Start and Sit: Week 15
Week 15 should feature remarkably good weather for being halfway through December. Two of the three night games this week -- between the Jets and Ravens tonight and the Bills and Steelers on Thursday night -- are forecasted for freezing temperatures, but the third between the Colts and Saints is in the dome in New Orleans. That leaves just a handful of day games with temperature or wind concerns and none with precipitation concerns as I write this on Thursday afternoon. That eliminates one avenue for matchups play, but there are plenty more with some of the home/road and defensive concerns for players this week.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
I never would have expected to lead a start and sit column in the heart of the fantasy playoffs by talking about Eli Manning, but football can be crazy sometimes. With Daniel Jones likely to sit for his second straight game with a high ankle sprain, Manning is set to draw the plum passer matchup against the Dolphins. The Dolphins have the worst pass defense DVOA in football and increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 48%, also the most in football. Their recent string of improved play has only helped their opponents, pushing them to neutral in pass plays allowed and enabling Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold to average 37 attempts, 283 yards, and 2.75 touchdowns in Miami's last four games. Meanwhile, Manning's skill talent has never looked better with additions Darius Slayton and Golden Tate producing 6.0% and 6.9% receiving DVOA figures this season and with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram both likely to join them on the field for the first time all year. Normally outside my top 20, Manning vaults to seventh for me at the position this week. In particular in deeper formats, he is a compelling matchups choice.
Drew Brees and Ryan Tannehill are your more conventional shallow-league matchup options. I have banged the drum for Brees as a home start and road sit all season. He has scored 5.4 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2016, the most extreme split of the long-term starters playing in Week 15. After overcoming a difficult defensive opponent in the 49ers with 349 passing yards and six total touchdowns last Sunday at home, he's a no-brainer start at home this week against a Colts defense that is neutral in pass defense DVOA and neutral in passing touchdowns allowed.
Meanwhile, I have Tannehill two spots behind Brees in true talent at 15th, but I'm wondering if even that is too low. Despite an underwhelming volume of passes, Tannehill is second at the position averaging 22.6 fantasy points per game since taking over as starter for the Titans in Week 7. With a plus matchup at home against the Texans, you should start him in every format this week. The Texans have a split with the No. 27 pass defense DVOA and No. 14 run defense DVOA that encourages pass plays, and they increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 31%, fourth-most in football.
Not far behind Tannehill in defensive matchup boost, Baker Mayfield and Jimmy Garoppolo should benefit by facing the Cardinals and Falcons. Those defenses are third and sixth in passing touchdown boosts, increasing their opponents passing touchdowns per attempt by 32% and 20% respectively. But neither Mayfield nor Garoppolo start as high in my true talent rankings, and so they end up as more of deep- and two-quarterback-league options this week, ranked 16th and 21st at the position.
The Patriots and 49ers lead the list of worst passer matchups every week at this point. The former is the No. 1 pass defense DVOA and decreases passing touchdowns by 40%, second-most in football. You probably weren't starting Andy Dalton in shallow leagues anyway, but you definitely shouldn't this week. I have him 29th at the position. That said, you may be tempted to start typical top-10 option Matt Ryan against a 49ers team that Brees just torched. I wouldn't. The 49ers remain the No. 2 pass defense DVOA. They decrease pass plays by 16% -- second-most in football -- and passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 18% and 10%, respectively. New Orleans is an understandable place to struggle defensively. At home, the 49ers have yet to allow more than 189 passing yards in a game, a total that MVP candidate Russell Wilson managed with the assistance of overtime. Facing those tough odds, Ryan is outside my top 20 at the position.
Sam Darnold and Josh Allen are both enjoying fantasy-relevant sophomore seasons, but neither belongs in shallow-league lineups this week. They face remarkably similar challenges playing on the road in freezing temperatures and against top-five pass defense DVOAs in the Ravens and Steelers. Darnold is a more obvious sit thanks to a much lower true-talent ranking and a much clearer skill set to suffer from the Ravens' No. 3 pass defense DVOA and their tendency to decrease their opponents passing touchdowns per attempt by 50%, the most in football. But despite his matchup-resistant rushing production, Allen has shown a clear tendency to produce fewer fantasy points against the best pass defense DVOAs. In fact, Allen fell just short of 300 total passing yards in his matchups against the Patriots and Ravens and threw just one total touchdown.
Perhaps Allen will run in a touchdown against the similarly tough Steelers, but that hope doesn't keep him in my top 20 at the position this week.
On paper, the Chargers are not the same caliber of pass defense as the other four teams making for the most difficult passer matchups this week. They're just No. 20 in pass defense DVOA, although that could easily trend up now that Derwin James is back in the lineup. But even without James, the Chargers were a difficult opponent for fantasy purposes because they cut pass plays by 17%, the most in football. Given that and the forecasted 14-mph sustained winds in Los Angeles, Cousins seems poised for one of his fantasy-team-destroying sub-30-pass attempt games. I'd leave him on your benches this week.
Events could not have conspired to make Chris Carson a more attractive fantasy option this week. First, his role-encroaching backup Rashaad Penny suffered a knee injury that ended his season. The Seahawks' lack of backfield alternatives on its own boosted Carson to a top-five back in true talent. Second, he draws a matchup against a Panthers defense that is No. 32 in run defense DVOA and increases rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 22% and 148%, that second number being by far the most in football. Even on the road, Carson is my No. 2 fantasy back this week, trailing only his opponent Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey obviously doesn't need plus matchups to thrive in fantasy, but he has one nevertheless in a Seahawks defense that is No. 22 in run defense DVOA and that increases rushing touchdowns per attempt by 59%. That is nowhere near the Panthers, of course, but it is still the second-most in football.
Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs also fall into that every-week starter camp, assuming that Jacobs can return this weekend from his shoulder injury. Both players are at home and facing beneficial opponents. The former has the Dolphins and their bottom-five defense against both the run and in coverage against running backs (subscription required). The Dolphins increase run plays by 16%, third-most in football. Meanwhile Jacobs draws a Jaguars defense that is No. 31 in run defense DVOA and increases rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 47%. He feels like a lock to score with that plus matchup and given the fact that he has scored all seven of his rushing touchdowns either at home or as on a neutral field.
Kareem Hunt and Patrick Laird are less conventional shallow-league options, but their skewed production toward receiving work makes them compelling matchup choices in Week 15. The former is on the road in Arizona against a Cardinals defense that is actually stronger against the run (No. 13 DVOA) than the pass (No. 29). That's bad news for Nick Chubb but not for Hunt. The Cardinals are No. 28 in coverage against running backs, allowing 50 receiving yards per game to the position. Meanwhile, the Giants are similarly bad against receiving backs at No. 25 in DVOA, and they also sabotage their No. 12 run defense DVOA by increasing their opponents' run plays by 15%.
Joe Mixon has been on a tear, averaging 94 rushing yards and scoring three rushing touchdowns over his last five games. But that streak could end this week against the Patriots. The Patriots are known for their pass defense, but they also have the No. 6 run defense DVOA. And the general quality of their defense leads to 14% fewer run plays and cuts rushing touchdowns per attempt by 48%, both in the top five of all teams.
Mixon at least has his receiving ability to keep him in the RB2 conversion. Both Bo Scarbrough and Carlos Hyde produce the overwhelming majority of their fantasy points on the ground, and that makes them more susceptible to bad defense matchups like they'll see against the Buccaneers and Titans this week. The Bucs have the No. 1 run defense DVOA and No. 19 pass defense DVOA, a split that leads their opponents to 16% fewer run plays than a typical team. The Titans aren't quite that extreme with the No. 5 run defense DVOA and No. 23 pass defense DVOA, but they also cut rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 17%. Both backs are outside my top 30 this week.
Marlon Mack brushed off any injury concerns by returning in Week 14 and dominating the Colts backfield in touches. But that led to just 13 carries against a stingy Bucs run defense, and he'll have an opponent this week in the Saints that cuts run plays even more than the Bucs at 18%, second-most in football.
The Ravens have made a routine of overcoming bad matchups of late, but as weird as it is to consider, the Jets may be the most extreme they've faced this season, at least as far as run defense is concerned. They are No. 2 in run defense DVOA versus No. 22 in pass defense DVOA, and they cut rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 36% and 8%. I don't think anyone can stop Lamar Jackson at this point, but he may produce a bigger majority of the Ravens' offensive production this week than usual. A normal top-20 option, Mark Ingram is an RB3 for me this week.
And finally for running backs, Devonta Freeman transitions from the most attractive matchup against the Panthers last week to one of the hardest on the road in San Francisco this week. Like the Patriots, the 49ers have a better pass defense than run defense, but they are still No. 9 in DVOA against the run. Meanwhile, their overall defensive and team quality makes it difficult for running backs to score, cutting rushing touchdowns by 40% per attempt, sixth-most in football.
Kenny Golladay had seen just 14 targets from Weeks 11 to 13 as Marvin Jones enjoyed a renaissance. But with Jones now out for the season with an ankle injury, the Lions have no choice but to rely heavily on Golladay. A projected increase in target share bumped him up to 11th in true talent for me at the position. That ranking jumps even higher to fourth for me this week at home against the Buccaneers. While cutting their opponents' run attempts, Tampa Bay increases their opponents' pass plays by 19%, the most in football. And they also increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 27%, something that Golladay should take better advantage of than slot teammate Danny Amendola.
Last week, Darius Slayton proved that he can excel in fantasy even with both of his receiver teammates Golden Tate and Sterling Shepard on the field. I have little doubt that production can continue with Evan Engram back in the fold, as well, especially since he draws that attractive Dolphins matchup. In addition to their general poor pass defense, the Dolphins are bottom-five in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers. Slayton likely won't see the same extreme target share that Golladay will, but he is about as likely to score and is a top-20 option for me at the position this week.
And speaking of rookie receivers, A.J. Brown has exploded for 333 yards and three touchdowns over his last three games. He has really separated from the pack of his teammates in terms of target share, Ryan Tannehill is playing great, and Brown even enjoys a plus home matchup against the Texans this week. Against that No 27 pass defense DVOA that increases passing touchdowns by 31%, Brown is a good bet to keep his scoring streak alive.
Alongside Odell Beckham's drama and inconsistency, Jarvis Landry has strung together one the best fantasy seasons of his career. Following a recent stretch of five touchdowns in four games, Landry is up to 13th in my true-talent receiving rankings, and I have him ninth this week. The Cardinals defense is most beneficial for opposing tight ends, but the struggle mightily against slot receivers as well. They have the No. 29 DVOA against "other" wide receivers apart from No. 1 and 2 wideouts.
One would hope that Calvin Ridley's season-ending abdominal injury would shift more work to No. 1 option Julio Jones the way it should for Kenny Golladay in Detroit. It's just likely you'll have to wait another week to benefit from that in fantasy. Jones' opponents, the 49ers, are No. 8 in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers (they are top-10 against receivers of every grouping). They decrease pass plays by 16% -- second-most in football -- and decrease passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 18% and 10%. And they have been particularly deadly in San Francisco, where Matt Ryan is likely to be much worse away from his dome in Atlanta. Don't sit Jones in any redraft leagues, but don't pay up for his $7,000 DraftKings salary, either.
I'm not sure John Ross is ready to reassert himself as the Bengals' top receiving option in his second week off of injured reserve. But I don't think that necessarily matters for Tyler Boyd's fantasy value. The Patriots pass defense does exceptional work with its shutdown corners Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson against outside receivers, but it also dominates other receivers including slot receivers -- the Patriots have the No. 1 DVOA in football against "other" wide receivers. Boyd seems a long shot to find the end zone this week and is outside my top 30 at the position.
Robby Anderson is as well, even though his recent string of tremendous performances has boosted him up to 25th in my true talent rankings. Unlike Boyd, his outside usage can attract shadow coverage, and he'll face on of the best in football on Thursday night in Marlon Humphrey. Humphrey is third among qualified corners with a 67% coverage success rate and is 13th in allowing 6.3 yards per target subscription required). He's a major reason why the Ravens are No. 7 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers.
Former Ravens receiver John Brown has become the guy in Buffalo, but he will likely have a tough time against his former No. 1 rival in the Steelers this week. The Steelers don't have an analogous corner to Humphrey, at least by coverage success rate. But they still have the No. 4 pass defense DVOA and an exceptional pass rush that helps cut passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 9% and 8%. Brown falls from 26th to 37th for me at the position this week.
Stefon Diggs will likely have his receiver running mate Adam Thielen back on the field this weekend, but its unlikely to benefit him in fantasy. Despite being neutral in pass defense DVOA and for both passing yards and touchdowns per attempt, the Chargers cut pass plays by 17%, the most in football. Expect the Vikings to rely more heavily on Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, and their running game, leading to fewer targets and fewer fantasy points for Diggs and the team's receivers.
With Marvin Jones, Marvin Hall, and T.J. Hockenson out for the rest of the year, the Lions' receiving group is paper-thin. That doesn't make him a shallow-league option this week, but Logan Thomas is a streaming option for deeper formats. He has seen more work than teammate Jesse James of late, and so he will likely benefit more from a plus matchup against the Buccaneers. The Bucs have the No. 27 DVOA against tight ends and allow 67 yards per game to the position, third-most in football.
Evan Engram's health has been the only thing to limit his fantasy output in his career. If he can play this weekend, then you should play him in fantasy. The Dolphins allow 57 yards per game to the position, which is 12th-most in football. Ditto for Jared Cook, who has seen more work since his Week 10 return from an ankle injury and even scored a pair of long touchdowns against the 49ers and their No. 1-ranked DVOA against the position. A concussion on that second touchdown may prevent Cook from playing on Sunday, but if he does see the field, I would use him as a top-10 option at home against the Colts.
Continuing that injury theme, David Njoku made his return from injured reserve in Week 14 and played an encouraging 37% of the team's offensive snaps. He'll need that rate to nearly double to reemerge as a shallow-league fantasy option, and so playing him this week without evidence of that is a risk. But in deeper formats, that's a risk I'm willing to take. His Cardinals matchup is unquestionably the best in football for tight ends. They are the No. 32 DVOA against the position and allow 75 yards per game, the most in football. Njoku is a back-end TE2 for me this week.
Austin Hooper also returned from an injury in Week 14, and while he only caught two balls for 32 yards, he played 64% of the team's offensive snaps and seems back already to an every-week fantasy starter. That said, Hooper's bad matchup against the 49ers this Sunday drops him from sixth to eighth for me at the position. Cook's long touchdowns dropped the 49ers all the way to second in DVOA against the position, but they still allow just 29 yards per game to tight ends.
On a final injury point, recent deep-league fantasy revelation Ryan Griffin suffered an ankle injury last week and will miss tonight's game against the Ravens. Given Griffin's success as a backup-turned-starter, you might be tempted to roll with his backup Daniel Brown. But I wouldn't this week. The Ravens allow just 41 yards per game to the position. If the Jets are going to have any offensive success tonight, it will probably be on the ground.
And fresh off a 113-yard, one-touchdown performance against the tight end-friendly Texans, Noah Fant will face a sterner test in Kansas City this weekend. The Chiefs have the No. 5 DVOA against the position and generally cut passing touchdowns by 8%. Fant is seeing a TE2 workload since the Emmanuel Sanders trade, but he is barely just that for me this week ranked 17th at the position.