These are the games that you’ll remember. If Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Anderson are dragging you to victory at the most important stretch of the fantasy season, they’ll always have a special spot in your personal Hall of Fame. If you were leaning on Peyton Manning to take you to the promised land just as his 51-game touchdown streak ended in Week 14, however, you’ll probably never forgive him. Or Eli, just because he’s related and there’s very little chance he’s done anything to help you since about 2008.
At this point, you’re simply trying to continue playing. As someone who is probably in too many football leagues, I usually make a habit of not knowing which players my opponents are using against me — for my own sanity. That way, I can just be happy when Julio Jones scores for me in one league, without knowing that he also just scored against me in three others. Ignorance is bliss — well, unless that same ignorance led you to pin all your hopes on Colin Kaepernick this season.
That goes out the window at this time of year though. With everything on the line, it’s not a bad idea to know exactly who your playoff opponent is throwing at you. If they’re using Drew Brees, just know that any points Kenny Stills gets you will be going to them too. If they’ve got a relatively weak lineup, you may just want to use your “safe” guys and not risk going for the big play with Martavis Bryant when you probably don’t need to. Then again, if you’re facing an absolutely loaded team, you may have no choice but to go for the home run. Welcome back to the conversation, Mr. Bryant.
Of course, the quickest path to fantasy success is to find the strong players that are facing weak opposition and cash in. With that in mind, here are the Money Matchups for Week 15…
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, PIT (@ ATL). Roethlisberger has put together a pretty nice NFL career — two Super Bowl rings will do that for you. But he’s never had a fantasy season like this before. Last week, he torched the Bengals’ secondary for 350 yards and three scores. On the year, only Andrew Luck has more passing yards. Big Ben is on pace to obliterate career highs in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns and now he faces a pedestrian Falcons defense indoors. Not a bad spot to be in.
Sleeper: Matt Ryan, ATL (v PIT). Ryan will be on the opposite side of the field from Roethlisberger in Atlanta on Sunday, and he has quite a bit of upside as well. Over his last three games, he’s thrown for 1,009 yards and eight TDs. Three games! Geno Smith has a total of eight TDs… all year! (Admit it, you were kind of surprised to find out Smith even has that many. Me too). Ryan will be at home, his team is somehow leading the NFC South and he’s going up against a Steelers D that allows the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing QBs. Note, however, that this is 100 percent contingent on Julio Jones (448 yards and two scores over the last two weeks) suiting up. Jones is dealing with a hip issue and, really, everything in the city of Atlanta is contingent on him suiting up at this point.
RB: Matt Forte, CHI (v NO). The Bears won’t have Brandon Marshall available to play receiver this week, and they will have Jay Cutler under center. Those are two very good reasons for them to repeatedly feed the ball to Forte, who has been Chicago’s top weapon all along and still has an outside shot at posting 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season. The game’s in the Windy City, the Saints and their holographic defense are in town and you get that extra added bonus of having one of your best players suiting up on Monday Night Football to decide your playoff matchup.
Sleeper: Joique Bell, DET (v MIN). Reggie Bush is back, which could potentially cut into Bell’s overall value. Then again, Bush suited up last week and Bell still posted 83 yards rushing and a TD… plus 50 yards receiving and another TD. It’s tough to deny the progress Bell has made over the last month and while he doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing performance to his name yet in 2014, he finds enough ways to get involved and make an impact. That alone makes him a decent, slightly off-the-radar player against the Vikings’ bottom-10 run defense this week.
WR: T.Y. Hilton, IND (v HOU). The majority of Hilton’s fantasy value used to hinge on big plays. That can be fun, but it can also be maddeningly inconsistent. Now he’s the unquestioned top receiving option in one of the league’s most dominant passing attacks. His 78 receptions have him tied with Jordy Nelson for No. 8 in the NFL, and he’s just four catches away from surpassing his career high. Last time he faced the Texans, he managed to embarrass them with nine catches for 223 yards and a score. Not sure why you wouldn’t want to be a part of that.
Sleeper: Sammy Watkins, BUF (v GB). In the Year of the Rookie Receiver, Watkins has been both impressive and erratic. Sure, you could blame a lot of that on Kyle Orton, but that would be kind of mean. It would also be accurate. Either way, Watkins got back on track with 127 yards against the Broncos on Sunday, and now faces the Packers in Buffalo. No one has been more generous to opposing wide receivers this season than Green Bay, making Watkins a high-risk/high-reward kind of guy this week.
D/ST: Seattle Seahawks (v SF). The Seahawks D is officially intimidating again and, not coincidentally, Seattle is once again a top tier Super Bowl contender. This week, they’re at home against a 49ers team that moves about as quickly and efficiently as the old guy with the busted shopping cart in front of you in the grocery store. San Francisco has scored more than 17 points in a game just once since Week 6. And Kaepernick has accounted for one total touchdown — or less — in each of those contests. The ‘Hawks usually have success in this NFC West matchup, even when the 49ers are good. What happens now?
Sleeper: Baltimore Ravens (v JAX). Hey look, someone’s facing the Jaguars — start them. Still not convinced? Jacksonville has yielded the most fantasy points to opposing defenses this season, just lost Denard Robinson for the year and has somehow allowed 54 sacks. To put that in perspective, the Dolphins gave up the most sacks last year, with a total of 58 over the full 17-week schedule. Meanwhile, the Ravens are now No. 6 in the entire league with 37 sacks, posted six of them last week alone and have been playing much better as a unit lately. So again: hey look, someone’s facing the Jaguars — start them.
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