Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Ten key tips as the playoffs near
Julio Jones' ankle injury may scare some off, but he's active and must start
Unlike Denver's Ronnie Hillman, the Eagles' Bryce Brown will not be platooned
Starting Eli Manning remains a risk since the Packers' pass defense has improved
Ah, the holiday season, there's nothing more stressful: Family gatherings, recitals, shopping lines, angry patrons, clogged up traffic, maxed-out credit and year-end quotas to boot. And with the playoffs on the horizon, the pressure is on in your fantasy league.
It is fantasy crunch time and it is the worst time to skimp on setting your roster or looking for the last-minute competitive edge, even if half of your league has cashed in for the holidays.
A high-scoring Thanksgiving might have put you behind the eight ball, but SI.com's weekly Cheat Sheet gives you 10 ways to close the gap in this pivotal Week 12.
BURKE: Week 12 Actives, Inactives
1. Keeping up with the Jones
Ankle injuries can be debilitating, but there's an important fantasy rule of thumb that applies to your lineup decision on Julio Jones this week: Dance with the one that brought you.
Jones has helped you care about fantasy football into crunch time, so you have to play him, since he is active and starting. Even if he is limited, he will be a factor in the red zone in a pivotal division matchup against the Bucs.
And, lastly, a clincher in your decision-making process: The Bucs have the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL, allowing a league-worst 312.6 passing yards per game. The Bucs are also the third-worst team in fantasy against WRs, only the Saints and Redskins are worse.
With the prime matchup and Jones not 100 percent, you might consider Harry Douglas a sleeper as a third WR or flex.
2. Ride the Bronco, but which one?
The loss of Willis McGahee for the season (designated for return, perhaps for the AFC Championship weekend) isn't entirely devastating because the Broncos have backs that can get the job done. The problem is it will be a tag-team effort to replace the veteran.
Rookie Ronnie Hillman was supposed to take the early downs and work between the 20s, while bulldozer Lance Ball will work short yardage and goal line. But head coach John Fox has decided to start long forgotten Knowshon Moreno, who was healthy scratch the past two months.
All three are worth stashing down the stretch, with Moreno likely to lead the way in touches, because the Broncos weren't confident the slight-statured Hillman could carry the load. Ball might be the highest-scorer, though, because he figures to get the touchdowns -- at least the ones Peyton Manning doesn't throw into the end zone.
Since, none of the three will serve a feature-back role McGahee held down, there fantasy values will be limited. Moreno, Hillman and Ball represent more of emergence options on championship-caliber fantasy teams.
3. What can Brown do for you?
While Hillman is intriguing because of the potency of the Broncos offense, Bryce Brown is the new Week 12 RB starter who will have the biggest impact. LeSean McCoy (concussion) is still in Phase I of the NFL's head-injury protocol and has been ruled out, so the feature-back role goes to Brown against a Panthers defense that has struggled against the run all year.
It is lost on many fantasy neophytes, but Brown is a big-time talent at age 21 and 6-feet, 223 pounds. He was once the No. 1-rated RB recruit in the nation -- ahead of Alabama's Trent Richardson. Bouncing from Tennessee to K-State and managing just 104 carries for 476 yards and three TDs in college, Brown slipped into the seventh round in this past April's NFL Draft.
"My expectations are very high with Bryce Brown," Eagles offensive coordinator Morhinweg told the Delaware News Journal. "I would expect him to do very well."
Brown is "fast, strong, physical, and tough" and he won't be platooned like the backs in Denver. With McCoy out, Brown is a must-start in Week 12, and perhaps Week 13. Brown looks like a 100-yard, double-digit fantasy scorer in his first start.
The only trump card Hillman has on him is potential starting status the rest of the season.
4. Last, but not least, Parmele gets his chance
The third-most popular waiver pick-up among RBs this week, the Jags' Jalen Parmele, is the best short-term option. Even if the Jags are still a mystery offensively -- Chad Henne just cannot be that good can he? -- Parmele is likely to get the most touches and has in the most favorable matchup, no less.
The Titans are the third-worst team in fantasy against RBs to date, proving to be worse than only the Bills and Saints. The Jags are still a ground-and-pound team, despite their huge passing numbers they posted against the Texans a week ago.
The Texans passed the ball, because running the ball against the Texans elite run defense (No. 2 in fantasy versus RBs) is usually fruitless. Well, Parmele managed 80 yards last week, a total topped by only Chris Johnson against the Texans.
That's good company. The Titans matchup makes Parmele a must-start RB in all leagues immediately. He completely took over for Rashad Jennings in terms of touches and will hold that role until Maurice Jones-Drew returns (no sooner than Week 14).
5. Here's someone out of nowhere
OK, so Hillman, Brown and Parmele were the three most-added players in fantasy this week. You missed out. So here is somebody that almost nobody owns.
Meet Mohamed Sanu, owned in just six percent of CBSSports.com leagues and just two percent of Yahoo.com leagues. He's your surprise contributor this week.
Andrew Hawkins (knee) is doubtful to play against the Raiders, the ninth-worst team in fantasy against WRs. When Hawkins was out last week, Sanu played the same number of snaps as teammate A.J. Green, the No. 1 WR in fantasy this season.
Sanu, a rookie just now getting involved, also happens to have a two-game TD streak going and Andy Dalton has been on fire of late. A great matchup, a good talent, a streaking team and player available in just about every league imaginable: Sanu is an ideal emergency replacement for you.
6. Bench your Giant disappointment
Eli Manning started this season as an opening-night bum in a matchup he usually dominates (the Cowboys). He followed up the next month as an irresistible force, leading the NFL in passing, until the schedule (and his shoulder) stiffened in weeks 6-10.
We mention this because there are signs Manning is going to rebound for you in a crucial week for fantasy postseason positioning. Ignore the signs. They are smoke screens.
Manning is facing a Packers defense he lit up in Week 12 last season (347 yards and three TDs) and the playoffs (330 yards and three TDs). Like the Cowboys, he came into this season owning this matchup. Just like his performance against the 'Boys this season, his "ownership" of the Packers will end on Sunday.
You have to sit Manning and let him prove that he is healthy and productive again.
He says his shoulder feels better: "I think it definitely had a little bit more pop to it (Monday)," Manning told ProFootballTalk.com. "That's something, you take a week off and you definitely get a little bit more fire. It was coming out good."
But he also said it wasn't a problem in the first place. The Packers' defense has also improved against big pass plays, thanks in part to the play off second-round rookie Casey Hayward, who leads all rookies with five interceptions.
Expecting a Manning revival in crunch time is usually a good idea. Hoping it comes this week against the Packers is a bad idea. Don't start Manning and be wary of your production from Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and TE Martellus Bennett, who is closer to losing his job to PUP-list returnee Travis Beckum than starting for fantasy owners.
7. Wells is back, but not completely healthy
Beanie Wells (toe) is one of the few beneficiaries of the NFL's new Designated for Return IR. He's active again and will be working into his feature-back role with the Cardinals, albeit more slowly than we would like. La'Rod Stephens-Howling (questionable, ribs) will remain a factor in the passing game, which is noteworthy to owners in PPR leagues.
The Cardinals' backs are still potential impact fantasy options because the quarterback play is so unbelievably terrible right now. Rookie Ryan Lindley has taken over as a starter for struggling John Skelton. Who knew the Cardinals would be wishing they had Kevin Kolb healthy?
It is going to be a lot of ground-and-pound for a team that has lost six consecutive games. Wells will do the early down and goal-line work, while Stephens-Howling, coming off the best game of his career, will be the change-of-pace and third-down back.
Expect Wells to find the end zone with about 60 yards and LSH to prove flex-worthy in PPR formats with around six-plus receptions and 80 total yards.
8. Sit Percy Harvin and other Vikings
Harvin (ankle) is out against the Bears, so you will need to replace him in all lineups. That ankle is just too tender to play, particularly in such a tough matchup against potential defensive player of the year Charles Tillman.
If the matchup was more favorable we might suggest you consider Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright or Michael Jenkins. Wright seems to be the biggest beneficiary of Harvin's absence, having scored in Week 10 against the Lions. Use him if you're desperate, but you should not consider Christian Ponder or those other receivers.
Adrian Peterson and TE Kyle Rudolph, the No. 1 target in the passing game now, are the only Vikings offensive players to trust this week.
9. Sit Danny Amendola and all Rams
Amendola (doubtful, foot) has to be avoided this week. His replacement(s) probably have to be avoided, too. The Cardinals pass defense is just as tough as the Bears', if not tougher. The Cardinals are fourth in the NFL against the pass.
If you're stubborn or scraping the bottom of the barrel: Chris Givens was the biggest beneficiary of Amendola's absence before, Brandon Gibson is the other starter and Austin Pettis is likely to be the primary option in three-WR sets. Rookie Brian Quick, veteran Steve Smith and TE Lance Kendricks are just too far away from being fantasy viable.
Givens might be the only dark-horse option among Sam Bradford's targets. Steven Jackson is a fantasy starter, because he rates among the top 25 RBs still, but that Cardinals are also the eighth-best team in fantasy against RBs.
It sounds like a good week to trust the Cardinals D/ST as a streaming option, particularly at home.
10. Greg Jennings is too risky to play
Jennings is holding out hope to be cleared for the Sunday night matchup against the Giants, one of the most suspect secondaries in football, but you shouldn't play him in any leagues. The Packers just have too many other options in the passing game with the emergence of Randall Cobb, the return to health of Jordy Nelson and the revivals of James Jones and TE Jermichael Finley.
Jennings is more of a potential fantasy factor in Week 13 and beyond. It is time to pick him up in the 22 percent of Yahoo.com leagues in which he remains available.
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).