Fantasy game-by-game previews: Week 13

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With DeSean Jackson (concussion) likely out this week, Donovan McNabb will spend more time targeting speedy rookie Jeremy Maclin (33 targets in his last four games) and veteran receiver Jason Avant, who's seen 22 targets in his last four -- compared to just 20 in the first eight games of 2009. Atlanta's corners (rookie Christopher Owens and Chris Houston) just don't have the chops to keep those two off the board all day. Insert Maclin as a WR2 and Avant as a WR3 with plenty of upside. Brian Westbrook has been ruled out of Sunday's game -- the third straight game he's missed after suffering his second concussion of the season -- giving capable RB2 LeSean McCoy another start. Since the Falcons are one of the worst teams in football at defending opposing TEs, another excellent option is Brent Celek, who should be recovered from last week's sprained thumb (which caused him to drop four passes). There's not much to like about Atlanta's overall offense this week, but a healthy Jerious Norwood is worth a shot at RB3 or FLEX with Michael Turner (ankle) likely out and Jason Snelling resuming a backup role. Roddy White is worth a start if you're not concerned about Matt Ryan's replacement, Chris Redman, throwing him the ball (they hooked up late for the game-winning score last week). The Eagles front four and secondary are both good enough to hold the Falcons' skill position players to average numbers, but Tony Gonzalez should surpass his normal stat line since the Philly linebackers (down to second and third-string guys due to injuries and ineffectiveness) have struggled the past few weeks. -- Antonio D'Arcangelis

Standout Starts: McNabb, Maclin, Celek, Gonzalez

Banish to the Bench: Snelling, Redman

This is a pivotal game for the surging Titans and could be a trap game for the dominating Colts, who are running away in the race for AFC home field advantage. Vince Young will be tested in a shootout that will show us exactly how far he's come this season. While it's tempting to give him a shot in deeper leagues, he's probably still a QB2 with upside, and desperation QB1 in 12-team leagues. Chris Johnson, on the other hand, is a must-start, and is probably having the best season of any all-purpose back since Marshall Faulk lit up the turf in the late 1990s. Electric rookie Kenny Britt could post solid WR3 numbers, while it's better to stay away from Nate Washington and the rest of the Titans receivers unless it's a super-deep league. The Colts three biggest offensive stars -- Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark -- won't get off as easily as they would have in September against Tennessee, whose defense has tightened up as key members of the secondary have healed and congealed into an effective unit. While all three are no-brainer starts, it's likely a score or two will be stolen by effective No. 2 WR Pierre Garcon and rookie slot star Austin Collie. Manning is smart and patient, so expect the ball to be spread around among all the receivers and a big day for the veteran. Joseph Addai is an okay RB2, but he'll have trouble finding room against the Titans run defense and could be a major disappointment. It's also possible a few third-down tosses to Donald Brown in the flats produce enough yardage to warrant a FLEX play in deeper formats.

Standout Starts: Garcon, Britt

Banish to the Bench: Addai, Young, Washington

When these teams lock horns, things can get a little crazy. This week, the Chiefs have a shot at a big upset, but they'll need epic days from Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Chris Chambers to do it. Cassel and Chambers have developed a nice rapport, but Cassel could be in trouble if the line can't protect him from Denver ROLB Elvis Dumervil, who already has 14 sacks on the season. His constant disruption could force a few turnovers and turn the tide in favor of the visiting Broncos. Charles and the Chiefs' strong side must attack the Denver 3-4 at its weakest point -- the triangle of NT Ryan Fields, LDE Ryan McBean and LOLB Mario Haggan -- a group that was thrashed by the Steelers right side a few weeks ago. The Broncos do have one key strength, and it's Brandon Marshall. There's nobody on the Chiefs who can stop him, so expect a huge day from "Baby TO" and decent numbers from Kyle Orton. Knowshon Moreno (wrist) and Correll Buckhalter could cannibalize some of each other's production into a weak RB2 and deep-league-only RB3, respectively. Looking for an interesting sleeper play? Tony Scheffler had four catches for 53 yards last week and could find the end zone against a Chiefs defense that's very kind to opposing TEs.

Standout Starts: Charles, Marshall

Banish to the Bench: Cassel, Buckhalter

Steve Slaton owners in PPR leagues have been able to live with his performance over the past two weeks, but Chris Brown's 22 carries over that span makes Slaton a risky start against Jacksonville's 10th ranked rush defense. With Owen Daniels sidelined for the season, Kevin Walter has stepped up as the Texans No. 2 receiving option opposite Andre Johnson. Walter, a big body who can handle crossing routes, has 16 catches for 189 yards since the Daniels injury. With the Jaguars allowing over 240 passing yards per game, Walter will post stats worthy of a WR3/Flex play. David Garrard passed for 214 yards with no touchdowns in the first meeting against the Texans. Owners should expect something similar this time around. Outside of Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns, Mike Sims-Walker is the only other Jaguar worth your consideration. He's caught six of Garrard's eight passing touchdowns, and should find a way to hit double-digit fantasy points. -- Chris Ryan

Standout Starts:Walter, Sims-Walker

Banish to the Bench: Slaton, Brown, Garrard

The Bengals lead the NFL in scoring defense at 15.8 points a game, and rank third in rushing yards allowed, significant numbers if you're contemplating starting Kevin Smith this week. Don't count on anything more than 80 combined yards and a minimal chance of finding the end zone. Calvin Johnson practiced this week and should be in uniform come Sunday. He must be started if he's healthy, but don't be surprised if the Bengals hold him under 50 yards. He's no more than a borderline WR2 in this matchup. With Cedric Benson unavailable against the Browns, Cincinnati turned to Bernard Scott and Larry Johnson to carry the load, and the duo combined for 40 handoffs and 194 yards, although neither found the end zone. With Benson back in the fold, the Bengals will disperse the carries among the three backs, leaving Benson as no better than a RB2 despite the great matchup. Until we see how they'll be used, bench Johnson and Scott (who probably won't play because of turf toe). With the Lions surrendering the most passing yards and passing touchdowns in the league, Carson Palmer has a great shot of notching his first 300-yard game, and Chad Ochocinco should be viewed as potential top-5 performer at the position. -- C.R.

Standout Starts: Palmer, Ochocinco

Banish to the Bench: Scott, Johnson

Josh Freeman's thrown a touchdown in each of his first four starts, and was nearly perfect in his latest outing, completing 20-of-29 passes for 250 yards with two scores and no interceptions. Unfortunately, Carolina possesses one of the better pass defenses in the league, making the rookie an option in only the deepest of leagues. Kellen Winslow's been his favorite target, averaging 5.7 catches and 67.5 yards with Freeman as the starter. He'll once again lead the Buccaneers in receiving, and is a no-brainer fantasy start. Neither Cadillac Williams nor Derrick Ward has done anything lately to warrant a starting look. With Jake Delhomme sidelined with a broken finger, Matt Moore gets the nod at quarterback for the Panthers. He's yet to convince the coaching staff he's a solid decision-maker, so look for John Fox to rely heavily on DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to power his squad to victory. Williams is nursing an ankle injury that could limit him on Sunday. He still has to be started against Tampa's leaky defensive front, but expectations should be lowered. Think somewhere around 60 yards a score. With Williams hobbled, Stewart becomes the best play in the Carolina backfield, and he's a strong candidate to record the fourth 100-yard game of his career. Wideout Steve Smith will continue to disappoint owners with Moore at the helm. He's a WR3 at best. -- C.R.

Standout Starts: Winslow, Stewart

Banish to the Bench: Freeman, Ward, Williams

Bruce Gradkowski brought minimal potency to the Raiders offense, but against Pittsburgh's stifling defense (1st against the run, 13th against the pass), not a single Oakland player is useable. Not even Zach Miller, who's finally started to show a little consistency over the past two weeks, should see fantasy daylight. Pittsburgh's too good and too desperate for the lowly Raiders offense to generate significant numbers. With Ben Roethlisberger coming off the head injury, and the Raiders secondary ranking among the best in the league, it's a safe bet to assume Rashard Mendenhall will see plenty of action. He's averaging 123.7 yards in the four games in which he's received 20-plus carries, and owners should expect right around those stats on Sunday. In the passing game, Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes can both be started as borderline WR2 players, but if you have another option, don't be afraid to bench either. Heath Miller should bounce back from his one catch performance last week. Five catches and 50-plus yards is a reasonable estimation. -- C.R.

Standout Starts: Mendenhall, Miller

Banish to the Bench: All Raiders

Ricky Williams continues to be the golden ticket for fantasy owners. He's sitting on three straight weeks with 20 or more carries and 100-plus yards. Expect much the same this week against a middle-of-the-pack New England rush defense (109.7 rushing yards allowed per game). The Miami passing game is still shaky for fantasy purposes, so avoid Chad Henne and Greg Camarillo. Davone Bess is a decent option in PPR leagues since he has six or more receptions four times and no fewer than three receptions in any game. He could end up with 5-6 catches for 60-70 yards. Miami is 23rd against the pass (233 yards per game), so Tom Brady should rebound from a sub par outing last week. He passed for 332 yards and a TD against Miami in Week 9. Expect similar yardage and at least two TDs this time. Sammy Morris poached five carries from Laurence Maroney last week, but Maroney is still the guy to have in the Patriots backfield. He has scored in six straight games and has four TDs the past two weeks. Miami has allowed 13 rushing TDs this year, so look for 80 yards and a TD from Maroney. Randy Moss and Wes Welker both had good days against Miami in Week 9, and they're starting everywhere no matter what. Benjamin Watson is looking more and more risky the past few games. He has seven combined catches since Week Nine.

Standout Starts: Williams, Maroney

Banish to the Bench: Watson

Jay Cutler is a good play since he won't be facing much pressure (the Rams have 18 sacks on the season) and St. Louis has the third-fewest INTs in the NFL this year (8). Expect 250 yards and two TDs. The Bears have been playing from behind for much of the past month, which has damaged Matt Forte's production. The Bears probably won't have that problem in this game and St. Louis is 28th against the run (148.5 yards per game), so Forte should produce a 100-yard game for just the second time this year. The Rams have allowed the most rushing TDs this season, so also expect a TD from Forte. Greg Olsen is the only consistent Bears' receiver at this point in the season. About 70 yards and a touchdown is within reach. Devin Hester hasn't topped 50 yards since Week 9, though that could change this week. Earl Bennett is a stretch unless it's in a PPR league. The Bears have allowed 21 passing TDs and 214.2 passing yards per game so Donnie Avery, Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola are all decent options. Avery and Gibson have more upside this week as Avery is the best bet to score, and Gibson is the most likely to lead in receptions. Steven Jackson dealt with back spasms last week and still managed 89 yards against a better run defense than he will see in Chicago. Expect around 100-125 total yards and a TD.

Standout Starts: Cutler, Forte

Banish to the Bench: Bennett

Mike Bell now has more rushing attempts than Pierre Thomas in four out of the past six weeks. Still, this appears to be a pretty even time share. That's frustrating for fantasy owners since Washington allows 127.9 rushing yards per game. Expect 100 total yards from Thomas, while Bell could get a TD and 60-80 rushing yards depending on how close the game is. Washington has the league's best pass defense, allowing 170.4 yards per game. That doesn't matter for Drew Brees or Marques Colston, who should always start, but it will make things tougher for Robert Meachem. Meachem has a TD in four straight games, but is a risky play against this strong pass defense. Devery Henderson should be benched here. Yes, he blew up last week (113 yards, one TD) but he's also disappeared in a few games this year. Brees simply hasn't looked Jeremy Shockey's way much lately as the tight end has only three catches the past two games. Find a better option this week. The Saints allow a fair share of passing yards (217.5 per game), but have given up just nine passing TDs this season, so bench Jason Campbell and Santana Moss, if possible. Fred Davis is in line for a handful of receptions and about 50 yards. Rock Cartwright is getting a lot of work and New Orleans isn't great against the run (116.3 yards allowed per game). Expect his best game of the season so far with 90 total yards and a TD.

Standout Starts: Cartwright, Colston

Banish to the Bench: Shockey

When Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers limped off the field last week, this matchup went from "really good" to "great" for the San Diego offense. Cleveland is 24th against the pass and 29th against the rush -- and that was with Rogers plugging the middle. Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson should all be in for big days. Malcom Floyd is a solid but somewhat risky play. His big-play potential has yet to turn into a huge day this season. Darren Sproles is a decent option because he's been involved in the passing game (15 receptions in the past four games). Expect at least 70 total yards, and a TD isn't a long shot. San Diego allows 118.1 rushing yards per game, which is a good matchup for the Browns runner. With Jamal Lewis now calling it a career, it's hard to tell if Chris Jennings or Jerome Harrison will get enough carries to be useful. The Chargers have 28 sacks (tied for seventh in the NFL), so Brady Quinn will be under pressure and shouldn't be started anywhere anyway, unless he is playing Detroit again. Mohamed Massaquoi is a long-shot start this week.

Standout Starts: Rivers, Gates

Banish to the Bench: Massaquoi

While it's been announced that Julius Jones is still the starter, Seattle coach Jim Mora stated that Justin Forsett "has earned the right to carry the ball." This reeks of a time share. If Jones is healthy, the two RBs are bench-worthy at this crucial point of the fantasy season. After throwing 52 passes in Week 9, Matt Hasselbeck had 51 pass attempts in Weeks 10 and 11 combined. Hasselbeck should air it out this week as San Francisco has been burned by the pass. Over the last three games, the 49ers secondary has surrendered an average of 298 passing yards per contest. Hasselbeck has also been a much better QB at Qwest Field, where eight of his 11 passing TDs have come. That bodes well for T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Nate Burleson; both are respectable WR2 options. Operating out of a shotgun formation, Alex Smith has turned his career around (5:1 TD-to-INT ratio last two weeks). The 49ers lined up in the shotgun 34 times last week, and Smith should take advantage of the 26th ranked Seattle pass defense. TE Vernon Davis is an obvious must-start, but the 49ers WRs have been too inconsistent to trust. Frank Gore remains a solid RB1, despite the 23 combined carries in the last two weeks. His ability to contribute in the passing game makes him worthy of starting (49 targets). -- Chris Carbonell

Standout Starts: Hasselbeck, Smith, Davis

Banish to the Bench: All 49ers WRs, Forsett and Jones (if both are playing)

Brandon Jacobs will see a ton of carries this week because of injuries to Ahmad Bradshaw and Danny Ware. Both Ware and Bradshaw are likely to miss the game. Even though Jacobs has struggled mightily, he at least warrants being deployed as a flex option with the uptick in carries. Eli Manning is in for a long day. The Giants offensive line isn't providing proper protection and the Cowboys have recorded eight sacks and allowed just two passing TDs in their last three contests. Manning's most reliable target, Steve Smith (106 targets) remains a terrific WR2. Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks are, at best, WR3 plays because the Giants passing offense spreads the ball around. The Giants crumbling pass-rush (two or fewer sacks in last six games) will cause enough coverage breakdowns in their battered secondary to succumb to the Dallas passing attack. With the Cowboys offense making big plays again, Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Jason Witten are all must-start options (seven passing plays of at least 20 yards last week). The rushing attack, however, is a risky play. With a fantasy playoff berth on the line for many owners, the smart money is to avoid the three-headed RB monster of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice. As usual, Roy Williams remains a very risky fantasy WR as he just does not look in sync with this offense. -- C.C.

Standout Starts: Romo, Austin, Witten

Banish to the Bench: Manning, Williams

The Cardinals offense just isn't the same without Kurt Warner. Matt Leinart started last week, and Arizona mustered just one TD. Leinart doesn't possess the deep-play ability that Warner has, so Arizona's passing attack gets a downgrade if Warner remains out. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are still WR1 options, but they lose their monster-game potential with Leinart under center. The Cardinals running game also suffers without Warner, as the shorter field means less room to run. Because of this, Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells are players to reserve against the Vikings stout rush defense (only three rushing TDs allowed). Even if Warner does play, Hightower and Wells (who have split the touches 61-56 over the last four games) are sharing the ball too often to be anything more than low-end flex options this week. Brett Favre has been on too unbelievable a run to even consider benching him (12 TDs, no INTs, and an average of 298.3 passing yards over last four games). Ditto for Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe, who have combined for 25 catches and four TDs in the last two games. Even Bernard Berrian is worth deploying as a WR3 with Favre on fire. Coming off his second straight game with a yards-per-carry mark under 4.0, Adrian Peterson should brutalize a Cardinals defense that has been shredded for 450 rushing yards in the last three games. -- C.C.

Standout Starts: Shiancoe, Rice

Banish to the Bench: Hightower, Wells

The electric Ray Rice has racked up over 100 total yards in each of the last eight weeks. Even though the Packers have limited big running plays (only six runs of 20 or more yards allowed), there is no justification for sitting the explosive back. While Joe Flacco took a step in the right direction last week by throwing for 289 yards and a TD, he's bound to flounder against the Packers. Green Bay owns the fourth-best pass defense and Flacco's score last Sunday was his first since Week 7. Derrick Mason will probably be smothered as Flacco's favorite WR (96 targets), but he's still worth deploying in PPR leagues as a WR3. None of the other receivers on Baltimore are worth starting. It doesn't matter who the elite Aaron Rodgers is up against, even if it's the ninth-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Rodgers has thrown for multiple TDs in eight of his last nine games. Donald Driver remains an ideal WR2, while Greg Jennings is a sneaky play. About one-fifth of the passes completed against the Ravens have been 20 yards or more, so Jennings could provide dynamite value. Ryan Grant will certainly get plenty of carries (at least 20 in three of the last four games), but he'll have a hard time doing much against Baltimore. The Ravens defense have allowed just 3.5 yards-per-carry, the lowest in the NFL. -- C.C.

Standout Starts: Rice, Rodgers

Banish to the Bench: Flacco, Grant