Fantasy Football

Thanksgiving Lineup Calls

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

It’s that time of year when we take pause and give thanks. We eat copious amounts of carbohydrates and relish in tryptophan-induced comas while watching football, dog shows and inane animated shows. Along the way, we listen to stories about family history and those old grudges boil to the surface. Pretty soon, you’re pulling up a chair with a slice of pie and a beverage with the in-house drama rivaling anything on the television.

We do it every year. We grouse about it, but we wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’s just like fantasy football in Week 11 or 12 when you realize that you’re starting players on the wrong side of a timeshare or heaving up a desperation quarterback play to knock off the league juggernaut. Every year, I hear the tales saying “I’m done. I hate …” Those are the first people that I’m getting text messages from in mid-July as players get ready for training camp. “So, do you think …”

The game has become part of our relationships and family interactions. We had a caller on our FOX Sports Radio who talked about a league made up retired military personnel and that the league helped keep them in touch. You can’t beat it.

On Thanksgiving Day, families and friends will gather around to watch the first three games of Week 12. They’ll power up their laptops, tablets and PCs to follow the action, and more than a few will be told to turn off their phones. Just turn it to vibrate to keep those scoring updates flowing.

Let’s break down Thursday’s games in a special holiday edition of “Lineup Calls.”


The opening salvo of Week 12 takes place, as per tradition, in Detroit. Matthew Stafford and the Lions seek to rebound from a tough divisional loss against the Packers, while the Texans seek to build on a frenzied, confusing win over the Jaguars.

The Jaguars surprised the Texans with an aerial assault from Chad Henne, who came on in relief of the injured Blaine Gabbert. As a result, the Texans were forced to shift away from the ground game and Matt Schaub took to the air. He finished the game with 527 passing yards (ponder that for a moment) and threw five touchdown passes against two interceptions (one of which occurred in the red zone). Schaub’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in three of his past four games and rebounded beautifully from a terrible game against the Bears.

I anticipate another big day from Schaub in this road spot. Louis Delmas may return to action to support a suspect secondary, but he’s a game-time decision. This is a Detroit secondary that has been unable to force turnovers this season (six interceptions) and sits tied for 16th in sacks (23) while surrendering 16 passing touchdowns.

We all know of Andre Johnson’s ridiculous game against the Jaguars. It was his second 100-yard game in three weeks, his first two such games since Week 1. Johnson has averaged six receptions per game on nine targets (87 yards per game). Take the high target count in a game that should open up. Johnson’s locked as a WR1 this week.

Arian Foster saw his short-lived streak of 100-yard games stopped at two in that mutant Week 11 game against the Jaguars. He carried the ball 28 times, but produced just 77 yards (his second-lowest total of the season). It’s not a fantastic spot, as the Lions have allowed just the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs (three rushing touchdowns) and Foster isn’t active in the passing game.

Matthew Stafford looked to be on the upswing with a solid matchup on tap against Green Bay for Week 11. He’s thrown three touchdown passes in two of his previous three games. Stafford still completed a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, but turned the ball over three times and finished with 266 passing yards. He’s a mid-QB1 option this week against the Houston secondary which may play without top cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

Do you remember all the crying over Calvin Johnson several weeks ago? Johnson now leads the NFL with over 1,100 receiving yards and has scored in back-to-back games. I just felt like reiterating that Johnathan Joseph is a game-time decision for Thursday’s game and, well, we saw how the Jaguars marched up and down the field. On behalf of the fantasy community (and those genuinely excited to watch an elite athlete dominate), I implore the Lions to throw the ball to Johnson 25 times.

Ryan Broyles steps into the role vacated by Titus Young’s banishment from team facilities. He’s caught 15-of-19 targets this season. Veteran Mike Thomas, who was acquired from Jacksonville several weeks ago, also stands to pick up snaps, but I’ll put a low-end WR3 tag on the rookie.

The Texans have yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season (one receiving). After watching the Jaguars matriculate the ball down the field with ease behind Chad Henne, I remain optimistic that Stafford will be able to stretch the field and create running room for Leshoure. As such, I’ll pin a high-RB2 tag on him with hopes that he sees red zone activity (19 such carries this season).

We’ll get both kickers active for this game and tab Houston as a mid-DEF1. I believe that Stafford and the Lions will put points on the board, but that Houston (my obligatory J.J. Watt nod here) will force multiple Stafford miscues.


It’s not a fantastic matchup on paper, but Robert Griffin III is a matchup-proof option at this point. The Cowboys have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Griffin III is the top-scoring option at quarterback despite having zero obvious receiving options. He’s now rushed for 624 yards this season following his 84-yard performance against the Eagles.

Did anyone see Aldrick Robinson and Santana Moss breaking off big plays against the Eagles (their only receptions)? Or that fullback Darrel Young would get into the scoring? None of those options get me excited for this week. Moss might creep into the mix as a back-end WR4 for owners in dire straits, but it’s a difficult spot. Pierre Garcon is a game-time decision, so he can’t be trusted.

I hold up Logan Paulsen as a deep “Sleeper” option this week against the Cowboys. Paulsen caught 13 passes in the Redskins’ previous three games before recording a single reception, a 17-yard touchdown, against the Eagles. He’d recorded 76, 43 and 59 receiving yards in those contests.

Tony Romo wasn’t dominant against the Browns, but he earned a hard-fought victory. Romo completed 35-of-50 attempts for 313 yards, his third 300-yard game in his past four starts. He threw one touchdown pass with one lost fumble while absorbing seven sacks. The Redskins have allowed nearly 3,000 passing yards this season with 19 touchdown passes. Washington has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. Forget about the putrid effort put forth by Nick Foles (#fail). Romo posts a big day in front of the holiday crowd.

You’ll need your stretchy pants by this point in the day.

Dez Bryant dominated the Browns, producing 12 receptions for 145 yards with a touchdown, his third game with at least 87 yards in his past four starts. He’s a top-7 option this week against the Redskins.

Miles Austin caught six passes for 58 yards against the Browns, his third game with at least six receptions in his past four starts. However, he didn’t score during this stretch, and has scored just once since Week 4. Austin settles in a mid-WR2 for me this week with upside.

Jason Witten doesn’t find the end zone with any frequency (one touchdown this year), but you can’t argue with his high level of productivity. He’s caught six or more passes in six consecutive games, though he’s produced fewer than 60 receiving yards in four of those games. You have to roll with him against a defense that has been the second-most generous to tight ends this year. Based on his weekly production, he remains a top-six option.

Finally, Felix Jones was shut down by the Browns, producing just 55 total yards on 16 touches. However, he did score his third rushing touchdown of the season. Jones is hardly a huge play against the Redskins while DeMarco Murray sits out another game, but he’ll definitely post 15-20 touches. As a result, he owns a mid-RB2 slot this week. The Redskins have allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points to running backs. I know it’s a function of their deficient pass defense, but results are results.

I will celebrate my holiday by setting up a “Super Jock” set and slamming field goals against the back wall. I digress. I’m starting Dan Bailey and putting “Sleeper” status on Kai Forbath. Kickers have converted 19 field goals against both the Redskins and Cowboys.


I saved the best for last. No, I will not break down the glory of Tim Tebow and try to predict the number of references to him that will be made to him by the broadcast team, graphics packages or pre-game stories.

You know you wanted another Jets game in prime time!

Let’s break down that offense quickly. Mark Sanchez is on the board as a deep, deep “Sleeper” against the New England secondary. The embattled fourth-year quarterback has produced just two multi-touchdown games this season while averaging 203.8 passing yards (three games with at least 283 passing yards). The Patriots have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. The addition of Aquib Talib improves this secondary but, as evidenced by the Colts last week, there are still big plays in the offing.

Trying to guess who will make those big plays is another matter altogether.

Jeremy Kerley has recorded three or more receptions in six consecutive games, including four games with at least five receptions. He’s recorded a reception of at least 26 receiving yards in four games during this period. I’m walking bold and tagging him as my No. 31 wide receiver this week.

Dustin Keller was limited to two receptions for 16 yard by the Rams. However, he’s been active in the passing game over the past month, and I see a big role for him in this game. The Patriots have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to tight ends, yielding an average of six receptions and 65 receiving yards per game.

What about Bilal Powell? Powell stole the show against the Rams, producing 42 rushing yards on 11 carries, including two red zone touchdown plunges. The second-year running back from Louisville appeared on the radar during our preseason review of the Jets, but he had a minimal role through Week 11. Powell’s a deep Flex play this week as a possible red zone vulture and receiver out of the backfield in tandem with Shonn Greene.

Green rates as a mid-RB2 option this week with Vince Wilfork and his run-stopping ways on the schedule. The Patriots have allowed the 11th-fewest (tied) fantasy points to running backs.

Let’s roll to the other side of the ball.

Tom Brady remains a top-5 option despite the matchup with the staunch New York Jets secondary. The Jets have allowed the seventh-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks. Brady completed 26-of-42 attempts for 259 yards with two touchdowns in the Patriots’ Week 7 overtime victory.

Aaron Hernandez slides straight back into the upper-tier of tight ends, effectively tagging back into the action for his injured partner, Rob Gronkowski. We’ve already exhausted the Gronkowski story, so I’ll leave that behind. The Jets have been great on the edges, but have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends (six touchdowns).

Wes Welker caught six passes for 66 yards (evil) against the Jets in Week 7. He’s been quiet of late, producing 80 receiving yards or fewer in four consecutive games, and he’s recorded just two touchdowns this season. Still, Welker remains a high-end WR2 this week because of his high target count and efficiency.

Brandon Lloyd has been more active in the New England passing game in the past two weeks, producing nine receptions for 90 yards. Remember, Lloyd also hauled in two touchdown passes in Week 8 against the Rams. He lost snaps to Julian Edelman (sneaky WR4), but I expect to see him active in this contest (one reception for six yards in the first meeting). Lloyd is on the radar as a mid-WR3 option this week.

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Stevan Ridley registered only 28 rushing yards on 13 carries against the Rams, but he scored for the third consecutive game. The New York defense has been better against the run of late, but the balanced New England attack will pose problems and afford Ridley opportunities. He’s a mid-RB1 this week. The Jets have allowed the 14th-most fantasy points to running backs (nine touchdowns).

You can always start Stephen Gostkowski, who hits the ground running with a field goal worth of PATs each week.

That’ll do it. You are now locked, loaded and ready to dominate your Thanksgiving Day matchups. I’ll be rolling through the remaining “Lineup Calls” as the week progresses here on along with supplying a fresh batch of rankings. You can follow me on Twitter @swollendome for rants, raves, injury updates and random musings.

Now, we generally dwell in negativity or doe-eyed optimism in this fantasy realm. I’m

going to pause for a moment to issue a sincere message of thanks for your continued support, encouragement and, yes, your derision. I truly appreciate this fantasy world and the community built herein. I will raise my 64-oz. chalice on Thanksgiving Day in your honor. Go forth and dominate.

Tagged: Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Rams, Patriots, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Jaguars, Texans, Andre Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Wes Welker, Johnathan Joseph, Calvin Johnson, Chad Henne, Matthew Stafford, Rob Gronkowski, Tim Tebow, Bilal Powell, Robert Griffin III

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