The middle of November is crunch time for fantasy football players, and YouTube clips of Jim Mora have surely started to populate your news feed. While several desperate owners will rely on resurgent players such as Ray Rice and RGIII to deliver big this Sunday, there are reasons to temper expectations.
Depending on your league format, the next two or three weeks could be the difference between taking home the trophy and missing the tournament altogether. Unfortunately for these fringe squads, it could be a tough week for many top players.
With Seattle, Cincinnati and Philadelphia all on bye for Week 12, fantasy owners will be without three of the highest-scoring offenses in the NFL. For those scoring at home, that leaves players at the caliber of LeSean McCoy, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard all on the sidelines.
Points could be at a premium this week for several fantasy teams, and that could lead to some desperation starts. However, not all of this week’s seemingly reliable starts are as safe as they look on paper.
Not all owners will have a choice, but be warned: These 10 players should be avoided at all costs in Week 12.
All statistics and rankings are based off of ESPN.com standard scoring and rankings, unless otherwise noted.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers
Not many experts had the Chargers quarterback ranked seventh among fantasy passers at the beginning of the season, but Philip Rivers has posted solid numbers so far in 2013. With 19 touchdowns and 2,989 yards through the air, there’s been a lot to like heading into Week 12.
That is, until you look at the veteran signal-caller‘s opponent: the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
The former Pro Bowler has trailed off a little bit since a torrid start, and the Chiefs have allowed two or more touchdown passes only once this entire season. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning became the first to crack Kansas City for 300 yards but still managed only one touchdown.
The Chiefs didn’t get to Manning but are still No. 2 in the NFL with 36 sacks. A fierce pass rush and a hostile environment don’t bode well for Rivers in Week 12, especially with the Chiefs looking to justify their prime-time loss to Denver on Sunday night.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Very little has gone right in the nation’s capital this season, but Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III is actually ranked tenth for fantasy at his position in 2013. Even with no rushing touchdowns to his credit, Griffin has consistently thrown for 250 or more yards each week, often with his team trailing late.
Well, when the San Francisco 49ers bring in a defense ranking sixth against quarterbacks in 2013, owners will have to reconsider the captain of Washington’s attack. The 49ers also managed to hold the Saints to just 23 points last week, limiting quarterback Drew Brees to one touchdown pass.
The 49ers have managed to hold their own against mobile quarterbacks this season, limiting both Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Carolina’s Cam Newton to unspectacular outings. Even if Washington is forced to throw the ball often, San Francisco’s stout defense should hold Griffin in check on Monday night.
DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Before anyone starts to debate Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray‘s status as a fantasy “star,” consider these two factors.
Murray is currently ranked 15th among fantasy running backs despite missing two full games. Four of the backs ahead of him are also on bye in Week 12, including the top two overall in Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy.
So in such a meager week for running backs, how can owners avoid the lead man in Dallas?
In reality, Murray’s owners would have a hard time not throwing him in the flex spot at the very least. But the Cowboys are going toe-to-toe with the New York Giants on Sunday, who currently rank eighth against fantasy running backs in 2013.
The Giants have allowed only one rushing touchdown in their last five games, and it was to Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy last week. Lacy was otherwise held to just 27 yards on 14 carries, joining McCoy and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson on the long list of running backs stuffed by New York in recent weeks.
Say what you want about their recent competition, but the Giants are red hot. Avoid this matchup if at all possible.
Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Colts running back Trent Richardson has seen his status as a “fantasy star” plummet for weeks now, and yet 83.3 percent of his owners are still starting him. For a running back that hasn’t crossed the goal line since Week 4 and has yet to eclipse 100 yards in a single game, that’s ridiculously high.
It shouldn’t even have to be mentioned in this slide, but apparently 83.3 percent of people are still missing the memo.
Richardson has only 21 carries and 44 yards in his last three games combined, and Donald Brown is currently the Colt’s leading rusher, even with only 55 carries to Richardson’s 96. To top it off, quarterback Andrew Luck is only 41 yards behind Richardson, despite rushing just 41 times.
If you’re still holding out hope for Richardson’s turnaround, please don’t bank on it against the Arizona Cardinals and the No. 1 rushing defense in fantasy football. Put Richardson on your bench for now, and consider keeping him there.
Remember when the Cleveland Browns were fools to let Richardson go? Look who’s laughing now.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
Ravens running back Ray Rice was most likely a top pick in your draft this year, but 2013 has been a rough campaign for the Rutgers product.
After racking up 131 yards in Week 11, several owners will rush to claim that Rice is back to his old form. However, smart players will think twice before penciling Rice into their starting lineups this week against the New York Jets.
The Jets have been hot and cold this season as a team, but their defense has done a consistently good job against the run. As the second-ranked fantasy defense against running backs in 2013, the Jets have yet to allow 100 yards or more to any running back this season.
Rice is coming off of his most effective game of the year last Sunday, but the Chicago Bears have been gashed often this year on the ground. The Jets will be no easy task by comparison, and Rice has eclipsed 45 rushing yards in only one other game this season.
Needless to say, those trends point to an ugly combination for this matchup.
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers
Veteran receiver Steve Smith was projected to be a fantasy star as the top target in this passing offense. However, quarterback Cam Newton has done an excellent job spreading the ball around to multiple targets, hurting Smith’s value from a fantasy perspective.
The Carolina Panthers made a big statement with consecutive wins over San Francisco and New England, but the headline of this team is clearly on the defensive side of the ball.
Against a Miami Dolphins secondary that is currently the third-ranked fantasy defense against wide receivers, Smith will have a hard time breaking through. Miami has only allowed one touchdown to wide receivers this season, and Smith hasn’t crossed the goal line since Week 7.
Unless you’re satisfied with roughly four catches and 55 yards this weekend, keep Smith out of your Week 12 lineup.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Washington Redskins
In his sixth NFL season, Washington receiver Pierre Garcon is enjoying his best season as a pro with 67 catches, 871 yards and three touchdowns. This impressive line ranks him as the 14th wide receiver for fantasy this season despite a relatively low touchdown rate.
Garcon has passed 100 yards in two of the last three games, including a touchdown in one, and hasn’t finished any game with lower than five catches or 46 yards, respectively. As mentioned with his quarterback, however, Garcon has drawn the unfavorable matchup of a Monday night bout with the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers are the fifth-ranked fantasy defense against wide receivers this season, allowing passing touchdowns to wideouts in only three games. While garbage-time numbers could inflate his totals, it’s hard to rely on where the desperation numbers go.
This game could very well be a run-heavy matchup with low scoring on both sides, which won’t bode well for Garcon owners. Even with Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green on bye, Garcon should be avoided in Week 12.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
The last time we saw 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree, a potential game-winning touchdown was landing just out of his reach in the Super Bowl. After tearing his Achilles in May, Crabtree has resumed practicing and has been a hot waiver claim for the last two weeks.
Crabtree has not been ruled out for this week’s bout on Monday Night Football but is still unlikely to play, as reported by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. However, even if Crabtree suits up against Washington on Monday night, he should not be inserted into your lineup just yet.
The 49ers currently possess the worst passing offense in the NFL in terms of yards gained, and the on-field product suggests as much. Crabtree should also be expected to be eased into the lineup, so owners should see Crabtree in action before relying on him for even a flex play.
Crabtree is also playing on Monday night, leaving owners with little options if he is scratched at the last minute. In all phases, this is a better option for the fantasy playoffs than in Week 12.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns
A popular sleeper entering 2013, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron has delivered for those owners savvy enough to draft him. The fourth-ranked tight end in fantasy so far this year has outperformed several fantasy stalwarts that were drafted long before him.
However, a closer look at the numbers can make that ranking seem deceiving. After scoring five touchdowns in the first four games, Cameron has reached paydirt just once since Week 4.
The muddled quarterback situation in Cleveland has taken its toll on the entire passing game, and Cameron has been up and down as a result. Facing Pittsburgh and the No. 10 fantasy defense against tight ends this week won’t do him any favors.
The truth is, Cameron is being held back by his situation, which makes it tough to rely on him against any opponent.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Despite hauling in only three touchdowns in 2013, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates is currently a top-five fantasy tight end. However, while it’s tough to find reliable tight ends this season, Gates can’t be counted on for a big outing in Week 12.
The reason? A hungry Chiefs defense that’s currently No. 1 against fantasy tight ends this year.
The Chiefs have allowed only one touchdown to tight ends all season: last week against Julius Thomas of the Denver Broncos. Only once this year have opposing tight ends topped 43 total yards against Kansas City, which makes Gates a true touchdown-or-bust play.
Meanwhile, Gates has scored only once since Week 4, doing most of his damage early in the season. As valuable as San Diego’s tight end has been, starting him in Week 12 would offer little potential for reward.
Much like his aforementioned quarterback, Gates should be avoided this week.
Tom Smeaton primarily covers the San Francisco 49ers as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For thoughts on the 49ers and the NFL, reach out on Twitter by following @smeaton49.
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