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Welcome to Week 15 of the 2020 Footballguys' Roundtable. Our intrepid and oddball panel of fantasy pundits discuss and debate difficult Week 15 scenarios, the recent carousel of quarterbacks with viable fantasy QB1 potential, players we're excited about next year, and our riskiest Week 15 decisions for our playoff matchups.
Difficult Week 15 Scenarios
Matt Waldman: Injuries to pivotal players can generate difficult scenarios for GMs. Here are some that appear difficult to me.
- The Lions are pessimistic about Matt Stafford playing against Tennessee this weekend.
- James Conner has a quad injury and the Steelers ground game has been awful since October.
- Gardner Minshew returns to the starting lineup. D.J. Chark and Mike Glennon had no rapport. Minshew had a lot more with Chark last year and prior to his hand injury.
- Brandin Cooks is scheduled to return to the Texans lineup this week. Keke Coutee and Chad Hansen were decent plays in some leagues while Cooks was out.
Chose one of the scenarios above--OR PICK YOUR OWN--and answer the following questions:
- Which player(s) benefit from this scenario on the team or the opposing team that offer fantasy value(s)?
- Which player(s) are hurt from this scenario on the team or the opposing team that decreases their fantasy value(s).
Give us the goods.
Despite spending most weekdays on the practice squad, Chad Hansen will likely be active again on Sunday whether or not Cooks returns. But he won't have fantasy value. He's gotten seven targets in each of the past two weeks; I wouldn't expect that to continue even if Cooks misses another game.
Keke Coutee was abnormally quiet last week (considering that Will Fuller, Brandin Cooks, and Randall Cobb were all out, and Kenny Stills is gone). But if we replay Week 14 a hundred times, I'd expect Coutee to lead the Texans' wide receivers in targets more often than not.
Chad Hansen and Steven Mitchell Jr. would normally fall in behind him. With Brandin Cooks back in the lineup, Cooks and Coutee will dominate snaps in two-WR sets, with Chad Hansen and Steve Mitchell getting some reps here and there, but not enough to warrant starting consideration in fantasy leagues.
I don't see Cooks' return affecting Jordin Akins or David Johnson much. They'll be on the field the same amount as normal.
Dan Hindery: The Raheem Mostert injury situation is one I am watching closely because if he is out then Jeff Wilson becomes one of the most interesting plays of the week and the question would then become just how high do you push Wilson up the rankings and who should you bench to get him into your lineup. Mostert has been dealing with the lingering effects of an ankle injury and said he didn’t feel right last week. He had an MRI Monday and is still awaiting the results.
Mostert’s absence would put Wilson in a position to dominate the touches in the 49ers' backfield.
"We've gotten all our backs back and we've been trying to go with Jeff Wilson and Raheem as our one-two," Kyle Shanahan said recently. "That's why Tevin hasn't gotten in much either. Raheem and Jeff have kind of earned that, and they've been our top guys here, especially with Tevin not fully back."
In Week 15, that lead role for the 49ers could be very productive. Dallas has allowed the second-most rushing yards to opposing running backs and we have seen 49ers backs have monster fantasy games seemingly out of nowhere on a regular basis over the last few years.
Wilson would be a good play if Mostert is out but the question then becomes just how strong an option he is. For example, I have a league where I will be deciding between Jeff Wilson and J.K. Dobbins as my RB2. Wilson and Dobbins are also the exact same price on FanDuel Sunday and look like two of the top bargain options on the slate, which again means I may find myself picking between the two in that format as well.
Overall, I would be bullish on Wilson’s fantasy prospects this weekend if Mostert ends up being out. If you are hard up for a starting back this week and Wilson is available, you should jump on him in waivers. You should also strongly consider rolling with him as a flex or RB2 over middling options like Devin Singletary, David Johnson, and the like. He has 100-yard, multiple-touchdown upside if Mostert is out.
Jeff Haseley: Matthew Stafford's possible absence this week due to a painful rib injury means Chase Daniel would take over for the Lions in their game at Tennessee. Detroit is 1-1 under interim head coach Darrell Bevell. At 5-8, they are all but out of the playoff race with only a glimmer of hope remaining with games at Tennessee and home for Tampa Bay and Minnesota. While the playoffs look bleak for Detroit, I can see how Chase Daniel could be an interesting, sneaky play this week, especially in two-quarterback leagues.
Chase Daniel's career yards per attempt is 6.55 so expect a lot of passes behind the line of scrimmage and in front of the sticks. Kenny Golladay may be back in this game. He was close last week but was held out. His return would elevate the offense, but I can see this game being more beneficial for T.J. Hockenson, DAndre Swift, and Danny Amendola. They are the ones who will benefit the most from short-ranged passes, especially if Detroit finds themselves trailing in this game. The game script heavily favors the dump-off and it could result in positive fantasy outings for all mentioned above.
Waldman: I completely agree with you about who benefits from working with Daniel, Jeff. Swift seems like a good option this week as a receiver, alone.
Jason Wood: Matt, as usual, you've identified a number of key situations that will undoubtedly factor into fantasy titles won and lost. I realize many fantasy managers will need to make decisions in these games, but I think most of the situations are best avoided. Detroit without Stafford worries me in every way, and in particular, those relying on T.J. Hockenson. Conner has been terrible and I can't see counting on the Steelers ground attack if you've gotten this far without him playing well. Minshew starting certainly makes a desperation play of Chark as your WR3 more logical than it otherwise might have.
That leaves us with the Houston Texans. With Cooks due back along with David Johnson, the fantasy appeal for DeShaun Watson markedly improves. Watson doesn't throw to his backs disproportionately but Johnson's presence helps keep defenses honest and he's a far better pass protector than the other backs on the roster.
And Cooks is, easily, the best pass-catcher on the roster. I'm shocked at how well Chad Hansen has played, but agree with Maurile it's best to avoid Hansen in a key fantasy playoff week with Cooks and Coutee and Johnson back in the mix.
Chad Parsons: James Conner and the Steelers' run game is a fairly straight-forward situation. Unless down into the RB25+ range of the rankings for lineup decision, fading Conner if he plays is prudent in this critical week.
The only reason Conner would be that high is due to the Cincinnati matchup. It's worth noting, Conner had a meager 48 total yards on 15 touches when the two teams played midseason. Conner's last game with 20 touches was Week 7 and the Steelers have turned to the short-pass approach with their woeful offensive line.
If Conner is out, Benny Snell would be in a similar zone of the lineup hierarchy as he saw a promising five receptions in the two games without Conner earlier in the season, in line with Conner's passing-game usage.
Waldman: From the list below, pick a quarterback you'd trust in Week 15 and one you wouldn't, presuming that you had to make a choice to start one of these players due to a late positive COVID test or injury. And if you'd start one of these options ahead of a low-end QB1 based on current season totals, tell us that, too.
- Jalen Hurts, who faces an athletic Cardinals defense off the heels of a run/pass performance that earned him top-12 production before Monday night's Browns-Ravens tilt.
- Gardner Minshew, who has been capable of strong garbage-time value and faces a Baltimore defense that has a wounded secondary and gave up 300 yards to Baker Mayfield.
- Baker Mayfield, who is coming off a pair of 300-yard performances and faces an underrated Giants team that has played better of late.
- Philip Rivers, who has been QB8 since Week 10 and discovered a rapport with T.Y. Hilton and faces and awful Texans pass defense that would be worse, statistically, if the run defense wasn't abysmal.
- Taysom Hill, who, in my opinion, is making Sean Payton look pretty good for his insistence that HIll is a valid passing prospect.
Wood: The only quarterback on your list I see as a top-12 option this week is Philip Rivers. In spite of the news he's going to need surgery on his toe in the offseason, he's been lights out over the last month.
He's finally found a rapport with his teammates in a way we've not yet seen from Tom Brady. As Matt noted, T.Y. Hilton has come alive after being waiver-wire fodder in the first few months. Given the defensive matchup and the Colts playoff push, he's a logical option depending on who else you're considering.
Minshew doesn't excite me at all. I'd start Hurts or Mayfield ahead of him without thinking twice. Hill has terrific upside, but if I'm forced to pick a quarterback this early in the week, I can't pick Hill given the chance that Drew Brees will return to face the Chiefs.
Parsons: I will be trusting Philip Rivers in a few of my semifinal matchups this week. The addition of a now-relevant T.Y. Hilton is a shot in the arm for Rivers, who was already producing with a tight end committee, running backs, and Michael Pittman as his weekly weaponry.
Rivers has multiple touchdowns in 5-of-6 games since the Colts' bye week. The Houston matchup a high-floor one for opposing quarterbacks and one Rivers himself exploited with a surgical 77% completion rate, 8.1 yards-per-attempt, and two scores in Week 13.
Hindery: I agree with Maurile that Gardner Minshew is the toughest of this group to trust this weekend. The Jaguars currently have a Vegas team total of just 17 points, which is third-lowest this week (above only the Jets and Bengals). It is in the best interest of the Jacksonville franchise to lose out and secure a true franchise quarterback in the NFL Draft so you just wonder about the overall motivation in this spot. This Baltimore defense is one I am not eager to start guys against even after they got smashed by the Browns Monday night. Cleveland put up 40 against the Ravens Week 4 last season and Baltimore didn’t allow more than 23 points in any game the rest of the regular season. It may just be that Cleveland is a tough matchup for the Ravens and not a sign that this unit is one we should be looking to attack.
The other quarterbacks mentioned are all solid options this week but Taysom Hill stands out as the safest of the bunch. With Philip Rivers, the concern would be a run-heavy game plan against the worst rush defense in the NFL. Baker Mayfield has similar game script concerns because we have seen the Browns running game dominate and Mayfield throw for less than 200 yards on a regular basis this season. Jalen Hurts looked good in his first start but we still have just a one-game sample size so there are still a lot of questions there.
Hill on the other hand has shown a surprisingly high floor. In his four starts, he has finished no worse than QB13 (and that was the weird game where Denver didn’t have a QB and New Orleans barely threw the ball). Every other week, Hill has been a Top 12 fantasy quarterback. In a potential shootout against the Chiefs, Hill is a Top 12 quarterback on my board given his rushing ability and the weapons he has at his disposal in the passing game.
Waldman: I like your call on Hill, Dan. After watching Hill this month, it's clear that he has the mechanics, arm strength, accuracy, and basic field-reading skills of a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect. In short, I see why Sean Payton is excited about his long-term prospects and I was wrong to think Payton was starry-eyed for incorrect reasons. It may not work out for Hill because what separates long-term starting quarterbacks in the NFL from prospects with promising skills is the ability to manage the game and make optimal decisions against the most complex coverages around.
An Eye to Next Year
Waldman: Tell us about a rookie or current NFL player that you have your eye on because you either think he'll make an instant impact, he'll disappoint, or he'll improve or decline significantly if he's an active player.
Grant: While Baltimore at Cleveland has some great NFL playoff potential, it's going to be a potential landmine of players from a fantasy perspective.
Baltimore easily dismantled the Cowboys on Tuesday night, but they struggled against Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and New England the previous three weeks. Cleveland has won all four games since coming back from their bye week, but people still keep asking if they are for real since all four of those wins were by six points or fewer.
Austin Hooper didn't figure much into the big win last week, and he's been missing in action for most of the season. But a sneaky play this week against the Ravens might be in order. The Ravens are tough on defense but have given up four or more receptions to opposing tight ends in their last three games. Hooper should see more action this week than he has in the previous three games, and he's a waiver wire pickup in most leagues right now.
By contrast, Rashard Higgins is coming off his best fantasy game all season with six receptions, 95 yards, and a touchdown. But against the Ravens, he probably won't have a repeat performance. The Ravens have allowed just 2 receivers to cross the 100-yard mark all season, and are #2 in the league allowing just 9.8 yards per reception. Expect a tough day for any Cleveland wide receiver.
Wood: Gabriel Davis excites me. He's played well in limited snaps this year, particularly as a red-zone threat. John Brown has struggled to stay on the field (again) and can be cut easily in the offseason. If the Bills cuts Brown, I expect Davis will have the opportunity to slide into a full-time role.
Parsons: A.J. Dillon was one of my highest exposure rookies across my dynasty drafts in 2020. With a rare combination of size and movement, Dillon is an underrated receiver and a workhorse NFL profile.
Yet, Dillon essentially has a redshirt rookie season on his hands with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams staying healthy and Dillon himself spending a session on the COVID-19 list. Both Jones and Williams are free agents in the offseason and both returning with new contracts would be the lowest probability outcome.
Also, handing out fresh money to free agents when spending a Round 2 pick on Dillon takes the optimization and advantage of the Day 2 rookie contract away from the depth chart in future years. I expect Dillon in a firm committee with one of the incumbents returning, or neither coming back, in 2021 with Dillon as one of the risers of the position next season.
Waldman: I'm in on Dillon, too, Chad, and for all the reasons you mentioned. I'm also excited to see where Jones lands. He's such a well-rounded running back. He could really shine in Atlanta and shore up their ground game as long as the Falcons' right side of its offensive line stays healthy and continues adding talent to it on the left.
Miami would also be a great place for him. He could consolidate the running back depth chart there, placing Myles Gaskin back in a scatback role where he's at his best. Pairing him with Tua Tagovailoa will ground this offense in a positive way.
And if Arizona has the cap room and the desire the part company with Kenyon Drake and it doesn't trust Chase Edmonds? Whew, that could be fun to watch.
Haseley: Rams WR Van Jefferson has excellent footwork, route-running, and field awareness to make an impact in the league. He showed us what he's capable of at Florida with Kyle Trask if only for one year together.
At 6'2, 197 pounds he has excellent size and frame along with his dexterity as a receiver. I can see him making an impact in 2021 when he replaces Josh Reynolds in the Rams pecking order.
Los Angeles is bringing him along slowly and those who thought he would be a fantasy-relevant player this year might be a little disappointed in how he has been utilized up to this point. He may be one of the late-season receivers to emerge and show us his potential in Weeks 15 through 17.
Tremblay: Lynn Bowden Jr hadn't gotten much playing time this season until the last couple of weeks. He looked like a probable bust when the Raiders quickly lost interest in him and then the Dolphins seemingly couldn't find a use for him. Known for his versatility in college, it looked like he might be without a true position in the NFL — would he line up in the backfield on in the slot?
Over the first 13 weeks, the answer was mostly neither. In weeks 14 and 15, however, he's made a home for himself in the slot, and with Preston Williams, DeVante Parker, and Jakeem Grant all dealing with their respective injuries, Bowden could continue to draw looks over the next three games.
He's a good fit in the slot because he's less susceptible to being jammed there than he'd be outside. He can run after the catch, so he's a good target on screens and underneath routes. And he's got the compact build to survive making catches over the middle of the field.
Matt Waldman: Share with us the riskiest decision you're making with any playoff team you have. Describe the format, the players involved, and why it's a risk.
Haseley: My riskiest move or toughest decision this week in a semifinal matchup is determining whom I should start among this group.
- D.J. Chark at Baltimore: Gardner Minshew has a better rapport with Chark and may be the missing piece for Chark's fantasy production, but at the same time, Chark looks disinterested on the field. Maybe Minshew can change that? It's a risk that could have a decent reward.
- Gabriel Davis at Denver: Davis has seen some decent production lately with touchdowns in four of the last five games. He has scored in six of the Bills 13 games this season but he has half as many targets as Cole Beasley since Week 10. At best, Davis is third in the pecking order among wide receivers behind Stefon Diggs and Beasley. This week's matchup at Denver is a tough one. The Broncos have allowed only two touchdown passes in the last five games.
- Damien Harris at Miami: Harris continues to share snaps with James White and recently Sony Michel. He had a good stretch of games for a bit, but he has cooled off lately. Plus, the presence of Cam Newton stealing goal-line touchdowns is a real concern. The matchup this week at Miami is not a favorable one, but it's difficult to ignore his potential in the Patriots' offense.
Waldman: Good luck. I like Harris but Chark is compelling after the Ravens suffered injuries to its secondary, allowed over 300 yards to Mayfield, and Chark's production dropped when Minshew was playing hurt and then when Glennon had no rapport with the receiver.
Hindery: I just added Chase Daniel in waivers this morning and will probably be starting him at quarterback in a Superflex league semifinal. It is a risk for a couple of reasons. First, it is hard to know what to expect from Daniel and the motivation of the Lions offense in general. Second, this league has QB scoring rules that punish bad quarterback play (-4 points for interceptions and sack yardage counts as negative rushing yards) and negative points can start to pile up in a hurry.
I am left pondering Daniel in my starting lineup because my QB2 options have taken a hit in this league. I lost Dak Prescott to injury early in the year. Nick Foles was benched. Daniel Jones looked brutal last weekend and does not seem to be fully healthy. Playing Daniel is risky but probably not a lot riskier than playing an injured Daniel Jones. My safer options would be Devin Singletary or Irv Smith (TE-premium) but I am going to roll the dice on the higher upside of getting a second quarterback in my lineup even with the potential for the negative points to pile up.
Tremblay: I'm starting Jonathan Taylor and Cam Akers at running back this week over Ezekiel Elliott (Redraft league, standard format). I'm not trying to take on additional risk — I'd say our fantasy teams are evenly matched, so I'm just trying to maximize expected points.
But Jonathan Taylor is taking command of the Colts' backfield, and the matchup against the Texans is as juicy as they come. Cam Akers, likewise, has become the Rams' workhorse over the past few weeks, and the game script against the Jets is going to call for a heavy dose of the running game in a likely blowout.
But the Dallas offense isn't the same without Prescott, and the draft capital I used on Elliott is a sunk cost. If I ignore fantasy pedigree and just go with the players in the best situations to produce this week, for me that's Taylor and Akers, so that's what I'm doing.
It's risky because it's easy to look stupid benching the No.2 overall fantasy pick for a pair of rookies selected much later. If it doesn't work out, hindsight will judge me harshly.
I hope I don't end up looking stupid.
Parsons: One of my dynasty teams with a bye begins its playoff journey this week. The tight end spot has been a work in progress position on my roster through the years despite winning multiple championships.
The biggest splash move was trading for O.J. Howard in 2018 right before the playoffs (and trade deadline) to only see him get injured the following game. 2019 was a disappointment with Howard (53 targets, one touchdown) and this season resulted in another injury, plus Rob Gronkowski was added to Tampa Bay.
I still believe in the talent, but taking a shotgun approach at the position has been my approach despite exploring a number of potential trade angles, none of which provided enough stability or pop for the price in my view. As a result, I have started Trey Burton, Tyler Kroft, Anthony Firkser, Ross Dwelley, Kyle Rudolph, Jordan Reed, and Jacob Hollister at the position (after O.J. Howard in the opening weeks) and most recently Tyler Eifert and Cole Kmet (my Round 3 rookie pick back in May).
I plan to roll out Kmet, who has been rising in prominence in recent weeks, in Week 15 and could even drop Eifert considering his sameness to available options on the waiver wire. I am 10th in the league in tight end starter points on the season, but less than one point-per-game from 7th in the category - the middle of the pack.
Tight end (or quarterback) is the position where you can float a pure streamer if the rest of your roster is rock-solid considering there are very few difference-makers, possibly limited to Travis Kelce and Darren Waller at this point in the season.
Adam Harstad: I'm in a dynasty league where two teams have clearly separated from the pack. I'm one of them. A few weeks ago, I traded Tyler Lockett to the other top team to help shore up his biggest weakness (his WR3 spot).
It's certainly risky to beef up my top championship rival a few weeks before the playoffs, but I firmly believe the best way to build a strong team is to refrain from making trades that lose long-term value to chase short-term gain. And the flip side is that I should be willing to make deals that lose short-term value for long-term gain.
It's possible that he winds up beating me for the championship and that trade stands as the difference. It will certainly suck if that's the case. But I think the possibility is remote enough that I'm willing to roll the dice. We'd both need to advance to the championship game, and the game would need to be close, and Lockett would need to outscore his other option at WR3, and the margin between Lockett and his other WR would need to be greater than the margin of victory. That's a lot of "and"s.
Plus, my rival has flat-out said that he wouldn't be interested in any deal that makes my team better in the short term. So whether this trade works out or not, it's nice to establish that he's a lot more afraid of me than I am of him. Winning is fun, but living rent-free in your league-mates' heads is fun, too.
Wood: I'm starting Derek Carr against the Chargers this week in my local league, where I'm the defending champion. It's a 14-team league and it tends to be a league where people hoard quarterbacks even though it's not a Superflex setup.
I drafted Carson Wentz and Cam Newton and, well, neither worked out very well as you know. I was able to scramble and get matchups right enough weeks to make the playoffs. I advanced out of the Week 14 quarterfinals as the 5 seed, but now face off against the No. 1 seed, and his team is VERY GOOD.
So my choices were Derek Carr, who served me well in recent weeks or Jalen Hurts. I'm going with Carr because I fear Hurts' performance last week may not be replicable. But it's a risk because Carr is QB13 in this league's scoring and wildly inconsistent.
Waldman: I have the team to beat in our Footballguys IDP Staff Dynasty IDP league. It's an 11-2 squad that faces Matt Bitonti's team in the semifinals and Bitonti is one of the teams that defeated mine. As Jeff Haseley knows well because it has twice been at the hands of his team, my division-winning team has been in the playoffs every year and has had some tough defeats so I'm hoping this is my year to finish the playoffs the way this squad has finished its regular seasons.
I have a rich receiver corps, but I'm debating whether to start Chris Godwin against a somewhat resurgent Atlanta defense that still has holes or opt for Robby Anderson against Green Bay. I'm leaning toward Anderson because it's getting crowded in the Tampa Bay receiver room.
It feels as if the Buccaneers are force-feeding Antonio Brown passes. Mike Evans is getting healthy and that requires Brady delivering targets in situations that Godwin is actually equal or better than Evans at winning. Scotty Miller might have the best rapport with Brady when it comes to vertical routes and Rob Gronkowski has become a staple for intermediate routes and red-zone looks.
Anderson is the higher-performing player, but Godwin is the better all-around talent with a better quarterback playing a worse defense. That's the difficulty.
I have another IDP team that's going for its second title and third championship appearance in three years if it can pass the semifinals this week. I can start three receivers in this PPR format and I have Keenan Allen against the Raiders (easy choice), Marvin Jones against the Titans (with Stafford out, it's easier to bench him despite good play from him in recent weeks), and Michael Thomas against the Chiefs (he and Hill have the rapport that I'm not benching him unless he has a setback).
With Allen and Thomas easy starts, it leaves me with a hot T.Y. Hilton against the Texans or my second-highest scoring receiver, Adam Theilen, against the Bears. The problem with Thielen is the inconsistency of Kirk Cousins. Thielen has scored less than seven points four times this year, including last week against Tampa Bay.
However, he's had 7 weeks where he's posted more than 20 points, including a pair of 34-point outings. The last time the Vikings faced the Bears, Thielen earned 4 catches for 43 yards and 2 touchdowns, which epitomizes the risk-reward.
Right now, I have Hilton head of Thielen despite the fact that Thielen has also had four, two-touchdown games this year. I still have no idea which player I'm going to roll with yet.
Good luck to those of you with difficult decisions. Hopefully, we've helped you with some of them.