Play Grossman, sit Gresham in Week 15
How are your fantasy playoffs going so far? If you’re still reading this column, I’d guess pretty well. Only two (or three) more weeks of using our Position vs. Fantasy Defensive Points Allowed tool, and you’ll be raising your league’s trophy.
As always, please remember that the players listed are mostly meant to be borderline guys, who need reasons for you to play or bench them. You won’t see recommendations to start guys like Drew Brees and Ray Rice, because you should always start Drew Brees and Ray Rice. Also, any league rankings mentioned reference fantasy ranking, and not real ones, unless otherwise noted.
Note: The fantasy points per game (FPPG) referenced below are from FOXSports.com standard leagues.
Thursday game: Jaguars at Falcons
Saturday game: Cowboys at Buccaneers
Stay away: Philip Rivers, Chargers (vs. Ravens)
Rivers has been on a roll lately, throwing three touchdown passes in each of his last two games. He might be back on his game, but he’s faced a couple of soft opponents (Jaguars and Bills), and that’s not the case this week, when the big, bad Ravens – who rank first in the league with 10.5 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks – come to town. I’m not saying that Rivers’ owners should stay away from him at all costs, but if you have a strong QB2, think about using him. This is a really tough matchup.
• The Steelers may be without QB Ben Roethlisberger against the 49ers on Monday night, but with their ferocious defense, they’ve always got a chance to win. The current version of the Steel Curtain ranks fourth with 12.8 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks, and that’s not good for Niners QB Alex Smith, who’s often under consideration as a fantasy matchup starter. Avoid Smith in all but the most desperate of circumstances this week.
• Michael Vick and Cam Newton have very difficult matchups against the Eagles and Texans, respectively, so they almost have to be mentioned here. I’d play ‘em in most cases, anyway.
Play, play, play: Rex Grossman, Redskins (at Giants)
Grossman was in this space last week, and posted a solid fantasy outing against the weak Patriots’ defense, throwing for 252 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 15, he gets to face a poor Giants’ unit that has been lit up for 121 points in its last three games, and ranks 31st with 22 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Grossman isn’t Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo – the three signal callers that have feasted on the Giants recently – but he’s not bad, and he has averaged 36 pass attempts with 259 yards over his last five outings. You may not want Grossman leading your real-life team, but in fantasy football, he’s a startable option this Sunday.
• Forget the fourth-quarter comebacks, the wins, the Tebowing, etc. The best thing about Tim Tebow as a fantasy quarterback is his running ability. He usually gets enough points on the ground to help you, and that skill limits how bad his bad games can be. This week might be a bit of a different story, as Tebow and the Broncos host a Patriots’ defense that ranks last in the NFL with 308.7 passing yards per game allowed, and is 29th with 21.1 FPPG given up to opposing quarterbacks. Tebow isn’t good enough to win an aerial duel with Tom Brady, but he can probably throw for 200 yards, run for 50 more and account for a couple of touchdowns. You’ll take that from a fantasy starter.
• With 2,859 passing yards (14th in the NFL) and 21 touchdowns (T-9th), Mark Sanchez is an underrated fantasy quarterback. On Sunday, he’ll face a Philly defense that ranks 20th with 18.9 FPPG allowed to opposing passers. Don’t be afraid to start the Sanchize if your other QB has a tough matchup.
Stay away: Rashard Mendenhall (at 49ers)
The 49ers’ rushing defense is excellent. They’re allowing a league-low 70.5 rushing yards per game, with the next-lowest team at 85.8. They’re also tops with 3.2 yards per carry allowed, and 9.5 FPPG permitted to opposing runners. They’re so good that you should probably start only top-tier studs against them, and Mendenhall – who hasn’t cracked the 100-yard barrier since Week 6 – doesn’t fit that bill. Yes, Mendenhall’s workload and eight touchdowns on the season always make him a threat to produce something, but this matchup is as bad as it gets.
• In C.J. Spiller’s three starts, his total yards from scrimmage have been 70-102-56, and he’s touched the ball an average of 18 times per game. He’s a consideration for workload reasons alone, but his production hasn’t been great, and this week he’ll face a Dolphins’ defense that ranks fourth with 13.7 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks. You can do better than Spiller for your fantasy playoff lineup.
• The Panthers’ backfield duo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams was just OK against the Falcons – if you take Williams’ 74-yard touchdown run out of the equation, anyway. I know, I know … cherry-picking stats that way isn’t fair, but as we’ve noted here before, the Panthers’ pair not only has to share the rushing workload with each other, but with QB Cam Newton as well. Both backs are averaging fewer than 10 carries per game this season, and you want to start them against the Texans, who rank third with 13.1 FPPG allowed to opposing rushers?
Play, play, play: Felix Jones, Cowboys (at Buccaneers)
With DeMarco Murray done for the season, Jones is the last man standing in Dallas. If you’ve had him all year, and lamented over the fourth-round draft pick you wasted on him, it’s payback time. The Buccaneers rank at the bottom of the league with 25.4 FPPG allowed to opposing running backs, and they’ve allowed 19 touchdowns on the ground. I grabbed Jones off waivers in one league this week, and I’m starting him. You should, too.
• The Rams have gotten a little bit better against the run lately, but they’re still 26th in the league with 21.4 FPPG allowed to opposing running backs. Cedric Benson, a good-but-not-great fantasy runner, is almost a must-start against them.
• With James Starks out of action, Ryan Grant had 10 carries for 85 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders in Week 14. Grant and the Packers have a friendly matchup coming against the Chiefs, who rank 27th with 21.6 FPPG allowed to opposing running backs. Shonn Greene shredded the Chiefs with 129 rushing yards last week, and though Grant won’t get the ball as much as Greene did, he’s still a solid bet to produce as a RB3/flex starter.
• Beanie Wells has a great matchup against the Browns (20.7 FPPG). If you had him on the bench against the 49ers last week, get him back in there.
Stay away: Michael Crabtree, 49ers (vs. Steelers)
Remember when we mentioned above how good the Steelers have been against opposing quarterbacks? They’ve been even better at limiting the fantasy production of wide receivers, ranking second with 15 FPPG allowed. Crabtree has been a solid PPR wideout with 55 receptions so far, but expecting him to get a lot of yards or score this week is a risky proposition.
• DeSean Jackson celebrated Michael Vick’s return on Sunday with his first touchdown since Week 6, but his four-catch, 59-yard game was just so-so otherwise. With Jeremy Maclin once again iffy due to a hamstring injury, Jackson could find himself on Revis Island against a Jets’ D that ranks fourth with 16.9 FPPG allowed to opposing receivers. I’ve been using Jackson as a matchup play in a 10-team PPR league, and he’ll be on my bench this week.
• The Chargers rank 11th in the league with 19.5 FPPG allowed to opposing wide receivers, but they’re fourth in receptions allowed to wideouts with just under nine per game. Anquan Boldin comes to San Diego with a reputation that surpasses his production. Boldin has caught 55 passes for 836 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s scored only once in the last six weeks, and has averaged less than 50 yards per game during that time. Try to avoid Boldin if you can.
Play, play, play: Santana Moss, Redskins (at Giants)
I’d love to start any receiver against the Giants, who rank 31st with 25.9 FPPG allowed to opposing wideouts. Moss caught three passes for 81 yards and a score against the Patriots in Week 14, but he seems to be Rex Grossman’s preferred option, with 28 targets over the last three games. If you want to start fellow Redskins’ pass catcher Jabar Gaffney as well, I won’t argue a bit.
• In many weeks, it’s hard to recommend a Bronco wideout, simply because Tim Tebow doesn’t throw very often. This week’s matchup against the weak Pats’ pass defense could be a different story, and Demaryius Thomas has emerged as Tebow’s favorite target, with 11 receptions for 222 yards and three touchdowns in the last two weeks. The Patriots rank at the bottom of the league with 30.4 FPPG allowed to opposing wide receivers, and that opens the door for another big game from Thomas.
• Let’s stop picking on the Patriots and Giants and move on to the shorthanded and terrible Vikings, who rank 30th with 25.1 FPPG allowed to opposing wide receivers. Drew Brees might throw for 900 yards against them this week, and Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham are always strong fantasy starters. It might be a good time to try Lance Moore as well. Moore has five touchdowns in his last six games, and while his receptions and yards have been inconsistent, this matchup is too good to pass up.
• Did you know that Antonio Brown has caught 37 passes for 663 yards over his last seven games? Those numbers are both significantly better than his more famous teammate, Mike Wallace. The chances of a Roethlisberger-free Steelers’ attack is cause for worry, but against the unimpressive 49ers’ pass defense (22.3 FPPG to opposing WRs), you should start a stud like Brown if you can.
Stay away: Jermaine Gresham, Bengals (at Rams)
Gresham is as inconsistent as most fantasy tight ends, but he has five touchdowns on the season, and shows just enough flashes to keep you interested. Unfortunately, he’s headed for a matchup against the Rams, whose only apparent skill seems to be keeping opposing tight ends in check better than any team in the league (3.5 FPPG allowed). Everyone has to be good at something, right?
• Greg Olsen has been one of Cam Newton’s favorite targets this season, and he had a big TD against the Falcons in Week 14. However, Olsen has caught just nine passes for 121 yards in his last four games, and will face a Texans’ defense that ranks third in the league with 5.1 FPPG allowed to opposing tight ends. There are only a handful of tight ends that you can’t bench, and Gresham isn’t one of them.
Play, play, play: Jake Ballard, Giants (vs. Redskins)
Ballard has been solid lately, with 10 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown over his last three games, and he’s been targeted 24 times by Eli Manning in his last four outings. The Redskins’ defense ranks 31st in the league with 9.5 FPPG allowed to fantasy tight ends, and that’s not just because Rob Gronkowski lit them up in Week 14. If you’re looking for a matchup starter, Ballard is a pretty good one.
• Dallas Clark returned to the Colts’ lineup in Week 14, and though he had only one reception for 12 yards, he was targeted six times by QB Dan Orlovsky. Against the Titans, who rank 27th with 8.8 FPPG allowed to opposing tight ends, Clark appears to be an interesting matchup sleeper. Note: Clark missed Wednesday’s practice with a neck injury, so keep an eye on his status if he interests you.