We have waited for this all season: Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos at Tom Brady's New England Patriots. This might as well be the in-season Super Bowl, or at least the AFC championship.
But you read it here first: It won't be a fantasy bonanza.
The Patriots and Broncos know each other well—almost as well as a division opponent. So all of those offensive weapons won't be producing at their fantasy peak this week. Throw in freezing temperatures and winds forecast at over 20 mph and you should be expecting a game that won't be pushing the betting line over, which is currently around 56 points.
Instead, expect this game to be played close to the vest early, featuring two solid running games. If it opens up, it will be a late game of "Can You Top This," much like Monday night at Carolina was.
No, you won't be sitting any of your Broncos: Peyton Manning, Knowshon Moreno, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker (if he plays post-concussion), Julius Thomas (if he's active amid a knee sprain) or Matt Prater. Nor will you be able to truly justify benching your Pats against a Broncos defense that is fifth-worst against the pass and sixth-worst in fantasy against quarterbacks.
But it looks like it will be cold and windy—the worst conditions NFL offenses face late in the year. Perhaps the best thing that could happen would be for it to snow, because that would make the conditions difficult for slipping defenders. That is how those big plays happen and make for huge fantasy scores.
Welker versus his former team?
As much as Welker wants to stick it to the Pats for choosing to let him go, it won't be in his hands. It is in the hands of the trainers, doctors and the NFL concussion protocol.
Welker won't practice until Friday, ESPN's Jeff Legwold reports, even if he passes the baseline concussion test, which was supposed to be administered Monday. Legwold's report cited ESPN insider Chris Mortensen's sources saying Welker is "expected to be OK."
Regardless, it is likely all we will know until Friday's practice report is that Welker missed practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Welker was first treated for a neck issue, which is why he initially returned to the game Sunday. Interim head coach Jack Del Rio told reporters after the game:
My understanding is we followed protocol; he was cleared to return; he had symptoms that came up and he was pulled. He'll go through the protocol this week. ... [Doctors] checked him, allowed to return, symptoms came that were problematic and he was pulled. They saw an issue and they pulled him. I think it worked the way it was supposed to.
If Welker does not play, you have to like Decker more. Regarding the knee issue of Thomas, the tight end should be fine to play.
Ridley in doghouse, trumped by Vereen
One Patriot you have to consider benching in fantasy is Stevan Ridley. Not only was he limited after another fumble Monday night, but he also will take a seat in lieu of Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount in certain packages.
Ridley owners face a number of challenges this week:
- The Broncos defense is ranked No. 4 against the run, allowing just 92.7 yards per game.
- Ridley is in the doghouse after his fumble, playing just six snaps afterward Monday night.
- Vereen (wrist) is back and stealing snaps in passing situations. Vereen (34 of 72 snaps) played almost twice as much as Ridley (19) or Blount (19).
- Blount remains a favorite in short-yardage and clock-killing situations.
The problems with sitting Ridley, even after all that, are the game conditions (cold and windy), and playing keep-away from Manning might put the game in the hands of the Pats backs more than Brady. Ridley was already preparing for the team to turn to the running game, telling the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe before the Monday nighter:
If that's the direction the team wants to go in and lean a little more on the run game, that's fine by us. We'll do whatever we have to do to get a win. I know the big boys up front are excited when we get a heavy dose of the run, and it's proven to us when we're balanced, that's when our offense is the most dangerous. That's what we have to keep trying to push to do every week.
We understand your hesitance to play Ridley in standard leagues, but he might be the exact way the Pats scheme to upset the Broncos and Manning in Foxborough on Sunday night.
Thursday Night Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
- New Orleans Saints: Drew Brees, Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas, Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Garrett Hartley and Saints D/ST
- Atlanta Falcons: Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez
This is a "start all" game for the Saints against the Falcons, who are in the bottom 10 of fantasy against quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers (fifth-worst). In addition to starting Thomas at running back, you might even get production from Mark Ingram again. The Falcons are 30th against the run.
The Saints are third against the pass, but your alternatives are not better than White or Gonzalez, especially at home. With the Saints expected to blow this one out, there should be some garbage time for these former fantasy studs.
- New Orleans Saints: Lance Moore, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem
- Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, Jason Snelling, Harry Douglas, Matt Bryant and Falcons D/ST
We had to dig to find Saints we wouldn't advise, and the only reason we wouldn't advise the three above is because we cannot accurately project which of these circumstantial targets will be the best of the bunch. If you need a high ceiling, go with Stills. If you want a safer play, it is Moore.
As for the Falcons' sits, Ryan and Douglas are the ones you want to play, but you probably shouldn't against the Saints secondary. The Saints are third-best against fantasy quarterbacks, and Ryan hasn't been a top-12 fantasy option for weeks.
Douglas is coming off a huge game, but that is because he got work opposite White, who was stuck on Darrelle Revis island. The Saints secondary is more well-rounded. Douglas won't by allowed to lead the group this week—Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been watching.
The Falcons backfield is a mess best avoided, but if you play anyone, it should be Jackson.
Roster Trends Review
We break down the top 50 most-added players in CBS Sports leagues, by position, from Wednesday morning's waivers. For the first time in 12 weeks—i.e. all season—Bleacher Report's Top Pickups slideshow from Tuesday morning just missed projecting the most-added player at each position.
(So, either this writer is getting more predictive or the fantasy masses are merely finally following the right path!)
|Week 12's Most-Added Players|
|RK||Player||POS||TM||Past %||New %||Increase|
Carson Palmer is coming off his first 400-yard week of the season, and his team is finally getting into a groove under Bruce Arians' aerial system. Of course, a matchup against the Jaguars always helps too. Next up is the Colts at home and a potential shootout with Andrew Luck.
If not for a terrible season by his standards, Eli Manning should have been added more for a potential shootout with Dallas, which is dead last in fantasy against quarterbacks.
Bobby Rainey, Montee Ball, Donald Brown and Chris Ogbonnaya are all good pickups relative to their recent production and potential down the stretch. Rainey won the week statistically, so he was justifiably first in the list above.
Ball has the biggest upside when the inevitable injury befalls Knowshon Moreno. Moreno hasn't stayed healthy for a full 16-game season since his rookie year in 2009. That makes Ball a must-have handcuff, if not a flex starter against the Pats, who rank 27th against the run.
Michael Floyd was the obvious top choice coming off his huge Week 11 performance, but Michael Crabtree is the deep sleeper of this week's waivers run. If he can return to the mix for the 49ers, it would give the disappointing Colin Kaepernick a legit downfield threat.
We have to assume the seriousness of Crabtree's Achilles surgery and the 49ers' slow incorporation of Mario Manningham (knee) into the offense will make Crabtree more like a Percy Harvin situation. It took the Seahawks weeks before they finally debuted Harvin, and his production was limited by his opportunities. Expect the same from Crabtree, but stash him just in case.
This is the lone position Tuesday's Top Pickups didn't effectively project the most-added player in CBS Sports leagues. We went with the potential of Rob Housler and Garrett Graham over the recent hot streak of Delanie Walker. Walker has had some of his best weeks recently and with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, so the matchup against the Raiders does at least make him intriguing for one week in standard leagues.
The Rams and Cowboys were two of fantasy's highest-scoring units going into their bye week, and their matchups in Week 12 are favorable, so consider them among the best streaming options. The Steelers and Packers have been frustrating at this position in fantasy, but their matchups this week look good too.
You can argue the Ravens (vs. Jets) or Texans (vs. Jags)—playing two of the worst teams in fantasy against opposing defenses—are better plays, but you probably cannot go wrong with any of those six if you stream your defense week to week.
Dan Bailey started the season hot and cooled off when Tony Romo and Dez Bryant did, but now that his bye is out of the way, he's worth keeping active in all leagues down the stretch. The same cannot be said for Phil Dawson because of the 49ers' inconsistent offensive production, but you have to figure he and the Niners will get better too.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.