Welcome back to our weekly article, where we highlight fifteen players/units that you should definitely make a move on, or in some cases, avoid like the plague. If you’re a weekly subscriber to this column, then last week there were plenty of helpful suggestions to help you rule your weekend. Last week’s column had a distinct Florida flavor to it, with many members of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers adorning this page. As I accurately forecasted, Blake Bortles (250 yards, 3 TDs) continued to destroy opposing Secondaries, as he and his compatriots hung a 50-burger on the hapless Colts’ Defense. Oh, and steering clear of Cincinnati’s D turned out to be a great idea (33 points, 354 yards allowed), as they became just another victim of Pittsburgh offensive juggernaut. However, Allen Robinson was a surprising dud (4 yards, 1 TD), while my convoy of Bucs inexplicably became the first team to NOT own the Saints’ porous defense this year. Thank Jameis!!! I guarantee that’ll be the last time that I ever insist on playing a Harvard grad OTHER than Ryan Fitzpatrick (I’m talking to you, Cameron Brate)!!! Stay read on, my friends, for I, The Oracle have got you covered with the MOST COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS IN THE BUSINESS!!!
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- START ‘EM: Philip Rivers, Chargers v Dolphins (Last Week, 24/43, 263 yards, 1 INT @ Chiefs) – When dealing with Philip Rivers, you’re dealing in volume, for no other Quarterback in the league in 2015 has attempted or completed more passes than this guy. Granted, he’s struggled the last two weeks, connecting on 53.9% of his passes, while being held under 300 yards and without a touchdown in both contests. However, I’m willing to chalk that up to the competition; Denver and Kansas City possess two of the nastiest defenses in the league (1st and 4th in points allowed), with each ranking in the top-five in sacks (again, 1st and 4th), accumulating a combined eighty-three takedowns altogether. This week’s opponent though, the Dolphins, represent a significant decline in class; despite their relative star power, Miami has permitted 25.5 points per game (26th Overall) on 393.3 total yards (28th Overall), including 261.8 through the air (26th Overall) on 7.1 net yards per attempt (27th Overall). Furthermore, they’ve relinquished the fourth-most passing touchdowns this season (28), and have registered a mediocre twenty-six sacks (22nd Overall), which is inexcusable when you have Ndamukong Suh in the middle of the Defensive Line. And by the way, did anyone see Eli Manning torch them Monday Night? Manning completed a career-high 27-of-31 passes (87.1%) of his passes for 337 yards and four touchdowns, totaling as many scores as he had incompletions! Now I know that Rivers’ Offensive Line has been terrible this season, and he’s been losing receivers every week, but if there was a week to break out of this malaise he’s been in, it would be against these underachieving Dolphins on a short week.
- SIT ‘EM: Jay Cutler, Bears @ Vikings (Last Week, 19/31, 315 yards, 2 TDs v. Redskins) – Now before I get into why I believe you need to sit this guy this week, let me start by saying that Jay Cutler has been one of the most improved Quarterback in 2015. Granted, that’s not something that you would usually say about someone who has been in the league for ten years, but in this case, it’s absolutely spot on. A prime candidate to be traded in the offseason, Cutler was deemed by many as expendable with Chicago’s new regime in place, but thanks to a very dry market, they decided to keep him in the Windy City, which has yielded some surprising results. Credit to Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase for being the first guy to actually (maybe) figure out the enigma that is Jay Cutler; for the first time in his career, his mechanics and footwork appear to be cleaned up leading to a completion percentage of 62.6%, 252.3 yards per game, sixteen touchdowns to just seven interceptions, and the highest pass rating of his career (92.2). In fact, his Interception Percentage (1.8%) is the lowest such figure of his career. So again, why don’t I like him this week? Well, season-ending injuries to Tight End Martellus Bennett (Ribs) and Receiver Marquess Wilson (Foot) is definitely a factor, but it’s actually got more to do with his opponent, the Vikings; Minnesota has fielded one of the better defenses in the league thus far, allowing just 19.6 points per game (4th Overall), while proving particularly staunch against the pass (232.1 yards), ranking eighth overall. After dropping their second consecutive game last Thursday against the Cardinals, Mike Zimmer’s club will be well-rested and prepared for their second crack at Cutler and Co.
- SLEEPER: Matthew Stafford, Lions @ Saints (Last Week, 30/46, 245 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT @ Rams) – What in the name of Scott Mitchell happened to Matthew Stafford? What happened to the guy that threw for 5,038 yards and forty-one touchdowns back in 2011? This can’t be the same kid that has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in four consecutive seasons! Now I’m well aware that the Detroit Lions are in the midst of a dreadful season, but allow me a moment to debunk some myths, if you will. First, Stafford hasn’t played great, but he’s been far from terrible; the seventh-year veteran has completed 65.0% of his passes (a career-high) for an average of 262.2 yards per game, which is just 3.9 yards off of last year’s pace in which he ultimately logged 4,257 passing yards. Furthermore, his twenty-four touchdowns is already more than the twenty-two registered a year ago, and his Passer Rating is his highest since that aforementioned monster 2011 campaign. And if you look past the consecutive losses that Detroit has booked over the last two weeks, you would see that he’s been playing some of his best football of the season; since their miserable 0-5 start, Stafford has completed 65.2% of his attempts for an average of 275.5 yards (7.5 y/a), eighteen touchdowns and just five interceptions over the past eight contests. Essentially, this kid is NOT the problem in Detroit. His Offensive Line has been lousy (35 sacks), his running game has been invisible (79.3 yards, 32nd Overall), and the Front Office and Coaching Staff have both been turned over. Thankfully, the Saints and their hapless defense are up next, which should provide the 27-year old with the proper canvas to remind us all why he was such a fantasy juggernaut in the first place.
- START ‘EM: Adrian Peterson, Vikings v Bears (Last Week, 23 carries, 69 yards, 1 TD @ Cardinals) – Now if this sounds like a no-brainer, then that’s because it is… If you are fortunate enough to have Adrian Peterson grace your roster, then you must START HIM EVERY WEEK!!!! Yes, that’s an obvious statement, but don’t let his relatively pedestrian production over the last two weeks (87 yards on 31 carries) dissuade you from starting this guy, particularly this week against the Bears. Peterson is well on his way to yet another League Rushing Title, which would be his third, and I highly doubt that he’ll allow Chicago to get in his way. After all, he’s had some of his finest performances against the denizens of Soldier Field; over the course of thirteen career meetings, No. 28 has rushed for 1,499 yards (115.3 per game) on a staggering 5.0 yards per carry, for fourteen touchdowns, the most he’s racked up against any team in the league. And though he didn’t reach the End Zone in their previous meeting back in November, he still managed to churn out 103 yards on just twenty carries. Furthermore, Chicago’s run defense has been very exploitable this season, as they continue to transition to a heavier 3-4 defensive front. Thirteen games in, and they’ve permitted 125.7 yards on the ground (26th Overall) on 4.7 yards per carry, the third-highest figure in the league. Seriously folks, this may be the easiest call of Week Fifteen…
- SIT ‘EM: Darren McFadden, Cowboys v Jets (last Week, 9 carries, 111 yards @ Packers) – Darren McFadden has been a hard guy to figure out in 2015, but then again, you could say that about his entire eight-year career. His potential has always overshadowed his production, which is oftentimes maddening as a fantasy owner. In his first season in Dallas, running behind arguably the best Offensive Line in the business, Run DMC has rushed for 798 yards and three touchdowns on 4.2 yards per carry, his highest average in four years. However, it’s been feast or famine for this guy, for every 100-yard outburst has been negated by 50-yard dud; McFadden has rushed for over 100 yards four times this season, but has also been held to fewer than sixty yards on seven occasions. So which player am I banking on showing up this weekend, you ask? Well, if he’s in this particular category, it would have to be the latter, and that’s entirely due to his opponent, the New York Jets. Simply put, the Jets have been downright filthy in defending the run, yielding the fewest rushing yards (78.9) along with a mere two touchdowns, which is also fewest in the league. Furthermore, their last three opponents have managed a scant 36.7 yards on the ground against them, which really doesn’t bode well for somebody trying to carry a very one-dimensional offense. Trust me, folks. If you own this guy, then this is a week to explore other options.
- SLEEPER: Jeremy Hill, Bengals @ 49ers (Last Week, 7 carries, 16 yards v Steelers) – Just when the light seemed to turn on for Jeremy Hill, he went and laid an egg last week against the Steelers. Now, I’m willing to wager that losing Andy Dalton so early in that contest may have sent a shock wave through the rest of his Bengals teammates, for it must have been quite a change transitioning to A.J. McCarron on the fly. I’m thinking that with a full week to craft a gameplan for the fledgling Quarterback, that Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson will make sure that his offense is prepared this week. And that likely means a whole lot of running the ball, which in turn means plenty of opportunities for Giovanni Bernard and this kid. With the two battling for carries all season, it finally looked like Hill had gained the upper hand, rushing for 184 yards and a touchdown on thirty-four carries in victories over the Rams (31-7) and Browns (37-3), before Pittsburgh arrived to stymie his production. Granted, the Steelers have a solid run defense, which definitely played a role here, which is something that I can’t say about the San Francisco 49ers, whom Hill and the Bengals will visit this Sunday. The Niners have been ravaged by injuries defensively, allowing the second-most rushing yards in the league (133.2). more importantly, their opponents know it, for they have seen the opposition run the ball against them more than any team save one (31.3 attempts per game). Furthermore, they’re coming off of a dismal day in which the Browns’ dysfunctional ground game rung up 230 yards against them, which out to have Hill and Co. licking their lips. Oh, and despite limited attempts, this kid has developed a nose for the End Zone, scoring eight times this year and seventeen times over the course of his brief career. And with San Francisco relinquishing the third-most rushing touchdowns in the league (16), this one is a case of simple math.
- START ‘EM: Calvin Johnson, Lions @ Saints (Last Week, 1 catch, 16 yards @ Rams) – All praise to the New Orleans Saints’ Defense!!! For the first time this season you managed to hold an opponent below twenty points and 300 yards of offense!!! Congratulations!!! Dennis Allen, you can now choose your next Head Coaching Job!!! Whoa, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.. Despite finally putting together a solid performance against the Buccaneers last Sunday, let’s not get these guys confused with the ’85 Bears or ’00 Ravens, or hell even the ’13 Saints for that matter. With all that said, this unit has still allowed the most points in the league (30.5), the second-most total yards (414.9), including the third-most passing yards (278.8), along with more passing touchdowns (36) and net yards per attempt (7.7) than any of their contemporaries thus far. I can’t see any reason as to why they’d pull off the same trick two weeks in a row, which brings me to one Calvin Johnson, who like his Quarterback (whom I already touched upon earlier), is the midst of a very troubling season on a terrible team. The three-time All-Pro has been effectively emasculated this season, recording career-lows in yards per reception (13.8). However, that probably has more to do with the lingering ailments he’s been fighting through and his Offensive Line’s inability to provide enough protection for Matthew Stafford to throw the ball the down field. Don’t get me wrong, 75% of this guy is still better than most, but the writing was on the wall a year ago, when his numbers across the board showed serious decline. But hey, he’s playing the Saints’ Defense, right? That’s worked for me on a number of occasions this season, and I’m confident that it’ll do the same for the Artist Formerly Known as Megatron.
- SIT ‘EM: Odell Beckham, Giants v Panthers (Last Week, 7 catches, 166 yards, 1 TD @ Dolphins) – Ok, this is the week where something has got to give. In one corner, we have Odell Beckham Jr., who has been about as hot as any Wide Receiver in recent memory, averaging an insane 132.7 yards with eight touchdowns over the last six games. Seriously, his 796 yards on forty-three receptions is what a lot of guys do in an entire season. In the other corner we have the Carolina Panthers’ devastating defense, with Cornerback Josh Norman ascending to the realm of the league’s elite. This is All-Pro on All-Pro here, folks, a battle of heavyweights that we rarely get to see anymore. Indeed, Beckham has been historically good; only one other player in NFL history has recorded more receptions, more receiving yards, and more touchdowns through the first twenty-five games of his career than this kid has. However, I’m forecasting this remarkable run to come to an end against Carolina, who has permitted just 18.4 points (4th Overall), along with the fifth-fewest passing yards in the league (223.2) on the second-fewest net yards per attempt (5.1). Furthermore, they’ve forced more turnovers than any of their contemporaries (33), including a healthy twenty-one interceptions (1st Overall). And just look at what they’ve been able to do against some of the best Receivers in the league this year; DeAndre Hopkins (5 catches, 53 yards), Dez Bryant (2 catches, 26 yards), and Julio Jones (7 catches, 88 yards) were all relegated well below their season averages against Norman and Co. It’s been a great ride Odell, but this is where we hop off…
- SLEEPER: Ted Ginn, Panthers @ Giants (Last Week, 2 catches, 120 yards, 2 TDs v Falcons) – Staying with the Panthers at Giants for one more segment, if you’re looking for a sleeper play then look no further than Ted Ginn Jr. I suppose it would be just a matter of time before this guy would put together a huge day, and did he ever last week against the Falcons!!! Ginn has long been one of the fastest players in the league, with few peers in terms of straight line speed, which is why he was such a high pick back in the 2007 NFL Draft (Ninth Overall). However, the problem with this guy has been drops, for his hands are about as inconsistent as his legs are fast. That’s why opposing defenses aren’t afraid to let their Defensive Backs play on an island against him, because they know that he has trouble tracking the ball in the air and will drop a fair percentage of throws his way. Well, that wasn’t the case against Atlanta, where he posted a whopping 120 yards on just TWO receptions, with both resulting in touchdowns. That’s sixty yards per catch, folks. So with the New York Giants and their league-worst Pass Defense on deck, why not give Ginn an opportunity to wreck another Secondary? The Giants have been awful against the pass this season, allowing a staggering 308.4 yards through the air on 7.3 net yards per attempt (29th Overall), and their opposition knows it, attempting more passes against them (40.8) than any other team in the NFL. With Tailback Jonathan Stewart reportedly in a walking boot on Monday, I’d wager that Ron Rivera and Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula will be instructing Cam Newton to throw down field, which is good news for anyone giving Ginn a shot.
- START ‘EM: Antonio Gates, Chargers v Dolphins (Last Week, 6 catches, 76 yards @ Chiefs) – With the Chargers reeling towards their worst campaign since 2003, and inevitably a high pick in May’s NFL Draft, there hasn’t been much to like about this team. Even old reliable, Antonio Gates, one of the most productive Tight Ends of this era hasn’t proven immune to their woes; a four-game suspension postponed his thirteenth term in San Diego, while nagging injuries slowed his production once he returned to the field. Oh, and then there’s the matter of his teammates along the Offensive Line, who have left a lot to be desired in this year, as his Quarterback, Philip Rivers (as detailed earlier), has been running for his life. So with this dreadful season almost in the books, why do I like Gates this week, you ask? As I mentioned earlier in the Quarterbacks section, his opponent tonight, the Dolphins has fielded one of the most underachieving defenses in years, permitting nearly 400 yards of offense. And don’t look now, but Gates has been coming on of late, racking up fifty or more yards in three consecutive games. In fact, last week’s seventy-six yards were his most since Week 6. Oh, and during the week the 35-year old debunked retirement rumors which had been circulating for some time, proclaiming that he didn’t want to go out a loser. Good deal, Antonio. Now go out and BALL!!!!
- SIT ‘EM: Heath Miller, Steelers v Broncos (Last Week, 10 catches, 66 yards @ Bengals) – Speaking of reliable veteran Tight Ends… Heath Miller have never been a Fantasy Starlet, but ask Steelers’ Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger just how valuable this guy is. Despite the onslaught that has become the Steelers’ Offense, Miller hasn’t benefitted too much from his Quarterback’s prolific arm, as the 33-year old has averaged just 38.0 yards receiving per game, his lowest such figure since 2010. In reality, he’s been a victim of his teammates, with so many of them ascending to more prominent roles in the passing game. Yes, we all know Antonio Brown, but Martavis Bryant (672 yards, 6 TDs) has been downright impressive, while Markus Wheaton (589 yards, 3 TDs) has grown up a lot too. Granted, Miller is still a great safety valve on Third Down, but he’s fallen down the pecking order in Pittsburgh quite a bit this season. Hell, with all the touchdowns that Big Ben has been handing out (15), No. 83 has only caught one. This doesn’t bode well with the broncos on tap, who despite their regressing offense, still field a filthy pass defense that is second to none. The Broncos rank tops in the league in passing yards allowed (188.2) and net yards per attempt relinquished (5.0), along with a league-high forty-four sacks, which means that it’s going to be long day for Miller, who may indeed spend more time blocking than running routes.
- SLEEPER: Richard Rodgers, Packers @ Raiders (Last Week, 1 catch, 3 yards, 1 TD v Cowboys) – Talk about an emergence from obscurity. Though this guy shares the same last name of his All-Pro Quarterback, not to mention an alma mater, only the most die-hard Packers’ fans could tell you anything of significance regarding one Richard Rodgers. I mean, he looks like a small Offensive Tackle, for crying out loud!!!! However, 2015 has served as his coming out party, cross the End Zone seven times, despite averaging a scant nine yards per reception. With Green Bay’s Offensive Line sputtering all year, and Aaron Rodgers having to improvise more than Mike McCarthy would like, the lesser-known Rodgers has in a way become the reigning MVP’s go-to guy on Third Down and in the Red Zone. The sophomore has scored in two consecutive games, and if his 146-yard outburst (aided greatly by a ridiculous Hail Mary) two weeks ago at Detroit is any indication, has some real untapped potential. And who better to break out against than the Raiders’ beleaguered Secondary? Oakland’s young Secondary has struggled mightily this season, yielding 271.5 yards through the air (28th Overall) on 6.3 net yards per attempt (15th Overall). Granted, they kept the Broncos out of the End Zone last weekend, but if form follows function, they’re due for a let down this week, particularly with McCarthy (finally!!!) wresting play-calling duties back from Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements.
- START ‘EM: Chiefs @ Ravens (Last Week, 3 points, 280 total yards allowed, 1 turnover, 5 sacks v Chargers) – Though Alex Smith and an improving Offense has highlighted the Chiefs stellar seven-game winning streak, let’s not forget that their defense remains one of the nastiest groups in the league, for believe me when I tell you that these guys are BALLING OUT!!! Kansas City has yet to allow over twenty-two points since Week 6, and during that span have only allowed twenty or more on two occasions. In fact, over the past seven contest, Andy Reid’s defense has permitted just 12.0 points per game on 299.0 yards of total offense. Turnovers have been a huge factor, as they’ve forced a whopping eighteen over that period, which thanks to their always cautious Offense, has parlayed into a very healthy plus-14 differential. Last week, the Chiefs managed to relegate Philip Rivers and Co. to a mere THREE points, which really makes me wonder what they’ll do to the Ravens, who with Joe Flacco on Injured Reserve and Matt Schaub nursing a concussion, may be starting Jimmy Clausen under Center, or then again, they may give the newly acquired Ryan Mallett a shot as they roll towards their worst campaign since 2007. All Clausen did was get eviscerated by the Seahawks for the second time in three months, while Mallett is on his second team after being sent home for good by the Texans. Anyway, I find it very hard to fathom that a team with over 40% of their Salary cap on Injured Reserve will be able to muster much of fight against one of the better defenses in the league. Take it from me, I live in Baltimore; the season can’t end fast enough here in Charm City.
- SIT ‘EM: Broncos @ Steelers (Last Week, 15 points, 126 total yards allowed, 3 sacks v Raiders) – Waitaminute, this has to be a mistake, right? Why in the hell would I insist on sitting what has statistically been the league’s finest defense? Well, to keep it simple, have you seen the Steelers lately? Since a November 1st defeat against Cincinnati, they have been on an absolute tear, scorching opponents for 35.2 points on a staggering 494.0 total yards per game, with Ben Roethlisberger playing the role of Mad Bomber, netting 363.3 passing yards on a sublime 8.6 yards per attempt. Granted, Denver has been by far and away the hardest team to pass the ball against, but Roethlisberger has been locked into a zone over the past five games, with his Receiving Corps representing a Perfect Storm for the Broncos’ deep Secondary. However, there’s also the matter of their own Offense, which has stalled in recent weeks with young Brock Osweiler under Center. As Peyton Manning continues to nurse an ailing foot, Osweiler has provided a few moments, but as last weeks debacle against the Raiders proved, he’s still got a long ways to go. The youngster was sacked five times last weekend, bringing his total thus far to seventeen in just five appearances, which is a bit alarming if you’re Head Coach Gary Kubiak. With the running game continuing to falter (99.3 yards per game, 3.yards per carry), Osweiler will likely be in many longer down and distance situations, which isn’t good news with the Steelers’ improving pass-rush, which has dropped opposing Quarterbacks thirty-eight times thus far (5th Overall). If they can turn up the pressure and keep this kid from sustaining drives, then the Broncos’ Defense is going to be on the field far more than they’d like, which spells a very long day against the Big Ben and Co.
- SLEEPER: Steelers v Broncos (Last Week, 20 points, 385 yards allowed, 3 turnovers, 3 sacks @ Bengals) – Everything that I just stated in the previous section applies here, as the Steelers’ defense is in prime position to exploit a young Quarterback who is learning that the NFL isn’t quite as easy as it seemed in his first couple of starts. Oh, Brock Osweiler, after four starts you have become a known commodity, my friend, as teams now have more than enough game tape to craft a plan towards defending you. That became painfully obvious last weekend against the reeling Raiders, who had lost four out of five coming into Mile High; with Oakland snuffing out their anemic running game, Osweiler attempted a whopping fifty-one passes for 308 yards, but failed to put a single one into the End Zone, as Khalil Mack (5 Sacks) and the Pass Rush made him uncomfortable all day long. This has been a problem all season in Denver, for no matter who has been under Center, has endured a plethora of pressure thanks to an Offensive Line that has been ravaged by injuries, particularly at Offensive Tackle, where both Ryan Clady (Knee) and Ty Sambrailo (Shoulder) languish on Injured Reserve. This should be music to the ears of a Steelers’ defense who has gotten back to their old Blitzburgh ways; fourteen different players have registered a sack, with seven logging at least three. And to think that the faithful in Steel City were worried what would happen once Longtime Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau had departed…