Fantasy Football: Making the Toughest Lineup Decisions for Week 13
For many leagues, this is it.
Week 13 not only means gorging yourself with turkey, but it also means the end of many regular seasons. Moreover, Week 13 also marks the end of those pesky bye weeks, so you'll once again have your full complement of players to make those fringe lineup decisions.
Of course, that can also make for tougher calls, since bye weeks are no longer making the choice for you. You know to start Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson, but what about the fumble-prone yet touchdown-making Stevan Ridley? Or Colin Kaepernick, who just posted his first three touchdown game since Week 1?
It's these decisions that really make the difference, so read on for Week 13's toughest calls at each position.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
Start: Alex Smith (vs. DEN)
Smith is the type of low-risk quarterback who you would probably rather start as bye-week filler, but his matchup this week actually makes him a borderline No. 1 quarterback.
The Broncos secondary is banged up following a physical Sunday night showdown against the Patriots, and while Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie may both play, both players will be quite limited.
Moreover, Denver has been a high variance defense on the road. While they contained Philip Rivers and Eli Manning to 22 points combined, they've also given up at least 23 points in three other road games.
Smith's pass attempts should spike this week in an effort to keep up with the prolific Denver offense. As he demonstrated last week against the Chargers, Smith is capable of translating those increased opportunities into excellent fantasy numbers.
Sit: Colin Kaepernick (vs. STL)
Kaepernick's stunted passing growth has made him an untenable fantasy option for much of the season, but he exploited a juicy matchup against the moribund Redskins' pass defense in Week 12 to put up 23 points.
However, expecting a repeat performance this week is fallacious against a Rams defense that has stymied opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 15 points in all but four games this year. When Kaepernick faced St. Louis at home in Week 4, he threw for just 167 yards against a tough Rams secondary.
Kaepernick is certainly not un-startable, especially if you play in a deeper or two-quarterback league, but you should probably be able to find an option with less bust potential.
Start: Fred Jackson (vs. ATL)
Jackson owners are undoubtedly a bit uneasy, as the veteran running back has averaged just 52 yards per game over his past three weeks with no touchdowns. Moreover, since C.J. Spiller is back in the fold, Jackson is no longer a source of fully guaranteed touches.
And yet, there's reason to believe he will bounce back this week as a solid No. 2 option. For one, two of his opponents the past three weeks have been the Chiefs and Jets, two of tougher defenses against the run. This week, Jackson faces the putrid Falcons defense, one of the 10 worst against the run.
More importantly, Jackson is still receiving a consistent number of touches, roughly 16 per game. That's a workable amount, and against Atlanta, Jackson should be able to do plenty of damage when he gets the opportunity.
Sit: Stevan Ridley (at HOU)
Ridley will not completely disappear, as he is by far New England's best traditional running back. Shane Vereen is a solid change-up as a passing back, but neither he nor LeGarrette Blount nor Brandon Bolden are superior runners to Ridley.
And yet, there is a breaking point with every player, and the Patriots are on the cusp of that with their fumble-prone starter. The most likely outcome will see Ridley receive a limited number of carries—perhaps 10 per game, which was his workload over the first month of the season—while the Pats distribute carries more evenly among their four running backs.
That's bad news for fantasy owners, and though the occasional goal-line carry may goose Ridley's value, he's currently too unreliable to bear the load for either the Patriots or your fantasy team.
Start: Michael Floyd (at PHI)
Floyd has burst forth as a viable option over the past two weeks, totaling 13 receptions for 297 yards and a score. Floyd and the Cardinals offense get the Eagles leaky defense this week. Philadelphia has allowed the most points and third-most touchdowns to wide receivers this season.
Some may see Floyd's streak as a bit fluky, given that the past two weeks have seen yardage totals that are out of whack with his normal production, and also due to the fact that he is still the second-banana in the Arizona offense. But he is actually starting to receive more targets from Carson Palmer, who has gotten more time to throw the past few weeks.
Long term, it's always dubious to trust a Cardinals receiver, as Larry Fitzgerald owners can attest to. But for this week, Floyd is a viable option as a low-end No. 2 or flex play in most leagues.
Sit: Marques Colston (at SEA)
Colston's production has been wildly inconsistent throughout the year, a product of the Saints' spread-the-wealth approach. With no more than eight targets in any game this season, Colston's value is almost entirely tied to his matchup.
And frankly, there might not be a worse matchup in the entire league than going against Richard Sherman, especially in Seattle. Drew Brees will not force the ball to a covered receiver, and Sherman figures to have Colston blanketed the whole night. Pass on New Orleans' nominal top receiver this week.
Start: Martellus Bennett (at MIN)
Bennett has had a bit of disappointing first season in Chicago, with inconsistent yardage totals and long droughts without finding the end zone. But Bennett scored last week for the first time since Week 7, and he should be able to keep rolling against a Vikings defense that has allowed the fourth-most points to tight ends this season.
In fact, Bennett's best game of the year came back in Week 2 against Minnesota, as he hauled in seven receptions for 76 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings poor secondary should provide plenty of opportunities for the surprisingly capable Josh McCown in the red zone, increasing the chances of Bennett finding the end zone to buoy his value.
Sit: Jared Cook (at SF)
Cook finds himself in an eerily similar position as Bennett, playing with a veteran backup quarterback while producing inconsistent yardage and touchdown totals. Unfortunately, Cook faces a poor matchup this week, going against a 49ers squad that has allowed the second-fewest points to tight ends.
After seeing an average of 5.6 targets per game with Sam Bradford, Cook has seen that number dip slightly to 4.8 with Kellen Clemens at the helm. Essentially, Cook's opportunities are limited to the red zone, which makes him a viable but shaky option. Against San Francisco, it's unwise to expect him to score and justify his place in your lineup.
Start: Dolphins D/ST (at NYJ)
When fantasy owners see a defense pitted against Geno Smith and the malfunctioning Jets offense, the light bulb should go on. Smith produces turnovers at roughly the same rate McDonald's produces french fries, making Miami a likely double-digit defense this week.
Granted, Smith has been better at home in terms of touchdown and yardage totals. But with an astounding eight turnovers over the past two weeks, even Rex Ryan would be foolish not to start the Dolphins defense on his fantasy roster.
Sit: Chiefs D/ST (vs. DEN)
Kansas City may have the top-ranked defense this season, but going up against Peyton Manning and the Broncos is a red light. The Chiefs are on a cold streak anyways, having produced negative points in each of the past two weeks. With edge-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston ailing, the Arrowhead Stadium scoreboard operator should stay busy on Sunday.
Hopefully, you have a bench player that you can drop in order to pick up another defense (see above) as a one-week replacement. The Chiefs face the Redskins and Raiders the next two weeks, and Kansas City's byzantine blitz schemes should manufacture plenty of turnovers against inexperienced quarterbacks.
Start: Stephen Gostkowski (at HOU)
Sit: Nick Folk (vs. MIA)
To be completely honest, I don't have much rationale when it comes to kickers.
Kickers on high-scoring teams like Gostkowski are always a safe bet to put up a consistent, albeit small, handful of points, at worst. Gostkowski himself has had a tremendous season, hitting on 26-of-27 field goal attempts.
Folk has had a similarly stellar season, but the Jets offense is so unreliable at this point that poor Folk probably won't receive more than a couple scoring chances all game. It's a shame because Folk produced double-digit totals for six out of the first nine weeks. Alas, his production has been victimized by New York's bumbling offense, and he's no longer startable.
For everyone's sake, here's hoping that no one's playoff berth comes down to a junk-time field goal.