This is make-or-break week for the majority of Yahoo! fantasy leagues. Playoffs start in Week 14, and many of you won't make it there. My best advice for those that are in a must-win situation is to trust your instincts. Don't let my opinion, or the opinion of anyone else steer you away from someone you feel really good about. You shouldn't be playing this game if you aren't willing to trust yourself with making crucial lineup decisions. And it's no fun setting your lineup based entirely on industry consensus player rankings each week. Go with your gut and, win or lose, you'll have fewer regrets. Good luck!
Alright, now that I've finished trying to absolve myself of future blame for season-crushing losses incurred by fantasy owners, let's jump into the Week 13 matchups, Skinny-style (players in parentheses are chartreuse plays, stuck somewhere between a green and yellow light):
Total Week 13 green-light plays by position: 11 QBs; 24 RBs; 22 WRs; 13 TEs; 9 Defenses
Seattle has a stout run defense, but there's not a defense that you'd ever sit LeSean McCoy(notes) against. The biggest fantasy question for Philly is who will come through in the passing game with Michael Vick(notes) and Jeremy Maclin(notes) expected to sit out again. Among Vince Young's(notes) receiving options, I really like Brent Celek(notes). Seattle is banged up in the linebacking corps, and has allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to the tight end position. The Seahawks don't allow many big passing plays, and haven't allowed more than 76 yards to a WR since Week 5. I don't love Jason Avant(notes) or Riley Cooper(notes) this week, even though they had some success with Young. DeSean Jackson(notes) has seen 18 targets the past two weeks and has been serviceable with Young. He's the only Eagles WR I'm green-lighting. … Outside of Marshawn Lynch(notes), Seattle's offense is really hard to trust. Tarvaris Jackson(notes), when he wasn't on his back, looked pretty awful last week (held the ball too long, too many dump-off passes on third-and-long situations late, etc). And he lost Sidney Rice(notes) to another blow to the head. Doug Baldwin(notes) has been serviceable more often than not, and he could be a popular target for Jackson this Thursday with Rice out. But feel free to ignore the rest of the Seahawks' skill position players.
Marshawn Lynch; LeSean McCoy; DeSean Jackson; Brent Celek
(Vince Young); (Doug Baldwin); Jason Avant; Riley Cooper; Seattle Defense; (Philadelphia Defense)
Headline: Defense, special teams come up big as Eagles down Seahawks
The Texans might have the best defense in the league. They allow the second-fewest yards per play (4.6), the second-fewest yards per pass attempt (6.0), the fifth-fewest plays from scrimmage of 20-plus yards (34) and easily rank No. 1 in the league in lowest QB Rating allowed (62.1). Needless to say, this is not a great week for owners of Falcons. Matt Ryan(notes) is benchable if you have a decent backup. And Week 12 wallflower Julio Jones(notes) is avoidable. But it's hard to bench Michael Turner(notes) (always a threat to score) and Roddy White(notes), who has come alive with back-to-back efforts of 120-plus yards. And one disparaging thing that can be said about Houston's defense is that it has faced very few teams with decent passing games – among its opponents, only New Orleans, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay have produced top 15 fantasy points from the QB position. … Third-stringer T.J. Yates(notes) takes over behind center for the Texans. Andy Behrens offers a primer on what to expect from Yates. The takeaway from his column is that Yates is long on moxie but short on physical talent. This team is all about the running game, anyways, and that only becomes more obvious with Yates at the helm. Atlanta is a tough run defense but, at least in fantasy, the Texans backfield (read: Arian Foster(notes)) always wins. Andre Johnson(notes) is an extreme concern and I think, given his 2/22 return line last week, you have to consider him as more of a cautionary tale than a green light option. Same goes for Owen Daniels(notes), who has been held scoreless for seven consecutive games and has produced 32 yards or less in his past three games.
None of significance
Headline: Texans escape with win in ground-heavy battle with Falcons
Todd Haley is saying that Tyler Palko(notes) is his starting QB this week, but it's hard to believe that the team acquired Kyle Orton(notes) to have him sit behind a QB that couldn't land a starting gig in the UFL and CFL, and who has a 0:6 TD-to-INT ratio in his past two games. Expect that if Orton has a good week of practice that he'll get the starting nod. Palko or Orton, I'm starting Dwayne Bowe(notes), who has a combined 14 catches and 156 receiving yards in these hard times (two games under Palko) for the Chiefs. The Chiefs running game is a wasteland. Dexter McCluster(notes) could have some upside if Orton plays as you'd think that Orton, with a limited mastery of the Chiefs playbook, could check down a lot. But even at that, desperation would have to be the leading factor for playing a Chiefs RB. … Caleb Hanie(notes) had a nice fantasy outing in his first start of the season, but it's presumptuous to consider him a poor man's Tim Tebow(notes) after he rushed for 50 yards against the Raiders, a team that allowed 71 rushing yards to Christian Ponder(notes) the previous week and 118 yards to Tebow in Week 9. The Chiefs actually held Tebow to just 43 rushing yards in Week 10, his second-lowest total in his nine career starts. I'm just saying, if you are thinking about using Hanie, base it on his merits as a passer and the matchup against the pass, which can only be considered mediocre at best on both counts. Among the components of the Bears passing attack, Johnny Knox(notes) is the one player worth considering. He was targeted twice as much (10 times) as any other Bears WR in Week 12, and he's averaged 121 receiving yards and has scored in each of his past two games. That said, the Chiefs have stymied two good passing attacks the past couple weeks (NE, PIT), so Knox is far from a slam dunk. Despite a disappointing effort last week, Matt Forte(notes) remains the Bears' one true green-light special. The Chiefs allow the sixth-most fantasy points to RBs, so even Marion Barber(notes), averaging 10 touches his past four games, is viable flyer material.
Matt Forte; Dwayne Bowe; Chicago Defense
Chiefs: None of significance
Headline: KC offense remains stuck in the mud as Bears cruise to win
The Vikings allow the second-highest QB Rating in the league, so perhaps there's hope for Tim Tebow in the passing game this week. Tebow hasn't been quite the fantasy force in recent weeks that he was through his first six career starts, but he hasn't been bad either (never worse than top 18 at QB in any of his starts). I'll have him somewhere in my top 12 at QB this week, most likely. Willis McGahee(notes) has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of the six games Tebow has seen significant action this year. That said, the Vikings have allowed just 3.7 YPC to RBs this year and only one RB has topped 100 yards against them (Michael Bush(notes), 30/109 in Week 11). I see McGahee as a low-end RB2 this week, with something in the neighborhood of the 19/60 line that Michael Turner posted against Minnesota last week being a very possible outcome. If Tebow ever makes anything happen in the passing game, it's almost always Eric Decker(notes) on the receiving end. If you are an owner who has been giving Decker week-to-week consideration in the Tebow era, this is about as good a week as any to roll the dice on the former Gopher and Minnesota native. … Adrian Peterson (high-ankle sprain) is looking like a 50/50 proposition this week. Obviously, if Peterson plays, you're playing him. But Denver is solid in run defense this year and Toby Gerhart(notes) doesn't get that same green light if Peterson sits. Christian Ponder has solid scrambling ability and has shown that he can pad his numbers with rushing yards from time to time. But you can't count on it, nor can you count on his arm – hasn't thrown for more than 236 yards in any of his five starts. If Peterson is out, the multi-dimensional Percy Harvin(notes) will remain the one and only star of the Vikings offensive show.
(Tim Tebow); Adrian Peterson (health ?); (Willis McGahee); (Percy Harvin); Minnesota Defense; Denver Defense
Christian Ponder; Toby Gerhart; (Eric Decker);
None of significance
Broncos: WR Eddie Royal(notes) (leg); CB Cassius Vaughn(notes) (leg)
Headline: Denver's Tebow-plus-defense formula prevails once again in road win over Vikings
At least Chris Johnson has taken advantage of his matchups of late, rushing for 130-plus yards against the terrible run defenses of Tampa Bay and Carolina in recent weeks. So a matchup with a Bills defense allowing the eighth-most fantasy points to RBs (6th-most rushing plays of 20-plus yards allowed) is not one to shy away from if you are a Johnson owner. All looks good for the Titans passing game, too, as the Bills have an injury-depleted secondary and an anemic pass rush (second-fewest sacks in the league). Matt Hasselbeck(notes) and Jared Cook(notes) are reasonable options if you need help at either position, and Damian Williams(notes) and Nate Washington(notes) are viable, too, though Matt Hasselbeck has a special relationship with Williams in the red zone, so I like him a bit more. … The Bills passing game woke up in Week 12, though Stevie Johnson(notes) literally dropped the ball in crunch time (reminiscent of his drop in Week 12 last season that cost the Bills the game vs. Pittsburgh). No doubt atonement will be on his mind this week, unfortunately the matchup is not favorable. The Titans allow the fifth-fewest fantasy points to WRs, and last week Bucs WRs caught just seven of 19 passes thrown to them against Tennessee (Mike Williams had six of them). Last week, C.J. Spiller(notes) proved once again that he's nothing special. Of his 40 carries this season, only one has gone for more than 9 yards. Of his 156 touches in his two-year career, he's only gone for more than 20 yards twice. Not exactly the kind of breakaway talent the Bills hoped they were getting when they drafted him No. 9 overall in '10. Use him at your own risk. Figure Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes) is going to have to throw a healthy amount once again given the lack of a sustaining element to the running game, so I think he's a decent middle class QB option this week. And don't be surprised if Scott Chandler(notes) is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Bills passing attack once again. He's averaged more than 60 receiving yards in his past two games, and Tennessee is the fourth-most generous defense in fantasy to tight ends.
Tennessee Defense; Buffalo Defense
Headline: Turnovers key in Bills narrow victory over Titans
It's hard to get excited about any of the Bengals going into Pittsburgh this week. But A.J. Green(notes) is an evergreen fantasy play, and even though he only had one catch against the Steelers in Week 10, it was one of the best catches you'll see this year – 36-yard TD grab in triple-team traffic. I'd also consider Jermaine Gresham(notes), who caught the other TD in that Week 10 contest with the Steelers. Pittsburgh has been just so-so against the TE position, six times allowing a TE to reach at least 45 receiving yards in a game. It sounds like Pittsburgh will have Troy Polamalu(notes) and LaMarr Woodley(notes) this week, which makes it hard to talk myself into any other Bengals. For the record, Cedric Benson(notes) ran 15 times for 57 yards and Andy Dalton(notes) threw for 170 yards with 2 TD passes and 2 INTs in that previous meeting with Pittsburgh. … Pittsburgh's offense went in the tank last week against the Chiefs, a defense that has been much more generous than the Bengals. But the loss of CB Leon Hall(notes) has clearly hurt the Bengals pass defense as the team has allowed a total of 4 TDs to WRs in the past two weeks, including touchdowns to Greg Little(notes) and Jordan Norwood(notes), members of the woeful Browns passing "attack." I'm expecting Ben Roethlisberger(notes) and the Steelers passing game to bounce back in this contest. As for Rashard Mendenhall(notes), he's always a TD threat (he had 2 TDs against the Bengals in Week 10), but he's rushed for more than 70 yards just once and has averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in a game just twice. Consider him no better than a low-end RB this week.
None of significance
Headline: Big Ben nets TD pass hat trick as Steelers beat Bengals for second time
Dan Orlovsky(notes) is going to start at QB for the Colts, and if you look at what he did with regular playing time in Detroit in '08, he wasn't all that bad. Against the most generous pass defense in fantasy, there's some hope for Reggie Wayne(notes) and Pierre Garcon(notes) this week – I like the setup for Wayne more. In terms of fantasy points per game, Donald Brown(notes) is the No. 22 fantasy RB over the past five weeks. Joseph Addai(notes) returned last week but, as I suspected, his role was minimal. Brown has earned a right to get his 15-plus touches moving forward, at least until his production starts to dry up. New England has been middle of the pack against RBs, which makes Brown a flexable option this week. … It's game on for all Patriots that you'd normally consider. About the only position the Colts have defended well is tight end, but you can't really expect then to shutdown Rob Gronkowski(notes) and Aaron Hernandez(notes). The Pats average at least twice as many fantasy points from the tight end position than all but six other teams.
Dan Orlovsky; Indianapolis Defense
Headline: Welker has another huge day as Pats keep Indy out of the win column
Tampa Bay and Carolina are the two worst run defenses in fantasy. And both rank among the three worst defenses in terms of Yards Per Play Allowed and Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed. All Bucs and Panthers skill position players are looking better than usual, especially those involved in the running games.
Headline: Blount rolls as Bucs edge Panthers for first win since mid-October
Plan on Darren McFadden(notes) (foot) sitting at least one more week, and so long as Michael Bush is getting a featured workload, he's a must-start no matter who the competition is. The Dolphins are tough against the run, but Bush is a grinder on the ground and he's adept in the passing game, so the production is always there. The Dolphins have been much improved against the pass after a forgettable first half of the season. In their past four games, they've held all QBs to 253 yards or less passing and Tony Romo's(notes) 2 TD passes account for the only two aerial scores against Miami in that span. Carson Palmer(notes) has been solid for fantasy purposes, but he's only a fringe starter in 12-team leagues. If Denarius Moore(notes) (ankle) sits again, the Raiders receivers remain a crapshoot. Darrius Heyward-Bey(notes) saw 10 targets last week, but caught just four of those passes for 42 yards. I'd avoid going all-in on any Raiders receiver because, as I said last week, it's really hard to say who the flavor of the week is going to be. I will say that I continue to love Marcel Reece(notes) as a deep-league dart throw. A former WR at the University of Washington, his versatility was on display last week with 5 catches for 92 yards. The Dolphins have allowed the 11th-most receptions to RBs, so there's Hail Mary appeal to Reece. … Matt Moore(notes) has performed on the level of a middle class fantasy QB over the past five weeks, ranking 18th at the position in fantasy PPG. He looks like a reasonable play given that Oakland allows the fourth-most fantasy points to QBs. But it also allows the fifth-lowest QB Rating and the sixth-lowest Yards Per Pass Attempt (6.6). The Raiders numbers are skewed by an exorbitant amount of TD passes allowed (20) and the most rushing yards allowed (294) to the QB position. I like Brandon Marshall(notes) this week, but I see Moore as very much in the middle class range that he's been producing at of late, and nothing more. The Raiders allow 5.0 YPC to RBs and have given up big yardage to the position in the passing game. Reggie Bush(notes) is a solid play, and he's pretty much rendered Daniel Thomas(notes) an afterthought – Thomas had just six touches last week.
Michael Bush; Reggie Bush; Brandon Marshall
Headline: Reggie prevails in Bush battle as Dolphins end Raiders winning streak
Big plays can be had against the Redskins, who are one of three teams (along with the Giants and Tampa Bay) that rank among the 10 most generous in the league at allowing both runs and passes of 20-plus yards. Unfortunately, the Jets aren't an explosive offense. Shonn Greene(notes) is a 20/70 line waiting to happen. Greene owners should expect the usual middling production. Dustin Keller(notes) has at least seven targets in four of his past five games, and he's a viable option against a Redskins defense that has been nothing special against the tight end position. I like Keller the most in the Jets passing game, but the others (Sanchez, Holmes and Burress) are at least serviceable. … Roy Helu(notes) looked great last week against Seattle and Mike Shanahan is saying all the right things about him. Of course, you need to remain cautiously optimistic, but Helu should get at least 15-20 touches this week, and if he can get the job done against Seattle (a run defense that has been better than the Jets this season) I give him a good chance to deliver a solid production against New York. I expect Rex Grossman(notes) to be terrible this week. The Jets force QBs to make quick decisions and I can see Grossman turning the ball over 3-4 times in this contest. I'd roll the dice on Fred Davis(notes), but I wouldn't touch Grossman or his WRs.
(Roy Helu); (Fred Davis); (Dustin Keller); NY Jets Defense
Rex Grossman; Washington Receivers
None of significance
Headline: Jets manhandle Grossman, pick up big road win
It's hard to believe that the Browns rank as the toughest defense in fantasy against both the QB and WR positions. But they haven't exactly faced a murderer's row of QBs, either, so take it with a little grain of salt. That said, Browns CB Joe Haden(notes) is legit and he poses a problem for Anquan Boldin(notes). Until A.J. Green went for 3/110 last week, no receiver had gone for more than 87 yards against the Browns (and that was Brian Hartline(notes)). Downgrade the Ravens passing game a bit, but obviously you can expect big things from Ray Rice(notes). And I wouldn't be surprised if Ed Dickson(notes) re-emerges – the Browns have allowed 64-plus receiving yards to Marcedes Lewis(notes) and Jermaine Gresham the past two weeks. … I look forward to Greg Little's future. He has the makings of an elite receiver once he really learns the position and gets a different QB. No offense to Colt McCoy(notes), but he's not going to elevate Little's talents, and he's really just a placeholder for the franchise. But Little, McCoy and all other Browns aren't relevant this week. In terms of yards gained and allowed, this is the fifth-worst offense in the league against the third-stingiest defense.
Ray Rice; Baltimore Defense
Colt McCoy; Cleveland Running Backs; Cleveland Receivers; Cleveland Tight Ends; Cleveland Defense
Headline: Rice, Ravens defense romp over Browns
Jerry Jones thinks Miles Austin(notes) will play on Sunday. That seems a bit optimistic but, if he does play, don't assume that spells the end of Laurent Robinson's(notes) run of success. From Weeks 6-9, playing alongside Austin, Robinson averaged 51 yards and scored twice in four games. And even if Austin does play, his snap count is likely to be smaller than usual. Arizona has played better against the pass of late, but that has a lot to do with the competition – Rams (twice) and 49ers in three of its past four games. As I do most weeks, I'm green-lighting the Cowboys passing game, and DeMarco Murray(notes) should be considered no worse than an upper-end RB2 – even when he gets shut down in the running game, his usual 30-plus receiving yards bail him out. … Like Austin, Kevin Kolb(notes) also hopes to return on Sunday. But unlike Austin, who cares? In four of the five games that preceded his foot injury, his QB Rating sat below 70.0. Dallas has been solid against the pass and, most importantly, it gets after the QB – the Cowboys are seventh in the league in QB sacks, and Arizona has allowed the second-most sacks. Kolb has looked terrible under duress. This game doesn't set-up well for the Arizona QB, no matter who it is. Obviously, Larry Fitzgerald(notes) is evergreen – we've seen him make lemonade out of a lemon matchup many, many times. As for Beanie Wells(notes), it would be awfully hard to bench him after rushing for over 200 yards last week. But let's remember that he was facing a Rams defense that allowed 253 yards to DeMarco Murray in Week 7, and let's also not forget that Wells had averaged 50 rushing yards and 3.2 yards per carry in the six games prior. Think of Wells as a borderline top 20 RB this week and you won't be disappointed.
None of significance
Headline: Romo has field day as Cowboys down Cards to maintain first place in NFC East
I don't give the Rams much of a chance in San Francisco with the 49ers coming off a long break and grumpy after a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens. I'd roll with a healthy Steven Jackson in any situation – his patience and vision gives him an elite ability to find open space to work with between the tackles. And Brandon Lloyd(notes) has the hands and balance to make plays against anyone as well (I know he struggled with injuries, but I really don't get why he had such a hard time early in his career finding an NFL home). As for the rest of the Rams, it shouldn't come as a big surprise that I'm washing my hands of them. … The Rams have allowed two running backs to top 200 rushing yards. Frank Gore(notes) owners should be a getting warm, fuzzy feeling inside about this matchup. The Rams have actually been solid against the pass. Since Week 7, they've allowed the 12th-fewest fantasy points to WRs. Michael Crabtree(notes) is seeing a ton of targets, so he's worth WR3 consideration. And I actually like him better than Vernon Davis(notes) for the first time this season. No defense has shutdown the TE position as well as the Rams, and they were second-best against tight ends last season. Jimmy Graham(notes), Jason Witten and Fred Davis all finished with less than 40 yards against St. Louis this season, with Ed Dickson being the only TE to top 40 yards (51) against them.
Frank Gore; (Steven Jackson); Brandon Lloyd; San Francisco Defense
Rams: QB Sam Bradford (ankle); WR Danario Alexander(notes) (hamstring); DT Justin Bannan(notes) (shoulder); LB Josh Hull(notes) (hamstring); S Darian Stewart(notes) (concussion)
Headline: 49ers defense stifling in route of Rams
The Giants can be run on (4.9 YPC allowed to RBs), but the Packers average the eighth-fewest carries per game despite the ninth-highest time of possession. And James Starks(notes), the one Packers back that you can sometimes get excited about, isn't that healthy and is a complete gamble when it comes to workload this week. So forget about the Packers running game and ride the usual high flyers in the Packers passing game. Jermichael Finley(notes) has been spotty this year, but this is a good week for him to get back into the act. The Giants have allowed at least 60 yards to a tight end in four straight games, and TEs have accounted for five TDs in that span. … Ahmad Bradshaw(notes) is still an unknown for Week 13. He'd be a nice play if he can manage to get on the field this week, as the Packers allow 4.8 YPC and they give up a lot of production to RBs in the passing game. Bradshaw is much better suited to scoreboard chasing than Brandon Jacobs(notes) is. Expect that Eli Manning(notes) will throw the pigskin an excessive amount this week. The Packers have allowed a QB to score 25-plus points (standard scoring) five times this season. Manning is likely to be the sixth. Hakeem Nicks(notes), Victor Cruz(notes) and Jake Ballard(notes) are all good to go.
Headline: Packers emerge victorious in aerial battle against Giants
As I mentioned last week, the Saints pump up the scoring at home, scoring 30-plus points against the likes of Houston, Chicago, the NY Giants, and 62 points against the Colts. The Lions will be without their recent glimmer of hope in the running game, Kevin Smith(notes), so they'll likely not even go through the motions of trying to establish a running game with Maurice Morris(notes). Expect Matthew Stafford(notes) to be throwing early and often, which makes Brandon Pettigrew(notes) and Nate Burleson(notes) (Saints allow 10th-most fantasy points to tight ends and fifth-most to receivers) intriguing options in addition to MegaTron. … Sans the suspended Ndamukong Suh(notes), the Lions will likely be more porous than usual against the run, and they've been pretty porous with Suh (4.7 YPC to RBs). This is another matchup like last week against the Giants where each member of the Saints tri-toon backfield is a viable play. The Lions are strong against the pass, allowing just 6.2 Yards Per Attempt, the third-best mark in the league behind Houston and Pittsburgh. Obviously, Drew Brees(notes), Marques Colston(notes) and Jimmy Graham are evergreen plays. But I don't know that I'd reach for a Lance Moore(notes), Devery Henderson(notes) or Robert Meachem(notes) this week.
Robert Meachem; Devery Henderson; Detroit Defense
Lions: RB Kevin Smith (ankle)
Headline: Saints run wild in shootout victory over Lions
Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker replaces fired head coach Jack Del Rio, so there's no reason to fear any ripple effect to a defense that has the fourth-lowest Yards Per Play Allowed and Yards Per Pass Attempt Allowed. It's going to be difficult for the Chargers on Monday night, just as it was for the Ravens when they were held to seven points at Jacksonville on Monday night in Week 7. I think I'd roll with Ryan Mathews(notes), as he looked spry (read: healthy) and picked up a tough 137 yards against a pretty good Denver run defense last week. And Antonio Gates(notes) has a matchup advantage – the Jags allow the seventh-most fantasy points to tight ends. But the Chargers wide receivers are an iffy bet. I'm always less optimistic about Vincent Jackson(notes) than anyone else, and half the time I'm right. But it's hard to get excited for him when you consider that only one receiver has topped 70 receiving yards against the Jags since Week 1. … Jacksonville twice on Monday night, and a Thursday game coming in Week 15? Eesh. At least Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is always a pleasure to watch, and underappreciated according to Andy Behrens. I certainly appreciate him more than is probably considered healthy, but definitely the feeling doesn't extend to his teammates. Go green with MoJo, and skip the rest.
None of significance
Headline: Mathews leads Chargers to first win since October 9