NY Jets @ Philadelphia
We've touched on it in this space the past two weeks, and coach Rex Ryan discussed it in his Wednesday presser: Shonn Greene has turned his season around. While Greene is never going to be a dynamic NFL runner, he's certainly capable of swallowing up every blocked yard and possesses enough leg drive to carry linebackers and defensive backs after contact. Greene has done that since midseason, amassing 583 yards and four scores on his last 118 carries (4.94 YPC). Perhaps most promising for Greene's value has been his expanded role in the passing game, hauling in three receptions in each of the past three games even with usual passing-down specialists LaDainian Tomlinson and/or Joe McKnight in the lineup. Greene will give a smallish Eagles front seven matchup fits because it's been built to get up field and rush the passer, not plug the run. Over the past two weeks, Philadelphia has allowed 269 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries (5.27 YPC) to enemy tailbacks. Greene is a rock-solid RB2 and rising.
The Eagles' offensive line was shredded by the Dolphins in Week 14, serving up four sacks and six hits on Michael Vick. Vick conceded this week that his previously cracked ribs still aren't 100 percent, and top receiver Jeremy Maclin's hamstring obviously isn't after it tightened up during last week's second-half break in action, rendering Maclin a non-factor for the final two quarters (0 targets). DeSean Jackson plays when he wants to play. Now facing the league's sixth-ranked pass defense, a unit that has allowed the second fewest passing touchdowns in football, Vick is difficult to support as a QB1. Here are some borderline quarterbacks I'd play over Vick in Week 15: Tim Tebow, Ben Roethlisberger (if he starts), Jake Locker (if he starts), and Christian Ponder.
Score Prediction: Jets 20, Eagles 17
New England @ Denver
The Broncos left 120 passing yards and a 55-yard scoring bomb on the field last week due to five blatant drops. Two more of Tim Tebow's throws should have been caught by Matt Willis and Eric Decker. Had Denver converted the most glaring receiver miscues, we would have spent the past week discussing Tebow's first career 350-yard, two-touchdown day and whether to consider him a top-five fantasy quarterback in Week 15. Against the Bears, Denver's coaching staff openly acknowledged that the shotgun-spread is the best way for the offense to create ball movement. 31 of the Broncos' final 33 offensive plays came in the 'gun with three or more wideouts, and they stuck with the wide-open, aggressive formations into and through overtime rather than resuming the usual arch-conservative, ball-control mentality. Be it due to an early deficit or more cognizant game plan from John Fox & Co., I expect Tebow's shackles to be removed in Denver's biggest game to date. The receivers are sure to be open against New England's incompetent defensive backs, and I'd feel very good about Tebow as a standard-league fantasy starter in this matchup. The Broncos are going to need to score points to be competitive in this game.
Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Wes Welker are obvious every-week starters, but this game sets up particularly well for Aaron Hernandez to break out. One of Welker and Gronk is likely to get the Champ Bailey treatment -- we won't know which until kickoff -- and Deion Branch (groin) is in danger of missing Sunday's game. Hernandez will be the heavy favorite for targets outside the numbers. And make no mistake: Hernandez is a wideout, not a tight end, in that he rarely lines up on the line of scrimmage. Offenses have routinely picked on Broncos RCB Andre' Goodman this season, and Hernandez figures to be in his and rookie FS Quinton Carter's coverage for most of the day. Hitting his stride since a midseason knee injury, Hernandez has five-plus receptions in three straight weeks. I like his chances of leading New England in catches and yards in Week 15.
Score Prediction: Patriots 35, Broncos 30
Sunday Night Football
Baltimore @ San Diego
Philip Rivers is playing better football late in the season, as Gregg Rosenthal noted in this week's Rankings column. I just wouldn't bet he'll do well against the Ravens. Be aware that Rivers' back-to-back season-best games came against Jacksonville and Buffalo defenses that rank 23rd and 32nd in sacks, essentially giving San Diego's injury-depleted offensive line a free pass. Both the Jags and Bills played without at least two starters in the secondary. San Diego's front five and its quarterback will be in for a much longer day against a Ravens unit that leads the league in sacks and fields a top-five pass defense. Whereas I was excited about Rivers and his receivers in Week 14, the opposite can be said this Sunday. The Chargers are unlikely to score many points.
Anquan Boldin is slowing down late in the season for a second straight year, managing a 42-yard average in his last five games after averaging over 78 yards in the initial eight. The Chargers are well equipped to keep Boldin in check after the catch with big, physical cornerbacks (Antoine Cason 6'1/195, Quentin Jammer 6'0/204). Per Pro Football Focus, Jammer and Cason have combined to miss just 12 tackles all season. They've made 85 collectively. Ranked 26th among receivers in fantasy scoring, Boldin is just a low-end WR3 in this matchup. San Diego's secondary does struggle with smaller, quicker outside receivers (see Denarius Moore 5-123-2, Deion Branch 8-129, Johnny Knox 3-97-1), so perhaps rookie Torrey Smith is worth a look for deep leaguers.
Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Chargers 17
Monday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ San Francisco
This game pits the NFL's No. 2 defense (Steelers) against No. 4 (49ers), and both offenses are dealing with key skill-position injuries. Ben Roethlisberger (high ankle sprain) is a game-time decision. Whether the Niners admit it or not, Frank Gore (knee, shoulder, ankle) isn't at full health. I think it's safe to expect a low-scoring game ala San Francisco's 16-6 loss to Baltimore in Week 12, and Gore's limited recent workloads are working against him in addition to Pittsburgh's shutdown run defense. "He's got some things," explained coach Jim Harbaugh, referring to Gore's injuries this week. "He's not 100%. And we have other backs." Over its last six games, the Steelers' defense has permitted one score and 481 yards on 151 rushing attempts (3.18 YPC). Due to matchup, health, and workload concerns, I’d feel comfortable benching Gore in favor of higher-upside options on Saturday and Sunday.
I think the smart money is still on Big Ben starting Monday night, but several plugged-in national reporters are on the record predicting that he won't play. Hopefully, we'll have more updates and a better read on his status prior to the weekend. While both Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace would have favorable fantasy outlooks in the event Roethlisberger starts, they'll be much less desirable should 37-year-old Charlie Batch get the nod. The 49ers' weakness is in the secondary, but Batch would be considerably less likely to keep the sticks moving and hit big plays than Big Ben. The best advice I can give is to keep a close eye on this situation. Rotoworld will be monitoring closely.
Score Prediction: Steelers 17, 49ers 10