Congratulations! If you're still paying attention to this, you're likely still alive in the playoffs of your fantasy leagues and that's something to be excited about. I'd say most leagues are probably in the second week of their playoff schedules, so the majority of people still playing are hoping to get to the championship game in Week 16. For those who may already be out of the playoffs or weren't able to sneak in at all, just remember that Daily Fantasy Sites offer a nice alternative if your season is now over. Gotta' get as much fantasy football in while we can, right?
I went with one obvious match-up and one not so obvious one in this week's Best Fantasy Games, as the obvious choices haven't seemed to live up to expectations recently. Besides the two games I've laid out below, the other one that somewhat caught my eye was the Packers-Raiders game. There are a lot of offensive playmakers on fantasy rosters between those two teams, but the problem is that both defenses are better than we think. Of course you're starting Aaron Rodgers, but I don't think there's a reliable receiver in the Packers' offense right now, including Randall Cobb. TE Richard Rodgers is probably the safest option in the Packers' passing game, especially against a Raiders' defense that is weak against TEs. Eddie Lacy resurfaced in a big way last week and is likely a RB2 against Oakland, who are mediocre against RBs in fantasy points allowed. The real issue in this match-up is the Packers defense, who are the 6th ranked overall defense in terms of points allowed and are strong against the pass in particular (11th ranked pass defense), where guys like Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree make their money. All things considered, I think this could a lower scoring game than it looks at first glance, especially with the Packers going on the road to Oakland.
All the usual rules and caveats apply here. These are some of the match-ups that I feel should set up nicely for the offensive players (especially the fantasy relevant players) on both sides. Not everyone in these games will have big outings and other players in other games will, but these overall situations look good for the players we're paying attention to in fantasy. Good luck to everyone in these Week 15 playoff match-ups!
Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars - Dec. 20 1:00 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 49
Falcons: One of these things is not like the other. Matt Ryan and the Falcons' offense have been playing horrendously lately, culminating in a 38-0 shutout last week at the hands of the undefeated Panthers. Ryan has been a big-time disappointment this season for a lot of fantasy owners who were expecting big things from him, but I don't really know why anyone would expect anything other than the mid-to-low-end QB1 that Ryan pretty much always is. But he's been even worse this year, totaling just 17 passing TDs to 14 INTs to this point in the season. It seems like the problem has really been a lack of weapons to offset the attention to Julio Jones. Without anything else to focus on in the passing game, teams can just let Ryan dink and dunk between getting Jones the ball. I'm not a big fan of Ryan in general, but I think the Falcons are due at least a decent offensive game and this is as good a time as any to get it. The Jaguars are 26th in the league against the pass and are giving up the 2nd most fantasy points per game to opposing QBs. I'm not saying Ryan is a QB1, especially in the fantasy playoffs, but I think he has decent potential in DFS, particularly in tournaments, and if you lost Andy Dalton and don't have an immediate replacement, Ryan could be on your waiver wire.
Let's be honest: the only guy you're starting in this passing game is Julio Jones. We all know how good Jones is and how he started the season, but he's gotten so much focus as the year has gone on that he's actually fallen back to the #5-6 overall WR spot in standard leagues. Still, the dude has 169 targets and 109 catches through 13 games. He's a beast. Jacksonville is just mediocre against WRs in a fantasy sense (15th in fantasy points allowed) and they don't have a corner that scares me against Julio. You obviously don't need me to tell you to start Julio Jones, but I just figured I'd assure everyone.
Gotcha! There actually is another guy catches passes that could be a factor this week and that's TE Jacob Tamme. Tamme has had a few decent games this season and while he hasn't been very reliable, the Jaguars are 30th against TEs in fantasy points allowed. If you've been streaming TEs all season long and are now in the playoffs, Tamme isn't the worst option you could choose this week and he's going to be exceptionally cheap in DFS if you want to take a shot on someone.
The other seemingly automatic start for the Falcons is RB Devonta Freeman. Freeman had a historic run early in the season after rookie Tevin Coleman was injured in Week 2 and delivered 8 straight games with double digit fantasy points (with much, much more in several of them) from Week 2-Week 9. Freeman then suffered a concussion in Week 11 coming out of the bye and hasn't quite been the same since. Don't look now, but he also hasn't scored a rushing TD since Week 6. Jacksonville is 18th against RBs in fantasy points allowed, 14th against the run overall and are only giving up 3.6 yards per carry, but they have allowed 84 receptions to RBs, tied for second most in the league. If the Atlanta offensive line can't make room for Freeman on the ground, expect him to get heavily involved in the passing game, just as he has been all season long.
Jaguars: QB Blake Bortles has been putting on a show this season and he just led the Jags to 51 points against division rival Indianapolis last week. He's the #4 QB in standard fantasy leagues, behind only Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Cam Newton. That's a pretty good trio to be chasing. Bortles already has 30 passing TDs this season to only 13 INTs and I think people forget how athletic he is, as he's also run for 261 yards and 1 TD on the ground. It's very possible that many people rode Bortles to the fantasy playoffs and despite the fact that Atlanta is 5th against QBs in fantasy points allowed, I can't imagine you're benching him now. I mean, you saw the Falcons give up 38 points last week, right?
A big reason for Bortles' meteoric rise in his second season has been the development of his receivers, particularly Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Robinson has the look of a big-time #1 WR and has gone over 1,000 yards receiving with 12 TDs and he's currently the #4 WR in fantasy. Hurns isn't too far behind as the #12 WR and has 863 yards and 8 TDs himself. And both guys are averaging over 16 yards per catch. These dudes have been so good that I don't even remotely care that the Falcons are the 2nd in fantasy points allowed to WRs. Robinson is a WR1 and Hurns is a WR2.
TE Julius Thomas was the Jags' big free agent signee this offseason and after missing the first four weeks with a hand injury, Thomas seems to have hit his stride, scoring a TD in each of the past four games. The Falcons are 28th against TEs in fantasy points allowed, so Thomas is a solid TE1 this week in all formats.
Jacksonville's workhorse back has been rookie T.J. Yeldon, but he's been banged up several times this season, including a knee injury he suffered last week against Indy. The news out of Jacksonville is that it's just a sprain, but it's unclear how much time Yeldon will miss at this point, if any. If he's out, I'd expect Denard Robinson to be the primary beneficiary, as he filled in nicely for Yeldon after he left last week's game, running 14 times for 75 yards and a TD. Against a Falcons' defense that is 31st against RBs in fantasy points allowed, either guy would be a RB2 and Robinson likely should be picked up if waiver claims are allowed in your playoff formats. Whoever starts should also be a very good option in all DFS formats. Again, it all depends on Yeldon's injury status, so be sure to keep an eye on that as the week progresses.
Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints - Dec. 21 8:30 p.m. ET, Over/Under: 51
Lions: QB Matthew Stafford (along with the rest of the Lions' offense) has been a disappointment for most of this season for fantasy owners, but he's been slightly more steady over the past five games, putting up at least 20 fantasy points in each contest in standard leagues. You know what will cure all that ails you on the offensive side of the ball? Going up against the New Orleans' defense. I know Jameis Winston didn't have the game we were expecting him to against that defense last week, but he's a rookie and those surprising down moments can pop up at any time. The Saints are still giving up four fantasy points per game more to QBs than any other team at about 24.1 fantasy points allowed per game. They've also given up 36 passing touchdowns on the season, 7 more than any other team in the league. It also doesn't hurt Stafford's cause that this game is in New Orleans, as the indoor conditions of the dome and turf should help the skill position players on offense. Stafford should easily be a Top-10 option this week.
With Stafford having a mediocre season, All-Pro WR Calvin Johnson is following suit. He's still the #11 WR in standard leagues on the season, but he hasn't been the same guy we've gotten used to seeing throughout his amazing career. He's been listed on the injury report for several weeks with an ankle injury but has been able to play through it so far, better in some games than in others. All of that being said, he's still Calvin Johnson and this is still the Saints' defense that is 20th in fantasy points allowed per game to WRs. Expect a big bounce back for Megatron from his 1 catch, 16 yards performance last week against St. Louis and he'll be close to the Top-5 range. The guy who has fallen off even further is his sidekick, Golden Tate. Tate had a huge season last year, mostly from filling in for Johnson when he missed significant time with injuries. He's got 76 catches on 111 targets for the season, which is nothing to sneeze at, but he's only averaging 8.9 yards per catch and has only 4 TDs, 2 of which came last week. He also hasn't had a game with over 80 receiving yards yet this season. We know he can play, I just think the offensive limitations for Detroit has kept him under wraps. Even if the Lions are unable to move the ball on the ground here, I don't expect New Orleans to be able to slow down the passing game much. I like Tate as a WR2 this week.
Second-year TE Eric Ebron looked like he was building to something early in the season, but he's struggled for the most part after missing a few games early on. He's shown some of the ability that made him a first-round pick and the Saints are horrible against TEs, giving up the most fantasy points per game to the position. He's not exactly a safe play, but he could provide a big-time boom game as a streaming option and he's the perfect type of guy for DFS tournaments.
The running game in Detroit has been a complete disaster all season and the most consistent guy has been Theo Riddick, who is almost exclusively used as a receiver out of the backfield. The Saints are 29th in fantasy points allowed per game to the RB position, so you'd think somebody will take advantage of the good match-up. The problem for fantasy owners has been the distribution of touches between the three-headed monster of Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah and Riddick. Bell has been getting 6-8 carries consistently over the past four weeks, with Abdullah getting double digits in carries in most cases and Riddick getting the rushing scraps and a lot of work in the passing game. Neither Bell nor Abdullah have been particularly effective on a consistent enough basis to want to trust them, but if I had to choose one as a DFS tournament option, it would be Abdullah, just for the big play potential. If you play in a PPR league, Riddick should continue to be a solid RB2, as he's already got 67 receptions on 84 targets this season.
Saints: Whenever you think he's dead, Drew Brees just continues to fight. After an abysmal performance against Houston two weeks ago in which the Saints couldn't even score an offensive touchdown, Brees put up 29 fantasy points against the Panthers and then 24 against the Bucs. This week he gets the Lions, who have been mediocre against QBs in a fantasy sense, ranking 19th in fantasy points allowed per game. They do have the 10th ranked pass defense in the league in terms of passing yards, but I'm just not particularly scared of the match-up. Brees is a trustworthy option as a mid-QB1.
Veteran WR Marques Colston came back from the dead last week, finishing with 6 catches, 2 of which were for TDs. I'm not sure if it was just a result of the match-up or not, but there's no way you can expect Colston to repeat that type of performance. #1 WR Brandin Cooks saw only 5 targets and I'm not expecting that to repeat itself either. Cooks had been having a pretty good stretch until this week and it's worth mentioning that he did have a mid-week injury in practice that was thought to be a possibly concussion. Cooks was cleared to play fairly quickly and it sounded like the whole thing was mostly precautionary, but you have to wonder if his diminished role for that game was influenced by that situation. Either way, I have no fear of starting Cooks against a Lions' defense that is middle-of-the-pack against WRs in fantasy points allowed per game. Colston may have come up with 2 TDs, but the real beneficiary of Cooks' down game was Willie Snead, who finished the game with 7 catches on 8 targets for 122 yards. After being a fairly reliable option for most of the first half the season, Snead had been hampered by a calf injury for several weeks before posting this big game. If Snead is back to full strength, he should be a good WR3 or flex in this match-up.
TE Benjamin Watson has been a solid contributor all season long, both for the Saints and fantasy owners. He posted 7 catches and 70 yards on 11 targets against Tampa Bay and has had at least 8 targets in each of the three games since the Saints' Week 11 bye. And Detroit comes into this game as the 4th worst defense against TEs from a fantasy perspective, so Watson should continue to be in your lineups as a solid Top-10 option.
Ok, I can admit when I'm wrong. Last week I basically said that C.J. Spiller was the more interesting and relevant option in the Saints' backfield when Mark Ingram was placed on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury. All Tim Hightower did was get 28 rushing attempts and score a TD, while Spiller got only 3. Three! I'm not sure if Spiller can't play anymore, if he's still struggling for his early-season injuries or if the Saints just hate him at this point, but it doesn't really matter, because he's just not a part of the offense. Hightower may have only averaged 3.0 yards per carry on those 28 rushing attempts last week, but volume is volume. Detroit is 22nd in the league against the run and 21st in fantasy points allowed per game to RBs, so there could be some points to be had here. Hightower is no Ingram, but he's at least worth consideration as a flex/RB3, possibly even a low-end RB2.