You asked for the flex rankings to be moved up to accommodate the Thursday games, and you've got it. For those who ask me to include quarterbacks in the rankings, sorry, we can't do that! Anyway, while I am not a member of any leagues in which full rosters need to be set by Thursday night, I'm certain some of you do have to rush those final decisions, so for those with tough decisions at flex, we're happy we could help.
I recall a league I was in a few years back in which we had to e-mail active rosters to the commish, and when a game was played before 1 p.m. ET on Sunday, it created utter chaos. Inevitably a few owners would want to circumnavigate the rules and beg on Friday morning that their fifth wide receiver be activated after he caught a touchdown the night before. Oh sure, you meant to sit Jerry Rice so you could have Freddie Mitchell in there? Had a computer problem? That's just terrible! Needless to say, our commish wasn't sympathetic, nor should he have been.
Even this season, as we prepare for the fourth Thursday night game -- don't forget, the season opened with one -- I hear feedback pretty much every Friday from those who either forgot to activate someone, or made the wrong decision and wished they had. These Thursday games have been very good for fantasy so far, but only if you had the players active. Consider that Jets win over the Patriots in Week 11: Matt Cassel hadn't thrown a touchdown pass the previous two Sundays. I don't think too many Cassel owners were interested in activating him for the Thursday tilt, and 36 fantasy points later, I'm sure some of those teams lost because of it. Did those owners merely forget to get Cassel active, or did they just make the wrong -- but legitimate at the time -- decision not to?
Anyway, one thing I noticed from ranking flexers on Wednesday for Thursday publication, as opposed to a day later in each case, is that there are more players. At least two more running backs, generally three or four wide receivers, and of course that means some bigger-name players are going to be left out. Chad Johnson, for example, wasn't making my top-100 flex list even if he had not been deactivated for the game. If you don't see one of your wide receivers in the top 100, don't fret. It means I don't consider him a very good flex option, but if you don't have any other choices, I'm sure you can convince yourself otherwise.
Here we go, flexing for the entire NFL in Week 12.
Larry Johnson versus Calvin Johnson: Or Grandmama versus Megatron. You choose. Each is a reasonable flex option, but neither made the top 30, so I guess it means they aren't great plays, eh? Well, are they? The Chiefs are not the same team they were when LJ was playing in September. They now have a quarterback who appears decent, someone who has changed the look of the offense. While Herm Edwards has been accused of running too much over the years, maybe now we know why: He didn't have a quarterback, and he also had a different, spryer Larry Johnson. How odd that Tyler Thigpen is that quarterback fella, no? This is why we should never assume those we've never heard of can't play. Sometimes they really can. Larry Johnson can play, but I doubt we're going to see him get those 150-yard games we used to love. He's capable of breaking a big play at any time, I suppose, but I peg him now, with his current usage, as more of a 75-yard guy. But when it comes to assessing a running back who is expected to get yards but not necessarily score against a wide receiver who should be the target of a very good defense, I think that sways things toward the back. Calvin Johnson is not doing poorly. Fantasy owners might not be 100 percent pleased with his production, since he's not getting 20 points per week, but all you can ask of wide receivers is double digits. Don't get greedy. The Lions have tough matchups for the next few weeks, so be wary of Calvin Johnson's being an automatic play. I don't think Larry Johnson is, either, but this week, he's one spot ahead of Calvin.
Lance Moore versus Derrick Ward: The Giants' running back situation was one of the most popular topics in my Wednesday afternoon chat session, and I also discussed it on the Fantasy Focus Football show earlier in the day. Brandon Jacobs is going to play Sunday. I'd be stunned if he didn't. The ultra-productive running back might not play in the second half, though, especially if he gets 15 carries by halftime and the Giants have a two-touchdown lead. I think Ward is ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw on the depth chart, and he would make for a fine flex option even with Jacobs playing. That second half is his. I just don't think we can count on more than, say, 60 total yards from him, especially since it would appear Jacobs will get the goal-line carries early. I do like Ward, but I like Moore, um, more. Even with Marques Colston back, Moore is still producing double-digit efforts, having scored against the Chargers, Falcons and Chiefs. OK, so those teams don't have the defense of the 1985 Bears, but are this week's foe, the Packers, all that? Moore is legit, so is Colston, and I'd take them over a popular reserve, unless that reserve gets more opportunity. As of now, I don't expect it.
J.J. Arrington versus Kevin Walter: Amazing that these two fellas are even in the conversation, isn't it? Edgerrin James is pursuing his release -- not only from fantasy football leagues, but also from the Arizona Cardinals. I say, good for him. I firmly believe this guy has something left in the tank, that what he did last season, while not flashy or top-10 worthy, was still worth something. If the Cardinals don't want to use him over Tim Hightower, who can really blame them, but not to use him at all seems odd. Let Edge be the next New England Patriots running back when Sammy Morris gets hurt again. Whatever. What's interesting about the current Cardinals running game is that Hightower is no longer as popular as he was a few weeks back. Arrington hasn't sped past him on the depth chart -- at least I don't think so -- but it sure looks like he's being relied upon for goal-line touches on the ground and through Kurt Warner's MVP-like air. I don't think this is a long-term trend, but it's about time Arrington, now in his fourth NFL season, emerges. I'd use Arrington against the Giants as a deep flex because I think Warner will move the team, and Arrington is the running back most likely to get a touchdown. He might accrue a mere 50 yards total, but we like touchdowns. Walter would, on the surface, seem a better play. He's averaged 82 yards the past two weeks against the Ravens and Colts, and the Browns are certainly beatable in the secondary, though Trent Edwards didn't show it. I don't buy into Andre Johnson's being useless, though. I ranked him in the top 20 of wide receivers, despite 11 total fantasy points during the two recent games in which Walter was rolling. If Sage Rosenfels wants to salvage the rest of this season, he'd be wise to get Johnson more involved. I could see Walter scoring again, but I think Arrington has the same chance.
Justin Gage versus Darren McFadden: At some point this season the first running back taken in the 2008 draft is going to do something big. It might be this week, though my McFadden ranking doesn't really show it. The kid has ability. So does Justin Fargas, and this week could be the turning point of both of their seasons against a Broncos defense few, if any, would call strong. I gave the Denver defense an odd vote of confidence in the rankings, though, because that's how bad JaMarcus Russell has been of late. If the Raiders are going to score points, I think they have to give the ball to McFadden and see what he can do. All that noted, however, Gage is the surer bet this week. Don't expect Kerry Collins to continue his Peyton Manning impression, but I do think part of the reason he's been able to exploit unsuspecting defenses the past fortnight is that Gage has been healthy and wide open. Gage has three touchdowns in his past two games, and the Jets can be beaten in the secondary. (Matt Cassel, anyone?) I don't think the Jets will make it so obvious they want to stop Chris Johnson and LenDale White, though. Collins has proved his point. He still has game when a defense puts eight men in the box. I think this week, even with the Jets' showing a more balanced defensive plan, Collins will find Gage. As for McFadden, I'd add him now just in case this is his big week, but it's still premature to assume it's coming.
Deuce McAllister versus Chris Chambers: I gave Philip Rivers a far better place in the rankings this week than the other esteemed gentlemen, and I was a bit surprised at all of us. I don't assume the Rivers we saw struggle against the mighty Steelers will do that again against the vulnerable Colts. Will Bob Sanders play? I think I'm willing to take the chance that if the Rosenfels-led Texans can put up 27 points on the Colts in their place, the underrated Chargers offense can as well. Rivers has LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates as his top targets, but Chambers has been battling an ankle injury, and the word is he's ready to go. Chambers normally gets more attention than Vincent Jackson, and this would seem a decent matchup to expect Rivers and Chambers to hook up for something good. Meanwhile, there's McAllister holding onto his job and watching the attention he used to get slip away. Pierre Thomas appeared to vault past him on the depth chart for carries in Week 11, and the pending return of Reggie Bush can't help him. I think the Saints want McAllister to be a goal-line back, but past that, he just hasn't done much with the carries. Oh, there's also this possible suspension looming, and the fact the Saints signed Mike Bell to the active roster isn't a sign of confidence in McAllister. I'm still going to give McAllister the edge here, but his time is running out, and Chambers, with an attractive schedule on the horizon, is about to become someone fantasy owners can again rely on.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.