Tennessee @ Indianapolis
Just four of Sunday's 12 games will be played indoors. This is one, as Tennessee's suddenly red-hot offense travels to domed Lucas Oil Stadium for a clash with Indy's tailspinning defense. The Titans have caught fire by putting Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the Pistol with hurry-up packages, flooding the field with wideouts a la Chan Gailey's old Bills spread. It's what makes "FitzMagic" most comfortable. Completing 78 of his last 108 throws (72.2%) for 845 yards (7.82 YPA) and a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio, Fitzpatrick is quietly playing some of the best football of his career. He's a high-end QB2 against the Colts' No. 19 pass defense. ... Fitzpatrick's 2013 target distribution: Kendall Wright 46; Delanie Walker 37; Nate Washington 26; Chris Johnson 21; Justin Hunter 18; Kenny Britt 10, Damian Williams 8. ... Wright's stat lines in FitzMagic's five games of extensive play: 7-78; 5-69; 6-74; 9-80; 6-103-1. He's led Tennessee in targets in four of those five games. Already a locked-in WR2 in PPR, Wright can earn WR2 standard-league billing if he keeps hitting pay dirt. He's an every-week fantasy starter regardless. Wright had nine catches when Tennessee and Indianapolis met just two weeks ago. ... Hunter's marquee talent was on display in last week's win over Oakland, racking up critical third-down catches and tacking on a highlight-reel 54-yard touchdown. Inconsistency is unavoidable for a rookie receiver barely playing 50% of the offensive snaps, but there aren't many higher-ceiling Hail Mary WR3 plays than Hunter out there right now.
Walker followed up his impressive Weeks 11-12 box scores (10-91-1, 4-62-1) with a team-high nine targets against the Raiders, although he dropped two and finished with five catches for 46 yards. Still, heavy targeting is a reminder that Walker remains a huge part of the Titans' revised passing attack. Walker posted the 10-catch game on this same Colts defense and is squarely on the back-end TE1 radar. Fitzpatrick seems to love him. ... Washington has taken a backseat as Fitzpatrick's No. 4 pass-game option behind Wright, Walker, and emerging Hunter. Washington is waiver-wire fodder. ... Oakland's genuinely stout run defense limited CJ?K to 81 scoreless yards in Week 12, but Johnson still handled 23 touches to Shonn Greene's four and looks to be in no danger of losing carries moving forward. Johnson still has 371 yards and four touchdowns on his last 79 totes (4.70 YPC). He's on the RB1 borderline against Indy's 27th-ranked run defense, a unit surrendering the eighth most generous yards-per-carry average in football (4.4). ... Greene is a mere handcuff averaging just over seven touches per game since Tennessee's Week 8 bye.
The home, domed environment is an inarguable plus for Andrew Luck's Week 13 prospects, but Indianapolis' recent pass-game struggles are difficult to overlook. Ever since the Colts' Week 9 Sunday night comeback win over Houston, Luck has completed 72-of-122 throws (59.0%) for 748 yards (6.13 YPA), two touchdowns, and five interceptions. Rushing stats have prevented Luck from killing fantasy teams, but he's no better than a low-end QB1 in Sunday's date with the Titans' top-eight pass defense. Aggressive Tennessee defensive boss Gregg Williams will surely dial up blitzes to attack Indianapolis' talent-deficient offensive line. The Titans have allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (8) in football. ... Luck's target distribution since Reggie Wayne's Week 7 ACL tear: T.Y. Hilton 39; Coby Fleener 33; Darrius Heyward-Bey 22; Griff Whalen 17; Trent Richardson 15; LaVon Brazill 13; Donald Brown 10; Stanley Havili 6. ... Dating back to the final five weeks of his rookie season, Hilton has played ten games indoors and six outdoors. He's combined for 23 catches, 217 yards, and no touchdowns outdoors, for an average per-game stat line of 3.8-36.2-0. In the ten indoor games, Hilton has 45 catches for 901 yards and seven TDs at a per-game clip of 4.5-90.1-.7. Although Hilton's last two weeks have been slow yardage wise, he has at least five catches in four consecutive games and is the No. 9 overall fantasy wide receiver in per-game scoring over the past five weeks. He's an every-week WR2 starter with WR1 upside.
Further helping the cause of Indy's pass catchers is Titans FS Michael Griffin's one-game ban for illegal hits. Coverage of Fleener would've been one of Griffin's primary Week 13 responsibilities. Tennessee was already letting up the eighth most yards in the league to tight ends, giving Fleener an attractive matchup. With at least eight targets in three straight games, Fleener has emerged as a rock-solid TE1. ... Brazill is the only other Colts pass catcher worth fantasy discussion, and he's just a deep-league shot in the dark. He's playing Hilton's old third receiver role. ... Defensively, the Titans are vulnerable on the ground. They're 18th in run defense and have served up 15 rushing touchdowns, tied for most in the league. Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece combined to paste Tennessee for 180 total yards and a touchdown in Week 12. Unfortunately, T-Rich and Brown are no better than low-end flex plays. Richardson hasn't handled double-digit carries in a game since mid-October. Change-up back Brown finished last week's game with three touches for -1 yard.
Score Prediction: Colts 24, Titans 21
Arizona @ Philadelphia
The Cardinals are quietly on a four-game win streak entering Sunday's matchup with a Philly team similarly hot with five wins over its last seven games. The Eagles' defense has been statistically stout of late, although it's still fair to question its legitimacy after facing a consecutive string of quarterbacks named Scott Tolzien, Eli Manning, injured Terrelle Pryor, and hobbled Robert Griffin III. RG3 dropped 21 standard-league fantasy points on Philly's defense in their last game. Having completed 105 of his last 147 throws (71.4%) for 1,266 yards (8.61 YPA) and a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio, Carson Palmer has earned high-end QB2 distinction against the Eagles' last-ranked pass defense. As coach Bruce Arians and assistant Tom Moore have manufactured ways to give Palmer a clean pocket, he's absorbed just ten sacks over the past four weeks. That is a low number considering Palmer's complete lack of mobility and Arizona's talent deficiencies on the line. ... Palmer's target distribution during the four-game stretch: Larry Fitzgerald 33; Michael Floyd 24; Rob Housler 20; Andre Roberts 19; Andre Ellington 10; Rashard Mendenhall 6; Jim Dray 5. ... The Eagles are allowing the most fantasy points in the league to receivers. The No. 12 overall fantasy wideout over the past three weeks, Fitzgerald is a locked-in, every-week WR2 who's emerged as Palmer's clear go-to option on red-zone passing plays. ... Although Floyd isn't scoring at the same clip as Fitz, the second-year Notre Dame alum is on a yardage tear. Floyd is on pace for 1,107 yards in what's shaping up to be a breakout season. He's a fantasy WR2/3.
Housler is playing 69.0% of Arizona's offensive snaps since the Week 9 bye, up quite a bit from his first-half averages. He's still more top-end TE2 than TE1. Philadelphia is allowing the fourth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Correspondingly, Roberts' playing time is down as the Cardinals make more use of two-tight end sets. Roberts would need a Fitz or Floyd injury to have fantasy value at this point in the year. ... Philly's 2013 defensive strength has been versus the run, where they permit a middling 4.10 yards per carry and have held opponents to seven rushing touchdowns through 11 games. Following Mendenhall's 78-total-yard, one-score Week 12 effort, Arians essentially deemed it his best game of the year. Telling. Mendenhall averaged 4.2 YPC and 3.25 if you leave out his longest run. He isn't suddenly a strong flex option. In all likelihood, Mendenhall will continue to be a touchdown-dependent fantasy commodity who burns a hole in lineups when he doesn't hit pay dirt from a yard or two out. ... Arians' affinity for and increasing commitment to Mendenhall is a concern for Ellington's rest-of-season outlook. The RBBC obviously isn't going away. Ellington will continue to be a dice-roll flex play with more value in PPR leagues. I would still gamble on Ellington's big-play ability over Mendenhall in any given week.
Friday Update: Ellington suffered a knee injury in Thursday's practice, and Cardinals beat writers are now skeptical about his Week 13 availability. Mendenhall remains a low-ceiling flex play only, as the Cards could turn to Stepfan Taylor or Alfonso Smith to take Ellington's snaps, rather than thrusting Mendenhall into an every-down back role. Facing an underrated Eagles run defense, this is not a great fantasy situation.
Philly's offense returns from a Week 12 bye to host an extremely aggressive Arizona defense that ranks second in the NFL in blitz frequency and is genuinely capable of eliminating running games. Pounding the rock is what run-minded coach Chip Kelly's Eagles do best, as they lead the NFL in rushing offense and rank sixth in rushing attempts per game. The Cards are No. 2 in run defense and No. 3 in yards-per-carry allowed (3.51). So we'll see what happens when an immovable object meets an unstoppable force. Fantasy owners should have all kinds of faith in LeSean McCoy due to his volume and talent, but this is a difficult on-paper matchup. ... During its four-game hot run, Arizona's defense has stymied enemy signal callers to the tune of 103-for-185 passing (55.7%), 920 yards (4.97 YPA), and a 5:7 TD-to-INT ratio. Again, this is an imposing Arizona defense. I placed Nick Foles eighth in my FF Playoff Ranks -- ahead of Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, and RG3 -- but wouldn't have him in my top-12 quarterbacks for Week 13. ... Foles' target distribution since returning from a concussion three games ago: Riley Cooper 18; DeSean Jackson 15; Zach Ertz and McCoy 9; Jason Avant 8; Brent Celek 6; James Casey and Bryce Brown 3. ... This game sets up noticeably well for Cooper, as D-Jax will likely draw Patrick Peterson in shadow coverage. Cooper (6'3/220) has a major size advantage on Cards No. 2 CB Jerraud Powers (5'9/188), who has been up and down this season. I like Cooper's chances of hitting pay dirt against Arizona.
I think it's interesting to note that not a single Eagles pass catcher has exceeded seven targets in any of the three games discussed above. Foles has compensated for lacking volume with extreme efficiency. So if Foles is not as efficient in a given forthcoming game, it could be a slow week for this passing game as a whole. No one member is being peppered with targets. ... Jackson does have a tough matchup against Peterson, who helped hold similarly-built T.Y. Hilton to 44 yards on five catches last week. You still start D-Jax because he's a top-five fantasy receiver and Kelly schemes him the ball, but I'd view Jackson as more of a boom-or-bust WR2 in Week 13. ... Arizona's weakness in pass coverage is versus tight ends, the position to which they're allowing the most fantasy points in the league. Unfortunately, neither Ertz nor Celek has been a consistent part of Philadelphia's passing attack. Celek hasn't cleared 50 yards in a game since September. Ertz has done so once all season.
Score Prediction: Eagles 20, Cardinals 17
Chicago @ Minnesota
Now 97-of-148 passing (65.5%) for 1,106 yards (7.47 YPA) and a 7:1 TD-to-INT ratio through five appearances in relief of Jay Cutler (groin/ankle), Josh McCown is flirting with legitimate and high-ceiling QB1 value in this near-ideal matchup indoors. Not only is Minnesota's defense ranked 29th against the pass with a league-high 23 passing touchdowns allowed, the Vikings had to cut sub-package CB A.J. Jefferson this week following domestic violence charges, and will be without top safety Harrison Smith (foot/short-term I.R.) for at least two more games. The only quarterbacks I'd start over McCown on Sunday and Monday are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson. I'd rank McCown ahead of Philip Rivers, Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning, Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton, Nick Foles, and Matt Ryan. ... McCown's target distribution on the season: Brandon Marshall 44; Alshon Jeffery 36; Matt Forte 26; Martellus Bennett 18; Earl Bennett 11; Michael Bush 3; Marquess Wilson 2. ... The domed environs and matchup bode similarly well for Marshall and Jeffery, who are locked-in every-week fantasy starters with the former in the high-end WR1 category and the latter as a rock-solid WR2. Marshall has at least 75 yards and/or a touchdown in 9-of-11 games this season. Jeffery is averaging nearly 12 targets per game over the last month.
Minnesota has coughed up the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends, making Martellus a quality low-end TE1. When these teams met in Week 2, Bennett torched the Vikings for a 7-76-2 line. The Vikes have since lost coverage safety Smith. ... Steamrolled by Green Bay for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries (5.76 YPC) last week, Minnesota is now 25th in run defense. In Week 2, Forte skewered the Vikings for 161 total yards. Only Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, and Knowshon Moreno have scored more fantasy points among running backs than Forte this year. ... For just the second time all season in Week 12 against St. Louis, Bush vultured a goal-line score from Forte. Bush is averaging just over four touches per game. He has no standalone flex value.
As Charles and McCoy both face top-five run defenses, Adrian Peterson is fantasy's clear No. 1 running back play of Week 13. Since Week 6, Alfred Morris/Roy Helu, Brandon Jacobs, Eddie Lacy/James Starks, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, and Zac Stacy/Benny Cunningham/Tavon Austin have combined to paste the depleted Bears defensive front for 929 yards and 11 TDs on 145 runs (6.41 YPC). Per ESPN Stats & Info, St. Louis amassed 213 rushing yards before contact in last week's win over Chicago. The Bears are getting destroyed at the point of attack. ... Christian Ponder earned another start in last week's tie with Green Bay. Although not remotely a QB1 streamer candidate, Ponder has played his way into Hail Mary two-quarterback-league discussion against Chicago. The matchup and lack of weather conditions are pluses, and Ponder is always a threat to sugar the box score with rushing stats. He's a poor man's Jeff Garcia. ... Ponder's 2013 target distribution: Greg Jennings 38; Jerome Simpson 37; Cordarrelle Patterson 34; John Carlson 27; Peterson and injured Kyle Rudolph 24; Jarius Wright 19; Toby Gerhart 9.
Patterson is Minnesota's target leader in each of the past two weeks. With the Vikings' season over, OC "Wild Bill" Musgrave is finally featuring the first-round pick on offense. Now a 56% player having touches manufactured for him, Patterson is one of my favorite FanDuel fliers and Hail Mary WR3s. The ball is going to him, the game is indoors, the opponent is weak, and the dude can ball. ... With Patterson and Peterson hogging the pigskin, the rest of Minnesota's pass catchers are all but bereft of fantasy value. Carlson's production has dropped steadily and weekly since Rudolph's foot injury. He finished with three catches for 36 scoreless yards in Ponder's best game of the season last Sunday. Even against a Bears defense allowing the 11th most fantasy points to tight ends, Carlson is a replacement-level streamer. ... Jennings seems to be more obsessed this season with ripping his old team, the Packers, than playing effective football. He had yet another drop last week and hasn't hit the 60-yard mark in a game since Week 4. ... The Vikings' new primary three-receiver set has Jennings in the slot, Simpson at X receiver, and Patterson at Z. While Patterson sees manufactured touches and Jennings plays a high-percentage position, Simpson is running low-percentage isolation routes down the sideline. With a few exceptions, Simpson is basically a clear-out receiver, or decoy. He did catch a 31-yard pass in Week 12. If I owned Simpson in a 12- or 14-team fantasy league, I'd drop him quickly.
Score Prediction: Bears 27, Vikings 21