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The Shadow Knows 2016 week 15
By Gary Davenport
Welcome to the pressure cooker.
It’s time for the fantasy playoffs. On one hand, if you’re still playing in Week 15 it means you’ve had a relatively successful season. You’ve dispatched many of your rivals and sit only a couple games from hoisting your league’s trophy.
On the other hand, a loss this week or next ends your season, and in some respects losing in the postseason can be even more maddening than not making them at all.
The Houston Texans are in something of a similar situation. At 7-6 the Texans have won more games than they’ve lost this season. But with three to play there’s still ample time for everything to go to hell before the playoffs start.
Much as in the fantasy playoffs, there’s little margin for error for the Texans when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday. And with veteran corner Johnathan Joseph banged up, that means it will fall to young cornerback A.J. Bouye to shut down Jaguars wideout Allen Robinson.
Head coach Bill O’ Brien told Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle that he thinks Bouye is more than up to the task. "A.J. has had a good year," O'Brien said. "A.J.'s got length. He's got speed. He's tough. He's covered well. He's tackled well. He's had a good year. He's got good ball skills. He needs to keep going. We need him to play at that level these last four weeks. It's been a great year for A.J. He has done a nice job for us."
I don’t know that Bouye will be as successful shutting Robinson down as Blake Bortles has been (that wailing you hear is Robinson’s fantasy owners agreeing with me) this season, but folks hoping to get one last solid stat line out of arguably the biggest fantasy disappointment at wide receiver this year would be wide to consider that Bouye ranks seventh in the NFL in pass coverage among cornerbacks at Pro Football Focus.
He’s allowed only one touchdown pass all season, and hasn’t given up even 60 receiving yards in a game this year.
Now that I’ve dispensed with that happy news, here’s a look around the league at some other receivers with tough coverage matchups.
Odell Beckham, New York Giants (vs. DET – Darius Slay)
Slay told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press that he’s well aware that he’ll have his hands full with Beckham on Sunday in the Big Apple. "He’s just great with the ball, man," Slay said. "Like you saw in the Dallas game (last week). It wasn’t going good, he dropped about three balls. Next thing you know took a slant 60 (for a touchdown). Big game-changer guy, can easily take the top off your defense. We just got to be a defense that just can contain him and just play ball."
THE SHADOW SAYS: Beckham’s long touchdown last week pretty clearly demonstrates why he’s a must-start regardless of matchup. Slay’s lived up to his contract extension this season, but when a guy can fire off a dozen fantasy points or more in the blink of an eye it’s probably a good idea to have him in your starting lineup. You know, if you like that winning stuff.
Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers (at WAS – Josh Norman)
As Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today reported, Norman didn’t mince words this week while talking about playing his former team. “You guys know me better than anybody else and I'm pretty sure you know how this is going to go down,” Norman said. “I’m going to come out fighting. It almost felt like I was stabbed in the back. My personality, who I am, probably doesn't fit some people in that atmosphere with the Panthers.”
THE SHADOW SAYS: Given how the 2016 season has progressed for the Pathers, they may wish they could get a mulligan on the Norman call. But their issues in the secondary haven’t been the only problem. Benjamin, Cam Newton and the Carolina offense have been erratic, and taking on an admittedly “salty” Norman isn’t going to make things any easier.
Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders (at SD – Casey Hayward)
Hayward told Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune it’s felt good to prove the doubters wrong during his breakout 2016. “I kind of prove to doubters that said, ‘He can’t play outside. He can’t do this. He can’t do that,’ “ Hayward said. “I’ve read that in the offseason. People said, ‘He can only play in the slot.’ … I try to go out there and not just prove them wrong but prove myself right. I know what I can do. I’ve done it for going on five years now.”
THE SHADOW SAYS: Hayward may feel there’s little left to prove overall in 2016, but where the Oakland Raiders are concerned it’s something of a different story. While Hayward’s a top-five cornerback overall at PFF this season, he had easily his worst game of the season back in Week 5. In that game Hayward allowed a season-high in passer rating, the second-most yardage he’s given up in 2016, and the lone touchdown he’s surrendered. In fact, both Cooper and Michael Crabtree scored in that game, with the former posting a robust 6/138/1 line for the afternoon.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (at MIN – Xavier Rhodes)
There’s good news and bad news in Week 15. The good news is that there really aren’t many high-end fantasy receivers who have to face similarly gifted cornerbacks. Not in a week where the Green Bay Packers play the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Chiefs face the Tennessee Titans, so on and so forth.
The bad news (at least for Hilton’s fantasy owners) is that he does draw one in Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes.
THE SHADOW SAYS: However, as Matt Harmon of NFL.com wrote, don’t go pulling Hilton out of fantasy lineups just yet. “Hilton lines up in the slot for 51 percent of his plays this season, while garnering 49 percent of his 127 targets from the interior,” he said. “Rhodes rarely travels into the slot, so Hilton should be able to get free for a few plays there. Hilton has been one of the biggest hits in fantasy this season. Despite the tough matchup, there's no reason to downgrade his odds of hitting his ceiling this week.”
Add in that Donte Moncrief looks unlikely to play for the desperate Colts, and there’s enough upside there to keep Hilton in the WR2 conversation. There just happens to be more than a bit of risk that goes with it.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos (at NE -- Malcolm Butler)
Doug Kyed of NESN expects the Patriots to use the same strategy as in 2015 where Denver’s wideout duo is concerned. “Despite losing twice to the Broncos last season,” Kyed said, “it would be shocking if the Patriots don’t deploy the same gameplan they used last year to stop Sanders and Thomas. Cornerback Malcolm Butler tracked Sanders, while Logan Ryan took on Thomas. Butler allowed nine catches on 15 targets for 147 yards with two pass breakups combined in the two games while covering Sanders, while Ryan allowed two catches on 13 targets for 41 yards with five pass breakups against Thomas.”
THE SHADOW SAYS: Given those numbers, Sanders’ fantasy owners might be licking their chops at the prospect of him getting over on Butler again. However, it’s worth noting that Butler is playing better this year than last, it’s very possible the Patriots will roll coverage over to help Butler, and you never know what other wrinkles Darth Hoodie might have under his cloak. Still, of the two Denver receivers I like Sanders to have the better day in Week 15.
Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (at AZ – Patrick Peterson)
Peterson had good things to say about the Saints offense will speaking to their website. “The biggest change I would say is they’re probably taking more shots down the field, but for the most part their offense is the same,” he said. “They’re definitely running the ball a little bit more than they usually have over the last couple times we played them, but for the most part they still have that same identity. Brees is taking more shots than he typically does in ballgames and their running the ball a little bit more. But for the most part they’re still getting the ball out quick. Still going to spread you out, still going to hit you with screens. Their still doing their meat of their offense it’s just I believe they’re taking more shots this year than they did in the previous years.”
THE SHADOW SAYS: The $64 question for fantasy owners is who Peterson will send Sunday covering. Not long ago I’d have guessed Michael Thomas, but Thomas missed Week 14 and isn’t 100 percent – which opens the door for a switcheroo. Frankly, Peterson on Thomas is probably a best-case, even if Thomas owners don’t want to hear that. It’s reason for them to sit a hobbled wideout, and it should open things up on the other side for Brandin Cooks.
Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report, a Contributing Writer at Rotoworld and a Contributing Author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2015 FSWA award for Print Article of the Year.