NFL Week 15 Preview: Fantasy football advice, betting tips and matchups to watch | NFL and NCAA Betting Picks | PFF

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NFL Week 15 Preview: Fantasy football advice, betting tips and matchups to watch

Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) celebrates with quarterback Justin Herbert (10) and wide receiver Mike Williams (81) after scoring a third quarter touchdown against the New York Jets at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

PFF previews the 16 NFL games on Week 15 slate, highlighting storylines to watch while also taking a fantasy football and betting approach to offer insight for every NFL fan.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Las Vegas Raiders

Headline of the game: With all eyes on Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen remains one of the league’s best wide receivers

Over the past five seasons, Allen’s 92.0 receiving grade ranks tied for fourth in the NFL — behind only Julio Jones, Michael Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. His 98 third-down conversions rank second behind Hopkins over that same span, and he has posted 2,000 receiving yards from both the slot and out wide. Those numbers haven’t trailed off in 2020.

Separation is king in today’s NFL, and few route-runners can get open consistently like Allen, regardless of where he lines up. His presence has been huge for a young quarterback like Herbert. There’s little reason to think Las Vegas — the 27th-ranked pass defense in the league by expected points added allowed per play — will be able to do much to slow down that duo in this contest, even if they’re operating with a new defensive coordinator.

Betting

Week 15 kicks off in the AFC West, with the Raiders desperately needing a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. The early cash and ticket percentages have been in their direction, but no line movement has occurred from the opening number. We actually sit half a point off the preseason look-ahead number for this game, as both of these teams have played close to expectations this season.

The total has dropped two points from the opening 55, which sides with the majority of cash. Some in the betting market expect the firing of Paul Guenther to turn around the 25th-ranked Raiders defense, but our predictive models (PFF Greenline) don’t necessarily buy into that narrative. Betting options are slim in this Thursday night matchup, but any further move down will open up value on the over.

Fantasy

Nelson Agholor has come a long way since his days of dropping the football in Philadelphia. 2020 has been the year he has emerged as the clear No. 1 wide receiver for Derek Carr and the Raiders. He saw nine targets on Sunday, which he converted into five catches for 100 receiving yards and one touchdown.

His total expected fantasy points per game (16.8) rank 16th among all wide receivers since Week 11 and his 21 targets inside the 10-yard line prove that his touchdown equity in the Raiders’ offense is no fluke. He also leads the NFL in end-zone targets (seven) over the past four weeks.

Fantasy managers should be thrilled to start Agholor this week in a great spot versus the L.A. Chargers. No team allowed more fantasy points to WRs in Week 14 than L.A. and he was more than serviceable in his first matchup against them – two catches for 55 yards and a score back in Week 9.

Agholor leads the NFL in fantasy points per touch (3.78).

Josh Jacobs made his return after a one-week hiatus and handled 16 touches. He was largely ineffective — 74 total yards — which begs the question of how effective he will be for the remainder of the season coming off the ankle injury.

He saw a season-low snap share (42%). The fact that he was questionable all week leads me to believe the team was limiting him. He should be able to post much better numbers next week versus the Los Angeles Chargers, which is a plus-matchup for running backs.

The last time Las Vegas played the Chargers, the team rushed for 160 yards on 26 carries (6.2 yards per attempt, 89.3 PFF rushing grade) and scored two rushing touchdowns.

Kalen Ballage saw his breakout game with the Chargers in Week 9 when they faced the Raiders. He gained 69 yards on 15 carries and scored a touchdown. It ended up being his best game of the season. Austin Ekeler is back and should be the one getting double-digit carries. Ekeler has been the RB4 since returning from injury and has a chance to move up those rankings with this favorable matchup. The Raiders have given up the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs.

The Raiders have had more trouble with wide receivers than running backs this season, and that was also true the first time around against Los Angeles. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams had over 80 yards, while Hunter Henry was held to 33. Williams can be started if he’s healthy, but if not Tyron Johnson is a sneaky low-floor but high-upside play. Johnson’s 3.00 yards per route run is second highest among wide receivers, albeit on a small sample size.

Buffalo Bills @ Denver Broncos

Headline of the game: Can Drew Lock build on one of the best performances of his young career?

From a PFF grading standpoint, Lock’s 74.4 passing grade this past week falls behind only his Week 16 performance against Detroit last season (82.0), but there is an argument to be made that it was the best statistical performance of his career to this point. Generating 9.3 yards per attempt and a 138.9 passer rating is never a bad thing.

Unsurprisingly, much of Lock’s damage came from a clean pocket, where he went 15-of-20 for 247 yards and four touchdowns. The Bills will be looking to force him into more pressured situations, where he has just a 25.0 passer rating this season — worst in the NFL. Buffalo is capable of generating that pressure, as well. The Bills’ 38.3% pressure rate on the season ranks fourth in the NFL — behind Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

Betting

Saturday Night Football begins at Mile High Stadium, with the Bills traveling on a short week after a quality performance this past Sunday night.

Josh Allen now ranks among the 10 best quarterbacks in PFF grade, and the Bills are a top-five passing unit, according to expected points added (EPA) per attempt. They do have another difficult matchup against the Broncos' fourth-ranked defense, but the market expects them to handle this just as comfortably as they handled the once-undefeated Steelers in Week 14.

The spread has moved out 1.5 to 2 points behind 61% of the cash and 70% of the tickets. Broncos backers are gravitating to the moneyline market, where 72% of the cash and 81% of tickets have taken the home dog at +230. There's a chance that we could find value on the Broncos if things continue to slide away, but PFF Greenline hasn’t seen enough to offer a betting opportunity.

The total has seen a similar jump, despite the Broncos owning the fourth-worst opponent-adjusted offensive grade. The Bills continue to pass well above expectation, and Drew Lock is coming off his highest-graded passing game of the 2020 season. The market expects points, but PFF Greenline doesn’t see enough value on either side of this total.

Fantasy

Drew Lock has had some solid fantasy performances this season on the back of his league-leading average depth of target (10.1). But this matchup versus Buffalo doesn’t call for the “bombs away” to hit because no team has faced a lower percentage of 20-plus yard throws this year than the Bills (6.1%). The next closest team is at 9.3% (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

Part of the reason why they have seen so few deep shots is that teams have elected to just run on their 32nd PFF-graded run defense. That bodes well for Melvin Gordon III to provide RB2 status as he has been heating up the last two weeks. He’s averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, 3.4 yards after contact per attempt and earned a PFF rushing grade of 80.6.

MG3 has also seen his work in the passing game pick back up with five targets in the past two weeks. He’s also long overdue to find the end zone after failing to convert any of his last three carries inside the 5-yard line into scores the past two weeks.

Tim Patrick is the safest of the trio of Broncos’ wide receivers because he’s been the only one to post consistent fantasy numbers with Lock at quarterback. He has averaged 14.6 fantasy points per game since Week 9 — with some touchdown dependency — and ranks fourth in average yards per route run since Week 10 (2.45).

It would not surprise me at all to see Jerry Jeudy — who seems finally healthy — to see some positive regression versus the Bills based on Jeudy’s high total of fantasy points scored under expectation and the fact that he, Patrick and K.J. Hamler have been almost equal in terms of targets since Week 10.

The main difference is that Patrick (five) and Hamler (three) have caught their targets inside the 10-yard line, which they have converted into touchdowns, while Jeudy has seen just one catchable target inside the 10-yard line on five raw targets.

The Broncos have a relatively average defense, though they have been able to stop tight ends. The Bills haven’t used their tight ends too much in the pass game, so for the most part it will be business as usual for the Buffalo offense. That means Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are the usual must-starts, while Cole Beasley is a borderline WR2/flex option.

The biggest area of interest recently has been in the Bills backfield. Devin Singletary was the clear lead back two games ago, largely due to a fumble by Zack Moss leading to his benching. Things went back to normal last week with Moss seeing roughly twice as many carries as Singletary. Moss is the running back to start in this game, while Singletary should be avoided.


Carolina Panthers @ Green Bay Packers

Headline of the game: Teddy Bridgewater has a lot to prove in the final weeks of the 2020 season

Carolina’s offense heads into Week 15 ranked 14th in expected points added per play — a respectable rank for a team that many assumed would be one of the worst in the NFL this season. However, it stands to reason that new offensive coordinator Joe Brady is just as responsible for that mark as Bridgewater is at quarterback, if not more.

Bridgewater is the 25th-highest-graded quarterback in the league this season by PFF grade, sandwiched between Andy Dalton and Nick Foles. Talented pieces around him and a friendly scheme has elevated the offense above the play of the quarterback, but is Bridgewater the guy who the Panthers want to continue to build around in 2021? From a salary cap perspective, it would be difficult to part ways with him next season without incurring significant dead money, but that doesn’t preclude Carolina from looking toward the future. It’s up to Bridgewater to show that isn’t necessary with a strong close to the season.

Betting

These two teams are separated by 21 places in our latest Elo rankings, but the spread market has continued to gravitate toward the Panthers. Carolina has seen 66% of the cash but only 24% of the tickets, indicating that big bettors preferred to back the Panthers early in the week.

This looks like the correct direction, according to our predictive models, which finds some value on the Panthers spread. Now that this spread has moved down to 8.5, it sits at the perfect spot to tease across key numbers and get the Packers below a field-goal differential.

Bettors don’t expect the Panthers' 28th-ranked defense to slow down the Packers' offense, as the total has moved up a half-point from the open. Almost all of the cash and ticket percentages are on the over, which looks like the correct lean from every perspective. There are a few betting opportunities in this matchup, so monitor PFF Greenline to ensure you are working from the latest information.

Fantasy

The Carolina Panthers gave up four passing touchdowns to Drew Lock in Week 14, so I would expect nothing less from Aaron Rodgers who leads the NFL in touchdown passes (39). Robert Tonyan needs to be a lock among tight ends even if he is touchdown-or-bust every week.

He has four touchdowns over the past four weeks, and the Panthers have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to tight ends over that same time span.

The snaps (season-high 71%) and touches (18) were there for Aaron Jones in Week 14, but his true upside is limited with the Packers scoring the majority of their touchdowns through the air. Inside the 10-yard line, Green Bay throws at the fifth-highest rate (61%).

But that’s not to say Jones can’t potentially get in on the fun as a pass-catcher because Carolina has allowed the third-most receptions to RBs this season.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught all six of his catchable targets from Rodgers on Sunday one week after he dropped his lone target on what would have been a huge play. Rodgers isn’t shying away from targeting MVS at times, so he can’t be ignored in a plus matchup this week.

The big question for the Panthers is whether Christian McCaffrey is ready to return to the lineup. Whoever gets the nod is a must-start against this Green Bay defense. The Packers have allowed 90-plus yards to running backs in five of the last nine games. Their 13 rushing touchdowns allowed to backs are tied for fourth-most, while their five receiving touchdowns allowed to backs are tied for second-most.

In the passing game, Robby Anderson is a safe start, as is D.J. Moore if he’s ready to go. The Packers have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. Potential All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander plays a big role in that. He has lined up exclusively at left cornerback over the second half of the season. The Panthers play their wide receivers all over, so both wide receivers will only face Alexander on a fraction of their routes. Both have their usual high upside potential with low floors.

San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys

Headline of the game: San Francisco may not need to pass the ball to generate offense against Dallas

The Cowboys enter this game with easily one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. Their 5.0 yards allowed per run play is tied for last in the league with the Texans and 0.4 yards behind the next closest defense. Their defensive line has been getting moved off the ball with ease, allowing a league-worst 2.4 yards before contact per rush. Those struggles are reflected in the PFF run-defense grades of every Cowboys’ defensive lineman not named Demarcus Lawrence — the only member of that line with a mark above 63.0 (83.3).

Injuries have reduced the effectiveness of the San Francisco run game this season, but this is a spot where that unit should be able to find some success. The 49ers hunt the explosive play in the ground game, and in a matchup like this where their running backs can use their speed to get to the edge and the second level untouched, expect a couple of those big plays to hit.

Betting

The push out to a field-goal spread has dried up all the value in the betting market, as the 49ers sit 12 places ahead of the Cowboys in our latest Elo rankings. It is clear what the issue is for the 49ers, as they grade out in the top half of the league in every facet of play but quarterback. The Cowboys don’t offer a sizable advantage in this category, as our spread points above replacement have these quarterbacks within 0.5 of each other. 

The total could be the spot to target after a half-point drop off the opening number of 45.5. It is the third-lowest number on the weekend, with our predictive models anticipating a few more points than the current market expectation.

Fantasy

Ezekiel Elliott failed to finish inside the top 30 running backs last week against a downright atrocious Bengals run defense, so I am not hopeful he turns it around this week against the 49ers, who have allowed the fifth-fewest fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks.

Tony Pollard has been getting more action of late, which also dampens Zeke’s fantasy ceiling.

Amari Cooper has averaged 18.9 fantasy points per game with Andy Dalton in his three home starts this season, so I’d be comfortable rolling him back out as a WR2 with upside. He ranks 12th in expected fantasy points since Week 12, so the usage is there for him to have another productive outing.

The 49ers offense has a few potential league winners in its starting lineup. Brandon Aiyuk has been incredible over his last five games, averaging 99 receiving yards with a floor of 75 yards and three touchdowns along the way. That stretch of games included three of the top teams at preventing fantasy points to wide receivers. The Cowboys matchup is more favorable compared to most of those teams. With Deebo Samuel hurting, Aiyuk saw more snaps than any other receiver last week at 16. He should see significant targets again and produce off them.

Jeff Wilson Jr. could also be an interesting play. He’s seen significant work on early downs, while also taking over as the third-down back since returning from injury. The Cowboys have given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to running backs. Raheem Mostert doesn’t appear to be 100% and is getting his ankle checked out this week. If Mostert doesn’t play, Wilson could be in position for a big game.

Dec 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Washington Football Team defensive end Chase Young (99) returns a fumble for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Football Team

Headline of the game: Washington is well-positioned to take advantage of Russell Wilson’s biggest weakness as a passer

For as good as Wilson has been at quarterback for Seattle these past several seasons, he does have a clear weakness: taking too many sacks. One of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL over the past several years is certainly at fault, but Wilson also deserves blame. Regardless of who is at fault, those sacks have become an issue again in recent weeks. Since Week 10, Wilson’s 16 sacks taken trail only Carson Wentz, and that includes a performance in Week 14 against the Jets where he didn’t take a single sack.

Meanwhile, Washington’s dominant defensive line has continued to live up to the hype in recent weeks. From Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne on the inside to Montez Sweat and Chase Young outside, it’s a group that is capable of giving Seattle all kinds of problems up front in both pass protection and the run game. Washington will have to hope that gives the team enough of an edge to come away with a win at home.

Betting

The opening three-point spread looks like a significant overcorrection due to recency bias, as the betting market quickly pushed out to +6. Altogether, 89% of the cash and 62% of the tickets have fueled this initial move, but these teams are only separated by seven spots in our latest Elo rankings.

If predicting the spread solely on these ratings, the opening three-point spread is closer to the correct number than where the market has moved to. Any further movement away from Washington would open up value for a team still in the thick of the playoff race. 

Some of the initial movement could also be related to the Alex Smith injury situation, as backing Dwayne Haskins is an idea few could stomach at this point. Still, the market expects the Seahawks to struggle offensively, as this is the lowest total they have seen all season.

PFF Greenline doesn’t find much value in the current game markets, but the fast-paced movement could easily open up opportunities later in the week.

Fantasy

The Seattle Seahawks’ defense was a mockery to start the season, bleeding fantasy points to opposing offenses. But that hasn’t been the case as of late — specifically to wide receivers. They have allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to WRs over the last four weeks.

Still, they are allowing plenty of yardage (26th) and receptions (22nd) to running backs, so any fantasy manager relying on J.D. McKissic should have confidence heading back to the well.

Last week the majority of his fantasy production came from his 11 carries for 68 yards on a 65% snap share — any added work he gets on the ground is a bonus to his work as a receiver.

I’d also feel great about going back to tight end Logan Thomas, who over back-to-back weeks has dominated opposing DSTs that appeared to be strong against tight ends. He is fourth in fantasy points among tight ends over the past two weeks and finally gets a softer matchup this week versus Seattle. They have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to TEs over the past four weeks.

There is no matchup that would stop someone from starting Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, or D.K. Metcalf. The Football Team’s defense will put up a good fight. Washington ranks in the top 10 at preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks, but they’ve only played two top-12 fantasy quarterbacks this season.

Chris Carson is someone to be worried about in this matchup. His usage compared to Carlos Hyde has been inconsistent from one week to another. Only one back has reached 70 rushing yards against them since Week 4, and only four have scored touchdowns. Carson has a high floor since he should see double-digit carries, but the ceiling isn’t very high.


Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings

Headline of the game: Two familiar foes fight for their playoff hopes

With the Cardinals’ victory over the Giants and the Vikings’ loss to the Buccaneers in Week 14, Chicago and Minnesota both come into this game at 6-7 and on the outside looking in. Both teams still have playoff aspirations, though.

We saw this matchup several weeks ago when Chicago’s only touchdown was a 104-yard kick return from Cordarelle Patterson. The offense has had a little bit more life in recent weeks with Mitchell Trubisky’s return to the lineup — ranking sixth in expected points added per play over the past three weeks — but they’ve also run into two of the three worst defenses in the NFL by expected points added allowed per play in those three weeks (Detroit and Houston). Minnesota is by no means a powerhouse defensively in its current state, but the unit should provide more resistance than Chicago’s recent opposition.

Rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler, in particular, has shown improvement of late. Dantzler has recorded an 83.8 PFF grade over the past four games, and he has allowed just eight catches on 21 passes into his coverage. With potential matchups against Allen Robinson II upcoming, the Vikings need that play to continue this week.

Betting

This is an NFC North matchup without much intrigue, as both teams find themselves all but done in the NFC playoff race. Our Elo rankings have these teams back to back, making the field-goal spread appear accurate based on each team's strengths. The -6.5 to open was a mispriced line, and the market quickly adjusted despite the even split in the cash and ticket percentages. 

Minnesota has the far superior offense, but the Bears offer a top-10 defense to counter. Our predictive models will almost always side with the better offense in this type of matchup, but the market movement has caused them to re-evaluate. 

One spot to target could be on the total, which has seen 71% of the cash and 78% of the tickets on the over. We haven’t seen any movement off the 46-point open, but a small amount of value exists at the current number.

Fantasy

The Chicago Bears have hardly been the stout defensive unit in recent weeks that would cause fantasy managers to shy away in Week 15. They have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to QBs and eighth-most fantasy points to WRs in the past four weeks.

Kirk Cousins was able to throw for 291 yards and two touchdowns the last time these teams met in Chicago, so with the captain back at home — 25.5 fantasy points per game at home this season — I expect him to best that performance.

The Bears rank dead last in explosive pass play percentage to WRs (29%) since Week 11, so expect a bounce-back performance from the electrifying Justin Jefferson. The rookie roasted this Bears secondary for 135 yards on eight catches back in Week 10.

Chicago has struggled versus tight ends, allowing the fourth-most points to the position over the last four weeks. Should Kyle Rudolph miss another week, Irv Smith Jr. is a strong tight end streamer coming off a solid performance in Week 14.

He hauled in all four of his targets for 63 and a score versus the Buccaneers.

When the Bears squared off against Minnesota in Week 10, they couldn’t get anything going offensively. They gained 41 yards on the ground and 124 in the air. David Montgomery missed that game, but he should make a big difference this time around. Since his return, he’s gained 288 yards on the ground and scored three touchdowns over three games, with an additional 121 yards in the air. The Vikings have a better run defense than the three teams Chicago just faced. This should lower expectations for Montgomery, but he still needs to be in starting lineups.

Cole Kmet is another difference this time around. The first time these teams met was the first time Kmet played the majority of the Bears’ offense snaps. His arrow has continued to point up with seven targets in each of the last two games. His high target share puts him in the borderline TE1 category if he keeps this up.


New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins

Headline of the game: Tua Tagovailoa is the latest rookie quarterback to face the Bill Belichick test

There is a narrative that Bill Belichick’s defenses give rookie quarterbacks a tough time, and the numbers 100% back it up. Over the past decade, rookie passers have combined for 14 touchdown passes compared to 20 interceptions against the Patriots — putting up a combined 66.1 passer rating. We’ve already seen Justin Herbert put up his worst game of the season against the Patriots in Week 13, and now, it’s Tagovailoa’s turn to enter the fire in a game that carries significance for the Dolphins.

Tagovailoa has produced some solid performances this season, but we have still yet to see a PFF grade north of 70.0 for the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Recording his first such game in this matchup would be a tall task.

Betting

These teams are back to back in our latest Elo rankings, with the better team getting points in this matchup. There are other factors besides team strength measured by Elo, though, which is why we don’t find immediate betting value on the Patriots.

The Dolphins clearly have something to play for, a factor that appears to be driving the early-week cash and ticket percentages in their direction. This is counter to the initial spread movement, which dropped off the field-goal opening spread.

Bettors expect a defensive struggle, as we are looking at the second-lowest total of Week 15. This is after a 2.5-point move down, fueled by 90% of the cash and tickets on the under. Any further movement could open up value, but betting opportunities look slim in this AFC East matchup.

Fantasy

Tua Tagoliava showed out statistically versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14 despite being severely undermanned. DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Jakeem Grant and Myles Gaskin are all likely to miss Week 15 against the Patriots, elevating DeAndre Washington, Lynn Bowden Jr. and Adam Shaheen to be Tua’s top weapons.

This puts the rookie QB in a tough spot versus Bill Belichick. He shut down a red-hot Justin Herbert just two weeks ago, proving that he has the advantage against inexperienced QBs.

But the targets have to go somewhere, so Bowden is firmly in play as a wide receiver option as the team’s starter in the slot. He has nine catches on 10 targets from the slot and has seen 13 targets overall in the last two weeks.

The matchup also benefits him because the Patriots have faced the third-most slot targets to WRs over the past four weeks. This season, New England slot cornerback Jonathan Jones has been targeted on 22% of his coverage snaps, which is the highest in the league.

Bowden’s biggest strength is his ability to create yards after the catch, so look for him to pick up some YAC on Sunday. New England ranks 30th in yards after the catch per completion to slot WRs.

The Patriots offense should be avoided as much as possible. The only area of weakness for the Dolphins is allowing fantasy points to wide receivers. New England’s best game for a wide receiver these last three weeks is Jakobi Meyers gaining 52 yards on five catches in Week 12. Cam Newton reached 100 passing yards in just one of those three games, and that was a 119-yard performance.

The running backs for New England have become harder to trust now that they’re a three-back committee again. The gap in carries between Damien Harris and Sony Michel has shrunk each week since Michel returned from injury. Neither back has scored a touchdown in the last three weeks. Miami allows an average of 21.7 fantasy points per game to running backs, ranking 10th-best among defenses.

Dec 14, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) runs the ball past Cleveland Browns strong safety Karl Joseph (42) during the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens

Headline of the game: Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability remains one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the NFL

Jackson ran the ball fewer than 10 times this past week against the Browns for the first time since Week 6 against Philadelphia, but that didn’t stop him from having his most productive rushing performance of the season. Jackson ran for 124 yards on just nine carries — averaging over 10 yards before contact per attempt — and found the end zone multiple times with his legs for the first time this season.

His unique athletic ability for the position and the attention that defenses must give him in the designed run game has allowed the Ravens to create by far the league’s most efficient rushing attack in each of the past two seasons, and his scrambling ability is something that defenses have to account for in the passing game, as well. If the Ravens’ offense can start to click down the stretch like it did in 2019, the team can become a legitimate threat in the AFC out of a Wild Card spot.

Betting

Be sure to check PFF Greenline later in the week for betting insights into this game.

Fantasy

J.K. Dobbins commanded a 61% snap share on Monday night, which was right in line with what he had been seeing in weeks prior as the team’s starting running back. Baltimore is so run-heavy that even with rushing attempts being split with Gus Edwards, the matchup versus Jacksonville could allow both to have uber-productive fantasy outings.

The Jaguars have allowed the second-most rushing yards to RBs over the past four weeks and are fresh off giving up over 200 rushing yards to the Titans. The worst part about the Jaguars' run defense is that they are selling out to sell the run and still can’t stop it.

They have stacked the box with eight-plus defenders more than any team since Week 11 and are still allowing 4.6 yards per rushing attempt. They’ve also allowed the most rushing attempts of 10 yards or more (13)

Edwards is a legitimate FLEX option for this reason, but don’t bank on him scoring two touchdowns every week. Dobbins had all the running back carries inside the 5-yard line in Week 14.

The Jaguars offense is very straightforward from a fantasy perspective. Always start James Robinson and avoid everyone else.

Collin Johnson is the player one on the team to manage 70 receiving yards in a game over the last five weeks, but he’s back to fourth on the depth chart. They are averaging one passing touchdown per game in that time.

Robinson’s ceiling isn’t as high as usual. Dare Ogunbowale is back to taking the majority of third-down snaps. And Robinson’s playing time also decreased on early downs between Ogunbowale and Devine Ozigbo seeing a season-high in early-down work. Robinson still should be in starting lineups, but this probably won’t be one of his 100-yard games.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons

Headline of the game: The Buccaneers’ offense has no reason not to head into the postseason with momentum

Whether the Buccaneers’ offense will play up to its talent level has become a recurring discussion in this piece throughout the season, and looking at the team’s remaining schedule, there is no reason for Tampa Bay not to enter the postseason looking like a top-five offense.

They face Atlanta twice (25th-ranked pass defense by expected points added allowed per play) and Detroit (30th) in their final three games. Those two teams also happen to be two of the seven defenses this season that have allowed 25 or more passes to be completed on throws targeted 20-plus yards downfield — an area where Tom Brady has struggled of late.

It’s a schedule that sets up well for Tampa Bay to figure some things out offensively, and that’s not what the rest of the NFC would like to hear. The Buccaneers have the talent to represent the NFC at home if they put everything together.

Betting

Brady and the Bucs obviously flashed the potential that bettors have been waiting for all season, as they immediately picked up two points from the look-ahead line. If the juice is to be trusted, we could see even further movement in the Bucs' direction. PFF Greenline would be close to finding value on a 6.5-point spread, but backing the Falcons hasn’t exactly been rewarding in 2020.

Our projections lean toward the over after the half-point drop, but both defenses sit in the top 12 of our opponent-adjusted defensive rankings. Matt Ryan is once again turning in a top-10 performance in PFF passing grade, so a potential shootout certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Fantasy

“Never start Matt Ryan without Julio Jones.”

That has been the case all season long with the Falcons’ quarterback struggling mightily in games without his alpha wide receiver.

Ryan is averaging fewer than 11 points per game in those contests. But even if Jones returns, it still will be tough to trust Ryan against a fierce Bucs pass-rush that ranks fifth in pressure rate this season (38%).

Fantasy managers also can’t trust a Falcons’ backfield that has turned into an ugly three-way committee between Ito Smith, Todd Gurley II and Brian Hill. Please stay far away in this extremely tough matchup.

The only underlying player in this game that could potentially be considered is wide receiver Russell Gage Jr. He gets the most desirable WR/CB matchup versus Bucs slot cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who has allowed the league’s highest passer rating (120.1) and the third-most yards per snap (1.65) while in slot coverage.

Tampa Bay has lost three of their last five games against some of the best in the league, but this week a lot of Buccaneers should be able to find success. That starts with Tom Brady. Despite some strong matchups, he’s thrown for at least two touchdowns in seven of his last eight games. The Falcons have given up the most fantasy points to quarterbacks. A lot of that came early in the season while multiple defense backs were hurt, but they’ve still allowed at least 230 passing yards in all but one game this year. Brady should have a very high floor, and his typical targets should all be fine.

Antonio Brown is the one player in the passing game to be concerned about. He played in less than half of the offensive snaps this past week with various players taking those snaps. He still caught five passes for 49 yards, but he’s yet to catch a touchdown.

Ronald Jones is up against a strong Falcons run defense, but with Leonard Fournette out of the running back rotation, Jones will get the vast majority of carries. Any running back with this high of a percentage of touches needs to be in starting lineups.

Detroit Lions @ Tennessee Titans

Headline of the game: The Lions have no one who can slow down Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis

On the surface, it’s hard to see how Detroit contends with the talent on Tennessee’s offense. Henry is the league’s highest-graded rusher after a dominant Week 14 performance. Brown and Davis are currently the 13th- and fourth-ranked wide receivers, respectively, in PFF receiving grade, and Ryan Tannehill comes in as the league’s sixth-highest graded passer through 14 weeks.

If the Titans are heading toward an early postseason exit, it will be because of a struggling defense and poor play-calling decisions on offense — not because they don’t have the talent to move the ball up and down against opposing defenses.

The Lions, meanwhile, have a significantly less impressive resume on defense. Detroit ranks 28th in expected points added allowed per run play and 30th in expected points added allowed per pass play this season, and it’s difficult to see any of these Lions cornerbacks slowing down the Titans through the air. Jeffrey Okudah won’t be one of those options after being ruled out for the season following groin surgery — a season that was marred by injury and poor play (30.1 coverage grade)

Betting

Be sure to check PFF Greenline later in the week for betting insights into this game.

Fantasy

If Matthew Stafford can’t play in this game, we could see things out of hand real quick. The Titans are currently double-digit favorites at home. Considering the Lions have allowed the most fantasy points to RBs this season, it’s looking like another 30-plus fantasy points for Derrick Henry.

The Big Dog needs to average just 156 rushing yards per game over his next three to become the eighth player in NFL history to reach 2,000 rushing yards.

But as bad the Lions’ run defense has been, they have been equally bad against the pass. They have allowed the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers and the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks, so don’t shy away from the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Corey Davis or A.J. Brown.

Tannehill’s overall efficiency — sixth in yards per attempt (8.0) and PFF passing grade (86.4) — should be enough to make him a low-end QB1 even if he only attempts 25 passes.

The Titans defense has given up plenty of fantasy points all over the field. In the passing game, they’ve allowed the fourth-most passing yards from quarterbacks. They’ve allowed at least one passing touchdown in every single game this season and have averaged more than two passing touchdowns per game against. With Stafford hurting, the Lions will likely roll with Chase Daniel. The matchup isn’t good enough to trust Daniel except potentially in 2QB leagues. This does help his top wide receiver.

Marvin Jones Jr. is the clear top wide receiver based on snaps as long as Kenny Golladay is out. The Titans might follow him with Malcolm Butler, but that shouldn’t stop him from having a good game. Jones is averaging 9.6 targets per game over the last five weeks and has a high floor because of the target share.

Nov 12, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws against Tennessee Titans defensive end Jack Crawford (94) during the first half at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Texans @ Indianapolis Colts

Headline of the game: A bad Texans defense has become even worse without Bradley Roby

You know a defense is having issues when Mitchell Trubisky is putting up 8.1 yards per attempt and a 126.7 passer rating against it. That was the scenario for Houston this past week, and in Week 13 against Indianapolis — Roby’s first game suspended — Philip Rivers put up similar marks of 8.1 yards per attempt and a 119.3 passer rating.

The fact that Houston hasn’t had an answer for Roby’s loss isn’t necessarily a surprise. Vernon Hargreaves III and Phillip Gaines have combined for a 44.4 coverage grade from an outside alignment this season. Keion Crossen earned the first start of his three-year career outside this past week against Chicago, and Eric Murray has just a 44.7 coverage grade in the slot in 2020. There aren’t a ton of options to turn to for Houston. Paired with a defensive line that struggles to create pressure or defend the run outside of J.J. Watt, there isn’t a ton going for the Texans on that side of the ball.

Indianapolis will be looking to take advantage of that and make this game a little bit more comfortable than their matchup two weeks ago.

Betting

This spread bounced between 6.5 and 7 to open the week, with almost all of the cash and tickets on the Colts.

It is easy to bury the Texans after their most recent performance, as the skill positions outside of Watson are the thinnest of any team this season. The Texans have the eighth-best opponent-adjusted passing grade, but their rankings — which are in the teens at the other offensive positions — don’t fully express the dire situation that they are in. They have one of the worst defensive units in the NFL and own the worst opponent-adjusted coverage grade this season.

The Colts look superior in every conceivable category outside of quarterback, with Watson’s superhuman ability making us side with the Texans on the spread.

The market expects a slower pace after shaving 1.5 points off the opening total. Indianapolis is the best team in the NFL in EPA per scripted pass play, which makes fading Watson in comeback mode too scary for the under.

Fantasy

Per PFF’s Anthony Treash, Jonathan Taylor in 2020:

Weeks 1-10: 62.4 rushing grade (43rd).
Weeks 11-14: 90.0 rushing grade (1st).

The rookie running back has officially broken out — he ran all over the Raiders’ defense last week to the tune of 150 yards and two touchdowns. His snap share (58%) and carries (20) represented his heaviest workload since Week 2.

Taylor’s 55 carries (55%) ranks ninth at the position since Week 11, while Nyheim Hines (29) and Jordan Wilkins (16) have seen their rushing attempts dip. The Houston Texans have allowed the third-most fantasy points to running backs over the past four weeks, so fire up Taylor as a locked-and-loaded RB1.

T.Y. Hilton also needs to be in starting lineups as a strong WR2 play because the guy is super-hot-fire right now. Over the last four weeks, he is tied with Davante Adams for the highest percentage of his team’s end-zone targets (60%) and ranks eighth in team air yards share (41%).

There’s also the fact that the Texans are up next — in 17 career games against Houston, Hilton has averaged 97 receiving yards. There’s a reason why Hilton’s Twitter avatar is a ghost — he has come back from the fantasy grave to haunt fantasy managers who dropped him earlier in the year.

The Colts defense is usually good at stopping everyone, but that wasn’t the case two weeks ago when these teams faced off. Keke Coutee gained 141 yards on eight catches while Chad Hansen gained 101 yards off five catches. Those were two of the seven 100-yard performances the Indianapolis defense has given up this season. Brandin Cooks could be back as well. It’s possible one of these players has a good game, but the Texans' pass game is unlikely to have the same success this time around.

The Texans running back situation is a bit messy. David Johnson has missed a lot of time lately and didn’t play last week after landing on the Covid-19 list as a close contact. Last time he played, Duke Johnson Jr. took the passing-down snaps, hurting David’s upside. Buddy Howell ended up playing most of the second half last week. The Texans are eliminated from the playoffs, so they could use any combination of backs based on what they want to see in preparation for 2021. Facing the Colts run defense doesn’t make the situation any better.


Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals

Headline of the game: Jalen Hurts led the Eagles to an upset victory last week, but there is still plenty of room for growth

A win against the Saints — one of the better teams in the NFL — carries weight regardless of Hurts’ individual performance as a passer. But to be clear, there is significant room for improvement for him as a passer after a 40.9 passing grade in his first career start. A throw that very well could have been a pick-six slipped through the arms of a defender, and several of his bigger plays through the air came on busted coverages.

However, you can’t discount the fact that Hurts did add significant value on the ground (106 rushing yards), and the Eagles’ offense as a whole functioned more smoothly with him at the head. As PFF’s Seth Galina wrote, Hurts’ supporting cast had its best collective performance of the season. That should have Philadelphia excited to see what Hurts is able to produce for an encore in Arizona.

Betting

The Cardinals continue to be one of the most popular teams to bet this season, as they have seen the majority of cash in nine of 13 games. They have underperformed this expectation, as they have the 10th-worst against-the-spread record this year.

Arizona has held to the opening spread this week, despite 68% of the cash and 62% of the tickets on the Eagles.

Philadelphia is becoming trendy, with most buying into Jalen Hurts after one relatively modest performance. His 58.3 passing grade doesn’t offer a lot of reassurances, and it isn’t easy to picture the Eagles keeping pace solely based on his legs.

This is easily a spot where we could be buying the Eagles at their high, with most finally moving away from the Cardinals after a string of poor performances. PFF Greenline does find betting opportunities on these game markets, with any line movement potentially offering up value.

Fantasy

Kyler Murray didn’t impress in the box score, but his rushing attempts increased to 13 on Sunday. This can't be understated because he had been averaging five carries per game over the past three weeks. The rushing upside has returned.

With that back in his arsenal, this could be a blow-up spot for the Cardinals’ quarterback because he is long overdue for a top-tier fantasy outing. Only Matt Ryan has scored fewer fantasy points versus expectation than Murray the last four weeks.

Kyler’s rushing has coincided with Kenyan Drake’s fall off as a receiver. The Cardinals’ running back only had one catch in Week 14. Drake’s true value should be of a mid-range RB2.

DeAndre Hopkins has a 37% target share over the past two weeks and a 31% target share since Week 11. He seems to be the only option in the passing game that Murray trusts and could be in for a solid day versus the Eagles. Darius Slay has struggled this season against alpha wide receivers and Philadelphia is dealing with a few other injuries in their secondary.

The Cardinals defense is well suited to face the Eagles offense, with one notable exception. Arizona has given up the sixth-most rushing yards to quarterbacks this season. New starter Jalen Hurts was just the second quarterback of the last six seasons to handle 16 or more rushing attempts in a game this past week. Hurts should be able to add plenty of fantasy value on the ground.

Arizona has been excellent against tight ends. The most receiving yards they’ve allowed to a tight end this season is 53, and only three tight ends have scored a touchdown against them. Dallas Goedert’s playing time has decreased slightly since the return of Zach Ertz. Goedert’s targets, catches and yards have all declined in recent weeks as well. This is probably a week to leave Goedert on the bench.

Miles Sanders is a safe start with limited upside. The Cardinals have not allowed a RB to reach 85 rushing yards against them this season, but they have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns to backs. Sanders should be able to land in the 50-80 yard range and has a decent chance at a touchdown.


New York Jets @ Los Angeles Rams

Headline of the game: The Jets’ offense against the Rams’ defense is one of the more lopsided matchups of the 2020 season

The Jets come into this game with the worst offense in the NFL by expected points added per play, and the Rams enter the contest with the NFL’s best defense by expected points added allowed per play. New York’s offense was shut down for the most part by Seattle a week ago, and now the unit gets Brandon Staley’s group that should have no problem getting after Sam Darnold.

New York has the 31st-ranked pass-blocking offensive line in the NFL this season, beating out only the other New York team (Giants). That group will have to contend with the man who is attempting to become PFF’s highest-graded pass-rusher for the sixth consecutive season — Aaron Donald. His 75 pressures this season are seven more than any other player. The Jets not advancing to 0-14 and moving one step closer to Trevor Lawrence would be the upset of the season.

Betting

The weekly sharp-action question of whether to back the Jets comes at their second-widest spread of the season. Sam Darnold has only been responsible for two of the Jets’ four covers, which has bettors longing for the elite days of Joe Flacco.

The total could be the more viable betting option, with the Rams capable of coming close to this number by themselves. Darnold’s extremes are also welcome outcomes on this side, which makes it an appealing option. This could be the only viable bet, but continue to monitor PFF Greenline for opportunity if you are itching for action in this matchup.

Fantasy

Cam Akers has 50 rushing attempts in his last two games, solidifying his role as the team’s lead dog in the backfield. The matchup in Week 15 is not nearly as juicy as Thursday night's layup versus the New England Patriots — the New York Jets own PFF’s fourth-best run defense grade this season.

But where the Jets’ run defense has its holes is versus outside zone. Against that run concept this season, they rank 20th in yards per attempt (4.3) and 31st in rushing yards allowed before contact per attempt (1.9).

Akers is averaging 5.2 yards per attempt from outside zone, and L.A. ranks second in rushing yards created before contact from outside zone this season. Needless to say, the lanes will be open for the rookie to run wild.

It also helps that the Rams are 17-point favorites at home. Akers should find ample opportunities to find the end zone, further bolstering his fantasy ceiling.

Fantasy managers desperate at tight end could also look to Tyler Higbee or Gerald Everett because there’s a strong chance one comes down with a touchdown. No team has allowed more touchdowns to TEs this season than the Jets.

Please don’t rely on any Jets players in your fantasy semifinals. The Jets used a three-back committee this past week, and they could use four backs if La'Mical Perine is ready to return. He is expected to resume practicing this week.

The Jets have had a wide receiver top 40 receiving yards four times in the last three weeks. It was four different wide receivers to do that, meaning no wide receiver is consistently putting up over 40 yards. Tight end Chris Herndon has four catches over their last eight games. The Rams are top-four at preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. This could be the biggest mismatch of the season in terms of a struggling offense against a great defense.

Dec 6, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints

Headline of the game: New Orleans hosts the game of the week and a potential Super Bowl preview

This game already carried enough intrigue on its own, but the uncertainty surrounding Drew Brees and his potential return only adds to the mix. Over the past four weeks, Taysom Hill produced three respectable showings against Atlanta (twice) and Philadelphia without needing to add much in a blowout victory over Denver. But it’s still clear that a healthy Brees gives this team the best chance at making a Super Bowl run.

The Saints need their offense firing on all cylinders to contend with Kansas City in this one. As PFF’s Mike Renner broke down this week, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are neck and neck in the MVP race, and a dominant performance against a good Saints defense would give a nice boost to Mahomes’ chances.

The Saints will look to get pressure on Mahomes, but even then, they need to make sure they convert those pressures into positive plays defensively. Mahomes takes sacks at one of the lowest rates in the NFL, has produced 16 plays of 20-plus yards under pressure this season (second in NFL to Russell Wilson) and comes into this game as the NFL’s highest-graded passer under pressure (75.5). It’s a big part of what makes it near impossible to defend him and this offense.

Betting

The top two teams in our Elo rankings offer a preview of what many predict to be the Super Bowl matchup. Drew Brees is likely to return, with the market immediately pushing the Saints down to a field-goal spread. This is counter to our cash and ticket percentages, highlighting a seeming correction by bookmakers based on the latest quarterback news.

The total has held to the opening 51.5 number, making the spread movement all the more perplexing. The Saints' defense is fifth in our opponent-adjusted grades, but slowing this historic offense looks like something only they can control. As the market digests more news, we should see more betting opportunities emerge for the game of the week.

Fantasy

Alvin Kamara’s 10 targets in Week 14 were somewhat shocking — since Taysom Hill took over, fantasy's best pass-catching WR has seen a massive dropoff in targets.

But the Saints were trailing against the Eagles and Hill was forced to be more aggressive and throw the ball. With a high-powered Kansas City Chiefs offense coming to town, chances are New Orleans could find themselves in another hole early — which bodes well for Kamara as a pass-catcher.

Should the Saints start out hot, it will probably be due in part to Kamara running over one of the softer run defenses in the NFL.

Jared Cook’s fantasy value hit rock bottom once Hill took over, but he has shown a semblance of life with back-to-back weeks as a TE1. He needs to be firmly on the radar this week because K.C. has struggled versus tight ends, allowing the second-most points to the position over the past four weeks.

The Chiefs offense against the Saints defense will be one of the great matchups of the season. Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill might not reach their season averages, as New Orleans ranks in the top six at preventing fantasy points to quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Travis Kelce is the one player for Kansas City who should reach and potentially exceed his season averages. Darren Waller was able to reach 100 yards off 12 catches with a touchdown against this Saints defense earlier in the season. The Saints have fared much better against nearly all other tight ends, but Kelce should have a similar experience to Waller.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire is probably someone to avoid. On the bright side, his playing time is similar to what he saw to start the season before Le'Veon Bell joined the team. On the downside, he hasn’t scored a touchdown and was at or below 3.5 yards per carry in four of his last five games. The only 100-yard performance the Saints allowed this season was to Miles Sanders last week, but that was largely due to an 82-yard carry. Edwards-Helaire could see double-digit carries, but don’t expect him to gain much off of them.


Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants

Headline of the game: Myles Garrett has the potential to wreck this game

Daniel Jones was under pressure on 16 of his 27 dropbacks in Week 14 against the Cardinals — clearly lacking some of his prior mobility after coming off a hamstring injury. He took sacks on six of those dropbacks and fumbled three times. That lack of awareness in the pocket has been an issue for Jones throughout his career. His 20 fumbles on sacks since the start of last season are now three more than any other quarterback.

Garrett and the Browns are well equipped to exploit that weakness. Garrett’s 47 total pressures and 12.5% pressure rate aren’t quite among the elite edge defenders in the NFL this season, but his 90.7 pass-rushing grade tells a different story. His wins have typically been impressive, and he has beaten his blocker 32 times without recording a pressure — third in the NFL, behind T.J. Watt and Khalil Mack. The Giants need to be cognizant of where he’s lined up at all times.

Betting

Cleveland faces a quick turnaround from their emotionally draining Monday night loss to the divisional-rival Baltimore Ravens. Browns backers feel similarly, as their cover was all but guaranteed until the final seconds ticked off the clock.

The Browns opened at a field-goal spread again, but this time they are the favorites and have pushed out another point. Cleveland is the far superior team in this matchup, with a better unit ranking in every facet of play, according to our opponent-adjusted grades.

Cleveland's path to the playoffs looks clear, with the sixth-easiest remaining schedule.

Fantasy

It’s been a bumpy ride for Evan Engram managers this season, but the process behind starting tight ends versus Cleveland has yet to fail. The Browns have allowed the second-most fantasy points to TEs this season.

Darius Slayton has been a mega-bust all season, but the Browns’ secondary cannot stop any wide receivers without Denzel Ward. He’s probably too thin of a play to trot out semifinal weekend, but be sure to get some exposure to him in Sunday night’s single-game DFS Showdown contest.

He finished Week 14 11th in total air yards and commanded two end-zone targets.

Wayne Gallman’s RB1 streak ended on Sunday, but it was no fault of his own. The offense was atrocious with Daniel Jones under center — the second-year quarterback was 11-for-21 for 127 passing yards. And Gallman was vultured at the goal line by Dion Lewis, of all people.

Fantasy managers should go right back to Gallman because he is still seeing plenty of touch volume and the matchup is favorable for Week 15. No team has allowed more rushing touchdowns to RBs over the past two weeks than the Browns.

The Giants have been below average against running backs, which is not good when facing the best one-two punch in the league. What will be particularly interesting is how much the Browns running backs are used in the pass game.

Kareem Hunt gained 77 receiving yards on Monday night, the most receiving yards for a Browns running back this season. Nick Chubb’s three best games in terms of receiving yards have occurred over the last three weeks. This is all great news considering the Giants have allowed the second-most receiving yards to running backs this season.

New York has been closer to average against the run, but some of the Giants worst performances against the run have come in recent weeks. Kenyan Drake gained 80 yards and a touchdown against them last week, while both Miles Sanders and Boston Scott had over 60 yards against them a few weeks ago. The Browns should take a lead and make the running backs the focus of their offense throughout the game.


Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Headline of the game: Mounting injuries and a struggling offense shouldn’t be too much for Pittsburgh to overcome in this matchup

After remaining relatively healthy for much of the year, the Steelers are starting to feel the impact of injuries. Devin Bush and Bud Dupree’s season-long absences were compounded with absences from Vince Williams, Robert Spillane and Joe Haden against Buffalo. And now, starting left guard Matt Feiler is on injured reserve and backup Kevin Dotson is dealing with a pectoral injury.

Those injuries don’t form an excuse for an offense that has become stagnant, though. The Steelers rank 27th in expected points added per play over the past three weeks, and they’ve hurt themselves with a league-high 14 dropped passes and a predictable offensive scheme over that stretch.

Luckily for Pittsburgh, those things shouldn’t matter all that much in this matchup against the Bengals. Cincinnati has the lowest team pass-rushing grade in the NFL, and the defense ranks 27th in average yards allowed per play (5.8). With Brandon Allen not posing all that much of a threat on the other side of the field behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, the Steelers’ offense should be able to play from ahead and work through some of their issues in recent weeks.

Betting

The Steelers have an immediate get-right spot after falling flat in their past two games. Points could be at a premium in the lowest-total game of Week 15, as Monday night offers a showdown between our second- and third worst-ranked offensive units.

The Steelers have lost their position as the top defensive unit, which is one of the many reasons why they need Ben Roethlisberger — and this entire offensive unit — to show the ability to win games for them. It doesn’t get much easier than a matchup with the Bengals, who have been Big Ben’s favorite get-right spot throughout his career. 

PFF Greenline provides an intriguing narrative for how this game could play out, with a lean toward the wide spread and the over. Everything appears to be siding with Big Ben smashing, which makes this an appropriate parlay checkpoint.

Fantasy

A.J. Green scored the lone Bengals touchdown in Week 14, and that’s how it’s been for the post-Joe Burrow Bengals. It was Tyler Boyd in Week 13 and Tee Higgins the week before. Bottom-line: No Bengals wide receiver can be started with any semblance of confidence without Burrow under center.

And the same goes for the RB backfield. After Giovani Bernard fumbled away the starting job, the workload was split between Trayveon Williams and Samaje Perine.

None of these guys are in play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15.

If there are not other options available, Boyd is the safest wide receiver option. He saw nine targets last week, and the Steelers have faced the sixth-most targets to slot WRs over the past three weeks.

The biggest upside play is Higgins. The Steelers showed that they have problems in the secondary with alpha WRs — Stefon Diggs had 10 catches for 130 yards and a score Sunday night. As an up-and-coming alpha, Higgins could come through with a big game.

The last time he faced the Steelers, Higgins went 7-115-1. He’s the Hail Mary play that could deliver a fantasy championship birth for those trailing in their playoff matchup entering Monday night.

The Steelers faced this Bengals team a few weeks ago and had plenty of success in the air with 333 yards and four touchdowns, but it took 46 pass attempts to get there. We could see a pretty similar game this time around with the Steelers targeting their wide receivers all day.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is the most reliable wide receiver in the group. He led the team in targets in their first game (13) and had nine catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Diontae Johnson is risky because he was benched due to drops for half of the Steelers' last game. If he has another drop or two, he could see the bench again.

Chase Claypool is also risky because he barely played when Johnson wasn’t benched. He only saw a total of four offensive snaps in the second half last week, and his playing time has been on the decline in recent weeks.

The Steelers threw a lot last game despite gaining a big lead. Pittsburgh could try to establish the run more. James Conner is dealing with a quad injury, so if they establish a lead they might turn to Benny Snell Jr. near the end of the game.

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