Start 'Em or Sit 'Em for Fantasy Football Week 15
The fantasy playoffs are officially underway.
In many leagues, the postseason began last week. In the majority of them, just four teams remain alive in the chase for the championship.
It's the most exciting and nerve-wracking time of the season. There's exactly zero margin for error—lose a game and the season is over. And there are no "gimme" wins at this point in the season—only the best teams in the league remain, so every fantasy point is that much more valuable.
That makes every lineup decision that much more critical—decisions that have become more complicated since several prominent pass-catchers suffered season-ending injuries last week.
With the pressure at its highest, fantasy managers need all the help and input they can get.
That's what this article aims to do.
Every week during the 2019 season, I've perused the start/sit questions on the Bleacher Report app and selected some that will offer insight into players who could be due to explode or fall flat—the sorts of studs and duds that can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Still can't figure out your fantasy football lineup for the week? Check out Your Fantasy Fire Drill with Matt Camp, and he'll solve your problems live. Submit your questions, and tune in every Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET, only on the B/R app.
The Devil's in the Details
Well, let's hear it for detailed questions.
Le'Veon Bell of the New York Jets shouldn't be in your lineup. There's just not enough upside present with Bell in a disastrous first season in New York to justify the risk. Not against a Baltimore Ravens team that ranks 23rd in fantasy points allowed to running backs. Not after the 27-year-old was too sick to play last week—but not too sick to go bowling.
DeAndre Washington of the Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, is a go. The Raiders have yet to rule out Josh Jacobs with a shoulder injury, but at this point in the season the Raiders are playing for nothing but pride. In Jacobs' stead last week, Washington touched the ball 20 times, picked up 96 yards and found the end zone. On Sunday, the Raiders face a Jaguars team that leads the AFC in fantasy points given up to tailbacks.
Of the three remaining backs, Patrick Laird of the Dolphins has the best matchup. But he also has the least talent and lowest ceiling. Pass.
That leaves Marlon Mack of the Indianapolis Colts and Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons—two lead backs for floundering teams with bottom-five matchups. In the unlikely event Jacobs plays, both backs get the start. Otherwise, Freeman's pass-catching ability gives him a narrow edge over Mack.
Essentially, you're counting on Washington to carry the backfield in a must-win week.
Just like you planned back in Week 1.
The Call: Washington and Freeman
The Wide Receiver Injury Blues
To say it was a rough Week 14 at the wide receiver position in one lulu of an understatement.
If it makes you feel any better, in one league I qualified for the postseason, I will promptly get my head kicked in because I lost both Calvin Ridley of the Atlanta Falcons and Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In another (a dynasty) it was Evans and Marvin Jones Jr. of the Detroit Lions.
Ouch and double-ouch.
Much like this fantasy owner, my remaining options all have warts.
Rookie Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers has had his moments this year, including 109 scrimmage yards last week against the New Orleans Saints. But Samuel's target share has been all over the place.
Tyler Boyd of the Cincinnati Bengals is the No. 1 receiver for his team and a top-25 fantasy option for the season. But his matchup in Week 15 with the New England Patriots is beyond brutal.
Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton of the New York Giants are both essentially dart-throws. Slayton exploded in the first half against the Eagles and vanished in the second. Shepard was a non-factor with Eli Manning under center.
I'm not sure which Brown they are referring too, as there are several. But assuming it's either John Brown of the Bills or Marquise Brown of the Ravens, both are high-ceiling, low-floor risk/reward plays.
The Miami Dolphins are fifth in PPR fantasy points allowed to wide receivers—a matchup so good it's worth it to roll the dice that Slayton's huge first half in Philly wasn't a mirage.
Samuel gets the second spot after his 100-yard effort against New Orleans. But Marquise Brown wouldn't be far behind.
The Call: Samuel and Slayton
The Wide Receiver Injury Blues, Part 2
As was already mentioned, Mike Evans was one of the fistful of big names who suffered a significant injury among wide receivers in Week 14.
However, this fantasy manager doesn't have a ton to complain about. As Plan Bs go, these aren't half bad.
Darius Slayton of the Giants shouldn't be started with these options—big Week 14 and juicy matchup notwithstanding, he's nowhere near as proven as Robert Woods of the Los Angeles Rams and Emmanuel Sanders of the San Francisco 49ers.
The question is which wideout gets the nod. Both are coming off a big line in Week 14. But Woods has actually been on a hot streak for several weeks now—he's averaging over 120 receiving yards per game over the last three weeks.
That brings us to the running backs.
Provided that Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings still has both legs when Sunday's matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers kicks off, he gets one spot—only Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers has been more productive at the position this year than the third-year pro.
Austin Ekeler of the Los Angeles Chargers is coming off a completely gonzo game in Week 14 against the Jaguars—213 total yards and a touchdown on just 12 touches. The Chargers have a much steeper hill to climb in Week 15 against the Vikings. If the Bolts fall behind and are forced to the air, that will mean more snaps for Ekeler.
Meanwhile, Mark Ingram II of the Ravens is going to get a decent workload in a game Baltimore should win convincingly. He's an easy pick over Le'Veon Bell, whose first year with Gang Green has been one of fantasy's biggest bummers.
The Call: Woods, Cook, Ekeler and Ingram
No Guts, No Glory
Every week there's a player who gets asked about more than any other in this column. In Week 15, that player was undoubtedly Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
In this case at least, it's with good reason. Tannehill is an easy "yes" over Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles under center. Wentz played well in Week 14, but his receiving corps is a hot mess. Tannehill, on the other hand, is a top-five fantasy option at his position over the second half of the season in many scoring systems.
From there, things get cloudy quickly.
If Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen plays on Sunday, it will be for the first time in over a month. Thielen has all of one reception since Week 6. As good as Thielen is when healthy, the risk with starting him off this long absence in a bad fantasy matchup is just too great.
Kenyan Drake had a big game in his Arizona debut, and the Cardinals running back has led the team in backfield touches in recent weeks. But over the last three weeks, Drake has 40 carries for just 135 yards and no touchdowns. Touches only help if a player does something with them.
Anthony Miller has at least 13 PPR fantasy points in each of the last three games. But the Chicago Bears offense has been up-and-down, and this week's opponent (the Green Bay Packers) ranks 27th in PPR fantasy points allowed to wide receivers.
That leaves Darius Slayton of the New York Giants (coming off a first-half explosion last week against the Eagles) and Robby Anderson of the New York Jets (who has topped 100 receiving yards and/or found the end zone in four straight games).
There's risk involved with the pair—a relatively low fantasy floor.
But this isn't the time of year to play things overly safe.
The Call: Tannehill, Anderson, Slayton
The Full Monty
Let's get this out of the way before delving into the question at hand. Even after Boston Scott's big game against the Giants, Philadelphia Eagles running back Miles Sanders needs to be in fantasy lineups this week for two reasons. The first is a matchup with the Washington Redskins, who have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to the position.
The second is all the injuries that have hit the Philly offense. It's all hands on deck. The touches will be there for the rookie.
The question then becomes the second spot—and with all due respect to Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook, that spot needs to go to a rookie running back as well.
Yes, Westbrook could be in for a bump in targets with DJ Chark Jr. banged up. And the Oakland defense hasn't exactly been lights-out over the past month. But the Jaguars offense is in free-fall, and Westbrook has just one 100-yard game and two touchdowns this season.
David Montgomery of the Bears hasn't been the impact player as a rookie that some fantasy pundits (myself included) expected. But Montgomery has averaged just under 20 total touches and over 80 total yards the past two games.
Throw in a top-10 fantasy matchup with Green Bay's 25th-ranked run defense, and the ingredients are indeed there for a "David Montgomery week."
The Call: Montgomery and Sanders
Godzilla vs. King Kong
This is both an interesting call and a chance for me to impart an important lesson about tough lineup decisions in the fantasy playoffs.
Had you asked this question six weeks ago, I would have said two things—the first is you never, ever sit Lamar Jackson.
The second would have been to trade Watson for help at another position. There's no point in carrying two top-five quarterbacks on a fantasy roster. Or at least there wasn't.
Now, with Jackson nursing an injured quad, it's a different story.
There is one big question you need to ask yourself here.
Per ESPN's Jamison Hensley, Jackson indicated his injury isn't serious and he's playing against the Jets Thursday night. It's still possible that Jackson will be pulled early if the Ravens get a big lead, though. Watson also has a better matchup—the Tennessee Titans are 22nd in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Jets are 31st, odd though it may seem.
In other words, there are plenty of reasons to start Watson in Week 15.
But will you be able to live with yourself if Jackson puts on another show and outscores Watson and the points that would have won your week are sitting on the bench?
Personally? I'm not sitting Jackson. Not at home. Not against New York's injury-ravaged defense. The front seven is hot garbage, and the secondary isn't much better. Watson may be safer on paper, but Jackson is the reason you're playing in Week 15 at all.
Too bad it isn't a superflex, pal.
The Call: Jackson
The Better of Two Bad Scenarios
Frankly, given the devastation that roiled through the wide receiver position last week, these aren't a bad trio of wide receivers to choose from.
Or at least they wouldn't be most weeks.
Fresh off a huge game that included over 150 receiving yards and a touchdown pass, Emmanuel Sanders of the San Francisco 49ers is an easy "start"—especially against a Falcons team that allows the 11th-most PPR fantasy points to wide receivers.
At first glance, Tyler Boyd of the Cincinnati Bengals would also appear an easy call—he's the highest-ranked wide receiver of this group for the season in many fantasy scoring systems. But there's one massive problem with Boyd in Week 15—a matchup with cornerback Stephon Gilmore and a New England Patriots team that have allowed the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.
Mind you, Michael Gallup of the Dallas Cowboys doesn't get a cakewalk. With Amari Cooper clearly nowhere close to 100 percent, the Los Angeles Rams will probably leave Jalen Ramsey on Gallup. Ramsey is not Gilmore, but he's close.
Kareem Hunt's favorable matchup with the Arizona Cardinals may well make him the best No. 2 play of the lot—and he's not even the No. 1 running back on his team. Then it's a matter of deciding between the receivers.
The Rams haven't been a good matchup for the position, but they've been a better one than New England.
Gallup gets the nod, while Boyd is the odd man out.
The Call: Sanders, Gallup and Hunt
Chasing the 'Chip
I'm not at all sure what a Championchip is, but I'm all for helping folks win one.
In recent weeks, Cooper Kupp of the Rams has ceded the title of favorite target for Jared Goff to Robert Woods. But Kupp has found the end zone in each of the last two games, averaging five catches for 55 yards. One spot is his.
Another goes to Odell Beckham Jr. of the Cleveland Browns. Beckham's 2019 season has made quite literally everyone unhappy—including (reportedly) Beckham. But his upside can't be denied against a Cardinals defense that's giving up the third-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
The third spot is a harder call. Randall Cobb of the Dallas Cowboys is out—his fantasy ceiling just isn't great. Tyler Lockett of the Seahawks was a top-five fantasy wideout earlier in the season, but over the last few weeks he's all but vanished. Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers has been up-and-down but is coming off an "up" week.
My head says Lockett. My gut says Samuel. The matchup says follow my head—the Carolina Panthers have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
Given that Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,281 yards, giving him a spot is probably a good idea. That leaves Philadelphia's Jordan Howard, Peyton Barber of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and David Montgomery of the Bears.
Howard hasn't played in weeks with a bad shoulder. Barber is a touchdown-dependent, low-ceiling fantasy option.
Montgomery is an easy pick as back No. 2.
The Call: Kupp, Beckham, Lockett, Chubb, Montgomery
Three from Five
Funny, I like using three running backs, too—especially when there are good ones around.
Aaron Jones of the Packers is the guy who makes the offense go in Green Bay in 2019. The 25-year old has a dozen rushing touchdowns this season and ranks fourth at the position in PPR fantasy points per game.
He's a go.
Todd Gurley of the Rams got off to a miserable start to the season. But with 228 total yards and two scores over the past two weeks, Gurley has been a top-10 fantasy option over that admittedly brief span.
He's a go.
Kareem Hunt of the Cleveland Browns has been effective on a per-touch basis, but he's still behind Nick Chubb in the backfield pecking order in Cleveland.
He's a no-go.
That leaves a tough decision between Austin Ekeler of the Chargers and Phillip Lindsay of the Broncos. Ekeler is a hard player to sit after he sailed past 200 total yards last week in a win over the Jaguars. For the season, Ekeler is the third-highest scoring PPR running back.
Lindsay's Week 15 matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs is as good as it gets—no team in the league has given up more fantasy points to running backs.
But Ekeler has just been too good this year. Too productive.
He's the third of an excellent trio of starts this week.
The Call: Jones, Gurley and Ekeler
Now in this most important of week (OK, second-most), it's time to bang out some more start/sit recommendations with all due haste in this week's edition of Rapid Fire.
zdillon needs some flex help. "Austin Ekeler, Raheem Mostert or Miles Sanders?"
Mostert had a big game against the Saints last week, topping 100 total yards with two scores. Of course, so did Ekeler. It's between that duo. Neither has the best fantasy matchup in Week 15 to break the tie, either. I'll give the narrowest of edges to Mostert in the hopes that the 49ers build a big lead with the ground game.
Let's help the ever-patient stillwaiting pick a running back and a flex. "[Mark] Ingram, [Devin] Singletary, [Miles] Sanders, [Emmanuel] Sanders, (Anthony) Miller."
Ingram gets the nod over Singletary and Sanders at the flex spot by virtue of a better matchup and game script that should mean a good workload. Emmanuel Sanders is tempting in the flex spot, but I tend to defer to running backs when possible. So it's the other Sanders, who draws a Redskins team that has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs in PPR leagues.
ajleephoto is looking for help in picking out a team defense for Week 15. "Tampa, Cleveland or Washington?"
The Eagles are all kinds of banged up on offense, but I still expect them to move the ball against Washington. Tampa gets a great matchup, but its secondary is so bad that even David Blough may have success passing the ball. The Cardinals are ninth in fantasy points allowed to defenses this season—give me the Browns on the road.
Peppers21 needs two of the following four, with at least one tight end. "Darren Waller, Mark Andrews, Deebo [Samuel], DK Metcalf."
Andrews in nursing a leg injury on a short turnaround, so Waller is the much safer play at the tight end position. The Jets haven't been kind to tight ends this year, so Andrews is a pass at the flex spot. So is Samuel, but that has more to do with Metcalf's top-10 matchup with the Panthers than it does the rookie wideout for the Niners.
It's a flex question barrage! This one's from therealGM. "Lockett, Robert Woods, Marlon Mack or Cole Beasley?"
Were the Colts' matchup better, Mack would be the call. But if they fall behind in New Orleans, the run game could go out the window. Beasley doesn't have the upside of Lockett or Woods. Lockett has been MIA most of the last month. Go with the hot hand and Woods.
That player of the week I mentioned is back in this question from kmfeaster12. "Dak [Prescott] or Tannehill?"
Prescott ranks third in some scoring systems among fantasy quarterbacks for the season, and while the Cowboys have been slumping, Prescott's fantasy production has remained strong. Prescott has outscored Tannehill since Week 9, but not by enough to overcome the much better matchup Tannehill has. It's been a weird year, folks.
jackfleming likes rubbing it in. "Need a WR2 and a flex. Alvin Kamara, Amari Cooper, and Davante Adams."
Really? I mean, really? Kidding aside, were all three of these players healthy this might be a difficult call. But Cooper isn't right and hasn't been for weeks. He's an easy sit among this trio in Week 15.
Finally, dvargas needs a replacement for Marvin Jones. "WR3…[Larry] Fitzgerald, Isaiah Ford or Marcus Johnson?"
Ford and Johnson both had solid stat lines in relief of injured players last week, but ask yourself this: Who do you trust more in a must-win game: a first-ballot Hall of Famer or two guys you had never heard of a few weeks ago?
Have other fantasy football start/sit questions? Post them here, on the Bleacher Report app or on Twitter @IDPSharks, and I'll do my best to help.
Gary Davenport was the Fantasy Sports Writers Association 2017 Football Writer of the Year.