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NFL Fantasy Football, Week 12 Preview: Welcome to the Grind

We dig into the rest of the week 12 slate of games and what to watch for this weekend highlighted by young gunslingers Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota squaring off. Plus, we dig into some longshot calls for those in need.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

During a conversation with a friend this week, we settled on one word to describe this year - grind. Maybe that's true every season but more often than not, we're talking about an injury to a big name player. Think about it - Le'Veon Bell, Jordy Nelson, Kelvin Benjamin, Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles, Justin Forsett and Steve Smith Sr. are all on IR. Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Marshawn Lynch, Dez Bryant, Andrew Luck and Emmanuel Sanders have missed multiple games. Eddie Lacy and CJ Anderson were busts. Even Todd Gurley, this year's darling, started the year injured. Last week, we saw the Jamaal Charles handcuff, Charcandrick West, get hurt and his handcuff, something called Spencer Ware, go off for a big game. Who are these guys? My backfields look nothing like what I drafted and I'm starting a guy named Buck this weekend! Buck! But, that's why we play. The draft may be the most fun part of fantasy, but the real work is done throughout the year, making moves, grinding out wins. If you're still in the grind with me after all these weeks, let's hear what you think of Week 12, the Thanksgiving hangover edition.

Game of the week: Minnesota Vikings vs. Atlanta Falcons - With the Lions, Bears, and Packers all playing on Thanksgiving, the Vikings will take center stage for NFC North fans against the sputtering Falcons in Atlanta. There are plenty of fantasy relevant items to get into but this is also a really important NFC playoff race game. While the Vikings are tied with the Packers, they lost the first matchup, putting them as the 5 seed right now. Atlanta is holding onto 2nd in the division and the #6 seed. The Falcons have 2 games coming up against the Panthers and it's not out of the question one of the teams trailing them could close the gap like the Seahawks. The Vikings could put a real stranglehold on a wildcard berth with a win and keep the pressure on the Packers. It should be a fun game to watch.

On Minnesota's side of the ball, Adrian Peterson has been one of the few 1st round picks to hold value all year. I've had AP on my fantasy team twice and both times he failed miserably in the fantasy playoffs - so beware of weeks 15 and 16 - but he's usually great up until then. While the Falcons defense is better than it was last year, it's still terrible against the run. Getting Peterson to the 20 carry mark is a good indication that the Vikings are playing the type of game they want to play and I see no reason why AP won't get there in this one. On the flip side, Teddy Bridewater has seemingly taken a sidestep this year in his development, as he appears to be asked to do less than he was at times last year. The lack of legitimate options may be part of that, but he did have a nice rapport going with Stephon Diggs for a few weeks. After defenses adjusted to Diggs, he's been a disappointment and I don't see him breaking out of that this week as Atlanta has enjoyed strong corner play all year.

For Atlanta, let's see if Matt Ryan can break out against a good defense. Ryan has been all about the floor this year but I keep hitting my head on his ceiling and it's driving me nuts. Ryan has the ability and the weapons to win a fantasy matchup for you but he simply hasn't done it this year. Despite the monster year from Julio Jones and sophomore sensation Devonta Freeman coming out of the backfield, Ryan hasn't come close to a 30 point game. I'd like to see if he can get on a roll here as the Falcons have a pretty tough closing schedule, finishing the fantasy playoffs against Josh Norman and the Panthers. This will be particularly important if Freeman is out or limited coming off a concussion last week. I'd also like to see Julio get into the endzone, as I mentioned earlier this week. With the monster year he's having, 6 TDs seems like a mistake. Averaging 119 yards a game, Julio needs to be start paying off all this yardage into some points for his real team and our fantasy squads alike.

Spotlights:

Marcus Mariota vs. Derek Carr - We've spotlighted both of these guys but the two young guns are facing off this weekend in a game that might be pretty entertaining. I'm fascinated with who will be the big guns of the future and both of these guys are really interesting to me. Carr seems fearless to me and has taken a big step from last year and he's looking like the top dog from that class. Mariota has had mixed success thus far but has flashed against bad defenses. Good news for Mariota is that the Raiders defense is still pretty bad.

Martavis Bryant vs. Legion of Boom - I missed the boat on Bryant this year and I honestly didn't know he was all that much to be worried about. Since returning from his suspension, Bryant has been useful until last week when he was marvelous. He's been around the 8 target range each week and I want to see how much he can do against a really good secondary. He benefits from Antonio Brown drawing the most attention but if he can produce against the Seahawks, he would move into the circle of trust.

Sammy Watkins vs. Kansas City Chiefs - I want to see what Watkins can do against a bad secondary. After getting shut down by the Jets and Patriots in consecutive weeks, Watkins should get to feast on the Chiefs who give up the most points to WRs in the entire league. Watkins has run his mouth more than his legs this year but he's finally healthy and needs to dominate in matchups like this if he's going to be a legit player in this league.

4 Defenses to Use - The Cardinals defense, finally out of the spotlight of Sunday Night Football, are an obvious great play against the 49ers who will likely again be without Carlos Hyde. I also love New England against Denver in this week's Sunday Night game where Belichick gets to pick on a young signal caller. For a sneaky play, I'd dial up the Steelers against the Seahawks. I'm also signing off on the Bengals this week who get the Rams led by...not sure - Trent Green? Regardless of Foles or Keenum, the Bengals have enough talent up front to limit Gurley early and protect a lead, likely leading to a few turnovers.

4 Defenses to Abuse - Start all of your Cardinals (vs. 49ers) - although to be fair that might be 8 skill players at this point. Go ahead and dial up your Colts (vs. Bucs) and your Texans (vs. Saints). DeAndre Hopkins should have a monster game here but even Nate Washington is a good play. Even though they've been struggling lately, I'd roll out some Chargers as they get the Jaguars this weekend.

Shotgun Longshot - Marcus Mariota - I love Mariota this week. He's only 43% owned in Yahoo! Leagues and he gets the Raiders this weekend in a game that could turn into a shootout if Carr gets it going on the other side. If you're stuck in a tough matchup, like not wanting to trust Big Ben against the Legion of Boom, look to the rook.

Toss Sweep Sleeper - Javorius Allen - Buck is only owned in 43% of leagues as of this writing and I'm sure that will continue to go up but I'll take it. Allen gets a soft defense in his first start, the Cleveland Browns, and with Matt Schaub now under center and Kamar Aiken the #1 WR, I think Allen is going to get some work. There's still some talent on this offensive line and look for John Harbaugh to give the rookie plenty of work.

Fly Route Flier - Nate Washington - I really like the Texan this week, only 28% owned, as he gets the Saints defense. Remember the last time we saw the Saints defense they were so friendly they got their coordinator fired. My response would be to fire up everyone I can against this defense until I'm proved wrong and Washington happens to be free in a lot of leagues right now.

What are you looking forward to the most this weekend?