Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 15
In little league, there was this kid on my team -- we'll call him Bruce (his name's not Bruce) -- who struggled. There's really no need to sugarcoat it: he was bad at baseball.
We loved Bruce and supported him, but when he went up to bat, we knew he was an auto-out. When he walked to the plate with two down, everyone in the dugout grabbed their gloves, knowing they were about to hit the field.
No joke, we had gone through over half the season, and Bruce hadn't gotten a hit. He was a pudgy kid, so maybe athleticism played a role in that. But Bruce was hitless through like, a month and a half of baseball games.
We all thought that streak was going to end one Saturday morning. Bruce was up to bat, he lined a ball to right field, and we screamed from the dugout as he ran towards first base. Parents were going nuts -- everyone was celebrating. I'm pretty sure dogs were even barking. And then one of the biggest "Oh no" moments happened from my childhood.
Bruce was thrown out at first from right field.
Being at the finish line and falling short at the very end sucks. And that's going to happen to a lot of you this weekend. But let's do our best to not get thrown out at first from right field.
Start Blake Bortles (vs. Houston): It's easy to make fun of Blake Bortles, but he's actually ranked as a top-10 signal-caller in fantasy football in each of his last three games, averaging over 22 points per contest during this stretch. He's thrown for a pair of scores in his last two and has only two games this year without a touchdown pass. That provides some sort of floor each week.
In Week 15, he's taking on the Texans. And Houston hasn't been great against opposing passers. While our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric pegs them as just a below-average secondary, they've actually allowed a top-10 quarterback performance in 6 of their last 9 (nice) games. The only passers to not finish that high in ranking were Kevin Hogan, Joe Flacco, and Jimmy Garoppolo. And Jimmy G had 334 passing yards.
Bortles may not have a sensationally high ceiling, but Jacksonville's a 10.5-point favorite and he's proven to have a reasonable floor all season long. You could do far worse off the waiver wire this week.
Sit Alex Smith (vs. Los Angeles): The Chargers' secondary is legit, guys. It's a top-five unit according to our numbers, but that's also skewed a bit by some early-season struggles. They've allowed just five passing touchdowns over their last nine games, holding quarterbacks to about 175 yards passing per contest. Only Tom Brady and Tyrod Taylor, during this time, have ranked as top-12 quarterbacks against Los Angeles, and it took Tyrod a rushing touchdown to get there. Alex Smith has seen up-and-down production over the second half of the year, and this week, he's way too risky to throw in your fantasy lineup given the matchup.
Start Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. Tennessee): The average quarterback in 2017 has thrown a touchdown for every 158.85 passing yards. Jimmy Garoppolo? One touchdown for every 322.50 yards.
There's positive regression at work here, but the matchup is pretty nice this week for Jimmy G, too. Tennessee's allowed just one touchdown pass over their last three games, but they've also faced Jacoby Brissett, Tom Savage, and Blaine Gabbert in that span. Even in a down year for quarterbacks, those aren't exactly the toughest starters in the league. And that's actually been the case for Tennessee all season long -- they've been fine against bad quarterbacks, but players like Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson (pour some out), and even Derek Carr all had strong outings against the Titans. The truth is, when adjusted for strength of opponent, our metrics still have Tennessee as a bottom-six unit against the pass.
Garoppolo has averaged over 300 yards in each of his two starts with the 49ers, throwing the ball an average of 35 times per game. That passing volume should be there once again versus Tennessee, as they've faced the most passing plays against them this year. That should help Garoppolo's baseline.
Sit Andy Dalton (at Minnesota): Dalton was a dumpster fire last week against Chicago, which just adds to the distrust this week against Minnesota, owners of one of the best overall defenses in football. He's averaging two passing scores per game over his last five, but he's now going up against a secondary that's surrendered just 12 all season long, the second-fewest in the NFL. When adjusted for strength of opponent, Minnesota's secondary is (predictably) a top-10 one, according to our metrics. The Bengals are on the road, they're big underdogs, and Dalton is not someone I have faith in this week during the fantasy football semifinals.
Start Kenyan Drake (at Buffalo): In two games without Damien Williams in the picture for the Dolphins, Drake has averaged 24 carries, 117 rushing yards, 0.5 rushing touchdowns, 5.5 targets, and 50 receiving yards per game. That's absurd. The most important piece here is the volume, though. Because even if he's not as efficient moving forward, volume will still make him fantasy relevant. And seeing 48 of a possible 54 running back carries is huge. So if Williams is out once again -- even if he's not, it'd be strange to see the Dolphins rush him back to the lineup -- Drake could eat once again versus numberFire's bottom-ranked rush defense.
Sit Orleans Darkwa (vs. Philadelphia): Even though he had 10 carries last week, Darkwa played just 24% of New York's snaps, his lowest snap rate since Week 3. Wayne Gallman took his spot, playing 18 more snaps while running the ball 12 times. The Giants seem to be wanting to see what they have in Gallman, which makes Darkwa an easy sit candidate this week, especially when you consider the matchup -- the Eagles have allowed the fewest fantasy points to the running back position this year.
Start Mike Davis (vs. Los Angeles): Assuming Davis is healthy and plays (he left last week's game with an injury, so it's something to monitor), he should be in good shape. Not only has he carried the ball 31 times over the last two weeks for the Seahawks, but Seattle's at home this week, they're favorites, the game has a fairly high over/under, and the Rams have given up more fantasy points to the running back position than any other team in the league. Health is the biggest concern for Davis in this one.
Sit Doug Martin (vs. Atlanta): Martin has played nine games this year, and over his last seven contests, he's ranked higher than RB27 in PPR leagues exactly zero times. We can make excuse after excuse, but the truth is, Peyton Barber has outperformed him. Barber has a 46.15% Success Rate (the percentage of positive expected point runs) this year, while Martin's is sitting at a far below average 29.46%. In Week 14, Martin ended up getting benched after a fumble, and Barber out-produced him once again. It wouldn't make much sense for Tampa Bay to roll out Martin as the featured back, but even if they do, Martin's seen volume all season long and has yet to come through for fantasy owners. He's not worth a start at all.
Start Latavius Murray (vs. Cincinnati): After Murray's Week 14 stinker, you may feel hesitant in throwing him into your lineup this week. But he also faced one of the better rush defenses in football last week, and he saw a negative script, allowing Jerick McKinnon to play more snaps. This game should be different. As noted with Dalton above, the Vikings are double-digit favorites, which should lead to more rushes and potential scoring opportunities. And, on the year, Murray's been the one who's seen the most goal-line work, out-attempting McKinnon 9 to 5 within the opponent's 5-yard line. Cincinnati's also coming off of back-to-back games in which they allowed top-four running back performances, albeit it was against Le'Veon Bell and Jordan Howard. Even still, giving up 147 rushing yards to Howard last week should give Murray owners some confidence in this one.
Start Marquise Goodwin (vs. Tennessee): In two games with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, Goodwin has seen 20 targets, good for a 28.57% target share in the offense. He's still yet to connect on a touchdown, but with 14 catches and over 200 yards, that will come. Tennessee's a bottom-half team in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, and they're also a bottom-half team in air yards allowed, per AirYards.com. That'll be big for Goodwin, who has one of the highest average depth of target rates among higher-volume wide receivers this year.
Sit Robby Anderson (at New Orleans): The fear in benching Robby Anderson is that he's actually performed with Bryce Petty in the past, both in the regular season and the preseason. But two other things are at play with Anderson this week: matchup and regression.
As I talked about in my 15 Transactions column earlier this week, Anderson has scored way too many touchdowns when compared to his target, reception, and yardage totals. And he's yet to score from within 18 yards out. In addition to this, he's facing Marshon Lattimore and the Saints' secondary this weekend. New Orleans ranks as our seventh-best schedule-adjusted pass defense. And I'm not sure volume is going to automatically be there for Anderson given the cornerback matchup and the fact that New Orleans has actually seen the 11th-fewest passes against them this year. As big favorites, the fear here is that the Saints grind clock with their unstoppable run game, and if Petty is inefficient, as he's been in the small sample we've seen, the whole Jets' offense could struggle.
Start Mohamed Sanu (at Tampa Bay): The Buccaneers are the best matchup for wide receivers in all of football. They've got a bottom-three secondary per our numbers, but they've also surrendered the most fantasy points to wide receivers this season. And we've seen the Bucs struggle against slot receivers like Golden Tate (WR10 last week in PPR formats), Jarvis Landry (WR10 in Week 11), Larry Fitzgerald (WR2 in Week 6), and even Sanu himself back in Week 12, where he caught 8 of 9 targets for 64 yards. He should provide a nice floor in this soft matchup this week.
Sit T.Y. Hilton (vs. Denver): Which T.Y. Hilton is going to show up this week? Will it be the one we saw against the Browns, 49ers, and Texans, when he ranked as a top-six wide receiver? Or will it be the one we've seemingly seen every other week of the season? My money's on the latter, as the Broncos -- despite having allowed the most receiving touchdowns in football -- are fine against opposing wide receivers. They've actually given up just 12 wide receiver touchdowns, which is a pretty average number compared to other NFL teams. And Denver's also allowed the fewest receiving yards to the position. Given his inconsistency, Hilton shouldn't be in your lineup.
Start Dede Westbrook (vs. Houston): Since Westbrook came off of IR four games ago, he's seen 26% of the Jaguars targets, averaging almost 9 targets per game. And during this four-week stretch, he's seen nine deep-ball targets (passes that travel 15 or more yards through the air), which is a top-20 number throughout the league. This week, like I talked through with his quarterback, Blake Bortles, Westbrook will face Houston. The Texans are seventh in the league in air yards allowed, and they've allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to the wide receiver position. Given Westbrook's usage in whole and down the field, he's in a great spot.
Other wide receivers to start: Devin Funchess (vs. Green Bay), Demaryius Thomas (at Indianapolis)
Other wide receivers to sit: Josh Doctson (vs. Arizona), Tyreek Hill (in shallower leagues, vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
Start Jack Doyle (vs. Denver): Look, just to be blunt, tight end sucks this week. It sucks every week, but it sucks even more this week. Doyle's not a terrible option, though, as he has a 22.39% target share in Indy's offense over the team's last five games (and a near 22% share overall), which is the third-highest mark among all tight ends playing this weekend. Denver's a good matchup for him, too -- only two teams have allowed more yards and touchdowns to tight ends than Denver has this year.
Sit Tyler Kroft (at Minnesota): Again, tight end is a mess. Kroft may not have been in your consideration set, but it's hard to tell folks to bench any tight end who's seeing some sort of volume. With Kroft, you're looking at a subpar 10.32% target share over the last five weeks going up against a defense that's top-five in the league against the position in almost any category you look at. Kroft can find your bench.
Start O.J. Howard (deeper play, vs. Atlanta): It's not strange to see Howard play more snaps than teammate Cameron Brate -- that's been common throughout the season. But Howard, over the last three weeks, has seen the highest snap rates that a tight end for the Bucs has captured all season long, and he's hit the 70% snap share mark in each of his last five. Most importantly, during the team's last three contests, Howard's actually run 14 more routes than Brate, per Pro Football Focus. That's something we didn't often see earlier in the season. And that's resulted in 50-plus receiving yards in three of his last four games. Though the matchup isn't a spectacular one, Howard is probably the best realistic streaming option at tight end this week.
Start the New Orleans Saints (vs. New York): Among the 51 quarterbacks with 100 or more passes over the last two seasons, only Kevin Hogan has a worse adjusted net yards per attempt rate than Bryce Petty, the Jets' starter against the Saints this weekend. Within that same subset, Petty's sacks per attempt ratio is 11th-worst. He's thrown three touchdowns to seven interceptions over his career, too. All of the Saints defense this week.
Sit the Seattle Seahawks (vs. Los Angeles): The Seahawks have certainly been a beastly play at home over the last few years, but you've got to be a little concerned this week. They're coming off a down performance on the road against a beatable Jaguars offense (they allowed 30 points and didn't register any sacks), and they'll be going up against a Rams O that's allowed just one top-10 performance to an opposing defense all season long. Yes, that defense was Seattle, but the Seahawks' defense is a much different unit now than it was then. They're not a horrendous option, but using a defense like the Saints is much safer this weekend.