Hey everyone, and welcome to Week 15! The semifinals are upon us, and it certainly has been an interesting season thus far, so let’s continue with it, shall we?
Diving into the week ahead, we have a ton of tricky situations regarding the QB position, with a whole bunch of reliable names finding themselves in tricky matchups, and some guys that we usually wouldn’t consider to start for us in the semis now have some really good matchups. Names like Tyrod Taylor and Joe Flacco are these shakier players getting great opportunities to shine while reliable guys like Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and even Tom Brady find themselves in some sticky situations with some tricky matchups. So how do we navigate this?
Well, you could just go with the route most taken by others in similar situations, which is to just roll with your studs and get into the mindset that the rest of your team and your day will be good with a bad performance at QB. And that is certainly respectable. But I am offering another decision, which is to take a little bit of a risk, start the better option in a better situation, and reap the rewards. Yes, Tyrod Taylor should not instill the same level of confidence that Andrew Luck instills in some, however Taylor and Luck still are largely similar in one way: although Luck may be the better player, both he and Taylor are two of the 32 men that can play QB at an NFL level, and start. It’s not like Taylor is a pee-wee starter and has no idea how to win. They’ve won plenty before.
Before we get into the QB situation for Week 15, let’s get started with one of the most, if not the highest-powered offenses in the NFL, thanks in part to the hard works of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman…
Start of the Week: Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, Atlanta
Before the season began, I was actively against drafting Devonta Freeman, as I looked at his last few games of the 2015 season, combined with the fact that he wasn’t Dan Quinn’s #1 choice as back, especially with the Training Camp rumors that Coleman would be getting more and more work. I was wrong, and after a sluggish start, he’s been very consistent (he’s had some huge games, but will usually just end games that’ll make you say “Okay, he could have done a whole lot worse”). Alongside him was Coleman, who, aside from his injury struggles that has plagued him throughout the entire year has been kind of the same as well, with more production coming in on passing downs.
This week both of them will get a great matchup, and as we’ve seen earlier in the year against New Orleans and even against Denver, if the matchup is good enough, both can prosper. Atlanta will get the 49ers, who have just been downright awful against the run this year, giving up close to 150 yards and 1.5 TD’s per game, in addition to ranking as Football Outsiders’ 31st-best defense against the run.
With WR Julio Jones missing this week again as the Falcons continue to play it safe, I could see the Falcons offense going entirely through the two backs, especially getting Coleman involved on passing downs.
Fire them both up with confidence.
Note: I will be more than happy to answer specific lineup questions below, but I won’t be selecting the “obvious” plays unless I don’t think they are so obvious. Regardless of a great matchup, you won’t see names like Tom Brady, David Johnson or Antonio Brown. Those are no-brainers. Fire ’em up with confidence.
Eli Manning (vs. DET)
Trust me, I don’t like it either. We’ve had some golden opportunities with Manning these last couple of weeks, including last week against Dallas, but it just hasn’t happened, so at some point you have to ask yourself if he’s worth the trouble. The most frustrating thing is that he’s still in such a great passing offense with absolutely no rushing production, so the pieces are all there. Let’s hope he can do it for us this week, which I think he can at home versus Detroit. The Lions may very well be without CB Darius Slay (who would be paired with Odell for those that have him), and that would be a big boost to this offense. On the year, the Lions have given up 282 yards and 1.8 TD’s per game to the QB position, ranking as Football Outsiders’ 30th-best team against the pass. If he can limit the turnovers, it should be a good day for Manning.
Joe Flacco (vs. PHI)
We know that the Eagles are usually very good at home. However, they struggle greatly on the road, where they have surrendered 260 yards and 2 scores per game to opposing QB’s, compared to their rate of 247 yards and 1 score per game at home. Flacco hasn’t been nearly a top option throughout the year, but nonetheless has a plethora of stellar passing options to choose from – especially with the emergence of Kenneth Dixon these past few weeks – with Steve Smith and Mike Wallace leading the way. These remaining games for Baltimore are really important; games that will decide if they will continue to play football in January, and Flacco should be in tip top form for these final few games down the stretch. Also, he’s a great DFS play due to the fact that he’ll likely go overlooked because of the appearance that he has a tough matchup.
Tyrod Taylor (vs. CLE)
Ahh, the old “Start Your QB’s Against Cleveland” routine. After some disappointing games over these last few weeks, in which many were questioning HC Rex Ryan if he was going to stay with the young gunslinger (squeaky wheel theory?), we now get a great matchup for Taylor to bounce back to his old form. The Browns have not been very good at all on the year, as with a below-average sack rate, they have failed to put any substantial pressure on opposing QB’s, and in the process, rank as Football Outsiders’ 31st-best team versus the pass, allowing 263 yards and 2.3 TD’s per game, and on the road, 278 yards and 2.7 TD’s per game. It’s a perfect time to pounce on the matchup, and although the Bills won’t have their starting LT, it honestly shouldn’t matter.
We’ll call this section “Sit Them If You Can”. If not, fingers crossed…
Aaron Rodgers (@ CHI)
It’s pretty bold to say to bench Aaron Rodgers, but that’s what I am telling you. I find it nearly impossible for him to have one of his usual outings against a team that he has usually had success against in the Chicago Bears. First off, the weather conditions are very bad. According to my AccuWeather App (give it up y’all) the temperature right around kick-off is near 3° F, with a RealFeel temperature at -13° F. They also are predicting wind gusts to reach near 20 mph. These are pretty horrible conditions, and it doesn’t help that HC Mike McCarthy is already saying that they’ll give Ty Montgomery 20 carries if they need to. And it isn’t like the Bears defense is an absolute sieve either. At home, they only allow 194 passing yards per game and 0.8 TD’s. I understand he is Aaron Rodgers, but please bench him.
Drew Brees (@ ARI)
I won’t lie, this is a risky selection to sit, mostly because of the fact that he is Drew Brees. But the fact of the matter is, we can’t ignore just how bad he is on the road. When he is in New Orleans, Brees averages 31.2 fpts/game (6pt TD) with a 70.9% completion rate. When he is on the road, Brees averages only 21.0 fpts/game with only 11 TD’s and 7 INT’s. It’s never easy facing the Cardinals defense on the road; a unit that ranks as Football Outsiders’ 4th-best defense against the pass, and at home, only allow 18.51 fpts/game (6pt TD), even averaging 1 pick per game. Again, like with Aaron Rodgers, I understand that he is a future HOF’er, and has come through in plenty of weeks, but this is just a bad matchup and I would not want you to start him this week.
Matthew Stafford (@ NYG)
He’s had some success against them in the past, however this is a different Giants defense from years past; most notably the fact that they’re good now. At home, the G-Men allow only 16.80 fpts/game (6pt TD), and in general, rank as Football Outsiders’ 5th-best defensive unit versus the pass. They’ve had some excellent play from defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, rookie Eli Apple, Landon Collins, and even Janoris Jenkins at times. It’s a tough matchup for Stafford on the road, and although he’s definitely been reliable in some cases this year, I would advise to sit him.
LeGarrette Blount (@ DEN)
I’ve been talking for a little while now on the Denver D; a unit marked by strength in the pass rush and secondary, but some serious weaknesses in run stopping. In fact, according to Football Outsiders, they rank 32nd in run stuffing, in addition to ranking as the 25th-best unit against the run. On the year, the Broncos additionally give up 105 yards per game, with 98 yards per game coming at Mile High. The great thing about this matchup is that usually ILB Brandon Marshall usually limits the TD production for a lot of these backs (only give up 0.3 TD’s per game at home), but alas, he won’t be playing Sunday. It’s hard to imagine that Blount has already surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the year, and he should definitely add to that total this week.
Bilal Powell (vs. MIA)
So a few things before I talk matchups. First, I understand some folks’ concerns with Powell being reliable week-to-week, especially when everyone is pretty darn excited after a good game against, shocker, the 49ers. Well, it is still a great matchup, but I’ll get to that. Also, although Matt Forte is still shaken up a bit, it’ll look like he’ll play tonight. So why do we still like Powell? Well, according to ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini, Powell should get most of the work over Forte. Which is a big time smart move for New York. They don’t want him hurt, and obviously care about his future with the team, so why run the risk when you’re 4-9? Alright, let’s talk the matchup, which is a good one. The Dolphins do not have a good run defense, ranking as Football Outsiders’ 22nd-best unit against the run. They do a good job of limiting backs getting into the endzone, but aside from that, still allow 101.5 yards per game on the ground, and if Powell still is in on passing downs, the Fins allow 5 catches per game to RB’s. A floor of around 15 points is certainly not bad, and Powell is a quality start.
Isaiah Crowell (@ BUF)
It’s hard to tell already if RGIII is having a direct impact either positively or negatively for Crowell, but he definitely has done well in Week 1 before Griffin got injured, and did fairly well last week with 115 rushing yards, but without a score. There is reason to feel good about his chances this week against a beatable opponent in the Bills, a defensive unit that is not the best against the run, ranking as Football Outsiders’ 29th-best unit against the run, allowing 102.7 yards and 1.2 TD’s per game to opposing backs. In addition to this, Buffalo might be without DT Kyle Williams with a back injury, which would definitely be a little boost to Crowell’s fantasy value. They are on the road, but if you are looking for a flex play, Crowell is your man.
Doug Martin (@ DAL)
Well, we were all looking forward to a nice game from Martin last week against the Saints, but it was not to be, and on the road against a good Cowboys run defense, I would think it’s not going to be this week either. The Cowboys are another good ol’ funnel defense, ranking as Football Outsiders’ 24th best unit against the pass compared to their 4th-best ranking against the rush. They’ve excelled against stopping opposing backs at home as well, only allowing 81.2 yards and 0.3 TD’s per game. They’ll have OLB Sean Lee returning Sunday, and with CB Morris Claiborne likely going to miss this game, I only see the Bucs having success with Winston throwing the ball. It also doesn’t help that this is more or less a RBBC. Stay away.
So Mathews is still in the picture, but with Darren Sproles out Week 15, HC Doug Pederson has said that Barner or even Bryron Maxwell (???) to fill out the “Sproles” role. Doesn’t matter for me how the cookies crumble, I want no part of it. Barner is just too unpredictable for us to want to use him in the semis (unless you’re in a deep league), and the issue with Mathews is that he’s too predictable (he’s not that good, except for that one fluke game versus Atlanta). The Ravens have a pretty stout run defense, only allowing 68 rushing yards and 0.3 TD’s per game on the year, ranking as Football Outsiders’ best team against the run. I would advise to stay away, unless you like losing, and in that case, carry on.
I’ll just say this: I don’t know why they decided a while ago to split carries between Ingram and Hightower. Am I the only one that thinks that Ingram is the better back and it isn’t even close? Oh well, it’s way to late now, and it’s a pretty bad matchup for both backs this week as New Orleans travels to Arizona for their Week 15 matchup. In case you hadn’t heard yet, Arizona is pretty good against opposing running backs, especially at home, where they only allow 55.1 yards and 0.1 TD’s per game. Hahahaha NOPE!!!!
Tyreek Hill (vs. TEN)
Man is this guy impressive or what? He’s #1 in the entire NFL in fantasy points per snap, targets per snap, touches per snap and fantasy points per target, all while catching a ridiculous 83% of his passes. In an offense that is led by one of the best game managers of all time (in my opinion), Hill has managed to become an elite option in an offense that is usually slow paced and marked by strength at the running back position. This week he’ll get a Tennessee secondary that has allowed a rate of 15/191/1 per game, on average, and should have no time scoring quite possibly more than 1 TD.
DeVante Parker (@ NYJ)
This one might carry some risk, but I still fully believe Parker has the chance to go off this week. Even before the season started, many were talking up Parker as to be the next Allen Robinson for fantasy, and although he certainly is talented, some ineffective play and and a lingering back injury shut down the possibility of a quality 2016 fantasy season. However, this week could be the best one for Parker. I get that there is risk with Matt Moore starting, however he isn’t a new QB; he’s been proven to be a solid backup and has had 14 weeks to learn Adam Gase’s playbook. Going back to Parker, not only has he gotten more involved lately, with a season-high 97% of the snaps last week, it’s a great matchup against a Jets defense that will possibly be without CB Buster Skrine on the outside, where Parker (and Stills) mostly plays. According to Football Outsiders, the Jets have the worst pass defense, and over the past 3 weeks, New York has surrendered 157 yards and 1 TD to opposing WR’s. It’s a great time to pounce.
Terrelle Pryor (@ BUF)
He’s certainly risky, but I like him a lot this week. First off, let’s talk the matchup; it’s a good one. Buffalo has seen better days in their secondary, giving up on average close to 163 yards and 1 TD per game to opposing wideouts, ranking as Football Outsiders’ 19th-best defense against the pass. Here’s why I like Pryor as much as I do: remember that video of Pacman Jones calling out Pryor for being trash? Everyone and their mom has access to that video, and it definitely made its way around the sports media outlets. Now in a matchup that is a beatable one, it wouldn’t shock me if Pryor shows up to silence the critics with a BIG chip on his shoulder, and will probably make some big rant about being trash. Isn’t that what the NFL is about? If you need him as a flex option, I would go for it, unless you think my logic is absolutely flawed (which it very well could be, example A – RGIII)
Demaryius Thomas (vs. NE)
He’s been very inconsistent throughout the entire year, and I don’t want anything to do with him now against the Pats. I get the fact that they are at home, but CB Malcolm Butler will be returning, and he has been proven to cancel out some big names, most notably A.J. Green a few weeks ago. The Pats rush defense is definitely better than their passing defense, but with their “bend but don’t break” defensive philosophy, I want to stay away from Thomas until he has a better matchup, especially when I am in the semis.
Brandin Cooks (@ ARI)
It’s never easy facing the Cardinals defense on the road; a unit that ranks as Football Outsiders’ 4th-best defense against the pass, and at home, only allow 18.51 fpts/game to opposing QB’s (6pt TD), even averaging 1 pick per game. Cooks will likely draw either CB Patrick Peterson, or either some of Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson, both of whom are returning.
At home, the G-Men allow only 16.80 fpts/game (6pt TD), and in general, rank as Football Outsiders’ 5th-best defensive unit versus the pass. They’ve had some excellent play from defensive backs Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, rookie Eli Apple, Landon Collins, and even Janoris Jenkins at times. It’s a tough matchup for Stafford on the road, and although he’s definitely been reliable in some cases this year, I would advise to sit him and his main receivers, Tate and Jones, the latter of whom is as active in the offense as I am and I don’t play football.
Jordan Reed (vs. CAR)
Reed has been battling his shoulder injury ever since he originally injured it on Thanksgiving, and Washington hasn’t really missed a beat these past few weeks with Vernon Davis stepping into his role until otherwise. Well now Reed is healthy and should be a full go this week against Carolina on Monday Night, against a Panthers defense that ranks as Football Outsiders’ 18th-best defense against TE’s, and on a per-game basis, allow almost 17 fpts/game (6pt TD).
Coby Fleener (@ ARI)
Like I have stated before with Brees and Cooks, this is a pretty bad matchup for someone that has been very inconsistent in this high-powered offense. As Arizona will have safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson back for Week 15, in addition to CB Marcus Cooper as well, it isn’t looking good for Cooks or Fleener, and the latter is definitely not the most reliable to start, especially in the semis.
Matt Bryant (vs. SF)
Lots of points in this one, and Bryant should benefit big time from it, as he’ll be kicking in the dome in a game Vegas has as the highest-scoring one of the week.
Mason Crosby/Connor Barth (CHI-GB)
Case you hadn’t heard, it’s gonna be like -2 ° and 10-13 mph winds. Not the worst, but definitely pretty crappy kicking conditions (and the lowest-scoring game of the week according to Vegas)
Defense & Special Teams
Baltimore Ravens (vs. PHI)
Not only are they a good unit in general, they’ll face an Eagles team that will likely see not only Kenjon Barner as a lead back (delicious), they will also likely be without RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai and LG Allen Barbre. The sack upside is there, and if Jimmy Smith makes it back, there will be some INT-upside as well.
Houston Texans (vs. JAC)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ DAL)
Like I have stated in previous discussions on both the podcast and here, the Bucs have a stellar defensive unit (compared to how they played in the beginning of the year), but this is as tough as a matchup as you can get for them. Not only are they on the road in Dallas, which is bad enough mind you, they’ll most certainly have their hands full with Dez, Cole Beasley, Witten, and even Elliott himself is quite the test. Plus, Dak might have a little chip on his shoulder after all the “controversy” that has happened over these last few weeks.
Thanks for sticking around to the end for what is shaping up to be a great fifteenth week of the NFL season. As always, if you agree or disagree with a player above, or have a general question or comment about your team, please do not hesitate to leave one below.
Best of luck, and I’ll talk to you guys next week as we try to win it all (or get to the semis if you play Week 17).
You Can Follow Zach on Twitter @ohuhave12.