Fantasy Cheat Sheet: The 10 tips that will help you win in Week 11
Crowded situations make it best to avoid Saints and Steelers running backs
Carson Palmer and his receivers should rack up major points this weekend
The game-time decisions at receiver, running back and tight end to watch
Fantasy players deal with nuisances every week. This week, however, owners must deal with some real headaches. There are a slew of injured quarterbacks, but at least we know we need to replace those arms in our lineups. The myriad banged up receivers and running backs listed as "questionable," however, have us on our collective toes.
Will they play? Will they play well enough?
We provide you with the 10 pieces of last-minute advice you need to know in the Week 11 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet. Check back Sunday for updates.
1. Darren Sproles could further complicate New Orleans' running back picture.
Just when owners started to think they could actually play one Saints running back with confidence, Sproles had to go and return from a broken hand sooner than expected. That makes starting Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram or Pierre Thomas tough all over again.
The Raiders allowed Doug Martin to rush for 251 yards and four touchdowns in Week 9 and Reggie Bush to rush for 172 yards and two scores in Week 2, which helped make them the fifth-worst team in fantasy against running backs. Before Sproles began practicing this week, the revived Ivory and Ingram looked like potential fantasy starters given the favorable matchup.
Now, we have to sweat out what Sproles' possible return might mean for his fellow Saints.
The smartest course is to sit Sproles if he plays and go with the healthier backs as needed. It's too risky to put Sproles, who is officially questionable, in a fantasy lineup since he plays in a 4 p.m. game. We know Ivory and Ingram are healthy, and we know the Raiders are poor against opposing backs, so even if Sproles plays and cuts into their snaps, Ivory and Ingram stand a decent chance of making an impact on the ground. Sproles, meanwhile, is a bigger receiving threat than a rushing threat, and the Raiders have only allowed one back to surpass 35 receiving yards this year.
2. Sit your Steelers -- yes, all of them.
Pittsburgh's backfield has become a Cheat Sheet staple, but in the past few weeks we had some clarity because injuries and inactives limited the variables. Now, we have Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) returning, fellow backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer healthy and a backup quarterback going against the Ravens' defense. This equation features a lot of moving parts.
Expect Mendenhall to start and get a lot of work in the middle of the field on early downs. Redman will enter the game on third down and be the pass receiver in a dink-and-dunk attack with Byron Leftwich starting under center. Dwyer will spell Mendenhall every third series and as a change-of-pace back.
Against a Baltimore defense that ranks as the 11th-worst in fantasy versus running backs, you might be considering starting Mendenhall in standard leagues and using Redman as a flex option in deeper PPR formats. Save yourself the disappointment and avoid all of the Steelers' backs.
The Ravens will likely stack the box with eight and force Leftwich to throw. Remember, starting receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) is also still out and Mike Wallace and his curious case of the dropsies has been underperforming of late.
Heck, sit all of your Steelers. With Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, rib) out, there's too much uncertainty.
3. Carson Palmer is in line for another huge week.
With Darren McFadden (ankle) out again, Palmer will carry a heavy load against the worst defense in fantasy versus quarterbacks and receivers. The Raiders have put their running game in the hands of fullback Marcel Reece, who had just one carry for no yards prior to being the featured back last week.
The way the Raiders are calling plays, though, even Reece will get the bulk of his touches via Palmer and the passing game.
Palmer might drop back to pass 60 times in this game, if the Saints can avoid surrendering quick scores. Either way, he's headed for another week with 350-plus yards and multiple touchdowns, both of which he's managed four times.
4. Palmer won't be the only Raider to post big numbers.
Oakland's reliance on Palmer and the passing game should mean great numbers for his primary targets. Denarius Moore is going to crack season highs in receptions (five), yards (104) and touchdowns (one), especially since Darrius Heyward-Bey injured his hamstring in practice Wednesday.
With DHB a game-time decision, and likely on the wrong side, owners should also consider Derek Hagan and rookie Rod Streater as possible sleepers or salary cap league bargains. How about that for a tip? Consider starting two players available in every fantasy league there is.
Meanwhile tight end Brandon Myers, who is expected to play after a mild concussion last week, should be a frequent target along with Reece.
5. Don't be afraid to trust your Eagles.
The Saints aren't the only defense of which to take advantage this week. The Redskins are the second worst against quarterbacks and receivers, so even if the Eagles start rookie Nick Foles at quarterback, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and perhaps even Brent Celek could have big games.
When Foles took over for the concussed Michael Vick last week, he looked like a more decisive passer who wasn't afraid to take shots down field. Foles threw for 219 yards in just more than a half against a Dallas defense that ranks in the top five in fantasy against quarterbacks. It won't take much for Jackson and Maclin to have their best weeks of the season.
Even No. 3 receiver Riley Cooper, who caught a touchdown pass from Foles last week, might be a sleeper play as a flex in deeper leagues. Usual No. 3 Jason Avant (hamstring) is out, and backup quarterbacks famously tend to find the receivers they work with the most on the scout team before becoming starters.
6. Pierre Garçon's return is a mixed-bag.
The official return of Garcon (foot) is a good-news, bad-news thing for fantasy owners. It'll be good to see Robert Griffin III get his one legit weapon back on the field, but Garcon is going to have to play through pain.
What's more: We can't be sure how involved Garcon will be, which impacts how we evaluate Santana Moss, Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson and Logan Paulsen. Garcon's return slightly increases RGIII's value, but decreases all of those pass-catchers' worth. It's too hard to predict where the red-zone throws will go.
The Eagles have allowed the second-fewest receptions to receivers, so this would be a poor matchup for Moss and Co. even without the added uncertainty. Don't start any Redskins other than RGIII and running back Alfred Morris..
7. Don't let the Patriots fool you.
The Patriots love to leave everyone guessing by listing a slew of players as "questionable" on the injury report. While Aaron Hernandez (ankle) is reportedly going to go from questionable to inactive Sunday, there is a very good chance we'll see Wes Welker (ankle), Brandon Lloyd (knee) and Rob Gronkowski (hip) all go from questionable to starting.
The Pats all but revealed that by releasing veteran receiver Deion Branch on Saturday. If Tom Brady's primary targets really were in danger of missing the game, Branch would still be a Patriot.
Start Gronkowski, Welker and Lloyd with confidence, especially since the Colts are fifth-worst in fantasy against receivers. If you're thinking about a sleeper because all of these guys are seemingly "hurt," consider Julian Edelman or journeyman receiver Greg Salas as desperation options.
8. RB game-time decisions to watch:
Chargers' Ryan Mathews (neck): Mathews is a fantasy pain in the neck, literally. We expect him to play, but his history of injuries and mediocre production this season make it smarter to avoid him this week if possible. Ronnie Brown should be a PPR threat again this week.
Falcons' Michael Turner (groin): Turner, who is officially active, choked last week against the Saints, and now he's dealing with a sore groin that affected his practice time. Don't start him against a Cardinals defense that ranks in the top 10 in fantasy against running backs. Only the Bears, 49ers and Texans have allowed fewer touchdowns to backs.
Cowboys' DeMarco Murray (foot): He is officially inactive. The Cowboys didn't want to rush him back against a Browns team they can blow out without their lead back. Felix Jones isn't a great play in Murray's place, but this might be the last week Jones is worth owning.
9. WR game-time decisions to watch:
Lions' Calvin Johnson (knee): He has played through this the past two weeks, so there is no way he'll miss a crucial divisional game against the Packers. Keep him active in all leagues.
Falcons' Julio Jones (ankle): Jones missed practice this week after injuring his ankle last week, but is playing after giving it a rest. He came back in the game against the Saints, a sign he can play hurt, and he is one of the few players worth starting in all leagues even if he is less than 100 percent.
Jets' Jeremy Kerley (heel, hamstring): He's owned in a surprising number of leagues, but this is a weaponless Jets offense and Kerley isn't 100 percent. Avoid him.
Bengals' Andrew Hawkins (knee): He is officially inactive. Consider Mohamed Sanu a sleeper if you're desperate for an emergency fill-in.
10. TE game-time decisions to watch:
Texans' Owen Daniels (back): Daniels might have been limited in practice and was listed as questionable, but he is active and starting today. The Jags are the second-best team in fantasy against tight ends, but Daniels is still a top-12 option in fantasy this week.
Colts' Dwayne Allen (no injury): Allen isn't hurt, but we wanted to take this opportunity to advise you to play him against a Pats defense that is third-worst in fantasy versus tight ends.
Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. Track his weekly starts and sits every Thursday, his last-minute Cheat Sheet on Sunday mornings and his Fantasy Fast Forward on Sunday nights. You find also him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice or challenging him to a head-to-head fantasy game @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).
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