START: TOM BRADY, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Many expected Tom Brady to come out firing after the team’s bye week, but his fantasy production was subpar, to say the least. He scored just 15.6 fantasy points while attempting a season-low 23 passes.
This will hardly be the case when he takes on the Atlanta Falcons, the quintessential “pass funnel” defense. Atlanta has allowed the second-fewest rushing yards to RBs this season, making this a game where Brady will have to take to the air to come away with a win on the road.
That’s also factoring in that Ronald Jones has a banged-up finger, making it significantly less likely the Bucs look to feed the ground game through the likes of Leonard Fournette, LeSean McCoy and Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Now, the Falcons’ defense as a whole has been better as of late — they are re in the middle of the pack versus QBs over the past four weeks in terms of fantasy points allowed — but they have still allowed the fourth-most completions to opposing QBs.
And unlike in years past, we aren’t seeing a total cliff-drop in Brady’s fantasy production. Traditionally we had seen Brady’s numbers regress after the midpoint of the season; this year he has stayed more consistent.
The longtime signal-caller was averaging 21.5 fantasy points during the first half of the season, and he is at 20.4 fantasy points per game during the second half.
Brady has also been much better on the road (25.7 fantasy points per game) than at home this season (17.7). Expect him to bounce back big at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with dome conditions perfect for an efficient aerial attack.
START: JALEN HURTS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Jalen Hurts was the poster boy for this week’s waiver wire column and should be started with confidence this week against the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals present a much softer matchup for Hurts, and there’s no denying the type of fantasy upside the Eagles quarterback offers as a rusher on the ground.
Arizona has allowed the fifth-most rushing yards and rank 27th in explosive run percentage allowed (32.3%) to opposing QBs.
SIT: DEREK CARR, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Derek Carr was listed as a waiver wire target ahead of Week 15, and I labeled him as a top-15 option heading into the week. But I tried to clarify that he was my least favorite of the QB streamers because the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense has been better recently.
The Bolts have allowed just one QB to score 20-plus fantasy points since Week 9 — Cam Newton got there on his rushing production — and that’s because teams are electing to run on the Chargers (48.7%) more than any other team.
Carr attempted a season-low 23 passes vs. L.A. in their first matchup, and given that he has thrown 40-plus times in back-to-back weeks for the first time all season, his pass attempts are likely going to regress negatively. He will need to be extremely efficient to hit his fantasy ceiling in Week 15 because Thursday night looks much more like a smash spot for Josh Jacobs.
Carr has also never thrown for more than 300 yards or multiple touchdown passes against the Anthony Lynn-led Chargers in his career (seven games).
Dec 13, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Jeff Wilson (30) is tackled by Washington Football Team linebacker Cole Holcomb (55) and cornerback Kendall Fuller (29) during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been three weeks of Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. manning the 49ers’ backfield. Neither has put up a top-24 performance in any of those weeks, but that’s because both running backs have been underperforming expectations.
The touches have been there for both of them to be productive fantasy assets, so with the Dallas Cowboys matchup on deck, I think both can churn out top-24 outings.
Dallas has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks, and the team will surely fall victim to Kyle Shanahan’s outside-zone run scheme. Mostert leads the NFL in yards per attempt (5.6) from outside zone — Wilson ranks 16th (4.5) — and Dallas has sputtered to a PFF run-defense grade of 33.4 on those run concepts, 29th league-wide. Only the Patriots, Raiders and Lions have been worse.
San Francisco has only played one of those aforementioned teams (Patriots) this season — they rushed for 197 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
Wilson has been given the goal-line touches, so even if Mostert does play, I still wouldn’t hesitate to use Wilson.
START: LYNN BOWDEN JR., MIAMI DOLPHINS
Rookie Lynn Bowden Jr. has RB/WR dual eligibility in a few different formats, but I think he can add more value to a fantasy team in the RB slot.
He is projected to be the starting slot receiver for Miami in Week 15, and it’s not hard to imagine him seeing anywhere between eight and 10 targets based on all the injuries the Dolphins have at their offensive skill positions.
The rookie has seen 13 targets over the past two weeks, and the slot is exactly where targets are most plentiful when facing New England. The Patriots have faced the third-most slot targets to WRs over the past four weeks. New England slot cornerback Jonathan Joneshas been targeted on 22% of his coverage snaps this season, the highest in the league.
To put Bowden’s legitimacy as a starting option in perspective, I would rather start him in my RB slot than DeAndre Washington, despite the latter being the “starting” running back for the Dolphins.
Washington has been 15 touches and a cloud of dust in his two featured games this season, so I’d rather shoot for the upside with the RB/WR rookie hybrid.
Miami’s run concepts are more of the inside-zone and man variety, which plays more into the Patriots’ strengths on defense. Belichick & Co. have PFF’s fourth-highest graded run-defense (74.7) against those run schemes.
The Pittsburgh Steelers simply cannot run the football. In today’s NFL, that doesn’t matter much when it comes to wins and losses, but it makes it impossible to trust James Conner in any way, shape or form in fantasy football.
The Steelers’ offensive line ranks 31st in run-blocking grade (50.6) this season, so the impact of the Bengals allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to RBs over the past four weeks doesn’t move the needle for me.
After all, Conner has had a number of chances to post RB1-type numbers this year. He has faced the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills and has finished inside the top 20 just once. Throw in the fact that he is now dealing with a quad injury, and it’s going to be a big no for me, dawg.
Conner was also out-snapped 23 to 27 in favor of Jaylen Samuels on Sunday.
Dec 13, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Nelson Agholor (15) celebrates with wide receivers Hunter Renfrow (13) and Henry Ruggs III (11) after a touchdown catch the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Allegiant Stadium. Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
START: NELSON AGHOLOR, LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
It’s not being hyped up enough, but Nelson Agholor is having a resurgent season in his first year with the Las Vegas Raiders. He has earned the second-highest PFF receiving grade (70.2) of his career and ranks third in the NFL in yards per reception (16.7) among receivers with at least 60 targets.
The often drop-happy wide receiver still forgets to hold onto the ball at times (seven drops), but that hasn’t swayed quarterback Derek Carr from going back to his favorite wideout. He has a 23% target share dating back to Week 11 and has seen at least nine targets in three of his last four games.
And these targets are anything but empty targets. He leads the NFL in end-zone targets (seven) and ranks third in total air yards over the past four weeks. Because Agholor is seeing such a strong amount of high-value targets, he leads the NFL in fantasy points per touch (3.78).
Fantasy managers should be ecstatic to start Agholor this week in a great spot against the L.A. Chargers. No team allowed more fantasy points to WRs in Week 14 than L.A., and Agholor was more than serviceable in his first matchup against them, with two catches for 55 yards and a TD back in Week 9.
Raiders No. 2 wide receiver Henry Ruggs III was placed on the Reserve/COVID list and won’t be available for Thursday night. This won’t necessarily make Agholor’s targets skyrocket in any way, but it does solidify him as the guaranteed deep threat for the Las Vegas offense.
He and Ruggs have combined for 65% of the team’s targets of 20-plus yards.
START: TYLER LOCKETT, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Per JJ Zachariason on Twitter, Tyler Lockett has not finished as a top-30 wide receiver since October. Yikes. As a Lockett manager in a few leagues of my own, I feel the pain. But his recent struggles are not a reason to bench a player who possesses WR1 overall weekly upside — something Lockett has done twice this season.
Lockett is one of the rare players who can single-handedly win a week, so there’s no way he should be sitting on the pine for the fantasy playoffs. I also think the matchup this week favors him seeing a ton of volume.
The Washington Football Team has faced the most targets and has allowed the most catches to slot WRs over the past four weeks.
I expect Russell Wilson to be under pressure a lot in this game, given that he'll be facing the sixth-highest-graded pass rush in the NFL. And Lockett leads the Seahawks in targets and catches when Russ has been under pressure this season. Additionally, no team has faced a higher percentage of deep throws when they have applied pressure this season than the Football Team.
Wilson is going to see pressure, scramble and chuck the ball deep to either D.K. Metcalf or Lockett, just as he has done for the majority of the season. Chase the targets and upside with Lockett in Week 15.
SIT: TYLER BOYD, CINCINNATI BENGALS
Now that the Bengals have the carousel of Brandon Allen/Ryan Finley at QB, the only feasible way that Boyd can return value for fantasy managers is to score. No team has a lower implied team total (13.5) than the Bengals do this week, and banking on Boyd scoring another 72-yard touchdown is a pipe dream.
The Steelers haven’t allowed a touchdown to a slot WR since Week 9.
Sep 20, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert (88) is unable to catch the ball as Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) defends during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
START: DALLAS GOEDERT, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
As seven-point underdogs on the road this week against the Arizona Cardinals, I anticipate that the Eagles will have to attempt more than 24 passes as they try to keep pace. Their secondary is banged up, so I expect them to give up some points.
I fully expect Goedert to benefit the most from an uptick in passing. Even with Zach Ertzback in the mix over the past two weeks, DG has run more routes (52 versus 40), commanded more targets (13 versus 7) and has played a higher percentage of snaps (86% versus 59%).
START: COLE KMET, CHICAGO BEARS
Cole Kmet has now seen seven targets in back-to-back weeks. He played the most snaps of any offensive skill player for the Bears in Week 14.
Jimmy Graham scored the touchdown on Sunday, but that shouldn’t shy owners away from using Kmet this week.
The rookie has been the Bears’ starting tight end since Week 10 and leads Graham in targets 19-10 over that span. Kmet's usage over the past two weeks has vaulted him to the TE9 overall in actual fantasy points and TE8 in expected fantasy points in PPR scoring.
The matchup against the Vikings doesn’t stand out as anything special, but fantasy managers should trust the process and chase the volume.
SIT: HAYDEN HURST, ATLANTA FALCONS
No tight end has underperformed expectations more than Hayden Hurst over the past six weeks. He has left 16.5 fantasy points on the table based on his opportunities, despite seeing plus matchups for the past month.
Usually, this means a big game is coming, but when it becomes elongated to this extent, it usually means the player isn’t a reliable fantasy asset.
To put it in perspective, Hurst’s PFF receiving grade this season (61.8, 34th) is the same as Jimmy Graham’s. Gross.
You would have expected Hurst to at least see a bump in targets with Julio Jones out, but he has just seven in total in those games. Factor in that he isn’t even catching all of his targets, and he’s impossible to trust with Tampa Bay up next.