Cleveland @ Atlanta
Josh Gordon slots back in as an immediate WR1 at the Georgia Dome facing an Atlanta defense that's surrendered wideout lines of 3-81-1 (Torrey Smith), 5-136 (Alshon Jeffery), 6-113 (Brandon Marshall), 7-151-1 (Golden Tate), 7-125-1 (Mike Evans), and 9-109-1 (Kelvin Benjamin) over its last five games. Keep in mind Gordon served a suspension last year, too. In his first game back, he flamed the Vikings for 10-146-1. Although Brian Hoyer isn't one of the strongest-armed quarterbacks in football, he is among the best throwing in the intermediate and vertical sections. Despite ranking 15th in the NFL in pass attempts (325), Hoyer is third in completions of 20-plus yards (43). Hoyer was also Cleveland's quarterback for the aforementioned game against Minnesota. Working in Gordon's favor, too, is Atlanta's year-ending loss of RCB Robert Alford (fractured wrist). The Falcons figure to shadow Gordon with usual LCB Desmond Trufant, who's been an excellent corner through two seasons but was victimized for most of Benjamin's Week 11 receiving line, which would have been even bigger if not for a pair of Benjamin drops. ... With Gordon back in the fold, Hoyer should be viewed as a strong two-quarterback-league play and is worth discussion as a desperation QB1 streamer. This game has a solid 47-point over-under and sneaky shootout potential. The environment is indoors and neither team is very good on defense. ... Gordon's return should create more space on the field for Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel, but both will lose targets, hurting their fantasy outlooks. Even in a plus matchup, Hawkins is a shaky WR3 at Atlanta.
The return of Gordon bodes well for the Browns' rushing attack, making the offense less condensed and forcing opponents to tilt their defense to account for Gordon's perimeter threat. To this point, the Browns' top perimeter receiver has been dead-legged Miles Austin. The Cleveland coaching staff insists it will continue to ride the "hot hand," but actions speak louder than words, and Isaiah Crowell was the clear-feature back in last week's loss to the Texans, outplaying both Terrance West and Ben Tate. Most promisingly, the Browns kept feeding Crowell after a second-quarter lost fumble, showing commitment to the explosive rookie. Crowell finished with a team-high 16 touches, playing 65% of the snaps. West (five touches, 13%) and Tate (two touches, 22%) combined for three yards on seven carries. Crowell should be viewed as an upside RB2/flex play in season-long leagues against an Atlanta defense allowing the second most fantasy points to running backs. On the season, the Falcons rank 27th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. Because of Cleveland's backfield volatility, Crowell is more of a tournament play on FanDuel, albeit a very attractive one at his $5,500 cost. The Browns' Tuesday release of Tate locks in Crowell and West as the top-two backs. ... New Browns No. 3 back Glenn Winston is worth a look in particularly deep Dynasty leagues. He ran a sluggish 4.69 forty before going undrafted in May, but did have a 10-foot-2 broad jump and 36 1/2-inch vertical at 6-foot, 227. Winston ran for 113 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries this preseason.
Matt Ryan's box-score production has slowed to a crawl since his fast early-season start, but his dome-outdoor splits are notable as Atlanta travels back home following four straight road affairs. Across three games at the Georgia Dome this year, Ryan has a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio, 117.7 passer rating, and 9.66 yards-per-attempt average. On the road, Ryan's TD-to-INT ratio is 10:7 with an 84.0 rating and 6.45 YPA. Cleveland has played solid pass defense in 2014, but won't have critical ILB Karlos Dansby (knee) and is expected to be without OLB Jabaal Sheard (foot) after generating next to no heat on Ryan Mallett in his first NFL start last week. The Browns already lost fellow up-front contributors DE Armonty Bryant (ACL), DE Phil Taylor (knee), and DE John Hughes (knee) to injured reserve. After Cleveland had trouble slowing down inferior Mallett, it's a good bet that they'll have similar difficulties against Ryan. I like Ryan as a mid-range to low-end QB1 in this game despite his disappointing stretch. ... Ryan's target distribution since Atlanta's Week 9 bye: Julio Jones 22; Roddy White 18; Devin Hester 7; Harry Douglas and Jacquizz Rodgers 6; Steven Jackson 5; Levine Toilolo 4; Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman 1. ... The Browns used Joe Haden to shadow Andre Johnson all over the field in Week 11. I suspect they'll take the same approach with Julio. Andre did still come away with seven receptions, although Haden limited him to 68 scoreless yards. The Falcons can use bubble screens and pre-snap motion to get Jones openings. Expectations might need to be limited for Julio in this matchup, but he hasn't lost his WR1 value. He's seen 11 targets in back-to-back games since Atlanta's bye.
Shaking off nagging early-season injuries, Roddy's logged stat lines of 9-100-1, 5-66, 6-72-1, and 8-75-1 over his last four games, securing 28-of-39 targets (72%). He is the No. 14 overall receiver in per-game fantasy scoring the past five weeks. Trending toward WR1/2 stock, White is set up for another big day against burnable Browns No. 2 corner Buster Skrine and undrafted rookie slot CB K'Waun Williams. It can't hurt Roddy's outlook that Julio missed practice time this week with an illness. Expect lots of targets. ... Slot receiver Douglas has turned in stat lines of 0-0 and 4-46 since Atlanta's Week 9 bye. Battling foot and hamstring injuries all year, Douglas has cleared 50 yards in just 1-of-6 appearances. ... Steven Jackson has underwhelmed even in the most favorable matchups this season and offers as little upside as any starting running back in football these days. But this is the same Cleveland defense that just got gashed by Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes for 210 yards on 49 carries in Week 11, is severely depleted in the front seven, and ranks 29th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. S-Jax is always a touchdown-dependent flex, but he's more attractive than usual this week. ... Antone Smith's broken leg doesn't figure to have a huge fantasy impact on Jacquizz Rodgers or Devonta Freeman because Smith was only averaging 3.6 offensive touches per game. Freeman figures to be the biggest beneficiary in terms of playing time, but not to the extent that he'll suddenly become a dependable flex play. Quizz and Freeman are low-ceiling RB5s in 14- and 16-team leagues.
Score Prediction: Browns 27, Falcons 23
Tennessee @ Philadelphia
Mark Sanchez's Week 11 on-field step back was concerning, but fairly predictable at Lambeau Field against a stingy and playmaking Packers pass defense. Sanchez still emerged with QB1 production -- 346 yards and two TDs -- despite four turnovers and heavy dependence on garbage time. Back home against a middling Titans defense, Sanchez remains a top-12 quarterback play in a game Philadelphia should control. The Eagles are whopping 11-point favorites with a team total of nearly 30 points. Vegas isn't worried about Chip Kelly's offense scoring on Tennessee DC Ray Horton's unit. You shouldn't be either. ... Shaking off arguably his worst game of the year two Monday nights ago versus Carolina, LeSean McCoy rallied for 106 yards from scrimmage at Green Bay. McCoy's upside hasn't been there all season, but he's at least been a consistent RB2, logging a touchdown or 90-plus total yards in five straight games. The Titans are now playing on a short week and on the road after hemorrhaging a 33-204-1 rushing line to Le'Veon Bell on Monday Night Football. Shady is a good bet for RB1 stats in this game. Per Football Outsiders' DVOA efficiency metric, the Titans have the worst run defense in the league. ... Darren Sproles' weekly touch totals since the Eagles' bye are 7, 2, and 4. He's given the offense a spark in limited doses, but is primarily a special teamer. On such limited usage, Sproles is essentially a rich man's Antone Smith. ... Amid whispers of a "three-headed monster" developing in Philadelphia, Chris Polk handled all of three carries in last week's blowout loss to the Packers, gaining zero yards and playing four snaps. Polk is a stretch-run handcuff for Shady owners, but isn't a legitimate threat to McCoy's workload.
Sanchez's target distribution since Nick Foles broke his collarbone: Jeremy Maclin 22; Jordan Matthews 20; Riley Cooper 13; Brent Celek and Sproles 11; Zach Ertz 10; Josh Huff 7; McCoy 4. ... Sanchez and Matthews have hooked up 14 times for 280 yards and four touchdowns in a 2.75-game stretch. It's especially notable that Matthews' 85% snap rate in last week's loss to Green Bay was a season high. The Eagles' best match for Sanchez's inside-the-numbers passing skill set, Matthews is a no-brainer WR2 versus Tennessee. Titans slot CB Coty Sensabaugh is a solid cover man, but Chip Kelly's masterful scheming frequently gets Matthews matched on linebackers, safeties, and sometimes even zone-dropping defensive linemen. At 6-foot-3, 212 with 4.46 speed, Matthews is a mismatch creator. ... Maclin predictably rebounded from his sluggish Week 10 to pour 9-93-1 on the Pack. Matthews is getting all the hype right now, but Sanchez is targeting Maclin more, and the duo has combined for 16 completions, 219 yards, and two TDs in under three games. Maclin is an every-week WR1 taking on LCB Jason McCourty, who got dogwalked by Antonio Brown (9-91-1) on high-percentage routes last Monday night. ... Cooper has a great in-theory matchup with Titans liability RCB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but has been awful this season, both in real life and fantasy, and his production has been especially anemic with Sanchez at the controls. ... The Titans play a lot of zone in the middle of the field and are somewhat vulnerable to tight ends, allowing the 14th most fantasy points to the position. Unfortunately, neither Celek nor Ertz gets enough week-to-week involvement to be taken seriously as a fantasy start. With Matthews taking on a much bigger role last week, Ertz played just 35% of Philly's snaps. Primarily a blocker, Celek has been held under 15 yards in three of his last four games.
The Titans surprisingly gave the Steelers a run for their money on Week 11 Monday Night Football, grabbing a 24-13 third-quarter lead on the strength of composed and aggressive quarterbacking by rookie Zach Mettenberger, whose to-date 2014 performance has mixed good with bad but ultimately could be characterized as promising. Through three starts, Mettenberger is 58-of-92 passing (63.0%) for 741 yards (8.05 YPA) with five touchdowns and three interceptions. The strong-armed rookie has played his way into two-QB-league discussion taking on a Philly defense that's allowed the third most passing touchdowns (22) and fifth most passing yards (263.0 per game) in football. Eagles DC Billy Davis' defense is highly aggressive and can rush the passer, however, ranking second in the NFL in sacks (33). Be sure to stream Philadelphia's D/ST. ... Mettenberger's target distribution on the year: Kendall Wright 22; Justin Hunter 17; Delanie Walker 14; Nate Washington 11; Bishop Sankey 8; Chase Coffman 7; Leon Washington and Dexter McCluster 6; Derek Hagan 3. ... Wright's stat lines through three Mettenberger starts are 3-53-0, 4-53-0, and 4-70-0. The good news is Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb went 10-129 against this same defense last week. The bad news is Aaron Rodgers isn't Wright's quarterback, and in Week 12 Wright will primarily run routes versus Eagles slot corner Brandon Boykin, a stout cover man who normally limits the damage underneath. Wright is a low-ceiling WR3 whose matchup is unattractive.
Hunter has been abysmal this year -- he's caught just four of his 19 targets 20-plus yards downfield and dropped four more -- and he has seen more than five targets in just one of his last six games. But the Eagles have given up a ton of big games to wide receivers. Notable stat lines permitted by Philly in four games since their Week 7 bye: Cobb 10-129; Jordy Nelson 4-109-1; Larry Fitzgerald 7-160-1; John Brown 5-119-1; DeAndre Hopkins 6-115-1; Kelvin Benjamin 3-70-2. Entirely boom or bust, Hunter is a gambling man's WR3 dart throw. ... Due back from his concussion, Walker takes on an Eagles defense surrendering the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Having not topped 60 yards since the first month of the season with just one touchdown over his last five games, Walker is a borderline TE1. ... Philadelphia's defensive strength is on the ground, where Davis' group ranks No. 9 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and permits 3.65 yards per carry to running backs. The Titans' offensive line has underachieved in run blocking, and it's conceivable that the Eagles jump ahead on the scoreboard in this game, limiting Bishop Sankey's workload. On a brighter note, Shonn Greene has been almost completely phased out of Tennessee's offense, playing six snaps last week and rushing three times for six yards. On a darker note, Sankey finished with only 12 touches despite the Titans' in-game lead, and is still losing passing-down work to Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington. Sankey is a low-upside flex in a tough matchup.
Score Prediction: Eagles 31, Titans 17
Detroit @ New England
The Patriots enter Sunday's bout with Detroit with point totals of 43, 37, 27, 51, 43, and 42 over their last six games. The Lions rank No. 1 in the NFL in total defense, No. 5 against the pass, and No. 1 against the run. I'm still skeptical they'll slow down New England's freight-train offense in Foxboro against game plan-savvy Bill Belichick and OC Josh McDaniels, who morph their offense like a chameleon to adjust to their opponent. The Patriots are seven-point favorites in a game with a reasonably aggressive 48-point over-under, so the true NFL experts don't see Detroit shutting down New England, either. ... The Lions are most stout and dangerous on the interior defensive line. This isn't going to be another Jonas Gray game. Look for Shane Vereen to dominate backfield snaps as Belichick and McDaniels make Lions DC Teryl Austin's defense work on the edges. It's worth noting that Detroit has allowed the fourth most receiving yards in the league to running backs (520). I like Vereen as an RB2 in PPR leagues and strong flex in non-PPR. This should be a game where he racks up a lot of catches. ... Gray's tenure as New England's primary power back could be short lived after the Pats signed LeGarrette Blount. Blount spent all of last season with New England and knows McDaniels' offense well enough that he could probably walk right in and handle 20 carries on Sunday. I obviously don't expect him to do that, but Blount is a major threat to Gray's workload. ... As usual, guessing Patriots game plans can get you burned. I do it every week in the Matchups column anyway. I think the Pats will play high-volume passing offense in Week 12, attacking Detroit's linebackers and safeties in coverage and getting the ball out of Tom Brady's hands quickly. The Lions have a great defense, but lack true shutdown cover guys in the back half. Brady remains a strong QB1.
Friday Update: The Patriots sent Jonas Gray home after he reported to the team facility late on Friday, as is Belichick's policy. Gray did not practice, and his role is now entirely unclear, assuming he has one at all after the Pats signed LeGarrette Blount. Gray should be removed from fantasy lineups. I think this continues to solidify Shane Vereen as a quality fantasy option, both in season-long and daily leagues.
Brady's target distribution over his last six games: Rob Gronkowski 54; Julian Edelman 51; Brandon LaFell 43; Vereen 33; Tim Wright 15; Danny Amendola 11; James Develin 6; Brian Tyms 4. ... The Lions have shown some vulnerability to tight ends, allowing the 14th most receptions (48) to the position. Matchups don't really matter for Gronk, though. Whereas he was a complementary piece in last week's Gray-dominated game plan, expect Gronkowski to be the focal point of the Patriots' Week 12 approach. ... On pace for 95 catches, 970 yards, and just over three touchdowns, Edelman has settled in as a WR3 in PPR leagues and just a WR3/4 option in non-PPR. If the Patriots do throw a lot as I anticipate, Edelman should pay off as a Week 12 start. ... LaFell's lack of consistency has frustrated, but he's shown a relatively high floor with 50-plus yards in five straight games. Anything on top of that is gravy. He's a WR3 option who will run most of his routes against Lions RCB Rashean Mathis and LCB Darius Slay. Slay is PFF's No. 30 cover corner among 112 qualifiers, while Mathis is No. 35. It's not a great matchup for LaFell, on paper at least. ... Tyms played four snaps in last week's drubbing of Indianapolis and was targeted twice on shot plays. He dropped one and the other was broken up. ... New England didn't emerge from its Week 11 bye playing Wright more. He did vulture a goal-line TD from Gronkowski, but played 14% of the offensive snaps. Wright is a good player capable of having a good game at any moment, but his role is too unreliable for fantasy investment beyond desperation scenarios.
The Lions have looked a bit discombobulated on offense since their Week 9 bye, producing point totals of 20 and 6 against the Dolphins and Cardinals, and enduring extended stretches where they've simply been unable to move the ball. I think they'll get it together against weaker defenses down the stretch, but expect another slow game in Week 12. The Patriots have been stingy against the pass for most of the year and corrected their run-defense woes lately. Temper expectations for your Lions skill players in Foxboro. ... The Patriots slowed down Andrew Luck in Week 11 by using Darrelle Revis at left cornerback and on slot receiver Reggie Wayne. Usual slot corner Kyle Arrington stuck to T.Y. Hilton. RCB Brandon Browner chased Coby Fleener, who had the biggest game in Indy's pass-catching corps. New England has rarely used Revis to shadow opposing top wideouts this season, so I don't think it's a lock that he'll be on Calvin Johnson. I think the bottom line is that you start Megatron every single week, and let the chips fall where they may. The Patriots didn't have Revis then, of course, but Megatron has faced a Belichick defense once before in his career, totaling 96 yards and a touchdown in November of 2010. ... Based on the way they guarded Wayne last week, it shouldn't surprise anyone if the Pats devote lots of Revis snaps to Golden Tate, who like Wayne primarily aligns at slot receiver. They could conceivably put brackets on Megatron outside and leave Revis one-on-one against Tate. Coming off a two-target game, Tate looks like a dicey WR2/3 option in this matchup.
Based on all of the potential defensive back-pass catcher matchups, it's not real clear how Matthew Stafford would have a lot of passing success in this game. The hope for fantasy owners forced to start Stafford should be that this evolves into a fast-paced shootout, even if that seems unlikely. Stafford will be a surefire QB1 against the Bears, Bucs, Vikings, and Bears in the final four weeks of the fantasy season. He's a fringe starter in this particular game. ... Stafford's target distribution in the five games where Megatron has been mostly healthy this season: Calvin 62; Tate 36; Joique Bell 18; Reggie Bush 17; Eric Ebron 12; Jeremy Ross and Theo Riddick 9; Joseph Fauria 6; Brandon Pettigrew and Corey Fuller 2. ... I'm sure the Lions' coaching staff would have looked at this game on the schedule before the season and hoped one of their tight ends emerged as a serious factor by now, giving Detroit a third passing-game threat. That hasn't happened. Ebron hasn't cleared 40 yards in a game this year, while Fauria played all of four downs in last week's loss to Arizona. Pettigrew is a blocker only in first-year OC Joe Lombardi's offense. ... Over their last two games, the Patriots have held Broncos and Colts running backs to 44 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries (1.52 YPC). There is a bigger sample size this season suggesting New England is vulnerable to the run, but the recent stoutness is something to file away. The good news for Joique owners is he's easily been Detroit's most consistent offensive weapon in recent weeks, recording 80-plus total yards and/or a touchdown in all but one of his last five games, with a steadily rising YPC average. With Bush (ankle) tentatively due back to share snaps with Theo Riddick in the passing-back role, Bell is the lone Lions RB worth a Week 12 fantasy start.
Saturday Update: CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported Saturday evening that Bush is not expected to play against the Patriots. In Bush's three previous missed games this year, Riddick has touch totals of 8, 11, and 5. Expect Bell to be the Lions' feature back in Week 12. Riddick is a poor bet to pay off as a flex option, although his outlook is slightly improved in PPR leagues.
Score Prediction: Patriots 27, Lions 17
Green Bay @ Minnesota
Mike Zimmer's Vikings defense stuck eight in the box and still couldn't stop Matt Forte in last week's loss at Soldier Field. Forte had gaping holes en route to a 26-117 rushing day, tacking on 58 receiving yards. On the year, Minnesota has coughed up 4.51 yards per carry to opposing running backs, plus the sixth most receptions (61) to the position. Eddie Lacy needed only 16 touches to shred Zimmer's unit for 132 yards from scrimmage and two scores when these teams met in Week 5. Expect another productive all-purpose effort from Lacy, who despite a scaled-back workload is quietly on pace to eclipse his rookie-year numbers in YPC (4.24), receptions (62), yards per touch (5.57), and touchdowns (12). So much for being Too Fat. ... Aaron Rodgers' target distribution over his last seven games: Jordy Nelson 57; Randall Cobb 53; Lacy 27; Davante Adams 25; Andrew Quarless 18; Richard Rodgers 12; James Starks 11; Brandon Bostick 1. ... As usual, the Rodgers-Jordy "stack" needs to be taken seriously in FanDuel cash games and tournaments. Playing Cover 3 with man coverage on the perimeter, Zimmer's defense was eaten alive by Alshon Jeffery (11-135-1) and Brandon Marshall (7-90-2) last Sunday. The Bears attacked beleaguered Vikings LCB Josh Robinson time and time again, and time and time again succeeded as both Jeffery and Marshall burned Robinson for touchdowns. PFF charged Robinson with 139 yards allowed. Nelson tends to run most of his pass routes at left cornerbacks, which is where Robinson plays. The Vikings better get him some help.
Nelson and Cobb were both pulled early in the Week 5 meeting after Green Bay jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead. So Nelson (1-66-1) and Cobb (3-34-1) both finished with "disappointing" fantasy lines. Another blowout could be in store with Green Bay favored by 9.5 points, although Zimmer is still among the NFL's best defensive minds, and could very well draw up a game plan that at least keeps this game competitive for a while. Fantasy owners should tee up Cobb, who has 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 9-of-10 games this season. ... After peaking at 96% of Green Bay's offensive snaps in Week 8, rookie Adams' playing-time percentages are 57% and 63% the past two games. Adams saw nine targets against the Saints before the Packers' Week 9 bye, but has drawn just two targets in consecutive games since. The upside hasn't evaporated, but Adams is teetering on the WR4 borderline due to inconsistent usage. Green Bay is playing a lot more two tight ends now, after utilizing three wideouts as its base offense in the first half of the season. Adams will also get his share of chances against Robinson, but projects to run more routes against stouter RCB Xavier Rhodes. I actually like Adams better as a FanDuel than season-long play based on his cap-saving price ($5300). ... Despite the Packers' increased usage of "12" personnel, neither Andrew Quarless nor Richard Rodgers has become a realistic fantasy option. Rodgers' stat lines the past two weeks are 2-6-0 and 1-19-0 on five combined targets. Quarless has lines of 2-10-1 and 2-35-0 on seven targets. The Vikings permit the second fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
He's a rookie with a potentially still-bright future, but at this very moment, Teddy Bridgewater is a frenetic, panicked, eye-dropping quarterback with what appears to be a very limited skill level. Bridgewater isn't used a runner and has a weak arm. He also gets very little help from his teammates. LT Matt Kalil is shaping up as an NFL draft bust, and Minnesota's wideout corps can't even create functional space against zone defenses, let alone separate from man. I'd describe Teddy's Week 11 game against the Bears' normally-putrid defense as concerningly bad. Over his last five games, Bridgewater has completed 106-of-175 passes (60.6%) for 1,012 yards (5.78 YPA) and a 4:6 TD-to-INT ratio. He doesn't even appear capable of racking up stats in garbage time. Bridgewater is a two-QB-league option to avoid against a Green Bay defense that ranks third in the NFL in interceptions (14) and should dominate Minnesota's soft offensive line. ... Teddy's target distribution dating back to Week 6: Cordarrelle Patterson 34; Greg Jennings 31; Chase Ford 23; Jerick McKinnon 22; Jarius Wright 18; Matt Asiata 14; Charles Johnson 9. ... Even as Jennings (ribs) and Wright (hamstring) missed snaps in last week's loss to Chicago, Patterson did nothing and OC Norv Turner did nothing to help him. If the Vikings are going to continue to refuse to scheme the football to Patterson, he's going to continue to look like an utter bust, both in fantasy and real life. Patterson has exceeded 40 total yards once in his last seven games.
Rather than Patterson stepping up, Charles Johnson did. The size-speed freak from Grand Valley State piled up six catches for 87 yards on seven targets, primarily in mop-up duty. Johnson is ordinarily the Vikings' No. 4 wideout behind Jennings, Patterson, and Wright. If Jennings and Wright can't go against the Packers, Johnson would come into play as a daily-league dart throw. Wright did practice Thursday on a limited basis. Jennings hasn't practiced all week. ... Rudolph was among Week 12's biggest disappointments, not even seeing a target against the Bears and playing just 30% of Minnesota's offensive snaps. The Vikings appear poised to use a three-man tight end rotation of Rudolph, Rhett Ellison, and Chase Ford until Rudolph gets back to 100% after missing most of the season due to sports hernia surgery. Rudolph has been notoriously injury prone, dating back to his time at Notre Dame. ... Green Bay's defensive vulnerability is on the ground, where DC Dom Capers' unit allows a crisp 4.27 yards per carry and ranks 21st in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric. McKinnon has a great matchup, inarguably, but whether the Vikings can keep this game close for long enough that they amass rushing attempts is a major question mark. Working in favor of McKinnon is Asiata's (concussion) absence. The Vikings' reserves behind him are preseason star Joe Banyard and waivers acquisition Ben Tate. McKinnon looks like a boom-or-bust RB2 who could have a big game if Minnesota stays competitive for a half or more. He could easily bust if the Vikings get boat raced by the Pack.
Saturday Update: Wright and Jennings both practiced in full on Friday, and afterwards coach Mike Zimmer expressed confidence they'll play against the Packers. Vikings wideouts are best left avoided in Week 12 fantasy-lineup decisions.
Score Prediction: Packers 30, Vikings 17
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
In a week of seemingly countless games with low-scoring projections, Jags-Colts is worth heavy fantasy investment. The 50.5-point over-under is highest of Week 12. As Indy is a 14-point favorite, the Vegas sharps anticipate the Colts scoring over 32 points, easily this week's highest team total. Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers (@ MIN) should duke it out to be Week 12's top quarterback scorer. They're your best options in FanDuel. If the Colts can't move the ball on the ground after losing Ahmad Bradshaw, Luck will be asked to carry the offense. He figures to be a usage machine. ... Luck's target distribution with Reggie Wayne in the lineup this year: Wayne and T.Y. Hilton 81; Coby Fleener 48; Hakeem Nicks 41; Bradshaw 40; Dwayne Allen 38; Trent Richardson 27; Donte Moncrief 13; Jack Doyle 10. ... An excellent daily-league "stack" candidate along with Luck, Hilton has averaged 82.8 yards with 11 touchdowns across 26 career games indoors or with a retractable roof. This contest will be played indoors. Hilton's average is 50.1 yards in outdoor games with just four TDs in a 15-game sample size. Over the course of his career, Hilton's TD rate is 42.3% beneath a dome or in an environment with a retractable roof. His TD rate is 26.7% outdoors. This is a great week to bet on Hilton, who's logged stat lines of 4-113-1 and 11-155 in his two career home-game meetings with Jacksonville. ... The Jags have lost top perimeter CB Alan Ball (biceps) and slot corner Will Blackmon (finger) to I.R. since the season began. LCB Dwayne Gratz was arrested during the Jags' Week 11 bye. The Colts can shred Jacksonville with the pass if they so choose. Luck already did it once this season, pouring 385 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns on Gus Bradley's defense in Week 3. Particularly with Dwayne Allen (ankle) not expected to play, Wayne is a quality WR3 in this matchup.
The primary box-score beneficiary of Allen's early Week 11 exit was Fleener, who took Patriots CB Brandon Browner to school, shredding the ex-Seahawk for 7-144 on seven targets. It's a reminder of Fleener's legitimately elite athleticism, something he puts on display all too infrequently due in large part to an aversion to contact. As Allen exited after playing 14 snaps, Fleener's playing-time percentage jumped from 60% in his previous game to 69% against New England. I'd expect Fleener to be in the 75-80% range versus Jacksonville. The Jags have been up-and-down in tight end coverage this year, but Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar did combine for 6-47-1 against them in their last game. Fleener is a recommended start. ... Hakeem Nicks is done. ... Criminally underutilized, Donte Moncrief has played 33% and 17% of the Colts' snaps in their last two games. He's just a WR5 stash in re-draft leagues. ... Allen's injury shouldn't be overlooked for fantasy leaguers considering starting Richardson with Bradshaw (broken leg) done for the year. A critical component of Indy's ground game, Allen is PFF's No. 6 overall run-blocking tight end. T-Rich should see volume against Jacksonville's No. 26 run defense and is a reasonable bet for a goal-line score, but won't suddenly become dynamic, and Indy's run-blocking unit collapsed with Allen on the shelf for all of last year. ... Dan Herron will take over as the Colts' No. 2 back. When Richardson missed a game due to injury earlier this year, Herron played 28% of the Colts' snaps and handled two touches. My guess is Herron will be closer to the 8-10 touch range going forward. He's worth rostering as an RB3/4, but isn't a flex option yet.
Whether the Jaguars' coaching staff will follow suit remains to be seen, but the Patriots provided the NFL a blueprint for how to defeat the Colts in Week 11. Slamming the football down Indianapolis' throat, the Pats handed in-season practice squad callup Jonas Gray the rock 37 times in a 42-20 tail kicking. All told, Patriots running backs combined for 219 yards and four TDs on 38 attempts (5.76 YPC) against the Colts. This is an excellent on-paper matchup for Denard Robinson, whose legs are fresh off a bye, and who's rumbled for 389 yards with four touchdowns on 72 attempts (5.40 YPC) over his last four games. I'll be the first to admit I had some skepticism regarding the sustainability of "Shoelace" as a true NFL feature back. The converted college quarterback has proven me wrong while, perhaps most impressively, grading out as a top-four NFL back in pass-blocking efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. Robinson is the real deal. And he's a high-end RB2 against Indy's No. 17 run defense. ... If you like to play with fire, you could consider Blake Bortles as a Week 12 streamer. The "smarter" play, of course, is to start Indianapolis' defense. Keep in mind it occurred in garbage time of Week 3, but Bortles did demonstrate an ability to move the ball against the Colts in the second half of that game, compiling 253 all-purpose yards and two TDs in two quarters of action. You're living dangerously if you're investing anything in Bortles -- he's struggled mightily along with the rest of this year's rookie quarterback class -- but he plays with a lot of aggressiveness and can rack up rushing stats. And garbage-time opportunities are likely in Week 12.
Bortles' target distribution over his last five games: Cecil Shorts 47; Allen Robinson 44; Allen Hurns 21; Clay Harbor 20; Jordan Todman 13; Shoelace 11; Marqise Lee 10; Ace Sanders 3. ... With his oft-balky hamstrings rested coming off the Jaguars' bye, expect Shorts to soak up targets with Robinson (broken foot) on injured reserve. For as long as he stays healthy, Shorts should be a solid bet for 8-12 targets per game down the stretch. Shorts runs most of his routes at left cornerbacks and will deal with Colts fill-in LCB Josh Gordy, who is replacing Greg Toler (concussion). Whereas RCB Vontae Davis is PFF's No. 2 overall cornerback, Gordy is a 27-year-old journeyman who has been torched in past spot starts. Shorts is a sneaky WR3 in a game that could offer a lot of garbage-time attempts. I'd lock him into PPR lineups. ... I expect Hurns to inherit Robinson's old playmaking vertical-threat job, a role for which Hurns isn't ideally suited. If Hurns indeed handles those duties, he would project to primarily square off with Davis in a brutally difficult matchup. I'm avoiding Hurns in Week 12. ... Lee figures to take over at slot receiver, replacing Hurns. I liked Lee as a preseason late-round flier and he's basically done nothing. He's obviously not a fantasy factor at this point, but it would be nice to see him turn in a few solid games to close out the year. ... The Jaguars' tight end position is hands off with Marcedes Lewis returning from I.R./recall, sending Harbor back to the bench. It is worth noting that Lewis was a surprisingly big part of Jacksonville's passing game before going down, seeing nine targets in Week 1 and producing a 2-71-1 stat line in Week 2. I'd say he's worth rostering as a deeper-league TE2 if you're desperate at tight end. Lewis' return should also give the Jaguars' run blocking a sizable boost.
Score Prediction: Colts 34, Jaguars 17
Cincinnati @ Houston
Ryan Mallett benefited from positive game flow and Houston's run-game dominance, but he played better than I expected in last week's upset of Cleveland. Although his ball placement was often erratic and he faced little-to-no pressure from Mike Pettine's defense, Mallett efficiently managed the game and added a downfield dimension to Houston's passing attack that it sorely lacked with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the controls. NFL defenses have a "book" on Mallett now, and the Bengals' pass defense is among the league's best. A week after shutting down Drew Brees at the Superdome, DC Paul Guenther's unit has an 11:10 TD-to-INT ratio against with a 79.2 passer rating allowed, the fourth stingiest mark in football. Cincinnati ranks No. 8 overall in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA. My best guess is Mallett will pan out as a quarterback who makes a few "wow" throws per game, but becomes turnover and sack prone when he faces more adversity, like in-game scoreboard deficits and pass-rush duress. I do think his insertion is good news for DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson's fantasy outlooks. ... Mallett's Week 11 target distribution: Johnson 10; Hopkins and Damaris Johnson 8; Garrett Graham 2; Keshawn Martin 1. ... Despite sticky coverage from shadow corner Joe Haden, Mallett forced a team-high ten balls into Johnson's direction and showed a willingness to target him even when Johnson appeared "covered." Johnson tied a season high with seven receptions and had a 28-yard gain overturned on replay, finishing at 68 yards. Johnson lacks the ceiling he once offered, but he's back on the every-week WR2/3 map. 6-foot-2, 230-pound Johnson will do battle Sunday with 5-foot-10, 187-pound Bengals RCB Pacman Jones and 36-year-old LCB Terence Newman, who missed last week with a knee injury.
Hopkins has seen target totals of 9, 11, 11, and 8 over Houston's last four games, delivering stat lines of 6-108, 5-95, 6-115-1, and 4-80. He has 80-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 8-of-10 games this season. Hopkins' pace stats are 74-1,223-7. He's a legitimate fantasy WR2 in non-PPR leagues and a high-end WR3 in PPR. ... Mallett breathed life into Graham last week, hitting Houston's usual non-factor tight end for gains of 14 and 20, the latter of which went for a touchdown. Graham played 83% of the snaps against Cleveland, though he was targeted just twice. You'd have to be really desperate to stream Graham as a TE1, but he's at least back in the conversation. Injury riddled at linebacker, the Bengals allow the tenth most fantasy points to tight ends. ... Nursing a nagging groin injury, Arian Foster will be a game-time decision versus the Bengals. He'll be a top-shelf RB1 if he plays. If he doesn't, rookie Alfred Blue showed the ability to handle an extreme workload in last Sunday's upset of Cleveland, parlaying 36 carries into 156 yards. Although Blue is not a dynamic talent, he is plenty capable of getting what's blocked and runs hard through contact. Football Outsiders has assigned Houston's offensive line with a top-14 run-blocking grade, and the Bengals' defense has allowed a crisp 4.37 yards per carry to running backs, in addition to the third most rushing TDs in the league (11). Despite timeshare whispers, it's hard to imagine so much as flexing Blue in a fantasy league if Foster plays. Foster could get rolling early and never look back.
Saturday Update: Although Foster is technically a "game-time decision," beat writers don't expect him to play after missing Thursday and Friday's practices. Expect Blue to be saddled up once again as a potential workhorse. The story is the exact same as last week. Blue isn't a difference-making talent, but he is plenty capable of getting what's blocked, projects to handle heavy volume, and has a plus matchup. He's a volume/matchup RB2.
With a healthy Jadeveon Clowney rushing off the edge and J.J. Watt destroying blocking schemes, the Texans can't be considered a walkover matchup for enemy quarterbacks. In Clowney's three games played this year, Houston has limited Robert Griffin III, Zach Mettenberger, and Brian Hoyer to a combined 76-of-128 passing (59.4%) for 896 yards with three combined touchdowns and two interceptions. They absorbed seven sacks. RG3, Mettenberger, and Hoyer aren't exactly top-shelf passers, but neither is Andy Dalton. Although Dalton is coming off easily his best outing of the season, I'd be loath to trust him as a Week 12 streamer. He is in play as a two-quarterback-league start. ... Dalton's target distribution in the six 2014 games A.J. Green has played significant snaps: Green 49; Mohamed Sanu 43; Jermaine Gresham 25; Giovani Bernard 16; Jeremy Hill and Brandon Tate 8. ... Playing indoors at Reliant Stadium, Green is a no-doubt top-five WR1. Recent No. 1 receiver stat lines allowed by Houston: 6-158-2 (Jeremy Maclin); 9-112-1 (James Jones); 5-107-1 (Victor Cruz); 4-30-1 (Sammy Watkins); 9-85-1 (Dez Bryant); 9-223-1 (T.Y. Hilton); 9-90 (Antonio Brown); 4-31-1 (Justin Hunter); 6-97-1 (Andrew Hawkins). ... Sanu's production has taken major steps back the past two weeks, but consider the circumstances. Dalton turned in the worst game by a quarterback all season in Week 10, and in Week 11 only needed 16 completions to beat the Saints. Sanu runs a lot of slot routes, where the Texans were carved up by aforementioned Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel (5-92) last week, and are sorely missing slot CB Kareem Jackson (knee). Sanu clearly won't produce like he did during Green's early-season absence, but he's still a viable WR3 as the No. 2 option in OC Hue Jackson's passing attack.
Gresham scored two TDs against New Orleans, his first and second of 2014. He finished with 13 yards on three targets and has topped 50 yards once all year. Avoid chasing last week's points against a Texans defense that ranks 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... OC Hue Jackson hinted this week that Bernard will be eased back in after missing three games with a hip pointer and collarbone injury. Bernard is a viable flex play at Houston, but I'd be concerned about his workload. He's been severely outplayed by OROY sleeper Jeremy Hill all year. Whereas Bernard managed 4.09 yards per carry in his seven 2014 starts, Hill's YPC is 5.73 in his three starts. Also a disappointment as a receiver, Bernard was on pace for just 51 receptions and an 8.1 per-catch average before going down. Including playoffs, he piled up 63 catches with a 9.3 average during his rookie year. And Bernard was getting a lot more playing time this season. If Jackson is smart, he will continue to give Hill 17-22 touches per game and use Gio more creatively in the passing game. The Texans have played sub-par run defense, ranking 25th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and surrendering 4.27 YPC to opposing backs. Bernard is a scatback and RBBC member. Capable of sustaining offensive drives literally on his own, Hill should be viewed as a strong RB2 with weekly RB1 upside.
Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Texans 17
Tampa Bay @ Chicago
I own a ton of Jay Cutler shares and was as pleased as anyone to see him back rolling in last week's win over Minnesota. Cutler did throw a pair of WTF picks, but was lethal targeting Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall at the intermediate and vertical levels, picking apart overmatched Vikings LCB Josh Robinson. At the same time, I think this week sets up as a potential trap for FanDuelers considering twirling Cutler. Whereas Vikings coach Mike Zimmer made the mistake of playing Chicago's plus-sized wideouts in constant man coverage, you can be sure Lovie Smith's Buccaneers will show them heavy Cover 2 zone. A "see-it, throw-it" quarterback as opposed to an anticipation passer, Cutler has long preyed on man coverage and struggled against zone. No one knows this better than Lovie after spending four seasons as Cutler's head coach. Cutler is a fantasy QB1 squaring off with a Bucs team that ranks 30th in Football Outsiders' pass-defense DVOA, but I wouldn't invest big money in him this week. ... Matt Forte is a much safer bet with plenty of upside against Tampa. The Buccaneers have played leaky run defense over their last two games, coughing up 213 yards and a touchdown on 48 carries (4.44 YPC) to Falcons and Redskins running backs. As Chicago is a 5.5-point favorite, this is a game where flow should work to the advantage of Forte and allow the Bears to control the ball. Forte is a shoo-in top-three RB1 in Week 12.
Cutler's target distribution over his last six games: Jeffery 57; Marshall 54; Forte 53; Martellus Bennett 37; Dante Rosario 11; Marquess Wilson 4. ... Jeffery was a man amongst boys against Minnesota, physically manhandling Robinson. With 100-plus yards and/or a touchdown in six of his last eight games, Jeffery is a mid-range to high-end WR1 against the Bucs, who may again be without LCB Alterraun Verner (hamstring), or have Verner back at less than full strength. ... Marshall showed no signs of ankle problems in last week's win over the Vikings, scoring two touchdowns and parlaying seven receptions into 90 yards. Expect the Bears to attack the Bucs in three-receiver sets, positioning Marshall against 5-foot-11, 188-pound CB Isaiah Frey in the slot. Frey is a former Bears practice squad player. Marshall knows him well. ... Keep an eye on Wilson, the Bears' promising sophomore wideout who returned from I.R./recall in Week 11 to play 74% of Chicago's offensive snaps. Wilson only saw four targets against Minnesota, but has a bright future in the league if he can stay healthy. I think he's worth stashing in 16-team leagues for the fantasy stretch run. 22-year-old Wilson should be owned in all Dynasty leagues. ... Bennett has barely been a factor in the Bears' passing game of late, but the Buccaneers allow the fifth most receptions (55) and 11th most yards (588) to tight ends. Even if Martellus' early-season production has proven a mirage, he is a top-12 tight end option in Week 12. Lovie's Cover 2 is exploitable by tight ends.
In Week 12, Josh McCown travels back to his old stomping grounds to face a Bears defense that has allowed a 14:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 73.1% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks over its last four games. Teddy Bridgewater did struggle against Chicago last week, but Minnesota's smallish rookie passer has been struggling against everyone. Expect a stronger performance from McCown, who has fairly consistently moved Tampa Bay's offense in his two starts since the benching of Mike Glennon. During that span, McCown is 42-of-66 passing (63.6%) for 589 yards (8.92 YPA), four touchdowns, and two interceptions, with 47 rushing yards. McCown has shown an obvious bond with rookie Mike Evans and is worth streaming as a QB1 in this favorable matchup. ... McCown's target distribution over his last two starts: Evans 18; Vincent Jackson 17; Austin Seferian-Jenkins 10; Charles Sims and Bobby Rainey 6; Louis Murphy 5. ... Evans' pace stats have reached 74-1,272-12 with an up arrow. Josh Gordon recently told Nate Burleson he was going to "tear this league up." Evans already is. ... One week after seeing nine targets from McCown and logging a 5-30-1 receiving line, Seferian-Jenkins saw one target in last week's win over the Redskins. The Buccaneers played a season-low 52 snaps on offense, which may have contributed. "ASJ" remains in play as a Week 12 streamer. The Bears have allowed the most fantasy points in the league to tight ends.
V-Jax has been a major fantasy disappointment, and his target total dipped to four last week, an indication the Bucs are calling fewer plays for him. We're delving into non-quantifiable narratives here, but it wouldn't surprise me if McCown tried to "get him going" against a soft Bears pass defense. A perimeter receiver in Tampa's offense, 6-foot-5, 241-pound Jackson will do battle with 5-foot-8, 185-pound Bears LCB Tim Jennings and rookie RCB Kyle Fuller on Sunday. Jackson's price has dipped enough on FanDuel that I think he's worth serious consideration as a tournament play. He's a boom-or-bust WR3 in season-long leagues, albeit with upside in this matchup. ... Rookie Charles Sims took over as the Bucs' primary back in last week's win over Washington, playing 63% of Tampa's offensive snaps and finishing with 16 touches. Rainey "started," but was reduced to a 37% player and only handled the ball six times. Keep in mind Doug Martin (ankle) resumed practicing this week and could further muddle the Bucs' backfield, but Sims is trending toward flex viability in 14- and 16-team leagues. "He's looking better and better," coach Lovie Smith said in his post-game press conference last week. The Bears play middling run defense, ranking 15th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and permitting 4.10 yards per carry to opposing tailbacks. Rainey looks safe to drop in 12-team leagues.
Saturday Update: The Tampa Bay Times reported Saturday that Martin received the majority of first-team reps at running back during Bucs practice this week. Even in a decent matchup, the Buccaneers' backfield is a situation to avoid in Week 12 fantasy-lineup decisions.
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Bears 23
4:05PM ET Games
Arizona @ Seattle
The Vegas sharps aren't buying the Drew Stanton-led Cardinals, at least not in Seattle. The Seahawks are seven-point home favorites, which means Marshawn Lynch is a good bet for a touchdown. Game flow is a solid bet to work in favor of Seattle's rushing attack, and over the past four seasons Lynch has scored 35 TDs across 30 home games compared to just 16 touchdowns in 28 games on the road. Don't expect Lynch to average more than four-or-so yards per carry against the Cardinals' No. 3 run defense, but he's still a fantasy RB1. On a tear over his last three games, Lynch has carved up the Raiders, Giants, and Chiefs in succession for 331 yards and six TDs on 66 runs (5.02 YPC). Lynch is on pace for nearly 20 touchdowns. ... Seattle's passing game faces a tough challenge against the Cards. The Seahawks' wideouts don't separate from man coverage, and Arizona's defense plays a ton of man. While RCB Antonio Cromartie has quietly been a shutdown force all year, LCB Patrick Peterson has shaken off a painfully slow start to play much better of late. Opposing quarterbacks have an abysmal 6:10 TD-to-INT ratio against the Cardinals over the last six games, and blitz-heavy Arizona has ten sacks the past two weeks. Even if it's at the lower end, Russell Wilson is still in the QB1 conversation. Teams that play so much man can be vulnerable to running quarterbacks. Colin Kaepernick rushed for 54 yards against Arizona earlier this season, and Wilson combined for 61 yards on ten scrambles in his two 2013 meetings with Bowles' group.
Wilson's target distribution since Percy Harvin was traded five games ago: Doug Baldwin 40; Jermaine Kearse 28; Paul Richardson 20; Lynch and Cooper Helfet 15; Luke Willson 12; Robert Turbin 9; Kevin Norwood 4. ... Baldwin's stat lines since the Harvin deal are 7-123-1, 6-61, 5-38, 4-31, and 6-45-1. A passable if limited-ceiling fantasy WR3, Baldwin projects to run most of his Week 12 routes at Cardinals slot corner Jerraud Powers, as opposed to Cromartie and Peterson. ... Kearse also sees some action in the slot, but will tangle with Peterson for most of this game. Per Pro Football Focus, Peterson has allowed just 9-of-22 throws (41%) in his direction to be completed for 85 yards (3.86 YPA) and one touchdown (Dez Bryant) over his last three games. Kearse has a Week 12 matchup to avoid. ... Lining up mostly against right cornerbacks, rookie speedster Richardson has a rough draw against Cromartie, who has plenty of speed to stay with Seattle's second-round pick, in addition to a significant size advantage at 6-foot-2, 208 to Richardson's 6-foot, 175. Richardson has cleared 25 receiving yards in one game all season. ... The Seahawks indeed employed a Week 11 timeshare at tight end. Helfet saw three targets, playing 57% of Seattle's offensive snaps. Willson was also targeted three times amongst 24% of the downs. Street free agent signing Tony Moeaki logged a 31% playing-time clip and secured his lone target for a one-yard touchdown. Avoid tight end timeshares in fantasy leagues.
It should come as little surprise that this game has a 41-point over-under, lowest of Week 12. A defensive slugfest is likely. Although Drew Stanton threw two first-quarter touchdown passes to Michael Floyd in last week's win over Detroit, he failed to lead a single scoring drive the rest of the way and was picked off twice. Stanton is a smart quarterback with full command of Bruce Arians' offense, but he's going to be a better bet than not to struggle going forward. The Seahawks' fantasy defense should be confidently fired up. ... This is Stanton's target distribution on the season: Larry Fitzgerald 28; John Brown 26; Floyd 25; Andre Ellington 17; John Carlson 13; Ted Ginn 4; Rob Housler 3. ... Fitzgerald vows to play at Seattle despite suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain against the Lions. He drew just four targets in Week 11, securing two for 33 yards. Fitzgerald's stat lines in Stanton's four 2014 starts now stand at 6-51-0, 3-34-0, 3-57-0, and 2-33-0. At less than optimal health, it's hard to imagine starting Fitz against the Legion of Boom. ... The good news for Floyd is Arians in no way alters his offense with Stanton under center. Even with an erratic quarterback at the controls, the Cards don't stop taking shots. 22.4% of Stanton's 2014 pass attempts have traveled 20-plus yards downfield, and 47.2% have gone 10-plus yards. Let's compare that to Aaron Rodgers, who's thrown only 9.6% of his passes 20 or more yards downfield, and 34.5% at 10 yards or longer. Floyd is the Cardinals' best downfield receiver, but his high-volatility role will continue to render Floyd an entirely boom-or-bust WR3. Floyd's stat lines in Stanton's starts are 1-19-0, 5-114-0, 1-7-0, and 2-54-2.
Friday Update: Fitzgerald missed practice every day this week and will be a game-time decision at Seattle. I think fantasy owners should write him off entirely as a Week 12 option, and strongly consider John Brown. It would not surprise me if Brown emerged from this game with an unusually high number of targets if Fitz sits. He would also likely become a 100% player in Bruce Arians' offense, with Jaron Brown inheriting the third receiver role.
If you're hunting for predictive trends in Arizona's wideout production with Stanton under center, you're wasting your time. (I obviously did.) Brown's numbers are 3-28-0, 4-52-2, 2-7-0, and 5-69-0 in Stanton's starts. Cardinals receivers all move around a ton and Seahawks cornerbacks barely move at all, so pegging wideout-defensive back matchups is another exercise in futility. Whereas plus-sized LCB Richard Sherman (6'3/195) and RCB Byron Maxwell (6'0/202) tend to eliminate bigger receivers like Floyd (6'3/220) and Fitz (6'3/225), shifter speedsters like Brown (5'10/179) can give them a hard time. If I had to bet on a Cardinals receiver against the Seahawks, I'd take a flier on the dynamic rookie. ... 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington is showing signs of weardown early in the second half of his first full season as an every-down back. I think it's fair to wonder if his monstrous usage is a long-term concern. On pace for 364 touches, including 298 carries, Ellington has cleared 4.0 YPC just once over his last eight games, and is averaging 1.76 yards per rushing attempt over his last two. Ellington is an every-week fantasy starter due to his heavy workloads, but I'm starting to worry about his future outlook. His yards-per-reception averages have also begun to nosedive. If you own Ellington in a Dynasty league and can sell him for a young WR1, this is a good time to pull the trigger. From a re-draft standpoint, fantasy owners can try hanging their hats on last week's 20-159-2 rushing line by Jamaal Charles against Seattle's Brandon Mebane-less defense. I'm not one of them, but some football observers have compared Ellington to Charles in the past.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 20, Cardinals 13
St. Louis @ San Diego
After struggling to move the ball and score points on the Raiders last week, the stalled Chargers offense gets a much tougher test with a red-hot Rams defense. Over the past three weeks, St. Louis has sacked Colin Kaepernick eight times, slowed down Carson Palmer, and essentially shut down Peyton Manning en route to two big upsets and a Week 10 near-upset of Arizona foiled by ex-starter Austin Davis' fourth-quarter implosion. Clearly playing at significantly less than 100% health, Philip Rivers has completed 34-of-57 passes (59.7%) for just 331 yards (5.81 YPA) and a 1:3 TD-to-INT ratio over his last two games. Teammate Antonio Gates mentioned after last week's win over Oakland that Rivers has a "very severe rib injury" that is hindering his performance. He's a borderline QB1 start in this game. ... Rivers' target distribution the past two games: Keenan Allen 22; Malcom Floyd 11; Antonio Gates 8; Branden Oliver 5; Donald Brown and Eddie Royal 4; Ladarius Green 3; Ryan Mathews 1. ... Fantasy owners can no longer expect big stat lines from Allen, but he should be a "safe" fantasy WR3 the rest of the way based on sheer volume and receptions. Running fewer intermediate and vertical routes with Floyd healthy, and losing red-zone targets to Gates, Allen's yards-per-reception average has plummeted from 14.7 last year to 9.8 this year, but he's still on pace to catch 88 balls. ... Floyd paid fantasy dividends with a 4-44-1 receiving line against Oakland last week, but his outlook hasn't changed. He is a low-volume receiver who runs low-percentage routes, and will pay off when he scores a touchdown and/or catches a bomb. He has 50 or fewer yards in five games this season. The Rams have allowed the eighth fewest 20-plus-yard pass plays in the league, so I think this game sets up better for Allen than Floyd.
Keyed by long-armed WLB Alec Ogletree's athletic coverage, the Rams rank 24th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. Gates is never a bad bet for red-zone scores, but will obviously struggle to catch them when San Diego isn't getting into scoring position. And at this point in time, the Chargers' offense doesn't appear capable of moving up and down the field at will as it did so easily early in the season. Gates looks to be settling in as a lower-end TE1, although he's still a fine start in season-long leagues. ... Slot man Royal's Week 11 snap rate was 59% while No. 2 tight end Green played 43% of the downs. The Chargers are "multiple" on offense, diversifying with three-receiver sets and two-tight end packages. It means limited snaps and usage for both Royal and Green, who are bench fodder in fantasy leagues. ... Mathews looked sharp in his Week 11 return from a lengthy MCL injury, giving San Diego's previously-struggling rushing attack a chain-moving presence on inside runs, and making quick cuts. He finished with 75 total yards, seeing 17 touches and averaging 4.38 yards per carry. The Chargers attempted to "ease in" Mathews by pulling him for Oliver frequently, including on red-zone plays. Mathews' fantasy owners should be pleased that Oliver was inefficient, gaining just 36 yards on 13 runs with a three-yard catch. Oliver remains entrenched as San Diego's passing-down back, but Mathews should gradually separate himself in terms of carry distribution. I like Mathews as a fantasy RB2, but be aware that St. Louis has held 49ers, Cardinals, and Broncos running backs to 119 yards and one touchdown on 44 carries (2.70 YPC) over its last three games. Oliver is a low-upside flex option in PPR leagues.
Shaun Hill effectively managed last week's upset of Denver in a low-volume distributor role, completing 20-of-29 throws (69%) for 220 yards, including a 63-yard first-quarter scoring bomb to Kenny Britt. Strictly a game manager, Hill will be asked to avoid turnovers and get the ball out quickly Sunday, avoiding the Chargers' pass rush. This game has a low 43.5-point over-under with little chance of a shootout, and the Chargers' offense doesn't currently appear capable of pouring points on the Rams to force garbage-time attempts. Hill is a low-end two-QB-league play at best. ... Hill's target distribution against the Broncos: Britt 7; Jared Cook 5; Tavon Austin and Benny Cunningham 4; Stedman Bailey and Lance Kendricks 3; Tre Mason 2. ... Britt has logged receiving lines of 2-32-1, 3-31-0, and 4-128-1 since Brian Quick went on I.R. Despite last week's explosion where he beat Broncos rookie RCB Bradley Roby for a long touchdown, Britt remains on the WR3 fringe. I do think this is a reasonable week to start Britt at San Diego, as he projects to run most of his routes at RCB Shareece Wright, who probably wouldn't be starting right now were Jason Verrett (shoulder) healthy. ... Also working in Britt's favor is the possibility San Diego shuts down Cook. The Rams have no other viable pass catchers to speak of, and the Bolts allow the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Cook also missed practice time this week with a back injury. Avoid Cook and give Britt consideration if you're in a bind. ... Having clearly taken over as St. Louis' feature back, Mason established season highs in snap rate (68%) and touches (30) in last week's win over Denver. Cunningham remains the favorite for passing-game work and has vultured red-zone scores in the recent past, capping Mason's upside. But otherwise the improving rookie is a safe and solid RB2 with at least 18 touches in four of his last five games. Football Outsiders ranks San Diego as the NFL's No. 17 team in run-defense DVOA.
Score Prediction: Chargers 20, Rams 17
4:25PM ET Games
Miami @ Denver
Not only is his pass-catcher corps banged up, Peyton Manning gets a daunting Week 12 matchup against the upstart Dolphins, who over their last five games have held opposing quarterbacks to 98-of-170 passing (57.6%) for 1,022 yards (6.01 YPA) with a 4:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 15 sacks taken. Miami still hasn't allowed a 300-yard passer all season. Manning is a good bet to become the first, but this doesn't look like a particularly good week to start him on FanDuel. He's obviously still a top-shelf QB1 option in season-long leagues. ... Locked in as Denver's every-down back following Montee Ball (groin) and Ronnie Hillman's (foot) multi-week injuries, C.J. Anderson logged a whopping 93% snap rate in last week's loss to the Rams, the highest by any Denver running back all season. Anderson didn't get much going on the ground (9-29) against a St. Louis defense that is suddenly eliminating opposing rushing attacks, but caught 8-of-8 targets for 86 yards and graded out perfectly in nine pass-blocking chances, per Pro Football Focus. Juwan Thompson only played two snaps. Ostensibly locked in as the Broncos' workhorse, Anderson should be treated as an every-week fantasy RB1 playing in Peyton's offense, even against stout defenses like Miami's.
There was still a lot of uncertainty in Denver's pass-catcher crew when this column was published late Thursday. I'll have an update in this space ahead of Sunday's games. Emmanuel Sanders is going through the NFL's concussion protocol and appears questionable at best to face Miami. Julius Thomas' ankle injury doesn't seem severe, but he didn't practice on Wednesday or Thursday. ... If neither Sanders nor Thomas plays, Demaryius Thomas could be a usage machine, even in a challenging matchup with stout Dolphins CB Brent Grimes. As good as Grimes is, he's 5-foot-9, 177 to Demaryius' 6-foot-3, 224, and Peyton isn't afraid to throw to Thomas when he's "covered." ... When Orange Julius missed two games due to injury last season, Jacob Tamme registered stat lines of 5-47-1 and 1-3-0. He'd be a hit-or-miss streamer if Julius were ruled out for this game. The Dolphins allow the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... You could guess Wes Welker would take on a higher-volume role if Julius and Sanders missed this game, and you could come out looking smart or dumb. Welker hasn't been a big part of the Broncos' passing game at any point this year. He did see a season-high 93% of the offensive snaps last Sunday, but only caught four balls for 28 yards on six targets. He's a WR3 option in PPR leagues. ... The Broncos' Z receiver if Sanders is out would be either Andre Caldwell or rookie Cody Latimer. Caldwell played 49% of Denver's Week 11 downs, while Latimer didn't log a single snap. Latimer has a much higher ceiling than journeyman Caldwell, but neither is a reliable fantasy play.
Friday Update: Sanders returned to a full practice and is listed as probable. He should be a full-time player against Miami, and will have the best on-paper matchup in Denver's pass-catcher corps if Grimes indeed shadows Demaryius. Fins No. 2 corner Cortland Finnegan (ankle) will not play, forcing shaky sophomore CB Jamar Taylor into the starting lineup. Taylor has earned a negative coverage grade from Pro Football Focus in four of his last five games.
Friday Update II: It's not looking good for Julius Thomas, who is listed as questionable but didn't practice any day this week. My tentative expectation as of Friday is that Tamme will be Denver's primary tight end against Miami.
One of the most positive takeaways from Miami's Week 11 win over Buffalo was the return to full strength of Lamar Miller, who shook off a shoulder injury to torch a stout Bills run defense for 98 yards on 17 touches with a 5.73 YPC average, playing 51% of the snaps. He logged just 18% the week before. Denver has played stout run defense all year, but did show some cracks in last week's loss to St. Louis as Tre Mason ripped off a 29-113 rushing line. I'm not pretending this is a good matchup for Miller, but he'll be an RB2 in every game he plays the rest of the way. OC Bill Lazor's run scheme has kicked tail all season and Miller is a safe bet for 15-18 touches. ... If the Dolphins are going to stay competitive in this game, their likeliest route is to play their best defensive game of the year, embrace three-yards-and-a-dust-cloud offense, and get the ball out of Ryan Tannehill's hands as quickly after his dropback as possible. Miami's offensive line is a sitting duck versus Denver's defense, which is smarting after last week's embarrassment in St. Louis. Fins RT Dallas Thomas was battered and abused by Bills LE Mario Williams en route to 3 1/2 sacks in Week 11. Thomas will now tangle with flaming-hot Broncos SLB/LE Von Miller. Rookie LT Ja'Wuan James will have his hands full with Broncos RE DeMarcus Ware on the opposite side. In Denver facing one of the league's most talented defenses, it's hard to imagine trying to stream Tannehill, even though this game has theoretical shootout potential. Lazor will need a masterpiece game plan to slow down the Broncos' outside rush.
Tannehill's target distribution since Miami's Week 5 bye: Mike Wallace 44; Jarvis Landry 37; Charles Clay 36; Brian Hartline 21; Miller 15; Brandon Gibson and Damien Williams 10; Dion Sims 8; Daniel Thomas 7. ... Landry is a decent bet to lead the Dolphins in Week 12 receiving and should be a big part of Lazor's game plan. He runs quick-developing, high-percentage routes that mitigate edge rush. Landry's matchup could be challenging, however, as Denver has begun using stingy Chris Harris at slot corner in recent games, kicking rookie Bradley Roby out to RCB. Landry is a WR3 option in PPR, but a WR4 in standard leagues. ... Wallace is targeted heavily and has the most big-play ability on the Dolphins. His matchup is tougher on paper than Landry's, squaring off with LCB Aqib Talib, but Lazor is willing to move Wallace into the slot at times to improve his matchups. Wallace is a "movement-Z" receiver, a la DeSean Jackson last year in Philadelphia. Comfortably leading the Dolphins in red-zone targets, Wallace is an every-week WR2. ... Hartline has one touchdown through ten weeks and five TDs over his last 38 games. Don't get cute. ... Clay's week-to-week usage has been wildly inconsistent with Lazor at the controls, and he missed Thursday's practice with hamstring and knee injuries. The Broncos allow the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends, but Clay should be avoided at less than 100% health.
Friday Update: Clay as listed as doubtful, so expect blocking TE Dion Sims to start at Denver. You could logically project Landry to see a slight uptick in targets due to Clay's absence from the underneath passing game.
Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Dolphins 17
Washington @ San Francisco
After flopping spectacularly in last week's home loss to the previously one-win Bucs, Robert Griffin III has disaster written all over him entering a Week 12 road date with San Francisco. Minus LT Trent Williams (knee/ankle) and TE Jordan Reed (hamstring), Washington will take on San Francisco's top-four pass defense at significantly less than full strength and with turnstile rookie Morgan Moses "protecting" RG3's blind side. Griffin was so frenetic and lost in the pocket last week that the Redskins literally could not run coach Jay Gruden's offense. RG3 refused to throw to wide-open receivers. To make matters worse, Griffin publicly blamed his abysmal performance on his teammates. On Monday, Gruden acknowledged RG3's fundamentals have gone in the gutter. He's a quarterback at risk of an in-game benching, which removes RG3 even from two-quarterback-league consideration. ... Griffin's target distribution on the season: DeSean Jackson 24; Pierre Garcon 19; Roy Helu 14; Niles Paul 12; Andre Roberts 10; Alfred Morris 6; Jordan Reed 5; Logan Paulsen 2. ... Essentially phased out of Washington's offense this season, Garcon has gone seven consecutive games seeing six or fewer targets and is on pace for 76 receptions one year after catching 113. It's fair to wonder if the Redskins will release Garcon this offseason, which would free up $7.5 million in cap room.
Jackson is capable of paying off as a fantasy start with just one play, but he also presents major risk because he's dependent on the performance of an inconsistent and ultimately ineffective quarterback. D-Jax's stat lines in Griffin's three full games played this year are 8-62, 4-120-1, and 4-35. RG3 flat out missed him on two would-be bombs during last week's loss to Tampa Bay. I'd still lean toward starting Jackson, but fantasy owners should be holding their breath. ... Expect Paul to take over as Washington's primary tight end with Reed on the shelf. Paul flashed dynamic ability with 60-plus yards in each of Washington's first four games this season, but has been a non-factor ever since. The 49ers rank 15th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends and are more vulnerable to the position with ILB Patrick Willis (toe) on I.R. Who knows what to expect from RG3, but Paul is at least worth discussion as a TE1 streamer. ... Morris has seen 18-plus touches in four straight games and is an every-week fantasy starter because of it, but this is a game where flow could easily render him a fantasy dud. Not only is San Francisco ranked top six versus the run, but it's very conceivable DC Jim Haslett's collapsing defense could get gashed by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' offense. Morris is an obvious avoid on FanDuel. He's a risky, probably touchdown-dependent RB2 in season-long leagues.
I haven't been a big proponent of Colin Kaepernick in the Matchups columns because his on-field performances lack predictability due to maddening inconsistency week to week and even play to play. You never know what you're going to get from Kaepernick, who has legitimately elite physical tools but remains an unrefined pocket player. Most of the NFL's true dual-threat quarterbacks have this issue to varying degrees, from Cam Newton to RG3, and even Russell Wilson. Kaepernick's play is probably the most random of that group. All that said, this game sets up beautifully for Kaepernick at home against one of the NFL's weakest pass defenses. Redskins DC Jim Haslett's unit suffered numerous coverage busts during last week's loss to Tampa as Josh McCown poured 296 total yards and a pair of TDs on Washington in a 27-7 rout. I like Kaepernick as an upside QB1 against the Skins and as a cost-friendly FanDuel tournament play. If Kaepernick is going to have a monster week this year, this would be it. On the season, the Redskins have a 20:3 TD-to-INT ratio against. ... Another reason to believe Kaepernick may have to do heavy offensive lifting Sunday is the stoutness of Washington's run defense. Haslett's unit ranks No. 11 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and has limited enemy running backs to 3.73 yards per carry. The Redskins' front noticeably controlled the Buccaneers' offensive line in last week's game. The 49ers' line is much better than Tampa's, of course, but Washington now has NT Barry Cofield back and was for the most part stout even without him. Frank Gore is an RB2 based purely on volume, but expectations should be tempered in this difficult matchup.
Carlos Hyde's touch totals over his last four games are 5, 3, 4, and 10. He's not getting enough usage to be worthy of flex consideration in less-than-ideal matchups. Hyde did have an ideal matchup last week against the Giants, but came away with 30 scoreless yards. Avoid him this week. ... Kap's target distribution in the 2014 games where Vernon Davis has played most or all of the snaps: Anquan Boldin 68; Michael Crabtree 62; Davis 36; Stevie Johnson 29; Gore 13; Brandon Lloyd 11; Hyde and Vance McDonald 8. ... 23rd in fantasy wideout scoring on the season and quietly tenth among receivers in receptions (56), Boldin is an every-week WR2/3 in PPR leagues and has a good enough matchup and consistent enough role to be trotted out confidently in Week 12. ... Crabtree's production has been rockier than Boldin's, but Crab offers a higher ceiling. Crabtree's Week 11 snap rate was 76% -- his highest since Week 7 -- and he led San Francisco in targets (8), securing three for 85 yards with a touchdown. Crabtree has seen at least seven targets in five consecutive games. He's a volatile, if high-upside WR3 option against Redskins RCB David Amerson, who is PFF's No. 101 cornerback out of 112 qualifiers. ... The Redskins have allowed the 12th most fantasy points to tight ends. But the Giants allow the seventh most, and Davis went 1-7-0 on five targets against the G-Men last week. Davis hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 1, runs low-percentage routes, and there are whispers he isn't out there giving his all after the 49ers refused to satisfy his pay-raise demands in the offseason. He's been incredibly unproductive and therefore is incredibly hard to trust, even in the finest of matchups.
Score Prediction: 49ers 28, Redskins 13
Sunday Night Football
Dallas @ NY Giants
Sunday's Cowboys-Giants game involves an extreme mismatch as Dallas' dominant rushing offense takes on a Giants defense that has allowed the most rushing yards (1,450) and rushing touchdowns (13) in the league, and ranks 26th in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA. Giants DC Perry Fewell's defense has hemorrhaged 800 yards and six TDs on 143 carries (5.59 YPC) to opposing running backs over his last five games. DeMarco Murray is the best fantasy running back start in the league this week. ... This projects as a game Dallas will be able to control with its rushing attack, maintaining time-of-possession command and limiting Tony Romo's pass attempts. The Cowboys took that approach when these clubs played in mid-October. Romo threw the ball just 23 times, though three of them went for scores. Dallas held the ball for 34 minutes compared to the Giants' 26. I'd expect an efficient, but low-ceiling passing performance from Romo on Sunday Night Football. He'll be healthy coming off a Week 11 bye, but keep in mind Romo has recurring back problems, and the Cowboys fancy themselves a Super Bowl contender. They'll put Romo in harm's way as infrequently as possible down the stretch. Expect Murray to continue handling lots and lots of handoffs. Word out of Valley Ranch is this'll likely be Murray's final season as a Cowboy. His contract is up after the year, and the Cowboys won't be afraid to ride him into the ground.
Romo's target distribution on the season: Dez Bryant 82; Jason Witten 49; Terrance Williams 40; Murray 36; Cole Beasley 19; Lance Dunbar 15; Gavin Escobar 10. ... Despite Romo's limited passing volume, Dez went off for 9-151 on 13 targets when these clubs played in Week 7, and the G-Men have since lost RCB Prince Amukamara (torn biceps) to injured reserve. Dez is a top-shelf WR1 start in this matchup. He has a touchdown and/or 100-plus yards in eight of his last nine games. ... Williams is averaging 35 yards over his last five games with one touchdown during that span. He's averaging 4.7 targets per game on the season, and went goose egg in Week 10, before Dallas' Week 11 bye. Williams is a volatile, touchdown-dependent WR3 option. ... Witten has played himself back into low-end TE1 discussion by scoring a touchdown in three of his last five games. His targets have gone up while Williams' have gone down. The Giants allow the seventh most fantasy points to tight ends, although Witten could get stuck on the line blocking for long stretches if the Cowboys again control the clock. He only saw two targets in the Week 7 clash, securing both for 27 scoreless yards. ... There are more stable streamer options out there, but Escobar is worth a look if you're truly desperate. Dallas attacked New York with two-tight end sets in Week 7, with Escobar logging a 3-65-2 receiving line while playing a season-high 41% of the Cowboys' offensive snaps. Just be aware that Escobar has been a general non-factor in Dallas' other nine games.
The Giants' quick-hitting passing offense is designed in part to mitigate opposing pass rush, but New York's offensive line has been so bad that it hasn't mattered. The Giants' right side of RT Charles Brown and RG John Jerry caved in against the 49ers last week, resulting in seemingly countless hurried throws by Eli Manning, who wound up with five interceptions. In terms of both run and pass blocking, you could argue New York's front five is the worst in football. An early-season QB1, Eli has regressed into a shaky two-quarterback-league play, accounting for just two touchdowns but seven turnovers the past two weeks. Manning did produce in the Giants' Week 7 game at Dallas, going 21-of-33 passing for 248 yards and three touchdown passes. He's still not a viable streamer at this stage against an opportunistic Cowboys defense that ranks 14th against the pass and No. 10 in takeaways. Talent deficient and soft in the trenches on both sides of the ball, the bottom seems to have fallen out on the 2014 Giants. ... New York's rushing attack does get a Week 12 boost via the return of RT Geoff Schwartz, who's been activated from I.R./recall and is the Giants' best offensive lineman when healthy. Controlling the ball in order to simply have the capability of piling up rushing attempts is a feat few teams have accomplished against The Keepaway Cowboys, but when opponents do do it, Dallas' defense can be had. The Cowboys allow 4.89 yards per carry to enemy running backs. Back from his five-week MCL sprain last Sunday, Rashad Jennings dominated snaps (84%) in New York's backfield, handling 22 touches to Andre Williams' three. Jennings is a solid RB2 play in Week 12.
Eli's target distribution since the Giants lost Victor Cruz to a year-ending patellar tendon tear in Week 6: Rueben Randle 48; Odell Beckham 40; Larry Donnell 27; Preston Parker 19; Peyton Hillis 14; Andre Williams 11; Jennings 7; Corey Washington 6; Daniel Fells 3. ... Randle posted his first game over 90 yards all season in last week's loss to San Francisco, but still converted just seven of his 15 targets and dropped a pass, and three of the balls thrown his way were intercepted. Randle did go 6-74 on nine targets when these clubs played in Week 7. He's been a consistent, if low-ceiling WR3 in PPR, and is a borderline WR3/4 in standard leagues. ... Locked in as a legitimate WR2, Beckham gets a better Week 12 draw than Randle, squaring off with LCB Brandon Carr. Whereas Cowboys RCBs Sterling Moore and Orlando Scandrick are both top-30 cover corners in Pro Football Focus' grades, Carr is 102nd among 112 qualifiers. An Antonio Brown-ish talent, Beckham has a touchdown and/or 90-plus yards in five of his first six NFL games. And this matchup sets up very nicely for him. Trending upward, Beckham's target totals are 7, 11, 10, and 13 over his last four games. ... Although he's been a hit-or-miss fantasy TE1 for most of the season, Donnell dropped a 7-90 receiving line on Dallas in Week 7. The Cowboys have allowed the most receptions in the league to tight ends (66), and the third most fantasy points.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Giants 20
Monday Night Football
NY Jets vs. Buffalo
Jets-Bills has a 41.5-point over-under, up 2.5 points after this game was moved from snowstormed Buffalo to the Ford Field dome in Detroit. It's still the second lowest over-under of Week 12. ... Now ostensibly locked in as New York's starting quarterback, Michael Vick has gone 31-of-46 passing (67.4%) for 328 yards (7.13 YPA) and a 3:0 TD-to-INT ratio with 57 rushing yards through two starts. Jets OC Marty Mornhinweg has called plays very conservatively with Vick at quarterback, likely in an effort to keep him under control. Vick is just a two-QB-league option against the Bills, who will likely dominate in the trenches with their star-studded defensive line. Buffalo's defense is an excellent fantasy bet in this game. ... Vick's target distribution this season: Eric Decker 23; Percy Harvin 22; Jace Amaro 10; Jeremy Kerley 8; Chris Johnson 4; Jeff Cumberland 3; Greg Salas and T.J. Graham 2; Chris Ivory 1. ... Decker's stat lines are 9-63-1 and 3-24-0 in Vick's two starts, which provides very little clarity. He caught seven balls for 40 scoreless yards when the Jets played the Bills in late October. I still think Decker is a better WR3 option than he's billed to be, but you can't go in with big expectations. He hasn't topped 75 receiving yards all year. ... Harvin is averaging nine targets per game since becoming a Jet three games ago, and has racked up 11 rushing attempts. Mornhinweg goes out of his way to scheme Harvin the ball. It's translated to just one big week amongst three so far. But Harvin's usage rate keeps his floor and ceiling high. He's a viable fantasy WR3. Since playing only 53% of the snaps in his first week as a Jet, Harvin has logged snap rates of 84% and 67%.
Amaro, Kerley, and the rest of New York's pass catchers are non-factors in fantasy. Amaro is a streamer option to avoid against a Bills defense that ranks 25th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. ... The Bills rank No. 8 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA and have limited opposing running backs to 3.66 yards per carry on the season. Chris Ivory scored two touchdowns when these clubs met in October, but managed 43 yards on 13 carries and wasn't involved in the passing game. He's the only Jets running back worth fantasy consideration in this game, but Ivory is ultimately a TD-dependent flex play. ... Chris Johnson had a big game -- by his standards -- in Week 9 against Kansas City, totaling 101 yards. His role in Mornhinweg's offense hasn't changed, however. Johnson's snap rates over his last three games are 19%, 39%, and 28% with corresponding touch totals of 5, 13, and 8. I doubt Buffalo will have a hard time slowing him down.
The flaws of career backup quarterbacks tend to get exposed the more they play, and that's become the case for Kyle Orton. Increasingly a checkdown machine and unable to get anything going outside the numbers, Orton has gone 51-of-87 passing (58.6%) for 452 yards (5.20 YPA) and one touchdown pass over his last two games. Orton is still a smart enough player to get rid of the football and avoid high totals of sacks and turnovers, but he's played his way out of QB1 streamer consideration, even against the Jets' porous pass defense. Coming off a Week 11 bye, Rex Ryan had two weeks to dissect Orton's tape. After coach Doug Marrone offered Orton a tepid endorsement during his Monday press conference, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of E.J. Manuel entering if Orton starts slow. ... Orton's target distribution through six starts: Sammy Watkins 42; Robert Woods 35; Scott Chandler 32; Fred Jackson 23; Chris Hogan 31; Bryce Brown 20; Anthony Dixon 6; Chris Gragg 5; Marquise Goodwin 4; Mike Williams 3. ... Orton's checkdown tendencies do bode well for Jackson, who returns this week after resting his groin during last Thursday night's loss to Miami. In the absence of F-Jax, Orton has heavily targeted running backs and slot receivers, and Jackson is Buffalo's best passing-game back. A matchup with New York's top-four run defense makes Jackson a less attractive flex option in non-PPR leagues, but he should be in PPR lineups as a candidate for 5-8 receptions. This game sets up well for Orton to fire off a ton of high-percentage dump-offs.
Orton's unwillingness and/or inability to connect downfield is killing Watkins in the box score, but he's still worth firing up against a Jets team that has allowed 11 touchdown passes to wide receivers through ten games. The Jets don't have a cornerback capable of containing Watkins, who dusted Rex's defense for 3-157-1 on six targets when these clubs played in late October. Watkins is a realistic WR2 at domed Ford Field. ... Slot man Hogan and "Z" receiver Woods run possession routes and require heavy volume to pay fantasy dividends. Both have good hands and are capable of delivering decent PPR stat lines, as Hogan did last week against the Dolphins (7-74) and Woods accomplished in Week 10 against the Chiefs (6-52). Neither is a good bet for touchdowns. Hogan has been the more consistent producer of late. ... Chandler is another complementary player in Buffalo's passing game who lacks big-play ability and has cleared 40 yards twice through ten games. He went goose egg in last week's loss to Miami. Aim higher for a TE1 streamer. ... The Bills' running back workloads behind F-Jax are uncertain. When all three backs were active in Week 10 versus Kansas City, Bryce Brown played 36% of Buffalo's offensive snaps and finished with a team-high 16 touches, although Jackson was playing at less than 100% health. Anthony Dixon played 29% of the downs and touched the ball nine times. Because of his plodding running style, Dixon is the Bills' back least likely to have box-score success against the Jets' stout front. It's conceivable that Brown will stay involved in the old C.J. Spiller role, seeing in the range of 8-16 touches. Bills running backs should be ranked Jackson > Brown > Dixon for Week 12.
Score Prediction: Bills 20, Jets 13
Baltimore @ New Orleans
The over-under on Ravens-Saints is 50 points, second highest of Week 12. Host New Orleans is only a 3.5-point favorite, so a healthy dose of scoring is expected on both sides. ... Baltimore's likeliest means of offensive success will be with its running game at the Superdome. Ranked No. 28 in Football Outsiders' run-defense DVOA metric, the Saints are one week removed from coughing up a combined 31-174 rushing line to Bengals RBs Jeremy Hill, Cedric Peerman, and Rex Burkhead, who combined to average 5.61 yards per carry. It can't hurt that New Orleans has allowed the seventh most rushing TDs in football (10). Quietly seventh in the NFL in rushing yards (721) and second to only DeMarco Murray in 20-plus-yard runs (8), Justin Forsett is a legitimate fantasy RB1 in this matchup. ... A Jekyll & Hyde defense all season, Rob Ryan's Saints were carved up by previously-struggling Andy Dalton for 16-of-22 passing (72.7%), 220 yards, and three touchdowns in last week's home loss to Cincinnati. Joe Flacco is always difficult to trust as a QB1 streamer, but has a good enough matchup to pay off. The Ravens' offensive line is at full strength coming off its Week 11 bye, and Flacco should benefit from playing indoors, a factor that shouldn't be taken lightly by fantasy owners this time of year. At very least, Flacco is an excellent two-quarterback-league option.
Flacco's 2014 target distribution in games where Owen Daniels has served as Baltimore's primary tight end: Steve Smith Sr. 43; Daniels 38; Torrey Smith 36; Forsett 21; Kyle Juszczyk 13; Marlon Brown 10; Kamar Aiken 8; Crockett Gillmore 6; Lorenzo Taliaferro 5. ... Although Smith Sr.'s production has fallen off a cliff since a red-hot start, this is a logical bounce-back spot. The indoor environment helps, and Smith is returning from a bye to rest his 35-year-old legs. Because Steve Sr. moves around the formation so much, my guess is Saints top CB Keenan Lewis will either end up playing all left cornerback or shadowing Torrey rather than Steve. If Steve Sr. gets matched up with burnable RCB Corey White and slot CB Patrick Robinson as I suspect he very well might, a blowup performance could be in order. Treat Steve Sr. as a high-ceiling WR3 play. Although Torrey's scoring pace has picked up considerably since his sluggish start, he's still in the boom-or-bust WR3 category. It would be just like "89" to rip the cover off in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football. ... Another nod in Steve Sr.'s favor is the Saints' stymieing of tight ends. New Orleans has allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to the position. Daniels remains in the fantasy TE1 mix due to his high-volume role in OC Gary Kubiak's offense and this game's potentially high-scoring outcome.
The Saints' loss of Brandin Cooks creates opportunity for the rest of New Orleans' pass catchers. Although Cooks had been an up-and-down producer in his own right, he ranked second on the team in targets (6.9 per game) and receptions (53), behind only Jimmy Graham. The first-round pick was playing 73% of the snaps. I don't think we can say for certain that one specific Saints player will benefit, and it's conceivable that everyone will. I think the likeliest box-score beneficiary is Kenny Stills, who is left as New Orleans' only wideout capable of both handling a voluminous passing-game role and taking the top off of defenses. If Stills sees more targets -- and he definitely should -- he will have a higher fantasy floor while his ceiling stays intact. He's an upside WR3 against the Jimmy Smith-less Ravens. ... While Stills will run routes versus Ravens perimeter corners RCB Anthony Levine (a converted safety) and LCB Danny Gorrer (claimed off waivers November 4), Marques Colston will primarily do battle with Ravens slot CB Lardarius Webb. Webb has had a rough 2014, battling myriad injuries, but should be healthier coming off a bye. Colston is an increasingly stable WR3 option with Cooks out of the way, but I don't like his matchup as much as Stills' on paper. ... The Ravens allow the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends, but Graham obviously gets started every week. If I were forced to choose between Rob Gronkowski and Graham for Week 12, however, I'd go Gronk. I'm viewing Gronkowski as a must-start on FanDuel this week, both in tournaments and cash games. Pay up. He's worth it.
I think it's worth wondering if the removal of Cooks might actually help New Orleans' passing game. The offense should become more streamlined and defined, and Cooks' playmaking ability was all too infrequently put on display running so many routes at and even behind the line of scrimmage. The Ravens' front seven is nasty and will surely cause Drew Brees some problems on Monday night, but I'd expect him to have a big game attacking Levine and Gorrer. ... The expected return of Pierre Thomas (ribs/shoulder) should mean less for Mark Ingram's fantasy outlook than it does for Travaris Cadet, who may not even play after missing practice time this week with a hamstring injury. I'd be more concerned about Ingram if fellow early-down ball carrier Khiry Robinson (arm) were coming back. Robinson will miss another game, ensuring Ingram stays in the 18-24 touch range against Baltimore. The Ravens' run defense is stout -- they rank top ten in Football Outsiders DVOA and have held opposing running backs to 3.53 yards per carry -- but volume shouldn't be a problem for Ingram, who will remain a solid bet for a goal-line score. Perhaps he's more high-end RB2 this week than RB1, but Ingram should be in fantasy lineups. ... Thomas hasn't played since October 19 due to multiple injuries. Whether he'll be "eased in" against the Ravens remains to be seen. It's hard to imagine investing in Thomas after more than a month away, but his potency in the Saints' screen game was sorely missed. His return is good news for Brees.
Score Prediction: Saints 27, Ravens 21