The end of the fantasy football regular season is coming into focus as we enter Week 11 of the NFL season. The good news is this is the last bye week that owners will have to deal with. The bad news is Week 11 is a pretty big one in terms of fantasy firepower that’s unavailable, especially at running back and wide receiver. No Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Percy Harvin, or Victor Cruz, to name a few, presents one more challenging week when it comes to roster management for many owners.
Athlon Sports is here to help you make all of those important lineup decisions for your Yahoo!, NFL.com or ESPN fantasy football league with our weekly Start and Sit suggestions. Keep in mind these are merely our suggestions as the ultimate decision comes down to you, the owner.
Bye week teams: Minnesota, New York Giants, Seattle, Tennessee
Sneaky Start of the Week
Marcel Reece, RB, Oakland vs. New Orleans
Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson continue to be hampered by the high ankle sprains they suffered two weeks ago, presenting Reece with another opportunity to do the heavy lifting.
Last week against Baltimore, Reece led the Raiders in both carries and receptions and turned those 20 touches into 104 total yards. A fullback by trade, Reece was already a reliable target for Carson Palmer, as he has 33 receptions on the season and he’s averaging nearly 10 yards per catch.
Now with McFadden and Goodson most likely out for a second straight game, the Raiders seem to be content with Reece running the ball as well. Taiwan Jones, who is much more explosive and appears to possess more playmaking ability as a rusher, received only two carries last week against the Ravens, compared to 13 for Reece.
In fact, both Reece and Jones could end up with decent numbers this Sunday against New Orleans. The Saints are allowing the third-most fantasy points to running backs and chances are this game will end up fairly high-scoring in general. I like Reece’s chances of putting up big numbers better than Jones because he’s getting the bulk of the opportunities and due to his versatility. Reece isn’t the only Raiders skill-position player I like this week either (see Carson Palmer and Denarius Moore below).
Surprise Sit of the Week
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco vs. Chicago (Monday)
Yes I know that it’s really hard to sit Gore, who is eighth in the league in rushing yards (753) and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. I also know that Chicago has allowed back-to-back 100-yard games.
However, I also know that both of these 100-yard games, one by Chris Johnson and last week by Arian Foster, can be largely attributed to game conditions. Johnson did most of his damage on one 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter when the Bears were already up by nearly 40 points, while Foster’s effort came in a rainy, sloppy affair in which he needed 29 carries to get to the century mark.
You take the last two games out and the Bears have allowed 437 yards on the ground and not a single rushing touchdown in their seven other contests to runinng backs. Gore may be on the same level as Johnson and/or Foster, but I’m not expecting a blowout nor do I think the two teams will be playing in a quagmire out in San Francisco come Monday night.
In addition, Gore has taken some pretty decent shots to his ribs lately and while he has been able to play through the pain and discomfort, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Kendall Hunter get a few more carries to try to lighten the wear and tear on the 49ers’ lead back. Especially considering how physical this matchup figures to be.
There’s also the matter of who ends up under center for the 49ers. Alex Smith (see below) is on track to start despite sustaining a concussion last week, but that doesn’t mean he will be the only one taking snaps against the Bears. Colin Kaepernick, who is more of a running threat than a passer, will more than likely see the field, whether that is due to game plan or out of necessity. Regardless, I just don’t think Gore will get enough touches or be productive with the ones he receives against this Bears defense.
Carson Palmer (OAK) vs. New Orleans
All Palmer has done in the past two games is throw for 782 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions. He may not be racking up the touchdown passes (15), but he’s had fewer than 33 pass attempts in a game only once this season. Don’t be surprised to see him eclipse that number this week as not only is New Orleans giving up the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, the Saints' defense fares even worse on the road. In four road games this season, the Saints have yielded an average of 32.6 fantasy points to opposing signal callers. Drew Brees may have his way with the Raiders’ pass defense, but I expect Palmer to enjoy more than his share of success when it’s his turn.
Tony Romo (DAL) vs. Cleveland
Don’t look now, but Romo has gone two straight games without throwing a single interception! For as much criticism as Romo has received this season (not to mention every season he has played) for his lack of ball security, keep this in mind. Of his 13 picks, nine of them came in two games. You take those two games away and he has a respectable 10:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his seven other games. I also would like to point out that those nine interceptions in two games came against the league’s two top ball-hawking teams – the Bears and the Giants. That said, this week Romo gets his shot at a Cleveland pass defense that ranks 21st in the league and is 10th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The Browns have 10 interceptions on the season, but only three of those have come on the road. Can Romo make it three pick-free games in a row? Even if he doesn’t, I still think he’s a safe starting option this week.
Andy Dalton (CIN) at Kansas City
Well, Dalton certainly proved me wrong last week. After tabbing him as a Sit against the Giants, all he did was torch their secondary for four touchdowns. Yes, he only threw for 199 yards, but when you toss four scoring strikes that has a tendency to help the fantasy point production. In Dalton’s case that turned out to be 31.8 points last week, his fifth game of 26 or more. He could produce his sixth such effort this Sunday as the Chiefs have given up an average of 20.4 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks at home and are sporting a 9:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio in four games at Arrowhead Stadium.
Joe Flacco (BAL) at Pittsburgh
The last time I suggested sitting the top fantasy scorer at his position the previous week was in Week 9 with Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. That decision certainly didn’t pan out for me (to put it mildly), so why am I revisiting this strategy this week with Flacco you ask? For one, I am fairly confident he won’t score 35.7 points, which is how many he had against the Raiders last week, against the league’s top defense. The Steelers also are No. 1 against the pass and in eight career games versus the Steel Curtain, Flacco has a total of 10 touchdown passes. Points are generally hard to come by when the Ravens and Steelers get together and I expect more of the same on Sunday.
Alex Smith (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Despite sustaining a concussion last week against St. Louis, Smith has reportedly cleared the mandatory baseline tests and is on track to start Monday night against Chicago. While I applaud and admire his toughness and desire to be out there with his teammates, I can’t help but wonder if discretion would be the more prudent path here. That said, I don’t expect Smith to be 100 percent, which could be even more magnified against a Chicago defense that has given up the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. The Bears have 26 sacks and 19 interceptions, and have surrendered a total of seven touchdown passes by quarterbacks. You don’t want your quarterback facing this defense, let alone one that’s recovering from a concussion.
Jay Cutler/Jason Campbell (CHI) vs. San Francisco (Monday)
Speaking of concussions, Cutler has had to go through the same things Alex Smith has this week, as the Bears’ signal caller left last week’s game against Houston after taking a big hit. Cutler has yet to be cleared for practice, which certainly puts his playing status for this week into doubt. I would be surprised to see Cutler in there on Monday night against the 49ers, as the Bears need a 100 percent healthy Cutler if they have any hopes of making a deep playoff run. That said, it doesn’t matter if it’s Cutler or Campbell, there’s no reason to start a Bear quarterback this week. The 49ers are fourth in the league in pass defense and have given up four touchdown passes in five home games. I think this game is going to be won in the trenches and by the team that is more successful running the ball or capitalizes on turnovers. Quarterbacks don’t get points for handoffs.
Jamaal Charles (KC) vs. Cincinnati
With a total of 83 yards rushing in his previous three games combined, expectations for Charles last Monday night against Pittsburgh were understandably low. Apparently someone forgot to tell Charles, however, as he hung only the second 100-yard game on the Steelers this season. Pittsburgh’s rush defense is still ranked sixth overall, while Cincinnati’s is a little further down at No. 18. The Bengals are surrendering the sixth-most fantasy points to running backs, so as long as Charles gets the chance, he could post decent numbers this week.
Steven Jackson (STL) vs. New York Jets
Jackson got a season-high 29 carries last week against San Francisco and turned those into his first 100-yard game of 2012. This coming against a 49ers defense that ranks seventh against the run and is giving up the fewest fantasy points to running backs. The Jets have had trouble all season stopping the run, as they are giving up 145 yards on the ground per game. Jackson has been a disappointment for much of the season, but last week showed he can still get the job done, and this week’s matchup certainly bodes well for a potential encore performance.
Felix Jones (DAL) vs. Cleveland
There is a chance that DeMarco Murray will return this week against Cleveland. However, with the Cowboys set to take on the Redskins in their traditional Thanksgiving spot, it makes more sense to give Murray one more week of rest. Another reason to go this route, is the fact that I think Jones can more than handle the load this week against the Browns. Besides putting together his best game (93 total yards, TD) in a month last week against the Eagles, the Browns are 27th in the league in rush defense. There’s no reason for the Cowboys to risk Murray this week since it appears Jones, and the other backs, should be able to get the job done.
Willis McGahee (DEN) vs. San Diego
McGahee ran for a season-high 122 yards in Week 8 against New Orleans. In the two games before and the two games since, he has not had more than 66 yards rushing in any one game. Included in this span is a Week 6 win in San Diego in which he only had 56 yards on the ground. The Chargers are second in the league against the run (82.9 ypg), and held Jamaal Charles and Doug Martin, both of whom have more rushing yards than McGahee, to a combined 107 yards. The Broncos have already shown they can beat the Chargers without getting much from McGahee and I expect a similar scenario to play out this Sunday.
Jonathan Stewart (CAR) vs. Tampa Bay
Stewart was presented with a golden opportunity when he was named the Panthers’ lead back several weeks ago. Unfortunately for Stewart, not to mention his owners, he has yet to capitalize on it. Stewart has rushed for 51 yards or fewer in each of the past four games, including just 31 last week against Denver. Tampa Bay is tops in the league in rush defense, so there’s little reason to expect anything to change Sunday when it comes to Stewart’s fantasy production.
Rashad Jennings (JAC) at Houston
Maurice Jones-Drew is still at least a week away from returning, which means Jennings is the man yet again. His position on the Jaguars' depth chart, however, seems to be going for him when it comes to this week’s outlook against Houston. For starters Jennings has yet to eclipse the 60-yard mark in the four games since Jones-Drew got injured. In fact, Jennings is averaging only 2.8 yards per carry and has one total touchdown in that span. As ugly as that looks, keep in mind that’s still one more touchdown than the Texans have allowed on the ground to a running back all season. Houston hasn’t given up more than 65 yards to any back since Week 4 and only two have eclipsed that mark all season. Unless it’s a blowout early, don’t expect Jennings to fare much better this week.
Denarius Moore (OAK) vs. New Orleans
If I like Carson Palmer’s (see above) chances of putting up big numbers this week, it only stands to reason that one of his receivers could be in line to benefit as well, right? In this case, I’ll go with Moore over Darrius Heyward-Bey and the other Raider wideouts. First, the Saints' struggles on defense have certainly carried over to the fantasy world. Besides allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks, they also have given up the most to wide receivers too. The Saints’ defense has yielded 14 touchdown receptions to wide receivers and considering Moore is Palmer’s favorite target, you have to like his chances of adding to his season total of five this Sunday. Moore has seen no fewer than eight targets in any game he has played this season and has topped 90 yards receiving in two of his last three. Heyward-Bey tweaked his hamstring in practice on Wednesday, so there’s a chance he could be limited, or possibly not play at all. That's just another reason why I think Moore is the better choice this week.
Dez Bryant (DAL) vs. Cleveland
Bryant caught just three passes last week against Philadelphia, but he averaged 29 yards per catch and scored his third touchdown. This was against an Eagles defense that had been pretty good holding opposing wide receivers in check. The same cannot be said of this week’s opponent, Cleveland. The Browns are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to receivers, including 13 touchdown receptions. They have been even more susceptible on the road, so perhaps Bryant can collect his first home score this Sunday too.
Danny Amendola (STL) vs. New York Jets
The Rams’ top target picked up right where he left off before getting injured, as he hauled in 11 passes for 102 yards in the tie against San Francisco. Sam Bradford clearly looks Amendola’s way often, as he has averaged more than 11 targets in the five games he was able to complete. The Jets are allowing the fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, but that doesn’t deter me one bit when it comes to using Amendola, especially if you play in a ppr league.
Michael Crabtree (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Crabtree has three touchdown catches in his last two games, but that was without Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings or any other Bear defensive back covering him. As was covered above in regards to Alex Smith’s not-so-promising outlook this Monday night, the same applies to Crabtree. The Bears have given up only five touchdown catches to opposing wide receivers. Crabtree’s best games have come when he’s scored, as he’s only had more than six receptions in a game once this season. I’ll be surprised if he even gets that many against the Bears.
Cecil Shorts (JAC) at Houston
Shorts has been a pleasant surprise for the Jaguars this season, averaging more than 19 yards per catch. He’s also scored four touchdowns, but none of those were against Houston, who the Jags lost to in Week 2. In fact, Shorts didn’t catch a single pass the first time he faced the Texans. Then again with the exception of Week 6 against Green Bay, the Texans have given up a total of three touchdowns to opposing wide receivers and just two 100-yard efforts. Don’t be at all surprised to see Shorts come up short this week.
Danario Alexander (SD) at Denver
Alexander has acclimated himself with his new team rather quickly, as he’s averaging more than 24 yards per catch since joining the Chargers in October. He exploded for 134 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay, which is not all that surprising considering the Buccaneers are last in the league in pass defense. The going will probably be a little tougher this week against Denver. The Broncos are 11th against the pass and have only given up 100 yards to Wes Welker and Roddy White. Unlike Welker and White, Alexander relies on the big play for his production, something I am sure the Broncos’ defensive backs are well aware of and are game planning to stop, or at least limit. Given their track record this season, the chances of them being successful in this effort appear to be pretty good. And that’s bad news as it applies to Alexander’s outlook for Sunday.
Antonio Gates (SD) at Denver
While Denver has done a good job of limiting the damage done by wide receivers, which hinders the potential of Chargers like Danario Alexander (see above) this week, the same does not hold true for tight ends. The Broncos are allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends and Gates has already victimized them once. In Week 6, Gates posted his best numbers of the season – six catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns. A repeat performance this Sunday doesn’t appear to be out of the question.
Greg Olsen (CAR) vs. Tampa Bay
Just like Antonio Gates did in Week 6, Olsen took advantage of Denver’s struggles defending the tight end last week. Olsen enjoyed season highs across the board as he put up 9-102-2 against the Broncos. Tampa Bay hasn’t allowed near as many yards or touchdowns to tight ends compared to Denver, but the Buccaneers are ranked 11th in terms of fantasy points yielded to the position. He may not repeat last week’s gaudy numbers, but I still think Olsen will put forth another start-worthy effort on Sunday.
Vernon Davis (SF) vs. Chicago (Monday)
Let’s see, between Frank Gore, Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree (see above), it’s pretty clear that I am not expecting much of anything from the 49ers’ offense this Monday night. While that may be true, Davis’ inclusion here is more than just simple “guilt by association.” Davis hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 3, and his overall statistics show that he’s becoming less and less a focus of the 49ers’ offensive game plan. He has no more than four catches and 37 yards receiving in any of his past four games, including not catching a single pass in Week 7 against Seattle. Take your pick – his declining production or the matchup with the Bears – either way; this may be a good week to try your chances with someone other than Davis as your tight end.
Owen Daniels (HOU) vs. Jacksonville
Daniels missed last week’s game against Chicago with a hip injury, but has returned to practice this week. There’s a good chance he will return this Sunday, but you can’t help but wonder if he will be limited, physically and/or in terms of playing time. Also, in Week 2 against the Jaguars, Daniels only had 47 yards receiving (on 6 receptions) and didn’t score a touchdown. The Texans shouldn’t need to throw the ball a lot to beat the Jags, so that’s just another reason for you to give Daniels another week of rest, on your bench.
Atlanta vs. Arizona
The Falcons’ DST is averaging 10.5 fantasy points per home game and three of the unit’s five double-digit efforts have come in the Georgia Dome. What’s more, Arizona has allowed a league-worst 41 sacks, with 19 of those coming in the four road games the Cardinals have played. Put it together and you get a recipe for a double-digit performance from the Falcons’ DST this Sunday.
Cincinnati at Kansas City
The Bengals’ defense stepped up big last week, sacking Eli Manning four times and forcing four turnovers in their impressive 31-13 home win. The unit will take its act on the road this week, but Cincinnati couldn’t have asked for a more willing opponent than Kansas City. The Chiefs have turned the ball over a league-worst 30 times and have given up a total of five defensive/special teams touchdowns. Every DST the Chiefs have faced this season has scored at least 10 fantasy points against them. If you are looking for a DST this week or don’t like the matchup for yours, there’s no reason to not give the Bengals a try.
Arizona at Atlanta
The Cardinals are second in the league in passing defense and have been a reliable fantasy DST this season. However, the challenge that awaits them in the Georgia Dome against Matt Ryan and company is something different. Ryan is king of his domain (30-4 in his career at home), and he has thrown only four interceptions in four home contests. The Falcons don’t beat themselves with turnovers and are at their best, and most dangerous, when they are home in the dome. When it comes to this battle, it’s best to stick with the birds of prey and not the redbirds.
San Diego at Denver
The Chargers are sixth in fantasy scoring among DSTs and are averaging 9.4 points per road game. On the other hand, the Broncos have given up a total of 13 points to opposing DSTs in their four home games. Peyton Manning has yet to throw an interception at home and he’s only been sacked five times. With the exception of a six-point loss to Houston in Week 3, the Broncos have been dominant at home. Given the Broncos’ success at home, if the Chargers’ DST were even to match its road average of 9.4 fantasy points this Sunday that would be impressive. Still not start-worthy, but nonetheless impressive.
Connor Barth (TB) at Carolina
Tampa Bay is averaging nearly 36 points per game over its last five. Carolina gave up 36 in its home loss to Denver last week. Coincidence? Probably, but I still like Barth’s chances of scoring a good number of points. The Panthers are allowing the most fantasy points to kickers, including a league-high 25 field goals.
Shayne Graham (HOU) vs. Jacksonville
Graham scored 10 fantasy points (3 PATs, 2 FGs) the first time the Texans played the Jaguars back in Week 2. I’m not really expecting anything different this Sunday, except that maybe the Texans score more than the 27 points they did in Jacksonville.
Jay Feely (ARI) at Atlanta
The Falcons have yielded four field goals in four home games. Only one kicker (Sebastian Janikowski) has scored double-digit fantasy points on them. Given that I like the Falcons’ DST this week (see above); I’m not expecting Feely to make it two kickers with 10+ points against the home team.
Josh Scobee (JAC) at Houston
Houston has yielded a total of six field goals in five home games. Even though Scobee has made three field goals in each of the Jaguars’ four road games, they only managed one touchdown the first time they faced the Texans back in Week 2. And that game was at home. This game isn’t.