Fantasy Cheat Sheet: Week 13 to decide fantasy playoff pictures
For the second straight week, one of the prime-time games serves as the main event of both real life and fantasy. In this final week of the fantasy regular season, many games will be decided and playoff pictures settled on Monday night.
The Seahawks and Saints provide the fantasy community with two starting quarterbacks, one starting running back, three starting receivers, one starting tight end and three absolute stars. Steven Hauschka is the highest-scoring kicker in the league. Seattle is an elite defense and New Orleans has been a starting unit most of the year, as well. It's always fun when fantasy and real life converge, and this game will go a long way to deciding the Week 13 fantasy action, as well as the battle for home-field advantage in the NFC Playoffs. That makes for the perfect dessert to this Thanksgiving weekend of football.
We'll be updating here Sunday morning with important news as it breaks.
12:47: Even if it's difficult, stick with C.J. Spiller
Final update of the pre-game. Obviously C.J. Spiller has been one of the biggest busts of the 2013 season. Now is the time to keep the faith, however. Atlanta has been terrible against the run of late, and provides Spiller with one of his best matchups of the year. I've got him as a comfortable RB2 today.
12:28 p.m.: Be careful with Zac Stacy
While we won't have any certainty on Stacy before the early games start, it appears that he will start against the 49ers this afternoon. I'm playing him if I own him, though I would feel better about it if I had a decent backup who also plays late to plug in just in case he can't go. I also would temper my expectations for Stacy. The 49ers allow just 3.9 yards per carry.
12:02 p.m.: Stick with Knowshon Moreno
Knowshon Moreno caused a little trepidation this week, but he will play against the Chiefs. You should play him as usual. Montee Ball is also worth some consideration in deeper leagues. He's had the two best games of his career the last two weeks, and is expected to get a bit more work with Moreno at less than 100 percent. Ball looks like a deep flex option.
11:54 a.m.: Don't think twice about starting Gronk
Rob Gronkowski entered the day as questionable, but he will play, as expected. Make sure you have him active.
11:36 a.m.: Start Shane Vereen with confidence
Hopefully you weren't counting on Stevan Ridley today, but if you were you're going to have to look elsewhere now. He is inactive for today's game against the Texans. Shane Vereen should be started with confidence, and Brandon Bolden is a solid RB3/flex play. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams is inactive for the Panthers. Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are both a bit banged up, but give them each a boost. Stewart could be started in a pinch.
11:32 a.m.: Andre Ellington is inactive, so start Rashard Mendenhall
Andre Ellington is inactive for the Cardinals. That makes Rashard Mendenhall an RB2 today. The Eagles are in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to running backs, and I expect the Cardinals to lean heavily on Carson Palmer. Still, given that Mendenhall has the job all to himself, he should get in the neighborhood of 18 touches. That makes him a solid play today.
11:06 a.m.: All systems are a go for Donald Brown
It was all but official that Donald Brown would shoulder the load for the Colts on Sunday, but Chuck Pagano went ahead and removed any doubt by naming Brown the starter over Trent Richardson. He should be in line for about 16-20 touches against a Tennessee defense that has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs. That makes him a must-start, regardless of your league's format.
10:53 a.m.: Be careful with Julius Thomas
ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Julius Thomas is iffy to play this week, though nothing is official. Given that info and the fact that the Broncos kick late today, you should find a safer option than Thomas.
Moreno a go for fantasy owners, Ball on the cusp
Knowshon Moreno had a limited week of practice after injuring his ankle against the Patriots last week, but he was a full participant at practice on Friday and is listed as probable for the battle for first place in the AFC West with the Chiefs. Don't overthink this one. You want Moreno in your lineup for sure. Despite their lofty defensive ranking, the Chiefs have allowed 4.6 yards per carry this season. They've limited backs to six rushing touchdowns, which has kept a bit of a lid on the fantasy points allowed to the position, and Moreno ran for just 79 yards on 27 carries against them a few weeks ago. Having said that, he's a guy you want in there regardless of the matchup, and this isn't nearly as bad of one as it appears on the surface.
Montee Ball, on the other hand, presents an interesting decision. He has had two straight productive games, running for 25 yards and two scores two weeks ago, before totaling 57 yards on 10 touches last week. His little issue with fumbling reared its ugly head again against the Patriots, though, and he seemed to lose some of Jack Del Rio's trust after that. Still, Ronnie Hillman is on the outs, and C.J. Anderson isn't a huge threat to steal away many carries. Ball should push into double-digit touches this week, especially since he's likely the team's best pass-catcher out of the backfield. Bye weeks may be behind us, but Ball could still be deployed as a flex in deeper leagues on Sunday.
The irresistible force meets the incredibly movable object in Minnesota
The Bears lost defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins for the season. Starting middle linebacker D.J. Williams went down with a torn pectoral. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, the team's two best defensive players, are both out as well. As such, this has been the worst Bears defense in a long time. It shows most visibly against the run, where Pro Football Focus ranks the unit dead last in the league. The Bears have allowed a league-high 4.9 yards per carry and 14 rushing touchdowns. They've surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points per game to running backs, and Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham just last week carved them up for 196 yards on 25 carries.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that Adrian Peterson could run into the record books on Sunday. The one factor complicating that is his balky groin, which limited him in practice all week. He is listed as probable, though, and is easily the No.1 back this week. His iffy status does make Toby Gerhart an intriguing possibility in deeper leagues. He had seven carries for 67 yards against the Seahawks two weeks ago, then went for 91 yards on eight carries in Green Bay last week. That probably represents the ceiling for his touches, but going against a defense like Chicago's could be enough to make him an RB3 this week. He's nowhere near a no-doubt play, but consider him if you find yourself lacking confidence in your other options.
DeAngelo Williams' injury opens the door for Jonathan Stewart:
Williams sat out of practice all week because of his quad injury, and is highly unlikely to go against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Mike Tolbert has a knee issue, and while he'll play, he isn't a huge threat to get a ton of carries. That leaves Stewart who, while dealing with an ankle tweak of his own, should be in line for his biggest workload of the season. Williams' presence makes him nothing more than a depth guy most weeks, but he projects as an RB3 this week. If your league goes that deep in the starting lineup, he could be worth activating on Sunday. Not only might he be the only show in town, the Panthers could very well be nursing a big lead in this game. If that is the case, Stewart could get somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-20 touches.
One strike against Stewart, however, is the matchup. You might assume that the Buccaneers have been bad at everything this year, but they've actually done quite well against opposing running backs. They've allowed the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to the position, and just last week held Reggie Bush to 10 points in standard-scoring leagues, nearly one-third less than his season average. Stewart is far from an ideal option, but you know where you're at with your roster better than anyone. He's a viable flex player, depending on your circumstances.
Nick Foles vs. the Cardinals defense in the most interesting game of the day
The run to the playoffs in the NFC will be as exciting as it has been in years in either conference, and the Eagles and Cardinals find themselves right in the thick of it. As of right now, the Eagles are a half-game behind the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East while also sitting just on the outside of the wild-card picture. The Cardinals have won four straight games and hold the sixth seed in the playoffs. Not only is this the best game of the week this side of New Orleans-Seattle, it provides the fantasy community with plenty of drama, as well.
Nick Foles facing the Cardinals defense deserves the greatest share of our attention in this game. The Cardinals have allowed just 6.4 yards-per-attempt on the season, the fifth-best mark in the league, but have surrendered the 12th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks thanks to 19 passing touchdowns. They also boast the league's fourth-best pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus. Foles, meanwhile, has been a strong QB1 in the starting role for the Eagles this year, even turning Riley Cooper into a solid fantasy option. You're starting Cooper and DeSean Jackson without question, but the Cardinals allow the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to receivers.
Shifting our attention to the run game, LeSean McCoy could be in for a long day against an Arizona defense that allows the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Like Jackson and Cooper, you're starting McCoy no matter what, but understand what he is up against on Sunday. They held Reggie Bush to 6.9 points, Doug Martin to 6.1 and Frank Gore 10.1.
On the other side of this matchup, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd should all be started with the utmost confidence. The trio has been huge in its last two games, as Palmer threw for 733 yards and four scores, Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns, and Floyd posted 13 receptions for 297 yards and the remaining TD. The Eagles allow the fifth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks most to receivers. Palmer is a QB1, while Fitz and Floyd both have WR1 potential.
One final note on this game: Andre Ellington missed Friday's practice with a knee injury and is listed as questionable. Given the way Bruce Arians has used him in the offense alongside Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington is a very risky play this week. If Ellington plays, he's no better than a low-end RB3.
Forget last week, Donald Brown is a must-start against the Titans
Donald Brown got just two carries last week against the Cardinals. That should have exactly zero impact on your decision-making this week. As we just discussed, the Cardinals have the league's stingiest defense against fantasy running backs. In addition, the game situation forced the Colts to abandon the run as they tried to trim a huge deficit. Neither of those realities should apply this week.
First of all, the Titans allow the fifth-most fantasy points per game to running backs this season. Just two weeks ago, Brown took control of the Indy backfield when he ran for 80 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against the Titans. Secondly, the Colts are unlikely to fall into a hole that compels Andrew Luck to throw the ball 40-plus times this week. At this point, the Colts would have to be crazy to trust Trent Richardson with a significant role in the offense. Brown should get 16-20 touches, and that should be plenty for him to post RB2 numbers.
Injury wrap lightning round
• Rob Gronkowski is questionable, so be sure to have a backup ready in case he can't go. Start him as usual if he suits up.
• Julius Thomas (knee) was limited in practice all week. Given Denver's late start time, you need to be sure to have a backup who plays late ready to go if Thomas is out.
• Michael Crabtree looks set to make his season debut after missing San Francisco's first 11 games with an Achilles injury. He should be owned everywhere, but I'd avoid using him this week. You can't ever be too confident in a guy making his first start after a serious injury.
• Zac Stacy is good to go after suffering a concussion last week. He has a tough draw with the 49ers, but should be started universally.
• Jordan Reed is likely to return this week after missing last week's game with a concussion injury, but the Redskins play in the Sunday night game against the Giants. If you're going to roll the dice, make sure you have another option at the ready.
• Daniel Thomas is officially out for the season because of an ankle injury, but Lamar Miller should not be trusted against the stout Jets run defense.