Exploiting the Matchups: Week 12 Start/Sit
Exploiting the Matchups: Week 12 Start/Sit

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

In the spirit of giving thanks and on the eve of a holiday that celebrates the wonders of family, food and football, I'm going to keep things short and sweet. You can give thanks for a reprieve from my usual rambling intros.

I wrote those exact words last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.
Fantasy football and life can often be led by the maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." So that's the only advice I have going into Week 12.

If you've been winning, stick with the guys that have you in contention. If you're losing, mix it up. It could be too late for a playoff push, but not too late to fix your lineup and get some pride victories. Either way, be thankful for the glorious gift of football. And food. And beer. Mostly beer this weekend, especially if my Packers season goes from circling the drain to gone for good.

Note: This column is not intended to be a traditional "Start/Sit" piece. My goal is to provide perspective you may not have considered and help make those tough decisions easier -- or make you rethink those "no-brainer" choices.

Upgrades are not necessarily weekly starters (outside of the top 20 RB/WR, top 10 QB/TE) but are set to boost their production. Downgrades are worth benching or, for some bigger names, should be held to lower expectations for this week.

UPGRADE


QB

Baker Mayfield, CLE at CIN

If the Bengals could only intercept Lamar Jackson once, Mayfield should fare just fine against a unit allowing an average of 306.1 passing yards per game. The No. 1 pick in the draft has thrown for multiple scores in four straight and completed 74.2 percent of his passes in the two games prior to Cleveland's bye. Coming out of the break, with his weapons fully healthy, the rookie is poised to carve up his AFC North foe. For owners missing Patrick Mahomes or Jared Goff this week, there might not be a better streaming option.

Jameis Winston, TB vs. SF

For those that like to swing for the fences at the risk of striking out repeatedly, the Tampa Bay quarterback room is at your services. The Buccaneers duo of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston have combined for an obscene 374.6 passing yards and 2.5 touchdowns per game (on pace for 5,994 yards and 40 TDs for the season), but because they're also on pace for a disgusting 37 interceptions, the starter has now been pulled three different times, including twice in the last four contests. Needless to say, this gives a great deal of risk to Winston. Keep in mind, however, that he has thrown for 475 yards and three touchdowns in roughly his last four quarters of action and that the 49ers have allowed 21 touchdowns to just two interceptions this season.

Lamar Jackson, BAL vs. OAK

He threw just 19 passes. He didn't find the end zone with his arm or his legs. And he still generated over 15 points in standard scoring. Jackson rushed a ridiculous 27 times in his starting debut and piled up 117 yards with his legs. Almost equally promising for his fantasy prospects though is that he completed 68.4 percent of his throws and netted a healthy 7.9 YPA. With a weaker offense than what Cincinnati brought to Baltimore, the Raiders aren't likely to force more throwing from Jackson, but with nearly unrivaled wheels as a scrambler, the rookie should break the seal on the end zone to boost his nice floor.

Nick Mullens, SF at TB

After throwing for at least 250 yards in his first two career starts, things couldn't be looking much more promising for Mullens heading into his third. He's coming out of a bye week that afforded him the opportunity to review his own tape and correct some things while simultaneously getting more time to prep for a Buccaneers pass defense that's allowed a league-high 25 passing scores. Giving up a 124.9 passer rating to opposing QBs and set to face a Kyle Shanahan offense that schemes receivers open as well as any in the league spells disaster for Tampa Bay. Count on Mullens being thankful for an easy day at the office this week.

RB

Gus Edwards, BAL vs. OAK

Apparently, the Ravens offense with Lamar Jackson at the helm will be a ball-control, run-heavy unit. It's hard to read anything else from their 54 rush attempts against Cincinnati. Surprisingly, Edwards led the way among Ravens tailbacks. The 235-pound rookie back saw 10 more carries than starter Alex Collins and barreled through the Bengals defense to the tune of a 17/115/1 day. With recorded 4.5-speed from his Rutgers pro day, the relatively unknown Edwards, who began his collegiate career at "The U" before transferring, boasts both size and speed. Facing a Raiders defense giving up more than 140.0 yards per game and nearly 5.0 YPC on the ground, Edwards should remain a key component of the Baltimore offense for at least one more week.

Josh Adams, PHI vs. NYG

Since the Giants traded premier space-eater Damon "Snacks" Harrison, they've been a complete sieve versus the run. Adrian Peterson, Matt Breida and Peyton Barber each ran for over 100 with a score against them while averaging at least 5.7 YPC. Heck, Peterson and Breida each added receiving scores for good measure. After posting a 7/53/1 line on the ground versus the Saints' second-ranked run defense, Adams is clearly "the guy" in the Philly backfield.

Frank Gore, MIA at IND

Revenge game! Gore may have to do all his damage against his former Colts team in the first half considering Miami is likely to get behind big on the road, but that still gives him a chance to post solid yardage numbers. Before the Dolphins' bye, Gore gashed Green Bay for 84 rushing yards in the first half alone. With double-digit touches in seven straight contests (14.4 per game during this stretch), Gore has established himself as a high-floor commodity at a thin and volatile position.

Theo Riddick, DET vs. CHI

It's time to be thankful for PPR. Without it, there would not be a worthwhile replacement for Kerryon Johnson among Lions running backs. At least not this week when Detroit hosts a Thanksgiving party with the run-stuffing Bears defense. Less than two weeks ago Johnson posted 89 scrimmage yards and two scores versus Chicago, but the new centerpiece of Detroit's offense has been ruled out this week with a sprained knee. Considering LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 15 yards on his last 21 carries and Zach Zenner has had little work in recent seasons, count on Riddick playing a ton of snaps in a pass-heavy approach. He's caught at least five in three straight games (including six for 60 in the last Bears game) and should be Matthew Stafford's best friend given the Chicago pass rush.

Jordan Wilkins, IND vs. MIA

Looking for a super deep sleeper? Look no further than Wilkins, who finally scored his first NFL touchdown 10 games into his rookie year. Though he's had a bit role in the Colts' offense since Marlon Mack's return from a hamstring injury in Week 6, the one-cut runner has at least taken full advantage of his limited opportunities. Over his last 19 carries, Wilkins has ripped off 182 yards and that touchdown. Given how badly the Dolphins have been gashed on the ground (30th versus the run) and the high likelihood that Indy jumps out to a big lead, it could be a "free Wilkins" kind of second half.

WR

Tre'Quan Smith, NO vs. ATL

It seems Smith didn't like fellow rookie Keith Kirkwood trying to steal his thunder. After the undrafted Kirkwood outshined Smith versus Cincinnati and in the first quarter of the Philly contest, Smith proceeded to go bananas, registering a career highs in catches (10) and yards (157) – a big confidence booster after his zero-target, zero-catch game against the Bengals. In what could be a Thanksgiving shootout with the NFC South rival Falcons coming to town, Smith looks likely to be involved again versus an Atlanta defense giving up over 280 passing yards per game. One thing to watch out for, however, is his Wednesday practice status. If he sits out practice again due to a foot issue, Kirkwood will be back to stealing thunder.

Julian Edelman, NE at NYJ

In his six games since returning from suspension, Edelman has not seen fewer than seven targets, and he's riding a three-game streak with double-digit looks into a divisional matchup ripe for receivers. Only the Eagles have given up more catches per game to wideouts than the Jets. For a volume receiver like Edelman, who has 99 scrimmage yards or a touchdown in five straight, matchups doesn't get much better than this one.

Anthony Miller, CHI at DET

While Miller's running mate, Allen Robinson, will be grappling with 2017 All-Pro corner Darius Slay everywhere he goes, Miller will be feasting on the dregs of an otherwise awful Detroit secondary. In a meeting with that group while Slay was sidelined less than two weeks ago, both Bears wideouts feasted, with Miller ripping off huge catches of 45 and 55 yards in route to his only career 100-yard day. Although Miller has been touchdown dependent this year (five scores in games with less than 50 yards), the Lions will fix that for the second time this month by making things easy for the rookie. Don't be afraid of career backup Chase Daniel stepping in for the injured Mitchell Trubisky (shoulder).

Calvin Ridley, ATL at NO

Dig deep, folks. Ridley looked like a revelation for the Falcons offense during a sizzling three-game, six-touchdown streak that included a peak performance versus the same Saints' secondary that's allowed more yards to wide receivers than any defense in football. Of course, that monster 146-yard, three-score effort remains Ridley's only 100-yard day. Fortunately, he'll be critically needed against the league's hottest team again. The Saints have scored 144 points in their last three, so count on Ridley finally getting the targets he deserves. In the two contests in which he's seen at least eight targets he's piled up 217 yards and four TDs, including one only three weeks ago.

TE

David Njoku, CLE at CIN

After a nice four-game stretch once Baker Mayfield took over -- in which Njoku posted at least 52 yards in each with TDs twice -- the second-year tight end got a little bit banged up and a lot of bit quiet with just six total targets and 71 yards over three games. Following a much-needed bye week to rest and recover, the uber-athletic Njoku should be ready to regain his promising play against a Bengals defense that's allowed the sixth most yards to tight ends.

Chris Herndon, NYJ vs. NE

Herndon has been one of the few bright spots in recent weeks for a Jets offense that's been decimated this year at the skill positions. The rookie tight end has 96 yards in his past two contests after posting a three-game touchdown streak. Coming out of a bye week to help stave off any potential "rookie wall", he should continue his strong play in a game that is destined to see Gang Green passing a ton in catch-up mode. When that happens, don't be shocked if the rookie and the 39-year-old Josh McCown hook up for a score against a Pats defense that's allowed the second most touchdowns to the tight end position.

Cameron Brate, TB vs. SF

In Jameis Winston's last 13 full games, Brate has caught six touchdowns from him (he has three others during that span). If Winston doesn't get benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick again – he shouldn't against a 49ers defense with only five takeaways this year – Brate is going to have a noticeable role in the red zone now that O.J. Howard is on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

DOWNGRADE


QB

Aaron Rodgers, GB at MIN

Let's try this again. Rodgers was included as a downgrade last week and proceeded to throw for 332 yards and two scores. But the logic was correct. He attempted just 30 passes as both teams looked to be run-first on offense. In fact, he's attempted 30 or fewer passes in three of the last four contests, and last week was the only one topping 300 yards. With Jimmy Graham breaking his thumb, the Packers' passing offense is almost exclusively limited to Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and rookie receivers with whom Rodgers has shared an inconsistent connection. The Vikings just held Mitchell Trubisky to 165 yards while picking him off more (twice) than letting him score (once), and they've allowed the fewest passing touchdowns in the league (13, tied). It wouldn't be the first time Rodgers shrugged off a bad matchup to light up the scoreboard, but the odds are certainly stacked against him finding the "galvanizing" moment Green Bay desperately needs.

Deshaun Watson, HOU vs. TEN

The case against Watson is quite simple. He's attempted 25 or fewer passes in five straight contests and is averaging only 14.9 rushing yards per game in this stretch. Instead of leaning on its franchise quarterback, Houston has turned to a steady ground game and talent-laden defense to grind out wins against teams with little to no offensive firepower. Conveniently, a Titans squad led by either a bumbling Blaine Gabbert or an injured Marcus Mariota (stinger) is coming to town.

Philip Rivers, LAC vs. ARI

A divisional showdown with Denver that went down to the wire finally broke the volume seal for Rivers, who had not attempted more than 27 passes in a contest for five straight. Attempting 43 passes against the Broncos marked just the second time this season he's thrown over 40 times, and not coincidentally, it resulted in his second 400-yard day. Things figure to be quite different, however, versus the Cardinals. Arizona has had the third-fewest passes attempted on them, and as a direct result, they've allowed the fewest touchdowns through the air. Heck, they even held Patrick Mahomes to just two scores in Kansas City. After Arizona lost to Oakland last week, things are status quo for a defense that every opponent will be running on in the second halves of games.

RB

Aaron Jones, GB at MIN

Apparently Jones is not going to gash everyone for five-plus YPC. Showing some dual-threat chops as a receiver last week and getting in the end zone a couple of times allowed him to save his fantasy day despite just 40 yards on 11 carries on the ground. Perhaps he can do likewise to the Vikings, but considering Minnesota is tied for the fewest scores allowed to opposing tailbacks (five) and do well to limit them both on the ground (3.6 YPC) and through the air (Alvin Kamara, Theo Riddick and Tarik Cohen held to 100 total receiving yards on 17 catches last three games), it might not be Jones' night, no matter how much the untrustworthy Mike McCarthy attempts to free him.

Adrian Peterson, WAS at DAL

Let's take stock for the Washington offense. Starting quarterback: Out. Top two wide receivers: Out. Starting guards: Out. Peterson: Cyborg. Despite the unbreakable nature of the Redskins' offensive centerpiece, and despite the fact he churned out 99 yards on the ground in meeting number one with Dallas, Peterson is simply set up to fail in his Texas homecoming. The Cowboys allow just 3.7 YPC to opposing tailbacks and with no real passing game threat and shoddy blocking against their dangerous front seven, Peterson is going to be fighting a losing battle.

Tevin Coleman, ATL at NO

The problem with Coleman is not talent. It never really has been. His fantasy stock is steady, but with Atlanta's reluctance to feed the home-run hitter a big workload, his ceiling is unreachable most weeks. Case in point: Despite missing Devonta Freeman for nearly all of the past six games, Coleman has seen 15 or more touches just once, and versus a Saints team that gives up only 3.4 YPC to running backs and has had the least rush attempts against them, low volume will equal low output for Coleman. Unless he's suddenly doing more damage as a receiver (only one game with more than 32 receiving yards this year), the Saints offense will do just as much to take him out of the game as the New Orleans defense will when they light up the scoreboard early.

WR

Allen Robinson, CHI at DET

Don't be fooled by Robinson's first performance versus Detroit less than two weeks ago. He gashed their secondary for big catches because of the absence of Darius Slay. One of the top cover men in the league, Slay returned to the field last week to hold Devin Funchess to only two catches on eight targets, giving him just 39 of the 357 yards Cam Newton threw for versus the rest of Detroit's otherwise porous back seven. Like Funchess, Robinson was held in check for exactly 39 yards last Sunday by another top cornerback in Xavier Rhodes. When the Bears and backup quarterback Chase Daniel (starting in place of Mitchell Trubisky) need a big play against a bad Lions defense, don't expect Robinson to be the name they call.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, PIT at DEN

Hurry-up offense in the Steelers' furious comeback last week enabled Smith-Schuster to register his second 100-yard game since Week 3, but 88 of those 104 yards came during the fourth-quarter rally. A mediocre Denver team may not afford him such opportunities if Pittsburgh plays a tighter contest. Moreover, Smith-Schuster does virtually all of his work from the slot, where he'll be faced more often than not with eight-year veteran Chris Harris Jr., who remains one of the game's best at defending slot receivers.

Corey Davis, TEN at HOU

Such a tease. Just a week after Davis owned a solid Patriots secondary for 125 yards and a score, he and the Titans offense decided a four-target, two-catch encore was sufficient. After all, it's not like they were getting crushed or anything by a Colts defense with a soft secondary. In case anyone out there has not repeatedly gotten the message, Davis is not for the feint of heart. Every 4-to-6 games, he may blow up (why he has 47.2 percent of his yards in two games), but for those who prefer to play fantasy football instead of roulette, he's not worth gambling on, given the possibility of Blaine Gabbert stepping in for an injured Marcus Mariota to face a defense that's tied for the fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Luke Hoover
Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for Rotowire.com since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.
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