In "Exploit or Avoid," we take a close look at some of the week's more favorable — and tough — matchups for skill-position players. Here's who we like on each side of the ledger in Week 11:
Panthers WR Steve Smith (vs. Tampa Bay) — Fantasy owners need to ignore Smith's one-catch output from last Sunday when considering Smith's prospects for this Sunday. Smith already has one strong game vs. the Buccaneers to his credit (seven catches, 106 yards in Week One), and if anything, the Bucs' defense is more vulnerable than it was in September. Fantasy owners giving Smith another shot should relish the opportunity, not fear it. He's capable of a nice bounce-back performance.
Texans QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson (vs. Jacksonville) — Time for me to dust off the old "Play your Texans passing-game players against a defense shaky vs. the run" angle. Well, actually, it's not that old; I used it two weeks ago against Buffalo, and it worked fairly well. Schaub threw for 268 yards and a pair of TDs, including a long one to TE Owen Daniels off of … drum roll … play-action, which could work very well this week against a Jaguars defense that surely hasn't forgotten surrendering a season-worst 216 yards on the ground to Houston in Week Two. If Daniels (hip) can play in Week 11, he's a must-start. Johnson, too, is tough to sit. Schaub's stock also gets a boost this week. I love this angle, by the way.
Dolphins RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas (at Buffalo) — In Week 10, the Bills allowed 117 yards rushing to the Patriots. That was their second-best effort from a rushing yards allowed perspective this season. I'm all for starting Bush this week, even after just four carries, a fumble and a benching in the disappointing loss to Tennessee on Sunday. Not only did Bush rack up 203 rushing yards in the Dolphins' win at Buffalo last December, but he had a TD in both games vs. the Bills in 2011. Thomas is also a reasonable flex option in big leagues.
Bengals WRs Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu (at Kansas City) — Hawkins and Sanu are primarily considerations in huge leagues, but there are a lot of those leagues out there. This one's for you. Here's my thought process: the Chiefs are No. 31 in yards per pass allowed (7.96), and they are thin in the secondary. I prefer Hawkins to Sanu, but Sanu is a bit of a sleeper in his own right, too. Note that Sanu played 61 percent of Cincinnati's offensive snaps in Week 10 in his most extensive action of the esason.
Raiders QB Carson Palmer (vs. New Orleans) — Palmer has thrown eight TD passes in his last three starts. In his last two starts, he has attempted 106 passes. On the season, he has had only four games of less than 45 pass attempts. When you have the leader of a pass-first offense against a weak passing defense, you start him with confidence.
Colts RBs Vick Ballard and Donald Brown (at New England) — Brown, who has led the Colts in carries in all six of the games in which he's had at least one rushing attempt, is the preferred play if you must start an Indianapolis back. However, I'm not high on either back. For starters, they have split carries in two of the last three games, with Brown getting 14 totes and Ballard getting 12 in each contest. What's more, Brown and Ballard have combined for one rushing TD in nine games. Meanwhile, mobile QB Andrew Luck has five rushing scores, with four in the past four games. Finally, the Patriots are much weaker vs. the pass than the run.
Steelers RBs Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer (vs. Baltimore) — Look, it's very possible the Steelers could elect to lean on the running game with QB Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs) out, but I don't like the matchup for Pittsburgh. The Ravens, who are allowing just 3.95 yards per carry, figure to dare the Steelers to beat them with the pass. What's more, I don't like the uncertainty about the workload distribution in the Steelers' backfield. If Mendenhall (Achilles) plays, he's the lukewarm pick of this group, but he has played one full game this season. Picking between Redman and Dwyer is a coin flip; I give Redman a slight edge, but Dwyer got more carries in Week 10 after Redman's first-quarter fumble. Head coach Mike Tomlin had indicated he would go with the back playing the best at the time, and Dwyer got the call for most of Monday's win vs. Kansas City.
Ravens passing game players (at Pittsburgh) — I realize some owners aren't going to have the luxury to sit WR Torrey Smith. The good news? I like him the most of the Ravens' pass catchers this week. The bad news? QB Joe Flacco has exceeded 200 passing yards once in four road starts, and he has just three TD passes away from home. While a quarter of Flacco's 20 TDs a season came against Pittsburgh, I still couldn't start him with great gusto. The Steelers have allowed more than 200 yards passing in just three of nine games, and not since Week Six. If you're on the fence about a Ravens passing-game player, you might want to look long and hard at your alternatives.