4:25PM ET Games
Kansas City @ Oakland
Last Thursday's return from a four-game ankle injury confirmed that Darren McFadden remains a poor system fit in Oakland's zone-blocking scheme as he was bottled up for seven yards on five first-half carries. The game also confirmed that McFadden still offers plenty of big-play ability as he ripped off a 36-yarder on the first play of the second half. McFadden shouldn't have to worry about his team falling behind at home versus Kansas City, and DMC racked up a season-best 114 rushing yards in these teams' Week 8 meeting at Arrowhead. No one is talking about Chiefs-Raiders because the game has zero playoff implications, but there are fantasy points to be had. Facing Kansas City's No. 27 run defense, consider McFadden a strong RB2 play in Week 15. ... Marcel Reece has resumed lead-blocking duties in the Oakland backfield, carrying the rock just four times for ten yards in last week's loss to Denver. Reece added one catch for five yards and lacks value in the fantasy playoffs. ... After a Week 13 benching, Denarius Moore's starting job was restored against the Broncos. Although he finished with just four catches for 43 yards on six targets, Moore played 47-of-53 offensive snaps (88.7 percent) and is every bit capable of catching fire in the last two fantasy weeks. Moore shredded Kansas City for 96 yards and a touchdown on five grabs in the aforementioned Week 8 meeting. Consider Moore a high-ceiling WR3 this week.
Raiders TE Brandon Myers is a target-dependent fantasy player because he doesn't make big plays, averaging 10.4 yards per catch. While there is theoretically every reason to think Myers will rebound from his two-target Week 14 performance -- which resulted in a one-catch, seven-yard clunker -- it's notable that Kansas City has allowed the third fewest receptions to tight ends. Myers is a back-end TE1 in Week 15. ... Darrius Heyward-Bey scored a fourth-quarter garbage-time touchdown from 56 yards out versus Denver. Heyward-Bey is 50th in fantasy receiver scoring this season, so chasing last week's points is more likely to prove detrimental than beneficial to fantasy teams. DHB was held to 32 yards on one reception in Week 8, spending most of the contest in Chiefs top CB Brandon Flowers' coverage. ... Raiders No. 3 receiver Rod Streater has seven catches for 196 yards and a touchdown over his last two games, benefiting from Moore's Week 13 benching and long grabs of 64 and 58 yards. Streater's previous long catch on the season went for 25. The emergence of an undrafted rookie as a viable third wideout is a promising sign for rookie GM Reggie McKenzie's eye for talent, but Streater won't be a realistic play in the fantasy semifinals.
Jamaal Charles has at least 100 total yards in five consecutive games and ranks No. 4 in fantasy running back scoring over that span, behind only Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, and Doug Martin. That's pretty elite company. The Raiders are 26th in run defense and have allowed the third most rushing TDs in football. Charles is an RB1 in Week 15. ... With Dwayne Bowe done for the year, Charles is Kansas City's only worthwhile skill-position player in fantasy leagues. Jon Baldwin is the favorite to lead the Chiefs in receiving during the season's final three weeks, but Baldwin has played poorly all year. Tony Moeaki, Dexter McCluster, and Terrance Copper are next in line.
Score Prediction: Raiders 23, Chiefs 14
Pittsburgh @ Dallas
Dez Bryant secured 2-of-2 targets for 36 yards and a touchdown after fracturing his index finger in the fourth quarter of last week's win over the Bengals. That in and of itself would be enough for me personally to start a red-hot Bryant against Pittsburgh's beat-up secondary, but the possibility exists that Dez will be used mostly as a decoy while playing with a "hard splint" on his left hand. ESPN's Ed Werder explored the latter notion on Mike & Mike Thursday. "Even if he doesn't catch the ball effectively, they could put him on the field ... and the Steelers not know that. And still command a lot of double coverage," Werder suggested. "Because he can still run. So if he's ineffective in the game and Romo doesn't throw to him, the Steelers and Dick LeBeau might think it's because the coverage they're playing on him isn't making him available to Romo. This is an injury they can conceal, at least maybe for a game, how detrimental it might be to him catching a football." The best fantasy advice I can give is to trust your gut. Mine says to start Dez, especially after Werder reported Friday that the Cowboys have found a "solution" to protect Bryant's broken finger, allowing him to catch footballs. ... Tony Romo's target distribution over the last month: Bryant 38, Jason Witten 35, Miles Austin 26, Dwayne Harris 19, Cole Beasley 16, DeMarco Murray 10, Felix Jones and Kevin Ogletree 8. ... Whether he's employed as a decoy or not, there is little doubt at this stage that Dez will dress and start the game. Dallas' third receiver committee of Harris, Beasley, and Ogletree won't offer a Week 15 fantasy option with Bryant, Austin, and Witten all available.
Ike Taylor (ankle) is out. Steelers starting CBs Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis are both nursing hip flexor injuries, and Pittsburgh nickel back Curtis Brown was benched for practice squad callup Josh Victorian in Week 14 after Brown was burned relentlessly by Chargers backup slot receiver Micheal Spurlock. Allen is listed as doubtful for Week 15. This is a favorable matchup for Austin, Witten, and Bryant, if Dez is actively involved in the game plan. Consider Austin an attractive WR3, and start Witten confidently. ... His receivers all look like recommended plays, but No. 13 overall fantasy quarterback Romo is more of a QB2 facing a talented Pittsburgh pass rush behind Dallas' leaky offensive line. ... After studying the Week 14 Dallas-Cincinnati game tape, NFL Films' Greg Cosell suggested this week that DeMarco Murray's ankle may still be hindering him. "Their O-Line could not block the D-Line for the Bengals," Cosell said. "Murray looked very upright and stiff. He does not have a lot of lateral movement. I don't know if his ankle is still bothering him, but he did not look good." I thought Murray looked a bit better than that, particularly late in the game when he was ripping off chain-moving runs to position K Dan Bailey for his 40-yard game-winning field goal. Nevertheless, Murray is hard to justify as more than a low-end RB2 against the Steelers' top-five run defense.
Washington, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati's rushing offenses have combined to light up DC Rob Ryan's Cowboys defense for 478 yards and three touchdowns on 78 carries (5.13 YPC) the past three weeks. Due to inside linebacker and nose tackle injuries, Ryan's group is most vulnerable up the middle. Inside runner Jonathan Dwyer butters his bread on runs up the gut, so this is a plus matchup for Pittsburgh's lead back. Dwyer, however, would be easier to trust if he hadn't been held to 211 yards and a single touchdown on his last 64 carries (3.30 YPC), looking sluggish in the process. The matchup is right. The recent performance from Dwyer is not. ... Returning from a three-game absence due to rib and shoulder injuries, Ben Roethlisberger hit a Week 14 groove in the second half of Pittsburgh's loss to San Diego, after a painfully slow start. Big Ben completed 17 of his final 29 passes for 243 yards (8.38 YPA), three touchdowns, and an interception to close out the game. While it'd be ideal for Ben put together four quarters of that kind of production before declaring him a QB1 again, upside seekers shouldn't be afraid to do so immediately against a sputtering Dallas pass defense beneath the JerryWorld dome. It's easy to forget Roethlisberger was on pace for career-best stats across the board before going down.
On 42 attempts, Big Ben's target distribution in his first game back: Mike Wallace 11, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller 9, Dwyer and Emmanuel Sanders 4, Plaxico Burress 2. ... Resuming every-down receiver duties following a half-hearted Week 13 benching, Wallace played 62-of-66 snaps (93.9 percent) against San Diego and should be locked back into fantasy lineups as an every-week starter. ... Brown is a disappointing 44th in per-game fantasy receiver scoring this season, but will be difficult to bench with Roethlisberger and his own health restored. Brown is a WR3 with ample upside in Big D. ... Miller is back on the low-end TE1 radar in a difficult Week 15 matchup. The Cowboys have surrendered the third fewest yards in the league to tight ends, and it's conceivable that Miller would do a lot of in-line "help" blocking against DeMarcus Ware.
Friday Update: Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne suffered a setback during the practice week in his recovery from a concussion. His absence would upgrade the fantasy matchups for Roethlisberger and particularly Wallace. "He got a little dizzy yesterday, so I'm not sure about his availability for this game," DC Rob Ryan told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, speaking of Claiborne. "But I know he's doing everything he can. And he's got to pass these tests." The Cowboys already lost nickel back Orlando Scandrick to injured reserve with a fractured hand.
Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Cowboys 21
Sunday Night Football
San Francisco @ New England
The Patriots have gotten a lot of recent recognition for an improved defense, but they have also faced the offensively inept Jets and Dolphins, and run-minded Texans the past three weeks. New England still ranks 30th versus the pass and struggles to rush the passer. This is a good-looking matchup for Colin Kaepernick. I also think it's worth examining why Jim Harbaugh benched Alex Smith in the first place, and I don't think it was to have Kaepernick manage games like he did for most of last week's win over Miami. Harbaugh changed QBs to add dimensions to his offense and -- I believe -- give himself the option of opening things up when necessary with a hose-armed athlete under center. I think Harbaugh will deem it necessary against New England. I expect the Niners to play aggressively in Foxboro, attacking the Patriots' coverage-deficient linebackers with Vernon Davis and letting Kaepernick spray the ball around. Harbaugh is smart enough to know New England will score points, even on Vic Fangio's studly defense, and the best way to combat a high-scoring offense is by keeping pace on the scoreboard. Kaepernick's performances to this point suggest his fantasy floor is pretty high, and his ceiling is a top-seven QB scorer if the passing and rushing production come together in the same game. I think this can be the game.
Sit Kaepernick if you think the Niners will attack the Patriots by attempting to run the ball down the throat of New England's No. 8 run defense. Gore is a solid fantasy start because he's always a good bet for quality workloads and goal-line touchdowns, but I don't think that will be Harbaugh's approach. ... Kaepernick's target distribution on the year: Michael Crabtree 35, Davis 19, Mario Manningham 17, Randy Moss 16, Delanie Walker 10, Gore 8. ... Crabtree plays slot receiver enough that he should avoid Patriots top CB Aqib Talib's coverage on a healthy dose of snaps. Kyle Arrington is New England's slot corner. As the go-to option in San Francisco's passing game and a top-20 fantasy receiver over the past five weeks, Crabtree has earned every-week WR3 consideration. ... It's understandably difficult to put a ton of faith in Davis because he's turned in three straight clunker games. But the Pats allow the most fantasy points to tight ends in the AFC, and this would seem to be an ideal matchup for Harbaugh to remove Davis' shackles. He's a high-risk, high-reward TE1 with as much Week 15 upside as any tight end out there. ... Manningham (shoulder) was listed as doubtful on Friday's final injury report and will be inactive for Sunday Night Football. Look for first-round pick A.J. Jenkins in an increased role off the bench.
Whereas some defenses scheme to take certain offensive players away, the 49ers under Fangio employ a straightforward strategy. They are a great defense, and they dare offenses to beat them. San Francisco has no obvious defensive weakness, but Tom Brady will surely find one and attack it without relent. ... In terms of just guessing where that may be, the first one-on-one matchup that comes to mind is Wes Welker against 49ers slot CB Carlos Rogers. Rogers is a good player, but Welker's unique quickness makes him very hard for a 6-foot, 192-pound corner to cover. I like Welker to lead New England in Week 15 receiving. ... If Welker doesn't, the best bet behind him will be Aaron Hernandez. With 16 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns over his last two games, Hernandez is the hottest tight end in the NFL. Look for the 49ers to use ILB Patrick Willis in coverage of Hernandez on a large number of Sunday night's snaps. Again, Willis is a really good player, but that's a matchup Hernandez should win. ... Despite Rob Gronkowski’s (forearm) return to Friday’s practice, he is not expected to play before Week 17. ... Brady's target distribution since Hernandez returned from injury three games ago: Welker 37, Hernandez 27, Brandon Lloyd 15, Danny Woodhead 7, Julian Edelman 6, Shane Vereen 4, Daniel Fells 3, Donte' Stallworth 2.
Lloyd's 7-89-1 line in last week's drubbing of Houston was a positive development for Brady, but isn't necessarily an indication of box-score stats to come. Lloyd has struggled against physical press coverage all season, and Fangio's defense plays press-man in the back end. Lloyd is back on the WR3 radar, but this is not a favorable matchup for him. ... Edelman and Stallworth are out for the year, so Deion Branch has been re-signed as New England's No. 3 receiver. ... Vereen gained 40 yards on eight Week 14 carries, playing the change-of-pace role behind Stevan Ridley. Vereen is a complementary back only and not a fantasy option. ... Woodhead's ball-handling role has continued to dwindle. He received three touches against the Texans and is no longer roster-able in PPR or standard leagues. ... San Francisco ranks second in the NFL in run defense and has permitted three rushing touchdowns in 13 games. While this appears to be a brutal matchup, Ridley has been matchup proof all year. In four 2012 meetings with top-ten run defenses, Ridley has racked up 328 yards and three touchdowns on 81 carries (4.05 YPC). In fact, Ridley had his best game of the season (28-151-1) against Denver's No. 6 run defense. Having reached pay dirt in six consecutive games, Ridley has earned a starting RB2 slot in fantasy semifinals lineups.
Score Prediction: 49ers 28, Patriots 27
Monday Night Football
NY Jets @ Tennessee
Jake Locker's target distribution since Dowell Loggains replaced Chris Palmer as Titans offensive coordinator two games ago: Kendall Wright 19, Kenny Britt 17, Jared Cook 15, Nate Washington 13, Chris Johnson 9. ... Britt has responded to being more of an offensive focal point by securing 10 balls for 183 yards and a touchdown in those two weeks. Unfortunately, Britt will be difficult to use in fantasy leagues in a Week 15 matchup with Antonio Cromartie. The updated stat lines of players covered by Cromartie since Darrelle Revis' Week 3 ACL tear: Brian Hartline (twice) 1-41, 4-41; Michael Crabtree 2-15; Andre Johnson 1-15; Reggie Wayne 5-87; Brandon Lloyd (twice) 1-6, 3-26; Sidney Rice 2-54-2; Chris Givens 4-19; Larry Fitzgerald 1-23; Justin Blackmon 6-57. ... If Cromartie indeed shadows Britt all over the field on Monday night, Wright could be the primary box-score beneficiary. Wright will square off with much more burnable Jets CBs Kyle Wilson and Ellis Lankster, and is a sneaky WR3 play for desperate fantasy owners. ... Washington has been third in line for targets in Tennessee's receiver corps, clearing 70 receiving yards in just 2-of-13 appearances this season. Washington has some big-play ability (16.6 yards per reception) and is never a terrible bet for a long bomb, but he's not much of an option in fantasy semifinals week.
Cook tore his rotator cuff in last week's loss to the Colts and will be replaced by a combination of blocking specialist Craig Stevens and rookie project Taylor Thompson. Look elsewhere for tight end sleepers. ... Locker's big-play ability keeps him in the two-quarterback league mix against the Jets' No.3 pass defense, but the second-year passer has been an inconsistent, turnover-prone disappointment this season. In easier matchups than he'll face Monday night, Locker has thrown for just three touchdowns while turning the ball over nine times the past three weeks. ... Slumping Johnson has hit a wall since Tennessee's Week 11 bye, failing to clear 4.0 yards per carry or find pay dirt in the three ensuing games. Johnson has managed just 95 yards on his last 33 rushing attempts (2.88 YPC). I think he has finished runs with effort and generally played better than those stats indicate, however, and Johnson has the sort of Week 15 matchup that could result in a blowup game. The Jets rank 29th against the run and field the slowest front seven in football. If Johnson gets to the edge against this group, he will be gone. He is a strongly recommended RB1 on Monday night.
Although their offense has scored 20 points just once in the last six games, the Jets remain in the playoff hunt in a talent-lacking, top-heavy AFC. With Mark Sanchez at quarterback, the best way for New York to stay competitive is to lean heavily on its run game. The Jets have done just that during their two-game win streak, peppering Arizona and Jacksonville with a combined 85:47 run-to-pass ratio. Due to the utter lack of passing volume, no Jets pass catcher exceeded 40 yards in either game. This is the brand of football Rex Ryan understandably wants to play, but it's bad news for the box-score outlooks of Jeremy Kerley and newly acquired Braylon Edwards. Dustin Keller (ankle) will not play. No Jets receiver or tight end is a legit option in the fantasy playoffs. ... On the other hand, workload and touches should be there for New York's backfield timeshare Monday night as Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell take on Tennessee's No. 23 run defense. Figuring out just which Jets back will emerge with more production has been an unforeseeable week-to-week fantasy dilemma over the last month. In Weeks 11 and 12, Powell was the superior fantasy scorer. Week 13 was Greene's. Last week, both Greene and Powell proved worthwhile flex plays with nearly 80 rushing yards and a touchdown apiece. Thinking logically, the fractured toe ostensibly suffered by Powell in the Jets' Week 14 win at Jacksonville should vault Greene to the forefront of the committee this week. Powell should not be in fantasy semifinals lineups. Greene is worth a look as a desperation flex.
Friday Update: Ryan is now saying Powell's toe is not fractured, although he hasn't practiced and is dealing with soreness in his foot. Greene remains the superior bet for carries in the Jets' backfield Monday night.
Score Prediction: Titans 20, Jets 17