Fantasy football Week 11: Start 'em and Sit 'em

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Fantasy football Week 11: Start 'em and Sit 'em

There's a new leader atop the rankings, though it's anyone's game with seven weeks to play. Mark rode a big week from Sidney Rice to jump into first place, But Scott and Tony are close behind.
The last round of NFL bye weeks are upon us, but this Sunday and Monday you'll have to go without players on Minnesota, Seattle, Tennessee and the New York Giants.
That means no Percy Harvin (although he likely wouldn't have played this week), Sidney Rice, Chris Johnson or Eli Manning. Injuries are beginning to pile up late in the season, so these potential start-sit plays are becoming more crucial every week.
Just a reminder for those keeping score at home (though we'll do it for you), for players who each analyst starts, these are the points they will receive:
Start 'em: 5 points if a player scores 25 points4: 20-243: 15-192: 10-141: 5-90: negative-4
Sit 'em: 5 points if a player scores negative points to 4 points4: 5-93: 10-142: 15-191: 20-240: 25
Without further adieu, here are our picks for Week 11. Good luck!
Mark Strotman (Week 10: 21 points; Season total: 118)
Last place to first place in one week after a nice run in Week 10, so I'll keep the same philosophy of riding players who performed well last week and who should carry that into favorable matchups in Week 11. However, I'm benching those players who were once must-starts, are still big names but aren't fantasy starters in their respective offenses.
Start 'em:
Marcel Reese, RB -- OAK (vs. NO)
Imagine this: Reese has rushed for 48 yards combined the last two weeks, but has 24 combined fantasy points in that span. He's not going to give you much on run plays, but Reese has caught 15 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown the past two weeks. And with Darren McFadden likely out for Week 11, Reese will be the workhorse in the Oakland backfield and looks to be a nice flex play against the Saints' defense.
Jeremy Maclin, WR -- PHI (@ WAS)
Maclin's been an extremely inconsistent and frustrating player to own this year, but it appears he may be on to something with Nick Foles starting at quarterback. Maclin had games of 3 and 2 points, before going off for 15 points last week against the Cowboys. I'm going to roll the dice on Maclin one more week, especially if Foles is looking for him like he was last week.
Brandon Pettigrew, TE -- DET (vs. GB)
Pettigrew found the end zone last week for the first time since Week 2, but that's not why I like him as a TE1 this week. The Packers' defense is dealing with a handful of key injuries, including Clay Matthews' hamstring which will keep him out Sunday. That means less blocking and chipping assignments for Pettigrew, and more routes downfield against a Packers' linebacking corps that has struggled against the pass and is missing three regular starters.
Sit 'em
Michael Turner, RB -- ATL (vs. ARZ)
If it weren't already obvious, Turner is no longer a focal point of the Falcons' pass-first offense. True, he has rushed at least 11 times in every game this year, but behind Roddy White, Julio Jones and now Tony Gonzalez, Turner is no longer a viable option every week. And this week I believe that will continue, albeit against a shaky Cardinals' front seven. This may be beating a dead horse, but Atlanta is becoming one of the premier passing teams in the NFL, and that doesn't include The Burner.
Dwyane Bowe, WR -- KC (vs. CIN)
Bowe is the best option on the the worst offense in the league, which certainly has its benefits. Targets will come his way, he's always going to catch at least a few passes each week and may even find the end zone. But the Chiefs' offense is that bad. I don't feel safe starting any skill position player in Kansas City, even if it's against an average Bengals' secondary. Pass on Bowe this week, and yell at me if he goes off.
Mikel Leshoure, RB -- DET (vs. GB)
The Packers' run defense has had the top run defense in the NFL since Week 4, something defensive coordinator Dom Capers specifically mentioned. While running backs have found the end zone against the Packers in each of the last four weeks, it's going to be tough for Leshoure to find yards against a Packers' defense struggling against the pass. There are better RB2 and Flex options than Leshoure this week.
Tony Andracki: (Week 10: 11 points; Season total: 111 points)
Last week didn't go so well for me. I don't want to talk about it. Bush was awful, Decker had his worst game of the season, Flacco went off (thought it helped lead me to a victory in one league) and Nicks looked resurgent. Just one of those weeks, I guess. Oh well. At least I was right with Palmer and Forte. I'm confident my picks will be quite a bit better this week. And yes, I'm going right back to Bush. 
Start 'em
Tony Romo, QB -- DAL (vs. CLE)
My guy Romo has been a very solid fantasy quarterback over the past five weeks, scoring at least 14 points in every outing. The Cowboys are struggling to run the ball, so the entire offense runs through Romo's right arm. Cleveland has allowed multiple TD passes in five games this year and give up an average of 17 points a game to opposing QBs. Look for Romo to get 15 in standard scoring.
Reggie Bush, RB -- MIA (@ BUF)
Let's try this again. the Dolphins got rolled last week at home against the lowly Titans and Bush received just four carries, thanks to a benching following a fumble. Don't worry about the benching, Bush is clearly the best back Miami has. He draws a cushy matchup this week in Buffalo, who has allowed 14 rushing TDs this season and has surrendered 200 or more rushing yards in three games this year. 
Steve Smith, WR -- CAR (vs TB)
2012 has not been a year to remember for Steve Smith, with just one TD and four games in which he was held under 60 yards. That all crescendoed in being benched late in last week's game so Carolina could showcase other WRs. Don't be bothered by that. Smith will get back on the field this week, against a Tampa Bay secondary that is near the last in the league in nearly every category. 
Sit 'em
Josh Freeman, QB -- TB (@ CAR)
Freeman has been arguably the hottest fantasy QB of late, but he may run into a wall against Carolina this week. While he's tossed multiple TDs in five straight weeks (a total of 13 in that span), the Panthers have allowed multiple TDs through the air just once this season. Meanwhile, they've struggled to stop the run consistently, so Doug Martin figures to have the big day in the Bucs' offense this week.
Ryan Mathews, RB -- SD (@ DEN)
Mathews is dealing with a neck issue right now, but has struggled even when on the field this season, with zero 100-yard games and just one week above even 10 fantasy points. The Broncos defense has been phenomenal lately, allowing just 37 fantasy points to running backs over the last three games (Saints, Bengals, Panthers).
Andre Johnson, WR -- HOU (vs. JAC)
Andre Johnson is no longer a fantasy stud. There's no way around it. He's in the middle of the pack among WRs and no longer a must-start. Maybe it's the fact he has crossed that 30-year-old threshold. Maybe it's the fact Houston almost always has a lead, so they're focused more on running the ball. Whatever it is, don't start 'Dre this week. The Texans should be able to handle Jacksonville easily, leading to more ball-control offense. Plus, the Jags have surrendered just seven TDs to opposing WRs, and none since Week 8. Find another option.
Scott Krinch (Week 10: 15 points; Season total: 113)

Well with Mark back in the saddle, it looks like I'm going to have knock him off his high horse with my picks this week. Tony had been the fantasy workhorse, but he lost his saddle last week. Last weekend I started Ryan Fitzy and he went off against the Patriots which helped me big time. I'm done starting The "Jersey" LeShoure because he seems to have his worst games when I insert him into my lineup. Last week my BOLD PREDICTION was that Torrey Smith would catch a pass for over 65 yards. His TD went for 47-yards, so I wasn't too far off. My prediction this week? Simple. I win because all I do is win, win, win...

You'll probably look at my picks this week and think "What the heck is this guy thinking?" But, I promise that there is a method behind my madness. And with that, I give you this week's choices.

Start 'em:

Sam Bradford, QB -- Rams (vs. NYJ)

Don't sleep on Sammy B. Don't you ever sleep on Sammy B. With Danny Amendizzle back in fold, Bradford's numbers should continue to increase. The Jets have been shutting down No. 1 receivers as of late, but the team is in shambles right now and Bradford should have a field day on their secondary. After Karlie Kross' gentleman-friend tears apart the Jets, Rex Ryan will be one step-further out the door in New York.

LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB -- Cardinals (@ ATL)

Why am I starting LRSH this week? Because, that's why. But really, he's the feature back in Arizona's offense right now, mainly because he's all they've got with Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells on the IR. Atlanta has the 25th-ranked run defense in the league and all it takes is one big run from the speedster to reach his fantasy value. People think this game will be a shootout, but Arizona's defense is no slouch. I see it being close for the most part and the Cardinals will need to feed Stephens-Howling the rock to stay in the game. You'll be happy if you keep him in your lineup.

Jordy Nelson, WR -- Packers (@ DET)

I know he's listed as questionable, but Mark (who's a Packers fan) tells me Jordy will play this week. I trust you Mark. A healthy Nelson should give your fantasy team a healthy point total on Sunday. The last two indoor games for Nelson, he's accumulated 243 yards and four touchdowns. What happened the last time he played the Lions? Nine catches for 162 yards and three scores. This game has all the makings of an old-fashioned Texas shootout. Last team with the ball will win this game and Nelson's owners should get their popcorn ready, sit back and enjoy the show.

Sit 'em:

Philip Rivers, QB -- Chargers (@ DEN)

Will Rivers get revenge against the Chargers? I think not. Last time he faced them, the Broncos forced six turnovers. Filippo has only reached the 20-point mark once in Fantasy since Week 2. I have no optimism for him this week and it would be beneficial to you if you take him out of your lineup IMMEDIATELY.

Frank Gore, RB -- 49ers (vs. CHI)

I've said it over and over again that I'd be benching at least one player going against the Bears' defense every week. This week, Frank Gore gets the call. If Alex Smith can't play, the Bears are going to key in on stopping Gore and the 49ers' running attack. Chicago has allowed the fourth-fewest rush yards per game in the league and I don't see it going any different Monday night.

Marques Colston, WR -- Saints (@ OAK)

Colston has touchdowns in last two games, but his receptions and targets have declined. Drew Brees has been looking Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore's way a lot more (no pun intended) lately and with the emergence of Chris Ivory, I don't see huge value in Colston anymore. Granted, he's still a very good receiver, but I wouldn't trust him in my fantasy leagues down the stretch, nor should you. Do the right thing and park him on your bench.

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Blackhawks updates: Why Joel Quenneville is starting Corey Crawford vs. Canucks

Corey Crawford will start but Marcus Kruger won't play yet when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday night.

Scott Darling is coming off a 30-stop shutout in the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over Boston on Friday night. Coach Joel Quenneville said there was some consideration given to start Darling in this one, too, but, "at the same time we want Crow playing as much as he can to get back to the great pace he had prior to being away."

"He hasn't been bad. But certainly that's what we're looking for him to get back to," Quenneville said on Crawford. "I like giving Darls some consideration. We'll see but [Darling] certainly enhanced his positioning."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Meanwhile, Marcus Kruger skated with the Blackhawks for the first time since hurting his hand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 30. He took faceoffs on his own at the end of practice but was not among the line rushes. Quenneville said the Blackhawks will see how Kruger is for either Tuesday or Thursday but, "knowing we have that [All-Star] break, we'll see how he feels and what our options are."

Kruger said he felt, "pretty close."

"I tried to take it day by day and prepare to play," Kruger said. "Obviously not tonight, but the next game we will see." 

BLACKHAWKS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
6:30 p.m.
TV: WGN
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Chicago Blackhawks
Forward lines

Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Vinnie Hinostroza-Tanner Kero-Marian Hossa
Andrew Desjardins-Dennis Rasmussen-Nick Schmaltz

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Marcus Kruger (right arm).

Vancouver Canucks (via Canucks)
Forward lines

Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Alex Burrows
Markus Granlund-Brandon Sutter-Jayson Megna
Brendan Gaunce-Michael Chaput-Jack Skille

Defensive Pairs
Alex Edler-Troy Stecher
Luca Sbisa-Chris Tanev
Alex Biega-Nikita Tryamkin

Goaltender
Ryan Miller

INJURIES/ILLNESS: Anton Rodin (knee), Ben Hutton (hand), Jannik Hansen (knee), Erik Gudbranson (wrist), Philip Larsen (upper body), Derek Dorsett (back).

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

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USA TODAY

With losses piling up, things starting to get predictable for Illini — and not in a good way

Remember when the season began and we were talking about the likelihood of Illinois ending a three-year NCAA tournament drought?

Yeah, about that.

The Fighting Illini were again walloped on the road Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, their fourth road defeat in as many games during conference play. Against Michigan, Purdue, Indiana and Maryland, the losses have come in extreme fashion, by a combined total of 73 points, an average of 18.3 points.

And those numbers would be much bigger if not for a garbage-time 18-6 run to close out Saturday's 66-57 loss to the Wolverines. The game saw Michigan's lead grow as big as 21 with fewer than six minutes to play. It was another blowout, even if the final margin of defeat was in single digits.

How this continues to happen is frankly somewhat mind boggling. Illinois entered the season with experience, health and depth and have kept all of those traits throughout the campaign. But the experienced players who were believed to lead the Illini to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013, Groce's first season, simply haven't shown up.

Malcolm Hill has, and he deserves a pass in this critique. Hill, the only Illinois player who scored in double figures Saturday, ranks fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 17.8 points a game. He also ranks in the top 20 in rebounding (5.9 rebounds a game), free-throw percentage (79.4 percent) and minutes played (32.4 minutes a game).

Maverick Morgan, too, has been a bright spot. He's shooting 60 percent from the floor, good for fourth in the Big Ten, and is averaging 13 points a game over the last 10 games.

But where has everyone else gone? After a stellar non-conference season, Tracy Abrams' production has fallen off a cliff, and he's just 1-for-21 from 3-point range against Big Ten competition. Jalen Coleman-Lands hasn't been very reliable, averaging almost two points fewer per game and shooting almost five percent lower from 3-point range than he did during his freshman season a year ago. Mike Thorne Jr. was supposed to be the team's starting center, but he's not even averaging 15 minutes a game. Second-year guys like D.J. Williams and Aaron Jordan have barely seen the floor. Michael Finke has had good games and quiet games. This veteran team is more and more reliant on freshmen Te'Jon Lucas and Kipper Nichols for sparks that only rarely come.

The biggest issue has been the defense, with the team allowing opponents to shoot 44.5 percent from the field. That number has been significantly worse in conference play, up to 50.8 percent. Saturday was better, Michigan shooting only 45.1 percent and only 40 percent in the second half, when its lead grew largest. But the Wolverines, also a poor defensive team, clamped down on the Illini, who only shot 45.8 percent and more importantly turned the ball over a whopping 17 times, leading to 22 points for the home team.

With consistently subpar defense and inconsistent offense — a win over the same Michigan team just 10 days earlier saw Illinois drop 85 points on red-hot 64.2-percent shooting; where was that Saturday? — has been a recipe for disaster.

Coming into the conference season, it seemed Illinois was a prime contender for a spot in the Big Dance's field of 68. After all, only one disastrous week prevented the non-conference season from being a success. The Illini scored wins over name-brand opponents North Carolina State, VCU, BYU and Missouri, with that nightmarish week featuring losses to West Virginia and Florida State, the current Nos. 7 and 10 teams in the country.

But despite the high rankings of the Mountaineers and Seminoles, that resume has weakened. North Carolina State is just 2-5 in ACC play, and Missouri has just five wins this season, a nasty record that includes 10 straight losses. BYU and VCU aren't at the top of their respective mid-major conference standings.

That has made Illinois' conference showing all the worse as the tournament hopes flicker. The two wins have come at home against Ohio State and Michigan teams that stumbled out of the gates themselves. The losses, as chronicled above, have been convincing to say the least, and the one that came at the State Farm Center, against Maryland, featured an ugly second-half collapse after Illinois went to the locker room with a lead.

With typical bottom-feeders like Penn State and Nebraska improving their play this season, there aren't many noticeably winnable games remaining on Illinois' schedule, with just the season-finale at Rutgers looking like a surefire win, though the Scarlet Knights are no longer winless in Big Ten play after beating the Huskers on Saturday. What it means is a gauntlet the rest of the way for the Illini. There are plenty of home games, but does the venue matter when the Illini are playing like this and their opponents are of a significantly higher caliber?

Groce's seat is undeniably warm, and the heat could crank up if the campaign progresses as it has played out to this point. Would a fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite mean Groce's tenure would be over in Champaign? That's difficult to say, as Groce has secured one of the best recruiting classes in the country for next season. Illinois' best recruiting work in years would be in real danger if he's axed before his Class of 2017 arrives on campus.

But the on-court results are starting to get predictable, and not in the way games were predictable back during Illinois' glory days a decade ago. 

How about this: Last week's 23-point shellacking at Purdue was the 12th loss by 20 or more points of the Groce Era, which is in its fifth season. Bruce Weber, who coached the Illini for nine seasons, had three such losses during the course of his entire tenure. Prior to Weber, it was Bill Self, who had one such loss in his three seasons. Prior to Self, it was Lon Kruger, who had four such losses in his four seasons.

You have to go all the way back to 1980 to find the last time Illinois missed the NCAA tournament in four straight years.

Right now, the future is a mystery. What we do know is that the present is not going well.