12:30PM ET Game
Houston @ Detroit
Matthew Stafford played poorly in the first six games of the year. He seemed to find a midseason groove in Weeks 8-10, only to revert to atrocious early-season form in last week's loss to Green Bay. Stafford missed open receivers high and wide, and is throwing sidearm off his back foot again. Houston's defense will be at less than full strength on Thanksgiving -- top corner Johnathan Joseph is a game-time decision with a hamstring strain -- but so too is Detroit's pass offense due to Titus Young's one-game disciplinary ban. With bye weeks out of the way, Stafford is no longer a top-12 fantasy quarterback. Josh Freeman, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, and perhaps even Colin Kaepernick would be superior Week 12 starts. Stafford is playing that badly. ... Detroit will turn to midseason trade acquisition Mike Thomas in two-receiver sets to replace Young. Rookie Ryan Broyles will remain the No. 3 and slot guy. Although Broyles may play fewer snaps, he is a better football player and pass catcher than Thomas, and the superior Turkey Day fantasy bet. Stafford conceded this week that Broyles needs more chances. "Every time I throw him the ball, he makes a play," Stafford said of Broyles, who's secured 15-of-18 targets this year. "Maybe I should throw it to him some more." Added head coach Jim Schwartz, "Whenever he's been given the opportunity, he's made plays. And with the situation with Titus, he's one of the guys that has the potential to be able to benefit." ... Always a volume-dependent, low-ceiling fantasy tight end, Brandon Pettigrew has been held under 40 yards in five of his last six games. The Texans allow the fourth fewest receptions and sixth fewest yards to tight ends, so Pettigrew isn't an attractive matchup play.
Thursday Morning Update: The Detroit Free Press reported early in the week that Thomas -- not Broyles -- would replace Young in the starting lineup. Before Thursday's game, however, Broyles was announced as the starter opposite Megatron. In the same way Wes Welker once benefited from Randy Moss and Antonio Brown did from Mike Wallace in Pittsburgh late last season, Broyles could be a target monster and candidate for upwards of double-digit receptions against a banged-up Houston defensive backfield. I'd be hard pressed to leave Broyles out of PPR lineups at this point.
On a short week, the smart money is on Joseph missing this game. Without its Pro Bowl cover man, how are the Texans supposed to contain Calvin Johnson? The obvious answer is they can't. Over the past three weeks, Johnson leads all NFL receivers in yards -- by 53 -- and fantasy points -- by 11. Overlook Houston's No. 7 pass-defense ranking and start Megatron as the best receiver in fantasy. ... Thomas' role will expand Thursday, but he'll be "competing" for No. 4 pass-option targets with Tony Scheffler behind Johnson, Broyles, and Pettigrew. Leave Thomas on the waiver wire. ... Distancing himself from Joique Bell, Mikel Leshoure has 34 touches compared to Bell's ten the past two games. In fact, Kevin Smith played ten more offensive snaps than Bell against the Packers. Leshoure is the only Lions back worth owning in fantasy leagues at this point. ... Although Leshoure's matchup is not quite ideal versus Houston's No. 2 run defense, the Lions' featured early-down back is always a strong bet for touchdowns as Detroit's clear-cut favorite for red-zone carries. Leshoure has four TDs over his last three games, and his Week 11 carry total (19) was Leshoure's highest since his Week 3 NFL debut. He's a solid RB2 on Thanksgiving.
It was noted in Week 11 Matchups that Andre Johnson has rediscovered the explosion in his legs after a quiet start to the season. Johnson proceeded to terrorize Jaguars top CB Derek Cox in last Sunday's overtime thriller for career highs in catches (14) and yards (273). Back on pace for a 16-game stat line of 96-1,392-5, Johnson has an even more favorable Week 12 matchup against an injury-ruined Lions secondary. He's a WR1 again. ... Detroit's defense has surrendered the sixth most fantasy points to tight ends, and will again be minus both starting safeties. Owen Daniels returned from his hip injury in Week 11 to secure 6-of-9 targets for 57 yards. Pro Football Focus charted him with 77-of-94 snaps played (81.9 percent). Daniels is locked back in as an every-week TE1. ... No. 2 TE Garrett Graham had a career day against Jacksonville (8-82-2), although Graham benefited from pass-happy comeback mode and only played 50 percent of the offensive downs. Graham entered Week 11 with 22 career appearances, and zero games of 40 receiving yards. So his sudden statistical outburst is difficult to trust as a predictive measure. ... Houston had huge passing stats all around versus the Jags because Matt Schaub threw for a career-most 527 yards. Schaub did not hit 300 yards in any of the Texans' first nine games. So while Detroit's defense is vulnerable to the pass, last week's box score must be taken with a big grain of salt.
One Texans pass catcher largely left out of the free-for-all was Kevin Walter. The possession/run-blocking receiver failed to clear 60 yards for the eighth time in ten games and offers little weekly fantasy upside. ... Rookie Keshawn Martin caught his first career touchdown pass against the Jaguars. He has seven receptions on the season. ... FB James Casey also caught a touchdown. Primarily Arian Foster's lead blocker, Casey has no fantasy value. ... We'll entertain whether Foster's league-high 399-carry pace has begun costing him steps if he struggles against Detroit's No. 16 run defense. It's certainly a possibility the Texans may want to take a bit more seriously than they are. On his last 74 rushing attempts, Foster has managed just 229 yards (3.09 YPC). For comparison, Foster averaged a more respectable 4.11 yards per carry on his initial 175 runs of the season. If Ben Tate (hamstring) could ever get healthy, the Texans could really use him.
Score Projection: Texans 27, Lions 21
4:15PM ET Game
Washington @ Dallas
Tony Romo has not played as well on the field as his stats the past three weeks indicate, but he's getting it done in the box score and is capable of busting the mini-funk at any moment. Romo has completed at least 70 percent of his throws in three straight games, and he'll face Washington's 29th-ranked pass defense in Week 12. Romo is a quality matchup-based QB1 on Thanksgiving Day. ... Not only have the Redskins struggled to stop the pass this season, they enter Thursday's game incredibly banged up in the back four. RCB Josh Wilson, Washington's top cover corner, suffered a second-degree rotator cuff sprain in last week's win over the Eagles and will be at less than full strength, assuming he plays at all. SS Brandon Meriweather tore his ACL. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith's "mild" high ankle sprain may affect the consistency of Dallas' passing game, but the pass catchers all have favorable matchups. ... Dez Bryant was nothing short of dominant in last Sunday's comeback win over Cleveland, setting career highs in catches (12) and yards (145). He has emerged as Dallas' top offensive weapon. Since the Week 5 bye, a suddenly efficient Bryant has secured 36-of-53 targets, good for a catch rate of 67.9 percent that would rank top 20 in the league among receivers with at least 40 targets. Start Bryant as a WR1 against the Redskins.
Jason Witten still leads Dallas in targets and receptions since the bye. He's caught at least six balls in eight consecutive games and faces off Thursday with a Washington defense permitting the second most fantasy points to tight ends. ... With Dez catching fire, Miles Austin's production has sagged to WR3 levels the past couple of weeks. Austin still has an attractive Week 12 matchup. The Redskins cover Austin's portions of the field with LCB Cedric Griffin and slot CB DeAngelo Hall, and they are both easily burned. If Romo strings together four quarters of effective passing, Bryant, Witten and Austin can all come away with productive fantasy performances. They can all get "theirs." ... The Cowboys' front five lost the trench battle with the Browns' defensive line in Week 11. Felix Jones had no holes, and when he did he consistently failed to exploit them. Hurt (again), Jones showed toughness playing through a first-half knee injury but his acceleration and cutting ability evaporated. DeMarco Murray (foot) is out for Thanksgiving and Lance Dunbar is battling knee problems of his own, so Jones will get another start. A lock to be at less than 100 percent Thursday, Jones has the look of a risky, low-upside flex. He's not a recommended start.
Wednesday Update: Now battling injuries to both knees, Jones was held out of Tuesday and Wednesday's practices and clearly will not be close to full speed if he's active at all against the Redskins. Dunbar and special teamer Phillip Tanner have shared the first-team practice reps. The Cowboys may end up playing Thursday's game without a legitimate rushing attack, rendering the offense one-dimensional.
Cowboys All-Pro candidate ILB Sean Lee suffered a year-ending toe injury in Week 7, and Rob Ryan's defense hasn't been the same since. Also losing LE Kenyon Coleman to a triceps tear along the way, Dallas has permitted 548 yards and four touchdowns on 131 carries (4.18 YPC) over its past five games. The Cowboys are an ordinary run-defending team and unimposing matchup for Washington's No. 2-ranked rushing offense. ... After spending his first nine NFL games as a two-down thumper, Alfred Morris emerged from the Week 10 bye as a true every-down back, overtaking Evan Royster on passing downs. Morris played a season-high 91 percent of the Skins' offensive snaps. "If he can stay healthy and just keep on doing the things he's done, he will be a big-time back for a lot of years," coach Mike Shanahan said following Washington's Week 11 win over Philadelphia. "He's a special guy." Time has arguably exposed Morris as more RB2 than legit RB1 -- he's fallen to 12th in running back scoring -- but ALF is a recommended fantasy start on Thanksgiving. ... Robert Griffin III improved his passing TD-to-INT ratio to 12:3 against the Eagles, and picked up where he left off as a first-half fantasy producer. Don't lose the faith: Griffin is a top-five fantasy quarterback play, even against the Cowboys' No. 6 pass defense.
Coming off a bye to reevaluate personnel usage, the Skins used a five-man receiver committee against the Eagles. Pinning down production in the muddled corps is going to be awfully difficult. None of the five caught more than three balls versus Philly, and fantasy scoring leader Santana Moss' 61-yard touchdown was his lone reception. Per Pro Football Focus, Moss only played 24-of-58 snaps (41.4 percent). Invest in Washington wideouts at your own risk. ... Pierre Garcon (foot) returned in Week 11 and was the Redskins' least effective receiver. Managing only 23 snaps while playing hurt, Garcon finished with three catches for five yards. He looks like a long shot for stretch-run fantasy value. ... Week 11 snap counts for the Redskins' receivers: Josh Morgan 40, Leonard Hankerson 37, Moss 24, Garcon 23, Aldrick Robinson 9. ... Logan Paulsen remained Washington's every-down tight end following the open date, with Niles Paul and Chris Cooley playing sparingly. Paulsen was targeted once, securing it for a 17-yard touchdown. The Cowboys are in the bottom ten in fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, and bottom 15 in fantasy points allowed to tight ends. So this isn't a great matchup for any of Washington's pass catchers.
Score Projection: Cowboys 24, Redskins 20
8:20PM ET Game
New England @ NY Jets
Particularly with Aaron Hernandez due back from a nagging ankle injury, the Patriots have ample firepower to withstand Rob Gronkowski's loss and still play explosive offense. Although he hasn't played since Week 7, Hernandez has been practicing for three weeks and could be the focal point of playcaller Josh McDaniels' passing attack as soon as Week 12. Tom Brady's target distribution in Hernandez's three full games: Brandon Lloyd 28, Wes Welker 27, Hernandez 23, Gronkowski 23, Danny Woodhead 9, Stevan Ridley 5, Julian Edelman 4. ... Hernandez figures to inherit the seam routes usually run by Gronk and is a strong candidate to pace the Pats in targets Thursday night. ... Ridley took a backseat (year-low 13 carries) in last week's win over the Colts, but saved his fantasy day with a fourth-quarter goal-line score and has a favorable matchup on Thanksgiving night. The Jets' 30th-ranked run defense is playing on a short week after serving up 114 yards on 20 carries (5.7 YPC) to Rams rushers last Sunday. Expect Ridley to maintain New England's backfield reins despite Shane Vereen's season-high 12 touches against Indianapolis. Nine of Vereen's touches occurred in full-on garbage time, with New England up four touchdowns. Vereen has more fantasy value than Danny Woodhead, but neither backup is a Week 12 fantasy option.
In Brady's last four regular season meetings with the Jets, he's completed 97-of-143 passes (67.8 percent) for 1,235 yards (8.64 YPA), and a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio. The Pats have won all four. Tom Terrific seems to have solved Rex Ryan's defense and should be locked into fantasy lineups. ... Having hit 70 yards in 2-of-10 games this year, Lloyd has the toughest matchup among Patriots skill-position players, squaring off with Antonio Cromartie outside the numbers. Cromartie held Lloyd to one reception for six yards in their Week 7 meeting. Lloyd is a low-end WR3 option on Thanksgiving. The fact that Lloyd was demoted out of two-receiver sets in Week 11 doesn't factor as much into his Week 12 outlook because the Patriots will lean on their three-wide offense more post-Gronkowski. ... Welker hasn't scored in a month and a half, but he's caught at least six balls in eight straight games and projects to be open regularly against beleaguered Jets slot CB Ellis Lankster. When Welker is getting the ball so much, it's safe to say the touchdowns will come. Start him as a WR2 in standard leagues and borderline WR1 in PPR. ... Edelman's surprise Week 11 outburst (105 total yards, touchdown) is a reminder that McDaniels values him as an oft-used role player. Edelman also returned a first-quarter punt to pay dirt from 68 yards out. Edelman is an interesting dynasty keeper as Welker's possible heir apparent, but he's not much of a re-draft league option. Prior to the Colts game, Edelman hadn't topped 50 offensive yards all season.
"He's not giving the Jets the best chance to win," ESPN's Ron Jaworski said of Mark Sanchez this past week. "When you look at the tape and draw conclusions on how a player's playing, I think it's probably best right now for the Jets to go in a different direction." Sanchez temporarily righted the ship in last Sunday's win over St. Louis, but his tendency for implosion and historical stats against the Patriots suggest passing success will be difficult for the Jets to sustain into Week 12. In his last four regular season tilts with New England, Sanchez has gone 81-of-139 (58.3 percent) for 964 yards (6.94 YPA), and a 4:6 TD-to-INT ratio. ... The Patriots' linebackers and musical-chair safeties couldn't cover a corpse down the middle, and Dustin Keller was among the first to expose that weakness in these teams' Week 7 meeting. Keller went off for team highs in catches (7) and yards (93) and scored a red-zone touchdown. Keller is a logical fallback option for fantasy owners who just lost Gronkowski or don't trust Heath Miller in the Charlie Batch offense. ... Stephen Hill is an absolute nightmare right now, and not in a good way. Hill has gone catch-less in two straight games and secured just two of his last 12 targets for 29 yards. The rookie is waiver-wire material.
Whereas Bill Belichick's defense remains leaky inside the numbers, the Pats added legitimacy to their perimeter pass coverage by installing Aqib Talib at left cornerback after acquiring him from Tampa Bay. Rookie Alfonzo Dennard is now the right corner, with Kyle Arrington covering the slot. Chaz Schilens, coming off a 4-48-1 line against the Rams, will match up with Talib for most of Thursday night's game. Due to heel and hamstring injuries, Jeremy Kerley (3-43) was reduced to a slot receiver only at St. Louis and played 19-of-66 snaps (28.8 percent). If that role sticks, Kerley will draw Arrington in coverage. Hill and surprise Week 11 starter Clyde Gates also figure prominently into the rotation. None of the Jets wideouts has a daunting matchup, but they all offer very little upside. As long as Kerley is banged up, Tony Sparano's offense lacks a No. 1 receiver. ... With Bilal Powell finally healthy, the Jets turned to a timeshare of Powell (11 carries) and Shonn Greene (18) against the Rams. Greene was ineffective in the first half, so Powell took over as the red-zone back in the final two quarters, flukily scoring his first two career TDs. Powell wound up with five red-zone carries, compared to Greene's two and Joe McKnight's one. Starting Powell or Greene against New England would likely prove a shortsighted move by fantasy owners. The Pats have a top-ten run defense, and neither Powell nor Greene offers any hint of big-play ability.
Score Projection: Patriots 28, Jets 17
Start or Sit: Thanksgiving Day games
Kay Adams (@heykayadams) and Matt Stroup (@mattstroup) look at whether Matt Schaub is a must start in Detroit, whether Mikel Leshoure will keep up his strong production, if Alfred Morris should stay in your lineup, if Brandon Lloyd will benefit from Rob Gronkowski's injury and much more from Thursday's Thanksgiving matchups.
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