Green Bay @ NY Giants
Pack-Giants has a 52.5-point over/under, a close second for highest of Week 13 behind Saints-Lions. New York's defense was a sieve in last Monday night's loss to New Orleans, surrendering a whopping 582 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns, and is now playing on a short week without RE Osi Umenyiora (ankle). The Packers are on a long week after their Thanksgiving win. Aaron Rodgers will light it up. ... After a brief slump and minor knee injury, Greg Jennings re-found his groove with five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in Week 12. Jennings is headed for his third top-eight fantasy receiver finish in the past four years. ... After scoring five TDs in his prior three games, Jordy Nelson hit a bump in the road with a 4-26-0 line on Thanksgiving. He'll see single coverage for the entirety of Sunday's game and will be a good bet to find the end zone again. ... The Giants are getting destroyed by tight ends, and the trend held Monday as Jimmy Graham went off for 84 yards and two scores. In its last four games, the G-Men have allowed five touchdowns and 33 receptions for 395 yards players at Jermichael Finley's position. It's a weekly average of over eight catches for 99 yards. Finley won't have a better matchup the rest of the way.
Capitalizing on Rodgers' pretty play-action fake, James Jones got behind the Detroit defense for a 65-yard touchdown on Thanksgiving, giving him five scores on the season. He only played 26-of-64 snaps (40.6%). Jones has been maddeningly inconsistent because his weekly target and snap totals are so low. He'll remain a dice roll against the Giants. ... The Packers' three-back committee gets a tasty matchup against New York's No. 24 run defense, though no member offers much week-to-week fantasy upside because it's a timeshare. James Starks is the best bet for yards and snaps. Ryan Grant's feet are stuck in cement. John Kuhn vultures most everything at the stripe.
Brandon Jacobs' role as a feature back has translated to 70 touches over the past month, but tentative tip-toeing has prevented him from capitalizing on Ahmad Bradshaw's (foot) absence. Jacobs is averaging 3.11 yards per carry on the season and almost certainly won't be a Giant in 2012 with a $4.4 million salary coming due. The Packers can be run on (4.88 YPC allowed), but often prevent opponents from doing so because they grab big, early leads and force teams to play from behind. Only the Bears and 49ers have been run against less frequently this season. Jacobs will need a touchdown to save his fantasy day. He's just a flex option in this game, and perhaps not even that if Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) plays after returning to Friday’s practice. Bradshaw could be available for a limited role off the bench. ... Eli Manning has cooled off since his red-hot start to the season, but New York's defensive collapse is working in his favor. He wound up throwing for 406 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints in large part because of New Orleans' monster lead. A similar scenario is conceivable versus Green Bay.
Victor Cruz is averaging six catches for nearly 105 yards per game since Week 2. He has seven touchdowns in his last nine games. Cruz's fantasy value was already solidified, and his role has been too with Mario Manningham (knee) in danger of missing the season's remainder. Green Bay's defense has atoned by leading the NFL in turnovers, but ranks 31st against the pass. In a projected shootout, Cruz is a top-ten fantasy wideout for Week 13. ... With Manningham out in Week 12, Ramses Barden played in all three-receiver sets but was targeted only four times. Eli doesn't seem to trust Barden yet, but he's worth grabbing in 14-team leagues because Mario may not return anytime soon. ... Continuing to take a backseat in the passing game with injuries on the Giants' O-Line, bulky TE Jake Ballard hasn't cleared 50 yards or scored in the last three weeks. Ballard can be dropped from fantasy rosters. ... Keep an eye on updates heading into Sunday morning, but the Giants expect Hakeem Nicks (concussion, ribs) to play Sunday after he received medical clearance early in the week. Nicks remains a low-end WR1 coming off a seven-catch, 87-yard game last Monday night.
Score Prediction: Packers 34, Giants 26
St. Louis @ San Francisco
Frank Gore hasn't found pay dirt since Week 8, but things are looking up heading into Sunday's matchup with St. Louis' last-ranked run defense. Gore's legs should be as fresh as they've been all year after a 10-day layoff following the Niners' Thanksgiving night loss, and difference-making rookie lead blocker Bruce Miller is returning from a concussion. Pro Football Focus has graded Miller as the NFL's fourth-best blocking fullback in the league this season, behind Jed Collins (Saints), Jim Kleinsasser (Vikings), and Vonta Leach (Ravens). Over the last three weeks, the Rams have been ransacked for 406 yards and two touchdowns on 73 carries (5.56 YPC). ... The 49ers have shown no signs of increasing Kendall Hunter's role enough for him to be a Week 13 flex option, despite the mouth-watering matchup. Hunter received five touches on Thanksgiving.
The Rams are arguably even weaker versus the pass than the run considering the sorry state of their secondary, but the combination of Alex Smith's below-average talent and San Francisco's run-heavy mindset keeps Smith off the QB1 radar. He's got one multiple-touchdown game since Week 5, and hasn't hit 300 yards in his last 16 starts. ... Michael Crabtree should still be open enough to qualify as a high-end WR3. Crabtree lit up St. Louis for 10 catches, 183 yards, and two touchdowns in two games last season, when the Rams' pass defense was in much better shape. Crabtree will dominate targets among 49ers wideouts with Braylon Edwards (shoulder, knee) unlikely to play. ... Vernon Davis will set a personal low for yards since the Mike Martz era this season, but has a touchdown in two of his last three games with the lone outlier coming against a Ravens defense that hasn't let a tight end score all year. Davis is still the No. 9 overall fantasy tight end.
Is Steven Jackson wearing down? S-Jax is fourth among active tailbacks in rush attempts, and all three players ahead of him (LaDanian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, Ricky Williams) are late-career role players. S-Jax has managed 106 yards on his last 32 carries (3.31 YPC), and the average is likely to take another dip in Sunday's matchup with San Francisco's top-ranked run defense. The 49ers still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown all season, and S-Jax's passing-game role under struggling first-year OC Josh McDaniels hasn't been big enough to compensate when Jackson isn't scoring or racking up big rushing totals. He's a low-end flex option this week. ... Brandon Lloyd is the lone St. Louis pass catcher worth a fantasy start, and he's solidified himself as a borderline WR1 by ranking sixth among wideouts in fantasy scoring over the past five weeks. Lloyd never plays in the slot, so he'll avoid 49ers top CB Carlos Rogers for the vast majority of Week 13 snaps. Lloyd will spend most of this game in RCB Tarell Brown's coverage.
Score Prediction: 49ers 27, Rams 10
Sunday Night Football
Detroit @ New Orleans
The 53.5-point over/under on Lions-Saints is the highest of Week 13, so fire up your players in this one. ... Suspended DT Ndamukong Suh's presence was so vital to the Lions' defense because not only did he explode through gaps to pancake passers, he drew constant double teams and opened rushing lanes for pals Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Lawrence Jackson, and Willie Young. Detroit will be easier -- perhaps significantly easier -- to pile up points and yards against until Suh returns. Drew Brees is scalding hot with a 15:3 TD-to-turnover ratio over his last five games. Detroit will also be without playmaking FS Louis Delmas, who suffered a multi-week knee injury on Thanksgiving. ... The Lions are not positioned well to stop the Saints' No. 1-ranked passing attack. Marques Colston is averaging 84.8 yards in his last six games and is a borderline WR1 in this matchup. ... Delmas' absence may particularly be felt in coverage of Jimmy Graham. With 84 yards and two touchdowns in last Monday night's stomping of the Giants, Graham is again pushing Rob Gronkowski for No. 1 overall fantasy tight end honors. Gronkowski is averaging 13.9 fantasy points per game. Graham is at 13.1. There is a large gap behind them with Tony Gonzalez (9.5), Jason Witten (9.2), and Antonio Gates (8.8) rounding out the top five.
Lance Moore is worth a WR3 look due to this game's high-scoring projection, but owners have to be prepared for clunkers. Moore has been held to 50 yards or fewer in 7-of-10 appearances, and his week-to-week playing time and targets are unpredictable. ... Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson have been all but weeded out of the offense. Meachem is catch-less in two of the last three games. Henderson hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 2, and is averaging 17 yards a week over the past two months. ... Coming off a bye, the Saints' Week 12 backfield distribution may not have painted an accurate picture because New Orleans jumped out to a 21-3 first-quarter lead. Mark Ingram broke off his 35-yard touchdown in fourth-quarter garbage time. Pierre Thomas scored his TD from 12 yards out in the fourth to give the Saints a 42-17 lead. Ultimately, this is going to remain a three-headed monster. Darren Sproles is the best weekly bet for total yardage. Thomas is essentially a designated screen-play back, doing most of his damage between the twenties with some red-zone opportunities sprinkled in lightly. Ingram has been underutilized. He is a volume runner who would excel on 20 carries a game, but the Saints aren't going to give him that. Ingram's workload increases when New Orleans gets into keep-the-lead mode early. All of the above have favorable Week 13 matchups against the Lions' Suh-less, 23rd-ranked run defense.
Having shed his gloves and practicing without a splint on his previously broken right index finger, Matthew Stafford is set up for a fast fantasy finish. Three of his next four games will be played indoors, and the upcoming two are against bottom-six pass defenses (No. 27 Saints, No. 29 Vikings). Stafford is a top-five fantasy quarterback play in this projected high-scoring affair. ... The Saints' secondary strength is LCB Jabari Greer, who will square off with Calvin Johnson on the majority of snaps. It will be interesting to see how often blitz-happy DC Gregg Williams leaves Greer on an island. Greer (5'11/180) gives up six inches and 56 pounds to Megatron (6'5/236). ... Here is Stafford's target distribution since the Lions' Week 9 bye: Johnson 35, Nate Burleson 23, Brandon Pettigrew 21, Titus Young 15, Maurice Morris 13, Tony Scheffler 12, Kevin Smith 9. ... Though Burleson has ultimately been more productive than Pettigrew of late, the two have resumed rendering each other hit-or-miss options while vying for over-the-middle targets. Neither Burleson nor Pettigrew would be a poor Week 13 fantasy play, but they're not great ones, either.
Young has received three targets in each of the past two games since a fluky nine-target Week 10, when Stafford attempted a franchise-record 63 throws. Young offers big-play ability, but he doesn't get the rock enough for fantasy reliability. ... Kevin Smith is due back from his ankle injury, which clearly proved a mild sprain as opposed to the high variety. While there is reason to be wary of Smith because of all the confusion, ultimately the ailment was a minor tweak. Smith needs to be reinserted into fantasy lineups as a legit candidate for 20-plus touches in a shootout and plus matchup. The Saints allow over five yards a carry on the ground, the third-highest rate in football, and Smith will be an every-down back capable of capitalizing in a major way if Detroit falls behind early. He is an enormous upgrade on Maurice Morris as a check-down target because Smith has some change-of-direction skills and at least a prayer of making the first defender miss in the open field. Morris lacks that.
Score Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 31
Monday Night Football
San Diego @ Jacksonville
For better or worse, the Jags are throwing the fate of their franchise behind Blaine Gabbert after ex-coach Jack Del Rio benched the rookie in Week 12. GM Gene Smith, who traded up to draft Gabbert this past April, was signed to a three-year extension on Tuesday. Interim coach Mel Tucker followed up by naming Gabbert his Week 13 starter. Luke McCown wouldn't have saved Jacksonville's last-ranked passing offense, but Gabbert certainly isn't the immediate answer. He will continue to struggle against San Diego's top-nine pass defense. ... It's not uncommon for NFL teams to surge briefly after in-season coaching change. We've seen it before with Jim Haslett in the post-Scott Linehan era, and Jason Garrett's finish after Wade Phillips' 2010 firing. If it's going to happen in Jacksonville, it will almost certainly be because of Maurice Jones-Drew. Enjoying perhaps the best season of any running back in the league considering his situation, Jones-Drew ranks eighth at his position in fantasy scoring and has a favorable enough schedule to stay hot. MJD will finish the season facing San Diego (No. 25 run defense), Tampa Bay (No. 30), and Tennessee (No. 22) in three of his final four games. Expect 25-plus touches on Monday night.
Philip Rivers' lofty recent fantasy stats were not matching his poor on-field play, and more often than not in that kind of scenario the box scores begin catching up to the performance. Especially when the offense suddenly stops facing large deficits. Such was the case in last week's 16-13 loss to Denver, supposedly a passer-friendly matchup. Rivers still threw 36 times, but averaged a year-low 5.2 yards per attempt and took three more sacks behind an injury-wrecked offensive line. The matchup is again favorable, on paper, against a Jacksonville defense that has lost both starting cornerbacks to injured reserve over the past month. This is probably going to be another relatively close game, however, and not one that forces Rivers to flirt with 40 pass attempts. He's a low-end QB1 on Monday Night Football. ... Vincent Jackson has swapped mammoth efforts with clunkers week by week. He is now coming off a slow game, and "due" for a big one after getting shut down yet again by Champ Bailey in Week 12. V-Jax an elite fantasy receiver play in this one.
Antonio Gates' forty time is probably closer to 5.0 than 4.5 at this stage of his career, but he is finding the end zone with frequency. Working in Gates' Week 13 favor is the fact that the Jaguars have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Start 'em. ... Malcom Floyd will return to the starting lineup on Monday night, moving Vincent Brown into a situational/third receiver role. Brown is no longer start-able in fantasy football, and Floyd would have to show he's capable of playing four full quarters unscathed before becoming a serious WR3 candidate. Floyd has battled a multitude of lower-body injuries this season, often leaving games early after first-half setbacks. He's in prove-it mode. ... Ryan Mathews is San Diego's feature back when healthy, and that notion was reinforced when he racked up 142 yards on a team-high 23 touches in Week 12 against Denver. Mike Tolbert got the rock 14 times, managing 63 yards. Off the injury report this week, Mathews is a high-end RB2 in Monday night's matchup with Jacksonville. Run-plugging Jags NT Terrance Knighton (ankle) is not expected to play, and Mathews has 279 yards on his last 57 carries, good for a crisp average of 4.89 yards per tote. Tolbert is a low-end flex option.
Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Jaguars 17