Maybe it’s different for some leagues, but the majority of fantasy regular seasons are coming to a close here in Week 13 and this is do or die for a lot of you. Win and you’re in, lose and you’re done. For those who are simply worried about bye weeks and playoff seedings, congratulations. It’s been a crazy season with lots of twists and turns and dominating in your league was likely no easy feat. But whether you’ve got it all on the line or just some of it on the line, you’re going to want to maximize your points this week and make what could be your final week really count. So with that, here’s the breakdown of this week’s games as I see them unfolding…
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
With the Falcons hoping to clinch the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs and The Saints still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot, this one is going to be a hard-fought battle. With the Saints sporting the worst rushing defense in the league and the third-worst pass defense, you can expct the Falcons to attack from all angles. Given the current trajectories of their careers, you can probably expect close to an even split in carries between Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers with maybe Rodgers having the edge as the third down, pass -catching back. Meanwhile, you can expect Matt Ryan to light it up with all of his receiving options so if you’re not starting Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Roddy White, you’re doing something wrong.
On the other side, given the fact that the Falcons run defense coughs up an average of 123.2 yards per game and has given up 12 rushign touchdowns this season, you could see a little extra work for Mark ingram and Darren Sproles in the early goings. Of course, if the Saints fall behind early, you know that Drew Brees will take over and find Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston downfield. The Falcons do a good job at containing secondary wideouts, so maybe look for Devery Henderson as a sleeper over Lance Moore.
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans
The Texans defense isn’t what it used to be and they’ve given up over 100 yards per game on the ground in two of their last three while giving up a combined 791 passing yards to Detroit and Jacksonville in their last two. Obviously that bodes well for owners of Chris Johnson who has rushed for over 120 yards in three of his last five games. Meanwhile, look for Jake Locker to get Nate Washington and Kendall Wright involved early on to keep the Texans D honest.
For Houston, it’s all about Arian Foster going up against a run D that allows almost 130 rushing yards per game. He should be leaned on early and often while Matt Schaub waits for the Titans to overcommit to the run and burns them with Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. If the Texans go up big early, we just might have a Ben Tate sighting in the second half. Of course, the Texans will want to ease him back in, so don’t count out Justin Forsett.
Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions
While the Lions are predominately a pass-first team, you can expect a nice heavy dose of Mikel Leshoure as the Colts run D gives up an average of 121.2 yards per game and have allowed 11 rushing touchdowns this season. That will obviously open up the play-action for Matthew Stafford to find Calvin Johnson downfield, but keep tabs on the potential situation between Titus Young who returned to practice on Wednesday after being suspended last week and rookie Ryan Broyles. How Young responds in his return should tell a lot about how much action he sees. Meanwhile, the Colts pass defense ranks 32nd in the league against the tight end, so while Brandon Pettigrew may not grab a whole lot of yardage, he’s definitely going to see some red zone looks.
The Colts will go with their backfield committee of Vick Ballard and Donald Brown and see if they can do some damage against a run defense that allows just over 122 yards per game. But as we all know, this is now Andrew Luck’s team and he’ll be looking for Reggie Wayne and T.Y Hilton all game long with a splash of Dwayne Allen as well as the Lions D doesn’t play the opposing tight ends too well.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills
A classic case of two poor defenses both against the run and the pass. While I wouldn’t recommend Chad Henne over a lot of viable starters, he could be in line to continue his string of luck this week which bodes well for Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Similarly, Ryan Fitzpatrick should have plenty of opportunity to find Steve Johnson downfield as well as Donald Jones in the shorter passing game. Both the Jags and the Bills clamp down on tight ends, so don’t expect big things from Scott Chandler or Marcedes Lewis this week. Meanwhile, both run defenses are a little soft, so Rashad Jennings, C.J. Spiller and possibly even Fred Jackson could have strong days.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
And now for the opposite end of the spectrum as we have two of the league’s better defenses taking the field here which obviously doesn’t bode well for many of the skill players in this match-up. Brandon Marshall will see his usual bazillion targets while Michael Bush could be a decent play if Matt Forte’s ankle keeps him on the bench this week. For the Seahawks, there should be a lot of Marshawn Lynch to start, but by the second half, you could just be looking at Russell Wilson airing it out to Sidney Rice and Golden Tate. Despite some recent struggles by both clubs, the defenses here are strong, so temper your expectations on offense.
San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh announced on Wednesday that Colin Kaepernick would be his starting quarterback for this game, so it looks like business as usual for the Niners. The Rams defense ranks roughly in the middle for both passing and rushing defense and have given up 27 touchdowns this season – 14 on the ground and 13 through the air. You’ll probably see him rush at least one on his own which may have a negative impact on Frank Gore’s potential value, but he’ll also be looking to air it out a bit. He seemed to have a stronger rapport with Mario Manningham than with Michael Crabtree, but if Kaep is accurate and strong, both could have good days.
For the Rams, it could be a slow day as the Niners defense is firing on all cylinders and has looked even more fierce than usual over the last two weeks. Steven Jackson will find it tough to get going against a defense that allows just 91.1 yards per game and without Danny Amendola who is still bothered by his foot/ankle injury, Sam Bradford is going to have to rely on Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens if he’s going to want to move the chains at all.
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers
It’s a classic NFL match-up here, but it’s also two teams that are headed in different directions. The Vikings D has been struggling lately and Aaron Rodgers should be getting back Greg Jennings to add to that insane WR arsenal of his. With Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb – not to mention James Jones and even Jermichael Finley -- you could easily see a 400-plus yard performance. Ground game? We don’t need no stinkin’ ground game.
For the Vikings, it could be a tough one as Adrian Peterson has been limited by a sore shoulder, Percy Harvin could miss another game, and Kyle Rudolph remains concussed. Christian Ponder is going to have to really step up his game to make an impact here and he’ll probably need some serious help from Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson. Not to mention Toby Gerhart if AP struggles with the injury.
Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs
Does the fact that the Chiefs are 0-6 at home mean that they’re due this week or that they just suck? Offensively, they’re pretty offensive as Brady Quinn look slike the Chiefs should be trading for Alex Smith or something. His presence under center means you have to hedge your bets on Dwayne Bowe while it also means that Jamaal Charles should garner some extra touches against a run D that gives up 126.2 yards per game.
For the Panthers, it’s all about Cam Newton. Sure, he’ll find a way to get Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell the ball at some point just as long as that point isn’t in the endzone where he likes to hog all the glory. With Jonatahn Stewart out, it only enforces that belief more because, what’s he going to do…? Hand the ball off to DeAngelo Williams? Mike Tolbert? The Chiefs defense ranks 14th in the league against the tight end, so look for Greg Olsen to come away with some decent targets.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
While both run defenses rank in the top 10 and give up barely 100 yards per game on the ground, look for a pretty strong aerial attack in this one. Tom Brady will spread the defense out and find ways to involve most of his targets, so consider Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez as strong plays with some upside for Brandon Lloyd and, if he plays, Julian Edelman. Ryan Tannehill will attempt to keep the Fins in this one and has actually been using Davone Bess a lot more than Brian Hartline these days, so expect some strong yardage out of him this week. Meanwhile, the Pats defense ranks 29th against opposing tight ends, so Anthony Fasano could find himself doing a little endzone dancing. As for the ground games, Stevan Ridley could pony up some decent yardage, but I’m not so sure about any other running back involved in this one. Sorry Reggie.
Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets
Lots of similarities between these two clubs really – neither has a particularly strong-armed quarterback, both have taken to the committee approach in the backfield and who cares about the wide receivers because none of them have anyone to throw them the ball. All the fantasy plays here are pretty sketchy. Actually, Beanie Wells could be worthy of a flex play this week as the Jets give up 142.8 rushing yards per game and maybe William Powell if he gets enough screens tossed his way. But everyone else? Suspect plays, at best.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos
Josh Freeman has been a fantastic waiver pick-up this season, but he just might have trouble cutting the mustard this week against a stout Denver defense. Vincent Jackson is likely to get Champ Bailey’d this week which means Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood are going to have to step it up against a defense that gives up just 210 passing yards per game. Denver does rank 22nd against opposing tight ends, so perhaps Freeman relies on the short passing game a little more and finds Dallas Clark alone in the middle. Denver also gives up an average of just 98.7 rushing yards per game so you may want to hedge your bets on Doug Martin as well.
For the Broncos, the fact that Knowshon Moreno is their starting taiback may not even matter considering we’re looking at Peyton Manning against the league’s worst pass defense that allows an average of 316 yards per game. He’ll have no trouble finding Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker downfield and in the endzone, and look for Joel Dreesen and Jacob Tamme to exploit a pass D that ranks 22nd in the league against the tight end position. The always dangerous Brandon Stokely could also be a nice sleeper pick this week.
Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders
Another match-up of lousy defenses here could mean some fantasy gold if you own the right players. The Raiders defense gives up an average of 131.2 yards per game and has allowed 15 rushing touchdowns so you’ve got to love Trent Richardson this week despite the fact that his yards per carry stunk last week. The pass defense is no better, so while the Browns should focus on the run, it should help open things up for Brandon Weeden to find Josh Gordon and maybe some Greg Little downfield. Tight ends Jordan Cameron and Ben Watson should jump into the fray but it’s tough to know which one will get the most targets this week. I’m guessing Watson but I won’t stake my life on that.
For the Raiders, they’ll like roll with Marcel Reece again as it seems unlikely that Darren McFadden will return this week. Reece definitely makes for a good play against a Browns run D that allows 118.4 yards per game, but he is also strong catching passes out in the flat. Carson Palmer has been a bit off a dud lately, but maybe this match-up is just what he needs to jump-start himself in time for the fantasy playoffs. The Browns cover the tight end pretty well, so look for him to lean on Denarius Moore and Darius Heyward-Bey more and a little less on Brandon Myers.
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers
It could be a little tougher for BenJarvis Green-Ellis this week as the Chargers give up an average of just 91.5 rushing yards per game. If that’s the case, then look for Andy Dalton to come out firing against a pass D that gives up 243 yards per game and has allowed 20 passing touchdowns on the year. A.J. Green should have his usual day of greatness, Jermaine Gresham should fare decently, and keep a close eye on Mohamed Sanu. With two touchdowns last week, it should be interesting to see if he continues to be a strong red zone target.
On the Chargers front, Ryan Mathews has been a huge disappointment this season and while his match-up with the Bengals is favorable, he’s probably not going to be your first choice for a running back this week. However, he is going to need to step it up if he wants to take some of the pressure off Philip Rivers who is facing a very tough pass rush that has accounted for a league-best 35 sacks this season. Rivers has definitely looked better with the addition of Danario Alexander, but he still has his issues. Especially since Antonio Gates has gone the way of the big bust this year.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
This match-up used to almost guarantee you a 9-6 final score, but the times they are a-changing. The Ravens D is much softer than it used to be, but fortunately for them, the Steelers offense is so incredibly atrocious. Charlie Batch gets the nod under center, Jonathan Dwyer is starting amongst a sea of disappointing running backs and as for Mike Wallace or Heath Miller, again, it’s Batch throwing the ball. Your best hope for a positive fantasy day probably revolves around Dwyer, but I still have a hard time endorsing him.
For the Ravens, Joe Flacco is going to have to contend with a fairly stout defense in the Steelers. Ray Rice is really going to have to dig deep to plow through the Steelers defensive line and Flacco will have to buy himself some time and avoid the sacks while waiting to find Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith downfield. The Steelers do rank 31st against the tight end, so Dennis Pitta should definitely be worth a look.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
This is a big one for Dallas as they desperately need the win to stay alive in the playoff hunt, so look for them to come out guns blazing. Philly’s pass defense ranks 15th in the league and give up an average of 228 passing yards per game, but they’ve also allowed 20 touchdowns through the air. But while they don’t give up a ton of yardage, they get beaten fairly regularly in the short-passing game so expect Tony Romo to be looking downfield for Dez Bryant and Jason Witten early and often. If Miles Austin is still out, then Cole Beasley becomes an interesting sleeper, but only if you’re desperate. As for the ground attack, it should be led by Felix Jones again. But while the Eagles D allows 117.5 yards per game, they’ve allowed just five rushing touchdowns all year.
On offense for the Eagles, it’s just sheer ugliness. Nick Foles has been abysmal at quarterback, DeSean Jackson is on IR, Jeremy Maclin is the only real WR threat and Bryce Brown, the lone bright spot for Philly last week faces a tough match-up against a defense that allows less than 110 yards per game. Nine touchdowns, but not much in the way of yardage.
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
While divisional games in the NFC East are usually pretty tough, hard-nosed match-ups, this has all the earmarks of being a high-scoring affair. Eli Manning got back on track last week, Hakeem Nicks is healthy, Victor Cruz finally re-introduced himself to the endzone and Ahmad Bradshaw ran like a man possessed last week. With Andre Brown down with a broken fibula, Bradshaw should retain those goa line carries that kept getting poached.
Meanwhile Robert Griffin III has been as good, if not better, than advertised. He’ll scramble plenty to avoid the Giants pass rush and then find Santana Moss, Josh Morgan and Pierre Garcon downfield against a vulnerable secondary. The Giants are allowing 116 yards per game this season, so expect to see Alfred Morris strut his stuff early in the game to establish the run for the Skins.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For questions, thoughts or comments you can find him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or you can email him at email@example.com.