As we head into what is the final regular season week in the majority of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, injuries, as usual, dominate the headlines. Major names — Ben Roethlisberger, DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Percy Harvin, among others … — hang in the balance this week. Obviously, a lot can change as the week progresses, and what you think you know on Tuesday (perception: Ronnie Hillman stepping into a larger role in the Denver backfield) can change drastically by Sunday morning (reality: You say Knowshon Moreno is going to start?). With that said, here are my initial thoughts on the week ahead. Take it for what it is — a starting point. Just be sure that, if you're fighting for a playoff spot, you keep your eyes and ears open all the way up until the very last minute before kickoff. Good luck to everyone. I hope when Week 13 is all said and done, you have a reason to stop by and check out the Week 14 Skinny.
Alright, let's survey the Week 13 landscape, Skinny-style …
Total Week 13 green-light plays by position: 10 QB; 9 RB; 16 WR; 7 TE; 8 DST
Note: Numbers in parentheses next to a player's name indicate where he ranks at his position in per game fantasy scoring
Least FPPG allowed (QB): PIT; CHI; SF; SEA; ARI
• Colin Kaepernick is only among the chartreuse ranks here because there's a small chance Alex Smith could get the starting nod. I'm not buying it, and I'd bump CK ahead of Eli Manning once we have official word that he's going to start against the Rams on Sunday.
• Cleveland has allowed just 2 TD passes in the past five games, and just one QB to top 200 passing yards in that span. That has me tempering my enthusiasm for Carson Palmer, who is coming off a 146-yard, 1 TD, 1 INT dud against his former team, Cincinnati.
• Unfortunately for Jay Cutler, the 4-game suspensions for Seattle corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are going to be pushed back at least another week. Both players are shutdown types, especially Sherman, and they are a main reason why Seattle limits signal callers to the 3rd-lowest QB Rating (75.4). And the oversized DBs match up well with the physicality of WR Brandon Marshall. Cutler is likely headed for a rough Sunday afternoon.
• I almost ranked Ben Roethlisberger here. He's a long shot to return from a rib injury this week but, if all the QBs in the league were sidelined with the exact same injury, my money would be on Big Ben being the first QB back on the field. So, if Roethlisberger defies the odds once again this week, I'd probably rank him somewhere right around Josh Freeman territory. If Charlie Batch ends up getting another start, bench all your Steelers receivers and thank your lucky stars if you happen to own the Ravens defense.
• Colleague Scott Pianowski did a nice job of spelling out the issues with the Philly secondary. Tony Romo faced the Eagles a few weeks backs and came away with a nifty 122.1 QB Rating, though three Dallas defensive/special teams TDs meant that Romo didn't have to do much — his efficient, conservative effort was good for just 18th among QBs in fantasy scoring that week. Romo has thrown the ball 50-plus times in each of the past two games and, with the likelihood that he won't be spotted another three non-offensive TDs, you should be able to count on Romo to push for top 10 returns in Week 12.
• Quick hitters: Four teams (Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Washington, New England) allow more than 300 passing yards per game. Every other team in the league allows at least 20 yards per game less. … Four teams allow a QB Rating of over 100 (Oakland, Tennessee, Kansas City, New Orleans). … It's somewhat surprising to see that Christian Ponder is 4th among QBs in red zone pass attempts … Drew Brees is 1st in that category, and his 24 red zone TD passes is 5 more than any other QB (Peyton Manning has 19).
Least FPPG allowed (RB): HOU; SF; CHI; PIT; NYG
• The Steelers are the only team in the league allowing fewer than 100 yards from scrimmage (98.7) to opposing backfields. Ray Rice (93 yfs) was held under 100 YFS by Pittsburgh just two weeks ago, and the Steelers kept him out of the end zone, as well. Week-to-week consistency hasn't been Rice's strong suit this season, as it is. Given the daunting matchup, I have Rice about as far down in the rankings (No. 9) as you'll ever see me drop him.
• Alfred Morris had 130 total yards on 24 touches the last time he faced the Giants (Week 7). And Morris is coming off his 2nd-best fantasy effort of the season with a 24/113/1 line against Dallas on Turkey Day. With Robert Griffin III playing his best football the past couple weeks, Morris should be able to keep feasting on opponents that will surely be hell-bent on slowing RGIII down. Barring an injury, I'm expecting to have Morris among the top 10 RBs each week from here on out.
• Frank Gore ran for 97 yards and a TD in a Week 10 meeting with the Rams. In this week's rematch, there's a good chance Gore will see a bit of an uptick in workload with Kendall Hunter done for the season because of an Achilles injury. Hunter was averaging more than 7 touches per game, and there's probably a better chance that Gore absorbs a few of those rather than all of them being redistributed to Anthony Dixon and/or Brandon Jacobs, two players that have combined for just 13 touches this season. Gore's a golden ticket for fantasy owners down the stretch, including this week.
• To continue with the 49ers backfield topic, there's a recent report out with Dixon being quoted as saying that LaMichael James has been doing "Percy Harvin type stuff" for the 49ers scout team. James is an intriguing wild card. He's insanely quick and elusive. And he could be a matchup nightmare paired with Colin Kaepernick in select offensive sets. When the 49ers drafted James, I was convinced it was a reaction to Darren Sproles catching 15 balls against the Niners in last season's playoffs — Jim Harbaugh, familiar with James during his Pac-10 days, looking to emulate what New Orleans was doing with Sproles. I drafted James in a few leagues but cut him quickly as it was clear he wasn't going to see the light of day early on. But if James comes in and gets Hunter's workload, I'd want a piece of that action. I haven't ranked James this week, but that could change by Sunday.
• Big props to Bryce Brown, who ran with speed, power and decisiveness (and, with two fumbles, recklessness also figured into the equation) on Monday night. But you also had a fairly disinterested Carolina run defense as part of the mix. Jamaal Charles has the good fortune of facing the Panthers this week. Charles has topped 100 rushing yards against stout run defenses Pittsburgh and Denver in the past three games. And Charles has topped 20 touches in each of his past three games. He's finally being fed the rock in a manner befitting of his skills. And the matchup this week is dreamy. Welcome back into the RB top 5, Mr. Charles.
• Speaking of Brown, the past four lead backs to face Dallas (Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, LeSean McCoy, Michael Turner) have averaged 98 rushing yards, with only McCoy (82) rushing for less than 95 yards.
• Fun fact: Adrian Peterson has scored a TD in each of his past four trips to Lambeau Field.
• We could see a changing of the guard in the Atlanta backfield on Thursday night. Michael Turner is coming off a gutless 13/17/1 effort at Tampa, and he's a couple weeks removed from an even worse performance in his last meeting with the Saints — 13/15/0. Jacquizz Rodgers went for 10/49/1 against the Bucs last week, playing a key role in the Falcons narrow 24-23 victory. And he picked up 62 yards on just 7 touches in that last meeting with the Saints. It wouldn't be at all surprising, given the way things are trending, to see Rodgers handle the pigskin at least twice as much as his last showdown with New Orleans.
• Among those with at least five games played, Ryan Mathews (9 games played) ranks just No. 24 among RBs in fantasy PPG. This despite touching the ball at least 15 times in every game he's played. The 1 TD hurts, but so do the seven sub-100 YFS efforts. And, by the numbers, he's played the third-easiest fantasy RB schedule, to date, so you simply can't hope for too much in what is, on paper, a soft matchup against a Cincy defense allowing the 8th-most FAN PPG to RBs.
• There's optimism that DeMarco Murray (ankle) and Darren McFadden (ankle) can return this week. My rankings are based on a strong lean towards them playing. And a good week of practice from Murray probably lands him in the 12-15 range on my RB list by the time Sunday rolls around. But I won't be quite as bullish on McFadden, who I can envision seeing some kind of time-share with Marcel Reece. That Oakland situation is more perilous, and I'd be hesitant to over-commit to Run-DMC, or Reece, this week.
Least FPPG allowed (WR): PIT; SEA; SF; CHI; CAR
• I couldn't have been more bitter watching Pierre Garcon bust loose on his 59-yard TD catch on Thanksgiving. I drafted him on most all of my fantasy teams, and after being teased by his 88-yard TD in the opening minutes of Week 1, only to be followed by an interminable foot injury, I held on to him until only a couple weeks ago, hoping for more of that Week 1 magic. Alas, it finally came a couple weeks too late for me. But, man, it sure looks like he has his burst back, doesn't it? His TD against Dallas was explosive. And suddenly he's a tempting start against a Giants defense that has all allowed the 3rd-most pass plays of 40-plus yards (9). I can't help myself, I'm drinking the Kool-Aid.
• With Greg Jennings' return, it's time to slide James Jones back down the ladder into that WR4 range that he's been accustomed to the past few years. Randall Cobb has proven to be too valuable to suppress his snap count significantly at this point, which means that Jones is likely to experience the biggest cut in playing time. Jones did play more snaps than any Packers receiver last week, but he didn't even receive a target as the Giants shut him down completely. Over the past six weeks, Jones ranks outside the top 40 WRs in fantasy PPG.
• Cecil Shorts is only 60 percent owned going into this week's waiver period. I'm guessing he'll be 80-90 percent owned come Wednesday. Frankly, he should be universally owned. He's the No. 7 fantasy WR since Week 7, and three of his next four matchups are against sub-par fantasy pass defenses, including this week (Buffalo).
• Notable history card: Michael Crabtree has scored a TD in each of his past five meetings (6 TDs total) with St. Louis, averaging 88 yards in those games.
• I'm already feeling like I have Josh Gordon way too low. There's a good chance I'll slide him up into WR3 territory by Sunday. His matchup against Oakland is too tantalizing, as the Raiders have allowed 10 pass plays of 40-plus yards, 2nd-most in the NFL. Of course, Gordon's big-play abilities are well known by now — he has a catch of at least 23 yards in seven straight games.
• You may have noticed the huge WR middle class (yellow lights) this week. There's just a lot of WRs out there right now that look like a 5/50/0 line waiting to happen. The injured guys (Amendola, Harvin, Jennings, Edelman) I'd bump into chartreuse territory based upon good practice report info this week, but that's unlikely for at least Harvin. Then there's guys like Torrey Smith, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin, et al, who are being pulled down by awful situations, be it the opponent (Smith vs. Pittsburgh) or the QB they are saddled with, in addition to a daunting opponent, (Fitzgerald, Wallace, Maclin).
• Brandon Stokley has 50-plus yards in three straight games, and a TD in two of those contests. Against a Tampa defense that allows more fantasy points to WRs than anyone, Stokley is an excellent looking Flex option this week.
Least FPPG allowed (TE): CLE; IND; ARI; SD; PIT
• Martellus Bennett is overdue for a TD. He hasn't scored since becoming the first Giants player to score in his first three games with the team — Week 1-3. I like his chances of finally returning to pay dirt this week against a Washington defense that has allowed 7 tight end TDs, 3rd-most in the league. Bennett didn't score when the teams faced back in Week 7, but he did have a healthy 5 catches for 79 yards.
• Notable history card: Owen Daniels has topped 70 receiving yards in three of his past four meetings with Tennessee, scoring in two of those games.
• Over the past six weeks, Dallas Clark ranks No. 9 among TEs in fantasy PPG, just behind Jason Witten and just ahead of Greg Olsen. I have Clark No. 19 among TEs this week against a Denver defense that has allowed the 2nd-most fantasy PPG to the position. But I don't see much difference between Clark and the 8-10 TEs I have ranked ahead of him, so if you want to claim Clark as a TE1 this week, you won't get much of an argument from me.
• Logan Paulsen's targets have dipped the past two games as he's dealt with a sore hip. But this is a good week for him to get "healthy" as he faces a Giants squad that he hung a career-high 76 yards on in Week 7. The Giants have allowed the 4th-most yards per game (63.7) to the position.
• It's back to Square 1 with Vernon Davis. Things were looking up in Colin Kaepernick's first start, as Davis produced a 6/83/1 line. But in Kaepernick's follow-up last week, Davis was held without a catch for the second time in four weeks. In fact, five of his past six games have produced 3.7 fantasy points or less. He gets the chartreuse nod this week on potential alone. And I'm guessing that anyone who owns him probably wouldn't be so generous with his rank.
Least FPPG allowed (DST): NE; HOU; TB; NYG; WAS
WEEK 13 GAME PREDICTIONS
Atlanta 31, New Orleans 26