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Fantasy Football Week 15: Wandering the Waiver Wire

By Alexander Hough in News on Dec 13, 2011 5:00PM

Before we get to the fantasy advice, remember that in addition to a Thursday night game (Jacksonville at Atlanta), there's also a Saturday night game this week (Dallas at Tampa Bay). Don't be the douchebag who forgets to set his line-up in time.

There weren’t a ton of injuries in Week 14, but four of them affected key players: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray, Packers WR Greg Jennings, and Jets S Jim Leonhard. Hopefully you weren’t too badly affected in last weekend’s game. Roethlisberger turned in a solid outing (280 yards, two TDs), and the Jets D/ST easily handled the overmatched Chiefs, but Murray’s 31 total yards or Jennings two-catch, 20-yard performance might’ve ended your fantasy season.

If you were lucky enough to make it through—or you weren’t and you just want to ruin things for those still in your tournament—read on for tips on managing your battered roster.

1. Ben Roethlisberger (QB, PIT)
Roethlisberger sustained a high ankle sprain while getting sacked during Thursday’s game against the Browns. This wasn’t exactly the most shocking injury ever. Roethlisberger’s style of play has exposed him to a number of injuries—he recently became the most sacked QB in Steelers history, exceeding in eight seasons what Terry Bradshaw accumulated in 14 years—but that same style is also the source of his success; his tendency to hold onto the ball too long leads to huge, improvised plays.

This fantasy development is more frustrating than sad, though. High ankle sprains typically keep people out multiple weeks, but Roethlisberger has repeatedly played through injuries. The sprain is relatively mild, so he might play this week. Complicating things further, the Steelers play Monday night, and against the stout Niners defense. His Week 15 status should clear up towards the weekend, probably before the Sunday games, and if he plays, you’ll have to start him, despite the injury. The Niners D is O.K. against the pass (18th), but they’ve been mind-blowing against the run; they’ve been the best, allowing 200 fewer yards than the next best team (Baltimore), and they still haven’t let up a rushing TD. If the Steelers are going to score, it’ll be through the air.

Even though we’d bet on Roethlisberger playing, it’d be wise to have a good back-up on your roster. Here are some options, if you don’t have one already:

Rex Grossman (QB, WAS)
Trust us, we thought long and hard about whether to recommend Grossman, but ultimately our reluctance was due to anti-Grossman bias (historically deserved) rather than recent fact (he’s averaged 258.8 yards/game since re-taking the starting job in Week 10). He faces juicy match-ups over the next two weeks, at the Giants (29th against the pass) and home against the Vikings (26th). With herbalist/LT Trent Williams done for the year and RT Jammal Brown’s status up in the air after a pre-game groin injury, we have some concerns that Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul might kill him this weekend. Even so, we’d still trot Grossman out with a surprising (to us) degree of confidence.

Tim Tebow (QB, DEN)
Ignore Tebow at your own peril. We fear a God we don’t believe in. That doesn’t make sense, but neither does the endless string of luck that falls into Tebow’s lap, most recently RB Marion Barber brain-farting like he’s been thinking about nothing but burritos all week. Tebow has been averaging 19.1 fantasy points/game since Week 7, and he'll face the porous Patriots D this Sunday, the crumbling Bills in Week 16, and then finish the season at home against a Chiefs team that just fired its head coach.

T.J. Yates (QB, HOU), Jake Locker (QB, TEN), John Skelton (QB, ARI)
You’d have to have huge, I-can-barely-walk-with-these balls to start any of these guys in the fantasy playoffs, but fortune favors the large-testicled. The next few weeks are mouth-watering for Yates (Carolina, at Indianapolis, Tennessee) and Locker (at Indianapolis), and Skelton has made us a believer by putting up 282 yards and 3 TDs in the Cardinals’ surprising win over the Niners, to say nothing of a willingness to force-feed WR Larry Fitzgerald. Keep an eye on Locker’s and Skelton’s status, though, as it depends on the injuries of the first-stringers (calf strain for Tennessee’s Matt Hasselbeck, concussion for Arizona’s Kevin Kolb).

2. DeMarco Murray (RB, DAL)
The Fantasy Lord giveth, and the Fantasy Lord taketh away. Murray broke his ankle on Sunday night and has been placed on Injured Reserve, ending his season. It’s terrible news, especially with upcoming games against the Bucs, Eagles, and Giants (all in the top 10 most generous defenses for opposing RBs) and the return of FB Tony Fiammetta. Hopefully someone in your league dropped Felix Jones, who was the only remaining RB on the Dallas roster. The Cowboys will reportedly sign 34-year-old Sammy Morris, but that’s nothing to worry about. Don’t hesitate to spend the remainder of your waiver budget on Jones.

Outside of Jones, though, it’s slim pickings on the waiver wire. Maybe Packers RB Ryan Grant is available; as long as James Starks remains out, Grant will have a shot to put up numbers as the Packers are apparently aiming for 16-0 and won’t take their foot off the gas. There’s also our beloved Ben Tate; as we’ve said more than once, he might be in for some big weeks over the remainder of the season. Scraping the bottom of the barrel would get you Saints RBs Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas, but they're only start-worthy as long as rookie Mark Ingram remains sidelined with turf toe. Ivory usually gets more carries, but Thomas catches several passes a game.

3. Greg Jennings (WR, GB)
Jennings tore his MCL last Sunday, and while the real world news is good - the projected time frame is two to three weeks, which means he'll be back for the playoffs - his fantasy season is probably over. Unlike the Cowboys’ RB situation, there’s no clear winner from Jennings’s absence. No single WR will replace Jennings, so which passcatcher puts up stats will depend on how the Packers choose to game plan for the opposing team's defense. Over the next two weeks, the Packers face teams that don't cover TEs well (Chiefs and Bears), so Jerimichael Finley might benefit the most. That's obviously not helpful, but the WRs are a crapshoot; Donald Driver, James Jones, and Randall Cobb will likely all see more passes, but we can't recommend one over the others. On top of all that, QB Aaron Rodgers spreads it around - nine different Packers have caught a TD pass this season.

Like the Cowboys’ RB situation, the replacement pickings outside the team are slim. If you’re lucky, Giants WR Mario Manningham might be available on your waiver wire. Victor Cruz is the better fantasy asset, but the Giants are throwing a ton and there’s a place for Manningham, too (he received eight targets on Sunday night, just one fewer than Cruz). Speaking of teams that can support three fantasy WRs, maybe Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson is still available. He turned in a nice game, even with Miles Austin back from injury. Who else? Ugh. Redskins WR Jabar Gaffney, maybe? As we mentioned above with regard to Grossman, the schedule is nice. Texans WR Kevin Walter? He received 10 targets on Sunday, and there’s a WR void in Houston as long as Andre Johnson is out.

4. Jim Leonhard (S, NYJ)
Jets safety Leonhard tore his right patellar tendon and is done for the season. Obviously CB Darrelle Revis is a special player whose ability to take out a player gives the Jets defense freedom to show exotic looks, but, as the defensive playcaller and a talented player in his own right, Leonhard is a close second in importance. If you have the Jets D/ST, you’re going to keep playing them, but we’ll cautiously upgrade all opposing passing attacks (Eagles, Giants, and Dolphins).