It's Week 15, and the fantasy football playoffs are upon us. With decisions being more important now that at any point in the season it's time to dig deeply into the numbers to help us to see if any patterns can be discerned. Which quarterbacks are solid plays this week either because they have been particularly sharp of late or simply because of the matchup? Can you trust that weekly start at the running back position who failed miserably last week (you know the type I'm talking about)? Is Mike Wallace “back” now that Big Ben is back under center? Are there other wideouts you can trust this weekend? And what about the tight end position that has brought so much uncertainty this season – what do you do there? I'm here to try and help you out.
I'm still not a huge fan of Andy Dalton in terms of him being the proverbial “upside” play, but you have to give the guy some credit. He's thrown for 25 scores this year which is one more than Matt Ryan, five more than Eli Manning and seven more than Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Still, Dalton hasn't thrown for 235 yards in a game since Week 9 and there is the lack of upside that I noted previously.
Josh Freeman has lit up the Saints the last four times he has faced them for eight scores, not a single interception, and an average of 315 passing yards a game, and we all know how bad the Saints defense is this season. At the same time, as I've been warning all season long, the guy's accuracy leaves something to be desired, and that always scares me. For the season he has completed a sickly 54.7 percent of his passed, and that percentage is down to an extremely unhealthy 51 percent in his last four starts (he's completed less than 20 passes each of the past three games). He's still a QB1 this week with that matchup though.
Colin Kaepernick is the first QB in NFL history to throw for 175 yards with a run of 50 yards in consecutive games. Lucky those runs matter so much in the fantasy game cause Colin hasn't done anything passing the ball differently than Alex Smith did. In his four games as a starter Colin has averaged 217 yards and 0.75 passing scores.
Eli Manning has thrown for 661 yards and six touchdowns, against only one interception, in his last two games against the Falcons (including the playoffs). Eli has also thrown eight touchdowns while averaging 263 passing yards in his last three outings this season.
Carson Palmer is averaging 308 passing yards a game this season at home. The Raiders will be visited by the Chiefs this weekend, and the club from K.C. is allowing only 218 passing yards a game this year, but those 25 passing scores allowed in 13 games portend some good things from Palmer.
Aaron Rodgers is averaging three touchdowns a game in his last three outings against the Bears. He's only thrown for two passing scores the last three weeks, but he's still a must start every week. Period.
Bryce Brown is still a top-15 running back option this week, even after his 12 carry, six yard outing in Week 14. The Eagles face the Bengals on Thursday (a tough matchup), and that just isn't going to be enough time for LeSean McCoy ready to return from his concussion (Week 16 looks very doable though at this point). Don't focus too much on one game, something everyone seems to do in fantasy football. Since Brown became the lead in the backfield for the Eagles he's scored four times while averaging 118 rushing yards a game. If he did that over 16 contests he would run for 1,883 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Reggie Bush has averaged 124 yards from scrimmage in his last six games in the month of December. The questionable coaching staff for the Dolphins finally got him involved in the passing game last week as he caught five balls against the Niners after hailing in only three passes over the previous three games.
Jamaal Charles is averaging 117 rushing yards per contest over his last five games.
Arian Foster has seen his rushing totals dwindle a bit of late, but he keeps getting in the end zone making him a rock in the fantasy game. This weekend's matchup might cure what ails Foster (not to mention the fact that his coach said that his intention every game is to get Foster the ball 25 times). In his three career games against the Colts all he has done is rush for five scores and an average of 164 yards a game on the ground.
Everyone loves to bash Chris Johnson for what he isn't, but how about we give him credit for what he is. CJ2K is just the 8th player in the annals of the game to run for 1,000 yards each of the first five seasons of his career, and with three weeks left in the NFL season he is ranked 10th at the running back position in a PPR setup.
Mikel Leshoure is losing touches to Joique Bell but don't forget that he's still scored six times in six games and has reached pay dirt in three of his last four games.
Alfred Morris just keeps getting it done for the Redskins. He has run for 100-yards in each of his last three games, is averaging 98 yards per game this season on the road, and has run for at least 75 yards in 11 of his 13 games (he has six 100-yard outings). That type of consistency in the fantasy game is golden.
Everyone is seemingly constantly disappointed with Steven Ridley. Why? Sure he was benched for a bit last week, and he does face a stout Niners defense this week, but you all realize he has scored a touchdown in 6-straight games right?
At this point of the year we all know you should be starting Andre Johnson and Denario Alexander. However, sometimes players are looked at to be large parts of their team's offense even if their production isn't up to par in a given week. With that thought in mind, here are some of the target totals from Week 14 that may or may not point to a player being a strong play in Week 15.
19 – Brandon Marshall
Just sick. He's the second Bears' receiver ever to catch 100 passes in a season (Marty Booker in 2001 had exactly 100).
12 – Justin Blackmon, Jason Avant, Josh Gordon
Blackmon benefited from the loss of Cecil Shorts in Week 14. The Jags will have Shorts back in Week 15 which would almost certainly diminish the chances for Blackmon (only twice since Week 5 has Blackmon seen more than nine targets in a week). By the by, Shorts is averaging 88.4 yards per game his last seven starts. Avant is stepping in for an injured DeSean Jackson and coming off his best week of the season (seven receptions, 133 yards). Keep in mind though that he hasn't scored once this season and has only three games with more than five targets this season. Gordon continues to improve his weekly outlook with the Browns. Gordon has averaged six receptions and 79 yards the past four weeks, though unfortunately he's caught only one score. After 3-straight games of seven targets that number jumped to 12 in Week 14.
11 – Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald
It's not as simple as saying all Wallace needs under center is Ben Roethlisberger, but it actually is nearly that simple (don't tell my college philosophy prof I just wrote that sentence). Unlike a guy like Larry Fitzgerald, Wallace has his QB back and that means, even if his snap count is somewhat reduced (it wasn't in Week 14 as he played in 62 of 66 snaps), that it's darn near impossible to think you will have three better wideouts to start this weekend. Speaking of Fitzgerald, he was targeted 11 times and caught one ball for two yards. One of the greatest receivers in history, we may never see another elite wideout be so handicapped by putrid QB play than what we are witnessing right now with Fitzgerald. Over his last four games Fitzgerald has caught six passes for 67 yards and no scores. Despite totals that would look like a “normal” group of games for Kevin Walter, Fitz has still been targeted 37 times in those three games. That means 16 percent of the passes thrown Fitzgerald's way the last four weeks have been completed. Dreadful. It's nearly impossible to start him at this point – even though it's not at all his fault.
10 – Chris Givens, Miles Austin
Given went for 115 yards an a score in Week 12 and followed that up with 11 receptions for 92 yards in Week 13. Unfortunately he took a backseat to Brandon Gibson in Week 14 as he caught only three balls for 25 yards despite the fact that he was targeted in double-digits for the second straight week. Be a bit wary of Gibson and Givens if Danny Amendola returns in Week 14 since he has been targeted at least nine times in each of the games in which he has played a full compliment of snaps. People keep wanting to write off Austin, and he continues to produce. Not only is he currently a top-25 WR in PPR formats, his value has to be ascending at least a little bit with the news that Dez Bryant's finger is jacked up. At this point of the week most expect Bryant to play through the injury but it doesn't sound like he will be anywhere near 100 percent. That means more passes, at least in theory, could be headed Austin's way. Hopefully Austin can finish strong an avoid the yo-yo that has seen his target totals look like this the past four weeks: 12, 2, 2 and 10. You might want to pay attention to Dwayne Harris as well if you are a Bryant owner. If Bryant doesn't end up on the field, Harris would be my suggested pick up over Kevin Ogletree and Cole Beasley.
Has anyone but me noticed that Michael Crabtree has gone for at least 90 receiving yards or a touchdown in five of his last six games for the Niners?
Sidney Rice has scored six times in his last eight games. That's one more score, in more more game, than Santana Moss (five in seven games).
Golden Tate has scored five times in his past five games (sort of cheating since one was on a pass).
Rob Housler was one behind Aaron Hernandez for most passes targeted to a tight end in Week 14 (Housler had 10 targets, Hernandez 11). Now you might be thinking two things. (1) Housler is ranked 27th at tight end in a PPR setup so who cares. (2) He plays for the Cardinals so who cares. Maybe there is one player in that passing attack worth paying attention to at the moment. Housler has produced the 12th most PPR points by a tight end the past three weeks and he has caught at least four passes in 6-straight games. Hey, that might not be great, but if you own a guy like Vernon Davis or Antonio Gates, it's not awful to think about starting Housler – not that I would do it mind you.
Brandon Myers, superstar to superass in a Week's time. After the best fantasy effort of Week 13 (33 points in a PPR) he vanished faster than my dating prospects when women sober up, which let me tell you isn't that hard to believe (in my case, not that of Myers). Myers caught one measly pass for seven yards – and he was only targeted a week after seeing 15 passes. It will take major stones to play Myers again in Week 15 coming off that effort, but remember a few things. (1) Myers is averaging eight receptions, 69 yards and 0.5 TDs the past two weeks. (2) Even with his disappearing act, since Week 9 of the season Myers is tied with Jimmy Graham atop the PPR standings at the position.
Greg Olsen has scored in each of his last two games while recording four scores in his last five games.
For those of you with balls of steel, Kyle Rudolph has scored in three of his last four games. He's also coming off a game in which he didn't catch a pass, the third time that has happened to him in seven games. Thanks Christian Ponder.
Jason Witten has 84 receptions since October 1st. That's an average of 8.4 receptions over his last 10 games. He's money.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Thursday at 7 PM EDT and Friday's at 9p-12a EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.