It’s semifinal weekend in most fantasy football leagues, so let’s get right to it. Here are my recommendations for Week 15:
Indianapolis at Jacksonville - While it’s not a pressing story from an NFL standpoint, many fantasy football team owners are obviously concerned about how much Colts’ QB Peyton Manning will play this week, given that his 13-0 team has already clinched home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. I wouldn’t worry about it - if Manning does get pulled early, it’s likely it will happen with his team up by a comfortable margin (e.g. - 28-3 at halftime). If that’s the case, chances are Manning will have thrown for 200+ yards and at least three touchdowns. Not necessarily an effort that in and of itself will guarantee you a victory this weekend, but definitely a good starting point. Bench him at your peril. Colts to start in this Thursday night matchup include Manning (Probable-glute), TE Dallas Clark, WRs Reggie Wayne (Probable-foot), Austin Collie, & Pierre Garcon (Probable-knee), and the Defense. Leave RB Joseph Addai on the bench. RB Donald Brown (Out-shoulder) and WR Anthony Gonzalez (Out-knee) will both miss the game. For Jacksonville start RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Probable-knee) and TE Marcedes Lewis. Leave QB David Garrard and WRs Mike Sims-Walker (Probable-calf) & Torry Holt on the bench.
Dallas at New Orleans - In the middle of another potential December collapse you’d think the Cowboys would have weightier matters on their minds, but this week the team unveiled their new theme song. The Cowboys don’t figure to be stomped by the Saints, but it’s still difficult to imagine them winning this Saturday night special. Cowboys to start include QB Tony Romo, RB Marion Barber, and TE Jason Witten. If you’re in a deep league, add RB Felix Jones and WRs Roy Williams & Miles Austin to the list. Leave RB Tashard Choice on the bench. Saints to start include QB Drew Brees, TE Jeremy Shockey (Questionable-toe), and WR Marques Colston. Add RBs Pierre Thomas (Questionable-hip) & Reggie Bush and WRs Robert Meachem & Devery Henderson to the list in deeper leagues. Leave RB Mike Bell (Probable-wrist/knee), WR Lance Moore (Probable-ankle/hamstring) and K Garrett Hartley (Questionable-hip) to the list in deeper leagues.
Chicago at Baltimore - In a recommendation that doesn’t square with his image as a rough-and-tumble football player, Ravens’ LB Ray Lewis has recommended yoga to injured Bears’ LB Brian Urlacher. The entire Bears team may as well assume the downward-facing dog pose because they don’t have much chance of beating the playoff-bound Ravens team that will literally be out for bear this weekend. There aren’t any Bears I’d label must-starts this weekend, but QB Jay Cutler, TE Greg Olsen, and the Defense can be started in deep leagues. Leave RB Matt Forte and WRs Devin Hester (Questionable-calf), Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, & Devin Aromashodu on the bench. The only must-start Ravens are RB Ray Rice and the Defense, but add QB Joe Flacco, TE Todd Heap, and WR Derrick Mason (Questionable-finger) to the list in deep leagues. Leave RB Willis McGahee and WRs Mark Clayton (Questionable-knee) & Kelley Washington (Questionable-ankle) on the bench.
Green Bay at Pittsburgh - The pressure of their five-game losing streak appears to be getting to the defending Super Bowl champs - this week Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark lashed out at Steeler fans. The misery figures to continue this weekend as the Steelers host the Packers, who may not get the publicity of the Saints or Vikings, but are capable of knocking off either team in the playoffs. Packers to start include QB Aaron Rodgers, TE Jermichael Finley, and WRs Donald Driver & Greg Jennings. Leave RB Ryan Grant on the bench against the still-tough Steelers’ run defense. The only Steeler who’s a definite start is TE Heath Miller, but QB Ben Roethlisberger and WRs Hines Ward (Questionable-hamstring) & Santonio Holmes can be added to the list in deeper leagues. Leave RB Rashard Mendenhall and WR Mike Wallace on the bench.
San Francisco at Philadelphia - Current MNF commentator and former Eagles’ QB Ron Jaworski has never been shy about sharing his opinion, and this week he gave a Congressional subcommittee hearing an earful about obesity among American youth. Jaworski’s testimony is unlikely to have much impact on teenage waistlines, but his former team should be able to fatten up its record in this matchup. The only 49er who’s a must-start is TE Vernon Davis, but QB Alex Smith, RB Frank Gore (Questionable-toe), and WR Michael Crabtree can also be started in deeper leagues. Leave WRs Josh Morgan & Isaac Bruce (Questionable-ankle) on the bench. Eagles to start includ QB Donovan McNabb, TE Brent Celek, WR DeSean Jackson, and the Defense. Add RB LeSean McCoy and WR Jason Avant to the list in deep leagues. Leave RB Brian Westbrook (Questionable-concussion) and WRs Jeremy Maclin (Questionable-foot) & Kevin Curtis (Probable-knee) on the bench.
Atlanta at New York Jets - As the Falcons’ once-promising season continues to go to pot, DT Jonathan Babineaux was arrested this week and now faces a felony marijuana possession charge. The Falcons haven’t been flying high since early in the season, and their downward spiral figures to continue this weekend against a tough Jets’ defense. The only must-start Falcon is TE Tony Gonzalez, but RBs Jason Snelling & Jerious Norwood can be started in deep leagues. The Falcons’ QB, whether it’s Matt Ryan (Questionable-toe) or Chris Redman should be on your bench, and so should RB Michael Turner (Questionable-ankle) and WRs Roddy White (Probable-knee) & Michael Jenkins (Probable-ankle). The only must-start Jets are RB Thomas Jones and TE Dustin Keller. Add the Jets’ QB to the list in deeper leagues, whether it’s Mark Sanchez (Questionable-knee) or Kellen Clemens. RB Shonn Greene and WRs Braylon Edwards & Jerricho Cotchery can also be started in deep leagues.
Houston at St. Louis - As if the Rams didn’t have enough problems already, they were forced to cancel practice Thursday due to several confirmed cases of swine flu on the team. Even if they were 100% healthy the Rams would have little chance of winning this game against Houston’s high-octane passing attack. Texans to start include QB Matt Schaub (Probable-shoulder), WRs Andre Johnson & Kevin Walter, K Kris Brown, and the Defense. Add RBs Ryan Moats, Chris Brown, & Arian Foster and WR David Anderson to the list in deep leagues. RB Steven Jackson is the only must-start for the Rams, but TE Randy McMichael can also be started in deep leagues. Leave the Rams’ QB on the bench, whether it’s Kyle Boller (Questionable-thigh) or Keith Null. WRs Donnie Avery & Danny Amendola also belong on the bench. QB Marc Bulger (Out-knee) may be done for the season.
Cleveland at Kansas City - This week the Browns apparently offered their director of football operations post to Mike Holmgren, further evidence that current Head Coach Eric Mangini is skating on very thin ice. Hopefully, Mangini knows a good real estate agent. He may be spared the guillotine this week, as his Browns stand a good chance of earning their second straight win against an equally woeful Kansas City squad. RB Chris Jennings (Probable-shoulder) is the only must-start Brown, but QB Brady Quinn, WRs Mohamed Massaquoi & Josh Cribbs (Questionable-ankle), and the Defense can also be started in deep leagues. Leave WR Brian Robiskie (Probable-toe) on the bench. Chiefs to start include QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles, newly-reinstated WR Dwayne Bowe, and the Defense. Add WRs Chris Chambers & Bobby Wade to the list in deep leagues.
Miami at Tennessee - Supreme self-confidence is undoubtedly a key ingredient for NFL success, but Titans’ RB Chris Johnson may have taken things a step too far this week in claiming that he could beat Jamaican triple gold medal winner Usain Bolt in a race. Stay tuned for the newest television reality show So You Think You Can Run. The Dolphins may be left flat-footed in a race against Johnson, but they should still win this contest. Dolphins to start include QB Chad Henne, RB Ricky Williams, TE Anthony Fasano, and K Dan Carpenter. Add WRs Greg Camarillo, Brian Hartline, and Davone Bess (Probable-ankle) to the list in deep leagues. Titans to start include Johnson, TE Bo Scaife, and WR Kenny Britt. Add the Titans’ quarterback to the list in deeper leagues, whether it’s Vince Young (Questionable-knee/hamstring) or Kerry Collins. Leave WR Justin Gage on the bench.
Arizona at Detroit - Theo Spight, who leads the Lions’ fans in the home team’s fight song whenever they score or win a game at home, hasn’t had much to sing about this season, and that trend should continue this week against Air Whisenhunt. Cardinals to start include QB Kurt Warner, RB Chris Wells, WRs Larry Fitzgerald (Questionable-knee0 & Anquan Boldin, newly-signed K Mike Nugent, and the Defense. Add RB Tim Hightower (Probable-thumb) to the list in deep leagues. K Neil Rackers (Out-groin) will miss the game. The Lions’ starting running back should be started, whether it’s Maurice Morris (likely) or Aaron Brown (possible), along with WR Calvin Johnson (Questionable-knee). Add QB Daunte Culpepper and TE Will Heller to the list in deep leagues. QB Matthew Stafford (Out-shoulder) will miss the game.
New England at Buffalo - The Bills claimed the misnamed G Richie Incognito off waivers this week after the Rams cut him for incurring two personal foul penalties in last week’s blowout loss to the Titans. At least one of his new teammates was not impressed. The Patriots won’t be either, and they should cruise to a victory as they seek to maintain their position at the top of the AFC East standings. Patriots to start include QB Tom Brady (Questionable-shoulder/finger/rib), RB Laurence Maroney, TE Ben Watson (Questionable-knee), WRs Wes Welker & Randy Moss, and K Stephen Gostkowski. Leave RBs Sammy Morris & Fred Taylor (Questionable-ankle) on the bench. No Bills’ players are must-starts, but QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, RBs Marshawn Lynch & Fred Jackson, and WRs Terrell Owens & Lee Evans can be started in deep leagues.
Oakland at Denver - How bad have things gotten for Raiders’ QB JaMarcus Russell? Even with backup QB Bruce Gradkowski (Out-knees) slated to miss the game, the former overall first pick will still find himself on the bench in favor of third-string QB Charlie Frye. TE Zach Miller (Probable-shoulder) is the only must-start Raider, but RB Justin Fargas can also be started in deep leagues. Leave Frye, RBs Darren McFadden & Michael Bush, and all of the Oakland WRs on the bench. Broncos to start include QB Kyle Orton, RB Knowshon Moreno (Questionable-ankle), WR Brandon Marshall, K Matt Prater, and the Defense. Add RB Correll Buckhalter (Questionable-ankle) and WR Eddie Royal to the list in deep leagues.
Cincinnati at San Diego - The tragic death of Bengals’ WR Chris Henry this week casts a pall on this game; hopefully, Bengals’ WR Chad Ochocinco will refrain from any “tributes” to his fallen teammate and squelch any plans he may have had to instigate a “fight” with Chargers’ LB Shawne Merriman. RB Cedric Benson is the only must-start Bengal in this game, but QB Carson Palmer and Ochocinco can be started in deep leagues. Leave WRs Laveranues Coles & Andre Caldwell on the bench. Chargers to start include QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, and WR Vincent Jackson. Add RBs LaDainian Tomlinson & Darren Sproles to the list in deep leagues. Leave WR Malcom Floyd on the bench.
Tampa Bay at Seattle - Many teams juggle their offensive lines in an effort to make their offenses “less kind and less gentle”. However, Seahawks Head Coach Jim Mora may be the first coach to describe the type of players he’s looking for as “dirtbags”. Dirtbags or not, the Seahawks should win this game against an overmatched Buccaneers team. Bucs to start include RB Carnell Williams, TE Kellen Winslow (Questionable-knee), and WR Antonio Bryant. Add QB Josh Freeman and WR Maurice Stovall to the list in deep leagues. Keep WRs Michael Clayton (Questionable-knee) and Sammie Stroughter (Questionable-back) on the bench. Seahawks to start include QB Matt Hasselbeck, TE John Carlson, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, K Olindo Mare, and the Defense. Add RBs Justin Forsett & Julius Jones and WR Deon Butler to the list in deep leagues. WR Nate Burleson (Out-ankle) will miss the game.
Minnesota at Carolina - Panthers’ CB Chris Gamble and S Chris Harris caused quite a stir earlier this week when they claimed that Patriots’ WR Randy Moss “shut it down” in last week’s game between Carolina and New England. Based on their comments, you’d think Carolina had actually won the game. This week the dubious duo will have the chance to shut down QB Brett Favre and company, but that’s not likely to happen either. Vikings to start include Favre, RB Adrian Peterson, TE Visanthe Shiancoe (Questionable-ribs/foot), and WRs Bernard Berrian (Questionable-hamstring), Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin (Questionable-migraine). Add RB Chester Taylor to the list in deep leagues. Panthers to start include RBs DeAngelo Williams & Jonathan Stewart (Questionable-toe) and WR Steve Smith. Add TE Dante Rosario to the list in deep leagues. Leave the Panthers’ quarterback on the bench whether it’s Jake Delhomme (Questionable-finger) or Matt Moore. WR Muhsin Muhammed (Questionable-knee) should also be left out of your lineup this week.
New York Giants at Washington - Which is more dysfunctional - the U.S. Congress or the Washington Redskins? After today’s ”resignation” of former GM Vinny Cerrato and subsequent hiring of new GM Bruce Allen, that’s an open question. Jim Zorn, likely in his final games as the Redskins’ Head Coach, will probably suffer yet another loss this weekend in what has been a forgettable season. Giants to start include QB Eli Manning, RBs Brandon Jacobs & Ahmad Bradshaw, TE Kevin Boss, and WRs Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, & Mario Manningham. Redskins to start include QB Jason Campbell, RB Quinton Ganther, and TE Fred Davis.
Good luck to your teams this weekend!
Until next time,
@fantasy_sherpa on Twitter
Fantasy Football Sherpa’s fan page on Facebook