Heroes and Zeroes - Week 13 Fantasy Football Picks

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This week is make or break for many fantasy teams on the playoff bubble. If you're currently sitting at 6-6 or 7-5, I don't need to explain the importance of picking the right flex plays. Instead, let me tell you that it could be worse. One long-time league that I'm still a part of used to begin the playoffs in Week 13, giving you just 12 weeks to build a contender.

This rule was instituted after the 2005 season when the Indianapolis Colts made the bold (but smart) move of resting their starters a full two weeks before the regular season ended. Our commissioner was in first place on the coattails of Peyton Manning-Marvin Harrison combo, and yet both were completely absent for the championship game in Week 16, leading to a bitter, bitter loss to an underdog. After that, it was decided that all playoff games would be moved back a week so we wouldn't be at the mercy of such front-running teams benching our stars. The schedule has since been shifted back to Week 14-16 for playoffs, since no other team has gone that route, but it serves as a reminder that we are always at the mercy of the men on the field, bizarre as their decisions may sometimes prove to be (*cough Ben McAdoo). By the way, in case you didn't already figure it out, the commissioner of that league was and still is me. That trophy should have been mine!

Now, let's get to my fantasy "heroes" and "zeroes" at each position for Week 13 of the NFL season. For a full set of rankings, look no further than our very own RotoBaller consensus weekly rankings.

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Week 13 Lineup Heroes

QUARTERBACK

Josh McCown, New York Jets - It wasn't too long ago, Adam Hammer and I were still doing the "Who's Playing Quarterback for the Jets This Week?" bit on our podcast. The running joke was that the Jets were going to play McCown for a few weeks until they started 1-5 or something like that, then switch to Bryce Petty before resorting to Christian Hackenberg or someone else they pulled off the street. By Week 5, that prediction was looking pretty good, but then a light came on and McCown has actually been a really solid QB2 ever since. Since Week 5, he's averaged exactly two TD per game and he's gone over 250 yards in four of the last six games, with a QBR over 100 in four of the last five. He gets the Chiefs this week, who don't seem particularly interested in winning any longer. They allow the seventh-most passing yards overall and have had holes in the secondary all year. McCown is the strongest of all QB streamers this week, other than possibly...

Case Keenum, Minnesota Vikings - Speaking of a light coming on, it seems like Keenum is hell-bent on keeping his starting job ever since Teddy Bridgewater was activated. In the last four games, Keenum has a 9:3 TD:INT ratio and has gone over 280 yards in each. Atlanta sits squarely in the middle of the pass defense ranks, but they've only forced three interceptions all season and have a pair of corners who are questionable heading into Week 13. There's a limited ceiling, as I don't expect the Week 10 Berserker version of Keenum, but he's a safe play that could outscore quarterbacks such as Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Ryan this week.

RUNNING BACKS

Dion Lewis, New England Patriots - The sample size is now acceptable enough that we can trust Lewis in our lineups (for now). Lewis ran for a career-high 112 yards against the Dolphins, which stretched his season average to 5.1 yards per carry. The Buffalo defense has been sieve-like against the run ever since they parted with Marcell Dareus and can't be expected to contain the Pats. If there's a downside to Lewis, it's his surprising lack of involvement in the passing game. He is averaging just 1.4 receptions per game. Trust the efficiency in a good matchup for him and hope he starts to see some of the goal-line work that has been handed to Rex Burkhead.

Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders - This must be the first time I've recommended Lynch in any way this season and will probably be the last. Without their top two receivers, it's obvious the Raiders will want to establish some sort of run game. With Geno Smith now QBing on the other side for the Giants (Why? WHY???), there's a really good chance the Raiders won't need to air it out much any way. This is going to be an ugly game, but it's been kind of an ugly season for Lynch anyway, so this might be his time to shine.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos - Thomas has seen a steady stream of targets, regardless of who is at quarterback. He has managed to catch at least five passes in each of the last five games, despite suffering through the Brock Osweiler/Paxton Lynch combo. Trevor Siemian will never be a world-beater, but he's the best they got and he's back. More importantly, Thomas has quite literally the easiest WR/CB matchup possible in Week 13. He squares off against Xavien Howard, who has graded out at 117th out of 118 starting cornerbacks this season. Thomas has suddenly regained a nose for the end zone and he may creep toward WR1 status.

Jamison Crowder, Washington Redskins - I was a couple weeks early predicting the Jamison Crowder resurgence, but it did finally happen. With Terrelle Pryor officially out of the picture and Jordan Reed his typical no-show, Crowder has become a target hog again. 42 targets the last four games have resulted in 27 receptions, a pair of 100+ yard games and high-end WR2 value for PPR owners. The hapless Cowboys are back on the schedule, which is the matchup that kicked off this streak back in Week 8 when he went for nine catches and 123 yards. Start Crowder with confidence. Oh, how I've been waiting to say that.

TIGHT END

Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers - There's no player that I've been hopelessly devoted to more than Henry. Each week I set my lineup with him as a starter, I imagine myself looking quite a bit like Olivia Newton-John from Grease. You know the song...

That said, Henry finally validated my undying faith by scoring an actual touchdown for the first time in six weeks. Things could get even better as he faces the Browns this week, who allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the TE position. I always knew you'd come back to me, Hunter!

 

Week 13 Lineup Zeroes

QUARTERBACKS

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans - The division-leading Titans host the Texans, who have bled points to opposing QBs since their bye week. This would seem to be a prime spot for Mariota to finally deliver on all that promise and bring a QB1 day to fantasy owners. I'm not buying it. Mariota has not produced a top-10 fantasy week all season and has only tossed more than one TD on two occasions. This is a run-first team and that will not change as the team tries to protect its defensive shortcomings. Tennesssee ranks 21st in pass tendency, 21st in passing yards per game, and 29th in passing touchdowns per game. Mariota is just not due for a big game as long as both running backs are healthy.

RUNNING BACKS

Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles - If there were a song that reminded me of Jay Ajayi's 2017 season thus far, it would be "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Ajayi is now riding the bench in half of the leagues in which I own him, which is partly due to the matchup with Seattle, but mostly about his complete lack of involvement in the offense. Ajayi carried the ball five times last week and hasn't even sniffed double-digit rush attempts as an Eagle. He has four red zone rushes in the last three games. By contrast, UDFA Corey Clement has six. Ajayi is just not a fantasy starter by any stretch of the imagination and would seem to be a firm "sell while you can get anything out of him" in dynasty.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins - With Damien Williams hurt for multiple weeks, the backfield is all Drake's now! Big deal. The aforementioned Jay Ajayi was toting the rock 20 times a game for Miami before being traded and managed 3.3 yards per carry. Sorry, but Drake will not do any better even with more volume. The Broncos rank 22nd in fantasy points against RB. His stats look much better thanks to the one long TD run he ripped off in Carolina, but he is still part of the worst offense in the NFL and is unlikely to see 20 carries. As a tournament play, you could take a chance and hope that a missed tackle or two leads to a big run. You could also buy into the Jay Cutler revenge game motive and get him for a bargain price!

WIDE RECEIVERS

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions - Jones has been on fire lately, serving as the overall WR11 in the last three weeks. Over the last five, he is averaging five catches, 90 yards and one TD per game. If you have him, you're starting him, but he does have a tough test this week as Baltimore allows the second-fewest fantasy points to WR. In fact, the Texans were the first team to even break 200 passing yards against the Ravens since Week 4. Jones could be more TD-dependent in this matchup and that's never a good thing.

Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns - I honestly didn't think it would ever happen, but Josh Gordon has been reinstated and is going to hit the field in Week 13. Hue Jackson has "big plans" for Gordon right away, so start him as a flex and see what happens, right? Remember, this is the same coach who promised more rushes for Duke Johnson (he's got eight in the last two games combined, double-digit carries once all season), and promised fans they would turn things around before this season started. He also once said that he was "pulling his hair out" as a result of all the losing in Cleveland. If you've seen Jackson lately, you know that's a bald-faced lie... Stash Gordon if you want, but you've got to have a lot of confidence across the rest of your roster before you risk a complete goose egg in a flex spot by rolling with him in Week 13 on the road against the Chargers.

TIGHT END

O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - It's becoming obvious that Howard is taking over the starting job from Cameron Brate. He's out-targeted Brate 8-5 the last two weeks and has gone for exactly three receptions and 52 yards in each. That was with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, however, and Jameis Winston is now back. That aside, the Packers might seem like a great matchup for opposing pass offenses, but they are the stingiest defense against the tight end across the whole league. Howard will be a great value next season and could put together another solid game or two before this season is up, but don't look for it to happen this week.

 

More Week 13 Lineup Prep