Kickoff: Sunday, December 20th at 1:00 PM ET
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
Betting Odds: IND -7, 51 total via Oddsshark
Deshaun Watson (Start, low-end QB1)
There’s not a lot of positives surrounding the Texans’ offense, but Deshaun Watson is in the midst of one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Watson is one passing TD and about 400 passing yards away from matching personal career bests and has at least one passing TD in every game this season…except for the last meeting between these two teams in Week 13, though he did have a rushing TD in that game. Watson is still behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL and he has suffered the sixth-most sacks (40) this season. Houston is averaging 270 passing yards per game, fifth in the NFL, and Watson still is a threat running the ball but Indianapolis possesses one of the league’s best defenses. Houston is anemic running the ball, so Watson still should see enough volume to eke out a low-end QB1 finish for fantasy managers relying on him in Week 15.
David Johnson (Sit, Deep Flex), Duke Johnson (Sit)
As of this writing, it appears David Johnson will be removed from the COVID-19/Reserve list and should be available to play on Sunday. Unfortunately for fantasy managers that doesn’t mean he will provide enough production to warrant serious consideration, especially for those who are considering him in their fantasy playoffs. Houston is abysmal in the running game, ranking dead last in the NFL at 86 yards per game. Johnson has yet to eclipse 100 yards in a game this season although he did score in Week 13 against this same Indianapolis defense. Johnson should see the bulk of the opportunities at RB this week but that doesn’t mean production will follow. In large leagues, Johnson might warrant an emergency Flex look but fantasy managers in most leagues should look elsewhere in Week 15.
The return of David will relegate Duke Johnson back to a backup role on the team and for fantasy managers alike. Duke was unable to take advantage of multiple opportunities with David out of the lineup and his healthy return will only diminish Duke’s opportunities. Fantasy managers can safely bench Duke this week.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Brandin Cooks (Start, low-end WR2), Keke Coutee (Start, WR3/Flex), Chad Hansen (Sit), Jordan Akins (Sit, TE2)
There was some concern Brandin Cooks suffered what would have been his sixth documented concussion when these two teams met in Week 13 but it turned out to be a neck injury that kept him out of last week’s game. Houston will most likely be in a negative game script for the majority of the contest, forcing the team to lean more heavily on the passing game which should provide Cooks with enough opportunities to turn in a startable performance for fantasy managers this week. Cooks did struggle in Week 13 against Indianapolis but he’s still the most talented option and should creep into WR2 territory.
As has been the story of his career, Keke Coutee followed up a fantastic Week 13 performance (9-8-141-0) with a relative dud in Week 14 (3-3-24-1). Of particular interest to fantasy, managers are that Coutee’s 141-yard performance came against the Colts so he does have a recent history of success against them. Coutee is so inconsistent, however, that’s it’s hard to project him as anything more than a WR3 or flex option this week. Coutee will be starting opposite Cooks, so he should see plenty of snaps but the concern is what he’ll do with his opportunities. Better options exist at WR, but Coutee could pay off given his boom-or-bust nature. Tread cautiously.
Perhaps one of the bigger surprises the last two weeks is the amount of work former practice squad member Chad Hansen has seen the last two weeks. Hansens has seen seven targets in each game and was able to surpass 100 receiving yards against the Colts in Week 13. Hansen may have benefited some with the absence of Cooks last week but he profiles as a solid option out of the slot for Houston and Watson has shown confidence in him. Much like Coutee, however, it’s hard to trust Hansen as fantasy managers want reliable options in the playoffs. Hansen could sneak into the low-end flex option range but against a stout Indianapolis defense, I think he should remain on fantasy benches in Week 15.
Man, what could have been for fantasy managers who started Jordan Akins last week when he was standing alone in the end zone and apparently lost the ball in the sun for what would have been the easiest TD of his career. Despite that unfortunate play, Akins has been almost a non-factor in this offense and the return of Cooks will likely only diminish his role further. The TE position is a wasteland beyond the top handful of guys, but Akins is still not involved enough to warrant starting consideration this week.
Philip Rivers (Start, low-end QB1)
Philip Rivers has been a borderline starting option the last month of the season compiling 1,420 passing yards and 10 TDs to just two INTs in the team’s last five games. While that’s been all well and good, Rivers has seen his attempts decrease each of the last three weeks culminating in just 28 attempts in Week 14. Combine that with the fact Houston is 31st against the run, allowing 152 rushing yards per game, and it would stand to reason the Colts will continue to feature the run game as much as possible this week. Still, you can’t discount just how good Rivers has been and he did turn in a borderline QB1 performance against Houston in Week 13 making him a solid, if unexciting, option for fantasy managers this week.
Jonathan Taylor (Start, RB1), Nyheim Hines (Start, low-end RB2)
It’s slowly becoming Jonathan Taylor’s world in the Indianapolis backfield and everyone else is just living in it. Taylor has put together three of his four-best performances the last three games he’s played (he missed Week 12) and now gets to face one of the worst run defenses in the NFL this week. Taylor isn’t seeing any more snaps than normal but has been more productive with his touches, which may be tied to the improved passing game over that same timeframe. Speaking of the passing game, Taylor has been a machine in that area catching 31 of his 32 targets on the season. Given his recent usage and the generosity of Houston’s run defense, Taylor is an easy RB1 for Week 15 for fantasy managers.
Reading the above about Taylor might lead one to believe his increased production is coming at the expense of Nyheim Hines but that hasn’t been the case. Except for Week 12 in which Taylor missed, Hines is seeing an average of 8-11 opportunities a game and HC Frank Reich has shown he will continue to use Hines even when Taylor is producing. Hines struggled in the last meeting between these teams but is still a vital part of the offense and has shown he can be productive on limited opportunities. Are there better options out there for fantasy managers as a second RB? Sure, but Hines’s floor is pretty stable and he should finish as a low-end RB2 in Week 15.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
T.Y, Hilton (Start, WR2), Michael Pittman (Sit, Deep Flex), Zach Pascal (Sit), Trey Burton/Jack Doyle/ Mo Alie-Cox (Sit)
It might have taken 12 weeks, but fantasy managers who have held on to T.Y. Hilton are finally reaping the rewards. In the last three games, Hilton has 17 receptions for 277 yards and four TDs on 23 targets. Hilton appears to be healthy and Rivers has shown a willingness to get him the ball and it is paying off. Hilton had his best day just two weeks ago against this same defense, surpassing 100 yards for the first time on the season and hauling in a TD. For fantasy managers lucky enough to still be playing for something, Hilton almost has to be started given his recent production. Look for another WR2 finish from the veteran this week.
Michael Pittman, Jr has emerged as the next most-trusted option for Rivers recently seeing 19 targets in the last three games. Despite the volume, Pittman is primarily being utilized in the short and intermediate areas of the field as his ADOT is only 7.5 yards on the season. Pittman has also struggled despite the targets catching just two of his nine in Week 12 and going 2-for-5 last week. Pittman has also only managed one TD on the season, so his fantasy production is going to come mainly from yardage and receptions. Pittman just doesn’t provide enough upside to warrant a must-start status but could be in line for flex consideration in large leagues.
The emergence of Pittman and the resurgence of Hilton has rendered Zach Pascal as a little-used observer in recent weeks as he has seen just seven targets over the last three games and managed just one reception in each of them. Pascal is probably no better than the fourth option in the passing game as long as Hines is healthy and is simply utilized to little to be trusted in Week 15 by fantasy managers.
It’s a bit of a crapshoot every week trying to determine which, if any, of Indianapolis’s TEs will be worth trusting by fantasy managers. The Colts continue to include all three of Trey Burton, Jack Doyle, and Mo Alie-Cox every week killing the fantasy value of all three in the process. Burton probably has the most TD-upside but it seems as though Alie-Cox or Doyle is more involved in terms of routes and snaps. One of these guys may wind up in the TE2 ranks this week, but good luck figuring out which one. I recommend passing on all three unless you simply don’t have a better option available.
Snap counts courtesy of Fantasy Data.
-Bryan Sweet (@FantasyFreakTN on Twitter)