By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport

Week 15 brings with it huge stakes both in the NFL and in fantasy football. In the latter, it's the semifinals in most leagues. Four teams will enter the week. Two will play on after-for the title next week.

In the NFL, the regular season isn't quite over yet. But for some teams, the postseason has already effectively started-lose another game and any chance of advancing to the playoffs is toast. Nowhere is that more glaring than Sunday afternoon in Dallas, where the Los Angeles Rams and Cowboys will square off in a game between an 8-5 Rams team that's been rolling and a 6-7 Cowboys squad on the skids and clinging like grim death to the lead in the NFC (L)East.

If the Cowboys are going to get a win and stop their three-game losing streak, a big game from wide receiver Amari Cooper is critical. A big part of the reason that Dallas is struggling is that Cooper's visibly not right as he plays through a knee injury.

Still, as Matthew Freedman wrote for the Action Network, statistically Cooper's done quite well this season. "Even though Cooper (knee) is playing through a lingering knee injury, he's still a top-six fantasy receiver on a points-per-game basis and is on pace to finish with the best campaign of his career," Freedman said. He's top-five with both 1,054 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. He's the No. 1 receiver in the offense that leads the league with 7.7 net yards per pass attempt. As good as Cooper has been this year, he's probably still undervalued."

Cooper will have his hands full this week. The Rams haven't been shy about having in-season acquisition Jalen Ramsey shadow No. 1 receivers, and Ramsey's played well, allowing less than 60 yards a game and no touchdowns in four such instances.

However, Cooper's also a much different receiver at Jerruh World. In 12 career games at AT&T Stadium, Cooper has topped 75 yards 10 times, topped 100 yards seven times, topped 200 yards twice, scored 10 touchdowns and averaged over seven catches a game.

Is that good? It kind of sounds good.

New England Patriots at Cincinnati Bengals (Stephon Gilmore vs. Tyler Boyd)

Tyler Boyd needs a hug. Or at least, his fantasy owners will by Sunday evening.

As Zack Cox reported for NESN, the Patriots are fuming after losing two straight-the second being New England's first December loss at Gillette Stadium in four years. This week, the Pats travel to face a Bengals team that's lost 12 of 13 in 2019, and New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore made it clear that no quarter will be given.

"We've just got to learn from it and try to get better," Gilmore said. "That's the only thing we can do - learn from the film, see what they did well against us and take our anger out on Cincinnati."

The Patriots are quite literally on to Cincinnati again. The last time this happened (2014), New England stomped a mudhole in the Bungles and wound up winning the Super Bowl. Just saying.

Stephon Gilmore is better than any cornerback in the NFL right now at all but erasing an opponent's favorite target in the passing game. The Bengals have been chewed to pieces by injury at wide receiver, with Auden Tate just the latest guy to go down. There's so little left that the Pats could bracket Boyd with Gilmore and a safety and there would be little to fear from what's left.



Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions (Chris Godwin vs. Darius Slay)

Chris Godwin has been one of the breakout fantasy football stars at the wide receiver position in 2019-the third-year pro has averaged 15 yards a reception, topped 1,200 yards for the season, has reeled in nine touchdowns and ranks second in PPR fantasy points for the year.

In news that should surprise approximately no one, Joseph Magazzinich of RotoBaller is in on Godwin this week-regardless of who's covering him. "Godwin could very likely wind up as the highest scoring wide receiver in Week 15 when the Bucs take on the Detroit Lions," he said. "Mike Evans (hamstring) is out of the picture for the rest of the reason, and while that might mean that Godwin ends up seeing more of Darius Slay in this matchup, he will still slot in as a must-start WR1 for the fantasy semi-finals. There is one potential hiccup though. Jameis Winston (thumb) may miss Sunday's game, which would slightly diminish Godwin's value, but he will be a must-start regardless. Fantasy owners can worry about other things in the lead up to Sunday."

Winston's status for Week 15 is a much bigger concern for fantasy managers than Slay's coverage-as good as the veteran corner is, Godwin's been as matchup-proof as any wideout in the league, averaging upwards of nine targets a game on top of the rest of those tasty stats.

He ain't getting less with Evans out.





Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (Chris Harris Jr. vs. Tyreek Hill)

When the Kansas City Chiefs are firing on all cylinders, there isn't a team in the league that's better at hurting teams down the field. As Jared Dubin wrote at CBS Sports, that's not especially hard to do when you have a pitch-catch combo like MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes and vertical threat extraordinaire Tyreek Hill.

"Over the past two seasons," Dubin said, "the two have connected on 18 pass plays of 30 yards or more, most for any quarterback-receiver duo in the NFL. Mahomes' 56 completions that have gained 30 or more yards are most in the league among quarterbacks, and Hill's 22 receptions (he had four with Matt Moore) are the most among receivers. The eight 30-plus-yard touchdowns Hill has caught are also most in the league, and that's despite his missing several weeks this season with a sternum injury."

To his credit, Chris Harris is an excellent veteran cornerback who (in theory) has the experience playing the slot to follow Hill everywhere he goes. Under Vic Fangio in 2019, however, Harris has rarely kicked inside. That makes it relatively easy (barring a change in strategy from the Broncos) for the Chiefs to scheme Hill off Harris-not that his fantasy status would matter if they didn't.





Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers (Stefon Diggs vs. Casey Hayward)

There may not be a high-end wide receiver more fantasy managers are afraid of in Week 15 than Diggs. The folks who face him are afraid he'll throw up the 5/121/1 stat line from Week 12-or more. The folks who have him are just as scared they'll get the 4/25/0 that came the week after. And with Adam Thielen potentially returning this week, neither side's especially sure what will happen in Los Angeles.

You can say the same thing about Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward. There have been games where Hayward looks as good as any player in the NFL at his position. In others, his teammates had to coat him with butter after the game to treat the burned.

I don't know if sage was involved. Or an indoor hot tub. Or obscure 90's TV references.
This is a classic "don't be cute" situation. Has Diggs been up-and-down? Yes. Is this a bad week for "down?" Um, yeah. He's also the least-targeted wideout in the league who also ranks inside the top-10 in fantasy points.

Those last five words seem important.





Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals (Odell Beckham vs. Patrick Peterson)

On paper, this looks like the sort of WR vs. CB matchup that would normally lead this column. There are games where Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham can't be covered. He's open when he isn't. At times, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson has been viewed as the best in football-whether it's size, speed or physicality, he has it all.

Both have multiple All-Pro nods.

The problem for Beckham and Peterson is that in 2019 at least, neither has come within a country mile of the sky-high ceiling they've demonstrated. Beckham's nursing an abdominal injury and may or may not (depending on the day of the week and which report you believe) want out of Cleveland already. Peterson served a six-game suspension to start the season and has been roasted more times since than an earring dropped in an Arby's oven.

It's been a weird year for both.

If Beckham's on your roster and you're still playing, your team advanced in spite of him-not because of him. That said, regardless of who's covering Beckham, he has the ability to blow a fantasy matchup wide open.

If you have three better options at wide receiver

, you're a jerk.