Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins each recorded top-two weekly finishes last week, finishing with over 20 fantasy points each. The only other receiver to record a 20+ point week in Week 14 was Davante Adams. Adams continues to play stellar football despite the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers back in Week 6. Adams has the exact same overall fantasy ranking (WR7) in 2017 as he did in 2016. The same cannot be said for teammate Jordy Nelson. Nelson has fallen off a cliff since Aaron Rodgers’ departure. Nelson has totaled an almost-incomprehensible 153 scoreless receiving yards in the seven games which Brett Hundley has started. For whatever reason, Nelson and Hundley simply have no connection whatsoever. Fantasy owners of Nelson are hoping that Rodgers’ return will bring Nelson back from the doldrums. I don’t think it’s that simple. I can’t buy into Nelson as a must-start quite yet, even with Rodgers returning in Week 15.
As the fantasy playoffs are now in full swing, owners must decide which wide receivers are most likely to take advantage of their matchups and lead their fantasy owners to victory. Individual matchups are perhaps more important for wide receivers than they are at any other position in determining which players have an edge. Here are some players whose matchups may play a big role in their Week 15 production.
DEVIN FUNCHESS, CAROLINA PANTHERS VS. GREEN BAY PACKERS
Devin Funchess continues to be a fantasy force following the mid-season trade of Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills. Despite facing a harrowing matchup in the Minnesota Vikings and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Funchess put up his fifth consecutive top-24 performance in Carolina’s Week 14 victory. Funchess gets a much softer draw this week when Carolina hosts the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay has given up the third-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season. Funchess does not have a particularly imposing individual matchup, as he will likely match up against cornerback Devon House. Funchess’ outlook may also be enhanced with Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers making his long-awaited return to the Packers’ lineup. With Rodgers now leading the charge for the Packers, Carolina will need to put up a lot of points to compete. A potential shootout would only increase the likelihood of more possessions and more opportunities for Carolina’s budding star wide receiver. I view Devin Funchess as a WR2 with WR1 upside.
JOSH GORDON, CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS
Josh Gordon finished as the weekly WR18 for Week 14 and has now put up back-to-back WR2 finishes upon his return to football following a three-year absence. Gordon had a big first half, scoring his first touchdown since 2013, but he was a non-factor after that. He was primarily locked up against Packers’ cornerback Damarious Randall in the second half, with Randall often coming out on top in their individual battle. It will be interesting to see how the Baltimore Ravens handle Gordon in Week 15. Baltimore has a reputation as a great defense, but they struggled mightily to cover opposing No. 1 wide receivers lately. The quartet of Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Marvin Jones, and Antonio Brown has combined for 554 receiving yards against Baltimore in their last four games. Brown had a monster game against Baltimore last week with 213 receiving yards. However, he did most of his damage against Brandon Carr. Rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey was much more effective in defending Brown. Humphrey held Brown to just two catches for seven yards on five targets. Looking ahead to Week 15, the good news for Gordon and his owners is that Baltimore does not typically use their cornerbacks to shadow wide receivers. Gordon should find himself matched up against Carr often enough to make a big play or two in this game. I think Josh Gordon is a high-end WR2 in this matchup.
DEMARYIUS THOMAS, DENVER BRONCOS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
Demaryius Thomas has not had the type of season we have grown accustomed to seeing from him, but it’s not as if he has been Terrelle Pryor or anything, either. Thomas has performed slightly below preseason expectations, but he has remained the most consistent member of the Denver Broncos’ offense. Thomas has at least eight targets in all but two games this season and enters Week 15 as the overall WR27. Thomas and the Denver Broncos will travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts on Thursday night. Even if the Colts have fully thawed out following their Week 14 snowball fight in Buffalo, this is a great matchup for Thomas. The Colts have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points and the fourth-most receiving yards to opposing wide receivers. Thomas’ individual matchup is perhaps even better. He should line up most often against Colts’ cornerback Quincy Wilson. The second-round rookie has struggled this season, allowing a passer rating of 126.4, per Pro Football Focus. Thomas should have little trouble taking advantage of this matchup. Demaryius Thomas is an easy WR2 and has top-10 upside this week.
TYREEK HILL, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS VS. LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Tyreek Hill has taken great strides as an NFL receiver in his second season. He has continued to flash the big-play ability that made him so dynamic last season, and he has proven to be a reliable receiver as well. Hill has caught 70 percent of his targets and is on the verge of his first 1,000-yard receiving season. Hill enters Week 15 as the overall WR5 in standard scoring. Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs do battle with the Los Angeles Chargers and cornerback Casey Heyward in Week 15. Heyward ranks as the best cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. There is also a very bizarre home/road split that Hill is on the wrong side of this week. Last week’s overall WR35 is strangely the best fantasy performance Hill has put up at home this season. Those types of splits are something usually only reserved for baseball players. The splits may be the byproduct of a small sample size, but it’s something worth considering. Owners of Hill will likely have to hope for a repeat of Week 3, where Hill lined up in the slot and was able to avoid Heyward’s coverage on a 30-yard touchdown catch. Season-long owners will likely be forced to start Hill, but he is not likely to put up a WR1 stat line in Week 15. Tyreek Hill is more of a WR3/Flex option in this matchup.
JORDY NELSON, GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS
Jordy Nelson was the overall WR2 in 2016 and was on his way to a similar campaign in 2017 until Aaron Rodgers became sidelined with a broken collarbone. To say Nelson has struggled with backup Brett Hundley manning the controls of Green Bay’s offense would be a gross understatement. It’ s hard to pinpoint exactly why Nelson has been so invisible with Hundley at quarterback, while Davante Adams’ production has remained consistent. Whatever the reason, Nelson is being ranked as a mid-range WR2 this week strictly because Aaron Rodgers is set to return to action. That said, it’s no guarantee that Rodgers returning will immediately make Nelson an elite fantasy option again. Even with Rodgers suiting up, Nelson should not be viewed as anything more than a WR3 in Week 15. I would take a wait-and-see approach with Jordy Nelson this week.
STEFON DIGGS, MINNESOTA VIKINGS VS. CINCINNATI BENGALS
Stefon Diggs has simply not been the same player since hurting his groin way back in Week 5. Prior to the injury, Diggs averaged one touchdown and just under 100 receiving yards per game. In the six games since his Week 8 return, Diggs has yet to reach 80 yards in a single game and has posted just one top-30 weekly finish. His prospects for a big Week 15 are minimal in a matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati has played stingy perimeter defense this season, allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wideouts. Meanwhile, they have permitted opposing running backs to score the seventh-most of any team in the NFL. Minnesota shouldn’t have much trouble controlling the action in this contest. I expect Minnesota to attack the Bengals on the ground and establish the running game with their two-headed monster of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. I just don’t think Diggs will have many opportunities to make plays in this game. I view Stefon Diggs as a speculative Flex play at best in Week 15.
SLEEPERS OF THE WEEK:
DEDE WESTBROOK, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS VS. HOUSTON TEXANS
Since Dede Westbrook’s much anticipated NFL debut in Week 9, the former Biletnikoff Award winner has improved his fantasy production in each subsequent game. His yardage totals have increased each week, and he has a team-high 235 receiving yards on 33 targets since his debut. Last week, he scored his first NFL touchdown and finished as the weekly WR14 overall. This week Westbrook and the Jaguars will host the Houston Texans. Houston has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season. Westbrook is most likely to see right cornerback Kevin Johnson in coverage. We mentioned Johnson in this space last week, and he struggled once again. Johnson was targeted four times and allowed four catches for 57 yards in Houston’s home loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Westbrook should continue his fine play as he earns more of quarterback Blake Bortles’ trust. I look for Dede Westbrook to put up a second consecutive WR2 week in Week 15.
MOHAMED SANU, ATLANTA FALCONS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Mohamed Sanu is not the sexiest fantasy wide receiver, though he is the only one to throw a touchdown pass this year. He is, however, a very underrated commodity in fantasy. Sanu has been a top-25 wide receiver in five of his last seven games, yet he continues to be viewed as a weekly WR3 or worse. This week he takes on the same Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad that allowed his touchdown pass to Julio Jones in Week 12. Another touchdown pass is unlikely, of course. But Sanu can very easily be a WR2 once again in this matchup. In their first meeting, Sanu corralled eight of nine targets. That was the same game in which Julio Jones went absolutely ballistic, finishing with 268 total yards and two touchdowns. Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing the Buccaneers try to pay a little more attention to Jones this time around, which would only open up more opportunities for Sanu to operate. Running most of his routes from the slot, he should square off most often with Robert McClain in coverage. Though McClain had a good game last week, he still ranks as just the 89th best cornerback according to Pro Football Focus. I think Mohamed Sanu is a top-20 wide receiver in this pristine Week 15 draw.