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 12:
Texans QB Matt Schaub (at Detroit) — Here's to hoping you started Schaub a week ago; the matchup was very favorable, and did he ever capitalize, throwing for a team-record 527 yards, which tied for the second-most in NFL history. If you didn't play Schaub on Sunday, well, here's another ideal spot to get him into the lineup. The Texans' stretch running game and precision passing game could lead to some big-play opportunities against Detroit, which has allowed opponents to complete 66.5 percent of its passes. The Lions don't see the Texans often, and I expect Houston's running game to stress Detroit, opening up the entire playbook for head coach Gary Kubiak. Once the Texans' offense gets rolling, it's tough to stop, considering its balance and talent.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford (vs. Houston) — No team has thrown for more yards than the Lions. What's more, no team has attempted more passes. Entering Week 12, the Lions were throwing about nine more times per game than the average NFL team. If the Lions fall behind against Houston, what will Detroit do? The answer is not likely to be "surprise the Texans with the Wishbone." Stafford just gets too many chances to throw for most fantasy owners to think about benching him. With CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring) hurting, the Texans could have some problems with Detroit's far-from-bashful passing attack.
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles (vs. Denver) — Since Charles became a key part of the Chiefs' offense in 2009, he's produced double-digit fantasy points in 3-of-4 games against Denver, with his 259-yard, two-TD outburst in the '09 season finale the banner performance of the bunch. The Broncos' defense is much, much better than past seasons, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Chiefs took the air out of the ball against Peyton Manning and Co.
Chargers WRs Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd (vs. Baltimore) — The Chargers' passing game presents a tough matchup for Baltimore. When the teams met last December, Chargers QB Phillip Rivers threw for 270 yards on just 17 completions in 23 attempts in a 34-14 San Diego win. While Baltimore was able to shut down Pittsburgh's passing game in Week 11, stopping San Diego is another matter altogether. Give Alexander (12-230-3 in his last two games) and Floyd (5-96-1 vs. Baltimore in '11) strong starting consideration on Sunday.
Panthers QB Cam Newton (at Philadelphia) — In the last four games, the Eagles have allowed opposing passers to complete 76-of-97 passes (78.4 percent) for 910 yards with 11 TDs and no interceptions. Not much else to say, is there?
Dolphins WR Brian Hartline (vs. Seattle) — The Seahawks' strong pass rush and coverage could give the Dolphins' passing game significant problems. Opponents are completing just 58.2 percent of their passes vs. the Seahawks, who have allowed just nine TD passes in 10 games. Hartline will get enough targets to be startable if you are in an absolute pinch, but he has just one TD, and this is not an ideal matchup for him.
Falcons RB Michael Turner (at Tampa Bay) — While Turner has scored double-digit fantasy points in all but one of the last four meetings with the Buccaneers, those Tampa defenses were much worse vs. the run than the 2012 edition, which is allowing just 81.8 yards per games and 3.4 yards per carry — both league-bests. The Falcons' passing game has a major edge on the Buccaneers' pass defense, further limiting Turner's upside. Turner has only two games of 20 carries or more this season, and circumstances aren't favorable for a third such game.
Lions RB Mikel Leshoure (vs. Houston) — The Texans have allowed zero rushing TDs and are surrendering a mere 3.9 yards per carry. Through 10 games, the Lions have attempted nearly 200 more pass dropbacks (attempts and sacks) than rushes. Is Leshoure usable as a flex play in a big league? Sure. Would I be expecting big numbers? No.
Saints RBs Mark Ingram, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas (vs. San Francisco) — The 49ers are strong vs. the run, and opponents are gaining just 3.7 yards per carry have scored just three rushing touchdownsin 10 games. When these teams met in the divisional round in January, Ivory and Thomas combined for just 29 yards on 10 carries.
Browns passing game players (vs. Pittsburgh) — This primarily applies to WR Josh Gordon, who could be a starter-caliber player in very big leagues, and TE Benjamin Watson, who might have been plucked off the waiver wire after catching two TDs in Week 11. The Steelers haven't allowed a TD pass in the last three games, and this will be QB Brandon Weeden's first game experience against a Dick LeBeau-led defense. In short, it's just not a good setup for the Cleveland passing game.