Thumbs Up of the Week: Jalen Hurts (v WAS)
I am less optimistic about Hurts now—reportedly dealing with a high-ankle sprain—than I was to start the week, but I’d still have a difficult time benching Philly’s starter if he plays. Although they’ve improved in recent weeks, Washington is allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, and Hurts doesn’t get enough credit for the strides made as a passer. Consider him a QB1 with big-time upside with the hopes he’ll continue running on Sunday.
Thumbs Up: Kirk Cousins (@ CHI)
Chicago has two healthy cornerbacks on the roster right now, and Cousins should be able to take advantage against a defense that’s better attacked through the air than on the ground. With multiple scores in every game since the start of November, people would probably be feeling a bit better about Cousins right now if Justin Jefferson would have been able to bring in one of the would-be scores last Thursday night. Cousins is a borderline top-12 play for me.
Thumbs Up: Tua Tagovailoa (v NYJ)
The entire backfield for Miami being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list could lead to a pass-heavy game plan on Sunday, and Tagovailoa is quietly playing excellent football during the team’s four-game winning streak. Less than a month ago, Tagovailoa completed 27-of-33 passes for 273 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception against the Jets, and I think he’ll stay hot for the rising Dolphins.
Thumbs Up: Jimmy Garoppolo (v ATL)
Whether or not Elijah Mitchell (concussion/knee) returns this week, Atlanta is best attacked through the air, and Garoppolo is coming off a season-high 41 attempts in San Francisco’s overtime victory. Considering some of the difficult matchups for others around the league, Jimmy G is someone to start in Superflex formats to begin the fantasy playoffs, and the Niners are a different offense when all three of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle are healthy.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Lamar Jackson (v GB)
Jackson (ankle) might not play this week, but if he does, Green Bay has the pass rush and defensive scheme to make it a difficult game for him. In general, Jackson only has two games with multiple passing touchdowns this season, so it might be unwise to rely on high-end QB1 production from the former NFL MVP with 14.1 fantasy points per game over his past three healthy outings. I’d anticipate him needing to get Rashod Bateman and Sammy Watkins more involved in order to keep up with Aaron Rodgers.
Thumbs Down: Derek Carr (@ CLE)
Other offenses around the league struggling combined with the drama in Las Vegas being a factor has seemed to take the attention away from Carr’s drop in production—but he has a 6:5 touchdown-interception ratio in six games since the bye, and pass protection will be a major concern against the Browns. Unless the COVID issues in Cleveland spread to the offensive line, I’d be avoiding Carr for Week 15.
Thumbs Down: Cam Newton (@ BUF)
Newton will bring a high ceiling every time he hits the field, but talk of him potentially being the answer for the team in 2022 has faded fast, and now there is likely a higher chance of P.J. Walker taking the majority of reps than there is of Cam having a flashback performance. On the road versus Buffalo, Newton should be viewed as a low-end QB2 with an extremely low floor.
Thumbs Down: Justin Fields (v MIN)
While Fields is building momentum as a fantasy option with point totals of 25.3, 18.14, and 18.36 over his past three games (excluding when he was injured against Baltimore), there is enough concern about the matchup for me to keep him outside the top 15 at quarterback. Remember, Mike Zimmer will have had a few extra days to prepare for the rookie, and Minnesota is a better defense than they’ve shown in recent weeks.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Sony Michel (v SEA)
Michel was limited to 79 yards on 20 attempts last week, but anyone who watched the game should know that he again played great and was a big reason Los Angeles was finally able to breakthrough against a top opponent. In the first matchup versus Seattle, Michel churned out 45 yards and a score on 12 touches, and he should push for at least 15+ carries as the lead runner over Darrell Henderson Jr. this weekend. I wouldn’t go away from the former first-round pick.
Thumbs Up: D’Onta Foreman (@ PIT)
Pittsburgh had the mini bye to get some things figured out, and I’d be shocked if they are as bad against the run as they were last week. That said, the unit isn’t suddenly going to be erasing opposing ground games, and we know Tennessee wants to run the ball—putting Foreman on the low-end RB2 map following a 15-touch outing that give him the clear edge over Dontrell Hilliard and Jeremy McNichols.
Thumbs Up: Jordan Howard (v WAS)
Miles Sanders remains the starter for Philadelphia, but here are the stat lines for Howard in four games this season:
12 carries, 57 yards, 2 touchdowns
17 carries, 71 yards, 1 touchdown
12 carries, 83 yards
10 carries 63 yards
The last of those performances came on just 13 snaps before leaving with a knee injury, and Howard shouldn’t be overlooked if healthy following the bye.
Thumbs Up: Duke Johnson (v NYJ)
Johnson is the last man standing for Miami’s backfield, and he’ll draw the start if none of Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Phillip Lindsay are able to get cleared. Deeper leagues or running back-needy teams in particular should grab Johnson now in the case he gets a heavy workload versus a New York defense allowing the most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Chuba Hubbard (@ BUF)
A touchdown saved Hubbard last week, but other than his 17-yard burst for six, the rookie rushed nine times for 16 yards in what was a close game for the most part. I don’t have a ton of confidence in the Panthers being able to take advantage of Buffalo’s shaky run defense, as they’ve mostly been exploited against the NFL’s best rushing attacks—which is a category Carolina doesn’t fit in. Hubbard is a quality FLEX rather than an RB2 with all 32 teams back in action.
Thumbs Down: Darrell Henderson Jr. (v SEA)
Henderson is a repeat of last week, and he’s arguably even more of a “Thumbs Down” with Michel having another strong game—especially since most seemed to have the two flipped in the rankings when both were expected to play. As previously stated, Sean McVay could decide to continue feeding Michel similar to the featured workload Cam Akers had to close out 2020; that’d leave limited work behind for Henderson as a FLEX option.
Thumbs Down: Mark Ingram (@ TB)
The team re-debut for Ingram was a very impressive performance against Tampa Bay back on Halloween (eight touches for 52 yards), though I’m not sure I’d count on a repeat with Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill leading the offense. Also, Round 1 seemed to be sparked some by Ingram’s return, and Tampa Bay will have all hands on deck to stop the run on Sunday night.
Thumbs Down: Texans RBs (@ JAX)
Texans-Jaguars is a difficult game to get a measure of, but for all the issues in Jacksonville, they do an admirable job of stopping the run with the fifth-fewest yards per carry allowed in the league (4.0). Rex Burkhead has been contained despite operated as the clear lead back in back-to-back games, so it might be best to look elsewhere with David Johnson likely returning to make it closer to an even split.
Thumbs Up of the Week: Mike Williams (v KC)
Williams not going crazy last week without Keenan Allen (COVID-19) in the lineup was a disappointment, but I’m listing him here again with the hopes that people aren’t giving up on the talented wideout for the start of the fantasy playoffs. In the first matchup versus Kansas City, Williams went off with a 7/122/2 line, and it’s encouraging that he’s caught 11-of-13 targets for 171 yards over the past two games. I have him as a WR1 for Thursday night.
Thumbs Up: DeVonta Smith (v WAS)
A big game for Smith against the Jets didn’t happen prior to the bye, but Philly will need him to be a significant factor down the stretch, and even though they’ve been stingier recently, I believe Washington remains vulnerable on the outside. Before back-to-back quiet games, Smith had gone for consecutive lines of 5/116/1, 4/66/2, and 4/61, so we’ll see if the bye has him refreshed and back on track.
Thumbs Up: Michael Gallup (@ NYG)
All the wideouts being healthy for Dallas didn’t result in fewer passes in Gallup’s direction last week (nine targets), and over the past four games, he’s gone for target totals of ten, eight, nine, and nine. An extremely talented player in an offense that will continue to throw the ball, Gallup is a top-24 option for Week 15, and the Giants just allowed Jalen Guyton (3/87/1) and Josh Palmer (5/66/1) to thrive behind Mike Williams.
Thumbs Up: Marquez Valdes-Scantling (@ BAL)
Valdes-Scantling unfortunately didn’t get in on the fun last Sunday night with Aaron Rodgers torching the Bears, but he did see five targets, and the volatility is a part of his game. This week, I’m sure Baltimore will be giving MVS single coverage, and their depleted secondary could result in him hitting as an upside FLEX option.
Others: A.J. Green and Christian Kirk (@ DET)
Thumbs Down of the Week: Mike Evans (v NO)
Evans was able to get New Orleans for a score in Week 8, but he caught two-of-four targets for 48 yards, and the matchup continues to be one that can give the big-bodied wideout some trouble. Dating back to 2019, Evans has averaged 31.0 yards per game in six matchups (including playoffs), and he’s heavily reliant on a score to return strong numbers. View him as a borderline top-20 option rather than a WR1/WR2.
Thumbs Down: Marquise Brown (v GB)
The struggles of Lamar Jackson have led to Brown’s production falling off—as he’s caught 24 passes for 184 yards and zero touchdowns over the past four games, including a miniscule 4.8 yards per target. Green Bay will try to limit the deep ball, which they have already had success doing versus Tyreek Hill (4/37) and Darnell Mooney (1/19) in recent weeks.
Thumbs Down: D.J. Moore (@ BUF)
Moore is out of his cold streak with lines of 5/50/1, 4/103, and 6/84 over the past three weeks, but I find it difficult to rank him as a strong WR2 for a difficult matchup against the Bills while catching passes from two struggling quarterbacks in Cam Newton and P.J. Walker. Also, it’s worth noting the forecast in Buffalo calls for 26-degree temperatures to make it one of the season’s coldest games.
Thumbs Down: D.K. Metcalf (@ LAR)
Including a January playoff loss, Metcalf has stung the Rams for lines of 5/96/2 and 5/98/2 in two matchups for the 2021 calendar year, so maybe he’ll be able to come through with another big performance against them. However, Metcalf hasn’t surpassed 60 yards or found the end zone since the start of November—and the foot injury that’s had him on the injury report might be more serious than the team’s letting on. Metcalf is better viewed as a low-end WR2 right now.
Others: Michael Pittman Jr. (v NE), Kenny Golladay (v DAL)
Thumbs Up of the Week: Mike Gesicki (v NYJ)
The most frustrating part of Miami’s winning streak being fueled by strong defense and a quick-strike passing attack is that Gesicki’s big-play abilities have been limited, but I’m still betting on the talent for the fantasy playoffs. On the bright side, Gesicki saw 11 targets in Week 13 (even if most came in the short area of the field), and tight ends of the Dolphins combined for over 100 yards in the first matchup against the Jets.
Thumbs Up: Pat Freiermuth (v TEN)
Freiermuth feels like he could be entering the danger zone similar to Hunter Henry earlier this season when the touchdowns stop pouring in, but you might as well stick with him while he’s hot—and the rookie was close to a two-score game last Thursday night. Dating back to Halloween, Freiermuth has six touchdowns over his past seven games, and Ben Roethlisberger clearly trust him in scoring territory.
Thumbs Up: Ricky Seals-Jones (@ PHI)
The Eagles are allowing a whopping 15.3 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends, so even a split for Seals-Jones (46% of the snaps played last week) might be enough for him to hit as a streamer on Sunday. And in a best-case scenario, RSJ was only given a limited role against Dallas because it was his first game back—as he notably played at least 93% of Washington’s offensive snaps in all five October games before going down in Week 10.
Thumbs Down of the Week: Kyle Pitts (@ SF)
San Francisco’s defense will pay plenty of attention to Pitts this week as one of the primary threats for Atlanta’s offense (along with Cordarrelle Patterson), and the unit is allowing the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. Pitts—who has just one touchdown this season—remains a TE1 play, but it’s more of the low-end variety because of the matchup for Week 15.
Thumbs Down: Cole Kmet (v MIN)
Kmet has yet to find the end zone in 2021, and the Vikings limited him to three receptions for 19 yards in two matchups last season (both of which came when the Notre Dame product had become a big part of the offense). After nearly allowing Pat Freiermuth to complete the comeback for Pittsburgh last week, I’d expect Minnesota stiffens up in coverage.
Thumbs Down: Evan Engram (v DAL)
Engram caught just one-of-four targets for eight scoreless yards in a great matchup last week versus the Chargers, and it’s tough to trust him with Mike Glennon under center in New York. Also, the change in offensive coordinator hasn’t led to an increased role, so I wouldn’t bank on more than a handful of targets for Engram.