Exploiting the Matchups: Week 12 Start/Sit

Exploiting the Matchups: Week 12 Start/Sit

This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.

Thanksgiving week always feels chaotic with the first NFL game starting eight hours earlier than usual and then followed by two additional Thursday games. It puts everyone, including fantasy managers, on a tighter schedule, as the trio of Thursday games means we need to take in more information earlier in the week and make more lineup decisions before seeing final injury reports for the Sunday/Monday games.

Basically, it's a mess, just like my Thanksgiving plate, and just like some of the matchups ahead this week. In addition to the better-known holiday many of us will be celebrating, it's also unofficial Toilet Bowl week, featuring Bears-Lions, Jets-Texans and Falcons-Jags. 

Even the "good" games are hard to get excited about, apart from Packers-Rams, with the Titans potentially dragging a skeleton crew to Foxborough, while the Steelers and Browns are looking rough ahead of road dates with AFC North rivals. 

The most interesting game might be in Indianapolis, where Jonathan Taylor faces a Bucs defense that's been elite against the run for three straight years now. You won't find discussion of Taylor vs. Tampa below given that JT's an auto-start in every imaginable fantasy format, but it felt a little weird to write a matchups column without at least mentioning the impending collision between an unstoppable force and immovable object.

Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday

Thanksgiving week always feels chaotic with the first NFL game starting eight hours earlier than usual and then followed by two additional Thursday games. It puts everyone, including fantasy managers, on a tighter schedule, as the trio of Thursday games means we need to take in more information earlier in the week and make more lineup decisions before seeing final injury reports for the Sunday/Monday games.

Basically, it's a mess, just like my Thanksgiving plate, and just like some of the matchups ahead this week. In addition to the better-known holiday many of us will be celebrating, it's also unofficial Toilet Bowl week, featuring Bears-Lions, Jets-Texans and Falcons-Jags. 

Even the "good" games are hard to get excited about, apart from Packers-Rams, with the Titans potentially dragging a skeleton crew to Foxborough, while the Steelers and Browns are looking rough ahead of road dates with AFC North rivals. 

The most interesting game might be in Indianapolis, where Jonathan Taylor faces a Bucs defense that's been elite against the run for three straight years now. You won't find discussion of Taylor vs. Tampa below given that JT's an auto-start in every imaginable fantasy format, but it felt a little weird to write a matchups column without at least mentioning the impending collision between an unstoppable force and immovable object.

Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.

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Quarterbacks

  

Russell Wilson (at WAS)

63% started

It's been a brutal run post-surgery for Wilson, who is creeping up on must-win territory at 3-7 in a loaded NFC West. Fortunately, he gets a nice chance to right the ship Monday night, facing a Washington defense that's given up a league-high 25.4 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks. Wilson's last two opponents, on the other hand, have allowed the third- and eighth-fewest points to the position, offering a partial explanation for his recent struggles. There is plenty of cause for genuine concern with the Seattle offense, to be sure, but Washington's secondary has been similarly terrible, and even the vaunted pass rush is far from scary with edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat on injured reserve.

      

  

Running Backs

   

Damien Harris (vs. TEN)

50% started

The Titans haven't been bad against the run this year and even rank fourth in fantasy points to running backs. The problem this week is the combination of New England's excellent defense and Tennessee's injury-riddled offense, setting up a game where the Patriots could pile up play volume and rush attempts. Rhamondre Stevenson stealing work is a real concern, but with the Pats favored by 6.5 points, there should be room for both backs to see a good number of carries Sunday afternoon.

   

Tony Pollard (vs. LV)

42% started

Between his role off the bench and his reliance on chunk gains, Pollard isn't exactly reliable. He has done well in favorable matchups, however, with his top three fantasy scores of the year coming against teams in the bottom 10 for points allowed to running backs (ATL, NYG, LAC). The Raiders (seventh worst) also meet that qualification, and they've lost three straight games (by a combined 53 points) since a Week 8 bye. 

It's a good matchup for Pollard in terms of both volume and efficiency, and that's before we account for the possibility of Ezekiel Elliott running into problems with his lingering knee injury. (Elliott doesn't have an injury designation for the game, but he appeared to tweak his knee during Sunday's loss to the Chiefs, and now is playing four days later with the Cowboys favored by 7.5.)

     

  

Wide Receivers

   

Brandin Cooks (vs. NYJ)

60% started

Tyrod Taylor isn't good, but he's probably better than Davis Mills, and about as good as the Jets' cornerbacks. It's a rare week when the Houston offense shouldn't be overmatched, and while that may lead to a lot of run plays for a second straight week, Cooks is capable of 6-8 targets even if overall team pass volume is lacking. Last week was his first time all year with fewer than five, and he still ranks sixth among wide receivers in target share (28.9 percent).

      

Darnell Mooney (at DET)

51% started

Allen Robinson (hamstring) is likely out. Andy Dalton is definitely in. And the Detroit Lions defense is on tap. I didn't expect to have to write this one up, but then I saw Mooney at just 51 percent started on Yahoo less than 24 hours before Thursday's kickoff. While Dalton is past his prime and easy to make fun of, he's also the guy you want under center* for the Bears if you're hoping for Mooney fantasy points. Justin Fields has been better when throwing to Mooney than to anyone else, but the rookie has also just been flat-out terrible, and an absurd 24.4 percent of his dropbacks have either been sacks or scrambles (i.e., no opportunity for any receiver to score points). Dalton is more accurate, and better for team pass volume.

*apart from an actual good QB, but those aren't often seen in Bears uniforms

  

  

Tight Ends

   

Tyler Higbee (at GB)

37% started

Robert Woods is out for the year, and it isn't yet clear if/when Odell Beckham will be capable of replacing him*. Higbee may have seen just five targets in the final game before a Week 11 bye, but he should see some extra looks down the stretch — after averaging only 5.1 over the first 10 games — as the Rams adjust to life without Woods. 

*Put that sentence in a time machine and send it back to 2016 :)

     

        

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Quarterbacks

   

Kirk Cousins (at SF)

42% started

For all their inconsistency throughout the season, the Niners have looked awfully good since an ugly Week 9 loss to the Cardinals, beating the Rams by 21 and then the Jaguars by 20. It helps that their roster is the healthiest it's been in a long time, and with hope of more help coming soon (see below). The Niners may be middle of the pack for most pass-defense stats, but it's probably better to treat them as a top-10 group given the talent that will be on the field this Sunday.

    

      

Running Backs

    

Myles Gaskin (vs. CAR)

61% started

The addition of Phillip Lindsay could be a problem soon enough, with Lindsay's shortcomings perhaps becoming more tolerable in a backfield where he's the only guy offering any element of explosiveness (though it didn't work out that way in Houston). For this week, the bigger problem is Carolina's defense, which has given up the second fewest PPR points to running backs despite being merely average against the run. 

That's because the Panthers have yielded a league-low 37 catches for 248 yards to the position — a real problem for someone like Gaskin who has scored 64 percent of his fantasy points through the air in PPR leagues. He's still a decent start in deep/medium-sized leagues based on the volume expectation, but this is a good spot to bench him if you've got another RB2 type lying around.

    

   

Wide Receivers

   

Jerry Jeudy (vs. LAC)

29% started

Jeudy saw 17 targets in his final two games before the Week 11 bye, but he still didn't get much playing time in two-wide formations, largely limited to slot work in three-wide looks. Come Sunday, he figures to take most of his snaps across from Chris Harris, the former Bronco who has long been one of the top slot corners in the league. He might be past his prime, but Harris ranks 10th in yards per cover snap (1.05) among 32 cornerbacks who have taken 100-plus cover snaps in the slot this year (per PFF). The Broncos have plenty of other weapons, and it's the running backs and tight ends who have the relative matchup advantage this week.

     

      

Tight Ends

  

TE Hunter Henry (vs. TEN)

42% started

Henry has seven touchdowns in 11 games, yet has scored more than 10.5 PPR points just three times all year. He last saw more than four targets in game Week 5, and that includes one contest Jonnu Smith missed. Henry may remain the Patriots' top red-zone target, but he hasn't been consistently involved in other areas of the field, and this Sunday he'll face a Titans defense that starts PFF's two highest-graded safeties in the NFL (Kevin Byard, Amani Hooker). 

No wonder Tennessee has given up the sixth fewest PPR points to tight ends, yielding a league-low 4.7 YPT to the position. Schedule has been a factor there, but in addition to shutting down mediocre players and no-names, the Titans held Travis Kelce to 7-65-0 on 12 targets and Tyler Higbee to 5-51-0 on 10 targets. Only Kelce, Higbee and Dan Arnold have gone over 36 yards against Tennessee this year, while only Jacob Hollister, Tommy Sweeney and Jack Doyle have scored touchdowns.

     

         

Streaming Picks for Week 12

For Shallow Leagues (40-6 percent rostered)

QB Cam Newton (at MIA)

RB Jeff Wilson (vs. MIN) — if Elijah Mitchell (finger) is out again.

RB D'Onta Foreman (at NE)

RB Alex Collins (at WAS)

WR Kenny Golladay (vs. PHI)

WR Van Jefferson (at GB)

TE Pat Freiermuth (at CIN)

TE Logan Thomas (vs. SEA)

    

For Medium-depth Leagues (15-39 percent rostered)

QB Mac Jones (vs. TEN)

RB Ty Johnson (at HOU)

RB Latavius Murray (vs. CLE)

RB Boston Scott (at NYG)

WR Jamison Crowder (at HOU)

WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (vs. LAR) — if Allen Lazard (shoulder) is out again.

TE Dan Arnold (vs. ATL)

TE Gerald Everett (at WAS)

    

For Deep Leagues (under 15 percent rostered)

QB Andy Dalton (at DET)

QB Zach Wilson (at HOU)

RB Tony Jones (vs. BUF)

RB Tevin Coleman (at HOU)

RB Rex Burkhead (vs. NYJ)

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (vs. CHI)

TE David Njoku (at BAL)

   

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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