Baltimore @ Washington
Say he never tears the plantar plate in his foot. Where does Pierre Garcon rank among fantasy receivers through 12 games? I'll say top 15 with upside for more. The Skins are 5-1 in Garcon's six appearances, and he's secured 12 of a team-high 17 targets for 192 yards and two TDs the past two weeks. Now facing burnable Baltimore CBs Cary Williams and Chykie Brown, Garcon is fast approaching every-week WR2 value for the fantasy playoffs. ... During Washington's three-game winning streak, Robert Griffin III has completed 47-of-64 passes (73.4 percent) for 674 yards (10.53 YPA) and a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio. He's chipped in 185 yards on 23 carries (8.04 YPC). "He's changing the game with the way he plays the position," ESPN's Jon Gruden observed of Griffin last week. Start a white-hot RG3 against Baltimore's mediocre defense. ... Griffin's target distribution since Garcon returned following the Redskins' Week 10 bye: Garcon 20, Josh Morgan 14, Logan Paulsen 7, Santana Moss 6, Leonard Hankerson 5, Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson 2.
Beyond Garcon, there isn't a single Washington pass catcher worth weekly fantasy investment. Garcon is the featured receiver in a run-first offense, and the remaining tight ends and wideouts are rotating role players. ... Alfred Morris has 576 yards on his last 115 carries (5.01 YPC) and continues to churn out chain-moving run after chain-moving run. While Morris' lack of passing-game usage puts a bit of a cap on his week-to-week fantasy upside, he remains locked in as a high-end to mid-range RB2. The Ravens are playing better run defense than their No. 23 ranking suggests, but they are hardly a shutdown group and may be without do-it-all DE/OLB Terrell Suggs due to a torn biceps. Morris is third in the NFL in rushing and ninth in running back scoring.
Do home-and-away stats have predictive value, or are they just interesting hindsight analysis? I struggle with this. For Joe Flacco, they're a definite trend. In six home games this season, Flacco has completed 131-of-207 passes (63.3 percent) for 1,800 yards (8.7 YPA) and an 11:4 TD-to-INT ratio. In six away games, Flacco is 121-of-219 (55.3 percent) for 1,238 yards (5.65 YPA), four touchdowns, and four picks. The Redskins rank 23rd against the pass and allow the highest QB rating in the NFC, but Flacco is a two-quarterback league option only because he becomes John Skelton on the road. ... While Torrey Smith's inconsistency is maddening, the overall numbers have been there. He's the No. 17 fantasy receiver and likely headed for a bounce-back game in D.C. Smith's 4.43 vertical speed will be difficult for ankle-hobbled Redskins LCB DeAngelo Hall to handle on the outside. ... Flacco's target distribution since Baltimore's Week 8 bye: Anquan Boldin 44, Smith 43, Ray Rice 23, Dennis Pitta 21, Jacoby Jones 19, Tandon Doss 8, and Ed Dickson 7.
Boldin is always a low-upside fantasy bet -- he has two TDs and one 100-yard effort over his last 16 regular season games -- but Boldin is pacing Baltimore in targets and has a plus Week 14 matchup versus Redskins rookie slot corner Richard Crawford. Consider Boldin a viable WR3. ... Washington has served up a lot of fantasy points to tight ends this season, but Pitta has been overtaken by Boldin as Flacco's go-to receiver over the middle and isn't a realistic TE1. ... Doss has begun cutting into Jones' third receiver snaps. Neither backup wideout is worth a fantasy roster spot. ... After mid-November slowdown concerns, Rice has ripped off 170 yards on his last 30 carries (5.67 YPC). Washington ranks fourth in run defense, but gets pushed around in the trenches more than that stat indicates and should be no match for Rice's cutting ability, and elite vision and versatility. Rice is a top-five RB1.
Score Prediction: Redskins 27, Ravens 23
St. Louis @ Buffalo
Grabbing a 24-10 third-quarter lead surely played a role, but it's fair to wonder if last week's 46:17 run-to-throw ratio against Jacksonville was a sign of Buffalo transitioning toward a run-heavy offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick is averaging a Russell Wilsonian 26 pass attempts the past three weeks after averaging 33 in the first nine games. Weak-armed Fitzpatrick has always fared poorly in the November and December elements, and the Bills' best offensive talent is in the running game. A philosophical adjustment would make sense. In Week 14, Buffalo will face a St. Louis team that defends the pass better than the run. Fitz is a low-end two-QB league option with decreasing upside if the revised offense sticks. ... Fitzpatrick's target distribution during those three games: Stevie Johnson 29, Donald Jones and Scott Chandler 11, C.J. Spiller 8, T.J. Graham 7, Fred Jackson 4. ... If Buffalo leans on F-Jax and Spiller as its offensive foundation during the final month, Johnson will be the lone Bills pass catcher with any shot at consistent production. It's pretty much been that way in Buffalo this year anyway. Chan Gailey's Pistol scheme spreads the field with constant five-wideout sets, and can get Johnson matched up with rookie CBs Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson on a high volume of Sunday's pass plays. Assuming his hamstring holds up, Johnson is a solid WR3 against the Rams.
A concern for Jackson's fantasy outlook is C Eric Wood's likely season-ending MCL tear. Wood is Buffalo's best interior lineman, and Jackson is the Bills' primary inside runner. F-Jax remains a worthwhile flex play against a St. Louis defense surrendering the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the league, but his effectiveness could be impacted going forward. ... Jackson told reporters after last week's game that he indeed anticipates Buffalo fielding a run-first offense down the stretch. “Without a doubt,” he said. “We feel like our best players are in the running back room." Spiller's lack of red-zone usage is confounding, but he will continue to be the best bet in Buffalo's backfield for yardage and touchdowns. Gailey has publicly committed to keeping his best player heavily involved, even if Spiller's snaps and touches all occur between the 20s. Perhaps he isn't quite the RB1 we envisioned, but Spiller is a high-upside and high-end RB2 starter in Week 14.
The Bills stand a lowly 30th in the NFL run-defense rankings, but they've gotten it together of late. Buffalo has held the Dolphins, Colts, and Jaguars to a combined 197 yards and one touchdown on 71 carries (2.77 YPC) the past three weeks. Those aren't quite juggernaut rushing offenses, but the Bills possess ample front-four talent for sustained stoutness. While Steven Jackson is every bit worth an RB2 start, he's not quite the blowup-game cinch he might've been earlier in the year. ... Chris Givens opened the season as a streak-route specialist, running downfield goes and flies on a limited route tree. Givens has gotten better every week and took a big step forward in his career with an 11-catch, 92-yard effort in Week 13, securing 79 percent of his game-high 14 targets. "In terms of his movement, there are similarities to Mike Wallace," tape guru Greg Cosell opined of Givens this week. "I think Givens showed last week that he can make short catches. I'd still like to see more of them. ... But there's no question the kid has great movement skill." Givens figures to draw emerging Bills top corner Stephon Gilmore in Week 14 pass coverage. Opposing receiver stats against Gilmore over the past four weeks: Brian Hartline 4-49, Brandon Lloyd 5-45, Reggie Wayne 8-102, and Justin Blackmon 1-9. None of them has scored a touchdown. Givens is worth a long look as a WR3 against the Bills, but he'll have a battle on his hands with Gilmore.
Sam Bradford has completed 83-of-139 passes (59.7 percent) for 871 yards (6.27 YPA), and a 6:2 TD-to-INT ratio over his last four games. Bradford is playing better than he did in 2011, but he's still a low-end QB2 squaring off with a Bills pass defense that has surged to No. 13 in the league rankings. Buffalo is finally rushing the passer and playing aggressive defense in the back four. LE Mario Williams has five sacks over his last three games. ... Rams rookie change-of-pace back Daryl Richardson's usage has fallen steadily since the October 16 trade deadline. His touch total has dropped in four straight games. Richardson is just a lottery-ticket stash at this point, needing an S-Jax injury to be start-able in fantasy leagues. ... Danny Amendola's (heel) return to practice this week indicates he's being prepared to play on Sunday. He didn't practice at all the past two weeks. Amendola's health has just been so unreliable that he'd be almost impossible to count on in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. The best approach for owners would be to put Amendola on a "wait-and-see" week and start him in Week 15 if he plays well this Sunday, considering it a plus even if he's productive on your bench. There's too much downside this week.
Score Prediction: Bills 24, Rams 21
Chicago @ Minnesota
AP2K? On a scintillating tear of six consecutive games averaging six-plus yards per carry, Adrian Peterson has positioned himself to reach 2,000 rushing yards by averaging 138.5 per game over the final month. No longer an imposing matchup for opposing running backs, the Bears' defense has been lit up for 697 yards on 134 carries (5.20 YPC) across its last five games and will likely be without MLB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) for the regular season's remainder. Ride Peterson to the fantasy title. ... With Percy Harvin done for the year, Kyle Rudolph will be the only other Vikings player worth a weekly fantasy look. Chicago has allowed the third most receptions to tight ends, and Rudolph posted a respectable 5-55-1 line in these teams' November 25 meeting. ... Christian Ponder's updated target distribution in Harvin's three missed games this season: Rudolph 26, Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson 16, Peterson 13, Michael Jenkins 10, and Toby Gerhart 3.
"I can't tell you what's in his head, but I can only see it on tape," NFL Films' Greg Cosell said of Ponder this week. "He's so lacking confidence in delivering the football. He moves when he doesn't have to, and he makes ill-advised throws. He's clearly not seeing things. And when a quarterback's not seeing things, they really have a hard time playing. ... So their offense is one-dimensional." ... Bears RCB Tim Jennings' (shoulder) absence doesn't improve Simpson's outlook much. Simpson can expect to be shadowed by Charles Tillman in what will be an easy win for Chicago's top cover corner. ... Wright will replace Harvin in the slot, but his limited role inevitably leads to clunker games. Wright played under 50 percent of the Vikings' Week 13 offensive snaps. He finished with one reception for 13 yards, and wasn't targeted until the final play of the game.
Matt Forte's Week 12 ankle scare proved no worse than that as he racked up 24 touches, 96 yards, and a touchdown in last Sunday's loss to Seattle. Forte played 48-of-61 snaps (78.7 percent), while Michael Bush was limited to 13, picking up a rib injury along the way. The Vikings rank a relatively middling No. 14 in run defense. With his workload restored, Forte is a strong RB2 play in Week 14. ... Just 22nd in per-game scoring among fantasy quarterbacks this season, Jay Cutler is a two-quarterback league starter and nothing more so long as Chicago remains one of the NFL's run-heaviest teams. Only the Seahawks, 49ers, and Redskins have thrown the football less than the Bears this season. ... The return of rookie Alshon Jeffery should add some big-play ability to Chicago's offense, once he gets his legs back at least. Against the Vikings, Jeffery is unlikely to make an immediate difference in his return from in-season knee surgery. ... Just as Devin Hester figures to return this week from a concussion, Earl Bennett suffered his own concussion in Week 13. Neither is worth a fantasy roster spot. ... Brandon Marshall is the No. 3 overall fantasy wideout and racked up 12 catches in the aforementioned Week 12 Bears-Vikings game. Despite Chicago's low team pass attempts total, Marshall is third in the NFL in targets.
Score Prediction: Bears 21, Vikings 17
4:05PM ET Game
Miami @ San Francisco
Jake Long couldn't have picked a worse time to tear his triceps. Long wasn't playing career-best football, but rookie replacement Jonathan Martin has been far worse at right tackle and will now attempt to block 49ers OLB Aldon Smith on Ryan Tannehill's blind side. Smith leads the NFL in sacks (17.5). It's a major concern for Miami's Week 14 pass game. ... It's difficult to imagine the Dolphins moving the ball offensively in this brutal road matchup, let alone scoring touchdowns. The Niners rank third against the run and shut down a previously red-hot Steven Jackson in Week 13, holding him to 48 scoreless yards on 21 carries (2.29 YPC). Although Reggie Bush is healthy and running well again, he's not being used as a workhorse, losing 17 touches to Daniel Thomas the past two games. Avoid Miami's backfield this week. ... Davone Bess will match up with 49ers slot CB Carlos Rogers for most of this contest, while the Niners' physical press coverage on the outside will make it very tough for Brian Hartline to find space on pass patterns. This could be an odd game where someone like Rishard Matthews or Charles Clay leads Miami in receiving. Fantasy owners shouldn't feel good about starting a single Dolphins skill-position player at San Francisco.
Colin Kaepernick took a mild step back in Week 13 against a Rams team that played the 49ers tough in both of their 2012 meetings. The first resulted in a tie, the second in Kaepernick's first career loss. "I thought Kaepernick played okay last week," NFL Films' Greg Cosell said. "He had a few more plays that were not as positive. ... On the other hand, Delanie Walker dropped an easy touchdown late in the game, and then they would have won the game." So it isn't as if defenses have caught up to or figured out Kaepernick; he's more likely to bounce back against Miami's 27th-ranked pass defense than continue to regress. Kaepernick remains on the back-end QB1 radar with plenty of upside in a plus matchup. ... Kaepernick's updated target distribution on the year: Michael Crabtree 24, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham 17, Randy Moss 12, Delanie Walker 9, Frank Gore 6. ... Manningham has battled an ongoing shoulder injury this season. It's cost him one game and rendered him ineffective in others, and he'll be a game-time decision in a late game Sunday. On pace for under 600 yards, Manningham's production isn't worth the sweat.
Saturday Update: Manningham (shoulder) was listed as doubtful on Friday's injury report and will almost certainly miss his second game of the season. Manningham's absence will mean more receiver snaps for Kyle Williams, Ted Ginn, and perhaps first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, who's yet to be active for a 2012 game. Ultimately, there is little to no foreseeable fantasy impact.
Crabtree is the one 49ers pass catcher with whom Kaepernick has consistently connected. Over the past five weeks, Crabtree is the No. 26 receiver in per-game scoring and appears trustworthy as a WR3. ... Hindsight has shown that Kaepernick's rapport with Vernon Davis remains a work in progress, creating fantasy frustration. Davis has a plus Week 14 matchup versus a Miami team allowing the tenth most catches and third most yards to tight ends, but it would be understandable if owners were more inclined to sit him with just two catches for 15 yards on an underwhelming four targets the past two weeks. ... Miami's top-eight run defense was softened up in Week 13 for 109 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries by Patriots tailbacks. This is not an easy matchup for Frank Gore, but the workload is sure to be there, especially if San Francisco controls this game as it should. Fire up Gore as a volume runner in Week 14. He'll be a good bet for a goal-line score.
Score Prediction: 49ers 23, Dolphins 7