Last week, what was expected to be a high-scoring affair turned out to be a 16-11 defensive struggle resulting in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory over the New Orleans Saints. The defense dominated the day, much to the excitement of Buccaneers fans, but decidedly less so for those counting on some big fantasy numbers from Drew Brees, Mike Evans and other high-octane fantasy stars from the matchup.
Oddsmakers are again predicting a high scoring game in the Buccaneers' Week 15 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. Both teams have proved to have strong offenses that can put up big fantasy numbers, but both have also shown much-improved defenses that have been limiting points in a big way as of late.
Take a look at the Buccaneers' improvements on points allowed to fantasy positions, comparing their first eight games to games on the active five-game win streak.
*Points allowed calculated from standard ESPN leagues, rankings from fftoday.com
The Bucs have improved as a fantasy defense drastically in every category, allowing more than nine fewer points to opposing quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
With that in mind, let's stick to our usual format but look at Sunday's host first, the Dallas Cowboys, to see which players should help you make the next step into your fantasy football championship match in Week 16!
In Week 15, it should come as a no surprise that the Dallas Cowboys have two pretty stellar rookies. In fact, their skills on the field have translated nicely into the fantasy world. RB Ezekiel Elliott has the second-most points of any fantasy running back while QB Dak Prescott is seventh at his position. Elliott is a no-brainer to start every week, with at least 80 rushing yards in all but one game this year and 13 total touchdowns.
Prescott on the other hand is actually facing a matchup that could raise some red flags. As pointed out above, the Buccaneers have been shutting down quarterbacks over the last five weeks. While Prescott does have an average of 17.5 fantasy points per game, he only has 16 points in the last two weeks combined. Yes, with the firepower on the Cowboys offense, Prescott should still be in most starting lineups, but if you had the foresight to draft Dak as your backup and also have a Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers at your disposal, probably stick to the vet this week.
Elsewhere on the Cowboys offense, Dez Bryant comes into this game with a questionable designation. With a Sunday Night game, that does not give owners many options should he sit out. Bryant is a proven elite receiver, and while defenses have been keying in on him, he still has four 14+-point performances in the last seven weeks. If he's healthy, he should make your lineup.
Should Dez Bryant not go, Cole Beasley's stock rises. Despite scoring the 27th-most WR points, Beasley is owned in just 57.9% of leagues, so there is a chance he'd be available to pick up. Beasley would remain a slot receiver while Terrance Williams would step into the number one role in Bryant's absence. He is owned in just 6.4% of leagues and would likely be on the waivers for you to add to your roster before kickoff. He has two 10+-point games this seasons, but seven games with three points or fewer. He's a risky option, but if Bryant is out and your options are limited, he could see extra work.
Pictures of the Cowboys' starting offense and defense, according to the team's depth chart.
Finally, TE Jason Witten ranks 14th at the tight end position in fantasy points scored and could potentially have a good game on Sunday. The Buccaneers have not faced many heavily-involved tight ends this year, but when they have (Greg Olsen, Travis Kelce, Jimmy Graham), the TE has been able to put together decent outings. Witten could be an often-used safety valve for Prescott and rack up a solid number of receptions and yardage. The Buccaneers have only allowed three TDs to tight ends this year.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Dallas Cowboys are the only team in the NFL to have allowed a passing touchdown in every game so far this season. Despite that, they are allowing just 0.5 fantasy points per game more than the average team to opposing QBs. Still, "at least one TD per game" is a neat stat, especially considering that for the first time in his college or professional career, QB Jameis Winston was held without a rushing or passing touchdown in last week's win. Expect a bounce-back week for Jameis Winston, who should end up closer to his consistent 16-point average.
The Cowboys are allowing the fourth-fewest points to opposing running backs this year, but Doug Martin seems to be finding his rhythm. He has scored in each of the last two games and has returned to getting the majority of the Buccaneers carries and snaps at the position. Though the defense is tough, Martin should make your fantasy playoff lineup.
Mike Evans has frustrated some fantasy owners in this run up to the playoffs, but as we've pointed out time and time again, you have to start your starters. Despite just nine points over the last two games combined, Evans still has the second most points at his position. If Winston rebounds, so does Evans, and he is definitely the favorite to be on the receiving end of the aforementioned passing touchdown.
Outside of TE Cameron Brate, the other Buccaneers are all high-risk, high-reward players. Brate still ranks seventh at his position in fantasy points and will face the defense allowing the second most receptions and sixth most yards to opposing tight ends. This could be a breakout game for him under the Sunday Night lights. Charles Sims could be used as a weapon in the passing game and is a sneaky daily play against the Cowboys who have allowed 68 receptions (ninth most) for 492 yards and two scores to opposing running backs. Adam Humphries also returns from injury this week, but there are likely better options available as your vie for you fantasy football championship game.