This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
Does Seattle stay hot this week at home vs. Cleveland? If so, who benefits most?
Will Grant: Seattle is on a roll, and I think you consider their players as part of your lineup, depending on the value that you find. Russell Wilson has a very high floor and with limited options running the ball, Wilson's numbers should continue to be a healthy portion of the offense each week. Doug Baldwin should continue his high-target, high-reception pace, and Tyler Lockett looks like he's getting more involved in the offense as well. Lockett might actually be the smarter play given his cheaper salary.
BJ VanderWoude: Yes, I'm of the mind that Seattle (Wilson in particular) stays hot in a home game against Cleveland. The easy answer as to who benefits most is Doug Baldwin, who has transformed himself from value play, to "must play." He's averaging 24 points per game over the last five weeks with nine total touchdowns, but the most impressive part is that he is averaging only eight targets per game over that span. Wilson is looking for him in the red zone, although a touchdown every four targets is probably not sustainable. Given the fact that Seattle just released DuJuan Harris, and their top running back spot is clearly in question, it seems like a great week to stack up on the Seattle passing game.
In addition to Baldwin, I will be rostering Tyler Lockett. He's explosive and can make plays both in the short passing game, and down the field as a deep threat. Lockett has totaled 13 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns in his first two starts. That's pretty impressive considering those 13 catches came on 14 targets. This offense is operating at a super efficient pace, and there is no reason to think that won't continue against a Browns defense that has allowed seven different 100 yard receivers this season. The Cleveland defense has also allowed two opposing receivers to score in the same game on five separate occasions.
Justin Howe: Let me start by venting that nothing has angered me more this season than Seattle's Week 14 offense. I had Rawls all over the place, of course, in roughly 60% of cash lineups. I had opened the week with plenty of Doug Baldwin exposure - every cash lineup without Rawls, in fact - but figured game flow would steer things away from another five-touchdown Russell Wilson game. So I faded Baldwin in every lineup in favor of Vincent Jackson and Anquan Boldin. It was just about as disastrous as a pivot could be. Looking ahead, though, I see plenty of value in Seattle again this week.
Is there any reason to avoid Wilson in cash games?
VanderWoulde: I don't see any reason to avoid Wilson in cash games. The running game is in serious question, and Wilson has proven he can put the offense on his back and score points through the air. With his rushing prowess, it would be hard for me to envision a scenario where Wilson does not exceed cash game value. I think he will be responsible for three touchdowns, minimum.
Grant: This week against Cleveland, I think Wilson is a good cash play. He's not the only cash play for sure, but I would be very comfortable starting him against a Cleveland defense that looked good against Blaine Gabbert, but gave up two or more passing touchdowns in the previous five games. Wilson has three or more passing touchdowns in his last four games, hasn't thrown a pick in that same span, and has 100 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown as well. His salary is up there with Cam Newton, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees now, but he's proving that he's worth it. One reason against playing Wilson this week is that his salary is just $100 less than Newton, and Netwon faces the worst passing defense in the league this week (in terms of yards allowed), the New York Giants. The Giants will be playing on a short week, and Newton could easily have a big game as well.
Howe: The only reason I could think of is that Seattle will be control of this game so much that they'll take the foot off the gas. But it's dangerous to merely fade the passing game of heavy favorites out of hand. Game winners get there by scoring bunches of points, whether by throwing or running, so even a team who coasts to an easy win will have at least two and a half quarters to amass stats. Besides, garbage time isn't all slamming up the gut anymore. A few months ago I researched the Patriots offense when holding a lead of three or more scores. I learned that teams throw the ball more and deeper into blowouts than I'd thought, that many keep up a 50% clip or more when they're up by three or more scores. Coasting doesn't necessarily mean a strict diet of running the ball. Offenses like New England's, which feature the pass heavily and often as an extension of the run game itself, rely on it more than we think.
Seattle is scorching right now, and it's getting to the point that their boys (specifically Wilson and Baldwin) are among the shrewdest cash plays. They actually carry high-level floors, at least for now, and I don't want to be caught without Baldwin while he's priced well.
Dan Hindery: Over Wilson’s scorching hot four-game stretch, he has completed at least 70% of his passes in each game. He has also thrown 16 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
The conventional wisdom is that the best way to hold onto a lead is to pound the ball on the ground due mainly to the “high-risk” nature of the passing game. However, when your quarterback hasn’t thrown an interception in a month and is completing 75% of his passes, is it really high-risk to keep passing with the lead? The Seahawks kept throwing despite big leads in each of the past two weeks and were able to easily put the games away through the air.
Who is the right running back to own this week in the wake of the Thomas Rawls season-ending injury?
Grant: I would have expected that Harris would inherit the bulk of the running back carries for the Seahawks this week, but he was cut. Pete Carroll has already indicated that Fred Jackson's role won't change and he'll still be a third down back. It looks like both Bryce Brown and Christine Michael will replace Harris as the primary runner. Marshawn Lynch is still a couple weeks away from playing, and it will be a three-headed monster here until Lynch is back. Personally, I'd fade the Seattle backfield this week, even against Cleveland. There are just too many question marks.
Are you worried at all that Seattle (14.5-point favorites as of Monday evening) will control the game and coast, thus limiting the upside of their key players?
Hindery: There is understandable interest in who will get the running back touches after Rawls went down with injury, but this looks like another game where Wilson and Baldwin should perform well and carry the offensive load. Without any clear-cut lead back, I expect none of the Seahawks backs get more than a dozen touches. But if I had to pick one, Jackson would be my choice. He should get most of the pass-game work, and his ability as a pass protector could earn him more early down work than the coaches are letting on if the game plan calls for a more pass-heavy script as I suspect.
Howe: At running back, I'm on Bryce Brown. The team's hasty release of Harris was surprising and points with both fingers at Brown as the featured back, at least on a one-week audition. The team hasn't given meaningful carries to Fred Jackson all year, regardless of the starter.
It sounds like everyone is in agreement on a pro-Wilson stance, and the running back situation is a mess. Based on that, Jeff, can you sum it all up for us simplistically?
Jeff Pasquino: Yes, this isn't that complicated. The Seattle running back's job this week is to block and make sure that he falls on any fumbles. That's about it. Wilson will be the offense this week, and the only thing that will keep him from running for 100 yards and throwing for 300 yards and three or more touchdowns will be the thought of saving him in the second half if the game is a blowout. Wilson is on fire. I don't care about the rest of the roster. Roster Wilson, Lockett, and Baldwin and enjoy.
Select a game (not Thursday) and tell us how you see it playing out. Which player(s) do you see benefiting the most if the game goes as you think it will?
Jeff Pasquino: Everyone seems scared off of the Houston-Indianapolis game because of the uncertainty, but I am not at all. I think we know who will be starting at quarterback (Matt Hasselbeck for Indianapolis, T.J. Yates for Houston). We also know that this game will go a long way in deciding the AFC South, as both teams are 6-7 and tied at the top with very winnable games after this one (Houston - at Tennessee, hosting Jacksonville; Indianapolis - at Miami, vs. Tennessee).
What else do we know? Neither team can really run the ball. So it comes down to the passing game for both and also the defenses for each side. I think that Yates has plenty of options in the passing game, but DeAndre Hopkins will have to beat Vonte Davis. Hasselbeck is a statue back there, waiting for J.J. Watt to hit him several times on Sunday, but he can still find T.Y. Hilton deep if he gets enough time (and stays upright). I like both passing games here as that is the only way they move the ball on either side, and both Hopkins and Hilton will have solid performances.
Dan Hindery: The Bengals-49ers matchup sets up well for a big Jeremy Hill game. The line on this game in Vegas has creeped up over the course of the week, and the Bengals are now favored by five points. Two of the hallmarks of recent Bengals teams have been an ability to bounce back after a tough loss and an ability to beat bad teams with consistency. The 49ers are a bad team. They are coming off of a 24-10 loss to Cleveland that wasn’t even that close, the same Cleveland team that the Bengals destroyed 37-3 the week before. The Bengals will be without Andy Dalton and are going to have to lean on the defense and the running game to win over the next few weeks. Hill should get the first crack at leading the running game. The Bengals want to get their big back rolling as the weather turns cold and things were trending in the right direction in Weeks 12 and 13 when Hill averaged more than 90 rushing yards per game. I expect him to get back on track with a similar rushing yardage total and at least one touchdown.
BJ VanderWoude: I am loving the Monday Night Football game, Detroit at New Orleans. Given the state of the run game for both teams, the most logical game script would be one where both Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees each exceed 275 yards passing. It's not just the lack of run game, though, that should have Stafford licking his chops. It's also the historically bad New Orleans secondary. While Detroit's defense had been generous to opposing passers during the first half of the season, they have since tightened up, giving up the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks over the last four weeks. Still, the game is in New Orleans, and Brees will be forced to throw the ball, and he is always dangerous in prime time games.
The game script sets up well for Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. On most other sites, Tate is still priced well below Johnson, however on Fantasy Aces, they are both priced at $5100. Tate has averaged 15 points and 10 targets per game over the last four weeks and has not dipped below eight targets in any game. He doesn't have the ceiling of Johnson, but he is probably my preferable option for cash games. Johnson had a rough outing against St. Louis last week (1 catch, 16 yards), although a big part of that had to do with the Rams double and triple-teaming him at times, allowing Stafford to target Tate on more underneath routes. Johnson showed on Thanksgiving day that he still has massive upside on any given day, and this is a match up where I would not be surprised to see him go over 100 yards and a touchdown. That used to be an afterthought for him, however he has only accomplished that feat once this year, so that should tell you how attractive the matchup is.
On the other side of the ball, Brees figures to pass the ball 40+ times, which should enough for him to cross the 300 yard threshold. He's averaging 42 attempts, 274 yards passing, and roughly two touchdowns per game over the last three weeks. Detroit has been stingy against opposing receivers lately, but one area where they have been weak is against tight ends. Over the last month, Detroit has let up the seventh-most points to opposing tight ends making Ben Watson ($4,500) a sneaky play. The upper middle tier of tight ends are priced very close to one another, so it may be hard to justify saving $400 on Watson, when you could take Jordan Reed ($4900) or Delanie Walker ($4800). With that said, Watson should be much lower owned than either Reed or Walker, so he makes for a nice GPP option in a game that has the highest projected point total of the week at 50.5 points.
Justin Howe: I'm setting up most of my cash and GPP lineups around the premise that Arizona-Philadelphia will generate gobs of yardage. How can it not? The Eagles have allowed QB1-type performances to the aforementioned Stafford, Tyrod Taylor, and Tom Brady over the last four weeks, and Carson Palmer has topped 300 yards in six of his last eight games. I'm actually breaking a personal distaste for cross-stacking and throwing Palmer, David Johnson, and one of their cheap wideouts into at least one GPP entry. Rostering all three locks up essentially the entire Cardinals offense, and this matchup has all the indicators of a 450-yard performance. Only extreme garbage time or an unexpectedly stout showing by the Eagles defense would stand in the way, meaning this would actually be the more likely outcome.
And there's trickle-down effect, too. The Eagles running backs make for intriguing plays as well, based on both the high expected volume and the likelihood that they're catching balls through the second half. DeMarco Murray appears to be the team's preference in hurry-up sets, so he's a decent bet to turn 15 touches into 80+ scrimmage yards.
Will Grant: I'm liking Carolina at the Giants this week. The Giants have the worst pass defense in the league in terms of pass yardage allowed, and they are just coming a short week after pulling out a comeback win against the Dolphins. That game had a 55 point total, and the Dolphins are not known for having a powerhouse offense. The Panthers are currently a five-point favorite, but I think the Panthers are going to roll up on them. The Vegas over/under is 48 points, and I think this game will go well over 50.
For the Giants, Odell Beckham Jr has been on fire with six consecutive games with more than 100 receiving yards and four in a row with at least one receiving touchdown. This week, Beckham faces the rock solid pass defense in Carolina. Josh Norman shut down his fair share of top receivers, and that makes Beckham a risk this week, especially at $6,300. The Giants need to throw to win, and with Beckham lined up, I'd probably feed him this week. However, I think Reuben Randle and tight end Will Tye will be the beneficiaries of that. I think both of them will be solid plays from the Giants.
For Carolina, Cam Newton is going to have a big game. He's priced at $7,100, but I think he has the potential to hit 3x value this week. He has a good chance to have a multiple touchdown game and could even add additional points for rushing yards and maybe a rushing touchdowns. In a GPP game, I'd probably look for value elsewhere though because you would need a five-touchdown game from Newton to really get GPP value, and that's a steep bet.
With Jonathan Stewart missing this game, Fozzy Whittaker could be a great play this week at just $4,000. The one downside is that Panthers coach Ron Rivera indicated that he may still use Mike Tolbert as the goalline back. At his price, though, Whittaker could easily reach 3x cash value still.
Chalk of the Week
Pick a player at running back or wide receiver who will be among the highest owned of the week. Discuss why and what other players you're able to fit into your lineup(s) with the value that this "chalk" play provides.
Justin Howe: As a favorite in a likely high-volume role - and sporting a $4,550 price tag - Tim Hightower should be very widely-owned. And he brings some real value to the table. As virtually the only ballcarrier, Hightower looks like a lock to land in the range of 15-25 carries. And as the Saints' preferred passing down back over C.J. Spiller, he boosts his ceiling with the potential to add three or more receptions to his marks.
Shoehorned into two of my cash lineups (for now), Hightower has really allowed me to stuff a few valuable guys into my stable. In one lineup, I was able to upgrade at WR from a total punt play (Anquan Boldin in a rough matchup) to a high-impact WR2 type (Jeremy Maclin). In the other, I got to convert my GPP-ish low-salary QB (Alex Smith) into one of the week's safest and high-ceiling options (Carson Palmer). All of this value upgrading, and I'm still rostering a high-volume guy in Hightower with a definite RB2 floor.
Jeff Pasquiono: Hightower is a good choice here, but I have to think that Doug Baldwin will be highly owned, for reasons I mentioned about the Seattle offense in the first question. That said, my two top picks for most-owned are Calvin Johnson and David Johnson. The veteran Johnson is only $5,100 and faces the Saints secondary that has an open door policy when it comes to the opposing passing game. The Monday night game in the Big Easy has an over/under of 50+ and I think it is very low. Matthew Stafford threw two touchdowns last week to Golden Tate, but this week it is Johnson's turn to shine. At $5,100, he is tied with Tate and Sammy Watkins for 10th overall in price, and I can easily make a case for him to be the top receiver this week.
David Johnson will also be highly owned for Arizona. The Cardinals would be wise to get him 20+ touches against the Eagles, who are giving up a lot of yards and scores to running backs of late. Johnson only costs $4,900, tied for ninth with Eddie Lacy and Jeremy Hill. He will have a good game but may not be the most owned because of the other RB values available, so that's why I am sticking with Calvin Johnson as my top call for most owned - and rightly so.
Dan Hindery: The four guys who stand out as potential “chalk” plays are the mid-priced receivers in the $4,950 to $5,100 range. Demaryius Thomas ($4,950), Jeremy Maclin ($5,000), Eric Decker ($5,050), and Johnson ($5,100) all look like strong options for the price. Each has a favorable matchup and higher team totals.
The benefit of playing multiple guys from this tier is that it allows you the ability to build a balanced lineup without having to roll the dice on any extreme value plays. For example, you can fit in each of the four receivers mentioned above, a pair of top running backs in the same price range, a top defense and tight end, and still have more than $12,000 left over for a pair of quarterbacks.
Will Grant: One other guy that will probably be a chalk play at RB will be Brandon Bolden from the Patriots. It looks like he will get the bulk of the carries this week since LaGarrette Blount was placed on IR. Bolden is bargain priced at just $4,200 and although he doesn't get much in the way of receptions, the Patriots are a 14-point favorite over the Titans this week. Given how banged up their offense is, it would make sense for the Patriots to grind out the ball on the ground in the fourth quarter after building out a big lead. They need to win this game, but it's not a "win at all costs" type of thing. Bolden has a good chance to reach cash game value, and if he manages to reach the end zone, he'll be a great play this week.
Backup QB Situations
T.J. Yates, Charlie Whitehurst, and A.J. McCarron are all likely Week 15 starters for playoff-contending teams. How do their respective presences impact players like DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton, and A.J. Green? Which of these targets are you least worried about this week?
Justin Howe: I'm not overly worried about Green with McCarron under center. That's to say that I wouldn't drop him beyond my top-15 cash choices as I don't love him to begin with. The Bengals kept the ball in the air after Dalton left the Pittsburgh game, and not just out of necessity. McCarron averaged 12.7 yards per completion in relief, a better mark than week-winners Russell Wilson and Eli Manning. Cincinnati isn't terrified of using his arm.
Hopkins' QB shift also doesn't scare me; Brian Hoyer isn't a starting-caliber passer, so the drop-off to his backup is less pronounced than in other situations. Yates did target Hopkins 12 times in his start a few weeks ago, more times than Hoyer has in any game since.
Dan Hindery: I’d be worried about Hilton with Whitehurst, but it is looking like Matt Hasselbeck is probably going to be able to play. Hilton has had a very nice connection with Hasselbeck.
I agree with Justin that there’s not a big drop-off from Hoyer to Yates. Hoyer has been able to put up decent numbers, but it is largely due to the system (pass-heavy offense that plays at a fast pace). Yates came in for Hoyer in the Monday night tilt against the Bengals and promptly threw a long touchdown to Hopkins. Hopkins does face a relatively tough matchup against Vontae Davis and has been seeing a lot of double-teams, so he scares me a little bit in Week 15, but not due to Yates.
Things actually stack up surprisingly favorably for A.J. Green. It looks like Tyler Eifert is likely to miss Week 15 with a concussion, so McCarron is going to have fewer targets with which to work. It’s also common to see younger quarterbacks lock onto their star receiver instead of going through all of their progressions. While this leads to more interceptions, it should also lead to more targets than normal for Green. The Bengals are going to want to run the ball and take some deep shots to Green to keep the defense honest, so Green has a great chance to catch a long touchdown with McCarron running the offense.
Jeff Pasquino: I'll argue for Yates, as he has done well in the past as a starter, and really what else can Houston do but throw the ball against the Colts? Indianapolis was torn apart for 51 points by Jacksonville last week, so I am not really concerned about Vonte Davis vs. DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans are going to throw the ball around Lucas Oil Field and get a win over Indianapolis thanks to Yates and their defense. Another reason to like Yates? He was born in Indianapolis, so the #NarrativeStreet is there if you're into that kind of thing.
Will Grant: Green did fine last week, despite Dalton being out for most of the game. With a week more of preparation, and a weak 49ers defense, I would expect that Green will do perfectly fine this week.
As Dan mentioned, Hasselbeck should be back this week so I would be fine going with Hilton. Hopkins is such a big part of the Houston offense; I think Jeff has a good point about him performing well with Yates. However, given his $6,000 pricetag, I think I'd look elsewhere for value at wide receiver.
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