The first round of the fantasy playoffs is over (for most), and now we move on to the 2ndround where both the teams and the start/sit questions get harder. Matt Forte and Melvin Gordon were injured last week, leaving their owners scrambling to the waiver wire in the hopes of finding their replacement. The Bears get Alshon Jeffery back, which seems to be the only good news they can get these days.
Fantasy owners will need to hit the waiver wire and grab RB Kenneth Farrow from the Chargers, RB Bilal Powell from the Jets, and the Bills, Falcons, or Dolphins defense for this week. There are no real options for streaming quarterbacks, but I do like Adam Thielen from the Vikings if you need a filler WR this week. Even though I hate doing it, I will mention that it is time to grab Kai Forbath at kicker, as the Vikings' most common scoring chances lately have come in the way of field goals.
Remember this: even if you lost last weekend and are in the consolation bracket now, you shouldn't give up and walk away. If you can't win the league title, the least you can do is make sure someone else doesn't either, by staying active on the waiver wire. Second place may be the first loser, but misery loves company too!
Kirk Cousins – Redskins: Cousins has earned himself a lot of money via free agency with his play this season, ranking 3rd in the NFL for passing yards (4,045), tied for 9th in passing TDs (23), and 16th for interceptions thrown (9). Statistically speaking, Cousins is the 4th-best QB in the NFL this year, which is amazing when you consider that he was more in the 12-ish range last year when the season ended.
The Panthers secondary is an absolute mess, giving up the 6th-most fantasy points to QBs this season at 21.4 PPG. With that, they have also given up the 5th-most passing touchdowns with 24, but have also grabbed the 2nd-most INTs with 15. Cousins commits too many mistakes with the ball, so I'm going to bank on him being a fantasy stud in Week 15.
Derek Carr – Raiders: Carr is another QB that has taken a step forward this season, ranking 8th in passing yards (3,492), 8th in passing TDs (24), and in INTs he has 5. If the Raiders threw more, Carr could easily be in the top-5 fantasy QBs like Cousins.
Since the Raiders don't pass as much as the Redskins, Carr's ceiling is somewhat limited. However, playing the Chargers in a rivalry game could certainly change that. The Raiders and Chargers love to run up the score on each other when they play, so perhaps the Raiders coaching staff will let Carr air it out to Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in this one, rather than grind it out with Latavius Murray. I'm setting Carr in my top 6 for fantasy QBs this week.
Bilal Powell – Jets: Matt Forte is dealing with a torn meniscus, putting his season in doubt with the Jets out of the playoffs. That puts Powell into the starting lineup, both in fantasy as well as reality. Powell took over for Forte last week and managed to churn out 179 total yards and 2 touchdowns against the 49ers.
Things won't be quite so easy this week, as the Dolphins defense isn't the same train wreck the 49ers are. However, the Jets are sure to lean on Powell heavily in a game that could easily turn into a running battle with Matt Moore and Bryce Petty the two starting quarterbacks.
Kenneth Farrow – Chargers: Much like Powell, Farrow is taking over for an injured starter in Melvin Gordon (hip and knee). Farrow is an undrafted rookie, so there are a lot of unknowns there for him in general, not to mention that this will also be his first game as a starting RB in the NFL.
While there are a lot of questions about how Farrow will handle the starting job, the fact that he has it for this week makes him a must-own player in all formats. The good news is he draws a Raiders defense that is allowing the 6th-most fantasy points to RBs this season at 21.0 PPG. Farrow was a dual-purpose type of RB in college, making him an interesting flex play in the pros for Week 15.
Alshon Jeffery – Bears: Jeffery is back from his 4-game suspension for the Bears, and just in time for fantasy owners looking to solve problems at WR or in the flex. The concern is that he has Matt Barkley throwing to him, but Barkley has been surprisingly solid with an average of 240 passing yards, with 4 TDs and 2 INTs over his 3-game stretch as a starter.
Jefferey is the Bears' clear No. 1 WR now that he is back, and they need him as much as his fantasy owners do with Cameron Meredith being inconsistent, and both Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson dealing with injuries. Jeffery steps back into a WR2 role for fantasy purposes, and should be played as such.
Stefon Diggs – Vikings:Diggs has been a hot or cold kind of fantasy WR, with highs of 182 and 164 receiving yards, and lows of 18 and 37 receiving yards. He's now gone 3 games with fewer than 60 receiving yards, which tells me it is right about time for him to break out.
The Vikings play the Colts in Week 15, and the Colts have given up 165 receptions, 2,104 receiving yards, and 13 TDs to WRs this season. The Vikings are still in the playoff race, and with Adrian Peterson now back at practice, you have to imagine the coaches are going to push the gas pedal down just a little further to keep their playoff dreams alive. I'm giving Diggs a WR2/3 grade, with upside, this week against the Colts' leaky secondary.
Cameron Brate – Buccaneers: Brate has been about as consistent as you can expect from a tight end, averaging 5.5 targets, 3.9 receptions, and 44.2 yards per game this season, and is tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns at the position with 6. All-in-all he has been an amazing grab off the waiver wire at the thinnest position in all of fantasy football.
This week Brate gets a Cowboys defense that generously gives up 8.6 PPG to TEs, the 9th-most in the NFL. The Cowboys are much better at defending the run (83.1 YPF allowed, 2nd-best in the NFL) than the pass (267.8 YPG, 28th-worst), putting Brate and Mike Evans in line for a big fantasy day. Consider him a top 5-7 fantasy TE this weekend.
Buffalo Bills defense: Fantasy owners who have been following the plan of playing whatever defense plays the Browns offense have been reaping those rewards all season long. This week they play a Bills team that was hot to start the season, on both sides of the ball, but has been a bit sluggish lately as losers of two in a row. The defense specifically had posted 10-plus fantasy points the first 6 games of the season, but have reached that mark just one time since then.
This week they are sure to hit 10-plus points again with the Browns coming to Buffalo. Robert Griffin III is the starting QB for Cleveland, and looked about as bad as any QB in the NFL last week when he finished 12 of 28 passing for 104 yards, no touchdowns, and 1 interception against the Bengals. The Bills are an elite fantasy defense this week simply because of who they are playing, so make sure they are owned in your league right now!
Matthew Stafford – Lions:Stafford and the Lions are finding it hard to be consistent in the passing game in this post-Calvin Johnson era. Stafford's passing yard numbers jump from the low 200s to the mid-300s, and everywhere in between, from week to week. I guess that is to be expected when your No. 1 WR is Golden Tate, and your big FA signing at WR (Marvin Jones) has put up 75-plus receiving yards in just 4 of his 12 games this season.
If all that wasn't bad enough, the Giants secondary has been rock stars this season, limiting QBs to just 16.7 PPG, the 2nd-fewest in the NFL. The Lions have won 5 in a row now, but head to New York to take on a Giants team clinging to a wild card spot in the playoffs. I am going to give this one to the Giants at home, and will be sitting Stafford while doing it.
Andrew Luck – Colts:I'm not the biggest Luck fan you will ever meet, as he hasn't lived up to the hype he had coming out of college. Sure, he's reached 4,000-plus passing yards in 2 of his first 4 seasons. But he's also thrown 15-plus INTs in those seasons, and managed just 25-plus touchdowns once (this season notwithstanding). The Colts have never been a running team, begging the question as to why this "elite" QB can't seem to find the end zone more often?
My guess is Luck has maxed out his talent, and won't get better until his opponents get worse. This week he takes on the Vikings, a team desperately trying to remain in the playoff picture. The Vikings secondary has allowed the 3rd-fewest fantasy points to QBs this season at 16.8 PPG, and sport a 15-12 TD-INT ratio. Luck hasn't thrown more than 2 INTs in a game this season, but that could change this week.
Dion Lewis – Patriots:Lewis has been a PPR beast in the past, catching passes out of the backfield for RB2 numbers in fantasy leagues. Then last season he tore his ACL, forcing the Patriots to move to James White as their passing-down back this season. When Lewis returned to the field in Week 11, I think we all expected a little too much from him coming off a devastating knee injury.
Lewis' best game this season was in Week 12, when he totaled just 58 yards, with 4 receptions and no touchdowns. In fact, Lewis hasn't had more than 4 catches in his 4 games since being back, and doesn't seem to really be a threat to move ahead of White on the depth chart. This is just me, but I am cutting ties with Lewis in all leagues and adding Farrow, Powell, or Jeffery. If none of them are available, I've been just grabbing the next-best FA available to keep them away from my opponents.
Todd Gurley – Rams:Where do you even start with the Rams? They fired Jeff Fisher on Monday, naming Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel the interim HC. The passing game is a mess; the running game is a mess; special teams is a mess; the season can't end fast enough for anyone involved with them, coaches and players.
Gurley is averaging just 56.9 rushing YPG, 20.9 receiving YPG, and has scored just 5 TDs this season. Owners who took him with their 1st overall pick may not even be playing fantasy football anymore as recovering from this type of mess is hard to do unless you are a waiver wire hawk.
Thursday Gurley and the Rams are in Seattle to take on a Seahawks defense giving up 15.3 PPG to RBs, the 6th-lowest total in the NFL. Honestly, it's time to consider dropping Gurley if you can get one of those FA RBs I've talked about in Dion Lewis' section.
Terrelle Pryor – Browns:Much like the Rams, the Browns are a mess in all facets of the game. Even though Cody Kessler has been cleared from his concussion, the Browns brass has named RGIII their starter. That move in itself shows you just where the team's mentality is in regards to this season, or future seasons. Griffin is clearly gone after this year, so why play him over Kessler?
Pryor is a FA after this season, and is certain to get out of Cleveland. He's earned himself a lot of money with his 63/858/4 line in a dreadful Browns passing attack, but that doesn't mean he should be played in fantasy leagues anymore. Griffin was terrible last week, he'll be terrible this week, and guess what? He'll be terrible next week as well! Pryor had a nice run for fantasy owners, but that run is over. Time to cut him for a WR like Jeffery, or even Thielen if you need someone for this week only.
Julio Jones – Falcons:Jones is dealing with a sprained toe, and did not practice Wednesday. The problem with Jones is the Falcons are not giving very much information about Jones' injury, or his recovery timeframe. The Falcons are currently projected as the 4th seed in the playoffs as of right now, so you can imagine their desire to get Jones healthy and right if that stays the same.
The 49ers pose no real threat to the Falcons on offense or defense, so there is a very real possibility the Falcons could rest him for this one. Even if he does play, will he be a decoy? Why risk further injury to the #1 WR in the NFL when you don't have to? Be aware, and beware.
C.J. Fiedorowicz – Texans:Fiedorowicz has a good 5-game stretch in which he scored 3 touchdowns and averaged 54.4 YPG receiving. For a fantasy TE, that is about as good as you can expect unless you own Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce. Since those 5 games, Fiedorowicz has topped 45 yards receiving just once, and hasn't scored a touchdown.
This week he takes on a Jaguars defense that is giving up 6.3 PPG to fantasy TEs, the 10th-fewest in the NFL. The Jaguars defense doesn't create many turnovers (3 INTs, 5 recovered fumbles), but they are the 4th-best team in the NFL at shutting down the passing game with 203.2 YPG allowed. Brock Osweiler has thrown just as many TDs (14) as he has INTs (14), and on top of that, Ryan Griffin seems to come out of nowhere to vulture the red zone touchdowns these days.
Look elsewhere for TE production if you can.
Green Bay Packers defense: The Packers are going to be a hot waiver wire add from those big-box websites because they play the Bears, an offense that gives up fantasy points fairly regularly to opposing defenses. However, with [Alshon] Jeffery back and the Bears at home, I don't think this will be the piece of proverbial cake they will make it out to be.
The Packers are struggling to find their identity on offense, their secondary gives up the 3rd-most fantasy points to WRs this season at 25.9 PPG, and their run defense has been giving up consistent fantasy points all season long. If it were my team, I'd use one of the free agent defenses I mentioned in the opening before running the Packers defense out there this weekend.