Start or Sit: Week 15
Kevin McCallister was prepared and ready.
After his parents left him behind, missing his flight to spend Christmas in Paris with his extended family, the seven-year-old boy – home alone – was set to have Christmas by himself. This was before cell phones were a thing, so no, his family had no way of knowing where he was, guys.
The Wet Bandits, two burglars with over 100 pounds each on poor little Kevin, were prepared to ruin the boy’s Christmas. Because they knew houses would be abandoned during the holidays, the two bad guys would break in and steal others’ belongings - presents - just before the magical morning.
They had no idea what they were in store for when they entered the McCallister house on Christmas Eve night, though. Kevin McCallister was prepared and ready.
Slipping down stairs, paint cans flying through the air, irons to the face, nails to the foot, blow torches to the head – it didn’t matter that Harry and Marv (those were the names of the burglars) were grown men attempting to steal from a massive suburban Chicago home. Kevin McCallister did his homework, and everything fell into place.
Use it as a lesson, fantasy footballers. Just because the odds are stacked against you doesn’t mean you can’t dig deep in finding creative ways to beat your opponent. The waiver wire is still your friend in the fantasy football playoffs, and although you may feel that starting your studs is a good idea, perhaps you’ve got some bench depth that can outperform some of those usually reliable players. Maybe there’s more upside elsewhere.
Hopefully this article helps you find that, this week especially. This is your Kevin McCallister Christmas Eve night preparation.
Like Kevin McCallister: Defend Your House (Solid Starts)Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Minnesota, Foles’ Week 15 opponent, has had plenty of trouble stopping the pass this season. They just surrendered three touchdowns to Joe Flacco this past weekend, and have now allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season, including three straight 20-plus point performances. Foles is a safe bet to continue his hot streak.Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
While the Texans don’t give up a whole lot of passing yards, they do allow high efficiency to opposing quarterbacks. As I mentioned yesterday, the Texans are second in the league in passing yards allowed, but rank second-to-last in our Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points metric. The volume hasn’t been there against the Texans, which is why they appear to be good against the pass. But they’re not. They’re not at all.
Andrew Luck should have a nice game against them this week. Keep in mind, the last time he faced them (Case Keenum’s coming out party), Luck ended the game with 24.8 standard points, throwing three second half touchdowns. He should be able to get things going again this week.Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins
Atlanta’s defense ranks last in the league from a total defense standpoint, and we’ve – I’ve – continuously pointed them out as a matchup to target for passers and wideouts. But from a running back’s perspective, a game against Atlanta is pretty good, too.
The Falcons now rank third-to-last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP, ahead of only San Diego and Chicago. Alfred Morris, who, yes, hasn’t done very well over the last three weeks against formidable opponents, has a very legitimate shot to shine as numberFire’s fifth-best Week 15 running back.Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard hasn’t seen the Steelers defense since Week 2, and back then, he was an inexperienced rookie with a career-high eight rushing attempts. Even still, he ran the ball for 38 yards – scoring once – and caught a pass for 27 yards and another touchdown.
After 11 games, Bernard not only looks better, but has been more involved in the offense. The Steelers continue to struggle against the run, and Gio should be able to take advantage of that.Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins
Noted with Morris, Atlanta’s defense is the worst in the NFL, pretty much at everything. While they rank third-to-last against the run, they actually rank dead last versus the pass, giving the possession receiver a little more upside than usual this week.
Garcon hasn’t been what we want Garcon to be for the majority of the season. He’s seeing passes that are closer to the line of scrimmage, taking away his big-play power. He’s certainly a phenomenal PPR asset, catching no fewer than five passes in any game this season, but he hasn’t topped 68 yards over his last four contests.
There’s a chance that changes this week with Kirk Cousins under center, who’s looked at Garcon often when playing in relief. Not only that, but Atlanta’s secondary has allowed 13 weekly top-24 wide receiver finishes in their 13 games this season.Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos
Naturally, with Wes Welker out, you’d expect Eric Decker to see a slight uptick in targets, even though they play very different wide receiver games. But even aside from Welker’s concussion, Decker has 16 receptions, 5 touchdowns and nearly 300 yards over his last two contests alone, and will face one of the worst secondaries in the entire league tonight on Thursday Night Football. Though scoring is typically lower during these Thursday night games, Decker should be more than fine in your fantasy playoff matchup.
Keep the Change: Filthy Animals (Sneaky Starts)Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Last season’s Super Bowl MVP came through in a big way for quarterback streamers last week, tossing three touchdowns against the awful Minnesota secondary. The bad weather forced some bad throws as well, as Flacco threw three picks to go along with his touchdowns, but in the end, Baltimore’s quarterback scored 20 fantasy points.
This week, Flacco goes up against numberFire’s 23rd-worst pass defense in Detroit. This time weather won’t be a problem (let’s hope, because that would be weird), and Flacco should have an even healthier target in Dennis Pitta.
Don’t let Detroit’s last two performances blind you from their truly mediocre secondary. They faced Matt Flynn – a guy who could barely get anything going against the NFL’s worst secondary last week – on Thanksgiving, and Nick Foles in eight inches of snow last week. To say they’ve been tested over the last two games would be a full-blown lie.
Prior to those contests, Detroit had allowed 16 touchdown passes in six games. Expect Flacco to post a high floor this week indoors.Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
If you want a high-risk, high-reward player, look no further than new Redskins’ starter, Kirk Cousins.
Forget who he is just for a second, and think only about his opponent. Atlanta ranks last (again, I love targeting Atlanta) in our total and pass defense metrics, and have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
From a week-to-week perspective, Atlanta has given up four top-six fantasy games to passers, including a top five one to Geno Smith back in Week 5 (that was when everyone was like, “Geno is the future!”). Moreover, eight of their 13 opponents this season have finished in the top 12 at the position – QB1 status – with the worst game being a 13.8-point output from Carson Palmer in Week 8.
It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is against Atlanta – the upside is there. If you’re in a bind, you could do a lot worse than Cousins.Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami Dolphins
Tannehill’s been one of the most consistent quarterbacks this season in fantasy, scoring no less than 10.8 standard fantasy points, but no more than last week’s 23.6 total against the Steelers. That’s not a bad thing – you know what you’re going to get with him.
The key with Tannehill this week is that he’s trending upwards. He has two 300-plus yard games in his last three, and is being used a little more on the ground, averaging over 33 yards per game since Week 11. That includes a 48-yard run against the Steelers last week.
Though the Pats score well against the pass according to our metrics, they’ve slipped from being a top-three unit to the ninth-best one throughout the season (per our own Mark Berenbaum). A hobbling Aqib Talib should help as well this week.Chris Ogbonnaya, RB, Cleveland Browns
No team has allowed more 10-plus yard runs this season than the Chicago Bears, and no team ranks worse than the Bears in terms of rushing efficiency on defense.
With Willis McGahee sidelined this week, Chris Ogbonnaya finally has a great chance to shine. He’s easily been the most efficient running back in that offense (Rushing NEP per Rush of 0.15), and is a threat in the passing game as well (41 receptions on the season).
If you’re in need of a running back or a flex this week, Silent G is your man.Jordan Todman, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Starting running back Maurice Jones-Drew has a hamstring injury, which means Jordan Todman would get the starting nod if MJD can’t go this weekend. There’s not a whole lot of data for a guy with 46 career rushing attempts, but this season with Jacksonville, Todman’s rushing efficiency is identical to Maurice Jones-Drew’s on a per rush basis. That’s not necessarily a good thing though, as Jones-Drew has carried the ball 208 times vs. Todman’s 43.
Todman is a decent deep-league play, as the Bills defense has been susceptible to giving up big plays to running backs. They do rank 14th against the run according to our metrics, but have given up a running back touchdown in each of their last four games, including three to Atlanta.T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
If you’re a Hilton owner, chances are you’re pretty upset with his production.
Last year’s stud rookie wideout has caught no more than five passes in a contest since his two bonkers Reggie Wayne-less games, and hasn’t scored since Week 9. That Week 9 game, however, came against his Week 15 opponent, the Houston Texans.
As I mentioned with Luck, Houston’s pass defense has been very bad, though many will say otherwise. Hilton had seven catches and three touchdowns against them the last time out, and should be a candidate to break through this week with a top-10 wide receiver performance. Of course, there’s always the possibility that T.Y. stinks up the place again. He’s the ultimate high-risk, high-reward receiver this week.Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
Shorts found the end zone last Thursday, saving his fantasy football day – he had just one catch outside of that short score, finishing the game with 13 yards.
In the two games prior to that one, however, Shorts had 14 receptions and a touchdown. And this week, he’ll face a defense that’s given up the fourth-most points to opposing receivers.
I don’t see Shorts as having the same type of ceiling as Hilton, but for a team thinking Shorts is toast, I think this is a week where you reassess that value.Ted Ginn, Jr., WR, Carolina Panthers
If you really need to dig deep, Ted Ginn Jr. isn’t a bad place to look. Given his boom or bust nature, he’s certainly a crazy gamble, but the Jets pass defense has been playing awful of late, allowing 10 touchdowns to wide receivers over their last six games.
Ginn, as we all know, is a deep ball guy who will only catch a couple of passes per week. However, the Jets secondary has allowed 34 passing plays of more than 25 yards this season, which is two off the league lead. There’s a chance Ginn breaks free for a big one.Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans
I’m mentioning Delanie Walker every week in this column because the Titans keep facing soft defenses against the position. This week is no different, as the Cardinals, the Titans’ Week 15 opponent, rank 32nd against the position in fantasy this year. Though Jared Cook didn’t step up last week against them, remember that that’s Jared Cook: Walker is at least a big part of the Tennessee offense under quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It sounds as though Walker will go after being concussed over the last two weeks, and if he does, he’s probably a top-12 option at the position, especially when you consider that he was averaging nine targets per game with Fitzpatrick under center before getting hurt.Jacob Tamme, TE, Denver Broncos
Wes Welker went down with a concussion last week, and in stepped Jacob Tamme to fill the void. The Broncos tight end caught four passes for 47 yards in relief, playing a role he often found himself in during 2012.
The upside is certainly there for him on Thursday night, as he caught 52 passes last season as a slot man, before Welker was even in the Denver picture. Perhaps he connects with Manning for some late-season magic, helping tight end streamers in the fantasy playoffs.
Defense to Start: Buffalo Bills (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
I Made My Family Disappear: Uh Oh (Risky Starts)Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers
When you adjust for strength of opponent, Tampa Bay’s secondary ranks 12th in the league against the pass. Not bad for a squad that’s giving up the 10th-most fantasy points to passers this season.
The Buccaneers have been iffy from a raw statistics perspective since their Week 5 bye, but came through against a struggling E.J. Manuel last week with four picks. They showed some life, which makes me hesitant to feel good about Colin Kaepernick in Week 15.
Moreover, Kap’s numbers haven’t been incredibly strong this season. He’s still just the 16th-ranked fantasy quarterback, despite a game with over 30 points, and two with more than 20. Game flow could become an issue for him as well this week, causing lower volume.
Kaepernick will always have a high ceiling, but it’s difficult to predict when that ceiling will hit. This week, our algorithms think he’s just a middling QB2.Jason Campbell, QB, Cleveland Browns
No team has thrown the ball more than Cleveland this season, and it’s showing up on Jason Campbell’s stat sheet. He has a game where he threw 44 times (last week), and one where he threw 56 (!!) times (Week 9). Those were his two best days on the fantasy football gridiron.
This week, Campbell takes on the Bears, a team that’s faced the second-fewest pass attempts this season. Why is this the case? Because you don’t beat the Bears by throwing the ball – you beat them by running it down their depleted throats.
Though Willis McGahee is out and the Browns don’t have the most thrilling running game in the world, we shouldn’t expect the team to abandon the ground game in this one. Their 2.1-to-1 pass-to-run ratio is second highest in the NFL, but I’d expect that to be lower in this one, forcing Campbell to, perhaps, not see the type of volume he’s seen this year. Due to all of this, Campbell is our 22nd-ranked passer in Week 15.Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans
CJI’mNotDraftingYouNextYearK will clearly get volume, but he’s still quite touchdown-dependent on a team with a short yardage back. His floor is probably higher than most realize or want to admit to, but against Arizona – numberFire’s fifth-best rush defense – he may have a tough time finding holes. If you have better options, benching CJ isn’t a bad idea, K?Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s running back has two straight double-digit fantasy performances, but they came against Pittsburgh and Minnesota, two teams that have struggled to defend the run this year. Though Detroit, Rice’s Week 15 opponent, couldn’t stop LeSean McCoy last week, some of that probably had to do with the blizzard on the field. That, and LeSean McCoy is one of the best in the business. This year, Ray Rice is anything but.Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Crabtree could see Revis coverage this week, which isn’t good news for anyone wanting to start the rusty receiver. He played 61 of 69 snaps last week, so there are no real limitations from that perspective, which is great. The reason you keep him on your squad through this week is because, in Week 16, Crabtree will face the Atlanta Falcons secondary. This week, he's too hard to like.Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Victor Cruz has just two games this season where he ranked in the weekly top 10 at the wide receiver position, and those games have accounted for over 38% of his fantasy football total. Though he’s still catching the ball, he hasn’t scored since Week 4, and has topped the 100-yard mark just once since then as well.
Seattle’s scary secondary ranks first according to our Adjusted Defensive PNEP metric, making Cruz completely bench-worthy in this week’s fantasy playoffs.Golden Tate, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Cruz’s wide receiving opponent, Golden Tate, is one of the more unreliable wideouts you’ll find in fantasy. While he does have 10 catches over his last two games, he’s scored in just three contests this season despite seeing 24.1% of Seattle’s targets, 16th-most in the league at wide receiver.
The Giants secondary is fairly mediocre, but wide receivers against them often fall victim to game flow, as the Giants consistently are behind in games. I’d bench Tate for a higher upside option this week.
Les Incompétents: Good For Nothing (Bad Starts)Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Tennessee Titans
Once upon a time, Ryan Fitzpatrick was one of the best fantasy quarterbacks out there. Now, after two average weeks against two porous secondaries, Fitzpatrick is back on the waiver wire.
He always has the ability to gain fantasy points with his legs, but will be far too risky against a Cardinals defense that ranks third in the league against the pass. Stay far away from Fitzy this week.DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers
I know I’ve been mean to DeAngelo all season long, but I think it’s at least a little warranted. He’s seen double-digit carries in nine of his 12 games played this season, yet still ranks as the 29th-best running back in fantasy football. Since the Panthers Week 4 bye, D-Wil has zero games with more than 64 rushing yards, including seven with less than 50.
Jonathan Stewart may be hurt (again), but there’s no way I’m trusting DeAngelo Williams against the Jets second-ranked rush defense. No way.Chris Ivory, RB, New York Jets
Speaking of the Jets, Chris Ivory’s been a plodding machine for them, and now has three touchdowns in his last five games. He’s a powerful back with a lot to offer after initial contact, but I fear for the Jets offense against a Panthers team that’s coming off a disappointing loss to the Saints. Ivory owners beware.Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants
You need to score touchdowns in fantasy football. At least, simple logic tells us that.
Do you know what Hakeem Nicks hasn’t done since December 9th of last year? Score a touchdown. He hasn’t scored a touchdown in over a year, people!
No, he’s not worth it in the fantasy playoffs, let alone against the rough Seattle defense.Tim Wright, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a reminder that there are a ton of streaming tight end options this week, so starting a player like Wright, even if he does indeed play well, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Wright has two catches in each of his last two games, and is facing a San Francisco defense that’s allowed the second-fewest points to the tight end position all season long.
Defense to Sit: New York Giants (vs. Seattle Seahawks)