Eric Mack
Sunday November 27th, 2011

The NFL needs to thank fantasy football. After a pretty entertaining Thanksgiving Day slate, the early Sunday schedule featured nothing interesting, unless you're watching players instead of the teams and bad matchups. Scrolling stats and fantasy scores keep us all riveted on thrillers like the Panthers-Colts, Bengals-Browns, Cardinals-Rams, Titans-Bucs, Texans-Jags, Jets-Bills and Falcons-Vikings. Fantasy owners don't know how meaningless these games were, they just know they need to squeeze a couple more victories out before the fantasy postseason. To fantasy owners, this week was more important than any one prior. It is fantasy crunch time. We break down each game every week from a fantasy perspective in the Fantasy Football Fast Forward:

• The Giants D/ST is junk now. They are getting no pressure on the QB and the sacks -- they were once tops in the league -- have disappeared. It is exposing a banged-up secondary now, too. You don't want to be trusting against the Packers or Cowboys in the coming weeks.

• Mark Ingram looks healthier now and can be a viable starter in fantasy again -- even if Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles are still getting a large chunk of carries behind him.

• Victor Cruz has emerged as an elite fantasy receiver and a must-start in all matchups. He is borderline unstoppable right now, especially since Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham cannot stay healthy.

• The Giants cannot run or stop the run -- real problematic. It can help to get Ahmad Bradshaw back soon, but the Giants face some great run defenses down the stretch -- Green Bay, Dallas and the Jets. It makes Brandon Jacobs unusable in fantasy.

• Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are a nice debate for which TE should be picked first next year. The sophs have emerged as fantasy stars, making the position a bit deeper than we are used to.

• Lance Moore and Devery Henderson were used a lot more in a blowout, while Robert Meachem was not. The Saints will still frustrate us in fantasy by rotating the ball around, but Moore is at least the most consistent of this trio behind Graham and No. 1 receiver Marques Colston.

• The Steelers offense mysteriously sputtered against the Chiefs. Neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Rashard Mendenhall had a big day. It is a bit worrisome the Steelers might lose their aggressiveness in this soft spot in the schedule, but fantasy owners have to remain tied to Big Ben and Mendenhall down the stretch.

• Thomas Jones has taken back the primary rusher duties from Jackie Battle, a sign we cannot have confidence in any of the Chiefs backs. Jones, Battle and Dexter McCluster are in a full three-way time-share and none of them look capable of helping us in fantasy. The Chiefs face three very good run defenses in the Bears, Jets and Packers in the next three weeks, too. Don't use these guys -- or bother owning them for that matter. After that stretch of games, there will only be a handful of teams competing for free agents and you can get them back easily off waivers ... if you even want to.

• Tyler Palko has the same rough stretch of games. While we wouldn't dare us him in fantasy, we do have to limit the Chiefs fantasy options (err option) to Dwayne Bowe. Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin just don't look like viable plays at this point.

• Yet another backup quarterback winds up having a better rapport with a backup receiver. Caleb Hanie was terrible in the first half and serviceable in the second, making Johnny Knox a fantasy star. Knox just might be a go-to man for as long as Hanie keeps the job in Jay Cutler's absence, which will be for the rest of the fantasy season.

• The receiver roulette continues with Carson Palmer. We cannot trust Darrius Heyward-Bey or Denarius Moore as the Raiders just rotate their primary target so much week to week. No one has been consistent, so don't jump on Chaz Schilens or Luis Murphy.

• Palmer has a favorable schedule coming up in the next few weeks, so he can help fantasy owners get to the playoffs as a starter.

• Matt Forte suffered a letdown in a favorable matchup against the Raiders run defense and Marion Barber's scoring streak was snapped. Barber will continue to be a decent flex options with the backup QB in. The Bears need to focus on the running game and Barber will get enough chances in relief of Forte to remain viable as a flex.

• It is rare to see the Patriots be so clear about their go-to men. Tom Brady had another huge day against an improved secondary and made all four of his primary targets fantasy rocks. Aaron Hernandez even got back in on the action behind Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and Deion Branch.

• BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn't getting a ton of carries, but he was the beneficiary of scoring opportunities in the red zone this week. He should continue to become a larger part of the offense as the weeks wear on.

• Vince Young has a busy day, but he switched gears on us by making Jason Avant his most productive fantasy receiver. For as long as he starts, we should feel confident in DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek. Riley Cooper was a nice sleeper again, too.

• We should be long past the point of no-confidence in the Eagles defense. We might be gaining interest in the Pats defense, though, as a sleeper when the matchups are right.

• Norv Turner should get fired for this loss, if not now, by the end of the season. That vaunted passing game hasn't had any consistency. Philip Rivers hasn't kicked his slump and Vincent Jackson has been mysteriously absent for extended stretches.

• Ryan Matthews was as good as he has been as a pro, even if he didn't find the end zone. The Broncos have been a bend-but-don't-break defense, particularly against the run. Only the 49ers have allowed fewer rushing TDs.

• It might be time to consider the Broncos defense a sleeper fantasy unit when the matchup is right. The Chargers D/ST, on the other hand, is worthless.

• Tim Tebow continues to carry a team that has little business being a playoff contender. He is a decent low-end fantasy starter, whose schedule is not imposing down the stretch. He is going to help win fantasy games like he does NFL games, with smoke and mirrors.

• Other than Willis McGahee, Eric Decker is showing some consistency. He is a low-end receiver, because of Tebow's struggles with the passing game, though.

n Roy Helu might have arrived as a fantasy star. That was a decent run defense he chopped up for 108 yards and a touchdown. He is also used heavily out of the backfield, catching seven balls for 54 yards. Ryan Torain didn't even get a sniff. That bodes well for Helu here on out -- although we said that before.

n Say what you want about Rex Grossman, but he is an NFL quarterback and a fantasy sleeper when the matchup is right. It helps to have Santana Moss back, even if the production went to Fred Davis, Jabar Gaffney and Anthony Armstrong. Moss will be better in future weeks, but Davis is at least a consistent threat still.

n Marshawn Lynch's scoring streak continues -- this time with a receiving score. He has been one of the most consistent fantasy backs the past couple of months after a slow start. With Tarvaris Jackson's ineffectiveness, Lynch gets a large share of the offensive load. Lynch is a must-start in fantasy, regardless of the matchups. The toughest of run defenses he has already run through.

• Matt Leinart just cannot catch a break. He was off to a good start as the Texans' starter before leaving with a shoulder injury. The injury reportedly can force him out for the rest of the season. In typical backup QB fashion, he found a second tight end, Joel Dreessen for his TD pass. Rookie T.J. Yates took over, but the Texans clearly need a veteran now.

• Andre Johnson was bad in his return, but he has to remain active in all leagues.

• Arian Foster remained active, as expected, but with the backup QB(s), it was surprising to watch Ben Tate get used seldom. Tate will be better in future weeks, but not in the tough matchups in the next two games.

• Maurice Jones-Drew is immune to his bad team and QB controversy. He does get touchdowns, but he gets plenty of yards to remain confident in him.

• Mark Sanchez has risen for the depths of fantasy to have a strong day with four scores. The best part of this was he could his three primary receivers on them. It makes it easier for us in fantasy to trust Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress and Dustin Keller.

• Shonn Greene proved healthy, making Joe McKnight worthless again. Greene's upcoming schedule isn't overly imposing, so he is a viable starter.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick was revived in a matchup no one likely trusted him. He at least made Stevie Johnson useful for us again. Johnson was banged up, but this performance can give us some confidence in him and his health again. David Nelson also scored and is a decent sleeper in deeper leagues.

• C.J. Spiller takes over as the primary back for Fred Jackson, who is now out for the season. Spiller is a must-own. He will be a very good start in the coming weeks.

• After a slow start, Matt Ryan has been the fantasy monster we thought he would be this season. Roddy White also showed why we need to remain confident in him down the stretch, particularly with Julio Jones banged up. Harry Douglas has been a sleeper in Jones' stead. Jones was active and completely nonexistent.

• Jazquizz Rodgers wasn't useful here, but it is noteworthy to see Michael Turner get just 19 carries in a game the Falcons lead the entire way. Clearly, the Falcons are saving the high carries totals on Turner. Rodgers could be more of a factor in future weeks.

• Toby Gerhart held up well and scored against a very good run defense. Gerhart is going to be a great start against the Broncos if Adrian Peterson (high-ankle sprain) cannot go. There is no real reason for the Vikings to rush Peterson back.

• Percy Harvin has been revived under Christian Ponder. Ponder hasn't been great, but Harvin looks like a solid every-week starter now.

• Chris Johnson had a monster day against a bad Bucs run defense. The lack of a TD and the fumble made his fantasy numbers modest for the size of his performance, though. Johnson has a very favorable schedule in the coming weeks. This effort has to give you confidence in your first-half bust.

• Matt Hasselbeck was bad, but he did find Damian Williams for a score. Lavelle Hawkins was the leading receiver for the Titans, but Hawkins, Williams and Nate Washington are all a crapshoot. Use them as last-resort options.

• Mike Williams has put up decent weeks back-to-back. Kellen Winslow, too. Josh Freeman wasn't great -- not his 2010 form -- but at least we can use his primary receiver options now.

• LeGarrette Blount continues to prove to be a consistently solid fantasy starter. He should be great against the suspect Panthers run defense next week.

• The Colts were the perfect elixir for the ailing Panthers running game. D'Angelo Williams came through with a pair of scores and James Stewart did damage in his backup carries.

• Cam Newton and the Panthers receivers weren't good here, but Newton remains a solid fantasy start because of his work rushing and scoring on the ground. Steve Smith should remain active, too.

• Joseph Addai got the start at RB for the Colts but Donald Brown took over an was far more effective. Delone Carter didn't even get a sniff. He has been in the doghouse because of a fumbling issue. He is not even worth owning.

• Reggie Wayne has waked up as the Colts stick with the erratic Curtis Painter. Wayne might not be a sure thing, but he sure beats most No. 3 receiver options on name alone. With his contract coming up, he could be due for a solid finish.

• Quietly the Browns were No. 1 against QBs and WRs in fantasy, so Andy Dalton's performance is noteworthy. The late pass to A.J. Green really helped the final numbers. Green probably wasn't 100 percent, so Jermaine Gresham made an impact. The Bengals have a tough matchup next week against the Steelers, but Green and perhaps Gresham might be solid options for you.

• Cedric Benson won't be a great option against the Steelers, but he has at least proven healthy and a load-carrier for a team that focuses on defense and the running game.

• Peyton Hillis' return has rendered Chris Ogbonnaya useless. Montario Hardesty, too. They are all worthless the next couple of weeks against the Ravens and Steelers. If you own these guys and are fighting for a playoff spot, deal them if you still can.

• Greg Little is the Browns' leading receiver, even if Josh Cribbs had shown some promise. Jordan Norwood is not worth an add in any leagues, despite his receiving touchdown.

• Beanie Wells broke back out with a huge performance against one of the most forgiving run defenses in the NFL. It will be much tougher against the Cowboys, but Wells has earned must-start status when healthy.

• Wells' performance covered up John Skelton's ineffectiveness. It will be easier to go back to Kevin Kolb, which should revive a quiet Larry Fitzgerald.

• Sam Bradford showed some progress and has worked well with Brandon Lloyd. His lack of a secondary receiver and a bottled up running game hurt him here, though. The running game will be even worse against the 49ers next week. You still probably have to keep Steven Jackson active for that, though.

• James Jones jumped back into the mix on us, minimizing the impact of Jordy Nelson, Donald Driver and the disappointing Jermichael Finley. The Packers just have too many weapons to trust anyone but Greg Jennings and maybe Nelson.

• John Kuhn is clearly the Packers' goal-line back, which might make him the most important of their fantasy options at the RB position. Kuhn is a sleeper.

• Kevin Smith was a bad play in a tough matchup, but he looked good before he left with a mild ankle sprain. He should be able to play next week against the Saints. A healthy Smith is a good play.

• Matthews Stafford had another error-plagued game, which could be related to his injury woes. He is a viable start against the Saints, but not a surefire one.

• Laurent Robinson might be a must-start receiver in fantasy now. A Miles Austin return in a week or two could curtail that, though, so stayed tuned. You cannot be scared of his stretch schedule.

• Demarco Murray held up very well in a tough matchup. It is telling how little Felix Jones was used. Murray is a must-start running back right now. Jones is a must-sit.

• Matt Moore has played well, but he isn't fantasy viable for a playoff-caliber fantasy team. Brandon Marshall has rebounded nicely as must-start receiver, though.

• Reggie Bush continues to get a large share of the touches over Daniel Thomas. That could change in the closing weeks, but both backs are going to be viable in the right matchup down the stretch.

• This game was an expected dud for fantasy scoring outside of the defenses. Alex Smith proved to be incapable of carrying the torch when the running game is down, but we at least have a clear picture of his leading targets as Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. They are going to be a good starts in easier matchups.

• Ray Rice isn't having a great year, but his receptions keep him among the elite at his position in PPR formats.

• Frank Gore wasn't good and his carry totals figure to be limited while he is banged up and the 49ers are on cruise control for the playoffs. Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon are going to get larger roles.

• Torrey Smith continues to be an unpredictable receiver. He will have huge games and silent ones like this. It makes him merely No. 3 receiver in most leagues.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for, 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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