We've finally reached the week that separates the men from the boys. Week 13 marks the end of the regular season for the majority of Yahoo! fantasy leagues, meaning that it's last-chance time for those living on the bubble.
After 12 weeks, I'm pretty much done trying to come up with new "higher concepts" to impart in this space. If you are in a must-win scenario, you know what to do by now. Your roster due diligence this week should take precedent over your day job. Maximize your lineup potential in any and every way possible. From quarterback to kicker, every starting position needs to be scrutinized. I know that during the middle of the season I can sometimes get complacent with a tight end, kicker or defense, opting to ride the status quo because potential available upgrades were only marginal. But those slight margins could be the difference between a win and loss this week, and you simply have to make your Week 13 lineup as optimal as possible.
Also, don't limit your potential moves to transactions that will only help your team. If you see a weakness in your opponent's lineup and you know he'll be looking to try to fix the problem through the waiver wire this week, consider making a pre-emptive strike, if you happen to have a higher waiver priority. As they say, sometimes the best offense is a good defense. Or, as Jean Paul Sarte might say, "… by any means necessary."
Week 12: Take 10
A look at 10 notable developments/situations from Week 12
1. If anyone should lose their job in Philly, it's head coach Andy Reid, not quarterback Donovan McNabb, who was benched at halftime of Sunday's loss to Baltimore after a miserable 8-for-18, 59-yard, 2-INT first half. After backup Kevin Kolb performed with a similar stench in the second half, Reid came out Monday saying that McNabb would return to the starter role. But I can't, for the life of me, understand why it's even gotten to the point that we have to await word from Reid in regards to the Eagles' quarterback depth chart. Yes, McNabb has struggled the past couple weeks, but I've watched McNabb a lot this season and I've been mostly impressed with how he's played. In the toughest division in the league, McNabb had led the Eagles to a winning record entering Sunday's clash with Baltimore. This despite the fact that Brian Westbrook has been far from 100 percent for the majority of the season. Also, McNabb's receiving corps has dealt with a myriad of injuries. Before Sunday, none of the Eagles' losses were by more than six points, and none of those losses (DAL, CHI, WAS, NYG) could be termed "bad" losses. Again, there's no denying that McNabb has been off the mark the past couple weeks (1 TD pass, 5 INTs), but he doesn't deserve to have to deal with his sub-par production without the confidence that his job is safe. You look at veterans like Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Delhomme, who have struggled in recent weeks, and you don't see their coaches messing with their heads in such a manner. McNabb deserved better on Sunday. I'll justify this non-fantasy rant by suggesting that you start McNabb this Thursday against Arizona. The Cardinals allow the second-most fantasy points to quarterbacks and have allowed 22 TD passes in their past nine games. Reid is probably going to be ornery for having to coach on the biggest food consumption day of the year, but he's likely to walk off the field on Thursday giving thanks to his veteran quarterback.
2. Watching Thomas Jones go for 96 yards on 27 carries against Tennessee on Sunday was a "Come to Jesus" moment for me in regards to Jones' fantasy value. Although Jones had scored nine touchdowns in his previous six games, I still felt like he was a bit of an opportunist, taking advantage of soft defenses like St. Louis and Cincinnati for a combined six scores, and rolling for a season-high 159 rushing yards against Oakland. But watching Jones – who was coming off a legit 30-carry, 104-yard, TD effort against New England in Week 11 – grind out tough yards against the Titans, and pad his numbers with a receiving touchdown, erased all reasonable doubt from my mind that he deserves to be treated as a top 10 fantasy back. The Jets' offensive line also played a big part in my new-found unconditional acceptance of Jones. While Jones worked for his 96 yards on Sunday, the Jets' offensive line won the battle in the trenches and definitely delivered Jones more than a few holes to work with.
3. I've often equated the Jets' Leon Washington to Atlanta's Jerious Norwood, that electric backup that just seems to beg for more playing time. Like Norwood, Washington is in a tough spot backing up a rock-solid featured back. And despite a minimal workload, Washington is making a fantasy impact, especially of late … and especially on Sunday – eight carries, 82 yards, two touchdowns. In the past five weeks, "Neon" Leon ranks among the top 10 backs in fantasy points, scoring five touchdowns to go with 343 yards from scrimmage. At this point, you can pretty much count on around 10 touches for Washington, and if he gets that amount of work against Denver in Week 13, it's likely to prove lucrative once again. The Broncos allow the third-most fantasy points to RBs and have been susceptible to dump passes, allowing the second-most receiving yards to RBs. It's tough to roll the dice on a player with such a small role in a crucial week like this, but it's an understandable move given the circumstances.
4. Calvin Johnson's been livin' on answered prayers since Dan Orlovsky's thumb injury sidelined him three weeks ago. In that span, working with Drew Stanton and (mostly) Daunte Culpepper, Johnson is averaging 3.6 receptions, 74.3 yards and has scored twice. On Sunday, Johnson picked up almost all of his production on Detroit's second drive of the game, catching a 41-yard pass from Culpepper before capping the series off with a 15-yard TD grab. Overall, he's been quick out of the gate in the post-Orlovsky era, scoring on a 29-yard pass on his first play from scrimmage in Week 11 against Carolina and hauling in a 51-yard pass (one of his two catches in the game) midway through the first quarter against Jacksonville in Week 10. Opponents, however, are making the necessary adjustments to stop the bleeding. Outside of the first quarter in the past three weeks, Johnson has combined for just five catches, 79 yards and no touchdowns. I know that it would be hard to sit Megatron down the stretch given how ridiculously consistent he's been – he's scored in six of his past seven games and posted 92 yards in the one game he didn't find pay-dirt. But Johnson has been walking a very fine line between boom-and-bust, especially of late, and he faces a schedule over the next three weeks that may be the toughest in fantasy for wideouts (TEN, MIN, IND). I own Johnson in just one of my 10 leagues, and I'm going to have a very hard time keeping him in my lineup given a Thanksgiving Day matchup with a Titans defense that has allowed two WR touchdowns all season.
5. On the Fantasy Football Live Show on Sunday I picked a finally-healthy Darren McFadden as my sleeper in the Guru vs. Guru challenge. D-Mac rewarded me with two touchdowns to go with his modest 10 carries for 38 yards. Oakland starting running back Justin Fargas also enjoyed a successful day on the ground, rushing for 107 yards on 24 carries against the Broncos. But Fargas failed to punch it into the end zone on four goal-line carries, while McFadden converted both of his attempts from point-blank range. His success with the glory carries is likely to keep him in the goal-line business going forward. With the turf toe injury now water under the bridge, McFadden is almost a must-start in Week 13 at home against a Kansas City defense that he BBQ'd in Week 2 for 164 rushing yards and a score on 21 attempts.
6. Speaking of Kansas City, Larry Johnson picked up 81 rushing yards on just seven carries in a blowout 54-31 loss to Buffalo on Sunday. LJ romped for 63 of those yards on an early-second quarter carry, but had just three carries in the second half as KC played catch-up. In the new spread offense, Johnson's not going to be getting the 25-30 carries like he used to, but if he can get something close to the 19 totes that he had in Week 11, he could do some serious damage this coming week at Oakland. It wasn't that long ago that LJ haunted the Raiders' dreams, and the Silver and Black remain as run-challenged as ever, allowing 4.7 yards per carry. Perhaps most telling about the Raiders' run defense is the fact that no team has had more rush attempts against them (373) – alright, that probably also has a bit to do with the respect the opposition has for the Oakland secondary.
7. Week 12 just furthered the case that you simply can't rely on a Baltimore running back. Despite being the seventh-most productive fantasy backfield, the workload distribution from week-to-week is so unpredictable that it's really not worth trying to mine the situation for fantasy points. On Sunday, fullback Le'Ron McClain was awarded feature carries (18/88/TD) after combining for just six carries and 29 yards in the previous two games. Willis McGahee offers the most street cred in fantasy circles, but he's led this backfield in fantasy production in just three of 11 games, thanks to a nagging ankle injury and the whims of the coaching staff. On paper, fullback McClain has been the team's best bet, leading the backfield in fantasy scoring six times. But, before Sunday, McClain combined for just 36 carries in the previous six games (5.8 per game). Rookie Ray Rice may be the most talented of the group, but he's devolved into a passing-down role despite leading the team in yards per carry (4.1) and posting 154 rushing yards on 21 carries in a rare featured opportunity in Week 9 at Cleveland. Baltimore will play only one "soft" run defense in the next month, that being a Week 13 matchup with Cincinnati. But, if you own any of these backs, it's tough to start them with confidence at this point.
8. After handling just one carry among his three plays from scrimmage against the Jets on Sunday, LenDale White whined about his workload reduction, saying, "I don't know what you want me to do with three plays. I don't know what three plays is helping me do." White also said that he didn't follow the team's first loss of the season all that much from the sidelines – "I really couldn't tell you what happened." Going forward, his comment about mentally checking out is likely to have more playing-time repercussions than the gripes about not being able to get anything done with few opportunities. Head coach Jeff Fisher could forgive a player for wanting to be more involved. But there is no way he can excuse White's sideline vacation, and I'm guessing White will be slow to work his way back into Fisher's good graces. That should be a welcome development for Chris Johnson owners. Only San Diego has a kinder schedule for running backs over the next three weeks, as the Titans will face, in order, Detroit, Cleveland and Houston. Johnson has been a disappointment in fantasy over the past three weeks as opponents have sold out to stop the run. But, with an extra-heavy workload ahead, it's hard to see how he'll leave his owners wanting in the coming weeks.
9. Expect Dustin Keller to ride a buzz wave during draft season next year. On Sunday, Keller caught six passes for the third consecutive game. Four of his catches in Sunday's upset of Tennessee went for a first down. He also forced a couple of defensive pass interference penalties as the Titans tried to keep with the athletic rookie. Over the past three weeks (20 catches, 236 yards, TD), only Tony Gonzalez has bested Keller's per game average for fantasy points at the tight end position.
10. Congratulations to Michael Turner for shredding the "paper player" label in Week 12. I, as well as many others, have been harping about the fact that Turner, through 10 games, had come up big against the weak run defenses, but was very disappointing against the stauncher run defenses. Against Carolina in Week 12, Turner rushed for 117 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns – coming into Sunday, the Panthers had allowed just four rushing TDs to RBs all season. Now he just needs to conquer his road woes, where he's produced just one of his 13 touchdowns this season. I wouldn't sweat that split too much this week as Turner is set to hit the road again. He'll at least touch down in familiar territory, taking on his former team in San Diego. Expect him to be plenty motivated.
WEEK 13 SHORT LIST
Players that need to be on your mind heading into Week 13
Kerry Collins, Ten (37% owned in Plus leagues)
I fully expect Tennessee to get hard core about bringing the running game back into prominence over the next few weeks, and it has the schedule to do it. But that schedule, which offers Detroit, Cleveland and Houston in the next three weeks, is nearly as pass-friendly as it is run-friendly. Collins has six TD passes in his past three games and is not a terrible spot play if needed this week (DET) or in the near-future.
Shaun Hill, SF (26% owned)
If you saw Hill's TD pass to Isaac Bruce on Sunday, you witnessed one of the uglier completed passes of the season. Clearly, Hill's forte is not in the vertical passing game. But fantasy production is fantasy production no matter how you slice it, and Hill has been a top five fantasy quarterback over the past three weeks (6 TD passes, 1 TD run). He doesn't have a particularly tough schedule the rest of the way, so he certainly qualifies as a decent insurance/spot-start option.
Le'Ron McClain, Bal (53% owned)
I know I said (above) you can't trust the Ravens backfield, but McClain at least has been a fairly steady source of TDs (7) despite an up-and-down workload. And, it's worth noting that he picked up a season-high 19 carries (86 yards) against his Week 13 opponent (CIN) back in Week 1 with Willis McGahee out. McClain handled 18 carries on Sunday with McGahee limited because of a sore ankle, so he's an intriguing gamble from that perspective as well.
Mark Bradley, KC (42% owned)
Here's a receiver owned in fewer than half of Yahoo! Plus leagues and ranked among the top 10 in fantasy points among WRs over the past five weeks. Bradley's touchdown and 52 yards against Buffalo marks the fifth consecutive week that he has either scored a TD or topped 50 receiving yards. He's also caught a pass of 30-plus yards in four straight games. Bradley has been producing of late and has a relatively soft schedule ahead. No reason to leave his big-play ability wallowing on the wire. At least pick him up so your opponent can't.
Davone Bess, Mia (44% owned)
Likely to be the biggest beneficiary of Greg Camarillo's season-ending knee injury, the undrafted rookie from Hawaii stepped up in Week 12 with five catches for 87 yards against New England. He has a fantastic matchup against St. Louis in Week 13, so owners in a pinch at wide receiver can definitely make a case for Bess.
Visanthe Shiancoe, Min (53% owned)
With 353 receiving yards and four touchdowns, Shiancoe ranks among the top 10 tight ends in fantasy for '08. And he's averaging more than 50 receiving yards in his past two outings. In Week 13, he faces a Chicago defense that he posted 68 yards and a TD against back in Week 7.
Correll Buckhalter, Phi (knee)
Buckhalter suffered an MCL injury on Sunday, the extent of which has yet to be revealed. Brian Westbrook owners might want to go in for third-stringer Lorenzo Booker this week just in case Buckhalter's injury proves to be serious.
Willie Parker, Pit (knee)
Parker tweaked his knee again last Thursday, casting a shadow on his prospects for playing in Week 13. He'll likely be listed as questionable, and we all know by now that Mewelde Moore is more than capable when asked to carry a heavy load in Parker's absence.
Jonathan Stewart, Det (foot)
After it looked like Stewart was getting over his early-season heel/toe issues, the rookie emerged from his Week 12 matchup with Atlanta in a protective boot. It doesn't sound serious, but I wouldn't gamble on him in Week 13 if I was looking at a must-win fantasy scenario.
Greg Camarillo, Mia (knee)
A week after signing a new three-year deal, Camarillo injured his knee and is now done for the season.
Plaxico Burress, NYG (hammy)
Burress tweaked his hammy against Arizona on Sunday and it sounds like it could make him a very iffy proposition for Week 13.