Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! There is no better football day than Thanksgiving. It's the day we embody our name at FootballNation.com and truly become a Football Nation. We start by watching our local high school team suit up for their traditional Thanksgiving game in the morning, play some two-hand touch football with old friends and family, all while waiting for the big events of the day: Three NFL mega games, all with playoff and fantasy football implications.
In between the football games, we eat. Speaking of which, a fabulous way to get your day going is to tune into our special "A Thanksgiving Tailgate," on NECN at 10am Thanksgiving morning, where you can watch our own Cold, Hard Football Facts Potentate of Pigskin Kerry Byrne and the beautiful Kelly Malone whip up a complete Thanksgiving tailgate in the Gillette Stadium parking lot, featuring Kerry's Famous Deep Fried Stuffing, a favorite of 40 Year Old Virgin Star and Patriots fan Elizabeth Banks.
As a Thanksgiving thank you, if you do become a www.FFChamps.com member for next season by Dec. 1, FFChamps will give you a Patriots.com discount AND immediate access for the rest of the 2012 season so you can take advantage of FFChamps for your playoff drive with proprietary rankings, tools and one-on-one advice. Just go to https://www.ffchamps.com/subscribe/ today!
On to fantasy football, where it is Week 12 or, get serious time. Trading deadlines have now passed. I hope you followed the advice in this column the past several weeks and secured your stud players' backups and made a trade that clearly improved your starting lineup. The table is set. You will need to win with the lineups you have and the waiver wire from here on in. This means that who you start and sit each week will likely make or break your playoff and league championship drive. Therefore, I want to reiterate two www.FFChamps.com strategies you should follow, both which have been referenced throughout the season: Start your studs and pay attention to your players' schedules.
Start your Studs. There are no more important three words in fantasy football. Regardless of the matchup, you must play the players you banked on to get you this far, so long as they are healthy. These are either players you likely drafted in the 1st or 2nd round or players that you were able to steal later and have emerged as 2012 studs. The following are the studs at each position:
Quarterback: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan
Running Back: Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, LeSean McCoy (keep an eye on his concussion), Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson
Wide Receiver: Victor Cruz, Eric Decker, Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Percy Harvin (if healthy), Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas, Mike Wallace, Reggie Wayne, Wes Welker, Roddy White
Tight End: Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Heath Miller, and Jason Witten.
There are no decisions needed with these players. If you have any of them, go to the turf with them. Peyton Manning was the steal of my draft, as I waited until round 5 to snag him and he is back to achieving fantasy football stud status.
Pay Attention to Strength of Schedule. FFChamps.com has a powerful strength of schedule tool that breaks down each team by position and how that position matches up against each week's defense. We always keep an eye on the defensive matchups for Weeks 14-16, the fantasy football playoff weeks. I have spent a lot of time in this column pointing out the teams that have strong defensive matchups for those playoff weeks. When deciding who to start and sit, and once your studs are in your lineup, it is critical that you weigh the matchups. To reiterate, Denver and Peyton Manning have a great rest of the way schedule, as does Indy, Cleveland and Carolina. I have Steve Smith in one of my leagues where I am in the playoff driver's seat. Yes, it's painful to watch Smith and Cam Newton continue to underperform but I'm not sure I can sit Smith with his favorable schedule as anyone else I plug in there just does not have his ability or potential.
All season long, we have stressed the importance of handcuffing your best players with their backups. Injuries have been more prevalent than ever this season and are mounting. Week 11 was a brutal week for NFL injuries with the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Lesean McCoy, and Willis McGahee going down. In McCoy's case, he is day to day but as of Thanksgiving morning, still has headaches which is a sure sign that he will not be active this week. I have McCoy and made the move to secure Bryce Brown in a trade a few weeks ago. I will be starting Brown in a critical first place fantasy football matchup this week. The Eagles continue to support my inclusion of their entire offense in the "players I am worried about" part of this column last week. I still believe if you lost McCoy, Brown may be your best option as he will be given the ball 20 times a game. Willis McGahee, who I believed was going to be a fantasy football point machine down the stretch vs. a soft schedule, sadly suffered a broken leg and is on IR and out for the season. As I did early on, I hope you all secured rookie Ronnie Hillman, who will become the feature back in Denver. I listed Hillman as a player I'd love to have the past two weeks and that was before McGahee got hurt. I am having visions of Clinton Portis, who stepped into the Denver starting lineup towards the end of his rookie season, 2001, and wreaked fantasy football havoc.
If you lost Gronk, this is a big blow to your fantasy team but I would unequivocally not place him on waivers. While it certainly is possible he is out for the remainder of the regular season, until you know for sure he will not return for Week 15 or 16, he is too valuable and you must stash him on your bench. If you drop him, you can rest assured someone else will pick him up and take a flyer. The glass half full look at Gronk's injury is that he will have a few weeks to rest his ankle and hip, making him a force when he does return. It is to be determined whether that is in time for a fantasy football Super Bowl. In the meantime, with Chad Henne sparking the Jaguars under center last week, Mercedes Lewis caught 2 TDs. In 2010, Lewis had 10 TDs, tied for the league lead with Antonio Gates and Gronk. He is on most waiver wires and this week, plays Tennessee, which ranks 31st in yards and TDs allowed to opposing tight ends. Lewis is worth a waiver wire flyer to replace Gronk for at least week 12 and maybe each week.
With Rob Gronkowski's injury, I started to ponder what Patriots can be relied on for the rest of the fantasy football season. Other than Tom Brady, I am fantasy cautious on the Gronk-less Pats and even Brady takes a slight downgrade. The Patriots have tough defensive matchups in the fantasy football playoff Weeks 14 and 15, with Houston and San Francisco back to back, before a softer Week 16 vs. Jacksonville. There will be more and more focus on Wes Welker and the pressure will be on Stevan Ridley and the running game to perform. If I had to rank my Patriots from a fantasy point of view the rest of the season, I would go Brady, Welker, Ridley, and Aaron Hernandez. I hope Brandon Lloyd steps up, but I have not seen it yet, and it would be great if Julian Edelman could duplicate his incredible Week 11 a few more times but with the brutal weeks 14 and 15, the best I see from the Patriots is they spread around the fantasy football points, which can bode well for Brady but is hit or miss with the other positional players. One player to keep an eye on fantasy football-wise is Danny Woodhead, who is the best pass catching option at RB and a playmaker.
The Tampa Bucs offense continues to roll with Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson leading the way. Mike Williams, Josh Freeman and franchise tag kicker Connor Barth are also all solid players. The Falcons offense, which has slowed down a bit the past two weeks, should start to return to form vs. Tampa this week. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are all studs. The one player I would keep an eye on is Michael Turner, who is a 100 yard per game touchdown machine but appears to be wearing down. I still do not have faith that Jacquizz Rogers can be a starting playoff drive fantasy football back, and should only be considered in a point per reception league as a flex player.
Each week I list five players I'd love to have. Last week these were C.J. Spiller, Daniel Thomas, Eric Decker, Tony Romo, and Calvin Johnson. Calvin Johnson is exploding and getting tougher to stop each week. Spiller had 91 yards last week but with Fred Jackson returning from injury this week sooner than expected, Spiller's touches will not be as many as I had thought last week. Decker and Romo remain on this list this week. Thomas was awful last week and is off this list.
This week's five players I'd love to have are: Carson Palmer, who has thrown for 414, 368 and 312 yards the past three weeks, with 8 TDs. He returns to Cincinnati, a tough matchup vs. a stellar pass defense, but where I expect him to be motivated to have a big game; Randall Cobb, who has hit pay dirt in four straight games and will be a good bet to extend his scoring streak to five against a shoestring Giants defense that surrendered 15 touchdowns to enemy wide receivers. Cobb leads Green Bay with 54 receptions, 32 coming over his last five battles; Victor Cruz, who is too much of a fantasy football game changer despite the Giants recent offensive woes; Hakeem Nicks, coming off New York's bye, is now feeling close to 100 percent healthy following his bout with knee and foot ailments; and Dustin Keller, who seems to always play like Jimmy Graham in disguise vs. the Patriots pass defense, including a 93 yards receiving and one TD game earlier this season.
Each week I list five players I am worried about. Last week these were Mike Wallace, the Saints running backs, Michael Turner, Brandon Marshall and Ryan Mathews. Remaining on the list are Wallace, Matthews, Turner and the Saints running backs, who now add returning Darren Sproles to the committee of four with Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram. Brandon Marshall had a TD from Jason Campbell last week but until Jay Cutler returns, Marshall just is not the same top 3 WR fantasy force that he has been all season. This week's five players I am worried about are: Alfred Morris, who as a rookie led most fantasy football leagues in running back points through Week 8 and has fallen fast since. I traded for Morris and hope I am wrong but he has not scored since Week 7 and has three sub-100 yard games in a row; Steven Jackson, who is one of the NFL's toughest players but is worn down on a team with a terrible offense, no wide receivers for the defense to worry about and rookie Daryl Richardson starting to split carries; Antonio Gates, who will have another big week at some point but was held to just 17 yards in Week 11. The Chargers are playing out the season, have a hit or miss offense and thus make it tough to rely on Gates. However, he is still a stud and must always be started; All Steelers offensive players, who will struggle without Big Ben at Quarterback; and all Bears offensive players who will struggle until Cutler returns. As soon as Big Ben and Jay Cutler are healthy and back under center, I would expect Wallace, Heath Miller, Mendenhall, Forte and Marshall to be off this list.
Remember to become a www.FFChamps.com member for next season by December 1 and get the rest of this year and the Patriots.com discount at https://www.ffchamps.com/subscribe/, and to tweet us your questions @FFChamps or Visit www.ffchamps.com for around the clock rankings, strategy, and one on one advice, all the way through your Fantasy Football Championship. FFChamps.com: Extraordinary Results for Fantasy Football Dominance.
Have a safe, healthy and fun Thanksgiving, Go Pats and dominate your fantasy football league.