We have gotten one step closer to the ultimate goal, but the job is far from done. With that in mind, here are five guys to start and five to avoid if you can in critical Week 15.
Get 'em active ...
Steven Jackson, RB, Rams (vs. MIN)
Current own/start %: 100/75
I'd start him over: Knowshon Moreno (at BAL), DeMarco Murray (vs. PIT), Stevan Ridley (vs. SF)
Why do I like Steven Jackson so much these days? The answer is consistency, and not just consistency in terms of his workload, but also his production. Jackson has touched the ball 20 or more times in three straight and four out of his last five games. Not surprisingly, Jackson has produced 10 or more Fantasy points in three straight and four of the last five games as well. Jackson has scored at least eight points in each of the last five games and is averaging a very solid 12.2 points per game during this span and produced double digits in both meetings with the stout 49ers defense during that run. He should find continued success against the Vikings in Week 15 as they have become a very soft run defense as the year has progressed. Over the first five weeks of the year, the Vikings were allowing just 7.8 points per game to opposing running backs. In their last eight games however, five running back groups have posted at least 20 points and the Vikings have allowed 19.5 Fantasy points per game. Even better for Jackson is that over the last eight weeks, every single running back who has touched the ball 15 times against Minnesota has produced at least 10 Fantasy points. Furthermore, during this run, four running backs have touched the ball 20 or more times against Minnesota. Every single one of those runners have accumulated at least 18 Fantasy points and three of the four topped the 20-point barrier. Jackson has been a solid runner down the stretch and you can count on another solid game -- with big game upside -- from him in Week 15.
Shonn Greene/Bilal Powell, RB, Jets (at TEN)
Current own/start %: 98/57; 34/11
I'd start him over: Jonathan Dwyer (at DAL), Reggie Bush (vs. JAC), Michael Turner (vs. NYG)
Shonn Greene has taken 20 carries in each of his last two games and has produced 100 yards rushing or a touchdown in both of them, meaning that he has given his owners 10 or more Fantasy points in back to back weeks. Greene has hit the 10-point mark in all four of his games with 20 or more carries this year and should be able to make it five for five in Week 15 against the Titans. The Jets have clearly decided to be a run-first attack (75 carries for Greene and Powell combined the last two weeks) and that will work well against a Titans team that has surrendered 21.77 points per game to running backs, third most in the NFL. Tennessee is giving up 114.3 yards per game on the ground to running backs -- seventh most in the league -- and they are allowing a whopping 163 total yards and 1.16 touchdowns per game to the position. The Titans have allowed a running back rushing touchdown or 100 rushing yards in every game but one this year and they have given up a running back touchdown in seven of the last eight games and 11 of 13 overall. Powell himself has scored in three of the last four games, producing 10 or more points in each game with a touchdown, so even he is a viable flex option this week. Greene is still the primary ball carrier and has at least 80 total yards in each of the last three games, so he has a relatively high floor for you as a No. 2 running back or even better as a flex option. Don't forget that somehow the Jets are still alive in the playoff race and they will do everything they can to win this game in Tennessee, which I think will lead to a very steady diet of Greene and Powell on Monday night.
Other RBs with favorable matchups: David Wilson (at ATL), Darren McFadden (vs. KC), Darren Sproles (vs. TB), Alfred Morris (at CLE), Knowshon Moreno (at BAL), Ryan Mathews (vs. CAR), Chris Johnson (vs. NYJ), Matt Forte (vs. GB), C.J. Spiller (vs. SEA), DeMarco Murray (vs. PIT), Mikel Leshoure (at ARI), Reggie Bush (vs. JAC), Sleepers: Jonathan Dwyer (at DAL), Joique Bell (at ARI)
Danario Alexander, WR, Chargers (vs. CAR)
Current own/start %: 93/73
I'd start him over: Reggie Wayne (at HOU), Hakeem Nicks (at ATL), Miles Austin (vs. PIT)
Danario Alexander is becoming a superstar right before our very eyes in San Diego. Alexander has at least five catches in each of his five starts and has produced 10 or more points four times. His only "off" game was a five-catch, 74-yard effort in Week 12 against the Ravens, which is not too shabby. In three separate games, Alexander has produced 19 or more Fantasy points and the guy has been off the charts with his numbers. In his five-game run as a starter, Alexander has been targeted 47 times and has caught 30 of them (64 percent) for 494 yards (10.1 yards per target) and five touchdowns (1.8 Fantasy points per target). He is averaging six catches, 99 yards and touchdown per game for the Chargers and should stay red hot against the Panthers this week. The Panthers are a solid pass defense, but opposing No. 1 receivers, which Alexander clearly is, thrive against them. The last three teams that had a true big time No. 1 receiver and a legit quarterback have had great success against the Panthers (yes we are excluding Philadelphia and Kansas City). In that run, Julio Jones, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson and Demaryius Thomas all put up at least 11 Fantasy points and quite frankly, Alexander is on that level. After all, since becoming the starter in Week 10 he has been the third ranked Fantasy wide receiver behind only Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant. He has a high floor and an even higher ceiling, so give him the nod in Week 15.
Other WRs with favorable matchups: Steve Smith (at SD), Marques Colston/Lance Moore (vs. TB), Mike Williams (at NO), Josh Gordon (vs. WAS), Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown (vs. DAL), Reggie Wayne (at HOU), Eric Decker (vs. BAL), Randall Cobb (at CHI), Cecil Shorts/Justin Blackmon (at MIA), Sidney Rice (at BUF), Pierre Garcon (if Robert Griffin III starts; at CLE), Victor Cruz (at ATL), Sleepers: Larry Fitzgerald (vs. DET), Anquan Boldin (at DEN), Denarius Moore/Rod Streater/Darrius Heyward-Bey (vs. KC), T.Y. Hilton/Donnie Avery (at HOU), Greg Jennings (at CHI), Hakeem Nicks (at ATL), Chris Givens (vs. MIN), Danny Amendola (if he plays; vs. MIN), Kris Durham (at ARI), Andrew Hawkins (at PHI), Jon Baldwin (at OAK)
Greg Olsen, TE, Panthers (at SD)
Current own/start %: 92/56
I'd start him over: Kyle Rudolph (at STL), Jermichael Finley (at CHI), Heath Miller (at DAL)
As Cam Newton has gotten red hot, so has his tight end Greg Olsen, who has found the end zone in back to back games. Olsen has also scored in three of the last five games and has a total of four touchdowns during that span while averaging 10 yards per target and producing an average of 10.4 points per game. Olsen has not had a game with fewer than 40 yards receiving since Week 8 and should stay hot with a chance to score again in Week 15 against the Chargers. Three straight and four of the last five tight ends that San Diego has faced have finished in the top 12 at their position for the week. The Chargers have given up a tight end touchdown or at least 66 yards receiving in five straight games, including touchdowns in two of the last three games. With Brandon LaFell still banged up, look for Cam to lean on his tight end, who makes for a solid play on Sunday afternoon if you are in need of tight end help.
Other TEs with favorable matchups: Aaron Hernandez (vs. SF), Owen Daniels (vs. IND), Dennis Pitta (vs. DEN), Tony Scheffler (at ARI), Dallas Clark (at NO), Brandon Myers (vs. KC), Vernon Davis (at NE)
Current own/start %: 68/41
I'd start them over: 49ers (at NE), Jets (at TEN), Steelers (at DAL), Steelers (at DAL)
The Cardinals have reached a new level of futility on offense that hopefully we will never see again in our lifetimes. They were just drubbed 58-0 by the Seahawks who scored a 2012 DST record 45 points in Week 14. While this was an extreme output, opposing defenses have scored at least 20 Fantasy points against the Cardinals in four straight games. The other three were the defenses of the Falcons, Rams and the Jets. Not one of the defenses of the Jets (20 vs. ARI/19 total the week before and after ARI), Falcons (21/7), Seahawks (45/15 two games prior) and Rams (26/26) exceeded their total against the Cardinals in the two games combined that directly preceded or followed their game against Arizona. In other words, you did not even have to be hot to crush this Cardinals offense that has generated fewer touchdowns for themselves (three) than they have for opposing defenses (five) over the last four weeks. Arizona has turned the ball over 14 times in these four games and has been held under 200 yards of total offense in three of the four games. The Cardinals quarterbacks have thrown 11 interceptions and have only one passing touchdown since Week 7! I don't like trusting the Lions defense at all, but they are a good option if you don't like your starting defense and can't get the Bengals off of the wire for Week 15. This is much more of a play against Arizona then it is for Detroit, but with Ryan Lindley being named the starter for Week 15, I'd grab 11 of my readers and start the Reader DST against Arizona!
Other DSTs with favorable matchups: Cincinnati (at PHI), Miami (vs. JAC), Denver (at BAL), N.Y. Jets (at TEN), Tennessee (vs. NYJ), Seattle (at BUF)
Ride the pine ...
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys (vs. PIT)
Current own/start %: 99/58
I'd rather start: Matt Schaub (vs. IND), Andrew Luck (at HOU), Andy Dalton (at PHI)
Tony Romo is coming off of his worst Fantasy day in well over a month with just 14 points against the Bengals in Week 14. Now, despite throwing for more than 300 yards or multiple touchdowns in eight of his last 12 games, you might be surprised to learn that Romo has topped 20 points only three times since Week 1. In fact, Romo has been held to 18 or fewer Fantasy points in three of the last six games and six of the last 12 overall. That is where I would expect Romo to wind up in Week 15 against a stout Steelers pass defense that is coming off of an unusually bad game against the Chargers. For the year, Pittsburgh is the fourth toughest pass defense against quarterbacks at 13 points per game and including last week they have allowed only three quarterbacks all year to reach 20 Fantasy points. Philip Rivers was the first quarterback since Week 3 to even exceed 16 Fantasy points against the Steelers and he was the first quarterback to reach 200 yards passing against them since Week 6. Tony Romo will have a less than 100 percent Dez Bryant if he has him at all in this game and let's be honest, it has been the Dez show in Big D for the last 10 weeks. Since Week 6, Romo has thrown 15 touchdown passes and nine of them have gone to Bryant, so this could be a huge issue. Even if Bryant was at 100 percent, I would not want to risk this matchup for Romo against a team that has really shut down every quarterback it has faced since September other than the hiccup last week. No one had even put up 14 points on the Steelers since Week 6. Pittsburgh has also been one of the best in the league at taking away opposing tight ends, so Jason Witten could struggle as well, making this a tough day for the Dallas pass attack. With too much potential downside and not enough upside even against a battered Steelers' secondary, I am staying away from Romo in Week 15.
Other QBs with tough matchups: Aaron Rodgers (but you have to have a great option to sit him; at CHI), Joe Flacco (vs. DEN), Jay Cutler (vs. GB), Philip Rivers (vs. CAR), Nick Foles (vs. CIN), Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. SEA)
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons (vs. NYG)
Current own/start %: 100/64
I'd rather start: Ryan Mathews (vs. CAR), Reggie Bush (vs. JAC), Mikel Leshoure (at ARI)
Over the last five weeks, Michael Turner has faced the powerhouse run defenses of the Panthers, Saints (twice), Cardinals and the actually legit Buccaneers. The Saints give up a league-high 133 yards per game, Arizona gives up the second most at 128 and Carolina cedes the 11th most at 110. So these are not high-level run defenses that we are dealing with here with the exception of Tampa Bay. Well, here is what Michael Turner was able to manage in this five game stretch: 175 yards rushing at 2.9 yards per carry! Turner had three games with 17 or fewer yards and was held under 50 yards in four of the five. Now to be fair, he has scored in four straight games, so his Fantasy totals are respectable, but even with the four touchdowns he is not even averaging 10 Fantasy points per game. In fact, during this five-game run, Turner is averaging 35 yards rushing and 0.8 touchdowns per game, which equates to 8.2 Fantasy points each week. Now, that is a fine number, but if Turner did not punch in a late touchdown in garbage time against Carolina, he would have had his second one-point effort of the last five weeks against a terrible run defense. Now he has to deal with the Giants, who do give up some yards on the ground, but they are stingy at the stripe. This year, the Giants have allowed just five running back rushing touchdowns, which is the sixth lowest total in the NFL. That's why the G-Men are allowing just 14.15 points per game to running backs, which is the seventh lowest figure this year. Further complicating the matter for Turner is that Jacquizz Rodgers is taking about half of the snaps and has produced more total yards in four of the last five games. We are looking at a runner who has a 50/50 chance of getting to 10 points with a touchdown and a 100 percent chance of producing five or fewer points if he does not score. I do not think you can risk that low of a floor this week, so I am passing on Turner.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers (at SD)
Current own/start %: 75/24
I'd rather start: Mikel Leshoure (at ARI), Ryan Mathews (vs. CAR), Reggie Bush (vs. JAC)
DeAngelo Williams posted an impressive 16 Fantasy points in Week 14 and was more than a quality flex against the Falcons, but I am still not trusting him in Week 15 even though Jonathan Stewart remains doubtful to return. I know that Williams had a season high with 19 touches, 112 total yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, but there is still plenty to be concerned about. For starters, Williams was held to 56 yards rushing on 17 carries against the Falcons and 11 of his 16 Fantasy points came on a 50-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a screen pass. Keep in mind that Williams entered Week 14 with three total points from receiving production this entire season and you would have to go back to Week 7 of 2009 to find the most recent game where Williams had even four Fantasy points due to his pass catching abilities. In other words, that was more of a freak play that is not likely to be repeated any time soon for Williams, so we need to focus on his rushing totals. Williams has not scored on the ground since Week 9 and had not produced 10 or more Fantasy points since back in Week 4, which was also against the Falcons. He has just one rushing touchdown in his last eight games and Williams has not rushed for more than 70 yards in any of those games. His best rushing yardage total came two weeks ago against the Chiefs (67) in a very favorable matchup and we could be looking at a similar six Fantasy points this week. The Chargers have not allowed a running back rushing touchdown since Week 9 either and only one running back all year has produced 10 Fantasy points against this defense with fewer than 20 total touches. That one player was Michael Turner back in Week 3 and since that game, no running back with fewer than 20 total touches has produced more than seven Fantasy points against them. Williams is not a 20-touch per game bell cow and he is not a guy who is going to produce another 10 Fantasy points thanks to his receiving totals. Do not forget that San Diego allows just 83 yards rushing per game to running backs, third fewest in the NFL, so this is not a week to go out on a limb with DeAngelo if you can avoid it. He is a flex option at best to me, and a risky one at that.
Steve Johnson, WR, Bills (vs. SEA)
Current own/start %: 100/54
I'd rather start: Michael Crabtree (vs. NE), Lance Moore (vs. TB), Justin Blackmon (vs. MIA)
All you need to know about Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman is that he has allowed just one touchdown all year despite being targeted 69 times by opposing quarterbacks. Not only does that mean that Sherman is playing lockdown cornerback, but it also illustrates that opposing quarterbacks are terrified to go his way too often as he is being thrown at just 5.3 times per game. Meanwhile, Steve Johnson has scored just once in his last 53 targets (six games), so I would say that the chances he scores this week against The Shermanator are pretty darn slim. Add in the fact that Johnson has scored 10 Fantasy points without a touchdown just three times in his entire career and I think we are looking at a disappointing Fantasy day. After all, Johnson has been averaging just 6.8 points per game over the last six weeks and this is as tough a matchup for a wide receiver as there is in the league right now. Sherman was to be suspended for this game, but his appeal was pushed back and now he will be on the field. That means Johnson free falls out of the Top 20 at his position for Week 15 and should land squarely on your bench.
Current own/start %: 99/76
I'd rather start: Lions (at ARI), Bengals (at PHI), Dolphins (vs. JAC)
Tom Brady is just too darn good to mess with in the Fantasy Football playoffs. Anyone who used the Texans DST in Week 14 found that out the hard way as they were held to just three points. Only one defense all year has even produced 10 points against the Pats and that was the Cardinals back in Week 2. Since then, no team has hit double figures and the last six defenses to face them have a combined 16 Fantasy points (2.7 per game). The Pats can shut down big time pass rushers (just ask J.J. Watt) and they have surrendered only six sacks in the last six games, with four coming in the win over Miami two weeks ago. In other words, five of the last six teams to face the Pats have been held to one sack or they have been shut out. The 49ers are a Top 5 Fantasy defense this year, but this is not the week to play them. After all, they produced just 22 total points the last two weeks against the potent offenses of the Dolphins and Rams. I know they had a monster game against Drew Brees and the Saints, but that is an offense in turmoil and I don't think I would categorize the Patriots that way right now. Add in the fact that San Francisco has been held under 10 points in three of six road games and this looks like a situation to avoid in critical Week 15.
Some other D/STs with tough matchups: Houston (vs. IND), Chicago (vs. GB)