Seattle @ Chicago
Russell Wilson deserves kudos for a 12:2 TD-to-INT ratio and 7.97 yards-per-attempt average over his last six games, but the hot run is set up to meet its match at Soldier Field. The Bears' Cover-2 defense is designed precisely to take away what Wilson does best -- throw the deep ball -- and Chicago's relentless front four is likely to be too much for the Seahawks' pass protection-deficient offensive line to handle. Seattle will struggle to move the ball through the air on Sunday. ... Lovie Smith's defense has played the shadow game at cornerback all season long. In Week 13, expect to see LCB Charles Tillman mirror Sidney Rice all over the field, while RCB Tim Jennings is assigned to Golden Tate. These wouldn't be good matchups for the Seahawks' receivers, but Rice remains the best fantasy bet of the two. Although the bone chip in Tillman's foot isn't a major injury, it knocked him out of last week's game after 18 snaps and could be an issue again Sunday. ... Whether it's Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy, or Doug Baldwin, Seattle will need someone to step up in the Week 13 passing game beyond the outside receivers. Otherwise, it'll be a very long day.
Marshawn Lynch's matchup with the Monsters of the Midway at their place seems intimidating at first glance. The Bears have surrendered 521 yards on 102 carries (5.11 YPC) over their last four games, however, and are slowly but surely plummeting down the NFL's run-defense ranks. The odds are against Lynch lighting up Chicago for 100-plus yards and two TDs, but Seattle is good enough to keep this game competitive, allowing Lynch to rack up attempts. Versus a fading Bears run defense, start Lynch as a high-end RB2. ... Lynch has been a durable player in his career, but has a history of back problems and is on pace for nearly 340 carries. He's taking an awful lot of hits. As LeSean McCoy owners can attest, Lynch needs to be handcuffed with impressive rookie Robert Turbin. Even non-Lynch owners ought to give Turbin a lengthy look. The Seahawks face Arizona (No. 23 run defense) and Buffalo (No. 31) in the first two rounds of the fantasy playoffs.
The Bears' offensive line has been its Achilles' heel all year, and in Week 12 lost its best blocker when RG Lance Louis tore his left ACL. Seahawks-Bears projects as a low-scoring affair because neither team appears capable of keeping pressure off its quarterback. Facing a Seattle defense that ranks third against the pass and ninth in sacks, Jay Cutler is a low-end QB2. ... Seahawks CBs Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will play Sunday as they wait one more week for their suspension appeals to be heard. Brandon Marshall remains matchup proof with Cutler force feeding him targets, but Chicago's alternative pass catchers stand little chance of providing viable production on a day where their quarterback may fail to eclipse 200 passing yards. Earl Bennett and Kellen Davis are waiver-wire fodder. Devin Hester is coming off a concussion, and Alshon Jeffery is out with a knee injury. ... Matt Forte limped badly off the field after re-injuring his right ankle in last week's win. While he returned to limited practices this week and is expected to play on Sunday, running back-rich fantasy owners ought to consider Forte no better than a Week 13 flex option. Forte already loses all goal-line carries to Michael Bush, and there are no guarantees on the Bears starter's health. Chicago is also facing Seattle's top-12 run defense. There are too many factors working against Forte this week for him to be considered a surefire fantasy starter.
Score Prediction: Bears 17, Seahawks 14
San Francisco @ St. Louis
Averaging 23.3 touches a game since St. Louis' Week 9 bye and 4.74 YPC on his last 94 carries, Steven Jackson has locked himself in as an every-week RB2/flex play even in difficult matchups. S-Jax stung San Francisco's No. 4 run defense for 127 total yards just three games ago, and the Rams have received multiple offensive line reinforcements since, with LT Rodger Saffold and C Scott Wells rejoining the starting lineup. Whereas Jackson has 70 offensive touches since the open date, rookie change-of-pace back Daryl Richardson has been reduced to eight touches per game. Richardson remains a worthwhile late-season fantasy stash who could reach flex-starter status in the event of a Jackson injury. But S-Jax's job and weekly workloads are the most stable they've been all year. ... Second-rounder Isaiah Pead, who was easily surpassed by Richardson in training camp and has been a third-stringer this season, has gone consecutive games without an offensive touch. Pead won't be a factor in St. Louis' backfield before 2013.
A dink-and-dunk quarterback for most of his first two seasons, Sam Bradford flashed his vertical passing chops in last week's win at Arizona. Bradford completed seven passes of 15-plus yards, including deep scoring strikes to Lance Kendricks and Chris Givens from 37 yards apiece. Bradford has been far too inconsistent for fantasy consideration outside of two-QB leagues, but the talent is there, and it is tantalizing. ... The Rams had passing success against San Francisco in the Week 10 tie, but repeating it seems like a long shot against the Niners' No. 2 pass defense. Danny Amendola (heel) is back on the shelf and off the Week 13 fantasy radar. Brandon Gibson hasn't cleared 50 yards since mid-October and is just a guy. Rookie Givens, who quietly leads the NFL in yards per reception, is the one Rams wideout worth WR3 consideration. Givens played 49-of-57 snaps (86 percent) in last week's win over the Cardinals and is consistently demonstrating big-play ability. Givens has at least 70-plus receiving yards and/or a touchdown in five of his last six games.
I found this note interesting, via ESPN's Adam Schefter from Wednesday's SportsCenter: "After the 49ers beat the Saints, they flew back to San Francisco, landed at 1:00 in the morning," Schefter reported. "Players day off, 'Victory Monday.' As 49ers employees pull up to the training facility the next morning -- seven hours later -- they notice one player on the field running sprints with 50-pound plates attached to his back, sprint after sprint. It turned out to be Colin Kaepernick. That gives you an idea of the type of work ethic he has." So not only has Kaepernick nailed down the 49ers' quarterback job with explosive playmaking ability, he's still working doggedly to hone his craft. A week after outscoring Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, and Josh Freeman in fantasy points, Kaepernick is a low-end QB1 at St. Louis with top-five upside if the Niners loosen the reins a bit. Run-first offense and game-controlling defense are the only factors working against him. ... Kaepernick's updated target distribution on the year: Vernon Davis 14, Michael Crabtree 13, Mario Manningham 11, Randy Moss 7, Delanie Walker 7, Frank Gore 5. ... Davis' Week 12 goose egg was unfortunate. The best way for fantasy owners to respond is by starting him against the Rams. Kaepernick has still thrown to Davis more often than any Niners pass catcher, and St. Louis has allowed the sixth most receptions and seventh most yards in the league to tight ends. After his Alex Smith comments this past week, Kaepernick may prioritize getting Davis the ball.
San Francisco will catch a big Week 13 break if Rams RE Robert Quinn's concussion sidelines him for Sunday's game. Quinn leads St. Louis with 8.5 sacks, emerging as an elite outside-edge rusher in his second year. ... The Kaepernick-Smith controversy understandably generates more headlines, but the 49ers have maintained a run-first offense amid the quarterback quandary. Their run-to-pass ratio is 60:48 in Kaepernick's two starts, and San Francisco may lean even more heavily on Gore with Kendall Hunter (Achilles') done for the year. The Rams have allowed the third most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season. Gore is an RB1. ... The run-heavy philosophy keeps the ceiling low on Crabtree, Moss, and Manningham. Crabtree is a respectable week-to-week WR3, but lacks upside with one 100-yard effort over his last 19 games. Moss has been quiet all season and is coming off a catch-less week. Manningham is the No. 3 pass option in an offense that ranks 31st in pass attempts. The Rams' defensive strength is secondary play, so beyond Davis there isn't a locked-in fantasy starter among Niners pass catchers in Week 13.
Score Prediction: 49ers 23, Rams 17
Arizona @ NY Jets
Larry Fitzgerald's production amid musical-chair quarterbacks has been incredibly frustrating, but glass-half-full fantasy owners have at least one reason for Week 13 optimism. Whereas most defenses have designed bracket coverage -- essentially a triple team -- to eliminate Fitz from Arizona's offense, Rex Ryan will leave him singled up versus Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie has been terrific this season, but it's a battle Fitzgerald can win. He's still just a WR3 with a 39.4-yard average over his last five games. ... Rookie Ryan Lindley has thrown 72 passes. His target distribution on the season: Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts 17, Rob Housler 11, William Powell 9, Early Doucet and Michael Floyd 6, La'Rod Stephens-Howling 4. ... Roberts' team-high 13 targets and nine catches for 92 yards in Week 12 were likely a mirage against the Rams, and he won't be a recommended WR3 versus the Jets' top-seven pass defense. Roberts missed all of practice this week with an ankle injury. He's listed as questionable for Week 13. ... In St. Louis, Housler posted career highs in targets (9), catches (8), and yards (82) and remains an interesting long-term tight end prospect with legit seam-stretching ability at 6-foot-5, 250 and 4.55 wheels. Last week's production is still an unreliable indicator of this week's stats with erratic Lindley under center.
Beanie Wells scored two quick touchdowns in his first game back from I.R./designated for return, but his on-field performance was less impressive than the fantasy point total might indicate. Wells ran sluggishly, gaining 37 yards on his last 15 carries (2.47 YPC) and admitted afterwards that he's still trying to get his football legs back. He did not play in the passing game. The possibility that Wells might get 20 carries against New York's bottom-three run defense puts him on the flex radar, but playoff-minded fantasy owners should be able to do better. Not helping matters is C Lyle Sendlein's year-ending MCL tear. Wells is still running behind perhaps the NFL's poorest run-blocking line. ... Due to an alleged rib injury, Stephens-Howling lost his passing-down job to Powell in last week's loss to the Rams. "Hyphen" played six snaps; Powell got 40. (Beanie played 30.) The Arizona backup job behind Wells likely is fluid, but it's not worth pursuing in fantasy football.
Mark Sanchez threw for 301 yards in last week's embarrassing, blowout loss to the Patriots on Thanksgiving. Odds are he won't have pass-only comeback mode to inflate his stats this week. The Cardinals' offense can't score points, and their defense brings heat, ranking fifth in the league in sacks and fourth versus the pass. Sanchez would be a poor two-quarterback league play. ... Jeremy Kerley is the lone Jets wideout worth Week 13 fantasy consideration on the heels of a seven-catch, 86-yard effort against New England. Recovered from his hip and hamstring injuries, Kerley is a viable, if low-upside WR3 in PPR leagues. ... The Cardinals have permitted the fewest receptions and second fewest yards to tight ends in the league this year. Dustin Keller is a shaky, borderline desperation TE1. ... Arizona's defense gets upfield and schemes pressure via DC Ray Horton's zone blitzes, but it's not a great run-stopping unit. The Cards rank 23rd versus the run. Unfortunately, the Jets have an even time split at running back that saps the fantasy appeal of Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene. Powell and Greene would both be bottom-barrel flex options.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 14, Jets 13
4:05PM ET Game
Tampa Bay @ Denver
Surely pleased with himself for bolting San Diego this past offseason, Vincent Jackson has moved on to greener, more hopeful pastures as a Buccaneer. He just can't escape archnemesis Champ Bailey on the schedule. V-Jax's stat lines in his last seven meetings with the future Hall of Fame corner, beginning with most recent: 2-25, 3-34, 4-56, 4-46-1, 2-47, 6-73, 4-46. Rounding up, it's a four-catch, 47-yard average with one touchdown in seven tries. There is no question that Bailey has historically had Jackson's number. At the same time, Jackson has never played at this high a level, both on the field and in the box scores. In Week 13, V-Jax has the appearance of a risky WR2/3 as opposed to the WR1 he's been all season. ... Assuming Bailey shadows Jackson -- and there is no guarantee, even if it seems like an obvious move by Denver -- Mike Williams will have the best matchup among Tampa Bay pass catchers. Although Williams' production has slowed to a halt of late, he's dropped just one pass over his last six games and his on-field performance hasn't noticeably fallen off. He'll be a low-end WR3 option, matching up with Broncos CB Chris Harris on early downs and diminutive Tony Carter in passing situations. Harris and Carter have been an effective duo this year, but I like my odds against their coverage long before Bailey's.
I don't like this matchup at all for Josh Freeman, in part because the Falcons provided the rest of the league with a blueprint for slowing down Tampa's run-based vertical offense just last week. Ordinarily a soft run-defending team, Atlanta sold out to stop Doug Martin en route to a year-low 2.38 YPC and got Freeman out of his comfort zone. Freeman resumed missing open receivers just as he did early in the season, and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 2012. I think Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil will wreak havoc in the trenches, and Denver's secondary is playing well enough to prevent much separation by Jackson and Williams. I expect Freeman to struggle in Week 13. ... A big day from Martin is the one way Tampa Bay can stay competitive in this game. He's certainly capable of it. Martin has at least a touchdown and/or 100-plus total yards in seven straight weeks, surging to No. 2 among running backs in fantasy scoring. Martin is an every-down back, so he'll stay in the game and rack up catches if the Bucs fall behind. ... Dallas Clark's pass-game role has grown in recent weeks, although he's still a less than 50-percent player in the offense due to shortcomings as a run blocker. The Bucs remain a run-first team. Denver has allowed the second most fantasy points to tight ends, but Clark is a desperation play.
A healthy scratch since Week 2, Knowshon Moreno came off the weekly street-clothes list to dominate Denver's backfield in snaps (55-of-64) and touches (24) during last week's win over the Chiefs. Proceed with caution, fantasy owners. Moreno's mediocre talent is to blame for his failure as a former first-round pick, and Broncos playcaller Mike McCoy likely won't blink at pulling him for Ronnie Hillman or Lance Ball should Moreno struggle against Tampa's No. 1 run defense. This is a fluid situation. Moreno is a dicey flex option with no guarantees on production or workload moving forward. ... The Broncos are much more likely to move the ball offensively through the air than on the ground in Sunday's game. Bucs top CB Eric Wright's four-game suspension has kicked in, and Tampa Bay's pass defense has ranked last in the league even with Wright in the lineup. Look for Demaryius Thomas to square off with Bucs RCB E.J. Biggers, while Eric Decker draws undrafted rookie LCB Leonard Johnson. Both Denver wideouts are strong Week 13 fantasy plays, but Decker has the superior matchup of the two. Johnson has been lit up by Danario Alexander (5-134-1), Brandon LaFell (5-93-1), and Julio Jones (6-147-1) the past three weeks.
Jacob Tamme has managed four receptions in back-to-back games, but his snap count remains a major issue. He only plays in obvious passing situations, and not even all of them. Pro Football Focus has charted Tamme with 53-of-138 snaps (38.4 percent) the past two games, which is a major concern for his consistency. While the Bucs allow the 12th most fantasy points to tight ends, Tamme and Joel Dreessen should be viewed as waiver-wire fodder by competitive owners. ... Slot receiver Brandon Stokley gets significantly more playing time than Tamme and is a better bet for No. 3 pass-option production in Denver's offense. He'd still be an awfully low-upside WR3 week to week. Because this matchup is so attractive, deep leaguers ought to give Stokley a long look against Tampa Bay, however. ... Peyton Manning is the No. 5 overall fantasy passer, behind only Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Robert Griffin III, and Aaron Rodgers. Aside from RG3, it's the usual suspects at quarterback this year. Start Peyton in the most favorable matchup he'll get all season.
Score Prediction: Broncos 28, Bucs 20