Fantasy Football Playoffs Stock Up/Stock Down Report
Matt Stafford, Lions
Stafford hadn’t thrown for more than 2 TDs in any game this season before this week, and he had 4 games with fewer than 250 passing yards. But he may be ready to bring some fantasy titles home in the playoffs.
He ends the season with a fantastic pair of matchups. This coming week, he’ll be at home against Minnesota, a team that allows the 12th most fantasy points to QBs over the last 5 weeks. Even though he’ll be on the road in Week 16, he’ll get a rematch against a Chicago defense he lit up for his best yardage game of the season on Thanksgiving.
Beyond his matchups, his offensive weapons appear to be completely healthy for the stretch run. Both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush appear to be 100%. In addition, LT Riley Reiff has just returned from his injury.
Stafford’s on fire right now, as he’s thrown for at least 311 yards in each of his last 2 games, while tossing 5 TDs.
Matt Ryan, Falcons
Ryan didn’t get many clean pockets in the first half, but he kept firing. And suddenly in the 2nd half it all started clicking. He threw 4 TDs in the 2nd half, 3 of them in a 10-minute span in the 4th quarter. Ryan was only sacked once all day. It was his best game since Week 1 vs. New Orleans, and the biggest game of his fantasy career.
This week Ryan is at home – warm, indoors – vs. Pittsburgh. Normally this is an ideal time to plug Ryan in and cruise to your fantasy championship game, but Julio Jones is nursing a potentially serious hip injury. We’ll know more on Jones shortly.
Tony Romo, Cowboys
Dallas is high-risk and potentially high-reward going down the stretch. Consider the Cowboys’ players as gambles, and not safe picks, for your playoffs. The Cowboys’ offense is like a finely tuned Swiss watch, or perhaps a Rube Goldberg machine. Adjusting 1 component could have an impact on the rest of the gears or levers in the machinery.
With games against Philadelphia and Indianapolis, with pass defenses ranked in the 20s among NFL teams, Dallas’ aerial attack could have a better chance of success than its running game. The Eagles’ and Colts’ run defenses are in the middle of the pack. Philadelphia held both Romo and RB DeMarco Murray to their lowest production this season just 2 weeks ago.
Because of back and rib injuries, Romo hasn’t seemed capable of throwing deep. It’s 1 thing to have WR Cole Beasley (3 TDs in the last 2 games) playing the role of Wes Welker, but the dynamic Dez Bryant shouldn’t be reduced to a possession receiver. With all of the WRs running short patterns, Jason Witten’s targets have been minimized.
Rate these players’ chances for success as 1. Murray, 2. Bryant, 3. Romo, 4. Beasley, 5. Witten.
Jay Cutler, Bears
Much of the pressure is off for Cutler now that Chicago has been eliminated from playoff contention. In a similar situation in 2009, he threw 8 TD passes with only 1 INT in the season’s final 2 games.
New Orleans’ 29th-ranked pass defense should be pliable for Cutler, playing at home. He’s also at home in Week 16 against a tougher Detroit pass D.
Cutler’s mission going forward is to try to disprove that the Bears made a mistake in giving him a contract guaranteeing him $54 million.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Three weeks ago, Wilson was a struggling passer who had fallen short of 200 yards in 4 straight games. He finished home games against the Raiders and Giants with 0 TD passes and had fantasy owners panicking. Well, if you're still alive in your fantasy league with Wilson as your top QB, then you need not worry so much anymore.
The biggest plus with Wilson continues to be his rushing. His 48 yards against the Eagles on Sunday marked the 4th time in 5 games that he reached that mark. His TD run made 5 for the year so far. And Wilson has added 3 straight games of 211+ passing yards. Over his past 4 outings, he has tallied 6 TD passes with no INTs.
Week 15 brings a less-than-ideal matchup with the Niners, but Wilson didn't crush fantasy owners with his Week 13 game at their place. His 236-1 passing plus 35 rushing yards found Wilson 18th among fantasy QBs that week. That put him just behind far less safe fantasy starters Drew Stanton and Andy Dalton (who got lucky with a rushing TD) and only 3 spots behind Tom Brady.
San Francisco followed that by letting Derek Carr throw for 254 yards and 3 TDs with 78.6% completions. Does that D scare you?
Then comes a road rematch with Arizona, which let Wilson finish 11th among fantasy passers back in Week 12 -- thanks largely to 73 rushing yards.
There will be better fantasy options at QB over the next 2 weeks, but you don't need to hunt for a replacement if you've been riding Wilson.
Eli Manning, Giants
Eli came out firing against the lifeless Titans defense, mostly targeting his new toy, Odell Beckham. Conditions were perfect for Eli hanging another 6-TD game on them like Ryan Fitzpatrick did: Warm weather, no wind, half-empty stadium, disinterested Nashville crowd, and a secondary that wasn’t ready for Beckham’s wild moves. Eli hit 15 of his first 20 passes, with 8 of them going to Beckham.
But then the Giants defense scored to push the score up to 17-0, and OC Ben McAdoo started running Andre Williams more and more. Several great drives stalled into FG, too.
Eli is an interesting fantasy play in Week 15 at home vs. Washington, who is one of only three teams in the NFL who’ve allowed 30+ total TDs to QBs this year (Chicago, NY Jets).
But just note that he has a tough road game at St. Louis in Week 16.
Johnny Manziel, Browns
HC Mike Pettine has mercifully decided to sit QB Brian Hoyer after 7 INTs and no TDs over the past 3 games and turn instead to this exciting rookie.
Manziel's 1st start comes at home against a D that just finished allowing 42 points at home to the Steelers. Cincinnati has also struggled with mobile QBs this year, most notably allowing 284-2-1 passing to Cam Newton back in Week 6, at a time when he had been struggling. And Newton added 107 and a TD on the ground.
Beyond that, Tennessee's Jake Locker ran for 50 yards on the Bengals back in Week 3. Andrew Luck enjoyed a big Week 7 (because he's Andrew Luck), and even Blake Bortles threw for 247 and 2 TDs. Cincinnati hasn't registered more than 1 sack in any of its past 5 games and hasn't posted more than 2 sacks since the season opener.
All of that certainly doesn't make Manziel a safe fantasy option in his 1st NFL start, but the upside's obvious in his running ability -- which already produced a TD at Buffalo -- his team's solid backfield and having Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and Andrew Hawkins as passing targets.
Manziel's worth a look in 2-QB leagues and other deep formats. And if he fares well this Sunday, next comes a trip to Carolina, whose defense has allowed the 11th most fantasy points to QBs this season.
Alex Smith, Chiefs
In leagues that require owners to start 2 QBs, Smith could come up with a decent finish to the year.
His owners already know that he’s thrown for fewer than 200 yards in 4 of his last 6 games. They also know that he’s rushed for fewer than 7 yards in all but 2 games since Week 9. He has, however, thrown a pair of TDs in 2 of his last 3 games.
Although he has a neutral matchup next week at home against the Raiders, a defense he threw 5 TDs in a game against last season. His best opportunity appears to be in Week 16 when he travels to Pittsburgh. The Steelers are a bottom-6 unit against QBs over the last 5 weeks.
Jake Locker, Titans
Locker is back under center now that Zach Mettenberger re-aggravated his shoulder injury. Tennessee is at home vs. the Jets this week, who have allowed the 6th most fantasy points to QBs. Kyle Orton had one of the best games of his career vs. the Jets (10 of 17, 238 yards, 4 TDs), and Teddy Bridgewater lit them up too.
Locker would be tough to trust outside of deep 2-QB leagues, but he might be worth a shot in your daily fantasy games.
Arian Foster, Texans
Foster’s groin injury is clearly behind him. The Texans rode their workhorse against the Jaguars on Sunday, and Foster responded by taking 24 carries for 127 yards and a score. He ripped off a 51-yarder in the 1st quarter -- his longest run of the season -- and then plunged in a 1-yard TD in the 4th. Foster tacked on another 21 yards on 2 catches.
In 2 games since returning from that groin injury, Foster has racked up 43 carries for 206 yards (4.8 yards per rush) and 7 catches for 47 yards. Next up is a Colts defense ranked 25th against RBs and allowing 4.34 yards per carry to RBs. Foster smoked them for 141 total yards and 2 TDs back in Week 6. Expect another big outing this Sunday.
Foster closes the fantasy season with a tough test against Baltimore’s top-ranked RB defense. It’ll be his 3rd game against a top-5 RB defense. In the first 2, Foster totaled 181 yards. Volume will keep him in RB1 territory for Week 16.
Eddie Lacy, Packers
Lacy went bonkers again. It was the 6th time in the last 9 games that he’s scored at least 20 PPR points. Lacy has been targeted 33 times in the last 6 games! He did exit late in the game with a hip injury, but HC Mike McCarthy said there is no “high concern” over it.
Green Bay plays the stodgy Bills defense this week – at Buffalo – and they rank 6th against fantasy RBs. They’ve only allowed 7 RB rushing TDs all year. The only back to gain 100 yards vs. Buffalo is Jerick McKinnon, and he was aided by a 29-yard run where Bills LB Brandon Spikes tripped at the line of scrimmage.
Tough matchup. But, of course, you’re keeping Lacy glued into your fantasy lineup.
C.J. Anderson, Broncos
Anderson predictably didn't rumble for 160+ yards against a stout Bills run D. But he punched in 3 TDs on a 21-58 line. He's got 86 touches, 483 all-purpose yards and 5 TDs over his last 3 games. The Broncos have clearly altered their offensive approach to capitalize on the 2nd-year man's talent.
Anderson's next 2 games pit him against San Diego and Cincinnati. The Chargers contained LeGarrette Blount to a 20-66-0 line on Sunday night, but coughed up 106 yards to Baltimore's Justin Forsett in Week 13. San Diego has allowed a healthy 66 RB catches this year to go with 5 aerial TDs (2nd most in the league). The Bengals are 6th-worst against RBs this season, and just gave up 235 all-purpose yards to Le'Veon Bell.
Anderson was a little gimpy at times on Sunday, and is reportedly shaking off some ankle pain. But he appears primed for a strong fantasy finish and should be locked into lineups as a RB1.
Joique Bell, Lions
Bell has been a bit of a fantasy disappointment this season, but he looks primed to finish the season strong.
Before not reaching 75 rushing yards in any of his first 8 games, he now has had at least 85 rushing yards in 3 of his last 4 games. He’s averaged at least 4 yards per carry in 4 of his last 5 games, which is an outstanding improvement from earlier in the year. He also broke a 4-game TD drought with a pair of TDs in each of his last 2 games.
With the entire Detroit offense seeming to be healthy for the stretch run, it should only open up more space for Bell to run. To top things off, he has an excellent schedule to end the season. He’ll be facing Minnesota and Chicago, a pair of defenses that are in the bottom third of the league in terms of fantasy production allowed to RBs over the last 5 weeks.
Isaiah Crowell, Browns
Crowell has been good lately, scoring TDs in 3 of his past 5 games and garnering 12+ carries in each of those contests. On Sunday, he played through a hip injury to rush for a solid 54 yards on 14 carries against the Colts. That 3.9-yard average won't wow anyone, but he found the end zone once again -- his 8th time this season.
Crowell gets an "up" arrow here, though, primarily because his team has finally decided to turn from the scoring drain that is Brian Hoyer to the much more exciting Johnny Manziel. Whether the rookie struggles or wows with his passing, Manziel's running threat can only help Cleveland's backfield. Just look at how much better Alfred Morris' numbers have been with Robert Griffin on the field this year: 5.5 yards per carry in Griffin's 4 complete games vs. 3.4 per rush in the rest of them. And that came with RG3 playing poorly.
When a defense has to worry about the pass and containing a running QB, then it's bound to leave a lane or 2 for the RBs. Combine that threat with a bottom-5 RB defense for Cincinnati this week and a bottom-12 RB defense at Carolina in Week 16 and you can feel pretty comfy starting Crowell the rest of the way.
Jeremy Hill, Bengals
Forget all the blather from Bengals OC Hue Jackson last week. He called out Hill for not breaking tackles against the Buccaneers in Week 13 (40 yards on 13 carries for a 3.1 average). Media reports piled on, claiming Hill and Giovani Bernard were going to split touches evenly against the Steelers. That more or less happened with Hill getting the upper hand, 11 touches to Bernard’s 9.
That factoid aside, what’s clear to any observer – which must include the Bengals coaching staff – is that Hill is the team’s best RB. Gio Bernard is averaging 13 touches per game with an underwhelming 3.7 yards per carry since returning from an injury November 23. Meanwhile, Hill is averaging nearly 16 touches with an average of 4.4 yards per carry.
The Bengals are in the thick of a playoff race and the coaching staff has to go with their best horse at RB the rest of the way. That means Hill will get his chances.
Cincy plays a vulnerable Browns run defense this coming week, but closes out the fantasy season against a tough Broncos run D.
Latavius Murray, Raiders
This was an encouraging outing for Murray, despite the lackluster production. He managed just 76 yards on a 3.3 per-carry average against the 49ers. But San Francisco entered the game 6th in Football Outsiders’ run defense rankings and allowing just 4.1 yards per carry to RBs. Murray’s 76 yards were actually the 6th most posted against the Niners by a RB this season.
But the more important number from this one is the 23 carries Murray received. Darren McFadden carried just 5 times, Marcel Reece twice and Maurice Jones-Drew none. Murray even hauled in both of his targets, while neither McFadden nor MJD saw a single look (Reece caught all 7 of his targets).
Murray was the definition of a feature back in this one. He played 82% of Oakland’s offensive snaps, even staying on the field for 26 pass plays (22 routes run, 4 pass-blocking snaps).
That role makes him a solid RB2 for Week 15 against a Chiefs defense that he smoked for 112 yards and 2 scores on 4 carries back in Week 12. That was the 2nd in a still-going streak of 4 games in which K.C. has allowed a RB to surpass 100 yards on the ground.
Murray will close the fantasy season against a tougher Bills run defense. But Buffalo ranks just 17th against RBs over the past 5 weeks, allowing 4.6 yards per carry and 4 TDs during that stretch. Murray will be worth keeping in fantasy lineups for that one.
LeGarrette Blount, Patriots
Blount took a healthy share of the offensive snaps for the Patriots against the Chargers, leaving RBs Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray in the dust. Blount finished the first half with 11 carries while Gray was a distant 2nd with 2. His hard running style sent a physical message to the Chargers, and it paid off for 46 first half ground yards. While the 2nd half was a little slower for the big back, he was key in pass protection, allowing QB Tom Brady to make big plays to WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski. He finished the game with 66 yards on 20 carries, making impressive cuts, and more importantly, hanging onto the ball.
Blount has been a great pickup from Pittsburgh mid-year. He was hacked about the lack of playing time behind All-World RB Le’Veon Bell, but has settled in nicely in the same role he had last year for the Pats. He has just about rendered the rookie Gray irrelevant—which is impressive, especially after his 201-yard, 4-TD game 4 weeks ago. Blount has a similar running style as Gray, but packs a heavier punch to finish his runs.
New England hosts Miami this weekend, a team they lost to in Week 1. The biggest difference in that game for New England was the lack of a power running game. RB Stevan Ridley was the primary back but struggled to the tune of 2.6 yards per carry. Brady also threw 56 times that game as Miami scored 23 unanswered 2nd half points en route to the 33-20 victory. Brady won’t throw the ball 56 times—be sure of that—but it would be nice to see Blount get going. In 2 games against the Dolphins last year, he averaged 11 carries for 47 yards, but it was a much more crowded backfield with Ridley and RB Danny Woodhead back there. He should have full reign of the backfield this weekend, and exploit the Dolphins.
The Pats head to Jersey to take on the Jets during fantasy championship week. The Jets are much tougher against the run than the pass, so that’ll be a risky game to use Blount in. Of course, he’s always a decent bet to hit pay dirt.
Fred Jackson, Bills
It's true, Jackson hasn't run the ball so well since coming back from that groin injury. But PPR owners are thriving thanks to his pass-catching prowess.
Jackson ran just 8 times for 35 yards Sunday against the Broncos, not a surprise since the Bills trailed much of the game and took to the air. But that's where Jackson made a mark, hauling in a career-high 10 balls and finishing with 37 yards through the air.
Yeah, the 3.7 yard-per-catch average isn't real special. But consider that this guy is now tied for 3rd in the league in RB catches despite missing 2 games and parts of 2 more. He's a big asset to QB Kyle Orton, who clearly hates being under pressure. He dumped the ball off to Jackson all game on Sunday while the Denver blitzers swarmed.
There's likely to be lots more of that this Sunday when the Packers visit Buffalo. Jackson may not get a ton of carries, but his receiving ability will be counted on against a team that allowed over 450 RB receiving yards through Week 13. The Bills will be playing catch-up, and Jackson will be busy with Orton looking to throw.
After that is a road trip to Oakland in Week 16. The Raiders just allowed 122 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs to Jamaal Charles. They entered that game dead-last against fantasy RBs this year with 22 points per game allowed. And that's in standard leagues. Keep Jackson locked in as a RB2 in PPR leagues, with a RB3/flex upside in standard formats.
Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson, Jets
Don’t look now, but the Jets' running game is on a roll. They piled up 227 rushing yards against Miami 2 weeks ago and ran for 168 against Minnesota this Sunday.
Ivory and Johnson combined for 126 yards vs. the Vikes. Both guys carried 16 times, with Ivory out-producing Johnson 73 yards to 53. Johnson had the slight edge in the receiving department, posting a 2-13 line to Ivory’s 1-4.
This backfield has been a pure committee over the past 4 weeks. Ivory has played 133 snaps and totaled 57 touches. Johnson has played 130 with 53 touches.
That split obviously limits each guy's upside. But it also makes both viable fantasy starters in Week 15’s juicy matchup against the Titans. Tennessee has allowed a 100-yard rusher in 5 of its last 6 games, yielding 4.95 yards per during over that stretch.
Consider Ivory the better fantasy play as the superior overall runner and TD bet. Johnson gets an upgrade in PPR and has the “revenge factor” working against his former team.
Ivory and Johnson will be much less appealing fantasy plays against the Patriots in Week 16.
Reggie Bush, Lions
If Bush has been rightfully riding your bench for the majority of the season, he could be a surprise contributor as the season draws to a close.
The team shut him down to allow his injured ankle to get to 100%. He got the start against Tampa Bay on Sunday, and although he only had 34 yards, he was targeted 6 times in the passing game.
It should be noted that he was very active in the passing game in Weeks 1-7, when he averaged 5.5 targets per game. In addition, he was averaging 69 total yards in the 3 games before hurting his ankle. Although those aren’t fantastic numbers, his body hasn’t taken a beating this season, and it’s possible he puts together a pair of solid games with a potentially fresh legs, especially in PPR leagues.
He has an excellent schedule, as he’ll face Minnesota and Chicago, a pair of defenses in the bottom third of the league in terms of fantasy production allowed to RBs over the last 5 weeks.
Alshon Jeffery, Bears
With WR Brandon Marshall now on IR, Jeffery is almost the last man standing among Chicago’s WRs. Against Dallas Thursday, he was targeted 9 times, more often than any other WR, and had 6 catches for a game-high 95 yards.
QB Jay Cutler’s options after Jeffery are shaky. WR Marquess Wilson has played in just 14 games over 2 seasons, with 14 targets, just 7 catches and 53 yards. WR Josh Morgan’s production has declined drastically the last 2 seasons. Despite playing in 11 games and starting 7 this season, he has caught 7 passes for 55 yards and a TD. Between them Thursday night, they had 3 catches in 9 targets for 27 yards.
Odell Beckham, Giants
Forget the catches and yards and all the damage he did vs. Tennessee (all of it basically in the first half), let’s talk about the throw.
In the 1st quarter, Beckham took an end-around and whipped a 63-yard laser to Rueben Randle in the end zone, but Randle couldn’t haul it in. There were audible gasps in the stands, from both Giants and Titans fans.
This Beckham kid is a do-it-all fantasy threat, and he’s unbenchable vs. Washington and at St. Louis in the next 2 weeks. His floor is high, and his ceiling is even higher.
Mike Evans, Bucs
Evans came into this week with fewer than 50 yards in each of his last 3 games, though he’s continued his torrid scoring pace with 3 scores in those games. In reality, his recent lowered yardage production had to do more with his opponents than with his ability.
He’ll end the fantasy season with a sweet pair of games. This coming week, he’ll face a Carolina defense without a dominant secondary. The Panthers are in the middle of the pack in terms of production allowed to WRs over the last 5 weeks. He has an even better matchup in Week 16, when he’ll face a Green Bay defense that has allowed the 8th most fantasy points to WRs in their last 5 contests.
Before Evans had his recent dip in yardage production, he had seen 7 receptions in 3 straight games. It’s very likely he continues to see that kind of action as the season draws to a close. There’s no worry about him seeing targets, as he’s seen between 9 and 11 targets in each of his last 6 games.
Vincent Jackson, Bucs
Even though Jackson has been a marginal fantasy starter throughout the course of the season, he’s looking up as the fantasy season winds to a close.
This coming week, he’ll be playing Carolina, a team that is in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy production allowed to WRs over the last 5 weeks. His matchup is even better in Week 16, when he faces a Green Bay defense that allows the 8th most fantasy points to WRs over the last 5 weeks.
Although Jackson hasn’t scored a TD in his last 9 games, he could be in line for an uptick in targets, which means more chances for big games. With Josh McCown facing a pair of defenses that are in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks over the last 5 weeks, he may find time to get the ball Jackson’s way. It was only 5 weeks ago that Jackson had seen 24 targets in a pair of games. He’s also coming off of a 17-target game this week against the Lions.
Brandon LaFell, Patriots
LaFell had a golden opportunity to have a monster game against the Chargers last week, but fumbled away his opportunity—literally. He finished the game with 41 receiving yards on 4 catches. The defining play, however, was an egregious fumble returned for a San Diego TD in the 2nd quarter. QB Tom Brady didn’t go in his direction again until the 4th quarter when he made a few catches on one drive.
LaFell was the deep threat for Brady early on, snagging a 19-yard catch on the opening drive that set up the game’s first points. Brady looked to LaFell at other points downfield but couldn’t connect. The Chargers took a 7-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter before Brady found him again, but he coughed up the slant route across the middle and Chargers DB Darrell Stuckey ran it in from 53 yards out. That put the Chargers up 11, but it was enough to banish LaFell for a few quarters. He saw action—a total of 9 targets—but a poor catch rate hurt his overall value. He was 3rd in targets behind WR Julian Edelman (12) and TE Rob Gronkowski (11).
LaFell will look to get it going against a tough Miami team who’s normally solid against the WRs. He played just 44% of the snaps against them in the Patriots Week 1 loss, but has been much more involved since then. He’s caught no fewer than 5 balls a game in 4 of his last 6 games—including 4 TDs during that stretch. LaFell isn’t the most consistent receiver on the squad, but he has the best chance at being the deep threat for Brady, so it adds more to his upside. Plus, with a healthy TE Rob Gronkowski and another big day from WR Julian Edelman last week, the Miami secondary will have their hands full trying to slow them all down.
Following the Miami game, the Pats head to the Meadowlands to play the hapless Jets, and it could be a good spot for a big game. He had a 4-55 stat line the last time they met, but that was a game dominated by RB Shane Vereen (2 receiving TDs). LaFell should be a solid start during semifinals week and championship week.
Julian Edelman, Patriots
Julian Edelman is not much of a receiver when it comes to getting to the end zone consistently, but one thing he is consistent at? Playing big in big games. Edelman has a knack for making his presence known in all the big games, including this past week’s tilt in San Diego. He was the key offensive player the Chargers didn’t have an answer for, scoring a TD to ice the game—a 69-yard pitch-and-catch in which he broke 2 tackles and hustled to the end zone, putting the game out of reach.
Edelman finished the game with a season-high 141 receiving yards on 8 receptions—leading the team with 12 targets as well. He’s now caught at least 7 balls in each of 4 of the last 5 games, including 3 in a row. In fact, the last 5 teams the Patriots played are still in contention for the playoffs, including Green Bay and Denver. The Chargers showdown had the feel of a playoff game, and those are the games in which Edelman shines.
Edelman takes on the Dolphins secondary this week, and you can imagine the Patriots will be sure to key in on the passing attack. The Week 1 division battle between the two sides had Edelman get over 110 yards and 6 receptions. Expect more of the same as the ‘Phins try to shut down TE Rob Gronkowski and the punishing runs of RB LeGarrette Blount.
The Pats draw the Jets in Week 16, and that also bodes well for Edelman owners. Last year he torched NY for 17 receptions over the 2 games, including 13 receptions in one. The Jets tend to play the Pats tough, and with this most likely being HC Rex Ryan’s last hoorah against his hated nemesis, Bill Belichick, it’s sure to have the feelings of a big and physical matchup. Physical is not how anyone would describe Edelman, but he has a knack for the big stage. The Patriots could lock up home field advantage if they win out, so there will be extra incentive to perform at a high level. Look for Edelman to continue his highly productive ways for the rest of your playoff run.
Steve Smith, Ravens
Smith entered Sunday’s matchup at Miami with just 19 catches, 246 yards and 1 TD over his past 6 games. But with teammate Torrey Smith hobbled by a knee injury, the former Panther posted a 7-70-1 line on a team-high 11 targets.
Smith last drew double-digit targets back in Week 2. But there’s a real chance he retains a high-volume role over the next 2 weeks. While an MRI on Torrey Smith’s knee didn’t reveal a ligament tear, he is dealing with a sprain. That has his Week 15 availability up in the air.
Smith Sr. will carry WR2 appeal if Torrey’s forced to miss time, especially with such a favorable schedule. Baltimore gets 2 bottom-10 pass defenses in Jacksonville and Houston to close out the fantasy season. The Texans look especially generous, as they’ve allowed 3 WR scores over the past 2 weeks despite matchups with Tennessee and Jacksonville.
Sammy Watkins, Bills
Watkins broke out of his slump with a 7-127 line against a strong Broncos secondary. The Bills unsurprisingly went pass-heavy, and Watkins finished with 12 looks on the day. Announcers questioned if he had hit a “rookie wall” after the rookie fumbled away his 1st grab of the game. But the Bills kept feeding Watkins and he finished strong, including grabs of 14, 19, and 35 yards in the 2nd half.
It was his first 100+ yard outing since Week 8 and his 1st double-digit target game since Week 10. Kyle Orton was up-and-down as usual, but hit Watkins on several well-placed over-the-shoulder connections.
The Bills square off against Green Bay and Oakland in their next 2 games. Expect more passing in Week 15 as Buffalo tries to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers and Co. That should give Watkins another busy day against a defense that hasn't had any answer for many WRs this year. Brandon LaFell got them for 2 TDs in Week 13, while Julio Jones and Roddy White combined for a 14-301-2 line on Monday night. That should keep Watkins plenty busy on Sunday, giving him WR3 upside.
Martavis Bryant, Steelers
The rookie WR made this week’s NFL highlight reel with a wowing 94-yard TD catch-and-run against the Bengals. Till that point, he had only 3 catches for 15 yards. But what the stat line did not show was just as important. Bryant was targeted on 3 critical third downs. Roethlisberger misfired on one throw; threw a strike for a first down on a second; and completed a bubble screen on a third which failed to convert a first down. Bryant was also targeted in the end zone. He and Roethlisberger couldn’t connect on that throw either.
What we’ve seen in the past few games is the Steelers’ willingness to target Bryant in crucial situations – both on third downs and near the goal line. Opposing secondaries have countered by paying attention to short, inside routes. But that’s exactly how Bryant burned the Bengals for his deep TD. The Jets learned the same painful lesson in Week 11 when Bryant hung an 80-yard TD on them.
It’s easy to think Bryant’s fantasy value is singularly attached to his ability to score a long TD. The truth is, however, that Roethlisberger has consistently thrown to his rookie weapon nearly every time the Steelers have gotten into the red zone the past 8 weeks. Bryant hasn’t scored a lot of short TDs in recent weeks because either Roethlisberger has misfired in the red zone or Bryant has dropped some easy TDs. That means there’s a good chance Bryant could haul in a couple TDs in his final 3 games. He’s getting looks in the end zone, and with a bit of better luck, could be a fantasy force for the playoffs.
The Steelers face a susceptible Falcons secondary next weekend, then close out against tougher competition with the Chiefs and Bengals at home.
Eric Decker, Jets
Decker benefitted from 1 of the best QB performances the Jets have gotten all season, hauling in 6 balls for 89 yards against the Vikings. The catches were his most since Week 9, and the yardage was a season high.
Decker’s fantasy startability down the stretch depends completely on how much trust you want to put in QB Geno Smith. He was poised and accurate in Week 14, completing 62% of his passes and averaging 8.8 yards per attempt. Of course, he came into the game with a 57% completion rate and 5.9 yards-per-attempt average.
Both Smith and Decker will be helped in Week 15 by a matchup with a Titans defense that’s packed it in for the season. Tennessee has allowed 925 passing yards and 8 TDs over the past 3 weeks. The last 2 weeks have seen DeAndre Hopkins go for 9-238-2 and Odell Beckham for 11-130-1 on the Titans.
Decker doesn’t have that kind of upside. But he’s plenty capable of capitalizing on a plus matchup if Smith cooperates. Decker will also benefit from extra targets with WR Percy Harvin (ankle) likely out.
Week 16’s matchup with CB Darrelle Revis and the Patriots should find Decker on fantasy benches. He mustered just 4 catches for 65 scoreless yards against New England earlier this season.
Donte Moncrief, Colts
Come fantasy playoff time, you'd like to start WRs who draw more than 4 targets per game. Unfortunately, that ain't Moncrief ... at least not yet.
But the rookie has flashed plenty of upside, most recently with his 134 yards and 2 TDs vs. Washington -- on just the 4 targets. Moncrief has seen exactly that share in 3 straight games, but Reggie Wayne's deteriorating body might shove a few more looks toward the rookie going forward.
The Colts revealed after Sunday's game that Wayne's dealing with a torn triceps. And Wayne's 3 drops among 8 targets vs. the Browns made for his worst performance in an already bad string. Even if the veteran remains active, coaches would seem to be wise to direct more work away from him.
Moncrief will carry plenty of risk, but playing with QB Andrew Luck also means weekly upside. It only helps further that Week 15 finds a Houston D that has allowed more WR catches than any other this season. Then comes Dallas, which has allowed 3 straight opponents to score at least 28 points.
Charles Johnson, Vikings
Johnson capitalized on his plus matchup against the Jets, hauling in 4 balls for a career-high 103 yards and a score. The highlight was a 56-yard TD, which came when he embarrassed CB Darrin Walls on a beautiful stop-and-go. Johnson just missed another score later on when he fumbled just before crossing the goal line. (Teammate Jerome Felton recovered it for the TD.)
Johnson’s other 2 catches went for 7 yards on a short cross on 3rd-and-6 and 17 yards on a deep comeback. He led the Vikings with 8 targets and played every single offensive snap.
This athletic 6’2, 215-pounder has quickly emerged as Minnesota’s top WR. Over the last 4 games, he’s totaled 15 catches for 284 yards and 2 TDs. He’s a top-25 fantasy WR during that stretch.
There are 2 concerns for Johnson down the stretch: The 1st is his schedule, which features a pair of top-11 WR defenses in Detroit and Miami over the next 2 weeks. The 2nd is Minnesota’s low-volume, conservative passing game. The Vikings rank 23rd in pass attempts, 30th in passing yards and 29th in yards per attempt.
Those factors combine to leave Johnson with a relatively low floor in these final 2 weeks. But as we saw against the Jets, he has the raw ability to produce in spite of that. Consider him a risk/reward WR3 and a cheap, upside play in DFS.
Marqise Lee, Jaguars
After being virtually invisible for the first 10 weeks of his rookie season, Lee has flashed over the last 3. Coming out of his Week 11 bye, he hauled in 3 balls for 52 yards -- his highest marks since Week 1. Then he set season highs the following Sunday with 6 catches and 75 yards. He followed that up with a 5-67 line against the Texans this week.
The rookie has seen a healthy 18 targets over the past 3 weeks. That’s 3 fewer than Allen Hurns but 1 more than Cecil Shorts. Lee’s playing time has also steadily grown from 64% of the snaps to 72% to 75%.
A rookie WR playing with a rookie QB is still tough to trust in fantasy lineups at this point of the season. Lee gets a burnable Ravens secondary this coming week, but Jacksonville’s entire offense has dud potential in Baltimore. Week 16 looks like a better draw for Lee against the lifeless Titans.
Longer term, Lee has shown enough down the stretch to be considered the favorite to open 2015 in Jacksonville’s starting lineup alongside Allen Robinson. Those 2 youngsters give Jags fans some hope for the future.
Travis Kelce, Chiefs
Kelce has been a low-end TE1 for much of the season, but he has a fantastic schedule to finish the season.
This coming week, he’ll face an Oakland defense that allows the 7th most fantasy points to TEs over the last 5 weeks. He’ll finish up the season against the Steelers, a unit that’s been in the bottom third of the league in terms of fantasy production allowed to TEs over their last 5 contests.
The frustration for fantasy owners has been that Kelce had seen no more than 5 targets in any of his previous 5 games before having a 9-target breakout against Arizona. In addition, he’s only scored once in his last 8 contests. His yardage has been reasonable, though he didn’t have a game with more than 67 yards in his last 8 before posting his only 100-yard game of the year this week.
The great news is that he has seen his snaps rate drastically increase in the 2nd half of the season. Between talent, opportunity and schedule, he could finish the season strong.
Delanie Walker, Titans
Walker should have had a much bigger day, but Zach Mettenberger and Jake Locker missed him wide open a few times. He dropped another out route that would have gone for 20-30 yards. Walker was still targeted a team-high 10 times and is hard to bench in your fantasy playoffs – unless you have Gronk, Graham, Olsen or Bennett.
His Week 15 opponent, the Jets, have allowed Bills TE Scott Chandler to score twice in two games, and they also let Martellus Bennett score twice in Week 3. New York ranks 31st in fantasy points allowed to TEs on the season.
Jordan Cameron, Browns
After sitting out since Week 8 with a concussion, Cameron snagged a season-high 4 receptions in his return Sunday. His 41 receiving yards also led the team on another poor passing day for Brian Hoyer.
Johnny Manziel will be under center for Week 15, and it’s tough to imagine the rookie being worse than Hoyer has been.
Manziel and Cameron get a Bengals D this week that just finished allowing 42 points -- including 3 passing TDs and 350 yards -- to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Cincinnati has also already allowed 7 games of 50+ receiving yards to TEs this season. Cameron caught at least 6 passes in each meeting with the Bengals last year.
Behind the Bengals sits a Panthers defense that has allowed TE scores in 4 of its past 6 games, plus a 116-yard night to Brent Celek in 1 of the non-TD weeks.
Larry Donnell, Giants
Donnell caught two passes inside the 5-yard line but got tripped up both times before he could dive in.
This week he faces the Redskins, who allowed Donnell to score 3 TDs when they met in Week 4. Donnell ranks 6th in the league in TE targets with 79.
Jared Cook, Rams
Cook had a monster day for the Rams against Washington. He finished the contest with 4 catches for 61 yards and 2 TDs. He made a few really nice catches in the middle of the field that broke down the ‘Skins defense. The first one was on the opening drive on 3rd and long—Cook beat the LB up the seam for 13 to move the sticks. Nothing came of the drive, but the field position set up the next drive, when he beat another LB up the seam, this time rumbling down the middle of the field for a 35-yard TD. Cook’s 2nd TD came from an awesome ball fake on first and goal-to-go at the 1. The Rams brought in the jumbo package and QB Shaun Hill got the Washington D to bite on a dive, only to have Cook WIDE open in the back of the end zone for one of the easiest scores of his career.
It’s with some hesitation that Cook’s stock is going up, but scoring 2 TDs will make any fantasy owner hope he can duplicate the same feat. His problem has been consistency. He’s had only 4 games with 60+ receiving yards and just 3 scores on the year—including the 2 from last week. Not much else can be said about his year, except he’s probably been victimized by the QB carousel that’s taken place in St. Louis. QB Sam Bradford likes to use Cook as a security blanket, but Hill and QB Austin Davis have different styles and levels of chemistry with the receivers.
Cook and the Rams take on Arizona at home on Thursday night, and it should be a decent game for him. The Cards are one of the worst teams in the league defending the TE position. He went off for a 2-84-1 stat line against Arizona earlier this season -- his only other monster game of the year. He follows it up with a plus matchup against the Giants. Both games are at home and the Rams have fared well lately, playing the best football of the season. If you’ve been playing matchups at TE all season, Cook is a viable option down the stretch.
It was a little tough to evaluate this D after Seattle held the moribund Cardinals and Niners offenses to 3 points apiece in consecutive weeks. But we're convinced after Sunday's game at Philly.
The Eagles entered as the league's #4 offense in both yardage and points. They finished with a ridiculously low 139 yards of total offense. That checked in 74 yards short of the putrid Week 4 offensive effort at the Niners. And Philly hasn't finished any other game with less than 352 yards.
Seattle also forced a pair of turnovers, making it 5 over the past 2 weeks and 2+ in 6 of the past 7 games.
Next come rematches with those same 49er and Cardinal offenses that Seattle handled so easily the 1st time through.
Green Bay Packers
Despite the outburst from Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on Monday night, this Packers unit can score in bunches. And they could be a fantasy championship-maker in the next 2 weeks: at Buffalo and at Tampa Bay. Those two offenses have allowed 32 and 39 sacks respectively; ranked 20th and 26th in that category. ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi created a statistical index to rate offensive lines, and Buffalo ranked 31st on his chart. Over the last 5 games, only 5 defenses have picked off more passes than Green Bay.
Peyton Manning, Broncos
Manning was supposed to tear up a vulnerable Bills secondary Sunday. Instead, he finished with his lowest yardage output of the season and was held without a TD for the 1st time since 2010.
Let's be clear -- it's not that he's suddenly become a bad player. It's just that his team hasn't needed him to be in vintage form. The Broncos have run the ball a whopping 109 times over their past 3 games. Manning's completions have been 28, 17, and 14 over that span. C.J. Anderson's emergence makes Manning's passing prowess less of a focus.
If you survived the veteran's dud against Buffalo, you should still start him with confidence against San Diego. The Chargers gave up 318 yards and 2 scores to Tom Brady on Sunday and allowed 2 TDs to Joe Flacco the week before. They're middle-of-the-pack against fantasy QBs this year. Manning had no trouble with them in 2013, going for 619 yards and 6 TDs in 2 matchups. He'll also have a healthier Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas back in action.
Manning's Week 16 matchup comes at Cincinnati. They got hammered by Ben Roethlisberger (350 yards, 3 TDs) on Sunday after blanking QBs over their previous 2.
Mark Sanchez, Eagles
There's nothing embarrassing about having trouble against Seattle. Though the Seahawks struggled a bit -- by their recent standards -- earlier this season, the D has gotten healthy and now beat up 3 straight opponents.
Still, just how helpless Sanchez looked in completing only 10 of 20 passes for 90 yards worried us. It's more worrisome when you also consider that he played poorly vs. the Titans in Philly's previous home game. That included throwing a pair of INTs -- and just 1 TD -- while getting outdueled by Zach Mettenberger in terms of fantasy numbers.
In between those 2 games, of course, Sanchez looked just fine in going 20-of-29 passing at Dallas for 217 yards, 1 TD and no INTs -- plus a rushing score. Even that game drew a negative passing grade from Pro Football Focus, though.
We're not taking Sanchez out of fantasy-starter range this week against a Dallas D that has trouble pressuring the QB. And it'll take a pretty weak outing from Sanchez this weekend to keep us from using him at Washington in Week 16. He just gets a "down" arrow because it's not as easy to start him now as it was after his 1st 2 starts. Just like it did with Nick Foles, however, at least the situation helps.
Cam Newton, Panthers
Newton’s stock really should be on the rise. He’s fresh off a 226-yard, 3-TD outing against New Orleans. He even added 83 yards and 1 score on 12 rush attempts. It truly looked like a game from Cam’s dominant rookie season.
Unfortunately, though, a Tuesday afternoon car accident caused the storyline to revolve around his health. Newton suffered 2 small fractures in his lower back, and it might be enough to knock him out for the season.
Look for Derek Anderson to start at least in Week 15. He’ll get a Tampa Bay defense that allowed him 230 yards and 2 TDs back in Week 1, while Newton rested injured ribs. The Bucs have stiffened against the pass of late, however, allowing just 1 multi-TD passing day over their last 5 matchups. Anderson’s a shaky fantasy bet even in 2-QB setups.
The Panthers get a tough Week 16 matchup in the Browns, so we wouldn’t hesitate to drop Newton if you need help elsewhere.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
Tannehill flopped in last week’s cupcake matchup against the Jets, posting 235 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT. Surely, he’d bounce-back in a home tilt with Baltimore -- arguably an even better matchup for QBs. After all, the Ravens had allowed nearly 331 passing yards per week since top CB Jimmy Smith’s last game (Week 8).
Instead, the Ravens’ pass rush overwhelmed Miami’s makeshift O-line, sacking Tannehill 6 times and limiting him to just 227 yards and 1 score. He was a non-factor on the ground, too, rushing just twice for 6 yards.
The lack of a deep passing game continues to make this offense predictable. Tannehill attempted just 1 pass traveling 20+ yards on Sunday -- and predictably, it fell incomplete. Among QBs to start every game for their team, only Alex Smith has thrown fewer deep balls than Tannehill this season (35 to 18). And now, the Dolphins signal-caller is tasked with a tough end-of-season schedule.
He first gets a road date with New England, which just shut down Philip Rivers in San Diego. Then, he’ll face a Vikings squad that’s allowed just 214 yards and 4 total TDs over the past 3 weeks. Tannehill certainly looks like a shaky fantasy starter to close the season.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Texans
Fantasy owners who chased Fitzpatrick’s huge Week 13 got burned in Week 14. The Texans went run-heavy against the Jaguars, calling 34 run plays vs. just 21 passes. Fitzpatrick threw on 19 of his dropbacks, completing 13 for 135 yards with 0 TDs and 0 INTs. He somewhat salvaged his day with 19 yards and a score on the ground. But he still finished outside the top 20 QBs in fantasy points for the week.
Sunday marked Fitzpatrick’s 3rd game of the season (among 11) with fewer than 200 passing yards. He’s finished another 4 games with fewer than 230. He’s also tossed 0 or 1 TD in 7 of 11 games. That low floor makes him a dangerous play at this point of the season.
Fitzpatrick does have a couple of positive matchups coming up against the Colts (21st against QBs) and Ravens (29th). But Houston figures to go run heavy vs. Indy, and Baltimore has a pass rush that could trouble Fitz. He’s just a low-end QB2 the rest of the way.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
There’s nothing we can write that will better explain Kaepernick’s performance against the Raiders than his stat line: 18-of-33 for 174 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. That’s a 55% completion rate and 5.3 yards per attempt.
Now consider that Oakland entered the game allowing 65% completions, 7.4 yards per attempt, 1.8 TDs per game and 0.4 INTs per game. Through that lens, this was Kaepernick’s worst game of the season.
And that’s saying something. This guy hasn’t tossed multiple TDs in a game since Week 6. He’s fallen short of 200 yards in 3 of his last 4. He’s finished with a completion rate under 56% in 4 of his last 5. And now he’s tossed 2 INTs in 2 straight.
There’s no way you’re starting this guy in fantasy football down the stretch. The tougher call will be whether he’s capable of bouncing back in 2015. We’ll leave that for the offseason.
Alfred Morris, Redskins
Morris was practically non-existent in the game against the Rams last week. He didn’t produce a lick for an offense that gave us one of the worst performances of the year. It started out hot for Morris, ripping off a 12-yard scamper on the first play from scrimmage. Outside of an 11-yard reception later in the game, it was all the offense he could muster. He finished the game with 8 carries and just 6 yards. That means over the course of the rest of the game he rushed it 7 times for -6 yards. Much of that has to do with the brilliant defense displayed by the St. Louis Rams, but fantasy owners need better production out of their RB2.
Not much worked for the Washington offense in this one. They gained a paltry 206 yards from scrimmage, and just 27 yards on the ground. QB Colt McCoy led the rushing charge with 11 yards, and even RB Silas Redd had more yards than Morris on one carry (8 yards). Nothing was working on the O-line either. They committed 3 holding penalties that set the team back. By the end of the drubbing, Morris was lifted for Redd, who managed a few grabs in the passing game.
Morris will get a decent matchup when Washington takes on the Giants. Morris has had success against them in his career—including 90 total yards and a TD in Week 4. The Giants aren’t a tour de force against RBs this year, and it could be a good chance for Morris to get back to his ways, but don’t count on it. There are way too many issues on the O- line for him to be consistent, and now that McCoy is nicked up, QB Robert Griffin will most likely be at the helm for the rest of the year. Morris has actually been better with RG3 under center this season, so he’s worth sticking with as a RB2 for Week 15. Just know that there’s bust potential because of the situation.
Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Mathews started out hot against the Patriots last week, but his game ground to a halt in the 2nd quarter when he hobbled off the field with an apparent leg injury. He tried to give it a go after halftime but managed just 2 carries for -8 yards in his only opportunities, and didn’t touch the ball in the 4th quarter. He finished the night with 44 yards on 11 carries, adding a 4-yard catch in the passing game.
Injuries have been the knock on Mathews throughout his career. When healthy, he looks sharp through the holes and provides excellent pass protection. He just has a hard time staying on the field for an entire season—or game for that matter. Backup RBs Donald Brown and Branden Oliver chimed in when Mathews couldn’t go, but he was clearly more effective than both.
Mathews’ health remains the chief concern for fantasy owners who’d rather have him in the lineup. He’s already missed 7 games due to knee problems, but it remains an issue. Mathews is likely to miss practice this week but should be good to go by Sunday. It’s worth monitoring as the week goes on. The Chargers have a huge game against the Broncos coming up this weekend, and there are serious playoff implications at stake. Denver has been strong against the run for the most part, but San Diego always plays them tough.
Following the tough game against Denver, the Chargers host San Francisco. It’s hard to gauge what 49ers team will show up, but they’ve been traditionally tough against the run.
Keep an eye on Shark Bites throughout this week for updates on Mathews’ health.
Rashad Jennings, Giants
Jennings rope-a-doped fantasy owners with an “active” listing at Tennessee. He was anything but. They mixed him in for a few plays here and there, but it was the Andre Williams Show all day. Jennings’ knee was clearly not 100%.
Now Jennings-owners are in a conundrum because Andre Williams is more than able to handle 20 touches vs. Washington in Week 15; and perhaps the Giants want to get an extended look at their 4th-round rookie (?).
The good news is that Jennings is not listed on the Week 15 injury report, so the bum knee should be behind him. Consider him the favorite to lead the Giants’ backfield in touches against Washington, but Jennings’ workload isn’t as safe as it’s been most of the season.
Denard Robinson, Jaguars
Robinson has hit the rookie wall. The college QB has now carried 135 times over 13 games. That’s a lot of physical pounding for a 197-pounder -- especially 1 who didn’t get accustomed to it in college.
In 3 games since Jacksonville's bye, Robinson has mustered just 99 yards on 35 carries. That’s an ugly 2.8-yard average. And all 3 of those opponents rank 18th or worse against RBs. The Colts, Giants and Texans allow an average of 4.45 yards per carry.
We learned on Tuesday that afternoon that Robinson has a mid-foot sprain, leaving his availability for Week 15 and beyond uncertain. Even if he plays this Sunday, Robinson is extremely difficult to like against Baltimore’s top-ranked RB defense. The Ravens allow just 3.5 yards per carry to RBs.
Robinson finishes up the fantasy campaign with a prime matchup against a Titans defense that’s packed it in for the season. Tennessee has allowed a 100-yard rusher in 5 of its last 6 games. If healthy, Robinson might be worth using in Week 16.
Frank Gore, 49ers
Gore posted a dud in a plus matchup against the Raiders’ 32nd-ranked RB defense on Sunday. This one wasn’t on him, though. He averaged a healthy 5.3 yards per carry. But San Francisco inexplicably handed it to him just 12 times, while letting QB Colin Kaepernick chuck it 33 worthless times.
This 49ers offense is a mess right now. They’ve topped 17 points just once in their last 7 games, averaging 14.7 points over that span. To put that in perspective, Jacksonville ranks dead-last on the season with 15.3 points per game.
Couple a dysfunctional offense with a 31-year-old RB who averaged 3.5 yards per carry or worse in 6 of his last 8 games, and you’re not looking at a strong fantasy play. That’s especially true for Gore’s Week 15 matchup with a red-hot Seahawks defense. He mustered just 28 yards on 10 carries against Seattle a couple of weeks ago.
Week 16 brings San Diego’s 13th-ranked defense. The Chargers are allowing just 3.9 yards per carry to RBs, though, so Gore only looks like a low-upside RB3 or flex for that one.
Bishop Sankey, Titans
For the first time, Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle were both deactivated. Sankey was all alone as the primary tailback, but he still couldn’t deliver. The first running back selected in the 2014 NFL Draft is one of the bigger busts in recent history. In fact, in the ESPN 12-Team Expert Mock Draft on August 18th, Field Yates selected Bishop Sankey in the 5th round ahead of Andrew Luck and Matthew Stafford!
Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
Maybe it was partly that ankle he hurt in practice. But it was mostly C.J. Anderson. Thomas was invisible against the Bills, catching just 2 balls for 11 yards. That marked his worst game since 2011. Peyton Manning completed a season-low 14 throws against Buffalo, as the Broncos ran 29 times and scored all their points on Anderson rushing TDs and a FG.
What started out as an amusing anomaly has turned into a serious trend when it comes to Denver's running game. Anderson is averaging nearly 27 carries per game over his last 3, putting a sizable dent into the team's normal gun-slinging approach. Thomas was more of a decoy/blocker Sunday as Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker snatched 6 and 4 balls, respectively, to lead the team.
So, should you be worried?
Not necessarily. Thomas has still gotten his share since Anderson's surge to glory – look at his Week 12 line of 10-87-3 for reference. We know the Broncos can still score at will through the air. It just appears they don't really need to.
They should get back to a more balanced approach on the road against San Diego on Sunday. Thomas racked up a healthy 8-105-0 line against them earlier this year at home. He certainly enjoyed his last visit to San Diego, when he ripped off a 7-108-3 line in Week 10 last year. Just 11 teams have coughed up more WR scores than San Diego's 15.
After that is a road visit to Cincinnati, a team that entered Week 14 ranked #2 against fantasy WRs. But they had little answer for Pittsburgh receivers on Sunday. Antonio Brown's 9-117 line should be encouraging to Thomas owners who need him to get back into his true WR1 form.
Josh Gordon, Browns
HC Mike Pettine said after Sunday's game that the coaching staff decided to decrease Gordon's reps and took him out on 3rd downs vs. Indy. Cleveland's #1 WR still played just 2 fewer snaps than the week before, though, and the same number as in his Week 12 debut. That actually made for a season-high 79.4% of the team's offensive total. So we're not completely sure what the coaches were trying to accomplish ... and whether they believe they did.
It certainly appears, though, that Gordon's role has hurt the offense since he returned. QB Brian Hoyer sported an 86.0 QB rating and threw 11 TDs vs. 5 INTs before Gordon returned from his suspension. The 3 games since Gordon's return have seen ratings of 52.3, 51.0 and 31.7, with 7 INTs and no TDs.
Is that Gordon's fault? Of course not. Has he caused Hoyer to tank? No way. But Cleveland tried to force the ball to its top playmaker a bit too much, targeting him 29 times over his 1st 2 games back. That constituted 37.2% of the team's total pass attempts over those games.
Gordon drew just 7 looks against Indy, and we'd guess that the Browns will continue with a plan closer to that than to load him up with a bunch more targets going forward. There's also the uncertainty at QB with a rookie now under center, although it’s tough to imagine Johnny Manziel being any worse than Hoyer has been.
Gordon's superior talent will keep him well within the starter discussion going forward, and he sits inside our top 20 at WR for Week 15. But he's not quite the lineup lock that he looked like just a week ago.
Randall Cobb, Packers
Here’s a disturbing trend: Cobb has 21 targets in the last 3 games, while Davante Adams has 19. After 10 TDs in the first 9 games, Cobb hasn’t scored in 4 straight weeks.
Green Bay is at Buffalo in Week 15 and at Tampa Bay in Week 16.
Is your league still allowing trades? Make an offer for Cobb right now – while his owner is a bit sour. Buffalo can be attacked through the air, and Tampa Bay is ranked a lowly 27th against fantasy WRs this year.
Torrey Smith, Ravens
Per Ravens insider Jeff Zrebiec, Smith’s knee swelled up prior to Sunday’s tilt against the Dolphins. Since inactives had already been released, Smith went on to play a decoy role. That meant he played just 15 of 66 snaps and didn’t garner a single target.
Smith’s knee sprain is likely to cost him some practice time this week. That certainly clouds his outlook, an unfortunate development given Smith’s upcoming schedule (vs. Jacksonville, at Houston). Both teams sit bottom-12 in yardage allowed to WRs on the season. Smith also caught fire over his past 8 games, posting top-12 fantasy numbers (non-PPR scoring).
We’ll update his status throughout the week, but he’ll likely carry a boom-or-bust tag into the fantasy playoffs.
Andre Johnson, Texans
Johnson took a big helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars LB Telvin Smith in the 2nd quarter of Sunday’s game. He was diagnosed with a concussion, finishing the afternoon with just 17 yards on 4 catches.
Johnson will need to pass through the concussion protocol to play in Week 15. It’s worth noting that he also sustained a concussion in Week 2 of last season, which could make it tougher to get cleared.
If Johnson does play, he’ll get a Colts defense that he burned for a season-best 7-99-1 line back in Week 6. His previous 6 lines against the Colts: 9-229-3, 4-18, 11-151-1, 12-141, 7-95-1 and 7-106-1.
Keep an eye on Shark Bites throughout the week for updates on Johnson’s progress. If he plays Sunday, he’ll be worth keeping in fantasy lineups.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Fantasy owners may be holding out hope that Fitzgerald will become fully healthy and have solid end to the season. Unfortunately, even if he can work through his knee injury, his schedule is looking brutal.
This coming Thursday, he’ll be playing at St. Louis, a team that has generated the 2nd most sacks in a league over the last 5 weeks. That type of pressure will likely be enough to cause Drew Stanton to make his WRs even less effective than they have been recently. And then in Week 16, Fitz will face the Seahawks, who have allowed the fewest fantasy points to WRs over the last 5 weeks.
There’s no doubt that Fitzgerald was performing well before his knee injury. He had averaged 114 yards and 7 targets in the 3 full games he played before hurting his knee. But the schedule may be just too much to overcome.
Stedman Bailey, Rams
Bailey has had a few strong weeks in fantasy, but his game against Washington definitely gives us an opportunity to take a step back and realize that he’s still a shaky weekly starter. He wasn’t terrible—2 catches for 47 yards—but owners want to see numbers like he’s been putting up the previous 2 weeks.
“Stud Man” was almost “Dud Man” if it wasn’t for his athletic heroics in the 3rd quarter. He bailed out QB Shaun Hill—who was pressured—by snatching a ball across the middle. He broke free and scampered through the defense until he was brought down at the 1. It was a 36-yard play that crippled the hopes of the Washington faithful, because on the next play, the Rams scored on a TE Jared Cook TD to make it 24-0. By the end of the series of plays, the Redskins fans were even clamoring for RG3 to take the field.
Bailey has a tough matchup this coming week as the Rams host the Cardinals. There’s a good chance he sees a lot of CB Patrick Peterson, but depending on the health of CB Antonio Cromartie, Bailey might be seeing 2nd stringers. Following their Week 15 tilt, Bailey and the Rams host the Giants. It could be a sneaky matchup to start, but it gets risky this time of year. You could bench him and he has the upside to go off, but the better bet would be that he comes back down to earth a bit the next few weeks. Either way, he doesn’t see enough targets on a regular basis to be trusted this late in the season.
Reggie Wayne, Colts
It's not yet clear whether Wayne's torn triceps will sideline him going forward, but it should certainly keep him out of your lineup.
We certainly don't know whether to blame that particular injury on Wayne's season-worst 3 drops against Cleveland in Week 14, but the game was Wayne's 3rd straight with less than 35 yards receiving. And he saw 9, 5 and 8 targets in those contests, so it hasn't been a volume problem.
There are too many other WR options with much more upside for us to keep trying this oldster in the fantasy playoffs.
Rueben Randle, Giants
He just stood by and watched as Eli Manning threw to Odell Beckham, Preston Parker and Larry Donnell. Randle had a chance at a long TD bomb – thrown by Beckham – but was double covered and couldn’t get both hands on it.
Even with his spotty fantasy production Randle might be the kind of guy you flex in Week 15 vs. Washington. Their entire defense has given up – except maybe for DE Ryan Kerrigan – and Randle did catch 8 balls for 89 yards the last time he faced the Redskins.
Jimmy Graham, Saints
Graham didn’t record a single catch or target in Week 13. This week, his numbers improved only slightly, as he tallied a meager 3-25 line despite 11 targets. Two of those catches came in the final 2 minutes of the game. Graham also dropped a career-high 3 passes.
His shoulder injury is still an issue, and he admitted that last week. There’s certainly a chance for a Week 15 rebound given a matchup with Chicago’s league-worst TE defense. They’ve allowed a whopping 11 scores to the position this season. But then comes Atlanta, which has allowed just 2 TE scores all year. A healthy Graham did post an 8-82 line against them back in Week 1, though.
Ultimately, as long as he’s active, the 2-time Pro Bowler will be nearly impossible to bench. He simply might not be a catalyst for championship-winning fantasy squads.
Jordan Reed, Redskins
Reed was a casualty of the offense against the Rams. He managed 3 catches for 25 yards, but none of them made any impact. In his defense, QB Colt McCoy spent the majority of his time being chased by an aggressive and relentless Rams pass rush.
Washington’s offense as a whole was terrible—a grand total of 206 yards from scrimmage, including 27 on the ground. St. Louis teed off on the poor O-line and it affected everything on that side of the ball. Reed has shown promise when he gets active in the passing attack, but there was simply no time to develop a rhythm for chemistry to take footing. His highlight was a TE screen on 3rd-and-12 in which he dodged a few would-be tacklers and dove just short of the first down.
Reed faces the Giants this week. He missed the first meeting of the year against Big Blue due to a leg injury, but he looks in peak form—for now. The injury bug has certainly plagued Reed’s short career. He’s already missed 4 games—and parts of 2 more during this season. His 3-25 performance also marks the 5th time in the 8 games he’s played that he’s registered less than 50 receiving yards. He’ll take on the Eagles in Week 16 as well, so his prospects look limited.
It’s disappointing to see how inconsistent he’s been, especially because he has shown flashes of brilliance in select games. He torched the Colts secondary for 9 catches and 123 yards two weeks ago, and then flops once more. He’s a risky fantasy starter the rest of the way.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
QB Teddy Bridgewater turned in the best performance of his young career against the Jets on Sunday, chucking for 309 yards and 2 TDs. But Rudolph was nowhere to be found. He finished with 2 catches for 9 scoreless yards. His 2 targets represented just 7.4% of Bridgewater’s total attempts and ranked 5th on the team behind Greg Jennings, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright and Matt Asiata.
In 3 games since returning from his groin injury, Rudolph has posted lines of 3-50, 2-7-1 and 2-9. He’s totaled just 8 targets. Rudolph is playing a full complement of snaps but is spending more than half of them blocking.
Rudolph is no more than a TD-dependent fantasy flier down the stretch.