Jeff Haseley previews all the teams across the NFL for Week 15 and which players fantasy owners can rely on for solid point production.
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Get yourself caught up on what’s going on around the league. This weekly column offers a look into my thoughts, visions and expectations for each team, particularly focusing on each team’s fantasy outlook. Playoffs are in full swing – here we go!
The last two games (both on the road) have been an absolute mess offensively. The defense has done a great job this year, but not last week at Seattle where the team gave up 58 points in a shutout loss. Arizona returns home this week to face Detroit. Their last home game (a loss vs. STL) did have some promise. Ryan Lindley passed for 312 yards, which is monumental considering the Cardinals offense totaled just 205 yards passing combined in the last two games. On the bright side – tight end Rob Housler has been a major contributor despite the offensive slide, catching 19 passes for 133 yards over the last three weeks. Compare that to Larry Fitzgerald who has 5 receptions for 56 yards in the same span. My advice is to stay clear of Arizona players, unless you absolutely have no better options. The match up this week is in their favor, but by the way things have gone recently, it may be best to stay away. Housler is a high TE2, simply because he isn’t scoring. He has 43 receptions and zero touchdowns this year. It’s OK to be somewhat excited dynasty-wise, but I don’t think you can rely on him in re-draft just yet, especially not with finals at stake.
The Falcons will try to regroup for their playoff run after losing to a gritty, determined Panthers team. I offered up my opinion to consider benching Matt Ryan last week against Carolina who surprisingly give up less fantasy points to quarterbacks than you might expect. Ryan managed to put forth a 342-2-1 game, but it was pretty much all in the second half as they voraciously tried to get back in the game. The Giants come to the dome this week in what will be a rematch of last year’s NFC wild card game. This will be a big test for the Falcons who may have a little more doubt in their ability to find success in the playoffs. Fantasy speaking I see this is as a good match up for Matt Ryan and the receiving corps.
There are a few items of note regarding the Ravens this week – They fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with Jim Caldwell, who has not called plays at the pro level. This decision was made to benefit Joe Flacco, who apparently was not pleased with Cameron and his offense. This will either be a good thing for Flacco and the offense or it will backfire. This week’s opponent is Denver, which is not a good match up for Flacco and the passing game or Ray Rice and the running game. We’ve seen Rice become a forgotten man in the offense from time to time, especially if trailing early. That may be the case vs. Denver. It will be interesting to see how things will change without Cameron calling the shots.
Fred Jackson has a torn MCL which will likely cause him to miss the final three games of the season. This of course opens the door wide open for CJ Spiller to get another crack at the lead running back role. I expect Buffalo to utilize him, much like they did on the Thursday night game against Miami. This week the Bills host the Seahawks who just annihilated the Cardinals 58-0. However that was a home game and Buffalo is some 3,000 odd miles away with a twelfth man of their own. Spiller is the type of back who can bump off tacklers and get to open space. I can see him being effective against any defense thrown at him. Seattle has been sharp lately, but they are widely thought of as a home dominant team and not as threatening on the road.
The Panthers rose to the occasion last week against Atlanta, despite having four starters out. Cam Newton has been a tear lately. Over his last six games he has 15 touchdowns and only two turnovers. He is the fourth ranked fantasy quarterback this year behind Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III and Drew Brees. This means he is ahead of other notable quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, et al. Carolina is 4-9 and out of the playoff picture, but does anyone not think Newton and the Panthers have the ability to compete with any team in the league when they have their A-game? Ron Rivera will face his old team this week at San Diego. This is not a great match up on paper for Carolina, however I wasn’t high on them last week either and look how things turned out. My advice is to ride the hot hand. It looks like Cam Newton has “figured it out” and has snapped out of his slump. The Chargers have a good run defense, but when Carolina adds Newton to the mix, it makes it much harder to defend. Monitor the status of Jonathan Stewart (ankle), but I believe he’ll be able to play, which makes the picture cloudy between him and DeAngelo Williams.
The Bears have lost two straight games (SEA, MIN) and are now faced with a critical game this week against division rival Green Bay. A win would go a long way for a playoff berth and a loss could knock them from the sixth seed, which they currently occupy. Jay Cutler (neck) insists he will be OK to play this week, which also means the value of Brandon Marshall is still very much in tact. The Bears, like the Redskins are generally driven by three players, Cutler, Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall. I expect all three to be very active against Green Bay. Forte is coming off a six-reception game, which bodes well for his PPR value. He could see plenty of check downs, especially if Clay Matthews (severe hamstring strain) returns after being out since week 9.
Cincinnati plays at Philadelphia this week on Thursday Night. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is coming off an 89 yard rushing day vs. Dallas, preceded by three straight 100-yard efforts. He is definitely someone to target as a RB2 this week. The Eagles gave up 128 yards rushing to Doug Martin last week and have allowed a rushing touchdown in back to back games. The changes made on defense by the Eagles have not yet yielded a noticeable improvement in their run defense. For those starting AJ Green, this is a good match up for you. Andy Dalton is a decent start. There is a strong probability that we will see him return to his multiple touchdown pass ways. He has seven multiple touchdown pass efforts in 13 games this year.
Break out the Browns – winners of three straight (PIT, OAK, KC). They now have their sights set on the Redskins. Robert Griffin (knee) will probably be able to play for this contest. A few weeks ago I stated how much the Browns are interested in force-feeding the ball to their best wide receiver, Josh Gordon. That is still very much the plan. Gordon has 23 catches in the last four games and remains one of the hotter emerging wide receivers in the league, outside of Danario Alexander in San Diego. The home game vs. Washington is a great match up for the talented supplemental draft pick. If you have Gordon on your roster, start him this week. Trent Richardson is also on a tear lately with four touchdowns in his last three games. Cleveland is quickly becoming a team nobody wants to play. From a fantasy perspective, Richardson and Gordon are very good players to have in your lineup. Even Brandon Weeden is someone to consider as a desperation quarterback play in the deepest of leagues.
The latest word is that Dez Bryant (fractured finger) will attempt to play this week vs. Pittsburgh. Both teams need a win to keep pace in the playoff race of their prospective conferences. I am a bit leery of Bryant this week. By choosing to play, he could hurt the team more than help them. DeMarco Murray has over 20 carries and a score in both games since his return from injury. Despite the tough draw against Pittsburgh, Murray should be heavily involved. Play him as a low end RB1 or high RB2.
Knowshon Moreno continues to be a fantasy threat in Willis McGahee‘s absence. He has 20, 20 and 32 carries in the three games he has started, not to mention four catches in each of those games. The match up for Moreno at Baltimore is good but not great. The apparent return of Ray Lewis will likely play a role in how effective the Denver running game will be. Demaryius Thomas (shoulder) is expected to play this week, but monitor his practice schedule to be sure.
I have four fairly important notes regarding Detroit. The loss of several wide receivers is increasing the numbers for Calvin Johnson, who is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s single season record of 1,848 yards in 1995. Johnson is doing the exact opposite of the Madden curse. Continue to reap the benefits with Johnson. This week the Lions play at Arizona, who just allowed 58 points to Seattle. Another important note is the emergence of Joique Bell at running back. He has outperformed Mikel Leshoure in each of the last three games. I would not be surprised to see him get more looks going forward. In my opinion, he moves into a flex option play, especially in PPR leagues. As a result, Leshoure drops down to a flex play at best. Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) could be out this week, which would open the door for Tony Scheffler to see an increase in snaps and looks. If so, Scheffler becomes an interesting tight end start for teams desperate for a tight end. Lastly, Mike Thomas has seen his role reduced with the activation of 6-foot-6 wide receiver Kris Durham from the practice squad. Durham is far from a polished product, but his size gives the Lions an advantage in the passing game that Thomas is unable to give. Thomas drops out of fantasy consideration for me, while Durham increases to a marginal flex start in the deepest of leagues.
As great as a player that Greg Jennings is, he has not yet been factored into the passing game for Green Bay. Randall Cobb still rules the roost in the Packers receiving corps. He had 7 receptions last week, whereas no other receiver had more than two. The return of Jordy Nelson could strengthen that unit, but until then, Cobb is really the only must start Packers receiver. Despite the presence of DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant, Alex Green is still the team’s main back. I would not expect much from the running game against Chicago this week. Green is a flex option at best, in my opinion. Monitor the status of Jordy Nelson (hamstring). He has been in and out of health all year. If he does play, I would be more surprised if he has a big game, compared to an average outing.
The Texans were stymied last week at New England. Both of their losses this year (GB, NE) have come in front of a national audience and both were by a considerable margin. This does not bode well for the playoffs if Houston continues to be affected in a negative way by the limelight. They have three tough games left (IND, MIN, @IND) all of which are potential losses. Houston’s status of achieving a first round bye could very well be in jeopardy. From a fantasy perspective, Arian Foster saved his owners with a short touchdown in an otherwise poor outing. The match up vs. IND is in his favor so he should be able to produce strong numbers with a great deal of certainty. Matt Schaub was inaccurate on several deep throws last week. He should be able to bounce back on his home turf, but is not a must start fantasy option. A strong two-touchdown game from Foster removes Schaub as a consistent fantasy threat.
Vick Ballard has been playing well lately in Donald Brown’s absence, however I am not as excited about him this week at Houston. He may still reach 15-20 carries, but I don’t see him breaking out with a strong yardage game. My prediction is 60-75 yards rushing. Andrew Luck has been receiving all the accolades this year, especially for his six come from behind drives late in the game. He is a popular choice for rookie of the year, but he still has some issues to iron out. For example, he has just as many interceptions as he does touchdowns (18). He has a lot of yards, especially for a rookie (six 300+ yard games), but he’s prone to make mistakes, so don’t assume he’s an elite fantasy quarterback – just yet. I like TY Hilton over Donnie Avery, but Avery’s play lately has taken away from Hilton’s numbers. Hilton is still a good flex play and marginal WR3, this week.
Justin Blackmon was able to generate some productivity (6-57) without Cecil Shorts (concussion) in the lineup, however it was clear that he benefits from Shorts to take away some of the coverage. Keep tabs on Shorts progress with the concussion tests this week. Between the two, Shorts is the better, more consistent fantasy option. Blackmon is a flex play with or without Shorts. It’s possible that he will be heavily targeted against the Dolphins secondary with a better outcome if Shorts is out. Montell Owens filled in for Rashad Jennings (concussion) and was effective against the Jets. Jacksonville has a tough rushing match up against Miami, so only consider Owens as a marginal flex option, if Jennings is still out.
The Chiefs have been struck with more bad news. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe (two broken ribs) has been placed on IR ending his season. The move could mean he has played his last game with the Chiefs, because he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Anywhere he goes, you have to think he’ll be better off. If he can be an top flight receiver with the Chiefs, he should be able to thrive anywhere. Jamaal Charles could very well be the main beneficiary of Bowe’s absence. He has a great match up at Oakland. Start him if you got him. This is a great opportunity for the 6-foot-4, 228 pound Jonathan Baldwin to get more reps and make a name for himself. Terrence Copper is also someone who could see some snaps. I don’t recommend either as a fantasy option, but if you’re desperate Baldwin is a stab in the dark. Dexter McCluster will also see some increased action, mostly out of the slot.
The Dolphins host the Jaguars this week. Every week I keep looking for the coaching staff to limit Reggie Bush’s touches and give Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller a chance to show their stuff. Bush is still getting the majority of the carries, but Lamar Miller is starting to get some looks, just not enough to have any fantasy consideration. Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are flex options at best this week. Hartline is a lesser version of the equally inconsistent Lance Moore.
No Percy Harvin? No problem. Minnesota (7-6) is still in the race for a wild card spot in the NFC thanks to Adrian Peterson’s weekly heroics. This week the Vikings play at STL and Peterson will be looking to extend his consecutive 100-yard game streak to eight games. Kyle Rudolph is coming off his third game this year without a reception. The Vikings passing game is just not conducive to Rudolph being a big threat. His eight touchdowns is a giant tease, but any given week, he is capable of putting up a goose egg. Start Rudolph at your own risk.
The Patriots have now won seven games in a row and are likely the front runners for the AFC crown. I shouldn’t have to tell you to start your Patriots – that goes without saying, but this week, there may be some speed bumps when the visiting 49ers come to Foxboro. The fast paced Patriots offense will be an interesting clash against the 49ers defense. I still like Tom Brady and company despite the tough match up. Stevan Ridley may not be that strong a play, but Danny Woodhead and his ability to make plays on check downs could be a sneaky play. Wes Welker should rebound after a so-so 3-52 night against Houston. Just as quick as Donte’ Stallworth entered the lineup, he leaves it. Earlier this week he was placed on IR (ankle). The move allows Deion Branch to rejoin the team. Rob Gronkowski (forearm) is still out until further notice. It could be week 16, but then again, they could keep him out until the playoffs so he can fully recover. He also has a nagging hip injury that has given him some discomfort. Time off will definitely help him and get him ready for the post season.
Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Lance Moore are the four musketeers for the Saints. All are excellent fantasy starts this week vs. Tampa Bay. Even Joseph Morgan is a fair desperation flex option. Drew Brees has been uncharacteristically inconsistent this year, especially on deep throws. He should have one of his better games against the Buccaneers. He went 377-4-1 at Tampa Bay earlier this year.
David Wilson had his breakout game last week, totaling 100 yards on 13 carries, with two touchdowns. He also had over 200 return yards. In addition to all of that, his 13 carries exceeded Ahmad Bradshaw (11) by two. Bradshaw may still be the starting back, but Wilson will very much be in demand to make plays. Hakeem Nicks has been in and out of health all year long, and quite frankly the majority of his career. His knee injury may not be severe enough to keep him out of the lineup, but he’ll need to overcome the pain and discomfort to be effective. In my opinion, this lowers him to a WR2 or WR3. The Giants play at Atlanta this week, which would be a repeat of last year’s NFC Wild Card game. Atlanta is coming off a tough loss to Carolina. The losing ways could continue or give them a spark to find their game. My gut says the Giants will win, but Atlanta is a different team at home. This has the makings of being a high scoring affair, which benefits all Giants players.
Mark Sanchez is still the starter and the running game has upgraded from a three headed monster to just a two-headed one. Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell are sharing duties, which makes it hard to predict numbers for both. I’d say both are viable flex options with a slight lean towards Greene. The injury to Stephen Hill (knee) has allowed the Jets to claim Braylon Edwards off waivers. I would not be surprised to see him have some fantasy relevance. After all, the Jets are in desperate need of a long receiver who can make plays, especially in the red zone.
The Raiders have a great match up this week vs. Kansas City. Now is the time to start your Raiders. Darren McFadden should be able to generate good yardage. Brandon Myers is a decent start, despite his 1-7 line last week against Denver. Denarius Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Rod Streater are considered flex options at worst this week. Either one is capable of having a good game and a possible score. Picking the right one is the concern.
Nick Foles passed for 382 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Buccaneers, who continue to give up passing yardage like a last place team. Foles will have more difficulty against the Bengals strong pass rush this week, so don’t expect another big yardage game. The early word is that LeSean McCoy (concussion) will not be ready to return this week, which means another week of Bryce Brown carrying the load. He struggled to get off the ground last week, but it was also against the number one rush defense in the league. I expect the Eagles to utilize Brown more this week. In my opinion he’s a good RB2 start. Jeremy Maclin (groin) may not be available this week, which would open the door for Riley Cooper and Jason Avant to see increased snaps. Avant is coming off a 100-yard game last week. He and Cooper are desperation flex options against Cincinnati. One or both could be decent, but it’s not a foregone conclusion.
The Steelers beat the Ravens on the road without Ben Roethlisberger, however they can’t seal the deal at home against the Chargers with Roethlisberger? From a fantasy perspective Roethlisberger still managed 285-3-1, which answers some questions about whether or not his soreness would affect his throwing and ability to play. The reason for the loss last week is because the defense collapsed, which was shocking to see. Just how valuable is Ike Taylor (ankle) anyway? They play at Dallas on Sunday and both teams are in desperate need of a win to keep up with the playoff race. Dallas has a good pass defense, which could limit Roethlisberger’s fantasy production. This is a better match up for Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. I’d put Dwyer in the RB2 ranks, while Redman is a desperation flex.
The Chargers seem to have found their new Vincent Jackson and his name is Danario Alexander. Since week 11, he has 25 catches for 360 yards and four touchdowns. Yeah, he’s a must start going forward, if you haven’t been doing so already. This week the Chargers host the Panthers, who just stymied the Falcons. Carolina doesn’t allow many big plays on defense, mainly because they play to prevent the big play, which gives way to plenty of underneath and sideline square put patterns. Julio Jones and Roddy White had good games, because Atlanta was in full blown comeback mode for most of the game. I would not be surprised to see Antonio Gates actually have a good game against the Panthers and their bend-not-break defense.
Seattle has been relying on Marshawn Lynch a lot this year. Last week was no different with 128 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries. I expect to see a more balanced offense against the Bills this week. Keep in mind Lynch may have some extra incentive going against the team that traded him to Seattle. Russell Wilson is a low end QB1 against Buffalo, which also means his receivers should benefit as well, namely Golden Tate and Sidney Rice.
Last week I was high on Matt Schaub against the Patriots and he didn’t fare too well. I like the match up for San Francisco at New England, however I was wrong with Schaub doing damage. I could be wrong about Colin Kaepernick. I see this game as a chess match, which benefits Alex Smith more in my opinion. Kaepernick has not thrown a touchdown pass in two straight games and the 49ers are not a good come from behind team. Michael Crabtree has been a great fantasy receiver this year who could have another strong day of 6+ receptions, especially if the 49ers trail early. I envision the game plan being to load up on the running game to keep the clock moving, thus keeping Brady off the field. Frank Gore is a decent RB1 start as a result.
Chris Givens has 23 receptions for 251 yards and 1 touchdown in the last four games with 24 targets in the last two. Having said that, if Danny Amendola (foot) returns this week I think we will see a decline in Givens’ numbers. Keep an eye on Danny Amendola’s practice status this week. If he practices on Friday, he should be good to go against the Vikings on Sunday. Steven Jackson has been a workhorse back over the last five games with carries of 29, 13, 24, 21, 19 in that span including two 100-yard games. He is a low end RB1 this week against the Vikings.
Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Dallas Clark, each have two touchdowns over the last four games. After failing to score against Atlanta three weeks ago, Josh Freeman has rebounded with two multiple-touchdown pass games, giving him nine on the year. Both he and the Buccaneers. receiving corps should benefit greatly against the Saints this week. Freeman had 420-3-0 in the earlier meeting with 216 yards and a touchdown going to Jackson. Doug Martin is also someone who stands to have a strong game against the league’s worst run defense. Start your Buccaneers. If you have Freeman, start him.
The Titans have a tough match up this week vs. the Jets, so that means Chris Johnson should have a good game. He has thrived in tough match ups all season, why stop now? One reason there could be a struggle for Johnson is the lack of depth on the offensive line that has been hurt with injuries. Johnson struggled last week and the OL was mostly to blame. The running game could be an issue, however the passing game is also a concern. The Jets are not one to give up a lot of points, which means that Jake Locker and the receiving corps could struggle. Kenny Britt is coming off a good game last week, but tight end Jared Cook (shoulder) was placed on IR and will be missed. The Titans may resort to more three wide receiver sets, as long as the pressure on Locker can be contained. If so, this benefits Britt and Kendall Wright and Nate Washington. Britt is a fair WR3 who has scored a touchdown or had a 100-yard effort in each of his last three games.
One team will end their winning streak this week. Will it be the Browns, who have won three in a row or the surging Redskins who have won each of their last four? The latest word out of Washington DC is that Robert Griffin III will play and start this week. Apparently his knee is feeling well enough to give it a go. He may not be the same nimble runner as we’ve seen in weeks prior, but he is still a threat to make plays, move the ball and score points. Alfred Morris may wind up playing a bigger role so not as much is riding on the arm and legs of Griffin. Pierre Garcon is a good WR3 start with any other Redskins receivers being a flex option at best. It’s difficult to predict numbers when there are many recipients outside of Garcon who can make a play when called upon.