Week 12 Start 'Em Sit 'Em: Smart Matchup Plays, Sleepers and More
An exciting Monday Night Football game capped off another chaotic—but fun—week of NFL action.
You know who you're definite starts are going into Week 12—guys like Tom Brady and Cam Newton—but there are always some guys you might be on the fence about.
On top of that, there are always guys who look good on paper coming off a big game, but they might not be worth the start when push comes to shove.
Who is a good start, and who needs to take a seat on your fantasy bench?
Let's take a look.
*All stats via ESPN.com and NFL.com unless otherwise noted
START: Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles was dinged up against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, but as long as he is active against the Falcons in Week 12, you have to have him in your lineup.
Sproles was limited in Monday's practice, so his status for Thursday's game is still up in the air.
Last weekend, a back with a similar build—Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey—torched the Atlanta Falcons to the tune of 163 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries.
Rainey wasn't used on passing downs a ton, so that's an added bonus for Sproles. Unlike Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, Drew Brees will throw his running back the ball.
The week before the "Rainey of Terror," the Falcons were lit up by the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch (145 yards and one touchdown)—this is a defense that can be run on.
If Sproles is healthy—again, keep an eye on his status for this week—he'll be on the field for the Saints, in which case he goes in your lineup as well.
SIT: Josh McCown, Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams
In a fantasy season in which quarterbacks have been dropping like flies, McCown has been steady and safe when he has played in the place of Jay Cutler.
Not so this week.
The St. Louis Rams defense has finally started playing the way we expected them to at the start of the season. As good as McCown has been—zero interceptions and five touchdowns this season—and as great as his weapons are, this is going to be a poor start.
I do think some of his players will do well—I'll get to one a bit later—but McCown will not do enough to be worth having in your lineup, and while he hasn't tossed an interception yet, the Rams have notched 11 this season.
And they're coming off a game where they terrorized Andrew Luck for three interceptions.
That trend is likely to continue against McCown.
START: Anquan Boldin, San Francisco 49ers at Washington
It's been a quiet year for Anquan Boldin as the San Francisco 49ers passing offense has often struggled. He has shown on occasion that he can still ball, though.
Boldin is coming off a strong game against the Saints where he scored his first touchdown since Week 4, and the Redskins secondary is brutal. This Week 12 matchup could almost be described as "the movable object meeting the stoppable force."
Washington can't stop the pass, and San Francisco often can't get its pass going.
Despite the low yardage, Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked better than he has in weeks against New Orleans. The one interception he threw was a painful one, but he's beginning to find his receivers, and Boldin is going to be one of his biggest weapons against Washington.
While he'll never be a top fantasy start, Boldin should be a strong flex or No. 3 receiver this week against this weak Washington team.
SIT: DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
The New York Giants—as bad as they have been at times this season—have allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season.
Murray is better than the last two but not in the same class as Peterson and McCoy. They struggled, and it's a good bet he'll struggle as well.
On top of that, Murray hasn't really had the opportunity to carry a full load, so you're looking at a low output with low opportunities.
This is a bad week to depend on Murray for anything.
START: Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
The Pittsburgh Steelers are hanging in there for a shot at the playoffs, and the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is definitely a big factor why.
While he hasn't been terribly consistent, Big Ben has had big games two out of the last three weekends, and in both of those games, he threw for over 350 yards and four touchdowns.
The Cleveland Browns aren't a bad defense, but they aren't playing well right now. While they held Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton to just 93 yards in Week 11, he did throw three touchdowns. In the two games prior, Joe Flacco threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns while Alex Smith went for 225 and a pair of touchdowns.
Neither Flacco nor Smith is out there tossing for 300 yards on a weekly basis, and you can argue that Roethlisberger has been a more productive quarterback than either one recently, at least statistically speaking.
Quarterbacks can score on this defense and can move the chains—Big Ben has been doing a lot of both over the last few games.
He's going to be a very good start this weekend.
SIT: Roddy White, Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints
Don't be fooled.
Yes, Roddy White scored a touchdown against Tampa Bay last weekend.
And yes, White has begun to look better.
However, this is still an offense which is out of sorts, and while White has started to look better, he's still not looking right. On nine targets last week, he made just three catches.
Sure, the upside is that he was targeted that many times, but in what could be a shootout, the Falcons cannot afford to waste targets when he can't catch them.
White isn't quite back to 100 percent health. He can't be in your lineup until he's there.
START: Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions
While the huge game against the Atlanta Falcons might be an outlier, you can bet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will need to throw a lot against the Detroit Lions because the Lions offense will put points on the board.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will have to throw the ball to Vincent Jackson to win this game—heck, he'll have to in order to even stay in the game. Detroit's secondary has played better because the front line is devastating opposing quarterbacks, but it can be beat and for big numbers.
The Bucs will keep Glennon clean enough to get the ball to their biggest weapon in the pass game, Jackson, and while he might not top the 165 yards from this past weekend, he will be a solid start, much more along the lines of what you expected when you drafted him.
SIT: Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
Ryan Mathews managed to compile 127 yards but couldn't find the end zone against the Miami Dolphins in Week 11.
The Kansas City Chiefs are a far better defense than the Miami Dolphins.
The Chiefs are a much more consistent defense across the board than the Dolphins, especially against the run.
This is a huge game for both teams, and for many fantasy owners, it's a huge Week 12 matchup as well.
This is a week where you can't depend on Mathews with so much on the line.
START: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams
While I am concerned about Josh McCown's ability to function as a fantasy football starter, I did mention that his struggles wouldn't preclude players around him from excelling.
Of course, Brandon Marshall is likely to be one of those, but he's also going to get a lot of attention in the secondary.
Which will make life a little easier for Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery has made great strides in his second year, becoming much more reliable weapon for the Bears offense. He's seen a lot of targets the last three games (38), and has brought down a fair amount of them (55 percent).
He's still not seeing the end zone much, but he's getting targets and catches, and even against a tough Rams secondary, he should put up good enough numbers to be a solid No. 3 or flex receiver.
SIT: Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers
On the one hand, Dwayne Bowe had one of his best games this season in the Kansas City Chiefs' loss to the Denver Broncos. He found the end zone and made a few nice catches.
On the other hand, several things still seem to spell doom for his fantasy prospects.
Bowe and quarterback Alex Smith are not on the same page. At times this past Sunday, Bowe could have done more to catch some of the 14 targets thrown his way (he only caught four). But other times Smith just simply threw poor balls.
Smith doesn't go down the field much either, though he seemed to try and go vertical more often Sunday night than he has all season. When he did go long, though, he and Bowe once again didn't seem to be in sync.
The Chargers have a decent secondary, even though they can be torched on occasion. The problem is that the Chiefs run a dink-and-dunk style offense, and that doesn't lend itself to Bowe's strengths.
If Bowe didn't get that touchdown last weekend, he would have had another lackluster game for fantasy owners. He's had a few too many of those this year—so better to keep him benched this week.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.