Giants RB David Wilson had a huge week last week and could be a factor again following a knee injury for Ahmad Bradshaw. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Fantasy owners tend to overthink things most weeks, but it gets worse this time of year. The difference? Owners who are still playing in mid-December usually have a bunch of good options to choose from; owners tinkering with their team in mid-October usually have a bunch of mediocre ones.
This makes sense, as owners who have been eliminated from the fantasy playoffs are no longer making pick-ups. That leaves just a handful of teams vying for free agents, which is why all the late-season breakout stars, like David Wilson or Danario Alexander, usually wind up on these teams.
Making decisions on these players comes down to a case-by-case basis. Wilson or Michael Turner? That's tough, but I'd take Wilson. Knowshon Moreno or Darren McFadden? Also tough, but I'd take Moreno. Wilson or Reggie Bush? Bush. Moreno or Alfred Morris? Morris. Wilson or Matt Forte? Forte. Forte or Moreno? Moreno. Forte or McFadden? McFadden. McFadden or Wilson? McFadden. Pretty soon they all start to blend together and you can't even remember who you liked the most to begin with.
Try to simplify things as much as possible. Upside is great, but stability is just as important. That was on display on Thursday night when the “old and boring” BenJarvus Green-Ellis outproduced the “young and exciting” Bryce Brown. Guys who get a lot of guaranteed touches should always be held in higher esteem, and then you can start figuring in matchups and other factors. Inevitably, you're probably going to leave some good players on your bench, but it's all about getting as many points as possible from your starters.
Here are some key numbers to know about every contest, plus a sleeper, stumbler, stud or injury concern to watch out for with a brief explanation why. Note that the "studs" are guys who are either better than most owners realize or established stars who owners might be foolishly thinking about sitting.
Vikings at Rams
Stat to know:
Sleeper: Rams D/ST (Rams rank second in D/ST fantasy points over the past four weeks; Vikings rank last in passing over that span).
Jaguars at Dolphins
Stat to know: The return of Cecil Shorts (concussion) should bolster the Jacksonville passing attack against a Dolphins' defense allowing the eighth-most passing yards per game (250.6). Both Shorts and Justin Blackmon are potential sleepers in a game in which Montell Owens and the Jags' running attack figures to sputter.
Stud: RB Reggie Bush (Averaging 10.3 fantasy points per game over his past three contests; Jaguars allowing second-most FPPG to RBs).
Redskins at Browns
Stat to know: All eyes will be on Robert Griffin III and his gimpy knee in pregame warm-ups. If he's inactive, it would make Pierre Garcon a risky play, even with a favorable matchup against a Browns' defense allowing the ninth-most FPPG to WRs (23.9). However, if Griffin plays, then start him and Garcon as you normally would.
Sleeper: WR Josh Gordon (Redskins allowing second-most FPPG to WRs).
Buccaneers at Saints
Stat to know: Expect plenty of passing in this one. The Saints and Bucs rank 30th and 32nd, respectively in pass defense, and when these teams met in Week 7, Drew Brees and Josh Freeman combined for 797 passing yards, seven TDs and no interceptions. Start both QBs and all the key receivers.
Stumbler: All New Orleans' RBs (Bucs allowing ninth-fewest FPPG to RBs).
Giants at Falcons
Stat to know: Ahmad Bradshaw's knee injury opens the door for more touches for David Wilson. Even if Bradshaw is active, Wilson is worth starting as a flex-back against a Falcons' defense allowing the eighth-most FPPG to RBs (19.6).
Stumbler: RB Michael Turner (Giants allowing eighth-fewest FPPG to RBs, including just five rushing TDs to RBs).
Colts at Texans
Stat to know: The Texans have allowed a league-high 35 pass plays of 25-plus yards. That's good news for Andrew Luck and even better news for T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery, who both make a living off big plays. Hilton has a little more upside in standard leagues, but Avery is the better play in PPR leagues, as he has 31 targets compared to 20 for Hilton over the past three games.
Sleeper: Texans D/ST (Colts tied for seventh-most FPPG allowed to D/STs; Luck has turned it over 17 times in six road games).
Packers at Bears
Stat to know: Over the past four weeks, the Bears' D/ST has averaged just under eight FPPG (tied for 20th). The Packers allow just 5.4 FPPG to D/STs (eighth fewest), and with Brian Urlacher (hamstring) once again out, the Bears are a low-percentage play.
Sleeper: Packers D/ST (Clay Matthews expected to return; Bears allowing seventh-most FPPG to D/STs).
Broncos at Ravens
Stat to know: Knowshon Moreno has had 20-plus carries in each of the past three games, and the Ravens are allowing the 10th-most FPPG to RBs (19). He's a safe start this week. Eric Decker is the riskiest player among Denver's regulars, but he's still a high-upside WR3 given Denver's offense.
Sleeper: TE Dennis Pitta (Broncos allowing second-most FPPG to TEs).
Seahawks vs. Bills (in Toronto)
Stat to know: Despite Seattle's 58-point explosion last week, Russell Wilson disappointed with just 11.1 fantasy points. Expect him to bounce back this week against a Bills' defense allowing the ninth-most FPPG to QBs (20.9). Prior to last week, Wilson put up at least 20.3 points in five straight games.
Stumbler: TE Scott Chandler (Seahawks allowing seventh-fewest FPPG to TEs).
Panthers at Chargers
Stat to know: Ryan Mathews has been a big disappointment this year, but with Ronnie Brown likely out because of a hamstring injury, Mathews will likely see more playing time on third downs. That should be enough to make him an RB2 against a Panthers' defense allowing the sixth-most FPPG to RBs (20.5).
Sleeper: Panthers D/ST (Chargers allowing sixth-most FPPG to D/STs).
Lions at Cardinals
Stat to know: The Cardinals haven't scored more than 19 points in a game since Week 4. No Arizona offensive player is worth starting in this one, including Larry Fitzgerald. Detroit's defense is a solid sleeper against fantasy's most generous offense to D/STs.
Stumbler: RB Joique Bell (Arizona allowing the second-fewest receiving yards per game to RBs).
Steelers at Cowboys
Stat to know: Dez Bryant is reportedly going to try to play through a fractured left index finger. It's unclear how this will affect his production, but the good news is that his route running and run-after-the-catch ability should not be hampered (assuming he can catch the ball, of course). Even in a tough matchup, Bryant should be started if active. He's averaged 18.4 FPPG over the past five weeks.
Stumbler: QB Tony Romo (Steelers allowing third-fewest FPPG to QBs).
Chiefs at Raiders
Stat to know: Carson Palmer has put up at least 20.7 fantasy points in five of his past six games. It isn't always pretty, but he's managed to get the job done for fantasy owners. That should be the case again this week against a Chiefs' defense allowing the sixth-most FPPG to QBs (22.1).
Sleeper: WR Jon Baldwin (Dwayne Bowe out; Raiders allowing the fifth-most FPPG to WRs).
49ers at Patriots
Stat to know: This is a tough matchup for Stevan Ridley and Frank Gore, as both opposing defenses rank in the bottom 11 in FPPG allowed to RBs. Still, both should be started. Ridley has scored in six straight games, and Gore has scored in four of his past five. Both backs also rank in the top 14 in offensive touches this season.
Stud: TE Vernon Davis (Patriots allowing third-most FPPG to TEs).
Jets at Titans
Stat to know: Kenny Britt looked "back" last week against Indianapolis, but this week he'll face off against CB Antonio Cromartie. The Jets haven't allowed a 90-yard receiver this year, and only four "No. 1 receivers" have scored against them. Consider Britt a risky boom-or-bust starting option.
Injury: RB Bilal Powell, toe (Expect Shonn Greene to dominate carries against Tennessee's 24th-ranked run defense).
Matt Lutovsky is a fantasy football writer for Sporting News' Fantasy Source. You can read more of his work on the Fantasy Source football homepage.