Fantasy Football Week 12: Early Advice for Your Roster

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2013

Fantasy Football Week 12: Early Advice for Your Roster

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    I don't know that we've ever seen a season in which so many fantasy football studs have been down for the count—either for long stretches (Aaron Rodgers) or permanently (Arian Foster).

    On the other hand, that just means if you've been active on the waiver wire and deft with your moves, you probably are still in this thing. Never has draft position meant so little in so many leagues.

    We're starting to prep for the playoffs here. Most of this column will continue to focus on the present, but we're also going to begin looking ahead so that those of us who have made the fantasy playoffs can be fully prepared for what awaits us.

    Which, if the rest of this season is an indication, will almost certainly be three different kinds of chaos.

M*A*S*H Report

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    Week 11 is in the books and the injury parade marches on.

    The oddest one—and one which has raised a few eyebrows—was Wes Welker's concussion. What was odd about it?

    Well, it looked like he sustained it and then went back into the game, for one. Ben Hochman of The Denver Post wrote a solid column on how the in-game concussion protocol failed Welker and certainly placed him in jeopardy of further injury because of it.

    On the other hand, The Post's Mike Klis says the trainers thought his initial injury was a neck injury.

    All that really matters is that we won't know for sure what his status is for Sunday (he didn't practice Wednesday)—continue to watch the injury updates at your site of choice and have a replacement ready.

    Adrian Peterson is complaining of a strained groin according to Tom Powers of the Pioneer-Press.

    From the article:

    "Actually, it was bothering me a lot," Peterson said of the injury. "There were a couple plays in the first half, oh man, I knew if I was able to explode the way I normally do I could have gotten some big chunks, even taken it to the house."

    That quote, along with being a concern going forward, explains a lot of what we saw Sunday, when Peterson got caught past the line of scrimmage a lot more frequently than he normally does.

    It's also interesting because last year he played through a sports hernia, which required surgery and yet was just as effective as he always is.

    It's another piece to the puzzle that has been a disappointing season for Vikings fans and, in some ways, Peterson owners. He should play this weekend, but as with Welker, have an alternative.

    We move back to Denver for a minute to talk about surprising fantasy tight end (well, surprising if you didn't follow ESPN Denver's Cecil Lammey on Twitter during training camp) Julius Thomas.

    Lindsay Jones of USA Today says that the knee injury Thomas sustained Sunday night is merely a sprain and his status is day-to-day.

    As Jene Bramel of Footballguys pointed out in this week's "Monday Injury Rounds"column, the news is both comforting and concerning:

    The "just a sprain" is reassuring only in that it likely means there's no damage to the ACL and no surgery planned. The hyperextension mechanism puts the other three ligaments -- MCL, LCL, PCL -- on the table. Even a low grade sprain of those ligaments may require a 1-4 week rehab and recovery. We'll know more later in the week.

    Thomas and the Broncos are hopeful he will play against New England this week, but while he is a big weapon for the offense, it has Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker as well.

    Where this becomes a rippling concern is if Welker and Thomas are both out. Then you have to be a little concerned for Peyton Manning's numbers. You'll still start him because of the tear he's on, but it might be a good week to be conservative in your other choices.

    San Diego Chargers rookie Keenan Allen hyper-extended his knee, but ESPN.com's Eric Williams says he is expected to play at Kansas City this weekend. It's a tough matchup, but he's definitely still the No. 1 receiver in this offense.

    He might have a mellow day this week and his upcoming schedule is a bit rough, but in Week 16, the matchup against Oakland is very nice if you make the fantasy championship.

    And here is the winner for our "strangest injury of the day": Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy played through a hamstring injury last Sunday—or did he?

    According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Zach Berman, McCoy thinks it may have been a cramp.

    Cramps are pretty common, but I don't think I've ever heard of a player mistaking a hamstring pull for a cramp. I'd imagine the reverse is more common.

    Either way, you can assume McCoy will be fine after this weekend's bye as long as he hydrates.

    Here are a few updates on big names currently out.

    Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune says Jay Cutler is worried about ligament issues with his ankle and his return against Minnesota Week 13 is in doubt. If there's ligament damage, that will pretty much kill his fantasy worth for the rest of the season.

    It's on life support as it is.

    Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reports that Aaron Rodgers was throwing the ball around MetLife Stadium Sunday without pain.

    That's great, but it sounds like his chances of playing on Thanksgiving against Detroit are slim:

    "For that to happen, I would have to be on the field two days before the game," Rodgers said. "So it would be Friday this week or Tuesday of next week [before the Thanksgiving game at Detroit], practicing. If that's the case, then there's a chance. If not, then I will be spectating."

    There's a chance, but we always thought the Thanksgiving date was optimistic. Hold onto him, though—he'll be back for at least part of your fantasy playoffs.

    Roddy White had an OK day, for being on Revis Island. Still he's not looking the same and using him this Thursday night as more than a flex or No. 3 receiver is risky.

     

This Week's Bye-Week Bench

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    We're almost done with this nonsense, folks. As of next week, we'll have to find another subject for this slide.

    Week 12 brings us to the final bye week of the season—a tough year because of so many significant injuries.

    One last time, here are the players you'll be missing when teams take the field this Sunday.

    QB: EJ Manuel, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, Russell Wilson

    RB: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Giovani Bernard, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch

    WR: Steve Johnson, Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper, Percy Harvin, Golden Tate, Daniel Baldwin.

     

    Week 4Green Bay , Carolina
    Week 5Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington
    Week 6Atlanta, Miami
    Week 7Oakland, New Orleans
    Week 8Chicago, Tennessee, Indianapolis, San Diego, Baltimore, Houston
    Week 9Denver, Detroit, New York Giants, Arizona, San Francisco, Jacksonville
    Week 10Cleveland, Kansas City, New England, New York Jets
    Week 11Dallas, St. Louis
    Week 12Buffalo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Seattle

Bye-Week Quarterback Matchups to Like

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    Case Keenum vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

    It seems obvious—Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum has played very well and the Jaguars generally have not. However, after head coach Gary Kubiak yanked Keenum for Matt Schaub, you might be feeling nervous that this Sunday we'll see it happen again.

    It won't, because the fanbase almost rioted, and while Kubiak may for some reason prefer Schaub, the reality is that Keenum has been far more effective.

    Hence the near rioting.

    Keenum will be fine and, in fact, have a very good day.

     

    Scott Tolzien vs. Minnesota Vikings

    Admittedly, Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien has had more downs than ups. His first two games have resulted in five interceptions and just one touchdown. However, overall he played well and he's going up against a shaky Vikings secondary.

    The Vikings are ranked No. 29 in the NFL and have only generated eight interceptions while allowing 23 touchdowns—the most in the league to date.

    Tolzien made some very nice throws, and it was clear that he, Jordy Nelson and Jarrett Boykin are in sync. The Giants are a better defense than you think—the Vikings are not.

    He's a borderline top-10 fantasy quarterback this week.

     

    Ben Roethlisberger at Cleveland Browns

    The Steelers quarterback had a tremendous game last weekendarguably his best played, if not his best statistically. The Cleveland Browns aren't a bad defense—far from it—but they are letting up a lot of touchdowns. I wouldn't expect huge yards—though you can expect more than Andy Dalton's 93—but he's certain to put some points on the board.

Bye-Week Running Back Matchups to Like

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    Zac Stacy vs. Chicago Bears

    He's back! While St. Louis rookie running back Zac Stacy didn't have a big week prior to the Week 11 bye, he did score his third touchdown in two games and posted respectable numbers. The matchup shouldn't scare you at all—this is a guy who put up 134 yards on the Seattle Seahawks.

    Besides, the Bears defense isn't as good as it has been in the past.

    Stacy is a top-10 start at running back this week.

     

    Andre Brown vs. Dallas Cowboys

    After a tremendous first game against the Oakland Raiders, Brown cooled off a little against the Green Bay Packers and had a touchdown vultured by Brandon Jacobs.

    Overall, Brown has looked every bit as good as he does whenever he is healthy, and the Giants offense is improving.

    The last two games have seen the Dallas Cowboys run defense get lit on fire by Adrian Peterson (140 yards and a touchdown) and Mark Ingram (145 yards and a touchdown).

    Letting Peterson run all over you is one thing, but Ingram? That was his first 100-yard game of his career.

    Brown should have a great day—easily a No. 2 and potentially more.

     

    Eddie Lacy vs. Minnesota Vikings

    Yes, rookie Eddie Lacy's day was saved in part by a touchdown, but because of early struggles, people fail to realize that the New York Giants' run defense is pretty darn good. It was ranked at No. 11, allowing just 102.8 yards per game, with only six touchdowns allowed up until Sunday. Now it's ranked seventh, allowing seven total touchdowns and just 98 yards a game.

    In other words, it's pretty good.

    The Vikings can be stingy, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, but they're tied for having allowed the fifth-most touchdowns on the ground (11) in the NFL.

    On top of all that, the Packers need to run the ball more effectively and help out quarterback Scott Tolzien by pulling the defense off him.

    Lacy should bounce back this week and help them get a desperately needed win.

Bye-Week Wide Receiver Matchups to Like

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    Jarrett Boykin vs. Minnesota Vikings

    One thing is abundantly clear two games into the "Scott Tolzien Regime," and it's that the chemistry between Tolzien and Jarrett Boykin is incredible.

    Since Tolzien took over in Week 10 against Philadelphia, he has targeted Boykin 21 times, resulting in 14 catches for 203 yards.

    Against a defense which, as we mentioned earlier, ranks No. 23 in the NFL against the pass and features a questionable (on a good day) secondary, this should be a big game for Boykin, and he is a solid start as a No. 3 receiver or a low-end No. 2.

     

    Torrey Smith vs. New York Jets

    After a stretch during the early season when the Jets defense appeared to be solid—especially against the pass—the team now looks like it is very vulnerable deep.

    Unfortunately, that's what Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith specializes in.

    Antonio Cromartie and rookie Dee Milliner are burned often on vertical routes, and it doesn't improve when a guy like Kyle Wilson comes off the bench.

    The last two weeks, Smith's value has been saved by a touchdown, but overall this has not been a good year for him or the Ravens offense.

    However, he's had touchdowns in each of the last two games, and as I said, the Jets are vulnerable deep. Even if Joe Flacco gets hit by the defensive line, he's going to have Smith on vertical routes, making Smith a decent No. 2 wide receiver this week after a relatively shaky year.

     

    Kendall Wright vs. Oakland Raiders

    It looks like Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick really likes to throw the ball to Kendall Wright, whom he's targeted nine and 12 times in the last two games. Wright, for his part, has caught 16 of those 21 targets for 158 yards, though no touchdowns.

    That lack of touchdowns definitely holds him down a bit, but if you start him as a No. 3 receiver with upside against the Oakland Raiders, you should come away happy this weekend.

Bye-Week Tight End Matchups to Like

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    Delanie Walker at Oakland Raiders

    When Jared Cook left for St. Louis, some thought the Titans would struggle to find a productive tight end, but Delanie Walker has been just that. Over the last four games, he has scored three times.

    Two of those times have come since Ryan Fitzpatrick took over for an injured Jake Locker as starting quarterback.

    Walker is going to have another week of solid tight end production against a shaky Oakland defense.

     

    John Carlson at Green Bay Packers

    While the Vikings continue to stumble their way through the NFL season, John Carlson has finally shown some value.

    Over the past two weeks, he has been targeted 14 times by Christian Ponder, who may have mistaken him for injured tight end and safety blanket Kyle Rudolph.

    In return, Carlson has caught 12 of his targets for 167 yards and one touchdown—looking much more like the tight end who did so well in his early career with the Seahawks.

    Expect more of the same this weekend at Lambeau Field, as Ponder will likely be under pressure (both real and imagined) all day and look to his athletic tight end to bail him out.

     

    Coby Fleener at Arizona Cardinals

    Over the last two games, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck targeted Coby Fleener 20 times—that's more than any other player on the team.

    The first time out, against the Houston Texans, Fleener struggled to catch many of his targets—though Luck struggled at times as well.

    Last week, Fleener had arguably his best game this year, catching eight of his targets for 107 yards, including a 39-yard reception during which he showed off his speed and athleticism after the catch.

    It looks very much like he is one of Luck's favorite targets, and while the Cardinals have a solid defense, Fleener should be a good mismatch for the coverage.

Bye-Week Team Defense Matchups to Like

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    Last week just proved that even at this point, we know virtually nothing.

    The Jets and Browns both threw up their hands and said "I give up!" but I believe they'll bounce back—though perhaps not this week.

    I do really like the following teams and their matchups, though.

     

    Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Jets

    The Jets tend to alternate between wins and losses, but I have a feeling the cycle will be broken this week. Lost in all the Geno Smith mistakes last weekend against Buffalo was some horrible offensive line play—a level I don't expect to be changed in this game.

    Couple that with a wide receiver group of Santonio Holmes and a bunch of warm bodies and this smells like another Geno Smith turnover marathon.

    For the most part, the Ravens have been a disappointing fantasy defense, not worth the pick most owners spent on them. That won't be the case this weekend.

     

    Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

    The Houston Texans have been a pretty big fantasy football disappointment across the board this year, especially the defense.

    While, in real life, the defense is pretty good against the pass, it is second-to-last in interceptions (with just four) and No. 23 in the league in sacks (with 23). It has also given up the fifth-most points in the league overall.

    That means normally you aren't seeing much in the way of fantasy points.

    This week is different because the Texans welcome the awful Jacksonville Jaguars to Houston. They should see a marked increase in sacks (the Jaguars offensive line has allowed five in the last two starts), if not interceptions, and the points allowed won't be high. If you need help, Houston will get you through this week.

     

    Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings

    Like the previous two teams, this hasn't been a good year for the Packers defense—both in the real NFL and fantasy football.

    However, over the last three games, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has thrown four interceptions and generally looked—well, like Ponder, which is to say not great.

    The Packers are having some issues bringing pressure, but Ponder has a habit of feeling it even when it isn't there, rushing his passes, pulling the ball down to run too soon and generally making poor decisions.

    There haven't been many weeks where you could start the Packers for fantasy purposes. This is one you won't want to miss.

Setting Up for the Fantasy Playoffs

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    By Week 12, most of us have a firm idea as to whether we've made the fantasy playoffs. Sure, some are on the bubble—I am in a few leagues—but mostly you're either in or out with just two games left.

    While you're jockeying for seeding, you also need to have an eye on the playoffs.

    Now is the time to check one more time and make sure you are set for the playoffs. We'll get into some details next week, but this week, the one piece of advice I can give you is to check what your playoff matchups are.

    This is especially important in two areas—defenses (which we talked about a little last week) and bench players.

    If you've played fantasy football a while—especially in leagues with larger starting lineups or multiple flex options—you'll have seen how a bench player can make the difference in a fantasy game.

    Most of the time, you're starting your studs. You will have Marshawn Lynch or Calvin Johnson in your lineup.

    But who will you have in your lineup at you No. 3 receiver or your flex running back? That's an important question and could make a huge difference.

    Next week, we'll take a look at some of the best playoff matchups at each position and talk about which ones to consider avoiding.

    For now, make sure you have no surprises coming up and plenty of bench help at each position—but especially receiver and running back—to protect you both from injury and a questionable matchup.

     

    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.