Thanksgiving football is finally here with a whopping three games on Turkey Day. With the fantasy playoffs right around the corner this will be the make or break weekend for most of you- so pay attention, make the necessary roster moves, and make it count. It's a long way to go until next August, so stay alive by any means necessary, and our exhaustive game-by-game breakdown is just the tool you need. As always, check back Sunday morning for the injury report.
Source: Eric Peterson/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Ben Roethlisberger is out.
Steve Smith and Kurt Warner are listed as questionable and may not play. Warner has played over 40 straight games, and has said he expects to play.
Cedric Benson is listed as inactive.
Julius Jones will not play.
Start – There’s nothing like sitting down with the family, busting out the cranberry sauce that drunk Uncle Teddy managed to not to knock over this year, and watching the Detroit Lions make fans rue the day the NFL decided they were mandatory Thanksgiving mainstays. They have the league’s worst scoring defense, an injury-riddled line-up, and are about to get lit up by Aaron Rodgers (seven total touchdowns in his last three games), Ryan Grant (129 yards against a solid 49ers defense last week), and the team's top two receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. If Brady Quinn can put up four touchdowns, the only thing Rodgers is going to struggle with in this game is holding a straight face while claiming “This is going to be a tough matchup” in the pregame interview. Both tight ends in this one, Brandon Pettigrew and Jermichael Finley, are nice options. Green Bay's defense should also put some points on the table.
Sit – Matthew Stafford is a hero in Detroit this week after doubling the team's win total last week with an impressive, well… win, anyways, over the Browns. Unfortunately he, along with Calvin Johnson will be reliving the glory from the bench this Turkey Day with injuries. Bad news for Kevin Smith, who had a huge game last week (again, against the Browns). The Packers will stack the line and stop him. This one smells like a blowout, and taking Daunte Culpepper or Bryant Johnson is more than a tad risky.
Start – Is there anything better than a Jerry Jones vs. Al Davis showdown? You can almost smell the overindulgent senility through the television. If Jones wants to invite America into his brand new $1.4 billion government-subsidized home for a victory this Thursday, he’s going to need Tony Romo, Miles Austin, and Marion Barber to take advantage of Oakland’s 24th-ranked defense. All of them have favorable match-ups and should do very well on national television--especially Barber. Patrick Crayton is worth a flex or third wide receiver start and Zach Miller is a good pick for a mildly resurgent Raiders’ offense. Jason Witten is listed as questionable and may not play for the first time in a while. Check the inactives list just before kickoff and have a backup plan at the ready. But as of now keep him in the lineup.
Sit – JaMarcus Russell is already on the Rex Grossman train-to-nowhere, but Bruce Gradkowski isn’t that much better for fantasy. Against a Cowboys scoring defense that has looked solid lately, he and Louis Murphy should struggle along with a running game that boasts not one viable fantasy option. In “Big D” Felix Jones simply doesn’t receive enough carries to justify a start. Only 10 last week? Not exactly a shot to shine.
Start – What looked like a potential Super Bowl preview in week six has suddenly become a “one of you will not make the playoffs” battle in November. Eli Manning finally got back on track last week with a 384-yard, three touchdown game thanks to a balanced passing attack with Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Kevin Boss (who all have at least four touchdowns through 10 games) and will match up against a Broncos defense that has gotten worse each week and is coming off of a game in which they let the San Diego Chargers dominate their secondary. With the amount of injuries around the NFL it’s difficult to not start Brandon Marshall, but expect decent – not spectacular – numbers with Kyle Orton still hurting. Knowshon Moreno has collected over 175 yards in the past couple weeks, but still struggles to get in the end zone. He had eight yards per carry last Sunday, and given the Broncos’ questionable passing game he should shoulder a huge load this week provided he's not in the dog house for fumbling at the goal line last week. Give him the flex start and pray he gets in the end zone.
Sit – At this point it’s unclear if Brandon Jacobs will play, and with the way Ahmad Bradshaw (questionable with an ankle injury) has struggled lately, Tom Coughlin will likely try to air it out.
Start - Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans don’t have much to be thankful for this holiday season (except warm weather, hot women, and Chris Hovan), but they do have a bright future. Unfortunately, it’s a distant future as evident by the 38-7 shellacking the Saints laid on them last week. Roddy White (expected to play), and Tony Gonzalez were paying attention and should be able to replicate the same success at home for a second straight 30-point performance. Kellen Winslow is still a soldier and has 15 receptions in his last three games. He's become one of the premiere fantasy tight ends this season. Jason Snelling stepped in for the injured Michael Turner last week and had a huge fantasy day. If he gets the nod again the numbers should be double against the Bucs.
Sit – Michael Turner is likely still out, Jerious Norwood is likely still banged up, and Michael Jenkins is likely still on the team (for now). Josh Freeman has two touchdowns and four interceptions in his past two starts and with Antonio Bryant still hurt he shouldn’t fare much better. Neither Cadillac Williams nor Derrick Ward is a threat to break 50 yards. Matt Ryan is likely out.
Start – As a Canadian who owned Calgary Stampeders season tickets for years I like to think that Buffalo’s recent misfortunes are a result of the way they treated Doug Flutie in the late '90s. I mean, seriously Rob f*****g Johnson? This misfortune should escalate this week when Ricky Williams (three touchdowns last week) faces the NFL’s second worst rush defense. Davone Bess seems to be snagging five receptions per game, so keep him active in point per reception leagues as a flex start. Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the start again with the new regime in place, which should mean good things for Lee Evans, who thrived with Fitz at QB. He makes an interesting desparation play.
Sit – The Miami passing game, much like everyone else in Florida, has essentially retired this season. Ted Ginn, Jr. and Chad Henne have basically starting collecting pension on the sidelines. In Buffalo, if Terrell Owens has another good game against Miami’s improving pass defense it will be nothing short of a miracle that he will no doubt cry about in a dramatic post-game interview that may or may not be part of a reality show. Marshawn Lynch (banged up and questionable) and Fred Jackson haven’t broken 50 yards in over a month.
Start – Honestly, this game could go either way. Offensive shootout, defensive ineptitude, fan suicide – who knows? But statistically speaking the odds favor a Bengals blowout win. The Browns have the NFL’s worst defense and Carson Palmer should put up the five touchdowns Matthew Stafford did last week. Maybe eight or nine, even? Okay – probably three, but that’s still good. Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles should see the bulk of that action with Andre Caldwell in the dog house after last week’s game. Cedric Benson is still on the fence, but if his day-to-day injury gets better he is a must start. If he doesn't go, then grab Bernard Scott who should have another nice fantasy day against the hapless Browns rush defense.
Sit – Jamal Lewis still can’t find the end zone and needed 25 carries against the Lions to break 75 yards. Along with a receiving core that doesn’t have one player with multiple touchdowns this season, this will be a “back down to earth day" for the Browns. And if you are considering starting Brady Quinn after one good week against the Lions, clearly you are already eliminated from your league’s fantasy playoffs and this column won’t help you much, sir.
Start – Matt Hasselbeck hasn’t exactly looked like the Pro Bowl quarterback many of us penciled him in as after a night of excessive drinking, but against the Rams' pitiful defense he should have one of his better weeks. He put up three touchdowns last time these two teams played which means Nate Burleson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and John Carlson should benefit. Steven Jackson is a 100-yard machine and will once again be the focal point of this offense, especially with Marc Bulger out this week with yet another injury. That also means that Jackson will not have one of his stellar days.
Sit - Remember that horrifically homophobic Miss America contestant who managed to make Larry King look like a sharp, witty journalist? Well, her boyfriend, Kyle Boller, is starting for the Rams this week directly against respected hatemonger Elisabeth Hasselbeck’s brother-in-law in the stadium that Rush Limbaugh tried to buy. As previously stated, the early line has human decency and gay rights as a 35 point underdog. Julius Jones isn’t dating anyone with Donald Trump’s cell phone number, but he’s still hurt and struggling to break 40 yards every week. With Bulger on the bench, don't even think about starting any of the Rams wideouts.
Start – Is it possible that the Carolina Panthers are becoming a playoff threat? No...no, it isn’t, but star running back DeAngelo Williams is becoming a bona fide fantasy stud thanks to his sixth straight 100 all-purpose yard performance last week. Now if we could just convince the coaching staff to stop sending in Jonathan Stewart to vulture his TDs. He and Steve Smith (the other guy on the Panthers offense talented enough to play on a real team) will carry the load once again when they play a Jets team right in the middle of a second-half collapse. The only player earning his game check on that squad is Thomas Jones (over 600 yards in his last five games), who should have a nice day against the Panthers’ 26th-ranked rush defense. Jonathan Stewart is worth a flex start, but not much more given his inconsistency. I'm sure we're not the only fantasy owners who absolutely hate this guy for a number of reasons.
Sit – Against the Panthers’ top six pass defense don’t expect Mark Sanchez, who is battling an addiction to interceptions, to do too much fantasy damage. He, Jerricho Cotchery and a guy who is dropping balls like he’s back in Cleveland (Braylon Edwards) are due for bad days. Just like Jake Delhomme – who still has just one multiple touchdown day all year - and it's the end of November.
Start – While Brian Westbrook is nursing what may be the end of his career, LeSean McCoy has picked up the slack and looked like a veteran running back at just 21 years old. Against Washington’s 25th-ranked rush defense, McCoy should carry the offensive load for the Eagles with DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek (both of whom have looked very good the last two weeks) helping out.
Sit – The Redskins have the top pass defense in the NFL and last time they faced off against Donovan McNabb they held him to under 165 yards. In Washington, with Clinton Portis probably out and Ladell Betts out for the season, Rock Cartwright (the greatest porn star name in the NFL) will get the start. Don’t expect much from him or Jason Campbell, Santana Moss or the Redskins offensive line that refuses to protect them.
Start – Peyton Manning needs a big day to stay on pace to challenge Dan Marino’s single season passing yard record, which shouldn’t be a problem against a Texans team that he threw for 318 of yards against less than a month ago. He and Reggie Wayne should have a nice bounceback game after the debacle in Baltimore, and with the help of Pierre Garcon (14 catches in his last three games and 108 yards last week), the Colts passing game should continue to thrive. Dallas Clark struggled big time last week with just one catch, but it’s difficult to sit someone with such breakout potential against a mediocre pass defense. Joseph Adai has touchdowns in six of his last seven games and is an integral part of the Colts' offense once again. On the other side of the ball, Matt Schaub threw for over 300 yards last time he faced the Colts defense and will use Andre Johnson to exploit an Indianapolis team that is susceptible to big plays.
Sit – Austin Collie seems to have fallen behind Garcon on the target list while fellow rookie Donald Brown has struggled to get carries. Kevin Walter isn’t playing with enough consistency to start and while Steve Slaton got his full time gig back, he's only worth a flex start here against the Colts' stout rush defense.
Start – Don’t let their “I swear to God Pittsburgh had money on the game” win over the Steelers last week fool you. This is the same Chiefs team that lost 37-7 to the Chargers a few weeks back thanks to Phillip Rivers' three touchdown passes, one of which was to fantasy stud Vincent Jackson. The Steelers had a huge fantasy day against them and the Chargers will do the same. Now that Antonio Gates and LaDanian Tomlinson are both healthy, the red hot Chargers may put 40 points up against the NFL’s 25th-best scoring defense. Chiefs’ wide receiver Chris Chambers will be looking to show up his old team and build upon his three straight impressive fantasy performances, which includes a 100-plus yard day against the Steelers.
Sit – Matt Cassel struggled against the Chargers last time with three interceptions and fewer yards than most running backs that week. He’s bound to do a little bit better in round two, but not well enough to warrant a fantasy start. He and the Jamaal Charles-led rushing attack will struggle against a suddenly dominant Chargers defense. It’s just unfortunate that poor little Darren Sproles will have to watch it from the sideline he seems to be relegated to. Less than 10 touches per game doesn’t put fantasy points on the board.
Start – Can you believe Alex Smith has been in the league for just five years? He must have the hate mail of a grizzled veteran by now. With four losses in his last five starts he’s clearly not a winner, but against Jacksonville’s 25th-ranked pass defense he’s a decent fantasy option in a pinch. He’s coming off of a three-touchdown day against the Packers thanks to his stud tight end Vernon Davis and touchdown vulture Frank Gore. Believe it or not, the Niners offense isn’t horrible! If only the same could be said for their pass defense. As one of the worst in the NFL it seems likely that they will surrender some serious points to David Garrard, Mike Sims-Walker, and a recently hot Marcedes Lewis. As always Maurice Jones-Drew is a start thanks to five straight weeks with a touchdown.
Sit – Torry Holt has yet to find the end zone all season and the Josh Morgan-Michael Crabtree receiving duo hasn’t quite hit its consistent stride yet in the Bay.
Start – Who knew that a mentally unstable quarterback, middle-finger waving owner, and coach sporting a Peyton Manning jersey as a tragic joke could turn this thing around for the Titans. Sure, Chris Johnson’s five straight games with 125 yards may have helped, but it’s probably mostly the middle finger thing. The Cardinals will try to counter Johnson by exploiting the NFL’s second worst pass defense with Kurt Warner (expected to play), Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston (who burned owners last week with a goose egg just when they became confident enough to start him. Tim Hightower is a nice start at the flex position after his 100 yard day in St. Louis, while Beanie Wells has three straight games with at least 70 yards. There should be enough points to go around to make them both worth flex starts.
Sit – Vince Young and his young receivers have looked great lately, but will struggle against the Cardinals’ top 10 pass defense that also ranks fourth in the NFC in points allowed.
Start – Adrian Peterson looked average last Sunday with 98 total yards. It’s almost like he’s trying to prove how much better he is than everybody else (including the Bears’ 23rd-ranked rush defense). And speaking of trying to prove how great he is, Brett Favre has looked incredible lately with four touchdown passes in two of his last three starts. Visanthe Shiancoe and Sidney Rice have both become top targets while Percy Harvin is always a deep threat worth five receptions per game. Devin Hester and Greg Olsen are the only consistent threats on a Bears offense that is going in the wrong direction. They have combined for nine touchdowns this year and are double digit fantasy point players because of how often they are targeted. It's tough when your QB is giving the ball away so much.
Sit – Matt Forte has struggled to run the ball all year, and now that teams have discovered how to stop him from catching screen passes he’s becoming less and less effective as the season progresses. Jay Cutler sucks. (If you need elaboration - he has one touchdown and six interceptions in his last two games.) Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox are far too inconsistent to start at this point with a struggling quarterback that has completely lost the faith of his fans.
Start – Sunday Night Football continues to boast the best games of the week, as the Ravens try to avenge their devastating loss to the Colts against the rival Steelers. Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Heath Miller have become one of the top trios in the entire NFL and will continue to thrive against a mediocre Ravens pass defense. They may not get on the field as much thanks to the suddenly Pro Bowl caliber Ray Rice, who is becoming a must-start every week.
Sit – Against the Ravens’ top five rush defense, Rashard Mendenhall will struggle a little bit as he no doubt remembers Ray Lewis shattering his shoulder last year after he decided to talk smack, while Joe Flacco (and his three straight weeks without a touchdown) won’t fare much better. Todd Heap is hurt and has essentially been taken out of the Ravens attack while Derrick Mason is one of those players that drives owners crazy with his feast or famine performances. Stay away from him if you can. Mike Wallace simply is the odd man out in Pittsburgh and is far too inconsistent to start when everything is on the line. Ben Roethlisberger has not been cleared to play.
Start – This potential Super Bowl match-up is also a fantasy gold mine thanks to the quarterbacks running each offense. Drew Brees and Tom Brady are both playing excellent football right now and are playing particularly well in close games. The only receivers playing better than the Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, Robert Meachem core is the Randy Moss-Wes Welker connection in New England. Both of these teams are capable of scoring 35 points, and there’s no reason the passing game won’t serve as the catalyst to do so. in the weather-free dome. The Saints will also have Pierre Thomas (100 yards last week) and Mike Bell (75 yards last Sunday) to help out. Speaking of TD vultures, Mike Bell is probably the worst offender, and is only worth a start in touchdown leagues.
Sit – With Sammy Morris potentially coming back, Laurence Maroney will see his carries cut quite a bit, while Ben Watson remains wildly inconsistent. Reggie Bush is still hurt and Devery Henderson is on a nine-week touchdown drought.