Minnesota @ Chicago
After an abominable Weeks 7-9 stretch that saw Christian Ponder average 124 passing yards per game, Minnesota's quarterback pulled himself up by the bootstraps and moved the offense in Week 10, before the Vikings' Week 11 bye. Even without Percy Harvin (ankle), Ponder completed 75 percent of his throws for 221 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers in a must-win over the Lions. The post-bye matchup at Soldier Field against a ferocious Bears defense with something to prove after last Monday night's embarrassing 49ers loss is about as unfavorable as possible for Ponder. But playing confident, efficient ball for a second straight game in tough environs would be a positive step for a quarterback many left for dead just a few weeks ago. It would also bode well for Harvin, Adrian Peterson, and Kyle Rudolph's fantasy outlooks. ... As long as Ponder is playing well, Rudolph is capable of scoring like a mid-range TE1. The Bears have permitted the fourth most receptions and 13th most yards to tight ends, so this is a plus matchup for Rudolph. 49ers tight ends shredded Chicago for seven catches, 92 yards and a touchdown on Monday night.
Chicago's defense appears more vulnerable on the ground than anywhere else entering Week 12. Now playing on a short week, the Bears have surrendered 407 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 82 carries (4.96 YPC) over their last three games. Already matchup proof, Peterson should not struggle to light up this group. ... CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported on Thanksgiving Day that Harvin will not play at Soldier Field. He'll be replaced in the lineup by rookie Jarius Wright. Filling in for Harvin in Week 10 against the Lions, Wright pulled in 3-of-5 targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. He's in for a much tougher test on the Midway Monsters’ home turf. ... Jerome Simpson has been a bust of a free-agent signing for Minnesota. He hasn't scored a touchdown or exceeded 50 yards in any of his six games as a Viking. Bears outside CBs Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman should have very little trouble taking Simpson out of this game.
Over their last five games, the Vikings have served up 723 yards and six rushing scores on 161 carries (4.49 YPC) to opposing ground attacks. Minnesota has long fielded stout run defenses, but the front four has been moved off the ball easily in recent games. Perhaps they'll play better after a bye, but the recent performance indicates this should not be an overly difficult matchup for slumping Matt Forte. ... The Vikings lost their answer for No. 2 overall fantasy receiver Brandon Marshall when top outside corner Chris Cook fractured his arm in Week 8. In two games since, they've allowed 16 catches for 271 yards and two touchdowns to opposing No. 1 receivers. Jay Cutler's return to the lineup locks in Marshall as a top-three Week 12 wideout play. ... With Alshon Jeffery (knee scope) sidelined 2-4 weeks, the Bears will turn to a rotation of Earl Bennett and Devin Hester at No. 2 receiver. Neither is a fantasy option. ... Cutler's presence is a big lift for a Chicago offense that is obviously lost without him. He just isn't much of a standalone fantasy asset. The Bears play run-heavy offense, ranking 29th in the league in pass attempts, and they lack a playmaking pass catcher behind Marshall. Just 25th fantasy points per game among quarterbacks, Cutler is a low-end QB2 matching up with Minnesota's 16th-ranked pass defense.
Score Projection: Bears 21, Vikings 17
Oakland @ Cincinnati
I entered the 2012 season skeptical of Andy Dalton as a fantasy contributor because of his talent limitations and lack of weaponry beyond A.J. Green. But defenses have demonstrated no ability to contain Green, and the Bengals appear to have internally determined that passing must be their primary means of ball movement because BenJarvus Green-Ellis is so ineffective. Dalton is averaging 36.3 attempts over his last six games, a top-11 clip in football and recipe for high-end QB2 production. The Raiders have been throttled by the pass over their last three games, serving up a combined 59-of-90 (65.6 percent) attempts for 807 yards (8.97 YPA) and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Dalton is an attractive QB1 streamer and should be locked into two-QB league lineups. ... Green leads the NFL in receiving TDs and ranks first in fantasy wideout scoring. You might want to use him versus Oakland. ... Starting Jermaine Gresham will put you at a weekly disadvantage when matched up head-to-head with teams that trot out Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, or a healthy Aaron Hernandez. There is a major gap in production. The increase in passing volume for Cincinnati has stabilized Gresham as a low-end TE1, though, and he's got 60-plus yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games. He can at least keep you competitive at tight end.
The Bengals have finally committed to a No. 2 receiver, and it's not Armon Binns, Brandon Tate, or Andrew Hawkins. Rookie Mohamed Sanu is the No. 3 option in the Bengals' pass attack, but he's emerged as an every-down player and found pay dirt in back-to-back games. A strong-handed possession threat, he's worth rostering as a WR4/5 for the stretch run. ... Green-Ellis capitalized on an early second-quarter 14-3 lead in last week's blowout win over the Chiefs en route to a six-game high in carries (25) and 24-game high in rushing yards (101). He'll be a worthwhile RB2/flex in Week 12 if this game plays out like the last one. Just keep in mind Green-Ellis has virtually no passing-game role, and the Bengals remain intent on increasing change-up back Cedric Peerman's usage. Peerman broke off 75 yards on eight carries at Kansas City. Green-Ellis' fantasy outlook will be much more bleak when Cincy faces halfway decent teams.
Marcel Reece's Week 11 rushing efficiency (19-103) was inflated by a New Orleans defense that gets blown off the ball and plays the run poorly all around. That said, Reece has certainly showed an ability to soak up blocked yardage as a true running back, and he's been the most consistent receiver on Oakland's roster the past three weeks. Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson's high ankle sprains will shelve them again in Week 12, leaving every-down back duties to Reece once again. The Bengals rank 17th against the run and average a touchdown allowed per game. Reece is becoming increasingly difficult to leave out of weekly fantasy lineups. He's a borderline top-ten running back play in PPR. ... Carson Palmer returns to Cincinnati for the first time since his trade to Oakland last October. It sets up as another potentially prime opportunity to rack up garbage-time stats as Palmer has done so "effectively" in a season that currently sees him stand 11th in fantasy quarterback scoring. The Bengals are slow-footed in the secondary and Oakland's offensive strength is speed on the perimeter. This is a plus matchup for Palmer and his weapons.
I've gotten a lot of questions about Denarius Moore this week. What happened? Should I bench him now? Moore was a locked-and-loaded stud seven weeks running before Week 11. He caught one ball for nine yards against the Saints. I don't think you bench him for going 7-for-8. Moore will run by Cincinnati's defensive backs and is a must-start WR2/3 in Week 12. ... Darrius Heyward-Bey couldn't capitalize on Moore's Week 11 no-show, managing 69 yards on four receptions. DHB appears to be over last week's hamstring scare, but he's been no better than a WR4/5 all season long. ... The Bengals have surrendered the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends, and Brandon Myers' red-zone role has grown the past three weeks to the extent that he's actually scoring touchdowns. Myers opened his career with zero TDs in 49 straight games. He's got three in his last three outings. The matchup and production are right to lock in Myers as a top-12 tight end.
Score Projection: Bengals 27, Raiders 20
4:05PM ET Game
Baltimore @ San Diego
Philip Rivers' target distribution since street free-agent pickup Danario Alexander was installed as a starter two games ago: Alexander 18, Malcom Floyd 13, Ryan Mathews 12, Antonio Gates 9, Eddie Royal 8, Ronnie Brown 6, Robert Meachem 3. ... Alexander has been the one Chargers skill-position player able to overcome a disappointing, inconsistent offense. He's earned 90 percent of the snaps and bypassed Floyd as San Diego's top receiver. At 6-foot-5, 217 with a 42-inch vertical, Alexander wins every jumpball and is perfectly suited to make plays in contested situations on Rivers' downfield floaters. Baltimore's defensive weakness is outside cornerback coverage, and that's where Alexander does his damage. Start "DX" until he slows down. ... Baltimore has lost two of its top three corners (Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith) since the start of the season, leaving special teamers Chykie Brown and Corey Graham as regulars across from burnable RCB Cary Williams. Alexander will square off with Williams for most of this game. Floyd will draw Graham on early downs and Brown in the nickel. Floyd is more of a WR3 now that Alexander has emerged, but he's got a favorable matchup. ... While Rivers has strung together three straight multi-touchdown games, shoddy protection remains a major threat to his fantasy start-ability. San Diego will definitely be without LG Tyronne Green (hamstring) against Terrell Suggs' Ravens, and LT Jared Gaither (groin) also appears unlikely to play. Rivers is a QB2 only.
Gates' ups and downs have rendered him more of a back-end TE1 than the annual top-five scorer he's been for so long. But the Ravens have allowed the fifth most yards to tight ends, and Gates is never a bad bet to find pay dirt. He has four touchdowns in his last five games. ... Meachem and Royal belong on waiver wires. ... Settling in disappointingly as a low-end RB2, Mathews is at least off the Week 12 injury report after last week's neck stiffness cost him snaps in favor of Brown and Jackie Battle. Mathews still received 19 touches in the loss to Denver and is a safe weekly bet for 70-plus total yards. Even if it seems impossible to come by at this point, improved offense and increased scoring chances would do wonders for Mathews' fantasy value. Whether they'll come remains to be seen. Mathews does have a favorable Week 12 matchup, facing a Ravens defense that ranks 27th against the run and has surrendered the sixth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. Matthews touched up Baltimore when its run defense was much stouter last December for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps he'll rediscover some of that magic down the stretch.
Joe Flacco's 2012 home-and-away splits, courtesy @RotoPat: 322 yards per game at home. 176 on the road. 10 touchdowns in five home games. Three TDs in five road games. 9.3 home YPA. 5.3 on the road. Flacco is on the road this week. It gets tricky trying to use home-and-away stats predictively, but at the same time scary to think this might be a trend. Despite a favorable matchup against San Diego's No. 19 pass defense, Flacco needs to be viewed more as a high-end QB2 than QB1 option in Week 12. ... Torrey Smith is a great bet to bounce back from last week's Ike Taylor shutdown against slow-footed Chargers corners Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. Smith plays on either side of the formation enough that he'll see both RCB Cason and LCB Jammer in coverage. To draw on a comparable player, Denarius Moore has owned Jammer in past meetings (5-123-2, 3-101) and Smith is a similar receiver. Shake off last week and start Smith at San Diego. ... With Pittsburgh keying on Smith last Sunday night and Dennis Pitta leaving with a first-drive concussion, Anquan Boldin stepped up for eight catches and 79 yards -- both highs for him since mid-October. Knowing all we know now, Boldin's production bump seems specific to that game. He's a low-upside WR3 facing Chargers slot CB Marcus Gilchrist.
Pitta is expected to play in Week 12, but he's not remotely a TE1. San Diego has shut down tight ends this season, limiting them to the fourth fewest fantasy points due in large part to All-Pro candidate Eric Weddle's safety coverage. A clear-cut TE2, Pitta isn't worth owning beyond 14- and 16-team fantasy leagues at this point. ... Although Ray Rice struggled on the ground versus the Steelers' No. 1 defense last week, Rice's difference-making versatility allowed him to come away with a respectable 93 total yards. He's still the No. 4 overall fantasy running back. San Diego's No. 3 run-defense ranking looks imposing on paper, but Broncos backs touched up the Chargers for 133 yards on 25 carries (5.32 YPC) in Week 11, and they're not as stout a group with NT Aubrayo Franklin (knee) either unavailable or operating at less than 100 percent. Fire up Rice confidently.
Score Projection: Ravens 23, Chargers 20