Start 'emSit 'em: Week 13

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Start 'emSit 'em: Week 13

The guys' point totals are moving up, but Mark remains our leader after Week 12. With bye weeks over, you now have a full array of players to use each week. That being said, more and more players are being affected by the injury bug which means back-ups are more important than ever at this point in the season. As always, with the season winding down the waiver-wire may be the best place to find a player to stash on your bench for the stretch run.
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 12. Good luck!
Scott Krinch (Week 12: 14 points; Season total: 143 points)
Well sadly I was the low man on the totem pole last week. Two of my starts in Andy Dalton and Cecil Shorts had big games, but my decision to label Matt Forte as a must start didn't look so wise. Forte didn't even crack 70 yards and Michael Bush went back to his vulture ways for the Bears. My sits didn't fare so well either. Eli Manning went HAM against the Packers, Reggie Wayne and Chris Johnson both had great performances despite not reaching the end zone. With the fantasy football playoffs a week away, it's time to make some bold decisions if I want to catch up to Mark in the standings. All or nothing. With that, I give you my Week 13 picks.
Start 'em
Jay Cutler, QB -- CHI (vs. SEA)
Call me crazy, but I think Jay Cutler is going to have a monster week. In ESPN standard leagues, Cutty is ranked 24th among starting quarterbacks this week. Forget about those rankings on Sunday. The Bears went with more of a balanced attack last week and even if Matt Forte is held out on Sunday, Michael Bush will keep Seattle's defense honest. Despite not having a monster performance against the Vikings, Cutler showed no ill effects from his concussion. Brandon Marshall has been beastly lately and even the tight ends are starting to catch balls in Chicago. I say No. 6 throws for over 250 yards and three touchdowns while quieting many of the doubters. 
Bryce Brown, RB -- PHI (@ DAL)
I usually stay away from players that have one big week out of nowhere, but something about Brown intrigues me. The Eagles are playing for nothing right now and the coaching staff is going to want to see what they have in Brown. On Monday, Brown exploded for 178 yards and two scores, but had two costly fumbles. The fumbles don't worry me so much in fantasy terms as long as he's finding pay dirt. The Cowboys defense was torched by Alfred Morris and RGIII on the ground on Thanksgiving and there's no reason to believe Brown can't break 100 yards and finding the end zone at least once. I say go with What can Brown do for you and reap in the benefits. 
Eric Decker, WR -- DEN (vs. TB)
I'm taking a page of Tony's book this week and putting Eric Decker in my starting lineup. Decker has been silent in recent weeks, but this should be a good matchup against a Buccaneers' defense who's been getting torched in the air every week. With both offenses having quick strike ability, this looks like it has the making of a shootout and the last team with the ball may be the winner on Sunday. Expect Decker to see a lot of touches and break through with a score this week.
Sit 'em
Colin Kaepernick, QB -- SF (@ STL)
Kaepernick has been creating buzz all around the league the last two weeks and rightfully so after two solid games in his first two career NFL starts. Everyone is rushing to put him in their starting lineup, but I say hold off this week. St Louis' defense has been very good against the pass this season and with the emergence of Janoris Jenkins, it's going to be Kaepernick's job even tougher this weekend. I see him having a bad game and Harbaugh surprisingly going to Alex Smith down the stretch. Do NOT give into temptation, keep him out of your lineup this weekend.
Marshawn Lynch, RB -- SEA (@ CHI)
Once again, I'm picking a player that's going up against the Bears' defense. Yes, Adrian Peterson ran for over 100 against Chicago on Sunday, but a lot of his yards came in garbage time in the second half when the Vikings were already well behind. Lynch had a miserable week against the Dolphins after four-straight 100 rushing games. I don't see him going into Beast Mode this weekend. The Bears (second-best rushing defense in the league) are going to make Russell Wilson beat them and stack the box against Lynch.
Dez Bryant, WR -- DAL (vs. PHI)
Bryant has been on fire the last two weeks with 20 catches for 290 yards and three touchdowns. I must be insane to sit him against an Eagles' defense that's given up seven touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in their last five games. I don't know why, but I see this as a letdown week for the enigmatic Bryant. If you want to start a Dallas player, go with Miles Austin and Jason Witten, I see them as safer bets on Sunday.
Tony Andracki (Week 12: 18 points; Season total: 138 points)
I got back on track last week, as Stafford came up big against the Texans and Welker had a decent day. But, I'm still a far way off, thanks to a couple of rough weeks sandwiched. But we're gonna keep it going this week, in the last pre-playoff matchup for most leagues. Go big or go home. One thing to keep in mind in a must-win matchup -- trust your studs. You're here for a reason.

Start 'em
Cecil Shorts, WR -- JAC (@ BUF)
The Bills are right about league average at defending wide receivers, but Shorts has emerged as the go-to guy in Jacksonville. Don't be ashamed if you hadn't heard of Shorts before this season -- most people hadn't. Over the last six games, Shorts has 28 catches for 542 yards and 4 TDs. Extrapolate that out for a full season, and you have 74 catches for 1,445 yards and 10 TDs. Sound like a must-start guy to you?
Andy Dalton, QB -- CIN (@ SD)
The red-headed assasin has been great lately, with 9 TDs and no INTs. The Bengals are gunning for a playoff spot in the crowded AFC, and they will lean heavily on their second-year QB to get them there. Start Dalton with confidence this week.
Chris Johnson, RB -- TEN (vs. HOU)
The Texans have been unbelieveable against the run this year, allowing just two rushing TDs (both came on Thanksgiving against the Lions). Only one opposing RB has totaled more than 85 rushing yards against Houston, but luckily that running back was CJ(1?)K, who ran for 141 yards against the Texans in Week 4. Johnson has been very solid lately after a slow start, so if you're in a must-win situation, stick with the guy that helped get you here, even in a tough matchup.
Sit 'em
Brandon Myers, TE -- OAK (vs. CLE)
Myers has emerged as one of the top tight ends out there, but not this week. The Browns have allowed just two touchdowns to opposing tight ends, and only one since the first game of the season. Cleveland is the best in the league at limiting tight ends, so if your season is on the line (like mine is going against Masaki in our CSN league here), don't trust Myers.
Josh Freeman, QB -- TB (@ DEN)
Freeman was on a roll until he hit the wall that is the Falcons' defense. The Broncos have not allowed a 300-yard passer all year (topping out at 299 Week 9 against Andy Dalton). Denver has not surrendered 15 points to an opposing QB since Week 5, when Tom Brady put up 18 points. Stay away from Freeman if you can.
Bryce Brown, RB -- PHI (@ DAL)
Brown took the football world by storm with his fantastic performance on Monday night, but don't buy into it all just yet. LeSean McCoy, a definite Top 3 pick this season, has struggled to run in this offense all season, so don't think Brown will suddenly put up 100 yards and multiple scores each week. Plus, he has some fumble issues. I'm not saying he'll be bad this week -- the Cowboys are a solid matchup -- but he likely won't meet expectations.
Mark Strotman (Week 12: 16 points; Season total: 150 points)
Start 'em
Greg Jennings, WR -- GB (vs. MIN)
Jennings is likely to return from an abdomen injury that has kept him out since Week 4. While conditioning may be an issue, the Packers will be looking to rebound from last Sunday night's debacle in New York. That means plenty of pass attempts from Aaron Rodgers, who still loves to look Jennings' way more than any other receiver.
Vick Ballard, RB -- IND (@ DET)
Consistency is huge down the stretch in fantasy, and while Ballard won't shock anyone with Doug Martin-like numbers on Sunday, he's a good bet to see 15-20 carries and 50-80 yards. If he can find the end zone, he's well worth a start in your flex position.
Chad Henne, QB -- JAC (@ BUF)
This is definitely a risky play if you want to trail my first-place picks, but Henne keeps getting the job done. Of course he wasn't going to keep up his 30-point pace, but he had a solid 16-point showing against Tennessee and, as long as MJD is out, Henne will keep looking to pass. Cecil Shorts' and Justin Blackmon's recent success have both been helpers.
Sit 'em
Pierre Garcon, WR -- WAS (vs. NYG)
Maybe I watched too long as the Giants' pass rush and secondary absolutely shut down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but I don't trust any opposing offense heading into the Meadowlands as of late. That means Garcon, fresh off a 4-catch, 86-yard and one-score outing on Thanksgiving Day, while intriguing, should probably move back to the bench. But it's close.
Shonn Greene, RB -- NYJ (vs. ARZ)
The Jets' situation as a team is ugly, yet somehow their fantasy running back situation is even uglier. Combined, Greene and Bilal Powell make for an outstanding duo. But trying to pick between one or the other (the starter Greene or the goal line back Powell) is one to stay clear of. It's nice to have a starter (Greene) in your lineup, but he just isn't finding the end zone and faces a tough Cardinals' defense this week.
Mike Wallace, WR -- PIT (@ BAL)
This almost seems like a surefire benching, but fantasy rankings still have him around the 20's, which is considered borderline WR2Flex start in most leagues. I'm here to tell you that Charlie Batch is not getting any younger between you reading this and Sunday afternoon. Fantasy owners with Wallace just need to pray Ben Roethlisberger is back sooner than later.

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

It’s an interesting working life, really, this backup goaltending gig.

Most of the time, you’re in hurry-up-and-wait mode. But now and then something bizarre happens – like the starting goaltender needing an appendectomy on the road – that thrusts you into the No. 1 spot for a time.

Scott Darling has been here, done this before, though, and he did it well. And considering how goaltending has been the backbone of this team’s performance this season, the Blackhawks are confident he can handle the job.

Darling gave the Blackhawks a chance again on Sunday night, his 30-stop performance keeping them within one goal in what was ultimately a 2-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Darling started his second consecutive game – Crawford was diagnosed with appendicitis prior to the team’s game in Philadelphia, where he had his operation. An interesting turn of events, for sure, but Darling will do what’s necessary in Crawford’s absence.

“Obviously you don’t want it to happen this way. But there’s not too many other ways it can happen so it’s an exciting opportunity for me,” Darling said following Sunday’s game. “I mean I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how long Corey will be gone or what the game plan is. But I’m excited to get a few more starts than usual.”

Darling had a whole three games of NHL experience in December of 2014 when he subbed for Crawford, out with a lower-body injury at that time. That worked out just fine – he won three of his first four starts and came up even bigger in the Blackhawks’ first-round series against the Nashville Predators that postseason.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Coach Joel Quenneville said Darling has handled the extremes well.

“I think that’s what it’s all about in that role: you’re ready to play once every four or five games and then all of a sudden you’re playing every night and it’s a different job description, workload, pressure. But the expectations when you do get it can be different,” Quenneville said. “Some guys handle it the same way, going every fourth or fifth game and don’t change a beat. I think Darls did exactly that. He had a good demeanor, had a good approach, was patient as he always was. I think that helped a lot. He played some critical games for us in the playoffs, handled it the same way and that’s how you’re hoping they handle it.”

Darling is expected to get most, if not all, of the workload while Crawford’s out. Lars Johansson was recalled on Sunday and will serve as backup, but he has no NHL experience – then again, Darling didn’t have much a few years ago, either.

But Darling isn’t taking anything for granted during this stretch.

“I’ve gotta win some games to have the right to get those minutes,” he said.

Maybe, but the Blackhawks also have to give him some help. The goaltending hasn’t gotten a ton of that from the Blackhawks, who have sputtered offensively most of the season. No matter who’s in net, the Blackhawks need to start producing more.

For now, Darling is the man. He’s rolled with the backup-gig demands before and should be fine again. And if the Blackhawks can help him out some, they shouldn’t miss much of a beat without Crawford.

“He’s played great. I thought he played great again [Sunday],” Duncan Keith said. “He gave us a chance, and you know, more than a chance to win. He stopped breakaways and made big plays all night. We’re lucky to have him as a goalie we can look to when we’ve got a guy like Crow out.”

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

Bears Grades: Offense ignites to end 1st half, puts up season-high points vs. Niners

With less than 2 minutes to play in the first half the Bears had gained a total of 45 yards, and had zero pass completions (2 attempts) and zero points . By the end of the half they had 115 yards, Matt Barkley had completed 4 of his last 6 passes and the Bears adjourned for halftime with a 7-6 lead.

For the second straight week Barkley engineered a comeback, this time for a win, and running a two-minute offense that, curiously perhaps for an inexperienced quarterback, seems to suit Barkley even more than the offense run a normal speed. More than one player said that 70-yard drive to finish the first half was a tipping point, on all sides of the football.

The turning point “was that two-minute right before the half,” said right tackle Bobby Massie. “Everybody just executed, did what we needed to do and drove right down the field. Then we come out after the half and drove right down again. It was good.”

More than just good for the offense. “I think that really spurred both sides of the ball to be motivated to finish the game strong,” said Barkley, who got the Bears into the end zone twice in last Sunday’s Tennessee game, and nearly a third, within the final 10 minutes, running 35 plays over the span of those minutes.”

This time the result was the highest point total (26) this season and scores on four out of five possessions beginning with that hurry-up score to end the half.

Quarterback: A-

Once again Barkley was beset by dropped passes, although nowhere near the avalanche of them that defeated him against the Tennessee Titans. Barkley shook off the conditions and poor start to complete 4 of 6 passes on the final drive of the half, for 64 yards – the entire passing production for the half.

Barkley followed a shaky first half with a solid second, completing 7 of 10 passes for 128 yards and zero interceptions, a significant key with the 49ers unable to do much of anything against the Bears defense. Barkley effectively convinced coaches that he could operate in the adverse conditions with passing and not simply handing off to Jordan Howard.

“I thought [the way] he handled the two-minute drive before the half, we had to open it up some and throw the ball,” said coach John Fox. “I thought he executed outstanding.”

Barkley finished with 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, no touchdowns but no interceptions and a passer rating of 97.5.

Running back: A+

In a game that demanded effective rushing, Jordan Howard delivered a statement game, his fifth in the last eight with 100 rushing yards and 115 total yards of offense.

Howard rushed for 3 touchdowns, giving him five on the year, and carried 32 times, an average of 3.7 that belies the overall, which involved the chemistry of the run game, now averaging 4.4 yards on the season . “He’s fun, man,” said guard Eric Kush. “We block our butts off to try to give him something. Even if it’s not the prettiest block, we try to finish our blocks and give him a chance.”

Howard displayed power inside as well as burst on the Bears’ outside-zone runs that exploited the San Francisco edges. He carried 10 times in the first half, then 22 in the second.

“I’m definitely ready to be that workhorse,” said Howard, who now has 883 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns despite not starting until game four. “Even though they might know the run is coming, they still have to stop it.”

Receivers: B+

Josh Bellamy, replaced in the starting lineup by Deonte Thompson after his drop-laced game against Tennessee, had perhaps one the streakiest game of the Bears year. Bellamy again suffered with drops that included lost TD catches, but Bellamy rebounded to match his career-best 4 catches against Tennessee but with 93 yards and a long of 31 and others of 24, 22 and 16 yards. Bellamy also was handed the ball on an end-around for 12 yards.

All of this despite two egregious drops, one of a potential TD ball with Bellamy two steps behind his defender. “He came up to me and said, ‘Keep feeding me,’” Barkley said. “I’m not going to stop giving those guys the ball… .I’m going to keep coming back to them for the rest of the year.”

Cam Meredith remained in the starting lineup and caught 3 of the 4 passes thrown to him, with Thompson and tight end Daniel Brown catching 2 each.

Offensive line: A

With the adverse weather conditions expected, coaches made a specific challenge to the offensive line to take over this game against a struggling San Francisco front. Guard Josh Sitton was active but still limited with an ankle injury, so coaches stayed with Eric Kush at left guard and were rewarded with some consistent blocking in the run game. Kush executed combination blocks and worked to the second level. Kush and Charles Leno repeatedly dominated the San Francisco left side as the Bears pounded with the run and never let up in the snowy conditions.

“With the conditions, you had to run the ball,” Leno said. “The O-line just tried to come together, not worry about the record and win one week at a time.”

The result was another 100-yard rushing day for Jordan Howard, with 3 touchdowns, and 142 rushing yards, high for the season. “Today the offensive line got great push like they always do,” Howard said.

Barkley was sacked once, in the fourth quarter, on a breakdown in one-on-one blocking by tight end Daniel Brown.

Cody Whitehair going down in the fourth quarter with a leg injury was a blow, but Whitehair was able to return later in the period. The Bears had Sitton dressed and part of field-goal unit, and Sitton came in at right guard and Ted Larsen moved over to center.

Coaching: A

The obvious overall effort and preparation of a 2-9 team for a game of virtually no import to the season was noteworthy, as the Bears again played with intensity and efficiency throughout, including recovering from first-half gaffes on special teams that put the Bears down 6-0.

The defense schemed for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick by staying almost exclusively in a 3-4 front, utilizing three down-linemen and two outside linebackers to pressure Kaepernick and with the speed to thwart his runs. The result was the worst game of Kaepernick’s career, with 20 rushing yards and 4 passing, vs. 25 yards lost to sacks.

The offense held to a run-based mindset and plan, even when the 49ers turned two special-teams mistakes into field goals for the first two scores. The 49ers also relied primarily on man-to-man coverage, committing an extra defender to run defense, but the Bears were willing and able to challenge downfield knowing that the San Francisco pass rush was hampered by the field conditions.

“Props to Dowell[Loggains, offensive coordinator] and the whold coaching staff for getting us ready and making adjustments like that during the game,” Barkley said.

Special teams was again mistake-prone with mental breakdowns compounded by physical mistakes.