We're in the thick of it now.
Whether your fantasy football league has six playoff teams or four, odds are very good that Week 15 brings with it either the beginning or continuation of the playoffs. From here out, every game is miniature season unto itself. Win, and you move on to the next round (and in most leagues, a shot at the title). Lose, and you might get to play in the third-place game next week.
No one likes the third-place game. Competing to be second loser. Blah.
Where team defenses are concerned, it presents fantasy managers with a dilemma. Do you ride with an every-week starter who has helped carry you this far? Or do you consider a matchup play if that defense has a less-than-favorable matchup?
In Week 15, the Los Angeles Rams are an excellent example of this conundrum. The Rams have been on quite the tear of late defensively—since Week 10 no defense in fantasy football has scored more points. But while the Dallas Cowboys are in a tailspin from an NFL perspective , the team has still been tough on opposing defenses—28th in fantasy points allowed to the position over the first 13 weeks of the season.
Frankly, there's no easy answer to this question. Both teams are desperate for a win to keep their lagging playoff hopes afloat. It's strength against strength. The game's also in Dallas, where the Cowboys generally play better offensively.
Of course, this week's streaming plays (as you'll see) aren't especially great, either.
Like I said, there's no easy answer. You have to measure the potential reward and risk of rolling out the Rams compared to the streaming plays available in your league.
Nothing like kicking off the second-biggest week of the entire season by being not even the tiniest bit helpful.
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New England Patriots (at Cincinnati Bengals)
The Los Angeles Rams may not have an ideal matchup, but the same can't be said for fantasy's highest-scoring defense. Some of the bloom has come off that rose of late—the Patriots are still No. 1 for the season, but the team ranks outside the top-20 in most scoring systems since Week 9 and has just one middling effort over that span. This is an excellent week for some rebound action, however—the Bengals rank fifth in the NFL in giveaways and have surrendered the fourth most fantasy points to defenses in 2019. New England's two game skid ends Sunday—in emphatic fashion.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. New York Jets)
Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense have garnered most of the attention of late—and with good reason. But the Baltimore defense has been a big part of the team's nine-game winning streak, too—the Ravens are sixth in the league in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, sixth in takeaways and fifth in fantasy points. There's little to think that the Ravens won't keep rolling at home on Thursday night—the Jets may be playing better than they were early in the season, but it's still the AFC's worst defense in terms of both yardage and points scored.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Buffalo Bills)
That the Steelers are sitting at 8-5 despite the injuries that have blasted the team on offense is a testament both to the coaching job Mike Tomlin's done and a defense that has excelled at making big plays. The Steelers lead the NFL in sacks with 48, lead the league in takeaways with 33, rank fifth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense. Given those numbers, it's not a surprise that Pittsburgh moved ahead of San Francisco and into second place in the league in fantasy points among defenses in many scoring systems. Playing at home in prime time, Pittsburgh's a strong play again in Week 15.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
Fantasy owners of the 49ers who managed to survive Sunday's shootout with the Saints should consider themselves lucky—San Francisco allowed 46 points and had no sacks and just one takeaway. And there's at least cause for a measure of concern after the Atlanta Falcons dropped a forty-burger on the Carolina Panthers. However, there's more than a little difference between the Saints and Falcons—differences that go well beyond the gulf in record between the two clubs. The Falcons have offensive firepower, but they've also been prone to mistakes—Atlanta's eighth in fantasy points given up to defenses in 2019.
New Orleans Saints (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
What's better than recommending one of the defenses from a 48-46 shootout the week before? Recommending both! The Saints were actually scuffling a bit defensively before getting torched by the Niners, but there's one major consideration that lands New Orleans in the no-doubters this week—a Colts team that has dropped three games in a row and is sputtering offensively. Over the first eight weeks of the 2019 season, the Colts were a bottom-five fantasy matchup for defenses. Since Week 9, Indy's been a top-10 matchup—quite the reversal of fortunes.
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Carolina Panthers)
The Seahawks struggled defensively in Week 14, as their pass rush vanished in a 16-point loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The pressure will be on that defense to turn it around Sunday in Charlotte, but fortunately for the Seahawks the Panthers of late have been making just about every team they play look good. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants have turned the ball over more times than Carolina this season, and only the Miami Dolphins have surrendered more sacks than the 50 the Panthers have allowed after Kyle Allen was dropped five times last week in Atlanta.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Philadelphia Eagles (at Washington Redskins)
This was written prior to Philly's Week 14 Monday night tilt with the New York Giants. If the Eagles struggle as badly defensively in that game as they did against the Miami Dolphins, the team is going to be that much more difficult to trust in Week 15 against the Washington Redskins—especially with the Washington offense having shown signs of life in recent weeks. However, that offense is still last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense and fifth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to team defenses this season. That's a hard matchup to pass on.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Detroit Lions)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not a good defensive football team—the Bucs are 17th in total defense and possess the second-worst pass defense in the league. But Tampa's tallied 34 sacks and 22 takeaways this year—combined with four defensive scores, the Buccaneers have quietly been a top-10 fantasy unit in many scoring systems. This week those Buccaneers (who have peeled off three straight wins) travel to Detroit to take on what's left of the Lions Offense. Last week, David Blough and the Lions managed just 231 yards and seven points, turned it over twice and surrendered five sacks. Giddyup.
Oakland Raiders (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
Yep. That's right. The Oakland Raiders who allowed 42 points in a Week 14 loss to the Tennessee Titans. And 40 points in a loss the week before to the Kansas City Chiefs. And 34 points the week before that in a loss to the New York Jets. Here's the thing though—while the Raiders are falling completely apart, the Jacksonville Jaguars have moved on to whatever comes after completely falling apart. The Jaguars scored just one touchdown and had 252 yards of total offense against the Chargers in Week 14, and Jacksonville now sits ninth in fantasy points allowed to team defenses in 2019.
Cleveland Browns (at Arizona Cardinals)
Like most of the Week 15 streaming options on defense, this call says more about who the Browns are playing than the defense itself—the Browns solid stat line in Week 14 was buoyed by a Denzel Ward pick-six in the first half. Still, the matchup's a solid one—the Cardinals haven't won a game in well over a month and Kyler Murray is coming off a game in which he turned the ball over three times and was sacked five times. The mounting losses have the young quarterback pressing the action—and that's leading to mistakes he wasn't making earlier in the season.
Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears)
The Green Bay Packers haven't been especially impressive as a fantasy defense in 2019—the team ranks outside the top-20 for the season in fantasy points and hasn't had a big week since the end of September. The Chicago Bears aren't an especially good fantasy matchup for defenses, either—22nd in points allowed to the position this season. So why are the Packers listed here in Week 15? Believe it or not—a hunch. There's plenty of pressure on the Packers to keep winning, and I flat-out don't trust Mitchell Trubisky to maintain last week's success under center—especially at Lambeau Field.
New York Giants (vs. Miami Dolphins)
Much like last week's meeting between the Dolphins and New York Jets, this game is a matchup between two teams with bad records and worse defenses—the sort of matchup that fails to inspire a ton of confidence from fantasy managers. However, if forced to choose between the two teams (and there are undoubtedly some streamers in deeper leagues facing that choice) the home team is the way to go here. Partly it's a matter of the Giants having been a slightly better fantasy defense. OK, it's mostly that. Actually, it's just about entirely that—the Dolphins are dead last in fantasy points among defenses.
Cincinnati Bengals (at Miami Dolphins): The Bengals are absolutely atrocious at stopping the run, but the Dolphins are even worse at running the ball. Cincy's talented defensive line should have a field day against a Dolphins team that has surrendered an NFL-high 51 sacks in 2019.
Denver Broncos (vs. Detroit Lions): The beatdown the Broncos just laid on a first-place Houston Texans team last week was a reminder that Denver's still a good defensive football team. The Lions, on the other hand, are just trying to get to the end of the season as soon as possible.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at New York Jets): If you're a fantasy owner of the Steelers Defense and make it to Championship Week, the schedule is set up to reward you handsomely. If you make it too Week 16 and have to face them, um…...yeah.