As we head into the crunch time of the NFL regular season and the fantasy football playoffs, every little detail doesn’t matter. Even in daily fantasy tournaments and sports betting, we’re trying to do all we can to make lasting wins before the hourglass runs out. Here, we’ll focus on seven of the biggest storylines that could shape outcomes in all lines of fake football for Week 15.
The perfect script for Leonard Fournette
Take the name off the back of the jersey and you suddenly realize the proposition of playing Leonard Fournette is nothing more than the ever-risky endeavor of trusting an early-down back on a bottom-tier NFL offense.
Last Thursday’s showing exemplified the always-present floor with this type of back. Fournette rushed for just 36 yards on 14 carries as the Jaguars got rolled over by the Titans, 30-9.
Week 15 might just pave a path to the high-end range of outcomes for a player like Fournette. The Jags will take on one of the few offenses that’s more of a joke than their own when they welcome Washington to town. With a Josh Johnson-led opponent in-house, the Jags should be able to keep this contest close and find themselves in the game script needed to saddle Fournette up for a big workload.
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Jacksonville is a 7.5-point favorite at home in this game with a measly 36-point total. Washington has been pummeled on the ground over the last month, giving up 5.3 yards per carry. The matchup and game script are perfectly set up for Fournette to absorb 20-plus carries.
Cowboys at Colts game script
With a 47.5-point total, the Cowboys road trip to Indianapolis appears to be a contest that could go either way. Dallas’ defense has been an ascendant unit in the second half of the season. Led by young linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, they’re a stop unit that flies to the football and stomps out the running game. They’ve allowed just 3.9 yards per carry over the last four weeks. However, they have weaknesses and Andrew Luck, sporting career-highs in passer rating and completion percentage, should find them.
Dallas’ middle of the field has ceded some room as teams haven’t found much to pick on at the perimeter. They’ve allowed the third-most catches (76) to tight ends and sixth-most to running backs (79) on the year. Tight end Eric Ebron averaged 10.6 targets in seven games without Jack Doyle this season and has 24 over the last two weeks. T.Y Hilton has spent some time inside this season, running 27 percent of his routes out of the slot, per Pro Football Focus.
If the game does get high-scoring, we have a strong degree of confidence that the production will flow through the team’s top trio of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper. We should also have some hope for a sleeper to emerge in this matchup.
Rookie Michael Gallup actually leads the team with 326 air yards over the last three weeks. Prior to the NFL Draft, Gallup was a receiver who popped in my Reception Perception methodology, posting a 68.1 percent success rate vs. man coverage and 82.4 percent vs. zone. He also had a clear trump card trait to win 50/50 balls, seeing a contested catch attempt on 27 percent of his sampled targets with an 80% conversion rate — 90th percentile. He’s someone to watch out for a late-season surge and is only $12 in our Yahoo DFS game.
Aaron Jones: Mere mortal or something more?
The tortured few among us who spend altogether too many hours scrolling through the information lanes of Fantasy Twitter have kicked around the idea of whether defenses “matter” a good bit this season. If you come down on the side of emphasizing matchups, you’re out on Aaron Jones this week. The other side may feel differently.
Joe Philbin looked like he was determined early on to mess around with the same type of foolishness that got his predecessor canned last week. The Packers ran out Jamaal Williams on 100 percent of the team’s snaps in their first two drives. Aaron Jones was nowhere to be found. Luckily, things got right as the game wore on and Jones finished with 78 yards and a score on 17 carries. He handled 68 percent of the team carries and ran 20 routes. It remains the case that he’s a featured back.
Jones has actually developed a safe floor, totaling three-plus catches in five straight games. His receiving work should help him remain a solid asset even as he takes on a strong Bears front-seven fresh off a dominating effort against Todd Gurley. Chicago allows just 3.7 yards per carry, third-best in the league. Big games are tough to come by on this stop unit.
It’s hard to place a chip firmly on either side of Jones’ outlook this week. His workload in an offense that isn’t at peak form, but is overall still moving well, is hard to turn away from. Yet, there are few matchups more difficult than this one. Proceed with caution if you find yourself too confident one way or another with Jones in Week 15.
Are the Seahawks legit?
The Seahawks are on a tear, winning four straight games on the way to a strong lead for the fifth seed in the NFC playoff race. Seattle has won their last two games by a combined margin of 64 to 23. While that’s impressive, you can argue their most recent win over the Vikings had much more to do with their opposition’s ineptitude than their own success. The Seahawks barely threw for more than 70 yards and didn’t find the end zone until under 2:53 left in the fourth quarter.
In Week 15, they’ll square off with the other team they vanquished in that stretch, San Francisco. While Nick Mullens threw for a hollow 400-plus yards, the Seahawks controlled their last matchup at home. The line on this game has moved from Seattle as a six-point road favorite to a 3.5-point spread. If the Seahawks are truly a team to watch for a playoff upset of the Saints or Rams, they’ll cover that spread with ease.
Flipping the script in Minnesota
Dalvin Cook hasn’t cleared 16 carries since Week 3…of last season. As much as Mike Zimmer may want to get it done, it’s been a slog for the Vikings in trying to establish the run this year behind a broken offensive line on a scoring attack that lacks a counter punch beyond their elite pair of wide receivers.
In a union that in hindsight always seemed ill-fated, the inability to get the run game going was likely part of the reason Minnesota sent offensive coordinator John DeFilippo packing Tuesday morning. Given DeFilippo’s emphasis on quick-passing as a basis for his offense and Zimmer’s zealous desires to be run-first, this marriage was like oil and water from the jump.
With DeFilippo gone, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the team attempt to follow Zimmer’s orders and go run heavy in Week 15. New play-caller Kevin Stefanski was rumored to be Zimmer’s preferred choice for the gig all along as an in-house promotion option.
Lucky for Cook, the going should be much easier against a Dolphins defense in Minnesota than it was last Monday night. Miami has allowed the fourth most yards on the ground to running backs and the Vikings should be in a positive game script as 7.5-point home favorites.
Eagles under Nick Foles (again)
We had the bad Nick Foles in our lives to close the 2017 regular season and open 2018. Of course, sandwiched between those events was a magical run to the Super Bowl. We know by now that he’s a painfully streaky player who routinely offers tempting highs that never stabilize before crashing to valleys. The Eagles offense already didn’t have much of a ceiling. With every pass-catcher this side of Zach Ertz under-performing and the line not up to 2017 standards, it’s hard to see Foles recapture his postseason momentum.
The best way for the Eagles to attempt to win in this game may just be by running. After two straight games of over 20 carries, Josh Adams snapped his streak of good games with a seven-carry, 36-yard dud in Dallas last week. We could see the Eagles recommit to their rookie back against the Rams this week, given Los Angeles’ willingness to concede the run game to emphasize stopping the pass. They just allowed the Bears to dust them with Jordan Howard taking his 19 carries for a season-high 101 yards. Tarik Cohen chipped in 69 yards on nine carries as well. Los Angeles has allowed just over 5.0 yards per carry over the last month.
Will the real Saints please stand up?
No one likes a spoiled whiner. Fantasy gamers too often fall into this category.
“He only had 80 yards but no touchdown!”
The Saints put up 28 points on the Buccaneers last week but it’s hard to blame anyone who is still bothered by their performances following a Thanksgiving teardown of the Falcons. Most of the Saints production came in the second half of their win over Tampa Bay and we got floor performances from Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees. All three could bounce back in this spot Monday night against Carolina.
The Panthers are one of a handful of teams without an interception over the last month. They’ve allowed the third-most yards and touchdowns to wide receivers in that span. Leaks have sprung in slot coverage, culminating in Jarvis Landry’s best game of the season last week.
Thomas sees a target on 31.8 percent of his slot routes, second-most among receivers with 200-plus routes on the year. The Panthers middle of the field pass coverage also has holes, which should help Kamara find the end zone for the first time in three weeks.
Time is just about up on the 2018 NFL season. We don’t want to be greedy, but it’d be sweet to see one last round of fireworks from the wholly thrilling New Orleans offense.