Week 15 in the NFL means that many football fans across America are amidst their respective fantasy football playoffs. If you are one of those people who have made it this far in your fantasy football season, then we here at EWB want to ensure that you have the best opportunity to win your league. Fantasy football is a game of research, intuition, and most importantly, paying attention to the matchups. There may be some players on your team that you wouldn’t think to bench or wouldn’t consider starting, but the matchups they have may suggest the opposite of what you expect. With that in mind, here is some advice on who to start and who to bench at each skill position.
QB to Start:
NICK FOLES, Philadelphia Eagles @ Minnesota Vikings
Despite throwing his first interception of the season last Sunday in the “Snow Bowl” against Detroit, Foles still managed to score 19.3 points in standard ESPN formats. This week, Foles will have the fortunate change in atmosphere from the snowy Philadelphia to the Mall of America Stadium, which is in fact underneath a dome. Also, the Vikings are not exactly what one would call a ‘stout’ defense, seeing as they have allowed the 2nd most points to fantasy quarterbacks this year. Foles continues to dominate defenses this year, and his ability to scramble for touchdowns in the redzone is just another plus to his fabulous fantasy résumé. If you have Nick Foles on your fantasy team, you would be a fool to start almost anyone over him.
QB to Sit:
TOM BRADY, New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
The days of Tom Brady being a must start in fantasy are long gone, especially now that Rob Gronkowski is yet again out of the lineup for the Patriots. To put the meaning of Gronkowski’s absence into perspective, Brady has averaged 13.7 fantasy points per game this year when Gronkowski is not in the starting lineup and 18.3 points per game when Gronkowski is on the field. If those numbers aren’t enough to make you feel reluctant about starting Brady, the Miami Dolphins have allowed on average 12.4 points per game to opposing quarterbacks, which ranks 4th in the NFL. Also, when Brady played the Dolphins earlier this year (even with Gronk in the lineup) he scored a meager 7.1 points. If you have a viable option on your bench to start over Brady, you should definitely consider benching the Patriots Poster Boy.
RB to Start:
STEVEN JACKSON, Washington Redskins @ Atlanta Falcons
Although Steven Jackson has had a rough season thus far, he is going up against the 2nd worst fantasy defense against runningbacks this year. Washington has allowed an average of 21.9 points per game to opposing runningbacks, and they have allowed the most rushing touchdowns this year (17). Also, it appears that Steven Jackson has finally gotten his swagger back since recovering from his injury. In his past three games, Jackson has averaged 14.1 fantasy points a game. If there ever was a week for him to post top runningback numbers, this will be the week he does it. Jackson is great RB2/Flex play this week and should help carry you to the next round of the playoffs.
RB to Sit
FRANK GORE, San Francisco 49ers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Frank Gore has been a great pick for fantasy owners who got him somewhere around the third round, although he has dropped off since the bye week. After scoring double digit fantasy points in 7 of his first 8 games, he has done it just twice in his last five. Also, the matchup doesn’t help either. The Buccaneers are the 6th best fantasy defense against runningbacks, and have only given 2 touchdowns on the ground against RBs. Also, Against top 10 fantasy rush defenses, Gore has averaged just 8.0 points per game. The bye week may have also put a halt to Gore’s momentum. Since the bye, Gore has averaged just 7.84 points and has scored just one total TD. Also, his fantasy numbers since the bye account for just 26% of his yearly point total, although mathematically speaking his games since the bye should have accounted for 39%. Gore should be considered nothing more than a Flex start this week, and if are forced to start him due to a lack of depth on your team then keep your expectations low.
WR to Start:
STEVE SMITH, New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers
Now that the New York Jets might be without CB Antonio Cromartie on Sunday, rookie CB Dee Milliner would start, even further worsening the Jets’ pass defense. Currently, the Jets have allowed the 5th most fantasy points to WRs this year, and that can only worsen if their Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie is unable to perform Sunday. Even if he does play, Steve Smith is still worth the start. Smith averages almost 8 targets a game, and is consistent for around 50-70 receiving yards per game. This number should escalate against the Jets, and if there was ever a game Smith would get a touchdown it would definitely be against Gang Green, who have allowed 16 TDs to WRs this year (2nd highest amount in NFL). Smith is a sleeper start this week and could even be considered a quality WR2, but definitely a Flex start.
WR to Sit:
VICTOR CRUZ: Seattle Seahawks @ New York Giants
After an amazing season last year for Victor Cruz in which he scored 10 touchdowns, Cruz has dropped off a little this year. Currently, Cruz is just the 19th highest scoring WR. Victor Cruz has also struggled in recent games, scoring just 27.6 points in his last 5 games. Cruz’s last receiving touchdown came all the way back in week 4, and don’t expect him to end his drought this weekend. Odds are that Richard Sherman will be playing man to man on Cruz all game, and the former Stanford Cardinal is considered the best CB in the NFL. If you haven’t already, taking Cruz out of your starting lineup is a must this week.
TE to Start:
DELANIE WALKER, Arizona Cardinals @ Tennessee Titans
Now that Delanie Walker is listed as Probable and will most likely start for the Titans on Sunday, he is a huge sleeper this week. Only owned in 19.9% of ESPN Fantasy Football Leagues, you can likely add Walker off waivers, especially if you need a new tight end because of Rob Gronkowski’s injury. Although Delanie Walker has been inconsistent at best this year, this week he squares off against the worst fantasy defense against TEs in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals have allowed the most yards (1,115), touchdowns (14), receptions (84), and targets (133) to opposing tight ends this year, and their average points allowed to TEs per game is a whole FOUR points higher than any other team. Walker has succeeded this year at times, scoring 5 touchdowns thus far. Walker should have a huge game this weekend and should be highly considered as a TE1 start.
TE to Sit:
JARED COOK, New Orleans Saints @ St. Louis Rams
Cook was considered a fantasy sleeper this year, and after a huge opening day game against the Cardinals many fantasy owners jumped on the Jared Cook bandwagon. However, since then Cook has been a nonfactor until recently, as he has averaged 8 points per game in his last three appearances. However, do not fall for him again. The New Orleans Saints have allowed an average of just 6.1 points per game to TEs, 6th best in the NFL. Also, Cook’s targets seem to drop and drop each week, and he has not had 5+ receptions since Week 3. Unless you are severely desperate at the Tight End position, it would be foolish to start Jared Cook this week.
We wish the best of luck to you in your fantasy football endeavors, and I highly recommend you heed this advice if you wish to further elongate your fantasy football season.