The fantasy football playoffs are coming quick, and the true champions are starting to prepare now. While trade deadlines have passed and wavier wires are lean, teams that are playoff bound need to starting predicting their fantasy playoff production. In most leagues, Week 15 either marks the beginning of the playoffs, or the crucial second round. It is a vital practice to predict how your team matches up by position with potential opponents.
This process begins by examining the most important fantasy position: quarterback. In the first installment of the LWOPF fantasy playoff positional series, here are the top ten fantasy plays for the quarterback position in Week 15. (All statistics from PlayerProfiler.com)
Player: Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons)
Week 15 Rank: 1st
Fantasy Points Per Game: 22.6 (4th)
Opponent: San Francisco 49ers
Rank against position: 29th
Skinny: Of all the great choices in Week 15, Matt Ryan rates out the best. He simply “checks all the boxes” of what is necessary in a fantasy playoff quarterback. First, he is a top fantasy quarterback playing at home. Second, he is facing an opponent that ranks 29th against the position. Third, his team throws in the Red Zone (Ryan is sixth in Red Zone Attempts). Atlanta will need this game, San Francisco will not. The 49ers are winless on the road. This is as safe a fantasy quarterback play as possible. Ryan will be the top fantasy quarterback in Week 15.
Player: Kirk Cousins (Washington Redskins)
Week 15 Rank: 2nd
Fantasy Points Per Game: 19.5 (10th)
Opponent: Carolina Panthers
Rank against position: 24th
Skinny: Cousins checks a few different boxes than Ryan. Most importantly, he is playing for a new contract which provides tremendous motivation. Washington will be in the hunt for a playoff spot, and a home game is a huge fantasy advantage. The Panthers defense has been hurt with injuries, and they are currently 24th against the quarterback position and falling fast. Cousins ranks first in Air Yards per game (191.2), and third in Passing Yards per game (308.9). Carolina ranks fourth against fantasy running backs, and even without injured linebacker Luke Kuechly, they still are much more vulnerable through the air. Throw in that this is a Monday Night Football game, and Cousins is a lock for 25+ fantasy points.
Player: Philip Rivers (San Diego Chargers)
Week 15 Rank: 3rd
Fantasy Points Per Game: 18.3 (16th)
Opponent: Oakland Raiders
Rank against position: 23rd
Skinny: Philip Rivers at home trumps the quality intra-divisional opponent. Oakland has been better in recent weeks against fantasy quarterbacks, but in a game with major playoff implications expect Rivers to shine. Rivers is fourth in passing yards (2860) and second in Red Zone passing attempts (77). Rivers has the best schedule of any fantasy quarterback the rest of season, and a home shootout against the Raiders is just what your fantasy team will want in Week 15.
Player: Eli Manning (New York Giants)
Week 15 Rank: 4th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 16.4 (21st)
Opponent: Detroit Lions
Rank against position: 26th
Skinny: It is always dangerous to trust Eli Manning, but you definitely should in this spot. The Giants have abandoned the run, and put the ball in the hands of their best player. Manning is fifth among quarterbacks in passing attempts (386). His receiving corps is among the best in the league, and he has scored 23.9, 20.0, and 17.2 fantasy points in his last three games. Detroit ranks 26th against fantasy quarterbacks and, equally as important, the Giants defense ranks first in the same statistics. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford will be limited by the defense and conditions, giving Manning more opportunities. Having a two time Super Bowl MVP, at home, against a porous pass defense is a great thing for the fantasy football playoffs.
Player: Tyrod Taylor (Buffalo Bills)
Week 15 Rank: 5th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 17.6 (18th)
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Rank against position: 31st
Skinny: The safest Week 15 fantasy quarterback floor belongs to Tyrod Taylor. Buffalo will be in the midst of a comfortable three game home stand and will face the 31st ranked defense against fantasy quarterbacks. Sammy Watkins should be back in game shape, and Taylor should carve up the Browns secondary. The running dimension cements Taylor’s top five finish here, as he is currently first among all quarterbacks in rushing attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. The only thing that holds him back from the top three is the Bills running attack, which could steal touchdowns. Taylor remains a steadfast top five quarterback in Week 15.
Player: Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys)
Week 15 Rank: 6th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 20.6 (7th)
Opponent: Detroit Lions
Rank against position: 28th
Skinny: Dak Prescott is not just making a claim for NFL Rookie of the Year, but he is a legitimate Most Valuable Player candidate as well. Dallas is 10-1 and Prescott has stepped in and replaced All Pro Tony Romo without even a hiccup. He has 17 touchdowns to only two interceptions, and his 67.5 percent completions percentage is sixth among all quarterbacks. At home against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 28th against opposing fantasy quarterbacks is a comfortable place for a fantasy playoff quarterback to reside. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot will get a lot of work, but Prescott should comfortably post high QB1 fantasy production in Week 15.
Player: Carson Palmer (Arizona Cardinals)
Week 15 Rank: 7th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 16.5 (20th)
Opponent: New Orleans Saints
Rank against position: 17th
Skinny: The Saints have improved their defense over the last few weeks against the run, but have gotten worse against the pass. While Palmer’s offensive line has been horrific in pass protection (41.2 Pass Protection Rating/27th in the league), this will be a high scoring game script that will provide him with many opportunities. Arizona ranks first in pass player per game (44.5), and even in a down year Palmer ranks top ten in Air Yards (sixth) and Deep Ball Attempts (ninth). Palmer has six touchdown passes in his last three games, after having only two in his previous four games. He is not as strong a play as the quarterbacks above him, but at home against New Orleans he is significantly better than any available streaming options.
Player: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
Week 15 Rank: 8th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 24.4 (1st)
Opponent: at Chicago Bears
Rank against position: 13th
Skinny: The current number one fantasy point per game quarterback does not crack the top seven, and the justification is an intra-divisional road game. In the fantasy playoffs, low variable risk is tantamount to maximizing your win probability. The Bears and Packers have a historic rivalry dating back to 1921, and this year’s Bears defensive front line has had success pressuring the quarterback. Linebackers Willie Young and Leonard Floyd will be pressuring Rodgers all game, and that will keep his production moderate. This Green Bay offense has struggled all year long, and a 4-6 Packers team shouldn’t strike fear any fantasy opponents. Solid Week 15 for Rodgers, just not top five worthy.
Player: Derek Carr (Oakland Raiders)
Week 15 Rank: 9th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 19.2 (12th)
Opponent: at San Diego Chargers
Rank against position: 19th
Skinny: Many fantasy owners will exaggerate how good Derek Carr has been in 2016. He’s been a fantastic real life quarterback, but a less than reliable fantasy quarterback. Carr has produced five weeks of over 25 fantasy points, and five weeks with under 24 fantasy points. For the great 45 point overtime outburst at Tampa Bay, there are three 14 point weeks and one miserable seven point week. In Week Five at home against San Diego, Carr produced a respectable 26 point fantasy week, but he struggled most of the game. In a division matchup on the road, Carr’s ceiling is low which puts him ninth for Week 15. If you are starting Carr against any of the quarterbacks above him, expect to need to make up production at other positions. A good but not great option for Week 15.
Player: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)
Week 15 Rank: 10th
Fantasy Points Per Game: 20.0 (9th)
Opponent: at Cincinnati Bengals
Rank against position: 25th
Skinny: Ben Roethlisberger played great in Indianapolis on Thanksgiving night. But that is not his norm however. Excluding last game, he has just 19 touchdown passes in his last 19 road games, including Week 11 at Cleveland when he failed to throw a touchdown pass at all. Cincinnati has struggled all year, but these games have a history of being a defensive battle. Three of the last four games between these teams have produced a total score of 40 points or lower. The Bengals struggle against the pass, and will be without Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green, but don’t overlook Roethlisberger’s road game struggles and the intense rivalry this matchup will be.