1:00PM ET Games
Carolina @ Tampa Bay
Forward-thinking owners having been eyeing LeGarrette Blount's cakewalk late-season schedule for sometime, and it can't hurt that he's on fire heading in. Blount has amassed 313 yards on his last 60 carries (5.22 YPC) and totaled 272 yards in his last two games. He also set career highs in receptions and receiving yards in Week 12. Against a pathetic Panthers run defense, there are only four backs I'd play over Blount among this week's post-Thursday games: 1) Ray Rice 2) Arian Foster 3) Frank Gore and 4) Matt Forte. ... Josh Freeman was limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury, and it's reasonable to believe the Bucs will err on the side of caution with a run-heavy game plan versus Carolina. Freeman, who didn’t resume throwing until Friday, has shown no signs of breaking out of his funk. In his last four games, Freeman is 117-of-192 (60.9%) for 1,256 yards (6.54 YPA), and a 7:10 TD-to-INT ratio with an 11th turnover on a lost fumble. Freeman is merely a two-QB league option.
Mike Williams South has picked up his play recently, scoring in back-to-back games and clearing 80 yards in both. His mini-hot run figures to end Sunday against Panthers shutdown cornerback Chris Gamble. In the midst of perhaps the finest season of his career, Gamble has allowed just 17-of-40 passes (42.5%) against him to be complete this year, according to Pro Football Focus. The 17 completions have gone for 210 yards (5.25 YPA), and Gamble has been burned for only one touchdown all season. He has consistently shadowed No. 1 wide receivers. ... It's probably going to be a quiet day for the entire Bucs passing attack on Sunday. Dezmon Briscoe and Preston Parker have been complete non-factors of late, and Arrelious Benn actually finished Week 12 with negative yards. Blount is Tampa Bay's only surefire fantasy starter in Week 13.
The Bucs are getting slaughtered in the running game without key front-four starters DT Gerald McCoy (biceps, I.R.) and LE Michael Bennett (groin). In McCoy's five missed games so far, Bears, Packers, Saints, Texans, and Titans backs have torched Tampa for 677 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 122 carries (5.55 YPC). The Bucs may have single-handedly helped turn around Chris Johnson's season in Week 12. While neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart can be counted on for more than 15 touches Sunday -- they're averaging 10.8 and 11.7 per game, respectively, both are worth strong flex consideration due to the mouth-watering matchup. ... The Bucs' soft front seven also bodes well for Cam Newton's fantasy outlook because he's averaging nearly eight rushing attempts a week and will continue to be the favorite for red-zone scores in Carolina's backfield. Tampa Bay has surrendered the third-most rushing touchdowns in football.
Newton's target distribution since Carolina's Week 9 bye: Steve Smith 25, Greg Olsen 23, Legedu Naanee 18, Stewart 17, Brandon LaFell 13, Williams 2. ... The targets are there for Olsen, but the production hasn't been with no scores since Week 8 and four consecutive games under 50 yards. Unless a player is nursing an undisclosed injury, these things tend to even out. Unfortunately, this will be a tough matchup for Olsen. Over the past three weeks, Tampa has held Packers, Texans, and Titans tight ends to nine receptions, 104 yards, and one touchdown. It's a per-game average of 34.7 yards on three catches. ... Smith's production has slowed since the bye with Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski stressing the run game more. Whereas Carolina passed on 58.4% of its plays in the first nine games, the percentage has dropped to 51.6% over the last two. The ratio can be heavily impacted by game flow, of course, and the Cam-to-Smiff combo can be at its most lethal off play-action, when defenses are worried about the run. Smith will bounce back soon, and it will be big when he does. ... LaFell played ahead of Naanee for the first time this season in Week 12, but finished with just 46 yards on six targets. LaFell's promotion may have only been temporary, as Naanee missed practice all week with Achilles' tendinitis. LaFell could be a WR3/4 stretch-run asset if he's formally overtaken Naanee, but we need to see it official before he's a confident fantasy option.
Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Bucs 17
Tennessee @ Buffalo
C.J. Spiller failed to break tackles and stutter-stepped at the line in his first start of the season, but he's got a good-looking follow-up matchup. Over the past two weeks, Tennessee's defense has been softened up by Bucs and Falcons big backs LeGarrette Blount (6'0/247), Michael Turner (5'10/244), and Jason Snelling (5'11/234) for 283 yards on 53 touches with a combined 4.46 YPC average. The Titans now rank 22nd against the run. Spiller is unlikely to emerge as a long-term feature back because his game lacks physicality, but he's well worth an RB2/flex start this week. The Bills face San Diego (No. 25 run defense) and Denver (No. 19) in Weeks 14 and 16, so this game may go a long way toward telling whether Spiller can be a bankable fantasy-playoffs option. ... Rookie Johnny White is no threat to Spiller's workload yet, receiving fewer Week 12 carries than waiver pickup Tashard Choice. Choice, who is terrible, lost five and three yards on his two rushing attempts. ... The Bills' wideout injuries have continued to result in an increased role for TE Scott Chandler. A part-timer earlier in the year, Chandler has played 127-of-144 snaps (88.2%) over the last two games, finishing each with at least five receptions. Chandler, used primarily as a slot receiver, is one of my favorite Week 13 breakout candidates. Over their last eight games, the Titans have allowed six touchdowns to tight ends and 563 yards on 46 receptions. It's an average weekly line of nearly 5-71-1 over a sustained stretch. This is an excellent matchup for Chandler.
Here is Ryan Fitzpatrick's target distribution since Buffalo's Week 7 bye: Stevie Johnson 41, David Nelson 29, Chandler 21, Brad Smith 14, Spiller 10, Naaman Roosevelt 7. ... Keep in mind that 13 of Chandler's 21 targets have come in the last two games and he's caught 11 of them. His role is clearly on the rise. ... Roosevelt's impending return from a shoulder injury will cut into Smith's playing time. Smith is not a fluid, natural receiver and is best utilized as a gadget guy. ... Nelson is efficient in the slot, hauling in 18 of the 29 intended passes. While always a fair bet to find pay dirt as a 6-foot-5 red-zone threat, Nelson has cleared 50 yards once in the last eight games and lacks fantasy upside. ... Nelson will likely tangle with Titans top CB Cortland Finnegan for more snaps in this game than Johnson because Finnegan covers the slot when opponents use three- and four-wide sets. The Bills are featuring Johnson in the passing game. ... Fitzpatrick has only one 300-yard game this season and the Titans play even better pass defense than their No. 13 ranking suggests. It's a tough matchup for a weak-armed quarterback.
The Titans don't face a run defense ranked higher than 17th in their next three games, and Chris Johnson is preying on weak opposition. In seven matchups with top-20 run defenses, Johnson has managed just 244 yards on 95 carries (2.57 YPC) with a pathetic 34.9 per-game average. In four games against bottom-five run defenses, Johnson has 455 yards on 87 attempts (5.23 YPC). The Bills rank 22nd in run defense, so this is another favorable matchup. The Titans should also keep the game close or maintain a lead because of their superior defense. Johnson projects to offer plenty of volume. Javon Ringer is averaging seven touches a game over the past month. ... Jared Cook is always a roll of the dice because he's less than a 60% player, but the matchup couldn't be better. In their last nine games, the Bills have yielded 49 receptions for 632 yards and seven touchdowns to tight ends, good for nearly a six-catch, 71-yard weekly average. I like Chandler a bit better than Cook in this particular game, but they're both quality fall-back tight end options.
The Bills are routinely slaughtered by the pass, having allowed an AFC-high 21 passing scores while managing the second fewest sacks in football. Maybe they should have hung onto Aaron Maybin, after all. Unfortunately, the Titans' passing game lacks any threat of explosiveness with Matt Hasselbeck at the helm. Despite favorable matchups with the Falcons (No. 26 pass defense) and Bucs (No. 30), Hasselbeck is just 32-of-59 (54.2%) for 284 yards (4.81 YPA) in his last two games while playing with a sore throwing elbow. This overall lack of passing game production kills the fantasy upside of pass catchers like Nate Washington and Damian Williams. It is perhaps notable that Williams has been targeted by Hasselbeck more often than Washington recently.
Score Prediction: Bills 20, Titans 16
Indianapolis @ New England
Vegas oddsmakers have the Patriots as 20-point favorites in this game, clearly anticipating a big, early lead for New England. It's a matchup that sets up well for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. When the Pats have won by a touchdown or more this season (seven-game sample), BJGE has scored all seven of his TDs and is averaging roughly 72 yards per game. When the Pats lose or win a tight one (four-game sample), Green-Ellis has zero touchdowns with a 40-yard average. He is a good bet to score against Indianapolis, and not just because the Colts rank 31st versus the run. ... Shane Vereen has seen a playing-time bump late in recent blowouts, but that work could just as easily go to Danny Woodhead, Green-Ellis, Kevin Faulk, or Stevan Ridley moving forward. Law Firm is New England's only viable fantasy back in Week 13. ... Tom Brady is the No. 2 overall fantasy quarterback. Start 'em. ... Rob Gronkowski is the No. 1 overall fantasy tight end. Start 'em. ... Wes Welker is the No. 2 overall receiver in standard leagues and No. 1 in PPR. Start him, too.
Aaron Hernandez isn't a tight end -- he's a yoked-up wideout -- and the Colts have been shredded by big, physical receivers all year. This might be Hernandez's best game yet. ... Deion Branch has a less attractive matchup against the Colts' small, quick corners. Branch's mere presence as a starting receiver in an extremely efficient, high-volume passing attack gives him week-to-week fantasy appeal, but he's just a WR3 option. ... Here is Brady's updated target distribution since the Pats' Week 7 bye: Gronkowski 46, Welker 41, Branch 34, Hernandez 28, Chad Ochocinco 8. Don't get cute thinking there are viable fantasy options in New England behind the big four there.
Backfield usage in Indianapolis and club president Bill Polian's recent comments point to Donald Brown sticking as the Colts' feature back going forward. Brown has 50 touches over the past three games, while Delone Carter has 10 (0 in Week 12) and Joseph Addai has received just seven (all in Week 12). According to Pro Football Focus, Brown has also played at least 45 snaps in each of the last three games. Addai returned from his hamstring injury/emergency back role to play 11 downs last Sunday. The Patriots field a top-12 run defense, but the playing time and touches are going to be there for Brown. He has also gained the Colts' trust in blitz pickup and will play in passing situations. Indy figures to have plenty of those playing from behind all day in Foxboro.
Orlovsky hasn't won a start since the 2004 Motor City Bowl. Don't think he will spark Indianapolis' pass catchers in fantasy. ... Here is Orlovsky's target distribution in three appearances as a Colt: Jacob Tamme 6, Reggie Wayne 5, Pierre Garcon 4, Austin Collie 3, Brody Eldridge 2, Brown 1. ... Two blown open-field tackles in the Panthers' secondary led to Wayne's 56-yard touchdown catch last week. It was Wayne's first TD since Week 1. The contract-year wideout has played this season with indifference, and I would bet against the big game being a sign of things to come. ... Desperate fantasy owners can try hoping that pass-heavy comeback mode and the Patriots' porous secondary spur Garcon and Tamme, assuming New England doesn't dominate time of possession. It'd be a risky, if relatively high-upside gamble. Garcon won't be dealing with Chris Gamble as he was last week, and Orlovsky has shown an obvious affinity for Tamme thus far.
Score Prediction: Patriots 42, Colts 17