1:00PM ET Games
Philadelphia @ Minnesota
Eagles-Vikes is one of Sunday's most fantasy-friendly games. The over-under is above 50 points, and the environment is indoors. A far cry from last week's Philadelphia snowstorm, this game provides Nick Foles with an ideal setup for monster stats. Not only does Minnesota rank 30th against the pass, Leslie Frazier's defense has hemorrhaged an NFL-high 29 passing touchdowns, and lost emerging shutdown rookie CB Xavier Rhodes to a high ankle sprain in Week 14. Among Sunday and Monday’s games, the only quarterback I’d start over Foles this week is Drew Brees. ... Foles' target distribution since returning from a concussion five games ago: Riley Cooper 33; DeSean Jackson 27; Zach Ertz and LeSean McCoy 16; Jason Avant 12; Brent Celek 9; James Casey and Bryce Brown 3. ... With at least 60 yards and/or a touchdown in 10-of-13 games this season, Jackson has been among fantasy's most consistent WR1s despite a somewhat boom-or-bust skill set. He has blowup-game potential on turf against an undermanned opponent. ... Cooper has cooled off considerably over the past three weeks, but his target numbers and matchup suggest this is a good week to play him. There aren't many dice-roll WR3s out there with a higher Week 15 ceiling.
Although each has flashed sporadically throughout the year, neither Ertz nor Celek has a stable enough role in Chip Kelly's passing attack to be trusted in fantasy semifinals week. Ertz followed up his 5-68-2 Week 13 game by going catch-less in last Sunday's win over Detroit. Celek hasn't cleared 50 yards since September. ... Despite facing a Lions run defense that was as stingy as any in football the previous two months, McCoy broke the Eagles' single-game rushing record with 217 yards in Week 14, besting Steve Van Buren's 64-year-old mark of 205. Not only is No. 2 overall fantasy back McCoy matchup proof, he doesn't even have to worry about his Week 15 matchup. The Vikings rank 22nd against the run and have coughed up 13 rushing touchdowns, ninth most in the league. With Adrian Peterson nursing a foot injury and Jamaal Charles taking on an above-average Raiders run defense, McCoy is fantasy's No. 1 running back play this week.
Despite Christian Ponder's (concussion) full clearance, the Vikings will continue to start Matt Cassel at quarterback after he earned the job with back-to-back average performances that included a Week 13 overtime win over Chicago and Week 14 last-minute loss to Baltimore. Cassel is just barely in the two-quarterback-league hunt against Philly's overachieving defense, which blitzes at the third highest frequency in football and has improved every week. Working against Cassel in Week 15 will be a banged-up Vikings run game expected to be minus Adrian Peterson (foot), and potentially even backup Toby Gerhart (hamstring). Unfailingly, Cassel has been a quarterback who in his career needs a foundation rushing attack to succeed. He's very unlikely to have that Sunday, making the Eagles' defense a sneaky fantasy streamer. ... Cassel's 2013 target distribution: Jerome Simpson 34; Greg Jennings 31; Cordarrelle Patterson and John Carlson 19; injured Kyle Rudolph 13; A.P. 11; Jarius Wright 9; Gerhart 6; Joe Webb 4. ... Although his stats have been slightly better with Cassel than Ponder, Jennings has hit the 60-yard mark once since Week 4. He's always a low-upside, ultimately undesirable WR3 option.
Averaging eight targets and five touches over the last month, explosive Patterson has parlayed the manufactured usage into 65 total yards per game and two touchdowns. While Patterson's consistency is going to remain a concern as a raw rookie in a largely inept passing attack, it's entirely possible playcaller Bill Musgrave formulates his Week 15 game plan around getting Patterson the rock, with Peterson not expected to play. I wouldn't be surprised if Patterson handled 3-5 carries and caught 4-6 passes against the Eagles. He's a boom-or-bust WR3 with a high ceiling. Still cheap on FanDuel ($5,600), Patterson is an enticing daily league play. He's a big play waiting to happen. ... Wildly inconsistent Simpson scored his first touchdown all year in Week 14 and has topped 60 yards in one of his last nine games. He isn't a legitimate WR3 this week. ... Peterson is always a must-start when active, but looks unlikely to be against the Eagles due to a mid-foot sprain. That leaves banged-up Gerhart (hamstring), who couldn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday, and fullback-tailback hybrid Matt Asiata in Minnesota's backfield. Deep in the fantasy playoffs, I'd view this as a situation to avoid with so little workload and health clarity. It doesn't help that the Eagles play formidable run defense. Philly ranks 15th versus the run and submits 3.95 YPC, the 11th stingiest clip in the league.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Vikings 13
Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $300,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 15. It's $25 to join and first prize is $25,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Here's the FanDuel link.
Chicago @ Cleveland
The Browns' backfield is a source of Week 15 intrigue, understandably because in eight years writing about this stuff I don't recall a run defense as pathetic as Chicago's. Not even those old walkover Raiders defenses were as bad. The Bears are last in rushing yards per game allowed (157.0), first-down runs (115), 20-plus-yard runs (16), and YPC (5.15). They've been creamed by backups Roy Helu, Benny Cunningham, Brandon Jacobs, and James Starks. If Willis McGahee (concussion) is formally declared inactive Sunday morning, Chris Ogbonnaya will be a worthwhile flex start, particularly in PPR leagues. Matchup-based Hail Marys don't always pay off, but this is a tough one to resist if you're in any kind of bind. ... Look for Fozzy Whittaker in Cleveland's change-of-pace back role, sharing passing-game work with Ogbonnaya. Doubling as the Browns' kickoff returner, Whittaker is a role player unworthy of re-draft league discussion. ... As Tony Romo now knows all too well, the Bears' defense has been far stingier in the air than on the ground. Chicago plays top-ten pass defense and is tied for seventh in interceptions (15). This would not be a good week to invest in Jason Campbell as a fantasy start. He'll be a bottom-barrel two-QB-league play.
Campbell's target distribution on the year: Josh Gordon 50; Jordan Cameron 30; Ogbonnaya 28; Davone Bess 27; Greg Little 25; Whittaker 20; McGahee 5. ... Despite missing the first two games and enduring musical chairs at quarterback, Gordon leads the NFL in receiving yards and ranks second to only Calvin Johnson in fantasy receiver scoring. Particularly with Charles Tillman (triceps) on I.R., the Bears don't have a defensive back capable of containing Gordon. ... These are Cameron's stat lines in Campbell's five 2013 starts: 4-81; 1-4; 6-29; 3-32; 9-121-1. Only time can tell whether Cameron's sudden Week 14 blowup is a sign of things to come, but I do know he has an attractive Week 15 matchup. Chicago allows the fourth most receptions and third most yards in the league to tight ends. At least for now, I'd lock Cameron back in as a mid-range TE1. ... Bess has been waiver-wire fodder for months. He hasn't cleared 70 yards in a game all year, hitting pay dirt in 1-of-13 appearances. ... Same goes for Little, who ranks 35th among receivers in targets but 74th in fantasy scoring. It's no secret by now that Little just isn't a very good player.
In a controversial maneuver, Bears coach Marc Trestman is turning back to Jay Cutler (ankle) in spite of Josh McCown's highly efficient relief play. On the road against Cleveland's top-seven pass defense, Trestman isn't exactly setting up Cutler for insta-success. The Browns are a top-ten team in sacks, yards-per-pass-attempt allowed, and passing-yards-per-game against. In Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo, and Paul Kruger, Cleveland has three dangerous edge rushers in front of a talented secondary headlined by CB Joe Haden and SS T.J. Ward. Cutler will reemerge onto the top-12 fantasy quarterback radar in Week 16 against the Eagles if he plays well Sunday, but he's too risky to trust beyond two-QB-leagues in the fantasy semifinals. ... Here is Cutler's target distribution on the year: Brandon Marshall 71; Alshon Jeffery 67; Martellus Bennett 50; Matt Forte 45; Earl Bennett 17; Michael Bush 4. ... The near-equal targeting of Marshall and Jeffery is a product of scheme, because McCown did it, too. One of Trestman's primary emphases in his first season coaching Cutler has been to avoid locking onto Marshall as Cutler had done so often previously in his career. I prefer Jeffery over Marshall in this particular game. Haden will most likely travel with Marshall, leaving 6-foot-3, 216-pound Jeffery in the coverage of Buster Skrine (5'9/186) and rookie Leon McFadden (5'10/193), both of whom Tom Brady shredded relentlessly last week.
Marshall remains a fantasy WR1. Although Haden has generally been outstanding this season, he's sprung leaks of late. Enemy No. 1 receiver stats against the Browns over their last three games: Antonio Brown 6-92-1, Cecil Shorts 6-64-1; Julian Edelman 6-64-1. Pro Football Focus has charged Haden with a touchdown allowed in all three weeks. With at least 75 yards and/or a TD in 10-of-13 games on the year, this isn't the week to give up on Chicago's best receiver. ... Martellus has been more involved in the Bears' passing offense with Cutler under center, but his recent production combined with Cleveland's stingy tight end coverage makes Bennett more of a high-end TE2 this week than TE1. Bennett has cleared 50 yards once over his last seven games. The Browns are 21st in receptions allowed to tight ends, and 23rd in yards. Ultimately, Martellus likely won't pay off as a fantasy start unless he scores a red-zone touchdown. ... Cleveland is playing top-four run defense, but Forte has been truly matchup proof in Trestman's offense due to consistent volume and heavy pass-game involvement. Trestman does a terrific job of scheming Forte into space. In four matchups with top-eight run defenses this year, Forte has averaged 26 touches for 96 total yards per game, with three touchdowns. Forte is an elite, every-week RB1.
Score Prediction: Bears 23, Browns 17
Buffalo @ Jacksonville
The Bills' offense reached new depths in last Sunday's 27-6 loss at Tampa, as E.J. Manuel took seven sacks and threw four picks in a performance that made Geno Smith look like a Pro Bowler. Simply not getting better as his rookie year progresses, Manuel has been streaky, maddeningly erratic with ball placement and decision making, and ultimately a boom-or-bust down-to-down and week-to-week quarterback. His play has been reminiscent of 2012 Jake Locker. Even against the Jaguars' bottom-seven pass defense, Manuel is toward the low end of two-quarterback-league discussion. ... E.J.'s target distribution over the last month: Stevie Johnson 29; Marquise Goodwin and Fred Jackson 17; Scott Chandler 15; T.J. Graham 12; C.J. Spiller 10; Robert Woods 8; Chris Gragg and Chris Hogan 6. ... Johnson is the lone stable producer in Buffalo's pass-catcher corps, and his upside is always capped by a run-dominated offense and limited big-play ability as a slot receiver dependent upon a struggling rookie passer for completions. Johnson has hit 75 yards in just two games this season, and none since September. He's a ho-hum fantasy WR3. ... The Bills have started Woods in each game since his return from a high ankle sprain two weeks ago, but he's managed to secure 5-of-8 targets for 59 scoreless yards during that timeframe. He's a WR5.
Coach Doug Marrone expressed desire this week to get Goodwin more stretch-run snaps, which makes sense because the rookie is a critical piece of Buffalo's future. He's still a situational deep threat in a low-volume, low-percentage passing offense. Roster Goodwin in Dynasty leagues, not as a Weeks 15-16 re-draft sleeper. ... Chandler has an attractive matchup against a Jacksonville defense giving up the second most fantasy points to tight ends. I'd still prefer to stream Dennis Pitta, Delanie Walker, Garrett Graham, and Coby Fleener over Chandler this week. ... F-Jax is never a bad bet for a touchdown and/or 80-plus total yards, and Spiller's week-winning, game-breaking running ability is always there. This isn't quite the cakewalk matchup it seems at first glance, however. The Jaguars rank 27th in run defense, but have been legitimately stout since their Week 9 bye. Over the past five weeks, the Jags have held Tennessee, Arizona, Cleveland, and Houston (twice) to a combined 364 yards on 111 carries (3.23 YPC). Spiller remains a boom-or-bust RB2/flex option. Jackson is a solid, if unspectacular flex play in the fantasy semifinals.
Jacksonville's offense was already short on fantasy-viable players before Maurice Jones-Drew's hamstring strain and Cecil Shorts' groin pull. Neither practiced on Wednesday or Thursday, and they're both shaping up as game-time decisions. Jordan Todman will be worth flex consideration if MJD is deactivated Sunday morning, but has managed a 3.21 yards-per-carry average off the bench this season. He'd certainly be a high-risk option in fantasy's semifinals week, even against Buffalo's No. 26 run defense. On the year, Pro Football Focus has graded the Jaguars' run blocking dead last in the league. ... Chad Henne's target distribution since Justin Blackmon's year-ending suspension five weeks ago: Shorts 31; Ace Sanders 27; MJD 22; Marcedes Lewis 17; Clay Harbor 10; Mike Brown 9; Kerry Taylor and Todman 4. ... Lewis cleared 40 receiving yards for the first time all season in Week 14, finishing the Jaguars' win over Houston with a 2-42-1 line on four targets. Buffalo is 26th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, so chasing last week's one-yard touchdown catch is not advised. ... Brown is playing Blackmon's old Z receiver position with Sanders in the slot. Operating in Jacksonville's 25th-ranked passing offense, both would be severe stretches as WR3s, even if Shorts is inactive. In the end, I'd rather invest in the Bills' fantasy defense than Jaguars skill-position players in this game, which projects as low scoring.
Score Prediction: Bills 20, Jaguars 17
San Francisco @ Tampa Bay
The Bucs have stayed committed to a ground game featuring Bobby Rainey amid ups and downs, and it paid off when Rainey took his opening carry of Week 14 80 yards to the house. The Bills held Rainey to 43 combined yards on his final 24 touches (1.79 average). Although Rainey would be a weak Week 15 bet against San Francisco's top-ten run defense, he'll reappear on the high-end flex radar in fantasy championship week at St. Louis. ... Continuing to be utilized as a game manager by OC Mike Sullivan, Mike Glennon hasn't topped 25 pass attempts since October. He deserves credit for an outstanding rookie season overall, but is no better than a low-ceiling QB2 against the 49ers' No. 4 pass defense. San Francisco has permitted an NFC-low 13 passing TDs this season. ... Glennon's 2013 target distribution: Vincent Jackson 100; Tim Wright 47; Tiquan Underwood 33; Brian Leonard 29; Rainey 11; Chris Owusu 10. ... Underwood has made six starts since Mike Williams landed on I.R., registering box-score lines of 2-29-1, 3-64, 1-20, 3-108-2, 3-51, and 0-0. No thanks. ... The Niners allow the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, leaving Wright off the Week 15 streamer radar. ... V-Jax is the lone Buccaneers pass catcher worth using in fantasy semifinals week. The matchup is difficult, so you're betting on Jackson's ability to win vertically and in traffic, on top of the reality that he's an every-week lock to lead Tampa in targets.
No member of San Francisco's offense has a particularly attractive Week 15 matchup, either. The Bucs are the best 4-9 club in recent NFL memory and have a lot of talent on defense, where they are a top-11 team in points allowed and top 13 in yardage. In what projects as a potentially low-scoring affair -- the 41-point over-under is tied for second lowest of Week 15 -- Colin Kaepernick is more high-end QB2 than QB1 streamer. It should be noted that Kap is playing well of late, with 13 all-purpose TDs compared to four turnovers across his last seven games and a passing attack finally picking up with its weapons back. ... Kap's target distribution with Michael Crabtree back in the starting lineup the last two weeks: Anquan Boldin 18; Crabtree 12; Bruce Miller 9; Vernon Davis 8; Mario Manningham 4; Frank Gore 3. ... The Bucs haven't consistently used Darrelle Revis to shadow top wideouts, but it would still likely be in Crabtree owners' best interest to wait for San Francisco's Week 16 game against Atlanta before plugging him into fantasy playoff lineups. I don't think he'd be a poor WR3 -- he's running superb routes and remains dangerous after the catch -- but this is an imposing matchup for a player still working back from a torn Achilles’. ... The Bucs are 16th in receptions and tenth in yardage allowed to tight ends, giving Davis an above-average matchup. Davis is fourth in yards (726) and tied for second in touchdowns (11) among tight ends. With Rob Gronkowski on I.R., only Jimmy Graham is a better TE1 among Sunday and Monday's games.
Boldin is least likely to experience Revis' coverage because he runs so many slot routes, while Revis plays outside. The Bucs have been shredded by slot receivers like Harry Douglas (7-149-1, 6-134-1), Nate Burleson (7-77-1), Rishard Matthews (11-120-2), and Doug Baldwin (6-75-1). Bills primary slot man Stevie Johnson led his team in targets, catches, and yards against Tampa last week. Over the last three weeks, the only receivers with more fantasy points than Boldin are Josh Gordon, Eric Decker, Larry Fitzgerald, Alshon Jeffery, Julian Edelman, and Keenan Allen. I like Boldin as a high-end WR3, and Crabtree as a lower-end one. ... Gore quelled concerns about a late-season slowdown in last Sunday's win over the Seahawks by ripping off 110 yards on 17 carries, and averaging a chain-moving 3.7 YPC even if you leave out his 51-yard cutback run in the fourth quarter. Gore is used sparingly in the passing game and is no longer an RB1, but he's more than earned an RB2 start in fantasy crunchtime, even against Tampa's No. 9 run defense.
Score Prediction: 49ers 21, Bucs 17
Seattle @ NY Giants
The Giants weren't playing great defense with Jason Pierre-Paul in the lineup earlier this season, but they've unraveled without him the past two weeks. Shredded by Philip Rivers and Robert Griffin III for 45-of-60 passing (75%), 456 yards (7.6 YPA), four touchdowns, and no interceptions, New York's pass defense is a sitting duck for Russell Wilson. Despite last week's clunker at Candlestick, Wilson is back in the mix as a top-eight fantasy QB1 against the G-Men. ... Pro Football Focus had graded Pierre-Paul (shoulder) more favorably as a run than pass defender this season, so it should be no surprise that New York's run defense has also been shaken by JPP's absence. Griffin/Alfred Morris and Ryan Mathews/Danny Woodhead have tagged the Giants for 259 yards and two touchdowns on 59 runs (4.39 YPC) over their last two games, quite a ways above New York's season averages. This isn't a great matchup for Marshawn Lynch against the league's No. 11 run defense, but it isn't a worrisome one, either. ... Wilson's target distribution with Percy Harvin (hip) back on the shelf for Seattle's last two games: Golden Tate 13; Zach Miller 11; Doug Baldwin 9; Jermaine Kearse 8; Luke Willson 5; Lynch 4.
Nothing has changed in Seattle's pass-catching corps, even with Sidney Rice (ACL surgery) out for the season and Harvin shelved indefinitely. The Seahawks play low-volume passing offense -- they're 31st in the league in pass attempts -- and Wilson throws to the open man rather than peppering an alpha-type No. 1 receiver with targets. Therefore, Tate and Baldwin are no better than risky WR3 crapshoots week to week. The Giants' secondary is vulnerable both in perimeter (Tate) and slot (Baldwin) coverage, so neither Seattle receiver's Week 15 matchup particularly stands out. ... Miller has scored a touchdown in three of his 11 appearances this season. He's averaged 27 yards in the other eight games. New York is tenth in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but Miller is never a recommended TE1 streamer. ... Jump-ball specialist Kearse is another touchdown-dependent fantasy commodity who will drill a hole in your lineup if he doesn't score.
With pass-protection woes and a scuffling quarterback, the Giants' best approach this week would be to hammer home the run game and avoid Seattle's NFL-best pass defense. The Seahawks are good but not great against the run, ranking 14th in rushing yards-per-game allowed and 15th in yards per carry (4.18). The Seahawks also lost stud SLB K.J. Wright to a fractured foot in Week 14. The fact that Andre Brown lost a goal-line opportunity to Peyton Hillis last Sunday is frustrating, but Brown scored twice the week before, including from one yard out. So Hillis is not necessarily a designated goal-line back. Brown is a solid RB2 in the fantasy semifinals with a better matchup than you might think. ... Not only do the Seahawks rank No. 1 versus the pass, they're third in interceptions (17) and hold opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating (69.4) in the league. This is a brutal matchup for Eli Manning and the Giants' entire passing game. Truly not playing well, I'd avoid Eli in two-quarterback leagues wherever possible. ... Manning's target distribution since Brown returned from short-term I.R. five weeks back: Victor Cruz 38; Brown, Rueben Randle, and Brandon Myers 21; Hakeem Nicks 18; Jerrel Jernigan 9; Bear Pascoe 7; Hillis 3.
Nicks whipped San Diego's low-grade cornerbacks for 135 yards on five catches in last week's loss, but will encounter an entirely different animal Sunday. New RCB Byron Maxwell has proven to be an upgrade on Brandon Browner (groin), while shutdown All-Pro LCB Richard Sherman lurks on the opposite side. I wouldn't want to trust roller-coaster Nicks in the fantasy playoffs, and certainly not against Seattle. ... If you've found a tell on how to forecast Randle's productive and unproductive games, let me know. I haven't a clue. A talented but limited-snap No. 3 receiver in a borderline-dysfunctional passing offense, Randle is a boom-bust weekly proposition with zero predictability factor as far as I can tell. And he doesn't have a good matchup this week. ... Cruz was a fantasy bust (5-42-0) at San Diego, as the Giants attacked the Chargers outside looking for chunk plays rather than letting Cruz eat up first downs in the slot. Eli was ineffective, and the G-Men were dominated in time of possession (37:23). I apologize for recommending Cruz so strongly in this space last week. He's just a WR2/3 against the Seahawks. It is worth noting for Cruz's cause that 49ers slot man Anquan Boldin dropped six catches and 93 yards on Seattle last week. ... Myers has caught a touchdown in three straight weeks. On the season, Myers is 21st among tight ends in receptions (38), 19th in yards (423), and 17th in fantasy scoring. Seattle is 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Chase Myers' fluky touchdown run at your own risk.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 27, Giants 17
New England @ Miami
The Patriots ranked second in the NFL in scoring with Rob Gronkowski in the lineup, and 22nd without Gronkowski (back) over the season's first six games. So losing Gronk to ACL and MCL tears is inarguably a big concern for New England, both in terms of running and passing offense. While Tom Brady has earned QB1 status based on recent performance -- he's 148 of his last 217 (68.2%) passing for 1,876 yards (8.65 YPA), 12 touchdowns, and three picks -- New England's red-zone efficiency and overall offensive outlook has taken a blow. Not helping Week 15 matters is a matchup with Miami's top-13 pass defense, which ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks and has limited enemy signal callers to a combined 15:16 TD-to-INT ratio. I'd confidently start Nick Foles, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan over Brady this week. ... The Pats will play three- and four-wide offense with Gronk on the shelf, featuring Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and whoever else can muster up enough health to get out there Sunday. This was Brady's wide-receiver target distribution with Gronk sidelined for the first six games: Edelman 59; Kenbrell Thompkins 50; Aaron Dobson 38; Amendola 27. ... Over the past three weeks, the only NFL receivers with more fantasy points than Edelman are Josh Gordon, Eric Decker, Alshon Jeffery, and Larry Fitzgerald. Edelman should be treated as a locked-in WR2 in PPR and high-end WR3 in standard leagues.
Coming off a 4-36-1 line against Cleveland, Amendola will be an every-down player going forward. He's a solid WR3 with some upside against a Miami defense that excels in perimeter coverage (LCB Brent Grimes), but is vulnerable inside after losing slot corner Dimitri Patterson (groin) to I.R. this week. ... Thompkins (hip) and Dobson (foot) are too unreliable from a health perspective to be trusted in fantasy semifinals week. Josh Boyce was New England's X receiver in Week 14 with Thompkins and Dobson both inactive. ... Shane Vereen has emerged as the Patriots' clear lead back. He's been targeted a whopping 45 times since returning from short-term I.R. four games ago, leading New England. Vereen is an every-week RB1 in both standard and PPR leagues at this point. ... Stevan Ridley is a viable cheap FanDuel plug-and-play and flex option if you're desperate. The Pats need him more than ever. Miami's run defense has allowed 845 yards and five TDs on 190 carries (4.45 YPC) to enemy tailbacks over its last seven games. After being a healthy Week 13 scratch for fumbling, Ridley played 16 snaps off the bench against the Browns and didn't make any on-field errors. LeGarrette Blount played 22 downs, but Ridley is the superior "big back" option and the Patriots know it. Ridley is a Hail Mary flex. Blount isn't worth rostering.
11th in the NFL in pass attempts and 29th in rushes, the Fins fancy themselves a quarterback-centric team and generally adhere to a pass-heavy formula. It's helped Ryan Tannehill quietly ascend to No. 11 among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Tannehill will be a high-end QB2 play against New England's No. 16 pass defense, but it's worth noting Bill Belichick has historically had his number. In three career meetings with the Pats, Tannehill is 55-of-106 passing (51.9%) for 613 yards (5.78 YPA), two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Tannehill has been sacked a whopping 16 times in those three games, losing a fumble in each. If Tannehill plays well against New England, this'll be the first time he's done so in his career. ... Tannehill's target distribution since Brandon Gibson tore his patellar tendon: Brian Hartline 58; Mike Wallace 53; Charles Clay 50; Rishard Matthews 42; Lamar Miller 20; Daniel Thomas 7; Michael Egnew 6. ... The Patriots have allowed the 12th most fantasy points and fifth most receptions in the league to tight ends, including a team-high five to Clay in these clubs' October 27 meeting. With at least seven targets in five straight games, Clay is pushing for mid-range TE1 value. ... These are Hartline's last four stat lines in New England games: 4-72; 5-84; 5-69; 4-37. Aim higher in the fantasy postseason.
Aside from perhaps only Clay, Wallace has the premier matchup in Miami's pass-catching corps with Patriots top CB Aqib Talib (hip) struggling mightily. Enemy No. 1 receiver stats against New England the past three weeks: Andre Johnson 8-121; Demaryius Thomas 4-41-1; Josh Gordon 7-151-1. Wallace remains a boom-or-bust WR3 just as he's been all year, but his matchup raises the eyebrow when simply viewing it on paper. ... With Thomas coming off arguably the best game of his career and Miller cleared from his Week 14 concussion, the Dolphins' backfield figures to revert to a two-way timeshare without a clear lead back on a team that doesn't value the run game in the first place. Although New England's Achilles' heel has been on the ground -- they're 31st in run defense and surrender 4.47 yards per carry, the seventh most generous clip in the league -- the Dolphins under OC Mike Sherman don't devise opponent-specific game plans. In these clubs' Week 8 meeting, for instance, Tannehill racked up 49 dropbacks. Miller and Thomas combined for 27 rushing attempts. Throughout the season, Sherman has demonstrated a willingness to abandon the run at the drop of a hat. Chase Thomas' Week 14 box-score stats at your own risk.
Score Prediction: Patriots 23, Dolphins 20
Washington @ Atlanta
With Roddy White back near 100% and an O-Line finally beginning to form some continuity, the Falcons' offense is trending in the right direction entering a Week 15 cupcake date with the left-for-dead Redskins. Every year, a fistful of NFL teams call it a season before the season is officially through, and Washington appears to be the most prominent 2013 example. Playing passably enough to warrant serious QB1 consideration in such a picturesque matchup, Matt Ryan has completed 81 of his last 127 throws (63.4%) for 905 yards (7.13 YPA) and a 5:2 TD-to-INT ratio. At home in the Georgia Dome where weather isn't a concern, I'd start Ryan over Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, and Ben Roethlisberger this week. The Redskins rank 27th against the pass and have allowed the third most touchdown passes (25) in football. ... Looking better every week, Steven Jackson has rushed for a respectable 218 yards and three touchdowns on his last 54 runs (4.04 YPC), quite an uptick from his midseason production. S-Jax displayed enough power and burst in last week's loss to Green Bay to be a quality RB2/flex play against Washington's No. 18 run defense, which performed much worse than that ranking indicates in its Week 14 devouring by the Chiefs. Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis combined to tag the Skins for 181 yards and two TDs on 30 carries (6.03 YPC). If the Falcons grab an early lead or so much as keep this game competitive, S-Jax shouldn't struggle for 20 or more touches.
Ryan's target distribution since Roddy's Week 10 return from a hamstring injury: Harry Douglas 50; White 39; Tony Gonzalez 32; Darius Johnson 22; Jacquizz Rodgers 17; Jackson 15; Jason Snelling 8; Antone Smith 3. ... Running savvy routes and commanding targets again, White is a legit WR2 against Washington's walkover defense. ... Look for a bounce-back Week 15 effort from Douglas, who ran into Tramon Williams' shutdown slot coverage last Sunday and emerged with a 2-20 line one week after Williams held Nate Burleson catch-less on Thanksgiving. As Anquan Boldin (5-94-2) and Victor Cruz (6-80) can attest, the Redskins are as vulnerable in slot defense as anywhere else. Douglas is a solid WR3. ... Washington allows the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, making Gonzalez an attractive play in semifinals week of the fantasy playoffs. Gonzo has found pay dirt in back-to-back games. ... Third receiver Johnson has topped 40 receiving yards in 1-of-8 appearances this season, and isn't a viable Week 15 sleeper. ... No. 4 wideout Drew Davis caught a 36-yard touchdown pass on a crossing route last week, where Ryan "threw open" Davis with tight-window placement. It was Davis' only reception of the game. White's primary backup at Z receiver, Davis has been limited to single-digit snaps in four straight weeks.
The Redskins announced Wednesday they will start Kirk Cousins at Atlanta in an effort to ensure Robert Griffin III enters the offseason at 100% health. Make what you want of Mike Shanahan's decision, but strictly from an on-field perspective Cousins isn't necessarily a surefire downgrade from RG3 in terms of passing. Griffin is far more talented, but has been an up-and-down thrower of the football throughout 2013. In Cousins' lone career start against a solid Browns defense last December, he completed 26-of-37 passes (70.3%) for 329 yards (8.9 YPA), two touchdowns, and one pick, adding 22 rushing yards. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect similarly lofty production this week, but the matchup is far more favorable indoors against Atlanta's No. 20 pass defense, which ranks 29th in sacks and allows the highest passer rating (104.3) in football. Cousins has some upside as a cheap FanDuel and two-QB-league start. ... Although his mediocre touchdown and yardage totals have frustrated standard-league fantasy owners at times this year, Garcon is on pace for 104 receptions and has at least five grabs in 13-of-13 games. Garcon paced Washington in targets (12), catches (6), and yards (65) in last winter's Cousins start. I like him as a WR2.
Also working in the favor of Washington's passing attack is the absence of FS Thomas DeCoud (concussion), forcing seventh-round pick Zeke Motta into the starting lineup. The Falcons will start three rookies in the secondary: Motta, RCB Desmond Trufant, and LCB Robert Alford. They're scaling back usual LCB Asante Samuel's snaps down the stretch of a lost season. ... Atlanta has allowed the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends. Unfortunately, Jordan Reed (concussion) is being shut down for the rest of the season. The Redskins will turn to a rotation of lumbering in-line tight end Logan Paulsen and Fred Davis, who has five grabs for 38 yards in three 2013 starts. ... Josh Morgan, Santana Moss, and Aldrick Robinson are down the pecking order in Washington's passing game and unworthy of fantasy roster spots in semifinals week. ... Atlanta's defense has hemorrhaged 922 yards and nine TDs on 158 carries (5.84 YPC) to Pierre Thomas, Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Rainey, Carolina's backfield, Andre Ellington, C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson, and Eddie Lacy over its last seven games. Alfred Morris totaled 93 yards and two TDs in Cousins' 2012 start and has a cake Week 15 matchup. I'd be very hard pressed to keep Morris out of an RB2 slot.
Score Prediction: Falcons 28, Redskins 20
Houston @ Indianapolis
Gary Kubiak's firing last Friday locked in Case Keenum as the Texans' starting quarterback for the rest of the year. Kubiak had benched Keenum twice across Houston's previous four games, and not without reason. Thursday night's loss to Jacksonville included, Keenum has completed 63 of his last 121 attempts (52.1%) for 777 yards (6.42 YPA), two touchdowns, and four interceptions. While Keenum maintains an intriguing blend of athleticism and aggressiveness, he is far more streetballer than defense dissector at this stage of his career. Even indoors against Indianapolis' No. 18 pass defense, Keenum is just barely a two-quarterback-league option based on recent performance. ... Ben Tate's contract year has been such a disappointment that I suspect he'll be quite underwhelmed by his 2014 free-agent market, and perhaps wind up settling for a one-year, prove-it-type deal. That said, he's a worthwhile flex play in the fantasy semifinals against a Colts team whose primary vulnerability is versus the run. Indy ranks 29th in run defense and shells out 4.39 yards per carry, the NFL's ninth highest clip. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard combined for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 29 runs (5.07 YPC) against the Colts this past week. ... Keenum's 2013 target distribution: Andre Johnson 66; Garrett Graham 52; DeAndre Hopkins 32; Tate 22; DeVier Posey 17; Keshawn Martin 10; Dennis Johnson 6 and Ryan Griffin 6.
The primary beneficiary of Keenum's playing style has been and will continue to be alpha receiver Johnson, whose stat lines in Keenum's seven starts are 4-89; 9-229-3; 5-37-2; 10-116; 2-36; 8-121; 13-154. That is a 7.3-catch, 111.7-yard per-game average. The 9-229-3 line came against these same Colts in Week 9. ... Even if his future remains bright, Hopkins has been much less effective in both real life and fantasy. Averaging under six targets per game in Keenum's starts, "Nuk" was held to 54 scoreless yards on three receptions in these clubs' midseason tilt. Hopkins isn't worth rostering in 12-team leagues through the fantasy playoffs. ... The NFL's target leader among tight ends over the past five weeks is Graham, with 50. (Garrett; not Jimmy, who is second at 43.) Although Graham's efficiency hasn't been great, he is clearly the No. 2 option in Houston's passing game, ahead of Hopkins. The Colts are 25th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and don't necessarily offer up an outstanding matchup for Graham, but the heavy targeting keeps him in the low-end TE1 mix. ... With Tate reasserting himself as Houston's feature back, Dennis Johnson has faded into the background and is a mere handcuff for Weeks 15-16. Tate has 38 touches over the past two games. Johnson has eight, managing 38 scoreless yards.
Are Da'Rick Rogers and LaVon Brazill "for real"? In terms of playing ability, the answer is an emphatic Yes. I recall watching Rogers play at Tennessee as a sophomore and his game reminded me of Brandon Marshall's. More of a vertical threat than YAC beast Rogers, Brazill's forthcoming blowup game has been hinted at in this space for weeks, though it was always going to be impossible to pinpoint. It occurred in last week's loss to the Bengals, as Brazill turned four targets into 53 yards and two touchdowns. Brazill and Rogers remain dice-roll WR3s only, but they are now prominent parts of an Andrew Luck-quarterbacked passing game who'll play indoors in Week 15. This was last week's wide-receiver snap distribution for the Colts: T.Y. Hilton 45; Brazill 42; Rogers 41; Darrius Heyward-Bey 23. ... Luck's target distribution last week: Rogers and Coby Fleener 9; Trent Richardson and Donald Brown 6; Hilton 5; Brazill 4; DHB 3; Weslye Saunders 2; Jack Doyle and Chris Rainey 1. ... The target numbers suggest Rogers is a superior fantasy gamble to Brazill. Their snap totals are already similar, and because Rogers is utilized more underneath where he can create physical mismatches, Rogers has a better chance to rack up receptions and offer box-score consistency. Throw in Brazill's foot injury and there's little doubt Rogers is a more compelling fantasy bet. ... The Texans are 14th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, giving Fleener a somewhat attractive matchup. Fleener has proven to be a low-upside fantasy TE1, but his target numbers have not wavered. Over the past five weeks, Fleener is tied with Charles Clay for third among NFL tight ends in targets (42), behind the two Grahams.
Hilton owners are frustrated with his month-long yardage drought, but the emergence of Indy's young receivers will inarguably help him going forward. As is often discussed in this space, these things tend to come full circle, and having other dangerous weapons to command defensive attention will open things up for Hilton, who recently has been the focus of all opponents. I would continue to start Hilton over Rogers and Brazill in Week 15, ranking them as T.Y. > Da'Rick > LaVon against the Texans. Don't forget Hilton scorched Houston for a season-best 7-121-3 stat line in these clubs' early-November meeting. He singlehandedly took over the game in the second half of Indy's 27-24 comeback victory. ... The Texans' defense is fairly soft on the ground, where it ranks 21st in rushing yards allowed per game and 22nd in yards per carry (4.23). Unfortunately, Indianapolis' backfield remains a two-man committee as Richardson's role grew in Week 14 after Brown appeared to overtake him the Sunday prior. On the season, Brown has rushed 75 times for 389 yards and four touchdowns. 37.3% of Brown's carries, 34.4% of his rushing yards, and 75% of his scores have come in the Colts' two games against the Titans. Brown has managed 255 yards and one score on 47 carries in his other 11 games combined. So I wouldn't view Brown as a viable flex play in fantasy semifinals week. Richardson is still not playing as much as Brown, though his 88-total-yard Week 14 performance could earn T-Rich increased looks going forward.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Texans 20
4:05PM ET Games
Kansas City @ Oakland
Peyton Manning is the 2013 NFL MVP and it isn't close, but Jamaal Charles has an awfully good case for runner-up. He's been an offense carrier in Kansas City, on pace for career highs across the board and leading all running backs in fantasy points. Charles' Week 15 matchup is improved by the Raiders' loss of DT Vance Walker (concussion), a core run defender. Only LeSean McCoy is a better fantasy running back play than Charles this week. "J-Chuck" dropped 128 total yards and two touchdowns on Oakland in their Week 6 meeting. ... Alex Smith continues to earn QB1 streamer consideration with multiple touchdown passes in four consecutive games. Smith has completed 132 of his last 213 passes (62.0%) for 1,322 yards (6.21 YPA), and an 11:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The Raiders rank 23rd in pass defense and allow the fourth highest passer rating (98.8) in football. They can't cover in the back end or generate up-front heat. ... Smith's target distribution over his last five games: Dwayne Bowe 44; Dexter McCluster 33; Charles 26; Donnie Avery 21; Anthony Fasano 15; Sean McGrath 10; Anthony Sherman 7; A.J. Jenkins 5; Junior Hemingway 4.
Bowe's stats over his last five games: 5-51-1; 4-57-1; 7-67; 3-56; 4-69-1. Bowe's upside is always capped by his talent-deficient quarterback and generally unaggressive offense, but he's played himself into high-end, every-week WR3 discussion. Notable opposing No. 1 receiver stats against the Raiders since Oakland's Week 7 bye: Antonio Brown 9-82; DeSean Jackson 5-150-1; Andre Johnson 10-116; Kendall Wright 6-103-1; Dez Bryant 7-61-1. ... Kansas City's fantasy-viable pass catchers end at Bowe. McCluster has a somewhat sizable role in Andy Reid's offense, but it's very difficult to imagine investing a WR3 spot in a gadget-type slot receiver without a game above 70 receiving yards all season. Add in an ankle injury and McCluster isn't a tempting Week 15 sleeper in re-draft leagues... Avery has been a fantasy non-factor for months. ... Oakland allows the ninth fewest receptions and 11th fewest yards in the league to tight ends. And they're about to become stronger at safety via the return of SS Tyvon Branch (fibula/ankle) from short-term injured reserve. Scratch banged-up Fasano and bearded mountain man McGrath off your Week 15 streamer list.
After a roughly six-game lull, an energized Chiefs defense came alive in last Sunday's demolition of Washington, hitting Redskins quarterbacks ten times with six sacks, and combining for seven tackles for loss. Previously hampered by a debilitating mid-ankle injury, OLB Tamba Hali keyed the onslaught with team highs in tackles (6), TFLs (3), sacks (2), and QB hits (4). Long on talent and highly aggressive under Rex Ryan disciple Bob Sutton, Kansas City's defense should be considered an imposing matchup for enemy skill-position players until proven otherwise going forward. It certainly helps that OLB Justin Houston (11 games, 11 sacks) has resumed practicing. ... The Raiders are playing in-game quarterback musical chairs. Although Terrelle Pryor handled just one full possession in last week's loss to the Jets, it's entirely possible he plays more this Sunday after leading a 58-yard field-goal drive. Neither Pryor nor Matt McGloin is anywhere near the two-quarterback-league radar versus the Chiefs. Kansas City ranks second in sacks (43) and seventh in interceptions (15), and no NFL defense permits a lower completion rate (55.3) to enemy passers. ... McGloin remains the Raiders’ "starter" and is likely to play the most, so his presence is more relevant for the rest of Oakland's offense. This is McGloin's target distribution through five appearances (four starts): Rod Streater 31; Andre Holmes 26; Marcel Reece and Mychal Rivera 19; Rashad Jennings 14; Jacoby Ford 12; Denarius Moore 9; Darren McFadden 1.
The return of Moore (shoulder) throws a wrench into the Raiders' pass-catching corps. Moore led Oakland in all receiving categories before going down, starting over Holmes at X receiver. With so little clarity in an already bottom-six passing offense against a difficult opponent, I think the best approach in fantasy semifinals week is to avoid Oakland's receivers. ... Getting Jennings back is a more exciting fantasy development. The up-and-down Chiefs No. 16 run defense is coughing up 4.53 yards per carry, the sixth most generous clip in football. While Reece likely earned a more prominent change-of-pace role by shredding the Jets' league-best run defense for 161 total yards and a touchdown in Week 14, Raiders beat writers anticipate Jennings retaking the clear-cut lead back role. Jennings will be a quality RB2/flex option versus Kansas City. In five starts this season, Jennings has averaged 18.8 touches for 92.2 total yards per game with three TDs. Reece had been so sparingly utilized before last week that he can't even be trusted as a Week 15 flex play.
Score Prediction: Chiefs 21, Raiders 13
NY Jets @ Carolina
Cam Newton delivered a respectable 15.2 standard-league fantasy points in last week's loss at the Superdome, but expectations are raised for Week 15. Already a tire fire in the back end, the Jets' secondary may be minus No. 1 CB Antonio Cromartie (concussion), and on the season ranks 24th versus the pass. Newton has been dynamite in six home games this year, amassing an 11:5 TD-to-INT ratio and 65.8% completion rate with three rushing scores. The Panthers' lone home loss is to Seattle, which barely beat Carolina 12-7 on Opening Day. Fire up Newton as a top-five QB1. ... Cam's target distribution over the last month: Greg Olsen 36; Steve Smith 26; Brandon LaFell 24; Ted Ginn 22; DeAngelo Williams 8; Mike Tolbert 7; Jonathan Stewart 4. ... Emerging as Carolina's No. 1 option in the passing game, Olsen is returning from a 12-target Week 14 and is the No. 9 overall fantasy tight end on the season. Facing a Jets defense that coughs up the ninth most fantasy points in the league to tight ends, Olsen is a mid-range TE1 in the fantasy semifinals. ... LaFell has cleared 60 yards in 2-of-13 games and is a fantasy WR4.
Not heavily targeted and running more possession routes than ever under new OC Mike Shula, Smith is a low-ceiling WR3, albeit with a favorable Week 15 matchup. "89" is just 38th in fantasy receiver scoring on the season. ... Stewart's MCL tear leaves Panthers backfield chores to Williams and Tolbert, with plenty of Newton mixed in. Williams has a shot to handle 20 carries per game going forward, but isn't a particularly enticing flex play in Week 15. Although the Jets have sprung some leaks the past two weeks, they're still No. 2 in NFL run defense and permit 3.14 yards per carry, the stingiest clip in football. Throw in the fact that Williams will likely get all red-zone work vultured by Newton and Tolbert, and his upside is capped in spite of the increased open-field workload. On the season, Williams is averaging 4.04 yards per carry with two all-purpose touchdowns. He has a high-volume, low-scoring outlook in fantasy semifinals week.
The Jets' offense looked passable in last week's 37-27 romp over the hapless Raiders, but their Week 14 performance likely isn't a sign of things to come. Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's unit now gets a road test with a Carolina club that ranks No. 2 in total defense, No. 1 in points allowed, No. 1 versus the run, and No. 5 versus the pass. ... Chris Ivory is the only remotely start-worthy Jet, and he's always at in-game risk of reduced carries based upon game flow because he gets pulled for Bilal Powell in all passing situations. Ivory has rushed for 411 yards and three touchdowns on his last 71 carries (5.79 YPC), but he's no better than a flex play in this matchup. ... Geno Smith's target distribution with Jeremy Kerley back in the lineup in Week 14: Kerley 7; Kellen Winslow 6; Santonio Holmes 5; David Nelson 4; Tommy Bohanon 2; Powell 1. ... Kerley registered a 4-41-1 line in his Week 14 return from a subluxed elbow and is the best bet to lead the Jets in receiving this week. He's still an unattractive WR3. ... Still battling a balky hamstring, Holmes' week-to-week playing time has been unreliable. He's hit pay dirt once this season and exceeded 55 yards in 2-of-8 appearances. ... Carolina is 19th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, and 28th in yards. There are several better TE1 streamer options than Winslow in Week 15.
Score Prediction: Panthers 27, Jets 14
4:25PM ET Games
Green Bay @ Dallas
The Cowboys have struggled mightily to establish a 2013 offensive identity, but oftentimes playing a bad defense can cure what's ailing a team. Green Bay ranks 21st versus the pass and 25th against the run, and has allowed 26-plus points in six of its last seven games. It can't hurt that this game will be played beneath JerryWorld's dome. The one truly trustworthy Dallas skill player of late has been DeMarco Murray, who has an enticing matchup. Over the past six weeks, Green Bay has been gashed by Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Andre Brown/Brandon Jacobs, Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart, Reggie Bush/Joique Bell, and Steven Jackson for 874 yards and five touchdowns on 166 carries (5.27 YPC). The Packers are shelling out 4.42 yards per carry, the NFL's eighth highest clip. Murray is a mid-range RB1. ... Although the yardage numbers haven't been there for Tony Romo due to run-first game plans and supporting-cast woes, he's still piled up a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio over the past six weeks. Expecting Romo to suddenly resume dropping 300-yard games might be overly optimistic at this point, but the matchup and game setting make him an awfully enticing Week 15 play. I'd start Romo over Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Andy Dalton this week, even though all three have scored more fantasy points on the season. ... Romo's target distribution in Miles Austin's six starts this year: Dez Bryant 56; Jason Witten 36; Austin 33; Murray 32; Terrance Williams 18; Cole Beasley 11; James Hanna 6; Dwayne Harris 5.
Since returning from his latest hamstring injury three games ago, Austin has pathetically secured 4-of-12 targets for 54 scoreless yards. The Cowboys need to stop wasting snaps on this player when they could be giving them to upstart youngsters Williams and Beasley. The Packers are shutting down slot receivers with Tramon Williams playing inside, holding Nate Burleson catch-less on Thanksgiving and Harry Douglas to a 2-20 line in Week 14. Avoid Austin at all costs, and neither Beasley nor Williams can be played, either. ... Witten has fallen victim to Dallas' pass-game drought, managing a 32-yard average over his last four games. He still has four touchdowns over his last five. The Packers allow the 15th most fantasy points to tight ends, so this isn't an imposing matchup. Perhaps downgrade him from mid-range to low-end TE1 based on recent stats, but I would still consider Witten a locked-in fantasy starter. ... Same goes for Dez, who has at least 80 yards and/or a touchdown in three straight games, even if he's a disappointing 21st in fantasy receiver scoring over that span. Bryant's talent hasn't suddenly evaporated. He's a dynamic playmaker with a favorable matchup. Start Bryant as a fantasy WR1 against the Packers.
I'm approaching this Packers Matchup breakdown as if Matt Flynn will start. There were signs late Thursday that Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) has a chance to play at Dallas, albeit less than 50:50. Upgrade the entire Green Bay skill-position corps if Rodgers indeed gets the nod. ... Flynn's target distribution through three 2013 appearances as a Packer (two starts): James Jones 16; Jarrett Boykin and Eddie Lacy 15; Andrew Quarless 13; Jordy Nelson 12; Brandon Bostick 6; John Kuhn 3; James Starks 2. ... Despite Dallas' pass defense woes -- the Cowboys rank last against the pass and have allowed the second most passing touchdowns (26) in football -- the Packers' pass game simply isn't a steady source of fantasy value whenever Flynn starts games. And that shows up in the awkward target numbers above, with clear-cut top receiver Nelson a ridiculous fifth in line for Flynn's pass attempts. Playing time and talent are the only controlled factors we can hang our hats on as it relates to Green Bay's receivers with such a massive quarterback downgrade. Thus, I'd continue to rank the Packers' wideouts as Nelson (boom-or-bust WR3) > Jones (low-end WR3) > Boykin (WR4). Nelson has a very good chance to get open frequently as Green Bay's slot receiver taking on rookie B.W. Webb and young journeyman Sterling Moore inside the numbers. Whether Flynn can get Nelson the football has been and will continue to be a weekly conundrum.
Dallas allows the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, but Quarless is a plodding, check-down pass catcher who wouldn't even be a fantasy TE1 were Rodgers healthy. ... The Packers will keep playing Hide the Quarterback if Rodgers can't go, leaning on Lacy as the centerpiece of their offense. Due to his left ankle injury and the possibility Starks' playing time could rise some based on the ailment, Lacy is more high-end RB2 than RB1 this week, but he remains a locked-in fantasy starter against the Cowboys' sieve-ish run defense. ILB Sean Lee (hamstring/stinger) clearly wasn't himself last week as Matt Forte steamrolled Dallas for 175 total yards and a TD on 27 touches. Dallas DC Monte Kiffin's unit has hemorrhaged 634 yards and six TDs on 116 carries (5.47 YPC) to Saints, Giants, Raiders, and Bears tailbacks over its last four games. ... In the event Lacy is declared inactive Sunday morning, Starks would immediately slide in as a strong RB2 in this cakewalk. Starks has proved himself capable of handling large workloads over short stretches, and on the season is averaging 5.32 yards per carry with three touchdowns on just 65 attempts. Starks is also useful in the pass game, though not quite to the extent of "Fat Eddie."
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Packers 20
Arizona @ Tennessee
The 6-7 Titans are losing their way out of playoff contention with Ryan Fitzpatrick as a primary culprit. The streaky journeyman has completed 34 of his last 61 passes (55.7%) for 373 yards (6.11 YPA), two touchdowns, and four picks with a fifth turnover on a lost fumble. I'd rather start Arizona's defense than Fitzpatrick in the fantasy semifinals. Over the last six weeks, the Cardinals have limited enemy signal callers to 140-for-246 passing (56.9%), 1,338 yards (5.44 YPA), and an 8:9 TD-to-INT ratio. DC Todd Bowles' blitz-happy defense has nine sacks over its last two games. ... Fitz's target distribution this year: Kendall Wright 60; Delanie Walker 39; Nate Washington 38; Chris Johnson and Justin Hunter 31; Kenny Britt 10. ... Wright has averaged six catches for 73 yards in Fitzpatrick's seven games of extensive play. Sunday's matchup sets up perfectly for Wright, as Cards top corner Patrick Peterson plays outside the numbers, whereas slot receiver Wright plays inside. Arizona lost slot cornerback Tyrann Mathieu to a Week 14 ACL/LCL tear. Shake off Wright's last-week clunker and start him as a WR2/3. ... Arizona has allowed the most receptions (83), yards (1,111), and touchdowns (14) in the league to tight ends. Although I'd prefer Dennis Pitta, Walker is a viable plug-and-play TE1 for beleaguered Rob Gronkowski owners.
Hunter has registered stat lines of 0-0, 6-109-1, 1-9, and 4-114-1 over the last month. So if the trend holds, Hunter is now due for a weak game. Hunter is a perimeter receiver who may wind up in Peterson's coverage on most of Sunday's snaps. Purely in terms of coverage, Darrelle Revis is the NFL's only corner with a higher Pro Football Focus grade. ... Washington is also in danger of commanding Peterson's attention. Washington has scored a touchdown in 1-of-13 appearances this season and is 56th in fantasy receiver points over the last five weeks, so he shouldn't be on semifinals-week radars anyway. ... Johnson deserves credit for turning his season around after a painfully tough start -- he has 486 yards and five TDs on his last 109 attempts (4.46 YPC) after managing 334 yards and one score on his first 108 runs of the season (3.09 YPC) -- but this isn't a week to feel comfortable trotting CJ?K out. The Cardinals' No. 3 run defense is holding opposing rushers to 3.57 yards per carry, the third stingiest clip in the league. They've allowed just five rushing touchdowns through 13 games. In the fantasy playoffs, I would not want to rely on Johnson as an RB2. He's been a predictable flop in virtually every difficult matchup this year.
On the strength of a kick-started pass offense and arguably the NFL's most underrated defense, the Cards enter Week 15 having won five of their last six games. Carson Palmer has completed 156 of his last 220 throws (70.9%) for 1,837 yards (8.35 YPA) and a 13:4 TD-to-INT ratio, feeding Larry Fitzgerald to the extent that Fitz ranks fifth in the NFL in receptions over the last five weeks. Although Tennessee was dismantled by Peyton Manning last week (397 yards, four touchdowns), the Titans have played stout enough pass defense this year that Palmer is just a QB2 despite his red-hot play. ... Palmer's target distribution during the 5-1 run: Fitz 53; Michael Floyd 39; Rob Housler 30; Andre Roberts 29; Andre Ellington 12; Jim Dray 11; Rashard Mendenhall 6. ... The Titans excel in perimeter pass coverage, where LCB Jason McCourty and RCB Alterraun Verner are both having All Pro-caliber seasons. Playing the old Hines Ward/Reggie Wayne role under coach Bruce Arians, Fitzgerald does his damage in the slot and on in-breaking routes, where he will challenge safeties Bernard Pollard and Michael Griffin, and slot corner Coty Sensabaugh. Fitzgerald has played his way back into every-week WR1 value. Already battling a bum ankle, Floyd will run his routes against McCourty and Verner, and is a boom-or-bust WR3 for Week 15.
Third receiver Roberts also plays on the outside and has cleared 50 yards just once over his last dozen games. He isn't roster worthy in 14-team leagues during the fantasy playoffs. ... Injury-prone Housler has a favorable matchup against a Titans defense allowing the 13th most fantasy points to tight ends, but missed practice time this week with a groin pull and has struggled for production all season. Housler has scored one touchdown and cleared 60 yards twice. He's a clear-cut TE2. ... The Titans are more vulnerable on the ground than in the air, ranking 20th in run defense with an AFC-high 18 rushing touchdowns allowed. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball combined for 155 yards and two TDs on 29 carries (5.34 YPC) against Tennessee in Week 14. Despite the plus matchup, Mendenhall's outlook has not changed. He lacks big-play running ability and isn't used in the passing game, and will only pay fantasy flex dividends if he scores a red-zone touchdown. Ellington will be the higher-ceiling flex option because he does contribute as a receiver, where Arians can get him into space. And Ellington is capable of breaking long runs.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 24, Titans 17
New Orleans @ St. Louis
Back on a tear after shredding Carolina's No. 1 scoring defense for 313 yards and four TDs in last week's win, Drew Brees gets a far more favorable matchup indoors against St. Louis' No. 22 pass defense. Among Sunday and Monday's games, Brees is the No. 1 fantasy quarterback for Week 15. ... Brees' targets since Marques Colston returned from a knee injury four games ago: Jimmy Graham 43; Colston 42; Pierre Thomas 26; Darren Sproles 22; Lance Moore 14; Kenny Stills 13; Robert Meachem 12; Ben Watson 7; Josh Hill 6; Mark Ingram 5. ... Graham leads the NFL in touchdowns (14), and ranks ninth in catches (74) and 11th in receiving yards (1,046). This is the last year he'll make it to the late second and third rounds of fantasy drafts. With Rob Gronkowski on I.R., Graham is fantasy football's rest-of-season No. 1 tight end. ... Colston has shaken off a disappointing first half of the year to rank No. 11 among fantasy wideouts over the last five weeks. He's a WR2 against the Rams. Notable enemy receiver stat lines coughed up by St. Louis this year: Brandon Marshall 10-117-1; T.Y. Hilton 7-130; Golden Tate 5-93-2; Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Larry Fitzgerald (twice) 8-80-2 and 12-96-1; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Andre Johnson 7-88; Anquan Boldin (twice) 5-90-1 and 9-98.
Moore, Stills, and Meachem form a value-draining No. 2 receiver committee. None can be trusted in fantasy's playoff semifinals. ... Although New Orleans' run game has generally proven to be an unreliable source of production this season -- even Thomas' numbers have gone in the gutter the past two weeks -- this is a game the Saints should mostly control, allowing coach Sean Payton to lean on his rushing attack, particularly in the second half. Thomas is still 21st in fantasy running back scoring on the year and worth serious flex consideration against the Rams. St. Louis poses a middling matchup for opposing rushers, ranking No. 13 versus the run with 15 rushing scores allowed, fifth most in football. Arizona backs combined for 129 total yards and two touchdowns against the Rams last week. ... Sproles' start-ability is less apparent because his snap count has dropped in three straight weeks and he's hit pay dirt in just one of his last eight games. Saints beat writers believe Payton is attempting to preserve a banged-up Sproles for the playoffs. They don't need him to whip the Rams. ... Since his faux-breakout game in Week 10 against Dallas, Ingram has carried a combined 26 times for 83 scoreless yards (3.19 YPC). He is safe to drop.
The Rams have built their offense around the run game since Sam Bradford's ACL tear, a logical approach considering their quarterback situation, but one that is extremely limiting. They don't have a competitive passing game. And the team goes in the tank when it can't or isn't in position to pound the rock. Having managed 100 yards with one touchdown on his last 34 carries (2.94 YPC), Zac Stacy isn't so much hitting a Rookie Wall as being eliminated by defenses. The Saints are a favorable run-defense matchup -- they're 17th versus the run and permit the fourth highest yards-per-carry average (4.69) in football -- but the strong possibility of St. Louis falling behind big on the scoreboard limits Stacy to mid-range RB2 value. ... In full-on 2014 evaluation mode, the Rams distributed Week 14 wide receiver snaps in the following manner: Tavon Austin 32; Brian Quick 31; Stedman Bailey 28; Chris Givens 28; Austin Pettis 15. Austin is the only Rams wideout worth flex/WR3 discussion in fantasy semifinals week, and he's just a boom-or-bust crapshoot. ... New Orleans is allowing the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, giving Jared Cook a matchup to avoid after he couldn't capitalize on his most favorable matchup all year in Week 14. Facing an Arizona defense allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends, Cook laid a 3-49-0 egg.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Rams 13
Sunday Night Football
Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh
This week's Sunday nighter projects as a low-scoring slugfest between division rivals whose quarterbacks have historically struggled versus this particular opposition. Steelers DC Dick LeBeau has unfailingly had Andy Dalton's number, as Dalton is 89-of-168 (52.3%) for 968 yards (5.76 YPA) passing with a 5:5 TD-to-INT ratio in five career bouts with LeBeau. Dalton deserves credit for a lights-out Week 14 game against Indianapolis, but he's a middling two-quarterback-league play against Pittsburgh's top-seven pass defense at chilly Heinz Field. ... Dalton's target distribution since the Bengals' Week 12 bye: A.J. Green 15; Marvin Jones and Jermaine Gresham 7; Giovani Bernard, Tyler Eifert, and Mohamed Sanu 6; Andrew Hawkins 5; BenJarvus Green-Ellis 2. ... The Steelers have routinely utilized Ike Taylor in shadow coverage of Green, which is a matchup that plays directly into Green's hands this time around. Taylor has hit the career wall in his age-33 season, grading out 107th among 111 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' cornerback ratings, and dead last purely in pass coverage. ... Far less confident fantasy bets are Jones and Sanu, who continue to form a near-even rotation at X receiver with Green at Z and Hawkins in the slot. Jones dropped a 3-60-1 line on the Colts, but had totaled 29 scoreless yards in his three games prior. The way Jones is used locks him into inconsistency. Sanu has one touchdown and hasn't cleared the 70-yard mark all season. Sanu isn't even worth rostering in 14-team leagues.
Neither Eifert nor Gresham is a top-20 fantasy tight end on the year, and Pittsburgh is 21st in fantasy points allowed to their position. ... Although Hawkins possesses explosive playmaking ability, he hasn't played more than 20 snaps in any game since returning from short-term I.R. six weeks ago. ... The Bengals have played balanced to run-first offense since the bye week, rattling off 73 rushing attempts compared to 58 passes the past two games. The philosophical switch has been kind to plodder Green-Ellis, who's executed on three goal-line plunges in two weeks. Start Green-Ellis if you're willing to hang your hat on short TDs, because he offers zero long-run ability and doesn't play in the pass game. He's a limited-ceiling, low-floor flex option even against Pittsburgh's No. 24 run defense. ... Bernard is a far higher-upside flex option whose role has become more consistent due to OC Jay Gruden's increased commitment to the run. Gio has 15-plus touches in four straight games, and found pay dirt twice in these teams' Week 2 meeting.
Ben Roethlisberger has underwhelmed in recent tilts with Bengals DC Mike Zimmer, who in 2013 is fielding a top-eight pass defense despite numerous critical injuries. Over his last three meetings with Zimmer, Roethlisberger has completed 61-of-102 throws for 749 yards, three touchdowns, and five turnovers with nine sacks absorbed. It's worth noting Cincinnati will play this game without LCB Terence Newman (knee), and has already lost RCB Leon Hall (Achilles') to injured reserve. Roethlisberger is a higher-end QB2 than Dalton in Week 15. ... Big Ben's target distribution over his last five games: Antonio Brown 51; Heath Miller 34; Emmanuel Sanders 32; Le'Veon Bell 31; Jerricho Cotchery 23; Markus Wheaton 7. ... Cincinnati held Brown to six catches for 57 yards on nine targets in these clubs' Week 2 game, but containing him will be far more difficult without Newman or Hall. The Bengals will turn to 2012 first-round disappointment Dre Kirkpatrick opposite Pacman Jones, with 33-year-old converted safety Chris Crocker in the slot. Brown is a WR1 in PPR and locked-in WR2 in standard leagues. ... Cincinnati is 24th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, creating a sub-par matchup for Miller. Miller has one touchdown on the season and is averaging a four-year low in yards per catch (10.7), not surprising considering he's coming back from January's triple-knee ligament tear. Miller is a low-end, low-upside TE1.
Sanders has a touchdown in three consecutive weeks, a fluky run that can't be trusted during the fantasy semifinals. After 13 games in his first season as a full-time player, we know what Sanders is. 29th in fantasy receiver scoring, he's a low-end WR3. ... Cotchery is dealing with a shoulder injury, which could be a convenient excuse for the 5-8 Steelers to begin playing Wheaton more at their 31-year-old slot receiver's expense. Roster Wheaton in your Dynasty league, and aim higher than Cotchery for your Week 15 WR3. ... Le'Veon has and will continue to be utilized as a true bellcow workhorse. He's appeared in ten games as a rookie, and has yet to dip below 18 touches in any of them. Bell is the No. 12 overall fantasy running back in per-game scoring, though he's far more RB2 this week than those RB1ish numbers indicate. Whereas Cincinnati's defense has the potential to be vulnerable versus the pass, it is nails against the run. The Bengals rank fifth in the NFL in run defense and have permitted four rushing touchdowns, tied for third fewest in football.
Score Prediction: Steelers 21, Bengals 17
Monday Night Football
Baltimore @ Detroit
Making his 2013 season debut in last week's thrilling win over Minnesota, Dennis Pitta instantly reasserted himself as a locked-in fantasy TE1 by playing 36 snaps and securing 6-of-11 targets for 48 yards and a touchdown. Expect Pitta's snap count to rise into the 50s against a Detroit defense allowing the seventh most receptions to tight ends. Keep in mind Pitta was headed for a monster contract year before fracturing and dislocating his hip in July. According to Matt Vensel of the Baltimore Sun, Joe Flacco "locked into Pitta during OTAs, sometimes too much." ... Although the arrow is pointing up on his two-QB-league value with Pitta back, Flacco simply hasn't been productive enough this season to warrant confident QB1 streamer start-ability. Flacco is 18th in fantasy quarterback scoring. The Lions' defense has 11 sacks over its last three games and has limited enemy signal callers to 21-of-42 passing (50%) for 318 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions the past two weeks. ... Here is Flacco's target distribution since Baltimore's Week 8 bye: Torrey Smith 49; Jacoby Jones 32; Ray Rice 28; Marlon Brown 26; Ed Dickson 22; Dallas Clark 13; Pitta and Tandon Doss 11; Deonte Thompson 8; Brandon Stokley 5. ... With Pitta in the lineup last week, Clark was a healthy scratch. Dickson is now able to focus on blocking.
Smith has 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games and is worth teeing up as a high-ceiling WR2 indoors against a Lions defense that's been generous to No. 1 receivers all year. Shake off last week's 1-11 clunker and start Smith at Detroit. ... Inconsistent complementary receivers, Jones and Brown are capable of playing productively in given games, but their week-to-week roles and stats are too unreliable for fantasy playoffs usage. ... Prior to getting dismantled by LeSean McCoy last Sunday, Detroit had held enemy backs to 228 scoreless yards on 108 carries (2.11 YPC) over its previous six games. One rough week doesn't suddenly make the Lions an attractive opponent for Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice's workloads are stable enough that he's a formidable flex play at Ford Field, but he'd be a weak RB2 behind poor blocking and averaging 2.97 yards per carry on the season. The Lions still rank No. 6 in run defense. ... Pierce has been among the most disappointing second-year players in the league, failing to find running room en route to a 2.74 YPC average. That's down over two full yards from his rookie-season clip (4.93).
A vicious Philadelphia snowstorm torpedoed Detroit's passing offense in Week 14, but the Lions return home to their dome for fantasy semifinals week at full strength or close to it. After last Sunday's pre-game setback with his calf strain, Reggie Bush is on track to start against Baltimore's No. 8 run defense. Although the matchup is difficult on paper, Bush has gained 428 yards on his last 82 rushing attempts (5.22 YPC) and registered 100-plus total yards and/or a touchdown in seven of his 11 appearances this season. He'll be an RB1 if he starts. If Bush suffers another calf injury recurrence, Joique Bell will be a plug-and-play RB2. ... Although Peyton Manning's seven-TD opener skews their stats a bit, the Ravens' defense has been slightly softer against the pass than on the ground. The Baltimore secondary is particularly vulnerable deep, allowing 40 completions of 20-plus yards and an NFL-high 16 passes of 40 yards or more. Challenging vertically just so happens to be cannon-armed Matthew Stafford's bread and butter. Shake off last week's fumble-filled clunker in the snow and start Stafford as an elite QB1 Monday night. ... Stafford's target distribution in Nate Burleson's six 2013 starts: Calvin Johnson 59; Burleson 42; Bell 33; Bush and Kris Durham 23; Brandon Pettigrew 22; Joseph Fauria 8.
Aside from his 7-77-1 line in Week 12 against a Bucs defense that gets shredded weekly by slot receivers, Burleson has been a disappointment in his three games back. His other two box scores read 0-0 and 2-18. Burleson is a 32-year-old possession receiver who doesn't warrant the benefit of the doubt. He's an unappealing WR3. ... The snowstorm helped limit Megatron to three catches for 49 yards in Week 14, and he's still fantasy's clear-cut top receiver. Start 'em. ... Reduced to Detroit's third receiver since Burleson's return, Durham has done nothing to suggest he's even a worthy deep-league fantasy option. He's coming off a catch-less game on three targets. ... The Ravens are 20th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, and tied for second to last in receptions. This is an unfavorable matchup for Pettigrew, who hasn't been a big part of Detroit's pass game all year. Fauria is a touchdown-dependent TE2. Avoid Lions tight ends in the fantasy semifinals.
Score Prediction: Lions 27, Ravens 23
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