It’s fantasy stretch run time. Stuff the turkey, put it in the oven (or the deep fryer) and get to work on that team of yours. There are no holidays in fantasy football!
As noted previously, each position below will have a list of weekly “must starts” to go along with the usual recommendations. They’re players that warrant “no-think” fantasy status due to talent, workloads or both, regardless of opponent. The lists are subject to change, but additions and deletions will be made sparingly. Also, if a player is ever “removed until further notice,” it doesn’t mean you need to bench him; it just indicates that his status has become a week-to-week proposition that depends on the rest of your roster.
If you disagree with any of the selections, or want to offer some of your own, please post a comment at the bottom of the page. We’ll be here every Thursday until the end of your fantasy season.
Thursday games: The three Thanksgiving Day games are Patriots-Lions, Saints-Cowboys and Bengals-Jets. Make sure to set your lineups before you lapse into a tryptophan-fueled coma.
Start him: Shaun Hill, Lions
Nobody is suggesting that the Lions will beat the Patriots this week, though Thanksgiving is the season of miracles. Or is that Christmas? Anyway, the Lions pass more than any team in the NFL, and odds are that they’ll be behind by enough points in the second half that they’ll be trying to catch up fast. Hill has averaged 290 yards and thrown 11 touchdown passes in his six starts, while the Pats have allowed 289 yards per game through the air (31st in the league), so the ingredients are in place for him to put up some nice numbers again on Thursday afternoon. He’s one of fantasy football’s most underrated quarterbacks and – amazingly – is owned in just 10.6 percent of FoxSports.com leagues.
Also: Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck has a home date against the subpar Chiefs’ pass defense, and he’s averaged 350 yards passing over the last two weeks. He could be worth a try if you need a spot start … After starting slowly, Joe Flacco has thrown 11 touchdown passes against just one interception while averaging 263 yards passing over his last five games. This week’s matchup against the Bucs’ sixth-ranked pass defense is a tough one, but Flacco is the kind of signal caller you can start at just about any time. You don’t need to force him into your lineup, but you shouldn’t ever be afraid to play him, either.
Sit him: Jay Cutler, Bears
What’s with the Bears running more than throwing for three straight weeks? Has offensive coordinator Mike Martz been replaced by an evil Woody Hayes stunt double or something? In addition to the Bears’ recent play-calling tomfoolery, Cutler can be pickoff-prone, and this week he gets to face the Eagles, who lead the NFL with 19 interceptions. Have a seat on some fantasy benches, Jay.
Pick him up: Tony Romo, Cowboys
At this time of year, most free-agent fantasy quarterbacks not named Shaun Hill are available for good reason – they stink. Romo’s reason is that most people thought he was done for the year due to a broken clavicle, but he started throwing a little bit earlier this week. Various reports out of Dallas have Romo hoping to return anywhere between Weeks 14 and 16, so there’s a lot of uncertainty here. It’s a longshot that he’ll help you, but if you have a roster spot not doing anything, he might be worth a pickup. You never know.
Must starts (14): Adrian Peterson, Rashard Mendenhall, Arian Foster, Michael Turner, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Peyton Hillis, Ahmad Bradshaw, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles
Start him: Mike Tolbert, Chargers
We had Tolbert in this space last week, and with the Chargers reportedly “not optimistic” about rookie Ryan Mathews’ chances to play in Week 12, we’re doubling down on the 5’9”, 243-pound bowling ball. Tolbert is currently starting in just 31.1 percent of FoxSports.com leagues, but coming off 153 yards from scrimmage against the Broncos and heading into a matchup against the notoriously soft Colts’ run defense, he looks like a terrific play.
Sit him: Cedric Benson, Bengals
Three weeks ago, we had Benson as a “sit” against the Steelers, and he ran for only 54 yards, though he did score a lucky touchdown thanks to the Bengals getting the ball at the one-yard line after a pass interference call. Last week we pegged him as a “start” against the Bills, and he ran for 124 yards and a score. We think our Benson radar is pretty good, and due to his Thursday night matchup against the “J-E-T-S, JETS-JETS-JETS!,” he should sit for you. Rex Ryan’s defense has allowed just 90.3 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards a carry. That’s really good.
Also: Your patience in Bills RB Fred Jackson has finally paid off, as he’s been fantasy’s best back over the last two weeks, with 299 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns. However, he gets the Steelers on the road this week, and as we’ve said before, we don’t like starting running backs against the Steelers. If you have a solid alternative, sit Jackson down.
Pick him up: Maurice Morris, Lions
With rookie Jahvid Best expected to be either limited or inactive due to turf toe issues, Morris can be a decent short-term play. Even if the Pats open up a big lead this week, Morris’ pass-catching skills could get him 15 or 20 touches. Best is second among all running backs with 49 receptions, so the Lions won’t be shy about throwing it in Morris’ direction. Morris is available in more than 99 percent of FoxSports.com leagues, and should offer modest production until Best is ready to be the lead back again.
Also: Keiland Williams (owned in 13 percent of FoxSports.com leagues) looks to carry the Redskins’ load this week with Ryan Torain (hamstring) and Clinton Portis (groin) apparently out again … The Panthers’ Mike Goodson (14.8 percent owned) has broken the 100-yard barrier in two straight games. He’s no slouch … Chris Ivory (15.7 percent owned) of the Saints has had some ups and downs while backfield mates Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush have been injured, but Week 11 (99 rushing yards, TD) was definitely an “up.” Bush is due back this week, but with Thomas still out, Ivory should punish opposing tacklers for a little while longer. You probably don’t have four backs better than him.<</p>>
Must starts (16): (WR – 11) Miles Austin, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Terrell Owens, Roddy White, Brandon Lloyd, Greg Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, Stevie Johnson; (TE – 5) Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Zach Miller, Jacob Tamme
On thin ice: Austin and Witten, again. We’re giving them one more week to get Jon Kitna’s attention, and if they don’t, they’ll be expelled from no-brainer consideration.
Removed until further notice: Anquan Boldin, who just hasn’t been consistent enough to warrant no-think status; and Brandon Marshall, who is now both hurt AND unproductive. We should have gotten him out of here before this.
Injury watch: Giants’ WR Hakeem Nicks is expected to miss three weeks with a leg inury, so he’s off the list for now. Also, Gates (foot) is TBD for Week 12. If he’s active, start him.
Start him: Nate Burleson, Lions
Hey, it’s another Lion! And we think they’re going to lose! Since returning to the lineup six games ago for the pass-happy Motowners, Burleson has caught 35 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns. Hill has been throwing 45 passes per game, for crying out loud. You don’t think he’ll find Burleson at least five times this week? If you’re in a points-per-reception league, you’d be crazy to bench Burleson. Best-case scenario for all these Lions is a 28-0 halftime lead for the Pats, and Hill throwing until his arm falls off late in the game.
Also: In four games since returning from knee surgery, Arizona’s Steve Breaston has caught 20 passes for 365 yards, and been targeted 40 times. Any guy who’s that busy merits a start … Brian Hartline has been consistent for the Dolphins, catching either four or five passes in each of his last six games, and averaging 68 receiving yards over that span. With Marshall’s status up in the air, Hartline could be busier than usual against the (admittedly tough) Raiders’ pass defense … With the Giants now missing Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith due to injury, Mario Manningham is clearly the team’s top wideout. You’re starting him if you own him … right?
Sit him: Hines Ward, Steelers
Ward has 33 receptions for 403 yards in nine games, and he ranks 46th among wide receivers in targets. Why is he still starting in 56.2 percent of FOXSports.com leagues? You got us, and you should get Ward out of the lineup until he actually does something.
Pick him up: Ben Obomanu, Seahawks
Seattle’s top wideout, Mike Williams, is day-to-day with a sprained foot. Obomanu has been busy lately, with nine catches for 147 yards and a score in the last two weeks. If Williams is out, Obomanu’s workload could increase a bit more. He’s available in virtually all FoxSports.com leagues.
Also: Derek Hagan (0.2 percent owned) was a free agent two weeks ago. Now he’s starting for the Giants, and was targeted nine times by Eli Manning on Sunday night. Hard to argue with that … New England’s Deion Branch (26.2 percent owned) has caught seven passes in each of his last two games. He’s a decent PPR option.
Good luck in Week 12!
John Halpin writes his “Wide Write” fantasy football column every week during the NFL season for FoxNews.com. He also writes fantasy columns and early-morning blogs four days a week at FoxSports.com/fantasy, and co-hosts a daily fantasy podcast. You can receive more fantasy news and contact John by following him on Twitter (@jhalpin37), or e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.;