It’s getting late in the season and injuries can start to be a problem. Also it is starting to be crunch time in fantasy leagues don’t make the wrong decision, it just takes one point to win.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Must start: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb, Calvin Johnson, Packers DST
Lacy appears to be entering his familiar second-half surge, running for 205 yards on 39 carries and scoring once in his last two games. The ceiling for Rodgers clearly isn’t what it is with a healthy Jordy Nelson, but the Lions are 23rd in Football Outsiders DVOA against the pass, and 24th in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. Stafford, meanwhile, has ridden a few huge games to one of the best average scores among quarterbacks for the last six weeks. Outside of the wins over the Bears and Eagles, he hasn’t had another top-10 game, however. Cobb’s ceiling is just as restricted as Rodgers’s without Nelson, but he’s still a safe WR2.
Conditional start: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, James Jones, Davante Adams, Golden Tate, Eric Ebron
Riddick has turned himself into a legitimate RB2 in full PPR leagues, but it’s hard to bank on him in any other format. He just doesn’t do anything as a runner, and we’re still talking about a running back, not a receiver. Abdullah, however, is a safe bet for 15-plus touches in this game, and that could turn him into a low-end RB2. At the very least, he’s in the flex discussion. Jones didn’t get a target on thanksgiving, but he still might have had a better game than Adams, who caught just two of his 11 targets for 14 yards. They’re both WR3s, and that’s simply because of volume. Tate has had a couple nice games in a row after sputtering for the first two months of the season and rates as a high-end WR3 this week.
Sit: James Starks, Joique Bell, Richard Rodgers, Lions DST
San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears
Must start: Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Bears DST
The Bears are suddenly in the playoff hunt at 5–6 and have home games with San Francisco and Washington the next two weeks. Things could get very interesting in Chicago, but it has to start with Cutler and the offense taking care of business on Sunday. The 49er’ defense is 31st in overall DVOA, 31st against the pass and 27th against the run. Forte is sharing the backfield with Jeremy Langford, and Jeffery is still a little banged up, but they should both get going against the Niners. Cutler, meanwhile, is a relatively easy play in one-QB formats and should be locked in as a starter in all two-QB leagues.
Conditional start: Shaun Draughn, Jeremy Langford, Anquan Boldin, Zach Miller, Martellus Bennett (ribs)
Draughn has had 20 touches in all three of his starts this year, and has had at least 80 yards from scrimmage in two of them. Volume alone places him in the RB2 discussion. Boldin has had exactly 93 yards in each of the last two weeks, racking up 13 catches and 18 targets in that time. He, too, is reliant on volume, but there could be enough for him to reach WR3 status. Forte outcarried and outsnapped Langford last week, but it was the rookie who found the end zone. A 60-40 split in Forte’s favor is again likely, making Langford a potential flex play with a high ceiling. Whoever starts for the Bears at tight end will be worth starting in fantasy leagues. Keep your eye on Bennett’s practice participation this week.
Sit: Blaine Gabbert, Carlos Hyde (foot), Torrey Smith, Marquess Wilson, Garrett Celek, 49ers DST
New York Jets at New York Giants
Must start: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Eli Manning, Chris Ivory, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Odell Beckham Jr.
The Giants are 25th against the pass and 17th against the run in DVOA, while the Jets have gone into a defensive tailspin over the last six weeks. You’re going to be happy if you’re invested in either passing game, despite Manning’s flop against Washington last week. Darrelle Revis is still going through the concussion protocol and is no sure thing to play on Sunday.. In addition to their poor DVOA ratings, the Giants are 26th in pass rush and 27th in pass coverage. Fitzpatrick is, without question, a QB1 this week.
Conditional start: Rueben Randle, Jets DST
Randle has touchdown upside every week, but you really need to be in a tight spot to roster him on Sunday. He has more than five receptions in just one game this season and has also topped 70 yards once. With the entire universe of receivers available to you, Randle should more than likely be on your bench.
Sit: Bilal Powell, Shane Vereen, Rashad Jennings, Dwayne Harris, Larry Donnell, Giants DST
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams
Must start: Carson Palmer, David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals DST
Palmer threw up a surprising dud against the 49ers but ultimately saved his fantasy day with the slowest touchdown scramble in NFL history. This is undoubtedly a tough matchup, but Andy Dalton carved up the Rams for 233 yards and three touchdowns last week. Johnson takes over as the starter for the Cardinals this week, and while the Rams present him with a tough test, it’s hard to see him as anything less than an RB2 so long as he has the Arizona backfield all to himself. Gurley, meanwhile, has suffered a reversal of fortune over the last month, averaging fewer than four yards per carry in each of his last four games. That’s largely the fault of the St. Louis passing game, which hasn’t been able to take any pressure off the rookie out of Georgia.
Conditional start: John Brown, Michael Floyd, Tavon Austin
These guys all slot as WR3s, though for different reasons. For Brown and Floyd, it’s the Arizona offense that makes them intriguing fantasy options every week. Austin continues to be fantasy’s Most Frustrating Player™ after catching six passes for 33 yards and running for 63 yards and a score on four carries last week. Still, you know that his production is completely unpredictable. He’s someone I almost always shy away from unless I’m desperate.
Sit: Case Keenum (concussion), Nick Foles, Andre Ellington (toe), J.J. Nelson, Brian Quick, Jared Cook, Rams DST
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Must start: Devonta Freeman (concussion), Doug Martin, Julio Jones, Mike Evans
Freeman is expected to return this week after missing last week’s loss to the Vikings with a concussion. Assuming he’s back on the field, he’s my No. 1 running back this week. Tampa Bay has been very good against the run, rating second in DVOA, but Freeman racked up 131 total yards on 27 touches against them in their first meeting. The other three guys listed above are also locked in as starters, with Martin enjoying a particularly good matchup this week, but Freeman is right back where he belongs on top of the running back rankings. We’ll discuss the looming Mike Evans–Desmond Trufant matchup more in this week’s Cheat Sheet.
Conditional start: Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Vincent Jackson, Jacob Tamme, Falcons DST
Ryan has undoubtedly been among the most disappointing fantasy players this year, but the pendulum has swung too far against him this week in fantasy circles. Tampa Bay is 24th in pass defense DVOA and 31st in coverage. Ryan’s not a slam-dunk starter every week by any means, but he should be good for his owners on Sunday. Winston came back down to earth after his five-touchdown game against the pathetic Eagles defense. He’s no more than a low-end QB2 in my estimation, especially if Trufant can take away Evans. That possibility also makes Jackson a bit more intriguing. He comes in as a WR2/3 this week, with 16 targets in his last two games. Tamme has done nearly all his damage this season with Leonard Hankerson out, placing him on the TE1/2 borderline for Week 13.
Sit: Tevin Coleman, Charles Sims, Roddy White, Buccaneers DST
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Must start: Thomas Rawls, Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Seahawks DST
Both quarterbacks will have to make a few plays in this crucial NFC showdown, but it’s the running backs who will star for both teams. The Vikings’ defense is 23rd in rush DVOA on the season. The Seahawks have been gashed by tight ends all season, allowing the second-most points to the position. Rudolph moves into the safe TE1 class and is a great replacement if you lost Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski last week.
Conditional start: Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Stefon Diggs, Vikings DST
My fantasy brethren are significantly higher on Wilson than I am this week. The Vikings are 13th in pass DVOA, fourth in pass rush and ninth in coverage. They’ve limited quarterbacks to the fifth-fewest points this season. He’s definitely in the QB1 discussion, but I’d rather start the likes of Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford. Baldwin and Diggs check in as WR3s in this matchup, though they’re trending in different directions.
Sit: Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Luke Willson
Houston Texans at Buffalo Bills
Must start: LeSean McCoy, DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Texans DST
Houston’s defense has turned a corner over the last month or so, helping the team keep pace with the Colts in the AFC South. Despite the tough matchup, both McCoy and Watkins belong in your lineups this week. There’s plenty of reason to believe in McCoy, from his recent performance to the bump in volume he should get with Karlos Williams (shoulder) likely out. Watkins is going to have it a bit tougher. Houston is sixth in pass defense DVOA, while it’s 20th against the run. J.J. Watt is making life miserable for quarterbacks, and that obviously trickles down to the receivers.
Conditional start: Brian Hoyer, Tyrod Taylor, Alfred Blue, Bills DST
As I said above, Houston has finally turned into the defense everyone expected it to be all season long. Over the last three weeks, the Texans held Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Drew Brees to an average of 11.93 points in standard-scoring leagues, and the only reason it was that high was thanks to an anomalous rushing touchdown by Fitzpatrick. Taylor is my No. 25 quarterback this week. The Bills rate 30th in rush DVOA and 21st in run defense according to Pro Football Focus, making this actually a decent spot for Blue. He got going against a dreadful New Orleans defense last week. Think of him as a high-end flex option for Week 13.
Sit: Karlos Williams (shoulder), Cecil Shorts, Nate Washington, Chris Hogan, Robert Woods, Charles Clay
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Must start: Buck Allen, Lamar Miller, Kamar Aiken, Jarvis Landry
Aiken has made the most of his opportunity at the top of the depth chart, hauling in 24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns over the last four weeks. He has turned himself into a solid WR3 in all fantasy formats. Allen, meanwhile, has averaged 21.5 touches and 99.5 yards from scrimmage over the last two games. The Dolphins’ defense is 25th in rush DVOA and has allowed the fourth-most points to running backs. Miller is ceding more touches to Jay Ajayi, but his owners should be very confident in a bounceback performance this week, so long as he doesn’t get Philbin’d the way he was the last two games. Landry has 47 targets, 34 receptions, 350 yards and two touchdowns in his last four games. He should have his way with the putrid Baltimore secondary.
Conditional start: Ryan Tannehill, DeVante Parker, Dolphins DST
The Dolphins are finally giving the rookie Parker a shot in the starting lineup this week after he caught four of his 10 targets for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Remember, he was the 14th overall pick in the draft for a reason. He may be a breakout star in 2016, but he can at least be a WR3 for the rest of 2015.
Sit: Matt Schaub, Jay Ajayi, Chris Givens, Rishard Matthews, Kenny Stills, Crockett Gillmore, Jordan Cameron, Ravens DST
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Must start: Andy Dalton, Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert (neck), Gary Barnidge, Bengals DST
You’re going to want all your Bengals active on Sunday. Keep an eye on Eifert’s practice participation this week. He was out early in the week, which was to be expected after he suffered a neck stinger. The Browns rank 29th in pass defense DVOA but managed to keep Green in check the first time these teams met. I wouldn’t bet on that happening again.
Conditional start: Duke Johnson, Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin
Jones only makes it here because of the incredible mismatch between these teams. He’s not worth starting in most formats most weeks, but the Bengals could very well put up 35 or more points in this game. That makes Jones a dart throw if you need one. Benjamin would be a better play, even though Davis is a bit of an unknown in this context. He’s WR14 by total points and WR19 in points per game. Benjamin has scored more points than T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, Amari Cooper, Demaryius Thomas and Randall Cobb. Johnson is akin to Theo Riddick. He’s in the RB2 discussion in full PPR leagues, but he doesn’t get enough work to really consider him as a starter in standard formats.
Sit: Austin Davis, Isaiah Crowell, Brian Hartline, Browns DST
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Must start: T.J. Yeldon, Allen Robinson, Julius Thomas, Delanie Walker
Robinson, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent peformers this season, regardless of position. The last time he had fewer than 11 points in a game was the final day of baseball’s regular season. That was Oct. 4, for those who have forgotten. Thomas had his best game of the season last week and stands to see more targets if Allen Hurns (concussion) is unable to play on Sunday. Outside the Gronkowski-Eifert-Olsen-Barnidge group, no tight end is on more solid footing than Walker. He’s a lock for eight targets per game and is Marcus Mariota’s best weapon in the red zone.
Conditional start: Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota, Allen Hurns (concussion)
Borltes hasn’t thrown for more than two touchdowns in a game since the middle of October, and he could very well be without Hurns on Sunday. He’s right on the QB1/2 borderline, but some players I’d start ahead of him include Ryan Fitzpatrick and Eli Manning. Mariota is deeper down the list, and someone I’d only consider in two-QB formats. In the first game between these teams, he had just 231 yards through the air, though he did run for a touchdown. Hurns is going through the concussion protocol, but right now it looks like he’s going to be out on Sunday.
Sit: Denard Robinson, Antonio Andrews, David Cobb, Kendall Wright, Dorial Green-Beckham, Jaguars DST, Titans DST
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Must start: Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Stevie Johnson, Antonio Gates, Broncos DST
For more details on why you should be starting Hillman and Anderson if you own them, check out this week’s Fact or Fiction. In this space, it’s sufficient to say that you should believe in the ascendancy of the Denver running game. Thomas had arguably the worst game of his NFL career last week, but he still racked up 13 targets. Don’t worry about a player with his talent, especially in a great matchup like this one. Same goes for Sanders, who was finally able to stretch the field effectively with Brock Osweiler at the helm. Johnson got 10 more targets last week, catching seven of them for 92 yards and a touchdown. In three games without Keenan Allen, he has averaged 9.3 targets.
Conditional start: Brock Osweiler, Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead
Both quarterbacks in this game are potential starters in two-QB leagues. That’s good news for Osweiler and terrible news for Rivers. The latter carved up the Jaguars last week, but Denver’s pass defense is slightly better than the unit he saw down in Jacksonville. Tom Brady is the only quarterback who has really gotten to the Broncos this year, and Rivers is no Tom Brady, especially without Allen. Osweiler is taking a backseat to the run game, but the Chargers are 28th in pass defense DVOA. Woodhead’s production has slowed over the last few weeks. He has seven catches for 48 yards and zero scores in that time, and we know he doesn’t do anything on the ground.
Sit: Melvin Gordon, Dontrelle Inman, Malcom Floyd, Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Ladarius Green, Chargers DST
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Must start: Derek Carr, Latavius Murray, Jeremy Maclin, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Travis Kelce
The Chiefs have cleaned up most of their defensive issues from earlier in the season and now rank sixth in overall DVOA. Having said that, I’m comfortable labeling Carr a matchup-proof quarterback. He responded to a bad game against the Lions by throwing for 330 yards, 8.92 YPA and three touchdowns in the win over Tennessee last week. The matchup is much better for the Chiefs, with the Raiders checking in at 20th in pass defense DVOA. This could be a sneakily high-scoring game, especially with Alex Smith in one of the best stretches of his career.
Conditional start: Alex Smith, Charcandrick West (hamstring), Spencer Ware, Chiefs DST
Ware has to have a role in the offense, given how well he has played the last two weeks. At the same time, West was turning into a fantasy star before our eyes before his hamstring injury. It’s quite possible the Chiefs turn to a two-headed backfield that is great for them but a nightmare for fantasy owners. Right now, both are just outside the RB2 class because of the inherent uncertainty. Smith is quietly putting together a solid QB2 season, ranking 16th among quarterbacks in total points. He doesn’t make mistakes and has at least 33 rushing yards in each of his last four games. Smith is well worth starting in two-QB leagues this week.
Sit: Seth Roberts, Raiders DST
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Must start: Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, Brandin Cooks, Greg Olsen, Panthers DST
The Saints are going to find a way to keep this close, and that’s why Brees is a safer play than he’s getting credit for this week. It’s admittedly a bad matchup, and Cooks will have to deal with Josh Norman, but the bet here is that the Saints are ready to go this week. The best play in this game might be Stewart, who is a lock for at least 20 carries against the Saints’ awful run defense. Ingram volumes his way close to the 100-total-yard mark every game, but it hasn’t been easy of late. He needs to find the end zone to really show up for his fantasy owners. The Saints are 32nd in DVOA against tight ends. Olsen should have a field day.
Conditional start: Devin Funchess, Ben Watson
Funchess disappeared last week, but don’t let that sway you from using him on Sunday. Funchess is a WR2/3 this week. Watson has gone three games without hitting pay dirt, but he did have nine targets a week ago. The Panthers are second in DVOA against tight ends, but with the startable pool thinning out, Watson is, at least, a high-end TE2.
Sit: C.J. Spiller, Ted Ginn, Corey Brown, Willie Snead, Saints DST
Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots
Must start: Tom Brady, DeMarco Murray, LeGarrette, Blount, Brandon LaFell, Scott Chandler, Patriots DST
No Rob Gronkowski. No Julian Edelman. No Dion Lewis. Maybe no Danny Amendola. It really doesn’t matter. Brady is still going to do what he always does. Chandler is also well worth starting as long as he’s filling in for Gronk.
Conditional start: Danny Amendola (knee)
Amendola held a questionable designation all week before landing on the inactive list in Week 12. That’s a good sign for his status this week. We should know more by Sunday, but all indications are that he’ll play. This is a late kickoff, however, so if Amendola ends up with the dreaded game-time decision tag and you have a viable option in the early games, you may want to go in that direction.
Sit: Sam Bradford (shoulder), Ryan Mathews (concussion), Darren Sproles, Brandon Bolden, James White, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Keshawn Martin, Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, Eagles DST
Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers
Must start: Ben Roethlisberger (concussion), DeAngelo Williams, T.Y. Hilton, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Roethlisberger returned to practice on Wednesday, and we should know by Sunday, if not by Friday afternoon, whether or not he will play in Week 13. It certainly appears that he’ll be good to go, and if that’s the case, the Steelers are going to put on a show for a national audience. That’s simply what this offense does, even without Le’Veon Bell. The Colts are 30th in pass rush and 17th in pass coverage, which is a terrible formula when you’re going up against Roethlisberger, Brown and Bryant. At the same time, the Steelers rank dead last in pass coverage and hover right around league average in most other defensive stats. The Colts may keep this one interesting, which would be great for anyone invested in the Steelers. The last thing you want is for them to run away and hide.
Conditional start: Matt Hasselbeck, Frank Gore, Donte Moncrief
Hasselbeck has put up decent numbers in his four starts, throwing for 1,023 yards, 6.82 YPA and seven touchdowns against two interceptions. Think of him as a low-end QB2. Gore, meanwhile, really isn’t more than a flex play with the Colts’ run game completely stuck in the mud. He has picked up fewer than four yards per carry in his last four games. The Colts are much more likely to attack through the air, which places Moncrief on the WR3 radar this week.
Sit: Markus Wheaton, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Heath Miller (rib), Jesse James, Colts DST, Steelers DST
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins
Must start: Darren McFadden, DeSean Jackson, Jordan Reed
With Tony Romo back on the shelf, the Cowboys should get back to featuring McFadden and the run game. Washington ranks 21st in rush defense DVOA and 25th by Pro Football Focus grades, so volume and matchup are both in McFadden’s favor. Jackson has scored each of the last two weeks, though it’s a bit disconcerting that he got just four targets in the Week 12 win over the Giants. Dallas, however, has struggled against No. 1 receivers, ranking 28th in DVOA against the position. The Cowboys are also 24th against tight ends, so Jackson and Reed should thrive for Kik Cousins.
Conditional start: Kirk Cousins, Dez Bryant, Redskins DST
If you own Bryant, you’re likely starting him, but it’s hard to get too excited with Matt Cassel under center. I’d rather play Kamar Aiken, Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. Bryant checks in at 25th in my receiver rankings this week. As for Cousins, he’s a decent play in a two-QB league, but he’s not quite up to the QB1 class in this matchup. He has just two games with more than one touchdown pass this season. Those were against the Buccaneers (24th in pass defense DVOA) and Saints (32nd).
Sit: Matt Cassel, Alfred Morris, Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Jason Witten, Cowboys DST