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NFL Skinny: Week 12 preview

Brandon Funston
Roto Arcade

It's a short work week because of Turkey Day, so I'm in frantic, scramble mode, trying to get everything squared away before I take time off for a gluttonous day of giving thanks. That said, I'm going to jump right into my usual analysis of the week ahead. But first, just a couple thoughts on the week that was.

1. That Jacksonville scored 37 points and threw for almost 400 yards against Houston is just another (extreme) reminder of how unpredictable this game is. There's no such thing as gospel truth when it comes to our fantasy game. It's always best to arm yourself with as much research and industry opinion as possible before filling out your lineup. But don't be afraid to play a hunch that runs counter to the "expert" consensus. In fantasy football, educated guesses are better than uneducated guesses. But, let's face it, it's all guesswork — in other words, don't blame me that you didn't start Justin Blackmon.

2. Colin Kaepernick is the gospel truth. As a Seahawks fan, I'm jealous of the 49ers. It certainly helps that San Francisco has the best offensive line in the league, bar none. But Kaepernick played like a poised veteran against the most opportunistic defense in the league on Monday night. Frankly, he broke the Bears' will early on with picture-perfect spirals that repeatedly hit his targets in stride. He went through his read progressions in a quick manner, and was able to improvise to extend plays when Chicago was able to put pressure on — his TD pass to Michael Crabtree is a good illustration of that. And I'm guessing the 49ers pulled back on him running a bit because Scott Tolzien was the backup QB with Alex Smith out, and exposing Kaepernick to the physicality of rushing plays was probably a bit too costly of a proposition for San Francisco. But, if Smith is at backup this week, I'd expect the entire playbook to be at Kaepernick's disposal against the entirely suspect New Orleans defense in Week 12. Honestly, I can't stomach Jim Harbaugh, but I give him credit for being a great, outside-the-box head coach. And he's certainly no fool. He saw what we all saw on Monday night and realizes that Kaepernick opens things up so much more for this offense — he has Robert Griffin III upside, if not quite the refinement. And that's almost certainly why he opened up the QB controversy can of worms following the game by saying he's planning to ride the hot hand at QB. Because, metaphorically speaking, Kaepernick's hands are doused in Tabasco Sauce at the moment.

Alright, moving on to this week's Skinny preview. Let's get to it, time's a wastin' …

Total Week 12 green-light plays by position: 11 QB; 9 RB; 15 WR; 10 TE; 7 DST

Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring

QUARTERBACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (QB): NO; OAK; MIN; TB; NE

Least FPPG allowed (QB): PIT; CHI; SEA; SF; ARI

Jake Locker has 2 TD passes and at least 35 rushing yards in each of his past two full games. And he's getting a Jacksonville defense that allowed more than 500 passing yards to Matt Schaub last week. There's a lot of good QB plays this week, and Locker is definitely one of them.

Josh Freeman bailed out his fantasy line late last week against Carolina, but he might not be as lucky this week. The Falcons allow the 9th-fewest FAN PPG to QBs, and that's in spite of having had to face a top 15 fantasy QB (PPG) in seven of their 10 games. Freeman has been under 250 passing yards in three straight games. I expect him to be only fair to middling this week.

Matthew Stafford has more pass attempts than any other QB, and you can bet the Lions will stick to an air-it-out approach against a Houston defense that allowed more than 350 passing yards to Chad Henne last week. Henne was the third QB to throw for at least 330 yards against the Texans. Stafford, who has averaged 323 passing yards in four home games, is an easy QB1 qualifier on Thursday.

It's unclear whether concussed QBs Jay Cutler and/or Michael Vick will play on Sunday. They've been discounted on the rankings because of their health ambiguity. If cleared, though, I'd move both up into the 12-17 range, an area of the rankings that I could rank and re-rank all day long because of how closely I think the value of those QBs are lumped together this week — that's the splitting hairs section of the QB rankings. If Nick Foles starts again, I'd put him at the bottom of the yellow light plays, below Russell Wilson. As for Jason Campbell, no way, uh-uh …

Philly has faced some quality QBs in the past month (Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III), but you don't get credit for strength of schedule if you can't mount much of a fight against those foes. The Eagles have allowed 11 passing TDs and a 78 percent completion rate in those four games. And they let RGIII run for more than 80 yards last week. There's no reason to think of Cam Newton, ranked No. 12 at QB in FAN PPG for the season, as anything less than a QB1 in Philly.

For what it's worth, Tony Romo is 5-0 on Thanksgiving Day, averaging 267 passing yards and combining for a 14:4 TD-to-INT ratio. It's worth more in my ranking of Romo at No. 8 this week that Washington has allowed the 7th-most FAN PPG to QBs.

RUNNING BACKS

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Most FPPG allowed (RB): BUF; TEN; NO; JAX; OAK

Least FPPG allowed (RB): HOU; SF; CHI; SEA; DET

Matt Forte is probably rooting for Cutler's return more than anyone. With Jason Campbell behind center for most of the past two games, Forte has averaged just 53 yards from scrimmage. Sure, the competition has been tough (HOU; SF), but there's no excuse for someone with Forte's receiving skills to gain just 1 receiving yard combined over a two-game span. Campbell is a train wreck when it comes to being able to process defensive information from the pocket and then get the ball out in a timely manner; and the Bears pass protection is simply awful (same as it ever was). Add it up and you have Forte being forced to pass protect more, and he's also wasted when he is sent out on a route because Campbell can't check down to Forte fast enough. Can you tell I'm a frustrated Forte owner? If Campbell plays again this week, I'd drop Forte at least 2-3 more spots in the rankings.

Donald Brown has played in four of Indy's past five games, yet Vick Ballard has managed 17 touches per week in that span. And in those five weeks, Ballard ranks as the No. 14 fantasy RB. Ballard has the clear upper-hand in the Colts backfield at the moment, and the matchup this week against Buffalo is fantastic. Sure, the Bills stifled the Miami running game last Thursday, but who hasn't slammed the door on Miami's RBs in the past two months? Buffalo is still the most generous fantasy defense against opposing RBs, which makes Ballard a solid RB2 consideration this week.

Speaking of Miami, Reggie Bush is only the No. 29 RB in FAN PPG since Week 3, averaging 3.5 ypc and failing to top 72 YFS in that span. At this point, he's avoidable in even soft matchups. And against a Seattle defense that has allowed the 4th-fewest FAN PPG to RBs, forget about it.

Darren Sproles should be able to return from a hand injury this week against the 49ers. It's a tough matchup, to be sure, but San Francisco had its hands full the last time it faced Sproles — last January in an instant classic NFC Divisional playoff game. Sproles caught 15 passes for 116 yards and a TD in that contest.

If LeSean McCoy (concussion) plays in Week 12 (I'm guessing he won't), I'd slot him just inside the top 10 at the RB position this week. If he doesn't go, rookie backup Bryce Brown becomes a solid RB2 bet. He's looked good from the moment he arrived in Philly, and there's no reason to think he wouldn't be able to put up the kind of numbers we expect from an Eagles back going against a Carolina defense allowing 4.5 ypc to opposing RBs.

If you have a lease on Marcel Reece, you have to be hoping that Darren McFadden takes his time with that high ankle sprain. Over the past three weeks, Reece has been the No. 5 fantasy RB in PPR formats. And this week he's facing a Cincy defense that has allowed the 4th-most receptions and 9th-most FAN PPG to RBs. Right now, Run-DMC is looking like a coin flip for Week 12 action. I'd probably still have Reece as a borderline RB2 even if McFadden does return.

Houston is the only team not to have allowed an RB rushing TD this season — Maurice Jones-Drew's Week 2 TD grab is the only RB TD against the Texans this season. It's not a great week to make a bold start of Mikel Leshoure.

WIDE RECEIVERS


Most FPPG allowed (WR): NO; TB; WAS; CLE; NYG

Least FPPG allowed (WR): PIT; SEA; SF; ATL; NYJ

While it's worth taking a cautiously optimistic approach with rookie Justin Blackmon still, it's time to go all-in on teammate Cecil Shorts. He's No. 8 among WRs in FAN PPG over past five weeks; he's third in yards per catch (19.3); and he has 4 TDs of 39 yards or more. Facing a Titans defense that has allowed the 7th-highest yards per attempt rate allowed (7.4)and is one of four teams allowing a QB Rating of over 100, Shorts is a worthy WR2 play this week.

There's a serious disconnect between Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith right now. The two completed just one of seven targets last week (for 7 yards). And they have connected on just 11 of Flacco's part 35 passes targeted for Smith. In the past six games, Smith is averaging just 37 yards. This week's matchup (San Diego) is not particularly scary, but the Chargers have been better than average at limiting WR fantasy points the past five weeks. And with that being the case, I'm putting Smith squarely down in the WR3 mix.

Michael Crabtree has 4 TDs in his past three games and faces a New Orleans defense that has allowed 15 TD passes to WRs (tied for most in the league). New Orleans has also allowed a 90-yard receiver nine times this season. It's not too often that you'll find me sliding Crabtree into the top 25 WR mix, but this week is definitely a week that warrants it.

In the past three weeks, Danario Alexander has had more targets, catches, receiving yards and TDs than Malcom Floyd. In fact, he's the No. 5 WR in FAN PPG in that span — Floyd is a respectable 15th.

Rookie T.Y. Hilton knows how to throw a party. In Week 11, he topped 100 receiving yards and scored (twice) for the third time this season. He's scoreless with less than 40 yards in every other game. If I had to bet on him being over 100 yards with a score or under 40 without this week against Buffalo, I'd bet the former.

Noteworthy history card: Jeremy Kerley had a career-high 120 yards on seven catches in Week 7 against the Patriots.

Julian Edleman, who has moved ahead of Brandon Lloyd in the Pats WR hierarchy, nearly netted a TD hat trick in Week 11, scoring on a pass and punt return, while falling just short on a 47-yard reverse. With Rob Gronkowski out, and Wes Welker figuring to be dominating Jets CB Antonio Cromartie's attention, Edelman should find himself in Tom Brady's crosshairs often in Week 12, making him a solid double-down bet.

TIGHT ENDS

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Most FPPG allowed (TE): DEN; WAS; NE; TEN; DET

Least FPPG allowed (TE): CLE; SF; ARI; IND; PIT

The Colts may get Coby Fleener (shoulder) back in Week 12, but I wouldn't expect the team to thrust him back into a big role right away. After all, Dwayne Allen has averaged 58 receiving yards the past four weeks while Fleener has been on the sidelines. Against a Buffalo defense allowing the 11th-most FAN PPG to TEs, Allen has TE1 upside.

Another noteworthy history card: Dustin Keller went 7/93/1 in a Week 7 meeting against a Pats defense that has allowed the 3rd-most FAN PPG to TEs.

Tony Moeaki has gone for 57 yards or more in three of his past four games. True, most of that came from the arm of Matt Cassel, but Brady Quinn did connect with Moeaki twice for 31 yards in the second half of a loss to Cincy in Week 11. Against the most generous fantasy defense to opposing TEs, Moeaki is a defensible Hail Mary play at the position.

Dallas Clark tied Dwayne Allen for the most targets in Week 11 (11). Over the past five weeks, Clark ranks 13th in FAN PPG at the position. Facing an Atlanta defense that has allowed the 7th-most FAN PPG, Clark makes a strong case for employment in Week 12.

Especially with Philly's QB situation in a state of flux, Brent Celek can no longer be slotted safely into even TE2 territory, even in a decent matchup against Carolina this week. He hasn't scored since Week 5, and he's finished with less than 50 yards in six straight games.

DEFENSE/SPECIAL TEAMS

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Most FPPG allowed (DST): PHI; KC; DET; ARI; SDG

Least FPPG allowed (DST): NE; WAS; NO; NYG; BAL

WEEK 12 GAME PREDICTIONS

Dallas 27, Washington 24
Houston 33, Detroit 27
New England 26, NY Jets 18
Seattle 24, Miami 20
Chicago 24, Minnesota 21
Cincinnati 27, Oakland 23
Pittsburgh 17, Cleveland 13
Indianapolis 34, Buffalo 26
Denver 27, Kansas City 12
Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 21
Tennessee 25, Jacksonville 24
San Diego 23, Baltimore 20
Arizona 16, St. Louis 13
New Orleans 27, San Francisco 24
NY Giants 34, Green Bay 31
Philadelphia 23, Carolina 19

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