Seattle @ Miami
"They're squatting on the wide receivers because none of them can run." -- That was the money quote from Mike Mayock during last Thursday night's Dolphins loss to the Bills. Ryan Tannehill has slammed into a Rookie Wall, in large part because his receivers can't get open. In four appearances since Miami's Week 7 bye, Tannehill is 61-of-110 (55.4 percent) for 666 yards (6.05 YPA), and a 2:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He will not be a fantasy contributor until Miami surrounds him with some talent. ... Although Seattle's defense -- and team, for that matter -- has been better at home than on the road, Pete Carroll's front-seven personnel is capable of rendering Miami's offense one-dimensional. (If it isn't already.) The Dolphins won't run on the Seahawks. Miami has gone six straight games without a running back clearing 60 rushing yards, and Seattle's top-12 run defense is fresh off a bye. Avoid Daniel Thomas and dog-housed Reggie Bush. ... Brian Hartline is another Dolphins skill-position player to avoid, facing off with Seahawks LCB Richard Sherman. Hartline isn't going to be open. ... Slot receiver Davone Bess never offers upside, but he'll be Miami's best bet to move the chains in this game. 32-year-old slot corner Marcus Trufant is one of Seattle's few defensive weak spots. ... With Miami's offense slumping mightily, keep an eye on two explosive rookies for potentially expanded stretch-run roles: No. 4 WR Rishard Matthews, who can add speed and run-after-catch skills to the perimeter, and third-string RB Lamar Miller, who is averaging 5.37 yards per carry.
"I think maybe if we had all done a better job of studying him at Wisconsin," Jaworski admitted of Russell Wilson on a conference call this week, "we'd have known this guy just knows how to ball." With a 10:2 TD-to-INT ratio over his last five games, Wilson has flashed the ability to be a fantasy asset if the Seahawks cooperate. He throws the football downfield as well as any of this year's rookie quarterbacks -- and that's not hyperbole. It will be interesting to see whether he gets more freedom after a Week 11 bye. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have come on strong, and Seattle could challenge San Francisco for the NFC West's premier offense by complementing the NFL's No. 6 rushing attack with a higher-volume passing game. Wilson is a late-season QB2 with more upside than meets the eye. ... The Fins' pass defense isn't as ineffective as its No. 27 ranking suggests, but it's also not imposing for matchup purposes. Wilson is a quality two-quarterback league play. Rice will deal with shaky Dolphins top CB Sean Smith and is a strong WR3. Rice has five touchdowns in his last five games. Golden Tate's two-game scoring binge is unsustainable, but his offensive role is increasing with playcaller Darrell Bevell making a consistent effort to get the ball in Tate's hands. Tate is worth a WR4 stash to see if Carroll lets Bevell open up the offense.
Doug Baldwin and Zach Miller would be a lot more interesting if the Seahawks weren't last in the NFL in pass attempts. They are waiver-wire fodder. ... Marshawn Lynch has developed a knack for playing his best football in second halves of seasons. He did it in 2010 and 2011, and in 2012 strung together four consecutive 100-yard rushing games before Seattle's bye. A fresh-legged Marshawn Lynch is capable of running on anybody. Start him as an RB1 against Miami's No. 9 run defense. ... Stashing Bryce Brown and Ronnie Hillman is already paying dividends for forward-looking fantasy owners. Seattle rookie Robert Turbin now rises near the top of late-season stash running back lists, along with Evan Royster, Daryl Richardson, and Bernard Pierce. If Lynch went down, Turbin would be an every-week RB2/flex in the Seahawks' run-first offense.
Score Projection: Seahawks 23, Dolphins 10
Denver @ Kansas City
Willis McGahee is almost certainly done for the regular season with a torn MCL and fracture in his leg. He can be safely dumped in fantasy leagues. We'll get to the Denver backfield implications in a minute, but the reality is Peyton Manning, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas are the safest bets to be box-score beneficiaries. The Broncos will not have a sustainable running game moving forward, and they will lean on the pass to move the chains. The Chiefs' defense has allowed the fifth most points in the league. So start Manning, Decker, and Thomas. ... When comparing Decker and Thomas' Week 12 matchups, Thomas clearly comes out on top. Decker plays the majority of his snaps on Chiefs LCB Brandon Flowers' side of the field. Thomas will face RCB Javier Arenas on early downs and Jalil Brown in passing situations, and Manning is undoubtedly aware of those mismatches. Expect Thomas to lead Denver in Week 12 targets, catches, and yards. ... 36-year-old Brandon Stokley has posted 50-plus receiving yards and a touchdown in back-to-back games. He'll take on Arenas for most of this one. Stokley is not a fantasy play for upside seekers, but there are worse WR3 options. Manning has shown time and time again that he will throw to Stokley when he's open. And Stokley should get open frequently against Arenas.
Perhaps the Broncos will lean on TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen more with a less reliable run game, but that's speculation. Tamme still hasn't cleared 55 yards in any game this year, nor has he scored a touchdown since the opener. He's a low-end TE2. ... A fantasy owner's ideal scenario in the first game of the post-McGahee era would be to put Denver's backfield on a "wait-and-see" week. There are many different theories as to how it may play out. My opinion is that Ronnie Hillman will be the top back in a three-way rotation, seeing 14-18 touches a game. Lance Ball will be an ineffective change-up runner and see spot duty on third downs. Knowshon Moreno, on whom John Fox's coaching staff soured long ago, will be the emergency third-string back. The Chiefs rank 25th versus the run and surrender 4.50 yards per carry, so this is a plus matchup if Hillman indeed gets the lead back nod. Hillman is a risky flex, but does offer upside in Week 12.
Although Jamaal Charles remained typically underutilized on just 17 carries in Week 11, he came away with 118 total yards and is an every-week fantasy starter. Charles' last four stat lines against the Broncos: 21-116, 2-20; 14-41, 5-80-1; 25-259-2, 1-3; 18-56-1, 1-3. ... Whereas Charles ought to be getting the football more, Peyton Hillis needs to handle it less. Hillis has 55 yards on his last 21 carries (2.62 YPC). Perhaps playcaller Brian Daboll is seeing the light: Hillis only had three touches last week. He's not worth rostering in fantasy leagues. ... Particularly against Denver's top-12 pass defense, the Kansas City pass-catching corps is all but hands off for Week 12 fantasy lineup decisions. Brady Quinn has been reinstalled as the starting quarterback. Dwayne Bowe has neck and back injuries and will draw Champ Bailey in coverage if he plays. Jon Baldwin looks like a real-life draft bust. Dexter McCluster is an ineffective player. Tony Moeaki? No thanks. This could be a game where blocking TE Steve Maneri leads Kansas City in receiving yardage again. It isn’t too mean to call the Chiefs a laughingstock. It’s just being real.
Score Projection: Broncos 28, Chiefs 7
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland
The passing-game production obviously won't be the same, but Charlie Batch is a better fit than Byron Leftwich (ribs) for what OC Todd Haley does offensively. While Batch won't challenge defenses deep, he gets the ball out quickly and can at least partially restore the Steelers' completion-friendly approach. It's precisely how Batch played in his lone 2011 start, engineering a 27-0 win over the Rams last Christmas Eve. Batch is not a standalone fantasy option, but he can manage the game and deliver the football to Mike Wallace and Heath Miller near the line of scrimmage. ... Wallace was Batch's favorite receiver in the St. Louis game. They hooked up four times for a team-high 82 yards. Haley has asked Wallace to run shorter routes, making him a superior complement to Batch's skill set than Wallace was in last year's Bruce Arians offense. Fantasy owners should start Wallace at Cleveland. ... Browns CB Joe Haden is back from his oblique injury, although whether he'll be anywhere near 100 percent is unclear. Haden has often struggled playing at less than full health. His presence is not worrisome for Steelers receivers. ... Emmanuel Sanders will again start for Antonio Brown (ankle). Sanders led Pittsburgh in Week 11 receiving yards with Leftwich at the helm, but he's less attractive with Batch under center. Consider Sanders a WR4. ... Plaxico Burress was signed off the street this week to replace Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) as the third receiver. A red-zone score can't be ruled out for 6-foot-6 Plax, but he's not a viable fantasy option.
Miller should be an inviting target for Batch on quick-pass drops, but whether the 38-year-old journeyman quarterback can revive his tight end to the point of legit fantasy-worthy production remains to be seen. Miller could do an awful lot of blocking if the run game clicks this week. The Browns have also allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends, so this isn't a favorable on-paper matchup for Miller. ... The Browns' run-defense ranking stands at 24th on the season, but they are a stouter group than that number indicates with 330-plus-pound DTs Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin healthy. And they are both back to full strength. Cleveland flashed its front-four stoutness by holding a previously hot Cowboys backfield to 53 yards on 19 carries in Week 11 (2.79 YPC). The Browns controlled the line of scrimmage in that matchup. With no role clarity in Pittsburgh's hot-hand rushing attack, Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer are little more than dice-roll flex plays for Week 12. Mendenhall (11-33, 3-17) started last week's loss to Baltimore, but was outgained by Dwyer (12-55, 3-26). Isaac Redman is due back from his concussion this week. I think Mendenhall would be the best fantasy option of the group, but that's nothing more than a guess. Start Steelers running backs at your own peril.
Brandon Weeden was perhaps the NFL's most improved player from Weeks 1-6, but he's hit a bump in the road. While last week's box score isn't overly unimpressive, Weeden struggled to move the offense throughout the loss to the Dallas and continues to react poorly to the slightest hint of pressure. He could bottom out versus a Steelers club that ranks No. 1 in total defense and No. 1 against the pass. ... Weeden's Rookie Wall combined with this brutal matchup make Josh Gordon and Greg Little unappealing WR3s. The bye weeks are over, and fantasy leaguers should have better options at their disposal this late in the season. If you don't, you're probably not a competitive owner. ... Historical data makes Ben Watson's two Week 11 touchdowns look awfully fluky; the 32-year-old had one TD in his previous 18 games. Don't chase last week's points. Look elsewhere for a Week 12 fantasy tight end. ... The Browns had a bye in Week 10. They emerged from it against Dallas feeding Trent Richardson the rock. Richardson's 34 touches were a season high, and perhaps a sign that Cleveland will make a stretch-run commitment to the run game. The No. 6 overall fantasy running back despite some early-season injury concerns, Richardson is an RB2 at the very least despite matching up with Pittsburgh's top-four run defense. Minus Big Ben, this game should be close and Richardson should continue to be fed the football.
Score Projection: Steelers 17, Browns 14