Editor’s Note: This is part one of our mega-preview for week 15. The rest of the games are covered in Part 2.
The week 15 slate of games has some awesome, compelling matchups and it’s an elimination game for most fantasy football leagues. Starting the right guys is always key to getting your team deep into the playoffs, and for those on the outside looking in it’s never too early to start scouting for next year… For each game I’ll give you any players that should be upgraded or downgraded due to injury, opportunity, or matchup and I’ll also give you my pick against he spread (taken from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick’em). I’m coming off a solid 10-6 week last week taking my season record to 116-89. I’m hoping for another double-digit win week in week 15 and here’s the first part of my picks and previews (home teams in all caps)
FALCONS -11.5 over Jaguars
Analysis: The Falcons have won 3 out of 4 and 6 out of 8 and they get this game at home in the dome where they are 4-2. They’re pushing hard towards the playoffs and right nos they and Detroit would be the 2 wild cards in the NFC. Chicago and Dallas are only one game back though, so this win is critical to them. The Jags on the other hand have little to play for, but they are coming off their best game of the season when they trounced the Bucs 41-14. This offense runs on Maurice-Jones Drew, but the Falcons run D has been good all year especially at home. It’s not a question, in my mind, if Atlanta will win but if they will cover. I’ll take them to win 31-13 and cover the spread on this edition of Thursday Night Football.
Player Notes: Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, and Michael Turner have all been limited in practice but are all expected to be available. It’s actually Matt Ryan who might be in trouble in this one since the Jags are 4th rated against the pass. The Jags are vulberable however in their run defense so Turner and even Jacquizz Rodgers make good starts (Turner as high RB2 and Rodgers as a low-flex play). The Falcons D is also a good bet against the woeful (32nd ranked) passing offense of Jacksonville…Blaine Gabbert will once again get the start but Mike Thomas is out which won’t help the Jags already moribund passing offense. Even Maurice Jones-Drew could struggle since the Falcons give up only 95 yards per game on the ground (5th in the NFL), but he should be involved enough in the passing game to make up for the lack of yards running. If there ever is a week for Marcedes Lewis to step up and be the go-to pass-catcher this is the game, but I still don’t see him as a solid start in most leagues. He’s a Hail Mary if you’re desperate at TE but little more.
Cowboys -6.5 over BUCCANEERS
Analysis: Our first Saturday night game has the ‘Boys headed east to Tampa to take on the sliding Bucs. The ‘Boys need this one in the worst way both in the standings and mentally after 2 tough losses. Thankfully they get the Bucs who haven’t won since upsetting the Saints in mid-October. I don’t even think Jason Garrett and the Romo-coaster can blow this one. Cowboys roll 38-10
Player Notes: Remember Felix Jones? The guy many of us got talked into as a breakout candidate this year who then got hurt and never really amounted to much is now back and better than ever. Jones should play the same roll as MJD (4 TDs) did last week against the 28th ranked run D of Tampa. Don’t worry though, Tony Romo owners, the Bucs D is 27th against the pass so their should be plenty of plays to be made in the air as well. Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten also make good plays as the ‘Boys should pile up the points. Dallas Defense is also a nice play since in 6 of their last 7 Tampa hasn’t broken 20 and their turnover margin is -10 on the year and last week the Jags forced 7 turnovers last week… On the Tampa side, Josh Freeman should play, but he’s been so limited it’s hard to recommend him. Dallas’s run D is 8th in the league so LaGarrette Blount is a tough start at well. If at all possible stay away from all the Bucs, but Freeman might be able to connect with Kellen Winslow or Mike Williams for some garbage time yards and a TD or 2.
Dolphins +.5 over BILLS
Analysis: The Bills have crashed and burned after a promising start to their 2011 season. They’ve lost 6 in a row and the only one in which they were close was a back and forth affair with the Jets. They’ve lost Fred Jackson for the year and Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled mightily during the course of the losing streak. The Dolphins are trending the opposite way and had won 3 in a row and 4 of 5 before losing last week at home to Philadelphia. That loss cost Tony Sparano his job, and they go into this game with interim head coach Todd Bowles at the helm. The big question here is if Matt Moore can play or not. If not, it’ll be ex-Bills QB JP Losman leading the Dolphins into his former stomping grounds. I’ll take the Dolphins since they’ve been playing better lately and I do think that Moore will start. I’m not very confident in the pick though since both teams aren’t really going anywhere the rest of this year. I do think it’ll be closer than the 35-8 whooping the Phins laid on the Bills in Miami in week 11. I’ll say Miami 24-Buffalo 17.
Player Notes: Matt Moore‘s health is the big issue and it appears he’s passed his baseline tests from his concussion and should be cleared to practice. If you own him, make sure you check his availability as we get closer to Sunday. If he starts Brandon Marshall makes a decent WR2 start against Buffalo’s depleted secondary. Reggie Bush is a great start either way as the Bills rank 23rd in rushing yards allowed and have been carved up by Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, and Shonne Greene the last 3 weeks. Daniel Thomas could also be a flex possibility depending on his touches…C. J. Spiller once again will get the touches for a Bills team built around Fred Jackson’s skill set. He can take any touch to the house and is a dynamic talent, but has been limited in the past few games he’s started. Miami is ranked 3rd against the run and bottled up LeSean McCoy last week, so stay away from Spiller if possible. While I think Ryan Fitzpatrick will again struggle, the success he does have will come in his connections with Steve Johnson whose hand injury is not an issue as he looks to attack the 25th ranked secondary in the league when Miami comes to town.
Seahawks +4.5 over BEARS
Analysis: The Bears defense should’ve won their game last week against the Tebows and it took 2 long kicks and some bonehead play by Marion Barber to take the game away from them. A day later the Seahawks played a Monday Night game they should’ve won and did convincingly over the Rams. They’re on a short week having to travel to Soldier Field, which is a tough task for any team, but I think Pete Carroll’s boys are up for the challenge. The line here seems ridiculous to me. The Bears D is good, but their offense isn’t right now and I think the ‘Hawks can put up enough points to not only keep it within 4 but actually win outright. Give me the Seahawks 17-13.
Player Notes: Both offenses will run through the running backs in this one. Marshawn Lynch continues to tear through opposing defenses while pounding Skittles on the sidelines. (ok, maybe not exactly pounding the Skittles, but it sounds cool doesn’t it?) In the last 7 weeks, Lynch has rushed for 706 yards to lead the league over that time period. He’s also scored a TD in his last 9 games. You don’t need me to tell you to start him; just do it. Tavaris Jackson played well last week as well and since Lynch is drawing all the attention should find some nice matchups on the outside. I still like Golden Tate as their breakout receiver but Doug Baldwin showed he’s got skills as well last week…Marion Barber actually had a good game before his out-of-bounds blunder and his overtime fumble. He’ll again be the focus of the offense and could have a Steven Jackson-like game against the Seahawks D. He’ll have plenty of opportunity and has plenty to atone for. He should be a low end RB2. The passing game for the Bears is a wasteland and Caleb Hanie hasn’t shown signs of fixing that anytime soon. With the way the Seahawks pressured Sam Bradford last week, I don’t see him turning it around this week.
Bengals -4.5 over RAMS
Analysis: Sam Bradford‘s ankle isn’t looking (or feeling) good for this one and it may fall to either Kellen Clemens to try and stay upright behind a patchwork offensive line that the Bengals defenders will run over, around, and through all day long. When the Bengals have the ball it’ll be refreshing for them not to have a Pittsburgh, Houston, or Baltimore defense staring back at them. They need a bounceback win after some tough matchups for them and I think they’ll get it here with relative ease 27-3.
Player Notes: Cedric Benson looks to be healthy in this one and playing against the 32nd ranked rushing defense will give him some healthy numbers as well. Andy Dalton and AJ Green won’t be asked to do too much in this one and you shouldn’t expect too much out of them since they’ll likely be ahead and rushing the ball for much of the game. The Bengals Defense makes a great play in this one as well…Steven Jackson had a decent game last week but will find it much tougher going with Clemens probably at QB and facing the Bengals #7 ranked rush defense.
CHIEFS +13.5 over Packers
Analysis: Let’s get this straight; I don’t think the Chiefs will win this game, but I do think that they can win this game and that they probably will keep it within the point spread. Here’s why: Arrowhead stadium is a huge home field advantage and the fans will be pumped and ready to cheer their boys on. Another reason is the changes the Chiefs have undergone this week. Kyle Orton isn’t a franchise QB, but he’s a huge step up from Tyler Palko and with the skill players he has available to him can throw on this Packers secondary that ranks 31st in the NFL and use the Chiefs’ mid-level (15) running game to keep the Packs opportunistic secondary at bay. Romeo Crennel is a defensive coach and will cook up schemes to at least slow down the Packers. That all being said, the Packers offense is functioning on such an elite level that the loss of Greg Jennings won’t affect them much and I think they’ll win 27-21.
Player Notes: Kyle Orton makes a decent QB2 against this Packers secondary and with Dwayne Bowe (who’s a WR1 potentially with Orton) as a go-to playmaker. The backfield situation is one to avoid since there’s no clear leader… All your Packers always make good starts. Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around so well the loss of Jennings will only reapportion who gets what. Whether the increase in passes goes to James Jones, Donald Drive, Jermichael Finley, or Jordy Nelson remains to be seen and since the Chiefs do rank 10th against the pass they may not have huge numbers Sunday…With James Starks iffy and Brandon Saine most likely out it looks like a heavy workload day for Ryan Grant with short-yardage situations again going to John Kuhn. Both could have value since the Chiefs rank 26th against the run.
Titans -6.5 over COLTS
Analysis: It’s hard to analyze this too much since the Titans QB situation is still in shambles. The Titans though are a run-first team and should have a field day with the Colts anemic offense. The Titans need this game desperately to stay in the playoff hunt so either QB, I’ll take the Titans to cover easily and win 26-10. (It was 27-10 last time they met in Nashville)
Player Notes: Matt Hasselbeck is still not practicing on his strained calf and it may be time for the Titans to unleash Jake Locker. If Cam Newton, Andy Daton, and Locker all progress and grow from where they appear to be now this could be remembered as one of the greatest QB drafts ever. Locker has looked very good in his limited time this year so far and there’s no better first game to start then one against the Colts. Chris Johnson‘s resurgence should continue against the Colts 30th ranked rush defense and Nate Washington is a nice flex play or low WR2 no matter who the QB is. Give both guys a slight upgrade since they get to play Indy. For the same reason, the Titans Defense is another very nice play this week…. The Colts it’s best to just stay as far away from as possible.
Saints -7.5 over VIKINGS
Analysis: In what will be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend the Saints travel north to visit the Vikings in what will be a high-scoring battle of medieval proportions. The Vikings have already hosted 26-23, 27-21, 33-27, and 35-32 games this season. The Saints are 2nd in the league in scoring average with 31.9 pts per game. This one will be filled with points both fantasy and real, but since the Saints are still pushing to get into the playoffs and Drew Brees in a dome is like money in the bank I’ll take the Saints to win 42-30.
Player Notes: Almost everybody in this one has the potential to go off. For the Saints, you’re obviously starting Drew Brees and you can expect big numbers from him. Marques Colston reestablished himself in the 4th quarter last week as the number 1 wide-out Brees will look for. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are less favorable options but can still be started if you need them. Jimmy Graham is solidly the #2 TE in the league behind Gronkowski and makes a great start against a Vikings team that’s struggled with covering TE all year. The Saints backfield is a guessing game, but Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are both flex plays with Sproles the one of the two with more upside… Adrian Peterson is expected to return for this game so the Vikings rushing attack should be solid and open up passing options for Christian Ponder against the 30th ranked pass defense of the Saints. Percy Harvin is a borderline WR1 and Devin Aromashodu can be used as a flex play option if you need him.
record this year: 116-89
last week: 10-6