Eric Mack
Sunday November 20th, 2011

Adrian Peterson's loss to an ankle injury hurts, but we might have found a new fantasy running back to go to in Kevin Smith. In street clothes just a few weeks ago, now Smith is in a Lions' uniform and his big game Sunday will get him in numerous fantasy lineups on Thanksgiving Day. Smith broke out in a barnburner against the Panthers with 140 yards rushing, 61 yards receiving and three touchdowns. That is the kind of production Jahvid Best owners have longed for while the former Lions starter has been dealing with post-concussion syndrome. The Lions and fantasy owners have to be wondering where Smith has been hiding. The secret is out now. Smith's problem will be a problem familiar to the Lions and five other teams this week: How do they bounce back in just a few days to play on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, Smith also gets the unbeaten defending champs that have a swarming run defense. That surely will present more of a challenge than the suspect Panthers run defense did. We will go into his viability for that one here, as we break down each game every week from a fantasy perspective in the Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

• Rob Gronkowski has to be considered the No. 1 tight end in fantasy now. He has the benefit of a great QB like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham, but he is even more of a focal point of his offense.

• Wes Welker had his worst week of the season, but running in the slot against the Eagles should get him productive again. He remains too promising to sit in any given week.

• BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a solid outing and he should be able to get more busy games like this down the stretch. He is a must-start against the Eagles next week. Rookie Shane Vereen picked up some garbage-time numbers over rookie Stevan Ridley and receiving back Danny Woodhead, but Vereen is still too far down the depth chart to warrant picking up in most leagues.

• Chad Ochocinco sunk right back into nothingness. Clearly, he isn't worth using in any leagues and hardly worth owning. He is still behind Gronkowski, Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and the backs among the Pats' targets.

• Tyler Palko wasn't any good, but he at least kept Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston moderately productive in garbage time. This was a favorable matchup, though. Next week against the Steelers will be a bad time to trust any Chiefs.

• Thomas Jones got a larger share of the carries over Jackie Battle, and Dexter McCluster was also more involved, but all of these options look like bad plays against the Steelers. The Chiefs are clearly going to more of a running-first team under Palko, but they aren't going to be very good at it, unless it is a real favorable matchup.

• DeSean Jackson rebounded with a solid game that could have been better if not for a boneheaded taunting penalty. Jackson should remain active in most leagues through thick and thin.

• Riley Cooper seems to have something decent going with Vince Young, because they work on the scout team together. Cooper only started because Jeremy Maclin was out, but Cooper might be a sleeper if Young gets another start.

• Young wasn't great, but he did enough to consider starting against the Pats if Michael Vick cannot go again. The Pats are a bottom-five team against QBs still.

• Save for a pair of long passes, the Giants offense didn't muster much against the maligned Eagles defense. Eli Manning suffered a letdown against a team he usually performs well against. Jake Ballard dropped three passes and Hakeem Nicks one. Mario Manningham was the biggest disappointment, though, reeling in just one short pass. The Saints next week shouldn't be able to stop Manning and the passing game as well next Monday night.

• Victor Cruz's performance makes him a must-start fantasy receiver and he might have even surpassed Nicks as Manning's go-to man. Cruz is just too productive to sit in any matchup.

• The Giants running game is atrocious. Brandon Jacobs is not worth starting in most formats, particularly with the expected return of Ahmad Bradshaw and the likelihood rookie speedster Da'Rel Scott gets more carries.

• There are reports Jay Cutler has a broken thumb that might even require season-ending surgery. That is real unfortunate, because Cutler has taken a significant step forward as a fantasy option with this performance. The Bears' replacement Chad Hanie, will make all of the Bears receivers worthless in fantasy crunch time.

• Philip Rivers was better, but still not great. He did make Vincent Jackson a star and he did get Antonio Gates in the end zone. The pixie dust wore off for rookie Vincent Brown, though. Brown isn't a week-to-week fantasy option, especially with Malcom Floyd's health expected to improve.

• Ryan Mathews was a bad play against the Bears defense, but he looks like a decent option against the Broncos, who are in the bottom half of fantasy against RBs.

• Rookie Jake Locker might have created a QB controversy with the Titans, throwing two late TDs in relief to Nate Washington. Washington clearly is Locker's man, so if Locker starts, you might consider starting Washington, too.

• Chris Johnson was awful again against an elite run defense, but the Titans schedule gets favorable against the Bucs, Bills and Saints. All those defenses are in the bottom half of fantasy against RBs. Stick with Johnson.

• Matt Ryan has steadily improved, which has kept Tony Gonzalez productive. Roddy White was outstanding with Julio Jones out. White's performance is an example why you stick with a receiver star like White when healthy. He pays you back.

• Jacquizz Rodgers quietly wasn't the one who spelled Michael Turner. Jason Snelling got seven carries. It makes owning Rodgers a lot less intriguing in those deeper leagues as a Turner handcuff. A healthy Snelling not only backs up Turner, but he will also get some goal-line touches.

• Frank Gore proved healthy and productive, but it is noteworthy Anthony Dixon was more effective than rookie Kendall Hunter in relief. Dixon can be a goal-line threat, too. He might be a quiet handcuff option to take as the 49ers limit Gore's workload before the postseason.

• Michael Crabtree rewarded his fantasy owner's patience, much like Vernon Davis has. Both figure to be solid fantasy options down the stretch, especially as the 49ers work on building their passing game for the postseason, too. Crabtree and Davis could both be very busy in the coming weeks. Kyle Williams caught a TD pass, but he isn't a great waiver-wire option. Braylon Edwards figures to get more throws in the coming weeks over Williams.

• Beanie Wells was a bad play against the 49ers' elite run defense, but he will be a must-start against the suspect Rams rush defense next week.

• After a surprising week against the Eagles, John Skelton found himself benched. None of the Cards QB options, even if Kevin Kolb is healthy enough to play, is worth considering in fantasy.

• This was Sam Bradford's chance to prove something better than completely worthless. You can cut and ignore him now in standard fantasy leagues.

• The Seahawks run defense is one of the more underrated ones in the NFL. They are a matchup to be worried about down the stretch for Redskins, Eagles and Rams (again). You might even consider the Seahawks D/ST a sleeper next week in fantasy.

• Marshawn Lynch extended his scoring streak. He should remain active in this favorable upcoming schedule.

• Kevin Smith is easily the must-have waiver-wire pickup of the week. You just shouldn't expect to use him against the Packers on a short Thanksgiving week. The Packers run defense is still tough, despite what the Bucs did to them this week. Smith goes for a surprising 201 total yards and three scores and should be picked up in all formats.

• Matthew Stafford snapped out of his mini funk with five TDs and will be a must-start against the Packers secondary that is in the bottom five of fantasy against QBs. Stafford didn't even need to hit Calvin Johnson on one of those scores, using his tight ends, back and secondary outside receivers in Nate Burleson and Titus Young. Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson are the only sure things in fantasy week to week still, though.

• Cam Newton, too, snapped a mini-funk, albeit with four interceptions. Newton has a dream matchup coming up against the Colts and should remain active in all leagues.

• The Colts are one of the worst teams in fantasy against RBs, too, so a revived D'Angelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart might both be good plays next Sunday. Williams has returned to the primary rusher, while Stewart is the receiving and goal-line back (when Newton's not running it in).

• Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey let us down in this one. The Panthers offense started out tight-end heavy and now we cannot trust either TE in fantasy during crunch time.

• Tony Romo has re-emerged as one of the best QBs in fantasy because of a favorable schedule. Thanksgiving Day against the Dolphins is a dream matchup, even if the Dolphins have played better of late.

• The Cowboys make everything easy on us in fantasy, using all of their primary weapons regularly. Jason Witten is back being a fantasy star, while Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant stay hot.

• Even Demarco Murray remained the primary runner with Felix Jones healthy again. Murray and Jones are not great starters against an emerging Dolphins run defense and on a short week. You might want to find a starter fill-in for them, especially if they split more carries on Thanksgiving Day.

• Rex Grossman isn't fantasy-worthy, but he has at least made Jabar Gaffney and maybe even Donte' Stallworth decent sleepers in deeper leagues. They are viable fill-ins next week against the Seahawks.

• Roy Helu got the bulk of the carries and should remain the starter and the Redskins should focus more on the running game in future weeks. The Seahawks are decent against the run, but Helu should be a better starter next week than he was against the Cowboys.

• James Starks, and Ryan Grant for that matter, failed us against the worst team in fantasy vs. RBs. It shows just how little Starks or Grant are useful to us. Starks, who has a knee strain, at least was active in the passing game, but you need to be desperate in crunch time to use a Packers RB. You should not use either on the short week against a tough Lions defensive front.

• Jordy Nelson has become a must-start receiver. His 123-yard, two-touchdown effort seals it. He has outperformed all of the Packers receivers, even Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley.

• Donald Driver has been used more in recent weeks amid James Jones' issues with dropped passes. Jones should not be used in any leagues now. Driver looks like a decent sleeper now.

• Josh Freeman finally had a decent fantasy day, making Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn useful again finally. Their next matchup at the Titans might be a good week to go back to them if you need them to start for you.

• LeGarrette Blount came through huge in a tough matchup. The Packers run defense just failed to bring him down on a 54-yard TD run and he went over 100 for the game -- a good sign to put him back on every-week starter status.

• The absence of A.J. Green was Jerome Simpson's gain. He looks like he could be a must-start fantasy option if Green remains out. The emergence with 152 yards here might even make him a strong option next week against the Browns if Green is active.

• Andre Caldwell was a one-week surprise we wouldn't trust, especially because those throws could go more to Jermaine Gresham in future weeks. Gresham was facing an elite team in fantasy against TEs.

• Andy Dalton had another mistake-filled game against an elite defense, but he still hasn't looked like a rookie. The matchup against the Browns should be a bountiful one for him an all of his targets.

• Cedric Benson was effective in a tough matchup, scoring twice. He is a must-start in all leagues regardless of the matchup down the stretch.

• Torrey Smith is quiet one week and a monster the next. It makes it tough to trust him, but the huge weeks might make him worth it to keep him active going forward.

• Joe Flacco wasn't great, but he was good enough in this matchup with two touchdowns to consider using him against the 49ers on Thanksgiving night. Ray Rice is going to have the toughest matchup in that one, so the passing game might be leaned on heavily there. You still shouldn't sit Rice, by the way.

• Adrian Peterson's health is going to be paramount of importance this week. A limited Peterson against the Falcons run defense could be a tough play. Unfortunately, Toby Gerhart couldn't establish anything against the Raiders' suspect run defense.

• Christian Ponder wasn't good here, but he was at least good enough to finally make Percy Harvin productive with 73 yards and a touchdown.

• Michael Bush cracked 100 yards with a score again, but the return of Darren McFadden (foot) in Week 12 might relegate him back to the bench.

• Carson Palmer might be a winner now for the Raiders, one producing solid fantasy numbers, but he has effectively made a mess of the Raiders' fantasy receivers. Denarius Moore was nonexistent here, while Darrius Heyward-Bey made a small return, it still wasn't a fantasy-worthy one. Kevin Boss was better, too, but still not good.

• The Dolphins run defense is legit. They shut down Fred Jackson (calf) here and look like they could slow the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Beware Murray owners. Jackson might be a tough play if the calf issue makes him questionable on the injury report this week.

• Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush are splitting carries, but Bush is the one getting the pass receptions and touchdowns right now. The Cowboys have a solid run defense, sometimes an elite one, but Bush will remain a factor as a receiver. Thomas is the one to sit against Dallas.

• Rookie Charles Clay made a surprising impact as a receiver, but he is not one to pick up, particularly against Dallas. The Dolphins have Thomas and Bush to use in that role in future weeks.

• Brandon Marshall was proving consistent, but he had another embarrassing drop in this one and has to be a frustrating player for fantasy owners. Dallas isn't a tough matchup for receivers, but you might want to avoid the frustrations.

• Who would have thought Matt Moore would be outplaying Ryan Fitzpatrick this time of year? No one could have seen this. Fitzpatrick's struggles have coincided with Stevie Johnson's health issues. All of the Bills are bad plays against the Jets next week.

• Chris Ogbonnaya was outstanding against a decent Jags run defense, going for 115 yards and a touchdown. The matchup next week against the Bengals is tougher, but not insurmountable to keep him out of your starting lineup -- especially if Montario Hardesty or Peyton Hillis still aren't healthy.

• Colt McCoy was just good enough to win, while Greg Little and Josh Cribbs have become the go-to men over the tight end Ben Watson. Watson is no longer useful to fantasy owners, while Little and Cribbs are low-end sleepers if you're desperate. Just don't consider any of the Browns receivers against the Bengals secondary if you can help it.

• Blaine Gabbert might be one of the worst fantasy QBs, despite his ability to avoid mistakes Sunday. He did make Marcedes Lewis a factor at tight end again. Lewis used to be a top-five tight end, so consider him a sleeper if you have a need at the position.

• Tim Tebow might have earned a regular spot in your starting lineup down the stretch with his performance against an elite defense. Most of his damage was done on the final drive, but his schedule down the stretch is far more favorable. He could be a valuable fantasy starter, even if he doesn't throw the ball.

• Shonn Greene failed us again in a favorable matchup, leaving with an injury that might not keep him out but will likely keep us from trusting him in our fantasy lineups. Joe McKnight fumbled but he looked more effective than Greene has been. Both are question marks, particularly if LaDainian Tomlinson is available next week.

• Mark Sanchez sealed his fantasy fate for 2011: He is merely a backup and not worth trusting in crunch time. He has been unable to make Santonio Holmes an elite receiver, while Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller look like mere marginal options.

• The Broncos' running game expectedly struggled, but at least Willis McGahee was able to play and he will have a few extra days to heal before they meet the Chargers in a pivot division game. He has to be active for that.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com, including the Start 'em, Sit 'em, the Weekend Fantasy Watch List and his Sunday night staple: Fantasy Football Fast Forward. If you need a further clarification on lineups this week hit him up on Twitter. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy.

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