Week #15: The Inside Slant
John Holler - 12/11/2018
As most fantasy leagues take the final step toward having a championship matchup, Week 15 is going to be a defining week in the NFL and it gets started with three games prior to the Sunday slate that all have implications.
Perhaps the game of the week will be Thursday night’s matchup between the Chargers and Chiefs where first place in the AFC West is up for grabs. There will be two games on Saturday, as the Texans look to clinch the AFC South with a win at the Jets and the Browns (5-7-1) and Broncos (6-7) play an elimination game.
The early games Sunday will have the Ravens looking to improve to 8-6 as they host the Buccaneers, the Bears looking to lock down the NFC North with a win over rival Green Bay, the Cowboys looking to clinch the NFC East with a road win in Indianapolis and the Vikings trying to end their crash and hold on to their wild card positioning.
There are only two late afternoon game, but both are big as the 9-4 Patriots head into Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers and the Seahawks look to lock down a wild card spot with a road win at San Francisco. Prime time includes an interesting pair of games, as the Rams look to get back on track by eliminating the Eagles from playoff contention on Sunday night and the Saints play the first of two games in the final three weeks against the Panthers.
Week 15 will be a watershed week for a lot of fantasy teams, but the slate of NFL games may be one of the best of the week, which is all owners looking to advance to a championship game can ask for.
THURSDAY NIGHT GAME
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS AT KANSAS CITY
Los Angeles QB Philip Rivers – The Chiefs have struggled against quarterback all season in terms of giving up a lot of fantasy points, including Ben Roethlisberger (452-3), Jimmy Garoppolo (251-2), Blake Bortles (430-1), Tom Brady (340-1 and a rushing TD), Case Keenum (262-2), Baker Mayfield (297-2), Jared Goff (413-4), Derek Carr (285-3) and Lamar Jackson (147-2 passing, 13-71 rushing). In their first meeting, Rivers got the ball rolling downhill for the K.C. defense, throwing for 424 yards and three touchdowns. Those numbers will be hard to replicate, but not impossible.
Kansas City WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce – The Chargers defense has been hit hard by receivers most of the season, including Robert Woods (10-104-2), Brandin Cooks (7-90), George Kittle (6-125-1), Martavis Bryant (3-91), Tajae Sharpe (7-101), Doug Baldwin (4-77), Courtland Sutton (3-78), Larry Fitzgerald (2-30-1) and Antonio Brown (10-154-1). In the first meeting, Hill caught seven passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns and both he and Kelce could be in line for big days again this time around.
HOUSTON AT NEW YORK JETS
Houston RB Lamar Miller – The Jets haven’t been able to stop the run all year, including Carlos Hyde (23-98-2), T.J. Yeldon (18-52-1), the tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman (17-91), Marlon Mack (12-89), Latavius Murray (15-69-2), Chicago’s Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen (27-121-1), the combination of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake (43-140-1 in two games), the combination of Sony Michel and James White (30-206-1), the tandem of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis (16-76-1), LeSean McCoy (26-113-1 in their first meeting) and QB Josh Allen (9-101-1 in their second meeting). The Texans have a lot of positives going their way this season and this could be a God-send for Miller, who has reasserted himself as the main man in the Houston backfield.
New York QB Sam Darnold – Sam Darnold left last week’s game, but he did return. Assuming he starts, with the exception of Andrew Luck, who put up big numbers against the Texans twice, Houston has done an excellent job of keeping quarterbacks in check in terms of touchdowns and, for the most part, yardage, including Dak Prescott (208-1), Josh Allen and Nathan Peterman (145-1), Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler (217-1), Brock Osweiler (248-0), Case Keenum (290-1), the combination of Alex Smith and Colt McCoy (189-1) and Baker Mayfield (397-1). The Jets offense likely isn’t going to get a lot of play from fantasy owners and, with this matchup, why would you?
CLEVELAND AT DENVER
Cleveland RB Nick Chubb – The Broncos defense has been burned by running backs for the last couple of months, including Isaiah Crowell (15-219-1), Bilal Powell (20-99), Todd Gurley (28-202-2), Melvin Gordon (18-69, rushing, 6-87 receiving), Joe Mixon (12-82) and San Francisco unknown Jeff Wilson (23-90). Chubb has been a fantasy stud ever since the trade of Carlos Hyde and given this recent track record, he could be in line for big things.
Denver WR Courtland Sutton or DaeSean Hamilton – The Browns defense has allowed far too many big plays to opposing receivers most every week, including Mike Thomas (12-89-2), Amari Cooper (8-128-1), Jared Cook (8-110-2), Tyrell Williams (3-118-2), Mike Evans (7-107), Antonio Brown (6-74-2), Travis Kelce (7-99-2), Julio Jones (7-107-1), Tyler Boyd (7-85-1), DeAndre Hopkins (7-91) and Chris Samuel (4-80). Sutton is the No. 1 wide receiver by default and, in an elimination game, he will likely be called upon to be a big contributor, unless he sits, then it's likely Hamilton.
SUNDAY EARLY GAMES
ARIZONA AT ATLANTA
Arizona RB David Johnson – The Falcons haven’t been able to stop the run all season and have been routinely gashed by running backs, including Jay Ajayi (15-62-2), Christian McCaffrey (8-37 rushing, 14-102 receiving), Alvin Kamara (30-155 rushing, 16-131 receiving in two games), Giovani Bernard (15-69-2), John Conner (21-110-2 rushing, 4-75 receiving), Peyton Barber (13-82), Saquon Barkley (14-43-1 rushing, 9-51 receiving), the Redskins run game (14-57-1), Nick Chubb (20-176-1 rushing, 3-31-1 receiving), Gus Edwards (21-82) and Aaron Jones (17-78-1). Johnson has struggled most of the season, but given Atlanta’s track record, he could be in line for a rare big outing.
Atlanta RB Tevin Coleman – The Cardinals have given up far too many fantasy points to running backs, including Adrian Peterson (26-96-1 rushing, 2-70 receiving), Todd Gurley (19-42-3 and a pair of 2-point conversions), the combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen (29-114-1), Mike Davis (21-101-2), the combo of Alfred Morris and Breida (48-187 rushing, 4-35-1 receiving in two games), Latavius Murray (24-155-1), the combination of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman (27-127-2), Kareem Hunt (16-71), the trio of Raiders running backs (33-152), Melvin Gordon (10-61-2), the group backfield in Green Bay (23-98-1) and the three-headed backfield in Detroit (30-115-1). The Falcons have been hugely disappointing on the ground, but the odds look better in this matchup than most.
DALLAS AT INDIANAPOLIS
Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott – After a slow start, the Colts defense has consistently held running backs down in the second half of the season, including Chris Ivory and LeSean McCoy (18-82), Doug Martin (13-72), Leonard Fournette (24-53-1), the combination of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis (19-70), the tandem of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake (22-99-1), Carlos Hyde (13-36) and Lamar Miller (14-33-1). Elliott will be the stiffest test to the relative success and avoidance of huge rushing days the Colts have allowed over the last couple of months, but Elliott owners need to temper their enthusiasm from expecting 200 yards and a couple of TDs.
Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck – With the exception of a couple of high-octane second half scoring fests against the Eagles, the Dallas defense has held almost every other QB they’ve faced from having big days against them, including Cam Newton (161-0), Eli Manning (279-1), Russell Wilson (192-2), Matthew Stafford (307-2), Deshaun Watson (375-1), Blake Bortles (149-1), Alex Smith (178-1), Marcus Mariota (240-2), Matt Ryan (291-1), Colt McCoy (268-2) and Drew Brees (127-1). Luck is have a giant season and will be a stiff test for the improved Dallas defense, but they’ve limited so many QBs, he doesn’t come with a rubber stamp recommendation.
DETROIT AT BUFFALO
Detroit RB Kerryon Johnson – Johnson has been sidelined, so you will have the check his status, but this has been a defense that has been hammered on the ground, especially group backfields, including the Ravens (34-117-3), the Chargers (26-109-1), the Packers (32-141-1), the Titans (25-100), the Texans (22-72), the Colts (30-219-1), the Patriots (24-77-1), Jordan Howard (14-47-2), Leonard Fournette (18-95-2) and the Jets three-man backfield (42-156-3 in two games). Expect to see LaGarrette Blount and Zach Zenner as well if Johnson isn’t 100 percent, but there are yards to be had.
Buffalo QB Josh Allen – The Lions are likely going to finish with a losing record, but you can’t blame their pass defense. They’ve done a solid job against QBs much of the season, including Sam Darnold (198-2), Jimmy Garoppolo (206-2), Tom Brady (133-1), Dak Prescott (255-2), Brock Osweiler (239-2), Kirk Cousins (164-1), Chase Daniel (230-2), Jared Goff (207-1) and Josh Rosen (240-0). Allen has made more news with his legs than his arm, so it wouldn’t be a shocker to see him do big things on the ground, but expecting a lot through the air will be asking a lot against Matt Patricia’s improving defense.
GREEN BAY AT CHICAGO
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers – Suddenly people are comparing Chicago to the ’85 Bears because the only game they saw was their domination of the Rams at Soldier Field last week. However, QBs have put up solid numbers against them much of the season, including Russell Wilson (226-2), Sam Bradford (157-2), the combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston (271-1), Brock Osweiler (380-3), Tom Brady (277-3). Matthew Stafford (510-2 in two games), Kirk Cousins (262-2) and the Giants pass game (219-2). In their first meeting, despite missing a third of game with a knee injury, Rodgers threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns and, given his domination of Chicago, underestimating his ability to make plays would be a mistake.
Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky – The Packers have been as predictable as any team in the league defensively. They have played well against middle-of-the-road or lower fantasy QBs, including Alex Smith (220-2), Josh Allen (151-0), Matthew Stafford (183-2), C.J. Beathard (245-2), Brock Osweiler (213-0) and Sam Rosen (149-0). But, they’ve struggled against elite QBs, including Jared Goff (295-3), Tom Brady (297-1), Russell Wilson (225-2), Kirk Cousins (767-7 in two games) and Matt Ryan (262-3). When they met in Week 1, Trubisky wasn’t nearly the QB in Matt Nagy’s system he was when he threw for just 171 yards and no TDs. But, has he made the progress to get in that latter group?
MIAMI AT MINNESOTA
Miami QB Ryan Tannehill – In their last eight games, Minnesota has allowed just five passing touchdowns and limited every QB they’ve faced from putting up solid fantasy numbers, including Josh Rosen (240-0), Sam Darnold (206-1), Drew Brees (120-1), Matthew Stafford (199-0), Mitch Trubisky (165-1), Aaron Rodgers (198-1), Tom Brady (311-1) and Russell Wilson (72-0). Tannehill is having a strong month, but Minnesota won’t be an easy out for the Dolphins.
Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins – Almost every QB the Dolphins have faced have put up strong fantasy numbers, including Derek Carr (345-1), Mitch Trubisky (316-3), Matthew Stafford (217-2), Deshaun Watson (239-5), Aaron Rodgers (199-2), Andrew Luck (343-3), Josh Allen (231-2 passing, 9-135 rushing) and Tom Brady (632-6 in two games). With the firing of its offensive coordinator after scoring just 17 points in the last two games, anything is possible in Minnesota, so Cousins shouldn’t be completely dismissed, just played with some caution.
OAKLAND AT CINCINNATI
Oakland TE Jared Cook – The Bengals have been shredded by receivers all season, including T.Y. Hilton (5-46-1), Devin Funchess (4-67-1), Julio Jones (9-173), Calvin Ridley (4-54-2), Antonio Brown (5-105-1), JuJu Smith-Schuster (7-111), Travis Kelce (5-95), Tyreek Hill (7-68-1), Mike Evans (6-179-1), Michael Thomas (8-70-2), Courtland Sutton (4-85-1) and Keenan Allen (5-78-1). Cook is the primary receiver in Oakland, so he could be on pace to post big numbers in the Raiders pass offense, which has been his habit most of the season – especially since trading away Amari Cooper.
Cincinnati RB Joe Mixon – Injuries left the Steelers without a viable run game, especially when Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined, but one of the reason Oakland has 10 losses is that have been gouged by running backs all season, including Todd Gurley (20-108 and a receiving touchdown), Phillip Lindsay (14-107), Carlos Hyde (22-82-1), Nick Chubb (3-105-2), the three-headed Seattle backfield (29-123), Marlon Mack (25-132-2), Raheem Mostert (7-86-1), Melvin Gordon (37-151-1 and a receiving TD in two games), David Johnson (25-137), Gus Edwards (23-118) and the Chiefs run game after the release of Kareem Hunt (30-174-1). Mixon is the last man standing of the Bengals Big Three, but he has the ability to dominate a game and may get the ball 25 times or more.
TAMPA BAY AT BALTIMORE
Tampa Bay RB Peyton Barber – The Ravens have limited just about every running back they’ve faced, including LeSean McCoy (7-22), the combination of Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay (17-73-1), Carlos Hyde (17-63), the combo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis (12-30), the tandem of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram (29-96-1), Christian McCaffrey (14-45-1), James Conner (31-126 in two games), Joe Mixon (33-98-1 in two games), Doug Martin (11-51-1), Tevin Coleman (6-8) and Spencer Ware (15-75). The Bucs run game has been up and down, but the Ravens are going to be as tough an opponent as they’ve faced all season for the ground game.
Baltimore QBs Lamar Jackson and/or Joe Flacco – Few teams have been hammered by quarterbacks as consistently and profoundly as the Buccaneers, including Nick Foles (334-1), Ben Roethlisberger (353-3), Mitch Trubisky (354-6), Matt Ryan (354-3), Baker Mayfield (215-2), Andy Dalton (280-2), Cam Newton (547-4 in two games) and Drew Brees (640-4 in two games). The problem with this play is that you don’t know how much of either you’re going to get, but there are plays to be had against this suspect defense that has been burned so often.
TENNESSEE AT NEW YORK GIANTS
Tennessee RB Derrick Henry – Even the Redskins managed to rush 22 times for 84 yards and a touchdown with a rag-tag offense last week. But, for the most part, running backs have had a field day against the Giants, including the combination of Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon (23-92), Ezekiel Elliott (17-78-1), Alvin Kamara (19-134-3), Christian McCaffrey (17-58 rushing, 5-35-1 receiving), Tevin Coleman (11-50-1), Matt Breida (17-101-1), Peyton Barber (18-106-1), a trio of Philadelphia backs (56-223-2 in two games) and the combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen (24-106). Henry is coming off a career day and with the Titans still in the thick of the playoff chase, a heavy dose of Henry again could be coming.
New York WR Odell Beckham Jr. – The Titans have been known for their defense, but have been lit up by receivers all season, including Kenny Stills (4-106-2), Will Fuller (8-113-1), Zach Ertz (10-112), Alshon Jeffery (8-105-1), Michael Crabtree (6-93-1), Tyrell Williams (4-118-1), Amari Cooper (5-58-1), Julien Edelman (9-104), T.Y. Hilton (9-155-2), Demaryius Thomas (4-38-2 in his only game with Houston), DeAndre Hopkins (11-184-1 in two games) and DeDe Westbrook (5-88-1 in Week 14). OBJ missed last week’s game after showing up on the injury report on Friday, but, if he’s back and good to go, he could have a big day coming.
WASHINGTON AT JACKSONVILLE
Washington QB Josh Johnson – The Jaguars defense has taken a huge step backward step backward in terms of success, but their defense has limited QBs from burning them much of the season, including Eli Manning (224-0), Tom Brady (234-2), Sam Darnold (167-1), Patrick Mahomes (313-0), Dak Prescott (183-2), Deshaun Watson (139-1), Josh Allen (160-1), Andrew Luck (248-0 in Week 13) and the Tennessee quarterbacks (270-0 in two games). The Jaguars are being accused of quitting after their performance against Tennessee, but with the Redskins in injury-related free fall, Johnson will likely feel the pain of a pissed off defense.
Jacksonville WR DeDe Westbrook – The Redskins have been torched by receivers all season long, including T.Y. Hilton (7-83-1), Davante Adams (7-52-1), Geronimo Allison (2-76-1), Tre’quan Smith (3-111-2), Devin Funchess (5-74-1), Michael Gallup (3-81-1), Julio Jones (7-121-1), Calvin Ridley (6-71-1), Chris Godwin (7-103), DeAndre Hopkins (5-56-1), Amari Cooper (8-180-2), Golden Tate (7-85-1), Zach Ertz (9-83), Odell Beckham (8-136 in their first meeting) and Evan Engram (3-77 in their second meeting). Westbrook had a big week last week and another one is expected this week given the Redskins’ struggles.
SUNDAY LATE GAMES
NEW ENGLAND AT PITTSBURGH
New England TE Rob Gronkowski – The Steelers defense has been overrun many times this season and have allowed some huge receiving days to big-time players, including Travis Kelce (7-109-2), Sammy Watkins (6-100), Tyreek Hill (5-90-1), Mike Evans (6-137-1), Chris Godwin (5-74-1), Mohamad Sanu (4-73-1), A.J. Green (7-85), Tyler Boyd (7-62-2), Jarvis Landry (15-145 in two games), John Brown (6-121-1 in two games), RB Christian McCaffrey (5-61-2), Emmanuel Sanders (7-86-1), Keenan Allen (14-148-1) and Jared Cook (7-116). When it comes to New England, you can pick Gronk or Julian Edelman or Josh Gordon, because you get the feeling at least one of them is going to have a huge game.
Pittsburgh RB Jaylen Samuels – If James Conner can come back, he could be in line for a huge game because the Patriots have shown no ability to stop the run with any consistency and have been hit hard often, including Lamar Miller (20-98), the Jaguars without Leonard Fournette (24-104), Kerryon Johnson (16-101), the combination of Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins (21-84), Kareem Hunt (10-80 rushing, 5-105-1 receiving), the Bears run game (25-134-2), the combination of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams (21-110), the combo of Deion Lewis and Derrick Henry (31-115-2), Dalvin Cook (9-84) and Miami’s backfield in Week 14 (20-176-2). The Steelers backfield remains in flux, but the Pats have been hit far too hard.
SEATTLE AT SAN FRANCISCO
Seattle WR Tyler Lockett – The 49ers have struggled in pass defense all year and have been torn up by receivers all season, including Adam Thielen (6-102), Golden Tate (7-109), Travis Kelce (8-114), Sammy Watkins (5-55-1), Keenan Allen (7-63), Christian Kirk (6-129-2 in two games), Davante Adams (10-132-2), Brandin Cooks (4-64-1), Larry Fitzgerald (8-102-1), Odell Beckham Jr. (4-73-2), Mike Evans (6-116), Jaron Brown (3-67-2), Tyler Lockett and Tim Patrick (7-85). In their first meeting two weeks ago, Lockett only caught one pass, but it was a 52-yard touchdown and bigger numbers can be expected this week.
San Francisco RB Matt Breida or RB Jeff Wilson – Breida will need monitoring after sitting last week with an ankle injury, but the Seahawks have allowed running games to do some damage, including the combination of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman (30-142), Ezekiel Elliott (16-127), David Johnson (22-71-1), Melvin Gordon (16-113-1), Todd Gurley (38-197-4 in two games), Aaron Jones (11-40-1), Christian McCaffrey (17-125-1 rushing, 11-112-1 receiving) and a diverse Minnesota run game (21-77). Breida missed last week and could open the door to Jeff Wilson, but, if he’s back, he could be in for some decent fantasy numbers.
SUNDAY NIGHT GAME
PHILADELPHIA AT LOS ANGELES RAMS
Philadelphia TE Zach Ertz – The Rams and Bears got in a low scoring game last week, but receivers have had huge games against them throughout the season, including Jared Cook (9-180), Mike Williams (4-81-2), Stefon Diggs (11-123), Adam Thielen (8-135-1), Tyler Lockett (8-165-2 in two games), Emmanuel Sanders (7-115-1), George Kittle (5-98-1), Davante Adams (5-133-1), Mike Thomas (12-211-1), Tyreek Hill (10-215-2), Travis Kelce (10-127-1) and Levine Toilolo (4-90). Ertz is the main man in the passing game and given the games put up by tight ends like Cook, Kittle, Kelce and Toilolo, big things could be possible.
Los Angeles WRs Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks – The Eagles secondary has been ravaged by the injuries and the result has been huge fantasy days from opposing receivers, but have been hit hard by receivers most of the season, including Julio Jones (10-169), Mike Evans (10-83-1), Corey Davis (9-161-1), Adam Thielen (7-116-1), Stefon Diggs (10-91), Devin Funchess (6-62-1), Michael Thomas (4-92-1), Tre’quan Smith (10-157-1), Odell Beckham Jr. (5-85) and Amari Cooper (16-292-3 in two games). Recent opponents have learned to attack the depleted Eagles secondary and few teams are capable of shredding them as much as the Rams.
MONDAY NIGHT GAME
NEW ORLEANS AT CAROLINA
New Orleans RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram – The Panthers haven’t been consistently ravaged by running backs, but they have allowed touchdowns on the ground consistently, including Ezekiel Elliott (15-69-1), Tevin Coleman (16-107), Giovani Bernard (12-61-1), Saquon Barkley (15-48 rushing and 4-81-1 receiving), Adrian Peterson (17-97), Alex Collins (11-49-1), James Conner (13-65-1), Kerryon Johnson (15-87-1), Chris Carson (16-55-1), Peyton Barber (16-45-1) and Nick Chubb (13-66-1). The combination of Kamara and Ingram are both dangerous and the Panthers could be the team that they could post good numbers against.
Carolina RB Christian McCaffrey – This isn’t as a running back that he’s listed, it’s as a receiver because, given injuries to other players, he has become the primary receiving option and the Saints have been hit in the mouth by receivers much of the season, including DeSean Jackson (5-146-2), Sterling Shepard (10-77-1), John Brown (7-134-1), Adam Thielen (7-103-1), Stefon Diggs (10-119-1), Brandin Cooks (6-114-1), Cooper Kupp (5-89-1), Julio Jones (16-243 in two games), Calvin Ridley (15-239-4 in two games), Amari Cooper (8-75) and Mike Evans (11-233-1 in two games). The Panthers are in free fall, so they’re going to try to make things hard for the Saints in their two meetings in the final three games and, to accomplish that, it will likely need a heavy dose of McCaffrey as both a runner and, more importantly, a receiver.
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