Fantasy Football Start, Sit, Stream, or Fade: Week 15
2020 has been a year of chaos and discombobulation -- whatever the norm was, it's long been thrown out the window. However, despite all the pandemonium, the one thing that's bound to be a constant is the need to make fantasy football lineup decisions.
That need is about to be magnified significantly with most leagues advancing to the semi-finals of their respective postseasons. One bad decision and all of your season's work goes down the drain. No pressure.
If you had a good season, you should have some tough lineup decisions to make this week. If you don't have any tough lineup decisions, there's a good chance that your bench is thinner than LeBron James' hairline. The goal of this piece is to assist with some of those decisions.
Of course, leagues come in all shapes and sizes, so it's near impossible to tackle every start-or-sit scenario. A must-start for one team could be a bench option in another league.
With all that being said, we're here to help at numberFire! This column will try to highlight some of those tough lineup decisions you have to make every week, and will, hopefully, be able to sway you in one direction or another. In this piece, we'll be utilizing our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric (i.e., the expected points added on any given play), read more about it here.
Without further ado, let's get onto the best and worst plays of the week. We'll break down players into four categories, though the definitions will be a tad different since I'll be attempting to cover most fantasy-relevant players this week:
Start: These players should be started with confidence.
Stream: These will be players with either A) good matchups or higher-than-usual projected volume or B) players with guaranteed volume who are neither lineup locks nor fades.
Fade: This category will be reserved for higher-end fantasy studs who find themselves in a bad spot on that given week. Fade these players in DFS or if you have a loaded roster, but don't get too cute in season-long -- just because these players should be faded relative to their usual value doesn't mean you should bench them for a scrub. If your start finds himself in the fade section, you might want to find more upside at other spots in your lineup to make up for his likely depressed ceiling.
Sit: This category will feature players that should ride the pine unless you truly have no better options.
Given that this is the playoffs, I'm expanding this column to include as many plays as I can write about before my hand becomes a permanent part of the keyboard -- only the most obvious of obvious plays will be excluded. Let's get to it!
(When I reference fantasy points allowed, it is Yahoo settings for quarterbacks and half-PPR for the other positions.)
Tom Brady (at Atlanta) - I listed Brady as one of my top starts in last week's column and he finished as the QB20... whoops. I'd say the process was right, but that won't make any of us who started him feel any better. Anyhoo, on we go. Let's go back to Brady once again for the fantasy semis, and this time as the top start. If you've paid attention to this column, or to fantasy football in general, you know that the Atlanta Falcons have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta also ranks 10th-worst in adjusted pass defense and they've seen opposing signal-callers attempt the 8th-most passes against them. Meanwhile, while Brady has been a model of inconsistency this season, his game logs on the road have been pretty consistent: 22.5 fantasy points, 23.9, 14.1, 36.9, 19.1, and 31.8. In six matchups against teams that are among the 15-most generous to the position, Brady has averaged 26.6 fantasy points and has scored fewer than 23.7 just once. It doesn't hurt that this matchup should be the fastest-paced on the slate. He's a top-eight play in Week 15.
Jalen Hurts (at Arizona) - While I'm in the mood of confessing to my whiffs, I'll admit that I was wrong about Hurts in both this column last week and my bold predictions piece. Hurts went up against an elite New Orleans Saints defense and completely took them to town. After surrendering just 75 rush yards to quarterbacks through their first 12 games combined, the Saints ceded 106 yards on the ground to the rookie. Hurts also added 167 yards and a tuddy through the air. In his second start, Hurts will square off with an Arizona Cardinals team that's allowed the fifth-most rush yards to quarterbacks. Fire him up as a QB1.
Ryan Tannehill (vs. Detroit) - When they're not facing Alex Smith, P.J. Walker, or Mitchell Trubisky, the Detroit Lions are the Santa Claus of defense for opposing quarterbacks. In fact, in their other nine games, the opposition's signal-callers have averaged a whopping 25 fantasy points per game, with seven of them exceeding 20. Like last week, there is the danger of Derrick Henry playing Pinball with anyone trying to tackle him, thus limiting the need to throw, but Detroit has managed to go an entire season being extremely generous to both quarterbacks and running backs. Meanwhile, Tannehill has topped 20.9 fantasy points four times this season, and each of those four instances has come on his home field. This isn't all that dissimilar to last season where five of Tanny's seven games with more than 19 fantasy points came in Nashville.
Taysom Hill (vs. Kansas City) - Formerly a top-10 unit, the Kansas City Chiefs' pass defense is trending in the wrong direction. In their last five games, the Chiefs have yielded more than 22 fantasy points to a passer four times, and on the season, only six teams have allowed more fantasy points on the ground to the position. Meanwhile, Hill has recorded at least 18.5 fantasy points in each of his four starts, including more than 24 in two of them. This game has a projected total of 51.5, which certainly helps Hill's outlook.(Update: Drew Brees will start Sunday's game, per Adam Schefter.)
Philip Rivers (vs. Houston) - If you have a high-variance lineup and need some stability, might I suggest streaming Rivers? The veteran hasn't scored fewer than 16.3 fantasy points in any of his last five games, but he also hasn't topped 22.4 during that stretch. Meanwhile, he'll be going up against a Houston Texans defense that's allowed more than 19 fantasy points in seven of their last eight non-hurricane games. Rivers managed 19.2 against Houston just two weeks ago, and Mitchell Trubisky tagged them for 25 last week.
Derek Carr (vs. LAC) - Do you have balls of brass? Well, that's what it would take to start Carr in the fantasy football semi-finals. Carr has amassed more than 20 fantasy points on seven different occasions this season, but he also comes with a grey hair-inducing floor -- his 1.6-point performance against Atlanta is all the evidence you need. This week, Carr will face a Los Angeles Chargers' defense that's ceded the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Just one signal-caller has topped 20 fantasy points against them since Week 8, so this matchup is far from a gimme.
Deshaun Watson (at Indianapolis) - I had Watson as a fade last week and he ended up finishing as the QB18, and he finds himself in a similar position this week. Watson will be going up against an Indianapolis Colts team that ranks eighth in adjusted pass defense and that has surrendered the eighth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Watson did manage 20.4 fantasy points against them in Week 13, but that's nowhere near where we'd like him to be. Can he crack the top-12 this week? Sure. Does he have the same ceiling he had with Will Fuller in the fold? No. No, he does not.
Matt Ryan (vs. Tampa Bay) - The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have actually had moments this year where they've been generous to opposing quarterbacks, but it's difficult to expect this week to be one of those moments. Tampa does rank ninth in adjusted pass defense and they're facing a quarterback who's been underwhelming for much of 2020. Through his last 11 games, Ryan has recorded fewer than 16 fantasy points six times, including in four straight. Whether or not Julio Jones suits up, Ryan will be tough to trust in this divisional matchup.
Tua Tagovailoa (vs. New England) - We all know Bill Belichick's reputation against rookie quarterbacks, and this week should be no different. On the season, New England ranks 10th in adjusted pass defense, and over their last three weeks, they've held Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, and Jared Goff to an average of 10.3 fantasy points. Meanwhile, while Tua did pop for 28 points against the Chiefs last week, he has scored 16.1 or fewer in four of his six starts this season.
Mike Davis (at Green Bay) - One positive from the news that Christian McCaffrey is not expected to play on Saturday against the Green Bay Packers is that we got it quite early in the week. And for those who roster Mike Davis, it means having an RB1 for the fantasy football semi-finals. On the season, the Packers have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to running backs overall and the most points to opposing backs through the air. That's a fantastic spot for someone who's as involved in the passing game as Davis is, as he's seen six or more targets seven times this season. Davis could easily finish as a top-10 runner this week -- something he's already done five times this season.
D'Andre Swift (at Tennessee) - Swift returned last week from a multi-week absence and saw a far higher snap share than any other Detroit back (53%) and garnered 54.6% of the team's running back opportunities. Another week removed from his injury should lead to a role that closer to the one we saw in Week 10 when he totaled 148 yards and a score on 21 opportunities -- and a Matthew Stafford absence could certainly lead to an even larger spike in his usage. Luckily for Swift, he gets a mouthwatering matchup with the Tennessee Titans. On the season, Tennessee has ceded the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing backfields, including the fourth-most through the air. That's great news for Swift, who has seen at least four targets in all but one of his outings this season.
Cam Akers (vs. NYJ) - The New York Jets actually possess the ninth-best adjusted rushing defense, per our metrics, but that doesn't make this a matchup to shy away from for Akers. In fantasy football, volume trumps everything else, and New York has given up a healthy 29.7 touches per game to running backs this season, fourth-most in the league. After not seeing a snap share higher than 33% in any game prior to Week 13, Akers has been given shares of 63% and 79% over his last two games. Those snap shares have also come along with 22 and 32 opportunities, respectively. Should he see that kind of volume in Week 15 (and the odds are in his favor), Akers will find himself prodding in RB1 territory.
J.K. Dobbins (vs. Jacksonville) - In an ideal world, Dobbins would be listed as one of the top starts in this column -- he's definitely got the talent, and the matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars is mouth-watering. However, the rookie's limited workload prevents him from being listed in that space. Nevertheless, Dobbins should be an excellent streaming option for your lineups. On the season, Jacksonville has ceded the most touches and fourth-most fantasy points to running backs. The Jags are allowing an average of 17.3 half-PPR points to backs per game just on the ground (fifth-most). Fourteen backs have garnered more than 10 carries against Jacksonville this season, and those 14 have posted an average of 16.9 half-PPR points per game. Dobbins has recorded 11 or more carries in five of his last six games.
Jeff Wilson (at Dallas) - With Raheem Mostert's status in doubt, Wilson could be in for a heavy workload on Sunday. That said, Wilson doesn't need Mostert to be inactive in order to be a solid streaming option this week. Over his last four games, Wilson has seen at least 12 opportunities in each contest. On the season, only one team (the Texans) have conceded more fantasy points on the ground to backs than the Dallas Cowboys. Wilson, who has received four rushes inside the five in his last three games, should be able to find the end zone against a Cowboys team that's surrendered 13 rushing scores to the position.
Lynn Bowden Jr. (vs. New England) - This is one of those times where you get to take advantage of a cheat code at running back. While Bowden is primarily a slot receiver for the Miami Dolphins, he has running back eligibility in a majority of leagues. And he should be able to make that pay off in Week 15. Bowden saw 59 snaps and 10 opportunities last week, and there's plenty of reason to believe that an uptick in both categories is in order. Miami will likely be without tight end Mike Gesicki for Sunday's contest, and they could also be missing DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, and Myles Gaskin -- that's a huge chunk of usage suddenly available. Over the last two weeks, Bowden has comfortably led Miami in snaps lined up in the slot, and the Pats happen to give up the third-most yards per target to wideouts lined up in the slot.
James Robinson (at Baltimore) - After posting fewer than 13 half-PPR points just three times in his first eight games, Robinson has failed to reach that number thrice in his last five outings. He could fail to post a huge performance again against a Baltimore Ravens squad that ranks sixth-best in adjusted run defense. It also doesn't help that the Jags are 13-points 'dogs in this one -- in the last four games Jacksonville has lost by more than 10 points, Robinson has put up 9.5, 13.3, 10.4, and 10.3 half-PPR points. While those aren't terrible numbers, they're a far cry from what many have come to rely on.
Leonard Fournette (at Atlanta) - Ronald Jones' status was already in doubt due to having a pin inserted into his finger, but he's now even a bigger question mark after being placed on the COVID-19 list. If Jones were unable to go, it is not an unreasonable assumption that Fournette would see a heavy workload, but even if he does, it's best to keep him on the bench in fantasy. On the season, no team has allowed fewer fantasy points on the ground to running backs than the Falcons. Atlanta has been generous to runners through the air, but among the 40 backs with at least 25 targets this season, Fournette ranks 27th in Reception NEP per target. There are better streamers out there for Week 15.
Ezekiel Elliott (vs. San Francisco) - If his name wasn't Ezekiel Elliott, people would feel a lot more comfortable keeping him on the bench for the fantasy semis. In five of his last seven games, Elliott has amassed fewer than eight half-PPR points -- he has finished as the RB28 or lower in six of his last eight. Not great, Bob! This week, Zeke will square off with a Niners team that ranks third-best in adjusted run defense and that's allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. It's a pass for me.
Brandon Aiyuk (at Dallas) - In his last five games, Aiyuk is averaging 11.4 targets, 7.2 receptions, 99 yards, and 0.6 touchdowns per game, and that's all despite Deebo Samuel being active for two of those outings. With Deebo likely sidelined for the rest of the season, Aiyuk finds himself as a borderline WR1 in good matchups, such as the one he has this week -- the Dallas Cowboys. On the season, the Cowboys are ceding the fifth-most fantasy points and the most touchdowns to opposing wideouts. Through 13 games, 14 receivers have already surpassed 13 half-PPR points against Dallas. The 10 wideouts that have seen nine or more targets against this defense have posted an average of 17.8 half-PPR points.
T.Y. Hilton (vs. Houston) - Did you think I was going to leave out Hilton against the Texans? In 17 career games against Houston, the veteran is averaging a whopping 16.3 half-PPR points per game. Hilton has recorded 74 or more yards in 12 of those 17 contests. In general, Houston has been fairly generous to wideouts this season, allowing the 10th-most fantasy points to the position. Through Week 14, 15 receivers have recorded at least 10.5 half-PPR points against them. Hilton has been playing excellent football of late -- among without with at least 10 targets, Hilton ranks first in Reception NEP per target over his last three outings.
Chris Godwin (at Atlanta) - A lot of people will be hesitant to start any Tampa wideout, even in this delicious matchup, and it's tough to blame them. That said, Godwin could not be in a better spot this week. So far this season, Atlanta has surrendered 10.8 half-PPR points to Hunter Renfrow, 12.0 to K.J. Hamler and Anthony Miller, 13.2 to Tyler Lockett, 14.5 to CeeDee Lamb, 15.7 to Keenan Allen, 17.3 to D.J. Moore, 19.4 to Curtis Samuel, and 22.0 to Jerry Jeudy -- what do all those wideouts have in common? They all line up in the slot for more than a third of their snaps. As Tampa's primary slot receiver, look for Godwin to take advantage here.
Corey Davis (vs. Detroit) - I listed Davis as a start last week, so naturally he responded by posting his second-lowest output of the season. But I will not be deterred -- I'm going right back to him in Week 15. This week, Davis will face a Lions team that has surrendered the most receptions and yards to wideouts over the last five weeks. In fact, during that stretch, Detroit has allowed 226 more receiving yards to the position than any other team in the league. Nine wide receivers have amassed at least 10.5 half-PPR points against them during their last five outings, including five that exceeded 17 points. Davis makes for an excellent flex play in the fantasy semis.
Curtis Samuel (at Green Bay) - Samuel has been a fantastic fantasy option ever since his slow start. Over his last seven games, Samuel has recorded double-digit half-PPR points six times, including four games with at least 14.3. He's averaging 10.5 opportunities during that stretch. While the Packers have been one of the better teams against receivers this season, they haven't been quite as stingy against those lined up in the slot.
Other options: Mike Evans (at ATL), Amari Cooper (vs. SF), D.J. Moore (at GB), JuJu Smith-Schuster (at CIN), Cole Beasley (at DEN), Marvin Jones (at TEN), Keke Coutee (at IND), Brandin Cooks (at IND), Jarvis Landry (at NYG), Nelson Agholor (vs. LAC), Michael Pittman Jr. (vs. HOU), Tim Patrick (vs. BUF), Antonio Brown (at ATL), Tyron Johnson (at LV), Willie Snead (vs. JAC), Russell Gage (vs. TB).
Terry McLaurin (vs. Seattle) - Weeks ago, many of us (including myself) looked at the schedule and licked our lips when we saw the Seattle Seahawks on tap for McLaurin in Week 15 -- by now, that excitement has vanished. Not only has McLaurin struggled mightily in his last two games -- just 4 receptions for 38 yards combined -- but Seattle has actually been quite tough on wideouts. Since Week 9, no team has conceded fewer fantasy points to receivers than the Seahawks. Only two wideouts -- Josh Reynolds and Larry Fitzgerald -- have managed double-digit half-PPR points against Seattle during that stretch. McLaurin is more of a low-end WR2 with upside for this one.
Other fades: Michael Thomas (vs. KC) [Update: Thomas is a start with Brees behind center], Tyler Lockett (at WAS), Keenan Allen (at LV), Robby Anderson (at GB), Chase Claypool (at CIN), Tyler Boyd (at PIT).
D.J. Chark (at Baltimore) - At this point, how do you justify throwing Chark out there against the Ravens? Not only has Chark failed to top eight half-PPR points in seven of his last eight outings, but he's also going up against a Baltimore defense that's surrendering the sixth-fewest fantasy points to wideouts. The move to Minshew didn't do any good last week, as Chark managed just 2 receptions for 16 yards on 9 targets.
Jerry Jeudy (vs. Buffalo) - Like Chark, it's damn near impossible to justify throwing Jeudy in your starting lineup in Week 15. The rookie has totaled double-digit half-PPR points just twice all season, and he's managed a whopping 6.2 points over his last two games on a mere 14.6% target share. The Buffalo Bills have allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to receivers this season, not that it matters.
Robert Tonyan (vs. Carolina) - After not allowing more than 50 receiving yards to a tight end in any of their first seven games, the Carolina Panthers have surrendered more than 50 yards to a tight end in each of their last six games. Carolina has also ceded five scores to the position in their last eight contests. Meanwhile, Tonyan has recorded double-digit half-PPR points in 7 of his last 11 games, including in four straight. He sits as the TE4 entering Week 15.
Rob Gronkowski (at Atlanta) - The Falcons haven't been the same generous team to tight ends as they were early in the season, but as Jared Cook proved in Week 13, this is still a matchup we can target. Six tight ends have managed double-digit half-PPR points against this defense. Meanwhile, Gronk has started to become a weapon in the red zone for Brady and the Bucs. Since Week 5, Gronk ranks fourth among tight ends in targets, second in touchdowns, and first in Reception NEP per reception (min. six targets) in the money zone. He has scored five times in his last eight games and should have a great shot at reaching paydirt in Week 15.
Irv Smith Jr. (vs. Chicago) - Despite being a bit limited last week, Smith still managed to catch all 4 of his targets for 63 yards and a tuddy. If Kyle Rudolph (foot) is out again, Smith makes for an excellent streamer in the semis. Since Week 7 alone, five tight ends have totaled at least 10.2 half-PPR points against the Chicago Bears, and another two posted 7.4 and 8.6 during that stretch. Smith is a low-end TE1 if Rudolph is inactive.
Dallas Goedert (at Arizona) - After surrendering, on average, 4.2 more fantasy points per game to tight ends than any other team last year, the Cards have actually had quite the turnaround versus the position in 2020. Through 13 games, Arizona the fifth-fewest fantasy points to the position. Only two tight ends have recorded more than 7.5 half-PPR points against this defense, and none have topped 10.4. Goedert has had his moments this season, but with Zach Ertz back in the mix and hurts behind center, his upside is now capped -- especially in this matchup.
Jordan Akins (at Indianapolis) - Many, including myself, have tried to push Akins as a formidable streamer over the last two weeks with Will Fuller suspended, but the 28-year-old has rewarded us with 5 catches, 30 yards, and 1 brutal drop. I won't be pushing him this week against a Colts defense that's been the fourth-stingiest against tight ends in 2020.