The B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football in Week 15
The good news is that if you are reading this column, you probably either made the playoffs in your fantasy league or are headed in that direction.
The bad news is that means the pressure is about to be turned up to 11.
From here on out, you simply cannot afford to lose. There's little room for a mistake to be made when setting lineups. Big scorers can no longer wallow on the bench. A low scorer in the starting lineup can be a harbinger of catastrophe.
Every decision matters a great deal. Every yard/catch/touchdown/fantasy point can be the difference between getting one step closer to championship glory or being finished for the season.
It's all quite nerve-wracking. Harrowing, even.
Well, we're here to keep those nerves un-wracked. To de-harrow Week 15 by breaking down everything you need to win your matchup, from splash plays to target and busts to void to matchup plays and defensive advice.
Want to dominate the first round of the playoffs?
Week 15 Smash Starts
Smash performances in fantasy football are like finding $20 on the ground; it never fails to brighten your day. But this time of year, they are more than just welcome—they are critical. That one big stat line can be the difference between moving on to the next round or packing it in for the season.
We don't want our starters to do well. We need them to.
Just ask the fantasy managers who had Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders and his 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the lineup last week. Or Jerry Jeudy's eight catches for 73 yards and three scores with the Denver Broncos.
The following players are set up to be that sawbuck in the street this week—the guys who will propel fantasy managers to victory in Week 15.
Justin Herbert, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. TEN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $7,200)
Herbert managed just a single touchdown pass last week, but 367 passing yards were enough to keep him inside the top-10 fantasy quarterbacks. Week 15 should be even better for the third-year pro, as the Titans have been a sieve against the pass in recent weeks.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (at JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,200)
Like most of the Cowboys, Prescott would likely just as soon forget last week's two-interception clunker of an outing against the Texans. Sunday's trip to face a Jaguars defense surrendering the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks should help erase his memory banks.
Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs (at HOU) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,900)
It's shot-calling time. Not only will the rookie from Rutgers post his second career 100-yard game against the NFL's worst run defense, but Pacheco will also find the end zone at least once and finish the week among the top 12 at his position.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (at JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $7,100)
Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott have become quite the "Thunder and Lightning" duo on the ground for the Cowboys. Of the pair, Pollard is a much better bet for a big game against a Jaguars team allowing the 10th-most PPR points per game to running backs in 2022.
Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts (at MIN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,800)
Jeff Saturday's decision to stick with Matt Ryan at quarterback may not sit well with Colts fans, but it's probably the best bet for Pittman's fantasy prospects ahead of a date with a Vikings defense that has allowed 400 yards of offense in a franchise-record five straight games.
Garrett Wilson, New York Jets (vs. DET) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,000)
Wilson has been on fire with Mike White as his quarterback for the past three weeks, averaging over 20 PPR points per game over that span. Now he gets to take on a Lions defense allowing the third-most passing yards a game at just over 263.
George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (at SEA) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,600)
Kittle's ranking of eighth in PPR points per game among tight ends isn't what fantasy managers expected from him in 2022, but Thursday night's matchup with a Seahawks team that has struggled against tight ends this season sets up well for bigger and better things.
Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys (at JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,400)
Schultz's 6/87/0 stat line last week against the Texans marked the fourth time in his past six games that the 26-year-old posted at least 13 PPR points. As you may have noticed, the Jaguars give up a lot of fantasy points—ninth in PPR points allowed to tight ends this year.
Week 15 Must-Fades
Having a player in your starting lineup spit the bit is never fun. Few things in fantasy football are more frustrating than having a running back gain just 32 yards on 17 carries (looking at you, Travis Etienne Jr.) or having a wide receiver haul in just two catches for 42 yards (looking at you, too, Amari Cooper).
This time of year, though, a dud performance is so much worse. If a down week costs you a matchup in Week 7, it's just a temporary setback. But have a player cost you a game in Week 15, and that's that. Game over. See you next year.
The players listed here are risky bets in Week 15 at best. At worst, they are the doorway to an early end to the 2022 campaign.
Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. DAL) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,000)
Twice in the last three weeks, Lawrence has eclipsed 300 passing yards and tossed three touchdown passes. But both of those big games came in primo fantasy matchups, and the Cowboys are at the other end of the spectrum, sitting 30th in points per game allowed to the position.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins (at BUF) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,600)
Tagovailoa was atrocious last week, barely cracking 35 percent on his completions with fewer than 150 passing yards and just one touchdown. Now he'll be on the road against a stout Bills defense in a game where snow is a possibility. It doesn't snow much in Miami.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (at TB) (DraftKings DFS Value: $7,200)
After missing two games with a concussion, Mixon was back on the field last week and eclipsed 100 total yards. But Mixon's snap share against the Browns was south of 60 percent, and for all their struggles, the Buccaneers have still been a rotten fantasy matchup for running backs in 2022.
Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions (at NYJ) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,600)
Over his last two games, Williams has managed just 72 rushing yards on 27 carries for an average of just 2.7 yards per carry. A matchup with a Jets team that ranks 22nd in PPR points allowed to running backs doesn't impress as a slump-buster.
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers (at SEA) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,900)
With Deebo Samuel out for at least a few weeks, Aiyuk should see an increase in target share. But rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen and the Seattle secondary are no joke. The Seahawks are 27th in PPR points allowed to wide receivers this season.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. CIN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $6,200)
For most of his career, Evans has been one of the most consistently productive receivers in fantasy football. But in 2022, Evans' numbers are down significantly relative to 2021. He has had one 10-point PPR fantasy outing since Week 8 and hasn't seen the end zone since Week 4.
Evan Engram, Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. DAL) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,800)
Engram was fantastic last week, catching 11 passes for 162 receiving yards and scoring twice against the Titans. That big game came against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Sunday in Jacksonville, Engram and the Jaguars face one of the best.
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers (at CAR) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,500)
Freiermuth has been an inconsistent fantasy option, in part because of the uncertainty under center for the Steelers this season. This week he faces a Panthers team surrendering the ninth-fewest PPR points to tight ends in 2022.
Week 15 Mastering the Matchups
In a perfect world, this section of The B/R Guide to Dominating Fantasy Football would be headed to the same place as the Fantasy Stock Market—into mothballs until next season. Every lineup would be replete with reliable every-week starters. Matchup plays would be unnecessary.
But if you have been playing fantasy football for more than 10 minutes, you know that we live in an imperfect world, and that's being kind. Guys get hurt. Guys underperform. Guys have bad matchups. All of the above.
There's also the matter of DFS. Having stars in DFS lineups are well and good. Everyone loves them some Travis Kelce. But taking first place in a big tournament and winning the big bucks requires hitting on low-cost dart throws.
The players listed here all have a real chance to hit the bullseye in Week 15.
Andy Dalton, New Orleans Saints (vs. ATL) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,200)
Dalton isn't a fantasy option that leaves managers brimming with confidence. But he and the Saints have had an extra week to prepare to face a Falcons defense that ranks 27th in the league in pass defense and ninth in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks.
Mike White, New York Jets (vs. DET) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,400)
White took a beating last week against the Bills that landed him in a Buffalo hospital. However, White is tentatively expected to start Sunday against a Lions team that ranks 31st in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams (at GB) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,500)
Akers isn't an especially good running back by NFL standards. But while he's averaging just 3.5 yards a carry the last two weeks, he has scored three touchdowns over that span ahead of a matchup with a Packers defense allowing the eighth-most PPR points to running backs in 2022.
J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens (at CLE) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,200)
Dobbins played for the first time since mid-October last week against the Steelers, gaining 120 rushing yards on 15 carries. Dobbins should be able to build on that success Saturday against a Cleveland defense that has struggled against the run this year.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers (at CAR) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,100)
With Mitchell Trubisky back under center last week, Johnson posted his best game in terms of fantasy points since all the way back in Week 3, when Trubisky was still the QB1. This week he faces a Carolina defense that has surrendered the eighth-most PPR points to wideouts this season.
Chris Moore, Houston Texans (vs. KC) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,200)
Both Brandin Cooks (calf) and Nico Collins (foot) were on the shelf last week, leaving Moore to pace the Texans in targets (11), receptions (10) and receiving yards (124). The Chiefs are a plus matchup, having allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers this year.
Greg Dulcich, Denver Broncos (vs. ARI) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,600)
With Russell Wilson (concussion) uncertain to play in Week 15, Dulcich is admittedly a risky fantasy bet. But tight ends have made a habit of going gonzo against the Cardinals this year, as no team has allowed more fantasy points to the position.
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots (at LV) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,300)
Henry has shown the ability to exploit a plus matchup, including three catches for 70 yards last week against the Arizona Cardinals. The Raiders are just such a positive matchup, having allowed the eighth-most PPR points to tight ends this season.
Week 15 Reading the Defense
More often than not, fantasy managers view team defenses as an afterthought. Many wait until the end of the draft to select one. Others still stream them throughout the season. It's not unwise; investing heavily in an unpredictable position like defense backfires as often as not.
But this time of year, every single fantasy point matters. Fielding a defense that scores well can mean advancing to the next round. Rolling one out that falls flat can mean the end of the season.
Heck, at this time of the season, even kickers matter.
You're on your own where choosing a kicker in Week 15 is concerned. But here are a few defenses that should shine this week and a few more that are a real risk to bust at the worst possible time.
Strong D/ST Plays
Kansas City Chiefs (at HOU) (DraftKings DFS Value: $4,000)
The Chiefs allowed 28 points against the Broncos last week, but six sacks and a pick-six paved the way for a strong fantasy finish. A second straight big stat line is not only possible but probable against a Texans offense that ranks at the bottom of the NFL in several statistical categories.
Green Bay Packers (vs. LAR) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,500)
The Packers haven't played especially well defensively this season. But in Week 15, at least, that's OK. The Rams have been even worse offensively, ranking 31st in yards per game, 29th in points per game and third in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
Denver Broncos (vs. ARI) (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,700)
The Broncos have been a disaster offensively this season, but the defense has held its own and then some, ranking fourth in scoring defense and ninth among defenses in fantasy points. Facing the Colt McCoy-led Cardinals at home in the elements, Denver should thrive in Week 15.
Weak D/ST Plays
Dallas Cowboys (at JAX) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,700)
The Cowboys are fantasy football's highest-scoring defense in many scoring systems, even after last week's clunker against the Texans. However, the Jaguars have allowed the sixth-fewest points to defenses this season, so a second straight dud is alarmingly possible.
New York Jets (vs. DET) (DraftKings DFS Value: $3,200)
The Jets remain in the playoff hunt largely because of a defense that leads the AFC in yards per game allowed and ranks sixth in scoring defense. But taking on a Lions team that has won five of six while allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to defenses is a stiff test.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. CIN) (DraftKings DFS Value: $2,600)
The Buccaneers defense has tried to keep the team in the postseason hunt, but it finally buckled last week in San Francisco. Tampa is at least at home this week, but a Cincinnati offense loaded with skill-position talent is a worse fantasy matchup than the 49ers were.
Week 15 Fantasy Mailbag
Every week during the 2022 season, I'll be pulling a handful of fantasy football questions from the Bleacher Report app and answering them here. Hopefully, those answers will aid not only the managers making the query but others as well.
Have a question you want answered? Head on over to the fantasy football section of the app and make with the asking.
Mike White, Tom Brady or Geno Smith this week? -- @NotDamienHarris
This question is complicated by the uncertain status of White (ribs) for Week 15 and by Smith's playing on Thursday night. It comes down to risk tolerance. White has the highest ceiling of the lot, but if you pass on Smith and White is scratched, you're stuck with Brady's low fantasy ceiling in a bottom-10 fantasy matchup for quarterbacks with the Bengals. Given that Smith's matchup is even worse, those dice are worth rolling.
Hey Gary. Full PPR: With Kenneth Walker active against San Francisco, more confident starting him or D'Onta Foreman against Pittsburgh? -- @JGerritty
Confident is a relative term here. Walker is off the injury report altogether, which would usually be cause for celebration. But Walker's first game back comes against a 49ers defense that leads the NFL in run defense, allowing just 75.1 yards per game. The thing is, Foreman (foot) is nicked up in his own right, and while he tallied 21 carries last week, he parlayed them into just 74 yards despite an excellent matchup with Seattle. There's risk involved with starting Walker in Week 15, but his higher ceiling is worth the gamble.
Need a No. 3 wide receiver from Jakobi Meyers, Zay Jones and George Pickens. Which one should I start? -- @TommyT43
Pickens is the easiest wideout of the lot to scratch here. His target share was much lower with Mitchell Trubisky under center earlier this season, and even with Kenny Pickett, he's been awfully high-variance. Meyers has a better matchup, but he had just 10 catches for 136 yards over the last three games combined before missing last week with a concussion. Jones has a tough matchup with the Cowboys, but with two 20-plus point PPR outings over the last three weeks, his upside is too good to pass up.
Have to choose a Flex starter from these players—JuJu Smith-Schuster, Allen Lazard, Cam Akers or Zonovan Knight? -- @GoBoys1241
Smith-Schuster is coming off a 9/74/1 stat line in a bad matchup with the Broncos, but asking him to beat out a second straight tough matchup is a tall ask. Lazard is a decent fantasy receiver, but he has clearly fallen behind Christian Watson in the pecking order in Titletown. Akers' plus matchup with the Packers was already mentioned, while Knight also draws a good matchup of his own. The youngster has at least 15 PPR points each of the last two weeks. Knight gets the knod.
Can I trust Dallas Goedert this week? Can also start Tyler Conklin or Noah Fant. -- @Jetter3z
It's certainly a good sign that Goedert's practice window has been opened, but that by no means indicates with certainty that he will be back on the field against the Bears. If he is, he's worth gambling on over a pair of low-end starters like Conklin and Fant. If Plan B becomes a necessity, then Conklin is the preferable option (assuming Mike White plays). The Lions have allowed the fifth-most PPR points to tight ends.
THE Fantasy Boom of Week 15
For the first 14 weeks or so of the season, fantasy football is a marathon. Sure, one player can make or break a week, but that massive game from Colts running back Deon Jackson in Week 6 isn't going to win you a championship any more than the faceplant from Brian Robinson of the Commanders in Week 8 will doom you to missing the playoffs.
Now, however, it's time to sprint. Every game is a season all its own. Every lineup decision is absolutely crucial. One massive game from a single player can make you, especially if that player is someone who isn't counted on to post top-10 numbers each week.
Given that shifting priority, the biggest "Boom" of the week isn't necessarily the player who will score the most points. It's the guy with the potential to post a huge number from a bit farther down the roster.
And in Week 15, there's a receiver playing in the final game of the week who fits those criteria to a tee.
Christian Watson, WR, Green Bay Packers (vs. LAR) (DraftKings DFS Value: $5,700)
Not that long ago, there was hand-wringing galore about the state of the wide receiver position in Green Bay. But those problems have seemingly evaporated courtesy of the ascension of rookie Christian Watson. Veteran wideout Allen Lazard said he knew it was only a matter of time until the youngster came into his own.
"You guys were asking me if we needed to do a trade a few weeks ago just because of the results and everything," Lazard told reporters after the Bears game in Week 13. "And I stood the ground on the guys in our room. Because I knew the talent that we have. Obviously when we have '12' out there, anything is a possibility. It's just great seeing the development of Christian and the confidence he's had."
Since exploding for 103 yards and three scores back in Week 10, Watson has scored more fantasy points per game than any receiver in the league. More than Stefon Diggs. More than Tyreek Hill. More than Justin Jefferson.
He has two 100-yard games and a whopping eight total touchdowns over that span. And in Week 15, Watson faces a Rams defense allowing the ninth-most PPR points to wide receivers.
Top-five fantasy production from the WR3 spot is how championships are won.
Looking for fantasy rankings? Check out Gary's Week 15 Big Board!
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Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks.