With the fantasy football playoffs underway, Week 15 will be a pivotal time for owners to make the right calls for their lineups on star players that will produce huge numbers.
Some of the game's best can be consistently counted on down the stretch of the 2013 NFL season, but there are other rapidly rising playmakers making their own impact. One precocious youngster in particular has taken the league by storm in the past three games.
Below are some projected numbers for the top offensive studs at each position in Week 15 and what to expect from them in fantasy crunch time.
Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NFL.com.
Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
Even though San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy has some inside knowledge as Manning's offensive coordinator in 2012, it didn't make much of a difference the first time these AFC West adversaries matched up.
Manning lit up the Chargers secondary for 330 yards and four touchdowns in Week 10's 28-20 victory in San Diego, so he should fare even better at home this time around.
The fact that his counterpart, Philip Rivers, has enjoyed a revival of sorts under McCoy should translate to a shootout.
But against a top-10 Tennessee Titans pass defense in Week 14, Manning dismissed concerns about his lack of arm strength in cold weather by throwing four touchdowns and just under 400 yards in a 51-28 triumph.
Given the level at which Manning prepares and functions on the field, the short week and Thursday game is more of a detriment to his opponents than it is to him.
Projected Numbers: 35-of-45 passing for 410 yards, 4 TDs, INT
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Shady was sensational in Week 14, ripping off an Eagles franchise record 217 yards and two touchdowns in heavy snow at Lincoln Financial Field, beating the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions 34-20.
LeSean McCoy's 217 rush yds is an @Eagles ALL-TIME single game record. The franchise was est. in 1933... He did it in 8 inches of snow.— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 9, 2013
Yes, head coach Chip Kelly's offense was indeed firing on all cylinders on the ground, running for well over 200 yards in the fourth quarter alone:
Eagles had 227 yards rushing… in the fourth quarter. Yikes— Smart Football (@smartfootball) December 8, 2013
McCoy is the real deal. He's a devastating ball-carrier in the open field with arguably the best lateral quickness and agility in the game this side of Adrian Peterson, whose Minnesota Vikings serve as the Eagles' opponent on Sunday.
The Vikings are shaky against both the run and the pass (31st in points allowed and total yards allowed per game), and it's actually rather advantageous that McCoy will be on turf for this contest at Mall of America Field.
Due to the balance created by quarterback Nick Foles (20 touchdown passes to only one interception), all the pieces are in place for McCoy to continue running wild, and even benefit from some checkdowns and screen passes.
Projected Numbers: 20 carries, 170 yards, 2 TDs; 5 receptions, 40 yards, TD
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
The absolute prototype for a Norv Turner offense, it isn't all that hyperbolic to say Gordon is becoming the next big superstar at his position at the ripe age of 22.
Over the past four games, no one in NFL history has experienced the type of production Gordon has put up—and it seems he is only scratching the surface of his potential, as hinted by head coach Rob Chudzinski:
Browns WR Josh Gordon has 774 receiving yards in his past four games, MOST in any four-game span in NFL HISTORY!!— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 9, 2013
#Browns Chud on JOsh Gordon: His best days, like our best days, are ahead of him.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) December 9, 2013
After being the first receiver ever with back-to-back 200-yard games, Gordon "settled" for seven receptions and 151 yards and the above 80-yard touchdown in the Browns' loss.
Suddenly it's Gordon—not Lions superstar Calvin Johnson—leading the league in receiving.
No matter who has been throwing the ball Gordon's way this year, he has managed to be productive on the gridiron. It's scary to imagine what he might do with a surefire franchise QB.
Week 15 serves up another good matchup in the Chicago Bears. While they are more vulnerable on the ground than through the air, the same was the case with the New England Patriots in Week 14. Even the smarts of Bill Belichick couldn't slow Gordon down.
Funny enough, Gordon was the Browns' leading rusher this past Sunday, too, with one carry for 34 yards.
Look for a fifth consecutive game of double-digit targets and another magnificent outing in Cleveland's 2013 home finale at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Projected Numbers: 11 receptions, 160 yards, 2 TDs
Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Even against one of the best defenses in the league in the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday night, Graham made his presence felt with six receptions, 58 yards and two touchdowns.
Which star will have the most impressive Week 15 performance?
Saints quarterback Drew Brees should have no trouble carving up St. Louis—a team that was exploited by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer in Week 14 (27 of 32, 269 yards and one touchdown).
Even though the Rams have Robert Quinn and Chris Long coming off the edge, the dome atmosphere suits the Saints and their preferred environment to excel. Plus, Brees' quick release can help offset the pass rush's impact.
Graham has received 39 targets in the past four games and has four touchdowns in that span.
At least one trip to pay dirt is well within reason for Graham considering the opponent and the fact that New Orleans has to keep the intensity up after pulling one game clear of Carolina in the NFC South.
Projected Numbers: 8 receptions, 90 yards, TD