Calvin Johnson tops Thanksgiving Day fantasy preview

Week 12 is upon us and it kicks off with a full slate of NFL action on Thanksgiving Day, a tradition that stretches back to the early days of pro football. The Lions have played on Thanksgiving every year since 1934, with the Cowboys joining the tradition in 1966. But enough with the history lesson, what you really came here for was some assistance in setting a winning fantasy football lineup. With the playoffs a mere two weeks away in standard leagues, wins are becoming more and more critical. We break down each of the relevant fantasy players from all six teams playing on Thanksgiving here. Check back on Friday morning for the rest of our player-by-player previews for Week 12. And before we forget, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions, 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX

Eagles:

So far, 2015 has not been kind to the Sanchize. He's completed 62.5 percent of his passes, but with a handful of terrible decisions sprinkled in, leading to four interceptions in less than two games of work (with just two touchdowns). The Lions defense has toughened up recently (only 170-plus passing yards allowed once in last three games), and just man-handled the upstart Oakland Raiders offense in Week 11. There are better quarterback options available than Sanchez this week.

Murray is averaging 23 touches and just over 123 total yards per game since the Eagles' Week 8 bye. Detroit has allowed just over four yards per carry on the year, and has allowed a rushing touchdown on 5.4 percent of opposing attempts (one of the highest marks in the league). Murray should be able to grind out an RB1 performance in this one.

With Ryan Mathews (concussion) ruled out for Thursday, Sproles enters the range of a high-upside flex play once again. Sproles only saw nine touches last week as Philadelphia fell so far behind so quickly, but he'll have a decent shot of creating a big play of the fast track at Ford Field, even with limited touches behind Murray.

With Zach Ertz (concussion) ruled out, that means more targets could funnel to Celek, who's seen 14 over the last two weeks already (Ertz had 14 as well). Celek could find some space to work against the slow Detroit linebacking corps that has allowed 7.4 yards per target and around 61 yards per game to opposing tight ends in their last three games (along with three scores). Celek is a decent streaming option for Week 12.

Do you really want to spoil your Thanksgiving dinner appetite by watching Matthews tank your fantasy lineup? We didn't think so. But if you're forced to start him, you can at least hold onto the hope that he won't be exclusively matched up with Darius Slay (an emerging shut-down corner), as Slay plays more predominantly on the outside, specifically at left cornerback. Matthews could make some hay from the slot, but he's still a risky play regardless.

Lions:

Stafford posted a solid 20-plus point outing last week, but didn't exploit his matchup as well as we expected. He'll get another shot this week against a Philadelphia secondary that is trending in the wrong direction. In their last three games, the Eagles allowed 10 passing touchdowns and intercepted just one pass. Stafford and the Lions have a history of showing up big on Thanksgiving, too. All told, Stafford is on the fringe of the QB1 tier this week.

The Lions backfield hasn't gotten any less murky with Jim Bob Cooter calling the plays, but he did at least show signs of committing more to talented rookie Ameer Abdullah last week. Abdullah led the backfield with 13 touches, but only notched 46 yards. Joique Bell continues to see too many touches, and remains irrelevant in fantasy. Theo Riddick offers a nice floor in PPR leagues, but that's about it. All in all, you can desperation flex Abdullah in standard, but we wouldn't recommend it, while Riddick has flex appeal in PPR formats.

Megatron hasn't been as dominant in 2015 as in years past. Part of that might be his lingering ankle injury, part of that might be due to the Lions offense struggling as a whole. Still, the Eagles cornerback tandem of Byron Maxwell and Nolan Carroll are not in the same class as Johnson. If anyone is going to get it done for Detroit on offense, it'll be him.

Many drafted Tate with high expectations after his performance last year, but he currently sits as the WR49 in standard scoring leagues. He can be flexed in PPR formats, as he's averaged six receptions per game over his last three, but even then his upside is limited. He's only scored one touchdown all season, and that was on a highly questionable "catch rule" rationale from the referees. Owners in standard leagues should leave Tate on the bench.

Ebron has had an up-and-down sophomore season, with flashes of great play sandwiched between games plagued with bad drops and mental mistakes. The Eagles have an athletic linebacking corps and one of the best safety tandems in the league, which is why they've only allowed double-digit points to an opposing tight end once this year -- last week in their blowout loss to the Buccaneers. Keep Ebron on the bench this week and wait for him to head into a more favorable matchup.

Carolina Panthers at Dallas Cowboys, 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS

Panthers:

It's not hard to argue that Cam Newton is the most valuable quarterback in fantasy football right now. His rushing production gives him a safe floor, while he's unlocked a tangible ceiling in this offense, averaging 28.67 fantasy points the last three weeks. The Dallas defense is unusual in that they are worse at home, allowing 17.2 quarterback points in their building compared to 12.86 at home. Look for another strong QB1 game from Newton.

The starting Carolina running back has a secure outlook. He handles 20-plus carries per game, and is a safe RB2 with RB1 upside if he finds the end zone. Stewart's scoring chances are better than ever, as he averages four red zone rushes per game. Dallas' run defense allows a gaudy 25.3 fantasy points to running backs at home, and is Football Outsiders' 25th ranked unit. Stewart should hit top 10 running back status this week.

The rookie's outlook hinges on whether Corey Brown returns to the lineup. Starting in place of Brown in Week 11, Devin Funchess led the team in wide receiver snaps and targets. That may signal a changing of the guard, or Brown could usurp some of those chances if he returns on Thanksgiving. If Funchess gets another start he's worth a look in your lineup against a secondary with sub-par corner play. Should Brown return, Funchess falls back into "what the heck" flex territory.

With Funchess emerging as a bigger factor, Ted Ginn is only worth a play in absolutely cakewalk matchups or aerial shootouts. This game against Dallas, who likes to slow things down, shouldn't apply.

Rather quietly, Dallas has a solid defense against tight ends. Football Outsiders ranks them No. 1 at defending the middle of the field and eighth against tight ends. Of course, this is not enough to keep you from starting Greg Olsen, but it's something to note and could prevent him from reaching a massive ceiling.

Cowboys:

The Dallas starter had to shake off a little rust in his first week back, and Romo finished as just the QB19. He may not fare much better against the Panthers secondary. Carolina's pass defense has ranked inside the top two all season in fantasy points allowed per pass attempt. The return of defensive end Charles Johnson only increases the heat they'll put on opposing quarterbacks.

The Panthers aren't the best matchup in the world for McFadden, giving up just 10.6 fantasy points per game over the last three games. However, with Darren McFadden's workload (averages 27.4 touches per game as the starter) you can't realistically bench him. Unless you have far superior options, you can't pass up his floor right now. He's a low-ceiling RB2 this week.

The superstar receiver is a tricky proposition this week. Dez Bryant's raw talent and huge upside in the red zone make him impossible to bench. Yet, he still looks a tick off of his usual speed coming back from a foot injury, and heads into his matchup with Josh Norman as the inferior player, at the moment. Don't expect a massive game from Bryant, but don't sit him just in case he throws up a few X's on national TV Thanksgiving Day.

With Romo back in the lineup, you can consider Williams as a matchup-based flex paly. This could be a week where he's worth playing. Charles Tillman looks likely to miss another game on Thursday, bringing Bene Benwikere out of his comfortable slot position to line up across from Williams. He could get over on a long ball with Bryant tied up in Lake Norman.

You haven't heard much from him since a 122-yard and two-touchdown performance against the Eagles. However, he's in line for a tasty matchup this week. With Benwikere playing outside, Colin Jones will take his spot in the slot corner position. Jones is a special teamer ill-suited for snaps on defense. Beasley could turn him around on a few short routes and get in position for yards after the catch. He may not be a season-long consideration, but if you're playing Thanksgiving only DFS, he's a good bargain flier.

It's tough to consider this a great spot for Witten, as the speedy Carolina linebackers really limit what the tight end does against the Panthers defense. Outside of two red zone touchdowns to Richard Rodgers in Week 9, the Panthers allow 7.13 fantasy points on average since Week 7. Witten is an OK start if you're looking for a floor play, but again, he's another player with a low ceiling.

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Bears:

Cutler has played significantly better overall this year, efficiently running Adam Gase's system, and for the most part, playing mistake-free football. However, he's played extremely poorly in Green Bay historically, with just three touchdowns and 13 career turnovers when playing on the Frozen Tundra. Add in the narrative of Brett Favre's number being retired at halftime and the crowd being absolutely bonkers, and this all stacks up as a week to bench Smokin' Jay.

Matt Forte is expected to make his return to action against the Packers after missing three weeks with an MCL injury. While we're excited to see Forte back on the football field, his return complicates this backfield from a fantasy perspective after rookie Jeremy Langford played well as the interim feature back. We don't have a great idea of how the touches will be split in this backfield, which puts both Forte and Langford on the RB2/flex radar this week. The Packers did a great job of bottling up Adrian Peterson last week, but the 1-2 punch of Forte and Langford could do some damage -- especially catching passes out of the backfield. Let's not forget, back in Week 1 Forte ran roughshod over the Packers to the tune of 166 total yards. We'd like either one of these backs a whole lot more if they were getting a bigger share of the pie, but with a likely two-way split happening on Thursday night, fantasy owners would be best served sliding either Forte or Langford in as a flex for Week 12, with Forte being the back with more upside.

The Packers secondary has gotten healthier of late, with Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins returning to action against the Vikings last week. Jeffery is still battling a groin injury and has been limited in practice this week. If he plays, it's extremely hard to sit him given the insane volume of targets Cutler tends to hurl his way. However, with Jeffery being less than 100 percent and Cutler's history of poor performances in Green Bay, this could be a week to be bold and leave Jeffery on the bench if you're deep at the position.

With both Jeffery and Eddie Royal out last week (Royal is expected to be out again this week), Wilson acquitted himself well as the de facto No. 1 wideout for the Bears, catching four of his seven targets for 102 yards against the tough Denver secondary. He'll have sleeper value as a deep WR3 or flex in this matchup, with Jeffery still less than 100 percent, but as we mentioned above, the Packers secondary has been getting healthier and the narratives/momentum/history are all stacked against Chicago. There are probably better flier options for those in need of a wideout with upside in Week 12, but Wilson is an interesting play in Thursday only DFS.

Over the last four weeks, Miller had far out-produced Martellus Bennett, despite seeing 10 fewer targets. The wily veteran hauled in 10 of his 13 targets for 177 yards with three touchdowns, while the Black Unicorn managed 16 catches on 23 targets for 133 yards and one score. Of course, much of Miller's production came on his ridiculous 86-yard touchdown against the Rams, but with Bennett ruled out we really like Miller's upside. With Micah Hyde suffering a hip injury last week, the Packers already suspect coverage of tight ends could be a little weaker on Thursday night. Miller has a decent shot at finding the end zone in addition to seeing plenty of targets, and is worth streaming against the Pack in both season-long and DFS.

Packers:

Even during Green Bay's struggles (and three-game losing skid), Rodgers still managed to produce in fantasy and is the fourth-highest scoring fantasy quarterback over the last month. At home, in primetime, in a big game against a rival he's historically played well against ... yeah, we have no problem with Rodgers as one of the top quarterback options for Week 12. Also working in Rodgers' favor is he could become the quickest signal-caller to reach 250 passing touchdowns if he throws one against the Bears. Something tells us he'll make that happen.

The running back fantasy fans drafted in the first round finally showed up last week. Lacy rushed for 100 yards against Minnesota, and ran better than he has at any point this year. He earned the praise of head coach Mike McCarthy, even if he wouldn't name Lacy the starter over James Starks this week. With Lacy getting back into a groove, we like him as a solid RB2 play this week against the Bears. While the Packers will still work in Starks, Lacy figures to dominate the touches down the stretch if he maintains this level of play. Those who kept the faith and held on to the bruising back could be richly rewarded down the stretch, starting on Thanksgiving.

Cobb found the end zone last week, but overall played poorly with numerous drops that could have turned into big gains. We expect Cobb to bounce back though, as he is Rodgers' most trusted target and he could find plenty of room to roam against the Chicago secondary. Cobb can be fired up as a nice WR2 play this week.

Jones busted out of his three-game slump in a big way last week, with over 100 yards and a touchdown. It seemed like Rodgers turned to his more trustworthy targets (Jones and Cobb had 11 and nine targets, respectively) last week as the Packers offense started to look like its old self. We don't mind Jones as a WR3 or flex this week, hoping that trend continues. He remains one of the Packers' best red zone threats given his ability to high-point the ball and effectively work along the boundaries.

After one of the most inefficient games in the history of pro football, Adams only saw four targets last week and also seemed to aggravate his ankle injury. At this point, we're not comfortable with Adams as anything more than a total desperation play at the flex or as a WR3 in deeper leagues. He's better served riding the fantasy pine for Week 12.

Rodgers will need a touchdown to return value for fantasy owners, as his highest single game yardage total on the year is 45. Still, Aaron Rodgers trusts his young tight end when the team gets near the painted area, as he's targeted him there eight times on the season (tied for second-most on the team), scoring five touchdowns. The Bears have been solid against tight ends, but just gave up good outings to both Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis last week. Rodgers is a decent streaming option on Thanksgiving.

The Packers' pass rush returned last week, and now they're playing at home, in front of what is sure to be an electric crowd, against a quarterback they've historically dominated on their turf. The Green and Gold represent an excellent defensive play this week, as they could notch a couple of sacks and force Jay Cutler into a handful of potentially turnover-producing plays.

In the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast the gang discusses Week 12 waiver targets and previews all three of the Thanksgiving Day games. Don't forget to subscribe and listen in HERE!

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