NFL Week 13 Start 'Em, Sit 'Em
Fantasy teams are dropping off the map. The bye weeks are over. And the stakes are the highest in leagues as the calendar flips to the final month.
It is fantasy crunch time. Snow is in the air and often on the field. You have to love December football.
The competition is far less fierce for the free-agent pickups -- if there is anything left -- and the lineup decisions should be a lot easier. Dance with the ones that brought you here (save for clearly injured players like Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden).
We break down the final week of the regular season in many fantasy football formats with our game-by-game Start 'Em, Sit 'Em.
• QB Vince Young, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Brent Celek, K Alex Henery
With Michael Vick (ribs) and Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) out again, Young, Jackson and Celek are solid options along with the must-start LeSean McCoy. Riley Cooper is a decent play in deeper PPR formats. He has been a favorite target of Young and should start opposite Jackson. The Eagles defense is a sleeper, despite getting shredded against the Pats last week. The Seahawks play better at home, though.
• RB Marshawn Lynch
Lynch is must-start in this matchup. The Eagles are in the bottom 10 of fantasy against RBs and Lynch has proved to be a steady week-to-week horse against all competition. It helps that the Seahawks are without Sidney Rice, too. The running game is the No. 1 priority.
• WR Doug Baldwin, WR Mike Williams, WR Ben Obomanu
This trio gets a team in the bottom half of fantasy against WRs, but you cannot be sure which one is going to step forward in Sidney Rice's absence. The rookie Baldwin might be the best play but he isn't even starting over the other two.
• RB Chris Johnson, K Rob Bironas
Johnson is coming off a season-high 190 yards and facing a defense that is eighth-worst in fantasy against RBs. That makes your first-half bust a must-start here. Bironas should also be given a lot of consideration as a kicker. With Johnson moving the chains now, the Titans should get plenty more field-goal chances, especially against a below-average defense.
• RB C.J. Spiller, WR Stevie Johnson
Spiller wasn't great filling Fred Jackson's big shoes, but he faces a team in the bottom half of fantasy against RBs. This is a good week to play him, particularly at home. Johnson also has plenty to prove after another costly drop late last week and the drama from his end-zone dance. He should respond with a revitalized Ryan Fitzpatrick, who you shouldn't have to start, but can if you need to.
• D/ST Titans
The Bills look like an offense to take advantage of with the Titans defense, but you might be surprised to know the Bills are third-best in fantasy against opposing D/STs. Most of that was with Jackson controlling the clock and not turning the ball over, but you should be able to find a better defense to play than Tennessee's.
• WR David Nelson
Fitzpatrick was good against a tough defense last week, but playing the secondary receivers here isn't a wise move. Look elsewhere. The Titans are top five in fantasy against WRs.
• WR Reggie Wayne, WR Pierre Garcon
Wayne showed why we shouldn't sit him in Week 12, and the quarterback change to Dan Orlovsky comes when the Colts are facing the worst team in fantasy against wide receivers. This makes both Wayne and Garcon solid options and maybe even Austin Collie a sleeper. Backup QBs tend to like using their backup WRs they have grown accustomed to on the scout team. Collie has been nothing more than a scout receiver this year.
• RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, WR Deion Branch, K Stephen Gostkowski, D/ST Patriots
This is a "start all" game for the Pats. The Colts don't stop anyone and just fired their defensive coordinator. What an assignment for a coach's first game. BGE faces the third-worst team in fantasy against RBs and you can consider Danny Woodhead a sleeper as a flex play. Branch should join Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski as must-plays, too. As for that maligned Pats defense, you should play it against the winless Colts, who are in the bottom against opposing defenses.
• RB Donald Brown, RB Joseph Addai, RB Delone Carter, K Adam Vinatieri
Brown has been outplaying the Colts' starter, which apparently will be Addai this week, but the Pats have improved steadily against the run and you shouldn't be sure which back is going to get the bulk of the duty. The Colts also figure to have to abandon the running game when they fall behind by three scores in the first half.
• TE Aaron Hernandez
Hernandez was revived a bit last week, but he hasn't been able to draw enough of the production from Gronk this season. Also, the Colts are a top 10 team in fantasy against TEs.
• RB Shonn Greene, WR Santonio Holmes, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Dustin Keller, D/ST Jets, K Nick Folk
Mark Sanchez's revival is mostly due to easier competition, but the Redskins shouldn't scare you this week either. While you likely have a better starter than Sanchez at QB, you can be confident in using his primary targets Holmes, Burress and Keller. The Jets defense and their kicker should remain great plays, too. The Redskins are not a bad team against the run, but Greene and Joe McKnight are going to be relied on heavily down the stretch.
• TE Fred Davis
The Jets will put someone on Revis Island, but it won't be Davis. Rex Grossman isn't a good play, but he likely will be working from behind and giving Davis some garbage-time numbers.
• RB Roy Helu, WR Santana Moss, WR Jabar Gaffney
The Jets are No. 4 in fantasy against WRs and a healthier Moss figures to take away from Gaffney's production now. Helu has finally earned the starting RB job, but the Jets remain a team determined to stop the run. Helu is no better than a flex play or a PPR option, because he is a solid receiver out of the backfield.
• QB Cam Newton, RB DeAngelo Williams, RB Jonathan Stewart, WR Steve Smith, K Olindo Mare
The Bucs are the second-worst team in fantasy against RBs, so both Panthers backs looks like strong plays this week. Newton and Smith should remain active in all formats and if you need Greg Olsen at tight end, he should return to the game plan after some quiet weeks. This will be a game with a lot of points, so Mare looks like a solid kicker.
• RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Mike Williams, TE Kellen Winslow
The two worst teams in fantasy against RBs are facing each other here, which puts Blount on the verge of a huge week. Josh Freeman has finally figured out how to get Williams and Winslow the ball, so you can go back to them in deeper formats. Freeman probably isn't good enough to unseat your starting QB, though.
• D/ST Buccaneers, D/ST Panthers
The Bucs look like a decent play because Newton turns the ball over, but we figure this to be a high-scoring game. You won't want to take a chance on either low-end defense here.
• WR A.J. Green
Green returned and proved healthy last week, so you can send him out there even if the Steelers are third-best in fantasy against WRs. Cedric Benson likely also starts for you every week, but you should lower your expectations against the Steelers run defense and sit Benson if you have viable alternatives. The Steelers started slow, but they are now in the top 10 of fantasy against RBs and climbing.
• QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Rashard Mendenhall, WR Mike Wallace, K Shaun Suisham, D/ST Steelers
The Bengals are a solid defense and this group of Steelers is coming off a disappointing week, but you should feel confident keeping them active. This is an important home game and you should expect the Steelers' primary fantasy options to be productive.
• QB Andy Dalton, TE Jermaine Gresham, WR Jerome Simpson
Dalton hasn't been bad as the schedule has gotten tougher on him, but this is as tough it gets at Pittsburgh in a pivotal division game. The Steelers are No. 3 against QBs and WRs. They are also top 10 against TEs, so put Gresham back on the bench after a rebound last Sunday. The Bengals defense isn't a great play this week, even if the Steelers are in the bottom half of fantasy against D/STs. Most of that was due to Big Ben's turnover issues early in the year. Expect the Steelers to control the ball and clock in this one.
• Dwayne Bowe
Bowe is probably the only fantasy option here immune to the Chiefs' struggles right now. He will get plenty of garbage-time totals.
• RB Marion Barber, D/ST Bears, K Robbie Gould
Barber continues to vulture scores away from the must-start Matt Forte, so keep Barber in your plans as a flex option. The Chiefs are sixth-worst in fantasy against RBs. With Caleb Hanie, the Bears are going to focus on establishing the run and trying to hide their QB, too. The Bears defense is a great play against the Chiefs directionless offense and Gould is arguably the most valuable kicker in fantasy right now.
• RB Jackie Battle, RB Thomas Jones, RB Dexter McCluster, WR Steve Breaston
When the Chiefs went to Tyler Palko, they also went to a three-way time-share that is split evenly. None of these backs are certain to get as many as 10 touches, so all of them are worthless to us in fantasy. Breaston was emerging before Matt Cassel went down, but now he's not even worth owning.
• WR Earl Bennett, WR Johnny Knox, WR Devin Hester, WR Roy Williams
Just when we thought we had a go-to Bears fantasy WR option in Bennett, Jay Cutler goes down and we have to reset the deck with a Knox breakthrough last week. Backup QBs love the backup WRs, but aren't all the Bears' WRs really backup quality? Any one of them can be Hanie's guy week to week. None of them should be our guy in fantasy, even Knox. He needs to do it for multiple weeks.
• QB Matt Ryan, WR Roddy White, WR Julio Jones, K Matt Bryant, D/ST Falcons
The Texans have an elite defense, but this group above should remain active with Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez regardless of the difficulty of the matchup. Jones is the wild card here. He went without a catch a week ago, but he is healthy and should be better against an opponent that is more capable to take away the Falcons' other weapons.
• WR Andre Johnson
Like Jones, Johnson returned with poor results last week. It shouldn't keep you from trusting him like you do Arian Foster every week -- no matter who is the QB.
• RB Ben Tate
The Falcons are the second-best team in fantasy against RBs, so using Tate -- particularly off the game he had a week ago -- is a bad move. Owen Daniels and the Texans other receivers are also bad plays with the uncertainty of T.J. Yates at QB.
• QB Carson Palmer, D/ST Raiders, K Sebastian Janikowski
The Dolphins are third-best in fantasy against RBs, so Michael Bush isn't a great play but you likely have to keep him active in almost all formats. The Raiders are one of the most devoted running teams in the NFL. The slowed running game should put the onus on Palmer, who is facing a team in the bottom half against QBs -- albeit steadily improving.
• RB Reggie Bush, WR Brandon Marshall, D/ST Dolphins
Bush faces one of his most favorable matchups of the year. The Raiders are fifth-worst in fantasy against RBs. Daniel Thomas is even a sleeper play if you need a flex option. You never know which Marshall you're going to get week to week but he still should remain active.
• WR Denarius Moore, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR Chaz Schilens, WR Jacoby Ford
It seems counterintuitive to list Palmer as a start and every one of his targets as sits, but this is Raiders WR roulette. None of them is intriguing because of their inconsistency. Palmer is going to get yards and scores, but picking where they go is a inexact science. You're better off taking a chance on a WR elsewhere.
• RB Willis McGahee, QB Tim Tebow, D/ST Broncos, K Matt Prater
The Vikings quietly have one of the best rushing defenses in the NFL, but the Broncos are built to run with McGahee and Tebow, so you need to keep them active. If you need a WR, Eric Decker is the choice, but you can never tell if the Broncos are going to complete more than a handful of passes a game, particularly if they find themselves ahead and sitting on a lead. The Broncos defense has clearly emerged as an option, especially since the Vikings have a rookie QB and no Peterson.
• RB Toby Gerhart, WR Percy Harvin
The Broncos allow a lot of yards to backs, but surprisingly just one rushing TD to an RB. Gerhart is a solid play in Peterson's absence, though. He could be good for 100 yards and some use out of the backfield. Harvin has emerged as a solid fantasy receiver, which has been Christian Ponder's most significant contribution to fantasy.
• D/ST Vikings
There is no good reason to sit any of the players on either side you need to rely on this week with these mostly talent-deficient teams. The Vikings look like a potential sleeper, but the Broncos play so conservatively under Tebow, it is unlikely they will turn the ball over enough to make the Vikings useful to us.
• WR Anquan Boldin, D/ST Ravens, K Bill Cundiff
Ray Rice remains a must-start and Boldin, too, even if the Browns are No. 1 in fantasy against WRs. The Ravens defense and kicker should be productive for us as well.
• QB Joe Flacco, WR Torrey Smith
The Browns are the best team in fantasy against QBs in addition to WRs, so consider finding a fill-in for Flacco. The Ravens are likely to have success on the ground and may be running out the clock from the start of the game and won't need to take chances down field. Smith is a bit too erratic for fantasy crunch time anyway.
• QB Colt McCoy, RB Peyton Hillis, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, RB Montario Hardesty, WR Greg Little, WR Josh Cribbs, TE Ben Watson
This is a "sit all" game for the Browns. The Ravens stop everything against great offenses and the Browns are worse than a bad offense this season, even with Hillis back. The Ravens are second-best against QBs and fourth-best against RBs and the Browns don't matchup up well here, even if at home. If you have to play one of these guys, it is Hillis, because of the Browns' commitment to the run, but only use him if your alternatives are bad.
• RB Frank Gore, WR Michael Crabtree, TE Vernon Davis, D/ST 49ers, K David Akers
The Rams are fourth-worst in fantasy against RBs, so Gore is a must-start. Even the likes of Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon are sleepers. There should be ample garbage time for the backup backs to run out the clock late. Crabtree and Davis are also solid options as the 49ers try to establish them as consistent threats before the NFL postseason. The defense and kicker are every week must-starts now.
• WR Brandon Lloyd
Ordinarily, Lloyd is a must-start and not worth mentioning, but we figured we would give a vote of confidence for him against the elite 49ers defense here. Sam Bradford has been mostly awful this season, but he at least does enough to keep Lloyd productive every week.
• RB Steven Jackson
Jackson faces the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL and doesn't figure to produce among the top 24 RBs in fantasy, no matter how committed to the run the Rams are. Find alternatives for him unless you'll take 20 carries for 40 yards and no scores.
• RB James Starks, WR Jordy Nelson, WR James Jones, TE Jermichael Finley, D/ST Packers, K Mason Crosby
This is a "start all" game for the Packers, like most games. The Giants figure to do enough to keep the Packers having to push the score -- like the Saints did Monday night. That should make every Packers fantasy option productive as Aaron Rodgers likes to spread the ball around. Even Donald Driver is a viable option. Starks is a bit banged up, but the Giants have been hammered on the ground this year and were exposed against the Saints' mediocre fantasy backs. Starks could have his best week of the season. If he happens to be held out of this game, consider Ryan Grant -- a former Giant -- a must-start. Grant might be a sleeper worth considering regardless.
• QB Eli Manning, WR Victor Cruz, WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Mario Manningham
The Giants have no running game to speak of and they won't run the ball with any success against the Packers, so expect another aerial assault by Manning and company. The Packers are in the bottom five against QBs and WRs, mostly because opposing teams are throwing from behind. The only questionable one of the above is Manningham, but if he plays, get him active. There should be plenty of throws and yardage to go around as the Giants face playing from well behind again.
• RB Brandon Jacobs, D/ST Giants
Jacobs gets another week of Ahmad Bradshaw being out, but that Packers run defense is not a good matchup for a marginal option in crunch time like Jacobs. You had to see all you needed to Monday night if you're an owner for the Giants defense. They just get no pressure on the QB anymore and Rodgers is going to torch them like he did last December.
• QB Tony Romo, RB DeMarco Murray, WR Dez Bryant, WR Laurent Robinson, TE Jason Witten, D/ST Cowboys, K Dan Bailey
The Cowboys tend to play down to their competition, but this amounts to a "start all" game for their fantasy options. Miles Austin might play and steal some of Robinson's thunder, but you need to keep Robinson active amid this hot streak until Austin proves healthy and capable. Murray faces the stiffest test -- the Cardinals are solid against the run -- but he has done enough to keep Felix Jones on the pine, so keep Murray active.
• RB Beanie Wells, WR Larry Fitzgerald, K Neil Rackers
The Cowboys have a proud run defense, but Wells is too good to sit. Also, the potential return of Kevin Kolb could inject life into the Cardinals offense and Fitzgerald specifically. We can see this game becoming high scoring as the Cowboys get ahead and Kolb throws from behind.
• D/ST Cardinals, QB Kevin Kolb
The Cardinals do have a great returner, but the Cowboys are in the top 10 of fantasy against opposing D/STs, and their offense can put up plenty of points. Kolb wasn't a fantasy starter when he was healthy and needed during the bye season, so don't trust him coming off injury.
• QB Matthew Stafford, TE Brandon Pettigrew, K Jason Hanson
Stafford has played poorly with a lingering finger injury, but the Saints play like a track meet at home. There are going to be a lot of yards and scores to get in garbage time for Stafford here. That should lead you to add the likes of Pettigrew, Nate Burleson and even Titus Young as sleepers among his secondary targets.
• RB Mark Ingram, D/ST Saints, K John Kasay
Ingram is healthy and productive finally for fantasy owners. The loss of the run stuffer Ndamukong Suh hurts the Lions, too. Ingram should be good for 80 yards and a score. You should also consider Darren Sproles as a flex in PPR formats, and Pierre Thomas an emergency option if you need a healthy back. The Saints defense is more bend-but-don't-break, but Stafford has proven to be mistaken-prone in recent weeks. That Saints D/ST is a decent sleeper. As for the passing game, only Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston are sure things for Drew Brees. Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem cannot be counted on.
• RB Maurice Morris, D/ST Lions
The status of Kevin Smith makes Morris intriguing, but dangerous. Smith is the real threat and probably should be active for fantasy owners if he plays. But the late start of this game makes it unlikely you will want to take the risk on Smith.
• QB Philip Rivers, RB Ryan Matthews, WR Vincent Jackson, D/ST Chargers, K Nick Novak
Let's call this one the fire bowl. Jack Del Rio is gone and Norv Turner might be, too, if he doesn't turn his season around. Expect Rivers to play much better -- if only because there is no place to go but up. Jumping off that bandwagon now would compound the problem unless you have a good backup QB option. This is basically a "start all" game for the Chargers, including that maligned defense. Vincent Brown is a decent sleeper, if you need a WR, too.
• RB Maurice Jones-Drew
A new regime takes over, but everything will remain the same: start MJD and no one else among your Jaguars. He really is the only one worth owning.
• RB Mike Tolbert, D/ST Jaguars
Tolbert has steadily lost his fantasy mojo as a healthier Mathews has taken over. You should have a better RB2 or flex option by now, particularly if you're a team headed for the fantasy postseason. The Jags defense is facing a Chargers team that is fifth-worst against opposing D/ST, but it is hard to imagine the Chargers falling behind in this one and having to take chances down field.