NFL Skinny: Week 15 preview

Also See: Sunday Scene | Monday Brunch | Week 14 leaders

Congratulations. If you are still reading the Skinny at this point, I can only assume that you have a playoff date to prepare for in Week 15, or either that you are just having a hard time letting go.

For the postseason crowd, I’m going to dispense with the typical Skinny format and take a different route this week. After all, you’ve made it this far. I can assume you have a pretty good understanding of the ’08 fantasy football landscape that we’ve traveled over to get to this point. I’m not going to waste any of your time telling you about how rookie Steve Slaton is looking like the new Brian Westbrook. Or how Brian Westbrook is starting to look like the old Brian Westbrook again. Or how Matt Ryan is the next Peyton Manning. Or how Peyton Manning … well, you get the idea. Instead, let’s just get right down to business and take an early look at Week 15, game by game.

Week 15 Preview
A snapshot of each Week 15 matchup

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS @ CHICAGO BEARS
Important numbers: NO 4th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 2nd-most to WRs; CHI 7th-most FAN PTS allowed to WRs, just 3.7 YPC allowed to RBs
What to watch for: As per usual, look for Chicago to feed RB Matt Forte heavily in an effort to control/eat clock and keep Drew Brees off the field as much as possible. QB Kyle Orton is likely to take some chances with Devin Hester, however, as the Saints have allowed the 2nd-most pass plays of 20-plus yards … Brees has averaged 43.5 pass attempts in six road games (nine more pass attempts than his home average), and he’s likely to pass 40-plus times again given Chicago’s weaknesses in pass defense and respectability against the run – Adrian Peterson is the only RB to top 66 rushing yards at Chicago this season. The Bears LBs also do a good job at minimizing RB receiving yards (8th-fewest), so Reggie Bush is a tricky play … weather reports for Thursday indicate dry (10 percent chance of precipitation), but cold (32 degrees) conditions.
Green Light: Drew Brees, Matt Forte, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Jeremy Shockey
Yellow light: Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Chicago defense
Red light: New Orleans defense
Sleeper: Kyle Orton, Devin Hester, Greg Olsen
Injury concern: None of major significance

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Important numbers: SD 5th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs, most FAN PTS to TEs; KC most FAN PTS allowed to RBs, NFL-low 6 QB sacks
What to watch for: The Chiefs give up big plays (3rd-most pass plays of 20-plus yards, 2nd-most rush plays of 20-plus yards), and when these teams met in Week 10, Philip Rivers exploited the Chiefs’ secondary for six pass plays of 18-plus yards – Malcom Floyd (4/76/TD) especially benefitted as big WRs have given the Chiefs trouble all season … San Diego’s run defense is trending sharply upwards of late, so Larry Johnson is an iffy proposition, just like he’s been since he returned from injury. But there’s nothing to be concerned of for the Chiefs passing game – not that you would consider sitting him, but Gonzo has shredded the Chargers in recent meetings … Other than a little rain, the weather doesn’t look like it’ll be a factor.
Green Light: Tony Gonzalez, Philip Rivers, Tyler Thigpen, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson,
Yellow light: Larry Johnson, Chris Chambers, Mark Bradley, San Diego defense
Red light: Kansas City defense
Sleeper: Malcom Floyd, Darren Sproles
Injury concern: KC WR Mark Bradley sat in Week 14 (calf) and his status for Week 15 is uncertain; KC Center Rudy Niswanger injured his knee in Week 14 (prognosis pending)

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS @ ATLANTA FALCONS
Important numbers: ATL 10th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs/RBs, 4.8 YPC allowed to RBs ; TB 5th-fewest FAN PTS to QBs
What to watch for: These teams met in Tampa in Week 2, and the Bucs dominated (24-9). Matt Ryan struggled in that game, but he’s come a long ways since then. That said, this Tampa Bay defense, with its disciplined Cover 2 zone, is a tough place to mine fantasy points. The Bucs have allowed just 10.9 points in seven home games. No matter how good the Falcons have looked recently, you just can’t feel that great about any of them this week, especially after Tampa Bay’s tough MNF loss to Carolina.
Green Light: Michael Turner, Warrick Dunn, Roddy White, Antonio Bryant
Yellow Light: Matt Ryan, Jeff Garcia
Red light: Michael Jenkins, Jerious Norwood, Tampa Bay defense, Atlanta defense
Sleeper: Carnell Williams
Injury concern: None of major significance

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS @ MIAMI DOLPHINS
Important numbers: SF 3rd-most FAN PTS allowed to WRs, fewest to TEs; MIA 7th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to RBs, 2nd-fewest to TEs, 5th-most to WRs
What to watch for: This is a matchup of two QBs, Chad Pennington and Shaun Hill, that don’t pose much of a vertical threat, but they are accurate game-managers who don’t make too many mistakes. With Frank Gore questionable this week (ankle), Hill is likely to throw somewhere close to 40 times, especially since the secondary is where the Dolphins have struggled most. But expect there to be a lot of dink-and-dunking by Hill as Miami has been solid at rushing the QB and the 49ers have allowed the third-most sacks in the league. If Gore plays, he could catch a bunch of passes out of the backfield. If Gore can’t go, DeShaun Foster is likely to start, but I’d be more intrigued by Michael Robinson as a passing down/goal-line option … In addition to their struggles against opposing WRs, no team has allowed more RB receptions or receiving yards than the 49ers. Keep that in mind if you are considering Ronnie Brown and/or Ricky Williams.
Green Light: Ronnie Brown, Davone Bess, Miami defense, Isaac Bruce
Yellow Light: Frank Gore, Shaun Hill
Red light: Anthony Fasano, Vernon Davis, DeShaun Foster, San Francisco defense
Sleeper: Ted Ginn, Chad Pennington, Bryant Johnson, Ricky Williams, Michael Robinson
Injury concern: 49ers RB Frank Gore (Questionable, ankle); 49ers CB Nate Clements (broken thumb)

BUFFALO BILLS @ NEW YORK JETS
Important numbers: NYJ 3rd-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 8th-fewest to RBs, 2nd-most to TEs; BUF 6th-fewest QB sacks, 5th-fewest INTs
What to watch for: In Week 9, Buffalo lost to the Jets at home, 26-17. Both teams scored a touchdown of the Pick-6 variety in that contest and each offense failed to reach 300 total yards … On paper, this is a nice matchup for the Bills’ passing game, but the team is a major question mark at QB with Trent Edwards dealing with a groin injury and backup J.P. Losman just a combined 24-for-44 for 216 passing yards in six quarters of TD-less relief for the Bills over the past two weeks. With both teams coming off offensively-anemic back-to-back losses, look for each team to get back to basics, which should mean a run-heavy approach. Thomas Jones has scored a TD in seven straight games, but he’s averaged just 13 carries in the past two. Expect him to get closer to 20 carries in this one. Same goes for Marshawn Lynch, who could also be very active as a receiver out of the backfield.
Green Light: Thomas Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Dustin Keller, New York Jets
Yellow Light: Jerricho Cotchery, Laveranues Coles, Lee Evans, Brett Favre, Buffalo Bills
Red light: Trent Edwards/J.P. Losman
Sleeper: Robert Royal, Leon Washington, Josh Reed
Injury concern: Bills QB Trent Edwards (groin)

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS @ ST. LOUIS RAMS
Important numbers: SEA most FAN PTS allowed to QBs/WRs; STL 2nd-most FAN PTS allowed to RBs, 10th-most to WRs
What to watch for: Well, here’s what not to watch for: Interceptions. Both defenses rank in the bottom five in the NFL in that category … In Week 3, Seattle dominated this matchup, beating the Rams 37-13 in Seattle. Seattle ran wild in that contest, rushing 46 times for 245 yards – Julius Jones had 140 rushing yards and a TD, and T.J. Duckett added 79 rushing yards and two scores. Seattle should again have plenty success on the ground, but Mike Holmgren has been unpredictable in his backfield workload distribution, and any one of four backs (Jones, Duckett, Maurice Morris, Leonard Weaver) could emerge as the star in this one, making all risky propositions. If I had to pick one this week, I might lean towards Jones, who didn’t get a carry against New England in Week 14. It would be par for the course to see Holmgren shift gears and start Jones this time around … The Rams have just 13 offensive TDs in 13 games and have only once topped 19 points. Only Steven Jackson should be trusted.
Green Light: Steven Jackson, John Carlson
Yellow Light: Maurice Morris, Torry Holt, Donnie Avery, Marc Bulger, Seattle defense
Red light: St. Louis defense
Sleeper: Julius Jones, T.J. Duckett, Seneca Wallace
Injury concern: Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck (back, may be done for season)

WASHINGTON REDSKINS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS
Important numbers: CIN 8th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs/WRs, 9th-most to TEs ; WAS 5th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 6th-fewest to WRs
What to watch for: This game features the NFL’s worst offense (CIN) and the fourth-worst offense (WAS). The Redskins have a disciplined, balanced defense that has yielded just 18.9 points per game, so the fantasy expectations for the Bengals, in particular, have to be even lower than usual … The Redskins’ offensive struggles can at least be partially blamed on a brutal schedule that has included Pittsburgh and Baltimore in addition to the Murderer’s Row that is the NFC East. Expect the Redskins to try to establish Clinton Portis early and often in this one after Portis was a bit miffed by a lessened role in Week 14. But if the ‘Skins can get out to a nice first-half lead, don’t be surprised if the battered Portis is rested extensively in the second half … No WR has gone for more than 85 yards against the ‘Skins since Week 3, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the third-most targeted WR in the league, seems like a decent bet given the likelihood that the team will throw it at least 35-40 times.
Green Light: Clinton Portis, Santana Moss, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Chris Cooley
Yellow Light: Antwaan Randle El, Washington defense
Red light: Cedric Benson, Chad Johnson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Cincinnati defense
Sleeper: Jason Campbell, Ladell Betts
Injury concern: ‘Skins RB Clinton Portis (everything); ‘Skins LT Chris Samuels (triceps, out for the year)

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans
Important numbers: TEN 3rd-fewest FAN PTS to QBs, fewest to WRs, 3.8 YPC allowed to RBs; HOU 7th-most FAN PTS to QBs/RBs, 8th-most to TEs
What to watch for: The Titans dominated this matchup 31-12 when these teams hooked up in Week 3. Tennessee, the third-most run-heavy team in the league, predictably ran often against the Texans, rushing 36 times for 154 yards. When they know they can run the ball with success, there is little doubt that the Titans will look to lean as heavily on the ground game as possible – both LenDale White and Chris Johnson should push 20 touches in this one … The Texans have one of the most talented stables of offensive weapons in the league and, in the past six games with Matt Schaub behind center, they have averaged a little more than 27 points per game. With the likelihood that it’ll be a long day for WRs Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter – the Titans have allowed just two WR TDs and held Johnson and Walter to a combined six catches and 44 yards in their last meeting – you can count on RB Steve Slaton and TE Owen Daniels being very active, as they were back in Week 3.
Green Light: Chris Johnson, LenDale White, Steve Slaton, Owen Daniels, Tennessee defense
Yellow Light: Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, Justin Gage, Matt Schaub
Red light: Kerry Collins, Justin McCareins, Houston defense
Sleeper: Bo Scaife
Injury concern:

DETROIT LIONS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Important numbers: DET 9th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 3rd-most to RBs, 4th-most to TEs; IND fewest FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 8th-most to RBs, 2nd-fewest to WRs, 6th-fewest to TEs
What to watch for: Talk about a Survivor Pool dream matchup. Facing a winless Detroit squad, expect a result akin to Indy’s 35-3 drubbing of a similarly hapless Cincinnati team last week. Peyton Manning should be able to pick apart the Lions secondary. And if the Colts get out to an early lead, figure that backup RB Dominic Rhodes will get extensive clock-killing work, allowing Joseph Addai to rest a sore shoulder … Detroit’s only two viable fantasy players, Kevin Smith and Calvin Johnson, should be worth rolling the dice on in this one. Johnson’s matchup is difficult, but Detroit’s going to have to throw the ball in this one, and Johnson’s supreme athletic ability has helped net him nine TDs in his past 12 games, a few of them coming in similarly tough matchups. As for Smith, he’s likely to be used heavily early in hopes of keeping Manning and Co. off the field and somehow keeping things close.
Green Light: All Colts starters, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith, Indy defense
Yellow Light:
Red light: Detroit defense, Daunte Culpepper (or Drew Henson)
Sleeper: Dominic Rhodes
Injury concern: Daunte Culpepper (shoulder)

GREEN BAY PACKERS @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Important numbers: GB 6th-most FAN PTS allowed to RBs, 8th-fewest to WRs; JAC 6th-most FAN PTS to TEs
What to watch for: Jaguars leading receiver, Matt Jones, had his three-game suspension for substance abuse violations upheld, so he’s done for the season. That puts a big crimp in the Jags’ passing attack against one of the league’s better secondaries in the Packers. Jacksonville is going to have to get the RB tandem of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor clicking on all cylinders. There’s just no reason to think that David Garrard will throw much more than 30 times … Green Bay should be able to execute a balanced attack. Teams have been running on Jacksonville with ease, of late, and the loss of superb corner Rashean Mathis has made an already vulnerable pass defense even more so. The Jaguars are just 1-5 at home this season and, if they can’t keep the Packers off the field with a ball-controlled attack, they’ll be sending the fans home disappointed once again.
Green Light: Maurice Jones-Drew, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, Greg Jennings, Donald Driver
Yellow Light: David Garrard, Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay defense
Red light: Jacksonville receivers, Jacksonville defense
Sleeper: Fred Taylor, Donald Lee
Injury concern: Jaguars WR Jerry Porter (groin); Packers RT Mark Tauscher (knee, out for season); Packers S Nick Collins (Questionable, shin)

MINNESOTA VIKINGS @ ARIZONA CARDINALS
Important numbers: ARI 2nd-most FAN PTS to QBs, 6th-most to WRs; MIN 4th-fewest FAN PTS to RBs, 9th-fewest to WRs
What to watch for: Arizona is a home juggernaut, scoring 29-plus points in every game at University of Phoenix Stadium this season. No team throws more than the Cardinals and, facing a Vikings defense allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, expect Kurt Warner to air it out once again. … The Cardinals have allowed just one running back to go for 70-plus yards at home, but Minnesota will still look to get Adrian Peterson going, especially if QB Gus Frerotte can’t go in this one. The attention paid to the Vikes’ running game should open up play-action opportunities for burner Bernard Berrian. I have a feeling this could end up being a shootout, especially if Frerotte gets the green light.
Green Light: Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Arizona defense, Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian
Yellow Light: Gus Frerotte, Minnesota defense
Red light: Chester Taylor, Tim Hightower, Bobby Wade
Sleeper: Steve Breaston, J.J. Arrington, Visanthe Shiancoe
Injury concern: Gus Frerotte (Questionable, back)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS @ BALTIMORE RAVENS
Important numbers: Both teams ridiculously good at limiting all aspects of the opposing offense
What to watch for: Baltimore leads the NFL in rush attempts, and Pittsburgh ranks ninth in that category. These teams are all about blitz-heavy, disciplined, physical defense and ball-controlled offense. The Steelers have allowed the opposition the fewest plays from scrimmage of 20-plus yards (22), and Baltimore is also very strong in that category. So this will be about two teams trying to enforce their will on the ground, mixing in short slants, screens and crossing-route passes as needed. If you are leaning on anyone in either of these two teams’ passing games, consider only possession guys like Hines Ward and Derrick Mason. Passing-down backs Mewelde Moore and Ray Rice both have decent sleeper potential. The lead backs in this contest should see a high volume of carries, but the yards per carry clips will likely leave a lot to be desired.
Green Light: Baltimore defense, Pittsburgh defense
Yellow Light: Hines Ward, Derrick Mason, Le’Ron McClain, Heath Miller, Willie Parker, Santonio Holmes
Red light: Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Mark Clayton, Willis McGahee, Nate Washington, Todd Heap
Sleeper: Mewelde Moore, Ray Rice
Injury concern: Ravens RB Ray Rice (day-to-day, ankle); RB Willis McGahee (day-to-day, shoulder)

DENVER BRONCOS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS
Important numbers: CAR 7th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to QBs, ; DEN 4th-most FAN PTS allowed to RBs, 7th-fewest to WRs, 3rd-most to TEs
What to watch for: Carolina has the sixth-most rushing attempts this season and, as we saw on Monday night against a very sound Tampa Bay defense, it can run the ball on anyone right now. Against a Denver defense giving up 4.9 yards a carry, expect more of the same – a lot of DeAngelo Williams with a heavy pinch of Jonathan Stewart mixed in … Denver can’t keep its running backs healthy, losing Peyton Hillis for the season last week. Down to Tatum Bell in the backfield, QB Jay Cutler is likely to try and lean heavily on WR Brandon Marshall, much like the Bucs did with Antonio Bryant on Monday night (9 catches/200 yards/2 TDs). I wouldn’t be surprised if Cutler throws 40-plus times – the Panthers have been excellent against the run at home.
Green Light: Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Tony Scheffler, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Steve Smith
Yellow Light: Muhsin Muhammad, Carolina defense
Red light: Jake Delhomme, Tatum Bell, Selvin Young, Denver defense
Sleeper: None of significance
Injury concern: Broncos RB Peyton Hillis (hamstring, out for season); Broncos CB Champ Bailey (Groin, questionable)

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS @ OAKLAND RAIDERS
Important numbers: NE 6th-most FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 9th-fewest to RBs, 4th-most to WRs, 7th-most to TEs; OAK 5th-most FAN PTS allowed to RBs, 5th-fewest to WRs
What to watch for: Oakland’s in a tough spot. The team literally has no passing game – last in the league with 154.8 passing yards per game. Unfortunately, that’s where the Patriots are most vulnerable. However, Oakland has a strong running game and speed can be an issue for an older, beat up Pats’ defense – LB Tedy Bruschi and DT Vince Wilfolk could sit this one out. Raiders RB Justin Fargas could end up being a pleasant surprise. … Randy Moss gets a crack at his old team, and I’m sure he’ll be motivated. But he’ll have a tough assignment going against elite coverman Nnamdi Asomugha. For that reason, you have to temper expectations for Moss. But WR Wes Welker could have a field day squared up against CB Chris Johnson. The Raiders’ biggest weakness is against the run, and the Patriots are the seventh-most heavy run offense. Expect an efficient 12-15 touches from RBs Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk. and, perhaps, Bill Belichick will even let LaMont Jordan get in on the action against his former club.
Green Light: Matt Cassell, Wes Welker, Zach Miller, Sammy Morris
Yellow Light: Randy Moss, Jabar Gaffney, New England defense
Red light: JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, all Raiders WRs, Oakland defense, Benjamin Watson
Sleeper: Kevin Faulk, LaMont Jordan
Injury concern: Raiders RB Darren McFadden (turf toe, limited); Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi (knee, questionable), Patriots DT Vince Wilfolk (arm, questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS @ DALLAS COWBOYS
Important numbers: NYG 9th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 2nd-fewest to RBs, 3rd-fewest to TEs; DAL 8th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to RBs
What to watch for: Dallas is in a must-win situation at home against a New York Giants squad that socked them in the mouth six weeks ago (35-14). Tony Romo was not apart of that contest, however. That Romo is back should make a huge difference in this one. Romo had four touchdown passes in each of the two regular-season meetings last season, and I expect him to be at his improvisational best on Sunday night. If RB Marion Barber can play, all the better. But I think Dallas will attack the Giants secondary first and foremost. … You know what you’ll get from the Giants. They’ve rushed the ball the fifth-most times this season, and they’ve lost their best receiver (Plaxico Burress) to a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the leg. Lead RB Brandon Jacobs is dealing with a balky knee, and there’s a real good chance he won’t play on Sunday, which elevates Derrick Ward’s already meaty backfield role. Dallas will be fired up, and they get after the quarterback well. Consideringhow shaky Eli Manning was last week, expect Tom Coughlin to try to establish Ward, while working in safe passes to TE Kevin Boss and slot receiver Steve Smith.
Green Light: Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, Derrick ward, Kevin Boss
Yellow Light: Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, Domenik Hixon, Amani Toomer, Eli Manning, Dallas defense, New York defense
Red light: Roy Williams, Amani Toomer
Sleeper: Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith
Injury concern: Cowboys RB Marion Barber (toe/calf, questionable); Brandon Jacobs (knee, questionable); Cowboys WR Roy Williams (foot, questionable); Giants CB Aaron Ross (ankle, questionable)

CLEVELAND BROWNS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Important numbers: PHI 8th-fewest FAN PTS allowed to QBs, 5th-fewest to RBs, 5th-most to TEs; CLE 9th-most FAN PTS allowed to RBs/WRs
What to watch for: With Ken Dorsey now in at QB for Cleveland, there’s little hope that the Browns can establish a viable passing threat in a brutally tough environment against a very strong Philly pass defense that is aided by one of the best pass rushes in the league. The Browns’ only hope, seemingly, is to get RB Jamal Lewis going, but it’s hard to imagine that that will come to fruition – Lewis is averaging a mere 3.5 yards per carry and rushed seven times for just seven yards against Tennessee last week. The Browns are averaging just seven points over their past three games and, like the Detroit/Indy game, this is a Survivor Pool no-brainer … After a tough couple weeks, the Eagles are back on track with back-to-back wins against Arizona and the Giants. In their past three home games, the Eagles are averaging 35.3 points. There’s really not much to fear here if you own an Eagles player, but Cleveland has put forth some surprisingly solid defensive efforts on the road this season, so this may not be as overwhelmingly large of a victory as one might expect at first glance.
Green Light: Brian Westbrook, Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson, Philly defense
Yellow Light: Jamal Lewis, Kevin Curtis
Red light: Ken Dorsey, Braylon Edwards, Cleveland defense
Sleeper: Steve Heiden, Correll Buckhalter, L.J. Smith
Injury concern: Browns RB Jerome Harrison (ribs, questionable); Eagles WR Kevin Curtis (concussion, questionable); Eagles RB Correll Buckhalter (knee, likely to play)