This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Happy Thanksgiving! Turkey may be overrated, but stuffing and potatoes most certainly aren't. And always remember to be grateful for your favorite fantasy football writers, even when we get it wrong and cost you a playoff spot :)
Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on PPR scoring with 25/10 yards per point and 4/6 points for TDs. Start % comes from Yahoo, as of Wednesday night / Thursday morning.
Geno Smith (vs. LV) — 25% started
Start Over — Derek Carr (at SEA), Daniel Jones (at DAL), Russell Wilson (at CAR)
Smith threw two TD passes in four straight games before a Week 11 bye, entering the break with averages of 247.4 passing yards, 1.7 TDs and 0.4 INTs per game. He's also essentially doubled his rushing output from last year, averaging 4.5 attempts for 21.8 yards after only 2.3 for 10.5 yards in four 2021 appearances. Smith is in a great spot to continue the success Week 12, with both rest advantage and homefield advantage against a Raiders defense that ranks 31st in DVOA against the pass and 30th in fantasy points allowed to QBs. This is also a great matchup for DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, especially if Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (IR - hand) misses another week.
Other Good Matchups: Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. NO), Zach Wilson (vs. CHI), Taylor Heinicke (vs. ATL)
Running Backs 👍
Miles Sanders (vs. GB) — 74% started
Start Over — Tony Pollard (vs. NYG), Jamaal Williams (vs. BUF)
Sanders was quiet the past two weeks against two teams that arguably have stopped the run better than they've done anything else (the Colts and Commanders). After facing back-to-back opponents ranked Top 6 in run-defense DVOA, the speedy back should fare better against a Green Bay unit that's No. 29, allowing the 11th most fantasy points to RBs and the ninth most rushing yards per game. There's also the possibility of Philadelphia favoring the run more than usual with Jalen Hurts in a bit of a mini-slump and the forecast calling for a cold, rainy Sunday in Philadelphia.
Rachaad White (at CLE) — 22% started
Start Over — Kareem Hunt (vs. TB), AJ Dillon (at PHI), D'Onta Foreman (vs. DEN)
White got his first NFL start in Tampa's final game before a Week 11 bye, though he essentially had a 50/50 split with Leonard Fournette before a minor hip injury knocked the veteran out of the eventual win over Seattle. The rook went on to finish with 22 carries for 105 yards, making his case to work as the lead runner even if Fournette comes back healthy this week. Both are startable, though perhaps a bit risky, facing a Cleveland defense that ranks 32nd in DVOA against the run and 31st in fantasy points allowed to running backs. The Browns' plan of all but ignoring the DT position didn't work out great, and LB Deion Jones has been something less than a godsend (he played only eight snaps in the loss to Buffalo last week).
Other Good Matchups: Devin Singletary (at DET), Antonio Gibson (vs. ATL), Jeff Wilson & Raheem Mostert (vs. HOU), Michael Carter & James Robinson (vs. CHI), Isiah Pacheco (vs. LAR)
Wide Receivers 👍
Keenan Allen (at ARZ) — 64% started
Start Over — Brandon Aiyuk (vs. NO), DeVonta Smith (vs. GB), Allen Lazard (at PHI)
A loss and a fumble may have spoiled things from a real-life standpoint, but Allen checked all the fantasy boxes in his first game back, catching five of eight targets for 94 yards while playing 68 percent of snaps on offense in the heartbreaker against Kansas City. He should get even more work in his second game back, especially with the Chargers sagging in a fierce AFC wild-card race and fellow wideout Mike Williams (ankle) in danger of missing another game.
And while Isaiah Simmons has done a decent job guarding the slot for Arizona of late, the savvy Allen shouldn't have too much trouble against a linebacker-by-trade — one who is hyper-athletic but perhaps not the most instinctive, nor the most experienced in slot coverage. The matchup will be somewhat less promising for Allen if Arizona's top corner, Byron Murphy, returns from a back injury, but his lack of practice participation last week seemingly makes that unlikely.
Parris Campbell (vs. PIT) — 18% started
Start Over — Marquez Valdes-Scantling (vs. LAR), George Pickens (at IND), Diontae Johnson (at IND)
Campbell has seen 73.1 percent of his targets from the slot, where he takes more than two-thirds of his snaps each week, catching 32 of 41 passes for 335 yards (8.2 YPT) and three TDs. He also gets some work on the perimeter in two-wide sets, which obviously helps the volume projection, but the main appeal here is a likely primary matchup with struggling slot corner Arthur Maulet, a 29-year-old journeyman who has allowed the sixth most yards per slot coverage snap (1.76) out of 33 CBs that have played 100 or more snaps there this year (per PFF).
Opposing QBs have thrown for a whopping 11.5 YPA when targeting Maulet inside, and Pittsburgh is dead last in fantasy points allowed to WRs despite playing better defense (for the most part) since September. The recent return of T.J. Watt might even work in Campbell's favor, given his reliance on short, quick passes and relative lack of slower-developing routes.
Other Good Matchups: Gabe Davis (at DET), Courtland Sutton (at CAR), Jakobi Meyers (at MIN), Garrett Wilson (vs. CHI), Michael Gallup & Noah Brown (vs. NYG), Nico Collins (at MIA), Jahan Dotson (vs. ATL),
Tight Ends 👍
Foster Moreau (at SEA) — 27% started
Start Over — Juwan Johnson (at SF), Greg Dulcich (at CAR)
We now have a five-week sample of Moreau in an every-down role, averaging 3.0 catches for 35.4 yards and 0.2 TDs on 5.2 targets while playing 98 percent of snaps on offense. That's nothing special, but it does put him at the back end of the TE1 conversation even in a week with no byes. The matchup helps, with Seattle allowing a league-high 9.6 YPT on throws to tight ends and giving up the second most points to the position. The second part is partially due to Taysom Hill's four-TD effort, but the Seahawks also have allowed a long list of TEs to enjoy either their best of second-best fantasy line of the season against them, ranging from Albert Okwuegbunam (5-33-0) to Kyle Pitts (5-87-0) to Tanner Hudson (3-58-0) to Zach Ertz (7-70-0).
Other Good Matchups: Dawson Knox (at DET), Hunter Henry (at MIN)
Kirk Cousins (vs. NE) — % started
Start Instead — Geno Smith (vs. LV), Tua Tagovailoa (vs. HOU)
The Patriots rank Top 5 in most key defensive stats, including points allowed, yards allowed, takeaways and sacks. They've been especially tough against the pass, with Lamar Jackson and Justin Fields the only QBs to put up 20 fantasy points on the Pats this year. Cousins and the Vikings should bounce back from Sunday's debacle, at least to an extent, but it'll likely be a lower-scoring, lower-volume game against a Patriots team ranked 30th in pace on offense. Cousins will need a fast start to force New England into the type of game the Vikings want to play rather than the type of game the Pats typically have played.
Other Tough Matchups: Justin Fields (at NYJ), Aaron Rodgers (at PHI), Daniel Jones (at DAL), Trevor Lawrence (vs. BAL), Andy Dalton (at SF)
Running Backs 👎
Jamaal Williams (vs. BUF) — 64% started
Start Instead — Devin Singletary (at DET), Ezekiel Elliott (vs. NYG)
While not expected, it isn't necessarily strange for Williams to have 84 percent of Detroit's carries inside the 5-yard line, nor is it unusual that he's converted on more than half. What's strange — and all but guaranteed to regress — is the Lions running a league-high 43 plays inside the five and scoring a league-high 19 touchdowns in the area (nine Williams rushes, one D'Andre Swift rush and nine TD passes). It's not even that they've been run-heavy inside the five (their 46.5 percent pass rate is 13th highest) nor do they have an elite offense; it's mostly been a matter of scoring few TDs from distance and having guys tackled shy of the goal line after chunk gains. That kind of thing tends to even out over time, and the inevitable regression could look extra ugly against a tough Buffalo run defense, i.e., Williams really needs a TD in this one to have a decent fantasy day.
Cordarrelle Patterson (at WAS) — 59% started
Start Instead — Antonio Gibson (vs. ATL), Jeff Wilson (vs. HOU), Michael Carter (vs. CHI)
The Commanders have been strong against the run all year, with only Derrick Henry rushing for more than 76 yards against them, and lately they've even done a good job defending the pass. That's bad news for Patterson, who still hasn't regained his September role since returning from knee surgery, instead getting only 28 carries to Tyler Allgeier's 26 over the past three weeks. This is a tough matchup for both backs with Washington ranked third in DVOA against the run and eighth in YPC allowed (4.2)
Other Tough Matchups: Saquon Barkley (at DAL), Kareem Hunt (vs. TB), Tyler Allgeier (at WAS)
Wide Receivers 👎
Christian Kirk (vs. BAL) — 36% started
Start Instead — Tyler Lockett (vs. LV), Courtland Sutton (at CAR), Gabe Davis (at DET)
The Ravens struggled to cover the slot earlier this year when they mostly had fourth-round rookie Pepe Williams on the assignment, but they've done much better in recent weeks with either first-round pick Kyle Hamilton (knee) or top corner Marlon Humphrey taking most of the snaps inside. Given Humphrey's reputation and track record, it might actually be better for Kirk if Hamilton is able to overcome last week's knee injury, though the rookie holds PFF's top grade among safeties. While the production to date makes him a weekly starter in most leagues with 12 or more teams, Kirk should be avoided in DFS and perhaps benched in shallow formats this week.
Darius Slayton (at DAL) — 23% started
Start Instead — Joshua Palmer (at ARZ), Garrett Wilson (vs. CHI), Parris Campbell (vs. PIT)
Slayton is a sensible waiver added — in fact, I touted him in Target Breakdown earlier this week — but he's better left on benches for Thanksgiving, even if his status as the last man standing among the team's wide receivers all but guarantees at least a handful of targets. Slayton is in serious danger of losing his four-game streak with more than 50 yards, facing one of the top defenses in the league while his QB is stuck behind an injury-riddled offensive line. The Giants have seven blockers listed on the injury report his week, including four of the five starters (three of whom missed Tuesday's practice). The only real hope for New York's offense here is that the Dallas front seven is similarly depleted by a mix of illness and injury, but things don't look nearly as bleak for the Cowboys as of Wednesday.
Other Tough Matchups: Diontae Johnson & George Pickens (at IND), Allen Lazard & Christian Watson (at PHI), Darnell Mooney (at NYJ), Adam Thielen (vs. NE)
Tight Ends 👎
Tyler Higbee (at KC) — 60% started
Start Instead — Pat Freiermuth (at IND), Dalton Schultz (vs. NYG), Dawson Knox (at DET)
The volume has rebounded for Higbee, coming off back-to-back weeks with eight targets after seeing only 10 total over a three-game stretch Weeks 6-9. The problem is a lack of upside even with that being the case, as the Rams offense looks more hopeless than ever with Cooper Kupp (ankle) likely out for the year and Matthew Stafford (concussion) presumably set to miss another game, at least. The smart move is to simply avoid all Rams this week, with their implied total of 14.75 points being nearly two lower than any other teams (Houston - 16.5, New Orleans - 16.75)*.
*As of Wednesday morning, 12 teams had implied totals below 20 based on betting odds. The other nine... CAR (17), CHI (17.5), NYG (18), PIT (18.25), ATL (19), DEN (19.5), CLE (19.75), JAX (19.75), GB (19.75)
Other Tough Matchups: T.J. Hockenson (vs. NE), Juwan Johnson (at SF)
For Shallow Leagues (40-66 percent rostered)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. NO)
RB Rachaad White (at CLE)
RB Gus Edwards (at JAX) - (hamstring/knee)
WR Drake London (at WAS)
WR Michael Gallup (vs. NYG)
WR Parris Campbell (vs. PIT)
WR Treylon Burks (vs. CIN)
TE Hayden Hurst (at TEN)
TE Taysom Hill / Juwan Johnson (at SF)
K Robbie Gould (vs. NO)
D/ST Dolphins (vs. HOU)
D/ST Jets (vs. CHI)
For Medium-depth Leagues (16-39 percent rostered)
QB Ryan Tannehill (vs. CIN)
RB Latavius Murray (at CAR)
RB Jerick McKinnon (vs. LAR)
RB Kyren Williams (at KC)
WR Nico Collins (at MIA)
WR Jarvis Landry (at SF)
WR Zay Jones (vs. BAL)
TE Foster Moreau (at SEA)
TE Hunter Henry (at MIN)
K Cameron Dicker (at ARZ)
D/ST Colts (vs. PIT)
D/ST Vikings (vs. NE)
For Deep Leagues (0-15 percent rostered)
QB Colt McCoy (vs. LAC)
QB Taylor Heinicke (vs. ATL)
RB Samaje Perine (at TEN)
RB Dontrell Hilliard (vs. CIN)
RB Isaiah Spiller (at ARZ)
RB Marlon Mack (at CAR)
RB Justice Hill (at JAX)
WR Terrace Marshall (vs. DEN)
WR Demarcus Robinson (at JAX)
WR Justin Watson (vs. LAR)
TE Logan Thomas (vs. ATL)
TE Noah Fant (vs. LV)
TE Trey McBride (vs. LAC)
TE Cameron Brate (at CLE)
K Michael Badgley (vs. BUF)
D/ST Panthers (vs. DEN)