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Three Ways to Avoid Thursday Night Fantasy Disaster

Tony Gonzalez

Bench Garrett Hartley. That’s about it.

Tony Gonzalez

Feel safe to roll with Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez on Thursday. Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

It’s going to be hard to mess up this one, dear reader. We have two offenses that run on high-octane gasoline and cocaine, one defense that has proven laughably bad through most of this season, and another that has looked increasingly vulnerable of late.

The Saints-Falcons showdown on Thursday night is destined to be a high scoring one, with the game shaping up as a must-win for the desperate Saints, a week after the 49ers’ defense made Drew Brees look at least half human.

You’re rolling with most fantasy options in this one, banking on the bountiful helping of fake football goodness we got last Thursday, on Thanksgiving.

I’ll focus on a few conundrums owners might face in this all-important opener to Week 13. In the meantime, I can say with confidence to bench Hartley. Not every kicker on a high-powered offense is worth owning. Hartley has made nine field goals all year, scoring less than 10 fantasy points in all but one game. That, dear reader, is incredibly lame production.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons – You’re frustrated. You thought the future Hall of Famer’s prominent role in Atlanta’s new, fantasy-friendly offense would continue unabated. You thought the good times of September and October would never end.

Well, as you know now, you were so very wrong. Gonzalez has scored less than six fantasy points in four of his past five games, even though his targets have stayed relatively stable. The outlier in all that lackluster production: A Week 10 122-yard, two touchdown explosion in New Orleans. Tony G found the ample soft spots in the Saints’ secondary and outmaneuvered safeties and linebackers near the goal line. Matt Ryan looked to his tight end 15 times in that game, completing 11 passes to Gonzalez.

The scores are probably unsustainable, but the receptions and yardage aren’t. You’re playing Gonzalez Thursday night. New Orleans has given up the ninth most fantasy points to tight ends, including 43 points in the past three weeks.

Darren Sproles, RB, Saints – Sproles, in his return to action last week, gobbled seven receptions on nine targets, totaling 65 yards against San Francisco. Thirty-five of those yards, it should be noted, came in garbage time, salvaging the scraps of an otherwise forgettable performance.

Sproles in still a top-12 running back in PPR formats because, well, he’s not really a running back. He rarely gets carries. He’s a receiver, plain and simple, so he should have a spot in your PPR lineup. You can do better in standard formats, I think. Sproles has eclipsed 50 total yards five times this year, while proving at least somewhat touchdown dependent in standard leagues. He played 41 percent of the Saints’ offensive snaps in his first game back from injury, 15 percent more than the next closest New Orleans back, Mark Ingram.

He’s still a top-25 option this week, but don’t shoehorn him into your standard league lineup if you don’t have to.

Saints and Falcons D/ST – Don’t get cute. Both of these defenses are destined to be shredded like a corporation’s financial documents during a Securities and Exchange Commission search and seizure.

A few people on the Twitter Machine have asked me if the Falcons are a viable defensive play this week. The simple answer: No. The slightly longer answer: Atlanta’s defense hasn’t scored more than four fantasy points since Week 6, a span that includes a two-point outing in New Orleans. The Falcons’ defense only has two good fantasy games this year – against the Raiders and Chargers, naturally.

There are so many superior streaming options for your fantasy playoff-hunting hind parts this week. Stay far away from these two.

Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, RBs, Falcons — If Turner owners hadn’t heard the alarm sounded on their guy, head coach Mike Smith made it abundantly clear in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week. “We feel like Jacquizz is a very viable option to carry the football and has done a nice job for us,” Smith said, calling the ever-vexing running back by committee approach “the vogue thing to do” in today’s NFL. It’s also the right thing to do as Turner, the former centerpiece of the Falcons’ smashmouth approach, looks increasingly slow footed — a weight around the neck of an otherwise excellent offense.

Turner ran for a whole 15 yards on 13 carries last time these teams met (that total somehow included a nine yard gain). And then there’s this rather stunning statistical picture of how Atlanta’s running backs have performed: Over the past five games, Turner has 89 touches for 257 yards (2.8 yards per touch). Rodgers has 349 yards on 49 touches (7.1 yards a touch), per the inimitable Ryan Boser of LeagueSafePost.com. Rodgers played 31 snaps last week against the Buccaneers, eight more than his backfield counterpart with the rotund posterior.

I still don’t think Rodgers is a locked-and-loaded RB2 because he’s still a timeshare back and his touches aren’t at all guaranteed (he’s been given double digit carries in only two games this season). The time has come, however, to rank Quizz above Turner. Rodgers makes a decent flex option this week. Turner is bench fodder.

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