All of the bye weeks are in the books around the NFL, so we’ve got a full slate of Sunday games even after six teams played on Thursday. Many leagues started their playoff schedules this week, but there are plenty other owners out there that need wins this week to secure playoff spots in leagues that kick off their postseasons in Week 14. Let’s get to the Week 13 sleepers and see if there are any potential diamonds in the rough that could be of use to you ladies and gentlemen.
Bills QB E.J. Manuel vs. Falcons: Manuel returned from his knee injury in Week 10 against the Steelers and was completely ineffective after a long layoff. The following week he picked apart the Jets for 245 yards and two touchdowns at home. The Bills want Manuel to uncork some throws and play aggressive. He’ll get a chance to do that against an Atlanta defense that is just going through the motions at the moment. The Falcons have allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, and Manuel and the Bills are coming off their bye week as one of the healthiest teams in the league. This game will be played in Toronto in a dome. I like Manuel as a QB2 with a ton of upside this week.
Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Colts: Over his last three starts, Fitzpatrick has completed 78-of-108 passes for 845 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He’s also sprinkled in 65 rushing yards and one score on the ground over that span. Meanwhile, the Colts have been getting torched on defense the past month-plus. This is a team that has been throttled by the likes of Case Keenum, Kellen Clemens, Carson Palmer, and Fitzpatrick himself the past four weeks. In a Week 11 matchup between these two division rivals, Fitzpatrick completed 22-of-28 passes for 222 yards and a score. Fire Fitzpatrick up as a QB2 and fine play in two-quarterback leagues.
Bears QB Josh McCown vs. Vikings: McCown has been a superb fill-in as the clear-cut backup in Chicago. He’s not going to challenge defenses deep, but he’s a pro when it comes to dinking and dunking his way down the field with short-to-intermediate passes. McCown knows how to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands and spreads the ball around plenty between Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. All four pass-catchers are near the top of their respective positional rankings this week against a Minnesota defense that can’t stop anyone. The Vikings have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in 2013, and this game will be played in a comfortable dome environment. McCown has QB1 upside.
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Jets RB Chris Ivory vs. Dolphins: Ivory injured his ankle last week against the Ravens. He initially described it as both an upper and lower sprain. It’s not as bad as Ivory made it sound because he practiced each day this week and earned a probable tag on Friday’s injury report. He’s going to play and has an opportunity to shred Miami’s bottom-barrel run defense. The Dolphins have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Couple that with the Jets’ passing-game struggles, and Ivory could very well be leaned on to carry Gang Green’s offense. He’s mixed in a couple of duds over the past month, but there’s plenty of flex appeal here in Week 13 for Ivory owners.
Browns RB Fozzy Whittaker vs. Jaguars: The Browns snap counts among their running backs last week against the Steelers: Whittaker-39, Chris Ogbonnaya-33, Willis McGahee-7. Ogbonnaya lost a fumble in the second quarter and rode the bench for much of the second half, giving way to Whittaker. He ended up leading the Cleveland backfield with seven touches. Whittaker mustered up just 21 scoreless yards on those seven chances but should continue to push for an expanded role. McGahee is dunzo and is being phased out. Ogbonnaya has put the ball on the ground in back-to-back games. Fantasy owners would be taking a major shot in the dark by playing Whittaker, but the matchup is juicy. Jacksonville is allowing the eighth-most fantasy points and a 4.2 YPC average to opposing running backs.
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart vs. Bucs: There’s real concern that DeAngelo Williams (quad) could miss Week 13 after he didn’t get in any practice reps this week. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report, and the Panthers are expected to make a decision on him Saturday morning. If Williams is forced to sit out, it would be a boon to Stewart’s stock although he was limited in practice this week due to an ankle issue. Stewart is fully expected to play, however, and he could be in for clear-cut lead-back duties if Williams is shelved. The Bucs have been stellar against the run in 2013 and Mike Tolbert would still be in the mix to vulture goal-line reps, but I could think of many worse gambles as a flex play than Stewart.
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Dolphins WR Brian Hartline vs. Jets: Since Brandon Gibson went down with a season-ending knee injury last month, Brian Hartline has been the No. 3 or 4 option in the passing game. Mike Wallace has turned his game up a notch and is the preferred Dolphins receiver play against the Jets, but Hartline is definitely in the WR3/4 mix. The Jets simply can’t stop the pass. Pro Football Focus grades the Jets out as its fourth-worst pass defense, while they’ve also allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing receivers. Wallace will be shadowed by a banged-up and underachieving Antonio Cromartie, and Hartline will go up against some combination of Darrin Walls and struggling rookie Dee Milliner on the opposite side. Slot receiver Rishard Matthews will draw Kyle Wilson. Hartline has caught five passes in three consecutive games but has failed to find the end zone since Week 3. He’s due.
Bengals WR Marvin Jones vs. Chargers: Bengals OC Jay Gruden came out and said that he’s not sold on any of his No. 2 receiver options opposite A.J. Green. Jones, however, is easily the most talented of the bunch and has played the most snaps opposite Green in recent weeks. Fantasy owners bit hard on Jones’ 8-122-4 line from Week 8. Since then, he’s turned 13 targets into six catches for 77 scoreless yards across the past three games. This is the week Jones could get back on track. He draws a San Diego pass defense that is surrendering the fourth-most fantasy points to wide receivers. Shareece Wright and Derek Cox have been getting smoked on the outside; Cox has been benched multiple times and may not play much this week. Crezdon Butler and Richard Marshall could play heavy snaps. Neither player scares opposing quarterbacks. Jones is merely a WR4/5, but he has some breakout appeal.
Bills WR Stevie Johnson vs. Falcons: Johnson missed Week 11 with a groin injury and is coming off a three-catch Week 10. The Bills just had their bye week, and Johnson returned to put in three full practice sessions. He’s at or near 100 percent and gets to go up against one of the league’s worst slot corners in Atlanta’s Robert McClain. Johnson has been a target monster for the Bills, and I’d fully expect him to see double-digit passes come his way Sunday. Fire the savvy veteran up as a WR3.
Dolphins TE Charles Clay vs. Jets: Clay has failed to eclipse 37 yards receiving in five of the last six games, but it’s not for a lack of chances. Clay is averaging seven targets per game the past three weeks and gets to go up against a Jets defense that has been getting shredded by tight ends. Due to poor pass blocking up front, Ryan Tannehill needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly. That meshes with the short routes Clay has been running, giving him legit TE1 upside for Week 13.
Vikings TE John Carlson vs. Bears: In the three-plus games of action since Kyle Rudolph went down with a broken foot, Carlson has drawn 23 targets. He’s reeled in 19 of them for 226 yards and one touchdown. Carlson is coming off a down week that saw him lose some opportunities to Chase Ford and Rhett Ellison in the passing game, but that was more coincidence than anything. Carlson gets to face a Chicago defense that has been getting drilled for much of the season. The Bears have allowed the fifth-most receptions and third-most yards to opposing tight ends. Carlson is a fine streaming option this week.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Cardinals: Okay, I’ve had Ertz in this section a lot this season. He hasn’t panned out as much I’d have liked him to, but this week he gets to face off against the league’s worst defense when it comes to stopping tight ends. Ertz plays about 50 percent of the snaps on offense and is averaging just four targets per the last four games. But if he’s going to flirt with TE2 numbers, this is the week the rookie is going to do it. I could name worse plug-and-play options than Ertz. Brent Celek blocks on more than half of his snaps played, while Ertz runs pass routes on more than 50 percent of his snaps.