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Bush, Bell earn sleeper status
The preliminary rounds are over. Fantasy owners have traveled a long and winding road to these fantasy playoffs, the culmination of hours and hours of prep work and highs and lows while embracing their inner fandom. Along the way, owners have eked out narrow wins and crushing losses to two decimal places. None of that matters now. The playoff brackets are set and owners are looking forward to a mighty interesting slate of games for this week.
It got started on Thursday night with the Bengals and Eagles. Owners celebrated an early touchdown run or BenJarvus Green-Ellis en route to his 100-yard night. Those who trusted Bryce Brown for a bounce-back effort on a short week weren’t as fortunate. The rookie tailback lost another fumble (that was returned for a touchdown) and produced just 34 rushing yards on 16 carries (2.1 yards per carry). After setting the league on fire in Weeks 12 and 13, Brown has generated 40 yards on 28 carries in the past two weeks.
Shake it off. There’s still plenty of football to be played and places to find points. Let’s dig inside this playoff edition of “Lineup Calls,” which includes the emergence of a new would-be hero in “The Big Apple.”
C.J. Spiller vs. SEA
The Seahawks’ obliteration of the Cardinals bolsters their defensive totals as we head into the stretch run. Still, I’m not looking past Spiller as a top-tier RB1 this week. The Seattle run defense had been more porous in recent weeks, and dual-threat running backs have made an impact in the passing game (65 receptions for 510 yards). That’s where Spiller makes his impact.
He’d amassed at least 84 total yards in seven consecutive games prior to last week’s slowdown by the Rams (52 total yards on eight touches).
Chris Johnson vs. NYJ
Johnson looks to rebound from back-to-back disappointing turns against the Texans and Colts. He’s produced just 95 rushing yards on 32 carries (2.97 yards per carry), adding seven receptions for 35 yards.
Johnson is in a better spot this week against the Jets, a defensive unit that has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to running backs. Opposing tailbacks have averaged 144.5 total yards per game.
Alfred Morris at CLE
Morris has rushed for at least 76 yards in five consecutive games, including a current string of three consecutive 100-yard efforts. He’s been a workhorse in the past month, and that will certainly be the case again this week against the Browns.
Look for Kyle Shanahan to lean heavily on Morris with Griffin III recovering from his knee injury. The Browns have allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to running backs (153 total yards per game).
David Wilson at ATL
Wilson lit up the Saints for 100 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns in Week 14. Ahmad Bradshaw has now been ruled “OUT” for Sunday’s tilt in Atlanta, putting Wilson in a huge spot against the porous Atlanta run defense. Atlanta has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to running backs this season (140 total yards and one touchdown per game). My updated Week 15 rankings put Wilson at ninth.
Matt Forte vs. GB
The Bears are obviously slumping miserably down the stretch, but Forte has quietly posted strong back-to-back performances (96 and 119 total yards against the Seahawks and Vikings, respectively). Forte’s been a bigger contributor to the passing game, and that’s where I expect to see him have an impact in this game. He amassed 80 total yards on 11 touches in the Week 2 loss to Green Bay.
Knowshon Moreno at BAL
Moreno posted a fantastic stat line in Week 14 against the Raiders, producing 167 total yards on 36 touches. The Broncos are intent on establishing balance in the offense down the stretch, and I expect to see another heavy workload from Moreno. The Ravens have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points to running backs, certainly uncharacteristic of this unit. I still love Haloti Ngata in the defensive interior, but opposing running backs have averaged 117.8 rushing yards per game.
Darren McFadden vs. KC
McFadden is reportedly ready to run after leaving the Week 14 loss to Denver early because of his injured ankle. He tallied 64 total yards and scored a receiving touchdown before exiting that game. He’s in a great spot this week against the Kansas City defense at home. The Chiefs have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to running backs this season. McFadden performed well before exiting the Week 14 tilt, but it becomes a huge question of trust in this playoff week given his limited reps since first sustaining the injury. I ranked him 18th this week with upside.
Reggie Bush vs. JAC
The Jets stomped all over the Jaguars in Week 14. Bush is in line to do the same in tandem with Daniel Thomas this week. The Jaguars have allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs this season (161.1 total yards and 1.16 touchdowns allowed per game). Bush racked up 103 total yards on 19 touches in Week 14 against San Francisco.
Shonn Greene at TEN
The Jets turned to the ground game early and often against the Jaguars in Week 14. Greene logged 20 carries for 77 yards with a touchdown, his first since Week 7. Greene has topped 70 rushing yard in three consecutive games and four times in his past six starts. I’m calling for another big workload in a strong spot against the Titans on Monday night.
Opposing running backs have averaged 161 total yards per game against the Titans this season. The game plan for New York will not change in Week 15, and Greene stands to take on a huge workload with Bilal Powell banged up.
Joique Bell at ARI
He began as a guy that I liked to reference in the first part of the season so that I could do a Shaggy imitation. Bell has become a solid Flex option for fantasy owners and may be in the top slot for the Lions this week against the Cardinals. Bell has generated 102 or more total yards in back-to-back weeks and has been active in the passing game. That’s where I expect to see him make his mark against the Cardinals. The Cardinals have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points to running backs this season.
Frank Gore at NE
Vince Wilfork swallows opposing running backs. That is one fundamental truth in this ever-changing NFL world. The Patriots have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season (89.5 rushing yards and 0.5 rushing touchdowns per game).
Gore has scored in back-to-back games while averaging at least 4.4 yards per carry in four of the past five weeks. He remains a solid RB2 option this week, though I slapped my lowest ranking in recent memory on him (19th).
Stevan Ridley vs. SF
Bill Belichick loves your fantasy team, as evidenced by Ridley’s continued trips to the end zone, including a touchdown run against the previously impenetrable Houston run defense. The 49ers are the top-ranked unit against the run (three total touchdowns allowed), so this is clearly not a rock-solid spot for this fantasy hero. Still, the 49ers won’t shut down Tom Brady’s offense entirely, and Ridley will be there to pick up red zone touches. He’s a mid-RB2 option this week.
Michael Turner vs. NYG
Turner scored a touchdown against the Panthers in Week 14, but generated just 14 rushing yards on seven carries in the 30-20 loss. The veteran tailback has scored in five of his past six games, but has been limited to 17 rushing yards or fewer in three of those games. I can’t trust him against the surging New York defense (seventh-fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs).
Chris “Beanie” Wells vs. DET
Wells has practiced fully this week, a rare feat for the veteran running back. He’s been limited to 2.3 yards per carry since returning to action, and produced just 18 rushing yards on six carries in the 58-0 shellacking at the hands of the Seahawks in Week 14.
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