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Fantasy Fast Forward: Under-the-radar players step up in Week 13

Week 13 is typically the final week of the regular season in fantasy leagues. So often fantasy owners look to their stars for salvation in must-win games. If you count Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones among your stars, then your stars certainly delivered. However, almost as frequently it’s the unheralded players who pop up for a game or two and end up earning the unyielding devotion of their owners. Three guys who were under the radar heading into Week 13 almost certainly carried anyone who started them to a huge win.

Let’s start in Houston, where Ryan Fitzpatrick got back in the starting lineup this week after Ryan Mallett tore his pectoral one week ago. Fitzpatrick started the first nine games of the season for the Texans, but lost his gig because of poor performance. In those nine starts, he had 1,960 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In fantasy terms, he averaged 14.7 points per game in standard-scoring leagues, which had him ranked 27th. Fitzpatrick did just a bit better on Sunday.

• NFL Week 13: Catch up on everything you may have missed

The Harvard man threw for 358 yards and six touchdowns in Houston’s 45-21 drubbing of Tennessee. Toss in his 10 rushing yards, and it translates to 39.32 points in standard leagues. That’s nearly 30 percent of his season total prior to Sunday. He got it going right away, hooking up with Ryan Griffin and Arian Foster for touchdowns in the first quarter. He added one apiece in the second and third, then topped it off with two more in the fourth. Fitzpatrick’s six touchdowns went to five different receivers and he was allowed to throw with impunity, as the Titans put essentially no pressure on him all afternoon. They did not sack him once, and rarely made him sweat as he sat in the pocket. Almost any quarterback in the NFL can pick apart a secondary when he’s getting as much time to throw as Fitzpatrick had on Sunday, and that’s exactly what he did to the Titans. Tennessee entered the game in the middle of the pack in both pass rush and coverage according to Pro Football Focus, making it even more unlikely that a quarterback like Fitzpatrick would have his way with this defense.

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If you didn’t see any of this game, you likely noticed that Fitzpatrick must have gone to one receiver on two scores since he threw his six touchdown passes to five different players. Griffin and Foster each had one, as did Andre Johnson and J.J Watt. The first two players scored in the first quarter, while the latter two did so in the fourth. The middle of Fitzpatrick’s touchdown sandwich came with DeAndre Hopkins, who had the best game of his career on Sunday.

Hopkins caught all nine of his targets for 238 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 35.8 points in standard-scoring leagues. While Fitzpatrick hadn’t played well for the first two months of the season, Hopkins was a top-15 receiver with Fitz at the helm. With Fitzpatrick starting for the rest of the year, consider Hopkins a solid WR2 for the fantasy playoffs.

Finally, let’s shift our attention to St. Louis, where the Rams embarrassed the Raiders with a 52-0 shellacking. All week, we surmised that this would be a good matchup for Tre Mason. The Raiders allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to running backs through the first 12 weeks of the season, and with the Rams laying a touchdown in Vegas, chances were relatively strong that they’d ride Mason hard in the second half. Within three minutes, Mason made his presence felt by taking his first touch to the house on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Shaun Hill. By time the game was over, he put up one of the best fantasy performances from a running back this year.

Mason had 14 carries for 117 yards and two scores, including an 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter that essentially sounded the death knell for the Raiders. He caught three passes for 47 yards, giving him 164 total yards and three touchdowns. In standard-scoring leagues, that’s good for 34.4 points. Mason looked particularly dangerous on that 89-yard score, bursting through the hole and flashing impressive speed that should make him a significant weapon in 2015.

Fantasy owners will be able to roll Mason out as an RB2 next week when the Rams visit Washington. After that, they get a matchup with the Cardinals, then finish the season against the Giants. Mason may not be done helping his fantasy owners in big spots. With two plus-matchups in his next three games, he could be a key player in the fantasy playoffs.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the immediate reactions from Week 13 in the Fast Forward.

•​ If you’re an Andrew Luck owner, chances are you were safely in the playoffs before this week. If you needed one last win to get in, though, he delivered for you. Luck threw for 370 yards and five touchdowns, two of which went for more than 70 yards. T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne owners were likely disappointed with their respective outputs, though Hilton did manage to get in the end zone. CobyFleener took advantage of Dwayne Allen’s absence, catching four passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. He remains a top-five tight end as long as Allen is out.

•​ Boom Herron scored on a 49-yard run, and his seven other carries went for 39 yards. Meanwhile, Trent Richardson ran for 12 yards on the same eight carries. No matter who the second running back in Indianapolis is, he’s going to be better than Richardson. The latter is going to retain his role in the offense, but Herron is the superior fantasy option.

•​ ​DeSean Jackson had five catches for 84 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, but he suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury. He started to jump for a deep ball from Colt McCoy when his knee seemed to completely give out. We should have a diagnosis early in the week, but Jackson owners should plan on finding a replacement for the rest of the season.

•​ ​Washington, however, seems to already have its replacement quarterback for the remainder of the year. McCoy threw for 392 yards, 8.34 yards per attempt and three touchdowns in the loss to the Colts. McCoy had Washington in the game until the Luck Show simply became overwhelming. While he should remain the starter, it will be hard to trust him in fantasy leagues if Jackson is indeed out for the season.

•​ Zach Mettenberger suffered a right shoulder injury on a hit from J.J. Watt, which really completes Watt’s domination of Mettenberger this year. He gave way to Jake Locker and did not return, though the rookie said he expects to return next week. Mettenberger threw for 184 yards, 9.68 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one pick before the injury, and had been playing pretty well since becoming the starter. He had at least 260 yards and two scores in three of his four starts prior to Week 13, and has probably done enough to convince the Titans that he’s worthy of being the starter next season.

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•​ Justin Hunter suffered a lacerated spleen in Tennessee’s loss to Houston. He was being treated at a Houston-area hospital after the game, and apparently was suffering from internal bleeding. He is not expected to need surgery.

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•​ ​It might be Johnny Manziel time in Cleveland. He relieved an ineffective Brian Hoyer late in Sunday’s loss to the Bills and led the team’s only touchdown drive. All told, Manziel completed five of his eight pass attempts for 63 and ran for a 10-yard score. Head coach Mike Pettine said he’ll watch the tape and name his starter for next week by Wednesday, but bet on seeing Manziel under center for his first career start against the Colts on Sunday.


•​ ​Sammy Watkins had three catches for 11 yards, marking the fourth straight game in which he had fewer than 40 receiving yards. He also has just 16 catches in his last five games. Keep him in WR3 territory.

• Philip Rivers bounced back and led the Chargers to a huge win to bolster their playoff hopes. He threw for 383 yards and three touchdowns in an improbable comeback victory over the Ravens that has the Chargers in the driver’s seat for a wild-card berth into the postseason. Rivers played his best game in nearly two months, throwing for 300-plus yards and three scores for the first time since October 12. Keenan Allen caught 11 of those Rivers passes for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and now has 225 yards and three trips to the end zone in the last two weeks. Better late than never for his owners.

•​​ Torrey Smith had six receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, continuing the torrid pace he has been on since Week 3. In his last nine games, he has 459 yards and eight scores, good for an average of 10.43 points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Consider him, not Steve Smith, the top receiver in Balitmore.

•​​​Joe Flacco threw for 225 yards, two scores and ran for another one on Sunday. Flacco draws plenty of ire from the fantasy community, but he has proven to be a reliable starter in good matchups.

•​​​ Rashad Jennings ran for 91 yards and a pair of scores on 26 carries, but left late in the Giants’ loss to the Jaguars with an ankle injury. The injury occurred so late that Jennings may not have had enough time to get evaluated and cleared, but this is unwelcome news for Jennings’ owners, who already missed him for about a month due to a knee injury. We should have more news on this situation early in the week.

•​​Odell Beckham followed up the catch of the year by hauling in seven passes for 90 yards on Sunday. He has had at least 90 yards in each of his last five games, and a minimum of nine fantasy points in all but one game of his short career. He’s a slam-dunk weekly starter.

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•​​​Jeremy Hill had 13 carries for 40 yards, while Giovani Bernard had 10 totes for 49 yards. Hill caught all four of his targets and Bernard got just one opportunity in the passing game. In other words, expect this to be an even workload split for the rest of the season. That Bernard outgained Hill on the ground might lead to him getting back into the lead spot in the backfield.

•​ Doug Martin led the Buccaneers with 18 carries, and while he ran for just 58 yards, he did get into the end zone. Charles Sims had five carries, and Bobby Rainey had just one. Lovie Smith said last week that he wasn’t going to turn to his younger players yet because the Buccaneers were still right in the thick of the division race, but he might be willing to throw in the towel after this loss. That could mean more Sims in the future, but the fact that Martin got nearly 20 touches on Sunday should temper any expectations for the rookie. Fantasy owners would be wise to avoid the Tampa Bay backfield altogether.

• ​From a purely fantasy standpoint, there was no more exciting game in Week 13 than the Saints' upset win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Drew Brees threw for just 257 yards, but made up for that with five touchdowns. Kenny Stills had five receptions for 162 yards and a score, while Mark Ingram ran the ball 23 times for 122 yards. On the other side, Ben Roethlisberger used 58 pass attempts and ample garbage time to throw for 435 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, though he canceled those out with a pair of two-point conversions. Le’Veon Bell had 95 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries and caught eight passes for 159 yards. Antonio Brown had eight receptions for 97 yards and hit paydirt twice. If you had a player in this game, you likely felt pretty good on Sunday afternoon.

...That is, unless you are a Jimmy Graham owner. Not only did Graham fall far short of expectations, he didn’t even get a target on Sunday. Brees threw touchdown passes to backup tight ends Ben Watson and Erik Lorig, but his star tight end didn’t have even one chance to make a play. The silver lining for Graham owners, assuming they’re entering the playoffs, is that injury didn’t seem to be part of the equation.

•​ Matt Asiata led the Vikings with 14 carries in JerickMcKinnon’s absence. Ben Tate had five carries, while Joe Banyard got just two. Chances are McKinnon will return next week, but expect this sort of breakdown if he is out again. Of course, this remains a backfield you want to avoid.

•​The fantasy star of the Panthers-Vikings game was Minnesota’s defense and special teams. They blocked a pair of kicks and returned both for touchdowns. They also had four sacks and a pick, finishing with 26 points in standard-scoring leagues. Keep performances like this in mind when you’re thinking about taking a defense earlier than one of the last two rounds in your draft next year.

•​ In a game without Roddy White, Matt Ryan had one of his best individual performances of the season. Ryan threw for 361 yards, 8.8 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and one interception in Atlanta’s win over Arizona. There’s still plenty of talent in this passing game, highlighted by Julio Jones, who had 10 catches for a career-high 189 yards and one touchdown. Harry Douglas also topped the century mark, catching nine of his 12 targets for 116 yards. It was the first time since September of last year that two Falcons had at least 100 receiving yards in a game.

• Andre Ellington left in the second quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Ellington suffered the injury in pass protection, and leaned on a trainer as he walked off the field. Marion Grice carried the ball five times in Ellington’s stead, but the Cardinals were largely ineffective while trying to dig out of a big hole in the second half. Stepfan Taylor scored on a short touchdown pass, but it looks like Grice would be the man if Ellington is out. That might not mean too much with the way this offense is playing.

• Drew Stanton ended up throwing for 294 yards, but that was largely thanks to 39 pass attempts. He was picked off twice before the Cardinals offense got in the end zone for the first time in nearly three full games in the fourth quarter. John Brown had two catches for 40 yards, while Michael Floyd caught five passes for 53 yards. The Cardinals’ next three games are against the Chiefs, Rams and Seahawks. You probably don’t want to rely on any Cardinals in your starting lineup for the rest of the season.

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• Aaron Rodgers and the Packers bested Tom Brady and the Patriots in a potential Super Bowl preview. Rodgers threw for 368 yards and two scores, and should have had a third, but Davante Adams dropped a walk-in touchdown in the fourth quarter. Still, Adams had a great game, catching six of his 11 targets for 121 yards. Jordy Nelson had just two catches, but one of them went for a 45-yard score. He now has 10 touchdowns this season, joining teammate Randall Cobb in double-digit territory.

•​ LeGarrette Blount led the Patriots with 10 carries for 58 yards, but he didn’t get a chance for those goal-line carries that propelled him to a big fantasy game. Instead, Brandon Bolden got a short-yardage score for New England’s first touchdown of the game. After running for 201 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago, Jonas Gray has one carry in the last two games. All of that taken together should tell you how much trust fantasy owners can place in this backfield.

• Rodgers got the better of Brady in both team and individual contexts in their first ever meeting. Brady threw for 245 yards for exactly seven yards per attempt and two touchdowns. The Patriots averaged more than 40 points per game on their seven-game winning streak, but the Packers held them scoreless in the first quarter, setting the tone for the rest of the game. Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman each had seven catches, but it was Brandon LaFell on the receiving end of both of Brady’s touchdowns. You’ll be starting all of these guys, except perhaps Edelman, when the Patriots visit the Chargers next week.

•The Chiefs held Peyton Manning to 179 yards and 5.26 yards per attempt, but he threw for a pair of touchdowns in the Broncos’ 29-16 win at Arrowhead. One of those scores went to Demaryius Thomas, as it so often does. The other went to C.J. Anderson, whom the Chiefs had no answer for on Sunday night. He ran for 168 yards on 32 carries and totaled 185 yards from scrimmage. Anderson is essentially playing the same profitable role that Knowshon Moreno did last year in the high-powered Denver offense.

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•No matter where you play your fantasy football or get your advice, you’ll see points allowed statistics cited. We do it here frequently. Those numbers can be misleading, though, and such is the case with the Chiefs’ points allowed to running backs. Heading into this week, they had surrendered the eighth-fewest points to the position. That’s only because they have miraculously allowed just two rushing touchdowns all year. After Anderson’s big day, they’ve also allowed 5.2 yards per carry to backs.

•Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes, one to Jamaal Charles and the other to Anthony Fasano. The strangest streak in the league – Smith not connecting with one of his receivers for a touchdown yet in the 2014 season – continues.