4:15PM ET Games
New England @ Philadelphia
The Patriots present more matchup problems than arguably any NFL team because defenses have to decide whether to double team Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski in a pick-your-poison situation. The Chiefs chose Welker in Week 11, and Gronk promptly lit them up for 96 yards and two scores. In fantasy football, the best option is just to play them both. Philadelphia has struggled to contain slot receivers all season, with Victor Cruz (twice, 6-128-1 and 3-110-2) and Earl Bennett (5-95-1) as the most notable recent culprits. Cardinals and Bills slot receivers Early Doucet and David Nelson have also dropped touchdowns on the Eagles. Expect Welker to face off frequently with Joselio Hanson on Sunday afternoon and rebound from last Monday's clunker. ... Here is Tom Brady's updated target distribution since the Pats' Week 7 bye: Gronkowski 42, Welker 29, Deion Branch 24, Aaron Hernandez 21, Chad Ochocinco 8. With last week's effort, Gronkowski has formally surpassed Jimmy Graham as the 2011 season's most prolific fantasy tight end. Gronkowski is averaging seven catches for 101 yards with five touchdowns in his last four games.
While Branch has found pay dirt at a respectable clip, it's obvious that his separation skills are waning late in his age-32 season. He hasn't cleared 60 yards since Week 6. ... With Nnamdi Asomugha not expected to play after hyperextending his knee in Thursday’s practice, the pass-happy Patriots figure to attack with a throw-first game plan. This would bode well for Tom Brady, Gronkowski, and Welker, but poorly for New England's crapshoot of a backfield. While most likely a fluke, it is perhaps notable that Philadelphia has picked it up in run defense lately. The Eagles have held opposing feature backs Brandon Jacobs and Beanie Wells without a touchdown and to a combined 83 yards on 35 carries (2.37 YPC) in their last two games. Philly should be considered a favorable matchup for ground attacks going forward, but this recent surge combined with the unpredictability of usage amongst Patriots rushers should make for an easy tiebreaker when it comes to fantasy lineup decisions. If New England does go pass-heavy, Danny Woodhead and Kevin Faulk could easily wind up getting the ball more than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. ... Overtaken by Gronkowski as the Pats' go-to tight end, Aaron Hernandez has been in a bit of a rut with no touchdowns and a 43-yard average in his last two games. He was in the midst of a three-week scoring streak before the mini slump. Hernandez is a low-end TE1 in this game, but he's certainly still a fantasy starter.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick has built a reputation for taking away opponents' best players. It will be interesting to see if he can do it with LeSean McCoy. In McCoy's four matchups with top-11 run defenses this season, he's racked up six touchdowns while averaging 5.05 yards per carry and over 120 total yards a game. The Pats are 12th against the run. ... In Week 11, Vince Young connected with Brent Celek on each of his six targets to the tight end for 60 yards. It's probably a good weekly expectation as long as V.Y. is under center. ... Eagles slot receiver Jason Avant was a total non-factor, though. Young only targeted Avant twice, executing once for 13 yards. … Philadelphia is dealing with several injury situations at wide receiver that may not be settled until Sunday. It's a shoulder and hamstring for Jeremy Maclin and a foot for DeSean Jackson. The bottom line is this: Regardless of whether it's Maclin, Jackson, or Riley Cooper, if an Eagles wideout is starting in this game, he will be a strong fantasy play. The expectation as this column was being written was that Cooper would start in Maclin's place, and D-Jax is just fine.
Even after Tyler Palko's abominable Week 11 game in Foxboro, the Patriots still have the league's last ranked pass defense. That's how bad they are. V.Y. settled in following a miserable beginning to his own Week 11 game, completing 19 of his final 24 passes (79.2%) for 250 yards (10.42 YPC), and two touchdowns after throwing two picks and generating just three points on his first six possessions. And Young only rushed for five yards throughout the course of the game, so there's sure to be more where that comes from. Young isn't a top-five or even six quarterback play in Week 12, but he certainly has the potential to produce like one. He has a lot of upside in this matchup. It's quite likely that the Pats will be more willing to let Young beat them than McCoy.
Score Prediction: Patriots 28, Eagles 23
Denver @ San Diego
Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers have played from behind for 169:21 of 240 minutes over their last four games. They've led for a pathetic 20:30 during that span, and all of the time leading has come in first quarters. While this is more hindsight than predictive analysis, it goes a long way toward explaining many of San Diego's statistical results during the past month. Philip Rivers has averaged nearly 42 pass attempts per game. Mike Tolbert has essentially been the feature back. San Diego is 0-4. ... You will probably be right more often than wrong when you bet on Vincent Jackson's talent each week, but he's got a long, documented history of struggling in Champ Bailey's coverage. Here are V-Jax's stat lines from his last seven meetings with Denver: 3-34, 3-53, 4-56, 4-46-1, 2-47, 6-73, 4-46. It's an average of 51 yards, with one touchdown. In the league I own Jackson, I am sitting him for Victor Cruz. ... Norv Turner has ruled out Malcom Floyd (hip), meaning Vincent Brown will continue to start. If you are starting Brown, you are basically betting that the opposition will shut down V-Jax. Constant Raiders double teams took Jackson out of the Week 10 game, and Brown went off for 97 yards and a TD on five receptions. With V-Jax destroying Chicago's defensive backs en route to last week's 7-165-1 line, Brown finished with an eight-yard catch. Considering Jackson's background versus Bailey, Brown isn't that bad of a bet.
The Chargers' O-Line is in shambles, which can't bode well for Rivers against Denver's red-hot pass rush. Edge rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil have combined for eight sacks over the last four games. Of San Diego's first-team front five, only RT Jeromey Clary and C Nick Hardwick are left standing after injuries knocked out LT Marcus McNeill (back), RG Louis Vasquez (ankle), LG Kris Dielman (concussion), G/C Scott Mruczkowski (concussion), and G/T Tyronne Green (hand). The sunny San Diego setting and Broncos' No. 21 pass-defense ranking might work in Rivers' favor, but it's going to be a bumpy, potentially interception-filled ride. Rivers already leads the NFL with 23 turnovers. ... Antonio Gates returned from his foot injury five weeks ago, and over that span is the No. 2 fantasy tight end behind only Rob Gronkowski. When in the lineup, he's easily been San Diego's most reliable, consistent pass catcher. ... Ryan Mathews' injuries and lack of recent productivity have gotten to him to the point where he'll be difficult to trust even as a mere flex in what should have been a favorable matchup. His playing time already down in favor of Tolbert, Mathews has not found pay dirt since Week 3. He'll be a game-time decision in a game with a late start. It's a bad situation. ... We will have updates Friday as to whether Mathews will play. If he doesn't, Tolbert would be a 20-touch candidate against Denver's No. 16 run defense.
Tim Tebow has faced San Diego twice in his now two-year career, racking up 284 passing yards, five all-purpose scores, and 132 more yards on the ground in one start and one brief relief appearance. The Chargers' run defense has struggled all season, and the pass defense has tanked recently, too. Over its last three games, San Diego has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 53-of-77 passes (68.8%) for 832 yards (10.81 YPA) with an 8:2 TD-to-INT ratio. For Tebow, this is a prime matchup any way you slice it. ... Here is Tebow's updated target distribution for the year: Eric Decker 30, Eddie Royal 28, Demaryius Thomas 21, Matt Willis 8, Daniel Fells 8. ... Decker was held catch-less in Week 11, ending his three-game touchdown streak. He's the only viable Denver receiver in fantasy leagues, but carries major week-to-week risk. ... Willis McGahee will resume feature back duties after running tentatively on a sore hamstring in last Thursday night's win over the Jets. McGahee's legs have benefited from the ten-day layoff, as he's resumed practicing fully and the hamstring is not even listed on Denver's Week 12 injury report. Expect a rebound game. The Chargers rank 22nd versus the run and allow a healthy 4.36 yards per carry.
Score Prediction: Broncos 21, Chargers 20
Sunday Night Football
Pittsburgh @ Kansas City
The Chiefs are expected to give Tyler Palko one more start, which means the Steelers will be this week's best fantasy defense play. Not only will Palko be without elite pass-blocking LG Ryan Lilja (concussion), he is a miserable quarterback with his supporting cast at full health. Showing weak velocity and maddening decision-making skills in last Monday night's blowout loss to the Patriots, Palko threw three picks and didn't lead a touchdown drive against the NFL's worst pass defense. On the turn, Palko gets Pittsburgh's No. 3 pass defense, a unit that is fresh and at near-full strength after a Week 11 bye. It's a nightmare matchup for Kansas City's passing game. Kyle Orton will be the Chiefs' starter in Week 13. ... Look for Dwayne Bowe to be shadowed all over the field by Ike Taylor on Sunday night. Per Pro Football Focus, Taylor has permitted just 20 of the 58 passes thrown in his direction to be completed this season (34.5%) for 211 yards (3.64 YPA). Taylor has allowed one touchdown all year. Taylor is the kind of cornerback well suited to defend Bowe because he's 6-foot-2, 195 and incredibly physical. Feel free to use the "Don't Sit Your Studs" mantra, but there are too many factors working against Bowe for Week 12 fantasy comfort.
Pass-heavy comeback mode could rescue Steve Breaston like it did last week, but I wouldn't bank on it. Palko will be under much heavier duress than he was in Foxboro. Even if Palko approaches 40 attempts again, I'd bet against him surpassing 200 yards. ... Jonathan Baldwin caught three balls for 16 yards from Palko against the Patriots. He's comfortably bench material until Orton learns the offense. ... The Steelers are dismantling running games lately, holding Cedric Benson, Ray Rice, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and Beanie Wells to a combined 151 yards on 50 carries (3.02 YPC) in their last four games. Only Rice has found pay dirt. Jackie Battle, Thomas Jones, and Dexter McCluster shared the Chiefs' backfield equally in Week 11, creating a complete fantasy quagmire. Avoid. ... PPR owners could try betting that McCluster racks up receptions after Kansas City falls victim to a large, early deficit, but that didn't work out so well with Palko last week. McCluster finished with one reception for three yards. Stone-handed Battle had as many catches.
In order to minimize the risk of Ben Roethlisberger aggravating his right thumb injury, the Steelers practiced in shotgun formations all week. This could actually help Roethlisberger's fantasy value. Pittsburgh runs a pass-happy spread offense from the 'gun, and Big Ben played through the same injury when the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005. Kansas City has allowed the fifth most passing touchdowns in football and has the NFL's fewest sacks. ... Roethlisberger's thumb issue has the potential to work either way for Rashard Mendenhall. A shotgun-heavy spread could lead to more snaps for passing-down specialist Isaac Redman and fewer rushing attempts overall. The injury could also give Pittsburgh an incentive to run the football more. We just won't know until the game is played. With four touchdowns and a rock-solid 4.41 YPC average over the last five weeks, Mendenhall's performance has been much less of a problem than his usage. Still a good bet to score, Mendenhall makes for a strong RB2 against Kansas City's No. 28 run defense.
The Steelers' outside wideouts move around the formation enough that both Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace will see time against LCB Brandon Flowers and RCB Brandon Carr. Flowers is the Chiefs' top corner, while Carr is more susceptible to surrendering large chunks of yardage. On the majority of snaps, however, it will be Wallace versus Flowers and Brown on Carr. While Wallace is the No. 4 overall fantasy receiver in points per game and can never be benched, Brown has a superior Week 12 matchup. ... Emmanuel Sanders will return this week to take snaps away from Jerricho Cotchery and Hines Ward in the slot. Until one of those three emerges as a consistent contributor -- and it may not happen at all -- they're all unusable in fantasy leagues. ... Entering Pittsburgh's Week 11 bye, Heath Miller's yardage had dropped in three straight games. In terms of targets, Miller ranks 18th among tight ends. It's conceivable that Miller could spend a lot of this game helping LT Max Starks and RT Marcus Gilbert block Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali.
Score Prediction: Steelers 21, Chiefs 0
Monday Night Football
NY Giants @ New Orleans
Among Week 12's post-Thanksgiving games, this one has the highest over/under at 51 points. Superdome is the venue -- always a plus for passing -- and each team has a top-five passing offense. It's a nice fantasy setup, unless you own either team's defense. ... The last time the Saints and Giants met was in October of 2009. Drew Brees carved up the G-Men for 369 yards and four touchdowns on 23-of-30 passing (76.7%). Brees' more than two-year-old stats aren't necessarily indicative of future performance, but New York's overall scheme and defensive personnel haven't changed much. The Giants still rely heavily on sack production, and few NFL signal callers are tougher to sack. ... Prior to the Saints' Week 11 bye, Marques Colston burned Atlanta for 113 yards on eight receptions. Colston plays the majority of his snaps at slot receiver, and Giants No. 1 cornerback Corey Webster probably won't follow him inside. ... Lance Moore is coming off a one-catch, 28-yard game and has played just 42.3% of New Orleans' offensive downs over the last month. One of the few Saints that should be benched in this game, Moore's playing time and targets are too inconsistent and game-plan based for fantasy confidence.
The Giants are getting blown to smithereens by tight ends, and perhaps the scariest part is that they haven't yet faced a player at the position with quite as much talent as Jimmy Graham. In their last three games, the G-Men have allowed 28 receptions for 311 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends. It's a ridiculous, nine-catch, 104-yard weekly average. ... New York still can't get its run defense on track, in Week 11 allowing 113 yards on 23 carries (4.91 YPC) to LeSean McCoy. While New Orleans' backfield has been something of a fantasy headache whenever all members are healthy, Darren Sproles has been the most consistent contributor, particularly in high-scoring affairs like this game projects. When the Saints have scored 30 or more points (five-game sample), Sproles has five touchdowns and is averaging 85 total yards a game. He'll remain the Saints' best fantasy running back until proven otherwise. ... Mark Ingram is officially back healthy, rendering Pierre Thomas a between-the-twenties player only. A changing of the guard is possible after New Orleans' off week, but Ingram and Thomas should be on fantasy benches until we see it. If you're choosing between the two, Ingram is probably a better bet for a rushing touchdown.
The Saints' defensive strength is secondary play, particularly at left cornerback with Jabari Greer. Greer doesn't follow No. 1 wideouts around the formation, but is playing at borderline shutdown levels staying on the left. In the Giants' three-wide sets, Mario Manningham lines up across from opposing LCBs, with Victor Cruz in the slot and Hakeem Nicks at split end. Cruz and Nicks have far better matchups than Manningham this week, squaring off with slot CB Tracy Porter and RCB Patrick Robinson, respectively. ... If the coverage matchups aren't enough to get you to start Cruz and Nicks, the target trends should be. Behind Nicks, here is Eli Manning's target distribution over the last month: Cruz 41, Manningham 28, Jake Ballard 25. There is no question that Cruz has overtaken Manningham as Manning's No. 2 option in the passing game. Start 'em. ... Manningham was unable to participate in late-week practices due to persistent knee swelling, and reporters observed him getting around "gingerly" at the Giants' facility on Friday. Manningham has a poor matchup, isn't healthy, and may not even play on Monday night. He's an easy sit.
Nicks is mired in a midseason slump, but look for him to bust out of it on Monday night. He has an elite matchup in a projected shootout. It's an excellent fantasy formula. ... The potentially year-ending injury to Giants LT William Beatty doesn't bode well for oversized TE Jake Ballard. Ballard may become more valuable to the G-Men as an in-line blocker, with Manningham or Ramses Barden taking the targets Ballard leaves behind. ... Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to miss another week with a cracked foot and has no timetable to return. Brandon Jacobs is coming off an awful game against Philly, but remains the Giants' clear-cut lead back over Da'Rel Scott and D.J. Ware. The Saints have been quietly awful in run defense all season, allowing a league-high 5.19 yards per carry. Assuming New York doesn't fall behind quickly and stays competitive for all four quarters, Jacobs should not struggle to flirt with 80-90 rushing yards. He'll also be a good bet to score.
Score Prediction: Saints 30, Giants 27