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Fantasy football advice, Week 12: Who to start/sit for Lions vs. Patriots

The matchup is two first-place teams, but one of them is a much safer playoff bet.

The New England Patriots, at least a game clear of all the rest of the AFC, and with head-to-head victories over all three other division leaders, look like they're in strong shape heading down the season's home stretch. The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, are only a game worse than the Patriots, but in a top-heavy NFC, they aren't nearly as set up for a potential playoff run. Sunday, the two high-end teams face off.

Detroit had several fantasy-relevant players appear on the week's injury report, including running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Only Pettigrew -- the least helpful fantasy contributor -- is considered a risk to possibly miss the game, though. The Patriots, meanwhile, only have wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh) to worry about, and he's not considered a risk for the game.

The Patriots play host Sunday, in a 1 p.m. ET game. Let's take a look at the fantasy contributors:

LIONS

Start 'em: Even against a pass defense that shut down T.Y. Hilton a week ago, Calvin Johnson is so elite that he's still a top-flight receiver, and needs to be in all lineups.

Start 'em?: Theoretically, Matthew Stafford was supposed to be one of the top five or six fantasy quarterbacks at the beginning of the season. He's performed much worse than that, and hasn't gone for more than 19 fantasy points in a game since Week 4. He still has elite upside, but he's far from a sure thing. ... Joique Bell is the only Detroit running back who you could justify using in fantasy right now, and even he isn't much more than a decent flex play. ... Golden Tate has shown enough to be relevant even with Johnson on the field, but not as anything but a flex play. ... Matt Prater has been just productive enough to be justifiable as a kicker without being anything like a sure thing. ... Against a neutral opponent, the Lions' defense is a must-start, but the New England offense makes it dicier.

Sit 'em: Behind Bell, both Reggie Bush and Theo Riddick could contribute, but using them would basically be hoping for a touchdown, and it doesn't seem like a strong enough hope. ... Between injury and ineffectiveness, the Detroit tight ends -- Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew -- are really far from the fantasy radar.

PATRIOTS

Start 'em: Last week was Tom Brady's worst fantasy performance since Week 4, but he's still a must-start, near the top of the position rankings. ... Hey, so Rob Gronkowski is really good. ... Stephen Gostkowski has averaged 13.7 fantasy points a game since Week 4. That's really good.

Start 'em?: A week after Jonas Gray exploded onto the scene, Shane Vereen actually looks like a better play this week. Against a stout Detroit run defense, the team will be looking more at dump-off passes than straight-line runs. Vereen is a mid-range flex; Gray is a bit lower. ... Neither Julian Edelman nor Brandon LaFell is performing consistently enough to be a must-start, though both would be perfectly fine flexes. ... Once you get out of the top 10 or so tight ends, every one of them has zero-point downside. Of that group, Tim Wright has the best shot at a touchdown, making him an interesting desperation option. ... The Detroit offense isn't as good as New England's, but the Patriots' defense isn't as good as Detroit's, so it's a mid range No. 2 defense.

Sit 'em: In the long run, LeGarrette Blount might have fantasy value in New England, but only signing there a few days ago, this isn't the time to use him.

SUMMARY

Start in every league: Calvin Johnson, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Stephen Gostkowski
tart if you're desperate: Matthew Stafford, Joique Bell, Golden Tate, Matt Prater, Detroit defense, Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Tim Wright, New England defense
Bench: Reggie Bush, Theo Riddick, Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew, LeGarrette Blount