Fantasy owners suffered one major injury this week with the loss of Antonio Brown to a partially torn calf muscle, and another two less serious, but still lineup-changing injuries with Rex Burkhead and Marqise Lee. The loss of Brown will certainly change the outlook of the fantasy finals for a lot of teams, but Burkhead and Lee can most likely be replaced with existing pieces.
Burkhead was a waiver wire pick-up around midseason, so the chances are you have your RB1 and RB2 set without him. Perhaps you'll need to find a replacement flex, but your roster should have that if you are still playing in Week 16.
Lee has been holding on to WR3 value in PPR formats all season, and had scored in 3 of his last 6 games heading into Week 15. However, Lee suffered a sprained ankle against the Texans, leaving owners with zeroes across the board. The injury could put his availability in question for the final two games of the season. The reality is, with Dede Westbrook, Cole, and Mickens playing well this weekend, the team may choose not to rush him back.
Then we have Brown, the #1 WR in fantasy football. Losing a stud on your team is never easy, and losing them in Week 15 is even harder! The fantasy playoffs for most are Week 16, meaning you will not have to figure out who you are going to play in place of the guy you took 1st overall in your draft. Even I have to answer this question in my own personal fantasy league where I am the commissioner, and will be playing for the league championship.
The waiver wire is a barren wasteland at this point, so our options are limited, to put it nicely. JuJu Smith-Shuster is owned in about 85 percent of leagues, so he is likely not available. But Martavis Bryant is owned in fewer than 60 percent of leagues, making him someone to look for. If he's not there, look for guys like Cole, Randall Cobb, or Marquise Goodwin (terrible matchup, though).
Lastly, with the Falcons' win on Monday night, the Packers are now officially eliminated from the playoffs. My bet is the Packers sit Aaron Rodgers to prevent further injury to that healing collar bone. That would put Brett Hundley back under center, rendering all pass-catchers not named Devante Adams useless. With the Vikings up next on the schedule, I'd cut Rodgers now and hope someone picks him up.
Blake Bortles – Jaguars: Blake Bortles has been on a tear in December, now racking up 903 passing yards and 7 touchdowns, with no interceptions. All that work has him sporting a 129.1 QB rating for the month.
This week Bortles accounted for 326 of those yards, and 3 of the TDs. All told, Bortles finished Week 15 with 25.04 fantasy points in standard scoring formats, and a top-5 ranking at QB. Next week he gets a 49ers defense giving up the 3rd-most fantasy points to QBs, so he will again be in the QB1 rankings for me.
Eli Manning – Giants: The Giants must have found the Fountain of Youth, and put some of the water in Eli Manning's cup this week, because the soon-to-be 37-year-old QB put up a monster game against the Eagles' normally stout defense.
Manning was able to toss the pigskin around 57 times, completing 37 of them for 434 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Despite this outburst, Manning will be more of a mid-range QB2 in Week 16 as the Giants travel to Arizona to take on a Cardinals defense that has recently held Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins to 355 passing yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs combined over the last two games.
Kareem Hunt – Chiefs: Hunt and the Chiefs offense seems to have awaken from their slumber. Hunt finished Week 15 with 155 rushing yards, 7 catches for 51 yards, and 2 touchdowns at home against the Chargers. Hunt was on pace to finish the week as fantasy football's #1-ranked player before Todd Gurley went nuts on the Seahawks defense Sunday afternoon.
Hunt will head into the finals as an elite RB option against a Dolphins defense that has given up the 7th-most points to RBs this season. He gets an added bonus in PPR formats, possibly as high as the #1 overall RB for Week 16.
Kenyan Drake – Dolphins: In a down week for fantasy RBs, Drake's 78 rushing yards, 6 catches, 35 receiving yards, and a single touchdown where enough to rank him among the top 10 RBs for Week 15. It's not that 113 total yards and a touchdown is bad, but that would normally put a RB in the upper end of the RB2 ranks.
Drake is clearly the RB to own in Miami with Jay Ajayi now in Philadelphia. Week 16 has the Dolphins traveling to Kansas City to take on a Chiefs defense that currently gives up the 18th-most fantasy points to RBs this season at 18.5 PPG. He'll be a mid-range RB2 that could be a bust if 1) the Dolphins fall behind and abandon the run, or 2) Damien Williams returns and takes some of the passing-down work from Drake.
Keelan Cole and Jaydon Mickens – Jaguars: Cole and Mickens may have entered the week largely unknown by NFL fans outside of Jacksonville, but you can bet that isn't the case after Week 15! Cole finished as the #1 fantasy WR this week thanks to his wrangling in 7 of 9 targets for 186 yards and a touchdown. Mickens wasn't far behind as he reeled in 4 of 5 targets for 61 yards and 2 touchdowns.
It's not often you'll find two WRs from the same team in the top 5 for fantasy WRs in a given week, but that is what happened this week as Cole finished 1st, and Mickens finished 4th. Cole is owned in roughly 5 percent of fantasy leagues, while Mickens isn't owned in a single league that I could find.
Cole is certainly on the WR3 map for Week 16 against a 49ers secondary that gives up the 14th-most fantasy points to WRs at 21.2 PPG. Mickens is a guy I'd want to see do it again before I play him. With the season at an end, owners will want to lock his name away to see what happens in the offseason.
Sterling Shepard – Giants: Shepard finished just behind Keelan Cole this week when he hauled in 11 of 16 targets for 139 yards and a touchdown against the Eagles. The yardage difference (189 – 139) is what gave Cole the slight edge, but #2 isn't a bad spot for Shepard, or the Giants at this point.
Shepard had two 100-yard games prior to this week, but they were spread out over Weeks 3 and 10. Manning is circling just outside the top 20 fantasy QBs this season, making it difficult for anyone on the Giants not named Evan Engram hard to trust. With that said, I'd consider Shepard a WR2/3 against the Cardinals if he remains in the slot.
Greg Olsen – Panthers: Some said Olsen was due for a breakout performance, after he had put up duds in the previous 4 games this season (4 catches, 38 yards, 0 TDs). I personally didn't put my trust in him this week, a move I regret after Olsen rattled off 9 catches, 116 receiving yards, and a touchdown against the Packers.
If Olsen finished the week with no added soreness in his foot, he has a juicy Week 16 matchup at home against the Bucs. Tampa Bay is giving up the 2nd-fewest fantasy points to TEs this season (5.9 PPG), but Olsen isn't your typical TE. I'd put him right up there in the top-5 TE rankings if he is healthy.
Baltimore Ravens defense: It's not really a shock that a defense finished atop the fantasy ranks in the same week they played the Browns, but the Ravens finished 3 points ahead of the Rams and Vikings for that honor this week. And as we all know, 3 points for a defense is like 10 points for any other position.
The Ravens defense held the Browns to 10 points, while racking up 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 recovered fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. All told the Ravens put up 20.00 fantasy points this week, and head into Week 16 as the #2-ranked fantasy defense this season behind the Jaguars.
There's absolutely no chance they catch the Jaguars defense this season, but they are a top-end defense at home against the Colts.
Andy Dalton – Bengals: Dalton and the Bengals can't forget about Week 15 soon enough, after losing to the Vikings 34-7. The lone Bengals touchdown came in garbage time as Giovani Bernard scored on a 2-yard run. As for Dalton, he finished the game 11 of 22 passing for 113 yards, no TDs, and 2 INTs.
Dalton had his worst game of the season by a large margin, and has now thrown for fewer than 150 yards in back-to-back games. The Bengals are at home in Week 16 to take on the Lions, whose defense is in the middle of the NFL pack (16th) with 19.8 PPG allowed to QBs this season. The Lions have 16 INTs this season, tied for 4th in the NFL. With Dalton and the Bengals losing 3 straight games, I'd try and find other options for the fantasy championship.
Philip Rivers – Chargers: Rivers was absolutely terrible on the road against the Chiefs this week, completing just 20 of 36 passes for 227 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions. Rivers was gambling in a game he needed to win, but he crapped out far more than he hit the number he was shooting for on the dice.
Rivers has been a QB1 for most of the season, so owners probably haven't invested in a quality backup to this point. But with the Jets and their 11th-ranked fantasy defense against QBs this season up next on the schedule, Rivers will be a low-end QB1 that could end up disappointing. FYI: The weather in East Rutherford, NJ on Sunday is expected to be in the low 40s, with a chance of rain during the game.
Carlos Hyde – 49ers: Carlos Hyde flopped in Week 15 against the Titans, gaining just 25 yards on 16 carries (1.6 YPC), but he did add 14 yards on his 2 receptions. The reality is the 49ers just didn't need Hyde much this week with Jimmy Garoppolo looking the part of a franchise QB.
When the 49ers had Brian Hoyer and C.J. Bethard at QB, they were checking down enough to give Hyde RB2 value thanks to his total yardage. But now that Garoppolo doesn't need to check down every other play, Hyde isn't a RB you want in your lineup to finish out the season. On top of that, San Francisco hosts Jacksonville in Week 16, making all 49ers offensive players people to avoid.
Lamar Miller – Texans: Speaking of Jacksonville's defense, Lamar Miller is a testament to why offensive players should be avoided. Miller managed to carry the ball just 9 times for 32 yards, and added 1 more yard on 2 catches against the Jaguars.
Miller has been a major disappointment to fantasy owners this season, managing just 3.6 YPC, without a 100-yard game, and scoring just 6 TDs scattered throughout the season. His best game of the season was back in Week 4 against the Titans when he ran for 75 yards and a touchdown, and added 4 catches for 56 yards and another touchdown.
Dez Bryant – Cowboys: This week exemplifies why I don't like Dez Bryant as a fantasy WR. He was held to just 2 catches (4 targets) for 59 yards and no touchdowns against the Raiders. The Raiders doubled their INT total this week, going from 2 to 4 thanks to Dak Prescott. And because of lack of quality QB play, Bryant suffered once again this season.
The Cowboys get Ezekiel Elliot back for Week 16, which should help Bryant and the Cowboys passing game. My problem with Bryant next week is the chip on Zeke's shoulder that is surely the size of Mount Everest. With Prescott struggling lately, and Zeke fully healthy, I'd look for the Cowboys to employ a run-heavy game plan against the Seahawks to see if he can duplicate what Todd Gurley did (152 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards, and 4 TDs).
Doug Baldwin – Seahawks: Baldwin put up a dud in Week 15, managing to draw just 4 targets, catching 1 of them for 6 empty yards. It wasn't like Baldwin just didn't produce this week; rather, the entire Seahawks team was outplayed on all 3 levels of the game (offense, defense, special teams).
There's not much to say here other than chalk it up as a bad week, and move on. Baldwin will look to bounce back in Week 16 against a Cowboys defense giving up the 5th-most fantasy points to WRs this season.
Jimmy Graham – Seahawks: Speaking of the Seahawks, Jimmy Graham did the unthinkable for a fantasy starter… he actually lost his owners points this week! Graham saw 3 targets in Week 15, catching 1 of them for -1 yards. The negative stat mean Graham actually lost his owners 0.10 points this week. It would have been better to leave your TE spot empty, rather than play Graham in Week 15!
Like Baldwin, chalk this up and move on. TE is always a boom-or-bust fantasy position, so play him as you normally would, and just hope he gets back into the end zone against the Cowboys.
Houston Texans defense: Like Jimmy Graham, the Texans defense actually lost its fantasy owners 3.00 points this week after they gave up 45 points to the Jaguars, while netting just a single sack for defensive stats.
Far too many people in the media don't respect the Jaguars offense, but Bortles & Co. came out guns blazing, and didn't take their foot off the pedal until the final whistle blew. The Texans take on the now Antonio Brown-less Steelers in Week 16, but one man does not a team make! If you are one of the roughly 50 percent of people that own the Texans defense, I'd cut them for either the Chargers or Redskins immediately.