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Thursday Night Lineup Calls
The 2012 fantasy regular season has gone to the wayside. Fantasy owners are either celebrating their hard-earned playoff berths or lamenting narrow losses that eliminated them from contention. Some owners are pulling down data and turning the page with an eye toward 2013.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t pay attention to the final three weeks (two, in fantasy terms) of the NFL season. Owners eliminated from the playoff chase take on the role of fans whose teams are eliminated from the postseason. Calls of “Anybody but that guy” can be heard across fantasyland.
We begin this all-important Week 15 with the last of the much-maligned Thursday night games. This week, fans and fantasy owners will watch the Bengals and Eagles battle in Philadelphia. It’s an interesting game on many levels, with storylines developing that will extend into the offseason. Let’s dig inside the matchup to find the heroes of the day.
Andy Dalton doesn’t light up the yardage column (230 or fewer in five consecutive games), but he’s been a consistent contributor for fantasy owners in the past month. Dalton’s run of four consecutive multi-touchdown games ended in Week 14, though he did complete a shovel pass to Andrew Hawkins that counted as a touchdown pass. It was essentially a running play, but fantasy owners will celebrate the touchdown pass.
This week, Dalton takes aim at a Philadelphia defense that has allowed the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Opposing quarterbacks have produced a total of 28 touchdowns (25 passing) against the Eagles this season. Dalton ranks eighth in my Week 15 quarterback rankings.
A.J. Green is in the midst of a three-game scoring drought. Green struggled in Week 14 against the Cowboys, leaving several opportunities on the ground in a huge spot. He finished the Week 14 loss with three receptions (eight targets) on 44 yards. The vaunted Philadelphia secondary has been impressive in name only this year, having surrendered the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers (157 yards and 1.3 touchdowns allowed per game).
Owners in PPR leagues may take a turn toward Andrew Hawkins for their back-end third or fourth receiver slot this week. Hawkins has been targeted 16 times in the past two weeks, producing 11 receptions for 91 yards (and a touchdown on a shovel pass). He’s on the board as my No. 39 wide receiver this week.
My infatuation with Jermaine Gresham continues unabated. He remains a steady, reliable target for Andy Dalton, having caught at least three passes in every game this season. Granted, he’s only eclipsed 43 receiving yards in two of his past seven starts, but I can’t look past his high weekly target count (6.15 targets per game). Let’s face it. The tight end position has been a wildly inconsistent position to navigate this season. Gresham has been one of the few stable options.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been dominant in the ground game during the past month. Green-Ellis has run for at least 89 yards in four straight games, and has actually caught seven passes in the past two weeks. He’s in position for another strong game this weekend. The Philadelphia run defense still ranks among the league leaders (10th-fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs). However, DeMarco Murray and Doug Martin have had great success on the ground in the past two weeks (83 and 128 yards, respectively). Start “The Law Firm” with confidence. He’s rumbling at No. 11 in my Week 15 rankings.
Keep an eye on the transaction log for Week 15. Josh Brown was picked up ahead of the Week 14 game against Dallas and contributed four field goal conversions. If he stays with the team, he rates a back-end K1 play. Mike Nugent slides back into the slot if he returns to action.
The Cincinnati defense is a top-5 option this week against the porous Philadelphia offensive line. Granted, they did afford Foles time to make plays against the Buccaneers, but this is a much stiffer test. The Bengals have produced a league-leading total of 42 sacks with 23 turnovers. Persistent pressure off the edge may force Foles to press and make mistakes.
Let’s flip over to the Philadelphia offense.
Nick Foles took advantage of a great spot against the porous Tampa Bay pass defense in Week 14 and pulled off a shocking last-second win with a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin. Foles passed for 381 yards with two touchdowns while adding 27 yards and a rushing touchdown in the upset victory. He’s a non-starter for Thursday night against the Bengals. Cincinnati has allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks this season.
Though Foles is a difficult play this week, his high quarterback rating and yardage output of the past two week puts his wide receivers on the mark in deeper leagues. Jeremy Maclin has caught a total of 18 passes in the past three weeks for 197 yards with the aforementioned touchdown in Week 14. Maclin sits in the No. 27 slot in my Week 15 rankings.
Perhaps it’s the “Big 10 apologist” in me, but I’m more excited about the upside of second option Jason Avant against this Cincinnati secondary. Avant has amassed 11 receptions on 17 targets in the past two weeks for 212 yards (79 yards versus Dallas, followed by 133 yards against the Buccaneers). He’s entrenched in the No. 34 slot in my Week 15 rankings.
Red zone threat Riley Cooper only merits a look-see in deeper, touchdown-heavy leagues. Cooper’s tallied six receptions on 14 targets for 68 yards. Cooper stands to take on a sizable role in Week 15 with tight end Brent Celek sidelined because of a concussion.
Now, here’s the $1,000,000 question for this matchup. What do you do with running back Bryce Brown, who was erased from the box score by the Tampa Bay run defense in Week 14. Brown had electrified the fantasy world for two weeks and vaulted into a top-10 role despite the Buccaneers’ lofty ranking against running backs.
This week, Brown squares off with the Bengals in a more advantageous matchup. The Bengals have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to running backs (139 total yards per game with 11 touchdowns). I’m not running away from Brown this week. I can’t look away from his big-play potential. As a result, he sits in the No. 7 spot in my running back rankings. Go hard or go home.
Finally, we can safely tuck the Philadelphia defense away for the duration of the season. I post Alex Henery on the board as a kicking “Ninja” for owners replacing Robbie Gould this week. The Bengals have allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to kickers, including a huge number of field goal conversions (23). The Eagles have scored 78 points in the past three weeks.