Week 12 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Who Are the Smart Matchup Plays?

Zach WarrenFeatured ColumnistNovember 20, 2012

Week 12 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em: Who Are the Smart Matchup Plays?

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    It's always tougher to know where to turn after a crazy week. As a smart fantasy owner, you know that seeing a repeat performance from Chad Henne or Julian Edelman likely isn't in the cards. That's not the problem.

    The issue, however, is often with the players who had an off week. Is it the makings of a Chris Johnson-esque slump, or will my guy bounce back in a Matt Schaub way to put up crazy numbers? It's always impossible to project. Almost. Thankfully, you have help.

    I'm the editor of numberFire.com, a sports analytics website that crunches out some of the most accurate fantasy projections on the web, Our projections beat the projections given in your fantasy league's lineup page 93 percent of the time, all through the help of a little math.

    This week, our numbers have strong opinions about some key players that may be right on the edge between your starting lineup and your bench. Want to find out who they are? Read on, my friend.

Quarterbacks: Two to Start

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    Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

    Projected Stats: 261.04 pass yards, 1.66 pass TDs, 0.76 INTs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 18.12 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 7 QB (No. 7 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Buffalo Bills


    Need some evidence that the Bills' secondary is weak? We took a look at the amount of Net Expected Points (NEP) that the Bills have given up this season—that is, the amount of points above or below an average team's performance given the same game situations.

    And while Buffalo has only given up 27.46 NEP on the ground, it has given up a whopping 76.77 NEP through the air. That's more than a touchdown worse than an average NFL by passing alone. That figure ranks No. 26 among all NFL teams.

    When coupled with the Colts' tendency to throw the ball, that can only spell success for the rookie. Indianapolis has thrown the ball on 60 percent of their offensive plays this season, and I don't see that changing this week.


    Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals

    Projected Stats: 253.18 pass yards, 1.95 pass TDs, 0.61 INTs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 17.48 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 9 QB (No. 9 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Oakland Raiders


    Similar to Luck, Dalton faces a spectacular situation in the opposing Raiders defense this week. Oakland sits at one of those few teams less efficient than Buffalo in the secondary so far this season—its 97.86 NEP given up through the air is third-worst among all NFL teams. Surprisingly, that contrasts sharply with its 1.86 NEP gained on the ground defensively. Expect the Bengals to attack the air early and often.

    And if our stats are any indication, it should lead to plenty of scores for Dalton. The Red Rocket has six combined passing TDs over his past two games, and his 1.95 projected passing TDs are the seventh-most among QBs we projected this week.

Quarterbacks: Two to Sit

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    Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

    Projected Stats: 275.32 pass yards, 1.38 pass TDs, 1.35 INTs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 14.07 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 20 QB (No. 29 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Houston Texans


    Beware, all ye who enter against the Houston defense. Not everybody can be Chad Henne.

    Despite their failures last week against Jacksonville, the Houston Texans still come into this week as numberFire's No. 3 opponent-adjusted defense. Expect a regression back to the mean this week; remember that after their blowout Packers loss, the defense came back the next week and held the Ravens to 13 points.

    And while Matthew Stafford has at least put together some solid performances after early season struggles, I would still be wary trusting him. In his four games against defenses that we have ranked in the top 10 in efficiency, only once—Seattle, Week 8—has Stafford posted above 14 Fantasy Points (FP) in a standard league.


    Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens

    Projected Stats: 235.22 pass yards, 1.11 pass TDs, 0.98 INTs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 13.28 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 23 QB (No. 36 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at San Diego Chargers


    While Flacco has managed to keep the Ravens on top with victories, the manner through which he's done it has been uglier than his facial hair. In his past six games, Flacco has registered three single-digit fantasy point days and only one game above 13 FP. And that one was against Oakland; head back a page to see why that might not be the best indicator.

    The Norv Turners might be a hollow shell of a team, but much of that can be attributed to their No. 25 offense. The defense, meanwhile, ranks as numberFire's No. 11 team in terms of efficiency, only allowing 9.94 points above expectation total for the season.

Running Backs: Two to Start

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    Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots

    Projected Stats: 54.83 rushing yards, 0.60 rush TDs, 9.20 receiving yards, 0.04 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 10.02 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 14 RB (No. 56 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at New York Jets


    Ignore the Shane Vereen factor; if the Patriots are in any semblance of a close game, Stevan Ridley is going to receive the lion's share of the carries.

    If you want proof, take a look at the plays breakdown from the beginning of their Week 11 game against the Colts. Five of the first six carries of the game went Ridley's way. By the time the Patriots went up 38-17 in the third quarter, Ridley had 10 carries while Vereen only had three. Most of the backup's work came in garbage time.

    The Jets have an above-average defense (we have them ranked No. 14), but don't sleep on Ridley. He had 65 yards on 17 carries against them earlier this season.


    Shonn Greene, New York Jets

    Projected Stats: 60.81 rushing yards, 0.42 rush TDs, 14.04 receiving yards, 0.00 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.81 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 15 RB (No. 59 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. New England Patriots


    But Ridley's not the only running back I like in the Thanksgiving nightcap; take a look at the man on the other sideline as well.

    Although Bilal Powell poached Greene for two touchdowns last week, the former Iowa back still remains the clear No. 1 option in the New York backfield. He finally has settled into some sort of rhythm with at least 15 carries in each of his past four games, and he has responded in kind with at least 50 yards rushing in each affair.

    The Patriots are weaker against the pass than the run, but that's not the Jets' game. Rex Ryan's squad has rushed the ball on 48 percent of its offensive plays so far this year.

Running Backs: Two to Sit

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    Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons

    Projected Stats: 43.36 rushing yards, 0.29 rush TDs, 14.73 receiving yards, 0.02 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.41 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 29 RB (No. 104 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers


    It seems like every week I'm telling people to bench Michael Turner. But it seems like many people still haven't gotten the clue, as Turner is still being started in 75 percent (three-quarters!) of ESPN fantasy leagues.

    Maybe those people are conveniently ignoring Turner's -0.21 NEP per rush average, meaning that Turner's losing the Falcons a point of expectation for every five rushes he makes. Maybe they're ignoring the potential poaching of Jacquizz Rodgers, who has actually led the Falcons in rushing yards in two of their last four games. Or maybe they just expect Turner to continue scoring every game, but our 0.31 projected total TDs disagree.


    Marcel Reece, Oakland Raiders

    Saturday Morning Edit: This article was originally written under the thought that Darren McFadden would be available for Sunday's game. numberFire's projections had accounted for McFadden being available for at least some snaps. He is likely not. As such, Marcel Reece is now a must-start in all leagues, numberFire's No. 11 RB. Adjust accordingly.

Wide Receivers: Two to Start

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    Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Projected Stats: 4.42 receptions, 79.57 receiving yards, 0.67 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 11.90 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 12 WR (No. 46 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Atlanta Falcons


    The narrative with Vincent Jackson is simple: He has the catching ability of a 6th grade defensive lineman, but when he connects, he can fly. And it's because of that ability that the Buccaneers will continue to give him his chances.

    Jackson's 48 percent catch rate sits among the worst of all NFL receivers; the average catch rate is closer to 60 percent. But his 88 targets are in the top 10 of all NFL receivers. So why does Josh Freeman keep trying? Because Jackson's 20.5 yards per catch is the highest among all qualified receivers, and his 16 catches of at least 20 yards is fourth behind only Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas and Reggie Wayne.

    As long as Jackson's not facing a top-five defense (and the Falcons only come in at No. 10 in our rankings), he should be a must start every single week. At the very least, he's going to get the opportunities.


    Steve Johnson, Buffalo Bills

    Projected Stats: 4.01 receptions, 69.40 receiving yards, 0.48 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 9.74 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 18 WR (No. 63 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at Indianapolis Colts


    A team-leading 33 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick throws in Week 11. 57 percent more total targets than anybody else on the team. At least seven targets in seven of the Bills' past eight games. I think it's safe to say Steve Johnson's going to get his looks on any given week.

    Although a 53 percent catch rate does not inspire much confidence, Johnson's matchup against the Indianapolis Colts should. The Colts have allowed 114.25 points more than expectation through the pass so far this season, the highest total of any NFL team.

Wide Receivers: Two to Sit

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    Danny Amendola, St. Louis Rams

    Projected Stats: 6.20 receptions, 67.64 receiving yards, 0.32 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.70 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 29 WR (No. 82 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at Arizona Cardinals


    Unlike Jackson or Johnson, though, being the clear No. 1 target for a team can only take you so far. Danny Amendola owners are about to learn that lesson the hard way.

    Amendola, who only has three double-digit games and one 12-plus FP game in seven total appearances, projects to have a high reception total but not a high yardage or TD total. That's not a mistake; Amendola has only topped the century mark in yards once this season and has only caught two total TDs (and none since Week 4).

    Arizona, meanwhile, has risen to hold numberFire's No. 2 opponent-adjusted defense through its strong performances over the past couple weeks. On the season, the Cards have allowed 31.47 points less than expectation on the season.


    Brian Hartline, Miami Dolphins

    Projected Stats: 4.50 receptions, 66.68 receiving yards, 0.26 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 8.09 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 31 WR (No. 90 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Seattle Seahawks


    Different player, different team, same story: Just because Hartline is the presumed No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins, don't automatically assume that he's start-worthy.

    I do say "presumed" because, unlike Amendola, Hartline actually does have some competition. Davone Bess comes into Week 12 with only six less total targets on the year, and his 11 targets against the Bills last week led the team.

    The Seahawks, meanwhile, don't have the strength of the Arizona secondary but are pretty close. Their 5.22 NEP allowed over expectation ranks sixth among all NFL squads.

Tight Ends: Two to Start

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    Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati Bengals

    Projected Stats: 4.13 receptions, 53.84 receiving yards, 0.39 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.71 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 6 TE (No. 94 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Oakland Raiders


    Take a look back at the first slide and check out all my praise for the Red Rocket. Well, the same argument applies for one of his main targets, tight end Jermaine Gresham.

    Sitting second on the team behind A.J. Green with 63 targets, Gresham has become one of the most consistent tight end options available. Over the past five Bengals games, Gresham has recorded at least six fantasy points in four of them. The other tight ends who can say that? Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.


    Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Projected Stats: 3.83 receptions, 47.99 receiving yards, 0.49 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 7.68 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 7 TE (No. 95 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: at Cleveland Browns


    It's easy to become discouraged over a player than has 10 FP combined over the past three weeks. But even with the immortal Charlie Batch under center, Heath Miller should be a solid play this week if you give him the chance.

    The Browns are an average defense—they're No. 15 in efficiency according to numberFire's standards—but they are much weaker against the pass than the run. So far this season, they have allowed 39.21 NEP over expectation against the pass, while allowing 15.26 points under expectation against the rush.

    And of everybody on the Steelers, we expect Miller to be one of the most likely candidates to take advantage. Miller's projected 0.49 touchdowns ranks fourth among all tight ends this week, behind only Jimmy Graham, Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis. That wouldn't be an isolated case, as 35 percent of the Steelers' receiving touchdowns this season have gone Miller's way.

Tight Ends: Two to Sit

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    Brandon Pettigrew, Detroit Lions

    Projected Stats: 3.74 receptions, 40.49 receiving yards, 0.24 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 5.16 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 15 TE (No. 138 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Houston Texans


    We've loved Pettigrew in the past... perhaps a little too much. Despite high expectations, Pettigrew has not put up a single double-digit fantasy point game in a standard league so far this season. That bears repeating. Not. A. Single. One.

    When added to the fact that the Houston Texans have one of the best secondaries in the NFL (already covered when talking about Matthew Stafford), Pettigrew has little to no upside this week. He'll likely get some targets, as he's averaging a second-on-the-Lions 7.6 targets per game so far this season. Just don't expect him to do anything with them.


    Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles

    Projected Stats: 3.63 receptions, 38.15 receiving yards, 0.24 receiving TDs

    Standard League Fantasy Points: 5.09 FP

    numberFire Rank: No. 16 TE (No. 139 Overall)

    Week 12 Opponent: vs. Carolina Panthers


    You thought not reaching double digits was bad. Try not reaching in seven fantasy points in a single game since Week 2. Then you'd have Brent Celek.

    The Eagles have a horribly inefficient offense, and Celek has certainly done his part to... contribute. His 61 percent catch rate sits below average for tight ends, and despite his 67 targets ranking second on the team, he has only been able to convert the looks into one touchdown.

    While the looks are still there (Celek has tied for the team lead in targets in two of the past three games), the tight end simply does not have the big play potential he once had. In fact, Celek has not had a yards per catch average above 11 in a single game since Week 4 against the Giants.


    For full rankings, refer to numberFire's Full Projection List for Week 12. You can follow numberFire on Twitter @numberFire. The author takes no responsibility for any secret Charlie Batch rejuvenation rituals that may change the order of our projections.