For the first time in two months, fantasy owners nearly have the entire NFL at their disposal this week. The Steelers and Panthers are the final two teams to go on bye, each sitting down in Week 12. That’s bad news for Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown owners, but the vast majority of fantasy owners are playing with a full deck for the rest of the season, beginning this week.
The All-22: How Josh Gordon's return can take the Browns to the next level
That does not mean the decision-making process is any easier. Injuries are still wreaking havoc across the league, taking a few players out of the mix. However, the most interesting situation in the NFL this week concerns a player making what could be a very triumphant return.
Josh Gordon will be on an NFL field for the first time in a regular season game since finishing off one of the greatest wide receiver seasons in league history. In case you need a refresher, Gordon caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games last year. He eclipsed 200 receiving yards twice last year, and put up at least 20 fantasy points in four different games. (On the flip side, Gordon had fewer than eight fantasy points just three times in 2013.)
That was last year, however. We’re concerned with what Gordon, who is by far the Browns' best weapon, will do for the remainder of the 2014 season. First of all, don’t be scared off by Brian Hoyer. Gordon did nearly all of his damage with the immortal duo of Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell at the helm last season. He should see somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 targets per game, getting the sort of attention from Hoyer that Jordy Nelson gets from Aaron Rodgers and Brown receives from Ben Roethlisberger. Cleveland’s next five games are against Atlanta, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Carolina. Gordon isn’t a guy who needs a good matchup to succeed, but it warrants mentioning that only the Bengals could potentially be considered a bad draw for a receiver.
Most importantly, this is Josh Gordon. If he weren’t suspended, he would have been considered, at worst, a top-three receiver and early-second-round pick. In more leagues than not, he would have gone in the first round. They may be a bit rusty, but he’s every bit the elite WR1 he was a year ago. Christmas or Hanukkah comes early for Gordon owners this season. He can help lead you to all the fantasy presents you imagined back in the summer.
With that, let’s get to the rest of our recommendations in the SI.com Start 'Em or Sit 'Em for Week 12.
The following recommendations are based on 12-team leagues that start one quarterback, two running backs, two receivers, one RB/WR flex, one tight end and one defense. Starters include the top-12 quarterbacks, tight ends and defenses and top-24 running backs and receivers. The remaining backs and receivers are considered for the flex position, with the best 12 players making it as starters.
Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons
Browns: Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, Josh Gordon
The Gordon experience is back in full swing, and you didn’t hold onto him this long or trade for him just to keep him on your bench in his first game of the season. There might be a little rust, but he has been working out during his suspension, and the Falcons have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to receivers. He is immediately a WR1. With Ben Tate now in Minnesota, both West and Crowell should get enough touches to finish inside the top 30 at the position this week. Crowell has been more explosive, but my preference is for West, who has gotten more touches over the last three weeks.
Falcons: Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White
The Falcons’ offense has been a disappointment this year, and the Browns have surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that this is the week Ryan breaks out of his slump, especially since both Jones and White have played well over the course of the season. Joe Haden is a fine corner, but he gets a little more credit than he deserves for being a shutdown type. There’s still a lot of explosion in this passing game, and that will shine through on Sunday.
Browns: Brian Hoyer, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, Miles Austin, Jordan Cameron (concussion), Gary Barnidge, Browns DST
Fantasy owners definitely want to keep Hoyer around as a backup with Gordon back on the field. It will be very interesting to see how he plays with his star receiver in the fold. In the two games Hoyer started and finished last season, he and Gordon hooked up 14 times for 217 yards and a touchdown. If Gordon elevates this entire offense, there’s a chance Hoyer would be worth playing in the right matchups down the stretch. However, make sure you see it with your own eyes before plugging him into your starting lineup.
Falcons: Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman, Jacquizz Rodgers, Harry Douglas, Devin Hester, Levine Toilolo, Falcons DST
Jackson had a couple useful games in a row, and then laid an egg in a great matchup against the Panthers last week, running for 41 yards on 17 carries. The volume was encouraging, but he is just too unreliable with nearly a full complement of options available. Freeman has emerged as Jackson’s clear backup, and is worth owning in case the veteran goes down with an injury. The rest of these guys should be nowhere near a fantasy roster, let alone a starting lineup.
Tennessee Titans at Philadelphia Eagles
Titans: Bishop Sankey
Sankey did a few nice things for the Titans against the Steelers last week, but the numbers were still relatively ugly. He had 38 yards on 11 carries and caught one pass for seven yards. Luckily, he got in the end zone to give himself a respectable fantasy performance. He’s no better than a flex play this week, but his owners have to like the matchup. The Eagles have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points per game to running backs. If you’re deep at running back, you can probably do better, but if it’s a position of need, Sankey is a decent play this week.
Eagles: Mark Sanchez, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Sanchez may have had an ugly real-life performance, but 346 yards and two touchdowns, even with two interceptions, will always make him a start in fantasy leagues. Maclin rebounded with nine catches for 93 yards and a score, while Matthews continued to tear it up with Sanchez at the helm. He had five grabs for 107 yards and a touchdown, and now has 14 catches for 280 yards and four touchdowns since Nick Foles’ injury. You’ve probably long since given up on McCoy as an RB1, and while there’s plenty of justification for that, he remains an easy every-week play given his role in a potent offense. Brent Celek played more snaps than Ertz last week, but Ertz ran more routes. He had four catches for 55 yards, and is a low-end TE1 this week.
Titans: Zach Mettenberger, Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Nate Washington, Delanie Walker (concussion), Titans DST
The Titans just had their best offensive game with Mettenberger as the starter last week. Wright had four catches for 70 yards, while Hunter caught two balls for 48 yards. And yes, I did say best in the first sentence. Even with a great matchup against the Eagles, you don’t have any reason to invest in this passing game. Walker is a sit recommendation for now because of his concussion, but there’s a chance he will get back on the field this week. Thankfully, this is an early game, so we will know for sure if he’s playing before we have to set lineups. If he’s out there, he will be a low-end TE1.
Eagles: Darren Sproles, Riley Cooper, Brent Celek
Sproles’ usefulness has likely expired now that byes are all but behind us. He had four touches for 44 yards last week. He simply doesn’t get the ball enough to trust in most fantasy formats. Matthews had long ago passed Cooper in terms of fantasy value, but he finally played more snaps than him last week for the first time this season.
Detroit Lions at New England Patriots
Lions: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate
Stafford and the passing game never got going against the Cardinals last week, but that says more about Arizona’s defense than it does about Detroit’s offense. Even with a strong defense of their own, the Lions are going to have to score some points to have any chance of knocking off the Patriots in Foxboro this week. Expect Johnson to see a ton of Darelle Revis, which could spell big things for Tate. Bell picked up 85 yards on just 14 carries last week, and is in command with Reggie Bush still nursing an ankle injury.
Patriots: Tom Brady, Shane Vereen, Brandon LaFell, Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Patriots DST
Brady gave way to the Jonas Gray show last week, but you can expect the Michigan man to be back in command on Sunday, especially for fantasy purposes. The Lions have one of the league’s best run defenses, and Bill Belichick is an expert at going away from the strength of his opponents. Gronkowski is once again king of the tight end mountain, even if he isn’t throwing defenders out of the club. As Brady goes, so go Vereen, LaFell and Edelman. After what Gray did last week, this just has the feel of a game where Vereen will be featured in the passing game.
Lions: Reggie Bush (ankle), Theo Riddick, Jeremy Ross, Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew, Lions DST
All signs point to Bush getting back on the field this week, and that makes Riddick, who really only has value in full PPR leagues, an easy sit. Bush, too, belongs on your bench. After a great 2013 season, he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency this year. He has just one touchdown and one game with double-digit fantasy points. If you own the Lions defense, you’ll likely want to go in another direction this week. However, do not drop a player with value for a one-week defense. If that’s the situation you find yourself in, you’re much better off rolling the Lions out there and dealing with the consequences for just one week. All it takes is a couple sacks or takeaways for them to offset any damage Brady might do.
Patriots: Jonas Gray, Danny Amendola, Tim Wright
It’s not often that you sit a guy after he runs for 200 yards and four touchdowns, but that’s exactly what you should do with Gray this week. The Colts have one of the worst run defenses in the league, and presented the Patriots with a golden opportunity to feature Gray on the ground. The Lions are essentially the polar opposite. While Brady has no issue with checking to a run if the defense tries to sit back in coverage, the Lions have too much muscle along their defensive front to think that Gray will be able to do even half of what he did against Indianapolis a week ago.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Packers: Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Packers DST
Say what you will about the Broncos, Patriots and Colts, this is the best offense in the league, and that’s because it is directed by the best player in the league. Rodgers has 2,748 yards, 28 touchdowns and three interceptions this year, and he has sat out all or most of the fourth quarter in three different games this passes just once since Week 3, and he racked up 418 yards and ran for a score in that game. If you’re invested in this offense, you should enjoy the final six weeks of the fantasy season.
Vikings: Kyle Rudolph
Rudolph wasn’t targeted in his first game back from injury, but he played a decent chunk of Minnesota’s snaps without incident. I’d expect him to be more involved in the passing game this week at the expense of Rhett Ellison, who found the end zone against Chicago. With the tight end crop so thin behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Rudolph is a low-end TE1.
Packers: Davante Adams, Andrew Quarless, Richard Rodgers
Both Quarless and Rodgers have played more than half of Green Bay’s snaps the last two weeks, marking the first few times all year the Packers had deployed a significant number of double-tight sets. What’s more, they both had just three pass blocking assignments last week, according to Pro Football Focus. This wasn’t a case of the Packers trying to get maximum protection for Rodgers. Neither should be on your radar, but it is a situation that bears watching.
Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Charles Johnson, Vikings DST
The one name above that might surprise you is McKinnon. My thinking is that he’s a low-end RB2 at best, and someone who needs to benefit from game flow to come through for his fantasy owners. I see this as an ugly game for the Vikings, one in which they struggle to generate much offense in the first half. While there will be an opportunity for garbage-time production, I think that will benefit the receivers more than McKinnon. For all his explosion, he has yet to find the end zone this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts
Jaguars: Denard Robinson
Despite another terrible season, there have been a few bright spots for the Jaguars in the form of young players who can be a part of a potential turnaround for them in years to come. Robinson is such a player. In four games as the starting running back, he has 389 yards and four touchdowns. You saw what Jonas Gray did to the Colts last week, and if the Jaguars have any chance of pulling off the upset on Sunday, they’ll need to ride Robinson similar to the way the Patriots did with Gray.
Colts: Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Coby Fleener, Colts DST
As is usually the case with whoever plays the Jaguars, you want all your fantasy-relevant Colts active this week. Luck has thrown for at least 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in all but two games this year. Richardson is the same lackluster player he has always been, but now that he’s the feature back in a prominent offense, he should at least volume his way to RB2 production, especially in a matchup like this. With Dwayne Allen nursing an ankle injury, Fleener could be a top-five tight end. He had seven catches for 144 yards with all the tight-end production to himself a week ago.
Jaguars: Blake Bortles, Toby Gerhart, Allen Hurns, Cecil Shorts, Marqise Lee, Clay Harbor, Jaguars DST
With Allen Robinson out for the year due to a stress fracture in his foot, Hurns and Shorts each have some WR3 juice. I’d be happy to own them as a contingency plan in case of an injury to one of my starters, but I don’t want to count on either of them in my regular starting lineup. As for this week, I expect the Jaguars to do the best they can to follow New England’s game script from last week. That means as much Robinson as possible.
Colts: Dan Herron, Hakeem Nicks, Donte Moncrief, Dwayne Allen (ankle)
Herron is going to have a role in the Indianapolis offense with Ahmad Bradshaw out for the season. He’s worthy of being owned until we see with our own eyes what that role is, but he should be nowhere near a starting lineup this week. If you regularly start Allen, you’ll want to be abreast of his practice participation this week. If he is able to get some work during the week and play on Sunday, you can feel free to deploy him as usual. For now, he’s on the outside looking in. As for Nicks, he has been a favorite of Luck in the red zone, and while that hasn’t translated into a ton of fantasy production, I think his presence only increases with Bradshaw out. Add him if you can, but don’t start him.
Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans
Bengals: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard (hip), A.J. Green
Dalton bounced back from his worst game as a pro to throw for 220 yards and three touchdowns last week. He would benefit from a Bernard return this week. Hill has rushed for more than 150 yards in two of his three starts in place of the injured Bernard. He now has 110 more yards than Bernard for the season on just four more carries. Even if Bernard returns this week, which appears likely, Hill has to have a significant role in the offense. Bernard has been practicing, albeit in a limited fashion, but it appears he will get back on the field on Sunday. Green played in 90 percent of Cincinnati’s snaps for the first time since injuring his toe, and had six catches for 127 yards and a score last week.
Texans: Arian Foster (groin), Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins, Texans DST
The Texans have an injured running back of their own, but it looks like Foster will be able to return after missing last week’s game with a groin injury. They, too, have a capable backup, but Foster will squeeze out Alfred Blue if he is back for Houston. From a purely statistical standpoint, Ryan Mallett didn’t really affect Johnson or Hopkins that much last week, as both posted lines indistinguishable from their time with Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter. Consider Hopkins a WR2 and Johnson a flex or WR3 this week.
Bengals: Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Jermaine Gresham, Bengals DST
Sanu isn’t a terrible play this week, but there are a few factors working against him. First, with just two teams on bye, fantasy owners should have nearly all of their resources available to them. Second, with a healthy Green and potentially returning Bernard, there’s a chance that Sanu will be the third option in the Cincinnati passing game this week. He’s a low-end WR3 heading into Week 12.
Texans: Ryan Mallett, Alfred Blue, Garrett Graham
Blue racked up 156 yards on 36 carries last week in Houston’s win over Cleveland, but all he likely earned for himself is a token amount of carries spelling Foster on Sunday. So long as the veteran is healthy, Blue is going to have a marginal role in the Houston offense. Mallett played well enough from a real-life standpoint for the Texans to get a win in his first start, but he still does not register on the fantasy radar, unless you’re in a two-quarterback league. Even in those formats, he’s a QB3.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
The Jets were on a bye last week, which had essentially zero impact on the fantasy community. All we really missed was an easy secondary to exploit.
Bills: Sammy Watkins, Bills DST
Watkins has had a few down games in a row now, posting fewer than 40 yards in each of the last two weeks. The Jets, however, could be the cure for what ails him and his owners. They’ve allowed the 10th-most points to receivers and third most to quarterbacks so far this season. It has been an up-and-down season for Watkins, but there are still more ups in his future, beginning this week. The Bills lead the league by a wide margin with 39 sacks. Philadelphia is second with 33.
Jets: Michael Vick, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, Jeremy Kerley, Jace Amaro, Jeff Cumberland, Jets DST
Ivory, Harvin and Decker could all slot as starters, depending on your roster composition. The Bills, however, present a terrible matchup. They’ve allowed the sixth-fewest points to running backs, seventh fewest to quarterbacks, and are no better than neutral for receivers. The first time these two teams played, the Jets got fewer than four yards per play. Ivory did score twice, but he had 43 rushing yards on 13 carries, an average of just 3.3 yards per carry. Amaro led the team with 51 receiving yards in that game. There’s usually not much to like about the Jets from a fantasy standpoint, and that has never been more true than it is this week.
Bills: Kyle Orton, Fred Jackson (groin), Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Robert Woods, Scott Chandler
Jackson is expected to get back on the field after missing last week’s game because of his lingering groin injury, but he’s not an advisable play for fantasy owners. We saw Jackson rush back to the field two weeks ago, only to aggravate the groin injury that was supposed to cost him four weeks in the first place. Even if he is able to play on Sunday, fantasy owners have to be worried about that same scenario playing out again. On top of that, the Jets have allowed the seventh-fewest points per game to running backs this year. Orton is nearly worth playing given the Jets’ struggles against the pass this season, but there's a restrictive ceiling on his production.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears
Buccaneers: Josh McCown, Charles Sims, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson
McCown has played very well since getting back in the starter’s chair, throwing for 589 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in the last two weeks. The Bears have allowed the most points per game to quarterbacks last year, so expect McCown to have success against the team he nearly helped lead to the playoffs last season. Evans is a rock-solid WR1 after his breakout run of the last three weeks, while Jackson is still getting enough targets to make him a low-end WR2, especially in this matchup. Sims outsnapped Bobby Rainey last week 33 to 19. We expected his takeover of the backfield to be gradual, and that is exactly how it has played out to this point. There’s little doubt he’s the man for the Buccaneers.
Bears: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett
Everyone was down on this offense after two dreadful performances against the Patriots and Packers, and then they reminded the fantasy community why it was so lusted after at the beginning of the season. Cutler threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns -- plenty of production to offset his two picks. Jeffery and Marshall both had WR1 days, while Forte piled up 175 yards from scrimmage. Remember, they fell into such deep holes against two of the best teams in the league, that they were in terrible offensive situations throughout those games. Everyone involved, with the possible exception of Bennett, should have a monster day on Sunday.
Buccaneers: Bobby Rainey, Doug Martin, Louis Murphy, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Buccaneers DST
Rainey’s second flirtation with fantasy relevance this season has come and gone. He played 14 fewer snaps than Sims last week, and got just five carries and one target. It likely didn’t help that he ran for a total of four yards on those five totes. Sims may be the running back of the future for the Buccaneers, while Rainey is best cast as a change-of-pace guy. He’s going to have a role in their offense for the remainder of the year, but chances are he doesn’t get double-digit touches in a game again this season.
Bears: Marquess Wilson, Bears DST
Just like with the Packers, if a third receiver could emerge from the Bears, he would be a sneaky fantasy weapon. Wilson had some buzz coming into the season before breaking his collarbone in training camp. He likely won’t make much noise this year, but pay attention to his role and production with an eye on 2015.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks
Cardinals: Andre Ellington, Cardinals DST
Ellington’s production has slowed in recent weeks, but he’s still getting 20-plus touches per game. This will be a tough matchup for him, especially considering that he has 65 yards on 37 carries in the last two weeks. So long as the volume is there for Ellington, though, he’s an RB2 at worst. The Cardinals’ defense is built to slow down the sort of rushing attack featured by the Seahawks. If they can keep the run game in check, they should be able to force Russell Wilson into a mistake or two.
Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks DST
Lynch may not be happy with the Seattle front office, but it isn’t stopping him from being one of the most effective fantasy running backs in the league. In his last three games, which also happen to be the first three since September in which he got at least 20 carries, he has a total of 331 yards and six touchdowns. He surpassed 120 yards twice, and in the one game in which he didn’t get to that threshold, he hit paydirt two times. Much like the Chiefs, the Seahawks’ playoff hopes are built on the run game and a strong defense. If they lose on Sunday, all hope for winning the NFC West is lost.
Cardinals: Drew Stanton, Larry Fitzgerald (knee), Michael Floyd, John Brown, John Carlson
It may seem unlikely that not one of the Arizona receivers finishes this week as at least a WR2. In most circumstances, I would agree. However, it all hinges on Fitzgerald’s ability to play through a knee injury. If he is able to play, then one of these three, most likely Fitzgerald himself, will be a recommended start. If he is out, though, the domino effect on Floyd and Brown will be significant. In that event, Floyd will see a ton of Richard Sherman, and Brown will have to play outside, where he is far less effective. Nearly two-thirds of his yards and three of his five touchdowns have come out of the slot this year.
Seahawks: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, Luke Willson, Cooper Helfet
So long as people keep asking me about Wilson, I will keep on beating this drum. He can only be trusted as a fantasy starter in games in which he figures to do damage with his legs. He has thrown for fewer than 200 yards six times this season, including each of the last four weeks. Colin Kapernick did run for 54 yards against Arizona, but he needed 13 carries to get there, and the 49ers struggled to move the ball all game.
St. Louis Rams at San Diego Chargers
Rams: Tre Mason
Last week’s improbable Rams’ win over the Broncos displayed exactly what kind of game script Mason needs to be an effective fantasy running back. The Rams got up early, and protected a semi-comfortable lead for most of the second half. As such, Mason ran 29 times for 113 yards. The efficiency wasn’t great and he had just two targets, but he got plenty of volume a week ago. I think the chances of a similar script are great enough here to roll out Mason as a flex play in Week 12.
Chargers: Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates
Mathews looked great in his first game since Week 2, running for 70 yards on 16 carries. He ceded 13 totes to Branden Oliver, but chances are that number decreases with each successive week. The Rams have been relatively tough on running backs this year, but with the Chargers’ offense struggling over the last month, expect them to get the one missing piece significantly involved on Sunday. Gates is the lone pass catcher in San Diego worth trusting, but that admittedly has a lot to do with the shallowness of the tight end pool. He has just six catches for 60 yards in his last two games.
Rams: Shaun Hill, Benny Cunningham, Zac Stacy, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Jared Cook, Lance Kendricks, Rams DST
Britt had a big game last week, catching four passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. He led the team with seven targets, and has always been the most obvious beneficiary of Brian Quick’s season-ending injury. Having said that, do you really want to invest in the St. Louis passing game if you don’t have to? Britt had done nothing all season before last week, and there isn’t much value in this offense as a whole. Last week’s win over the Broncos seemed more like the confluence of a number of factors resulting in a fluky performance, not the sign of things to come for Hill and the Rams. You should continue ignoring this group.
Chargers: Philip Rivers, Branden Oliver, Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
There's no question that there's something fundamentally wrong with the San Diego offense. The question is was this ever a good offense in the first place, or did it benefit from a few soft matchups early in the season? I believe it is the latter. The Chargers won five straight games, putting up at least 30 points in four of those contests. The first was against the Seahawks, which looks a lot less impressive now than it did in Week 2. The other three were against the Jaguars, Jets and Raiders. Since then, they’ve gone 1-3 and scored a total of 47 points. I don’t have much faith in Rivers and this passing game, and neither should you.
Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos
Dolphins: Lamar Miller, Mike Wallace
Miller was supposed to be limited for the second straight game last week, but he looked great in a tough matchup against the Bills. He ran for 86 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for an additional 12 yards. By time he and the Dolphins take the field on Sunday, he will have had another 10 days for his ailing shoulder to heal. The Broncos have been tough on running backs this year, but Miller is a safe RB2 for Week 12. It was another down week in terms of production for Wallace, but he led the team with seven targets. He’s a WR3 or a flex play this week, but the fact remains that he continues to get the most opportunities to make plays in the passing game.
Broncos: Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders (concussion), Julius Thomas (ankle), Broncos DST
Manning had his worst game of the season last week, throwing for 389 yards, but just one touchdown and two interceptions in a shocking loss to the Rams. The bet here is that he bounces back in a big way this week. The last time Demaryius Thomas had less than 100 receiving yards in a game, AL Cy Young Corey Kluber struck out 14 Twins on the same day. Julius Thomas is expected to suit up, and, for now, Sanders is, as well. Be sure to keep an eye on Sanders’ practice participation, however. This one could be trouble for fantasy owners, as the Dolphins and Broncos don’t kick off until 4:25 ET. With Ball and Hillman sidelined, Anderson becomes a rock-solid RB1, regardless of matchup.
Dolphins: Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Brian Hartline, Charles Clay, Dolphins DST
Tannehill’s 240-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Dolphins may not have been one of his biggest fantasy games of the season, but he made some very impressive plays in the face of pressure from one of the league’s best defensive lines. We’re mainly concerned with fantasy football here, but Tannehill looked like a great real-life quarterback last week. And yet, that doesn’t always translate to the fantasy field. He’s not far outside the starting class this week, but the quarterback position is as deep as ever. Landry came up with another touchdown last week, but he just doesn’t do enough in the yardage department to consider starting in standard formats.
Broncos: Montee Ball (groin), Ronnie Hillman (foot), Wes Welker
This is all pretty academic. Ball and Hillman will both be inactive due to their injuries, while Welker is the fourth option in the Denver passing game. If Sanders is forced to sit out because of his concussion, Welker would be a WR3.
Washington Redskins at San Francisco 49ers
Redskins: Alfred Morris, DeSean Jackson
Morris continues to chug right along as one of the most underappreciated running backs in the league. While everything fell apart for Washington last week, he ran for 96 yards on 20 carries, and caught two passes for 36 yards. The 49ers stand as one of his toughest tests to date, and he has come up short against strong run defenses, most notably Seattle and Arizona. However, he’s also the most consistent weapon for Washington. Expect him to get fed on Sunday. Jackson’s skill set and the up-and-down play of Robert Griffin each naturally lend to boom-or-bust games for the receiver, but he has to be started, unless you are very deep at the position. He has had fewer than five fantasy points four times this season, including last week. He followed up the three previous ones with 100-plus yards each time.
49ers: Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, 49ers DST
It seems that every time the 49ers stumble, they get back to featuring Gore. After their first two-game losing streak this season, Gore racked up 226 yards on 42 carries in the next two weeks. The Niners have won two straight after their most recent two-game bender, and Gore has been at the center of it again, running for 176 yards on 42 totes. At this point, they should know where their bread is buttered. Boldin was quiet last week, but one of him or Michael Crabtree has been, at worst, a WR2 in four of the last five weeks. I’ll take my chances on Boldin.
Redskins: Robert Griffin, Roy Helu, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed (hamstring), Niles Paul, Redskins DST
No matter how you look at it, Griffin played terrible quarterback in what should have been a great matchup last week. He missed open receivers, made poor reads, and generally shot the offense in the foot. At this point, he cannot be trusted as a starter in traditional one-quarterback leagues. Garcon has just two red-zone targets this year, which is shocking and at least partially explains why he has been such a huge bust this season. Reed just cannot stay healthy, but Paul is not worth starting in the event that Reed is out, especially since you’d likely have to roll the dice with this game starting in the late afternoon.
49ers: Colin Kapernick, Carlos Hyde, Michael Crabtree, Steve Johnson, Vernon Davis
Kaepernick falls just outside the starting group in what should be a good matchup for him. That was also the case last week, but he ran for just 24 yards against a Giants defense that had allowed 107 yards and a score to Russell Wilson the previous week. Kaepernick has faced many of the same issues as Wilson this year, just with a bit more passing success and not nearly as much on the ground. He hasn’t run for more than 50 yards in a game since Week 4. Hyde is well worth a stash just in case Gore’s 31-year-old body catches up with him at some point.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Cowboys: Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST
The Cowboys played Jacksonville two weeks ago, had a bye last week, and now visit the Giants this week. There’s no evidence that playing the Jaguars or Giants is much different than being on a bye. In the Cowboys’ first meeting with the Giants this year, Romo threw for 279 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, Murray ran for 128 yard and a score on 28 carries, and Bryant caught nine passes for 151 yards in the their 31-21 win. Expect more of the same this week. Eli Manning played well in that game, but you want this Cowboys’ defense active on Sunday night.
Giants: Rashad Jennings, Odell Beckham, Larry Donnell
Jennings ran for just 59 yards on 18 carries in his return from a knee injury last week, but there was more good than bad for his owners. First, he came out of the game unscathed and is completely over the injury. Second, Andre Williams got just two carries. The 49ers have shut down opposing running backs this year, so Jennings’ owners should not have lost any faith in him as a result of last week’s subpar stats. Beckham, meanwhile, has developed into a slam-dunk WR2 in record time. He has had at least nine fantasy points in all but one of his games this year, and caught two touchdown passes against the Cowboys in their first meeting. Donnell also showed up for his fantasy owners in that game, catching seven passes for 90 yards.
Cowboys: Joseph Randle, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley
Williams is the only fantasy-relevant player above, and he’s also the prototype for a boom-or-bust receiver. He has yet to have 80 yards in a game this season, meaning he really only makes it as a WR2 when he gets in the end zone. He’s averaging fewer than five targets per game, though. It’s hard to bet on a player to find the end zone when he gets so few looks.
Giants: Eli Manning, Andre Williams, Rueben Randle, Preston Parker, Giants DST
Manning threw five interceptions in the loss to the 49ers last week, becoming the first quarterback to throw five picks in a game since Eli Manning did so against Seattle last December. He threw for 248 yards and three scores in the first Giants-Cowboys game this season, but the quarterback position is far too deep to consider him this week. Randle got north of 100 yards a week ago, but Beckham is the top dog in the New York passing game. Even with the 100-yard performance, Randle is getting just 5.54 yards per target.
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints
Ravens: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Owen Daniels
The Ravens return from their Week 11 bye with a pretty good matchup against the reeling Saints. The Saints have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and receivers, and the 12th most to running backs. Forsett is an easy play, but so is Torrey Smith, who has quietly moved past Steve Smith in production since Week 3. The former is averaging 10.3 fantasy points per game in that stretch, which typically translates to high-end WR2 production over the course of a full season. Steve Smith is averaging 8.69 points per game in that same window.
Saints: Drew Brees, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Jimmy Graham
The Saints lost Brandin Cooks for the rest of the season to a broken thumb last week, opening the door for one of Colston or Kenny Stills to get going this week. Stills seems to be the favorite of the fantasy community, but I’m not writing off Colston with this opportunity. If I can only play one of them, I’m riding with the veteran, but I do think both are worth deploying this week. The main beneficiary, however, might be Graham. Cooks had done a lot of damage in the red zone, but there’s no doubt as to who the team’s best receiver is near the goal line. Don’t worry about Ingram’s down game last week. This is a very tough matchup, but he enters every week as an RB2, at worst. The proof is in the production.
Ravens: Joe Flacco, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Bernard Pierce, Ravens DST
Even though Forsett, Daniels and the Smiths are all worth starting this week, you should be able to do better than Flacco. He’s not too far out of the starting class, but he’s just so up and down, and that inconsistency makes him very hard to trust in fantasy leagues. He’s an easy start in two-quarterback leagues, however.
Saints: Pierre Thomas (shoulder), Khiry Robinson (forearm), Travaris Cadet, Kenny Stills, Saints DST
There’s no word yet as to Thomas’ and Robinson’s availability for Monday night’s game, and chances are we won’t have anything concrete on them until well after we’ve all set our lineups for Week 12. Even if they were healthy, they would be dicey options against a Baltimore defense that has surrendered the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year.
Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Josh McCown, Andy Dalton
Running Backs: Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, C.J. Anderson, Denard Robinson, Mark Ingram, Ryan Mathews, Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington, Justin Forsett, Lamar Miller, Frank Gore, Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Jeremy Hill, Trent Richardson, Joique Bell, Charles Sims, Terrance West, Giovani Bernard
Wide Receivers: Demaryius Thomas, Jordy Nelson, Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, Alshon Jeffery, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Jeremy Maclin, Josh Gordon, Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham, Golden Tate, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Matthews, Emmanuel Sanders, Brandon LaFell, Roddy White, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston
Flex: Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, Anquan Boldin, Julian Edelman, Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Bishop Sankey, Isaiah Crowell, Tre Mason, Kenny Stills, Larry Fitzgerald (tentative)
Tight Ends: Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, Coby Fleener, Martellus Bennett, Larry Donnell, Mychal Rivera, Travis Kelce, Kyle Rudolph, Jason Witten, Owen Daniels, Zach Ertz
Defenses: Kansas City Chiefs, Indianapolis Colts, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots
On the Cusp
Quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick, Brian Hoyer, Joe Flacco, Philip Rivers
Flex: Chris Ivory, Fred Jackson, Jerick McKinnon, Keenan Allen, Percy Harvin, Michael Floyd, John Brown, Kendall Wright, Cecil Shorts, Mohamed Sanu, Darren Sproles
Tight Ends: Delanie Walker, Charles Clay
Defenses: Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers