This year’s Thanksgiving slate is the most attractive in recent history, featuring six teams all coming off victories in Week 11. The undefeated defending champion Packers travel to Detroit for the first meaningful Turkey Day game in Motown in over a decade. In fact, it was just a few years ago that national writers began pushing for the winless Lions to lose their monopoly on the Thanksgiving tradition. The suddenly red hot Dolphins are at new NFC East favorite Dallas in the middle game. The nightcap features first place San Francisco at first place Baltimore with the two Harbaugh brothers combining for a 16-4 record. “Believe me, when the schedule came out, I know Coach [John] Harbaugh circled this one right away,” said Joe Flacco. “This is a must-win for him, which makes it a must-win for us.”
Sitting Starters, Take 2
In last week’s article, I touched on premature speculation that the Packers may sit their starters the final two games if they remain undefeated by Christmas time. The bottom is that nobody knows; it’s too early to make firm plans based merely on the possibility. I did find it interesting that the estimable Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel weighed in on the subject in his weekly podcast with SI.com’s Peter King. McGinn believes fantasy owners have nothing to worry about for Chicago at home on Christmas night or Detroit at home on New Year’s Day.
“They remember what Lovie Smith did to them in the regular season finale last year. Lovie didn’t need it for anything and he played it to the hilt, tried to knock the Packers out, played it for the rivalry. It was a great moment for Lovie Smith and the Bears and they almost won that game,” explains McGinn. “I think McCarthy will play it. There’s been some examples in which … McCarthy has played hard with starters for long stretches late in the season. And with those two rivals, that’s what the league wants, to avoid these mail-in games. With those two division games, I’m pretty sure he’ll play it extremely hard.”
Chargers - Ryan Mathews (15 touches, 51 yards) / Mike Tolbert (8 touches, 38 yards)
The Bolts entered the game planning to increase Mathews’ role, but the same old problems reared their head. Mathews was stripped by Peanut Tillman, the patchwork offensive line couldn’t open holes, and coach Norv Turner abandoned the run in second-half comeback mode. You can still expect Tolbert to be limited to short-yardage and passing-down work against the Broncos in Week 12.
Panthers - Jonathan Stewart (14 touches, 109 yards) / DeAngelo Williams (11 touches, 105 yards)
The Panthers certainly can’t blame the backfield for their 49-35 loss at Detroit. For the first time this season, both backs went over 100 scrimmage yards. Williams showed as much explosion as he had all season, and Stewart continues to look like one of the best players on the field whenever he gets his hands on the ball. Because Stewart is more heavily involved in the passing game, he remains a better fantasy bet than Williams.
Dolphins - Reggie Bush (19 touches, 66 yards, TD) / Daniel Thomas (15 carries, 50 yards)
Both backs saw the same number of carries, but that’s misleading. Bush is the feature back -- including goal-line work once again -- and Thomas continues to salt away big leads in the second half. Though Bush can’t be expected to stay healthy and productive, he’s firmly in RB2 territory heading into Week 12 at Dallas.
Packers - James Starks (17 touches, 91 yards) / Ryan Grant (4 carries, 16 yards)
Neither back had much success on the ground, but Starks had the most productive receiving game of his young career before leaving late in the fourth quarter with a knee sprain. His status is up in the air with the short turnaround before the Throwdown in Motown on Thanksgiving. Grant is worthy of a pickup this week, but keep expectations low. John Kuhn and even B.J. Raji vultured short touchdowns against the Bucs, and this remains a pass-dominant offense.
Redskins - Roy Helu (10 touches, 38 yards) / Tashard Choice (7 touches, 9 yards) / Ryan Torain (6 touches, 6 yards)
If you did your job as well as Mike Shanahan has since taking over in Washington, you’d be fired immediately if not sooner. Shanny’s backfield is a blatant mess, with all three backs seeing equivalent workloads. Helu remains the most productive on a weekly basis, though he can’t be trusted at Seattle in Week 12.
Jay Cutler, Bears - Thumb
Matt Hasselbeck, Titans - Elbow
Colt McCoy, Browns - Shoulder
Adrian Peterson, Vikings - Ankle
Fred Jackson, Bills - Calf
James Starks, Packers - Knee
D.J. Ware, Giants - Concussion
Greg Jennings, Packers - Shin
DeSean Jackson, Eagles - Foot
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders - Neck
Donald Jones, Bills - Ankle
David Nelson, Bills - Illness
Jake Ballard, Giants - Elbow
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