Richard Sherman, respectively. Both rank among the top 4 in terms of pass coverage among the cornerback position according to ProFootballFocus.com. And you'll certainly get no argument about PFF's rankings from me. Cromartie and Sherman are more than legit.

Move Cecil Shorts up into WR2 territory if he returns from a concussion this week. Jacksonville will have little hope of establishing a ground game against a stout Miami run defense, and the Dolphins can certainly be taken to task through the air, where they have allowed 12 WRs to total 73-plus receiving yards.

I'm typically more bearish about Vincent Jackson than the consensus. But this is one of those weeks where even I can't cast aspersions at V-Jax. New Orleans allows the 2nd-most FAN PPG to WRs, and Jackson went for 216 yards and a TD against the Saints in Week 7.

TIGHT ENDS

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Most FPPG allowed (TE): WAS; TEN; NE; DEN; OAK

Least FPPG allowed (TE): PIT; CLE; SF; SD; DAL

Greg Olsen is the top fantasy tight end over the past 5 weeks. He's drafting off of Cam Newton's hot streak, and I wouldn't risk benching him this week against a San Diego defense that has allowed the 10th-most FAN PPG to TEs the past 3 weeks.

Clay Harbor and Craig Stevens will be asked to step up for their teams this week because of injuries to Brent Celek and Jared Cook, respectively. Harbor has already proven capable as he filled in for a concussed Brent Celek early in Week 14 and came away with 52 yards and a TD. This week he'll face a Cincy defense that has allowed the 10th-most FAN PPG to the position. As for Stevens, he'll draw the Jets on Monday night. New York clocks in at No. 11 in terms of fantasy generosity to tight ends. Both are justifiable plug-n-plays for those deep leaguers in a pinch.

I really don't know what to say about Vernon Davis this week (or for the past several weeks, for that matter). He's not even ranked among the top 50 tight ends in fantasy over the past 3 weeks. But he's facing a Patriots defense that has allowed the 3rd-most FAN PPG to TEs. And Davis is still ranked No. 13 for the season at the position because of his strong early play. Ultimately, No. 13 seemed like a fair enough place to slot him this week.

Ben Watson has the good fortune of facing the most generous fantasy defense to the TE position, Washington. Considering that Watson has been a top 5 fantasy TE over the past 4 weeks, there's a TE1 argument to be made this week.

It's often said that a tight end is an inexperienced QBs best friend. That brings Rob Housler into focus, as he's seeing a healthy amount of looks lately from the atrocious Arizona QBs. Over the past 4 weeks, Housler ranks 8th in targets, and 4th in catches, at the TE position. He's yet to find the end zone this season, which makes him a suspect standard-league bet. But in PPR leagues, give him a little bump up the rankings.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

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Most FPPG allowed (DST): ARI; PHI; KC; DET; TEN

Least FPPG allowed (DST): NE; WAS; HOU; TB; NYG

WEEK 15 GAME PREDICTIONS

Cincinnati 23, Philadelphia 20
New Orleans 35, Tampa Bay 27
Atlanta 31, NY Giants 29
Houston 34, Indianapolis 26
Green Bay 24, Chicago 20
Denver 26, Baltimore 23
Miami 22, Jacksonville 18
Cleveland 23, Washington 21
Minnesota 24, St. Louis 22
Detroit 23, Arizona 14
Seattle 24, Buffalo 20
San Diego 27, Carolina 24
Oakland 27, Kansas City 20
Dallas 24, Pittsburgh 21
New England 23, San Francisco 18
Tennessee 20, NY Jets 17

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