Our NFL Insiders predict Week 15‘s biggest upsets, fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: Which teams have the most riding on the 2018 draft? Who will win the AFC West? Which Class of 2014 QB would our experts build a franchise around?
What’s your top upset pick for Week 15?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Cardinals over Redskins. Give me the Cards on the road against a Washington team that has been hit hard by injuries. With a pass rush that is sure to get home against a depleted Redskins offensive front, and Patrick Peterson lurking in the secondary, Arizona can limit Kirk Cousins and get out of a town with a win in a low-scoring game.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Colts over Broncos. Denver is 0-6 on the road and has been outscored 183-81 in those games. The Broncos have also lost three of their past four home games, including shortfalls against the struggling Giants and Bengals. Denver hasn’t scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game since Week 2. In fact, the Broncos have scored only one more offensive touchdown than the Colts this season (21-20), and both defenses have given up exactly 32 scores. Denver’s strong defense very well could shut down Jacoby Brissett and the Colts’ offense, but it’s hard to have much faith in Trevor Siemian putting enough points on the board to win at Lucas Oil Stadium. I’ll take the Colts 20-19.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Steelers over Patriots. Pittsburgh should expose the defensive personnel shortcomings New England has hidden through scheme and by playing against some limited offenses.
Field Yates, NFL Insider: Cardinals over Redskins. Right now, there is no answer for “how to block Chandler Jones,” the Cardinals’ play-wrecking edge defender who leads the NFL in sacks with 14. He’ll be a handful for a banged-up Redskins offensive line, and I think the Cardinals will grind out a win by a narrow margin over Washington.
Besides the Browns, which team absolutely has to nail its 2018 draft?
Bowen: Bears. Chicago has needs at wide receiver, cornerback, outside linebacker and on the offensive line. But hitting on the wide receiver position is key to the future development of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Besides some flashes from rookie running back Tarik Cohen, the Bears have lacked explosive play ability in a very limited passing game this season. Landing a receiver with speed, matchup skills and playmaking talent should be a top priority for general manager Ryan Pace and a possible new coaching staff.
Clay: Colts. Barring disaster, Indianapolis will get Andrew Luck back under center in 2018. That’s great news, but as the roster currently stands, he won’t be enough to get this team into contention against divisional opponents such as Jacksonville and Houston. GM Chris Ballard did well to hit on free agents such as Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard last offseason, but there are still voids at nearly every position, especially linebacker, cornerback and running back and along the all-important offensive line. The Colts have wasted some of Luck’s prime years and need to get him help as soon as possible.
Sando: Packers. Aaron Rodgers‘ absence has exposed the Packers’ personnel in other areas while drawing attention to the quarterback’s physical vulnerability. This team needs to find blue-chip talent at important positions. Green Bay will be drafting earlier than it has in about a decade. It’s an opportunity the Packers need to maximize.
Yates: Raiders. One of the realities of having recently signed your quarterback to a massive deal on top of a looming deal for one of the three best defensive players in football, Khalil Mack, is that you start to have to juggle a tighter cap situation. The Raiders’ 2014 draft set the template for the franchise rebirth, but the 2016 and 2017 drafts have yielded less immediate return from top picks. Safety Karl Joseph and cornerback Gareon Conley, both respective first-round picks, missed time because of injuries as rookies, with Conley registering only seven tackles. To keep pace in a competitive AFC West, Oakland needs to nail this upcoming draft.
Who is your pick to be the biggest fantasy flop this weekend?
Bowen: Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs. This is really about the matchup with the Chargers on Saturday and the expectation of a run-heavy game plan for the Chiefs. Los Angeles is surrendering an average of only 200.3 passing yards per game, and this unit hasn’t allowed an opposing quarterback to reach the 20-point mark in fantasy scoring since Week 1.
Clay: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans. Let me start out by saying that I don’t feel great about doubting Hopkins. The dude has been tearing up the NFL with Tom Savage under center much of the season. That said, life is going to be very tough for Hopkins against Jacksonville’s shut-down defense. When Houston and Jacksonville faced off in Week 1, Hopkins caught only seven of 15 targets and was limited to 55 yards — his third-lowest total of the season — though he did find the end zone. That isn’t a bad fantasy line, but keep in mind that he posted a 6-48-1 line on 11 balls thrown by Deshaun Watson and a 1-7-0 line on four throws from Savage. Savage is not expected to play this week, which means third-stringer T.J. Yates will be under center. Hopkins should never be removed from season-line lineups, but he’s a candidate for a down week and should be avoided in DFS.
Sando: A.J. Green, WR, Bengals. (And anyone else associated with the Cincinnati offense.) I see the Vikings’ defense shutting down the Bengals in a runaway.
Yates: Frank Gore, RB, Colts. Gore should have the respect of anyone who watches football, as he remains one of the steadiest players in the game. However, following a Week 14 in which he had the ball in his hands 37 times in a physical showdown with Buffalo in the snow, I expect the short week leading into a matchup against Denver to result in a more modest output. Denver’s defense might have rediscovered its mojo in Week 14, too.
Who is your pick to win the AFC West?
Bowen: Chargers. Philip Rivers is dialed in right now and sneaking into the MVP discussion with a late-season run on production. But I’m taking the Chargers to win the AFC West because of the defense under Gus Bradley. This unit plays fast, the edge rushers are legit, and Casey Hayward is the best cover corner I’ve watched on tape this season. With a win over the Chiefs on Saturday, Los Angeles will be in prime position to wrap up the division with remaining games against the Jets and Raiders.
Clay: Chargers. You know I’m sticking with the team I picked way back in the summer. I expect the red-hot Chargers to go into Arrowhead and come away with a victory. When all is said and done, this will turn out to be the game that decides the division. After Kansas City, the Chargers head to New York to face a Jets team that just lost its quarterback, and then they wrap up the season at home against the struggling Raiders. They should win both games. The Chargers are one of the league’s best teams and have finally dodged the injury bug (for the most part) this season. As long as they avoid the bone-headed and bizarre errors that cost them many wins earlier this season, they’ll coast to the title.
Sando: Chargers. They have the quarterback and defense to prevail over their AFC West rivals. Rivers’ interception rate has plummeted to a career-best 1.5 percent this season. It was 3.7 percent in 2016, which was the second-worst figure of his career. Rivers and the Chargers’ offense are putting up enough points for the pass-rushers to feast on opposing offenses.
Yates: Chiefs. I am so impressed with how the Chargers have rounded into form offensively of late, as the defense, which has so many of the requisite ingredients for a sustained run of success, has been rock solid for the full season. But this boils down to the fact that I think the Chiefs have just enough to hold off the Chargers on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. A win would give the Chiefs a clean sweep of the Chargers this season and a one-game lead with two games left to play, which would all but eliminate the Chargers’ chances of winning the division.
Pick a fringe fantasy player who should be started in the playoffs this weekend.
Bowen: Dede Westbrook, WR, Jaguars. I’ll take the consistent volume with Westbrook and the positive Week 15 matchup against the Texans secondary. In his past three games, Westbrook has caught 17 of 27 targets for 200 yards with a touchdown, and Blake Bortles is playing his best football of the season. Over the past two weeks, Bortles has completed 71 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and a total QBR of 82.1.
Clay: Drew Brees, QB, Saints. We’ve come to the point where Brees is, in fact, a “fringe” fantasy starter. The long-time fantasy superstar sits ninth at the position this season but has posted only two weekly finishes better than 10th (and just one since Week 3). Brees has finished 17th or worse at the position in five of his past nine outings, which is something he did five times all of the previous season. Why the optimism with so much on the line? The Jets’ defense. Brees will be in the comforts of the Superdome throwing passes against a defense that has given up the most fantasy points to QBs this season. New York has allowed seven top-10 fantasy weeks this season, and Brees is good bet to make it eight this week.
Sando: Paul Richardson, WR, Seahawks. Seattle’s defense could be in tatters, and its running game could be weakened by Mike Davis’ injured ribs. If that is the case, Seattle will have to throw early and often against a Rams secondary with major injury issues at corner. Richardson scored 13 points against Jacksonville last week.
Yates: Mike Davis, RB, Seahawks. The Seahawks have struggled to find answers at running back since Chris Carson’s injuries, but Davis has injected a shot of life into the backfield. He has 31 carries over the past two games, averaging more than 4 yards per carry. The Rams have allowed opposing running backs to total 30 points on six occasions already this season. This is an opportunity for Davis to break into double-digit scoring.
Which Class of 2014 QB would you rather have on your roster for the next 10 years?
Bowen: Jimmy Garoppolo. We are still using a very small sample to break down his game, but his skill set is a fit for the modern NFL. With the accuracy, quick release and movement skills, Garoppolo has the talent to play in any pro system.
Clay: Garoppolo. Considering how well Derek Carr performed in 2016, it’s easy to point to recency bias as a reason for pivoting to Garoppolo. However, keep in mind that these two passers entered the NFL with similar pedigree and were both second-round picks. Carr landed in a spot where he could start immediately, whereas Garoppolo was buried behind some guy named Brady. Carr is still a tempting choice here, given his lengthier résumé, but his play has dropped off this season when conditions around him haven’t been as perfect as they were one year ago. Meanwhile, Garoppolo has been extremely impressive despite an underwhelming supporting cast on a young roster headed in the right direction.
Sando: Carr. At least until Garoppolo proves himself over time. I don’t think the Patriots would have traded Carr if he had been their backup. They traded Garoppolo only reluctantly, but they still traded him. That says more than anything Garoppolo might have shown in a couple of games with San Francisco.
Yates: Carr. Part of my reasoning is the sample size. Although Carr has underwhelmed this season compared to the standard he set for himself last season — a season that set him up to sign a record-setting contract extension — he still has the longest track record of success on this list. Garoppolo is nipping at Carr’s heels, though, flashing an impressive command of the San Francisco offense just about a month and a half into his 49ers’ tenure.