In the words of the immortal Tom Petty: "Even the losers get lucky sometimes."
Conversely, even the winners can draft a team full of underachievers and miss the fantasy football playoffs. Most of us know which group we belong to at this point in the season.
Week 13 is the final week of the regular season for many fantasy leagues. That means many of you are in desperate need of a win this week and are scrounging around for any advice you can get.
I’d like to offer my assistance.
But first, here’s a look at some of the most interesting storylines from last weekend’s action:
-DeSean Jackson fractured multiple ribs in the Eagles’ 30-22 loss to the Panthers Monday night, prompting his fantasy owners to say, “Wait, he was playing this season?”
-Fireman Ed is no longer supporting the New York Jets. The team was shocked to know they actually had a fan prior to last week.
-Rashard Mendenhall started against the Browns and proceeded to fumble almost immediately. Four Steelers running backs coughed up the football in Week 12, but apparently Mike Tomlin still has faith in Jonathan Dwyer. He’s been named the team’s Week 13 starter.
-Aldon Smith will likely break Reggie White’s record for most sacks in the first two seasons of an NFL career (31). He also has a shot at Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record this year. Smith is an electric pass-rusher and a superstar in the making.
-Ndamukong Suh is back at it. There are differing opinions about Suh’s intent on this play against the Houston Texans last Thursday, but it looks pretty cut-and-dry to me. Suh is lucky Jim Schwartz didn’t try to challenge the play.
-The Green Bay Packers took a rare beatdown from the Giants in Week 12. If I were a betting man, I’d put a lot of money on the Packers this week. They haven’t lost two games in a row in two years.
Anyway, enough of the random musings. On to the rankings we go.
Rodgers is coming off a subpar performance in Week 12, but don’t count on another letdown this week. The Packers need a win to stay afloat in the NFC North playoff race. Rodgers will rebound with a 300-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Vikings. Write it down.
2. Robert Griffin III
Griffin has now strung together two of his best performances of the season just in time for the home stretch. He’s completed 34 of his last 43 passes for eight touchdowns and just one interception. The Giants enter Week 13 ranked No. 25 against the pass.
3. Drew Brees
Brees didn’t play his best game against the 49ers last week, but he still put together a quality fantasy line. Brees shows up in big games, and none may be bigger for the Saints this season than this meeting with the Falcons. Expect another quality performance from Brees when it matters most for your fantasy team.
Manning is showing no sign of slowing down, and neither are the Broncos. Manning has torched nearly every team he’s faced this season, rewarding fantasy owners who took a gamble on him after multiple neck surgeries. Denver has one of the easiest schedules in the league to finish the year, and Tampa Bay should prove to be a lucrative matchup for Manning owners.
5. Matt Ryan
"The Mattural" has thrown for 300-plus yards six times this season, including each of the last four games. The touchdowns haven’t been there, but they will come. New Orleans is atrocious against the pass, so start Ryan with confidence. He’s poised for a big day.
6. Tom Brady
It seems like people are just desensitized to Brady’s elite play. He should be in all MVP discussions. Brady has thrown 24 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season, while topping the 300-yard mark seven times in 11 games. He may be the most consistent quarterback in the NFL.
7. Cam Newton
Newton was impressive on Monday night against the Eagles. He accounted for 358 yards of offense and four total touchdowns in the 30-22 win. Kansas City’s defense has improved as the season has progress, but it’s still ranked No. 17 in the NFL. Unless you have another elite fantasy quarterback on your roster, play Newton again this week.
Stafford is coming off a 441-yard, two touchdown performance on Thanksgiving Day against one of the best defenses in the league. He will face the Colts this week in what will be Detroit’s final chance at a playoff push. Indianapolis is ranked No. 19 in the league against the pass, and is tied for No. 23 in the league in touchdown passes allowed (19).
9. Eli Manning
Manning is back. After a string of disappointing performances over the last month, Manning threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers on Sunday night. The NFC East is still wide open, and Washington is surging right now. Fortunately for Manning owners, the Redskins are No. 31 in the league against the pass.
10. Andrew Luck
Luck wasn’t all that impressive last week against the Bills, but he was good enough to secure the win and keep the Colts in the playoff hunt. A team playing with a purpose is a dangerous team to face late in the season, especially when that team is led by such a talented rookie quarterback. Luck has gone without a touchdown just once this season, and is always a threat to find the end zone with his legs.
11. Tony Romo
12. Philip Rivers
13. Andy Dalton
14. Colin Kaepernick
15. Josh Freeman
16. Ryan Fitzpatrick
17. Matt Schaub
18. Carson Palmer
19. Ryan Fitzpatrick
20. Jay Cutler
1. Arian Foster
No one has been as consistently productive as Foster this season. The Texans tailback topped the 1,000-yard barrier last week against the Lions, and he’s not done yet. Foster is on pace for 20 total touchdowns this season. He will carry your team through the playoffs with a few nice matchups down the stretch starting this week with the Titans.
Peterson is averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season and has gone over 100 yards each of the last five games. Bottom line, he is on a tear, and the Packers aren’t going to stop him. In fact, no team is likely to stop A.P. the rest of the season.
3. Trent Richardson
Richardson didn’t have the most inspiring performance last week against the Steelers, but he did enough to reward his fantasy owners with a nice line. Oakland is nowhere near as stout against the run as the Steelers, and if the Browns are forced to start Colt McCoy this week, Richardson could have an even bigger day. He’s had 25-plus touches in each of his last four games.
4. Doug Martin
Martin is having a prolific rookie season. Ride him through the playoffs regardless of the matchup. Denver is ranked ninth in the league against the run this season, but the Bucs have been relying heavily on Martin. He has been given at least 22 touches in each of his last six games, and should see another sizable workload this week.
5. Michael Turner
Last week, Turner faced the best rushing defense in the league in Tampa Bay. In Week 13, Turner and the Falcons face the worst rushing defense in the league. Despite a horrid performance in Week 12, don’t be afraid to start Turner. New Orleans is giving up 156.5 rushing yards per game and Turner should be in for a solid workload.
6. Ray Rice
The Steelers surrendered 85 yards and a touchdown to Trent Richardson last week, and though they held T-Rich to just 2.9 yards per carry, it was still a nice line for his fantasy owners. Rice stands to post similar numbers this week and will likely see even more action in the check-down game. With as often as the Steelers dial up zone blitzes, opposing backs are always likely to see plenty of targets in the passing game.
7. Mikel Leshoure
Leshoure hasn’t posted massive yardage totals this season, but he has a nose for the end zone. Detroit seems dedicated to establishing the run, despite inexplicably abandoning the running game late in the game last week against Houston. As long as Joique Bell doesn’t vulture goal-line carries this week, Leshoure should have a solid performance against a poor rushing defense.
8. Marshawn Lynch
Lynch would be ranked much higher this week if the Seahawks weren’t squaring up with one of the best defenses in the league. Chicago is ranked eighth against the run this season, but Lynch always gets enough touches to justify plugging. In his four games prior to last week, Lynch averaged 114 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. Any way you slice it, Lynch needs to be in your lineup every week.
9. Alfred Morris
Morris has been in the shadow of fellow rookie Robert Griffin III, but he too is having a remarkable first season. Morris is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season and is coming off a 113-yard, one touchdown performance against the Cowboys. The Giants have been uncharacteristically porous against the run this season, and Washington will show up ready to play against them this week. Bank on a quality fantasy line from Morris in Week 13.
10. Jamaal Charles
Charles has been one of Kansas City’s only bright spots this season. He’s topped 100 yards on the ground four times so far, including a 233-yard outpouring in Week 3 and a 107-yard performance last week. Though Carolina is ranked No. 13 against the run this year, the Panthers are allowing 4.2 yards per carry and 118.4 yards per game to opposing rushers.
11. Frank Gore
12. Ryan Mathews
13. Ahmad Bradshaw
14. Reggie Bush
15. Michael Bush
16. Knowshon Moreno
17. Stevan Ridley
18. C.J. Spiller
19. Jonathan Dwyer
20. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
21. Beanie Wells
22. Chris Johnson
23. Darren Sproles
24. Shonn Greene
25. Jonathan Stewart
1. Calvin Johnson
"Megatron" has amassed 619 yards and three touchdowns in his last four games. Johnson is playing like the best receiver in the league right now, and there’s no reason to expect a bumpy ride for him this weekend. Indianapolis is ranked No. 16 against the pass, and the Colts have no one capable of locking him down for any period of time. Expect a lot of double-coverage on Johnson—not that it will make a difference.
2. A.J. Green
Calvin Johnson may be the most gifted receiver in the league, but Green isn’t far behind. Green is having the most consistent season of any wideout in the league. He’s gone just two games without at least one touchdown—in Week 1 and Week 12. The Chargers are ranked No. 20 against the pass this season, and they are going to have a difficult time stopping Green this week. Play him with confidence.
3. Demaryius Thomas
The arrival of Peyton Manning in Denver made Thomas a hot selection in fantasy drafts this year. Thomas has rewarded those owners with several strong performances and he will continue to produce well into the fantasy playoffs. Denver faces a pushover schedule to finish out the season, and while the Bucs has been hot lately, they are still last in the league against the pass.
4. Roddy White
White has scored all four of his receiving touchdowns this season at home. While Julio Jones has inexplicably disappeared in games at the Georgia Dome, White has been fantastic. He hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 6, but that streak could easily end this week against the league’s third-worst passing defense.
5. Victor Cruz
Don’t let Cruz’s recent performances discourage you from playing him this week. Eli Manning broke out of his multi-week slump last week against the Packers, and Cruz stands to benefit from his reemergence. Hakeem Nicks is back to full strength and should take some of the pressure off Cruz going forward. It also doesn’t hurt that he faces the second-worst team in the NFL in pass defense this week.
6. Marques Colston
Colston hasn’t enjoyed the same success he has in seasons past, but he is still an extremely skilled receiver with one of the best quarterbacks in the league getting him the ball. The Saints could find themselves in a shootout with the Falcons this weekend, and Colston should see a lot of targets. It’s not out of the question for Colston to record double-digit receptions in Atlanta.
7. Jordy Nelson
No Packers receiver put up a particularly inspired stat line last week against the Giants, but Nelson did accumulate 71 yards and a touchdown on a pair of catches. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers don’t often string together poor offensive performances, so expect Nelson to play a sizable role this week against a Minnesota team ranked in the middle of the league against the pass. He’s due for a 100-yard game.
8. Reggie Wayne
Wayne hasn’t dipped below 71 yards receiving in a single game this season. Count on Wayne as you normally would. Detroit’s passing defense isn’t particularly imposing, and with T.Y. Hilton commanding extra attention from opposing safeties, Wayne may break his string of three games without a touchdown on a long reception in Week 13.
9. Dez Bryant
Bryant has been on a tear in the last three weeks. He recorded 145 receiving yards each of the last two weeks and has four receiving touchdowns in his last three games. Ride Bryant’s momentum into the fantasy playoffs. He has a very exploitable matchup this week.
10. Julio Jones
Jones is fresh off one of his best games of the season last week, but his splits at home are truly worrisome. Jones has just 269 yards and no touchdowns inside the Georgia Dome this year. Still, a receiver with his talent and a quality quarterback is always capable of putting up big numbers. This may be the week Jones breaks out of his odd funk at home.
11. Brandon Marshall
12. Hakeem Nicks
13. Vincent Jackson
14. Eric Decker
15. Wes Welker
16. Randall Cobb
17. Percy Harvin
18. Andre Johnson
19. Stevie Johnson
20. Dwayne Bowe
21. Larry Fitzgerald
22. Brandon Lloyd
23. Brian Hartline
24. Steve Smith
25. Miles Austin
26. Danny Amendola
27. Pierre Garcon
28. Davone Bess
29. Malcom Floyd
30. Michael Crabtree
1. Jimmy Graham
Graham has caught at least one touchdown pass in all but three games this season that he has played in. He is the most physically-gifted tight end in the league and should be in your lineup no matter the circumstances. Atlanta is ranked No. 13 against the pass this season, but Graham is virtually matchup-proof. Count on at least one touchdown from him this weekend.
2. Tony Gonzalez
Gonzalez had his best performance of the season against the Saints a few weeks ago, and he gets another crack at them this week. New Orleans has been terrible against the pass, so get Gonzo in your lineup. Both of the leading receivers in this game could be tight ends.
3. Aaron Hernandez
With Rob Gronkowski on the shelf for at least a few more weeks, Hernandez should be in your lineup. He hasn’t had a very good season, but Hernandez is still an ultra-talented receiving threat at the position. Miami is ranked No. 27 against the pass this year, though how well the Dolphins move the football could dictate how much the Patriots air it out. Still, Hernandez should see plenty of targets and have a productive day for fantasy purposes.
4. Jason Witten
The 2012 season has been disappointing for tight ends, but Witten’s consistency should be refreshing for his fantasy owners. Witten has caught just one touchdown pass this year, but he has caught at least six passes in each of the last eight weeks. Witten hauled in eight passes in his last game against the Eagles and should see similar numbers again this week.
5. Vernon Davis
It looks like Davis’ production could be a feast-or-famine situation with Colin Kaepernick at the helm. Davis didn’t record a catch last week against the Saints, but had one of his best performances of the season in Week 11 against the Bears. Despite his inconsistency, Davis remains a must start. Tight end production has been a little shaky outside the top-five this year.
6. Antonio Gates
In all honesty, the only reason Gates ranks inside the top 10 at tight end this week is due to lack of depth at the position. Gates has underachieved as much as any fantasy player this season, but options are limited. The talent is still there, and Gates has as much upside as any tight end in the league. It’s simply a matter of how often Philip Rivers looks his way.
7. Brandon Myers
Myers hasn’t topped 86 yards in a single contest, but he’s also surpassed 50 yards seven times. Though Myers went without a touchdown for much of the season, his last four games have yielded three scores. Don’t let Myers’ consistency go unrewarded. Cleveland is ranked No. 21 in the league against the pass, which means Myers is in for another solid game.
8. Owen Daniels
Daniels has caught a touchdown pass in six of his 10 starts this year. He is especially dangerous inside the red zone, and Houston should see a lot of work in Tennessee territory this weekend. The Titans are No. 27 against the pass and No. 29 in total defense, meaning all Houston skill players deserve starting consideration on fantasy rosters.
9. Jermaine Gresham
As long as A.J. Green doesn’t pull down multiple touchdown passes this weekend, Gresham should provide a nice fantasy line. He has scored a touchdown in two of Cincinnati’s last three games, and the Chargers offer a nice matchup for Gresham owners. San Diego is tied for No. 24 in the NFL in passing touchdowns allowed with 20.
10. Jermichael Finley
Finley has been maddeningly inconsistent, and his drop rate is far too high for a tight end with his physical tools. Still, Finley has caught six passes on eight targets in the last two weeks, and after Aaron Rodgers’ poor performance last week, look for an offensive deluge this weekend. The Packers will bounce back against Minnesota, and Finley should see at least a handful of targets.
11. Heath Miller
12. Joel Dreessen
13. Dustin Keller
14. Brandon Pettigrew
15. Brent Celek
1. Justin Tucker
Tucker has connected on all but two field goals this season. The Ravens face one of the best defenses in the league this week, so count on Tucker seeing at least a couple long field-goal tries.
2. Greg Zuerlein
Zuerlein has been rather disappointing since getting off to one of the hottest starts for any kicker this year. Still, "Young G.Z." has a huge leg and is always capable of nailing the big-point field goals for your fantasy team.
3. Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski has missed two of his last three field goals, but connected on his previous 10 attempts. The Dolphins have allowed the fourth-most field goals in the NFL this season (24).
4. Matt Prater
The thin air in Denver is always conducive to long field goals. Prater has made three field goals from 53 yards out this season.
5. Phil Dawson
There hasn’t been a better kicker in the NFL this season than Dawson. He is a perfect 21-for-21 including five kicks of 50-plus yards.
6. David Akers
Akers hasn’t been nearly as good as he was last year, but he’s converted 13 extra points in the last four games and went three-for-three on field-goal attempts two weeks ago. San Francisco’s offense has been firing on all cylinders with Colin Kaepernick under center.
7. Shaun Suisham
Pittsburgh’s offense was atrocious last week in Cleveland. As long as the Steelers’ running backs can hang onto the football, Suisham should have a couple of opportunities at long field goals in Week 13.
8. Garrett Hartley
The Saints and Falcons could wind up in a shootout Thursday. Hartley hasn’t attempted many field goals this year, but he’s converted 16 extra points in the last four weeks.
9. Jason Hanson
Give Hanson credit. He’s nailed 21 field goals this season at age 42. Indianapolis has allowed just 15 field goals this season, but Hanson could make up for a lack of field-goal attempts this week with several PAT conversions.
10. Robbie Gould
Apart from the last couple of weeks, Gould has had a very productive year. Seattle is the only team in the league to afford opposing kickers a perfect field-goal percentage (17-for-17).
1. Baltimore Ravens
If Ben Roethlisberger is unable to go, Baltimore could easily lead all defensive units in scoring. Charlie Batch looked rusty and inaccurate last week against the Browns, and four Pittsburgh running backs fumbled at least once in the contest.
2. Chicago Bears
Seattle is ranked No. 26 in total offense this season, and Russell Wilson has played much better at home than on the road. He has thrown all eight of his interceptions away from CenturyLink Field, so expect at least one pick from the Bears in Week 13. Chicago’s plus-13 turnover margin is tied for second best in the NFL.
3. Arizona Cardinals
The Jets are in total disarray. Mark Sanchez looked like his usual self against the Patriots on Thanksgiving, and he faces an even tougher pass defense this week. The Cardinals, led by second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson and his four interceptions, are fifth in the league in pass defense.
4. San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis ranks No. 21 in total offense while San Francisco is second in total defense. The Rams’ offensive line has allowed 28 sacks so far this year (eighth-worst in the NFL), and Aldon Smith should continue to build on his impressive second season. He recorded 5.5 sacks against the Bears two weeks ago and could get close to that mark again this weekend.
5. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo is ranked No. 26 in total defense this season, but the Bills have played much better than that during the last two weeks. Jacksonville is still without Maurice Jones-Drew, and has turned to fifth-year quarterback Chad Henne to right the offensive ship. Henne has played pretty well, but he has been known to cough up the football. Expect a solid day from the Bills defense.
6. Green Bay Packers
Minnesota’s offense has sputtered as of late, and if the Packers can limit Adrian Peterson and take an early lead, they should put up a solid fantasy line. Christian Ponder hasn’t played well in the last month, either. He has been held to less than 251 passing yards each of his last five games and has thrown five interceptions in that span.
7. Houston Texans
Tennessee is No. 23 in the league in total offense entering Week 13. While Houston has hemorrhaged points the last two weeks, don’t expect that trend to continue. J.J. Watt is as disruptive as any defensive lineman in the league. He will wreak havoc on a weak Titans offensive line and Houston will come away with an easy victory.
8. Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh was without its top two quarterbacks last week, but that’s no excuse for the way its offense played. The Browns’ defense was terrific, forcing eight turnovers in the 20-14 win. Oakland isn’t exactly an offensive juggernaut, meaning Cleveland should be in line for its second-straight win.
9. New York Jets
This game could prove to be one of the ugliest of the week. Arizona hasn’t produced a quality offense this season, though Beanie Wells’ return has provided a bit of a spark. The Cardinals will start Ryan Lindley again this week coming off a four-interception outing against the Rams.
10. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers forced three Eagles turnovers on Monday night en route to a 30-22 victory. The Panthers face an even softer offense in Week 13. Kansas City is ranked 19th in total offense, and the Chiefs also boast the worst turnover differential in the entire NFL (-21).