Congratulations. If you’re reading this right now it either means you’ve won your first round playoff match-up, you just made the playoffs and have your first game this week, or you have a crush on me and can’t get enough of my football analysis. All three are perfectly acceptable so no need to specify and no judgments are cast. I, myself, have made it to the second round in four of my leagues and I’ve always had a rather healthy obsession with myself, so I know where you’re all coming from. But let’s get to the business at hand and that business is found in the game capsules for Week 15. So let’s take a look at the match-ups and see what’s in store for us from a fantasy perspective.
Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
So the Eagles finally got off the schnide last week and Nick Foles had his best game of the season throwing for 381 yards and two touchdowns. But that was against the uber-weak Tampa Bay pass defense and the Bengals are no push-overs, registering 42 sacks on the year and allowing an average of just 222 passing yards per game and just 10 passing touchdowns all year. On top of that, Foles new favorite target, Jeremy Maclin is dealing with a groin tweak, something he did while celebrating his touchdown last week. Still, Riley Cooper and Jason Avant will be involved and check out Clay Harbor as a sleeper. The Bengals rank just 28th against the tight end and allow an average of 61.1 yards per game to the position. Not a big fan of Bryce Brown this week with another tough match-up after puttin gup a stinker last week against the Cowboys.
On paper this looks to be a pretty favorable match-up for the Andy Dalton and the Bengals. The Eagles pass defense has allowed 25 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions this season but allow an average of just 229 passing yards per game. But Dalton didn’t look all that great last week and had his struggles the game before as well. He’ll obviously lean on A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham as much as he can, but look for the Bengals to try pounding in the run with BenJarvis green-Ellis to start things off. If the Firm has himself a strong first half, you can expect the passing game to open up much wider.
New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons
Probably a nice playoff preview here as we’ve got two of the better NFC teams squaring off. Eli Manning has been much better since coming off the late bye in Week 11 and has thrown for no fewer than 249 yards in each of his last three games with eight touchdowns to just two picks. The Falcons have given up at least 275 passing yards in five of their last six games but have only allowed 13 passing touchdowns all season. Manning should have little problem finding Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks downfield and Martellus Bennett should grab some red zone looks again as well. The Falcons’ run defense hasn’t been much better giving up over 100 yards in four of their last five games so look for the Giants to work the ground game early whether it’s just David Wilson or a combo of him and Ahmad Bradshaw if the sprained knee doesn’t keep the veteran back out.
While the Falcons struggled against the Panthers last week, they should have the passing game clicking against a suspect Giants secondary so look for Matt Ryan to hook up with Roddy White and Julio Jones all day. The Giants do rank third in the league against the tight end, so hedge your bets on Tony Gonzalez. As for the running game, it’s a decent match-up for the tandem of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers as the Giants give up just over 123 rushing yards per game. Turner has been struggling for yardage lately, but has found the endzone in his last four games and in five of his last six. If he finds the endzone agaion, that will make five straight seasons with 10 or more rushing touchdowns, so look for the Falcons to get him to that milestone.
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
It will be AP all day, yet again as the Vikings look to hammer it in with the run to help alleviate some of the game pressure from a wobbly Christian Ponder who hasn’t seen double-digit fantasy points since Week 10. Adrian Peterson will take on a decent Rams defense who only gives up 110.3 rushing yards per game but has given up 15 rushing touchdowns this season. Without Percy Harvin, the passing attack is pretty limited with Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson, but since the Rams rank just 18th against the tight end position, look for Ponder to try and lean on Kyle Rudolph this time out.
For the Rams, look for them to try and lean on Steven Jackson even though the Vikings defense gives up just 115 yards per game on the ground. Danny Amendola is still a question mark and Chris Givens was horrible last week, pulling in just three catches on 10 targets. Brandon Gibson will look to have his second consecutive 100-yard game, but without knowing if Amendola will play or not, it’s tough to say whether it’s a possibility. Though the Vikings give up fewer than 50 yards per game to the tight end position, they have given up a number of touchdowns to them this season, so look for Lance Kendricks to at least garner some red zone looks.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
This is the kind of match-up that has fantasy owners drooling during the playoffs. Both pass defenses are atrocious and all receiving skill players should be started. The last time these two teams squared off, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman combined for 797 passing yards and seven touchdowns. In just one game! Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston and Lance Moore should all be stellar plays, as should Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and even Dallas Clark. While the Bucs run D is solid, they do allow almost 50 yards per game to opposing running backs on the screen, so look for Darren Sproles to shine. And on the other side, it’s Muscle Hamster Doug Martin against a run defense that gives up 152.4 yards per game, so he’s another no-brainer.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins could use a breather here after facing the 49ers defense last week and that comes in the form of a Jaguars D that is soft against both the run and the pass, ranking 31st and 24th respectively. Reggie Bush has been slowed up lately, but with Daniel Thomas being phased back out over the last two games, a quick start this week just might garner Bush some extra carries. Ryan Tannehill should have no problem finding Brian Hartline and Davone Bess throughout the day, but given the fact that the Jags rank eighth against the tight end, I wouldn’t expect much from Anthony Fasano.
Despite the fact that the Dolphins pass D ranks 25th in the league, it could still be tough for Chad Henne against his old team. Cecil Shorts might practice this week, but there’s a good chance the Jags play it safe and keep him out again. That would leave things up to Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis as the options beyond them are totally unreliable. While the Fins run D still looks good in the overall numbers, they’ve now allowed 100 yards or more on the ground in four of their last five and five of their last seven. And of those two that have been under, it’s only been by a total of seven yards. Look for the Jags to work Montell Owens in often and consider him a nice flex play this week.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
I love this match-up of AFC South rivals as the Texans are looking for redemption after being embarrassed by the Patriots on Monday night and the Colts are looking to lock in a wild card bid. Not to mention Andrew Luck is hoping for a bounce-back game after disappointing fantasy owners with his lackluster performance. Once the gem off the league, the Texans pass defense has dropped all the way down to 19th in the league, giving up an average of 239 yards overall, but giving up an average of 336 yards in their last four games. Luck will almost certainly lean on Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton in this one. Vick Ballard had a strong game last week, but faces a tougher task this time around. Still, he should be good for 60-odd yards with a couple of catches out of the backfield again.
With the loss to the Patriots, the Texans need to get back on track and try to cinch up that number one seed. That means, to many fantasy owners’ delight, that Arian Foster will play against the run defense that allows an average of 120.6 yards per game. Justin Forsett and Ben Tate should get their carries, but Foster’s presence is much more vital. From there, look for Matt Schaub to get Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels the ball with the hopes of exposing a mediocre pass defense that allows 242 yards per game and has given up 22 passing touchdowns this season.
Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns
The biggest question in this one is obviously regarding the status of Robert Griffin III. He said that he will wear a brace on his knee during the game but has done enough in practice on Tuesday and Wednesday to allow himself to push harder on Thursday and Friday. He says there is no problem planting his foot and throwing, so that alleviates some concern, but the real question is how his legs will hold up in a game. It’s a tough call, but he’s going to be out there. If his running abilities are hampered, then look for him to lean on Alfred Morris a little more against a defense that allows 120.5 rushing yards per game. From there, that should open things up for him to find Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss downfield.
For the Browns, Trent Richardson has a tough match-up here, but the Skins have given up over 100 rushing yards per game in their last two. Given their weak pass defense though, look for Brandon Weeden to air it out early and often. Josh Gordon should have a great game and look for Ben Watson as another sleeper tight end pick for me this week.
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Aaron Rodgers owners are freaking out right now as their usual fantasy stalwart has failed to produce 20 or more points in his last four games after posting no fewer than 30 in five of the six games prior to that. The offensive line is battered and beaten and he’s had much less time to throw so starting him against the Bears is going to be stressful. He struggled against them in Week 2, throwing for just 219 yards with one touchdown and one interception, but both the Seahawks and Niners had good showings against them. To me, with Randall Cobb, James Jones and maybe…just maybe a good showing from Greg Jennings, he remains a must-start, but I can understand your hesitancy. Alex Green could be an interested sleeper flex play as the Bears have given up 100 yards or more on the ground in each of their last seven games.
It looks like Jay Cutler, who sustained a neck injury last week, will suit up and play this week so Brandon Marshall owners can breathe a heavy sigh of relief. The Bears will stick with the same offensive game plan this week as they have all year. Get the ball to Marshall as much as possible and build the ground attack with Matt Forte. As predictable as they have been all year, teams still haven’t found the solution to shutting them down completely. And considering the Packers allow an average of 116.7 rushing yards per game and 83.4 yards to opposing WR1s, it doesn’t appear that it will change any time soon.
Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
Lots of playoff seeding ramifications this week as we have another match-up of division leaders here. The Broncos are eager to make a statement in this one and given the fact that the Ravens defense just ain’t what it used to be, you can bet that Peyton Manning is licking his chops right now. Knowshon Moreno could have his second consecutive big game as the Ravens have allowed an average of 123 rushing yards per game over their last four while the pass defense will the 23rd ranked pass defense will have trouble containing both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. The Ravens do rank 10th against the tight end position, so hedge your bets on Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme.
This could be a long day for the Ravens offense as the Broncos rank in the top 10 in both passing and rushing defense. Last week, Ray Rice finally broke out for more than 100 yards for just the third time this season and first since Week 5 so he’ll be looking to build off that, but considering Denver has allowed more than 100 yards in a game just once in their last eight games, it could be slow-going. That may cause some issues for Joe Flacco who will need the ground game to help open things up for some play-action. He’s going to have a tough time finding Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin what with Champ Bailey floating around, but since Denver ranks just 21st against the tight end, Dennis Pitta may have another decent game.
Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers
Considering the strength of the Chargers run defense, it looks like Cam Newton will have to do it all through the air this week. He’ll still get some scrambling yards, but look for him to rely much more on hitting Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. It’s a tough match-up for Greg Olsen this week as the Chargers rank fifth against the position, but I’m going to throw a sleeper tag on DeAngelo Williams as San Diego ranks 25th in the league against running back screens. And if all else fails, Newton can just turn the ball over to this kid.
After giving 25 carries to Ryan Mathews last week and seeing only 65 yards in total, you can understand why the offense is so quick to turn to the passing game. But with the Panthers allowing 121.6 rushing yards per game with 11 rushing touchdowns this year, there’s a chance he sees another 20 carries this week. But Philip Rivers has also started to shine lately thanks to the emergence of Danario Alexander. He’s still seeing more targets than Malcom Floyd and should continue to follow through to the end of the season. It’s been frustrating for fantasy owners that Antonio Gates has been such a bust this year, and it doesn’t look like it will get any better this week as the Panthers rank 12th in the league in containing the tight end.
Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills
After seeing what the Seahawks did to Arizona last week, you can bet the Bills are a little nervous. No Fred Jackson means that C.J. Spiller will see the bulk of the ground work with Tashard Choice mixing in. It’ll be tough though as Seattle only gives up 105.4 yards per game on the ground. It might not be any better for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the passing crew as Seattle ranks fourth in the league against the pass and allows an average of fewer than 200 yards per game. Steve Johnson, Donald Jones and Scott Chandler all have tough match-ups this week.
On the other side, if the weather stays clear and they’re not too badly jet-lagged, the Seahawks shouldn’t have any problem with the Bills and their 21st ranked defense. Marshawn Lynch is coming off a huge game and should be in line for another doozy as the Bills allow an average of 134.5 rushing yards per game and have allowed a league-worst 18 rushing touchdowns this year. From there, Russell Wilson should be able to go to work against their pass D which has improved greatly over the last several weeks, but still gives up almost 230 yards per game and has allowed 22 touchdowns through the air this year. Look for Golden Tate and, if healthy, Sidney Rice to shine.
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Without a legitimate quarterback or running game, this one screams start the Lions defense. No one knows if it will be John Skelton, Ryan Lindley or even newly signed Brian Hoyer under center. That immediately removes any thoughts to starting Larry Fitzgerald this week, let alone Rob Housler or Andre Roberts. And as for the ground game, it was William Powell who led the way last week, but there’s still Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling. None of them are worth a start, let alone even a roster spot at this stage of the game. Keep all your Cards on the bench.
As for the Lions, look for Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell to share the load again, but with more success for each as the Cards run defense allows an average of 140.5 yards per game. They’ve only allowed nine rushing touchdowns all year, but that will suit Matthew Stafford just fine. Though the Cards pass defense ranks high, they will certainly have their hands full with Calvin Johnson who is looking for his seventh straight 100-yard game and tenth on the season. Throw in the fact that the Cardinals rank 19th in the league against the tight end and you’ve got a solid day from Brandon Pettigrew coming as well.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Two very un-powerhouse teams here meeting for nothing more than just pride in the AFC West. The Chiefs will be without Dwayne Bowe this week and probably beyond, but with Brady Quinn under center, it probably doesn’t really matter anyway. Dexter McCluster and Terrance Copper will be the top wideouts, so expect to see a ton of Jamaal Charles against an Oakland run defense that allows an average of 131.2 yards per game and 17 rushing touchdowns on the year. He’s probably the only guy worth starting this week, save for maybe Ryan Succop, the kicker.
The Raiders are trying to build themselves back up here as Carson Palmer has started to come alive again with the return of Darren McFadden. Despite re-injuring his ankle last week, DMC returned to practice on Monday so he should be a decent choice against a Chiefs run D that allows 131.2 yards per game. They’ve only allowed nine rushing touchdowns this season, so look for Palmer to utilize his receivers early and often. Denarius Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey both have good match-up and the Chiefs rank 20th against the tight end so look for Brandon Myers to see more action this week as well.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
Although the Steelers defense is still strong despite injuries, look for DeMarco Murray to continue his run of success lately. His yards per carry hasn’t been all that great but he’s catching passes out of the backfield and has found the endzone in each of his two games back. From there, Tony Romo can spring into action. Dez Bryant says he’ll play but I expect him to act as more of a decoy given the fact that he needs surgery to repair ligaments in his finger. That leaves Miles Austin and Jason Witten to get some extra targets; possibly even Kevin Ogletree.
The Steelers are looking to get back on top offensively with Ben Roethlisberger back in action. He was solid last week and looks to continue against a decent Dallas pass D. I like Heath Miller and Antonio Brown in this one while the Cowboys spend too much time trying to limit Mike Wallace. Look for Jonathan Dwyer to shine against a crumbling Dallas run defense that has allowed 100 yards or more in their last four games and in seven of their last eight.
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
We all know the stigma of traveling across country so this could be a rough one for the Niners. The Pats pass defense is still a mess allowing 276 yards per game and 22 passing touchdowns this season, but Colin Kaepernick isn’t the best of passers to begin with. He’ll work the short game with Michael Crabtree and possibly Mario Manningham if he can get out there but I’m looking at Vernon Davis and hoping he can finally break out against a defense that ranks 31st in the league against the tight end. It’s do or die for Davis here. If he can’t succeed, then he’s toast. As for the ground game, look for the Niners to lead with Frank Gore as much as they can but expect to see LaMichael James in there a little more as a change-of-pace back. James has crazy good speed and should be rostered in most leagues. Not ready to flex him just yet, but the finger is on the trigger.
The Pats are looking to do to the Niners exactly what they did to the Texans on Monday, so expect a hevy dose of Tom Brady to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. With the 49ers run defense looking so strong, allowing just 90.8 yards per game with only three rushing touchdowns this season, you can’t expect much out of Stevan Ridley unless the Pats go up big. The pass defense is equally strong, but if the Patriots can go four or five-wide in a hurry-up offense Brady should be able to carve through most of the coverage.
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
Can you think of a more anti-climactic Monday night game than this? The Titans defense, both on the ground and through the air, is terrible, but the Jets’ offense just might be worse. Expect a ground-and-pound type night as the Jets deploy both Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell while they throw in some light work for Mark Sanchez. He’ll be looking for Jeremy Kerley most of the time, but the Titans pass defense gives up an average of 62.5 yards per game to the tight end position. If Dustin Keller’s ankle is better, then he should have a nice night, but if not, then look for Jeff Cumberland to have a potentially breakout game…for a Jet, that is.
Given the fact that the Jets run defense gives up an average of 136.5 yards per game, you can expect to see quite a bit of Chris Johnson. And after he’s done carving up the Jets defensive line, expect Jake Locker to turn around and start opening up the passing attack more. I like Nate Washington in this one as well as Kendall Wright as Antonio Cromartie will be covering Kenny Britt most of the time.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.