Fantasy Football QB1 Primer: Week 15 Playoff Edition (2019)
All season long in this space, I have ranked the top-10 quarterbacks for each week based on a variety of factors. The primary consideration will always be the true talent and ability of the signal-caller. Other circumstances, such as the scheduled matchup, surrounding talent, offensive line play, and advanced metrics are then weighed in to produce a weekly ranking.
Rather than just ranking the top 10 quarterbacks for the week in Week 14, I ignored the obvious stalwarts like Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson last week. If you’re in the playoffs, you’re banking on each of the top names to threaten as overall QB1 through the playoffs, and there is no consideration spent on benching them, nor should there be.
However, many fantasy owners subscribed to the popular strategy of waiting for a quarterback on draft day. There has been a glob of candidates constantly hovering between QB1 and QB2 all year, depending on the week. Last week, I focused on a special top-5 for the fantasy quarterfinals, highlighting those in that glob who were most worthy of trusting your fantasy season with based on a variety of contextual factors, plus a bonus name added in for good measure.
Before we proceed, let’s review how last week went among the ten quarterbacks I ranked as the most likely to finish as the top overall fantasy producers at the position:
Kirk Cousins had the right matchup and looked like he might deliver, but Minnesota took the air out of the ball in the second half. Depending on your league rules, Jared Goff could be considered a win if interceptions weren’t penalized too much. He did throw for 293 yards and two scores, with the two picks being the only blemish. Fitzpatrick was a complete bust if you were forced to stream a longshot, throwing for a middling 245 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
I did say Jameis Winston, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield were all worthy streamers if Fitzpatrick wasn’t your cup of tea. Winston finished as the top QB1 overall last week despite losing Mike Evans in the first half and hurting his throwing hand. If that doesn’t encapsulate fantasy football for you, I don’t know what does. Darnold posted a respectable game (270 yards, two touchdowns, and one INT), but Mayfield was an unmitigated disaster.
Let’s find some gems for Week 15 if you’re still playing…
5) Tom Brady (NE) @ Cincinnati Bengals
Sideline videotaping aside, this might be the last fantasy hurrah for Tom Brady at age 42, as far as being a viable play with fantasy seasons on the line in the playoffs. Brady draws a Cincinnatti Bengals team that should be picking first overall in next year’s draft. The Patriots offense can’t seem to get on track with Brady unable to establish any semblance of efficiency or timing and rhythm with receivers not named Julian Edelman, plus an offensive line bleeding pressure on the regular. One also has to wonder where Brady’s head is at these days:
Me vs Lamar, 40 Yard Dash on natural grass but he has to wear rollerblades. Who’s buying the PPV?
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) December 13, 2019
However, the Bengals are the third-worst passing defense DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. Most importantly, their 21 sacks on the year are the second-fewest in the NFL. Only the talent-deficient Miami Dolphins have less ability to generate pressure. If Brady can’t capitalize against a defense allowing 8.4 yards per attempt, then the ship on him being a fantasy-relevant quarterback has likely sailed. I’m willing to bet there’s at least one more solid performance left in there. Even on the road, Brady should have enough time to throw, and score, against a defense this porous in what should be a “get right” game.
4) Kyler Murray (ARI) vs Cleveland Browns
Rookie quarterbacks tend to fade down the stretch most of the time. They’re not used to playing a 16 game schedule in college, and the speed, processing, and physicality of the sport at the NFL level require time to adjust. That being said, when Cleveland isn’t finding a way to lose, they’re finding a way to almost lose even when they play well enough to win. The team hasn’t been the same since Myles Garrett went full berserker with Mason Rudolph’s helmet.
Kyler Murray has struggled since a stretch of big games in Weeks 9-11, coming out of Arizona’s bye week to throw more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (2) in the last two weeks. However, those two games occurred against two of the better defenses in football in the Los Angeles Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland sits in the top half of the league allowing 7.2 Yds/A and 20 touchdowns, making them a far less imposing matchup than the Rams and Steelers.
3) Jimmy Garoppolo (SF) vs Atlanta Falcons
Although there were many questions about Jimmy Garoppolo heading into this season, his 24 touchdowns rank inside the top-5 of the league with three games to play, and he has three games with over 300 yards and four touchdowns in his last six contests. Much has been made of Garoppolo throwing untimely picks, but he only has one interception in his last three games, and that ball bounced off his receiver’s hands. Garoppolo has shredded weaker passing defenses all season, and the Falcons are a bottom-10 unit and have posted the fourth-fewest sacks of any team in football. Best of all, Garoppolo doesn’t have to do much other than complete the passes Kyle Shannahan calls since his pass-catchers can clearly shoulder the rest.
Jimmy Garoppolo is second in the NFL in yards after the catch per completion (6.4).
The #Falcons are allowing the second-most YAC in the NFL.
— Adam Pfeifer (@APfeifer24) December 12, 2019
The 49ers currently control the number one seed in the NFC, but they still need to defeat the Rams in Week 16 and the Seahawks in Week 17. Don’t expect San Francisco to get caught looking against an Atlanta squad that upset New Orleans in Week 10 and hasn’t scored less than 20 points more than twice all season. Jimmy G has all the upside you want this week.
2) Ryan Tannehill (TEN) vs Houston Texans
Much like many children have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads this time of year, the Tennessee Titans have visions of winning the AFC South. At 8-5, they’re tied with the Houston Texans atop the division, and the two teams face each other twice in the next three weeks. Ryan Tannehill has enjoyed a career resurgence replacing Marcus Mariota as the starting quarterback in Tennessee. Since taking the helm in Week 7, Tannehill has more yards than Aaron Rodgers, a better QB rating than Drew Brees, fewer picks than Russell Wilson, and a better completion percentage than Lamar Jackson. He leads the NFL in passer rating (118.5) and yards per attempt (9.8 Yds/A).
The Houston Texans rank inside the top-5 in touchdowns allowed to opposing quarterbacks (28), and they just allowed Broncos rookie Drew Lock to carve them up at home last week. There’s always the risk that Tannehill reverts back into a pumpkin or the Titans go run-heavy and continue to limit his passing attempts (he hasn’t thrown more than 30 passes since Week 9), but the upside of a player enjoying the best stretch of his career is too great to ignore. Most importantly, this game has sneaky shootout potential (over/under set at 50.5) with the Titans being second in football in scoring with 31.4 points per game. When you consider the Texans have allowed only seven rushing touchdowns (fourth-fewest in the league), the Titans may have no choice but to lean on Tannehill in the red zone.
1) Jameis Winston (TB) @ Detroit Lions
It’s hard not to bet on Jameis Winston after he literally finished last week as the top overall QB. The pick-prone, free-agent-to-be touchdown machine should produce an offseason full of drama. Here’s a preview:
Jameis Winston’s agent meeting with NFL teams this offseason. pic.twitter.com/FKon5mCfGC
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) December 8, 2019
For this week, however, Winston is dealing with a fractured thumb that has limited him to gripping and throwing a tennis ball all week. His status remains in question, so his placement here rests on the caveat that he actually plays this Sunday. If Winston does, he should provide a high floor against a Detroit defense in the bottom-10 in passing defense DVOA.
Bonus: Gardner Minshew (JAX) @ Oakland Raiders
This is a shot in the dark, but Gardner Minshew has some tangible upside this week. The Raiders have led the league in allowing big plays, giving up 63 passes of 20+ yards and 15 passes of 40+ yards. At 4-9, the Jaguars have been eliminated from contention, so they’ll ride with Minshew for the rest of the season to see how the young signal-caller rebounds after being replaced by an inept Nick Foles a few weeks ago. Given the matchup and the weapons Minshew has in Leonard Fournette out of the backfield, downfield threat Chris Conley, possession maven Dede Westbrook, and number one receiver DJ Chark, Minshew appears to be set up for his best game since Week 8 when he threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns.
Keep an eye on Chark’s status, as the young receiver has been listed as DNP all week with an ankle injury, and an argument can be made that Minshew deserves serious consideration as an S.O.S playoff streamer only if he has a full complement of playmakers at his disposal.