1:00PM ET Games
Buffalo @ Indianapolis
C.J. Spiller has long been a terrific space runner; perhaps the best "satellite" back in the league. But in his Week 11 audition as Buffalo's bellcow, Spiller displayed an ability to sustain a rushing attack, breaking off chain-moving gains inside and out en route to 130 yards on 25 touches. And he did it against a Dolphins defense that entered the game ranked fifth versus the run. It was a big step forward in Spiller's career. "If he can continue this work," NFL Network's Marshall Faulk opined after the Bills' 19-14 Thursday night win, "it's gonna be hard for them to continue to play Fred Jackson like they do right now." Jackson is due back from his concussion in Week 12, but Chan Gailey has promoted Spiller into the starting lineup after he established himself as the superior backfield option. Start Spiller as an RB1 against the Colts' No. 22 run defense. He'll be a fantasy difference maker down the stretch. ... The favorable matchup keeps Jackson on the flex-play radar, but don't be surprised if he tops out at 10-12 touches. His value is fading. ... Touchdown-dependent TE Scott Chandler gets an unfavorable draw versus an Indy defense surrendering the second fewest receptions and fifth fewest yards to tight ends. Chandler is hit-or-miss TE2.
Ryan Fitzpatrick's annual fast start followed by a screeching skid is in full effect for a third straight season. He's managed five combined touchdown passes in his last six games, averaging just 208 yards over that span. With Indy's pass defense nearing full strength as bookend outside-edge rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis return to health, Fitzpatrick is just a two-quarterback league player. ... Although he's managed a single 100-yard game across his last 32 appearances, Stevie Johnson has caught at least five balls in five of the last six weeks and solidified himself as a WR3. The Colts' defense has an 18:4 TD-to-INT ratio against and ranks 20th versus the pass, so Johnson has an attractive matchup indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium. ... Just when Bills slot WR Donald Jones appeared to be approaching low-end WR3 value, Jones let down fantasy owners with 11 yards on two receptions in Buffalo's Week 11 win over Miami. Jones lacks dynamic physical tools and is no better than third in line for weekly Bills skill-position looks, behind Spiller and Johnson. He's not worth a Week 12 play. ... With F-Jax back healthy, drop Tashard Choice in all leagues.
The Bills have begun using rookie corner Stephon Gilmore to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers. He's responded by holding Brandon Lloyd (4-45) and Brian Hartline (4-49) in check the past two weeks. Reggie Wayne is better than Lloyd and Hartline and moves around the formation more than both of them, making him difficult for defenses to track. Play Wayne confidently as a WR1 versus Buffalo, but I'll be keeping an eye on Gilmore. After a typically toasty start for a rookie cornerback, Gilmore has come on very strong. ... Donnie Avery received early-week clearance from his Week 11 concussion and will start against the Bills. Both Avery and rookie T.Y. Hilton have attractive matchups versus Nos. 2 and 3 CBs Leodis McKelvin and Justin Rogers, but they have rendered each other inconsistent with unpredictable box-score production when both have been healthy this year. Avery and Hilton are shaky, roll-of-the-dice WR3 plays. … The No. 10 overall fantasy quarterback through ten games, Andrew Luck squares off Sunday with a Buffalo defense that ranks 18th versus the pass but has made major strides since early in the season, both in terms of up-front pass rush and back-end coverage. As his production to this point in the year suggests, Luck is a low-end QB1 play.
Rookie Vick Ballard has bypassed Donald Brown for Colts feature back duties. Ballard has 50 touches compared to Brown's 21 over the past three weeks, showing himself to be a better fit for Indianapolis' power-running offense. Brown is a dancer at the line of scrimmage with some straight-line speed, profiling as a change-of-pace back. Battling ongoing knee issues following an in-season scope, Brown is off the fantasy radar at this point. Ballard loses goal-line carries to Delone Carter, and is a low-upside flex despite a favorable matchup against the Bills' No. 31 run defense. ... Coby Fleener (shoulder) returned to practice this week on a limited basis. He's not likely to play before Week 13. Dwayne Allen is still more of a TE2 with bye weeks out of the way and full fantasy rosters restored for owners. Buffalo has been a middling defense against tight ends, allowing the 14th most yards and 13th most fantasy points to the position this year.
Score Projection: Colts 24, Bills 20
Tennessee @ Jacksonville
Chad Henne has attempted 71 passes in parts of four games this season. His target distribution: Justin Blackmon 18, Cecil Shorts 16, Micheal Spurlock 8, Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele 6, Laurent Robinson and Marcedes Lewis 5. ... In his first nine games, Blackmon caught a combined 26 balls for 250 yards and one touchdown. In Week 11 alone, Blackmon destroyed Texans LCB Kareem Jackson and slot CB Brice McCain to the tune of 236 yards and a TD on seven receptions. He was targeted a team-high 12 times by Henne. Blackmon's sluggish early-season performance suggests fantasy owners should proceed with caution, but he's been Henne's favorite target and has a favorable Week 12 matchup with Titans rookie slot CB Coty Sensabaugh. In a matter of one game, Blackmon played his way squarely onto the WR3 fantasy radar. ... Put out of his misery, Blaine Gabbert (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, locking in Henne as the Jaguars' starter the rest of the way. Henne will close out fantasy season with 4-of-5 matchups against bottom-15 pass defenses, including Tennessee's 26th-ranked unit on Sunday. Henne should be locked into two-quarterback league lineups in Week 12 and may flirt with QB1 streamer value if he continues to play well.
Benched after pathetically managing 178 yards on his previous 64 carries (2.78 YPC), Rashad Jennings gave way to Jalen Parmele in Week 11 at Houston. A plodding, straight-line power back in the Jackie Battle mold at 5-foot-11, 224, Parmele was utilized as a true every-down runner and will maintain the role versus the Titans. Volume (27 touches last week, 61-of-66 snaps) thrusts Parmele into flex discussion, and a matchup with Tennessee's 28th-ranked run defense makes him an intriguing, if low-upside start despite replacement-level talent. ... Jennings can be dropped in all leagues. ... Cecil Shorts has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in four of his last five games, and is the No. 5 fantasy receiver over the past five weeks, behind only Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson, and Randall Cobb. With a plus matchup and Henne giving Jacksonville's passing game credibility, Shorts has earned a WR2 start in Week 12. He’s still a better option than Blackmon. ... Due to a flurry of early-season touchdowns allowed, the Titans have permitted the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends. Can Henne resuscitate Marcedes Lewis' value? He did in Week 11, hitting Lewis twice for red-zone touchdowns. It'd be reckless to expect Henne to suddenly turn the Jags into an offensive juggernaut, but he clearly knows where to go with the football deep in scoring position -- to his 6-foot-6, 275-pound tight end -- and this is a friendly matchup for Lewis on paper.
I was recently asked to name a written-off team I view as capable of catching fire down the stretch and making a surprise playoff push. The question was off the cuff and I wish I could take back my answer. I should have said the Titans. This is a team with explosive offensive potential, and it begins with rejuvenated running back Chris Johnson. Before the Week 11 bye, Johnson shredded the Dolphins' run-tough defense for 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 touches, turning in his best game-tape performance of the year. "I just finished watching them against Miami," ESPN's Merril Hoge said this week. "And he was as decisive as he was two years ago. He was hitting the hole, getting 5-6 yards. He was a completely different back in this game. If he keeps playing like this, the Titans will be a team that will be extremely dangerous." If you took Chris Wesseling's early-season advice and bought low on CJ2K, give yourself a butt-pat and start him against Jacksonville's No. 29 run defense. ... With a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 7.11 YPA, and an 8.6-yard average on scrambles, Jake Locker has performed better this season than his critics might claim. He just needs to stay healthy and string together some productive starts. Locker is a recommended two-quarterback league starter in Week 12, and a stretch-run QB2 with a high ceiling in standard settings.
Coach Mike Munchak promised before the bye to get Kenny Britt more involved in the final six games. “He wants to do more and more and more," Munchak said of Britt, whose season began painfully slowly after multiple offseason knee surgeries. "So I think it’s something we’ll look at to see if we’re using him the best way we possibly can. ... With him out there we're a better football team and we just have to keep finding ways to use him." Kendall Wright and Nate Washington have been effective complementary-role players this season, but Britt has the ability to be a true go-to guy. If fantasy owners are looking to start a Titans receiver against the Jaguars' No. 28 pass defense, Britt should be the pick. ... Jared Cook has finished each of the past two seasons with a flurry, and for that reason is a TE2 to monitor going forward. Cook was a less-than-50-percent player in Tennessee's last four games, however, and Jacksonville gives up the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Cook is more of a deep-league stash than viable Week 12 starter.
Score Projection: Titans 27, Jaguars 20
Atlanta @ Tampa Bay
Josh Freeman has thrown multiple touchdown passes in six consecutive games. It seems oversimplistic to attribute Freeman's success to something as unquantifiable as "confidence," but it's precisely the reason for his 2012 leap forward. Talent was never an issue for Freeman. "I think his game is confident, and he's confident in this scheme," explained Tampa Times Bucs beat writer Stephen Holder this week. "He wasn't as confident in the early part of the season. ... Now guys are on the same page. He sees things the same as his receivers. And you have the confidence that comes from throwing to a guy like Vincent Jackson. He's every bit the playmaker they thought he'd be. He's raised the level of play of this offense." In a potential shootout between top-ten offenses in sunny Tampa Bay, Freeman is a legit QB1. ... Jackson runs most of his pass routes down the left sideline and will square off Sunday with Falcons RCB Dunta Robinson. Through ten games, Pro Football Focus grades Robinson 100th among 109 qualifying NFL cornerbacks in pass coverage. Keep trotting out V-Jax as a smoking-hot WR1.
No. 2 receiver Mike Williams' production has slowed the past few weeks, and he's averaging just 53 yards over his last five games. Williams has the tougher coverage draw of Bucs receivers, matching up with LCB Asante Samuel. ... Dallas Clark racked up seven Week 11 receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown at Carolina. His production was inflated by comeback mode; the Panthers were leading 21-10 in the fourth quarter and the game went into overtime. Don't chase Clark's last-week points. Kyle Rudolph, Martellus Bennett, and Brandon Myers should all be ranked ahead of him. ... Although Freeman has come on strong, the Bucs won't suddenly become a pass-first offense. They are a run-first club that socks opponents in the mouth. "It's crystal clear what this offense is about. It's about discipline. It's much like the (old) Giants' offense," ESPN's Ron Jaworski observed this week. "It's not complex, not sophisticated. It's, 'we're going to play football first.'" Doug Martin remains the offensive centerpiece. Muscle Hamster is now leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage, averaging 5.08 yards a carry, and on pace for 13 touchdowns. He’s a top-five running back against Atlanta's No. 26 run defense in Week 12.
In a colossal mismatch on the other side, the Falcons' No. 3 passing offense will take on Tampa Bay's No. 32 pass defense. Matt Ryan became the first quarterback since 1967 (Bart Starr) to win a game despite no touchdowns and five interceptions in Week 11, but he's set up for a big bounce back in this favorable matchup. Ryan isn't suddenly a bum. Start him confidently. ... Julio Jones' ankle injury rendered him ineffective (three catches, 33 yards) last Sunday, and held him out of practice again all this week. The beneficiary will continue to be Roddy White. Quietly on pace for a career-high 1,514 yards, White is the No. 6 overall fantasy receiver. ... Although Tony Gonzalez is coming off a slow game (3-33) versus Arizona, he'll remain a top-five TE1 against a Bucs defense allowing the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends. Lock in Gonzo. ... Jones took a sizable step forward in his recovery from the nagging ankle sprain by returning to practice this week, even if it was on a limited basis. Jones didn't get in any practice reps last week. If you're considering benching Julio against the league's last-ranked pass defense, chances are you're overthinking.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported on Sunday Countdown before the Cardinals game that the Falcons would increase Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling's roles at the expense of Michael Turner's. While falling behind early and the resulting game flow didn't quite allow Atlanta to execute its plan, there were signs of it. Rodgers played more snaps than Turner and received double-digit touches for just the second time in the last six games. Rodgers has not been and will continue to not be a standalone fantasy option, but increased playing time for Quizz is bad news for Turner's fantasy value. Turner is also clearly fading down the stretch of his age-30 season. With 255 yards on his last 85 carries (3.0 YPC), Turner is going to struggle to generate positive gains against the Bucs' No. 1 run defense. He will hurt you if he doesn't score at the goal line.
Score Projection: Falcons 34, Bucs 27