Eyes Of the Guru - Week 15
by John Norton
December 19th, 2012

A 3-1 mark in Week 15 will make my Championship week much more exciting. Hopefully you survived the strange events of last week's games and will be joining me in a Week 16 title quest.

Atlanta Falcons

I would have had no problem believing that Atlanta would knock off the Giants but in a smothering shutout? The Falcons face off in Week 16 with a Lions team that has been a very strong matchup all year, except last week of course, when they were taken apart by the Cardinals of all teams. This whole debacle would make me hesitant to start any Falcons defenders. That said, keep in mind that Patrick Peterson had 7 solo tackles, a pick and a couple of defended passes last week. There is also the fact that Paris Lenon and Darryl Washington combined for a 10-2 mark. All things considered, Sean Weatherspoon looks like a very safe start this week and even though Robert McClain failed to have a strong game against the Giants, he was the most productive of the Falcons corners at 3-1. Look for him to bounce back with a much better box score this week. One guy here that has tumbled from grace over the past several weeks is Stephen Nicholas. Not only have his numbers dropped off, he was not an every down player against the Giants, seeing about 73% of the snaps.

New Orleans Saints

If you are giving any consideration to starting Curtis Lofton against the Cowboys this week, consider that Dallas has been an average at best matchup most weeks. Even more telling is that Lofton has 4 or fewer solo tackles in five of the last six games. Cameron Jordan and Will Smith have both been productive over the past few weeks but if you elect to go with one of them this week, do it only because they are playing well. Dallas has allowed just under a sack a game to defensive ends... Isa Abdul-Quddus is the next man up at FS for the Saints. With Malcolm Jenkins done for the year, Abdul-Quddus has quietly recorded back to back games with 16+ fantasy points. He is 9-3 with a pair of picks in those games and could continue his streak of double digit points against a Dallas club that has been a decent matchup for safeties on most weeks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Mark Barron bounced back with a big game in week fifteen but don't let that lure you into starting him this week. Nothing has changed about the way he is being used. Ahmad Black is still poaching a lot of the run support opportunities from the safety position. Barron's big game had a great deal to do with the Saints offense and their down the field passing game. Yes, Harrison Smith had 9 solo stops against the Rams last week but the St. Louis offense is a much different animal than the Saints and I believe Black will be the beneficiary this week. If there is anyone here who might be a sneaky play based on this matchup it is Black, but I don't know that I would gamble on him in a championship game unless you are pretty desperate for some reason.

Houston Texans

Looking at the matchups one might automatically assume that Danieal Manning would be a great start this week against the Vikings. There is no doubt he will have some opportunity but looking at the history over the course of the season, Minnesota has not been a particularly strong matchup for safeties. I think Peterson is simply so good that once he breaks into that level, most safeties are simply no match for him. The fact is, only 3 safeties have recorded more than 4 solo stops against the Vikings over the past eight games, and none of them have had a really big game.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans defense has not given us a lot to talk about over the past few weeks but there are a couple of guys here that we should give a lot of consideration to this week. The obvious one is Jason McCourty. Aaron Rodgers spreads the ball around so much that the Packers have not been as good a matchup for corners as we might think, but McCourty tends to make a lot more tackles than most corners, even if he was not on the coverage of that player. I expect there will be a great deal of opportunity in the Tennessee secondary. The other Titan to think hard about is Derrick Mason (and maybe even Kamerion Wimbley). This is unlikely to be a close game but the Packers continue to allow a lot of sacks, including a league high 2 per game to defensive ends.

Indianapolis Colts

With Kavell Connor out last week, Pat Angerer saw his most significant playing time and his best production of the season. He will likely make a second start this week against Kansas City but don't expect much more from him than the 5 tackles he made last week. Angerer is still not seeing an every down role but he is showing us that he can still make plays when given an opportunity. Dynasty owners should sit tight on him and see if his situation changes before next year.

Oakland Raiders

Andre Carter saw his first work of the season in a three down role when he played 33 of 50 snaps against the Chiefs. This is a guy who still has a lot left in the tank and is showing it late in the season. The Raiders have been impressed and are likely to make a strong effort to bring him back next year. This is bad news for Matt Shaughnessy owners as Carter's playing time is coming at Shaughnessy's expense. The Panthers are no better than an average matchup for defensive ends so I don't know that I would target Carter for a start this week, but he may be a target to add for next year.

San Diego Chargers

The hits just keep on coming at inside linebacker for the Chargers. Donald Butler, Demorrio Williams and now Takeo Spikes are all injured. Spikes left late in the game Sunday with a hamstring injury. As of Wednesday afternoon his status has not been updated. If Spikes is unable to go this week, look for Bront Bird and Andrew Gachkar to be the starters on the inside. We didn't get enough of a sampling last week for me to know which one would be the every down option. My educated guess is that it would be Bird who saw the majority of the coverage snaps last week when the two backups split time opposite Spikes.

St. Louis Rams

Their big potential and the tease of a few big games had a lot of owners gambling on Chris Long and Robert Quinn late into the season. If you are one of those owners you are probably not playing for all the marbles this week. If you have somehow beaten those odds don't make the mistake of rolling with them this week against a Bucs offense that has given up only 8.5 sacks to defensive ends all year.

Arizona Cardinals

Owners in big play based dynasty leagues should keep an eye on Reggie Walker over the next two weeks. With Quentin Groves in a walking boot, Walker is likely to get the start at outside linebacker this week and possibly next. He caught my eye back in the preseason when he showed versatility by making a splash at both the outside and inside positions. At 6'0” and 244 pounds, Walker is a fireplug with a low center of gravity. He is quick, fast and seemed to have a knack for being near the ball on every play.

Philadelphia Eagles

We wondered how much different the Eagles defense would look without the wide nine. The return to a more conventional front brought back memories of glory days for fantasy owners. Not only did Brandon Graham continue to show why the organization was willing to let Jason Babin go, Trent Cole awakened from his season long coma. Between them the two starting ends accounted for 9 solo stops, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a recovery and a batted pass. It was by far the best showing of the year for both players as well as the best showing of the season for the Eagles pass rush as a whole. If Trent Cole is available in your dynasty league, go get him. I have a strong suspicion that he will be back to old tricks in 2013.

New York Giants

With Michael Boley battling a sore back, Spencer Paysinger got the call to start on the weak side against the Falcons. Boley was active but saw action on only about half of the defensive snaps. This opened the door for Chase Blackburn to once again have an every down role (62 of 68 snaps). Baltimore has been a decent matchup for middle backers on most weeks but this whole situation makes me pretty nervous. The Giants have been somewhat inconsistent with their linebackers even when they have been healthy, and neither Boley nor Blackburn are world beaters. Avoid this mess all together if you can... Justin Tuck has been among the season's biggest IDP disappointments and Jason Pierre-Paul has hardly lived up to expectations either. If however you are an underdog in need of a risk/reward start this week, consider that the Ravens have allowed 7 sacks to defensive ends over the past four games.

New England Patriots

Patrick Chung got back on the field against San Francisco as he replaced Steve Gregory at safety. This was not an all together surprising move. In fact it is one that I had anticipated happening a few weeks back. Chung is probably still not 100% recovered from the shoulder injury that slowed him for much of the season, so don't read much into this in fantasy terms for the remainder of this season. On the other hand, Chung is one of those guys we might want to target as a last week pickup to hold over for next season. When healthy I still see him as the Patriots best option at strong safety for the long term... The one Patriots note from week fifteen that does have immediate meaning is that for the second week in a row Dont'a Hightower was on the field in nearly an every down role. I am still a little concerned that this is a temporary adjustment based on the last two matchups and game situations, but dynasty owners need to move on Hightower just in case. If this guy can get on the field 90% of the time, he is going to be a very productive player for us down the road. That said, don't expect a lot from him this week with a very poor matchup against the Jaguars.

New York Jets

David Harris has been inconsistent at best but I see the Chargers situation at running back as a positive for him this week. With Ryan Matthews out, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown will handle the duties. Battle is a between the tackles power back who specializes in 3 yards and a cloud of dust. That should fall right into Harris's wheelhouse.

Cincinnati Bengals

With only a few exceptions, the Steelers have been a poor matchup for linebackers this season. One of those few exceptions came in week seven when Vontaze Burfict had a season best mark of 13-2 against them. Don't expect a repeat of that monster game, but Burfict has been very consistent for us. He has 9 or more fantasy points in ten of the last eleven games.

Baltimore Ravens

Multiple injuries at the inside linebacker positions let to second year pro Josh Bynes getting the call against Denver last week. He responded with an 11-2 and a pass defended. Early last week we thought that Ray Lewis might be back but the team elected not to activate him from the temporary IR. As of Wednesday afternoon there is no sign that Lewis will go this week either. The situation points to Bynes making his second start versus the Giants. I grabbed Bynes this week and am seriously considering him as a starter in the finals of the CBS sports experts league. The Giants have been a very safe matchup over the past several weeks and the Ravens are really struggling. Unless Lewis becomes a factor late in the week, Bynes could be a surprising sleeper play.

Minnesota Vikings

The Rams and Vikings was one of the week fifteen games that unfolded very differently than anticipated. As such, Jasper Brinkley's role was smaller than expected and his opportunity much less than anticipated. Minnesota meets Houston this week so once again the scenario suggests a potentially big game for Brinkley. If you somehow survived last week, be satisfied with one near miss. Take your chance with someone else this week. The one Viking that should be in our lineups this week is Harrison Smith. History tells us that the Minnesota cover-2 scheme is not ideal for production from the safety positions, but Harrison has overcome that stereo type. He has scored in double digits and has at least 5 solo stops in each of the last four games. The Texans have been an average matchup for safeties but my gut feeling tells me that Smith's hot hand will continue. At worst I feel he has a high floor in this one.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers matchup with a shaky Titans offense gives us more reasons to bench rather than start guys this week. Brad Jones was a solid matchup play last week but don't expect a repeat. Over the past six games only the equally horrible Jaguars have had a linebacker record more than 5 tackles against Tennessee.

Chicago Bears

Unless you expect the Cardinals to find lightening in a bottle two weeks in a row, there is not much to get excited about with this Bears Week 16 matchup. Charles Tillman is an every week must start and Julius Peppers has a good chance of getting home with a big play or two. Beyond those guys, all Bears defenders have a very low floor this week.

Best of luck to everyone in your championship games this week!

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to norton@footballguys.com.

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