Minnesota Vikings fans will be jealous of the purple and gold this weekend, as the team heads to sunny South Florida for a battle against the Miami Dolphins, escaping the chill of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, at least for a few days.
The Miami Dolphins rank 11th in the NFL against the rush, allowing 122.4 yards per contest. They're even better against the pass, ranking fourth in the league, while yielding just 209.2 yards per game. However, there have been chinks in their armor lately, as the Dolphins have allowed 28 or more points in three of their past four games. That means there is opportunity for an improving Vikings offense to keep making strides in the sun this weekend.
The Detroit Lions have a very good pass defense, but QB Teddy Bridgewater was still able to pass for 315 yards while completing a career-best 31 passes on 41 attempts. His 75.6 percent completion percentage was also the best of his rookie season. The game marked his third 300-yard game, and second in as many weeks, as he continues to rise on early Fantasy cheat sheets for the 2015 season. He has quickly established himself as a must-have in formats which start two quarterbacks, and he has emerged as a solid Daily Fantasy value, as well as a low-end No. 1 QB in leagues with 14 or more teams.
Many might have looked at you with raised eyebrows a month ago if you predicted Bridgewater would have more Fantasy points (68.98 in NFL.com leagues) than Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (68.3 points), Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford (66.52 points), San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers (60.7 points) or Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning (56.38 points), but that is exactly what has happened over the past four weeks. It is the rookie Bridgewater, not Peyton or his brother Eli Manning, winning Fantasy leagues for savvy owners who took a leap of faith.
Bridgewater spread the ball to his cadre of receivers nicely, too, as well as the tight end position. Charles Johnson led the way with 72 yards on five receptions, while Kyle Rudolph tied for a team-high with seven receptions and 69 yards. Greg Jennings was on the receiving end of Bridgewater's scoring strike, and he finished the day with 43 yards on three receptions. Jarius Wright also got into the act with four grabs and 49 yards, while Cordarelle Patterson showed up with two key receptions in the fourth quarter.
Johnson ranks 14th in NFL.com Fantasy leagues at the wideout spot with 40.8 points over the past four weeks, which makes him a legitimate WR2 or 'flex' Fantasy play down the stretch in leagues of 12 or more teams. Those vying for Fantasy championships in Week 16 or 17 should not overlook the rising receiver. He will be good for at least 50 yards and a visit to the end zone in Miami.
Jennings is right on Johnson's heels from a Fantasy perspective, checking in at 21st among wide receivers in NFL.com points with 35.8 over the past four weeks. He has 178 yards during the span, but more impressive are his three touchdowns. Only six other receivers have found the end zone with more frequency during the stretch. Target Jennings as a WR3/4 or 'flex' option for Sunday's battle in the sunshine.
As mentioned, Rudolph secured seven receptions last week, as his ascension among the Fantasy ranks continues. He is ranked 12th among tight ends in NFL.com Fantasy scoring over the past four weeks, re-emerging as a legitimate TE1 in most formats heading down the stretch.
Last weekend in Detroit saw Matt Asiata's return to the end zone, too. He now has seven rushing touchdowns this season to rank among the league leaders. He'll face a Dolphins rush defense which ranks No. 16 in the NFL against opposing running backs, allowing 18.77 Fantasy points per game, according to NFL.com. He also showed off his tremendous hands, converting all seven of his targets into receptions to finish the day with 50 yards receiving. A total of 86 yards from scrimmage with a touchdown was helpful to Fantasy owners, and he should see similar production this weekend in South Florida.
The efficiency of the offense has actually altered the Fantasy production of Blair Walsh, as he is seeing more extra points and less field goal chances. In fact, he has just two field goals over the past three games, while posting nine extra points. That's tremendous news for the Vikings, and speaks to their rise on offense. Walsh will have optimum conditions, as far as the weather is concerned, and it wouldn't be surprising to see his first multi-field goal game since Week 12. His last double-digit Fantasy total came back in Week 7 in Buffalo, and a road game against another solid AFC East defense could mean similar results.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings check in ranked 13th in NFL.com Fantasy leagues with 37 points over the past four games, better than more heralded options like the Denver Broncos (31.0 points), Detroit Lions (31.0 points) and San Francisco 49ers (25.0 points). If your primary option has a difficult matchup or poor weather game for this Sunday, the Vikings are a decent streaming alternative.
And we all know the defense is littered with Fantasy studs in IDP leagues, those formats which use individual defensive players. LB Gerald Hodges has stepped up and emerged as a legitimate starter in deeper leagues, posting 18 combined tackles with 13 solo stops, four passes defensed and pick-six over his past two games. FS Harrison Smith has logged six or more tackles in four straight games, and he has added a pair of sacks over the past three outings. He ranks among the league's elite as far as IDP defensive backs.
In other games, the Fantasy cream will rise to the top in Week 16 at the quarterback position. Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, Stafford and Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks each face very favorable matchups against pass defenses which rank in the lower third of the NFL. Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens should also flirt with 300 yards and multiple touchdowns against a Houston Texans pass defense which ranks 26th in the league, allowing 257.1 yards per game while yielding 12 pass plays of 40 or more yards this season.
At the receiver spot, look for plenty of downfield looks for Golden Tate of the Lions, as well as Kenny Stills of the Saints, who will be back under the protection of the dome after a sloppy, drizzle-fest in Chitown Monday night. One surprise Fantasy option might be Seattle's Doug Baldwin, who faces an Arizona pass defense which has allowed 53 plays of 20 or more yards. It wouldn't be shocking to see him post at least 75 yards with a foray into the end zone.
Among the running backs, Carolina Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart could be a gold mine as a low-end RB2 or 'flex' play, and he'll be especially valuable in Daily Fantasy formats. Stewart matches up with a Cleveland Browns rush defense which ranks 31st in the NFL, allowing 137.6 yards per game with 12 runs of 20 or more yards through 14 games. St. Louis Rams RB Tre Mason should also see a resurgence against a Giants run defense which has yielded 135.1 yards per contest. C.J. Anderson of the Broncos will also continue to be valuable, squaring off against a Cincinnati run defense which has allowed 15 scores. The Broncos have focused on the run a lot more in recent weeks, and multi-score game from Anderson wouldn't be shocking in the least.
Of course we love the Vikings as a stream defense this week, but the Carolina defense is one to watch, too. The Panthers face Browns QB Johnny Manziel in just his second career start, and his first assignment on the road against a formidable front seven. If you have held onto the Seattle Seahawks defense for the entire season, you'll be rewarded with an outstanding outing against the Arizona Cardinals. The Baltimore Ravens defense should show well in the penultimate weekend of the NFL regular season.
Daniel E. Dobish of***RotoExperts.com**** is a 15-year veteran of the Fantasy industry and has won four Fantasy Sports Writer's Association awards. For more in-depth Fantasy Football analysis from the RotoExperts team, ***click here***. Dan and the RotoExperts team will also answer your Fantasy Football questions ****right here***.