Decision time: Thirteen players to help fantasy teams ace Week 13
Bills WR Steve Johnson is averaging 97 yards in past six games
Johnny Knox has emerged from crowded field to be Bears' best WR
Toby Gerhart will be popular pickup if Afrian Peterson is sidelined
As Week 13 approaches, I can't help but blame some of my fantasy football failures this season on bad luck. I've been stung by season-ending injuries (Ryan Grant, Tony Romo and Jermichael Finley). I've been burned by no-catch performances (thank you Randy Moss and Dez Bryant). I've fallen victim to flat-out busts (Ryan Mathews and Shonn Greene).
Woe is certainly me.
But for those of you who don't care about my luck (probably most of you) and to those who believe in making your own, here are 13 players that could help you get into the playoffs. Like many cultures around the world, here's your chance to embrace the number "13":
Steve Johnson, Bills -- One of only three active players in the NFL to brave wearing the "unlucky" number, Johnson was the victim of butter hands Sunday when he dropped a potential game-winning grab in overtime against Pittsburgh. And while blaming his misfortunes on God via Twitter won't get him much sympathy, Johnson is still a hot commodity. In his past six games, he is averaging 7.5 catches and 97 receiving yards to go along with five total touchdowns. Next up is Minnesota, which has allowed 18 passing touchdowns this season.
Johnny Knox, Bears -- While donning No. 13, Knox has been the most reliable Bears receiver this season with 40 catches for 740 yards and two scores. He caught one of Jay Cutler's four touchdowns Sunday against Philadelphia (though two went to fellow receiver Earl Bennett and one to tight-end Greg Olson). Next up is Detroit, who just got burned by New England's Tom Brady and has surrendered 20 passing TDs.
Nate Burleson, Lions -- The third "13" has benefited from defenses focusing on fellow receiver Calvin Johnson as Burleson has found pay dirt in four of his past seven games. Although he had a quiet Thanksgiving against New England (three catches for 35 yards without a score), Burleson was targeted a team-high eight times. Next up is Chicago, who has allowed only eight TDs in the air but two of them came last week to Philadelphia.
Sam Bradford, Rams -- It's time to stop viewing this guy as a rookie quarterback on a bad team. Bradford threw for career-highs of 308 yards and three scores at Denver Sunday to move the Rams into a first-place tie with Seattle. In his last five games, his TD to INT ratio has been excellent (10:1) and his QB rating has been superb (98.9). Bradford just feels like a safer bet compared to some veteran signal callers like Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer and Brett Favre. Next up is Arizona, which has given up the fourth-most passing yards per game (261.7).
Deion Branch, Patriots -- As Brady's new Moss, the veteran receiver had a season-high 113 receiving yards and two scores at Detroit on Thanksgiving. It was the first time since '08 that Branch had scored twice in a game and the first time since '07 that he had surpassed 100 receiving yards. Next up is a Monday night clash with the Jets. Judging by what cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie did to the "TOcho" show last week, you're definitely testing you luck by starting Branch for this matchup. But Brady always does well at home.
Randy Moss, Vikings -- In his past four games (one with the Vikings, three with the Titans), Moss has a zero-catch stinker and has averaged a dismal 14.3 yards per game. Dare you drop the 13-year veteran? Let's first see if Kerry Collins replaces shaky rookie Rusty Smith this Sunday against Jacksonville, as the Jaguars have allowed a healthy 261.1 passing yards per game.
Toby Gerhart, Vikings -- The former Stanford back did a nice job filling in for an injured Adrian Peterson, who missed the second half of Sunday's win at Washington with an ankle injury (did I tell you I own Peterson in two of my leagues?). Gerhart rushed for 76 yards and a score on 22 carries and showed some tenacity by playing through a shoulder stinger. Peterson is scheduled for a MRI on Monday and if the results aren't good, Gerhart should become the hottest waiver wire pickup. Next up are the hopeless Buffalo Bills, which have allowed an NFL-leading 167.4 yards per game.
Brandon Jacobs, Giants -- Once relegated to the bench, Jacobs replaced fumble-prone Ahmad Bradshaw as the starter Sunday and rushed for 87 yards on just 14 carries against the Jaguars. Lucky for Jacobs, he held onto the football and thus stayed out of head coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse. Next up for the Giants is Washington, ranked 28th in rushing defense (131.5 yards per game). Expect both Jacobs and Bradshaw to run wild with the Giants passing game still banged up.
Matt Cassel, Chiefs -- If you weren't smart (lucky) enough to draft Dwayne Bowe, why not get the guy throwing to him? In their last seven games, Cassel and Bowe have connected for -- wait for it -- 13 touchdowns. Next up is Denver, which has surrendered the second most passing TDs (23).
Jacoby Ford, Raiders -- Apparently, he's not just a one-hit wonder. After an explosive Week 9 (six catches for 148 yards along with a 94-yard kickoff return for a TD), the rookie receiver cruised again in Week 12 against the Dolphins (four catches for 108 yards and a score along with a 101-yard TD return). Ford also snagged a nifty completion that should have been intercepted. Next up are the division rival Chargers, who have allowed a stingy 192.5 passing yards per game. It's your money if you want to gamble on another TD kick return from Ford, but San Diego has allowed a league-high two this season.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers -- The 13th overall pick in the '08 NFL draft, Stewart should reclaim his job from Mike Goodson after a strong comeback on Sunday (12 carries for 98 yards). Next up is Seattle, which has allowed 120.4 yards per game and 11 rushing scores.
Thomas Jones, Chiefs -- Despite a timeshare with Jamaal Charles, Jones is a strong play this week against Denver, as the Broncos have allowed a league-high 16 rushing TDs.
Peyton Manning, Colts -- As if you need an excuse to start him each week. Don't fret about Manning's unusual four-interception game Sunday against the Chargers. The 13-year quarterback will make short work of the Cowboys at home this week.