Atlanta @ Houston
It would be foolhardy to say with confidence that T.J. Yates will play effectively enough for Andre Johnson to maintain WR1 value the rest of the way. What we can say confidently is that Johnson should be open against Atlanta. LCB Brent Grimes, easily the Falcons' top cover corner, will miss 2-4 weeks after knee surgery, and nickel back Kelvin Hayden is out at least one more game with a dislocated toe. RCB Dunta Robinson is having a horrible year. Atlanta will be minus at least two of its top three cornerbacks while selling out to stop the run with eight defenders in the box. Even before Grimes' multi-week loss, the Falcons were playing bottom-eight pass defense. Johnson should have plenty of playmaking opportunities on Sunday. ... In terms of arm strength, athleticism, and a willingness to throw downfield, Yates is an upgrade on Matt Leinart. Whereas everything Leinart did was deliberate, long, and slow, Yates possesses a lightning-quick release, plays with more aggressiveness, and puts superior zip on the football. In Week 12, the NFL.com Gamebook characterized all 13 of Leinart's attempts as "pass short," with 11 intended for running backs or tight ends. Leinart did not complete a single pass to Johnson, targeting him once. The rookie Yates came off the bench to target Johnson three times, hooking up twice for 22 yards.
Here was Yates' Week 12 target distribution: Owen Daniels 6, Johnson 3, Arian Foster 2, Jacoby Jones 2, James Casey 1, Kevin Walter 0. ... The early target stats seem to bode well for Daniels, but I'd still find him difficult to trust in an extremely run-heavy offense where he can get stuck on the line blocking for long stretches. Daniels hasn't hit pay dirt since Week 4 and has been under 40 yards in three straight games. ... Jones and Walter remain fantasy non-factors as secondary options in an offense that skews heavily toward the run. ... The Texans entered Week 12 planning to get Ben Tate "12-15 carries" against the Jags, Gary Kubiak told CBS last Sunday morning. Unfortunately, game flow didn't allow for it as an in-game quarterback change and solid effort from Jacksonville's defense slowed ball movement. Tate will have a bigger role going forward than his five Week 12 carries suggest, but he needs favorable matchups and big Texans leads to prove fantasy viable. ... The Falcons are No. 2 against the run, but Arian Foster is matchup-proof as a nearly 30 touch-per-game back and the centerpiece of his offense. Since returning from his early-season hamstring injury, he is averaging over 27 touches for 154 yards per game.
The Julio Jones situation is tricky because Falcons OC Mike Mularkey heaped post-game praise on the rookie despite a catch-less Week 12 effort. "He obviously didn't get many chances," said Mularkey. "We were emphasizing 'take what the defense is giving you' and that's been important. Matt (Ryan) did that. ... Julio really helped block in the run game. He helped with some of the coverages by getting other guys open. ... He'll have his numbers and his day." The Falcons don't seem to be concerned with Jones' health, and he'll have a better Week 13 matchup than Roddy White. The Texans will likely try to take away White with top CB Johnathan Joseph, leaving a combo of Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen on Julio. Playing in a passing-friendly environment beneath Reliant Stadium's retractable roof, I like Jones' chances of a bounce-back game. ... The Texans began allowing Joseph to shadow opposing No. 1 receivers in Week 4. Here is how the opponents have fared since: Mike Wallace 4-77, Mike Williams South 2-43, Denarius Moore 0-0, Greg Little 2-33, Nate Washington 1-10, Mike Thomas 3-24 and 2-11. Anquan Boldin has been the outlier with an 8-132 line in Week 6. Houston hasn't allowed a touchdown to a No. 1 wideout in its last eight games, and over that span has permitted just 330 yards on 22 receptions to top receivers. It's a weekly average of under three catches for 42 yards. This is a concern for White.
With much improved safety play, Houston's No. 2 pass defense has been similarly suffocating against tight ends. Jared Cook is the only player at the position to have scored on the Texans since Week 4, and during that span tight ends have managed 26 receptions for 246 yards against Houston. It's an average of just over three catches for 30 yards per game. On paper at least, this week sets up extremely well for Jones. White and Tony Gonzalez may have quiet days. ... Michael Turner turns 30 in ten weeks and is second in the NFL in carries. He has led the league in rushing attempts in two of the past three seasons. Turner showed up on the Week 13 injury report with a groin ailment, which should not be surprising considering the wear and tear on his aging body. I'm inclined to believe Turner will struggle against Houston's top-four run defense. Jason Snelling is next in line for carries. ... Matt Ryan has picked up his production recently by torching the pass defenses of Minnesota (No. 29 ranking), New Orleans (No. 27), and Indianapolis (No. 18) in three of the past four weeks. The Texans are a different animal, especially with FS Danieal Manning back from his leg injury. Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling have Ryan ranked 11th among fantasy quarterbacks for Week 13, and that's right where I'd have him, too. I'd play Tim Tebow over Matt Ryan, for sure.
Score Prediction: Texans 21, Falcons 18
NY Jets @ Washington
The Jets have been squelching opposing ground attacks since a slow start, but they'll be missing a difference-making front-seven component in D.C. LE Mike DeVito, whom Pro Football Focus grades as the NFL's No. 2 overall 3-4 end in run defense, is sidelined by a left MCL injury. Roy Helu carries risk because he plays in a Mike Shanahan backfield, but Shanny was emphatic this week when announcing Helu as the Skins' bell-cow back. "He's our starter for sure," Shanahan said. "We felt he was ready." Added Rex Grossman of Helu's hurdling, 28-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter at Seattle, "It was one of the most impressive runs I've ever seen." Helu has now racked up 354 yards on his last 73 carries (4.85 YPC) and quietly ranks eighth in the NFL in receptions among running backs. Helu owners are sitting on a potential PPR goldmine, and DeVito's absence makes the rookie more attractive in standard leagues. With a legitimate shot at 30 touches against the Jets, Helu is a strong RB2 regardless of format. ... Grossman is coming off a 314-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Seahawks. History says Grossman is bound to go back in the tank shortly after good games, and it will probably happen this week considering the matchup. The Jets' No. 7 pass defense has allowed the second-fewest touchdown throws in the league while holding opponents to the fourth-lowest completion percentage. In order to stay competitive Sunday, the Skins need to lean heavily on Helu and minimize Grossman's impact.
Santana Moss (hand) resumed his normal role in Week 12, playing 58-of-73 (79.5%) snaps and tying for the team lead in targets. Moss figures to get the Darrelle Revis treatment on Sunday, but he'll face the injury-sacked secondaries of New England (No. 32 rank), the Giants (No. 26), and Minnesota (No. 29) during the fantasy playoffs. ... Assuming Revis shadows Moss, Fred Davis should be open more often than any Skins pass catcher against New York. Over their last five games, the Jets have yielded 335 yards and three touchdowns on 30 receptions to tight ends, good for a six-catch, 67-yard weekly average. The Jets' safeties, particularly SS Eric Smith, are vulnerable in coverage. ... After a monster (7-115-1) game in Week 11, Jabar Gaffney stayed afloat in Moss' return with five catches for 72 yards at Seattle. The journeyman's week-to-week target and yardage totals will likely continue to decrease, however, and it's conceivable that Gaffney will see plenty of Revis this week when Moss moves to the slot on passing downs. ... Situational deep threat Anthony Armstrong's 50-yard touchdown in Week 12 was a complete fluke in that he was in for just three of the Skins' 73 offensive snaps. Armstrong isn't a viable sleeper.
Mark Sanchez torched a pathetic Bills defense for four Week 12 red-zone touchdowns, finishing with 180 yards. Whereas Buffalo ranks 22nd versus the pass and has allowed the most passing scores in the AFC, Washington fields a top-ten pass defense and has permitted the NFC's third-fewest passing TDs. Also tied for the NFC lead in sacks, the Skins bring considerably more down-to-down heat than the Bills. Sanchez is a QB2 in this matchup. ... Sanchez's target distribution since the Jets' Week 8 bye: Santonio Holmes 32, Plaxico Burress 29, Dustin Keller 27, Jeremy Kerley 13, Joe McKnight 11. ... Holmes isn't heavily targeted as most "No. 1 receivers" are, which at least partially explains his disappointing production. He will square off primarily with Redskins LCB DeAngelo Hall in this game, giving Holmes a favorable matchup. Hall has been beaten like a drum all season. ... Josh Wilson is the Redskins' top defensive back in coverage, but Burress (6'5/232) has a significant size advantage on the 5-foot-9, 192-pound right corner. Picking it up in terms of catch and yardage totals recently, Plax is a viable WR3 against the Redskins and a solid bet to score. Among NFL wide receivers, only Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Eric Decker, Greg Jennings, and Wes Welker have found pay dirt with more frequency than Burress this season.
Running the best he has all year behind an offensive line stepping up of late, Shonn Greene has amassed 366 yards on his last 72 rushing attempts (5.08 YPC). Unfortunately, Jets playcaller Brian Schottenheimer's fondness for throwing in scoring position has kept Greene out of the end zone since Week 5. Greene will continue to be an RB2/flex only against a hit-or-miss Redskins run defense. ... The Jets are unlikely to enjoy much overall passing success on Sunday, and the matchup is difficult enough to keep Keller in the low-end TE1 range despite his two-score Week 12. In its last five games, Washington has surrendered 291 yards and three touchdowns on 20 catches to tight ends. It's a mediocre average of four catches for 58 yards per game. ... I recall seeing some hype for McKnight leading up last Sunday's tilt with Buffalo. McKnight is a change-up back behind Greene, and isn't even guaranteed that role when LaDainian Tomlinson (knee) returns. McKnight would need injuries to both Greene and L.T. in order to be a serious fantasy option.
Score Prediction: Redskins 20, Jets 17
4:05PM ET Game
Baltimore @ Cleveland
The Ravens return from a ten-day layoff after their Thanksgiving Har-Bowl win to face a Browns team they'll face twice in the next month. Offensively, the greatest benefactors from the extended rest period project to be linemen and Ray Rice. Rice has racked up 18 or more touches in 8-of-11 games, so he should emerge from the time off with fresh legs. Now down run-plugging SLB Scott Fujita (hand, I.R.) and shuffling linebackers to compensate, Cleveland has been lit up for 764 yards and five touchdowns on 150 carries (5.09 YPC) by tailbacks over the past five games. Owners should be excited that Rice gets this matchup twice in the final four fantasy weeks. Rice's other remaining opponents are the Colts (No. 31 run defense) and Chargers (No. 25), so it's likely that he'll be on many championship rosters. ... Ed Dickson has come crashing back to Earth after his 10-79-2 game in Week 10, finishing with 21 yards in Week 11 and 15 yards in Week 12. There are much better TE2s out there. (Scott Chandler and Jacob Tamme immediately come to mind.)
This is a game Baltimore should control on the ground, limiting Joe Flacco's impact. Flacco set back-to-back season lows in pass attempts in Weeks 11 and 12, so it seems clear the Ravens were already making an effort to balance their offense after Flacco got on pace for the sixth-most pass attempts in NFL history during the first nine games. Also not working in Flacco's favor are the facts that Cleveland ranks No. 1 in pass defense and is allowing just one passing touchdown per game. Flacco is mid-range QB2 material. ... Last season, Anquan Boldin lit up then-Browns CB Eric Wright for 142 yards and three touchdowns in Week 3. Joe Haden covered Boldin during the Ravens' Week 16 game in Cleveland, and Haden bottled up Baltimore's top wideout for 15 scoreless yards on two catches. I like Torrey Smith's chances of out-producing Boldin on Sunday.
The Ravens rank third the league in total defense and are top five against both the run and pass. Only the Texans and 49ers have allowed fewer points. You will be hard pressed to find a fantasy starter on the Browns' roster this week. ... The Ravens have had something of a stranglehold on opposing No. 1 wide receivers, holding Santonio Holmes (3-33), Larry Fitzgerald (3-98), Sidney Rice (2-14), Michael Crabtree (6-54), and Mike Wallace (4-68-1) to an average of under four catches for 54 yards and one combined touchdown since the season's first month. Greg Little isn't as good as any of the above. ... Behind Little, Josh Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi, Ben Watson, Evan Moore, and Jordan Norwood serve only to cancel each other out from fantasy consideration. ... Peyton Hillis returned from his hamstring injury in Week 12 to manage 61 yards on 21 touches. Montario Hardesty (calf) is due back this week to siphon away work, and Hillis simply hasn't been the same player since his early-to-midseason surge in 2010. Over his last seven games, Hillis has 324 rushing yards on 97 carries (3.34 YPC) and two touchdowns. Perhaps Hillis will be a fantasy option in Week 15 at Arizona, but he's got the Ravens twice (No. 3 run defense) and Steelers (No. 6) in three of the next four weeks. Hillis' chances of serious stretch-run fantasy relevance are slim.
Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Browns 13
4:15PM ET Games
Dallas @ Arizona
Arizona's pass defense rank has "risen" to No. 25 by preying on an injured Michael Vick in Week 10 and two matchups with the Rams over the past month. Mixed in was Michael Crabtree's 120-yard, seven-catch shredding of Patrick Peterson. This is one of the league's worst pass defenses, and Dallas' passing game enters the contest hitting on all cylinders. Since Week 8, Tony Romo is 87-of-128 (68.0%) for 1,067 yards (8.34 YPA), ten touchdowns, and two turnovers. Romo is the No. 5 fantasy quarterback over that span. For Week 13, here is how I personally would rank the top-five QB plays: 1) Aaron Rodgers 2) Drew Brees 3) Tom Brady 4) Tony Romo 5) Cam Newton. ... Both Dez Bryant and Laurent Robinson have incredibly favorable matchups as well. Bryant figures to draw Peterson while Robinson takes on A.J. Jefferson on the outside and Michael Adams when Robinson moves inside to the slot. Robinson has played well enough lately to earn high-end WR2 status against a bad defense. Bryant is a WR1 until Miles Austin (hamstring) returns. Shake off Bryant's scoreless 3-35 Thanksgiving stat line against Vontae Davis and use him on Sunday.
Jason Witten's production has been down with Robinson and Bryant beating DBs to death on the perimeter, but Witten has warranted an every-week start by ranking fourth among tight ends in fantasy points. Witten is in the "second tier" of tight ends behind Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. ... DeMarco Murray is averaging 24 touches a game since taking over as the Cowboys' lead back in Week 7. Felix Jones has seven touches combined since returning from his high ankle sprain two games ago. The workload isn't a problem, and this is a good opportunity for Murray to rediscover the end zone after a two-game lull. The Cardinals have permitted the fifth-most rushing touchdowns in the league so far. ... Jones is worth picking up in all leagues as a late-season lottery ticket in the event of a Murray injury. Jones would take over as the Dallas' clear-cut feature back in that scenario, and the Cowboys face the Giants (No. 24 run defense), Bucs (No. 30), and Eagles (No. 15 and falling after Thursday night) during the fantasy playoffs.
The Cardinals finally get back Kevin Kolb from foot and toe injuries, but it won't matter if he plays as poorly as he did in the season's first half. You're starting Larry Fitzgerald because you believe he will find a way to make big plays. The QB situation is working against all of Arizona's receivers. ... Despite starting every game, Andre Roberts averaged 19 yards a week in Kolb's seven starts earlier this year, going catch-less in two of them. Roberts is only a slightly worse fantasy option than Early Doucet against Dallas' No. 14 pass defense. Production in the passing game is unlikely to support more than one Cardinals receiver in fantasy leagues this week. Dallas is a top-seven team in sacks, and Kolb reverts to his shell under pressure. ... The Cowboys' run defense has been up and down all season, opening the year shutting down ground games, then tanking around midseason. They've picked it up lately, but ultimately it's a Jekyll & Hyde unit and not tough enough to consider sitting Beanie Wells. Confirming his knee is as healthy as it's going to get, Wells has 257 yards on his last 34 carries (7.56 YPC) while regaining must-start status.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 24, Cardinals 17