FootballGuys: Week 12 Sleepers
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This article takes a look at players from each of the positions in your starting lineup who have interesting matchups. Not all players covered are your classic sleepers who might outperform expectations. Some are nominal starters with tricky matchups or players who might be starters in smaller leagues, but deep sleepers in larger leagues. Realizing that leagues and roster sizes vary wildly; your mileage could vary, too.
Colin Kaepernick, SF at Was
It’s been a disappointing season for Kaepernickgiven the sky high expectations following last season’s playoff performance and then a huge season opener against the Packers. With a matchup against a poor Washington defense and the possibility of Michael Crabtree returning this week, Kaepernick has a good chance to turn things around this week. Washington has allowed the fourth most points to opposing quarterbacks – 291 yards, 1.9 TDs and 1 interception per game. Crabtree might not be ready yet, but he’s getting closer and his return would certainly boost Kaepernick, although he still looks like a potential mid-to-low QB1 upside play regardless.
Case Keenum, Hou vs. Jac
That most of the football community was scratching their heads when Gary Kubiak benched Keenum on Sunday in favor of Matt Schaub speaks volumes on how far Keenum has come since training camp – and how far Schaub has fallen, too. Keenum might not be the team’s quarterback of the future, but we know Schaub definitely isn’t. Barring an outright face plant for a performance, Keenum should have a bit more of a leash after Kubiak’s knee jerk reaction, especially against the Jaguars, who Carson Palmer shredded for 419 yards and two touchdowns on 30-of-42 passing on Sunday. They’ve allowed the 2nd most points to quarterbacks, so Keenum could easily bounce back with another 250 yards and 2 or 3 TDs at home against this defense.
Eli Manning, NYG vs. Dal
We can only hope that last week’s Ray Rice is this week’s Eli Manning. After weeks on end of poor play from Eli, we look at this week’s matchup with renewed optimism. The Cowboys have allowed the most points to opposing quarterbacks this year and it all started in Week 1 when Eli threw for 450 yards, 4 touchdowns and three interceptions against them. It was the 2nd highest point total allowed by the Cowboys this year and, by far, Eli’s best game of the season. The Cowboys are coming off their bye and expect to have DeMarcus Ware back (at some capacity), but they’re still banged up and without Sean Lee and Justin Durant. Eli is hard to trust, but is a good barometer for whether or not he can be trusted with a slew of favorable matchups (Washington twice, San Diego and Detroit) coming on the schedule.
Alex Smith, KC vs. SD
Just when Smith seemed to be fading a bit as a fantasy quarterback, he performed well enough against the Broncos to yield 24 points and return to relevance for the rest of the way with two games against a Chargers defense allowing the fifth most points and other games against Denver, Washington, Oakland and Indianapolis. There’s not a bad matchup in that run. Smith has topped 20 points four times in 10 games and 19 points six times. The Chargers have played better of late, holding Robert Griffin III, Chad Henne and Andrew Luck out of the end zone in Weeks 6 through 8, but in the last two, Peyton Manning and Ryan Tannehill threw for 330/4/0 and 268/1/1 respectively. Smith is back in play as a strong QB2 with some low end QB1 appeal in deeper leagues.
Scott Tolzien, GB vs. Min
In just under two games, Tolzien has thrown for 619 yards and 1 TD with 5 interceptions. For fantasy purposes, the volume is sufficient for QB2 production – an average of 16 points per game. But this week Tolzien faces a Viking defense allowing the third most points to quarterbacks. Four straight quarterbacks have thrown 2 or more TDs against them and 8 out of 10 opponents this year. Nine out of ten have produced more than 20 fantasy points. To ease fears of another 2-to-3 interception day for Tolzien, the Vikings have intercepted only 8 this year and only one in their last six. Tolzien found Jarrett Boykin and Jordy Nelson often last week, but this week he should have better luck against this struggling Viking secondary.
A couple others with good looking matchups are the red-hot Carson Palmer (vs. Ind) and Mike Glennon (at Det). Palmer has another strong matchup against a Colts defense that has allowed the fifth most points over the last five weeks. Glennon faces a Lions defense that has allowed the most points over the last five weeks. Look no further than Ben Roethlisberger’s 367 -yard, 4 TD fueled comeback on Sunday.
Andre Brown, NYG vs. Dal
Not only is Brown back, but he has an excellent matchup this week against the 29th ranked Cowboy run defense that has allowed more fantasy points to opposing running backs than any other NFL defense. Making a great matchup even better, the Cowboys are also without star MLB Sean Lee. After Lee departed their Week 10 loss to the Saints, Mark Ingram ran wild against the Cowboys finishing with a career-best game of 160 yards and a TD. Pierre Thomas, Ingram and Darren Sproles all produced 20+ fantasy points.
Ben Tate, Hou vs. Jac
This is the week that you’ve been waiting for when you drafted Ben Tate. Not only is Arian Foster hurt, but he’s out for the year and Tate plays the 32nd ranked Jaguars defense twice the rest of the way. The Jags have allowed the eighth most points to opposing backs although they have played better over the last two games holding the Cardinals’ backs to 17 yards rushing and the Titans’ to 52 yards.
Rashad Jennings, Oak vs. Ten
Jennings was a disaster last year when given the opportunity to be the Jaguars featured back after Maurice Jones-Drew went down with a foot injury. He then succumbed to injury himself. So when he landed in Oakland as the primary backup to injury-prone Darren McFadden it was met with a collective “meh” from the fantasy community, but Jennings has been anything but “meh”. He’s been so good that Dennis Allen is talking about not only keeping him in the mix when McFadden returns, but having Jennings continue as the starter. Jennings has gone over 100 yards in three straight games, scoring in two of them and now he has a solid matchup against a Titan defense allowing the fifth most points to opposing running backs and the 2nd most over the last five weeks.
Pierre Thomas, NO at Atl
Thomas is one of the more unheralded all-purpose backs in the league. Often overlooked because of the crowded backfield in New Orleans, he is back to being a consistently productive fantasy option. After scoring 6 points or less in the first four games of the season, Thomas turned on the jets in Week 5 against the Bears and he has been consistently productive with 8 points or more in the six games he’s played since. This week, Thomas has a favorable matchup against a beat up Falcons defense allowing the 10th most points to RBs, the fourth most points over the last five weeks and the 3rd most rushing yards overall.
Bobby Rainey, TB at Det
The Lions are actually better than average defensively against opposing running backs, but after Rainey exploded last week against the Falcons, he’s squarely on the radar as a solid RB2 the rest of the way. The Buccaneers offensive line is above average and Rainey is set to play out the string of remaining games as the Bucs No. 1 back. He performed well in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins two weeks ago and then broke out with 167 yards and 3 TDs against the Bucs. Even though the Lions are fairly tough on running backs and Rainey could still split snaps with Brian Leonard, he’s worth a start this week because he should get 15+ touches and have low-RB2/flex value this week. His upside just isn’t as high considering the last four backs to start against the Lions – Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, Joseph Randle and Gio Bernard – finished with 8, 4, 4 and 5 points respectively.
Shane Vereen, NE vs. Den
Speaking of tough matchups, the Patriots have one this week against the Broncos fourth ranked run defense allowing just 93 yards per game and only 3.7 YPC, but they have allowed 9 rushing TDs. Given the stout run defense, Stevan Ridley’s continued case of fumbleitisand the likelihood of this game turning into a high scoring affair; I think we’ll see more of Vereen in this game and less of Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, who simply doesn’t have a role in the passing game at all. The Broncos don’t give up much on the ground, but they’re vulnerable against the pass and at the goal line. Vereen is practicing fully this week and I believe he’ll be the most productive Patriot back this week when it’s all said and done.
Rashard Mendenhall & Andre Ellington, Ari vs. Ind
Mendenhall salvaged a poor day rushing with a short touchdown run against the Cardinals while Ellington was bottled up all day, never able to get out in space and make plays. This week, they have another strong matchup, only this time it’s at home, against a struggling, 28th ranked Colts run defense that has allowed 9 runs of 40 yards or longer this year. Mendenhall remains a ‘what the heck’ flex play, at best, but he has a decent shot of getting into the end zone again. As for Ellington, we clearly can’t expect him to get more than 12 to 16 touches, so we have to hope for a few big plays or some production in the passing game to produce at a RB2 level. Both could happen this week, but once again it’s a boom or bust scenario.
Chris Ogbonnaya, Cle vs. Pit
It’s generally a good idea to avoid Cleveland’s backfield in standard size leagues, but if you’re in a deeper league, or perhaps a PPR league, than Ogbonnaya is worth a look. He should get the most touches for the Browns and he faces a Steeler defense that has not been very Steeler-like. They have the 26th ranked run defense and have allowed the 9th most fantasy points to opposing backs. Last week, Ogbonnaya had productive game rushing with eight carries for 69 yards and an equally productive game as a receiver with six catches for 30 yards.
Michael Floyd, Ari vs. Ind
Floyd is coming off his best game as a pro, but I had him pegged as this week’s top ‘sleeper’ even before that happened with the Colts up next. Indianapolis has allowed the 10th most points to opposing receivers on the season, but the 2nd most over the last five weeks. Kendall Wright’s 9-80-0 against them last Thursday is merely a pedestrian stat line considering the big performances turned in by other receivers recently against them, such as Tavon Austin (2-138-2), Andre Johnson (9-229-3), Eric Decker (8-150-1) and Keenan Allen (9-107-1). Floyd’s targets have been inconsistent this year, but now that Carson Palmer is on a roll and Larry Fitzgerald and Rob Housler are as healthy as they’ve been all year, his chances of continuing his productive ways are on the rise. Keep him in your lineup or get him into your lineup if you didn’t play him last week.
Rueben Randle, NYG vs. Dal
Randle is an interesting player in that he has caught six touchdowns in his last six games despite being targeted more than three times just twice in any game over that span. His scoring rate gives him consistent WR3 value while his targets suggest a regression is coming or that he might prove to be more risky than he appears on the surface. But Randle has a strong matchup against a banged up Cowboy defense allowing the 8th most points to WRs and the 6th most points over the last five weeks. He also managed to catch 5 balls for 101 yards against them in the opener.
Kenny Stills, NO at Atl
Stills has been one of the best deep ball receivers in the league this year and he faces a Falcons secondary that has allowed the fourth most points to opposing receivers. Moreover, Still’s NFL debut came against a healthier Falcons defense at the time and he produced 2 catches for 86 yards then. He has worked his way into a bigger role since then and he has produced double-digit points in three of the last three games.
Marlon Brown, Bal vs. NYJ
The strength of the Jets defense has been their incredibly rugged and physical defensive front seven. They are the league’s top run defense. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their defense is allowing the sixth most points to opposing receivers. They’ve been stung by rookie Marquise Goodwin (6-81-1), T.J. Graham (2-74-1), Robert Meachem (4-93-0), Lance Moore (6-70-0) and Marvin Jones (8-122-4) in their last three games alone. Not one of those receivers is a No. 1 type, so you might want to give a long look at Marlon Brown (or possibly even Jacoby Jones) this week. The Ravens will struggle to run the ball, so Joe Flacco will need to throw the ball well for them to win this game, which means big games potentially for Torrey Smith, Brown and/or Jones.
Jarrett Boykin, GB vs. Min
Scott Tolzien and Jarrett Boykin have shown a strong rapport between them over the last two games and they have a strong matchup against a poor Vikings pass defense this week that’s allowing the 11th most points to opposing receivers. Boykin has played well in his stint in the Packers starting lineup making him a trustworthy WR3/flex option in all league formats. There’s no reason to go away from him now with another solid matchup on tap this week.
This week’s column deserves its own section dedicated to the plethora of injured receivers returning the fold either last week or possibly this week and having a potential impact for fantasy leagues. So my fellow ambulance chasers – have no shame. Let’s take a look at some worthwhile players who just might be able to help you this week.
Miles Austin, Dal at NYG
Austin hasn’t caught a pass since Week 3 when he pulled one of his infamous hamstrings. He tried returning in Week 6 and tried playing against in Week 7, but finished with goose eggs in both games. The Cowboys shut him down following those debacles to get him back as close to 100% as possible. Austin returned to practice over a week ago and took advantage of the bye week to do just that. Now he is set to return to the lineup, presumably in the starting lineup as the team’s No. 2 receiver who will slide into the slot when they go three wide with Terrance Williams. Austin has a history of production against the Giants, too. He caught 10 balls for 72 yards against them in Week 1 and produced games of 4-73-1 and 9-133-0 against them last year. The Giants have tightened up their pass defense since the opener though. They’ve allowed the third fewest points over the last five weeks to opposing WRs and haven’t allowed a touchdown catch to one since Brandon Marshall in Week 6.
Nate Burleson, Det vs. TB
Burleson is practicing and he appears to be on track to return this week against the Buccaneers. With Darrelle Revis almost certainly shadowing Calvin Johnson where he goes on the field, Burleson would give Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense a healthy boost, and finally a viable 2nd target in the passing game that runs good routes and has reliable hands. The Bucs have been vulnerable to receivers not covered by Revis and they’ve allowed the 7th most points to receivers over the last five weeks.
Santonio Holmes, NYJ at Bal
The Ravens defense should pose problems for the Jets and rookie quarterback Geno Smith with their disruptive pass rushers and Lardarius Webb’s usually solid coverage, but Smith is not afraid to challenge them and he’ll throw the ball downfield more than Mark Sanchez ever did. Holmes returned to the field on Sunday and he looked pretty good hauling in catches of 33 and 38 yards while being targeted eight times overall. He’s a boom or bust play, for sure, but he’s averaging better than 26 yards on his 12 catches this year with Geno Smith at quarterback. Five receivers have produced double digit fantasy points against Baltimore in their last five games. Holmes is the most talented receiver Smith has to target, so he’s worth a flyer in deeper league is you’re in a pinch.
Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham & Michael Crabtree, SF at Was
After a huge debut with the 49ers, Boldin fell off the fantasy radar (with the exception of one good performance in Week 4) until he re-emerged last week with a 6-56-1 line against the Saints. This week, he has an excellent matchup against a Washington defense allowing the 9th most points to opposing receivers. The 49ers recently welcomed Manningham back to the lineup and there remains an outside chance thatCrabtree could be activated as well for this week’s game. If so, you’ll probably want to keep Crabtree on the bench for a week, but if the team does surprisingly activate him for this week then he has to get some consideration in deeper leagues simply because the matchup is that good.
Finally, a couple of receivers to consider in deeper leagues…
Tiquan Underwood, TB at Det
Underwood hasn’t been overly productive since taking Mike Williams’ spot in the lineup. He hasn’t caught more than three balls in a game and has topped 50 yards just once with 1 TD in four games. However, he has an inviting matchup against a Lions defense allowing the second most points to opposing WRs. Five of the last six No. 2 receivers against the Lions have produced 80 yards or caught a touchdown. The exception was Emanuel Sanders on Sunday, who left the game early with a foot injury. Underwood is admittedly a bit of a reach, but he’s capable of breaking a long catch/run and coming through for owners in deeper leagues combing the waiver wire, panning for gold.
Lavon Brazill, Ind at Ari
Another deeper league possibility, Brazill is a speculative play based on what transpired in last week’s game against the Titans. Darrius Heyward-Bey was replaced by Brazill in the second half, but he didn’t catch a pass and was targeted only once. So, it’s hard to expect much here, but with Patrick Patterson likely shadowing TY Hilton, Andrew Luck could look Brazill’s way more this week. The Cardinals are solid defensively, but they have allowed decent games to other largely unheralded players in recent weeks such as Ace Sanders (8-61-0) and Drew Davis (5-77-1) when they were thrust into a starting job due to injuries. To further pave the way for Brazill’s playing time this week, the Colts waived Griff Whalen. As we get closer to game time, also keep an eye on any news regarding Da’Rick Rogers, the famously talented knucklehead who went undrafted but tore up the SEC in as an underclassman at Tennessee.
Coby Fleener, Ind at Ari
Fleener is coming off his busiest day as a pro with 8 catches for 107 yards against the Titans last Thursday. It marks his second game in a row with 10 targets, but only his third game with 10 or more fantasy points this season. This week, he has a dream matchup against the Cardinals, who are allowing the most points to opposing tight ends by a good margin. Last week, the Jaguars took advantage of the Cardinals weakness when they went for it on fourth down in the first quarter with a play-action pass to backup tight end Danny Noble who was uncovered and went for a 65-yard touchdown score. The Jags tight ends combined for a whopping 7-117-1 on the day. Fleener’s value has been on the rise, but he’s a solid TE1 play this week.
Garrett Graham, Hou vs. Jac
In their last three games, Rob Housler (6-70-0), Delanie Walker (4-62-1) and Vernon Davis (3-52-1) all produced TE1 numbers against the Jaguars. On the year, they’ve allowed the second most points to opposing tight ends. Since moving into the starting lineup with Owen Daniels sidelined, Graham finally had his first breakout game on Sunday with 7 catches for 136 yards and a TD on 13 targets. That’s more fantasy points in one game than he had in his previous five combined. Despite the breakout performance, Graham remains a boom or bust play, but he has a strong matchup and perhaps improved rapport with Case Keenum.
Brandon Myers, NYG vs. Dal
Myers has fallen off the fantasy radar after a hot start to the season, but he and Eli Manning have a chance to get their seasons back on track with some good matchups the rest of the way – starting with the Cowboys this week. Myers had his best game of the season in Week 1 against Dallas when he caught 7 balls for 66 yards and a TD on 9 targets. The Cowboys are also without star LB Sean Lee and have allowed the fifth most points to opposing tight ends.
Mychal Rivera, OAK vs. Ten
Rivera has a couple of things going for him this week. Matt McGloin appears to be on track to make his second NFL start against a Titans defense allowing the 7th most points to opposing tight ends. Rivera had his best game of the season last week in McGloin’s first start catching 5 balls for 54 yards and a TD on 6 targets – season and career highs across the board for Rivera. Granted, it’s a small sample and not a trend, but if you’re in a deep league and searching for a what-the-heck flex play or a desperate move to fill your tight end spot then Rivera is worth considering.
Andrew Quarless, GB vs. Min
After moving into the starting lineup following Jermichael Finley’s spinal injury, Quarless’ best performance was a 5-34-0 line against the Bears in Week 9. He has a total of five catches in three others game making him an extreme long shot for fantasy production, but he draws a Viking defense allowing the third most points to TEs. In the last few weeks, Zach Miller (4-69-0), Jordan Reed (6-62-1) and Jason Witten (8-102-0) all had productive outings against them. For owners in super deep leagues, Quarless might be worth a look.
Tennessee at Oakland
Matt McGloin performed as well as anyone could’ve expected in his first NFL start in Houston on Sunday, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if McGloin regresses this week against a more formidable opponent such as the Titans. The Raiders offensive line is an injury-riddled patchwork group that will have its hands full against a pretty darn good Titans pass rush and the Raiders have allowed the fifth most points to opposing defense.
Houston vs. Jacksonville
In eight out of the Jaguars’ ten games they’ve committed two or more turnovers and scored less than 20 points. The Texans are the beneficiary of the good matchup this week (and once again in Week 14) and they’re at home. Injuries have depleted some of the Texans big play appeal with Brian Cushing and Danieal Manning on the shelf, but if you’re looking for a defense to stream, this one has a lot to like.
Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
The Steelers have a -8 turnover differential this year and have allowed 37 sacks (3rd most) and the 8th more points to opposing defenses. They’re coming off a big come from behind win at home against the Lions, but now they hit the road to face a divisional rival that lost on the road in the battle of Ohio. If you believe in the up/down theory, the Browns are your team to stream this week. With 31 sacks and 13 forced turnovers of their own, their front seven should give the Steelers offensive line and Ben Roethlisberger fits with Joe Haden locking down Antonio Brown.
Green Bay vs. Minnesota
The Vikings offense isn’t firing on all cylinders. Adrian Peterson said he was bothered by a sore groin in Sunday’s loss to Seattle. Greg Jennings didn’t even dress. Christian Ponder is playing through an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. Two of their last three opponents scored a defensive touchdown and the Vikings have allowed the 10th most points to opposing defenses. The Packers haven’t been great defensively but they did hold Minnesota to 243 total yards and sacked them 3 times in Minnesota in Week 8. As matchups go, this is one that you might want to gamble on.