4:25PM ET Games
St. Louis @ Arizona
With a score projection of 37 points, Rams-Cards has the second lowest over-under of Week 12, behind only Steelers-Browns. These two clubs played to a 17-3 finish in Week 5. This wouldn't appear to be a good game to target for fantasy sleepers. ... Coach Ken Whisenhunt may believe otherwise, but rookie Ryan Lindley threw the football inaccurately off the bench last week, failing to move the offense. This team's lack of a viable quarterback is killing a talented receiver corps. Larry Fitzgerald did rack up 92 yards on eight receptions in the aforementioned Week 5 Rams meeting, but he's slipped to WR3 value with a measly 41.5-yard average over the past month. He's still the only Cardinals wideout worth fantasy consideration this week. ... Back from the temporary I.R. list, it wouldn't be crazy to give Beanie Wells a long look as a Week 12 flex play because he's going to start against St. Louis' 16th-ranked run defense and could flirt with 16-18 carries in what should be a close ball game. It may take a week or two for Wells to regain his legs, however, after missing the last two months with toe and knee injuries. In an ideal world, fantasy owners would put Beanie on a wait-and-see week, and start him against the Jets in Week 13 if he plays well on a voluminous workload. ... Wells' return will reduce La'Rod Stephens-Howling to change-of-pace and passing-down back. Stephens-Howling would need another Beanie injury to regain fantasy start-ability.
With Danny Amendola battling a foot injury, Steven Jackson will be the top fantasy play on either side in this game. After having his early-season workloads reduced to get Daryl Richardson more involved, fresh-legged Jackson is hitting his stride. He's amassed 307 yards and two touchdowns on his last 70 carries (4.39 YPC) and received 46 touches compared to 15 for Richardson the past two weeks. Jackson is a strong RB2 play against Arizona's 20th-ranked run defense in Week 12. ... An explosive role player, Richardson is not a fantasy option but should be rostered in all leagues as a lottery-ticket stash. He could be an every-week flex play if S-Jax went down. ... Amendola is going to be tough to trust in Week 12. Patrick Peterson will shadow him in coverage, and Amendola is a game-time decision in a 4:25ET affair after spending much of the week in a walking boot. "Wait" for Amendola in fantasy leagues at your own risk. ... Chris Givens returned from his one-game disciplinary ban to start ahead of Brandon Gibson in Week 11, but Gibson played more snaps and both failed to clear 20 receiving yards. Givens' big-play ability makes him the best bet if you're picking between the two, but neither is a trustworthy Week 12 fantasy play.
Friday Update: Amendola missed a third straight practice Friday and is listed as doubtful to face the Cardinals. He's not going to play. Rather than turn to St. Louis' receiver corps for potential fantasy beneficiaries, I'd view Jackson as a stronger start. As a short-to-intermediate slot weapon, Amendola is essentially a more dynamic version of a running game. Look for coach Jeff Fisher to lean on Jackson and perhaps a bit more of Richardson against the Cardinals.
Score Projection: Rams 20, Cardinals 7
San Francisco @ New Orleans
Jim Harbaugh teeth-gritted his way through 1 1/2 seasons of Alex Smith. Smith ranked last in the NFL in 2011 pass attempts among 16-game starters, and was 31st this year. So when Colin Kaepernick capitalized on his Week 11 opportunity to start in a concussed Smith's place -- completing 70 percent of 23 throws with two touchdowns and no turnovers against the mighty Bears defense, Harbaugh moved on from the mediocre veteran, who'd been holding his offense hostage. "You don't have the vertical game with Alex Smith in there, that you have with Colin Kaepernick," ESPN's Ron Jaworski observed on a media conference call this week. Kaepernick has a big-time arm and big-time weapons (Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham), and has the potential to be the single biggest stretch-run fantasy quarterback difference maker. And in his first start, we didn't even get to see Kaepernick maximize his game-breaking running ability (4 rushes, 10 yards). More of that is sure to come. Facing the league's worst defense in Week 12, there are only four quarterbacks in Sunday and Monday's games who should be started over Kaepernick: Rodgers, Brees, Ryan, and Peyton Manning. ... "I felt like somebody took the handcuffs off me," Vernon Davis said following Kaepernick's Monday night start. Davis had 101 scoreless yards in his previous four games combined. Kaepernick hit him a season-high six times for 83 yards and his first touchdown since Week 3. With Rob Gronkowski out until Week 16 at soonest, only Jimmy Graham will be a better weekly tight end play than Davis going forward.
Kaepernick's updated target distribution on the year: Davis 13, Crabtree 8, Kyle Williams 7, Randy Moss and Manningham 6, Delanie Walker 4, Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter 2. ... So the target stats suggest Davis is Kaepernick's favorite target. As he should be. ... Make no mistake, though, San Francisco's offense will continue to be run-based. The 49ers' pass attempt totals will stay among the lowest in football, so still think of Crabtree as a WR2/3 with a touch more upside. Moss and Manningham remain WR4/5s. ... Crabtree has the most favorable Week 12 matchup in the 49ers' receiver corps. A slot man on all passing downs, Crabtree should have his way with Saints special teamer-turned-slot corner Elbert Mack in this game. Moss and Manningham will deal with LCB Jabari Greer and RCB Patrick Robinson outside. ... Gore's workload will remain voluminous, and Kaepernick's ability to extend the defense with vertical throws, as well as freeze opposing front sevens due to his running threat on boot-action plays, projects to increase the efficiency of the running game as a whole. Down the stretch, Hunter should be rostered in all leagues as a possible borderline RB1 in the event of a Gore injury. And Gore's yards-per-carry average will rise.
The Saints' offense is a different, at times unstoppable animal with Jimmy Graham in the starting lineup. Since returning from his mid-October ankle injury, Graham is averaging 6.5 catches for 77.5 yards with five touchdowns in four games. "He controls the middle of the field," Jaworski explained on Mike & Mike. "He can run deep routes. He controls the perimeter area of the field. ... And you can just see the confidence Drew Brees has when he has Jimmy Graham." The 49ers' defense has been tough on tight ends -- 30th in fantasy points allowed -- but matchups don't matter for Graham. With Rob Gronkowski's regular season likely over, Graham is a virtual lock to lead all tight ends in scoring the rest of the way. ... Marques Colston's yardage has sunk since Graham returned, but he's still the No. 2 pass option in the NFL's No. 2 pass offense. He's going to be fine. In last January's Saints-49ers playoff game, Colston beat up on Niners slot CB Carlos Rogers and RCB Tarell Brown for nine receptions, 136 yards, and a touchdown. ... Speaking of which, Brees hung 462 yards and four touchdowns on Vic Fangio's defense in the aforementioned postseason clash. Brees has a 51:14 TD-to-INT ratio over his last 16 games. The 49ers' No. 2 pass-defense ranking matters not in Week 12. Brees couldn't be more locked in.
Consistency is elusive for Lance Moore as the No. 3 or 4 option in New Orleans' passing game, but he's the No. 14 overall fantasy receiver over the past five weeks. He's a boom-or-bust play who has boomed more often than not lately. ... Over his last four games, Devery Henderson has two combined catches for 11 yards. He's worthless in fantasy. ... Practicing fully, Darren Sproles is finally, truly due back from his broken hand in Week 12 after being scratched before game time in last week's win at Oakland. Sproles has averaged six receptions per game when healthy this year and needs to be reinserted into PPR lineups. He's more of a flex option in standard formats. ... As explained in this space last week, Sproles' presence shouldn't have a major impact on the Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory early-down rotation because Sproles has been used so sparingly as a ball carrier. Sproles' return could send Pierre Thomas' fantasy appeal straight into the gutter, though. It's arguably there already. A single-digit touch-per-week player since coach Joe Vitt came off suspension, Thomas is reaching the point of drop-worthy in fantasy leagues. ... Matching up with San Francisco's No. 6 run defense makes Ingram a dicier play than he was the past two weeks, but he's still likely to receive any goal-line chances, keeping Ingram on the flex radar in TD-heavy leagues. The 2011 first-round pick has 28 carries compared to Ivory's 15 over the last two games.
Score Projection: 49ers 28, Saints 27
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay @ NY Giants
The Giants' promise to increase explosive first-round pick David Wilson's backfield role has been a long time coming. "We need to get him more involved," coach Tom Coughlin said following New York's Week 11 bye. "And we will get him more involved." Ahmad Bradshaw will remain the lead back with Andre Brown second in line for carries, but more work for Wilson would bode poorly for the veterans' fantasy outlook. Facing Green Bay's top-11 run defense, Bradshaw is a mid-range RB2 play. Goal-line back Brown's workloads make him no more than a back-end RB3. Wilson should be rostered in 12-14 team leagues to see what happens. ... The bye couldn't have come at a better time for a Giants team that looked fatigued in recent games. Martellus Bennett (knee), Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee), and Eli Manning (tired arm) should all benefit. Although Manning's Weeks 8-10 performances make him an untrustworthy Week 12 fantasy play, he certainly has a favorable matchup. Green Bay ranks 21st against the pass and will again be without top pass rusher Clay Matthews (hamstring). With just two touchdown passes and a 213-yard average over his past five games, Manning should still be considered a QB2 until his box score stats pick up.
Forward-looking fantasy owners who bought low on Nicks during his midseason production lull should be itching to play him after an off week. (And hoping Eli cooperates.) Nicks combined for 14 catches, 253 yards, and four TDs in last year's two meetings with Green Bay. Not even listed on the Week 12 injury report, a healthy Nicks is capable of beating up on Packers top CB Tramon Williams. ... Victor Cruz's numbers dipped along with Manning's during the cold streak, but the slot receiver remains on pace for 96 catches, 1,189 yards, and 11 touchdowns. He's the No. 8 overall fantasy wideout and an every-week starter. ... Domenik Hixon didn't practice this week due to an ankle injury, which is a potential long-term concern considering he's coming off a bye. If Hixon can't face the Packers, rookie Rueben Randle will stand in as New York's third receiver. ... Green Bay has been stingy against tight ends, holding them to the sixth fewest fantasy points through ten games. Bennett is still an interesting Week 12 start because Matthews' absence projects to free him up for increased pass routes in a game that could be high scoring should Eli rediscover form. Desperate Rob Gronkowski owners could do far worse for a plug-and-play fantasy tight end.
Aaron Rodgers collected a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 633 passing yards in last season's two Giants meetings. New York is shakier in pass defense this year, so Rodgers has an even more attractive matchup as the clubs re-meet. It can't hurt that white-hot Rodgers has 24 touchdowns and just four interceptions over his last seven games. He's also due for a rushing score or two. ... The Giants rank 25th in pass defense and are vulnerable to the long ball. Their 8.1 yards-per-pass attempt average is the fourth most generous clip in football, and only four teams have permitted more 20-plus-yard completions. Jordy Nelson is Green Bay's premier vertical receiver. ... Rotoworld preseason favorite Randall Cobb opened the season as a backup. He's now the best player, save Rodgers, in the Packers' juggernaut offense. Cobb is the No. 13 overall fantasy wideout on the year, and No. 4 behind only Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, and Vincent Jackson over the past three weeks. That is truly elite company. In perhaps the biggest on-paper mismatch of Week 12, Cobb will square off with frequently burned Giants rookie slot CB Jayron Hosley. ... James Jones may fall back toward WR3 value with Nelson healthy, but he's never a bad bet for touchdowns. Look for the Giants to stick perceived top CB Corey Webster on Nelson, allowing Jones to deal with Prince Amukamara. Jones has a big physical advantage on him.
James Starks is averaging a below-replacement-level 3.21 yards per carry on the season, and Packers coach Mike McCarthy openly discussed increasing Alex Green's role again this week. Particularly with desperation-inducing bye weeks out of the way, Green Bay's backfield has become a fantasy situation to write off completely. McCarthy appears poised to resume an unpredictable "hot-hand" approach, and Cedric Benson (Lisfranc) may not play again this year. ... Jermichael Finley has been such a poor football player over the past two years that it would be awfully difficult to think he's suddenly "back" after catching three balls for 66 yards and a touchdown in Week 11. Finley does have a favorable matchup against a Giants defense allowing the third most receptions and fourth most yards to tight ends. Finley has plenty of talent and appears to be set up for Week 12 success, if Rodgers is willing to throw him the ball. Of course, starting Finley against the Giants could also be chalked up as "chasing last week's points." Start the underachiever at your own risk.
Score Projection: Packers 30, Giants 24
Monday Night Football
Carolina @ Philadelphia
As of Wednesday, LeSean McCoy (concussion) wasn't feeling well enough to attend the Eagles' facility. He was at home, still experiencing headaches and will not play on Monday Night Football. A Matchups column-recommended stash the past several weeks, rookie Bryce Brown will start against the Panthers' No. 20 run defense. Although Brown had a tumultuous, largely unproductive college career, he ran a 4.37 forty time at 6-foot, 223 during his March Pro Day and has picked up the pro game quickly. Lapping incumbent Dion Lewis and fellow rookie Chris Polk to be Philadelphia's No. 2 back, Brown has rushed 32 times for 141 yards (4.41 YPC) this season and will also play on passing downs versus Carolina. He's a high-upside RB2 play in Week 12. ... The Philadelphia Inquirer expects Lewis to "see a few carries" Monday night as a shiftier change-of-pace back behind Brown. Lewis isn't a fantasy option. ... Michael Vick (concussion) has progressed enough that he seems likely to be available for Week 13, but Nick Foles will get another start despite last week's debacle. Foles' target distribution on the season: DeSean Jackson 16, Jeremy Maclin 14, Riley Cooper 12, McCoy and Brent Celek 10, Clay Harbor 9, Stanley Havili 5, Damaris Johnson 4.
The strength of Carolina's defense is pass rush. The Panthers rank in the top 11 in sacks and can bring heat both off the edge (LE Charles Johnson 8.5 sacks, RE Greg Hardy 7 sacks) and up the middle (DT Dwan Edwards 5 sacks). This team brings a lot more pass rush than the Redskins club Foles faced in his first start, which could be a major problem for Foles behind the Eagles' porous offensive line. A matchup with Carolina's No. 17 pass defense doesn't appear daunting on paper, but Foles ranks low among Week 12 QB2s. ... Foles couldn't get the ball to the perimeter against Washington, targeting Jackson and Maclin 12 times combined and generating two completions for five yards. Jackson remains difficult to bench because he offers so much big-play potential, but starting Maclin would require a leap of faith following his Week 11 goose egg. ... The Panthers have allowed the tenth most fantasy points to tight ends, but Celek may spend much of this game helping Philly's inept offensive tackles block Hardy and Johnson. At surface level, Celek does not appear to be an attractive fantasy play. ... Cooper stood in as the Eagles' third receiver against the Redskins and emerged from the game with knee inflammation. He's not on the Week 12 fantasy radar. ... Usual slot man Jason Avant missed Week 11 with a hamstring injury and has been targeted once by Foles this season. Avant didn't even have fantasy value when Vick was healthy.
Is the Eagles' defense still playing hard? It sure didn't look like it in last Sunday's embarrassing, 31-6 loss to Washington. Philadelphia surrendered four passing touchdowns, each in a different way, and got gashed on the ground for 169 yards on 34 carries (4.97 YPC). No. 12 overall fantasy quarterback Cam Newton's season has been disappointing after last year's top-five finish, but this is an inviting matchup. Defenses must tackle well to stop Newton on the run, and Philadelphia is one of the league's worst tackling teams. ... The Eagles sometimes play matchups at corner, using usual LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against smaller deep threats and RCB Nnamdi Asomugha versus bigger possession receivers. If they don't on Monday night, Steve Smith will give Asomugha matchup fits all game. Asomugha's recovery speed has evaporated at age 31, and he hasn't been pressing at the line with any hint of confidence. When receivers get by Asomugha's jam, they're into the open field and gone. Start Smith in Week 12 and hope Eagles DC Todd Bowles leaves Asomugha on him. ... If Philadelphia "plays sides" at cornerback, which is realistically what they most frequently do, Brandon LaFell will deal with top cover guy Rodgers-Cromartie. DRC is hardly a shutdown cornerback, but it wouldn't be a great matchup for LaFell.
Philadelphia has allowed an average of 5.2 receptions for 57 yards to tight ends over the past five weeks, including two touchdowns. While this is a middling matchup for Greg Olsen on paper, the Eagles are weak at safety and hardly have a juggernaut linebacker corps. Olsen is a low-end TE1 option. ... Carolina's backfield distribution has been maddeningly unpredictable, but Jonathan Stewart put himself back on the flex-play radar in Week 11 by gaining 73 yards on 17 touches versus Tampa Bay, and scoring a second-quarter touchdown on a goal-line run. Pro Football Focus charted Stewart with 46 snaps compared to DeAngelo Williams' 16 and Mike Tolbert's 21 (14 as a blocker). As to whether the Panthers will stick with Stewart as a feature back, your guess is as good as mine. The Eagles rank 19th against the run, so the matchup is there for the taking. ... Williams has received double-digit touches in one of his last six games. He'd need a Stewart injury to be even remotely start-able in fantasy leagues. And as Williams showed when Stewart was hurt early in the season, even then there would be no guarantees for quality box-score stats.
Score Projection: Panthers 27, Eagles 13