As the fantasy playoffs continue, many leagues are in the second week of their two-week semifinal matchup. If you’re down big, you should go for high-upside guys. If you’re up big, you should probably play it conservatively, but not too conservatively; stick with who you’d normally play. Let’s get to Week 15.
START OF THE WEEK: Tom Brady (@ DEN)
Brady has been our #1 quarterback every week, but a matchup in Denver “drops” him to #2. Look, I know Denver has the league’s best pass defense (183 yards per game, 10:13 touchdown-intercpetion ratio), but it’s Touchdown Tom Brady we’re talking about here; he has the most fantasy points per game this season. Still, many fantasy “experts” have Brady ranked as a fringe fantasy starter for Week 15, but they did the same thing last week against Baltimore’s #1 defense and all he did was throw for 400 yards and three scores on his way to another overall QB1 finish. You can’t ever bench TB12.
START: Kirk Cousins (vs CAR)
Kirk Cousins is fantasy’s #5 scoring player for this season, behind just Rodgers, Ryan, Brees, and David Johnson. The Redskins are right in the wild card race in the NFC, and DeSean Jackson is getting healthier to give another weapon for Cousins down the stretch. Carolina’s defense has improved recently, but not enough to be a tough matchup for Cousins at home. Washington’s quarterback has a lot to play for over the final three weeks of the regular season.
START: Derek Carr (@ SD)
Carr had his worst game of the season last week against the Chiefs, but the young signal-caller has always struggled against Kansas City. The same cannot be said for the division rival he faces this week. Carr threw for 317 yards and two touchdowns against the Chargers in Week 5, and he had a four-touchdown game as a rookie and a three-touchdown game last season versus San Diego. He’s a solid QB1.
START: Alex Smith (vs TEN)
This is all about the matchup, as the Titans have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in seven of their last eight games, including games against Cleveland, Jacksonville, and Chicago. Alex Smith hasn’t thrown for multiple touchdowns since Week 7, but he’s too good not to do it again eventually. With Jeremy Maclin healthy, Tyreek Hill emerging, and Travis Kelce on-fire, Smith has a good set of weapons to attack this weak defense.
Others: Tyrod Taylor (vs CLE), Sam Bradford (vs IND)
SIT OF THE WEEK: Andrew Luck (@ MIN)
A top-five fantasy quarterback, it’s probably tough to bench Luck with your fantasy season on the line, but it might be a good idea if you have other options. The Colts’ best offensive lineman (G Jack Mewhort) is done for the season with a knee injury, so the bad Indy offensive line is now even worse. Minnesota is about as tough as it gets on opposing passing games; I’m not even sure Luck will stay upright this Sunday, let alone be a viable fantasy starter.
SIT: Drew Brees (@ ARI)
After scoring 32 fantasy points in Week 12 against the Rams, it looked like Drew Brees was on his way to another #1 quarterback finish, especially with a favorable schedule down the stretch. Unfortunately for Saints fans and his fantasy owners, Brees failed to even throw a touchdown pass in two straight favorable matchups, as he threw for three picks against both the Lions and Bucs. Now, the veteran has a tough matchup with the Cardinals playing at home, so Brees actually drops out of the top-10 for this week.
SIT: Matthew Stafford (@ NYG)
Stafford set the record for most 4th quarter comebacks in a season last week, but unfortunately fantasy owners do not get extra points for being clutch. The Giants haven’t allowed a 20-point game from a quarterback all year, and are coming off a huge win where they caused Dak Prescott to have the worst game of his rookie season. Dealing with an injured middle finger on his throwing hand, Stafford is barely a starting option in two-quarterback leagues.
SIT: Eli Manning (vs DET)
Obviously, no one can take the rings away from him, but it’s time to face facts: outside of two great championship runs, Eli is not a very good quarterback—fantasy or otherwise. Manning has a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns in his career, but he’s also thrown an insane amount of interceptions (20+ three times, including seasons of 25 and 27). Just this year—heck, just last week—Eli was throwing it right to defenders but was lucky enough to have them drop it. He has a big fantasy day every once in a while, but Manning needs to be benched with three straight games under 200 yards.
Others: Jameis Winston (@ DAL), Blake Bortles (@ HOU)
START OF THE WEEK: Thomas Rawls (vs LA)
This guy might be the most underrated running back in the league. Rawls averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season as a rookie, and is averaging a respectable 4.1 this season, but that includes the first two games where he was clearly not healthy. The second of those two games was against the Rams, and he rushed seven times for negative-seven yards; that’s not going to happen this week. Rawls is averaging over five yards per carry in his four games since returning from his two-month absence, and Seattle should roll right through the Jeff Fisher-less Rams this Thursday night.
START: Latavius Murray (@ SD)
Right there with Rawls for most underrated running back in the NFL is Latavius Murray, especially this season. Murray, like Rawls, may have not been healthy in the early part of the season. Since returning from his toe injury in Week 7, Latavius is averaging over 16 fantasy points per game, and it’s no coincidence that his tremendous play is happening with more touches. Still, many in the fantasy community don’t want to rank him as a no-doubt RB1, but he’s been just that all year, and has been an elite play over the second-half of the season. Oh, and Murray will surely welcome all-world guard Kelechi Osemele back to the lineup this Sunday.
START: Dion Lewis and James White (@ DEN)
Dion Lewis was a Start last week and it didn’t work out, but I think New England might have been saving him for this week in Denver. The Broncos are stifling against opposing perimeter receivers, but the Patriots put up points last season versus Denver by attacking with Gronk and the running backs. In the playoffs a year ago, James White saw a whopping 16 targets against the Broncos. Earlier this offseason, there were rumors that NE was planning on using a lot of two-back sets against Denver with Lewis and White; we’ll see if that’s the case. Both are FLEX options this week.
START: Ty Montgomery (@ CHI)
Finally… FINALLY! The Packers decided to give Ty Montgomery the majority of their running back snaps last week. Weekly Start/Sit readers know my affection for Montgomery, and those who kept him around on their fantasy team through some rough weeks should have the Stanford product pay dividends down the stretch. This week in Chicago, the game might be the coldest in NFL history, which probably means Montgomery will see a steady dose of runs after he impressed last week against Seattle. If you didn’t hear, head coach Mike McCarthy called Montgomery a running back earlier this week, and said he’s been in the meeting room with the backs for months. Green Bay has their secret weapon as they make a playoff push.
Others: Tevin Coleman (vs SF), Kenneth Dixon (vs PHI)
SIT OF THE WEEK: Mark Ingram (@ ARI)
As an Ingram owner myself, it’s both frustrating and puzzling that the Saints will only give the former Heisman Trophy winner seven carries for two straight weeks. And that’s with Ingram averaging the second most yards per carry in the league (5.1). I would hate to see how many carries he would get if he averaged below four yards per carry like Tim Hightower. The Saints can pinpoint their offensive struggles over the past two weeks to not feeding Ingram, but whatever; with a tough matchup in Arizona, I’m playing Ty Montgomery over Ingram this week in my league, but #22’s talent leaves him as a low-end RB2.
SIT: Frank Gore (@ MIN)
Gore seemed to be the Colts’ best chance of moving the ball against Minnesota, but with the news of G Jack Mewhort’s season coming to an end, Gore is no more than a FLEX play against the Vikings. Indy still has a chance to make the postseason, but they are two games back with three to go, while the Vikings are probably in if they win out—and they have the extra motivation of Adrian Peterson’s return on the horizon.
SIT: Todd Gurley (@ SEA)
Do you think the Seahawks in Seattle will be prepared for a “middle school offense?” I would say so. Jeff Fisher was fired this week, but the offense and defense will remain the same for LA, which has led to little production for Gurley.
SIT: Doug Martin (@ DAL)
The Douggernaut has been ineffective since returning from his hamstring injury a few weeks ago. So much so, that Dirk Koetter has had to answer questions about his health. With Charles Sims ready for more touches in his second game back, and the Cowboys keep-away offense on the other side of the field, Martin is not more than a FLEX play for Week 15. He’s averaing just three yards per carry this season.
Others: Eagles RB (@ BAL)
START OF THE WEEK: Sammy Watkins (vs CLE)
Watkins caught his first touchdown of the season last week in the Bills’ loss to the Steelers as he continues to fight through his foot injury. Even at less than 100% and playing limited snaps, Watkins is one of the most dangerous players in the league, and fantasy owners got some good news this week when Watkins said he will continue to play even if the Bills are eliminated from playoff contention. He’s a top-10 play against Cleveland.
START: Jeremy Maclin and Tyreek Hill (vs TEN)
Maclin was a disappointment last week for fantasy owners, but he was clearly healthy as he played the majority of snaps for the Chiefs. Now, he’s had 10 days to rest and get ready for the Titans, who are the worst in the league against opposing fantasy wideouts. Although Tyreek Hill didn’t see a lot of snaps last Thursday night, he did make the most of his touches with two touchdowns. Both are high-upside WR2s.
START: Steve Smith Sr. (vs PHI)
Set to retire after the season, you would expect Smith to have one more big game to end his career, and my money would be on it happening this week against Philadelphia. The Eagles cornerback group remains among the worst in the league, and there’s a good chance cornerback Jalen Mills becomes the latest rookie that Steve Smith Sr. loses sleep over.
START: Corey Coleman (@ BUF)
A big game is coming for Coleman. The speedy rookie needs just one play to be worth a fantasy start, and those in deeper leagues or desperate at wide receiver should look to Coleman over the final three weeks. Hue Jackson will probably want to build the confidence of his 2016 first round pick as they head into 2017, and RGIII has also liked throwing Coleman’s way in their short time playing together. If Rex Ryan chooses to leave the Baylor product one-on-one with a cornerback—watch out.
Others: Jamison Crowder (vs CAR), Adam Thielen (vs IND)
SIT OF THE WEEK: T.Y. Hilton (@ MIN)
I’m clearly staying away from the Colts this week. Hilton had a big day against a tough Texans defense last week, but they were missing their top cornerback in Jonathan Joseph. Minnesota won’t be missing any of their great group of corners this Sunday; Hilton might be able to escape Xavier Rhodes if he goes into the slot, but it doesn’t get a lot easier with Captain Munnerlyn, Trae Waynes, or whoever else will be on him. T.Y. is just a FLEX.
SIT: Demaryius Thomas (vs NE)
Demaryius has been good recently for the Broncos, but the Patriots have DT’s number. Last season against New England, Thomas was targeted 13 times but caught just one pass for 36 yards when the teams met in the regular season. In the postseason, it was just as bad for Thomas, as he caught just two-of-seven targets for 12 yards. The last thing you need is a dud in the fantasy playoffs, so it might be smart to sit Thomas if you have other options.
SIT: Brandon Marshall (vs MIA)
I had Marshall as a Sit in the Jets first meeting with the Dolphins after he talked trash about Byron Maxwell, and he was held to just four fantasy points. With another matchup between the teams on Saturday night, Maxwell is apparently going to shadow Marshall, and if you think that’s a good thing for Marshall, you haven’t been paying attention; the former Seahawk and Eagle has been locking dudes up in recent weeks. Maxwell is a big reason why the Dolphins are well-positioned for a playoff spot, and he had a valid claim as top corner in the league. Bryce Petty at quarterback for New York leaves Marshall off the FLEX radar.
SIT: Brandin Cooks (@ ARI)
Cooks has done okay over the past two weeks as the offense struggles, but he probably won’t do much if Patrick Peterson is on him in Week 15. Byron Maxwell’s been great, but I would still give Peterson the nod as best cornerback in the NFL. If this game was at home, things would be different, but Cooks probably needs to get behind the defense to be worth a start.
Others: Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell (@ DEN)
START OF THE WEEK: Martellus Bennett (@ DEN)
With Denver’s elite corners occupying the wide receivers, New England will attack with their backs and Bennett this Sunday. Marty-B looked healthy last week against Baltimore, and he should have a big game again this week. Gronk dominated Denver last season with lines of 6/88/1 and 8/144/1 in their two meetings, and while Bennett obviously isn’t Gronk, he should be able to approach 80 yards and a touchdown in Week 15.
START: Kyle Rudolph (vs IND)
Rudolph came through for Minnesota in Week 14 with a score, and the tight end remains the best-bet for a score on the Vikings’ offense. Indianapolis has not defended tight ends (or anyone) well this season, so Rudolph is a solid TE1 in a game the Vikings need to win.
START: Ladarius Green (@ CIN)
Green didn’t do much as the snow fell last week in Buffalo, but the opportunities were still there. Big Ben missed him a couple times, including once in the end zone, and the snow played a factor as Ben threw for just 220 yards and three picks. The Bengals are among the worst in the league at defending tight ends, so Green is a big threat when he’s on the field.
START: Blake Bell (@ ATL)
The Belldozer! Some of you probably remember the former Oklahoma Sooner from his days playing quarterback at OU. Bell has a good opportunity to show what he’s got as a tight end with Vance McDonald’s season ending last week with a shoulder injury. The Falcons don’t do well against tight ends, and Bell should be the primary receiving option at the position for Chip Kelly’s offense over the final three weeks.
Others: Hunter Henry (vs OAK), Charles Clay (vs CLE)
SIT OF THE WEEK: Delanie Walker (@ KC)
Kansas City shuts down opposing tight ends, so even as the #3 tight end on the season, Walker is just a low-end TE1 for Week 14. Marcus Mariota should (i.e. will) complete more than six passes like he did in last week’s win over the Broncos, but most of it will be the wide receivers.
SIT: Zach Ertz (@ BAL)
Ertz has come on in recent weeks as Carson Wentz finds a new favorite target with Jordan Matthews hobbled, but the Ravens are a difficult draw for tight ends. Baltimore, playing at home and coming off a loss to New England, might completely shut down the Eagles’ offense this week.
SIT: Coby Fleener (@ ARI)
Fleener is averaging just 3.0 fantasy points per game on the road this season, including zero last week, and six of his 18 total points in road games came on a rushing touchdown. The Cardinals are #1 against opposing tight ends, so another zero could be coming for the Saints tight end.
SIT: Jared Cook (@ CHI)
In the first meeting with the Bears this season, Cook was injured, but Aaron Rodgers didn’t need his tight end, as Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, and Ty Montgomery each had double-digit receptions. Jordy Nelson saw a lot of double-coverage in the first meeting, and Chicago won’t do that again after it cost them; that means there are too many mouths to feed on the Green Bay offense to trust Cook.
Others: Dwayne Allen (@ MIN), Jason Witten (vs TB)
START OF THE WEEK: Seattle Seahawks (vs LA)
The Rams are allowing the most points in the league to opposing fantasy defenses. And just fired their head coach. On a short week. And the game is in Seattle.
START: Baltimore Ravens (vs PHI)
Baltimore will be fired-up and ready to bounce back at home after allowing nearly 500 total yards to the Patriots on Monday night. The Eagles offensive line is an absolute mess, which could lead to a huge fantasy day for the Ravens D.
START: Minnesota Vikings (vs IND)
Andrew Luck seems like a scary matchup, but as stated, Indy is missing their top offensive lineman, so Luck will be facing constant pressure behind a poor line (which was the case before Mewhort’s injury). Minnesota will be ready to play in front of their home crowd as the make a push for the postseason.
START: Miami Dolphins (@ NYJ)
Miami has caused 15 turnovers over their last six games! That’s pretty good, and the numbers should get even more impressive as they face unpolished second-year passer Bryce Petty. The 8-5 Dolphins know they need to step up on defense after Ryan Tannehill’s injury.
Others: Houston Texans (vs JAC), Buffalo Bills (vs CLE)
SIT OF THE WEEK: Denver Broncos (vs NE)
People might be understandably hesitant to sit such a good defense, but just like I said to never bench Brady, I would never play a defense against him.
SIT: Carolina Panthers (@ WAS)
Kirk Cousins and the Redskins will be playing for something on MNF, while the Panthers will not be. Carolina would be a usable option if they were playing at home, but the game is in Washington.
SIT: New York Jets (vs MIA)
Matt Moore seems like an attractive target as he steps in for Ryan Tannehill, but the Jets defense has just been so bad recently. Moore is one of the better backups in the league, and the coaching staff for Miami will probably keep the game-plan conservative on offense, which caps the upside for the Jets defense.
SIT: Los Angeles Rams (@ SEA)
Seattle was just blown out in Green Bay. They’ll be ready at home for LA.
Others: Cincinnati Bengals (vs PIT), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ DAL)