News & Analysis

Jeff Ratcliffe's fantasy football focus: Facts, predictions, and tips for Week 15

Dec 8, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (30) leaps after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Fantasy Focus is a weekly column that breaks down everything you need to know to set your fantasy football lineups. Make your start and sit decisions with fantasy facts, injury information, matchups stats, predictions for the week and more.

The No. 1 enemy of fantasy football players is overthinking. Heading into this weekend with the fantasy semifinals on the line, take a step back from your fantasy lineups. Sure, you could tinker with things a thousand times and research every possible angle. But your initial lineup is typically your best lineup.

Like we said last week, don’t get cute. Start your best players and you’ll give yourself the best possible change of winning.

Additionally, don’t worry about “upside.” Sure, it’s great when a player hits his ceiling like Jamison Crowder did Thursday night for the Jets, but players also have an equal chance of hitting their floor. The good news is that there’s significantly higher chance they’ll be somewhere in between. The midpoint is what we need to focus on for fantasy purposes. So instead of looking for upside on your roster, seek out the players who are going to score the most points most often and start them.

Upside doesn’t win championships. Points do.

New England @ Cincinnati

Greenline: NE -9.7, O/U 42.8

Fantasy facts: Things might not have gotten off to a good start for Joe Mixon in 2019, but the Bengals back is the No. 4 fantasy running back over the last five weeks. Over that span, he leads all runners with 105 carries and averages a healthy 4.5 yards per attempt. Of course, he also draws a brutal matchup this week against the Patriots. So the question is whether he’s worth starting. Of course, that really depends on your other options, but Mixon should still be viewed as a high-volume option who is likely to return at least RB2 production this week.

Matchup upgrade: On paper, this a favorable matchup for Tom Brady, but it’s hard to get behind rolling into battle in the fantasy semifinals with Brady as your quarterback in a 1QB league. The Pats’ lackluster receiver corps has left Brady with essentially no one to throw the ball to other than Julian Edelman down the stretch. Brady is an unappealing QB2 option despite the matchup.

Matchup downgrade: Andy Dalton’s return to the starting lineup for Cincinnati has moved Tyler Boyd back into the WR3 conversation. Unfortunately for Boyd owners, this matchup against New England is far from optimal. Boy figures to see a shadow from Jonathan Jones. While he isn’t quite a household name, Jones has been arguably the Patriots’ best corner this season. It’s a good week to keep Boyd on the bench.

Key injuries: None

Tampa Bay @ Detroit

Greenline: TB -4.1, OU 45.6

Fantasy facts: With Marvin Jones now on injured reserve, we can expect a ton of volume for Kenny Golladay over the next two weeks. Of course, David Blough under center doesn’t put somewhat of a damper on Golladay’s fantasy outlook, but Blough does at least take shots downfield. Of course, that’s where Golladay excels. Since Week 9, he leads all receivers with seven deep-ball catches. Golladay’s ability to make plays downfield bodes very well for fantasy success in this favorable matchup.

Matchup upgrade: There was some concern heading into this week that Jameis Winston might not be able to play after suffering a hand injury last week. Fortunately, Winston is going to be good to go and he remains in play as a QB1 option in this favorable matchup. Detroit allows the eighth-most fantasy points per game to quarterback and is one of just six teams to allow at least two passing scores per game this season.

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup downgrade: Bo Scarbrough was downgraded on Thursday with a ribs injury. That sort of thing typically doesn’t bode well for the player suiting up on Sunday, but he’s a fade even if he does play. Sure, Scarbrough has been a workhorse for the Lions, but his limited range of fantasy outcomes plus this tough matchup make him a poor fantasy option in all formats this week.

Key injuries: Mike Evans is listed as “doubtful” with a hamstring injury. While he hasn’t been placed on injured reserve, fantasy owners should not expect Evans on the field this season.

Chicago @ Green Bay

Greenline: GB -4, O/U 40.9

Fantasy facts: Allen Robinson has been one of the biggest fantasy bouncebacks this season. The Bears wideout enters the week tied for 11th among wideouts in fantasy scoring, which is a solid return on investment for anyone who took him at his ADP as the No. 30 wide receiver. A big reason for Robinson’s success is his work in the red zone. He’s currently tied for fourth among wideouts with 14 end-zone targets on the season. Averaging over one end-zone target per game is elite and means Robinson should continue to produce to close out the season.

Matchup upgrade: The reviews aren’t as favorable for David Montgomery this year, as the rookie running back has struggled to produce and ranks just 21st among running backs in fantasy scoring. To be fair, Montgomery has shown flashes this season, but the overall results are disappointing. That said, he’s a sneaky play this week as an RB2 option thanks to the matchup. Green Bay has allowed a massive 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game to running backs and rank fourth in yards per carry allowed at 4.9.

Matchup downgrade: Both quarterbacks draw unfavorable matchups in this one. Mitchell Trubisky has been surging down the stretch, but he isn’t an option against a Packers defense that allows the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers is certainly a bit trickier. The Bears are just two spots behind Green Bay as the seventh-worst matchup, but Rodgers owners may be in a position where there aren’t better streamers. Given the volatility of streaming, you best play is likely to start Rodgers as a back-end QB1. Of course, you can always consult our fantasy football rankings for your start/sit decisions.

Key injuries: None

Houston @ Tennessee

Greenline: TEN -3.4, O/U 49.9

Fantasy facts: Since taking over the starting job in Tennessee, Ryan Tannehill has emerged as one of the hottest quarterbacks in fantasy. Tannehill ranks second among quarterbacks in fantasy points per game since Week 7, trailing only Lamar Jackson in that category. Better yet, Tannehill gets a plus matchup this week against a fantasy-friendly Texans secondary that just got torched by rookie signal-caller Drew Lock. However, it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Tannehill. Since Week 9, he’s thrown to the end zone just six times. That ranks just 28th over that span. So few throws to the end zone makes Tannehill a prime regression candidate. That said, fantasy owners should continue to ride the wave and start him as a top-10 option this week.

Matchup upgrade: Derrick Henry missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but there’s no reason to panic if you own him. Henry has been under load maintenance over the past several weeks. Better yet, this is a plus matchup for him, as the Texans allow the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs.

Matchup downgrade: Good news. Every matchup is at least middle-of-the-pack in this one.

Key injuries: Henry missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but this has been a pattern for the Titans back. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be worried that he won’t play. … Will Fuller is also dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him on the sideline last week. Fuller has gotten limited work in at practice this week and has a chance of suiting up. That said, he’s just too risky to rely on as anything more than a desperation flex play.

Denver @ Kansas City

Greenline: KC -9.8, O/U 45.3

Fantasy facts: It wasn’t the best season for Patrick Mahomes owners, as the Chiefs signal-caller battled injuries for much of the year and then had to run into the Patriots in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. But believe it or not, he actually has a very fantasy-friendly matchup this week. Sure, the Broncos don’t look like one when you use full-season matchup data, but let’s zoom in a little closer. Denver allows the seventh-most fantasy points per game to QBs since Week 9 with quarterbacks averaging 267 passing yards and 1.8 TDs per game over that span. In other words, this is a favorable matchup for Mahomes, and he should be started with confidence.

Matchup upgrade: Phillip Lindsay isn’t an RB1 play, but he does draw an upgrade this week. Kansas City has struggled against the run all season and enters the week as the No. 2 fantasy matchup for the position. Opposing backs average a massive 5.0 yards per carry against the Chiefs.

Matchup downgrade: We fully expect Tyreek Hill to see a shadow from Chris Harris Jr. in this contest. Harris seeing just four targets per game thrown into his coverage this season. While that certainly doesn’t sound good, this isn’t the week to get cute with Hill. He remains locked in as a WR1 option. Better yet, Harris has surrendered 14 catches on 16 targets over the last three weeks.

Key injuries: Damien Williams hasn’t played in nearly a month, but the Chiefs running back managed to get limited work in at practice this week and has a chance of returning. Williams suiting up would only further complicate a frustrating Kansas City backfield. It’s wise to fade the Chiefs running backs this week.

Miami @ NY Giants

Greenline: NYG -3.4, O/U 46.3

Fantasy facts: Over the last three weeks, Saquon Barkley ranks just 24th among running backs in fantasy scoring. There’s a phrase in fantasy that you can’t win your league on draft day, but you sure can lose it. That’s a gross oversimplification. Sure, Barkley was far from a hit in the first round, but one player doesn’t make a fantasy team. Success in fantasy football isn’t just about the draft. It’s about managing your roster effectively throughout the season, which includes working the waiver wire. That said, Barkley is in a prime spot to deliver for fantasy purposes against the fantasy-friendly Dolphins defense.

Matchup upgrade: Darius Slayton yet again flashed a massive fantasy ceiling last week against the Eagles and is worth of WR3 consideration in this matchup. Slayton should see his share of Nik Needham in this contest. Needham has allowed two receiving scores in two of his last three games.

Matchup downgrade: I bet you’re completely shocked that no one gets a matchup downgrade in this contest.

Key injuries: Daniel Jones got limited work in at practice this week, but the expectation is that Eli Manning will be under center for a second straight week. Manning isn’t a season-long option, but his price point makes him an intriguing DFS option given the matchup. … Evan Engram’s foot injury has kept him sidelined since early November. The Giants tight end was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, but is trending toward sitting out another game. … DeVante Parker left last week’s contest with a concussion, but did manage to get limited sessions in on Wednesday and Thursday. That’s a good sign that Parker will clear the protocol and suit up for this week.

Philadelphia @ Washington

Greenline: PHI -5.6, O/U 39.3

Fantasy facts: Philly sports talk radio lit up this week with claims that Boston Scott is a better back for the Eagles than Miles Sanders. And sure, Scott was very effective last week with 10 carries for 59 yards and a score to go along with six catches on six targets for 69 yards. But be careful to not fall prey to the sports talk line of thinking for fantasy purposes. Sanders is still the better fantasy option and slots in as an RB2 with Jordan Howard likely to miss another game. Scott is best viewed as a desperation flex play.

© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup upgrade: Washington may have a lot of needs on the offensive side of the ball, but the Redskins look like they have themselves a foundational wideout in Terry McLaurin. They young wideout has flashed fantasy upside this season and is in play against Philly. The Eagles have struggled against speed all season and just allowed two scores to Darius Slayton in Week 14. McLaurin’s 4.3 wheels mean make him a sneaky option this week.

Matchup downgrade: With Derrius Guice out, Adrian Peterson figures to see a feature workload, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good fantasy option. The Eagles have continued to defend the run well, and enter the week allowing just 3.6 yards per carry to running backs. Fade Peterson this week.

Key injuries: Philadelphia’s injury woes at wideout continue, as Alshon Jeffery landed on injured reserve this week. With Nelson Agholor looking unlikely to play, the Eagles are scraping the bottom of the barrel at receiver. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and former AAF standout Greg Ward are their top two options. Expect the Eagles to lean heavily on Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert in the passing game this week.

Seattle @ Carolina

Greenline: SEA -6.6, O/U 48.3

Fantasy facts: Christian McCaffrey enters the week with 86 catches. While we’ve certainly gotten used to his incredible production, let’s not get spoiled. That number ranks fourth in the league behind only Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, and Julian Edelman. A lot of attention has been paid to Thomas and his historic pace, but McCaffrey is also a threat to break the single-season receptions record for running backs. Of course, he already did that once, just last year when he put up 106 catches.

Matchup upgrade: Things didn’t look good for Chris Carson just a few weeks ago as fumbling issues and good play from Rashaad Penny forced him into a committee situation in the Seahawks backfield. Unfortunately for Seattle, Penny landed on injured reserve this week with a torn ACL. Without him on the field, expect a heavy dose of Carson this week in an extremely favorable matchup against the Panthers. Opposing backfields have run all over the Panthers over the last month.

Matchup downgrade: The Seahawks look like they made a wise move selecting D.K. Metcalf in the second round of April’s draft. The rookie wideout ranks 28th at the position in fantasy scoring for the season and has emerged as one of the league’s most heavily targeted red-zone assets. Unfortunately, Metcalf isn’t a great option this week, as he’s a good bet to see a shadow from James Bradberry. The Panthers corner isn’t an elite option, but he has held opposing wideouts to just one touchdown on the season.

Key injuries: Greg Olsen is working his way through the league concussion protocol. Ian Thomas is a streamer option if Olsen doesn’t clear in time for this week’s contest.

Jacksonville @ Oakland

Greenline: OAK -6, O/U 45.7

Fantasy facts: It’s getting tougher to trust the Jags for fantasy purposes by the week. The obvious exception is Leonard Fournette. Sure, he doesn’t have an elite fantasy floor, but Fournette’s massive workload make him a solid RB1 play every week. His 303 touches on the season ranks second in the league. Any player who sees that sort of volume is all but guaranteed to finish as a top-10 option.

Matchup upgrade: All eyes are on Josh Jacobs this week after the rookie running back sat out last week’s contest. Jacobs got positive results from an MRI on his shoulder and has gotten limited work in at practice. The being said, Jacobs is far from a lock to return. The Raiders have almost no shot at making the playoffs, so there isn’t a major need to rush Jacobs back. If he does sit, DeAndre Washington will draw another start for the Raiders. As such, he’d deserve strong consideration as an RB2 play. The Jags allow a league-high 5.50 yards per carry to running backs this season.

Matchup downgrade: The matchups are neutral or better in this one.

Key injuries: D.J. Chark is out with an ankle injury. Look for Dede Westbrook to see an uptick in targets. He’s worth plugging in as a fringe WR2 option this week.

Cleveland @ Arizona

Greenline: CLV -3.5, O/U 49

Fantasy facts: Over the last six weeks, Kyler Murray ranks last among quarterbacks in aDOT at just 6.5 yards. Of course, this shouldn’t be a surprise, given Murray’s lack of deep receiving targets. However, that low number means minimal upside out of Murray with his arm. He’s in the streamer conversation as a back-end QB1 play, but will really need to get it done with his legs in order to reach value.

Matchup upgrade: Sure, it hasn’t been the season a lot of fantasy players expected for the Browns passing game, but Jarvis Landry has actually been rock-solid. Over the last five weeks, Landry ranks an impressive third among wide receivers in fantasy scoring, thanks in part to a favorable second-half schedule. The good matchups continue this week with the Cards on tap. Landry will see his share of Kevin Peterson out of the slot. Peterson is allowing a massive 16.1 yards per catch this season.

Matchup downgrade: The Cardinals backfield continues to be a complete mess for fantasy purposes. David Johnson found the end zone as a receiver last week, but there’s no way you can trust him in fantasy starting lineups. Likewise, the matchup isn’t terrible for Kenyan Drake, as Cleveland is a mid-pack fantasy matchup for running backs. But his lackluster play and the committee situation make him a risky flex play.

Key injuries: None

Minnesota @ LA Chargers

Greenline: MIN -0.9, O/U 46.4

Fantasy facts: Mike Williams enters the week with one of the league’s deepest average depths of target at a massive 18.0 yards downfield. He also has 11 deep-ball receptions, which is tied for fifth in the league. Of course, players targeted heavily downfield tend to be boom-or-bust fantasy options, but Williams is appealing as a third wide receiver this week given how much the Vikings have struggled in the secondary this season.

Matchup upgrade: After getting off to a hot start to the season, Keenan Allen has cooled off. Since Week 5, the Chargers wideout ranks just 30th among wide receivers in fantasy scoring. But despite his lack of productivity, Allen is worth serious consideration in Week 15. Minnesota’s once-intimidating secondary has become a fantasy turnstile for wide receivers on their way to a big day. Xavier Rhodes and company allow the fourth-most fantasy points per game to wideouts over the last month-and-a-half. Allen is a good bet to continue that trend.

Matchup downgrade: Stefon Diggs has been a solid fantasy option for much of the season and enters the week just one yard shy of the 1,000 mark. However, Diggs owners should be very careful with their expectations this week. With Adam Thielen still banged up, Diggs is a good bet to draw a shadow from Casey Hayward. The Chargers standout has held opposing wideouts in check and is seeing just 3.2 targets per game thrown into his coverage.

Key injuries: Alexander Mattison is dealing with an ankle injury and trending toward not playing. With this being the last legitimate handcuff week of the season, Mattison can be dropped if you need the bench spot.

LA Rams @ Dallas

Greenline: LA -0.9, O/U 49.4

Fantasy facts: Todd Gurley ranks 14th among running backs for the season, but he’s eighth over the last month. The Rams have made it a priority to feed Gurley down the stretch, so expect that trend to continue this week Gurley is an RB1 play with the chance to redeem himself in fantasy circles for last season’s ugly finish in Weeks 15 and 16.

© Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup upgrade: Gerald Everett is currently listed as questionable but doesn’t look like he’ll be back on the field this week. Another absence from Everett essentially locks Tyler Higbee in as a TE1 play this week. Better yet, the Cowboys really struggle against short and intermediate receivers and enter the week as the No. 10 matchup for tight ends.

Matchup downgrade: Amari Cooper has faded down the stretch for fantasy purposes and ranks just 34th among wideouts in fantasy scoring over the last month. Add to that the strong likelihood that he’ll see a shadow from Jalen Ramsey, and we have more than enough of a reason to downgrade our expectations for Cooper this week. Consider him a WR2 in season-long leagues.

Key injuries: Everett is the only major injury of note in this one.

Atlanta @ San Francisco

Greenline: SF -9.3, O/U 48.7

Fantasy facts: Raheem Mostert has come seemingly out of nowhere and seized control of the 49ers backfield. The fifth-year back has done so thanks to a propensity for big plays. In fact, Mostert has as many carries of 15-plus yards (12) as Christian McCaffrey — on 146 fewer carries. He’s still far from a sure thing, but Mostert makes for a very intriguing RB2 play this week.

Matchup upgrade: We’ve seen Jimmy Garoppolo take advantage of good matchups multiple times this season, and he gets another chance to do so this week. The Falcons are the No. 2 fantasy matchup for quarterbacks, with opposing signal-callers averaging 271 net passing yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. Garoppolo is arguably the top streamer of the week in the Kyle Shanahan revenge game.

Matchup downgrade: It’s tough to give a ringing endorsement to any of the Falcons’ skill position players in this matchup. Matt Ryan is a fade not only because of San Francisco’s pass defense, but also because he’ll be without Calvin Ridley. Julio Jones is still a starter in season-long fantasy, but he’s more of a back-end WR1 play. Devonta Freeman is coming off his best fantasy game of the season, but slides back to flex territory. Austin Hooper got back on the field last week and is startable. That said, he’s more of a back-end TE1.

Key injuries: None

Buffalo @ Pittsburgh

Greenline: PIT -2.2, O/u 37.8

Fantasy facts: Remember this for the future: Don’t overvalue what a rookie running back does earlier in the season. A lot of them don’t really show their fantasy hand until the midpoint of the season. Devin Singletary is a prime example. The Bills finally unleashed him around the midpoint, and he’s been a fantasy factor ever since. Over the last month, Singletary has 79 touches. That sort of volume keeps him in the RB2 conversation despite a suboptimal matchup this week.

Matchup upgrade: This is a rough one for both sides. Don’t expect a ton of fantasy production to come out of this contest.

Matchup downgrade: Kudos to anyone who drafted Josh Allen this season. He was a late-round selection who has been a top-10 option for much of the season. Unfortunately, the schedule makers were cruel to Allen with three brutal matchups during the fantasy playoffs. The Steelers are the No. 27 matchup for quarterbacks, making it far too risky to start Allen this week. Of course, things get even worse next week with the Patriots on the schedule.

Key injuries: James Conner is practicing in full and will return this week. He slides right back into the RB2 conversation. However, JuJu Smith-Schuster will not get back on the field after suffering a setback in practice. Smith-Schuster is listed as “doubtful.”

Indianapolis @ New Orleans

Greenline: NO -10.9, O/u 47.5

Fantasy facts: Over the last month, only Zach Ertz has more fantasy points than Jared Cook among tight ends. Of course, Ertz has 20 more catches than Cook over that span. Cook has been extremely touchdown dependent with four scores on just 17 targets in his last four games. So while the fantasy numbers suggest he’s a borderline elite play, a closer look suggests he’s more of a boom-or-bust option. It should also be noted that Cook is in the concussion protocol but should be cleared for Monday’s game.

Matchup upgrade: There’s a common misconception among a lot of fantasy players that shadow coverage is bad thing for the receiver. It certainly can be if the corner is good. But seeing a shadow from a below average corner can be a good thing. We have a prime example of that this week for Michael Thomas. Not that he needs the upgrade, but Thomas will see a shadow from Pierre Desir. The big-bodied corner has allowed four receiving scores over his last four games with opposing wideouts catching 67% of targets thrown into his coverage.

Matchup downgrade: Marlon Mack got back on the field last week but didn’t get much done for fantasy purposes. Expect a similar result this week from Mack, as the Saints allow the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this season.

Key injuries: T.Y. Hilton managed to get limited work in at practice on Thursday, but we wouldn’t hold our breath that he plays.

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