Start 'em, Sit 'em: Week 15 picks

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Start 'em, Sit 'em: Week 15 picks

Mark is cheating. We haven't caught him yet, but he remains in first place after finishing dead-last in the CSN Fantasy Football League. It was ugly. With just a few weeks remaining, Scott and Tony have outside chances to reach him. But more important, you've got a fantasy football playoff round to win. With the injury bug affecting players around the league, now is the perfect time to raid your league's waiver wire. There very well may be a hidden gem that could lead you to a fantasy football championship in your league, while startsit decisions could cost you the season, not just a single game.
Just a reminder for those keeping score at home (though we'll do it for you), for players who each analyst starts, these are the points they will receive:
Start 'em:
5 points if a player scores 25 points4: 20-243: 15-192: 10-141: 5-90: negative-4
Sit 'em:
5 points if a player scores negative points to 5 points4: 5-93: 10-142: 15-191: 20-240: 25
Without further adieu, here are our picks for Week 14. Good luck!
Mark Strotman (Week 14: 15 points; Season total: 179 points)
Alright, this is escalating quickly. I mean this is really getting out of hand fast. I'm not sure why I keep hitting on these picks (as my 12th place finish in the preview would indicate), but I'm starting to think it says more about Scott and Tony than it does me. Kidding...I think. Anyway, I have to stay with my theory of taking risks in the playoffs. Winning in fantasy takes luck, and you can make educated guesses as to who will go off to help you out. If you're in the semifinals this week, best of luck and feel free to ride my coattails to the championship.
Start 'em
Stephen Jackson, RB -- STL (vs. MIN)
In years past a running back's matchup against the Vikings would have been cause for concern, but that's not the case this season. Eight straight running backs have racked up 100 total yards or more against Jared Allen and co., and Stephen Jackson is quietly putting up double-digit numbers on a routine basis. He's a nice RB2 start this week, so don't get scared off by the Vikings' defense.
Josh Gordon, WR -- CLE (vs. WAS)
A whopping seven wide receivers this season have caught more than 200 receiving yards against the Redskins' secondary this year, and Gordon may be a top-5 deep-ball threat in the NFL. He's starting to get more targets late in the season, and Brandon Weeden loves to throw. Gordon is a solid back-end WR2 and great flex option for you this week.
Russell Wilson, QB -- SEA (@ BUF)
Look away, Bears' fans. Though many won't want to see this name pop up, I think he's an excellent choice if you are looking for high-risk, high-reward quarterback. The Bills' pass defense is nothing special, and Wilson is coming off a relaxing game, where the 58-0 blowout win didn't allow him to really open up through the air. Wilson can win you a week, and he may just do it against Buffalo.
Sit 'em
Miles Austin, WR -- DAL (PIT)
Dez Bryant should be good to go this week, and the fact is Austin has scored just once since Week 7. He's always a potential play to put up big numbers, but at this point you may be better of looking for a better WR2 if you can. Pittsburgh's pass defense has been solid lately, and Jason WittenDez Bryant are getting most of the looks. Find someone else.
Reggie Bush, RB -- MIA (vs. JAC)
The Jaguars are a putrid defense against the run, which may be reason enough to make Bush a start...but remember, it's fine to risk someone in the flex. Bush may put up solid numbers, but he isn't going to go off. Start him if you must, but he's just not the same running back he was earlier in the year. He's worn down.
Torrey Smith, WR -- BAL (vs. DEN)
I'll admit I was on the Torrey Smith bandwagon BIG TIME this season, but he has surpassed 100 yards just twice this season, and his big games have come against pretty uninspiring pass defenses (NE, OAK, SD). Well, here comes Denver. The Broncos won't let Smith go off, so while he may get a few catches short, he's not a candidate to explode in Week 2 of the playoffs.
Scott Krinch (Week 14: 10 points; Season total: 168 points)
And just like that, my hopes of catching Mark in the standings took a major hit. Now I'm in serious danger of falling into last place with only two weeks to play. This is not the way I envisioned things. Should I get crazy and take some risks with a chance of inching on Mark's point total, or do I play it safe so Tony doesn't surpass me? How about a little of both?
Last week I started Jay Cutler, whoops. I rode the Law Firm's hot streak which was a horrible move, I should have known better. But, where I really went wrong was in my sits. Cam Newton decided to turn into 2011 Cam on the Falcons, Alfred Morris did his thing once again and apparently Julio Jones' ankle is just fine. Time to forget about all that jazz. With that being said, give my picks a looksie (you probably shouldn't take my advice) and find your hidden gem that will lead to the Fantasy Football Championship game.
Start 'em
Andrew Luck, QB -- IND (@ HOU)
Sunday marks Luck's first career-start against the Texans, the team that Indy has been chasing in the AFC South standings all season. I know Luck didn't have a good game against Tennessee last week, but after seeing what the Patriots did to Houston's secondary it's hard not to have high hopes for Luck this week. The Texans are also dealing with a depleted secondary. On the road, the rookie signal-caller is averaging 306 passing yards per game. I expect a huge week and I don't see any reason not to start Luck.
Matt Forte, RB -- CHI (vs. GB)
It's been a disappointing year for the former first-round fantasy pick. With only three touchdowns on the ground and two 100-plus rushing games, the decision to sit Forte each week has been getting easier. So why aren't I go with those statistics for Week 15? Well, if the Bears have a shot at being the Packers, it's going to come down to Mike Tice trusting the run. Green Bay has feasted on Jay Cutler's interceptions. Expect the Bears to establish the running game with No. 22 against a Packers defense who's given up 101.8 yards per game to running backs with four touchdowns in their past four games.
Lance Moore, WR -- NO (vs. TB)
Moore has to have a dynamite fantasy performance at some point, right? I've kept him on one of my teams all season long for that very reason and if he's going to breakout, this is the week to do so. Last time the Saints battled Tampa Bay, Moore had nine catches for 121. I expect this matchup to be a shootout due in large part to both teams having brutal secondaries. I'm expecting a 20-point fantasy game for Moore, one could hope right?
Sit 'em
Ben Roethlisberger, QB -- PIT (@ DAL)
Roethlisberger made fantasy owners happy in his return on Sunday with three touchdown scores, but it's time to tamper that enthusiasm this week. The Cowboys secondary has allowed only two touchdown passes in their last two games, which doesn't bode well for Big Ben. Don't take the risk this week. There are safer options out there if you're in desperate need of a quarterback for Week 15.
C.J. Spiller, RB -- BUF (vs. SEA)
Fantasy owners have been handcuffed by Chain Gailey's decision to split time between Spiller and Fred Jackson all season. Well, this week Gailey is giving Spiller the keys to the offense after Jackson was placed on the IR. So does this mean a monster game for Spiller? Not in my eyes. Seattle's defense is no joke after scoring 53 fantasy points last week, they're on a mission to grab a wild card spot in the NFC. Hold off on starting Spiller this week.
Randall Cobb, WR -- GB (@ CHI)
It's starting to look more and more like Cobb is the Packers No. 1 wide receiver going forward. Rodgers has shown trust in Cobb as he's been seeing his targets go up each week. Despite the Packers recent dominance in the ChicagoGreen Bay rivalry, the Bears have showed an ability to slow down Rodgers. I expect the same of that this week, especially after being embarrassed the past two weeks. I wouldn't be putting my trust into Cobb this week if I owned him in my fantasy leagues.
Tony Andracki (Week 14: 13 points; Season total: 160 points)
Well, last week was more of the same for me, as Greg Jennings put up a goose egg. But at least I didn't sit some guy who wound up having a career day. Matt Ryan was pretty good, but not great, and same with Tony Romo on the starts. Hakeem Nicks scored a touchdown, but he's still dealing with a knee injury and I just don't trust him at all. 
I do have faith in Chris Johnson still, though. I think he can -- and will -- do some real damage this week against the Jets.
My season score in this startsit isn't good, but so you might be surprised that I still have three of my four teams alive and well in the playoffs (though a first-round Bye definitely helps that). And in one of my leagues, I fully plan to start Danario Alexander. Call me crazy, but at least I don't wear leather skirts, Kanye.
Start 'em
Chris Johnson, RB -- TEN (vs. NYJ)
Johnson has been a bit up-and-down this season, but I guess that comes with the territory. CJ1K has had some very good games since his horrid start, but has still topped 20 fantasy points just once this season, against the Bills in Week 7. Expect him to approach that total this week, against the Jets defense that has allowed at least 100 rushing yards in all but three games this season.
Colin Kaepernick, QB -- SF (@ NE)
The wonderkid has netted at least 14 fantasy points in every game since taking over as the starter, despite just three passing touchdowns. His ability to scramble and pick up 50 yards on one rushing play is a huge boost to his numbers, and expect more of the same this week against New England. The Patriots have actually improved their pass defense after spending much of the season at the bottom of the league, but still may not have an answer for a QB with the athleticism of Kaepernick. Plus, if the Niners are down, they'll be putting the ball in Colin's hands more, letting him sling it often.
Danario Alexander, WR -- SD (vs. CAR)
Sometimes in fantasy football, you gotta just take a risk and say "what the hell?" Kinda like Kanye at the 121212 concert with his leather skirt. But in the case of Alexander, he won't bomb completely. Ever since working his way up the depth chart, the Mizzou grad has garnered at least 3 catches and 60 yards in every game, and has racked up double digit fantasy points in four of the last five games, including two 20-point outings. Take the risk. It'll be worth it.
Sit 'em
Andrew Luck, QB -- IND (@ HOU)
I know, I know -- the Texans have given up 25 fantasy points to opposing QBs in three of the last four weeks, including a game against the Chad Henne-led Jags. But I'm betting they get back to playing some solid defense this week and make the Colts' sensation look more like the rookie he is. Yes, Luck has been one of the guys to get you to the playoffs, I'm sure, but this is not the best matchup for him.
Knowshon Moreno, RB -- DEN (@ BAL)
When Willis McGahee went down to injury, most people assumed it would be Ronnie Hillman to get the bulk of the carries and absorb McGahee's fantasy value in that Broncos offense. But it's been Moreno, who has emerged from the shadows to relevancy again, with 38 fantasy points the last three weeks. The Baltimore defense is not what it has been in years past -- especially with all the injuries -- but I'm not so sure Moreno will have success again. I could see Peyton Manning going off, but not Moreno.

Mike Wallace, WR -- PIT (@ DAL)
Wallace has scored 8 tuddies this year, but he has topped 15 fantasy points just twice this season, and one of those came in Week 3. Yeah, he was a beast last week (23 points, two scores) with Roethlisberger back in the lineup, but don't expect another outing like that. Wallace is just too inconsistent to trust in the playoffs, especially if you have other quality options.

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

Football takes a back seat as Griffins honor PFC Aaron Toppen on Salute to Troops night

“Football is life. Until it’s not.”

That message Lincoln-Way East head coach Rob Zvonar relayed to his team in the week leading up to the Griffins’ Week 5 tilt against Thornton was an important one. For the 115 student-athletes who make up a team with legitimate state-title aspirations, high school football can feel like a life-and-death situation. Until it’s not.

Private First Class Aaron Toppen, a 2013 Lincoln-Way East graduate, was 19 when he was killed in Afghanistan two years ago. And on that June 9, 2014, a country lost a hero, a family lost a son, a brother and an uncle, and a community lost a friend who had walked through the halls of Lincoln-Way East High School and drove his famous pick-up truck through town just a year earlier.

So when the Griffins held their annual Salute the Troops night last Friday night, before blowing out the Wildcats 42-6, Aaron’s surviving family was an easy choice to join the team as honorary captains. Aaron’s mother, two sisters, uncle, grandmother and niece were recognized before the game, all in loving memory of a fellow Griffin graduate who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country.

“Aaron’s passing was a big deal to our community,” athletic director Mark Vander Kooi said. “And we wanted to embrace his family and let them know that we cared about them, loved them and appreciated the sacrifice they made.”

When Lincoln-Way East principal Dr. Sharon Michalak contacted Aaron’s sister, Amy, about honoring her brother last week’s football game, the family jumped at the opportunity. Aaron and his family had been honored at a game in 2014, just months after Aaron’s death. And with the Griffins hosting “Salute to Troops” night, and that coinciding with the annual 5k run held in Aaron’s name the following day, the family accepted the invitation with open arms.

“It’s just amazing. The support never stops, and to hear that they want to keep Aaron’s name alive and honor him, it just really makes us feel wonderful,” Aaron’s mother, Pam, said. “It’s a way we’re getting through it, is through the support of everybody.

Many of the Griffins know the Toppen family – Amy and Amanda are also graduates – but for those unfamiliar with Aaron’s story – like the student-athletes who transferred from North – head coach Rob Zvonar made it a point to relay that message during practice week. Before the team dressed Friday night, all 115 players watched a pair of video tributes to Toppen in one of the school’s classrooms.

“It’s awesome playing in his honor,” senior Sam Diehl said. “We understand football’s just a game and that (Aaron) made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for our country, that we have more to give than just football to our community, that there are people out there we need to be more thankful of.”

Once the pregame festivities ended the Griffins put on a worthy performance. They scored touchdowns on their first six drives of the game into the third quarter. Jake Arthur threw three more touchdown passes, wide receiver Nick Zelenika topped 100 yards and the Griffins’ offense averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.

Devin O’Rourke tallied five tackles for loss and two more sacks – he has five in the last two weeks – and the Griffins defense limited the Wildcats to only a late touchdown in the final minute. The Griffins first team defense has allowed zero points in its last six quarters and appears to be putting its early-season struggles behind them.

But the night belonged to the Toppen family and Aaron’s legacy. The night coincided with homecoming weekend, and it brought back more than a handful of Aaron’s old classmates. One of them, current Illinois offensive lineman Nick Allegretti, spoke highly of Aaron and the impact he left on the school and community.

“I always enjoyed talking in class sitting with him,” he said. “Any person that’s going to go out and fight for our country and fight for our freedom, I have unlimited respect for. So obviously it’s a sad thing to remember, but I think it’s awesome seeing the support we have out here, from the community to the school to the administration.”

The following day each member of the Griffins and the coaching staff traveled to Mokena to participate in the third annual Our Fallen Hero 5k run in Aaron’s memory. Zvonar and the seniors joked about the aches and pains they’d feel running the 3.1 miles less than 12 hours after a football game, but they also understood the importance of showing up, honoring a fellow Griffin and raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

“We’re able to run if we have to, walk if we have to, do what we have to to get it done,” running back Nigel Muhammad said. “Because it’s not about us.”

Added the 285-pound Diehl: “We’re more than happy to run the 3.1 miles. Even us offensive linemen don’t mind.”

More than 600 people were expected to show up for the fundraiser run, which had raised nearly $50,000 in its first two years.

“Aaron would probably say, ‘Mom I don’t like attention, what’s going on here?’ Because he was never that type,” Pam said. “But such a tragedy has brought together a community, and like Amanda said we’re blessed to be a part of this community…We just love seeing everybody.”

Football is life. Until it’s not.

It would have been enough for Zvonar and the coaching staff to speak about who Aaron Toppen was, and the impact he left on a school, a community and a country. The Toppen family could have simply been honored at halftime. Attending the 5k could have been optional for the team to attend.

Instead, football took a back seat for a night in Frankfort. The Toppens were gracious enough to be placed front-and-center to remember a young man who gave his life to protect the freedoms of each one of the thousands in attendance that evening.

“You think back to Aaron Toppen, who a few years ago was walking the hallways of this school and in the same classroom as these guys, and going to the same homecoming dance, and this was just a little bit ago,” Zvonar said. “A young man that’s barely older than these guys and then he goes off and serves his country and fights for the rights for all of us, and pays the ultimate sacrifice. You certainly don’t let that go by unnoticed.

“You want to really make sure that that’s pointed out, that freedom doesn’t come free. And these young men have an opportunity to come out and play this great game tonight. And all these things they’re allowed to do because of the bravery of young men like Aaron Toppen. One of those situations where I know as long as Coach Vander Kooi and myself are here we’ll do everything we can to stop and talk about him.”

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

 [SHOP: Get your NL Central champions gear right here]  

“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”