Before Colin McCarthy's big game in week eleven, no linebacker had reached double digit fantasy points against the Colts since week four. It is hard to think about sitting guys like Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby, but do not overlook the fact neither of those guys exceeded 5 solo stops or reached 10 fantasy points in last week's poor matchup. Both players will contribute this week but unless they can break into the big play columns, they are unlikely to give us better than LB3 production.
Likewise, the safety position has not produced big fantasy points with the Colts matchup over the past several weeks, but safeties have fared a little better in general. We know Indianapolis is going to throw the ball often and Coby Fleener is stepping up to fill the void left by the Reggie Wayne injury. That should mean plenty of opportunity for Tyrann Mathieu and Yeremiah Bell. That said, Bell has been hit or miss for the most part. strangely he seems to hit better on matchups that look less than favorable on paper. Mathieu is a must start and I would not be afraid to go with Bell either. I could see him drawing a lot of the coverage on Fleener.
Heading into week eleven we were wondering what the Falcons would look like at linebacker with the return of Sean Weatherspoon. Late last week our questions were answered when Mike Smith told us the plan. Weatherspoon returned to his every down role on the weak side with emerging fantasy star Paul Worrilow replacing Akeem Dent in the middle. Worrilow continued to work in the sub packages with Weatherspoon as well. The result was 19 solo stops split almost evenly between the two. The Saints balanced attack should provide plenty of opportunity for both guys to have another strong outing in week twelve.
The Jets running game has been a quality matchup for linebackers on most weeks but it is rookie Geno Smith versus wily veteran playmaker Lardarius Webb that catches my eye in this one. Smith has been good at times but has made his share of rookie mistakes. Defenses have been able to cross him up and corners have had success at baiting him into bad situations. Webb is excellent at doing just that and already has 13 passes defended on the season. Call it a gut feeling but I like Webb to have his biggest game of the season in this one.
The injury to Charles Johnson could not have come at a worse time for his owners. Not only are we likely to be without him for a couple of weeks, we are going to miss the best matchup of the season when Carolina faces Miami this week. Greg Hardy remains a must start and tackle Star Lotuleli is a quality option for owners in tackle required leagues. Those who may be looking for a sneaky sleeper will want to keep an eye on the situation with Johnson later in the week. If he is unable to go as expected, it would likely be Mario Addison in the starting role with either Wes Horton or possibly Frank Alexander working as the third end. None of these guys have much on their NFL resume, but it is hard to overlook the opportunity.
Vincent Rey's box score was less impressive in week eleven but it is hard to argue with 7 tackles, 5 assists and a pass defended. Once again he looked excellent on the field. The Bengals are off this week and it is anticipated that Rey Maualuga will be able to go when they return in week thirteen. With Rey's play in the past two games it is hard to believe he would return to the bench but we cannot safely assume anything here. If you have Rey sit tight and watch for some word after the bye. I for one would not be surprised to see Maualuga on the strong side in week thirteen.
Jon Bostic has not yet blown up in the box scores but he is beginning to look like the middle linebacker of the future that the Bears thought they were getting. With 5 tackles and a pick against Baltimore, he turned in the second double digit fantasy score of his four games at the position. A matchup with the Rams and their newly discovered power running game should make it three out of five for Bostic. I like his potential this week.
Shea McClellin is expected to practice this week and is close to getting back on the field. He was just beginning to make an impact (3 sacks against the Packers) when the hamstring injury set him back. If he is healthy and can pick up where he left off, McClellin could be an excellent add for the sprint to the playoffs.
With double digit fantasy points in five of the first nine games, Craig Robertson had quietly become a solid LB3 for many fantasy owners before leaving Sunday's game with a knee injury. The injury has been diagnosed as a sprain but could cause him to miss some time. Tank Carder stepped in for him against the Bengals. Carder was the fifth round pick of the Bills in 2012 but was let go because he was not a fit when the scheme changed. It would be a long shot to suggest that he will be able to steal the starting job from Robertson, but Carder has some talent and potential so it is possible. What is more likely is that he will keep the seat warm for a while and produce similar numbers to what Robertson was putting up for as long as the opportunity lasts.
When the Cowboys return from their bye week, they will have Bruce Carter at middle linebacker. While he struggled to fit the bill as the team's weak side backer, Carter should be a solid replacement for Sean Lee in the middle. A matchup with the suddenly resurgent Giants and their big back ground attack could make Carter the leading tackler in the league for week twelve. At worst he is going to have a ton of opportunity and is a safe bet to post quality LB3 numbers.
Green Bay Packers
After his big 11-2-1 against the Giants it would make sense to assume that Brad Jones is back to his pre-injury form. That may indeed be the case but be aware that he has still not regained his every down role. Jones only missed 9 of 61 defensive snaps against the Giants and he passed the eyeball test. Hopefully that will mean a three down role going forward. Either way he should be a safe start this week against the Vikings. If however, he is still coming off in some of the passing down sub packages, Jones may not see so much action in week thirteen versus the Lions. Keep a close eye on this situation.
On the other side of that coin is A.J. Hawk who has turned in more than 4 tackles just once in the past five games despite holding the every down role. With Jones coming on, it seems there is little chance that Hawk will rebound. He was just 2-3 against the Vikings in the first meeting this year and deserves a seat on the bench this week if he is still on your roster.
After missing the first four games with an injury Morgan Burnett got off to a slow start. With at least 5 solo tackles and 9+ fantasy points in three of the last four games, he appears to be poised for a strong finish. Burnett's 6-6 and 13.5 points against New York is his best production of the season to date and he has some quality matchups down the stretch.
The Jaguars have been a weak matchup for tackle producing IDPs all season. That said, with the current state of the Texans this could prove to be a fairly even matchup. Jeff Tarpanian joined Darryl Sharpton at inside linebacker for the Texans in week eleven. Both players finished the game with 7 solo tackles and double digit fantasy points. Sharpton continues to show up on the injury report with his foot and toe issues but he has not missed a game since week one. Tarpanian was an undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2011 and is seeing the first serious playing opportunity of his career. With the solid production against Oakland both of these guys are going to be drawing a little interest in deeper leagues. A look at Houston's remaining schedule might deter a lot of owners. The Texans face Jacksonville twice and the Colts once over the next five games. While those matchups are certainly nothing to get excited about, it is worth mention that the other two games are against New England in week 13 and Denver in week sixteen. Even if you have no need to move on either of them right now, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on this situation over the next week or two just in case.
The one game suspension handed down to Eric Walden will give rookie Bjoern Werner his first shot at the starting lineup in week twelve. The adrenalin rush that often comes with such an opportunity combined with a matchup against an Arizona club that has allowed 14 sacks in their last four games, could make Werner a sweet sleeper play for owners in big play based leagues. Robert Mathis is a must play this week and could be in for a monster game.
It appears that a finally healthy Pat Angerer has overtaken Jerrell Freeman as the centerpiece of the Colts defense. Angerer has recorded more tackles and more fantasy point than Freeman in three of the team's last four games. Angerer has averaged better than 13 points a game over that span while Freeman has averaged about 9.5. While it is true that no linebacker has blown up with a stellar performance against the Cardinals this season, it is worth mention that at least one linebacker has posted 6 or more solo stops against them in every game since week two.
Paul Posluszny returned to practice on Monday after missing week eleven with a concussion. He is an obvious must start this week against Houston. The guys who is not so obvious but should get a lot of consideration in this game is Geno Hayes. He has been a marginal LB3 fill in for the most part this year but consider this; the Jaguars have played four games against teams that run a 4-3 scheme. In those games weak side linebackers Kevin Burnett has gone 7-0-1 with a forced fumble, Alec Ogletree 7-3 with a pick and a forced fumble and Zach Brown 11-1. The only weak side backer that failed to put up big numbers was K.J. Wright at 4-1 with a pass defended.
Kansas City Chiefs
Eric Berry managed to turn an excellent Denver matchup into a respectable 6-1 box score last week. While that was enough to keep most of us content, it was a far cry from the breakout game we were looking for. Next up for Berry and the Chiefs is San Diego. Through week seven the Chargers were among the game's best matchups for safeties. Over the past three contests a once red hot Phillip Rivers has cooled a bit and no safety has recorded more than 4 solo stops against them. Read into this what you will but I plan to sit Berry this week.
It has been a revolving door due to injuries but the Vikings strong safety position itself has been consistently productive for us this season. When healthy Jamarca Sanford had been working there most of the time. Against the Seahawks however, Sanford shifted over to free safety with Andrew Sendejo at strong. As a result it was Sendejo leading the team with 6 tackles and 5 assists in week eleven. The Minnesota coaching staff has switched guys around almost weekly at their safety positions. With the team taking a thumping from Seattle it is hard to say what combination they will try this week. What we do know is that both Sanford and Sendejo came through week eleven healthy. That makes it a safe bet that they will be the starters this week in some combination. It would be a shame to miss out on a quality matchup like the Packers so I am planning to roll the dice with Sendejo. The good news here is that even if we guess wrong, the free safety has been posting decent numbers much of the time as well.
New England Patriots
When he has been healthy the Patriots have been matchup up Aqib Talib with their opponent's biggest receiving threat. The result has been a lot of opportunity for the playmaker and a good deal of fantasy production for his owners. If he plays this week Talib will likely shadow Demaryius Thomas, and if he can make it through a whole game, Talib should post good numbers again. The problem is that the hip injury is still bothering him. Talib left Sunday's game early when it "tightened up". He claims to be fine and showed no ill effects at practice on Wednesday, but putting him in play this week would certainly make me nervous.
New Orleans Saints
With Kenny Vaccaro on the shelf, a lot of owners (myself included) had grand expectations for Roman Harper in his return to action. The joke was on us. Instead of inserting Harper into his old role as an every down strong safety, Rob Ryan elected to go with a defensive scheme that looked more like the one my high school team used than anything we would normally see in the NFL. New Orleans basically played a 5-3-3. Three down linemen with stand up defensive end/outside linebackers up on the line. Behind them were three linebackers at the second level and three defensive backs with Malcolm Jenkins as the lone safety. In essence Ryan stacked the box with eight players and dared the 49ers to throw. It worked well for the Saints but resulted in Harper seeing only 17 snaps in the game. As of Wednesday afternoon Vaccaro has participated in practice only on a limited basis and has not yet been cleared to play. With the team being in action on Thursday night, it would be somewhat of a surprise if he were to go. With Matt Ryan under center and the Falcons running game stuck in neutral, one would not expect Ryan to use the same approach this week. That might/should mean a big role for Harper. After getting burned in multiple leagues last week, I am pretty gun shy. Atlanta is not a great matchup when it comes to tackle opportunity anyway so I will be looking hard at all my other options.
New York Giants
Much of the Giants recent success has been sparked by a suddenly resurgent defense. Many prognosticators are pointing to the key addition of Jon Beason as the trigger that started the upswing, but there have been several other less obvious moves that have contributed as well. Jason Pierre-Paul has stepped up with some big plays in the past couple of games and has proclaimed that he is back. Ryan Mundy was bumped from the starting lineup in favor of Will Hill at free safety which allowed Antrel Rolle to move over to strong safety. Spencer Paysinger is no longer a starter with Keith Rivers moving to weak side linebacker and Jacquian Williams has been inserted as a three down strong side backer. Terrell Thomas is finally healthy and has been a difference maker as the slot corner. In short, this is a completely different defense than the one that struggled through September and well into October. What that will ultimately mean to IDP owners remains to be seen, but it might be a good idea to see about getting some of these guys (especially Pierre-Paul and Beason) on your roster for the sprint to the finish.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan told us late last week that Ed Reed would have a big role at the expense of Antonio Allen in week eleven. True to his word Ryan plugged Reed in at free safety moving Dawan Landry back to his normal strong safety position. As expected, the move paid dividends for neither the Jets nor fantasy owners. The only question that remains at this point is how hard headed is Ryan going to be with Reed? If you have Allen in a redraft league it is time to better use that roster spot. If you have him in a dynasty situation I would advise sticking him on your taxi squad for safe keeping. At worst Reed will finish out this season and be done. At best the Jets will realize what everyone else already has and will kill the experiment quickly. I have no idea if the organization sees Allen as a long term answer but the youngster sure played well for a few games.
With the fantasy regular season coming to a close in just a couple of weeks, the time has come for many dynasty owners to start looking to stash players for the future. The Steelers have a couple of guys that would make good targets for such a move. Safety Shamarko Thomas is the first one. Both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting long in the tooth. One or maybe even both could be gone after this season. Thomas has shown a ton of potential and is likely to take over one of the starting jobs in his second season. The other deep sleeper to keep an eye on is inside linebacker Sean Spence. He has spent two seasons trying to come back from a serious knee injury but is a player that came to the team with high expectations. If healthy he is likely to claim the starting job next to Lawrence Timmons in 2014. Spence has the skill set to be an excellent fit and the football IQ to evolve into a leader.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With Dashon Goldson getting a one game vacation compliments of the league, Keith Tandy will get the start at free safety against the Lions. I have no grand expectations for Tandy but it is worth mention that Detroit has been a quality matchup for safeties in general. Those in very deep leagues might get a little run out of him this week.
In the Titans last four games Colin McCarthy has put a mark of 28-8-0 with a pick and a forced fumble. Still there are some in Tennessee reporting that he "may" split playing time with Moise Fokou who is expected to return from injury this week. I would be shocked and greatly disappointed if this proves to be the case. That said, it would be silly of us not to at least consider the possibility. The Raiders have been a good matchup for inside linebackers so if he has the three down role McCarthy should put up strong numbers yet again. Weigh the risk and the potential reward when setting your lineup this week. As of Wednesday I am planning to start him in at least one league.
The fragile Brandon Meriweather was knocked out of yet another game in week eleven. As of Wednesday afternoon all we know about the injury is that it's an arm. Washington also lost free safety E.J. Biggers with a knee injury in the game. This could leave them very thin at safety heading into a matchup with San Francisco. If the injury is bad enough to sideline Meriweather, it is likely that we will see rookie Bacarri Rambo back in the lineup alongside veteran Reed Doughty. In the three games Rambo has started this season he is 21-4-1 and has averaged better than 13 fantasy points. My guess is that Rambo would work at strong safety with Doughty at free. Keep an eye on this situation as the week progresses.
That is all I have for Week 12. Best of luck to everyone this week. Hopefully everyone will Just Win Baby!