Fantasy Football Week 15: Biggest Takeaways from Last Week

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Fantasy Football Week 15: Biggest Takeaways from Last Week
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This snowy NFL Sunday certainly gave us a set of games worthy of the fantasy football postseason. It was great theater, and the fantasy points were accumulating as fast as the snowfall.

We even had three dome teams (Detroit Lions, Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings) playing in the festive conditions in addition to another warm-weather team, Miami, playing in them at Pittsburgh. We learned a lot about how we can't stop the snow or the fantasy points.

Or Peyton Manning, a former dome quarterback, in any weather.

This is Bleacher Report's top fantasy football takeaways from the record-setting playoff weekend, leading with one of the most overblown criticisms of a future Hall of Famer and fantasy monster:

 

Manning's Message: Shove It

We really didn't need confirmation in fantasy leagues that Peyton Manning can come through under any circumstances, but he provided it emphatically with the results and his postgame response. Manning ripped off 397 yards and four touchdowns in freezing temperatures.

And they (his critics, not his loyal fantasy owners) said he couldn't win in the cold. He ripped the Titans and then his critics.

"Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that one where the sun don't shine," Manning told Newsradio 850 KOA (see video here):

Sure, you can argue it was just the Tennessee Titans, but that was a team that was No. 1 in fantasy against wide receivers coming into the game. It was, and still is, a top-10 pass defense.

Question answered: Manning is a fantasy superstar in any weather.

Oh, and that Tom Brady record of 50 touchdown passes in a season? It is going to fall as hard as Sunday's snow. Heck, Drew Brees' record of 5,476 passing yards is going to get buried (had to toss out another snow-related pun) too.

 

Welker Concussed

Manning's Broncos have a quick turnaround this week, playing Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers.

No matter the Mile High weather, Wes Welker (concussion) will be doubtful to play. Welker left with his second concussion in a month, and the quick turnaround might not give him enough time to pass the NFL's concussion protocols.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Wes Welker's second concussion in a month puts his status for Week 15 in serious jeopardy.

It is not like the Broncos will need him. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas can more than hold down the fort until Welker can return. Fantasy owners should expect to have to replace Welker in their fantasy football semifinals next week.

They should love the prospects of Decker and the Thomases against the Chargers, who have the fifth-worst pass defense in football. Manning, who currently has 45 touchdown passes, might match the record with five more Thursday night alone.

 

"Orange Julius," Cameron Come Back Strong

Speaking of Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, he returned from his high-ankle sprain with five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown. He has scored touchdowns in nine of 11 games and has averaged a touchdown per game this season.

Clearly, he is a must-start option when active, especially with Welker likely out Thursday night.

Orange Julius wasn't the only fantasy breakout tight end to return Sunday. The Browns' Jordan Cameron did as well, only Cameron hadn't been out with injury. He was just less effective of late.

Jason Campbell's return under center for the Browns brought Cameron back to elite fantasy status, as he reeled in nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Cameron told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his chemistry issues with Campbell were more a function of defensive attention:

Some chemistry things here and there, but I don't think that's a problem at all. I've just been getting a lot more attention, so it's harder to get open. They pay attention to what you're doing. They're hitting you in all areas, and I just think it's the way the defense has been playing. ... 

I don't think it's Jason at all. They're jamming you at the line and then there's someone hitting you at the second level, so it's just harder chemistry with the route. The timing is a little off.

The timing and production was just fine Sunday. Cameron should be active in all fantasy playoff lineups in Week 15 against the Chicago Bears, who are in the bottom 10 of fantasy against tight ends.

 

Ravens' Pitta Scores in Season Debut

Dennis Pitta, who was once considered out for the season, is another tight end who could be picked up in fantasy crunch time.

Pitta is not 100 percent coming off preseason hip surgery, but he was good enough in his season debut Sunday to reel in six catches for 48 yards and a touchdown. That score was a clutch one for the Ravens and Joe Flacco's fantasy owners, too. Pitta gave the Ravens a 15-12 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

Pitta told Garrett Downing of the Ravens' official website:

I remember when I got injured, I didn’t know if I was even going to play football again, and so being able to stand here and talk about a victory and being a part of that is special for me. And just being a part of this team and being able to fight the way we did [Sunday] is pretty remarkable.

Pitta was a top-eight fantasy tight end a year ago. He is a viable starter in all standard leagues down the stretch.

 

Gronk Likely Done for the Year

One tight end you cannot use now is Rob Gronkowski. The Pats fear he has torn his ACL, which will cost him the rest of the season. 

It is the latest in a long line of serious injuries for the star tight end, who had overcome multiple arm and back surgeries. The injury not only costs yearly fantasy owners their starting tight end in the postseason, but keeper owners should rethink keeping Gronk before Round 5 next year, too.

Gronk might not be ready for the start of next season, particularly with the way the Pats treat his injuries with extreme caution after rushing him back from his broken arm a year ago.

 

Pats' Ridley Out of the Doghouse

Lost in the Pats' misfortune of losing Gronk, and the good fortune of having the Browns hand them a victory Sunday in Foxborough, was the return of Stevan Ridley from the Bill Belichick doghouse.

Shane Vereen was still the only viable fantasy option among the Pats backs, but Ridley managed to split the Pats' carries lead with LeGarrette Blount 50-50. Ridley and Blount each received eight carries. Brandon Bolden didn't get a touch.

This gives Ridley owners a potential flex option at Miami next week. The Dolphins are a bottom-10 team against the run and have been in the bottom eight of fantasy against running backs.

 

Dolphins' Thomas Not out for Year

Speaking of running backs, bad run defenses, the Dolphins and potential Week 15 fantasy sleepers, Daniel Thomas was a surprise contributor in the snow at Pittsburgh.

Thomas, dealing with an ankle sprain, was thought to be out for the rest of the season. Instead, he returned Sunday with 16 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Snow Problem: Daniel Thomas didn't let the weather conditions or his ankle issue to keep him from a productive afternoon Sunday.

Thomas is going to be the most-added running back in fantasy football off waivers this week. He has apparently put Lamar Miller in his rearview mirror, and the Pats are next up on the schedule. New England has been abused on the ground this season, ranking 31st in the NFL against the run.

After Miller was knocked out of Sunday's game with a concussion, according to Stephen J. Nesbitt for the Miami Herald, Thomas took over in the snow.

"I didn't think I was even going to play this week," Thomas told Nesbitt. "Being able to come back and play was a blessing. … And being able to get the win here in December is definitely huge for us."

The Dolphins are clinging to wild-card hopes and will likely lean on Thomas to pound the rock at the soft Patriots run defense next Sunday.

 

A.D. Leaves with Mid-Foot Sprain

A running back we might not be able to trust is Adrian Peterson, who left Sunday in the second quarter with a mid-foot sprain. That area of the foot is dangerously related to the dreaded Lisfranc injury, but Peterson does not believe his injury is season-ending, according to ESPN's Ben Goessling.

Not at all. You should've seen me in here, trying to get back out there. I kept my pads on throughout most of the third quarter, until I finally was like, 'I'm not going to be able to go.' ... I'm just going to get the MRI done [Monday], see what it says, and try to push to be ready to play.

Peterson might have to be replaced in fantasy lineups if you have made it to the Week 15 semifinal with your No. 1 overall pick scoring a single fantasy point. Toby Gerhart is going to be a must-add running back off waivers, especially if you cannot get your hands on the aforementioned Dolphin Thomas.

Gerhart rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown in place of Peterson on Sunday, and that was against the Ravens' solid run defense. Gerhart will be a must-start option in fantasy if Peterson is out against the Eagles.


Bush Takes Goose Egg

Speaking of huge Week 14 disappointments, the Lions' Reggie Bush (calf) was a scratch minutes before game time after aggravating his calf injury in warmups, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Joique Bell came on for Bush, rushing for 69 yards with a touchdown and adding 58 yards receiving on four receptions. Bell is a must-start fantasy option when Bush cannot go.

While Bush's fantasy owners were handcuffed by his absence, Bell owners and the Lions didn't miss a beat in the running game, head coach Jim Schwartz told Birkett.

It didn't change anything. We would have called the same (things). I mean, the weather changed what we were going to do. We were expecting the possibility of weather, but even waking up this morning coming here [Sunday], nobody was predicting six inches of snow or whatever we had during the game.

The Lions appeared to be the only team that struggled in the conditions, and that was only in the passing game. Matthew Stafford was facing what was the worst pass defense in football, but he was held to 148 yards on 10 for 25 passing—a mere five fantasy points.

 

Luck Be a Lion in the Snow

There can be no conclusions drawn that a dome quarterback cannot perform for fantasy owners in the snow, regardless of Stafford's struggles. The points came easy for everyone else, including the Colts' Andrew Luck.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Luck couldn't direct his Colts to victory Sunday, but his four-touchdown performance was clutch for fantasy owners.

Luck led all scorers with 40 points in standard fantasy leagues, throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns. It ended a run of a month of bad fantasy production for him.

The problem in fantasy here is the shaky nature of Luck's seemingly leading targets. T.Y. Hilton was held to two catches for seven yards, Darrius Heyward-Bey had two catches for 23 yards and Coby Fleener was only slightly better with five catches for 31 yards.

Meanwhile, rookie free-agent pickup Da'Rick Rogers and second-year Colt LaVon Brazill enjoyed the sledding in the snow. Rogers had six catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns. Brazill had three catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns. Both might be popular waiver-wire choices this week.

"Success brings confidence," Rogers told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star after his and Brazill's breakthrough performances. "[Sunday] we got a glimpse of that, and it's exciting."

You cannot count on Luck doing this kind of damage next week, especially as it relates to Rogers or Brazill. Sure, they are back in the dome at home and facing the lowly Texans, but as bad as the Houston has been, it is still No. 2 against the pass and among the top five in fantasy against wide receivers.

 

Stats courtesy of FFtoday unless noted otherwise.

Follow @EricMackFantasy

Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.

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