Injuries continue to be the story during the month of November. Ladell Betts was this week's notable victim, as you'll read below. But the headliner of Week 11 was a player subbing for an injured starter: Jason Snelling.
Despite rumblings in the Atlanta papers that Jerious Norwood might be healthy enough to split carries with him, Snelling emerged as the Atlanta Falcons' starting running back (both Michael Turner and Norwood were inactive), running 25 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns versus a talented New York Giants front seven. Snelling managed 20 fantasy points, tied for the most of any running back in Sunday's daytime (1 and 4 p.m. ET) contests.
More impressive has been how involved Snelling has been near the goal line. He tallied four carries in goal-to-go situations in relief of Turner in Week 10, and earned another six this week, and in those 10 total carries between the two contests, he scored all three of his touchdowns. That might paint Snelling as a goal-line vulture the remainder of the season, regardless of how quickly and fully Turner and/or Norwood return from their respective injuries.
What it certainly does is ensure Snelling will get the football another 15-plus times in Week 12, barring a miraculous recovery by Turner. Norwood hasn't played in more than a month and only recently resumed practicing, and Turner's ankle injury is the type that typically shelves a running back multiple weeks. Considering the Week 12 matchup is against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have been clobbered for 74 fantasy points combined by opposing running backs the past three weeks, Snelling could easily be a high-level No. 2 option for that matchup.
One thing is for sure: Snelling's ownership percentage will surely rise this week from its current 51.1 level. He's a must-add in all formats.
It's Eli Manning, because of all of the week's statistical standouts, he's the one a decent number of fantasy owners would have actually started (active in 29.0 percent of ESPN leagues), even though doing so was admittedly a bit of a gamble (10.3-point average in his previous four games). Manning stepped up at a time when his real team and his fantasy teams most likely needed him most. He set a career high with 384 passing yards and threw for three touchdowns in a must-win game versus the Falcons, registering a healthy 25 fantasy points, third-most among quarterbacks.
With tougher matchups versus the Denver Broncos, Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles over the next three weeks, Manning salvaged whatever faith his fantasy owners had left heading into a treacherous portion of his schedule. More importantly, he eased any lingering concerns about the foot injury that hampered him before the bye week. Manning might not be a "safe" start facing some of those future matchups, but at least he again gives his owners a fighting chance.
• Justin Forsett: I considered putting Forsett in the "matchups did the talking " section, but the fact is that while the matchup did do the talking in Minnesota -- Forsett managed but 9 yards on nine carries -- the first-time starter was an absolute standout in every other facet. He scored a touchdown on his only goal-line carry of the game (albeit during garbage time), cracking through the "Williams Wall," and he was the team's leader in both receptions (8) and targets (9). This kid can catch passes out of the backfield with the best of them, and it could be argued he deserves to retain the starting job even after Julius Jones returns from rib and lung injuries. Forsett's upcoming schedule sure looks promising, starting with the St. Louis Rams in Week 12.
• Greg Jennings: He's a name I had suggested as a buy-low candidate in past weeks, and your opportunity now might have passed after Jennings tallied more than 100 receiving yards for the first time since Week 3 (and 100 yards plus a score for the first time since the season opener). The Green Bay Packers' offensive line seemed much improved this week, surrendering only two sacks, and if the unit can maintain that level of performance, Aaron Rodgers should have more time to locate his top deep threat. With matchups versus the Detroit Lions (Week 12), Chicago Bears (14) and Seattle Seahawks (16) coming up, Jennings should finish strong.
• Visanthe Shiancoe: A 13-point fantasy day might not be anything special from a consistent producer such as Shiancoe, but looking closer, his eight receptions on 10 targets absolutely warrants your attention. He was lined up repeatedly in the slot, as the Minnesota Vikings continued to decrease Bernard Berrian's role in the offense. Shiancoe was already a red zone beast for Brett Favre, and if he's going to occupy a Dallas Clark-like role for the Vikings, his fantasy value will soar.
• Kevin Boss: It was a bit of a matchups-driven performance, as the Giants recognized the Falcons' weakness at safety and exploited it, but let's also not overlook that Boss, a capable pass-catcher, has touchdowns in each of his past three games. Sure, he wasn't much of a factor in the season's early weeks, as Steve Smith and Mario Manningham did most of the dirty work, but as defenses have adjusted, the Giants have countered, using Boss and the short game more often. Boss did have six touchdowns in 2008, five of them from Week 8 forward, so it's not like his increased role should come as a huge surprise.
• John Carlson: It's official: Carlson is a more blocker than pass-catcher. As Seahawks coach Jim Mora had hinted to the Tacoma News Tribune earlier in the week, Carlson has been increasingly kept in to block to help compensate for Seattle's offensive line woes, especially with the team's wide receivers (and running backs) doing an adequate enough job in the passing game to afford it. Carlson was shut out and targeted only five times in Week 11, and is now averaging 4.5 targets and 2.3 catches in his past six games.
• Cadillac Williams: Forgive him for his three-point fantasy day because of the 38-7 final score if you must, but the fact remains that the New Orleans Saints did not run away with this game all that early, meaning Williams had his chances early to exploit the Sedrick Ellis-less Saints defense. Here's the other problem: While Williams had 11 carries, Derrick Ward had seven and Earnest Graham had three, meaning this Bucs backfield is once again a clouded picture. It's bad timing with favorable matchups against the Falcons and Carolina Panthers due up the next two weeks.
• Brandon Marshall: We stressed this on many of our pages this week: Marshall's performance cannot help but suffer if Chris Simms is his quarterback for even a portion of the Broncos' remaining schedule. Turns out a banged-up Kyle Orton, who threw 29 of the team's 33 passes Sunday, isn't what Marshall needs either, as Marshall managed to catch only three of the nine balls sent his way Sunday. Poor quarterback play could be Marshall's eventual downfall, and with fantasy playoff matchups versus the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders and Eagles in Weeks 14-16, Marshall might be due to disappoint.
• Darren McFadden: When "Run DMC" injured his knee back in Week 4, there was actually a legitimate debate whether fantasy owners should cut him at that time or wait around for him to return. Looking back, is there any doubt now those owners should have cut him? Michael Bush earned the start in Week 11, and while McFadden did finish with more touches (9 to Bush's 4), Justin Fargas (10) topped them both. This is a maddening three-headed rushing attack on a bad offensive team, with road games against the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers due up the next two weeks. No way you can trust McFadden in those games.
For the latest injury updates, check back for Stephania Bell's analysis throughout the week and keep tabs on the Monday news conferences.
• Ladell Betts (knee): Both the Washington Post and Washington Redskins' official Web site reported that Betts has a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee, which was confirmed by coach Jim Zorn following the game. It's unclear the severity, as Betts will undergo an MRI exam to determine whether he also has a tear of his anterior cruciate ligament, but this is looking like at least a multiple-week injury, if not a season-ender. With Clinton Portis (concussion) already ruled out for Week 12, the Redskins are suddenly precariously thin at running back. Rock Cartwright is likely the team's new starter, and while Quinton Ganther is currently second in line, the Redskins might look to add a free agent (Marcus Mason?) for depth.
• Kolby Smith (ankle): He left on his first carry of the game in the second quarter, freeing up starter Jamaal Charles to take 17 of the Kansas City Chiefs' 20 rushing attempts on the day. Charles managed 105 total yards and two touchdowns (counting his return work), so if Smith misses further time, the Chiefs shouldn't suffer. Charles' owners have to be pleased by his performance.
• Marshawn Lynch (shoulder): He was taken off the field on a cart midway through the second quarter, having at the time amassed only 18 yards on eight carries. The Buffalo Bills provided no update on his status after the game, but Fred Jackson, who totaled 55 yards on 13 touches, would be a more than adequate fill-in. Jackson totaled 425 yards in three starts for a suspended Lynch to begin the season. Whichever back starts, however, faces somewhat tough matchups the next two weeks versus the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, respectively.
• Brandon Jacobs (knee): He left in the third quarter and was seen making cuts on the sidelines in an attempt to get back into the game, but he ultimately sat out the remainder as a precaution. The New York Daily News reported that Jacobs is fine and could have returned, but perhaps the Giants, knowing they have a quick turnaround for the Thanksgiving night game, were simply playing it safe. If Jacobs' injury turns out to be worse than expected, Ahmad Bradshaw would likely start Thursday's game, with Danny Ware as his backup.
• Ben Roethlisberger (concussion): He departed during the Steelers' only drive of overtime with what coach Mike Tomlin afterward termed a "concussion-oriented thing." It's the fourth concussion of Roethlisberger's career, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the quarterback will need to pass a series of baseline tests before being cleared to play in Week 12. Should Roethlisberger need to sit, Charlie Batch would step in as the team's starter.
• Matthew Stafford (shoulder): Though he threw the game-winning touchdown pass with no time on the clock, Stafford suffered a shoulder injury on the previous play. Coach Jim Schwartz told the Detroit Free Press that X-rays were negative, though the rookie will require further tests to determine the extent of the injury. The Lions have a short week, so keep tabs on Stafford, not that fantasy owners would be especially eager to use him even if he's cleared to play.
• Kurt Warner (head): He departed late in the second quarter as a precaution with his team up 21-3, and while the Rams, like some of the Arizona Cardinals' previous opponents, made this one interesting, Matt Leinart completed the game for once. Leinart did little in his relief appearance, and it was unclear whether Warner would miss further time with a possible concussion. It'd be bad timing for Warner to sit; his remaining schedule is extraordinarily favorable.
• Ryan Grant (stinger): He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that his injury, which knocked him from the game late, was minor. Still, Grant's health will bear watching, being that his Packers have the quickest turnaround of any team. They're on the road in the early Thanksgiving game.
Go get 'em!
As you're preparing your waiver claims, keep these names in mind:
• Robert Meachem: He has touchdowns in three consecutive weeks and played the part of Drew Brees' preferred red zone target Sunday, catching two scores in goal-to-go situations. But what also stands out is how Meachem's stock seems to have risen at the expense of Devery Henderson and Lance Moore the past three weeks. Henderson has the same number of targets (10) as Meachem during that span, Moore has missed each of the past two games, and Meachem seemed firmly entrenched as the Saints' slot receiver in Week 11. Amazingly, he's owned in only 12.9 percent of ESPN leagues.
• Rock Cartwright: The latest "newly crowned" starter -- or at least it seems he is -- Cartwright stands to elevate to the top of the Redskins' depth chart should the injuries to Clinton Portis and now Ladell Betts shelve the team's top two options in Week 12. Cartwright actually didn't perform badly at all in relief of Betts on Sunday, totaling 140 yards on 20 touches, and it's not like that was the softest of matchups. There's a reason he began the year no higher than third on the team's depth chart -- Cartwright simply isn't as talented a runner as Portis or Betts -- but if he's a long-term starter, there are favorable Saints (Week 13) and Raiders (14) matchups ahead.
• Jermichael Finley: I liked this guy before he missed three games because of a knee injury and I still like this guy now that he's back. Finley's five fantasy points might not catch many eyes, but his seven receptions and 10 targets should. He's going to be an option versus weaker secondaries or when the Packers face tougher defensive fronts; Aaron Rodgers is going to need this kind of safety valve from time to time. Oh, and Finley faces the Lions in Week 12.
• Alex Smith: I'm doing this as more of a one-week matchup play -- and more for those of you in two-quarterback leagues than anything -- but Smith draws the Jacksonville Jaguars as his Week 12 opponent. They lack anything resembling a pass rush and are weak in the secondary, and Smith did step up with an impressive late rally this week against the Packers. Surely he's a more talented quarterback than Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 297 yards against that defense, right?
The matchups did the talking
• Brady Quinn (304 yards, 4 TDs passing at Lions): No, that is not a misprint. In fact, Quinn had three of those touchdown passes, two of them for 40 yards or more, in the first quarter of the game. As I asked a buddy in one of my leagues midway through this performance, how painful might it have been to have lost to Quinn in one of those 0.4 percent of ESPN leagues in which he was active? All I take from the outing is that the Lions' pass defense is bad. Really bad. Which bodes well for the Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Cardinals in coming weeks. Every one of those teams ranked among the league's top 14 in terms of team passer rating heading into Week 11 as it was.
• Brett Favre (213 yards, 4 TDs passing versus Seahawks): I can't stress it enough: Favre is a must-start in home games. He carved up this mediocre secondary and even had time to take a rest late, a smart move by a Vikings team that needs to preserve its veteran quarterback. Favre did wear down considerably as 2008 rolled on, so it's a good idea for the team to give him the hook during garbage time.
and the flip side: So much for the matchups!
• Randy Moss (5 catches for 34 yards and 1 TD): OK, so I blew this one, but to be fair, that's a nine-point day and I did stress how this was not a top-shelf play. And at nine points, it absolutely was not one. Still, Moss did beat Darrelle Revis on a 4-yard score in the first quarter, so while this wasn't any standout day, it was probably the wrong call in a lot of leagues. These things will happen, as picking football matchups is a lot about probabilities. Considering Moss, one of the best wide receivers in the game, was held to these numbers, I'm probably still going to play the percentages and keep avoiding Revis matchups.
Now that wasn't part of the game plan!
Thoroughly maddening, that Saints backfield can be. A week after Reggie Bush landed himself in this section, the fourth-year back sat out Sunday because of a knee injury, seemingly putting the goal-line work back into the hands of the capable Pierre Thomas.
Such a development is a bit of a sore point; I was one of Thomas' biggest supporters in the preseason but have been disappointed by his usage all season. If you read Called Out! this week, surely you remember I was surprisingly skeptical about Thomas, mainly because I feared Bush would vulture his touchdowns.
So naturally, what happens? Bush gets scratched, I'm back on the Thomas bandwagon, and Mike Bell is the one who gets all four of the team's carries in goal-to-go situations, scoring on two of them. The Saints seem to be using everyone but Thomas near the goal line, and while it's nice to see him average 8.4 yards per carry this week and 5.5 in his past four games, Thomas just can't be trusted as a top-shelf option as a result of his unpredictable role.
Keep that in mind looking forward if you own any of the Saints' backs, because as productive as that offense has been, their backfield has been just that unpredictable. At best, I think Thomas and a healthy Bush are midlevel No. 2 backs.
A quick preview of what's in store for Week 12
• While most of us are filling up on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, six NFL teams will go to work on Thanksgiving (Packers versus Lions, Raiders versus Cowboys and Giants versus Broncos). When is this league going to give us compelling daytime Thanksgiving matchups? Those first two are games in which one team (Packers, Cowboys) has a four-game advantage in terms of record, and the other (Lions, Raiders) has been outscored by its opponents by at least 120 points. Hey, at least the night game is captivating, though it's worth pointing out that since Week 6, the Giants and Broncos are a combined 2-8.
• Patriots-Saints on "Monday Night Football," naturally, is the Week 12 matchup everyone will love. The Saints have to be considered the favorites in this one, even if it's only because of their home-field advantage. They have won nine of their past 10 games at the Superdome, while the Patriots have dropped three of their past four road contests. Expect a high-scoring affair regardless.
• A whopping 10 of the 12 Sunday games are intradivision affairs, and you know what that means: Oodles of rivalry games, as well as historical data from which fantasy owners can draw. Let's take a quick look at some of the standouts:
• Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 300-plus yards and multiple scores in all three of his career games versus the Lions. He threw for 358 yards and two scores with one interception against them in Week 6.
• Ricky Williams ran 16 times for 85 yards and a touchdown versus the Bills in Week 4, despite finishing second to Ronnie Brown in terms of attempts (20). Williams has scored a touchdown in three of his past four games against the Bills, in fact, despite averaging just 11.3 rushing attempts in those contests.
• Peyton Manning once again gets that fantastic matchup versus the Texans, against whom he's 14-1 in his career, including a win in Week 9. He has averaged 278.5 passing yards in those contests, with 34 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions, and has topped 300 yards in three of their past four meetings.
• Fred Davis could be a low-level sleeper, as he caught eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown versus the Eagles in their previous meeting in Week 7. The Eagles, incidentally, entered Week 11 having allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is an FSWA award-winning fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.