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Unlikely heroes emerge

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Week 15 marks the 2ndround of the fantasy playoffs for most leagues, making every single game a must-win endeavor. Picking the right lineup is the most important factor in winning, but there are times when you set the perfect lineup on paper and watch your bench players outscore your starters.

That is what happened this week as many of the best fantasy scorers were guys that nobody would have suggested you start. Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater, Brock Osweiler, Danny Woodhead, Rashad Jennings, Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, and Will Tye were all among the top of their respective fantasy positional rankings this week, and I couldn't honestly imagine recommending to start a single one of them in any scoring format or league size.

Looking at the Jaguars, Blake Bortles put up his usual QB1 numbers with 297 passing yards, 44 rushing yards, 2 TDs (1 passing, 1 rushing) and 1 INT; Denard Robinson finished as an RB2 thanks to his 74 total yards and 8 receptions for those in PPR formats; Allen Robinson put up a 3-57-1 line for WR2/3 points; Marqise Lee (2-46-0) and Allen Hurns (2-44-0) made a flex impact; Julius Thomas finished in the top 10 for TEs with his 6 receptions and 79 yards receiving.

Winners

Kirk Cousins – Redskins: Cousins is a quarterback you just don't know what to expect from game-to-game. He has those weeks where he looks like a legitimate starter in the NFL, as he did in Week 10 against the Saints when he went off for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns. Then he'll have a game in which he looks lost and couldn't hit water if he fell off a boat, like in Week 13 against the Cowboys when he went 22 of 30 passing for 219 yards and 1 TD.

Week 15 was a good week for Cousins as he racked up 319 yards passing, 11 yards rushing and 5 TDs (4 passing, 1 rushing). This was a game many thought the Bills would dominate on defense, but the Redskins came out swinging and ended up winning 35-25.

Those still in the fantasy playoffs need to understand that Cousins did this at home, and the Redskins head out on the road in Week 16 to take on the Eagles. Even though it is a nice matchup for him on paper, he simply isn't the same QB on the road as he is at home. Beware and be aware.

Teddy Bridgewater – Vikings: Speaking of QBs you can't trust week to week; Bridgewater is the posterchild for that label. There were rumors floating around this week that the Vikings weren't happy with his inability to make the big plays. While that may be true, I suspect his WR corps has a little something to do with that assessment.

Despite the lack of weapons on offense, Bridgewater had his best game of his young career by piling up 5 touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing), 231 yards passing and 17 yards rushing. The good news is he gets a terrible Giants pass defense in Week 16; the bad news is you cannot trust him as anything more than a QB2 dart throw.

Danny Woodhead – Chargers: Woodhead was a great sleeper RB in PPR formats early in the season, but has been absent from the gameplan following the Chargers' Week 10 bye. The problem for fantasy owners this week is they likely saw his elite fantasy performance go to waste as he sat on their bench.

Woodhead was able to rack up 3 TDs and 60 total yards (10 rushing, 50 receiving) after Melvin Gordon went down with a knee injury in the 2nd quarter. Next week the Chargers head just a few hours north to take on the Raiders. If Gordon misses next week because of the knee, Woodhead will be a great RB2 play in PPR formats.

Rashad Jennings – Giants: The Giants backfield has been a disaster all season for fantasy owners, with touches being split between Jennings, Shane Vereen, Andre Williams, and Orleans Darkwa. It now looks like the Giants have settled on Jennings as their lead back, giving him 16 carries which he turned into 107 yards and a touchdown.

This now marks the 2nd week in a row that Jennings has put up 100 total yards, finishing Week 14 with 81 rushing yards and 21 receiving yards. Next week he gets a Vikings defense that is a little banged up, making him flex play for those hurting in the depth department.

Amari Cooper – Raiders: Cooper entered this game as a hard-to-trust WR after failing to haul in any of the 8 targets he saw in Week 14 against the Broncos. It's not that we expected more from him against an elite defense last week, but to go 0-for-8 is hard to swallow.

Cooper bounced back in a big way this week as he reeled in 6 of 9 targets for 120 yards and 2 TDs against the Packers in a game in which the two teams put up 50 total points. Next week Cooper gets a Chargers defense (at home) that he roasted for a 5-133-1 line (on the road) back in Week 7.

Emmanuel Sanders – Broncos: Sanders entered this season high on the WR wish list because he had Peyton Manning as his QB. What nobody accounted for was Manning's arm being a shell of its former self. With Manning struggling, and Brock Osweiler eventually taking over QB duties, Sanders has been as unpredictable as the shape of a snowflake.

This week Sanders was able to set a career high for receiving yards after seeing 16 targets, of which he caught 10, for 181 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos have now lost 2 in a row to drop their season record to 10-4. The Chiefs on the other hand are knocking at the division door with an 8-game winning streak that has brought their record to 9-5 this year. Sanders is still a guy you put on the WR2/3 bubble next week, but you need to temper your expectations against an elite Bengals pass defense.

Jordan Reed – Redskins: Despite the Redskins' struggles on offense this season, Reed has been a must-start player since he returned from a 2-game absence back in Week 7. This week he was able to take advantage of a Bills defense that wasn't interested in covering him, and he finished the game with 84 yards receiving and 2 TDs.

Next week he takes on an Eagles defense that has been tight-fisted against fantasy TEs this year. Since the TE position is boom-or-bust beyond Rob Gronkowski, Reed is as good a play as anyone regardless of the defense.

Kansas City Chiefs defense: As I mentioned before, the Chiefs are riding an 8-game winning streak that has them in serious contention for the division title, with the Broncos losing steam. As much as fantasy owners love to look at offense, the Chiefs defense has been a big part of their success this season by limiting teams to just 257 points. The points against total is the 2nd-lowest number in the AFC behind the Bengals (243), and the 3rd-lowest total in the NFL, with the Seahawks in 1st place.

This week they limited an injury-riddled Ravens team to just 14 points, while posting 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 2 defensive TDs and a recovered fumble for fantasy stats. The Chiefs will be an elite Week 16 fantasy defense with the Browns coming to Kansas City.

Losers

Ryan Tannehill – Dolphins: Tannehill is just one member of a Dolphins team that didn't show up to play this week in San Diego. Some will say it was a great defensive effort by the Chargers, and there may very well be truth in that. The Dolphins weren't able to move the ball at all until the game was well over and garbage time was in full effect.

In the end, the 4th-year QB managed just 216 passing yards, 1 TD (rushing) and no INTs. The rushing touchdown came late in the game and with the Chargers defense already on cruise control. Week 15 was more of the same for Tannehill in a season in which coaching problems have stalled his progress.

Aaron Rodgers – Packers: It's hard to imagine a player going from being considered one of the best QBs in the NFL to failing to top 220 yards passing in 4 of his last 5 games, and throwing 2 of fewer TDs in 10 of his last 11 games. But that is exactly what the 2015 season has looked like for Rodgers.

The latest example of his lack of stats came this week when he finished with just 204 passing yards, 1 TD and 1 INT against a less-than-stellar Raiders defense. As we head into the fantasy championships in most leagues next week, Rodgers is a hard to trust QB against the Cardinals' tenacious defense.

Adrian Peterson – Vikings: Adrian Peterson is one of those players that I avoid every year in fantasy drafts because he is so one-dimensional as a player. Even though he has 268 carries through 15 weeks of the season, he's managed just 28 receptions, putting him 5th for targets on the Vikings this year.

Peterson finished this week with 18 carries for 63 yards and no TDs. While he did suffer an ankle injury in the 2nd quarter that took away a lot of his burst, it is a disappointing effort nevertheless on a day when RB Jerick McKinnon and FB Zach Line were both able to find the end zone. He's a must-start for next week as he takes on a leaky Giants run defense.

LeSean McCoy – Bills: McCoy and the Bills had a tasty matchup on paper in Week 15 against a Redskins team that has given up more points (307) than it has scored (281) heading into this week. The Redskins, however, had their eyes on the division lead with the Cowboys officially eliminated from the playoffs this week with a 4-10 record, the Giants losing earlier in the day to fall to 6-8, and the Eagles likely to lose to the Cardinals Sunday night.

McCoy's day ended early when he suffered an MCL injury (believed to be minor), and he finished with just 10 carries for 29 yards and 1 reception for 8 yards. Keep an eye on the injury report this week to see how Shady heals, but be prepared to sit him out if he isn't a full-go in practice by Friday.

Brandon Bolden – Patriots: At the start of the week it looked like Bolden was the early-down back for the Patriots, and that should have meant big fantasy numbers after they got up on the Titans and looked to run out the clock. But in true Bill Belichick fashion, Bolden saw just 12 touches, which he turned into 54 empty yards. What's more concerning is the Patriots signed Joey Iosefa off the practice squad and gave him 14 carries, which he turned into 51 yards!

You simply can't trust any Patriots RB as we head into the championship round unless you are in a PPR format, then James White is a solid RB2/Flex play.

Alshon Jeffery – Bears: Jeffery was the victim of a hamstring injury that caused him to exit Week 15 after catching just 1 of 4 targets for 10 yards. Even though the lack of stats came due to an injury, it still hurts as fantasy owners were expecting a solid game against a Vikings defense that has been average when it comes to fantasy WRs.

Hamstrings have a way of lingering, and the Bears have nothing left to play for this season. Even if he is active, the team is likely to limit his workload to finish out the season.

A.J. Green – Bengals: Green was dealing with a minor back problem ahead of Week 15, and exited the game in the 3rd quarter after posting just 1 catch for 37 yards. It's unclear if he aggravated the injury, or was simply resting with the Bengals in control of the game.

Owners will want to keep an eye on the Bengals injury report this week, but should consider Green a benchable player in Week 16 against a Broncos defense that is sure to be looking for revenge after being burned by Antonio Brown for 16 catches (18 targets), 189 yards and 2 TDs this week.

Jason Witten – Cowboys: The list of what has gone right with the Cowboys this season is much shorter than what has gone wrong, and Witten has suffered as much as anyone on the team because of it. With an unproductive QB at the helm (Matt Cassel), it was a surprise that fantasy websites like Yahoo projected Witten to finish as a top-10 fantasy TE this week, when he hasn't topped 50 yards receiving since Week 7!

Nevertheless, Witten caught 5 of 5 targets for a modest 49 yards, and once again failed to score due to an ineffective passing attack by Cassel and Kellen Moore. My question would be: how did you make it this far with a TE that gives you virtually nothing week in and week out?

Buffalo Bills defense: I'm looking at the Redskins/Bills boxscore and wondering where exactly it all went wrong for the Bills defense in Week 15. It started with their lack of pass defense as Reed and DeSean Jackson (6-153-1) racked up stats all game long, then ended with Alfred Morris looking like a starting-caliber RB thanks to his 84 yards rushing.

In the end, the Bills gave up 35 points to the Redskins, and managed just a single sack and a recovered fumble for fantasy numbers. The 2015 Bills defense has been a far cry from the elite fantasy defense of 2014, but next week they get a chance to salvage their fantasy season as they take on an abysmal Cowboys team.

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