Fantasy semifinals in Week 15 give greater consequence to unexpected breakouts and duds from stars — win and you're playing for a title, lose and it's on to 2019.
Playing games in mid-December also assures that weather will be a factor for some players in a week where matchups favor quarterbacks. Bad weather brings the potential of heavy workloads for several running backs.
START: Jared Goff, QB, Rams: Expect a major reversal of Sunday night fortunes for Goff, who gets an Eagles defense that ranks 30th in net passing yards allowed. After throwing four interceptions in last Sunday's loss at the Bears, Goff will carry many fantasy teams into Week 16 at the expense of Philly's secondary, which gave up 455 yards to Dak Prescott in the overtime loss at the Cowboys.
SIT: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers: Held to under 200 passing yards in three of his last five games, Rodgers must contend with a stifling Bears defense that is third in the league in fewest fantasy points per game allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Rodgers has just one interception this season, but that could easily change against Chicago, which leads the league with 25 interceptions. Fantasy owners who desire to play a meaningful game next week will help their chances by keeping Rodgers benched.
START: Doug Martin, RB, Raiders: While his overall numbers are underwhelming, Martin has scored in each of his past three games and is being fed into the buffet that is the Bengals, who are last in fantasy points per game allowed to opposing running backs. Martin has averaged 18 touches per game in the last two weeks and with the temperature expected to be in the upper-30s on Sunday, he should be able to get a steady dose of carries. He's a good RB2/flex option whose value will be stronger in non-PPR formats.
SIT: Courtland Sutton, WR, Broncos: A huge flop in Week 14, Sutton caught two passes for 14 yards against a weak 49ers pass defense. With Emmanuel Sanders out for the rest of the season, the opportunity for Sutton to assert himself as the team's featured receiver is still there, but he's also failed to record more than six targets in all but one game since Denver traded Demaryius Thomas last month. The Browns are 30th in receiving yards allowed yet plugging Sutton into the lineup is a risk not worth taking.
START: Josh Reynolds, WR, Rams: Only the Saints allow more fantasy points per game to opposing receivers than the Eagles, which makes Reynolds a great play despite his recent skid. Reynolds has just 55 receiving yards in his last two games but is a must-start against Philadelphia, which is also 31st in receiving yards allowed. Robert Woods will get the bulk of the targets from Goff, yet there will be more than enough opportunities for Reynolds to justify his solid WR2 status.
SIT: Marlon Mack, RB, Colts: Although he scored last week, Mack managed just 33 yards on 14 carries against the Texans and faces stiffer competition in the form of a Cowboys defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown in their last five games, while not conceding more than 70 yards to a running back in the same span. Mack is far removed from the midseason spurt that vaulted him into RB2 territory and is now more of a last-ditch option whose value declines considerably in PPR formats.
START: Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns: While the Broncos' pass rush can make life miserable for quarterbacks (40 sacks, tied for fourth), they're also 26th in net passing yards allowed, numbers that play well for Mayfield, who has completed better than 70 percent of his passes in three of his last four games. Denver has allowed an average of 324.5 yards and two touchdown passes in its last six. With Mayfield making a concerted effort to get Jarvis Landry involved, the formula is there for Mayfield to be a sneaky good fantasy option for a team whose normal starter may have an unappealing matchup.
SIT: Cameron Brate, TE, Buccaneers: Despite three touchdowns in the last three games, Brate is too red zone dependent to roll the dice on at this late a juncture. The Ravens are third in fewest receiving yards allowed and with Brate a non-factor between the 20s, fantasy owners are best off looking for better streamers at the position.
START: D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers: The rookie hasn't pulled in a touchdown pass in his last three games, but Moore has at least eight targets in each of his last four. In what could be an elimination game for Carolina, look for Cam Newton to call upon Moore frequently against a Saints defense that has given up the most fantasy points to opposing wideouts. Moore also averages 12.5 yards per carry and will be good for a jet sweep or two as well.
SIT: Robert Foster, WR, Bills: He's become an intriguing fantasy option, having caught 13 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown in his last four games while becoming the deep-ball wideout of choice for Josh Allen. Foster sets up to be the type of fantasy player who comes out of nowhere to produce big numbers, but Buffalo faces a Detroit defense that is 12th in receiving yards allowed. Deep leaguers can take the risk, but Foster is too much of a penthouse/outhouse proposition for those in more standard leagues.
START: David Johnson, RB, Cardinals: It's been more than a month since Johnson scored, but the Falcons and their 26th ranked run defense means taking the plunge on the disappointing Redbird back.
SIT: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, Eagles: Yes, Jeffery scored last week, but still hasn't exceeded better than 50 receiving yards since Week 8. With the Eagles committed to getting rookie TE Dallas Goedert into the flow of the offense, the targets will continue to come in a light drizzle for Jeffery.