Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 15

Darren McFadden has been a relatively safe option for fantasy owners since taking over the Cowboys' backfield, but can you trust him this weekend against the Jets?

I had spent hours trying to finish it. And it was gone.

It disappeared.

No, I'm not referring to a mid-term essay that was swiped away by a Microsoft Word crash. I'm talking about Super Mario Bros. 3. And I'm talking about getting killed at Bowser's Castle in World 8 after devoting an entire day -- not just an afternoon -- to the game.

That's how video games used to be. It's how they worked. You couldn't save the game unless you were fine with letting it sit on your television screen while you took a hiatus. You sat down, you played, and you either beat the game or you failed. It was that simple.

Gaming in today's world isn't like that. If you turn on your PS4 and start some sort of adventure game, you'll see a "saving..." notification at the top right of your screen every 30 seconds. Or so it seems.

Your fantasy football regular season is like a new-age video game -- you make a mistake, and you've got the next week to make up for it. You can just restart the game and everything will be better.

The fantasy playoffs? It's like you're playing Super Mario on NES. You get one shot. Don't mess it up.

Quarterbacks to Sit

Eli Manning (vs. Carolina): Coming off a strong Monday night showing, fantasy owners may be ready to start Peyton's brother this week. Not so fast. Miami, his Week 14 opponent, has the 31st-ranked pass defense in football according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. This week, he's facing a Panthers secondary that ranks second, behind only Denver. Carolina's allowed one top-12, QB1 performance this entire season, and it was to Aaron Rodgers, who ended up getting severe garbage time points. With Josh Norman shadowing Odell Beckham, it could be a tough week for Eli.

Jameis Winston (at St. Louis): After Winston's unfortunate performance in the best matchup imaginable last week, he's certainly tough to trust. In Week 15, he'll be facing a defense that's allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to the position, ranking third against the pass according to our numbers. And Vegas thinks this will be a low scoring game, making the Rams one-point favorites in a game that's supposed to see a total of just 41 points. I'd stay far away from the rookie.

Other quarterbacks to sit: Philip Rivers (vs. Miami), Marcus Mariota (at New England)

Start These Quarterbacks Instead

Matthew Stafford (at New Orleans): The Saints held Jameis Winston in check last week, but the fact still remains that their secondary is the worst in the NFL -- by the eye test, by fantasy points against, by Net Expected Points -- which creates a positive matchup for quarterbacks. This year, seven quarterbacks -- remember, they've played 13 games -- have finished with a top-5 weekly quarterback performance against New Orleans. Quick math: at random, you'd have a better than 50% chance that your quarterback going up against the Saints will post top-five numbers.

What is this world?

Stafford's been fine as a fantasy quarterback, hitting 15.78 or more standard fantasy points in each of his last five games. Tied for the highest over/under of the week, Stafford and the Lions offense can be expected to produce some fantasy goodness against the Saints' secondary.

Kirk Cousins (vs. Buffalo): One of the weirdest things at the quarterback position this season has been Cousins' home/road splits. At home this season, his Passing NEP per drop back average is 0.29, which is better than Tom Brady's season-long efficiency. On the road, it's 0.00, which is far below this year's league average of 0.12.

And at home, four of his seven games resulted in a top-10 quarterback performance.

The Bills aren't the most ideal matchup in the world, but Stephon Gilmore is now out for the year, which should make the secondary more beatable. The worry with Cousins is his floor, but Buffalo's allowed a double-digit quarterback performance in every game this season. Don't overlook him during a week of tough quarterback matchups.

Other quarterbacks to start: Drew Brees (vs. Detroit), Alex Smith (at Baltimore)

Running Backs to Sit

Ronnie Hillman (at Pittsburgh): Without C.J. Anderson in the Broncos' lineup last week, Hillman saw nine targets out of the backfield, which is the same number that he saw over his previous six games combined. Anderson is expected to be back against Pittsburgh this week, which limits Hillman to rushing duties, not receiving duties. And that's not good, considering the Steelers have the best rush defense in football according to our numbers, having allowed the third fewest points to the running back position this year.

Darren McFadden (vs. New York): Fantasy analyst Rich Hribar and I were talking about DMC earlier in the week, and he noted that McFadden's numbers weren't very good against upper-tiered rush defenses. And he's right. This season as the clear lead back in Dallas' backfield (eight games), McFadden has faced four top-half rush defenses (Seattle, Tampa Bay, Carolina and Washington). In those games, he's averaged 40 rushing yards. Against bottom half rush defenses, this number jumps to 127.25.

DMC gets the Jets and their second-ranked (per NEP) rush defense this week. No thanks.

Other running backs to sit: Isaiah Crowell (at Seattle), Fozzy Whittaker (at New York)

Start These Running Backs Instead

Denard Robinson (vs. Atlanta): Atlanta's tough to get a good read on, because their fantasy points against don't match up well with our schedule-adjusted numbers. A big reason for that is because the Falcons haven't faced many good quarterbacks and, in turn, they've surrendered the most rushing touchdowns to running backs this year. In terms of fantasy points against, the Falcons rank 30th against running backs. According to our numbers, they rank 14th, as touchdowns aren't skewed like they are in fantasy.

So, no, I'm not as bullish as some other analysts about Robinson this week, but he's still in a pretty good spot. The Jaguars are favorites in a game that Vegas thinks will have a lot of points, which means opportunities for Shoelace. Over his three-year career, Robinson's played in eight games where he's seen 10 or more carries. In those contests, he's averaged 13.65 PPR fantasy points. And in the six games where he attempted 14 or more runs, he's averaged 16.3 PPR points per contests.

The matchup may not be as good as some think, but Robinson is in a good enough spot to be optimistic.

Bryce Brown (vs. Cleveland): It'll be very tilting if Seattle runs out a true running back-by-committee this weekend, but the expectation is that Brown will see the bulk of the workload. And that's good news, because Cleveland has the second worst rush defense according to our schedule-fixed numbers, and the Seahawks are 14.5-point favorites (Browns have a 14.25 implied team total), which means a very positive, run-heavy game script for Seattle. That's money in the bank for Brown.

Duke Johnson (at Seattle): Yes, I just got done telling you that the Browns have a really sad implied team total this week, but Duke Johnson may actually be in a good spot. As you probably know, Johnson's role in the Browns' offense expanded after Week 2, and he's become a great pass-catching back for them, averaging 5.36 targets per contest since that time. With an ultra negative game script against a team that ranks in the bottom half of the league in running back receptions against, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see Johnson rank as a top-20 PPR back this week.

Other running backs to start: Charcandrick West (if Spencer Ware sits, at Baltimore), Melvin Gordon (deeper play, vs. Miami)

Wide Receivers to Sit

Dez Bryant (vs. New York): Even if this matchup wasn't against Darrelle Revis and the Jets, it'd still be tough to trust Dez this week. With Matt Cassel under center this year, Bryant is averaging just 3 catches, 43 yards and 0.17 touchdowns per game. That's essentially low-end WR4 or high-end WR5 numbers in PPR formats. And he's been even worse than that of late, ranking as the 78th, 48th and 103rd best wide receiver in Weeks 12, 13 and 14, respectively. Logic says to bench him.

Brandon LaFell (vs. Tennessee): LaFell is still being started in roughly 27% of leagues, and I'm not entirely sure why. He's yet to rank higher than 23rd in weekly PPR scoring at wide receiver in eight games played this season, despite averaging eight targets per game. Translation: he's been pretty horrendous for fantasy owners, and in a game where the game flow will be very positive for New England, his appeal is even worse.

Other wide receivers to sit: Travis Benjamin (at Seattle)

Start These Wide Receivers Instead

Michael Floyd (at Philadelphia): Since Week 6 against Pittsburgh, Michael Floyd has failed to finish in the weekly wide receiver top-25 (PPR leagues) just once . That's seven of eight games played with top-25 numbers, which is pretty incredible consistency as a number-three option for Arizona.

Or is he?

Over that time, Floyd has averaged 7.43 targets per game, while teammate John Brown has seen 6.57 targets per contest since then. Larry Fitzgerald continues to be a target machine, seeing over 10 per contest during the stretch. 

Floyd has now seen 21 targets over the last two weeks, and faces off against an Eagles defense that's allowed the second most points to the position this year. Whether you're in a season-long league or playing daily fantasy, he's worth a look.

Jeremy Maclin (at Baltimore): Like Floyd, Maclin has seen plenty of volume to make him relevant in fantasy football, averaging 10 targets per game over his last three games. I mentioned the Eagles as a horrible team against wideouts, but Baltimore has actually been worse, surrendering nearly 30 points to the position each week. Though the Chiefs are decent favorites, we should expect Maclin to perform against a defeated Ravens team.

Other wide receivers to start: Golden Tate (at New Orleans), Danny Amendola (vs. Tennessee)

Tight Ends to Sit

Delanie Walker (at New England): OK, OK. Maybe I wouldn't sit Walker, but I certainly am not excited about his potential this week. New England knows how to stop top weapons: DeAndre Hopkins caught 3 of 6 targets last week for just 52 yards, Demaryius Thomas caught 1 of 13 targets against the Pats two weeks ago, and while Odell Beckham performed admirably against the secondary in Week 10, it took an 87-yard touchdown -- he caught just 4 of 12 targets -- to rank as the ninth-best PPR receiver that week. 

Not only do they defend top options well, but also New England's surrendered the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends this year. He's tough to bench because the position is thin, but expectations shouldn't be high for Walker.

Other tight ends to sit: Jason Witten (vs. New York), Kyle Rudolph (vs. Chicago)

Start These Tight Ends Instead

Benjamin Watson (vs. Detroit): It wouldn't surprise me if Benjamin Watson is a top-three tight end this week. He's seen 9, 8 and 11 targets over his last three games, respectively, and has seen 5 or more looks from his quarterback in every game since Week 4. Detroit is one of the worst teams in the league at defending the tight end position, and in a game with a high over/under, he should have plenty of scoring chances.

Eric Ebron (at New Orleans): That same game will feature Eric Ebron, who saw over 70% of the Lions snaps last week thanks to a season-ending injury to Brandon Pettigrew. In games without Pettigrew this season, Ebron's averaging one reception, roughly half of a touchdown and 20 more yards per contest. 

But what's more important is he'll get New Orleans, a team that's surrendered 10 top-10 tight end performances in 13 games played this season. Again, in a game with a high over/under, Ebron is worth a look off your waiver wire.

Other tight ends to start: Heath Miller (vs. Denver), Zach Ertz (vs. Arizona)

Defenses to Sit

Denver Broncos (at Pittsburgh): If the Broncos were facing the Steelers in Denver, I'd be much more inclined to start them. But in Pittsburgh, the Steelers are tough. In fact, only the Bengals in Week 8 -- Big Ben's return from injury -- have posted a defensive performance at Heinz Field that's ranked higher than 19th in weekly defensive scoring this season. It's just not worthwhile given the way this Pittsburgh offense has been rolling.

Other defenses to sit: Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Arizona), Baltimore Ravens (vs. Kansas City)

Start These Defenses Instead

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at St. Louis): Every defense to face the Rams has scored positive points this season, while the Rams have surrendered six top-10 performances to defenses. The Bucs match up perfectly against the Rams, too -- they stop the run, ranking eighth in the NFL according to our schedule-adjusted numbers, while sitting 25th against the pass. In other words, they may find success stopping Todd Gurley and, well, can't any team stop this Rams passing attack? (Post-Thursday note: apparently the Buccaneers can't stop the Rams passing attack, despite stopping Gurley.)

Other defenses to start: Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Denver), Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Atlanta)