'The NFL Beat': Week 11

American football and international affairs

'The NFL Beat': Week 11

Welcome back. The Circuit of the Americas has taken over Austin and many of the tourists I have seen trickling in look like the type who might call soccer "football."

Not here. As international racers prepare to speed around Austin's brand-spanking-new and decidedly un-weird F1 track, I have been stewing.

So many NFL games, so little time. Many of us are facing must-win situations in our fantasy football leagues, and my job is to be among the top in the world at predicting outcomes.

Bon voyage, social life. This is "The NFL Beat."

Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons

Falcons WR Julio Jones has been listed as a game-time decision, and the Falcons, fresh off of their first loss of 2012 at the hands of division rival New Orleans, are facing the NFL's best blitzing inside linebacker in Daryl Washington of the Cardinals.

In this battle of NFL-bird-of-prey mascots, I see one fantasy deep-sleeper beneficiary in the possible absence of Jones, and that is Falcons slot WR Harry Douglas. It will be quick slants all day against the abandoned top-end of the intermediate weak-side zone shell that Cardinals DC Ray Horton will leave open when he brings the heat on Falcons QB Matt Ryan. And Ray Horton can bring the heat.

On the other side of the ball, I like Cardinals RB LaRod Stephens-Howling this week, believe it or not. "The hyphen" has been much better in away games, filling in for the injured Beanie Wells (and then Ryan Williams), and the Falcons are still very much a work in progress against the run defensively.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers

Those who march to the NFL Beat week in and week out know two things:

1) There is no NFL offseason around here.
2) I have told you since the end of last January that Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin would be a force to be reckoned with in the National Football League.

And he is. Martin will go off this week. Congratulations to those of us who selected one of next year's Top 5 picks in round five of 2012 fantasy drafts, especially keeper leagues. The Bucs are an improved unit against the run and I don't want any piece of Carolina's disjointed running attack in this matchup. I think Panthers QB Cam Newton steals the show as he is accustomed to doing in division matchups.

Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys

Welcome back to the I-35 corridor, Brandon Weeden. Make sure not to stay at that weird $19 couples motel, ever. The rookie Browns QB and Oklahoma State product who took Colt McCoy's job the minute he was drafted last April enters Week 11 on pace to throw for 4,000 yards right out of the shoot as an NFL quarterback. He faces quite a task against a surging, suddenly-playmaking Dallas defense.

Browns shutdown corner Joe Haden is very unlikely to go this week for reasons not related to Adderall, and this means great things for owners of both Cowboys WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, and serves as a very positive development for fantasy owners of Cowboys QB Tony Romo.

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

You're going to start everyone in this game that you would normally start. Packers future Hall of Fame cornerback-turned-safety Charles Woodson's absence with a broken collarbone would seem to bode well for Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew if he can quit dropping easy catches.

Pettigrew is the epitome of what educated fantasy players call a "volume play." Yes, he is terrible. One cannot ignore the number of targets that he gets in that offense however, especially with his immense physical presence in the passing attack. Pettigrew will always get targeted because he plays on the same offense as Lions WR/alien Calvin Johnson. When opposing defenses are forced to "pick their poison" they would most certainly rather swallow a Pettigrew pill than leave Johnson in man coverage.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Texans RB Arian Foster may still be the best player in fantasy football, but he is having a down year. Believe it or not, he is. The Texans are running him into the ground and Foster is averaging less than four yards per carry for the first time that I can remember. And I follow these things closely.

If I had my 2013 fantasy draft tomorrow and was picking No. 1 overall, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson would be my first pick easily. Week 11 will be huge for Foster, however. The Jags represent my sixth-best matchup for opposing fantasy RBs coming into the contest.

Texans backup RB Ben Tate is sidelined for a third-straight game with a hamstring injury, so owners in bye-week trouble may want to take a look at Texans third-string RB Justin Forsett to provide a four-point fantasy floor with 15-16 point upside should the game get out of hand. The Texans will not run out the clock with Foster in garbage time, and Forsett is their only alternative.

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs

What a mess the Chiefs are. I want to get started but I can't. My editor started hating me 800 words ago, and there are more to come. You will hear it out of me all offseason, though, so no need to worry. I have a sneaking suspicion that if GM Scott Pioli stays in place, the Chiefs will draft USC QB Matt Barkley in a very Brady Quinn/Matt Leinart manner.

For now it's Chiefs QB Matt Cassel getting wrecked. I love the Bengals defense this week. They have a very disruptive interior D line featuring a true stud in DT Geno Atkins and are getting incredible play out of CB Leon Hall. Not the best news for Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe.

Bengals QB Andy Dalton seems to be good in these types of games and second-option WR Andrew Hawkins appears to be hurt. Keep an eye on the injury report, but when players practice fully early on, then miss practice later in the week, that is never good. The sneaky replacement should Hawkins not go is Mohammed Sanu. He is a rookie from Rutgers who was known in college as the ultimate possession receiver, but has shown at the NFL level that he is capable of being versatile in multiple roles. If you're in a pinch at WR3, roll with him. Your league-mates will think you are a genius if he goes bananas as he is available in 99% of Yahoo! leagues.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck and Patriots QB Tom Brady don't provide quite the feature billing as previous Colts/Pats meetings which featured Peyton Manning in Luck's place, but it's already a lot closer than one would think. Luck is unbelievable, and he is leading a team into Foxboro at 6-3 that managed only two wins in 2011.

This game lines up perfectly for a shootout, but as we peel the onion, a couple of sneaky fantasy candidates come to the surface. Even thought the Patriots listed a ridiculous 19 players on the injury report, the only fantasy concern is TE Aaron Hernandez, who by all reports is unlikely to go on the bad ankle once again this week. Look for more three WR sets out of the Patriots as they face a bad Indy pass defense that is missing its two starting corners.

Pats HC Bill Belichick is very predictable in how his schemes will effect opposing fantasy players. Very simply, Belichick likes to take away the opponent's biggest offensive weapon. For the Colts, that is WR Reggie Wayne, and it makes me think that Wayne will be handled in the same way the Patriots employed in neutralizing Giants WR Victor Cruz during last season's Super Bowl. This situation would lead to extra production in a great matchup from Colts WRs Donnie Avery, T.Y Hilton, and Lavon Brazill who should all be available on most waiver wires in a pinch.

New York Jets at St. Louis Rams

Steven Jackson runs like an old man nowadays, but he has been sneaky-reliable in 2012 as an RB2 just as predicted. I like that to continue this week against a reeling Jets unit that is more concerned about talking behind Tim Tebow's back to the media than they are making tackles or guarding WRs.

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins

Former Westlake Chaparral QB Nick Foles will be co-headlining an NFC West showdown Sunday in our nation's capital alongside another Central Texas product you may have heard of in Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III.

Foles was very, very unimpressive during 2012's predraft evaluation process and saw his draft stock fall as a result. But, none of that matters now. It is Week 11 of the NFL season and starting Eagles QB Mike Vick has been concussed. As a result, Vick may have aided in the ushering-in of a new era via his mandatory medical absence.

Foles has done a complete 180 under Eagles HC Andy Reid. Reid has always been known as a developer of young QBs and Foles has always been known as a mental sponge. The situation could not have worked out any better for Foles who is suited perfectly to handle the exact offense that Reid likes to run. For fantasy purposes, I like Foles this week for about 230 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and one sack-fumble. About 12-15 points in standard leagues, and a below-average but serviceable Week 11 fill-in for players like Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler or even Vick.

New Orleans Saints at Oakland Raiders

Lots of fantasy action in this one. I told you last week about Raiders RB Marcel Reece and I hope you listened. With Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson still sidelined with injuries, expect another monster performance out of Reece, an uber-athletic fullback who is most involved as a pass catcher at home against the best matchup in fantasy football.

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Owning Chargers RB Ryan Mathews has been a nightmare I'm sure. I wouldn't know, as Mathews is on my permanent do-not-draft list. This week, Mathews was held out of practice with a new neck injury. I honestly can't even keep up anymore.

We know that Mathews has played nicked-up in the past, and we have seen what happens. The amount of "starts" that Mathews makes do not sum up his reliability, as he has left games early with a greater frequency during his career than just about any player I can think of. If Mathews is able to suit up Sunday, keep this in mind and think about making a waiver play on his backup Ronnie Brown.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall will be making his second return to the field in 2012 after initially coming back from 2011 ACL surgery then promptly injuring his Achilles tendon early on.

Believe it or not, I will actually be rolling with Mendenhall this week in my flex position. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will be held out of the game with a broken rib jabbing into his aorta and Byron Leftwich will once again be under center for the Steelers which means that they will be relying heavily on the run.

I am downgrading any Steeler who will need to catch a ball in this game to generate fantasy production, even TE Heath Miller who has been a true stud. It is a crowded RB backfield with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer both reeling off at least one 100-yard performance a piece in Mendenhall's absence, but the sentiment of the organization and members of the RB committee is that the job belongs to Mendenhall when healthy. He is their best runner by far and has first-ground pedigree and elite athletic skills to match. It is easy to forget that Mendenhall is just two seasons removed from his 2010 1,440-yard, 13-TD campaign.

Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers

I have one prediction: pain. If you like defense, watch this game. If you are into high-flying aerial orchestrations of dominance and fast-paced scoring, there might be an NBA game on to better suit you.

[Alex Dunlap (Twitter) is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and founder of Rosterwatch.]

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