Fantasy Football: Week 15 matchups to exploit, avoid

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Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, left, hands off running back LeSean McCoy (25) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus) — Adrian Kraus

If you’re still playing fantasy football, congratulations are in order. The smarts that got you to the postseason will come in handy this week. According to oddsmakers, points will be hard to come by. Three games have projected point totals under 40, and five more come in under 43. Not coincidentally, up to 10 games could be impacted by cold or snow. To gain an advantage in your playoff matchup, be sure to monitor injury and weather reports right up until kickoff.

On to Week 15 …


Bills (vs. Browns) Sunday, noon

Tyrod Taylor has to be thankful – despite continued struggles – he remains the starting QB in Buffalo. What a bummer it would have been to get benched just as the hapless Browns are coming to town. Cleveland’s defense is ranked 31st overall and against the rush. The Bills can’t beat the top-tier teams, but they are 5-1 against opponents with a losing record. Taylor is an intriguing option for fantasy owners in need of a playoff QB.

The advice here would be to find a better option: Taylor has faced two bottom-five defenses this season (San Francisco and Oakland). Against SF, at home, he threw for two TDs, but had only 179 yards passing. He added 68 yards on the ground. In Oakland, he threw for 191 yards with no TDs, although he did run for a score. Those who start Taylor have to hope for ground production, and that’s always an iffy proposition. This is, however, a dream matchup for LeSean McCoy. There could also be some mop-up duty for Mike Gillislee.

Must start: McCoy, Bills D/ST

Solid play: Sammy Watkins

Worth a look: Taylor, Gillislee, Charles Clay, Dan Carpenter

Last resort: none

Stay away: Robert Woods

Packers (@ Bears) Sunday, noon

During their current three-game win streak, the Packers have averaged 28.7 points per game. From a fantasy perspective, there was never anything to worry about. Even as they dropped four straight from Week Eight through Week 11, they were averaging 26.8 points per game. Chicago actually has a solid defense, but the Packers will eventually wear them down. There is snow in Chicago’s weekend forecast and that will make the always-dicey Soldier Field turf even more problematic for defenders. Davante Adams is Green Bay’s over-the-top threat, but Aaron Rodgers looks for Jordy Nelson in the red zone. This would be a good week to consider the Packers D/ST. If Green Bay gets out to a big lead (a distinct possibility), Bears QB Matt Barkley will be forced to throw, and that could lead to turnovers.  

Must start: Rodgers, Nelson

Solid play: Adams, Mason Crosby, Packers D/ST

Worth a look: Ty Montgomery, Randall Cobb

Last resort: Christine Michael, Jared Cook*

Stay away: James Starks

Falcons (vs. 49ers) Sunday, 3:05

This one seems almost too easy: the Falcons’ top-scoring offense versus the 49ers and their league-worst defense. The only real question is whether or not Julio Jones (toe) will suit up for Atlanta. If he does, he’s probably the No. 1 WR this week. If he doesn’t go, move Taylor Gabriel and Nick Williams up one category. Devonta Freeman hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since Week Three and was held to six yards on six carries in L.A. He should bounce back this week.

Must start: Matt Ryan, Freeman, Jones, Matt Bryant

Solid play: Tevin Coleman, Falcons D/ST

Worth a look: Taylor Gabriel

Last resort: Nick Williams

Stay away: Levine Toilolo, Austin Hooper

Raiders (@ Chargers) Sunday, 3:25

Only three teams give up more points than San Diego. The Raiders are coming off a very disappointing performance last Thursday in Kansas City. Derek Carr was awful, which has led to speculation that his injured finger is worse than reported. Others have countered that Carr’s finger is OK based on the fact he played well after injuring the finger during Week 13. There is no way to know for sure, and you can bet that the Raiders will not provide any clues. Our best guess is that he finished Week 13 on adrenaline. In Week 14, he struggled in part due to the finger, but also because of the cold weather and a solid KC defense. With 10 days to adapt, heal and prepare, and facing a lesser defense in good weather, he should be fine.

Must start: Carr, Amari Cooper

Solid play: Latavius Murray, Michael Crabtree, Sebastian Janikowski

Worth a look: none

Last resort: Jalen Richard, Seth Roberts, Clive Walford, Raiders D/ST


Seahawks (vs. Rams) Thursday, 7:25

We hate Thursday games and the Seahawks looked absolutely atrocious last week in Green Bay. The Rams have the league’s 10th-ranked defense and are eighth against the pass. So why are we telling you to consider Seattle?  L.A. is an absolute trainwreck right now. They’ve given up 117 points in their past three games. There is no way to know how the Rams will respond to the firing of Jeff Fisher, but let’s not overthink it.


Lions (@ Giants) Sunday, noon

In their past five games, the Giants have yielded more than 20 points just one time – at Pittsburgh in a 24-14 loss. The Lions have a middling offense: 17th in points, 14th in passing, and a dismal 29th in rushing. With New York ranked eighth against the rush, this is not the week for the Lions to get the ground game going. Monitor the status of Theo Riddick, although any offensive success Detroit is going to have will likely have to come through the air. Eric Ebron is a reasonable fantasy option this week. The Giants have given up a lot of yards to TEs in recent weeks.

Must start: none

Solid play: Ebron

Worth a look: Matthew Stafford*, Golden Tate, Matt Prater, Lions D/ST

Last resort: Riddick*, Dwayne Washington (if no Riddick), Marvin Jones

Stay away: Zach Zenner

Texans (vs. Jaguars) Sunday, noon

With Houston averaging 17.6 points (28th in the league) and Jacksonville averaging 18.5 (27th), it’s no wonder that the over/under in this game is a paltry 39.5. We have selected the Texans as the “avoid” simply because we assume – if you’ve made the playoffs – you already know to avoid the Jags. It’s been a miserable season for Jacksonville, but it’s not because of its fifth-ranked defense. The Jags are great against the pass, but their rushing defense can be exploited. Unfortunately, Houston has a problem, and his name is Brock Osweiler. Jacksonville is not going to respect the pass. When Lamar Miller looks at the line of scrimmage, he is going to see a lot of eight-man fronts wearing ugly black-and-gold helmets.

Must start: Texans D/ST

Solid play: Miller

Worth a look: C.J. Fiedorowicz*, DeAndre Hopkins, Nick Novak

Last resort: Alfred Blue, Will Fuller

Stay away: Osweiler

Colts (@ Vikings) Sunday, noon

Although the Colts have the league’s 9th-ranked passing attack, this is an extremely difficult matchup for them. They have not fared well against strong pass defenses. Indy scored just 17 points last week against Houston; just seven in Week 12 against Pittsburgh; and only 14 in a Week Eight loss against KC. Interestingly, those were all home games. Minnesota’s defense is ranked second overall and third against the pass. As mush as we’d like to list T.Y. Hilton as a “must start,” the Vikings have given up just one 100-yard receiving day all season and that was last week to Marqise Lee (113 yards). Donte Moncrief may miss the game due to a hamstring injury.

Must start: none

Solid play: Andrew Luck, Hilton

Worth a look: Frank Gore, Adam Vinatieri

Last resort: Phillip Dorsett (if no Moncrief), Dwayne Allen, Jack Doyle, Colts D/ST

Stay away: Robert Turbin


Eagles (@ Ravens) Sunday

It’s hard to imagine Philadelphia generating much offense against the Ravens and their No. 1 rushing defense. The Eagles are 1-6 on the road this season.

*Check injury status