Fantasy Football Start or Sit: Week 12
I asked for this.
I wanted to work at numberFire. I wanted to write fantasy football content. I wanted this to be my job. I wanted to be part of the fantasy football industry.
But, man, Thanksgiving week is rough. It's really, really, rough.
It's sort of like that famous scene from I Love Lucy. (You know the scene I'm talking about.) Lucy's working at the factory wrapping chocolates off of a conveyer belt when she realizes that she can't wrap as fast as the chocolate is coming out. Eventually, chocolate is going everywhere. And to ensure she doesn't get in trouble for not being quick enough, she starts putting the chocolate anywhere that's out of sight, whether it be in her mouth or in her shirt.
Right now, I'm metaphorically putting chocolates in my shirt. (I would say pants, but I work from home, so, you know...)
That's just what Thanksgiving week is like for anyone who covers the NFL in some capacity. Your timetable is shortened, but you still have the same tasks as you would during any other NFL week. Chocolate is everywhere. And, to make it harder, there are three games on Thursday instead of one. Three!
OK, OK, maybe I actually love it.
I'm actually really, really thankful for it.
Start Carson Palmer (at Atlanta): The Falcons have the sixth-worst secondary according to our schedule-adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) metric and, thanks to a high-powered offense, the team is generally in shootouts. That's forced them to allow the most fantasy points per game to opposing signal-callers. And that, quit simply, is why Old Man Palmer is in play this week -- despite just two weekly top-10 finishes at the quarterback position this year, you could do worse given the matchup.
Sit Matthew Stafford (vs. Minnesota): Though Minnesota is surrendering 10 more (real) points per game over their last five contests versus their first five this season, they've still been pretty stingy against opposing quarterbacks. On the year, only Kirk Cousins has ranked as a top-12, QB1 against them in standard scoring leagues, and he ranked 12th that week, scoring a little over 18 points.
Meanwhile, Stafford hasn't been the same fantasy quarterback of late thanks to tough matchups and some natural regression (he was throwing far too many touchdowns given his yardage totals). But the Lions also aren't this volume behemoth they once were. Only four teams run their offense at a slower pace than the Lions do, and Stafford himself is pacing for just 562 attempts, which would be by far the lowest of his career when counting full seasons played. His fantasy production has been helped by touchdown tosses, and those will be hard to accomplish against this Vikings team.
Start Eli Manning (at Cleveland): Ben Roethlisberger was a fantasy football nightmare against the Browns last week, but much of that had to do with strong winds and a ridiculously effective rushing attack. The fact is, the Browns have allowed two or more touchdown passes in all but two games this year, and they rank as our absolute worst pass defense. Manning can be inconsistent at times, but he's been really solid of late, finishing with four top-15 weekly performances over his last five games. You're usually worried about Manning's floor in fantasy, but you shouldn't be this week.
Sit Jameis Winston (at Seattle): There really has only been three quarterbacks who have put together start-worthy performances against the Seahawks this year. One of them was Tyrod Taylor, who ran the ball for 43 yards and a score versus them, and the other two were Matt Ryan (a potential MVP candidate) and Drew Brees (who was at home, where he always does well). Though Winston has been great from a fantasy standpoint recently, he also shriveled up in two of his toughest matchups this year: Arizona (QB31) and Denver (QB24). There should be better options from you to choose from this week.
Start Rashad Jennings (at Cleveland): In last week's win over the Bears, Jennings ended up seeing 21 of a possible 25 running back carries while playing 70% of the team's snaps. It appears as though they're sticking with him over Paul Perkins. If he gets that kind of workload again this week, he could see big numbers -- only San Francisco has surrendered more fantasy points per game to opposing running backs than Cleveland has this year.
Sit Rob Kelley (at Dallas): Kelley is fine to start in most leagues, but in shallower ones, there's reason to be a little nervous about him this week. Yes, he's coming off a masterful rushing day, but Washington also had a positive game script throughout their entire Week 11 matchup against the Packers. And that's something that's favored Kelley since taking over the starting gig for Washington: positive and neutral game scripts.
Washington's yet to be a heavy underdog with Kelley as their primary back, so we've yet to see how that truly impacts his volume. We should note, too, that rushing volume is bigger for him than most backs: he's caught just one pass since becoming the starter, and we know the Redskins have pass-catching specialist Chris Thompson on the roster.
The negative game script in Washington's game against Dallas is worrisome. Not only are the Cowboys seven-point favorites, but because Dallas runs at a slow pace (slowest in the NFL) and plays keep-away, they've faced 24 fewer rushing plays than any other team in football. For some perspective, the 49ers have seen 147 more rushing plays on defense than the Cowboys have this year. That's nearly 15 carries per game.
Can Kelley save his day with a rushing score? Absolutely -- he's going to see goal-line work in this contest. Is he OK to start in 12-teamers? Probably, yes. Just know that this is one of the worst types of games you'll find for him.
Start Todd Gurley (at New Orleans): In PPR formats, Gurley has finished as a top-12, RB1 zero times this year. But he's also given you a really nice floor, almost always ending the week in RB2 range. This could be the week where he finally does what fantasy owners drafted him to do, and that's have a big game.
The Saints have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this year, and the game itself is being played in New Orleans, where there are generally higher-scoring games: since the start of 2014, the Saints have allowed over 30 points per game at home, which is actually more than what they've surrendered on the road. There's a 45.5-point over/under in this game and the Saints are big favorites, which may end up favoring Benny Cunningham (deep sleeper alert) in the passing game, but Gurley should still be able to do a lot of work on early downs.
Sit Dion Lewis (at New York): Anytime a player is coming off a big injury, to help see what his potential usage might be, I ask myself, "Do they really need him in this game?" Because, if a team isn't in need of that player, why would they use him? That's the case for Dion Lewis this week. He did see 5 carries and 5 targets in New England's Week 11 win against San Francisco, but he played just 28% of the team's snaps. And this week's game features an eight-point spread favoring the Pats, which means if the game goes as planned, LeGarrette Blount will be on the field to face the top-five Jets rush defense, not Lewis. It's just too hard to trust him until you see him getting more of a workload.
Start Bilal Powell (deeper play, vs. New England): Powell actually has been a top-25 PPR running back in each of his last three games, peaking at RB8 the last time we saw the Jets back in Week 10. (That's just proof to show you he's not useless.) Over the 2016 season, New York has lost four games by a touchdown or more. And, during those games, Powell has averaged 7 targets (a little over 3 targets outside the split) and 37 receiving yards (15 out of the split). Simply put, he benefits from strong negative game scripts as the Jets' third-down back. Considering the Jets are big underdogs against the Pats, Powell makes for an interesting flex play in PPR formats this week.
Start Jordan Matthews (vs. Green Bay): J-Matt now has four consecutive double-digit target games, and while he hasn't done much with the volume, it's mostly because he hasn't found the end zone. With the Eagles facing the Packers this week, that could change -- in the slot, Matthews will see a lot of Micah Hyde, who ranks 86th at cornerback according to Pro Football Focus' grades. The Packers have been torched by receivers who can play in the slot this year: Stefon Diggs was the top-ranked (PPR) wideout in Week 2 against them, Mohamed Sanu ranked fifth at the position in Week 8, Cole Beasley was eighth in Week 6, and Jamison Crowder finished in the top-10 just last week. This could end up being one of Matthews' best games all year.
Sit Marvin Jones (vs. Minnesota): As I mentioned above with Stafford, volume (and the team's schedule) has been tough for Lions' pass-catchers over the last four or five weeks. That's really hurt Jones after his red-hot start, as he's been a usable wideout in just one of his last four games. Things won't get any easier this week against Xavier Rhodes, who's held opposing quarterbacks to a 31.5 passer rating when they've targeted him this year.
Start Cole Beasley (vs. Washington): It's easy to pinpoint players in the slot against Washington, as they've got Josh Norman taking away a good portion of the outside of the field. Like the Packers, we've seen slot wideouts do work against the Redskins this year: Eli Rogers, the aforementioned Diggs, and Sterling Shepard all had nice games against Washington. And Beasley is seeing volume, having six or more targets in all but two games this year.
The downside here is that tight ends can also find the open field against Washington, and Dez Bryant may not be shadowed by Josh Norman. That could open up more passing lanes for Dak Prescott, leaving Beasley with less volume. He's not a bad play overall, though. (Plus he gives you someone to root for on Thanksgiving.)
Sit Donte Moncrief (vs. Pittsburgh): The matchup with a healthy Andrew Luck would be great for Moncrief, as he'd more than likely be lined up against a beatable Ross Cockrell through the contest against Pittsburgh. But Moncrief has been rather touchdown-dependent in games he's played this year (touchdowns in four of five games while ranking higher than WR24 in PPR leagues once), and those scores will be tough to come by with Scott Tolzien filling in for a concussed Luck. Try to find a replacement until Luck is back.
Start Michael Crabtree (vs. Carolina): Crabtree has been held in check two games in a row now, but he also faced two of the toughest matchups for wide receivers against Denver and Houston. This week, things are a lot different. The Raiders are hosting the Panthers, a squad that's allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to wide receivers. Crabtree will see a lot of Daryl Worley, who's been the worse of the two Panther outside corners, according to Pro Football Focus. The volume has been there for Crabtree, and the matchup should allow him to post WR2 numbers.
Other wide receivers to start: Brandon LaFell (at Baltimore), Kelvin Benjamin (at Oakland), DeVante Parker (vs. San Francisco)
Other wide receivers to sit: Cameron Meredith (vs. Tennessee), Corey Coleman (vs. New York)
Start Eric Ebron (vs. Minnesota): Ebron has now finished as a top-seven PPR tight end in each of the last four weeks. Meanwhile, while I'm not high on the Lions' passing attack, the Vikings have given up top-10 games to Ebron himself, Jermaine Gresham, Zach Miller (pour some out), and Vernon Davis over the last four weeks. In order to move the ball, the Lions are going to have to get Ebron involved.
Sit Jared Cook (at Philadelphia): Don't go chasing big Jared Cook games. Isn't there a song about that? While Cook could certainly become a thing in the Packers offense, trusting him after his 11-target performance last week is still risky, let alone against an Eagles team that's surrendered the fourth-fewest points to the tight end position this year.
Start C.J. Fiedorowicz (vs. San Diego): Since the end of Week 3, Fiedorowicz has seen no fewer than five targets in a single game. And, get this: he's finished worse than the 15th-best tight end in PPR formats just once. He's got the sixth-best target market share at the tight end position over the last five weeks, and since the matchup is fine, he can find your starting lineup.
Start the Tennessee Titans (at Chicago): The Bears are without Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler, and Zach Miller. Matt Barkley, who's thrown 6 interceptions on 65 career attempts, is starting for the Bears. Oh, and the Bears still have yet to score three touchdowns in a game this year. Tennessee is an obvious streaming choice.
Sit the Carolina Panthers (at Oakland): Carolina has been playing great defense since their bye, but traveling to Oakland to face a good Raiders offense is not a spot where I'd want to start them. On the season, only the Chiefs defense has ranked higher than 15th in weekly defensive scoring against Oakland. The Raiders are actually the second-worst matchup you can find in terms of fantasy points against -- only the Cowboys have been a tougher matchup for fantasy defenses.
Other defenses to start: Pittsburgh Steelers (at Indianapolis), New York Giants (at Cleveland)
Other defenses to sit: Washington Redskins (at Dallas), New York Jets (vs. New England)