Week 12 is already shaping up to be a unique one, starting right off the bat with the dynamic, albeit too short, performance by Raiders RB Latavius Murray against the Kansas City Chiefs. In case you missed it, Murray scored the first two rushing touchdowns of the season against the Chiefs, the first on an 11-yard scamper after a nicely managed drive by Derek Carr, and the second on a 90-yard run that began with Murray exploding through a hole at the line of scrimmage, and then going untouched into the secondary and down the sideline to the end zone. Unfortunately, Murray left the game late in the second quarter with a possible concussion and did not return, but the Raiders (1-10) went on to win their first game of the season, 24-20, in a stunning upset of the Chief, who fell to 7-4 for the season.
Another unusual development concerns Mother Nature, who did her best to see that there would be no football in Buffalo, NY this Sunday. The NFL announced that the scheduled Sunday game between the NY Jets and Buffalo Bills will instead be played Monday night at 7 pm EST in Detroit’s Ford Field. There will undoubtedly be other upsets and oddities in Week 12, but one thing that isn’t ever odd is our weekly look at matchups to exploit or avoid. Remember, use matchup data to make decisions between somewhat equally ranked players. Never make lineup decisions based solely on the matchup and always play your studs.
[Related Link] Matchup Rankings by Strength of Schedule
Passing Matchups to Exploit
Andy Dalton vs. Houston Texans – Oh boy, I have to admit that I’m a bit apprehensive about this recommendation. Ideally, you’re no longer relying on Dalton as anything but an emergency backup QB. However, sometimes you just have to admit that the possibility of a big game, at least in Fantasy terms, is too good to pass up. That is the case here, as the Texans’ pass defense is currently ranked 30th in the NFL against the pass, allowing an average of 278 passing yards per game. They’ve also given up 19 passing TDs with only 11 interceptions and 21 sacks. Houston has generously given up an average of 22.5 Fantasy points per game to QBs and a whopping 28.3 FPPG to WRs.
Dalton is coming off his best game of the season in which he completed an efficient 16 of 22 pass attempts for 220 yards and three TDs with zero interceptions. Meanwhile, the Texans were abused by the Browns’ Brian Hoyer for 330 passing yards despite only completing 20 of 50 pass attempts (40 percent. For a little perspective, I would suggest using Dalton over Drew Stanton, Eli Manning or Ryan Mallett, but I would go with Joe Flacco, Michael Vick or Ryan Tannehill over Dalton this week.
Brian Hoyer vs. Atlanta Falcons – Brian Hoyer is heating up at just the right time, as this week marks the return of Josh Gordon to the Browns’ pass attack. In two of the last three games, Hoyer has thrown for at least 300 yards and he has three TDs and three interceptions in that time. The Falcons are the worst team in the NFL defending against the pass, allowing an average of 281 passing yards and 14 TDs. Atlanta gives up an average of 25.9 FPPG to WRs due to all those yards, so this looks like a PPR bonanza here for Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel. Coincidentally, Hawkins and Gabriel were each targeted 13 times last week, as Hoyer made 50 pass attempts against the Texans. You can expect similar type numbers here, especially if this becomes a shootout, as the Falcons are also quite capable of putting up a solid pass attack.
Jay Cutler vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Fantasy owners are undoubtedly queasy about starting Cutler these days. He was solid over the first six weeks of the season, but his last four games have produced six interceptions to go along with his eight TDs and the Bears have lost three of their last four. However, regardless of the mixed game results, the Fantasy production has been there because of the elite weapons at Cutler’s disposal. This week, he’s at home against the Bucs and their 29th ranked defense against the pass. The Buccaneers have allowed 20 passing TDs thus far against just eight interceptions, so their secondary is nothing to fear and Cutler should be able to capitalize.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
Robert Griffin III vs. San Francisco 49ers – Sometimes the numbers just don’t tell the whole story. On paper, RGIII looks pretty good. In the two games he’s played since returning from injury, he’s completed 41 of 60 pass attempts (68.3 percent) with two TDs and three interceptions. He’s also rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries for 5.0 yards per carry. However, he’s been very reliant on check downs to RB Roy Helu (11 targets in those two games) and he hasn’t connected with DeSean Jackson on anything deep or with Pierre Garcon at all, arguably his two best weapons in the passing game. Even more disturbing is the infighting and finger pointing going on in the locker room between Griffin and his teammates, as well as several disturbing public comments from Coach Jay Gruden about his quarterback. To sum it up, the Redskins are in disarray, to say the very least.
The Redskins will be facing a 49ers defense that is slowly regaining its dominant form, as injured players have gotten healthy and the suspended Aldon Smith returned to the team. The Niners have the fourth ranked defense against the pass, allowing an average of just 220 passing yards per game. They’ve given up 18 passing TDs but that’s been balanced with 16 interceptions and 17 sacks. Opposing QBs have completed just 57.3 percent of their pass attempts against the 49ers, the lowest completion percentage in the NFL. This game has ugly all over it for the Redskins, so RGIII and company are best avoided if at all possible in this matchup.
Russell Wilson vs. Arizona Cardinals – Over the past four games, Wilson hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in any, and he has just three TDs and three interceptions in that span. In fact, if not for the 244 rushing yards he compiled in that span, Wilson would have been among the worst performing QBs over the past month. Like the 49ers, the Cardinals have improved greatly and are playing much better defense against the pass over the past few weeks. In fact over the last three games (@ Dallas, vs. St. Louis and vs. Detroit) the Cardinals have allowed an average of 183 passing yards and just three TDs with five interceptions and 10 sacks. On top of that, the Cardinals have the third ranked rush defense in the NFL. Quarterbacks have averaged just 20.2 FPPG against the Cards. This is going to be a difficult game for Wilson, as he is up against a formidable defense in all aspects of the game. At the very least, this game looks like a low-scoring defensive battle in the making. Wilson could end up with very low Fantasy point production in that sort of environment.
[Related Link] Kyle Soppe’s Week 12 Lineup Rankings – Get Smarter!
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals – Whether it’s Arian Foster or Alfred Blue toting the rock, the Texans’ rushing attack is formidable. Last week, with Foster sidelined by a groin injury, Blue and third-stringer Jonathan Grimes combined for 54 carries and 213 rushing yards against the /Cleveland Browns. The Bengals are ranked 28th in the NFL against the rush, allowing an average of 136 yards per game. They’ve allowed the second-most rushing scores in the league (12) and running backs average 23 FPPG against them, fifth-most just behind Oakland and Tennessee. Foster’s status is still up in the air but as of this writing it appears he will play. He’ll likely be a game time decision so be sure to check with The Xpert Eye Sunday morning, as we’ll have all the game inactives and injury updates you’ll need to make your roster decisions.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tennessee Titans – The first five weeks of the season were difficult for Fantasy owners of LeSean McCoy, as he simply wasn’t providing the kind of production one expects from a first round Fantasy draft pick. With just two TDs for the season, you could argue that he’s still not providing first round value; however, his overall yardage production has gotten better in recent weeks and this matchup with the Titans could be the week he finally hits the jackpot with yardage and scoring. Shady has totaled more than 100 all-purpose yards in three of the last five games, so he’s far from washed up.
The Tennessee Titans have allowed an average of 143.5 rushing yards per game this season, good enough to be ranked 31st against the run, just a cut above the Giants and a cut below the Browns. They’ve also allowed the third-most rushing TDs (13) and the third-most average FPPG (23.3) to running backs. This could be a very good week for Shady and we might even see Darren Sproles rack up some decent Fantasy points in this game.
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
New Orleans Saints vs. Baltimore Ravens – Over the past four weeks, Mark Ingram has been a buzz saw, cutting his way through some decent defenses and compiling scads of yardage. However, he hasn’t really faced any defense as good as the Ravens are against the run. Baltimore has allowed an average of just 84.5 rushing yards per game and only six rushing TDs this season. They are currently ranked fifth in the NFL against the run. The Ravens are also the stingiest teams in terms of Fantasy points, as they’ve allowed the fewest on average to RBs this season (13.1 FPPG). This could very well be the week we see Ingram get shut down by a defense.
New England Patriots vs. Detroit Lions – Anyone who says they saw Jonas Gray’s 200-plus yard, four TD performance against the Colts coming is full of baloney. However, I guess if you had taken the time to look back at 2013, you would have found a similar type of performance by LeGarrette Blount (then a Patriot, as now) against the Colts. However, that’s neither here nor there; the Lions are a whole different animal when it comes to the rushing game. (See what I did there?) Detroit is currently the number one ranked rush defense in the NFL. They’ve allowed an average of just 68.8 rushing yards per game and just four rushing TDs all season. In addition to the formidable matchup, just about anyone will tell you that it is virtually impossible to predict how Bill Belichick will deploy his offensive players. Since last week, the Patriots have re-signed RB LeGarrette Blount to a two-year contract, and he will be in the rotation for carries along with Gray, Shane Vereen, James White and fullback James Develin. Heck, Belichick might even put Brandon Bolden out there just to spite us all. Regardless of all that, you simply don’t want to count on any Patriots RB against the Lions. This is going to be one of those games in which the Patriots rely on Tom Brady to carry the offense through the passing game. Bank on it.