It’s playoff time! Wondering whether or not to start Le’Veon Bell and Michael Thomas, or to bench Bryce Petty and Tyler Boyd? The network bozos specialize in that kind of advice. If you’re looking for help with your real starting lineup conundrums, read on.
Here are my picks to roll, and get rolled, in Week 15 of the 2017 season.
Watch ‘em roll
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers vs. Packers. I should preface this by admitting that I have been consistently wrong with my projections for Newton this season. So take this recommendation for what it’s worth. Though he has generally been more dangerous as a rusher than passer, Newton has done a good job limiting his turnovers in recent weeks. Most optimistically, Green Bay has been a pushover for opposing QBs – even DeShone Kizer.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Dolphins at Bills. The chances of Jay Cutler pulling out another game like he had against the Patriots on Monday night are fairly remote. But you can bet that Drake will continue his dominant role in the offense. Even if Damien Williams returns, Drake should excel against the doormats in Buffalo that have surrendered more rushing TDs (18) than any defense in the NFL.
Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings vs. Bengals. If the Bills aren’t the league’s worst run defense, the Bengals are. Murray has emerged as the alpha back in Minnesota’s RB committee, though he was held in check by the Panthers last week. Look for a big rebound game from the veteran.
Chris Hogan, WR, Patriots at Steelers. Who was that guy masquerading as Tom Brady against the Dolphins on Monday night? No telling, but don’t expect him to show up again. Not only will Rob Gronkowski be back on the field, but Pittsburgh’s rapidly deteriorating pass defense will be taking the brunt of Brady’s frustration. Hogan came up small as well in Miami, but should be targeted frequently in this clash of division leaders. Look for a nice rebound from him, as well.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers vs. Patriots. Seemingly every season, Ben Roethlisberger lays an egg at least once during the fantasy postseason. It’s hard to imagine that happening Sunday given the incredible roll he’s on and the defense he’ll be facing. New England’s secondary has held its own against some sorry passing attacks, but they’ve been torched by the good ones. With Smith-Schuster returning from suspension, look for Big Ben to give the explosive rookie every opportunity to excel in what should be a high-scoring affair.
More thumbs up (excluding the no-brainers): QBs Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, Blake Bortles, Russell Wilson, Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers; RBs Devonta Freeman, Jay Ajayi, Alvin Kamara, Jordan Howard, Alfred Morris, Jonathan Stewart, Alex Collins; WRs Devin Funchess, Keenan Allen, Larry Fitzgerald, Mohamed Sanu, Josh Gordon, Dez Bryant, Marqise Lee, Jordy Nelson, Robert Woods, Jarvis Landry, Golden Tate, Marquise Goodwin, Paul Richardson, Michael Crabtree, Adam Thielen.
Roll ‘em back
Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins vs. Cardinals. Cousins is coming off his worst game of the season, and as Patrick Peterson & Co. head to town, another poor week could be in the offing. With Jordan Reed joining Chris Thompson on I.R. and Jamison Crowder underachieving most weeks, Cousins isn’t getting enough help to overcome tough matchups like this week’s.
Lamar Miller, RB, Texans at Jaguars. Miller has been mostly mediocre this season, especially as a rusher. His saving grace has been his role in the passing game. But you can’t like his chances against the fearsome Jags, who have allowed only one rushing TD over the last nine games. With T.J. Yates under center, you know the Jags will stack the line against Miller and dare the shaky QB to test their elite defensive backs.
Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins vs. Cardinals. The rookie’s initial promise has faded over the past two games, along with Washington’s faint playoff hopes. Meanwhile, Arizona’s run defenders have stepped up their play over the last few weeks, most recently holding the Titans’ backfield duo to just 65 rushing yards. Both trends conspire against Perine in Week 15.
Robby Anderson, WR, Jets at Saints. Our first glimpse of Anderson’s breakout potential last year was with Bryce Petty under center, so there’s some reason for optimism. That said, it’s hard to expect the duo to flourish against a Saints secondary bolstered by the return of shutdown CB Marshon Lattimore. Anderson will see a lot of Lattimore on Sunday and it could prove to be a very long day for the inexperienced Petty.
Sterling Shepard, WR, Giants vs. Eagles. Truth be told, Eli Manning deserved to be benched a couple weeks ago. Just not for Geno Smith. Manning’s return to the starting lineup was predictably subpar, and his ineptitude even cost his best wideout the chance to produce. In a tougher matchup with Philly’s elite secondary, Shepard’s opportunities will continue to be limited.
More thumbs down: QBs Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota; RBs Orleans Darkwa, Doug Martin, Joe Mixon, Theo Riddick; WRs Willie Snead, Kendall Wright, Sammy Watkins, DeVante Parker, Jamison Crowder, Jermaine Kearse, DeSean Jackson.
TAKING A FLIER
Dede Westbrook, WR, Jaguars vs. Texans. Blake Bortles and Marqise Lee have been raising eyebrows over the past couple of weeks, but don’t sleep on Westbrook. The supremely confident rookie actually has more targets, receptions and receiving yards than Lee since making his NFL debut in Week 11. Against a Texans secondary that lacks consistency, the Bortles-Westbrook connection should come up big.
DON’T BE THE BONEHEAD WHO … overlooks the two Saturday games this weekend, including an early 3:30 p.m. kickoff between the Bears and Lions. This is no time to forget to check the inactives and set your lineups. And as we were reminded last week in Buffalo, it’s the time of year when the weather can wreak havoc on the passing and kicking games.
Follow Ladd Biro on Twitter @ladd_biro.