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 make your championship push. Admittedly, I ran a little hot and cold, particularly on the Receiver and Tight End side of things; Megatron (1 catch, 19 yards) and Richard Rodgers (1 catch, 7 yards) failed to show up, while Ted Ginn (6 catches, 85 yards, 2 TDs) was another hit as a Sleeper!!! Philip Rivers (311 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) had a big day against the Dolphins, but he couldn’t send one of those touchdown tosses Antonio Gates’ (6 catches, 88 yards) way? Damn you, Philip!!!! Meanwhile, the Chiefs continued to dismantle the competition defensively (14 points, 366 yards allowed, 3 TOs), and even scored a pair of touchdowns to boot, while Denver’s stellar unit finally had a bad day on the job (34 points, 377 yards allowed, 2 TOs), which I so called. Oh, and was there any doubt that Matthew Stafford (254 yards, 3 TDs) would shred the Saints’ miserable defense? That’s one trick that never goes out of style!!! With the Playoffs in full swing, what will I have in store for you this week? Stay tuned and 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: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers @ Ravens (Last Week, 40/55, 380 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs v Broncos) – At this point of the season, if you’re fortunate enough to have Ben Roethlisberger in your lineup then consider yourself a very, very, lucky person, for this guy could very likely win you your league championship all by his lonely. Seriously, to describe his play since returning from injury as simply great would be an understatement. In his last six games, Big Ben has been otherworldly, completing 66.4% of his passes for an average of 365.8 yards per game (8.3 y/a), thirteen touchdowns and seven interceptions, all the while posting a Passer Rating of 97.3. Facing arguably the toughest defense in the league last week, No. 7 was unfazed, completing 40-of-55 attempts (72.7%) for 380 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. This week’s opponent, the Ravens, hardly pose the same quality on defense; Baltimore’s decimated unit has yielded 25.7 points (25th Overall) on 342.7 total yards (14th Overall), including 242.3 through the air (15th Overall) on 6.6 net yards per attempt (19th Overall). However, over the last two weeks the attrition has really gotten to them, for they have been scorched for 34.5 points per game on 350.5 total yards, with six touchdowns allowed via the pass (Russell Wilson had five against them two weeks ago). Oh, and the last time that Roethlisberger met the Ravens in the regular season he blew them away on 25-of-37 passing (67.6%) for 340 yards and six touchdowns. This may just be the easiest play of the weeks, folks…
- SIT ‘EM: Matt Ryan, Falcons v Panthers (Last Week, 22/35, 246 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT @ Jaguars) – What in the name of Chris Chandler has happened to Matt Ryan? Long been one of the most consistently solid Quarterbacks in the league, Ryan has regressed into a turnover machine in 2015 (think Philip Rivers from 2012); fourteen games into the season and he has already thrown fifteen interceptions, while losing a career-worst ten fumbles. In the past, he’s been able to compensate for the turnovers with touchdowns, but that has not been the case this season, as his eighteen passing scores are the lowest such figure of his career since his rookie campaign back in 2008. Over the past five weeks, he’s been held under 300 passing yards in each game, while throwing eight interceptions opposed to six touchdowns, which has unsurprisingly parlayed into a 1-4 record for the Falcons. Don’t expect him to break out of this funk against the Panthers’ vicious defense, which has allowed just 19.9 points (10th Overall) on 314.9 total yards (3rd Overall), including 224.8 through the air (5th Overall) on just 5.1 net yards per attempt (2nd Overall), all the while forcing a league-high thirty-five turnovers. And then there is the small matter of what happened when these two parties met just two short weeks ago; Ryan was a dismal 22-of-34 (64.7%) for 224 yards, an interception and a lost fumble in a 38-0 shutout loss in which he was sacked five times for a loss of fifty-nine yards. Considering Carolina just gave up thirty-five points in a wild affair against the Giants, I’ll wager that they’ll be fired up to restore their image, not to mention take another step towards perfection.
- SLEEPER: Teddy Bridgewater, Vikings v Giants (Last Week, 17/20, 231 yards, 4 TDs v. Bears) – In a season that hasn’t been smooth by any means for the former 32nd Overall Pick in last year’s Draft, Teddy Bridgewater finally had himself a day in 2015, and it happened to be against bitter rivals Chicago nonetheless. Coming into that contest, the sophomore signal-caller had thrown just nine touchdowns to eight interceptions, hardly a fantasy juggernaut by an means. However, something clicked against a typically solid Bears’ pass defense; Bridgewater completed a stunning 17-of-20 passes (85.0%) for 231 yards and four touchdowns last Sunday, which was all the more impressive given the fact that Tailback Adrian Peterson exited the game prematurely after suffering an ankle injury. I expect him to continue to improve against New York this Sunday Night, for if you’re a regular visitor to my column (and if you’re not, you should be), then you would know that you really can’t go wrong playing someone who is facing either the Saints’ or Giants’ miserable defenses. So let’s take a moment to run down the numbers for Big Blue; the Giants have allowed 25.6 points (23rd Overall) on a league-worst 423.0 total yards (32nd Overall), including 308.4 yards through the air (32nd Overall) on 7.3 net yards per attempt (29th Overall). Furthermore, he should be operating in a fairly clean pocket, for New York has only amassed nineteen sacks thus far (31st Overall), which means optimal conditions for the youngster to work within.
- START ‘EM: Doug Martin, Buccaneers v Bears (Last Week, 18 carries, 91 yards @ Rams) – From the Muscle Hamster to the Dougernaut, outside of owning some of the most creative nicknames in the league, Doug Martin has found the elusive success he enjoyed as a rookie back in 2012, now ranking second in the league with 1,305 rushing yards on a very healthy 5.1 yards per carry. After gashing Philadelphia for 235 yards back on November 22nd, the fourth-year veteran has been teasing the Fantasy World, racking up 91.0 yards per game over the last four outings, though never breaking that important 100-yard threshold. However, I’m sold that this will indeed be the week that he breaks it, for his opponent’s rush defense, the Bears’, has left a lot to be desired in 2015. John Fox and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio deserve a lot of credit for their team’s surprising competiveness in the wake of a rebuild, but as we’ve seen in the past, the transition to a 3-4 base defensive front can oftentimes be a jarring one. In essence, it takes a few years to acquire the proper personnel, which Chicago is finding out the hard way; the Monsters of the Midway have been trampled for an average of 125.9 yards on the ground (26th Overall) on a sizable 4.6 yards per attempt (28th Overall), and over the last five weeks alone have permitted a ridiculous 139.2 yards per game. Not to be discounted, this is also a contract year for Martin, who will become one of the hotter names on the Free Agent Market if Tampa Bay doesn’t decide to offer him an extension (and they’d be stupid not to). This kid is playing for a new contract, and if the NFL has taught us anything, it’s that when a fat payday is on the line, these guys often shine… (I know, that was VERY corny).
- SIT ‘EM: Eddie Lacy, Packers @ Cardinals (last Week, 9 carries, 111 yards @ Raiders) – Owners of Eddie Lacy have no doubt voiced their frustrations with the Packers’ Tailback, particularly if you burned a high draft pick on him. Lacy has been that classic here today, gone tomorrow kind of player in 2015, that drives the fantasy world mad; after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, the former 2nd Round Pick has struggled through injuries, a temporary demotion, and having to share carries with a rejuvenated James Starks. Add the Packers’ underachieving Offensive Line to the mix and you have one very disappointing season for a guy that many pundits predicted would vie for the league rushing title. Thus far, Lacy has racked up just 664 rushing yards and three touchdowns, despite posting a triplicate of 100-yard rushing performances. However, it’s the consistency that’s the problem; No. 27 has been relegated below fifty rushing yards on eight occasions, including under ten yards three times!!! And how did he follow up a season-high 124 yards on twenty-four carries against the Cowboys two weeks ago? With a miserable twenty-three yards on eleven carries, that’s how. The bottom line is that this guy is far too inconsistent to play during a championship run, particularly this week with the Cardinals on tap; Arizona has yielded the fourth-fewest rushing yards in the league (86.7) on just 3.9 yards per carry (10th Overall). Furthermore, during their current eight-game winning streak, they’ve permitted 100 yards on the ground just once, holding the opposition to 73.4 yards over that span.
- SLEEPER: LaTavius Murray, Raiders v Chargers (Last Week, 21 carries, 78 yards v Packers) – If you’re looking for a second Tailback to start this week to get you through to your Fantasy Championship Game, then you would be wise to take a flier on LaTavius Murray, who has been on the cusp of breaking into the 100-yard club for what seems like the entire season. Indeed, Murray has posted a pair of 100-yard games this season, but like Eddie Lacy, hasn’t been the most consistent at his position in 2015. However, UNlike Lacy, this kid is the unquestioned starter in Oakland, which means that he will receive the bulk of the carries, even if Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave doesn’t always give him the ball as much as he should. The AFC’s leading rusher (and Pro Bowl Alternate, by the way) has amassed 956 yards on the ground on a healthy 4.1 yards per carry, and will likely become the first Raider since Darren McFadden (2010) to rush for 1,000 yards in a campaign. Again, it’s all about the carries; Murray has received twenty or more carries on just five occasions thus far, averaging 95.0 yards in those situations. This weekend’s opponent, the Chargers, have been awful against the run, allowing 120.6 yards on the ground (24th Overall) on a putrid 4.7 yards per carry (30th Overall). Before limiting the listless Dolphins’ offense to forty-four rushing yards last week, San Diego had been steamrolled for 129.6 yards in the previous five games. Furthermore, Murray accumulated eighty-five yards and a touchdown on just fifteen carries when they last met back on October 25th, so he should see more opportunities in this second meeting. You hear that, Musgrave? Give him the DAMN BALL!!!
- START ‘EM: Antonio Brown, Steelers @ Ravens (Last Week, 16 catches, 189 yards, 2 TDs v Broncos) – Basically for all the same reasons that I suggested you start Ben Roethlisberger this week, applies to one Antonio Brown. After all, if in fact Big Ben indeed firebombs the Ravens’ defense this Sunday (and he will), who do you think is going to be the recipient? It’s a shame that Roethlisberger missed as many games as he did this year, for the prospect of sixteen games of No. 7 playing pitch and catch with No. 84 is simply tantalizing. Seriously, Brown very well may have broken the league’s single-season receiving mark if he had a healthy Quarterback throwing his way ALL season long. Last year’s leader in receptions and receiving yards has hauled in 116 passes for 1,586 receiving yards (13.7 y/r) and nine touchdowns, all the while posting eight 100-yard performances in fourteen games. Watching him operate against Denver’s top-ranked pass defense was a joy, as he reeled in sixteen receptions on eighteen targets for a whopping 189 yards, and a pair of touchdowns, the latter of which ended up being the go-ahead score. Living just outside of Baltimore, I can’t find a reason as to why the Ravens would be able to slow him down, for they’ve allowed twenty-eight passing touchdowns thus far to a league-low four interceptions. With three Defensive Backs on Injured Reserve, and Cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (Back) and Jimmy Smith (Thigh) both listed as Questionable, this unit simply doesn’t have the talent to contain this guy.
- SIT ‘EM: Eric Decker, Jets v Patriots (Last Week, 6 catches, 55 yards, 1 TD @ Cowboys) – Consider it a mild surprise that one of the most productive tandems of Receivers has been the Jets’ Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, but hey, a competent Quarterback under Center apparently goes a long way. Decker in particular is well-acquainted with that notion, for after all, this guy went from Tim Tebow slanging the rock to Peyton Manning. Now, after a year from hell with Geno Smith, the sixth-year veteran has returned to the good graces of Fantasy Football thanks to the steady hand of Ryan Fitzpatrick, and the presence of Marshall drawing primary coverage. There hasn’t been a big difference statistically from last year to the current one for Decker, who has logged 930 yards on seventy-two receptions a year after registering 962 yards on seventy-four catches. However, he’s amassed ten touchdowns thus far, five more than his total from 2014, which is a boon to his aforementioned teammates. So why don’t I like him this week, you ask? Two words: New England. The Patriots have been particularly difficult to pass against this season, yielding 230.4 yards (8th Overall) through the air on a scant 5.7 net yards per attempt (3rd Overall), while proving very proficient at applying pressure in the pocket, notching forty-seven sacks (2nd Overall). There’s also the added benefit of being only the third team to keep Decker out of the End Zone, which they did back on October 25th in an entertaining 30-23 victory. The Jets are playing for their Playoff lives at this point, and if they were facing anyone other than the Patriots I would support starting Decker, but as has been the case far too often, New England’s defense has been the proverbial Grim Reaper for Fantasy hopes and dreams.
- SLEEPER: Stefon Diggs, Vikings v Giants (Last Week, 3 catches, 55 yards, 2 TDs v Bears) – One of the more unheralded rookies to enter the league this year, Stefon Diggs has made quite an impression in limited opportunities. The Fifth Round Pick failed to get on the field until Week Four, where he would go on to record 419 yards over the course of the following four weeks. Since that point, he’s been largely quiet surpassing fifty receiving yards just twice, most recently in last week’s 38-17 drubbing of the Bears. Diggs caught only three passes, but turned it into fifty-five yards and a par of touchdowns, doubling his output over the previous thirteen games altogether. If you’ve been paying attention, then you’ll realize that I picked his Quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, in this category earlier in this column, which means that if I think that he’s going to have a big day, then somebody has to play the role of recipient, and why not Diggs? The Giants’ pathetic defense just seems to get worse every week, with their prowess against the pass sinking to uncharted depths, allowing at least 300 yards through the air in five of their last seven games, so why not take a chance on this kid? He may just prove to be the difference in your respective matchup this week…
- START ‘EM: Jordan Reed, Redskins @ Eagles (Last Week, 7 catches, 84 yards, 2 TDs v Bills) – As the Washington Redskins get closer to an NFC East Title on the strength of their evolving offense, Jordan Reed has quietly become a force in the passing game. After two years of fairly average numbers, Reed has become a bonafide playmaker in 2015, racking up 778 yards and nine touchdowns on seventy-four targets. The former Third Round Pick in the 2013 Draft has really stepped up down the stretch, becoming a go-to guy for Quarterback Kirk Cousins, particularly in the Red Zone; Reed has posted 204 receiving yards and three touchdowns, while hauling in all sixteen passes targeted in his direction over the last two games, which both ended in Washington victories. This week’s opponent, the Eagles, have eroded defensively as the season has worn on, allowing 25.9 points (27th Overall) on 393.2 total yards (29th Overall), including 259.1 through the air (24th Overall) on the year, but a staggering 35.6 points on 456.6 total yards over the last five games alone. Furthermore, they’ve been torched for thirty passing touchdowns thus far, third-most in the NFL. When these teams met back on October 4th, Washington staved off Philadelphia in a surprising 23-20 victory, accumulating 417 total yards of offense including 290 through the air, with Reed amassing only five catches for thirty-seven yards. However, he’s become a much larger part of this offense, and should become an integral component for a team that has a golden opportunity to deliver the proverbial knockout punch to a division rival.
- SIT ‘EM: Delanie Walker, Titans v Texans (Last Week, 2 catches, 64 yards, 2 TDs @ Patriots) – One of the true Under the Radar performers at Tight End this season, Delanie Walker has been a shrewd pickup for Fantasy Owners. In his third campaign in Tennessee, Walker has logged a career-high 935 yards and six touchdowns on seventy-six catches in 2015, despite his team’s struggles under Center with injured rookie Quarterback Marcus Mariota and Zach Mettenberger. The latter will likely be the starter to finish out the season, particularly with the Titans’ in line for the No. One Overall Pick in the Draft, which along with this weekend’s opponent, division rival Houston, makes Walker a player that you should avoid at this juncture of your season. When these sides met back on November 1st, Walker could only muster sixty-two yards on six catches, while his team failed to find the End Zone in a 20-6 defeat. The Texans have sported one of the nastiest defenses over the second half of the year, permitting a mere 180.3 passing yards over the last seven games since their last meeting with Tennessee. Furthermore, they’ve allowed just 5.8 net yards per pass on the year (7th Overall), and their solid thirty-six sacks (9th Overall) is sure to keep Mettenberger from getting comfortable at any point in Sunday’s contest. Oh, and there’s always the prospect that Interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey is forced to utilize Walker as an extra blocker to protect his Quarterback from some dude named J.J. Watt (13.5 sacks). You may have heard of him…
- SLEEPER: Ben Watson, Saints v Jaguars (Last Week, 6 catches, 49 yards, 1 TD v Lions) – This year, Ben Watson has been the definition of a guy whose value has been inflated by a few huge games, despite a body of work that has been littered with relatively mediocre performances. With Jimmy Graham out of New Orleans, somebody had to become the recipient of Drew Brees’ continued assault on the record books, and given that Watson has played with a few great Quarterbacks in the past (ahem, Tom Brady), he’s the logical pick to fill the void. On the season, the twelfth-year veteran has recorded 761 yards (11.4 y/r) and five touchdowns on sixty-seven receptions. However, apart from a ten-catch, 127-yard, one-touchdown outburst against the Falcons on October 15th, followed later by a nine-catch, 147-yard, one-touchdown performance versus the Giants two weeks afterward, this guy has been a fairly average Tight End. If you took away those two stellar games, then he would be only averaging 40.6 receiving yards per game. So why do I like him this weekend, you ask? Well, given how the Jaguars have performed offensively of late, Sunday’s meeting at the Superdome has all the makings of a shootout; Jacksonville, though improved, still has a ways to go defensively, allowing 27.1 points (30th Overall) on 361.5 total yards (20th Overall), including 260.5 through the air (25th Overall) on 6.5 net yards per attempt (18th Overall).
- START ‘EM: Seahawks v Rams (Last Week, 13 points, 230 total yards allowed, 1 turnover, 3 sacks v Browns) – Hopefully, you were sensible enough to avoid all the early season chatter of the apparent demise of Seattle’s vaunted defense, which was indeed all too premature. After some gaffes against the likes of Cincinnati, Carolina, and Arizona, here they are once again in the upper echelon of the league in a number of defensive categories; the Seahawks rank second in both points allowed (17.7) and total defense (302.2), while also placing fourth against the pass (218.3) and third against the run (83.9), all the while yielding the fewest passing touchdowns in the NFL (12). All that talk and they’re still a top-five defense for a third year in a row… Anyways, winners of seven out of their last eight, including each of their past five outings, Pete Carroll’s charges have feasted on some truly poor offensive units, limiting the likes of the 49ers, Cowboys, Vikings, Ravens, and Browns to a combined fifty-four points, or in other words a scant 9.0 points per game. So as you can imagine, I see very little hope for the offensively inept Rams, who have seemingly grown more miserable on that side of the ball as the season has progressed. As Seattle ranks second-best in both points allowed and total defense, St. Louis in turn ranks next-to-last in both points scored (17.2) and total offense (308.4), including dead-last in both passing offense (185.5) and passing touchdowns (10). Neither Nick Foles (30.01 QBR) or Case Keenum (40.52 QBR) has done much to spark this team, even with Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner Todd Gurley carrying the ball. And ignore their season opening 34-31 victory over these Seahawks, which seems like a lifetime ago, for these are two very different teams at this point. Great defense meets dreadful offense, check and mate, my friends…
- SIT ‘EM: Jets v Patriots (Last Week, 16 points, 309 total yards allowed, 2 sacks, 4 turnovers @ Cowboys) – Speaking of defenses hitting their stride… Since dropping back-to-back games, the Jets have now won four consecutive games in a row, mostly on the strength of a defensive unit that has returned to health. Over the last month, New York has held the opposition to just 16.0 points per game on 322.3 yards, all the while forcing eight turnovers and committing only two. They also have a ton to play for, for despite their 9-5 record, if the Playoffs were to start today, Gang Green would be on the outside looking in, as both the Chiefs and Steelers hold the requisite tiebreakers at the moment. However, the reason I’m down on them has nothing to do with Todd Bowles’ outfit, but whom they’re preparing to battle… the New England Patriots. When the mandate is to win out and the Pats happen to be standing in your way, there is a problem. When these teams met back on October 25th, Tom Brady and Co. completely ignored their opponent’s top-ranked rush defense, and instead proceeded to eviscerate them through the air; of the 353 total yards they had amassed, all but sixteen came courtesy of Brady’s arm. Even with all the injuries they’ve sustained over the past month, New England continues to hum along, scoring no fewer than twenty-seven points in each of the last three games. Believe me, folks, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that usually when you bet against Bill Belichick and his charges, you lose, ESPECIALLY when you think you have an advantage.
- SLEEPER: Titans v Texans (Last Week, 33 points, 346 yards allowed, 1 turnover, 2 sacks @ Patriots) – Lastly, let’s take a look at a bitter rivalry between two teams with deep historical ties, the Houston Texans and the franchise that preceded them in Southern Texas, the Tennessee Titans. While the only place the Titans are going to is towards the No. One Overall Pick in next May’s NFL Draft, they could be a shrewd pickup for someone whose current defense has the misfortune of a bad matchup. Again, that’s what it’s all about in Fantasy, folks!!!! The 25.6 points they allow is a bit misleading for they’ve been slightly above average defensively, ranking fourteenth in total yards allowed (344.1), with the disparity attributed to the wealth of turnovers committed by their young counterparts on offense (28). They’ve been solid against the pass (234.0 yards, 9th Overall) and have fared respectably against the run (4.0 yards per carry, 11th Overall), but where they’ve made their money has been in the business of pressure. Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton along with his old mentor Dick LeBeau have done a helluva job designing pressure packages, as the Titans have registered thirty-seven sacks this season, eighth-most in the league. This is significant, because their opponent this week, the Texans, are now likely on their fourth starting Quarterback, as the newly signed Brandon Weeden replaced T.J. Yates last weekend after the latter tore his ACL. Yates, of course was signed midway through the season after Ryan Mallett was released, and was most recently starting in place of the concussed Brian Hoyer. Confusing, I know. Anyways, Weeden has only been in town for less than a month, and is likely operating with a very condensed playbook. He’s struggled mightily with pressure throughout his career, which makes him suspect to exploitation in my eyes.