Here we are in week 15, arguably the biggest week of the fantasy football season, a playoff week for most every fantasy football player. And with such high stakes, there are at least a few considering pinning their hopes and dreams of winning a championship on the arm and legs of one of the most ballyhooed rookie quarterbacks of all time.
Mr. Johnny Football, himself, Johnny Manziel.
In this wonderful fake game, it's very easy to get caught up in the hype and the optimism of the unknown, which is what Manziel is right now.
Can he be trusted? No. Absolutely not. We're talking about a guy who has attempted nine career passes in the NFL. Rolling with Johnny Football is a huge gamble based on nothing but a gut instinct. The match-up isn't even that great.
But there will be quite a few people with him in their starting lineup this weekend, because he's brimming with fantasy potential, mainly because of his ability to scramble and create yards and touchdowns with his feet rather than his arm.
Running quarterbacks, even when they struggle with completing 50 percent of their passes and turning the ball over, are a boon in fantasy, because in most scoring systems, rushing yards give you two- or three-times as many points as passing yards. And in a lot of leagues, a rushing touchdown is worth two or three more points than a passing one.
Tim Tebow? By pretty much any standard, he was a bad NFL quarterback (well, all except winning percentage, but that's another story for another day) but boy was he a fantasy football delight during his run in 2011, winning many a league title.
And that's probably what fantasy footballers starting Johnny Manziel in week 15 are hoping for. They've likely had inconsistency at the position throughout the year and are hoping for Johnny Football to show the type of wheels he did two weeks ago against Buffalo when he scrambled for a rushing touchdown today against the Bengals.
So, with that in mind, here's five guys considered fringe starters that I'd probably sit in favor of Manziel today: Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill and Alex Smith.
Still, it's hard to say who Manziel is going to have chemistry with. Those who survived Josh Gordon's dud last week will hope the elite receiver can find the endzone with Manziel at the helm. And tight ends are typically a young quarterbacks friend, so fantasy owners who have hung onto Jordan Cameron will also hope for a resurgence to last year's form.
The Browns running game seems to be a dead even split between Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West, with the former getting goalline work. Both are usable against a Bengals team that has struggled against the run as top 25 options.
For the Bengals, Dalton is coming off his best statistical game of the season against the Steelers, despite the loss, as is AJ Green. Both were disappointments the last time these two teams played. I worry about Dalton, but I just can't sit Green, even if he's notoriously struggled against Joe Haden. His counterpart, Mohamed Sanu, is about worthless at this point and shouldn't be in your lineup, let alone on your roster.
It looks like Jeremy Hill is going to handle a bulk of the carries for the men in stripes, as he looks like the better back than Gio Bernard. Gio still have value in PPR leagues, but it's dwindling. He's becoming more of a Shane Vereen type.
Julio or Juli-no?
Me thinks a lot of fantasy games are going to hinge on the status of Julio Jones and how healthy he is today in mouth-watering match-up against the Steelers soft pass defense.
In the waning moments of a monster game on Monday night, Jones injured his hip and will be a game-time decision. Julio has been on an absolute tear the past few weeks with 21 catches for 448 yards and 2 touchdowns. That's insane.
However, at least one Falcons beat writer is reporting Julio can barely run and, if he does play, he'll be a decoy. Calvin Johnson owners already suffered through that this year.
If you own Julio and don't have another option, hopefully you've "handcuffed" him with Harry Douglas. That's what I've done in the Carroll County Times league (where I also lost Brandon Marshall last week) and it's probably your best option. Pay close attention to the pre-game reports for specifics if Jones is active. I might start Douglas regardless, just worried about a reaggravation or him relegated to decoy status.
Matt Ryan and Roddy White are also must-plays this week. You could probably do worse than Steven Jackson too, who has five double-digit outings in his past six, and the Steelers are giving up 4.3 yards per carry.
The Steelers Killer B's — Big Ben, Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown — are all must starts. Martavis Bryant, who now has the longest play from scrimmage this season after his 94-yard TD last week, is a pretty good WR3 choice who could flirt with WR1 numbers just based on one play.
One of the most interesting games this week is the Green Bay Packers playing at the Buffalo Bills this week, pitting arguably the league's best offense against the best defense. This might be one that haunts fantasy owners of everywhere.
You're obviously not scaling back Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb. They are elite fantasy options. But it wouldn't surprise me if all fell short of their projections -- and maybe even if the Packers lost -- against the tough Bills defense.
Eddie Lacy may sit this one out — like Julio Jones, he suffered a hip injury late in the Monday nighter — and while James Starks was pretty good in relief, Buffalo is a lot better against the run than Atlanta and he's less dynamic than Lacy.
This screams trap game, both in reality and fantasy, for the Packers.
Sammy Watkins, who is looking fully healthy again, is a great play against a Packers defense giving up the most receiving touchdowns in the NFL and Fred Jackson, especially in a PPR, is a nice RB2 play.
I think most owners of the Bills defense are going to shy away, but look what they did on the road against Denver last week. Peyton Manning wasn't playing with a hangover, they're that good. I wouldn't love it, but it's not like Rodgers have never been sacked or thrown an interception. Just sayin'...
When Haloti Ngata was suspended two weeks ago, I worried about the Ravens defense a bit. But they played excellent in Miami last week and could be the top scoring defense in fantasy football this week against the Jaguars, who not only give up the most points to opposing defense, but also lost RB Denard Robinson for the season.
Without a consistent run game, Blake Bortles will be asked to do more than usual against the Ravens ferocious pass rush. Good luck with that. Avoid Jags at all costs, even if the WR matchups seem OK.
Justin Forsett is a must start, but you already knew that. Joe Flacco would seemingly be a nice play, but the Ravens might blow the doors off this one on the ground and not give him many opportunities to throw. (Which is why, even with Torrey Smith out, I don't think I could trust Steve Smith this week.) The truly desparate could start Bernard Pierce at RB, hoping he gets a lot of carries down the stretch (rookie Lorenzo Taliafero is out).
Redemption for Romo
One of my favorite quarterbacks, in real life and fantasy, Tony Romo, was terrible on Thanksgiving day against the Eagles. At least some of that has been attributed to him playing on short rest. After bouncing back last week and with 10 days rest heading into Sunday night's rematch, one would think Romo will have a better day.
He certainly couldn't play much worse. The Eagles give up the second-most points to quarterbacks, so a top 5 finish isn't inconceivable.
The rest of the fantasy-relevant players in this are pretty much no-brainers. You're starting DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, LeSean McCoy (despite his dud last week) and Jeremy Maclin. Jordan Matthews should be good to go too and Mark Sanchez has been very usable as a back-end QB1 because of volume and despite being turnover prone.
I probably wouldn't play either tight end Eagles' Zach Ertz or Cowboys' Jason Witten, who has quieted back down after a nice stretch last month where he caught a couple TDs. But there's been no consistency at the position outside of Rob Gronkowski, so you neverk now.
Can Saints march you to victory
This is a question I'm asking myself this week, as my best team in my dynasty/keeper league has Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. I won in spite of their dreadful performances last week, but I desparately need them to come through for me on Monday night.
Brees, who typically is terrible on the road and money at home, reversed that trend the last few weeks, having his best game of the year at Pittsburgh in week 13 followed by his worst game of the year at home against Carolina in week 14. He's on the road with the juiciest of juicy match-ups against a Chicago Bears secondary that is getting torched on the reg.
Jimmy Graham, who gave you a donut two weeks ago and 2.5 to 5.5 points last week depending on your scoring format, should have a huge game. The Bears are especially bad against tight ends.
Mark Ingram should run wild as well. Regarding the rest of the Saints wide receivers, you'd think Kenny Stills would be in line for a big week, but you thought that last week too. He's still too unproven for me to rely on in a big spot like this, but if you need a WR3 with upside, that's him.
Bearing down on Jeffrey
On the flip side, if you own Bears WR Alshon Jeffrey, you should be rejoicing. Against the Saints putrid secondary and no Brandon Marshall on the other side, he should see a ridiculous amount of targets as Jay Cutler will force-feed him the ball. TE Martellus Bennett, even a bit hobbled, should also get a lot of targets.
WR Marquess Wilson, who will replace Marshall in the lineup, has been a buzzy player this week and was among the most added off the waiver wire. The matchup is amazing for his first start, but this is a guy who had just 5 catches for 40 yards on 14 targets for the season. That scares me off in a big way. Catching only a third of his passes for just 8 yards per snag? You can keep it.
Cutler should have his usual big fantasy day that doesn't necessarily translate on the field.
Matt Forte is gonna Matt Forte. He's a no brainer.
Latavius Murray is an exciting play against the Kansas City defense he torched on just four touches a couple weeks ago on Thursday night football. He's coming off a 25-carry game last week. Yes, the Chiefs are going to be ready for him this time, but they're reeling, coming off three straight losses. He's an RB2 with huge upside. He's the type of player I'd love to have in a flex spot.
With Andre Johnson likely sitting with a concussion, I think things could get ugly for the Houston Texans outside Arian Foster versus the Colts. Foster will have to carry the team and should have a huge fantasy day.
Donte Moncrief, who has overtaken Hakeem Nicks as the No. 3 in Indy, could actually be the No. 2 if Reggie Wayne, who has myraid injuries according to his head coach, sits or is ineffective. He's an interesting dice roll. If you're in a dynasty or keeper league and you don't have this guy yet, stash him now. He's going to be a monster in a few years.
Jonathan Stewart was a monster last week as the Panthers ambushed the Saints. The matchup against Tampa Bay seems favorable, and you have to think Carolina will have a run-heavy plan with Cam Newton sidelined (as if they wouldn't anyway). He's the kind of player that's going to win a league for someone out of nowhere.
The Chargers backfield, if without Ryan Mathews, should probably be avoided this week. Donald Brown and Brandon Oliver will split too many snaps, most of which will probably be passing blocking while the Bolts play catch-up.
Joique Bell has been on a tear running the ball for the Lions. He's going to push RB1 status against the Vikings.
If you believe in revenge games, Chris Johnson is an interesting choice against the Titans. I'd rather play Chris Ivory, who is just a better player.