A pair of 11-2 teams stand atop the NFL standings heading into the final weeks, and those Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of fewest (real-life) points allowed. These factors, of course, give the impression fantasy football owners should be extra wary of using their players against the Falcons and Texans. Well, did you see what Cam Newton and Tom Brady did to these defenses in Week 14? It wasn't pretty, unless you owned those guys. This week the Falcons and Texans face huge tests against Eli Manning and Andrew Luck, respectively, and I have to admit I'm not concerned about using those quarterbacks or their weapons.
As a result, with the Week 15 rankings posted, you'll see nobody was higher on Manning or Luck than I was, and the same went for Colts options Vick Ballard, Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. It wasn't a planned strategy; my colleagues and I don't discuss our rankings ahead of time. I also like Ahmad Bradshaw as a safe RB2 (No. 16) and Hakeem Nicks as a WR2. Points will be scored! Frankly, looking at a team's overall record is a poor way to glean relevant fantasy information in the first place. Pittsburgh's defense has value, and look at what the Cleveland Browns have done of late. Those teams aren't winning much. The Texans have lost only twice, but in each of those losses, they allowed 42 points, with much of it early and the opposing teams being methodically dominant in precision. The Falcons forced New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees into a five-interception embarrassment recently, but Atlanta has just one pick in the other six games since its Week 7 bye week. These are defenses to fear?
Ultimately, if I owned Manning (either of them, frankly) or Luck I'm not veering off here in the fantasy playoffs because they're facing potential No. 1 seeds, each of which is coming off a loss. The Giants tore through a miserable Saints defense recently, but any issues Manning was having with a sore arm were assuaged immediately after the bye week when he lit up the Green Bay Packers. Manning is averaging 286 passing yards per game against the Falcons over his past four games, going 4-0 in that span, including the clean playoff performance in January. Victor Cruz, Nicks and tight end Martellus Bennett, the latter being one of the few at his position actually playing consistently well of late, will put up numbers.
As for Wayne and Hilton, note that the Texans have permitted 336 passing yards per game over the past month. Luck is tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18, but he still ranks ninth in quarterback fantasy points, and the notion of a "rookie wall" is folly, so don't avoid him or his weapons; they'll put up numbers, as well. For months, I've felt Ballard is underrated and deserving of opportunity, and he is no longer sharing touches with the injured Donald Brown or Delone Carter. It's his backfield, and I considered giving him RB2 status this week.
Quarterback: A month ago, it would have seemed outrageous for Cam Newton to hold the top spot in our QB rankings, but he's playing the best, without question. ... How about Aaron Rodgers and his No. 6 rankings across the board? I won't argue if you go with Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford or Josh Freeman over him. Rodgers has exceeded 15 fantasy points just once since Week 7, so this rank wasn't all about him facing the Chicago Bears, at least not for me. ... The Robert Griffin III ranks are obviously predicated on his playing. I hedged a bit at No. 5, while he ended up third overall. Play him if he plays. If he doesn't, Kirk Cousins will not make my top 25. ... I ranked Brandon Weeden, which is to say that him just getting ranked is noteworthy for those in deeper formats. He and the Browns play the Redskins.
Running back: Many of us love the fact C.J. Spiller will be "The Man" now for Buffalo (at least in theory), but I was the only ranker to leave him out of the top 10. He's No. 11. The Seahawks are, as we saw in Sunday's ridiculous 39-point fantasy explosion, playing well defensively, even against legit offenses. ... No, I don't have concerns about another bad game from Bryce Brown. He ended up 13th in the RB rankings this week. ... I'm also not too concerned with Jonathan Dwyer, though he probably deserved better than No. 28. ... Why am I the only one who doesn't have Darren McFadden against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs in my top 20? Well, McFadden scares me, talented as he is. It's the playoffs. We can't say for certain any players will play all 60 minutes, but who's a bigger risk than McFadden to leave after three touches? I also ranked Marcel Reece the highest among the group, just in case. ... I say Alex Green scores his first touchdown in Chicago this week. He's no Adrian Peterson, but the Bears have looked average defensively of late.
Wide receiver: Among the players I ranked better than the staff average here were Mike Wallace, Pierre Garcon, Lance Moore, Mike Williams and Justin Blackmon. Williams, in particular, seems at least flex-worthy -- I ranked him 19th -- for a road game in New Orleans. Batter up! Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, the latter apparently recovered from concussion symptoms, should perform well in Miami. That defense isn't special. ... And while Titans-Jets could be an offensive yawner, I think Kenny Britt is worth WR3 status. He has looked healthy and more involved since the team switched offensive coordinators. Running back Chris Johnson, of course, is another story, but one that should also have a positive ending.