Fantasy Football

Rice, LaFell earn sleeper status

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Michael Harmon

Mike is a fantasy contributor for>>

Harmon Rankings: QB, RB, WR, TE/DEF

Throw it up and let your marquee receivers make plays.

That was the philosophy employed by the shining stars from Thursday, as fans were treated to a healthy dose of scoring from their superstars. Sure, we all wondered aloud why there wasn’t bracket coverage on receivers with the surname “Johnson.” We inched toward the edges of our seats as Dez Bryant worked to pull the Cowboys back into contention against the Redskins. Many participants in the fantasy realm pulled up waiver wire pages on their mobile phones to determine whether speedster Pierre Garcon was somehow still floating in free agency.

Of course, they ended their Thanksgiving viewing by praising Bill Belichick for his decisions to support their fantasy squads. The nightcap between the Patriots and Jets got so bad that “Fireman Ed” departed early, and the contest offered its share of “This is what you disappear to watch on Sundays?” moments from those casual observers in the crowd.

The fantasy world will, of course, continue to ponder the fallout of the “Suh Back-kick,” the Forsett touchdown that should haven’t been and whether the Ryan brothers will be coaching elsewhere in 2013.

I’ll ponder those issues as well as I partake of holiday leftovers and college football. In the interim, it’s time to dive back between the white lines for the wide receiver edition of “Lineup Calls” for Week 12.


(Exclude A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston, Reggie Wayne, Roddy White, Victor Cruz, Demaryius Thomas)

Keep an eye on Julio Jones and Greg Jennings (Sunday night) as the countdown to kickoff winds to zero.

Randall Cobb at NYG
Cobb has scored in five of his past six games, including two two-touchdown performances. He caught seven passes for 102 yards in the game that he failed to reach the end zone (Houston). Cobb became a go-to option in the absence of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Even with Nelson back in the fold in Week 11, Cobb was targeted 12 times by Aaron Rodgers against the Lions. He’ll retain a sizable role this week.

The Giants have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to wide receivers (182.1 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game). The reemergence of Jermichael Finley and health returns of the other members of this receiving corps make Cobb an even more potent option downfield (is that possible?).

Hakeem Nicks vs. GB
The Giants absorbed a difficult loss to the Bengals in Week 9, but they did welcome Nicks back to a full workload. He was targeted 14 times, producing 75 yards on nine receptions.

Fresh from the Bye week, I expect to see Nicks active and dominating downfield in a Sunday night shootout. The Packers have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers (187.8 yards and 0.9 touchdowns per game). Eli Manning may still be goaded into a mistake or two by the aggressive schemes from Dom Capers, but he’s also going to have his chances for big plays against the injury-depleted back-seven.

Steve Smith at PHI
Smith rated a strong play against the Buccaneers in Week 11, but Tampa Bay did a fantastic job to prevent a repeat of his Week 1 performance. Smith logged five receptions for 61 yards on seven targets, his sixth game with at least 60 receiving yards this season. He’s a back-end WR2 option this week against the crumbling Eagles. Take the high target count and a chance on the big play.

Stevie Johnson at IND
The Bills generally trail in game, thereby prompting Ryan Fitzpatrick and the passing attack to operate in catch-up mode. While that may not be the case here, the Bills will certainly need to pass in an attempt to keep pace with Andrew Luck. Therefore, I’m calling on Johnson to continue his recent run of success (back-to-back games with 86 and 79 yards, respectively) and perhaps make a rare visit to the end zone.

The Colts have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. You can tag Donald Jones as a “sleeper” for this tilt as well.

Torrey Smith at SD
As expected, Smith was held in check by the Steelers in Week 11. He was limited to a single seven-yard reception on seven targets. This shutdown by Pittsburgh came after back-to-back games in which Smith hauled in touchdown receptions (three total) against the Browns and Raiders.

Despite Joe Flacco’s road woes, I’ll endorse Smith as a WR2 option here. The Chargers have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to wide receivers (149.8 yard and 1.5 touchdowns per game).

Cecil Shorts III vs. TEN
This “All-Name Team” member has become a fantasy start since the Jaguars’ Week 6 Bye. Shorts III has scored in three of his past five appearances, including two 100-yard games. He’s also registered a reception of at least 25 yards in eight of the Jaguars’ first 10 games.

Shorts III is on the board as a high-WR2 play this week against the generous Tennessee pass defense. Look for Chad Henne to work downfield early to open up the running game with Jalen Parmele.

Danario Alexander vs. BAL
Alexander has emerged as a go-to target for Philip Rivers since taking on a huge role in Week 9. He’s scored in back-to-back games (three total) while producing 15 receptions on 21 targets during this three-game stretch.

He’s on the fantasy board as a low-end WR2 this week despite the Ravens’ success against opposing passing games to date. Teammate Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates draw extra attention, thereby affording Alexander opportunities downfield in man-coverage.


Sidney Rice at MIA
Rice has scored in four of the Seahawks’ past five games. Granted, he’s topped 60 receiving yards only once during this period, but we’ve all seen what Rice can do to cornerbacks when healthy in the past.

The Dolphins have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to wide receivers (183.1 yards and one touchdown per game). I expect to see Russell Wilson and this offense push the ball downfield against the Miami secondary.

Justin Blackmon vs. TEN
Blackmon nearly doubled his season yardage total in last week’s breakout performance against the Texans, a 236-yard effort that included an 81-yard sprint to daylight. He’s in a strong spot this weekend against the Tennessee secondary. The Titans have allowed the 15th-most fantasy points to wide receivers (156 yards and one touchdown allowed per game).

The Jacksonville offense is interesting this week with Chad Henne under center. Henne is willing to take shots downfield, and that can obviously go either way. I suspect that he makes a couple of mistakes, but that a few highlight-worthy plays are in the offing as well.

Michael Crabtree at NO
Crabtree scored for the third straight game (four total) in the 49ers’ Week 11 drubbing of the Bears. He’s recorded three or more receptions in six consecutive games (9-of-10) and stands to pick up a big target count here against the porous New Orleans secondary. The Saints’ aggressive style will leave Crabtree in man-coverage downfield, and we’ve seen Colin Kaepernick make the throw (Kyle Williams last week). New Orleans has allowed the most fantasy points to wide receivers.

Brandon LaFell at PHI
LaFell shone in a strong spot last week against the Buccaneers. He caught five passes for 93 yards and scored his third touchdown of the season. I’m optimistic that LaFell follows that up in a big prime time spot against the slumping Eagles. The formerly highly-ranked unit has now allowed the 16th-most fantasy points to wide receivers. With Steve Smith drawing safety coverage over the top, I look for LaFell to draw another high target count (15 in the past two weeks).


Mike Wallace at CLE
There are myriad reasons to push Wallace from his normal lofty ranking slot this week. First, owners have to decide whether to roll the dice on Charlie Batch’s arm. Second, Wallace has eclipsed 66 receiving yards only once since Week 3, though he has scored three times. Third, he may be facing a man-to-man battle with Joe Haden, who looks to return from an oblique injury that sidelined him in Week 11.

Wallace rates as a back-end WR2 for me this week, as the speedster can change a game on a single snap.

Larry Fitzgerald vs. STL
Can Ryan Lindley get Fitzgerald the ball? In Week 11, Fitzgerald produced a single reception for 11 yards on seven targets, his third game with 52 receiving yards or fewer in his past four weeks. His high weekly target count (10.4 per game) keeps him in lineups, but I can’t recommend Fitzgerald as better than a high-end WR3 this week. The Rams have allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers, and I don’t like the individual matchup with Cortland Finnegan.

Dwayne Bowe vs. DEN
Bowe practiced on Thanksgiving Day, so he’s expected to get back on the field against the Chiefs. However, like Mike Wallace, he has several factors working against him in this spot.

First, Brady Quinn will be under center for Kansas City. Second, Bowe hasn’t scored since Week 4 and has produced more than 65 receiving yards once since that game against San Diego. Finally, Bowe draws Champ Bailey in man-coverage.

Mike Williams vs. ATL
Williams was made invisible in Week 11 by the Carolina pass defense. He corralled just three of his nine targets for 29 yards in the overtime loss. Williams had also been shut out by the Chargers in Week 10, producing two receptions for 64 yards.

The Falcons have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. I don’t dismiss Josh Freeman’s hot run in this huge divisional play, and Williams retains a WR3 ranking. I just caution you to temper your expectations.

Malcom Floyd vs. BAL
Floyd has been a solid but unspectacular option for Philip Rivers alongside emerging deep threat Danario Alexander. He did score in back-to-back weeks against the Chiefs and Buccaneers, but he’s not eclipsed 70 receiving yards since Week 5.

He slides behind Alexander and into WR3 territory against the Ravens. Baltimore has allowed the 11th-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bears, Browns, Packers, Colts, Chiefs, Rams, Giants, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Larry Fitzgerald, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Malcom Floyd, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith, Dwayne Bowe, Sidney Rice, Kyle Williams, Chad Henne, Stevie Johnson, Mike Wallace, Michael Crabtree, Hakeem Nicks, Brandon LaFell, Mike Williams, Danario Alexander, Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Cecil Shorts III, Ryan Lindley

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