By: Christopher J. Kelly, FFSpin.com and FantasyFootballCrystalBall.com Writer
In this article we assume that you are starting your RB1s regardless of the matchup.
Each week we will analyze the defenses and provide our take on which RBs you should start and which should be benched based on matchups with stout run defenses, stubbed toes, potential weather problems, conduct code violations etc.
The following Defenses are allowing 14 or fewer fantasy points per game to opposing rushers (over the past 5 weeks): Denver , Indianapolis, Houston , Tampa, San Diego, and Buffalo. Those that own Vick Ballard (vs Houston), the Saints 4 Horseman (vs Tampa), and Deangelo Williams (@ San Diego) should consider your alternatives. Ray Rice (vs Denver) , Arian Foster (vs Indy) and Marshawn Lynch (@ Buffalo) remain must starts despite the somewhat difficult matchups.
On the flip side, these defenses (Arizona, Green Bay, Oakland, New England, Carolina and Atlanta) have been shredded by ground games and are allowing 21 or more fantasy points per game to opposing RBs (over the past 5 weeks). Mikel Leshoure (@Arizona), Jamaal Charles (@ Oakland), Matt Forte (vs Green Bay) and Ryan Mathews (vs Carolina) will be difficult to bench in week 15.
On the injury front, Ahmad Bradshaw is very questionable for the matchup with Atlanta which could open the door for rookie David Wilson to build on his 100 2-TD performance from week 14. Carolina’s John Stewart (ankle) could miss his 3rd straight gave against San Diego but Deangelo Williams is just a flex play in this difficult matchup. Fred Jackson will miss the remainder of the season locking CJ Spiller into solid RB1 status for the final three weeks starting this week against a Seattle run defense that has showed leaks recently.
As always, injuries will surely play a role in your lineup decisions and our interactive INJURY CHART with fantasy advice . The Injury Report will be updated up until the 1pm Sunday kickoffs.
Running Back Upgrades:
Darren McFadden (vs. Kansas City): In his first game back since missing four weeks with an ankle injury, McFadden rushed 11 times for 52 yards against the Denver Broncos. Although not a stellar performance, McFadden did manage to catch a couple of passes including a 12-yard touchdown from Carson Palmer. In the nine games this year, McFadden has been targeted on average six times a game and has about four receptions per contest. This week McFadden faces the Kansas City Chiefs, who are ranked 27th against the run, allowing 131 yards a game to running backs (17 FPG). In the past two weeks, Kansas City has given up over 300 yards and two touchdowns to the Browns and Panthers. McFadden last faced the Chiefs in Week 8 rushing for 114 yards on 29 carries.
Jonathan Dwyer (@Dallas): Earlier in the week, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that he doesn’t plan to change his running back situation when Pittsburgh travels to Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
That makes Dwyer the clear starter for the rest of the season even after coming off an eight carry 32 yard performance against the Chargers last week. In Week 15, Dwyer will face Dallas’ 16th ranked run defense that has allowed 122 yards per game and four rushing touchdown in the last five weeks (19 FPG). In just the last two contests against the Bengals and the Eagles, Dallas has allowed over 300 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Dwyer could be the third back to rush for over 100 yards in just the last four weeks against the Cowboys.
Mikel Leshoure (@ Arizona): The Arizona Cardinals hope to erase last week’s defensive effort. The Cardinals allowed 284 yards on the ground to Seattle, including not one but two 100-yard rushers in Marshawn Lynch (128 yards), and rookie Robert Turbin (108 yards). Lynch also added three touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 58-0 beating of the Cardinals. Now the Arizona defense will take on the tandem of Lions running backs Mikal Leshoure and Joique Bell. Last week the pair split carries almost evenly and each rushed for 49 yards in Detroit’s loss to the Packers. Leshoure has also scored in three of his last four games, as he takes on a defense that has given up 634 yards on the ground in the last three games against the Seahawks, Jets and Rams.
Running Back Downgrades:
Vick Ballard (@ Houston): The Colts rookie had one of his best performances of the season last week, rushing 19 times for 94 yards. Ballard is now the starter for the rest of the season since teammates Donald Brown and Delone Carter are injured and will miss most if not the remainder of the year.
Unfortunately this is not the best week for Ballard to really establish himself. The rookie out of Mississippi State will face the leagues second best defense against the run. The Houston Texans have allowed just 91 yards a game and only three rushing touchdowns on the year (11 FPG). As a matter of fact, last week was the first time all season that the Texans have allowed over 100 yards rushing and a rushing touchdown in the same game. Ballard could have a tough going since Houston is coming off one of their worst games this season. Houston will play Indianapolis twice in the next three weeks, making this game crucial for both teams as they fight for playoff positions.
Deangelo Williams (@ San Diego): Jon Stewart will likely miss his 3rd straight game but Deangelo Williams remains a flex play at best this week in a difficult matchup with Cam Newton stealing a chunk of the red zone rushing attempts. In the week 14 upset with over Atlanta, Cam Newton ran nine times for 116 yards and a TD while DeAngelo Williams rushed 17 times for 56 yards (just 3.3 YPC) and added 2 catches for 56 yards. The Chargers defense is allowing 92 YPG on the ground (fourth in the NFL), with just five rushing TDs given up through 13 games.
Ray Rice (vs. Denver): I already know what you’re thinking, and I’m not saying to bench Ray Rice. But just hear me out, because this is more about Denver than it is about Rice. In the last five games, the Denver Broncos have played against Darren McFadden, Doug Martin, Jamal Charles, Ryan Mathews, and D’Angelo Williams (with a sprinking of Cam Newton). Against all of those running backs, and a running quarterback Denver has allowed a solid 69 yards per game and no rushing touchdowns. None. The last running back to score against this defensive unit was Cincinatti’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis back in Week 9. Denver is averaging just 13 FPG to running backs and is ranked 6th in rushing defense. Despite a 9-4 record, Baltimore fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron earlier in the week. Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell takes over, and it would seem Ray Rice is bound for a larger role than before. However this could be a tough week for the Rutgers alum.
Running Back Sleepers:
He spent the next couple of months in the Tom Coughlin doghouse and only played on special teams and carried the occasional ball when Ahmad Bradshaw needed a drink of water. Fast forward to Week 13 against the Saints and Wilson finally arrived leaving that doghouse in the rearview. The rookie back out of Virginia Tech carried 13 times for 100 yards and scored twice, one of which was from 52 yards out. Oh yeah, he also added a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and was just named Special Teams Player of the Week. Wilson will take on the Falcons that have allowed 127 yards per game on the ground. Atlanta has given up 14 total rushing touchdowns on the season, including five in the past five weeks.
Ryan Matthews (vs. Carolina): Despite holding the Atlanta Falcons to just 35 yards rushing, Carolina has not solved their run stopping issues. Prior to the Falcons game, Carolina has been burned to the tune of 362 yards and three touchdowns in just two games against the Chiefs and the Eagles. Not to mention that in the last five games, Carolina has been the fifth worst team against the run allowing 117 yards per game and five touchdowns (21 FPG). Last week, Mathews carried the rock 25 times for 65 yards against the Steelers, which is the most carries he has had in a game all season. This could be a sign of things to come as he is set to carry the full workload in a game. The third-year pro is averaging about 60 yards per contest, and has only hit pay dirt once this season – not what owners were expected when they used a 2nd-3rd round pick. This weekend, Mathews could very well make owners forget about his disappointing season as he has a solid chance at producing RB2 numbers against a very generous Panthers defense that has surrendered 11 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Joique Bell (@ Arizona): We discussed above how Arizona has struggled to stop the run all season. Even though Mikel Leshoure is the feature back, Bell sees plenty of action. In week 14, Bell flexed his dual threat skills as he carried the ball 12 times for 49 yards and added five catches for 47 yards in the Sunday Night loss to Green Bay. Over the last three games, Bell has 24 carries for 177 yards (impressive 7.4YPC) and a touchdown. The third-year pro out of Wayne State University has elevated value in PPR leagues as he’s totaled 39 catches for 380 yards on the season.