By now, you all know to have your waiver claims or bids in for Brian Westbrook and Toby Gerhart. But that's not what I mean when I say "better-equipped." Usually as we head into Week 13, at least a few teams have separated themselves from the pack in the NFL. Maybe there's an 11-0 team or two, and there certainly are multiple teams at 10-1 or better. But 2010 isn't like most seasons. At press time, the Patriots are the favorites to win the Super Bowl, coming in at 4.5-to-1. The Falcons and Chargers are 6-to-1, and the Jets are 7-to-1. Simply put, there's still not a strong favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
What's more, the Patriots and Jets figure to slug it out for the AFC East championship down to the final week. Same goes for the Chargers and Chiefs in the West, Ravens and Steelers in the North and Colts and Jaguars in the South. Over in the NFC, it looks the same. The Falcons and Saints (and maybe Buccaneers) are likely to go down to the wire in the NFC South, along with the Eagles and Giants in the East, Bears and Packers in the North and Oregon Ducks and Stanford Cardinal in the West. Oh wait, my mistake. Those are college teams. It's just that they resemble a professional football team more than any team in the NFC West. That's what threw me. My bad.
Throw in all the jockeying for position among potential wild-cards and for playoff seeding, and it appears that most teams, if not all of them, will be trotting out their starters until the bitter end, which is great news for fantasy owners. No one will have to worry about Peyton Manning getting benched in Week 16 after a half or Michael Turner resting up for the playoffs. Everyone should have a full complement of starters every week of the playoffs. Roger Goodell may not have intended to benefit fantasy owners nationwide with his dream of extreme parity, but it has done just that this season.
Speaking of the playoffs, there's no better time than now to roll out the fantasy MVPs at each position for the season. These are just my opinions, and yours may differ. If you want to slug it out in 140 characters or fewer, hit me up on Twitter @MBeller.
Quarterback -- Aaron Rodgers: With all due respect to Philip Rivers, Rodgers has been the best fantasy quarterback this season. I know that Rivers' supporting cast has been decimated this season, but don't forget that Rodgers lost one of the best weapons in the NFL in Jermichael Finley, and still has 2,945 yards and 20 touchdowns. What sets Rodgers apart, just as it did last year, is his scrambling ability. Rodgers has 245 yards on the ground, third behind Michael Vick and Josh Freeman, and his four rushing touchdowns are second only to Vick's five. And this may not be fantasy-related, but if I were starting a franchise today and could pick any player to build around, Rodgers would be my guy. Yes, I swear I'm a Bears fan.
Running back -- Arian Foster: This one was pretty easy. Foster leads all running backs in rushing yards (1,147), receiving yards (453) and touchdowns (13, tied with Peyton Hillis). He appears to have put the fumbling woes that troubled him at Tennessee behind him, coughing the ball up just twice in 272 touches this season. He also has been remarkably consistent. Outside of a 34-10 loss to the Giants, Foster has at least a touchdown or 136 total yards in every game this season. He has scored multiple touchdowns in five games, and has hit the 150 total yard mark five times, as well. Throw in his ADP, even by time he was cemented as the starter late in the summer, and he easily brought the best return on investment this season.
Wide receiver -- Roddy White: Easily the hardest choice to make. You could make a case for Brandon Lloyd, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Greg Jennings or Hakeem Nicks before he got hurt. For me, it came down to White and Dwayne Bowe. Bowe leads the NFL with 14 touchdowns and absolutely exploded the last seven weeks, racking up 733 yards and 13 touchdowns. But White has been more consistent, stretching his 84 catches for 1,066 yards and seven touchdowns over the course of the season. I ultimately went with White because he has only given his owners two games of less than eight fantasy points, using standard scoring, while Bowe has done it four times. I wanted to make them co-MVPs, but I always think that's kind of a copout. Make a choice, you know?
Tight end -- Antonio Gates: As easy a selection as Foster. Marcedes Lewis, Todd Heap and Jason Witten are all having fine seasons, but Gates leads all tight ends in yards with 709 and touchdowns with nine. He has done this despite missing two games, and being seriously hampered by injury in two more. Looking at it another way, taking the top-12 scoring tight ends in an standard scoring system, the average starter has 531.3 yards and 4.7 touchdowns this season. Gates has 33.5 percent more yards and 91.5 percent more touchdowns than the average starting fantasy tight end.
And now, the flip side. Here are my least valuable fantasy players by position.
Quarterback -- Brett Favre: Not exactly what you pulled yourself out of Mississippi for, huh, Brett? Favre has fewer fantasy points than Ben Roethlisberger (seven starts), Shaun Hill (eight starts) and Matt Hasselbeck (awful). He's the 25th-ranked quarterback using standard scoring. If you're in a 24-team league, you can do better than Favre as your starter. He has a 10:17 TD:INT ratio, and has lost five fumbles. He has more turnovers on his own than 25 teams. Once a hero, he is largely seen as a prima donna, and got into some trouble involving his cell phone.
On the bright side, his consecutive starts streak is up to 296 and his Wranglers are really comfortable.
Running back -- Ryan Mathews: Maybe it was unfair of us to expect so much from a rookie. Maybe he would have had a better season if not for a recurring ankle injury. Still, anyone who was probably off the board by the 15th pick in any draft this year only to have 474 total yards and more lost fumbles (three) than touchdowns (two) through 12 weeks is deserving of LVP dishonors. Another way you know you were especially putrid? Anyone who handcuffed Mike Tolbert to Mathews when he first hurt his ankle is now hoping the Chargers place Mathews on IR so Tolbert can keep the job to himself.
Strong cases can be made for both Beanie Wells and Shonn Greene, but Mathews' status as a first-round pick on nearly every expert draft board this summer gives him the nod.
Wide receiver -- Brandon Marshall: I shied away from Carolina Steve Smith here for two reasons. First, it's not his fault that his team is terrible and no one can get him the ball. Second, you should have seen that coming. Marshall, on the other hand, looked primed for a huge year in Miami and was generally thought of as a top-seven wide receiver entering the season. He, too, has been done in by a degree of ineptitude under center and his 693 receiving yards rank a semi-respectable 20th in the league, but it's safe to say his owners were expecting more than one touchdown through 12 weeks. And they probably didn't expect to see the his name in the same sentence as "semi-respectable."
Tight end -- Brent Celek: This year's poster boy for the, "If you don't get Antonio Gates, wait on a tight end," strategy. Celek was a hot commodity after pulling down 76 catches for 971 yards and eight touchdowns last season. This year, despite basically perfect health, he has 26 receptions for 287 yards and three scores. Next year when Dustin Keller or Marcedes Lewis look really attractive in the middle rounds of your draft, think of Celek.
Last week, Matt Cassel stuck it to Pete Carroll, who never thought him worthy of the starting role at USC. This week, he's our Boom for Week 13, courtesy of Nik Bonaddio from numberFire:
"Despite playing for an offense that prides itself on a dynamic ground game, Matt Cassel has been an extremely productive fantasy producer as of late. Over the past month, he ranked in the top-five for both QB rating and fantasy points, which is amazing given how low the Chiefs' run/pass ratio in comparison to other high-achieving QBs. Look for this trend to continue as the controversial Josh McDaniels and his Broncos visit, bringing their unique brand of competent offense punctuated by bouts of tremendously awful defense. With bad feelings still in the air from the running-it-up accusations of Week 10, look for the Chiefs to exact revenge by channeling the lessons of John Kreese and the Cobra Kai: strike first, strike hard, no mercy."
Check my Twitter account, @MBeller, for updates to these rankings later in the week.
1. Michael Vick vs. Texans2. Philip Rivers vs. Raiders3. Aaron Rodgers vs. 49ers4. Drew Brees @ Bengals5. Peyton Manning vs. Cowboys6. Matt Schaub @ Eagles7. Kyle Orton @ Chiefs8. Matt Cassel vs. Broncos9. Matt Ryan @ Buccaneers10. Jay Cutler @ Lions11. Tom Brady vs. Jets12. Jon Kitna @ Colts13. Ben Roethlisberger @ Ravens14. Eli Manning vs. Redskins15. Joe Flacco vs. Steelers
1. Arian Foster @ Eagles2. Chris Johnson vs. Jaguars3. Adrian Peterson vs. Bills|4. Michael Turner @ Buccaneers5. Jamaal Charles vs. Broncos6. Maurice Jones-Drew @ Titans7. Peyton Hillis @ Dolphins8. LeSean McCoy vs. Texans9. Rashard Mendenhall @ Ravens10. Steven Jackson @ Cardinals11. Knowshon Moreno @ Chiefs12. Mike Tolbert vs. Raiders13. Darren McFadden @ Chargers14. Ray Rice vs. Steelers15. Matt Forte @ Lions16. Fred Jackson @ Vikings17. Cedric Benson vs. Saints18. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Redskins -- Betting on a larger workload. Look for aTwitter update19. LeGarrette Blount vs. Falcons20. Shonn Greene @ Patriots21. Ronnie Brown vs. Browns22. BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. Jets23. Thomas Jones vs. Broncos24. Brandon Jackson vs. 49ers25. Brandon Jacobs vs. Redskins -- See Bradshaw26. Chris Ivory @ Bengals27. Jonathan Stewart @ Seahawks28. Felix Jones @ Colts29. Mike Goodson @ Seahawks30. Brian Westbrook @ Packers
1. DeSean Jackson vs. Texans2. Andre Johnson @ Eagles3. Roddy White @ Buccaneers4. Brandon Lloyd @ Chiefs5. Dwayne Bowe vs. Broncos6. Greg Jennings vs. 49ers7. Jeremy Maclin vs. Texans8. Calvin Johnson vs. Bears9. Reggie Wayne vs. Cowboys10. Miles Austin @ Colts11. Terrell Owens vs. Saints12. Marques Colston @ Bengals13. Anquan Boldin vs. Steelers14. Santonio Holmes @ Patriots15. Mike Wallace @ Ravens16. Mario Manningham vs. Redskins17. Johnny Knox @ Lions18. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Rams19. Steve Johnson @ Vikings20. Mike Williams (TB) vs. Falcons21. Dez Bryant @ Colts22. Malcom Floyd vs. Raiders23. Chad Ochocinco vs. Saints24. Percy Harvin vs. Bills25. Mike Thomas @ Titans26. Wes Welker vs. Jets27. Michael Crabtree @ Packers28. Brandon Marshall vs. Browns -- Betting he plays. Watch for an update.29. Lance Moore @ Bengals30. Deion Branch vs. Jets
1. Antonio Gates vs. Raiders2. Jacob Tamme vs. Cowboys3. Marcedes Lewis @ Titans4. Vernon Davis @ Packers5. Jason Witten @ Colts6. Chris Cooley @ Giants7. Kevin Boss vs. Redskins8. Tony Gonzalez @ Buccaneers9. Aaron Hernandez vs. Jets10. Dustin Keller @ Patriots11. Todd Heap vs. Steelers12. Kellen Winslow vs. Falcons13. Greg Olsen @ Lions14. Brandon Pettigrew vs. Bears15. Tony Moeaki vs. Broncos
First of all, if you're still alive in your survivor league, my hat is off to you. We're going to change up the format here this week. If you've survived this long, you've probably used up most of the best teams in the league. I'll offer three teams that I think are locks, assuming a clean slate. I'll also give you two more that are more likely to be on the board of someone still playing survivor.
1. Green Bay Packers (vs. 49ers): I could give you some grand insight or analysis, but this game is what it is: One of the best teams in the NFL against one of the worst. No way the Packers drop this game.
2. San Diego Chargers (vs. Raiders): Once again, the Chargers destroyed the Colts and look like the class of the AFC West. They host the Chiefs next week, but need to take care of business against the Raiders. I'm not worried about them looking ahead, and you shouldn't be either. These intra-division games out west have been tricky this year, but the Chargers have righted the ship.
3. Indianapolis Colts (vs. Cowboys): After digesting a week's worth of "What's wrong with the Colts/Peyton Manning" mumbo-jumbo, get ready for the Colts to come out at home and take care of the Cowboys. Does anyone really think the Jaguars will win the AFC South? Come on. Roy Williams may have fumbled away a Thanksgiving win against the Saints, but if they get down like that early in Indy, there won't be any coming back.
And now one off the beaten path. As a note, I like all three above better than the two below.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Broncos): I'm a bit worried about the trap-game potential of this, as the Chiefs travel to San Diego next week where first place in the AFC West will likely be on the line, but, shocking as it is, the Cassel-Bowe connection has become bankable. You can bet that Todd Haley and the Chiefs want payback after what happened in Denver three weeks ago, as well.
2. Seattle Seahawks (vs. Panthers): This is a bet against the Panthers, not on the Seahawks. Seattle is a decent home team, and somehow holds wins over San Diego and Chicago. It's a game a first-place team, even from the NFC West, should win.