Week #15: The Inside Slant
John Holler - 12/12/2017
Week 15 is the road to most championship games and fantasy owners will have to deal with three games before Sunday and four days of football. The week opens with a game that a year ago would have been entertaining – Denver and Indianapolis, but now is two teams that have a record of 7-19 and have no interest.
There will be two Saturday games, as Detroit is looking to stay alive in the wild card chase at home against the Bears and the Chargers look to come all the way back from the dead at Kansas City with both teams with 7-6 records and the winner will be in the driver’s seat.
The Sunday early games include what could be playoff elimination games, as Buffalo looks to keep a wild card spot at home against Miami, the Panthers look to kill the dreams of a late-season resurgence by Green Bay, Baltimore seeks to keep its wild card spot at winless Cleveland, Jacksonville attempts to keep its lead over Tennessee hosting Houston, Minnesota looks to lock up the NFC North at home against Cincinnati, the Saints try to keep their hold on first place in the NFC South at home against the Jets and the Eagles play their first post-Wentz game at the Giants.
The late games will feature a pair of playoff-quality games, as the Rams head to Seattle looking to avoid a sweep by the Seahawks and the Patriots head into Pittsburgh with the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs on the line.
The prime time games are pretty week, as the 7-6 Cowboys head into 6-7 Oakland Sunday night and 8-5 Atlanta looks to avoid a stumble at 4-9 Tampa Bay.
A lot is at stake in Week 15 and, with so many games having playoff implications, there will be a lot at stake in the fantasy realm and the world of reality football.
THURSDAY NIGHT GAME
DENVER AT INDIANAPOLIS
Denver PK Brandon McManus – You can’t really count last week’s game in a blizzard in Buffalo because kicking was impossible, but no team has been so consistently smacked around by kickers that the Colts. Opposing kickers have averaged nine points a game and nine of the 12 games played in non-Donner Party conditions have scored eight or more points. McManus has a big leg and this could be a game that brings out the best in him.
Indianapolis RB Frank Gore – The Broncos have been pretty awful in a lot of respects, but stopping running backs hasn’t been one of them. Denver hasn’t been hit hard by running backs often, including Ezekiel Elliott (9-8), Shady McCoy (14-21), Marshawn Lynch (35-79-1 in two games), Melvin Gordon (36-92 in two games), Kareem Hunt (22-46), the multi-pronged New England rushing attack (29-99-1), Joe Mixon (20-49) and the combination of Bilal Powell and Matt Forte (19-48). We’re not sure anyone with their season on the line would go with Gore – even off his big week – but this isn’t the matchup you want.
CHICAGO AT DETROIT
Chicago WR Kendall Wright – The Lions defense has been up and down, but they have a habit of putting Darius Slay on receivers they want to shut down receivers and the numbers are impressive, including Larry Fitzgerald (6-74), Odell Beckham Jr. (4-36), Julio Jones (7-91), Kelvin Benjamin (4-58-1), Adam Thielen (13-148 in two games), Michael Thomas (3-11), Antonio Brown (5-70), Jordy Nelson (4-35), Kenny Britt (2-38-1), Jeremy Maclin (4-41) and Mike Evans (2-25). In their first meeting, Wright caught just two passes for 25 yards and, despite coming off a huge week, Detroit will have a target on him – which is rarely good.
Detroit QB Matthew Stafford – This may not prevent anyone from playing him, but the Bears have consistently brought the hammer down to limit fantasy points from quarterbacks, including Matt Ryan (321-1), Jameis Winston (204-1), Ben Roethlisberger (235-1), the combination of Sam Bradford and Case Keenum (176-1), Joe Flacco (180-0), Cam Newton (211-0), Drew Brees (299-0), Brett Hundley (212-1), Jimmy Garoppolo (293-0) and Andy Dalton (141-1). Stafford had one of the best games of the season against the Bears, but even then he threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bears have clamped down on too many to automatically assume Stafford will have a huge game.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS AT KANSAS CITY
Los Angeles WR Keenan Allen – The Chiefs have been sliced up by big-time receivers all season, including Danny Amendola (6-100), Brandin Cooks (3-88), Alshon Jeffery (7-92-1), Zach Ertz (5-97), Amari Cooper (11-210-2 in his only game), Travis Benjamin (5-105), Terrelle Pryor (3-70-1), DeAndre Hopkins (4-52-3), Antonio Brown (8-155-1), Cole Beasley (4-24-2), Jermaine Kearse (9-157) and Robby Anderson (8-107). Allen and Philip Rivers are on a huge roll and this could be the matchup that pushes Allen owners into the championship game.
Kansas City RB Kareem Hunt – The Chargers have recovered from a 0-4 start to get themselves in position to take the division lead. But, Los Angeles has been hammered by running backs much of the season, including C.J. Anderson (30-125 in two games), Jay Ajayi (28-122), LaGarrette Blount (16-136), the Giants three-man RB attack (24-144-1), Marshawn Lynch (13-63), LeSean McCoy (13-113-1) and even the suspect Cleveland running game (22-98). In their first meeting, Hunt rushed 17 times for 172 yards and a touchdown. Hunt owners will be expecting a big day and, considering their history, it’s more than possible.
SUNDAY EARLY GAMES
ARIZONA AT WASHINGTON
Arizona TE Ricky Seals-Jones – He may be a big dice roll at this point, by RSJ has quietly been making downfield plays and the Redskins have been tortured by tight ends, a list including Gerald Everett (3-95), Jared Cook (4-43-1), Travis Kelce (7-111-1), Zach Ertz (13-172-1 in two games), the Jimmy Graham/Luke Willson combo (6-69-1), the combination of Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan (6-38-1), Coby Fleener (3-91), Jason Witten (1-8-1) and Hunter Henry (4-50-1). With a track record like that, you want to pick up Seals-Jones if he’s available and bench your regular starting tight end.
Washington RB Samaje Perine – Arizona has been inconsistent, but has done a nice job of limiting rushing yards on a weekly basis, including Ameer Abdullah (15-30), Frank Gore (14-46-1), Ezekiel Elliott (22-80-1), LaGarrette Blount (14-74), Doug Martin (14-53-1), Carlos Hyde (28-109 in two games), Thomas Rawls (10-27), Lamar Miller (22-61), Leonard Fournette (12-25), Todd Gurley (19-74 in their second meeting) and the combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (19-54-1). The Redskins running game has been wildly inconsistent and lacking in big production and the Cardinals don’t like the opponent that changes that.
BALTIMORE AT CLEVELAND
Baltimore WRs Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace – The Browns haven’t won yet and one reason is that can’t stop a team’s primary receiver, including Antonio Brown (11-182), Jeremy Maclin (4-31-1), T.Y. Hilton (7-153-1), A.J. Green (10-129-1 in two games), Jermaine Kearse (4-38-1), DeAndre Hopkins (2-19-1), Adam Thielen (5-98-1), Golden Tate (6-97-1), Keenan Allen (10-105-1) and Davante Adams (10-84-2). The Ravens don’t have much margin for error, so putting the boots to Cleveland has to be a priority coming off their choke against the Steelers late last Sunday.
Cleveland WR Josh Gordon – It may be hard to believe given that the Steelers threw 66 times against them Sunday night, but Baltimore has done a really good job of limiting some top receivers, including A.J. Green (5-74), Corey Coleman (1-9), Allen Hurns (3-20-1), Amari Cooper (1-8), Antonio Brown (4-34 in their first meeting), Kendall Wright (2-36), Adam Thielen (5-41), Jarvis Landry (5-33), Corey Davis (2-28), Jordy Nelson (2-24) and Golden Tate (8-69). In their first meeting. Gordon is a wild card pick, but he’s getting targeted and making plays downfield, which is what you look for in a flex dice roll player.
CINCINNATI AT MINNESOTA
Cincinnati WR A.J. Green – Minnesota doesn’t put Xavier Rhodes as a spy every week, but they do it often enough that it gets notice and very few wide receivers primarily lined up with him have enjoyed any success, including Michael Thomas (5-45), Antonio Brown (5-62), Mike Evans (7-67), Golden Tate (7-36 in two games), Kendall Wright (4-46), Jordy Nelson (6-60), Mike Wallace (0-0), Kenny Britt (0-0), Josh Doctson (4-30), Sammy Watkins (3-36), Julio Jones (2-24) and Devin Funchess (3-59-1). Rhodes is likely going chase Green wherever he goes and the numbers haven’t been good when that happens.
Minnesota RB Latavius Murray – The Bengals have been ripped wide open by running backs all season, including tandems from Baltimore (42-157-1), Houston (35-168-1) and Buffalo (23-81), Frank Gore (16-82), a Jaguars backfield without Leonard Fournette (36-129), Le’Veon Bell (53-210-1 in two games), the combo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (25-94-2), C.J. Anderson (13-37-1), Isaiah Crowell (16-95) and Jordan Howard (23-147-2). Murray is more of the power back that runs the ground game, so, while Jerick McKinnon will get his touches, if Minnesota’s O-line is healthy enough to stick together, he could have a big game.
GREEN BAY AT CAROLINA
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers? – The Packers season may hinge on whether that question mark after Rodgers’ name becomes a declarative statement. The Panthers have had one of the highest-rated defenses all year, but over the last two months, quarterbacks have consistently hit them up for good fantasy points, including Tom Brady (307-2), Matthew Stafford (229-2), Carson Wentz (222-3), Matt Ryan (313-2), Jay Cutler (213-2), Josh McCown (307-3), Drew Brees (269-1) and Case Keenum (280-2). With your life on the line, you wouldn’t trust it was Brett Hundley, but your swagger will be back if Rodgers saddles up.
Carolina WR Devin Funchess – The Packers corners have been pretty awful all season and have been lit up almost every week, including Julio Jones (5-108), A.J. Green (10-111-1), Dez Bryant (5-52-1), Adam Thielen (9-97), Ted Ginn (7-141), Michael Thomas (7-82), Golden Tate (7-113), Marvin Jones (7-107-2), Dontrelle Inman (6-88), Mike Wallace (4-56-1), Antonio Brown (10-169-2) and Josh Gordon (3-69-1). Funchess has really stepped up since the trade of Kelvin Benjamin and looks in line to potentially come up big against a struggling Green Bay secondary susceptible to the big play.
HOUSTON AT JACKSONVILLE
Houston QB Tom Savage – It’s unclear if he will play, but whoever is at QB for the Texans could be in for a long day. Russell Wilson put up good game-ending numbers (271-3), but had three picks and almost all of his production came in the final 10 minutes after the Jags had a 27-10 lead. Jacksonville has been oppressive all season against opposing QBs, including Houston’s Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson (164-1), Marcus Mariota (215-1), Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Ryan Mallett (64-1), Jacoby Brissett (374-1 in two games), Josh McCown (224-0), Ben Roethlisberger (312-0 with five interceptions), Jared Goff (124-1), Andy Dalton (136-0), Philip Rivers (235-2) and DeShone Kizer (179-1). The first time they played, Savage and Deshaun Watson combined for just 164 yards and one TD and that might be the measuring stick for this week’s game.
Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles – The Texans defense has been getting hit up hard by QBs over the last month-and-a-half, including Russell Wilson (452-4), Jacoby Brissett (308-2), Jared Goff (355-3), Blaine Gabbert (257-3), Marcus Mariota (one passing and one rushing TD) and Jimmy Garoppolo (334-1). Most people wouldn’t pin their hopes on Bortles, but, when you look at most of the names on this list, how many of them would you have faith in and how much have they produced?
MIAMI AT BUFFALO
Miami RB Kenyan Drake – The Bills have had some huge days against them by running backs much of the season, including Matt Forte (14-77-2), Bilal Powell (9-74), Mark Ingram (21-131-3), Alvin Kamara (12-106-1), Melvin Gordon (20-80-1) and Austin Ekeler (6-40-1) and New England’s Dion Lewis (15-92), Rex Burkhead (12-78-2) and Frank Gore (36-130 in a blizzard). Drake has come on strong the last couple of weeks and, given Buffalo’s struggles to allowing big games over the last two months, Drake could be an interesting sleeper pick.
Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy – He has been an every-week start for fantasy owners who have him, but the Dolphins have been extremely strong against the run, including Melvin Gordon (9-13-1), the trio of Saints running backs (23-74), the combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (18-67), Devonta Freeman (9-68), Bilal Powell (24-70 in two games), Doug Martin (19-38), C.J. Anderson (15-67) and the combination of Deion Lewis and Rex Burkhead (10-25). McCoy will play two of his final three games against the Bills, so this will be a critical matchup for a lot of fantasy owners – and one that hasn’t turned out well for a lot of owners.
NEW YORK JETS AT NEW ORLEANS
New York WR Robby Anderson – The Saints defense is much improved, but they have been hit hard by receivers for big fantasy days all season long, including Adam Thielen (9-157), Stefon Diggs (7-93-2), James White (8-85), Rob Gronkowski (6-116-1), Christian McCaffrey (9-101), Golden Tate (7-96-1), Marvin Jones (6-96-1), Tre McBride (3-92), Jamison Crowder (7-72), Josh Doctson (4-81), Cooper Kupp (8-116), Sammy Watkins (4-82-1), Devin Funchess (4-60-1), Julio Jones (5-98) and Mohamad Sanu (6-83-1). Anderson has quietly posted big numbers and the Saints have been burned too often not to consider him.
New Orleans PK Wil Lutz – Through 13 games, only three kickers have scored more than eight points against the Jets defense. They give up far too many touchdowns as opposed to field goals. In those other 10 games, kickers have made just nine field goals as opposed to 29 extra points. Brandon McManus scored nine points last week, but those come only about once a month, which doesn’t bode well for Lutz, other than to score points after touchdowns.
PHILADELPHIA AT NEW YORK GIANRS
Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz – The Giants have been hammered by tight ends all season, including Eric Ebron (5-42-1), Jason Witten (8-79-2 in two games), Cameron Brate (4-80-1), O.J. Howard (2-63-1), Hunter Henry (3-42-1), Jeff Heuerman (2-24-1), Jimmy Graham (3-51-1), Tyler Higbee (1-8-1), Garrett Celek (4-67-1) and Travis Kelce (8-109). In their first meeting, Ertz caught eight passes for 55 yards and a touchdown and, if he can get back on the field, he could be in line for a monster day.
New York WR Sterling Shepard – The Eagles have played very strong defense, but have consistently given up solid fantasy points to opponents’ most obvious go-to receiver, including Travis Kelce (8-103-1), Odell Beckham Jr. (9-79-2), Keenan Allen (5-138), Kelvin Benjamin (9-99), Jordan Reed (8-64-2), Demaryius Thomas (8-70-1), Dez Bryant (8-63), Doug Baldwin (5-84) and Sammy Watkins (3-21-1). They rarely get hit for backbreaking point totals, but they’re consistently giving up significant points on a regular basis.
SUNDAY LATE GAMES
LOS ANGELES RAMS AT SEATTLE
Los Angeles RB Todd Gurley – The Seattle defense is known for its dominance, but the run game has been a huge problem all season, including Ty Montgomery (19-54-1), the combination of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry (27-169-1), the collective from Indianapolis before they got blown out in the second half and abandoned the run (25-98-1), the Rams (22-100-1, despite holding Gurley in check), Carlos Hyde (31-171 in two games),. Houston’s versatile rushing attack (34-142-1), two rushing TDs by Rob Kelley and Leonard Fournette (24-101-1). Gurley didn’t do much in the first meeting, but he will be critical to winning or losing and will have to be accounted for on every play against a defense that has given up too many fantasy points for its own good.
Seattle RB J.D. McKissic – The Rams have a strong defense, but have been hit by running backs consistently all season, , including Chris Thompson (3-77-2), Carlos Hyde (25-84-2), Ezekiel Elliott (21-85-1), Leonard Fournette (21-130-1), the tandem of Orleans Darkwa and Wayne Gallman (25-112), Lamar Miller (11-60), Latavius Murray (15-95-2), Alvin Kamara (5-87-1 rushing and 6-101-1 receiving), Kerwynn Williams (16-97) and Jay Ajayi (15-78). Trying to project who will be the primary running back from week to week for the Seahawks is always an iffy proposition, but there are points to be had.
NEW ENGLAND AT PITTSBURGH
New England PK Stephen Gostkowski – The Steelers had one big game from a kicker against them, but have held everyone else in check the entire season, allowing weekly point totals of 4-3-5-3-6-7-2-5-5-4-8-8 in the other 12 games. Gostkowski is the most consistent fantasy kicker in the NFL and two of the three biggest kicker point totals have come in the last two games, but Pittsburgh has spent all season keeping kickers under control and should be taken into account when setting your lineup.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger – The Patriots are a dominant team, but have had their struggles giving up a lot of points to fantasy quarterbacks, including Alex Smith (368-4), Drew Brees (356-2), Cam Newton (316-3), Jameis Winston (334-1) and Josh McCown (354-2) through the air, Jay Cutler (263-3) and both Newton and rookie Deshaun Watson ran for touchdowns. If the Steelers are going to lock down the No. 1 seed, Big Ben will need a big game and the potential exists for that to happen against a Patriots defensive beset with injuries.
TENNESSEE AT SAN FRANCISCO
Tennessee RBs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry – The 49ers have been improved over the last few games, but the Niners defense has been shredded by running backs all season, including Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey (31-112), Chris Carson (20-93), Todd Gurley (28-113-2), the combination of Frank Gore and Marlon Mack (23-139-1), the group approach to the Redskins (33-94-1), Ezekiel Elliott (26-147-2), Philadelphia’s LaGarrette Blount and Corey Clement (26-102-1), Adrian Peterson (37-159) and Orleans Darkwa (14-70). The Titans need to run the ball to be successful and the Niners have a defense open to getting hurt by them – a combination that may play in Tennessee’s favor.
San Francisco WR Marquise Goodwin – The Titans have had a significant failing in preventing big-time receivers from posting big-time numbers, including Michael Crabtree (6-83), Amari Cooper (5-62-1), Marquise Lee (7-76), Allen Hurns (6-82-1), Doug Baldwin (10-105-1), De’Andre Hopkins (18-187 in two games) Will Fuller (4-35-2 in his only meeting), Jeremy Maclin (8-98), A.J. Green (5-115-1), Brandon LaFell (6-95-1) and Antonio Brown (10-144-3). Goodwin is coming off a 100-yard week and with the rapport he has built with Jimmy Garoppolo, he would be a deep sleeper, but someone you may want to consider.
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
DALLAS AT OAKLAND
Dallas RB Alfred Morris – Zeke Elliott owners wish he was back because the Raiders have been killed by running backs all season, including Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson (27-87), the pairing of Buck Allen and Alex Collins (33-128-1), Melvin Gordon (25-83-1 and a receiving TD), LeSean McCoy (27-151-1), Kenyan Drake (9-69), Dion Lewis (10-60), Orleans Darkwa (14-32-1) and Kareem Hunt (43-203-1 in two games). Morris isn’t Elliott, but the Raiders have been hard too often this season not to give him a long look.
Oakland WRs Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper – The Cowboys defense has been improved this season, but have allowed some monster games to elite receivers, including Emmanuel Sanders (6-62-2), Larry Fitzgerald (13-149-1), Jamison Crowder (14-190 in two games), Todd Gurley (7-94-1), Davante Adams (7-66-2), Marquise Goodwin (4-80), Travis Kelce (7-73-1), Alshon Jeffery (4-67-1) and Keenan Allen (11-172-1). The Raiders pass game has been highly inconsistent, but a lot of players of their caliber have torn them up throughout the season.
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
ATLANTA AT TAMPA BAY
Atlanta QB Matt Ryan – The Bucs are bad for a reasons. Quarterbacks have scorched them all season, including Mike Glennon (301-1), Case Keenum (369-3), Eli Manning (288-2), Tom Brady (303-1), Carson Palmer (283-3), Tyrod Taylor (268-1), Drew Brees (263-2), Josh McCown (262-1), Miami’s QBs Jay Cutler and Matt Moore (365-2) and and Matthew Stafford (381-1). In their meeting two weeks ago, Ryan lit them up for 317 yards and one touchdown. Bigger things are expected this week.
Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin – The Falcons have done a tremendous job of keeping running backs in check, including Jordan Howard (13-52-1), Ty Montgomery (10-35-1), Ameer Abdullah (14-47), LeSean McCoy (20-76), Dion Lewis (13-76), Bilal Powell (14-33), Jonathan Stewart (11-21), Alfred Morris (11-53), three Seattle RBs (16-50), Latavius Murray (16-76) and the combination of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara (13-51). The Bucs want to run to keep their offense balanced, but rushing yards don’t come easy against the Falcons.
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