6 Fantasy Football Stars to Start or Sit for Week 15

Both Maclin and Garcon had huge games in Week 14, but the numbers say their prospects aren't so rosy this week.

Vince Lombardi once said, "The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory." Well, guess what? You're not Lombardi's target audience. You don't want to get knocked to your knees. I'll take an easy victory over a hard-fought battle any day.

And that's where we come in. numberFire has beaten the projections given on your fantasy league's site 93% percent of the time this season, and as always, we're back for more. I've already written on many players this week in my Best Value Plays article including Russell Wilson, Vick Ballard, Jonathan Dwyer, Danario Alexander, Lance Moore, and Marcedes Lewis.

If you want our full projections, make sure to check out our Week 15 Projections page. But here's a few more guys you should take a close look at if they're on your team, with an especially heavy focus on guys in tonight's Bengals/Eagles game.

Fantasy Football Best Starts/Must Sits Week 15

Bryce Brown - Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.25 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 24 Ranked RB (No. 74 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 56.6%
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Verdict: Flex Him

One of the most polarizing players this week in all of fantasy, and I take the cop out and say that he's flex-worthy. I know, I'd want to hurt me for that too; I've heard the best torture device is being forced to watch the Cardinals offense. But before you Ryan Lindley-ize me, perhaps I should explain the numbers behind my call.

As our No. 24 RB this week, Bryce Brown is in the dead middle of the flexing range. He's not good enough to be an RB2 - even Jonathan Dwyer, Shonn Greene, and even Montell Owens are better options this week - but he's probably better than most of the flex options on your bench.

As I explained this morning in my Thursday Night Football preview, Brown started off red-hot, but lost over eight points of expectation for the Eagles in Week 14 on just 12 rushes. Our projections saw that coming - he was our No. 31 RB last week. But the main reason may not have been his effectiveness at all, but rather his rushing attempts. After the Eagles rushed the ball on 55 percent of their plays in his first start, that proportion has decreased each week, to 43 percent in Week 13 and 24 percent in Week 14. While it's hard to get much worse, I'd caution against expecting it to get much better, either.

Brown's only saving grace for flex status might just be the average play of the Cincinnati defense. Ranked as our No. 15 opponent-adjusted defense entering Week 15, the Bengals' weak point is clearly run defense. Their 8.20 points given up under expectation is good for only the 24th best in the league.

Mikel LeShoure - Detroit Lions
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.69 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 28 Ranked RB (No. 88 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 53.3%
Week 15 Opponent: at Arizona Cardinals
Verdict: Sit Him

So maybe the Seahawks had a decent day last week. But as a general rule, you still don't start opposing fantasy players against the Cardinals unless they're stars. Well, perhaps that rule is crumbling a bit, but they need to at least be well-entrenched starters, right? And unless you've been hypnotized by Kid Rock's Detroit Lions Anthem (well, I've found a new worst torture method), nobody's calling LeShoure either one any time soon.

The Arizona Cardinals rank as numberFire's No. 4 opponent-adjusted defense coming into Week 15, just behind the Broncos. But even though the star of the defense has been Arizona's No. 2 ranked secondary, the run-defense hasn't been half bad itself. The Cardinals have allowed 34.67 NEP under expectation to opposing running games, good for 13th in the NFL. Despite giving up four 100-yard rushing performances in their last three games, they had not allowed any in the three games prior. In short, they're not as bad as you think when looking at the big picture.

I could talk myself into a back against the Cardinals if I had to, but LeShoure isn't that back. And the final nail in the coffin is one Joique Bell. As I noted in my waiver wire piece earlier this week, Bell has progressively cut into LeShoure's carries, almost matching his 14 attempts against the Packers. And Bell has at least tied LeShoure in rushing yards in each of the past three weeks, leading me to believe that we could see even more of the Bell Curve going into the future.

Jeremy Maclin - Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.73 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 26 Ranked WR (No. 84 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 38.2%
Week 15 Opponent: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Verdict: Sit Him

So with DeSean Jackson out and Bryce Brown receiving progressively less carries, Maclin has to be the star of the offense, right? Well, not exactly.

For proof, take a look at last week. Yes, the one where Maclin finished with 16 FP, nine catches, and a touchdown. Maclin indeed led the team with 13 targets, as could be expected. But he wasn't alone at the top for receivers; Jason Avant finished with 12 looks, and Riley Cooper finished with nine targets of his own. In total, Maclin finished with only 25 percent of Nick Foles' passing attempts coming his way - solid, but not otherworldly. And that was Maclin's better outing since Jackson's been sidelined, as he saw only 16 percent Foles' passes (5 of 31) in Week 13.

Seeing as how last week's 50 pass attempts were an aberration, you're going to need otherworldly targets to make Maclin a viable play. The Eagles average throwing the ball on 59 percent of their offensive plays; a high number, but it's not the 76 percent from last week. And as explained in the Brown section, the weakness of the Bengals D is run defense, not pass defense. There, Cincy's 28.81 NEP over expectation allowed to opposing passing games is 10th best in the league.

Antonio Brown - Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.39 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 18 Ranked WR (No. 71 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 19.4%
Week 15 Opponent: at Dallas Cowboys
Verdict: Start Him

There's been a little bit too much negativity in this article, so I'd like to lighten the mood a little bit. And nothing says lightening the mood like a receiver whose quarterback may puncture his aorta if hit the wrong way.

Maybe I'm not so good at this lightening the mood thing. It makes dates fun, at the very least. But in the end, the easiest way to be happy anyway is fantasy points, so reading up on Brown should do you a service. (Oh, I'm excellent on Valentine's Day too.)

Brown may only have one double-digit fantasy point game this year, but that's more through a lack of touchdowns than not being thrown the ball. In 10 games this season, Brown is averaging 8.4 targets per game. Other than a two-catch game against the Giants in which he got injured, Brown has made at least four receptions in every single game this season. And the Steelers are right back to trusting him as much as both Mike Wallace and Heath Miller; he led the team in targets with 10 in Week 13 and finished second (two behind Wallace) in Week 14 with nine looks. And in an offense that threw on 71 percent of its plays last week with Roethlisberger back, even keeping pace should be good enough.

Despite a low 0.36 projected TDs this week, Brown's projected 73.82 receiving yards ranks 14th among all receivers this week. And why this week and not the past weeks when he's been getting targets? It's the Cowboys secondary. Their 68.84 NEP given up over expectation to opposing passing games this season is slightly below average, coming in 20th among all NFL teams. Both Steelers receivers should be able to take advantage.

Pierre Garcon - Washington Redskins
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.18 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 41 Ranked WR (No. 105 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 44.6%
Week 15 Opponent: at Cleveland Browns
Verdict: Sit Him

If there's one thing you'll learn quickly by being a regular numberFire visitor, it's that the analytics are fickle. Yes, Garcon has put up three straight games with at least 14 FP. But banking on Garcon to score a touchdown every week is like banking on RGIII to stay healthy for his entire career: you're walking a very thin line. And without the TDs as a saving grace, there isn't much reason to like Garcon this week.

For one, there's the matchup. Despite the 5-8 record, the Browns have been surprisingly efficient on the defensive end. They come into the week as numberFire's No. 10 opponent-adjusted defense, and they have only allowed 42.39 NEP over expectation to opposing passing games this season. That's good for 11th in the NFL. Their recent opponents' receivers could sure tell you about that skill - only Rod Streater has been able to put up more than seven FP against them over the past three weeks.

Second, there's the catch rate slowly coming down to earth. In last week's edition of this article, I mentioned how Garcon's 72 percent catch rate entering Week 14 was likely unsustainable. Well, after a five-for-nine outing on Sunday against Baltimore, Garcon's now down to a slightly more believable 68 percent catch rate. That's still miles above his 59 percent previous career-high, so while the element of simply improving is still not out of the question here, it's still a large jump to make for a receiver in his fifth season.

"But Zach," you may say, "how can you completely discredit those touchdowns?" Well, despite their randomness, I can't... which is why it's worth noting that Garcon is only projected for 0.30 receiving TDs this week. Donnie Avery, Riley Cooper, and Darrius Heyward-Bey are among the receivers projected with more. This is due in large part to a Cleveland defense that has not allowed more than 25 points since Week 5, but also due to RGIII's ability to rush for a score just as easily as pass for one.

Jermaine Gresham - Cincinnati Bengals
Projected Standard League Fantasy Points: 6.38 FP
numberFire Rank: No. 11 Ranked TE (No. 119 Overall)
Percent of Leagues Started (ESPN): 45.0%
Week 15 Opponent: at Philadelphia Eagles
Verdict: Sit Him

One of the most consistent tight ends in the league, Gresham has been a steady, but unspectacular, source of points for desperate fantasy owners so far this season. If exactly four to eight targets and roughly six fantasy points from your tight end spot is your goal, then by all means, who am I to stop you? But for those who aspire to something more, stay away.

Although Gresham sits in second on the Bengals with 80 targets on the season, he's not usually A.J. Green's back-up man in any given game due to the rotating receiving corps that Dalton usually tries to find. In Week 14, Gresham had fewer targets than Andrew Hawkins; Week 13, Hawkins again; Week 12, Mohamed Sanu. In fact, Gresham has finished alone in second in targets just three times on the season: Week 3, Week 7, and Week 11. And he has never beaten A.J. Green in looks. His upside remains limited as long as Dalton keeps looking at the other receivers in front of him.

His value depends solely on whether he'll make a touchdown, but our analytics don't see that as a likely possibility. His projected 0.25 receiving TDs ranks 20th this week among all tight ends, undoubtedly fueled by a Philadelphia defense that has surprisingly only allowed four touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. Kyle Rudolph, Brandon Myers, and Marcedes Lewis are all better plays this week and could be available in your league.