Week 15 Start Em, Sit Em: Explosive Sleepers Who Are Must Starts in Deep Leagues
It's the fantasy playoffs; you're not going to take any chances. I wouldn't ask you to, because that wouldn't make for a very good friend.
If you have Tom Brady or Arian Foster or Calvin Johnson, you're not sitting them this week. That would be too much to ask.
But injuries and slumps happen. If you went into the fantasy playoffs banking on LeSean McCoy and Danny Amendola to help get you through, then you might be sweating a little heading into Week 15. And by sweating, I mean "running around frantically looking for help wherever you can."
Thankfully, you came to the right place.
I'm the editor of numberFire.com, a sports analytics website that crunches out some of the most accurate fantasy projections on the web. Our projections beat the projections given in your fantasy league's lineup page 93 percent of the time, all through the help of a little math.
Here in Week 15, our numbers can help you clinch a fantasy playoff victory through some key players that may be right on the edge between your starting lineup and your bench. These guys are certainly worth a second look if you're right on the edge and need an extra push.
Want to find out who they are? Read on, my friend.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Projected Stats: 200.03 pass yards, 1.47 pass TDs, 0.67 INTs, 23.78 rush yards, 0.31 rush TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 16.08 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 10 QB (No. 15 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: at Buffalo Bills
You may remember Russell Wilson as the "game-managing" rookie who threw for fantasy outputs of single digits in four of his first seven NFL games.
Well, I remember Wilson as the high-flying QB with multiple touchdowns in his previous five games before this past week and who has scored at least 15 FP in all but one week since Week 8.
It may be that his 148 yards and one touchdown against Arizona last week scares some people off.
But according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) statistic, which measures how many "expected" points a defense gives up above or below what the average NFL defense would be expected to give up in the same situation, the Cardinals have the second-best secondary in the league. They've given up 28.18 NEP less than expectation this season.
The Bills, however, sit on the opposite end of the spectrum. Their 118.95 NEP over expectation given up this season is the third-most in the league, and both Chad Henne and Sam Bradford threw for passing touchdowns against them the past two weeks. Imagine how much better that efficient Seattle offense will do.
Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts
Projected Stats: 13.87 rush attempts, 54.16 rush yards, 0.28 rush TDs, 34.69 receiving yards, 0.09 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.51 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 17 RB (No. 55 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: at Houston Texans
But there's a reason that I keep pushing Ballard, and it's that he both gets carries and converts a surprising amount of them.
While the Colts were one of the most pass-happy teams earlier in the year, the new offense with Ballard has seen more balance in recent days. In Week 14 against Tennessee, 47 percent of the Colts' plays were runs. Week 12 against Buffalo, that was 44 percent.
A Week 13 shootout against Detroit may be the only exception. Other than his nine carries in that game, Ballard has had at least 12 rush attempts in every other game dating back to Week 8.
Those high carries wouldn't mean anything, however, if Ballard were inefficient with his rushes. And while I'm not calling him the next Edgerrin James, Ballard has been a serviceable, average back.
Of Ballard's rushes this season, 34.3 percent can be considered "successful," meaning that he has increased the Colts' expected scoring chances on 50 of his 146 rushes. The goal that most backs shoot for is being successful on roughly one-third of rushes.
Jonathan Dwyer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Stats: 16.18 rush attempts, 61.65 rush yards, 0.46 rush TDs, 15.93 receiving yards, 0.04 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.37 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 19 RB (No. 60 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: at Dallas Cowboys
Jonathan Dwyer has survived the Steelers merry-go-round from hell, where Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and even something called a Baron Batch threatened to steal his carries. Dwyer has now had the most Steelers rushing attempts in five straight contests, and coach Mike Tomlin says that's not changing any time soon.
So what, then, should Dwyer's owners make of his past three games, when two of the contests featured only single-digit rushing attempts for the lead back? The Steelers threw the ball on 71 percent of their offensive snaps on Sunday and 63 percent of their offensive snaps in Week 12.
The easy answer? Nothing. The Steelers have rushed the ball on 41 percent of their offensive plays this season; Dwyer himself has had at least 16 carries in half of his eight starts. That's why the numberFire analytics feel confident projecting him with 16.18 rushing attempts in Dallas, the ninth-highest carries projection of all backs this week.
Another reason is just how dead average the Cowboys defense has been this season. It sits as numberFire's No. 18 opponent-adjusted defense, allowing 47.02 points over expectation so far this season.
Danario Alexander, San Diego Chargers
Projected Stats: 4.67 receptions, 66.67 receiving yards, 0.41 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.12 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 21 WR (No. 76 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Carolina Panthers
It's impossible to find a picture of Danario Alexander where he's not celebrating, because that's seemingly all he's done since breaking through to the Chargers starting lineup.
Despite inexplicably only being started in six percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, Danario Alexander has put up double-digit fantasy points in four of the past five weeks, averaged 15.4 FP per game over that same span and gained the Chargers 42.6 NEP of value despite only having catches in six games this season. That's the definition of a productive stretch.
But it's not just the raw stats; the opportunities have been there for Alexander as well. His 11 targets in Week 13, 10 targets in Week 12, eight targets in Week 11, 11 targets in Week 10 and seven targets in Week 9 means he has certainly captured Philip Rivers' eye and does not intend on giving it back soon.
So what does a Carolina Panthers matchup mean? Well, maybe not gold, but silver's apt. Despite a 4-9 record, the Panthers actually hold numberFire's No. 12 defense in terms of opponent-adjusted efficiency so far this season.
Lance Moore, New Orleans Saints
Projected Stats: 4.07 receptions, 60.00 receiving yards, 0.53 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.19 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 20 WR (No. 74 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Contrary to popular belief, there are more receivers in New Orleans than Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles. And unlike the past, where neither Devery Henderson nor Robert Meachem could really be counted on as a clear-cut No. 2 WR, one has emerged victorious from the pack.
So far this season, Lance Moore has been plagued with that old fantasy nemesis: inconsistency. Over his past six games, he has two games with seven receptions and two games with double-digit fantasy points. He also has four games with no more than three receptions and three outings of six FP or less on his record.
What gives us confidence that Week 15 is his time to shine, then? It's a combination of his opponent and his likelihood for touchdowns.
The Tampa Bay Bucs, despite starting out the season as a solid top-10 defense, have sunk into mediocrity. Their 89.29 points above expectation allowed to opposing passing games is the 10th-highest mark in the NFL and is a big contributing reason to being ranked as numberFire's No. 21 opponent-adjusted defense. They allowed over 11 points more than expectation to the Eagles passing game last week alone.
And giving up so many points means more touchdown opportunities for all Saints receivers. We expect Moore to take advantage; his projected 0.53 receiving TDs ranks ninth among all receivers this week, ahead of big names such as Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green and Reggie Wayne.
Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected Stats: 3.84 receptions, 50.12 receiving yards, 0.30 receiving TDs
Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.73 FP
NumberFire Rank: No. 10 TE (No. 113 overall)
Week 15 Opponent: at Miami Dolphins
The top of the tight end charts are set in stone: If you have Gonzalez, Hernandez, Graham, Witten, Miller or Daniels, you're starting them this week. It's not even a question.
The next tier, though, is where it starts to get a bit murky. Kyle Rudolph looked solid before last week, but only two targets against Chicago is scary. Vernon Davis and Brandon Pettigrew have cooled off. And good luck guessing when Dennis Pitta and Greg Olsen are going have a solid game or flop.
Instead, this week, why not look at a player with an advantageous matchup (numberFire's ninth-worst secondary) and is one of the only targets on a passing team? Take a look at Marcedes Lewis.
Lewis may have had only one catch for four yards last week, but that came off the back of four Chad Henne targets. And that's one of the lowest target figures Lewis has had with Henne at QB. Week 13 saw seven Lewis targets (17 percent of Henne throws), and Week 12 saw six (23 percent of Henne throws).
With Cecil Shorts looking unlikely to play, that leaves Justin Blackmon, Lewis and backup-backup-backup back Montell Owens as Henne's only real targets. On a team that has thrown on 61.2 percent of their offensive plays this season, that's a good sign for Lewis's fantasy prospects.
For full rankings, refer to numberFire's Full Projection List for Week 15. You can follow numberFire on Twitter @numberFire. The author takes no responsibility for any Russell Wilson sadness concerning Bret Bielema that may change the order of our projections.