With all 32 NFL teams playing for the first time in over two months, it would stand to reason that individual matchups figure more into my start and sit decisions than ever before. They still matter, of course. And I will highlight a few I am paying close attention to below. But it is starting to feel like Week 15 of the NFL season is more a war of attrition than anything else. I posted my Week 15 Flex rankings just a couple of days ago, and already five of the top-100 are out for the week. Injuries and Covid continue to thin out both NFL and fantasy football rosters alike. It sure feels like fantasy managers who have the usual suspects on the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers are sitting in the catbird seat heading into the weekend.
The NFL rearranged its schedule on Friday to try to ensure that all teams play this week. So I will present my start and sit recommendations under the belief that the remaining 15 games on this week’s schedule will go off without a hitch. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention that if you are looking for a tiebreaker between two players on your roster, it probably makes sense to choose the player whose game starts first. For example, you will see below that I am high on Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks. I have him ranked slightly ahead of Myles Gaskin of the Miami Dolphins. However, if I can only start one, I’m probably starting Gaskin. I would rather bank the points early on than have to scramble if a player gets ruled out or a game gets postponed at the last minute.
Week 15 Start and Sit Recommendations
Quarterback to Start
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
I boldly predicted that Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa would throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns this week. Of course, hours after that article got posted, word got out that rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was placed on the reserve/Covid list. While that gives me enough pause to doubt whether Tagovailoa can post top-five fantasy numbers this week (that and the success of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert on Thursday, of course), I still have confidence that he can post top-10 numbers. The New York Jets have a defense that is painfully bereft of playmakers. Of the 15 defenders who have played enough snaps to qualify for a Pro Football Focus grade, only four rank inside the top-60 at their respective positions. And three of those are outside the top-35.
Miami recently welcomed back DeVante Parker, who had missed the better part of two months with a hamstring injury. Parker caught all five of his targets in his last game against the New York Giants. More importantly, he did not suffer another physical setback. He should be in line for a solid workload on Sunday. Miami also figures to feature tight end Mike Gesicki in its passing game. The tight end had five catches for 50 yards when these clubs met four weeks ago. Tagovailoa was the QB12 that week, and that feels like a pretty safe projection for his Week 15 output. I ranked him 11th before the Waddle news hit. But I also had him behind Lamar Jackson (who may miss Baltimore’s game against Green Bay), as well as Jalen Hurts and Matthew Stafford (whose games have been pushed to Tuesday). I would trust Tua as a safe (albeit low-end) QB1 this week.
Quarterback to Sit
Taysom Hill, New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Taysom Hill has started two games for New Orleans as its starting quarterback this season. In each of those games, he has finished the week as the overall QB4. And Tampa Bay gives up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. By that logic, this would appear to be a favorable matchup for Hill. However, some of those numbers are a bit misleading. Tampa allows just 6.51 yards per pass attempt, which is third-best in the NFL. They have also forced 15 interceptions, tied for fourth-best. When we last saw a team force Hill to throw the football, he threw four interceptions in a home loss against the Dallas Cowboys. Do not be surprised to see multiple turnovers out of Hill in this game as well.
Hill has also put up a good number of his fantasy points over the last two weeks in the fourth quarter. In his last two fourth quarters, Hill has rushed for 60 yards and two touchdowns and thrown for an additional 172 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps he is trying to replace Jalen Hurts as the new garbage time fantasy quarterback. Of course, we’ll take fantasy points wherever we can get them. But it is not the type of production that I am willing to bank on or project going forward. New Orleans will also be without their top two tackles in Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead. This feels like a game that could get away from the Saints a bit. I am expecting Taysom Hill to finish outside the top-12 this week, thus making him a Week 15 Sit for me.
Running Backs to Start
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
As I mentioned at the top, if you have a solid running back option who plays in the early slate on Sunday, it may behoove you to go the safe route and take the points. Manage your teams as you see fit. However, if you have a little Brandon Staley in you, maybe you will decide that you want to wait on a player like Rashaad Penny of the Seattle Seahawks. Penny had a career-high 137 rushing yards and broke two long touchdown runs last week against the Houston Texans. Head coach Pete Carroll has indicated that Penny has earned a chance to be the team’s lead back over the final month of the season. That declaration was rendered moot when the team placed Alex Collins on the reserve/Covid list. Penny could see a ton of work in Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Though the Rams are a solid defense, they are not impervious to rushing production. Los Angeles ranks 14th in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. Perhaps of greater importance though is the Covid outbreak they are dealing with. It is sort of a double-edged sword in the sense that it could possibly prevent the game from even being played. But as of now, the Rams have 25 players in protocols, including three defensive starters. Though Von Miller, Jalen Ramsey, and Jordan Fuller are known as disrupters of the passing game, they are quite stout against the run as well. Miller’s potential absence, in particular, could mean even more attention for Aaron Donald upfront. Penny was already projecting as a high-volume play, and now may be facing an undermanned defense. There is a risk with both teams dealing with Covid cases, but there is significant reward potential as well.
Michael Carter, New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
I normally try to fade players who have missed multiple weeks due to an injury. That usually goes double for a running back dealing with a foot injury. However, these are not normal times. Michael Carter has missed the last three weeks with an ankle injury. But it sounds like the Jets will activate Carter before Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins, and it does not appear he will be eased back in. Instead, head coach Robert Saleh said he will have a significant role this week. Carter has shown flashes in his rookie campaign. Most notably, he fired off four straight games of at least 80 total yards following New York’s bye week. That streak was broken when he was injured in Week 11 against the Dolphins. Before leaving that game early, he ran for 63 yards on just nine carries.
Carter leads Jets backs in receptions despite missing three games. He is one of an ever-thinning group of backs who can be considered their team’s best rusher and also their best pass-catcher out of the backfield. That makes him less reliant on game script than a lot of other backs. That is good because it raises his floor while also leaving room for a higher ceiling. The Dolphins are in the middle of the pack in terms of both rushing yards allowed (13th) and receptions (17th) to opposing backs. This is not necessarily a matchup to shy away from, and Carter looks poised to flirt with 20 opportunities. That makes him an intriguing Week 15 Flex play, and one who can pay huge dividends in the first week of the fantasy playoffs.
Running Back to Sit
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions
There are similarities here between Chase Edmonds and Michael Carter. Both are likely to be activated from injured reserve in time for their respective games on Sunday. And, truth be told, Edmonds has the far superior matchup, as the Cardinals will take on the Detroit Lions. However, Edmonds also has James Conner to contend with. Conner has revitalized his career as one of the season’s top fantasy running backs. He suffered an ankle injury on the last play of Monday night’s loss but appears on track to suit up in Week 15. That makes him the preferred option against a Detroit defense that has surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season.
Edmonds should not be completely ignored for fantasy purposes. After all, the Lions have allowed 22 total touchdowns to enemy backs on the year. That trails only the New York Jets. But while I can see a path to 20 opportunities for the likes of Rashaad Penny and Michael Carter, I do not see that same volume potential for Edmonds. Edmonds has not seen 20 opportunities in a game all season long, even when he was the team’s de facto starting running back. Now that Conner has taken over that mantle, I do not see Edmonds suddenly getting the bulk of the work. That is especially true given the recent injury and Arizona’s long-term goals. Arizona has its sights set on the playoffs. I do not expect them to rely too much on Edmonds after a six-week absence, and I would advise fantasy managers to follow their lead.
Wide Receiver to Start
Marvin Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars v. Houston Texans
Marvin Jones has not had a top-36 weekly finish since Week 6. However, he did have his best game since then when he caught six passes for 70 yards last week. That performance could portend a bit of a resurgence from Jones as we head down the stretch of the season. Jones will have a chance to build on last week’s effort when Jacksonville takes on the Houston Texans. It will be interesting to see how interim head coach Darrell Bevell handles Jacksonville’s struggling offense. He and Jones worked well together over the last two years in Detroit, where Bevell was the team’s offensive coordinator. Jones caught nine touchdown passes in each of those two years. I would not be surprised to see Jones featured a bit more prominently now that Bevell is running the show.
Jones also stands to benefit from a matchup with Houston’s subpar secondary. He lines up all over the offensive formation, and I do not expect that to change a whole lot with Bevell running the show. When he is outside, he should have an advantage over both Desmond King and Lonnie Johnson. King’s 1.47 yards per route covered allowed are ninth-most among corners who have covered at least 200 routes. And Johnson is a converted safety who has not played a lot of cornerback. Houston has placed safeties A.J. Moore and Terrence Brooks as well as slot cornerback Terrance Mitchell on the reserve/Covid list. This is shaping up to be an undermanned and overmatched secondary. I expect Jones to capitalize on the advantageous circumstances. He and the Jaguars’ passing offense could be in for a big day.
Wide Receiver to Sit
Kendrick Bourne, New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
Kendrick Bourne has been quite productive when called upon. He has a 79.2 percent catch rate, which is third among NFL receivers. And Bourne ranks ninth in the NFL with 2.16 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus. Of the eight receivers who rank ahead of him in that particular metric, six are among the top nine fantasy wideouts this season, and only Tee Higgins, who has missed two games, sits outside the top-13. Yet Bourne enters Week 15 30th among wide receivers in total fantasy points, despite playing in all 13 games. Why is it? For that answer, simply refer to the first sentence in this paragraph. Specifically the phrase, “when called upon”. New England does not feature a volume passing attack. Among the 14 quarterbacks who have started all of their team’s games, Mac Jones has thrown the fewest passes.
Sure, the game against Buffalo, when they threw a total of three passes, contributes to that stat. But they weren’t exactly flinging the ball all over the yard before that. Bourne averages just 4.1 targets per game. His matchup this week against the Colts is not exactly an easy one either. The Colts usually keep their three primary cornerbacks stationary along their formation. That means Bourne is more likely to square off against Rock Ya-Sin or Kenny Moore than he is Xavier Rhodes. Ya-Sin in particular has had an exceptional season. He has been targeted on just 11 percent of routes, which ranks sixth among full-time corners. And his 0.19 fantasy points per route covered rank 13th. The lack of volume and difficult matchup make it hard for me to recommend Bourne with the fantasy season hanging in the balance.
Tight End to Start
Travis Kelce! What, too obvious?
Let’s be honest – we all of a pretty good idea of who the top 10 or 12 fantasy tight ends are. Hopefully, you have at least one of them on your roster. Because I am not overflowing with confidence about the two players I am about to list. They do fit the mold of players I am higher on than the consensus, but there are caveats and disclaimers galore.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams v. Seattle Seahawks
Ricky Seals-Jones, Washington Football Team v. Philadelphia Eagles
The Los Angeles Rams placed tight end, Tyler Higbee, on the reserve/Covid list on Monday, which caused him to be a late scratch. They activated him a day later, with word that a false positive had been to blame. Well, guess what? They once again placed him on the reserve/Covid list on Friday. Will this turn out to be another false positive? Will Higbee have time to clear protocols now that the NFL has pushed the Rams game back to Tuesday? Will they even play the game on Tuesday? I would be lying if I claimed to have definitive answers to any of the above questions. However, the Seattle Seahawks have allowed the fourth-most receptions and sixth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. So there is room for optimism if you ignore some of the obvious red flags.
Seals-Jones has an even better matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. It seems like every year there is one team that just cannot cover tight ends. I remember a few years ago it was the New York Giants, then the Arizona Cardinals, and then the New York Jets. This year it seems to be the Eagles. Through last week’s game, Philadelphia had allowed the most receptions, most yards, and most touchdowns to the tight end position. Other than that, they have been pretty good. Seals-Jones played a bit behind John Bates last week. But it was also the former’s first game back after a three-game absence. Washington could have been looking to ease Seals-Jones back into the fold, particularly with Logan Thomas back. Unfortunately, Thomas tore his ACL last week and is out for the season. That could mean a more prominent role for RSJ this week.
Washington is also dealing with several Covid and injury concerns. They have placed their top two quarterbacks on the reserve/Covid list. Kyle Shurmur may start this week’s game. Shurmur is a 25-year old who has never thrown an NFL pass. There are also questions surrounding the availability of running back J.D. McKissic and wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel due to injury. Seals-Jones had 15 receptions and 22 targets over a three-game stretch in October. There is a chance he sees similar usage given the uncertainty surrounding the team’s pass-catching options. Again, y’know, assuming the game is played and all. If you are swinging for the fences, Seals-Jones is probably your best bet among the TE2 options readily available. He is still available in 71 percent of Fantrax leagues.
Tight End to Sit
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers v. Tennessee Titans
I only have Freiermuth ranked one spot below consensus, and you can very easily make the argument that I’m too high on Higbee. So take this recommendation with a grain of salt. I am not saying that you need to go out of your way to sit the rookie tight end. However, I do have a couple of concerns. First, some good touchdown fortune has gotten Freiermuth by in recent weeks. He has averaged just under 30 yards per game over his last four games, yet he has scored in three of those four games, which has allowed him to put up solid fantasy totals. He finished 18th in Week 13 when he failed to score. That is better than nothing, but I do believe Freiermuth has a lower floor than his recent fantasy output would indicate.
He has also been targeted just 11 times over the last three weeks. That is a bit concerning considering that Ben Roethlisberger has attempted 112 passes during that timeframe. The good news is that I do not expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to become a rushing offense all of a sudden. But the low target share would be problematic if Pittsburgh gets ahead and tries to take the air out of the ball. The matchup against Tennessee is not one I would look to exploit. The Titans have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Opposing tight ends have scored just three times against Tennessee this season. Freiermuth has been heavily touchdown-dependent of late, and this does not seem like the matchup that will lend itself towards him finding the end zone.
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