Fantasy Football Week 15: Early Advice for Your Roster
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You’re almost in the championship game of most leagues, and if there’s a cash prize involved, you’re likely poised to get a piece of that as well.
You’ve also overcome more injuries, weather (we’ll touch on that in a bit) and many other uncontrollable events which make the fantasy playoffs difficult.
It’s why there’s some truth to the idea that winning a fantasy championship involves more luck than skill.
During the regular fantasy season, you can recover from a bad week. When Aaron Rodgers went down, you had time to make an adjustment. If you lost because Doug Martin went down, you could bounce back the next week.
Not so in the playoffs where it’s win or go home.
Of course, this is why we often preach caution and preparation. It’s why we say that you should make sure you go with the players who are consistent producers in these games and always have good bench depth just in case.
Because you never know when someone is going to get hurt or benched, and you should always be prepared to deal with adversity.
Which is where we’ll start on the next slide.
Robert Griffin III Is Benched, Kirk Cousins Is Your Week 15 Washington Starter
Let’s overlook the fact that this move is about 15 weeks too late and focus on what this does to your fantasy lineup.
For sure, Griffin has been very hit-or-miss as a fantasy starter this year. While he started off strong, with back-to-back-to-back 300-plus-yard games, he didn’t look right.
Despite having a 300-yard game in Week 3, Griffin threw no touchdowns and tossed an interception, resulting in a pretty subpar fantasy day.
It got worse from there. While he had the occasional big game (for example, Week 7), more often than not Griffin didn’t produce for his fantasy GMs.
It’s actually a relief this week, knowing early on that you will not have Griffin this weekend.
You can look to whomever might be your alternative—a guy you’ve probably used often considering Griffin’s struggles.
Or you can grab Kirk Cousins off the waiver wire (if he’s there).
Cousins faces an Atlanta Falcons defense that is a little below middle-of-the-road, ranking at No. 20 in pass defense and allowing 25 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.
On the other hand, the Falcons haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer since Tom Brady in Week 4, though Carolina’s Cam Newton came close with 294 yards.
All that is to say that Cousins should be a middling starter as a quarterback this week, and if you play him, you’ll be depending on him getting a couple of touchdowns in order for him to be a decent fantasy starter.
Cousins won’t hurt the supporting cast, though. Pierre Garcon should be fine, and we might even see Alfred Morris be more successful, as defenses may be less prone to merely clogging the running lanes to contain Morris and Griffin.
So if you have any Washington skill players, the drop-off won’t be very significant.
Dealing with Weather
So let’s talk about last weekend. From a football-watching standpoint, it was pretty awesome.
From a fantasy football standpoint, though, it was a mixed bag.
Some guys, like LeSean McCoy, killed it. Some guys had their production killed by it.
I mean, did anyone see a three-catch day for Calvin Johnson which resulted in a 49-yard receiving total?
Or maybe a 179-yard, one-touchdown and one-interception day from Nick Foles?
The thing is, you can’t overreact to weather. Otherwise you'll miss some decent games as well.
This is another example of being judicious in setting your roster.
You’re going to start your studs unless you have multiple studs vying for the same spot (such as two great quarterbacks or tight ends). Could you have benched Calvin Johnson the moment you read about the conditions? Sure, and this time you would have been right to do it.
But what if Stafford had thrown two short passes for touchdowns to Megatron?
You don’t bench your studs.
Your bench players are a whole different matter, though you have to be careful there as well. It’s easier to sit a guy like T.Y. Hilton or Steve Smith based on the weather because they haven’t been as consistent and their ceilings are nowhere near as high as Johnson’s even under perfect conditions.
As we’ve talked about many times this season, it’s the bench players who can make the biggest difference in your lineup.
This past weekend was a blow to multiple fantasy owners’ seasons—myself included.
However you can’t overreact with your studs and still need to be careful with how you approach your lineup when the weather outside is frightful.
New Players to Add to the "Never Bench" List
As we said at the beginning of this thing, there are guys you never bench.
Regardless of who they face or what is going on around them—barring injury—they are always in your lineup.
We have four more players who should not be out of your lineup for the rest of your playoffs.
You know a player is red-hot when there are vague complaints about an off game after he posts a seven-catch, 151-yard, one-touchdown day. Gordon seems to be quarterback-proof, which is to say no matter which mediocre guy is under center for the Cleveland Browns, Gordon will put up numbers.
My personal choice for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Allen has had a tremendous season. Over the last three games, he has topped 100 yards twice and scored two touchdowns in one game. He’s not as solid as Gordon or the next guy on the list—Alshon Jeffery—and he is still a bit raw, but he is a fantastic receiver and quarterback Philip Rivers has really come to rely on him.
Speaking of Jeffery, if you weren’t already in love with him because Matt Miller won’t shut up about him, you should be after Monday night. After an up-and-down rookie season, Jeffery has come into his own. The most impressive thing about him is the way he attacks the ball in the air.
A defensive back doesn’t get a clean shot at the ball and if it’s contested, you can bet Jeffery will come down with it most of the time. He’s had a few dry spells this year, but overall he’s been a great fantasy producer—and over the least two weeks, he’s been a ridiculous one.
You can call him Peyton Manning’s favorite new toy—especially in the red zone. “Orange Julius” has scored a touchdown in each of his last three games and nine out of the 11 he’s played this season. He’s missed a few games due to injury, but he practiced fully on Wednesday and looks good to go again. Thomas will be a tremendous asset to your team during the fantasy playoffs.
Quarterback Matchups to Like
Ryan Tannehill vs. New England Patriots
While not someone you go out of your way to start, Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill is actually a decent start this week if you don’t have an automatic starting quarterback.
While his yardage total was down in Week 14, he threw a trio of touchdowns (though he added one interception). In the two weeks prior, he threw for 331 and 310 yards, respectively. He also had a total of three touchdowns over that two-game span.
The Patriots are a middle-of-the-road pass defense, and Tannehill seems to be able to find his receivers when it counts. He should be a solid start this weekend.
Alex Smith at Oakland Raiders
I’ll be honest—I haven't given Alex Smith nearly enough credit this season. For the past four games, he has thrown at least two touchdowns, and while in two of those games he had low yardage totals, the touchdowns more than made up for it.
The Oakland Raiders are good. They aren’t terrible, but they are not a team to be scared of.
Just a game behind the division-leading Denver Broncos, the Chiefs can’t afford to drop a game they should win.
Smith will get the job done, and with the way he’s been throwing the ball lately, he’s a solid start if you need one.
Andrew Luck vs. Houston Texans
A while back, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was a sure bet for fantasy production most weeks.
That hasn’t been the case in some time, at least until his garbage-time decimation of the Cincinnati Bengals defense in Week 14.
Do you start him after some really putrid outings over the last month?
Well, if you want an answer, we only need to look at Week 9—the last time he saw the Houston Texans.
That week, he dropped 271 yards and three touchdowns.
The Texans aren’t better now than they were then, so yes, you start him this week.
Running Back Matchups to Like
Alfred Morris at Atlanta Falcons
It’s actually a testament to Alfred Morris’ ability that he has topped 1,000 yards this year with the dumpster fire that sometimes passes for an offense around him.
The last three weeks have been brutal and have come at the worst time for most fantasy owners. Hopefully, if you started him last week, you overcame his paltry 31 yards.
If you did, you can start him this weekend and be confident that the outcome will be different.
Aside from the fact that your sainted Aunt Beatrice can run on the Falcons (No. 30 in the NFL against the run), Washington has decided to plunk quarterback Kirk Cousins under center and bench—I mean protect—Robert Griffin III for the rest of the year.
That means a much more traditional offense and a lot of leaning on Morris.
Good news for your playoff matchups.
Eddie Lacy at Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are ranked No 28 against the run, and that might be giving them too much credit.
Last week, they let Matt Forte run for 102 yards, though they kept him out of the end zone.
He’s virtually the only one, as the Cowboys have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season, tied for the sixth most by a defense in the league.
Eddie Lacy bounced back against a poor Atlanta defense after a bad Week 10 against Detroit, and the only concern about him is his ankle. He battled through the injury after it happened on Sunday, but it definitely bothered him.
If he plays, he has to be in your lineup as a solid No. 2 running back. He’ll get plenty of yards and a few receptions to boot.
If he doesn’t play, James Starks is a solid start. Starks has a lower ceiling—in other words, his best game is unlikely to be as good as Lacy’s—but has shown he can still tote the rock effectively when the Packers have needed him to this season.
Montee Ball vs. San Diego Chargers
After a lot of time on people’s fantasy benches (as well as the Denver Broncos' actual bench), rookie running back Montee Ball is actually becoming a viable member of your starting lineup.
The Broncos are looking to keep Knowshon Moreno healthy and rested for the playoffs, so as long as Ball avoids coughing up the ball, he’ll be continuing to get about half the carries in the offense.
Last week, he had 15 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown, while the week before, he had his first 100-yard game on 13 carries.
The San Diego Chargers feature a solid run defense, but they will have to focus on containing the passing attack, not the ground game.
Ball should see plenty of carries and have success against a defense which will be otherwise occupied most of the time.
If the game gets out of hand, you can expect Ball to get a few extra carries to kill the clock while Moreno rests.
Play him as a solid No. 3, good flex or low-end No. 2 running back and you should be on your way to the championship.
Wide Reciever Matchups to Like
Eric Decker vs. San Diego Chargers
With the short week, we were reasonably sure Wes Welker was going to be out this Thursday against the San Diego Chargers. It’s his second concussion of the year and the Broncos are more concerned with having him healthy for the playoffs than having an extra weapon against teams like the Chargers.
Eric Decker just had back-to-back 100-yard games, scoring five touchdowns over that two-game span.
The Chargers secondary is going to be overmatched even by a Broncos passing offense which lacks Welker, and Decker will see a lot more targets with Welker out.
He is a good start as a low-end No. 1 fantasy receiver.
Roddy White vs. Washington
While Roddy White’s Week 14 game fell a bit short of his Week 13 game (74 yards vs. 143 yards), he proved that he will continue to get a consistent stream of targets—and that he can actually catch them.
Over the last two weeks, White has been targeted 24 times and caught 18 of them.
He’s facing a Washington secondary which, to be nice, isn’t good.
Putting it more bluntly, the next time it stops someone might be the first time.
It won’t be this week, as the secondary will have its hands full with White, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez.
White is still not back to his former No. 1 fantasy status; he’ll be a solid No. 3 with the upside this week to be a No. 2.
Riley Cooper at Minnesota Vikings
Despite horrible conditions, Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper managed to total 74 yards receiving against the Detroit Lions.
He won’t be facing any snow this week, as the Minnesota Vikings are a dome team (at least until the end of the year). That means his quarterback—Nick Foles—should have a bounce-back week, which will trickle down a little bit to Cooper.
Cooper isn’t a guy you’ll plug into your No. 1 or 2 spot, but as a No. 3 or 4, you should be happy. With his upside, he can overproduce at any time.
Tight End Matchups to Like
Jordan Cameron vs. Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears defense struggles in a lot of areas this year, and the linebacker corps is no exception.
An inexperienced group, it struggles to contain bigger, more athletic tight ends—something Browns tight end Jordan Cameron definitely is.
Cameron seemed to finally sync up with quarterback Jason Campbell last week, obliterating the New England Patriots defense for 121 yards and a touchdown.
More important, Cameron caught all nine of his targets. He was where he needed to be and ready for the ball every time.
The Bears will have their hands full trying (and failing) to shut Josh Gordon down, which means the linebackers will have little to no help from the defensive backs.
This should be another big day for Cameron.
Greg Olsen vs. New York Jets
The entire Carolina Panthers team struggled against New Orleans last week, so tight end Greg Olsen’s poor game shouldn’t cause you too much concern.
Especially against a New York Jets defense which lacks the linebackers to match up with Olsen. The Jets are especially vulnerable across the middle, so expect some crossing patterns and slants to take advantage of that as well as negate the Jets' pass rush.
Olsen gets a high volume of targets (36 over the last four games) and plenty of red-zone looks.
This should be a good week to have him in your lineups.
Charles Clay vs. New England Patriots
Over the last few weeks, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has targeted tight end Charles Clay 20 times. Clay has responded with 14 catches for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
As the Dolphins have gotten back on track—especially the offense—Clay has become a reliable and solid weapon.
New England can be thrown on, and the Dolphins are going to have to throw the ball a lot if they are going to keep pace with their opponent.
While Clay isn’t a top tight end prospect, he should have another solid game, and if you don’t have one of the big guns or if you just lost Rob Gronkowski, he should fill in quite nicely.
Defensive Matchups to Like
Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers
While the Chargers have been playing well overall, the offensive line is still an issue.
Quarterback Philip Rivers continues to be sacked and hit far too often, resulting in a good source of fantasy points.
The Broncos defense will come after Rivers hard, and while I expect the Chargers to counter with a lot of short passes, guys like Von Miller will get their shots in and the pressure could force a turnover or two.
For leagues with kick- and punt-return yards, Denver is also a good source of points returning the ball.
New Orleans Saints at St. Louis Rams
The New Orleans Saints defense under Rob Ryan has been drastically improved.
Meanwhile, the St. Louis Rams are fielding a team quarterbacked by Kellen Clemens, who has thrown three interceptions in the last two games.
The Saints will keep the pressure on Clemens and likely generate a few more interceptions this week as well.
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Bengals allowed Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to have a big game, but that was in garbage time.
This game is likely to be a lot closer, and a lot more hard-fought. The Bengals know they have to stave off the Ravens, while the Steelers would love to make things harder on their division rivals.
Expect a lot of pressure from the front seven of the Bengals, because even though Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers are playing well, the offensive line is still a problem.
With the intense pressure, the Bengals will be able to limit—if not completely shut down—the Steelers offense.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.