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There's good news and bad news for fantasy managers as Week 15 dawns.
The good news is that if you're bothering to read this, then odds are you made the fantasy postseason. Either that or you're just a huge fan of my witty and informative writing. It's understandable. Lots of people are. Like at least seven.
The bad news is that at this point, the next loss is the last one. The season killer. To taste defeat again is to come up short of every fantasy manager's goal—winning a championship. There's no more room for underperforming players or bad lineup decisions.
From a defensive perspective, it's a week that sets up well. Most of the higher-end team defenses have at least neutral matchups. Some have downright outstanding ones. That isn't to say we won't see a surprise or two once the games start (danged if that doesn't always happen), but on paper at least this is a week high on upside and relatively low on risk.
Yes, I know I just jinxed it. I'm sorry.
Arizona Cardinals (at Detroit Lions)
Fantasy managers who started the Cardinals in Week 14 were not pleased when the fifth-ranked fantasy defense entering the week proceeded to allow 30 points while failing to notch a takeaway in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. But the Cardinals do not play the Rams in Week 15—they play a short-handed Detroit Lions team that was bad offensively at full strength. The Lions are 26th in total offense, 30th in scoring offense and have given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to team defenses this season. Look for an angry Cardinals team coming off a loss to tee off at Ford Field Sunday.
Dallas Cowboys (at New York Giants)
I could probably crank out 1,000 words here just on how amazing rookie linebacker Micah Parsons has been in Dallas this season. There's a legitimate chance he could be named both Defensive Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, and he has played a substantial role (along with cornerback Trevon Diggs) in making Dallas fantasy football's No. 1 defense entering Week 15. The Cowboys lead the NFC in takeaways this season, while their opponent this week is a floundering Giants team allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to defenses that may be starting Mike Glennon under center again.
Miami Dolphins (vs. New York Jets)
The Dolphins have gone from a 1-7 dumpster fire to 6-7 and on the boundary of playoff contention, and the defense has played a major part in that winning streak. The Dolphins have logged 31 sacks this season, added 20 takeaways and are fourth in the league in fantasy points at the position since that dreadful start to the year. Most importantly, this week the Dolphins host the hot mess that is the New York Jets—Gang Green sits 29th in the NFL in scoring offense, leads the league in giveaways and sits sixth in most fantasy points per game surrendered to defenses on the season.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Like the Arizona Cardinals, the Bills entered Week 14 as a high-end fantasy defense only to stumble against a Super Bowl contender—in Buffalo's case, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. This week's opponent (the Carolina Panthers) is not quite as formidable. With Christian McCaffrey on the shelf and Cam Newton and PJ Walker competing to see who can be a worse quarterback, the Panthers have fallen apart offensively—Carolina has just two wins over their last nine games and has surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points per game to defenses since Week 8.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. New Orleans Saints)
Tampa is living proof of the disconnect that can exist between an excellent fantasy defense and a great NFL one—with due respect to Tampa, the Bucs have had significant issues against the pass. But thanks to sacks and big plays, the Buccaneers remain a top-five fantasy option for the season ahead of a rematch with a Saints team that shocked the Bucs in New Orleans earlier this season. Circumstances are much different this time around though—with Taysom Hill under center the Saints are incredibly reliant on the run, and the Buccaneers rank first in the NFC in rushing yards allowed per game.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
The 49ers defense struggled against Joe Burrow and the Bengals in the second half of last week's overtime win, but this week's home date with the Falcons should offer a good chance for a much more thorough performance. The Falcons have had issues offensively this season, ranking 24th in yards per game and 26th in points per game. Atlanta also sits ninth in the league in giveaways with 21, and while the team's 26 sacks allowed this season is only average there isn't a team in the NFC that has been kinder to opposing defenses from a fantasy perspective.
New England Patriots (at Indianapolis Colts)
To be fair, as fantasy matchups go, this one isn't ideal—the Indianapolis Colts have given up the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to team defenses in 2021. But the Patriots have proven to be about as matchup-proof as you can reasonably expect a defense to be—in addition to leading the league in fantasy points per game at the position, the Pats are third against the pass, first in points allowed, fourth in takeaways and sit just outside the top-10 in sacks with 32. If you have ridden the Patriots into the playoffs, you can't give up on them now.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. New England Patriots)
The Colts might just have the better defenses in the NFL that no one talks about as being one of the better defenses in the NFL. The team gives up yards but not points, ranking ninth in points allowed. There isn't a team in the league that has been better at taking the ball away from opponents—29 takeaways on the season. Most importantly for fantasy owners, the Colts sit third in fantasy points among defenses for the year. Much like the Patriots, the matchup here isn't ideal, but this is a game that could easily become a low-scoring, old-school ground-and-pound affair.
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Green Bay Packers (at Baltimore Ravens)
Green Bay had the makings of a solid spot-starter in Week 14, and despite allowing a surprising 30 points to an anemic Bears offense a pick-six from Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas and a couple of sacks of Justin Fields salvaged a good outing. Now the Packers draw what could be an even better matchup. The Baltimore Ravens might be 8-5, but the offense is sputtering, Lamar Jackson is iffy at best to even play after suffering a sprained ankle a week ago in Cleveland and since Week 10 no team in the NFL has given up more fantasy points per game to defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs, Washington Football Team)
Odds are, the Eagles open this week on a lot of waiver wires—Philly ranks outside the top-12 in fantasy points for the season and is coming out of a Week 14 bye. But that bye could be a blessing in disguise—after the break, the Eagles will play host to their rivals from Washington after a loss to the Dallas Cowboys that saw quarterback Taylor Heinicke and wide receiver Terry McLaurin both go down with injuries. Washington has also been generous to opposing defenses as a whole—the team has given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to the position.
Minnesota Vikings (at Chicago Bears)
In the first half of last week's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Minnesota defense was absolutely dominant, shutting out the Steelers while racking up five sacks. The second half was a different story, but the Vikes still ended the week inside the top-12 at the position in fantasy points. That pass rush should have plenty of opportunities to tee off this week against Justin Fields and the Bears, who lead the NFC in sacks allowed with 42. The Bears have also given up the third-most fantasy points per game in the NFL to opposing team defenses in 2021.
Tennessee Titans (at Pittsburgh Steelers)
There is little question that the offense for the Pittsburgh Steelers currently has two phases. The first consists of trying futilely to get Najee Harris going on the ground, The second consists of playing chuck-and-duck after that doesn't work with a quarterback who has all the mobility of a fern. The Steelers aren't going to be able to get Harris rolling against the league's second-best run defense, and Ben Roethlisberger could be in for a rough afternoon against a Titans pass rush that quietly ranks inside the top 10 in the NFL In sacks.
Houston Texans (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
Frankly, most of what I'm about to say about the Texans could also apply to the Jags, but given the complete and utter implosion occurring in Duval County right now all of their players are on the fantasy 10-foot pole list. Are the Texans a good defensive football team? Absolutely not. But against the Jaguars it may not matter. The Jags are tied with the Jets for the most takeaways in the league, sit in the NFL's bottom three in both yards and points per game and have allowed the most fantasy points per game in the league to opposing defenses after being shut out by the Titans in Week 14.