Week 13 Care/Don't Care: Jordan Love's breakout, young Packers' promise is cause for excitement in fantasy and reality

Five things I care about

The Packers' promise

You might not believe it if you watched the Green Bay Packers play on Sunday night, but there was a chapter of the season when their fans were circulating photoshops of Caleb Williams in green and gold. Middling performances from an offense loaded with youth struggling under the weight of mistakes had many thinking a slide was incoming for the Packers — but quite the opposite has happened.

Now, after beating the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football in Week 13, one week after demolishing the Lions on Thanksgiving, the national audience knows what’s happening in Green Bay. Every football watcher in the nation knows that Jordan Love is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league right now. He captained his team to a win over Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs and no matter what you think of the officiating at the end of the game — there’s a lot to unpack there — the team that played better football won on Sunday night.

Love was pitching heat all night against one of the best defenses in the NFL. It was a full showcase of his arm talent as he moved off platform and threw from a variety of angles. It was his fifth-straight game over 7.0 yards per attempt, third-straight without a turnover and second in a row with three touchdown passes.

Jordan Love headshot
Jordan Love
QB - GB - #10
Week 13 v. KC
Comp Pct

Love's play is a beautiful reminder that progression isn’t linear. He came out strong from a box score perspective with six touchdowns to zero interceptions to start 2023. The play wasn’t as impressive as the numbers and he predictably stumbled. From Weeks 3 to 9, Love threw eight picks and the Packers won two games.

Then something changed in the Week 10 loss where, again, the play didn’t match the numbers. Love played way better than his 71.8 passer rating indicated.

He’s been on a tear ever since. As always, Watch. The. Games.

Jordan Love is having a breakout season. We can say it with certainty now. We’re still discovering exactly what his ceiling is as a player, but we know for sure he can play — that he’s more than just a viable starting quarterback for the Packers.

Love isn’t on this journey alone, either. His ultra-young pass-catching corps is carrying their own weight. These rookie and second-year receivers are peaking at the right time.

Christian Watson ruled the day with a pair of touchdowns before suffering a late-game injury. He’s starting to string together positive moments after being in a brutal slump in the middle of the season. However, with the way all of these guys are playing right now, you could tell me that any one of their top four wide receivers made it into the paint twice in a big game — and I’d believe it.

Jayden Reed didn’t hit in this game but he’s been white-hot as an electric playmaker of late. Romeo Doubs continued to show why he’s a trusted target down the field in tight coverage, even if he isn’t a consistent separator. Dontayvion Wicks missed the Thanksgiving game but returned to fill in a solid, make-the-most-of-your-chances contribution role. He might be the most underrated player of the bunch.

The Packers have been known for their patience (bordering on stagnation at times) as a franchise. This intense, perhaps unprecedented youth movement they've leaned into on offense this year provided its series of lowlights but we’re on the other side of it. As it stands now, with the way Love is playing and the receivers are shining, I am pretty close to all-in on the development of this group as they grow.

Better yet, I might be willing to break ties in favor of Packers' pass-catchers in fantasy debates down the stretch with an upcoming schedule that features the Giants, Bucs, Panthers, Vikings and Bears. There is no stay-away matchup coming for the Packers, just more chances to prove they’re legit by taking care of business on a march to the postseason.

The 49ers' Death Star offense hits on all cylinders

In fantasy circles, folks often fret that when we have a great offense on our hands, one crowded with high-end options, someone will be left out in the cold. The 49ers are atop that list.

Then there are days, glorious days like Week 13, where no worry is required.

On paper, it was hard to pick precisely which San Francisco skill–position player was in the best spot against a struggling Eagles defense.

The Eagles play a ton of man coverage, seventh most in the NFL, per Fantasy Points Data suite. They have a ton of faith in their outside corners but that group has struggled. Few receivers shred man coverage like Brandon Aiyuk. Those traits were displayed all night in Week 13, from the first touchdown to his crucial third-down conversion in the second half.

Philadelphia has had issues at its linebacker spot all season. It’s not a priority team-building position for them and now they’re dealing with injuries. It’s hard to imagine a worse mismatch for a team going against a Kyle Shanahan offense with Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle and especially Deebo Samuel.

Kittle cleared 60 yards, McCaffrey made multiple big plays but Samuel was the star of the show. The receiver scored three touchdowns, one on the ground and two in run-after-catch situations. Anytime Samuel had the ball in his hands, it felt like he could take it the distance.

Deebo Samuel Sr. headshot
Deebo Samuel Sr.
WR - SF - #1
Week 13 v. PHI

Deebo Samuel is one of the most unique players in the NFL and he’s one of just four horsemen in this apocalyptic attack.

The 49ers started a little slow but once they got rolling, they were able to do whatever they wanted. Brock Purdy took his shots when they were there and exhibited some pristine ball placement when working the middle. He dropped it in the hands of these YAC monsters and they barreled over anyone in their path.

Everyone was in a smash spot against this Eagles defense and just about everyone hit big. There aren’t many offenses you can say that about. Well, there aren’t many offenses loaded to the brim quite like the 2023 San Francisco 49ers. Perhaps some folks lost sight of it during their mini-swoon in the middle of the season. Don’t allow yourself to forget what a fully loaded operational battle station we are dealing with in the 49ers offense.

Nico Collins erupts when Texans need him most

The Texans got a conference win and significantly boosted their playoff hopes. And yet, Houston still suffered its first nightmare in what’s otherwise been a dream of a season when Tank Dell got rolled up on Dameon Pierce’s first-quarter rushing touchdown. Dell was carted off and will miss the rest of the season with a broken fibula.

This stinks.

Tank Dell headshot
Tank Dell
WR - HOU - #3
2023 - 2024 season

Dell has been a revelation as a rookie. He’s been critical to what the Texans have accomplished on offense. I’ve said it before, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he’s been one of the most impactful receivers in the NFL — not among rookies, among ALL players — on out-breaking routes this season. The offense won’t be the same without him. He’s already shown himself as a guy who a simple plug-and-play won’t replace.

The only silver lining for Houston is that Dell isn’t their only breakthrough wide receiver performance this year. Nico Collins reminded the world what a special season he’s having by hauling in a team-high nine catches on 12 targets for 191 yards and a score. He came up with a 50-plus-yard reception early in the game prior to Dell leaving. He had the most difficult matchup on the team as the X-receiver dueling with Patrick Surtain (who was a bit banged up during the game) in outside coverage.

Collins still dominated.

Nico Collins headshot
Nico Collins
WR - HOU - #12
2023 - 2024 season

Collins is not just some guy who C.J. Stroud is elevating. He’s shown immense promise on seriously broken offenses in his previous two seasons. The people who think he is a Stroud creation who came out of nowhere weren’t watching Texans film or were not subscribed to Reception Perception.

Collins wins in different ways than Dell. He’s been most impactful on intermediate and deep in-breaking routes as a pure X-receiver against man coverage. But don’t let the receiver size-ists profile these players; Collins is in the same conversation as Dell regarding route running and separation.

Losing Dell is a big blow to this offense, but the Texans have some depth at the position. Most importantly, they have the type of No. 1 wide receiver they can lean on harder to carry more of the load in the passing game.

The Stroud-to-Collins connection was on fire Sunday, providing us with a timely reminder of that reality. The Texans' budding star could be a top-12 fantasy receiver down the stretch.

Multiple Lions playmakers shine

The Lions couldn’t afford another slip after a last-second win over the Bears in Week 11 and an embarrassing loss to the Packers on Thanksgiving. They played in Week 13 like they knew it. Detroit raced out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The Saints made it a little interesting deeper into the game but on the whole, the Lions outclassed an inferior opponent and did it via multiple dimensions.

Jared Goff enjoyed an efficient, largely mistake-free game. He averaged 8.5 yards per attempt and attacked the Saints at all three levels. This wasn’t one of those passing game plans that only revolved around Amon-Ra St. Brown.

The power slot receiver caught a first-quarter touchdown but it was one of just two catches for the Lions’ star. Both of his catches did go for 20-plus yards and it wasn’t the only way they picked on a weak spot for the Saints. New Orleans has physical outside coverage but can be had in the intermediate middle of the field. St. Brown found those holes but so did rookie tight end Sam LaPorta. He led the team with nine targets, catching all of them for 140 yards and a score.

Plenty of pop came from the passing attack but the run game really dominated, as well, with 30 carries for 142 net yards. Jahmyr Gibbs only carried the ball eight times but ripped off some blistering runs. His first-quarter 36-yard scamper that set up David Montgomery’s touchdown was a thing of beauty. That type of play could have perfectly personified his pre-draft scouting report.

But one of the best rushing plays of the game came on a double reverse to 2022 rookie receiver Jameson Williams. The blazing-fast wideout was shot out of a cannon to rip through the entire Saints defense for a 19-yard score. We’re still waiting to see a proper breakout performance from Williams as a receiver, but sprinkling him in for a little extra juice is precisely what this offense needs.

When Goff is kept clean and this team runs the ball well, they’re tough to deal with. They have a ton of playmakers and can put defenses in a bind, as they did in Week 13.

When they play their game on offense, they can help hide a defense that does have serious questions on the back end. Today was a friendly reminder of all that. They just need to do it against teams better than the Saints as we get deeper into the season.

Shane Steichen

With a win over the division-rival Titans, the Indianapolis Colts now have a 66% chance to make the playoffs, per New York Times playoff picture. The Colts were picking fourth in this year’s NFL Draft. They weren’t expected to come close to competing. If they were going to make a playoff push this season, you’d have thought they must've gotten an exceptional performance from rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.

The fact the Colts are in this position while Richardson’s play is a now-distant memory underscores one clear reality: they absolutely nailed their head coaching hire of Shane Steichen.

Do you remember the 2022 Colts? They featured a hideous offense that was quite high on the unwatchable scale. A group that got the least out of its players and sunk amid bad quarterback play.

The 2023 Colts depth chart isn’t that far off from last year’s group. The quarterback is different but anyone telling you Gardner Minshew is “keeping the ship afloat” isn’t watching their games. Minshew has more juice in his game than last year’s Matt Ryan — not saying much — but that daring-do also gets him trouble and he puts the ball in harm’s way at least two or three times per game.

Aside from Minshew, the offensive line has many of the same guys back, rookie Josh Downs was the only big addition in the receiver room and both Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss are holdovers at running back.

The difference here is Steichen, who has repeatedly shown that he gets it. The former Eagles offensive coordinator uses pace perfectly, makes the right in-game management calls and puts these players in an ideal position to thrive.

Look no further than Michael Pittman Jr.

Michael Pittman Jr. headshot
Michael Pittman Jr.
WR - IND - #11
Week 13 v. TEN

The wideout was stuck running a bunch of pointless shallow crossers and drag routes in Frank Reich’s static offense with the 2022 version of Matt Ryan. His impact was neutered in that offense, even if he caught 99 balls. This season, he’s been one of the most consistent receivers in the NFL who helps move the offense. Steichen has designed pass-game concepts that get Pittman in favorable spots as the primary read. His walk-off touchdown was a great example:

Pittman is one of the steals of fantasy drafts and a guy who will moonwalk to a big contract this offseason. All that after a letdown 2022 season that left many wondering if the Colts had enough weapons on the roster. It shows what a difference the man behind the controls makes.

Nailing the head coaching hire can change everything.

Five things I don't care about

Rashee Rice’s target share or route participation

Last week looked like it was Rashee Rice’s official breakout game from a stats perspective as he cleared 100 yards for the first time in the pros. However, as I warned on the podcast and in my preview article, that game against the Raiders didn’t really showcase Rice being asked to do anything new, but rather just being tasked with more of the same old things more often.

For fantasy football, that’s all we’re looking for. Gamers just need him on the field more than he was prior to his bye week and getting targeted at a high rate. We’ve checked those boxes. Rice is in the clear from that standpoint.

He gave you eight catches in Week 13. You’re not allowed to complain about that result from your WR3 or flex option. Sorry, those are the rules.

Rashee Rice headshot
Rashee Rice
WR - KC - #4
Week 13 v. GB

The lack of faith in the player or willingness to ask him to win in other areas is still a problem for the Chiefs.

Rice averaged 0.5 air yards per target against the Packers, per Next Gen Stats. There’s nothing downfield. Once again, he’s really only being used in ways that set him up for YAC opportunities. He’s been monstrously efficient with those looks so I can’t fault Kansas City for wanting to let him shine in the open field.

Rice is their best receiver and it would sure be nice if the Chiefs had any faith in him beating man coverage and winning on big-boy routes down the field. I don’t think Rice has shown those skills as a separator on film in the NFL yet and, clearly, the Chiefs' brain trust isn’t seeing what they want yet either. For all of Rice’s positive contributions, that’s an issue.

And honestly, I don’t blame Rashee Rice on this one. He’s already well-outkicked expectations for his rookie season. He’s stepped into JuJu Smith-Schuster’s vacated role and frankly been better than the veteran receiver was for the 2022 Chiefs. The problem is everyone else in the room. Rice could dominate in that role and there would be no worries if someone else could win consistently outside and downfield.

No such player exists on this roster. And when it came time for the Chiefs to go down the field with less than two minutes and try to tie the game, you can’t tell me that haunting reality didn’t nag at you the entire drive — an effort that ultimately, likely in part for this reason, proved fruitless.

Name-brand players on the Eagles defense

By and large, I have been unwilling to worry about the Eagles this season. They have won games on the back of their talent on offense and the gritty culture fully ingrained into the team.

However, I’m willing to entertain some serious concerns about the state of their defense. It’s not a struggling unit. It’s not a group trying to adjust to a new scheme. This is simply a bad defense.

There are name-brand players on that side of the ball for Philadelphia. You wouldn’t know it if you’ve watched their games. You’re going to give up plays to the San Francisco 49ers. That’s a given and had they simply lost this game in Week 13, I wouldn’t be writing this section. But to get blown off the field, allowing 5.5 yards per carry to Christian McCaffrey and having no answers for players in the open field — despite knowing you’re playing the best run-after-catch offense in the NFL — that’s beyond troubling.

The Eagles are still one of the best teams in the NFL. When the offense is on, they can hang with anyone.

But stack up the top three teams in the NFL. Rank in your head the 49ers offense, the 49ers defense, the Cowboys offense, the Cowboys defense, the Eagles offense and the Eagles defense. Philadelphia’s stop unit is the worst among those six and I’m not sure it’s even close. Right now, with their quarterback perhaps not healthy nor a true big-play rushing threat, I don’t think their offense is better than the 49ers and Cowboys.

That makes the defense’s issues all the more troubling.

The old pecking order for the Rams

Cooper Kupp scored a touchdown with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter. You can’t take it away. It’s a thing that happened and those points count for the folks brave enough to start Kupp amid his recent production slump. However, don’t let it distract you from the point that Week 13 was another piece of evidence that there has been a clear changing of the guard in the Rams' receiver room.

Puka Nacua garnered seven targets, despite leaving the game twice with injuries, and got the party started for the Rams with a 70-yard catch-and-run score. He’s an excellent man-coverage-beater whose explosiveness sneaks up on you. Forget any workout metric you’ve seen; that touchdown alone showed he can absolutely fly when he builds a head of steam.

Nacua made every type of catch you want in this game on his way to clear 100 yards on the day. He also added 34 yards on two carries, something he did a lot of in college. It’s wild to me this guy went in the fifth round of the NFL Draft with all the good notes in his profile.

The Rams know what they have. Even with the 2021 triple-crown winner back in the fold, the rookie has received the designed touches in the offense. You don’t just scheme up looks for players you think need help getting open. Teams design plays for their best players. That’s how the Rams have treated Nacua. Kupp can still be a quality piece in the Los Angeles offense but it’s beyond time for us to recognize who the most crucial pass-catcher is on this team.

The Rams now have a better than 50% chance to make the playoffs. That’s quite an achievement for a team most were ready to pencil into the Caleb Williams sweepstakes in the preseason. They’ve outkicked expectations thanks to breakthrough performances from their surprising young players.

Chief among them is Puka Nacua.

The Washington Commanders

For as long as I’ve followed the NFL, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more predictable, easy-to-see coming result than Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill tearing up the Washington Commanders defense.

Hill collected 157 yards and two scores on seven targets on Sunday and believe me, the Commanders got off easy. Hill could have hung 300 yards on Washington if this game were remotely competitive. Heck, the way he played and the utter lack of ability in Washington to cover a soul, it felt like Hill could have pushed for that 2,000-yard mark Sunday alone.

Tyreek Hill headshot
Tyreek Hill
WR - MIA - #10
2023 - 2024 season

Washington sold off pieces at the trade deadline and just fired its defensive coordinator last week but his unit has been a mess all season. And it’s not the first time Ron Rivera’s Washington squads featured a toothless defense that affords wide open passing lanes to opponents.

Don’t worry, though; flanking this miserable defense is a remarkably unserious offense that rings up empty-calorie passing yards but can’t get the ball to its best players. Forget any level of fantasy football investment, any offense coming away with zero catches by a Pro Bowl wide receiver of Terry McLaurin’s level is inexcusable.

Wholesale changes are on the way in Washington with new ownership ready to make its stamp on this operation. I can’t imagine they are seeing much of anything close to the foundation they want to keep in place as the season slips away.

The Falcons and Jets game

You could have live-bet almost any possible under during the Falcons at Jets game and felt good about it. You couldn’t pick two teams more equipped to take a game down into the muck.

The Jets endured yet another hapless offensive performance. Breece Hall ran for a measly 1.2 yards per carry, the leading receiver was Xavier Gibson with 77 yards and Tim Boyle offered more evidence as to why he should not be starting NFL games. Trevor Siemian finally got a chance to play at quarterback but didn’t move this hopeless unit any better. He completed 38.5% of his passes and lost a fumble. You have to imagine he’ll get a chance to start next week, not that it will matter.

Ian Rapoport reported this morning that Aaron Rodgers is unlikely to play this season despite having his practice window opened this week. Good. We can finally all stop living in the land of make-believe.

Not only was Rodgers almost sure to never return to this team in 2023 fresh off an Achilles injury, but he wasn’t going to save them even if he did. The team has far too many cataclysmic flaws to think a rehabbing Rodgers would raise their ceiling significantly. I believe a fully recovered Rodgers can take this team to the next level in 2024 but only if they look themselves in the mirror and realize they need to stack the deck around him with playmakers and assets — not his buddies.

As the Jets circled the drain, the Falcons were perfectly obliged to slip into the muck and mire along with them. Atlanta’s offense also went nowhere and really struggled to run the ball. Everyone struggles to push the Jets around up front, but this was a reminder that Atlanta’s run blocking has taken a significant step back in 2023. Naturally, the passing game did nothing to pick up the slack as Desmond Ridder completed 44% of his throws. This was a stiff defensive test for the Falcons but they did nothing short of underwhelm.

With a win today and another Saints loss, the Falcons have a 61% chance to win the NFC South, per The New York Times playoff predictor. It’s just hard to imagine their eventual postseason run lasts long with the state of their offense.