Even at this point of the NFL season, there are many surprises popping up, from the Niners changing quarterbacks, to crowded backfields making weekly picks uncertain and unheralded receivers starting to get loose in Scott Cullen's Week 12 NFL Recap.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
A concussion to starting QB Alex Smith paved the way for the 49ers to get Colin Kaepernick into the lineup last week, where he impressed in a Monday night win against Chicago, but a healthy Smith wasn't enough to unseat Kaepernick, who was effective (16-of-25, 231 YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT, 27 YDS, 1 TD, six carries) in a win at New Orleans.
While it's shocking to put an unproven second-year quarterback in for a quarterback that has been as effective (30 TD-10 INT) as Smith over the last couple seasons, Kaepernick offers more upside and gives the Niners a higher ceiling as a team. Does it mean they can't ever return to Alex Smith? No. But until Kaepernick runs into problems, or gets hurt, he has the nod for the Niners.
For most of the week, leading up to the Denver Broncos game at Kansas City, it appeared that Ronnie Hillman would be the beneficiary with Willis McGahee out for the rest of the regular season. However, it turned out that Knowshon Moreno was the featured back and he was productive enough (111 yards, 24 touches) to believe that he'll remain in that role going forward.
ROLLING THE DICE
There are some teams that have solid running back situations that make it easy to define which players will contribute week after week. That hasn't been the case with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints this season.
Injuries certainly play a role in this complication, but the Steelers have not been able to establish one bona fide threat as Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer have shared the work between each of their injuries. Dwyer led the Steelers with nine carries Sunday, followed by Chris Rainey (5), Mendenhall (4) and Redman (2). Tough to find value in that group, or predict that Rainey, who has 21 carries all season, would be the one to score a touchdown.
In New Orleans, it has largley been a three-pronged attack with Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram sharing touches, but when Sproles was out of the lineup for a couple of weeks, Chris Ivory stepped in an earned the right to keep playing. In Sunday's loss to San Francisco, it was Thomas, who had one carry, who was left on the outside looking in as Ingram (10), Ivory (8) and Sproles (7) had more touches.
Green Bay has a similar jumble in the backfield, with Cedric Benson injured. Alex Green had been the one receiving the most touches, but then James Starks emerged in Week 11 and looked to be taking over, only to have Green finish with more touches (13) than Starks (8) Sunday night.
JOHNSON AND JOHNSON
A couple of the league's elite wide receivers continued their strong play on Thanksgiving. Texans WR Andre Johnson (9 REC, 188 YDS) has exploded for 23 catches and 461 yards in the last two weeks. His 273 and 188-yard single-game totals rank second and fifth-highest for his career.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (8 REC, 140 YDS, 1 TD) has been nursing a knee injury and missing practice time because of it, but his results over the last four weeks -- 32 catches for 619 yards, 3 TD -- would seem to indicate that it's not affecting his in-game performance.
A more reliable quarterback seems to agree with Jaguars wide receivers Cecil Shorts (4 REC, 105 YDS, 1 TD) and Justin Blackmon (5 REC, 62 YDS, 1 TD), who both had productive games against the Titans. Shorts has been under the radar for much of the season, despite ranking 21st among wide receivers in fantasy points per game (8.8). Blackmon has been a non-factor for most of his rookie campaign, but the last two weeks have brought significant production as he seems to have a better connection with veteran QB Chad Henne.
BIG-TIME RECEIVERS BLANKED
Steelers WR Mike Wallace (no catches, six targets at Cleveland) and Cowboys WR Miles Austin (no catches, two targets) were among the bigger name receivers to get shut out in Week 12. Austin left the Thanksgiving Day game early with a hip injury, but Wallace was a victim of QB Charlie Batch combined with Cleveland's strong cover corners.
With Austin injured early against Washington, Cowboys receivers Dwayne Harris (4 REC, 71 YDS) and Cole Beasley (7 REC, 68 YDS) were relatively productive in the first extended action for either one.
After rushing for a season-high 101 yards in Week 11, Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis upped the ante (129 yards, 1 TD, 19 carries) in Week 12, riding a wave of momentum with the Cincinnati offence.
When it comes to Bengals receivers, A.J. Green remains the pre-eminent target, but rookie Mohamed Sanu thrived (5 REC, 29 YDS, 2 TD vs. Oakland) in the absence of Andrew Hawkins. Sanu is a big target and has a modest 98 yards receiving in the last three games, but has scored four touchdowns in that time.
DOWN ON THE CORNER
One of the strong suits for the Seattle defence this season has been the play of cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, a pair of aggressive, physical corners that aren't afraid to push the boundaries with their hands-on play. The Seahawks' pass defence has been among the league's best, allowing 10 touchdown passes through 12 weeks, so it could be a big loss if Sherman and Browner are suspended for PED use.
While RB Reggie Bush had one of his best days (87 yards, 1 TD, 14 carries), in fact his second-highest rushing total of the season, the Dolphins also got continued production from RB Daniel Thomas (78 yards, 10 touches). Thomas is up to 443 yards from scrimmage, which puts him in the top half dozen of backup running backs for yardage.
In the passing game, Miami succeeded against Seattle with their slot receiver, Davone Bess setting a new career-high for yardage (7 REC, 129 YDS). Staying in the middle of the field, the Dolphins also had a productive day (6 REC, 84 YDS, 1 TD) from TE Charles Clay, who was playing a more prominent role while Anthony Fasano was slowed by a hip injury.
Falcons RB Michael Turner endured another difficult (17 yards, 1 TD, 13 carries) game Sunday. While he scored a touchdown for the second time in the last three weeks, Turner has managed just 78 yards on 41 carries (1.9 ypc) in those three games.
BUSH THE BEAR
With Matt Forte hobbled by an ankle injury, Michael Bush has his most productive game (60 YDS, 2 TD, 21 carries) since joining the Bears. If Forte is out of the lineup, it will provide Bush an opportunity to handle starter's touches, a role in which he had some success when he was with Oakland.
Jaguars RB Jalen Parmele (45 YDS, eight carries) suffered a leg injury against Tennessee, allowing Rashad Jennings to handle 16 carries (for 43 yards and a touchdown) against the Titans.
One week after managing one catch for seven yards against the Steelers, Ravens WR Torrey Smith went off for a big game (7 REC, 144 YDS, 13 targets) against San Diego Sunday. Smith has been scoring enough (7 TDs) to be valuable this season, even if his yardage (699 yards, two 100-yard games) has been inconsistent.
Rams RB Steven Jackson has only scored two touchdowns this season and put up pedestrian numbers through the first eight games, never gaining more than 85 yards from scrimmage, but Sunday's effort (139 YDS, 24 carries) against Arizona capped a three weeks stretch in which he has run for 321 yards on 66 carries.
HOUSE OF CARDS
The struggling Cardinals did get a bit of positive news Sunday, with RB Beanie Wells (48 YDS, 2 TD, 17 carries) returning to action against the Rams. With Ryan Lindley (31-for-52, 312 YDS, 4 INT) starting at quarterback, the Cardinals continued to struggle, but Wells does offer a viable alternative in the running game, for as long as he remains healthy.
Naturally, the Cardinals had more productive days from WR Andre Roberts (9 REC, 92 YDS) and TE Rob Housler (8 REC, 82 YDS) than they did from WR Larry Fitzgerald (3 REC, 31 YDS). While Fitzgerald is obviously the much bigger name, with a superior pedigree, he and Roberts have put up the same 8.0 fantasy points per game this season.
GIVE IT UP
Rams Chris Givens (5 REC, 115 YDS, 1 TD) emerged as Sam Bradford's number one receiver Sunday, as an injured Danny Amendola was targeted just once and Brandon Gibson didn't register a catch, while he was targeted just three times.
Even as the losses continue to pile up for the Detroit Lions, QB Matthew Stafford (31-for-61, 441 YDS, 2 TD vs. Houston) is putting up big numbers, and while not quite as prolific as last year's 5,000-yard season, he does lead all quarterbacks with 3429 passing yards.
With Titus Young serving a team-imposed suspension, rookie Lions WR Ryan Broyles had a career-best (6 REC, 126 YDS) game against Houston. Even when Young returns, don't be surprised to see Broyles' role increasing for the Lions.
GARCON MEANS BOY
Redskins WR Pierre Garcon has been hampered for much of the season with a foor injury suffered in Week One, however he had a productive (5 REC, 92 YDS, 1 TD) Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas and should be poised for a strong finish since he is the best weapon at Robert Griffin III's disposal.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis (2 INT TD)
Jerrell Freeman, ILB, Indianapolis (15 total tackles, one sack)
Stephen Tulloch, MLB, Detroit (15 total tackles)
D'Qwell Jackson, ILB, Cleveland (8 tackles, 1 FF, 1 FR)
Lawrence Timmons, ILB, Pittsburgh (10 total tackles, 53-yard INT TD)
Anthony Spencer, OLB, Dallas (10 total tackles, two sacks)
Zach Brown, OLB, Tennessee (8 tackles, 2 sacks)
Miles Burris, OLB, Oakland (13 total tackles)
J.J. Watt, De, Houston (five tackles, three sacks, two passes defended)
Miles Austin, WR, Dallas (hip)
Matt Forte, RB, Chicago (ankle)
Andre Brown, RB, N.Y. Giants (leg)
Jalen Parmele, RB, Jacksonville (leg)
Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco (ankle)
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland (concussion)
Dexter McCluster, WR, Kansas City (head)
Devin Hester, WR, Chicago (concussion)
Bruce Carter, ILB, Dallas (elbow)
Asante Samuel, CB, Atlanta (shoulder)
Dunta Robinson, CB, Atlanta (head)
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.