Week 12 is the second to last week in the fantasy season. Can you believe we’ve come so far so quickly? And the picture has gotten a lot clearer as it comes to the playoff picture. Some teams in your leagues have already been eliminated from playoff consideration while others are hanging on by a thread. Where is your team? I am not eliminated from any of my leagues at this point, but in two of them I need to win this week to stay alive, and in one I have to win this week AND next week to get into the playoffs. That’s a tall task for anyone, and it inspires a lot of players to get out of their rhythm, to second-guess themselves, and to possibly overthink themselves out of a playoff spot.
So, do you take a lot of risks, going with players who are high risk/reward but who you wouldn’t normally play, or do you go with the guys you drafted or have done well for you so far this year? I have a simple response to those questions. Go with the guys who have scored the most for you throughout the year, the guys who have performed best most recently, and the ones who have matchups this week to help them maintain that pace, in that order.
1. NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO BENCH YOUR STUDS
Repeat that with me, because it is true now more than ever. I don’t care that your stud got you 2 points or 0 points last week. You’re going with him come hell or high water, because he is more likely to get you the points you need this week than someone you take a flier on because ESPN.com said he will have “a breakout performance.” You can second-guess yourself into the ground, but if you go with your studs you will kick yourself less if you happen to lose, and pat yourself on the back more if you happen to win. Every time you play your studs you increase your chances of winning.
2. RANK YOUR FRINGE PLAYERS IN ORDER OF RECENT PERFORMANCE
After you’ve penned your studs into the lineup, take a good hard look at those fringe players, you know, the ones who either you didn’t draft or that have underperformed all year long. How much do you trust them to get you over the hump and into the playoffs? Rank them accordingly.
3. CHECK OUT THE MATCHUPS
Now, I’m not one who believes that matchup is everything, but sometimes it really matters, like last week with A.J. Green. I know I said not to bench your studs, but Joe Haden is a stud on defense, and you knew the matchup wouldn’t be great. Green ended up scoring zero fantasy points for the week, but you wouldn’t have benched him because of potential. This week take a good hard look at Ray Rice. Sure he scored a ton of points for your fantasy team last week but don’t get roped in. Matchup helped him in that one, and matchup will kill him this week. Don’t play Rice unless you’re certain he will score through the air, because odds are great he won’t be doing it on the ground.
4. SET YOUR LINEUP AND NEVER WAVER
That is the cardinal sin of setting your lineup, the indecision. I remember once when I was a young fantasy player I would do this constantly, switching guys in and out of my lineup right until the lineup locked me out and I was forced to go with whatever last iteration I was left with, often cheating myself out of points I would have had if I had gone with my initial lineup I set on Thursday. So, keep that in mind. Set your lineup by Saturday at the latest, and don’t fiddle with it after you’ve done so, unless you’re waiting on a player who may or may not play. Case in point, Wes Welker’s penciled into my lineup right now, and he has been all week, but if inactives come down Sunday and he’s not playing I have a backup option to slide into place. That is the only reason I would switch Welker out ever.
Here are players you should consider making sure are in your lineup this week:
Joe Flacco (BAL) – I know he has been inconsistent, but if you have been going with Nick Foles or Josh McCown at quarterback, you still have unproven commodities. Flacco is up against a great run defense, so he’s throwing the football, and you saw what he did at the end of last season fighting for his playoff life. He steps up big here. I’m playing him in two of my leagues where I need wins this week.
Mike Glennon (TB) – He has played well, helping the Bucs win two in a row and reviving Vincent Jackson. He will be needed this week against Detroit who has looked abysmal against the pass all year. Start him with confidence based on his recent level of play and the matchup, two of my primary criteria.
Alex Smith (KC) – The San Diego defense has not been as dynamic as advertised, the Chiefs are coming off their first loss of the season, and they’re at Arrowhead. It’s a perfect storm, actually. Jamaal Charles will get highly involved in the passing game again, and Smith will get the ball to him, to Fasano, and to Dwayne Bowe. In fact, I recommend starting every single one of those Chiefs this week against the Chargers. Smith has good matchups in the fantasy playoffs, too, so you might want to ride him all the way.
Shane Vereen (NE) – He sure looked healthy enough last week coming back from the injury, and he has a great matchup against Denver this week. The Patriots need a win in the worst way and Vereen has the surest hands of their running backs. He can also catch passes out of the backfield which Denver has shown they’re vulnerable to. Go with him this week.
Knowshon Moreno (DEN) – Moreno, based on his production all season, should be seen as one of those aforementioned studs, but after Ball stole a couple of touchdowns from him last week some people are up in arms, thinking Ball is now the goal line back. Not a chance. And if those two touchdowns make you sit Moreno on your bench this week then you’re not someone who wants to go to the fantasy playoffs. He will get back into things with as good a chance as any back to score. Ball will return to third down duties, and you’re safe starting Moreno. Against that poor New England run defense, it’s really an easy decision. Don’t be swayed.
Donald Brown (IND) – He’s still available on the waiver wire in a lot of leagues, and there is no reason he should be there aside from performance prior to this year. He’s running well right now, and he scored two touchdowns last week. Keep him active, or pick him up and get him active for the matchup at Arizona this week. Indianapolis needs a win, and to do that they have to establish a running game. Their running game right now IS Brown. He won’t disappoint.
Terrance Williams (DAL) – The Giants defense looks much improved over the past few weeks, but it wasn’t just the defense playing poorly that made them look horrible against Dallas in the first week. It was the dominant offensive weapons for the Cowboys that put them over the top, and Williams has come into his own this season. Regardless of Miles Austin playing in this game, Witten is doing poorly, Dez Bryant will be double-covered, and Williams will get his opportunities from Romo. Count on him for at least 70 yards and a touchdown.
Alshon Jeffery (CHI) – Jeffery, like Williams, has also come into his own this season, and he will continue to be heavily relied on by Josh McCown against a St. Louis defense that has been pretty solid of late. This one promises to be a high-scoring affair, and the Bears also use Jeffery in the occasional rushing situation. It sets up nicely for Jeffery and he shouldn’t be sitting on your bench for it.
Eric Decker (DEN) – Decker is often the forgotten man in Denver but he averages nearly 10 fantasy points per contest. Show me another “third” receiver who averages as much, or who has the possibility every single week of scoring multiple touchdowns (which Decker has done this season). You can’t because there isn’t one. Decker can be counted on to get at least those 10 points this week, and if he scores even one touchdown you can mark him down for 14 or more. That’s good enough for me to start him, and you should too.
Jordan Cameron (CLE) – Yes, the chemistry hasn’t been there since Jason Campbell took over at quarterback for the Browns, but Cameron is too good a talent to remain dormant for long. You heard it first here. Pittsburgh may be playing for its playoff life, but so is Cleveland, and Flash Gordon can’t do it all. I have a sneaky suspicion Cleveland mixes it up here with the mismatch that Cameron provides against most defenses, Pittsburgh included. Get that man off your benches!
Delanie Walker (TEN) – He’s playing the Raiders this week.
Garrett Graham (HOU) – With DeAndre Hopkins having “mental issues,” Graham really stepped up last week and dominated in fantasy. He has the chance again this week against that horrendous Jacksonville defense that gives up chunks of points and yards to tight ends this year.
Nick Folk (NYJ) – They will move the ball but struggle to score touchdowns against that revived Baltimore defense.
Nick Novak (SD) – Playing against Kansas City usually lends itself to kickers getting involved due to low-scoring affairs.
Robbie Gould (CHI) – That St. Louis defense will bend but usually not breaks. Gould could get himself a couple looks at 50+ yard field goals, which pays dividends in fantasy leagues that reward for 50+ yard field goals.