The world of running backs looks like it will be diluted heading into Week 15 with the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson up in the air for Sunday. Here's a look at six guys owners might look to start in the fantasy playoffs:
Ben Tate - What happened to the Houston Texans? They are on an 11-game losing streak and have lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars twice in the last three weeks. Last week was particularly bad, with just 53 rushing yards for Tate and their offense looking abysmal. The Texans completely abandoned the run in that game and they really should not be doing that in a game that is within single digits on the scoreboard.
Houston's quarterbacks can't protect the ball. Chances are the team has come to this realization after watching a week's worth of tape. The Texans will likely try to play the clock-control game after Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts carved them up for three scores back on Nov. 3.
Tate should get his chance to redeem himself to owners and he's a decent RB2 this week. He has no competition for carries after the team seems to have cooled on Dennis Johnson.
Bernard's touches have been on the rise lately and the bad matchup shouldn't be enough to dissuade his owners. In his last four games, he's averaged 16.3 touches per game and he's coming off a 148-yard game against the Colts in Week 14. Bernard is a must-start play, even in a road game.
Reggie Bush - This would normally be completely obvious, but Bush went down with a calf injury before Week 14's game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He is likely headed to the dreaded game-time decision for the Monday Night Football game against the Baltimore Ravens. Unless something changes, there seems like a good chance he'll be able to give it a go. Bush is one of the best backs in the fantasy game, so his owners should start him unless they are totally stacked.
His owners will want to mitigate that risk, though. Bush has to be plugged into the flex spot heading into Monday night. Fantasy owners should absolutely make sure they have some sort of backup play just in case the Detroit Lions keep him out of the lineup. Ideally, it's Joique Bell, but there are others out there. Bernard Pierce, Marlon Brown, Nate Burleson or even Jacoby Jones could be solutions.
Maurice Jones-Drew/Jordan Todman - Jones-Drew is listed as doubtful to face the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. That would put Todman in as the starter, but it's unclear how many carries Jacksonville will give him. He is heading into the game with a shoulder injury and the Jags have yet to give him 12 touches in a game. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see them use Denard Robinson here and there to help Todman stay healthy. In other words, the shoulder injury seems to be a bigger concern than most people think despite the probable tag. The Jaguars don't have a strong enough offense to gamble on Todman.
Toby Gerhart - Adrian Peterson is headed to the ol' game-time call on Sunday, but Gerhart is also banged up with a hamstring strain. He is listed as questionable and could also be looking at a game-time decision. That's not the only issue for Gerhart and the Vikings.
Minnesota gets one of the league's hottest defenses against the Eagles. Yes, the Lions had some success, but they were rolling before that. They have the longest streak in the NFL of not allowing a team to score over 21 points since the Denver Broncos abused them, so the Vikings might find points at a premium. Philly leads the NFL in forced fumbles in the ground game and have only allowed eight scores on the season.
Even if Gerhart plays, he's nothing more than a desperation flex. As for Peterson, fantasy owners can't bench him because he's just that good.
Chris Ivory - The New York Jets are really bad on the road and it's affected Chris Ivory's production. Ivory only has one better-than-average game on the road this year due to the Geno Smith's ineptitude. Outside of a 97-yard game against the Buffalo Bills, he's never scored more than five fantasy points as a visitor. The Jets have just 10 passing TDs on the year, so teams have been able to keep eight in the box to stop the run.
The Carolina Panthers are the toughest defense in the league at keeping running backs in check. They allow the fewest yards per game and their linebackers are among the best group in the NFL. Ivory is barely a top-40 play this week.