Perhaps no player better sums up the frustrating nature of fantasy football than Ray Rice.
The Baltimore Ravens running back has struggled all season long and has scored double-digit fantasy points just twice. His coach, John Harbaugh, even said that Rice was struggling with a hip injury and that usage at the running back position in Baltimore would be based on performance, opening up the door for Bernard Pierce to earn more playing time.
So, justifiably, many owners sat Rice this week. And he promptly accrued 148 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, good for 20.8 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues.
That's fantasy, folks. More often than not, it surprises you. But ultimately, projecting results for individual players is a careful balance of measuring their talent against the matchup they are facing and playing the percentages. You never know how a player will perform from week to week, but you can make educated guesses.
Here, I've provided my list of educated guesses for the top 10 at every position this week in fantasy football. And no, I didn't include Rice—we'll see if he proves me wrong again versus a tough New York Jets run defense.
|Week 12 Quarterback Rankings|
|1||Drew Brees||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||30|
|2||Matt Stafford||Detroit Lions||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||26|
|3||Tony Romo||Dallas Cowboys||New York Giants||25|
|4||Peyton Manning||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||24|
|5||Tom Brady||New England Patriots||Denver Broncos||20|
|6||Andrew Luck||Indianapolis Colts||Arizona Cardinals||17|
|7||Colin Kaepernick||San Francisco 49ers||Washington||17|
|8||Cam Newton||Carolina Panthers||Miami Dolphins||15|
|9||Robert Griffin III||Washington||San Francisco 49ers||15|
|10||Alex Smith||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||14|
Drew Brees is going to torch the Atlanta Falcons, a team that has given up 17 or more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in eight of 10 weeks, while Matt Stafford, Tony Romo, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck are trustworthy just about every week.
Despite struggling this year, Colin Kaepernick makes the list against a Washington defense that is giving up 274.9 passing yards per game, 26th in the NFL. Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III each have tough matchups, but the upside they possess due to their scrambling ability makes them tough to sit.
|Week 12 Running Back Rankings|
|1||Matt Forte||Chicago Bears||St. Louis Rams||25|
|2||Frank Gore||San Francisco 49ers||Washington||24|
|3||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers||21|
|4||Chris Johnson||Tennessee Titans||Oakland Raiders||20|
|5||Zac Stacy||St. Louis Rams||Chicago Bears||20|
|6||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||19|
|7||Eddie Lacy||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||15|
|8||Knowshon Moreno||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||14|
|9||Rashad Jennings||Oakland Raiders||Tennessee Titans||13|
|10||Ben Tate||Houston Texans||Jacksonville Jaguars||13|
Running Back Notes
The Chicago Bears have given up 20 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs in six of the past seven weeks. In his last four games, Zac Stacy has registered double-digit fantasy points, and he's scored at least seven points in six straight contests. In other words, he is a brilliant start for owners this week.
Washington has given up 18 fantasy points to opposing running backs a whopping nine times this season, so Frank Gore has huge upside. Adrian Peterson was contained by the Seattle Seahawks, but he should have more success against the Green Bay Packers. Ditto for Jamaal Charles against the San Diego Chargers.
The big surprises are Rashad Jennings and Ben Tate making the rankings. Even if Darren McFadden returns from injury this week, Jennings has earned a huge role in Oakland's offense after notching 340 rushing yards and two touchdowns the past three weeks.
Meanwhile, Tate faces a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that has allowed 19 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs six times this season, though they have tightened up in that department in their two games after a Week 9 bye. Expect Tate to end that trend, however, and have a big afternoon.
|Week 12 Wide Receiver Rankings|
|1||Calvin Johnson||Detroit Lions||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||27|
|2||Andre Johnson||Houston Texans||Jacksonville Jaguars||22|
|3||Josh Gordon||Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||20|
|4||Dez Bryant||Dallas Cowboys||New York Giants||19|
|5||Demaryius Thomas||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||18|
|6||Jordy Nelson||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||16|
|7||Brandon Marshall||Chicago Bears||St. Louis Rams||16|
|8||Victor Cruz||New York Giants||Dallas Cowboys||14|
|9||Larry Fitzgerald||Arizona Cardinals||Indianapolis Colts||14|
|10||Marques Colston||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||13|
Wide Receiver Notes
Calvin Johnson has 112 fantasy points in his last four games. To put that in perspective, that would have tied him with Justin Blackmon as the 30th-ranked wide receiver in fantasy football for the entirety of the 2012 season.
I don't care if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers clone Darrelle Revis and double-team Megatron with the original Revis Island and his copy—Johnson will get his. He always does. At this point, he's making a strong case as the most valuable player in all of fantasy football.
A lot of people questioned Josh Gordon's inclusion on this list last week, and it's possible some folks will question his placement this week, too. Folks, Gordon is a locked and loaded WR1 who has seven or more fantasy points in six of eight games and has reached double-digit points in five of those contests. Doubt him at your own peril.
And would you look at that—some old favorites in fantasy football circles, Larry Fitzgerald and Marques Colston, make this week's list, too. Each have solid matchups, and Colston seems reborn, with 12 receptions for 187 yards and a touchdowns in his past two games. Look for him to torch the Falcons, especially with Jimmy Graham ailing.
|Week 12 Tight End Rankings|
|1||Vernon Davis||San Francisco 49ers||Washington||18|
|2||Rob Gronkowski||New England Patriots||Denver Broncos||17|
|3||Julius Thomas||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||15|
|4||Jimmy Graham||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||13|
|5||Jason Witten||Dallas Cowboys||New York Giants||12|
|6||Tony Gonzalez||Atlanta Falcons||New Orleans Saints||12|
|7||Rob Housler||Arizona Cardinals||Indianapolis Colts||10|
|8||Delanie Walker||Tennessee Titans||Oakland Raiders||9|
|9||Jordan Cameron||Cleveland Browns||Pittsburgh Steelers||9|
|10||Charles Clay||Miami Dolphins||Carolina Panthers||8|
Tight End Notes
Speaking of Graham, yes, I'm a bit worried.
Drew Brees is still looking his way—he has 11 receptions for 100 yards the past two weeks—but he's suddenly become touchdown reliant for fantasy production, something he wasn't to start the season. (He posted five 100-yard receiving games in New Orleans' first eight games.)
He's not a player you can afford to sit, but it's time to start tempering expectations.
Beyond that, the only potential surprise here is Arizona's Rob Housler, who has 10 receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks. He's definitely a guy worth scooping up if he's available in your league, especially with Martellus Bennett trending downward and Antonio Gates facing a Kansas City Chiefs defense that has given up one touchdown to opposing tight ends all season.
|Week 12 Defense/Special Team Rankings|
|1||Carolina Panthers||Miami Dolphins||18|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||Washington||17|
|3||Tennessee Titans||Oakland Raiders||17|
|4||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||15|
|5||Baltimore Ravens||New York Jets||14|
|6||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||12|
|7||St. Louis Rams||Chicago Bears||10|
|8||Houston Texans||Jacksonville Jaguars||10|
|9||Chicago Bears||St. Louis Rams||9|
|10||Miami Dolphins||Carolina Panthers||8|
Defense/Special Team Notes
With two of the top fantasy defenses—Seattle and Cincinnati—on bye this week, you might have to get a bit creative.
Baltimore against Geno Smith and a pretty poor New York Jets offense? A nice play. The Houston Texans against a poor Jacksonville offense? Pick them up. The Chicago Bears against Kellen Clemens? Sounds good.
If you have Carolina, Kansas City or San Francisco, you shouldn't be afraid to start them this week. After that, don't be afraid to take a chance.
|Week 12 Kicker Rankings|
|1||Matt Prater||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||15|
|2||Stephen Gostkowski||New England Patriots||Denver Broncos||14|
|3||Mason Crosby||Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||12|
|4||Garrett Hartley||New Orleans Saints||Atlanta Falcons||12|
|5||Dan Bailey||Dallas Cowboys||New York Giants||11|
|6||Ryan Succop||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||10|
|7||Robbie Gould||Chicago Bears||St. Louis Rams||10|
|8||Adam Vinatieri||Indianapolis Colts||Arizona Cardinals||9|
|9||Shaun Suisham||Pittsburgh Steelers||Cleveland Browns||8|
|10||Justin Tucker||Baltimore Ravens||New York Jets||8|
Let's be honest, trying to project kickers is like trying to guess how many jelly beans are in a jar. You can take into account the volume of the jar and the relative size of the jelly beans, but in the end, you're just tossing up a guess.
It's no different with kickers. You study their previous production, note whether they've struggled of late or not and take into account the matchup and how many chances they might have for field goals or extra points.
But ultimately, it's just a guess. Find a guy you trust and stick with him until he regresses. No position is more replaceable in fantasy football than kicker.
Hit me up on Twitter—I'll answer your fantasy lineup questions, tweet random fantasy musings and lament Ray Rice producing the week I finally benched him.