Fantasy Football Fast Forward: Stick with studs late in season
Andy Dalton has solidified himself as a must-start option late in the season
Knowshon Moreno suddenly has full grasp of Denver's starting RB spot
Palmer, Fitzpatrick, Locker should not be considered candidates to start
Despite this being a crucial stretch of the season, this wasn't a must-win Week 12 for most of us in fantasy. It was a must-learn session, though, provided by professor Julio Jones.
He taught us before the fantasy postseason to stick with your studs that have gotten you here.
Jones, who had been hobbled by an ankle injury in recent weeks, came through with six catches for 147 yards and a touchdown, lifting his Falcons to a key NFC South victory in Tampa Bay and myriad fantasy owners to a playoff berth. After last week's frustrating performance some might have considered benching Jones for a lesser talent in a better matchup.
Yeah, um, don't do that in fantasy crunch time.
We break down the rest of the lessons dealt our way in the first full week after the end of the byes. It is the Week 12 Fantasy Football Fast Forward:
Andy Dalton is getting lost a bit in the young-QB shuffle, but he is on a legit roll that has made him a must-start fantasy option in crunch time. Not only does he have the No. 1 WR in A.J. Green but he has also made Jermaine Gresham a must-start and rookie Mohamed Sanu an outstanding sleeper.
Sanu is going to be the most-added player in waivers this week, and rightly so. He is on a three-game scoring streak and has taken advantage of Andrew Hawkins' (knee) absence.
The Bengals' roll hasn't been limited to the passing game either. The defense has been among the top performers in fantasy and BenJarvus Green Ellis (19 carries for 129 yards and one TD) looks better than ever.
It will be an important trip to San Diego for the Bengals' playoff hopes and we should expect them to be nothing less than solid starters in fantasy in that one. Even if the Chargers show some life in their own push for a wild card, the Bengals offense should be up to the challenge in a potential shootout.
Jalen Parmele was one of the most-added RB in fantasy this week over Bryce Brown and Ronnie Hillman, who didn't even get the touches because Knowshon Moreno was announced as a starter Sunday morning. Parmele didn't last the week, though.
Parmele left with a leg injury, spent almost a full half on a stationary bike and the Jags were forced to go back to Rashad Jennings as their feature RB. Parmele gave some hope with a return late in the game, but he had to go right back out, limping off in the fourth quarter.
It opens up another opportunity for Jennings, one of the most-cut players of late. This is particularly noteworthy because we should expect a busy day for the Jags on the ground at Buffalo next week.
Consider going back to Jennings off waivers, maybe even in lieu of Parmele.
Unless you are a devoted follower of the SI.com Sunday Cheat Sheet or a fantasy news hound, you likely missed the late announcement the Broncos were going with Knowshon Moreno as their starter. It came as a surprise to everyone outside of the Broncos locker room.
Smallish rookie RB Ronnie Hillman wasn't going to be able to handle the workload and pass protection the way the veteran Moreno can, but watching Hillman have an even smaller impact behind Moreno than he did behind Willis McGahee (knee) was very disappointing. Hillman was limited to just three touches and short-yardage back Lance Ball went without any.
It makes Moreno the must-add in all fantasy leagues and Hillman and Ball mere handcuffs now. Of course, once you add Moreno this could all change right back.
Regardless of whether you win the Moreno bid off waivers, you might not want to start any Broncos back against a Buccaneers defense that came into Week 12 ranked No. 1 against the run.
Robert Griffin III, Redskins -- OK, so much for the rookie phenom slowing down in tougher matchups down the stretch. There aren't many tougher secondaries than the Cowboys and RGIII torched them. Consider him a fantasy crunch-time gem against the woeful Giants secondary next Monday night. Even if you cannot measure his go-to target with precision, RGIII has already proven to be one of the best in the game at using a number of weapons.
Matthew Stafford, Lions -- With Calvin Johnson fully functional again, Stafford is back among the must-start QBs in crunch time. He was a solid 441 yards and two TDs against a good Texans defense, so expect even better numbers against a less-capable Colts secondary.
Matt Schaub, Texans -- He wasn't as productive in the TD category, but another 300-plus-yard game makes him a solid option next week against the Titans suspect defense.
Andrew Luck, Colts -- That was a disappointing effort against a once-suspect Bills defense. A game in Detroit will make him a marginal fantasy starter next week. You should go with another QB in a more favorable matchup.
Josh Freeman, Buccaneers -- That was a disappointing no-TD performance that will make him a tough QB to start against a tough Broncos secondary in Denver next week.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers -- While he did enough to hold down the starting job over Alex Smith, Kaepernick did a poor job getting the ball to the 49ers best weapons: Michael Crabtree (3-26) and Vernon Davis (shut out). Those two are going to be risky plays at St. Louis next week.
Carson Palmer, Raiders -- The past two weeks should convince you: Palmer is no longer worth owning in fantasy. That was a pitiful performance for Palmer in his return to Cincy. Palmer's struggles make Denarius Moore (1-20-1) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (shut out) difficult to trust all over again.
Russell Wilson, Seahawks -- This was one of his better performances on the road, but you won't want to consider him a starter at Chicago next week. That makes Sidney Rice and Golden Tate difficult to trust, as well.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills -- If he cannot prove fantasy starter-worthy at Indy in climate-controlled conditions with one of his lead RBs limited, the likelihood of him helping fantasy owners down the stretch in the cold Buffalo weather is real low now. You can cut this fantasy backup QB now that the byes are over.
Chad Henne, Jaguars -- It wasn't quite a good enough performance to consider him a fantasy option in crunch time, but it was clearly enough to consider Justin Blackmon (5-62-1) and Cecil Shorts (4-105-1) starter-quality receivers. That matchup at Buffalo is a good one for the entire Jags offense.
Jake Locker, Titans -- No one is considering him among the fantasy starters right now, but his mediocre play makes Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright and TE Jared Cook all low-end starters against the Texans defense next week.
Eli Manning, Giants -- Boy did that bye week do him some good. He looked like his early season self (or postseason self), putting his slump and shoulder weakness in the rear-view mirror. Consider him a must-start against the Redskins next Monday night.
Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks -- This was a discouraging performance (19-46) not because of the opponent -- the Dolphins have an elite run defense -- but because it will make you think twice about starting Lynch in another tough matchup next week at Chicago. You might want to consider a lesser talent in a better matchup, especially if you need a victory.
Jamaal Charles, Chiefs -- A poor supporting cast is limiting his TD opportunities, but at least the Chiefs have done a better job getting the ball in the hands of their best playmaker. Charles (23-107) is a solid start in all leagues against the Panthers bottom-10 run defense next week.
Mikel LeShoure, Lions -- It wasn't a great performance, but scoring a rushing TD against the Texans defense has been one of the toughest things to do in fantasy this season. LeShoure is a must-start in that favorable Colts matchup coming up.
Steven Jackson, Rams -- The 139-yard effort against a good Cardinals run defense should give you at least some confidence to start him against the 49ers' elite run defense next week.
Darren Sproles, Saints -- He returned well enough to be a useful starter in PPR formats in crunch time. That is a solid matchup Thursday night against the Falcons. The great offenses should push the pace and make for a lot of Sproles targets.
Fred Jackson, Bills -- He was very limited against the Colts as C.J. Spiller was the bell cow and went over 100 yards. Another favorable matchup against the Jags at home in cold weather should help you stick with Jackson next week. Spiller will remain a must-start.
Michael Turner, Falcons -- A TD saved his mediocre day against the league's No. 1 run defense. He probably warrants staying active against the suspect Saints run defense Thursday night, but you have to be wary of the surging Jacquizz Rodgers, who outperformed Turner here. Expect the duo to split carries again on the short week, so Rodgers is a viable starter at RB or flex against the Saints, as well.
Reggie Bush, Dolphins -- His 87 rushing yards and a TD against an elite Seahawks run defense were one part surprising, one part dangerous. Bush had a limited impact in the Dolphins attack in recent losses and another elite run defense looms in the Patriots'. Bush won't be a great start in that matchup and the same goes for timeshare RB Daniel Thomas (9-60-1).
Beanie Wells, Cardinals -- Even with a terrible QB situation, Wells returned impressively with a pair of TDs. He is worth starting in all leagues next week against the Jets.
Vick Ballard, Colts -- While it is encouraging he is still getting the bulk of the touches over Donald Brown, a matchup at Detroit looks like a bad time to trust him in your fantasy lineup. Brown should be benched until he proves healthier and more productive, too.
Marcel Reece, Raiders -- He was solid in a tough matchup, particularly for PPR leagues, but he rates as more of a risk going forward. The Browns defense has been playing better against the run and Darren McFadden (ankle) stands a chance to return and relegate Reece to more of a receiver down the stretch.
Michael Bush, Bears -- A blowout of the Vikings helped Bush break back out with 60 yards and a pair of TDs. All that performance did in fantasy is make Matt Forte a one-week bust, though. Forte is the only viable starter among the two against an elite Seahawks run defense next week.
Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers -- Mendenhall was marginalized after a fumble, as were Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. It led to Chris Rainey getting the TD and the Steelers go from having three potential fantasy-worthy backs to four question marks. A return of Ben Roethlisberger might help next week, but the matchup with the Ravens makes all of the Steelers backs bad plays until one steps forward and takes charge.
Justin Forsett, Seahawks -- After his fluke 81-yard TD that wasn't overturned by replay because of a bone-headed red-flag, Forsett stands to be the most over-added player in fantasy this week. Sure, the Texans have a favorable matchup coming up against the Titans run defense, but Ben Tate (hamstring) might be able to take some practice time and game snaps from Forsett as Arian Foster's backup. Tate is still the handcuff to have down the stretch.
Shane Vereen, Patriots -- He is going to be another popular pick-up off waivers, but a tough Dolphins run defense looms and most of the touches still go to Stevan Ridley. Also, you might consider Vereen a candidate for goal-line TDs, but the Pats don't show their hand on what personnel they use deep in the red zone. It can be Ridley, Vereen or even Danny Woodhead, depending on the package they game plan. Ridley is the only must-start Pats back at Miami next week.
Bilal Powell, Jets -- He won't get more than time-share carries with Shonn Greene, but it is probably time to consider Powell the better fantasy option for his work in the red zone. Neither is a great option against the Cardinals run defense next Sunday.
Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants -- It was a productive return for Bradshaw, but the best news for his fantasy owners is a function of Andre Brown's misfortune. Brown will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken leg, according to reports, so Bradshaw will regain goal-line duties. As a handcuff and change of pace, first-round rookie David Wilson will get his best opportunity to impact the game. He is worth stashing in fantasy again, too. That Redskins run defense isn't bad, so only consider Bradshaw a starter in fantasy next week.
Dez Bryant, Cowboys -- He has kicked some of the negative plays and posted elite numbers of late. Consider him in the must-start category now, particularly with a matchup with the struggling Eagles coming up.
Pierre Garcon, Redskins -- They said he won't be 100 percent the rest of the season, but that performance sure makes him look like a 100 percent starter in fantasy down the stretch. A great matchup against the Giants secondary awaits. Get him active. Heck, even the ageless Santana Moss might be a must-start next week.
Miles Austin, Cowboys -- He needs an MRI on his hip and if he cannot play, you should look to Cole Beasley or Dwayne Harris as sleepers over Kevin Ogletree, who is still banged up himself. Beasley is more of a factor in PPR formats, because he seemingly took the targets in the game plan for Austin.
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals -- While rookie Ryan Lindley managed to go over 300 yards, just 31 of them went to the lead man. It doesn't bode well for you starting Fitzgerald outside of deeper leagues in the fantasy postseason. You have to hope for, gasp, a Kevin Kolb return.
Torrey Smith, Ravens -- He isn't a certainty against a tough Steelers secondary next week, but his performance here (7-144) should keep him among the top-25 options at his position, regardless of the matchup.
Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs -- Brady Quinn was mostly inept, which makes Bowe something less than a fantasy starter right now. Don't use Bowe, if you can help it, in the crucial weeks ahead.
Mike Wallace, Steelers -- He sorely needs a return of Big Ben next week. Charlie Batch was complete inept at getting the ball down field, save for some passes to Emmanuel Sanders. You cannot trust any Steeler until Big Ben returns and even then, you might want him to prove healthy, since the Ravens are next on the schedule.
Justin Blackmon, Jaguars -- Henne can get the ball down field, which has helped Blackmon join Cecil Shorts as fantasy-worthy starters. Consider getting both active at Buffalo next Sunday.
Danario Alexander, Chargers -- While Malcolm Floyd got the TD, Alexander led the way in receptions and yards. Consider him a viable starter in all leagues, even if the Bengals secondary is hot and next up on the schedule.
Davone Bess, Dolphins -- Brian Hartline is still Ryan Tannehill's No. 1 WR to have in fantasy, but Bess was impressive here (7-129) and gets to face the Pats' shaky pass defense next week. At the very least, there should be garbage time for Tannehill, Bess and Hartline in a game that could get out of hand quickly.
T.Y. Hilton, Colts -- He caught only three passes for 33 yards, but one went for a TD and he has put some distance between himself and Donnie Avery. Consider Hilton a potential flex sleeper in what could prove to be a shootout with Stafford and the Lions next week.
Chris Givens, Rams -- With Danny Amendola (foot) not 100 percent, Givens enjoyed a breakthrough in lieu of Brandon Gibson, who should no longer be owned in fantasy. The Jets aren't a favorable matchup for Givens to start, but his performance here (5-115-1) makes him absolutely worth stashing for potential rewards down the stretch.
Greg Little, Browns -- You weren't going to trust him against the Steelers defense, but the fact Josh Gordon (4-60) outperformed him is noteworthy for future weeks. Gordon has to be considered the choice between the two.
Mike Williams, Buccaneers -- His hot start to the season has gone by the wayside. It is beyond time to bench him for a more promising option, particularly when he travels to Denver to face a strong Broncos secondary next week. Vincent Jackson is the only sure fantasy WR to start among the Bucs' options.
Ryan Broyles, Lions -- The team-imposed suspension of Titus Young will be lifted, but Broyles did enough to be owned in fantasy leagues now. Consider him a sleeper in deeper leagues, especially if Young slips down the depth chart to No. 3.
Jarius Wright, Vikings -- He has been productive of late and is a sleeper if Percy Harvin (ankle) remains out next week against the Packers.
Jeremy Kerley, Jets -- He had another solid game against the Pats secondary, but the Cardinals are considerably tougher on WRs, so don't consider him more than a desperation option next week. The same goes for Chaz Schilens and the now nearly invisible rookie WR Stephen Hill.
Donald Jones, Bills -- After a few weeks as a sleeper, his production has declined. He doesn't warrant owning post-bye weeks.
Hakeem Nicks, Giants -- He says he is as healthy as he has felt all season and his performance backed it up. Consider him and Victor Cruz must-start WRs against the Redskins' suspect secondary.
Jason Witten, Cowboys -- He has been hot in recent weeks and the Cowboys' lack of a running game makes him a must-start TE down the stretch.
Owen Daniels, Texans -- He scored and has proven healthy again. Consider him among the must-start TEs in all leagues.
Aaron Hernandez, Patriots -- It wasn't a great performance, but he just missed a TD and should still be considered one of the elite TEs to use in fantasy crunch time. That ankle will get better every week and the targets will be going to him more and more as we move on.
Kyle Rudolph, Vikings -- The absence of Harvin (ankle) has made Rudolph the top target for Christian Ponder. Consider Rudolph a must-start at Green Bay next week if Harvin is ruled out again.
Antonio Gates, Chargers -- His putrid production (2-13) makes him difficult to trust as an every-week starter now. You are justified going with a flavor of the week at the position.
Brandon Pettigrew, Lions -- He had a solid game, but a key drop and a costly OT fumble might lead to him getting less targets going forward. Be wary of him if you have a decent TE alternative in crunch time.
Dustin Keller, Jets -- His late TD gives him a chance to help fantasy owners down the stretch, especially with Mark Sanchez expected to target his TE more against a very good Cardinals secondary that shuts down outside receivers.
Dwayne Allen, Colts -- Coby Fleener might not affect Allen down the stretch much, but Allen has proven just below fantasy-starter-quality in crunch time.
Scott Chandler, Bills -- Along with most of the Bills receivers, his production has left him incapable of proving starter-worthy. You don't need to own Chandler any longer.
Joel Dreessen, Broncos -- Watching Jacob Tamme (4-48-1) outperform Dreessen tells us all we need to know about Peyton Manning's TEs. You cannot be sure who is going to emerge as the best fantasy option week to week.
Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars -- Perhaps his disappearance the past couple of years is a function of bad QB play. Henne has made Lewis more of a factor. Consider the Jags TE a sleeper in deeper formats for as long as Henne rolls.
Charles Clay, Dolphins -- Assuming it isn't announced he will start at TE over Anthony Fasano, you should not consider adding Clay in any leagues. Chalk his performance here (6-84-1) up to a fluke.
Rian Lindell, Bills -- He has proven to be closer to fantasy-starter-worthy of late and the combination of the Bills running game and a favorable schedule can make him an emergency fill-in next week, if you stream your kicker.
Houston Texans -- They have had some bad performances in recent weeks, but stick with them. The matchup against the Titans next week is not all that imposing.
Seattle Seahawks -- It might be time to look elsewhere for a defense in fantasy crunch time. Not only was that a poor effort against a weak Dolphins offense, but the Bears road game is up next and both starting corners reportedly are appealing a suspension in the league's substance-abuse policy. This comes at a bad time for the Seahawks D/ST's owners.
Dallas Cowboys -- That was an embarrassing performance Thanksgiving, but the Eagles matchup is a far more favorable one, particularly if rookie Nick Foles starts in place of Michael Vick (concussion). The Eagles are the worst team in fantasy versus opposing D/STs.
New England Patriots -- They have been proving steadily better against the pass and are a decent streaming option against struggling rookie QB Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins. The Pats should do a good job at making the Dolphins one-dimensional and getting after the rookie with the blitz.
New York Jets -- If you have streamed your defenses all year, the Jets are an option against the poorly quarterbacked Cardinals next week. They are certainly available after that shellacking at the hands of the Pats.
Arizona Cardinals -- Barring a surprising return of Kevin Kolb, this unit looks unworthy to start in fantasy crunch time now. They should have been able to hold up against the struggling Rams, but bad QB play put them in a tough spot to help fantasy owners. The game at the Jets looks intriguing, perhaps, but you're probably better off trusting a unit from a contending team that has a useful QB.
New York Giants -- That was an impressive performance against one of the toughest offenses in football. Next up is Robert Griffin III in a dangerous matchup Monday night in Washington, but the Giants rush did a decent job on the rookie in their last meeting. The Giants defense is worth picking up again. If they can stop veteran Aaron Rodgers, you might get a chance they can frustrate a rookie QB again.
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).