It's do-or-die time for many playoff-hopeful fantasy owners, and Saints-Seahawks as well as Broncos-Chiefs could figure into the equation, along with the three Thanksgiving Day games. Our fantasy football experts Michael Beller, Brian Flood and Alessandro Miglio give their discuss some of those key Week 13 matchups and the Ben Tate-Dennis Johnson situation in Houston as the fantasy regular season heads toward its crescendo.
1. Two monster games this week pit elite offenses against stout defenses. What can owners of key players on the Broncos and Saints expect in those teams' games with the Chiefs and Seahawks, respectively?
Beller: The only regular starter from either of those two teams I'd consider benching is Pierre Thomas. The Seahawks allow the sixth-fewest points per game to running backs, and have surrendered just four rushing touchdowns on the year. As for the rest of the Saints, don't expect the usual Drew Brees show. Seattle has allowed the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks on the year, and while they haven't exactly faced a murderer's row of QBs this year, they have done quite well against Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan. Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham will have to deal with Richard Sherman, and that could help keep a lid on both of them. Again, you're starting all of them, but keep your expectations in check.
As for the Broncos, the Chiefs just got absolutely eviscerated by Philip Rivers and the Chargers last week. I'm willing to bet Peyton Manning will do a lot more with the opportunity to adjust to what the Chiefs did to him a few weeks ago than vice versa. The matchup may not be great on paper, but I'm expecting a big day from all the Broncos regulars.
Flood: The Saints and Seahawks are both significantly better at home. Since the game is in Seattle, don't expect anything earth-shattering from Drew Brees and Company. I typically rank Brees first or second among quarterbacks, but he's seventh on my list for Week 13. Manning, Romo, Stafford, Brady, Newton and Foles are projected to outperform Brees because of the home-field advantage in Seattle. You obviously still start Brees and Jimmy Graham, but I expect a huge performance from the Seahawks defense in a statement game.
When dissecting the Broncos at Chiefs, the obvious first step is to check out the results from their Week 11 matchup. Two weeks ago the Broncos beat the Chiefs 27-17 and Peyton Manning was hardly touched. Manning threw for 323 yards and a TD. This time, I expect Manning to get sacked once or twice. I also expect him to throw more than one touchdown pass. Manning has thrown at least two TD passes in every game this season except for the previous matchup with Kansas City. Once he thaws out and shakes off memories of New England, Manning will make the necessary adjustments to thrive in Week 13.
Miglio: The Broncos are banged up all over the place, but their biggest loss could be Knowshon Moreno, who has a strong case for this year's fantasy football MVP. He is expected to be questionable after getting run into the ground in the past two games. It turns out 64 carries during that span might cost him the game.
The good news for Moreno and the rest of that offense is that the Chiefs are also hurting, particularly on defense. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali both left last week's game, perhaps a big reason the Chargers put up 41 points on that vaunted unit and won the game.
If history is any indication, New Orleans is going to have a tough time in Seattle. Not only was that the site of the Richter-tilting, Beast Mode run that put Marshawn Lynch on the national map a few years ago, but also that 12th Man is going to be doing its best to buoy that team to home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
2. The fantasy community has been sniffing around for potential surprise playoff performers for the last few weeks. Could Dennis Johnson be that guy?
Beller: I'm still not buying Johnson as that guy over Donald Brown, and would put him on par with Bobby Rainey. The issue with Johnson isn't environment, but opportunity. Despite Johnson's large workload last week, Ben Tate remains the starter for the Texans. Houston has a very favorable upcoming schedule with games against the Patriots, Colts, Jaguars and Broncos, so chances are at least one of these guys is going to be a factor in the fantasy playoffs. Johnson should be universally owned, but cannot be started with any real confidence until we get a little more clarity as to what his role will be.
Flood: Gary Kubiak's scheme turns mediocre talent into fantasy stars and whoever is running the ball for the Texans will help owners going forward. The only problem is that Johnson isn't alone in the backfield. He replaced an ineffective Ben Tate on Sunday and ran for 74 yards on 13 carries. But Kubiak said on Monday that Tate will continue to start. Tate is a free agent after the season and Kubiak probably wants to see if he's a long-term fit in Houston. Johnson will split the workload Week 13 and is a few big plays away from being looked at as a full-time starter. Perhaps that will happen as early as Week 14. But don't completely overlook Tate, who has just as good of a chance to grab the job as Johnson does.
Miglio: Dennis Johnson was a guy I ran out to stash a few weeks ago when Arian Foster went down for the count. He flashed his potential against the Colts, and it seemed like a good idea given Ben Tate's rib injury. The following two weeks saw him total seven touches, which was almost a big enough letdown to let him go. Then last week happened.
I'm not sure what to believe here. Tate looked terrible against the Jaguars, which is the reason Johnson finally got some serious play. If Tate's ribs are affecting him, there is little reason for Houston to stick him out there at this point in the season. That means Johnson could be in for a bigger workload, which can't hurt in your starting lineup. If you are to the point where you are looking for a third-string running back to save your fantasy season, though, you might have bigger problems.
3. Which non-star quarterback has the best path to fantasy stardom in the playoffs?
Beller: Word broke on Monday that Jay Cutler may miss the rest of the season because of his ankle injury. Should that happen, Josh McCown would likely be a QB1 for the remainder of the year. The Bears have a particularly friendly schedule for a quarterback during Weeks 14 through Week 16, traditionally the fantasy playoffs. They play the Cowboys, who have allowed the most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, in the first round of the playoffs. After a Week 15 matchup with the Browns, they get the Eagles, a defense that has surrendered the fifth-most points per game to signal callers. It would be a major disappointment if McCown weren't inside the top 10 at the position both of those weeks, and that could make him a sneaky addition for playoff-bound owners.
Flood: Nick Foles will be the starting quarterback for a ton of fantasy champions. Incredibly, Foles has thrown 16 TDs without an interception this season. The Eagles have a favorable schedule, hosting Arizona and Detroit before traveling to Minnesota in Week 15. Then if you're still competing in Week 16, the Eagles host the Swiss cheese defense of the Bears. Chip Kelly's fast-paced offensive style will ensure that Foles gets ample opportunities to succeed. Start the Eagles QB with confidence going forward.
Miglio: Two names come to mind here -- Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill. Fitzpatrick closes out the fantasy season with games against the Colts (15th in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks), Broncos (fourth), Cardinals (13th) and Jaguars (eighth). Tannehill goes up against the Jets (14th), Steelers (24th), Patriots (19th) and Bills (17th) in the next four weeks. Tannehill's schedule seems a bit tougher, but the Jets have been giving up long plays to wide receivers like they are supposed to, and the Bills have been susceptible to speedy receivers like Mike Wallace.
4. Lest we forget, it is Thanksgiving this week. What will fantasy owners across the country be talking about after Thursday's action?
Beller: They won't be talking about it until very late at night, except for you West Coasters, but the talk of Thursday will be the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens looking like a favorite for a playoff spot thanks to a weak AFC. I fully expect Baltimore to take care of Pittsburgh in relatively easy fashion, and that means you'll want all your Ravens active on Thursday. Ray Rice, Torrey Smith and the defense are all no-doubt plays, and Joe Flacco is a low-end QB1.
Flood: It wouldn't shock me if the talk is a controversial flag, or lack thereof, with the way this NFL season has been going. An officiating blunder on Thanksgiving wouldn't be the first time NFL zebras stole holiday headlines. Back in 1998, referee Phil Luckett botched the overtime coin flip before the Lions slipped past the Steelers with a controversial victory on Thanksgiving.
Miglio: Well, nothing can top last year's butt fumble. But I can't help but think this year's slate of games is underwhelming. Pittsburgh and Baltimore aren't the powerhouses we are used to, Matt Flynn is going to try to replicate his six-touchdown explosion against the floundering Lions and the Raiders are the Raiders.
But in terms of fantasy football, we could be in for some doozies. If Flynn is able to recapture some of that magic -- assuming he starts instead of Scott Tolzien -- it could be a big bounce-back game for Jordy Nelson. The Lions are a generous bunch on defense, after all. And, despite the relative mediocrity of the AFC North teams, that game is typically a good slugfest.
MORE WEEK 13 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
BELLER: Player Stat Projections -- Could Adrian Peterson run for 200 yards?
SI STAFF: Weekly Roundtable -- Will Dennis Johnson take over for Ben Tate?
FLOOD: Waiver Wire -- Benny Cunningham could start if Zac Stacy cannot play
McQUADE: Risers, Sliders -- Philip Rivers, Maurice Jones-Drew turn it on in Week 12