- Should you start Andy Dalton against the Browns? What about Dak Prescott vs. the Chargers? All of your fantasy football lineup questions are answered here.
Fantasy owners should always take an easy win when they can. So much that's out of an owner's control, from injuries to big-name players falling short of expectations, can go wrong, scuttling even the best-laid fantasy plans. When the win is right in front of your face, you grab it and don’t let go.
With that in mind, can someone please explain to me why Andy Dalton has a consensus ranking of QB15 on FantasyPros for Week 12?
Starting Dalton is one of the easiest wins for his fantasy owners this week. The Bengals host the winless Browns, a team they beat 31–7 back in Week 4. Oddsmakers have installed the Bengals as eight-point favorites and given them an implied total of 23 points. Also, don’t forget that Dalton had his best game of the year in that drubbing of the Browns. Dalton lit up the city of Cleveland that day, throwing for 286 yards, 9.53 yards per attempt and four touchdowns in the rout. That started a trend that has continued to this day, and bodes well for Dalton and Cincinnati’s passing game in Week 12.
The Bengals have played five games against teams ranking 21st or worse against quarterbacks in 4for4’s schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed metric (aFPA). Dalton threw for at least 212 yards and two scores with zero interceptions in four of those five games. He was QB3 for the week in the wins against the Browns and Colts. His passing numbers against the Titans—265 yards, 7.57 YPA and two scores—would have made him QB11, but two fumbles knocked him down to QB20. Still, when he got the ball out of his hand, he shredded a pass-friendly defense. The only time he failed to deliver in a plus-matchup was back against the Texans in Week 2, but that was a short week against a Texans defense that still had J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Cleveland hasn’t gotten any better against the pass since they saw Dalton the first time back in October, ranking 30th in quarterback aFPA. At the same time, they’re 14th in running back aFPA, making them one of the league’s truest pass-funnel defenses. Add to that Cincinnati’s struggles on the ground this season (more on that in the running back section), and it becomes an even more attractive fantasy matchup for Dalton.
Don’t let Dalton’s season-long numbers or the Bengals’ disappointing offense obscure the Week 12 picture. Dalton’s ugly games this season have come against the Ravens, Steelers and Jaguars, all of which are ranked in the top seven in quarterback aFPA. Dalton has been one of the purest matchup plays this season, failing against good pass defenses and succeeding against bad ones. He gets one of the latter this week. Take the easy win, Dalton owners. Get him in your lineup.
A quick note that applies to all sections before we get going: We typically avoid the Thursday night game to provide as much relevant advice all weekend as possible. With three games on Thanksgiving, though, discussing the Thursday games this week is unavoidable.
Matthew Stafford, Lions (vs. Vikings)
Stafford and the Lions host the Vikings in a huge game in the NFC North. A win by the Lions keeps them in the hunt for the division crown, while a win by the Vikings makes it awfully hard for the Lions to knock them from their perch. Stafford has been one of the most consistent, matchup-proof quarterbacks this season, throwing multiple touchdowns in seven games, hitting the 260-yard mark in six games, and doing both four times. The Vikings may be favored by a field goal in this game, but Stafford has earned your trust, especially playing at home.
Marcus Mariota, Titans (at Colts)
Mariota torched the Colts the first time these teams met this season, racking up 306 yards and a season-high 9.56 YPA. He had just one touchdown, but that’s descriptive of the first game, not predictive of what will happen in the second. The yardage and YPA numbers bode well for Mariota this week, especially with Corey Davis on the field. Rishard Matthews has withstood the rookie’s challenge and remains the No. 1 receiver in the offense, but adding a weapon to Mariota’s arsenal can only be good for the quarterback. The Colts rank 21st in quarterback aFPA on the year.
Paxton Lynch, Broncos (at Raiders)
Hear me out on this one. It feels borderline foolish to roll with a quarterback who couldn’t beat out Trevor Siemian for a starting gig in his first career start. The conditions, however, are as good as possible, considering the previous statement. First, Lynch has a pair of great receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal. Second, he’s facing an Oakland defense that is 31st in quarterback aFPA this season. Remember, we’re talking superflex leagues here. Assuming a relatively balanced allocation of quarterback resources, you don’t need me to tell you to start someone like Philip Rivers or Dak Prescott in superflex leagues. Lynch is a borderline QB2, but this is a matchup where he can deliver starter-worthy numbers in leagues where everyone plays two quarterbacks. The huge advantages Thomas and Sanders will have over Oakland’s corners makes him more palatable than your average quarterback making his first career start in Week 12 of a lost season for his team.
Dak Prescott, Cowboys (vs. Chargers)
In two games without Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has thrown for 321 yards, 5.26 YPA, zero touchdowns and three interceptions. He could get left tackle Tyron Smith back this week, which would be a huge help, but this is clearly a different offense without Elliott. The Ohio State product masked a lot of deficiencies in the passing game, specifically that no one on the offense, Dez Bryant included, is creating much consistent separation. He’ll face a Chargers defense with a fearsome front four, led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, on Thanksgiving. If Smith isn’t back, Prescott could be running for his life all afternoon. He’s still my QB15, but I’d be playing quarterbacks like Philip Rivers and Jared Goff, as well as the players I project as low-end QB1s listed in the start section, ahead of him.
Derek Carr, Raiders (vs. Broncos)
Carr threw for 143 yards and one touchdown in the Raiders’ loss to the Broncos in Week 4. Believe it or not, that was one of his best games against Denver in his career. He faced the Broncos just once last season, throwing for 184 yards, 5.94 YPA and zero touchdowns in the game. He managed three touchdowns against one interception against them in 2015, but threw for just 384 yards and 5.65 YPA. In Carr’s rookie year of 2014, he totaled 350 yards, 4.22 YPA, three touchdowns and three interceptions against the Broncos. All told, Carr is 0-for-6 in producing QB1 weeks against the Broncos in his career. I’m not betting against that pattern in Week 12.
Tyrod Taylor, Bills (at Chiefs)
Sean McDermott came to his senses this week, placing Taylor back in the starting job that he had no business losing in the first place. This is a bad spot, though, with the Bills visiting a reeling Chiefs team that’s playing at home for the first time since Week 8. The Chiefs season has hit a low point, and they’re still favored by 10 points, with the Bills carrying an implied total of just 17.5 points. I’ll typically go to bat for the underappreciated Taylor, but this is a tough week to believe in Buffalo’s offense.
We’ve seen a slew of running backs become fantasy relevant over the last month or so. If you’re looking for Samaje Perine, Orleans Darkwa, Dion Lewis or Alfred Morris below, you won’t find them. Why? Because all four are, in my estimation, easy starts in Week 12, and likely will be for the rest of the season. The next four guys are closer to the border, but still come down on the right side of it.
Latavius Murray, Vikings (at Lions)
Murray had another big game last week, running for 95 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the Vikings’ 24-7 win over the Rams. In the immediate aftermath of Dalvin Cook’s ACL tear, Murray warned that he was still getting over offseason ankle surgery. It showed in Minnesota’s first two games without Cook when Murray totaled 59 yards on 27 carries. In the four games since then, he has rumbled for 315 yards and four scores on 69 totes, hitting at least 12.8 fantasy points in standard formats in three of those games. What’s more, he has had at least 15 carries in all of those contests, and is averaging 16 carries per game since Cook’s injury. The Lions rank 23rd in running back aFPA, but 18th against the position in PPR leagues, which suggests they are better against pass-catching backs than traditional runners like Murray. This is another good week to get him in your lineup.
Alex Collins, Ravens (vs. Texans)
Collins is basically a lesser version of Murray on a worse offense. If that doesn’t sound like the most attractive fantasy running back, that’s because he isn’t. That’s why he’s part of a start/sit column. The volume is going to be there for him, though, and the Ravens are touchdown favorites against the Texans. In the Ravens’ three wins in which Collins has had a sizable role, he has averaged 10.97 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Just for the record, we’re including a 12-carry, 55-yard game among the three. That average jumps to 13.7 points when isolating for games in which he had at least 15 touches. Houston’s defense has been an abomination since losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus, though it has been better against the run than the pass. Still, Collins easily projects as, at worst, a flex starter in leagues of all sizes this week.
Marshawn Lynch, Raiders (vs. Broncos)
Lynch has one game with more than 14 carries this season, and that was back in Week 1. Since then, his carries have sat comfortably in the 11-to-14 range. It’d be silly to expect that to change at this point. The Broncos, meanwhile, rank seventh in running back aFPA, one of the few strengths of a faltering team. And yet, the Raiders are favored by five points and have an implied total of 24.25 points. Those are contextual factors that work significantly in Lynch’s favor. Throw Derek Carr’s struggles with the Broncos and the Raiders fleeting playoff hopes into the equation, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Lynch get to 15 or more carries for the first time since Week 1. It’ll take multiple unlikely developments—such as Carr having his first good game against the Broncos, or Denver’s offense making this game a laugher—for Lynch to fall short of the RB2 class.
Doug Martin, Buccaneers (at Falcons)
Martin has been one of the most frustrating fantasy players to own this season, totaling 343 yards and two touchdowns on 112 carries while being a total non-factor in the passing game. There is a silver lining, however, and, like it is for most backs, it’s his workload. Martin has had at least 18 carries in four of his last five games. Even as the Buccaneers’ run game fails to find traction, Martin keeps getting plenty of volume. That alone places him on the flex radar. The Buccaneers are 10-point underdogs to the Falcons this week, but the over/under on the game is 49. Even though the Falcons are expected to do the heavy lifting, it should be a good scoring environment in Atlanta for everyone involved, especially for someone who’s a good bet to touch the ball 20 times in the contest.
Adrian Peterson, Cardinals (vs. Jaguars)
Peterson has been part of two wins and three losses with the Cardinals. In the two wins, he ran for 134 and 159 yards, scoring twice in the first one. In the three losses, he ran for 21, 29 and 26 yards. His volume was monstrous in the wins, but it’s not like he was completely squeezed from the game plan in the losses, touching the ball 12, 22 and 15 times. In short, if you expect the Cardinals to lose, you cannot trust Peterson. The Jaguars for the season have been a run-funnel defense, but the unit has looked completely different since trading for Marcell Dareus. In three games with Dareus in the middle of the defensive line, the Jaguars have allowed a total of 166 rushing yards. In that span, they held Melvin Gordon to 27 yards on 16 carries. Peterson doesn’t stand much of a chance against this defense.
Rex Burkhead, Patriots (vs. Dolphins)
That’s what you get for believing in a running back on the Patriots with no clear path to rushing volume after one decent game. Burkhead ran for 16 yards on five carries and caught four passes for 21 yards in the Patriots’ 33-8 win over the Raiders last week. Dion Lewis, meanwhile, carried the ball 10 times for 60 yards and hauled in four passes for 28 yards and a score. Pass-catching backs, as a class, bluff fantasy owners more than any other group of players. It’s nearly impossible for a back to generate reliable fantasy value on receiving alone. They almost always need a rushing foundation. Receiving numbers are a bonus, not the basis of consistent fantasy production.
Jamaal Williams, Packers (at Steelers)
Williams got a ton of work last week, handling 18 carries and six targets. He caught four of those targets, and finished his day with 95 yards from scrimmage. Should Ty Montgomery miss this week’s game with his rib injury, Williams would be a good bet for another 20 or so touches. Unfortunately, neither he nor Green Bay’s offense have proved to fantasy community that volume equals an automatic start the way that, say, Doug Martin, has. The Steelers are favored by two touchdowns on Sunday, and the Packers have an implied total of 13.75 points, the lowest on the board. The Steelers rank ninth in running back aFPA. This is about as bad a spot as you can find for a running back from a fantasy perspective.
Joe Mixon, Bengals (vs. Browns)
This would be a risky sit, given the expected game flow between the Browns and Bengals. The Bengals are eight-point favorites, and that could lead to a heavy dose of the run in the second half, should the game unfold as expected. Mixon has been getting plenty of volume under the Bill Lazor regime, netting at least 15 touches in six of the Bengals’ last eight games. All he has to show for all that volume this season is 577 yards and three touchdowns on 150 touches. That translates to 0.5 points per touch. Among players with at least 150 touches, only Frank Gore (0.48) and Jay Ajayi (0.45) have fewer points per touch than Mixon. This could be the sort of game where you hold your nose and start Mixon because the matchup is so good, but understand that he has done nothing to earn a starting spot this season.
Josh Doctson, Redskins (vs. Giants)
Doctson’s snap rate the last five games: 84%, 80%, 89%, 92%, 87%. Doctson’s targets the last five games: five, three, five, seven, seven. Doctson’s target share of Washington’s offense the last five games: 12.5%, 7.7%, 16.7%, 15.6%, 23.3%. And finally, Doctson’s receiving yards the last five games: 39, 1, 59, 30, 81. Everything is trending in the right direction for Doctson, and he gets a matchup this week with a Giants defense that is ranked 20th in wide receiver aFPA and 27th in quarterback aFPA. What’s more, the Redskins have an implied total of 26.25 points. This is Doctson’s breakout week.
Emmanuel Sanders, Broncos (at Raiders)
Sanders disappointed his fantasy owners last week, catching just two passes for 15 yards. It largely wasn’t his fault, but rather due to the scattershot nature of Brock Osweiler’s arm. It may be little solace for his owners, but Sanders had eight targets in the game, the fifth time in eight games that he has had at least that many looks from a Denver quarterback. Sanders doesn’t have much touchdown upside and he’s still playing with a quarterback, Paxton Lynch, who’s making his first career start, but the expected volume makes him, at worst, a low-end WR3, and I’d project him for the high end of the WR3 group. The Raiders are 24th in wide receiver aFPA this season.
Corey Coleman, Browns (at Bengals)
Coleman returned last week from a broken hand suffered in Week 2, catching six of 11 targets for 80 yards. He’s not the first Cleveland receiver to excite the fantasy community this season, but the difference between him and those who came before him is that he’s actually good. The fact that he commanded 11 targets in his first game and racked up 80 yards against the Jaguars’ elite pass defense bodes quite well for his future this season. Before Coleman put up 80 yards last week, the Jaguars had allowed exactly one receiver to hit or surpass that mark all year. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. His name is Antonio Brown, and he had 157 yards against the Jaguars in a Week 5 loss. The only other receiver with even 60 yards against the Jaguars this season was Robert Woods, who had 70 in Week 6. Coleman is good. He should be in your lineup.
Cooper Kupp, Rams (vs. Saints)
Speaking of Woods, his absence because of a shoulder injury creates an opportunity for the other receivers on the Rams. Kupp, who has 38 catches on 62 targets for 481 yards and three touchdowns, takes over as the de facto No. 1 receiver. With Marshon Lattimore out this week because of a sprained ankle, and Alex Okafor out for the season after tearing his Achilles, passing on the Saints just got much easier. The over/under on Rams-Saints is a robust 53.5 points, and while that feels a bit heavy, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see both teams play their way into the mid-20s. As a No. 1 receiver in a game with that sort of scoring environment, Kupp deserves your attention.
DeVante Parker, Dolphins (at Patriots)
Parker hasn’t topped 85 yards in a game this season, and that came back in Miami’s first game of the year. He has sat consistently between 65 and 75 yards per game, but all that has served to do is mask just how disappointing his third year in the league has been. He’s getting plenty of opportunity, as well, racking up at least eight targets in six of his seven games this year. We’re starting to reach the point where we have to ask ourselves if Parker is more than a weekly WR3. Thus far, he has answered that question with an emphatic no. The Patriots have gotten things together defensively, holding their last six opponents to 17 or fewer points.
Jeremy Maclin, Ravens (vs. Texans)
Conditions have to be just right for a fantasy owner to trust the Baltimore passing game. In most instances, it necessarily includes a receiver corps that has been reduced by injury or byes. Obviously, the latter is no longer a consideration. Maclin may be the de facto No. 1 receiver in Baltimore, but he has had more than six targets in just two games all season. It’s hard for any receiver to get by with that sort of volume, let alone one in a low-value offense with a below-average passing game. Ignore the positive matchup and pay greater attention to the fact that the Baltimore offense has trouble moving the ball through the air.
Amari Cooper, Raiders (vs. Broncos)
Cooper has played five games against the Broncos in his career. In those five games, he has 16 catches on 36 targets for 151 yards and one touchdown. That translates to 4.22 points per game in standard leagues, and 7.42 points per game in PPR formats. You already know those are terrible numbers, but allow me to give you some more context. Brice Butler is averaging 4.24 points per game in standard-scoring leagues this season, while Albert Wilson sits at 7.39 points per game in PPR leagues. Would you even think about starting Butler or Wilson this week? That’s what Cooper has been in five career games against the Broncos. He should be firmly on your bench.
Nelson Agholor, Eagles (vs. Bears)
We’ve discussed Agholor a few times in this space this season. As impressive as he has been in shaking off the first two disappointing years of his career, he has given the fantasy community exactly zero useful games in which he hasn’t scored a touchdown. That can be true for many receivers, so it’s not a knock unique to Agholor. Still, any decision to start him must be based on a belief that he has a better than average chance of getting in the end zone. The Bears rank 12th in wide receiver aFPA this season, and have allowed just 11 passing touchdowns, fewer than all but five teams (Ravens, Bills, Vikings, Steelers, Jaguars). This will be a tough matchup for Agholor, one in which he is a bad bet to hit paydirt
Tyler Kroft, Bengals (vs. Browns)
The first time these teams played, Kroft caught six passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Since then, the Browns have allowed scores to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron and Marcedes Lewis. If you’re a touchdown-dependent tight end, the Browns are one of the best defenses you can possibly see. Kroft is worthy of a low-end TE1 ranking this week.
Greg Olsen, Panthers (at Jets)
Olsen will get back on the field this week for the first time since breaking a bone in his foot Week 2. Fantasy owners always need to be careful about setting expectations too high for a player returning from injury. It would be silly to expect Olsen to immediately get back to his high-end TE1 ways. If you scooped him up and also have someone like Zach Ertz or Evan Engram, you shouldn’t be considering Olsen this week, unless you can play him as a flex. Given the state of the position, though, someone with Olsen’s ability and track record easily grades as a mid-tier TE1. For what it’s worth, the Jets rank 22nd in tight end aFPA. So long as you have realistic expectations for someone playing his first game in more than two months, Olsen will not let you down this week.
Jack Doyle, Colts (at Titans)
There’s not much to say here beyond the fact that, among the glut of tight ends who comprise the low-end TE1 and high-end TE2 classes, Doyle is one of the few with safe, reliable volume. That alone should be enough to get him into the starting lineups of most of his fantasy owners. The Colts usage tree is pretty thin, with Doyle and T.Y. Hilton the only two pass-catchers guaranteed to see foundational target share from Jacoby Brissett. Unless you have someone else about whom that is true, Doyle should be in your lineup.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jets (at Panthers)
Unlike Doyle, Seferian-Jenkins’s volume isn’t guaranteed from week to week. Over his last five games, he has 11, five, five, two and nine targets. He has topped 50 yards just once this season, landing him in the touchdown-dependent group of tight ends. The Panthers have been one of the better defenses at slowing down the position this year, ranking ninth in tight end aFPA. They’re fifth in aFPA in PPR leagues, making the average tight end even more touchdown-dependent than he typically is. That makes this a bad spot for Seferian-Jenkins.
Austin Hooper, Falcons (vs. Buccaneers)
Atlanta’s offense had one of its best games of the season last week, hanging 27 points on the Seahawks (seven points came from the defense). With all that scoring going on around him, Hooper managed two catches for a loss of one yard. He’ll face a Buccaneers defense this week that, despite its many faults, is eighth in tight end aFPA on the season.
Hunter Henry, Chargers (at Cowboys)
Henry’s usage has been one of the truly bizarre developments of the last three weeks. After seemingly forcing his way to a larger role in the offense, he has a total of nine targets over the last three games, catching five of them for 43 yards. There’s no way to watch a Chargers game in which Henry plays a major part in the offense and not be impressed with the second-year tight end out of Arkansas, but his usage has been so up and down that he is nearly impossible to trust in fantasy leagues.