Congratulations! If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you’re in the fantasy football playoff semifinals. No matter how much luck you think is involved, it takes immeasurable skill and advanced probability-based decision making to help you get here. This week’s goal is focused on one thing: going to the ‘ship. With that in mind, let’s examine the Week 15 landscape with a microscope on key players.

Find me on Twitter @eweiner_bball if you’d like any lineup questions answered personally.

Starts Record: 115/174 (66.09%)
Sits Record: 113/155 (72.9%)
Sleeper Record: 39/68 (57.4%)
*Note: These statistics do not include injured players or players who are essentially a wash and did not really help you or hurt you if you started them.
**Assume .5 PPR scoring for any reference to a player’s season-long ranking or in-week ranking

Quarterback

Start: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Tennessee

For once, it looks like the Patriots made a mistake in trading away one of their homegrown talents. Garoppolo already looks like a top-half quarterback despite throwing to a mediocre receiving group behind a bad offensive line. With back to back games over 290 passing yards, Jimmy G has displayed a safe floor despite playing both games on the road. Now he gets to travel home in an above-average matchup and his floor/ceiling combination is aided by the Niners bottom-tier defense. It might not feel comfortable in the fantasy semifinals, but I’m treating Garoppolo as a legit top-14 option with the season on the line.

Start: Blake Bortles vs. Houston

It feels even tougher to stomach starting Blake Bortles when you’re in win-now mode, but he’s been quietly balling of late. The per-game QB6 over the last four weeks, Bortles has juiced his floor by averaging five carries per game since the team’s bye. With rookies Leonard Fournette and Dede Westbrook now in tow, Bortles has playmakers with the ability to raise his weekly ceiling. Houston is giving up the third-most points to quarterbacks, but crucially has also allowed the seventh-most rushing yards and (tied for) the third-most rushing touchdowns to the position. Houston ranks 6th in run defense DVOA but 18th against the pass, providing a pass-funnel situation Bortles should be able to exploit.

Other Recommended Starts:

Cam Newton vs. Green Bay: Green Bay has allowed the sixth-worst YPA to quarterbacks this year (7.3) and just allowed DeShone Kizer‘s first career three-touchdown game. Cam is running so much these days and proved last week his legs are matchup-proof to a certain extent. He’s a top-6 play this week and should be a popular DFS option with Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the ball.

Sit: Alex Smith vs. Los Angeles Chargers

Smith was a penalty and a dropped touchdown away from having a much better game last week, but regardless he’s become more of a floor option with only two top-12 performances since Week 7. Los Angeles allows a paltry 5.9 YPA (tied for second in the league) and has permitted the third-fewest points to opposing quarterbacks. Smith only managed 155 passing yards when these teams met in Week 3 and the Chargers defense has improved considerably since then. He’s a 2QB-league-only option this week.

Sit: Andy Dalton @ Minnesota

Prior to last week’s dud, Dalton had quietly been playing well of late. He had strung together four consecutive multi-touchdown games, but last week served as a healthy reminder that Dalton still has a low floor playing in a mediocre offense with a terrible offensive line. At this point I’m still open to streaming Dalton at home against Detroit in Week 16, but Minnesota has been a bottom-five matchup for quarterbacks all year and Dalton is likely to face pressure throughout the game. He’s a tough sell even in 2QB leagues.

Sleepers/Streamers:

Joe Flacco @ Cleveland: Quietly the QB14 and QB8 over the last two weeks, Flacco and Baltimore have indeed started to “open up the offense” just like Flacco pined for several weeks ago. One of Flacco’s four multi-touchdown games came against this same Browns defense in Week 2 and the offense should continue to move the ball well with Alex Collins churning. Brett Hundley threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the same spot last week and Flacco is better than Hundley. He’s a fine 2QB-league start this week. 

Wide Receiver

Start: Marquise Goodwin vs. Tennessee

Goodwin has officially graduated from streamer to upside WR3 as Jimmy Garoppolo‘s clearcut favorite target. Per FantasyLabs, in Jimmy G’s first start he led the team with a 21.6% target market share, and then did the same last week with an impressive 37.5% share. Labeled as only a deep threat earlier in his career, Goodwin is flashing on tape as someone who can win intermediate routes and is dangerous after the catch. Tennessee ranks 27th in pass defense DVOA and has allowed the 11th-most points to the position. Hat tip to Twitter user @JohnnyVolk for this, but Goodwin impressively has more receiving yards than Dez Bryant, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffery and Demaryius Thomas this season. Goodwin is firmly on the WR2 radar this week, pairing a newfound floor with big play upside.

Start: Devin Funchess vs. Green Bay

Funchess delivered in a tough matchup with Xavier Rhodes last week, posting a 3/59/1 line on seven targets. Now he gets a much easier matchup against the Packers joke of a secondary which will be without its two top corners. Green Bay has allowed the fifth-most yards and third-most touchdowns to opposing receivers, offering Funchess multiple avenues to points. Funchess has seen at least six targets in every game since Week 1 and has delivered double-digit fantasy points in five straight weeks. This game has one of the higher implied point totals on the week (47) with Aaron Rodgers back on the other side of the ball.

Other Recommended Starts:

Michael Crabtree vs. Dallas: Going back to the well here even with the Raiders offense looking somewhat broken. Crabtree saw a season-high 13 targets last week and with Amari Cooper (ankle) on the wrong side of questionable, he should be in line for similar volume again. No team has allowed more touchdowns to receivers than the Cowboys.
Josh Gordon vs. Baltimore: Gordon delivered last week and could’ve had a much bigger week if not for a DPI that went uncalled on a potential 50-yard touchdown. Kizer has shown the willingness to feed him targets down the field and Baltimore is no longer a shy-away matchup without top corner Jimmy Smith.
Dede Westbrook vs. Houston: Westbrook is averaging 8.25 targets per game through his first four career starts, while his yardage totals have trended 35>41>78>81. Houston, meanwhile, has given up the seventh-most points to wide receivers. Westbrook’s big play ability gives him week-winning appeal.

Sit: T.Y. Hilton vs. Denver

Outside of a dud against Tennesee and a touchdown in Jacksonville, it’s been relatively easy for us to identify Hilton’s spiked weeks, of which there’ve only been three. This does not project to be his fourth against a Denver defense that, per Rotoworld’s Rich Hribar, is allowing the fewest receptions per game to receivers. Hilton has only ranked in the top-2o on three separate occasions this year and has too low of a floor to be comfortable using in the playoffs in this tough matchup.

Sit: Mike Evans vs. Atlanta

Ok, so I get it if you don’t have the luxury of sitting someone with a ceiling like Mike Evans. But where has that ceiling gone? Merely the WR26 on the year, Evans hasn’t once surpassed 19 points so far this season (.5 PPR). Perhaps more concerning, Evans has seen season-low target totals of six and five over the last two weeks. Per Adam Levitan, Detroit used top corner Darius Slay to shadow DeSean Jackson instead of Evans, implying the team wasn’t threatened by the stud receiver. Considering Evans’ meager 2/25 line, it seems the Lions were right. Perhaps Evans has an undisclosed injury that’s limiting his explosiveness, but something just doesn’t seem right here. Oh, and Atlanta has a true top corner in Desmond Trufant and has allowed the seventh-fewest points to receivers this year. Now, we know Evans is still capable of blowing up, so don’t go sitting him for someone like Zay Jones or Tyler Lockett. But if you have someone in the WR2/3 range who offers a safe floor (like Goodwin, for example), it’s not crazy to play them over Evans.

Other Recommended Sits:

Josh Doctson vs. Arizona: Hello, Patrick Peterson

Sleepers/Streamers:

Mike Wallace @ Cleveland: The WR28 over the last four weeks, Wallace has strung together a nice floor/ceiling combo with at least 50 yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last five. With Flacco playing better, Wallace should have a shot at corralling a few deep passes or two. He’s a boom/bust WR3 for this week.
Randall Cobb @ Carolina: This is admittedly a shot in the dark considering all the uncertainty in Green Bay, but it’s more than possible Cobb was dropped in your league. If you’re desperate, Carolina has allowed the 7th-most receiving touchdowns on the year. 

Running Back

Start: Alex Collins @ Cleveland

Simply too hot to bench right now, Collins is deserving of legitimate RB1 discussion. The per-game RB4 over the past four weeks, Collins runs with a ferocity and never-give-up attitude that is giving defenses fits. Having rushed for a touchdown and/or at least 60 yards in five of his last six, Collins has a rock-solid floor to pair with a ceiling that typically appears in positive game scripts. As seven-point favorites and going against the league’s most turnover-prone quarterback, Collins should have plenty of carries to work with. After losing DE Emmanuel Ogbah (foot), Cleveland’s once-staunch run defense has begun to slip in recent weeks. Fire up Collins and don’t look back.

Start: Alfred Morris @ Oakland

Rod Smith understandably got all the glory last week, but it was Morris who won the touch battle 22-11 and notably set a season-high with three catches. The Raiders have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs and just revived Kareem Hunt‘s stagnant season. Unless you have elite options, it’s pretty tough to pass on 20+ running back touches behind a good offensive line. Dallas enters this game as three-point road favorites and this game has a solid 46 point total. Morris is a high-floor RB2 option before Zeke returns in Week 16.

Other Recommended Starts:

Carlos Hyde vs. Tennessee: Despite holding running backs to the sixth-fewest fantasy points on the year, Tennessee ranks a middling 15th in run defense DVOA and has now allowed the most receiving yards to opposing running backs. If Jimmy G continues to move the ball well at home, which I’m expecting, Hyde should have a few opportunities to punch one in. San Francisco leads the league in pace and is actually favored by two. He’s on the upper end of the RB2 spectrum this week. 

Sit: Lamar Miller @ Jacksonville

Miller was in a gorgeous matchup last week and had been the king of consistency all year long, so of course he flopped with his worst game of the season. Houston simply struggles to run block and Miller no longer creates many yards on his own, a terrible combo for rushing efficiency. Now he faces a Jacksonville defense that has tightened the running game screws since adding difference-making NT Marcel Dareus at the trade deadline. Houston enters this game as 10.5-point road underdogs which projects terrible game script for someone like Miller who lives off pure volume. He’s more of a flex option than a surefire RB2 this week.

Sit: Doug Martin vs. Atlanta

Martin was given the start last week because head coach Dirk Koetter doesn’t believe in players losing their starting spots to injuries. While a nice sentiment in theory, Martin has clearly been outplayed by Peyton Barber over the last few weeks and doesn’t deserve to be the starter at this point. Martin found the end zone last week but struggled to 2.6 YPC and was eventually benched for fumbling, and Barber came in and promptly ran for 4.8 YPC behind the same offensive line. It’s too difficult at this point to even project the volume for this backfield, rendering everyone involved volatile flex plays. Atlanta, meanwhile, has shored up its run defense of late and is best attacked by running backs through the air which we know isn’t a strength of Martin’s game.

Sleepers/Streamers:

Mike Davis vs. Los Angeles: Davis practiced Wednesday despite picking up a rib injury last week, so his status seems fine. The Rams are 31st in rushing yards allowed per game and the Seattle offensive line has played much better since adding LT Duane Brown, while Davis should offer a safe volume floor with consecutive touch counts of 20 and 16 since becoming the starter. He’s a legit RB2 this week. 

Tight End

Start: Delanie Walker @ San Francisco

Don’t let that little red matchup on Yahoo scare you off Delanie this week. As always, it’s important to look at recent trends and context to better evaluate these season-long numbers, and San Francisco has actually been creamed by tight ends since losing both starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt over a month ago. Even with Mariota struggling, Delanie is one of the few surefire bets in the barren tight end landscape, averaging seven targets and 65.7 yards per game since the team’s Week 8 bye. His 25.93% target share is second among all tight ends to only Travis Kelce. Even with Gronk back Delanie’s probably a top-five option this week.

Start: Jason Witten @ Oakland

Witten delivered in this spot last week by catching a 20-yard touchdown against the Giants. While his low target total (2) was concerning, an interesting trend has popped up for Witten throughout the year. This was his fourth game with two or fewer targets on the season. In the games following these low target outings, Witten is averaging eight targets per game. While this could be some small sample variance, it also makes sense for Dallas to scheme Witten opportunities following these duds because he’s one of the only reliable pass catchers on the team. No team has given up more yards to tight ends than the Raiders have this year.

Other Recommended Starts:

Jack Doyle vs. Denver: It’s fair to throw away last week’s snowpocalypse in Buffalo, though Doyle did somehow manage to score in that one. Doyle leads the Colts in target share and Denver ranks bottom-five in touchdowns, yards and fantasy points allowed to tight ends.
Greg Olsen: Calling my shot here. Will Olsen goose-egged last week, it’s much more important to note he played 92% of the snaps and was held in to block on a bunch of passing plays, likely due to the ferocious Minnesota pass rush. He should have more opportunities to run routes against Green Bay, especially if its without leading pass rusher Nick Perry again. Cam only threw 25 attempts last week but will likely have to throw more with Aaron Rodgers back in uniform. Here’s betting Olsen bounces back in a big way.

Sit: O.J. Howard vs. Atlanta

Howard has become an intriguing play by posting at least 50 yards and/or a touchdown in three of his last four games, but he’s still only seen more than four targets in a game twice all season. That makes him a low-floor play, while Atlanta has been the tenth-best tight end defense on the year. Howard’s dynasty prospects look solid moving forward, but he hasn’t earned starter consideration in tough matchups.

Sit: Tyler Kroft @ Minnesota

Kroft is off the streaming radar with just three targets and 30 yards combined over the last two weeks. Minnesota has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to the position on the year and we should expect the Bengals to struggle to sustain drives, reducing Kroft’s chances at finding pay dirt. You can do better even if you’re streaming the position.

Sleepers/Streamers:

Ricky Seals-Jones @ Washington: This is a leap of faith play, but RSJ deserves at the very least DFS punt consideration against Washington. The ‘Skins have given up the second-most yards and fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends on the year and Seals-Jones continues to be targeted at an absurd rate given his snap share.
Jesse James vs. New England: James set career highs in targets (12), catches (10) and yards (97) against the Ravens on his way to the third-best tight end performance of the week. Part of his elevated role was due to the Steelers trailing for much of the game, which could certainly happen again considering they enter as three-point home underdogs. Vance McDonald (shoulder) is unlikely to suit up which should leave all of the tight end opportunities to James. In a game with easily the highest implied point total of the week (53.5), James is worth a stab if you want in on the action. With Pittsburgh’s defense slipping, Big Ben is averaging 49 pass attempts over his last four games. 

Defense

Start: New Orleans Defense vs. New York Jets

You’ll probably see this in every article you read this week, but I’d be remiss not to mention any defense playing against Bryce Petty. Petty was 2/9 for 14 yards in relief of Josh McCown last week and completed 56.4% of his passes across four starts last season, sporting a 3:7 touchdown to interception ratio and absorbing 13 sacks. The Jets averaged 11.25 points per game when Petty started. The Saints are 15-point favorites at home and coming off 10 days rest. Giddy up.

Start: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns

Maybe this is low hanging fruit again but we have to look at which defense plays the Browns every week for both season-long and DFS purposes. Baltimore predictably flopped on the road at Pittsburgh last week but has a chance to right the ship against DeShone Kizer and his affection for backbreaking interceptions. Baltimore was the second-best fantasy defense when these teams met all the way back in Week 2 and enter the game as 7-point favorites. This game has the second-lowest implied total of the week.

Other Recommended Starts:

-Minnesota vs. Cincinnati: It’s confusing that Minnesota sports easily a top-five real-life defense, yet has struggled for fantasy purposes, but I’m sticking with them after Andy Dalton scored seven points at home against John Fox. Cincinnati has been the 12th-most forgiving team to defenses this year and I expect Everson Griffen and Co. to wreak havoc on this bottom-tier offensive line.

Sit: Pittsburgh Defense vs. New England

I don’t care how well the Dolphins defense played on Monday night. We’re not starting defenses against the Patriots, especially ones that have shown serious signs of slippage over the last several weeks.

Sit: Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle

It’s a shame because the Rams have been a fun defense to use all year long, but they’re unplayable again here on the road against Danger Russ. Seattle’s offensive line has played much better of late and this game is expected to be a shootout with a total of 48.

 

Statistics courtesy of nfl.com, rotoworld.com, Yahoo.com, fantasylabs.com, teamrankings.com, footballguys.com, footballoutsiders.com, profootballfocus.com and pro-football-reference.com

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