Jacksonville QB Chad Henne continues to be a strong fantasy performer late in the season. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Every week during the NFL season, I field hundreds of start/sit questions from readers and radio listeners from all over the country. When doling out advice, I take into account matchups, opportunities, recent trends and health. When all things are pretty much equal, I use the player's talent as the tie-breaker.
This week, two players popped up a lot in the start/sit questions – Julio Jones, who was questionable because of an ankle injury, and Mike Wallace, who was questionable because Charlie Batch was throwing him the ball.
Ultimately, I wound up recommending both players quite a bit. Jones, who caught six passes for 147 yards and a score, lived up to the old adage that you should never bench your stars if they're active. Wallace, who caught one pass for seven yards, might have cost some teams a postseason berth.
Now more than ever, every point matters, and getting virtually nothing from a guy like Wallace can kill your season. But you still can't get too cute when making lineup decisions. Ask any owner who started someone like Darrius Heyward-Bey over Julio Jones – you don't want to lose with your best players on your bench. The Steelers threw for 199 yards and Wallace had seven targets -- the chances were there, it just didn't happen.
But Wallace owners almost certainly won't be taking any chances next week when Pittsburgh plays Baltimore, even if Ben Roethlisberger is back. I can't really blame them, but are Danario Alexander or T.Y. Hilton really any safer – or did they just randomly string together a couple good games in the previous two or three weeks?
Let's look at some other players who improved or hurt their stock at each offensive position in Week 12.
As much as fantasy owners love overthinking roster decisions, they also love mobile quarterbacks, and just Tim Tebow before him, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick is looking like a late-season waiver-wire add who will wind up starting in the fantasy playoffs – likely at the expense of someone like Matt Ryan or Matthew Stafford. Against New Orleans, Kaepernick posted at least 21.9 fantasy points for the second straight week, and even though it was a favorable matchup, it was still impressive to see him play well in his first road start in a noisy dome. He'll face the same task next week in St. Louis, but he has two nice matchups after that (vs. MIA, @NE). Kaepernick looks like the real deal, at least for fantasy owners.
However, as we mentioned last week, while other owners are getting caught up in Kaepernick-mania, another “new” quarterback, Chad Henne, might have just as much fantasy value. Henne has had at least 20.4 fantasy points in each of his past two games, and his upcoming schedule is very favorable (@BUF, vs. NYJ, @MIA, vs. NE). Obviously, Henne isn't as exciting as Kaepernick, but he's much more experienced and has seemed to develop a rapport with Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, both of whom have scored in each of their past two games.
Notable Riser: Eli Manning, Giants. In his previous four games, Manning put up a combined 27.6 fantasy points; on Sunday night against Green Bay, he posted 29.2 fantasy points. Manning admitted his arm felt tired before New York's bye, so apparently the rest did him good. Perhaps just as important, the rest seemed to do WR Hakeem Nicks some good. With Washington and New Orleans on deck – two of the top three teams in terms of fantasy points per game allowed to QBs -- Manning should get back to posting big numbers.
Notable Faller: Andrew Luck, Colts. Inevitably, Luck will be compared to Robert Griffin III, who's been doing an even better Superman impression the past couple weeks than Cam Newton did last year. Anyone would pale in comparison to Griffin, but Luck, though solid, hasn't really lighting it up compared to anyone lately. He's only once topped 18.9 fantasy points since Week 5 despite some very favorable matchups over the past three weeks (@JAC, @NE, vs. BUF). In general, Luck hasn't been as good on the road (6:14 TD-to-turnover ratio), and three of his next four games are away from Indianapolis (@DET, vs. TEN, @HOU, @KC).
All week, fantasy owners were preparing for Ronnie Hillman to take over in the Broncos' backfield. Then news came out that Lance Ball would be in the mix, as well. Then, Sunday morning, it was announced that Knowshon Moreno would be getting the start. When the game was over, Ball had no touches, Hillman had three (for nine yards) and Moreno had 24 (for 111 yards). It's not a shock that Moreno was involved, but it was surprising that he dominated the RB touches the way he did. After all, we know that coach John Fox likes to mix and match RBs, and Moreno has never had the reputation of an every-down back. Heading into next week's game, fantasy owners will be expecting big things out of Moreno, but don't be shocked if he sees fewer touches.
Somewhat similarly, owners expected Jalen Parmele to dominate the touches for the Jaguars this week, but he saw exactly half the carries of Rashad Jennings (16), who also plunged in a short touchdown. Parmele's lack of touches can be attributed to a leg injury that cost him playing time in the first half, but it's still a reminder that “backups” come with risks. At least Bryce Brown paid off despite two fumbles.
Notable Riser: Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants. Bradshaw's solid performance against the Packers (119 total yards, TD) was encouraging enough on its own, but the fact that backup RB Andre Brown broke his left fibula only enhances Bradshaw's value going forward. Brown, who had taken over as New York's goal-line back and scored in five straight games, will miss the remainder of the season, giving Bradshaw back his goal-line duties. Likewise, Frank Gore could see even more value in San Francisco if Kendall Hunter's left ankle injury proves serious. In Carolina, DeAngelo Williams would get more touches if Jonathan Stewart's ankle injury costs him playing time.
Notable Faller: Matt Forte, Bears. A right ankle injury cut short Forte's day against the Vikings, but even when he was healthy, Michael Bush poached two one-yard TD runs. Even if Forte is active next week, Bush will likely have more fantasy value. In other committee news, Fred Jackson is expected to continue seeing less playing time in Buffalo; Beanie Wells' recovery has made LaRod Stephens-Howling droppable; and the Saints and Steelers are still stay-away situations.
Two injuries and a suspension might have created some new WR3s in PPR leagues. Detroit's Ryan Broyles (6-126; 12 targets) took advantage of Titus Young's suspension, while Dallas' Cole Beasley (7-68; 13 targets) and Minnesota's Jairus Wright (7-49; 10 targets) benefited from Miles Austin's and Percy Harvin's injuries, respectively. You can't expect both the Lions and Cowboys to regularly throw over 60 times in a game, but Broyles and Beasley should still rack up targets as long as Young and Austin (hip, hamstring) are out. Likewise, Wright should continue getting targets as long as Harvin (ankle) is hobbled, though he doesn't benefit as much as TE Kyle Rudolph in terms of fantasy value. Broyles is really the one with standard-league value at this point, but PPR leaguers shouldn't sleep on any of these three players.
Notable Riser: Mohamed Sanu, Bengals. Fantasy owners might think Sanu is fool's gold since he only had 29 yards to go along with two TDs last week, but his nine targets say a lot about his expanding role in the Bengals' offense. With A.J. Green commanding double teams on virtually every play, Sanu should continue to see looks, especially around the goal line. He's now scored in three straight games. Consider him a less-explosive-but-equally-effective version of fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton, who benefits from lining up opposite Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis.
Notable Faller: James Jones, Packers. Jones didn't just fail to record a catch on Sunday -- he failed to get a single target. Jones has scored fewer than 7.9 fantasy points in four of his past five games, and with Jordy Nelson back and Greg Jennings (groin) expected to return this week, Jones is barely worth having on fantasy rosters at this point. Randall Cobb, who's had at least seven targets in each of his past five contests, remains a viable starting option.
Fifteen TE-eligible players scored last week, but chances are only four (Owen Daniels, Kyle Rudolph, Jermaine Gresham and Dustin Keller) were in fantasy lineups. It's been that kind of year for TEs, and as always, it's best to go with the guys getting the most targets. Jason Witten (15), Brandon Pettigrew (15) and Rob Housler (11) led the way last week, and the former two both rank in the top three for the season. Tony Gonzalez (No. 2), Jimmy Graham (4) Rob Gronkowski (5), Greg Olsen (6), Brandon Myers (T-7), Daniels (T-7), Brent Celek (9) and Heath Miller (10) round out the top 10.
Notable Riser: Dennis Pitta, Ravens. Pitta looked like an early-season find through Week 3, but he was virtually non-existent in Weeks 4-9. He bounced back, recording 67 yards and a TD in Week 10, and last week he scored again, hauling in six-of-nine targets. It's tough to completely rely on Pitta, as he has just one target in Week 11, but it looks like he could be more of a factor down the stretch.
Notable Faller: Antonio Gates, Chargers. Gates is doing his best to destroy the “always-start-your-stars” theory. He was targeted just twice last week, catching both passes for 13 yards. It marked the second straight week in which he had fewer than five targets and 18 yards. Still, with the TE position so volatile, it's tough to bench Gates. In Weeks 9 and 10, he posted at least 10.3 fantasy points, so he still has the potential to produce like a TE1.
Saints at Falcons
Stat to know: Jacquizz Rodgers has played more snaps than Michael Turner two weeks in a row, and he's also outproduced him by 54 total yards. Turner has a TD in each game, but Rodgers is just as good of a play this week against a Saints' defense allowing the second-most FPPG to RBs (23.9).
Stumbler: WR Lance Moore (Falcons allowing fourth-fewest FPPG to WRs).
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.