With all the injuries last week, a lot of us left Week 14 with mixed emotions. If you advanced to your league's semi-finals, you were probably doing a Balki Bartokomous-stlye Dance of Joy. However, if you are a Rob Gronkowski or Adrian Peterson owner (or worse, both), you were left limping into your semi-finals matchup and scrambling for replacements.
Since we only have one week left, I'm going to switch it up a little bit this week and ditch the "12-Pack of Goodness" and "6-Pack of Sorrow" and move into a championship-influenced system of recommending players to start and sit this week. There's only one week to go, so make sure you follow Jake Ciely's advice and don't get cute because there is no tomorrow if you lose this week (and speaking of Jake, make sure you check out his Week 15 Rankings after you read this article!)
In the words of the illustrious Joe Kane, "let's put the women and children to bed and go looking for dinner!"
And with that, here are the Week 15 players who I think deserve to be in your lineup (or on your bench):
The Championship 10
(10 players non-obvious players who can help get you to the finals next week)
Kirk Cousins: Starting a quarterback who is making his first start of the season in your fantasy playoffs is a risky proposition, but I really like Cousins' matchup this week against an Atlanta defense that is allowing 17.9 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks (fourth-worst in the league). This is admittedly extreme cherry-picking, but Cousins put up 21 fantasy points filling in for Robert Griffin III in his Week 15 start last year, so it's not unthinkable that he might be able to do the same against a shoddy Falcons defense.
Ryan Tannehill: Coming off back-to-back 20-plus point fantasy performances, Tannehill gets a nice home matchup against a New England defense that just allowed 391 passing yards to Jason Campbell. With the Patriots one injury away from playing Julian Edelman at cornerback again (kidding...sort of), Tannehill should have another big week for owners that are brave (smart) enough to play him this week.
Chris Ogbonnaya: Outside of his matchup against a Bears defense that has made a star out of every running back they've faced this year, I really like Ogbonnaya this week because Willis McGahee hasn't practiced all week and is highly unlikely to play on Sunday. I'll admit that starting him wouldn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but Ogbonnaya should be able to be a productive spot-start this week -- especially in PPR and/or daily leagues.
Stevan Ridley: I know, I know. What happens if he fumbles again? That's an extreme risk, to be sure, but Ridley ran like a man possessed when he touched the ball last week and is someone who the Patriots will have to rely upon in a post-Gronk world. While I like Shane Vereen a lot better than Ridley this week, I think Ridley will get his chance against a Dolphins defense that has struggled against the run. It's risky starting him, but I have a feeling we'll see a touchdown out of Mr. Cement Hands this week.
Marlon Brown: Brown is another risky option due to his inconsistent usage, but he's coming off one of his best games of the season (seven catches on 11 targets for 92 yards and a touchdown). He'll have the added benefit of playing against a sieve-like Lions defense that is tied for the dubious distinction of allowing the most receiving touchdowns to wide receivers this season and makes for a great spot-start if you're struggling with your other options.
Brian Hartline: Hartline didn't do much the last time the Dolphins played the Patriots, but he's elevated his game over the past two weeks (178 yards and two touchdowns in that span) and is catching the injury-depleted Patriots at the right time. I like Hartline more in PPR leagues than I do in standard leagues, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him end up as a Top 15-20 wide receiver this week.
Delanie Walker: I know I said non-obvious players, but I just can't bring myself to tell you to start Zach Ertz or Scott Chandler this week. The case for Walker is pretty simple: he's been cleared of his concussion issues, he was playing like a TE1 before his injury, and he gets to play an Arizona defense that is by far the worst defense in the league against tight ends.
Dennis Pitta: Another non-obvious option, but again, players like Ertz and Chandler are probably recipes for disaster this week. In his first game action of the season last week, Pitta picked up right where he left off in 2012 with six catches on 11 targets for 68 yards and a score. I have him as a Top 10 tight end this week and you should feel free to start him with confidence.
New Orleans Saints D/ST: It was only one season ago that the Saints defense was the laughing stock of the league, but Rob Ryan has done wonders with this unit. They probably won't give you a 20 point fantasy performance, but they're usually good for around eight or nine fantasy points and should have no problem exceeding that against a Rams offense that allowed 21 fantasy points to Arizona's defense/special teams last week.
Indianapolis Colts D/ST: I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I trust the Colts defense as far as I can throw them, but I'm moreso targeting the Texans offense with this pick. They've allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses this season and are frankly a bit of a mess as they limp to the 2013 finish line. There are a good 10-12 defenses I'd start ahead of the Colts this week, but you can certainly do a lot worse.
The Consolation Five
(Five players who could help put you in the consolation round next week)
Tom Brady: Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Austin Collie (and maybe Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson). Is that a receiving corps that you'd feel comfortable with your fantasy playoffs quarterback having at his disposal? I know we're talking about Tom Brady here (you won't find a bigger Brady supporter than me), but I think the answer to that question is a resounding no. I have Brady as low-end QB1/high-end QB2 this week depending on your league and would avoid him if possible.
Ray Rice: I heard that Rice is in a competition with C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson to see who can be the most disappointing fantasy running back this season. While he has had two good games this season, I don't think this week is going to be one of them. Before last week, the Lions hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown for eight weeks and I hate to say it, but Ray Rice is no LeSean McCoy at this point.
Stevie Johnson: I've written about Johnson in this space before, but I still don't understand why people start him. He's only had two games over 15 fantasy points in the last two seasons, so there really isn't much upside to speak of here. I realize that the Jaguars stink, but I'm looking for more upside than Johnson and his 5.6 fantasy points per game this season can offer in my fantasy playoffs.
Heath Miller: Just to preface this, any tight end after the Top Five could have a good or bad game this week, but I had to pick one to list as a "sit." Miller is a decent start in PPR leagues, but he hasn't scored more than eight points in a standard league all season and is facing a Bengals defense that only allows 6.1 fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends.
New England Patriots D/ST: If I'm recommending Tannehill and Hartline as "starts", there has to be a downside for someone, right? Enter the Patriots defense. They haven't scored more than six fantasy points since Week 8 and are coming off a negative-four point performance last week in which they made the Browns offense look like the 2007 Patriots offense.
That's it for this week, but leave any start/sit questions you have in the comments section below, and I'll make sure to get back to you before Sunday. Good luck in your playoff matchups this weekend!